Skip to main content

Fuel Supplies And Rationing Proposals

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 12 May 1942

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

had given Notice that he would call attention to the prospective fuel shortage, due to the Government's miscalculations, and to their proposals for dealing with it; and aiso move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I do my best to draw your attention to certain disquieting features in the present fuel situation and to the very tentative proposals of the Government for dealing with it, I must, I think, begin by asking your Lordships' indulgence. I am in no sense, as undoubtedly a number of your Lordships are, an expert in either the lighting or the fuel industry. I speak only as a citizen, as a consumer, as one who prefers warmth and light unless and until it has been conclusively proved that darkness and cold are in the national interest. I hope to voice something of the concern and misgivings undoubtedly felt by very large numbers of the general public—concern at what certainly appears to be the inertia and lack of foresight which have permitted this situation to arise, and misgivings at the expensive, cumbrous and unreliable character of the only measure for dealing with it so far disclosed by His Majesty's Government.

I would begin by reminding your Lordships of the very barest outline of the fuel situation of the moment, for that I think is the most serviceable method of seeing the problem in its proper perspective. Before the war we were producing somewhere in the region of 280,000,000 tons of coal a year, of which I suppose a good deal more than 50,000,000 tons found their way abroad as exports. To-day, with the man-power enormously reduced for various reasons;, including the loss of 70,000 miners to other industries and to the Forces, we are producing, I believe, just over 205,000,000 tons a year. The President of the Board of Trade says that he must have another 10,000,000 tons going into the factories, and he proposes to get those 10,000,000 tons by cutting them off the coal which has been so far going to light and heat the homes of the people. That is the coal situation of the moment—10,000,000 tons at issue, under 4 per cent. of our annual output before the war and a little under 5 per cent. of our reduced output to-day.

That is the proportion of the problem which we are discussing—a little under 5 per cent. of our reduced annual output to-day—and it is because the Government judges it impossible to increase its present production by that 5 per cent. that it is proposed to create many thousands of bureaucrats to restrict our consumption of cod in the future—coal, my Lords, which unlike almost every other material of modern warfare, has not to be carried to us across distant and perilous oceans, coal which Providence has seen fit to place under the soil of these islands in, great variety and in almost limitless abundance. The people will readily understand, and indeed welcome, the rationing of commodities which they know can only be brought to them at the risk of the lives of their friends and relatives who sail the seas, but they will find it very difficult to understand or to welcome the rationing of a commodity of which they have been brought up to believe Britain would never need to go short.

It is not as if the Government have not had plenty of time to foresee these difficulties and to plan some means of forestalling them. For example, a Select Committee on National Expenditure was appointed early in the war in another place expressly to advise His Majesty's Government on problems of this nature. As long ago as July, 1940, that Select Committee drew attention to the necessity of very great foresight with regard to the electrical industry. That was very nearly two years ago, but so far nothing has been done. On March 6, 1941, the same Committee stressed the necessity of transferring labour into the mining areas and urged that men should not be permitted to leave the mines for the Forces or the Civil Defence Services. That was fourteen months ago and still the Government pursued, so far as we know, the same policy of masterly inactivity until the eleventh hour. In February this year the same Select Committee went so far as to press for the speedy return of skilled mine workers from the Forces into the mines. For another two and a half months since then the unreturning water has been flowing under the bridges.

Now the Government are beginning to talk about calling some 7,000 men out of the Forces and some 4,000 men out of various Civil Defence Services and out of general industry. That is 11,000 men in all, out of, according to the best reckoning I have been able to obtain, somewhere about 70,000 miners who have left the mines for industry and for the Forces. It is obvious, of course, that these 11,000 men who have left the mines and have wasted their time in being trained for some other task which now they will never have to perform, and have now to retrace their steps to their mines, represent at least a very dangerous degree of waste and a reprehensible degree of lack of foresight. There are those, and I must confess I am one of them, who hold that 11,000 is not enough to recall from the Forces and from the Civil Defence Services and from general industry—that very many more, something of the order of 25,000 or 30,000, should probably be recalled—and that probably there are numberless counterparts of that case, which was quoted the other day in public in another place, of the soldier who wrote that he was eating his heart out to return to the mines where he had twelve years' experience as a hewer and at the same time to serve, as he suggested, in the Home Guard, but that he was always told that he must continue washing down floors as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Accepting the official view that only 11,000 men ought now to be reclaimed from the various places to which they were sent from the mines in this highly and increasingly mechanized warfare of to-day it is surely obvious, and has long been obvious, that a skilled miner is, or may be, at least as valuable as a skilled soldier, and that the industry which is the foundation of all our war efforts, and in which in any case we have already going on a wastage of 25,000 men a year, should never have permitted anything like 70,000 of its workers to go elsewhere. All this, of course, is largely mere crying over spilt milk; yet it has this painful degree of relevance that it is against this background of the short-sightedness which has diminished our production that we have to consider the proposals of the Government for restricting our consumption.

Faced with the necessity of meeting this deficit of 10,000,000 tons, a little under 5 per cent. of our annual output, what would be the instinct of the ordinary man? I suggest that his instinct would be to close that gap, partly by making a far more intensive and better-planned drive for economy than has ever been attempted yet, and partly by producing more coal—rather than by creating an army of bureaucrats to prevent our using coal. There is, unfortunately, a certain type of official mind which, faced with a situation of that kind, does instinctively, rather than increase production, turn to creating a very large new number of officials in order to restrict consumption. There is a well-marked type of mind for which every new official is a step towards the new Jerusalem, a type of mind which greets new forms and coupons and ration books with warm approval as something seemly and inspiring in themselves. That is not a type of mind I think which is largely represented in your Lordships' House, but it exercises considerable power in the country. The present distinguished holder of the office of President of the Board of Trade who bears no shadow of responsibility for the present impasse, the damnosa hereditas to which he succeeded, was nurtured and cradled from his student days onwards in the creed of Fabianism, the creed of bureaucracy in excelsis.

Faced with the problem of this 10,000,000 tons the President of the Board of Trade turned first not, so far as we can discover, to the coal miner or the coal owner, or even to that much neglected individual the coalmine manager, the man who has technical knowledge and experience

of coal production, but to a very distinguished academic Socialist, Sir William Beveridge. He did not ask Sir William Beveridge to solve the coal problem, he asked him to prepare a rationing scheme—a very different thing. Even so, Sir William Beveridge seems to have had not inconsiderable misgivings. He has told us that his first instinct was to turn to increased production rather than restricted consumption, but that was not in his terms of reference. To quote his own words he concluded that:

"… since rationing on certain conditions is certainly practicable the case for rationing is made out."

That seems to me, I must admit, a very large and a very curious assumption. I do not know what would be thought if a burglar said that, since burglary on certain conditions is practicable, the case for burglary is made out.

Within a month—and an eleventh hour plan cannot be very long a-hatching—Sir William Beveridge has produced his scheme, but even now the Government are by no means irrevocably wedded to it. In the words of the President of the Board of Trade:

"I repeat the Government are not committed to this plan nor at this stage are the Government committed to any particular plan."

That was said last week in another place. It is not perhaps very decisive leadership in a moment of crisis, but it is at least entirely in line with the record of our coal policy, since it is precisely because for the last two and a half years, and indeed the last twenty years, the Government have not been committed to any particular plan that we find ourselves where we are to-day.

The scheme for rationing put before the country is based, needless to say, upon a formidable new army of officials. How many there will be it is very difficult indeed to say. Sir William Beveridge, himself, suggests 10,000 to 15,000. The President of the Board of Trade, with an engaging gesture of deprecation, tells us that this army will consist partly of old men, and that some of the work is so simple that it might even be done by young children. Whether that particular combination of precocity and senility will, in fact, be attempted or not, I think that there is one principle which your Lordships would do very well to remember, a principle deeply rooted in British history and in human nature, and that is that a temporary Government official always tends to become permanent. But—and this is the really formidable point—this army of Sir William Beveridge's, based on 15,000 clerks, contains no allowance whatever for a vast increase, which all the best expert opinion agrees must be necessary, in the numbers of official meter readers.

I do not know how many of your Lordships have encountered a meter reader. But there are numerous people who follow the reputable calling of meter reader for gas and electricity undertakings. At present the meter reader has a comparatively simple task. He simply calls at your Lordships' back door, glances at the meter, enters two figures in two different records, and is off. But now he has got to calculate how many coupons the housewife is owing, and to persuade her to surrender them. It may well be that there will be a lively barrage of questions to answer, that there will be a fairly sustained argument. Or it may be that the housewife will not be in, and will have locked the drawer in which the coupons are kept, so that there will be inquiries next door and perhaps a return visit by the meter reader. A reckoning made by a prominent undertaker in the electrical industry, and borne out by calculations made by officials of two large boroughs, indicates that no fewer than 20,000 additional permanent meter readers will be needed to work the Beveridge scheme quite apart from Sir William's own 15,000 clerks. That seems to me the most formidable feature in the scheme, quite apart from the numerous anomalies and oversights natural in a hurried, eleventh-hour scheme. It would not be at all difficult to quote instances of these, but I do not propose to waste your Lordships' time with them now.

The President of the Board of Trade, himself, has said that cold and darkness are harder to bear than bombs. That is very true. Bombs mean the enemy, and every man will brace his resolution to meet the enemy. But the assault of cold and darkness is impersonal and insidious and slow, and very much more dangerous, therefore, in the long run to national morale. And there will always be the misgiving that these additional sacrifices need not have been demanded if only we had planned in time. Before the Government decide deliberately, officially, to organize cold and darkness at the cost of 15,000 extra clerks and 20,000 additional meter readers, will not they, even now, seriously consider whether it may not be possible to obtain this extra five per cent. of coal by increased production combined with all those savings which I am convinced are possible, without any coupon rationing scheme whatever?

As to increased production, I have already suggested that there are many who think that, unwelcome though it would be to the Army, unwelcome though it would be to the Civil Defence Services, and unwelcome though it would doubtless be to general industry, more than the 11,000 out of the 70,000 who have left the mines should be recalled to them now. Then, surely, enough use has not been made of that much-neglected individual, the mine manager—the man who really has the technical knowledge of production. Whenever we get into a difficulty with the mines we read that "the two sides" as we rather invidiously call them, have met—the owners and the miners. We very seldom hear of the mine manager—the impartial technical expert whose whole life is devoted to increasing production. I think that it was Sir Richard Redmayne who said, the other day, that he was sure the mine managers, if consulted, could do much towards the production of this extra 10,000,000 tons without the rationing scheme proposed.

Then again, as to increase of production, a very distinguished member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure said, the other day, that if absenteeism in the mines could be reduced to its pre-war dimensions the necessary extra coal could be obtained without any rationing whatever. Would His Majesty's Government say whether that, or anything like it, is true? It was said publicly, the other day, that at one large colliery absenteeism rose to 20 per cent. at the week-ends. Now it is not for me to criticize the miners, who do a hard and dangerous job for an insignificant reward, and often under most unsatisfactory conditions, and where there is absenteeism, very often it can undoubtedly be explained by circumstances which reflect no discredit whatever on the miners—causes ranging from the higher average age of the miners to forces deep-rooted in the political and economic history of the last fifty, and, indeed, of the last hundred, years. Nevertheless, when we remember that a skilled industrial worker to-day is just as truly in the forefront of the national war effort as a skilled soldier himself, and when we remember how unthinkable absenteeism would be in the Fighting Services, we are bound, I think, to conclude that there must be a very deep-seated maladjustment somewhere in an industry which can tolerate increasing absenteeism at a moment like this.

It is said that the machinery for dealing with absenteeism in the mines is not effectively used. It is said, for example, that the pit production committees, which consist of equal numbers of representatives of management and men, have sometimes had the experience of reporting to the National Service Officer a number of persistent absentees in their pits, only to find that six months later they receive an answer from the Regional Officer that no prosecution will be undertaken; and it is said that this experience undermines discipline in the pits and renders the efforts of the pit production committees nugatory. Whether that is so it is difficult to say. The nation recognizes that the miners as a whole are a magnificent body of men, who have never yet had a square deal, and that is why it is so difficult for any one to voice or to hear criticism of the miners. Nevertheless, I think that the Government should bear in mind that there will be bitter resentment among large numbers of the general public if there is to be a drastic rationing of coal so long as there is still increasing absenteeism and so long as there are strikes in the mines.

There was a letter in The Times early this month in which the writer, a Member of Parliament, said that in one large coalfield which he knew, the miners, the owners and the managers were agreed that an increase not of 5 per cent. (which is all that we need), but of 10 per cent., could be obtained without undue strain on any of those concerned, provided that the miners knew that the extra profits earned were not to go into the pockets of the owners, and providing that some sort of miners' charter, safeguarding their rights, was drawn up. That again points to the fact that extra production is possible, and that the obstacles to it are very largely moral and psychological.

That leads me to the point that it has been proposed by, among others, the National Council of Labour that the State should requisition the mines and place them under a national authority representing the State, the owners and the miners. I do not know whether the Government will consider that such a change is feasible at a moment of crisis such as this; but, if there were sufficient agreement to make it possible, I for one, and I believe a number of your Lordships, would welcome it. The nation now owns its own coal, and it is only reasonable that it should be the duty of the Government to see that what the nation now owns is efficiently administered. We have, after all, to remember the alternative. The alternative seems to be to sit down tamely under a reduction of output, to accept the principle that we have to cut our coat to suit our cloth, and, once we have accepted that half-hearted principle, we may find next year that the cut has to be even more drastic, and the year after that more drastic still, until the cold and the darkness have a catastrophic effect on national morale.

Finally, cannot we do something more to save coal than has yet been attempted? I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that if a hundredth part of the energy and propaganda which have gone into Warships Weeks and the like had been put into a campaign for economy in the use of coal, we should never have found ourselves where we are to-day. Much of the half-hearted propaganda that has been done has been entirely contradictory. One week we have been exhorted to save and store coal, and a few weeks later there is a rather querulous scolding of those who have stored coal, on the ground that they are hoarders. What of electric lights blazing all day in some of the London railway termini? What of the municipal electricity showrooms? I passed one last week in which I counted 143 electric lights blazing all through the shopping hours. Driving into London by motor coach this morning, I noticed in one row of shops that more than half had apparently all their ground-floor lights on at noon. A whisper of serious official propaganda would have ended all that sort of waste long since. Could there not be closer examination of the uses to which coal is put, at any rate by some of the largest consumers, some of the industrialists who are using upwards of a hundred tons a week? It is difficult to believe that there are not some economics which could be made there.

In the last resort, of course, it is for the Government to decide. Only the Government know the facts, and only the Government bear the responsibility. But, if there is to be rationing by means of coupons, I trust that the Government will do everything possible to make it fair. There are bound to be many minor anomalies and many small, irritating injustices. Those we shall have to accept with a good grace; but at any rate let there be sacrifices all round—always provided that we preserve a due proportion between rich and poor. I have seen a statement made, I think, by the President of the Board of Trade, that under the Beveridge scheme quite a number of people will be better off than before. Unless that statement referred—and there was no evidence that it did—to persons so poor that they actually suffered from cold and darkness last winter, I see no reason why anybody should be better off for light and heat than before. People will accept any sacrifice for victory if they are convinced that it is unavoidable, if they know that the efforts made to avoid it have been comparable to those demanded of the Fighting Services, and if they can be sure that the scheme is simple, just and easy to understand. I very much hope that the measures which His Majesty's Government have yet to announce will be found to fulfil those conditions. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have not come to this House with any prepared speech, but the subject which the noble Lord has raised is one which has given me and those with whom I am associated, both in the coal and the electrical industries, a great deal of thought, and that justifies my saying a few words. I should first of all like to repudiate as strongly as I can some words which were uttered by Mr. Arthur Greenwood in another place on May 7, when he stated that the electricity industry and the coalowners, whom he called "the vested interests," had entered into a deliberate campaign with a view to protecting selfish interests. The electricity industry and the coalowners repudiate that charge. We have told Sir William Beveridge that we will do our utmost to carry out any plan which the Government desire to establish to help the production of coal or to deal with the situation which has arisen. If the Government have any plan for rationing, we shall do our best to put it into operation and to support it.

But we have our views, and we have not been consulted with regard to the rationing of coal. We are in a position to criticize any plan. Mr. Dalton, the President of the Board of Trade, has stated that the Government are not wedded to the scheme which they have put forward. A member in the other House has put forward a scheme for dealing with electricity and gas based upon his particular knowledge of these industries, and it is called the Gridley scheme. To my mind that scheme has great advantages over the scheme put forward by Sir William Beveridge, who was called upon, without any real knowledge of these industries, to propose a rationing scheme. I am quite aware that a great number of people in this country are not prepared to accept that scheme wholeheartedly. I was talking to some of the miners in Durham yesterday, and they told me that they did not see their way to accept the rationing of their coal. In the mining villages of Durham and Northumberland coal is part of the miners' wages; they are entitled to their coal as part of their wages. Are the Government going to reduce the amount of coal which these men consume in their own homes? They are not prepared to accept wholeheartedly any scheme of rationing which will reduce their wages.

Points such as those seem never to have been considered by the Government. There are many coalfields in which the miners get their coal on reduced terms—they pay much less than the general public have to pay. Those men regard that privilege which they have obtained from their employers as part of their remuneration. And they do not want to have their coal consumption curtailed, because they require coal to provide the warmth which is essential to men engaged in their calling. They require their fires in many cases to dry their own clothes as well as to cook, and they do not want their coal diminished under the Government rationing scheme. And so I might go on with the cases of a great number of other small people. Moreover, a rationing scheme is already in existence for the diminution of coal consumption. Why do the Government propose to set up a body of 20,000 people to look after the reduction of coal consumption when there is already in existence a scheme under which everybody in the country is liable to have his coal consumption diminished? Every individual is now registered with a coal merchant, and there are coal controllers in every district. It seems to me absolutely unnecessary to produce a new coal rationing scheme involving an enormous staff, who will be looking forward probably, as the noble Lord has said, to the day when they will remain permanently in the public pay.

Reference has been made to the question of meter reading in connexion with gas and electricity consumption. Meter reading is a very difficult job if you are going into it carefully and have to make calculations every time you read a meter. The meters are often in outside and very difficult positions, where it is not easy even to read the records of consumption. It will require three times as many meter readers as are required at present if you are going also to deal with consumption of electricity and gas. Those officials will all need petrol in order to go from house to house to do their meter reading, and the amount of paper which is going to be wasted under a scheme of this kind is perfectly absurd.

I think we must differentiate between rationing of coal and rationing of gas and electricity. In the case of the coal industry it is very easy to control the consumption under the existing arrangements which have been in force for two years. In the case of gas and electricity, under the Gridley scheme instead of the proposed rationing system, you could penalize anybody who consumed a greater quantity than he consumed a year before. There may be hard cases. A great number of people in this country have already done everything they could to economize in fuel, electric light and gas, and the wastage which exists at the present time does not so much occur in the ordinary household, but is very largely due to restaurants, hotels, shops and public places, where a great deal of waste is going on. I feel that consumption might be considerably reduced by penalizing people who waste electricity or gas. That might be left to the industry, who understand the system of penalizing those who do not reduce consumption. Of course, there will be hard cases. In any scheme of that kind there must be an appeal to some authority who would be able to go into the circumstances of the requirements and needs of the premises concerned, so that justice may be done and equitable arrangements made as between one consumer and another.

There are one or two points to which the noble Lord referred. He spoke of the miners. Nobody has a greater opinion of the English miners than I have. Every time that I went to the poll in my constituency as a candidate for the county council or for Parliament, they voted for me to a man. I have a great belief in the miners because they are straightforward and a fine lot of men, and they make probably the best soldiers we have in this country. At the same time, whilst we do require more miners to be brought into the industry—and I am not going to dwell on that at the present moment—what I do feel is that the miners have a real grievance. What is contributing to their lack of production at the present time is discontent, and why are they discontented? They are discontented because they see all around them people to whom the Government are paying much higher wages than they receive in their own industry. They have girls and boys coming into their houses day after day with more money than they themselves can get when they go underground. It is not unreasonable that they should be discontented with their wages. Those of us who manage collieries know well enough that high wages do not mean more production. At the same time the miners have a real grievance in the fact that they are not receiving the same pay as the Government give to people who are doing much less vital work in the interest of the war and for their country.

The difficulty is how to induce the miners to avoid this absenteeism. Absenteeism is mainly due to the fact that the miner has always acted on a voluntary condition in connexion with his labour. He is no longer allowed to choose the colliery to which he goes. He has to work where he is put, and there he remains. A great number of men, under the Essential Works Order—only a small minority, I admit—feel that it does not matter how much work they do, they are bound to be paid, unless they are pieceworkers, their standard rate of pay; that whether they work or not, they will receive the rate of pay to which they have been accustomed. That will not encourage work, and if they are discontented owing to finding that other people are getting much higher wages, I am not surprised that there is a certain amount of absenteeism and a certain amount of shirking of hard work which otherwise might be done. My own feeling is that if the men like to do their utmost—100 per cent. of them—the 10,000,000 tons to which the noble Lord refers can easily be obtained even at the present time. The difficulty is to satisfy the miner in his work, having regard to the fact that his wages are so much less than those which are paid by the Government or by contractors in the factories or in building barracks, aerodromes, and munition works.

That is really the root of the trouble in the industry at the moment. I cannot say exactly what the remedy should be. We, as coal owners, repudiate what Mr. Greenwood has said with regard to vested interest. First of all, two-thirds of the electricity undertakings in this country are not in the hands of private enterprise utility companies; they are run by municipal organizations. A large number of gasworks in the country are also run by municipalities. I cannot speak for the gasworks, because I have not been a director of a gas company for the last sixty years, but I was a director at one time. The position is a very serious one in connexion with the production of coal. We feel that there are a certain number of men who are influenced by political motives at the present time in not doing their utmost. A scheme has been put forward by the Miners' Federation in order to try and secure control of the industry by the Government and by themselves, with the owners. The experience of the last war has taught us a good deal. We were under private enterprise in the last war until about 1917. At that period we produced 19.41 cwt. per shift. The Government look control of the industry, such as is now being suggested by the miners, under a more or less national scheme. Production gradual y fell from 19.41 cwt. per shift to 14.36 cwt. It was not until after Mr. Lloyd George found he was losing £40,000,000 a year in conducting the industry under national control that he turned the industry back to private enterprise, and in 1921 we raised the amount of production from 14.36 to over 18 cwt. per shift. These figures, which have been stated by Mr. Lee, the Director of the Mining Association, in the Economist on April 28, speak for themselves in regard to whether private enterprise or nationalization of the industry is an advantage to the community.

We, as coal owners, believe that a man who is trying to make a success of a business is a much better servant of the State than an official who is paid by the State and whose remuneration does not rest on the success of his efforts. We also realize that, where you have public servants appointed by the State, you cannot get rid of the inefficient operative in the way you can do so under private enterprise. You have, therefore, in the public service an extravagant system by which individuals who are appointed get rewarded according to the number of people who are under them in a Department. That is a method by which every Government Department tries to expand its own operations, and tries to get more and more officials into its Department, with a view to those at the head of this group of individuals getting more pay. That system is bad. Under private enterprise, we do our utmost to try and reduce unnecessary labour and to economize. I am told that in the Sunday Express—I have not seen the paper, so I cannot vouch for it—there was an article by a writer who pointed out that he had in his Department twenty-eight women operatives. "If I was running it as a private enterprise concern I would only use eight, but," he said, "I cannot interfere with the number allotted to me in connexion with the carrying out of my duties in that Government Department." All these things indicate to me that the idea which workmen have that they are going to be better off under a nationalization system is wrong, and it is also quite wrong for the miners at the present moment to try and exploit the war in order to promote their own nationalization aspirations.

I do not know that I need trouble your Lordships with any further comments, but I feel that the owners are doing their very utmost to induce the men to produce more coal. We have tried to meet the men in all our districts, and we claim to have the best organization of any industry in the country. There is no reason why men should not find a settlement inside the organization which has been established. We have every method for dealing with every dispute, and in the event of difficulties we go to arbitration rather than allow a cessation of operations. You may ask, why it is that some of the men are now coming out on strike. Unfortunately there have been cases such as occurred recently in the County of Durham. There two boys were told to go down the pit, and they declined, saying it was a nasty dangerous place and they were not going down. They were fined. The company employing them had nothing to do with it. The Government official had the boys brought up, and they were fined £5. That colliery came out on strike because the boys would not pay their fines and went to gaol for two months. Two collieries belonging to the same firm, Messrs. Dorman, Long and Company, all came out in sympathy with the two boys who had been sent to gaol for two months. The matter was settled by the men getting their own way. The boys did not go underground, a parson in the district paid their fines, they were liberated from gaol, and the Labour Department sent them to other occupations. The men know that if they only come out on strike they get their own way.

It is not because the organization is wrong. The whole thing can be settled if the men would only adhere to the arrangements of the industry by which all difficulties of that kind can be, and should be, avoided. We are doing our utmost to help the men, giving them concessions in every way that we can where they are working in difficult positions so that they can get more wages. Canteens have been provided, their rations have been increased, and we are doing our very utmost to keep the men in tune. It is all really very largely due to the Government having forced the Essential Works Order upon the industry, compelling the men to go underground and to remain where they are without the coal-owners ever having been consulted. I am afraid the difficulties of the present time are due mainly to the Government and certainly not to the owners or the workers.

My Lords, the Motion which is on the Paper and has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, deals with a matter of urgent public importance, and the Government welcome the opportunity for the criticisms which have been made in this House. Such criticisms are not only advisable but they are sometimes helpful. That is what Parliament is for, that is what the people expect it to do, and, if I may say so as a preliminary word, the criticism to-day has been in the spirit of our high Parliamentary traditions. The terms of the Motion allege that the present fuel shortage is due to Government miscalculations. That is not entirely a fair charge to level against the Government. The shortage is primarily due to the ever-changing effects of the war. There has been a basic shortage of manpower in all the fields of our war effort, and there has been a continued increase in the consumption of coal in essential war industries, while so far as domestic consumption is concerned we have had three successively hard winters. Those are, in a way, the facts.

I admit that there is a great deal of anxiety, almost fear, in regard to this expected shortage of coal. The public have borne with the most exemplary patience all kinds of inconvenience, but in regard to fuel shortage a combination of cold and darkness is something that they are really quite anxious about. It has been alleged by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I think by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, that if the Government had taken certain steps early enough, if they had not indeed miscalculated, things would have been very much better. I personally am not called upon to affirm that the Government, or any Government, or any individual, is incapable of error, but I also remember that critics of the highest order are very often proved to be wrong in their criticisms and assumptions. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, let me say in passing, knows so much about the coal industry that I venture with the very greatest diffidence to differ from him. He complains that the fault is that the miners are not receiving the same wages that the Government pay to outside workers in other industries. The noble Lord has me at a tactical disadvantage in that matter of the Government regulating and keeping wages on a proper level. He knows I dare not say I agree with him, and I have not the heart to say I disagree with him, and so I am afraid I cannot say anything on that point.

If we consider the problem before us from the standpoint of equity the position of the Government is, I submit, unassailable. It has been established that economy in consumption is necessary and that that economy is urgent. If there are ensuing discomforts it is right that the whole population should bear them. No one should escape from an inconvenience that all are called upon to bear. Therefore let us as far as we can win our battle for right and the world's freedom upon the basis of equal sacrifice. The Government's position is that equality of sacrifice does require some form of regulation, if not the proposals which the Government nave submitted then any better ones which can be provided, but any scheme adopted must meet certain necessary conditions. There must be fairness as between one consumer and another. The plan must, on the whole, have simplicity for administration purposes, and there must be an appreciable reduction of consumption. The whole problem is first how to get coal production up, and how to get consumption down.

Looked at from the present position and outlook it is quite certain that more coal will be needed for our war services than is at present available. There will also in all probability be exports of coal to allied countries as a necessary part of our war contribution. The condition of things on the Atlantic may require less consumption of oil and it must be remembered that producer gas, about which we have heard something in your Lordships' House recently, will also entail a further demand for coal. Therefore an increased production of coal, while desirable in itself, is faced with a certain number of difficulties. Already, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has explained, the Government are getting 7,000 men from the Armed Forces back to the pit face and 4,000 men from essential industries and that follows on about 33,000 men who were got away from other industries for the coal industry during the last year.

It is this shortage of man-power that is the fundamental point in this problem that we are considering, and shortage of manpower is not confined to the coal industry. There has been a retreat of young labour from the mines. The mining industry, as has been pointed out, has lost, since 1935, anything up to 60,000 or 70,000 people. There was a great deal of pre-war unemployment. Pits that were not economically workable were closed and a good deal of distress came upon the workers in the mining population. Whether that shows that private enterprise is so efficient as the noble Lord suggested, is a matter which I cannot go into this afternoon, but the fact is that these people left the mining industry, either because they were frozen out by unemployment or because they left, as was the case with many young workers, for other reasons. It is highly probable that a great many of these young workers will never voluntarily return to the industry. They were either coaxed or compelled to join the Army and they were drawn from an essential industry, but there they are and to get them back from the Army to the industry is not so easy a matter as it may appear to some people. They have become through their training a part of the defence system. A great many of them are now non-commissioned officers, almost essential in their respective battalions and regiments, and a great many of them are scattered about the world. Therefore it is not feasible at this juncture to withdraw young men wholesale from the war for this purpose, especially if they are to be withdrawn against their will. It has been suggested that many of them would welcome recall to the mines, but it is beyond doubt, I think, that a great many of them would resent having to return to the mining industry.

Then we must make allowance for the annual wastage in the industry. There is an annual wastage of 35,000 old workers each year and an intake of only about 10,000 leaving a net deficit of 25,000. I am informed that 40 per cent. of the workers in the mines are over forty years of age and as many as 20 per cent. are over fifty. It has been suggested that longer hours might meet the difficulty, but the reply to that is, firstly, that the miners would not agree to longer hours, and, secondly, it is not proven that longer hours would lead to a greater output. Old age is at a discount everywhere just now and when a man has reached the age of fifty at the coal face he is old for that particular industry. The fierce young patriots of the Evening Standard, a day or two ago, urged that old men could best serve their country by getting out of the way and leaving the work to be done by the young, so that what time they have left in a ripe old age could be spent in happy secluded retirement; but apparently the old men of the mines are not only to stay there but to work longer hours to increase the output.

Some suggestions have been made about reorganization. That is a very tempting subject, but it is not one that I dare allow myself to go into this afternoon. I should like, however, in passing to say a word about the question of absenteeism mentioned by both noble Lords who have spoken to-day. Regrettably there is a certain amount of absenteeism, chiefly among a small section of the younger miners, although that absenteeism is not so important as it is generally represented to be. Let us remember that the average miner is working a greater number of shifts than before. It is not advisable that the figures should be given, but this factor, coupled with the great strain of war conditions in a stern industry, renders some increase in absenteeism from purely physical reasons almost inevitable. The output per man per shift worked at the face is, on the whole, being maintained. I am advised that no substantial increase in output per man per shift can be expected as the industry is at present organized.

That is all I can say on that point, except a word in regard to absenteeism on the part of young miners. None of us is perfect at any age, but let us be fair, even generous, to the young people of our time. We owe a great deal to them. One cannot always understand what is the reason for absenteeism, but it is not apparently higher wages because they are not getting the high wages that other workers are getting. If there is a certain amount of absenteeism, do not let us magnify it into a general charge against young people as a whole.

I shall have to leave that point and just say that it is always sad and generally useless to dwell upon what might have been. If we had known perfectly what was going to happen and if everybody in the industry—those who control it and those who work in it—and various Governments that have dealt with the matter, had been perfect, doubtless some of these problems would not have arisen. But still the Government have done something, and are doing something. They are, for instance, at the present time, considering the possibilities of what, I suppose, is called outcrop coal, or open cast coal. Men are at work on that under skilled mining engineers, and the Government hope that that may make some contribution. But no estimate can be given respecting it. Therefore we fall back upon consumption. Reduced consumption might not be wholly and immediately effective, but there is no practical alternative, for the moment, before the nation. A White Paper is being issued to-day, I think, dealing further with the whole problem, and the Government, as I have reminded your Lordships, are not committed to any scheme that has so far been suggested.

Since consumption must be reduced, the whole problem is that a system should be secured which is equitable as between man and man. It is perhaps impossible to get a system which is wholly and completely equitable as between man and man. Physical needs vary—that is a great consideration in regard to coal or to the production of warmth. There are those with good circulations, who, when the thermometer rises to 60 degrees, begin to gasp and feel that they are going to faint; whereas there are others who, like myself, scarcely remember the last time that they felt comfortably warm. So you cannot secure absolute equality as between man and man. But you can secure a rough measure of equality, you can try to avoid excessive hardships, and secure that all share equitably in whatever fuel may be available.

The general principles of the Government's scheme are well known, and your Lordships will not expect me to describe them in detail. Various schemes were considered and rejected before this scheme of Sir William Beveridge's was suggested. First of all, there was a scheme for rationing each form of fuel on a datum line basis. That places a penalty on past economies and a premium on past extravagances, and it favours large as against small consumers. It was opposed by all women's organizations and other people who considered it. The second scheme was that each form of fuel should be rationed upon a basis of needs. That would involve fixing a weight for each household for solid fuel, estimating therms of gas, units of electricity and gallons of paraffin. That scheme was complex and impracticable, and it, too, would have involved a certain number of officials. You do not escape what is the general fear in regard to officials by distrusting the present scheme.

There was a, third scheme suggested for rationing each form of fuel separately, some by datum line, and some on the basis of needs. That would have required a detailed examination of each house, and it would have produced more problems than it would have been likely to solve. Therefore, the Beveridge plan was suggested for the consideration of Parliament and all concerned. But the Government are not wedded, as we say, to that scheme, and they are waiting to see the production of something better. The scheme which is known as the Beveridge plan rations all fuels together on a points system. It is a scheme not without difficulties, but it is fair as between one consumer and another, and it is as simple as a rationing system can be. The plan is assailed on all hands, but it is not discredited, and it has, as I think The Times said the other day, no competitor. It involves registration of consumers and so on.

Now, about this coupon terror. None of us likes coupons. We all of us long for the day when coupons will cease from troubling, and when the harassed consumer can buy whatever he likes and all that he can. But do not over-exaggerate in speaking about the cost. You do not escape the cost by merely not employing officials. There are costs that are visible and costs that are invisible, and the absence of regulation does not mean the absence of either money costs or of the employment of officials. The cost may not always be obvious, but it is always there. I cannot deny myself the privilege, on this occasion, of saying that there is a tendency to regard every pound spent on public services as being a calamity, whereas there is little, if any, criticism of proposals to employ people in private undertakings. That, I think, is possibly a hang-over from the old laissez faire philosophy which it is right to remember, but which is not to be the final test. It may happen that difficulties will arise in the administration of this scheme. Rooms must, in any case, be effectively occupied, Any anomalies which arise will receive attention, and even climatic difficulties have been foreseen. One standard will be applied to Scotland, another standard to the North of England—the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, will be interested in that—and London and the Southern Counties will fare worst of all, as they usually do in these matters. There is a further matter with regard to this scheme of which I should remind your Lordships. Penalties will be exacted for wilful over-consumption, the penalties being a shortage for the next period.

I say again that the Government are not committed to this scheme. They will consider any alternative which is more effective, and which will provide a greater measure of simplicity while meeting the need for fairness; but a decision on the matter must be come to without delay. Coal is used to produce all forms of heat and light, and all forms of its consumption must in consequence be rationed. To provide for this, there is a plan for interchangeable coupons, which may prove to be difficult and something of a nuisance. But there is a greater difficulty still, the difficulty of people finding that they have no fire in their grate. This scheme, whatever its faults may be, does provide, or is intended to provide, that there shall be in each man's grate an equitable proportion of the fuel available. Until a better scheme is produced the suggested scheme holds the field, but the mind of the Government is not closed on the matter. The case for economy has been established beyond doubt. It is believed that that economy can best be secured by a system of rationing, and I hope that what I have said will be sufficient to induce the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to withdraw the Motion which stands in his name. Do not let us frighten people by suggesting that they will have to face a new glacial age; rather let us assure them of reasonable comfort, and let us credit them with an uncomplaining readiness to face the difficulties and inconveniences which they will have to meet as a willing contribution to the national need.

My Lords, I have been asked by my noble friends briefly to indicate their view upon the Motion before your Lordships' House. We are not advocates of rationing for rationing's sake, but we do hold strongly the view that if a commodity which is universally needed is in short supply, or if, being in short supply, the supply has to be further reduced, then only by a well-conceived rationing of that commodity can the burden of short supply be fairly apportioned over all the consumers. I would remind your Lordships that, according to the statement of the President of the Board of Trade in another place, 1,000,000 more tons of domestic coal were consumed last winter than in the previous winter; but, notwithstanding that extra consumption, there were many districts, both in the provinces and in London, where people were without coal and were living, I will not say in darkness, but certainly in cold for considerable periods. As I indicated in an earlier speech, there were certain districts in London where not only, the children but the adult population were going to bed after tea in order to keep themselves warm, because of the lack of coal. I do not know whether your Lordships would hold the view that that is better for them, but I do not.

We are now told that, so far from it being possible for us to consume an additional 1,000,000 tons of domestic coal, there must be a reduction of 10,000,000 tons. That is 5 per cent. of the total coal production, which I believe at the present time is roughly 207,000,000 tons, but I understand that it is 12½ per cent. of that portion of the total production which represents domestic fuel; and therefore the problem is to secure, equitably and justly, a reduction not of 5 per cent. but of 12½ per cent. in the consumption of domestic fuel. The system evolved—very brilliantly, I think—by Sir William Beveridge may be cumbersome and difficult, initially, in operation, but it is designed to secure that the burden of short supply shall be equitably spread, and, if it succeeds in doing that, whether it is clumsy or not it will have achieved its main purpose.

The Government have indicated, however, that they are not necessarily wedded to the details of the scheme contained in the White Paper, and I suggest that it is for the critics of that scheme to submit a better one. I am aware of, and I have read with interest, the details of the scheme submitted in another place by Sir Arnold Gridley, but I confess that it appears to me to possess one serious, and in my view fatal, defect—namely, that it would either not ration gas or electricity at all or, if they were rationed, the rationing authorities would be the industries themselves. I gather that that was the view of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, this afternoon—that if any rationing of gas and electricity is to take place by reference to the consumption of coal in those respective industries, that rationing should be done by the industries themselves. I must dissent from that view, and from any proposal which would hand the power of rationing over to any private undertaking, or which would remove, or contemplate removing, the power of rationing from the Government.

Rationing, even when imposed by the Government and operated through the proper Ministry, is vexatious enough, but I feel confident that the people of this country would not consent to be rationed in relation to an essential element of daily need, such as gas or electricity, by private enterprise, however high the motive of private enterprise might be. When it comes to a proposal to leave the imposition of penalties under such a scheme in the hands of the gas industry or of the electricity industry, it is quite clear, I think, that no such scheme would be for one moment accepted by the people of this country. In any case I am not persuaded—and I am not entirely without experience of the electricity industry, both on its municipal side and otherwise—that the gas industry or the electricity industry could fairly and equitably carry through rationing proposals without having to adopt much of the scheme formulated by Sir William Beveridge. My friends and I take the view that since a reduction of consumption must be achieved, in the absence of a better scheme that under consideration ought to be adopted and accepted.

I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, will not misunderstand me when I say that I find it difficult to accept the conception of the mining industry that he sought to indicate to your Lordships this afternoon. I am afraid that history has failed to convince me that the mining industry can solve now, or has been able to solve in the past, its difficulties within itself. I can call to mind no industry in which there has been more bitter conflict between owners and workpeople. I can call to mind no industry in which disaffection and discontent have more reasonable foundation, owing to the conduct of the industry by those who own it. I cannot accept the view that a basic industry is efficiently and properly run by 1,135 separate companies, owning and operating 1,900 separate collieries. I do not, if I may say so with every respect, accept the ex parte statement that, following the taking over by the Government of the mines in 1917, there ensued—and for that reason ensued—a reduction in output. I think that allegation, whether made by Mr. Lee or anyone else, needs to be examined, as it was examined in the light of all the facts by the Sankey Commission, and then the conclusion that the nationalization of the mining industry in 1917 of itself, and because it was imposed, led to a serious reduction of output will need some serious modification.

I am not one of those who take the view that in conditions of war opportunity should be taken to socialize industry, much as I believe that many of the basic industries of this country ought to be socialized. My view is that the test of whether steps towards a greater measure of Government control or Government ownership should be taken must be whether it is essential in the interests of the war effort, and if it is essential in the interests of the war effort then I think the Government should face up to it and should do it in the manner best calculated to further the war effort. Having said that, I feel bound to say also that I believe that if the Government took over—hired or requisitioned—the mines in this country and proceeded to work them, during the war at all events, in co-operation not only with the miners but with the mine owners, there would be such an improvement in the psychology of the thousands of good Britons who are engaged in the mines as would make for a very substantial increase in output. I hope that the Government will accept, in principle at all events, the proposals which I gather have been submitted to them by the National Council of Labour. I hope also that in the consideration of reconstruction in this country after the war the mining industry will be one which will pass completely under national ownership and control.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Snell replied, as of course I knew he would, with all his usual urbanity. I think he hardly answered any one of the charges or the criticisms which I ventured to bring against the Government scheme. He answered one or two which I did not bring, such as the suggestion that longer hours might do good in the mines—a ninepin which he very effectively set up and knocked over, but which I do not think anybody else in the course of the debate had previously set up. I am sorry he did not really meet the fundamental criticism which I think has emerged in the course of this debate, and that is that the Government are too ready to sit down under the present decline in coal production. Lord Gainford gave it as his view that if there were satisfaction, if there were sound psychological conditions in the mines, the amount of coal in question could be produced without any of this elaborate rationing or restriction at all. And I had ventured to quote authorities outside this House who had expressed the view that if only absenteeism could have been reduced to its pre-war dimensions, that alone would have solved the problem without coupon rationing. The noble Lord spoke on that subject, but he did not really answer the fundamental point. And I must say that it seems to me that until the country is satisfied that nothing can be done to increase production, it is not likely to accept with patience the Beveridge scheme or any other scheme.

I was interested in the concluding remarks of the noble Lord who speaks on behalf of the Labour Party, and I must admit that they awoke a responsive echo in my own breast. I, too, feel that if it could be proved—and I think there seems considerable reason for supposing that it can be—that the handing over "for the duration" of the management of the mines to a body representing the State, the miners and the owners would create that sense of satisfaction which would release the pent-up patriotism which must be there, the instinct for service which must be there, then personally I should be glad to see such a change effected even in war-time. We cannot, after all, be confident that we shall put forward a sufficiently formidable war effort to rely on survival in a struggle against nations where the whole of industry is treated with the disciplinary standards of the Fighting Forces, if we ourselves allow some of our basic industries to maintain peace-time standards of discipline and energy; and if what is needed to enable our voluntary system to generate the energy which the totalitarian system can, for a while at any rate, produce by compulsion, is some such change as the noble Lord opposite has reminded your Lordships of, and which has been proposed by the National Council of Labour, then I think that we ought to attempt it even in war-time.

I am glad that, at any rate, the noble Lord, Lord Snell, said he was not wedded to the Beveridge scheme. I have not met anyone who would wish to accept the hand of the Beveridge scheme. I have met scarcely anyone who does not regard it with ill-concealed irritation, and I am convinced that if it is put into force in its present form it will be met, first, with ridicule, then with irritation, and finally will cause real suffering. To judge from the number of noble Lords who asked me in the course of the last half-hour whether I was proposing to divide the House because, if so, they wished to stay and vote against the Government, I suspect that if I had pressed my Motion to a Division I might have achieved a victory, but unfortunately I have an inhibition against attempting to defeat the Government in war-time. Therefore I shall conclude by expressing the hope that the Government will consider some of the criticisms which have been advanced this evening, and if these do not prove to be nails in the coffin of the Beveridge scheme, I hope they will very considerably modify it. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.