§ The Secretary for Mines (Mr. David Grenfell)
In rising to speak on this Motion, I have to confess to a sense of responsibility, because in the circumstances of the day, in a discussion on the situation in the coal industry and on the details of the transport and distribution of coal, we must have regard to the question of security. We have not previously deemed it advisable to give figures in any great detail, but the Department has no desire to conceal the true position, and there is no reason for avoiding the closest examination of the problem consistent with the national interest. Let me state then the general position as follows: This country is using far more coal than before the war. Consumption has gone up each year in a steady progression for all industrial purposes. The gauge of the national industrial war effort is to be read at the Mines Department. If we take the ratios of the increases as they appear, we find that the amount of coal used for electrical generation has trebled since the last war, and has more than doubled in the last 10 years. The increase in consumption for gas production is also an important factor. The consumption in engineering works also shows a very considerable increase. We thus find that consumption for industrial purposes at home is rising at the rate of several million tons each year. The House will appreciate the problem of maintaining adequate fuel supplies when I mention that the home market for next year will absorb nearly four and a half tons per head of the population, and an average of well over 4,000,000 for every week in the year. The Mines Department has taken upon itself the responsibility of directing the task of producing, marketing, transporting and distributing this immense amount of coal to nearly 14,000,000 industrial and domestic consumers in all parts of the country.
A great part of the difficulty arises from the need for assuring a large and 1355 regular volume of supplies of coal for the newly created war industries, which have, for special reasons, been set up in places remote from the coalfields. Fortunately we began the war with a margin of production for coal exports which is now increasingly being employed to supply the needs of those industries in which masses of men and women are employed on tending machines the motive power of which is directly or indirectly derived from coal. The main factor of the problem is, therefore, that of production. The industry has been called upon to supply every year more coal. Still more coal will be required next year, but we have far less labour to do it at our disposal. Over 80,000 of the youngest and strongest men in the industry have gone to the Armed Forces, and 60,000 have gone into other employment since the war began.
Before proceeding to the particular matters that I hope to deal with, may I point out that, in spite of the difficulty of war conditions, of shortage of labour, of severe weather in three successive winters, and of the greatly increased consumption, at no time this winter has any undertaking essential to the prosecution of the war been stopped for want of coal or power. The stocks of essential industries are now, on an average, as good as at this time last year. Many are better stocked. It must be admitted that considerable difficulty has been experienced by individual firms in the lower priority industries, mainly through failure to supply the particular coal required. When coal is in short supply the first charge on those restricted supplies should be those vital undertakings for which a particular class of coal is essential. Other undertakings must manage on the next best quality coal. The House knows that my Department has a special responsibility in the allocation of supplies, and for the most efficient and economical use of all classes of coal. Consumers have been asked to help by every means. I shall refer later to the work done by the Fuel Efficiency Committee, to which there has been a satisfactory response by the industries invited to co-operate. As regards numerous complaints from low priority consumers, may I repeat that we have not the means of supplying everyone with his accustomed fuel. The industry has met the main demands so far made upon it, and 1356 while there has been some inconvenience, there has been no breakdown and no stoppage of essential war work. I am expecting we shall get through this winter, but we have an ever bigger task to meet next year's demands. For next year we must get a larger output. For this purpose we shall want more men. We must also have greater economy if we are to provide a sufficient supply to meet next winter's still greater demands.
I have referred to stocks. There have been some doubts expressed about the figures given by myself and others. We have to build up stocks in summer, when there is the advantage of better transport available and the lower rate of consumption which prevails. Figures show that we had more coal in stock at the beginning of this winter than we had in 1940 or 1939 on the corresponding dates but we have need of more stocks as each winter's demand is far in excess of the previous one.
I would like to deal in a little more detail with the question of domestic coal. The proportion of the national output taken for domestic purposes is about 20 per cent. We have been able to maintain in full measure the pre-war standard of consumption. We are approaching the end of the third war-time winter, and I am relieved to find that in spite of abnormal demands owing to prolonged cold weather, the stock position throughout the country is better than it was this time last year. I am not claiming that these stocks have been maintained in all towns.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Will my hon. Friend explain what he means when he says, in relation to domestic coal, that we have maintained the pre-war standard? What is the basis of comparison?
§ Mr. Grenfell
More coal has been taken by consumers. More has been delivered and more has been burned. I repeat that I do not claim that these stocks have been maintained in all towns. There have been much shifting of population, much interference with transport owing to snow and the temporary suspension of rail traffic. Merchants' stocks have been largely drawn upon, and we have been compelled to have recourse to Government dumps in many areas. There has further been the difficulty of distribution by the merchants on account of the very large number of vehicles requisitioned and the loss of their younger men engaged in the delivery of coal. Their task has been 1357 made more difficult by the bad state of the roads through ice and snow, and the fact that they have had to take an increasing proportion of deliveries from inconvenient centres in smaller quantities than is the ordinary practice in the trade. I should refer to the coal merchants' stocks and the Government stocks as an iron ration or a last reserve. We have opened 17 Government dumps for people in the London area. I am happy to say that where the task of retail delivery became too difficult for the merchants, several local authorities, 15 in all in London, have rendered welcome assistance by lending vehicles and labour to assist in coal distribution. I am sure that all local authorities would want to do what they could to help, and I readily acknowledge our gratitude and indebtedness to them for the way in which they have stepped into the breach.
There have been larger deliveries of coal in London in the last four weeks than in any corresponding period in the past. Much credit is due to the merchants engaged in coal delivery to ensure that people in need of coal were supplied when the crisis came. The Department has issued an order to restrict deliveries, and I hope that those who are in immediate need of coal win be first served and that no person who has a reasonable quantity of solid fuel in reserve will receive any addition to his supplies until the needs of those whose supplies are exhausted have first been met. In this connection, I would again refer to the household scheme by which we hope the organisation of deliveries will be largely rationalised and more co-operation secured. I hope that before next winter we shall have secured stocks for all those who have no stocking accommodation on their premises and who, therefore, have to receive additional supplies when the colder winter comes and who have hitherto found great difficulty in doing so, because they all make their demand for distribution at the same time and in small quantities from the distributing merchants.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
If a person goes to the fuel officer in his area and complains that he cannot get any coal, and the officer shows him a waiting list of people for whom he is not able to provide coal, what remedy has that person? What other step can he take?
§ Mr. Grenfell
He could make a complaint to me, and it would be gone into by the Department with the local fuel officers. I have already said that we have been able to make many adjustments and to give help when the cold came by opening Government dumps in various municipalities in London. As I say, I hope that before next winter we shall have secured stocks for all those who have no stocking accommodation on their premises. I do not propose to give the figures of stocks in the hands of the coal merchants, but they are, even now, slightly higher than they were 12 months ago and more than twice as high as they were in March, 1940. There is also a substantial quantity of coal for all purposes in Government stocks, and I am happy to inform the House that there is a considerable quantity of coal of various qualities in Government stocks which in the aggregate amount to 1,750,000 tons, and more than) half of this can be used for domestic purposes.
§ Sir Robert Young (Newton)
Is it the case that the coal in the dumps is not distributed until the retailers in the districts have run out of supplies? I am informed that distribution from these stocks is not allowed until the retailers' supplies are exhausted.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I will touch upon that point. I described these Government dumps as the last reserve, and the House ought to know that access to them is under the control of the divisional coal officer, who has a full knowledge of the margin of stocks available and of previous disposals. The total capacity of these Government dumps is about 7,000,000 tons, but it has not been possible to ensure sufficient output to place the full quantity we desire to have on the 800 sites which have been selected in all parts of the country.
May I now say a few words about production and indicate in a general way how this question is linked up with the question of man-power? Hon. Members have raised questions about absenteeism. I do not think that anyone in this House or in the industry would excuse or condone avoidable absenteeism in these difficult times, when we need all the working time of men and women to maintain our full measure of production in the interests of the national war effort. Men who absent themselves from work 1359 may be responsible for loss of production by other men with whom they are required to work, or may cause a machine to be idle and thus increase the loss of output which in any case would be incurred by the absenteeism of the individual. We are endeavouring to deal with absenteeism, and the industry itself, through the agency of pit production committees representative of the owners, the managements and the men, is engaged in trying to secure the highest attendances and the best results from the men employed.
One of the great obstacles to production is the decline in the number of men employed at the coal face and in the proportion of men employed as coal-getters in the industry. There has been a loss of about 2 per cent. in the proportion of coal-getters to the total number engaged, but the proportion of loss, related to the number of coal-getters, is very much higher, actually about 14 per cent. It should be stated that the output per shift worked at the coal face stands as high as it did before the war. The output per man-shift, over all, has declined, mainly for the reason which I have given. It should, however, be stated that the output per annum for each man at the coal face has been fully maintained as compared with the years 1938 and 1939.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I hope hon. Members will be fully seized of the significance of these figures. There has been a decline of 2 per cent. in the proportion of coal-getters to the total manpower engaged, and of 14 per cent. in the total number of coal-getters.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The output per person is still as high, but the output over all must decline in proportion to the loss of coal-getters. By the good will of the work-people and their representatives, we have been able to add to the number of working days in the industry and have thereby more than compensated for the absenteeism which has featured so largely in complaints from certain quarters. I would repeat that the workers have been pressed to take a large part in the activities of the pit production committees for 1360 the purpose of securing regularity of work and the most efficient production day by day at the pits. We hope to see a higher individual output as the result of various methods, such as increased mechanisation at the coal face, the concentration of work in the most productive areas in the pits and by open cast mining, from which we expect to obtain an addition to output without requiring the services of skilled mine workers. There are two open cast mines now in operation, and in the case of a number of others borings have been made and it is hoped soon to have them in operation and to secure the largest possible output of coal while economising in labour and material. I hope shortly to announce further steps for effective cooperation between the owners and the men in the industry.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
In regard to the new development which has just been mentioned by my hon. Friend, may I ask whether it is intended that the State should take that over, or is it to be left to private owners?
§ Mr. Grenfell
It is done by the State. We are in control. We operate these surface mines, and the coal is worked for us by the Disposals Board. Here I would like to refer to the question which is raised on all these occasions and which must always be a reminder to us of the dangers attendant upon work underground. Hon. Members will recall that attention has been directed to the increase in the number of fatal accidents due to falls at the working face and of the action which I promised to take in order that the tendency towards increased loss of life and injuries from this cause might be checked and a higher level of safety attained. I did promise to call for a rededication of attention and of effort in this matter. We have taken action, and eight special inspectors—one for each inspection division—have been appointed to give their whole time to these problems, under the general supervision of the chief inspector, whose headquarters staff has been strengthened for this purpose. Representatives of the owners, the managements and the workmen have been invited in each area to co-operate with these special inspectors, and most of them are now functioning. I am pleased to report that there has been an improvement. As compared with 273 fatalities from this cause in the first half of 1941, 1361 an average of 10.5 deaths per week, the number in the second half of 1941 was 219, an average of 8.4 deaths per week. The average for the last 10 weeks has been further reduced to 7.7 per week. I am very satisfied that this one step—and there are other steps as well—in the direction of securing greater safety for the men working at the coal face has produced satisfactory results. I regret to say that the number of explosions has been above the average. One of these at Llantrisant Colliery, in South Wales, occurred on the surface. The circumstances were unique and are very unlikely to recur. There were 11 explosions during 1941 and in the first quarter of 1942, which resulted in the death altogether of 149 persons and injuries to 78 others. I am very much disquieted by the number of ignitions which have been recorded and the heavy loss of life from this cause.
I announced in February that I had asked the Chief Inspector of Mines to prepare a report dealing generally with colliery explosions in the last 12 years, and giving a review of the progress of his researches into the causes and prevention of coal-dust explosion. It is hoped that this review will enable us to bring about improvements. I have set up a Court of Inquiry into the cause of the explosion at the Sneyd Colliery on 1st January of this year, consisting of Sir Henry Walker as Commissioner, with Mr. F. Llewellin Jacob and Mr. W. J. Saddler as Assessors. The court will open its sittings on 23rd April. It has begun its preparatory work. I have also to announce that a public inquiry into the causes of the explosion at Barnsley Main Colliery on 17th February is to be conducted, and I have appointed Mr. Felton, deputy chief inspector, to conduct the inquiry.
The inspectorate has at present a strength of 130, and there are nine vacancies to be filled. A Committee of which the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) is the chairman has recently drawn up proposals, which I have approved, for the examination of candidates in stages instead of all at one time. This change is necessary in justice to the candidates, Whose studies and practical experience are interrupted by war or the demands of National Service, and also in the interests of the mining industry, which needs a constant flow of officials holding the appropriate statutory certificates. The 1362 standard of the examination will not be lowered by these measures.
I want to say something about the supply of mining materials, and to link this up with the question of man-power, and particularly that of the shortage of face workers. There are other factors inevitable in war time which affect the labour power of the individual workman. Questions of health and diet are important. I shall refer to them in a moment. I want to refer now to the supply of materials which affects both the safety of the men and the output of coal. The supply of timber and steel for roof supports has been fairly well maintained, but I am now preparing for an extended use of steel props for face supports. A proposal to that effect has been put before the industry, who have accepted it.
I now to come the question of machinery. In order to secure and maintain higher output per man at the coal face, it will be necessary to maintain coal-cutting machines and conveyors at the highest standard of working efficiency and to ensure an adequate supply of machine parts, chains, ropes, electrical plant and equipment, belting, tubes, and so on. I am told that we are likely to have 600 new coal cutters and 1,300 new conveyors in operation in the coming year.
I will now make reference to the provision of additional food in canteens which have lately been put at the disposal of the industry, through the assistance of the Miners' Welfare Commission. Over a year ago I asked colliery owners to make available facilities for the sale of sandwiches, meat pies, and snaps. The Minister of Food was approached to permit the provision of additional food, to enable the miners to carry out the arduous work of coal mining. He agreed and in February last the Miners' Welfare Commission was asked, on my behalf, to supervise the service of snacks and sit-down meals where they were needed. Authority was obtained for the Miners' Welfare Fund to be used to make grants to facilitate the provision of canteen accommodation and equipment. About 250 canteens, designed as snack bars, were already in existence, attached to pithead baths. There are now 715 canteens in operation, catering for 83 per cent. of the whole industry, and 203 more are in preparation to provide for a further 13 per cent. of the personnel, making 96 per 1363 cent. in all. Fifty-nine canteens supply full meals, and arrangements are in progress to supply full meals at an additional 341 canteens. There is at most collieries a strong demand for facilities for the supply of sandwiches and food to take underground, and for fried fish and sausages to eat at the end of the shift. The demand for service of full meals is not so insistent, but is being met as it arises, particularly on the Northeast coast, in Yorkshire and in Nottinghamshire. Each canteen is managed by committees of representatives of the men and the owners, and as a rule is supervised by a manageress, working under the committee. The Ministry of Food has helped with advice on staffing and on the supplies of food to be made available. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. D. Robertson) kindly undertook to experiment with hot meals underground. I have read his report with great interest, and I must thank the hon. Member for his willingness, under war conditions, to introduce a more substantial meal for miners.
I will now say a word about economy. We have endeavoured to make use of our technical knowledge of fuels. A series of conferences have been called in all, the imimportant industrial centres at which Dr. Grummell, Chairman of the Fuel Efficiency Committee appointed by the Mines Department, has been present. He has divided the work into a number of sections covering the entire consumption of industrial and domestic coal to an aggregate figure of 180,000,000 tons. I have every confidence that the result of these discussions will be highly beneficial. The Fuel Efficiency Campaign is being maintained, and is receiving the support of fuel engineers and the Trade Research Association. It is vitally necessary to economise, to use coal in the most efficient manner, and to assist consumers to overcome difficulties due to the substitution of unfamiliar or inferior coal. While dealing with scientific uses of coal, may I comment very briefly on the alternative use of fuels and say what is being done in regard to coal tar distillation. The Department set up the Coal Tar Control, and a very important development has been promoted by the Control, the Petroleum Department and the Petroleum Board for replacing imported fuel oil used in furnaces and heating plants by coal tar oils, particularly creosote pitch 1364 mixtures. This is "oil from coal," and I can assure the House that the fullest use is being made of tar oils with a view of saving imported petroleum products. Measures are also being taken to use coal-tar products in place of imported bitumen. The recovery of benzole as a motor fuel and for the production of toluene, which is used in the manufacture of high explosives has been pushed forward with the utmost pressure under the direction of Mr. George Evetts and his Committee. I cannot give the figures in these two cases, but there is satisfactory progress.
The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and other Members have frequently asked for information about producer gas. A full statement of the Department's position was made in another place by the Minister of War Transport, on 11th March. My Department has sponsored much research work on this subject. The present position is that the Department expects, within a fortnight, reports from two highly qualified committees, with regard to supplies of fuel and with regard to road performance of different types of producers. The reports will be made as soon as possible, if hon. Members would arrange to put a question to me at the appropriate time I will give as full information to the House as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Grenfell
About two weeks. Hon. Members have from time to time raised the question of exports. I have been unable to give the detailed information desired, but it will be well within the knowledge of my mining colleagues that the great coalfields of South Wales and the north-east coast relied to a large extent on those export markets for the maintenance of work in those areas. In the year before the war more than 30,000,000 tons were exported. The exports continued to increase until the following summer, when they fell away by more than 500,000 tons per week. There has been no effort to send coal abroad in such large quantities in the last year and a half. The home market calls for all the coal that we can produce, but the demands for foreign-going bunkers and other supplies to certain foreign markets are being maintained. There is this small number, with the British Dominions and certain neutral countries, which we do 1365 not desire to relinquish, because we receive essential food and raw materials in exchange for coal. There is no likelihood of an increase in the quantity sent abroad unless by some means an increase in production, even greater than I have outlined, can be secured.
§ Mr. Bevan
Is it not the fact that the more favourable report about the domestic coal position that the hon. Member is able now to mention to the House is due almost entirely to the fact that the policy of the Government during last winter has been deliberately to prevent the export of coal, except in very small quantities?
§ Mr. Grenfell
The hon. Member is right in suggesting that the export restrictions have helped the home supplies, but it would not be true to say that the quality of the coal usually exported is suitable for use as house coal, but it has given us more coal.
§ Mr. Grenfell
That is so. The House is aware of the transport difficulties which have been encountered in dealing with this large volume of coal on our congested railway system. It is not possible in winter-time to get the traffic raised to the level of the summer traffic. It is therefore necessary to make full use of all transport available, both in summer and in winter, if the larger annual demand is to be met. It was found necessary early this winter to prepare for stocking coal at the pits, in order that there should be no idle time due to the failure of transport by rail or by sea. Sites for the special purpose have been secured and the lay-out entrusted to the local area stocking committees, assisted by Mr. J. W. Gibson, acting for my Department. These sites will be held in readiness for emergencies in the coming winter if transport is found to be inadequate. There is at present sufficient transport, and it will be necessary to lift the coal that was dumped at the beginning of winter in order to transport these stocks to the point of consumption and to maintain current supplies for priority consumers whose stocks are running low. There have been many improvements in rail transports, which have been found to be of great assistance during this winter, and it is hoped that still 1366 further improvements may be achieved during the coming summer. It is now apparent that full use is already made of canal transport, and it is not likely that any considerable expansion of coal transport by canals is to be anticipated during the war.
I would like to conclude by emphasising the main points in the programme for the next 12 months. We aim to raise enough coal to supply the summer demand and to set aside an additional 20,000,000 tons of stock in readiness for the winter. If we are to get additional man-power and an early start, we can reach the target set out in our programme. It is certain that next winter's consumption will be heavier than the consumption this winter, and that we should place into additional stock, the quantity in excess of this winter's consumption. Unless we manage to secure these additional stocks we shall be in no better position than we have been this winter. It is not enough to rely only on the prospects of greater output. The ordinary consumer can help by the exercise of all reasonable economy. We need every ton which can be got. There should be no waste of fuel or light or power. Every shovel-full saved helps the miner in his task to provide the nation's coal. By joint endeavour and a most moderate sacrifice, next year's demand for coal can be met.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has something to say on the question of the enforcement of economies. He will, I feel sure, agree with me that we have to strive first for the largest measure of production and the maintenance of full transport facilities. We must have sufficient labour to win the coal and to deliver it to consumers in every quarter of the land. I have appealed to the men who are to win the coal, and I would urge all parties to cooperate and to plan for better results at each pit. The industry can work the pits and deliver the required output until the end of the war, if it is given a chance and its man-power is maintained and the loss made good from the ranks of ex-miners fit for work at the coal face. There is no lack of willingness on the men's part, but there is room for closer co-operation, and it is the duty of the Mines Department and the leaders of the industry on both sides to find a way to achieve that co-operation. The coal which the nation needs cannot be secured by provocative 1367 speeches and loose allegations against the men. Rather it is our duty to get to work to strive for the largest possible output and the utmost economy in the use of this valuable commodity.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)
It is customary when one addresses this House for the first time to ask for its indulgence, and I do not think that I have ever felt that to be more necessary than it is at the moment when I have to address the House from this Box. We have just listened to a very full and exhaustive survey of the position in the coalfields. I would not call it very inspiring, but it certainly was neither dull nor gloomy. In fact, I know my hon. Friend so well that I would be surprised if at any time he ceased to be an optimist. He is a born optimist, and the other day I wondered what was the exact meaning of "optimism". I found it in the Oxford Dictionary in these terms:Sanguine disposition, inclination to take bright views.If that applies to one person more than any other in this House, I would say that it applies to my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines. He has certainly put the brightest side possible to this question, but he has disclosed very clearly that every aspect of the coal problem at the moment is unsatisfactory. He has made it quite clear that, whether it be production, distribution or consumption, the present position is unsatisfactory. This Debate will be a waste of time if it does not result in finding some ways and means of dealing with each of these questions in order to remove the unsatisfactory character of the present position. As my hon. Friend has already suggested, there are many factors which operate for and against production. He mentioned one very important one—I think the most important—namely, Is the present personnel in the industry adequate to meet present fuel requirements? I know the industry intimately. There is only one answer to that question. The present personnel is not adequate to meet the present needs.
I am glad to see present three Members of the War Cabinet. For a long time now they have considered very carefully whether it would not be possible for a number of miners now in the Forces, fully trained men, to return to the in- 1368 dustry in order to assist in this very essential question of providing the necessary fuel. I know that every member of the War Cabinet will be anxious to do anything that would assist the war effort. The question they have to consider is a very simple one, namely, could they not find from 20,000 to 30,000 men, fully trained and likely to remain in this country for many months in case of military need, and allow them to return, say, for the summer or until a situation arises in which they would serve the country's interest better where they are to-day than in the mines? Mobility of labour is always a good thing, but never more so than in war, and I submit to the War Cabinet that 20,000 or 30,000 ex-miners who are to-day in the Forces would further the war effort if they were engaged in the mining industry far more than by doing what they are doing to-day.
I know that the High Command in the Army will feel that this would disorganise military units. It will; I do not disguise that fact. But will it be more in the interests of the country? I would ask the War Cabinet once again to reexamine this question, to see whether it is possible to release a reasonable number of strong, virile men back to the industry. Without them we cannot produce the coal that is required in these present conditions. I know hon. Members opposite will say that the spokesmen for the miners are always saying, "Send us more men, and do not talk about the present personnel." Well, this House must face up to the question—and we are not afraid—of whether both sides in the industry are doing all that could be reasonably expected of them. I say that they are not.
Having said that, I want to turn to a question which is frequently raised in this House—absenteeism. This House had better realise that mining is very hard work. I have had 22 years of it, so I know. The strongest, most vigorous and most patriotic miner cannot continue to work full time incessantly. There will be times when he will need a rest, and if he does not get it, his contribution to output will be lowered.
The vast majority of the miners of this country are playing fair. They are doing all that can be expected of them. But there is a minority—a very small minority—who are not playing the game. Do not 1369 let anyone think that the miners' leaders in this country have any sympathy with that minority, but at the same time they feel that a certain class which has no right to do so are prone to criticise the miners. I think that class was well portrayed in the "Daily Herald" cartoon of last Thursday, a copy of which I have here. It shows two exceedingly well-fed men, looking exceedingly prosperous and enjoying what I should consider to be very expensive cigars. One says to the other, "I will just 'phone up the works and see if there is any absenteeism." Well, miners can stand a lot, but they cannot stand that kind of thing.
§ Mr. Macdonald
The miners themselves have done their best to deal with this evil of absenteeism. A few months ago an ex-Member of this House—the present General Secretary of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain—made one of the most brilliant broadcasts of the war. I have a copy of what he said here, and he dealt with this question on behalf of the Federation. He did not mince words when he said:The only men who should be penalised are those proved to be deliberately idle. These men are sabotaging the war effort and should be subject to the full rigour of the law. A small percentage of deliberate idlers should not he allowed to besmirch the character and integrity of the men.That is the attitude of the Mineworkers' Federation on absenteeism. When we come to the question of how to deal with absenteeism, and the persistent absentee, it is not very easy. Do not let us forget that the miner is a type on his own. If you are not wise in handling him, you may get him to work and so reduce absenteeism, but you will not increase output. If you get at the coal face a disgruntled man, the absentee figure will be improved, but you will not get the results you expect from him. [An HON. MEMBER: "Put him in the Army."] Somebody suggests that he should be put in the Army. Well, the miners are asking to go there. They would be delighted. They prefer the Army to the coal pits. I think this matter should be left to my hon. Friend's Department and both sides of the industry to see whether they can stamp out this evil. There is a tendency to compare absenteeism to-day with absenteeism before the war, when pits were not work- 1370 ing full time and men sometimes had two or three days off, because there was no work, and so got their rest. To-day they are working full time. Absenteeism in the mining industry to-day is less than it ever was in pre-war days.
I would like to refer to mineowners on this question of production. Reference has been made from time to time to inferior coal. Will my hon. Friend find out where collieries have changed from seams of good quality coal to seams of inferior quality coal? Will he ask his regional fuel and power controllers to ask every company to indicate every seam that was being worked in August, 1939, and every seam that is being worked today? If a company has gone from good quality coal to inferior coal, will he find out why? I realise that collieries have at times no option but to run inferior seams. We need every kind of coal we can get today, but I was told this week that at a wharf one minute from where I live the quantity of dirt coming along with the coal was over 20 per cent. and that domestic consumers received only three-quarters of a cwt. of coal when they were supposed to be getting one cwt. There is something going on somewhere. I am told that managers of great electrical undertakings are unable at times to carry the load, although they use as much coal as ever, because of its quality. There is suspicion with regard to what coalowners are doing, and that suspicion must be removed. I ask my hon. Friend to make an inquiry of the sort I have suggested, to find out why it is that at the present time coal is so much inferior, to the pre-war coal.
My hon. Friend referred to production committees. We have here a piece of machinery which could do good work, for it is well designed; but whether or not machinery will be effective often depends upon the spirit in which it is worked. I am a member of a district production committee and know about these timings from the inside, and I want to say frankly that the spirit in which this machinery is operated in some districts and collieries is not helpful to production. In the pit production committees, often the manager sidetracks every topic that might be discussed except the topic of absenteeism. The Select Committee on National Expenditure, to which I would like to pay a tribute, in their Third Report, which is a very fine 1371 Report, dealt with this question, and I want to quote a sentence that is pregnant with meaning:Some of these committees have discussed any subject which the men think could improve production.That sentence says what it means, but it also says what it does not mean. The word used is "some." Let hon. Members note that it does not say "many," or "the majority." That "some" is not a very big "some." I am sure my hon. Friend will agree with me that all of them should discuss any subject which the men think could improve production, but they are not doing so. The trouble is that when these committees are confined to the subject of absenteeism and other subjects which are brought forward by the workers are put aside, the workers do not give to the question of absenteeism the attention which otherwise they would. The coalowners must take a new attitude towards the pit production committees. Among the miners there are men of great skill and experience, who could make substantial contributions and constructive suggestions concerning the working of the mines; these men ought not to be disregarded by the coal-owners. I ask the Secretary for Mines to look into the question of the working of the production committees, more especialy the pit production committees, for it is there that there is most trouble.
There are other factors concerning production. My hon. Friend referred to food. I want to pay a tribute to the Ministry of Food. It was an innovation to deal with this question in the collieries, and the Ministry have done wonderfully well, and the miners feel that they are indebted to the Ministry. But I do not think as much is being done as could be done. This matter was discussed at the last meeting of our Welfare Committee in Lancashire, and at that meeting, the chairman, who happens to be one of our biggest coalowners, referred to the delay which had taken place in getting various schemes into operation, but said that after tracking the matter down, he was satisfied that the Miners' Welfare people were not responsible for the delay and that undoubtedly the fault was with various Ministers of the Government. I would like my right hon. Friend, when he replies, to tell us to what extent the delay is due to different Ministers. We 1372 cannot afford delay in this matter. If any men in this country need good, nourishing food, the miners do; without it, we shall not get the production results that we need.
There is another small, but important matter that I want to mention—getting the miner to his work. I have on the Order Paper a Question concerning this matter, and I will not attempt to anticipate the reply. What is being done to remove the pre-war restrictions on the picking-up of passengers? We find in Lancashire that miners on their way to the colliery, and standing at a corner a mile or two from the colliery, are being passed by 'buses going to that colliery, and, although the 'buses are only half full, the miners are not allowed to get on them. Something should be done about this. I understand the difficulty, but red tape ought not to be allowed to stand in the way.
With regard to the Essential Work Order, I notice that there has been an amendment to the general Essential Work Order, but that the Order as it affects miners has not been so amended. Will my right hon. Friend consider having consultations with both sides in the industry to see whether it is possible to obtain some amendment? For instance, during the period of bad weather there were scores of miners who failed to get to their work because of the deep snow. Some got nearer to the colliery than others, but scores of them failed to get to the colliery. When they raised the question of how the Essential Work Order affected them, some collieries paid them, others refused to do so, and the whole result was chaos, which was not advantageous. I would like my right hon. Friend to go into this matter and see what can be done.
As regards distribution, I find in my own locality, and in the constituency which I have the honour to represent, that the position is becoming very difficult. The young and strong men who are needed to carry hundredweight bags, especially up to flats, are being taken, and there are left older men, who do the work to the best of their ability, but who are not quite fit for it. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would have a talk with the Ministry of Labour about this. I think it would be worth considering whether this type of worker should not be reserved. I would like this matter to 1373 be looked into because, especially in winter weather, it affects production. These men are being taken; if they were taken into the mines they would be a help, but they are taken away altogether, with the result that production suffers and distribution suffers still more. I agree that there is some waste in production. I do not know what contacts the Department have with big factories. This weekend I was talking to a person who is very much in the know, and he told me that there is a great deal of coal wasted in different munitions factories in the West Country. I would like my right hon. Friend to find out whether they are using coal as economically as possible. Let it not be forgotten that coal is the result of hard work and of men running great risks. Coal is required for the war effort.
In conclusion, I want to refer to the pledge that was given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour on 4th December last. Following a Debate in which it had been suggested that some industries would make a better contribution to the war effort if they were nationalised, he said that the War Cabinet were prepared to consider the whole question and added:The test that has to be applied is whether we can more successfully prosecute the war by taking this or that step in relation to certain industries. … They will have to be put forward in the House, and they will be examined on the basis I have named—they must be shown to contribute to the more successful prosecution of the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1941; cols. 1342–1344; Vol. 376.]Following that statement, the Mineworkers' Federation, along with the political side of the Labour movement, set about arranging such a scheme. They have arranged a scheme. At the moment negotiations are going on between the Government and the Mineworkers' Federation, so that it would not be right for me to raise the matter now. I think it would be very unfair to raise it. The scheme had better be examined by the Government, and the negotiations ought to continue. If the Government feel like rejecting it, let them reject it; if they feel like accepting it, let them accept it; and then, at a later date—I hope in the very near future, without any undue delay—the House can be confronted with the final issue as to whether the scheme should be accepted or not.
1374 When dealing with the mining industry, do not forget that the human element is of primary consideration. The miners have not had too good a deal from Parliament, and they are very dissatisfied with the way in which Parliament has handled them. They have never counted for much in this country, except in times of war and stoppages. The risks they run and the dangers they face have been ignored. But, when fuel becomes short and when we have to sit by fireless grates, we remember the miners, and, therefore, do not be surprised if the miner wonders why he is not remembered more when things are normal. I hope all who take part in this Debate will keep in mind that they are dealing with as fine a body of patriotic workers as in any other country. No one will suffer more and work harder for prosecuting the war to a successful issue than the miner.
§ Mr. Brooke (Lewisham, West)
Certainly I for one will wholeheartedly respond to the final appeal which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald). At the outset he asked the indulgence of the House in making his first speech from the opposition Front Bench. I think other Members of the House will agree with me when I say that it would be a joy if we heard more frequently speeches from the Front Bench delivered with equal sincerity and without notes. If the time comes, as it may, for the hon. Member having tried one of the Front Benches to try the other, I hope I shall still be in the House and have the privilege to follow him [Hon. MEMBERS: "Where?"] The hon. Member speaks as one who has lived and worked for many years in the industry. I speak as one who has not had that experience, or, as he would say, that privilege; but I am certain that this is the time for everyone, whatever has been his past experience or outlook, to examine the coal problem as coolly, as impartially and as humanly as may be, because nine months hence hon. Members will look back to this Debate to see whether or not back benchers influenced the Government in March, 1942, to do the right thing. If mistakes are made now, it will be next Christmas when the results will become fully apparent. Mistakes made now cannot be remedied later. The coal which we shall urgently be wanting next winter will still be underground 1375 unless the Government take the right decisions here and now.
The hon. Member for Ince spoke of the optimism of the Secretary for Mines. But that idea was not his own invention. In the last Debate when we were discussing the coal problem my hon. Friend the Member for South Aberdeen (Sir D. Thomson) stated:I sincerely hope that what the Minister has said to-day will not prove to be unduly optimistic."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1941, col. 1820; Vol. 373.]We all echo that to-day. The Minister put before us a somewhat consoling view of the situation; it is not consolation we require, but straight, truthful speaking. He was able to say that the stock position was considerably better now than many of us had feared. That may be so, but in another respect things have taken a grave turn for the worse. In the months which have passed since last August, the Secretary for Mines has, I presume, been doing all he can to get men back to the mines from civil industry. The Report of the National Expenditure Committee tells us that up to the end of the year that effort had produced only 17,000 men. This effort seems to me to be nearly exhausted. We have got these 17,000 men and we cannot count on doubling or trebling that number. We have to look further afield. Is the Minister looking further afield? Are the Government looking further afield? Again, I refer to the Debate of 5th August last year. My right hon. Friend the present Minister of Supply, who was then President of the Board of Trade, stated on this matter of additional man-power for the industry:Altogether, 25,000 should be forthcoming. But we shall not stop at 25,000. If more are needed, more will be had."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1941; col. 1899, Vol. 373.]I am very much afraid that for three months we have stopped at 17,000. Unless we get this man-power question put right, we are, as the hon. Member said, going to be terribly short of coal next winter. I mentioned my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, and I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to him for the magnificent, tireless work he did in connection with improving the coal situation while he was at the Board of Trade. To my personal knowledge, he spent days and nights 1376 travelling around the whole country meeting district production committees and doing all in his power to stimulate and ensure improvements. Personally, I think it is a matter of regret that he should have had to give up so much of his time from his work at the Board of Trade. He had to do it, and his predecessor, the present Minister of State, had to do it, and I am wondering whether my right hon. Friend the new President of the Board of Trade will find the same duty falling upon him. If so, it seems to me a mark of faulty organisation on the part of the Government. The Presidency of the Board of Trade is a full-time job in war, and it ought not to be necessary for the holder of that office to act also as Secretary for Mines.
I represent 100,000 people in South-East London. In spite of all the comforting words we have heard, South-East London during these past weeks has been enduring a serious coal shortage. What are the reasons given? What are the explanations or excuses? The excuses given are that we have had an unprecedented period of cold weather, and, secondly, that owing to the absence of air raids evacuees have returned to London in unexpected numbers. Having made all allowance for these two causes, both of them seem to me to be infinitesimally small compared with the loss of coal supplies which London would have suffered had the country undergone the air raids which we might well have expected this winter. The Standing Joint Committee of Metropolitan Borough Councils, to my knowledge, brought to the notice of the Mines Department last autumn their anxious apprehensions about the coal situation in London, before this cold weather eventuated, and I do not think the Secretary for Mines can purge himself entirely of responsibility for the situation in which London has found itself. He spoke of further Government measures of restriction and rationing. I hope we shall have further drastic measures, to restrict unnecessary consumption of fuel in wartime. How much has been done hitherto to this end? Large sums, I believe, have been spent on publicity campaigns. Is any Member of the House conscious of having had it drummed into his head, as it should have been drummed into every member of the public, in every street and on every hoarding, that we must save fuel? That publicity campaign has not 1377 so far been conducted with the imagination or the vigour that the facts of the situation demanded.
But we cannot put this matter right solely by a policy of restriction. The key is output. All of us have to help the Department all we know to secure maximum output during the next seven or eight months—the period of the year when coal production is not limited by transport difficulties. A Question was asked earlier to-day about the hon. Gentleman's attitude towards mines which are failing at the moment to produce the maximum output of which they are capable. I was disappointed with the Minister's answer. He spoke in general terms of having officers who are making a survey of the matter. He said he would soon have full information. The war has been going on for nearly three years. We cannot afford to allow any mines to continue to operate at less than their maximum output. The hon. Gentleman should examine every one of the particular mines which are at fault, on their own merits, in the light of their own condition. I should be prepared to back him in whatever action he took with those exceptional cases to secure such changes as would remove the deficiencies of which there is at this moment legitimate complaint.
First, then, he must deal hard with any companies which are not going all out for maximum effort. He must cope equally with the cases where output is restricted by out-of-date equipment. Having justified himself to the mining community by that action, he must be prepared to act equally firmly in allocating the available labour supply of the industry to those pits where the output per man-shift will in fact be highest. That has not yet been adequately done. There are pits with a high output per man which could tomorrow usefully engage additional labour which they cannot get, while men at the same time are working at other pits here the output per man is considerably lower. The Secretary for Mines should be absolutely impartial in dealing with both sides of the industry. He should make it crystal clear to all concerned that he will let nothing stand in the way of decisions designed to secure the maximum output of coal from the country as a whole. Above all he must not delay his decisions, because decisions by the Mines Department 1378 have too often been delayed in the past 2½ years of war.
§ Mr. Brooke
The action taken to restrict the use of coal and secure economies of fuel by non-domestic users was long delayed. The Mines Department has gone on month after month playing with the question of restriction of the domestic use of coal. In the matter of man-power decisions we have been late every time. We had 17,000 men back by Christmas when we ought to have had 27,000. The Secretary for Mines will say he cannot take that decision—that it is a Government and not a Departmental decision. But I hardly think he should sit down under that. He is responsible to the country, and we in the House are entitled to demand through him that right decisions should be taken. On 28th May last year my hon. Friend said:I do not order men back to the pits, as that is a matter for the Government as a whole, and the Government are now considering how many and how soon men can be brought back."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th May, 1941; col. 1945, vol. 371.]That is just my point, that month after month the Government continues to consider how many and how soon men should be brought back.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Certainly not. The figures are wrong. The hon. Member said only 17,000 men are brought back. Actually more than 30,000 were brought back. The net increase is about 17,000.
§ Mr. Brooke
I apologise for not having introduced the word "net." It is true that a much large number than 17,000 men have come back, but what matters to us and to the coal user is the net number. The wastage is going on all the time. Unless further action is taken to bring men back, we shall have 20,000 or 30,000 fewer men in the mines by this time next year. Therefore the hon. Gentleman and the Government can never rest in this man-power assault that they have to make. I was disappointed that he was not in a position to say anything more definite to-day about the return of men from the Army. We must have men back from the Army for the mines. He must speak quite straight to the War 1379 Office and to the War Cabinet. It is useless to bring back men who because of poor physique are of no value to the Army. In that way we shall only find that we are decreasing still further the ratio of coal face workers to the total numbers employed. It is a difficult decision for the Army to have to acquiesce in, but it must be made. The Army itself will suffer otherwise. We have to get back quickly 20,000 men of good physique who will really be able to play their full part in raising the output of the country.
Let me re-emphasise that these decisions must be taken now. To do the right thing three months late is equivalent to doing the wrong thing. By its nature there is not in this industry the astonishing elasticity which some other industries possess. One cannot raise in extraordinary proportions the output per man in the mines. Therefore, if 10,000 men are left outside the industry for one month who ought to be back at the pits in that month, the Secretary for Mines not having been able to force the War Cabinet to bring them back, we shall be short next winter of the coal which these 10,000 men in this April or May would have produced. Coal does not forgive. The country will not forgive, if decisions are delayed. I have spoken bluntly, but I am convinced that this is a matter in which the bluntest possible speaking is an absolute necessity.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
The subject with which we are dealing to-day is one that interests every individual in the country, and in a special degree those who are associated with mining constituencies. I have the honour to represent a certain number of that splendid race to which a great tribute was paid by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) just now. I entirely agree with all he said about the great contribution which the miners have always rendered. I have heard with interest what the hon. Member for Ince said about certain proposals which are now under discussion on behalf of the Labour party with the Government, and I shall wait with the greatest interest to see what they are and how far they are acceptable to the Government. I was struck with certain words which have their application to this matter which I read in an excellent article 1380 by Sir William Beveridge in to-day's "Times." Incidentally, I cannot help thinking that he would be a powerful addition to the membership of the War Cabinet. The words to which I refer are these:The time calls for two changes: first, for the State to take direct responsibility for the control of vital industries and for the distribution of income; second, for assertion of the principle that service rather than personal gain should be the mainspring of war effort in industry as in fighting.I profoundly agree with these observations, and I cannot help feeling that the more we can make the miners feel that they are working for their country rather than for private interests, the more successful we shall be in persuading them to produce the coal that is required for the purposes of the war.
§ Mr. Mander
Certainly; the article applies to all trades, but I was applying it to the subject under discussion. We have had an interesting Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure—the forty-third Report—which deals with the coal situation. I want to say something about the observations therein on pit production committees, because it seems to me of vital importance that the fullest use should be made of them. This is an opportunity for associating the men directly with the conduct of the industry. The Report says:Some of these committees have discussed any subject which the men think could improve production.My experience as chairman of a works committee in a different industry during the last 15 years has been that it is the wisest course to allow any subject to be discussed which deals in any way with the business with which one is connected. I do not follow why the Select Committee should appear to want to restrict that. If they simply mean that there should be kept outside the ambit of discussions national wages agreements and things of that kind, I appreciate it, but even then there are cases where the local application of a national agreement may suitably be discussed. If there is any resistance taking place to the proper functioning of these committees, we should be told who is causing the resistance and obstruction. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would indicate whether in the experience of the 1381 Ministry any deliberate obstruction has been found and, if so, where it arises. It ought to be put an end to. The miners should be made to feel that they are partners in the conduct of their industry and encouraged to bring forward any practical proposals they can for the better running of particular mines.
One hears that in other industries, such as engineering and munitions, committees of this kind are working with astonishing results. The workers enormously appreciate the opportunities that are given to them, and I cannot help feeling that the miners would respond in the same way if given the fullest opportunity. I heard it broadcast on Saturday night by Raymond Gram Swing that committees of this kind which are functioning in the United States had increased production from 10 to 40 per cent. in different industries owing to the partnership that is entered into by the two sides. I cannot help thinking that our Russian Allies might be able to give us some useful information as to their own experience on subjects of this kind. Some reference is made by the Select Committee to the lack of sustaining food necessary to the miners if they are to maintain their strength and working fitness. I thought that the statement made by the Secretary for Mines was very assuring. If it be the case, as he said, that arrangements have been made and are in contemplation for 96 per cent. of the industry, that will go a long way to meet the criticism of the Select Committee. On page 8 of the Report is a reference to the important question that was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) on man-power. The Committee said:Further evidence has confirmed the Committee's opinion that it would be as well to have a plan ready for the temporary release of men from the Army if they are still in this country this spring, as their help would be invaluable in building up stocks for the winter of 1942–43.I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an answer to that recommendation and tell us whether the Government are agreeable to the course proposed, which seems to me an eminently sensible one. There is a letter in the "Times" to-day, written on behalf of the National Association of Colliery Managers, in which it is said that while consultations have taken place with miners, mine owners, and coal distributors, no information has been 1382 invited by the Mines Department from the technical executives. I should like to know what answer can be given to the apparently reasonable request in that letter.
With regard to the problem of distribution, particularly of house coal, if one simply accepted what the Minister said to-day about the vast stocks and dumps of coal held in all parts of the country one would imagine that everything must be perfectly all right. I found it extremely difficult to reconcile that statement about over-flowing stocks with the experiences of the people in my own constituency, where for many weeks past it has been found impossible to meet the needs of householders. Women have been to the fuel office asking for coal which cannot be obtained although it had been applied for week after week for many weeks. I know that in the last week or two the Secretary for Mines has done all that he could in response to the direct representations which I have had to make to him, but it seems to me that there has been some lack of foresight and some mismanagement if all this coal is available in dumps or stock about the country but not in the houses of the poor people who have needed it during this cold spell. I hope that better arrangements will be made for next winter. I have also had complaints that in some cases the coal has been found to contain a substantial proportion of stone or other material, and that point ought to receive the attention of the Mines Department.
The miners have always shown themselves patriotic and willing to do anything they are called upon to do in the interests of the country, particularly in times of crisis, and I feel sure that the best way of getting their good will and co-operation is by associating them as closely as possible with the conduct of the great national industry in which they are engaged. In that way we shall enable them to make the fullest contribution to the winning of the war, which is what they desire with all their hearts.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Chislehurst)
I do not happen to be in any way connected with the coal industry, but I want to address the House because, as the last speaker said, this is a question which affects the whole country. I was frankly disappointed with the speech of the 1383 Secretary for Mines, because the picture he painted does not coincide with the picture which I wish to put before the House. I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) was here, because I should like to tell him that I fully sympathise with him in his admiration for the miners and the hard work they have to do, but I am sure that all Members will agree that this is a question of national importance and I hope that I may be forgiven if I try to put the other side. The hon. Member for Ince said that our sympathy should be with the miners, but I would point out that miners are still human beings and have human failings. I have had a letter from a man who is a great patriot and has great knowledge of the mining industry in which he says:I feel that the average Member of Parliament and certainly the public have no idea of the true state of affairs in industry to-day, which wants tackling most seriously throughout the whole country.With the permission of the House, I will give some typical examples; all the figures I give come from authoritative sources. Recently coal was rationed, and last night on the wireless and this morning in the papers we heard that there is to be a further restriction on the use of coal. The reasons which were given were the severe weather and that coal was needed for essential industries. Why was not the whole truth told to the public and other reasons given—absenteeism and reduced output per shift? This would have created a public opinion about a section of the community who, for what ever reason, are not going full out in the war effort. Particulars have been sent to me of one colliery which show that voluntary absenteeism of coal-face workers during January this year was over 12 per cent., and as a consequence at least 3,000 tons of coal in January were lost to the country—that is, at the rate of 36,000 tons a year. This absenteeism is entirely additional to that due to sickness which was at the high rate of 7 per cent.
§ Sir W. Smithers
Before I came to the House to-day a fellow Member who heard that I wished to speak said to me, "Do call attention to the sick notes that are given." It is considered by responsible people that the British Medical Association should tighten up things, because unquestionably a large number of sick notes are signed by doctors when they ought not to be given. Another man who is not in control of but who helps to control the Airedale Collieries, Terry Greaves & Co., Denby Grange Collieries, Manor Haigh Colliery, Henry Brigg, Son, & Co., R. Holliday & Sons and Terry Greaves & Lister Kaye, tells me that the shifts lost in West Yorkshire during October numbered more than 121,000, and that the position is worse to-day. The average output per shift is 22.42 cwt. and therefore the country lost, taking into consideration sickness, at least roo,000 tons of coal that month in West Yorkshire alone, and that is at the rate of 1,200,000 tons a year.
The question of bringing more men back from the Army to the coal industry has been raised several times in this Debate. I want to put an opposite point of view from men well qualified to give an opinion. I believe that a committee which has gone into the matter has submitted a report to the Government, and the suggestion has been made that miners should be called out of the Army with a view to increasing our stock of coal. But in the opinion of men who are qualified to speak such action is not necessary. They tell me that if absenteeism were cured and the men did a fair day's work the present number of men employed in the mines could produce more coal than the country requires. I asked the Secretary for Mines a Question earlier to-day about the export of coal and I have the answer in my pocket, but it is confidential. He said he could not give any figures. In view of the fact that many millions of tons of coal are not now exported, surely some of that which is not exported should be available for home consumption.
One of the biggest reasons for absenteeism in mines is the fact that big wages are being paid in other industries, where men are getting nearly double the pay of miners, who are definitely harder-worked to-day. It is suggested that legislation should be introduced to equalise the wages 1385 of these workers, in some way or other. I am not allowed to give to the House one instance which I have in my possession, but I hope that hon. Members will believe me when I say that the particulars were given to me by a responsible person. They show that in some other industries workers are earning about £40 per week.
§ Sir W. Smithers
Another colliery manager stated that the efforts of mineworkers have undoubtedly been affected prejudicially by various irresponsible statements made by Government officials, that the coal position was satisfactory. Such statements have been made from time to time during recent months, and there is no doubt that they have been the means of further slackening in the efforts of mineworkers. The value given by the Government to the morale and the spirit of our people is not sufficiently appreciated. I do not believe that there is any sacrifice which the miners, and the people of our country generally, would not make if the necessity were fearlessly pointed out by Members of the Government, men who could speak with authority. Another mine manager pointed out that the existing procedure via National Service officers in order to obtain the compulsory attendance of miners was extremely cumbersome and suggested that means should be found for facilitating the procedure. I ask the Government to initiate an intensive propaganda drive for the maximum coal production, and that it should be energetically and continuously sustained.
§ Sir W. Smithers
Am I not trying to do something to help the miners by pointing out that the inequality of their wages with wages in other industries is one of the reasons why they will not put their backs into their work? I want the Government to do something to secure equality 1386 of wages throughout the country. A further point is that, apart from voluntary absenteeism, the average shift output had been decreased from 1.62 cwts. in the Doncaster area to 3 cwts. in South Yorkshire. In the Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries alone the abnormal number of shifts being lost at the present is 3,400 per month at the coal face, and, together with a decrease in output per man, gives an approximate loss per month in output of 22,000 tons or 264,000 tons per annum. For South Yorkshire, the annual loss due to these causes is 2,250,000 tons. Another director points out that the difficulties with which the coal industry has to contend in these days include lightning strikes, sabotage and the refusal of men to co-operate in the production of coal. It is very difficult during a speech to give figures, but I wish to give a few figures, and I will put them as clearly and concisely as I can.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I was coming to that point in a minute. Let me find the cutting. It is a case of—I am afraid I cannot find the cutting at the moment.[Interruption] I am trying to make a contribution to this Debate.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
It is not a small thing to accuse miners of sabotage. What does the hon. Member know about miners, anyway, to be accusing them of sabotage?
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Give us the name of the pit where the sabotage has been taking place. I may know something about this.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I have a report here which says:Numerous instances of sabotage in pit. Allegations at Barnsley court.It relates to the New Monckton No. 5 pit.
§ Mr. Griffiths
That is the pit where I worked for 25 years. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I hope you will give me a chance to reply.
§ Sir W. Smithers
In a court of law, the men were each ordered to pay damages of 20s. and 30s. costs.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I want to give some figures which I believe to be true. In South Yorkshire, in December, 1941, the number of shifts worked, including weekend and overtime shifts, totalled 2,146,501. I will not bother the House with the separate figures for the coal face, others underground, and surface figures. The number of shifts lost was 294,630, and the percentage of shifts lost was 12.07. The average earnings per shift were 16s. 8.88d.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I now want to give the figures included in the analysis of percentage of shifts lost. [An HON. MEMBER: "What in? "] It is very difficult to talk when one is interrupted so much.
§ Sir W. Smithers
The analysis provides for loss of shift through sickness, accident and voluntary reasons. The number of shifts lost at the coal face was 5.06 through sickness, 3.22 through accident and 7.01 voluntary. In the case of others underground, the figures were: Sickness 4.06, accident 2.05, and voluntary 5.71. For surface workers, the figures were 3.35 for sickness, 0.98 for accident and 2.92 voluntary. The above information is calculated from the total number of returns, brought up to 100 per cent., of South Yorkshire. I want to give the House some other figures about the Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries and South Yorkshire. In the period from June to August, 1939, voluntary absenteeism at the Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries was 4.42 per cent. and in South Yorkshire 5.8 per cent. In October to December, 1941, in the Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries it was 7.52 per cent., and in South Yorkshire 8.50 per cent. The increase in abnormal absenteeism for 1388 the Doncaster Amalgamated Collieries was 3.1 per cent. and for South Yorkshire 2.7 per cent.
§ Sir W. Smithers
The approximate coal face shifts worked per month in Doncaster were 100,000 and in South Yorkshire 750,000. The coal face shifts lost per month due to abnormal absenteeism were 3,401 in Doncaster and 20,250 in South Yorkshire. Reduced to terms of coal tons per month, that is 13,105 tons in Doncaster and 170,500 tons. From these two causes alone—
§ Sir W. Smithers
I do. The tons lost per month from these two causes, reduced output and absenteeism, come to 22,000 tons a month in Doncaster and 184,000 tons a month in South Yorkshire. On an annual basis, that is 264,000 tons per annum for Doncaster, and 2,218,000 tons for South Yorkshire. I could give figures for other districts.
§ Sir W. Smithers
These figures come from the accounts of the collieries, and I can vouch for them. Another point I want to make is this: The flat rate wages and bonuses which are unrelated to effort do not stimulate production in the industry. In 1936 the flat rate for adults was 1s. a day, and for non-adults 6d. a day. If the House would keep these two headings, adult and non-adult, in their minds, they would find that the figures have gone down: 1st November, 1939, 8d. and 4d.; 1st February, 1940, 5d. and 21c1.; 1st April, 1940, 4d. and 2d.; 1st October, 1940, 5d. and 2id.; 1st January, 1941, 6d. and 3d.; and 1st July, 1941, 4d. and 2d.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I do, perfectly well. Other hon. Members want to speak; I am trying to put a point of view, and I am sorry that I am being interrupted, but there it is. Here are some figures, not very recent, for September, 1941, for the collieries of Grimethorpe, Frickley, and Hatfield Main. The tonnage lost due to output per shift falling since 1939 at Grimethorpe was 9,116 tons, at Frickley 1,280 tons, and at Hatfield Main 9,557 tons. The tonnage lost in the same pits due to absenteeism increasing since 1939 Was 3,333 tons at Grimethorpe, 5,145 tons at Frickley, and 12,635 tons at Hatfield Main. I have quoted these figures because I want to point out that they show that if the output per person per shift was the same in the nine months immediately preceding the war, and if only the absenteeism had been the same, then these three collieries together would be producing 360,000 tons more coal in the year than they were producing at that time. Now the situation has become substantially worse, and I do not think it would be any exaggeration to say—this comes from the manager of the colliery-that these three collieries—are losing over 500,000 tons of coal a year through absenteeism and lack of effort on the part of the men.
I have one or two up-to-date figures here. The point has not yet been raised in the Debate about the effect of the demand for Income Tax on the miners' wages. Unfortunately, Income Tax is playing a very big part, and it is difficult to know how to deal with the subject. The mining companies have put up all sorts of schemes to the Board of Trade and to the Treasury, but apparently nothing can be done. The mining industry is faced with literally hundreds of cases of men saying quite openly that they do not intend to do any more if they have to pay tax. Absenteeism is most excessive on Mondays after a week-end's rest, and it is true to say that this results in a loss of a complete day's work in the week. The manager goes on to say this:Many of our men complete their work in three or four hours, and freely admit that they could cope with more without any overtime, but they just decline to do it."—[Interruption]
§ Sir W. Smithers
I will give it to the hon. Member afterwards. Before the war, when they were working five days a week—
§ Sir W. Smithers
Before the war, when they were working four or five days a week, wages were lower than they are now, and the self-same faces were being stripped regularly, apart from accidents or breakdowns. The following are extracts from a report just received from the agent at Grimethorpe. It begins on Monday, 16th February, and goes up to Thursday, 5th March. The voluntary absenteeism on those days at Grimethorpe was: 134, 94, 71, 115, 86, 41, 112, 77, 68, 79, 33, 47, 147, 90, 92 and 120. That brings it up to Thursday, 5th March.
I want now to refer to a speech made by a gentleman who used to be a Member of this House, Mr. George Spencer, of the Notts. Miners' Federated Union. Mr. Spencer did great work for the men in his union, and speaking on Miners' Day on 10th March he said that 20 to 25 per cent. of the miners were not pulling their weight. I know Mr. Spencer well. He started life down the pit. [Interruption.] You do not like him because he broke away. [An HON. MEMBER:" He came back to us."] I know; you had to get him back. Mr. Spencer says this:During January, in Notts., 45,000 shifts were lost through voluntary absenteeism, apart from 50,000 shifts lost through sickness.I understand that the output per person employed in Nottingham is higher than it is in Yorkshire, so that if they lost 45,000 shifts in January through voluntary absenteeism, the country lost a minimum of 184,000 tons of coal in that month, and that is 2,208,000 tons a year. I want to ask the President of the Board of Trade what practical proposals he has for tackling this very serious situation. I understand that one is to get 20,000 or 25,000 men back from the Services. I have already pointed out that, in the opinion of experts, if the workers now in the industry would do a fair share, and cure the absenteeism as much as possible, the calling-back of the men from the Services would not be necessary. The other suggestion, I understand, is to depart, to some extent, from the proper system of 1391 mining; and the development of more easily got coal. The opinion of a mines manager of very long experience is:In my humble opinion, there is very little hope of getting increased production by adopting such methods.Another proposal, I believe, is to increase mechanisation underground. He says:This will not help to any appreciable extent, because it is well known that in a fully mechanised pit the absenteeism causes far more disturbance than in a partly mechanised one.The last point I want to make is this: It shows some of the tremendous difficulties under which the management and the people who are trying to get at the Minister of Mines are working. I give this as a typical example. It is a letter sent by the managing director of a big colliery company. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Name?"] Mr. P. C. Greaves, managing director of Denby Grange Collieries, Ltd. It is written to Mr. W. E. Jones, at the Miners' Offices, Brantley. I do not like reading letters, but I can shorten my speech by reading this. It says:On Friday, 6th March, at your request, we met Mr. Holmes, with local deputation, on the question of five-day working at Prince of Wales pit. Quite apart from the fact that this pit has always normally worked five days prior to Essential Works Order (which did not seem to be in question), we pointed out that the present rate of absenteeism was making six-day working impossible at this pit. Absenteeism is normally high, and on week-end shifts has been as high as 40 per cent. With the exception of a short period of a few weeks only, the Pit Production Committee has never functioned at all. At the present time the workmen's representatives refuse to attend, saying that they have resigned.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I do not know why—We also pointed out that, even during the short time the Pit Production Committee had functioned, they had steadfastly refused to deal at all with Saturday afternoon absenteeism, and that neither we nor anyone else can work a mechanised pit six days per week without Saturday afternoon men. So far as we could gather, your side admit all these points, but refuse to agree to five-day working, principally for the following reasons:—1392 Some hon. Members know what that means. [HON. MEMBERS: "You do not"] Yes, I do. It is the Yorkshire miners' word for, "not to work."
We are unable to appreciate these arguments, as when work and wages are available on Saturday so many men do not seem to want them. We also said, on Saturday, 28th February, 'The company intended the pit to play'.
- (1) Loss of right to claim Essential Works Order guaranteed wage for Saturday.
- (2) Anticipated loss of right to draw dole for Saturdays after the war when trade is bad.But a notice was posted by your Union that the pit would work, and instructing every man to attend. We know your branch tried, as they have never tried before, to get the men to work, for their own reasons, on that day. The results were:I have tried the patience of the House long enough; but I was determined, with your permission, Sir, that those figures should appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I have every sympathy with the miners, for the terribly hard work they do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is usual to believe an hon. Member when he makes a statement of that kind; and I can assure the House that it is true. But I cannot believe that the mining industry as a whole, management and workers alike, realise what we are up against, and the necessity of producing coal, to help in the war effort and to save this country from being overrun by dictators, whether from Germany, from Japan, or from anywhere else. I beg the President of the Board of Trade to take his courage in both hands, to tell the mining industry frankly what they are up against, and to do all in his power to get a fuller production of coal from the miners of this country.
Notice was immediately posted to work Saturday, 7th March, in the pay office window, and was seen by all the men as they drew their wages. We wish you could have been there to hear the comments which our officials on the other side of the window heard. The results were:
- Saturday morning, 28 per cent. absentees.
- Saturday afternoon, 22 per cent. absentees.
- Sunday night, 52 per cent. absentees.
- Average for 3 shifts, 34 per cent. absentees.
At Caphouse Pit on Saturday morning, March 7th, the coal getters' absenteeism was 73 per cent.
- Saturday morning, 37 per cent. absentees.
- Saturday afternoon, 23 per cent. absentees.
- Sunday night, 52 per cent. absentees.
- Average for 3 shifts, 37 per cent. absentees.
§ Mr. W. Joseph Stewart (Houghton-le-Spring)
I have listened with interest to the Debate, and it is very illuminating to see that at last this House and the country appreciate the work of the miners, as it was described in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald). As an ex-miner, I have some idea of that work. It is interesting to me, knowing the conditions 1393 in some of our mines, to hear Members of this House talking about the large amount of absenteeism. I was interested, while the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) was speaking about absenteeism, to note the number of Members who were present. There were 18 of us, out of a total of 615, or just under 3 per cent. I wondered what the percentage of absenteeism would be if hon. Members had to go down some of those deep pits, especially in Yorkshire, and work in the conditions in which our miners have to work. I read an article in one of our national papers to-day suggesting that in some of these deep pits in the Yorkshire coalfields these men could go into the mine and lose, on an average, from six to eight pounds in weight per day. I think that gives this House some idea of the conditions under which many of our miners are working at the present time. I was interested in the speech of the Secretary for Mines, especially when he dwelt upon the question of collieries that in all probability might have to go out of production in the near future. I have put a Question or two to him during these last few weeks dealing with the question of collieries that are standing in my own county, Durham. I asked him the number that were standing that could be placed into production with very little trouble and expense. He told me that apart from South-West Durham, where we have over 14,000,000 tons of coal lying water-logged, there are eight collieries in Durham itself that could be brought practically into immediate production if the necessary man-power was available. I submit that if we were to concentrate upon the opening of these collieries the national output of coal would in all probability be augmented by over 1,500,000 tons.
This House, in the last Debate upon the mining situation and our national output of coal, dwelt upon the question of manpower, and I remember that at that particular time we suggested it would be in the national interest if the Government were to see their way clear to release certain men from the Forces so as to man our pits as they ought to be manned and help to make up the wastage which is bound to take place in our mining industry personnel. I find that for this last year there has been a continual seeping away from the mining industry of 1394 numbers of its people, which has had an adverse effect upon the general output in the country. I have been told that the figure of output the Government set for this last year was in the region of 4,500,000 tons per week, and the number of people that we had to produce that coal was in the region of 773,083. That target figure has not been realised, I am given to understand, by approximately 300,000 tons per week, and during that period, when we have wanted that target figure of 4,500,000 tons weekly, we have had this drainage from the mines of 75,701 persons. The miners in this country as a whole are hard-working and conscientious, and to ask these men, with a depleted personnel, to maintain a certain weekly and annual output is wrong in principle and not fair to the men who are engaged in the mining industry, and I would suggest that, if the Government are really concerned about the output of coal and the fact that additional factories are coming into production that will need more coal in the near future, surely they ought to be able to devise a scheme which will make it possible for men to be liberated from the Forces so as to keep our output on the upgrade. As we who are, and have been, engaged in the mining industry know, and other Members know as well, the best of our people, our young men, have gone into the Forces from the mining industry. We have to put middle-aged men, and men who are advanced in years to work in our mines, and we cannot expect these men to produce the same amount of coal as the young and virile men who are being taken into His Majesty's Forces.
When the hon. Member on the other side of the House talked about the abnormal percentage of absenteeism in the mining county of Yorkshire, I wondered whether he ever thought that those men who are being taken on to the coal face, some of them from the surface itself, could not stand the strain of this abnormally hard work at the coal face. Consequently they are bound to take a day or two hi the week, in many instances, to recuperate and make up for the wastage which takes place owing to their arduous toil. I would ask this House, in considering this question of absenteeism, to remember these things I have mentioned and relate them to the whole question of output. I noticed what was said by the Secretary for Mines in regard to the question of timber that is 1395 available for mining to-day. He suggested that steel struts and steel props should, as far as possible, take the place of the timber that is now available to the mines of the country. I am in agreement with him to an appreciable extent, but I would like to point out to the House, as an ex-miner, that I would rather have timber in the working places than steel struts and steel props.
§ Mr. Stewart
As my hon. Friend says, good timber. My experience has taught me that if you are working in a place which is dangerous, you always get warning from your good timber by the cracking owing to the gradual pressure, whereas where steel struts are used, you do not get that degree of warning which you would otherwise get. I would like to say, in conclusion, that this House has debated the question of mining a number of times, and, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, the question of the miner, his hours, his conditions of labour and his wages, gets scant courtesy in various directions when everything is going smoothly, but when we are faced with a national crisis and the commodity which the miner produces is of vital importance to us as a nation, then to an appreciable extent the miner comes into his own. I repeat that, hoping that on future occasions we remember that although the miner may go down into the bowels of the earth and fight against the dangers that mother earth can bring against him, he is really a valuable asset to this country and ought not to be neglected when questions touching his welfare are introduced in this House of Commons.
§ Mr. Wragg (Belper)
I do not often speak in this House, but I feel, as representing a constituency which is to a considerable degree a mining constituency and having some interest in collieries—I am a director of two collieries and chairman of one and therefore have some figures and know a little about that of which I am speaking—that on an occasion like this I ought to say a few words. I agree with many of the remarks of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) that the miner's work is very arduous and very dangerous and that the output has gone down since the commencement of the war. When 1396 we ask the Secretary for Mines for any details as to the total output for a certain year or the output per man per shift, we are told that the figures cannot be given, as it would not be in the national interest. It would be a great shock to Hitler indeed if he were told that our output in the mining industry had increased by 25 per cent., and it would be in the national interest if we were in the happy position to inform him that that was so, but I fear that our output is down by something like 15 or 20 per cent. as compared with what it was in pre-war days, whether you take the year 1937 or 1938, or even 1936. You may ask why the output is down by 15 per cent. The men lost to the industry are only about 7½ per cent. of its total personnel, and opportunities for working fuller time are given now, and whereas pits in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire had usually worked five days or 4½ days a week, these men have an opportunity of working many more shifts and there are only 7½ per cent. fewer men than before the war. Therefore, it might be asked, why should the output of coal be down by 15 per cent?
This requires a lot of explanation, but it can be explained. I do not intend to go into recriminations and invite a lot of heckling from hon. Members on the benches opposite—I have enough of that at election times—but I am going to say that there are definite reasons. One reason is that so many of the young men have gone, and you cannot bring accident cases, cripples and such people and put them at the coal face among the hurly burly of the machinery. It cannot be done. We were particularly badly hit in one colliery in which I am interested. We encouraged the men before the war to join the Territorial Force, and we gave bonuses when they went to camp, with the result that, when war broke out, we lost a lot of our men, and we cannot get any of them back. We have any number of men who can pick out the dirt and the stone and do the easy sort of jobs, but we cannot get men who can get coal at the coal face. We are short of them, and that causes a far bigger reduction in output than most people would think. I would say to the Government—and I do not think that this matter has really been properly considered—that some of these younger men could and should be brought back to the pits. I am interested in the 1397 brick trade, where men have actually been brought back out of the Army under the Essential Work Order, because people were rather frightened that bombs would fall all around them, and they had to provide them with more shelters. These men were brought back last year to build shelters for the safety of the community. If it was considered necessary to bring them back to the brick trade, you should certainly bring men back to the mining industry, as it would solve one of our troubles.
Absenteeism has been referred to, and it is only natural that there should be more absenteeism now than there was before the war, partly because the pits are working more hours, partly because food may be worse, and partly because the men working at the coal face are rather older than the men who worked there previously. There are reasons to explain it, but the fact remains that in my own case absenteeism from all causes has doubled since the commencement of the war.. It is often said that absenteeism which is avoidable is comparatively small; it may be 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. But that would lead one rather to the conclusion that there is a great deal more illness during war-time than in peace-time, because absenteeism from all causes before the war was 5 per cent., and now it is to 10 or 11 per cent., and still the avoidable absenteeism is only comparatively small. What happens? I pity the poor doctor. He has an unenviable sort of job. When a miner has to appear before the pit production committee and bring a doctor's certificate to say why he has been absent, the miner has to go to a doctor and say, "I did not feel very well on Saturday morning. I was not really fit to go into the pit." It is a very invidious job for a doctor to refuse to sign a certificate for one of his patients and perhaps one of his friends.
§ Mr. Wragg
Not everything which is spoken in this House is spoken always with authority. It must be obvious to anybody that it is very difficult for a doctor to certify that a man was not fit to turn up for work on Saturday. I. pity the doctor, who has an unenviable sort of job. But there are very few really bad 1398 cases in the mines. There are some bad cases, but they are comparatively few. Sometimes when, unfortunately, we have to prosecute these men under the Essential Work Order we do not get the assistance from the Minister of Labour that we ought to get. I have a letter from the Secretary of the South Derbyshire Coal-owners' Association, who also acts for production committees, in which he says:District and pit production committees are being constantly exhorted by the Coal Production Council in London to increase production by all possible means and every effort is being made in this district to do so, but the time of the management is being diverted from this to the completion of forms for the Ministry of Labour, whose apparent complacency and failure to act, especially in days like the present, reveals another lack of appreciation of the serious position which is likely to develop in this district.I would impress upon the powers-that-be that some of these young men should be brought back from the Armed Forces to work during the summer in the pits. It has been done in other cases. They are the men who can increase output. Some people say, although I do not agree myself, that wages in the mining industry are so high that men stay away because they really do not want the money or do not want to pay Income Tax upon it and so on. Well, in spite of what will be told me, I will repeat what I said on 5th August last year in this House which was that the average weekly wage paid to all mineworkers in South Derbyshire was approximately £5 10s. and as this figure includes men and boys and surface workers it follows that a man working at the face receives a considerable amount of money. We are kept in the dark by the Secretary for Mines. He will not give us a statistical summary to show us output, wages and absenteeism in each area. We are told that it is not in the national interest that this information should be made public. So everyone who speaks in this Debate is in the dark. It is like playing poker and betting in the dark.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) referred to stone in coal and said that coal was worse than it used to he before the war. I do not think there is much substance in that. Coal may be a little worse than it used to be, but the human element enters into the question. The surface worker is supposed to pick out the dirt and shale, and the miner is not supposed 1399 to fill the dirt at the pit face, but with intensive mining and cutting the tendency is for there to be more shale than you would get by hand cutting and by conditions less intensive. As one who consumes something like 50,000 tons of coal a year in my works, I do not find that coal is appreciably worse than it was before the war. I do not think it right that it should go out to the country that coal is worse. It is decidedly wrong for people to spread the idea that there are any coalowners in the country who are deliberately working dirty or uneconomic seams in order to take advantage of the war situation. In most cases it would not pay. It is human nature, whether master or man, to get as much as you can out of a job.
Coalowners, mining managers, miners and people connected with the coal trade are as loyal' as the workers of any other industry in the country. The results of the mining industry's work since the war started have not been too bad. The cost of coal has gone up by 33⅓ per cent., but when I buy a ton of steel I pay anything from 50 to 80 per cent. more for it than I did before the war, and I am told that if the Government want to buy a ship, they must pay nearly double the pre-war cost. So I think I can claim that the coal trade have not done any harm to the country. Rather have they done great service to the country. I will not deal with the question of nationalisation, a wages board and so on, because I do not think the question of nationalisation ought ever to have been raised when we are fighting for our lives. I object most strongly to any drastic alteration being made on political grounds at this time. If you could show me that by putting mines into the hands of the miners or the Mineworkers' Federation more coal would be produced, or could bring me guarantees which would convince me that there would be this result, I would say, "Take the mines in the national interest." But people know full well that their arguments are political.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)
What about the arguments by the Sankey Commission in favour of nationalisation?
§ Mr. Wragg
I have been in touch with all sorts of commissions. On one side the miners were in favour of nationalisation and owners were against it, and the President was persuaded to recommend some form of nationalisation. That is the history of the Sankey Commission. But this question is a political question, and the Mineworkers' Federation ought never to have brought it forward. If they continue to do so, it will meet with intense opposition and divide national unity.
§ Mr. Wragg
That is rather a strange argument. I should have thought that the coal mines were conscripted. If you could see the amount of profit taken by the Government and the little left to coal-owners, you would think that mines were absolutely conscripted at the present time. When you are in the Army you get pay. They do not take a man as a conscript slave.
§ Mr. Wragg
But he is kept as well. You ignore that sort of thing. I could answer other points which have been raised, but I feel that if I went on a little longer, I should get a lot more interruptions. Therefore, I will close with this statement, that unless you can get young men back into the coal pits, you will not increase your output of coal as you wish to do.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg) on making, what I would term the best and most conciliatory speech on mining he has ever made in the House. If in the past more speeches of that sort had been made by the hon. Member and his backers-up, the mining industry might have been in a better position than it is to-day. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers), after making damning statements for 50 minutes, has walked out of the Chamber. During practically all the time he was talking, he was attacking the men whom I represent in the House. The 1401 Grimethorpe, Frickley, Hatfield and other mines are all in the Hemsworth Division. I want to deal with the hon. Member. I wish somebody would try to find him and bring him back to the Chamber. The hon. Member spoke about sabotage. He has damned absenteeism. After putting in about 10 minutes himself, he has gone, and he gets full shift wage, too. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer paid him according to the time he put in, the hon. Member would not have much money at the end of the month.
I am very much perturbed about the production committees. The production committees in the mining industry are working all right at the top. I want the Secretary for Mines to understand that. But at the top is not where they are getting the coal. In London, these committees work as sweetly as you please, but when you get down to the districts, to the colliery areas, they are not working quite so well. When you get to the pit production committee it is hell fire. I will give the House an instance of the area production committee in Yorkshire. The hon. Member for Chislehurst spoke about a letter which he had from Mr. Ernest Jones. Mr. Ernest Jones is the secretary of the production committee belonging to the owners and miners in South Yorkshire. I am not speaking from a brief that has been prepared in writing by Mr. Ernest Jones. I am speaking from a personal interview with Mr. Ernest Jones. The other Sunday he went to one of the South Yorkshire pits belonging to the coal company to which the hon. Member for Chislehurst referred to persuade the men to do their best for production. He asked the secretary of the company for some information, and the secretary of the company would not give him the necessary information which he required to put in front of the men. Mr. Ernest Jones is the secretary of the joint committee. There you have the area committee. At the top everything is all right, they have their feet across the fender, and they are singing "Rescue the perishing, care for the dying." Everything is O.K. upstairs. In Yorkshire, the owners say, "No, we will not give you this information because if we do you will know as much as we do."
I want to tell the Secretary for Mines that we have as much right to know about the mining industry as the owners have. When the right hon. Gentleman who is 1402 now Minister of Production was at the Board of Trade, and we discussed in the House the Essential Work Order, as far as the mining industry was concerned, he told us distinctly that the men would have the same power as the owners in regard to the production committees. I asked, "Will you tell them that?" He said, "Yes." I have given an instance of the power which the men have on these production committees at the pits. I notice that the hon. Member for Chislehurst has not yet come in. He has made such an attack on my men that he ought to have remained in the House. I protest against a fellow making an attack like that and then sneaking out. If he has gone out to have a snap, he should not take more time than the miner does, which is ten minutes. In his speech he gave us some stuff which he got from the coalowners. I am giving the House some stuff that I know of as a result of being among the miners every week-end and riot once in three months. I do not have to send to Mr. Ernest Jones to ask him to send me some stuff so that I can give it to the House.
The production committees want to know why the men sometimes stay away from work. I will tell you why. I will give a more up-to-date case than the one on 6th March given by the hon. Member for Chislehurst. The branch secretary gave it to me last night when I was at a meeting. The manager of the colliery sent for a young chap who is on the coal cutter. Since last June, that young chap has averaged nine shifts a week. A fortnight ago he worked eight shifts at the pit which the hon. Member for Chislehurst mentioned when he talked about sabotage, a pit at which I worked for 25 years. The hon. Member talked about sabotage; I will tell the House something about sabotage. I will not let the hon. Member get away with that. The manager sent for this young married man to work on the Sunday night. He had worked on the Saturday afternoon, and he said, "I am not going." Because he did not go to cut coal on the Sunday night, the manager sent him before the production committee on the following Thursday. The man thought he had a case, and so did I. He was a little fellow, not as big as I am, so it can be guessed he was not very big. At the production committee the manager said, "He did not work on Sunday night and we lost so much tonnage" The man 1403 looked at the committee and at the manager, and said, "I will tell you why, Swanson. When I went home last weekend I gave my three youngsters a penny each, and they started to cry. I asked, 'What are you crying for?' and they said, Mummy told us we must not take coppers off a stranger.'" Do hon. Members get the point of that? That man had done eight shifts in the week and the manager summoned him. Is it to be wondered that the production committees do not work in the mining industry? That is not like the brief from the coalowners given by the hon. Member for Chislehurst. I will give some other cases. They make my blood boil.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. The manager sent for him to appear before the absenteeism committee. Generally speaking, when managers have finished with absenteeism, they close the book. The men might say that they have a case against a deputy, but they are told, "Oh, no, the book is closed, and it is finished." That is not the answer which the Minister of Production gave us before he went to Cairo. He told us we should all have the same powers. I will give two other cases showing the bad blood at the bottom. The first is the case of a little fellow who had his hand taken off during the last war. He used to be a producer before the last war. He left the pit, which finished at one o'clock, at 12 o'clock on a Saturday. The next Saturday he had 2s. stopped from his bonus, because he had left at 12 o'clock. I want to put the facts before the House, and before the Minister of Mines and the President of the Board of Trade. We are expecting the. President of the Board of Trade to do something in his job. The second case is that of a fitter. He had 11 shifts to draw the week before last, and eight shifts to draw this week. He was tired out, and on Wednesday he did not go to work, although he had already worked three extra days. Would you believe it, when he came to draw his money on Saturday he had all his bonus docked off because he had not gone to work on Wednesday? Is that not enough to rile a man and set 1404 a miner on edge? All kinds of little piffling things are going on. I am trying to put our side of the case.
Production has also been referred to. Production in the pits has gone down for one reason, and that is because there are less coal-face workers per face pro rata to the total number of men in the industry. I think the number is about 45.
§ Mr. Griffiths
We are bringing into the pits people who cannot produce the same amount of coal. Some of them are too old, and I wish someone would tell the hon. Member for Chislehurst that we have had 1,500 more accidents in the pits compared with 12 months ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) put a Question on this subject, and the Minister stated that 145,000 men were injured in the pits last year. The hon. Member for Chislehurst does not seem to understand that there were more injured this year at the coal face compared with last year. Anyone who has any knowledge of the mining industry knows that the coal face is the most dangerous place to work. When the hon. Member talks about absenteeism among coal-face workers, he does not understand the position. The man at the coal face is the keenest worker. These men work harder than any other men in the British Isles. Hon. Members may ask how I know that. Well, I have worked 25 years at the coal face, and at 7 o'clock the sweat has run out of me, although I have had nothing on but a pair of pink pants. Why is it the hardest work? It is the hardest work because it is piece work, which means that a man leaves his blood in the pit. In spite of this, the hon. Member talks as though the man who goes into the pit is not bothering about production. I have seen some of our chaps who have been eating on their clogs put their snap on one side as soon as the tub comes along. Our men will produce if they get a fair crack of the whip.
An hon. Member said something about the reduced tonnage in South Yorkshire. I know something about South Yorkshire. He called it "Grimthorpe," but it is not "Grimthorpe," but "Grimethorpe." Grimethorpe and Frickley are two of the largest pits in the British Isles. I was with the managing agent 1405 the other day, in company with my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), when we were speaking at a Warship Week. The managing agent never said a word to me about absenteeism. The hon. Member for Chislehurst receives a pile of information and is briefed for the coalowners of South Yorkshire, but I am briefed for the coalminers of South Yorkshire. I was sent here by the miners at Hemsworth, and I stand by them. I say that the managing director or the agent belonging to the Doncaster coalfield is more responsible for absenteeism in the Doncaster coalfield than any other man living, and that man's name is Hunter. Why the Secretary for Mines allows this chap to do almost what he likes I do not know, but if I were at the Department of Mines I would sack him before to-morrow morning. We want output, but at Bullcroft Pit, which has been drawing coal for six days a week—producing, I think, 3,000 tons a day—this man comes along and stops the pit winding coal on Saturday, so that they are losing 6,000 tons of coal in a fortnight. The hon. Member for Chislehurst did not have those details; he did not know anything about that. Are we to allow managers of pits to say, "I want to work five days a week instead of six" at a time when we require the coal? The men can produce the coal. I am asking the Minister to make an inquiry and to say to Mr. Hunter, if he wants five days instead of six days, "Get out of the road. You are impeding output so far as the coalmining industry is concerned." I felt it was up to me, as representing the mining industry, to put forward these points. The hon. Member for Chislehurst talks about absenteeism, but you are bound to have a higher rate of absenteeism at the coal face than on the surface. Do hon. Members know that some men working at the coal face are losing 8 lb. in weight in one day? Sickness absenteeism is higher at the coal face than anywhere else. I hope the Minister will not take too much heed of a man who has never seen a piece of coal in the pit in his life and does not understand it at all. I beg of him to do his best with the production committees. Our men want to produce for the country. I admit that they have the idea that the more coal produced the bigger the profits for the owners, and a certain percentage of them say they are 1406 not prepared to work their lives out so that the owners may make a profit. Some of our chaps also have the raw about the Income Tax.
Sabotage has been mentioned. I went to Barnsley police court on Friday. I am a justice of the Peace, being chairman of the district council, but I did not sit on the bench. I sat with the clerk. Seventy-one men were summoned, not for sabotage, but because they came out of the pit at ten minutes past eight in the morning because something had gone wrong. The wires were crossed, and when that happens they are continually ringing, and you cannot have the wires ringing and run the paddies at the same time. The wires had been crossed at a quarter to ten the night before, and the management had not got them right at twenty minutes to eight the next morning. The men had already walked a mile, and they had two more miles to go. One man was in the paddy at ten minutes to six. The paddy is the train that takes them in. They sat waiting in it until twenty minutes to eight. Then they said it was time they went home. That is the sabotage that the hon. Member was talking about. He did not understand it. The men had been on their legs since half-past four, and they did not earn a penny. They could not have got to the coal face before nine, and then they would have started to earn money after having been down the pit since half-past four. They had left their work a few times before because the wires had been crossed, but nothing had happened. On Friday they were fined 24s. damages and 30s. costs, and it is to be stopped out of their earnings at the rate of 10s. a week. Some of them are paying 11s. 6d. and 12s. Income Tax. Things are not as they should be in the mining industry. I protest against the way in which the hon. Member made his speech and then left before a reply could be given. I do not know whether he will have the decency to read it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
I do riot think anyone could doubt the sincerity of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). His defence of his miners is something of which I am sure his constituents will be proud. I yield to no one in my admiration for the work that is being done by the coalminers, and I know something about it. The Government came to the decisions that they were not 1407 going to bring back men from the Army who had been trained or partially trained to supplement the falling labour conditions in the mines, and in consequence they will have to accept full responsibility for the fact that we are not to-day getting the amount of coal that is absolutely necessary. There are several ways in which the Secretary for Mines can help, and I am sure many of his ideas are already bearing fruit. The pit production committees are a great advance upon anything that has happened in the industry for a very long time, and I can speak from experience in West Yorkshire that they have done a great deal to enable greater production to be obtained. But is the hon. Gentleman absolutely certain that in all collieries we are working the best and most prolific seams? Has there been any hang-back in going into those parts of collieries where you can get the greatest possible yield? There is obvious scope for examination in this part of the mines programme. Also is the hon. gentleman absolutely satisfied that the maximum amount of proper machinery is being used in every pit? You have to apply machines to almost every seam in the country to-day if you are to get the maximum output. A further examination of machine power may be of real help. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say how many machines and conveyors he was providing this year. They will make for a substantial increase and do something to make up for the shortage of man-power.
We ought to try and make a contribution towards the immediate problems of the coalmining industry and production, because if there are two things which are essential to winning the war, the production of food and of coal are probably the biggest industrial factors we have to deal with. Last May I was exercising my mind over the problem of getting men back to the mines and the refusal of the Government to release soldiers, and I recalled that for many years past in certain parts of the country it had been the practice to exploit the surface mines. I therefore suggested to my hon. Friend that he should employ the civil engineering industry with their modern machines to exploit the surface coal. My hon. Friend thought the idea was good and put me in touch with his advisers. Hon. Members can imagine my consternation 1408 to find that in the Ministry of Mines at that time there was no plan of the coal near the surface, and nobody in the Ministry had any idea where it was and how much it was.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Did the hon. and gallant Gentleman inquire of the offices of the Divisional Inspector of Mines, where I know from experience most of the plans are preserved?
§ Major Braithwaite
The Ministry of Mines did so, and their divisional surveyors after some time presented them with a report, but it was not a properly designed plan such as one would expect we should have. It was not until November last year that surface mining was started. Thus the summer months of last year were wasted, for this is essentially a sort of mining that has to take place in good weather. You cannot suddenly start in the middle of winter with heavy machinery and expect to get the best results. From the two places that are now opened out there is a production of 1,000 tons a day, and each man employed on these open surface workings is turning out 25 tons per day. In my opinion there is not less than 50,000,000 tons of coal of burnable quality which is within 30 feet of the surface in this country. I also want to make the point, because I have practical experience of this, that the coal which is being got out is being got at economic prices. It has not been got at any more cost, and in fact it is considerably less than the cost of that which is being mined underground. I admit that it is not always of the best quality, but in a war of this sort we have to mix our coals. The Minister spoke about the proper utilisation of coal, and if only he and his Department will organise it in a proper way and employ the civil engineering industry on this problem, we can have before Christmas 10,000,000 tons of coal put into stock from surface workings.
§ Mr. Tinker
The hon. and gallant Member said that 25 tons were produced per day per man. Is that after they have cleared the seam, or does he take into consideration the time of clearing?
§ Major Braithwaite
I am willing to show the hon. Gentleman the figures, because I have been closely in touch with this business.
§ Major Braithwaite
There is no manual work; it is wholly done by machines. The practice has been to use big scrapers and then skimmers to dig out the seam. Do not the Minister and the House think that this is an important addition to our coal-mining resources? There are not at these places the facilities for loading into rail wagons and that sort of thing, but motor transport is available, and it should be utilised for the stocking of this fuel at selected points, so that it may be used in the national interest when it is needed. I say in all sincerity that here is a tonnage which is the equivalent of the work of 20,000 miners if it is put on a proper basis. Will the Minister see that in his own Department a proper organisation is provided to deal with this surface coal and that he will not let it go into the ordinary routine of mining, because so many different problems are involved? The problems of the ordinary mine and of pit production committees do not arise here, and we do not want to get any conflicting interests in it. We want a proper department set up for this job. The Minister has two excellent men dealing with it—Colonel Ritson, the chief coal production officer for Great Britain, who has given a great deal of thought to the matter, and Mr. Gibson, who has been working the civil engineering side. These two men are capable, given a proper staff, of dealing with this matter in a big and broad way. If, however, it is to be done, it has to be done within the next five or six weeks. Otherwise the summer will be lost.
I have found that there has been great trouble with vested interests standing in the way of our getting on with the job. I refer to landowners, mineral owners and farmers. The farmer has the biggest "grouse" of anybody. If you go on to his land and destroy his crop, it is a serious thing, and it has to be examined by the Ministry of Agriculture as well as by the Mines Dept. On the other hand, the small acreage that is required for surface mining should not make any real difficulties in our growing programme, 1410 provided reasonable care is taken by those engaged on the work. I have found that months can go by before one can get possession of land. There is a case in West Yorkshire now where six machines are standing idle at the colliery yard. They have been there for two weeks waiting to get coal, and they cannot get on to the land because the landowner and the farmer cannot agree on a method of compensation. This sort of thing ought not to stand in the way of an important effort to get large quantities of fuel. Somebody must act with vigour and courage. I feel that in our Minister of Mines we have a man who understands the problem and is sincere and determined to do everything he can. I wish sometimes, however, that he would use a little more of the big stick and tell people to get on with the job and not stand in the way.
I want to say another thing which I regard as serious. The general policy of the Government towards workers and industrialists—I include the bosses as well as the workers—is to make this country money-minded instead of fighting-minded. We must get away from thinking in terms of money and move towards thinking in terms of service to the country in times like these. In this country we have, I am afraid, got into a complacent mood, which is dangerous to our whole future in this war. We have more people employed, we have a larger wage being paid to everybody, we have a greater amount of leisure than this country has enjoyed for 20 years, in spite of our being in the middle of a war. Whichever side of the House we are on, it is no good deluding ourselves. We have to face up to the question whether we are to put our backs into the winning of this war and improve maximum production or whether we are not. If we do not tackle the problem soon it will be too late. We have to measure remuneration to everybody, whether employers or workpeople, in terms of the service they can give to the country at this time know that the feelings of hon. Members opposite are similar to our own in this matter. We do not want to see any slackers, profiteers or racketeers obstructing the war effort.
Humbly and sincerely, I ask the Government to consider this whole situation and not to let the money point of view in any direction stand in the way 1411 of our winning the war. There must be instilled into the people of this country a proper knowledge of what is their real duty. I say frankly that while there are many things that can be altered in the mining industry, yet, on the whole, the miner of Great Britain is one of the soundest and sanest of people. He is giving of his best in a remarkable degree. I had an example of it recently. There had been a fatal accident at my own colliery and I went to see what had happened, because I know the dangers to which the miners are exposed, and I know how loyally and well they get on with their work. The man was killed on Friday last. The next day the shift came in and got on with the job of clearing up a dangerous place. When we realise that the miner is exposed to these dangers, we ought to be tolerant with him and help him in every way, making it possible for him to work in greater safety if that can be done.
In closing, I would urge upon the Minister not to neglect surface workings. Fifty million tons of surface coal is raised each year in the United States of America and is now going into their war industries, and shortly the quantity will be increased to 100,000,000 tons. Let us get on with the job here at home. We can do it. The civil engineering industry has the machinery available, and we can stack 10,000,000 tons a year if the proper effort is made at the top, as I hope it will be.
§ Mr. Key (Bow and Bromley)
I hope the House will forgive me if I switch from production, of which I know nothing, to distribution, of which I have had some little experience in the London area. So far as I know, the kindest thing that can be said about the Mines Department in relation to this aspect of the problem is that it has certainly not been a conspicuous success. That is a surprising thing in view of the fact that it is not a wartime Department like the Ministry of Food, that it is not dealing with a large number of commodities in which it has to overcome difficulties of import or to contend against variations in harvests and so on. It is dealing with only one commodity, which is home-produced, and in recent months, at any rate, has been dealing with it under conditions in which there has been no great disorganisation due to air raids or anything else. I hope 1412 I may be forgiven if, in order to get my point of view over, I go into a little history of the distribution of coal in the London area. At the beginning of the war we had the Fuel Control Order, which rationed household coal, gas and electricity. I submit that this was done in a most unscientific way and not in a way which favoured the consumer. After a great expenditure of labour and stationery we abandoned all idea of rationing gas and electricity but did continue some idea of rationing coal to ordinary consumers, and although in the end coal rationing was abandoned I submit that what was then done should have given the Ministry some indication of the quantities of coal that would be required in the various local government areas in order to satisfy the needs of the people.
What did we find, at any rate in the first winter of the war? I admit that there were two heavy falls of snow and some interference with normal traffic, resulting in a coal shortage, but the experiences of that winter ought to have given us an opportunity of building up an organisation which would have coped with similar difficulties subsequently. But events have shown—and this is the point I want to make—that the Ministry have failed altogether to learn the lessons of that experience. Here in London they did learn the lesson that dumps of household coal would be necessary to meet local needs, and on 12th July, after that first winter's experience, they asked the local authorities in the London area to suggest sites for the storing of coal. Little or no use was made of the information which the local authorities gave.
Then, on 3rd December, the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, whose chairman I have the honour to be, asked the Mines Department to receive a deputation concerning coal supplies in the London area. In order to furnish ourselves with a true picture of the conditions which then existed in London, we sent out a questionnaire to all local authorities in the London area, asking them for particulars of coal sites that had been selected, their capacity for coal storage, and the use which the Mines Department had made of the information which had been supplied to it. I have here a copy of the returns which we got from the local authorities. Without going through the whole list I will take the first 1413 five. The first local authority had suggested four sites, one of which had been used and on which had been stored 100 tons of coal; the second had submitted two sites, neither of which had been used, no coal being stored; the next submitted two sites, no coal was stored; the next submitted 11 sites, and again no coal was stored; and the fifth submitted five sites, and no coal was stored there. In all, the Metropolitan borough councils of London submitted 120 sites for the storage of coal, with a capacity of about 750,000 tons. Out of these only some 30 sites were approved, and even of those only five were used, and on those five the Ministry stored 7,000 tons of coal—that is for the whole of the Metropolitan area—and 4,000 tons were in the City of Westminster.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I can give information, in answer to my hon. Friend's point, which could not be published in detail in those days. No doubt he is aware that, for the three months preceding that time, London had not received 60 per cent. of its normal input of coal by sea and rail.
§ Mr. Key
I am trying to show that the Department of Mines have learned no lesson at all from the experiences of the winter of 1940–41, in order to bring it into comparison with what happened in 1941–42. That is the whole burden of what I am now trying to say. I am giving the experience out of which the Department should have learned their lessons. In the document which we here put forward, we drew attention to the fact that working-class houses in London had great difficulty in storing any quantity of coal, that it was no use, therefore, appealing to the flat-dwellers in London to store coal for the winter and that other provision would have to be made if the necessary storage was to exist in the Metropolitan area. The local authorities whom we consulted were unanimously agreed that no further delay should be endured and that steps should be taken immediately to build up the necessary stores for the coming winter—that is, the winter which we are now completing. We sent those particulars to the Minister of Mines, 1414 and we asked to be received in deputation in order that we might put the position of the London local authorities. We received a reply saying that the Ministerwould be very glad, if necessary, to receive a deputation early in the New Year, when plans now proposed to deal with the coal situation have had an opportunity of showing results.Those plans were proposed in December, 1940, to deal with the problem of the winter 1940–41. We did not get our deputation. We appealed again in February of last year, and we were then told that it was suggested that the deputation should be deferred. We replied that now was the time, as the matter was one of great urgency in London. We circularised the boroughs in March of last year, asking them to tell us the state of affairs existing at that time and whether it had been changed or not by action of the Ministry. We got such replies as the following:No coal has yet been stored, and this despite the fact that the sites offered were rent free.Another borough:Stocks are sufficient for a few days.Another:Some merchants are quite out of supplies and none of them have more than a week's supply in stock.Ultimately, on 20th March, we were received in deputation at the Department, and there, on behalf of the Metropolitan boroughs of London, we made certain suggestions for making provision for the winter 1941–42. We said that we were very disturbed because so few of the sites had been used by the Department although the local authorities had taken the trouble to find them. At that time, there were no more than three weeks' reserves in London, and we felt that plans should forthwith be put in train for ensuring that adequate stocks were available for the next winter. We said that we knew there were many bombed sites in London which could be used. We drew particular attention to the difficulties of South and South-East London because of the extraordinary difficulties of transport to those areas, particularly of rail-borne coal. We suggested that one should find out from the Metropolitan boroughs the number of sites that would be available for storing coal and that we were convinced—I shall refer to this point later—that the local councils, which now had a good supply 1415 of vehicles in their Civil Defence organisation, would be only too glad to make available vehicles and personnel for the distribution of coal to the people of London during periods of distress. We said also that we felt it would be mutually helpful if we and the Department were working in close co-operation in the Metropolitan area.
Following that interview, in order to assist the Department of Mines to provide the necessary sites for coal storage in London, we again circularised the Metropolitan boroughs, asking whether they would provide us with additional sites. They sent us the necessary information, giving details of the superficial area of the sites and the capacity for storage of coal. Some even went into figures, giving us estimates for acquiring and making sites available, the cost of fencing and providing the necessary road access to the sites. All these particulars were sent on to the Ministry on 6th August last year. In addition, we entered into an agreement with the London County Council whereby all bombed sites in the London area would be registered, in order that there might be some means of preventing any site which had been ear-marked for one purpose, such as the storage of coal, being taken for some other purpose. Following that, and on 4th November, we wrote again to the Department of Mines, having done our utmost to provide them with the particulars of storage, expressing our deep concern at the apparent absence of coal reserves in the London Metropolitan boroughs.
What is the position to-day? I met my colleagues of the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee yesterday, and I found there were serious complaints everywhere of the shortage of coal. Let me take my own area, which I know intimately. On 2nd March we made a survey of the yards and railway sidings in which the private distributors of coal had their stores. In the whole of that Metropolitan borough, with a normal population of 140,000 people, there were, on that day, only 196 tons of coal. We had already submitted proposals which would have provided storage for 12,750 tons of coal. In addition we had prepared plans and drawings relating to the storage of 250,000 tons of coal in an unused dock basin, under water, in the most safe condition that it could possibly be, 1416 if the Ministry had only been prepared to accept our co-operation. Yet, despite that, in that borough on that day we had 196 tons of coal. The normal distribution in the borough was 1,500 tons of coal per week. Yesterday the amount still in existence was 168 tons. I claim, in view of all the efforts which the Metropolitan borough councils have made, that that is an extraordinarily bad record of the foresight of the Minister in dealing with coal distribution in the London area.
I want to go back for a moment now to that first winter, because from that first winter there were still other lessons which I claim the Department ought to have learned. We are experiencing difficulty in getting coal out of dumps at the present moment. We have not got very much of it
§ Mr. Grenfell
Does the hon. Member know the amount of coal in stock on Government account on 28th February in the London area?
§ Mr. Key
I am coming to the question of Government stocks in a moment. Although the Government say they have stocks, we cannot get at the coal. We, in the area I am talking about, have made appeals for coal, and so far we have received only 150 tons out of Government dumps. It is about those 150 tons that I want to say something now. As I said, that first winter should have given us some experience with regard to coal from dumps, because even in that first winter, in the borough which I represent, we were very short of coal. We were given the opportunity of using some salvaged coal which happened to be in the London river. When we came to distribute it, very considerable dissatisfaction was expressed by the merchants who had to deal with it because of the high percentage of slack which it contained. It had to be screened before its distribution, and there was a prolonged dispute between us, the coal merchants and the Department with regard to the price to be charged, in view of the high percentage of slack. But no lesson seems 1417 to have been learned from that. With regard to the coal we have had out of dumps just recently, we have found that we have had to screen it before distribution, and that screening has reduced the consumable value of the coal to 60 per per cent, of what it was when we received it. We have experienced considerable difficulty with our merchants because of the price to be charged when 40 per cent. of what they receive ex-dump has to be regarded as slack. I want to draw attention to the fact that in another London borough, just recently, out of a truck of coal containing 11 tons 10 cwts., 7 tons 10 cwts. were lost in slack and slate, leaving only four tons which it was possible to distribute among the people of that district. I suggest that there is something to be learned from these facts in order to make provision at any rate for the coming winter, whatever we can do as far as the needs of the people of the moment are concerned.
There is another question, too, to which I want to draw attention. We are now experiencing very grave difficulties with regard to the delivery of coal by private merchants to the third and fourth floors of blocks of flats in the London area. The merchants tell us that it is impossible for them to distribute it to these places because they are carrying out their distribution with female labour or with old men. Yet I have found occasions when a 6d. dropped even to an old man will result in half a cwt. of coal being carried up to a third or fourth-floor flat. We have made a sort of census of the flats in my own particular area. We investigated 1,056 third and fourth-floor tenants, and out of those who replied we found that 25 per cent. had had no deliveries of coal for the last fortnight. In order to deal with that matter, we put vehicles, of which we had given the Department information beforehand, at the disposal of the coal merchants, and at the same time called upon the volunteer services of the men in the stretcher parties and rescue parties of the Civil Defence organisation. They, during the last fortnight, have been assisting in the delivery of coal to third and fourth-floor flats. I wish to pay my tribute to the services which they have so readily rendered in this case of necessity, but I do want to urge that here again, in the distribution of coal in areas such as London, there is a problem to which the Ministry should be giving immediate con- 1418 sideration, in order that it may be dealt with adequately before next winter lands us into the same sort of distress as we have recently experienced.
I want to go even further. The whole question of the control of coal distribution in town areas seems to be all wrong. Theoretically, as far as I can understand it, the local authority is responsible, because the system of fuel control is a function of the local authority, which is responsible for the selection of a fuel overseer. The surprising thing is, however, that having once selected their fuel overseer, the local authority's responsibility seems to have ended, because they can give him no direction whatever. When we first started out on this business we were told that we could elect an advisory committee to advise the fuel overseer. We did so. Representatives were selected from the coal, gas and electricity undertakings, and, in our sweet innocence as a local authority, we selected representatives of the local authority also to serve on the committee to advise our own fuel overseer. Recently we have been told by the Department that we have no power to do so, and as a result our advisory committee has had to be wholly reconstituted, without any representative of the local authority at all. So, not only are we told that we cannot direct our own fuel overseer, we cannot even advise our fuel overseer by being part and parcel of a committee set up for the purpose of advising him.
The position therefore has now got down to this: The advisory committee consists wholly of the people who supply coal, with nobody at all to speak on behalf of the people who have to buy and consume it. I suggest that that is an entirely wrong system, if we are to attempt to overcome the difficulties and the sufferings which so many people in our own localities have to endure. No trade union representatives and no representatives of the workers in distribution are included, just as there are no representatives of the consumers. As I say, there is something radically wrong in this organisation, and something different ought to be brought into existence in order that we may not again have these difficulties in the winter that lies ahead of us. I want to suggest that instead of being flouted by local authorities, as has been our experience, instead of our efforts being scorned, the local authorities might 1419 well be brought into some sort of cooperation with the Department in this organisation. I know that local authorities are "maids-of-all-work" nowadays and engage in all sorts of departments of administration, but I would say, as the result of a good deal of experience, that if a goodly number of Government Departments I could name were half as efficient as the average borough council in London, we should be in a far better position in the conduct of this conflict. Let the Ministry bring the local authorities into some sort of co-operation and make some plan so that next winter, at any rate, we can see that there will be an adequate and a proper distribution of coal. If we do that, we shall do one very important thing for maintaining the morale of the people of this country.
More and more men are going into the Army and other forms of service. One of the things that is gnawing at them all the time is the condition of the women and children that they are leaving behind. Next winter will be a far more trying winter than any we have known, and if the men in the factories and at the front feel that their women and children are shivering in third and fourth floor flats, because of the inability of the Department to co-operate with the local authorities in getting an adequate and proper distribution of coal—which, on the Department's own showing, exists in the London area—you will be doing a very grave thing so far as the interests of this country are concerned.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
I think everyone will agree about the urgency of a greater production of coal and I feel that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) put the case in a moderate way which appealed to many of us. I say quite frankly that I was extremely sorry that the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) thought it necessary to approach the problem from the angle which he adopted. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about this question of absenteeism. I have taken the trouble to analyse and investigate that problem for some considerable time past. One or two factors must be borne carefully in mind when considering absenteeism. The first is the psychology of the miner. The miner's life has many hardships, but it has some attractions, and 1420 there is no doubt that, to a certain type of mind the privilege, if I may so describe it, that the miner has of attending when he wishes to work, or when he is obliged to work, as compared with the much stricter routine that obtains in a factory does undoubtedly appeal to many. For that reason you will find, if you get the figures—I have got them over a period of years—that absenteeism rises and falls with the earnings per shift. I am speaking, of course, of workers at the coal face. It rises and falls with the earnings per shift, not only over a series of years, but over different districts. For example, collieries in North Staffordshire, in a high wages district, have always had one of the highest percentages of absenteeism. Scotland—I am speaking in general terms—has a low wage record, and it has one of the lowest records of absenteeism that exists. I am speaking of peace-time. This, incidentally, disposes of the allegation that has been made from time to time that political reasons affect absenteeism. I can find no evidence of that whatever. There is no evidence that the miner allows himself to be influenced, as far as his work is concerned, by political reasons.
Let us take this analysis of absenteeism a little further. It may help us in the present situation to do so. Absenteeism does not occur, generally speaking, on any large scale in the main body of miners. I will use a figure, and say that 70 per cent are men who work in exactly the same way in which people work in the factories. They are married men, they have responsibilities and obligations; some of them have instalments to pay under hire-purchase schemes. You will find that these men, week after week, month after month, year after year, work regularly, save for sickness and exceptional causes. Speaking generally, the vast body of miners are not affected seriously by absenteeism. Absenteeism occurs among a proportion of men, mostly younger and unmarried men, who find that they can reach the standard of life to which they are accustomed in three days of work perhaps, and then they stop. When wages are lower they have to work four days, and then they stop. When they marry and have responsibilities absenteeism frequently goes down in their cases also. In addition, one has to recognise a factor which was clear before the war and is unfortunately coming more clearly to the 1421 front to-day. That is, a growing disinclination among people in the mining districts to go down the pits. Let us be perfectly frank about it; after this war the miner's life has got to be made more attractive, otherwise men will not go down the pits. A small part of this disinclination arises from a snob-complex in teachers who have taught that agriculture and mining are less worthy professions than that of the most lowly-paid clerk with a white collar, but in the main, I agree, it arises from other reasons.
One of the things we shall have to do after the war is to provide larger pensions at an earlier age for miners, especially those who work at the coal face. In addition to that, we have, I think, to see that the terrible atmosphere of suspicion which exists in the industry is diminished in one way or another. That brings me to the immediate point. This is where I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Ince. Whatever our political views may be about the control of the coal industry, we have now to concentrate on getting more coal, and, although it may have been useful to apply the Essential Work Order to the coal industry, it will not be the main factor by which we can get the coal. It is the human factor which has to be considered. It is up to everyone connected with the industry to combine to bring about the maximum good will in the industry for the time being, in order to increase that production of coal. If we do this we shall also provide an atmosphere in which, after the war, we can reconsider the future basis of the industry.
I am afraid the hon. Member for Ince did not like my interruption when he referred to the "Daily Herald" cartoon; but, frankly, I thought that a speck on his speech, which otherwise I admired very much. That type of suggestion, that anyone connected with the industry is a fat man, going about smoking a cigar and doing no work, will not produce an extra ton of coal, when coal is so vital. We are to have a Debate on Production. The main factors in production are coal, iron, and steel. It is useless to talk about expanding war industries if you have not the raw materials of steel and iron, and coal as a fuel. Coal is also essential for keeping people in decent morale. I, as a very junior Member, appeal to everybody connected with the industry to give up nagging one another, and, by combining together, to persuade that very 1422 small element, whether among the men or among the employers, who are not pulling their weight, to do so, and to do their very utmost to produce the coal that we must have. If we are reasonably successful in that, it will not only help to win the war; it will help to win the peace, in the sense that it will help to diminish that fatal suspicion which has been the curse of the coal industry for many years; it will tend to bring about an atmosphere of good will, in which we can get together after the war and try to solve these questions which have to be solved, not by fighting one another but by meeting around the conference table and providing a basis worthy of the industry and of the important place it holds in relation to every other industry in the country.
§ Mr. Gallacher
In view of the hon. Member's remarks, would he not support the proposal of the Mineworkers' Federation for a national board of representatives of the Government, the mine-owners, and the Federation, to coordinate the industry and to put an end to these pinpricks?
§ Mr. Colegate
In North Staffordshire we had the honour of being among the first to introduce pit production committees. I am in favour of any combination of owners and workers with the Government which will help to bring about this desired result.
§ Mr. Ritson (Durham)
This has been an important Debate. I only wish that we had been in private Session for some parts of it. I was amused at the suggestion that we were snobbish in the mining industry.
§ Mr. Colegate
No; I was not suggesting that there were any snobs in the mining industry. I suggested that there was snobbishness among the teachers.
§ Mr. Ritson
I apologise if I misinterpreted the hon. Member, but I could not understand, while he was making his declaration, what we had to be snobbish about. We have nothing to be snobbish about except our character, of which we are very proud. I am glad the hon. Member paid us a tribute for putting our best into this fight. I know that there are black sheep. I have never known a family where there is not a black sheep; but we have suffered from gossip. Publicity is doing more harm to the war effort than anything else. If ever we needed 1423 to be united, it is now: I agree with the hon. Member on that. When I see people looking at the camera, projecting themselves all over the screen, and murmuring and muttering like something in the Zoo, I think how they are wasting their time. The gossip always wins the first round. Everybody who knows anything about trade union life knows that. We were wrong, in the first place, to allow so many of our young men to go away at the beginning of the war. Durham County was a distressed area, like South Wales. We could not get our coal transported down here. The seas were blocked, and afterwards there were air raids. We came to the late Government, and pleaded with them to send the coal by rail. No one would listen to us for 18 months. There were men standing at the corners or working only one or two days a week. They were afraid they would be charged with cowardice; and they rushed off to join the Army, despite our appeals that they should stay where they were. As my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) and others have said, it is no use sending stiff old men like me into the pit. Men were allowed to go away before the war to other jobs, because of the distress in our area. Then we called them back again. As I have said before, a man who has been six years out of the pit cannot start again and work as he did before. Such a man has not the courage: and he is not so quick at hearing and he feels that he is not as fit for the work as he was before.
Is it any wonder that boys cannot be got, when such wages are paid? I had 1s. a day for working 10½ hours. That did not keep me in fresh air. I went home wet to the skin, and the money I got did not pay for soap. If the owners want to get lads into the pit, let them pay reasonable wages, and make the lads keen on doing their job. As a magistrate, I am worried about these boys. Only yesterday, when I was on the bench, we had before us 13 boys of between 16 and 18. We had given them a chance a week before, by putting them on probation. When they were put on probation, the first thing they did was to bash the witnesses who had given evidence against them. Now they admit to breaking into a number of premises. They would be far better working in the pit than going about like that.
1424 The first slip that we made was in letting our young men go away. We tried to get them back, but the Army would not listen to us. Many of our fellows who ought to be getting coal are to-day engaged in sweeping-up in the Army and Air Force. I received a pathetic letter from a father the other day. The man's wife had died and he was left with four small children. He was a coal-cutter and he told me that he was doing labouring work on the ground staff of the Air Force, and that he was anxious to come back to the pit. The Army, Navy or whatever branch of the Service it may be, ought to release such men at once, because if it is so necessary to obtain coal, then the sooner these men are allowed to come back to 'the pit the better. I have spoken to some of the agents arid owners about this matter and they tell me that when these men come back they cannot be got ready for actual work in the pit for six or eight months and can only be given cleaning-up jobs during that time. The sooner the Army and other Services release some of the young miners to return to the mines the sooner we shall be able to put an end to the coal shortage.
The next question with which I would like to deal is that of absenteeism. We have a very good way of dealing with absenteeism in Durham. We have what are known as the Aged Miners' Homes where we provide homes for 3,000 aged miners. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley) is chairman of the organisation. Instead of taking men before the magistrate for absenteeism we fine them and pay over the fines to the miners' homes. These miners would grumble if they had to pay money to the court, but they do not grumble when it is given to the funds of the miners' homes. We find this a wonderful means of keeping the men right and creating a good feeling.
The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg) spoke about doctors and made some of us conscious of the fact that there are doctors and doctors just as there are men and men. He said that it was an invidious job for a doctor to have to give a medical certificate. The hot pits in Yorkshire and in Durham cause a strain upon a man even before he gets to the coal face. Sometimes a man has to walk three miles and before he gets to his destination perspiration is running from him and, on top of that, he has to work 1425 his shift. There is not a man who does not feel the strain of black-out conditions because he cannot obtain fresh air. This sort of thing is having a tremendous effect on the physique of men and boys. These men have to work six or seven days a week and one cannot wonder that on a Sunday night or a Monday morning such a man feels a little run down. Do you blame him for trying to get back a little of that which he has lost? That is the point which we do not appear to have considered.
Miners in my area were always big meat-eaters. The hand-working collier could eat a quantity of meat which would astonish hon. Members of this House but now he gets his meat wrapped up in some form, such as a sausage roll. It is wrapped in mystery. All these things are hindrances to the work of the miner. We are thankful for the canteens, and in my Division I hardly hear a grumble, because, in the circumstances, our people feel that they are doing very well in the way of food. But it must be remembered that there has been a tremendous reduction in the feeding power of the miner. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers) is present, but, if not, I will say what I have to say about him in his absence. Some of the talk that we have heard to-day by the hon. Member does no good to the morale of the country. I believe that the hon. Member is a very respected member of the Stock Exchange, but I would advise him and other people that exaggeration in times like the present is a hindrance to the carrying on of the war, and to morale and a cause of bitterness. Such people have no idea of the harm they may do. I am afraid that if I were on the Stock Exchange I would lose everything I had but my character, but I would not try to betray the weaknesses of a fellow who has to go into the pit for six days a week.
There has also been exaggeration with regard to the question of wages. I can assure hon. Members opposite that our wages' lists will stand examination at every turn. Durham is an exporting area and I think that three-farthings a ton is the profit which we have made during the last few months. There is nothing there for us but hard work and we are doing it. Our increased output last month was 130,000 tons, so that we are doing our job, Things would be better still if 1426 we in this House did not interfere in this matter. We have industrial agents and we pay them a wage and they are at the collieries every day. We have five of them in Durham and they "know far more about what is going on at the collieries than all the Members of the House of Commons put together. We cannot be in our Divisions every day, but they know every colliery and everything about it. It was stated from the benches opposite recently in the hearing of hon. Members here, that some labourers were actually earning £18 a week. If the hon. and gallant Member concerned had any idea of the situation in some of the industrial areas, he would keep his mouth shut.
I remember the late Philip Snowden giving this advice to a Member of this House, "Sit still, keep your mouth shut and get an undeserved reputation for being intelligent." I will give the same advice to the hon. Member for Chislehurst. Psychology plays a great part in the handling of men. If you are a leader in any walk of life and if you try to study your men, they will work for you, but you will not get work done if you have a hammer in your hand and believe that you can exercise power by force. When hon. Members tell me that they want 100 per cent. effort from any industry, I feel like asking them to go home and ask for a 100 per cent. effort in their own households. You cannot get 100 per cent. but you can get the best out of life by using kindliness and experience with men, instead of trying to drive them from one side to another. As a result of this Debate I hope we shall get away from jeers, sneers and good advice that some people have tried to give us. So far as my own county is concerned we are doing our very best.
The only thing that we ask for in Durham is protection for the mines that exist. Had there been a Secret Session I would have gone into details, but I do not want, by publicity, to endanger any individual. There may be shortcomings among us but there are 45,000,000 people in this country struggling against fate, and working to save themselves from unknown horrors. I am prepared to have this Government or any other Government rather than the type of government of Hitler or any of his associates. When we have had this Debate let us stop ranting and get on with the job. I am delighted, after 1427 struggling for weeks, to know that we have come down on these sporting people. It is a great temptation to men to know that there is dog-racing at one place on a Wednesday, at another place on a Thursday and at yet another place on a Friday. It is a danger to production as well as to people. I am only one of hundreds of thousands of our men who are far more anxious to win the war than to put anybody into a position of affluence or influence.
§ Mr. Storey (Sunderland)
I think everybody who has listened to this Debate will have been struck by the very great desire for co-operation which has been shown by both sides of the House. I think my hon. Friend may draw strength from that spirit of co-operation and may feel that he will get every help in the difficult task he told us he had to face in the coming months. The main cause of that difficulty seems to be the failure of the Government to foresee the future increased home demand, and to dam back the flow of skilled labour from the industry when the collapse of France and the entry of Italy into the war caused temporary great unemployment and induced men to find employment elsewhere and to go into the Forces. The present need, undoubtedly, is for more men and for more work per man.
Coal mining is an industry which cannot afford to lose its man-power, particularly the loss of its young man-power. It is an industry where age tells. The work is heavy and the wastage is high, and it cannot be made good by the retention of old workers to the same extent as in other industries. It is, therefore, necessary that the industry should retain its young men and should have returned to it the majority of young men who have left it for the Forces and for other industries. I would not suggest that all men who have gone into the Army should be returned to the pits. Where a man has shown special intelligence and those qualities of leadership which make a good soldier I think the Army should be allowed to retain him, but where a man is just an ordinary good soldier I think he would be better employed if he was returned to the coalmines and did his job for the national cause there rather than in the Army
While on the subject of the heavy labour wastage in the coalmines, I want 1428 to say a word or two on a subject which has already been mentioned—the provision of adequate canteen facilities. The heavy nature of the work performed calls for good and nourishing food. The rationing we have at the present time and the increase in the employment of women seem to point to a great need for the extension of canteens in pits. I am glad to know that progress is being made in this work, but I hope that those responsible for setting up these canteens will give high priority to those which are needed in the pits.
Even more important than the need for more men is the need for more work per man. Some solution must be found for the growth of absenteeism, and when I speak of absenteeism I do not mean the absenteeism which has been mentioned to-day by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but deliberate absenteeism. The tendency, which has been pointed out, for absenteeism to grow with a rise in wages may be understandable in peace-time, but it is unpardonable in war-time. It is a tendency which seems to point to a failure to bring home to some of the men the dire need of the country for their best possible output, and it seems to point also to a lack of disciplinary powers, or a failure adequately to use such powers to deal with those who are deliberately slacking. While I recognise the great measure of co-operation which has been forthcoming from the men's leaders in dealing with absenteeism, particularly through the pit production committees—and here may I say that I hope the owners will pay attention to what has been said in this Debate about the failure to use the pit production committees to their fullest advantage?—I think that the procedure of the pit production committees needs some simplification of its machinery and a greater readiness on the part of the National Service Officers to back the efforts of the committees. I think the committees should have power to inflict a larger fine than £1—and let me say here that I think the idea put forward by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) about the fine going towards aged miners' homes is a good one—and also that the provision that the National Service Officers must issue a warning before serving a direction should be cut out. Surely, the decision of the committee to fine a man is a sufficient warning, and if he repeats the offence, the service of a direction should 1429 follow automatically. If such a procedure were followed, I do not think any harm would be done to the men, because, after all, they have a right of appeal from the decision of the National Service Officer.
The question of Income Tax has been mentioned. I think there is no doubt that the out-of-date methods of collection and the failure to explain the tax properly are among the causes of absenteeism. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer recognises the need for a complete overhaul of the methods of collection and their adaptation to what is a new class of taxpayers. I hope also that he recognises the need for a proper presentation of the tax to the workers. To meet both these needs should present no difficulty to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We hear a lot about the dead hand of the Treasury, but I cannot believe that it could destroy the gift of political ingenuity and that flair for publicity upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has built his reputation. I hope he will apply his political ingenuity and his flair for publicity to reorganising the whole of our Income Tax as it applies to wage-earners and presenting it properly to them.
I am glad there has been no disposition to press for the nationalisation of the coal industry at the present moment. We are in the middle of a great war. Our one aim must be to concentrate upon our immediate task of defeating the enemy. This is not the time to embark upon a great experiment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—which could not fail, temporarily, at any rate, to disorganise the industry and hamper production at a time when every ton counts. I hope the miners' leaders will concentrate rather upon bringing home to the men the realisation of what is needed from them. With that realisation, I am certain the output will be forthcoming, and those leaders and the men themselves will earn the more sympathetic consideration of their presentation of the case for nationalisation at the proper time, which is after the war and not the present time. Hon. Members may jeer, but there is no doubt whatever that if we were to endeavour at the present time to bring about such a reorganisation of the coal industry as nationalisation would mean, we should most definitely cause great unrest among those who have to run the collieries. They 1430 would not know where they stood, and they would not find that they were able to concentrate on what, as I have said before, is the main task at the present time, production. Therefore, I hope we shall not hear any more on the subject during the war, and that all will concentrate on the one aim and object of producing the utmost tonnage of coal which the country needs at the present time.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
The Debate has been a most remarkable one in regard to the atmosphere in which hon. Members opposite have approached the problem of mining. When the country is in a jam, when it is passing through a crisis such as the present, the ruiners become of paramount importance, and people who are far removed from the mines become willing, at least temporarily, to give the miner his proper place in the scheme of things. I thought that the Secretary for Mines, in making his speech, left out so many things that are of prime importance at the present time that many speeches could be made on those omissions. It seems to me that what we must realise, as far as the mining industry is concerned, is that we are in such a grave position, both in regard to the present and in regard to the future, that unless the nation is prepared to take steps of a fundamental character, the future—and the not-far-distant future—as far as the mining industry goes, will be a most parlous one. The Secretary for Mines said that one of the means of remedying the position in regard to production is increased mechanisation, the supply of coal cutters and also of coal conveyors. I think he referred to 600 coal cutters and 1,300 coal conveyors. It would be most interesting if we knew how many coal cutters and coal conveyors there are at the time.
§ Mr. Taylor
I want to say that that alone is not the remedy, because if we have 6,000 coal cutters at the present time, many of them breaking down and wearing out, the provision of 600 coal cutters during the next year will not equal the deterioration in the cutting machines at present in the mines.
When we were discussing the coal question about the time when the Essential Work Order was applied to the mines, I 1431 suggested that it would be well if the Mines Department appointed someone to go into the coalfields to meet the miners, and the owners if necessary, to obtain their views on why production was being hindered. That has not been done, but in Northumberland we have made a complete survey from the men's point of view of the production position. We have heard a tremendous amount about absenteeism. I know there are certain men who are to blame in this respect, and we have them in my district—they are being fined in the courts, and one man was recently fined £11 or one month's imprisonment—but hon. Members had better realise when talking about the mining industry that a large number of the men who went into the Services went, not because they were called up, but because they preferred the Army, the Navy or the Royal Air Force to mining. It may be that some who have been fined may prefer to go to gaol.
When the Secretary for Mines talks about new supplies of machinery and mining material, I would point out that in many cases the excuse put forward by managements is that they are unable to get the materials. In some cases, pumps which have been on order for ten months are not yet to hand. In other places, on account of shortage of man-power and so on, pits which normally worked with a margin of ten yards have increased it to 18 yards. That does not seem to be a large difference, but, if a man is working in a seam of one foot nine inches or two feet, he has to lie on his back and keep his shovel flat; that means turning the same coal over two or three times, which has a big effect on output. Again, insufficient height is being taken down by the stonemen. That may be because there is a shortage of stonemen. It means that a car has to be loaded below a certain level, with the result that every tram may be carrying one cwt. less. That is a very serious problem.
Another question is that of spare parts of machinery. A considerable time ago we introduced electric drilling machines, which have been a very big improvement indeed in helping output. One big and very efficient colliery reports that production is retarded by the shortage of electric drilling machines, and the management say they cannot get the equipment. They 1432 are working a test now and going back to hand drilling. At a colliery where 39 shifts are worked production fell from 324 tons, 17 cwts. to 138 tons. Cables and haulage ropes cannot be obtained, and, in consequence, all manner of expedients and devices have to be used. If your haulage ropes are going to break, your whole production is held up. Another colliery reports that it cannot get ipp machines for repairing broken belts. That means that 10 or 20 men have to wait until a machine can be brought from an other district. During our production Debates we have heard a lot about priorities for planes, tanks and other things. Is there any priority for mining materials?
§ Mr. Taylor
Then why are the mines not getting them? You will not get any tanks if you do not get any coal.
If this country has one thing more than another to blush for it is the way, in times of peace and prosperity, in which it has treated youth in the mining industry. It was a great thing in this country in the old days when miners were buried in their villages without any means of communication, such as cycles, buses or motor cars. They were lost to everybody but God, and no one cared. All the miner had to go to was the "pub," where he could get his tobacco, and he could have as big a family as possible because that was what the colliery manager wanted. Those days are gone, and I submit to the Secretary for Mines that one of the reasons we have a shortage of men in the mining industry of the kind and quality that we need, men of 22 to 25 years of age, is because at the age of 14, 15 and 16 boys were not going into the pits. Some of us have lived through the black period when coalowners were busy with the very amusing practice of cutting each others' throats and ruining the industry, giving coal away and selling it for next to nothing, while the miners worked on a subsistence wage of 6s. 9½d. a day and boys of 18 and thereabouts worked for 18s. a week. That was in the palmy days, but there was no vision, no thought of the future. Now we are landed in this jam. We found that boys by the hundred were coming down to this great city as bell boys, lift boys, and boot boys; they were doing any old thing because as they were approaching 18 either the wage was too low or there were sufficient boys 1433 for the jobs. Moreover, if a big strong boy of 15 could do the work of a boy of 17 and i8, he got the job, but he did not get the minimum applicable to the boy of 18.
We are, therefore, suffering in these days because these boys should now be on the coal face making the production that we require. So far as our boys are concerned, the record is a dirty, black record, a record of which no country could be proud. It is a record which shows an accident rate of nearly 25 per cent. and compensation amounting to nothing but burial expenses. Can we expect mothers to put boys in an occupation of that description? The Government must save the industry, not for the war, but for the future, because when the war is over, unless our scientists find a new method of propulsion and power, the basis of the future will still lie with coal. The Government must take the long view, shed their profit-making instincts, and try to think of the nation for a moment, not because we are at war, but so that we may be able to enjoy the full fruits of peace when it comes. The Government must think in terms of a boys' charter for the mining industry, in terms of security, in terms of the accident rate, in terms of a lower pension age for boys going into the pits and burning themselves out when most ordinary men in other industries are in the prime of life. Think of these things, and you will attract boys back to the industry. At one time there were 20,000 to 25,000 boys coming into the industry in a year, but not now, and we cannot blame them. But the coal is there still, a national asset. If anyone has driven the boys from the mining industry, it is the coalowners, who, in my view, are no more to be trusted with the coal under the earth in this country than—well, I do not know what term to use. But they are not to be trusted. They would not have control of it for five minutes if I had my way, never mind what an hon. Member opposite has said about a crisis in regard to nationalisation.
Boys are very valuable. A boy of 19 or i6 is as valuable as a man in one sense. I know of one colliery where there are 18 or 19 boys wanting to go to the coal face, but they cannot go on because the manager has no other boys coming up to the grade, and therefore they have to stop where they are. I submit that the num- 1434 ber of boys going into the industry now will not save the industry. What we require at the moment is production exceeding consumption to such an extent that we shall be safe whatever the weather or whatever the vagaries of enemy attack. The Secretary for Mines told us to-day that the number of miners who had gone into the Armed Forces was 80,000, and that about 60,000 had gone into other industries, making a loss of 140,000 to the mining industry. But he did not mention what is probably the most important factor of all, and that is the wastage that goes on in the mining industry. I should not be astonished to learn that the wastage of man-power in the mining industry is in the neighbourhood of from 33,000 to 34,000 or 35,000 a year. That is a tremendous loss, especially when we remember that we are getting no more than about 10,000 boys a year into the industry.
§ Mr. Grenfell
The number of those in the industry who pass out of it would be easily 35,000 a year, but there are boys still coming in, and the net loss is about 16,000 or 17,000.
§ Mr. Taylor
There is that net loss for this simple reason, that as men pass from the coal face they pass, probably, into what we call datal work or light work. As far as being production units is concerned, they are largely lost to us. In days gone by in my County of Durham one of the greatest recruiting fields for labour for the mining industry was found among agricultural workers. Why? Because we were the next highest in the lowest social scale—I think that is the best way of putting it. Agricultural workers used to come to the mines because they got a little bit more. But that is not the position now, and that avenue of recruitment is closed now. The agricultural worker now has a minimum wage. I do not know whether he is satisfied, and I hope lie is not too satisfied, because it is a bad thing for working men to be too satisfied. I suggest that the agricultural worker should link himself with the farmer, because I do not see that farmers are expressing much satisfaction, and if he hangs on to the farmer's coat tails, he will be all right. Anyway, they have about £3 jeopardised as a minimum wage. Therefore, we are not likely to get additional men from that source.
1435 We are getting into a very serious position. The Secretary for Mines told us about the stocks of coal, and he said that production was not equal to consumption. I know a bit about that. Before I came to this House I was unemployed, and I had a few pounds in a co-operative store. I also had a few little bairns. I used to get unemployment benefit, but it did not keep us, and we had to nibble at the capital, in other words, to nibble at the stock. When you begin nibbling and when your production is not equal to your consumption requirements, the position may become very serious. The Secretary for Mines did not tell us, could not tell us probably, that there is a point coming at which we shall have no stocks at all, if things go on as at present—and this is what we have to face—whether we have good transport or lack of bombing, production having been less than consumption. That would be a very grave position for this country. That is the problem facing the coal industry to-day and for the future.
We have to get the men back from the Services, but they must be men who can go to the coal face and do coal drilling. I know that about 17,000 of them have come back, but I do not know how many have gone to the coal face. I feel confident, from my own experience, that if a man has been away from the mines for some time, he cannot come back and go to the coal face and work a machine. In the days before machines when the colliery owners had the welfare of their horses and ponies at heart, over-driving them was not practised. Our speed was measured by that treatment, but that is not the case to-day. Our speed in the mines is now measured by the speed of the machines. Therefore, older men who have been out of the mines for some time are not able to come back to the coal face and produce 10, 12 or 15 tons a day. What is required now is young men, from somewhere where they can be spared. Unless we are prepared to take a long view and do it quickly, the position will be like what General Wavell described as the position in the Far East. It will be a matter of too little and too late. That will be a very sad position indeed.
Absenteeism is a very small thing among the miners. There is one thing about which miners feel very strongly. A colliery was idle for 10 days in my 1436 county because of one colliery agent who was appointed as a conciliator. He said something which might have been said by his grandfathers, to keep up their prestige and to show they were the bosses. He laid it down that the men had to go back to work before he would allow the manager or anybody else to negotiate. It was ultimately settled, but not as a result of what he might have done. This sort of thing does no good. Then take canteens. At one colliery I know they have compelled the men to take a ballot to say whether they want a canteen or not, and few of the men want the canteen. What I am asking is this: Where it can be proved that the owners are retarding output, are there any penalties for them? Our men are fined, and deservedly so, for deliberate idling, but surely whoever is responsible for keeping idle for 10 days a pit with an output of 1,200 or 1,500 tons a day is due for something too. But our men have never seen a sign yet of the same treatment under the Essential Work Order being handed out to them. I do not blame the managements. It is somebody above the managements who tells the manager what he has to do. If we could get over that, I believe we could improve coal production.
There is only one other thing I would say. There is a feeling in the coalmining industry, and it is not a good feeling—although I do not think it is retarding output—and it is to the effect that our men would like to feel that they are working for Britain rather than for the colliery owners. That is in our men's minds, and if we could remove it, I do not think we need have any fear of the consequences provided that the Secretary for Mines is prepared to think over what I have said about the youths and about wastage, and to see what can be done to improve immediate production.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Dalton)
I hope I may have the same measure of indulgence as my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) on this, the first time I address the House in the office which I now hold. My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) has made, as always, a most powerful speech. He asked in his last sentence that the Secretary for Mines should take account of the suggestions he has made. I can assure him that the Secretary for Mines and I will certainly take account of the 1437 points he has put, and put most clearly, and I believe the question of man-power in the pits, and wastage due largely to the ageing character of the mining population, should be linked up with the question of a youth charter for the pits, so that young men may once more enter into this most important industry. All these things my hon. Friend and I will certainly take into account. I have only been a very short time at the Board of Trade, but I can say that in the short time I have been there, I have, in consultation with my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, given very close attention to the problem which has been discussed to-day. It is a problem than which there is none more important for our war effort. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson)—I always enjoy his speeches, both for what he says and for how he says it—said in the course of his speech that we are not prepared to contemplate the alternative to victory in this war.
It is against that background that I shall now make some observations. In time of peace coal was the lifeblood of our national economy. Even more in time of war is that true. In time of peace coal, on any sane basis of valuation, is worth more to us than gold; even more in time of war. Therefore, it is of the most vital importance we should do all we can to build up in this industry a powerful productive machine, to take whatever steps are necessary to secure that that comes about. I shall be quite frank with the House; I judge it to be the duty of Ministers, subject always to the requirements of national security, to speak as frankly as they can. My hon. Friend was perhaps falsely accused of being an optimist. A definition was produced from a dictionary by one hon. Member. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines deserves that description. I do not think I do. I do not think he does either. We cannot at this moment look unduly on the bright side of things. There is a very serious situation confronting us. In a sentence, with regard to coal this is the position: our production is insufficient, grossly insufficient; our present consumption is excessive, and our stocks are much too low. These are three very adverse factors of the situation. We must correct them all.
We are now nearing the end of the third war winter. We have had an excep- 1438 tionally severe winter. You cannot speak about weather until after some delay, for national security reasons. You must never say that snow is falling to-day in case the enemy draws deductions. Now, however, we may say, since February is over, that it has been the coldest February since 1895, and since January and February have passed we may now say that during the first 8½ weeks of the year no less than 7½ weeks recorded temperatures at freezing point or below. It is true that our stocks, as my hon. Friend said, were higher at the beginning of this winter than they were the year before, but that is not much perhaps. They were much too low, and we have just scraped through so far without serious mishap. That is all we can say; we have just scraped through. We have had some luck, but we cannot count on this recurring. By next autumn we must build up our stocks to a much higher level than that at which they stood at the beginning of last autumn. Otherwise, if we have a bad turn so far as the war is concerned, if there is a recurrence of heavy bombing in this country, or other factors adverse to us, we shall be in an extremely critical position. In order to prevent that, we must do two things in the interval. We must substantially increase production, and we must substantially diminish consumption. The demands of our war industries are still rising. They will demand much more coal directly and indirectly. That must go up, otherwise we shall not build up that armed mass power which alone can bring us victory in the war. Therefore I take that for granted as regards the problem of production.
If I may deal first with the very large number of points which have been made by Members in all parts of the House, I will not attempt to take them one by one, because I do not wish to make a very lengthy speech. But I will say that my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines and I will pay close attention to everything that has been said. We will take full account of every suggestion that has been made from every quarter of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), in the very notable speech with which he opened the Debate, said, towards the close of his speech, that it is our business now to make whatever changes are required in the organisation of the industry. It was laid down on a certain occasion in Debate by the Minister 1439 of Labour that proposals would be considered provided that they did assist us now and not in the distant future, the more successfully to prosecute the war. I accept that; that is still the view of the Government. I wish merely to add that my hon. Friend and I have not been wasting our time. Together, we are in touch already with both sides of the industry. We shall endeavour to see whether some common ground cannot be found on some agreed programme of action and change, to meet the special emergency of the war. I ask the House, for the moment, to leave it there. In due course, we shall be able, I hope, to make a statement on the conversations in which we are now engaged.
§ Mr. Dalton
With the least possible delay. I hate delay as much as my hon. Friend does. Regarding the release of men from the Army, the Government must take note of the fact that many statements of opinion have been made from different parts of the House, and that the majority of those who have spoken on this point have taken the view that some further release of men—I am not now speaking of youths—should now take place from the Armed Forces. [Interruption.] I am speaking of young men capable of working at the coal face. I have noted the expression of opinion; and I am sure that my colleagues will have noted it also, and that they will weigh that opinion duly; and some statement will he made later to the House. So far as boys are concerned, I repeat that this is evidently a most important matter. It is quite uneconomic and unnatural, and it would create an impossible situation in the mining industry, if a state of affairs were allowed to continue whereby, above the age of 35, there are more miners than there were in 1931, while, below that age, there are far fewer miners than there were in 1931, taking all classes of workers together, and, when you get down to the lowest ages at which working is permissible, you have only a tiny fraction of those you had working in 1931. The number of men over 50 is greatly in excess of what it was 10 years ago in the mining industry, although the total number in the industry has diminished. That is an unnatural and uneconomic situation, 1440 and we must do our best to bring in, with proper conditions and proper prospects, a proper complement of youth.
A question was raised about colliery managers. I am not sure that people get quicker access to me or to my hon. Friend by writing letters to the "Times" than by writing to us direct, but, since Mr. Charlton has taken that course, he will not be prejudiced, and we will take steps to find out his views. There is no doubt that colliery managers have a great fund of knowledge and experience, and we shall be glad to draw upon that fund as well as upon any others. I understand that Mr. Charlton had conferences with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply when he was President of the Board of Trade. I shall be glad to see Mr. Charlton, and to get in touch with any others who have a contribution to make on this problem.
As regards consumption, it is clear that in the national interest consumption must be cut down. It is also clear that mere exhortations are not enough. There has been a great deal of propaganda in which people have been urged to burn less coal, turn off the light and so on. Such exhortations no doubt have their place in a war-time policy, but I believe that what the nation and this House want is that the Government to-day should not confine themselves to exhortations and propaganda but should take firm and equitable decisions and should enforce them. If the House does not like such decisions, then it can change the Minister. I believe that the time has come when we shall say what shall be done and not merely what we beg people occasionally not to forget to do. His Majesty's Government, therefore, have decided that a comprehensive scheme of fuel rationing shall be introduced as soon as possible. Such a scheme, however, will take a little time to work out. I have invited Sir William Beveridge to report to me on the most effective and equitable method of restricting and rationing the consumption of fuel and power, and I am very happy to say that he has accepted my invitation and has already got down to work. He has had the papers, and he has begun the job. He will have the assistance for this purpose, at his own request, of Sir Stephen Tallents, who was associated with him in the preparation and administration of the principal food rationing schemes in the 1441 last war. I do not intend to wait for Sir William Beveridge's report before taking immediate action to cut down fuel consumption.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Will the President of the Board of Trade inform the House what special talents or abilities these two gentlemen have with which to deal with the problem of fuel rationing in this country?
§ Mr. Dalton
I think that most people will take the view that we are very fortunate to have obtained the services of Sir William Beveridge. In the last war Sir William Beveridge largely invented the rationing systems which were built up by the Ministry of Food, and he has also had considerable experience of many administrative problems and has lately given what many people regard as a most valuable stimulus to the war effort. I have taken the responsibility for this appointment, after consultation with my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, and it was my view that I must get the best man I could for the purpose. I and the House are very fortunate in having secured Sir William Beveridge's services. He will report to me as soon as possible upon the scheme, and in due course I shall report to the House the proposals for which I intend to ask their approval.
I have already taken steps to prevent any forestalling of rationing restrictions, and, as was mentioned in the Press this morning, from midnight last night a new system of restriction of deliveries came into force for the whole of the country. Under this system no domestic consumer who has more than 10 cwts. in stock will be able to get any further coal during the next three weeks except on a special permit from the local fuel overseer. Those consumers who have less than half a ton in stock may receive up to a maximum of 6 cwts. during that period. This restriction applies only to residential premises and does not apply to coke or to fuel for boilers or other closed stoves. The 6 cwts. standard is the normal one, but in certain regions, namely, the South-East and the North Midlands, where the fuel situation is specially acute, a smaller maximum has been fixed at the discretion of the divisional coal officer. Meanwhile none of the local maxima fixed in London and elsewhere will be raised. At the conclusion of this three weeks period, namely, from 6th April, an amended 1442 system of restriction upon domestic deliveries will be imposed, particulars of which will be announced in due course. I hope the House will agree that it was prudent to have taken this step in consultation with, and with the approval of, my hon. Friend, because otherwise the announcement that a rationing system was on the way would have led to a rush, largely by persons least entitled to draw upon our coal stocks. Steps have been taken to prevent that. There are, of course, penalties under the Defence of the Realm Act for attempts to contravene the Regulations.
A good deal has been said about coal distribution, and, certainly, things are not very satisfactory there. I am not at all satisfied, nor is my hon. Friend, that everything possible has yet been done to reduce costs, effect proper economies and secure the best public service in coal distribution, and I intend to give early attention to this problem and report as soon as I can to the House what steps seem to me to be required. Meanwhile, I would like to mention that, in connection with the new Regulations and the projected rationing restriction scheme, all coal consumers who have not done so should register at once with a coal merchant, and none should register with more than one merchant. I think public opinion will rightly expect that severe penalties will be imposed upon anybody who endeavours to trick the Regulations by registering with two persons. That certainly will be required at the start of the administrative machinery which will be introduced. With regard to the domestic consumption of gas and electricity, based in the last resort on coal so far as this country is concerned, except for a small quantity from water power, we must, in my view, have a sharp reduction in total consumption, not only as compared with the winter months which have just passed, but also as compared with the corresponding period of last year. Sir William Beveridge's terms of reference cover the problem of the best means of procuring and enforcing such a reduction.
In the meantime, I take the opportunity of making an appeal—which will be followed up in due course by a Regulation—to all domestic consumers of coal and electricity at once to reduce their consumption to a minimum and not to 1443 insist upon having too many lights or having unnecessary fires burning in an unnecessary number of rooms, on days which are not very cold. I am confident that the majority of consumers will realise their national duty in this matter and will make a response, but I think it only right to warn any selfish minority which fails to do so—particularly if they have a meter on which consumption is recorded and which, therefore, places them in the power of those who will administer the rationing scheme later—that if they do not play their part in making voluntary restriction now, their selfishness may come home to roost. I prefer, however, at this stage, to hope that all concerned will do their utmost to respond to the appeal. Further, I appeal to those in charge of shops, hotels, boarding houses and public buildings of all sorts, which, in total, consume a great quantity of electricity, both for heating and lighting, and particularly for display lighting, which I think is more and more out of place in time of war. I hope there will be a large cut, not only in order to save coal, but also because ostentatious extravagance in every sphere is repugnant to every mind at this time and makes it more difficult for the ordinary householder to understand why he should be called upon to exercise self-denial with regard to his own lighting and heating. A little self-denial with regard to the use of gas and electricity is surely a tiny price to pay towards victory in this war, in which we are literally fighting for our lives.
I thought it right to speak in detail about our plans and our intentions in future with regard to consumption, but, to return to the Debate, I hope that after this Debate, after many hon. Members have got off their chests many things that they wanted to say, many things that it was very good should be said and many of which will be helpful, I hope the Government can now count upon the cooperation of all sections in the House, in the industry and in the country in strengthening the coal industry, in strengthening its productive powers, in rationalising and reducing the consumption of coal and in cutting out all unnecessary use of coal, so that we may strengthen without delay this most essential part of our national war effort. Un 1444 less we get the coal, we cannot get the arms. Unless we get the arms, we cannot win the war. What good would it do to any of us, to any of those who have expressed, with great ability, divergent views in this Debate, if, supposing that the calamity of which the hon. Member for Durham spoke, one day came upon us, we were afterwards to indulge in sterile arguments as to who was responsible for that calamity? I end, as I began, by assuring the House that my hon. Friend and I will devote time and effort to seeking to solve the problems of the coal industry as they have been so clearly set out in the Debate, and we shall welcome from every source suggestions, evidence of inefficiency and ideas as to how inefficiency can be removed. We shall look into all those ideas with the sole intention of strengthening the war effort, which is the common purpose of us all.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
; May I put a question to my right hon. Friend? He has announced the restriction of deliveries to six cwts, of coal over the next three weeks. Has he any observation to make concerning the effect of that order, having regard to the very large mass of customs and practices in the delivery to households, upon the men engaged in the industry itself? It is likely to cause a very great deal of upset and may have the reverse effect to that which my right hon. Friend has in mind.
§ Mr. Dalton
It cannot do other than check consumption, which is what we are after. My hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines assures me that it will not have the effect which my hon. Friend suggests. It will not have any consequence of that sort.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
We have heard a very interesting statement from my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I commend his determination; I am glad some decision is to be made as to what the public has to do. The public will be prepared to accept any restrictions as long as it feels that there will be equality and that everybody will be treated alike. I agree that the rationing system will be very drastic. Hitherto some people have got in stocks because they did not know what would be likely to happen in future. Now that those who have stocks realise that when those stocks are used up the Government will see there 1445 are supplies to keep the fire going, there will not be the same outcries as there have been in the past. The whole position has been mixed up, and we have needed a definite line of decision so that the public might know what was to happen. There are two questions which I ask the Minister to examine. Firstly, there are the men in the Forces who are beyond military age. I have received a letter from a man which I will read to the House. I believe it to be typical of many cases. I received the letter this week, and it reads as follows:Having read your speech in our local paper, the 'Leigh Journal,' about the release of miners from the Army, I should like you to look into my case. I served four years in the last war and I was at the retreat of Dunkirk with the Pioneer Corps in this war. Six weeks ago they sent us to this guard company. I have worked at Manchester collieries for over 30 years, and I think I shall be doing a lot more good for the country working down the pit and doing training at home than what I am doing here. When I joined up two years and three months ago they were asking for volunteers for the Pioneers, so I left the pit and joined up for working parties. They have now sent us to this camp doing guards and drill, and they expect men at my age, I am 48 years old, to keep up drilling with young lads. I should like you to try and get me back to the pits as they are needing men badly in Tyldesley.There are many men, especially miners, who joined up and were not called up who have passed the efficient military age. These men are eager to get back to the collieries. Most of them are skilled workers, and I believe they would be ready to return to the coal face to help production. Many of them would not be a great loss to the Army. They could join the Home Guard and be ready to take up arms when the time comes.
Then there is the case of the younger men. I would suggest that, where pits are working six days a week, these younger men who could be released from the Army could work five days at the pits and then do one day's training with the Army. I suggest that they should received the full rate of pay so that they would not lose any wages by doing a day's training with the Army. These men would be ready to return to the Army if they were needed. I want the President of the Board of Trade to give consideration to these points, because there is a need for more personnel in the mines. Unless some steps are taken, I believe there will be great difficulty in obtaining sufficient coal to carry on the war effort.
1446 I now wish to refer to Sir William Beveridge. I have met him, and I consider him to be a good and an able man. But I have heard his name mentioned in connection with so many things that I am wondering whether we have not found a super-man. We have had a super-man before. At one time Lord Beaverbrook was almost leading the nation, but he cracked up under the strain. He has gone into the background now. Let us not overwork Sir William Beveridge, because there is a limit to everyone's abilities. There are other good men besides Sir William Beveridge. I hope this is the last job that he will be asked to undertake.
I think the speech of the Minister of Mines was the best that he has made. He faced the realities of the situation and told us what the actual condition was. One thing that pleased me more than anything else was that the accident rate has decreased. That gave pleasure to all mining Members, and I am sure it will give pleasure to the country. Another thing that he talked about was open cast mining—removing the little bit of soil from the outcrop seam and getting at the coal in that way. Is this being worked by the State, or is private enterprise getting hold of it? We ought not to allow any more to get into private hands. Let the State take it over for good or ill and get the value if there is value in it, or suffer the loss of there is loss. The one prevailing idea in the minds of the men is that they prefer to work for the State. If private enterprise is allowed to make a big thing out of it, there will be trouble.
I have here a cutting from a newspaper which I should like to bring to the attention of the House. A coal merchant told the Sheffield magistrates that he handled 80 tons a week and made a profit of 14s. a ton. He was asked whether he sold at controlled prices, and he said he did. If this is true, there is something very wrong with the system. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will sift this to the bottom. If there is any truth in it at all, someone wants dealing with hardly. If it is not true, let it be made public.
§ Mr. Dalton
The best way of getting the truth would be for my hon. Friend to put down a Question on the Paper.
§ Mr. Tinker
I should be glad to do that, because these are things that upset 1447 the public. There is another point in regard to production which should be inquired into by the Board of Trade. Taking the whole of the man-shifts worked, there is a gradual falling-off of production per man-shift. In one county there was a fall of over cwt., yet at the coal face the men are keeping up their standard. Between the men at the coal face and the actual output there is a fall somewhere. That should be fully examined to find out where it is. My view is that the actual coal-getters at the coal face are fewer in number. The other personnel cannot be lessened very much because at a colliery practically the same number on the haulage road and at the pit head are required even if the colliery is producing 1,000 tons more. More skilled men should be put on the coal face so that the total output can be lifted up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) struck the right point with regard to absenteeism, and it should be known to the public. When the public think about absenteeism they take the six-day working week, and if there is any playing in those six days, they regard it as absenteeism. They compare it with what happened pre-war, but the men were then working only three and four days a week. A man who was working only that amount was ready for any shift, so that when a pit was opened he was there regularly. Now the men are working six days a week, and we are urging them to do everything they can, but it is impossible for them to keep it up for 12 months. When the public are complaining about absenteeism, therefore, they should not be too harsh on the miners and compare the present working with the pre-war working. They were then working only short time, but they are now on full strain the whole time. I agree that there are some in the mines, a very few, who are not playing the game, but we are all out to win the war, and we come down on these people heavily. We are doing all we can in that direction. I am grateful for what has happened here to-day and for the speeches made from all sides. As a result there will be a better feeling in the industry. It all depends, however, on the drive and energy that come from the Ministry of Mines. If they carry out what the Minister has told us to-day, I 1448 am satisfied that it will not be the coal industry that will let us down in the war effort.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)
I want to put a question to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I listened carefully to his speech, and I can assure him that I sympathise with his efforts towards securing economy in the use of coal. I realise as much as he does the necessity for being a little stricter in our use of coal, but I am a little uncertain about the system of rationing which I understood him to suggest. Does he mean that the allowance of 6 cwt. of coal applies to every house, irrespective of the number of people in it? There are many houses, as I personally know, which are sheltering people who have come from all over England, those who have been blitzed out of their own homes or have come from abroad, where they have also lost their homes, and it seems to me that it would be much fairer to take into consideration the number of people in a house. As one example, I know a house which has 15 or 16 permanent residents. Is that house to get only 6 cwt. of coal, while at the same time a cottage next door with two people also gets 6 cwt.?
§ Mr. Dalton
I hoped I had made it clear that this is a special arrangement for the next three weeks. Beyond that, we will think again in the light of the data and statistics we have collected. For the next three weeks the basis will be a maximum of 6 cwt. per house, but of course, subject as now to the possibility of special cases being considered by local fuel overseers and permits being granted for an additional supply. That provision still remains, though I add that I hope it will not be very widely exercised ever this transitional period.
§ Sir C. Headlam
I think the great thing that the President of the Board of Trade must bear in mind is that the price of coal is so high that that in itself is a deterrent to its extravagant use by a great many people.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade for the helpful remarks he has made respecting coal production and consumption. I would respectfully remind him that last 1449 May statements were made on behalf of the Ministry that these things would be looked into, but on the evidence we have had placed before us to-day by my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade the position does not appear to be any better now than it was then, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to take due note of that.
§ Mr. Taylor
On many occasions the attention of the House has been drawn to the many and varied problems of the mining industry, and if to-day's Debate is any indication, it is obvious that the passing of time has not lessened the scope of those problems or their acuteness. It is a common saying in the mining areas that just as the Continent of Europe has been for a long time now the cockpit of the international struggle, so the mining industry here has been the cockpit of the economic struggle. I regret many of the remarks which were made by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers), particularly his statement that the miners were guilty of sabotage. I am sure that if that typifies the attitude of some interests in the mining industry, it will not lessen tile severity of the struggle which has taken place for a considerable time.
I propose to say a word or two respecting the personnel of the industry, because I believe that it is wrapped up with the solution of the problem with which we are confronted. In the 10 years prior to the outbreak of the present war there was a shrinkage of 350,000 in the numbers engaged in the industry. I can well remember when the industry had no fewer than 1,100,000 persons engaged in it. Prior to the war, the number had fallen to at least 350,000 less than that figure. A variety of causes contributed to this state of affairs. There were the contracting demand the introduction of machinery which increased the potential capacity of the industry to produce, and, last but not least, something referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor), the problem which will have to receive more serious consideration in future if we are to safeguard this industry, which is the source of our economic life, namely, the annual wastage within the industry.
1450 This shrinkage has been further aggravated since the outbreak of the war by the calling of men into the Forces. There was the operation of the Militia Act and of the Armed Forces Act. Another important item with a bearing upon this matter was the calling-up of the Territorials, because large numbers of men in the mining industry were members of that organisation. The expanding need for coal for industrial purposes—the President of the Board of Trade went out of his way to emphasise that fact—makes it clear in all our minds that the need for raw coal for industrial purposes because of the war is greater than at any time during this period. I would like to impress upon the Department that it is doubtful whether that need can be fully met with the existing personnel. I was pleased to note that my right hon. Friend has given an undertaking that this question will have his very serious consideration, which I hope will be on the lines which many hon. Members suggested as long ago as last May.
I believe that both sides of the industry have stated that, in the light of the requirements for our war effort, the industry is seriously under-manned. I do not at this late hour wish to go into figures, but if it is the case that the output desired by the Government has not been accomplished, whatever the figure may be, the statement of my right hon. Friend should be considered immediately and implemented as soon as possible. In this connection our hands are strengthened by the Twenty-fourth Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, who have had this particular subject under consideration, and I should like to quote from it. That body, in making reference to the economical use of coal and the desirability of an increased winning of coal from the pits, goes on to say:It is urgent that the Government should reconsider its previous decision, namely, that miners should not be released from the forces to return to the pits. It may well be in the rational interest to reconsider the release of miners skilled at the coal face, either permanently or for the summer months only.With very great respect, and having had fairly extensive experience of life underground, I would say to the Committee that in my view "for the summer months only" would not be a practicable proposition, and the object upon which their recommendation is based would, in my view, be defeated. There is another angle 1451 from which man-power in the industry should be considered, and that brings me to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth, namely, annual wastage. There is a variety of causes; there are sickness, accidents, with the intensive system of machine mining there is also physical inability to carry on this arduous occupation much earlier in life, and then there is the incidence of accidents and death. In this connection, during this last week-end, I was making an investigation at the colliery with which I have been connected for many years, and, if the figures that were given to me of annual wastage are true—that colliery is typical of the industry—I have concluded that the annual wastage in the coalfields of Britain is at least 25,000. But that is rather a low estimate on the evidence that has been produced here by my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines. It would be interesting, in connection with this subject of annual wastage, if more precise and detailed information could be given to us by the Department on the basis of the data which they must have at their disposal.
The other point to which I wish briefly to refer is this: It has been stated here this afternoon, but I want to re-emphasise it because it is a very serious matter and one that needs tackling. It is that the industry is becoming less and less attractive. I submit that that indisputable fact is affecting the personnel in the industry. While I have no precise figures at my disposal, may I say that my own observation, living in a mining area among the miners and the miners' children, teaches me that the flow of entrants into this industry is a rapidly diminishing quantity? Even in the case of those who do enter the industry, I suggest that it is more through the medium of economic necessity than through the medium of desire. Surely, in this connection, the Department has at its disposal information and data revealing what the true position is. I am of the opinion—and I think we should face it quite seriously and honestly, because there is a danger of the source of our economic life being seriously jeopardised—that we should take to heart the remarks of my right hon. Friend respecting the importance and value of coal not only in war but also in peace-time. In connection with this, in a Midland county where the mining 1452 industry plays a very important part, an education committee of which I happen to be a member took the very novel step quite recently of allowing the colliery officials in one of its mining villages to lecture to the boys with a view to attracting them into the pits. This position is realised, not only by the Members in this House; it is a growing feeling within the country itself. I suggest that a procedure of that kind is merely scratching the surface, and that plausible propaganda will not solve a problem of this character. I put forward the idea that with respect to our mining industry there must be fundamental changes if its importance is to be preserved.
May I very briefly draw the attention tion of the House to the treatment of the totally and partially disabled men in this industry, which has a higher accident rate than any other? In our mining villages it is not an uncommon sight to see legless and armless men broken in body beyond repair, in many cases eking out an existence on inadequate compensation supplemented by public assistance. If they have been sufficiently lucky to have partially recovered, they are signing on at the employment exchange, many of them without the prospect of a job of work, and practically all of them without hope.
If that be the position, as it surely is, I suggest that is a very poor advertisement in making this very important industry attractive. I ask that this, which is only one of the many problems of the industry, be seriously considered by the Department in consultation with both sides of the industry, with the end in view, first, of minimising the dangers underground. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend intimate in his excellent speech to-day the steps that were being taken with this end in view. Secondly, an effort should be made—we should no longer pay mere lip service to this as an ideal, but an honest genuine effort should be made—to remove the insecurity which exists when our unfortunate men meet with accidents.
Lastly, very briefly, in this particular connection, I suggest that there should be more widespread and extensive facilities instituted for rehabilitation. In my own district, an experiment has been taking place in the past two or three years, and the results have been most surprising. At 1453 least 94 per cent. of the cases which go to this rehabilitation centre either go back to their old jobs or go to some other jobs of a lighter nature. Not only is work of that kind economically valuable—and we have before us evidence of the economies which are effected by repairing the bodies and limbs of these men—but this is a human problem. Nothing should stand in the way of such facilities being extended throughout the coalfields. I regard with pleasure the efforts which are being made in South Wales and in Durham to extend these facilities, and I am certain they will be greatly appreciated by the mining community.
May I make one comment about absenteeism? I would not have drawn attention to a letter which I have received had it not been for comments—in my view, uncalled for—which have been made about absenteeism among miners. I have a letter here from a miner who works at a pit in my own district. On Monday, 23rd February, and the following day, when he presented himself for work, he was told that there were some spare men, and that he would have to go home. I cannot imagine, in the light of what my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend have said about the necessity of production, that there should be spare men in the industry. [Interruption.] He was a coal-face worker. On the Saturday following, this man happened to oversleep—and, believe me, it is the easiest thing in the world, as I know from experience, to oversleep at four o'clock in the morning. The man arrived at the colliery at 6.52, eight minutes before the pit started winding coal and two minutes after the official time for lamps to be given out. He was told that no lamp could be given to him. He assures me that he could have been at his own working place, at the very latest, by 7.30. I suggest that there should be some elasticity in this matter. I know that in normal times, if you have not got your lamp out by a certain time, you are told, "You cannot have it this morning"; but when coal is needed to the extent that it is needed to-day, cases of this kind should not occur. I suggest that there should be the same allowance, if workers come late, as is made in the munition works and the factories. But I suspect it was because the man was sent back on the Monday and the Tuesday, regarded as a spare man, although 1454 capable of work on those two days, that, when he overslept, he was sent out, which meant that the industry saved two days' wages, but the nation lost at least five or six tons of coal, which would have been most profitable in the present circumstances. I hope that my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines will take note of cases like this and that owners of collieries and managers shall be implored that in these times, when the production of coal is so necessary, there should be more elasticity, so that from willing men we can get the maximum output.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
It is too late in the Sitting to pursue the general question of coal production, much as I would like to do so, but, in view of the statement which the President of the Board of Trade has made, I want to respond briefly to his invitation to make suggestions, and indeed it would be discourteous not to do so. It occurs to me that in dealing with this matter in the absence of a comprehensive plan some of these ad hoc measures cause reactions which may rather undermine what the Government Departments wish to do. The domestic restriction on coal is a perfectly proper measure, but unless there is something to stop people from buying electric radiators, etc., there will be a rush on these things. I want to suggest one or two things to the President of the Board of Trade upon which immediate action should be taken. If there is one thing in surplus supply in the shops today it is electric radiators. The sale of these ought to be limited, and further production might very well be suspended. The same applies to cookers, although they are very largely restricted, and the position is not so serious. There is a restriction on cookers which is more or less imposed by the supply undertakings. But the heater position is rather serious, and the sudden restriction of the use of household coal will see an addition to the load of electricity, with possibly serious consequences.
On the question of lighting, relatively speaking the effect is only small, from the point of view of coal consumption, but if the lighting question were taken drastically in hand throughout the country, a useful reduction could be made. I ask the President of the Board of Trade as far as he can do it, or if 1455 necessary by order from the Cabinet, to insist that all Government Departments reduce lighting in public places. Take, for example, this Chamber. There are 10 chandeliers, each with 24 lamps of, I should think, 60 watts. One single 60 watt light suspended eight or 10 feet lower than the existing chandeliers would be practically sufficient for the light of this Chamber instead of some 10 or a dozen of these groups. If the lights were restricted in this way, it would cut out 75 per cent. of the lighting in this building and still have sufficient lighting. In the London Underground stations there is a tremendous contrast with any surface terminal station where the lighting has to be reduced on account of the glass roofing. One can go down to an underground platform and find a mass of lights. Stations like Charing Cross and Leicester Square could have two-thirds of the lighting cut down without any detriment to the public.
I know the President of the Board of Trade is up against the snag of how to ration houses. If you ration by units, you have no control over the time of day when a person uses his units. The whole difficulty is getting the peak loads cut off. The only thing to do is to bring in a direct Regulation limiting the size and number of lamps which householders, shops and the like may have. Two 40-watt lamps are enough in any bedroom, one a pendant and another at the bedside. That could be ordered by Regulation, and there may have to be some sort of inspection. The public want a lead. They hear these exhortations and say, "How do we do it? I cannot do without lights in my house." If one undertaking does it and a neighbouring undertaking does not, there is confusion. Limit the number of lights. Stop the sale of lamps of more than 60-watt capacity, except for workshops and special places on licence. Stop the use of the 100 watt-lamp for domestic use. It is unnecessary and strains the eyesight. You can buy small lamps of only 5-watt capacity which are enough in ordinary passages and bathrooms. Two years ago I went round my house, took off every 60-watt lamp, locked them up and substituted 15 to 25-watt lamps. The public wants such a lead. Restrict lamps to a certain wattage per square yard of flooring or number 1456 of persons in the hereditament, whichever is the less. Unless you do that, you will not achieve any reduction. I urge action immediately by Regulation. Stop this wastage of light in public places; prohibit indirect lighting, which is the most wasteful form of all lighting. In certain places in London dozens of lamps are used to give a nice glow to the ceiling. Ninety per cent. of them can be cut out by substituting a few shaded pendants.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman say how he would deal with the supply companies and their financial position, because I am sure the President of the Board of Trade would be glad to have his suggestions?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
But is it not perfectly clear that if the hon. Gentleman's suggestions were adopted, the consumption of electricity by the supply and power companies would be so low—I am not putting this forward as an objection, but it must be met—that their revenue would fall out of all proportion to their expenditure?
§ Sir J. Nall
I am sure the President of the Board knows that the problem of every electricity undertaking to-day is to limit the surplus load. When peak loads are cut down, finance will have to be considered on its merits. By and large the domestic user has had no addition to charges; in fact, some charges have been lowered owing to increased loads. What I am talking about now is the consumption of electricity and the consequent additional use of coal. Every distributor of electric power, company or municipal, is up against the problem of getting the load reduced. I want to emphasise to the President of the Board of Trade that limitation of the domestic use of coal must be followed immediately by some check on the alternative use of other forms of fuel, otherwise his plan will be defeated.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
After hearing the speech of my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, I hoped that something would be said, particularly on the production side of the industry, by the President of the Board of Trade that would relieve me of the necessity of rising to speak in this Debate, but on the pro- 1457 ductive side, which is the side with which we are primarily concerned, there has been no indication, either from the Secretary for Mines or the President of the Board of Trade, that we can expect anything like the radical changes that are necessary. Both the speeches—and I cannot explain this as far as the Secretary for Mines is concerned—showed a complete inability to appreciate the extraordinary peculiarities of the ruining industry. We know that the reactions on the persons employed in the mining industry make it an industry that is unique in every respect, but the tragic thing is that, even in conditions of war, when coal is of exceptional importance to us, and in one sense a matter of life and death, it appears to be utterly impossible to get the Government to appreciate the peculiarities of this very difficult industry.
Like the Secretary for Mines, I have been associated with the industry since boyhood, and my hon. Friend knows as well as I do how often it has been said from these benches that the mining industry is the Cinderella of industries. My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that nothing has ever happened in that industry to improve the well being of its personnel on the one hand, and the production of the industry on the other, without its having been wrung out of the country at very considerable sacrifice to the persons employed in the industry. My disappointment was most acute after the speech of my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines. I have had the great pleasure of working side by side with him in that industry, endeavouring to mitigate the worst excesses of private ownership and trying, in our small way, to mitigate the physical conseqences to those engaged in the industry. I must say—and my hon. Friend must expect it from his own comrades—that his speech was most disappointing, pathetically unreal, foreign to all his experiences, and, I regret having to say it, even to the profound convictions that he holds with regard to the industry.
The knowledge of the mining industry which our present Secretary for Mines possesses is profound in every respect. I have had ample opportunities to witness that in the many years in which we have been associated. I know that he has been a lifelong student of every aspect of that great industry, and that he knows and understands the men. He knows 1458 well, better than most Members of this House, the effect of that industry upon the mines and the effects of that industry upon the men. But I must ask how he can turn his mind blankly from the knowledge which is his, and which he has assimilated by hard and splendid work within the industry. He knows that so long as he is a party to the conduct of this industry under private ownership, waste will ever be appalling. Waste of this priceless mineral of ours goes on to-day, as rampant as when he and I worked at the mine. What has he tried to do to stop it? I have heard nothing in the Government speeches today—
§ Mr. Grenfell
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to give him a small hint of what I have been doing. The coalfield in which he and I worked and spent most of our lives would have had a very much smaller production if I had not been at the Mines Department.
§ Mr. Davies
I should like to accept everything my hon. Friend tells me, but unfortunately facts are compelling me to question and, most regretfully, to criticise his attitude. In my long association, directly and indirectly, with the Department of Mines, I say unhesitatingly that he is the one man who has held that office who has been interested in coal and the men engaged in that industry. My hon. Friend has reminded me that he and I worked in the South-Wales coalfield, but he and I were for many years compelled to destroy and bury irrecoverably a fifth a fourth and on some occasions a third of that price less mineral. That system obtains today in the greater part of that coalfield. My hon. Friend knows very well that most of the coal hewers in South Wales, with its wonderfully rich mineral, are compelled to bury that priceless mineral as a result of the system of remuneration which the coalowners have forced upon them. After two and a half years of war he has apparently not protested against that.
It often happens in the South Wales collieries that a third of the coal cut has to be buried. The people who presume to own the industry tell the miners that they need not bring it up because they will not be paid for it. If there is any profit to be made out of it, the coal-owners will collar the whole of it and the 1459 hewers and fillers will get nothing. My hon. Friend knows very well that that system prevails. [Interruption.] I worked for years on one of the seams which were classed as first-class Admiralty coal, the best steam-raising coal that the world has ever discovered. In some parts of South Wales in the hewing of that seam at least a third would be small coal which would pass through the screening plant, with its longitudinal bars and an inch and a quarter mesh. For anything passing through that the coal hewer would not be paid. Then perforce all of it would be left in the bowels of the earth to be buried with the rubbish and the slag that the seam would produce. That is going on to-day. [Interruption.] If my mining friends are aghast at what I am saying, I had better emphasise it.
§ Mr. Davies
The price lists obtaining in most of the collieries of South Wales have as their first item that so many pence or shillings shall be paid for cutting and filling large, clean coal. That system still operates, and it is no exaggeration to say that millions of tons are wasted—buried—with all the rubbish which one inevitably has to handle in the mining of coal.
§ Mr. Grenfell
My hon. Friend should really inform the House that this custom applies strictly to the very dry steam coals, the small coal of which has no market value. Even in these days, with the great shortage of coal, my hon. Friend knows quite well that there is a large amount of unsaleable dirt in that coal.
§ Mr. Davies
My hon. Friend knows exactly what I am talking about, and I am sorry he has made that interjection.
§ Mr. Davies
What I am levelling against my hon. Friend is that he accepts uncomplainingly, unquestioningly and without any opposition this wretched and wasteful system, which obtains—and I repeat it—in most of the coalpits in South Wales. My hon. Friend says that there is no market for dust, but I am not talking about dust. I am talking about the coal that can pass between bars about 1460 13 feet long with a longitudinal mesh of 1¼ inches. We can get a great deal to pass through that which is not dust. My hon. Friend knows that the coalowners can, and some of them do, separate what passes through these bars into at least three different grades of coal, in some instances four. My point is that the miner gets no payment for it. For years we have worked to try and break down this wasteful practice, but we have failed. If I were forced to negotiate a, price list to-morrow in the steam coal pits of South Wales, it would be useless unless I had the full backing of the Government.
My hon. Friend mentioned the production committees which have been appointed at the different collieries. Nobody welcomes them more heartily than I do. In fact, I carried on a good deal of propaganda to prepare the miners, particularly the pit committees, to take their stand in a constructive and helpful sense on these production committees. My hon. Friend knows very well, however, that most of the committees, particularly in the coalfield about which he and I know most, have given very little result and have been very little used because the coalowners are so prolific in pinpricks and in their finickiness and exhibit meannesses as exasperating as can be imagined. I have a copy of the last agreement that was negotiated after considerable difficulty and hard work on the part of the president and the executive committee of the South Wales Miners' Federation. It was accepted by the smallest majority in the history of that coalfield.
I am not amazed at that. Whatever the type of employment, there are three stages or grades, and the distinction between the first and the second grades is largely academic as far as the work done by the men is concerned, but, of course, it is very profitable as far as the coalowners are concerned. I am giving these facts in order that my hon. Friend can appreciate the point that if a pit committee, as the result of such a stupid, mean, exasperating agreement, are kept fully employed in settling the differences that arise out of such a, wretched document, trying to adjust troubles arising out of this nonsense which the coalowners have forced upon the miners, they will have little time or inclination to get down to the real work of the moment and to take 1461 part in the organising of maximum production at their collieries.
Take the case of a main haulage engineman. Much depends upon whether the horse-power of his engine is one horsepower below or one above a certain figure. If it is an engine of 201 horsepower, he gets a certain wage, but if it is below 200, there is a substantial drop in his wage, although any practical man knows that the more powerful an engine is to cope with its work the easier it is to drive it. Similarly, electric enginemen, switchboard men, craftsmen, electricians, litters and so on are divided in the most artificial manner. There is a first grade which is supposed to consist of skilled and competent men, and then there is a lower grade of skilled men. The room for dispute when these academic distinctions are drawn deliberately by the coalowners is immense, with the result that those who have to administer this agreement have no time left to attend to the thing which is of prime importance to-day, an increase in the production of coal. I could keep on quoting from this document. I cannot understand why my hon. Friend and the President of the Board of Trade did not protest—why my hon. Friend, with the experience he has, did not say the moment he got a glimpse of it, "What is the use—"
§ Mr. Grenfell
I can assure my hon. Friend that I am perfectly innocent. I have never seen that document and never knew it was such an important thing.
§ Mr. Davies
I do not know whether the last few words interjected by my hon. Friend were intended to be smart.
§ Mr. Davies
I would not be offended, but I hope they would not drive me to the conclusion that my hon. Friend does not appreciate the difficulties.
§ Mr. Grenfell
My hon. Friend is criticising the work of an outside organisation which has been consulted.
§ Mr. Davies
It is not criticism of an organisation, whose patriotism appreciated the needs of our country. That organisation rose to it, but the coal-owners must be regarded as being above patriotism, unless it is Patriotism, Ltd.
§ Mr. Grenfell
There are workers' names on that document: if I understand it rightly, the name of my hon. Friend and other names.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, I know, but I repeat that those gentlemen's patriotism and the patriotism of the men they represented has been permitted to be exploited by the coalowners in that coalfield. The Government protest unceasingly and loudly that they are all out to win the war and to develop and mobilise the resources of this country; I should have expected them, with a skilled miner at the head of the Mines Department, to protest against this exploitation of the patriotism of the best lot of men we have in this country.
§ Sir William Jenkins (Neath)
Is it not a fact that the miners' representatives unanimously recommended to the men these terms, which were turned down on the first occasion and, after a second appeal with a unanimous executive supporting them, were agreed to by the men?
§ Mr. Davies
I have never said anything contrary to that. The gravamen of my charge is that the coalowners have been permitted to exploit the patriotism not only of the representatives of the miners in the South Wales coalfield but the men themselves. I heard the president himself use words to this effect, "Whatever happens, boys, there must be no talk of strikes in these days." That president has distinguished himself in that organisation; he happened, incidentally, to be a member of the Communist party. That is my charge.
§ Mr. G. Macdonald
I am not sure where we arc. Do I understand my hon. Friend to say that the South Wales Miners' Federation asked the Government to intervene in this affair and that they refused?
§ Mr. Davies
No, but judging from the speeches we have heard, it appears that it would have been futile to ask the Government to intervene in practically anything. With my hon. Friend at the head of the Mines Department, the Government cannot plead ignorance as to the manner and the methods used by the coalowners to exploit the patriotism of the miners in South Wales. Are the coalowners not giving their profits first consideration over and above everything?
§ Mr. Grenfell
I did not know that the agreement was not satisfactory. I did not know that the terms were not satisfactory. I have never been approached, and so I have not the slightest responsibility in the matter.
§ Mr. Davies
Once a coalminer, always a coalminer. I know my hon. Friend's interests, and I should have expected him, particularly when increased production is of such tremendous importance, to use his influence with his colleagues in the Government to put a stop to what I can only describe as fifth-column work by the coalowners on that coalfield.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Will my hon. Friend accept my assurance that I have never known that there was a complaint against it by anybody?
§ Mr. Davies
I am not suggesting that my hon. Friend has been approached on this. Perhaps I am making a mistake in this, but I have assumed, and assume, that so far as the coal industry of this country is concerned, and the condition of the mines, no one is better informed than my hon. Friend. I have said so, and may I say that his appointment to that Department gave me, being a coal man myself and nothing other than a coal man, probably more pleasure than any other appointment which has been made since the beginning of the war? I understood my hon. Friend to say to-day that the Mines Department had assumed control of the production and marketing of coal. We were not told, I wish we had been told, what organisation he has established to take over such huge and very complex responsibilities. I wish we had been told. I should like to know who are the personnel and into whose hands he has delegated the responsibility. Who are they? I am at a loss.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement that he did state earlier that the Mines Department had assumed control of the production and marketing of coal. Well, obviously the Mines Department in pre-war days, before these new responsibilities and tasks were assumed, had not the organisation to do the work. My hon. Friend will agree with that. What organisation has he built up in order to assume these tasks, 1464 to see that production is really being carried out to the maximum possible, and that the coal is being properly marketed? I wish he had taken us into his confidence on that matter to-day, because I know of no organisation.
§ Mr. Grenfell
My hon. Friend is forgetting what he has already said. He has mentioned the National Production Council, he has mentioned the district production committees, he has mentioned the pit committees. All those were set up by my Department. I have great powers over the production of this industry, and we are now exercising those powers. The undertakings are controlled by the Mines Department. My hon. Friend does not know how far we control the marketing of coal. There is a coal supplies officer in every district, and all the coal which is sent for disposal from the mines of this country passes under the control of the coal supplies officer in each district.
§ Mr. Davies
We are somewhat intrigued by these vast responsibilities, assuming control over the production of several million tons of coal every week and the marketing of that coal. Will my hon. Friend tell me—I put the question to him—Is this organisation anything more than the granting to coalowners' organisations of a sort of quasi-legal standing? Is the organisation anything more than that?
§ Mr. Grenfell
There is an organisation built up under the auspices of the Mines Department, responsible to the Mines Department, paid by the Mines Department, for doing all these things.
§ Mr. Davies
I hope that the next time my hon. Friend addresses this House he will be good enough to give us a full description. I will not pursue that any further to-day. We should like to know how these committees are orientated and whether they are animated with this desire to carry on the industry on status quo ante conditions. Has the Mines Department still got faith that under private enterprise, with all its restrictions, with all its predilections, known only too well by myself and my mining friends here, that leaving private ownership intact, taking a long view, as inevitably private ownership must, of post-war conditions, the Department can get that maximum of production which all of us want? If my hon. Friend is 1465 satisfied on that point, I am not in agreement with him. Quite frankly, the miners are getting tired of these strenuous futilities. They are futile so far as increasing the output and improving the morale of the men in the industry are concerned. These men understand the industry, and the time is long overdue for them to be given some standing in the industry, because my hon. Friend believes as strongly as I believe that without such standing all else is cheap, even insulting, rhetoric, after the experiences we have had.
We have heard a great deal during this Debate about the shortage of coal. Most of us believe that much of that shortage could have been obviated if the right schemes had been adopted. I have been to the Mines Department myself, and probably I am not the only Member of Parliament who has gone there, driven by a crowd of the most exasperating anomalies that arise in connection with the mining industry. In my own constituency is a colliery that closed down just at the beginning of the war. It has not been abandoned, it has been kept open on the strength of the coal levy. We, living in that area, have experienced a very serious shortage of coal during these hard winter months which have passed, with a colliery on our doorstep, with miners in the immediate vicinity, or miners passing in and out of that vicinity, which could be put to work. That colliery, I am authoritatively informed by the one man who knows it probably better than anyone else, could in two or three weeks be producing two or three hundreds tons per day. Yet that colliery is kept idle, and is financially supported out of the coalmining levy.
In the borough of Merthyr Tydfil, we want a minimum of 3,000 tons every month, apart from what the miners receive from their own collieries. I have told the Mines Department that labour can be found for it, without in any way upsetting the labour arrangements in other collieries; but the colliery remains closed. There is a shrewd suspicion in my constituency that the owners, by keeping it in the condition that it is in now, are making a profit, probably for the first time since the last war, out of the coal levy. Miners who have been away, working on big Government constructive works, and have finished their jobs, have been brought 1466 home, and then have been driven to the English coalfields, to work in far more highly mechanised pits than they have ever been accustomed to. We know also that some of the other local collieries want labour. Yet, instead of the men being directed to work locally, and instead of this colliery being opened up immediately, these ex-miners are sent to the English coalfields. Among them are men who have suffered from nystagmus and other disabilities, but who are still able to do a good day's work in the conditions to which they have been accustomed. I wonder how many instances one could find throughout the country of owners keeping collieries closed because it pays them better to do that than to work them.
I never intended to take up so much time, but my hon. Friends are rather interested in some of the things I have said, and I have had to repeat them more than once. Until the dead hand of private ownership is taken from this industry and the industry is no longer regarded as being just a source of profit, my hon. Friend the Minister and I, and others with mining experience, know that we shall not get out of this industry what the country needs, and what it would get were the industry in the hands of those who know all about it. My hon. Friend knows, too, that no industry in this country lends itself more to co-operative effort than the mining industry does. I regret that my anticipations when my hon. Friend went to the Mines Department have not been realised. I am sorry for the disappointment we feel, and we know the disappointment that he suffers himself. May I just ask him, Has he contemplated what legacy he and the coalowners will hand down, through the mining industry, to post-war years?
My hon. Friend told us that the amount of electricity produced in this country had been trebled and that the gas industry had been doubled. I appeal to my hon. Friend to apply his great and constructive knowledge of the coal industry and tell the others in the Government who do not know anything about it that there is only one thing to do in this industry in order to obtain the maximum amount of coal for the people of this country, and that is, that it should be socialised and the State should take it over. If they should refuse to respond to that suggestion, I would invite my hon. Friend to come out of the vicious circle and tell the country 1467 what should be done in the mining industry. He would have a lot of his old friends and many more in the industry join with him in order that, at long last, and in the interests of the whole country, this priceless commodity should be given to them in abundance.
§ Dr. Little (Down)
I would like to shift this Debate across the Channel to Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, where, in the absence of mines and miners, we have a coal problem. I have always found my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines most obliging and ready to do anything in his power to assist. He has faced a very difficult situation with wonderful tact, patience, courage and devotion and few men could have done better than my hon. Friend has done. I do not say that he always did, perhaps, what I wanted him to do but he tried to do his best. The Secretary for Mines promised me on at least two occasions that we in Northern Ireland would get our share of English and Scottish coal. Yesterday, I was informed that we are getting at the moment a very small quantity of English coal. Northern Ireland was promised 26,000 tons of Ayrshire steam-washed coal weekly. We are not receiving that quantity at the moment or anything like it. I would like to know the reason for this failure and whether my hon. Friend will look into the whole matter and see to it that we get our fair share across in Ulster. The Welsh stones that we are getting will not burn and we require to fall back upon England and Scotland.
I am very glad that the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines have stated that they are willing to receive suggestions. The suggestion that I would make is that we shall receive a larger quantity of English and Scottish coal. Someone had a brain-wave down in Wales and seemed to imagine that the coal that could not be disposed of on the Continent owing to the war, or at least a portion of it, might be sent to Ulster. The Secretary for Mines gave ear to this, but we have an Ulster party in this House which has been sent here to represent Northern Ireland and we were not consulted. I protest against this. We are sent to this House to represent Northern Ireland, and nothing should be done over our heads. There has been too much of 1468 that going on. We, as a party, should have been consulted regarding this Welsh coal business and I hope the Ministers in future will recognise that Northern Ireland is represented in this House, that we alone have the right to speak for Northern Ireland in this House, and that we should be consulted in regard to all matters bearing on Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of Mines is like Father O'Flynn. He has a wonderful way with him and heed was given to his plea, and in the interests of the war effort, Welsh coal was accepted. Thirty thousand tons of domestic Welsh coal were promised weekly to Northern Ireland, but delivery of that amount is not being made. The coal that is being delivered is beyond all description. I am informed in Northern Ireland that washed Welsh household coal is being used locally in Wales and that we are receiving the remnants of slack consisting largely of dust, and clay, and stones with a residuum of coal. Well, these stones will not burn in Ulster. One is almost afraid to go into a room where ladies are present lest one should suffer at their hands because of the difficulty they find in trying to light this coal. I have received only one appreciation of Welsh coal. Everybody else in Northern Ireland speaks against it. It brings with it the problem of how to dispose of the ashes and white stones every morning. One gentleman told me that he had to assist in carrying them out of the house.
I was told yesterday that at the Harbour Power Station of the Belfast Electricity Works, they had made a trial of Welsh coal, with rather serious results to the plant. So far as I could learn, a continuation of the use of Welsh coal would have a very destructive effect on the plant at that station. I made inquiries at the Belfast Gas Works about Welsh coal and I was told, "It is of no use to us as it will not generate gas." Without fully 50 per cent. of English and Scotch coal to burn with it, Welsh coal is absolutely useless. I ask my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines to look into the whole matter. There is talk about saving shipping, but I am told that three cargoes from England and Scotland could be delivered at Belfast for every one that comes from Wales. Shipping is being wasted carrying dust and clay and stones to Northern Ireland. I suggest to my hon. Friend that, for the future, he should foreclose upon all 1469 this stuff, and that, for the sake of saving shipping, he should see to it that Northern Ireland receives nothing from Wales but sound washed household coal. I wish it to go out to the country that it is a waste of shipping to take from Wales the sort of coal that is being supplied and to send it through the Bristol Channel and right up the danger zone, when we could get the coal from England and Scotland and carry across in a short time three cargoes for every one that comes from Wales.
It has been made clear during the past week that something must be done about this matter. Yesterday, I was rung up by the manager of a leading coal concern in Belfast. He told me that in the short time since they had been taking in Welsh coal he had piled up in his yard 10 tons of stones. I appeal to my hon. Friend to give us a fair share of decent coal. We want no special treatment. We are proud to be a part of the United Kingdom, and we have a right to receive the amenities of the United Kingdom. We want nothing more, but I say that unless, in Ulster, we receive more English and Scottish and Welsh household coal properly washed, with the clay and dust and stones kept out, I can see trouble ahead. At the moment matters are facing in that direction. If my hon. Friend will come across, I will gladly put him up as long as he remains and show him some of the sights of Ulster. I wish he would come and go round the coal quay at Belfast and other coal centres and see for himself. I would take him to some homes and he would learn some useful lessons. The result of his visit would be that Northern Ireland would receive washed Welsh household coal and more English and Scottish coal. We want only fair play, and I know my hon. Friend well enough to believe he will see we are not let down.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
I need hardly say I am sorry to address the House at this late hour. My only excuse for hanging on, for it has meant a weariness of the flesh, is that, although this Debate has continued for seven hours and 29 minutes, not a single Scottish Member has been called in the Debate. We have listened to one Englishman after another, with a few exceptional Welsh Members intervening, and we finished with a pleasant voice from Northern Ireland. It may be considered, of course, that 1470 Scottish Members have no right to take part in a Debate of this sort in an English House of Commons. I would not grumble unduly if we had any other method of expressing our grievances. I am perfectly sure, if we had a Scottish Parliament with full powers to settle our own affairs—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
That involves legislation, which is out of Order on this Bill.
§ Mr. Sloan
I was merely stating that, if this coal Debate had taken place in a Scottish Parliament, we would have been able to settle the affairs of Scottish mining in a far happier mood than we are doing to-day. I shall read the speech of the Minister of Mines with interest, but so far as I have been able to learn there is very little in it to settle the difficult coal problem which faces us at the present time. We have these recurring Debates, and this is the fourth in recent times. It is very curious to note that on each of the four occasions we have had a different President of the Board of Trade. It occurs with such regular monotony, that I make this offer to my right hon. Friend: If he tells me the date of the next coal Debate, I shall be able approximately to tell him the period of his tenure of office.
During the Debate we have learned nothing in regard to many of the problems which are facing us. We know that coal production is falling, and I stated in the last Debate that it would continue to fall. It was inevitable that it would fall, and that it would continue to fall. As any hon. Member knows who has had anything to do with the subject when coal production goes down it is the most difficult thing in the world to bring about an increase. The coal industry is unlike any other organisation. In a factory you can put in two new machines to increase production, but coal production is a long, arduous and wearisome task, and takes a good deal of preparation before you can produce. The mines are conditioned by the numbers of men in them. I hear appeals being made for men to be released from the Army. The mines want young, fit men, but I suggest that unless the coal-owners have made ample provision for the return of these men, they will not to any serious extent affect coal production, because, as I say, the pits are conditioned by the number of men who are at present working in them. Responsibility for the 1471 reduction in output rests entirely with the management and coalowners. We have heard hon. Members on this side of the House express their desire to see production rise, and there is no miners' official or miner Member of Parliament who has not done his best to secure that increase in production. We have not, however, received the assistance from the coal-owners and the managements which we deserve.
The question of this fall in production per man-shift, to which reference has been made to-day, is quite simple. The explanation has been given time and time again. It is the variance between the number of men at the coal face and those not working at the coal face. In the Scottish mines in December 1,249,399 shifts were worked, but only 789,069 shifts were worked at the coal face. There is the explanation of the fall in production per man-shift. It is as plain as a pikestaff. The test of the efficiency of a colliery is the amount per man-shift, not by unduly working the men who are producing it but by proper machinery, efficient management and proper handling of the man-power by balancing the number of men at the coal face with those working elsewhere than at the coal face. If production per man-shift begins to fall, you can only turn in one direction to find the cause, and the cause is the management. The position is becoming alarming. In 1935 the output per man in Scotland was 25.68 cwts. For December it was exactly 20 cwts. The men are as willing as ever to work, and the test is that the fall in output at the coal face has remained almost static, but the numbers of men who are handling the coal is so enormous that the output has fallen to the figure that we now see. Unless something drastic is done, this rake's progress will continue. During the last war the output per man-shift dropped to 1.4 cwt. If it was to drop to anything like that, the position would be very sad indeed, but it is still dropping. It dropped from November to December by 0.18 cwt.
Thousands of tons of coal were lost during the snow period, first of all because the railways were blocked. That was removed very quickly. The roadways leading to the collieries remained blocked, and workmen could not proceed to their employment. The explanation given by the road surveyors was that they had 1472 instructions from the War Office to clear the main roads first and allow the roads leading to the collieries to remain blocked. The result was that in one of my districts the men were idle for 11 days. Although we had that tremendous loss in output, a serious loss devolved upon the men. When the Essential Work Order was applied to the mining industry it was described as the miners' charter, but we have had so many miners' charters in our lifetime that we are surrounded with them and cannot see the coal pit for them. There was a loophole in this miners' charter. We had groups of men gathered together to go to their employment; they rose from their beds at 5 o'clock in the morning and made for the places where the buses would pick them up, but the buses left them standing in a snowstorm. They did not turn up. These men are 13 miles from their work, and because they did not walk across the snow and present themselves at the pit head, they were not entitled to the guaranteed wage. If they had been able to go through the snow and get to the pit and there was no work for them, they would have received the guaranteed wage. The employment exchange would not pay them, because they were told they were entitled to a guaranteed wage. Although weeks have passed, the matter has not yet been decided, and the men have not the guaranteed wage or unemployment benefit.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us anything about the policy with regard to the closing of collieries? Four collieries have been closed in Lanarkshire in a very short period. Another one is closing this week, the Shields colliery, employing 150 men. Previously we had the case of Gateside. This is a long-drawn-out story which is in the hands of the Minister. There was no redress, and 800 men were thrown out of employment. It is estimated that there is a field of coal there of between 70,000,000 and 80,000,000 tons, but the coalowners seem to be a law unto themselves. They just close a colliery and say, "We are not making profits, and since we are not making profits, we are not going to carry on the colliery." We appeal to the Minister of Mines, but while we are appealing the owners are dismantling the colliery. They are drawing out the props, closing the runs, taking down the plant, allowing the pit to flood and for ever abandoning any hope of going into 1473 the colliery. The only reason given is that it is not paying. That might be a good reason in peace-time—I am not arguing that—but in these days of coal scarcity can anybody say that because a pit is not earning profits that is a sufficient reason for closing it?
The President of the Board of Trade said that coal is more valuable than gold, and it is a truism that at the present time one ton of coal is worth all the gold that Montagu Norman has buried in the vaults of the Bank of England. If that is so, why allow these pits to close? It may be said that they are not paying. Suppose an aeroplane company were to say, "We are not making profits." Would they be allowed to stop the manufacture of aeroplanes? Should we say to the Air Force, "We cannot give you planes because the manufacturers cannot make a profit out of them"?
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Is not my hon. Friend aware that the Secretary for Mines told us earlier to-day that the Mines Department controlled the production of coal and the marketing of it? How can he blame the coalowners?
§ Mr. Sloan
What I was dealing with was the closing of these pits in Scotland for the reason, as given, that they do not earn profits. If a Scots farmer were to say, "I cannot make a profit out of my farm," would the Secretary of State for Scotland allow him to cease ploughing his farm and to kill off his cattle because profits could not be made? If the firm of John Brown were failing to earn profits, should we stop shipbuilding there and sell the plant for scrap? The profit motive would not be allowed to interfere with the manufacture of tanks or guns or Lord Beaverbrook's big, beautiful bombs, and why should profits be allowed to interfere with the production of coal? The coal which is lost at the present time may become so valuable before long that we shall regret allowing those pits to close. To close a colliery from which coal could be secured at the present time is, in my opinion, absolutely criminal.
This Debate has ranged over a wide field. One part of it rather amused me—the reference to the recruitment of boys into the industry. There is not an hon. Member in this House, not one, who would send his boy to work in a pit. A suggestion was made that meetings should 1474 be held, a sort of recruiting campaign carried on, to bring boys into the collieries. I will agree to that on one condition, and that is that those who address the meetings are miner M.P.s. I would not put the Secretary for Mines himself in that difficult position. I should like to see miner M.P.s, who will send their boys anywhere rather than into the pit, carrying on a recruiting campaign to get boys for the mines. Only in one way will youths be secured for the mines, if the mines can be made attractive. They are not yet attractive enough for any Member of this House to send his son to work in them. If by any possible means pits could be made attractive, safer, cleaner, and improved in conditions, and feeding could be made better, there might be a possibility that something could be done to recruit youths to the colliery.
No doubt about it, we are losing them. The figures given to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) show that it is only a matter of time until it will be difficult to man the pits in this country, because we are not getting the youths, and you never can get them. They find their outlet in more congenial employment, where they can earn wages quite as good as they will be able to get in the coalfields. We hear much about good wages being paid in munition factories and in industry, but such wages are not earned in the coal industry. The average wage in Scotland is 14s, 8d. per shift. If you live in luxury on 14s. 8d. per shift in Scotland, the quicker men get into the coal industry there the better. One grievance of our people is that they are not paid for their work just now. They receive what is described as a cost-of-living increase upon an index figure which does not by any means represent the true increase in the cost of living to the normal miner's family. If the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade would turn their minds to this aspect of the question, they might be able to remove many of the grievances of which our people complain.
Income Tax does not seriously affect the miners. It may affect some young men, but a married man with two or three children will pay no Income Tax on the wages he is earning in the Scottish coalfields. The question becomes so involved that unless something is done to raise wage standards and to improve 1475 conditions, there is a prospect of a decrease in production instead of an increase. The value of the miner's work is admitted on all sides in this House, with the exception of the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir W. Smithers), whose speech is hardly worth replying to. If the hon. Member had waited, he would have found himself to be one of the marvels of this House, but apparently he can come in, make a speech and walk away without waiting to hear any criticism of the points which he raised. Some of the statements which he made appeared very remarkable to me. I am sure that no colliery manager in the whole of my constituency would write a letter condemning his men in the terms which the hon. Gentleman read to the House. In my area colliery managers have far too great a respect for their workmen to traduce them in such a fashion.
I hope that coal production will increase. We do our best to do away with absenteeism. We have a good record in Scotland. Scotland has the lowest record of absenteeism of any coalfield. We work more days per year than any other coalfield. Last year they did not only beat the other districts, but they beat the calendar, because they worked 313 days out of a possible 300. I do not think you could get anything better than that. We wish the Secretary for Mines every success in his campaign for getting increased production so that people shall not shiver in their homes and so that he will secure all the coal required for industrial services.
§ Mr. E. Dunn (Rother Valley)
I have listened to the speeches which have been made during the day, and I certainly do not intend to keep the House more than a few moments. I should not, however, like this Debate to close without calling attention to one particular point to which no reference whatever has been made. I am not proposing to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) nor my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), but I want to put this point of view. I want to ask the Minister quite seriously to give very close attention to the question of pit committees. The men are prepared to serve on pit committees, but the management are not prepared to play. That is serious. I will leave it at that.
1476 The hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) referred to what he regarded as being something in the nature of an El Dorado, the outcrop coal which exists and which can be worked. I think that what he had to say was much in the nature of a revelation to this House and will be to the country, if it is true that 50,000,000 tons of outcrop coal can be got and used at a price which is remunerative. There is a good deal of scepticism about this outcrop coal. Many people are arguing that the Government are wasting money in recovering it. People tell me that the prices at which it can be recovered are very much less than the operating prices at the present time, and if it is true that 10,000,000 tons can be recovered during this year—and that is what was said to-day—it will be a very valuable acquisition. I have in mind at present a seam of coal, which the Minister knows, of which the ash content is only 2 per cent. and where the gas content in B.T.U. is 13,000. That is a very good coal indeed, and if that coal and similar kinds to the extent of 10,000,000 tons can be got this year, it will in itself be a very great help to my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines. I am not criticising him. The last two speakers have been very critical of the Secretary for Mines, but I think myself he is worthy of something better than the harsh criticism which has been levelled against him to-day. I am going to be bold enough to say that my view of the way in which he is approaching this problem is that it is not quite what he himself would like to do. As most of us know, he has his limitations, like everybody else, but I believe he is honestly trying to approach this problem in a manner that should bring a good deal of relief to the great organisations connected with mining.
Having said that, I want to refer to what the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose had to say to-day. I would like to ask the Secretary for Mines whether he has any recollection that one very important miners' official in this country wrote to him or to his Department in July of last year calling the attention of the Mines Department to another source of coal supply which could be used, which is available, which is lying about the country in abundant quantities, and which in 1926 kept this country going; that is the astonishing thing about it I 1477 go round my own constituency, which is only one constituency in one part of the coalfields of this country, where large collieries have enormous coal-washing plants, and at every coal-washing plant you have, certainly in my constituency, thousands of tons of slag, what we call "slurry" lying about. At one colliery I have in mind, the Thurcroft Colliery, I have been told that there are at least 250,000 tons of slurry lying about the pit premises. That is only one out of nine or in my Division. All this stuff was used in 1926. I go further than that. At one colliery in my Division they are using practically every ton of slurry being made at the largest colliery in my Division. If that is true, it is not a question of removing the over-burden, it is not a question of civil engineering, it is not a question of man-power at all. It is simply a question of applying the machinery which the civil engineers in this country have at this moment. If it is true, you can double the 10,000,000 tons referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose by means of slurry which is lying about at every pit.
I got up, not to intervene at length in the Debate, but to say a good word to the Secretary for Mines, because I think he is worth it. I got up to say a good word for what I think outcropping will produce. I am anxious to make a constructive suggestion to help this old country in its time of need. I believe it is the best old country in the world. I beg my hon. Friend and the Board of Trade not only to look at the question of outcrop coal, but to give a very close examination to the stuff which was used and sold at £3, £4 or £5 a ton in 1926 and which kept this country going. If it could keep the country going in the miners' lock-out in 1926, it can make a valuable contribution to the old country to-day.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I do not propose to keep the House for more than a minute or two, but having waited all day I felt it was an opportunity, being the representative of a mining constituency, which should not be lost. There is no more mystified person in these Islands than the miner, particularly in my constituency, for he hears the sonorous voices of the Minister and Ministers calling, "Bring up your coal." He is advised that he is employed in the greatest Indus- 1478 try in the country, that it is the basic industry upon which all the war effort relies, and yet he observes that the pit in his own village which would produce 5,000 tons of coal per week is standing idle, is rusting and unused. A similar story is told in other villages of County Durham, where no fewer than eight first-class useful collieries, which could be producing 40,000 tons of coal per week, are standing idle. When the mineworker hears the cry, "It is of the greatest urgency that you should increase your production," he turns to these idle collieries, and asks what is the meaning of this singular contradiction. It seems that out of the 40,000 miners who have gone into other industries and those thousands who have gone into the Forces, the Government ought to abstract temporarily the necessary labour to set pits at work throughout the country.
We have heard about absenteeism. Some of the mechanical systems used in the County Durham pits must create absenteeism. Men are expected to work pneumatic drills, in very narrow seams, lying on their backs, keeping these heavy, vibrating instruments in their arms, or across their shoulders, with the result that they go home mentally and physically debilitated. Men engaged on that class of toil, which, in my opinion, is unfit for human beings, are entitled to a certain amount of absenteeism, in order to repair themselves, mentally and physically. I want to refer to the matter of the technical experts. I am advised that many collieries are not being adequately used because there are not the technical experts to bring pressure upon the management to adopt more efficient methods and instruments. The Minister said that these experts are appointed, but evidently they are not numerous enough to get the best production in our coalfields. Members of our pit committees in Durham have told me that immediately they have indicated where improvements could be effected in pit organisation, the management have informed them that that is a matter for the manager, and not for the individual miner. If that is not the case, the Ministry ought to advise those managements accordingly.
In my judgment, these measures are only palliatives. If the industry is to be fully utilised, it must be requisitioned by the State, even if only temporarily, in 1479 order to eliminate private considerations that undoubtedly animate it to-day. We have heard it said, in this House and in the country, and have read in the Press, that some of the richest seams in our coalmines are not being worked as they would be worked in peace-time, but are being left for other days. I have a complaint from certain of my constituents whose pits are idle that they have to travel long distances to other colliery centres at their own expense. Here is a case in which assistance might be arranged to enable miners, who, in any case, are an underpaid section of the community, to have some aid towards the cost of the fares which they have to expend daily.
On the question of canteens, I put a Question to the Minister that there should be food made available during all the 24 hours and that it should be of a substantial and useful character. Canteens are not a new thing and should have been available in every colliery in the county of Durham and elsewhere by this time. All that certain of my constituents can do is to purchase pies costing 4½d. or 5d. each, and, as one of them told me, a healthy young fellow can eat half a dozen at a sitting. He has to buy pies morning, noon and night and for six, and in some cases seven, days a week, and therefore he is somewhat in need of a change. The worst feature of the pie question is that the canteen is situated alongside that of a brand new war factory, where they have a magnificent canteen, in which the best food may be obtained. That particular war factory is not in my constituency, nor is that colliery.
There has been some denunciation here of sending boys into the pits. I agree with it in present conditions, in view of 1480 the insecurity of employment, and the fact that a young man, according to the Secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, can go into the pits, and after reaching 21 years of age, may find himself merely an unskilled labourer. That situation is not calculated to attract boys to our pits, but as the Secretary for Mines has given a fairly favourable reply that he will have some report to make as to the establishment of apprenticeships in our collieries, I hope we shall feel that the mineworkers and the employers are getting well to work in this particular. If the mineworkers and the mineworkers and their representatives and the Government unitedly cannot evolve some scheme for the establishment of an apprenticeship system in the mines, they had better permit the engineers to do it for them. They protect their own apprentices. If they took the necessary steps, which are elementary—I could evolve a scheme quite easily—the industry would be given a new impetus in the collieries which are languishing for the want of boy labour, the difficulty could be brought to an end, and the industry could be stimulated as it ought to be.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting Day.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.