§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
When the Debate on this subject was interrupted, I was trying to induce the Minister of Fuel and Power to consider the suggestion that, over a period, at any rate, he should, by way of an experiment, either increase the petrol ration or remove rationing altogether. I endeavoured to show that, owing to the shift in our national economy, we should give the business community more petrol in order to enable them to carry out increased activities due to the requirements of the export trade. I was also endeavouring to show that by doing that, we should enable them to earn more dollars for the Chancellor of the Exchequer than would he required to purchase the increased petrol.
Quite frankly, I was disappointed with the arguments put forward by the right hon. Gentleman in reply to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken). When the Minister was speaking, I had the impression that his economics and figures were dated, that they were those of the sellers' market. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the position has changed, and that our designers, salesmen, and those particularly concerned with increasing the export trade to the hard currency area, are in a monotonous groove and are considerably "browned off" because they cannot get their reasonable requirements of petrol with which to carry on their business.
On the other hand, the roads of England have become almost the parallel of the railways as goods lines, so full are they of vans, lorries, trucks, buses, coaches, and so on. There we see commercial petrol being used with—should I be wrong in saying?—a certain amount of extravagance. Would the Parliamentary Secretary refute it if I were to say that it was impossible to carry out an effective check on the quantity of petrol used today by commercial vehicles, both goods and passenger carrying, and by the Forces? I agree that they are vital services, but we must remember that the shift is now away from the sellers' market. 688 Many of the goods which those vans, lorries, trucks, etc., are carrying will, in all probability, be left on the dockside at Southampton or Calcutta because of the balance of payments, currency difficulties, because letters of credit cannot be arranged and because the export trade is falling off.
I wish to see all the stimulus and help possible given to the people who really matter in this country today. If we are to narrow the dollar gap, we must help the men whose brains, knowledge, skill and designing power are going to compete with the United States of America and the other great exporting countries of the world. I feel that too much petrol is being used by goods traffic on the roads, upon which there can be no check. How many lorries does one see going along either empty or with only small loads? Is there any check on them to see whether an economic use of the petrol is being made? Owing to the shift in emphasis in the sellers' market, I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that it would be well worth trying the experiment of giving the men who have to prepare new designs and think out ways and means of increasing our export trade, more petrol, and, at the same time, introducing some sort of check on the petrol used by the Forces and for commercial requirements.
I said earlier in my speech that I was disappointed with the arguments of the Minister because his figures were dated. I do not know from where he got his economics, or whether he has been in close consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently, or, again, whether this is the latest view of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. If it is, it ought to be brought up to date and the experiment I have suggested tried. When the Minister said with a flourish, that sweets had been taken off the ration, there were smiles on the faces of hon. Members behind him. But he might have quoted, with a feather in his cap, the other controls which the Government have removed and whose removal has been a pronounced success. The taking of sweets off the ration may not have been a success, but that does not mean that if we tried to deration petrol it would be a failure. For that reason, as I say, I was disappointed with the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman put forward.
689 The right hon. Member for Bournemouth made the suggestion that some American oil companies might, perhaps, accept payment in sterling on a long-term basis. The Treasury point of view about this is probably that they do not like to have an implied conversion held over their heads; they like to meet their dollar commitments, as they arise from time to time, on a current basis. The film companies have agreed to leave a certain amount of their profits in this country to be used for the production of films. Therefore, I should have thought that the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth was a reasonable one. As he said, it is not a matter of trade or agreement between the two countries; it is a matter of personal initiative. I shall be interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's reply on this point.
I shall be interested to hear whether His Majesty's Government have taken the initiative and have put the whole of this question of petrol to the American authorities in Washington and to the oil companies, asking "Would you accept payment of a greater proportion of your profits in sterling on the understanding that this money is used for building petrol cracking plants and synthetic petrol plants in this country?" Incidentally, it was the combines which prevented the building of petrol cracking plants in this country before the war.
I thought the Minister's speech a little stale and a little dated, needing more of the economics of the buyers' market in it. Perhaps he has not had a chance to discuss the question with the Chancellor of the Exchequer since the right hon. and learned Gentleman's return from Italy. I appeal to the Minister to be bold about this and to make an experiment. We shall not get through this depression, through the dollar recession and the danger to our export markets, by sitting back and saying that because we tried the abolition of sweet rationing and it has been a failure, we shall not try the abolition of petrol rationing. It would be a constructive thing to do and it would help the business community of the country if we said, "We are going to give you this petrol because our life, our future, our standard of living, our raw materials, our food—everything—depends on whether you can produce 690 more for the dollar area in order to close the gap of £360 million a year."
If we make that challenge and remove petrol rationing for a period of three or six months, we shall help the country. If not, what are we going to do—sit down and wait for the depression to creep up upon us so that we can have another 1931?
§ Mr. Shurmer
Does the hon. Member suggest for one moment that that would solve our problems? I am in favour of getting more petrol; I run a car and I have to be rationed the same as everyone else. But is he trying to make this House believe that if we give petrol ad lib to everyone, it will solve our problems and that if we stop the lorries which carry the goods which have to be carried, and which sometimes have to travel empty, then we shall get out of the depression? I never heard such rubbish in my life.
§ Mr. Granville
Whenever a suggestion is made in this Committee the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) always says he has never heard such rubbish in his life. Where he makes a fundamental mistake is that he expects that every suggestion put forward is, in itself, a total answer to the problem. Of course it is not. We shall only get through this difficulty, with Marshall Aid or any other assistance we may get from the United States—if it is continued—if everybody and all parties on all sides, all sections in the country, make a national effort, everybody putting their backs into it and doing their best. This country has to find its supply of raw material from other than dollar areas. Everything helps. I say that the economics of the right hon. Gentleman are stale and outmoded. They are not up to date; they are not dealing with the situation of a buyers' market where the emphasis, if one goes to the B.I.F. or to markets abroad, is upon ingenuity, incentive, originality, design and so on.
What I suggest is that the brains of the country, the people upon whom we depend today to pull us out of this situation, find considerable difficulty in obtaining enough petrol to let them get about the country freely in their vocation so that they can make their constructive contribution towards solving this problem. That is my argument. I suggest to the right hon. 691 Gentleman that it will be well worthwhile taking a bold step, an experimental step, for a period of three months, or perhaps longer, and giving the business community a greater amount of petrol in their ordinary allocation instead of leaving it so that these people, upon whom we depend, have to go to work in the morning from the end of a bus queue and do the same thing at night, reaching home too tired to think about anything they can do to assist.
It would be a good investment to make this experiment. It would be well worth trying. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us why this cannot be done, if it cannot be done. I listened to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman about Anglo-Iranian and production in the sterling area, and they left me absolutely cold. My impression of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, so far as the oil problem is concerned, is that it is merely an adjunct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's dollar-earning requirements. We shall never solve our problems that way. I believe we could buy more in the sterling area and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that the Government have not closed their mind to a complete inquiry upon the whole subject, in the hope that we can give a greater amount of petrol to the ordinary business motorist in this country.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. David Thomas (Aberdare)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville), but I want to say one or two things about the coal industry. I thought the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) was not too provocative today. During his speech he said that the co-operation of this Committee, together with the co-operation of all people in the country, should be given in order to provide as much coal as possible in these very serious times.
Since vesting date, I believe the position in the coal mines has been steadily improving and I have every hope that eventually nationalisation will prove a complete success. Conditions are improving and the miners appreciate that their standards of living are being raised through this Government and through the National Coal Board. I come from a mining Division in South Wales and I 692 avail myself, whenever possible, of opportunities of visiting the collieries and the underground workings. I should very much like it if many other hon. Members from both sides of the House would visit underground workings to see for themselves the conditions under which the men have to work.
When we hear right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite criticising the National Coal Board and inferring that the miners are not producing as much as they should, I would reply that I recently saw a team of colliers in one of the collieries in my Division who were regularly producing at the coalface 15 tons per manshift. The seam was undercut, but all the coal had to be hewn and filled on to the conveyors. There one saw the officials in that colliery co-operating with the workmen, understanding each other and producing the maximum possible output. There are other collieries, too, in my Division which produce comparable outputs. When one asks the reason why, the answer is that there is a complete team spirit prevailing at those collieries. Unfortunately, it does not obtain in all collieries, and I venture to suggest that that is due to the fact that the past treatment meted out to the miners, not only in South Wales, but throughout the country, has not been forgotten. Prejudices take an exceedingly long time to die. Gradually but surely we are getting over the difficulty and within a few years, in my opinion, we shall certainly see a vast improvement.
There is another side of this picture to which I should like to draw the attention of the Committee, and this is not a question of production but a question of manpower wastage. We in South Wales have a very serious problem to tackle, and I believe that only the Government can solve it. It is the problem of providing suitable employment for those who have had to cease work underground because of industrial diseases or accidents. We are told there are difficulties. We appreciate what the Government have done already in South Wales to provide other industries. However, we are not satisfied that the drive which is necessary to solve the problem is being made. We have thousands of ex-miners throughout the coalfield in receipt of only unemployment benefit, and there are bad psychological effects on the populations in the towns and villages as a result of 693 the fact that men are standing about the employment exchanges or walking the streets. This does not help the drive for new recruits for the mines. When mothers and fathers see those broken men, with no other work to do, although they are capable of performing other work, they ask themselves the question whether or not any boy of theirs should be sent down the pit.
Improvements are being effected underground so far as the suppression of dust is concerned, but I am not one of those who believe that this problem has been solved. I should like to cite just a few figures to illustrate the seriousness of this question in South Wales. In 1937 the number of certificates granted for death was 56, and for disablement 239; in 1939 there were 91 death certificates and 355 disablement certificates; in 1941 the figures were 85 and 426 respectively; in 1947 they were 194 and 2,688; and in 1948 they were 255 and 3,824. We read in the Press that this very serious problem is being overcome, but one cannot very well couple such statements with the figures I have just mentioned. Certainly, improvements have been effected in the underground workings, but we cannot expect to eliminate anything like all the dust on the roadways in the coalmines.
I ask hon. Members when we discuss coal—and it is a subject which is brought up in the House year after year—not to be too critical, indeed, not to be critical at all, so far as the life of the miner is concerned. We are told today by posters that a young man can obtain wages of from £7 to £8 a week. Yes, as piece-workers, but not as day wage men. The rate of the day wage man on the surface is £5, and underground the wage is £5 15s. a week, out of which the usual deductions have to be made. When we compare these wages with those being paid today in other industries, we may ask ourselves whether, even today, the miner is having a square deal, so far as wages are concerned. I listened to one hon. Member opposite asking why output was down, as compared with what it was in 1941. I would reiterate the argument of an hon. Friend of mine about the draw-out in 1940, which was one of the biggest mistakes that has been made in the mining industry. At that time thousands were drawn out of the pits and put into the Army, the 694 Navy and Air Force, and their services could have been retained in the mines if any foresight had been used at that time. As it is, we have lost very many of those men for all time.
There is one pleasing feature in the activities of the National Coal Board. There has been much criticism about the number of officials who have been put on since vesting day, but I am not too critical about that, because I do know that since vesting day a large number of officers have been engaged for the purpose of investigating questions such as roof control, dust suppression, and so on. I believe there have been good results. The yearly number of fatal accidents in the coalmines before the war, before 1938, was round about 1,000. That figure has been appreciably reduced. In 1938 the number of deaths in coalmines was 858; in 1940 it was 923; in 1944, 623; in 1947, 618; in 1948, 468. That is a new low record, and we all hope, I am sure, that the National Coal Board will be able further to reduce that number. There are still avoidable accidents. With the co-operation of both sides, I am sure that everything possible will be done still further to improve the position.
I realise that there are very many other hon. Members who wish to take part in this Debate, and I shall conclude in a moment, but there is just one more point I would mention, and that is the matter of opencast coalmining. The Minister did say that if we closed opencast sites we should be deprived of coal which is urgently needed, coal which the nation must get, even though it is produced at an uneconomical price. I ask myself, if that is so, why is it that collieries are being closed down which, I submit, can produce coal at a cheaper price than opencast workings?
There is a colliery in my division employing approximately 350 men, and where the output, prior to vesting day, was round about 11 cwt. or 12 cwt. per manshift. I have been told that the private owner made a profit. Since vesting day the output has been increased to about 18 cwt. per manshift, and we are informed that the colliery is now being worked at a loss. I realise that the reorganisation scheme must be proceeded with, but before any pit is closed down, in view of the Minister's statement today that it is absolutely essential 695 for us to get as much coal as possible, an exhaustive inquiry—and I know that inquiries are being conducted by both sides of the industry—but a detailed and exhaustive inquiry should be held to ascertain why it is that these places do not pay, or why it is the output is not what it should be.
There is one other question I wish to put. The policy of the Coal Board is to transfer men who were employed in the pit which has been closed down, or which is being closed down, to a neighbouring colliery. Unless sufficient pit room is made at the colliery to which they are to be transferred, I fear that it will not be possible to get as much output from the pit to which the men are transferred as was obtained from the two pits. It is obvious that day-wage men cannot be fitted in as easily as the piece workers, because the day men necessary in the pit are already available. The Minister should be satisfied, through the National Coal Board, that no pit is closed down before an exhaustive inquiry has been made into the whole of the circumstances.
In conclusion, I would ask the Committee to congratulate the N.C.B. and also the miners on the tremendous effort which is being made at the collieries today to get the necessary output, without which, talk as we may about electricity, gas and petrol, this nation will not prosper as hitherto.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. D. Thomas), and I noted that he ended his speech by congratulating the men of the National Coal Board. I wish also to pay my tribute to the men working in the National Coal Board because they have had a great deal of criticism, and I am convinced that the vast majority of them are working to the best of their ability, and realise that it is their duty to produce as much coal as possible for the country.
I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that if nationalisation is failing, as I say it is at the moment, it is not the fault of those who are trying to run the industry. This industry was thrown at them after only three or four months' notice, and they had to organise themselves at the same time as they had to 696 produce coal. I am convinced that the people at the divisional, the area and the pit level have all tried to increase output. I must warn the Parliamentary Secretary that I have made a careful study during the last two or three months, particularly in the Yorkshire area, of what is happening. I hope that he will consider very seriously the points which I am putting forward in a constructive spirit.
It seems that nationalisation in the coal industry is failing at the moment for two reasons. One is because the coal is not being produced to the satisfaction of the consumer so far as price and quality are concerned. I listened with interest to the Minister's argument with regard to quantity and the need to export. He said that the consumer must be asked to have patience. There is no reason why the consumer should he asked to have patience when he is given bad quality coal and the prices are unnecessarily high. Another reason why I think nationalisation is failing is because I believe that the Coal Board is not carrying the imagination of the men with them. May I dwell on those two points?
Why am I convinced that the Coal Board is not giving what we might call consumer satisfaction? The first point is that the consumers' councils, set up with such a flourish, are not working properly. They are too remote. If the Minister wants constructive suggestions from consumers, whether domestic or industrial, I suggest that he get down much more to local committees. Taking Sheffield as an example, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility to set up a consumers' council to deal with Sheffield alone, and he might then get constructive suggestions from the industrial and domestic consumers of that area.
Another reason why the nationalised industry is failing is over-emphasis on output. Throughout this Debate, we have been talking about output, and I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that the propaganda of his Ministry throughout has been based on output. The result of that on the divisional, the area and pit level, has been to encourage those concerned to increase output and not to bother about the dirt in the coal or the moisture in the coal. I know of two collieries which are sending out slag with an ash content of over 10 per cent. and a 697 moisture content of 14 per cent., making nearly 25 per cent. ash and moisture. The managers are being pushed for output, and I can understand their desire to try to increase the output figures by putting this in.
§ Mr. T. Brown
Will the hon. Gentleman explain in that analysis what was the fixed carbon content of that coal?
§ Mr. Roberts
It was reasonably good. It is a good coking coal, but you cannot make coking coal with 10 per cent. of ash, because the ash still remains. I am making the point that the emphasis on output is spoiling quality. I will not deal with the question of price because that has already been mentioned.
The second point is that the Coal Board do not carry the imagination of the men with them. My right hon. Friend dilated on that at some length. I would only point out that even with all the new machines we do not seem to be getting output. We have had a certain number of strikes. The coalface attendance in February and March of this year was 4½ shifts per week out of a possible 5½. I will say more about the five-day week in a moment. The whole tendency goes to show, I am certain, that the men do not yet feel that they are part of the industry.
There are some constructive suggestions which I want to put to the Minister, and which, I think, are within his power to deal with. The first is that one area subsidising another area or one division subsidising another division is fundamentally wrong. The second point is that the five-day shift basis without increasing the stint and keeping wages at the proper level has resulted in a reduction in output. The third point is the need to decentralise internal competition down to the pit level. Those are three constructive suggestions which I put to the Parliamentary Secretary.
In connection with the system of subsidising one area against another, the profits of one area being taken to make up the losses of another area, I want to cite Yorkshire and South Wales. We have not the up-to-date figures before us, but on the old figures there was a 14s. difference between the cost of producing coal in Yorkshire and the cost of producing it in South Wales. That extra 14s. is going to subsidise the weaker pits 698 in South Wales. I am not arguing whether South Wales should be subsidised or not, but I am arguing about where that subsidy should come from. I feel that coal is a national need and there is a national duty concerning it.
What is happening now? In the case of Yorkshire, about 14s. a ton is being taken to subsidise the weaker pits. If that did not happen, what would happen to the 14s. a ton, or whatever the figure may be? Half of it would go in increasing the miners' wages and the other half would go in reducing the price of coal. Therefore, these two sections, the coal consumer and the miner of Yorkshire, are being asked to subsidise the weaker pits for the benefit of the nation. That is one of the fundamental reasons why both the consumer and the miner are discontented. I suggest that it should be a national responsibility to keep the weaker divisional areas going, and we should not ask the miners of the better areas to subsidise them.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Yorkshire miners should have a bigger wage than miners in other districts. where perhaps the pits are working at a loss or just paying their way?
§ Mr. Roberts
I was coming on to that. I believe that if the profits were allowed to be paid as a bonus incentive in the areas, divisions, and pits, we should get better production and greater efficiency. I see no reason why men who are prepared to do the extra work to get the extra coal should not be given the benefit for doing so. I have always opposed the idea of a national wage throughout the country; I think that it is one of our greatest difficulties at the moment. The scheme was started during the war as a wartime necessity, and I suggest that the Minister should reconsider the subsidising of the poorer areas, and should discuss it with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Until we get down to real values, so that good pits can get the benefit of having good and efficient organisation, we shall not get incentive in the industry.
The second constructive point I wish to make concerns the five-day week. I have advocated the five-day week for a number of years. What happened when it was first introduced? It was interpreted 699 by the miners' side as an increase in wages, and unfortunately a strike started at Grimethorpe. The working of the extra stint for the five-day week was fought out with the Coal Board and the Coal Board lost. The result was that the five-day week agreement, which meant an extra stint to each of those five days, in order to get the same amount of coal in five days as had formerly been got in six, merely became an increase in wages. I am not arguing whether the increase in wages was right or wrong. But if it was right, it should have been done in the proper way, as a straight increase, instead of being used to kill the principle of the five-day week. I believe that the Minister must get back to the principle of the five-day week, so long as it does not mean a reduction of the present level of miners' wages. The miners' wages must not be reduced, but we should get back to the five-day week, and there should be an increased stint.
At the moment, coal-face workers are working four and a half days a week, and I should not be at all surprised, although I cannot prove it, if in the majority of cases one of those four and a half days is either Saturday or Sunday at double time. I think that is quite possible. Nevertheless, only four and a half shifts a week were being worked out of a possible five and a half in February and March, so there is a good possibility of increasing the four and a half shifts to five if a full five-day week can be instituted. However, at Grimethorpe at the present time the five-day week is taken as an increase in wages with the double time. If we are to have mechanisation we must have a five-day week and a six-day week alternately; there must be a turn-round at least once a fortnight, so that there is a day on which the miners are not trying to get coal.
My third constructive suggestion is that the Minister should decentralise internal competition down to pit level. Those hon. Members who know what it is to live in a mining community, to work at a pit and to play football for the pit team, realise that the horizon of those people does not go much further than the pithead. I have spoken to a number of miners, and I am convinced that the area does not mean very much to them; the division means almost nothing at all; and the Coal Board 700 in London is almost foreign. There will not be competitive output in the coal industry until the blue flag which now goes up at the pits, means something more than a bit of prestige to the men; and there must be something more than merely a paragraph in the newspaper saying that they have hit the target. The cost basis of the present Coal Board accounts must be reduced down to a pit basis, and if a bonus is paid the men should get it at the end of the week. By that method we shall get incentive back in the pits and greater output.
To sum up, I believe that the nationalisation of the coal industry in its present set-up is failing, but I do not believe that it is failing because of any lack of effort by those who are trying to run the Coal Board or of the men working in the pits. The Minister can help in the three ways I have suggested: first, by re-organising the whole structure of subsidising the weak areas, by not asking the mining community alone to subsidise something which is really a national duty; secondly, he should re-enforce the five-day week, with a larger stint on the five days without a reduction of wages at the present level; there must be no reduction in wages, for that would obviously bring trouble; thirdly, as far as possible he should bring internal competition down to pit level.
Of course, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are politicians, and they are swayed by the various conflicting interests of the community. That, I think, is one of the fundamental reasons why nationalisation will fail—because it is being run by politicians who have to listen to the conflicting interests of the community, and I am rather doubtful whether the Minister will be able to put into effect some of the suggestions I have made. If he will take heed now, he may be able to prevent disaster in the future, and if he will adopt some of these constructive suggestions he will go down as the best Socialist Minister of Fuel and Power we have yet had.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline Burghs)
This Debate began with two fairly long speeches from the Front Benches, so that those of us who speak now must considerably curtail our speeches. However, I make no complaint; I recognise that those who speak 701 from the Front Bench are expected to cover the whole area of the Debate. I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), as I have been in speeches from this side of the Committee. Before the coal industry had been nationalised for three months, we were told that the system was a complete failure; even after nationalisation had run for six months it was still a failure; the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts) now believes that the system will fail. He seems to be on the retreat: from complete failure after three months to failure after six months, there is now only a belief that the system will fail.
According to the hon. Member for Ecclesall nationalisation will fail because the National Coal Board is too far away from the miners. I must remind him that the miners have never known who their employers were, save in exceptional cases. The miners have always known the managers, those who did the work about the pits; they may have seen in the colliery office certain individuals who held positions in the company, although they knew little or nothing about them; but as for those who actually owned the mines, they knew nothing at all about them. The National Coal Board is no further away from the miner working at the coal-face than was the employer before nationalisation.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I should like to cite this personal example. My great grandfather used to drive down to the pit in a trap, and he was known by almost every man at the pit; my grandfather was also well-known; and I hope that I was too.
§ Mr. Watson
I started in the pits under a private owner, but that day did not last very long and we began to get accustomed to the company. The private owner had disappeared long before nationalisation. As far as the Coal Board is concerned, it is not very far away from the colliery company prior to nationalisation.
The hon. Member then tells us that nationalisation will fail to give the country the coal it requires. He tells us that we require bigger production and cheaper coal. That brings me to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, because he also emphasised the need for cheaper coal. I do not think many miners have any doubts that 702 had we not had nationalisation, and had we had a Tory Government in power, there might have been cheaper coal available today. We know what happened after the 1914–18 war. The miners are thoroughly satisfied that had the Tories been returned at the 1945 Election, the same policy would have been pursued as after the 1914–18 war, when there were savage reductions in wages and conditions which were absolutely intolerable. That persisted for years and years, with the miners helpless because throughout the length and breadth of the land there were huge armies of unemployed. The miners have not forgotten that and never will, and for that reason they will make nationalisation a success.
We recognise that the Coal Board has had enormous difficulties. The hon. Member has emphasised that the Coal Board has had a terrible task. They were presented with a considerable number of collieries which were uneconomic and had to be closed down one by one or grouped in a comparatively short time. The colliery owners have even been compensated for these rotten collieries, and today the Coal Board is left with these little babies to nurse.
In case some of my friends from north of the Border do not get an opportunity to take part in this Debate, I should like to direct one or two questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. He knows that in Scotland we are facing a very difficult problem, a problem which is likely to persist for a long time. In the days when we had private ownership, Lanarkshire was a great coal-producing county. It had good, rich seams of coal, and it produced the coal to build up the iron works and the other great industries in the West of Scotland, contributing no little to the welfare of Scotland. Today, the position has changed. The big, rich seams are going, if they have not almost gone, and a considerable number of collieries in Lanarkshire are in danger of closing. I know that this matter is concerning the Ministry and is likely to continue taking up their attention. The matter has been dealt with as if it were a comparatively easy problem.
We have been told that although the collieries in Lanarkshire require to be closed there are other areas in Scotland developing. In the neighbouring county of Ayrshire, in the Lothians and in Fife, 703 there are great developments going on, and we are told that all the Lanarkshire miners require to do is to transfer to these areas where they will be all right. As a matter of fact other Government Departments have been playing their part in that scheme, and I want to pay tribute to them, by providing housing accommodation for the miners who require to be transferred. New houses are being provided for those men who are willing to leave the pits in Lanarkshire and go to new collieries which are being developed in the county of Fife.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us why it is that miners who have transferred from the two collieries which have recently been closed in Lanarkshire and have gone to Fife, are now returning to Lanarkshire. He may have information on what is the real difficulty. I do not think it is because of the housing situation. Houses are being provided for at least some of the miners transferred, but others have to put up in hostels where they cannot have their families. Perhaps he can explain why these men are returning to Lanarkshire and are going on the labour exchange instead of to the mines.
This problem of closing the collieries is not a very easy one. Although these other collieries are being developed and housing accommodation is being provided, other problems are evidently arising when a colliery is closed and the men have to be scattered. I do not think the older men will go elsewhere, because they will consider that they cannot possibly adapt themselves to the new conditions. They will be disinclined to transfer to these other areas for this reason. The miners who have been accustomed to work in the old collieries, which have not been mechanised because it has not been worth while, cannot adapt themselves to the new collieries that are being rapidly mechanised. If they are not given an opportunity to carry on the work to which they are accustomed, it will be impossible to transfer them to other areas.
This may be a problem that concerns the Ministry of National Insurance, the National Assistance Board or some of the other national organisations which deal with matters of this kind. At any rate, whenever a colliery has to be closed, it is the middle-aged men and perhaps the 704 younger men who transfer to the new collieries, but the old men present a difficult problem. I hope that whatever steps are taken to close these collieries in Lanarkshire, everything possible will be done by the Ministry of Fuel and Power to deal with the problem sympathetically and efficiently.
My time is very limited. I should have liked to deal with some of the problems which have been raised in the course of the Debate, but I recognise that there are others who wish to take part in the Debate. I am, however, anxious to emphasise that while some of the younger men are willing to transfer to new areas, there still remains the problem of the older men. In Fife we have been fortunate in this respect, because the older collieries were closed between the two wars. Those collieries that were worth mechanising have been mechanised, and I believe that Fife was a very highly mechanised coal field prior to nationalisation. As for the future, it seems as if it will be even more highly mechanised than it is at the moment.
Large new collieries are being prepared, and it will be a very important development area in Scotland. It may be possible to get from Lanarkshire a body of men who will add considerably to the manpower in the County of Fife in order to develop the collieries which are now being prepared. Before these new collieries can be opened and developed, however, some considerable time must elapse. It is a matter not of months but of years before these collieries are able to take on many extra men. At the moment the collieries already in existence are taking on the men who are coming from Lanarkshire. We must also remember that during the war practically no development work was done. During the war it was a question of getting coal and getting it as speedily as possible. Little attention was paid to development work; that has had to be done since the miners were nationalised. The National Coal Board has had to turn its attention to developing the mines.
We have had complaints from the other side of the Committee about low output and comparisons have been made year with year. It is all very well bandying these figures about, but we should keep in mind that during the whole of the war there was no development work. The 705 National Coal Board and the Ministry of Fuel and Power have done a very good job. There is one thing about which the Opposition need have no doubt whatever, and that is that they will never get the miners of this country to go back to the system under which they worked before nationalisation.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
In view of the limited time at my disposal, I cannot hope to do justice even to the single aspect of this Debate to which I wanted to devote my remarks. I had hoped to cover some of the points which the Minister made in reply to the very long speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), but I cannot even attempt to do that. I should like to suggest, however, that the Minister does less than justice to his own sense of reality when he continues to compare the years 1947, 1948 and, indeed, 1949 with 1945. He must know as well as anybody that at the end of a long war, with all the inherent difficulties and the lack of plant and equipment in the pits, such comparison is wholly fallacious.
I must say that we on this side of the Committee were very much in accord with the right hon. Gentleman during his peroration. Any sense of complacency is, I feel, deeply out of touch with reality at this moment, and I shall say no more today about the general organisation of the industry or the National Coal Board than the fact that the Paymaster-General in another place, on 26th April, seemed to indicate that the Government's view of the situation was that some very drastic change would have to be made.
I want to confine myself for a few minutes to the question of opencast coal. We had the advantage in February of an Adjournment Debate initiated by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who dealt generally with the loss of agricultural land and the size of stocks, and in some small measure with the question of cost. Since then we have had the report of the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Estimates which has dealt more comprehensively with the whole subject. I should like to congratulate the sub-committee on the very hard work which they obviously put into this report and the way in which they tackled this problem. I must say, however, that 706 the sub-committee were labouring under considerable difficulties. As so often happens when a political committee considers a question of this nature, they were in the difficulty of dealing with a technical matter without the necessary knowledge to bring to bear on the subject. Unless the appropriate evidence is placed before that committee, they may come to conclusions which are not necessarily justified by the situation.
In the conclusions of this sub-committee there is undoubtedly a note of concern about the level of costs, and they make some fairly strong recommendations. I think that note of concern and those recommendations would have been much more drastic had the members of that sub-committee had the opportunity of considering evidence which I think would have appropriately been put in front of them. Sir Donald Ferguson described the problem of opencast coal as a civil engineering job, and it has become known as that, partly because when it was embarked upon in 1941 there was at that time no prospect of the coal industry itself taking on this work. There was a shortage of men, management and technicians and they could not undertake this additional burden. When the Ministry of Fuel and Power took over from the Ministry of Works in 1945, they were faced with something of the same situation. The necessity of undertaking the large scheme of re-organisation as recommended by the Reid Committee made it impracticable for the industry itself to take on this job.
Strip-mining, as it is known in America, and opencast work in regard to gypsum, iron ore, or any other base metal is essentially a mining problem, and only when the question is approached from that aspect can a real basis of comparison of cost be achieved. There were two sources of information open to the sub-committee. There were those technicians in the country who are familiar with American strip-mining methods, who, in the unenlightened days before nationalisation, went out to America to study this very problem. I am surprised they were not called to give evidence before the sub-committee. There were also a number of coal and iron concerns who had specialised in iron ore production over a number of years and were familiar with all the problems of coal and 707 the extraction of base metals by opencast methods. What happened? The subcommittee had three types of evidence in front of them—the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who claim to know something about coal and nothing about iron ore, a representative of the Iron and steel Board, and a representative of Stewarts and Lloyds, who claim to know something about iron ore and nothing about coal, and representatives of the civil contractors who claim to know nothing about either.
The committee had to face the problem of attempting to formulate a basis on which they could evaluate the cost of production of opencast coal. It is hopeless to take a figure in isolation, and attempt to evaluate it unless there can be some basis of comparison. I wish to suggest to the Committee that there was a real basis of comparison which could have been placed before them, and which would have enabled them to come to a conclusion much more in accordance with the facts than the one they actually reached. The evidence they heard from Messrs. Stewarts and Lloyds was, in a way, of little value. What they do on marginal land in North-East Northamptonshire has little relation to what happens in opencast mining. In fact, they have only done opencast work in any considerable degree since the erection, recently, of the Corby works. There were, however, a number of concerns which had been working iron ore in very similar circumstances for upwards of 100 years—iron foundry companies of long-standing reputation, which are experts at this job. I am extremely surprised that the attention of the sub-committee was not directed to these concerns. A glance at the Third Schedule of the Iron and Steel Bill would have provided evidence of who those concerns were.
What were the main considerations from a technical aspect—and I shall try to put this in lay language—with which the sub-committee were faced in attempting to form a comparison? First, there was a question of prospecting; whether it is iron ore or coal it has to be found by boring, or whatever system is applied. There are faults, washouts, dips, etc. So you start with the same problem. Next you say, "Could you find pits of reasonably the same depth?" Yes, there again you could find millions of tons of 708 opencast coal being mined at precisely the same levels as iron ore. The next problem was the length of the face to be worked. Many opencast workings are 200 to 300 yards long, and the complaint is that the machinery has to turn round a number of times to perform its functions. Again, there are a fair number of iron ore workings which are 200 to 300 yards long and so, once again, there is the question of similarity.
The next thing is the nature of the overburden, with coal usually shales, clays, gravels and such like. In iron ore more often than not there is limestone and clay. Limestone is a much more intractable material than are shales, clays and gravels. We are getting rather close now—the same size, the same depth, the same problem of prospecting and something of the same type of overburden. What is next? The condition of the structure just above the base metal itself. There is the question of getting coal clean in the one case and with iron ore there is the same problem. In iron ore there is a little more than five per cent. dirt, and there is the same problem in regard to coal.
Then there is the question of restoration. Let us get this straight. In the case of the major concerns which have been working iron ore for the last 100 years, and with half a dozen of which I have been associated for the last 25 years—over 90 per cent. of their workings have been wholly restored—not roughly, but in such a way that farming can be carried out at once, and at a figure which is completely out of relation to the cost which is being incurred in this opencast work. The great majority of these iron ore fields are leased in precisely the same way as opencast coal workings and are therefore subject to all the arrangements and difficulties about which so much evidence was given in regard to opencast work.
Let us come to the question of cost. The cost of getting iron ore between 50 and 80 feet deep is between 4s. and 5s. a ton, and we have to try to relate that to the figure of 25s. to 30s., which is purely the getting cost in relation to opencast coal. There is a greater density of iron ore, and so an allowance must be made. Double the initial cost. Turn the 5s. into 10s. The proportion of the depth of the seams one to the other may be as five is to eight. Add eight-fifths 709 to the original cost, bringing the figure up to 14s. to 15s. Add something for extra care to be taken to prevent flooding—in connection with old workings—another 1s. or so, and still the figure is only in the region of 18s. to 20s. Yet in the majority of cases we are here talking about 30s. That 30s. has hardly been broken down at all. We have some figures which emerge from the sub-committee's investigation. Sir Donald Fergusson, talking about the cost of restoration of an acre of this land, says it is between £200 and £400. Believe me precisely the same problem confronts the iron ore fields with a much more intractable overburden to work with. They are doing this work, and they have done it for the last 25 or 50 years, for a figure of 3d. a ton or £125 an acre. It is precisely the same problem under precisely the same circumstances. Then the point is made that these civil contractors have to write down their machinery much more quickly,
§ Mr. Harold Davies
May I interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman? We always listen with interest to him and I am not trying to score. I want to know if he has related the prices at different periods of time. There is a price relationship in this.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I am relating the most recent prices between one and the other. The price is the one ruling at this moment. I am sure the hon. Member will appreciate that I have gone to great lengths to get my figures as accurate as possible.
On the question of writing down machinery, most of these ore pits and opencast workings are of somewhat the same dimension. It may be necessary to work out the one in two or three years as against the more leisurely eight or 10 years which the ore pit takes but machinery has to be written down over the same tonnage of material in both cases. So whether we work it out in three or 10 years does not make any difference. Therefore, it is not reasonable to say that there is a higher figure to write down in the case of the one as compared with the other. A lot was made of that point, and I do not think it was substantiated. Even if one gives a little in that direction, it is not a getting cost, it still does not bring the two into relation.
710 Where do we get then? We find, by the only reasonably precise basis of comparison which can be made, that the two costs are out of relation one to the other. I shall not suggest to the Committee what are the fundamental reasons for that, but I would say primarily that this has been looked on as a question of muck shifting rather than mining, as was mentioned during the Committee proceedings. From the few coal sites I have seen, I do not consider that the methods are in accordance with the best mining practice. I must say once again that I cannot accept the evidence of Stewarts and Lloyds as a fair analogy. Many of the figures given during that evidence were much less precise than the ones which I am attempting to give this evening. It was possible to get precise costings and to relate one to the other, making the reasonable allowances to which I have alluded.
§ Mr. Champion (Derby, Southern)
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that Stewarts and Lloyds are not a reputable firm and were not capable of giving us the information which we sought when we were conducting that investigation? The conditions are vastly different between opencast coalmining and mining iron ore, judging by the evidence presented to that Committee.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I want to make this clear: Stewarts and Lloyds are a reputable firm, but they have been mining iron ore on any scale for a relatively short time and they are mining it under peculiar conditions.
§ Colonel Lancaster
That does not matter. What I am trying to evaluate is like to like, and there are iron-ore fields which have been worked by firms with far more technical experience than Stewarts and Lloyds for a long time under conditions somewhat similar to opencast coal working. From the mining aspect the problem is almost identical. The same machines are used, and to the same depths, to get something like the same metal under similar circumstances.
I have discussed these matters not only with people concerned in the mining of iron ore but with many directly interested in opencast mining, and they have been prepared to agree with the majority of 711 what I have said this evening. What I am trying to do now is to supply a reason. I say that all this problem has been dealt with as a matter of muck shifting rather than as a mining proposition and that the best mining practice has not been pursued. If I sought to approach this question from a political angle I should say that this is yet another example of a Government Department with the best of intentions embarking on an industrial enterprise without the background to enable them to do so.
What does all this amount to? It is not merely a question of the taxpayers' money being wasted. It means that part of the coal being produced in this country is being produced too expensively and that everything we produce for export is thereby effected. The right hon. Gentleman himself stressed the need to emphasise not only the question of production but also the question of costs. We cannot afford to go on living in this world of make-believe any longer. Hon. Members opposite are beginning to realise that competition in Europe is growing, and growing rapidly, and that if it is a question of exporting not merely coal but all the things that coal helps us to make, we shall fail against that competition if we continue at our present level.
The whole matter of opencast prodution, quite apart from anything else, should be reviewed again in the light of the evidence I have put forward this evening. If that is done—I am not trying to make a party point—it will be shown that the methods now being used can be greatly improved upon. We cannot afford to play about with a matter of an odd 5s. or 10s. as if it were of no consequence; it is of vast consequence. We cannot look upon something which could reasonably be done for 18s. but is, in fact, being done for 30s. as something which is immaterial or merely the passing of money from one set of hands to another; it is nothing of the sort. What it does is to raise and maintain the cost of this primary product at such a level that we shall be knocked out of the export market. It is for all these reasons that I urge the Government to look at this matter again.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
I always listen with profound interest to the 712 speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), whose valuable knowledge of the mining industry is always recognised by us on this side of the Committee. I hope, however, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will excuse me if I do not follow him into the ramifications of opencast mining. I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), and when he appealed to the mining Members, building up a picture of the depression that is to come and of the necessity for bringing down mining costs, I thought I was back once again in the days when we had to face that cry in 1920 and 1925, when the philosophy of the Opposition was to meet international competition by slashing the wages of the men in the mining industry. I am very suspicious that that philosopy of the Opposition has not yet altered. I shudder to think what would be the fate of working-class people if a depression did come and the industry was in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ Mr. Bracken
The hon. Member has no grievance against me; I have not cut wages. I had nothing to do with his despatch from his post as Parliamentary Private Secretary.
§ Mr. Blyton
That has nothing to do with this Debate. It is not the first time I have resigned and it is not the first time I have got the sack. Hon. Members opposite applied the means test when I was unemployed. I am trying to eradicate from the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the fallacious idea he has that miners are opposed to machinery in the pits. The rows were never about the machinery, but about the way in which the employers wanted to pay the man who worked the machine. The employer who brought the machine into the pit always considered he had a right to get more coal in order to meet the cost of the machinery.
I intended to deal with the new idea of the Opposition expressed in the pamphlet by the hon. and gallant Member 713 for Fylde in relation to their de-centralisation scheme. I have not the time to develop the argument, but apparently their view of how this nationalised coal industry should be run is to superimpose, within the nationalised structure, the private enterprise structure, which had such devastating results on the industry. To send us back to the system of districts, with healthy competition, as is suggested, would be sending us back to the dark days of depression, and that we shall oppose, if it ever comes again. It should be known that there were more than 500 pits taken from private enterprise which were losing from £2 to £7 a ton pithead price as a result of the so-called efficiency of private enterprise. The National Coal Board have had to pay for that. It ill becomes the Opposition to decry the efforts of the National Coal Board, which took over the industry with huge losses.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
Is it not a fact that between two and three years before the National Coal Board took over the pits, they were run under the direction of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who said what coal must be worked, and that the industry was not under private enterprise at all?
§ Mr. Blyton
Under the old régime of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the financial control of the undertakings was in the hands of the owners. That was the basic principle laid down and the argument of the hon. and gallant Member cannot hold water. All the developments of private enterprise in the war years were paid for by the Government under the Coal Charges Fund.
We have to deal with the problems which private enterprise has left us and we have to face the closing of uneconomic pits and the concentration of output on the most productive pits. There is a big change for the miners in facing this problem. In the old days the employer gave 14 days' notice and, if the pit closed, the miner had no voice in the matter, but went to the labour exchange and rotted there, or was directed to some distant place and had to fend for himself. But miners today have, through their consultative committees, a voice at higher levels in discussing the question of whether these pits shall close, whether some suggestions can be made which would make the pits more productive, 714 or whether, under a concentration scheme, output in that area could be concentrated on one shaft and one productive unit made out of three unproductive pits in the area. Therefore, we have to say to our people that the very thing which we argued in favour of nationalisation was the need to reorganise the industry because we knew the hopelessness of expecting the capital necessary to reorganise the pits of this country, to be forthcoming under private enterprise.
I shall now deal for a moment or two with the Fabians, who have been making suggestions about consultative committees. Their suggestion is the outpouring of madmen. They suggest that consultative committees should take part in appointing the manager and dealing with promotions in the pit. That might be possible in a factory but it cannot be done in mining. Under the 1911 Act the manager is responsible for the safety of life and limb of the men, and the ventilation and safety arangements in the pit. We could not have divided responsibility through the consultative committee functioning in that way. No manager worth his salt would take the responsibility for what happened in the pit, if he had to accept the decision of the consultative committee in these matters. The same applies to over-men and deputies.
The manager is responsible in law for the actions of those whom he employs in the mines. Therefore, that manager must be allowed to exercise the responsibility which rests upon him in the promotion of the things which are essential to the safety of the men in the pit. I wish that those who talk in this way would not take their advice from a questionnaire but from the people who know something about the problems before they issue such statements as have been issued in the pamphlet to which I am referring. That does not mean to say that the manager of a pit is not entitled to take, or should not take, into serious consideration the recommendations of the people who represent the workmen's side in the consultative committee. Many men who are members of the consultative committee can give valuable advice to a manager about the pit because of their long years of work there and consequent knowledge of the peculiarity of that mine. Managers have to be taught the new basis of nationalised industry.
715 An example of what not to do occurred last week. A manager in one area instructed six joiners to set six pairs of gears outside the main riding shaft, and put up a notice "This is how to timber the face." That is one of the biggest insults that can be offered to the men in the pit. It is telling them that they are so ignorant of their work that someone has to give them a demonstration, a demonstration which takes no account of the geological and other difficulties of the actual conditions in the pit. That night the secretary of the lodge tore up the notice and threw it on one side. He was told by the management that he was interfering with the management of the pit. The manager in question had not gone to the consultative committee and suggested that the action he had taken ought to be taken, nor had he sought the committee's advice. That pit might have been idle had the lodge secretary not done what he did. We must tell the managers, just as we must tell the men, that this is a new machine. The manager should be told that he will be judged first upon the output which he gets, having due regard to the full safety of the men who employ him, and secondly on what is his relationship with the men who employ him in the pit.
This same pamphlet says that the men are disgruntled because they see the old gang back. There is some truth in that, but it must be realised that when we nationalised the mines, we had not in our ranks men with first-class certificates. And why not? If a man wanted to be a deputy, if he had a technical bent, the first thing we ourselves used to say was, "He is just a gaffer's man." By our own actions during the war years we prevented our young lads from going out and developing their minds and getting their first-class mining certificates. Therefore we should not quibble at the old gang being back, because it is mostly due to the tactics which we ourselves adopted in the mining, districts.
Now that we have a new mentality in relation to this problem, I am hoping that we shall encourage our young lads in the pit. Do not bring in too many bright boys from the colleges, but train the lads who have been in the mines from fourteen and give them every encouragement. Do not ask a lad who went on at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and has been working 716 till 10 o'clock, to study the next morning for any particular object without giving him some sort of recreation, which is what happens in many places. We should develop a system whereby the boy who starts as a tapper boy can develop his technical knowledge and when he is 21 can get his first-class certificate. In that way we shall get mine managers from our own ranks. They will develop their mentality and become administrators, and so we shall eliminate the old gang.
I recommend the Minister of Fuel and Power to study the suggestions I have made and to ask the National Coal Board managers and men to work this machine in the light of comradeship and not as two sides at a table arguing at cross purposes and getting nowhere.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stone)
We all listen with interest to the speeches of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) when he is talking about mining subjects. I was much interested by his last remarks. There has inevitably been an atmosphere of purge about the Chamber today. It almost reminds one of some of the Russian trials with some of the workers denouncing the intellectuals after they had been found guilty. The Minister himself launched a most vigorous and violent attack against his friends of the Fabian Society. I once thought that the mantle of the Webbs had fallen on the shoulders of the Coles; but far from it. This nice little pamphlet has not been well received.
We are faced with the fact—and the problem was put very ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster)—that despite the fact that there are more new machines in the pits, this industry is not producing similar quantities of deep-mined coal to those produced in 1941 or 1943. That is a matter of grave concern, not only to all hon. Members in this Committee but to the whole of the country. As we have said throughout, this is the basic problem. On it depends our foreign policy, the value of the £ and many other problems. Everything flows from the success or falure of the coal-mining industry. It is a very grave matter that our economy should be distorted, as it is being distorted today by the high price and low production of coal. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring talked of 1924 and 1925 and 717 said that the only interest of the capitalist then was in the question of the competitiveness of his exports abroad. That is still precisely the problem in 1949. The sooner we realise that, to whichever party we belong, the more secure we shall become.
One of the measures of our weakness at present is that our economy is being distorted throughout. A matter of important concern is the question of the use of land. We must not only consider foreign exchange. We must remember that we are carrying out opencast mining on a very large scale. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that it is necessary. I agree that it is necessary unless we can get the coal elsewhere, but I suggest that with the mining force now employed, with proper organisation, incentives and management, the 724,000 miners could raise something like 215 million tons of coal. The Government are aiming at producing 202 million. One of the great dangers today is the dissipation of our remaining assets, and one of our remaining assets is land. Since the war, we have lost 50,000 acres and by 1951 we are likely to have lost 100,000. The Minister of Fuel is the most guilty party. It is almost as it was in the time of Marie Antoinette when she said, "If you cannot get bread, eat cake." We are tearing up our land in order to get coal at a fantastically uneconomic price. We are selling bunker coal in London at 90s. a ton and in New York it is being sold at 65s. a ton. That shows where the problem lies.
I should like to bring home to hon. Gentlemen opposite some of the effects of opencast mining. This is not merely a question of the cost in cash, though it is costing a considerable amount. What we are finding today is that far from there being a diminution of opencast mining under nationalisation, there is an increase. Production has risen from 7 million tons in 1945 and it is expected to rise to 13 million tons this year. Instead of the whole programme of opencast mining ending a year ago, it is now to continue until 1951. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have spoken about there being no feather beds for capitalists to fall back on but the gentlemen at Hobart House are falling back very heavily on opencast mining. If they cannot raise deep-mined coal, they intend to get the coal in the fields and to a 718 lesser extent in the forests of this country.
§ Mr. Fraser
Let us consider what this is costing us in dollars. In the period between 1945 and 1951 it will have cost us no fewer than 32 million dollars in machinery and spare parts. Up to now it has cost us 24 million dollars, and a further 8 million dollars on machinery and other parts will be spent before 1951. Further, it has cost us 10 million dollars in petrol and oil up to now, and it will cost us another 12 million dollars for those commodities in the next three years. That is the equivalent, over the next three years, of half the supplementary ration which is issued to the people of this country in one year. Last year, the Minister said that 150,000 tons of petrol were issued to the people of this country on the supplementary ration.
§ Mr. Fraser
The expenditure of petrol will be in the neighbourhood of 75,000 tons in the next three years on opencast mining operations, but in addition to all this, there is the loss of valuable agricultural land. There is talk that already the Minister has used something like 40,000 acres of agricultural land, and there is talk of developing a further 100,000 acres. Up to now, there has been no scientific research, as this report points out, carried out to investigate the loss of fertility of the soil, but statistics show that the loss is something like 50 per cent. of the soil's fertility, and when that is calculated on 100,000 acres, it means a loss of at least £15 per acre per year, which means a loss of about £1,500,000 worth of foreign exchange per year. This over 10 years—and it looks as if it will take 10 years to get that land back into fertility—will be £15 million or 60 million dollars.
All this adds up to a tremendous figure, and in addition there is a loss to the taxpayer, which is very considerable and which has already run into £13 million. There are other directions in which there are losses, but I have not time to go into them. There is also the loss to the farmers and the injustice of having no compensation for the loss of fertility.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
Will the hon. Gentleman give way one moment? This economic tale of woe is putting forward a fallacy. All these figures may be quite correct and I do not question them, but does the hon. Gentleman make no allowance for the gains we get from the coal itself and from the foreign exchange through exports?
§ Mr. Fraser
Perfectly, but the volume of those gains should be met from coal mined underground. The actual gains are 12 million dollars, which are met by the import of American coal, which has been cut out. There are these other injustices, and there is also the question of machinery standing idle. I saw lately on local sites in Staffordshire the most fantastic example of tractors lying idle and unemployed from October of last year until yesterday or the day before. For seven months these tractors, for which we have to pay £1 per day, have been lying idle.
It is obvious that there is something rotten in the mining industry, for which the Government must take responsibility. It is true also that there has been something rotten at the heart and root of the matter, so that decay runs right through our economy. Here we have this staggering and sharp example of the effects of the distortion of our economy by our failure to make the best use of our cheap natural resource—coal. Here we have a microcosm of the major effect of this distortion which eventually may do great damage to the whole economy of this country. I hope the Minister will take this as a lesson and not regard it as something on which he can lie back. The distortion of our economy tears up our fields in order to get the coal that ought to come from the mines.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
There were three main points with which I meant to deal, but in the few minutes at my disposal I shall confine myself to one. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) raised what I considered a very important point. With much of his speech I disagreed, but with one part I agreed wholeheartedly. It was on the question of the utilisation of coal distillation, and what it might mean to the economy of this country. I want to ask the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary, if he can give me 720 the figures of how much coal was used in coal distillation before nationalisation and how much was used during the last year. I want to find out whether there has been any development in this field, because many of us from mining areas are convinced that the time has now come for the National Coal Board to give serious consideration to this question of the better use and the better development of coal. I feel that, with the by-products which we can get from coal distillation, we could help in many ways, not only the economy of the country, but those who are disabled in the mining areas.
I am a member of the Miners' Welfare Commission. At our monthly meeting held this week we were honoured to have with us the surgeons who are doing what I can only describe as marvellous work in the rehabilitation of miners. They were Sir Reginald Watson Jones, Dr. Miller of Scotland, and Dr. Nichol. I advise all hon. Members on both sides to read the published report which we were discussing at that meeting. Thanks to this work of rehabilitation, it is amazing how many people are able to return to work in the mines who, previous to rehabilitation, would have been lost to the industry completely. But, in spite of these very learned and clever men, who are doing this work without any payment, there is inevitably a number of those men who cannot return either to their previous work in the mines, or, indeed, find any work on the surface. We find that in some instances alternative work is found, but in far too many mining areas there just is not any alternative work.
Rehabilitation not only helps the economy of the country; it gives back to those men who were previously on the scrap heap a feeling of hope, and a feeling that they are able to contribute to the common weal of their country. It is too bad that when these rehabilitation centres make these men fit, not, perhaps, for the mines, but for some other industry, in many instances there is no work for them to do. In our area we have discussed this matter for some time, and we are convinced that this is something for which the National Coal Board has got to take greater responsibility. The central workshops in my own village are taking on as many of these people as they possibly can, but they can touch only the fringe of them.
721 We should like in our area, and other areas, the National Coal Board to consider the question of coal distillation and the by-products that would come from it; in other words, we should like them to provide work for their own disabled, and not do it in any spirit of charity. Miners, whether disabled or not, never want charity from the country. Provide the jobs, certainly, but, in providing them, add something to the national economy. I wish to stress that as much as possible.
The only other point I wish to make is that my area is one of those affected by the closure of pits. The other Scottish Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson), who spoke, raised this matter. With my close contact with the miners, I could have answered many of the questions he asked. I have made my position perfectly clear in this matter. We, as miners' representatives, cannot ask for better conditions for the miners and at the same time ask the National Coal Board to keep on uneconomic pits. What we ask for in Lanarkshire is that there should be a survey of the whole Lanarkshire coalfield by the Scottish Division of the National Coal Board and that that survey should be carried out immediately so that we should know whether there is any chance of further development in Lanarkshire before any more of our men are asked to move. The men who are being asked to move are getting the most humane treatment from the Scottish Division of the National Coal Board. I want to stress that we should like this survey to be made before any more are asked to move. In conclusion I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) for giving me the opportunity to speak for these few minutes.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I am sure that hon. Members on all sides of the Committee will have been glad that the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) was able to get in her remarks because they were received with interest and sympathy by everyone present. Frankly, my only regret about this Debate is that it has inevitably been discursive and we have not had time to discuss many of the extremely interesting and important questions such as those raised by the hon. 722 Lady the Member for North Lanark. As far as the Opposition are concerned I must disclaim responsibility for that. We had to put down this very wide series of Votes largely, and indeed mainly, because of the refusal of the Government, to provide a day out of their own time for the discussion of the first annual report of the National Coal Board. We are told that the second report will be issued shortly and I hope that the Minister, with his experience of today, will be able to persuade his Chief Whip, when we return in the Autumn, that, in view of the interest taken today on all sides of the Committee, we ought to have a day to discuss the question of the Coal Board's report itself. Then we should get a much better Debate.
We have heard some interesting speeches, excellent ones from my side of the Committee and rather interesting ones from the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Neal)—whom I do not see in his place—and the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), who also does not consider it worth-while to come and hear the answer to his questions. The hon. Member for Clay Cross was quite blunt in saying that he thought all uneconomic pits ought to be shut and the men moved off wholesale to other places. That, I think, was very effectively answered both by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring and the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark.
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring devoted a good deal of his speech to refuting a statement which was never made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), that miners objected to the introduction of machinery. What we say is that there has been far too great a reluctance on the part of miners, not to see machinery introduced, but to use machinery to the full when it has been introduced. That is not a statement I make on my own authority, but a statement which was made by Sir Charles Reid and also a statement to which reference is made in the first report of the National Coal Board in which they express regret that they did not get the full co-operation from the men in making full use of the very large amount of machinery that had been introduced. That is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth was referring to.
723 The Minister, in a very conciliatory speech, did not tell us anything very new, but he repeated most of the old stuff which we had heard before. The one really new thing he did—and I am bound to say I was surprised by and I congratulate him upon his ingenuity—was to invent a new reason for petrol rationing. We have had innumerable reasons given from the other side of the House for a continuance of rationing. We have had it defended on the ground of military usage, the difficulty of obtaining tyres, the shortage of tankers, the lack of dollars, the air lift, the lack of refineries, the doubt of supplies being available and the requirements of civil aviation. I honestly thought that that was about as exhaustive a list as there could be, but the right hon. Gentleman has found a new reason to add to it. He says we ought to hope to see rationing continued, because if it were abolished we should suffer from uncertainty. Contrary to what he said, many people think that the time has come, or is very close, when it should be possible, if not to abolish petrol rationing completely, at all events substantially to increase the amount available to the ordinary motorist. The Parliamentary Secretary, in a speech which he made as recently as 11th May last year, saidthat a very small percentage difference in American consumption has a very marked reaction on the availability of supplies for the rest of the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1948; Vol. 450, c. 1993.]What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. If, when it was a question of drastically reducing the petrol ration, it was true to say that reduction was necessary because what was happening in America was having a disproportionate effect here, then it is equally true now, or should be, to say that the converse is true. In America there has been a very substantial reduction indeed in oil consumption, and that should have a more than proportionate influence on our conditions here, and should allow us to obtain greater supplies.
Of course, there is the further consideration, to which the right hon. Gentleman paid no attention at ad, although he referred to the continual shortage of dollars, which is admitted, that not only has there been a drastic reduction in the consumption of oil in the United States, but there has concurrently been a fall in 724 price; and so for the same amount, or a less amount, of dollars it should be possible to purchase substantially greater supplies of oil than was the case only a year ago. So much has the world situation altered—and to that the right hon. Gentleman also made no reference at all—that instead, as last year, it being the case that the world—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I was only going to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would substantiate with figures his statement about American oil consumption.
§ Mr. Hudson
They are well known. I will come to that in one moment. A year ago it was currently supposed that demand all over the world would run in excess of supply for a considerable period, and the Parliamentary Secretary, in that Debate only. a year ago, was rash enough to commit himself to the prophecy that in 1951, even if the pipeline in Saudi Arabia had been completed, we should be short of 100 tankers. The situation has completely changed in the course of the last 12 months. In the first place, the pipeline is to be finished, not in 1951 or 1952, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, but, I understand, in 1950; and, so far from there being likely to be this world shortage of tankers, the situation is that foreign firms and British firms, and a firm in which the Government have a very considerable interest, namely Anglo-Iranian, are, in fact, busily engaged in cancelling orders for tankers. So much has the situation changed, and so greatly has the consumption and the demand in America dropped, that if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the "Economist" for last week he will see a very interesting article dealing with this particular matter.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
May we not have the figures of this apparent decline in motor spirit consumption in the United States of America?
§ Mr. Hudson
I dare say that I could find them, but I did not expect that the right hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of the subject would query them. So greatly has the situation changed in the United States that the Americans, who had previously been providing funds for the erection of refineries not only in this country but in Europe, are now beginning 725 to wonder whether the result of the erection of these refineries will not be adverse to their own trade. It is reported—I have not the inside information—in the Press, I imagine on good authority, that they are now reconsidering the question of how much money they will make available. My right hon. Friend asked what the position with regard to the English refineries is to be, but the right hon. Gentleman did not give an answer, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will answer that question when he replies.
I now turn to the question of electricity. The right hon. Gentleman talked about targets, and gave the Committee some figures of what had actually been achieved in the way of providing new generating stations last year and this year. Will the Minister tell the Committee how far short of the target that he and his friends have published are these figures? For example, the target set for 1940 was 1,150 megawatts. The actual achievement was 566. The actual programme announced originally for 1949 was 1,600 and that was cut in the Economic Survey to 1,000. The right hon. Gentleman told us this afternoon that it will be barely more than sufficient to meet increased consumption, namely, 700. These three sets of figures show the failure of his planning. The Chancellor of the Exchequer on repeated occasions has stated, indeed with some originality and some power, that if we are to retain our efficiency and reach the necessary export target, we must have more machines. But it is no use having additional machinery unless we are certain of the necessary power to run it. It is pretty clear from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that that power is not going to be available in time.
The right hon. Gentleman made no reply to the accusation about favouritism to the area boards regarding hire purchase, and I hope that we shall get a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. He mentioned the question of the Clow surcharge and said that he could not tell us or the country how much it was going to cost the consumer. What the consumer is interested in is that, as a consumer, he has already had to pay that surcharge, while the question of whether he gets it back during the Summer is purely hypothetical. I venture to think that the consumer will have cause to 726 realise during the Summer some of the disadvantages of nationalised electricity.
I turn now to coal. The right hon. Gentleman went back to his old figures of output per manshift. That was very effectively dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster). In case anyone in the Committee did not hear my hon. Friend's speech, he said that from the point of view of the country, the consumer, our industries and exports, the question is not how much coal is produced per manshift, but how much the miner produces per annum which is important. That is the sum which adds up to the final annual total. The fact remains that the output per man this year, about which the right hon. Gentleman boasted, was 271 tons compared with 295 tons in 1941 and 300 tons before the war. In 1937 it was 304 tons, in 1938 it was 290, and in 1939 it was 302. It is quite clear that, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman says, we are not getting the productivity per man per annum which the country is entitled to have. Also, it must not be forgotten that that is in spite of the installation of a very large quantity of additional machinery.
The reason, of course, is very largely the steady increase in absenteeism. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a very interesting split for the first four months of this year as between voluntary and involuntary absenteeism, and everybody must have been struck by the very high figure for involuntary absenteeism. We should like to know what it is due to. Why has there been this increase? There was nothing in the weather last Winter to justify it. Was it due to the new National Health Insurance provisions, and possibly to some slackness in certifying by doctors? It is a very big and sudden drop which represents a definite loss, as the right hon. Gentleman was the first to admit, in total output of coal in the first four months of this year.
He said that we shall be in difficulties before the year is out, but I venture to think, judging from the figures we have got and the figures he gave us, that the situation is a good deal more serious than he made out. As far as we can see, the figure for the first four months' production—and I apologise for giving figures to the Committee but I think it is necessary to bring this out—was 63 million tons; the stocks in hand at the end of 727 four months were 10 million tons, making a total of 73 million tons. The consumption for these months was 71 million tons, leaving only two million tons in stock. The corresponding figure last year for the same four months was seven million tons. It is pretty clear, as everybody knows, that from now onwards we shall not get any very big increase in output; output always falls in the summer, and falls still more when the holidays come on. If this process which has already started continues it will mean, in effect, that the only way in which we shall be able to maintain exports at the required figure will be by a steady running down of home stocks, and unless something is done to increase output, or else to cut down the figures of exports which we have promised to the European recovery organisation, the stocks of coal this autumn, at the beginning of the winter, will have fallen to a desperately dangerous level. I do not want to be unduly pessimistic, but I do honestly say to the right hon. Gentleman that if these figures are correct he is running a considerable danger of doing, if I might coin the word, a "Shinwellism" and repeating the sort of attitude his predecessor took up in the summer months of 1946.
The other point is the relationship of the men with the Board. The right hon. Gentleman may object to the smallness of the sample in the Fabian pamphlet, but at all events it corresponds with what people all over the country are saying; it corresponds, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich pointed out, with quotations from speeches made by responsible miners' leaders. There can be no doubt that relations with the Board have fallen far short of the promises and high hopes held out before nationalisation. If proof is wanted of that I recommend hon. Members to read the description, on pages 18, 19 and 20 of the first annual report of the Coal Board, of the Grimethorpe stint dispute. When this was issued in July, 1948, it referred to the situation at December, 1947. It was then thought, as a result of the concessions made by the Coal Board, that the miners' officials and the union would succeed in getting the men back under the new conditions. The fact remains, as I am told, that they are still on the old conditions, and the Coal Board and the union have 728 failed completely in their attempt, which the Coal Board say was justified, to get new conditions of working the stint. That by itself is sufficient to show that the Coal Board has failed altogether.
I have just been given the figures of the American consumption. American demand has dropped steadily every month, except July, in barrels: July, 85 million; August, 83 million; September, 79 million; October, 78 million; November, 75 million; December, 73 million, and January, 67 million.
§ Mr. Hudson
I have only one more point to make and that is the influence of coal on our economy. In winding up last night the Chancellor of the Exchequer made what I thought were two incredible statements. The chief one was that profit did not matter except under capitalism. Obviously, that is not a view shared by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power, because this afternoon he kept on talking about profit, as did several other hon. Members on that side. The other thing that the Chancellor said was that we had to get prices down, and that one of the best and easiest ways of doing so would be to reduce profits. I prefer the views of the Parliamentary Secretary who said, speaking last year:The aim must be to cheapen the price of coal, or else we shall find the cost of our manufactured goods for home and export beyond the reach of the purchaser abroad and we shall be on the road to ruin.Personally I prefer that diagnosis and remedy to that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is just as well that the House and the country should realise the extent to which the price of coal has gone up since nationalisation—6s. 6d. a ton, £66 million a year. That is one of the reasons for the increased cost of living. That is one of the reasons for the increased cost of our manufactured goods. It is one of the reasons for the increased cost of electricity and gas. And it is one of the reasons for the increased cost of transport, and the big losses which the Transport Commission are making.
It is perfectly clear from those figures that nationalisation has failed in two of the chief promises held out. It has failed 729 abysmally, as far as the men are concerned, to remove frustration or to make them happy in their present job. The Coal Board has certainly failed dismally, according to all reports, to achieve satisfactory relations with the men. Above all things, nationalisation has failed to carry out the promise made in "Let us Face the Future," namely:Amalgamation under public ownership will bring great economies in operation"—We have not seen any signs of them—and make it possible to modernise production methods … and lower charges"—No consumer in the country sees any sign of lower charges.… Other industries will benefit.I know no industry and no consumers that are not suffering from the nationalisation of the coalmines.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has said, that the Debate has been discursive—it could not be otherwise in view of the ramifications of the Ministry of Fuel and Power—and I am very much afraid that in the short time that is left I shall not be able to cover the whole of the many points which have been raised, but I shall do my best.
The right hon. Member for Southport, who referred to the question of oil, was handed at the last moment some figures in relation to the drop in the number of thousands of barrels of motor spirit in the United States of America; but he did not tell the Committee that that was a seasonal drop.
§ Mr. Robens
What is important is to know the figures for the year. As the right hon. Gentleman did not know them, perhaps he will forgive me if I tell him what they are. The oil consumption in the United States in 1948 was 280 million tons, 100 million tons of which was motor spirit. According to the estimate of the Bureau of Mines made earlier this year, the total demand for 1949 will be an increase of 6 per cent. over 1948; of that increase, motor spirit will represent 7 per cent. That is the estimate of the Mines Bureau and Inter-State Commerce 730 Commission, and they should know more about their figures than does the right hon. Gentleman. In any case—
§ Mr. Robens
It does not matter when. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen are going to start the game that has been accorded to winding-up speakers on this side, of making the Debate a free-for-all we can start right away. I am asked when those estimates were made, and I say that they were made by the United States Bureau—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"]—for 1949 as compared with 1948. I have given those figures, but I am not prepared to argue American figures with hon. Gentlemen opposite who know less about them than the United States authorities.
On the question of oil, my right hon. Friend was far from complacent in his speech this afternoon. He made it clear, I thought, that the dollar element arises with all oil, whether from sterling sources or from anywhere else. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite subscribe to the view that this country should close the dollar gap as soon as possible? Do they not agree that we ought to get into the position of being independent of American aid as soon as we possibly can? I think that their answer is, "Yes." In that case, why do they advocate in one quarter the abolition of petrol rationing, and in another quarter an increase in the amount given to motorists, which must cost dollars—
§ Mr. Robens
All petrol has a dollar element. I am not going to argue that again. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman looks at the speech of my right hon. Friend. If we are to close the dollar gap to make this country independent of American dollars and if at the same time the Opposition are asking for the removal of petrol rationing, which would involve a dollar element whatever the source of supply, they must tell us what we must cut to that extent from dollar sources. Must it be meat, or wheat, or what do they suggest? The fact is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are very clever at getting up and saying, "We want this, 731 and that, and the other." That is a popular cry, but they would be the last people if they were in office, even to attempt to put such a proposal into operation.
The right hon. Member for Southport remarked that my right hon. Friend had told the Committee nothing about the British refinery programme. It will be within the recollection of the Committee, however, that my right hon. Friend said of the refinery programme that the figure for last year was 3½ million tons; the through-put aimed at for this year is 6 million tons, finally working up to a through-put of 20 million tons. It seemed to me that was a very reasonable programme. It would demand a great deal of steel and other equipment and a great deal of technical skill and experienced labour. It is a realisable programme and shows what are the developments in relation to refineries. The right hon. Member for Southport raised one or two points as to output per man-shift and total production per man year—
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I am sorry to interrupt, but the hon. Member has not given the figure about oil refineries. We all know what the original programme was, but what we want to know is whether any change has been made in the programme as a result of the new situation in European recovery.
§ Mr. Robens
No; there has been no change in the programme. It remains as I have indicated and as my right hon. Friend indicated this afternoon.
The right hon. Member also asked if absenteeism was due to the introduction of the new social security scheme and loose certification by doctors. I do not know; that may have some effect. I know that when the man injured at the pit was examined by the insurance doctor, he was usually given a note to get back to work much quicker than his private doctor would have told him to go back. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO.] My hon. Friends who have worked in the pits can tell hon. Members opposite more about it. I think it was true that there was always a conflict between the man's family doctor and the insurance doctor. If a man has to stay off a little longer under medical advice since the intro- 732 duction of the scheme, so much the better for the scheme, even if it costs us coal.
In regard to the extension of the B.E.A. and area boards into hire purchase systems, I would point out that many electricity undertakings always did hire purchase work before vesting day. I resent and deny the right of the Opposition to say that the Electricity Authority, in taking over these undertakings, should divest themselves of the right to carry on that type of work previously done by the undertakings. In regard to the importance of not extending credit facilities, the Electricity Authority have decided that they will only continue their hire purchase arrangements through those undertakings that carried on the work prior to vesting day; on the understanding that, generally speaking, everyone else is on the same pattern. That seems perfectly right and I hope they will go right ahead in supplying consumers with what they want at reasonable prices, and it credit terms are needed let them be given by B.E.A. or by private enterprises. Hon. Members should not worry about B.E.A. competing with private enterprise in this matter of purchase of electrical equipment.
The right hon. Member for Southport wanted to know whether consumers would get back anything that the Clow surcharge contributed to the surplus that might arise on the year's working and which would go to the B.E.A. Of course consumers get the advantage. I am not admitting for a moment that the surcharge will be more profitable to the B.E.A., but if as a result there is a surplus there are no private investors to take it back in the form of interest. It is in the publicly-owned concerns and is there to cheapen the price to the consumer. Whatever surpluses there are, are there for the benefit of the consumer and the people who own the industry. That is a good principle which we learned in the "Co-op." many years ago.
I wish to say something about opencast coal in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). He has spoken this afternoon, as he speaks on many matters, like an expert. After listening to him this afternoon I doubt very much whether he is expert on this subject. He was not comparing like with like at all. There is no complete similarity between digging for iron 733 ore and digging for coal. They are completely dissimilar. I thought that a good deal of what he had to say was a criticism of the particular committee which went into this matter. They will probably defend themselves in the right time and the right place. I wish to make it clear to the Committee that whereas iron-ore working very rarely goes deeper than about 80 feet, we have to go down to 180 feet for opencast.
§ Mr. Robens
Because that is where the seam lies. We have not yet discovered a method of lifting coal seams nearer to the surface. When we do so we will advise the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
§ Mr. Robens
I did not interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and if I give way it will be impossible for me to say something more about the matter. I am making a statement, and there will be plenty of opportunities, for example, on the Adjournment Motion, for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to refute it if he considers that I am wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then let us have another Supply Day to deal with this matter alone. That will be all right. As I say, there is complete dissimilarity between the two. Iron ore seams are thicker and are level, and they have not anything like the ratio of overburden, which is the costly element. The hon. and gallant Member looks astonished because he does not know anything about it.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I was at some pains to put this point into very simple language so that the hon. Gentleman could understand it. I compare precisely like with like. I took the example of 50 to 80 feet of overburden in both cases, and I explained precisely the difference, the nature of the overburden, the method being employed, the restoration of the surface—in fact the whole cost of "getting." I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that if he will read HANSARD tomorrow, instead of making these wild statements, he will see that what I have just said is correct.
§ Mr. Robens
Certainly not. The hon. and gallant Member is not comparing like 734 with like. He is assuming that coal extraction is like iron ore extraction and it is no use his saying that if opencast coal has to be won at a depth of 50 feet, that represents something similar to iron ore which is won at 50 feet, because the opencast coal is not at 50 feet but at 180 feet. That raises a wholly different conception.
The hon. and gallant Member talked about restoration. To what kind of restoration does he refer? Opencast coal workings have to be restored to the satisfaction of the county agricultural executive committees; that is not the case with iron ore.
§ Mr. Robens
It may be rubbish in the opinion of the hon. Member, but it is a fact. If he thinks it is rubbish, let him consult his local agricultural committee. They are the people who finally decide when the land is restored. Neither my right hon. Friend nor any official of the Ministry of Fuel and Power decides that a site has been restored; the agricultural committee say when it has been restored. There is also a great difference between restoration of opencast coal sites and the method of merely digging in the overburden by ridge filling as is done in the case of iron ore workings. I say once again that the hon. Member for Fylde has really been talking this afternoon about something of which he knows nothing.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Bowles)
The hon. and gallant Member knows that unless the Minister gives way, he must not remain on his feet.
§ Colonel Lancaster
The Parliamentary Secretary challenged me for the second time, and it is usual that when an hon. Member is challenged, he is given an opportunity to reply.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. and gallant Member knows that he may be challenged but unless the Minister or whoever is on his feet at the time gives way, he has not the right to interrupt him.
§ Mr. Robens
I should be very glad to give way but really there is not the time to do so. I am not afraid of the hon. and gallant Gentleman either challenging me or accepting my challenge.
735 There was a specific question asked by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), who wanted to know whether or not the Government had directed the sale of oil to China. The answer is "No"; not at any time.
With regard to oil to the Scandinavian countries about which he also asked a question, I would remind him that these countries are of course members of O.E.E.C. and there is a responsibility on our part in connection with the oil that they have. We need timber from Sweden and food from Denmark, and we have had the advantage of a good deal of the tanker tonnage resources of Norway. Unless we are prepared to allow the Scandinavian countries the facilities which they require, we cannot very well expect them to allow us the resources which we need. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) worked himself into a passion about petrol and commercial extravagances, but as he is not in his place I do not think I need waste time in replying to the points which he made.
There was a general allegation that there had been one common factor in relation to all the nationalised undertakings. That common factor brought great cheers from the Opposition, as I suppose it will bring great cheers again when I mention it. It was that every time there had been a vesting, or an industry had been nationalised, up went the price—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is right, I thought So—
§ Mr. Robens
Obviously if prices go up there is a reason—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that little bit of elementary logic has got home. The facts regarding electricity are rather interesting, especially to those people who rather suspect that prior to nationalisation there might have been people in authority who would not work an undertaking to the very best advantage, particularly if they were not continuing with the industry. In regard to electricity, on vesting date there were 150 electricity undertakings operating at a loss. Their loss for 1948–49 at the prices they were charging would have been between £5 million and £7 million. If the British Electricity Authority on taking control 736 had not put that business right, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have been telling us at the end of 12 months what a poor do this nationalisation was because we had lost so much money—
§ Mr. Robens
In the gas industry there is a similar record of undertakings apparently running at a loss before vesting date. These industries did not pay their way and it is right that where undertakings under private ownership were losing money, when they were taken under public ownership they should be put on a business-like basis.
The hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) who loves to make a debating point rather than a real contribution said to us: "Why do you compare your figures with 1945 or from vesting date? Why do you not compare them with 1941?" It is not my job to defend the private ownership of the coalmines. It is surely not the job of my right hon. Friend to defend the conditions under private ownership. However, we shall have a look at them. In 1941, the total production, leaving out the odd thousands of tons, was 206 million tons with a manpower of 697,000 and an output per man-shift of 1.07 tons. In 1944, still under private ownership, the tonnage had gone down to 184 million. Manpower was 710,000, but the all-important feature was that output per man-shift had gone down to one ton per man. It had gone down under private ownership. The management still went on. The mines were managed under precisely the same conditions of private enterprise. If we take the period from 1913 to 1945 we see that there is this tendency for production and for output per manshift to go steadily down.
I repeat that it was not until we nationalised the mines that we began to get a steady improvement. If there is anything to be gained from today's Debate it is the clear proof, on the figures before the Committee, that from the date of the Labour Government coming into power, from the date of nationalisation, there has been a steady trek back up the hill from the bottom where private enterprise owners had led the coal industry. The facts are there.
§ Mr. Robens
I thought that I had dealt with that point. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here. I agree that that was due to the fact that attendance was not as high. We talked about the health of the miners and so on. I am not attempting to run away for a moment.
There has been quite an attack by hon. Gentlemen opposite concerning the lack of contact between the Coal Board and the men at the pits. It would be interesting to spend some time discussing that matter, but unfortunately time is not with me at the moment. I doubt if anyone can dispute that in the mining industry we have the finest industrial and consultative machinery of any industry in the country. The fact is that whilst a good many people in the industry, and a good many miners' leaders, are well aware of what consultation means, to get the picture over to 750,000 separate miners is a very different task. This matter of
§ consultation involves a good deal of education. It requires all the help that the National Union of Mineworkers, the Coal Board, the Ministry and everybody else who have the interests of this industry at heart can give, to get over the facts to the ordinary miner at the coal face in order that we can make the machinery work. The machinery is there. It is a good machine. I do not say that it is perfect but it is a first-class machine which could bring about the close contact which is so desirable.
§ Whilst it has not been possible in the time available for me to develop all the arguments at my disposal, I hope that the Committee will support us in the Division Lobby.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I beg to move, "That Item Class VI, Vote 6, Ministry of Fuel and Power, be reduced by £5."
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 94; Noes, 225.739
|Division No. 144.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Galbraith, Cmdr T. D. (Pollok)||Neven-Spence, Sir B.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Granville, E. (Eye)||Odey, G. W.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Grimston, R. V.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Bennett,, Sir P.||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Bower, N.||Karris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr J. G.||Haughton, S. G.||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt-Col. W.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Howard, Hon. A.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Byers, Frank||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Carson, E.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Challen, C.||Keeling, E. H.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Channon, H.||Kingsmill, Lt-Col. W. H.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Langford-Holt, J.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. D. E.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Darling, Sir W. Y.||Linstead, H. N.||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Low, A. R. W.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|De la Bere, R.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Lucas-Tooth, S. H.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Donner, P. W.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Manningham-Butler, R. E.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr E. L.||Marples, A. E.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gage, C.||Mellor, Sir J.||Brigadier Mackeson and Colonel Wheatley.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Baird, J.||Beswick, F.|
|Albu, A. H.||Balfour, A.||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Bing, G. H. C.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Barstow, P. G.||Binns, J.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Barton, C.||Blenkinsop, A.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Battley, J. R.||Blyton, W. R.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Bechervaise, A. E.||Boardman, H.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Benson, G.||Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Berry, H.||Braddock, T. (Mitcham)|
|Bramall, E. A.||Haworth, J.||Rhodes, H.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Herbison, Miss M.||Robens, A.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hobson, C. R.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Holman, P.||Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)|
|Burden, T. W.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Rogers, G. H. R.|
|Callaghan, James||Houghton, A. L. N. D.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Carmichael, James||Hoy, J.||Royle, C.|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Sharp, Granville|
|Champion, A. J.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hughes, H. D. (W 'Iverh' pton, W.)||Shurmer, P.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Silkin, Rt. Hon. L.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Kynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Collick, P.||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Collindridge, F.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Collins, V. J.||Jay, D. P. T.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Paneras, S. E.)||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb 'well, N. W.)||Jenkins, R. H.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)|
|Crawley, A.||Keenan, W.||Snow, J. W.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Kenyon, C.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Daggar, G.||King, E. M.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Daines, P.||Kinley, J.||Steels, T.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Leslie, J. R.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Lever, N. H.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Deer, G.||Longden, F.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Delargy, H. J.||McAdam, W.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Diamond, J.||McEntee, V. La T.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Dodds, N. N.||McGhee, H. G.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Donovan, T.||Mack, J. D.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Tolley, L.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||McKimay, A. S.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Dye, S.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Mann, Mrs. J.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Viant, S. P.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Walker, G. H.|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Mellish, R. J.||Wallace,, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Ewart, R.||Mitchison, G. R.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Farthing, W. J.||Monslow, W.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Foot, M. M.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb' gh, E.)|
|Forman, J. C.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Lewisham E.)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Nally, W.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Naylor, T. E.||Wigg, George|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Wilcock, Group-capt, C. A. B.|
|Gibbins, J.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)||Wilkes, L.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Oliver, G. H.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Gilzean, A.||Orbach, M.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Paget, R. T.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Grey, C. F.||Pearson, A.||Willis, E.|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Peart, T. F.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Popplewell, E.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Woods, G. S.|
|Guy, W. H.||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Wyatt, W.|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Proctor, W. T.||Yates, V. F.|
|Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hardman, D. R.||Ranger, J.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Reeves, J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Mr. Joseph Henderson and Mr. George Wallace.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.