§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1948.This Debate is important, not only because it is concerned with, perhaps, our greatest basic industry, but also because it is the first occasion on which Parliament has had an opportunity of discussing the annual report of a nationalised board. Of course, on many occasions in recent months and years we have discussed the progress of the coal industry, and, indeed, argued for a time about the organisation of the National Coal Board. But this is the first time that we have had under consideration the annual report.
I think it is appropriate, therefore, that I should begin by making a few remarks about the constitutional position, that is to say, about the relationship between Parliament and the Minister to the Board, a subject on which there has been a good deal of public comment, and on which, I venture to say, there is still some confusion. The need for discussion on this matter arises, of course, only because the powers of the Minister are limited in relation to the affairs of the Board. Parliament always has the right to call a Minister to account for the way in which he discharges the powers given to him, and, of course, a Minister is therefore accountable to Parliament for the way in which he discharges those powers—in my case, for instance, the powers conferred upon him by the Ministry of Fuel and Power Act—and for anything done by civil servants who act in his name and are subject to his authority.
But in the case of public boards, Parliament has conferred on them by statute, powers and duties for the discharge of which the Minister is not responsible. This was, of course, the case before the war with public corporations like the Central Electricity Board, the London Passenger Transport Board, and the British Broadcasting Corporation. In all those cases, the Minister's powers were limited, and accordingly the relationship of Parliament to the boards. I think we would all agree that power and responsibility must march together. If 1416 the Minister has the power, then he is answerable. If he has not got the power, he cannot reasonably be called to account.
Opinions differ about just how much power the Minister and, therefore, Parliament should have over these boards. There are differences of opinion which I think do not particularly follow party lines here. The argument, of course, for limiting the powers is based primarily upon efficiency. Many take the view that if the Minister interferes too much with the Board the Board will not be able to conduct its business so efficiently. It is emphasised that these boards are trading concerns, that their activities are for that reason particularly unsuitable for ministerial and Parliamentary control. In effect, what the protagonists of that point of view are saying is that Parliament should impose upon itself a self-denying ordnance limiting its power and that of the Minister to intervene because this will give the best results for the nation.
On the other hand, there are those who do not share these apprehensions or, shall we say, attach less importance to the freedom of the boards from interferference on grounds of efficiency, and more importance to the rights of Parliament to exercise control over State enterprises. No doubt, a good case can be made out for both points of view, but it certainly is not possible to hold them both at the same time. One cannot object to powers being, given to the Minister and at the same time require him to accept responsibility.
The nationalisation Acts which have been passed during the present Parliament do not, in fact, follow either of the extreme points of view which I have just mentioned. They limit the Minister's powers pretty severely, though not so severely as they were limited in the case of the pre-war corporations and not so severely as some would like them to be. The conception embodied in these Acts is that the industry concerned should be managed by public boards in the public interest, in accordance with certain principles and directives laid down by Parliament in the relevant Acts. It is for the nationalised boards to comply with these statutory duties and obligations.
The Acts also define the duties and powers of the Minister in relation to these boards. Some powers are specific and some are general. The specific powers in 1417 the case of coal include approval of the general lines on which the Board are to act in regard to capital investment, research, training and education, and the Minister also has certain duties regarding the health and safety of the workers in the industry. On the financial side he has to direct the Board as to the interest and capital charges they have to make, and of course he has to approve the form of the Board's accounts and appoint the auditors. In all these matters no constitutional question arises. It is perfectly clear that the Minister has these powers and is, therefore, answerable for the use he makes of them in exactly the same way as he is for his own Department.
The general powers of the Minister are really embodied, first of all, in his powers of general direction, and secondly, of course, in the fact that he appoints the Board. If the Board in the exercise of their statutory functions were to proceed on lines which the Minister thought were contrary to the national interest, he could give them a direction of a general character. Thus the Minister must accept responsibility for the general lines on which the Board are carrying out their functions. He must accept responsibility for what I should describe as the general success or failure of the enterprise. But he is not responsible for the day-to-day management and administration of the industry by the Board or the operations of the Board in the production and selling of coal or the management of ancillary activities. The actual management and commercial business of the industry has been entrusted to the Board just as similar functions have been entrusted in the past to statutory bodies of one kind or another.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Would it be in order to make representations upon a matter such as the increase in price of coal sent to Denmark, in view of the effect on foreign relations?
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I was going to deal with that matter later. I should like to add this. It does not necessarily follow that the present position in which the Minister's powers are limited is necessarily the most attractive and easy for the Minister. It is, however, the fact that his powers are limited. Ultimate control, of course, rests with Parliament. If, after consideration of the annual reports of the Board, Parliament consider that the 1418 Board have seriously failed to carry out the duties and functions imposed upon them by Parliament, then clearly they can call the Minister to account on the ground that he had not appointed suitable members to the Board or that he had not issued some general direction. In the last resort they can by legislation alter the powers and functions entrusted to the Board.
It is, of course, open to any individual Member of the House on the occasion of this Debate to make any criticism or constructive suggestion about the general conduct by the Board of their statutory duties, just as it is open to any hon. Member to challenge the Minister on his responsibilities. The great value of a Debate on an annual report is surely that the affairs of the Board can be publicly reviewed by Parliament, just as the board of a company has to account once a year to its shareholders; and the Board have to conduct their business in the knowledge that their management of the industry and their annual report can be publicly debated in Parliament. I have no doubt that all the constructive criticisms and suggestions made by hon. Members will in any case be carefully noted and taken into account by the Board, even if we on our side are not able to reply to everything that is said.
It has been suggested in various quarters that this should be a non-party Debate, that we should, as it were, remember that this afternoon we are attending a shareholders' annual meeting, and that we should make every endeavour to approach the subject of our discussion and the Board's report impartially. The "Financial Times" in its leader of a few days ago had this to say about the matter:In debating these nationalised industries, Parliament, though in form and composition the same as for any other business, will be performing an entirely new function. The shareholders of the nationalised industries have disappeared and their ownership has been vested in the nation. Parliament thus becomes the nearest equivalent of the old shareholders' meeting; but it is more than this, for it represents the nation not only as shareholder but also as consumer. The first consequence of this new function is that the debate is, or should be, in no way a party matter. The issue of nationalisation as such is not in question. Members of Parliament should regard themselves as the representatives of their constituents—partly as owners, partly as consumers. And the debate should be free of the Party Whips.1419 There is much to be said for the point of view expressed in the "Financial Times"; and, for our part, we would have had no objections to a Debate of that kind. We endeavoured to suggest it by putting down a strictly non-controversial Motion. I think I owe it to my hon. Friends to explain that it was for that reason that we put down the Motion in these entirely colourless terms, and I am bound to say that I cannot help regretting that the Opposition should have seen fit to put down an Amendment to this Motion, thereby forcing a Division upon the House and introducing into the Debate a note of party acrimony which will be quite inevitable in the circumstances and which might have been avoided.
Before I turn to the record of the Board, I should like very briefly indeed to deal with some of my own Ministerial functions under the Act. I have, as I have said, financial functions. It is my business as Minister to direct the payment by the Board of their interest and capital charges. These charges are, of course, paid to me in order that I may repay the Treasury for what they have spent. No special point arises on these matters. Details will be found in Appendix VI of the Board's report.
Then I have responsibilities in relation to investment. The Board have kept me continually in touch with their investment reorganisation plans which are set out in Chapters II, III and XI of the report, and I have given my approval under the Act to the general lines of their policy, bearing in mind the general investment policy of the Government, the nature of investment taking place in our fuel and power industries and, I may say, the social consequences of the plans they have in mind.
To this I need only add a word about the recent cuts in investment. Some anxiety has been expressed by hon. Members about the consequences to the coal mining industry, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it quite clear in his speech the other day that the cuts as far as coal were concerned would not be serious. We take the view that the need for reorganising and re-equipping the coalmining industry is so urgent that we cannot afford to make serious cuts in that 1420 programme. The cuts, I think, will not amount in all to more than £1 million and are not likely seriously to affect investment there.
Research is another matter on which I have specific duties. The Board has to act on lines settled from time to time, with my approval. I have approved their present programme, which is explained in Chapter VIII of the Board's report, and I would only add that I have done this on the advice of my own Chief Scientist and the Scientific Advisory Council set up some time ago with the duty and obligation of considering the programmes of all fuel and power industries and advising me on gaps or duplication.
Similarly, I have given approval to the Board's proposals for training and education, which are set out in Chapter V of the report.
Finally, on health and safety, I have the duty under Section 42 of securingthe prosecution of research into methods of advancing the safety and promoting the healthof employees. Here again, the record of the National Coal Board is set out in Chapter IV of their report and I think it is a very successful record. I have, of course, my own departmental responsibilities in this sphere as well. Without going into the matter in detail, I think it would be right to place on record that in 1948 the figure for fatal accidents was the lowest on record and for serious non-fatal accidents the figure was only just above the record low level of a few years ago. The question of the health of employees is, of course, a matter which under the 1911 Act is of concern to me in my role as Minister.
Here I think the most important matter to which reference should be made is the very serious disease of pneumoconiosis which, of course, particularly affects South Wales, but I think the House can be assured—and will be assured by what they read in the report and what they have heard on other occasions—that that matter is being pursued with great energy. In all divisions dust prevention arrangements are being made, and it is satisfactory to note that the figures of fatalities from this disease have been falling recently. If I say no more about health and safety at this stage it is, of course, not because I do not regard it as of the 1421 greatest importance, but because this is a subject which in any case can be discussed on a Supply Day, because of my own particular dunes and because, as I have said, the National Coal Board are generally acknowledged to have done pretty well in this field.
I turn now to one last individual function of mine of rather a different character, which relates to price policy. The constitutional position here is perfectly clear. The nationalisation Act places upon the Board a duty to make supplies of coal availableat such prices as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest in all respects.In other words, under the Act the Minister has no specific powers of price control whatever. The National Coal Board however, continued a voluntary agreement which had been entered into by their predecessors, the former mineowners, with the then Minister of Fuel and Power, not to increase prices without permission.
This voluntary agreement still applies to the home market, but in 1947, when exports were resumed, the Government freed the Coal Board from this agreement on export and bunker prices. This was a deliberate decision of the Government; we considered that it was best and right that the National Coal Board should operate completely freely and commercially in the export market and, in fact, they are free to fix their prices on commercial considerations, in the same way as any other exporter.
I must make it clear that I have complete confidence in the Board's judgment on these matters. There is no doubt that they take fully into account the important aspect of goodwill and they have not taken undue advantage of the rather strong situation in which any seller in the coal export market has stood recently. They have reduced prices where they thought they could sell more, for instance, of some of the poorer qualities of coal, but I must remind the House that the amount of coal which they can export is primarily limited by output. I must also point out that the Coal Board are operating a number of mines at heavy losses, and it is fair that they should attempt to recoup some of those losses. I would also point out that, at any rate as far as domestic consumers are concerned, consumers do not get as much coal as they 1422 want. We have to ration them pretty severely and it is not unreasonable in those circumstances that we should expect a reasonable return from foreign countries.
There has been much talk about the recent increases in the case of Denmark, and one of my hon. Friends has referred to that matter. I want to explain to the House what has happened here. Following an increase in the prices asked for coal by the competitors of the National Coal Board, and in particular Poland, the National Coal Board put up the price of some of the scarcer qualities. The actual increase was, I think, 12½ per cent. on large coal and only 3 per cent. on graded coal. It is, therefore, not a very striking increase, and even after this increase the National Coal Board's prices compare favourably with those of their competitors.
I was a little surprised, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) referred to this matter yesterday. I have not the exact text of what he said, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman who is to follow me could say something about it later. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington seemed to give the impression that the policy of the National Coal Board in this matter was wrong. I cannot agree with him. It does not seem to me that there is any reason, bearing in mind the factors I have considered, why the National Coal Board should not get a reasonable price for coal in the foreign markets. I think we should be making a great mistake if we were to intervene and, indeed, it would be surprising if the Opposition were to tell us to do that in view of the strictures passed upon us in connection with the sterling balances.
There is one other matter in this connection to which I should refer. As the House is aware, and as I mentioned in reply to a supplementary question last week, the O.E.E.C. is considering what is known as the dual price system—that is a difference in price in the home and the foreign markets. I am sure the House will appreciate that it would not be right for me to say very much on this matter at this stage, but I do want to say that our prices at home are lower than our foreign prices, partly because we happen 1423 to control prices at home. We deliberately keep them down, and certainly there would be a very different picture if there was no control of the kind I have indicated.
The second point is that this system of dual prices is by no means confined to coal. It would not be right, I think, for me to go into cases of the products of other countries, but I can say that in at least one other major industry in this country, namely, the steel industry, there is no doubt a similar dual price system. The Opposition, therefore, should be very careful before they criticise too severely a system which may be bringing us considerable benefits.
I now turn to the record of the National Coal Board as set out in the report. It is summarised in Chapter XII and Appendix I, but the figures are well known and I do not intend to spend very long over them. What are the facts? In 1948, deep-mined output was nearly 10½ million tons, or 5½ per cent., above the 1947 level. It was slightly below the very high target set of an increase of 13 million tons, but I think it is worth pointing out that to find a comparable increase from one year to another we have to go back to 1936 and 1937, between which years the labour force in the industry increased by 28,500 as compared with only 8,000 in 1948. It is, therefore, a pretty reasonable record.
Consumption was 192½ million tons and, after taking into account open-cast production and a slight fall in total stocks, the result was to achieve a level of exports and bunkers of 16¼ million tons, which is about three times the level in 1947. The causes of the increased output are perfectly clear. There was an increase in the year of 5,000 face workers, there was a slight improvement in the attendance among face workers and there was an increase in the output per man-shift at the face from 2.86 to 2.92 tons. These figures are in themselves unquestionably encouraging figures. On all reasonable standards they constitute a good performance. There is no doubt, I think, that 1948 was a good year for the National Coal Board and the industry.
Moreover, the financial position of the Board was much improved. A trading loss of £6,000,000 in 1947 was converted into a trading profit of £17,500,000. A 1424 total deficit after meeting capital charges, including revenue payments, of £23 million was converted into a surplus of £1,500,000. Of course, it is perfectly true—and I do not wish in any way to disguise the fact—that this favourable result was largely the result of the higher prices continuing over the full year; and it is also the case that costs as between 1947 and 1948 rose by about 4s. 4d. a ton; but it is also a fact that throughout the year the increase in costs was gradually dropping off, and by the end of 1948 costs had began to fall.
Nevertheless, we cannot ignore two less favourable items which have to be brought into any unbiassed survey of the industry. Undoubtedly, increased output was partly due to Saturday working. It is impossible to say just what was achieved in this way. I think myself that the figure of the 7,000,000 tons mentioned in the report is too high a figure, but certainly the increase in production resulted partly from the working of extended hours. This increase, though it affected the increase of output in 1948 over that of 1947, obviously could not lead to an increase in 1949 over 1948. The second feature which was less favourable was, that during the year attendance deteriorated, as the following figures show. The average number of shifts worked per worker in November and December, 1947, was 4.85. It had fallen to 4.74 in the corresponding months of 1948.
The main subject we are considering is the 1948 Report, but I think the House will expect me very briefly to refer to the 1949 position—to what has happened since the Report came out. Precisely because of these less favourable factors I have just mentioned, the estimates we made of the total output for 1949 in the Economic Survey were smaller than many people, perhaps, expected—smaller than we got by way of an increase in 1948. From 202 million to 207 million tons were the figures we put as an estimate of deep-mine output. We put opencast at 13 million tons. On the basis of a consumption of from 198 million to 200 million tons we thought that we might export between 17 million and 20 million tons.
Well, the industry is now going full out to get within those brackets. Whether they succeed or not it is far too early to 1425 say, but, fortunately, consumption has been slightly below the estimate, and it now seems certain we shall achieve the export estimate—as Lord Hyndley mentioned the other day, in all probability, about 19 million tons. Further, as the stocks, over which the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) I think, was rather concerned in July, are now slightly above last year and above the target, I think his anxieties had not much foundation.
The financial position has also, of course, much improved, and in the first six months a clear profit, after capital charges had been met, of £6,500,000 was achieved. I have reason to believe—the figures are not yet available—that this improvement, and also the improvement in lowering costs, has been sustained in the third quarter. The production features are clear enough. There have been substantial rises in output per man-shift, and in output per man-shift at the face; a substantial drop in total manpower; a level of face manpower about the same as that in last year; and a decline in average attendance, although with some improvement in recent weeks.
Before turning to a detailed discussion of some of these trends and their explanation and of what is to be done about them, I wish to deal with one preliminary question, and it is, What output do we need? It may be surprising that I should have to raise that matter at all, but there have recently been statements made in various quarters—the Press and elsewhere—that have suggested that we shall run into great difficulties—that we could not possibly sell coal; that the buyer's market was coming to an end; that there was increasing Polish and German competition; and that the prospect was thoroughly black. I want to dispel that impression altogether.
Lord Hyndley has recently put out a statement which I hope hon. Members will have seen. It is his considered view and the National Coal Board's, that they could sell several million tons of coal more abroad. We have to remember that the United States are still exporting about 10 million tons of coal to Europe, and we must not overlook the fact that the demand at home for domestic coal has by no means been satisfied. Further, in 1951 opencast production will reach its peak and decline. Therefore, after that deep- 1426 mine output has got to be enough to meet any increase in consumption at home and the drop in opencast production, as well as to contribute to any increase in exports.
Those anxieties about the difficulties in selling total output are, therefore, really unjustified. They create in the minds of some in the industry quite needless fears and worries; and I hope that they will in future be dropped. I have no reason to fear that there will be any surplus of coal in the near future, and I have no reason to doubt that, if such a surplus looked like appearing, the National Coal Board and the Ministry between them would be able to deal with it quite easily without any miner having to fear any unemployment whatsoever.
I should like to turn to the three major features which, I think, probably will be looked at by the House as the most important in this picture of production. First of all, manpower. If I depart here a little from the report, it is only because the more recent figures have been giving rise to a good deal of anxiety, and I think the House will expect some comment on them from me. We must first understand that the idea of collecting a lot of men, unskilled and untrained, and dropping them down a pit and expecting them to produce proportionately more coal—or even any coal at all—is quite absurd. Nor have we a position in this industry where we have a lot of unused capacity, unused plant, into which we can put labour down very quickly and then expect to get a very good output. The nature of the mining industry is such that the relations between manpower and output are, I am afraid, far more complicated.
Broadly speaking, changes in total manpower by themselves are not necessarily of any significance to output whatever. Indeed, a reduction of labour, for example, working on screens on the surface, because new plant has been installed, or on underground haulage because more conveyors have been installed, does not necessarily mean the loss of a ton of coal. In itself it is probably highly desirable because it reduces costs. Obviously reductions in the labour force on haulage underground, and so on, could go too far, and labour would have to be withdrawn from the face. It would be that withdrawal which would have serious consequences for output.
1427 Therefore the question arises, What about manpower at the face? This is, of course, much more closely related to output; but even so, some caution is needed. The Coal Board, with the help of the union, have been trying for the last two years to increase the length of the stints. There may well be, for a short period, if they succeed in doing that, a drop in face manpower. Equally, as some of my hon. Friends from the East Midlands know in particular when power loaders are installed at the coal face they tend to reduce face manpower.
Therefore, in a short period the reduction in face manpower is not something necessarily to be deprecated. But the drop in face manpower is certainly a signal of something taking place which calls for investigation. The figures are these. Total manpower increased in 1948 by 8,000, but it had declined by the end of October, 1949, by 17,000. Face manpower increased by 5,000 in 1948. It went up further by about 2,500 in the first part of 1949, but it has since declined, now being at about the same level as it was last year. Now that, I think, illustrates the point I have just been trying to make. The drop in total manpower is not something which is causing me any particular anxiety, nor, I think, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour; but the decline in face manpower, and the failure to increase face manpower, are matters for concern.
Even here it is impossible to generalise with the national figures. The position is quite different in different divisions and, I may say, in different areas in the divisions. For example, taking the Scottish Division as a whole, there is no shortage of manpower. There is an acute shortage of manpower in Fife and there is a surplus of manpower in Lanarkshire. In the Northern Division, equally, there is no shortage of manpower. The West Midlands, on the other hand, need in total another 1,500 men at once. If we looked at the West Midlands in detail, Cannock Chase does not require any extra men, but North Staffordshire could do with another 1,000 straight away. Broadly speaking, there is a requirement for some 5,000 men at once, mostly in Yorkshire and the Midlands. There is no doubt that the fact that labour is not available retards the increase in the face manpower and therefore in output.
1428 Therefore, one comes to the shortage of labour as being a limiting factor which has to be considered. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is, of course, doing all that he can to meet the needs of the National Coal Board, but I want the House to realise what a very difficult problem this is under conditions of full employment. It is not a question of taking any labour. We can only do in the mining industry with men who are physically fit. We do not like to have any men over 35, and we prefer them to be in their 20's. They must be in the right locality. It is no good having young men, even if they are fit, in a different part of the country, and they must be willing to enter the industry. We hope that we may get some extra labour as a result of the investment cuts and the contraction of demand in certain industries.
I think that it is worth making this point: In present circumstances of full employment, if we do get the extra labour in the mining industry, it is going to be at the expense of some other industry. If that other industry is not contributing to anything very important, that is all right, but it may be another industry short of labour which is producing exports for the dollar market. It is a fact that now that coal is no longer a bottle-neck for home production, it is in the same position as many other industries—it is short of labour, it can sell more abroad and wants to sell more abroad: it is a highly-desirable export, but we have to reckon the cost of getting in extra labour.
Another line of approach is the redeployment of labour by transferring from one area to another. That is in many ways the most direct solution of the problem. A great difficulty here is the shortage of houses. If we had plenty of houses available it would be quite easy to move quite a large number of men from areas where there is a surplus to areas where there is a shortage of labour. The problem is being tackled very energetically, particularly in Scotland, where the Coal Board, in conjunction with the Scottish Housing Association, is arranging for the transfer of miners from Lanarkshire to Fife. It may be that something of the same kind can be arranged in England, and we are going into that with the Minister of Health.
1429 We must understand that in this sphere the National Coal Board's responsibility is rather limited. Frankly, I do not know if they can do in this matter very much more than they have done. They are in constant touch with the Ministry of Labour on this problem, and it is not something which is solely their responsibility. We would say this: We hope that they will get the extra labour, but if they can get the extra output in any other way it will be all the better for the country. That, in fact, from what we have seen from recent figures is what is happening at the moment, and we hope it will continue.
Now I turn to the subject of attendance—a subject which in the past has generated a great deal of heat and bitterness both inside and outside the industry and inside and outside the House of Commons. There have been recriminations and counter-recriminations. I suggest that this time we get away from that background. Surely the right approach to this problem is a completely objective one. Here is the problem: So many shifts are lost by miners not coming to work for one reason or another. The first thing is to state what we would regard as a reasonable standard, and then say what can be done to achieve it. Let us remember that in approaching this problem we have little or no evidence of the level of absenteeism in other industries. Many of the miners think they are being singled out because the accident statistics and everything else are known about them, and not everything is known about other people.
Let us remember the rather remarkable fact that the level of absenteeism in the mining industry in this country also exists in practically all the other mining industries on the Continent of Europe. It is obviously a fundamental problem and not something superficial. What are the facts, and what sort of standard should be applied? Absenteeism is usually expressed as the percentage of shifts lost out of the total possible shifts, and on this basis the figures are as follow: In 1938, 6.4 per cent. was the estimated figure and by 1946 it had risen to 16 per cent. In 1947, it was 12.4; in 1948, 11.6 and for the first 42 weeks of 1949, 12.5 compared with 11.5 in the corresponding period of 1948. The difficulty about these percentage figures is that they naturally 1430 include any changes in the number of possible shifts. I can give the House a striking example. During the war, from 1938 to 1943 absenteeism increased from 6½ to 12 per cent., yet the actual shifts worked in the industry rose by 5 per cent. between those two periods. The number of possible shifts had increased enormously. Similarly, when the 5-day week was introduced, the number of possible shifts was reduced, and therefore the absenteeism figures taken alone, as I have read them out, are apt to be misleading.
They are misleading for another reason. They do not distinguish the figures of involuntary absenteeism from those of voluntary absenteeism. This in the case of miners is a matter of fairly considerable importance. The evidence suggests that absenteeism through sickness in 1948 was rather less than 3½ per cent. of the possible shifts. That is not very different from the figures in other industries generally, but where the figures are different is in the loss of shifts through injury in the mining industry there is a much higher figure than in other industries. It is worth noticing that the face worker accident rate—and it is the absenteeism of these workers to which most attention is generally paid—is four times that of surface workers. The figures for recent years distinguish voluntary and involuntary absenteeism. I will read out the voluntary ones, and the House will see from the total figures what the involuntary ones are: Voluntary absenteeism was 7.1 per cent. in 1945, rose to 8.4 in 1946, and has fallen ever since—6.4 in 1947, 6.0 in 1948 and 5.5, so far, in 1949. That is not a particularly alarming record, indeed, I think, looking at these figures alone, we need not feel too badly about it.
Moreover, I think that one has to ask oneself this question: Are we really going to say that there should be no voluntary absenteeism whatever? I think the House will probably agree that I have never countenanced absenteeism; indeed, I have spoken in pretty strong terms about it on a number of occasions; but it is fair to point out when we take these figures that they allow for precisely 10 days'—the statutory holidays and one week of paid holidays—during the year per miner. It would not be surprising—I will put it no higher than that—if in this industry the miners were to take a few 1431 more days off. Having said that, I want to bring it down to this. When we have made some reasonable allowance of that kind, the fact still remains that there is an order of, say, 4 per cent. voluntary absenteeism, which is not justified, amounting to 11 or 12 shifts a year per man. That is the real gap, and that is what we must seek to reduce. It may be said that voluntary absenteeism may include cases where men get medical certificates too easily. Well, it is equally true to say that some voluntary absenteeism covers some cases of sickness. I do not think there is a great deal in that.
Now, what are the causes of this voluntary absenteeism, which, as I have emphasised, exists in other mining industries pretty well everywhere? Some say it is lack of incentives. But the wage system in the mining industry, so far as face workers are concerned, is based very much on incentives; practically all face workers are paid on a piece rate. The five-day week arrangements provide that if a man does his full five days in any week he gets an additional sixth day's pay for the fifth day, but not otherwise, so there is every incentive to go to work for those five days. If he works now under the extended hours agreement, he also gets time and a half for overtime. Therefore, I cannot myself see that there is much scope for increasing the incentive arrangements. However, it is obviously something which we must continually consider, and the Coal Board are continually considering it.
Attention has been drawn before to the fact that during the past year the increase in absenteeism has been entirely in involuntary absenteeism, and some speakers have suggested that it was associated with improved payments for industrial injuries. Well, this is being investigated. It may well be the case, and we must understand that it may well be one of the causes. But I would also say that the House must recognise that in the past, going back a bit to pre-war days, people returned to work pretty soon in spite of injuries, simply because they could not afford to stay away. Now, we must be balanced about this; we must recognise that in dealing with this sort of social problem some abuses might be brought in in the present situation. But I suggest that the way to deal with it is 1432 not to throw the whole of the new system overboard, but rather to retain it and to try to tighten it up to prevent any abuses that may exist. That is the way in which I think we should proceed.
Some people say that P.A.Y.E. is one of the major influences, and I am bound to say that at one stage I thought this might be the case. I asked the National Coal Board if they would provide me with evidence on this subject. I promised that if they provided the evidence I would discuss the matter with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, after some months' effort they were completely unable to provide any hard evidence on the matter. Now, I do not pass judgment one way or the other; I merely give the facts to the House. We have endeavoured to see whether there is any hard evidence, but there is not.
Then there is the argument that the miners have nothing to buy. Well, I never took this seriously myself, and I do not think anybody would advance that argument today. What is much more likely is that leisure is regarded by many miners as more valuable than other things that they could buy with money. In my view, this is largely a question of the standard of living to which the miner considers he is entitled. I would only add this, that I do not believe the problem can be dealt with properly until housing conditions in the mining areas are vastly improved. We cannot expect a man living in some of the really disgraceful conditions under which miners have to live to be very appreciative of improving his living conditions by filling a hovel with a lot of beautiful things. If he had a new house with all the amenities that go with it, the position would be different.
Lastly, I say this. We must not overlook the importance of habit. I have already mentioned that there is absenteeism in mining industries everywhere, and there is no doubt whatever that this is closely connected with the prevalence of short-time working in the pits in the past, and with the fact that in this industry a man was never employed on a weekly basis; he was paid by the shift; he came to work on some days and there was no work and he went away again. Therefore, coal mining has always been regarded—at any rate in many districts— 1433 as, shall I say, semi-casual in character. I remember going with the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) to his area and being told there that quite a number of the workers in the pits regularly took time off to go to sell something or other in Nottingham Market. That is merely an illustration of what I mean. For instance, I am told that in the pottery area it is not in the least uncommon for miners to go and work for a day or two in the potteries. Certainly during the summer they work on the land to some extent.
It is natural that the Opposition should compare the present level of absenteeism with the pre-war level, but the fact is that in times of unemployment and low wages people take all the work they can get in the mines. Of course they do. They cannot afford not to. But in an industry like this, which has been to a certain extent a casual labour industry, when the wages are improved as they have been improved over these years, and when there is also full employment, the miner can be more choosey, and I am afraid that in many ways that is the root of the problem today.
I suggest to the House that we should be unprejudiced about this, that we should be reasonable in our demands, that we should ask the National Coal Board and the unions to press on with every possible measure which can reduce absenteeism, and certainly to consider further incentive arrangements. The tightening up of discipline has, as hon. Members know, proceeded pretty satisfactorily with the full co-operation of the unions, with no strikes or disputes over it. That must go on. Above all, in the mining areas we must build up public opinion and new habits everywhere. There is now guaranteed work, security and full employment, and we must get the men away from the idea that everything is on a shift basis. We must make it clear that high wages and decent conditions depend, above all, on regularity of attendance by all.
That is the responsibility of all in the industry, not the unions only nor the managements only. Sometimes on the management side there is an inclination to sit back and say, "Well, if the men turned up we could get them to work, but if they do not turn up we cannot do anything about it." I think that is a completely wrong method of approach. 1434 It is the colliery managers job—and I have said this to them many times—to deal with the morale of their men and to ensure, as best they can, that they do turn up, although I know it is a very difficult problem, and we wish them the best of luck.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I have just been dealing with the morale of the managers.
I now turn to a sphere in which I think we all agree the National Coal Board have been notably successful—the sphere of productivity, or output per manshift. The figures are pretty well known. Output per manshift which was. 1.14 in 1938, had fallen to 1.00 in 1944 and 1945. It then went up to 1.03 in 1946. In the first year of nationalisation, in 1947, it was 1.07, 4 per cent. up; in the second year it was 1.11, another 4 per cent. up; and this year it is, I think, certain to be at least 1.15, and may very well be 1.16. In recent weeks, as the House probably knows, it has been running at 1.20, the highest level reached for a very long time indeed.
If we are passing judgment, as the Opposition have really invited us to do, it is worth seeing what this means. If one looks back at the pre-war years, between 1930 and 1936—which was a good period as far as this particular index goes—the output per manshift rose from 1.08 to 1.18. That was the highest point reached; in other words a rise of about 10 per cent. took six years to achieve, yet it is fairly obvious that in three years the National Coal Board have achieved 4 per cent. per annum and have easily passed the figure which it took private enterprise six years to achieve. That is a measure of their success in this particular field. It will no doubt also be familiar to the House that in comparison with other European countries the figures are very satisfactory. In September, 1949, the figure for the United Kingdom was just above the 1937 figure—1 per cent. above—the index for the United Kingdom being 101. In the British zone of Germany the output per man-shift in the same month compared with 1937 was 67; Poland, 72; the Saar, 80; France, 87; Belgium, 81; and Holland 81, so we have done better, in relation to pre-war figures, than any of those countries.
1435 I do not propose to go into detail about the causes of success—they are set out in Chapters II and III of the Board's report for 1948—but I want to deal with one suggestion. It is sometimes said, "Look at the amount of machinery which the Coal Board have as compared with what the poor mine owners had to make do with before the war." If that were the case, it would constitute something of an argument for nationalisation, but the facts are rather different from what one would suppose. If we take, for instance, the question of cutting machines, there was an increase, between 1945 and 1948, from 71 to 75 per cent. in the amount of coal cut mechanically, which, if my arithmetic is correct, is about 1⅓ per cent. per annum increase.
If we look at this same index, the increase in coal cut mechanically, from 1936 to 1945, was from 55 to 71 per cent.—a rate of nearly 2 per cent. per annum. In other words, the rate at which coal cutting machinery was being installed was greater between 1936 and 1945 than between 1945 and 1948. The reason is simple, of course; we are getting to the stage when it does not pay to introduce face machinery so fast, but it does not suggest that there is much in the story that the Board have achieved their results by pouring more and more machinery into the pits.
It is a similar story about the introduction of conveyors. From 1945 to 1948 there was an increase in coal conveyed mechanically from 70 to 77 per cent.—an increase of about 2⅓ per cent. per annum. The figures for 1936 to 1945 show an increase from 48 to 70 per cent.—an increase of about 2½ per cent. per annum. The fact remains that whereas from 1936 to 1945, with all that machinery and those conveyors introduced into the pits, output per manshift, overall, declined from 1.18 to 1.00. Since 1945 it has, of course, as I have already explained, gone up from 1.00 to 1.11. So, it is not fair criticism of the Board to say that they have had advantages which others have not had.
I would like to say a few words about the Board's organisation. A year ago there was a great deal of talk about the organisation and the structure of the Board. As it was dealt with fully in the Debates at the time, I do not propose to 1436 say very much, but I should like to say this: I have never believed that the nature of the Board's set-up and the possible changes which might be made in it was as important as some believed. The Board themselves have never claimed that the set-up was immutable; they have always made it plain that they would be ready to change if experience required it, and I believe there was a danger of emphasis on structure tending to cloak the need for attention to some fundamental problems. I believe that the one essential in this field of organisation is not to be rigid or doctrinaire. I am sure that most of us understand that whether organisation works well or not depends far more on personalities and personal relationships than anything else.
It is, however, difficult to put in black and white exactly what the relationship should be in the organisation. I have no doubt that when the divisional boards were set up they probably did not work well together; most of them were composed of people who did not know each other very well; they came from different sides of industry, with very different backgrounds. But from my experience from going around the coalfields, as I do quite often, I should say that they were working far more now as a team than they did in the early days, as we would expect. Proposals have been put forward to abolish the divisional boards and set up 23 area boards, but I believe they are based more on emotion than on reason. I think it is hardly a coincidence that the main criticism put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde and, to some extent, his supporters, was against outsiders being brought in as divisional chairmen.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
There is no doubt that the hon. and gallant Member was very critical on that point, as were his Front Bench leaders. The suggestion was that there should be 23 areas, and it was combined with an attack on the divisional boards and, in particular, on the chairman of the boards. The hon. and gallant Member had it in the back of his mind, perhaps it was a subconscious feeling, that we ought to get back to the old areas of the Mining Association—the Employers' Association—to put the employers in 1437 charge and so get the best organisation. I am sure that that would be a very silly way of dealing with the problem. We have to understand that disturbance in itself—and perhaps this will appeal to the Opposition—can sometimes do more harm than good. When a new organisation is set up—and in this particular case that organisation was desperately needed—it may be quite a good thing to let it run without trying to disturb it.
The question of structure is dealt with fully in Chapter X of the Board's report. In my opinion, the Board make out their case most convincingly on this matter. They point out the difficulties of substituting 23 areas for the divisional boards, which, I think, are overwhelming. In view of this I think it is regrettable that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington yesterday announced once more the Conservative Party's intention, if returned to power, to alter the structure of the Coal Board. I will read what he said, as quoted by the "Financial Times":We have no intention of de-nationalising the industry. We could not go back on it even if we would, but we do think that reorganisation, decentralisation, by which pit managers, for instance, would be more and more personally responsible and divested of the mass of administrative work with which they are now bedevilled, would go a long way towards putting the industry back on its feet.I cannot help wondering what the right hon. Gentleman really knows about what pit managers are thinking. Who briefed him on this subject? He cannot have had much time to go down many pits, or examine the vast mass of administrative work with which pit managers are, so he says, overwhelmed. There is too much vague generalisation, quite unsupported by evidence. I do not think there is any evidence of this kind whatever. Perhaps it is Sir Charles Reid who advises the Conservative Party. If they are really thinking of taking his advice—he is a distinguished engineer—I would put this to them: he has a certain view on the correct organisation of the industry, and he is entitled to that view, but he did not carry his eight colleagues with him. Although he is a distinguished engineer he is not, if I may say so, particularly expert in business organisation.
I suggest to the Opposition, therefore, that they would be making a great mistake if they tied themselves down to a particular plan for re-organising the 1438 industry without consulting either those who run it, or the union, and rely, instead, on those who were at one time connected with the industry. It seems to me they would be making a great mistake to do anything of the kind.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I should like to correct one thing at this stage. The right hon. Gentleman has addressed a good many remarks to me and I hope he will not mind me putting in this one? As far as Sir Charles Reid's recommendations are concerned, I produced mine before Sir Charles's report was issued. I hope that the Minister will not go away with the idea that the Conservative Party are being advised by Sir Charles Reid, although we pay very careful attention to what Sir Charles Reid says in this matter.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member. It is evident, therefore, that they must have obtained advice and assistance from someone less closely and recently connected with the industry than Sir Charles Reid, and I suggest to them that if they are taking this line—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I have been on my feet far too long. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt get his opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I will interrupt the hon. Member when he makes his speech.
We can only hope that like other parts of the Opposition's programme, this policy can be thrown overboard if circumstances require it, and that in this matter, as in the matter of taxation and of the social services, the Conservative Party will hold themselves entirely free to review the position if granted the opportunity. I am sure they will not misunderstand me if I say that while some of us here and some of the public outside want something rather more than a rather evasive attitude on matters like the social services and taxation, we would give them carte blanche to hold themselves completely free to do what they like about the organisation of the coal mining industry. It would be very much wiser than tying themselves up in this extraordinary way.
1439 I repeat that the present structure does not mean that all change is opposed. It is quite obvious from experience of large-scale business that change is needed over a period of years, and the same thing happens in the National Coal Board setup. What I do say is that it would be a great mistake for any party or Government to impose from outside a new structure on the coal mining industry without consulting those in the industry about it. The National Coal Board is a rather different problem, because the Minister has responsibility for appointing it. My general views on the character of the Board have been frequently expressed in the past. I have now appointed five part-time members who will add considerable strength to the Board. I am sure it will be of assistance to the Board to have at their deliberations the benefit of those persons with outside experience and with contact with the world, and I do not think that that divides the two parties.
I should like to say a word or two about the members of the Board. They have been much criticised often unfairly and stupidly. They have had great difficulties to face, but they have worked extremely hard to overcome them. Lord Hyndley, the chairman, is less concerned with himself and his own interests than any man I have ever known. He is devoted wholly to the public service, he has worked extremely hard, rather too hard for his own health, and all his experience and mature judgment is at the disposal of the industry. There is no doubt whatever that he has won, in an outstanding manner, the confidence of all in the industry, and he is universally respected. I want to thank him for all that he has done in helping the National Coal Board during probably its most difficult period. Sir Arthur Street is known to many in the House, and he was in the Department of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). He is of the highest intelligence and energy. He never seeks the limelight, but works away steadily in the background. Fundamentally, he is a very idealistic man but if I may say so, he is also very practical in handling problems. There is no doubt at all that his experience of large-scale administration has been quite invaluable to the Board.
1440 I have covered a fairly wide field, but I have had to leave out a good deal. I have tried to be reasonably impartial, as I hope that relationship between Parliament and the Board will be all the better for objective criticism and defence. I have made no attempt to disguise the less satisfactory features of the position. I have dilated upon absenteeism and our anxieties about manpower. I have not hesitated to mention the more encouraging developments as well. After all, constant lecturing and nagging of the industry is not always the best thing. In my view, this report shows that the National Coal Board has successfully overcome its teething problems. There have been disappointments as well as successes, but the fact remains that output and exports continue to increase, and productivity has gone up steadily in the last few months. Costs have been held and are tending to fall, and the financial position is tending to improve.
The industry does not depend wholly upon the men at the top. They are entitled to and must receive the best possible leadership, but it is on the thousands of men at all levels and, above all, the miners themselves, that we must depend. It would be fitting as Members of Parliament if we joined with the Board in expressing thanks to the men in the industry. May we, in the words of the Board, say: "To the men in pit, workshop, laboratory, office, training centre, industrial plant and farm, to the men and women of the industry wherever they may be, who have done their best to serve, we express our thanks and our wishes for success in the years of endeavour and trial which lie ahead." In this spirit I commend the report to the House.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman commence his long statement with some very wise words and advice about the way in which this report should be treated. We are today, as he said, engaged for the first time in discussing a report of one of the nationalised industries. To that extent we are setting up a precedent. It is not exactly the same, as the right hon. Gentleman so well said, as an ordinary Supply day, because we are not engaged necessarily in criticising his administration in detail. It 1441 is our job to take a broad view of the whole of the administration of this Board.
One of the fundamentals, which the Minister did not mention, as to why it is essential to have a Debate of this kind is because these nationalised industries have, in fact, become monopolies. It was essential that the people of this country should be able to bring any complaints they may have about the way in which the Board is conducting its business and any criticisms of monopolistic tendencies which they may see to the attention of Members of this House. We on this side appreciate the action of the Government in making two or three days available for the discussion of these various reports.
The only thing I would say about it is that the Board's second annual report was issued six months after the end of the year to which it refers. That is certainly an improvement on the seven and a half months of last year. Nevertheless we are now discussing this report 10 or 11 months after the end of the year details of which are set forth in the report. The mere fact that the right hon. Gentleman had to pray for the tolerance of the Chair in talking of the happenings of this year proves that in future these Debates ought to take place and the report ought to be issued much closer to the end of the year to which it refers.
As far as the form of the report is concerned, the House is indebted to the Board for the very full statement it has made and for the account it has published. That does not mean that, this being the first occasion of a discussion of this sort, there may not arise in the future a need to set up some sort of machinery analogous to the Public Accounts Committee to assist Members in Debates of this kind, by scrutinising expenditure and receipts in greater detail than we can do in the ordinary way. I do not say that it will be necessary, but I put in the caveat that this may well be one of the developments that will be necessary. Before I go on to what some hon. Members may think the more controversial parts of my speech, I echo what the Minister said, and what was greeted on all sides of the House with satisfaction, about the record of the Board in reducing fatalities in the mines to the lowest on record. If for nothing else than that, they are entitled to great credit.
1442 Having said that, I am bound to say that, taking the Board's report as a whole, and, I am sorry to say, taking the speech to which we have just listened from the Minister, they exhibit the most appalling complacency over the situation in which the country and the coal industry find themselves today that it is possible to imagine. [Interruption.] Just wait, and listen. What does it set out as the first object of the Board? It says that the object of the Board is:To produce more coal, to improve its quality and to curb costs."Curb"—I ask you! The Board's object ought surely to be to reduce costs. The whole of the Report is devoted to showing why the Board has not been able to carry out that primary object. The next sentence of the Report says:Over the years, the Board's main task is the reconstruction of the industry.Reconstruction for what, I should like to know? It is pretty clear that the Board has not set itself any particular target.
Let us take production, which is the first item dealt with in the report. What has been the record of production in 1948? First, there was the deliberate setting up of a miserably inadequate target, many millions of tons below what the T.U.C. themselves thought possible two years previously. The industry, under the so-called leadership of the Board, did not attain that target. The Minister of Labour said that the output was only—only, if you please—three million tons short. In his speech, the right hon. Gentleman has made no apology for the failure of the industry to attain their miserably low target.
Lord Hyndley, about whose moral character the Minister made certain remarks, said in the middle of the year under review, that the industry would have to answer to their conscience if they failed to reach that target. The Parliamentary Secretary also said in the middle of the year that the target was the absolute minimum that should be reached. There is nothing in the report to show how Lord Hyndley and the industry salved their consciences, yet the target was well within the capacity of the industry. It is well that the House, the mining Members particularly, and the public outside should bear in mind always the comparison with 1443 1941, when under private enterprise the industry got 10 million more tons than in 1948, with some 26,000 fewer people.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am talking about 1941, when many of the most able-bodied men in the industry had been withdrawn—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and yet the industry achieved substantially higher figures.
The other failure of the Board is in regard to prices. Pit-head prices have gone up during the two years in question from an average of 30s. to an average of 47s. 3d. per ton. The interesting thing, to which we should devote our attention, is why the failure has come about. Why has the industry failed to reach its target and why has the Board failed not only to decrease prices but even substantially to curb them? We believe that it is primarily due to the whole set-up of the Board. We believe that the organisation of the Board is fundamentally wrong.
I am not going to delay the House by going through all the reasons why I think the special pleadings in the report are without foundation. I will leave that to be done by one of my hon. Friends behind me. What is interesting in the report, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, is that the alternative methods of organisation which have been put forward happen to be the same although they were put forward by two separate individuals starting from entirely different premises. In the case of Sir Charles Reid, he was talking purely from a technical point of view. In the case of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), he was talking from the purely administrative point of view, and yet their experience in both fields brought them to the same conclusion. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that their conclusions are as sound as the view taken by Sir Arthur Street.
The Minister will remember that a little earlier, great play was made by the Board with the fact that they had set up an inquiry, the so-called Burrows Committee. That was not an independent inquiry which could be trusted to take evidence and to reach an independent conclusion. It was—I will not call it a gerrymandered inquiry—it was an inquiry set up under a member of the Board with 1444 two outside assessors. Whatever the object of the inquiry may have been, the fact remains that this House and the country have never been given to this day a full report but only a bowdlerised version. We do not know what the report contained or what evidence was submitted.
The other great cause of disappointing results, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, is the failure on the part of the Board to establish better relations inside the industry, certainly between the Board and its employees and between the Board and the managements. In the case of the managements, it is an open secret that frustration is widespread.
§ Mr. Hudson
In the case of the men themselves hon. Members have only to look at the report from their own body, the Trades Union Congress. They will find it on page 218, at the paragraph which says:The goodwill expressed towards the Board in the early days has now been replaced by cynicism.On both counts there is failure. The Board's Report is full of instances of the results of these failures. I do not wish unduly to delay the House, but if any hon. Members have any doubt about the matter they might turn to page 3, paragraph 12, of the Board's report. It is there shown that one of the first steps that the Board took in order to try to improve production was the re-assessment of tasks. What is the Board's comment on the progress which has been made? It says:The process of 're-assessing' tasks went on throughout 1948, but far too slowly.The right hon. Gentleman made no mention of that.
§ Mr. Hudson
The Minister will see that it is complacent as we go on. The paragraph continues:In some divisions, the management has little or no difficulty in obtaining the men's agreement to working bigger tasks. In others, they made progress with difficulty; in many collieries, even in whole districts—they met with no success at all.The Leader of the House, whom I am glad to see in his place, made a speech 1445 on Sunday last at Preston. He is reported in two newspapers to have said:Our principle of life must be that those who want more than a minimum standard of life—a fine and praiseworthy ambition—must contribute more than a minimum day's effort in the way of work.I hope that is an accurate account of what the right hon. Gentleman said. I do not want to be unfair to him. I noticed with interest but not with surprise that that particular sentence was left out of the account given of his speech by the "Daily Herald." It was not regarded as a piece of news that would please its readers. I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman, if he will not think me rude for asking it, whether he was really sincere or not. Does he really believe what he said in that sentence or was it merely an attempt to curry favour with the middle classes or possibly to restore some of his influence with some of the bigger trade unions? Is he sincere?
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I do not know what reply the right hon. Gentleman expects. If I said a thing and I said it after consideration, I meant it. If I may say so, it is not quite the thing for one right hon. Gentleman to ask another, "Were you sincere in saying that?" If I said it, I was obviously sincere.
§ Mr. Hudson
I should be the last person to wish to be unnecessarily controversial with the right hon. Gentleman. However, I wanted to get him on record as saying that that was what he really meant, because it has a certain relevance to the industry which we are discussing. What I particularly wanted to know from the right hon. Gentleman, following on his admission, was whether he would see any objection to asking his right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power to advise the Board to apply what he said to the circumstances described in paragraphs 52 and 53 on page 11 of the annual report. I will read what it says of the North Eastern Division:Output per manshift is higher than in most of the coalfields but … well below the national average. The comparatively small increase in output per manshift in the Division as a whole reflects the slow progress made in re-assessing tasks. The feeling among many of the face-workers that little or no increase in daily effort could reasonably be expected from them, which came to a head in 1947 in the Grimethorpe dispute, remains.1446 Remember the losses caused by the Grimethorpe dispute. Apparently that dispute has even now not been settled. Tasks have not been re-assessed, although in the opinion of independent people there was good ground for re-assessment. All I am asking is that the right hon. Gentleman should apply the doctrine announced by the Lord President of the Council to the conditions in the North Eastern Region.
The final example of the failure of the Board to achieve any substantial improvement in its relations with the industry with a view to getting what it wants done, the re-assessment of tasks, which is one of the primary necessities for increasing production, is found in paragraph 71 on page 14 of the report. The paragraph is headed, "Preparing for 1949." It states that the Board and the National Union of Mineworkers set up a committee to see what they could do to improve the prospects. The paragraph goes on:They pointed to the need for the speeding up of 're-assessment of tasks' as the Five-day Week Agreement had provided, and they said that something would have to be done to improve the results from the working of extended hours.That was in 1948, with a view to improving matters in 1949. The last sentence in paragraph 73 reads:At the end of the year discussions about local arrangements for improving attendance were still going on between the Board and the Union.Yet we know, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, that the figures for attendance in 1949 are worse than they were in 1948. In 1948 the figures for faceworkers were 13.6, rising in the first six months of 1949 to 15.13. The overall figures were 11.02 in 1948 and in the first six months of 1949 12.57. That does not look as if the Board's efforts were singularly successful in achieving the co-operation of the National Union of Mineworkers, which it wants.
If we turn to management we find very much the same story. There is an unnecessary amount of frustration throughout the management and, worst of all, so I am told on good authority, there is a growing feeling of distrust inside the ranks of the management. There is a growing reluctance to talk openly, a phenomenon which, I am told, never occurred before under private enterprise. 1447 [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen want proof of that, they can see it in the steady drift away from the industry of valued technicians. People do not give up jobs in which they have spent their lives, knowing that they cannot get employment in another part of the same industry, without pretty good cause.
If I had time I could give the House instance after instance of the way in which the managements have been treated by the Board. I have an example dealing with one regulation alone, the retirement regulation. There was a man who would have been entitled to compensation at the end of his service of 10 years. He was dismissed by the Board one month short of 10 years, and up to now the Board has refused to give him any compensation on the ground that he had not covered the full period of 10 years in its service. Just think! Suppose a private individual had done a thing like that. What a howl would have come from hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Hudson
Whatever the reason for his dismissal, a Board which desired to have really good relations with the industry would have waived the one month after nine years and 11 months of good service. There have been cases where the Board has deliberately reduced men's salaries, not because of any inefficiency on their part, but merely because it said that the salaries of those men were out of line with the salaries being paid to other members of their profession at that level. The attempt is always to bring everyone down instead of carrying out the doctrine which the Leader of the House enunciated, that when men did well they ought to get increased rewards.
I now turn to relations with industry. These leave a good deal to be desired. Dealing with the National Coal Board often gives industry a sense of grievance. It is continually being pinpricked. For example, there was the recent change in the method of obtaining payment. This has resulted in a reduction of the credit 1448 which has hitherto been extended to suppliers. Many have also found difficulty in getting paid by the Board. We suggest that more attention ought to be paid by the Board today to the old idea that the consumer was always right. Instead of there being a wide choice of supplier as there was in the old days, the choice today is dictated by what the Board is pleased to call "the rational consumer" ought to want. It is not very nice, instead of having a free choice and being able to move from a man who does not give satisfaction to another man, to be told that if one wants to change now one is not "a rational consumer."
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
Does this argument mean that the right hon. Gentleman desires us to consider the de-nationalisation of the mines?
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Member evidently did not listen to the extract from the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) at lunch time yesterday. It does not mean the de-nationalisation of the mines. It means the setting up of an organisation which would improve the present state of affairs. Nor is the domestic consumer today satisfied with the Board. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, one of the Board's officers, stated the other day that—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The right hon. Gentleman ought to get his facts right. Lord Balfour of Burleigh is not one of the Board's officers.
§ Mr. Hudson
I beg his pardon. At any rate, the fact is that the Balfour to whom I refer describes the domestic consumers' ration today as wholly inadequate. I believe that most domestic consumers would agree with that, and that they are not very pleased with the prices they have to pay, which have gone up threefold since the war. It is not only private enterprise that is displeased, but even the socialised industries. The first report of the Transport Commission said:As to the bill for fuel and power, the most important item is coal. The cost of coal per ton reached an increase of about 175 per cent. over pre-war levels; that is without making any allowance for poorer quality, unsuitable sizes and inconvenient delivery. The cost to British Railways for steam locomotive running alone, in 1948, was about £36 million, and further increases have taken place in 1949.1449 The House will observe that in the case of the men and the management of the industry, and in the case of other socialised industries, there is a lamentable lack of good feeling between them and the Board.
For further proof of what I have said, I suggest that Members look at the number of strikes. I am quoting the figures given in the Ministry of Labour Gazette. For the year, 1948, there were 1,759 stoppages in the whole of British industry, and of these no fewer than 1,116 occurred in the first industry to be nationalised. The next highest number is in the case of transport. And so, 1,200 out of the 1,700 stoppages that occurred in 1948 were in nationalised industries, which hardly speaks well for the relationship between the Board and the men.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Will the right hon. Gentleman also give the figures before nationalisation took place, particularly the figures for the corresponding period after the 1914–18 war?
§ Mr. Hudson
It is really tragic the way Members opposite continually try to produce alibis from some other period. I said that the relationship between the Board and its employees was not of the best in 1948, which is the year we are discussing. In proof of that, I pointed out that 1,200 out of the 1,700 strikes which took place occurred in this industry, and from that I am entitled to adduce that the relationship in the coal industry between employers and men is worse than in the industries that have not been nationalised.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will admit that these figures are totally meaningless unless he compares them with the corresponding figures before the Coal Board took over; otherwise we cannot judge what they mean?
§ Mr. Hudson
I am comparing the relationship in the industry during the past year, to which this report refers, with that in private industry, which is a logical comparison.
Let me turn now to the output per man-shift. Here again the right hon. Gentleman was singularly complacent. The right hon. Gentleman, the Coal Board and the Government generally, as well as 1450 Members opposite, are always talking about the output per man-shift. It is certainly a source of gratification that the output per man-shift is rising, but what we are concerned with as a nation, and what the Coal Board ought to be concerned with, is not only the output per man-shift, but the output per man-year. The right hon. Gentleman does not putout targets for so many million tons per man-shift, but fixes his targets for so many million tons per year and so many million tons for the export trade.
The only test, as far as the country is concerned, is how much each miner produces on an average per year, and I wish to point out that the average output per miner per year, instead of being an increase, is 10 per cent. below what it was in a comparable pre-war period, when the industry was in the hands of private enterprise. That is a significant fact to which the attention of the country ought to be called. The right hon. Gentleman never quotes the output per man-year. If we look at the Government's statistics and at the speeches made by Ministers, we never find references made to the output per man-year. One passing reference only is made, in the Board's report, while in only one Government publication is the figure given, and that is in the yearly report of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. It is clear that there is some reason for this, and I suggest it is that the right hon. Gentleman and the rest of the Government are anxious to conceal the facts and try to make the country believe, in talking about the increase in output per man-shift, that we have turned the corner.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that output per man-year is simply the result of taking together the output per man-shift and the number of shifts worked in a year? I dealt very fully with the number of shifts worked in the year. No one, of course, disputes that absenteeism is higher now than it was before the war, and the right hon. Gentleman is quite unjust in saying that we do not admit these things; we do, and I dealt with the matter at length.
§ Mr. Hudson
The right hon. Gentleman may admit it, but he does not disclose what are the results. It is as well to remember, in talking about output per man-shift, that this coincides with an enormous increase in mechanisation. The 1451 Coal Board takes pride, in paragraph after paragraph of its report, for how much it has done in mechanisation, by installing conveyors and so forth. It boasts that it spent £25 million on improvements in 1948. The right hon. Gentleman used the most astonishing argument in dealing with this point. He claimed that the average increase in the percentage of mechanisation was higher in 1938 to 1945 than it was between 1945 and 1948. That is a most extraordinary claim to make, and it disposes pretty effectively of the assertions made so often by hon. Members opposite about lack of enterprise by private owners in installing mechanisation. It also shows—we cannot believe it is true—that the Coal Board is being singularly inefficient, when it has all the resources of the Ministry of Supply behind it, that it cannot keep up the percentage of mechanisation private enterprise achieved before the war.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am really surprised at the right hon. Gentleman. Surely the fact that, despite this higher rate of mechanisation, the output per man-shift fell by 18 per cent., from 1.18 to 1.0, in 1936 to 1945, is the greatest indictment he could possibly have of private enterprise.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made that interruption, because he obviously does not know, or chooses to forget, that there were injected into the industry during those most critical years the Bevin boys, which completely accounts for any fall there may have been.
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has done a great disservice to the industry today in trying to gloss over the increased absenteeism. It is true that he condemned it in mild terms compared with the speeches he sometimes makes in the country. He has made a number of excuses which compare badly with the animadversions contained in numerous pages in the report of the Board. I do the Board the credit of calling repeated attention to the failure to re-assess the tasks and the failure to give the effort that is required by the national interest today. My criticism of the Board is that, having said that, it does no more and carries on without having achieved 1452 any successful method of securing material improvement. Indeed, as I pointed out earlier, the record of absenteeism is actually worse this year than it was in the year we are discussing.
The Minister said something about the English standard not being dissimilar from that of overseas countries. He talked about absence due to injury being higher than it was in other industries, but he went out of his way to claim, quite rightly, that under the administration of the Board welfare and health services had improved and that there was a lower rate of injury. That should have been followed by a lower rate of absenteeism. There was a higher rate of injury in the days before the war and yet absenteeism was lower. Therefore, that excuse cannot hold water.
Now I turn to exports, and I am glad to see that at least in this instance the Board has been successful in achieving its target. It is largely due, of course, to the happy circumstance, which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, that we had a hot summer and a mild winter and, therefore, stocks had been accumulated.
§ Mr. Hudson
No, I did not interrupt once, and I do not see why I should give way. Although it is gratifying to see that it has reached the target of 19 million tons, the country had better remember that this target, about which so much song and dance is being made, compares with a normal export pre-war of 46 million tons. If we achieved that target, or something like it, not only would our balance of payments be better and our cost of living probably lower but, as the Foreign Secretary said in a recent speech, if he had 40 million tons of export coal he would have three times the influence in Europe which this country enjoys today.
One word about what we conceive to be the duty of the Coal Board and the duty of the industry. I believe that the duty of the coal industry is to provide coal in quantity and quality adequate to meet all requirements of the domestic and export market. I believe that its duty also is to do so at prices which would enable us to produce a healthy 1453 economy at home and to sell not only our coal but our manufactured goods abroad at competitive prices. I believe that unless the industry does that, our cost of living will go up and unemployment will rise. That is admitted by the Board in more than one passage in the report.
I believe that the nation at present requires a greater technical efficiency in the coal industry than in any other single industry in the country, because all our industries depend, in the last resort, on the cost of fuel. A quick and drastic reduction in the price of coal would do more than any other single thing to get us out of our present difficulties and restore our prosperity and our power of entering foreign markets. Not only would it enable us to enter foreign markets, but it would also contribute materially to reducing the cost of living at home. That is recognised by the Board in paragraph 355, which says that the present high costs of coal production contain a double threat—to the standard of living of all the people and to the security of employment and the earnings in the coal industry itself. I believe that statement would meet with approval on all sides of the House.
My complaint about the Board is that it pays lip-service to that but shows no signs, in the report at all events, of realising how to achieve that desirable end. Sir Charles Reid calculated that by the expenditure of £300 million by 1965 the price of coal at present wage levels could be reduced by 5s. a ton. Let the House and the country remember that 5s. a ton is only half the increase that has taken place since coal was nationalised. In other words, a reduction of 10s. a ton in coal today would still leave coal dearer than it was at the end of the war, while a reduction of £1 a ton would still leave coal 65 per cent. dearer than it was prewar. I give those two figures, which have been quoted by Sir Herbert Houldsworth at a summer school, to show the size of the problem that the coal industry and the country are up against. There is nothing in the report to show that the Board realises it or that it has made the industry realise it.
§ Mr. Hudson
No. It is well to remember, when talking about price, that the profit was achieved this year only as a result of increasing the prices overseas up to £1 or more a ton. Hon. Members may say that it is a good thing to make the foreigner pay more than the Englishman, and here the right hon. Gentleman may quote other cases of dual prices, but believe me, it is not the best thing for international friendship and international relations, and it is seen in the case of Denmark. We have only to look at the criticism which is being levelled against England as a result of raising our export prices. If they had been raised by private individuals, there would have been complaints, but it would not have affected international relations. It is being widely believed in Denmark, rightly or wrongly, that we were guilty of sharp practices in putting up the prices. That is one of the results of having monopolies in overseas trade.
Let me sum up by quoting the words used on this problem in "Let us Face the Future"—… public ownership will bring great economies in operation and make it possible to modernise production methods and to raise safety standards in every colliery in the country. Public ownership of gas and electricity undertakings will lower charges, prevent competitive waste … and lead to the reforming of uneconomic areas of distribution.The final sentence is:Other industries will benefit.What a hope! [An HON. MEMBER: "Give them time."] The position is that after three years of the Board's work the domestic consumer is dissatisfied with the price he has to pay, industrial consumers are dissatisfied, and even the other nationalised industries are dissatisfied. The price of coal, which was already high before the Board took over, was increased by 4s. in September, 1947, and by a further 2s. 6d. a ton in 1948. As a result, British consumers in that period have paid an additional £113 million sterling for their fuel.
In the matter of staff, although we were told the result of amalgamation would be economies, administrative and non-industrial staff in the nationalised industry has increased from 30,000 at the end of 1947 to 36,000 at the end of 1948. Administrative and non-industrial staffs 1455 have increased by 21 per cent., but wage earners have gone up by only 5 per cent. Administrative expenses in collieries have risen in the same period from 6.7 pence to 10.4 pence a ton. What has happened to the administrative savings which we were promised in "Let us Face the Future"? Finally, wastage has again started to exceed intake, and that is not the sign of a highly contented industry.
The most unkind comment of all comes from the Government's own paper, "The Bulletin for Industry," issued by the Department of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Month after month—hon. Members can consult previous editions in the Library—and particularly in the issue I have with me, for October, coal is held up as the one industry where the production increase is well below the average of other industries—and this the result of two years of the Board. Therefore, despite the fact that the Board may have made some small progress in various fields, I have no hesitation whatever in claiming that on the whole it has failed to bring to the country the advantages which nationalisation claimed.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
I must confess that I have a certain amount of sympathy with the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) because, quite obviously, he was labouring under a double disadvantage: firstly, that he had to make out some sort of a case in spite of the fact that his better judgment must have informed him that the National Coal Board had made a magnificent job of things; and, secondly, because somehow or other he had to try to persuade the House that comparisons should be made between the state of affairs in the industry today and the state of affairs in the days when it was under private enterprise. Thereby he was in the difficulty that while he has some slight authority for saying that there was now some cynicism, and while he held on to that point like grim death, he had to bear in mind that we all knew, and that the miners in this House knew—when I say "the miners in this House" I pause to comment upon the fact that they will be found, of course, only on one side of the House; miners in this House knew well that in the years 1456 of which the right hon. Member was speaking there was not cynicism, but inexpressible contempt, in the mining community for the party with which the right hon. Gentleman is associated and for the owners who degraded the workers and miners for so many years. In the face of those disadvantages, the right hon. Member did rather well to make a speech at all.
There was a significant omission from the observations of the right hon. Gentleman. After all, he was leading for the Opposition in the Debate on the report of the National Coal Board. He went far beyond Chapter IV, but he said not a word about Chapter IV. He said nothing about the safety, health and welfare—[HON. MEMBERS: "Of course he did."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite need not become excited. Let me, therefore, become a little more specific. One of the principal points of Chapter IV deals with pneumoconiosis, and perhaps there will be silence on the benches opposite when I say that the right hon. Member did not refer to that or to dust suppression. As far as this great subject is concerned, the Board are doing more in respect of pneumoconiosis than has ever before been done in the history of the industry. Is it not rather remarkable that there should be complete silence from the benches opposite on this fact, which happened to be one of those upon which the right hon. Member could not have made an adverse comment?
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
The hon. Member is being grossly unfair. As it was, my speech took too long. The Minister took over an hour, but I did not want to take as long. The report is a large volume and I could have gone on speaking two or three hours. I did congratulate the Board at the beginning of my speech on the reduction of fatalities and later I commented favourably on the services they had rendered in reducing illness and injury. No one is more conscious of what they are doing than we are, but I could not mention everything. Incidentally, the point which the hon. Member is making, makes absolute nonsense of what his leader the Minister said about absenteeism.
§ Mr. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman says that I make nonsense of what my right hon. Friend has said regarding 1457 absenteeism. The suggestion which the right hon. Member is making is that because there is now less illness and injury there should be less absenteeism. I will accept that sort of observation from my right hon. Friend, but not from hon. Members opposite. There are certain criticisms which they are very ill-qualified to make, and that is one of them. When I see hon. Members opposite and their associates, it sometimes occurs to me that if I had greater powers of imagination perhaps I could think of them and the members of their clubs rushing to the nearest employment exchange to try to make their contribution to a solution of the recruitment problem of the mines, but that is too much for the resources of my imagination.
It seems to me that the criticisms from the benches opposite are founded largely on political prejudice. Hon. Members opposite hang on to their attitude concerning the output per man-year, and they try to explain away the fact that as far as the Board is concerned it has at least arrived at the point where production is now running at 20 million tons a year more than in 1946. That is an inescapable fact, and hon. Members opposite can explain it away whichever way they choose. The figures would not have been running in that direction, however, but for the nationalisation of the mines.
The principal point to which the right hon. Member addressed himself, and about which he felt there was very great objection as far as Members opposite were concerned, related to organisation. With the permission of the House, I propose to devote a little time to dealing with this vitally important question. Unless I am completely mistaken regarding the proposals which the Opposition have put forward, there is grave danger that if their views about reorganisation were put into effect we should be involved, perhaps, in industrial chaos. I shall give my reasons as I proceed.
The organisation of the coal industry consists first of approximately 1,000 collieries, the day to day operational unit; above that the 48 area general managers; above that level the eight divisional boards, and the National Coal Board exercising authority above that. That seems a perfectly reasonable type of organisation. In this respect, the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel 1458 Lancaster) has made certain pronouncements which have received, and rightly received, wide publicity. In the Debate on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill, he had this to say and it is because of the great importance of this that I bring it to the notice of the House:The principle is one to which I remain constant. It is that administrative emphasis should be as near to the point of production as is possible and that, superimposed above that, should be a central board whose main purpose is that of policy and such other activities as are obviously of a national character."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 29th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1675–6.]I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree, that the operative term there is, "as is possible." I take it the hon. and gallant Member would say that possibilities here must be considered as being secondary to efficiency; that is to say, one could have an operational unit which was too small. One could in such a case be as near as possible to the point of production, but have inefficiency. Efficiency must enter the argument and it is important that the House should have an opportunity of considering what the Board have to say on this very important matter. In paragraph 379 they say:Viewing the coal industry as a whole, the most important organisational change since nationalisation has been the amalgamation of some 800 company headquarters into 48 Areas, each of the size of the few large and efficient colliery companies' headquarters in the industry before nationalisation. This change was made because it had been agreed on all sides that the size of most of the management units in the industry had in the past been too small for full efficiency. The other main change was the replacement of some 800 boards of directors pursuing separate policies by eight Divisional Boards working within the limits of a national policy laid down by the National Coal Board. This was a corollary of nationalisation.Here we are in the position of saying that there was a necessity to provide a commercial unit which, if too small, would be inefficient and, if too large, would be inefficient, and the National Coal Board in their re-organisation clearly took certain precedents into account. I think it is clear that if it be alleged that the arrangements they made up to that point were wrong, then the onus of proof is upon those who assert it. The onus of proving that there should be something different is not discharged merely by alleging that there is something wrong with the present arrange- 1459 ment. Here is an organisational change which is not only quite clearly referred to, but is referred to in terms which specify the reasons for the change having been made.
That brings me to a question which has been raised very recently concerning the colliery managers. We are entitled to ask what happened to the colliery managers in this organisational change. Is it a fact that they were put into a position in which they were frustrated and really incapable of carrying on their jobs, or carrying them on not as efficiently as before? In that respect the Board have something very clear to say in paragraph 403:Looking at the coal industry as a whole, the discretion exercised by Colliery Managers and the responsibility they carry for safety and for day-to-day operations remain large. They are not much more and certainly not less than they were before the advent of the National Coal Board.That statement I have been at pains to check by such evidence as I could obtain by my own personal inquiries and I find it is abundantly confirmed by the facts. That, I claim, means that unless the clearest evidence to the contrary can be brought forward by those who say that managers are in a relatively inferior position compared with what they were in before, they have not discharged the burden of proof. In the absence of their coming forward with clear evidence, their assertions upon this point must quite clearly be nonsensical.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to the principle which determines the selection of the size of areas. Obviously, if areas are too small they will be inefficient and if they are too large they will be inefficient. In the course of the argument in paragraph 406, the Board say:The number and size of the Areas were not matters of speculation or rule of thumb. The facts of geography and geology spoke for themselves as did the experiences of the larger companies in the industry which had secured increased efficiency by concentrating management in large units.Here again the arrangement of the organisation of the Board so far as areas were concerned was decided upon after the consideration of a very important principle. I must confess that 1460 I find it extremely difficult to follow the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde in suggesting that there should be an increase in the size of those areas. If the number of areas had been reduced then, quite obviously, there must be an increase in size and there must be a remoteness from the point of production, which, it seems to me, conflicts with the very principle the hon. and gallant Member was putting forward.
That brings me to the point of decentralisation. It seems that here there is a duty resting upon the Opposition which, up to the present, they have not even begun to discharge. They have created an impression in certain quarters that there is not sufficient decentralisation. They have made assertions that the National Coal Board are not really serious in this matter at all and are not decentralising enough. That being so, surely the Opposition must prove very clearly that there are decisions made by the Board which are made at too high a level. That is to say, that by making some rearrangements a decision could come nearer to the point of production. They must show that in order to carry out the principle put forward by the hon. and gallant Member. In the leading article of "The Times" today the point is taken and it is stated that the Burrows Committee recommended more decentralisation than the Board were prepared to accept. That simply is not true.
§ Mr. Williams
Let us be clear about that. The allegation is made that the National Coal Board had not accepted the recommendation. It is not for me to come forward and behave as if I had to prove something. I am saying there is no evidence of that at all. The only evidence we have as to what the Burrows Committee have recommended is to be found in such information as is published. Whether that information is satisfactory or not it is all the information which the writer of the leading article in "The Times" can have or which my hon. Friends or hon. Members opposite can have.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
The hon. Member really cannot hold it against the Opposition that we are not in a position to 1461 criticise recommendations in the Burrows Report because we have not seen it. That is precisely our main objection. What the hon. Member is saying may be true or not, but he does not know.
§ Mr. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman—I say this in a friendly spirit—is obviously suffering from confusion of thought. Here is a statement which says that the Burrows Committee recommended more decentralisation than the Board were prepared to accept. I say, firstly, that there cannot possibly be any proof of that, and that such evidence as we have which sets out the proposals made by the Burrows Committee lead inevitably to the conclusion that that statement is untrue.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
It is equally possible that the statement published in the Coal Board's report about what the Burrows Report said is untrue, and unless we see the report we do not believe what is said about it.
§ Mr. Williams
I repeat the point for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman. With great respect, I shall put it in the simplest possible form. Here is set out in appendix V of the report which we are considering the main recommendations of the Committee on Organisation.
§ Mr. Williams
If the right hon. Gentleman is asking the question, "Is there any recommendation in the Burrows Report one way or the other?" the answer is that we do not know. That does not alter the fact that a statement made to the effect that there were recommendations which this House and the country have never seen and which the National Coal Board have not accepted, is obviously an untrue statement.
Let us see if we can find some evidence which in some way would corroborate or modify that point of view. Fortunately we find it, and in my submission it is rather strong evidence, of which the House should take particular note. It appears in paragraph (ii, d) in appendix V on page 233 in the report. Here we have one of the main recommendations of the Committee on Organisation, that is the Burrows Committee. The recommendation is that: 1462The Divisional Chairmen should become members of the National Board, making a Board of nineteen Members in all.That is the main proposal as set out here. [Interruption.] I am sorry to see that the right hon. Gentleman is so moved. I will readily give way to him if he wishes to interrupt, but while he remains seated I cannot hear what he is saying. This is what the National Coal Board have to say about it, this being a recommendation which they refuse to accept.The inclusion of the Divisional Chairmen on the National Board would lead to unnecessary centralisation in two ways.Then they go into details indicating quite clearly how there would be more centralisation. So far as we can judge this issue, we can see that the National Coal Board have quite clearly taken measures on this very point which make it clear that they will not agree with recommendations which would result in more centralisation.
I wish to put this to hon. Members opposite, and I promise that it is a teaser, but the onus of proof is upon them, not upon us. They say that there is too much centralisation, that there is not sufficient decentralisation. I should like them to take three principal points in relation to the administration of the National Coal Board, the first being capital expenditure, the second wage negotiations and the third personnel policies, and to indicate to this House in the course of the Debate or to the country, wherever they have any influence, how they can possibly argue that on any of these three points—and they are vitally important points—the decisions made by the National Coal Board in its various departments are made at a higher level than they should be.
In the absence of a reply to that query we are entitled to say that this suggestion that there is too much centralisation is just so much humbug and that the observation of the Opposition on this point bear a great resemblance to their attitude on another matter in relation to their policy which they will not disclose. I refer to their making criticisms of expenditure generally but being very shy about saying which particular items. Here again they say, "Let us have plenty of decentralisation; we are wedded to this, but the National Coal Board will not support us; therefore they are inefficient." They are as shy on this subject as on the other 1463 when it comes to specifying particular points about which they urge there is too much centralisation.
There is a final point, which I am sorry to have to bring before the House. The right hon. Gentleman having obviously taken the view in the course of his remarks that he must dig out every possible point upon which to make objections concerning the Coal Board, I would say to him that I hope that he and his right hon. and hon. Friends will think twice about proceeding further with the smear campaign which is going on so far as the National Coal Board are concerned. When I see the right hon. Gentleman, who is quite obviously a most skilled and experienced debater and Parliamentarian, speaking on the National Coal Board report, thereby putting himself in a position that he must accept nationalisation, yet directing so many of his arguments not to whether nationalisation has been carried out efficiently by the Board but against nationalisation itself, I consider that he has been dominated by political prejudice, and it is very regrettable that that should be so. He is giving aid and comfort to the smear campaign which is taking place in the Press.
I could go on for a long time on that particular point but I shall give only four examples. They will suffice; they are pretty mean ones. They are observations which should never have been made, and I hope that there will be from the other side of the House some indication that they are not approved of, at any rate by some hon. Members opposite. In March, 1949, it will be remembered that there were reports in the Press concerning the constitution of Coal Industry Nominees Ltd., and it was suggested that it anticipated the power to operate overseas which at the time the Government was asking Parliament to grant. That was a shocking thing to suggest. It was absolutely untrue; there was not a vestige of truth in it.
There are many who will remember the wide publicity given to the observations of Miss Naomi Jacobs. Her remarks concerning the silly night-club guide which it was stated had been circulated to members of the staff of the Board were widely reported in the Press. There again there was not the slightest foundation for it. It was simply part of the smear cam- 1464 paign with the idea of making it appear as if the Coal Board and its employees were not properly carrying out their responsibilities.
There was a shocking example in the "Daily Graphic" concerning the Divisional Board offices at Dover. There were disgraceful and untrue statements set out in the article. To make it quite clear that there was serious objection to the Divisional Coal Board and everything associated with it, there was a picture of a lady holding her nose to give an obvious impression of disgust and contempt. There again there was not the slightest authority for or truth in the allegations which were made. I hope that we shall hear less of the ridiculous statements which were made in the "Daily Express" and in some other newspapers concerning the National Coal Board cars. Wide publicity has been given to that.
What we are really facing here, quite obviously, is a smear campaign against the National Coal Board and everything associated with it. In whatever cloud cuckooland, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends find that there are grave defects in present industrial relationships, I, speaking for the miners in this House, can say we look forward to the future of the National Coal Board, with co-operation and with the highest hopes of success.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
If I do not follow the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) immediately in that part of his speech which referred in particular to the Coal Board organisation, I will attempt to do so when I come to it in the latter part of what I have to say.
In laying down certain generalities in regard to the discussion which would occur in this House in connection with the nationalised industries, I think the Minister left out two points which are of some importance. First, there will be a tendency for hon. Members to become rather more remote from the problem as it goes on. Those who have taken a practical part in the running of the industry will become fewer and fewer; and indeed the managerial side may tend to go by default altogether. Secondly, in regard to our attitude towards public boards and the National Coal Board in particular and this is some reference 1465 to what was said by the hon. Member for Wigan—they do carry out many functions and have wide fields of activities which it is the duty of Parliament to consider, and indeed to criticise.
If the Opposition or any hon. Member feels it his duty to draw attention to any shortcomings of the National Coal Board corporately or individually, he is entitled to do so, and it is absurd to stigmatise that as either unfair or unpatriotic. It is his duty to do so, and the Minister will no doubt take the opportunity of defending the National Coal Board and correcting hon. Members who may have made unreasonable criticisms. We have seen one aspect of the organisation of the industry in the speech of the Minister, who quoted a great mass of statistics. They were relevant but I do not think one can either prove or disprove this case purely on statistics. This industry, possibly more than any other, is a living organism, and statistics only represent one aspect of the matter.
As the Minister rightly said, the occasion of today's Debate is something of a precedent. We are today reviewing the stewardship of the National Coal Board, and I should like to add my congratulations on the form of the report which has been brought out. Further, we have an opportunity today of passing judgment on the methods they have used to carry out their job. If we do our job objectively, I think we must have regard to one or two salient facts. To my mind, the most important are the price of coal and the volume of our exports. In regard to the price of coal, the pithead price of coal at this moment is 48s. 5½d., and is higher than ever before. In regard to the volume of exports, we know it is running at about 19 million tons.
In my submission, the price of coal is not only making our position in the home market a very difficult one, but it played no inconsiderable part in the dollar crisis that we have recently been discussing. So far as exports are concerned, as has been freely admitted today, we should, and could, be exporting a great deal more than we are already. If we are to take into account why these two figures are so unsatisfactory, I think we must dwell for a few moments on the course of events which have led up to that situation.
1466 Hon. Members will remember that a short six weeks elapsed before the decision in regard to the date of vesting day was given. A great many very hasty decisions were arrived at, and some unsuitable appointments were made. That was followed shortly afterwards by the fuel crisis, and in due course by the resignation of Sir Charles Reid and Mr. Gridley, followed at a later stage by the setting up of an inquiry by the Burrows Committee, to which I shall refer again. That was followed by the Coal Industry Bill.
At no stage during all that period has there, in my submission, been a clear recognition by the Government or the Coal Board that something drastic needed to be done; that at some point the surgeon's knife was needed. There has been nothing but improvisation and expediency. Let me dwell for a moment on the Burrows Report, to which some reference has been made today. I took the trouble in the spring of this year to make such inquiries as I could into the methods employed by that committee. I found what to me is a disturbing situation. I saw a number of the areas to which the committee had gone to make their inquiries. I asked, and was given very freely, an account of what had transpired.
So far as I can make out, the Burrows Committee turned up with a questionnaire, many questions of which were purely elementary, and the time devoted to these various areas was a matter of an hour or two. Surely the sensible thing would have been to select one or two areas at random and to have devoted a fortnight at least to studying their methods, their form of administration and how a superior authority, either by way of division or the National Coal Board, impinged on their activities. The methods to which we have seen reference in the report might have been done more scientifically, in which case the report might have been a little different.
Almost 18 months ago, in a speech in this House, I criticised the structure and administration of the National Coal Board and gave my views as to how the position could be improved. Despite the various points which have been raised today, I do not propose to repeat at length those views. I have produced them in pamphlet form and they have received very wide publicity. I do not 1467 think that I should be justified in asking the House to bear with me if I reiterated them. Certainly nothing has occurred since that time to make me wish to modify or to alter them substantially. I hold by what I then said.
My views which were expressed in pamphlet form were complemented by those of Sir Charles Reid at very much the same time. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) said, the value, such as it was, of those two approaches to the problem was that we had approached it from our separate experiences, Sir Charles Reid most particularly as a technician and I from the point of view of the administration of the industry. Neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary were Members of the House when the Reid recommendations were debated. I remember clearly the enthusiasm with which those recommendations in the name of Sir Charles Reid were accepted, not only by Labour Members, but by hon. Members in all parts of the House.
It seems odd that because Sir Charles Reid and the National Coal Board have parted company and because their views on various matters do not happen to coincide, Sir Charles Reid at this stage should be held in any less esteem and repute than he was when these recommendations were received by the House. I wish to say quite frankly that I attempted to frame my proposals to give practical effect to the Reid recommendations, and I have yet to hear from the Government that, in fact, they represent something different from what the Reid Committee themselves would have produced by way of a practical form in which to apply the recommendations.
The Minister injected what I thought was a little prejudice into the Debate when he said that I produced these recommendations as somebody who had had some connection with the industry and, indeed, I might have produced them on the advice of Sir Charles Reid. Has it ever occurred to the Minister that I might have taken counsel away beyond Sir Charles Reid? There were other members of that committee. Is it to be supposed that members of the National Coal Board never discuss these matters with hon. Members who do not happen to be members of the Labour Party? Of 1468 course they do, and the Minister very well knows it.
What is this malady for which we are attempting to find a cure? Is it not substantially that, whereas during the last 20 years, more particularly during the last decade and most particularly during the last three years, although the amount of mechanisation in the pits has trebled, the output per man-shift has altered very little indeed? Here I wish to correct something which I think the Minister said inadvertently, but which in fact was wrong. Intensive mechanisation relatively means more men on the coalface but fewer effective coal getters. That is an important point. I know that the Minister inadvertently gave the impression that it was otherwise. In fact, it means more men on the coalface although there are fewer coal getters.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
All I wanted to make clear in that part of my speech was that a change in the number of face-workers is not necessarily associated with increased output. I said that normally it would be.
§ Colonel Lancaster
As long as we are not at variance in the matter, I am content. The point I wish to make is that, since it means fewer effective coal getters, any weak link in that chain has an effect out of greater proportion than it had hitherto. The importance of team work and leadership becomes paramount. Mechanisation depends for its success more on leadership than possibly any other system, not only at the level of the mechanised unit itself but throughout every level in the industry. It is because we do not consider that the present structure and organisation lends itself to leadership at its best that we have put forward these proposals.
I could have been criticised when I first put them forward on the ground that they were premature. After all, it was only 18 months after the introduction of nationalisation. The Minister has added to that that probably I was influenced partly by prejudice and partly by emotion. I can assure the Minister that one cannot run the coal industry on emotion. For a great many years I had been trying to run a small part of that industry. I have never contended, as it has been reported in the Press, that all these semi-autonomous units which I have 1469 recommended would be financially profitable straight away, or indeed, in some cases, for a very long time; but I do not think that that is a very valid reason why a considerable degree of autonomy should not be passed to these regions. All this comes back to the same factor—highly mechanised costs with low output per man-shift mean expensive and insufficient coal for our needs and for export.
I believe that, whatever the future course of industry, there will be an indictment of this Government and of the National Coal Board on two main points. The indictment will be, not that they made their initial mistakes—those are incidental—but that they rushed into this problem without sufficient thought. That has been freely admitted by the former Minister. Having made this mistake, they have not been prepared to make the changes and alterations which were required.
I believe that they started their task with two false premises. First, the view was taken that everything was wrong with the coal industry. Whereas in fact there were a great many individual pits, even areas and coal regions, which were becoming out of date and which were falling behind, there were nevertheless, a number of concerns which were as efficient, both technically and administratively, as anything either in Europe or in the United States of America. I think that it would have been far better in the first instance for them to have modelled their organisation on these good concerns and to have attempted to bring the rest up to the same standard.
The second mistake, and this was made in particular by the late Minister of Fuel and Power, was to ignore the fact that there were and there are two parties in management. The Minister of Health himself fell into very much the same error in his weekend speech at Middlesbrough. I think a recognition of this error is slowly appearing, but there are, and almost always must be, the administrator and the technician, sometimes, admittedly, the same person, but more often than not two separate individuals.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves that point, will he answer a question? He mentioned that he wished to set a high 1470 standard and bring all the others up to it. Will he not agree that there are pits in this country which it is impossible to bring up to the higher standard?
§ Colonel Lancaster
I quite agree with the hon. Member, but what I was referring to in particular was the organisation and administration of the industry. But I am coming again to that point.
I think it may be of value for a few moments to draw aside the curtain in regard to nationalisation. This may very well be the last occasion in this Parliament, so far as this industry is concerned, on which we may debate this matter, and there are certain things which need to be said. First, I think we have seen, on the first occasion in this country, the country divided industrially into two parts, and I will explain what I mean by that. The Minister suggested that I have had some connection with the coal industry, but I am not going to go beyond my own experience in this matter, although I assure hon. Members opposite that my experience was not unique. I have discussed this with a great many of my colleagues, who have had very nearly the same experience as myself.
When vesting day occurred, I was taken over by the National Coal Board, and for some months remained a servant of the Board. On vesting day, I handed over to the nation certain physical and administrative assets. Amongst them, I handed over a pit which in a short time has become one of the biggest in the country. Bigness has its own problems. I handed over another pit which was the most modern in technique in the country, with possibly one exception, and that in itself had a number of problems. I handed over another pit which had been a pioneer in die introduction of American power-loading methods. These were the physical problems.
In matters affecting personnel, I handed over a scheme for training young entrants which had been shown to be very successful. I handed over the first vocational training centre in the country, and a method of personnel management which has been very widely copied since, though a great many mistakes have been made about it. On the purely administrative side, I handed over the largest road distributing system in the country, and an office system which has been very 1471 closely followed in various divisions of the National Coal Board.
These were not things I had inherited, but things which, together with my staff, I had created over a period of years, and I knew a great deal about them. I give hon. Members opposite the assurance that on no single one of these points was my opinion ever sought by higher authority, and such opinions as I gave were completely disregarded. I had shown my willingness to co-operate. Before nationalisation, I had submitted my views on the organisation of the area to which I had given many years of thought, to the Board and the Minister for their use. There was no matter to which I referred which was in any way a political matter. These were industrial matters, and I cannot believe that it was in the interests of the nation that the National Coal Board or any other Board should wish to disregard advice from those able to give that advice merely on the score that they had opposed nationalisation before it took place or were of the opposite way of thinking politically.
It was not only limited to that. I was invited to express my views in the magazine "Coal," as I have already told the House, but my article was banned on the score that it was against the interests of discipline in the pits, although these are views which have been discussed up and down the Industry. That was perfect nonsense, of course. I mention these things because the Minister made the suggestion to the House that my connection was one of a somewhat flimsy nature. It was not; it was a very real one, and it is that of a great many others who have played an important part in this industry and whose advice was ignored in precisely the same way.
The real significance of that is that it has produced a one-sided result. We have the views of the National Coal Board and the Minister, which quite naturally coincide, expressed in the report and in speeches made on their behalf, but when another side to this view is expressed, either it is suggested that it is a view of disappointed men or those who, because of their remoteness from the industry, are not worth listening to. That is entirely wrong.
We have come to the conclusion that this industry is being conducted in the 1472 wrong fashion. My party have in great measure accepted the views which I have expressed. I do not myself think that the Government at this late hour are going to do anything about it. I have never pretended to the House that I have other than complete faith in the coal industry, and I am quite certain that, in a few years, it will return to the position which it held before the 1914–18 war. I do not think it will do so under the present system; I can only hope that, with a General Election, wiser counsels will prevail.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Edelman (Coventry, West)
I could not help feeling, while listening to the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) and his right hon. Friend who spoke before him that when they came to the cheerful passages in the report they became correspondingly melancholy, and when they spoke of difficulties they correspondingly brightened up. I was glad to notice that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not agree with his right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) in blaming the success of the National Coal Board in the export trade on the weather.
For my own part, if I speak in this Debate tonight I do so with a certain diffidence, because traditionally the subject of coal has been left to specialists and those with an interest in the coal industry. The fact is that the coal industry today has now become a public possession. It has become, in a very literal sense, everybody's business, and for that reason—quite apart from the fact that I myself spent many years of my life in a coalmining area, and the fact that my own constituency is situated in the Warwickshire coalfield and has two important collieries—I want to make a contribution to this Debate because I feel that it is of concern to everybody to see that this pilot industry of nationalisation should succeed.
There is one particular figure in the report which has been referred to and which must cause concern to every person, and that is the figure of 6.4 per cent. for absenteeism in 1938. Let me say at once that in 1938, although the coal industry had the bloom of health on its appearance, it was none the less suffering from a wasting disease, and that despite the fact that in that year its actual production of coal was almost a record. The 1473 proof of that is that as soon as opportunities were afforded to the coalminers to leave the industry, for example, after the call-up of 1940–41, they did so in ever increasing numbers, and as many as possible refused to return. Indeed, in those days it was a commonplace in the mining valley that no coalminer or his wife would willingly encourage their son to "go down the pit."
The fact that since those days the trend has been reversed, that the line of manpower has been maintained in face of difficulties, and that today production per man-shift has reached 1.14 tons per shift—which is equal to the production in 1938—is, I believe, a vindication of nationalisation, and a tribute to the work done by the Minister and the Coal Board. Nevertheless, it is true to say that absenteeism today, which ranges from 12 to 13 per cent., is a most serious handicap to the coal industry. But in 1938, when absenteeism was only 6.4 per cent., it is significant that it corresponded with an average weekly wage in the industry of £2 15s. Today, the weekly wage of the coalminer is £8 10s. The fact that in 1938 absenteeism could be kept at such a low level has a direct reference to the low wages which were paid and which made it imperative that the worker, whether he was fit or unfit, whether he was so inclined or disinclined, should go to the coal face and hew coal.
Today the goad and fear of not having enough with which to pay the week's bills have to a great extent disappeared with the increase in wages in the industry. But no alternative incentive has yet been offered to make the coalminer voluntarily reach as low a level of absenteeism as in 1938. What is required in the pits today is a social incentive to replace the low-wage goad which was responsible for good timekeeping in 1938. Under present conditions it will only be possible for this social incentive to work properly if the coalminer really feels that he is part of the organisation and not merely receiving instructions from above—that he is actually taking part in the total act of production, and not simply in the mere act of manual labour or coal winning.
I cannot help feeling that the present system of delgation of powers in the coal industry—what the Coal Board's report calls the "line and staff system"—is not 1474 the best way of making the coalminer feel that he is actually part of the coal winning unit. The reason is that the "line and staff system" is based upon a purely military analogy. Its basis is that powers should be delegated and devolved until, finally, we come to the man who is, so to speak, the foot soldier of the mining industry. That system of looking down on the miner from above is clearly not consistent with what, I think, he is—the most important person in the coalmining industry.
It also leads to another very dangerous result, namely, that once we start multiplying staffs down the line of command, the person who is the divisional or area commander will want to inflate his staff as much as possible. It gives him a sense of power and importance. That is why I believe that in the structure of the coal industry today and in the structure of the National Coal Board, there is a tendency to have exaggeratedly large staffs, which are, of course, a very serious charge on overheads.
There are, it is true, the colliery consultative committees. Reading, in particular, the example given in the National Coal Board's report and some of the comments of certain colliery managers on these consultative committees, I could not help feeling that they are not being taken as seriously as they should be, and that the function of bringing the miner into the organisation as a whole has not been properly carried out. For example, I noticed that there was one reported reference by a pit manager to the effect that the men who came to his colliery consultative committee came merely in order to get the 5s. attendance money. If, in fact, that is the attitude of the manager towards the people who take part in his particular committee—though I doubt very much if it is the attitude of the workers—then it is certainly very unlikely that those committees will really become integrated into the structure of the industry, and that the miner will feel that he is part of the whole.
I think it was the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde who said that the industry cannot be run by emotion. For my part, I believe that unless there is emotion in the coal industry we shall not be able to run it at all. I shall give one example. Only a short time ago, 1475 I am told, Lord Hyndley attended a Durham miners' rally, and as he was watching the procession of miners he was deeply moved to see among the banners and the portraits being carried a portrait of himself. I cannot imagine that in the days before nationalisation, in a celebration of that kind, a portrait of the colliery owner would have been carried in procession. Indeed, I venture to believe that if in the days before nationalisation the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde had suddenly looked out of his window and seen his portrait carried in procession, he would have thought that the revolution had arrived, looked for the tumbrel's approach, and rung up the police.
The feeling of the man in the pit towards his organisation and the emotional attitude of the miner towards the coal industry as a whole are of paramount importance. The colliery consultative committees must be strengthened, their prestige enhanced, and, in short, the miner must really feel that although the manager has the ultimate responsibility for management and safety, he himself is not merely a labouring unit in the pit, but is a man playing a part in helping the recovery of a great national industry.
I turn from that to another point which I approach with considerable hesitation because it is a technical matter. I hope that hon. Members on both sides who have great mechanical and technical knowledge of the coal industry will quickly correct me if I am mistaken in my facts. It has occurred to me on the many occasions that I have been down pits that in the process of mechanisation which has taken place during the last few years the operation has been out of phase. Everybody knows that in coal-mining there is a cycle of operations and that, if one of the individual operations does not tally with the rest, the result is a slowing up of production and a corresponding loss of output.
So far in the mining industry the actual hewing and winning of the coal has been mechanised to a great extent. I believe the figure is something like 77 per cent. The conveying of the coal from the coal face has also been mechanised to approximately the same degree, but in between these two operations, and to complete the cycle of operations, is the 1476 job of loading the coal on to the conveyor in order to get the coal away. That is done manually. The result is that while one operation, the winning of coal, is going on at a highly mechanised rate, and while the end operation is going on at a corresponding rate, in between there is a substantial lag which means a very severe loss in production.
I know that many of the power loading machines, such as the Mecco-Moore for example, are not suitable for certain pits. I realise that many of the American machines are not suitable for power loading in this country. But if that is so, and given the fact that power loading is technically and mechanically possible and desirable, and given also the fact that it is an essential element in the cycle of coal production, it seems to me that the Coal Board should have given far greater weight in the general mechanisation of the pits to the problem of power loading, so that today instead of power loading being an operation which takes place in between 2 per cent. and 5 per cent. of the pits in this country, it should be brought up to the 77 per cent. or so which is the rate of mechanisation for the hewing and conveying of coal.
I want to make two short points before I conclude. In the first place, it seems to me that under a system of nationalisation it is of the greatest importance that the National Union of Mineworkers and all the unions concerned in the coal industry should recognise that their function has been to a great extent modified. Instead of merely defending the men against injustice, as they have so nobly done in the past, instead of confining their activities to wage negotiation as they have so successfully been during many difficult years, in the new state of affairs one of the duties and obligations of the unions in the coal industry should be to encourage technical training so that there is a steady passage of mineworkers into the technical grades. Not only the actual workers but the sons of workers should be helped to move into the ranks of management.
Before nationalisation the attitude of the miners to management was that if a miner took a miner's certificate he promptly passed over and joined a different class. Those were the days when the coal industry was divided into what I might call, "We and they"; in other 1477 words, on one side were the men and on the other side was that vague mass of people who represented the owners, all standing for a completely different interest. Today I think it true to say—and I doubt if anyoneoneither side of the House would disagree—that with the coal industry under public ownership, the conception of "We and they" should disappear. I should like to see a steady passage from the ranks of the men who work manually to the ranks of management, with the encouragement and help, and indeed the financing, of the miners' unions.
Lastly, I want to say a word about the export of coal. I was glad to read Lord Hyndley's view that the export market is likely to flourish for some time to come, and I was also glad to hear that view confirmed by the Minister this afternoon. But anybody who remembers the slump in the 1920's, when the British coal industry had to face the competition of reparations coal and of continental coal generally, will view the future with some apprehension and doubt, unless he feels assured that the Government, exercising foresight, are looking forward to what might be the situation if the coal from the Ruhr actually comes on to the markets of Europe and of the world, if the coal of Silesia begins to be exported again, and if the coal in the French mines increases in output with the result that our own export market contracts.
That is a danger which we have to consider. The points I want to put to the Minister in that connection are "Is the European Coal Organisation still functioning? If so, is it co-ordinating the plans of the various coal-producing countries, and in the quota allocations which are likely to be made by that organisation for the export trade in European coal in the years to come, has Britain been assured of her place?
I believe that the report of the Coal Board is excellent, and triumphantly vindicates the act of nationalisation. It confirms that during the past year the management of the industry has been good. It shows that while there is much still to be done, the achievement already realised is great, and for those reasons the report, with the reservations I have mentioned has my full support.
§ 6.57 p.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
I do not think that Lord Hyndley need feel so very flattered to find himself among those whose portraits were carried in procession on a banner at Durham Miners' Gala. Anyone who has been to Durham Miners' Gala—and I have attended it many times—will know that a good time is had by all. Lord Hyndley would find himself in strange company if it included those people whose portraits were carried not long ago when Communism was not so far out of fashion in some of the miners' lodges in that part of the world as it is today.
When we discuss coal in this House it is natural that we should speak mainly of production, export, manpower, absenteeism, mechanisation, organisation and such matters. The right hon. Gentleman invited us today to treat this Debate as something in the nature of a shareholders' meeting and invited us to ask questions, and I wish to ask one question on administration. If we look at Schedule XII of the report we find that by far the largest item of expenditure is wages. The next largest item is No. 12, £66,907,179, and is described as "Raw materials and general stores."
I think it is only fair that we should consider not only what we are going to do with the coal that we produce but also what are the necessary stores and materials which we must have if we are going to produce any coal at all. I suspect that probably the largest item concealed in that figure of £66 million-odd is timber. If we do not have timber in large quantities we cannot expect to produce large quantities of coal. Everyone knows that although steel is coming into use as a substitute, it is certainly not a complete substitute. If we look for mention of timber in this voluminous report we find only the sketchiest of references and we are left to imagine the rest. We know already that it is expensive and in short supply in the world. From search in other official documents we can find that of props alone something like two million tons are imported per annum, while something like another 500,000 tons are found from home resources. That concerns props alone, whose importance is referred to under "Roof supports" in various paragraphs.
1479 We also know that that is by no means the end of the story. Vast quantities of sawn timber are also used for sleepers, chocks and other purposes. I think that a report of this size might have told us a little more about where these most essential supplies come from today and where, in a world of increasing difficulties, they expect to draw them in the future. Not only is it a very large amount but a large proportion comes from dollar sources. In statements by right hon. Gentlemen opposite or by the Coal Board, when talking about the foreign exchange and particularly the dollars which we win from coal exports, I have never heard them say at the same time, that we are already spending large amounts on very necessary materials from dollar sources. Over the last few years the figures have been something like £6 million worth of dollars spent on this timber alone. In the first eight months of this year £8 million have been spent on imported props and of that over £2 million on props from Canada.
It is not so very long ago that the Prime Minister talked in this House of cuts. He said we should have to make do with less of certain commodities and one of them was timber; I think we ought to be told today whether we shall have to do with less imported mining timber. Has it been possible to find more from home sources and, as far as imports are concerned, will it be possible in the future to buy more from soft currency countries or must we assume that for every million tons of increased coal production we shall have to spend more dollars on purchasing timber. I do not think that is a small question; I make no apology for asking it and I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will be able to give us at least a few words on that subject.
I have the authority of the National Coal Board for saying that 20 per cent. of the present consumption of props comes from home sources, but the President of the Board of Trade, when answering a Question not so very long ago, said that he thought the general level would settle down to something between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. That is a disturbing answer at this time when we might have thought that they would try to obtain a greater rather than a lesser percentage from home sources and so succeed in 1480 saving some valuable foreign currency which we could easily spend on something else.
As we all know, we do not want to leave any obstacle in the way of increased production nor do we want to do anything which will prejudice safety, but equally we do not want to have the National Coal Board indulging in what may be extravagant or possibly foolish buying overseas. Owing to the organisation, we have no means of asking questions on this subject except the means provided today. We know that the Timber Control section of the Board of Trade, which is a monopoly purchaser of mining timber overseas, works in close contact with the National Coal Board. The pre-war trade has virtually nothing to do today except to handle it at the ports when it arrives in this country and to distribute it.
We must also bear in mind, when we pass judgment on this, that timber obtained from overseas costs three times what it cost before the war, and is in many cases very nearly double the maximum controlled price fixed by the Board of Trade for home-grown props, which price often does not cover the cost of preparation. As far as I know, nothing has been done by the National Coal Board to try to encourage an improvement in the quality as well as in the quantity of the props produced from home woods.
I know it is widely believed in many districts—to some extent justifiably, although to a certain extent it is due to prejudice—that home-grown timber is always inferior to the imported article for mining purposes. As far as the average is concerned, it is true that the home-produced article is less good than the imported article, but as far as the best-prepared timber is concerned there is no practicable difference between imported and home grown. That has been borne out time and time again by scientific tests. There was another test conducted recently by the Forest Products Research Laboratory. This prejudice dies hard and at a time like the present—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
I take it that the suggestion the hon. Member is making is that the Coal Board should try to obtain more from home-grown supplies and that he is 1481 not suggesting that the Coal Board should begin to plant trees for themselves, for example.
§ Mr. Robens
The suggestion is, then, that they should get more home-grown supplies and are not doing so.
The National Coal Board must be facing the problem that they will want more timber in the future, and at a time of a world timber shortage that is not an easy question to answer, especially when we are short of foreign exchange, particularly dollars. The natural thing would be to look for a further development of home supplies and I can find no reference whatever to that in this report.
I hope we shall be told something about it, but I should also like the Parliamentary Secretary to understand this—and this is called planning: the maximum price of timber, controlled by the Board of Trade, discourages the peeling of home grown props because the margin, which until the other day used to be 2d. is now 5d., and is less than the rate at which an ordinary man can do the work on piecework, which is about 6d. per cubic foot. In consequence the quality of the props which reach the collieries in this country is far too often inferior to the imported article. Hence, there is great reluctance on the part of the area buyers, no matter what instructions may come down from above, to buy the home-grown article, which in many cases goes to waste.
I do not want to labour this point for too long and my last point is this: the Parliamentary Secretary is a member of the Government, who have declared that it is their policy to develop the forestry resources of this country. It is necessary, if we are to grow good timber of large sizes and fine quality, that we should have the right outlets for our smaller sizes. No country in Western Europe has discovered any outlet equal to the coal trade for these small sizes. If we do not have that market the only possible alternative is the pulp market. This is now dead in England. Too often stuff lies on the ground to rot, so the work of the Minister of Agriculture is being torpedoed by his colleagues. From the Board of Trade figures we find that we are buying props from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France and Portugal, 1482 at the same time leaving our own material lying to waste in this country.
I therefore ask the Parliamentary Secretary to represent to the Coal Board that this is a very important matter, not only from the point of view of their own coal industry but from the point of view of other industries as well. When this House discussed the possible dictatorship within the coal industry which would result from nationalisation I doubt whether they realised that, at the same time, they were placing the National Coal Board in the position of dictator of the forestry of this country, That is the position they occupy at the present moment and they are not a very interested or benevolent dictator. We have been asked to take note of this most voluminous and, I think, circumlocutory report of the National Coal Board. I take note of it—not only of what it contains but also of what it omits.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
The performance of the Opposition in the House today has, I think, been most disappointing, and it seems to me that the chief responsibility for that lies with the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), who opened the Debate for his party. I must say that I felt very disappointed with his performance; and so apparently were the Members of his own party who sit behind him, for I noticed that while there were about 80 people on the benches behind him when he started his speech, by the time he sat down there were exactly six Members of the Tory Party in the House.
We thought that this was to be a field day for the Opposition because the report of the Coal Board provided a splendid opportunity for them to attack nationalisation and to denigrate the Coal Board. I thought they would take full advantage of this opportunity and attack the Coal Board with full-throated and reckless abandonment. However, they have not done that. I noticed that the right hon. Member for Southport had merely two counts on which to condemn the Coal Board; first of all, that the Coal Board was a monopoly—and Tories do not like monopolies—and secondly, that the setup, the organisational structure, of the Coal Board was wrong. That, as we know, is the King Charles's head of the 1483 hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). I always listen to him with great respect because I appreciate the vast experience he has of the mining industry, but I do not think I am doing him an injustice when I say that he said nothing new tonight, and that all he said has been expounded in his pamphlet issued by the Conservative Central Office; and he has repeated it on more than one occasion in this House.
Now let me refer to some of the things said by the right hon. Member for Southport. He made a number of trivial and inelegant criticisms of the Coal Board, but he completely ignored the difficulties which the Coal Board inherited from private enterprise. He preserved a discreet silence on the position of the mining industry prior to nationalisation. He did not say a word about the Board's achievements, and he certainly did not put forward a single positive, constructive suggestion. He said a good deal about the shortcomings of the mining industry.
No one will deny, of course, that there are serious problems facing the Coal Board in the mining industry today. But this is not something new. One would imagine from some of the speeches made on the other side of the House that all these problems in the mining industry started in 1947 when the mines were nationalised, and that all the troubles of the industry were invented by the National Coal Board. They tried to convey the impression that the Coal Board ended a golden age of prosperity and tranquility in the mining industry. This view is part of the folklore of Tory propaganda. There are certainly difficult problems facing the National Coal Board, but the Coal Board did not create these problems; it inherited them from private enterprise, and they are not a pleasant legacy. Our present coal problems have ancient roots, and that indeed is what makes them so difficult to solve.
For years now the mining industry has been in a deplorable condition. The truth is that when the mining industry was nationalised it was dying on its feet. Hundreds of collieries had been closed regardless of the social consequences and regardless of the effects on the national economy. In the whole inter-war period, few new collieries had been opened. Hundreds of thousands of skilled miners 1484 had been scrapped—lost to the mining industry for all time. What would the Coal Board give today to get some of those people back! In addition, the industry had been overtaken by a sort of technical paralysis. Very little mechanisation or modernisation had been introduced because mining labour was too plentiful and too cheap. For the whole of the inter-war period this industry presented a sombre overall picture of decline, decadence and decay. This is the legacy which private enterprise left to the Coal Board.
Now the Opposition simulate indignation because the National Coal Board, in a matter of less than three years, has not transformed a dying industry into a flourishing and prosperous industry. Of course, we do not expect objective and constructive criticism from the Tory Party. They do not like nationalisation, and they do not like the National Coal Board. However, that is not surprising. What is surprising is the reason the Tories give for their disapproval. The main burden of the charge made against the Coal Board is that it is a monopoly. That was said today by the right hon. Member for Southport. The Tories, of course, will not have a monopoly at any price. They tell us that in all their publications, This is simply part of the mythology of Tory propaganda—that they are the champions of free enterprise and that they abominate monopoly in all its forms.
There has not been so much free enterprise in this industry as the Tories try to make out. In my own part of the coalfield, there has been no private enterprise for many years. There was no freedom and no enterprise. The Opposition's picture of this industry as a flourishing industry of free enterprise bears no relation at all to the facts. I want to remind the House of some of those facts. I have had a somewhat lengthy and varied experience of the mining industry, but I have had little or no experience of free enterprise in this industry, and certainly no experience of the free enterprise that the Tories like to talk about. That, if it ever existed in my part of the coalfield, had disappeared long before my time.
The Opposition have denounced the National Coal Board as a monopoly. Let me remind the House that there was a 1485 monopoly in the anthracite coalfield in South Wales for 25 years before the Coal Board was set up. The Tories did not denounce this private monopoly over an entire coalfield. Their objection, apparently, is not to monopoly as such. They always condone the private monopolies, and they condoned the private monopoly in the anthracite coalfield, though it nearly ruined the industry.
The establishment of this anthracite coalfield monopoly was a squalid affair. A powerful combine was built up, not by independent coalowners, but by financiers, speculators, sharepushers and "spivs" from the City of London. They extended their sway over the whole coalfield by ruthless and most unscrupulous methods. The independent owners were bought up, squeezed out, or ruined. They did not give up voluntarily; they were driven out. The combine bore down on them and mauled and mangled them to death. This process was not governed by the economic principles of the textbooks. It was governed by the economics and ethics of the jungle. If hon. Members opposite care to pay a visit to the anthracite coalfield we will show them the ruins and the relics of free enterprise. In the anthracite coalfield, indeed, the National Coal Board came just in time to save the coalfield from extinction, and there, particularly, the Board took over a bankrupt and derelict industry.
I am sorry there are no Liberals in their places.
§ Mr. Williams
It is very difficult to say whether they are here or not. The Liberals ought to be interested in this story of this squalid anthracite monopoly, because I think it has a moral for them as a party, and I think it has a very close bearing on the decline of Liberalism as a political force in Wales. The Liberal Party has always denounced monopoly. Indeed, it rose to power on the doctrine of free trade, free competition and free enterprise; and monopoly to Liberals was always anathema. They regarded monopoly not simply as a departure from the principles of laissez faire, indeed, they regarded it as a violation of the laws of nature.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us in what part of the report there is this bit about the laws of nature and capitalism?
§ Mr. Williams
The National Coal Board's report deals with the coal industry, and I am speaking of one of the main problems which faces the Board. I was saying that this attitude to monopoly was a theory of Liberalism, but it was not always practised by prominent Liberals in this country. Thirty years ago, one of the most prominent Liberals in this country was Sir Alfred Mond, later Lord Melchett, who represented Swansea and Carmarthen in this House for many years. In Swansea he used to preach the undiluted gospel of Liberalism, but in the coalfield which forms the hinterland of Swansea he established a virtual monopoly of anthracite coal.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the hon. Member had better keep to the report. He is getting rather a long way from it.
§ Mr. Williams
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I was trying to show the difficulty which the Coal Board have to meet in the South Wales coal mines. This is a very serious problem because one of the most difficult organisational problems facing the Coal Board today is to mechanise and modernise the anthracite coalfield. This is a very important coalfield, and it was left in ruins by years of neglect on the part of private enterprise.
The point that I want to make is that this denouncing of the Coal Board as a monopoly is quite irrelevant and meaningless in South Wales. There we knew something about monopolies long before the Coal Board was established. We had a long and grim experience of them. The problem which faced us in South Wales, which we had to decide in 1945, was not between monopoly and private enterprise—the real problem facing us in South Wales was whether the coalfield should be run as an industry in the public service or whether it should be owned as one private monopoly. The choice with us in South Wales was whether the mines should be nationalised or Powell Duffrynised. In 1945 the people of South Wales chose nationalisation, and in 1950 they will confirm that choice.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I think that I am the first speaker to venture into this Debate with no possible kind of claim to any sort of expertness. 1487 I hope that the House will think it fair to remember that the House of Commons is not primarily a panel of experts but a common jury on a grand scale. I shall certainly not attempt to inform the House about matters on which many are better informed than I. My speech will be almost wholly interrogative and even the questions I shall ask will not be of a technical, nor I hope even in the most indirect implication, of a pretentious, kind.
I should like to begin by saying a word to the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams). First of all, although I cannot speak for the Tory party, at any rate for that small section for which I can speak, I beg him to believe that I detest monopoly, wherever monopoly is, as much as he detests mythology or irrelevance. And secondly, I think that he was a good deal less than fair to my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench, because he said that nothing whatever had been said about the achievements of the Coal Board from this side, and I think that ought to be for the second time denied: my right hon. Friend began by expressing the gratitude and admiration which all of us have for the improvements in the matters of health and accident. It does not help our Debates for any one either to forget that expression, or to allow even his subconscious to suppose that such expressions are insincere.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I think not. I think that every word that I have said is perfectly fair. Secondly, I do not know how the hon. Gentleman did his counting, but by a curious chance I kept on counting how many people there were on our side both during the first speech and the second, and since his figures will get into HANSARD I think that I ought to say that my figures were quite different from his. [HON. MEMBERS: "What were they?"] They were quite different from his.
We were invited at the beginning to treat this matter as rather more like a shareholders meeting than most of our Debates. I do not think that analogy wholly fair, although I by no means accuse the right hon. Gentleman of any intention of unfairness in that respect. I 1488 propose a little later to return to some of the reasons why I do not think it wholly fair, but before doing that I should like, if I may, to ask one or two questions which seem to be obviously of a shareholders' meeting sort.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I was reading from the leader of the "Financial Times," which used that particular phrase.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was not only quoting but approving the suggestion. If I am correct on that, I would point out to him that he has now exceeded his ration of interrupting me, because he addressed the House for some 70 minutes and only permitted himself to be interrupted once. I will now, if I may, address through him to his—I was going to slip into saying zany but I do not intend to be offensive or facetious, so perhaps I should say his mate or second-in-command, one or two of the questions which seem to me appropriate to a shareholders' meeting. The first is about absenteeism. I hasten to say here first that I ask my question with no intention of criticising any one, neither the men, the management, the Government nor the Coal Board—I ask it because of a genuine thirst for information. I quite understand that I may be asking a foolish question because I may have misunderstood something, but as I understand the figures in the report and as I understand the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon, illness and accident have very much, or at least considerably, diminished.
We are all delighted with that, although I think the National Coal Board if wise would not claim too much of the credit and not get too much into the habit of the Minister of Health, who is tempted to claim the credit for all improvements to health since Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood. There are improvements due to improved medicine, mechanical science and all sorts of things, and partly no doubt to the good administration of the National Coal Board. The fact is that absenteeism for illness or for accident has diminished considerably. We are all delighted with that. Yet it appears from the figures unless I am mistaken, that involuntary absenteeism is not so quick in diminishing, and I think not diminishing at all. I had supposed that involuntary 1489 absenteeism meant overwhelmingly absenteeism for medical reasons. If it does not mean that overwhelmingly, I shall be grateful if the House could be told what are the other main components of involuntary absenteeism, If I have been mistaken in the analysis of the figures, I hope that I may be corrected. That is one of the shareholder type of question that I wanted to ask.
Another shareholder type of question is about the use of what one would have supposed to be a capital figure in the profit and loss account. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is familiar with what I mean, but in the profit and loss account he will find credit taken—I think it is item 4; I do not know why that figure sticks in my head—for a not immense but still considerable item which on the face of it one would have supposed not to come into that account in that way, but to be a capital matter. I hope that perhaps he can tell us how that happens, or what misunderstanding there is in the matter.
Today the right hon. Gentleman made some remarks about the double price system, and it seems to me that this wants a little more elaboration and elucidation than we have had so far. As I followed him, he said, "Well of course prices in this country are low, because they are fixed; we fix them, and we fix them as low as we can. And of course," said he, "prices to foreigners are high because we can get it out of them. And why not?" That, I think, was the argument. It has already been said that that argument does not show a very longterm kind of political wisdom. I think it has already been indicated, if not expressly said, that that argument is an extremely strong argument against the socialisation of industries which necessarily reach across frontiers, and that does really want considering.
There are other reasons why it wants considering. You see, it has to be looked at upon a basis of our requiring help from foreigners—Americans and others—and upon the basis of our trading being open to objection in the opposite respect from the point of view of some foreigners. For instance, the other day we were told that we sell motor cars to the United States public at a loss. Now if as a result of the nationalisation of some industries, and practically complete con- 1490 trol by the Government of export industries, we are to be under the risk of being justly accused by foreigners whenever it may suit them, although we depend upon them for their kindness, on the one hand of profiteering out of them and on the other hand of dumping on them, then the continuation of an international economic system will become extremely difficult.
Nor on any explanation thus far given us by the right hon. Gentleman is this double price system at all compatible with any of the principles upon which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite hive risen to greatness. Where is your egalitarianism now? Where is your hate of profiteering now? Where is your internationalism now? If when you have got something to sell to a foreigner it is right to get as much out of him as you can, within limits of reason, and so on, regardless of your costs, then there is much to be said for that within the price-mechanism of a capitalist-enterprise system.
If that is right when you are dealing with foreigners, why is it not right when you are dealing at home? Alternatively, if there is some distinction between the two, where is your internationalism, the internationalism of the miners, particularly, who are or were awfully keen on internationalism and the like, sending money to chaps at places like Lens, for instance? These things do not really stand together, and we ought to have some explanation of that, otherwise we are bound to conclude that there is a good deal of muddleheadedness in the matter.
The main reason why I rose to my feet was because this is an important constitutional occasion, as the right hon. Gentleman very properly indicated to us in his opening remarks. Incidentally, the fact of his indicating that it was an important constitutional occasion—and I think this should go on record in HANSARD—makes complete nonsense of the leadership of this House during the last four years on the matter of nationalisation bills; because over and over again I argued that even one large nationalisation Bill had necessarily a large constitutional content, and that any planned complex of several nationalisation Bills a fortiori had an extremely large constitutional content.
1491 Although that was admitted sometimes at the beginning of this Parliament by hon. Gentlemen opposite before they saw the point of the admission, and although the Lord President of the Council over and over again promised at the Select Committee on Procedure, that Bills of any constitutional content should always be taken on the Floor of the House, yet they were not. But today the right hon. Gentleman, when he reminded us that this was an important and unprecedented constitutional occasion, made nonsense of the whole way in which the main legislative business of this House has been conducted for the last four and a half years.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that there were considerable fields of activity in mining where the Minister is not responsible, and I really think this question ought to be asked, even if it cannot be answered on the first of these occasions, and then perhaps repeatedly asked on other occasions until we do think out the answer to it: On those parts of this business where the Minister is not responsible, who is responsible? Really, all this technique of boards, corporations and whatnot, which have no liability, however limited, and have no responsibility which any man or any court can perceive, is only a way of removing from demccracy those things which the people are presumed to care most about. That is all they are, and let hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are keener on proclaiming themselves democrats than I am, reflect upon that. Who is responsible? The right hon. Gentleman told us, "The ultimate control of course rests with Parliament." Well, "ultimate" is a question-begging word. But waiving that, "of course" seems to be the interesting part of that sentence. In what course of Parliamentary procedure can we really make the Coal Board responsible to us, if it ought to be responsible to us, directly or indirectly? No indication was given to us of how that could be done.
Finally, I return to the point at which I began, where the right hon. Gentleman quoted approvingly the "Financial Times" as saying that we ought to treat this as a non-party matter, as a shareholders' meeting, or a council of State. He said that there was much to be said for the view of the "Financial Times." 1492 I agree; I think there is a great deal to be said for the view of the "Financial Times," and in that respect I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider some remarks of his own made—I have forgotten when—at Porthcawl, I think it was. He will remember the occasion; he was bathed that time—in tears. Do not think for a moment that in giving this quotation I am adopting the right hon. Gentleman's indictment of the miners. I do nothing of the sort; I do not know enough about it. This is what he said:How can any of us defend those who week after week are content to work four shifts only? How can we answer the criticism 'It is high wages that have done it. They make enough in four shifts'?Incidentally, practically every speech from the other side today has echoed that criticism rather strikingly. Any hon. Member carefully reading HANSARD tomorrow will see that time after time, implicitly, that has been said by almost every speaker opposite. The right hon. Gentleman went on:How can we explain the conduct of men who work three weeks full time and then take the fourth week off? Men who are supporters of the Labour Government, to whom that Government appeals at the moment of its greatest crisis?That was at the greatest crisis in July, 1948. Of course, we have had two greater ones since. No doubt if the dissolution is put off for another six months we shall have two more. That was in the days of the greatest crisis to date. What is meant by these words "Supporters of the Labour Government"?
How is it supposed that constitutional government of any sort is to survive and this House is to have any kind of constitutional control, how is it supposed that there is to be any real responsibility, how will those who manage and finance and direct and exploit—I use the word in no offensive sense, but in a neutral sense—the coal industry, be in any sense held responsible to this House and the British people if it is to be suggested that somehow or other men ought to work more when there is a Government of their party and less when there is a Government of another party?
Is that the suggestion or is it not? That suggestion was often made at the last General Election. It has been repeated explicitly and implicitly quite often by Ministers—I was going to say important 1493 Ministers—I mean more senior Ministers up till recently. We ought to be told before there is another General Election. The more great industries are nationalised, and others threatened with nationalisation, the more it becomes important for us to know; when, especially, what is called day-to-day management, and a good deal more than is reasonably so-called, is taken out of our hands, the more we should know Is it part of the duty of His Majesty's Ministers to make plain to His Majesty's subjects, however employed, that they should do a pound's worth of work for a pound, whether or not they like the boss's face or the characters, real or presumed, of the Treasury bench, just the same as the chap selling sweets sells a pennyworth of acid drops for a penny, not giving more or less because he may like or dislike the character, or the bonnet, of the buyer's mother? Is it the policy of the Government to inculcate that simple truth in His Majesty's lieges or is it not?
If the right hon. Gentleman really meant what he said among the slot machines at Porthcawl, then it is quite certain that that is the end of social democracy. You may get some sort of Socialism that way, but you cannot have that sort of Socialism compatible either with democracy or with parliamentary Government. I hope that to these questions I have put, all of which, I think, arise immediately out of the report and are relevant, concrete, direct, and simple, I may have some reply.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles, Southern)
The non. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) will forgive me if I leave him to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. The hon. Member has admitted his shortcomings. Would that those in this House who are also endowed with that handicap would also admit their shortcomings, at least as far as the coal industry is concerned. Many years ago, more years than I care to remember, I worked in a certain coalfield where men were in the habit of describing those of whom they had a bad opinion in the words, "You are not a miner, you are a farmer." I understand that the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson) is a farmer. I fear that if he is no better farmer than he is a critic 1494 of the mining industry then his agricultural executive committee will sell him up lock, stock and barrel.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I am told by a colleague on the Front Bench here that the hon. Gentleman is being rude at my expense. I would only ask that he should speak up, so that I can hear what he is saying about me.
§ Mr. Pryde
I will give the right hon. Gentleman this answer:The Moving Finger writes and, having writMoves on: nor all thy Piety nor WitShall lure it back to cancel half a Line,Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.The word is "splendid," as can be judged by the fine analysis of the Coal Board's work given to the House by the Minister. The first sentence on the front page says that output has been restored to pre-war figures. The report is neat, tidy, well set out and a compliment to its authors. It is chock full of that information which, in bygone years under private enterprise, was denied to us and the public generally. Today, the Tories tell us in their propaganda that the Coal Board is top heavy, but they omit to say that in the past many companies were served by duplicate directors. Sometimes these directors were directors of three, four, five, six or seven companies. The Coal Board have had to build from pit level. Today its superstructure is sound and subject to criticism, and will be annually, but in days gone by its superstructure was hidden from our eyes.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the recovery in the industry is greater than that in any other mining industry in the world. The report tells us what the Board have had to do to effect that recovery; it tells us how they introduced machinery. We in Scotland know something about the introduction of machinery into the industry. Twenty-five years ago, north of the Tweed, 75 per cent. of our coal was cut with aid of machinery. We welcome machines, and especially the Meco-Moore machine. Indeed, the miner will welcome the day when he goes to the pithead and is told that there is no further need for his services. But those days are in the dim and distant future. The report says that in 1947 there were 34 Meco-Moores at work. I have heard it said that the industry could do with 1495 fewer men, that 660,000 are quite sufficient. I wonder how many Meco-Moores will be needed to get the coal that is necessary?
I know the value of shipping coal, and I remember the day when 78 million tons of coal was shipped, excluding bunkers. This coal was taken to foreign parts and played an important part in our national economy. Private owners were responsible for denigrating that industry, but we know its value and miners are working to that end. The right hon. Member for Southport said there was bad feeling in the industry. He does not know the facts. The men in my branch of the union required no exhortation, especially from me. They said, "The Government and the country need our aid. We will work each Saturday." At present they are hitting their target week after week. In one neighbouring colliery of the great New Battle group, they have not got any Meco-Moores but they are using picks and shovels and putting their backs into it to compete against the skill of the men of the pit where the Meco-Moores are at work to see if they can produce more coal, and they are doing it. When hon. Gentlemen tell us that there is bad feeling in the industry, I can tell them that that is all wrong.
In 1948 the results showed an increase of £25 million over 1947. In 1947 the deficiency was £23½ million. In 1948 there is profit of £1.7 million. One hon. Gentleman talked about 100,000 people coming into the industry. They were Bevin boys and they held back the miner. It would have been far better if they had been put to work on the land where they could have been seen. When the coalminer goes down the pit nobody can see him. If we could lift the lid off and let the public see what the miner has to do for his living there would not be so many critics.
The report shows that the Board is well on top of the problems which affect the industry. It emphasises the need for sympathy and the human factor. That never was evident before. Neither sympathy nor the human factor was recognised under private enterprise. The men know these things. On page 51 we see the finest benefit that the miner has got under nationalisation. It refers to 1496 consultation machinery. Hon. Gentlemen tell us that a sort of Gestapo is at work intimidating the men. There is no such thing. The consultative committee is the finest thing ever introduced into the mining industry. Who knows that better than the old mining officials in this House? We used to have to go to the colliery offices to argue with bread and butter in the one hand and our job in the other. The miner can now go to the colliery offices, and standing on his legs can express his view. If hon. Gentlemen will examine the minutes of the consultative committees they will find that these committees have saved the industry thousands of pounds simply because of their interest in the organisation which is now running the industry.
On that same page of the Report, as instanced by my right hon. Friend, there are examples where the co-operative spirit between some squads of men and management has not been what it should. It is a big industry. Does not the consultative committee prove there was such a need for a committee, and, taking everything into consideration, any reasonable person will admit the committee plays a most important part. I know some of my people act a little hastily. I do not want to spoil the Minister's glorious day, because he has had a glorious day, but I might draw attention to the fact that certain members of the Coal Board structure have not that fine grasp of psychology that we would wish them to have. They might be very fine managers as far as the technical side of the industry is concerned, but to be a great mining engineer does not mean that a man is a first rate manager.
Managers have to have a grasp of psychology and know how to handle men. An old head cannot be put on young shoulders. I am happy to say that today many of our managers are young men brought from the ranks of the workers themselves. My hon. Friend the Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) expressed the hope that there would be some method of training managers from the ranks of the workers. We have been doing that for years and years in Scotland through the medium of our welfare, and the managers we are turning out are the finest in the industry. I could supply the names of the collieries which they are managing.
1497 The Coal Board must show a greater measure of sympathy and psychology in their approach to the closing of collieries, because people cannot be uprooted from one district and dumped down in another. That does not happen with the human element. That may be all right as far as machinery is concerned, but not men. In Scotland we have a dying county due to the mismanagement of private enterprise. I am happy to say that our local authorities, the Coal Board and the Scottish Special Housing Association are breaking all records in order to get the houses built to rehouse the people from the collieries in Lanarkshire which are being worked out. Only this week I paid the county council a special tribute for the way in which it is operating the new housing estate at Poltonhall to get our people transferred. The Scottish Special Housing Association has its uses.
The Scottish Division last year increased its output by 856,800 tons over 1947, an increase of 3.8 per cent. I have no doubt that that will be beaten by our men working on Saturdays. Some people talk about cutting prices. I can recall 1921, but I can go further back to 1911 when the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was President of the Board of Trade. He mishandled the mining problem in that year and set the stage for 1912. We won in 1912. We fought for the first time as a union, the Miners' Federation, but we did not win in 1921 and 1926 when the axe was used. It was the Geddes Axe and what we got was a reduction of 3¾d. on split ton rates. It was the steam coal rate. That was the inducement we got to work harder and to cut prices. For two years it worked, but after that it did not work and it has not worked since. That is why in the mining areas there is such a high incidence of T.B.
One hon. Gentleman wanted to know why it was that there could not be a good supply of coal. Hon. Members opposite should know that capitalism first operated the nearest, easiest and best seams. Where is the great splint seam of the Lothians today? It is away. It has been worked because it was easy to work. Private enterprise worked it all right and paid their dividends and their bonuses. There is still some in Fife, but it is a new coalfield. The Lothians splint seams are finished and they are the oldest coalfields 1498 in the world. Nationalisation came along just in time to come to the rescue of the Fife coalfield before it was exhausted by private ownership. That is why it is in the direction of Fife that the Lanarkshire miners are looking.
The Coal Board in my opinion has several duties to perform. One is to see that men are attracted to the mining industry, and that can only be done by offering inducements. Previously I have pointed out in this House that if we want to attract men to hazardous industries we must offer them inducements to counterbalance the attractions of work in more congenial conditions. In the mining industry we have lower paid men. I want the Coal Board to take note of that fact. It is their duty to adjust the difference between higher-paid and the lower-paid men. In the Scottish Division, skilled workers are still getting approximately 3s. per shift less than their English brethren. I want the Minister to draw the attention of the National Coal Board to that fact. For more than 40 years I have argued that the Scottish miner is entitled to be paid as much as his English colleague, because he does the same work and he incurs the same risk. He is therefore entitled to be remunerated in the same fashion. I hope and trust that the Minister will draw the attention of the Coal Board to this matter.
The National Coal Board is doing the job for which it was created. The men have confidence in it. They know that they are far better off today than they were under private enterprise, and they know that if a Tory Government were to be returned to power in this country the mining industry would be finished for all time.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I was very glad to hear the good Scottish accent of the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern (Mr. Pryde), and I agree with the tribute which he paid to the higher efficiency there is to be found in all directions North of the Border. In regard to the last part of his speech about the complete satisfaction that the miners have with the Board, I seem to recollect not one but several messages coming from the various mining districts throughout the country, claiming that there should be a complete reexamination of the whole organisation of 1499 the Board. They came from the miners' union. No doubt the hon. Member has forgotten them.
I had come to the Debate with a carefully prepared speech, ready to approach the matter with as unprejudiced a mind as I can produce—[Interruption.]—I said "as unprejudiced" as I could—and with a real desire to avoid party controversy. [Interruption.] Well, I can only ask the House to believe that I came with that intention. As the House knows, I come from one of the great coalmining areas in the country. I know how terribly politics have bedevilled this industry, and I was hoping that we might be able to avoid party controversy altogether tonight and to approach this matter from a rather different viewpoint. I hope I may succeed in doing so before I finish, but I am bound to tell the House that the speech of the Minister makes the maintenance of that attitude on my part exceedingly difficult.
I notice that the Minister has now left the House. He had not the courtesy to allow me to intervene when he was speaking and he has not had the courtesy to remain to hear what I have to say. The Minister's duty is to be on that Front Bench. Today he had a unique opportunity. As has been said, this is the first time Parliament has addressed itself to the consideration of the annual report of a great nationalised industry. Here was the occasion for the Minister in charge to set a precedent, a high standard of fair, unprejudiced, enlightened exposition of the policy for which he is responsible, and to set an example of a statesmanlike approach to a very large problem, which is of vital concern to the nation at large. I can only say that I think the whole House must have regretted how far the Minister fell short of attaining those various criteria. [Interruption.] Well, let hon. Members listen.
Instead of impartiality, the Minister expressed scarcely-veiled prejudice throughout his speech. Instead of frankness he displayed only a rather clever misrepresentation of the facts, and a withholding of facts. Instead of modesty he showed, particularly in his references to Sir Charles Reid, a smugness and conceit which I felt were a little nauseating. [Interruption.] Perhaps I may be allowed to finish this passage of my 1500 speech. The attack on Sir Charles Reid, who is a Fifer and whom therefore I am here to defend, was surely one of the most unworthy ever made upon a man unable to defend himself in this House.
Here is a man with 50 years' experience in the mining industry, not only as a technician—the Minister limited his description to him as a technician—but as manager, and ultimately as general manager, of one of the great mining companies of the world. He was responsible not only for technique but, as the House knows and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) knows very well, for the whole range of operations of that great company—its finance, its organisation, its sales, its administration, its labour. He was managing, and looking after with very great success, 60,000 men.
Has the Minister of Fuel and Power ever been responsible even for six men? Has he ever produced any portion of the wealth of this country? Yet he has the temerity to speak of this fine man—[Interruption.] If the House will allow me to finish this part of my speech I will be able to give away to those who want to interrupt me. Here was a man who, when the Labour Party took over power and had no plan of their own for coal, as the late Minister of Fuel and Power admitted, and when the Labour Party needed help, was the one to whom that party turned. They applauded him, they praised him to the skies, they invited him to their councils, this same man that they are now turning upon.
This man, having served on the new Board as one of its first members, helped to create this whole system. Having found out that its plans were not good, in his opinion, he had the courage and the honesty to come out of the Board, and to say why he came out. It is that man, who has now lost his position, whom the Minister, from his special place of privilege, turns upon. It was a cowardly and unworthy attack upon a public servant and I am surprised that Members of the Labour Party who shouted him to the sky when he was helping them, should be laughing at this great man now. It is a shameful exhibition.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) has referred to Sir Charles Reid. I know Sir Charles Reid well. As a mining engineer he is one of the very finest, but politically Sir Charles Reid is appalling.
§ Mr. Murray
Would the hon. Member for East Fife kindly indicate which paragraph in the 1948 report refers to Sir Charles Reid?
§ Mr. Stewart
I am not delivering my carefully-prepared speech. I am delivering a new speech as a direct result of the speech made by the Minister. I find it very difficult in the light of that speech to approach the problem with an unprejudiced mind as I had hoped. [Interruption.] May I go on?
I thought it a piece of effrontery on the part of the Minister to rebuke the Opposition for the terms of their Amendment. What is the Amendment? It is that, having noted the report of the Board, the House:regrets that an abundant supply of coal of good quality and at a fair price has not been made available to the public and to industry.Does anybody not regret that? Is there a nationalised industry using coal which has not said that it very much regrets it? Is there a housewife in the country or is there the wife of any Labour Member who does not regret that and has not repeatedly said that she regrets it? What hypocrisy it is that because we say what the whole country says we are told that it is an improper thing to say. I am glad that we have said it, and if called upon we shall vote in the Lobby to say it again. My name is not upon the Amendment, but if I were invited I would without hesitation put it there.
I now come to another part of the Minister's statement. He told us that he is directly responsible for three things among others, capital development, 1502 research and price costs. What did he say about any one of those things? Take capital development. There can be no doubt of the importance of capital development. There is probably not a mine in the country which does not need a good deal of development. We are seeing the development of great new mines in Fife. The hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern (Mr. Pryde) was right about what is happening in Fife. Enormous sums have to be expended on capital development. Why did not the Minister on this most important occasion tell the nation what he is doing there? That is the important part of this problem which he ought to have explained to the nation, but we heard nothing about it.
Take research. Here is a matter for which the Minister says he is responsible. What are we doing about research? Sir Hubert Holdsworth has told us, and he should know. Sir Charles Reid has told us, and he also should know something about it. Even the hon. Member for West Fife agrees that he is an expert engineer. At Oxford the other day Sir Charles told us—nobody will quarrel with this:The system of working"—I am talking about research—namely, long-wall advancing, which is almost in universal operation throughout the country, is extravagant in manpower due to the enormous amount of dead work required.Every miner present will agree about this—It is terribly expensive in stores and materials and calls for the use of an excessive quantity of steel for the maintenance of roadways. It involves large numbers of men on each coalface with very uninteresting jobs, and leaves little room for the enterprise of the individual. One questions if we are ever likely to get contentment by a system so deficient in human interest.Sir Charles added:The tragedy is that there is no real movement throughout the country"—[Interruption.] I am making an important statement. I am quoting a most important passage from a speech delivered by Sir Charles Reid, and if it is wrong I want the Minister to tell me that it is wrong. I believe this to be the essence of the problem we are considering. He said:The tragedy is that there is no real movement throughout the country to alter the system, and little if any experimentation and research into what is the greatest mining problem of all.1503 Does anybody challenge that? Nobody challenges it. Does the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) wish to challenge it?
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member for Durham could do that very much better than I could do it. I think I know what I mean, but it would be ridiculous for me to describe it when he can do it so much better. I am quoting from one who is described as one of the greatest mining experts of our time. There is a piece of research which that expert believes to be the greatest mining problem of all, and yet not a word was said about it by the Minister. Sir Charles Reid said that unless something of that kind was done throughout, we could not maintain the industry as we required. That kind of research ought to be going on in every area in the country. The Minister has failed the House and the country in that he has not instructed the Board to carry through that essential research.
Price and cost is another of the items for which the Minister is responsible. The Minister has made a series of speeches in his time, and on 29th November last this is what he said about price and cost:It is not simply a matter of maximum production. It is production at minimum costs of the total quantity of coal required for home and export demands at prices which enable the Board to pay its way.One might well add, "and which will enable the country to pay its way." If price is so very important in the Minister's mind, and that means costs, and he is accepting direct responsibility for it, why did he not tell us more about it today? That is another of the matters about which he has withheld essential facts.
I have only one other word to say now, as other hon. Members wish to speak. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If hon. Members on the Government side wish me to speak longer, I shall be very pleased to do so. During the Debate on the devaluation of the pound, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard). who was a miner, made a very remarkable statement. He used the startling phrase that the miners in Fife were saying—it is quite true—that there are too 1504 many white faces round about the pithead and were asking whether they were all necessary. I have my contacts with miners and have had for a very great number of years, and that is the miner's way of pointing to a vital weakness in the Coal Board's system. What is the weakness? It is—
§ Mr. Stewart
I shall be very willing to give way if the hon. Member will just let me finish a sentence. Figures have been given today of the great increase in non-productive staff in the Coal Board. There are now far more non-productive bureaucrats—white-collared men—than ever there were before, and the miners know that that means something. How does it come about?
I have spoken before about the composition of the Board. I have criticised the fact that it was so largely functional. I recognise that changes have been made. I can only hope that by bringing in Sir Geoffrey Hayworth, and others with great experience in wide public enterprise concerns, some advantage may be gained. But I speak now about the levels I know better, and with some little knowledge of this matter I tell the House that the present system of divisional boards is ruinous to the success of the main Board and the coal industry. I will tell the House why that is. Take the members of these divisional boards in any part of the country. There is a production director. He is responsible for production in the areas. Has he any responsibility for the production in any one of the pits or in any one of the areas? No, Sir. Can he give any orders in any of the areas under his general charge? No, Sir, he is not responsible. The result is that the people in the areas and at the pits have no direct boss to whom they can turn for instructions, or decisions. It is that lack of personal responsibility which is undermining the morale of the managerial levels in the coal industry today.
I have heard it said time and again how important is the psychological factor in the mines. That is quite true, but at the time when the Minister has said it he has been thinking more particularly of the men. I would point out that we are not without our contacts, and that we meet men engaged in the industry at all levels. I can assure the Minister, although 1505 he may not know it, that there is a considerable amount of uneasiness in the minds of the managerial staff in all areas.
We know that already many have gone, and that some of the most prominent people in the industry have left the Coal Board. I solemnly warn the Minister that many more would leave if they could get another job, but the Government have made this industry a monopoly, and if a man leaves the Coal Board he has no job to go to, which is the crying danger. I can assure the House that unless some change is made to place personal responsibility on individual managers, directors or whatever we wish to call them, we shall never make a success of this business. Why does the Minister, who makes many plausible statements do nothing in practice? He stated, on 29th November that he did not think the way out was in dispute; it was the maximum delegation of responsibility. In spite of these fine words, it remains true that there is no one man in any individual area who has any substantial personal responsibility.
I can assure the House, from personal experience with a private enterprise organisation, just as large as this, that it can only do its job and make a success of it by giving its individual managers personal responsibility. I cannot stress too much the importance of that. It is vital that the miners should have someone to whom they can turn. They have no one man today, as they had before; even if they did not like him at least he was a boss who could make a decision. The structure of these central and divisional boards is wrong because they fail to recognise that elementary human factor, and until that is put right, we cannot succeed.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
I am a little surprised at the speech we have just heard. I know from personal experience that there is a bigger opportunity today for discussion with the managers in the mining industry, through the consultative committees, than ever before. Consultations take place every week, and I am surprised that the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) should make such statements.
§ Mr. Stewart
I agree with what the hon. Member says, but I was referring 1506 to decisions. Let him deal with that question.
§ Mr. Murray
When they consult they arrive at decisions, which is the reason for the consultations. The consultations take place to remove disputes and troubles and to deal with all the things which happen during the week.
I was also surprised to hear what the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) had to say. I do not like to speak against him when he is not here, but that is not my fault. I like the right hon. Gentleman very much, but I thought he was in a worse position today than I have seen him in before. He spoke about the miners being out of touch with the National Coal Board. All I can tell him is that he is not in close touch with the miners, otherwise he would not make such statements. Out of 212 collieries in the County of Durham. 202 have already decided to work extra time to increase production, and the other 10 are being dealt with by the trade union representatives, who have not had a word of commendation for the work they are endeavouring to do. I had not intended saying these things, but when statements are made that are absolutely untrue they should not be allowed to go unchallenged.
I wish to speak for a short time about the report, because I understand this is what the Debate is all about. I have been disappointed with the Opposition. There seems to be no fire, or no coal, about them. The report shows that there has been increased production in all the British coalfields. Let the Tories oppose that if they like. The output per man-shift has gone up to the prewar level, which is what the Tories have been asking for, but we have heard nothing about that. We have only had the crumbs of commendation from the rich man's table.
We have had an average increase of 5.6 per cent. in Great Britain as a whole. In some districts it has been an increase of nearly 10 per cent., in others 9 per cent. and in others 8 per cent. and so on—it is all set out in the early part of the report. The output per man-shift has reached 3.2, and the absenteeism, which we have heard a lot about, has gone down by 88, although I am not saying that is enough. I have been telling the men in 1507 my district that it is not good enough, and that it is wrong for any man to lie idle if he is well and strong at this time of crisis.
I am not going to cry because of the report which has been presented, nor do I think there is any need to apologise for it. It is not perfect, but it is a splendid exposition of work done. The only thing I wish is that in this report, the increases in output and the reduction in absenteeism had been trebled, and then we would have been standing in an undoubtedly better position today. But the trend, and it is an important trend, is in the right direction. In every district we find increases—increases in production, increases in output per man-shift; and a reduction in absenteeism. Surely that is what the Tories have been asking for, and now they have got it they have not the courage to say, "Thank you" or, "That is a good job well done."
When I see in the report that in two years since nationalisation came into effect the speed of tunnelling in stone—which is a very difficult and skilful operation—has been doubled, surely that is important. In the same division short-term technical improvements have been carried out at eight collieries. There are 102 collieries in this particular district and it may be that all of them need short-term technical improvements. But surely this House and the country know that we cannot improve everything at one and the same time. Everyone knows of the limitation of men, materials and money, and yet we have these criticisms all the time. Here is a district that shows, with eight reorganised collieries, a 200 per cent. increase in production of coal or, in other words, 2,564,000 tons, and that is some increase. I would also remind this House that this same division produced in 1948, which is the year we are discussing, 37,469,000 tons of coal, a record figure for this particular division. That is not under private enterprise but under nationalisation.
The next thing I see in the report is that the mines are being steadily equipped with modern machinery, which is giving good results. That is something new for the industry. In one place in Durham we find a 10 per cent. increase in saleable coal which could not have been obtained except for the change-over from coal 1508 cutters to pneumatic picks. That is a step in the right direction.
Not only have we changes in that direction, but the men are now riding to the coal face where previously they had to walk. Many of them had to walk miles, carrying picks and drills and doubled up in a manner detrimental to production. Power loaders and conveyor belts have been installed, and whenever alterations have taken place whatever money has been spent has been a grand investment, because we have had a splendid return for it in increased production. That is what we all want.
In Durham we have a large and difficult coalfield. The House should remember that there are some coalfields where technical improvement and reorganisation is very difficult. In Durham, because it was laid out with very small pits, with small shafts and small roadways, it was possible to get an increased production at the coalface but impossible to get the coal out, because of narrow roadways and poor haulage conditions. It is impossible to have technical improvements and reorganisation in pits of that kind. Many of these pits are losing money, and will do so long as they are worked; but while we need the coal they must be worked. In December, 1948, the last month of the year, and including the Christmas holidays, we find that in Durham they produced more coal than in any other month during that particular year; and the number of persons employed was less. So I could go on right through this report, showing that whenever technical improvement or reorganisation has taken place there has been a magnificent return for the money spent.
I wish to refer to another problem which is very much in my mind, and which affects the mining industry in a great degree. It has been mentioned in this report and it was mentioned by the Minister when he talked about research. The miner does not usually ask for much. If he gets a fair deal he is well satisfied, and he is easily satisfied if the right approach is made to him. I ask that wherever possible the miner shall be given clean pure air free from dust. During 1948 a lot was done in this direction. I give credit to all engaged in the job of dust suppression. A total of 1,200,000 samples of roadway dust and 350,000 samples of mine air were analysed. In 1509 the South Wales area 47 miles of piping were installed, and the coalface needing treatment at that time was halved from 15 miles to about seven miles in an effort to prevent these dangers which always confront the miner. By the end of 1948 no less a number than 1,300 people were engaged in South Wales to combat the cruel diseases of pneumoconiosis and silicosis where they should be combated, and that is at the point of production, at the point of loading and transfer and wherever dust accumulates, even in the loading of ships. This matter ought to be tackled seriously.
For the sake of comparison I want co give some figures to show the difficulties and the great problems which face the industry. The hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern (Mr. Pryde) mentioned "taking the lid off" and said that if people could only see the conditions under which the miners work they would look upon them in a different light. In the period 1937 to 1944—eight years—663 death certificates were granted. Between 1945 and 1948—four years—671 death certificates were granted. In other words, eight more death certificates were granted in the last four years than in the previous eight years. That is a very serious matter for the mining industry, for the Coal Board and for the country.
I will not give the figures of the applications made for disablement certificates because there were thousands of applications; I will give the exact number granted. Men have become fearfully afraid in the mining industry. Because of their fear they attend for examination in order to ascertain the condition of their health. Between 1937 and 1944, in those eight years, 4.474 disablement certificates were issued to miners. In the four years between 1945 and. 1948, 12,823 disablement certificates were granted. In other words, 8,349 more men were certified as disabled in some form or another as a result of these terrible diseases of silicosis or pneumoconiosis, caused by dust.
This does not happen only in South Wales. In another division there are 1,000 to 1,200 working faces. If each of these faces were surveyed 12 times a year, which is not very often, with a rapid sampling instrument, the number of samples in the laboratory would be no fewer than 400,000 a year. Again, if five thermal precipitator samples were taken 1510 each quarter at each face, there would be 20,000 of these slides to be examined annually. This is a most serious problem which confronts the mining industry and the National Coal Board.
I wish to put a question to the Minister. I understand that at the present time there are 1,500,000 feet of pipe on order for the purpose of laying to the coal faces to combat this disease. Can I have the assurance of the Parliamentary Secretary that this order will have the highest priority so that this work can proceed without any further delay? I must remind the House and the Minister that there are other parts of the mining areas that are being visited with this cruel disease. Last year, Durham lost 75 by death, and in the first six months of this year the loss was 64—only 11 less for half the year than last year's total. That is an indication of how this scourge is growing.
I remind the House also that in the work of combating this disease, Lord Hyndley and his colleagues, the Research Council and the Ministry of Fuel and Power have engaged specialists of very high standing in research and science to help them to prevent the spread of this cruel scourge. Surely, the old adage is still true that prevention is better than cure, and that it is far better to place a fence at the top of the hill than to have an ambulance ready at the bottom?
When I was in America recently I was taken round the premises of a large firm which employs a very large amount of labour, and the guide, a young chap, said to me, "In this firm, we believe that the individual worker is our greatest asset, and that, as such, we must look after him first." How true that is in every industry in the world, not only in America. I am indeed glad today that the National Coal Board have said:The Board will not be satisfied until the disease is completely under control.I am glad to read these words in that report, because they mean so much to the men in the mines and to the women—the women who have many times watched these men silently and slowly dying, having given up their pleasures and comforts, women who after going to visit them in hospital have seen them slowly pass on to another world. I would say to Lord Hyndley and his colleagues with all the sincerity I possess "All strength to your elbow, whether it be in 1511 the field of research or in the Ministry of Fuel and Power or wherever it may be." I would say further "God bless your efforts." The work you are doing is a great work.
Let the Tories shout about balance sheets and profits, if they like. I know that profits are necessary. I am the last man in the world to decry profits; they are essential, and we cannot do without them in industry, whether nationalised or private. But nothing in the world is more important to a man or woman than health, and this great work must go on. The battlecry must be sounded, and fresh air must be given to the miners, or we shall have no miners at all. Whatever may be needed in the way of materials and money must be found, including, if possible, machines that can produce coal without creating dust—and that is a problem for the mining engineer. When the day arrives when this dust problem has been conquered, the miners of this country will arise and call blessed all those who have persisted in this work.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
With the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) I find myself in complete agreement, but with the earlier part, in which he failed to find why our party was not wholly in favour of the Coal Board and wholly enthusiastic of what has been done, I am in almost complete disagreement. I wish I had time to dispute it line by line, but in seven minutes I have to try to make a speech which was designed to fill considerably more space, and, therefore. I must leave that for another time.
This report deserves considerable respect for its form, its arrangement and for the amount of information, particularly statistical, contained in it. Hon. Members of the Opposition who fought both in Committee and on the Report stage to get that information made available can be really very satisfied with the results they have achieved. But there are still vast improvements which could be made. Looking at the outside of the report, I notice that the Royal Arms are omitted. I presume this was in order, as the National Coal Board is not State controlled, but is an independent business. But why did not they put in instead the 1512 arms of the National Coal Board? They have some nice new arms, and the motto—"E tenebras lux"—is extremely helpful when trying to elucidate some of the darker passages of the book. It might also comfort one for the fact that one has to pay 2s. more for this volume than for last year's.
But when we come to the inside of the report, I feel like my hon. Friend that the main complaint one has against it is of over-complacency. I wish to take as an example the particular paragraph that refers to the export trade and the progress made by the export trade during the year. I have to declare my usual interest. I am a director of a company which though not directly concerned in export has a subsidiary concerned with it. The report says thatMonth by month shipments were increased until by the end of the year an annual rate of nearly 20 million tons was reached. This was not yet comparable to the 52 million tons shipped in 1937, but was a vigorous start.By December, 1948, Britain were shipping more coal to Europe than America was.What is the real position? Exports at the end of that year were at a rate of less than one-third of pre-war, and the present anticipated export of 19 million tons is less than two-fifths of the pre-war figure. By December, 1948, the Polish export figure had increased from 12 million tons in 1938 to 26 million tons. I know there is a slight adjustment to be made in those figures for the coal from the German Silesian mines, but it is not very substantial. Again, America sent coal to Europe only in an emergency before the war, but now they are still sending it at the rate of 10 million tons. Actually, the story of the post-war export trade is a tragedy, the story of a great opportunity lost. Even as late as January, 1947, I believe it might have been possible not only to regain our 1939 market, but also a number of others that were lost between 1914 and 1939 if only the necessary coal had been forthcoming.
But even with this severely limited supply available a good deal more could have been done. I believe that if a certain amount of really good coal had been allowed to be exported, if only as a token of what we would do if the export increased, it might have helped. Had we avoided exporting what was almost rubbish and had we resisted the tendency to exploit our unique position as the one 1513 great European coalfield not devastated by the war, it would have helped a good deal. I purposely say "exploited" because I am not one of those who believe that we need necessarily sell to the foreigner at the same price as we do to our own people. In their hearts I do not think they expect it, and I realise, of course, that a good deal of the criticism is due to the fact that the coal is being sold nationally so that we get contact between the two nations on the highest level instead of between the traders of the two nations.
That is a very good argument for countinuing to trade by private enterprise in the foreign markets. Influenced by the parlous state of their finances, the Coal Board made really no effort to take a long-term business view. They have been living for the moment and the damage which has been done is, in my opinion, still largely concealed. The European export market is not yet saturated, except perhaps for coke, and the real fighting trade has not begun. When it begins we shall see the ground we have lost.
I have one other comment to make and it is on the statement, about the export trade, that very few complaints were made by foreign buyers about the coal they received during the year. That is only a half-truth. There may not have been many complaints about the coal they received, but there were bitter complaints about the coal they did not receive. It is true that the coal came up to the specifications given in the tenders, but the tenders were perhaps, taking ash for example, for coal containing 12 to 14 per cent of ash. It did contain that amount, but that is not what the receiver wanted. What he wanted was coal with 8 to 10 per cent. ash. There were complaints about that. I think the statement that there were no complaints was definitely a half-truth.
I do not think the National Coal Board should be asked to carry all the blame for this failure. They must carry the blame for failure in production, but I do not blame them so much for their failure to act as responsible and experienced businessmen. I think they were hampered at every turn by the Board of Trade who entangled themselves in a great mass of bulk buying and bulk selling, and bilateral trade agreements and I think that the main responsibility for 1514 making this business so difficult lies with the Board of Trade.
The time at my disposal has ended and I finish by asking the Parliamentary Secretary one question which I intended to ask earlier. I believe that one of the most valuable things that could be done in some of the older coalfields is to find methods where, by blending, some of the coals that are not so much wanted at the present time could be made more valuable by bringing them up to the standards where they could be carbonised. I know that research is going on and that work has been done in the North-Eastern Division in producing coke by these means, and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell the House something of the latest progress which has been made in that work.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
When the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) was speaking, had he not been complacent, I should have felt rather sorry for him. It seemed to me that here was a man, opening a Debate for the Opposition, knowing little of the background of the subject and evidently having taken very little pains to find out what this report really dealt with. He made very wild statements and yet he adduced no evidence in support of them. He spoke about cynicism among the workers and about distrust among the management. The facts do not prove that at all, particularly to those who come from mining districts.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about distrust in the management who were afraid to speak, I expect because they were afraid that the National Coal Board might do something evil to them; but if we go to any rank above the miner in the coal mining industry today we find that since nationalisation many of those categories of workers have been threatening to take strike action, whereas when they worked for private owners in this industry they would not have dared to say a word. Indeed, those people today find that they have far more freedom to disclose their grievances than they ever had under private enterprise in this industry.
Then he said, when he was giving an example of one manager who had been dismissed a month before his 10 years, that what the National Coal Board was 1515 doing was to try to reduce everybody's wages and everybody's conditions. Well, again, let us look at the facts of the situation—look where the miners are today in the industrial wage level and compare that with where they were under private ownership; we see their improved level. If we look at the clerical workers of the National Coal Board, at where they are today and at where they were before the Board took over, we see that, so far from trying to reduce everybody, the Board has improved conditions. We have that kind of inaccurate criticism in all sorts of directions from the Opposition. An attempt has been made by this National Coal Board to give justice to all its workers, no matter in what category they are.
The right hon. Gentleman also made a great song about lowering the price of coal, and challenged the National Coal Board because in this report it said that it wanted to curb the price. He said it ought to have been "lower" the price. He did not give us any suggestion how that price might be lowered. Indeed, we have not had one suggestion today of how to lower the present price of coal, and we should be very glad to have one, because we realise that, for the whole economy of this nation, we want to produce coal as cheaply as ever we can, provided at the same time that our miners, and all those who work for the National Coal Board, have a fair return for their work. Perhaps under private enterprise there was another way of doing it. From 1942 until 1946 the coal industry of this country received £27,500,000 in subsidies, every penny of that coming out of the taxpayers' pockets. That is very different from the posters we see all over the country about the nationalised industries.
The senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) spoke about the speech that the Minister made at Porthcawl, and he finished by saying that what we all should want is a pound's worth of work for a pound. Of course, that is what we want today. That is what the men under the National Coal Board are giving today. Previously it was a pound's worth of work for sometimes as little as 5s. in return for it.
There are many points I should like to have raised on this report. I welcome 1516 greatly the part that deals with education. Here we are finding today that the young entrants into the industry work for four days and are freed completely on the fifth day so that they may receive their technical and theoretical training for this industry. That is very different indeed from what happened previously, when those boys sometimes worked six days a week in the pit and had to travel long distances at night if they wanted to get this theoretical and technical training. They realise the growing need in this industry for technical efficiency. Today, under the National Coal Board, young men are going to the university and having their fees and all their expenses and a very good maintenance allowance paid to them. In other words, every chance is being given in this industry today to the lad who goes in at 15 if he has the will and the ability to get right to the very top.
In welfare, before the National Coal Board took over, we received 1d. on every ton of coal. It will be seen from this report that now 3d. is being paid. Add to that what is being spent on canteens and the upkeep of pithead baths, at the rate of 1½d. a ton, and the total is 4½d. a ton instead of a 1d.
I agreed entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) when he said how important the individual man is. I am glad he dealt fully with this question of pneumoconiosis. Not only in South Wales but in other parts of the country we have this dreadful scourge. I know from my association with the National Joint Welfare Council how excellent is the work that is being done on this disease. I also welcome the great amount of research that is being done by the Coal Board in dust suppression. I still am not satisfied, and I put this to the Minister—although it may be a matter for the Minister of Health—that, so far as I am aware, very little has been done for the treatment of miners when they have this disease. I know that research is being carried out—I understand that clearly—but there is too little being done in the treatment of this disease once a man has it.
The only other point on which I want to touch is absenteeism. I do not think that hon. Members on either side of the House have been able to give any of the 1517 real reasons for absenteeism. It is true that before the war it was lower because men then had to work very hard six and seven days a week to get the bare necessities of life when they were engaged in this industry. I realise that even today, when I know how much the men have got in improved conditions through the Coal Board, that a week's holiday, and the other odd days which they get—and I am glad that they get them—are not sufficient. The hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles, Southern (Mr. Pryde) was correct when he said it would be a good thing if we could lift the lid off a pit and let others see the conditions under which miners work—they would then not be surprised that when he gets a week's holiday, he decides to take a few more days with his family at the seaside.
I do not in any way condone absenteeism. In my own district, when talking to the miners, I stress just as the Minister did—and he was jeered at for it by the Opposition—that our nation today is dependent upon the miners as never before. We have, while taking that view, to find what is the proper way to overcome absenteeism. When I listened to some of the suggestions, I wondered what the rate of absenteeism of Members in this House and how it was compared with absenteeism in the mines.
I conclude by saying that we are not uncritical of the National Coal Board, and I might have raised a few points if I had had time, but we on this side are convinced that in a very short time the National Coal Board has indeed worked wonders. With the constructive criticism which it gets from the unions, the men, and the consultative committees. I have no fears but that it will work further wonders in the future.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I am glad, first of all, to thank the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) for her courtesy in curtailing her remarks and enabling me to make the final speech on this side of the House at a reasonable hour. I think that it is a matter of regret to all of us in this House that in these very interesting mining debates so many speeches have to be curtailed and often what would be valuable speeches are actually never made.
1518 I am glad tonight that we have had two or three new entrants into a mining debate. On this side of the House, we have had an extremely valuable speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), who raised on the timber question a matter which, I think, the Parliamentary Secretary and the National Coal Board will find well worth examining with that care which useful suggestions ought always to receive. We have also had the pleasant opportunity of a speech from the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) on the subject of coal. On the other side of the House, I was very interested to hear the most moderate and able speech made by the hon. Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) who, I think, was speaking for the first time in a coal debate.
I realise perfectly well that in a Debate of this character it is the duty of all sides to try to make criticisms that are at any rate constructive. I shall have to deal with the Minister's speech to some extent, and while I do not cavil at anything he actually said I thought that certain of his omissions made his picture of the working of the report for 1948 rather fallacious and, if I may say so, somewhat partial. But I shall deal with those matters point by point as they arise.
Nationalisation is now a fact, and I say quite frankly, speaking from this side of the House, that it is the duty of all sides to try to make the National Coal Board work, and to work effectively. I do not intend to make a speech dealing with the old arguments for or against nationalisation. I intend to face the situation as it in fact stands. It seems to me that there are three matters we have to look at before we consider whether any sweeping changes should be made in the present set-up: first, whether output and quality are at the present time satisfactory, looking at the background, secondly, whether the spirit in industry under the Coal Board at the present time is satisfactory; and thirdly, whether the cost position is satisfactory. I shall submit that in all those three cases the report itself, although a little disguised, is bound to admit that those things are not working with the degree of satisfaction that was certainly expected at the time the coal industry was nationalised.
It is not the task of anybody speaking from this side of the House to make any 1519 assault upon the miners. I say quite frankly that the miners have got a difficult and a dirty job in the pits. They always look rather coldly—and I do not blame them—at exhortations coming from anybody, whatever their political colour may be, who has not had experience of working in the pits. I confess that although we would all admit that absenteeism is too high—and the Minister has admitted that—a degree of that height of absenteeism may be due to the fact that in certain quarters the miners are not getting quite that leadership which good troops always require if they are to produce of their best. Speaking from the Opposition side, I should like to pay one tribute, and that is to those men, particularly amongst the older miners, who have given their lives to that industry in good times and in bad, in war and in peace, who have carried on a hard and difficult job with a quiet tenacity. The nation owes a great deal to them.
I do not propose to attack the Chairman of the National Coal Board. Lord Hyndley has an incredibly difficult task as the head of a vast industrial empire. Where I think the original criticism lies is in this: that when the Coal Board was first set up, the nine men who were given the task of ruling this vast industrial empire had very, very little direction from the Government of the day. The reason for that was made very plain by the former Minister of Fuel and Power, now the Secretary of State for War, when he admitted with great frankness—and frankness is the only merit I can give to it—that the Government had not really worked out what the problems of the nationalisation of the coal industry were at the time they nationalised it. The result was that there was set up a board which was bound to improvise, which had no real plan made for it by this Government of planners who might have been expected to plan. I am not surprised that such improvisation was bound to lead to a certain amount of top heavy bureaucracy.
Whenever we are talking about industry the Government use the year 1938 as their industrial comparison with today. We have been told, with some pride, that industry as a whole has an index figure today of 131. I realise that the mining industry has certain problems to face which do not exist in other industries 1520 but, nevertheless, we have to consider to some extent the position as it was 10 years ago. If I make comments on it I hope Members opposite will not say that I am stating an anti-nationalisation versus nationalisation argument. If I mention figures I shall be considering what the position of the industry is now, and what progress, or otherwise, has been made in the past 10 years, which is used as a criterion when we are discussing any other industry.
Since 1938, we know that there have been fewer men in the pits and that there has been an increase in mechanisation from 59 to 75 per cent. The Minister said that the greater part of this increase in mechanisation took place between 1939 and 1945, and that the production figures in 1945, 1946 and 1947 were poor. But he knows as well as I do that towards the end of the war the reduced number of men were tired, and that when the use of pit machinery is decided upon it takes time to get it effectively into pits and to train men to use it as effectively as it should be used. The admission of the Minister that the biggest part of the mechanisation was carried out between 1939 and 1945 is a strong argument for saying that by 1948 we ought to have been beginning to see the fruits of that mechanisation during those years.
The report emphasises the question of output per man-shift, but output per man-year is hardly mentioned at all. The Minister dealt almost entirely with the increased output per man-shift. In an intervention he said he had explained that he was dealing with production per man-shift, that the question of absenteeism and fewer shifts came in, and that he had therefore given the whole picture. How could any person, not knowing anything beyond the Minister's speech, have imagined from it what are the figures of average production per man-year in the pits between 1938 and 1948? The picture we were given was, "After all, you have to make some allowance for absenteeism and fewer shifts."
One of our great problems is that we produced in 1948, 196½ million tons of deep-mined coal as against 227 million tons in 1938. The output per man-year in 1938 was 290 tons; the output per man-year in 1948 was 271 tons in spite of the increased mechanisation. I do not 1521 think I can be accused of unfairness in saying that, in considering circumstances like these, we must look with a certain anxiety to the difference of output per man-year. I would also remind the Minister of Fuel and Power that in the report of the Committee on Industrial Productivity it was laid down that they felt that the real criterion, which they were using in that particular report was man-year rather than man-hour.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us the difference between the distance in 1938 from the coal face to the pit bottom and the difference between the two in 1948. In some of our mines the face is further away now and, therefore, the men have further to walk and the coal has to be brought a much greater distance.
§ Mr. Raikes
It is a fair point for the hon. Gentleman to make and I am much obliged to him. My comment on that would be that the general view of expert mining engineers is that the difference in the distance to the coal face as between 1948 and 1938, taking the pits as a whole, is not of such a degree as to make a great deal of difference in the output. I am expressing the general view of mining experts, of whom I do not pretend to be one.
We come to the next point, which is, how far did 1948 provide satisfactory figures? The right hon. Gentleman says that he thought the 1948 figures were satisfactory in so far as they compared with 1947. It is quite clear that that was so only in relation to that comparison. It is also true that in 1948—and I am going to take the Minister in a moment to 1949—the industry failed to reach what was laid down as a minimum target for that year. The minimum laid down in the Economic Survey was 200 million tons. My right hon. Friend referred to Lord Hyndley's statement in the course of that year, which I should like to underline. It was:If we fail to produce the minimum of 200 million tons in 1948 we, as an industry, will have to answer to the country and to our conscience.In fact, as we know, they were 3½ million tons below that target.
Then the Minister went on to 1949, and rightly so, because I think, dealing with a report of this character, it is as 1522 well to carry all the implications. In 1949 the Minister omitted something very substantial. He gave the figure of the Economic Survey for what should be the production of deep-mine coal for 1949. I think the figure was anything between 202 million tons to 207 million tons. He did not give the figures put down as the Coal Board forecast and also the forecast of our commitments under the Marshall plan. They were the same. The Coal Board forecast for 1949 was 210 million tons and the Marshall Aid commitment was 210 million tons.
We know perfectly well today that there is not an earthly chance of getting near that figure. We welcome the additional spurt which, of course, is made at this time of the year, but if we reach 202 or 203 million tons I think that is the most that is physically possible at this stage of the year. That means that we shall be 7 million tons below the forecast of the National Coal Board. Lord Hyndley, realising in the middle of July that he was not going to get his target came forward and said, "We must make 207 million tons our target." Now we get to 203 million as the most we shall reach. I submit on that aspect of production, looking at the position as it was 10 years ago, that all the forecasts made in 1948 and 1949 by responsible persons justify me in saying that the National Coal Board has not provided a satisfactory output of coal, according to their own forecasts.
On quality, I would only say in passing that we all know that the quality of coal has deteriorated since before the war, but I do not want to make an unfair point about that. I would remind the House that even if we produced 200 million tons, to take a rough figure, considering the increased dirt, it would not be as good in useful coal as 200 million tons would have been in the days before the war. This is the kind of figure that we have to bear in mind as responsible persons, when we are looking at the future of the coal industry.
On the question of costs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) gave a number of substantial and important figures. I would remind the House of one or two other points about costs. Taking, not 1939 but the beginning of 1947 when the 1523 National Coal Board took over, we can see that from 1st January, 1947, to 30th June, 1949, there has been an increase of 9s. 4d. a ton in costs. That is an increase of 26 per cent., yet wages only took up 15.7 per cent. of that increase. That means that, since the National Coal Board took over, there has been an increase in the cost of administration of no less than 10 per cent.
When one glances at further figures and sees a 21 per cent. increase in the administration of non-industrial staff since the end of 1946, an increase of salaries in 1947 of £13 million and in 1948 of nearly £17 million, and a big increase in administration expenses for colliery activities alone, one realises that costs are going up on the managerial side. I have heard it said on very good authority that the whole cost of management and administration amounts to about 3s. 6d. a ton, which is a big figure.
As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) said in his extremely interesting speech, 48s. 5½d., the price paid at the pithead now for coal, is the highest price ever known. We cannot afford to allow prices to run up if we are to hold our own in the export market in the years ahead. At the present time we are charging higher prices in the export market than in the home market, and unless prices fall we shall find that instead of being the lifeblood of industry the coal industry will be a check upon every other industry. Therefore it is vital that we should increase production for export and for other markets. When the most we can have said by the Coal Board in its annual report is that it hopes to curb costs, I confess that I feel that the Coal Board is adopting a spirit of resignation rather than a spirit of vigour and hope.
I shall not at this stage say anything on the question of frustration except that everyone knows that we have in many cases managers who are over-burdened with the tilling of forms. That cannot be denied on the other side of the House; it has been half admitted by the Minister in one of his statements. In many cases managers are inclined to pass the responsibility on from the pit to the sub-area, from the sub-area to the area and so on upstairs via the divisional board. I will give an example. I was talking the other 1524 day to a sub-area manager whom I had known for years. I said, "How are you doing now?" There was no politics in this. He said, "I am quite comfortable. I am paid very well by the Coal Board, but, of course, now I never take a decision; I always pass it on to somebody else." I am sure that spirit exists, and I am certain beyond doubt that remote control is bad not only as affecting the management but also as affecting the men. If the managements are passing the buck and not making decisions, they will never get the best return from the men working under them.
I would say that the Minister realised that all was not well in the Coal Board when he set up the Burrow Committee. I presume that it was set up for a useful purpose, whether it achieved one or not. I and my hon. Friends regret that the evidence in its report was not made public and that it was purely a departmental report. Looking at the structure of the Coal Board today, I believe that the arguments put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde, not for the first time in this House, on decentralisation have grown in strength since the 1948 report came out; and also the observations which have been made by Sir Charles Reid have grown in strength.
It is too much to ask any Government to take a cast-iron rigid scheme produced by somebody else, but the time has come when we ought to go beyond a departmental inquiry and when we require an independent inquiry, taking evidence in public of businessmen outside the Coal Board, to look at the structure and to report upon it. Costs are high, as has been shown, output is lagging behind what output could be, and a degree of frustration undoubtedly exists. Unless some step like that is taken, the alternative is this.
The National Coal Board has resigned itself to move rather gradually forward expecting to miss every target which it sets for production. Whether it expects to miss them or not, it does miss. Beyond that, if it feels that somehow or other it can get up perhaps another 6 million tons a year, it will be years before we get near the figures of before the war, and by the time we do get those figures it may be quite impossible to obtain what we require in the way of export trade, 1525 which is now becoming more and more difficult as the markets turn over. It is the difference between drifting along or giving a new impetus to industry. I believe that an independent tribunal could give that impetus and that we could through decentralisation cut out many of those things which are hampering the Coal Board at present. My greatest criticism of the Government is that, as in other matters, they are lacking in urgency in what is an urgent and vital question.
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Motion, at the end, to add:but regrets that an abundant supply of coal of good quality and at a fair price has not been made available to the public and to industry.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
I must confess to a feeling of great disappointment at the way in which this Debate has gone—[Interruption.] It is all right for hon. Gentlemen opposite to start jeering; most of them have not been in the Chamber all day. It was not my hon. Friends who were jeering, and I happen to have been sitting here all day listening to the Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. Therefore I say that I must confess to a feeling of disappointment at the way in which this Debate has gone. Speaking as a parliamentarian—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh yes, as one who in these last four years has come to love and respect this House and know that it can rise to great occasions, I thought that on this occasion, when for the first time in our history Parliament has had the opportunity of dealing with the affairs of a publicly-owned enterprise, we should deal with it, as I thought the Minister put it so well, in the way that shareholders might deal with the affairs of a company at their meeting—
§ Mr. Robens
I thought that the Minister made a statement that was moderate and not partisan in any way, and set a very fine note for what might have been a good debate. I am sorry that the right hon. Member 1526 for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) did not take that cue. Indeed, apart from the speech of the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes), there has been very little constructive criticism from the other side of the House. There has been plenty of criticism. Indeed, hon. Members opposite are carrying on using the Coal Board as a political stick to beat the Government. I thought we had finished with the political issue of whether the coal industry should be nationalised or not. Hon. Members opposite have said that they would not de-nationalise the coal industry, so surely it is our duty, as Members of this House, to make the Coal Board work, and to come to this House with constructive proposals as to where it is wrong, if it is wrong, and how we should set about putting it right.
It is true, as the hon. Member for Wavertree said, that the important things are output and quality. In these important years emerging from the war we cannot divorce those things. It is impossible to divorce output from quality. He knows, as everyone who has any association at all with coal mining knows, that if we get on at great speed with mechanising the mines at the coalface, unless at the same time we build washeries and treatment plants in order to treat the coal with the same speed as it is produced, obviously quality suffers; but all the same, output is the most important. In relation to quality, all is being done that can be done to get the necessary treatment plant erected so that the quality may be steadily improved.
In regard to blending, which was a point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), as the report indicates a great deal of research is being done in order that we shall have the qualities which the consumers want. That is not done in a day. Thousands of samples from mines all over the country have to be taken and analysed. The blends have to be checked over in the laboratories in order to provide the qualities that consumers want. Much on this work is being done. If hon. Gentlemen opposite say that it ought to be got on with much more quickly, they will have to demonstrate how that could be done. The fact is that I believe that the Coal Board, as the report shows, are doing a great deal and are moving along quickly in relation to 1527 the problem of quality, which is tied up with the question of output.
The hon. Member for Wavertree referred to the increase in administrative expenses. That is true. The clerks in the industry now get more wages than they received before; but the right hon. Member for Southport was complaining that they were badly paid. The Opposition cannot complain at one time that the clerical workers are badly paid, and at another, when the clerical workers receive an increase in pay, complain if administrative costs go up. In point of fact, that is what has happened. What do the expenses of the divisions and the National Coal Board represent? They represent 0.7 per cent. of the total expenditure of the Coal Board. That is an infinitesimal amount when compared with the large expenditure that is necessary in this great industry.
The fact is that this country will emerge from the present period of difficulty into prosperity according to whether this great industry of ours is successful or not. If this industry fails, there is no hope for any of us in whatever part of the House we sit. It is because we have recognised that through the years since nationalisation took place that we were so anxious today that we should have the best type of Debate. Hon. Members are welcome to make criticisms if they wish, but they should be constructive. The right hon. Member for Southport said that one of the advantages of this Debate was that the coal industry was a monopoly—
§ Mr. Robens
If the right hon. Gentleman looks in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, he will find that he did say that it was an advantage to have this Debate because the coal industry was a monopoly.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
No. I said that it was a necessity to have this Debate because the coal industry was a monopoly.
§ Mr. Robens
That is better still. I thank the right hon. Gentleman. It was because the coal industry is a monopoly that it is necessary that we should have a Debate. It is a great pity that all the other monopolies in the country are not 1528 subject to the same kind of Debate. It would have been most interesting if that great monopoly which has occupied the newspapers during the last few days had been subject to the kind of public accountability which the right hon. Gentleman suggested. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nuts."] Even on the question of nuts there will be public accountability, which is more than can be said for Rank's films.
The right hon. Gentleman properly referred to the mounting costs of the industry. To what are the rising costs due? Eighty-four per cent. of the costs are caused by labour and materials. The Coal Board have little or no control over the materials they buy. Over wages they have control. Do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest, therefore, that to reduce costs we should slash the wages of the miners?
§ Mr. Robens
What we have decided, of course, and what the National Coal Board have done, is not to slash the wages of the miners, but to treble them over the level of the pre-war years. If they had not done this, and if they had not spent the enormous amount of money which they have spent—in the first year, it was something like £63 million on the five-day week, additional wages, making the pithead baths free and things of that character—what would have happened? There would have continued the drift away from the pits, resulting in less manpower than in 1945, and the cost of coal would not be where it is now. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Gentlemen shake their heads, but it seems to me to be a logical argument. We raise costs considerably unless we get the men to bring up the coal, and we shall never get the men to bring up the coal unless we give them decent wages and conditions. That is something to the credit of the National Coal Board.
It is assumed that coal prices are the only prices which have been raised, but that is not so. The whole level of prices in recent years, as a direct result of the war, has been increasing, not only in this country, but throughout the world. If we look at farm prices in this country and take the year 1938 to represent the index figure of 100, the index figure of 1529 farm products is now 258. Coal prices are 248, so that the increase in coal prices is not the only instance of increases in price.
Nor have these increases in price taken place solely since the National Coal Board took over. Let us have a look at them. In 1938, the costs of production were 16s. 1d. per ton commercially disposable, and in 1946 they were 35s. 10d., an increase of 19s. 9d. per ton—and not under nationalisation. Since nationalisation, the cost of production has gone up to 45s. 6½d. per ton, making an increase of 8s. 6½d. per ton saleable. Thus, whereas in pre-nationalisation days from 1938 we had a rise in costs of 19s. 9d. per ton after nationalisation the increase has been only 8s. 6½d. per ton, and of that 8s. 6½d., 7s. 4d. is reflected in the wages of the miners. This is nothing of which the Coal Board need be ashamed, nor is it anything about which hon. Gentlemen opposite need boast when they try to make out that these high costs are something peculiar to the coal industry and not associated with any of the interests with which they and their friends are connected.
The right hon. Member for Southport tried to tell the House that industrial relations in the industry are awfully bad. He has been answered by many of my hon. Friends. I deny right away that the relations in this industry are bad. They are extremely good, but I will tell the House—and it is useful to make some comparisons sometimes—that if we take the three years after the 1914–18 war—[HON. MEMBERS "No."] We are now coming to what hon Members opposite do not like and cannot take, but I do not propose to skip it; I propose to give it. In the three years after the 1914–18 war, which are reasonably comparable with the three years after the last war, the number of days lost through industrial disputes in the mining industry reached a total of 97,673,000. In the three years 1946–47–48, the number of days lost through industrial disputes was 1,798,000.
I say that that is the real answer when hon. Gentlemen opposite try to suggest that since nationalisation industrial relations have been very much worse than in the old days when private enterprise had control. Far from these relations 1530 being bedevilled, what is the situation? With a five-day week in the industry, these men have for some time past given up their five-day week and been prepared to work extended hours. The consultative machinery has been used very considerably. One of the reasons disputes are so small in number is because men and managements are getting together.
Consultation is an art that is not easily acquired. There are all sorts of difficulties that have to be put on one side. There is the problem of the manager who sometimes resents having to discuss with his men things relating to his pit, and there is sometimes the question of men who resent making a contribution in certain cases even to their own pit. But the fact is that the recent production drive has been conducted by the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.
With regard to extra hours worked, if we take these last four weeks we find that 367 pits agreed to Saturday work, which is an improvement on the comparable four weeks of last year, when only 324 worked on Saturday. Last Saturday, 5th November, 496 pits were working on Saturdays and 122 pits were working an additional half-hour on the shift. I suggest that these men have been prepared to do that because of the change in the industry and that they would not have been so easily prepared to do it under certain circumstances that existed before.
My next point is the kind of thing about which I complain. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that the right hon. Member for Southport made the claim that the National Coal Board treated its people very badly. I think he said that there was an official who, had he served one more month, would then have completed 10 years' service and would have been eligible for a pension, but that in point of fact this hard-hearted Board dismissed him within a month of the 10 years which would have enabled him to qualify for the pension.
I asked the officials of the Ministry if they could trace from the very poor information available something about this particular case, because I did not believe that it could be true. What are the facts? The man referred to had only done six and a half years' service in the coal industry since 1935. The Board have no power 1531 at all to pay pensions unless the people concerned have had 10 years' service in the industry. Furthermore, if a man feels that he has a grievance, then he has the right of appeal to a referee. Did one get that under private enterprise? Of course not. The fact is that that tiny little thing is brought forward, when we are debating this great industry, in order to entertain this House and to try to score some political point.
The number of pits that have been closed without any real difficulty and without the social problems that arose out of closures in the old days has been due to what? To the fact that men and managements have got together, have talked about the closures and made all arrangements, and because the Board had a redundancy scheme that took care of some of those people who could not be re-employed. Therefore, it is wrong to say that the industrial relations are bedevilled, and that there is all this frustration. It is wrong to say that men are not working in harmony with managements.
It is perfectly true that there are obvious difficulties, and I know of no industry where, even with the most perfect organisation and the finest type of management, there is not something cropping up at one time or another which ought to have been avoided; but by and large the operations of this industry, and the relations of the men in it, are to be commended rather than decried, as they have been today.
I cannot say much about colliery managers in regard to this terrible feeling of frustration. What a word to use about men who manage pits. It really surprises me, because I should have thought that a man who was qualified to manage a pit was someone who could stand up for himself. I should have thought that the manager of a pit who felt frustrated because of this awful demon that was over him would have approached his colliery managers' association and they would have gone to the divisional board and said, "Look, we colliery managers are not standing for this any longer." Have they done so? They are not unimportant people in the industry, and if there were this feeling of frustration, if they felt unable to do their jobs, surely there would have been an approach through the normal channels of consultation, 1532 which are available to them just as they are for the workmen, in order to deal with the problem. So much for what the right hon. Gentleman said about labour relations in the industry.
The right hon. Gentleman criticised the Burrows Report and the hon. Member for Wavertree said that my right hon. Friend had set up the Burrows Committee. Nothing of the kind. The Coal Board thought it would be a good thing if they invited outside persons to have a look at their organisation and to give them some advice and criticism. Accordingly, the Burrows Committee was set up by the Coal Board to look into their affairs in just the same way as any business firm might either bring in a consultant or depute one of the members of its board to do a certain investigation. How that committee did its job was up to the committee. It did not concern my right hon. Friend; it concerned the National Coal Board, and the recommendations were published, and hon. Members know what they were.
It has been suggested that Sir Charles Reid has suddenly lost the esteem which he earned by the Reid Report, and the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) spent a good deal of time on the subject. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend was absent, for he would have enjoyed the spectacle of the hon. Member almost having an apoplectic fit in his endeavour to help Sir Charles Reid back into the public esteem from which, the hon. Member said quite wrongly, my right hon. Friend had pushed him. The fact is that my right hon. Friend did not decry Sir Charles Reid. In fact, he said he was a first-class engineer. What he said was that that was a very different thing from saying that Sir Charles was the best administrator in the country. There was nothing derogatory said about Sir Charles Reid; from this side of the House we have all paid our tributes to him as a first-class mining engineer, and nothing that has been said robs him of that esteem The fact is, however, that the Reid Report was really a technical report and was not intended to deal with the organisation of a nationalised industry.
The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), because he has a very great and intimate interest in the coal industry, complained that the 1533 National Coal Board had not invited him to give his opinion on certain matters. I would remind the hon. and gallant Member that when his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) was Minister of Fuel and Power he set up the Reid Committee, but he did not invite the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde to sit on that committee either. After all, if his own right hon. and gallant Friend was not prepared to put him on the Reid Committee he must not complain if the National Coal Board does not go running to him asking for his advice about the things they are doing. It seems to me that the hon. and gallant Member takes himself rather too seriously about this.
The hon. and gallant Member went on to talk about mechanisation. He suggested that mechanisation had trebled with very little increase in output per man-shift. It certainly has trebled since 1927, but the Reid Report itself said that the reason output per man-shift had not increased proportionately with this great increase in mechanisation was that the mechanisation had started at the wrong end. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelmen), who dealt with this in great detail and with great clarity. I should be glad if hon. Members who are interested in this would read again the speech of my right hon. Friend, who dealt with the matter very clearly. The fact is, of course, that mechanisation must be balanced, and output per man-shift has to take into consideration many relevant factors—the deployment of men about the pit, the number of shifts possible, the number of shifts worked, and so on. As my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) said, the trend is in the right direction; output per man-shift is going up; and if we continue on that line we shall not come to very much harm.
The other criticism the hon. and gallant Member made was about the lack of autonomy, as he called it, in the pits. I am always inclined to think that hon. Members opposite get a lot of their information inaccurately. They meet their friends, as the hon. Member for Wavertree said he met his friends, but they do not really get the facts. There is an enormous amount of autonomy in the divisions. Indeed, one may almost say there is more autonomy 1534 in the divisions than there is in the big capitalist organisations of this country.
§ Mr. Robens
I will challenge the hon. Gentleman some day about it, and we call produce the facts. For the moment I make that statement. Autonomy is right up to a point, but there must be some centralisation, surely, in things like finance and marketing. Indeed, Sir Charles Reid said there was a dearth of mining engineering experience, and that there was need for central stimulus for re-organisation; and so he said there should be some central organisation.
I am sorry, but I shall have to pass over some of the other points with which I wanted to deal in detail; but I am afraid time does not permit me to go into them. However, perhaps I ought to say to the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), in relation to the home-grown timber used by the National Coal Board for the mines and for pit props, that up to June of this year that matter was dealt with by the Board of Trade Timber Control, and that is why nothing appears in the report about the use of timber and its purchase. However, the National Coal Board is anxious to use as much home-grown timber as it can. I understand that the Select Committee on Estimates is at the moment going into the question of the accounts, and the National Coal Board has submitted a memorandum. I think we ought to leave that subject there until we can look at what evidence is being presented.
There is one other thing I ought to say, and that is in defence of the Minister. I regret very much indeed the remarks of the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). I sometimes think that the greatest and best reason for abolishing the university Parliamentary seats lies in the Parliamentary representatives of the universities. I have been brought up amongst some rum people, but I have never met such people as the hon. Gentleman, who is supposed to be well educated and yet can utter the type of cynical abuse which he utters. My right hon. Friend had more courage than the hon. Member would have. He went down to Porthcawl to the annual meeting of the National Union of Mineworkers at its invitation, and he 1535 addressed the miners themselves. He did not make speeches in the country. He did not go abroad to denigrate the miners and the mining industry, but went to the miners and put to them the facts of the situation.
§ Mr. Robens
Yes, and if he did, it takes a brave man to do so; and if he is emotional, then that is a good thing
§ sometimes. If there had been a little more emotion in this industry in the years gone by, we should not have seen it in the sad decline in which it was. This report is a first-class report, one that any Britisher can be proud of, and those who sneer at it have nothing to be proud of in themselves.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 152; Noes, 270.1539
|Division No. 278.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Granville, E. (Eye)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Gridley, Sir A.||Nutting, Anthony|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Grimston, R. V.||Odey, G. W.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Harris, F. W. (Craydon, N.)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Birch, Nigel||Harvey, Air-Comdre A. V.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Head, Brig. A. H.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Boothby, R.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hollis, M. C.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Howard, Hon. A.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Byers, Frank||Hudson, Rl, Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Carson, E.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr N. J.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Challen, C.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Channon, H.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Keeling, E. H.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Darling, Sir W. Y.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Linstead, H. N.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lipson, D. L.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Donner, P. W.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Low, A. R. W.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Drewe, C.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Touche, G. C.|
|Duncan, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (City of Lond.)||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Turton, R. H.|
|Duthie, W. S.||MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon Walter||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Wakefield, Sir W. W|
|Erroll, F. J.||McFarlane, C. S.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Fox, Sir G.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Gage, C.||Marples, A. E.||York, C.|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)|
|Gammans, L. D.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.||Major Conant and|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Nicholson, G.||Brigadier Mackeson.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Nally, W.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Neal, H. (Claycross)|
|Albu, A H.||Ganlay, Mrs. C. S.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.||Gilzean, A.||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)|
|Allen, A C. (Bosworth)||Glanville, J. E. (Corsett)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Gordon-Walksr, P. C.||Noel-Buxton, Lady|
|Alpass, J. H.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Gronfell, D. R.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Grey, C. F.||Orbach, M.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Gunter, R. J.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Baird, J.||Guy, W. H.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Hairs, John E. (Wycombe)||Pannell, T. C.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Hale, Leslie||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Battley, J. R.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushclifle)|
|Beswick, F.||Hardy, E. A.||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Harrison, J.||Pearson, A.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville.||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Haworth, J.||Popplewell, E.|
|Boardman, H.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Kingswinford)||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Bowden, H. W.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Herbison, Miss M.||Price, M. Philips|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Hobson, C. R.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Holman, P.||Pryde, D. J.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Pursey, Comdr. H.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Horabin, T. L.||Reeves, J.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Houghton, Douglas||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Burden, T. W.||Hoy, J.||Richards, R.|
|Burke, W. A.||Hubbard, T.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W)||Robens, A.|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Hughes, Emrys (S Ayr)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Champion, A. J.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Chater, D.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Cobb, F. A.||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Royle, C.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Sargood, R.|
|Coldrick, W.||Janner, B.||Scollan, T.|
|Collindridge, F.||Jay, D. P. T.||Scoll-Elliot, W.|
|Collins, V. J.||Johnston, Douglas||Segal, Dr S.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)||Sharp, Granville|
|Comyns, Dr. L.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Cook, T. F.||Kenyon, C.||Shurmer, P.|
|Cooper, G.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)||Kinley, J.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Corlett, Dr J.||Lavers, S.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Cullen, Mrs.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Daines, P.||Leonard, W.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham S.)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Leslie, J. R.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Lever, N. H.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Lindgren, G. S.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Lindsay, K. M. (Comb'd Eng. Univ.)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Longden, F.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westnoughton)||McAdam, W.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Davies,, S. O. (Merthyr)||McGhee, H. G.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Deer, G.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Lambeth)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W.)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Diamond, J.||McKinlay, A. S.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Maclean, N. (Govan)||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Donovan, T.||McLeavy, F.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||MacPherson, T. (Romford)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Edelman, M.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Mann, Mrs. J.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Tiffany, S.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Timmons, J.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Tolley, L.|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Mayhew, C. P.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Medland, H. M.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Mellish, R. J.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Ewart, R.||Messer, F.||Usborne, Henry|
|Fairhurst, F.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|Farthing, W. J.||Mitchison, G. R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Monslow, W.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Field, Capt. W. J.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Morley, R.||Weilzman, D.|
|Follick, M.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Foot, M. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Forman, J. C.||Moyle, A.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Freeman, J. (Watford)||Murray, J. D.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Wigg, George||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)||Woods, G. S.|
|Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)||Wyatt, W.|
|Wilkes, L.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)||Yates, V. F.|
|Wilkins, W. A.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)||Willis, E.|
|Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)||Wills, Mrs. E. A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Williams, D. J. (Neath)||Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.||Mr. Snow and Mr. George Wallace.|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1948.