§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1949.We are to discuss today the Annual Report of the National Coal Board for 1949. 1949 was the third year of their existence. In the third year they were at the beginning of their enormous task: yet people often say that the policy of nationalisation has already been proved to be a failure. There has been a lot of loose talk—not usually substantiated by many facts—about the Coal Board. I want to examine today the charges that are made against the Coal Board in the light of the facts given in this Report.
In the Report the Board are by no means complacent about what they have done. Nor am I. But let us examine one by one the things for which they are blamed and see what their record really is. It is said, first and foremost. that they have failed because they have not got the coal the nation needs. Well, we do need more coal than we are getting. The Board know it and admit it, and so do I. Total output is the vital test by which all else must stand or fall. But let us look fairly and frankly at what they have done.
In 1949, with full employment and the rising productivity of labour, total home consumption of coal, including factories and electricity and gas and railways, but excluding house coal, was 34 million tons more than it was in 1938. We are building a lot of new refineries in Britain. We are going to use a lot more oil. But nine-tenths of British power and fuel will still come from coal. In 1949 the Coal Board produced 5 million tons more coal than in 1948; 28 million tons more than we got in 1945. The whole recovery of Britain since 1945 has been founded on that recovery of British coal. Without that great extra output, without that great effort, disaster, beyond all question, would have stared us in the face.
Should we have got that extra output if coal had not been nationalised? Can we be certain that we could even have got the 174 million tons which we were getting in 1945? Two divisions last year 1558 failed to pay their way. They did much better than in 1948, but still they made a loss. In almost every division there are some pits—there are 467 in all—which still do not pay. What would have happened to those pits if we had gone back to the old system? What would have happened to them if the industry had been drastically decentralised and every area made a separate, independent financial unit, as some people have proposed?
Should we have got the 55 million tons which last year the Coal Board produced from the so-called uneconomic areas? Fifty-five million tons—almost as much as Lord McGowan told us in 1948 we should have lost if the mines had not been nationalised? Anyway, it is certain that it is because the industry has been nationalised, because it has been worked as an integrated whole, because all these pits are part of one financial unit, that we have been sure of this 55 million tons, and that, instead of falling further, total output has risen since 1945 by nearly 30 million tons.
Secondly it is said—and very frequently —that all nationalised industries lose money, that they do not care, that they do not have the profit motive, that they can rely on the taxpayers to see them through. It would unquestionably have been right to have got this extra 30 million tons since 1945, even if by so doing we had made a large financial loss. Indeed, Lord Bruce of Melbourne said the other day that it probably would have been better if we had let the Coal Board make a loss; that we should have given them five or ten years to modernise, re-organise and re-equip the mines before we expected them to show any profit at all. Well, the Act of 1946 gave them no such latitude as that; it said that they must pay their way "on an average of good and bad years.
" In 1947 they made a stupendous effort to do what Lord Bruce said—to raise output almost irrespective of the cost—and in consequence they made a loss of £23½ million. In 1948, they made a modest surplus of £.1½ million; in 1949, they made a surplus of £9½ million. And that was after they had made all the payments due to the Exchequer in respect of the assets which had been handed over to them by the State, after they had allowed for Profits Tax of £½ million, after they had made additional provision 1559 for workmen's compensation of £4 million, and after they had allowed more generously for depreciation of their capital assets than the previous owners used to do.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
Might I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman for a moment? I thought that the country would benefit today by a discussion of the Report of the Coal Board, and not by controversy about the merits or demerits of nationalisation. The right hon. Gentleman does no service to the coal industry by again dragging nationalisation into the centre of politics.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Nobody will be more delighted than hon. Members on this side of the House when nationalisation is accepted by all parties, and when nobody tries to make party capital out of it.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am answering the charges that are constantly made against the nationalisation of the coal industry, and by nobody more than by the right hon. Gentleman himself. I shall give him the facts from the Report for 1949 which answer his charges, and I hope he will listen to them with the patience he always shows.
I was saying that the Coal Board are already halfway towards the liquidation of the loss they made in 1947; they hope to wipe it out this year and to start to build up a reserve. If the Board is regarded purely as a business undertaking it cannot be denied that that is sound finance by any test. A profit of £9½ million in the third year is pretty good, and it makes nonsense of a lot of what the critics say.
It is urged—and I dare say the right hon. Gentleman will urge it today—that the Board have only earned their profit by raising prices—as, of course, private owners would never have done!—that they have done it, in fact, by overcharging their customers, British and foreign,. for the coal they sell. Indeed, it is often said that British industry is handicapped in the markets of the world because, thanks to nationalisation, their costs for fuel and power are so very high. Let us look at that for a moment.
1560 Taking industry in general, as a whole the cost of fuel and power today—gas, electricity and coal together—is something between 1 per cent. and 3 per cent. of total costs. That is just about the same as it was in 1938. If fuel costs have gone up since then, other costs have gone up just as much; indeed, if anything they have gone up more. Between 1938 and April, 1950, the Board of Trade wholesale price index for coal rose by 148 per cent., but over the same period the average increase in the index numbers of manufactures and basic materials was 157 per cent. Leaving out manufactures and coal, the increase in other basic industrial materials was 260 per cent.
Let us look more closely at what has happened since 1946. Between vesting day and April, 1950, the wholesale coal price index rose by 25 per cent.; the average increase of the index numbers for industrial materials and manufactures in the same period was not 25 per cent. but 38 per cent.; the increase for basic industrial materials, excluding coal, was 62 per cent. There is really no answer to these figures. The price of British coal has not risen under nationalisation more than the price of many other commodities that have not been nationalised: it has risen less.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
British industry is not handicapped by high coal prices as against the outside world. In fact, we have the lowest coal prices in Western Europe.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Nor has the Coal Board overcharged their foreign customers. I utterly repudiate that suggestion. The Coal Board have sold our coal abroad because the foreigners want to buy it. They have not extracted the last farthing those people could be made to pay; it would be bad business if they did. Their present prices do not endanger good will for future trade. Their prices are at the world market level—about the same as the price which Poland is charging in the European market and below the price charged for American coal delivered at European ports.
1561 No charge of exploitation can possibly be laid against the Coal Board. They follow the practice of other industries which export British goods; in the national interest they earn as much foreign currency as they rightly can; they have increased their exports in 1949 by three million tons, and they made a splendid contribution to the earning of foreign exchange—£50 million—apart from other earnings on freight and on insurance of cargoes. It is true, however, that if all the coal had been sold in Britain at present internal prices the Board would not have made their present profit. It is true that in future years the level of world prices may come down, and that makes it important to look not only at prices but at costs.
Of course, it is said that, thanks to the Coal Board administration, costs have risen greatly and are far too high. I promised hon. Members the other day at Question Time that I would today discuss the trend of costs per ton since the Coal Board started, and that I would compare them with costs before the war. It is true, as I said then, that for 14 years up to 1948 there was a constant unbroken rise in the costs of producing British coal.
The official published figures show that costs were: in 1935, 13s. 1d; 1938, 16s. 1d.; 1946, 35s. 10d.; 1948, 45s. 6½d. Now those figures are not all on quite the same basis as the present Coal Board figures, but I have had two of the pre-nationalisation years adjusted. In 1938, the cost on the present basis was 15s. 11d., and in 1946 it was 37s. Thus, before the Coal Board took over the cost had risen in nine years by 21s. a ton. In the first two years of the Coal Board's work costs rose by a further 8s. 6½d.
I ask the House to note two things: nearly three-quarters of the rise in costs since 1935 happened before nationalisation, and of the 8s. 6½d. rise since 1946 the greater part, 5s. 5d., is due to higher wages, holidays with pay and other improvements in the conditions of the men. Now will any hon. Member stand up and say that the expenditure of that extra 5s. 5d. has been wrong? Of course not. And if not, we have to pay the bill; it cost the Coal Board £60 million a year.
The basic cause of this rise since 1935 has, of course, been the rise in the 1562 earnings of the miners. In 1935, cash wages were 45s. 5d.; in 1938, 55s. 9d.; in 1948, 157s. 10d. That was up to 1948. Two more things happened in 1949. The average cash earnings of the miners went up by 5s. or more. But the costs per ton for the first time for 14 years came down. They came down by 6d. That may not sound a very formidable sum, but it means £5 million saving on the financial result for 1949—half the Coal Board's surplus.
It is said that even so the costs are far too high because the Coal Board has been so inefficient and so badly run. What does efficiency mean in British coal today? We must go back again to the Reid Report. It means re-equipping and re-organsing the mines. The Reid Report set out the magnitude and complexity of the task. It showed that, while some companies, of course, had been progressive and had a good record, many of the productive units were quite wrong, and the industry was "parcelised" in a most uneconomic way. It showed that many of the pits needed more machinery than they had before—better machinery; more capital investment was required than could be made under the old system. The Board have started on that task of bringing in efficiency by capital investment with vigour and imagination.
In 1948, they spent £25 million on new capital investments; in 1949, £31 million. and, for this year, they have authorised £37.5 million. Could these great sums have been found if the old system had remained? Does anyone believe that it could? What would the rate of interest have had to be? The Coal Board, for the first time for many years, have brought to the mines the new capital they required. Much of the new capital went on new machinery; machinery at the face, better haulage, machinery on the surface, new power and preparation plant. The Board sought, in the first place, to bring the coal cutting equipment in every pit up to the highest "conventional" standards of the past, but they have also made a lot of progress with the testing of new machines.
They were experimenting with power loaders. With some of them they are still testing the prototypes—the Gloster getter, the German plough, the Joy Continuous Miner and others. With the Meco-Moore they are further forward. In December, 1949, they had 51 of these machines at 1563 work, turning out coal at the rate of four million tons a year. The normal crew of a Meco-Moore is six. A normal face employs about 50 men, including rippers, packers, supervisors and the rest. The O.M.S. at the face is 6.7 tons. There is another new British cutter-loader which has no undercutting, no shot-firing, and no men working under an unsupported roof. That means less dust than even with the old hand pick, more large coal and fewer accidents. The crew of the machine is five with 30 men at the face. It wins 100,000 tons of coal a year. It may be possible in a relatively early future to get six or seven million tons of coal—more large coal—by this machine. In a longer future, it might do better still.
In 1947, the haulage problem was more acute than the problem of the face. The Reid Committee made it clear that, in their view, it was the worst bottle-neck of all. To a considerable extent it is a long-term problem—the driving of new level roadways to take larger mine cars drawn by locomotives. Making roadways is a long and a costly business; so is replacing the equipment. The underground railways had 60 different gauges of varying widths and tubs varying in capacity from 3 cwt. to 3 tons. The Board have to standardise this equipment. They have brought in many miles of new conveyor belts and replaced others, and brought in more locomotives. The statistics show that, while many of the major works have not yet begun to give returns, nevertheless, haulage in general has already notably improved.
On the surface, two main requirements are the introduction of new power plant, and the increase of plant for the preparation and the washing of coal. The Board's long-term policy is to install electric power instead of steam on the surface. In the Rhondda, they have done it, and they have saved 4½d. a ton on costs. Before 1947, the average capacity of the preparation plant was about 80 tons an hour. The new plants have capacities up to 600 or even 800 tons an hour. Since vesting day, 38 new plants have been brought into operation, and at the end of 1949, 27 more plants with an annual capacity of 9½ million tons were under construction. As an interim measure, the Board have sent a lot of coal from collieries where there are no washeries to collieries where 1564 there are. That is very costly, but it has helped to clean the coal.
Apart from improved mechanisation on the surface and underground, the Board have re-planned and re-organised a lot of pits. They have joined up pits that used to be divided and made arrangements for the more efficient working of the coal. I will give one illustration. At one pit, Manvers Main, in Yorkshire, they are spending nearly £4 million. When the work is finished, it will raise output from 2¼ million tons per annum to well over 3 million tons.
I ask the House to note the salient facts about this capital investment. Much of it has given a quick short-period return. That is why output has increased and O.M.S. (output per man shift) gone up. The House is familiar with the figures: In 1938 they were 1.14 tons; in 1945 down to 1.00 ton; in 1948, back to 1.11 tons; in 1949, 1.16 tons, and for the first quarter of this year 1.20 tons. I know that hon. Members opposite prefer the output per man year. I will give the figures for that, too. O.M.Y. has risen so far from 246 tons in 1945 to 282 tons in 1949. I know that the hon. Member who takes so great an interest in opencast coal will be glad to know that so far in 1950 O.M.Y. is running at about 294 tons—well over the figure for 1938.
These figures show that much of the capital investment has given a quick return. But many of the schemes, on which a great deal of money has been spent, will only be giving a return towards the end of this year, or next year, or later on. But we can say, I think, with the greatest assurance, that within a period of a few years they give us the hope of more coal—a lot more coal—at lower cost. If we had had none of this development work, output, as the Coal Board show in their Report, would inevitably have gone down and costs, of course, would inevitably have greatly risen.
I think that is the real answer to what is said against the Coal Board about man-power. They have shown already by the schemes which they have carried through, what great economies of manpower can be made. The figures which I gave about the cutter-loaders show what saving there may be in the future at the face, if these new machines develop as 1565 we hope. Better haulage releases many men. At Markham, in the East Midlands, trunk conveyors were installed and 100 men were freed in one pit for upgrading to the face. At Ellington, in the North, one diesel locomotive released 30 men to go to the face. By the end of 1949, the National Coal Board had put 330 new locomotives in the mines.
These are only illustrations of how more coal is being got with fewer men. They show why the National Coal Board are not worried about the long-term manpower problem. Of course, there is in some coalfields, but not all, a short-term problem of getting men. There has been a heavy fall in the total manpower since January, 1949. I will give the House the figures. They are: January, 1949, 727,000 men, December, 709,000 men and, today, 698,000 men.
These figures may seem alarming, but I ask the House to note these things. In 1949, the National Coal Board dismissed from their service 8,000 men who were unsuited to the mines. In 1948, they had recruited 8,500 Polish and other European workers. In 1949, it was only 2,500, which is 6,000 fewer, and last year it was none at all. In January this year the ring fence was lifted, and men who wanted to leave the industry were free to do so, and several thousand did. In 1949, and still today, the men and the Board are much more careful about the new recruits they take on. As the Report says, miners must be men of "good physique and sound sense," which is quite true. In the south, they accepted last year only 65 per cent. of the new recruits who offered to join their services.
Having said that, I do not disguise the fact that the National Coal Board now want more men. They are taking vigorous measures to recruit the right type of miner and prevent the wastage of the better men. They are also striving, with the National Union of Mineworkers, to reduce absenteeism, which is less now than it was a year ago. Many unjust things are said about the miners, but the vast majority of them are doing a splendid job, although there are still bad attendees. There are some pits in which absenteeism is much too high. As I have said before, I hope that the efforts of the National Coal Board and of the National Union of Mineworkers will together reduce absenteeism.
1566 There are some other encouraging features about the manpower situation. The recruitment of juveniles this year is as much as it was last. The number of trained ex-miners who are coming back is greater. The quality of the men, thanks to the action of the National Coal Board, is constantly improving, and the rate of the fall of manpower is slowing down; indeed, if the present trend continues, the manpower may well be higher at the end of 1950 than the total forecast in the Economic Survey for the year. I believe that as time goes on, as the men gain confidence, we shall get more recruits, and as they form better habits attendance will improve.
No doubt it is said—it has often been said outside, "The National Coal Board have not won the confidence of the men; that is just the point. The National Coal Board are too remote, and that is why men are going and why attendance still leaves much to be desired." Of course their labour relations, as the Reid Report says, were the toughest problems they had to face, but I ask the House to consider what the National Coal Board have done to win the confidence of the men.
Health and safety have always been a grievous problem in the mine. We always thought that greater safety ought to be a natural by-product of nationalisation. I am not saying anything against the previous owners, but the National Coal Board are able to maintain a national safety service, and the best practices now spread quickly to other pits. Higher standards of scientific control are very easily applied. In fact, last year the figures of killed and seriously injured were a record low.
If over the last 11 years the figures of killed and seriously injured had been the same as they were last year, it is probable that there would be 4,000 to 5,000 more men in the pits today. As I have said, last year was a record low, and I am glad to be able to say that in the first half of 1950 there have been 40 fewer deaths and 100 fewer seriously injured than there were a year ago. Intensified large-scale work is going on to suppress dust diseases, and in due course results are sure to come.
The National Coal Board attach supreme importance to consultation. They have it at every level—national, 1567 divisional, area and pit. It is safe to say that it is more developed in British coal than in any other major industry in the world. Of course, consultation is patchy, but it has made great progress in the last 12 months. No one who sits and listens to the deliberations of a pit consultative committee can doubt that these committees have begun to play a tremendous part in bringing a new spirit into the mines.
The National Coal Board also attach supreme importance to miners' welfare. They have made a very deep impression on the miners by adding of their own free will 4d. per ton to the statutory penny for the Welfare Fund. They have relieved the Fund of the cost of pithead baths and already two-thirds of the miners have pithead baths. I believe that time will show that their ladder plan of education is, up to date, their most important single work.
I ask whether any of these things could have happened if coal had not been nationalised. Does anyone seriously believe that there would have been more manpower if the National Coal Board had not been in charge? The acid test of labour relations is the number of days lost by industrial disputes. The House knows the figures—on the average many millions every year for 20 years between the wars; 710,000 on the average from 1947 to 1949, and 110,000 only in the first six months of 1950.
I have tried to summarise the facts about the work of the National Coal Board, and to show, in particular, what they did in 1949. They have increased the output by nearly 30 million tons since 1945, and thereby saved us from disaster. They have raised the O.M.S. and the O.M.Y. They have begun the longterm task of capital investment which the Reid Report describes. They have made a profit on their last year's work. They have raised wages and done much more for welfare. They have sold their coal at reasonable prices. They have begun to reduce their costs. They have revolutionised the labour relations in the mines.
They have present anxieties—of course they have—but rising hopes. The number of students in the mining schools of the universities is double what it was. The miners feel that they are respected. The miners' wives are ready for their sons 1568 to follow in their fathers' footsteps and go down the pits. That is the greatest tribute to the National Coal Board, and it is the greatest guarantee for the future of British coal, and thereby, as I believe, for British leadership in world affairs.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
The Minister of Fuel and Power has done no service to the coal industry, or, indeed, to the public by dragging the old controversies of nationalisation into the day that was meant for the examination of the Annual Report of the Coal Board. We hoped that this Debate could have been conducted without reference either to private enterprise or to nationalisation. That hope has disappeared after the Minister's speech; nor has the Minister created a good precedent by speaking today as the proprietor of the Coal Board.
We are told that the Coal Board is set apart from party politics but about one-third of the Minister's speech was given over to party politics. If we are considering the Coal Board's Report, why should the Minister drag in his propaganda about nationalisation? It was the Minister's duty to present the Report and leave it to the House to discuss it. There are many hon. Members on both sides with a vast knowledge of the industry, who would like to discuss the Board's Report on its merits. They are not very interested in nationalisation or private enterprise: at least I hope they are not.
The Minister's speech makes it clear that he regards the Coal Board as his creature. It was a deeply disappointing speech. It ignored the grim facts of the present coal situation and flatly contradicted the very serious statement made by the Chairman of the Coal Board, Lord Hyndley. It was reeking in super-optimism and positive encouragement to elements of the National Union of Mineworkers, who are making heavy demands on the Coal Board now—demands that had been flatly rejected by Lord Hyndley and the Board. The unofficial strikers tomorrow will applaud the Minister's speech. He has done much disservice to the Board and to the coal industry.
The report of the Coal Board is a mine of information and a statist's paradise. If the Board could produce coal in quantity and quality equal to their statistics, how 1569 happy we should be on both sides of the House. The Report has been criticised because of its complacency. I admit that parts of it are complacent, but it contains much that must cause grave anxiety to considering persons. The Report only deals with the affairs of the industry in 1949. Whether the Board's Report was too complacent or not, there was nothing complacent about the statement made by Lord Hyndley on 30th April last, a statement, if I may remind the Minister, that was absolutely contradicted by him today.
What did Lord Hyndley say?Either we get more coal or the whole basis of British life may be threatened. Things can- not go on like this,and yet everything was good in the garden according to the Minister.Unless the coal industry does a great deal better than we are doing now the odds against Britain in the struggle for new prosperity will be lengthened.…. I doubt if the country realises the gravity of the position.…. It is time that the country realised the hard facts of the position.Would anyone listening to the Minister's speech today believe that it is likely to make the country realise the hard facts of the position?
In a speech at Llandudno last week, the former General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, now a member of the Coal Board, told the Miners' Conference that in the next five years they might have to face wage reductions in the coal industry. He also declared—as I think rightly—that the next 12 months or so might show a big change in the British coal industry's export position. We had nothing about the export position this afternoon from the Minister.
§ Mr. Bracken
The Minister knows now that the Coal Board are anticipating a drop in exports next year, and reasons for that I shall give before I finish. To be fair to the Coal Board, there has been nothing complacent about the recent speeches of its members. On the contrary, one might almost say that they contained a strain of defeatism. Truly, the members of the Board are men of sorrow and acquainted with grief. Labour relations are becoming increasingly unhappy.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker indicated dissent.1570
§ Mr. Bracken
That is why the redoubtable Mr. Homer, accompanied by the vice-president of his union, set out to try to get the Scottish miners to return to work. Of course, the Minister knows that labour relations are becoming increasingly unhappy.
§ Mr. Bracken
if that is regarded as a controversial remark, let me make a point which will be accepted on all sides of the House. Coal is dear, scarce, and dirty. I am glad to find such general agreement. Absenteeism, if the trade union leaders are to be regarded as reliable authorities, is a perpetual plague. The threat of foreign competition looms larger. The financial condition of the Board is precarious. The fact has been fully admitted by the Chairman that without charging higher prices to overseas customers, the Board would have made a heavy loss last year. Many other troubles afflict the National Coal Board, including the increasing desire of old customers to substitute oil for coal. The members of the Board have my sympathy. Job led a sheltered life by comparison with theirs.
The question we must ask ourselves today is what can be done to restore health to this industry, upon which Britain rose to industrial greatness. It is difficult indeed to answer this question and it will never be answered if we waste our energies now by arguing about the advantages or disadvantages of nationalistation. The moving finger has written and we accept that change. The coal industry must be salvaged quickly if Britain is to hold her own as a great industrial power. I doubt if it can ever be salvaged under the present constitution of the National Coal Board. This is no fault of the members of the Coal Board. They perhaps. like politicians, are not without their failings. The fault rests squarely on the politicians who hurriedly created the National Coal Board.
1571 A few years ago Parliament, in its wisdom or unwisdom but exercising its undoubted power, decreed "Let there be nationalisation." A Bill was all that was required to do the trick. Ministers, having got their Bill through Parliament, decreed "Let there be management." It is easy for politicians to produce Bills in abundance. Alas, we have not the same power to produce management. In fact, the Minister of Defence, the first holder of the office of Fuel and Power, has told us that when coal was nationalised no plan existed for the management of this vast and complicated industry.
We hold that the industry can never prosper under the rigid organisation laid down in the Act of nationalisation. This organisation may be described as the crudest of Heath Robinson machines. It is probably the worst example of over-centralisation known to man. A great part of the work now being so slowly and painfully done by the National Coal Board in London, ought, of course, to be dealt with in the areas. The regional boards are an absurd anomaly. The Minister might agree with me that they could be well described as a litter of bureaucracies. They are, in fact, mere power misers. They and the top-heavy National Coal Board are a big impediment to the management of the industry. We have constantly pressed for a sweeping measure of devolution in the management of the industry. I believe that many miners in this country share that belief, and so, I think, do a number of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that devolution should be brought about, and that the area boards should go in for district competition such as we had before?
§ Mr. Bracken
If the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great regard as we had to sit together during our 72-hour deliberations on the Coal Bill, will only listen, he will discover what my plan is. We think that management should be vested in little more than a score of area boards which should have a large measure of home rule. Full executive power should be given to area general managers. The area boards suggested by us would be manageable units in which the badly- 1572 needed qualities of initiative and energy could be quickly discovered and encouraged. Of course, the area boards should be based upon the old producing districts of pre-nationalisation days.
I do not think that membership of the area boards should be in the patronage of the Minister of Fuel and Power, more particularly after hearing his speech this afternoon, or in the patronage of any Minister of Fuel and Power. Appointments should be made by a reformed Coal Board, after consultation with area interests. Area boards should be encouraged to co-opt—a power they have not now—the best men they can within their areas. This should lead to a fairly rapid promotion in all the areas and that would be a great encouragement to ability and energy. There is little encouragement to ability and energy under the present system.
By the transference of many of the present powers of the National Coal Board to area boards, Lord Hyndley and the Coal Board, would be freed from a mountain of detail and could give undivided attention to large issues of policy. The Coal Board should be responsible for financial supervision, for the creation of the reserves which are vitally necessary to the industry, and for the research upon which the future of the industry so greatly depends. Many hon. Gentlemen opposite will perhaps agree with me that the by-products of coal are at least as important as the article itself, but are not now being developed with sufficient vigour and imagination. The reason is that the National Coal Board are engaged in using reams, not to say miles, of paper.
Coal is the only great natural resource possessed by Britain. Let me say, by way of digression, how profligate we are in consuming it. A great deal of our coal production is wasted. It goes up in smoke which is harmful to the health and amenities of the land.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Was not that wastage indiscriminate, uncontrolled and almost unnoticed for more than a century before nationalisation?
§ Mr. Bracken
Yes, but it is happening still under the wonderful auspices of the Minister of Fuel and Power.
Another important task for a reformed Coal Board is much wider medical research. Silicosis is a horrible disease, 1573 but if diagnosed early it can be cured. The recent advances in treatment are extremely encouraging. I know something about this matter in mining operations in other parts of the world, and I am surprised that a much greater drive has not been put behind the campaign against silicosis.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I should like to know the right hon. Gentleman's authority for the statement that silicosis can be cured in the early stages, if taken in time.
§ Mr. Bracken
My authority is that of a considerable number of persons whom I have seen and who might have died as a result of the disease had it not been checked early. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may take no interest in this matter, but I am pressing the necessity for the National Coal Board to study recent advances in treatment, because these are highly encouraging. A preliminary, or an essential, to this treatment is that every miner should be periodically X-rayed by the new and quite easily managed process worked successfully in the United States, South Africa, and other countries.
No effective reform of the constitution of the Coal Board can be made without re-defining its relationship with the Government. That indeed is made clear by the Minister's speech this afternoon. No one can pierce the mystery of the relationship between the Coal Board and the Minister of Fuel and Power. Ministers have power to give instructions to the Board and to influence the Board in many subtle ways. Today the Minister and the Board are sickly Siamese twins, and their relationship is altogether harmful to the mining industry. If Parliament agrees that it must face the fact that we must radically improve the constitution of the Coal Board, and must try to do so before the Labour relations become worse and before we price coal, and therefore many other British industries, out of old-established markets, one of its duties must be to make the Coal Board much more independent of Ministerial control or Ministerial blandishments.
Before I deal as quickly as I can with some of the important points in the Board's Report for 1949, I want once again to repeat that there is no use tinkering with the odd organisation so hurriedly 1574 created after the Act of nationalisation. I agree with Lord Hyndley that "things cannot go on like this," and with the statement of the Vice-Chairman of the National Coal Board, Sir Arthur Street, that "The Board is trying to make honey before properly building their hive." What an admission of the need for drastically reorganising the National Coal Board! Why, Lord Hyndley's speech and Sir Arthur Street's statement are far more severe condemnations of nationalisation than any thing ever said on this side of the House.
I want now to say a few words about output. This is a most important aspect of the coal industry. There is nothing encouraging in the Board's reference to output. Sad indeed is the recollection that output per man-year in 1939 was 302 tons, and 10 years later that is, last year—the output was 281 tons, despite the fact that during the last few years a great amount of labour-saving machinery has, to the great expense of the Board and the taxpayer, been installed in the mines.
§ Mr. Bracken
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to go on with my speech he will, I hope, have full opportunity to deal with that later.
§ Mr. James Glanville (Consett)
How does the taxpayer come into this? Is not the National Coal Board and the nationalised industry self-supporting?
§ Mr. Bracken
The Coal Board does not claim to be self-supporting at present because it still owes a large sum of money to the Treasury. Hon. Gentlemen must wait until that is paid off before they make any such declaration. The taxpayer has to stanch the losses of the Treasury.
The late Minister of Fuel and Power often said that output per man-year was not the best test. How often have we heard from the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of State for Economic Affairs that output per man-year is not really a good test. I think that at the time that he made that statement the National Coal Board probably agreed with him; at any rate, they did not dare 1575 dissent from him. We happen to hold that it is the best of all tests, and if we want any reinforcement for our opinion we can turn to the National Coal Board, for they have been converted to the merits of this test. In the version of their Report sent out to employees—not the one given to Members of Parliament—
§ Mr. Bracken
There are about 730,000 miners and I shall have a word to say about the consultative committees in a minute. I would remind the Minister that in the popular version of the Report, the following statement appears:The most important productivity figure of all is output per man year.… Here the record is not too good.I shall leave it at that.
Now I want to say a word about quality. I recognise that there has been some improvement in the quality of coal delivered to industry but it still abounds in dirt, slate and other strange stuff. The coal delivered to housewives is enough to break up or set on fire many a home. The best description which I have read of the coal delivered to British homes is to be found in a speech made last year by Mr. Thomas, the Board's deputy director of marketing. Mr. Thomas said:We are driven to send to the domestic market qualities we should never get accepted in normal times. We are doing our best to 'allocate' the inferior coals in fair proportions.What a tribute to the Coal Board!
§ Mr. Bracken
It is not fair shares for all; it is dirt and dust for all. I cannot better this description of the lot of British homes who must take the costly, ghastly coal produced by the Board.
The Minister made some very tactful —some people might have thought them disingenuous—references to prices this afternoon. I want now to deal with the home price policy of the Board. Some 1576 illuminating figures were given in another place by Lord Bilsland, an eminent Scottish industrialist known to many hon. Members, more particularly right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree with me when I say that there are few more public-spirited men in Scotland than Lord Bilsland, and that is saying a lot. I commend Lord Bilsland's authority to the House by reminding hon. Gentlemen opposite that he has been most worthily raised to the peerage by the present Prime Minister. Here is a quotation from a report of what Lord Bilsland has said about coal prices:The price, said Lord Bilsland, which the Scottish steel industry was asked to pay for coal delivered to the works during 1949 was 54s. 9d. per ton compared with 18s. 7d. per ton during 1939—that is, the price was nearly three times greater.
§ Mr. Bracken
What a handicap on British industry in the buyers' market ahead. The British housewife knows to her cost that she is equally at the mercy of the Coal Board's price policy. I should like the Minister to explain, if he can, the meaning of some of the broad hints which have been given by members of the Coal Board that the cost of domestic coal may again increase. Is there to be no end to this process of government monopolies pushing up the cost of living? Today the consumer has no protection against nationalised monopolies who can conceal their lack of managerial skill or their desire to appease the more extreme elements in the unions by remorselessly raising their prices against the customer. the customer being the British industrialist and the British housewife; indeed, the whole British public, for unfortunately we are all the compulsory customers of the Coal Board. The Minister made some reference to consumers' councils, and pointed with some pride to his litter of consumers' councils as protectors—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I was talking about the consultative committees between the Coal Board and the miners for consultation on the conduct of the industry.
§ Mr. Bracken
I am glad to hear from the Minister that he admits that the consumers' councils are not even worth while mentioning in his speech. I think he was absolutely right. As protectors of the 1577 consumer, consumers' councils are about as effective as ageing rabbits whose teeth have been pulled out by the Minister of Health in person.
Now I shall ask a question to which I shall provide the answer. Who appoints the consumers' councils, which were described by the predecessor of the Minister as the public's only protector against the price policies of his own Department and his hand-picked nominees on the Coal Board? "Alice in Wonderland" contains nothing so wonderful as these Government contraptions called consumers' councils. Who, do hon. Members think, adorns the centre of the two most important consumers' councils that were created for their independence of the Coal Board and for their force in ventilating the grievances of the consumers to the Coal Board? None other than the Vice-Chairman of the National Coal Board, Sir Arthur Street That is a fine consultative council.
These farcical consumers' councils should be ended and replaced by a really independent and effective body modelled on the Transport Tribunal. The Transport Tribunal is an inheritance, and a good one, from the reign of Queen Victoria. [Laughter.] Yes, indeed. it has been a great help to the travelling public and has exercised some real authority over the railways in the past and under nationalisation.
Now I want to say something about consumption. All I need say about the cheap and abundant coal promised by the nationalisers is to read an extract from a speech made by the Chairman of the Scottish Division of the Coal Board:Domestic consumers are still making do with an amount which I believe would have been described before the war as impossibly inadequateCould you find a worse condemnation of the Coal Board than that made by its Scottish Divisional Chairman? The Minister talked a good deal about exports —[An HON. MEMBER: "You said he did not"] Wait a minute. The Minister talked a good deal about exports, about the success of the Coal Board in maintaining what he called fair prices. It all depends on what he calls a fair price. I say this about the export policy of the Coal Board. Alas, how many golden opportunities have been missed during the last three years. During this century 1578 Britain exported annually about three times as much coal as we exported last year. What a deterioration in our affairs. And we are still casting away opportunities that may never recur.
Today's "Times"—a paper not particularly unfriendly to the Government —contains another warning of our folly in disappointing foreign customers. It says that allocations of definite quantities of coal to be shipped by particular dates have not been fulfilled. It goes on to say that British ships, which could have carried coal, have been sent from this country in ballast. In the absence of British coal cargoes, some of our ships have been able to go Rotterdam, there to load German coal for Italy and other destinations. I could give many examples to supplement that statement made in "The Times" of the failure of Britain to supply good export markets. The world is full of disillusioned consumers of the National Coal Board, people who have been allowed to believe that they could expect deliveries of coal and have not got them. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies tonight, will tell us exactly what the Government of Eire said about the promises of the National Coal Board?
§ Mr. Murray (Durham, North-West)
Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? Paragraph 251 of the Report, which is what we are discussing I understand, says definitely:In 1949 three million tons more coal were exported than in 1948, and there had to be more sampling and analysis of cargoes at the docks. In the Northern Division 1,500 cargoes of coal were tested, compared with 1,000 in 1948. In the South-Western Division 900 cargoes were tested—double the number in 1948; some 140 cargoes of patent fuel were sampled also. There were few complaints from foreign buyers about the quality of the coal they received.
§ Mr. Bracken
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that he does not appear to have taken in what I have been trying to point out, that our coal exports in 1949 were nearly 200 per cent. lower than they were in the average annual exportation of this century.
§ Mr. Murray
All I was wanting to raise with the right hon. Gentleman was that there are few complaints from foreign buyers, which is the opposite of what he was saying.
§ Mr. Bracken
Perhaps in a few moments the hon. Gentleman will quote another part of the Report to show that the coal exports in 1948 were better than in 1947 when we had the famous Shinwell freeze-out. I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would take some interest in the fact that we are grossly failing to supply former good export markets. Today we are positively advantaging our German, Polish and other competitors. We are giving them their opportunity, and hon. Gentlemen opposite are supporting the Government in that policy. Was there ever such industrial folly?
We are handing over well-tried, old-established markets to competitors and it will be exceedingly hard to regain them. Let me say to hon. Gentlemen opposite that many miners who sent hon. Gentlemen to this House will resent the kind of interruption made by the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Murray). Apparently it does not matter if the Germans and the Poles have a better opportunity of taking our markets away—
§ Mr. Bracken
We must expect lively competition not only from European exporters but also from Commonwealth countries like South Africa, which can produce clean coal at a cost that can be said to compete with British prices even though the coal must be brought 6,000 miles by sea. I warn hon. Gentlemen opposite to weigh well the dangers of our present situation. By failing to produce enough coal we are gradually helping our competitors, and the day will come when the miners will rue that policy.
Now I want to say a word or two on the Minister's remarks about mechanisation, which were extremely interesting. As a matter of fact, only last Monday the right hon. Gentleman spoke rapturously of a new all-British machine, the Sampson stripper, which, he declared, would win 100,000 tons of coal a year with only five men at the face—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It was a slip in the newspapers. It was my fault. I let it go out in the wrong form. It was five men on the machine and 30 at the face.
§ Mr. Bracken
—but this statement comes from a handout to the Press. How long are we to go on with Ministers who, when they are proved to have been wrong in their public statements, cast the blame on the Press?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The right hon. Gentleman really must allow me to say that I have just said, that it was entirely my fault. The handout did say "at the face"; it should have said "on the machine." I have given the House the proper figures this afternoon.
§ Mr. Bracken
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and I very much hope that he will shortly be transferred to the War Office in order to set a good example to other Ministers.
The Minister also declared that in time 40 million tons could be won by this machine with a labour force of only 4,000. That is fine news, and we on all sides ought to rejoice to hear it. Will the Minister now tell us whether the unions have agreed to work the Sampson stripper and the other labour-saving machinery which he mentioned? Have they agreed to work it all out?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes, they have agreed to work every machine that is being worked and to carry forward every experiment that is being made.
§ Mr. Bracken
This is the best news we have had for a long time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheer up."] It means, of course, a complete reversal of the mulish attitude of many in the mining industry to mechanisation.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House of any one occasion when the miners refused to work improved machinery in the mines if the conditions were commensurate with the safety required to work that machine?
§ Mr. Bracken
I cannot answer that question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh:]— unless the hon. Member will give me a specific instance.
§ Mr. Bracken
I am going to make an assertion that will anger the hon. Gentleman even more. During the last few years vast sums have been spent on mechanising mines and, alas, many of these costly machines have not been fully worked. Does the Minister deny that?
§ Mr. Bracken
Good. We shall read some supplementary corrections tomorrow.
Has the Minister at last obtained a clear understanding from the unions to put an end to restrictive practices? I ask the House to note the statements by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. He tells us that the unions—the National Union of Mineworkers and others—in the industry have now agreed to abolish all restrictive practices. [An HON. MEMBER: "He never said that."] It is well within the recollection of the House that he did, and I must say that this is a tremendous reform. How delighted we are—[An HON. MEMBER: "You look it."]—and I hope that every other industry will follow suit, because there have been too many men with Luddite views in the coal and other industries.
§ Mr. Bracken
I hope that the hon. Member will have the chance to make a speech later on. I have some sympathy with the attitude of some miners to restrictive practices which have now, happily, been abolished by the Ministers, —a masterly development. I beg of them, however, to remember that the machine is the friend of man, and, above all, of 1582 the miner. It is his best means of maintaining and expanding his standard of living, as American workers have abundantly proved.
Lord Hyndley was right when he said that for lack of coal the whole basis of English life may be threatened. Workers in our export industries will suffer unless we produce plentiful coal at reasonable prices, and the workers that will suffer most are the miners themselves, for they have most at stake. I wish that some of them showed a greater awareness of this and I wish that the National Coal Board had been more successful in proving it to them. Windy exhortations from the headquarters of the National Coal Board, over-looking Buckingham Palace Gardens, merely irritate the miners. The miners are fed to the teeth with exhortations. The best way of securing cooperation from the miners is to give them opportunities for contact with a boss they can see. [Laughter] Is the hon. Member for Durham, North-West, laughing?
§ Mr. Bracken
What an attack on the officials of the National Coal Board! The hon. Member had better be careful or he may lose the Whip. The mandarins in Hobart House and on the regional boards are about as well known to most miners as the Lama of Tibet.
To sum up, the management of this great industry should be brought nearer to the pits, and this can be done only by a radical devolution of responsibilities from the National Coal Board and the regional boards—the latter litter, of course, should be abolished—to manageable areas. Until this is done, there can be no health in the industry.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry White (Derbyshire, North-East)
It is only on rare occasions, Mr. Speaker, that I try to catch your eye. This afternoon, once more in the history of this Parliament, we have had the pleasure and the entertainment of listening to the right hon. Member for Bourne mouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken). He has come into the fray once more with a bladder and a feather. He has lambasted the Coal Board with the bladder and he has tried to tickle the 1583 Minister with the feather. If he were as tricky with his feet as he is with his tongue, then in the theatrical world he would be billed as a "terpsichorean eccentric." In the coal mining villages of Derbyshire we have a quaint saying which goes something like this:If there wasn't such as him, there wouldn't be all sorts.This afternoon the right hon. Member has made the charge that the Minister in his speech, which the right hon. Member described as almost a recitation of the Report, had done no service to the Coal Board. I have listened many times and in many Committees to the right hon. Member and to no one connected with any nationalised undertaking has he at any time done any service. Then the right hon. Gentleman made the inference that we on this side are this afternoon interested in the Report, and not in nationalisation. Friends and foes.—
§ Mr. White
There is no reflection on Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Let me say this, if any one is grateful for the intrusion of nationalisation, it is not only the miners and their wives in the mining villages, but also tradesmen and everyone connected with village life. Since 1942 the same story about ugly relationships in the coal mining industry have been repeated from the other side of the House while all the time we of the industry have been trying our best to get a better state of affairs in the industry than existed when I was in it many years ago. When hon. Members opposite make these charges against us we are ready to refute them.
I have not time to cover all the points made by the right hon. Member, but I honestly think the charge of absenteeism, 'which everyone regrets is happening to the present extent, should be answered. The local officials in the N.U.M., the Minister and the Coal Board regret it, but it is surprising that there should be this keen interest in absenteeism in this House when the figures have gone up and down over the years and when even while the Minister was discussing this Report there were not more than 25 to 30 hon. Members opposite who thought fit to be here to listen. On the question of output, I ask the right hon. Member, if he is 1584 definite that that is the determining factor, would he suggest we should do away with the five-day week, because there has been an increased output per man-shift during the last few years.
§ Mr. Bracken
I was quoting the statement made by the Coal Board and that question, therefore, should be addressed to the Coal Board which, no doubt, will give the hon. Member an answer. I have no responsibility for the Coal Board; I would clean it up pretty quickly if I had.
§ Mr. White
It is a fact that on many occasions that point has been put forward from hon. Members opposite, but we maintain developments are going in the right direction now we have arrived at the point where there is increased output per man-shift.
There are many features of the Report which give us pleasure, especially those of us in the coal mining community. The Minister mentioned that a further £4 million had been set aside for increased provision for workmen's compensation. This has come about through a rearrangement of the affairs of the industry because the liability took place between the vesting day and the passing of the 1948 Act. We in the industry are glad of that and we are also pleased that in the Report it is proved that output has gone up by five million tons more than in 1948. The output per man-shift at the coal face and overall is above pre-war level and that is something of which we ought to be proud. The Minister also mentioned the rising cost. We are also justly proud that that has been stayed although only to the extent of 6d. a ton.
My right hon. Friend mentioned that capital expenditure was to the tune of £31 million in improvements and additions against £25 million in 1948. The Board report that they earmarked £63 million for new projects. I maintain that, while that is enterprising to a degree, it is not sufficiently enterprising in view of what the industry has to face in the future. We are pleased with the exploration work; only a nationalised body could have undertaken the huge number of borings which have taken place during this one year. That is an expensive job and I am glad that the industry have been able to face up to it. One regrets that, though 50-odd Meco-Moore machines 1585 have been installed, they cannot be in- stalled in every seam and it is hoped that there will be that drive and initiative through the Coal Board to increase the numbers as far as possible, so that productivity can increase.
I was interested and pleased with the report of the Board's scientific control and research department. They are doing a good job and everyone will be glad if they can obviate those features in mining which have caused so much trouble, distress and suffering, by continuing to work in collaboration with the hospitals, universities and so forth.
One feature in the Report which can- not be buried by a flow of words is that whilst the Report showed that at the coal face we lost only something like 2,200 workers, there has been a considerable deterioration up to date. There is the consolation of knowing that during the period covered by this Report the fall was only to the extent of that figure. We must have regard to the fact, how- ever, that we are already on the slope, and that manpower is not being sufficiently maintained to meet the industry's requirements, in spite of the fact that the statement is made that the transfer and upgrading of men in the industry and the re-orientation of manpower has been such as to enable output to be maintained at the figure of the last 12 months.
The manpower position today is even worse, because at the beginning of this year there were 293,600 men at the coal face and at 1st July only 288,400. That is a loss of 5,200 men at the coal face compared with last year's figure, which in turn showed a loss on the corresponding figure for October, 1948. That is a serious position and something must be done about it, because this is a great industry. It is the foundation of the economic life of this land, and its future ought to have the interest and keen attention of everybody in this country, not only that of every Member of Parliament. Something must be done to meet this situation. I have on many occasions referred to my affinity to this industry, as a miner who spent 40 years in two pits, and who has at times in the past heard with regret the sneering of the other side about our efforts. I do not wish to introduce references to the bitterness and sourness that existed in the industry in bygone years; that does 1586 no good to the industry or those engaged in it.
When I entered this House, it was; stated that I was the only Member on this side of the House who had a son in the pit. That was our feeling towards the industry in those days. Today wages are good and the men can keep their sons out of the pit, a different state of affairs altogether from that which existed in the old days, when we did not want them to go into the mines. In these circumstances something must be done to make this industry attractive. Our recovery and our future depends upon it and upon the men who enter it. It is not just a question of wages. Something more must be done, and the nation, not merely the Coal Board, must take responsibility for that.
I suggest to the Minister that he should ask the Board to be more careful in applying their concentration schemes and to be more considerate to the victims of redundancy, because we are getting many complaints from the various areas where that takes place. Above all—I do not intend to go into the details of these suggestions at this hour—we must press on with safety measures, aids to health, and last but not least, with a scheme which, no matter what it is called, will compensate for the shortened productive life of the miner, even if it means the giving of a differential pension to those engaged in this hazardous industry.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
We have all listened with interest and appreciation to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Henry White). He has worked in the pits himself and really knows what he is talking about. I appreciate what he said about not referring too, much to the bitterness of the past, and I shall try in my speech to keep to the present. I wish to declare the floating interest which I always declare in matters to do with coal.
The Minister spoke of dissatisfaction in the country about the work of the Coal Board. His own action in spending 34 minutes out of the 35 minutes he spoke, in defending it, was to my mind the best. proof of the dissatisfaction there must be.Qui s'excuse s'accuse."Who excuses himself is accusing himself also "I felt that throughout his 1587 speech. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Manvers Company. I am sure he did not wish to be unfair, but he gave an example which suggested that the directors of Manvers in the past had never done anything in the matter to which he referred. I am quite certain that he did not mean that, but it is how it must have sounded to many people. Manvers were actually a very modern colliery. I believe that they had skip-winding there before anyone else had it. The N.C.B. spent money to develop Barnborough Pit in order to draw through it coal from another pit, Wath, which was never actually in the possession of Manvers. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman did not wish to be unfair.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That is exactly why I quoted that example—because it was the reorganisation of two pits together to give a better result than could be obtained from them separately.
§ Colonel Clarke
But inadvertently the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the former owners of Manvers had not done something which in fact they could not have done.
§ Colonel Clarke
It is not only from people on this side of the House that criticism comes. The other day I was reading again a Fabian pamphlet by Mr. Cole in which he did not appear to be at all satisfied. These criticisms are coming from all sides.
I wish to turn to a more detailed examination of the Report, and to refer first to houses. They are referred to on page 172 of the Annual Report. I am rather distressed to see that the Report devotes only 14½ lines to colliery houses. It states that there are 141,000 colliery houses, and thatmany of the houses are old and in poor condition.…Many of us would have liked to have heard a little more about what is being done to try to improve those houses. I believe that an improvement of them could be a great step towards improving relations in the coalfields.
I next turn to a matter which is somewhat akin, namely, estates and farms.
1588 Only a little over three-and-a-half lines are devoted to this subject. I understand that the Coal Board are the owners of more than 60,000 acres of land in this country. The only reference in the Report to this subject is that during the last year the net revenue increased by £23,000. I believe that there must have been a net profit of about 30s. per acre.
I should like to know what, if anything, was put back into the land? To take all that out of the land and put nothing back is not good landlordship, if I may coin a word. That leads one to the suspicion which many people have that much of this land is held only in order to prevent there being trouble from the farmers over matters of subsidence. I believe much of it is derelict and water-logged because it is not being farmed properly. I think it should be handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture who have facilities not available to the Coal Board.
An interesting business is being built up between the nationalised coal industry and the Forestry Commission. I have asked a number of Questions of the Ministry of Agriculture on the subject and I have had answers. The Coal Board, of course, are the great unquestionable. One cannot get any answers from them, and therefore I would take this chance of asking three questions on the matter of pit props. Are we still importing pit props or are home supplies sufficient? If we are importing them where are they coming from and how does the price compare with the price paid for home-grown pit props.
I should like to know the price as at the colliery siding. I hope no favour is being given to the Forestry Commission over private growers in the matter of pit props, because if it is it is very wrong. I would remind hon. Members that the whole future of British forestry depends very much on the production of pit props. Pit props take the thinnings and without taking thinnings we shall never have big timber.
A matter which is not referred to in the Report but which is really relevant to the whole future of the coal industry is the attitude of the National Coal Board towards the Schuman Plan. The steel masters have made their position clear, and I shall not refer to that because in doing so I should be out of order. But from the Coal Board we have heard nothing at all. If we asked them, I think 1589 the sort of answer we should receive would be, "We are not prepared at present to say anything either for or against the Schuman Plan. Our overseas negotiating Committee is watching the matter carefully. We shall be prepared to consider the matter sympathetically when we know what it is all about." That of course is the answer of a Government Department, and it does not carry us very much further. But I think it only fair to this country in which one of the greatest industries is the production of coal that they should know more about the attitude of the National Coal Board to the Schuman Plan.
On page 9 of the report under the heading of "Planning for the Future" mention is made of the future demand for coal in the different markets at home and overseas. There are one or two things which occur to the outside observer who thinks about the future of coal exports because certain trends are definitely showing themselves. For instance, countries that were purely coal importing countries in the past, and hardly produced any coal at all, are now waking up and producing coal themselves. Spain is producing nearly double the amount that she produced before the war, 10 million tons. Turkey, never regarded as a coal producing country, is producing 4 million tons today as against 2½ million before the war; and France has also increased her production.
I wish to refer to the double-pricing system in which we sell coal abroad at £1 or more a ton more than in the home market. There has been a lot of criticism by a good many people who do not think we shall be able to maintain that system indefinitely. On 7th July I read in the "News Chronicle" the opinion of Mr. Homer on the subject. He said:I do not believe it is going to be possible for the Board to get these additional prices for another year.If we do not get these additional prices for another year it will be a very serious thing. Lord Hyndley is reported in the "Manchester Guardian" of 3rd July as having said that he estimated that the revenue of the Board would fall by £15 million per annum if the double-pricing system was abandoned. This would have turned last year's profit into a loss of about £5½ million, so that the double-pricing system is a matter of serious 1590 moment to anybody who studies the financial position of the Coal Board.
I wonder whether the Minister has studied the report of his opposite number in France? The French Minister of Industry and Commerce, M. Louvel, in a recent Debate pointed out that in 1938 600,000 tons of fuel oil was consumed in France and now, in 1949, over 3 million tons was being consumed per annum. It was considered better from the point of view of the national economy to import calories in the form of oil than of coal. That is a serious thing for our exports.
The French Minister went on to say that the imports of coal in 1950 were to be limited to 9 million tons as against 17 million tons in 1949. I wish to be absolutely fair over this and there may be a little complication here about the coal from the Saar. I would not like to say whether the Saar coal was all included in the 1949 figure. Of the 9 million 6 million tons were to come from the Ruhr, and only 2 million from the United Kingdom, Belgium and Holland put together. In 1937, France imported 9 million tons of coal from Great Britain and that is down by a long way. The whole importations of coal in France before the war were about 28 million tons.
The Minister spoke of French production, but I do not know that there is anything very relevant about what he said except that he ended by saying that he did not think the French could maintain their output above their present target of 55 million tons over another year without a lower pit-head price. That is a factor which should be considered. I hope we may have the reaction of the Minister to this question of foreign expansion of coal supplies and if possible its relevance to the Schuman Plan.
The Report is a little on the defensive about this matter of dual prices. I felt they were rather like Warren Hastings when he was impeached for taking a million from India when he was Viceroy. His defence was that he was astounded at his own moderation. An hon. Member on the other side said the foreign buyers had not complained about dirty coal and it is true there was no specific complaint about dirty coal. The complaint is not that the coal delivered falls below the standard specification, but that the coal which is sent on the specification is far below the standard that it wanted. 1591 For example, they may be told they cannot have less than 8 per cent. of ash; they get it and they do not like it. It is not that they are told 8 per cent. of ash and they get 10 per cent.
There is no doubt that the amount of coal for export is small. Actually, there has been a failure to meet contracts already made. I believe that today deliveries are from six to eight weeks behind schedule, and that Eire have been told that it is impossible to catch up on these contracts and they have been given a free hand to buy where they like. The position is very different from what it was when the Coal Industry Act was passed and importers were arraigned for shipping Polish coal to that country.
I expect that most people saw the comment in the City Notes in "The Times" this morning. I will read the last five lines, because they are interesting. They say:British owners cannot help comparing the prolonged efforts, too often unsuccessful, which they have made to secure coal cargoes in this country with the ease with which it has been found possible to obtain cargoes from the Continent.There is no doubt that there we are losing our position as exporters of coal. It is not only for export that coal is short. All this brings me back to the fact that coal is in short supply here too. We all know that another five million or six million tons could be taken by the domestic consumers if it was available. It is recognised that we are short by that amount. Last year the winter was exceptionally mild. If it had been a hard winter, like the one in 1947, we should have had just as great a disaster in the early months of this year as we had in 1947.
The stocks held by public utility companies are not too satisfactory, and, after all, they are the life-blood of our urban population. It is a fact that stocks should be increasing every year instead of decreasing, because consumption by the public utilities is increasing. In 1949 the electricity companies consumed about 30 million tons. If they consume, during the second half of this year, as much as they consumed in the first half, the figure for 1950 will be 32 million tons. Last year the gas companies consumed 1592 25,300,000 tons. This year they are working at the rate of 26,500,000 tons. Consumption is steadily increasing.
At this time of the year, in 1949. stocks of gas coal amounted to 2,057,000 tons. whereas today they are 1,866,000 tons. Stocks held by the electricity companies in 1949 amounted to 3,629,000 tons, and today they are 3,381,000 tons. Consumption is increasing and stocks are decreasing. We are nearly half way through July, and a good deal of the stock is not there. On this subject of stocking the Minister was rather complacent when he said:I have given instructions that, by the beginning of next winter, they"—that is the stocks of the gas companies—shall be built up to 5.3 weeks' consumption. I am confident that this should be enough."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1950; Vol. 477. c. 934.]In the past I have had something to do with the shipping of coal to gas companies. For companies supplied with seaborne coal the custom before the war was to start the winter with stocks to cover a period of from 10 to 12 weeks.
Shipping coal by sea is a tricky business and there would be a big risk if stocks fell to two or three weeks' supply. In bad weather and fogs ships are unable to come up the Thames. Sometimes they are turned back by gales and they have to lie in Bridlington in the shelter of Flamborough Head perhaps for weeks. Once the deliveries get out of their steady order, a second trouble arises. When the ships arrive they all arrive together. The cargoes cannot be discharged at the same time, and some ships have to wait. Then they do not make the normal number of voyages. The result is that for some weeks after a bad fog or a storm the companies do not get the supplies which ought to be delivered. I have an idea that the figure given by the Minister referred more to those companies supplied by rail. I think the companies supplied by sea are being given a bigger stock, and it is right that that should be so. I should like to ask whether the Minister is satisfied that, through next winter, the necessary railway wagons will be available. Last season they were in short supply.
I was always told in the Army when I gave a lecture that one should end by trying to say something pleasant. I do not 1593 think I have done that yet, so I will conclude by paying one compliment to the members of the National Coal Board and, even more, to members of trade unions and their leaders. Recently they have adopted a more realistic and—in the case of the trade union leaders—a more courageous approach to their problems. They have been repeating some of the home truths which we on this side have been saying for the last five years. I admit that, coming from hon. Gentlemen opposite, or from trade union leaders, those views appear to have had more effect. Until recently, when talking to miners, there has been too much of what the poet calls, "saying acceptable things." I cannot remember all the quotation, but it begins:Truly ye are the peopleYour throne is above the Kings.When people talk to them, they have to say acceptable things. Today there is greater realism and more plain speaking. If that had been indulged in earlier, a great deal of time would have been saved and more coal would have been produced. I am glad to see the change that has taken place, and I am happy to have been able to end my criticism on what is perhaps a matter of a somewhat less controversial nature.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reply to some of the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), who discussed the important problem of mining and agricultural land, which has been debated many times in this House. I, as a Liberal in a minority of one in this Debate, wish to congratulate the Minister on his speech this afternoon. It was admirable and it also happened to be brief. He presented his Report in a model way and gave us a great deal of information. I thought that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) was in rollicking form. No one can accuse the right hon. Gentleman of being mealy-mouthed or a master of understatement. He enlivens our Debates. It is an edifying spectacle to see him talking to the miner Members on the opposite benches and taking up their practical interventions in the way that he does.
1594 None of the parties in this House is in favour of the de-nationalisation of coal, as I understand the position after reading party pamphlets, and at most, or at best, some are in favour of decentralisation. Therefore I see no reason why we should debate this Annual Report as a consumers' council. Rather should we take every opportunity to be constructive, and out of the rut of party politics, in discussing an extraordinarily well-written report, which is a mine of information to the public.
The coal and steel industries of this country are the centre of our economic organised industry, and we must take this Annual Report and make our contributions to this Debate with that in mind, rather than make small points of criticism or complaint and turn the Debate into a sort of glorified complaints council. The coal and steel industries are the very centre of our national economic life, and that is no doubt one of the reasons why the Schuman Plan had to be looked at extremely carefully before the Government could join it.
The Report shows that production was up last year, and that output per man-shift was above that of 1938, but, as the Report shows, partly due to absenteeism, output per man-year, which is the bone of contention, was below that of 1938. Of course, the Minister of Fuel and Power had the advantage of giving us an interim report in his speech this afternoon, and he gave us figures for the first six months of this year. In this Report, we have only the figures to December, 1949, and, as a good company chairman would do, the right hon. Gentleman gave us more up-to-date figures for the last six months of working to show that the trend has been reversed, and I am sure the House was delighted to hear it.
I should like to refer to another point which was touched upon by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. H. White), who spoke earlier, and it is that we must be assured of still greater output, or we are going to be in difficulties, as far as consumption is concerned, on the home market in the coming winter. Without becoming controversial about what happened in the crisis of 1947, it is extremely important, with what may be ahead, that we should have an increased output in order to make more supplies available to the home market. I 1595 should be very glad to receive an assurance from the Minister that any remaining restrictive practices on both sides are on the way out, because the Liberal Party has made a point of this question for a long time. The matter has also been raised in many debates in this House, and it was a reassuring sign when the Minister gave us that news today with regard to the use of machinery.
I should like also to congratulate the officers of the National Coal Board on the progress they made in 1949 with regard to the recruitment of personnel. It has been stated by a right hon. Gentleman opposite that the nationalisation of the mines was carried out in a hurry and that all kinds of temporary arrangements were made in the organisation of the industry. It will take time to put that right; it cannot be done quickly. I believe, however, that on the recruitment of personnel a great deal of valuable work has been done, not only by the National Coal Board but by the organisation in the different areas, and full credit should be given to them for it.
In regard to training, I think there has also been a great stride forward, but I would like to repeat the request which I made to the Lord President of the Council regarding the nationalised industries—that even greater measures will have to be taken in regard to education of personnel by the endowment of chairs at provincial universities for the study of the particular technique required in the management of nationalised industry. Nationalisation is here now, and nobody wants to de-nationalise this particular industry or unscramble this omelette, although many people want to see more decentralisation. That being the case, I think this matter should be taken out of party politics and that action should be taken so that we get the best education and training of the personnel recruited for this vital industry.
§ Mr. Bracken
Is the hon. Gentleman proposing a new job for the Minister of Town and Country Planning—because I would warmly welcome his suggestion?
§ Mr. Granville
I would hesitate to advocate any more appointments for any right hon. Gentleman, but it is important to remember that in the nationalised industries many of the people were hurriedly 1596 placed in important jobs. The question has to be determined whether they are responsible to public opinion or are there merely to do an efficient job as technocrats. Are they responsible to the National Coal Board and to the House of Commons in a public sense? This is a new thing, and we have to create training facilities similar to the Henley School for entrants coming from school at an early stage in the development of the staffing of this industry, and eventually we should give provincial universities the opportunity to set up chairs for the study of the technique of management of nationalised industries.
It is fashionable, and perhaps quite right, to talk about decentralisation or devolution, and I agree with a great deal that was said by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, and Christchurch and other hon. Members by way of criticism that there was too much power at the centre. I think we have got to cut back as much as we can and by this means get closer contacts between management and men. I should like to pay a tribute to the people in the areas for the work they have done in this last year, particularly with the pit consultative committees. I do not think it is sufficiently well known that upon the areas themselves falls the responsibility for a great deal of the technical developments in the experimental work in regard to mechanisation and even research.
My information is that a good deal of that work has been done, not as the result of a directive from the Coal Board, but the other way about. I am told that these developments have been coming up from the areas all the time and that they are producing their own schemes for mechanisation and technical development. I also understand that they jealously guard this right and that, in fact, the Board have given this a good deal of encouragement. Nevertheless, there is still room for reducing responsibility at the centre, although I think we would make a mistake in debating this Annual Report if we forgot that the central function still exists, and if we placed too great an emphasis on decentralisation and forgot the vital part that is played by central control in the whole pattern.
I was brought up on the study of the Lloyd George Liberal Yellow Book "Coal and Power," which, with the 1597 Samuel Report, made a considerable contribution in the planning of this great industry in the economic life of the country. When we are talking about decentralisation, let us not forget that what we want to see is this great industry, and indeed other vital ancillary industries, organised as part of a great economic service to industry and the people of this country. I have represented in this House for over 21 years a rural constituency, and one of the problems which the rural areas have been trying to solve is that of electrification, so as to carry light and power into the cottages and farms of the countryside. We shall only get the full development of electrification as part of a great economic programme plan. During the time I have been in this House, we have passed more permissive and enabling Bills than I can remember, and they have been throwing on local authorities responsibilities for expenditure which they could not afford.
I finish with the plea that while it may be important for us to devolve and decentralise, we should not forget that with our compact coalfields, what we should be aiming at is a bold utility scheme which will give eventually to all the areas of the country a great service of light and power, as well as water and transport. We shall only get that by coordination of provincial and national resources.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Grey (Durham)
I am happy to give my support to this Report for two reasons. The first is that it proves we were right in 1946, and the second is because there is abundant evidence in it to prove that there is a new healthy life in the industry. Unlike the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) I have read and studied the Report. It was obvious from his speech that he had not read the Report. Having studied the Report, I have no hesitation in expressing my gratitude to the National Coal Board and to everyone concerned in the industry for the achievements of 1949.
I well recall one Tory Member in 1946 making a statement to the following effect. He said, "You want to nationalise the mines now, but the time is not far distant when you will want to sell them back to private enterprise. "I still think that the Tories are of the same mind. 1598 Ever since those days, the Tory Party machine has used every trick to throw mud at the National Coal Board and to create disunity among the miners. The Opposition have consistently tried to prove how right they were and how wrong we were, but the Report gives definite proof of how right we were in the action we took in 1946.
Hon. Members opposite have always exploited the complaint about dirty coal. We had an example of that this afternoon. They never could make an allowance for anything. They ignored the fact, and still do, that increased mechanisation is bound to produce a lot of foreign matter in the coal, and that the only remedy is to increase the number of cleaning plants. If hon. Members opposite will read the Report, they will realise what is being done to establish more cleaning plants in order to deal with this problem. I hope that no hon. Member on this side will be asked by the Opposition why there are not more cleaning plants, because whoever is asked that question will have to make a very long speech about the neglect of the industry by private enterprise.
Another story invented by the Opposition is the one about "jobs for the boys." By spreading such a story, they tried to create disunity among the miners, and they thought it would enable them to win the last General Election. If they want to know how far they succeeded in that objective, I suggest that they look at the figures for that election and at the majorities of the miners' candidates. Indeed, one miners' candidate had the largest majority in the country. We regard the miners' vote as a vote of confidence in the N.C.B.
I have been in this House since 1945 —not a very long time, I agree—but I have yet to hear one speech from the party opposite that recognises the immensity of the problem. Of course, we have been treated, time after time to very silly diatribes by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch; he has amused us time and time again. But he says so much that means so little that one never knows when it is in order. I honestly believe that the Opposition still regard this question of nationalisation as a political issue. It is quite obvious from what has been said so far today that we are not really discussing the Report. The 1599 whole speech of the right hon. Member was devoted to a new kind of plan that fitted into the ideas of private enterprise.
§ Mr. Watkinson (Working) rose—
§ Mr. Bracken
The hon. Gentleman ought to remember that when he challenges somebody, he ought to give way.
§ Mr. Grey
Wait a moment. The reaction of the right hon. Gentleman to the first Report, which showed a loss of £23 million, was that he was not so much surprised at the loss as at the size of the loss. If he was then prepared to judge that Report on the loss made in that particular year, he must judge this Report on the profit which was made during 1949.
The Debate today is a rehash of the Debate which took place in January, 1946. If a vote is taken tonight—I do not know whether there will be one or not—it will be against the whole principle of nationalisation. It must be admitted by any fair-minded person that each of the three reports we have had so far has been progressively better than the one before. Indeed, the present Report gives us cause for the greatest degree of optimism, although I agree that manpower is a serious problem. However, it is a problem which has been somewhat offset by increased production at the coal face.
But we ought not to be satisfied with that; we must still regard the question of manpower as a very serious one for the industry, and we must find ways and means of solving the problem. There are two ways of solving it. First, there is the old Tory way of making sure that in certain areas there is no competition for manpower, thus forcing persons into the industry; and, secondly, there is the way 1600 of making the pits more attractive. I am glad to say that the National Coal Board are adopting the second way.
I believe that among many people in this country, and especially among hon. Members opposite, there is a lamentable and unrealistic attempt to apply the test of production to the industry.
§ Mr. Grey
Important as production is, in the economic sense, there are other phases of the industry which are of no mean importance. Because I think that, I will turn my attention to that part of the Report which deals with the health and safety of the miners. I believe that if we put the health of the miner right, production will follow. It is gratifying to read in the Report what has been done. We find that the accident rate for 1949 was less than for 1948, and half what it was before the war. This process must, of course, go on until the accident rate has been reduced to an absolute minimum.
Regarding medical and first-aid services, we see from the Report that there are 22 more medical centres, which brings the total number up to 33, with 79 state registered nurses—and this is a new kind of thing in industry these days. In the Northern Division there are 1,500 more certificated first-aid men, which shows how miners are prepared to look after their fellow men when they have suffered injury. There is also rehabilitation, welfare, pithead baths and the like. I could give a whole host of figures, but I would be boring the House, and I know that hon. Members can get them for themselves from the Report.
All these things ought to give us cause for great satisfaction. Their importance must not be minimised, because I believe that in the industry today there is a new realisation that, if we take care of the men first, the men will take care of the industry. Despite the fact that we have had great achievements in 1949, I should be a very foolish person if I said everything was perfect; but we can truthfully say that more has been done for the miners in the last three years than has been done for the whole of the industry in the last 50 years.
§ Mr. Grey
I shall give the same reply to the hon. Gentleman as I gave on another occasion, and that is that it is because there are not sufficient Tories going into it.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to inform the House what is happening in South-West Durham. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Murray), has tried to get Questions past the Table on this issue but has failed. There is much flooding in South-West Durham. Can we be informed whether pumping operations have started and, if they have started, how long it will be before these areas are clear?
Does the Parliamentary Secretary think the policy of closing down certain pits is a really good policy, in view of the fact that coal is a diminishing commodity in this country? Many of the pits are very old, and once we get out of them this coal will never be extracted. Close to my own village there is a colliery that is to be closed down this next week-end, namely Hetton Lyons colliery. That is a tragedy in village life; and it is rather a silly policy to close down pits when the country needs coal. I give my blessing to this Report. It is a report of progress, and it makes us all feel confident that the National Coal Board, and everyone concerned in the industry, are on the right way to produce all the coal needed in the country.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)
There were two points in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey), which I should like to follow. I entirely agree with him that the merits and demerits of the operation of the National Coal Board should not be adjudged only in the light of the profit it is earning, or in the light of the loss it has made in past years; but, as a matter of accounting fact, in the last full year before nationalisation of the industry, the total of all colliery profits in the United Kingdom was £16½ million. That compares not unfavourably with the result shown in this Report, which is a total profit of £9.5 million, to which must he added back the amount of Profits Tax allowed for in the accounts.
§ Mr. Nabarro
If the hon. Member had been listening, he would have heard me say "the last full year before nationalisation. "I was referring to 1946 immediately before the Act nationalising the coal mines passed through this House.
The second point which the hon. Member for Durham was rather at pains to make was that hon. Members on this side of the House had not devoted their comments entirely to the Report which is before us today. I intend to devote the whole of my time to the contents of that Report because, as a very young Member of this House, I am not particularly interested in delving into the acrimonious relations which might have existed, from time to time, in the years between the wars, and the years before the First World War. I am much more concerned with the future of the industry, and that it should be capable of providing a sufficient total volume of coal to sustain the whole of our industrial economy and, at the same time. make steady progress towards what I regard as the optimum figure of coal exports, at the average pre-war rate of 50 million tons a year.
I should like to compliment the National Coal Board and the Minister of Fuel and Power upon the compilation and presentation of this Report, in respect of the chargeable accounting period ended 31st December, 1949. I have found it most interesting bedtime reading for the last 14 days, and I claim to be one of the Members of the House who has read the Report from beginning to end in order to ascertain certain essential features of our coal-mining industry which, I believe, have a marked, if not a vital, bearing on future operations.
Before I pass on to those features, I should like also to pay tribute to the chartered accountants who audited the accounts in this Report, the firm of Messrs. Thomson McLintock, on the way in which they have presented those accounts. I am not, by the way, a partner in that firm. I should like to express appreciation, also, of the allusion made on page 208 to 24 very gallant men in the coal mining industry who have upheld the highest traditions of rescue work in the industry, and who were responsible for limiting certain disasters that occurred in the year under review.
1603 There are five particularly distressing features, all of a domestic character, in the Report. First, there is the total output per man year. Secondly, there is the effect of mechanisation, which has not yet attained the desirable outcomes that we all have at heart. Thirdly, there is the rate of absenteeism still persisting. Fourthly, there is the decline of manpower in the industry, and fifthly, there is the quality of the coal that is being made available to consumers in the United Kingdom, and notably to domestic consumers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) referred to the output per man year in 1940. The Minister of Fuel and Power referred to output per man year in 1938 and in 1949. I would prefer to put four annual output figures in their proper perspective, in order that every hon. Member may make a direct comparison. In 1938 the output was 290 tons per man year. In 1940 it was 302 tons, in 1945 it was 246 tons, and in 1949 it had risen to 282 tons per man year. Still, in 1949 the output rate is no less than 20 tons below the output rate in the year 1940
That must be compared directly with the progress made in mechanisation of the pits, not only during the period since nationalisation, but during the period of the whole of the last decade. Mention has been made of mechanical coal-cutting equipment such as the Mecco-Moore," the "Gloster-getter," the "Sampson stripper" and the "Coal plough" and other mechanical devices wholly or partly in use in our pits. But the vital statistics which should engage the attention of hon. Members—and they are simple facts—are that in 1938 only 56 per cent. of our coal was mechanically cut, whereas today 81 per cent. is mechanically cut. There has been an increase of 47 per cent. in the amount of coal mechanically cut, and yet the output rate per man year has declined.
§ Mr. Slater
Conditions have changed. When the hon. Member says that the amount of coal has decreased in spite of the introduction of mechanisation into the pits, he must take into consideration the height of the seams which are now being worked.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I grant that the hon. Member has some substance in that 1604 argument, but I would remind him that mechanical devices which are introduced in our pits are not always of a single standard character. Mechanical devices introduced suit particular seams and particular working conditions. Of course, it is wholly wrong to compare mechanical cutting in the British coal mining industry with mechanical cutting in the American soft coal mining industry. They have seams as tall as this Chamber, and only certain mechanical devices are suited to them, in the same way as certain mechanical devices are suited to mining in this country.
In the matter of absenteeism, the Minister said that absenteeism had continued at a high rate. He mentioned that he felt it might have declined in the first six months of this year. I think all hon. Members, irrespective of their political party affiliations would do well mentally to grasp this thistle, this nettle of absenteeism, which is persisting at an inordinately high level, in the pits. None can deny that the figures revealed that for the year 1938 the rate of absenteeism was no more than 6.4 per cent as the total of voluntary and of involuntary absenteeism. In 1948 the total of voluntary and involuntary absenteeism had risen to 11.55 per cent. In 1949 it had risen to 12.34 per cent. In other words, the rate of absenteeism, in total, in 1949 was 0.79 of one per cent higher than the preceding year
Although the Minister has made a passing reference to a slight improvement in the first six months of this year, he has no advantage over other hon. Members in making that statement, for the Monthly Digest of Statistics clearly shows that the average total rate of voluntary and involuntary absenteeism, for the first six months of this year is 12.2 per cent. I am sure that we shall not split hairs about 0.1 per cent., one way or the other. The facts are perfectly clear. There is an inordinately high rate of absenteeism in the pits, and I make this point in no party spirit
I want to know from the Minister or from the Parliamentary Secretary when he winds up what views, what ambitions what plans the Minister and the National Coal Board have for the period of the immediate future as to how this high level of absenteeism may be abated. I 1605 merely make this observation upon it. The coal miner's job is a dirty, dangerous and extremely unpleasant one, and is probably the worst of any industrial job in the country. But there are other industrial jobs of a heavy character which are nearly as bad.
I am going to make reference—I hope I shall not be deemed out of order for doing so—to another heavy industrial job, the drop hammer man's job in the forgings industry. It is significant that in a recent Anglo-American productivity report on that industry, the team of trade unionists, technicians, managers and executives who came back from America emphasised the point to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the root cause of the much higher rate of American output of drop forgings, than of British drop forgings is the fact that we suffer a penal rate of direct and indirect taxation and a declining purchasing power in the pockets of the heavy industrial workers. We can never expect any abatement of that difficulty until the levels of taxation are reduced and purchasing power increased. My theories here are confirmed in practice in one heavy industry, but I believe that that is the root cause of the absenteeism in the coal mining industry, notably in so far as the workers at the coal face are concerned.
I would say a few words here about the manpower employed in the coal mining industry. The Minister said that manpower was continuously declining. In fact, that is so. In 1948 we had 727,000 men employed in the industry. In 1949 that had declined to 719,000 men, and today it is below 700,000. Although it has now declined to below 700,000 men in the industry, only 289,000 out of the 698,000 men in the industry are coal face workers. In 1948, when we had 727,000 men in the industry, 292,000 were coal face workers.
So that, although the total manpower in the industry, in the last two years has declined by 29,000—that is, from 727,000 to 698,000—yet the number of workers at the coal face has only declined by 3,000. That is an extremely interesting point. I do not view with great alarm at present this decline in manpower in the industry so long as we do not lose too many coal face workers. We are losing coal face workers at the 1606 present time at a much lesser rate, compared with the total man surface workers in the industry.
§ Mr. Blyton
How does the hon. Member expect to get coal from the coal face worker if there are not enough men working on the roads to carry the coal out?
§ Mr. Nabarro
The number of surface workers engaged in the industry is, of course, closely related to the quality of the products from any particular pit, and while I do not deprecate the work that is done by a surface worker, let us face facts. The key, No. 1 man, is the coal face worker. The surface worker is a secondary worker.
§ Mr. Blyton
The hon. Member has missed my point. If the number of coal face workers is increased in a certain pit, we must still maintain on the roadways and at the junction points sufficient men to get the coal out.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right, but he cannot deny that the total workers have declined by 29,000 over two years whereas coal face workers have only declined by 3,000. That is not, overall, a frightfully unsatisfactory position, because no hon. Member knows what will be the outcome of a vigorous policy of mechanisation during the next 10 years. We may well find by 1960 that we only require 350,000 men in the coal mining industry, because with the horsepower at their elbow and the greatly improved mechanical means of winning coal, O.M.Y. will double, or more, and it is possible that only one-half the present total number of workers will be needed.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
What about some opencast mining?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I would add that at the present time there are grave difficulties arising in the matter of miners' wages. There are distant rumbles of disputes, strikes and of demands for further wage increases. I have no objection—and I am sure no thoughtful person who has been engaged in industry would have any objection—to coal mining wages rising much further, provided that the amount of the increase 1607 in miners' wages goes on to the attendance bonus and on to the tonnage bonus, but not on the flat rate, in order that there shall be a much greater incentive provided for a big output at the coal face, and for a lessening rate of absenteeism.
The Parliamentary Secretary enjoined me to say something about opencast coal mining.
§ Mr. Robens
What I said was that there is a very high proportion of American output which is obtained from opencast methods.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am sorry that I misunderstood him. In considering this Report, opencast mining must be in our thoughts, for in the year 1949 12.5 million tons were produced from opencast sites but this coal was marketed and sold by the National Coal Board. [Interruption.] Did I hear one hon. Member say "Good work"? I heartily agree. How difficult it was for the National Coal Board to sell that rubbish from opencast sites. Some of it may be good, but only a tiny percentage; the overwhelming bulk is rubbish.
The fifth point to which I wish to make reference, concerns the quality of coal which is available for the household consumer. The Minister of Fuel and Power said, no less than four months ago, that he was initiating urgent conversations with the National Coal Board to try to improve the quality and quantity of the household consumer's ration. I am delighted to see that he has now returned to his place, in time to hear my indictment of the negative results obtained. So far, there has been no result whatever.
I receive in my mail bag, as no doubt, do an overwhelming majority of hon. Members, as many complaints as ever about the quality of coal which is allocated to the household consumer. In fact, there are innumerable cases in Birmingham and Kidderminster—and I see no hon. Members from Birmingham in their places—of housewives who have to pay 8s. or 10s. or 15s. every fortnight to the dustmen to carry away the unburnable part of the ration which has been delivered. Under existing arrangements they have no redress, for the very good reason that the consumers' council is quite impotent. The household consumers are convinced—and 1608 I personally am certainly convinced—that the miners take a great deal of blame for dirty coal and rotten material delivered to the consumer, which is not really their fault. The material concerned has been allocated to the household consumer from the output of the opencast sites. The Minister can check this fact—in the Midlands there are innumerable coal merchants and distributors who flatly refuse to take opencast coal, because it is so bad—and because their customers persistently, over the last few years, have been making an increasing fuss about it.
I do not believe that the Minister's conversations with the National Coal Board have had any tangible result at all. The household consumer is still the Cinderella of all the coal consumers in this country. The minimum that the family should be entitled to expect is three tons per annum. At the present time in the north of England they get 50 cwt. per annum and in the south 34 cwt., although why the differentiation between a house on the top of Dartmoor or Exmoor or Sedge-moor and the rural parts of Worcestershire and Warwickshire, I do not know. There is this unfortunate, arbitrary division, this line across the country which dooms those living on one side of it to only two-thirds of the tonnage of those living on the other side, irrespective of the climatic conditions or of peculiar or particular local circumstances. I ask the Minister tonight when he sums up kindly to dwell upon this problem of the domestic consumer, and to tell us bluntly whether he intends to do anything at all to help him, or whether he intends to leave him to "stew in his own rotten opencast juice" which he has had to put up with, in the last few years.
Mr. Daises (East Ham, North)
How much of the opencast coal does the hon. Member think goes to the domestic consumer? Would it surprise him to know it is only 5 per cent.?
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Member is misinformed. Last year the total output of opencast coal in this country was 12.5 million tons and I am reliably informed that 5.75 million tons of that went into domestic consumption. If the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power wishes to contradict me perhaps he will quote chapter and verse, and the statistical reference to support his statement.
1609 When he replies tonight, will he deal with output, with absenteeism, with declining manpower in the pits, with the quality of the coal allocated to the household consumer, and with the opencast problems which affect him? Those are the cardinal points.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Albu (Edmonton)
All of us on these benches were lost in admiration for the memory for figures which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) showed until he reached the latter part of his speech when it was obvious that his memory had led him severely astray. Nevertheless, it was an interesting and, I think, in many ways a constructive speech and certainly was a lesson for his right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) who generally opens or closes these Debates, and from whom we have come to expect a quite irresponsible speech, with the usual sort of jokes and so on and obviously not taking the subject at all seriously. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, accused my right hon. Friend of not treating this Debate as a non-partisan examination of the Coal Board's Annual Report. He then went on, of course, himself to make a completely partisan speech.
I think the attitude in which we should approach this Debate is that of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville), who spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party. He said we should treat this Debate and these annual discussions as if we were a consumers' consultative council. There is a slight difficulty in that, as has been pointed out already. There is, in fact, a confict for Members of Parliament between their position representing consumers and their position as shareholders, shall I say, in the nationalised industries. I do not believe this conflict will last very long because I believe that one of the benefits of nationalisation is that we shall break down these barriers between producers and consumers which have bedevilled our industry for so long
It is in this manner that I wish to examine the Board's Report and to look at some of the aspects of general administration. Some of these matters on the administration of the nationalised industries were dealt with in a very comprehensive debate last week in another place. 1610 Although I cannot refer to particular speeches, later in my remarks I shall refer to some of the matters dealt with.
First of all, I should like to add my congratulations to those of hon. Members who have already spoken to the Coal Board on the form of the presentation of its Report and the accounts. It is one of the benefits of nationalisation that we get these extremely full accounts which are published in every possible form so that it is possible to make a very clear examination of the efficiency of the management of the industry—a thing which, as far as I know, exists in no private industry whatsoever.
I do not want to dwell on the achievements of the Board, which were dealt with so well by my right hon. Friend. The recent level of output per man-year, if we do not lose any more manpower, will bring us to a production of 250 million tons a year in 1955. I can assure hon. Members that I have made the calculations. If output goes up further, as it seems to be doing this year, and if we do not lose any further manpower, then of course we shall reach that figure earlier. I think there are reasons for believing that the rather severe loss of manpower in the last few months may be due to some temporary causes. First of all, the abolition of the ring fence must have let a large number of people out suddenly. Secondly, there is the more selective recruitment of the Coal Board. As I think has been mentioned, there are, too, some signs again of increasing juvenile recruitment
Now I should like to turn for a moment to the question of prices. I believe that in the last 100 years the coal prices in relation to the prices of other basic raw materials have been continually rising, although, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, since the end of the war it has been going the other way. If we take the figure which my right hon. Friend gave of 247.9 as the coal price index and compare it with the price index of certain other things we find that, for instance, that of nonferrous metals is 254.1, that of wool 290.4 and of cotton 385.1, so it does not appear as if coal is really one of the worst features.
In regard to retail prices I think I am right in saying that they have not really risen more than the average cost of living has risen since 1938—and that in spite 1611 of the fact that miners' earnings are now at the top of the earnings ladder, whereas before the war they were very nearly at the bottom and I think hon. Members will agree that, because of the danger and arduousness of their occupation, their earnings are now where they ought to be.
Hon. Members have referred to the dangers involved in the dual pricing in the export market. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, if we were to charge the prices which the market would bear the prices would be very much higher indeed, or if we were to do what "The Economist" advised us to do, which was to charge marginal costs, the price would be £3 or £4 a ton higher. We are doing none of these things, and I think the Coal Board have adopted a reasonable policy in these circumstances. Now they realise it cannot be continued, and in view of increasing international European cooperation, which has been supported in practice by us on this side of the House and by the Government. I think there is a case for gradually ending this differentiation, and it seems the way to do it is by increasing the differentiation in the prices for different qualities—and there are signs that the Board intend to do this.
Let me now turn for a moment to the general administration of the Board. I should like first of all to congratulate the Board and my right hon. Friend—or, at any rate, his predecessor—on the flexibility that they have shown since the Board was first set up, in the matter of administration. I think we must all agree that, in the first stage, when the Board were taking over an industry which has had such a history of difficult problems, it was essential to get the whole control in central hands to start with. That had to be done or nothing would have been done at all. Having done that, they have pursued a continuous policy of decentralisation.
I think it is right to say, as I think, the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) pointed out, in the main we have now very high quality staffs indeed, with great initiative and taking a great part of executive responsibility. That policy has been continuously pursued by the Board and is being pursued further. I think all of us accept that that is a good thing. The closer to the pit the management can be related the better. Of course, there are 1612 great problems of planning in this industry, and great problems of changes that have to take place in respect to administration, capital equipment, human relations, and so on, which need a great deal of central control.
Another great improvement made by my right hon. Friend's predecessor, I think, was the alteration of the Board from being a functional Board to being a Board more for general policy making, having only one or two functional members left. Originally, it was a functional Board. [Interruption.] I think I am right. There are several part-time members now on the Board, and the Board has been increased in size, and I understand that only one or two functional members are left on the Board.
§ Mr. Albu
I am perfectly certain I am. I think it was a mistake to have a functional Board in the first place, and I am very glad that the Minister has now made this change. I am glad also that they did not accept the recommendation which, I think, was made by the Burrows Committee, that they should have divisional or regional boards, because that would have led, I think, to regional conflicts, and to discussions of what should be the business of the general policy-making Board.
I have one suggestion which may be helpful, and that is that they should appoint one or two liaison directors whose business it would be to maintain contact with the divisions and areas throughout the country. These men could very well be men coming from the divisions or areas who were being trained for—shall I say? —the chairmanship or deputy chairmanship, or smaller executive posts on the Board. They would serve the purpose of ensuring that the views of the divisions and areas were heard on the Board, and they themselves would be particularly concerned with the partisan point of view in the hearing of differences of opinion.
There is one matter which, I think, concerns all of us who are concerned with the progress of the nationalised industries and with the development of their administration and their relations with this House. That is, the relation of the boards with the Ministers responsible for them. I myself believe that as we obtain a greater 1613 degree of decentralisation, which, I believe will grow, as these boards come out of the arena of partisan discussion, and as they become settled in their methods, and so on, and as people become used to working with them, the Boards should themselves move closer to the Ministers, and that they should become more simply policy making bodies, with the various regional or divisional executives being responsible for carrying out the job. The boards should of course include a core of what I would call executive members.
In those circumstances, I believe, the boards should be more closely and officially responsible to Ministers. I believe there are certain difficulties at the present time about the relations between the Ministers and the boards when the boards have to consider the statutory obligations under which they work. I think we must envisage the boards becoming more closely responsible directly to the Ministers for general policy, and I myself believe the time may even come eventually for the Ministers to be the chairmen of the boards. Then it will be possible to question them on the policy of the boards, though not on the day to day administration and management of the industries, which would be carried out by more decentralised executive bodies.
If we have a look for a moment as shareholders at the overhead and administrative costs we really are astounded. How the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) could talk the drivel that he did about the loads of paper work and lots of unnecessary staff I do not know. It shows he has not read a single part of the Report or made any examination of the figures.
§ Mr. Bracken
The hon. Gentleman has already been grossly inaccurate in telling us that there are only three functional members on the National Coal Board. If he would look at the Report in front of him he would see that, in point of fact, the administrative staff of the Coal Board is going up steadily.
§ Mr. Albu
I said the numbers of functional members have been reduced, and that there are few of them. Let us look at these administrative costs. The salaries and administrative expenses of the whole national office and of each divisional office amounts to £3,000,000 out of a total turnover of £478 million. Taking the salaries alone, they amounted to 21d. on the price of a ton. I ask hon. Members to compare that figure with the figure of 1,880 directors that there were in the industry in 1943. I am quite certain that vast numbers of those directors played no executive part in the industry whatsoever.
Taking the whole—and I am not a miner, and I am not speaking with any special technical knowledge of the mining industry—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am somewhat interested to find that hon. Members opposite are becoming syndicalists. Are those hon. Members who are shareholders able to carry out the processes that take place in the factories which they own as shareholders or directors? It is, of course, nonsense. I think we have a perfect right to look at the accounts of the Board from the ordinary commercial point of view and from the point of view of general administrative experience.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Would the hon. Member, when talking of administrative costs, be kind enough to refer to the administrative costs for 1947 and the administrative costs in 1949? He will find they are nearly double.
§ Mr. Albu
I would rather make my speech in my own way. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman may think it funny, because he never makes a serious speech in this House. I have been in the House only 18 months, but I am really disgusted that the Opposition should allow the right hon. Gentleman to make the sort of speeches he makes on serious subjects in this House.
If I may go on, looking at the matter from the point of view of general administration, and looking at the total overheads of the industry—at the whole of the salaries and expenses; all the overhead expenses, including the areas salaries of clerks and everything else— they are £36¾ million, compared with the wages' bill of £284 million. From what I know of the industry and talking to 1615 people in it, I always felt that it had far too little overheads, and far too little specialist assistance. As I understand it, colliery managers are very much overworked men; they have had very little specialist functional assistance in their job; they carry an enormous load of responsibility—and we should give them credit for what they are doing today—for human relations as well as, of course, for the technical job of mining.
It has been suggested, for instance, that colliery managers should have personnel managers. Well, I do not know whether that is the right thing for the industry, because I do not know enough about the industry. I am told that what would be a far better idea than having personnel managers—and we must face the fact that many of these colliery managers grew up in the days when they had to be the slave drivers of the old private owners; that is what they were, very largely, however technically efficient they may have been; they were not brought up in this new atmosphere, which is now apparently supported by hon. Members opposite, of joint consultation, good human relations, and so on—perhaps the right thing is not to have personnel managers but to train, as fast as we can, new fully technically qualified men, and give them to the old colliery managers as assistants for the time being. They would have been brought up in the new habits, and would take some of the load off the shoulders of existing colliery managers on the human relations side, and eventually become colliery managers themselves.
In that connection, I am rather sorry that there appears to be a reduction in expenditure on training. As far as I can find out the figures, there seems to have been a reduction from £274,000 to £35,000. Now I should have thought this was one of the fields in which expenditure should be raised, not lowered. Certainly the ladder plan is a good one, giving opportunity to everyone in the industry to get training according to their capacity, and to reach any position in the industry—a thing they never had before —but we must pay more attention to selection and training for the highest posts in the industry at area, divisional and national levels.
1616 For this reason I was sorry to read in the Report of the closing of the training college at Nuneaton. The training college at Nuneaton was originally founded to train, I believe, training officers, but I should like to see it turned into a sort of administrative staff college. It might be associated with the general administrative staff college at Henley which is doing a very good job. I, personally, should like to see a general administrative staff college not only for nationalised industries, because we want to get that exchange of ideas, information and experience which is being built up at, for instance, Henley College. Nevertheless, I think it is a shame that Nuneaton College should have been closed down.
Turning to another aspect, I think we should spend more and not less money on research. I am fully aware that money may not be the only factor here. We have had Debates in this House on scientists, scientific training, scientific education, and so on. It may be that the men are not available; but here, after all, is one of the vital industries in our country, and I doubt whether the plan for 1950 to spend £300,000 is enough for research in these days. Even the figure last year for grants for research was slightly reduced. I am glad to see that the Board carried out some operational research in the industry, because once one associates technical and administrative research in a sort of team it becomes a valuable method.
Reference has been made to the problem of exports and the problems of competitive fuels. If we are to overcome these difficulties we must have research. not only in mining methods and by-products, but also in the use of coal itself as a solid fuel. We must not sit down under the competition of alternative fuels, but must have research into the development of new and cheaper methods of using the fuel we have, especially as that fuel must become lower in quality. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Members laugh, because it is well known that coal becomes lower in quality the more it is mined. We may have to sell lower quality coal, but we ought to have research into methods to increase its uses.
On the profit and loss account, I do not quite understand—and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will explain, although I know it is done under other nationalisation Acts as well—why the Board should 1617 have to redeem its capital in 50 years. Private industry does not do that. No doubt there is a good economic reason for it, but I have never been able to understand it. An instruction would seem to have been given to the Board by the Minister, and, as I say, it has been put into other nationalisation Acts as a statutory obligation, but I do not understand it, and do not see why it should be done.
Then, I cannot quite understand why the Board are in such a hurry to make a profit. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh because they do not really understand the whole process we are discussing. It may be that members of the Board have been so subjected to political attack that they felt it necessary to do so, but I do not believe that balancing one year with another means balancing two years with two years. The Board should realise that they have an enormous job of change on hand. I would not mind seeing them not making a profit, and perhaps making a small loss for the first 10 years, if by so doing they lay the foundation, which any ordinary business would do, for making profits later on.
The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch talked about salvaging the industry. He knows perfectly well that the Board was created to salvage the industry. They should have treated it almost as a new concern. They had great physical changes and changes in human relations to make, and it would be a great shame if they found themselves without room to manœuvre, especially on the question of the wages structure of the industry, by feeling that they must make a profit during the next year.
There are many other matters concerned with administration, particularly on the subject of consumers' councils, that I should like to deal with but there is not time. My own view is that we do need consumers' councils, not necessarily decided on regional bases, but perhaps based on local authorities. They should be elected bodies, not appointed bodies, and they will play a very important part in the industry. One of the most important things in this of all industries is that we should break down the barriers that existed in the past between the miners who produced the coal and the ordinary people of the country who never saw how it was produced.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (Fylde, South)
I cannot attempt to follow the whole field over which the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) ranged, but in the course of my speech I will deal with one of the matters to which he referred. I should like, with others, to pay high tribute to what I think is an absolutely first-class Report by the National Coal Board, from both the statistical and accountancy aspect.
I, personally, do not think the Minister did the National Coal Board a very good service today by adopting an attitude of complacency, which is not revealed in this Report. I believe the National Coal Board have approached their problem in a very objective and sober frame of mind, and I do not believe this Report lends itself to either the optimistic, or indeed, the some what facile, approach of the right hon. Gentleman. It is very difficult for hon. Members, and particularly I expect for members of the public to wade through all this mass of statistics and to decide which are the salient matters that go to settle the success or otherwise of this industry. That is possibly the most difficult job we have to attempt.
I shall deal with just two aspects of the matter. They are the two which I feel are the most important. The first is the question of the level of prices. Now, we did not hear a great deal about that from the Minister; and, indeed, it is not very easy to decide whether the level of inland prices is a fair one or otherwise. We have heard in this Debate a good deal about whether or not it is desirable to balance the accounts of the National Coal Board; whether they have done well by making a profit of £9 million, or whether they did badly in past years by making a loss. More important than that, it seems to me, is whether or not the price being charged to the consumer is the right one. It is not easy to assess that, but I want to approach it from an angle to which, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman will give careful attention subsequently.
If we attempt to evaluate this by a yardstick, we must, I think, have regard to some past period and what is happening today. I am going to take a simple analogy. Before the war, the East Midlands was our most profitable producing 1619 district, and made on an average in the two or three years immediately preceding the war a profit of 2s. a ton. That compared with a national figure of about 1 s. 4d. a ton. That same district today is making a profit of 8s. a ton. What has warranted the difference between the 2s. in the years immediately preceding the war and the 8s. today? Hon. Members, of course, recognise that profit is the difference between production costs and proceeds. Why has that 2s. been raised to 8s.?
Let us look at the comparative efficiency of the East Midland district. It is the most efficient division, by any comparable computation that we have, in the country. It has made a quite definite advance from pre-war days. There is a rise of 10 per cent. in its productivity capacity, but 10 per cent cannot warrant a fourfold increase in profits. It means that the consumer, whether household or industrial, is paying a higher price for his coal than is reasonable. If the yardstick of efficiency had been applied to that figure of proceeds under competitive conditions, we could not have seen a rise on that level.
The result has been that if we raise the standard in one part, we raise the standard throughout the whole industry. In fact, a number of divisions have made profits which might otherwise have made losses. When we come to look at the figure of £9½ million, it does not mean a great deal, unless we are satisfied that the level of proceeds is a sound one. I am by no means satisfied that it is.
It is important, apart from the fact that it affects every industrialist in this country, because we are at this moment on the edge of international discussions in regard to coal, the Schuman Plan and the like, which makes it vital that we should have regard to our costs not only in the export market but in comparison with the level obtaining on the Continent. The Minister recently gave figures which went to show that our costs and prices in this country compare favourably with those on the Continent. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman's figures went beyond the year 1948. I want to point out that I doubt if we are going to hold that advantage.
I say that for this reason: The average rise in production in this country in the 1620 years before the war, from 1927 to 1939, was 11 per cent. Since the war, for the years 1946 to 1950, it has increased slightly to 12 per cent in a much shorter period and, of course in a sellers' market. During that comparable period, on the Continent, in the Ruhr, the Saar, Holland and Poland, not only had there been a greater rise during the years 1927 to 1939, but they have maintained the ratio of that rise during the last four years, and, indeed, two of these countries—Poland and the Saar—are producing more coal today than they were producing before the war. The rate of production in the long run is going to decide the level of costs and prices.
I am by no means certain that we can be in the least complacent about the level obtaining in this country at the moment. It may be argued by hon. Members that it is lower in relation to other commodities, but this is an indigenous product, and most of the commodities which the hon. Member for Edmonton mentioned, were imported in the first instance to this country and processed afterwards. This is an indigenous product, and we cannot approach it in the same way as we must inevitably approach the problem of import prices of raw materials.
The right hon. Gentleman has, in a sense, called this down upon his own head. In the first speech which he made as Minister of Fuel and Power in this House, he very unwisely, I think, drew a number of comparisons between this country and other countries in various aspects of coal mining. I do not think that was a very wise thing to do. I think that we are only justified in taking one figure as a comparison between this and other countries, and that is the figure of production. All the details of whether underground transport is carried out by one method or another are bound to be very wide of the mark.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I was only quoting the Reid Report in what I said. I admit that there is a great difference between different countries, but the Reid Committee thought it worth while to bring out the figures that I quoted, and I suggest that they illustrate our general situation.
§ Colonel Lancaster
I appreciate that. I do not, however, think that one ought 1621 to be wholly led away by a purely technical report. We have at this moment a high level of costs in this country, and production on the Continent is going up at a ratio beyond ours. I think that these are two serious problems. What have we got to counter that with? I think that we have two invaluable assets. We have a very high level of technical ability and the quality of our colliers. I have probably seen more practical coal mining in the rest of the world than anyone in this House, and I say that the quality of our mine workers is unsurpassed, but I believe that no one would say that we are getting the best result from these men that we could expect. No one with the interest of this industry at heart would say so.
I say, with a considerable sense of responsibility, that a great many of our young technical men are getting very unsettled and frustrated. At one time, the average young technician was perfectly willing to continue in the industry, to go up by various stages, and to make it his life interest. At the present moment, a great many of these young technicians are looking abroad. It is not that they are badly paid; they are extremely well-paid and their conditions are good, but there is a definite feeling of frustration among them. Why?
I believe it all gets down to what I have said on previous occasions, that the structure of this industry is wrong. The hon. Member for Edmonton, at the beginning of his speech, mentioned something which he did not elaborate. He mentioned the interesting Debate that took place in another place about 10 days ago. That Debate was significant for this reason. On both sides of the House there was complete agreement that three things wanted doing. Firstly, that there needed to be de-centralisation; secondly, that executive power should be placed near production, and thirdly, that what needed doing needed doing now.
No one, I suggest, is going to imply that their own supporters in another place were embittered doctrinaires. They were nothing of the sort. I read the Debate carefully. They dealt with this whole problem most objectively. They were out to solve something which requires solving. I do not believe that the present structure is right. I am not going to weary the House with my views, because I 1622 propounded them two years ago. They coincided at that time with those of Sir Charles Reid. They are in great measure what the signatories of the Reid Report themselves agreed to. It was an attempt on my part, as on the part of Sir Charles Reid, to give administrative effect to that technical report. I do not think anything has occurred since I wrote that which makes me feel that substantially it was not the right approach to the problem.
The tragedy is that it did not emanate from the other side. Had there been a Member opposite with experience of the higher ranks of administration in this industry I have little doubt that something not wholly dissimilar would have been produced and I have not the slightest doubt that it would have been taken up by the Government. It does not matter who produces these ideas. What does matter is that the House of Commons should solve this very real problem. If we do not do so, we are going to run into grave difficulties in the future. I believe that a good deal of the feeling against the Schuman proposal by Members opposite is due to the fact that deep down they think that if we go in for such proposals we shall find ourselves at a disadvantage, and if we are not very careful we shall find ourselves at an even greater disadvantage.
I believe that we shall eventually have to go into some arrangement of this sort. I hope that we shall go into any such arrangement with every advantage we can reasonably expect to have, and not with the National Coal Board as at present constituted. Members opposite may ask why I always drag up this aspect of the matter. I do so because I am perfectly certain that the present organisation is not getting the best results, either from the technicians or the colliers. I do not think there is the enthusiasm or the will to make the success there should be. There is only one way to do it, and that is to take the bold step of decentralisation, making the producing areas as autonomous as possible, so that the men have a feeling that it is their show and that their particular efforts are going to bring success or otherwise. Then, and then alone, shall we get the best results.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
We always listen with great interest to the observations of the hon. and gallant Member, 1623 because we know of his vast experience in this industry. I have had the privilege of sitting this last day or so on selection committees to select young candidates from the industry in connection with the National Coal Board's scholarship system. The young men now in the industry, who are going into mining engineering or mechanical engineering, are showing great enthusiasm and great responsibility. These young boys who are now going to technical colleges or to the university—
§ Mr. Davies
May I make the point that this is something that is worth while which was never done under private enterprise?
§ Colonel Lancaster
The National Coal Board are capable of doing a lot of good things. I have never denied that. I am sure that their education, research and matters of that sort are being extremely effectively carried out. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. Those are the sort of functions that the National Coal Board can do better centrally than it is possible to do them at the periphery.
I am absolutely certain, however, that the production, which is the vital thing in this industry, must be controlled at the point of production. I do not believe that this system of centralised control is the right approach to the problem. I do not believe that many members of the National Coal Board itself still have the confidence they originally had in this system. I am aware of the fact that it is going to be a very big change, but if, for a moment, the House would forget that this is a party matter and approach the problem as a whole, then I believe we as the House of Commons can solve it, or get somewhere towards a solution. After all, in reviewing the problem of Korea the other day, we did so as a united House of Commons. The stakes in this industry are hardly less high. Surely we as a House of Commons can solve it as a united body, in a spirit of co-operation and divorced at this crucial moment from the taint of party politics.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Finch (Bedwellty)
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster) will excuse me if I do not follow his remarks concerning the Report of the National Coal Board. I join with other Members in congratulating the Minister on the able manner in which he surveyed the work during 1949 of the National Coal Board, and for the very detailed information which has been given concerning the working of the Board itself.
I want to confine myself to one aspect of the Report which has a bearing upon manpower. I would point out in the first place, that nationalisation has resulted, through the National Coal Board, in ever-widening measures of safety and health for those employed in the industry. More has been done in the past three years, by safety and precautionary measures, to save life and limb than was done before the National Coal Board came into existence. I draw attention to the tightening up of the roof control regulations, the many changes made in connection with haulage, improvements in lighting, improvements in the medical attendance at the pithead, and also to the tightening up of the shot-firing regulations.
All this has resulted in a lower death and serious accident rate in the industry. The cost of these improvements has brought very beneficial results. It has produced the lowest accident and death rate record in the industry. I think, therefore, that the National Coal Board can congratulate themselves on their achievements in this respect, and I hope that they will continue, without stint, to reduce the death and accident rates to the minimum.
I wish to dwell for a few moments on the problem of pneumoconiosis, which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken). I draw his attention to the steps that have already been taken by the National Coal Board with a view to preventing the disease arising in the industry. A perusal of the Report will show that at least 70 miles of the face have been treated by a policy of wet cutting and water infusion, which is going a long way towards reducing the incidence of this disease. I realise that this has meant a considerable expenditure on the 1625 part of the Board. If the South Wales coal owners, when the mines were under private enterprise, had taken the precautions the National Coal Board have taken, we should not at this moment have thousands of men suffering from pneumoconiosis.
When the Board took over the industry in South Wales, it was faced with the appalling position that between 1937 and 1947 over 15,000 men had been suspended from the industry owing to silicosis and pneumoconiosis. The figures may nit mean very much, but in terms of human suffering, periods of unemployment and poverty, the diseases mean a lot to the community in South Wales. Pneumoconiosis has been looked upon as one of the most serious social and industrial problems of South Wales. Therefore, it ill becomes the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch to criticise the Coal Board, which at least has followed a policy of water infusion and wet cutting to the extent of 70 miles of underground working in the collieries of South Wales.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Birmingham, King's Norton)
I think my right hon. Friend was not so much criticising the National Coal Board as putting forward the suggestion that they should take advantage of further medical knowledge that has come to light. The hon. Gentleman will recollect that the method of suspending men from the industry was a method of palliating and preventing the disease from spreading. Hon. Members who were in the House before the war will know, as I did as a result of having to answer for it on behalf of the Home Office, that this was a very complex matter on which to get a proper diagnosis, and great progress has been made in recent years.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I hope the hon. Gentleman will cover the point which was raised on the question of X-ray diagnosis being dealt with by the Coal Board. More might have been said in this Report on that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can deal with that.
§ Mr. Finch
That is being done now will deal with that problem.
Since the Industrial Injuries Act came into operation on 5th July, 1948, a policy has been adopted by which men certified to be suffering from pneumoconiosis are allowed to continue to work in the industry, providing, of course, that silicosis or pneumoconiosis is not accompanied by tuberculosis, with the result that last year in the mining industry in South Wales 3,800 men were certified to be suffering, but 2,300 continued at their employment in the industry. Most of them are back at the coal face continuing the work they previously did.
These men come up for periodical examination under an arrangement not with the Coal Board but with the Minister of National Insurance. Any criticism that might be made about the periodical examination or the methods of examination should be addressed to the Ministry of National Insurance, because the regulations are those for which the Ministry of National Insurance is responsible. In passing, as a result of the policy that has been adopted by the Coal Board in regard to water infusion and wet cutting, there is now a reduction, however slight, in the number of men suffering from pneumoconiosis. At the same time, I fully appreciate that much more can be done in order to prevent this disease.
I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that although there is taking place today so much water infusion and wet cutting at the coal face, nevertheless it is not done systematically. On many occasions it is done spasmodically. The equipment very often breaks down or is not sufficient, an-I sometimes there is not proper supervision, with the result that on many occasions in many shifts there is a considerable increase in dust concentration underground. Therefore, we feel—I am speaking to a large extent for the miners in the South Wales coal fields—that this Order, which came into operation in 1943 and which placed some obligation upon the mines inspectorate to 1627 see that water infusion was carried out, should be more closely considered by the Minister. The Order says that:Every person carrying on a coal mining undertaking in South Wales, shall, if so directed on behalf of the Minister by the Chief Inspector of Mines or by the Inspector of the Division in which the mine, or that part thereof, to which the direction applies is situated … insure that there is a policy of injection of water into the working face … etc.That is not a compulsory Order, and I know of no instance where the mines inspectorate has in any way approached the management of any pit in South Wales with a view to seeing that water infusion is strictly applied. We know it is applied in quite a number of collieries, but it should be inspected by the Mines Inspectorate to see that it is not intermittent but is more rigidly carried out.
There is one other matter on manpower with which I should like to deal. I have drawn attention to the fact that thousands of men have left the mining industry owing to pneumoconiosis. When I refer to the figure of 15,000, I would remind hon. Members that that is equivalent to the manpower of three or four large-sized collieries in the South Wales coalfield, and would result in an output of thousands of tons per week today if those men were available. Some of them have gone out of the industry, but some would like to return if that were possible and there were some guarantee about their security in the event of their condition becoming worse.
That brings me to the question of the loss of manpower as compared with the recruitment in the industry. I do not take quite the optimistic view of some hon. Members, who have already spoken in this Debate. They feel that this question of manpower is one which can be solved in the near future by increased mechanisation. By that method they believe that we can overtake the loss which has taken place in manpower, but I would remind the House that we are losing men at the rate of 300 a week in the mining industry. The wastage is more than the recruitment, and if that position continues in the next 12 or 18 months we shall find the output of coal in this country going down by a considerable extent. 1628 I want to remind hon. Members on this side of the House particularly that our policy of full employment is bound up with the mining industry. If output of coal declines, we may not be able to keep the power houses going, the electricity undertakings working and all those organisations which are so fundamental to our national economy. If that occurs, we shall find ourselves in serious difficulties in a few years' time. I take a rather grim view of the position unless we can attract young men to the industry.
§ Mr. Finch
Yes, I agree that we have so many old men in the industry, men of 70 years of age, and the young men are not going into the industry. We have got to find some means of attracting them, and that brings me to two points. First, I want to speak about the security of the men. In my constituency a young man came to me a few weeks ago. He was 32 years of age, and he had left the pits, taking a job as a roadman with the local authority. Before he was there a month, he had joined the pension scheme and had found security, so that when he came to the age of 60 or 65 he would have some guarantee for his old age by way of a pension.
The same applies to teachers, local government employees, civil servants, and policemen. Pension schemes have been brought into operation—and rightly so—for all these vocations. The teacher gets a pension because he or she is a teacher. The civil servant is paid a pension because he or she is a civil servant, and a similar rule applies to the local government employee. The pension goes with the occupation. I submit that the miner should get a pension because he is a miner. I know there are great difficulties in organising a pension scheme, but in this mining industry, where the men follow such an arduous occupation, where the risks are great and where production from the employment point of view decreases after 45 or 50 years of age, it is only right that they should be granted a pension when they attain 60 years of age.
The second point is that what is so unattractive to the young man is the low wage. Piece workers, who represent only 1629 one-third of the manpower of the industry, are fairly reasonably paid, but the other two-thirds are men on the day wage. They earn from £5 to £5 15s. per week. If they lose a day, their wage falls to less than that. That is not very attractive to the young man who thinks of entering an industry where the accident rate has been so high. We must find some means of giving the young man a guarantee that he will have security and a pension, and to the lower-paid men an increase in wages.
I would say to my friends of the T.U.C. that the time has come for priorities in the question: "Which industry should come first?" What are the most urgent industries upon which our national economy depends? The productive industries. What is the most important production material that we have? Coal. The miners employed in the coal industry therefore have the right to say: "If this nation depends upon our work we are entitled to security and a pension."
It is the nation's responsibility to find men to go into the industry. It is not even the responsibility of the National Coal Board. We are faced with a continually declining output, and I would refer to that problem as an emergency issue, resulting from a gradual loss of manpower. The economic foundations of this country will crack unless we get more men into the industry. The only means of doing so is to give young entrants the security they so well deserve.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
The speech which we have just heard reminds us that it will be wrong to consider that any of these structures in the coal industry—price structure, wage structure or cost structure—is yet in any way final. As a new Member of this honourable House I wonder for how many more years we shall go on claiming that more has been done in the last three, four or five years, as we go into the future, than was done in such and such a period in the past. At some future date we shall have to abandon that partisanship and I can only pray that it may be soon.
The last two hon. Members who spoke were obviously experts, but I am in no way an expert. I want to deal with the subject of the Report solely from the consumer's point of view, and largely in connection with price. It is known to 1630 everyone that the Coal Board alone are empowered to fix the price of coalat such prices as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest.Neither the Minister nor Parliament has power to affect that price. One understands that there was a gentleman's agreement that the home price should not be raised, but there was no gentleman's agreement that it should not be lowered.
From the tone of the report I am concerned whether the phrase "public interest" is not more related to proving the success of nationalisation as profit-maker than to the prime aim and object, the price paid by the consumer. In paragraph 7 price is referred to in this way:There was no general increase in price, but the prices of the various types of coal were adjusted in May: the prices of the higher quality coals were increased and those of the lower quality coals reduced.Then it says:The net effect of the adjustments was a small increase in proceeds.That small increase in proceeds was 9d. a ton. The Minister of Fuel and Power, with great and justified pride, has referred to 6d. per ton fall in costs, which he said made a difference of £5 million, but not much emphasis has been put upon the 9d. per ton increase in costs, which makes a difference the other way to the consumer to the extent of £7½ million, and in a year in which the Report says there has not been a general increase.
This "playing down" of prices—I think I am justified in so calling it—has been repeated in the Debate. It is being done outside also, I think as a matter of policy. In fact, the Coal Board's economic adviser made a very similar statement at the summer school. He is reported thus:Since 1946 the price of coal had been falling in relation to the price of other materials.That may be perfectly true, but it is only an economic turn of words. No economic turn of words can prove that the price of coal has fallen since 1946, except in relation to the prices of other materials. It is dangerous for such a statement to be accepted because in due course it will doubtless be misquoted. It tends to blunt the edge of the hard fact, as the economic adviser said at that time, "that coal prices can and must come down."
1631 As I read the Report it seems that in the calculable future prices can and must go up. In paragraph 162 of the Report there is this statement, for a start:Though it is broadly true that consumers are willing to pay more for one coal than another if its technical qualities are superior "—and so on. I will not weary the House by quoting a long sentence. That is obviously and certainly true, if it is a little trite, but the lumps of stone and slate that decorate my office mantlepiece in Nottingham tend to show that there may have been wisdom in reducing the price of some of this inferior coal and that there may be greater wisdom if not a necessity in reducing it still further.
I do not doubt that when we get to a free market in coal, if we do so in measurable time, those bad qualities, if they cannot be cut out —I understand that it may be difficult to do so because of mechanical mining—will be unsaleable, or saleable only at a very low price. There will then be a tendency to recoup the loss by raising the prices of the better and more saleable grades. That is not forgotten in the Report in any way but it is not very strongly emphasised. Paragraph 167 says:Further adjustments are needed and it will take time before the goal is reached and prices on the one hand cover or nearly cover production costs in the several coalfields and on the other fully reflect consumers' preferences for the various sorts and sizes of coal.And paragraph 197 has what are to my mind the most significant two lines in the whole Report:The next series of inland price adjustments (due in 1950) will probably diminish still further the margin between export prices and home prices of the good qualities.What does the Minister anticipate that that will mean? I do not see that it means anything but a rise in the price of better qualities of coal for home consumption. It is well enough to say that coal prices can and must come down but I do not see from the Report that that is a likelihood in the near future because the price structure, the wages structure and the production costs of the industry are not finalised. In the abridged Report, the "Coal" industry is referred to as a promising three-year-old. I would remind the House that a three-year-old has all its troubles before it with the possible exception of teething troubles.
1632 In connection with the wage structure and production, the House will have noted that the leader of the Nottinghamshire delegation to the conference of the N.U.M. made some statements which have attracted considerable attention. He drew attention, rightly, to the fact that the output per man-shift in Nottinghamshire was as high as 35 cwt. and said that the Coal Board were now taking a profit of 15s. a shift from each man. That is approximately true. He went on to say:Before nationalisation, if the miners had known that their leaders were allowing the old owners to have 15s. a shift profit they would have hanged every leader there was.That was in the pleasant give and take of a conference and was said in lighter mood. He did not say what they would have done to the owners. The important thing which was said was:The Nottinghamshire miners have earned this money and they want some of it.That needs very careful thought now and in the near and distant future. It is only right that I should comment on this because I come from that part of the world. It is fair comment, and it is particularly fair comment to the man who made those remarks, that the offsetting of profits of one division by losses in another, is the fruit and essence of nationalisation, and it stands to reason that it is sweeter fruit and less sweet fruit for divisions according to whether they are running at a profit or at a loss.
I have great sympathy with the idea of a greater reward for greater effort. I know one hon. Member who, if he were here, would ask, "Do you, then, believe in district wage fixing and district competition, and so on?" I would not propose to give an answer, but I will say that whatever I or anybody else may believe about the reward for effort, it is obviously not the time to make claims of that sort until all the varying grades of coal which are now being produced have found their proper place and level in the national price structure. We should not lose sight of the fact that the first object of nationalised industry, given fair wages and conditions—let us agree that—must be to provide value to the consumer throughout the range of its product or service, and however much we may argue in partisan spirit about this or that area, this or that class or this or that type of industry, sooner or later we have to come back to that basic principle.
1633 One has misgivings about the continuation of the present export price and the adverse effect of the necessity to continue to change the range of home prices, but none the less there are in the Report many good features and not the least of these is that four of the regions, without cutting costs in any way—one hopes that they will be able to cut costs—could, if they were not saddled with the necessity of making a profit for the benefit of nonprofit making regions, reduce the prices of coal in their areas allowing for no profit, by 8s. in Nottingham, 5s., 4s. and 2s.
There is one thing that worries me about this. Some of my hon. Friends will probably not agree with me. There is a reference in the Report to Profits Tax and a somewhat optimistic reference to Income Tax. I pray that it will be the policy in this country in due course that once the deficits on this and other nationalised industries have been made up and if there is ever any taxable profit, it should go into the pocket of the consumer and not into the Chancellor's pocket. I know that there are counter arguments about the need for reserves and so on, but, given fair employment, the one aim and object should be to give value to the consumer of the service.
I want to ask the Government two questions. One concerns marketing at home. The Report says:Had there been a spell of cold weather later in the year, householders might have had to go short.That statement might well have been corrected in the proof because all hon. Members know that householders did go short. Even if they did not go short the balance of their allocation was very often what is called "cushion coal," stuff which, quite honestly, is not worth the money which has to be paid for it.
In that small respect I consider that the Report paints a false picture. It says:Many householders preferred not to stock up in the summer months.Many householders cannot do so because they have neither the space nor the money. My opinion, and I stick to this, is that if some were allowed to take a full year's allocation in summer distribution to others in the winter months would be easier. The Report says that some people did not take their allocation and that thecoal saved was readily marketed to other consumers at home and abroad.1634 That meant that a good many people got stuck in the winter.
Is the Minister satisfied that by adhering too closely to what in answer to a Question three or four months ago he called: "The principle of fair shares" —one knows that he meant it with every good intention—he is not causing greater hardship to the people with small coal stores and smaller pockets who have to rely solely on the success of winter distribution? We know that winter distribution in the last two mild winters has been comparatively easy, but we shall not have mild winters for ever.
My second question is whether the Board really has a clear conscience about housing. In both the 1948 and the 1949 Reports housing is referred to as an aid to economic production. I believe that it has a considerable effect on absenteeism. Are the Board in their proper function as a non-political body satisfied with the national housing policy? In the Report a member of the Board is quoted as referring to a number of houses provided by local authorities "and others." Do the Board consider that the "others" are providing enough houses to help them out. Presumably that question will have to be rhetorical; I do not see how the Minister can answer it because he is not a non-political body.
The Report also refers to an inherited liability of £500,000 for subsidised transport and goes on to say that presumably:When passenger transport by road has been re-organised by the British Transport Commission, it will be their responsibility.I would make this point, that it is still a loss to the nation and that it is no solution in talking of nationalisation to shuffle off one charge from one body on to another and think that is to the advantage of coal or transport or anything else. Houses are the answer to that cost of transport, and I repeat my question as to whether the Board are satisfied about housing.
In the 1948 Report were these words: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 earnings of the industry itself.Something of that sort has been suggested tonight as being the words of Lord Hyndley in April, but it is noticeable that 1635 words as strong as those do not appear in the 1949 Report and, in my opinion, they should so appear.
We have said that we believe that actions are required in regard to the Coal Board, inquiries as to how it is run, possibly decentralisation. Many hon. Members have far better ideas about the organisation of the production of coal than I have. I simply ask all those in the House, all the people in the industry and all those outside to be sure that our object is not simply the success of nationalisation as a child of Socialism but as a means of helping the industry in this country by providing a basic need at a basic cost.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Timmons (Bothwell)
When the Debate started this evening, I was glad to notice that the general trend of the speeches from the other side of the House did not follow that of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken), because the impression he left with me was that had the Coal Board made losses of £9½ million he would have been quite delighted. I want to add my tribute to the Coal Board for the work they have done in a period of three years. They took over this industry when it was in a state of collapse and, steadily and gradually, in spite of the difficulties, have brought it to a position where it looks quite healthy.
Many hon. Members on this side of the House who knew the state of the industry for many years before 1946 will appreciate the work that has been done, and the extent to which output has been stepped up, both in the aggregate and per man-shift, is something of which the nation has reason to be proud. All the success that has taken place during these last three years is to the credit of the management and men in the industry because of their spirit of co-operation during its most difficult time. On the question of recruitment, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) I am not optimistic that we shall get the manpower required to give the necessary output. However, I shall deal with that later.
What would have been the position if the industry had not been nationalised? 1636 Would this country have made the great economic recovery it has done in the past four or five years? I say advisedly that it never would have done so. We could never have got the confidence and willingness of the men in the mining industry to work as they have done during the past five years.
Having said that, I want to turn to the position of the mining industry in Scotland. I know the developments that have taken place in Scotland, the transfers of population from Lanarkshire to the Lothians, to Fife and to Ayrshire. I want my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to pay particular heed to what I am about to say. I know Lanarkshire. They have just about all the families they can get in the new coal areas. There has been a substantial loss of manpower as a result of the policy pursued by the Divisional Coal Board which has been the policy of Sir Charles Reid.
Those developments took place in the Fife coalfield long before the industry was nationalised, when Sir Charles Reid held an all-powerful job at the Ministry of Fuel and Power during the war period. The intention was to uproot people from Lanarkshire and transfer them to Fife to meet the needs of the Fife Coal Company, of which he held that company's complex. It has created social problems in Lanarkshire which will not be overcome for many years.
I am talking now of the displaced persons in Lanarkshire, of men who are immobile and who cannot be transferred, and of the treatment meted out to them. Does the Minister think that either he or the Coal Board have any moral responsibility for these men? Our younger people went quite voluntarily to these new areas, but the man between 40 and 50, who has been the backbone of the industry, has family ties and interests in Lanarkshire so that he cannot uproot himself unless he uproots his family, many members of which are in trades or professions or other industries.
Does my hon. Friend believe that he has no moral obligation or responsibility for the wellbeing of these people who have spent the best years of their lives in the mining industry or are they to be cast aside on the scrapheap, to remain there until they attain 65 years of age? I am disturbed and upset about this. That is 1637 the apprehension which is in the minds of all these miners who are redundant and who are today running the streets of Lanarkshire. I want the Minister to pay particular attention to this question.
It is said that Lanarkshire is a dying coal field, but there are still 700 million tons of the finest coal in the British coal fields. The state of Lanarkshire today is due to the maladministration of private enterprise over many years. I know the policy that has been pursued by the Divisional Coal Board. They have been concentrating on getting immediate production. Can my hon. Friend give us any indication of the policy of the Coal Board in regard to new workings? Do not let us forget that Lanarkshire trained more men in the mining industry than any area throughout Scotland, and that some of the best miners in Great Britain came from that area. Not only are we losing the men from production but we are losing potential miners who might have had the opportunity of training inside Lanarkshire. I should like my hon. Friend to say when it is intended to carry out a scheme of new workings in Lanarkshire.
Another aspect to which I want to refer is the question of providing a coal distillation plant. I remember in 1946 being one of the Lanarkshire M.P.s who came to discuss this matter with the then Minister. My right hon. Friend was quite sympathetic to the whole question, as were his officials, but his main pre-occupation was the raising of production. With a coal distillation plant, Lanarkshire would not only be able to build up many other industries from by-products but could also absorb many of the miners who are now becoming redundant.
The redundant miners of Lanarkshire feel that they are more or less outcasts, that they have given the best years of their lives to the industry and in assisting to build up the economic life of the nation, but that now that they have attained the age of 45 or 50 and their pits are closing, they are thrown on to the scrap heap and nobody cares about them. Once more I ask the Minister: does he not consider that his Department, representing the nation, and the Coal Board have any moral obligation towards these men?
I come now to the possibility of new developments. I could pinpoint a number 1638 of areas which are suitable for this purpose. In 1939 the Chairman of the United Coal Company told me that his company's main hope for the future lay in the Newhous area, where it was their intention to sink pits and to build houses for their officials in order to proceed with the development of the area. But the war intervened, and by 1945 no development had taken place. There seems to be no indication of any real progress within that area unless something is done to force its development.
There are proposals also for further closures in the Clyde Valley area, where pits are closing so rapidly that there is no preparation for the further development which would help to absorb the redundant workers of Lanarkshire. A great deal has been said about planning, but there has been a total lack of planning by the Divisional Board in Scotland as far as Lanarkshire is concerned. People are being taken to the new coal areas which do not possess social amenities of any kind whatever.
It would have been as well had the Minister been present at the miners' conference which I attended this year at North Berwick, so that he could have listened to the complaints and resolutions which were put forward on this question of the deficiency of amenities in the new areas to which the workers were being transferred. Many of the womenfolk find it impossible to remain there, and drift back again to Lanarkshire. It is the duty not only of the Coal Board, but of the Government and of my right hon. Friend, to see that something is done to provide proper and adequate amenities in these areas.
I should like to say a few words about the strike in Scotland. I prophesied six months ago that this kind of situation was likely to develop—I knew that it was bound to do so. Anyone who has frequent contact with the miners, as I have, will be aware of their temper and tone. The younger, lower paid workers, who earn £5 15s. a week may have to pay as much as 10s. a week on travelling, with the result that after other deductions have been made they take home less than £5 on which to support a wife and, perhaps, a couple of children. Only last weekend I was discussing the strike with some of the younger men, two of whom had walked out and had begun tramping in 1639 search of work elsewhere. They had no intention of continuing to work in the mines when they saw their young sisters bringing in more money from their jobs in a factory. That state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.
The feeling on these matters is spreading throughout Lanarkshire, and only last weekend in my constituency there was talk of a procession by means of buses to the divisional offices of the Board in Edinburgh as a demonstration against the problems which have been created in Lanarkshire by the complete lack of consideration for those employed in the industry. The Board, apparently, go ahead with the closing of pits, and the consequent uprooting of families, just as they please. I am not one to ask for the continuance of hopelessly uneconomic pits in areas where workable resources are exhausted, but I think that progress could be made on schemes of reorganisation with many of the pits in the areas where vast resources still exist. By this means, the men now becoming redundant from the pits which closed could be absorbed elsewhere.
The only thing with which the Board seem to be concerned is the making of profits, and without any thought or consideration for the problems and difficulties which such a policy creates for the human element of the industry. I appeal to my hon. Friend to give particular attention to the problem of the miners in Lanarkshire, who are at present without any hope of becoming absorbed in industry. These men, some of the best coal face workers we have known, could still do a great job of work, and I ask my hon. Friend to give serious thought and consideration on their behalf.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Shepherd (Cheadle)
I am glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Timmons) because he has "high-lighted" a subject about which I wanted to talk: that is, that the Coal Board, like almost every other nationalised concern, is not giving satisfaction to the workers within the industry. What must strike hon. Members opposite as being most remarkable is that improvement in material conditions and monetary wages has not been followed by a corresponding satisfaction with the job. That must concern everybody who has 1640 some regard for the concept of nationalisation, and I want to talk a little about this in the very short time which is at my disposal.
One could not expect Socialism to look quite as bright and shiny when it was brought down to earth as when it was snatched from the sky. Certainly it has been a great disappointment to a lot of people, including the miners. The first essential disappointment about nationalisation is that it is socially unsatisfying to those who work under it. That is one of the most significant things about it. I know that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are all preparing excuses for its shortcomings. The right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Defence, told us a couple of years ago that the real reason was that the party opposite had not taken sufficient care in laying the administrative basis.
All I can say is that if anyone accepts that excuse, he will accept anything, because I believe that there are such fundamental defects in the method of conducting business represented by nationalised boards, as to make it incapable of any redemption by the most ingenious of administrative advisers. I do not think that it can possibly yield any administrative solution to the problem. I have said how remarkable it is that nationalised industries do not give satisfaction to their workers, and that despite improved material conditions most of those engaged in those industries find the work unsatisfying. Why is that so? The answer is inescapable. It is simply that this method of running an industry intensifies the defect of the 20th century industrial system. It makes the organisations bigger and bigger, it makes the control more and more remote and makes the ordinary individual working in a humble capacity, feel more and more like a minute cog in a mammoth machine.
That is why it is socially unsatisfying and I cannot see that any administrative devices are likely to cure that fundamental difficulty. Indeed, its shortcomings are intensified under a system of full employment. Nothing is worse in the conduct of industry under full employment than a nationalised board. In industry under full employment, above all we need leadership, and if we are not to have men sacked for not doing what we want them to do, we must have better 1641 leadership. But nationalised corporations take away all real chance of leadership from where it is wanted.
The mine manager is no longer the leader he was. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thank goodness."] An hon. Member said, "Thank goodness," but many miners whom I know pay great tribute to the sterling qualities of the mine managers of the past. If we take away the power of leadership from individuals on the job, we do immense damage to the structure of the industry, as I am sure we are doing in many nationalised industries today. Many hon. Members opposite believe that the way to get out of this problem is to get hold of brilliant people from outside and put them into jobs. They say that, after all, if they run privately-owned organisations successfully and make a profit why not—as the Lord President said in a Debate on the coal industry—buy the brains and bring them in to run the industry?
This really shows an abysmal ignorance of what is needed, because it is no good buying the brains at high prices to the public and then putting the men into a strait jacket and taking them into an atmosphere which stifles and stultifies all the qualities for which one bought them. That is precisely what is done when an expensive man from outside is bought and put inside a nationalised board. He cannot exist in the atmosphere of the industry. His whole personality is confined and restricted and he cannot do the job he did for an outside concern. That is the difficulty and the fundamental defect of this type of organisation, and I cannot conceive any organisation, however clever, getting over it.
I feel that this system of setting up these huge boards creates a machine which cannot be controlled. I admit the strong and good social purpose behind the intentions of hon. Members opposite when they nationalised the coal industry. I do not for a moment decry the social purpose they had in mind, but are they sure—is any hon. Member opposite sure today—that they can control and direct this industry by the machinery they now have along the lines and with the social intent they had in mind originally? I do not think there is one of them who really believes they can do that. Indeed, these national boards are Frankenstein monsters which they have created but cannot control. 1642 We must not run away with the idea that this position is going to get better as time goes on. Some hon. Member said that when it settles down, things will be very much different. I will tell him how different they will be. They will be more rigid and inflexible than they are today. An empire is gradually being built up and the man at the top says, "I must know what is going wrong." As soon as anything goes wrong, he wants a regulation to see that it does not happen again. There will be no tendency to be more easy and flexible, but there will be a tendency to be more rigid, constantly to tighten up and eventually to eliminate the initiative which private enterprise had left.
There is one sin in this form of organisation which I consider to be the most deadly of all, and which I cannot see any method of overcoming. It is that under this form of organisation we can only have the impulse at the centre. However dynamic that impulse is at the centre, at the perimeter it is so weak as to have no effect at all. Contrast that state of affairs with the state of affairs under private enterprise. Under private enterprise there are myriad impulses at all levels, in all parts of the country, radiating to a relatively small circle, but under this control there is no possibility of getting that because the direction is central and some personality has to try to get the impetus over the whole country. Obviously it breaks down; it is not working and cannot work, even if we had a superman—and the supply of supermen is rather limited.
I ask hon. Members opposite, who have been pursuing this mistaken line of thought for 40 years and more, do they not realise they are doing the wrong thing? Even if one admits, as I do, that there are anti-social features in private enterprise, it is much easier to control the anti-social tendencies of private enterprise than to try to inject into a State organisation the spirit of service and progress. I believe that is the fundamental issue on which we should judge this question. I am quite convinced we cannot inject into these organisations the spirit of progress, service and efficiency as easily as we can control the anti-social tendencies of private organisations.
Everybody must suffer under this system, but most of all the consumer 1643 must suffer. He has no say in it at all. I know that there is a little talk now and again about consumers' councils, but that is really a pathetic thing to talk about. We can never blast the massive tranquillity of a State monopoly with the damp squib of a consumers' council, and hon. Members opposite who are honest will realise that that is true. There is no way that I know, or, I think, that anyone else who studies the problem knows, of ensuring efficiency and the right goods at the right price, other than by competition. If hon. Members opposite can devise a method by which they can substitute something more stimulating than competition as a means of getting efficincy, they have solved their problem, but I am convinced that nothing exists equal to the stimulus of competition as a means of getting efficiency.
I urge all hon. Members opposite to try to reconsider their attitude towards this problem, because, after all, the future of this country industrially is important to us all. If we take the wrong step and if we continue to socialise industries, as we have socialised the coal industry, and it has a bad effect on their efficiency and capacity to compete in the world, everybody in this country will be in a very bad way. I should say that 50 or 100 years ago the solution put forward by hon. Members opposite today was one which might have been followed. I think they are really the Rip van Winkles of politics and they have been asleep a very long time indeed. They have not realised that we can control industry without necessarily owning it and that the more we divorce the function of industry from the function of government, the better will government perform its function. A Government or State board does not run an industry very well. Private industry and employers do not see the whole picture. There is obviously a need to marry the two to get the best results.
§ Mr. Daines
Is that the reason why so many of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends have been screaming for a national marketing board for the fishing industry as soon as they felt the blast of private enterprise?
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Gentleman is taking a rather narrow view. I have never said that it was proper that 1644 the full blast of competition should not in some way be blunted, in order to secure some form of stability. The problem of the 20th century is how far we can go in marrying stability with progress, how far we can secure progressive industrial efficiency married with stability for the industry, and security of livelihood for the worker. It is often the case, and it should be so, that we limit the sharper edges of competition to attain the end of stability. In that matter considerable judgment must be displayed. It is a more delicate problem than that can be dealt with by the blunderbuss of nationalisation. I appeal to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to think again about this problem. It will not do this country any good if they continue to advocate a 19th century remedy for a 20th century problem.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
The shortness of the time at my disposal precludes me from following the observations of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). I wish to speak on the one aspect of the Report about which I know something. That is the liability accepted by the Coal Board for men who had been injured or were suffering from industrial disease at the time the Coal Board took over the industry. Of these men one particular group is being very unfairly treated. I have to accuse the Coal Board of taking advantage of any possible legal loophole in cases in which men last worked in the mines prior to the vesting date, whereas in the case of men who have actually worked for the Coal Board they are not taking this type of advantage.
The men on whose behalf I am speaking are mostly old men who have spent their lifetime in the industry below ground. Nearly all of them are cases of pneumoconiosis who have been certified recently and who fall into two groups. The first group consists of cases in which, owing to the fact that pneumoconiosis was not included in the amending schemes of 1946, which had reference to the pneumoconiosis scheme of 1943, but in which the former silicosis and sandstone and metal grinding schemes only were referred to, the men cannot take into account the fact that they did war work, in relation to the statutory five years' interval which is allowed. That is a very serious matter 1645 indeed because we in this House have some responsibility. We passed these schemes in 1946 and none of us had in mind the possibility that what we did would be unfair to the very men for whose benefit the schemes were being made.
The whole matter is complicated by the fact that since 1943, the silicosis boards have no longer used the word "silicosis when certifying a case but have used the umbrella word "pneumoconiosis." By this they mean a particular fibrosis due to coal dust inhalation or inhalation of siliceous material. Pneumoconiosis includes therefore silicosis or reticular fibrosis, and it is most unfortunate that by some lapse, the word "pneumoconiosis" is the one word not mentioned in the 1946 amending schemes. As a result some men who are certified to be suffering from pneumoconiosis are denied compensation. Men do not carry inside their anatomy an X-ray apparatus which tells them "You have silicosis" or "You have silicosis and tuberculosis."
The second group of cases are those in which the Coal Board are seeking to show that the silicosis boards of this country have now no right to issue a certificate after 5th July, 1948, or that if they do give a certificate of incapacity, it is of no value and does not bind the Coal Board in any way.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
I hesitate to intervene, but my hon. Friend might very well mislead the House upon this point. The situation to which he has referred has arisen as a consequence of a decision in the Court of Appeal. In point of fact cases which are being dealt with by insurance companies have had their payments suspended, whereas those which are being paid by the National Coal Board have not had their payments suspended, and the Coal Board has recently agreed to pay on an ex gratia basis, in those cases until the legal position is decided. My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that that is so.
§ Dr. Stross
I am greatly obliged to my hon. Friend, who has a vast legal knowledge of this subject. But I too keep my eye on the medico-legal side. I heard this morning that the Coal Board, after pressure from the National Union of Mineworkers have agreed temporarily to make ex gratia payments, and to resume payment where payment was stopped. I 1646 have examples of many cases in which payment had stopped and in which the Coal Board are now offering to repay the men concerned temporarily, until these cases are decided.
Indeed what I am talking about is this method of using every loophole and hiding behind every legal barrier in the case of men most of whom are not now in the union, who cannot defend themselves and who have to rely on charity in their old age. They must go to the union and say "Will you take up the case for us? We have not been members for some years because we have been out of the industry for a number of years."
There is something, seriously wrong about all this. I know that, in part, it is because personnel who were taken over to handle this kind of work have been brought up in a school in which one had to save money or one did not get on, and one could only save money at the expense of human beings. I am sure that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will not hesitate to say to the Coal Board, "Do you know that this sort of thing is going on? Do you think Parliament ever wished you to save money at the expense of those old people who have spent a lifetime in the industry and who are now diseased as a result of their work?" We must insist that we desire a more humanitarian outlook. I do not care if there are only 10 or 100 cases or how little or how much it will cost. This matter must be put right if only because it is a shame and disgrace to us and to the nation.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkinson (Woking)
I am very glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). I have listened with deep interest to his powerful and moving plea for the people in the mining industry who suffer from this distressing disease which goes under the generic title of pneumoconiosis. Perhaps more steps might now be taken to get the fullest measure of X-ray diagnosis of everyone who works in the mines in order to track down this disease in its earliest stage.
I believe that is a very serious problem, and it is rather interesting that we started this Debate with the Minister standing up and speaking of this industry in a very defensive sort of way and 1647 failing to, or apparently not being willing to, admit in any degree that there was anything wrong with it. It was only gradually that the Debate went on to more practical lines. It was only when we started to discuss on objective lines this national asset, which is what the coal industry is, that these various problems have arisen. It has been made apparent by hon. Members on both sides in how many directions the National Coal Board are not doing the job that they might be expected to do for the industry.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central raised the distressing problem of pneumoconiosis, and I heard with great interest an hon. Member talking about difficulties arising through what I can only call the rather rigid handling by the Coal Board of what I agree is necessary redistribution. Why make it so bureaucratically rigid? It has come out on both sides during this Debate that there is a great need for a more humane spirit in the operations of this Board. It is no longer a matter of political controversy whether the industry is nationalised or not. I am very glad that we have come down to the basis of trying to discuss the industry fairly and factually, to see how we can make it work in the national interest.
That is what brings me to intervene in this Debate. In dealing with relations with consumers, the Report says, on page 50, that:The Board regard it as an important part of their functions to keep in touch with buyers and to know their wants.In this Debate on this nationalised industry it is right that the point of view of the consumers should be made—and by that I do not mean the private consumer, who has been adequately dealt with by some of my hon. Friends. I mean the component that coal represents in industrial costs. It is right that at this stage one should be able to look at this industry from a strictly business point of view, and try and see how it is playing its part in the national economy.
It is from that point of view that I question whether the opening speeches, and particularly the speech of the Minister, really did the industry any service, or really paid any great heed to the actual facts of the situation. I, no doubt, like every hon. Member, received a copy of 1648 the document entitled "Coal." In it appears an interview with Lord Hyndley, headed "A Talk with the Chairman." When I came to this Debate, I thought that our deliberations would be based somewhat on the answers Lord Hyndley gave to some very pertinent questions put to him.
I should like to bring one question particularly to the attention of hon. Members. Under the heading, "Frankly, is the story of 1949 a good one?" his reply was, "Well, it is and it is not. There has been a lot of progress but, good as it was, it could have been better." In answer to the question, "Where do you think we went wrong? "he replied, "Not enough men turned out regularly for work." Another case was dirty coal. That does not seem to square frightfully well with the opening speech of the Minister.
We might now examine coal from my point of view, which is that of an industrial user to whom it represents a most important factor in export prices. After all, enough hon. Gentlemen have put the point this evening that coal is our single asset that we control entirely, because we live on top of it. I do not agree with the contention that, merely because the price of coal has risen in proportion to the price of other raw materials, the Coal Board are entirely blameless, and are producing coal at the right price. That is not my view. In the case of the one national asset that we control, we should be able to supply industry at a comparatively low price compared with the raw materials we have to import from the world.
Great service would be done to the industry if we could buy the quality of coal we want. I admit that large efforts are being made by the Coal Board to obtain that quality for industry. They are trying to get the right quality for the right purpose, but they are not succeeding. A particular works in which I am interested uses "gedling," which is no doubt a familiar term to some hon. Members opposite. It is the only coal for our particular purpose which provides the right temperatures and the right calorific values. But we cannot get "gedling" today. Those are the things to which I thought we should be turning our attention in this Debate, instead of 1649 trying to put up some umbrella defence for the National Coal Board as an organisation which is not to be subject to criticism or examination in any way.
As to another industrial use of coal, I understand that British Railways are designing a standard locomotive. I wonder whether the coal-consuming capacity of that locomotive will be based on the best figures ever achieved on the railways previously for example, based on the coal consuming capacity of the Great Western Railway which had the lowest poundage per mile coal consumption of any railway system. Or I wonder whether that engine will have to be designed to burn the lowest grade of coal, because that is all the Coal Board can now guarantee to the railways, and therefore its operating efficiency will be that much decreased. This is, after all, the kind of service which will justify the National Coal Board or fail to justify it. In the long run this is the thing on which not only full employment in this country depends, but on which prosperity and full employment in the mining industry depends.
I am not going to address any questions to the Parliamentary Secretary, but I am going to say this to him. I imagine that this is probably the last chance for quite a long time that we shall have to discuss the Coal Board, and it will then retire behind its Parliamentary screen and continue its operations not subject to any Questions in this House. I hope it will be borne in mind all the time that the eventual stability of the industry as a whole depends entirely on whether in the long-term it can meet the needs of industry and provide the type of coal that industry wants at a reasonable price so that industry can compete in overseas markets.
It is all very well to say that fuel represents two or three per cent of manufacturing costs. It may be possible to apply such a figure over the whole of industry, but it is certainly not the figure in my industry and in many other industries. It is essential, with German competition increasing and with competition increasing all over the world, that this question of cost and of service, which means providing the right quality at the right price, should be all the time in the forefront of the work of the Board. It is on that standard that it should be judged when we next examine it.
1650 I believe as strongly as any hon. Members opposite that the miners are fully entitled to better conditions and particularly to the better money which they are able to earn today, and I agree equally fully that the Coal Board have not gone nearly quickly enough in developments, particularly relating to dust diseases and general welfare and health in the mines. Bearing in mind that the Coal Board have now got over-riding control, I am amazed that further steps in this direction have not been taken.
But I do hope as well that we shall never lose sight of the fact that all that structure, good though it is, and better though we hope it may be, depends on one thing only, and that is producing the right kind of coal at the right kind of price to service the industries of this country, including the gas and the electrical power industries. On that we stand or fall, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary at least to bear that factor in mind in the next year's work of this industry.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Bartley (Chester-le-Street)
I am very pleased to have the opportunity of making some contribution to this very important Debate. It is important because this is the one occasion in the year when we as Members of the House of Commons can fully discuss the working of the nationalised coal mining industry. I am rather disappointed to find that so few Members of the Opposition have treated it as an important Debate. They have all declared how basically important is the success of the nationalised industry to our national economy. Surely if that is a sincere and earnest opinion, many more hon. Members of the Opposition should have been present for the discussion of this important Report.
Some Opposition speeches have been very badly informed and have shown little sense of what is going on inside the nationalised industry. One could have a delightful time in dealing with many points, especially those made by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). Obviously he had a lack of any sense of what is taking place in the industry, particularly when he said that the colliery manager is no longer a leader amongst his men. I can tell him that in my part of the country, colliery managers are taking a much fuller 1651 part in leadership in social affairs and in affairs attached to the industry than ever they took before in the history of the industry. Last Saturday a Durham miners' leader and myself attended a demonstration in the district unfurling a miners' large banner in readiness for the bigger meeting which will be held for the whole of the county in Durham City next week. Taking part was the local colliery manager. Next Saturday managers will be walking with the miners" lodge banners at a big meeting in Durham City.
It is wrong to suggest that there is not the social co-operation and understanding amongst the managers and officials of the industry that there was before; there is much more of it. We are delighted to see that co-operation in the miners' villages and the leadership that is being shown. I can assure hon. Members opposite that there is much greater leadership by colliery managers and by colliery officials in many mining villages in Durham County today than ever they dared to take under private enterprise. I did not intend to deal with points raised by other hon. Members in this Debate but it has been suggested that we did not expect any criticism of nationalisation. Some hon. Members opposite have disproved that kind of suggestion. I shall be critical, but not in a destructive sense; I hope I shall be constructive in the three or four points with which I intend to deal.
Hon. Members have mentioned the moral and social implications of the many reorganisation schemes, which involve the transfer of men from one part of the coalfield to another part or from one coalfield to another. Perhaps the Minister could assure us that the decisions which bring about these reorganisation schemes are not made on narrow economic grounds. We appreciate that where the coal is exhausted in some coalfield, or in part of the coalfield, the only alternative is to close down and transfer workers to other parts of the coalfield or to other fields. We have the statement, however, that there are seven million tons of coal still in Lanarkshire.
Similarly, we know of other parts of a coalfield where coal still exists but, on narrow economic considerations, those parts of the coalfield are closed, work is stopped and the men transferred. I suggest that in those cases the Board 1652 ought to take into account the wider sociological considerations. After all, this is a nationalised industry: it is not purely private enterprise making a profit at any cost. The cost of the sociological implications may be greater than the money saved through closing the pit down if the economy is related to the industry as a whole.
I turn to capital expenditure. We have not heard much about that this afternoon. I know from experience in the industry that there is a very close follow-up in regard to the effects on output and costs when any advance is given on piece-rate payments. I should like to be assured that in the administration of the industry there is at least an equally close follow-up in regard to capital expenditure, because one does hear from time to time of equipment and machinery being installed that costs many thousands of pounds, and it is doubtful whether the capital expenditure involved is really justified. So I should like to be assured that there is a close follow-up to see that capital expenditure in all cases is justified—a follow-up equally close as the follow-up in regard to the increased piece rates which are given from time to time to the piece workers in the industry.
My third point is this. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that consideration be given to the question whether the time has not been reached when the organisation—I use the term in the widest sense—should be looked at with a view to pruning from this nationalisation scheme some of the activities which do not naturally belong to the coal-mining industry. For example, farming is not naturally part of the coal-mining industry; and I suggest that brickyards are not naturally part of the industry.
The cost of maintaining houses is not primarily an industrial responsibility. It is a social responsibility. Yet the cost of this has increased by almost £100,000 during 1949. These are a few cases—I could mention others—of activities and expenses which are not naturally part of those of the coal-mining industry, and I suggest that those activities which do not naturally belong to this industry should be transferred to the appropriate Government Departments or to other industries to which they more naturally belong.
1653 Another point I want to make is in relation to the Northern Division of which I have knowledge. There has been a change in parts of the British coalfield from which coal is exported to other countries. Let me digress a little here. While one tries to present some constructive criticisms, one does share the pride of the extended success of this nationalised industry. One's pride is increased by knowing that it has made a substantial contribution and is making a substantial contribution towards assisting Western European countries—Marshall Aid countries—to become independent of the United States of America.
I shall not give a lot of figures, but we know from the Report that in 1947 America exported 37 million tons of coal into Marshall Aid countries. Last year that figure was reduced to £10 million. Great Britain increased her exports from 7,000,000 to over 10 million tons over the two years—which is, I suggest, a substantial contribution, for which we should give great credit to the people engaged in the mining industry of Great Britain.
Now, let me narrow this matter of exports down to its effect on parts of the coalfield. Those of us who have been in the industry will remember that in pre-war years such areas as Scotland, Northumberland, Durham, and South Wales were in depression because of the lower prices received for coal exports. Now the change is that there is a higher price received for coal exports, but there are parts of the coalfield which do not benefit. I do not complain of this change in principle, but the fact is that a substantial amount of coal is now being sent from other divisions which were very small exporting areas in pre-war years, and they are now exporting coal which, normally, in pre-war years, would have been exported from Scotland, Durham and Northumberland. They are now getting the benefit of the additional £1 increase in the export price, and we are suffering in the northern coalfield—and likewise Scotland is suffering—because of the change in the export trade price. We suffered when the price was low and now we suffer when the price is high because of this sending of coal to other divisions.
It is noted in the Report that the Northern Division lost 1s. 11d. a ton during last year as against 3s. 4d. in the previous year. The change has reduced 1654 the proportion of the nation's exports sent by Northumberland and Durham from 31 per cent. to 24 per cent., and the proportion of saleable output in those two counties has been reduced from 30 per cent. to 12 per cent. I suggest that there should be an arrangement within the administration of the National Coal Board whereby the recognised exporting coalfields could be reimbursed because of this re-arrangement by which coal is sent from other parts of the country, when Northumberland and Durham would not only cancel out their loss but would show a profit. If we sent 30 per cent. of our present saleable output we should be exporting in the region of 10 million to 12 million tons instead of the present 4,600,000. The £1 a ton for export coal would help us cover the cost and leave a profit out of the 40 million tons produced during the year.
In that connection, it must also be borne in mind that the Northern Division is the only coalfield in which the National Coal Board has its own coal staithes and can transport the coal to those staithes. In other parts of the country they have to use British Railways or the Harbour Commissions. I ask the Minister, with the Coal Board, to give some consideration to the point about the export coal, so that Scotland, Northumberland and Durham, and South Wales, which were the recognised exporting coalfields in prewar years, may have an improved position because of the increased price that is received for export coal.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I shall detain the House for only a few minutes, but I feel that someone should try to speak on behalf of the consumer. There is a document which I do not normally quote called "Labour Believes in Britain." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, but no hon. Member opposite has said this today. It says:The voice of the consumer must ring out with strength and emphasis.So far today, I have heard a lot of miners' delegates saying how well the miners have done. I should like to speak on behalf of the people in Portsmouth and other poor towns, the ordinary common people in the street, who expected that when the coal industry was nationalised they would get their coal 1655 at the same price throughout the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There was no reason why they should not think that. A soldier before the war could get fuel and light in London or Hong Kong at the same price, although it cost a lot of money to take the coal to Hong Kong. In Portsmouth, however, I paid 3d. a unit for light, when the local cost was only 1½d. I say that this country should have coal at the lowest possible price through out the country.
I have had a number of letters objecting to this scheme of the Coal Board to charge more for coal in the winter than in the summer. The poor people have nowhere to put the coal; they cannot store it, so they cannot buy the coal at the present cheap price, and they will he forced to suffer in the winter when the coal is sold at the higher price to compensate for the cheap price now. This is done in order to let the Minister have an easy time if there is a cold spell during the winter.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I do not mind what was the practice in the trade. We are now nationalised. If the merchant did not sell the coal at the cheapest price, he could be sure that a merchant round the corner would sell it. Now we have to go to one person for the fuel, and, bad as it is, we have to take it. I am sure hon. Members will agree that no one can say that we are getting this stuff "dirt cheap."
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton (Fife, West)
I am glad to have two or three minutes in which to add a few remarks. We are interested on this side to see the interest that the Opposition are taking in the consumer. I come from a producing area, Durham, although I represent a Scottish division, and I remember, although hon. Members opposite do not like us to remember, the period between the wars. I was the son of an unemployed miner, and after going to the grammar school I had to go to the pithead to pick coal. That is the difference between a nationalised industry and private owners.
It is a striking reflection on the Opposition that in the previous Debate on dirty 1656 coal, their leader was an expert on agriculture and in this Debate their leader is an expert on seaside resorts.
§ Mr. Hamilton
We look forward to the next coal Debate when we may perhaps tind the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) leading the Opposition.
I have one or two brief points to make concerning the miners. I feel that one shortcoming of this Debate has been the tendency to praise the administration and the technical machinery and not to pay sufficient attention to the human element in the industry. After all it is the miners who dig the coal. I say frankly that the hon. Member for Both well (Mr. Timmons) was quite right when he said that there will be an extension of the unrest in Scotland, and perhaps in England, if the lower-paid workers on £5 at the surface and £5 15s. underground do not get a rise in the very near future. It is all very well to say, "Let them negotiate; let them wait," but they cannot wait, because in the two and a half years during which they have had the guaranteed minimum, the cost of living has risen to such an extent that the man now on £5 a week has had an effective cut in his purchasing power of about 10s. That has to be remedied, and it can be remedied within the industry by making the former owners wait for their money.
We on this side of the House, accept the principle of compensation, but there is no reason why the former owners should not wait instead of the lower-paid workers in the industry having to wait. I appeal to the Minister to give that question further consideration. In three years the former owners have had £43 million as compensation, while these men on £5 and £5 15s. have to go home to their families and ask their wives to keep them on something less than £5. I urge the Minister to consult with the N.C.B. and the National Union of Mine Workers to see whether something cannot be done about reducing this compensation to the former owners, if not abolishing it altogether. As we nationalise all the various industries, compensation will become an increasingly heavy burden on the national economy, and I think it is high time that we reviewed these proposals and remembered 1657 the men who are digging the coal. I say to hon. Members opposite who criticise: Get down and dig a bit.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)
I shall do my best, in winding up the Debate for the Opposition, to give an impartial survey of the work of the National Coal Board in the course of 1949. There is one point I wish to put to the Parliamentary Secretary before I come to that broad aspect, and that is on this question of pneumoconiosis to which both the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) referred, and in regard to which I found myself largely in agreement with them. We all know that this comes under the National Insurance Act, and that we are faced with the five-year limit of a man working in the mines for compensation purposes. The reason for this is that it has been awfully difficult in the past to diagnose the disease.
In the last two years, we have now got a pracjcally fool-proof diagnosis of the disease. In view of that, I think it might be, as it often takes a long time to discover—it is no good the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) shaking his head.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
There is no apparatus at the moment that can diagnose accurately the complaint from which our men suffer such excruciating pain and death. We are finding that when men who have received compensation, after being certified to be suffering from silicosis, pass on and a post mortem examination is held, they have not been suffering from silicosis but from some other trouble and vice versa.
§ Mr. Raikes
There is this difficulty, but I think I am right in saying that in the last two years we have got nearer a fool-proof diagnosis than ever before. That being so, is there not a case for trying to go beyond the five-year limit? It is necessary, of course, to get some estimate of the cost. A Question was put the other day to the Minister of National Insurance asking whether she could calculate the cost of abolishing the five-year limit. She told us that she had no information. I suggest that the Ministry and the National Coal Board could find out the cost if they circulated the lodges, and that if it showed a reasonable 1658 amount, we should spread the thing out retrospectively.
I believe that would be a great advantage to a large number of people who, until recently, have been in an impossible position. I know we are told that there are not enough doctors for everyone at the pits to undergo an examination by the new X-ray apparatus, but I am informed that skilled technicians could be used for this purpose. If that were done, it would be possible to have every man examined at the pit, which would help in preventing the extension of this disease. I hope that the Minister, whatever other storms we get into will make some comment on that, and will meet us to whatever extent he can.
I pass now to the broad lines of this Report. Quite frankly, I regret the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He knows quite well that both my right hon. Friend and other speakers on this side of the House, including myself, time after time, during the last year, have said that whether we like it or not, we have to accept nationalisation and try to make it work in some form or another. I do not think there is any disagreement on that. If that is so, surely it would be advisable to consider how far the Coal Board in its present form has worked effectively during the past year, rather than to give what I should say, without offence, was a one-sided picture of the industry as it stands today, coupled with a panegyric on nationalisation in general.
I am quite prepared to look first of all for a moment to see if there is anything that can be spoken of favourably. There is one thing about which there will be unqualified approval. All of us are delighted that last year was a year of the lowest fatalities and less injuries than was ever known in the coal industry. If in following years, the National Coal Board can beat that record, it will always be welcome on all sides of the House.
Having said that, I am bound to qualify whatever praise I may give to any other part of this Report. The question of exports has largely been dealt with. We know that exports are larger than they were in 1948, but we also know that quite apart from the fact that world prices are likely to fall, and are falling, the whole international viewpoint as expressed in the Schuman Plan 1659 and other such proposals is against duality of price as between home and abroad. That is going to be lost before very long, and if it is lost, as matters stand at the moment, the Board's paper profit goes. Also the Board are faced beyond that with other grave difficulties, which, as Lord Hyndley has put it, are not short term but will grow as the months go by. Do not let us assume that the money which has been got from exports is to continue in the future.
So far as production is concerned, five million more tons were produced than in the previous year. No one will deny that, but at the same time I am delighted that the Minister and, indeed, the Coal Board apparently take the view now that production per man-year and not production per man-shift is the important figure. In 1949 production was somewhere about 20 tons per man-year below the figure of 10 years ago, in 1939. I would add the point, although it is a minor one, that the figures are slightly worse than that, because in pre-war days in calculating output per man-year, non-industrial staff were included as well as industrial workers, and that is not the case in the figures that are produced at the present time.
Then we pass to quality. The quality for industrial use is slightly better in 1949 than in 1948. In so far as the calorific value of coal is an improvement it is all to the good, but it is still below pre-war for the industrial user, and last year was a record worst year for the domestic user in getting coal. According to the Report, the domestic user got one million tons less coal than in 1948, and only 67 per cent. of the coal which the domestic user got in pre-war days. No one can pretend that the quality that the domestic user gets is anything but what is left over. It is the last scrape out of the barrel.
One has to accept that there has been some slight increase in quality for the industrial consumer, but to realise that the general position for the industrial user is below its pre-war level. The domestic consumer has got less coal in the past year than he got before the war, and he has been getting a far worse quality. Those are the things which are considerable qualifications of the picture painted by the Minister.
1660 The speech of the Minister was more remarkable for what it left out than for what it had in. The Minister barely mentioned the fact that the coal stock position today is considerably more serious than it was a year ago, in 1948. If we are in a position, as we are, when coal consumption is catching up and is passing production, we are heading for a fall and for a very serious state of affairs.
It is always boasted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he deals with British production that our production of almost everything has gone up by a very large amount since 10 years ago. We have to face the fact that the coal position, compared with the position 10 years ago, is undoubtedly depressing. Last year it was between 202 million and 203 million tons, compared with just over 231 million tons in 1939. We are therefore down, on paper, by 29 million tons as compared with the position 10 years ago.
I am not trying to be controversial or to go outside the scope of the Report when I say that we must bear in mind that the quality of coal has deteriorated and is still worse than it was before the war, and that therefore the real difference in the amount of burnable coal between now and 10 years ago is not really 29 million tons but is probably, on a conservative estimate, at least 40 million tons. I think I have even now understated it. I prefer to understate the case in these matters.
We must bear in mind also that the output per man is still under 20 tons per man-year lower than it was 10 years ago. We are bound to face the fact that all is not satisfactory at a time when other industries are spurting above their old production. I know that it is sometimes argued that the reason is that this industry was in a terrible condition when taken over by the Coal Board and faced with grave and grievous difficulties after years of private enterprise. That argument is in many ways unsound. I am not going into the old nationalisation versus anti-nationalisation argument, but I will take the view of His Majesty's Government when they took over the coal industry. The year in which His Majesty's Government took over the coal industry was that in which they decided on their forecast 1661 of coal production for a period of years ahead under the Marshall Plan.
I will remind the House of the figure which the Government gave in regard to this industry. It was a figure for deep-mined coal. I hope that the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will not get up and tell me that I have given the wrong figure because it includes opencast coal. This figure does not include opencast coal. The figure laid down under the Marshall Plan for 1948 was 200 million tons. We produce 196,500,000 that year. The figure for 1949 was 210 million and we produced between 202 million and 203 million.
The deficit grows. For 1950 it was 220 million tons of deep-mined coal, and it is obvious from the figures which we have seen for the first 23 weeks of this year that we shall be lucky to get 205 million tons, unless there is an amazing spurt later. The forecast for 1951 is 230 million tons, or back to the pre-war figures, and we know from every factor that we see before us that there is not the slightest likelihood of getting near the old pre-war figure of 230 million tons in 1951.
I claim that on the Government's own forecast the Coal Board has worked far worse than they expected it to work. Each year the deficit is growing against the forecast made in 1947. The Parliamentary Secretary gave a very curious answer to the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) when he said that the forecast was raised because a number of the importing countries grossly over emphasised what their needs for coal would be under the Marshall Plan. They may have done so, but that is not the point. The point is what the Government thought they could produce in deep-mined coal in 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951. If their figures do not mean that that was what they expected they could produce, they mean nothing at all. I am sure that those figures indicate what the Government thought they could do.
We must bear in mind that during those 10 years mechanised cutting in the pits has increased from 59 per cent. to about 80 per cent., and yet we have this lag which, quite frankly, may hold back and destroy the main hopes of British prosperity in the course of the next few years unless we can find a way out. I said earlier that we had to be able to keep 1662 pace with increased consumption. I have glanced at the figures for stocks for the first 23 weeks of this year and of last year. We have produced a little more coal this year but our needs have become far greater. In the first 23 weeks of 1949 we had to draw 2,500,000 tons out of stock and our figure of distributed stocks on 24th June, 1949, was just under 12 million tons. In the first 23 weeks of this year we have had to draw out 5 million tons from stock, and our distributed stock figure is now 10,500,000.
That is after the Coal Board have stated in the Report that if we had had a hard winter last year the domestic consumer might have gone very short. It should be remembered that it was a mild winter and the domestic consumer had less coal than he has had in any year. What may be the position if we have a hard winter now when already our stocks are 1,500,000 tons less than they were this time last year and when we are trying to increase our exports still further? We are faced by the fact that if we have a hard winter we shall probably have to cut our export figure, and if we have a really hard winter it is quite on the cards that we shall be faced with something not unlike the hold-up that we had at the beginning of 1947.
On those figures I say that this Report, admirably laid out as it is, is not hopeful from the point of view of British industry but is alarming. My right hon. Friend quoted Lord Hyndley's statement in the "News of the World." I will only refer to it for a moment:Either we get more coal or the whole basis of British life may be threatened. Things cannot go on like this. I doubt if the country realises the gravity of the position.Are not the words of the Chairman of the Coal Board much nearer to what my right hon. Friend and I have said this afternoon than the impression which would be given to an outside observer who had merely heard what the Minister said in his speech? That is what I mean by a seeming complacency.
With regard to absenteeism, according to the Report 8,000 men were sacked in the course of last year for persistent absenteeism. I have not much sympathy with the persistent absentee, but I have quite a bit of sympathy with the fellow who is doing a hard job and who takes an occasional day off because I know it 1663 is precisely what I should do myself on occasions.
I want to put to the Minister two of the main difficulties we have to face. We have the pits filled with machinery, far more than they have ever been before, for coal cutting anyhow I know we are behind with coal cleaning but coal cutting is at the rate of 80 per cent. Are the Government satisfied that up to now the men have made full use of the existing machinery to get the fullest possible output? My view is that they have not, and that the real trouble is not absenteeism but that the machinery is used rather to ease the labour than to use it to its utmost capacity to spring up production to the height to which it could be sprung. When my right hon. Friend was speaking, someone said, "You have no proof." The only proof I would give is one more quotation from Lord Hyndley in that same article in the "News of the World." He said:There are too many instances of deliberate ca'canny"—That is not absenteeism—We must have at least 5 million tons more this summer than we are getting if we are to face the winter with any confidence.For heaven's sake, do not let us ignore that warning. That means we have to get 210 million tons if we are to get through this winter with any confidence because the figures up to April, when Lord Hyndley wrote that article, were between 204 and 205 million. If Lord Hyndley's reference to deliberate "ca'canny" means anything, it means that the machinery is not being used to its fullest capacity. But of course we have had a statement from the Minister—
§ Mr. Raikes
If he is right that the trade unions are prepared to use all the machinery in the pits at full blast in the months that lie ahead, the Minister may be the greatest pioneer the coal industry has ever known. However, we shall wait to put up a statue until we see what happens, because until now we have had this check No. 1, full use not made of the machinery. I agree with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that, with full use of the machinery, within a few years we could produce not only more coal than we produced before 1664 the war but could probably produce it with 400,000 or 500,000 men—
§ Mr. Raikes
And much higher wages. I am not afraid of a reduction in the number of people working in the coal industry because I think the tendency will be for reduction, and that does not matter if we are making full use of the machinery. Otherwise, it will be a tragedy. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to make any suggestions to elaborate the statement of his right hon. Friend on the way in which the use of machinery is to be speeded up. I should have thought that to ensure its greatest use in the pits some alteration in the working of P.A.Y.E. might have been advantageous. It may be said that I am perhaps boggling a little on the question of incentives, but I do not think that I am.
On the other side of the picture there is the question of dirty coal. We know that about 50 per cent. of the coal is now cleaned mechanically, and one realises the difficulty of separating coal, particularly if cut by mechanical means, but the Report states frankly that we do not have sufficiently good separation of coal where this is done by hand; no one would deny that it is much worse now than before the war. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what new steps are being taken to try to enforce the same care in separating coal that was exercised 10 years ago? Unless we get cleaner coal, the trouble with consumers will grow rather than lessen and the difficulties with the export industry will become even greater. Not only have we to get back to the state of clean coal of 10 years ago, but we must increase production to what it was in those days.
I have not time to go in detail into costs, but when the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with this matter he made, I think, one minor error. He followed the Report when he said that from 1934 onwards until the present year there had been an advance in costs. The first, check, however, came in 1946. The costs of production for that year, taking the average for the year, were 1d. less. A further rise followed but there has been a drop of 6d. this year. The right hon. Gentleman also said that costs were now 8s. 5d. or 8s. 6d. higher than when the Government took over the industry in 1947. His figures, of course, were those 1665 for only the last quarter of 1949. The average for the year is roughly 9s. higher compared with 1946. Nor does the increase consist only of miners' wages—far from it. Wages amount, I think, to about 3s. 6d. out of that 9s.
§ Mr. Raikes
I think that that covers more than wages and includes what has been set aside for miners' compensation. I am not bothering very much with the figures but I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary and the House that in spite of what the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) said, between 1946 and 1949 administrative costs almost doubled and salaries have gone up.
My final words to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary are these. I have deliberately avoided Parliamentary dialectics in what I have said, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do the same. We have the darkness of threatening war all round Europe and the world. It is vital that the coal industry shall have every opportunity of progress, including the reorganisation of the Coal Board if we are to step up production, at any rate, to what it was when war broke out in 1939. We must not have a smaller target than that and it has got to be speedy. Do not be afraid, and even if suggestions come from this side do not consider that those suggestions are of necessity unwise.
We are lagging behind what we ought to do, we are lagging behind what the Government thought they could do under Marshall Aid proposals. For heaven's sake get going with a spirit of urgency. In every urgent step the Government are prepared to take to speed up coal production, they will receive not only the co-operation but the enthusiasm of this side of the House.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
I hope to pick up the arguments of the hon. Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes) in the course of my reply to the many points that have been made in the Debate. However, I wish to cross swords with him for a brief moment. I am certain he would not wish to mislead the House, but he said that the pre-war output covered non-industrial as well as industrial workers. My information is that that is not so, but that it has always been based on wage earners on the 1666 colliery books ana has been on the same basis throughout.
§ Mr. Raikes
I do not want to waste time on that, but I noticed in the Coal Board's Report a reference to the alteration in basis, which I think they say had been made in 1946. They said it was under one per cent.—.5 per cent.—and I think that was due to certain persons not being included per man-year before. We need not waste time on that, however.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Member did say that the targets for coal production put out by the Government about 1947 proved to be very wide of the mark, but it may be that our assumption of the bag of assets we took up when we nationalised the industry, was also very wide of the mark and that what we thought we would have with which to produce the coal was not really there. The hon. Member said he was disappointed with—or perhaps he used the words "regretted the tone" of—my right hon. Friend's speech. It is an amazing thing, when we hear from hon. Members opposite that they now want to have this kind of Debate as a Council of State, to find that they always regret the tone of the Front Bench on the Government side, but pay no attention to the tone of speeches by right hon. Gentlemen on their side. The strange thing is also that on this side of the House my right hon. Friend's speech was received with great acclamation. Here it was thought to be a good speech, and the hon. Member who represented the Liberal Party today thought it was a good speech. Only hon. Members of the Conservative Party thought it was not a good speech, and therefore they have been defeated by two parties to one.
The view which hon. Members opposite took of my right hon. Friend's speech is the view which I take of the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken). I thought it was a regrettable speech. I am certain that he came to the House to enjoy himself. He did enjoy himself, and he is entitled to enjoy himself in this House. After all, when one has descended from the gay great height of being the greatest and finest First Sea Lord since Admiral Porter, K.C.B., in H.M.S. "Pinafore," one is entitled, having sat all these years without any navy at all, to come and enjoy oneself.
§ Mr. Bracken
I know the hon. Gentleman has spent a lot of time preparing this crude joke, but really even a co-operator who spent his life sanding sugar should know that no politician can be First Sea Lord. A number of politicians of varying value, including the former Mr. A. V. Alexander, have held the post of First Lord of the Admiralty, but the hon. Gentleman should know that the post of First Sea Lord is not open to any of the boys opposite, or on this side of the House either.
§ Mr. Robens
The right hon. Member went over a great many matters in this Report, some in great detail, and on others he briefly sketched his views, but when he went into great detail about exports, quality and price, all he could say I think could be summed up in one word and that was emphasised by what the hon. Member for Garston also said. The key to the whole situation is, I think, admitted in all parts of the House, and certainly by the Coal Board, my right hon. Friend and myself, to be production. There is no question about that.
The amounts available for the export market and the amounts available for the domestic market are entirely dependent on what total amount of coal we have in one year after we have provided for the essential industries of this country. If Britain is to achieve economic independence, it would be fatal to deny to the gas, electricity, railway, iron and steel and other industries all the coal they need to maintain full employment in this country, to keep everybody at work and to keep production steadily mounting from year to year. Having provided for all this in 1949, all one had left was 30 million tons of coal for domestic use, and about 20 million tons for exports and foreign bunkers.
Therefore, the key to the whole situation, as I see it, is production. So we should look at this Report and see how production is going. As has been said already, output in 1949 increased by five million tons over 1948. It was an increase of 2½ per cent. The actual increases were fairly good. The increase due to greater output per man-shift for the past year was 6.7 million tons; the increase due to the increased number of face workers was 2.3 million tons. Then come the two unhappy events which bring this nine million extra tons down to five 1668 million. We lost 2.2 million tons due to fewer working days and we lost 1.8 million tons due to less regular attendance.
These are facts which stare us in the face and of which we, and the Coal Board, are well aware. I say quite frankly that the amount of increase was disappointing, but at the same time we cannot minimise the physical conditions confronting the industry. After all, coal is a wasting asset. As time goes on, the difficulties of producing coal increase. Time and again my hon. Friends have pointed out that year by year coal has to be brought up from a greater depth and from thinner seams of lower quality, and expensive technical developments are necessary merely to offset the increase in the natural difficulties.
I asked for figures in respect of some popular seams well known in this country. They startled me. While I will not weary the House with all of them, let me pick out one or two. The well-known Barnsley seam, and the Top Hard of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were worth 10 per cent. of the total output of the country in 1938. The Barnsley seam provided 38.8 per cent. of the Yorkshire coal. It now provides only 29.7 per cent. of the Yorkshire coal: we have had it; it has been burned; it can no longer be got. The Top Hard in Nottinghamshire in 1938 produced 40.2 per cent. of the total that came out of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. What is it today? It is 29.7 per cent, because it has gone. These figures, many more of which could be given for other well-known seams, show the physical difficulties which must be met when comparing 1938 figures or 1939 figures with 1949. These natural difficulties must be considered, and not to do so is to be grossly unfair to the industry.
There must therefore be a great development programme. Well, have the Board got a decent development programme? I say that this Report shows that they have, and that they have taken energetic measures to do two things: to have a short-term development programme and a long-term development programme. It is a great pity that they must have those two programmes side by side, because they frequently clash; frequently one does not always help the other. There has been a backlog of work. 1669 I am not complaining that that is all due to the old ownership of the pits, because we had a war lasting a long time, during which many developments could not take place. But there has been that backlog, and the Board, in the years that they have been in charge of the industry, have got down to the job of developing those two programmes—on the short-term programme £42 million, on the long-term programme £17 million, and some £16 million of expenditure on miscellaneous works in connection with the industry.
In 1949, they spent £31 million on capital account compared with £25 million in 1948. It really is quite a big programme. The spending of that money in the pits, in view of the slow rate of progress that can be made in driving new headings and doing the tunnelling that has to be done, gives an indication to those who know the industry of the enormous amount of development work that is going on. What else does that do? It takes all those men who could be producing coal away from producing coal on to this development work. Therefore, with a backlog of development work and a great deal to make up, it is obvious that productivity is reduced, although these men are still on the colliery books.
The right hon. Gentleman told us something about the value of by-products. He need not tell hon. Members on this side of the House about the value of by-products. For years we complained that lots of people made money out of these byproducts, but that it never went back to the pits to the men who worked in those pits. The National Coal Board have a great coking plant programme. At Nantgarw, in an area that has been desolated, there is this vast new scheme of coking plants. All those are included in their accounts, and I therefore say that we cannot complain about the development programme. I go further and say that the development programme of the National Coal Board is not retarded either by the Government capital investment limit or by labour and materials for doing the work. It is held back very largely because of shortage of technical people to carry out the regional plans.
Of course, absenteeism cannot be glossed over. It is unsatisfactory. But hon. Members opposite cannot complain about absenteeism in the coal-mining industry as though the miners were the 1670 only people who ever had a day off work. The hon. Member for Garston frankly said that if he was in a hard, dirty and laborious job like a miner's, he would be inclined to take a day off from work. Now that miners, and particularly piece workers, are getting good wages, they can buy a day's leisure, which is perhaps what they do. All I would say to the miners is: please do not buy that leisure in these years; there will come a time when it will be possible to have greater leisure, but just now it is essential that we should get absenteeism down to the absolute minimum, so that we can build up this industry and make it prosperous, and bring about the time much more speedily when paid absence from work will be available at a much greater rate than it is today.
I do not believe that we can complain, recognising that production is the keynote of the situation. When I look at the Coal Board's Report, I do not think of those people appointed by the Minister who are in Hobart House, but I think of all the miners in the industry. I regard this Report as the industry's Report, and every miner in the industry is part of it. When we refer to the Coal Board's Report we are thinking of the industry as a whole, because today we have got men and management as partners in the enterprise and not as bitter enemies.
The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch made some play about output per man year, but he must know that the output per man shift is the usual measure of productivity. After all, the output per man year comparison is only another way of criticising absenteeism. That is all. Having said what I think about absenteeism I will turn my attention to the figures of productivity, and see how we have fared there. The increase in productivity in 1949 was 5 per cent. I ask hon. Members to compare that with the increase in productivity of 10 per cent. in the six years before the war, from 1930 to 1936. That is an increase of 10 per cent. in six years before the war compared with an increase of 5 per cent. in 1949. I submit that that is not an unreasonable increase in productivity.
As my right hon. Friend mentioned, the output per man year in 1938 was 290 tons per man, and certainly that is 1671 more than in 1949, when the figure was 282 tons, but the fact is that the increase in absenteeism between the two periods was not in 1949 fully offset by the increase in output per man shift. On the present form, however, not only will output per man shift in 1950 substantially exceed that of 1938, but the output per man year will also be higher. At long last we shall be in a position in which there will be one further deletion from the Conservative Central Office circular, which will no longer be able to tell the people to ask us questions about output per man year, because both output per man shift and output per man year will be greater than in 1938.
The right hon. Gentleman was concerned about the export prospects. Exports are going pretty well up to now. The Trade and Navigation Accounts are available to hon. Members, and there month by month, from January to May this year, there is a comfortable surplus over last year's exports. Indeed, it is averaging about 300,000 tons a month. If we continue at that rate throughout the whole of the year, we shall be exporting over 3½ million tons more this year than the 19 million tons that we exported in 1949. Whether this will be achieved I cannot say; I do not believe anyone can say, in view of all the uncertainties that must surround any predictions about coal output. After all, an error of 2 per cent. in the figure is not much as a percentage, but it represents four million tons of coal, which is quite a lot of coal.
One hon. Member said that British ships were at present engaged, not in carrying British coal abroad, but in carrying foreign coal abroad. Well, for over a century British ships have been carrying other people's goods, and may they go on doing it; it does not bother us too much. The right hon. Gentleman showed a good deal of knowledge about Africa and he brought this knowledge to bear by telling us that South African coal was likely to be a great competitor. That may well be. But we must put things in the proper perspective. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman should come to the House and try to frighten, not hon. Members on this side of the House, but people outside who read what he has to say, by suggesting that South African coal is going to put us out of business.
§ Mr. Robens
The right hon. Gentleman qualified what he had to say by telling us of his great experience in this matter. I point out that the present export surplus of South Africa is 2.4 million tons. They want half-a-million tons for bunkers and the great bulk of the balance is going to their own already established markets in West Africa, East Africa, the Indian Ocean or, in smaller measure, South America. One does get cargoes which spill over from those established markets of theirs into Europe, which we normally regard as our market, but the exports to Europe, where we compete, were only 100,000 tons in 1949—mainly to Italy. Bear in mind that South African coal is 50s. a ton f.o.b. compared with 75s. a ton f.o.b for United Kingdom coal. There are a number of factors which will limit South Africa's ability to go into British markets —shipping, the long distances from the pits to the ports, where many times it is over miles and miles of single-track railways.
I say that production is the key to this problem of more coal on the domestic market and of the ability to enter the export market to a much greater extent, and it is also the key to the quality problem on the domestic market because many coals which are on the domestic market, and about which merchants have complaints, are not bad coals in themselves. They happen to be the wrong coal for that market. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because of the shortage.
I had a deputation from Wales last week. What was their complaint? Their complaint was that we were sending 100,000 tons of Welsh coal abroad and sending them 100,000 tons of English coal for domestic use. If we had sent 100,000 tons of Welsh coal into Manchester or Birmingham, everybody would have complained saying, "This is slate; we cannot burn it because it is Welsh steam coal." They would have welcomed 100,000 tons from Yorkshire, but the Welsh regarded our English coal as being inferior, a poor coal, because they were accustomed to hard coal and they said that our coal burns away far too quickly, is tarry and smokes, and so on. Both were good coals if they had been in the right place, but because we have not sufficient, and because we are scraping the bottom of the barrel, as we are, these coals that are unsuitable for a 1673 specific market often find their way there, and as a result there are complaints about dirty or bad coal which are not inherently complaints about the quality at all; it is just that it is the wrong type for the market.
We have a long way to go in this question of production. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) was complaining—or, rather, he was not complaining but was asking questions in his own inimitable way of my right hon. Friend a while ago—that there was a great surplus in Europe and wondering whatever would happen to us because of this great surplus. The hon. Member may be interested to know what are the future requirements of this country. We want 13 million tons more deep-mined coal so that we can get rid of the opencast coal and thus please hon. Members opposite. Perhaps I might interpose to say that if hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and other hon. Members opposite had their way, we should be 13 million tons short of what we are getting today.
We want five or seven million tons more coal for the domestic market. The domestic market is starved. We want many million of tons more, as the years go by, for the export markets which are already waiting for us. Our immediate need of deep-mined coal, if we can have it, is something between 220 million and 235 million tons. Therefore, do not let us start talking about cutting back production in this country when there is all that great need for such enormous quantities of coal. All that can be done in the way of improving production, both technically and by getting a greater amount of manpower more properly used, and by the upgrading of men, and so on, has got to be done; and the people who are in this industry arc fully conscious of that fact.
So I say to the right hon. Gentleman that when Lord Hyndley and Ebby Edwards make their speeches, he should not say they are defeatist speeches. They are not defeatist speeches at all, but they are telling the miners—the people who matter in this particular case—just exactly what the position is. Hon. Gentlemen opposite should be praising Lord Hyndley and should be praising Ebby Edwards and should be praising my right hon. Friend—
§ Mr. Robens
Yes—because it is notable that the only people who are really putting this case to the miners are those people, and my hon. Friends on this side of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to describe the National Coal Board as a board of bureaucrats. He talks about over-centralisation. He talks about a "litter of bureaucrats." He should know something about litter, anyway, because of the papers he keeps. He talks about more power for the area managers. But he does not produce one shred of evidence for what he says—not one single shred. The fact is the Reid Report itself did not lay down specific plans as to how this job should be done, and the only argument it put forward was whether the industry should he under private ownership or under public ownership. We decided in favour of public ownership. and we got on with the job, and we picked the industry up, and from that time forward there has been a constant devolution from the centre back to the pits.
§ Mr. Robens
The right hon. Gentleman says there has been a complete muddle. If he had ever worked in the coalfields, if he had ever experienced life under private enterprise and then life under nationalised enterprise, he would talk differently. There has been considerable devolution, and I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman of something. I know he does not read reports. If he had read last year's Report he would have known all about the reorganisation of the Coal Board. However, it is too much to expect him to read two Reports in one year. However, he should know that the Coal Board is not "frozen" as he described it.
§ Mr. Roberts
Yes. He thought they were bound to organise the industry in the present way. Nothing of the kind. They are perfectly free to change the organisation. It is perfectly flexible. I suggest that those members of the Coal Board who for the last four years have been conducting this very difficult problem know a little more about how the job should be done than does the right hon. 1675 Gentleman, who has not taken the opportunity to study it.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentlemen has taken up so much of my time that I have been unable to meet a lot of the points that have been made in the Debate and to make comments upon them. Besides, I wanted to say a few things of my own. But I do say that this Report is a good Report; it is one of which the industry can be proud, but not complacent; it marks the road that has to be traveled—
§ Mr. Robens
We shall have difficulties, and many obstacles will have to be faced, but with the full co-operation of the management and men, with the tremendous loyalty that characterises the miners, the problems will be overcome, and a new era of prosperity—
§ Mr. Robens
—will be assured to this great nation of ours. I may add that I wrote that inspired by the right hon. Gentleman's sunny face across that Despatch Box.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1949.