§ 4.1 p.m.
§ The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1955.In some ways the timing of the debate is a little inconvenient. For one thing, we have not yet had the statement which will soon be provided by my noble Friend the Minister of Power about the Government's future intentions in the matter of nuclear power. Secondly, we will, I hope, be able to publish next month the first of the series of White Papers on the investment in the fuel and power industries which were promised in the course of last year's discussions. Our discussion must, therefore, be limited by the absence of this information. I should very much have welcomed a little longer to acquaint myself somewhat better with the problems of this extremely important and very diverse industry.
On the other hand, as the House has not yet discussed the Annual Report for 1955, and as that is a long time ago and much has happened since then, I hope that it will be in order to discuss not only the Report for 1955 but also what has happened, and the developments that have taken place, on the basis of the history of 1955.
The introduction to the Annual Report which is the subject of this Motion starts with these words:Output in 1955 was disappointing. One major strike and many lesser disputes cost the industry more coal than in any year since nationalisation. Manpower fell. Home demand for coal was only met by means of massive imports and a reduction in coal exports. These measures seriously affected not only the Board's finances but the balance of payments position of the country.That was the position throughout 1955. All of us would agree that it was a disappointing and disturbing result, yet we should take note that there has been a distinct improvement in that situation since 1955. In the first few weeks of the present year there has been a notable improvement in many factors in the coal situation. Let us, first, take output.
1408 Output, which, in 1955, was declining, showed a distinct improvement towards the end of 1956. In fact, in the first eight weeks of the current year, output has shown an increase of more than 1 million tons compared with last year. So far, output in 1957 has been a post-war record. The improvement in 1956, when it started, reflected itself in an effect on the balance of payments. The House recognises the great importance of the coal industry for the balance of payments, but deplores the fact that the contribution made to the balance of payments by coal has been so little over recent years.
In 1955, the balance between imports and exports led to a net coal export of only half a million tons. The net cost of imports was higher than the value of exports in the balance of payments for 1955 by about £22 million. In 1956, this position was put right. The net export was nearly 3 million tons, and the value of the exports was slightly above the cost of imports. That was a definite improvement in the balance of payments, but, bearing in mind our traditional position as a coal exporting country, we should all say that it is not good enough by quite a long way.
The stock position is also a good deal better than it was in the winter a year ago. In fact, we have at present the highest coal stocks, distributed and undistributed, that we have had since the war. There are certain shortages of gas coal and house coal, but, by and large, the stock position is very good. This reflects a number of differing tendencies. There is the saving that arises from the extraordinarily mild weather, for which I cannot claim credit either for the Government or for the recently appointed Ministers, much as I shoud like to do so. Secondly, it reflects the fact that industrial demand has not risen compared with 12 months ago. We must set against that an increased demand for coal which has arisen as the result of the hold-up of our oil supplies from the Suez Canal. It is satisfactory that the stock position is so much better.
We have in this vital industry an encouraging improvement in output, in the import-export position and in the stock position. We are all entitled to take encouragement from that. At the same time, we should be wise and prudent to analyse in a little more detail the reasons 1409 for this improvement, because one swallow does not make a summer and the swallow at this moment is only in the very early spring.
One of the most important factors is the increase in total manpower which, in the last 12 months, has gone up by 6,600 men. Recruitment in the first few weeks of this year has been almost double the rate of recruitment in the same period of last year. This is a very important matter which must reflect itself in increased output.
I turn to the productivity of the industry, which is immensely important. We find output per manshift in 1956 very slightly above that of 1955; and, in 1957, there has been a further increase in output per manshift. Though this is encouraging we must recognise that with the great increase in mechanisation and with the tremendous drive for power loading that the National Coal Board has been undertaking, one would expect a substantial increase in output.
In 1956, the record output per man-shift was not reflected in an increase per man-year and the number of shifts worked in the year 1956 declined. The most important figure for the economy is the amount of coal produced per man over the course of the year. We must regard with some concern the fact that, despite a further increase in mechanisation, the output per man in 1956 as a whole was down as compared with 1955, although I agree that later in 1956 and early in 1957 we have been seeing an improvement which we very much welcome.
However, the important fact to take into account is the position of disputes and absenteeism. Statistics for disputes during 1956 were very disturbing. The total amount of coal lost was about 1.8 million tons, a very large figure indeed, particularly when we consider what a large investment has to be made in coal mining to produce 1.8 million tons of coal. We cannot be in any way complacent about the situation, but we all welcome the improvement. There has been a noticeable improvement in attendance in recent weeks. Although this is linked with the surprisingly mild weather there has also been a general improvement in activity and morale in the coalfields.
So far as I can work it out, that seems to be a fair assessment of the position 1410 we have reached. The year we are formally considering, 1955, was a very disappointing year; there is no doubt about that. During 1956 an undoubted improvement took place and that improvement has continued during 1957, a matter which we all very much welcome. On both sides of the House we hope it will continue and that we shall get further improvements in output, further improvements in output per man-shift, and a continuing flow of additional manpower to the industry, all of which is very much to be desired. I would sum up my assessment of the current position compared with 1955 by saying that there has been recently a heartening improvement which it is exceedingly important to see maintained in every possible way.
I wish to try to make a rather general review of the problems now facing this industry. I am very conscious of the fact that I am a newcomer to the problems of this industry, which is of crucial importance to this country; an industry which, for many years, has been the subject of fierce controversy in many directions and one which inspires a passionate loyalty among the men who work in it. As a newcomer, I think that the first impression one gets from meeting mineworkers is the loyalty that they have for their industry. I try very much to bear in mind all these things when dealing with the economics of this industry and the contribution it is making and can make to our national well-being.
I should like to deal with the industry and its problems under four main heads, management, manpower, investment and price policy. It seems to me that those are the four fundamental problems which we as a House must face in our relations with the industry. Taking, first, management, the basis of all efficient industry must be good management. That seems a fundamental principle which, possibly applies more to the coal industry in some ways than to other major industries. Nothing can succeed in this industry unless management is sound and we have the right men and the right management structure. In the last ten years or so there have been a large number of inquiries into the management structure of the industry. Perhaps some people would say that there have been too many inquiries. Certainly, it is a bad thing to pull up the plant too often to see whether 1411 it is growing properly. That is a matter which, no doubt, one could argue at some length.
The latest inquiry, by Sir Alexander Fleck, as we all recognise, was a very diligent and valuable inquiry. Although no one on either side of the House would consider it as the last word to be said on the problem—in a developing industry like this one cannot say the last word—it has been of tremendous value to the Coal Board, which has profited very much by carrying out many of the recommendations of the Fleck Committee.
Speaking of management, it seems that the important subjects are, recruitment—
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House how many new positions have been created since the recommendations of the Fleck Report have been carried out and how many more administrative personnel have been added to the Board?
§ Mr. Maudling
I have not got those exact figures. I hope to give some figures about management training and recruitment, but I could not give those exact figures without notice. But the Parliamentary Secretary will do his best to answer the hon. Gentleman later.
Obviously, the first requirement of good management is an adequate flow of recruits. I think that one of the most valuable recommendations of the Report was that there should be established a special department—which has been done—to provide career planning throughout the industry. The attention given by the Board to these problems recently is, I believe, worthy of considerable commendation. The Board is planning to bring people into the management structure both from within and from outside the industry. For mineworkers there are the "ladder" plans, so-called, for enabling mineworkers to work up to management posts in the industry. In 1955, no fewer than 12,750 men took places in those ladder courses.
Then there are the scholarships. Since 1948, the Coal Board has been giving 100 scholarships a year to men in the industry and to those leaving grammar schools for education for management in the industry. Those scholarships have never 1412 been fully taken up, which is a matter for regret, but there has been a continuing improvement. In 1956, 81 were taken up and, already, 300 graduates through the scheme have gone into management positions in the industry.
Then there is the directed technical training scheme for men in the industry or in universities who have the proper qualifications for colliery manager, mining, mechanical or electrical engineer. In 1949, 30 men came into the scheme. In 1956, 360 men were recruited to the scheme, and by the end of last year 780 had been trained and 760 were in training. Already, 30 who have gone through the scheme were in post as colliery managers.
In all these ways it seems to me that the Coal Board is making considerable efforts to recruit the proper men for management posts, which is the fundamental problem of this industry as it is of any other. Having recruited the men, it is important that they should be given adequate training, patricularly in modern methods. Recently, there has been established by the Coal Board a staff college, which, I think, is of very great importance, because it is very much needed in the industry. It will be giving courses for men between the ages of 30 and 45, refresher courses for senior colliery managers, and will be arranging the sort of industrial symposia among leading members of the industry which have proved so valuable in other industries. In addition to the staff college, there are courses for managers and refresher studies in techniques and modern methods.
Techniques is the next matter to which I should refer, because there can be no doubt that the application of modern techniques is as important in this industry as in any other. Here it is fair to say that the Fleck Committee gave considerable impetus to a movement already taking place in the direction of improvement of management techniques and in planned maintenance, which is already practised in 119 collieries and in process of being installed in 158 more. Method study, which is very important, is being applied to manpower deployment, tunnelling, dirt handling, and so on. By the end of last year 184 methods-study trained engineers were working in the coal fields.
1413 Also, since the Fleck Report the activity of the central organisation and methods unit has been spread throughout the other divisions which have trained organisation and methods units. Standard costing has been applied to 750 pits and—what, I think, is also particularly important—economy operation has been achieved by setting up a purchasing and stores department. In the past, I think that there was ground for criticising the purchasing methods and efficiency of the Coal Board, but that has been much improved in recent years by setting up a proper department to deal with that problem.
Finally, there is the problem of incentives. The Fleck Committee—like the Herbert Committee in relation to the electricity industry—referred to the importance of a proper salary level in the nationalised industries. All I can say at the moment—obviously, I must not say too much—is that one recognises clearly that the problem of the level of salaries stretches throughout the whole industry. As the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) pointed out in relation to the electricity industry, if top salaries are too low medium and lower salaries are depressed. This matter is in the mind of the Government, but I cannot go beyond saying that.
Apart from all these matters, and having recruited management and personnel and trained and equipped it with the most modern techniques, I think that it is only fair to say that it still remains to give the management the proper authority and the proper status. As a newcomer to the industry I would hazard a guess that one of the problems in the industry will be to restore the proper and accepted authority based upon personal quality of leadership and management throughout the industry.
The first point I wanted to deal with was management. Now I should like to turn to the question of manpower. Certainly, there has been improvement recently in the total manpower on the colliery books. This is very much to be welcomed, but there is still a large number of vacancies, concentrated partly in certain areas. Generally speaking, I think that it is true to say that there is capacity immediately available for the production of more coal, which could be produced without delay if more manpower was forthcoming. I think that 1414 perhaps a somewhat false impression may have been given, partly by the interest shown at present by the public in nuclear power, and partly by the Coal Board's own pamphlet, "Investment in Coal."
Whatever we may achieve in the field of nuclear power, the fact is that in the lifetime of all of us here, so far as present knowledge can tell us, coal will remain vital to our industrial requirements. That is a fact which cannot he repeated too often.
Secondly, although the plans of the Coal Board for future development reflect a slight reduction in total manpower over the next ten years, it is a very small reduction compared with the annual wastage of 60,000 men, and I think that it is important to make quite clear that, whatever is said about nuclear power, there is still an urgent need for more men to work in the pits. They can do great service for the country in producing more coal and there is room and capacity for them there at the moment.
To turn from total output to the question of output per man, although output per manshift has improved the output per man-year has not, and certainly did not show the improvement that one would wish to see. I must say a word or two about the question of disputes and attendance or absenteeism. It is very difficult for an office worker to talk about absenteeism or disputes concerning underground workers. I know perfectly well that I personally should find coal mining, compared with my own job, far harder, more dangerous and more exacting. It is right to start by saying that. It is also right, in speaking on behalf of the Government on this extremely important matter, to face the fact that a very great deal of coal is lost by absenteeism and disputes. One must contrast that with the enormous investment which the nation is making in the pits in order to increase by a relatively small amount the total output coming from them.
It is true to say that not only do disputes badly disrupt production, but absenteeism by individuals can produce more than a proportionate loss of production. If a few people are absent from the face, the whole production from the face may be affected more than proportionately by reason of the absence of those few people.
§ Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)
The Minister has referred to absenteeism without qualification. Will he make it clear whether he is referring to voluntary or involuntary absenteeism? Will he also make it clear that involuntary absenteeism is a much larger proportion of the total absenteeism than voluntary absenteeism?
§ Mr. Maudling
That is quite true. I think that the statistical division between voluntary and involuntary cannot always be drawn with quite the decimal exactitude which the figures show, and what I had in mind was voluntary absenteeism.
It is important that we should stress, so far as we can, that the damage done by continued absenteeism can be out of all proportion, in terms of coal production, to the actual absenteeism involved by the individuals concerned. The Coal Board is getting out new statistics on the social and home factors underlying disputes and absenteeism which, I think, will be very valuable.
I was struck, on looking at the statistics, to see how they vary. In some areas where we have a high level of disputes we get a low level of absenteeism and vice versa. That seems to indicate that there is room for the considerable study that the Coal Board is undertaking in inquiring into the basic facts underlying this problem. I am told—and I think that there is something in it—that many disputes arise from the particularly complicated problems of the piece rate structures for different work, and any further efforts that the Coal Board can make to simplify or improve the rate structure will be particularly valuable.
I would hazard a guess, as a newcomer to this matter, that the two basic ways of tackling the problems of absenteeism and disputes are, first, more leadership in management, and, secondly, more power to the elbow of the mineworker.
§ Mr. Maudling
The hon. Gentleman has referred to a matter to which I personally would not wish to refer, but if he likes to criticise that dispute as being frivolous he may do so.
I think that, fundamentally, we come back to these two points. First, unless 1416 management has authority we shall not have discipline and, secondly, management will have authority only if it has the quality which it ought to have and the personal authority which the managers ought to have because of their own attributes. Coal mining is an arduous, dirty and dangerous job and constant improvement must be sought through mechanisation, to get more machines to the job and more horsepower and less manpower in it.
I thought that a very encouraging factor when studying the statistics was the extent to which miners are prepared to co-operate in the working of new machinery, particularly power loading. Reports on this and information that I have received lead me to believe that the introduction of power loading in the pits has been accompanied by singularly few disputes compared with those in other industries. Where power loading has been introduced it has produced better results, more coal, cheaper costs and better earnings.
While talking about manpower, I should like to refer to two points—pensions and safety. On the subject of pensions, to which the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has often referred, I am very glad to tell the House that the Minister of Power has approved proposals put forward to him for improvements in the existing pension schemes for mineworkers. I think that those improvements will be well received by those who will benefit from them. Secondly, on safety, which is an immensely important matter, there has been an encouraging reduction in the number of important accidents, particularly fatal accidents, in the pits in recent years. With the coming into force at the beginning of this year of the Mines and Quarries Act, I think that this process of improvement in safety factors will continue.
I come to the next problem, which is that of investment, which I think is extremely important.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Before my right hon. Friend turns to investment, which is in the financial field, and before he leaves the question of production entirely, may I put it to him that the general tenor of his speech seems to be that coal production is improving. Would he care to explain why, for the 1417 calendar year 1955, deep-mined coal production was 210.2 million tons whereas in 1956 it was 210 million tons? This seems to suggest that deep-mined coal production in the aggregate—I am not talking about opencast mining—is absolutely static.
§ Mr. Maudling
My hon. Friend has not conducted his researches with the diligence which he normally tends to give to these matters. It is always dangerous to take calendar years and compare one with another without looking at the progress in the calendar year. I did my best to make clear that 1955 was very disappointing, but that within 1956 there was an improvement. If we have an improvement in the second half compared with production in the first half, the total for the calendar year may, nevertheless, not be very impressive. My point was that in the latter part of 1956 there was an improvement which has been continued in the early part of 1957.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be unwise to exaggerate this temporary improvement, or to assume that it will necessarily be permanent. It is most important that we should do all we can to make it permanent, but it would be unwise to assume too early that it is a permanent improvement.
§ Mr. Mason
The Minister passed quickly over the introduction of the Mines and Quarries Act. Has his Department made any estimate of what this will cost the Coal Board? I am not quibbling at the cost, but it is essential that we should have some idea of what it is.
§ Mr. Maudling
I have seen some estimates, and the impression I have received is that it is difficult to give a figure which is sufficiently accurate to be worth quoting. I am sorry, but I do not like to give figures unless they are fairly accurate. It is easy to exaggerate the cost of the introduction of the Act just as it is easy to exaggerate the cost of mining subsidence.
May I turn to investment, which I find an intriguing and important question? I do not intend, this afternoon, to deal with the progress of the recent investment in the industry, because there will shortly be a White Paper on the progress made with investment and it is probably better to leave any detailed examination of the 1418 figures until then. I should, however, refer to one or two facts. At the end of 1955, 167 major schemes were in progress or had been completed. During the last year, 27 more major schemes were put in hand, bringing the total to 194, including those already completed by the end of 1955.
If we look at the 38 collieries which had been planned to increase their output considerably in the course of last year, we find that in January this year those collieries increased their output by 154,000 tons, whereas the rest of the industry showed a decrease of output of 7,000 tons. Those figures are an indication of some of the results of investment, but I agree that one must go into the matter in some detail and that it would be premature to try to reach any assessment of the results of investment to date under the current programme of £1,000 million for the next ten years.
With the forbearance of the House, however, I should like to talk a little about the principles which underlie investment in this industry. It is important that we should put our minds to this because there are many conflicting and often difficult problems to be solved. In this matter the Government have two decisions to make. In the first place, the Government have to decide under the provisions of the Act as to the physical programme of investment of the industry; the question is whether the Government or the Minister approve the physical investment programme of the industry year by year.
There is, however, a second Government decision, which is not the same decision, and it concerns the amount which the Government are prepared to lend towards the fulfilment of that programme. It is important that the House should bear in mind that these two decisions are not necessarily the same. They are two separate decisions concerning, first, the level of the physical programme and, secondly, the amount of money lent from Government sources towards the fulfilment of the programme.
I suggest that the special fact which affects investment in coal is not so much that it is a national industry, but that it is a basic industry, and is a monopoly; and that imports are both costly in terms of price and difficult in political terms, as we have seen in recent months. The 1419 problem, therefore, is to ensure that the country has the full ability to meet its energy demands at the lowest possible price in economic and political terms. It is not a question, and can never be a question, of coal at any price. I think that we are all agreed on that. It is a question of as much coal as we can get at an economic price, but not coal at any price.
When we say what we mean by an economic price, there is a political as well as an economic factor, just as there is in the case of agriculture. The Government may have to decide how much we are prepared to pay for high-cost home-produced energy rather than rely on imports—and that must apply to coal and other energy resources—and to what extent it is worth while relying on cheap oil from abroad rather than relying on higher-cost coal produced at home. This is not wholly an economic argument, but it is partly political and partly economic.
In deciding our investment programme, we must, therefore, look at all the possible sources of energy, such as home-produced coal, imported coal—be it dollar coal or African coal, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is rightly interested—imported oil, nuclear energy and also coal saving at home; because investment in coal economy is as much an investment in producing coal as is money spent in getting the coal out of the ground.
All these things must be set against one another to obtain any rational picture of investment in energy. Our programme must be both long term and flexible. I do not like the word "flexible" very much; I once used it about the Bank Rate, and the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) said that to speak of a "flexible weapon" was like using a rubber hammer to knock in a nail. He was probably right. Nevertheless, I cannot think of a better word at the moment.
Our programme must be long term, by reason of the long time it takes to sink pits and to carry out major reconstructions. Some of my hon. Friends have suggested that the time is exaggerated by the Coal Board and that the Board is too slow, but whatever the arguments about the actual time taken, it remains 1420 a long-term programme to sink new pits and reconstruct existing pits.
On the other hand, the programme must remain flexible, because we must be prepared to take advantage of technical changes, which in the nuclear energy field, are moving very quickly. We must also be prepared to take advantage of relative changes in price levels, because no one can predict the relative prices of coal, oil, mining wages, transport charges and all such things five or six years ahead. There was an interesting article in the current issue of The Banker by Mr. Hartshorn, which put this problem extremely well. He said that we must maintain flexibility both for technical reasons and for reasons of changes in price.
With those limitations, that the programme must be both long term and flexible, the only principle on which any investment programme can be based is the return on the capital invested. Whether it be public capital or private capital, the only criterion of efficient investment is the return paid on it. The return, obviously, is not measured purely in financial terms, because it is subject to certain limitations. First, there are the limitations, to which I have already referred, of national and strategic interest in not importing too much of our vital energy supplies. That, clearly, must mitigate the purely accountancy approach to the problem of investment.
Secondly, it is important to bear in mind that we cannot move men from place to place like figures in an accountant's ledger and we cannot base our investment for various pits on the assumption that the manpower will move from here to there in that way. It does not make any sense that way and it does not happen that way. There are many practical reasons which would mitigate the full application of the accountancy principle. Nevertheless, the basic principle must be—and it is the principle on which the Coal Board works—that the justification of any investment is the return paid upon it.
The £1,000 million programme, which is the current programme of the Coal Board, is related to an estimate of the gross national product which was based on the doubling of the standard of living in twenty-five years' time, which means 1421 an annual increase of 3½ per cent. in the gross national product. That is by no means unattainable, end I am quite confident that it will be attained.
That increase in gross national product is translated into terms of energy demand, which, in fact, shows a smaller increase than 3½ per cent. per year. On the basis of the gross energy demand, it is then important to calculate how much of that should reasonably be supplied from home sources and how much we shall be forced to import in the form of oil or imported coal. That shows once again how quickly these things change, because calculations made six months ago about the desirability of importing oil may look quite different at present in the light of difficulties, both physical and political, which have occurred in the meantime.
The basis for the £1,000 million investment programme is the national demand for energy against the background of the potential sources of supply of that energy, and by one of those fortunate coincidences, which do not happen very often in these affairs, the programme is roughly similar to the maximum which can be achieved with the physical and engineering resources at the disposal of the country. That is very convenient, although it has possibly overshadowed the facts and has given the impression that the programme of the Coal Board is based solely on investing everything it can physically invest. That is not true. It is related to economic realities, on the lines which I have been trying to describe.
The next point about investment is: within the £1,000 million programme, how should we decide what investment to make and in which area? Here again the Coal Board works on the basis of comparative profitability, which, I think, is the only sound basis on which one can work. Once again, this is subject to certain qualifications in its rarest form.
For example, reference is sometimes made to the relative investment in areas where there is a large loss per ton of coal and in areas where there is a large profit per ton of coal. But the fact is that to save 20s. a ton in one area is as valuable as to make 20s. a ton in another area, as long as the position exists, as it exists at present, that the most expensive home-produced coal today is cheaper than the alternative imported coal. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that investment 1422 should be based upon the net return, starting from the time when the investment is made. It is just as good to save a loss as it is to make a new profit.
§ Mr. Nabarro
What calculation does my right hon. Friend make of the relative yields of £1 million invested in mining more British coal, and £1 million invested in causing British coal already mined to be used with much greater efficiency? Is it not a fact that the second investment would show a much greater yield than the first?
§ Mr. Maudling
It is a complicated calculation, and depends on how one saves the coal. The investment cost per ton of coal saved by some of the methods which my hon. Friend has in mind has been a good deal higher than the investment in mines to produce a ton of coal. On the other hand, my hon. Friend will no doubt point out that a ton of coal saved is completely saved, but that a ton produced means a ton obtained at the cost of producing it. As I say, these matters are complicated, and I should be very glad of my hon. Friend's guidance when we consider them in the future.
§ Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, North-West)
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that with the Coal Board's structure of coal pricing there is a variation in districts and that if we allowed the coal price structure to improve in particular areas it would act detrimentally on the Board's prices?
§ Mr. Maudling
I am very glad that the hon. Member has mentioned that. It is a very important point, which I was hoping to come to a little later. I can give one example now of this investment in the relatively unproductive areas, so-called. The Shilbottle reconstruction scheme, in Northumberland, resulted in the output for 1956 being double that of 1948, productivity went up from 16.3 cwts. to 29 cwts., and a loss of 12s. 8d. per ton was changed into a profit of 23s. 2d. per ton. That is one example of the improvement that can be made, and of the definite gain that may be achieved by investment in areas which are, at present, showing a loss.
Then there is the question which I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind—the investment in special types of coal. Here, again, I must say that at first sight, 1423 and very much at first sight, it is somewhat of a puzzle. For example, I am told that we must invest in certain special coking coals, because the country must have them even though it is unprofitable to mine them. My simple mind asks why, if it is necessary for the country to have them, should it be unprofitable to mine them. It seems to me that the price structure is not right, and that this is a matter well worth thinking about.
§ Mr. Maudling
The right hon. Gentleman says that I am in difficulties. I can only say that I was quite sure that I would be in difficulties. I do not think that anybody has yet embarked on this subject without getting into difficulties, but I hope that I shall not be too egregious.
What I wanted to say about investment is that I believe that if investment is carried on on proper basic economic principles these mitigating factors must be recognised—the basic profitability of investment in terms of availability and amortisation of capital—but no doubt I shall be asked at what price levels these calculations of profitability are made.
I think it is fair to say that in making any investment, and judging between relative investments, one must assume stability of prices and costs, but this leads me to the whole question of price policy about which I should like to say a word or two, because it is, I think, the fourth important factor in the structure of the industry and its problems.
What should be our policy as to the price of coal? I think that there are two factors here which should be distinguished. We should make the cost of coal as low as possible. There can be no argument about that. Obviously, the desired objective must be to produce coal as cheaply as possible in terms of cost. When one comes to assess the final selling cost of coal one must also decide what degree of self-financing should be conducted by the industry and what degree of borrowing should be undertaken by the industry. That is a problem which, as I have already said, is very much in the mind of the Board.
As the House is aware, my right hon. Friend who was the Minister of Fuel and 1424 Power has already said that it is expected that the industry will be self-financed by the early 'sixties, in the sense that by then the depreciation allowances accruing will be more than the gross annual investment. In fact, the net annual investment will be negative. In investment terms it will be a slightly declining industry if the depreciation terms are realistic. Certainly, looking at the global price of coal, we must bear in mind not only the importance of producing it as cheaply as possible but of reaching a reasonable assessment of the degree to which the industry itself should finance the replacement of the assets used up in its production, and the degree to which it should finance new developments.
In the field of particular prices there are obviously many problems which need to be answered. I am sorry to be so indefinite about this but, as I have already explained, I am trying to give my impressions as a relative newcomer, It is important that study should be given for a number of reasons to the problem of coal pricing.
It is important, first, for reasons of economy in the use of coal. Our problem is not only that our coal resources are not adequate for our desires, but that the structure of our coal production is changing to our disadvantage. The proportion of small coal is rising rapidly and the proportion of large coal, required for certain purposes, is falling. That is the basic reason for our having to import coal.
While we are exporting small coal we are importing large coal which we ourselves cannot produce in adequate quantities, and we face the situation that in the next ten years there will be an increasing proportion of small coal, owing to modern methods of mining. Moreover, nuclear energy will displace small power station coal. We will thus face a growing lack of balance between the types of coals that we are producing.
When there is such a lack of balance, it seems to me that the price structure should be such as to encourage people to use lower grades of coal for purposes for which, at the present moment, they demand the best and the large coal. Price policy must pay considerable attention to the desirability of encouraging people to use the smaller coals which are becoming available in greater quantities, and 1425 which may become something of a drag on the market.
For the future, we must recognise that the European Free Trade Area—when, and if it comes into being—is bound to have quite an influence, I will not say what influence, on our coal price structure. If we enter the Free Trade Area it is bound to reflect itself in one way or another on that coal price structure.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
Do the Government contemplate in the European Free Trade Area a policy of double pricing?
§ Mr. Maudling
That is just the sort of problem which I have in mind. In the initial stages of this negotiation for the Free Trade Area that is precisely the sort of problem to which we must try to find an answer in the next fens/ months—or years, because the Free Trade Area will develop only over quite a considerable period of time. I suggest that it is a problem to which none of us yet knows the answer, but to which we must give considerable attention.
Finally, we must face the time when the cost of imported coal may be below that of the most expensive coal produced here. At present, coal produced here, even at a substantial loss per ton, is still produced at a cost lower than the loss borne on imported coal. Therefore, it is worth producing coal at that price; but when the time comes when imported coal may be cheaper than coal produced in the least efficient of our own pits, quite a change will come to the whole economy of the industry. It will, therefore, be necessary to look forward to the time when that change takes place, and see what will be the change in the price structure which is bound to result when imported coals can compete with home-produced coals, which they certainly cannot do at present.
What I have been trying to say has, I am afraid, been rather tentative, but, I hope, not too theoretical. I thought that in dealing with the Annual Report and Accounts for 1955 it would be better to deal with developments since 1955. There has, in recent weeks, been an improvement in production which, as I have said more than once already, is welcome, and which we very much hope will continue. We are, I think, right to analyse carefully the reasons, but there are facing this basic 1426 industry great problems, such as an adequate management structure, the acquisition and training of management personnel of adequate quality, the problems of manpower, labour relations, investment and price structures.
All those are problems which we in this House will have to face and which we as a nation will have to settle over the years ahead. It is most important that we should do so because, as I emphasise once again, whatever we say about nuclear power or any other new form of energy, throughout our lifetime coal will be our vital and basic source of energy. Therefore, there can be no more important subject for debate in this House than the one we are discussing today.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
When the Paymaster-General opened his speech, he said that for a number of reasons he would have liked the debate to take place a little later. One of his reasons was that he was new to his Department and he felt rather like a new boy and would like more time to examine all the complexities of this great industry.
In congratulating the right hon. Gentleman upon his speech, I would say to him that he need not fear any criticisms of what he had to say or the way in which he placed these matters before us, because by hastily moving the Motion and in disposing, very properly, in a short time of the Report and Accounts for 1955, he devoted the larger part of his time to the things that really matter—that is, the future of the industry. The right hon. Gentleman has placed before the House a good deal of very relevant and important matter, and he has done so in the attractive manner in which he usually delivers his speeches. Again, I congratulate him on his maiden performance in the new office which he now holds.
The only point to which I would take a little exception might be the speed with which the right hon. Gentleman was looking ahead and his references to the time that may come when imported coal becomes cheaper than home-produced coal. I do not want to go into a long argument about that at this stage, but as the right hon. Gentleman, I think, now well knows, this is a very sensitive and delicate industry in which vast sums of money are invested without immediate return.
1427 Quite apart from what I regard as the unwarranted assumption that atomic energy is just round the corner, if there were the least suggestion that either European or African coal, or coal from anywhere else, was becoming cheaper than home-produced coal, thus necessitating great changes in the industry, I am very much afraid that the stability for which the right hon. Gentleman seeks might slip away from him and that the benefits of his endeavours to try to build up the technical and other staffs of the National Coal Board might be adversely affected by any suggestion that merely because coal from abroad might some day become cheaper the industry would be affected and our policy might change in relation to over-price production, as it would be at that stage.
§ Mr. Maudling
My point was that it would not affect the industry as a whole but that if that time came it would affect the industry's policy in the development which it made in certain areas and the way that it planned its areas.
§ Mr. Robens
I will not proceed further with that at this stage, except to say, with the best will towards the right hon. Gentleman, that he should not talk in that way of investment in an area or in various areas of the mining industry. Such terrible social consequences follow from not investing in areas that they have also to be taken into consideration when dealing with this industry. Many of my hon. Friends who have lived in the industry know to their cost what happened when economics rather than social consequences were uppermost in the minds of those who at one time ran the industry. Therefore, I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give these matters a good deal more thought, as I am sure he will do. For the moment, let us deal with the immediate problems, because I am sure that it will be a long time before what I might call the "cheaper coal bogey" arrives.
The other two points made by the Paymaster-General in saying that he regretted that this debate was not delayed a while were, first, that the Government had not produced their White Paper on nuclear power and, secondly, that we did not have the White Paper on investment in the fuel and power industries. We all regret very much that we do not have the 1428 nuclear power statement, because it is vital to this debate; but we must wait until it is produced. It may well be that we might then have a debate on fuel and power generally, not specifically related to coal, but considering the whole question of Britain's fuel and power programme in relation to the statement that we shall get as to the use that is likely to be made of nuclear power.
The right hon. Gentleman spent some time in referring to the Fleck Report and said that the basis of any industry was good management. Nobody would disagree with that. I should add, too, that one of the benefits that flows from good management is good human relations in industry, which, of course, are vitally important.
The Fleck Report calls for an increase in non-industrial staff, and the right hon. Gentleman made some comments about this. I hope that both the National Coal Board and the right hon. Gentleman will make clear beyond any shadow of doubt to those who work in the industry, as near to the point of production as possible, why it is necessary to bring a rather higher proportion of non-industrial workers into the industry. In an intervention by one of my hon. Friends, the right hon. Gentleman had a slight taste of the forebodings in the minds of the mining community on that very point.
This is an industry in which for many years people have been used to dealing with pits as pits and districts as districts. We have not quite got used to the idea of a great national industry with central control of finance, policy and so on from the top. Many people understand it, but the idea has not yet really got home. Therefore, when new faces appear at the pits, of people who are bound to be on the higher salary levels, it comes as something of a shock to the ordinary miner to see more cars and more people who are not industrial workers, and he cannot see the reason for it.
There is no better person in the world than the miner for good, hard common sense. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that in the industry there had been no effort of any kind by the miners to resist mechanisation. There are few industries of which that can be said, but the miner has never at any time tried to prevent mechanisation in the industry. The reason is that he has thoroughly 1429 understood why a particular mechanisation project has been introduced and, because he has understood it, he has welcomed it. He has argued about prices, of course, but that is another matter. He has welcomed the introduction of machinery just as soon as he clearly understood the reason for it.
Following the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, all I would say to him is that he might use his influence in the right quarter with the National Coal Board, at all levels, to make absolutely certain that the ordinary working miner, who is pulling out the coal from underground day after day, should understand why in these coming years there will be a rather higher proportion of non-industrial workers in the industry than he has been accustomed to before. I am certain that once the miner understands and accepts the reason for it, the problems that follow the introduction of a greater proportion of non-industrial staff will disappear. Those are my comments upon what the right hon. Gentleman has said. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) will deal later with questions of pensions, welfare and matters of that kind.
Our recent experiences in the Middle East dispute have provided a very sharp reminder to all of us in this country of our economic dependence upon oil and of the way in which, even at this stage, when oil cannot be regarded at all as the major feature in our fuel and power requirements, industry and individuals can be inconvenienced by having to face the problem which has emerged during the last few months in relation to the Middle East.
It seems to me, therefore, that we ought to look at the pattern of our fuel requirements. This pattern shows a dependence upon oil far greater than I personally am happy to see. Oil is a very convenient form of energy, and it has many advantages, but the great disadvantage about oil is that we in this country have no real control over the sources of oil anywhere in the world. The result is that if the pattern or tendency in our fuel requirements which is now beginning to show itself is to put us in a situation where there is complete dependence, or much greater dependence than there is today, upon oil, we shall be in very grave diffi- 1430 culties if, at some time in the future, because of international relations or political conflict, oil is denied us. I hope that we can spend some time in looking at this pattern and applying our minds to how we can change it in order not to make ourselves so reliant upon oil as it would appear we are today.
Dr. Daniel, who was at one time chief statistician at the Ministry of Fuel and Power and is now an Under-Secretary, produced a very interesting paper entitled "Britain's Energy Prospects." I would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to browse through this. There will be many parts which he will have to discard, as I did, because they are very technical, but at least Dr. Daniel produces in this paper a table, on the basis of which he makes certain estimations based upon some assumptions. Broadly speaking, the principal assumption is the assumption which the right hon. Gentleman has referred to, namely, the claim that we could in fact double our standard of living in 25 years. On that assumption, and assuming that for every 1 per cent. increase in national output there is an increase in fuel consumption of 0.7 per cent., Dr. Daniel gives us the figure in millions of tons of coal equivalent related to national output for a number of years.
For my purpose I merely use the period 1965 to 1975. I do that because, in his paper, Dr. Daniel warns everybody against going too far ahead with this sort of estimation. Nevertheless, it looks as though by 1965 we shall want 310 million tons of coal or its equivalent. If we look at estimated coal production at that stage, it will be about 240 million tons. We have not got the atomic energy statement, but, from sources from which I have attempted to get something like an answer, I gather that for nuclear energy the equivalent of 10 million tons of coal is about right for 1965. We shall know when the statement comes out, but let us take it at 10 million tons. There will in addition be the small licensed mines, producing, say, 4 million tons. From those figures it is clear that the equivalent tonnage for which we shall be dependent upon oil is 56 million tons. It leaps up from 33 million tons in 1955 to 56 million tons of coal equivalent in 1965.
If we go ahead to 1975, when our requirement for coal or its equivalent will be 370 million tons, we shall 1431 probably find that the actual amount of coal, that is to say, solid fuel, will be no more than it was in 1965, namely, 240 million tons. I say that for this reason. The 240 million tons in 1965 contains the Saturday working element, which is 12 million tons a year, and it contains something between 10 million and 12 million tons for opencast coal; and no one in this House would be bold enough to say that Saturday working is going to continue until 1975, nor would anyone agree for one moment, I think, that one could guarantee obtaining 10 million or 12 million tons of opencast coal by 1975.
It is a fair assumption, I think, to say that deep-mined coal, together with what remains of coal from opencast working, would provide some 240 million tons in 1975. If we put our atomic energy production at five times the figure for 1965—I admit that this is guesswork, because we have not got the paper, but I do not think it will be far wrong—atomic energy will take the place of 50 million tons of coal. The conclusion to be drawn from those figures is that our dependence upon oil will have increased, and by 1975 our requirement of oil will be the equivalent of 76 million tons of coal.
I am sorry to weary the House with all these figures, but it is important to do this small calculation in order to make it clear that by 1975, if we had anything like a Suez crisis, we should be economically on our knees, not just concerned because we have some petrol rationing or we have to take certain steps to reduce our fuel oil requirements. We could not stand such a situation. That is not a position for this country to be put into, especially when beneath our feet is all the energy we want to last us, on the basis of the surveys, for the next 150 to 200 years. We have no need to put ourselves in that difficulty if we can solve the problem of producing from indigenous sources, which now include atomic energy, a far greater proportion of our fuel and power requirements, and not allow our dependence upon oil to reach the tremendous proportions which the calculations I have given would appear to indicate.
This is not a wise pattern for us to permit. Even if the Middle East were placid, if there were no difficulties, there would still be tremendous problems. As 1432 soon as one talks in terms of investment in the oil companies, one is talking of enormous sums of money. It is perfectly clear to everybody, I think, that even if the oil and the refineries were there, the tankers could not be put through the Canal; it just could not take them. Enormous investment would be necessary, not only on exploitation and the refineries, but on the means of transport, that is to say, either bigger tankers, which means providing special ports in this country to receive them if we are thinking of 80,000 to 100,000 ton tankers, or the widening of the Suez Canal, or more pipelines—all of which are very vulnerable and all of which are terribly expensive.
I do not think it would be in the best interests of the nation to embark upon such a programme of investment as risky as investment in oil is bound to be in our lifetime, when in fact perhaps the same investment in other directions would give us a much greater control over our own destinies as far as our fuel and power requirements are concerned.
Therefore, I underline and emphasise what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We should make it clear to the nation and to the mining community that coal is the foundation upon which our national fuel and power policy rests and, indeed, upon which the whole economy of the nation rests. We must really stop what is happening now. We must counteract this great over-emphasis on the part which atomic energy is to play in the next twenty or thirty years. It is a great mistake, and, in my view, it is psychologically disastrous.
I was interested to read something which the late Sir Francis Simon said last September. He said that there ought to be a major scientific effort to deal with the immediate emergency in the use of conventional fuels to balance the present over-emphasis on atomic energy. If anybody should know Whether the subject of atomic energy is being over-emphasised, Sir Francis Simon certainly should have known. I agree with him. What is happening among our scientists and technicians, who will be required in great numbers for the atomic energy programme and in coal mining if this £1,000 million investment project of the National Coal Board is to be realistic, is that there is an impression abroad that coal somehow is "non-U" and atomic 1433 energy is "U". Thus the young scientists and the young technicians coming from the universities tend to want to go into work on atomic energy. They find it more attractive. If we are not careful about this propaganda they may feel that the coal industry is a dying industry; in other words, that there is no future for them in the coal industry.
Therefore, I think that this overemphasis on atomic energy is psychologically a great mistake. It certainly will hinder the coal industry in obtaining the technical people whom the Fleck Report said it required. The National Coal Board has never been prevented from investment because finance has not been available: never. It has always been the case that investment has been hindered because the Board has not had the technical people in sufficient numbers to do the physical jobs of development. We ought to do nothing which will deprive the major industry upon which we rest, the coal industry, of the skills which it requires.
This investment, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, is a vast investment, and there has been a good deal of criticism by people who ought to know better but who have said that we are not getting the results of the investment. They fail to appreciate that every year some 4 million tons' capacity is lost through natural wastage in this extractive industry. There has to be investment first to make up that loss of capacity of 4 million tons every year, to maintain present capacity; and then there has to be additional investment to increase the capacity. Therefore, it is not fair, as I have seen some newspapers do, to take the figure of investment and divide it by the number of tons of increased coal production and say that that increased production cost £x per ton. It is not fair; it is a mistaken calculation; and criticism of that kind is not helpful to the industry.
The truth is that in the Coal Board's ninth year, with which we are dealing, and despite the 4 million tons' capacity lost each year in the natural order of things, its annual production is 30 million tons higher than it was in 1947. I myself would say that its investment has, therefore, not been wasteful but, on the contrary, has been extremely valuable.
The right hon. Gentleman said that one of the main reasons for the improvement in the production situation in the last six 1434 months was the increase in manpower. I should say that the improvement is probably mainly due to the fact that we are now getting some return upon the capital investment of previous years, because the benefit of an increase in manpower is not felt for quite a long time. If the industry's manpower were increased tomorrow by 10,000 we should not immediately get an extra amount of coal equal, say, to that which would be produced by 10,000 experienced miners who had been continuously employed in the industry. It takes a long time to obtain benefit in production by increasing manpower, and, therefore, the capital investment in previous years has much to do with the improvement in production. However, everybody welcomes the increase in manpower, and better attendance is something everybody welcomes, and so is the increased power loading.
It is difficult to find a measuring rod by which to measure progress in a nationalised monopoly. There is no comparable industry or undertaking in private hands to use as the measuring rod for the coal mining industry, none of comparable size. There is no useful comparison to be made between our coal industry and the coal industry anywhere else in Europe. We cannot compare our coal industry with the coal industry in America because of geological differences. Therefore, we must look into the industry itself for measuring rods by which to estimate whether it is moving in the right direction or not and what progress it is making.
I have always felt that the output per manshift at the face, the output per man-shift overall and the output per man-year are reasonable measuring rods for determining how the industry is progressing. The figures of output under those three heads are greater than they were in 1947 and show favourable trends. Output per manshift at the face has risen from 2.76 tons to 3.33 tons, and output per manshift overall has risen from 1.03 to 1.23 tons. Despite the drop in output per man-year from 1955 to 1957, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, output per man-year has risen considerably since 1947, when it was 263 tons. It increased to 299 tons.
None of us would say he would not like to see it better or that it could not 1435 be better, but, nevertheless, measuring on this basis, the basis any industrialist would employ to measure his own efficiency, we can say that, by and large, the National Coal Board has done a good job, that the people within the industry have lent their aid to making the industry successful, and that they are on the right road.
It is up to us who, in the last analysis, are responsible politically for the industry, to provide the climate and atmosphere in which it can live happily and at peace. We can by our policies in Government, no matter which of the parties is in power, create, through legislation or otherwise, the right lines upon which this industry can be run.
§ Mr. Maudling
I do not want to be controversial, but I think it is important to look at the matter in perspective. The right hon. Gentleman referred to an improvement in output per man-year since 1947. It is true, but most of it took place between 1947 and the years from 1950 to 1951. It is the stagnation of the last five years that is the worry.
§ Mr. Robens
That is perfectly true, but output per man-year since then has improved.
There are a number of factors working against output per man-year. I shall not weary the House with them because they are well known to the National Coal Board and to the right hon. Gentleman's own officials. Very largely these come from questions of human relations, and so on.
The right hon. Gentleman, when he spoke about manpower, said that there were still many vacancies in various coal fields and that it was necessary to get some flexibility so that the men would be prepared to change from a declining coal field to a new coal field, or, at any rate, a more productive one. I agree with him about that, but there is one thing the Government should do if they want this flexibility. They must remember that whilst it is the National Coal Board's problem, shared with the unions concerned, to deal with the amenities of the miners at their places of work, with welfare and conditions of work, both on the surface and underground, it is the Government's task to make sure that miners' families do not have to go on living in slums.
1436 No hon. Gentleman who represents a mining constituency, unless he is very lucky indeed and has constituents whom I have not come across, could point without shame to the conditions in which miners are living today. That is the problem which arises when one talks of moving men from one coal field to another. The right hon. Gentleman may say that, in certain circumstances, we can build houses for the transferred miners. But what about the chaps living in the area to which those miners are transferring? They are still living in slum houses built by the coal owners, some of them a hundred years ago. Friction is caused immediately. Imagine it. Miners go, or are about to go, to another mining village where the housing association puts up houses for, them. A miner who is already living in that village will then say, "I have lived here all my life. If anybody ought to have a new house I ought to have it." It is quite natural that he should.
I do not want to involve the right hon. Gentleman in another Minister's affairs, but because the Government have taken the line they have about housing subsidies they have prevented and are preventing, certainly in my constituency I can say without a shadow of doubt, housing for general need from being undertaken. Certainly in my constituency no houses for general need are being built at all—or will not be when the present lot is completed.
When we have done everything we can, the coal mining industry will still, at best, remain a hard job and a dangerous one, a laborious job which puts a man out of human society for one-third of his life. We cannot expect to attract people into this industry unless we at least provide for them the amenities to which a modern individual feels he is rightly entitled. Therefore, we must be concerned about the way in which the men and their families live within the colliery village.
Most of our colliery villages are inhabited by wonderful communities, people who have lived together, and have been prepared to sacrifice for one another, but, my goodness, as I go round my own constituency, and no doubt the same applies to my hon. Friends' constituencies, I am really shocked that in this year of grace we should have people 1437 who do such hard work living in such deplorable conditions.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to obtain the manpower and secure the necessary flexibility, he might consult the appropriate Ministry on whether or not a great deal more cannot be done about providing some houses both for the general need and for the transfer of workers within these mining areas. I assure him that if the conditions of living can be put right in these places, not only will many more people be attracted to the districts, but many young men, the sons of miners, will be prevented from going out of the industry, and that is perhaps equally important.
I should like to comment on the point made about the industry being the very basis of our economy. Once we have accepted that as a fact, we have to do two things. We must recognise that to increase coal production to meet our requirements is a lengthy business. The Minister now knows from his own experience that the time from the first surveying of an area to prove the seams to putting a pit into operation is seven years. Therefore, we cannot expect massive increases in overall production until a great deal of extra investment has been made. But there is something we can do to lessen dependence on oil, and that is to use our coal to a greater extent. We can at this stage save coal more rapidly than we can increase its production.
We have had countless debates in the House of Commons and the OFFICIAL REPORT at various dates is full of speeches illustrating the waste that goes on in the use of our raw materials. I do not propose to go into the matter at length. Hon. Members know the story full well. There has been a number of estimates of what can be saved. I remember Sir Oliver Lyle's 80 million tons a year, the Anglo-American team on fuel conservation and its estimate of 30 million tons a year, and the Ridley Committee which exhaustively inquired into the subject and said that of 60 million tons used by industry 12 million tons could be saved. The fact is that, whichever figure we take, the saving is worth while. If it is 30 million tons, it would make a tremendous difference to the pattern of our fuel and power requirements, to the enormous amount of investment by oil companies and to the way in 1438 which our international relations are carried out.
Therefore, if the Anglo-American team on fuel conservation is right and we can save 30 million tons, why do we not save it? Why do we go on reading these reports and having debates in the House? We all know the facts. We know that millions and millions of tons of coal, brought out of the depths of the earth at the price of men's lives day after day, are wasted when they reach the surface. Why do we allow it? I think it is because up to now we have failed to have a comprehensive programme for Britain for the energy that it needs over the next twenty to thirty years.
The organisation which was set up by the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, called N.I.F.E.S., said in its annual report that for every f13 of capital invested on fuel utilisation we can save one ton of coal annually. The National Coal Board says that £11 of investment creates capacity for one ton annually. N.I.F.E.S. carried out 300 surveys of twelve large industries. They showed that, on average, savings in each industry—and I am not taking the worst—ranged from 13.4 to 27.5 per cent. of the coal now used. The industries were engineering, brewing, textiles, dyeing, and a host of others.
In my view, the Government are the only body that can do anything about fuel utilisation on an efficient basis. They must give a vigorous lead in the matter and show that they mean business. Why are we not prepared to deny the coal wasters the coal that they are abusing? The right hon. Gentleman will find in the engineers' files in his Department case after case of fuel wasting, and consultation With N.I.F.E.S. will confirm those reports. Case after case shows an industry or firm using solid fuel where it has been proved beyond doubt that substantial savings can be made, but where no action is taken because all the time it depends entirely on whether those who run the business prefer to put their investment in new machinery and in their product or in fuel efficiency plant.
I have no doubt in my mind what ought to be done. To Start with, firms that use over 100 tons of fuel a week ought to be investigated as to their wastage of fuel. Where there is wastage when, with proper efficiency methods, 1439 savings could be made, firms should be given twelve to eighteen months to put efficiency methods into operation. After that date, under an allocation scheme, they would be given the coal that they should be burning and not what they are now getting and wasting. Furthermore, I would make it much easier for an industrialist to make his investment in this more efficient plant. I do not think that the present financial arrangements are adequate.
If the Government really want to save coal, which I think vital on all counts, economic and political, they must get round the problems constantly presented to the industry by the Customs and Excise Department and say that all this fuel utilisation machinery should be accepted as a trading expense in the year in which it is bought. I know that some firms will receive a very nice capital asset on that basis, but does it matter? There is nothing more important than saving the coal, that is, if we are serious about the industry and about Britain's position.
The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, might give consideration to being very bold about this. He will be terribly unpopular and will be described as a dictator but, nevertheless, until something is done on these lines we shall never have the savings that the industry is entitled to have. It is criminal that we should say to the industry that it must produce the coal and that men should die and be maimed in hundreds every year in producing coal of which somebody wastes vast quantities. As a result, Britain then has to go in for more oil, more tankers, more refineries and more investment.
It is far too urgent for us now to be kid-gloved in our handling of the people who waste fuel. During the years since the war every Minister has in turn pleaded with the coal wasters not to waste coal. Now is the time for action. The right hon. Gentleman would go down in the annals of history if he were prepared to take this sort of action, and I hope he will be bold enough to do something about it.
There is not merely a need for the Government to produce their White Paper on nuclear energy or the White Paper on investment which we have been promised. There is now a serious duty imposed on 1440 the Government to produce an overall plan to meet Britain's energy needs. This would show the inter-relation of coal, oil and atomic energy. If such a plan were produced, the coal industry would know exactly where it stood and the uncertainties which have been occasioned by the over-emphasis on atomic energy would disappear, the oil industry would know where it stood, and those in the atomic energy industry would also know precisely where they stood.
I admit that there must be flexibility in such a plan. Nevertheless, I urge upon the Government that they should at this stage produce a real plan for Britain to meet our energy needs. I believe that is what we must expect from the noble Lord the Minister of Power. We do not have the opportunity of speaking directly to the Minister of Power in this House, but I freely admit that his substitute here suits me very well, and I am glad that he has this task.
I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should proceed along the lines of producing this plan for Britain's energy requirements, showing the position, as far as we can assess it, of the coal industry, the oil industry and the nuclear energy programme. I believe that if we could weld those together and get the co-operation of the industries in recognition of the fact that energy is vital to Britain because ours is an industrial country, all the industries concerned would go forward to greater efficiency and greater and better use of our resources, and I believe that, in the end, Britain would be very well served by the tremendous economies which would be gained by achieving such an objective.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. J. C. George (Glasgow, Pollok)
So far, the debate has followed a calm course, and I shall not seek to disturb it. I want to deal with a few points mentioned by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens).
First, there is the need for a fuel plan. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman will not have to wait a very long time for it. I feel that the issues which he has so ably covered are being studied extremely intensely and that in the very near future we shall know where we are going.
The right hon. Gentleman, going far away from the accounts of the National 1441 Coal Board, talked a great deal about the need for economy in the use of fuel. No one would deny that. To waste fuel is both unbusinesslike and bad for the national economy. But we must not give the impression that nobody in industry is giving due regard to the proper use of fuel. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware of the immense savings which have been made in the use of coal for making steel. He must be aware of the vast savings made in electricity generation. He must be aware of the savings made by the gas industry. There are many industries which have spent money in this direction without any help from the Exchequer. I appointed a fuel technologist at my factory, and I saved more than his salary for the first year, and I have been saving that money ever since.
However, we are aware that there are people who waste coal. I take the keenest interest in the activities in Scotland of N.I.F.E.S., led so ably by Sir Patrick Dollan, which is doing grand work. I know that in Scotland there are many industries which could save coal if they adopted the recommendations of N.I.F.E.S. In Scotland we are rather slow about accepting that organisation and getting away from the old idea of coal being so cheap and plentiful that we need not worry much about it. Nevertheless, the truth is dawning upon us. I believe it is far better to have N.I.F.E.S. working quietly and ably and getting people to convert their equipment voluntarily than to take a hammer and hit them over the head, as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about English mining villages, and I was dismayed by the picture he painted.
§ Mr. George
I would rather the right hon. Gentleman talked about "English" mining villages. I can tell him about many Scottish mining villages which do not fit in at all with his picture.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
If the hon. Gentleman would care next weekend to come to my constituency I will take him to see rows of miners' houses, and, since he is such a reasonable person in these matters, I am sure he will be horrified at what he sees.
§ Mr. George
I should be delighted to accept that invitation, not next weekend perhaps, but some other weekend.
However, I should hate it if from what we say today the impression were gained that the miners of Britain are housed in terrible conditions. That is not true, and the right hon. Gentleman well knows that it is not true. In Scotland in recent years we have seen an amazing transformation, perhaps not in all mining villages, but certainly in many of them. In the villages which I have had the honour to represent on town and county councils, all the miners live in houses built since 1919. Over large parts of Scotland the miners have been rehoused, and rehoused well. It is true that some still have to be rehoused, but it is false, and unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman, to paint a picture to indicate that mining villages are horrible places in which to live.
§ Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian)
Has not progress in housing been more marked from 1945 to the present time than it was previously?
§ Mr. George
Progress in Scotland was greatly accelerated when the Conservative Government abolished allocations. We were then free to house people as fast as we could and not in drips and drops of thirty or forty houses a year. Let us tell the world what has been done and not paint a false picture of horrible conditions in British mining villages. Perhaps some hon. Gentlemen opposite would accept an invitation to come to Scotland and see Scottish mining villages. Judging by what I have heard, their education would be considerably improved.
The Minister wanted to reassure the mining industry about its future, and I share his views. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth also wanted to reassure it, and he complained about the romantic atomic power industry attracting scientists from the coal mining industry and perhaps holding up coal mining development schemes. An entirely different type of technician is required in the atomic power industry from that required in the coal mining industry. I visited Calder Hall this week and met the scientists there. Most of them are chemical engineers, first-class fellows who have done an amazing job, but they would be lost and wasted in the mining industry. 1443 Nevertheless, let us tell those who would enter the mining industry that it has an assured future. As far forward as we can see, coal will continue to be the basic means of supplying energy in this country.
There are one or two small clouds in the sky for coal which might mean trouble. The possibility of the replacement of steel by plastic material might be of considerable consequence in future for this industry. There might also arise a surplus which we might not be able to sell.
The Minister also said that we must not depend on the increase in output which we have seen this year, that we must not build hopes upon it because it might not last. Why? Are these things accidental in this industry? Is this industry left to work out its own salvation or is it managed? If we have an increase in output—and it is of substantial dimensions—surely we should know why. When we private owners had the industry we knew why output went up or down. We did not say, "Please do not depend on this, because it might be gone with the wind."
My right hon. Friend made a very important statement which I should like him to clarify. He said that he would use the influence of his position to make sure that the authority of management was restored. Did he mean the authority of the manager? Management is a generic term. I am terribly interested that the authority of the manager at the colliery should be restored and that he should be the man in authority, so that if the miners have a dispute they can feel that the man in the office at the pithead has power to settle it. For too long his authority has been whittled away and he has been frustrated while the miners have lost their respect for him. There lies one of the main reasons for loss of discipline and loss of output in this great industry.
I turn now to the Report for 1955. We must look at the Report and Accounts, not through the eyes of this or that side of the House, but through the eyes of the people who own the industry, who have the right to look at the Report and Accounts and judge the National Coal Board and perhaps judge us, too, from what they find. The Report does not 1444 make good reading. I do not want to disrupt the harmony of the debate, and I shall not be extremely contentious, but I shall try to show here and now that ordinary people are mystified and bewildered, and why.
They read the Report and find that output has been static since 1951—no matter what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth may say about higher output per man-year, because we know when that took place. Since 1951 output has been static. In that time costs of production have risen by 18s. a ton. The public has to pay 17s. more per ton for its coal. The public has seen the National Coal Board pay £100 million per annum more for wages, £10 million more for salaries and £6 million more for pensions. Yet output is static.
Is it to be wondered that people are bewildered by what has taken place? They have seen vast sums spent in capital expenditure and new machines pushed down the pit by the hundreds, and yet output has remained static.
§ Mr. George
This is a debate on the National Coal Board's performance in 1955. I shall not be side-tracked into discussing any other industry. I am giving the facts about the National Coal Board, which are as I have stated. There have been new machines, new benefits, and the public is paying more for the coal and seeing no extra output in return for what is put into the industry.
§ Mr. Blyton
Does not the hon. Member agree that pithead costs of production and the price of coal in England are far cheaper than in any Continental country?
§ Miss Herbison
Before the hon. Member answers that, with his great knowledge of the industry, surely he will not be content with saying that output is static but will give very definite reasons why it is static.
§ Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, North-West) rose—
§ Mr. George
I have already had two interruptions. I tried to say that I was looking at this matter through the eyes of the public. I will give my own point of view later. If hon. Members want to 1445 deny that that is how the public is looking at the industry, they can say so when their time comes.
These things have taken place and the public is amazed. In a sense, the public has been misled by talk of loss of manpower being the cause of output falling or failing to rise. However, when the Ministry's and National Coal Board's own figures are studied—and it pays one to go into them very closely; it is astonishing how they are tucked away— one can never find easily how many people are employed on the surface. The loss in manpower, on which has been blamed the loss in output, has occurred mainly not underground but on the surface, and that is where we want it to take place.
It is on the surface that we have spent vast sums of money to cut out manpower. During the Recess I went to several collieries in Fife and saw the marvellous job which the National Coal Board has done on the surface to reorganise collieries. I saw two men doing the work of 30, and in the washeries there were five or six men where there used to be 40. Loss of manpower has been falsely blamed for loss of output. The loss of manpower has been on the surface, and it was there that we wanted to cut out the use of manpower. Manpower figures for men at the face are little different for any of the years since nationalisation.
§ Mr. Ainsley
Will the hon. Member agree that under the National Coal Board men who have been maimed underground or who are suffering from industrial diseases are being found jobs on the surface, while under private enterprise such men were thrown on the scrapheap?
§ Mr. George
I could not accept the last part of the hon. Member's question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] As a managing director of a coal mine I did in my time what the National Coal Board now does for its men. I looked after my injured men as far as I could and gave them work as far as I could to the end of their lives. That was our job, and we did it. There is nothing new in that. Nevertheless, I agree that the National Coal Board does do that, but it is nothing to do with the fact that the number of men at the coal face has hardly varied in the last ten years.
1446 This talk of loss of output through loss of manpower has been taken too far. The figures should be given far more clearly. I ask my right hon. Friend to look into that point and to give figures for the number employed on the surface and the number employed at the face and elsewhere underground. Those figures should be clearly stated in the Report so that we can see in which branch manpower is falling, if it is falling. It is not easy to find those figures now. I make the charge that manpower has been lost only on the surface and, therefore, has had little effect on output.
I have been dealing with this matter from the public's point of view, but now I want to give my own views. Frankly, I feel that we are perhaps on the threshold of a new era in coal mining. I feel that with great sincerity. Whether it is due to the effect of the new chairman of the National Coal Board, with his great influence upon the unions and men, I do not know. Whether it is real, I do not know, but I feel that we may be on the threshold of justifying nationalisation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I said "we", not hon. Members opposite. There is a tremendous difference. We on this side of the House might be on the threshold of justifying nationalisation for that side of the House.
For that reason I shall not make all the criticisms which I might have made about what is contained in the Report and Accounts for 1955, but pass to other things. There are two types of criticism about this industry. The first is the destructive type of criticism, which we have heard fairly widely and which has caused a great deal of resentment and done very little good. The other kind has come from the "soft-soapers". Right hon. and hon. Members opposite are not free from that. The National Coal Board is far from free from telling miners that they are doing a wonderful job and carrying the country on their backs.
§ Mr. George
The hon. Member must let me develop my own argument. I have no doubt that he will have a chance to make his.
1447 There are two types of critics. There are those who say that the miner is a scoundrel, always striking or always away from his work, and there are those who say that he is a wonderful chap carrying the whole country on his back. Neither statement is true. He merits neither a crown of thorns nor a laurel wreath. He is an ordinary chap doing an ordinary job. All the miners I had working for me tried to get away with doing as little as they could, and, of course, they were quite right.
Do we have in the engineering industry, the shipbuilding industry and the like, workers tearing away at their jobs morning, noon and night? Not a bit. In every industry in the country, it is a battle between the guile of the workmen and the skill of the management. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The settlement made for any piece rate is always a compromise, and is generally less than what is really attainable.
That is a fact of industry and it is what has happened in the pits. Every time we started a new face, we had to battle for the ton rate. Miners always wanted a higher ton rate than they knew they would get, and after all the haggling had been done we managed to reach something which I thought was too high and which they thought was too low. Do not tell us that the miners are wonderful chaps; they are ordinary chaps doing a decent job and getting as much as they can for what work they are doing.
That soft soaping which I spoke about is found in this pamphlet entitled "British Coal: the rebirth of an industry". I hesitate to say it, but this pamphlet is verging on being dishonest. It is produced by the National Coal Board, trying to convince the nation of its success, and it says things which are extremely misleading to the people who take the trouble to read this wonderful production.
It must have cost a tremendous amount of money to publish, for it is beautifully done. In it the Board talks about the mechanisation of coal mines and the amount of coal cut by machines. Here is the passage that I am referring to, in page 17 of the pamphlet:Mechanisation had already been begun at the coal face by replacing the pick with the coal cutter.1448 But 75 per cent. of the output was cut by machine when the Board took over. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We are here dealing with the actual figures, and there is an increase of only 11 per cent. in the amount of coal cut by coal cutters since the National Coal Board started. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members can find the figures for themselves in any returns. The pamphlet says that today practically all the coal is mechanically cut. That is true, but most of it was machine cut when the Board started.
I give this further quotation from the pamphlet:A further stage was to mechanise the carrying of coal from the face to the shaft with modern haulages, conveyor belts and trains drawn by diesel or electric locomotives.That is giving the impression that it is something entirely new, but the mines were very extensively mechanised with modern haulage and conveyors years before nationalisation. It is a pity that these things are said.
§ Mr. George
Every year, collieries in Scotland have been closed because they were nearing or had reached the end of their lives. It is nothing new in Scotland, and collieries can be either economic or uneconomic by reason of the way in which they are managed. It is quite easy to make a perfectly economic colliery into an uneconomic one by strife and trouble, as we have seen in recent years. This closing of collieries is nothing new.
I want to turn from that aspect of the matter to the real task which I see before the National Coal Board. Indeed, the Board, in my view, has two tasks. The first is to reconstruct and increase output and reduce costs. That is the long-term plan, and indeed the duty of the Board. Secondly, it is to get the maximum output under existing conditions at the lowest cost.
I was listening to the right hon. Member for Blyth telling the old story, that old bogy, about the 4 million tons which the National Coal Board must plan for and spend for every year in development. We have done that throughout 1449 the, long history of the coal mines. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite are merely showing their ignorance of their own industry by laughing—nothing more or less. They know that before nationalisation as today extraction and replacement were one operation. The right hon. Gentleman should not try to put that one across any more. That story is done; that bogy is no longer of any use. The national replacement of the industry is the first duty to the industry, it has always been so, and it is nothing new.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the output of coal as being 30 million tons higher than it was in 1947, and he used the figure that the output per man-year in 1947 was 263 tons, and said that it was 299 tons in 1955. That is quite correct, but my right hon. Friend interjected to say, and quite rightly, that that 299 tons dated only from 1951. The figure rose from 263 to 293 in 1951, and there it has stuck.
I ask hon. and right hon. Members to remember that it is always being pushed down our throats that new mines take years—seven, eight, nine or even ten years—to be brought into production. The right hon. Gentleman also gave figures of the increase in output which took place in the mines in the first four years of nationalisation, but that increase was not in new mines. It was a natural increase resulting from the development which had already been done in the existing mines, and the Coal Board is living on it still today.
Output in the first four years of nationalisation was raised to 293 tons per man-year, and it is only 299 tons now, so that the Coal Board is still living on the development done prior to nationalisation. It is true, and I am glad that it is now beginning to get some benefit from its own development. The first increase in output to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was not due to the efforts of the National Coal Board at all. We all knew the reason why output rose rapidly at the end of the war, and we all accepted it. When the right hon. Gentleman tells us in the same speech about plans for new pits in Scotland and makes claims in regard to them, he should remember that it was through the efforts of those who were in the industry before nationalisation that output rose as it did, 1450 and it is just as well to put that on record in case of any misunderstanding in future.
I should like to spend a little time to refer to the development and reconstruction scheme—the broad, magnificent reconstruction scheme being carried out at the moment. We shall, of course, defer forming any judgment on this scheme for several years, because the broad effect of this expenditure of £1,000 million will not be seen in output per man for many years, but we can look at it in order to see what the Coal Board is doing in spending the money. I am not very comfortable when I see what is happening because £1,000 million is a lot of money. I took the trouble during the Recess to go round the new sinkings in Scotland. I felt it was my duty.
There is a plan, in page 18 of the pamphlet to which I have referred, which had been made by the Coal Board working out the stages in sinking new shafts. The first year is regarded as the planning stage; the second year as that of the laying of water, power and electricity; the third year that of the erection of the headgear and the winding engines, and the sinking of the shaft begins at the end of the third year. We used to complete our shafts in the third year—actually finish them in the third year and produce coal. [Interruption.] I will come to that point.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Has the hon. Gentleman visited the new colliery at the village of Rothes in my division, which was inaugurated by private enterprise and from which in the last ten years not a ton of coal has been produced? Does he still say that the private owners could have produced coal out of that pit in three years?
§ Mr. George
No. I do not say that at all. That is a very special case, as the hon. Member well knows. It is a very difficult case, and all honour to the men who are tackling the tremendous difficulties involved. I am saying that before nationalisation we used to finish sinking shafts in three years; now we are running into the eleventh year, according to the pamphlet, before we get full output.
I want to draw attention to one tremendously important aspect of the matter. On page 28 of the publication to which 1451 I have referred there is a picture which, had the Coal Board thought about it, would never have been published: it would have been banned. It shows exactly what I found in Scotland—a serious and fundamental blunder in the planning of new shafts. Many hon. Members opposite have experience of mining, although one would not think so from some of the interjections which they make. Naturally, the heaviest job in shaft sinking is the removal of the rock after it has been broken. More time is spent upon that part of the cycle than on anything else. Arrangements are made at shallow depths to get the rock out, but other arrangements should be made, the more deeply the shaft is sunk, in order to attain some speed of advance.
In every sinking shaft in Scotland there is only one kibble. That is shown in the photograph in page 28. In every shaft in Scotland the men have to wait for the kibble to leave the bottom, go to the surface to be emptied and go down again. That is happening in the case of every sinking shaft, and every one is just ambling along towards completion because of fundamentally bad planning. I do not blame the present Coal Board for that. The Board inherited it. I mention it because the Board says that it is going to sink ten miles of shafts.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Would the hon. Member say that the sinking of Killoch colliery was badly planned?
§ Mr. George
I am saying so now, in the proper place. It is not a good job. If the hon. Member had the audacity to go to any job being done by the National Coal Board and argue with the men on the job he would be extremely foolish. I am telling the House what I saw, and I am prepared to prove my words. There have been some fundamental blunders in planning in Scotland, and I hope that the Board will correct them.
I went there with one aim, to see why we were not using mechanical grabs. In South Africa and Russia mechanical grabs are producing fantastic rates of advance in shaft sinking. I have taken 1452 the trouble to find out what is happening in Russia. That may suit the hon. Member better.
In Killoch one kibble is in use, and that shaft is to be a very deep one. Only one scaffold is in use to protect the workmen at the bottom. In Russia there are three kibbles in use in the shaft and three scaffolds, so that the men making the insets, doing the walling, etc., do not have to stop the sinking for three months. They are each working under a safety scaffold. The different kinds of work go on at the same time, whereas we are doing everything in single operations. I do not know what our speed is, and it is not easy to estimate. It might be about 20 ft. a week. In Russia, however, the record was broken a few weeks ago and is now 662 ft. in one month.
We could not use the grabs in the shafts because they would only fill the buckets quicker, and gain no speed in sinking. We could not mechanise the work of disposal because of fundamentally bad planning. In Russia, with their three kibbles, they have three mechanical grabs, each taking a 120 degrees section of the pit bottom and whipping the rock out of the shaft. The answer they get is a movement of 662 ft. in one month, against our 80 ft.
I mention these facts in order to try to make sure that the ten miles of shaft driving mentioned by the Coal Board is not handled in the same unfortunate way. To keep my promise to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Hamilton), I turn to the Glenrothes shaft. That shaft is a very great conception. The people working on it were most unfortunate in striking an unexpectedly heavy growth of water. The officials there stuck into their very difficult and dangerous task and have taken the shaft down through unusual measures—and all credit is due to them. It would not be right to say how long they have been on that job; we must be glad that they have done it.
I turn from shaft sinking to the other important factor which is a very vital one in the new plan for coal, namely, the question of horizon mining. This is something entirely different from what has been done here hitherto. We were very foolish and went in exclusively for horizon mining in every mine we sank. Horizon mining consists of sinking a shaft outside the coal measures and 1453 driving long stone drifts into them. We multiplied the amount of stone drifting many times without making any arrangements for driving our stone drifts any faster. The result is that after the shaft is finished it takes years to drive the drifts. We now learn that the National Coal Board is thinking about devising a new machine, and is talking in rather ridiculous terms before the machine has even been tried. It is saying that this machine will drive drifts far faster than they have been driven before. My prophecy is that the machine will never drive a drift in this country.
I have seen photographs of some of the machines brought back from Russia by the Coal Board, which could cut soft stone. We have these long drifts to drive, and we are told that there are 3,000 miles to drive in this country. Yet, when I went round all these places to ask how they were tackling the stone drifts, and to see why we were not getting through quicker than in eight or ten years, I found that every one had the same idea of a few light pneumatic drills with the Emco-Finlay loader. That was the standard practice.
Sweden has devised a system, which was described in the "Iron and Coal Trades Review" two months ago, for increasing the speed of driving drifts in iron ore two to three times, with the use of special machines not for driving the drift but for handling the rock faster. I must declare an interest in this matter because I am interested in making these types of machines in America. They can drive all kinds of drifts much faster than we do now. There is a wide field of investigation in the matter, and with 3,000 miles of drift to drive the best means must be adopted to move faster.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the technique of mining is so superior in Communist Russia?
§ Mr. George
The hon. Member is probably a greater authority upon Russia than I am. Nevertheless, I want to be fair. I have studied the technique of Soviet Russia very thoroughly and intended to speak upon it, but decided not to because I thought that the Chamber would be filled with speakers for this debate. The technique of mining in Soviet Russia is astonishing. They have 1454 made staggering strides in automation, and we have a great deal to learn from them—if the papers coming from Russia are authoritative, and I cannot guarantee that. I have been collecting papers written by eminent mining engineers in Russia showing that there is an amazing degree of automation in the mines, which we must follow.
§ Mr. George
I was referring to automation. What they have done on the coal face is to combine the cutting and loading of coal and the moving of the props forward. It is all done in one automatic operation.
§ Mr. George
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell me where it takes place. My information is that it has been thought about here, but it is in fact done in Russia. I am sorry to have been sidetracked.
I have dealt with the development of the Coal Board's plan, and I now turn to the question of making better use of existing pits. A picture has been painted of a dying and decaying industry which can be rescued only by these new giant pits at vast expense. That was the picture painted by hon. Members opposite and by the National Coal Board itself. As a result, the House was induced to accept "The Plan for Coal", which was the first scheme for developing the mines in the future. The old pits were not good enough for the new Board to work in. It wanted new toys and nice new mines. We were told that that would cost £520 million.
§ Mr. George
We were also told that, as a result of that expenditure, there would be an increased output of 14.4 per cent. over the output in 1951. That is not poppycock. That is a fact. That was accepted, and then a new Board was appointed. It said that a new plan would be required and that it would cost a lot more money. "Investing in Coal" is not costing £520 million; it is costing £1,147 million. It is not giving an increase over 1951 of 14.4 per cent. It will give an increase of only 9.5 per cent. 1455 over 1951—double the cost for two-thirds of the increase. That was swallowed, and I think wrongly, by the Government.
I do not want to appear to be vain—I should hate to be thought vain—but I should like to quote what I said in the debate on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill. I said:… I believe we could have a 10 per cent. improvement in output as things are in the industry today, without any capital expenditure at all. Simply by making better use of the men and materials we have we could get 20 million tons more.
§ Mr. George
Wait for it. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman. What is the position today in the industry—that decaying, dying industry which is to be rescued by the giant new mines? We are told that we must always disregard the bull week. Why should we? The Christmas bull week output figure in this country was 5 million tons. Multiplied by 48, if my arithmetic is correct, the total is 240 million tons. That is the target of "Investing in Coal" after spending £1,000 million. What does it prove? We got 5 million tons of coal that week. It proves that the capacity of the mining industry was 240 million tons on 18th December, 1956, before the nation spent a fraction of £1,000 million.
As was emphasised by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech, that is not happening just in the bull week. We have had in the last seven weeks an average of 4.73 million tons. The mines of the country today, including the opencast sites, are producing up to the figure for which the National Coal Board says this country must pay £1,000 million. That must give everybody food for thought. We have already reached the target which it was said could not be reached before 1965.
No new pits were brought in during those weeks. There were no extra men or new faces. The faces were no longer, the cuts were no deeper and the transport was no faster. The capacity was always there. It has been there for months and years. We could have had an output of 240 million tons all that time, but the National Coal Board was too busy decrying the past to tackle what was in front of its nose.
1456 I ask the National Coal Board to take its eyes off the far horizons and to tackle the job which is in front of it, to get this output of 240 million tons which has been shown to be possible, and to get it every week and every year, instead of concentrating on the task of providing new and mighty pits. According to the National Coal Board, this was an amazing increase which was not believed to be possible. The old mining engineers had no doubt it was possible. By proving that 240 million tons can be produced without spending £1,000 million, we are demanding that this document "Investing in Coal" should be taken back, revised and made realistic.
Again I disclaim any vanity, but I should like to point out that I discussed the results predicted in that plan for Scotland and Wales. I said:It amounts to half a dozen lumps of coal extra per man, per shift for an expenditure of £100 million of capital in both these areas. It is fantastic finance, and must be examined again. If that is all that the new pits, the reconstruction schemes, the power loading, the improved transport and all the rest can give us, the quicker we go to Rhodesia the better. That plan must be revised, and I hope the Minister will see to it that it gets revision.Later on, I said:I believe that 'Investing in Coal' is a safety Budget. The Board has played far too safe and should be asked to reconsider."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1956, Vol. 552, c. 1487–93.]What I said then has been amply proved by the fact that we have now reached 240 million tons without spending the money which the National Coal Board said needed to be spent. I trust that my right hon. Friend will take back "Investing in Coal," bring it up to date and, starting from the basis that we have 240 million tons at this time, will obtain the real output of which the country is capable by spending the difference between the present sum expended and £1,000 million.
This is tremendously important, for we have shown how this output can be obtained at this critical time and that coal can be the key to solving our balance of payments problem. We have had a weekly average of 4.72 million tons of coal for the last seven weeks against an average of 4.2 million for four years. An extra ½ million tons of coal per week will make all the difference. With the 25 million tons of coal which that would 1457 yield, there would be a fantastic change in the picture. It would cut out our imports, which were 5 million tons last year, thus saving £35 million. It would allow us to export another 20 million tons, thus producing another £120 million. That would make a startling difference to our balance of payments.
I am told on fairly reliable authority that if we export our coal to Europe the European countries will be ready to pay us in dollars for that coal. They are paying for it in dollars already. If we could save 5 million tons of coal imports, paid for in dollars, and export another 20 million tons and receive dollars for that, it would produce a tremendous impact on the balance of payments position. About 455 million dollars could be saved in that way.
I have delayed the House for a long time. I had no intention of doing so at the beginning of my speech. But there are not many hon. Members on this side of the House present to speak and I thought I would give hon. Members opposite the benefit of my knowledge. I feel that I have tried to criticise constructively. There is a change taking place in this great industry in which I spent thirty years and for which I have a tremendous affection. Whether it is due to the atmosphere at the top or whether it is due to what the Daily Express said today, that the miners feel that they want a higher standard of living, with motor cars, television and all the other things and therefore must work more, I do not know. But we welcome it, and hope that it will continue.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
Having heard the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George) I am convinced that the Coal Board could sink a shaft a "darn" sight quicker than he can make a speech. The speech of the hon. Gentleman was that of a mean man, jealous to the extreme of what has happened to the industry since we nationalised it. He levelled a charge against the coal-face workers. Let me inform him that there has been a reclassification of the jobs which take place underground, and that may have helped to make static the figures in the Report relating to coal-face workers. Mechanisation has increased, and that has tended to make the figures for underground workers remain static.
1458 The hon. Gentleman has noticed the results of ten years of nationalisation, and the amount of coal gained, and that has been a boomerang on his pride. He has now seen what could have happened prior to nationalisation, had the people responsible for the coal industry when it was privately owned been willing to invest in the industry instead of grabbing as much as they could and sinking shafts without planning them. It is sufficient evidence that the Minister, who says that he is quite a new boy to this job, is not willing to tamper with it. No member of the Government will tamper with the nationalisation of the coal mining industry. The success of nationalisation speaks for itself.
The hon. Member for Pollok quoted some figures, and I will quote a few. The total output of mined coal, including opencast, from 1946 to 1956 increased from 190 million tons to 222 million tons. In 1946 the manpower employed numbered 697,000, and in 1956 the figure was 703,000. It will be observed that the number of workers was increased by only 6,000 over that period, yet the output increased by over 30 million tons.
§ Mr. George
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House when the figure of 30 million tons increase was achieved? Will he state in what year it rose by 30 million tons above the original figure?
§ Mr. Mason
If the hon. Gentleman wants figures I will give them. For mined coal, including opencast coal, the figure in 1946 was 190 million tons. It jumped to 209 million tons in 1948 and to 220 million tons in 1951. In 1954 it was 224 million tons and in 1956 it was 222 million tons. As the Minister said—we do not wish to detract from it— during 1955, and it is the Report for that year which we are debating, the figure seemed to level out. But over the ten years as a whole the output has increased by 30 million tons, with only an increase of 6,000 in the manpower figure.
§ Mr. George
The hon. Gentleman says that over the last ten years there was an increase of 30 million tons, and that is correct. But can he tell the House whether there has been an increase since 1951?
§ Mr. Mason
I gave the figures. In 1951 the figure was 222 tons. In 1954 the figure was 224 tons. That shows an increase. I do not mind interjections, provided that they relate to valid points, but I do not wish to repeat myself. I wish to be fair to hon. Members on this side of the House who desire to speak, even though hon. Members opposite do not.
The success of nationalisation would seem not only to be keeping hon. Members opposite from making speeches, but out of the Chamber as well. Hon. Members on this side of the House can point to the record of the past ten years and the results achieved. In output per manshift at the coal face the figure has increased from 2.76 tons to 3.33 tons. The number of accidents in 1950 was fewer than ever before. There were 327 fatal accidents and 1,757 serious accidents. Is not that a pleasing sign? That, too, is the result of nationalisation. Mechanisation increased from 8.3 per cent, in 1954 to 18 per cent. in November, 1956. That represents an increase in the percentage of mechanically loaded coal.
Mechanisation means that the industry has become more technical, and more dangerous. There has been more blasting. More dust rose from machines, which are not now producing large coal, but fine coal. There has been an increase in the amount of noise, and noise is a very important factor in mining, particularly where creaks take place and are the signal of danger overhead. I think it a highly commendable feature of the Report that accidents have been kept down to this low level.
The National Coal Board is carrying a back-breaking burden, which is proving an irritating and annoying feature, because the industry is becoming a refuse bin for the Government's financial headaches. The Government are casting a financial burden on the Coal Board which will either cripple the industry or result in a catastrophic increase in coal prices. There is, first, the cost of imported coal which is an actual loss. The figure rose from £5½ million in 1951 to £27½ million in 1955. It is true that there was some 1460 recoupment in the second half of the year from increased coal prices. Nevertheless it was still a loss.
One of the worrying features was the time chosen by the Government to introduce their new price policy, which was after the General Election and not before, although a price increase was well warranted before it took place. This was political juggling by the Government. They used the Coal Board to increase the prices after the General Election, although an increase was warranted long before that time. The Government alone decide what shall be the price of coal.
There is, secondly, the added cost of the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Bill. The aim is to make the Board pay compensation where as a result of mining, damage is done toland, buildings, structures (including roads, railways, aircraft runways, etc.), and works such as sewers, drains and other service lines and pipes …What a list! And who can say at what cost? The Paymaster-General says that the approximate figure is £5 million. That is £5 million on top of the £250,000 which, under the 1950 Act, was paid by the Exchequer. The Government, therefore, have shelved responsibility for that, too, and are making the Coal Board pay for the lot. According to the Paymaster-General, that means an increase of at least 6d. a ton in the price of coal.
In order to emphasise that point I wish to quote from the Second Reading debate on the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Bill, when the Minister said:The Bill provides that the whole cost is to be borne by the Coal Board which, in effect, means that it must fall upon the consumer of coal, and if £5 million, which figure I have put forward only with reservations"—and that is important—is the correct annual figure, it will amount to 6d. per ton on the cost of coal mined, which we might say is not a large sum compared with the total cost of coal at present. It is, however, a significant sum, and I quite agree that it should not be placed upon the consumer of coal without careful thought.After an interjection, he went on:The £5 million is the addition which is being placed on the Coal Board by the Bill.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1957; Vol. 563, c. 1193.]That is a very conservative estimate. I am convinced that the amount will increase in a few years' time by several million pounds.
§ Mr. Mason
It is obvious. To begin with, we have not yet got underground sufficient slushing machines or pneumatic Stowers in order to make the ground permanently safe and to check subsidence. It will take a few years before the machinery can be installed and automatic stowing can take place underground. I think we shall have in the meantime many other cases of subsidence. There is a village in my constituency which is shivering to its foundations because of mining subsidence. The National Coal Board is doing a terrific amount of work to try to stop it, and is experimenting with different methods to ease subsidence and the terrific results which it has on schools, buildings, sewers, pipes, particularly in the major towns and cities. I think that subsidence will increase severalfold as the years go by.
Secondly, we have the cost of the new Mines and Quarries Act, and I am not quibbling about it. It is part of the increased cost of safety. We are to have higher roadways, flame-proof belting, increased water supplies for the suppression of dust, and new water-infusion methods and devices. I understand that in 1954, the first year in which the change over to flame-proof belting was begun, the cost was £2 million. This change is still going on. There are to be stone-dust barriers, costing another £1 million a year, and water infusion costing another £1 million a year, just to mention a few of the many items. Safety means expense, but it must go on, especially if we can get the accident figures down. The expense that we are putting into the mines to make them safe will be well worth while.
Capital investment must go on, too. Mining is an extractive industry. It is naturally losing 4 million tons of coal per year as we exhaust our seams. In view of their atomic energy programme, the Government may tend to cut down capital investment in coal mining, but that would be fatal. Both coal and atomic energy plans should go ahead. If not, we may in due course have to increase our oil consumption by at least 2½ times our present figure. I noticed that the total capital investment in 1956 was as high as £97 million. I am pleased 1462 to notice that during 1956 this expenditure showed results. The improvement is coming forward, and was particularly noticeable at the beginning of 1957. The coal tonnage increase shown for the first two months of this year is, to some extent, a response to the increased capital investment.
There is another burden, the third of the real burdens that have been thrown upon the nationalised industry. I refer to compensation. In 1955, the industry showed an operating profit of £1.1 million, but after paying £20.7 million in compensation the National Coal Board balance sheet showed a deficit of £19.6 million. Because of all these burdens— high compensation, subsidence, the cost of imported coal—and of all this balance-sheet jugglery, the success of the industry must not be judged on a profit-and-loss basis. It must be allowed to develop and thrive without undue Government interference and must be given some period of respite from the continual imposition of financial burdens by the Government.
What about the future of the industry? I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) emphasised that aspect of the matter, which cannot be emphasised too often. A myth exists in the minds of many people, both within and without the industry, that coal mining is dying and that atomic energy is rapidly taking its place. Let me attempt to kill that myth once and for all. That false idea has been responsible in part for a shortage of highly-qualified technicians and engineers and it may be of miners, too. The idea that the future is limited and that the industry is not worth entering has proved a handicap.
The last survey of our coal reserves showed that there are 43,000 million tons of coal waiting to be won. At the present rate of consumption, this will take about two hundred years. Consumption is, however, on the increase and that is why it is essential to go ahead as rapidly as possible with the atomic energy programme. That will help to bridge the gap between our present coal output and the potential demand. Even taking into consideration the proposed expansion of atomic energy, it will in no way lessen the demand for coal.
Consumption is rising at an average rate of 4 million tons per year. Because the industry is extractive, it naturally loses 1463 4 million tons per year, so just to keep pace we must plan to produce 8 million tons a year extra. Even if the figures in the past twelve months had been static we could not have bridged that gap with a wasting asset of 4 million tons.
§ Mr. George
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but he is under a complete misapprehension about coal mining. He may have worked in a pit, but he never understood how a pit is worked. Since mining started, managers have had to arrange for replacing what they took out. This is no new thing; it is part of mining. It has always been done. Extraction and replacement are one operation.
§ Mr. Mason
I do not think that that interjection was entirely necessary. I was trying to point out that because this extractive industry is losing 4 million tons annually, that loss has to be planned against and that we have to maintain that process. I can quite understand what was meant by the hon. Member for Pollok when he spoke of the guile of the workers and the skill of the management, and how necessary guile was for the men who were working under him. The fight of the National Coal Board is akin to a person walking up a down escalator. It has to work hard even to stay in the same place.
By 1975, it is stated, atomic energy will save approximately 40 million tons of coal. If water power is fully developed it will be equivalent to another 5 million tons. Oil imports and, perhaps, a little imported coal, may give a figure of nearly 100 million tons. I am erring on the right side in order to make my analogy better. The total supplement will, therefore, be about 145 million tons.
Consumption is increasing rapidly. By 1975, the power stations will need an extra 40 million tons annually. Gas works, which are planning a 50 per cent. expansion, will need a further 15 million tons annually. Steel output is planned to be doubled, and the increase will consume a further 20 million tons. Opencast mining will probably have petered out by that time, so that 12 million tons will be needed to replace it. I have not mentioned the demand that there is bound to be abroad for our coal. We can rightly say, therefore, that atomic 1464 energy will only scratch the surface of this problem of coal requirements.
Beyond that date, as atomic energy develops, coal usage and processing will drastically change. We shall see the production of highly efficient smokeless fuels, the closer alliance of coal and chemicals to produce higher quality by-products and the development of the production of synthetic oil from coal to meet the needs of our liquid fuel economy. All these developments will mean that there is still a great future for coal mining.
At the turn of the century, and perhaps well into the twenty-first century, we shall still be in need of our present coal output. The trouble is, of course, that until the supplements are forthcoming our present coal output must increase. We are immediately short of 9,000 miners. In terms of tonnage, that means nearly 3 million tons of coal per year. Development is taking its toll of manpower. About 36,000 miners were working on reconstruction at the end of 1956, compared with 29,700 in 1948.
Regarding manpower, let me say, quite frankly and with regret, how disappointed I am that the miners have not shown a ready willingness to accept the Hungarian refugees. As an ex-miner living in the heart of my own mining constituency, I can speak with understanding on mining problems and on this one particularly. I often sympathise with the miners, knowing full well the nature of their work and the constant demands which are expected of them. On this question I think that they tend to wrong the nation and to commit an injustice against the peoples of the free world. One of the reasons why this nation remains great is that it has always proved to be a haven for the persecuted races of other nations. Let not the miners be responsible for making this another "curtain" country.
Let them, therefore, consider these facts. Having demanded nationalisation and secured it, we have a responsibility not only for maintaining and improving the standards of the men employed in the industry but also for ensuring the development, efficiency, and fullest degree of productivity in the industry.
To date 11,500 Hungarians have been admitted to our country. Only 3,900 have been recruited by the N.C.B. In pact that recruitment has been assisted by the National Union of Mineworkers. 1465 The Board had to draft those men into areas where hostel accommodation was available and not necessarily into areas where there were vacancies in the mines. That in itself has caused some resentment. Apart from that, throughout the coalfields miners' trade union branches have been refusing to admit Hungarians. This is a question for each individual branch to decide. I say quite frankly that if they have vacancies at their pit they have no logical reason to refuse.
I understand the problems of housing shortage and redundancy. Miners are afraid that if Hungarians come into their district that will aggravate the problem. They say, "Give work to Britishers before Hungarians," but there are still many areas in our British coal fields which will not be affected to the extreme by those two factors. If there are vacancies in the collieries concerned the miners have no logical reason to refuse them. They are safeguarded to the limit. In brief, it means, "Britishers first for promotion, Hungarians first for redundancy".
We still have 10,000 foreign workers in the mines from the 15,000 who were introduced in 1948. Here is another chance to add a young, virile group of workers to the working force of our industry—a force which, when fully employed, will mean an extra 1 million tons. I ask the miners, therefore, to break down the wall of prejudice which is growing against them. For the miners' own sake, the sake of the betterment of their industry, and for the sheer economic necessity of the nation, I ask them to accept this small band of courageous people. Let us give them an opportunity to enjoy life in a social democracy without the fears to which they have been subject for so many years.
The miner need not fear. The National Coal Board investment plan of £1,000 million and the increase in safety standards are transforming the industry into one of the best in the world. That should enable the miner and his family to face the future with confidence and security.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
It is not often that in this House we hear such a courageous utterance as we have heard from the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) this afternoon. I think it comes 1466 from him better than it could have come from anyone on this side of the House. I had intended making some reference to the situation of the Hungarians, but he has said it much better than I could have done. There is nothing more I could say to the miners of England than that this is an issue in which they have a moral responsibility to the nation. They have nothing to fear but everything to gain. I hope they will read what has been said by the hon. Member, and take action upon it.
I could not associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Mr. George) when he made the assertion—I do not think he really meant it, but that he was a little carried away—that the British worker, either in the mines or anywhere., does the least he can.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
Yes, but I want to be generous. I say quite frankly that in my industrial experience I have found quite the reverse. While negotiations between management and men are carried out with the keenness which one would expect, once a bargain is struck it is accepted by both sides. There may be a small percentage of workers and there may be a small percentage of managements who do not do the job they should, but for goodness' sake do not let us at this stage indict the working man.
I have listened to maiden speeches of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General in the various offices of the Crown which he has adorned, but I have listened to none of them with greater pleasure than to the speech which he made this afternoon. It was objective in every word and sentence. He set the tone which I think should be and will be the tone not only in this debate but hereafter for those representing both sides of the industry.
The success or failure of British economy in our time does depend and will depend on coal, certainly to the end of this century; I do not propose to look any further. I want to couple with that statement the view that it must be an efficient coal industry and that efficiency, or degree of efficiency, will decide not only the measure and level of employment in our country, but of the standard of living of our country as a whole. I do not think that I can express the 1467 responsibility of the industry in more convincing terms.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) is absent at the moment because I wanted to support what he said in regard to housing in mining villages. Of course one can find very nice districts where there are houses that one cannot grumble about, but I have been in all the mining areas of Britain and I say frankly that there are tens of thousands that I should not like anyone to live in. I think that the standard of housing will reflect more than any other way the standard of work and the discipline of the men in the industry. Let us not wrap up anything; let us be frank about it.
I do not want to take up the time of hon. Members opposite, and I hope that all of them who wish to do so will all be able to take part in the debate, but I want to say a word or two about management. I want to address some remarks to the Paymaster-General and to endorse what he said. Let us carry out the recommendations of the Fleck Report in regard to remuneration as quickly as possible. We should pay the labourer what he is worth and the top management the kind of salary commensurate with what is demanded of them. We have to get the best brains in the industry and, having got them, we should be satisfied that they are getting the right reward.
I believe that the Board under Jim Bowman is showing a great sense of vitality. That is evident from the things which it is doing. I believe it is putting the right men in the right places and that good results will rapidly come from that. With other hon. Members who have spoken, I believe that something is happening in the coal industry—we do not know what and we do not know why, but we are very grateful for it. I hope that it will continue. I see no reason why it should not.
I want to say a word or two about the opportunities which the industry offers to young men. We all have great responsibility when we try to attract young men to any industry. We want to be sure that we do not put them into a dead-end rôle, but any young man looking to the future of any industry for his career should take a second look at the coal industry, which is a great deal better than it looks. 1468 It is a very highly technical industry today and it is advancing.
The Government and the country are prepared to put hundreds of millions of pounds into the industry. What is more, those working in it are a very good type of men. People outside the industry seem to think that miners are on strike every other day of the week, that there are lots of trouble makers, etc. It is true that there are too many strikes, but there are strikes in other industries. In the mining industry, in which I worked for many years, we have men who, if properly treated and properly trained—
§ Mr. Robson Brown
No. An Englishman cannot be driven, anyway.
We have this new momentum in the industry, but we should not exaggerate it. This may sound controversial, but it is not intended to be. I hope that the National Union of Mineworkers will recognise this and in their forthcoming discussions with the Board will not rock the boat in any way. I am not going into detail other than to say that I have been following this trend ever since nationalisation came in. No one has ever yet given the answer to the question why there was a quite remarkable improvement in 1951 and yet it has been practically static ever since. If someone in the industry or outside it can find the proper answer to that question I think we shall go a long way towards solving our problems.
I am going to suggest one way, which is partly party political—although it is not intended that way—and I believe that part of it was reflected in the personal message that Earl Attlee, who was Prime Minister at that time, sent to the miners. There may be something in it. I think that the miners did respond. I should like the Minister to have a look at this point.
I do not know whether his Parliamentary Secretary can answer this question tonight—I do not think that it would be quite fair to expect him to do so— but I should be very interested to know what has happened at Gwauncaegurwen. There was a suggestion that the pit should be shut down because of extreme inefficiency and lack of response. The miners said, "Give us a chance and we will put it right". There has been no statement as to what has happened since. 1469 I hope that the figures will show that things have come right, because if that can happen in one pit it can happen in others.
To end on a constructive note, I would say that I think the National Coal Board is getting itself into the position that while overall there is still a grave shortage of coal in certain quantities and qualities, there is perhaps a surplus which could be used—I should like the Board to give a good deal of consideration to this—in the manufacture of a first-class briquette on a much bigger scale than has been envisaged up to now; rather more comparable with the best briquette made on the Continent. We may find that we have a certain amount of slack which may become a burden on the market, and the conversion of that material into a good briquette would serve a double purpose. It would absorb the coal and also help to provide good fuel to comply with the Clean Air Act and bring clean air to our towns.
On the question of the price of coal, I sympathise with the National Coal Board, because I feel that very frequently the price of coal is related to political considerations—it was in the days when hon. Members opposite were in the Government just as much as it is in our day—and I think that the Coal Board is handicapped as a result. It should exercise more flexibility in the charges as from period to period and as between quality and quality as the supply increases or decreases.
There was that flexibility in the old days in the coal industry. When we had a surplus of a particular quality of coal we dropped the price to make it attractive. I think that it would be a useful thing if the British public could get some coal at a lower price. Therefore, I do not think that the Coal Board should be discouraged politically from varying the price mechanism from time to time.
I had a feeling, as I heard the Minister speaking, that he was enjoying, as all his predecessors have done, the advice and guidance of a most exceptionally able group of men in what is now called the Ministry of Power—a group of men who from the leader downwards have served this industry in very excellent fashion. I should like to pay tribute to them this afternoon, in my own way, by 1470 giving the Coal Board—this is not quite as usual as it might be—a pat on the back instead of a kick in the pants.
I say to the Minister that we are all looking forward to these new reports with great anxiety and interest. We have the utmost confidence in the new Minister of Power, and I think that, with him and the Paymaster-General together dealing with all aspects of power, we can look forward to great improvement in the coal industry and in the rest of industry.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
I was very interested in the question of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) about Gwauncaegurwen, which happens to be in my native village: If the nation had all the coal that I have cut at Gwauncaegurwen there would not be a shortage now. I am very glad to give the hon. Member this assurance. I am a member of the miners' lodge at Gwauncaegurwen. I had a letter from the lodge secretary only this week, and he tells me that the position there shows a considerable improvement on what it has been during the last few years. I hope that the hon. Member will he pleased to have that assurance.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am very gratified and delighted to hear it.
§ Mr. Williams
We are today debating the Report of the National Coal Board for 1955. This Report was issued in May of last year, almost a year ago. I think we all agree that this debate is long overdue. Since the end of 1955, the year covered by this Report, many important changes have occurred in the mining industry. The Board has completed another year's work. In the course of the next few weeks we should have the report for 1956. During the last ten months or so, the National Coal Board has issued three very important Reports on the mining industry.
The first is the Report which we are discussing today, which deals with the performance of the mining industry in 1955. The second is a document called "Investing in Coal", which is a revised version of the 1950 "Plan for Coal". The third document is called "British Coal: The Rebirth of an Industry", which deals with the general record of the mining industry over the last ten years.
1471 These three Reports bring out two things very clearly. First, the vital importance of coal to our national economy. Secondly the tremendous task which faces the National Coal Board in providing all the coal that is needed for an expanding economy. In spite of all the scientific and technical developments of recent years, our economy still depends on coal and will depend on coal for quite a long time to come. I think we all agree that we can expand that economy only by increasing the production of coal in Britain's mines.
For several years now we have not been producing all the coal we need. We have had to import coal. This is something new in our national experience. We are short of coal and we are short of miners to produce coal. This is certainly something new in the miners' experience. It is, indeed, a complete reversal of our past experience in the mining industry.
During the time that I spent in the mining industry, the problem was always too much coal and too many miners. We could not sell the coal and we could not employ the miners. Collieries closed down, villages and valleys became derelict, and we had mass unemployment in the mining areas. This was the position in the mining industry for a whole generation. In those days there was no question of expanding the industry. The mining industry was declining, and it declined for 30 years. During the whole of that time we did not sink a single new shaft in South Wales. We lost the art of shaft sinking, and now we have to bring in a German firm to sink the new shaft at Cynheidre in the anthracite coal field.
Throughout the war the mining industry functioned in a contracting economy. It was the period of the great world depression. Demand for coal was falling both at home and abroad. We lost our overseas markets, and this had disastrous consequences in South Wales which depended so much on the export trade. Technical development was neglected, capital investment was negligible, and for nearly thirty years Britain had a declining mining industry adapted to the needs of a shrinking and contracting economy. Even today we are still suffering from 1472 the effects of those conditions in the mining industry. Ten years of nationalisation, with all its achievements, have not been sufficient to wipe out all the legacies of thirty years' decline.
The Fleck Committee Report has been mentioned today. That Committee reported that from the end of the First World War the mining industry was starved of capital and of technical men. It went on to say that at the time of nationalisation the industry was for the most part backward in general and technical management and that the condition of many of the collieries was poor.
This was the state of the industry when the mines were nationalised in 1947. An industry in that condition, a basic industry like coal, could never provide for the needs of the British economy in the postwar world. The Board was faced with an entirely new problem. It had to produce coal for an expanding economy. This involved massive reorganisation of the industry. In fact, the Board was faced with two tasks: first of all, it had to produce more coal to meet our current needs and, secondly, it had to re-equip the industry to produce still more coal for our future needs.
The Board has produced more coal, though it has not yet been able to produce all the coal we need. Without the increase which the Board has produced, the British economy could never have expanded as it has expanded since the end of the war, and we should never have maintained full employment in Britain. Let us remember that the Board has increased output with a declining labour force and with a chronic problem of manpower shortage in the industry.
I do not want to burden the House with figures of production. These are easily available anyway. I would point out, however, that in 1956 the output figures per manshift, both overall and at the coal face, were the highest recorded in the history of the mining industry. It is said that these improvements are due to increased mechanisation. That is true— but it is not the whole truth. Even machines need men to operate them and men to install them. We have not yet reached the stage of complete automation in the mining industry. Indeed, mining may be the last industry to reach that 1473 stage. In any case, we are still a long way from push-button mining.
Since nationalisation, of course, there has been a great deal of mechanisation. Indeed, this has been the main task of the Coal Board from the beginning. It is now engaged in an intensive mechanisation drive. But mechanising a colliery is not as simple as mechanising a factory. Many of the advantages of mechanisation are offset by the physical conditions of the colliery.
When the National Coal Board took over the mining industry most of the best seams had been worked. The thick, shallow, easily accessible seams have gone and the Board now has to work thinner, deeper and more inaccessible seams in less favourable conditions. This involves a great deal of development, and a considerable part of the labour force of the industry has to be continuously employed on this development work, which is not immediately productive and is not immediately reflected in the output figures of the industry.
Another factor which affects output in the industry, even with mechanisation, indeed even more so with mechanisation, is the age-level of the men employed in the pits. In 1938 the average age of men employed in the mining industry was 36.7 years. It is now 40.4 years. This is a difference of four years. In most industries this difference would not be important, but it is very important indeed in an industry such as mining where so much of the work depends on hard, sustained physical effort.
An average age of 40 means that a large number of men employed in the industry are over 50, 55, 60 or even 65 years of age. It is not easy for men in these age groups to adapt themselves to the new machine age in mining. The older men find it far more difficult to follow the machine and they cannot get as much out of a machine as the younger men. There is no doubt at all that if the industry had a younger labour force its production figures would be much better than they are.
The industry is not able to attract or to retain a sufficient number of young men. One of the striking things about this industry is the very high rate of wastage. Every year the industry loses between 60,000 and 70,000 men, and it 1474 is estimated that about 30,000 men leave the industry every year to take up other employment. These, of course, are the younger men, the men the industry so badly needs.
It is sometimes argued that the manpower problems of the mining industry could be solved by bringing in foreign labour. Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as that. In the first place, it is often overlooked that there are about 10,000 foreign workers employed in the industry now; there are 5,300 Poles, 3,800 European voluntary workers and about 750 Italians. In theory, the mining industry could employ more foreign labour, but in practice I am afraid it is not as simple as it appears to be.
National attention has recently been focussed on this problem because of the attitude of the miners towards the Hungarian refugees. I have been profoundly disappointed with the attitude which so many miners have shown towards the Hungarians. The miners have given many reasons why they have refused to accept the Hungarians. I can understand most of these reasons, although I do not accept them all. I can also understand some of the reasons which have not been given—which are probably the real and most important reasons.
I am convinced, however, that the objections to the Hungarians of the overwhelming majority of the miners were not political. Politics have nothing to do with it. I am told that at one lodge meeting some miners objected to the Hungarians on the ground that a miner is born a miner. That is not true—or, rather, it is no longer true; the statement is about twenty years out of date.
There was a time when miners' sons provided all the recruits which the mining industry needed. Indeed, mining in Britain was almost a hereditary occupation; the son followed the father to the pit as a matter of course, and no one else did. Mining was also largely a community occupation, because it was the members of the mining community that provided all the labour the industry needed. These are very old traditions in the mining industry. I do not think that I need tell the House that, in mining, tradition dies hard.
But there is another mining tradition— the tradition of international solidarity, 1475 and I hope that this new generation of miners will not allow that tradition to die. At the same time, I do not think that any useful purpose would be served by lecturing the miners about foreign labour. I am certain that it will do no good to lecture them from this House; it would probably do far more harm than good. Whilst I deplore the attitude towards the Hungarian refugees, I think that it is far better to leave the matter in the hands of the union leaders. If they cannot persuade the miners to accept the Hungarians, I am sure that no one else can.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Pentland (Chester-le-Street)
After listening to the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George), it was very pleasant to hear the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown). The latter showed a balanced understanding of the industry and of the psychology of the men who work in it, whereas the hon. Member for Pollok showed all the bitterness and frustration that was always there under private enterprise.
All of us who come from the mining industry soon realised that there was a good deal more to nationalisation than merely the passing of an Act of Parliament, and it was only after the debates in this House finished that the National Coal Board got down to facing the vast new responsibilities that lay before it. What were those responsibilities? First and foremost, it had to see that, coal was available in the necessary quantity and quality at a fair price. Then it had a particular responsibility to industry and to the domestic market. Finally, it had a long-term responsibility to the mining industry itself, and to those people who worked in it. That was its job, and in spite of the very pessimistic oration we have heard from the other side, I believe that the Board has faced its responsibilities and problems and has fulfilled its coal output obligations to the nation.
Just as the National Coal Board had to face new responsibilities and obligations, so had the National Union of Mineworkers. As soon as nationalisation came—and I was a miner then, like many other hon. Members present—we realised that. One of the first things that the union did was to ensure that the miners 1476 had the fullest information about the industry itself, its importance in the economy of the country and its prospects for ensuring stable and continuing employment. As a result, the miners, in turn, have played their part.
I was quite delighted to hear the stress laid today on the fact that we should not over-emphasise the present position of atomic energy. I pride myself on including that in my maiden speech on 12th November last. I have always been of the opinion that if people who should know better continue to over-emphasise that aspect we shall not get the necessary recruitment, because we shall be discouraging young people from entering the coal-mining industry by trying to prove that there is no security in it.
It has often been said that if there is no future for coal there is no future for Britain. That is quite true. The future, in my opinion, will depend on how far the nation is willing to recognise the contribution that the miners make in winning the coal that is so vital to our economy. The hon. Member for Pollok spoke about "soft-soaping the miners". I can tell him that there is not sufficient soft-soap in the world for that purpose.
I want to refer to an article which appeared in "The Times Review of Industry" this month. I see that the hon. Member for Pollok is not present; had I noticed it I would not have referred to him so much. This is what the article says:Parallel with the misuse of some statistics is a curious disinterest in others. How many ordinary citizens appreciate that inland consumption today is 218 million tons compared with 175 million tons in 1938, or that the price of British coal in the United Kingdom is on the average at least 30s. a ton less than the delivered cost of American coal in Britain? How many, too, realise that a cardinal index of the miner's effort—output a man shift—has risen steadily from 1947, and is now at an unprecedented level? Yet pride by the community in its coal industry is just as much a national asset as pride by the industry itself!That was printed as a quite fair assessment of the contribution which the miners are making today.
It is also true that thousands of pounds have been spent in introducing new machinery and new methods of production into the pits. All that is accepted, but at the same time it has to be recognised—and it has already been mentioned—that the National Coal Board 1477 was left with a declining and dilapidated industry. Let those who wish talk as they like about what the coal owners did under private enterprise. What they did primarily was to plough into all the best seams in our coalfields to obtain quick profits and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams) has said, we have been left with many pits that are almost solely working thin seams.
In my own county, and in particular in the western part of it, we have men who are working in seams 2 ft. thick and under. Even as I speak the men there are lying flat on their stomachs getting the coal that is necessary for this nation; and in many cases they are lying on a floor that has water on it. It should be remembered, also, that to work seams like this, where there may be a team of twenty or thirty men on a long wall face — I do not want to be too technical—each man has to have a sense of individual responsibility and use his own initiative in order to keep the complete cycle of operations proceeding.
Mining is entirely different from any other class of work. We cannot have a chargeman or an overseer over each man who is working on the coal face. The man himself must be relied upon to accept that sense of responsibility, and this the miners are doing. If they did not do it, there is no doubt that production would suffer seriously.
Important as daily output is, we must also remember that mining is an extractive industry. It is not the same as a factory. The workers who go back to their factory tomorrow will go back to a factory which is the same as when they left it today, but when the men go back to the pit tomorrow they return to a pit which has had coal extracted from it the day before, which has gone for ever and cannot be recovered.
It is vitally important, therefore, that the National Coal Board should look ahead and plan. It was essential that the Board should put into effect its comprehensive plan for reconstruction schemes. As the Board reports, these schemes will ensure for Britain at the end of another ten years one of the best coal industries in the world and a firm foundation for the steady and continuous developments which must then follow. 1478 That is perfectly true. Those are the fruits which will result from the reconstruction schemes that the Coal Board is putting into effect.
I want to deal briefly with the subsidies on imported coal. If there is one thing that gives our miners great dissatisfaction, it is the subsidising of imported coal by the National Coal Board. No other coal mining industry in any other country has this crippling burden to bear. In France, the difference between the delivery price of American coal and that of home-produced coal is borne by the Government. In Germany, the extra cost of imported coal, among other means of subsidising, is borne by the consumer. For example, the iron and steel industry, which purchases coal, operates an equalisation fund so that the extra cost of imported coal is spread evenly over the individual firms concerned. Here in Britain, however, the whole of the burden is placed on the mining industry.
Surely, it is not unreasonable for us to demand that the time has come for this millstone to be removed from the necks of the miners. It should never have been put there in the first place. Everyone in the country knows that the coal that is imported is vitally important to the economy as a whole. That being so, surely it is only reasonable for the miner to expect that the whole of the extra cost should be borne by the economy as a whole. In fact, the Exchequer should pay the subsidy which has been imposed upon the mining industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) referred to safety. Like him, I am delighted to see the emphasis that the National Coal Board is placing upon the safety factor. It is pleasing to all of us in the mining industry to see the continuous decline in the accident rate. It is declining steadily and we are all very pleased. Before the war, one could illustrate the accident rate during a certain five-year period by saying that every three minutes during night and day, either a man or a boy in the mining industry was having a minor injury or a serious accident or being killed.
My father left the pit a fortnight ago to retire after working almost fifty-four years underground. In all those fifty-four years, my mother, like all other women in the mining areas, always had 1479 at the back of her mind a nagging fear and anxiety about what would happen while my father was out at the pit. All our womenfolk in the mining areas always have this dread that something will happen while their menfolk are down the pit.
It is gratifying to see that the National Coal Board places so much emphasis upon the safety factor. No cost should be spared to enable the Board to pursue research to introduce safety factors in the mines. This is one of the most important things that has to be done. If we want to encourage men into the pits and also encourage the miners in turn to induce their own sons to go to the pits, we must concentrate on this aspect and spend any amount of money to make the pits safe. I am delighted that the National Coal Board is getting down to this important task.
I have said some complimentary things about the Coal Board, and they are justified, but I want now to make a criticism upon one aspect of the Board's functions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) referred to the Fleck Report. I know that many of our miners—probably the majority of them— are not very happy with some of the recommendations which have been made by the Fleck Committee.
My personal opinion is that the last appointment made by the Coal Board—I refer now to its labour relations officer— was a blunder of the first order. Let me hasten to add that no one in this House holds in higher regard or has greater respect than I have for James Crawford. There is not one hon. Member on this side of the House who would ever try to underestimate the contribution he has made to the trade union movement and to the country at large.
It is, however, only four months since I left a colliery in Durham to come to this House and I can claim to have at least as fair an understanding of the psychology of the men in the pits as anyone else in this House. I submit that this appointment will have a bad moral effect upon the miners. Had it been an administrative post, I would have agreed, but when appointing somebody to the vitally important position of labour relations officer, I would say "No" to this appointment. Had he had any mining back- 1480 ground, if we could believe that he had a thorough understanding of the ramifications and many of the complexities inherent in the industry, we would welcome him. I submit, however, that it is a serious mistake that the Coal Board has made.
Having said that, I do not want to detract from any of the good work that the National Coal Board has done. I agree with everyone else who has spoken in saying that the Board is doing a magnificent job of work on behalf of the nation. It should be encouraged by the Government and by the country to continue to do it. In the process, when its plans are completed, it will ensure for Britain that we have the safest and most up-to-date pits in the world.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
One of the most interesting comments made in the debate came from the Paymaster-General when he likened the coal industry as an extractive industry to agriculture. This was quite a change, because previous Ministers and many other speakers in debates on the mining industry have usually imagined, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland) has said, that coal mines are like factories and that the coal industry is a factory industry and not an extractive industry.
I wonder whether the Minister can take this association of coal and agriculture a little further. One of the things that he might do is to go to the Treasury and explain to the chief officials there what an extractive industry is and suggest to them that they might pay more regard, than apparently they have taken in the past, to the law of diminishing returns in working out financial policies and, particularly, investment policy.
One of the greatest technical and administrative difficulties with which we have to contend is this question of investment. The figures that we have to work on for 1955 suggest that the annual income to the National Coal Board from the sale of coal is about £800 million and that investment in the industry is about £90 million, of which £80 million has been borrowed from the Treasury. In the case of an extractive industry, capital investment equal to 10 per cent. of the total income of the industry is not too high, but it is much too high a burden 1481 if the investment has to carry interest rates which have to be paid and if the investment is arranged in the form of a loan that has to be paid off in the future.
If this kind of thing goes on during the whole period of the National Coal Board's modernisation plan, and year by year the Board is compelled by the Government's pricing policy to borrow on this scale, the Board will finish up with a tremendous amount of debt which has to be paid off and on which interest has to be paid. It will be a debt of a magnitude that will cripple the industry, unless the Government alter their present pricing policy. If they do not alter it now they will have to allow the price of coal to increase in a startling fashion in the future.
I do not pretend to be much of an economist, but I should have thought that one of the rules for investment in an extractive industry would be that when the general basis of capital development has been provided, as is the case with the coal industry, capital development should be financed out of income and, as far as possible, any burden of future debt should be reduced to a minimum. It is a sorry thing that the National Coal Board has to carry the cost of a pricing policy which has forced upon it this very heavy burden of debt.
All this may make it appear as if I were arguing for an immediate increase in coal prices, but there are many things that can be done to ease the problem of prices and of debt. We ought to stop people burning coal. Although people tend to smile when one says that, it is perfectly true. It is utterly fantastic that in 1957 we should allow people to burn nylon stockings, oil, tar, gas, vitamin pills, sulphur and ammonia and several other things, including motor spirit, which we could extract from coal that we now burn and allow to pollute the atmosphere. Only about 20 per cent. of the thermal value of coal is obtained from its present general use. The rest goes up the chimney to pollute the atmosphere and cause sickness and distress.
I have made calculations based on figures in the Report which we are now discussing. It is certainly stupid that we should allow so much of the country's resources to be wasted in this way. Obviously, we cannot carbonise the whole of our annual production of about 200 million tons today, not only because we 1482 have not the plant for doing it, but also because it would be difficult to convert railway engines, for example, to other forms of fuel very quickly. It would probably take longer than the fifteen years that is at present estimated to carry out that complete conversion, and much the same applies to other types of industrial plant. However, if we could carbonise 100 million tons of our coal a year, in the way some of it is now carbonised and processed, we should have some surprising results.
I do not know whether my figures are correct, but I calculate that we would get 40 million to 50 million tons of coke which, with the briquettes that I hope would also be made on an extensive scale, would be sufficient to provide all householders and some of the industries that can make the conversion, and which want solid fuel, with a sufficient supply of relatively smokeless fuel for all their needs. A great many householders today have modern long-burning stoves or grates. We want to see every household using them. Those householders who do not possess them should be helped to obtain them on easy terms so that the burning of raw coal can be prevented. We would obtain about three million tons of crude tar from a carbonisation process on this scale, giving about 150 million gallons of crude benzole which could be extracted and, if it were needed, could provide about 50 million gallons of motor spirit.
It is often argued that the cost of obtaining motor spirit in this way is higher than the cost of obtaining it by refining crude oil imported from abroad, but there is another important point which is overlooked not only by those who discuss industrial questions but by those who are responsible for the Government's taxation policy. We rely mainly on crude oil obtained from the Middle East, from which we obtain a certain amount of petrol and industrial oils, including diesel oil and lubricating oil and so on, but these proportions cannot be altered. As things are operating now, we are producing too much petrol, in normal circumstances, in relation to the demand for industrial and other oils.
It seems to me that a carbonisation of coal project on the immense scale that I am suggesting could help to get the refining of crude oil from abroad into 1483 balance, so that instead of causing refiners, because of our taxation policy, to produce to much petrol in normal times. We should be helping them out of their difficulties. I may be wrong about this—I am merely throwing our suggestions—but I am told there is something in it. If so, it could help to balance their arrangements.
§ Mr. Maudling
I am informed that, of the total coal production of the country, about 90 million tons is suitable for carbonising. That is an important fact which the hon. Gentleman should take into account. Perhaps he has already done so.
§ Mr. Darling
We may be at cross-purposes. I understand from work that has been done, particularly in the Midlands, that it is now possible to carbonise even the lowest grades of coal in this country. What one gets from such coal may not be of the quality or on the scale of what one gets from higher grade coals, but I understand that there is no coal produced in the country, except small fines and stuff that one would not put in a coke oven anyhow, that one cannot carbonise. It may be that my calculations are a little out because one cannot get the same results and qualities from all the carbonisation projects, but I am talking in very round figures, and something like I have suggested must be done. It is fatuous and insane to continue burning and wasting our resources as we are doing now.
If the plans I have suggested were adopted, we should get more than a sufficient supply of all the industrial chemicals that we need. We should also get about 250,000 million cubic feet of gas per year. In the past when I have suggested that the carbonisation of coal would solve our fuel and energy problems I have been asked what would be done with the gas, because one cannot help getting gas from carbonisation projects.
What we should have to do would be to build a gas grid. There is nothing new about that. Hon. Members may have seen what happens in cities in the United States and Canada which are supplied with natural gas. The results are wonderful. About eighteen months ago I was in Edmonton, Alberta, at the 1484 beginning of the winter when people were stoking up. Central heating was being used, for the temperature was 20° below zero. In those circumstances, and particularly in that icy atmosphere, one would expect to find a pall of smoke. But there was not one. All the people were using natural gas for heating their homes, for hot water, for cooking, and so on, and the electricity for the area was generated by boilers fueled by natural gas. The atmosphere was perfectly clean, and there were no local fuel problems. All the people were connected to the local natural gas grid.
We know that the oil deposits in this country, if there are any, are so small that we cannot think of providing a natural gas grid, but I see no reason why we should not have a gas grid based upon the carbonisation of coal. If we decided to build up such a grid, we could put the carbonisation plants where they ought to be, which is not in big urban areas where they cause a nuisance. I have a peculiar problem in my constituency. A new gas holder has been built, and if it rises to its full height, the local people cannot get any television programmes. The carbonisation plants could be placed outside urban areas and the gas from them fed into the grid.
I am sure that we could, without a great deal of expense, convert to the use of gas a great deal of the steam-raising apparatus which now uses coal. We might also convert it to the use of oil, for we should get a large supply of oil from the widespread carbonisation projects that I have suggested. At all events, I am confident that a lot of steam-raising apparatus could be converted to gas firing. I think we could also do it—no engineer has suggested otherwise to me—for electricity generation, in that case converting steam boilers to gas firing.
Besides having in my constituency a gas works which is badly sited, I have an electricity power station at Neepsend which is very badly sited. The right hon. Gentleman will hear about it from time to time as complaints come in. If we had a gas grid on the lines I have suggested, we could convert badly sited electricity generating stations to the use of gas turbines, thus cutting out smoke, dirt and grime, and water problems.
When I have raised this matter in the past, I have been told that gas turbines 1485 are not as efficient as steam turbines. That may be true within a power station, but the external disadvantages of the use of steam plant should also be taken into account. Many steam power stations are badly sited from the point of view of the people living in the localities, and I am sure that engineers would not be so keen to defend steam power against the use of gas turbines if they lived near steam power stations. From a social point of view, we should try to eliminate atmospheric pollution and the bad conditions endured by people living where gas works and steam power stations are located.
I have calculated that if this sort of thing were done the National Coal Board would make a considerable profit on the basis of the net profit it made in 1955 from the by-products of carbonisation. There were some losses, but the net profit from those activities for 1955 was £500,000. On the basis of the 1955 costs and prices, I reckon that a net profit of about £5 million could be achieved, and that is not to be sneezed at. This might well provide the National Coal Board with some capital for development instead of its having to borrow money. It might mean that its capital development would be paid for entirely out of current income. A profit of £5 million a year on the side would be very handy.
I am convinced that from a social point of view and an economic point of view investment in a gas grid and large-scale carbonisation is absolutely necessary in view of what would flow from it. We must not treat coal as something in itself. We must treat it as the raw material for all these other activities. I hope that it may be possible to re-enact one of the Acts of Queen Elizabeth I and make the burning of raw coal illegal.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)
I have listened to the debate with a great deal of interest. It has been pleasant and constructive, and many of the speeches, the last by no means least, have been most interesting and have developed the theme of what can be done with coal other than using it to raise steam.
An hon. Member opposite spoke of the bad time which the industry had for thirty years before nationalisation. I have always maintained that there is a great affinity between the coal miner and 1486 the farmer. In that period, we farmers too were suffering as did the miners. I remember that when I was young and we had the coal strikes in the 1920s we lost the best customers we had. The days were gone in the county of Dorset when miners could afford to send butchers to buy the best mutton and lamb that we could get for them. There has always been a close similarity between the two kinds of men. After all, miners live, not in towns, but in villages, and are closely associated with the farming community all the time.
I know that most people in this country are experiencing difficulties because of the shortage of fuel oil. Few people realise how small a part oil plays in the economy of the country. It is from coal that we get our power and from coal that we shall get our power for years to come. It may be fifty or sixty years—my right hon. Friend may be able to tell us—before we begin to feel the first impact of the production of atomic power.
It is therefore up to us to make the best use of the coal that we have and to see that we get as much as possible out of it. I am very pleased that in the last few months, in this crisis, there has been an increase in the amount of deep-mined coal. As a coal consumer coming from a part of the world where we have nothing to do with the production of coal —we do not produce a nob—I should like to offer our grateful thanks to the miners for the extra output.
There is a part of the industry which has not yet been mentioned and about which I want to speak this evening. That is opencast coal. We must look more to opencast in the future than we have done in the past. I know that there is not complete agreement about opencast coal, but I think it is agreed that the quality of opencast and deep-mined coal is the same. A great deal of opencast coal is recovered from old workings which have been given up because they were too shallow, or because their seams were too thin.
The advantage of opencast coal is that 100 per cent. of the coal which is there is recovered. As time goes by, engineers are finding out how to use their machinery to go deeper and so get greater quantities mare quickly. All coal which is near the surface should be made available— 1487 much of it is at present "frozen"—so that the opencast section of the industry can plan ahead and recover all that coal which is near the surface and which the country so badly needs.
§ Mr. G. Darling
I am not disagreeing with the hon. Member, but does he realise that if he preached that view in Lancashire and Yorkshire, the farmers would say that he was being blasphemous?
§ Mr. Crouch
That may be. Last year I had the opportunity of seeing coal recovered by this method in Wales, not in Lancashire, but in Yorkshire, and in Scotland. I know that it makes a horrible mess—[An HON. MEMBER: "Mountains of the moon."]—but, speaking as an agriculturalist, I am sure that the way in which the sites are restored now is a great tribute to the people concerned.
I think that we could get a better system for the ownership of the land involved during the time that it is being worked, a system which would lead to fewer grumbles. I know that there were difficulties in the beginning, but only at the beginning. The engineers did not know what they were doing. They mixed the top soil with the second soil and the subsoil, but that does not happen today. There would be more harmony with the farming community if the Coal Board bought the land, which it normally requisitions and rents, and then, at the end of the period, offered it first to the man from whom it had bought the land.
If the Board did that, we should not hear these complaints about what the Coal Board does with opencast workings. That is the answer, and we shall have to face it. It is very much better than compensation. The farmer would have the capital to go to another holding, if he wished.
I was impressed by the work in Wales, where anthracite was being recovered from an old mine which was too near the surface for deep mining. Several thousand tons of coal were obtained. By that method, the Coal Board could set and achieve a target of 20 million tons a year from opencast, and the country could do with every bit of it. It would bring about an enormous saving. I do not think that it is generally realised that every ton of opencast coal recovered saves 1488 us £8 a ton, so that 10 million tons save us £80 million in dollars. I think some of my mining colleagues on the benches opposite would agree that by opencast methods coal can be recovered which cannot be gained by any other means.
In conclusion, I repeat that this has been a most interesting debate, and I hope that at a result of it the mining industry will continue the progress which it has been making in the last few years.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Grey (Durham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) will forgive me if I do not follow him. I could not help smiling when he began his speech by saying that we had heard some very good and pleasant speeches. He could not have been in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George) was speaking. I am sure that he would have found the whole speech miserable.
§ Mr. Grey
I am glad that the hon. Member had something else to do. It was more profitable than listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Pollok. I understand that the hon. Member for Dorset, North is a farmer and the hon. Member for Pollok is a mining engineer. It is rather odd when a farmer makes a better speech about mining than a mining engineer does. The hon. Member for Pollok is probably now checking his speech and I am sure that he will regret much of what he said.
I think it is generally agreed that there is not an industry in the country which has been the subject of more controversy than the mining industry. I had a shrewd impression—it was mistaken—that we should hear a constructive speech from the hon. Member for Pollok. I had thought that most people in the House were converted to the idea of nationalisation, but how wrong I was!
I am sure that the hon. Member will change his view if he reads this competent and confident document, "British Coal; The Rebirth of an Industry". The hon. Member quoted extracts from it, but could not have studied it. He would have found that this document, which celebrates ten years of nationalisation, shows a continuing progress report of the achievements throughout the years. What 1489 the hon. Member quoted was biassed against the Coal Board and he chose those parts which suited his own ends.
Be that as it may, my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland) made a brief reference to the Fleck Report, to which I also wish to make a slight reference, because this Report has been available so long and yet there has been very little comment about it in this House. I do not want to take the same line as my hon. Friend, but I want to warn this House about the situation that might develop if the full implications of the Fleck Report are carried out. I see a reference in that Report to the appointment of many more administrators, which seems to suggest a kind of super-structure over the existing structure in the industry, which has been doing so well for the past eleven years. Once we start thinking in terms suggesting that if a man does a job well two men could do it better, I think we are embarking on a very wrong principle.
The National Coal Board has done exceedingly well over the years and has not asked for any help at all, and for the Fleck Committee to suggest these appointments of new administrative officers seems to me to be a dangerous thing which would place a burden on the Board and on the mining industry which would have a psychological effect upon the miners, who do not like over-officialdom. I say that with all the emphasis I can, because I feel that what would happen, no matter whether we start from the top or the bottom, is that it would go all the way through the industry. If we appoint these administrative officers, they will start with salaries of £1,300 or £1,500 a year, and they must have offices, staff and equipment, and so it goes on. To do that now, or indeed at any time, would be to create a system of officialdom which will not go down well in the industry.
The miner himself is already well aware of many officials, such as health officers, dust suppression officers, safety officers and all the rest, and he knows what they are doing, but to have some administrative officer in order to have some complete filing system is of no use at all to him, and he would not produce one ounce of coal more on that account. I make that criticism, and I hope that those in 1490 authority will watch this trend towards over-officialdom and curb it if it shows signs of getting out of hand.
It has been mentioned in the debate that since 1946 there has been an increase of 30 million, tons of coal. Judging from what was said by one of my hon. Friends earlier in the debate, and taking the period from the beginning of nationalisation, I think that that is really a very good achievement. I will say no more about that, because we are debating the 1955 Report, and I want to compliment the Minister on the statement he made and also my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) on his speech. I want to point out, however, that in debating what has happened in years gone by we cannot divorce one year from any other but must take the period as a whole. I do not think this increase of 30 million tons is to be sneered at, but, as a matter of fact, credit should go to the miners and the National Coal Board.
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) asked why it was that the figure of production had remained static since 1951, and I will give my explanation. When the hon. Member for Esher talked about Mr. Attlee, as he then was, sending out a letter which had a great effect on the mining industry, I want to say that I do not accept that for a moment, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, when he looks at his speech tomorrow, will regret that he ever said it. I think there may be a possible explanation—
§ Mr. Robens
With great respect to my hon. Friend, I think his castigation of the right hon. Gentleman is a little unfair. I was at the Ministry of Fuel and Power at that time, and there is no doubt that the personal appeal which Mr. Attlee as Prime Minister at the time made had a remarkable effect in getting these extra millions of tons Of coal in that year. The miners did respond to that personal appeal, and I think some credit must go to the personal relations of Mr. Attlee with the men in the industry.
§ Mr. Maudling
I think the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) was to point out that the Attlee appeal did produce results and not to criticise it.
§ Mr. Grey
That may be. I apologise for having misunderstood the hon. Member, but there may be another contributory factor to that increased production of coal. I think that it was a wrong calculation which was made in 1946 and 1947. I remember that, in February or March of 1947, I made some kind of prophecy and said that if the National Coal Board were allowed to go forward we could solve the coal problem by 1950, according to the estimates then made and the calculations reached.
It was estimated in 1946 and 1947 that our coal problem would be solved by 4950, for then the miners would be producing 216.33 million tons of coal a year. Even in 1950 the National Coal Board itself thought that the maximum inland demand for coal in 1965 would not exceed 215 million tons, but 1956 figures have shown that the consumption was then 218 million tons, which is 3 million tons beyond what was estimated to be our requirements in 1965.
Of course, no one could deny that wrong calculations of this kind could have a very great effect on the industry, and I think that one of the reasons that could be given, or one of the excuses that could be made, for the figures of coal production remaining static is that our calculations were entirely wrong about ten years ago, and, because they were wrong, we carried on thinking that everything was going on all right. I believe that to be one of the reasons why coal production has remained static since 1951. Since then, there has been a series of crises, and no one can deny the immense harm which these wrong estimates have caused.
There is a further point in the Report itself on the question of prices. We understand that there was this loss on imported coal in 1955 of £27.5 million. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street mentioned the fact that the National Coal Board was carrying the burden. No one knows why it should have to do so.
What I object to is that party politics should play a game with the price of coal. In 1955 there were two factors which 1492 affected this matter. The first was the Budget and the second was the delay in increasing the price of coal. The Government were warned about it. They know that there had to be an increase because, as was stated in the 1955 Annual Report, in paragraph 59:The increases in inland coal prices which the Board introduced in the first half of 1954 were not enough to meet the additional expenditure incurred during that year. By the end of the year, the Board's accumulated deficit had increased to £17.4 million and it soon became clear that a further substantial increase in coal prices was necessary.That statement was made in 1954 and the increase in price was made in July, 1955. Hence the reason for the loss of £27.5 million on imported coal. I agree that there was a recoupment of more than half of that due to the increase in the price, nevertheless, it was a shocking piece of work on the part of the Government of the day, and I do not think that they will do it again, for the obvious reason that there will be an Election before very long.
Much has been said about reconstruction, and the hon. Member for Pollok made a point about the sinking of shafts. I do not know why he is in the House. We have been struggling for years to solve this problem in the mining industry, and we have the answer in the hon. Gentleman. He said that it takes nine or ten years to sink a shaft or to bring a pit into commission and produce coal—and that it can be done in half the time. The hon. Member said he was vain. That may be the answer. As a mining engineer he showed great ignorance of the subject, and I am sure that what the people will read in the Press tomorrow will make him regret that he ever said it. The work that is being done is a tribute to the National Coal Board, especially when we remember that our coal is still the cheapest in Europe. That point is worth mentioning, because people are grumbling about coal prices.
My next point is one in regard to which I shall probably be in conflict with some of my hon. Friends. The test that is always applied to the industry is the test of production. It is said that if a pit is producing a high output of coal the men there are happy, and that if the pit is doing badly all the miners are miserable. The only thing that would make miners miserable in those circumstances would 1493 be that the pit might be doing so badly that it would have to close down, and they would then be out of a job. It is not right to think that if miners are producing more they are necessarily happy.
I am sure that all hon. Members are gratified at the amount of work that has been done in connection with safety and health. That is the real test which should be applied. We should not say that if a man produces so many tons per day or per week he is all right; we should be concerned with the question whether he is happy and healthy at the end of that time. If he is happy, healthy and is producing plenty of coal, he is the complete miner. The money spent in safety and health is very important, because those are matters of vital interest. We are proud to think that last year the accident rate in the mines was the lowest on record. Tribute must be paid to all the people concerned for this achievement.
The miners are not worrying about the future. They know that we have a bad Government, but that knowledge does not give them any sense of fear. They feel that within the industry itself they have security, and they know that that security is due to the fact that in 1945 there was such a good Government, which brought the industry under public ownership.
I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street is here because I want to mention a factory in his constituency. He is concerned about this factory because it employs many people from the surrounding area and it faces a complete shut-down within the next few weeks.
§ Mr. Pentland
The factory is not going to have a complete shut-down. There will be a redundancy of about 450 people.
§ Mr. Grey
I thank my hon. Friend for correcting me. There will be a partial shut-down—but there is the fear that the factory will come under care and maintenance in due course if the Government do not take some action. We are approaching the Minister of Supply on the matter, but we do not know what the answer will be, and whether it will be possible to keep the factory going.
I mention this because I want to bring in the National Coal Board. If the Minister gives us a negative reply the 1494 Board will find there a very good factory, which would need very little retooling to enable the Board to engage in some form of mining machinery repairs, and so forth. That would make it a subsidiary of the mining industry in the area. I hope that the Board will have regard to this possibility.
The National Coal Board, the miners, and everybody employed in the industry have nothing to be ashamed of for what they have done during the past years. They have been the victims of comedians on the stage and have been subjected to criticisms from hon. Members opposite. All kinds of things have been said about them, but they have done their job, and no one can deny that the job they have to do is a hard one. In 1946 the industry had nobody; it simply had a skeleton upon which a body had to be put. We can now proudly say that in these few years of nationalisation everybody in the industry has done well, and they all deserve the praise of the House and the country.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I apologise to the House for the fact that circumstances have made it impossible for me to be present in the Chamber during the whole of the debate.
The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) said that no one should, sneer at the achievements of the coal mining industry, and that is a statement with which I think we would all agree. It would be a foolish person who sneered at the past achievements of an industry which has meant so much to this country over the past hundred years and which can mean so much in the future.
The hon. Member for Durham made some understandable remarks about nationalisation but I submit that that is not an issue regarding this industry. The coal mining industry is nationalised, and I do not think that there is any possibility of it being changed either in form or ownership in the foreseeable future, if at all. That does not prohibit us from examining all forms of nationalised ownership with a view to improving them, and I feel that the hon. Member for Durham would be the first to agree that the industries and services which are now nationalised reflect many different forms of nationalised ownership. 1495 Few of us would be bold enough to assert that any one form is ideal or that we have yet achieved an ideal form of nationalised ownership in any particular industry.
A number of hon. Members on this side of the House no longer hold the view —if they ever did—that a publicly owned industry cannot be efficient. Similarly, there are hon. Members opposite who do not think that the mere fact of nationalised ownership would bring about the Golden Age or a magic world in which all problems are solved. We have reached a state of mind somewhere between those two extremes, and in all sections of our industries, whether nationalised or privately owned, we seek the most efficient organisation which our ingenuity and knowledge can devise.
I support what has been said by my hon. Friend for Pollok (Mr. George) about the possibility of this country learning from Russia and America and other countries. As they deal with different geological and other conditions, it is possible that they may possess knowledge useful to us; and that we, on the other hand, may possess particular knowledge which is useful to those countries.
In page 41 of the Report mention is made of pensions. I am not suggesting that the reference is cursory, but I hope that greater attention will be given to this matter in the future. It is not mentioned at all in the index and I should have thought that such an important feature of the Report should have been so mentioned. I realise that it is not easy to provide a satisfactory pension scheme immediately or even over a period of time, and I appreciate that this matter is not within the purview of my hon. and learned Friend's Department. But I hope that he will use his influence to persuade the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to examine the question of disregards. It is of little use a person having a modest pension if he finds that part of it is not disregarded when the provision of extra benefits is considered.
I wish to refer particularly to that part of the Report dealing with exports and imports and its relation to conditions in my own constituency. It is stated in paragraph 55 that the final figure of coal cargo exports in 1955 was 11.7 million tons compared with 13.6 million tons in 1954. 1496 We all know the reason, and I make no political or other kind of point about that figure. It is a fact which we must face, and we regret it.
The effect on the coal ports of South Wales, which were developed peculiarly and particularly for the export of coal, has been serious. In paragraph 56 of the Report it is stated:In the latter months of 1954, coal imports were averaging about 500,000 tons a month … To maintain such a high rate of imports over this period was a task without precedent and it was only accomplished by the exercise of considerable ingenuityI do not doubt it, but I hope that the Coal Board, which is responsible for imports and exports, will consider it right and proper to give every possible facility for the importation of coal to those South Wales ports which, traditionally, have borne the burden of exporting coal.
I do not know how true it is, but in South Wales it is alleged, particularly by persons with extreme nationalistic views, that a great deal of coal exported from the South Wales area into the Midlands is compensated by exports from the Midlands to the North-East, which is used to maintain a high level of exports in the North-East ports; certainly coal exports from the South Wales ports have fallen abysmally and seriously. That is what is alleged, and I hope that it is not true. But there exists a doubt about it in my mind and in the minds of many people. I feel that if coal is available for export, the reasonable needs of the South Wales ports—which have proved so valuable to this country in peace time and particularly in two world wars—should be borne in mind by the Government, and by the Coal Board.
I hope that more especially the ports of Cardiff and Barry, which have not managed to build up alternative general cargoes to take the place of coal, will be considered when coal is imported from abroad. I appreciate that this matter is outside the general trend of the debate, but I consider it right that I should mention it. It is a subject of tremendous concern to the South Wales ports and to the thousands of people employed there.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
The debate has been characterised by a number of matters. One, particularly, is the absence of Members on 1497 the Government back benches throughout the whole debate. I realise that a Government supporter need only glance at the Report, pick out one or two things, come in, and be called to make a speech on it.
§ Miss Herbison
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to look at his own benches and then at the number on this side who are still keen on making a contribution to the debate.
When the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George) rose to speak I turned to one or two of my hon. Friends and said that I expected an interesting and constructive speech, but we got quite a different type of speech from what we expected. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who was the opening speaker for the Opposition today, stressed the need for better housing in mining villages. Mining villages in Scotland are very different from what the hon. Member for Pollok said they were. Their housing conditions have always been far worse than those of English mining villages. I travel about in England, Scotland and Wales, and I am always particularly interested in the amenities and facilities provided for the families in mining villages. I know that Scottish housing conditions have, for many years, been six times worse than those of England, and that our mining villages have suffered for a very long time, as have our Scottish towns.
Only last Sunday morning, a knock came at my door. A young miner's wife told me that her National Coal Board house, a heritage from the old days of the private coal owners, had water pouring in, and that she had had to use three pails to collect the water. That is not an isolated example in Scottish mining villages. In another village, Harthill, there are four rows where miners and families are living, in the kind of house which the old coal owners thought were good enough for miners and their families. Those houses are still inhabited by miners. I say clearly that if the health authorities were asked to pass them as places in which to house animals they would say that it was impossible to do that.
§ Mr. George rose—
§ Miss Herbison
I cannot give way at the moment to the hon. Gentleman because many of my hon. Friends are waiting to speak, and the hon. Gentleman has not been in his seat for a long time. I invite him to come to see some of the places which I have mentioned.
I turn to another matter about which a lot has been said, the better use of coal. Sufficient has been said by my hon. Friends and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth to show the really shocking wastage in the use of coal. I will deal with the matter from three points of view, the first of which is the economy of the nation.
When we are so short of dollars and of currency from hard currency areas we ought to ensure that no coal is imported from those areas to take the place of coal that is wantonly abused in this country. It is quite definitely proved that our economy is being put into difficulty because of our need to import coal. If we were to insist upon measures for the saving of coal they would be a help to the whole economy, since the social standards of our people depend upon the economical use of our resources.
The second point is that wastage of coal affects the health of our people. Much has been said about lung cancer and how it is found more often in industrial areas. Greater saving of coal would give much less chance of industrial areas being polluted by smoke owing to the bad way in which coal is used. It is of the greatest importance to health that we should use coal in a much better way than we do.
The third reason, about which I feel more strongly than about the other two, although they are important, is the price of coal, which is very dear indeed. I do not mean the price paid by the consumer but the price paid by the miners and their families. Only last Friday morning when I got home a friend came to me and said, "Have you heard about Andrew?" He was a young man who sometimes drove my car in the constituency. He was 29 years of age. He was killed by a fall of stone in the coal pit the previous night. That sort of thing is continually happening in mining villages. It seems to me that that is a very high price to pay for this commodity. 1499 Since the nation so 'badly needs this commodity, those of us who have any power to do anything in the matter ought to ensure that when the price is so high the commodity is used to much greater advantage than at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) gave what sometimes is considered a conservative estimate, that 12 million tons of coal could be saved by industry alone per year if that coal were used in the proper way. The hon. Member for Pollok said that he was a member of the association known as which he thought did very good work. I also think it does very good work, but the hon. Member said that industrialists in Scotland were a little slow in taking advice from that organisation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth suggested certain penalties in this matter, and I would back those penalties up to the hilt. The hon. Member for Pollok said, "Let it take its course", or words to that effect, saying that it was better to do that rather than to use a hammer to hit over the head those who were responsible. I would rather use a hammer to hit over the head those industrialists who are wasting coal than allow this shccking waste of coal which costs the people in whom I am most interested so dear.
If the Parliamentary Secretary cannot give a definite reply on this matter tonight, I ask that he and his right hon. Friend who opened the debate should see whether very soon they can introduce legislation to ensure, first, that no industrialist will, after a certain time, be allowed to use any coal badly and, secondly, to ensure that coal used in homes and in other ways is so used that the very best can be got out of it and with the least possible misuse.
Great play has been made about the natural replacement of the 4 million tons which has to be replaced each year before we can begin to increase output. The hon. Member of Pollok pooh-poohed what the National Coal Board had done. He seemed to think that the old coal owners had done far greater wonders; that they took this problem in their stride and found it no trouble at all. My area is suffering as a result of those same old coal owners.
§ Miss Herbison
I will give some examples. How easy it is to extract from seams which are easy to get at once the shaft has been sunk. It is easy to do that and easy to replace if one goes jumping about to good seams, leaving the difficult seams completely waterlogged. In Lanarkshire we find that millions of tons of coal may never be saved for the nation as a result of the type of work, the easy replacement which the hon. Member for Pollok was so proud to talk about in this debate.
§ Mr. George
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. She has spoken about coal being waterlogged in Lanarkshire, but the coal is waterlogged because of the tremendously heavy burden of water in that area. I said that extraction and replacement are one mining operation. That was always so and always will be.
§ Miss Herbison
On the first point, I do not accept at all what the hon. Member has been saying. Almost every mining expert in Scotland would back up what I have said about this misuse of the coal reserves in Lanarkshire as a result of this get-rich-quick attitude of the old coal owners.
I want to turn to another point. I refer to the continual repetition of hon. Members like the hon. Member for Pollok and other people about the lack of authority of the managers in the pits today. I challenge the hon. Member for Pollok to give proof that the managers at the collieries today have less authority, less power, than they had under the old coal owners. My information—it is from a very good source and indeed from a number of sources—proves the very opposite to be the case.
I can well remember, again under private enterprise, that the manager of a pit had very little authority indeed. Coming from a miner's home and knowing of all the discussions that took place when disputes arose in the pits, I know that time and time again the manager, who might have been able to settle a dispute in those old days, had to refer even the simplest issue to the man who was then called the agent. That does not obtain today.
A further point that I want to make, because I think that it needs someone from Scotland to take up the points that 1501 were made, concerns the indictment made by the hon. Member for Pollok against the miners and not only against the miners but against every British worker, reflecting very clearly his Tory philosophy. The Tory philosophy has always been a philosophy of selfishness. The Tories believe that it is quite right to grab everything one can for oneself and let the devil take the hindmost. That was reflected very clearly in the speech of the lion. Member for Pollok.
§ Mr. George rose—
§ Miss Herbison
I cannot give way. These are really all matters of opinion and philosophy, so there would not be much use in the hon. Member intervening.
I would say, again living among these people, that I repudiate completely what the hon. Member has said. He said that it was the guile of the worker, perhaps the laziness of the worker and the skill of the manager—
§ Mr. George rose—
§ Mr. George
I gave way many times. The hon. Lady misquoted me by putting words in my mouth that I never said.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
If the hon. Lady does not give way the hon. Gentleman cannot intervene.
§ Miss Herbison
I advise the hon. Member for Pollok to read his speech in HANSARD, and he will find that there has been no misquoting of his speech. He said that the men who worked for him did as little as they could. It is completely wrong to suggest that. In other words, he suggested that the only way in which the coal industry had been able to make profits was by the great skill of the managers and that it did so in spite of the laziness of the workers.
§ Mr. George rose—
§ Miss Herbison
I want to turn to the education plan of the National Coal Board. The National Coal Board has 1502 had running for a considerable time what I consider to be one of the finest educational plans of any industry in this country. It gives to the young men entering the industry who is keen, willing to work, and has the ability, the chance of getting right to the top of the industry. What a different spectacle that presents from the days of the old coal owners.
I would say to every young man in the mining industry today, "If you have the ability, then use it and take the chances which this educational plan is offering to you". I sometimes feel that not sufficient numbers of our young men in this industry are taking the chances which are available. The need for the young men to take the opportunity which the National Coal Board has placed in their way cannot be over-stressed.
I wish also to refer to the question of carbonisation. We also have the problem of making the fullest use of the coal that is won, and I feel that in respect of carbonisation the National Coal Board has not done everything that might be done. I am not criticising the Board; it had very many problems to tackle when it took over the industry and it could not tackle them all at once, but I feel that the time has come when it might devote more of its thought to the problem of carbonisation.
From the inquiries which I have made, I have learned that it is being found more possible today to carbonise even what one might call the not-so-good seams of coal. That affects my constituency to a great extent. If much greater use were made of carbonisation it might be that many seams in my constituency could be worked. I therefore ask for this problem to be considered not only from the point of view of saving coal but also from the point of view of my constituency.
I find that £1 million is being spent on the suppression of dust, and again I compliment the National Coal Board on everything that it is doing about dust suppression. My constituency has the highest incidence of pneumoconiosis in any part of Scotland. I know what this problem means for old miners and some not so old, and everything which can possibly be done to suppress dust ought to be done. I feel that the National Coal Board is doing a very good job in that respect.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Will Owen (Morpeth)
These are the concluding minutes of a vital debate. During the evening we have had commendation from hon. Members opposite of the decision taken by Members of my party ten years ago to embark on the public ownership of the mining industry. We have had the opportunity today of the close examination of the progress report for the year 1955 and the financial statement of the industry. This, to my mind, is a unique feature in the set-up of British democracy. There is nothing in private enterprise which is comparable with the occasion which we have witnessed here this day when a major and vital industry has submitted for public examination the records of its endeavours during the preceding twelve months, an indication of its proposals for future development and a financial statement of its profit and loss accounts. How desirable such a practice would be if applied to general private enterprise industry.
I feel an especial pride on this, the second occasion on which I have had the pleasure of being present at the assessment of the annual reports of the publicly-owned mining industry. Out of the past come memories of those members of the mining community who, many years ago, set out to record and plan the theoretical conception of the development of this practice, as expressed in a pamphlet well known to many of my South Wales colleagues. "The Miner's Next Step".
Many of them today are sharing with pride the realisation that public ownership in this case meets with no opposition, with the singular exception of the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George). I regard that as an overwhelming confirmation of the wisdom of the decision taken, and the success of the endeavours made. Today we are celebrating a success story, the story of ten years of public ownership of this vital industry, and I hope that the evidence now available in its true value will be regarded by the whole of the country as justification for the work of the Labour Party over preceding years.
I move from the past to the present to look at the record now before us. Not only is it expressed in terms of efficiency of management, not only is it 1504 observed in terms of developing effectiveness in production, but it also—and this to me is important—recognises the human relations in the industry, and accords to the mineworker the real place in the scheme of things that he has sought for many years. I bring to mind the pathetic appeal made in the days between the wars for recognition of the basic requirements of the mineworker, basic not only in monetary terms, but in terms of industrial safety, of health services, and a recognition of his potential contribution to the industry as a whole.
We have arrived now, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, looking at this progress report, will find in it not only a record of achievement but same indication of the road that still lies ahead.
In the early days, I spent some years working with the National Coal Board on the human side of the industry in an endeavour to seek the further development of what had been the wisdom of the pre-public ownership days as expressed in the welfare services. I refer to the urgent need for giving consideration to the social amenities of the mining community. The miners live in communities. There is an expression of camaraderie, friendship and partnership among them which is not found in any other sector of the community, but they have lived for generations in isolation.
Thanks to the miners' organisation in the days gone by they were able to build their miners' hall, within which has emerged the expression of a community spirit ennobled in the song, sports and music of our land. During the past ten years of public ownership that has been encouraged and developed. Our mining communities have their playing fields, our mining youth has its clubs and our miners their institutes. They have their educational services and their cultural amenities and they accept them in the fullness of opportunity. That section of the Report is worthy of the earnest consideration of every hon. Member, because it does what we have all sought to do throughout the years of social progress: it lifts the standard of life in order that its fullness may be expressed.
Within the pit itself, we have seen tremendous changes in the sphere of safety. The provision of measures that help to reduce the blood on coal are 1505 factors not to be measured in terms of a balance sheet and can find adequate expression only in the homes of the mining community. My hon. Friend who spoke of the tragedy of the knock on the door only re-stated the common feature of the mining community of the constant and mute plea that everything possible shall be done to ease the tragedy of winning coal, to reduce the accident list and to make the fear of the colliery explosion a feature of the past. Here, again, a monument of progress is indicated in the evidence now before us.
In the records of the National Coal Board now before us, we have a report worthy of the commendation of the House. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister will be looking into the developments of the industry in the years ahead and will see the tremendous possibility of harnessing the development of the educational plan with that of the humanitarian services in the industry. We need more technicians and scientists and we need also better labour relations, which can be secured only by recognising the service of the mine worker in the mining industry.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
It is my privilege tonight on behalf of the Opposition to close the coal debate relating to the 1955 Report and Accounts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) covered a large amount of the ground in relation to the present position and the future of this great coal mining industry in a well delivered speech. The Minister today made his first speech on this important basic industry, and I think he kept a fair balance between the men, the management and the National Coal Board. I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the announcement he made regarding miners' pensions, but I would point out to him that there are some 30,000 old men who will have the increase in pension when they receive it taken from them by the National Assistance Board because the disregards in National Assistance have not been increased since 1948.
The Minister also made a passing reference to the new European Free Trade Area. Whilst I recognise that agreement has not yet been arrived at in that matter, the right hon. Gentleman 1506 must appreciate in these economic negotiations with the Common Market and the Free Trade Area that the loss of double pricing would entail a large drop in revenue to the industry. If we lose that and still import coal we shall face a very big loss.
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) also made a good contribution to the debate. I gathered from the speech of the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George) that he had not much use for the miners.
§ Mr. Blyton
The hon. Member reminded me of the pre-war managers in many pits who thought that the best way to drive the miner was to use the economic whip. I closed my eyes while he was speaking and I imagined that I was back in the coal trade in Newcastle before the last war when we used to look up and down the street, take off our coats, meet the coal owners and forget that we were gentlemen. The hon. Gentleman's attitude was that of a real pre-war managing director, the sort of man who caused so much bitterness in the industry. He said that the miners would not work or would do as little as possible. I do not know how he can say that when he knows that the men in the pits worked on piece rates and that if they did not earn the minimum wage they had a terrible fight with the coal owners to get it.
I am given to understand that the hon. Gentleman was managing director of New Cumnock up to 1946, and that he refused to stay in the pits after nationalisation. I am wondering why he did not stay in the pits and give the industry the benefit of his advice and expert knowledge. Perhaps it was because he detested the nationalisation of the mines that he did not. Having listened to his speech today, I am pleased that he did not stay, because his opinion of the men would not have created better human relations under nationalisation.
§ Mr. George
What I said regarding the miner was that in fixing the rate it was the guile of the miner against the skill of the manager, and well the hon. Gentleman knows that it be true.
§ Mr. Blyton
I am not going to argue with the hon. Gentleman. He can read his speech in HANSARD tomorrow. If 1507 anyone ever ran down the miners in this House it was certainly the hon. Member for Pollok today.
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams) referred to the Hungarian miners. As the miners' conference meets tomorrow and the national leaders are recommending, under the 1947 agreement, that the Hungarians should be accepted, I think that tonight the least said the soonest mended. I can only wish the leaders of my union success tomorrow when they meet in London the delegates from all the coalfields.
I have been a Member of the House for twelve years, but I have never known a debate on the coal industry when the Government back benchers have shown as little interest as they have shown today. Where have all the critics gone? Year in and year out we have heard speeches from Tory back benchers for ever sniping at the National Coal Board. In the course of my speech, I propose to deal with many of the questions that have been raised.
Today, we have been dealing with the situation in the coal mining industry and bringing under review the National Coal Board and its activities in relation to the economy of the country and the welfare of those who are employed in the industry. I want to make it quite clear at the outset that whatever criticism I make is intended to help, because I know that the position is far better for all of my folks now than it was in the past when the pits were privately owned. Those of us who had to earn our living in the days of private ownership and had to negotiate wages and conditions know the tremendous difference between the old and the new. We are also cognisant that the aims, the approach and the content of the nationalised coal industry are entirely different from what they were in the days of private ownership.
There will always be problems in this difficult industry, but it is heartening to think that today the problems we face are, in the main, problems of growth and not of decline. We have set our targets for the future ten years of capital expenditure on development and output, and I think that the plan is a bold and imaginative venture that only nationali- 1508 sation could have made possible. Investment on this scale would have been only a dream twenty years ago. Those of us who have fought all our lives for the nationalisation of the industry should do all we can to make the revised plan and the development programme a huge success.
One of our problems is that this huge development programme has to be tackled at a time when we have to use every effort to improve production to meet rises in consumption. Therefore, we face the future without any fear of over-production or the possibility of any redundancy. The real prosperity of the country is bound up with greater productivity, giving people security as well. To that end, it is Britain's major task to build our mining industry into the most efficient and productive industry in the country. If a policy of full employment is to be the ambition of all of us, it can be sustained only by high production and efficiency, and if we want to maintain our position as a great nation our greatness must lie in our coal resources.
It is in the light of these principles that I have examined the 1955 Report and Accounts of the Board. It was known that prices had to rise at the end of 1954. The Government knew it as well. The Report stated on page 16:By the end of the year, the Board's accumulated deficit had increased to £17.4 million and it soon became clear that a further substantial increase in coal prices was necessary.The Report says that at the end of 1954 it was necessary that price increases should take place.
There is no doubt that in 1955 the Tories played politics with the National Coal Board. The two years since nationalisation came into operation when the Board lost most money were 1947 and 1955. Why 1955? It was mainly because of the loss on imported coal, and for no other reason. The year 1955 has most certainly given us food for thought. The cost of imported coal far exceeded the selling price of comparable British coal, and the total loss on that item that year was £27,637,712. In 1954 it was just over £5 million, and last year the overall loss was £17¼ million.
In July, 1955, there was a general increase in price, and this was partly intended to recoup the loss on imported 1509 coal. As against the huge figure of £27 million lost on imported coal, just over £14 million was recouped by the increase in prices in July, 1955. Thus, £13½ million of the loss was not recovered at all, and the Board is left to carry forward on its account this huge figure which will some day have to be met by the industry.
This places an intolerable burden on the industry, which is engaged upon major reconstruction with resultant high capital development charges. We must protest against the practice of making the Board responsible for meeting the cost of subsidising imported coal. I know I shall be told that it was the Labour Government which established the principle, and that is true, but the amount never reached the proportions reflected in the 1955 accounts. Also, if we made a mistake, that is no reason why it should be continued.
Another factor which contributed to the loss was that the powers of the Board are limited by the necessity to obtain the Government's consent on prices from time to time. This was largely responsible for some of the Board's financial difficulties. Also, a national wages structure was accepted in 1955, and the new wages became operative from 4th April, 1955, at a cost of £14 million per annum. Everyone knew that the great alteration in the wages structure would result in an increase in the price of coal. Therefore, we had unprecedented imports and a new wages structure in the early months of 1955 which should have been met by price increases. It was common knowledge to us in these negotiations that the Government knew all about that.
The reason the increased prices were not granted in the early part of 1955 was that the Government had decided to have an election in May, 1955. They did not want to fight an election and at the same time have an increase in the price of coal at the face. It was in those circumstances that the Board had to carry on its finances—the increased cost of the wages structure and the loss on imported coal to July, 1955, when the election was over. The losses on imported coal from January to July, 1955, and the cost in the wages structure from April to July, 1955, were losses which the National Coal Board should never have had to bear.
1510 In my years in the pits when we were agitating for nationalisation our critics, especially the coal owners, used to say that the mines were bedevilled by politics, but the 1955 accounts of the National Coal Board were bedevilled by Tory politics because the Government were having an election. It should be put on record that the Board sought an increase early in 1955 but was not allowed it because of the impending election in May. There is no doubt, in the light of this experience, that we have reached the stage when the National Coal Board cannot again be left in the position in which it was left in 1955.
Powers should be given to put the National Coal Board in a position to charge economic prices and to meet its expenditure from an appropriate revenue. The price of coal ought to be determined by the public corporation responsible for running the industry and should be absolutely free from any political or Government fetters. Why should the mining industry have to bear the loss on imported coal? No other industry is called upon to accept such a responsibility.
If the National Coal Board acted in a purely commercial manner, ignoring its public responsibilities, it could export millions of tons of coal at prices well in excess of those at which it sells coal at home. If it did, British industry would go short and full employment would be wrecked. If British steel firms cannot meet our requirements, the consumer has to provide for himself by foreign purchases. The National Coal Board is having to do that to get the steel it needs. It is estimated by the Board that in 1957 about 30,000 tons of steel will be purchased abroad at a cost £750,000 more than the home price.
The steel firms do not carry any loss like this on their imported steel. With coal, the situation is different. I agree that full employment could not have been maintained without the imports we have had to have to keep the wheels of industry going, but it was the Government's job to see that the National Coal Board was insured against these losses and not left with this huge deficit. To the critics of the National Coal Board, I suggest that when the financial results are being discussed these responsibilities should be fully and fairly taken into account. They should recognise the great contribution 1511 which the industry has made and is still making to national prosperity and full employment.
There is another matter about price policy which I should like to ventilate. Last year, as a result of great agitation by private interests in the Press, nationalised industries faced a barrage of criticism about their prices. The result was that the National Coal Board said it would not increase its prices unless something exceptional happened during the next twelve months; that is to June of this year. The Board made it clear that the increases in the prices of coal on 1st June, 1956, were intended to cover the costs in 1956–57 and to recover part of the accumulated deficit.
The miners at that time said quite plainly that if this meant a restriction of their just demands they would oppose that policy. They made it quite plain to the Board that if, as a Government agency, having agreed with the Government to maintain that price of coal for this period, they would not restrict their claims because of the result of this policy. The argument for this standstill on the nationalised boards was that it would restrict prices and keep down the cost of commodities.
Let us look at steel. The steel industry made a huge profit last year but put up steel prices by 6 per cent. in January of this year. What has private enterprise, which shouted so hard last year, done in this respect? Nothing. The gesture made by the National Coal Board was not followed by the big industrialists in private industry, who have done nothing that I can find to restrict the prices of their commodities, and steel is a classic example.
Do these industrialists then expect to get coal at an uneconomic price because of the National Coal Board's subservience to Government policy and increase their profits? If they do, it will be prevented. When we laid down the basis of nationalisation, we said that it was not the aim to make a profit but that the Board should pay its way over the good and bad years, which would have meant that it would always be in debt and always be paying interest if that had been allowed to continue.
1512 Therefore, we were glad of the new policy of the Board in accumulating reserves in order to get out of the position of having to borrow all the money for all the new developments, and this ought to rid them of the need to pay as much interest as they otherwise would do. Again, the miners' union has never been in the position in wages negotiations to be able to go back to the men and argue about profits, claiming a share, because the Board has never accumulated any reserves. What has happened in wages negotiations is that, when we have obtained concessions, the Board and the Government have had to find the money to pay for what has been conceded.
The budget of the National Coal Board is fixed from year to year, and the Board has to count the probable cost, and coal prices are then fixed to cover the cost. That is why—and I shall be quite frank with the House—the miners are not affected at all by the balance sheet, nor will they recognise it is an argument against their case for better wages and conditions, and that attitude is made all the stronger today by the burdens which the Government are imposing upon this industry.
The Board has to find nearly £26 million a year from borrowings, and this amount is going to go up to £30 million. We are sometimes told that the Government bought this industry, but that is a fallacy. They loaned the money to the Board and are charging the normal bank rate on it, and will do so for as long as I can see ahead. The interest on this sum means to those working in the industry and the consumer 2s. 4d. on every ton of coal that is sold in the market, so that I would remind the public when looking at the prices of coal to remember that this money goes to a non-productive, money-lending source, and that that fact should be remembered when criticising the industry.
Against that position in England, where the prices of coal are cheaper than on the Continent, the coal trade on the Continent is subsidised by Governments. We have agreed that the £1,000 million capital expenditure shall be found mostly by the industry itself, but I think it is wrong for private employers to suggest that prices in the industry should be fixed when their own prices are ruled by the markets, and when they know that the Board's prices are 1513 fixed on the assumption of next year's costs. There is deep concern in my union about the price policy being pursued by the Government in relation to the Coal Board, It now says that in future the Board shall determine the price free from control by Government Departments or political interference. They are asking only that the National Coal Board shall be given the same freedom to run the industry as that which big commercial undertakings enjoy.
I now turn to the Fleck Committee's Report. In December, 1953, the National Coal Board asked a Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Fleck of the I.C.I. combine to look into its organisation. Why it did so, I do not know. The Report was published in January, 1955, and suggested great changes in the structure of the industry. It said that the suggested changes rested not solely with the Board but also with the management and the men, and it emphasised that the changes also depended upon the guidance and leadership of the trade unions.
In spite of that, Parliament has never had a chance to debate the great change in the organisation of this basic industry, although the House passed the instrument of nationalisation. We never debated it last year, and no opportunity has arisen since the Report was issued in 1955 to express our views upon it. That is why I raise the matter tonight.
I do not know why the Fleck Committee recommended the appointment of more people in the chain of command to assist others who had never asked for assistance, or required it. As the Committee was set up by the National Coal Board, it had no alternative but to implement the Committee's recommendations. It is doubtful whether any recommendations have ever been implemented with so much heart-searching as were these. When the men see these appointments being made in the districts they wonder why the new men are coming there and are staggered by the wages and salaries paid to them for doing what the miners regard as unnecessary jobs.
It would be a bold man who considered that in a large enterprise such as the coal industry questions of organisation were unimportant, or that management problems could be solved by waving a fairy wand. Alternatively, he would be a very short-sighted man who thought 1514 that by increasing the administrative personnel and imposing an extra superstructure above the sensible structure in the industry he was making progress. It seems that we are getting two men to do the job which one did before. Nearly every new appointment, especially of those in the £2,000 a year class, means additional office staff and equipment, because men of that rank do not get on with the job without staff.
I have no doubt that the Fleck Committee came to those conclusions which it thought best for the industry. I make no criticism on that point, but again I must point out that the coal industry has no right to fix prices without Government sanction. It is not right to refer to the administration of private industry which can fix its own prices and keep them in balance and which can keep administrators on the pay-roll in a way not permitted in a nationalised industry.
I recognise that the administration of such an industry as this is not easy, and we have no past experience from which to benefit. But, in the matter of organisation, there exists a challenge which I do not think can be met by private industrial standards or by recommending more people to do administrative work. There is no evidence that the standard of organisation has been improved, and certainly we have not obtained more coal. These recommendations have been in operation for over a year, and the time has come when they should be assessed.
It is difficult to know what has been the growth of the administration since the publication of the Fleck Report. In the opinion of many of the miners' leaders, a number of the appointments made are unnecessary; none of the changes will produce an extra ton of coal a day, and many of the staff are paid salaries out of all proportion to the work they perform. This point of view is not healthy, and certainly not conducive to creating harmony in the industry. I should like to see a committee appointed to examine the situation. Sufficient time has now elapsed to judge the merits of these matters. The recommendations were accepted in good faith and no harm would follow an assessment of their value.
I should like some information about the additional staff and the cost; the production results and administrative efficiency, as well as the effect of the new 1515 appointments in relation to the dividing up of the work, and a comparison with the old administrative structure. We are opposed to personnel officers in the colliery districts, and we must make clear to the Board and to the Government that the men at the collieries must have direct access to the manager regarding such matters as pit disputes. We cannot agree that personnel officers should be a barrier between the manager and the men. We consider that the labour relations officers in the collieries must have some relationship with the union and the men. We hope that there will not be built up a civil service of college boys and jobs taken from men who have worked in the pits and understand the industry.
The National Coal Board has a record second to none. Neither the miners nor the Board have anything about which they should apologise so far as concerns the activities of the last ten years. As miners we are satisfied, although we may disagree on the day-to-day working, that a better job is being done now, and that there is more happiness among the men than was the case in the days of private enterprise.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)
If anyone had said to me eighteen months ago that I should find myself winding up a full day's debate on coal mining I would have said that it was unlikely and it would have made me very anxious. Now I find myself doing so for the first time.
The debate has ranged very widely. It seemed sometimes to be as much a debate on housing, or National Assistance, or clean air, or fuel efficiency, as on coal mining. There have been other times when one could have shut one's eyes and imagined that one was hearing over again that interesting and indeed exciting debate on the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill, 1946.
For those hon. Gentleman who may wonder—if there are still any who do—what the Government's general attitude toward this problem is, I would say, "We voted against nationalisation, but as soon as that Act had received the late King's Assent we were anxious to see it succeed. We hope that we are doing 1516 all in our power to help the National Coal Board and the miners today." That is certainly our wish and our intention.
Having lived with this problem—the fascinating problem of coal mining—inside the Ministry for the last fourteen months, three impressions have been formed vividly in my mind. The first is of the remarkable extent of the microscopic examination to which this industry and those who work in it are subjected. [An HON. MEMBER: "And other industries."] Other industries may have the examination but I do not suppose that any other industry than the coal industry has the examination projected upon such a wide screen for all the public to see and to criticise. That is a fact which we should bear in mind.
Another impression is that it is practically impossible to be a prophet about trends of mining production. Let me give an example. We were told for several years on end that as soon as the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, was brought into operation we should have progressive interference with mining and perhaps declining production. The Act was brought into operation on 1st January this year. Ever since then we have had the best "bull" period since the war.
An even deeper impression remains. I have had the opportunity of talking to many mining people while I have been in this job, and I find that all engaged in mining, whether in the mine, on the surface, in management or in our Ministry, are all, especially hon. Members on the other side of the House, forthright but friendly people. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General referred to their loyalty. That is due largely to a shared enthusiasm for their difficult and dangerous life. That does not mean to say that they always agree with each other, as has been demonstrated by the performance of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George). It was a highly provocative one. We should not be afraid of wild words sometimes. The late Lord Keynes said that they were "The assault of thought upon the unthinking". I felt that my hon. Friend made a useful contribution to the debate, if only in shocking us all.
Much has been mentioned, but I shall do my best to run through the points made and to give as many answers as I can. First I refer to the helpful speech 1517 of the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). He and the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton), whose experience we all respect, said that it was necessary for the Coal Board and us to make clear to the men why it is necessary to have a high proportion of salaried staff. I am sure that there is a good and obvious answer to that. As mining becomes more and more a mechanised and more scientific exercise so the number of scientists, engineers and technicians must increase and so the proportion of men using entirely manual skill may tend slowly to decrease, but within the numbers of those men one expects to find more highly skilled men with specialised experience.
If it were explained more fully to the men that we cannot have more mechanisation without the organisation which goes with it, so would they understand this increase in salaried staff. Modern flying provides a very good parallel example. The more elaborate aeroplanes become the more backroom staff is needed, not only to fly them, but to get them into the air. So, on analogy, it is with the mining industry.
The Fleck Report added further reasons, to which my right hon. Friend referred, for a greater understanding in modern industry today of what is known as management. It is right that the coal industry, like other industries, should take advantage of that greater understanding. The Fleck Committee said that in itself the proportion of salaried officials to other people in the industry was too small by modern standards and smaller than is found in other industries.
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring complained that we had not fully debated the Fleck Report in this House. I do not think that there has ever been a debate confined to the Report, but the Report has been discussed in coal debates a great deal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I understand so. I certainly recollect—
§ Mr. Blyton
We have never had a coal debate since the National Coal Board issued its directives under the Report, and we never discussed the industry, even in the economic debate last year, in relation to the Fleck Report.
§ Mr. Renton
That may be, but it has been referred to and discussed—I do not say as fully as some hon. Members would wish. I know that a debate has never been confined to the Report.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Sutton Coldfield)
I should like to remind the House that we had a coal debate in July, 1955, after the Fleck Report had been implemented —after the Fleck Report had been published and after I had reconstituted the Board on the basis of the suggestions contained in the Report. In my speech, which was the last speech I made on coal as Minister of Fuel and Power, if my recollection is correct, I dealt a great deal with the reorganisation resulting from the Fleck Committee's Report.
§ Mr. Renton
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I would simply add on the subject of the Fleck Report and what has been said about it today that we are told by the Coal Board that the implementation of it is very nearly complete. No doubt in the 1956 Report we shall have information on what the Coal Board has done in implementing the Fleck Report. That will be the right occasion for putting forward the full figures—
§ Mr Harold Finch (Bedwellty) rose—
§ Mr. Renton
I have limited time and I have a great deal of ground to cover. I must press on.
The right hon. Member for Blyth, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Robson-Brown), the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and other hon. Members referred to the importance of improved housing for miners. We do not dispute that. Without making this into a housing debate, may I say that the miners have shared in the general success of the housing policy of the Government and in particular those very miners to whom hon. Members have referred as living virtually in slums, will benefit from the slum clearance scheme, houses built under which will receive subsidy.
The right hon. Member for Blyth gave an interesting survey of the energy background of the coal situation. Of course, we agreed in general with what he said. Indeed it is always in our minds when thinking of the problems of investing in coal and pricing and so on. He said that we should somehow make ourselves less dependent upon oil. Naturally we all wish that we could do so. But let us consider this over-riding factor. Our energy requirements will increase so 1519 greatly in the years to come, up to 1975 at all events, that even if we get all the coal that we reasonably can, and even if we get all the atomic energy that we reasonably can, we shall still need large quantities of oil, especially over the next ten years. We shall need that oil not merely for filling the energy gap, but we shall need it—I do not know of any alternative way of getting it in a measurable space of time—for our growing transport services. For that reason it would be idle to think that we could make ourselves less dependent on oil. Naturally, we shall do all we can.
The right hon. Gentleman and a great many other hon. Members who have spoken have done very well, if I may say so, to stress that the coal industry has a great future and is not a dying industry. It is right that we should stress that, partly because it is true, and partly because the success of the industry must depend on those who go into it at all levels, whether as skilled workers or less skilled workers, or on the management, scientific and technical side. We can give a message from this House that all who decide to go into the industry have an assured future in it. That should be made as widely public as possible.
The hon. Member for Houghton-leSpring raised a very important point in the main part of his argument. He criticised my right hon. Friend's import policy in the years 1954 and 1955. He said that we should abandon the policy, which was started by the Socialist Government with nationalisation, of making the National Coal Board import coal at such price as it thought right and exporting at such price as it thought right. From the tone of his speech, one would have thought that the Coal Board, over the years of nationalisation, had incurred enormous losses on imports which it had not made up on exports.
It is true that that was so over a period of two years, possibly three years, but taking the nine-year period as a whole the position is different. It is a fair point to make, because the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), when nationalising the coal industry, said that it had to stand on its feet and pay its way, taking good years and bad years. It is interesting to note that in later nationalisation Acts a more felicitous 1520 phrase was used—"taking one year with another." That was the position. He also stressed that this industry should not look for subsidies, which is what the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring is in effect asking when he asks for that policy to be abandoned.
At any rate, let the House be fair and consider the whole picture and the net effect over the years of this policy. It has been this: that what could be called "loss" of imports has been about £57 million but against that needs to be set the "gain" in all exports, which is about £100 million. I am glad to say that in 1956 the trend, without going into the figures minutely, has been very much more favourable than in the two previous years because we should have been a net exporting country to the extent of about 3 million tons in 1956 and again in 1957. The trend of the premium on export coal is improving in our favour and it is therefore best to leave the position alone and to allow this favourable trend to work itself out. If I may pay hon. Members opposite a compliment, I would suggest that it is best that they should stick to their original plan instead of changing it just when it is going right again.
Both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North made a plea for greater saving of coal. Naturally, I agree strongly with them. This is not the occasion to debate fully the whole subject of fuel efficiency and I will simply say that the Government have already done a great deal towards meeting the problem of fuel efficiency. We have the fuel efficiency loan scheme working to a useful capacity, the initial allowances which were extended in the Finance Act last year have proved beneficial, and the Clean Air Act is a very valuable contribution. The questions of fuel efficiency and clean air should be regarded together; they are Siamese twins, quite inseparable, and they advance together and help each other. As we see the Clean Air Act being implemented we shall see on both the domestic and the industrial front a great deal of coal saving taking place.
Meanwhile, however, all hon. Members could help the industry and the country's economy a great deal by doing what I have tried to do in my humble way—to help our constituents to understand the 1521 position, especially that in respect of domestic coal. Owing to increased mechanisation the production of large coal is diminishing very steadily. It fell by 2 million tons last year. The main reason that we have to import coal at all is to cover the deficiencies in large coal.
One of the most wasteful ways of using coal is to burn large coal in old-fashioned types of open fireplace, more especially as what are known in the trade as doubles can be burned very satisfactorily—I have burned them myself—on a not very elaborate type of more modern fireplace. The technique of burning them differs slightly. It will help the National Coal Board, the consumer, and the economy, if we can get our constituents to understand better, progressively, what the true position is about domestic coal. I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for referring to that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) raised once more the question of the export of coal from the South Wales ports. The first speech that I ever made at this Dispatch Box just over a year ago was on that very subject, and I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that I have nothing to add to what I said then, because the position is substantially the same.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) made a helpful speech about opencast coal and referred to the greatly improved restoration which takes place. Of course, he is quite right, and that should be, I think, a matter of encouragement to all who are concerned with this difficult, indeed often distasteful task of opencast coal mining; but we have to go ahead with it, and make the best we can of it.
When I was a very small boy, and I think this was the earliest recollection I ever had of coal mining there was a song —and I am old enough to remember it—entitled "Don't go down the mine, Daddy." It was, no doubt, a very bad music-hall joke in its time, because it was a reflection of the lamentable state of affairs with regard to deaths and accidents in the mines. I am glad to say that although there is no room for complacency—because more than 300 men were killed last year—the improvement which has taken place steadily down the years since before the First World War has been very definite and, as has been 1522 pointed out, last year was the best so far on record in this respect.
I should like to pay my tribute, not only to the mines inspectors of our Ministry who have done so much towards this improvement, but also to the officials of the unions concerned, including N.A.C.O.D., as well as to the N.U.M. and to the National Coal Board. However, there is still a very great advance to be made. The Mines and Quarries Act imposes very stringent conditions in many respects, and we must hope that the co-operation of everybody concerned will be forthcoming.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Member says "particularly in the sphere of pneumoconiosis". I happen to be ex officio, as Parliamentary Secretary, the chairman of the joint committee on pneumoconiosis. I feel that we are getting somewhere, mainly as a result of medical research. It is a very difficult, very intractable problem, but great progress is being made, and one of these days—,perhaps when the 25-pit scheme is completed in a year or two—a full report will be made to the House about it.
Perhaps I may attempt to sum up the position by saying that the Coal Board appears to be past the worst of its troubles. The reorganisation recommended by the Fleck Committee is nearly complete. Mechanisation and modernisation are going according to plan. Recruiting is improving, although 9,500 men are still needed. This year the miners have so far produced more coal than in any similar post-war period, and by producing 1¼ million tons more than in the corresponding period last year they have already achieved this year's estimated increase over last year's production. If they keep it up, they will have served their country well by greatly improving our balance of payments and strengthening the £.
Stocks are now the best for the time of year since the war, and are, I am glad to say, good enough to see us through this winter, come what may. There is not much of the winter left, thank goodness. Taking the long-term view, we shall need, and shall be able to sell all the coal we can get, however big our atomic stations may be. This industry, 1523 therefore, has a great future, and so have all who work in it now and as far ahead as may be seen, and, for Britain's sake, we wish them well.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1955.