§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
My Lords, I greatly regret that it has fallen to my lot to-day to intervene in this debate on the most important question of the mining industry and its effect upon the general economic position. I should have felt much easier if either of my noble friends Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor or Lord Hall had been available to speak from their particular and peculiar knowledge of the industry. But I felt that, in view of the importance attached to it by the mover of the Motion, it would be wrong not to have some words spoken from the Front Opposition Bench upon what is obviously a large and important question in our economic life.
With regard to the question of the gravity of the general position, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, who I thought moved his Motion in a most pleasant, moderate and re- 900 strained manner, I must say that if we are going to rely upon a voluntary appeal for more workers in the mines as the main means by which we can relieve the present grave economic situation, we may be bitterly disappointed. We shall have to reserve for another occasion, perhaps on a debate on the new Economic Survey, further comments in that direction. Certainly if special measures were to be applied in regard to particular industries in trying to adjust the present adverse trade balance and the balance of payments against us, there are other industries besides the coal industry which would have to be considered. I am glad to see the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, present. Perhaps there may be something more to be said on that question on April 11 next, when we are reviewing the Government's policy on the agricultural question. It is not necessary, therefore, for me to pursue the fairly long and important introduction which the noble Lord gave to that part of the subject in his speech to-day, and I will confine myself to a few remarks upon the actual situation in the mines.
I am always moved when my noble friend Lord Lawson addresses this House, or indeed any other gathering, on the subject of the miners and what they are doing in industry. He is very devoted to them and has been a shining example of how a flame of inspiration can spring from the most sordid surroundings and take a man to great heights. That is what happened to my noble friend Lord Lawson, and I believe he would say the same about the new Chairman of the National Coal Board, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. And we heartily join with Lord Ridley in wishing the now Chairman success in his appointment and his very grave responsibilities. I would strongly support the noble Viscount's plea to the Minister of Fuel and Power for all possible help to be given to the new Chairman in his new venture, especially with regard to general reorganisation and administration. I myself am not sure whether big firms should have a chairman or vice-chairman doing nothing but sitting and considering policy, knowing little about administration, because in an industry as old as mining a great deal depends on detailed administration as I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, with all his knowledge and experience knows full well. 901 There are certain broad, features in the situation which should be borne in mind. The output of the mines to-day is a pretty good reflection upon the reasonable keenness—and I say "reasonable" —of the men in the industry, because if we look at the output figures of over-all production they are, broadly speaking, what they were in 1938, although there are hundreds of thousands of workers fewer in the industry—a fact which is sometimes overlooked when dealing with broad production statistics.
We must remember, too, that in the problem of getting manpower we currently face an entirely different situation in the labour market compared with that in 1938. Taking the general layout of industry in the country in 1938, there were, I suppose, round about 18 million persons employed in our national industries; but to-day there are certainly more than 26 million, and the competition amongst employers to obtain labour, especially in the last five or six years, and the repeated upbidding in price in order to get labour from one place to another, has been such that the failure to attract workers into the mines, sometimes in unpleasant conditions and with the risks involved in that occupation, is not to be wondered at.
Looking at the question of obtaining reinforcements for the workers available for our mines by importing men from abroad, f feel that no charge can fairly be laid at the door of the leaders of the men's trade union organisation that there has been any undue obstacle placed in the way of obtaining reinforcements. The figures given by my noble friend Lord Lawson showing how many Poles and Italians have, from time to time, actually been recruited into the industry show conclusively that there has been no real obstacle to reasonable recruitment to the industry. With very great respect, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, may have helped to get recruits from abroad by suggesting that we should be very glad to have them while business is good but that, directly business begins to fail, we shall have to get rid of them. I do not think that would be exactly an incentive to foreign recruits whom he wishes to get for the industry.
Coming to the actual figures of coal production in relation to our export requirements, we must remember that in the days when we were exporting 80 902 million tons of coal to foreign markets we were exporting at a time when, under private enterprise, there was no national planning in the industry at all and when the practice was to get the best possible coal at the cheapest point in the particular working, at low wages, for export at low price for the quickest profit to the particular mining organisation. The general economic position of the country did not count. The question was: "How quickly can we get the most easily-mined coal in the different seams for our export trade, get it abroad, get rid of it and pocket the profits?" Left behind in the trail of all those things was a sense of injustice amongst the working mining population which it takes generations to remove. To me it is a happy fact this afternoon to think that I can sit through this debate and find that not a single noble Lord has risen, or is likely to rise, to suggest that the situation could perhaps be met through a political doctrine and that if only we could return to free and private enterprise all this would be put right. No one suggests that to-day. There is nobody in any sphere of industry who does not recognise that, but for nationalisation, it would be impossible to say what condition the general fuel industry would by now have reached.
Looking at the general situation of the industry to-day, I agree that there are grave reasons for anxiety. I do not attach quite so much importance as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, in his very interesting speech, has attached to relations between management and men, as compared with the old days, when there were a great number of small pits with direct and private contact between management and workers. While the noble Viscount was speaking I consulted my noble friend Lord Lawson about this very point, and from his close personal interest in Durham he tells me that young fellows to-day say they have little to complain of in regard to their relationship with those who are in managership in the mines, and that we ought not to have attached to this training for the mines the feeling that the training level for management is such that men are taught all about mining and nothing about management itself. I think that is a point that requires some consideration. I am glad that the noble Viscount put it forward, and I hope that efforts 903 will be made to see what can be done in that direction.
With regard to the general contribution which is to be made to the solution of problems connected with this industry, there is a little bee in my bonnet of which no mention has been made so far this afternoon. It relates to imported coal, and I hope that Lord Teviot will at some time discuss this with his friends. It seems to me extraordinary that the Government should have decided that when it became necessary, owing to the shortage here, to import coal, sometimes of special varieties, the cost of that imported coal should be charged to the National Coal Board which is responsible for the production of coal in this country. I think that is an extraordinary position. We are obliged to have imported coal in order to try to meet the economic demands of our country.
If we take the figures of home consumption of coal in this country resulting from the boom in industry and the great spread of the industrial population—it has increased from 18 million to 26 million—we see that it has been necessary to have much more coal. And you have charged the National Coal Board with the cost of importing coal to make up the total of what is required. I think that is unreasonable. Here is an industry with hundreds of thousands of workers fewer than in 1938, and yet it has achieved the same output of coal as in 1938. Then you charge against people entrusted with the management and development of the industry the cost of this coal which is imported to meet the national fuel requirements. In my view that is unreasonable.
It may be that in the future reorganisation to which the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has referred you may have to look to extra funds for development. I appreciate what Lord Teviot said about the £353 million spent as a sort of repayment to the miners, but I do not think it has all been by way of repayment to the miners. Much of it has been devoted to making up for the lack of sound technological capital development in the past, development which was overdue. That lack has had to be made good. In so far as that figure relates to developments and to improvements in welfare schemes and general conditions in the mines, I agree 904 with the noble Lord's statement but much of that money was used for the new development plant—and more will have to be spent on that plant in the future. Is it fair, I ask, to handicap the National Coal Board by charging £37 million against them for imported coal and not to let them have that money directly available at the same time for development purposes in the industry?
I think that if one takes some of the best suggestions from the speeches of the noble Lords who have already spoken, it will be found that they are worthy of consideration. The note of appeal to the miners is all right. But I think the note of appeal to the miners in this country is the stronger when we have it sounded, as we have had it sounded to-day, by my noble friend, Lord Lawson, coupled with suggestions for improvement and reorganisation in the industry and its administration. The suggestions made by Lord Ridley with regard to administration in my view are undoubtedly useful. But what is fundamental to the situation is that the Government themselves should give as much direct assistance as possible for development in all these matters, so that we may make a substantial contribution to the problem of avoiding what we have unfortunately to do at the present time—that is, import something like 12,000,000 tons of coal a year, a large part of it from dollar areas.
I have had nothing to do with the mining industry except as a youngster in an education office, back in the early part of the century, when I used to help in examinations for deputies, firemen, shot-firers and so on. The contact I have had with the miners in the constituencies around Sheffield—which I used to represent—has impressed upon me that the miners as a whole are a fine body of men. They have done a grand job. I do not know what we should do without the results of their labours every day, both in our ordinary life and in industry. If you can do anything further to develop the industry and to give the miners what they were long since entitled to—a really remunerative wage for their arduous and dangerous occupation—then you will get all the support you need from this side of the House.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, let me say at the beginning of my observations how grateful I was to my noble 905 friend who put this Motion down on the Paper for discussion to-day for letting me know many detailed points and questions which he intended to put to me. The tale he has told your Lordships falls into two quite distinct parts. First, there is the manpower question. Without manpower it would not be possible to win the coal required. Secondly, there is the economic situation arising from the manpower question. I want at the outset of my speech to deal with the economic situation and then to explain to the House in some detail the action which Hcr Majesty's Government have taken in conjunction with the Coal Board to try to alleviate the existing difficulties from which we suffer.
It is true that the position is not good. The production of deep-mined coal increased between 1947 and 1955 by 23 million tons, in spite of the fact—as was pointed out by the noble Viscount opposite—that the manpower employed in the industry dropped from 707,000 to 704,000. During the same period home consumption of coal rose by 32 million tons. It must he obvious to anyone that the failure to produce enough coal both for internal use and for export must necessarily place a double burden on the national economy. First we had to import last year—as has been said, much of it from dollar sources—about 11.3 million tons of coal at a cost of over £70 million. Secondly, during the same period we were able to export only 12 million tons of coal to foreign markets where this commodity is in great demand. If it had been possible to do without the imports and to export what the overseas markets would take, the gain in our balance of payments situation might well have been in the neighbourhood of £100 million. Although our imports will be less this year, we shall nevertheless have to reduce exports to our old and long-standing customers, who will, no doubt, go elsewhere for their, supplies.
The real problem which faces us, then, is to reduce coal imports by as much as we can and to increase our exports also by as much as we can. But this is not going to be an easy task; there is going to be no quick solution. I think we can all put certain objectives before us which we can endeavour to reach—namely, we must reduce home consumption 906 by a better use of coal, and we must increase our production; we must encourage the use of oil in industry and in large buildings, and supplement supplies of coal over the years with other kinds of energy. But it must be remembered that the demand for coal for the home market and for export is still increasing. The problem is formidable, more especially as so many of the easier seams have long been worked and production is necessarily less when coal has to be extracted, as it now is, from the more difficult seams.
As a Government, we have constantly encouraged the Coal Board to increase investment in colliery mechanisation and reconstruction. The Government have advanced the capital and the Coal Board have been largely exempted from the redactions in the capital expenditure programmes of other nationalised undertakings. Although their planned expenditure has been somewhat reduced, there will he no deferment of any works which affect coal output. I think that was a point raised by my noble friend Lord Ridley. Let me further say that it is our aim to maintain and increase capacity and mechanisation. In the coal industry a great deal of investment is needed to avoid a fall in production, but there is every reason to hope that, as more schemes are completed, output will improve. I shall indicate in a moment the new work which has been undertaken to accelerate coal production.
This brings me to the question of the manpower position in the industry. In October, 1953, the Coal Board decided to carry out an examination of their organisation, and for that purpose appointed a Committee under Sir Alexander Fleck. The Committee reported in February, 1955, and most of their recommendations have been accepted by the Board. Although progress will take time, there is reason to hope that better morale, fewer disputes and lower absenteeism will follow. All this should make the industry more attractive. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ridley that there is little doubt that in the past bad management has done much to upset the men who are employed in the industry, but I hope that this was only a passing phase and that we can look to better days. I can assure the noble Viscount, Lord 907 Alexander of Hillsborough, at once that the Minister will give every help to the Chairman of the National Coal Board and, whenever he can, give any useful or satisfactory advice.
The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, raised the question of the employment of young men in the industry and the importing of foreign labour. As the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said this afternoon, at the present time it is difficult for the coal industry to retain its manpower in competition with other industries which can offer more attractive conditions. In 1953, the industry lost 11,000 men, and although the loss was limited to only 400 in the next year, it rose again to 5,000 in 1955. This year the manpower has increased so far by 4,780, which to some degree is seasonal. Nevertheless, at the beginning of this year there were immediate vacancies for 13.000 and a further 14.000 could be employed in the longer run.
In his interesting speech, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, suggested that it might be the duty of young men to enter the mining industry, but I think that from what the noble Viscount said, and I hope from what I have said, the noble Lord will appreciate that we have no power to compel young men to enter the industry: and with all the attractive opportunities which other industries offer to them it stands to reason that it is difficult for the Coal Board to meet their requirements in manpower. Five National Coal Board divisions—Scotland, Northumberland and Cumberland. Durham, North-Western and SouthEastern—have so far been able to recruit as many men as they require, but more labour could be recruited if the industry could absorb it. The Coal Board are taking every possible step to increase capacity by accelerating the normal development of face room and by reconstruction and new sinkings. The figures which I am about to give will give my noble friend Lord Teviot some indication of why the expenditure of the Coal Board has been so heavy.
Since 1947, 141 major reconstructions have been planned and sanctioned. In Scotland, five new deep mines are being opened up and throughout the country thirty-one new shafts are being sunk and 908 another nine have been approved. Your Lordships will see that a tremendous amount of reconstructional work has been proceeding in the industry since 1947. The most acute shortages of labour are in areas known as "deficiency" areas—namely, in South Yorkshire, the West Midlands and South Wales. In all these areas the coal industry is meeting intense competition and in present circumstances it has little hope of filling all the vacancies from local recruitment. I understand that there is also some anxiety about the position in the East Midlands.
I said a few moments ago that it was difficult for the Coal Board to recruit men in the face of competition from more attractive industries. But much has been done by Her Majesty's Government and the Coal Board for the benefit of the mining community which should assist recruitment. For instance, new investment and the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, will make coal-mining safer and less arduous. Welfare facilities have been greatly improved and the pithead baths programme is now near completion. Miners have been given special pensions and supplementary injury and fatal accident schemes, and the recent settlement under which day wage-men have been granted an increase of 14s. a week should also contribute to the solution of the manpower problem. In addition, the opportunities of promotion for the ambitious young man are now better than ever before.
The Ministry of Labour are running, in collaboration with the Coal Board, a special Coalmining Recruitment Publicity Campaign. The main feature is Press advertisements, and its object is to attract applicants who will be encouraged to take a job in one of the deficiency areas. Last year the Government contributed £40,000 towards the cost of the campaign and a similar sum is being recommended for next year. Underground mine workers are not called up for National Service and, despite their own manpower difficulties, the Service Departments are helping the industry by refraining from recruiting activities in mining areas. Above all, to attract recruits to the deficiency regions a decent home is all-important. We had this matter well in mind during the debates on the Housing Subsidies Act, in which provision was 909 made for the payment of a special subsidy of £24 for sixty years for house-building by local authorities for incoming workers.
However, quite apart from what is in that Act, the mining areas have received some priority since 1947. From that date local authorities have provided 80,000 new houses for miners, and between 1952 and last year the Coal Industry Housing Association have erected a further 20,000 houses. In Scotland, over 12,000 houses for miners have also been erected. I think that is a very substantial and satisfactory total. Nevertheless, more houses are still required and my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and the Coal Board are making a joint approach to local authorities in the deficiency areas to build more houses for their incoming workers.
I want now, if I may, for a few moments to turn to the question of absenteeism, which was raised by my noble friend who moved the Motion, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. It is quite true to say that one of the really disturbing features of the coal industry's performance this year is the absence percentage, which in the first ten weeks of the year averaged 14.32 per cent., compared with 13.06 per cent. in the same period last year. There is every reason to believe that that increase was associated with the very cold weather at the beginning of the year, and with sickness and transport difficulties which of course accrued from it. But with the better weather arriving the percentage has now fortunately fallen back almost to last year's level.
My Lords, I am sure that I speak for every noble Lord in this House, on whatever side we may sit, when I say that none of us must be complacent about absenteeism. We can, we believe, achieve a very substantial increase tin coal production by reducing absenteeism; but I am told by those more qualified than I am to judge that there is no one sovereign remedy for this difficult subject. Better management, we feel, might lead to higher morale, it will undoubtedly help, but it will necessarily take time. In the meanwhile, the measures which have been adopted by the Board and the National Union of Mineworkers are being steadily applied. Persistent absentees are being interviewed 910 and they are warned. Medical certificates are now called for, even for odd days, to support claims for the proportionate bonus for working the five-day week when a shift has been lost through illness.
If this problem is to be tackled successfully, I understand that a great deal more information about the causes of both bad and good attendance is required, and accordingly the Coal Board are undertaking a full-scale field inquiry into this subject. All the factual information which they have collected is now being analysed, and before very long the report of the team which made this inquiry will be available to the Board. We can but hope, my Lords, that those engaged in the industry will appreciate the very serious consequences that absenteeism does have on the coal industry at the present time and how really necessary it is to bring these figures down far lower than they are to-day.
Now I come to the subject which was mentioned both by the noble Lord who moved the Motion and by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. It has been said on many occasions, that the solution of all our difficulties could probably be found if foreign labour were employed in this vast industry. It is often forgotten—and I was glad the noble Lord. Lord Lawson, drew attention to this matter to-day—that there are still 10,000 foreigners who are engaged in the industry and who were recruited directly after the war, so it is not true to say that there are no foreign workers engaged within the industry. We as a Government believe that much could be done to reduce the coal shortage if further foreign workers could enter the industry, but only with the willing co-operation of management and men. The initiative must, however, come from the industry, and if any move were to be made from the industry then all the facilities of the Ministry of Labour would be placed at their disposal. I have been informed that the Coal Board have suggested to the National Union of Mineworkers that a new scheme for employing foreign labour should be introduced. The Union feel that production can be improved by further recruitment in this country and by making better use of existing manpower. But this problem is now being investigated by representatives of both steles of the industry, and as that subject 911 is under discussion I think it would be better if I said nothing further about it to-day.
My Lords, I have tried, I hope without wearying the House, to give an indication of the difficulties with which this industry is faced at the present time. I have also endeavoured to explain to your Lordships how the Government and the Coal Board are taking every practicable step to remedy the position. I do not believe that it is feasible to devise any spectacular plan which would solve this complicated problem overnight. To secure any lasting improvement, both management and men must play their part, and we for our part will naturally assist in every direction within our power.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl who has replied to the Motion which I ventured to move. I am also extremely grateful to those who have spoken on this subject. With regard to the many points that have been raised by my noble friend Lord Ridley, and also by the noble Lords. Lord Lawson and Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, I feel that there are so many questions of the utmost importance to this industry that it would be a very good thing if the noble Earl, Lord Munster, would do what he could to initiate a conference embodying the Mineworkers' Union, the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the Coal Board and the Ministry of Labour. As the noble Lord, Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough, said, the whole of this question is a matter of anxiety to us all, and we want to see an amicable move on the part of everybody connected with it to improve the general situation. Although the noble Earl who replied from the Front Bench went a long way to satisfy me that something of real importance is being done now in regard to the whole matter, I still feel that if we could get together round a table the representatives of all the people I have mentioned, with the information that has come from those who spoke to-day with great authority, then the miners, given a chance, would give a lead in solving this difficult question with which the country is faced, and which, so far as I can see, cannot continue without 912 detriment to the general economic situation of the country. I again thank the noble Earl for his comprehensive reply, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.