§ 2.38 p.m.
§ LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR rose to call attention to the development and use of the fuel and power resources of the United Kingdom and to the need for closer coordination between the responsible authorities; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I saw the Motion on the Order Paper last week in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mills, I had a sympathetic feeling for hint. My Motion has been down on the Order Paper for to-day for some weeks, but with the moving of the Motion yesterday the noble Lord will have three days' continuous session. As I look at the Motions for yesterday and to-day, I find that they are very closely related. Their terms differ, but basically they are dealing with the same problem. Whatever the people who enjoy themselves in the rarefied atmosphere of high finance and world economics may think, I am satisfied that the pound sterling will depend very much on the activities of the authorities involved in my Motion. If they fail, I doubt whether any other means can succeed. Therefore, the noble 430 Lord, Lord Mills, is in the happy position that all he needs to do is to reply to the various points raised by noble Lords and then give us a rather shorter version of his speech yesterday, and he will cover the ground.
§ If I were asked to specify what authorities I have in mind, for my purpose, I would exclude the private sector of industry and concentrate on the National Coal Board, the Gas Council, the Electricity Authority and, last but far from being least, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. There is a tendency to be rather critical of nationalised industries, and one can well understand it; though I myself believe that they have done a very fine job of work indeed and that we are deeply indebted to those who man and manage these various authorities. Perhaps they could have done more. I have been reading their Annual Reports and in every case they concede that more could have been done; and they also state that more will be done in the future. I do not in the least mind nationalised industries being criticised, providing the criticism is useful and constructive; but I do resent the type of unfair criticism that is sometimes made of those industries.
§ Many of us on this side of the House have given forty or fifty years to establishing the nationalisation of the coal industry, and we have worked hard. The majority of your Lordships in those forty years worked hard to prevent nationalisation. I can well understand those who worked for nationalisation viewing the position differently from those who worked against it. But now we have nationalisation of the coal industry, and it is here to stay. Whatever industry may be denationalised in the ups and downs of political life, the coal industry will remain nationalised. Therefore, in considering that industry, we have to see whether we are getting the best out of it, and if not, why not.
§ Let me say, quite frankly, that we in the coal industry and we who worked hard for nationalisation sometimes have pangs of disappointment. It has not achieved all that we expected. But I would emphasise that that is partly due to our unrealisable expectations: we expected far too much far too soon, and if we had had regard to many factors that were disregarded, our expectations would 431 have been more reasonable. I am prepared to admit that more coal could be produced; and I am quite certain that the coal produced could be used to better advantage. My Motion covers those points, in that it emphasises the development of these various industries and also the use of the product.
§ I submit that maximum production, in itself, is not going to solve our problem for us; it must be accompanied by the finest and most efficient use of the product. We shall need both. We have had maximum production in the coal industry and coal used extravagantly when miners were losing their lives in getting it. Maximum production can be a dangerous thing for those engaged in the industry if it is not put to the best possible use. I will not argue that we are getting every ton of coal that we should, and I am certainly not arguing that every ton of coal is used to the best advantage. I shall confine myself in the main to the coal industry, and for one very good reason: it is the industry I know best. I have had nearly sixty years in connection with it, twenty-three of them underground, another quarter of a century as an official of the organisation, and much of the rest dealing directly or indirectly with the legislative aspect of the coal industry. I know this industry very well. I am not so sure that all noble Lords do.
§ To-day, coal is being produced from mines sunk three hundred years ago. Today, mines advance something from a yard to two yards every working day, and one need not be a mathematician to realise that every day makes the problem more difficult and makes the next day's work more difficult. You have further to go; it is more expensive, and often more risky. Only 20 per cent. of the coal produced in this country to-day is from mines sunk since the end of the First World War, and the other 80 per cent. is coming from the older mines. It is true that we are working uneconomic pits. It may sound strange that we have to do so, but we have no option. We could lose more if we did not work them than if we do.
§ I know that if I were speaking in another place, before now I should have heard rumblings of: "What about absenteeism? What about miners 432 refusing to allow European miners to enter coalmines in Britain? What about the cost of production?" Well, what about it? Absenteeism is a serious problem. Voluntary absenteeism can never be justified to-day, except in extraordinary circumstances. How are you going to deal with it? You must find the right answer. The miners' leaders in this country are as anxious about absenteeism as any Member of your Lordships' House or another place. In their own way they are doing the best they can to try to reduce absenteeism. My old colleagues in Lancashire, men I helped to train to be leaders of the organisation, have taken a very big decision indeed, and a courageous one. They have decided to institute themselves, along with the National Coal Board, a disciplinary body. That is a risky thing for any trade union to do, but it is a right thing, in my view. I know that many of my colleagues in the trade union do not quite agree. I think that anything which adversely affects the members of the organisation should be dealt with by the organisation; and absenteeism affects the interests of those members. But it is a big risk. After all, miners are noted for their loyalty to each other, and if some persistent absentee is brought up for consideration and dealt with severely one can never be quite sure what the response will be from the rest of the miners and how they will act. But it was a right decision to take, and a courageous one.
§ What are they trying to do? They are trying to instil a sense of responsibility in men who have not got a sense of responsibility. It is only the man without a sense of responsibility who will be a persistent absentee in the coal industry to-day. The National Coal Board, wisely, I thought, although riskily, decided to combine the bonus shift into the five-day working week. They accepted the undertakings sincerely and honestly given by the miners' leaders. 'They thought that it would not affect absenteeism adversely in the way it has done. But absenteeism has gone up since that was agreed upon. Some method has to be found of instilling that sense of responsibility which is lacking among a small percentage of miners, but a percentage big enough to affect the coal production of the country. I am quite satisfied myself that we shall need tremendous patience in handling 433 this question of absenteeism. A mistaken policy here could do disastrous harm.
§ With regard to bringing European miners into the coal industry, personally I am rather sorry that the miners in certain areas were not prepared, provided they had all the safeguards required to protect their interests, to allow a number of European miners to make up the lack of labour which exists in the industry. However, they felt, for some reason or another, that they were not prepared to do it. Again it is no use Members of Parliament or Members of your Lordships' House or anybody anywhere trying to condemn the miners for this attitude. I would say that the miners' organisation is the most internationally-minded organisation in the country, but on this issue, for some reason or another, the rank and file miner found himself unprepared to accept the miner from the Continent to the degree we should have liked. But, again, this matter has to be handled with the utmost care; otherwise we shall do more harm than good.
§ Turning to the cost of production, I do not know whether noble Lords realise that the cost of production in this country is the lowest in Europe. One hears of the big wages of the miner. The miner is not being paid too much to-day, especially the miner who is giving of his best in the industry; you can never pay him too much; he gives his utmost to the industry. There is no member of the community who serves his country better than the miner who gives of his best on the coalface. Let us take the financial position of the coal industry. I do not think that that position is fully appreciated by the non-mining community; what worries them, quite naturally, is the price of coal; they used to get it for one price and now it is this price. I agree that when you get an £8 or a £9 bill for a ton of coal you think coal is a very costly article.
I will just read from a document I received, The Nationalised Industries, Success Story, and I can vouch for its accuracy:
The accumulated deficit of the National Coal Board up to the end of 1956 was £23 million. This was despite a profit of £12.8 million for 1956. Why is there an overall deficit? The Board's 1956 profit of E12.6 million was after payment of £21.3 million interest charges. In fact, before paying interest to the Treasury, the Board made a profit of well over £100 million for the period 1947 to
1956. Much of the interest payment was to ex-owners, for the former owners receive about £16 million in compensation annually.
§ Now we are not burking that issue. We agree that the bargain, was made and that we should continue to honour that bargain. But it does give a new outlook to some people who are not fully informed about the industry. Take the production cost per ton. I have four sets of figures. Anthracite: Netherlands, 216s. per ton; Belgium 221s.
§ LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR
Pithead price. France, 246s.; the Ruhr 180s.; United Kingdom 144s. Dry steam: France 239s.; Belgium 217s.; Netherlands 170s.; Ruhr 167s.; United Kingdom 126s. One could go on giving that type of figure regarding different types of coal. What it shows is this: that production in this country is not so expensive an item as in some other countries; it shows that quite clearly. That is partially due to the fact of nationalisation. I am sure the Minister himself, from his industrial experience—and if he does not mind my saying so, he is a far greater industrialist than a politician, and I hope he will remain so—would agree that had it not been for nationalisation the position in the coal industry would have been vastly worse than it is to-day.
I shall leave coal there because I want to come to the productive side, the side of the uses. I am not going to spend much time on it because my noble friend Lord Hall will be dealing with it in more detail. I want, however, to refer to the fact that in November, 1952, we discussed the Ridley Report and I had the honour of opening the debate on that Report. We then went in great detail into the various ways in which it was thought, as a result of the Ridley Report, that we could utilise coal to better advantage and more efficiently. We were told then by one of the Government spokesmen, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that we had raised so many questions in the debate that the Government were not in a position to give an immediate answer; that many consultations had to take place between this body and that body before they could give a detailed pronouncement. They have had nearly five and a half years now, and I hope the noble 435 Lord, Lord Mills, can give some detailed pronouncement upon the change in the use of coal now. How much is the Government doing now—it cannot do everything—for the more efficient use of coal, both in the domestic hearth and also in the factories and engineering shops?
I want to come now to the main point I was going to raise: that is, co-ordination. Do not forget that these industries are fuel and power industries, and I should have thought—and I am not so sure that the Minister himself may not be individually inclined to the same view—that a national fuel policy would be a good thing. What is happening to-day? I had four years as Regional Controller of Gas, Electricity and Coal in the NorthWest—Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales. I had to face this problem. It was much easier in war than in peace; the danger of war helped us immensely in that respect. What happens to-day? The chairmen of these authorities have consultations and compare notes, and the Minister is advised. I should like to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that he himself has the same type and as good a body of scientific advisers attached to him and nobody else as each of these bodies has. They will provide the finest scientific advice they have in coal, gas, electricity and atomic energy. When the Minister is approached by these people with all this scientific advice, has he himself the same standard of scientific advice as is available to those other bodies? I am quite sure he needs it.
After all, one has to remember that the fuel resources of this country are not likely to last for ever, although I am anxious in this debate to underline the fact that coal is going to remain very important for the rest of this century. The idea which is getting abroad that coal will soon be displaced by nuclear energy needs to be watched carefully. Parents who are considering sending their sons to the mines are listening, too. It is very important that we should emphasise that this industry is going to continue as, important as it is now for at least the rest of this century. What one feels, of course, is not that there is no co-ordination—I chose my words carefully in speaking of "the need for closer co-ordination", admitting that there is co-ordination—but that it needs to be very much closer.
436 In order to familiarise myself with the position I got in touch with those concerned in Wales. I live in Wales, and therefore I wanted to see what had happened recently in Wales between the Gas Board, the Electricity Board, and also the Coal Board. As the Minister knows the Gas Board is the only one of these authorities which covers Wales independently. In the case of coal and electricity, South Wales is linked with South-west England, and North Wales with Lancashire and Cheshire. I am satisfied, from what I heard there, that there is an increasing amount of co-ordination in Wales, in particular regarding methane gas. A number of collieries are being tested and some operated. One of them is near where I live. They are being successfully tested and methane gas is being extracted from these collieries. To convert that into household use is a marvellous achievement, and is something which could not have been done without co-operation and co-ordination. I should like to know to what extent that co-operation applies in other areas. Is there the same area co-ordination outside Wales as exists inside Wales? In Wales it is fairly satisfactory. It is not quite where we should like it to be, but it is fairly satisfactory. I think the Minister himself will appreciate the need for co-ordination between the fuel-producing industries.
My Lords, I think I have made my case. There are just one or two questions that I should like to ask the Minister. Does he himself (if he does not wish to answer this individually, I shall understand), from his industrial experience, favour a national fuel policy? If he does, has he the necessary scientific advice behind him to enable him to set up that type of body which will control the national fuel policy? I cannot believe that it is wise for this country to go along with these industries, to a large extent acting separately. Let me, for instance, mention one thing which will cause a real storm. In my opinion, any attempt to secure the more rational use of coal so as to avoid waste and limit our dependence on imported oil would cause an industrial storm. Does the Minister agree? And, is he satisfied that he is strong enough and has the authority to stand up to such a storm should it come? Let us take the attempt to substitute electrical heating for solid-fuel heating in private houses. That 437 would have an effect on tariffs which the Central Electricity Authority by itself could not accept. Is somebody examining these suggestions on behalf of the Minister and reporting, not through these other authorities, but direct to him?
The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, intervened in the debate in 1952. He said that he thought that co-ordination had been carried as far as it could go. But all that had been done then was that the Chairmen had their periodical consultations. I raise this issue to-day because I am very disturbed as to the future, and I should like the Minister to give some assurance that he is fully aware of the need for a fuel policy which combines and co-ordinates all the fuel-producing industries. If that is done, then my anxiety regarding the future will be greatly lessened. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.5 p.m.
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, for bringing this Motion before us to-day. He dealt at length at the beginning of his speech with the nationalised industries. I do not wish to follow him there, except to say that from a technical point of view—I stress "technical point of view ": technical efficiency—I believe that no one can "crab" nationalisation on that score. Any arguments there are against nationalisation are not to be made on the score of technical efficiency. I think one has only to look at the achievement of the electricity authorities, who are running at almost 90 per cent. efficiency and burning what anybody else would only describe as the most utter muck to do it. I think that is a great achievement technically.
Among the other questions on which the noble Lord touched was that of absenteeism. I am not going to follow him there either, because, while his feelings on that subject are exactly the same as mine, I consider that he is far better qualified than I am to say anything that is to be said on that score. The only point that I should like to stress—I am not quite sure whether took his point correctly—is in regard to the question of comparing prices and costs in winning coal. Anyone who has had dealings with the Free Trade Area knows that prices are made up to cover general living conditions, social services, and various other factors which 438 are not comparable as between one country and another. The other great difficulty about comparisons is, of course, the differences between the types of coal; between the ages of mines and so on. So comparisons are not really of great value. I do not think the noble Lord who introduced the Motion really tried to make a comparison, but I must draw attention to the fact that, in my opinion, it is quite impossible to do so except very elaborately indeed.
There is one point on which I should like to add my plea to that of the noble Lord—namely, the stressing of the fact that such things as Zeta and power from the sea, present atomic energy, and so on, are not going to affect the importance of coal until at least well into the middle of next century. In saying that I go further than the noble Lord. How are you going to make steel without coal? How are you going to make coal gas without coal? I think it is most important to stress that, and I hope the Minister also will be able to stress that point.
If I may now pass to a rather narrower aspect of this Motion, I should like to confine my remarks to the saving of fuel. Saving a ton of fuel is frequently considerably cheaper- than mining another ton. As the noble Lord has pointed out, wasting coal when somebody has possibly risked his life anyway, it is a hazardous occupation and not one of the most comfortable ones—I consider very nearly criminal, and I think the strongest measures should be taken to put that right.
With your Lordships' permission, I should like to draw attention to the Third Annual Report of the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service. This is a nonprofit-making company, sponsored by the National Coal Board, the Central Electricity Authority, the Gas Council, the South of Scotland Electricity Board, and, among private enterprises, Shell-Mex and B.P. and Esso Petroleum, so that its standing is pretty good. The heat and power survey carried out by this Service covered last years consumption of 1,200,000 tons of coal, more or less evenly spread throughout industry, and those responsible have indicated that a saving of between 18 per cent. and 20 per cent. would, in their opinion, be readily obtainable. This is, of course, an expert body. If that statement can 439 be taken as authentic—and I believe it can—it means that overall there is a possible saving each year in industry—not in the nationalised industries but in ordinary industry—of between 7 million and 10 million tons of coal. They say that not only is that saving possible, but that it can be done (and I quote the actual Report):For the most part by improved operation of existing plant, for the rest with relatively low capital expenditure.I should have thought that that statement warranted careful investigation and consideration.
The Fuel Efficiency Service state further that in the case of 257 works surveyed they found that an investment of £1,026,000 would save 100,500 tons of coal annually; in other words, the cost of saving one ton of coal per year would be £10.2. That is a gilt-edged investment, paying 50 per cent., and I feel that it should be investigated. It is better than anything I have ever found. In this connection Mr. Schumacher, who is the economic adviser to the National Coal Board, is recorded as having stated that in his opinion it was in the national interest to spend in capital up to £50 to save one ton of coal per year. If that gentleman is correct—and who am I to say that he is not?—£10.2 is about one-fifth of what he recommends as being in the national interest, which again lends weight to the argument.
The most fruitful field of investigation brought out by N.I.F.E. appears to lie in Lancashire boilers. We in this country use an extremely large quantity of these boilers, which were originally invented here. They are very old-fashioned and obsolete, but many are still in use. N.I.F.E. tested 555 (which is quite a large number to take to secure an average) scattered throughout industry. I will not go into all the details, but it was found that under these boilers 837,000 tons of coal were being burned and that, on average, the boilers were working at an effciency of 62.5 per cent. In 1920, the electricity undertakings had an efficiency figure of 68 per cent. It is now practically 90 per cent., which is higher than the ordinary industrialist can aim at and represents a very great achievement. Nevertheless, these people say that a 75 per cent. efficiency is readily obtained, and in many cases exceeded, by the type 440 of plant I am discussing. While a 75 per cent. efficiency is nothing to "write home about", it is something which N.I.F.E. maintain could quite easily be achieved.
They say that the amount of capital required to bring these 555 boilers up to a 75 per cent. efficiency, is extremely small, and I consider that the figures given are so startling that, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to go into three small items. They say 39 boilers should be scrapped and replaced by small boilers; that 85 should have economisers, and that 118 should have mechanical stokers. The capital cost of this would be £480,000, and the amount of coal that would be saved annually with improved operation (they make that qualification) would be 114,000 tons—which would mean that for every £3 8s. of capital expenditure we should save one ton of coal annually. That suggestion therefore appears to me to warrant investigation.
There are no reliable figures of the number of boilers in operation in this country. I would respectfully suggest that the present "guess" figure is about 18,000. but in order to get a better figure I make this suggestion. Each year all boilers are inspected by an insurance company—I believe that that is a legal obligation. If those insurance companies were requested by Her Majesty's Government to note the type of each boiler, the equipment with which it was fitted and the instruments installed, we should have a return which would place no real burden on anybody. Managements might then be required to give returns showing the total amount of coal consumed per year, with its average calorific value, and the total quantity of water consumed per year. That could be done more or less on the back of an envelope, so to speak, without much trouble. Her Majesty's Government would then have a rough and ready, but reasonably accurate, estimate of just what could be saved. That course would avoid the necessity for a certain amount of guessing. If we had definite figures on which to work it might then be worth going into the matter.
I believe that a large number of directors in industry may well take the view, in regard to operating boilers, "Old Bill is a bit lame; let us give him a soft job. He can throw coal on the boiler." 441 That, however, is wasting a national asset. There is difficulty in bring that fact home because, if there is a saving of 10 or 15 per cent, in an industrialist's fuel costs, he is saving only 10 or 15 per cent. of 2 per cent. of his total costs; and it is not worth his bother. In fact, he would sooner have "Old Bill" happy for the rest of his life, while taking the view that a boiler will always last for another year or two. That attitude raises a great difficulty in regard to the national interest, and I would suggest that the help of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, who are in touch with a very great number of people who operate boilers, might be solicited in a drive to bring home to people the importance of this matter from the national point of view.
Another small aspect which I would mention is the instrumentation of boilers. I am told that the minimum operational requirement in regard to instruments on boilers is a carbon dioxide indicator and a flue gas temperature indicator. No one thinks of driving a motor car without a speedometer, so why in the world should anybody think that a chemical reaction—and that is what a fire is—can be controlled without any means of measurement? That seems to me a folly. Many countries make it obligatory on boiler operators to provide instruments and see that boilers are operated properly. The noble Lord, the Minister of Power, gave his blessing to the autumn conference of the Combustion Engineering Association, and I feel sure that he will give his earnest attention, therefore, to the twenty-four recommendations which this conference produced in a very interesting pamphlet, devoted largely to matters dealt with in the N.I.F.E. report, with which will not weary your Lordships.
There are one or two main types of possible saving. One is the possible large percentage saving of the small user, a saving which amounts to only a small amount of coal individually but which, when added up, totals quite a lot. The other is the large user, where the percentage increase or benefit in efficiency is small, but where the amount of coal used adds up to a great deal. Those are the two different types. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mills, the Minister, whether he could tell us how many installations Her Majesty's Government are responsible for 442 operating in one way or another that come into those two categories, including of course installations in the Services. I should also like him to tell me the annual consumption of coal in all these installations, and whether the installations burning 500 tons a year—down to that size—are instrumented up to the minimum level. We expect a lead from the Government, and we have got it in most cases; and if he can tell us the answer to that question I am sure it will be satisfactory. Some excellent results have been achieved by some Government Departments, but one does not know whether all Departments are producing similar results. If the noble Lord would tell us that, I think it would be very interesting to hear.
I will now turn to the nationalised industries. The National Coal Board have made great strides in burning what would otherwise be unsaleable coal, but I should like to know whether the emphasis has not been more on that and less on the actual efficiency of burning coal in the older plant which they must have inherited. There is another point which is a general point that I think can be included under this Motion. Many local authorities are in a pretty good muddle as to exactly what is required of them under the Clean Air Act. For example, there is the possibility of burning smokeless fuel or of burning fuel smokelessly. Smokeless fuel is expensive, but ordinary fuel can be burned without smoke. The normal way in which that can be done is by opening a secondary air control and admitting excess air. Unless that is very well controlled the efficiency of a bad plant is even further reduced, and I think there is a potential danger if local authorities are not primed and thoroughly informed of these things.
One final thing which I should like to say is that under the Clean Air Act—no one wants compulsion in this respect or anything like that—it might be possible to bring in local by-laws: for example, that any stoker in charge of a hand-firing plant (and there must be many) should have a City and Guilds Certificate of competence. It is not a very high level, but I think it is well worth while. That might be brought in under the Clean Air Act; and the requirements of the basic minimum instrumentation of plants of that size 443 might also be dealt with. Her Majesty's Government are giving an excellent lead in these matters, but I suggest that a little more pressure or drive might be put on un-nationalised industry.
§ 3.25 p.m.
VISCOUNT DE L'ISLE
My Lords, speaking without notice in this debate, I begin with an apology to my noble friends and to Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor for not being here for his speech. I promised to intervene at very short notice, but one or two things have come to my notice which strike me as relevant to this debate. I take it that we are not discussing the extraction of coal or the efficiency of extraction, but rather its use. I thought that we had an admirably informed and sensible speech from my noble friend Lord Stonehaven who has just sat down. It has come to my notice—I am not able to bring any direct or personal evidence in this matter but I have every reason to believe that my information is well-founded—that in the design of public buildings, and particularly of schools, inadequate arrangements are made for the storage of fuel. I should have thought it was clear, particularly in the burning of coke for central heating, that if public authorities, and particularly schools, could make adequate provision for storage the gasworks and other manufacturers of coke could get rid of their supplies at the time when the general public are not consuming heavily. I think one of the difficulties (and I say this with great diffidence) is that architects, engineers and fuel economists do not get together. I came across it in a minor degree the other day.
If you install any form of central heating or other large combustion system and you do not make adequate provision for storage of fuel, I think that nowadays you are sinning against society. If authorities which produce combustible material, particularly coke, can, by a price differential, get rid of the fuel at the time of maximum storage, obviously capital and labour will not needlessly be locked up; but they cannot do so unless those who consume the fuel make proper provision for storage during the summer and autumn months. I address myself particularly to the Minister, because of 444 his influence with other Government Departments, to ask him to make quite sure that those who have the task of designing new buildings in the public interest make provision for storing fuel, so that it can be handled economically. After all, the cost of handling small quantities. taking them to the wheelbarrow and shovelling them out and into the boiler must be reflected in the price to the consumer, and that must be reflected ultimately in the earnings and the financial stability of the coal industry. I believe that coal, being one of our most precious raw materials, ought to be regarded as something that should be expended in the most economic manner. If I am informed correctly, it is time that those who are responsible for designing public buildings took as a basis of their building designs a really economic means of handling and expending coal.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor for bringing forward this question, which is a vast one. When one sits down and thinks about it one realises that it brings in many questions which affect all industries and the whole nation, I should like to make one or two remarks concerning a subject about which I think my noble friend Lord Lawson and I spoke in another debate in your Lordships' House, and that is the employment of foreign miners. The noble Lord who opened the debate said that he did not for one moment say that we should not produce more coal; and so far as I can see, we cannot produce more coal without more miners.
The noble Lord gave us some figures about the cost of producing coal in other countries as compared with what it costs to produce coal here. I wonder whether the noble Lord—he may not be able to do it on the spur of the moment—can give me any indication of what the miners of those various countries to which he was referring are receiving in wages as compared with ours. Can he do that?
§ LORD TEVIOT
It would appear from the figures which the noble Lord gave us that, as compared with the prices, 445 the miners in those countries are getting a larger wage than our miners are here. If that is so, it seems to me curious that there are a number of Italian, Hungarian and other miners on the Continent who are wishful to come here and work in our mines. I will not go into the question, because it is controversial and on this subject, which is not a Party one at all and which is of such vast importance, I want to keep off controversy of any sort. But it is curious that these foreign miners want to come here and work.
So far we have agreed that they shall not do so, but in view of the fact that we are actually importing coal, I should like to hear a really considered argument, and I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, may be able to tell your Lordships something about this matter. Perhaps the noble Viscount may be able to correct my impression on it. So far as I can make out from what is happening in my own country—for instance, there are tremendous developments in Fife—there is a considerable amount of coal to be mined and the mines could be worked to full capacity if we had more labour than we have available now. I hope that noble Lords opposite will explain to the miners that if we are going to get the best out of this important industry, if we are going to help the purse of the nation and help to fight inflation, we must give up buying coal which we could produce here if we got the necessary labour.
I do not quite agree with all that has been said so far, but. I am a child on this question compared with the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, and with my noble friends Lord Stonehaven, who is extremely well informed, and Lord De L'Isle. There are one or two things about which I am not sure and perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, and the noble Lord, Lord Mills, who is going to reply, will be able to help me. I understand that there is a number of mining villages which are beginning to show definite signs of unemployment, and this is happening in some of the bigger towns also. in view of the immense developments which are now possible in the production of fuel and power of various sorts, I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Mills whether the Government are looking ahead to see whether they cannot find some method 446 by which the people in the coal areas that are petering out, who look as if they are bound to be out of work in a few years' time, could be dovetailed into the new and modern schemes. That is something we have to do; otherwise we shall have a great deal of unemployment.
As my noble friend Lord Stonehaven has pointed out, the use of coal could be much improved. I also think that present-day miners, particularly the young miners, who do not know much about coal other than how to get it out of the ground, should be instructed in preparation for the time when the treating of coal, which to-day is dealt with by somewhat primitive methods, will be much more scientific. One of the benefits of a more scientific use of coal would be the great relief in the amount of dirt and soot which we have to suffer as a result of present methods.
I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Mills whether the plans for the new production of energy include the better use of our present fuel resources. It is all very well to think that the full development of nuclear power is going to take a long time. Like other noble Lords, I have one or two friends who are working on these projects and they do not take the view that the provision of nuclear power for industry is a long way off. I hope that the Government will consider seriously placing some of the nuclear power stations in areas where there has been large coal production which is now petering out, as is happening in Lanarkshire. I hope that my noble friend will be able to reassure me in regard to that point. The sites of future nuclear power stations for the production of fuel and power, for indeed it is both, should be carefully watched, and those areas where labour is available should be borne in mind before sites are chosen in other parts of the country. I think that the whole House has every reason to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, for opening this debate.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, I, too, want to express to my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor my thanks for placing this Motion on the Order Paper. I am afraid that we in this country have in the past taken the question of coal and energy power much too 447 lightly and too easily. We have been having our coal too large and too cheaply, and we have been very wasteful in its use. We are now coming to a position when I think we shall have to think much wider than just about coal, that major product of ours, upon which the whole of our economy has depended and is depending. This afternoon, while my noble friend and noble Lords opposite have dealt mainly with coal, I believe that we ought to look also at the wider question of power energy. We are facing some problems in relation to that matter at the present time.
I was pleased to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, deal with the matter of fuel efficiency. There is no doubt that we have been, and still are, wastefully using this great national product, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will bring out additional inducements to bring about the saving which can be made by the proper utilisation of coal. We must remember that we are not the only industrial country in the world, as we were in the early days. I was interested to read in an article by a scientist that during the past hundred years the world has used at least half as much energy of all kinds as was used in the preceding eighteen-and-a-half centuries. That is an indication of the changes which are taking place. This enormous growth gives an idea of the transformation which the economy of the world has undergone since the early days of the Industrial Revolution which made such demands upon our coal supplies, the primary source of power until 1900, when some new fuels, such as oil, natural gas and water power, began to show themselves.
It is interesting to see how this demand for world energy has increased. In 1860, it is stated, the total power energy in the world was produced from 134 million tons of coal, and about 75 per cent. of that total was used in this country. In the year 1900, the energy power required 766 million tons of coal equivalent—that is, about five times what it was in 1860. There was very little oil and water power at that time compared with the demand. But in 1956 the energy power required amounted, in terms of coal equivalent, to some 3,600 million tons, of which 1,920 million tons was provided by fuels other than coal—that is, from oil, natural 448 gas and water power. The highly industrialised countries of Western Europe and North America accounted for the use of 70 per cent, of the total amount of coal-equivalent power to which I have referred. In this country, in 1938, coal provided 93 per cent, of our inland energy requirements. In 1956, the proportion had been reduced to 85 per cent. The remainder, apart from 1½ per cent. which came from water power, being provided by oil.
I should like to repeat what I said in the previous debate on this matter of fuel: that these increasing imports of oil must cause some embarrassment to Her Majesty's Government. For the import of all mineral fuels and lubricants, leaving out coke, coal and briquettes is rapidly mounting year after year. The value of these last year was about £440 million, £70 million more than in the previous year; and of that amount, £69 million worth of gas oil, diesel oil and fuel oil was imported into this country. And the total required is going to increase, because the most recent assessment of United Kingdom energy requirements in 1975, given only last Thursday by Mr. Longdon, the Director-General of Production for the National Coal Board, showed that by 1975 the total amount of coal equivalent used in meeting our energy requirements will be 370 million tons, of which 80 million tons must be provided by oil, 40 million tons by nuclear power and 250 million tons by coal. That 250 million tons of coal is 40 million tons more than the deep-mined annual output in this country at the present time. If we cannot make up that difference the coal equivalent in other fields will have to be imported.
There is no doubt that for some time many of our major coal-using industries have become oil conscious. Industries like those responsible for electrical generation and railway modernisation are replacing coal by diesel and electric power. We cannot complain about their using electric power, because, of course, it is largely produced from coal. The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, mentioned the use of coal for the purpose of steel production. About ten or twelve years ago coal was used 100 per cent. in making steel, but oil has made serious inroads into its use in steel production. In the engineering industry, the chemical industry and even in the food, tobacco 449 and drink industries, oil is making headway as a fuel. Indeed, in private homes oil has become especially popular. It is estimated that half a million oil convector heaters are now being sold each year in this country. Already the increase in the consumption of oil for the purposes which I have mentioned, with the mild winter which we are experiencing, has meant that home consumption of coal, after rising by an annual average of 3 million tons between 1940 and 1956, fell last year by 5 million tons. There was some increase in production, and with a fall in exports the National Coal Board now have the problem of undistributed stocks of coal 6 million tons higher than they were twelve months ago. This increase has cost the Coal Board already an estimated £24 million. Despite the fall last year of imported coal, which was only half of what it was in 1956 and a quarter of what it was in 1955, the total stocks which remain at collieries, opencast sites and other places amounts to something between 28 million tons and 30 million tons.
We know that the National Coal Board are making a great effort to increase exports, mainly to the Continent, but they are finding that the sellers' market has disappeared, because coal stocks in Western Europe, especially of the small type which is most of the Coal Board's surplus, are very large; and last December consumers on the Continent did not take up the option upon United Kingdom coal. The situation there has been somewhat complicated by the long-term contracts placed by Continental buyers for United States coal, and also by the growth of competition from Poland, whose coal, is sold at very competitive prices. The principal difficulty is that the Continent wants larger supplies of large coal. Indeed, last year, the United States exported 36 million tons of coal into Western Europe, and Poland 9 million tons, whilst our total exports last year were around 7 million tons. We must face one thing in relation to the coal industry, and that is that small coal, or the production of small coal, is our great difficulty. With the coming of mechanisation, 75 per cent. of the total production of deep-mined coal in this country last year was small coal, and the remainder large coal.
Noble Lords will recognise what a great change has taken place. Some time 450 ago, when I earned my living by the weight of large coal which was delivered at the pit top, if there had been any small coal in the tub or tram it would have been deducted out of the weight for which I was paid. Although I probably sent to the surface tens of thousands of tons of small coal, I did not get a single penny for it. To-day, as the result of mechanisation, small coal is unavoidable. Two years ago I went abroad, and I went into a very large mine where the seam of coal was about ten to twelve feet thick. I saw the most modern American machine being used. It was a. coal-cutter filler machine. I should say, from what I saw of the production there, that the percentage of small coal was even greater than 75 per cent.
We must adapt ourselves to this new situation. The Minister of Power and the Central Electricity Authority have acted on the right lines in taking the decision that the use of oil fuel in power stations is to be less than originally planned, and that two, if not three, of the stations which were to be oil-fired are now to be coal-fired. No blame should attach to the Government or the Central Electricity Authority for this change, because in 1955, when the decision was taken to switch from coal, they had the full support of the Opposition at that time because there were serious difficulties over coal.
Should the present coal situation continue, I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Mills, the Minister of Power, Her Majesty's Government and the Central Electricity Authority will reconsider the position of others of the seventeen new and converted power stations and make them coal-burning instead of oil-burning. It was estimated that these seventeen stations, if they were oil-fired, would require a total of 5½ million to 6 million tons of oil, or a coal equivalent of some 9½ million to 10 million tons. One can see at once how important it is that we should use this product which we have in our own country instead of importing oil from other countries. It wish the Minister would use his persuasive powers with other industries, such as steel, railways, foundries and others, who have and are considering making still further changes to oil fuel. He should induce them to follow the example of the Central Electricity Authority.
451 I have seen many boilers, producing heat for many commodities, fired by pulverised fuel, and the results, we were told, although perhaps not quite as good as those from oil, were exceptionally good. Small coal would be the right kind of coal to use for making this fuel. In Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire fifty or sixty years ago the natives fired their homesteads with a mixture of small coal and mud and clay; they called it "culm", and they kept their fires in all the year round. It gave them sufficient heat and power to do all the cooking which they required. The National Coal Board, I know, are fully conscious of the position in relation both to the increase in the amount of small coal and the substitution of large coal in the household market, for they have produced a size known as "doubles", which has been found very suitable for use in modern appliances and which is sponsored by the Coal Utilisation Council. Very wisely, I think, they have reduced the price of this coal by something like 1s. 6d. per cwt. If they went on doing that, the probabilities are that greater use would be made of small coal than is made at the present time.
Before leaving the coal industry I should like to ask the Minister of Power the cause of the change in the nuclear power programme, part of which is now postponed for a year; that is, to 1966. The argument which was made when the programme was laid before us that this source of power must be available as soon as possible to avoid an energy gap, has lost its force. Or is it that there is the possibility of making gas supplies more cheaply from coal or imported methane? It is claimed that as a source of heat for space heating and many kinds of industrial furnaces, gas is close in competition with electricity, and the nuclear power generation of electricity, we are told, gives little prospect that there will be any reduction in the cost of electricity. By the rival advertisements of these two nationalised bodies, gas and electricity. we know of their competition, and recently the Paymaster-General in another place said that competition must continue to be the basic principle of the co-ordination of our fuel policy. I hope that that is not going to apply all round. But, he said, it must be competition with a good deal of Government guidance. 452 Well, the responsibility of that guidance is left with the Minister of Power, and we trust that he will exercise that guidance to see that we get the best out of these industries, whether it is by competition or not, and that too much money is not wasted on advertisements.
I should like to ask the Minister of Power to inform your Lordships of any progress which has been made in the experiments with underground gasification of coal. Those experiments have been going on for some time. I now understand that some new contractors have been taken on by the Coal Board and have made some progress on the Newman Spinney site. I want to say, quite frankly, that I have never been an optimist as to the success of these experiments. Perhaps the Minister will convince me that I am wrong.
My Lords, I cannot conclude without referring to the historic announcement recently made to the world; that is, Britain's possession of Zeta, the world's first thermo-nuclear apparatus to produce power from an entirely new fuel source. It means power for industry and other purposes from hydrogen atoms in water and the air. We can rightly claim that the United Kingdom has in operation today the two largest experimental machines in the world for achieving this end: namely, the Atomic Energy Authority's Zeta and the Associated Electrical Industries' Sceptre III. This is a great British achievement. But let it be remembered that it is not all our own work; British and Commonwealth brains have combined, with some assistance from American brains. Great credit is due to all the scientists and others who have brought about this result. This accomplishment means that the first rung of the ladder has been reached for the production of this fuel. Naturally no definite date has been quoted for the full production of these findings. Sir John Cockcroft—and there is no doubt that his brains have been behind this research—estimates that it will be twenty years before fusion is put into our use.
Even if that is so, it is worth waiting for, for it means much to the United Kingdom, with its dwindling coal reserves, with little or no oil, and no uranium, all of which has to be imported. It is estimated that the earth's 453 reserves of coal and oil with its increasing production will last for some 100 to 150 or 200 years, and uranium and thorium for atomic reactors, may go on for something like 3,000 years. That is not my guarantee those are statements of the scientists.
It must not be forgotten that, whatsoever the difficulties, the basis of the thermo-nuclear action is that the fuel supply comes straight from the sea. It does not have to be mined. It laps our shores. Some of the scientists estimate that five gallons of water yield one gramme of deuterium, and the present-day price of deuterium is 2s. a gramme. Yet it is estimated that one gramme of deuterium when burned inside a thermonuclear reactor produces the same amount of energy as ten tons of coal. Again I am not a scientist, but that is what the scientists are telling us. If that is so, countless unborn generations will be assured of power to light and heat their homes, work their factories or transport, and make continued civilisation possible, thanks to the team of devoted workers at Harwell. The next stage of the experiment will be to improve the apparatus until the energy produced breaks even with the energy put in, and, after that, a power plant to produce a useful amount of power. I am sure we all wish the team of scientists and technologists undertaking this venture good luck.
My Lords, it is to be hoped that this discovery will not go the way of so many scientific discoveries in which Britain has been first in research but well behind in its application. I understand that during the past few years expenditure in this field averaged about £2 million per annum compared with a United States expenditure of many times that amount. We trust that the Government will consider that this is a field where the speed and magnitude of the practical economic results are in a sector where economies would be too expensive to afford, for the prosperity of this country depends on power, and this new discovery is the most powerful potential safeguard of that prosperity, in the future. Seeing that Her Majesty's Government have planned their fuel and power policy some ten to fifteen years ahead, I was inclined to ask the Minister of Power whether, in the changed circumstances, any alteration has been made in the policy already 454 announced. If not, I hope he will keep your Lordships' House informed should any changes be made.
§ 4.12 p.m.
My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Lord who moved this Motion for not having heard the first words of his speech. I think I owe a further apology to your Lordships for inflicting on you a speech two days running. My excuse is that I was the humble assistant of the First Lord of the Admiralty in presenting the last Coal Mines Bill to this House, and I presented a Private Member's Bill for the thermal insulation of factories. I have risen now mainly because of a thirst for information; but as I have not given notice to my noble friend the Minister, I naturally cannot expect answers, except where he has conic specially prepared on the subject. He has had a bewildering array of questions put to him.
The debate has chiefly centred on coal, where the three problems are the quantity, the quality and the price. Once, ten or twelve years ago, when I made a speech in your Lordships' House on coal, I received a letter from an old boss of mine—alas! since departed. He was the son of a parish priest in the Yorkshire coalfield, and he said that in the olden days, before the first war, a miner went down the pit to earn enough money to pay for his cost of living and a little bit extra to buy some meat for his whippets, and that he put in extra time when he wanted a bit of "brass" to buy a piano of a fur coat for his "missus." He was never taunted with absenteeism when he took a day off for the St. Leger or to see Yorkshire "whop" Lancashire at cricket. That was mining, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, said, under a different system. To-day, mining is a team method, and absenteeism naturally has a far greater effect on a team than it does on the production of a single body.
The general public are greatly mystified about absenteeism and they would like to know a good deal more about what constitutes absenteeism, and why there is absenteeism. Is it that men have earned enough and do not want to earn any more? Some ten or twelve years ago I made a speech in your Lordships' House suggesting that new coal pits should have a large space of ground on the surface, with a large board carrying 455 the words "reserved for miners' cars only". I believe that to-day the miner's car is much in evidence. But is there still a lower standard of living among the miners than that which they can achieve if they really want to? Then, is it a question of physical strength? Is it that the older miners feel they cannot keep up the full number of shifts and so take time off? I do not know. Is it the natural desire of man for daylight on more than one day a week that brings him out of the pit? Or is it just the traditional independence of the miner, inherited from the old system, which is out of place under the new system?
When one has the answers to those questions, it brings one to the great question—that is, have we got the optimum working week? Is it the right system to have work done, theoretically, five and a half days a week, although in practice a number of men take either Saturday or Monday off, and so on? Should we get more or less coal if there were a five-day week? Could we get a five-day week, or would the same men still take a day off and so make it a four-day week?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
May I interrupt the noble Lord? I regret doing so. The miners have a five-day week; they are working a five-day week. But if the noble Lord went and studied the miners themselves at the pit, he would see the variety of men and the different standards of physique they have. Then perhaps there would not be so much criticism of the miner. If only those who criticise the miner would spend a month doing a miner's job, then perhaps they would realise the difficulties with which miners are always faced when they are working anything from 500 to 800 yards under ground.
I am not criticising the miners at all. My point is that there must be a scientific reason for what is called absenteeism, and I am wondering whether we have the optimum working week—in other words, whether the week is spread out in such a way that it is not the optimum one from the point of view of production. That is only a question; I do not know the answer.
Then another point in regard to production is the getting of new pits into production. Has housing kept pace with 456 the pits? You cannot expect to bring a new pit into production unless the miners have homes to live in. Some of the "old hands" in coal think that it takes rather too long these days to get a mine into production. Are they right? I do not know. Then, when we read the statistics as to the number of miners in the industry and so on—about 700,000, is it not?—do those figures include the men who are developing entirely new pits? I presume that that total must include men who are on development work and the major reconstruction of old pits. Where there is a team "out in the blue," shaft-sinking, making drives and so on underground, are they part of the mining force? If so, are they a much larger proportion than they used to be?—because if that is so, it puts in a rather uncertain light the statistics of coal output per man.
On the question of quality, I have read that the first machines, those which broke the coal up very badly, are to some extent being replaced by new machines which turn out a larger grade of coal. Is that so; and, if it is, have these machines been successful? Are they manufactured in this country and is their use likely to spread? Whatever happens, we still have the problem of the "smalls," and while it is all very well to produce wonderful new domestic appliances which claim to burn "smalls" there are two snags. The first is that householders strongly object to having to change their fireplaces, which is an expensive business; and if they are tenants, particularly of a local authority, that may not be easy to do. Secondly, I have never found a small coal that does not emit black smoke. There is in the community a large body that is spending its time trying to purify our air. By encouraging the burning of small coals in household grates are we not stultifying the efforts of a certain honourable Member in another place and his supporters who wish to have a purer atmosphere?
Some years ago, when I had some contact with my noble friend's Ministry, new briquetting plant was under consideration. At one stage it was thought that we had found a briquette which could hold itself together purely by pressure, without any binding pitch material. I wonder whether anything has come of that, because although one sees a few ovoids about one does not 457 see briquettes on the market in very large quantities. Then there is the question of smokeless fuel. That is very nice, but at the moment the price is quite alarming. Is there any prospect of larger supplies at lower cost?
All industrial saving of large and ordinary coal depends on capital, and we must remember that in this country to-day capital is even scarcer than coal, so that we are in great difficulty there. That leads me to the capital employed in these great fuel industries. I hope that at this time of great stringency of capital my noble friend will try to extract the maximum amount of "fat" from the electricity and gas industries by making them use their internal resources for their capital needs to the maximum of their ability. Competition between gas and electricity has been mentioned, and, quite frankly, that does not make sense to the general public. It does not make sense to hear, on the one side, that we are desperately short of coal, while on the other side two rival industries are trying to make one use more of the products of coal.
Then we come to hire purchase. That is necessary and desirable for many of these appliances, and the Electricity Boards are engaged in hire purchase. I believe the Gas Boards are, too, though I aria not quite sure of that. We must remember that the finance of hire purchase by these two Boards is rather different from the finance of hire purchase by retail traders, because finance for the Boards ultimately must come, in one form or another, from the Treasury, whereas traders are able to obtain capital from the open market or their own resources. One of the greatest problems of Her Majesty's Government to-day is how to attract into their hands sufficient capital to finance the public sector of the economy. I would suggest that in having to attract capital to finance hire purchase for these purposes they are unnecessarily adding to their capital needs—needs which they find it barely possible to meet. In the whole national interest, quite apart from any Party dogma, it would be far more economic to let private capital run the hire purchase and to use for other capital purposes the capital at present employed in hire purchase by these Boards.
My noble friend Lord Hall ended his speech with a reference to Zeta, which 458 really is a most remarkable thing. I wonder whether in generations to come it may not prove to be a step towards meeting man's greatest need, which is the transmutation of salt water into fresh water so that we can gradually start to hold back the increasing deserts of the world. Perhaps in generations to come men may learn to spend their resources on fighting nature rather than planning to fight themselves.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD LAWSON
My Lords, after the speech to which we have just listened, perhaps I might say a few words. I do not suppose that the noble Lord. Lord Hawke, expected to make a speech of that nature without being challenged. There is a fairly free discussion going on in certain quarters in the country on the question of absenteeism. Before I deal with that, may I just remind your Lordships that there has been no steadier industry—no industry has worked more regularly or with less trouble—than the mining industry. Knowing the nature of the work, I have been amazed by the steadiness and regularity of the mining industry.
A man was killed in my county, not many weeks ago, in a 21-inch seam. It would be quite impossible for me to explain what that means to the average body. A man may get used to it, of course, but in the long run it has its effect on him; and speaking for my own county I can say that there is a considerable amount of working of that kind. A 3-foot seam is generally considered quite a good seam, but anyone who has worked in the mines knows very well that, no matter how strong a man may be, there comes a time when he gets what I used to call a form of claustrophobia. Whilst I would not defend any man who deliberately lies idle for the sake of idleness, I do repeat what my noble friend said: that there is a little too much freedom in talking about this matter of absenteeism. If all the people who complained about it were as willing and ready to volunteer to overcome the shortage of miners, how well off the country would be! That is all I am going to say about this matter.
I think emphasis might be laid more often upon the regularity of work in the industry. I am speaking of my own county. There is hardly a whisper there 459 at any time, in any week, about absenteeism at any colliery in the county; and I dare say it is pretty well the same story in most such areas in the country. When one compares that with the state of things in coalmining areas only a few years ago, I think it is a tribute to the men who are working, there. I am living not only in an area but in a street where men go out to the pits. They go out at all hours of the morning and at all hours of the night. I meet them at night time going out to the pit for a night shift; I meet others who are coming back. In many areas, the whole day and the whole night, practically, is worked. I do not know whether that is general throughout the country, but it is something that happens in hardly any other industry.
Knowing what I do about the actual work (and I had some twenty years of it, in a mine which was about 2,000 feet deep) I say that, considering the ventilation conditions, the depth, the regular stooping, the dust and all the rest of it, it is a rather marvellous thing, on the whole, that the men work as regularly as they do. I do not think that this talk about absenteeism does much good. As I say, I would not defend a man who would not face his task, of whatever kind it was. But there is one thing your Lordships can depend upon: no man achieves anything in the mining industry, in public life and all the rest of it, if he is not a good class workman. I never knew a man who did so. There are three noble Lords here who can speak upon this matter of strictures upon the mining population generally concerning absentees, and the three of us would repeat what the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, said: that those who have the capacity for criticism in this matter would do well to have a try at doing the job. If they did so, they would not be so free with their criticism afterwards.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, it was not my intention to intervene in this debate, but I have been rather twitted by one or two elder Lords of the other side as to why, on the subject in which I was supposed to know something, I proposed to keep silent. I shall not detain your Lordships for long, but as, I have been in this industry of coal and engineering for as long a period as Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, who opened 460 this debate to-day, perhaps it may not be out of place if I say a word or two. I would dismiss what I had thought of saying about absenteeism in the mines and would be content to leave it in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, because he told us today that there was a problem there and that to deal with it was a very difficult matter. But movements are going on at the moment, I understand, whereby those who deliberately absent themselves, and who do not work in the same way as their better fellows do, are being called to order, and that attempts are being made to shame them. I am content to leave it at that.
When I was a young man, in my early twenties, dealing with the supply of electric power to collieries, among other industries, my old father used to say to me, "My boy, when you get older you will learn as time goes on with how little wisdom the world is governed." I must say that, as the years have mounted up, I have not been inclined to dispute the truth of that saying which was impressed upon my mind so many years ago. One reason why I say that at the present time is this: on the one hand, we are told that there should be a better use made of coal; on the other hand, we are told that one of the problems facing the industry to-day is what to do with the large and increasing amount of small coal produced. But there is an immense market waiting which will enable more small coal to be consumed—in the power stations, for example, and domestically, in the millions of homes in this country.
When I see the number of coal fires that are still being used, and the facilities available to the housewife in the way of space heating by modern apparatus—fandriven and occupying very little space, and which enables warm air to be pumped into the room and circulated around the room in the winter, and cold air to be circulated in the summer I do not see what improvement is possible. I know, and we all realise, how pleasant it is to sit in front of a cheerful, roaring coal fire in the room in our house where perhaps we spend most of our leisure time. But although some of us may do household chores, one thing I certainly should not like to have to do is to clear out grates in the morning, when the ashes are all that remain. It makes a great 461 dust all over the place. One has to carry the bucket away and dispose of the ashes somewhere, to fill up the coal scuttle and to lay the fire and prepare it for the next lighting. Not only that, but the housewife would remind one, having got so far, "There is a duster in the drawer. Go and clear the dust off the shelves which has accumulated from the coal fires during the last day." So much for the use of coal for heating.
Why is it necessary to-day to use coal for cooking? There are plenty of appliances available at a reasonable cost within the reach of most householders, for cooking by electricity—they are provided on hire purchase or on hire by the Area Boards and other undertakings. I entirely disagree, I am sorry to say, with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. Coming to the heating of water, which is the next thing necessary in the house, I ask why is it necessary to use coal or coke in a boiler? The modern immersion heater, thermostatically controlled, will provide all requirements of hot water; and many thousands of householders are already finding that to be so.
What is stopping the further development in this direction, which results only in increased coal consumption? It is the actions of the financial pundits in the Government and the imposition of purchase tax which is changed from time to time, sometimes in the same year. People do not know where they are, simply because of lack of stability in our taxation and hire purchase arrangements and financial stringency. I am surprised that my noble friend should say that private traders can get financial facilities. I do not know where from, with the present instructions to bank managers. I and many of my friends find it extremely difficult to get any additional financial accommodation.
These changes can be brought about by a common sense policy on the part of those who have to plan our methods of taxation. One thing I would urge upon my noble friend Lord Mills, who is a member of the Cabinet, is that it would be well worth the while of the Treasury to look into this question afresh and see what could be done to help in solving this coal problem. There is one reflection I should like to leave with the noble Lord—I put it in the form of a question, to 462 which he may not have the answer available. I remember many years ago being very proud when we installed the first electric winder in a pit in County Durham. Since then, a fair number have been installed in other pits, but I am wondering how many pits are still operating the old, wasteful, coal-burning winding plants, many of them possibly with old-fashioned Lancashire boilers. I should not be surprised if there were room for very considerable economy there. That is all I wanted to say. I was stimulated into contributing something from my experience and I hope that what I have said will not be taken amiss by my noble friend.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Hawke, I feel that I ought to apologise for inflicting myself on your Lordships on two days running, but I hope I may be forgiven, for, as is so often the case, to-day's debate has been an example of how experts on almost any subject can be found in your Lordships' House. Whatever may be one's view on the reform of your Lordships' House, I feel that we could not do better than call on these experts to contribute to our debates in future.
I should like to add my humble tribute to that of the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, to the scientists who have discovered Zeta. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. In future our children, and perhaps we ourselves, if we live long enough, will benefit by such discoveries. I was sorry to hear the noble Viscount Lord Hall, mention that coal stocks are now six million tons higher than they were a year ago. Not that we do not want coal stocks but, being connected with the coal industry in a humble way, I know that owing to the warm winter and other causes we find it difficult to sell our coal. The company with which I am connected produces smokeless fuel and we are hoping that in due course, when towns have larger smokeless zones, we may be able to expand our sales.
The Coal Board have very large stocks in hand. As we have heard earlier, no doubt that is due to the amount of conversion to oil-burning appliances. I am also connected with an industry which at present is considering this matter. It will probably come down on the side of oil, unfortunately, but if one 463 is in an industry where finance matters, one has to look for the cheapest form of producing heat. Whereas a few years ago one used to think that oil would be more expensive than coal, now one has come to the view that the price of oil is more likely to go down and the price of coal more likely to go up, and that has a great deal to do with the decisions which directors of companies have to make. The second factor is that in using oil there is a considerable saving of labour. With full employment, saving of labour is probably a good thing rather than a bad. The third reason is that the same number of oil burners generate more heat than coal.
I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time much longer, except to say that, like everyone else, I am concerned about dirt in towns. Presumably oil burning is allowed in smokeless zones. I find that when I live in London and my little car has to stay out at night, the extraordinary amount of dirt that accumulates on it, presumably owing to oil fumes, has to be seen to be believed. I have to clean the windscreen every day before I can look out, because of the oil fumes that have arrived on it during the night. That shows the amount of dirt we must all breathe while in London, in oil fumes from central heating and other appliances. I hope that smokeless fuel will be more used than oil, because that will do more good to employment in the mining industry. I am sure that we shall hear some useful observations from the noble Lord, Lord Mills, and therefore I will not stand in your Lordships' way any longer.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF POWER (LORD MILLS)
My Lords, I should like to say how much I have welcomed the debate so ably opened by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor. He said that perhaps it would do if in reply I gave my speech of yesterday in a condensed form, and I was a little tempted to "get away with it" in that way until I listened to him speaking, when I thought that if I reproduced his speech, that would do. But as the debate has developed, I have realised that I have many questions to answer and I shall not be able to rest on either the noble Lord's speech or my own of yesterday. The noble Lord also 464 said that he believed I was a better industrialist than a politician. That is only because noble Lords opposite have been so kind and understanding that I have never needed to be a politician of the kind the noble Lord meant.
I think this debate has been very timely, because we are probably reaching a turning point in our fuel and power affairs. If I may trespass on your Lordships' time, I should like to give you a general picture of what has been happening in fuel and power. Since the end of the Second World War the fuel and power supplies in this country have been under continuous strain; they have never really been sufficient to meet the demands made upon them. I think it should be clearly understood that our difficulties have arisen from the growth in demand and not from any falling off in supplies. Before the war, our economy was expanding only slowly, and it is true that at times a significant part of our productive capacity and manpower was under-employed or not employed at all. Since 1945 our resources have been fully employed, and there has been a large increase in our national income and our standards of living. Moreover, the heavy fuel-using industries, like iron and steel, have expanded rapidly. The result is that every year we have needed even more fuel than we required between the wars. This greater appetite for fuel, must, I suggest, always be kept in mind when we are judging the performance of the fuel industries.
To understand the significance of our present position it is necessary to look at the trends that have shown themselves in fuel supply. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, will forgive me if I suggest to him that in comparing production with that in other countries, and costs with other countries' costs (to which the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven gave a reply) it is well to keep the trends in mind there, too, because they paint the picture at which we should look. During all these years, both before and since the war, we have been basically a two-fuel nation. By that I mean that all our fuel supplies have been produced primarily from coal or oil.
Coal is, of course, as noble Lords have said, the foundation of our fuel economy—as it has been for so many years past 465 —but the importance of oil has been growing throughout that period. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, suggested to me that I might stop the use of oil by ordinary industry of every kind. I am sure he has not forgotten the story of King Canute: I can no more stop the use of oil than that gentleman could stop the sea. Since 1948, whereas the consumption of coal has increased by 10 per cent., that of oil has increased by 91 per cent. Put in another way, the use of oil has taken an increasingly large share of the increase in the consumption of primary fuels. This is, I think, the first point to note about the post-war era.
Secondly, there has been a tendency for an increasing proportion of fuel to be consumed in what are known as refined forms, by which I mean electricity, gas and coke. Since 1948 coke consumption has increased by 15 per cent., gas by 27 per cent. and electricity by 99 per cent. As a result, whereas before the war these refined products accounted for only a quarter of inland fuel consumption, they now account for 40 per cent. or more.
I do not wish to give your Lordships mental indigestion by quoting a lot of figures, but I think it might interest you if I were to give you some idea of which types of consumer have used the various sorts of fuel. Taking all fuels together, we find that 60 per cent. of all fuel consumed is used by industry and commerce, 27 per cent. by the domestic consumer, and 13 per cent. by transport of one kind or another. You will see, therefore, that for fuel generally industry is by far the biggest user.
In the case of coal, half of our supplies goes to making fuels or energy of other kinds; the remainder is shared between industry and commerce, 26 per cent.; the domestic user, 18 per cent., and transport 6 per cent. Industry and commerce are together responsible for 60 per cent. of the total consumption of electricity and for over half the consumption of gas, the bulk of the remainder in each case being used by the domestic consumer. In the case of oil, however, over half is used for transport purposes and industry and commerce take most of the remainder, up to the present domestic use accounting for only about 4 per cent. The pattern, therefore, from the end of the war to the 466 present time can be summarised as follows: a rapidly growing demand for fuel; a continuing shortage of coal; the increasing use of oil; and a movement away from using coal in its raw form towards its use in electricity, coke and gas.
I think we can expect the trends that have become apparent since the end of the war to continue to exert themselves in the years ahead. Let me take electricity first: I will come on to coal and many of the problems that we have discussed this afternoon later. Electricity is one of the main keys to production and productivity, so that if we want—and we all do—a thriving industrial economy, we can expect the demand for electricity to continue to grow, probably in something of the same order as in recent years. Similarly, the domestic use of electricity, gas and of solid smokeless fuels in expected to grow as people seek better standards of heating in their homes.
I have already referred to the slower rate of growth in the consumption of coal in recent years. I think we must plan—in fact, we are planning—on the basis that inland demand for coal will continue to grow, although at a slow rate in comparison with that for the other primary fuels. We can expect reductions in the direct use of coal by such consumers as the railways as they turn to diesel and electric trains, and by householders as they turn to more convenient fuels and as the Clean Air Act is implemented. But there may well be large increases in the demand for coal by the coke ovens, and an increase in demand is also to be expected for the generation of electricity, although the demand here will be less than it would have been but for the advent of nuclear energy. We must plan to make more coal available for export. I do not like, and I am sure noble Lords do not, seeing our exports going down. We used to supply, and there is no reason why we should not continue to supply, many other countries with coal.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, referred to the small coal position, and I think he gave your Lordships figures of 75 per cent, small coal and 25 per cent. large coal. That is not quite correct. There are intermediate grades, as the noble Viscount knows better than I do.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, I gave the figures which were given by the Paymaster General in, I think, October of last year.
§ LORD MILLS
I think this shows that the Paymaster-General might have expanded his answer a little. Actually, the production of small coal is in opencast two-thirds and in deep-mined one half. Those are the actual figures.
§ LORD MILLS
No, that is not true, because of the much greater amount mined by deep mines. It is only the proportion that is greater in opencast than in deep mines. Stocks of small coal at the pitheads and in opencast sites amount to some 6 million tons. That is the result of a fall in consumption by certain industrial users, mild weather, and the growing proportion of small coal being mined. I think noble Lords know the reasons for that. The growing output of small coal is due to mechanisation and increased shot firing, as is well known. The Coal Board are seeking to reduce the small-coal surplus by changes in mining practice, on the one hand, and encouraging consumers to use small rather than large grades on the other. I think I can answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, who asked whether certain machines were being replaced by others in order to give a larger proportion of large coal. That does not quite describe it. It is an adjustment of the use of these machines so that the more appropriate machines can be used on the seams best suited to give large coal.
We must not lose sight of the fact that although these stocks are unusually high, they are not excessively so, bearing in mind the total demand for coal and the fluctuations which are possible and which have been experienced before. There was a reference to the reduction in our coal exports. As I have said, I am sure we should all welcome the restoration of the export trade. Our trade fell off because we did not have the coal to sell abroad; indeed, we had to import large quantities instead. It is true that the supply position is now easier, but the European market is slack at present because of the mild winter and the long-term contracts made by the European countries when we were unable to supply. But I can assure your Lordships that the Coal 468 Board are doing everything they can to recover these lost markets and I am sure they will be successful.
As I have said, I think we can expect the demand for oil to continue. It may not be as heavy as it has been, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, pointed out, there was a strong encouragement for the use of oil owing to the shortage of coal. But the growth of oil has a natural momentum all its own. I do not think we should forget that. There is really no suitable alternative to oil to meet the growing demands of road transport, and even in cases where oil does not possess a monoply of this kind it is showing itself to have considerable advantages in technique, convenience and, I am increasingly increasingly in price, so that we can expect an expansion in its use.
Mention was made of the power station oil conversion programme. That is continuing, but it has been reduced by one-third in size—that is, to the equivalent of six million tons of coal rather than nine million tons, which was contracted for by 1960–61. There are, I suggest, good reasons for continuing it. First, the electricity industry entered into longterm contracts with the oil companies who have incurred very much trouble and expense in arranging to provide the oil. These reductions therefore represent a relinquishment of the contractual rights by the companies, and I had to come to the conclusion that it was impossible and would have been most unjust to press them any further. Although the position at present is fairly easy there is no assurance that coal supplies in the future will be adequate without these supplies of oil.
The noble Viscount asked for greater use of pulverised fuel. Such fuel can be used economically and satisfactorily only in the large steam-raising plants, where it requires expensive equipment for preparation, firing and dust extraction. It is not suitable for locomotives, for example, with their small boilers and fire-boxes. The question is primarily one of the investment necessary for its preparation and burning, and I think this is a field where most people who can use it do use it.
I spoke earlier about our having reached a turning point in our fuel and power affairs. The main reason for this is, of course, the advent of nuclear power, which makes us a three-fuel instead of 469 a two-fuel nation. There is a tendency for some people to speak as though the advent of nuclear power means the departure of the coal industry. This puts an entirely wrong perspective on the matter. There is no doubt in my mind that coal will remain the basis of our fuel economy for many years to come. I cannot stress too much this fact: that in our own day and age coal is, and will remain, the very foundation of our fuel economy. We must have an efficient coal industry producing the grades needed in the appropriate quantities, and we require a happy coal industry giving security of employment in conditions as good as they can be made for the miners of the country.
I share the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, and other noble Lords, over the level of absenteeism at the mines. At the beginning of last year there was a surge in output, but in the second half of the year this slackened off, and this happened after the changes in the summer in the attendance-bonus incentive. Then we had the influenza epidemic which very seriously affected the miners, although by now we would have expected the effects of that to have disappeared. But it is undoubted that it has been an important factor in the drop in output.
The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, asked me whether the hours and the arrangements of work were the right ones. All I can say is that they are fixed and agreed by men who have had a long experience of this industry as being the best and most suitable in the circumstances, and I have no reason to quarrel with there decision. This question of absenteeism is not an easy one. I am not sure it is even peculiar to the mines. There seems to be a tendency on the part of most people to seek leisure to-day. Leisure used to be a period in which one sought to do something; now it seems to be a period in which one seeks to do nothing. But there is a difficult problem in this problem of absenteeism, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, remarked, to-day it is a matter of team work and not so much individual work, and therefore wrongful absenteeism can upset teamwork. I agree with the noble Lord that the arrangements between the Board and the unions in Lancashire which were announced very recently are encouraging, and they are a notable 470 example of co-operation within the industry. 'This question is really one for the management and leadership of both sides of the industry, and I can assure noble Lords that the chairman of the Board and the miners' unions, too, are concerned about it and will do everything they can to deal with it.
Now, our past fuel troubles have stemmed from the need to find each year the extra amount of fuel to meet the rising demand. To me the supremely important thing about nuclear energy is that it will in the end relieve us of this strain. It will give us a flexibility in the fuel balance of a kind that we have not experienced at any time since the end of the war. But there is a cautionary word about the development of nuclear energy which I feel I must add. That, indeed, is a milestone in the provision of energy. But nuclear power is, in its present state, expensive of capital resources; it is a very big claim on our savings. So that although a bigger programme might be attractive in many ways, it was one way in which we could economise, just to put back the programme for a little time. We are not going to lose anything; the difference will be made up by conventional power stations.
I have been asked by several noble Lords about Zeta. Perhaps your Lordships would permit me to reply rather fully on this matter. The achievements of our scientists which have recently been made public have given a good deal of pride and satisfaction in this country, and have excited admiration abroad. We must, however, recognise that we are at the beginning of the road rather than at the end. What has been demonstrated is that the production of a thermo-nuclear reaction under controlled conditions is certainly going to be a practical possibility. Temperatures of several million degrees have been achieved in the laboratory and have been held for the fraction of a second, but the amount of research and development needed to transform this great scientific achievement into a technical process of power production is indeed formidable. Perhaps the stage we have now reached is comparable with that reached in 1938, when it was first demonstrated that the atom could be split and energy thereby released. It took eighteen years to produce the Calder Hall station which is the prototype on which 471 the nuclear power programme is based. The problems associated with the controlled release of power from thermonuclear reaction, the so-called fusion process, are certainly no less formidable than those which had to be solved before we could obtain power from the uranium or fission process.
The highest possible priority will be given to following up Zeta achievements. Nevertheless, this is a road which must be followed step by step. There may be occasional short cuts, but there will also probably be road blocks, in the form of scientific and technological snags and difficulties. Even on the most optimistic assumption, it is scarcely conceivable that the present programme for nuclear power will need to be modified in any respect because these further developments are under way. It will certainly, however, be the object of the Government to ensure that the forward planning takes into account all the potentialities which the genius of our scientists and engineers opens up to us. I purposely talked to your Lordships about that matter at length, so that we could get the matter in perspective.
It is, however, because of the advent of nuclear power that I am able to talk about a turning point in our power position. The removal of the pressure of demand for coal, combined with the availability of a new kind of primary fuel, should enable the coal industry to be more selective in its output, both in terms of cost of production and of the kinds of coal produced. This, of course, has not been possible in recent years when it was just "output at any price", with all the hazards that are bound up in that phrase. On the consumption side it should enable us to concentrate, more than we have been able to in the past, on the proper use of the fuel resources that are available to us.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, made some very important points in his speech about the need for efficiency in consuming coal. I am glad to say that the Government Departments and other public authorities, which between them consume 5 million tons of coal and coke per annum, have a good record on fuel efficiency. They are vigorously pursuing instrumentation of plant using over 500 tons per annum where worthwhile savings 472 can be made. Of course, it is not economic to think of instrumentation for any less quantity. The National Coal Board have their own fuel efficiency services. They have training courses for stokers and boilermen, and a mobile team of experts for increasing efficiency of consumption at the collieries. There are no powers under the Clean Air Act which would enable regulations to be made for the instrumentation of plant or the certification of stokers, but much is being done in this direction, particularly through the excellent work of the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, to which the noble Viscount referred.
Noble Lords have questioned whether the country has a co-ordinated fuel policy, and have suggested closer co-ordination between the authorities responsible for fuel and power supplies. I should not be wrong—in fact, I should be right—in saying that forecasts are made for several years ahead and are kept under constant review both by my Ministry and by myself as Minister. We study not only the long-term needs and supplies, but the moves necessitated by short-term changes in supply and demand. There is in my Ministry a scientific department under the leadership of a distinguished scientist, and I have already the Scientific Advisory Council to give me and my Ministry independent advice in carrying out my statutory duties of approving the general lines of the scientific research programmes of the nationalised industries themselves.
There are still regular meetings between the chairmen of the nationalised fuel and power industries (that point was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor) and my officials and myself. In my judgment, co-ordination of that kind, involving day-by-day and continual study of the position and the taking of the necessary steps to deal with it, is preferable to a superimposed planning board which, for example, would find it difficult to keep in daily touch with the industries themselves and would probably indulge in theoretical exercises. I do not think that such an organisation is necessary because of the close scientific studies which are going on all the time to ensure that we have a properly thought-out and co-ordinated fuel policy.
473 There are many things which determine the pattern of fuel usage—technical considerations, consumers' preferences of many different kinds, and the question of price. Certain individual fuels have a virtual monopoly for technical reasons alone—for example, oil for road transport and coke for blast furnaces. Those are obvious cases; but, for the rest, the fuel requirements are really called for by the demands of millions of consumers who probably know better than any "gentleman in Whitehall" could, what they need and what is best for them. There is competition among the various kinds of fuel but that is to be expected if people are to have freedom of choice; and I have seen no overwhelming proof that the kind of competition that there is leads to a waste of resources. Even if waste could be found, there certainly would be no grounds for believing that it would be greater than that which I am sure would ensue if a body of officials tried to settle what fuel was good for people to use.
There is, however, one sphere of competitive activity which attracts a considerable volume of criticism, and that is the kind of competition between the gas and electricity industries which at times and in places is quite strong. Critics feel that there is an avoidable duplication in the distribution services of the gas and electricity industries. Criticisms have been made, for example, of the duplication of showrooms in the same town, one devoted to electricity, the other pressing the claims of gas. Since taking office I have heard these views expressed on a number of occasions in different places. Advisers have looked at this problem before and have come to the conclusion that there was nothing in it, but I feel that the time has arrived when we might usefully have a look at the matter again. For this reason I have decided to set up a Committee to consider ways in which by co-operation between the Area Electricity and Gas Boards in the performance of their respective statutory functions the administration of the services provided to the public of a like kind by the two industries might be improved.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, will that include scrutiny of the amount of money spent on what one feels is unnecessary advertising?
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, all that will certainly come into the inquiry. I can here answer a question by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, on hire purchase. That has been restricted for some time, and the nationalised industries have not been able to increase the amount of capital they have out in hire purchase. The Committee which will be asked to make recommendations on this subject (though of course there may be no recommendations to make) will have both full and part-time representatives of both the gas and electricity industries, along with independent members and an independent chairman; and I hope that their Report will be of use in deciding if more can or should be done in the direction of closer co-operation between these industries.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, may we take it that the Committee will be charged also with considering the economics of the duality of meter-readers?
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, that will obviously be part of their study. They will consider everything to do with the retail distribution of gas and electricity—meter reading, sales of appliances and so on.
Reference has been made to the excellent work of the Welsh Gas Board, and I am happy to pay a tribute to them. But exactly the same lines are followed in other areas and there is a good deal of co-operation elsewhere. The noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, spoke about schools and asked whether arrangements could be made for storing fuel. I think that that is a very good point, and it shall have my attention—but I shall have to see that they do not build cathedrals to store coal.
The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, spoke of unemployment in mines and mining villages. I am quite aware that in some places pits go out of commission, but there are in existence very full arrangements, agreed between the management and the unions, whereby men are moved to pits requiring more men. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, spoke of sites for future nuclear stations and said that it would be a good thing if they could be put near disused pits. That raises a very difficult problem, because a nuclear power station has to be built on the right 475 kind of subsoil, capable of taking great weight, and requires enormous supplies of water.
Reference was made to the underground gasification of coal. It was in July, 1956, that the National Coal Board took over from the Ministry of Power responsibility for underground gasification. All that is happening at the moment is that a pilot plant is under construction, to give us the knowledge and experience we want. From this pilot plant on present plans a small station of about 3.5 megawatts will be run, and if the answer is satisfactory arrangements will be made for constructing a bigger station fired by underground gasification. It is promising but I should not like to say any more than that at present. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, asked about the briquettes. There is a pilot plant for non-binder briquettes planned in South Wales. We must await the results of that.
I would sum up the Government's fuel policy as follows. We leave the maximum initiative to those who are responsible for fuel supplies—that is to say, the public boards in the coal, gas and electricity industries, and the private companies which constitute the oil industry. On the other hand, we believe that consumers must be left free to choose the fuel best suited to their needs, with one exception: that they will not, in the public interest, be allowed to use smoky fuels in "clean" areas. However, in relation to our overall planning and control, we do control the pattern and the scope of the investment in the nationalised fuel industries, because they are equipping themselves with public money, and a wrong, non-co-ordinated investment policy could lead to serious waste. And we try to assure ourselves that competition between the industries is on a sound basis, that tariff structures are properly related to cost and that their competition is both realistic and fair. Finally, we endeavour to promote among the fuel industries all measures of co-operation which produce efficiency and economy without prejudicing the satisfaction of the consumers' wants, which, after all, is the reason for the existence of these industries.
The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, asked me how far the individual policies recommended by the Ridley Committee had been implemented 476 in the course of the last five years. He knows quite well that the Committee made no fewer than forty recommendations, and perhaps he will agree that I should not this evening take him through all those recommendations, but I hope the noble Lord will recognise that the Government's general fuel policy is in accord with the philosophy of that Committee. I will go further. I am glad to state that action has been taken since 1952 on the majority of the recommendations of the Ridley Committee.
Let me give just a few examples. We have fixed higher standards for domestic fires and stoves; as more and more of them are installed in our homes our countrymen may cease to be the champion fuel-wasters and smoke-raisers of Europe. We have sponsored the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Service, now the flourishing and grown-up offspring of the fuel industries, that is saving fuel wherever its engineers turn. We have pressed forward voluntary schemes for the training of stokers, in the knowledge that a trained man can save as much coal in a day as a miner can produce. Great progress has been made towards conserving the country's scarce large coal. There has been an improvement in railway fuel use. The electricity area boards have improved their tariffs in the direction of differentiating between peak and off-peak consumption. I could go down the list of the Committee's recommendations and give other examples of fruitful results, but I think it is clear that we are in the main implementing the proposals for which we were so greatly indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and his colleagues on the fuel Committee.
In conclusion, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, for raising this matter, and all those noble Lords who have contributed so helpfully to the problem we have been discussing. I have done my best to give your Lordships my own views, and if I have missed any particular points I shall be only too happy to supply them at any time.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR
My Lords, I have the very pleasant task of thanking the Minister for as full, detailed and informative a 477 reply as I have ever heard to any debate. I am very grateful, and I know that I speak also for all my colleagues in the House. I should like to thank those who intervened, the four who put their names on the Order Paper and the five who did not. I do not mind interveners who do not put their names on the Order Paper. It sometimes causes difficulty to us, but they are nevertheless very welcome, and I am grateful to them. I would thank the Minister also for his clear and concise account of Zeta. He, as is characteristic of his wisdom, gave 478 some counsel of caution, and I agree. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.