I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I welcome the opportunity for telling the House, as far as possible, what it desires to know about the supply of coal. In a matter in which so much detail is involved, it would ordinarily be an advantage to give the figures, but these are not ordinary times. We must be careful, with figures, to avoid giving information beyond that necessary to serve the purposes of this Debate. I propose, however, to give an account of the part played by the Mines Department in the production, marketing and supply of coal. Members are aware in general of the disposition, the extent, and the quality of our coal measures. They know something of the history and tradition of coal mining, how generation after generation of miners in a score of coalfields have passed on their skill and knowledge of mining practice. Owing to the exceptional risk of employment in mining, Parliament long ago intervened to lay down conditions to safeguard the health and safety of the men at their work. My Department, which was born of the last war, has since been entrusted with duties prescribed by these laws for the protection of men who contend in the eternal night of the underground with the dangers above and around them. In the last 20 years machines have taken the place of many men. We have 500,000 fewer men than we had in the last year of the Great War. There are only half as many coal mines. There are still many-small mines, many of them incapable of being modernised but not to be despised solely on that account.
The average productivity of labour varies widely from pit to pit and from coalfield to coalfield. All the mines are privately owned and managed. I shudder to think at the treatment I would have received were they not. Coal-owners and managers are equally responsible for the safety and proper working of the mines. Beyond the extent to which safety is involved, the Government have never exercised their authority to direct production, nor to determine the amount of wages and the conditions of work. Hitherto we have relied on the good will and influence of organised employers and organised labour. Both parties are fully organised and maintain the closest contact. They carry out their contacts by discussions at the mine, by local negotiations, and by district conciliation boards. The two national bodies have regular meetings in the Joint Conciliation Council. During the war there has been superimposed a system of pit production committees and a National Production Council representative of employers and workmen. On this Council the two sides of the industry and the Mines Department meet regularly to consider questions connected with production. The very complicated system of coal getting and marketing has not failed to discharge its task. It has adapted itself to changing circumstances. It has suffered from the incidence of war, but the supply of coal has been forthcoming, despite delays and disappointments. It has each year supplied enough to give an average of three tons of domestic fuel for every family in the country, in addition to nearly four times that quantity for consumption by public and industrial undertakings, besides sending many millions of tons for consumption abroad.
As a result of major events abroad, which cut off a large part of our regular export markets, we found ourselves, a year ago, with a surplus of a half-a-million tons a week. There was much unemployment in the exporting areas, and the Mines Department then took advantage of these circumstances to send as much coal as possible into stock, and we thus began the winter with a fair prospect of a sufficient supply until summer came again. We cannot very well go into all the details of stocking. The House will remember the criticism directed against me. I do not complain, but it is a little disconcerting to be shot at from all sides at once. But we got through the winter without great damage or loss of good will. There has since been a change. For some months there has been a shortage of supplies due to the failure to secure enough output to meet the rising demand and provide adequate stocks for ensuring against risks connected with transport next winter. It is not necessary to recall in detail the experiences of last winter. They were discussed in the House on several occasions. I have looked at the OFFICIAL REPORTS for as far back as September, 1940, and I have noted some remarks I made on the subject. We were then carrying as much as the railways could take, but it was naturally impossible to send inland all the coal which had formerly been shipped away. We would have required an additional 1,000 coal trains a week to have done so. It could not have been done under the circumstances.
Again, early in October, I had to call attention to the danger of supplies for certain areas known to the House. The Government acted promptly by setting up an ad hoc body of all the Departments concerned with transport by rail and sea, under the guidance of the Lord President of the Council, to whom we are indebted for his services in the movement and distribution of coal throughout the whole of the winter months. When I was asked in the House why there had been delay in sending coal here and there, I gave answers which went as far as possible to explain. I would have liked to have given more details, but they would not have satisfied my questioners. In such circumstances a train of coal is worth more than any number of Parliamentary answers, and one good shipload is worth 10 trains. We could not get more ships and trains at the time. We were forced to cut deeply into stocks set aside by the close of the summer. I would add that coal stocks are put down so that they may be taken up, and are not meant to be looked at as ornaments. When a coal stock declines it is an expected thing, but the decline last winter coincided with a low level of production, and men drifted away week by week to take up other work and to join the Forces.
Well over 100,000 men have left the industry since the outbreak of war, and as many as 75,000 have gone in the last 12 months. If they had not left, we would not have been faced with the problem of production this year. The House will forgive me for saying that I foresaw the danger of allowing too many men to go away, and I have spoken and written about it. Yet I recognise that it was very difficult to give grounds for keeping men who had not sufficient work, or preventing men from going when offered very tempting inducements to work elsewhere on work of national importance. I knew that we would miss the men who had gone, and also that men would not willingly return after settling down to more congenial work and better wages far away from the colliery districts where they had lived and worked all their lives.
Towards the end of last winter, and as a consequence of the experience then gained, the Mines Department planned for a large increase in production. The National Production Council was asked to undertake the task. A conference was summoned at the Board of Trade in March, at which the Secretary for Mines presided. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council addressed the representatives of both sides of the industry, and urged them to join forces immediately for a great national effort to produce more coal during the summer months. In the discussions at that conference the question of man-power was prominently raised by speakers from all the leading coalfields.
A claim for the return of 50,000 men was made by the Coal Production Council on behalf of the industry. We appealed for more effort. Both owners and men in the coalfields promised their support, but there is a limit to the amount of work that men can do, and it is clear that more men are required to produce the target figures which were allocated to the respective coalfields. We aimed to secure 10 per cent. more production for the whole summer period in order that we could start next winter with a much greater stock than we had at the beginning of last winter. We had hoped, by concentrating upon production at each pit and by filling every vacancy below and above ground, that it would be possible to achieve these results. There are one or two coalfields where substantial improvements in output have already been registered. I am hopeful that more regular attendance for work and the working of shifts at the week-end—we ought to acknowledge the willingness of the men to take on extra shifts in war-time—will result in a higher individual output in all the coalfields. Though the average number of shifts and the average output per man was higher in 1940 than it was in the pre-war years, nevertheless, there is a small marginal loss of output to be made up by more regular attendance at work.
When all possible improvements in efficiency have been made, there will hardly be any prospect of maintaining the 10 per cent. increase in weekly output for the next three or four months without adding substantially to the man-power now as the disposal of the industry. It is clear that the programme has to be cut down. Economies have since been proposed which have the effect of wiping out half the deficiencies already occurring. More than half of the proposed stocking period has passed. The position has therefore been reviewed, and definite recommendations have been made to enable prospective production to cover the needs as they now appear. By these various cuts, including exports, and by economies, it is hoped that the greater part of the shortage already registered on the original programme will be made good before the end of next winter. All estimates of production depend on factors which have been emphasised since the war. One of the most uncertain factors is transport. If there were good grounds for anticipating easier transport next winter, stocking for the winter would be of less importance and the problem of production could be spread over the whole year, with less disparity between the weekly figures set for the winter and the summer periods respectively.
There are also the questions of health and food. As I previously mentioned, the average number of shifts per man has been higher than in the years before the war. Scotland holds the premier position with an average of 313 shifts. I believe they keep the Sabbath as well, but just barely. There is, however, abundant evidence that a sufficient quantity of certain valuable foods has not been available, and must have led to some diminution of energy and staying power. Mining is hard work. There is much waste through perspiration and intense physical effort. The air is heated and vitiated in its passage around the mine. Hard work under these conditions can only be maintained by men who have recourse to good food and nourishment when their day's work is done.
I have not taken long to discover it. I feel I should mention briefly the arrangements now being made to provide food at the collieries for men going on or coming off their shifts. In this matter we have secured the invaluable support of the Miners' Welfare Commission, whose Chairman, the hon. and gallant Member for Central Nottingham (Sir F. Sykes), has been active in many efforts to secure additional nourishment and canteen accommodation at the pits. The Commission, with their organisers, have done a great deal and, subject to authority from the Government, have now decided to make grants from the Miners' Welfare Fund towards the cost of providing or adapting buildings. I am assured that meals or snacks at reasonable prices are available at a large number of pits, and it is estimated that one half of the men employed in the industry will soon be able to obtain additional nourishment in one form or another. Plans are in progress for facilities at pits employing nearly half-a-million men. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) has given me information about the new arrangements in Yorkshire, about which he knows a good deal. Other hon. Members know of the facilities being provided in their own counties. The Ministry of Food is cooperating with the Miners' Welfare Fund and the Mines Department for the purpose of supplying additional nourishment in the form best suited to meet the preferences of any particular district. I am looking forward with good confidence to the development of canteen accommodation at the majority of mines, and I am certain that they will prove to be of great convenience to the men and to their health and strength in these strenuous days.
Let us again look at the question of supplies. For the purpose of our estimates we divide the year into two parts—May to October and November to April. Consumption in the winter period is nearly one-third greater than in the summer, mainly owing to the greater warmth and light of the summer months. There is, however, a marked, progressive increase in consumption for industrial purposes for which due provision must be made in our estimates. I can assure the House that we are in the closest contact with all classes of consumers, and it is only by consultation with them that we are able to make the allocation which from time to time becomes necessary. The House has heard a great deal about priorities and the inequalities of distribution. I would like to repeat a claim which I have made on several occasions, namely, that no essential works, factory or utility service has suffered any material loss of output by reason of coal shortage since the war began. Complaints have been received from concerns not engaged on vital war production. In general it can be said that the efforts of the Department's regional officers have resulted in the direction of coal into the channels where it is most urgently needed. Some restrictions in supplies to the less important industries have been inevitable, owing to the shortage of production or of transport.
Previous to the war the production of house coal was on a lower scale in summer than in winter. The main house-coal districts worked short time, even though summer prices were lower to encourage buyers to lay in stocks for the winter. Since the war, through the action taken by the Mines Department to get stocks, the house-coal districts have worked full time—a thing they have never done before. The actual result has been that over half the household deliveries of last year were made from April to October. We have means of ascertaining how much household coal there is at any time. It has not been found necessary to deprive householders of their ordinary supplies except in circumstances to which I shall shortly refer. We are, however, hoping for all reasonable economy in the consumption of fuel for household purposes.
I would like to deal briefly with the distribution and restrictions of coal supplies for domestic consumption. I have been asked to explain the direction sent out by the Department and to justify the conditions under which supplies for domestic consumption are made. The ony reason for the restriction is that while there is sufficient coal for current consumption and gradual addition to household stocks there is not enough coming forward immediately to give any class of consumers more than a proportion of their annual needs of coal and fuel. Hon. Members will appreciate the importance of stocks at essential undertakings, and some restriction of the deliveries of household fuel had to be made, in order that there should be a concurrent building-up of stocks for all purposes. The direction has been clearly expressed and has given no cause for apprehension except among the occupants of large houses who are accustomed to taking in a year's supply of coal early in the summer and those inhabitants of rural areas who take in coal in larger quantities than the ordinary urban population. Those cases can well be dealt with by the Local Fuel Overseers, who have been instructed to deal with all claims in a reasonable manner.
I have figures to show that house coal deliveries are greater than they were last year and were better for the last four months. There is also reason to believe that the amount of coal still remaining in domestic premises is considerable—in many cases, in the opinion of the Department, far too much. We hope that the restriction which we are now imposing will redress the scale of deliveries so that there will be a better distribution of available supplies and we venture to hope for a substantial degree of economy on the part of the larger consumers. We are, on the other hand, endeavouring to assist the smaller consumers by retaining their power to make weekly and monthly purchases which may be in excess of their current needs and to set aside two tons of coal in self-supplying areas and two tons of coal and one ton of fuel in importing areas.
I would like to deal now with the question of public utilities. The House, rightly, has been concerned about the reports regarding the stocks of public utility undertakings. I was asked recently by the hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Culverwell) if I were satisfied that public utility undertakings could secure supplies for the next six weeks. I told the hon. Gentleman that I could give no absolute guarantee. I would now like to add that I hope soon to have the satisfaction of knowing that the coal stocks of all public utility undertakings will have been raised to a more uniform level, thus obviating the risks due to the failure of a small number of public utilities to acquire sufficient coal to replenish the low stocks held by them after last winter. I desire here to express my appreciation of the work done in this matter by a committee of the Conjoint Conference of Public Utility Undertakings. This Committee was recently appointed by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to advise and assist the Government in deal- ing with the two main problems which have to be solved, namely, the concentration of a large proportion of the available supplies on those undertakings with the lowest stocks, and, secondly, the building up of stocks to a safe level for all undertakings before the winter. The committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. J. C. Dalton, has already taken steps to deal with these questions, and considerable improvement has taken place as a result of the committee's assistance in the matter.
In order to assist in meeting the increase in home requirements for coal, it has been decided further to restrict shipments abroad to the extent that the coal can be made use of at home. This action will result in the release of a certain quantity of anthracite and Welsh dry steam coal. In order to encourage the absorption of these tonnages, I have directed that large anthracite, anthracite cobbles and anthracite nuts of a size exceeding if inches, known in the trade as French nuts, and also Welsh dry steam coal, large and cobbles, with a volatile content not exceeding 15 per cent., should be exempted from the recent restrictions on the supply of coal for domestic purposes. This will mean that these types of coal may be supplied to controlled premises under the Fuel and Lighting Order in any quantity and irrespective of the amount of these or other fuels already in stock. The necessary instructions to the Department's local officers will be issued at once."
May I next refer to the regional organisation of supplies? Recent experience, particularly during the severe strain imposed by the conditions of last winter, indicated that in certain important industrial areas war-time problems of supply and distribution affecting a particular coalfield frequently required concerted local action, I regret that I cannot give details to illustrate the complications arising from efforts to supply coal suitable for stocks for all purposes, to an area which depends upon 1 number of distant coalfields. As an urgent first step, the Department decided to set up an area committee, known as the North-Western Area Emergency Committee, to advise the Coal Supplies Officers. The success attending this committee led to the institution of two similar committees, one covering the Midlands and the other covering London and the Southern district.
In addition to these regional contracts, a greater degree of co-ordination has been achieved by the close association of the Department's Divisional Coal Officers with the area boards which have been created all over the country as part of the Civil Defence organisation. I would also like to acknowledge the services of my technical advisers and experts in the Department, whose task it is to inspect and advise on fuelling plans and fuel equipment of all kinds. It is hoped that their activities can be extended so that firms all over the country may have the benefit of expert advice on the problems of fuel utilisation and economical working. Hon. Members can rest assured that we have not neglected the case for building industrial stocks and in particular for strengthening the position of those of high priority.
It has been urged that public morale would be adversely influenced by the failure to supply fuel for domestic purposes. I agree, but we have not been unmindful of the householders and, in particular, of those who live in small houses and have not the money or the accommodation to stock more than a few days' supply. There is, however, some scope for economy by the larger consumers without incurring any suffering or inconvenience. On the other hand, there can be no greater danger to morale than that which would follow upon the failure to maintain motive power production and employment in large factories owing to the break-down of the coal supplies. I am happy to report that, over a wide field of large consumers, stocks have been rising, as they did last year, I know it sounds rather optimistic, but it should not be forgotten that we were able to move far more coal at this time last year than we can produce to-day. There is a gap which in the next few months can be tilled only by greater production. I do not propose to discuss transport—it is important, but for the present we have a problem of production. If that is solved, the outlook for the industry is brighter; if we fail to utilise to the full the transport now available, any increase in output later may be negatived by the failure to convey coal now in full measure to areas which are difficult of access.
I have no time to enter at length into the questions of prices, the house coal distribution scheme, mining supplies, health and safety, and Government stocks. May I take them very briefly, in the order given? The average national increase in pithead prices between 1st September, 1939, and 1st August, 10.41, has been about 5s. 6d. per ton. The increases have not been uniform: there have been complaints; but prices have been adjusted on the basis of costs, and thus related to wages and production in the various districts. Pithead prices are determined by the Government, on the advice of my Department. Each district is required to prove its case in the light of all the circumstances before any advance is authorised. The price of domestic fuel to the consumer is strictly controlled in accordance with the Retail Coal Prices Order, under which printed schedules of prices are necessary for each area in the country. Disparities arising from existing transport rates are now met by means of an Exchequer subsidy. It has not been considered justifiable to carry subsidisation to the extent of a complete levelling of prices in every area.
The house coal distribution scheme was announced by the Government on 14th August. 1940. The main objects are set out in the original scheme. It has since been found possible to link the functions of the scheme with those of the Regional Organisation of the Mines Department. I can only say that there is a most helpful and efficient co-operation between the scheme and the divisional coal officers and the local fuel overseers acting for my Department. In regard to mining supplies, there is no difficulty which need detain the House. The record of mining accidents this year, however, is very disturbing. There has been a marked increase in deaths on and around the coal face, which I am investigating, and I shall take the first opportunity of discussing the matter in the House after the Recess. There have been five ignitions of fire damp in the last few months, with an aggregate loss of 60 lives. The occurrences are being investigated, and further reports are being awaited on some of the explosions.
To consider stocks, we began last winter with very little coal on Government sites. There is now about 1,250,000 tons of coal on Government sites all over the country. There are over 600 sites, with a holding capacity of nearly 5,000,000 tons. [Interruption.] The stocking programme contemplates placing 3,000,000 tons of coal of different qualities on these sites. The hon. Member asked what kind of coal. There are over 600,000 tons of house coal. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many days' supply will that be?"] It depends on the demand. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has taken steps to secure the return of ex-miners to the pits. Ninety-seven thousand ex-miners have already registered. I understand that 24,000 have volunteered to return. Ten thousand have been offered to employers, and 5,500 are either at the coal face or on the way. I hope that they will soon be settled, and playing their part in adding to the output of coal. We have lost many men. The proportion of face workers has gone down, thus aggravating the effect of the reduction in numbers. I hope that the efforts of the Minister of Labour will enable as many hewers and fillers as possible to start without further delay in getting the required increase in production.
I said that 97,000 have registered, 24,000 have declared their willingness to return, and 5,500 are either at the coal pits or on their way. Roughly 60 per cent. of them are face workers. I hope that the maximum proportion of these workers will be re-installed in the pits, because other classes of labour are not so useful in the circumstances.
I must close with a word about the production drive. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, with his usual vigour, has been busy with the dis- trict and pit organisations. I ask his pardon for any encroachment upon his speech. May I express appreciation for the ready help given by Admiral Sir Edward Evans, in making an appeal to the miners in the various coalfields to assist in getting more coal? He has not spared himself, and he has materially helped in stating the case that we desired to put forward. There have been other helpers in this way whom I cannot name. May I join in their appeal? I feel sure that both parties in the industry will accept my words in good faith. I know their problems and their difficulties. I would like to bear witness to their efforts to help, in the national interest. I hope they will continue to labour unitedly in these difficult days, in order to give every ton of coal possible, to strengthen the nation's effort to win a just victory and a beneficent peace
I should like to ask the indulgence of the House. I have not, in fact, addressed this House since the outbreak of the war, because, like many other Members, I have been unwilling to embarrass the Government by criticism and to force Ministers to spend their time in preparing Parliamentary replies. I speak now because I feel a very genuine sense of national peril. The Prime Minister is, no doubt, aware of the peculiar position which he occupies in this House at present. Few of us could contemplate with equanimity any alternative leader or alternative Government. We are very much alive to the difficulties under which he labours. But we should like to feel that when we voice our criticism it shall, by the very reason of our usual silence, receive additional attention.
I come from that part of Scotland which depends for its living on the heavy industries—coal, steel, shipbuilding, and the companion of those three, shipping. It has been most cruelly brought home to us in the past year that no one of these industries can be prosperous without the remainder being prosperous. The insolvency of any one inevitably leads to distress in the others. If coal is being exported, we require ships; if ships are being used, shipbuilders are busy; steel is necessary for the shipbuilders; and coal is required to make the steel. Coal—and hon. Members of all districts of heavy industries will agree—is the basis of our national position and of our national economy. Therefore, it comes to everybody as a staggering shock to our economic stability and to our economic complacency that in the height of the summer we hear that not only are we not laying in stocks for the winter, but that essential stocks for industry are dwindling. The Minister to-day may have painted a rather less gloomy picture than that, but I and many other Members have seen the dumps for the use of railways and industries during June dwindling at a time when they ought to have been getting greater. I sincerely hope that what the Minister has said to-day will not prove to be unduly optimistic.
It is manifest that at this time we must have coal for our huge industrial needs. We must have coal to bunker the ships which bring us our essential imports, and we must give the men in these ships good coal. Public utility undertakings are vital to our war effort. Gas and electricity are used in industry for the transport services and also—no less important —in the homes of our people. As the Minister said, the morale of our people may well depend next winter on the light and the warmth which they can get, particularly when we think of clothes and food rationing. I would like to turn for a moment to the problem of the public utility undertakings in the London district. I have been told, although I do not know how far the figures are correct, that in the winter of 1939–40 our stocks of coal for these undertakings were, at the lowest ebb, down to three weeks' supply. That is not a very large margin. Last winter the margin was slightly better —four to five weeks' supply—but that again is not a large margin when you think of the possible large-scale attacks on our coastal shipping and railways that may well face us next winter. If my information is correct, the stocks which were held last summer were about 40 per cent, higher than the equivalent stocks held this summer, so we face a problem to which the House must pay great attention. Next winter we shall be faced with a coal transport problem which would tax our ingenuity to meet in peace-time.
I was about to say that owing to my connection with the Ministry of War Transport, I did not think it proper for me to go carefully into the question of transport, but I would like, if I may—and I think it is a quite proper thing for a Parliamentary Private Secretary to do to draw the attention of the House to a remark made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry in the House last Thursday. He said:
It has been a disappointment to us at the Ministry that we have not been able to stock up coal during the summer months. We have trucks waiting at all the collieries and we have ships waiting and, unfortunately, there is not the coal. We realise that if the programme which the Minister of Labour, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Mines all hope to see accomplished comes off, we shall have the greatest difficulty at the Ministry of War Transport in the winter in carrying that amount of coal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1941; col. 1656, Vol. 373.]
I think it is necessary for hon. Members to realise the position. I think we are all agreed that our stocks are low, that our production is inadequate and that we shall suffer great embarrassment during the coming winter unless we make a great effort. I would now like to turn for a moment to the causes of the shortage. It is not my desire to cast blame on any section of the industry; I think the House will agree that a Debate such as this should not be allowed to develop into any sectional argument. It should be as constructive as it can.
We must have more coal. Owners and men in the industry are agreed on this, and I think we would do much better to praise them for the efforts they have made than to cast blame on any section. Above all, I know the industry will welcome any help it can obtain from this House. Why has there not been a greater production of coal? In the first place, I think too many men, especially young men, were taken from the industry. This is a point of which hon. Members opposite are well aware. This is an industry which does not lend itself to up-grading or dilution of labour, and certainly female labour cannot be brought in. The men in the industry essential for our war effort should have been retained. We are trying to build up an Army and at the same time to equip that Army, and these claims are in conflict. It was recently made plain in the House that this question was receiving attention when my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) asked how soon action would be taken and what the action would be. Now we are told, two and a half months later, that 25,000 men will shortly return to the industry. I hope the steps which have now been taken will bear fruit at once. We must have men back into the mines as soon as possible.
The Minister has also referred to the fact that more annual shifts were working than before, and he sent me some figures a short time ago which I do not propose to quote. They show, however, that during 1940, particularly during the Dunkirk period, the shifts were much higher but that since then there has been a drop in the number of shifts worked and also the output per man per shift. If that is true, it is a matter which wants very careful attention. The first possible cause to which he referred was under-nutrition. Do the Ministry of Food agree to the proposition that the miner requires more food? Has the Minister perhaps been faced in his efforts to get more food with the report of some body of scientists who say that so many vitamins are all that is required? If so, I would ask whether these scientists have ever been down a pit and whether it is any good talking in scientific terms in matters like this? Would the Minister like the help of the House to get this matter pushed forward? An hon. Gentleman opposite interjected that it had taken a long time to get even as far as we have. This is an important matter and should receive urgent treatment.
Two canteens in Scotland seem to me very much the same sort of provision as the 5,000 men who will probably come back into the industry. In this connection how does the miner differ from others engaged in the heavy industries? The Germans, as far as I am aware, give extra rations to those engaged in the heavy industries. There is usually method in what the German does, and if a German in a heavy industry requires extra rations, I should have thought there was a prima facie case for inquiring whether our heavy workers also should not receive extra rations.
The next cause of which there has been a good deal of talk is absenteeism. This is a subject on which, in my opinion, much foolish talk has been wasted. A deliberate slur of absenteeism cast over the whole industry would be most unjust and would cause much justified resentment among the workers. On the other hand, can the Minister assure us that that small proportion of men, who have the sympathy of neither this House nor the workers, who may absent themselves avoidably, will be drastically dealt with by the pit committees? In so far as there is unavoidable absenteeism, is there anything we can do to prevent it? Is it a question of transport or something of that nature which prevents men getting home from work? If it is, what can we do so that men can get to their work? In that connection I would like to ask how much propaganda is being done among the men. I was talking to a coal owner, who said that the men were as keen as mustard in Home Guard work, but they did not realise that the job they did during the day of getting coal was as important as their Home Guard work at night. Is the case for improved coal output being put forward to the men in the industry? Do the men feel that they are able to earn enough without working all the shifts they can? Do they feel that there is now so little on which they can spend their money that it is not worth the effort when they are tired at the end of the week to work an extra shift? I do not think that there is much in this point, and I merely mention it.
Is the bonus that was introduced proving satisfactory? I have heard it said that the pit committees spend all their time on knotty problems connected with the bonus instead of getting on with far more important work. It may be that the bonus is not working out well in practice. Does the disparity of wages between the miner and the munition worker cause resentment in the mines? It was one reason why we lost so many men from the mining industry and why the Essential Work Order was made. Does the fact that the miner on a hard, skilled and dangerous job receives less than somebody working less hard in a munitions factory cause resentment and so inefficiency in the mines? I have also been told that the Mines Department do not give the owners sufficient direct instructions as to what they are to do, for instance, as to whether they should produce as much coal as possible now with a possible effect on production later on. In the differing circumstances at every pit do the owners receive from the Mines Department all the help which they require? I do not expect my right hon. Friend to give replies to these detailed points, but they bring out the fact that almost everything we are' discussing in this Debate touches some other Department.
I wonder whether the present organisation of the Mines Department is a good one. The Department was set up owing to the importance of the industry, and I wonder whether it is strong enough to deal with the problems that arise and whether it would not be better to be under the direct day-to-day control of the President of the Board of Trade. I gather that the Mines Department is now under the Minister of Mines and that the President of the Board of Trade is called in only at a time of crisis and a Debate in the House. I do not want to criticise the Minister, but his position in the Govern- ment perhaps is not strong enough to enable him to win his points against the various other Ministers with whom he has to deal. I hoped that the announcement of my right hon. Friend's appointment would have been followed by another dealing with a reorganisation in the Mines Department
The Minister spoke about the coal rationing scheme. In my opinion, that scheme is inherently unsound. What was our problem in household coal last winter? It was one of distribution, and it was made progressively worse throughout the winter by the fact that we were reduced to delivering in very reduced quantities. It seems to me that this scheme will ensure that happening throughout next winter to everybody. The climate in Scotland is hard, and distribution in winter is difficult in Aberdeen and Kincardineshire, as it is in many remote country districts. Yet: there is a flat scheme under which, with the exception of a special licence, no regard is paid to the size of the house or to the area. A restriction in supplies may well be required, and we are all agreed that fair distribution is necessary, but I feel that this plan has the same inherent fault as had the Government's plans for stocking various essential commodities in this country before the war. I do not think it was realised then that it did not matter what was stocked, provided something was stocked, because whatever the commodity stored, that amount of tonnage was automatically released for the bringing in of other things. Consequently, what ought to have been stocked was a large quantity of easily stored and non-perishable things, such as pig-iron, iron-ore, and so on. It seems to me that in the coal rationing scheme we have the same thing over again. If the Department anticipate that people will get 70 per cent. of the coal that they had last year, let the Department now try to stock up everybody to that level, starting particularly in the areas which are remote from the point of view of distribution. Otherwise, distribution, which was the difficulty last year, will become worse and worse.
I feel that the purpose of the Debate should not be to criticise destructively those who are engaged in the industry. The House is concerned with the present position and with future prospects, and what we want to impress upon the Government is that, while we are glad that steps are now being taken, we feel that the Government have been one step behind. We should like to feel that they are really alive now to the needs of the home and of the State. I hope my right hon. Friend will grapple with this problem, and if he takes courageous action, I am sure he will receive the support of every hon. Member in the House.
I have known my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines (Mr. Grenfell) for a good many years, and I was in the Department for many months, but I have never known him in such a tangle as he was this morning in delivering his speech. I remember that the first time I went to the Department in 1924, I was consulted about an essay on the historical side of mining legislation, and when my hon. Friend began to speak this morning, I thought he was going to deliver that essay to the House. He mentioned that the Department and the House have been concerned for many years about the health and safety of those engaged in the mining industry, but I want to tell my hon. Friend and the House that unless something is done—and done very quickly—in the coalfields with regard to accidents, some of the miners will rise in their wrath. I am wondering whether we have made that progress about which my hon. Friend talked so glibly this morning. In May of this year, I dealt with last year's figures. If we look at the figures for this year, we see that we are killing men at the rate of 1,000 a year in the mining industry. For the first six months to the end of June there were 476 fatal accidents, working out at a rate of 952 for the year, and since those figures were published many more have been killed, and we have had quite a number of painful reminders, at Criggle-stone and in other districts, that explosions are not a thing of the past.
I have very great respect for my hon. Friend as a pit man, and I want him to get down to one or two things with regard to safety measures. Last week he said that there was something mysterious about these accidents, and that he would inquire into them. There is nothing mysterious about them. There was a time in the history of mining when at inquests coroners used to bring in a verdict, "Killed by an act of God." In the constituency of one of my hon. Friends, there is in a churchyard a monument to the memory of boys and girls of seven, eight and nine years who in the past lost their lives in pits, "Killed by an act of God." There is nothing mysterious about these explosions. The Department is not publishing the report this year, but my hon. Friend has been good enough to supply me with circular letters that were sent out by each of the divisional inspectors, and I have perused all of them. There is running through them a general statement that the increase in the accident rate is due to war-time conditions. I am inclined to think it is largely due to the hustle, the hurry and scurry, that is taking place in some of the pits. It is not sufficient to say that there is to be an inquiry, because the chief trouble with inquiries is that the men who could tell the court the most are dead and buried.
There is no mystery about an explosion. If this Chamber were filled with gas, you could not cause an explosion unless you had a means of ignition. To get an explosion two things must operate simultaneously; there must be a gaseous mixture and there must be a means of ignition. According to the Mines Act, men have to be withdrawn from a working place when there is more than 2½ per cent. of gas in the atmosphere. There cannot be an explosion with 2½ per cent. of gas; to get one there must be between 5 per cent. and 6 per cent. Inquiries ought to be made, not so much as to how the ignition took place, but as to how the gas was allowed to accumulate. Last week, I went past Crigglestone, within a few miles of the pit where 22 men were killed. I was in a 'bus with miners whom I had known for many years, and if some hon. Members could have heard the comments which these men made—that some people ought to go down the pits and see what it is lik1—I think they would understand a little better the real atmosphere in the mining industry. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that his inspectors have sufficient time to devote to mines inspection. Is it not a fact that to-day they have to do a good many things which they had not to do in peace-time? I want my hon. Friend to get down to this problem, because when there is an accident rate of 1,000 in 1941, in spite of a decreased number of men and in spite of all the progress which has been made in mining re- search and the inspectors who have been appointed, it is time somebody began to ask a few questions. After the Recess, I should like to have a full-dress Debate into the whys and wherefors of these accidents, and the measures necessary to remedy the position.
On the general question, I wish my hon. Friend would make up his mind whether or not we have a coal shortage We heard from him a statement which led me to believe that the position is not as bad as we have been told, but my hon. Friend knows, as a matter of fact, that if he gets down to the figures the position is even worse than the House knows at the moment. Twice this year we have pointed out what will happen in the coming winter. Nobody can blame us. And there is nobody who will blame the mine-workers of this country for the crisis without hon. Members on these Benches getting up and defending them. What we have to do is to make up our minds whether there is a coal shortage or not. I have been round with the Pit Production Committees, and I addressed a number of * big meetings, especially after the Essential Work Order, when the men wanted to know a great many things. The output is going down. I am not supposed to know the figures, because in war-time they must not be disclosed. I will, however, give the figures for the Midland Amalgamated Area. For the week ending 2nd June the output was 1,663,000 tons, and on 28th June the figure was 1,617,000 tons- The figure for 19th July, after all the appeals that had been made was 1,586,000 tons, and for the week before, 12th July, the output was about the same.
The first thing to note is that in the Midland Amalgamated Area the output is going down, and, as a result, we are likely to be faced with a coal shortage. What are the reasons? Are we to have regard to what may be termed subsidiary factors? The hon. Member who spoke before me was very tolerant towards miners and absenteeism. Let us be quite frank. There is some absenteeism; but there always was absenteeism in the mines, and, so long as the industry is what it is, there always will be. The only men who should be penalised—and we have faced up to this at miners' meetings—are the men who will not play the game. These men are a very small minority, and there is no one on these benches, in the coalfield, on the local committees or in the Federation who is not prepared to deal with men who do not play the game. But for heaven's sake do not try to make it worse than it is. It is physically impossible to work six days a week in some of our pits. With the best will in the world it cannot be done. Sometimes a day off prevents a break down in a man's health. The Secretary for Mines talked about progress which had been made. I went into the pits 40 years ago this week. I went into the industry, not because I liked it—and I had a 55-minute walk there and back—
I only wish to get the position clear. I did say that progress had been made in regard to health and welfare, and if my hon. Friend faces up to it, he will know that that is true.
We have made progress in other directions, but we still have a good many problems to tackle. I am telling the Minister and the House, that anyone who knows mining recognises that it is physically impossible in some pits to work full time and that sometimes a day off prevents a breakdown. Sometimes a man does not go to work, not because he is physicallly incapable of working, but because he is absolutely tired out. In those circumstances he would not go to a doctor to be declared sick. Where men will not play the game we are prepared to deal with them; but we do resent the charge being made., especially by people who have never seen a pit except from a railway carriage window, that we are not prepared to play the game. We will not stand for that. Ever since the war started the miners, in common with others, have declared their desire to see it through to a victorious end, and the miners have shown that they are in it, and therefore all this charge of absenteeism goes by the board. Journalists, novelists and others who have been to the coalfields and have interviewed the men in the pits and the management, and who have seen the districts, know there is bound to be a certain amount of absenteeism, and that dealing with absenteeism in itself will not solve our problems of production.
Now I wish to turn to the questions of rationing and canteens. For months past we have been trying to point out to the Minister of Food that those engaged in heavy industry are entitled to some supplementary ration. We have succeeded in obtaining an extra eight ounces of cheese, but this was given only because our men were debarred from using canteens. Canteen facilities were not provided, and the men had to take with them to work a snack with half a gallon of water and so on. But it is not enough. In addition there has been a development of pit-head canteens. The ideal canteen is not the place where you obtain a snack, a 2½d. pie, or a glass of milk. What we want is a sit-down meal, properly cooked. In my own locality we have been very fortunate, because we have at least three or four up-to-date canteens. The meal which is served includes the choice of two meats and two vegetables for 9d., a bowl of soup and bread for 2d., a choice of three sweets for 2d. and a cup of good tea for 1d. I travelled in a bus with some miners who had just had their meal, and they said straight out that it was the best thing that had ever happened. The development of canteens of that type would revolutionise mining. It would not only give extra nourishment to the men, but would make work lighter for the womenfolk at home.
The next question which arises is where the money is to come from to provide these canteens. I have tried to get the Secretary for Mines to be more explicit in his answers to questions. The welfare committees in the districts want to know where the money is coming from, when it is going to be liberated, and whether there will be any red tape attaching. At any rate the miners of this country should not have a levy made upon them to fix up these canteens. Will the money be provided from the Treasury, or from the Welfare Fund? I have asked this question more than once. There is the pit-head baths fund. No pit-head baths have been built since the war began, and the money has accumulated in the fund. Some welfare committees have been asking in correspondence to the Department whether this fund is to be tapped or not in order to provide these canteens. From whatever source the money is coming, for heaven's sake get a move on and let us have the canteens. Please believe me when I say that there is a good deal of unrest in some coalfields. It is only being checked by the county officials and by the desire of the mine-workers to do nothing to hinder the war effort.
My hon. Friend asked whether the attendance bonus was satisfactory or not. It certainly is not satisfactory, and time has shown it. When the first attendance bonus agreement was made, what happened? There were men in the coalfields who were so resentful that they defeated some of the best local officials, and who, in their resentment, got hold of their cards. Men have asked me whether any other industry in the country has a similar scheme in operation. Some of our county organisations have been able to knock the rough edges off the mineowners, but the rough edges ought never to have been there. If some coalowners, under the Joint Consultative Council, would be a bit more broadminded and generous, we should make more progress and have less hostility in the industry. I want to ask whether anything occurred last Friday on the Joint Consultative Committee on this attendance bonus question. Was any agreement made to improve the position? Certainly there ought to be an improvement.
I hope that if my hon. Friend has any influence, he will keep it in mind. It has been said that the Government were behind the attendance bonus. I have taken the view that it was an agreement between the two sides in the industry. This has caused some resentment in the coalfields. If the hon. Gentleman has any influence, will he use it to get these anomalies and injustices wiped out? It certainly ought to be done. Then are we satisfied that all the managers are playing the game? I was in a big colliery district yesterday and on Saturday morning. I asked if they were filling all the coal they could, and my informant said they were not. There was such a shortage of youths that they had to employ skilled men in driving ponies. A man may be as agile as possible, but at 50 or 55 he cannot handle a pony as well as he could at 15. The mere fact that you have a shortage of youths, and that other men have to be employed in this work, is slowing down production.
The joint pit production committees could be made exceedingly useful if both sides played the game. I know cases where they are working very well, but I know pits where they are not. One manager took up the attitude that he was the boss and that the others must take orders from him. That is not good production machinery at all. They are joint affairs, to deal not merely with absenteeism but with all matters pertaining to production, and if they are worked rightly and there is proper co-operation, they can increase production. No manager on any production committee should be absolute boss. When he says the others must take his orders, he does not know the first thing about it. He is creating hostility. Then, is my hon. Friend satisfied that some of the uneconomic parts of some pits are being worked as against the economic parts? Picture a pit in which one side is what we call good getting and the other is hard, where you get less coal per man-shift on one side than on the other. If the latter side is being worked and the other is being left, that is not playing the game. If we are hard up for coal and we have to get the best maximum production, that has to be tackled. We have heard a good deal about pits closing. I know two pits near to a big city. Both have been good coal-producing concerns. For some reason or other, despite the fact that they have been having some kind of assistance, they have such a heavy overdraft at the bank that they are likely to close unless more assistance comes along. I am told that the committee from which they draw compensation is not likely to deal with their case in anything like a generous way until October. I want the hon. Gentleman to examine those pits so as to prevent their going out, because there is still some coal in them.
Finally, are we going to increase manpower in the industry? I have the latest figures up to the minute, by the courtesy of the Minister of Labour. Really it is playing with the problem. What is needed are young men for coal-face work. If you have 100 men working in a pit and you bring in five more who are non-producers, you do not increase the productive side. When you divide the output by the additional five, you have lowered it. We had a long discussion with the Minister of Labour some time ago with regard to it. He said he had done his best, but, if this is the best, the sooner we find some alternative method the better. I can give one example of a combine which employs 17,000 mine-workers and has pit room for at least 1,000 coal-face workers, which would make it possible for by-workers to be employed as well. Up to Saturday they had under the registration scheme order two men for the coal-face and two for other work. I have the official figures. In the wide Doncaster area, one of the best coal-producing districts, up to the weekend we had not got 45 back in the pits. We aimed at 50,000 for the country, and decided to get 25,000 back. Yorkshire could increase its output 100,000 tons a week if it could only get the men. There is the same situation in nearly all the other districts. Durham and South Wales could find work for thousands upon thousands. I want to ask a straight, blunt question. What are the Government going to do with regard to man-power in the pits? You can talk about shivering through next winter as much as you like, but if anybody has to shiver through next winter, someone must bear some responsibility, and it will be no good trying to put the responsibility upon the shoulders of the men on these benches, because we shall not have it.
What ought to have been done was this: From March at least 50,000 men should have been released from the Services to go back to work in the pits. An appeal has been made for men who had worked in the pits up to 1935 to register. A man who has been out of the pits for six or seven years and has gone to work in some other industry cannot step out of that industry and become a coal-face worker again straightaway. It just cannot be done—from the point of view of his hands, his muscles and his eyes. It is no use bringing in these elderly men. The divisional inspector in Yorkshire reported in 1940 that the fatal accident rate was 33.52 higher than it was in the three preceding years, and called particular attention to the increase in the fatal acci- dent rate among elderly men. From the angle of coal production we have to get more men into the pits. Of course, get the maximum production from those already in the industry, but remember that mine workers are not machines.
In my opinion this scheme of registration—I hope I shall be wrong—will not supply the right kind of men to get the coal. What has to be done about it? Somebody ought to deal with the situation. It is difficult to argue against the needs of the Army, because it is a Cabinet decision, but if coal is as vital as we say it is—and it is vital in this war, just as it was vital in the last war and will be vital to us as long as industry is industry— then the coal industry must have manpower, and if we cannot get men under the voluntary registration scheme how are we to get them?
If there has to be economy in distribution, especially of household supplies of coal, do let us see that the coal is distributed equitably. It has not been distributed equitably so far. I knew that the Secretary for Mines was a wizard with words, but he made to-day a most amazing statement when he said that on the average each household consumed three tons of coal a year. What do averages matter? The talk about averages means nothing. Some households consume 10 tons of coal and some two, and there are some that could not buy household coal because they could not afford 3s. to 3s. 6d. per cwt. A few weeks ago I called the hon. Gentleman's attention to a case in Gloucestershire where one family was going to have 25 tons of coal while ordinary householders were getting no more than ¾ cwt. per week and I am glad to know that he stopped it. If we are to have suffering through next winter, let us share the suffering. Let us say that nobody will get blazing fires while others are left to shiver. In the same way, in the case of public utility companies, if some have stocks of coal and others have not let us say that those who have not got the supplies shall have first priority.
It was fitting that the House should discuss coal before breaking up, and we may have to discuss it again when we come back. Let me say/ in conclusion, that there is not a man on these benches, either with experience of mining or in close touch with the mining industry, who is not prepared to do his best to get the maximum production of coal. There is not one of us who is not prepared to take a course, popular or unpopular, which he knows to be right. Those who know the miners know that they will always stand for straight hitting when they feel that the man who is hitting is playing the game, but they will not stand for twisting. They will never forgive a man who double crosses them or plays them false. We are prepared to face the men. I say to the Secretary for Mines and to the Government that if we need the coal then miners ought to be liberated from the Forces to get the coal. If 50,000 men were liberated from the Forces they would get all the coal we need, and by doing that we should be relieving not only a good deal of unrest in the coalfield but satisfying the consumers of this country that the House and the Mines Department were doing their best.
I always speak on coal with great trepidation, because I realise that many hon. Members have an experience in coal mining which I can never hope to equal, but there are a great many coalmines in my division, and no one who heard the Minister's speech today and knows as much about the situation as any of us know can leave this House with any degree of equanimity. I do not think it is the smallest use having had this Debate unless we can have some assurance that definite steps are to be taken to get still larger supplies of coal than were promised in the Minister's speech, which really gave no definite grounds for hoping that the problem would be dealt with in the near future. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) called for the release of a large number of men from the Army. I agree with him that that is absolutely essential, but I also think it is deplorable that we should have to ask for those men to be released. Surely there ought to have been sufficient vision to retain the requisite number of men in our coal industry. Long before the war it was well known that it was difficult to get young people to take up work in the mines, and therefore it was elementary knowledge that it would not be safe to call up from the coal mines the number of men who were called up.
I join with hon. Members in all parts of the House in saying that the coal-miners are as patriotic a body of men as are to be found in this country, and are only too anxious to do their share, but it hardly makes sense to tell them that it is absolutely essential that we should have this extra coal when on the one hand they see miners called up for the Services and on the other hand see what happened over this holiday week-end. People were asked not to travel over the Bank Holiday. If you merely ask people not to travel, there will always be a very large number who will disregard such a request. The railway companies are bound under contract to give travelling facilities for such people as turn up. Surely the Ministry of Transport could have stepped in to make it impossible for extra trains to be run. It would be very interesting to know how much of the coal used over the Bank Holiday week-end could have been saved had no extra trains been permitted, and in view of the coal situation I say they ought not to have been permitted.
The Minister told us that 5,000 men were shortly going back to the mines and that 60 per cent. of them would be workers on the coal face. To which mines are those men to be drafted? I think the time is past when we should draft men to pits in which, on account of the conditions in the pit, the output per man is low. I would ask, whoever is to reply for the Government, to say whether consideration has been given to a plan which I think was recently put before the Department by a mining engineer which suggested that in a given area where there were, say, five pits employing 1,000 men, the pit where the output per man owing to conditions in the pit was low should be closed and the men from that pit drafted to the pits where the output per man was higher. That would put a larger proportion of men to the coal face and a smaller proportion to the surface. I am not an expert, but I believe that 39 per cent. of the men in every mine are working at the face and about 61 per cent. on the surface, or at such occupations as pumping. If we are to get the coal we need, it is essential that we should raise the percentage of men working at the coal face, and this can be done only if we close some of the pits where output per man is necessarily low. I do not refer to such pits as are uneconomic, because no pit is really uneconomic to-day. Hon. Members may be aware that conditions in some of the Somerset coalfields are peculiarly difficult, owing to the shallow-ness of the seams.
If we are to make this extra demand upon the miners, we should give them some encouragement. The other day I picked up one of our local papers and saw that a boy had been brought before a juvenile court in Bath for pilfering. He was only just 16 years of age and was stated to be earning £8 a week. I could not help thinking that it was not very much encouragement to miners, who are expected to stay down a mine doing extremely hard work but can never hope to equal that wage. It leads us into believing that, if juveniles outside the mines can earn such high wages, there ought to be, in the interests of the juveniles themselves, some form of compulsory saving.
In regard to extra rations, I think we all welcomed the eight ounces of cheese being given to mineworkers, but the time has come when there should be a general inquiry into the extra rations needed by people engaged in the heavy industries. It is not fair that the agricultural labourer and the coal miner, for instance, get eight ounces of cheese while the quarry worker, who often has to do work which is just as hard, is deprived of it. I welcome the suggestion as to canteens at the coal face, but I think we now need to go very carefully into the distribution of food as it affects the whole country. It is far too easy for some people in towns to supplement their rations by taking food in restaurants and hotels, while it is much too difficult for some people in country districts to get an adequate supply of food with which to carry on their day's work. I express every sympathy with miners and heavy workers everywhere, but the whole question of rationing now needs re-examination. I feel very often ashamed that I can honestly say that I have not gone hungry since the beginning of the war, while many small households in country districts have had insufficiency of food. When we are setting up canteens and examining the needs of the workers in heavy industries, I beg that the whole question of rationing, and the distribution of food in hotels and restaurants and as between town and country, should be re-examined
As I was sitting here listening to the speech of the Secretary for Mines and to the three speeches which succeeded it, the doubt was borne in upon me whether we should ever have really effective Debates in this House as long as we sit at our present times. Obviously each Debate is divided very sharply into two completely independent parts. It opens with a speech by the Minister, which may last about one-and-a-half hours, and the second part lasts about a little longer time. We shall have to reconsider this matter if back benchers are to have the slightest influence upon Government policy. I apologise to the House if these observations are slightly irrelevant.
I was very sympathetic to what the Secretary for Mines said. I knew that to a very large extent he was not solely responsible for the difficulties in the situation which has arisen. Neither is the President of the Board of Trade, who is to reply to the Debate. I am becoming rather tired of having an Aunt Sally—if the House will pardon my using that somewhat homely expression—put up to answer a Debate in this House. The Secretary for Mines is an Aunt Sally, and so is the President of the Board of Trade, because they have no direct responsibility for the situation which has arisen.
If the hon. Gentleman will do me the honour of listening to my speech, I shall be very glad indeed. The Secretary for Mines made a speech last May in which he put the responsibility where it properly belongs, and that is upon the House of Commons. His Department is not a maker of policy, and neither, in the special circumstances of the war, is the Board of Trade. The general decisions which regulate these matters are made by the inner War Cabinet. It is therefore sheer humbug to talk as though one Department were responsible. Responsibility rests to a greater degree with the Prime Minister than with anybody else. Hon. Members know very well that I cannot disclose the source of my information, but I say that the Prime Minister has accepted direct responsibility for this situation here.
Let us be perfectly frank and candid in this matter. We do not suffer from lack of knowledge about what is required or from absence of statistics. We know exactly what the situation is. We do not suffer now, in 1941, as victims of unforeseen vicissitudes, as we did last year. The collapse of France presented an unforeseen and difficult situation at that time to the mining industry, and it lasted for some time. By the end of the spring of 1941 we knew what the situation was. Men were leaving the industry, attracted in large numbers by the higher wages being paid in the war industries. At the same time, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force were taking men; since the beginning of the war they have taken about 50,000 men from the industry. From our knowledge of the output per man-shift, we all knew that that process was bound to result in an absolute decline in coal production and, because young men were being taken, in a relative decline.
That situation was known to the House of Commons and to the country in the spring. The Secretary for Mines did his best last May to tell us about it. His speech was very largely a slightly hysterical SOS to the House of Commons. The House of Commons did not respond. Why did it not respond? Because the House of Commons has got into the wicked state of mind of imagining that economic problems can be solved by emotional crusades. The Prime Minister's special gifts have hypnotised the whole Administration. His speeches are so good, and the results that follow from them are often so marvellous, that Ministers get into the habit of thinking that all they have to do is to make an emotional appeal to the country and the desired results will follow, as they expect. I am afraid my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines did that at the beginning of the year. I have read his speech again, and I was astonished by what seemed to me to be a feeling lying behind it that all he had to do was to send out a great call to the miners of Great Britain, and they would respond. As a matter of fact everybody knows that in these economic matters, in matters connected with industry, men may be able to put out a great spurt for a short time, but it is only for a very short time. There is bound to be a reaction, and even the most exalted expressions of the human spirit cannot be a permanent substitute for a sound economic organisation. The men put out a great spurt last year, and it had an immediate effect on production, though we all know the results which followed from it.
You cannot get any solution to this problem in the mining industry by any campaign, no matter how brilliantly conducted. Indeed, the situation is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) said, that output is declining at the moment. Output per man-shift is falling. In some pits, in some areas, the output of the men at the coal face is rising, but the output of the pits is falling, because although the men at the coal face are making extraordinary exertions so many skilled men have been taken away from the traffic shifts that they cannot handle the coal. It is not a question of the spirit in which men set about their tasks; they must have skill and knowledge as well. All my hon. Friends who know anything about mining know very well that if inexperienced men are handling the traffic problem underground, you just cannot get the output. It is impossible. I say, therefore, that the dimensions of this problem and its intensity have been known long enough for us to have found a solution. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour applied the Essential Work Order to the mining industry. He did it, not as part of, but in substitution for, a sane wage policy for the country as a whole. Had the Government settled down to this business of getting reasonably uniform wages and conditions in all industries in Great Britain, it would not have been necessary for them to establish walls around a trade to prevent men from running away. Remember that it was quite impossible to expect that Essential Work Order to be a substitute for a sane wages policy, because all it did was to make the men sullen, disappointed and even angry.
In my district there are many men working in the pits who are getting less in wages than women working in filling factories near by. The ordinary leverages that men possessed to remedy such a situation—leaving the industry and finding another employer, so that it was up to those left to get higher wages and start the flow back again—were destroyed by the Essential Work Order. It is quite true that it froze the men in the industry where they were, but it froze them in a very bad state of mind. It is quite clear that without man-power you cannot get the necessary output. Then some of the Press and certain other people began this attack on the miners for absenteeism. It is my opinion that this attack has soured the miners more than anything else. It has made them angry, because it is unsympathetic and unimaginative. I do not want to cover the ground already so eloquently covered, but anybody connected with the mining industry knows very well that it is quite impossible to get six-day shifts out of miners every week, and, what is more, it is quite impossible to get a doctor's certificate, because if you lie-in in the morning, you do not get up to go to the surgery to get a doctor's certificate to say you were in bed. It is the very thing you do not do. It is all rubbish. Everybody knows that you cannot solve the problem that way.
What did the Government do? I think my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour also showed this sort of crusading spirit. He made a great appeal to the men who had left the industry to go back. I listened to his speech over the radio and thought it was an extraordinary affair, to appeal to these men who have left the industry since 1935. They left it often after years of unemployment or intermittent employment. They had had it impressed upon them that the nation did not want them as miners; they had very often removed at the expense of the country to other districts where they had taken their families and had acquired new homes and new crafts. Did he really expect these men to go back to the pits? It is too childish, too silly altogether. And even if they did go back, they would be of no use to the pits. A man of over 40 years of age who has been five or 10 years away from the pit cannot go back again; it is quite impossible for him to be of any use again as a coal hewer. I am quite certain my hon. Friend did not tell him they would go back in large numbers, and I am quite certain he did not tell him that they would be of any use. I do not want to start internecine strife in the otherwise harmonious circles of the Government, but I am quite certain he did nothing of the sort.
We now know what is happening. About 97,000 men have registered, about 24,000 of them have been offered employment, about 10,000 have been sifted out of that 24,000, and about 45,000 are finding their way back somehow or other. As my hon. Friend said, that is really playing with the problem. Indeed, it has been played with all through, because, as I said, we knew where we were going to be led. My hon. Friend has also given us a hint to-day as to where his mind lies in the matter when he said that at the recent production conference the two sides of the industry asked for 50,000 men. He did not say what the response of the Government had been. He did not tell us that. We know what the response was; they were offered this scheme of persuading men to go back from other industries. It is quite clear, therefore, and it has been clear for months past, that the men could only be found from the three Services, particularly from the Army.
Unfortunately—and I hope my words are going to be repeated to him—unfortunately we have a Prime Minister who listens to the generals more than he listens to the industrial people inside the Government. In fact, the Government are the only enemy up to now which the generals have been able to defeat. Apparently the generals have advised the Prime Minister that they need these men in the Army. I had a letter only yesterday from a miner, who said, "I am wasting my time in a mess room in the Army now." Is it not time that the House of Commons started to take up a dignified position with respect to the Government? They know what is wrong. There are 50,000 to 60,000 men in the Army—I do not know how many in the Air Force and the Navy; I suppose it is more difficult to touch the Navy than the Army and Air Force—but there are 50,000 young men there in the Army who ought to have been back in the industry months ago. In fact, it is almost too late, because by the time you get these men back and lift the output in the pits, your transport industry will not be able to handle the output. Now, the transport industry can handle more than the output you can get.
We have a position created, not by men intimately connected with the industry, because we have advised this months ago. Mineowners have advised it, and I am sure that the Secretary for Mines has advised it. What is stopping them?
What is stopping them is the Prime Minister, who thinks about these things romantically and not realistically, and the "brass hats" who advise him stupidly. In the result, we shall find this winter that there will be an exceedingly serious shortage of coal production. What are these men in the Army doing? I am going to speak perfectly frankly. Very large numbers of them are cooling their heels. We know that many of them have not got the weapons with which effectively to train, and that they can only get the weapons if production is raised. You cannot raise production unless you get coal to keep it going. These men are learning the use of weapons which they will not get because it is their place to enable them to be produced. It is not a complicated subject at all; it is simple. You are taking men away from the pits and fooling their time away. They are disgruntled, disheartened, and sick of the Army, many of them, because no effective use is being made of their time.
If this is the position, why has it arisen? It has arisen because the House of Commons is not doing its job. Our job is to tell the Prime Minister that this is within our knowledge, as it is within our responsibility and compass, and that unless he puts it right, we propose to go into the Division Lobby on the matter. It is no use hon. Members running away. That is the situation. If there is a shortage of coal this winter, if people are starved for lack of heating, if industry becomes partially idle as the result of lack of coal, what a cry there will be from our constituents. We know all the facts. We cannot just say that it is the Government's fault. All we have done in the House is to say what we think, but we have not taken any steps to implement our view. The House of Commons cannot run away from its responsibility. It is our duty to act and to impart our knowledge. Was it not known at the beginning of the war that it would be very difficult to get the coal industry to face up to war-time responsibilities and conditions? If there is a more anti-social lot of employers in Great Britain than the coal-owners, I would like to find them. Members on the other side of the House know it very well indeed.
I will try to show whether it is absolute nonsense. It has been the judgment of every Commission and inquiry that has ever sat that coalowners have been responsible for landing the country into three major industrial crises.
This has been gone over many times. The facts are too well known. In the middle of a war the industry has been so organised on the distribution side that coal has been unnecessarily passing from one part of the country to the other. Customers in the Midlands have had supplies from the South, and customers in the South have had supplies from the Midlands, with consequent wastage of man power. Why is that? Because private ownership of collieries keeps them in an anarchic condition.
My hon. Friend is right. There is a legacy of hatred in the coal trade of Great Britain. (An HON. MEMBER: "Only in South Wales"). All over the country. A Government that wished to deal realistically with this problem would have taken over these pits at once. They would have controlled the industry and organised it as a unit. Even if they could not have done that, if agreement could not have been obtained to take the whole industry over, they could have assumed complete unified control of the industry in war-time. That this has not been done is directly responsible for what is going on. The House of Commons is face to face, not with a complex issue at all, but a simple one. It is a test of will and of courage. Are we going to insist that the Government shall send home from the Army these men who are needed at once to increase the coal output for the winter months? Are we going to divest ourselves of our responsibility for what may happen? Are we going to tell the Prime Minister, and the members of the War Cabinet, "Please come to the House of Commons, and listen to us a little more, and not listen to those whose whole history in this war has been one of uninterrupted disaster"?
I shall not give way. We have, however, heard a lot of sound common sense. I have never heard the case for the mining industry put better than it was put by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith). We are a bit in the dark, because we have not got the quarterly statistics usually issued from the Mines Department. When the Secretary of Mines told us that 77,000men, I think he said, left the industry last year, and that since the commencement of the war over 100,000 had left, one did not know whether this 100,000 had been replaced to any extent by any who had come into the industry. There ought, in theory, with the number of men now. in the industry, to be no reduction in the amount of coal produced, because before the war there were five shifts per week and now the number is six. Of course, output for six days is not mathematically in proportion to the output for five days. It is difficult for men to work six days a week, especially when some of them have to go down and do odd jobs even on the Sunday. Especially is it difficult in areas like mine, where the men have been in the habit during the summer of working only three or four days a week. They naturally do not feel equal to working six days a week. That is only human nature. I would suggest that in those districts where the owners, the management and the men so decide, they might work five days a, week, and the law might be altered so that the working day should consist of 8 or 8½hours, and the shift work done on Saturday, instead of on Sunday. Such an act might be for the duration of the war.
We know that the Government could bring in such a Measure for the duration of the war, and we know that there are lots of miners, as well as managements, who would prefer to have a five-day week of eight hours a day, with the shift work done on Saturday and no work at all done on Sunday. There would probably be just as much coal produced, and it would certainly be produced more economically than it is to-day, while the pits would be safer.
Is the hon. Member aware that in the Northern coalfields the maximum day for coal-getters seven years ago was seven hours, because the owners agreed that that was the point of exhaustion?
I know that it was the custom in the Durham coalfield. Of course, coalfields vary. Therefore, I say that each coalfield should have the option of working the five-day week if it so desires, and that it should be a matter for arrangement with the men. That would mean an alteration in the law.
I was merely pointing out that what I have suggested would mean some alteration in the law. I accept your correction, Sir. The real reason for the reduction of output is that the younger men have gone into the Army. Output will not be increased by bringing back the men who are now being brought back—older men, who have not been accustomed to mechanical mining. If you bring back such men, and put them to coal-cutting and conveying among the other men, instead of increasing the output of the pit, there will he a tendency to retard it. You may get more men in the mines, and yet in three months' time be producing less coal. It must be seriously considered whether some of the younger men cannot be brought back from the Forces. Some of the men who are now being brought back are, I fear, compensation cases—men who have had broken legs, for instance. I heard of one who had had a broken pelvis. The face men who have gone are the real reason for output going down.
Then there is the question of food. This matter has been dealt with ad nauseam in the House. When I had the pleasure of taking the chair for Admiral Sir Ernest Evans in the Leicester coalfield, he informed us that arrangements had been made with Lord Woolton for further supplies of food to be allocated to the coalfield. We have not seen any of it yet. Incidentally, I should like to congratulate the Prime Minister on sending down so forceful and distinguished and gallant an officer as Admiral Sir Ernest Evans. I hope that the speeches he has made in the coalfields will increase production. I do not wish to say anything about absenteeism, except that in the districts in which I am interested, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, there is comparatively little avoidable absenteeism—only about 2 per cent. There may be other districts with more absenteeism, but we do not get statistical records now, so we are in the dark. One of the weaknesses in the economic structure of the mining industry in war-time is the flat-rate addition on wages. At present, there is a flat-rate addition of 4s. 8d. I think it would be better if the addition were expressed by a percentage on piecework.
Yes. That would give the pieceworker rather more than the 4s. 8d. It has often been said in this House that the reason why men have left the mining industry is that there are better wages in other industries. That does not apply in the district from which I come.
I have said that we are in the dark because we do not get statistics. I do not happen to have figures for Lancashire, though I have for most of the other districts. In one colliery with which I am concerned—and it is not at all an exceptional colliery—every man and boy in, recent weeks has averaged £5 us. 9d. a week. Considering that we have 22 per cent, of boys and men under 21, you can imagine what our stall men are getting. It is round about £8. The average for every man and boy in the pit is over £6, double the earnings of pre-war days. I am hot saying it is too much; all I am pointing out is that we do not find men leaving the pits in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to go to other industries. If you analysed the figures, I think you would find that comparatively few men leave the coal industry for other industries. I have the figures here, and if anybody disputes them, I am prepared to hand them over, although I do not want to take up the time of the House by quoting them now.
In conclusion, I say that if you are to get increased output in the mining industry, you must have young men back at the coal face. You must not rely on bringing back older men who, possibly, have been crippled at one time or another, and who would tend rather to retard production than to give us the increase we all desire to see next winter for our war effort and for the supplies of our civilian population.
I have listened very attentively to the speech made by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg), and I was astounded at one statement that he made. If this statement gets to the mining districts, it will create astonishment there, too. He said that he wants the pieceworker to have a percentage on his fixed rate and the day-wage man to have a flat rate. Such a proposition would split the men straight away.
The hon. Member must stick to his own words. He said that a pieceworker should be paid a percentage. The percentage was altered once because of a rise in the cost of living, and a flat-rate increase was granted. The married man doing day-wage work gets a flat rate, the same as the married man who is on piecework. However, I will not pursue this argument with the hon. Member any further. I rose principally to tell the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines that there is greater unrest to-day in the mining industry than there has been for 50 years. I am not talking from a book; I have the facts from my own brother, my neigh- bours, my coalfield and the colliery at which I worked before I came to this House and I repeat that there is more feeling in the mining industry to-day than I have ever experienced—and I have been connected with the coal industry for 50 years. I was amazed at what I saw and at what I felt, and I want to tell the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines that unless a different feeling prevails, there is little hope of getting any increase in the output of coal. There is a despicable attitude on the part of some managements and owners. It is an attitude that is almost indescribable.
During the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) he was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Wood-burn), who said that the reason some men did not want to go back to the industry was that the treatment meted out to them where they were working now was much better than the treatment meted out to them while they were working in the pits. What are the reasons for it? I have here some cases which I will quote to the House. First, let me say that the war bonus system has brought more poison in to the industry than anything else I have known. I know a man who was injured in 1915 by having a hand blown off. When he came home from the war he was given a job in a pit, greasing pulleys and working on haulage machinery. He was as handy a man as you could wish to meet. He is interested in bowling, like thousands of other miners who have become interested in this game since the Miners' Welfare Fund set up recreation centres. This man worked six shifts, with the exception of one hour, and he asked to go out at 12 o'clock on a Saturday —when the shift finished at one o'clock—to attend a bowling match. When he came to draw his bonus the following week-end he found that 2d. had been stopped because he left work at twelve o'clock instead of one o'clock. Would they do such a despicable thing in any other industry? I saw this man's pay check, so I know that this is what happened. I know there are one or two mine-owners sitting on the opposite side of the House who would say, "We would not do that ourselves," but it is done in the industry.
Here is another case, that of a young man who worked eleven shifts one week as a fitter. The following week he worked eight and three-quarter shifts, but when he came to draw his money he found that 5s. bonus had been stopped because he had been too tired to go to work. Do you wonder that men say, "If they intend to do that to me, I do not care a pinch of salt whether there is any output or not."
Is it not a fact that these conditions governing bonus awards have been agreed upon in Yorkshire and other districts by miners and managements and trade unions? The unions are a party to them.
I am talking about how the conditions are applied. Here was a man who worked 19¾ shifts in a fortnight and had 5s. stopped because he was too tired to go to work on one of the six days. Could that happen in any other industry in the British Isles or, indeed, in the world? I will deal for a moment with the Essential Work Order, which is not worked in the right spirit. What are the production committees for? They are to put everything on the table and try to get the best output they can. What are the owners doing with this Essential Work Order? Again I will give a case, because it is facts that count in this House There is a machine face as long as these benches, but the machine cannot go the whole length of the face for the time being because of gas at one end. Some men are filling the coal on to a belt, but they cannot do so at the end where the gas is. The men who are throwing on to the belt get £10 s. 5d. per shift. The coal that has not been thrown on to the belt has to be put into tubs, and the owner says, "Because you are not working on the belt but putting the coal into a tub, I am going to reduce your money by 4s. 6d. a day." That is an effect of the Essential Work Order. The men go to the office and say to the manager, "We are not having this." He says, "Leave it to the production committee." It has been left to the production committee for about six weeks, and the men have not yet received their 4s. 6d. One of them is my nephew, and he said to me, "Uncle, we haven't had it yet, and if we don't get that money, we are not going to work." I said, "You must not do that. Go on working and leave it with the production committee." He has waited for six weeks, and he has not got his 4s. 6d yet.
Is that working the Essential Work Order in the spirit in which it was brought into this House and in which it was discussed with the representatives of the men? I want to say to the President of the Board of Trade that, with the men we have in the industry at the present time, if the same spirit prevailed in the mining industry as prevails in other industries, we could get an increase in tonnage. We could get an increase if a better spirit were there. The manager at this same pit said to the production committee, which is meeting on Thursday, "I am not discussing anything on Thursday—only absenteeism." Is that what the production committees were set up for? I spoke to a big meeting of nearly 1,000 men two Sundays ago, and said to them, "This Essential Work Order is a Godsend to you chaps. I wish in a sense that I was a delegate now instead of being in the House of Commons. I should like to be on the job discussing things across the table, because the production committee has as much power on our side as the management has on the other side. If there is any thwarting of output by the management or a deputy prevents output, you have a chance to handle them as the management handles men for absenteeism."
The production committee should be a round table conference to get as much coal as possible, but it is not being worked in that way. What right has this manager to say, "I am not going to discuss anything—only absenteeism"? If I were on the production committee, he would discuss something else besides absenteeism. I should want to know such things as why the face is breaking down as often as it is and why they do not use their intelligence about how and where it is going to break. If our men get a fair crack of the whip on the bonus and the Essential Work Order, there will not be as much absenteeism as there is. Some chaps the other day went to the pit on a Friday and came back on the Friday afternoon because the management said they were to do something which was directly in opposition to the Essential Work Order.
The miners want more food. They are not getting sufficient. A man cannot get coal on bread and margarine. We may be told that he is getting eight ounces of cheese but there are some parts of the coalfield where they do not care about cheese. When I was working in the pit getting coal—and I got it for 25 years—I would sooner have a bit of dripping on my bread than cheese. I am not disparaging the cheese allowance, but it is not sufficient for the men. I made a statement during Question time recently that one of the men in my division had for his snap boiled turnip spread like butter between bread. He was a coal-face worker, not a machine-face worker, but a worker at hand-got coal. You cannot get steam up on turnips. There was another case of a little lad whose job was to shout the number of tubs as they came from the pit. He put his bit of snap into the check box. While he was out, the check weighman undid the parcel and found that this little lad, 15 years of age, who had to get out of bed at 4.30 in the morning, had dry bread for his snap. The men will have to have more food if they are to produce more coal and if bad feeling is to be done away with. It is as well that we should tell the Members across these benches what is happening, especially when he have an hon. Member thanking the Prime Minister for sending Evans of the "Broke" to talk to the miners. Our chaps do not want any lecturing. They know their jobs better than Evans knows it, and I know it better than Evans, too. If you give the men a square deal and a square meal and bring back confidence into the industry, I am satisfied that there will be a better production than there has been in the past.
I want briefly to deal with this subject entirely from the point of view of the consumers. In listening to the interesting statement made by the Secretary for Mines, it struck me that the hon. Gentleman is one of the world's optimists. With the present situation in the coalfields and the stocks of coal which he has managed to accumulate, how does he imagine that, as a fighting nation, requiring a large amount of coal for our war industries and a large amount of coal to keep up the spirits of the ordinary consumers during the coming winter, we shall weather the months that lie ahead? Last winter I had occasion to write to the hon. Gentleman several times about essential indus- tries in my constituency which had not a sufficient reserve of coal; all the answers of the hon. Gentleman were courteous, and we managed to stave off the danger for the time being.
1 received letters last winter from private consumers, small cottagers, who had not seen coal for five weeks during January and February. I managed to get a little coal for them from the local fuel controller. In those districts, there were large dumps, and I asked for authority to be given to the chief local officer to issue this coal occasionally when it was badly needed; but I was told by the Minister, no doubt quite rightly, that those dumps were an iron ration to be kept for use in the event of grave danger owing to an invasion or dislocation of transport because of air attacks on essential lines. They could not be used without special authority. Since then, I have asked that, if possible, other dumps not so sacred as iron rations should be made and put at the disposition of the local authority, so that, for instance, the mayor of High Wycombe or the Mayor of Slough could issue the coal, if necessary, to people who had no storage accommodation and so were unable to put by coal in the summer months, as everybody ought to do, if allowed to do so.
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman clear up one point arising out of his remarks? If there is to be a shortage of coal in the coming winter, we are all very concerned that the small consumer who cannot store much coal should be as well provided for as those who have big houses. In the case of the cottagers in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's constituency who did not see any coal for five weeks, how was it that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, on seeing the local fuel controller, was able to get coal for them when they had not been able to get it for themselves?
As long as I got the coal for them, I did not go into that question. I imagine that the local fuel controller went to another coal merchant and ordered him to send the coal. As everybody knows, the difficulty last year was transport. Now we have sufficient transport, but coal production has gone down. I felt that what we ought to try to do during the summer months was to distribute coal throughout the country, and to establish local dumps and put them at the disposal of the local authorities, who would be able to give the coal to small cottagers, and so on, who cannot store coal during the summer. I thought that the Department ought to induce everybody who had storage capacity to stock the maximum amount of coal, so that they would be off the market during the winter. Apparently, that was the idea of the Minister as late as April last. A question was then put to him by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) asking whether he would encourage private users of coal to store to their utmost capacity. He said that he would do all that he could to bring that about. Then, the Minister issued a new order limiting everybody to one ton of coal. I should have thought that a far better plan would have been to encourage the local authorities to make local dumps for the supply of cottagers, and to encourage everybody having bigger storage capacity to stock a maximum amount during the summer so as to be off the market during the winter. I know of one hon. Member who distributed 60 tons of coal to his village last winter, and many other people were able to do that. If necessary, the Government ought to take powers to take coal from the people who have large storage capacity and distribute it to people who are in dire need of coal. I think it is a fatal policy to prohibit people from storing up to capacity during the summer months.
I think the Secretary for Mines is not well informed in some matters. Recently, I asked a question about the supply of coal to merchants in my district, and the hon. Gentleman told me that they were getting far more than they did last year. I went to my coal merchant, and he told me that in the previous two weeks he had had a standing order to give one cwt. of coal every Saturday to two dozen small cottagers in the village, but that during that time he had not been able to deliver any. It was not a question of one ton; he could not give them one cwt. Further, I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman, who is responsible for miners being taken from the industry? Surely, the Government as a whole must take responsibility. I feel that the whole matter is being dealt with in too complacent a mood. There will be a regular disaster in this country if we do not get more coal before the winter. If it is necessary to take men from the Fighting Services, I should vote for that, because our war effort cannot go on unless we get the coal, not only for our essential industries, but for the purpose of keeping up the spirit of the population. Owing to the shortage of food and other things, our men folk, and particularly our women folk, are going through a time of terrible strain, and we should do all that we can, with foresight and courage, to lessen that strain as much as possible.
I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) has brought the Debate back to the consumers. He emphasised in his concluding remarks that coal production is not only as vital as any other munitions industry in the country, but that our population depend upon an adequate supply of coal. The Debate has ranged over very wide and serious subjects, but to me the most important aspect is the stocking of coal to meet the contingencies of the winter. During the 10 years I have been a Member of the House. I have heard and seen numerous Secretaries for Mines, of all political parties, made the target of attacks from all parts of the House. I hardly thought that I should see the day when my hon. Friend and Parliamentary representative, the present Secretary for Mines, would be so roughly treated by his own friends. Wherever the blame rests, I am confident of this, that it is through no fault of the Minister's. In spite of his continued activity during the last 12 months, the present Minister finds himself perhaps in a bigger mess than many of his predecessors. I was not happy with, and I was not given sufficient confidence by, the speech of the Minister to-day. It is pretty obvious to everybody that someone has blundered over this question of coal supply. I cannot for a moment allow anyone to blame the Minister of Mines. Throughout his period of office he has made impassioned appeals to all classes of people to get them to realise and appreciate the seriousness of the problem, and, what is more, the need for more intensified production.
It is amazing how things change in a few months. Last winter our problem was that of transport, and the problem to-day is insufficiency of production and empty coal wagons. It is quite common in South Wales at the present time for colliery owners to be appealed to by the railways to provide storage or standing room in their sidings for empty coal wagons. I was very glad the Minister emphasised that from March to October it is customary for us to make every effort possible to stock our surplus coal in anticipation of the winter demands. It has been pointed out that we are unfortunate at the present time because we are no longer supplied, for obvious reasons, with the statistical returns from the Ministry of Mines. These returns dealt with such questions as output, district output, tonnage used for shipping, wages and so forth, and it was always possible for those interested in the industry to keep abreast with its development and production. Since the outbreak of war we have not had that information.
The masses of the people of this country have held the view, and held it very rightly, that there should be a sufficient supply of coal to meet all our needs. For many years, not only has this country met the demands of industry and consumers generally, but has also been the largest exporter of coal in the world. Looking at our export figures, I find that in 1939 we were exporting 52,000,000 tons of coal, which is not by any means the largest figure so far as our exports are concerned. In the early days of the war it was expected that we should produce sufficient coal to satisfy our own needs, provide for the demands of France, and, then, still be able to export coal to certain Continental countries. After the fall of France our problem was what to do with our surplus supplies. It was held that we were faced with the problem of closing down collieries, and then it was that the miners started flowing once more into the ranks of the unemployed.
The Minister referred to the Committee appointed by the Cabinet under the Chairmanship of the Lord President of the Council. I am confident, through the testimony which the Minister paid to that Committee, and the thanks he rendered to his right hon. Friend, that that Committee has done some good work. I well remember in March that that Committee, which had been appointed to co-ordinate action by the Minister whose responsibility it was to ensure the supply of coal to essential industries, sent the Lord President to a conference of representatives of the miners and of mineowners. The Minister said that he presided at that conference, which was held in London, and that the principal speaker was the Lord President. On that occasion he asked for the hearty co-operation of the coalowners and of the miners to provide an additional 24,000,000 tons of coal between March and October. He told the conference that 24,000,000 tons of coal were essential as an addition to the then existing stocks in order to meet the contingencies of the coming winter. He stated that the whole of that output would be satisfied if the mining industry produced 4,500,000 tons a week. I must confess that I could never understand the figures of the Lord President. I do not understand how an increase of 12½per cent., which is the computation of all the experts, would provide 24,000,000 tons in seven months. There seemed to me to be a contradiction, because only a week previously the Minister of Mines told the House that he hoped to find another 10,000,000 tons to be added to our stocks in this country. When the Lord President met representatives of the mining industry it was realised by all those present that much was being asked of them. They were being asked to increase output by 12½per cent., at a time when there was a considerable migration of labour into other industries and when conscription was diverting the younger men into the Armed Forces of the Crown. In spite of that, the owners' and miners' representatives passed a resolution undertaking to do everything possible to satisfy the demands of the Cabinet.
The hon. Member began by saying that the blame did not rest on the Secretary for Mines. I say quite definitely it lies on the whole of the Cabinet. He then went on to refer to a meeting which was held last March. The Lord President of the Council stated the target to be aimed at. At the meeting it was stated that they would do their best to reach it, but that the industry required three things: firstly, action to prevent men leaving the industry; secondly, action to secure the largest maximum output from those in the industry; and, thirdly, action to increase the labour forces.
I am not attacking the miners; I am blaming the Government. If my hon. Friend had waited, I was going to refer to those conditions, but he has now made part of my speech for me.
Had the output been provided everyone would have been very happy, but we very soon saw that things were not going as well as either the Secretary for Mines or the Lord President desired, because we found the Minister was rushing up and down the country every week-end making continuous appeals. It was also obvious from the Questions being asked in the House of Commons that not only were Members concerned, but also the Minister himself. I do not think that on any occasion the Minister of Mines himself misled the House of Commons as to the actual position. The Lord President's appeal was made at the end of March. We were startled when on 28th July the Minister for Mines said he wanted an addition of 20,000,000 tons to be produced during the next 20 weeks. He said we should not be safe unless we added 20,000,000 tons to our stocks. Earlier in his speech he had told us that the stock in the country was 14,000,000 tons, so it is obvious that by October he was aiming at a target of 34,000,000 tons.
The hon. Member may have misunderstood the figures at the beginning. The Lord President's appeal applied to the programme which had been submitted by the Production Council and which makes provision for total stocks amounting to 38,000,000 tons, and we wanted an additional 24,000,000 tons in 30 weeks. It was clear after three or four months had passed that it would not be possible to reach that higher figure. What I said in May was that, if men were brought back and if facilities were provided, we might substitute a figure of 20,000,000 for the 24,000,000.
We have not been aware until now of the difference in the estimates of the two Ministers. But the fact still remains that the hon. Gentleman admits that, while the Lord President was asking for 24,000,000 tons in addition to the stock of 14,000,000, aiming at a target of 38,000,000 he was forced at the end of May to make the target 34,000,000 tons. But the position was much more serious, because the Minister of Mines was now asking for an output of 5,000,000 tons a week over a period of 20 weeks to provide him with the tonnage that he required. Earlier in the day he told us that when the Lord President spoke to the conference in London he aimed at a 10 per cent. increase in output, but the industry gen- erally, and all the technical journals, talked of an increase of 12½ per cent. It is also known that the output of the mines for April, May and June never reached a tonnage of 4,000,000 tons a week, while the Lord President in March was asking for 4,500,000, so they were right in assuming that he was asking for a 25 per cent. increase in output.
No. The hon. Member may attribute the figures to whom he likes, but he must not say that I asked for an additional 1,000,000 tons a week. After all, the stock is not entirely a matter of additional production. If there is a fall in consumption with a prospective increase of production, you get a much larger stocking figure.
I am grateful for the explanation. It is a point I had not realised, but it is obvious that a substantial portion of the 1,000,000 tons a week had still to be found by increased production. I find that the mining industry has not since 1929 produced anything approaching 5,000,000 tons a week. No Minister of Mines can hope or expect the mining industry to give him the 1929 output with 1941 man-power. I would not presume to apportion blame for this terrible blunder, because, after all, we are not going to get the stock it is essential we should have. The Minister of Mines told us that the additional 20,000,000 tons has to be added to the existing stock of 14,000,000 tons, if we are to keep above the safety line, but it was obvious when he made that speech at the end of May that output was still in the neighbourhood of 4,000,000 tons. If, therefore, we are between now and October to keep above the Plimsoll line of safety as far as the nation and its industries are concerned, the output has to be in excess of 5,000,000 tons a week.
I think it is obvious, after the discussion that we have had to-day, that it all comes down to a question of man-power and output per man-shift. The Lord President should have told the industry, when he asked for an additional 24,000,000 tons of stock, that it was the intention of the Government to provide it with additional labour, and the miners and the owners should have told the Lord President, "Give us the tools, and we will give you the goods. Give us the men, and we will deliver the coal you require." [AN HON. MEMBER: "He did say it."] He cannot have said it very forcibly. He should give effect to it. I am confident that the Minister of Mines, as a practical man, must have realised the immensity of the task when he undertook to provide this additional stock of coal. Members will probably remember the famous remark which M. Clemenceau made when he presented his Government to the French Parliament during the last war. He said, "There have been many mistakes. Let us think no more about them save to repair them." It is in that spirit, and not with the idea of scalp hunting, that I would like to examine for a minute or two the causes of the present situation, in order to see whether it is possible to make some contribution towards avoiding what otherwise may be a national calamity during the coming winter.
I think we are agreed that the principal if not the only cause of our insufficiency of stocks is the depletion of man-power in the mining industry. Too many men have been taken from the mines into the Army, and there has been a considerable migration of men from the mines into other industries. It has been stated today that the Secretary for Mines hoped, or was promised by the Minister of National Service, that 25,000 men would be brought back to the mines during the next few weeks. I think that a fortnight ago we were expecting them back, and the House and the industry must have been bitterly disappointed to hear that instead of the 25,000 "coal-getters"—that was the term used by the Minister of National Service—the highest figure which is practicable at the moment is something over 5,000. I am advised by those who are closely in touch with the industry that even if the whole of the 25,000 coal-getters went back to the mines, that number would be wholly insufficient, and I have a suspicion that the Secretary for Mines himself, with his practical knowledge, agrees with that view. I therefore implore the Government to re-examine this question of man-power in relation to the mining industry and to adopt bold measures.
I am in agreement with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) that the Government ought to get back 50,000 men into the industry, even if a number of them were taken from the Army or other industries for only a limited period. I was rather surprised to hear during the week-end, from a highly placed official in a large combine of collieries, that there was something wrong with the system adopted by the Minister of National Service for the release of these men. He said, "Do not let miners leave good jobs in any part of the country and when they get back home find there is no work for them." Surely it should be the responsibility of some Government Department to put returned miners into contact with employment at a colliery? What has happened is that a number of collieries were closed during the depression which followed the capitulation of France, and, incidentally, I should like to know what steps the Government propose for the reopening of those collieries. While I suggest, therefore, that it is common agreement in all parts of the House that the principal cause of the decreased output is the depletion of man-power—
—there are other causes, and it is essential that those other causes should be examined. In May, 1940, we were faced with a greatly increased demand for coal for France, and under the impetus of the Coal Production Council district schemes were drawn up with a view to increasing the output of coal. After the fall of France those schemes were not generally put into operation, but the expedients then contemplated are still applicable to the present situation. First it was hoped that there would be an adoption of a cycle of operations in connection with mining machinery. The next suggestion was that there should be some extension of the working week or of working periods. I know that is unpopular. The third suggestion was the elimination of "stints," and the fourth suggestion was that something should be done to reduce absenteeism in the mines. The adoption of a cycle of operations for mining machinery is of vital importance in increasing output, but the Secretary for Mines must first get to the mines a larger number of men. Any proposal for extending the working week is, I know, a very thorny one to put to any body of men or to a trade union at any time. I have spent hours in negotiations in my own industry over questions of that kind, and I approach the proposal even now with a certain amount of trepidation.
I thought I had avoided saying anything that would cause hurt and all I would add is that I think that the mining fraternity in my own district in South Wales are to be congratulated, together with the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines, upon the outcome of the conference which took place in Cardiff recently on this very question. Most of the industries on war production have during the past 12 months increased their working period or working week, and what is the good of debating how to meet the urgent problem of increasing the output of coal if you are warned that you must not touch on any question which is likely to hurt anybody else. I say that the industry might very well consider extending the working week, or extending the shifts, during this war period. The next suggestion is the elimination of stints. Stints ought not to be tolerated in a time of national emergency. The hon. Member for Normanton admitted that there are districts in which the output per man per shift was not being maintained. My own information is that in two or three of the principal coal mining centres the output per man-shift has decreased. I am not blaming the miners.
I know important districts in West Wales where the output per man-shift is less now than it was at the outbreak of the war. [Interruption.] I was very careful to speak of districts of which I have knowledge, but an hon. Member goes further and says that it is true of the whole country that output is down. If so, the calamity will be upon us sooner than I said.
I am not interested as to who is bringing it on, but only in getting the stocks of coal for which everybody is asking. The problem is terribly urgent, and the time available between now and the winter is short. It is essential to remember that the Lord President of the Council and the Secretary for Mines set October as the time when this additional stock of coal should be available in the country. The hours of daylight will soon be shorter, and the possibilities of loading and unloading coal will be much reduced. The movement of coal transport on the railways will be slowed down. Stocks of coal must be replenished and substantially increased as quickly as possible if we are to avoid a recurrence of the transport chaos of last winter.
May I make one or two suggestions? It is obvious to anyone who has studied the question that the target aimed at can never be reached. The Secretary for Mines must have satisfied himself that he cannot achieve that additional 20,000,000 tons in stock by the end of October. The coal problem has become twofold; it is a problem not only of reduced production but of coal saving. It is no use blaming the miner or suggesting that he alone can solve the problem. The Government should adopt a much stricter rationing scheme, affecting electricity and gas consumers in the domestic sphere. I am confident that we use too much electricity and gas. There should be a limitation of coal supplies. A suggestion was made by the Secretary for Mines, or someone speaking on his behalf, that some step had already been taken to tighten up matters in this direction, but the Minister ought to make a special appeal to all non-essential industries asking for conservation of fuel.
My next suggestion may not be very popular. It is that there should be ruthless cutting down of passenger services on our railways. Reference has been made to the heavy travelling during the week-end, but I should be the last to criticise anyone who has been working hard for having a day off, perhaps to go and see his relatives. The Government will very soon be forced to take off a large number of passenger trains from the lines in this country. They will have to make transport accommodation available for coal. The Government from time to time is warned by hon. Members of this House about complacency, and the country is always attacking Members of Parliament on account of complacency. I am convinced that no complacency is more dangerous at the present time than that which says, "We have never lost a war before, and we are certain to win this one, so why bother? That is dangerous complacency, and the public must get such ideas out of their minds.
I know that the Prime Minister is overburdened with terrible responsibilities in these days, but I suggest that he might make a special appeal to the miners for increased production and to the consumers for greater saving of coal. Coal production is as vital a service as the manufacture of munitions, but munitions themselves are impossible without an adequate supply of coal. We have had a drive for aeroplanes, and we now have a drive for tanks; let us have a drive for more coal. Let us call it a coal drive, and let us include additional production and more careful saving. Aeroplane constructors and tank builders in this country have received very cheery messages from the Ministers concerned, encouraging and congratulating them, but I have not yet heard that any Minister has sent a cheery message congratulating and encouraging the miners. If the Prime Minister would send a cheery message and a word of encouragement to the miners in their grey and gloomy pits, the response would, I believe, be very great. The task of getting every possible ton of coal is extremely urgent, not only to colliery owners but to the miners and the consumers, and the production Departments well realise how serious the situation is.
The hon. Member has a knack which I do not possess. He has spoken for fully 40.minutes without blaming anybody for the shortage of coal. He has not criticised anyone. I wondered whom he was blaming for the shortage. He suggested a message from the Prime Minister. I have not the great admiration for the Prime Minister shown by almost everyone else now. It is wonderful how quickly people can change. No man has been more despised in this House because of his political record, but the number of his devotees now is amazing and alarming. Messages from the Prime Minister should not be flung about everywhere, or they will become so common as to possess no value at all On the other hand, I am sure that the miners do not need a message from the Prime Minister to urge them to work. One thing would have that result, and it is very simple: abolish the bonus system, and say to the miners, "We will pay you the same increase of wages as applies to any other section of workers in the country." That might be the most effective message of all.
I have no responsibility for negotiating miners' wages, but the wage agreements are a mystery to me. What section of workers is more important than the miners? Who is more important than the builder of ships or the maker of guns and tanks? Would the Amalgamated Engineering Union or the Federation of Shipbuilding Unions agree to wage conditions of this kind for their workers? Why should the miners, among all the workers in this country, who have to work hard and under the most difficult conditions, alone be picked out for a wage agreement that no other union—and I say this advisedly—would tolerate five minutes for its members? I could understand it if you proved to me that the miners were worse men than other men, that they needed some form of punishment, that their attendance at work was not up to that of others. But nobody seeks to prove such a case. Everybody admits the miner's toil, his capacity, his devotion to duty, his sacrifice and his courage, and yet he is picked out to be the subject of such a wage agreement. No other set of workers, professional workers, tradesmen, railwaymen or other, would tolerate such a settlement. it is not sufficient to say that we were depending on kindly treatment from the mineowners. That kind of argument leaves me cold; the history of the mineowners does not lead anybody with intelligence to expect that kind of thing. [An HON. MEMBER: "Does the hon. Member know of any other trade in which the output per man-hour has gone down?"] We do not know—no body knows—the output per man-hour in other trades. Nobody comes and says, for instance, that shipbuilding output is up or down per man. But even if it were down, would any trade union tolerate the making of an agreement which punished every worker? No. They would say, "Output has gone down; let us examine the causes, let us inquire into the reasons and examine the problem." No one would ever allow you to come to a wage agreement of that sort to punish the men engaged in the industry.
I am not in the mining industry, and I say this as an outsider living among miners: You will have nothing like a decent response, if you send out appeals from now to the end of time, until the Government grant the miners a wage increase in the way it would have been granted to any other section of workpeople. This matter has ceased to be for the Miners' Federation and the mine-owners. Only the Government can do it. I would say to the Secretary for Mines that I am tired of the spirit that is growing up in political circles by which Debates are conducted in a "Pleasant Sunday Afternoon" atmosphere. We do not blame anybody. I am wondering if the Prime Minister is not partly to blame for the new system that is growing up of promotion upwards if you belong to the right families and wear the right school tie. I am wondering whether shortly we shall not get a Churchill tie; it looks something like that to me. The Lord Privy Seal is not to blame. He occupied the post of whipping boy for a time. The President of the Board of Trade is not to blame, nor is the Secretary for Mines. Who is to blame? I want to say frankly that the only effective way to conduct a political Debate is to be able to pin a Cabinet Minister down and make him take the blame; he must take responsibility or resign. It is the only way to carry on effectively, and it is of no use saying he is not to blame. The Secretary for Mines made a speech to-day. Nobody wants to blame him, because he is personally one of the most likeable men in the House, but his speech was frankly disappointing.
It is of no use beating around the bush. Everybody knows there is a shortage of coal, and that output is not up to the standard required. Everybody knows that North, South, East and West stocks of coal are going down in the summer when they should have gone up. I wanted the Secretary for Mines not to tell us that he hoped that the coal stocks would go up, but to show us some facts to prove it. Facts were what I wanted, but he did not give them. What are his proposals? Let us examine them. One, if it were not so tragic, would be almost laughable. They have registered something like 90,000 old miners who have been away from the pits for five or ten years. Most of them will be 40 or 50 years of age. There is now a likelihood of 5,000 going back to the pits between now and some unspecified date. I do not know other trades, but once a man has been five years away from my trade, which requires nothing like the physical effort of mining, for months after his return he is nothing like as able as one who has continued in it. Yet 5,000 of that type make one of the contributions to 'a solution of the mining problem. It is too ridiculous for words. It is just playing with a terrible problem.
What is the other proposal? They are sending an admiral to tour the districts. I do not know the admiral, but I know the miners. You do not need to be a miner to know them; you only need to live among them, to go to football matches with them, to meet them at labour meetings and have your wife meeting theirs in the co-operative stores. I am perfectly certain that one thing the miners do not like is to be lectured by anybody. Then someone talks about pit production committees. I do not know what other people think about it, but I am certain that if there is one thing which is bringing politics into disrepute, it is this committee system, which is leading us into a mess. All I know is that there is a shortage of coal. I come from the City of Glasgow, with its packed tenements. Nobody can store coal, even apart from the fact that many of the poor cannot afford to do so. For three-quarters of our tenement dwellers two or three cwt. of coal is the most they can ever have. Storing coal, forsooth! It cannot be done. Go out and look at the bins, those wonderful bins. I tell you frankly that in three days every bin in Glasgow would be empty, and you would be left with a tenement population coal-less and fireless. Such a position would be more effective to smash the country than all the German armies. Glasgow Corporation says its hospitals are short of coal and wants us to see the Minister. I have talked about it until I am sure hon. Members must have hated the sight of me. But I have to try and get the 75,000 tons they need for certain hospitals.
Stores are going down in the middle of summer. One goes to see the Minister. One does not wish to make a speech; one pleads with the senior officials; little is done. Anyone who knows the Minister for Mines likes him, but with the best will in the world I say to him that one of the curses of politics sometimes is men who are liked, taking advantage of themselves being liked. He must not do it. This is not merely a quarrel between owner and miner. He has a post which concerns millions of people.
I say to the Minister of Mines that if he is not getting the men back from the Army, he should stand up in the House and say so. I have to pin some Cabinet Minister down. Because I like the Minister of Mines, I say that I never saw him treated more shockingly than he has been treated. What right has the President of the Board of Trade to take over his job? The Minister is as capable as the President of the Board of Trade. Because the right hon. Gentleman held an employer's job, everybody runs about and says he is ever so smart. I say to the Minister of Mines, "You are as smart as he is. Why do you not stand up?" I have not seen anything more humiliating. The Minister is as capable as any of them. That is what makes me so angry. The Minister of Mines knows the need to bring the men back from the Army. He knows the need to abolish this wage agreement.
About absenteeism, I would say that if we abolished it all to-morrow, it would not make any real difference to the problem which we are discussing. Bringing back from the Army the men required is the first need. Secondly, we have to try and get the miner to feel that he is not being made a fool of. Give him his wages; give him canteens. In the whole of Scotland there are two canteens. To-day we are building canteens for all kinds of people. Why not for the miner, too? It is only my native city that made me have any desire to speak to-day. I do not know the rural problems. I plead with the Minister of Mines, who has a deserved reputation for honesty and courage, to get the things done, and, if they are not done, to do what other men have done in foreign affairs. This is as important as any foreign issue for us. Let him have the same courage in home affairs as other men have shown on foreign issues.
I think it would be the general opinion of the House that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) brought an atmosphere of reality into what was becoming a completely sterile Debate. If I can offer any conclusion, I would like to do so, not by means of recrimination or, indeed, by attempting to apportion blame. Nevertheless, I do not feel that I can usefully contribute to this Debate if I do not make some attempt to show where I feel the fault lies, and to make suggestions of how some remedy, even at this late hour, could be made. The House and the country recognise, I think, that the position is nothing less than deplorable. I use the word "deplorable" advisedly, because unless we do see the position as it is, I am afraid that even after this Debate we may, or those responsible may, hesitate to take the steps which alone will enable us to surmount these difficulties. There is a tendency to explain the situation under three general headings. One is the defection of France and the entry of Italy into the war on the side of the Axis, another is the upset of the general equilibrium of the export districts and the drift away from the pits of men into other industries, and the number of men who were, through that cause, lost to the coal trade. There is the reason given with regard to the output per man-shift, and I think we must recognise that that has dropped. It has dropped progressively since the war started. Another reason is put down to transport, and, mixed up with the transport, Very often, the merchants are brought into the picture. I do not know that any of these reasons are necessarily the complete answer to the question at this moment. We cannot ignore their effect, but I would like to get the matter into its true perspective.
We have heard a good deal about the numbers of men who have left the industry since the commencement of the war. I do not think that any figure has been given of the net loss to the industry when the numbers who have joined it during that period are taken into account. I think I am right in saying that a figure of about 76,000 is the net loss to the industry since the war started. These 76,000 men represent a production of about 500,000 tons of coal a week, approximately 10 per cent. fall in output on pre-war production figures. In addition, we must face a further drop of about 7 per cent. in output. Those are the major reasons for the present situation. I have not heard a great deal to-day in the way of constructive suggestions as to how that position can be improved. I think there are ways, and even now I ask the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade to give them further consideration.
As long ago as October, 1938, I made certain suggestions to the Mines Department, on the assumption that a good many of the things that have come about would affect the production of coal. I could not, of course, visualise what has in fact occurred during the war, but I did anticipate dislocation in the export districts, a large demand for the war industries, considerable dislocation of transport, and a loss of men to the industry, not, as has occurred, through a drift to other industries, but through demands from the Armed Forces. My suggestions broadly came under two main headings— that there should be concentration of production in those pits and districts where the coal was most easily won and in pits adjacent to our main war industries, and that there should be a sufficient provision of men to make that plan of production possible.
Undoubtedly, men will have to come back into the industry, if not from the Armed Forces, at any rate through action by the Minister of Labour. It is important that they should be directed into channels where their work will be of the greatest advantage. We have heard about pit production committees; we have not heard quite so much about the Coal Production Council. It is probably within their terms of reference to be able to deal with this matter, and I would suggest that they deal with it by means of the inspectors of mines in the various districts. These inspectors are independent, and they have full knowledge of the conditions in their districts. They, possibly more than anyone else, can give an unbiased opinion as to where men are likely to be put to the greatest use. It is not suggested that it will be possible to find 50,000 or 70,000 men who are either skilled in the industry or could be put to work on the coal face, but to the extent to which they can relieve others at present employed in the industry, who can take a step forward towards coal production, recruits to the industry will be valuable. I know that to suggest the employment of women is by no means popular. Nevertheless, hon. Members who represent Lancashire mining constituencies would be the first to admit that on certain phases of work on the coalfield— picking cobbles and small dirt—they are every bit as useful as men. We may not want to see women employed in the industry generally in peace-time, but at present they could do work on the surface. It is enormously important also that there should be an adequate number of boys drafted into the industry.
I was going to deal with that particular point. Quite naturally, only certain classes of labour are suitable for picking coal on the belts. It would be foolish to suggest that women who are not suitable for that should be asked to come into the industry. In regard to the matter of boys, I recognise that no one has. a right to advise boys to join the mining industry unless conditions are made suitable. The Secretary for Mines has shown the greatest in-interest and sympathy in regard to the training of boys, both vocationally and technically. If we are to induce boys to enter the industry, by advice or however else, there must be an extension of services to make those boys realise that in joining the industry they are joining an industry which will give them the fullest opportunity for advancement. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade visited the Midland coalfields recently. I was not present at his meetings, but I received a very full note of what occurred, and I was disappointed that this question of recruitment to the industry was not gone into more comprehensively. There is no doubt that any solution must lie in concentration, as far as possible, in seams, pits and districts where we can get the greatest results, and recruitment of sufficient labour to make that plan of production possible. I feel that even if at this late hour that aspect of the matter is tackled comprehensively and with vigour, we can hope to see some reasonable improvement.
I do not want to embark upon the tendentious argument about absenteeism, and I certainly do not want to suggest that anything more than a small proportion of it is due to the wilful desire of men to stay away from work. I have never considered that that is so, but if there. is any criticism to make, it is that the whole question in peace-time was not, in the first instance, intelligently analysed. Absenteeism has been with us for some time, and it is only quite recently that nutrition and similar matters which have had a big bearing on this question have been intelligently tackled. I think the way in which Lord Woolton has tackled the question of nutrition is very much to his credit. Meat pies, although they do not represent a meal, are a help and have made quite a difference recently. If it is any interest to hon. Members, in the concern with which I was in peace-time actively associated we made arrangements for a daily supply of 6,000 meat pies, which were taken up very readily. There has been a slight falling off recently, but I have no doubt that when the winter months come again the consumption will increase.
There is another question, which I know will appear contentious, but which needs consideration, and that is the effect of increased production on the finances of certain concerns. It may affect only a few, but, nevertheless, it deserves serious consideration. Through lack of men it may be possible to increase production only by means of the introduction of additional machinery, but through the Excess Profits Tax some firms may have no opportunity to introduce that machinery and may easily find themselves, if they do introduce it, in the position of having the whole or part of it redundant and with no opportunity for writing it off from the general financial structure of the undertaking. If that has any bearing on increased production, it is advisable that it should be looked into.
I would like to conclude by saying that although it is our business to criticise the present situation and the lack of production, there are one or two features of coalmining which deserve our praise. I think it is only fair, both to the President of the Board of Trade and the Mines Department, to say that the supply of machinery, pit props and practically every other essential for production has been on an extremely satisfactory basis so far during the war. Equally, I would like to join in the praise for the efforts made by the overwhelming majority of the miners. Despite some of the remarks passed about coal-owners, who have their feelings in this matter, I, as one of them, would like to say that we are by no means as bad as we are painted and that we are quite capable of recognising the good qualities of the men among whom we have spent so much of our time. Not only did I spend a great part of my time with coal-miners in peace-time, but I had the honour to command a battalion of miners during the Battle of France last year and the withdrawal from Dunkirk, and I am not prepared to give pride of place to anyone in the House in my admiration for miners. They have pulled their weight under exceptionally difficult circumstances, and I do not think we shall get any further in this discussion on production if we attempt to adopt the view that they are in any way responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves.
I think the present position is due to the lack of planning in the first instance, both with regard to production and the supply of men, and I ask that even at this eleventh hour there should be a complete review of the situation. I believe we can make an improvement. We shall not make a great and sudden improvement, but I think we can make an improvement which, over a period of months, will tend to rectify the present position, which is nothing less than deplorable. So I ask the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines to tackle this matter not only comprehensively and vigorously, but with courage. If they do so, I have little doubt that the industry will rise to the occasion and give us the coal we are looking for.
I am glad that this Debate on this very important subject is taking place before the extensive holiday upon which we are about to embark. I say so because the holiday we are about to take is something that miners have dreamed about, and so long as the mines of this country remain in private hands it will remain a dream and a vision. I mention that because I have reason to feel rather peeved about the agitation that was created a short time ago when Scottish miners decided to take six days' holiday this year although they had never had a day since 3rd January. They were held up as almost traitors because they were not just content with a week-end at a time when their seaside towns were filled with industrial workers and others who do not work so very hard.
I cannot imagine that either the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister of Mines can view the present situation with much satisfaction. They are in for a very rude awakening. The situation is very serious indeed. As a matter of fact, it is critical. I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but it does not take a prophet to visualise that we are in for a serious position during the approaching winter. The Prime Minister in a Debate the other day said that if it was to be a choice between providing war equipment for our soldiers and the people shivering in their homes, the people would have to shiver in their homes. I am sure that the die is cast and that the people will shiver in their homes. Those who know the mining industry know that when production goes down you cannot draft men into it to raise it again. It is simply an impossibility, and those who talk about bringing men from the Army and putting them into the mines and thereby pushing up the production of coal do not know what they are talking about. At a meeting of the production committee of Ayrshire last week we were told that we were to get 500 men for the county. The owners said that they might be able to place 200 of them in the immediate future, but indicated that it would be a long time before they would be able to absorb the whole 500. That applies to every part of the coalfield. Cutting coal is not like cutting a meat pie. Places will have to be prepared for these men, and unless you find a pit requiring staffing from top to bottom, it is absurd to speak of drafting thousands of men into the industry.
The hon. Member will speak for himself when his time comes, and he will perhaps be able to show me where thousands of men can be drafted into the industry. The difficulty of doing it is shown by the fact that out of 25,000 who have indicated their willingness to return, only 5,000 are on hand. It has not been indicated whether even these are absorbed. I expect that among them are the 500 which Ayrshire has been unable to take. Therefore, we are going to suffer a coal shortage during the winter.
The question is not so much one of man-power as of utilising the man-power that is at the disposal of the industry. It is also a question of utilising the machinery and of meting out decent treatment to the men and the machinery. I find myself in considerable difficulty in discussing this matter. I am the last man to wish to make personal attacks, especially on this occasion, because, of the responsible people, one is a personal friend and the other is a product of my own beautiful county, and we have a Scottish saying:
Corbies dinna pick oot ither corbies' een.
That cannot 'prevent my saying that he miners are not getting a square deal. They do not require to be reminded of their importance to the nation. Some years ago when my hon. Friend the Minister of Mines was appointed to his present position he attended a miners' conference at Blackpool. He told us that we were meeting not as representing an important industry, but as representing the most important industry in the country, and that we were producing the most important commodity. He produced from his waistcoat pocket a piece of coal a pound in weight and told us of the immense possibilities of energy that it contained. He said that these valuable miners of ours were producing every day that they worked 2,000 times their own energy, and that that, multiplied by the whole of the 700,000 miners in the country, meant that they were producing an immense amount of energy. We know that the war could not last five minutes if it were not for the energy produced by the miners. How it comes about that they are treated in such a scandalous fashion in many ways, I cannot understand.
The question of output production has loomed very large in to-day's discussion, and I wonder whether the people who have been discussing it are really aware of the situation in regard to the production in the collieries. Is not any attention to be paid to the tremendous fall in man-shift production? That is something for which the miners bear no responsibility at all. The miners produce the coal. It is the duty of the management to see that the coal is brought to the surface and put into the wagons. Does anybody suggest that the miners, either individually or collectively, are in any way responsible for the fall in output? In May, 1935, the average output per man-shift worked in Scotland was 25.57 cwts., and the average for the whole year was 25.38 cwts. The average for May of this year was 21.14 cwts., a fall of 4.43 cwts. per man-shift for every person working in the Scottish coalfields. Where would production be to-day if that output were restored? And let it be remembered that the men at the coal-face are still prepared to produce that amount of coal. If hon. Members have any difficulty in getting the figures, I will lend them a copy of the ascertainment for Scotland, certified by the joint accountants, for whom I am not responsible. I do not know whether the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade are alarmed at the fall in output, but I think it is catastrophic, and all the more do I think so when I am certain that we have no responsibility for it. Let it be remembered also that the position is not static by any means; the output per man-shift is still falling, and will go on falling unless something drastic is done with regard to the organisation of our mines.
I wish that the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster), who spoke before me, had waited to hear the figures I am about to give. I will take the two months of April and May of this year. The output for Scotland in April was 2,150,998 tons, and the output for May was 2,154,029tons, an increase of 4,031 tons. It should be remembered that May had one working day more than April. To produce the extra 4,031 tons, there were 7,635 more man-shifts worked at the coal-face, but in addition, there were 7,711 more man-shifts worked under ground other than at the coal-face, and 7,646 more shifts worked at the surface. Therefore to produce the extra 4,031 tons in May there were 15,035 more man-shifts worked other than at the coal-face, and the total extra man-shifts was 22,986. Of course, that had its repercussion on production, because the production per man for April was 21.35 cwts., whereas in May it had tumbled to 12.14 cwts. per man-shift. I should like to know whether the Government can improve that sort of thing by drafting men to the mines either from the Army, the Navy, or any other source. The men who are being returned to the mines are quite incapable, and some of them unwilling, to work the shifts they are expected to work underground. It simply cannot be done. There is noreason why all the Members of this House who have left the coalmines should not go back and work in them.
I do not think my hon. Friends would be any worse than some of the men who are being sent back. Recently, an important gentleman, who was at one time general secretary of the Miners' Federation, worked out figures to prove that if absenteeism were totally abolished, there would be an increase in production of 13,000,000 tons. I suggest to Frank Hodges that he should show the example by going back. He is not an old man, and he has not worked too hard. I understand that he would need to show a much better example than he did when he was there. How can we get over the difficulties by such stupid things as talking about absenteeism? Last week, the coal-owners of Scotland made a statement to the President of the Board of Trade that they had reached what they considered to be the irreducible minimum of absenteeism. The avoidable absenteeism was returned as being about 1 per cent. I agree that the Secretary for Mines, in his statement, paid a tribute to Scotland. Evidently we are more patriotic, or more docile—I do not know which—than those in any other areas, because we seem to have worked a larger number of man-shifts for the year than any other area, and we seem to have had a lower rate of absenteeism. But why should this persistent and virulent campaign concerning absenteeism continue? If there is no absenteeism in the mining industry, will the President of the Board of Trade say so when he replies to the Debate? Will he give the lie direct to these statements, so that they can be ended once and for all? Will he say to the House now, that the campaign in relation to absenteeism has been false and malicious, that it is doing more harm than good, and that the time has come when it should be ended?
You will not have peace in the mining industry so long as this stupid attendance bonus scheme is allowed to continue. We shall not allow you to brand the miners with such a frivolous thing as an attendance bonus. We shall not allow our people to go to work on Sunday as a result of a bribe. If our people earn their wages honestly, they are entitled to have a day off without losing 5s. At present, if they work five days a week and then are unable for some reason or other to go to work on the sixth day, they lose their 5s. The attendance bonus scheme is not being applied sympathetically. It is all eyewash. I know the case of a man whose cycle broke down a mile from his home, which meant he had to walk four miles to get to his work. It was physically impossible for him to get there, and the 5s. bonus was deducted. Then there are decent people who sometimes oversleep. I suppose that is a crime; I understand the Army are shot for it. But it does happen that people oversleep, and, in spite of a splendid record, if they are unable to get to work, no excuse is accepted and their 5s. is deducted. Is that bringing peace into the industry? This sort of thing can be multiplied by the score. They are happening in every colliery in the country. I should like to know who gets the 5s. when the miner loses it. I should be very interested to know whether the 5s. goes into the pocket of the mineowner. After all, they are not paying this money, and if it does go into their pockets it is a shame and a disgrace.
Then the question of nutrition has been raised. I do not think much more need be said about this. We have been told by Lord Woolton that he is sympathetic, but in Scotland after two years all that we have are two miserable little canteens in the coalfields. What is the difficulty? These canteens can be supplied in other industries, and if they can be provided for munitions workers or others, is there any reason why the miners cannot have them? It is true we have been promised them, but we are getting a little tired of these promises. Let the House remember that all the work in connection with the provision of canteens has not been put on the shoulders of the mine-owners, but on the miners' organisations. The work has been thrown upon the shoulders of the officials of the miners' trade unions.
In my part of the country, with the exception of one firm, the mineowners have refused to spend a single penny in this connection. I suppose we are not entitled to ask them to spend money, and I suppose the money they earn out of the industry is their own with which to do what they like. But in many other industries employers have spent considerable sums in fitting up canteens so that their people shall have a fair share of nutritious diet. In Scotland, at any rate, the mine-owners have refused to spend any money, and we are in the position that many of the pits have no canteens at all. In some cases limited accommodation has been found in places where there are pithead baths. The greatest difficulty is to obtain building material and equipment. We have now been promised some money out of the Welfare Fund, but if we proceed at the present rate, we shall not equip one canteen in 50 years. We hope that something very drastic will be done to provide our people with food, because they cannot produce coal without adequate nutrition.
In regard to production, I hope something will be done to utilise the manpower we already have. There can be no valid reason, during the short time I have mentioned, for a reduction of 4 cwt. a man, other than lack of organisation on the part of the owners. We hope the Minister will tackle that side of the question. You cannot stop people shivering in the winter, but you can still get production raised by introducing better organisation. This can only be done by putting into operation the scheme for controlling persons and their property. The Lord President stated that the Government were prepared to take control of persons and property. You have controlled the personnel already. This Order is working entirely against the men, and they are convinced that it is merely a question of industrial conscription applied against them instead of against the owners. The delay that takes place in cases getting before the National Service officer is going to kill any effect of your Order. I hope in the future the right hon. Gentleman will pay very particular attention to that aspect of it. Control not merely the workers, control the owners, control the machinery, control the pits, and you will have increased production.
I think even at this late stage of the Debate there is considerable haze in the minds of most Members as to the policy of the Government in the past, and indeed in the future, in relation to the problem they are called upon to deal with and to remedy at the earliest possible moment. In July last year the Minister of Labour, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), used these words:
To meet the changed circumstances resulting from recent events I have, after consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, issued instructions that unemployed coal miners for whom employment in their own industry is not immediately available should be submitted for other employment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1940; col. 1310, Vol. 362.]
What puzzles me is, Where was the policy or the vision behind a statement of that kind? The Government must have realised a year ago the possible shortage of coal. At that time, of course, we realised that it was due to transport difficulties, which the whole House appreciated. There were no difficulties, as I see it, in bringing coal to the surface. Surely, if the transport was not available, rather than find employment for skilled miners outside the industry, if they had been retained as hewers at the seam and had brought the coal to the surface and stored it until such time as transport was available, we should not be facing the practical difficulties which we are called upon to face to-day. Four months ago the Secretary for Mines reminded us that at least 40,000 men were required to return to the mines forthwith in order to make the position sure. Owing to the unfortunate time lag, at least 75,000 are required now. Whatever has been said in this Debate, we cannot escape from the fact that the only solution of the problem which faces us to-day is the provision of man-power from one source or another. It has been suggested by various speakers that the source from which to draw these men is the Army.' There are at least 75,000 skilled miners who would be better employed if they were returned to the mines.
On the other hand, we have been told that 97,000 men who had left the industry since 1935 and found employment in other industries have been registered, and that of that number 5,500 are already on the way back. I would not venture to take the responsibility of suggesting to the Government that they should utilize either one source or the other, because I do not think any private Member is in possession of all the facts of the case. Having heard the speech of the Prime Minister in the Production Debate a few days ago, when he warned us that the Defence Services had been told to regard1st September as zero hour, I do not think anyone would lightly under take the responsibility of saying, in view of a possible danger of invasion, the probable time of ' that invasion being known to the Government and not to us—
I do not think any private Member is in a position to gauge the situation with the same accuracy as the Prime Minister or the Government. They have sources of information at their disposal which we have not. But if they come down to the House and say that. as a result of what is now taking place in Russia they have revised their view of that question, and that it is now possible to release, if not the whole, a proportion of the men, we should support them. I understand that the Minister of Labour has power to say to the 97,000 men who were previously engaged in the mining industry that it is in the national interest that they should return to that industry, and as. the key to the situation is manpower, I think we are entitled to ask whether he proposes to exercise that power. If not, and if it is not in the national interest that men should be withdrawn from the Army, what steps do the Government propose to increase the production of coal? Certainly we did not hear an answer to that vital question from the Secretary for Mines.
I share the view of most hon. Members that the contribution which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) made to this Debate was of a most refreshing character. It struck an encouraging and energetic note in what I regard as a becalmed and unreal Debate, and I welcome it most sincerely as coming from a most sincere man. There was one point, however, with which I do not agree He criticised the decision to ask Admiral Evans to tour the coalfields and present to the miners a picture of our war effort which they of all men are entitled to have, and I think anybody who knows the record of this gallant sailor and his ability to present the national case in its true aspects will agree that he could have done only good and not harm on the mission which he has recently concluded. After all, the Government did not invite him to engage in a wages controversy, but to discharge a task similar to that which has been undertaken by many speakers from the Ministry of Information, and I think those who were privileged to hear him felt that he did it with skill and conviction.
Mention has been made of the export trade in coal. I do not propose to quote figures about it, because it would not be in the national interest to do so, but it is known that we have reduced our exports by several million tons in recent months with a view to meeting this extraordinary situation at home, and I wonder whether the President of the Board of Trade would tell us whether the time has not now come when the export trade should be temporarily suspended. I am advised by coal interests in South Wales that they are in a position to meet a considerable demand for export coal. But it is obvious that the quality of coal produced in the South Wales mines is not always suitable for British industry or local undertakings, but there is such a tiling as altering furnaces and adapting conditions to meet a temporary situation. I cannot see the logic of exporting coal —using shipping, which is very scarce at present—at a time when there is an undeniable demand for coal of all kinds from ail over this country. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be kind enough to let the House know the policy of the Government in relation to the export trade.
I think every mining Member will feel gratified that this Debate has taken place. For years we have been trying to bring the State and the people to realise the value of the miner, but we have never succeeded in getting his worth recognised until the present time. Now everybody realises what the miner can do for the benefit of the community. I hope that every miner will read this Debate, and every other Member of the community also, because they will then see that the State has been very backward in doing what it was asked to do a long time ago. The question of production needs to be examined from many angles. After Dunkirk we found ourselves with an over-production of coal, and it may be said that some of the mining Members have been to blame for what has happened, because they argued that the men ought to have a chance of getting employment somewhere else. Had the mines been nationally owned at that point, the whole question could have been examined as it is being examined now. A little foresight would have told them that time would demand more and more coal, in view of the armament requirements. Had some statesmanship been displayed then by keeping every mine in production, whatever the cost—cost was not the main consideration, which was the winning of the war—and stacking coal, no matter where, the difficulty would not have arisen.
The result was that thousands of men drifted from the industry. Men voluntarily joined the Army because they did not like idling. Since that time there has been a steady drift from the mines. Why? Because mining is not comparable with other industries, and the miner has gone elsewhere for better conditions and better wages. The State did not attempt to do anything until the critical nature of the position was realised. Then an examination had to take place, and from it came the Essential Work Order. I want to say to all concerned that the Essential Work Order is the greatest thing that has ever been given to the mining industry. I say that unhesitatingly. It has given us a guaranteed weekly wage, which has never before been the case in the mining industry. Previously, men drifted away because of broken and short weeks, a shortage of transport, and hardships for which there was no unemployment pay because the men could not sign on. The Essential Work Order has removed that state of affairs.
I want to bring home to the President of the Board of Trade the point that the coal-owners are standing in the way of the Essential Work Order. In Lancashire the coalowners are trying to evade their responsibilities. They say that where a colliery has worked short time before, the Order leaves them free to work five days a week. We have decided to take no part in the application of the Essential Work Order because the coalowners will not recognise what we claim to be right. Consequently, there is friction now in Lancashire. We are not getting the full might of the industry because of that friction. On every occasion, coalowners view these matters from the standpoint of profit. If they cannot make a profit on the output, they have no regard for it, whatever else may happen. They do not intend to suffer. They are always looking out for themselves.
The hon. Member would not give way to anybody else when he was speaking, so I should be glad if he would keep quiet. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will prevail upon the coalowners to alter their attitude to the Essential Work Order. Another factor in the present situation is the attendance bonus. Unless a man attends every day in the week he is in danger of losing not only that day's wage and the attendance bonus for that day, but the five shillings that he made during the week. I wonder whether Members of Parliament realise the effect of this system. To tell the miner at public meetings, as Evans of the "Broke" is doing, that he is a man of great value to the State and praise him accordingly is one thing, but the next thing is that the foreman has to tell him that if he does not attend every day in the week, or produce completely satisfactory reasons if he does take a day off, he will lose the whole of the bonus he has earned during the week. This is bitterly resented right through the mining industry, and unless it is removed the miner will never pull his full weight. I hope that pressure will be brought to bear by the President of the Board of Trade and by the Secretary for Mines, at the meeting which is taking place on 7th August, to persuade the coalowners to give way on this matter. They say the Government have backed them up in this, but I want the Government to be quite definite about it and tell the coal owners not to stand on that kind of thing. If they will do that, there will be a big improvement of output beyond what it is at the present time. You cannot expect the required output from the mining industry unless there is something like contentment among the men who are in it. So long as that resentment exists, you will never get the output you expect.
There is another matter I want to deal with now. From time to time the question arises of mines having to close because they are becoming uneconomic in working. We know what happens; hitherto it has always been left to the mineowners to decide when a mine ought to be closed. The law lays it down that they must send in a return to the Mines Department, with plans of the workings and stating the intention to close the mine. Up to that point the Mines Department have had nothing further to do with it, until the war came. Now I understand that the Mines Department have the power to insist on keeping such a mine going. There were several lists of mines closing recently in Lancashire; one was in my own constituency and another on the borders of it, each employing five or six hundred men. Last month a colliery in my division was closed, and we miners' representatives felt that some kind of inquiry ought to take place before it closed at which the coalowners could justify themselves to the Mines Department and prove that it was necessary to close. At our miners' conference we decided that our representatives should meet the coal-owners, and the suggestion from the Secretary for Mines was that we should meet the coal-owners, and if we could get some scheme to put before him, he would consider it. We naturally thought that if we could get a representative of the Mines Department present at the interview, he would be the person to report back to the Secretary for Mines what was happening. But when we approached the coal-owners they refused to have a representative of the Mines Department present, and said that the closing of the mine was their own responsibility.
Now we have another mine on the point of closing, near Wigan. Notices are due to expire on 16th August. Here again we are trying to meet the coalowners to see what arrangement can be made, and we are asking a representative of the Mines Department to be present. The coalowners will probably say that they do not agree, and one wonders what power the
Secretary for Mines has over this kind of thing. I have received a telegram this morning which I wanted to have an opportunity of reading in this Debate:
Notice given to close Cheap side Colliery, Burnside, on 16th August. About 200 men affected. Will you try and raise it in Debate?
It is signed by the miners' agent.
Yes, they can still produce, but there is not sufficient profit to carry on. They say that in justice to the shareholders they cannot go on any longer with an uneconomic proposition. All we are asking is, that before a colliery closes in war-time the Minister of Mines should have a representative present when the men are asking the coalowners why they are to close the colliery so that he can convey the reason back to the Minister. Then let the Minister, if he is satisfied with the reason given, say so. If, on the other hand, he feels that the colliery should be kept going, let him say so also. I say this because the men are distrustful of the coalowners. We always have been, and I do not know when that teeling will be removed. We feel, when they close a colliery, that it is for their own private purposes and against the interests of the State. We want an assurance from the Mines Department that, in closing a colliery, the owners are doing nothing wrong. Until you get that assurance you will not remove from the minds of the men the view that they are being called upon to make all the sacrifices, while at the first chance the coalowners close collieries without regard to the interests of the nation as a whole. Unless you remove this from the men's minds, it is no use talking about production attaining the height which it ought to. I trust that this point of view will be attended to.
Turning to the question of man-power, I do not altogether agree with some of the speeches made by my hon. Friends. I think it is a good thing, first of all, to try and get, from other industries, men to return to the mines. I do not like the idea that it is no use calling the elderly men back to the mines. What are elderly men? Between 40 and 50 years of age? If these are elderly men, it will be a case of God help the nation. The man in the mining industry who is turned 40years of age is about the most essential man in the industry. He has the knowledge and skill required to carry on mining, and if we can persuade the men between 40 and 50 years —I go further, up to 55—to return to the mining industry, it will be a good thing for it.
Next I turn to the Services. A number of miners joined up voluntarily when the war broke out. Many have joined up since. Many gave a wrong age to get into the Army, and many are anxious to return to the industry. Men who have turned 40 years often- feel that front-line duty in the Army is rather too much for them. Quite a number have written to me to ask if there is any possibility of their coming back to the mines. They say that they are hardly fit enough to be called front-line soldiers and that they are put in the Pioneers, or in subordinate tasks, whereas, they say, if they could get back to the mines, they would be of some use. My proposition is, first of all, Would it not be a good thing to examine the question of how many men there are like that? There may be a few thousand who are not able to pull their full weight in the Army but who would be a great asset in the mines. I ask the President of the Board of Trade to put that before the Cabinet and the Army authorities.
I view the Prime Minister's position with some interest. I can see his point of view. Our first-line defences are the Services, and when money has been spent on training a young man it is difficult to argue that he should leave the Forces now, in a time of crisis. To some extent, I agree with the Prime Minister that if those men were taken from the Army and a weak spot were left, in the event of invasion that would be difficult to justify. However, by removing the grievances which exist in the mining industry now, I am satisfied that our productive effort would not be impaired. I hope that before the end of the year the Minister of Mines will have vindicated his policy. It behaves us in the meantime to make every effort to improve the situation. If we do so whole-heartedly, I am sure that we shall dissipate this atmosphere of distrust.
The Debate proves one thing, that there has been a gross under-production of coal. I feel that it is the interests of the consumer which should be mentioned in this Debate, which has been chiefly confined to the protagonists of both sides in the mining industry. In 1918, when I first entered this House, I sat for a Scottish constituency, which contained a great many pitmen, and I got to like them very much. I was then always up against that apparently impassable gulf between the owners and the men. From what we have heard to-day from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), it seems to me that that situation still continues. But there is a still more difficult position, which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox). That is the position in the rural districts near the Thames, where coal is very scarce and the population is anything but dense. The Regional Commissioners and the officers of the Ministry of Mines in the regions have done yeoman service in trying to get delivery in those scattered areas, but the problem of the small man in the small cottage is most difficult. These cottages have no cellars, and more and more the coal factors have been called up. There is less transport along the roads. I know of villages in my constituency which are— or were, until a few weeks ago—literally without any coal at all. That sort of thing cannot be tolerated. It will lead not only to discomfort, but to something worse. I trust that the Minister of Mines, in consultation with the Commissioners in the Southern regions far removed from the coalfields, will consider the position of the domestic consumer.
But there is a much more important matter. That is the obvious lack in the Government machinery of a sort of general staff for industry. At this stage it is absurd to look upon coal as being in a separate category. It is the basis of everything. If there is closer co-operation between the miners, who are all out to help in the national effort, and the owners —and there are a great many reasonable owners, in spite of what hon. Members opposite may say—if something is done to bring the two together, in a more reasonable frame of mind, they may jointly help the Minister of Mines and the President of the Board of Trade to find a solution. We all like the Minister of Mines, but I agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that as long as this House exists it is our duty to rise on behalf of our constituents and criticise the Government. We must be constructive in that criticism, and we must put forward ideas that are helpful and not merely points of view to gain even a party advantage. The situation is far too serious for that, but how many hon. Members realise that today the danger is not so much at the coal face but is that if you do get more men into the pits, you will run into the blackout period, with perhaps enemy action on the ascendancy, and you will have the utmost difficulty in distributing coal to different parts of the country.
I do not know whether it is realised that not long ago the railways were down to their last three weeks' supply of coal. If your locomotives are to go without coal, they cannot help the basic industries, because they will be unable to convey the essential raw material—coal—to the factories. That situation has become better, but it is one which is still causing the gravest anxiety. I hope hon. Members will appreciate the difficulties under which railwaymen have to work during the black-out. There will be inevitable congestion on the railways in trying to rush coal to essential works and industries. Railwaymen have done marvels as it is; it is grossly unfair to put the whole weight of effort on them at a most difficult time. Over and over again since this war began we have seen things go wrong through the lack of a proper sense of timing. Nearly everything depends upon timing your actions correctly, and it is obvious that coal should have been distributed and stocks made up all through the past summer.
Far from saying that nobody is to blame, I feel that somebody is very much to blame, and it is the business of this House to say so, because we shall be held to account by our constituents and those who come after us when the history of this war comes to be written. We are either too craven, stupid or thoughtless to say fearlessly that this is so and to tell the Government without hesitation that the country is sick to death of this coal muddle. People are not worrying whether it is the fault of the owners or the miners; they know the Government have the power, and they only hope they will use it. Unless this is done, we shall be confronted with an extremely perilous situation—far more perilous at this time because our war potential is itself in danger.
With the suggestion made that miners in the Services who have reached a certain age, and are willing to go back to the pits, should be given these facilities I am strongly in agreement. The Prime Minister and the War Cabinet alone can say what the division of man-power should be. But if man-power must be kept in the Army— and we are short of man-power—everybody will have to contribute what they can, either by economising in the use of coal, electricity or gas, by not using coal on the railways for purposes other than those which are essential, or by trying to establish throughout the country, through the regions, something in the nature of an industrial general staff.
Let these things be knit and balanced together one with the other. Until that is done, I am afraid we shall have this increasing anxiety both as regards the morale of the people through the possible shortage of fuel in their houses and the serious risk of the production of munitions being delayed in some cases through its being impossible to get coal for the works. I do not think the increased user of coal owing to the wonderful increase of production of munitions of all kinds is often understood. It should also be remembered that for obvious reasons some of these places are in isolated positions difficult to work and to reach. All these matters should be considered as one joint problem. If that is done, I believe that we shall overcome our difficulties. I feel that the Minister of Mines deserves more sympathy than condemnation in some respects, because we have been a little backward in not having insisted on this Debate at an earlier stage.
I am glad this Debate has taken place if for no other reason than the useful purpose it has served in giving Members on all sides the opportunity to say that the miners are not to blame for the threatened shortage of coal in the coming winter. In Debate after Debate, whenever we are in a national crisis, we hear nothing but good of the miners, and to-day compliments have again been paid to them for their loyalty, for their patriotism, and for everything that stands well in the national well- being. Those compliments are justified. In the last war we had more or less the same situation, when miners had to be brought back from the Forces, and even from France, to meet the demand for coal that then existed. It has been said by an hon. Member opposite that coal is the basis of our national prosperity. That is true, but the remarkable thing is that never has the miner been looked upon as the instrument that has produced that basic material for the national welfare and prosperity. Had we tackled this problem in the beginning by nationalising the mines, the present position would never have arisen. As far as the miners are concerned, this is not a new thing. Our memories are green and fresh. We remember in the last war the promises that were held out to the miners. They were told that the conditions that were given up by them and the heroic efforts which they put forward would always be remembered to their credit, but they were all forgotten when the need had gone. We also remember 1926, how at that time the miners were borne down because they dared to fight for this country. There is not a mineowner who can deny that the sacrifices that were wrenched from the miners did not benefit the industry one iota. The benefits were passed on to other persons and other places, and the miners received no benefits.
Never have I known the miners as angry or as discontented as they are today. If ever a thing was badly handled, this was, and the Government are to blame. Our people met the Secretary for Mines, but the Secretary for Mines had no power, and it was the President of the Board of Trade who had to be met before a decision could be taken whether anything could be done to grant the request of the miners for an increase in wages. When that increase was given, on what terms was it conceded? There was to be a bonus for attendance at work. That was an insult and a humiliation which, in face of all the good things that are said of the miners when we need them, was the last thing that ought to have been done, if there is any sincerity in what is said about the qualities of the miners.
In that first agreement, as I understand it, the only way in which a miner could get a bonus if he lost a day's work, was if he lost the day because of an accident; if he lost a day in order to attend his wife's funeral, he would lose the bonus for that week. That was the atmosphere in which an increase in wages was handed to the miners, the most poisonous and most pernicious way in which it could have been done, considering that what was wanted was attendance to increase the production of coal. If there was a wrong way to go about giving that increase, believe me the Government went that way. It is not too late for the Government to retract their steps. This Government, and Governments in the past which have been very firm and rock-like have, when it suited them or was worth their while—and remember that it is expediency which is at stake now—retracted their steps. If I have one thing to say to the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines, it is this—for goodness sake, if you have time between now and 7th August, and if you have the influence, withdraw those conditions attached to the bonus. That is the plea I make.
In regard to the Essential Work Order, I believe that if the Government would say to the miners that this guaranteed week is for the future as well as for the war, it would be a splendid thing. We should then-get clear of all those accusations that have been levelled against the miners in peace-time that they were responsible for the rise in the price of coal. Those who know the industry know that those accusations were false, but they have always been made. If the guaranteed week for the industry could be permanent, it would be a very fine thing. There have been some modifications of the bonus conditions —and as I have said, they have come too late—but there appear to have been no modifications of the Essential Work Order. Let it he remembered that hon. Members on this side know the industry better than gentlemen who sit in offices. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is a man whose repute is high because of his integrity and ability in industry, but I do not know whether he can see these things as we see them. We have met the colliery managers and agents in the principal offices, and we have had fair words and good promises from them. We have left these places expecting everything in the garden was lovely. It is when they are interpreted by the servants in the collieries that things go wrong. There are men of good reputation and respected by their fellows who have been elected to serve on public assistance committees, with the Ministry of Information, or on the executive of their own association, but if they lose a day to attend these duties, then their waiting time or the money to which they are entitled is lost. Surely that is not the intention. It seems to me to be practical to say, if a man is; a representative of a local authority and has to attend a public assistance committee meeting regularly once a month or once a fortnight, that so far as he is concerned he is entitled to his 5s. He should be entitled to the same benefits as his mates when he has put in five days. These things are irritating, but with the application of a little common sense they could be put right.
I want to say one word about food. We have been trying for weeks and months to persuade somebody and everybody that the miners want more meat. They want a square meal when they have finished their shift—some thing to give them a packing, and something which makes them feel they have had a real good feed. We have not been making a great deal of progress in Northumberland. However, we have been making a start, and some companies have been granting facilities for canteens and others have been providing pies. What a commentary it is that it has taken 21 months of war to provide a pie for a miner. I am not going to decry the pie, because it is a decent pie, but it you had a pie stuck into your hands every day, you would get a bit fed up with it. Do not forget that so far as the meat ration is concerned the miner is receiving the same as everyone else, and that little is left for the rest of the week after the Sunday lunch. There is not sufficient variation. A little change of diet is good for everyone.
I want to finish with what I believe is a practical suggestion to the Secretary for Mines. I have covered a considerable part of my county this week-end, and I have heard it said off and on that the men could produce considerably more coal than they are doing if they had facilities for clearance, in other words, if they could get their coal to bank. I hope there is no slackening on repair work, but the men are not getting their work out in many cases. There may be reasons for it. I had a case given me where the men were complaining that they were only filling a little more than half the tubs they could fill. The agent went to a mine, and one of the men told him they were getting out only a little more than half their produce because they could not get the tubs either in or out. The agent stopped the district, and it had been stopped three weeks when I heard of it, though it may be going now. The whole thing was to be reconditioned.
My practical suggestion is this: The Lord President of the Council addressed representatives from the whole of the Kingdom and told them of the need for coal. We do not need to be told that now, because we know the need there is. But, instead of bringing representatives to London, why not ask someone to go into representative areas and have a conference of the men on the spot? Ask them to put their position, ask them what their grievances are and how they can be remedied. Then you will get firsthand knowledge of the cause of the trouble, and, when you have got it, will you please put the remedies into operation?
As hon. Members have said, coal does lie at the root of our national life, and especially at the root of our present national effort, and it is not surprising, therefore, that Parliament should show some concern about the coal situation. The position, of course, does give cause for concern, but I venture to say that it would be a great mistake to exaggerate it into one of crisis. It is perfectly true that the output of coal for the last three months has not reached the target figure which had been set for it, but set for it in circumstances that depended upon choosing the best of a number of things and holding that as the target; but in spite of the fact that that target has not been reached, the truth is that at the present time the stocks of coal in public utility hands and in the hands of railways, industry and merchants, and in Government dumps, taken together, are at least 1,000,000 tons more at this moment than they were at this time last year. That would be a very satisfactory position indeed normally, but of course, it is less satisfactory to-day, first, because we have a rising demand all the time both for public utility and industrial coal, and, secondly, because the stocks are not so evenly spread as we should like to see them.
If I may refer to output later, I should like to say a word now about the transport of coal and coal stocks. It will be obvious to hon. Members that if we cannot start this winter with a sufficiently larger stock than we had at the beginning of last winter, then in view of the growing demands it will be necessary for us to transport more coal this winter than we transported last winter. In any event, if we are to achieve a rising output at the pits during the winter months it will be necessary also to attend to the problems of transportation. And so we must question ourselves to see whether we are now doing all that can be done to foresee the problems which will arise this winter, and prepare for them, and. after all we have plenty of experience from last winter. We have asked Mr. Gilbert Szlumper, the general manager of the Southern Railway, to give us his whole time at the Board of Trade and the Mines Department for the purpose of co-ordinating all this effort in relation to transport problems whether by rail, sea or canal. He is settling down, indeed he has been engaged upon this task for several weeks, and I am glad to say that whatever may be said of other aspects of the problem —and there are many aspects which are unfavourable—there are many aspects that are most favourable. One would expect, therefore, that in the problem of transport many of the difficulties which were encountered last winter will not be encountered this winter. I ought to add that we are having the whole-hearted cooperation and support of the Minister of War Transport, and it is a great advantage that both shipping and rail are now under one Ministry.
The problem of the more even distribution of stocks comes up both as between different industries and as between concerns in the same type of industry. The public utility undertakings have a very important place. For some weeks we have had a Committee devoting its whole attention to this subject. There is a better set of statistics available among public utility companies than is usually the case elsewhere. Very substantial progress has already been made, not only in ascertaining the total number of tons in reserve but in evening-out stocks. There is no doubt that we shall start this winter by having a certain number of weeks' coal in stock among the public utility companies much more evenly held than before. The average held last winter covered a great disparity between the highest and the lowest, and many places were in a position of disadvantage. This winter we hope to start with a very small disparity between the highest and the lowest.
It will be a more useful average than last year, though it may not be quite as high. The only effect of having an average which is greater is that you are stocking coal unnecessarily. That is one of the directions in which more substantial gain can be had than in any other direction. Other steps are being taken. What we have done in public utilities we are doing throughout the whole range of industry. We are starting with the Production Departments and large industrial organisations to achieve the same results. The fact is that, at the present time, many of our large industrial firms hold substantial stocks which are far too high for any practical purpose of winter reserve. One object will be to prevent coal going to places that already have ample stocks, in order that other places which have lower stocks shall be filled up. A question was put to me earlier to-day about export. We shall not export a single ton of coal which can be used in this country, unless under the pressure of overwhelming national considerations. If after all things have been considered, national policy insists that we should export, then only will it be done.
The fourth point is that we are greatly enlarging our activities in the direction of economy in fuel consumption. The policy strongly advocated throughout industry is to save as much fuel as possible. One object of careful attention to stocks is that care must be taken to see that supplies are taken first to those parts of the country which can be much more easily reached in summer than in winter.
I hesitate to say that anyone can dogmatise positively on this question of output of coal; the discussion to-day has disclosed a very great variety of views among hon. Members. One thing is quite clear, and that is that during the last three months the pit production committees, and even the district production committees, have had their attention far too much monopolised by questions arising out of the Essential Work Order and wages. Hon. Members have asked what was to be done about these two things. I venture to say that they will most readily accept the answer that these are matters not to be discussed by me now but upon which the organisations of the interests themselves should have discussions and ultimately lay proposals before the Secretary for Mines or the Board of Trade.
Is not a lot of precious time wasted in these constant discussions, when the pit production committees could be doing the work for which they were appointed, namely, producing more coal?
Was it not a direct instruction from the Government to the coal-owners that no increase should be granted unless these conditions were complied with —was it not a direct instruction from the right hon. Gentleman's own Department?
I do not know that it was a direct instruction from the Board of Trade. I understand that it was negotiated without any express desire on the part of the Board of Trade, except that any negotiations which took place in regard to the wages question should have some relation to the question of output. The matter was negotiated between the two sides of the industry, but that does not prevent it coming up again.
I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, and I appreciate quite fully that he does not desire to interfere with what is the normal procedure of negotiation in the industry. I have had some experience of the mining industry and of negotiations, and I have been amazed at the feeling which has been aroused. I would suggest that the Government, rather than wait for further negotiations, might drop this arrangement.
Certain of our officers are meeting the industry, and all I can say is that I have recently been through every mining area, and I therefore know something about the feeling which exists there. I know also from the testimony of the committees that we met on our travels that their time has been taken up almost entirely by these questions at the moment when it should have been taken up by production. I feel confident that if we could right the position in this respect, we should get a most valuable contribution from the pit production committees. I regret to hear some hon. Members say that it is not possible to increase output on present personnel. I do not believe that that view is generally held throughout the mining industry. The view is quite widely held that if those who work in the pits were to engage in discussions with the managements of the pits on an equal basis on the hindrances to output and on possible improvements, a very considerable increase might be obtained. It was for that purpose that the pit production committees were set up. It has been most unfortunate that at the time when we most wanted their help, mainly in the last four months, their discussions should have been completely clogged by questions of the kind I have been referring to.
I feel quite sure that there is, throughout the whole mining area, an almost unanimous desire that the mining industry should play its part. There is, in the country, no evidence of any general failure to play that part. I accept the view expressed by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), in that I think that absenteeism has a sinister meaning and is an ill-sounding word. I believe that, if we were to choose our words more carefully, often we would get more peace. Avoidable and unreasonable absence is something that ought certainly to be exposed, but the people to expose it are the people at the pits. They are the people who suffer most by avoidable absences of an unreasonable kind. Therefore, I would not exclude a subject matter of that kind from discussion by pit production committees. I do not believe that either the men or the management want these matters to be excluded. They want to deal with them. They want more power to deal with them, and they want to be supported when they have taken action with regard to them. They must deal equally round the table, as an hon. Member said to-day, with all questions that relate to the output of the pits.
I feel that we are now going forward into a time when that co-operation will have a full chance. If it does get that full chance, and if the district production committees deal quite firmly with the questions raised to-day by the hon. Lady the Member for Frame (Mrs. Tate), and by the hon. and gallant Member—questions of sending the men to those seams or those pits where they can most readily increase the output—if questions of that kind are tackled strongly, it will be very surprising if a very big increase in output is not forthcoming.
There has been far too much assumption. Once it is found to be so, then proper action can be taken. The management which to-day is not far-sighted enough to feel proud that its men can take part in debate and help in the national effort is not one that will deserve any consideration. The whole industry is ready to play its part. The whole industry is ready also, I believe, as was suggested by my hon. Friend, to take the view that, until they test the men who agree to return to the pits under the Minister of Labour's scheme, no one has any right to say that they are not men of the right kind. I am sorry there has been any suggestion that Members are in doubt with regard to numbers. It has been holiday time in the pits, and it has been difficult to get immediate results, but the figures given to me by the Minister of Labour to-day show that 6,264 have actually reported for duty. They are not on the way; they are there. Altogether, 25,000 should be forthcoming. But we shall not stop at 25,000. If more are need, more will be had. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), it takes time to fit them in; but it would have taken equally us long to fit in men from the Army. I am not at all sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War would not be highly flattered if he were told that it was believed that you could get men back from the Army much more quickly than under this registration scheme. I am sure you would have to wait much longer. Speed is the essence of the whole thing, and 25,000 returned quickly are much better for our purposes than 50,000 promised, and delivered in driblets over six to nine months.
In the last war thousands of miners were brought home exceedingly quickly from the front line. Surely they can be brought to the pits much more quickly from the camps only a few miles away?
That is assuming that they can be spared. I hope the hon. Member will not think that I am merely making a debating point—the view is definitely that they cannot be spared. I feel that, with good will and co-operation and with the additional personnel now returned to the pits, there is every reason to believe that we shall get increasing output over the next three months. This output will require to be continued for succeeding months as well. It is not a case of asking for a number of men to be brought back merely for three months; this is a return to the industry for continuous operation. I doubt whether we have sufficiently recognised how the long strain and not too ample food have affected men in such an arduous calling as mining. It is perfectly clear that the spirit is good and that the heart is in the business, and, with a fresh dedication of themselves to this present emergency, I have not the faintest doubt that we shall get a great response.
I would like to believe that in every coalfield as full sympathy was being given to canteens as I think should be given. In one or two areas there is no doubt that if progress has not been quickly made it is because there is apathy on the subject. But the Miners' Welfare Commission are putting their funds behind this movement, and it is reasonable to expect that it will quickly get under way now. Keep in mind also that the number of man-shifts worked per person is greater now than it was before the war. [Interruption.] The number is higher for the reason that in a great many areas pits which are normally idle for part of the week in summer are working continuously now. [Interruption.] I am trying to get this mining situation in perspective, if I may. But remember, also, that the number of men at the faceto-day is less in proportion to the total number employed than it was one year and two years ago and that, since the number of men at the face has fallen, output has fallen off. There is, in this matter, no blame being thrown on the mining industry for slackness. The whole thing is perfectly understandable, and what we are now calling upon the mining industry to do is to address itself with fresh energy to the problems of production that face us now. I am convinced that if it does so—and I am sure it will—we shall this winter— [An HON. MEMBER: "Shiver"]—not shiver, but get through, with care and economy. Coal should not be wasted today, either industrially or domestically, and with the one extra hour of Summer-time coming off next week I hope that the non-industrial use of coal will be very carefully safeguarded. It may well be that in winter-time it will be necessary to have a comprehensive scheme of rationing, for all non-industrial uses, of coal and different forms of fuel. That, I say, may well be, but of this I think we can be "fairly certain—that it is not likely that our war effort this winter will be impeded for lack of fuel or power or that the public will have to suffer any unreasonable rationing.
A great deal depends—and this must always be remembered—on the progress in output from now until the end of the summer period. A great deal depends, also, upon how quickly winter comes upon us. The summer was very slow in coming in; much more coal would have been put into stock had the summer weather come earlier. In all these matters one fact so often left out is the state of circumstances at any given time—when decisions were taken. When we cast our minds back to the phases through which the industry has gone during the last two years, it is perfectly clear that you cannot say to-day whether a given decision at any previous time was right or wrong. What you can say is that the result might not have been obtained. The result has not been obtained for the first three summer months, but, with the steps now being taken, there is as good an assurance as any that can be had that, for the remaining summer months and the beginning of the winter, those steps will be adequate to keep the country safe.
As I come from a mining area, I need make no, apology for detaining the House for a short time on a matter of considerable interest to my constituency. The President's statement is not one that will have allayed the uneasiness among the industrial or domestic population, because he has clearly indicated that parsimony in the use of coal will be required on both hands. When the President of the Board of Trade indicates that, the situation might justly be described as very serious indeed. I am disappointed that when the opportunity was available to him he did not take the strong stand of clearing away the difficulties which prevail and which he agrees take up so much of the valuable time of the pit production committees. Apparently, he is hoping that, in some way that he has not particularised, these problems are to be resolved elsewhere. I was grateful, however, to hear one observation which I hope has the weight attached to it which, I fancy, might have been intended. That was that the return of men to the industry was to be looked upon as permanent to the industry. Are we to understand that there is to be created now a new basis for the coal industry in which the men are to be detained as part of that industry and are to receive a guaranteed week and wages because of their adhesion to it? If that is the intention, a valuable step has been taken to make the industry more attractive and tolerable to those employed in it.
My constituents feel themselves a very much abused class in the community. I cannot fail to note the contrast which miners are frequently making nowadays between their industry and other industries. The action of the Government and the coalowners in making these very diminutive offers to the colliers has led to a state of grave dissatisfaction. All I can see arising out of. these offers which are to create so much attraction for the mining industry is an additional shilling per day for men and sixpence for boys, with such qualifications attached to it that it is questionable whether more than 75 per cent. of those concerned will from time to time see this bonus allowance.
As for the guaranteed wage, the miner will in the ordinary way, as production is to be carried out to its maximum capacity, be earning that amount, so that there need be no fear that the pool which is being established of 6d. a ton will be called upon to bear anything. After all, it is worth remembering that 85 per cent. of the 6d. levy comes out of the wages of the miners.
My constituents are declaring that in peace-time they have the misfortune regularly to suffer unemployment or underemployment, and that, generally speaking, low wages and penury have been their lot, and now they have found that, in a great war in which many other sections of the community are doing remarkably well financially, they have had to go through a very bitter experience for which they were in no sense responsible. When the French market collapsed, they were told that the collieries would close and that they should seek employment elsewhere, or they would have to go on to the unemployment register. We are told to-day that the demand for coal was there just the same, but was not discovered. I do not blame the Minister of Labour, the Secretary for Mines, or even the coal-owners for that shocking lack of attention to the national interest. Those responsible in high places in the Government and in munitions production appeared to be smitten with blindness and to be completely oblivious of the fact that the demand for coal was there all the time. Even if it had been recognised that there might be demands for the export trade, there would not have been that cessation of output. In a Question in the House, I asked why we were not able to meet a very strong demand from the Argentine for North Country coal, and the answer was that there was no coal. The mining community have suffered very bitterly because of the neglect of those in high places in the Government. We have been advised to-day that the output is some 4,000,000 tons weekly but that an additional 500,000 tons are required.
We have been told that 75,000 people have left the industry since the beginning of the war, and that if they were to return there would be a surplus production in the mines, a total of about 5,000,000 tons weekly. That is a very gratifying statement—if and when the return of this labour is secured. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said, with a sense of great satisfaction, that 6,264 men have returned to the pits, but I cannot see that that is much to talk about. Although it is true that 24,000— a very gratifying number—have volunteered, a great deal more is necessary if we are to obtain the production which the State unquestionably desires. We have had two statements made in the House to-day with regard to the position. We were informed by the Secretary for Mines that our stocks were 40 per cent. lower than last year.
The fact that we are 1,000,000 tons better off this year than last year, as stated by the President of the Board of Trade, is, perhaps, a redeeming feature in a somewhat dark situation. In regard to the guaranteed week, I have indicated that some 85 per cent. of the money that is placed in the pool is to be taken out of the wages of the industrial workers. I consider that to be an amoral method of founding the pool. The money required should have come from the Treasury. The additional 10d. per ton which the coal-owners are being permitted to charge should not have been placed upon the consumers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated that he was determined there should be stability of food prices, and we are contributing, through the Treasury, £1,000,000 weekly to preserve these figures and prevent a rise in the cost of living. The increase of 10d. per ton on coal is bound to increase the cost of living, and certainly that burden should justly have been placed on the backs of the Treasury.
In regard to canteens, I have done all I can, by personal interview with the Ministry of Food, and by raising the matter in this House after consultation with workers in my constituency, to press forward this most desirable reform. It is one of the most munificent reforms, provided prices can be kept reasonably low, because it means not only relieving the burden of the miners, but also of the womenfolk. In a household with a family working, perhaps, two or three shifts, the lot of a woman is that of almost continuous labour. Therefore, one hopes the President of the Board of Trade will, under the powers vested in him, take steps to have these canteens established without further delay. Surely we can get an advancement from the Treasury? Many advancements have been made for agriculture which have never been repaid, but I think we would be agreeable to repay such advances if they could be made for this vital and urgent need. At this time I believe this reform would do a great deal towards increasing output and creating a better feeling than that prevailing at the present moment.
An hon. Member who is a colliery owner was discussing the question of boy labour. He stated that the lack of boy labour was slowing down output. That is a. very ominous statement to be made by a coal owner He then went on to explain the reasons. He stated that mining was not sufficiently attractive, and that it must be made so for the youth of the country in order to maintain output. I think that is a shocking admission of his and other coalowners' neglect. The boys and young men have been treated rather as chattels to be dismissed at will at any time than as sentient human beings. I believe the owners, certainly the mine-workers, are cordially in favour of a system of apprenticeship under proper conditions as regards wages, living conditions and hours, and I believe that might well be the basis for attracting more youths to the industry. We are definitely advised that in the course of a few years certain collieries will be bound to close down unless they can somehow or other attract youths to enter the industry.
With regard to Essential Work Order, I am satisfied that the miners will be perfectly agreeable to work it to the maximum capacity if it is a case of urgent national and not private profit-making need. The National Service officer need not be looked upon as a person likely to cause apprehension at the time of his visit. But I should like, and I know my constituents are ardently desiring, to see instituted a national board permanently associated with all the mining areas. Pit production committees only do not suffice. There are also committees of owners. The men recognise in a greater degree than ever before the need for joint responsibility. The workers claim, very properly, that the vital interests of the industry should not be in the hands of the owners only but in the hands of the workers and owners jointly, acknowledging their responsibility not only to the industry itself but to the State at large.
There has been complaint during recent weeks about the small amount of time available for back benchers. As the representative of a very important mining constituency, I want to brand as utterly disgraceful the conduct of the President of the Board of Trade in connection with this Debate. But his conduct, disgraceful as it is, does not compare with the pitiful weakness of the case which he and the Minister of Mines have put forward. The country is facing a crisis which can become one of the most serious proportions, yet the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary for Mines and the Government will not deal with the fundamental cause of the crisis. To-day I interjected the remark that the mineowners were criminals, and a mineowner took exception to it. I am prepared to prove it here and now. I challenge the President of the Board of Trade to face up to that proof and take the necessary action. Not only are they criminals; added to that there is their hypocrisy and humbug. An hon. and gallant Member sitting below the Gangway, a mineowner, gets up and says, "I am second to none in my admiration for the miner." Those are the words. What is the action? The unspeakable insult of the attendance bonus—an insult from the mineowners to the miners. The mineowner can speak of his admiration for the miners, but it does not go as far as providing them with a fair and decent wage.
Before coming to the criminal policy of the mineowners, I must refer to the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Sir D. Thomson), a nice, comfortable gentleman. He had something to say about absenteeism, despite the fact that the Prime Minister said in the production Debate last week that people who had never done a hard day's work in their lives were criticising the workers. He might have been talking to the hon. Member for South Aberdeen. Could the hon. Member for South Aberdeen give me the name of one miner who is an absentee, and then could he give me the number of days that he, the Member for South Aberdeen, has turned up when there was a hard day's work to do—not the number of times he was absent but the number of times he has turned up? He has never done a hard day's work in his life, yet he talks about the miners and absenteeism.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) got to the heart of the problem when he spoke of organisation. It is not a question of taking men out of the Army, because, as has been truly said, there will be the greatest difficulty in getting them fitted in. There are many lads in the Army who, I believe, would be better out of it and working in the pits. I had a letter from one to-day in which he says that he is spending his time polishing floors and tables, and would be rendering more service to the country if he were to get back to the coal mines in Fife. There are many lads who would be better out of the Army but it would need a cantilever crane to get some of them out of the Army and back into the pits. The problem, which is one of organisation, in turn, depends upon the character of the control in the industry.
We were told, during the Debate, of mineowners closing a pit and saying, when they were approached by officials who asked whether they would be agreeable to seeing a representative of the Mines Department to discuss the matter, "No, it is our business, and the Government have nothing to do with it." Is not that a criminal policy? Is any action to be taken against these people? It is true, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) reminds me, that if the shop stewards tried anything of that sort, there would be condemnation and possibly prosecution. What is the position? The President of the Board of Trade said that he was satisfied that the whole of the industry would play its part. Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that there is no whole industry? He cannot speak for a whole industry. There is a series of county industries. Does the President of the Board of Trade understand that fact, and is anything to be done about it? The engineering, railway, transport, and building industries are treated as national industries, but mining is the only industry in the country which is not treated as a national unit. Shall we blame the Secretary for Mines? Yes, certainly. When the Secretary for Mines received the miners' officials and handed them over to the Lord President, he was forgetting his responsibility. He should have resigned, when the job which he was there to do was being taken out of his hands. I will tell him something which some hon. Members here, because of their friendship for the Secretary for Mines, may not like, but the fact remains: the Secretary for Mines has lost the confidence of the Mine-workers' Federation and the miners.
I understand how hon. Members feel. I have been among the miners in Ayrshire, and I cannot shut my eyes to the loss of confidence. It is important for the miners and for production. How can there be confidence in the Secretary for Mines, in the Mines Department or in the Government, in view of the situation which exists in the mining industry? The mineowners refuse absolutely to allow the industry to be treated as a national unit. A progressive mineowner in Scotland—at least, he believes he is progressive—was speaking to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) and myself. He told us that he was continually arguing for unification of the Scottish mining industry. He pointed out that unification, with the opportunities it would give for organisation and direction of one kind and another, would result in a very great increase in coal output. But, he said, "I cannot get unification of the Scottish coalfields because others of the mineowners put their own personal, petty, private interests before the national interests." They could get unification and organisation, but their own personal interests are put before the interests of the nation. That was a mineowner in Scotland, but when the question was put to him about the national organisation of the industry—not just Scottish unification—it was a different matter. He wanted Scotland left to itself. His personal, private and petty interests came up against the organisation of the industry as a whole.
The Government are afraid to deal with the coalowners. When we discussed the Essential Work Order in this House, the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) was speaking. While he was speaking the Minister of Labour rose and said to him, "Will the miners assist me in putting transfers on a national basis instead of on a county basis?" The hon. Member for Ince replied that it was a very important question and one that was deserving of consideration, but it was not for him to answer at the moment—or something of that kind. I ask the President of the Board of Trade, What sort of situation is that? The Minister of Labour is one of the most powerful men in the Government, and he asked if the miners would assist him in putting transfers on a national basis instead of on a county basis. Why had he to ask that question? Because, with all his power, he is only able to move men from one pit to another in the same county; he cannot move them across the line, because the coalowners will not let him. They will not let the industry be treated as a national industry but are determined that it shall be separated into county units.
So we come to the situation in which, when matters in connection with the Essential Work Order are to be discussed, the Miners' Federation officials come to London and go to one hotel and the mine-owners' representatives to another. The Secretary for Mines, a representative of the Government—of the Churchill Government, which is presumed to stand higher than any Government ever stood and to have more power and more backing—goes to see the Miners' Federation officials and discuss a question with them. Then he gets into a taxi and goes to see the mine-owners. After that he takes another taxi and goes back to the miners to tell them what the mineowners have said. Is it believable that such a thing should be happening? The Essential Work Order for the miners will not get you a ton of coal. We are told that the Minister has made the most impassioned speeches, but the most impassioned speeches are not going to get you coal. I am quite sure that miners in all parts of the country will be interested to hear and see Admiral Evans, who is going around to talk to them, but that will not solve any of the problems. Only action backed by the Government against the mineowners would be of any use. But there we have the mineowners and the Miners' Federation, with the Secretary for Mines running from one to the other and nobody knowing whether he is going or coming.
The miners' officials tell the Minister of Mines what is the most elementary demand that can possibly be made. They tell him that if the mining industry is to be organised so as to get increased production, it is absolutely necessary to have a National Board. Is there any Member on the other side of the House who would dare to say that that elementary step is not absolutely essential to production, to supervise, to look over the whole industry? A National Board would be of the greatest value to the Minister of Labour. It would be of the greatest value to the other Departments of the Government. The miners' officials say to the Minister of Mines, "Will you please go to the mine-owners and say that there must be a National Board?" The Minister says, "Yes, I will go and tell them." Away he goes, and tells the mineowners. He comes back and says, "I am sorry; I told them, but they will not pay any attention." The mineowners will not agree. They are determined that there shall be nothing in the nature of national organisation of the mining industry—I am not talking about nationalisation, but about national organisation—that there shall be no national recognition of the men. It is the only industry of the country in which the men have not national recognition. Is that a criminal policy or not?
I delare here that the mineowners of this country are pursuing a policy that is absolutely criminal, in view of the situation which exists and I demand of the President of the Board of Trade, I demand of the Lord President of the Council, I demand of the Government, that the necessary action be taken against the mineowners to put an end to it. Let us have organisation of the industry; then we can get the coal. The personnel at the present time could increase their output by a very considerable amount. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire made that clear by figures. It has gone down, but it can go up if there is the proper organisation. I agree with all that has been said about the necessity of canteens, the value of canteens, the necessity of getting rid of the attendance bonus, and the giving of power to the pit production committees. Very great work can be done in this direction, but I declare here, once again, and I wish the Members of this House to take serious notice of what is going on, that the policy of the mine-owners is a criminal policy, and the Government, if they are deeply concerned with getting coal production, with solving the terrible crisis which may otherwise face us this winter, will take action to stop the practice being carried on by the mine-owners.
I also must express my disappointment at the speech we have heard from the President of the Board of Trade. I know that the speech contained very kindly, amiable terms so far as the mineowners are concerned, and, by implication, it seems that the President of the Board of Trade has about become aware that the miners are having a very raw deal in the mining industry to-day, and that that may possibly be one of the biggest drawbacks from which we are suffering, and militating against coal production and its expansion. But no amount of wishful thinking will help us to solve this problem. That is about all we have had from that Front Bench. Not a single constructive point has been made from that Bench. I regret it intensely. I am not going to repeat the points which my colleagues have made to-day, but I subscribe to practically everything that these men, old coal-miners like myself, have said. I repeat, however, that not a single constructive, encouraging statement has been made from that Bench opposite. We have had a kindly, affable speech from the President of the Board of Trade. It suggests that he knows that he is dealing with a very difficult subject, with any amount of potential dynamite associated with it, that he knows that he has no answer to make to the case made by these miners, and, therefore, he is thankful that soon this House will be in Recess and that we can look forward to a holiday. That has been the attitude in this House before in regard to miners' difficulties. That attitude has persisted until a terrible crisis has arisen, until the men and the owners are at war; and then, after a time, comparative sanity has returned, some adjustment has been made, and the men are once again back at work.
I say, most reluctantly, that the right hon. Gentleman and his Government had better take warning. The temper of the mining industry has never in my experience been more dangerous than it is now, almost at the end of the second year of the war. The miners are just reaching the extreme stage of fed-upness with the humiliations, the hagglings, and the nigglings that they have experienced. I am not apologising for getting up at this time, because I feel that I am under an obligation to add to the warnings that have been given. What grand scope there would be for humour and wit in commenting on the speeches made in this Debate if we were not facing a frightfully tragic situation. The speech of the President of the Board of Trade is in perfect harmony with what we have heard for many years in this House. I have watched more than one Government looking on and conniving at the destruction of vast portions of this mining industry. In a short period about two-fifths of the collieries of this country were wantonly, wickedly and criminally destroyed. That has been done since the last war, and now we have to listen to speeches proclaiming that the miners are a heroic lot—this sort of thing to the one section of our population which has suffered all the humiliations conceivable at the hands of those who have been in control and have abused their positions.
The miners are human, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not forget that; they have memories. They have seen their communities broken and humiliated to an almost indescribable degree. By the thousand their homes have been disrupted, so do not let us be under any stupid misapprehension in believing that affable and pleasing speeches will solve the problem or bluff the miners. Vast social, material and cultural wealth has been wantonly destroyed, to the humiliating accompaniment of mere lip sympathy from the Governments of the last 15 to 18 years. My hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines knows that miners are only too conscious that coal is one of the richest treasures of our life. All illusions that miners may have had in the past have been dissipated by the way they have seen these treasures destroyed —treasures on which, more than anything else, this great Empire which is fighting for its life to-day has been built.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will learn a few lessons from us. He need not worry at all as to whether there is within the industry, or is associated with it, sufficient knowledge, of will to work and of enthusiasm for the cause for which this country is fighting to-day. It is there in abundance. Why not use it? I can still hear the call which was made 20 years ago by a very distinguished statesman of this country, who appealed to the Government of the day to take advantage of these virtues in the mining industry. Why not use those qualities now in the interests of the country? Instead of doing that, the Government, after the war has been going on almost two years, treat the miners meanly and contemptuously. If the right hon. Gentleman has not treated them contemptuously to-day, he has indulged in a lot of wishful thinking. There was not a progressive or constructive point in his statement. It is not speeches that miners want, particularly speeches that come from people who know next to nothing about the industry. Miners more strongly resent those speeches to-day than they have done in the past, because apparently the only use that can be made of their services is a use that raises them very little above that of pure slavery in the mines. They are urged to anticipate a crisis which need never arise. The miners will tell this House that the crisis has been manufactured. Whether deliberately or as a result of pure stupidity, both are equally criminal.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines is not present, because I wanted to have a few words with him across the Floor. I should warn him that the crisis will inevitably arise unless the right hon. Gentleman has a great deal more to say and do than he has told us to-day. It will arise next winter, and it will be a crime. No Government ought to be permitted to survive five minutes if that crisis is forced upon us and if people have to go without fires when we have the finest body of workmen in the world who would give us all the coal we wanted if the Government had the sense and vision and less class prejudice to permit the coal to be worked. I doubt whether the Government will survive that crisis. I am sorry to say that my lifelong Friend the Secretary for Mines will be the first victim thrown on the altar of sacrifice. I am not certain that he is not to blame. I am not sure that he will receive as much sympathy from his old friends as we would like to extend to him. If there is one hon. Member who knows that industry thoroughly in all its aspects, it is my lifelong Friend the Secretary for Mines. I have worked with him, and I know intimately the way in which he has applied his mind to the great problems of that great industry and given his enthusiasm and devotion to it. He possesses an incomparable knowledge, as far as the House is concerned, of that industry, and he also carries conspicuously on his face the scars of that industry. As Secretary for Mines he is in almost a unique position in that he knows his job, which is a most extraordinary thing as far as the House is concerned, for we know that the choice of any hon. Member for a Cabinet post, or any important post outside the Cabinet, is dictated generally by the most complete ignorance of the duties of the post by the person selected. That is the rule, but in the Secretary for Mines we have an exception. The consequence is that, because of the great knowledge which he has, his responsibility is far greater. Why should he, a great product of that industry, be a party to this vast pretence of resolving all the immediate and serious mining problems by rhetoric, by pretentious circulars and by the futility of sending Holywood film stars and much bemedalled and beribboned, though very genial, people, who know nothing whatever about the mining industry, to miners' gatherings?
Nearly all the measures that have been taken up to now concerning coal production have been as useless as they were fatuous. My hon. Friends and I feel very keenly that if a crisis arises owing to a shortage of coal next winter, the Government will be condemned by every decent man and woman associated with the industry. The only people who can produce more coal are the miners, and, quite emphatically, not the coal-owners, or the financiers who have heaped such disasters upon the industry in the past. The idea of the pit production committees is the best that has emanated in regard to the need for more coal, but, as things are to-day, what priceless stupidity it is on the part of the Government that they do not see to it that these committees work. Take the ordinary pit committee. I have served on committees in a large number of collieries. I may have been an exception to the type of man on that committee, but for the most part they are men drawn from the general body of workmen employed in a particular colliery. They are appointed because of their great knowledge and their good conduct, and because they are known and admired by the men who work in that colliery. Why not make use of them? Why not impose statutory powers upon these committees? We do not need any Act of Parliament to do so, because the powers are already vested in the Government. See to it, first of all, that your pit committees are organised, and see to it that they do not meet during a shift or immediately at the end of a shift when the men are tired and have a dozen other small things to deal with. See to it that the meetings are regularly arranged in the evening. The active management could then meet the committee and, side by side with that measure of frankness and cooperation my right hon. Friend so rightly referred to, they could thrash everything out.
The members of a pit committee are drawn from every district in a colliery, and from the principal grades of workers at the colliery. They know if anything goes wrong, and if there is a weakness in organisation in one part of the colliery. They are all practical men, and they can improve the organisation of almost any colliery. Why not give them powers? Do not ask them to do the work, but tell them by Act of Parliament and by Order in Council they are vested with these powers. The men on that pit committee would assume responsibility and see to it that coal was being produced, and, needless to say, they would look after the general safety of the colliery at the same time. Collieries have enlarged their sizes. Big combines have grown up, particularly in my district. Why not as a next step appoint combined production committees? I could say a great deal to prove there are very good reasons for appointing a combine committee to cover the undertakings of any company or any of the combines. We have rather unhappy memories, and the miners are suspicious about the way in which one colliery can be used against another. I would then appoint experienced coalminers to act as liaison officers between the pit committees and your regional or district committees, and they could also be liaison officers between the production of coal and the Mines Department. The miners must have a standing on these committees, and they must be able to understand clearly that it is the desire of the Government and of the country that they should participate on equal terms, with equal powers and equal rights with the management, in seeing that the colliery is kept up to the highest possible standard of safety, which means, of course, the highest standard of production.
Unless the right hon. Gentleman is determined to take positive steps roughly along those lines, there will be serious trouble. He will lay himself open to the charge that he has not availed himself of the powers which were there in the industry, which could have been mobilised, and were waiting, to be mobilised, with a view to getting that extra output that is desired. I say after a lifelong experience that the output could be very substantially increased without putting back a single miner from any other industry or from the Army. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay some attention to these suggestions. They are made with the best spirit and will in the world. They come from the miners. I do not say they are original. I have always discussed these things with the men in my coalfield, who are so anxious not to be misunderstood during these difficult days. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell the Secretary for Mines that it is his business to mobilise these production committees and make it clear that they have powers to do the job.
I am convinced in my own mind that the only hope of increasing production outside the small points which have been raised, which can only make a very small addition, is to bring back to the mines men who have been allowed to go away. I do not think it is the slightest good baulking at the situation at all. The only chance to get anything like the output that is required is to bring back at least 50,000 young men. Those who are so splendidly directing the affairs of the country want to have the maximum force available for operations overseas or here. It is obvious that you cannot withdraw young miners from the Army over the seas, but you can withdraw young men from the Army at home. I realise that the War Secretary wants the maximum number of trained men, but we have a Home Guard, and if 50,000 young men came back from the Forces to their ordinary work in the mines—and it is just as important if not more important that they should be following their. own employment in the mines—they could join the Home Guard. They should never have gone into the Army; it is not the slightest good pretending that they should. The owners, the Mineworkers' Federation and everybody concerned with mining did their utmost to prevent any miners who were required for the mines from going into the Army, but even managers and deputies were taken—every body was taken as it suited the convenience of the powers-that-be. These men who come back could go into the Home Guard, which would thus be strengthened by a number of young, keen, efficient, well-trained men, who would prove to be a very great asset.
My right hon. Friend has created an extraordinarily favourable impression in the mining world by the visits which he has paid recently to inform himself of the true position. May I say to him that we thank him for what he has done, but that the only way in which to gain the true affection of the mining world is for him to go to the Prime Minister and to tell him without the slightest hesitation that we want 50,000 young men, fit and capable of carrying out their job in the mines, and that those 50,000 young men can aid the older men of 55 or thereabouts who are volunteering to go back into the mines. In my humble opinion nothing less will solve the problem with which we are faced.