Coal Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 1st October 1942.

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Photo of Sir Arnold Gridley Sir Arnold Gridley , Stockport

Yes, Sir. The hon. Gentleman did not quite understand me. I was very careful to say that this was for supply to domestic household consumers. That is the figure which I have given, and I doubt very much whether the hon. Gentleman has that figure at the moment. Just consider what that figure means. If everybody, large and small users, succeeded in cutting the use of gas and electricity by 25 per cent. in domestic household establishments, we could do without one week's output of coal from the pits. There are few houses in this country which have not their worries, anxieties, discomforts and inconveniences, yet the harassed domestic household is being harried to make cuts which, if wholly effective to the extent of 25 per cent. will represent only one week's effort, or 2 per cent. of the present rate of output.

I do not use those figures as an argument against rationing. I have been an advocate of rationing from the very start of the situation which has developed over the last 18 months, but I have never been in favour of rationing on the lines of the Beveridge proposal. I shall continue to oppose any scheme of rationing on the present fuel-target basis, if it ever becomes compulsory. Do not let anybody think that I am saying one word now to discourage the practice of the utmost economy in every domestic household in the country. The need for economy is absolutely imperative, and everybody should do his utmost to limit consumption of coal, gas and electricity to the utmost, so long as the war effort is not thereby impaired.

As the House knows, even if the country does not already know it, I have opposed, from the beginning, the Beveridge plan, of which the fuel target, as voluntarily exercised, is a complete copy. I am going to call Sir William Beveridge, however, to my aid on this occasion. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not do that."] I will take the risk. He wrote a letter to "The Times" on 14th May in which he replied to his critics. In that letter he said: Of course, efforts to increase production of coal are required in any case."— that is, whether rationing becomes necessary or not— Rationing in general is not unpopular with consumers. But rationing of fuel has to make head against a general opinion that rationing should not be necessary since there is, plenty of coal underground. Even when it is explained that getting coal to the point of consumption depends on organisation and manpower, general doubt persists whether manpower and organisation in the mines have been handled wisely. Unfortunately, with a single exception, all suggestions that can be made for increasing production, such as concentration of the available labour upon the best seams in the best mines, temporary increase of miners' hours or reorganisation of the industry, are highly controversial, or highly speculative, or both. The exception—the one certain method of getting more coal at once"——