Coal Situation

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

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Photo of Sir Samuel Chapman Sir Samuel Chapman , Edinburgh South

We have had a most serious and illuminating Debate, and I rise not to join in the general Debate but to turn just for five minutes to a point which has not yet been mentioned during the Debate. I know nothing about coal-mining, and so I will say nothing about it, but I do know something about what is above ground, and I wish once more to make the suggestion that the woods of our country, the timber in our country, would provide a very large percentage of fuel in the 5years to come, if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—if I may presume to say so—goes about it in the right way. I know how anxious he is on this point of using more wood, because he has sent out a circular to all the local authorities, and I know too how anxious the Secretary of State for Scotland is, because he too has sent out a circular. What I desire to ask is. What progress is being made to get into the minds of the people of this country that they should use more wood and less coal?

The quantity of wood which lies in the great forests, if I may so call them, of this country is enormous. Not only is it lying on the ground, no one daring to pick it up, but there are hundreds of thousands of dead trees which could be cut down without interfering in any degree with the timber which is wanted for the national requirements of the country. I will give just one example. It is no use speaking in general terms. I was walking yesterday in the county of Sussex and went through a charming little village called Isfield, a few miles from Lewes. There is an old corn mill there, and within a few minutes' walk of that corn mill there is enough wood, if it were properly used, to keep Lewes in fuel for the whole winter. Wood lies by the roadside; trees looking like antediluvian monsters have been there for years. I spoke to a woodman, who said, "If you go up that bank, you will find an old oak which has been lying there since 1910. I helped to cut it down. The tree was coming over the road, and we cut it down, and there it lies, eight or ten tons of it," Dead wood such as this is to be found all over the country in huge quantities. Why is not this wood used to save coal?

I shall make three suggestions. It is useless getting up and talking without making suggestions. The matter will have to be tackled in three ways. The first way is to leave the wood merchants to continue business as they are doing now. In the county of Sussex they are getting about £3 a ton for wood, which works out at about a penny for a 3 lb. log which when put on a fire will last for a considerable time. About four of these will keep an ordinary sitting-room fire going from 4 p.m. until bedtime with a little coal. [Interruption.] I regard bedtime as half past nine or 10 p.m. Any man who is in fairly good health and lives in the country wants to go to bed in good time in order to keep himself fit and be able to get up early next morning. The thing is to leave the wood merchants, who are conducting their business in a most admirable manner, as they are at the present moment.

As regards my second point, I know a wood of 1,800 acres. I went through it yesterday and could have picked up tons of wood lying on the ground, wood for which people would be thankful. Why is it not picked up? [An HON. MEMBER: "It would disturb the pheasants."] Cottagers around, and everyone else, would be glad of it, but what one is told, "We dare not go in. We should be watched." I spoke to a man whom I met in a public house. That is the way to get information in the country. Go into the local public houses. You need not have bottled beer or whisky; have a grape juice if the house provides it. I raised the question with four or five men who were standing round the bar. One man said, "I shall not go short of fuel. I know where to get it—after dark." There will be a lot of that sort of thing going on if fuel runs short. This matter is very serious. I suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend, who has made such an excellent and illuminating speech, that he might make an appeal to the great landowners of this country for good neighbourly feeling, that we must pull together, that we are all in the same boat, and would they show a spirit of friendship and kindness to the countryside by saying, "Come into our woods—without axe or without saw if you like—and pick what you see lying on the ground." There would be a minority who would have to be guarded against, as I learned in the public house. People will talk to you at the bars of these village public houses, and I have been in 20 or 30 of them. My hon. Friend has been down the mine, but he has not been into the public houses and got first-hand in- formation. What men of good will have told me is that I am quite right, that they would like to go into the woods and pick up dead timber, but that there are others against whom safeguards would have to be made. Some persons might even come down from London with lorries. These people who wish to go into the woods in the way I have proposed agree and desire that regulations of a reasonable nature should be made.

The great thing is to get a spirit of good neighbourly feeling in the minds of the people of the countryside. The response would be wonderful; it would be enormous. I see the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish). He knows these woods better than I do, and I recommend him to go into the Old Ship inn a few miles from Lewes. If in the past he has passed it, I would suggest to him not to hesitate to go in there. At the side of the road is the Plashet Wood of 1,800 acres. It is full of good stuff. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the country had become fuel-minded, and was anxious to save fuel. I am sorry to have to disagree with him. The people have not yet fully realised the seriousness of the situation. We must do everything possible even in regard to burning this wood. Perhaps if action were taken in the right way that would save 10 to 15 per cent.: it would help the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in the great task he has undertaken. Get the good will spirit, and let the people go into the woods, without axes and without saws. That is not enough. In the third place, the right hen. and gallant Gentleman will have to urge the local authorities to take in hand the cutting down of dead trees, and use these great antediluvian monsters which all over the country are lying by the roadsides. Then we shall, ease the great strain upon our miners and upon the use of our coal.