Coal Situation

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

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Photo of Mrs Mavis Tate Mrs Mavis Tate , Frome

I cannot intervene in this Debate even for the very few minutes in which I intend to occupy the time of the House without paying a tribute of appreciation, which I am sure the whole House must feel, to the energy and imagination with which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for Fuel and Power has tackled the extraordinarily difficult task with which he has been faced. I am sure that all who listened to his speech in this Debate must have considered it a model of introducing a very intricate and difficult subject in a manner which was interesting and inspiring to the whole House.

The hon. Member who has just spoken said there was no need for a larger number of miners in the pits. His knowledge of mining is very much greater than mine. He has experience which I can never hope to have, because the experience of those who have worked in the pits and lived their lives among miners must of necessity be infinitely more valuable in every respect than any experience of those who endeavour to study the question from the outside. I only wish my experience of the industry were sufficiently good to enable me to pay the tribute that I would wish to pay to the miners, in whom I have taken a very great interest. But I cannot agree that there is not a greater need for men in the pits, and I think not only is this a matter of grave concern at present, but it must be a matter of very grave concern in the future. The Forster Committee Report, recently published, shows that in the last year in Somerset only four boys entered the coalmining industry. When one considers the very high degree of wastage because of old age which is inevitably taking place year by year, one can but consider that a most seripus situation, and indeed the Minister said that was a problem which was engaging his most earnest consideration. I would ask whether it is not possible to restart mining classes. Fifty-five years ago the Somerset County Council commenced evening mining classes, which were of tremendous assistance. A very large percentage of those who attended them obtained posts as managers and under-managers. Twenty years ago, for reasons of economy, the classes were brought to an end. The coalfield of Somerset is very nearly as large as that of the Forest of Dean, where there are these facilities. I hope consideration will be given to the reopening of these classes.

The Minister spoke of the economies which had been made up to date since the campaign was started to make the country conscious of the very great need for economy. I am sure the whole country would rather see economy produced by voluntary means if possible than by compulsory methods. But, in spite of what the Minister said about the figures being satisfactory up to date, and the very appreciable economy being effected, I do not think it is as yet time to judge how effective that is going to be, and I am certain that we have not reached the maximum of economy. There is still a considerable wastage of fuel in the consumption of electricity and gas in private houses, and I think greater publicity should be used for hay-box cookery. A Question was asked in the House the other day whether the Purchase Tax could be removed from hay boxes. I agree that anyone who can afford the rather expensive type of hay box which is now being sold could also afford to pay the Purchase Tax, but I suggest that it would be a great advantage if, in food advice bureaux and over the wireless, full instructions could be given on the method of economically making hay boxes in the home, and the tremendous saving in fuel which could result from the use of hay boxes. I welcome the visit of the Minister to the coalfields and his interviews with coal production committees. I hope that he will visit Somerset at an early date. I particularly welcome his intention, which I know to be sincere and genuine, that where faults are found in management they will receive the same attention as faults in other departments in the mines. I am sure that the coal production committee of Somerset will be extremely glad to receive a visit from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.