Coal Situation

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

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Photo of Sir Albert Braithwaite Sir Albert Braithwaite , Buckrose

I do not think that any Minister has started off in his new office with better wishes than my right hon, and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power. He has the particular affection of the House, and everyone is wishing and praying for his success in connection with the many difficulties attached to coal production. To-day he made a fine Parliamentary performance, and it was one that must have very much pleased the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). When, however, I get away from the Parliamentary performance, I do not find anything in the speech which contributed one extra ton of coal to the nation's need. We are in desperate straits. Unless coal production goes up we shall lose the war, and the sooner the House of Commons and the country realise this the better it will be for them. We cannot envisage opening up a second front unless we are prepared to fuel the people of France as well as the people of this country. Here we are with a gap to fill, and yet we are talking about coal as if it were a matter of not very mach urgency. This Debate is on a par with Debates in which I have taken part in ordinary times; there seems to be no urgency about the matter at all. Coal production is falling, the country is in grave danger, and I am very much alarmed.

I had hoped that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, with his vigour and courage, would have come out boldly with some valuable proposals for the immediate increase of coal production. Instead of that we have this lamentable decline and the figures that have been presented to us today. I have had a long experience with the coal trade and have worked with men underground practically all my life, and I say to the Minister frankly that by running six consecutive shifts he is losing production instead of improving it, particularly in the most prolific districts. I was glad to see the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), because he has a knowledge of coalmining which is second to none in Yorkshire. He knows perfectly well that in South Yorkshire where there are prolific seams six days a week consecutively underground is bound to bring production down instead of up. There may be something to be said for pits where the production per man is much lower, but certainly in the other districts it is far better to carry on with the five shifts and get the maximum, giving the pits and the machinery a chance to recover and giving extra leisure. The repair of machinery to-day, the getting together of spare parts and the opening of new districts, takes time, and if we run this six-day week underground it will retard production instead of expanding it.