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

It depends from where you take it. If you take the whole position, I think my right hon. and gallant Friend will not disagree that over 650,000 tons has been raised since 5th June this year. I make that statement perfectly specifically. Work that out, and you find that before the end of next May you will have over 3,000,000 tons. This has been done with a minimum of plant. One concern engaged in getting coal ordered £80,000 worth of machinery to dig it. As each machine was finished at the excavation works some Government Department came along and commandeered it. That concern has never received one new machine for this work.

Again, only last week 30 of the machines being used by the contractors on this, work were commandeered and will leave the coal jobs in the course of the nest week or two. I made a statement in this House, which I stand by, that there are 50,000,000 tons of coal within 30 feet of the surface of this country that can be dug by open cast methods. It is only a question of the number of machines that are used, I admit that some of the coal is of an inferior quality, but most of it is useful for industrial purposes. I am thoroughly dissatisfied by the lack of appreciation and lack of help which the Ministry of Fuel and Power has given to this project, which is quite capable of raising 10,000,000 tons a year. During the course of this Debate I got a wire for which I did not ask from one of the Ministry's own officials, which reads: Please inform House of Commons that 32,000,000 tons of outcrop coal are available for open-cast mining at an average ratio of one in four within a radius of 25 miles of Wakefield. Can produce reliable evidence. I do not want to stress this too much, but I feel that everybody ought to be all out to do every little bit possible to help win this war. Everything in this country depends upon coal. The mere fact that we cannot produce rubber in this country because we cannot produce coal is a serious matter which ought to alarm the minds of all Members. There are so many considerations that hang upon the production of coal that I earnestly ask the Minister please to let us have all the help he can give us. My statements have been discredited by people who do not know what has been happening.

I can substantiate every figure and word I have used in the House. I have proved the situation up to the hilt, and, that being so, let us get on with a full effort. There are plenty of machines and men doing less vital work which could be trans- ferred to this job, immediately; skilled miners are not needed. I promise the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that if he will give us this encouragement and help, he will not be disappointed. I am most anxious that both he and his colleagues should succeed in this very big task they have undertaken. I am ready to give them every bit of energy and help I can. This is no time to disparage one another's efforts. It is a time to work as a team and try to get the best results for the nation.

There is one other thing I wish to touch on in the main mining issue. There will unless the Government give very earnest consideration to the matter be a very serious shortage of pit props. There are plenty of pit props to be had in parts of Scotland but I was speaking to one of the people engaged in that trade only yesterday, and he told me that it was quite impossible for him to get labour. If collieries are to produce coal in increased quantity, it is absolutely necessary they should be supplied with essential needs, and pit props and pit wood are vital to increased production. Will the Minister examine the conditions under which the Minister of Labour will allow people to be transferred to cut pit props? I am told that a lot of women volunteered to help with this job in Scotland, and that they were refused permission by the Ministry of Labour. There may be a shortage of pit props, and it is vital that something should be done about this.

I want to revert to the subject of open cast mining. I took around the greatest expert in the world on open cast mining of coal, who happens to be in command of one of the American units over here. He has done more of this coal-getting in the open than anybody else in the world. I took him around, and I said, "Tell me where we are wrong and what we can do to help?" He said, "You are doing a great job of work in this matter, but you are doing it with toys. If only I had a dozen of the machines that we are using in America for this wonk I could double the output for you very quickly." I asked whether we were doing it in the right way, and he said, "With what you have got, you could not do it better." So that the House shall not imagine that this is being done uneconomically, I will quote figures. The amount raised by a company of which I know, up to 23rd September, was 282,000 tons. It cost the Government, in the contract for raising, £188,000—that is 13s. 4d. a ton. That was the average for the whole period: it included prices which were considerably higher. You must add to this the Ministry's charges and the charges for putting it down on the ground, which I do not think is a charge which should be imposed on the contractors. I submit that on those figures I am entitled to greater consideration from the Ministry, and to more help and encouragement. I promise the House of Commons that we can make a great contribution to the Minister's effort.