I must apologise to the House for intervening in this Debate—[HON MEMBERS: "No."]—because I have not had the advantage of having been on the bench and of listening to it yesterday. But I have read not only the newspaper reports but the Hansard Report to a very large extent, and I have spent since yesterday a good deal of time discussing the position with various friends and colleagues. I did notice that a request was made that there should be some statement from a War Cabinet Minister, and in deference to that request, I thought perhaps I should say a very few words in order to clarify, so far as possible, the situation.
Of course, I do not intend to go unduly into the technicalities of this problem, because that is not my business at the present time. They have been dealt with by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister and by his Parliamentary Secretary. They will be dealt with by the Minister again, when he winds up to-day and replies on the special points which have been raised. I would not presume to plunge into them as the House would naturally know that I had merely had the answers given to me and had not been able to pass them through my mind. I thought however it might help if I reminded the House at the outset of this discussion of the general foundations upon which we stand at the present time. We have a National Coalition Government, which came together to try to pull the nation out of the forlorn and sombre plight into which the action, or inaction, of all political parties over a long period of years had landed it. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Tory Party."] It all depends where you draw the datum line. I stand very well placed in that matter, having been out for 11 years. Perhaps if I had not been out so long, I might have got mixed up in all those compromises which are inevitable from loyal collective action between colleagues. At any rate this National Coalition came together at a moment of very great peril and for that purpose, and I think we have not been altogether unsuccessful in our task.
What is it that holds us together? What holds us together is the conduct of the war, the prosecution of the war. No Socialist, or Liberal, or Labour man has been in any way asked to give up his convictions. That would be indecent and improper. We are held together by something outside which rivets all our attention. The principle that we work on is: "Everything for the war, whether controversial or not, and nothing controversial that is not bona fide needed for the war." That is our position.
We must also be careful that a pretext is not made of war needs to introduce far-reaching social or political changes by a side wind. Take the question of nationalising the coalmines. Those words do not terrify me at all. I advocated nationalisation of the railways after the last war, but I am bound to say that I was a bit affected by the experience of the national control of the railways after the war, which led to the public getting a very bad service, to the shareholders having very unsatisfactory returns, and to one of the most vicious and hazardous strikes with which I have ever been concerned. However, as I say, the principle of nationalisation is accepted by all provided proper compensation is paid. The argument proceeds not on moral grounds but on whether in fact we could make a better business of the whole thing for ourselves, a more fertile business for the nation as a whole, by nationalisation than by relying on private enterprise and competition. It would raise a lot of argument, lot of difference of opinion, and it would be a tremendous business to nationalise the coal mines, and unless it could be proved to the conviction of the House and of the country, and to the satisfaction of the responsible Ministers, that that was the only way in which we could win the war, we should not be justified in embarking upon it without a General Election. It would be very difficult to have a General Election at the present time.
I do not say it would be impossible. It would certainly not be so difficult as it would have been during the blitz, though perhaps the blitz might recommence which would add to the gaiety of the proceedings. But still it would be very harmful to the war effort. Moreover such a policy would probably be preceded by a break-up of the present Administration and a separation of parties into the regular lines of political battle. I could not be responsible, as at present advised, for undertaking any further great change, and certainly not a permanent great change in the mining industry during the war, because that I think would require to be ratified or preceded by a national mandate. Therefore, we must resist all such proposals, and we must ask for the support of the House in so doing.
I must point out that Parliamentary democracy does not proceed only by debate. It proceeds by debate and by division. It is only in this way that the majority can express its views. The majority can dismiss an Administration at any time, unless of course the Administration obtains a Dissolution from the Crown and finds itself sustained by the people. That is the way the Constitution works—and it is greatly admired in many countries—and it is a good thing always to keep that position in mind. As soon as the war is ended, the soldiers will leave off fighting and the politicians will begin. Perhaps that is rather a pity, but at any rate it is not so bad as what goes on in some countries, which I should not venture to name, where the soldiers are fighting abroad and the politicians are fighting at home with equal vigour and ferocity.
Let us see what will happen at the end of the war. It is very difficult indeed to pierce the veil of the future. We do not know how far away the end of the war is, or what condition or mood we shall be in at that time, or what our position will be in relation to the other great Powers. We cannot tell. However, in all this mist, the following seems to stand out very plainly. Either there will be agreement between the parties or there will be a General Election on party lines. At the present time the latter looks more probable. At that General Election the people will decide which set of gentlemen, which political party, will constitute the majority in the House of Commons, and the Crown will commission someone to form a Government accordingly. Now in time of war or great public stress and danger a National Coalition, with all parties officially represented in it as parties, not as individuals, gives great strength and unity to the country and has given great strength and unity to our country. Anyone or any body of men who succeeded in breaking it up in time of war would, I am sure, incur the censure of the vast majority of the people. But in time of peace conditions are different. Party government is not obnoxious to democracy. Indeed Parliamentary democracy has flourished under party government. That is to say, it has flourished so long as there is full freedom of speech, free elections and free institutions. So we must beware of a tyranny of opinion which tries to make only one side of a question the one which may be heard. Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.
I earnestly hope that it may be possible to preserve national unity after the war, but I say quite frankly that I should not be at all alarmed for the future of this country if we had to return to party government. We may have to do that. But this I will say—and the House will pardon me, I am sure, for saying it—that whatever bitternesses or differences and party fighting may have to take place among us, each representing our constituencies and our convictions, whatever may take place, things can never be quite the same again. Friendships have been established, ties have been made between the two parties, minglings have taken place, understandings have been established which, without any prejudice to men's public duty, will undoubtedly have a mellowing effect on a great deal of our relations in the future, and for my part I must say that. I feel I owe a great debt to the Labour Party, who were a most stalwart support to me at the time when I first undertook the burdens which I am still being permitted to bear.
About what happens after the war, we must see how things go and how we feel. However should unfortunately agreement fail and a party government be returned after a free election, that will be the time for that Government to make their proposals and to carry them out, and those who are in opposition, whoever they may be—and who can forecast what the choice of the electors will be?—will exercise their critical faculty, I trust with good temper and with the fullest freedom of debate. That is how the matter lies and how our affairs will have to settle themselves. And one need not be too much alarmed in Britain about these things, because of the good sense of our people and because of our well-tried institutions, which are meant to face all the shocks and difficulties which past years have brought before us. Therefore I must say there is no question of far-reaching changes of a controversial character being made by the present Government unless they are proved indispensable to the war. Another Government might take a different view, but not this one. We are making every kind of preparation and study, including legislative preliminaries, so that those who are responsible after the war will be able to deal with the many problems of that time under the best conditions.
This present House of Commons, which has so long exceeded its normal constitutional life and will shortly be asking for a renewal of the lease—a matter which does not rest entirely in our hands alone—has no right, except with a very general measure of agreement, to step outside the one function by which its continued existence is justified, namely the prosecution of the war. It is only the continuance of the war and the extraordinary conditions which it imposes and forces upon us all that justifies us in remaining together as Parliament. I certainly could not take the responsibility of making far-reaching controversial changes which I am not convinced are directly needed for the war effort without a Parliament refreshed by contact with the electorate.
Within the framework of these general observations, which I trust have been conceived in a spirit of detachment and without desire in any way to cause undue despondency or alarm or still less to raise tempers, let us come to the present coal situation. What is the position? Fifteen months ago the House, without a Division, agreed to a scheme of reorganisation which aimed at full control over the operation of the mines and the organisation of the industry on the basis of national service. This organisation was to continue, and is to continue, "pending a final decision by Parliament on the future of the industry." It is barely a year since this organisation came into being. I must submit to the judgment of the House as a whole that, taking it by and large, it has functioned very well. We were assured this time last year that there would be a breakdown in the coal supply for the winter. It is as much my duty to form an opinion upon such matters as it is about whether there will be enough shot and shell or enough shipping or enough petrol. I have to try to do the best I can to form an opinion, and I have various means of checking the facts and figures, and special means—a statistical department of my own—by which I can test the various statements of Departments. The Paymaster-General makes a ceaseless examination of all the figures that are rolling out before us and is entirely free to bring them forward. On the information which was presented to me, I took the opposite view. I thought we should get through, and we certainly did. The prophets of woe—and, the House will pardon me, the would-be profiteers of woe—were confounded by the event as they have been in other spheres of activity quite a lot during the last 12 months. In fact, we survived last winter. No single factory has had to stop through lack of fuel, and our stocks of fuel, I am informed, are higher, not large but still higher, now than they were this time last year. We owe this in a great part to the patriotic co-operation of the domestic consumers who responded so well to the Minister's appeal for economy. We hope that the coming year will not induce them to relax at all in their well-doing and self-restraint or to feel that their share in this, as in other directions, goes unrecognised by Parliament and by the public.
We are told of the great unrest in the mining industry. I think that is a little unjust to the miners. Only 750,000 tons of coal have been lost during the last 12 months out of upwards of 200,000,000 tons which have been produced. The loss by strikes and stoppages has been no more than two-thirds of half of one per cent.; two-thirds of 0.5 per cent. Neither I nor my father was ever any good at arithmetic. This loss by stoppages compares very favourably with the last war, and I might draw other comparisons outside this country. It must be remembered that we are in our fifth year of war. There is a fifth-year-of-the-war mentality. We perhaps, living rapidly under the pressure of events, all of us exerting ourselves above the normal life, do not realise the changes that are taking place and the strains to which all of us are subjected. We have entered the fifth year of this war, and our people roust endeavour to attune themselves to the mood prevailing in that year and endeavour to act harmoniously in regard to all the circumstances which surround us.
I am told that there is a great deal of absenteeism and some scolding speeches have been made on that. Well, there is no Department which gives so much information of its working to the public as the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and it is natural, and not unhealthy, that a great deal of public attention should be focused on its difficulties. We hear a great deal about the rate of absenteeism among miners. The figure of wilful absenteeism, or voluntary absenteeism as it is euphemistically called, is I am told at this time slightly under 5 per cent. There is also a certain increase in short absenteeism. Not only in the mining trade but throughout the industries of the country there are small ailments which I must say I think are not entirely dissociated from the dietary changes to which we have subjected ourselves and the régime under which we live. It is said that a disproportionate amount of this total is due to the younger men. Well it is for their comrades in the industry and the Army to instil into them by their example as well as by precept the duty which lies upon these young men to do their utmost and to be worthy of all the wonderful effort and combination of effort which is proceeding in the country. But even when you take absenteeism through sickness or through accidents and add it to the absenteeism I have mentioned, I am informed that there has been no loss of tonnage this year more than was lost last year. A year of extra strain has been added, and many other circumstances are at work which make more difficult the getting of the coal, but the loss, although increased by a slightly larger proportion of sickness, is not greater in tonnage than it was the year before.
I am also told that a decay of discipline has set in. I have no doubt that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minis- ter, when he spoke yesterday, was right in pointing out that conditions are very different when every man is needed to get coal and there is a great scarcity of miners, from what they were in the periods through which we have passed, those unhappy periods when cruel unemployment racked the mining industry. I think that is rather a bad basis to rest upon. I trust that after the war, or during the war, most careful consideration of the problem by the Mineworkers' Federation and the Mining Association, acting together, may bring about conditions which will make the standard of discipline independent of any fluctuations which may occur in the labour market and make it stand on duty honestly and fairly done by all.
We are told of all these difficulties in the mining industry. I think this is a very valuable two days' Debate, as almost everything stands on coal. It is vital to our war-making capacity. All our refined manufactures of civilisation in time of peace go down to the footing of this intense labour underground by a comparatively small section of our people, the miners. We must not underrate the strain upon the miners. Their average age has increased. Their food is less stimulating and their diet is less varied. They do not get the holidays or leisure for which their exceptionally arduous calling has called in the past during the summertime when coal consumption was small. They are now pressed to work just as hard, or harder, in the summertime in order to pile up for the winter and to make good the needs of the war. These are very considerable factors, and no one should underrate them or make them the basis of an indictment against the mining population.
Their rates of wages have advanced over 50 per cent. as against an increase in the cost of living of 30 per cent. If allowance is made for the fact that not much overtime or Sunday labour is worked in the pits, it is true to say I am advised that miner's earnings do not compare unfavourably with the average in munition industries. You must remember that these wages, whatever they may be, are appreciably discounted by the fact that there is so little to buy. The strain on the miners has been severe and I am not here to-day to make complaints about them. We must rely upon them to do their best for the cause which they so warmly and sternly espouse.
Looking forward to next year, the miners will have the aid of the outcrop coal produced by surface workers, which may well amount to anything from 10,000,000 to 15,000,000 tons. Therefore, I do not feel, provided everyone does his duty to the utmost, that we are in any danger of a collapse in coal production in the coming year. It must be a matter of some satisfaction to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite), who was an early advocate of outcrop working and who wrote me several letters on the subject more than a year ago, to see how very substantial is the contribution in time of need which is coming from this source.
Great efforts are being made to increase the labour supply in the mines and to meet the annual wastage—nearly 20,000 a year. I am asked to release large numbers of men from the Army overseas. No new men have been taken for the Forces from mining for over two years. In fact, 11,000 have been returned. Now in the advent of the bloodiest fighting of the war, so far as our people are concerned, I am not prepared to weaken the field forces or the reserves of trained manpower which lie behind them, beyond the limited comb-out of older men which was approved by the War Cabinet and which was announced by my right hon. and gallant Friend yesterday. Unless we are relieved by some altogether unexpected collapse on the part of the enemy—which we should be absolute fools to count upon—the worst fighting of the war, so far as the British people are concerned, lies ahead. Our man-power is fully extended, and I believe it is applied to the best advantage. When three months ago we had a series of War Cabinets and inter-Departmental discussions on man-power, a most difficult and painful process began. Departments, all keen on their plans of war and for the greatest effort, required 500,000 more men than existed, and there is no means of repairing such a deficiency in time for them to be of any use in the coming campaign. There was a struggle, and everyone had to face the cutting of dearly loved plans, and wisely conceived plans, for increasing our war effort. Manpower—and when I say that I include of course woman-power—is at a pitch of intensity at the present time in this country which was never reached before, not even in the last war and certainly not in this. I believe our man-power is not only fully extended but applied on the whole to the best advantage. I have a feeling that the community in this Island is running at a very high level, with a good rhythm, and that if we can only keep our momentum—we cannot increase our pace—that very fact will enable us to outclass our enemies and possibly even our friends.
I always assured the House that we should get through our shipping difficulties, although I admit that I had some extremely uncomfortable moments. I cannot see anything in the mining situation which makes me apprehend that this will be found to be the one gloomy failure in our national struggle. But of course in this field much depends on good will and on zeal for the common cause. I hold the opinion that there is nothing in the present coal situation which would justify a violent overturn of our present system. Even if the overturn were well conceived, which is improbable having regard to the hurried conditions in which it would be born, it would cause more trouble than it was worth, and the reactions engendered might be deeply harmful to our war effort and might well prolong the war. Therefore I submit to the House for its judgment that the case for violent controversial legislation or the reconstruction of the mining industry as an essential to win the war has not in any way been made out and is not sustained by the actual facts of the situation as it exists.
However, it was promised when the White Paper was approved by Parliament that its workings would be continually reviewed. This is being done by the Minister and the War Cabinet, to whom the Minister has constant access on all matters affecting his Department. We are not prohibited from making any modifications or improvements which we think will yield beneficial results. My right hon. and gallant Friend announced yesterday that he had already made several changes and improvements, and this process is unceasing and will be conducted, as everything has to be conducted, by consultations between the two sides of this industry. I pay tribute to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for Fuel and Power. He has a very difficult task. There are in the House several Members capable of such a task, but I am sure they would be burdened to the full by it. It is largely a thankless task; he grudges nothing. I think he undertook over 100 meetings at different pits last year. He spends every scrap of his life and strength upon that task, and I am bound to say that I feel we all owe him a debt.
I have asked myself whether my right hon. and gallant Friend needs any further powers. If he did, or if he does, he has only to ask for them, and if they are thought to be indispensable for the war effort, then, however rough, they will be given to him. If legislation were necessary, I should come without hesitation to the House. We were told for instance that there were some owners who obstructed the working of the best seams in order to prolong the life of their mines after the war. Well I may mention that in not one single case out of the many investigated has this charge been made good. But if it were made good, or even if it were merely shown that there was inefficiency of a serious kind, there is not the slightest reason why the Minister should not use his powers. He has full powers to take over pits, or groups of pits, just in the same way as various firms have been taken over by the Minister of Aircraft Production. The Minister is perfectly free to make examples in any case where obstruction or incompetence of management or of control has been proved. But this has to he proved, and it has certainly not been proved yet.
I am told that the introduction of the new American machinery has in a few cases been delayed by the difficulties of fixing wage rates. This is a complicated question, because the machines are popular with those who use them. The question is complicated, because not only those who use the machines are affected but those working further back in the process of the industry. I think the Minister's powers do not extend to the general question of the fixing of wages, which it has long been the practice and custom to settle by agreement between the Mineworkers' Federation and the Mining Association. Yet if it were shown that any such failure to reach agreement about the introduction of these machines stood in the way of the fullest adoption of more modern methods, powers to appoint arbitrators already exist in the hands of the Minister, and they will be used to the full. I attach great importance from a long-term point of view to the increasing use of machinery in the pits. There is no doubt at all that the steady conversion of an ever larger proportion of the miners from human engines to handlers of machines—the steady transition of an increasing proportion to be engineers—will give this industry a much greater hold upon the future of our economic life. It may be that the hard teachings of war are one of the occasions when these changes are forced upon us.
Though I cannot speak as an expert, I claim to have followed the fortunes of the miners all my life—for a great many years. I introduced the Coal Mines Regulation Bill in 1910 as Home Secretary, and I moved the Second Reading of the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill, and I remember well the long battles that I fought side by side with Bob Smillie, who will be remembered in this House, in order to establish the very essential feature of pit-head baths. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about 1926?"] Everyone knows what I have done and where I have stood in the great controversies that have occurred in this country. You may say "1926." I was very much scolded as Chancellor of the Exchequer for providing £16,000,000 in 1925 in the hope that that lamentable breakdown might have been averted by negotiation.
I must make these references to the miners, because I am told and can well realise that anxiety exists among them about what is to happen to them and their industry after the war. They had a very grim experience after the last war, which went on biting away at them for a long period and greatly affected the whole conception that they had of mining as a means of getting their living. I know that there is anxiety. We can all lie awake thinking of the nightmares that we are going to suffer after the war is over, and everyone has his perplexities and anxieties about that time. But I, for one, being an optimist, do not think peace is going to be so bad as war, and I hope we shall not try to make it as bad. After the last war, which I lived through in a responsible position, nearly everyone behaved as badly as they could, and the country was at times almost uncontrollable. We have profited a great deal in this war by the experience of the last. We make war much better than we did, owing to previous experience. We are also going to try to profit to the full by the hard experience of what happened in the last peace. I am casting no reflection on the Government of that day when I say that, armed with their dear-bought experience, we shall make the transition from war to peace in a more orderly and disciplined fashion than we did last time.
But the miners are worried about their future. Who is not? His Majesty's Government give this assurance to them. It was made by my right hon. and gallant Friend yesterday, but I do not know that it made the impression it should have done. This assurance is that the present system of control, plus any improvements that may be made to it, will be continued after the war until Parliament shall decide upon the future structure of the industry. That means either that there will be a settlement by agreement between the great parties or that there will be a General Election at which the people will be free to choose between political doctrines and political leaders. But anyhow until all that is over, there will be no decisive change in the present structure of the coal industry or any removal of the many guarantees for the continuity of employment and wages and limitation of profits which are embodied in it. I am so anxious that we should all be together in this. Let us see how this will work out in point of time. It will certainly take three or four months after the war to hold a General Election and assemble a new Parliament. It will then take that Parliament a considerable time to deal with its many problems. In my opinion at least a year of stabilisation, probably a good deal more, under the present war-time White Paper conditions can be counted on by the mining community. If it will give a further sense of security to the miners, and if they would welcome this, I should be quite ready to arrange for discussions to take place under the Minister of Fuel and Power in order that the uncertainty and harassing fears shall be as far as possible allayed and that the miners shall know that there will be full consideration by Parliament and a definite period for reconstruction or transition after the war, and that they need not imagine that the violent changes which followed the end of the last struggle will be brought upon them then until they have had full time to organise their political action and make sure that their case has been thoroughly examined by the Imperial Parliament. We will go into this matter with pleasure if it will give any satisfaction.
These are the only points of detail on which I wish to touch on now, and the House will well realise that I am not so well brushed up in the subject as I have been at other times in my political life, but I thought it right that they should be set in their proper framework. It is only in the proper framework that we can take any decision that lies before us. The task is long, and the toil is heavy. The fifth year of the war in which everyone has given the utmost in him weighs harsh and heavy on our minds and on our shoulders. Do not let us add to our difficulties by any lack of clarity of thinking or any restive wavering in resolve. Upon the whole, with all our faults and the infirmities of which we are rightly conscious, this Island is a model to the world in its unity and its perseverance towards the goal. However intense may he the strain of the fifth year upon us, it will be far worse for our enemies, and we have to continue to show them what they are now beginning reluctantly to realise, that our flexible system of free democratic government is capable alike of pursuing the most complex designs of modern war and of bearing invincibly all the varied strains which come upon our soldiers on the battlefields and upon all of us whose duty lies behind the fighting fronts.
I am sure the House will desire me to express its appreciation of the eloquence, the consideration and the good feeling displayed by the Prime Minister. I am sure that the House will also share the disappointment that I feel with the contents of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He has assured us that he has not come to reveal any new Government programme. He assured us that he had come to accept full responsibility for the situation in the mining industry and gave us his personal reasons why that has been done. He says he has not been unaware of the developments in the industry from the time he assumed office until this date, and he has revealed, if not a minute knowledge of the day-by-day operations in the industry, a sympathetic knowledge underlying the difficulties connected with mining operations. I am afraid he is still far too sanguine. He has every right to be sanguine. He has more information than I or anyone in the House. Let us examine it and see whether it satisfies us. After all, Parliament has a responsibility, and it is not enough to be satisfied that the Prime Minister has knowledge and bases the Government's policy and his advice to the Government on the knowledge that he obtains.
Let us examine the facts of the situation as revealed in this Debate. We are not entitled to go outside the Debate to obtain the evidence for any particular case that we desire to make. I take the evidence given yesterday by the Minister of Fuel. His figures help us very much, but what they show is that the coal situation is in very great jeopardy. The output of coal is declining rapidly and steadily. I should like to submit these figures to the Prime Minister when he is present, because we all view these statistics in our own particular light and with our own particular knowledge. I should like to make a comparison between the output to-day and in the earlier years of the war. We are now producing 3,750,000 tons a week. That is 400,000 tons less than was produced this time two years ago. A simple calculation shows that we are losing output compared with the previous two years at the rate of 20,000,000 tons a year. Is that all right? If the Prime Minister and the Minister of Fuel say it is, there is nothing to worry about, but certainly it will be difficult to convince me. The Prime Minister must remember that this is not the last day of the war, and he must not bring his accessment up to date and say, "So far we have won through; we have only one more mile to swim," or "We expect soon to touch bottom." Our production of coal is lower by 20,000,000 tons a year than it was in 1941, and I expect the actual production from January, 1943, to January, 1944, to be far more than 10,000,000 tons short of that same year. If anyone can say that there is a prospect of a change and of increasing production, let us hear about it. But no-one, not even the Prime Minister, has said he calculates that we shall have more coal next year than we have now.
Let us see then whether we are justified in running the risk in comparing our production with consumption. He says that we have to-day the same amount in stock as we had 12 months ago. But the year's average production, as compared with 1941, is down by more than 200,000 tons a week. We have production down, and stocks no greater than last year, and is there any guarantee that during the coming winter there will be no great increase in consumption as compared with last year? Is there any guarantee that we can get through the coming winter as well as we got through the last winter? Last year there was a great saving on account of the abnormally mild weather, but there may be an abnormally cold winter ahead of us, and that might make as much as 8,000,000 tons difference as compared with last year. The yearly consumption of crude fuel by 12,000,000 households is 40,000,000 tons, more than two-thirds of it being used during the winter-time. The difference between the winter and the summer consumption of house coal may well exceed 1,000,000 tons a week. A mild winter would undoubtedly save 500,000 tons a week over three or four months, but we cannot depend on a mild winter. We may have a prolonged cold winter this time. That position has to be set against the prospective output and the existing stocks, which may satisfy the Prime Minister, and if that is all right I do not think I need complain about it, but I do want to know what is taking place.
There is still a steady decline in output. More men are employed than was the case two years ago, substantially more, and the output is at the rate of 400,000 tons a week lower. Is this decline in output to be cancelled by anything? I do not know of anything, and I know of nothing taking place which will increase the output per person employed. Nothing was said by the Minister yesterday or by the Prime Minister to-day to give us any indication of how the situation can be met. People say: "If there are more men to-day and they are producing less coal, there must be some fault with the men." During the time I was at the Ministry I tried to help the Ministry and all the people I worked with, and I spoke frankly and openly in the House of Commons. I said: "You cannot get a given output from a given personnel unless there is a right balance of personnel, unless there is a right proportion of coal-getters—the right proportions of workers in a fit and healthy condition for the exhausting work of coal mining." I warned the House two or three years ago against the certainty of a fall in production with the same number of men because there was a qualitative decline, which is quite natural and fully explicable to those who follow these subjects. We have the position that we are not able to maintain the output per person, because output is governed by the men working at the coal face. If with 1,000 men 38 per cent. of them are engaged in getting coal there will be more coal than you would get with 1,000 men working and only 35 per cent. of them at the coal face.
Figures have been cast back and forth in this House, but there is no explanation of this abnormal drop in output in the last few months. It is not due to strikes. I can assure my hon. Friends that they play a very infinitesimal part. In the explanation which he gave to-day the Prime Minister could have simplified his mathematics very much. He disclaimed any knowledge of dots and dashes; I think it is hereditary in his family not to take notice of those things. The Prime Minister spoke of 750,000 tons lost last year. That is exactly one good day's output. That is all that was lost last year. A good day's output is 700,000 tons a day, so it is almost exactly one day's output. I have heard complaints from Scotland. There has been much turmoil in Lanarkshire, a difficult coalfield, with difficult natural conditions and difficult social conditions. There have been strikes and prosecutions, and a good deal of public discontent has been aroused, but the output lost in one month September, in Scotland was 36,000 tons and 36,000 tons is hardly more than half a day's work in a month or one hour's work in a week.
Those are the facts about strikes and disputes. We must find the explanation somewhere else. There is an explanation. The first explanation I have offered is that we have not been able to maintain the proportion of men at the coal face. Secondly, the men at the coalface are reduced in numbers and their average age is higher, and it is exceedingly difficult to maintain individual production. There is a very simple explanation. Nobody will expect that anything done in this House in the way of exchanges of compliments and a show of good feeling will alter those physical facts. Mining production is a physical problem. I have very little sympathy with those who over-assess the importance of psychology. I did 23 year's work in the coalmine, earning my living there in the best years of my life, and working far more efficiently and honestly than I have been able to work in politics. I worked under a contract which stated that for every one ton of marketable clean coal which I produced I should receive the princely sum of 1s. standard, plus a percentage which varied with conditions from time to time. I well remember the inducements for me to get an output of five or six tons a day and to keep the working place clean while I was on a wage that was too small for the requirements of my family. I well remember the importance of the phrase "marketable clean coal," and I say with pride that I did not allow my conscience to dim my recollection of that clause in the contract. I never failed on a single occasion to fill clean coal, however hard and however scanty the output may have been.
There is conscience in coalmining, and there is a quality of service that is unsurpassed anywhere else in the world. There is tremendous physical courage, there is much rude honesty, a readiness to give and take, to endure bumps, to forgive and forget and go on with the task of production, and I say it is an insult to the mining population to assume that for some reason or other they are trying to reduce the output of coal because of some psychological, haunting desire to repay old scores and prepare for some imaginary conflicts in the future. No such thing. If it is said that the miner is unhappy, I say he certainly is. His experiences in the past have led him to doubt the words of politicians. Over and over again he has been let down by this House and by politicians, but I disagree when anybody says that this loss of 400,000 tons a week can be explained by some psychological reaction. It is not psychiatrists you want but straight dealing, good management and a full recognition of the manly qualities of the men who get our coal.
At the present time the men who do the actual coal getting are working tremendously hard. No one who has not done the work can have any conception of what it feels like when you have pounded out every ounce of energy you have and your head is throbbing with the strain. There are the heat, the discomfort, the dust and the dark, and the long weary walk to and from the coal face. When you have come to the surface at last you prepare to get on your way home, hungry and faint. Strong men faint. Certainly they are weak, certainly they are depressed momentarily. There is not always a canteen at the pit-head, nor are there always pithead baths. At the end of this fatiguing day, when he has got to the surface, there is the long wait for a bus, a long cold drive in the bus and then, perhaps, another walk before he reaches his home. Let hon. Members try to picture what they would feel like if they were asked to perform this service day after day and week after week. It has gone on now for nearly five years. I am glad that the Prime Minister to-day gave indications of a sympathy not previously expressed often enough in this House. In this he gave leadership to the House and leadership to his own party. I am glad that he paid a tribute of recognition to these men. Their output is going down, but I am not prepared to blame them. I shall never blame them. They are the cleanest men I know, and their output is far cleaner than is the output of politics, and I am not contributing to any sweeping condemnation of them based upon the kind of figures which were given to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to give to this House yesterday. That is not helping, that cannot help.
What we have to do is to decide how we can improve the production of these men, if that is possible. When I was Minister we had the highest output ever by the men in this industry. The two years when I was in the Mines Department coincided with the period of highest production per person ever known in the industry. It was a great thing, a thing of pride for me, that I, who had been a working man in the mines, should be on friendly terms with the men and retain their confidence without forfeiting the confidence of the House.
I will say now what I think can be done. Management can be improved. I have said over and over again that I am not prepared to denounce colliery managements. I am a qualified colliery manager. I did manage a mine at a very young age, being one of the youngest colliery managers in this country, and I know the difficulties of the job and I know what this dual control means. The colliery manager is not free to meet his workmen with absolute man-to-man candour and confidence. He knows well enough that he will have to meet his board of directors, who will say to him "Look here, we find your costs' sheets getting worse. Your costs of production last month were 2d. or 2¼d. more than a month ago. What is the explanation? Cannot you do something about it? We insist that you pay attention to these costs." He knows that the power of dismissal lies with the board of directors. At the same time he has to meet his workmen, who are pressing for one thing and another, and between the powers behind and the pleadings of the men in front it is difficult for him to strike fair line. I say that something must be done during the war to relieve this pressure on colliery managers. It may be said that, from the workmen's side, the question of preserving discipline is an embarrassment. I say with a full knowledge of the average colliery manager's outlook that the pressure of the employer on the other side is an equal embarrassment. I do not believe in undermining the authority of the colliery manager. We dare not do it. The law imposed, over 100 years ago, obligations on the colliery manager and upon his deputies who act for him. All those are clearly specified. Colliery managers have tremendous responsibilities. They have to make the mines fit and safe for men to work in, and they are responsible for personal derelictions on the part of persons employed in the mines. The life or death of hundreds of men may rest upon the colliery manager, harassed and driven as lie is very often, under the pressure of problems of production and of costs. I will not join in denouncing the colliery manager, but I still believe that management can be improved.
The Minister and I had a little word yesterday. He knows it was simply my desire to get some figures put right. I have only the utmost goodwill towards him and his Department. I worked with him happily, and I have the utmost respect for his Department. When I spoke to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman yesterday on questions of figures I may have been misunderstood, but I only wanted to get this question fully examined. I would like the Minister to say where he thinks the improvement is to come from. From better management, or better mechanisation, or better organisation, inside the pit? Or is he going outside the pit to get whatever advantage can be got from surface coal operations? Greater output must be obtained. It is not good enough to trust to the judgment, even of the Prime Minister, in this matter. The Prime Minister can make a mistake. Those who support him with figures may make computations which are too optimistic. There is no chance of putting this industry right, once it goes wrong on a large scale.
I am glad the Minister of Labour is here. I would not say what I am going to say if he were not here, because it is not pleasant. He will remember how much I protested against the dispersal of the manpower in 1940. He will remember that I put down a claim for a minimum figure of 720,000 men. If he will not remember, I have the minutes of the meeting with his Department which I can read to the House, if he likes, particularly of 20th September, more than three years ago. The figure which is now claimed by the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Fuel and Power was my figure three years ago. I put that figure up, and it is in black and white. The Minister of Labour would not listen to me. The only answer I could get from him was that the mining industry must make its contribution to the Armed Forces. I pleaded. I did my utmost and tried to be as conciliatory as a man can in those circumstances. I was put in a position responsible for coal production, and I pleaded and urged that the contribution of the coal industry is coal, and not men for the Armed Forces.
This industry had been weakened. We heard very much about it in yesterday's Debate. It did not start the war strong. It started the war weak, because there was a large number of men unemployed. No attempt had been made to mobilise the unemployed men. I remember being asked by my predecessor in office, before the Minister of Labour appeared on the scene and before I was in the Mines Department—[Interruption]. Shall I read these documents?
If there is any dispute, I will read the documents at once, because they are vital. It was the right hon. Gentleman who failed to listen to the appeal I made. I went to the Man-Power Committee and urged them not to allow the men to be called up from the mining industry and not to allow those men to be counted in any future quota for the Forces, but to reserve them as a class apart. I spoke in this House on the matter.
The first conversation I had on man-power was with my predecessor, the present Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd). That was the first conversation. Then, when the Germans came to occupy France and the export market was lost overnight, the men who had been stopped in the Rhondda and Durham Valleys, and their representatives, the right hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), now in the Government, the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John), the hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring), the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), and the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) came to me and said, "Grenfell, can't we do something to let these men have temporary work while the trade is being reorganised and the transport of coal is being improved?" I said, "Yes, indeed. I am very anxious that it should be done." I went to see the Minister of Labour. I was told that the mining industry was holding too many men and that it must make its contribution.
I went to the Man-Power Board, and I saw Sir William Beveridge. He was the first and the only person with whom I was able to speak and get a rational reply on this subject. I was told about compulsion. I pleaded for tribunals. Proposals were made to me then which would have ruined South Wales and Durham. If I had accepted the proposals of the Minister, which I can read, this industry would have been 20,000,000 tons down in 1941, and our war effort would have broken down for want of coal. There would have been no work for millions of women who are now happily in work. I refused to accept the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, and I refused to accept conditions which would have meant a decline in the original production.
I do not believe that the production per person can be increased unless we do two things. One is that we must get more men back to the coalpits. If we do not need coal, all well and good. The House must take its responsibility. If we do need coal, we must get more fit men back to the coal-face. It is not my business to say where they should come from. The Miners' Federation has suggested that men must come back from the Forces. Every Member knows that letters come to us in very large numbers from exminers in the Forces. For example, they write and say, "Dear Grenfell" or "Dear Mr. Smith," or whatever it might be, "I used to work at so-and-so's, but I was temporarily out of employment. I was registered as something other than a miner. I was called up for the Army. I have been here for three years"—in some forlorn place perhaps away in the Orkneys—"doing nothing, marking time," sometimes attached to an ack-ack battery, sometimes sweeping the floor, or sometimes peeling potatoes in another kind of unit. Those stories are pathetic when one realises the stress and the pressure put on men in the industry and how very urgent it is that production should be improved by all possible means.
I was in Yorkshire last week-end. I was one of a large circus of Members of Parliament; I think there were about 23 of us. We had 63 meetings. I have done my best at all those meetings, and since I left office. The Minister knows that I did my best last Sunday; but honestly I do not think that it is consistent at all. The Minister of Labour is responsible. He will intercept other young men from going into the Army to bring them into the mines, from which he wrongly took the men away.
Would my hon. Friend give way? I cannot sit here and allow these statements to be made. There were 77,000 men out of work, and my hon. Friend knows that Members on that side of the House were constantly saying to me that if the hon. Member was not going to stack coal and do something with the miners, I must release them for other work.
Yes, and the right hon. Gentleman made use of the people who came to him. I will read one letter which another hon. Member sent to me. This is the letter
14th December, 1940. My Dear Rhys"—
Rhys is my second name—
As I was leaving the House to come home on Thursday I met Ernest Bevin. He said Will John had been asking him to receive a deputation from the South Wales miners to consider the proposed recruiting scheme, and that it was a matter for the Mines Department. He also said that 'if they (the miners) would go to the Mines Department and convince them of a flat call-up to 23 years, I would agree.'
Those are the words attributed to the right hon. Gentleman by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins), who goes on to say:
I spoke to Horner on the telephone yesterday and told him of the talk I had had with Bevin. He said he was going to meet you over the week-end and would mention it to you. Personally,
this is the hon. Member for Pontypool, after consultation with the right hon. Gentleman—
I think a flat call-up from 20–23 years preferable to the 20–30 age group.
The letter is signed "Arthur Jenkins" That is the kind of correspondence I have. The right hon. Gentleman did not have one word of consultation with me, but was talking to Members of the House and telling them to go and persuade me that I was wrong—not one word of a consultation that should have taken place. He insisted, and here are the proposals. There are more that I can read to him if he likes. The right hon. Gentleman must admit that he is responsible for the weakening of the man-power position of the mining industry. I asked that the figure of 720,000 should be maintained. I asked for conservation of man-power and pit room. I went to members of the Government at the time. I was trying to reorganise the transport. I was not altogether in a position to do that, but I worked very hard to reorganise the transport. At that time, the right hon. Gentleman was putting every pressure possible to break up the personnel of the mining industry. I failed to get a single word of consultation with him. Now does he want to intervene? He can do so if he likes.
I very much regret any personal conflict with my hon. Friend. If the facts have to be debated, I wish they had been raised on the man-power Debate, when I had a chance to reply. The facts were that there were so many thousands of people out of work, and the proposal was put to me that I should have tribunals in certain districts to call up to 30.
The same number would have been achieved at 23. I indicated to the hon. Member that I did not care which way it was. However it came, I had to remove the unemployed from the areas—owing to the political pressure in this House on me—which he failed to provide for.
Which the right hon. Gentleman never mentioned to me at all. He was colloguing with those people, getting them to write letters to me, instead of meeting me as a colleague. There is no question of it, and if the right hon. Gentleman disputes, I will have every word that I have written examined impartially. I will make this case: I make the assertion now that if the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman had been accepted by me, the industry would have been ruined, and Durham and South Wales would never have recovered for the duration of the war. That is a fact.
The hon. Gentleman said that he and other Members on that side of the House were still receiving letters from ex-miners in the Army—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes"]—in places such as the Orkneys, who say that they are doing little or nothing. Does he say that there are still ex-miners in the Army who might be brought back and who are outside the field Forces?
That is the impression we have from these letters. It is not my business, I made it clear, to say where the men can come from. It is a fact that 60,000 men went in nine months from June, 1940, to March, 1941. More than 60,000 men went with the full knowledge and with the drive and the encouragement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. We must try to regain the ground we have lost by the unwise dispersal of our man-power. If no men are to come back from anywhere, the outlook is more serious still. I do not believe we can come back to the figures of 1941 without more men. We may effect local improvement, there may be better management in this pit or that pit or worse results in this pit or that pit whatever we do, because pits are a variable productive quantity from time to time. I do not see how you can really attain the uniform high level of production in any one pit or in any one district.
If the drop is 400,000 tons a week compared with two years ago, how is the Minister to get his production unless he gets very considerably improved managerial results and gets more men? I would urge the Government to get all the men they can. When I say that, I know that coming back is not very much welcomed by the mining population which has been dispersed. They do not want to come back. Even a man in a mining village when he gets another job is not very keen on going back to the pit. Conditions in the pits must be improved. There are pits where relations between employers and men are very good, and there are pits where relations are not so good. I am all for improving the relations, and if as I believe, there are some owners not putting their full weight and influence behind their regional pit committees, they should be dealt with. My views are more far-reaching than that. I think I ought to read to the House something I said long before I left office. I sent this to the Chairman of the Coal Commission and to the Minister without Portfolio, and I saw these two gentlemen on this subject. I hope the House will pardon me because it is an expression of my views. I said:
The mechanical problem of mining will require close attention. More planning will be necessary than hitherto. With an increase in the average depth of future workings and with correspondingly higher temperatures, higher barometer pressures, and considerably greater ground pressure above all excavated areas the task of winning coal, of maintaining the works in a condition of safety and health, of controlling subsidence and surface damage, will need a higher standard of engineering and scientific technique.
—no one disputes that. Then I said:
Small owners cannot open or work mines under deep mining conditions. Units must be made on a larger scale. Amalgamation or Grouping will have far more justification than in the past. The question then arises, how is the transformation to be achieved? If private owners do not give up their 'rights' the industry will lose in productive efficiency, despite all efforts to overcome natural disadvantages
by localised improvement in technique.
Then I came to the very end. I only give this to show that I gave a considered judgment:
I would definitely approve of the unification of mining properties, region by region, or coalfield by coalfield. I would set up Regional Boards of Management on the lines of the London Passenger Transport Board, subject to the authority of a National Board, to supervise the general operations over the whole industry. Each Regional Board would manage the pits and plan the production of the area. The ownership of the mines could well be vested in the Regional Board after a form of amalgamation and valuation laid down by Act of Parliament. The stockholders may still own shares in collieries but would not in the capacity of shareholders enjoy the rights of managing the pit or the determining of the conditions of the sale of the coal produced in any of the pits. I could justify the setting up of Regional or District Production Boards with the abolition of private control of mines and the guarantee of shares in a joint district enterprise, where planning and economical development could be carried out and made effective from every standpoint.
That is a general view. Everything I proposed and everything I did is now being praised by those who speak for the Ministry—all the fuel efficiency work I started, all those things I did. It is very good for me to know that. I predict that sooner or later, and the sooner the better, we shall start a plan for the reorganisation of the mining industry which will take away all the silly, narrow, vested interests which often come from the individual owners, which means that you cannot get the men and the owners working together.
I cannot say whether the War Cabinet saw it. I submitted it to the Chairman of the Coal Commission, who is responsible for the planning and leasing of the coal to be worked. I submitted it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who disappeared from office soon afterwards, as I did. He was followed by the Minister without Portfolio. I have seen these three persons about this. I recommend to the Minister of Fuel and Power that he should examine this and see whether it does not provide the approach for a settlement of future organisation of the mining industry. See whether you cannot get from intelligent owners a realisation that their private part is, played out and that they should merge their interests in a way which will enable the coal of this country to be properly worked.
I want us to give the men in this industry a promise now. We have asked for much from them; we have received much from them. They work an average of six weeks a year more than they did before the war. They have worked 10 per cent. more working time on an average every week; they have shared the inconveniences and hardships of war like the rest of us, but no one has endured the black-out to the extent that the miner has. Yet he is still a jolly fellow, a loyal fellow, still a man worth knowing, still a man worth cultivating, still a man worth making a square deal with. I propose to this House that the Minister should consider granting a charter for miners which would consist partly of what the right hon. Gentleman has done. I give him credit for what he has done in introducing the guaranteed working week. I can claim credit for having proposed a national minimum wage and having made it possible.
Give the miner a guaranteed weekly wage, decent working conditions so far as science can produce them, a fortnight's; holiday with pay every year in addition to the customary bank holidays which we all get. I would give him compensation equal to two-thirds of his earnings as a minimum, and in special cases of disablement I would give him his full wages in compensation when his health has been lost to him through service in the mines. This is not a revolutionary view. When I began talking about mining matters and thinking in terms of organisation to prevent international competition, I remember 40 years ago a miners' conference in Brussels where reports were read which stirred me very much. They were distant days, when we talked of things tentatively and timidly. They talked of a universal miners' pension scheme. They have since had their miners' pension scheme in France and Belgium. We failed to provide a pension scheme for this class of people, whose duties are certainly heavy, hazardous and difficult to maintain to the full span of life, more so than almost any other. I would urge that this charter should provide for a decent standard of living, a decent social status, a recognition of the miner's manhood and a recognition of his right to sustenance in periods of invalidity following accidents, and a pension at an age not exceeding 60—after, say, 25 or 30 years' service in the mines—a pension that will keep him in comfort and happiness for the remainder of his days.
I think the House ought to be very grateful for the intervention of the Prime Minister in this Debate, because it has done what I venture to think wanted doing after yesterday's Debate—put the problem into its place and into its proper proportion. What we are discussing here is not some unusual and unexpected problem but a special case of the general problem of production throughout the whole country at the present time. We are in the fifth year of war. People are tired; therefore it must be expected that these problems will be met with, and they are in fact met with in almost every industry of the country at the present time. I do not propose to follow the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), into the very large amount of past history into which he has delved as between him and the Minister of Labour. I really doubt whether that controversy will have very much effect on the action we have to take now, or rather which the Minister of Fuel and Power has got to take. Surely we can follow the Prime Minister's lead, get rid of bitterness, get rid of rhetorical pronouncements on either side and sit down as a council of the nation to consider what are the facts, and whether we can make any suggestions by which we can look to improve the position which we all agree is serious.
There were many things which the hon. Member for Gower said in which I follow him, particularly about pensions, and I will, if he will permit me, develop one or two of these points later. But in the first place I would like to draw the attention of the House to the really urgent necessity in this matter of conducting a really serious statistical investigation of what the position is, because even the weekly figures do not give an accurate picture of what the problem is which has to be solved if we wish to increase production. There is no industry which is so deceptive in its apparent simplicity as the coal industry and so complex if you actually get down to it. We all know that popular ecclesiastics and novelists always rush in when there is any controversy in the coal industry—but not in a controversy in the aircraft industry. It looks so easy to get coal out of the ground, but when you try to explain the immense varieties of coal, the peculiar geological conditions, the life-long experience required to produce a first-class collier or manager, they are very disappointed and realise that their suggestions are really useless.
I would like to examine some of these statistics more closely, because they will clear up some of the points made yesterday. I will come to the main problem later on. Take, for example, the speech of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks). He drew a rhetorical picture of the failure of the industry to attract recruits. He said there was one mother in his constituency who said she would rather see her son dead than see him go into the coal industry; and he implied that that was true of practically everyone connected with the coal industry. Let us leave that kind of heat aside, and look at the figures. It was the Prime Minister, I think, who said that no other industry is so fully provided with statistics, available to everyone who is interested. I have the figures here for boys under 16 years of age entering the industry, for the last seven years before the war. In 1932, 26,000 boys—I will take the nearest thousand—entered the industry; in 1933, the number fell to 25,000; in 1934, it began to rise: there were 29,000 boys that year; in 1935, there were 31,000 boys, because the industry was getting a little more prosperous; in 1936 there were 29,000; and in 1938, the figure was 27,500. Let us take the numbers of young people between 16 and 20 entering the industry. There were only 77,000 in 1935, when trade began to show some sign of looking up. The number rose to 79,000 in 1936, and in the year before the war no fewer than 84,000 boys entered the industry. So there must have been a good many mothers who preferred to see their boys entering the industry.
I am sorry I was not in the House when the hon. Member began to deal with this point. Perhaps I might say now that I was referring to the coalfield of which I have special knowledge, the Nottinghamshire coalfield.
The hon. Member has given these very interesting figures, and I do not know whether he is going to deduce anything from them. Could he give us the figures for youths of 16 to 18, for the last three or four years?
I wonder what the hon. Member is trying to prove. The number has gone down to less than half, and the wages in some of the munition industries are no higher than those in the mining industry.
It was stated that for years no boys would go into the industry. I have proved that that is untrue. Owing to the lower birth-rate, the pool of labour for all industries has not been what it had been in the past, and it was a matter of concern in the mining industry to make conditions more attractive.
I have shown that there were 31,000 boys going into the industry in a normal year. That was nearly, but not quite, enough to maintain the labour force in the industry. I quoted those figures in reference to the statement that mothers would rather see their boys dead than see them go into the industry. That can be true only of a very small part of Nottinghamshire. I come to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), who made a series of statements about Clifton Colliery. He admitted that he had not the figures, and as he is not here I need hardly pursue the matter. But the fact is that the output went up only because it was decided not to close the colliery. The absenteeism in the colliery was worse, but the production was better, because they had 20 per cent. more labour there than they needed. This shows how unwise it is to generalise about the coal industry unless you are certain of your facts.
I have not got those figures. The statement of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton was that the output per man had gone up at the colliery under control. It has not. The figures are as I have stated. I have not the slightest wish to be controversial. If we are to make any useful suggestions to the Minister we must examine this problem on the figures. If we can find instances where we can improve the conditions of the men or get rid of bad management we should do so, but we should not base ourselves only on allegations. Let me take the age statistics. A great deal has been made of the statement that the age of miners is steadily rising, and it is said that that is having a serious effect on output. That statement has been made by several speakers, and it has appeared in the Press. In 1938 the percentage of men over 50 in the mining industry was 19.7; to-day it is 20.1.There has been a very slight rise, but such a rise, on whatever method you care to calculate, could not affect the total output of the industry by one per cent., or even by half per cent.
I want to deal with one or two questions connected with dual control. Dual control is largely a propaganda phrase. Most of us who have been into the question cannot find any evidence, and we have received no evidence in this Debate, of any conflict in a manager's mind between his duty to the country and his own interests. It is his duty to get as large a production as possible, and that he is being asked to do by the control. Every owner in this country would equally be trying to get as large a production as possible if the control did not ask him to do so. I see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary here. Perhaps he will tell us whether any instance has been brought to his notice of such a conflict. I think the managers are a very honest, fair, and highly competent body of men. At the International Conference on Mining great praise was given by representatives of all countries to the very high standard of technique among the managers of this country. It is a very grave reflection, at a time of national emergency, when this House has imposed this system of control, to make such suggestions as are made against these people. It is a gross slander.
One slander does not answer another. There is no evidence that the managers are not doing their job as efficiently and as patriotically as any other body in this country. The weekly figures about absenteeism have been given. I want the House to realise that if you take a figure of 3,500,000 or 4,000,000 tons a week, that does not give you any accurate idea of what is happening. If you take the daily figures you find the sort of production which is going on at present. I take the figures for some of the most efficient collieries in this country. On Mondays the production is, roughly speaking, between half and two-thirds of what it is on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and, of course, the great day for production, Friday.
Let me give the figures for absenteeism at some of the best collieries. The absenteeism on Monday, taking fillers, is in the neighbourhood of 13.8 per cent. On Tuesday the figures almost invariably—this is an average—drop to 5.5 per cent. On Wednesday the figure is 6 per cent., on Thursday 6.7 per cent. and on Friday 5 per cent.—the lowest figure of the week. Those are figures of voluntary, or wilful, absenteeism. Curiously enough, the figures for involuntary absenteeism, although more constant at times, show a tendency to follow the same rise and fall as the figures of voluntary absenteeism. I could give figure after figure and colliery after colliery and no one knowing the industry is really in a position to deny that the main cause at the moment of the loss of production of coal is the week-end absenteeism.
May I give my answer? I am trying to show that the effect of absenteeism is more marked at the weekend than it is on any other day. If we could cure—and I am open to receive suggestions—the week-end absenteeism, we would get the whole of the difference between the target we are aiming at and the production we are getting at the moment.
I was coming to that. I was answering a question by the Parliamentary Secretary. He asked me to define what I meant by week-end absenteeism. I was explaining that I mean two things. One of the main causes is due to the fact that men do not come in on Monday or not able to come in because of the failure of various technical groups who do not come in on Sunday to make the pit ready for work on Monday. That is not denied by any trade union official. The Mineworkers' Federation put it more strongly and emphatically than I do.
I am explaining that people who go off at 7 o'clock on Friday night and are due back at 7 o'clock on Sunday night in order to get the pit ready for work on Monday do, by their absence, affect production. It is difficult to put these matters clearly when you have the facts agreed to by officials of the trade unions, with whom we work in such cordial relations to-day, and you have the so-called mining Members contradicting or querying these facts in the House of Commons.
Is it not the fact that absence on Monday not only affects production on Monday but, because the cycle of work is interrupted, affects production on later days in the week, and therefore the Prime Minister's figure of 5 per cent. does not give a true picture at all?
I agree, that is the fact. What is the cause of this excessive weekend absenteeism, and is there anything we can do to remedy it? These figures bring out the fact that none of the political and psychological causes alleged have anything to do with the position. Otherwise, you would have to suppose that the miners on Tuesday perhaps are thinking slightly about nationalisation or about how hard they work or how cruel the owners are and by Friday they have forgotten. Are we to suppose that they go home at the week-end and that once more on Monday the question of the nationalisation of the mines Comes up, that on Tuesday perhaps it is rather different and that on Wednesday they have completely forgotten it, and on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday they do three splendid days of work? These figures prove entirely that political and psychological causes—and this was confirmed by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who also said the same thing—have nothing whatever to do with it. It is a mere question of production at the pit. It is an administrative problem and you have to ask why it is. If you look at it like that, free from party interests and party affections, you see that it is important that it should be looked at from that point of view. If you look at it from that point of view, there is obviously a great breakdown in discipline in the coalfields. That does not affect mainly the owners. The breakdown of discipline to-day has mainly affected the managers and trade union officials. Every trade union official will tell you the same thing. The men will not do what he says. There was a case only a few weeks ago in which the President of the North Staffordshire Mineworkers' Federation, a much respected trade union official, was asked to come down to the pit to settle a dispute. He listened to the manager and to the men and he decided that the manager was wholly right and said so, whereupon his members set upon him, beat him up and there was great trouble. That type of incident is happening. The question of the restoration of discipline is just as much in the interest of the trade union as it is of the management. How can that be done? I am entirely in favour of completely getting rid of these imprisonments and court proceedings. They only exasperate the men; they would exasperate me. I would plead with the Minister to get rid as quickly as possible of this procedure of going from one officer to another and finally landing in court where, some months after the offence has been committed, a fine is inflicted. What would happen to an industry which is more dangerous and arduous than the coalmining industry, I mean the Merchant Navy, where the casualties to-day are very serious? There is very severe discipline. What would happen if the captain or mate instead of dealing with the crew straight away were to wait months and bring these men to some court in this country? It has to be done as a case of urgency, otherwise there would be no discipline.
I would suggest that the Mineworkers' Federation and the Mining Members of this House should take a broad and imaginative view on this subject and should agree—as I believe trade union officials would agree—to the restoration of certain powers of discipline in the hands of the management, together with a right of appeal to the men's respective trade union officials. If you do that, you will get a restoration of discipline, particularly at the week-ends, which by itself alone, without any addition to the labour force, will restore the gap that exists to- day between the production we are getting and the production we want. I have not yet met a responsible trade union official outside this House who does not agree that that is the right course. If you restore the discipline to the manager under the arrangements which exist today and which have existed for years you also restore the prestige and disciplinary powers of the trade union. Let us make no mistake. Whether there are far distant dreams of nationalization—
Yes, I agree with the hon. Member, I think that would be necessary. I want to make a whole series of changes in the Essential Work Order. One of the rights which men of this country have always enjoyed is the right to choose their own employer. That is a thing which, in many industries, has been taken away to-day. It might be necessary in restoring these powers of discipline that a man should be given liberty to go to work in another pit where his relationships might be better. If there was a pit where all the men wanted to go out because the management was so bad, then neighbouring pits would benefit, as there is not one which is not to-day clamouring for more men.
I am very sorry to hear that there is a possibility of a money bonus being given which is not dependent upon increased output. I am all in favour of any man getting as much money as he can earn on any reasonable output bonus scheme which is negotiated, as I understand it is, between the Mineworkers' Federation and the Mineowners' Association. But it should be made clear that that is not to be converted afterwards into a flat rate. It was a minor tragedy of the industry that the attendance bonus was converted into a flat rate, because it was just beginning to work, and a great deal of opinion supports that view. I hope that no bonus scheme will be inaugurated which does not depend on increased output. It is not fair to the consumer of this country to ask him to pay more for his coal than he is paying to-day unless there is a corresponding quid pro quo in the form of increased production.
I was trying to explain that and also that the proposal for the conversion of the district bonus scheme into a pit bonus scheme would cost, without any increase in production, £2,100,000. I am all in favour of a bonus scheme, but anyone who goes into it must admit that the difficulties are very great. You are, in the coal industry, fighting nature and you constantly run into difficult places. I have known a pit doing the best work it has ever done during the whole of the year with the lowest output because of faulty conditions. The skilled miner very often shows more skill, energy and care when dealing with difficult conditions than with good conditions when he gets the output.
That is what I am trying to say. It is useless to give an output bonus scheme which causes these difficulties and which, if it was applied pit by pit, might lead to very great discontent and jealousy.
May I sum up what I have been arguing? There is no evidence at all that political and psychological forces are at the root of the fall of output. There is no evidence that dual control is in fact dual control. There is no evidence whatever that there is any conflict of interest between the management and the Minister of Fuel and Power, and there is no difficulty whatever. The Minister himself said that the Ministry was getting its wishes carried out by the appointed persons and, through them, by the managers. I claim that no scheme of control has been more loyally carried out by the management than is the case in the coal industry, and I challenge anyone to give one instance of where a manager has departed from his proper patriotic course of conduct in obeying the directions and has actually done something for the benefit, as he supposes, of his owner and at the same time interfered with the work of the production the nation needs. The control scheme has to a very large extent broken down and wants amending. There is room for drastic amendment with regard to disciplinary powers and, particularly, the speed with which they are exercised. It is useless to treat miners in what appears to be a malicious way by dragging on proceedings for weeks and sometimes months.
I would give managers powers of suspension for three days, say; powers of fining up to £2 for absenteeism at the week-end or £1 for absenteeism between Tuesday and Friday or power to operate whatever scheme may be agreed upon by trade union representatives to restore discipline, not merely of the management, but of trade union officials who have played their patriotic part since the application of the scheme. They have co-operated, they have done their best, but they have had difficulties in discipline which we have all met and which are fully recognized. Let the control scheme be reorganised in that respect.
There is one other thing I would like to mention, and here is where I think the miner has a real grievance which should be remedied as soon as possible, namely, that in connection with workmen's compensation. There may be in this question some effect which does not appear to them to be fair and which must be in an industry which has a high percentage of waste and, further, must be an ever-present thought of the men and an ever recurring procedure among them and their mates. I have tried to avoid saying anything provocative. As I said at the beginning, I welcome the Prime Minister's intervention and his putting the problem back into its proper place as the immediate administrative problem we have to solve. There is no reason why it should not be solved or why we should not get the production required with the present labour force plus the men who are to return from the comb-out. If we could get down the week-end absenteeism, that alone would give us 10,000,000 to 15,000,000 more tons per annum. We must do it by discipline, as in all industries, and by making it more practical without any regard to any political theories which the persons concerned may have. If all parties will play their part as well as the Mineworkers' Federation and the Mining Association are playing their parts—because they are associating men with them at every level now—it can be done. Trade unions are associating with the masters. That is a splendid thing and full of promise for the future. If we apply that now and take with us unity of opinion as to what are the right methods of discipline and the right methods of getting rid of this absenteeism, we shall get the production and a state of affairs which will be full of promise and hope for the future of the coal industry.
This Debate has dragged on and has taken many turns. We have had exhibitions of bad manners and bad breeding exhibited from the other side of the House. Two Members, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), made statements yesterday in this House for which they have not the slightest foundation and to substantiate which they cannot provide the least iota of evidence. In the light of the Prime Minister's statement to-day those Members have made themselves perfectly ridiculous both in this House and in the country, and it would be a good job if we could forget all that they have said and discuss the question which is now before us. It used to be said that to become Chief Secretary for Ireland meant the digging of the grave of one's reputation. This dubious and doubtful honour has now been inherited by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. How they can live I do not know. If they take my advice, and I offer it freely, they will get out while the going is good because governor-generalships are limited and the other little jobs that can be afforded are now running out. If they have anything to say about the coal situation let them say it now or forever hold their peace.
I listened to the speech made by the Minister yesterday. One could understand that his natural feelings of kindness towards the miners was leading him in one direction and that his duty towards this discredited Coalition Government was drawing him in another. They must make up their minds as to what attitude they intend to take towards this mining problem. There is no possible excuse for the very unhappy state into which this industry has now fallen. It is not as if this matter had come upon us as a surprise, as if it were something that could not be expected, because it is only 20 short years since the country went through the same experience. We went through the war of 1914–1918 with Boer War equipment. Fate was kind in allowing us to get over our difficulties. Through the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) the position retrieved itself in time to prevent us from being wiped out. We then learned the lesson that we had entered an age of mechanism in war. We learned that bows and arrows were no use in a modern age. Therefore, when this war broke out one would naturally have assumed that we would have understood that it would be a war of mechanics, guns, tanks, aeroplanes, and all the rest of the paraphernalia. One would have assumed that in the light of our experience 20 years ago we could not carry on satisfactorily without coal. We remember what happened after Dunkirk. Man-power was dissipated, collieries that could well be reopened now were closed. There was concentration of man-power to such an extent that now we have neither the manpower nor, I assume, the pit room to provide the coal that is necessary to carry on the war.
It may be argued that we have come through all this before, that in the last war we had troubles of this kind when output fell and when recalcitrant miners did not care whether we won the war or lost it. The attitude adopted on the opposite side of the House yesterday was that the mining community of this country did not care whether we won this war or lost it. I warn anybody going into the mining districts that it is almost a positive danger to tell miners that they should remember our fighting men. As if they could ever forget, as if they were not their own flesh and blood, their brothers, friends and relatives, their own countrymen, their relatives from the Dominions, as if they were not concerned about the lives of human beings all over the world. Think of the technique which has been employed in regard to this question of production. The old games and tactics have been tried again. We had a meeting in London at which, I understand, the miners were reduced to tears. Well, I was present art that meeting, and I did not see any tears. But I was sitting among Scotsmen, who are not nearly so sentimental or emotional as our Southern friends. They may have been moved to tears, but I did not see it. The Minister of Fuel and Power has cajoled them, and the Minister of Labour has bullied them. The sheriff and county court judges have damned them, the gutter Press has abused them, and the miners' leaders, I am sorry to say, have irritated them. To paraphrase the Prime Minister, in all history surely there was never so much done for so little.
We must be very careful in dealing with controversial matters. Before I discuss anything I ask myself, "Is this controversial?" and, if I decide that it is, I say to myself, "Sandy, that is not up your street. Keep off the grass." But there are matters in which there is no room for controversy. It is not controversial that the coal output has dropped considerably since 1939. It has reached the danger point, in spite of what the Prime Minister has said. There is no controversy about the fact that it shows no signs of improvement. There is no controversy about the violent unrest in the coalfields. If we shut our eyes to the facts, we are blind to the things that are going on around us. We have had varying causes given for the reduction in output. One is absenteeism. I prefer to accept the Prime Minister's figure rather than those that have been given elsewhere because it is the correct one. The hon. Member who spoke last takes the day of the week when they have the highest absenteeism and says that is the absenteeism for the colliery. We know that that is absolute nonsense. The number of shifts worked in 1942 averaged 5 33 per week. Neither the Prime Minister, who confessed that he did not know much about decimals, nor his father would be under any illusion that 5.33 is coming pretty near five and a half shifts every week. That is an improvement since 1937 when the figure was 5.18 when there was no more.
We have never denied that people are absent when they ought to be at their work. We put forward no excuse, especially for the young men who do not go to their work, but it is not possible in an industry like mining to work six days every week in the year. The Prime Minister gave some of the reasons. In peace time in the summer, when the pits were slack, there were sometimes two or three days a week when there was no work at all and the miner was enjoying the sunshine. He was able to build up reserves for the winter and was then able to work during the winter periods. In the following years they were asked to work both summer and winter at the same rate. The hon. Member said there was no evidence of difference of opinion with regard to dual control, but how could a manager get into difficulties with regard to dual control when he has only one boss—the boss he always had? The pits are in the hands of the coalowners to-day. They are worked by the people who worked them before. The liaison between the colleries and the Ministry of Fuel is this mystical figure, the appointed person. For the time being the managing directors have become production directors for the Minister of Fuel, but they are the same persons and they will eventually go back to the job they occupied before as directors of their firms. Surely it is only common sense to imagine that they will protect the interest of the firms that they are again going to control.
Much has been said about prosecutions. We have heard commanders who have been for some time in the Navy drawing an analogy between the captain of a ship and the manager of a colliery arid asking how a captain could run a ship if he had not absolute discipline on board. Is that the sort of discipline that they want in the pits, the miner being ordered about without any intervention on the part of any other people? These things are happening until men are now being brought into the police courts. Last month in Scotland there were 35 prosecutions, with fines imposed ranging from £3 to £10, and sometimes men sent to prison without the option of a fine. Does anyone imagine that there is going to be peace in the industry as long as these things continue? The miners always allege, and can produce evidence that they are treated unlike others in the courts. One hundred and five workmen out of the railway shops in Kilmarnock were brought before the court the same week, with the same procurator-fiscal and the same sheriff, for the same type of offence. What happened? Sentence was deferred for six months. We are all delighted that there were no prosecutions of our Clyde shipmates, but if ever our people get into a difficulty there are prosecutions. The Lanarkshire dispute was well enough advertised. Every newspaper carried the headlines, and they very adroitly turned it round not to a dispute between workmen and employers. The secretary of the coalowners wrote and told the Press that it was not a dispute between owners and miners but a political dispute.
Of course, the trade union leaders did their best to prevent a stoppage and to get the men started again after they had stopped, but the basis of the dispute was not concerned with the payment of the fines. If we trace the dispute back to the beginning we see that it arose from the stupid action of a colliery manager. This manager thought that at the loading end one youth could do the work which was being done by two youths, and he may have been right. He went to the lads and said "I am going to take one of you away and the other will have to do the work." One of the lads, quite courteously, said to him "I am damned sure I will do nothing of the kind."
The boy went on to say, "I will go out of the pit, but before I go I will make you an offer. I will do the work of the two if you give me the pay of the two." That was quite logical. "No," says the manager, "out of the pit you go." The second boy was asked to do the job, and he refused, and also went out of the pit. Then the whole section went home, and later 35 men were summoned at the Sheriff Court and fined£5each. The manager may have been right in thinking that the job could be done by one boy instead of two, but if he had known anything about mining psychology, had had anything in his head at all, he would have said "Well, you will work here, but I will thresh this out with your trade union leaders." Was not that what the machinery was intended for? Why is the machinery to be applied to one side only?
As a result of the manager's action a first-class issue was raised and a large output was lost from Lanarkshire. In that month we lost 36,168 tons of coal, largely due to this dispute. That is a lot of coal, and we could be doing with it now. But what will the House think when I tell them that though we had that huge dispute in Lanarkshire we lost more coal through the actions or the neglect of the mine owners than was lost owing to the dispute? That same month we lost 13,692 tons of coal through breakdowns of machinery, for which the workmen had no responsibility, and lost 23,400 tons from other causes which are unnamed. Out of 73,218 tons of coal lost, only 36,000 tons—and I do not say "only" because I think the quantity was negligible—was lost by industrial disputes. What is the good of people talking about coal that is being lost because of the action of the workers when we know that more coal is being lost from other causes? The position in Scotland is that if we had not lost that 36,000 tons of coal the output figures for September would have almost reached the 1942 figures. If the 36,000 tons we had lost had been added to the September figure there would have been an output of 514,275 tons. If only half the output lost through other causes had been saved we would have had an output equalling 1941. In the face of those figures how can anyone say that the miners of Scotland are responsible to any large degree for the loss of output? I wish that in examining the position the Ministry would not always look at the loss from industrial disputes or absenteeism. Let them look at the loss of output for which the miners have no responsibility.
I think we could find some more cruel punishment for the mine-owners than shooting them. They could be easily eliminated without such drastic action. We ask that the statement issued by the Miners' Federation should be closely examined. It may be true that great constitutional changes cannot be made during the war: there is talk of the need to face the electorate and to do a lot of other things. In the day of Dunkirk many more drastic changes could have taken place without any consultation with the electorate. The Prime Minister to-day was very amiable and, although he apologised for it, he made a first-class speech, but he told us that unless we could demonstrate that the change we asked for was necessary for the more vigorous prosecution of the war he could not see his way to making it. That means, of course, that no change will be made at all. He emphasised what the Minister of Fuel and Power told us yesterday. The control will remain until Parliament decides otherwise. Of course, Parliament can decide anything, but is the mining industry to be left in the position where a Tory majority can at any time end control, as they ended it in 1921? I do not forget what happened then. I do not forget that miners received their pay one week on the basic rate of £1 os. 6d. a day and the next week received their pay on the basic rate of 8s. 4d. a day.
In the end people were left without any wages at all, and ultimately we had the general strike of 1926. That was the last show-down. It was the last great fight. The vested interests were led by the Prime Minister, who spoke so nicely to us to-day. The Prime Minister was always a great war leader. He was the leader of the vested interests in 1926 when they were fighting the miners. Nobody has any time for him as a peace time leader; nobody believes in him as a peace time leader; he has always been a great war leader. He was a great war leader during the period of Dunkirk, when his speeches roused the nation. Great reliance was placed upon him then and great reliance was placed upon him in 1926. We were at war; they declared so, nakedly and unashamed. We did not feed the Germans during the war and so why feed the miners? The vested interests were led by a great war leader and the fight was fought out to the bitter end. The miners were defeated, but not without a struggle. They fought on the hills of Scotland and on the beaches of the North-East coast, the valleys of South Wales and in the streets of the Midlands, but it was all of no avail. They were defeated. I am not distressed.
The other side thought they had won, but it has proved to be only the beginning of the end. Since those days 350,000 miners and their wives and families have left the industry. No bands played them away, no banners fluttered in the breeze. There were no cheering crowds to wave them farewell. They went off quietly, almost surreptitiously. Like the Arabs, they folded their tents and silently stole away. The mining industry thought the personnel would be waiting for them when they felt it necessary to call upon them. They thought they would be able to say "We now have more work for you to do," and that the workers would come back. But they did not come back. They sent for them, but when they knocked at the door the answer was "No, they don't live here any more. They are gone." Various means have been resorted to to try to deal with the position. Some mines have been closed, and the workers have been concentrated. Anybody who knows military strategy will agree that the time comes when you cannot bring up your reserves. Hitler will find that some day. The men cannot be replaced. The miners will not be replaced under the conditions as they exist to-day. The miners will demand security for the future. You cannot push them off by mere rhetorical promises that some day something is to be done. The demand is being made by the miners of this country now; never mind the few miner Members of Parliament or Labour leaders. We do not count. The initiative has passed from us to the men. They see that the Government have not the man-power for the pits, and they are not going to be fobbed off any longer. I hope that this matter will not rest for months and years again but that conditions of mining will be improved. If provision is not made by the introduction of more mechanical appliances and if the miners are not more decently treated, the matter will pass out of the hands of this House into the hands of those who will do what we have never been able to do, secure justice for the miners.
I intervene in a coal Debate with a certain amount of diffidence, because one has to face a phalanx of Members who have spent their lives in the coal industry, but who listen to the speeches of amateurs with great patience. I hope that that will be my experience to-day. One of the great advantages of Parliament is that you there have speeches from men who know nothing about the industry, either financially or commercially or because it has been their career. I have no association whatsoever in any way with the mining industry, nevertheless I have held definite views about it almost all my life. I think that the speech made by the Prime Minister on the subject is of immense importance. [An HON. MEMBER: "To whom?"] I think it will have a very good effect in the coalfield, and I hope that the speech will be circulated to the coalfields, because the Prime Minister put everything in its proper perspective. He dealt with absenteeism in its right proportion, and he did substantial justice to the great contribution that the miners are making to the war effort.
I am not going to follow hon. Members who yesterday were critical of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power. I think he had much less than justice in yesterday's Debate. He is doing a good job, and so is his Department. If I saw any solution for the troubles in the coal industry which had not been taken up by the Government, I should be entitled to criticise. I do not. So far two solutions have been put forward, and if I may deal with those two solutions, I hope to show that neither of them is practical politics. The first solution, which has been advocated from both sides of the House, is that the system of control should be done away with and complete power be restored to the management. I do not think that is possible. I am sure that it is not possible in war-time. People say that discipline is being destroyed by the Essential Work Order. But all industry is in a strait-jacket. The mining industry is treated no worse than any other industry, and I do not think you can relax the provisions for supervision in that or in any other essential industry. For example, you could not say to the farmer that he could produce what he liked. In the same way I do not think you could say to a great industry like the mining industry that it could carry on as it did before and that there would be no supervision or control. As has been pointed out, you could not do that, while saying to the miner that he has to stay where he is while you give full managerial control to the management. What is fair for the management must be fair for the miner. The only justification for imposing restriction on the freedom of contract of the miner is to maintain a measure of control over the management. I do not think that it is practical politics to upset that arrangement. I think you might be able to modify it, maintaining the essential principle of it.
There is a very notable letter in "The Times" from a Mr. Elliott, a well-known owner in Yorkshire. No doubt hon. Members have read it. The point of the letter is that there is no reason why the work in the mine should not be concentrated into five days, and that production would thereby be increased. I see nothing in that to interfere with the provisions of the Essential Work Order or the war-time control, and I hope that the Government will consider the suggestion. Therefore I dismiss the suggestion of a change in the present system of control and supervision of managements and of the provisions of the Essential Work Order, because I do not think that such a change is practical politics in war-time.
The second solution which is advocated is nationalisation, now or after the war. I need not deal with that proposal, because the Prime Minister has dealt with it in a way that carries complete conviction to my mind and, I believe, in the judgment of most reasonable men in the House.
I do not want to argue it. It is clear that in war-time we could not make such a fundamental change. I do not want to blame the Minister of Fuel and Power for the lack of discipline, although that is increasing in the mines. It is not peculiar to the mining industry in this country. It is a common feature, and, regrettably, it is a growing phenomenon of all industrial life in this country. More than that, it is a common feature of the mining industry in every country that produces coal. We have only to see what is happening in the United States. It is even a feature of mining experience in Russia, except that as they own the coal there and have a system of nationalisation, they can deal with such a situation far more drastically than under the system of this country. It is not fair to blame my right hon. and gallant Friend for the increase in the lack of discipline in the industry.
The question of absenteeism has been raised, and the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) referred to the effects of absenteeism on Sunday nights and Mondays. He declared that the effect of people not going to work on Sunday nights could be to interfere with the whole production for the week. I know that in a certain sense that is true. But I have known of cases where the Sunday night shift has been voluntary and of men who had worked seven or eight shifts during the week being asked to go down on Sunday night. They were branded as absentees. We must look at these matters in proper perspective. I prefer the Prime Minister's attitude to the matter when he took the whole figure for the country as 5 per cent. That does not compare unfavourably with experience in the heavy industries of this country. If the average number of shifts have been increased to 5.3 per week, or whatever it is, we should naturally expect more absenteeism. One of the tragedies of the coal industry, especially in the districts that produce household coal, has been the low number of shifts worked per week in the past. Speaking from memory, I think they fell to three shifts per week in some districts. If men who have been working three shifts in peace have for more than four years extended their labour to 5.3 shifts, we really must expect an increase in absenteeism.
Experience shows that it is hopeless to imprison miners for being absent. A miner in prison does not produce any coal, and a great deal of resentment is caused among his colleagues in the district. In a case of persistent absenteeism I should call the man up for the Forces. If he is absent because his heart is not in the coalmining industry and he wants to fight, I should let him do so. If on the other hand he is the wrong kind of man, a little discipline in one of the Services of the Crown will not do him any harm.
I should like to make a suggestion to my right hon. and gallant Friend. Under the White Paper there was a change in procedure as regards absenteeism. The supervision of it was taken away from the pit committee and given to the investigating officer. I do not think that that change altogether met the case. I know of a pit committee that reduced absenteeism to 2 per cent., but now that an investigator is looking after it it has risen to nearly 20 per cent. I think that a pit committee should deal with absenteeism where application is made to do so, and that the Minister or the Regional Controller should allow it. After all, the miners on the pit production committees know the circumstances of the individual miner much better than can an investigator brought in from outside. Still less shall I blame my right hon. and gallant Friend for the legacies of the past. In my view, the mining industry has the worst record in matters of conciliation of any in this country. I have followed the conflicts ever since 1921. I do not know another industry where the leaders on both sides have so let the industry down. Fortunately to-day the leadership is very much better than it has ever been. I am thinking more of the old days. Let us be quite frank; this nation has tolerated conditions of life for the miners that never should have been tolerated.
I thought the matter was so obvious that I did not need to refer to it. I remember writing a letter in 1921 to Mr. Frank Hodges on behalf of the Prime Minister, offering the miners nationalisation of mining royalties. That offer was refused. It took 20 years to achieve that. I could give endless examples, and so could any reasonable man, of the lack of leadership in those days. Still, I only want to make the point in passing. I do understand that much of the trouble to-day is due to the legacy of the past but you do not get much further if you hark on that. I want to express an opinion that the positive action taken by the Minister is very praiseworthy. The Parliamentary Secretary in winding up yesterday gave examples of what had been done in training, in improvements in safety provisions, and questions of health, etc. I think the Greene award has done a very great deal for the industry. It has put the mining industry more approximately on the level of remuneration of other industries. One of the tragedies in the whole mining industry is that the miner has always been an underpaid man in relation to his craftsmanship.
I do not think that the services of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Greene, have been fully recognised by everyone. I am sure that they are recognised by the miners' leaders because he has done a great deal. Take what has been done in the question of conciliation. It is almost a miracle that he got a 100 per cent. agreement in every union attached to the mining industry on the central machinery for conciliation. To think that the owners and the miners can agree on the general principles of central conciliation. I understand that my right hon. and gallant Friend will say something about it when he replies. I understand that the general lay-out as regards conciliation in a district has already been drafted and is to be put into operation and will circulate to the pits through the pit committees and for the first time this industry will have machinery of conciliation. Tributes should be paid to the Minister and to Lord Greene who have brought it about.
I think that a policy of concentration is right. I think the policy of increasing mechanisation is right. I think the policy of working outcrops is right. People have said that my right hon. and gallant Friend had nothing to show. I do not agree. I think the positive record of constructive work in the past year by himself and the Ministry bears comparison with that of any other Department. Moreover, in spite of the dismal Jonahs and Cassandras, owing to the measures taken we have in fact got through this difficult period, and production has exceeded consumption.
In conclusion, if we are to reject as a solution to our problems a change in the system of what is called dual management, and if we cannot rely on nationalisation, the only thing we can do is to increase the man-power in the industry. I should only like to say that I think far more can be done by the Ministry of Mines and the Ministry of Labour between them in getting miners back from the Forces. I would go much further. I am not sure whether my right hon. and gallant Friend, when he refers to the recall of these older men from the Forces, refers only to the Forces at home or whether that refers to the Forces overseas.
I personally believe—and I was disappointed with what the Prime Minister said on that point to-day—that we should give a chance to the miners who have had long service overseas to volunteer. I do not believe that at this stage of the war, with millions of trained men available, it would seriously affect the efficiency of the Armed Forces if a few thousand volunteers who are skilled miners were brought back to this country. That argument is so patently exaggerated that it must be self-evident to anybody that these men could, particularly as they have for two or three years been overseas and done a magnificent job of fighting, make a far greater contribution, by coming back to the mining industry at this critical time. Therefore I was rather disappointed that only the home Forces are to be combed and that the War Cabinet will not bring back the few thousand miners from overseas. The only other way of getting men into the industry is by optants. Let us not discourage the work being done by these new men, if, as I am told, 60 or 70 per cent. of them are absolutely first-class.
I would conclude by saying that I think the Minister has done a good job of work, as has the Department. Do not let him be discouraged, let him persevere, and it may well be that just as he succeeded in the past in making production exceed consumption he will do it again, and it may well be that when the cumulative effect of his positive work bears fruit success will attend his well thought out plans.
Would the hon. Member make one thing clear about the optants for the mining industry who are being trained somewhere in the country? Would he give an indication as to how many of these persons have been trained and where they have been trained? I am asking the question because obviously that fact is being grossly exaggerated. I do not know whether the hon. Member has any fresh facts.
I think the House felt a sense of satisfaction when the Prime Minister came down to-day to address us on this very important problem. This is not a mining problem; it is a national problem. The discussion has naturally turned very largely on the situation inside the mining industry. Big things are at stake now, as I think the whole House realises. I do not propose to enter into the rather difficult shoals of future political con- troversy over which the Prime Minister sailed with infinite skill to-day, but I propose to look at the problem as a national problem as he left it to-day. The Prime Minister was more optimistic than I have ever known him be since he became Prime Minister. His optimism about the mining industry, I fear, is one which I do not share. According to him—I made a very rough note of what he said—coal output is in no danger of collapse during the next year, and he said that the mining industry was not going to be the one gloomy failure of the war. I like to see a streak of optimism myself in anybody. I have a buoyant temperament myself, but it is one thing rescuing us from a perilous situation with regard to the shipping of this country, largely by the help of other countries, an entirely different thing from expecting the United States to send us all the coal we might need should we fail in production and in diminution of consumption.
The idea that we have balanced the budget is very good. It is true that the less you consume, the greater productive balance you may have at the end of the year, but obviously there is a limit to that, and with increasing demands, as there are bound to be, from abroad, with the prospect of perhaps a very bleak winter, the maintenance of the present coal output will not be sufficient. There is a limit to human endurance as regards starvation in cold weather, and I think we have gone pretty near it. If I may say so without disrespect to my right hon. Friend, the situation last winter was saved by the privations of the domestic consumer and the providence of God. That may not continue next winter. I do not regard the outlook with the equanimity that the Prime Minister did to-day. If the situation is so satisfactory, then, I ask, Why did the right hon. Gentleman suggest 12 shifts per fortnight, Sunday shifts, conscription of labour to go down the pits? What are the miners, what are the parents of the young people who are to go to the pits, going to say tomorrow morning when they read the Prime Minister's statement that the situation is not only not too bad hut on the whole is quite good?
The right hon. Gentleman to-day very gravely underestimated the seriousness of the position in the coalfields. He said that last year we only lost 750,000 tons due to strikes. Strikes are not the only evidence of industrial unrest. In my experience politically and in close association with the industrial side of my movement over very many years I have known the deepest industrial unrest and no stoppages. I would beg the Prime Minister to reconsider this view of the situation as not so bad. I believe it is bad. I have spent a good deal of my time through our brief Recess in trying to assess the situation in the coalfields of this country. I believe the depth of feeling in the coalfields is as great as or greater than it has been since the end of fie last great war. If that be so, that is a situation of the utmost gravity.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Debate so far had been devoted too much to the past and not sufficient had been said about the future. Let me say this. The miners live in the memories of 20 years. They cannot forget the past. It is impossible for them to forget the past. As for looking to the future, the prime responsibility for that lies with the Government. It is undeniable that these men who during the last great war enlisted in such numbers that they had to be brought back, these men who during the last great war did not exploit their economic position, these men who had promises held out to them after the last great war found themselves neglected in the whole of the interregnum between the two great wars. The miners became the forgotten people. There have been proposals made time after time. I remember in the early days after the last war, at the request of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, giving evidence before the Sankey Commission. My views on the subject are well-known. I remember, again at the request of the Miners' Federation, giving evidence before the Samuel Commission. I have written on this subject.
Nobody seems to have taken any notice—that perhaps is not surprising to hon. Members on the other side—but the truth is that although plans had been made repeatedly, nothing substantial has been done, and this ageing population of miners, living a hazardous life under almost inhuman conditions, is losing its faith in its fellow men. There was a time before the last great war when sons naturally went into the pits to follow their fathers. To-day they are not going. Why? Not necessarily because they do not want to go, but because their fathers, with the bitterness of these years in their minds, have warned them away from the pits. That is not surprising. The situation is now so grave that I assert—whether the Prime Minister will prove to be right or I shall prove to be right we shall know in the future—that coal output will continue progressively to decline. I see no hope myself in existing circumstances of any substantial increase in output. I see, on the other hand, especially after this two-days' Debate, an ever deepening gloom in the homes of the miners of Great Britain. It is not that these men are not as anxious about the war effort as anybody else. They are. The Prime Minister paid a tribute to my party. For that, I thank him. I may say I think it is very well deserved, but that is neither here nor there.
We are as anxious—I am speaking now for all my colleagues—for victory and early victory as anybody. The miners on the coal-face are as anxious for victory as anybody. But you cannot get over in a day, or a year even, the tragic experiences of this declining number of miners on the coalfield. They are four years older than they were at the beginning of the war. That is true of every industry, but there are few industries where the conditions of work are so bad, so difficult, so objectionable, so hateful as the conditions of life of the men who do their work underground. The Prime Minister spoke of the mentality of the fifth year of war. That is true. All people who have done their duty during this war are far more than four years older than they were when the war began. Everybody feels the strain of the war—it may be subconsciously or unconsciously, but it is there—and it is so with these people. What are we offered? Not a very great deal. The right hon. Gentleman's proposals do not, in my view, meet the situation. We want something far more than that. The responsibility for that does not lie upon us or upon the miners.
In the last resort the responsibility rests on the shoulders of His Majesty's Government. I am not one of the profiteers of war referred to by the Prime Minister. Although I am a strong party politician, I can say in all sincerity that I have never on any occasion during this war tried to use war circumstances for political advantage, and I do not do it now. My views about the nationalisation of the mines I assume are known to most people, but I am not pressing for that. I am pressing this human claim. This war has to be won, and won quickly. The transition from war to peace has to be carried through smoothly, and do not let it be thought that the demand for coal will diminish after the armistice. It all depends really on whether you can now revive the spirit of the people on the coalfield, give them some new hope, hope which has been vanishing, evaporating, for years. These people are becoming cynical. I think one of the worst things in the world is cynicism. But is it surprising? There is only one way to dispel the cynicism which is rapidly developing on the coalfield. That is by a firm offer of some kind that these men are going to have an opportunity now and in the future to live a decent, civilised life with a sense of security.
I know this Government cannot pledge future Governments, but there are ways and means of assuring to the miners that security which they certainly deserve. In fact the Prime Minister appreciated this desire for security after the war among the whole mining population. That, I imagine, was why he said, "Let the White Paper continue in operation for a year—or whatever time it may be—"after the war." It was an admission by my right hon. Friend that security was one of the things which are governing the minds and hearts and the wills of the people on the coalfield. It ought to be possible to do something about it. I am not going to-day to suggest nationalisation. I still believe in it, and I believe we shall have to come to it sooner or later, but I am not suggesting that now. I am putting a problem which is going to affect the future course of the war, putting to the Government a problem which they will have to solve, the problem of giving heart to these people whose lives do not lie in very happy valleys.
Is it not possible for the Government to look at this problem again, to paint their little proposals into the framework of a much larger picture? It is that for which I ask. My hon. Friends will keep a watchful eye on this situation. I express their very deep dissatisfaction with the proposals made by the Government and elucidated a little further by the Prime Minister. We are anxious not to cause unnecessary trouble. There was a time when I was regarded on these benches as being a very troublesome and a very argumentative and indeed very revolutionary person. During nearly 4½ years of war I have put a restraint on myself that I thought I was incapable of, and I do not want to raise any passions now. What I do want to say, with all the earnestness I can command and with all sincerity, is that from my own personal knowledge one of the ways to shorten the war is to take these men back into the human family.
This Government and the Governments of all the United Nations have pledged themselves to freedom from want after the war. Let them not belittle these solemn promises. I think we ought as an earnest of that wider hope, that wider aspiration, to assure to the miners a sense of security, a feeling that they are taking part in the industry effectively with their partners, that they are not dogs to be bullied by an unsympathetic manager, a feeling that they are playing their part in the war effort on a new basis. It has been said in this Debate that there are people outside the mining industry. It is as well that there are people outside the mining industry. It would be most disastrous for the country if we were all miners. But here we are dealing, as the Prime Minister admitted, with an industry which is the very basis of our industrial war effort. Without coal we would have no supplies by sea, or through the air, or on land. These men, I sincerely and earnestly submit to the Government, are worthy of more generous consideration than they have had in the past.
My final word is this. Some of us propose to give the Government a little time to take a further look at these problems, but further discussion of this matter cannot be delayed too long. The Government are entitled, in the light of all that has been said yesterday and may still be said to-day, to reconsider their position, but I would utter a word of warning. If when we come back to this question again in the near future no further progress has been made in dealing with this problem, it may well be a difficult discussion. I have no personal axe to grind in this matter, and I hope that the Government will take all these things into account. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend when he replies to the Debate will give some assurance that at no distant date we may return to this question with some hope that there will be a more generous attitude towards the mining population of this country, and so give hope not merely to the miners but to those in the Forces and their industrial comrades in every part of Britain.
It is a long time since I intervened in a Debate in this House, and still longer since I intervened in a coalmining Debate. Therefore, I follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) with some diffidence, because I never heard him make a more eloquent, a more box-thumping, or a more damaging speech. I happen to have contested three elections in the constituency of Linlithgow, and I represented that constituency in this House from 1931 to 1935. The predominant industry in that constituency is coalmining. I do not believe that any Member would ever accuse me of having, in my endeavours to further the interests of coalmining as a whole, shown partiality to one side or the other. Despite the fact that I was evacuated as the Member in 1935, and that since then as a royalty owner I have been nationalised out, I have maintained a keen interest in the mining industry. In my day the industry was producing more coal than could be usefully or profitably sold or distributed, but to-day the situation is the reverse. We are told that there is a shortage of man-power, and we have just been told that unless something is done there will be a coal famine. Man-power seems to be the principal problem. Only the other day the executive of the Miners' Federation told the Minister of Fuel and Power that the maximum production which could be expected from the industry in present conditions was 3,700,000 tons a week, but that they appreciated that the minimum required for our consumption was something in the nature of 4,200,000 tons, and that to reach that target we should have to get another 85,000 men into the pits. I would merely ask what proof we have that by bringing another 85,000 men into the industry there would be an increase in output? There has been an increase in the manpower in the industry, and at the same time there has been a decline, and an increasing decline, in output.
What is the reason for this diminution of output? It is not only a diminution of aggregate output, but a diminution per man-shift, which, in the final analysis, is the only guage. I am afraid I am going to be a little provocative. Ever since I have had anything to do with the mining industry it has been well known that all miners' leaders have been out for the nationalisation of the industry. The argument for nationalisation has been output. It seems to me that the immediate reason for the diminution of output has been a deliberate withholding of effort.
It is some years since I was intimately connected with the coal-mining industry, and I merely want to give a few figures. We have heard some talk of strikes and of absenteeism. Absenteeism is generally rather soft-pedalled. My hon. Friend opposite talked about weekend absenteeism. I do not believe that absenteeism has had very much to do with the reduction per man-shift, but I have been told—and I would like to be contradicted if it is not true—that the reason for the diminution per man-shift is that the strippers on the coal face are not allowed to strip a greater yardage than their neighbours.
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that the Northumberland Miners' Association have time and again attempted to clear the face, as the Minister has requested, and that the owners will not meet them with the payment for overtime. The Miners' Association are begging for a settlement. I am talking about the strippers.
I am talking about strippers too. I am talking about the collieries in Scotland. This is the complaint made by the managers—that there is this arrangement whereby the strippers are not allowed to strip more than their neighbours do. The young and virile could strip 20 per cent. more yardage per day, but are not allowed to do so. Therefore, they leave the coal face two or three hours before the end of the regular shift [Interruption.] I am prepared to give the Minister the name of my informant, and the name of the colliery owners and management.
On a point of Order. A very definite accusation has been made against a class of working people in Scotland, and the Member who has made that statement claims to have the name of the individual who gave him the information and the district of the colliery where this is happening. It is not playing fair with this House to make such anonymous statements unless he is prepared to give the names of the individual and of the colliery where this is happening.
I apologise if I have offended in any way, but I think it is quite in Order for me to say that I am prepared to give the information I have received to the Minister in confidence. I am giving the information to the House as it was given to me, and I should be very glad to know if my facts are incorrect. I am told that there is in fact this ca'canny movement. [Interruption.] I am prepared as I said to give the information to the Minister.
On a point of Order. The hon. and gallant Member has made a statement that he has information that strippers in Scotland are working fewer hours than they ought to work. I think that, in fairness to the House, he should state where these strippers are. I know the Scottish coalmines, I am a representative of the Scottish. miners, and I flatly deny that that statement is true.
It seems to me that all these arrangements by the unions in the past, the far past and the near past, are just leading up to this question of nationalisation. I do not mind nationalisation: it may be the right thing. But I cannot see how nationalisation, which, after all, has been the keynote of these Debates, is going to help us to have increased output in the immediate future. I saw the other day a report of the plan which the Miners' Federation submitted as an alternative plan to the Minister of Fuel and Power. The final phrase was:
The responses that are required by the nation from the men cannot he forthcoming unless the workman can he assured that the benefits of his responses do not accrue for the colliery companies.
In other words, "If you don't give us nationalisation, you don't get no coal."
Is the hon. and gallant Member not aware that the leaders of the Miners' Federation have got themselves into a most difficult position with the miners through asking them to produce coal which these gentlemen have absolutely refused to allow them to do?
I merely quoted that statement. As my remarks seem to be causing a certain amount of consternation, I will merely say that I am very sorry for the Minister. I would dislike to have that kind of hold-up approach put to me. I would much rather that the Minister would take the very valuable and helpful contributions which have been made during the course of these Debates to ensure the security during this war of the miner and his family and give some hope and assurance that after the war the mining industry and entry into it will be considered a stepping-stone to great achievements and a great career.
I have sat in this House during yesterday and to-day and listened very attentively to the Debate. There is one request I would like to make to the Member for the "mining" constituency of Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). He said he is a director, and I would like to know the colliery company of which he is a director. Is the hon. Member an absentee? I have a purpose in asking the question, and I hope if he comes into the Chamber, he will give me the answer. I am one of the Members on these benches who, in the Debate on the White Paper on coal, said I thought it was the greatest advance that had ever been put forward in the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) told me afterwards that he thought I wanted medically examining. But I also made this stipulation. I stated clearly that it was impossible for the proposal to be a complete success with dual control. There has been a lot of talk about taking off dual control, not from the standpoint from which we look at it, but from the standpoint from which hon. Members opposite are looking at it. There is a passage in the Bible which says that you cannot serve God and mammon. I have had experience of the first front, not the second front. I was in the first front getting coal for 25 years, and I am not talking like the hon. Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare), who said that he was only an amateur and did not know much about it, and he spoke for half-an-hour on it. I have been into my division practically every week, not for the last 15 months, since I have been in this House, and I am sorry the Prime Minister has not got the actual facts. There has never been so much seething discontent in the mining industry as there is to-day.
We want men down the pit to get coal. You cannot run the Army, you cannot make aeroplanes and ships without the help of the collier. Everything is based upon the coalmining industry, and, being based on that industry, we say there is a crisis, You talk about managers and dual control. I will give an experience of dual control. I am bringing first-hand evidence here. They are not figures which have been handed to me; I am bringing actual facts. The Minister of Fuel and Power told us about absenteeism in production committees in the last Debate, when he said only 25 per cent. of the production committees were working. If the miners had 75 per cent. absenteeism, they would be sent to gaol or somewhere else. There is 75 per cent. absenteeism on the production committees. They are not working because the owners and managers themselves do not want production committees. I am asked, HOW do I know? I have been on the job. A manager once said to me when I was on a deputation, "George, I do not pay you to think, I pay you to work." The day for that kind of stuff has gone by. Production committees are not only for men to work but also for them to think and to sit at a round table and not a square table.
The manager at the pit where I have worked has had proposals put before him repeatedly about getting coal. He has said, "I will look at it and consider it," and it has then had to go to the managing director, who has prevented anything being done. Why? Because it costs money. The manager dare not push it forward. [Interruption.] It is not all machine coal; there is hand-got coal also. If the men can get the tubs to the face, they can get the coal. At production committees, when the men have gone in and wanted to talk about so-and-so, the manager has said that they did not want to talk about that at all and that they should come back in two or three weeks' time. I have been at my main branch on three Tuesday nights, and the men themselves were seething with discontent. There have been as many as 20 grievances discussed in the branch room on a Tuesday night, and the meeting has been kept going from 6 o'clock until 9·30. One man, besides getting coal, had much "dead" work to put in at the same time. He had not less than £15 worth of "dead" work, which had not been put in for him. In another case in the same firm where the man was on what we call the belt the manager said "Go in. If there is no coal produced, I will put you a Bevin shift in." After he came out he asked why, after having received such a promise from the manager, the pay was not forthcoming. The men said they were not going to go in. The manager claimed £10 damages for the shift lost because they had not gone in. Instead of going to the court, the trade union officials negotiated with the manager and agreed to pay £5 for the loss of that one day and the money had to be stopped from wages. They had 15s. each stopped, and the men said that with Income Tax to pay for the last six months, they would not be able to take much home to their wives. Then there was the case in Glasgow where 600 men lost 9,400 shifts, and the company fined the men. These are the cases which make men seeth with discontent from one end of the industry to the other. The men themselves are sick and tired of it. I will take the case of another pit, where they have been trying to make a price list for nine months, and they cannot get any nearer a settlement. They are stuck over one item in respect of which the manager has offered 2½d. for putting in drill holes.
I said they are automatic. Do you not know the difference between automatic and hand drills? A man has to put in 50 holes along the coalface, and the coalface is only 2 ft. 9 ins. thick. I want the House to understand the discontent all the time in the mining industry. You talk about discipline. Hon Members opposite love the word "discipline." They say, "We want you to hand the whip back to the manager so that he can whip them in." The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) in the Debate on man-power got up about the lad from Manton and charged the Minister of Labour with knowing nothing about labour. We know that the hon. Member for Mossley knows a tremendous amount about labour. The Minister of Labour has had over 25 years' experience of dealing with thousands of men and price lists of every description. I do not know a man in the British Isles who knows how better to negotiate on labour policy and labour questions than my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Mossley cited a case of indiscipline from Manton in Nottingham. I interjected, as I sometimes do. I said, "Do you know anything about the case?" He said "No," and I said that I did. I have the facts of the case here and the data. The hon. Member was talking of a lad of 18 years of age named Haig and a deputy whose name was Belham. This lad had a clear character from the time of his going into the pit until this date. He and the deputy had a row, using pit language, which is fairly clean, and the deputy struck the lad in the face, giving him a black eye. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Mossley would have been quiet if I had given him a black eye. The lad came out of the pit and went to see a doctor, who refused to let him go back for four days. The manager went to the office, saw the deputy and asked him about it. The lad said, "I am claiming not only four days' wages but £5 damages." The deputy agreed to pay the damages, but a few days later the lad had a summons for indiscipline. The branch advised the lad to sec a solicitor, but there were only two in the town. He went to one, who said, "I am very sorry, but the colliery company has got me to appear for them." The other solicitor said, "I am appearing for the deputy." So the lad was undefended. Why, if the lad had been as clean as the whitest angel, with two lawyers against him what could he do? He was fined 10s., and the other lads in the pit, knowing what had happened, said, "We are not going to work." They lost one day and then went back. Yet we get the hon. Member for Mossley pointing a finger of scorn and saying, "What we want to-day is discipline."
Can the hon. Member prove his words? I have here what I said, which exactly conforms with what he has been saying. I said:
A young fellow was charged with having used violence in the pit. I do not know the circumstances. All I say is that he was charged before a court, convicted and fined ten shillings. This conviction was resented by fellow haulage hands, who came out, and the pit was idle."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th September, 1943; col. 620, Vol. 3021]
I challenge the hon. Member on any ground whatever to say that my statement was not literally correct.
I did not say the statement was not correct. I say that the evidence in the court was not in accordance with the actual facts with what happened in the pit. If this lad had had a lawyer—
Time was too short. He could not get a lawyer. The Regional Officer for Yorkshire, Dr. Holdsworth, told me himself that if the full evidence had been brought out, the lad would have won the case.
Now I want to come to the question of absenteeism other than that of men absenting themselves. I put a Question to the Minister of Fuel and Power not long ago asking him how many shifts were paid under the Essential Work Order to miners who went to work but for whom there was no work available. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) put a similar Question about figures for June and July, 1942. In June and July last year 241,000 shifts were lost through men going to work and being sent back because there was no work for them. This meant a loss of 263,000 tons of coal. In July this year there were 125,000 shifts lost with a tonnage loss of 132,000. This was not the fault of the men. They went to work, got out of bed at half-past four in the morning and were back home between eight and nine o'clock. Whose fault was that?
Certainly it is not. These are shifts that were paid. Unless a man works the other five shifts in the week, he loses it. He has to work the full percentage, so that besides these 241,000 there are other men who went back but who did not get this money because they forfeited it. If these shifts had been calculated, the number would have been more like 260,000. In Yorkshire, in August, 34,000 shifts were lost and paid for at 17s. 10d. per day and not a ton of coal was raised.
Now I will say something else to the hon. Member for the mining district of Twickenham. I saw 17 men coming home from the pit. They had been down, and when they got into the working, half a mile away from the face, the deputy said there was no work for them and they could go home. He had to go later on to another part of the district and fetch nine men from the coalface to do haulage. There was roam for the 17 men at the coalface, but they went out on instructions. On the Tuesday morning following this the deputy was sick and did not turn up. This was the taking-up day. The under manager said to the deputy, "I want you to take up for the men." That is the dead work they had done during the week. The deputy said he would not. If the hon. Member opposite who talks about wanting to control the mines had been the manager, he would have sacked the deputy straight away and sent him to gaol. These are some actual facts. I want to ask the hon. Member for Twickenham if he is a director in Yorkshire.
I apologise, Sir. We miners' representatives are as keen against avoidable absenteeism as anyone opposite. We have just had a "King Coal" Sunday in Yorkshire. We went and saw our men and put the case before them. We asked them to produce more. I admit that, if avoidable absenteeism was cut down, we should get more coal, but we should not get sufficient to meet the demand if it was all wiped out.
I was speaking at a colliery village, and I was asked what was being done as far as compensation was concerned. That is the burning question. A questioner said, "You have not done anything for us since the war began about National Health Insurance." The man has two sons in the Army. He has been hurt and has been drawing compensation of 35s. a week. He has also been sick, and all he has had for his sickness is 18s. for himself and his wife. As a diplomatic politician I said, "We are doing something in the matter of compensation, and you will hear in a few weeks' time." The Prime Minister said to-day that if the Minister of Fuel wants any more power, he has only to go to the War Cabinet. I am asking him to do away with this control and let the manager be paid for the time being by the Government and make him responsible entirely to the Government financially and as regards output, and that will remove one weakness as far as the White Paper is concerned.
The Prime Minister told us that the coalmines are not going to be nationalised. Why? Because in this House, elected eight years ago, having solemnly promised the workers three years ago that all property was going to be conscripted, there are 400 Members who are resolutely determined that the coalowners shall go on owning the mines. I do not suppose there is any argument that I could adduce which would influence anyone opposite or move him in any way. I can only hope that I and my friends may be able to contribute some arguments which will move some Members at some election or other at some future date. I do not think there is much more to say about the situation, so I do not propose to say it.
The hon. and gallant Baronet who spoke for Scottish miners—I think he has previously represented a Scottish constituency—made some very mischievous remarks. He preceded them by accusing my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) of delivering a very mischievous speech and went on to accuse the mineworkers, particularly in Scotland, of deliberately withholding their labour.
The hon. and gallant Baronet said these men were being coerced into withholding their labour by trade union officials. They were being deliberately prevented from stripping the amount of coal they would wish to strip, and that was taking place because of the attitude of certain trade union leaders. I do not know how much he knows about the industry in Scotland, but I have some knowledge of it. I suppose I must view it from rather a different angle. I view it from the angle of one of these strippers who have been castigated yesterday and to-day. I do not altogether know where I am in this Debate. I have heard Members accusing in turn trade union leaders and miners of doing things which are disadvantageous to the war effort. Yesterday some hon. Members were accusing the men of disregarding the advice of the trade unions, going on strike, creating difficulties in the industry, and so on. I wonder where I come in. I wonder whether I am one of those mischievous miners or one of the trade union leaders or one of those mischievous trade unionists who, according to the hon. and gallant Member, are preventing the miners from doing the work they want to do. I am very suspicious of hon. Members who are accusing some of the mine workers of disregarding the advice of their union leaders and who are praising the efforts of the union leaders but indicating at the same time that they no longer have any control over the miners. I am apt to think that they are deliberately trying to separate the trade union leaders from the workers.
I believe that my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench said that in his view the sense of grievance in the mining industry was not properly reflected in the number of disputes that had occurred, and that is true. Some reference has been made to the dispute in Lanarkshire last month. I represent a Lanarkshire constituency and represent many of the miners who were on strike, and I can say, with all the conviction that what I say is true, that the union leaders, who were going to the pits every day, sometimes addressing 12 or 15 meetings a day, to urge the men to go back to work had very great sympathy with the men who were on strike. They were in sympathy with the men, they could not hide it, but having regard to the arrangements that were being observed in the industry and to their responsibilities to the industry and the needs of the nation they were advising the men to try to get over their sense of grievance, to use the machinery which was provided and which could be provided and so prevent this seemingly avoidable loss of output.
But let me come back to the problem that is immediately before the House. This Debate has been forced on the House because of the situation in the coal industry. There has been some tendency during the Debate to forget the urgency of the coal situation, and, indeed, the speeches of the Minister of Fuel and Power and of the Prime Minister would seem to indicate that they are not fully conscious of the situation. It would appear that it is only the miners or the Labour leaders in the House who think there is any urgency in the coal situation. But why did the Ministry of Fuel and Power make certain proposals to the Mineworkers' Federation only last week? Why has it been suggested that we should put coal mining on the same priority as the Services in the matter of enlistment? Because of the urgency. The Minister said yesterday that up to now the miners and managers had not failed to give us the coal. That is so. If they had failed, where should we have been to-day? All would have been lost. We are not conducting a post-mortem examination into the coal mining industry, not examining the industry to see whether it has given the coal which is necessary or not, because we know it has; what we are trying to find out is whether we have the greatest degree of efficiency in the conduct of the coal industry to-day, and it seems to me that the Labour leaders are almost unanimously, if not quite unanimously, of the opinion that we have not the greatest degree of efficiency, and that that can only be secured now by a change in the control of the industry.
We should ask ourselves whether the present plan is the best that can be conceived. I do not think it is, and I speak as one who has worked at the coal face under the present control. I was stripping coal this year, and I was joint chairman of the pit production committee at the colliery where I worked from the inception of pit production committees until I was chosen by my fellow workmen to come here, and I can say that the pit production committee just does not function. The Minister told us that only one in four of the pit production committees worked well. I have every reason to believe that the committee of which I was the joint chairman would be regarded as one of those which worked well, but I know it did not. It never did work, and it cannot work well. I have been told in Scotland that it does work well because there is good production at that pit and because of the low percentage of absenteeism. At the time when I was on the pit production committee we had an output of something like 25 cwt. per man-shift and absenteeism was down to about three per cent. But that was not because the pit production committee was working well. That was due to several factors which would not readily be accepted by hon. Members opposite or by the coalowners.
Some reference has been made to the allegation by certain miners and certain trade unionists that the mineowners are working their mines with an eye to the future. Everyone seems to challenge that statement, and people are always asking whether there is any proof of it. On the pit production committee of which I was joint chairman we have, on dozens of occasions, argued that the manager was working his pit with an eye to the future, that he was working poor quality seams to-day to a greater extent than was ever done between the two wars. That allegation could not be refuted. It was 100 per cent. true. They are working low quality seams because they cannot hope to sell the coal after the war. I challenge anyone to make an examination of that colliery and to refute that statement. When it was put to the manager that he was working a bigger percentage of so-called dirty coal he said, "Yes, but it cannot be avoided. We worked the good seams when we had to look for markets." At the same time he is making preparation to work what is left of the good seams at another time. There are in the colliery five or six different seams. When times are difficult for the coal-owners, or in times of peace when there is competition for coal, they work the best quality seams, but in time of war, when they can sell anything that is black, they work any kind of coal. That is my experience. That is what has happened in the colliery in which I worked.
Yes, a report was made to the controller in the usual way. Both sides of the pit production committee are allowed to present their arguments, and then the secretary of the pit production committee sends the views of both sides to the controller. The controller has a look at it, or somebody does. In Scotland the control is responsible for 300 pit production committees, and each of them sends in a report every week. The control get a report from the colliery company about which I was speaking just now, to say that we have been using arguments in favour of getting to another seam. The control asks what is the production of that colliery and when they are told that the production is something like 25 cwt. per man-shift they put the suggestion in the pigeon hole, and they adopt a seam where the production is only 15 cwts.
I have in mind another case in the same colliery, which case was discussed with the pit production committee. We have, in the coalfield over which this colliery company has an option, a mine that has hardly ever been worked. It was sunk a long time ago. A road was run to it during the last war, at the country's expense, but not more than 100 tons of coal have been taken from the mine since then. There are various reasons for that coal not having been worked between the two wars. When difficulty arose at the beginning of this war, early in 1940 and before the fall of France, district production councils were set up in the mining industry, under the then Ministry of Mines. At that time, we became conscious of the fact that a neighbouring colliery company were very desirous of working some coal in this mine. They were right up against it, at the barrier They had come up against the coal over which the first named company, for whom I worked, had an option but they were most desirous of working that coal.
We asked ourselves whether we should interest ourselves in this problem, and we decided that it would be in the national interest for the other company to work this particular piece of coal, so we made a representation from the pit committee to the district production council. These people brought pressure to bear upon the owner of the colliery for which I worked to see whether he would go ahead and work it, or whether they would require to give it to the other company. Seeing that it was a good bit of coal, the owner decided that he would go in, so he started making preparations for getting to this piece of coal, in the spring of 1940. Hon. Members know what happened in June, 1940. So the coal was forgotten for some time. When the coal situation became difficult again we raised this matter in the pit production committee. I believe it was raised at the first meeting of the committee. Since then, the colliery company have been spending money and material driving towards this mine, but with no intention of getting there during the war, no intention whatsoever.
We went further afield to the control, to see whether they would grant the neighbouring colliery company the right to work the coal. The matter has now been investigated and the commission has advised that it should be left with the colliery people. Is it in the interest of the war effort that that coal should not be worked just now? Definitely not. Whoever the people are who made this decision, they are having regard to the interest of the coal company who have an option over the coal, and not to the national interests which are at stake there. This matter of barriers has not been forgotten. We are still losing coal because of artificial barriers. That coal could go into production to-morrow if the right were given to the neighbouring coal company to work it; but it has to be preserved, to he worked by the first coal company at some future date. We do not mind who works it. We are not more sympathetic towards one coal company than to the other. All we are concerned about is that this is coal which ought to be mined to-day.
I can think of another case of barriers. Only last week one of the Blantyre collieries made a complaint to the Minister about the section B stops because they had reached the barrier and they had to stop. Perhaps hon. Members would try to understand what a barrier is. There is no real barrier. The coal is there to be worked, but the company have come to the point where they cease to have an option on the coal. Beyond that point some other company has an option on the coal which may not be worked next week, or next year or 10 years, 20 years or 50 years hence. They have come to the barrier. That was the case in Blantyre, as reported last week. I know of another case, of the Ferniegair colliery in Lanarkshire, where a similar situation exists. The B section was stopped because they had come to the barrier where a Motherwell company had an option on the coal, which could not be worked during this war. It can be worked perhaps 10 years or 15 years hence.
Perhaps a more disgraceful case was that of the Braehead colliery, in Lanarkshire, which was finding some difficulty in maintaining its output. I believe it was some time ago considered advisable to close the colliery because of a decline in output. I understand that the owners were very keen in that place to be allowed to work a section of mill coal, which is a fairly high seam, easily workable and of good quality coal along with the other developments in the pit, and in order that the coal output should be maintained at a high standard. The coal they wished to work was over the barrier. They wanted to work a strip of some 720 yards which I believe belonged to a neighbouring coal company, that was, in the field over which the Southfield Colliery had the rights. These people were denied the right to work the coal. Even a fool would know that it would be in the interests of the war effort to work it but it would not be in the interests of the coalowners. That is the whole point. Once again, financial considerations prevented the production of coal. That is the regrettable position in which we find ourselves to-day.
When we are considering what should be done with the coalmining industry, let us pay some attention to the part played by the coalowners. This Debate tends to trail into political controversy or arguments between miners and coalowners, whereas it should be something quite different. We ought to be considering whether or not we have the best control possible in the mining industry. At Priory Colliery, in Lanarkshire, we had a series of disputes. Lanarkshire is considered to be one of the most turbulent coalfields in Britain. I believe it is so, but the responsibility for that state of affair has always been placed on the shoulders of the men. That was commonly believed, and some months ago the Press gave every one to believe that the production of coal at Priory Colliery had been lessened because of the mischievous intent of the work-people there. The Press made a great story that at one time, I believe in 1939, the output per man-shift worked was about 24 cwts. whereas during the war it has got back to 12. I believe it was under 12 at one period.
Things got so bad there that the Ministry of Fuel and Power were compelled to step in and take control. They did so just following the dispute to which one hon. Member referred when he said that the managing director of Bairds & Scottish Steel had been tried recently at Glasgow for violation of Order 1305, which violation had caused some thousands of shifts to be lost. This fellow was fined £50. I am referring to the same colliery, since it has been taken over by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I have a cutting from the "Glasgow Herald" which deals with a meeting which took place on 13th July, 1943, since it was taken over at which some of our regional officers in Scotland and miners' union leaders attended. Here is a description of Priory Colliery by a Mr. Reid, who is Labour Production Director of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. It says:
The conditions prevailing in Priory Colliery were described by Mr. Reid, who pointed out that the state of the roads and airways was so bad that the working of the colliery must be suspended until the necessary repair work has been completed. About 250 men will be employed on the repair work on resumption after the holiday.
That was Glasgow Fair holiday or the Scottish industrial holiday. So a position was that the miners got the blame for the decline in output in that colliery, whereas, it is very obvious, in the words of a coal-owner himself, because the Labour Production Director is ex-chairman of the Fife Colliery Company, that the state of the roads and airways of the colliery is such that production will have to be discontinued for a period of months and 260 men are put on to repair conditions in this colliery and put it into a fit state in which coal can be drawn. That is a regrettable state of affairs, but the mineworkers had no responsibility whatever for keeping these airways and roads in that disgraceful condition. If they had been asked to make the roads higher or wider, they would have done so. The coalowner paid no regard to the needs of the colliery. All he wanted was to get as much coal and as much profit as he could out of the colliery.
With regard to this colliery, what is to happen to it after the Ministry have spent a fortune in putting it right? Is it suggested that we should give it back to Bairds & Scottish Steel? If we do not have any system of State control, most obviously we shall give it back to them.
When the next war comes along, if we should have an unfortunate recurrence of present events, I daresay we shall have to do the same thing again and put the colliery in order. I believe that the Miners' Union have appealed to the Minister of Fuel and Power to tell them what the financial arrangement is in the taking over of that colliery. The miner's business is everybody's business, but the mineowner's business is nobody's business but the mineowner's. That is unfortunately true. We do not know what it will cost to put the mine in order; we have not been told. We are not told what the coalowner has made out of it, and what is to happen to the mine after it is put into a proper state of repair. Yet the miner's wages and conditions are everybody's business. That position can only be tolerated for so long, and some time or other the bubble will burst. The miners will kick in a way which will be very unfortunate for this country if it should happen before the end of hostilities has been reached. I sincerely hope it will not and that we shall get rid of this outside enemy before we come down to creating too big a row inside.
In that same colliery the union had been fairly strong and had been able to establish fairly good wages conditions, relatively speaking. In comparison with other pits the wages were not too bad, so that when the men are transferred from that colliery to another colliery the probability is that they suffer a reduction in wages. That happened in this case, and it is unfortunately true to say that most collieries that are being concentrated and are going out of production just now are the collieries in which the best wages and conditions were obtained. In Blantyre Colliery we have something like 100 men who are kicking their heels in idleness, and they are in receipt of the guaranteed wage. There is no work for them to do but for a period of 12 weeks they get their full wages.
I do not grumble at their getting wages when no work is provided for them, but the point is that while the colliery is being reorganised these 100 men could be used in the pit. We are very desirous that they should have their wages and be given an opportunity of working for them. We are not suggesting that they should be transferred to Yorkshire or South Wales. It is intended that this colliery will em- ploy several hundred men after its reorganisation. We discovered that in this colliery of some 850 men, 250 are at present engaged on the reorganisation work, 100 are retained in idleness, their wages are being paid, and the remainder are transferred to other collieries. We have the unfortunate experience now that many of these transferred workers are working for nearly 25. a day less than is obtained by the men who are idle in Blantyre. That has a psychological effect in that miners who are prevented from working are receiving wages at the rate of 19s. 8d. a day while the men who are transferred have to work some 20 or 30 miles from their homes for 17s. 10d. a day—1s. 10d. a day less for working than they would get if they had been retained in idleness.
I am suggesting that whereas there ought to be an increase in the wages paid to coalminers there ought to be some sort of unification. The wage rates applicable in those localities are in accordance with what was negotiated before the war. We have districts where there was a considerable degree of destitution before the war. In those districts the wage rates were very low indeed. In the colliery in which I worked before I came here 20 years ago we were considered to be the best paid colliers in Scotland. Now we in that district are the poorest, because the coal seam petered out. Whereas we used to have 3,000 men working in the district we have only 800 or 900 to-day. The coalowners took advantage of that difficult period to break us to rock bottom, to put us on the minimum wage. To-day when the miners in the colliery are producing 25 cwts. per man-shift with an absenteeism rate of 3 per cent., they are being paid less than is being obtained elsewhere. When they make objection someone suggests, "You have machinery to deal with that."
The machinery works, but it works to our disadvantage. We have appealed to the coalowners to reconsider the position and to grade us up to the average rate, to pay rates similar to those in the colliery half a mile up the road, to pay the average rate in an area covering some seven or eight collieries. Their answer is that it cannot be done. We asked for our ton rates, reduced to such a ridiculous level before the war that men could not earn the minimum wage, to be put up. We sought to put the miners on a common footing with the bricklayers on a piece rate basis, but the answer is that it cannot be done. We have had long and protracted negotiations, but the answer is always in the negative. When we use the disputes machinery the owners say "No. You are seeking to change something that operated before the war. You are seeking to establish new conditions in that colliery. We cannot encourage that." When we try to get a different interpretation from a neutral chairman he says, "I am powerless to do anything. I cannot interfere with the wage rates agreed upon before the war." Yet we are told that we have machinery. The machinery is exhausted, and there is not another thing that we can do.
When a young miner is sent to prison for not paying a fine and men come out on strike they come out because of an accumulation of grievances, because of a deep sense of frustration. I appeal to the Government to recognise the tragic conditions that prevail in this industry. There has been some talk of absenteeism as well as of strikes, but it has been clearly pointed out that the total loss for the whole year through disputes has not been more than one day's output. I appeal to the Government to consider taking these cases of absenteeism out of the law courts altogether. You must get them out of the courts, and there must be no more heavy penalties and no imprisonment because a miner has unfortunately lost two or three days' work. The Minister told us yesterday that there was deep suspicion and mistrust in the industry. That is very true, and that mistrust and suspicion will not be liquidated by the statements made by the Minister yesterday or by the Prime Minister to-day. We must have a new approach to this problem. There is only one solution, and that is for the Government to take over control of the industry. I hope they will pay some attention to what I have said about pit production committees. We do not have even dual control. The operational control is still in the hands of the coal industry.
One always feels it is very difficult to intervene in a Debate after an intervention in circumstances similar to those of to-day by the Prime Minister. An important speech such as the Prime Minister made must have a material effect upon the subsequent course the Debate takes. Many hon. Members here no doubt remember a few years ago when we were to have a Debate on coal, when a threatening situation seemed likely to develop, Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, the then Prime Minister, made an early intervention in the Debate and made an appeal to both sides of the House in such terms that those who intended to speak from the Front and Back Benches on the other side of the House were seen tearing up their speeches in admission that on account of the appeal made to them it was quite impossible to deliver the speeches which they had in mind. I feel very much in that position to-day, and I have had to scrap a good deal of what I had intended to say. That perhaps is not a disadvantage, and in any event the time now left before the Minister replies is very short. I do not want to encroach upon any time which he wishes to have at his disposal.
I think that, while the Prime Minister's speech gave satisfaction in some degree or other to most people, there may be a danger, because the Prime Minister, as I understood his speech, led us to believe that after all things were not quite so serious in the industry as had been depicted during recent weeks. I think that danger should be faced, because it would be a most serious thing if the domestic consumers, whose economies last winter are every bit as much needed in this coming winter, should not continue economies, or if the economies which industrial users are endeavouring to make are not sustained and increased, or if the miners should feel that they can allow their efforts to fall back. I think it is most important that the country should not be misled, on reading the Prime Minister's speech or hearing it read over the wireless, into thinking that all is well, that we can give up some of our rigid economies, and that the miners should not pat themselves on the back and say, "We have been told by the Prime Minister that we are all good boys. We need not worry ourselves unduly. We can go on working at the same pace." I think that is a danger the country should guard against.
My next point is this. I sympathise to the full with the men engaged in the mining industry in their post-war anxieties. Nobody who had dealings with these depressed areas, as I had between the two wars, can fail to remember with regret the serious unemployment which lasted so long in so many of our mining areas. I do not believe there is a Member in any party who desires a repetition of that state of affairs and who is not anxious to take any step when the time comes to prevent a recurrence.
Knowing the miners, which I used to do much better than I do to-day, I am convinced that their worry is not so much the rate of wages as whether there are 50 weeks' work for them in the year. They would rather have the certainty of 50 weeks' work at £5 per week than £6 a week for only 35 weeks in the year. It is the certainty of freedom from that anxiety which is uppermost in their minds. But the miners have gained a great deal during this war. They have gained a 65 per cent. increase in wages, a guaranteed minimum wage, security against dismissal—which is provided under the Essential Work Order—the setting-up of compulsory conciliation machinery, the establishment of pit production committees—which, I agree, in many cases might be working much better—and Government control, if not ownership, of the mines. These are very substantial advantages. It was a little unfortunate that the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), in his pamphlet on coal, was completely silent about these advantages. What makes us on this side a little anxious is that, in spite of these higher wages and so on, which it was said would lead to increased coal production, the contrary has been the case. We wonder whether the demand put forward in the last few days for an increase in the guaranteed wage of 37s. for peace workers and 32s. for others, to bring the minimum wage up to £6and £5 10s. respectively, will really bring any increased production. The incentive to greater effort—that is, the rate of wages being related to the effort—is largely absent when you have such high minimum wages.
Very briefly, I want to summarise what I think one may conclude, as a result of the Debate, are the general remedies to be recommended. I want to bring these to the Minister's attention, and I hope he will see to what extent he can implement them. The first real need of the industry is an increase in the employed strength. On that there can be no difference of view. The next, in the opinion of many connected with the management of the industry, is that steps should be taken to restore discipline where the lack of it has become all to apparent. I am not suggesting that this should be done other than by action carefully considered by representatives of the managers and of the men. It might be done by restoring the right of managers to impose the three days' suspension. I have never understood why the mining industry was singled out and deprived of that right, which exists in other industries. I think that that right should be restored. Next, the incentive to greater output should, somehow, be restored. I think the Minister is going to have worked out a pit bonus scheme on the lines of the Greene Report, but a further suggestion which I press upon all parties in the industry is that they should consider the reintroduction of the bonus attendance scheme. I know that a scheme was put into operation a few months ago. It was tried for, I think, four or five weeks, and was then merged into a fixed rate. I think it is worth considering again whether a man who turns up regularly should be rewarded by a bonus for good attendance—and that includes also a good day's work in the pit when he is there.
Firm action should be taken by the Government against those responsible for unauthorised strikes and stoppages. Here, I think, the organisation of the Ministry of Fuel and Power is largely to blame. In many parts of the country, the Ministry's representatives have acted with lamentable weakness where firmness and promptitude were demanded. I am convinced that there is room, for improvement—I do not say in all regions, but certainly in some. There are mischief-makers who go to some areas, and nobody seems to know where they come from. Where trouble develops, they go in and foment it. They distribute leaflets containing the most subversive arguments, which ought not to be allowed by the Home Office, if that kind of offence comes within their jurisdiction. I say, in the presence of the Minister of Home Security, that he has kept in custody, under 18B, men whose actions against the national interest have not been so serious as those of some men who have been loose in the mining districts, fomenting trouble.
I agree also with what has been said about the necessity of abolishing court proceedings against miners, except in the most flagrant cases. The investigating officer should be empowered to fine offenders, after investigations at which, I might say, the employers' representatives ought also to be allowed to be present. Those are the remedies to which importance is attached by those responsible for endeavouring to increase the coal production of this country. I would ask the Minister to give them, with his advisers, the most careful consideration during the next few days. Time is of the utmost importance in this matter.
Finally, I make this point. If young men are to be directed to work underground, it should not be confined to surface workers only. So far there is little sign of men of other classes being directed to work in the mines. All classes must be drawn upon, and why not? In my earlier years of business I had a good deal to do with the industry in the way of electrification. I have been down the mine and have had to consider the working conditions. I learned then—and I still strongly hold the view—that coalmining is and ought to be considered a great industry and a vocation standing high in priority and in public esteem. Those engaged in it, both management and men, should be well paid for a service dangerous to themselves but essential to the community, always provided that the reward increases with the effort. It is with that honest opinion of the industry that I have submitted the suggestions to which I have referred, and I ask the Minister to let us know now to what extent he is prepared to implement the suggestions made, not only by myself, but from other quarters of the House, during the course of this Debate.
One of the difficulties of a Debate on the coal industry at the present juncture is well illustrated by the remark by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley). He said that it might be thought after the Prime Minister's speech to-day that things may not be quite so serious and that the miners would go to work tomorrow thinking that they were all very good boys. That is exactly the difficulty. If I say that I am satisfied or any other Minister says he is satisfied or any other Minister says he is satisfied that we shall see the winter through, that immediately is regarded as a statement that everything is perfectly satisfactory. On the other hand, if you say, "I think the output considering the circumstances is good," that is taken by some people as an indication to the miners to produce less. The fact of the matter was that the Prime Minister did not actually give that impression at all. What he said was that the situation was serious, but he appealed to those who were not pulling their weight and said it is only possible to see through our difficulties this winter if we get the same effort by all sections of the community as we got last year.
With regard to the points to which the hon. Gentleman referred towards the end, he will forgive me for saying, after some experience of this Ministry, that he is slightly optimistic in offering them as a possible solution. Many have been dealt with already. The question of man-power has already been dealt with, and with regard to the question of attendance referred to, my recollection was that that was tried for some few weeks and was abandoned by both sides of the industry. With regard to surface workers, he will be glad, of course, that my right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that directions will be issued to all sections of the community.
There is another difficulty that I find with coal Debates. I have often heard discussions about the shape or arrangement of seats within the Chamber. Some people say ones with the seats circular are better and others prefer the ones where all look direct. I confess that I belong to the latter, but in the case of coal Debates I am not sure whether there is not something to be said for circular arrangements. During the two days we have had some extremely good constructive speeches, and I am sorry to say we have had two or three of the other sort which would have been far better not delivered. That is a difficulty, I am afraid, with all Debates on this industry.
I have not a great deal of time, and I cannot possibly deal with all the points that have been raised in the discussion, but I will deal with one or two of the main ones. I will first of all deal very briefly with the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). The two things to which he referred were bad seams being worked and a better one being kept until after the war. I must repeat the statement that so far I have personally investigated every such charge that has come to my personal knowledge—and I have had these brought to me by many pit production committees—and I have had them investigated to the best of my ability, but I have not had a case of this kind yet. But that is not to say I am not prepared to follow up every case that is given, and I assure my hon. Friend that I have powers to put that right, and I shall have no hesitation whatever in using them, because it is not in the national interest that that should be done. With regard to the barriers, it is also true to say that I have come across cases not only of barriers but coal under leases, and I have had no difficulty in making arrangements through the Coal Commission to have them worked. If there is difficulty there and my hon. Friend will let me know, I am satisfied we can put that right.
The question of mechanisation has been raised particularly in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster). He seemed to think that I personally am not very enthusiastic about mechanisation and that I was rather late in recognising the need for it. May I disabuse his mind of that? I am enthusiastic for mechanisation, not only because we want to get the output, but because we want to do everything we can to lighten the toil of those who produce coal. I certainly have not been lacking in enthusiasm, and certainly we have not been late in recognising it. The House really must not be misled by the picture which my hon. and gallant Friend drew yesterday. I was certainly not satisfied with the position as far as mechanisation is concerned. Mechanisation in this industry has progressed far further than a good many people realise. I have not the figures before me, but I think I am right in saying that something like 65 per cent. of the coal in this country is cut by machine and about 65 per cent. also is conveyed by machine. Therefore, do not let us think we have no mechanisation, but there is a tremendous lot more that can be done, and the type of machine we are going for now is one which does lighten labour tremendously. My hon. and gallant Friend did not seem to think that we had really tackled this with great energy. May I put this story to him? New machines on the coalface and con- veyors and so on are not the only shortage we are suffering from. When the Battle of France came to an end we were extremely short of war materials in this country, and a good deal of the capacity of our coalmining machinery factories was taken over for the purposes of war, with the result that the ordinary machinery which we always used in our coalfields fell very seriously behind.
Indeed, at the time of Dunkirk I do not think we had 40 per cent. of our capacity for coalmining machinery in this country. But with the help of my right hon. Friends the Minister of Production and the Minister of Supply very great progress has been made, and I am glad to say that at this moment the capacity for producing mining machinery in this country is not only 100 per cent. instead of 40 per cent. but in some cases is well over that figure. I think the House will agree that considerable progress has been made, particularly during the last year or two, in that respect. I believe my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde said yesterday that we had the same priority for coalmining machinery as we had for furniture. Let me put him right by saying that we have the highest priority you can enjoy for that type of stuff in this country as the present time.
My hon. and gallant Friend made the statement that we have the same priority as for furniture, and I am telling him that we have a higher priority. We have improved the position, and I am correcting the statement he made yesterday. As far as the Ministry itself is concerned, it is about the highest priority we have in the office. May I say a word or two about American machinery? They are new types to some extent, so far as this country is concerned. It is all very well to criticise the Ministry because the American machinery is not here, but that is not the fault of the Ministry. My hon. and gallant Friend ought to know that so far as his own particular case was concerned that was a May, 1942, order. We cannot be responsible for delays over which we have no control. The Americans have their difficulties as well as we have, and we are largely in their hands. But I believe the position will greatly improve now, particularly because of the assistance I shall be getting, not only from my two light hon. Friends to whom I have already referred, but also from the two Committees now sitting, one in Washington and one here, to deal not only with the allocation of coal but also with the allocation of machines and materials for this very essential work. I am glad to say that the programme of machinery is now being met and also that there is a tremendous demand for machinery to deal with the opencast working, which, I believe, is also making good progress.
The Minister has taken me to task on a number of points. I must deal with one in particular, namely, machinery. The order to which he referred was made in May, 1942, before the formation of his Ministry. An order was made in January, February and March of this year, again, under the auspices of his own Ministry, yet none of the machinery has yet appeared. I remarked yesterday that it was a lack of enthusiasm that had brought that about. Certainly there is that impression in America and among ourselves here. The Minister may be able to explain what happened to the order which was made under the auspices of his own Ministry.
I cannot say straight off what the position in America is, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman says there is an impression in America that there is a lack of enthusiasm here I just cannot understand it. My predecessor, before he left the Ministry, sent officials there to investigate the possibilities, and I, too, have sent people there. It is quite fantastic to suggest that anyone in America can possibly imagine that there is any lack of enthusiasm here, because there have been constant requests to speed up the orders we have given. We now have these Committees. I do not know where my hon. and gallant Friend gets his information, but, as I have just said, it is quite fantastic that anyone in America can possibly imagine that there is no enthusiasm here for their machines.
As my hon. Friend is aware, the operation of getting the coal itself is in the hands of my Noble Friend the Minister of Works and Planning. I have not any information on that. It may well be that some of these machines are not suitable for a particular job. I do not know. But the machines we want are not available in this country. That I do know. One other word about machinery. We are not only relying upon American machinery, but we ourselves are making here new British-type machines. The ones which have been produced have had their teething troubles, it is true, but we have had substantial successes, and I am very hopeful that we shall be able to increase their delivery quite substantially.
Many points were raised with regard to the voluntary system for dealing with absenteeism and so on. I have not time to deal with all of them at the moment. But the voluntary system of fining, to which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) referred, is a system which my own Ministry worked out. It is not something which has been suggested to us; it was an experiment from within the Ministry. It has had a certain measure of success. It has been watched very carefully, and if it succeeds will be extended. Indeed, it has been extended in certain cases already. There is the point with regard to suspension, but that is not quite so simply as it looks, because in some cases, I think I am right in saying, there is no right of suspension unless it is in the contract of service. But in any case I do not believe it will have the effect that my hon. Friend thinks it will. No suggestion that could be made in order to make this work is rejected. There are, however, serious difficulties about many of the suggestions which have been put forward. We get plenty of criticism as to what we should do to stop these things, but I do not often get really constructive suggestions. But no suggestion is rejected, and, where possible, it is experimented with.
Both he and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fylde were good enough to say that the position had deteriorated rapidly since I became the Minister for Fuel and Power. [An HON. MEMBER: "They said other things, too."] I dare say, but that is one of the things I noticed. Figures were quoted, and one hon. Member went so far as to say that the figures showed that the position during the last war was worse than in this one and was not really sound because the figures were not comparable. I am sorry, but I must repeat what I said before. The position in the fourth year of the last war was definitely worse than the position in the fourth year of this war. I have taken the trouble to get some figures from the Mining Association. The decline in output per man per week during the fourth year of the last war was 11 per cent. as compared with 5 per cent. for the fourth year in this war.
He also said that production had gone down ever since this Ministry was formed. That really is not so. May I remind the House again—I am only doing it because it is not right that the impression should be given that nothing has happened—that, when the Ministry was formed, production per man shift was 1.06 tons? That was the average for 1941. In the first quarter of 1942 it went down to 1.04; in the next quarter it was 1.03—that was the formation of the Ministry, or the acceptance of the White Paper, whichever hon. Members wish to call it; in the third quarter of 1942 it went down to 1.02; in the fourth quarter, for the first time since the war started, it reversed the process and went back to 1.06. Even in the first quarter of this year it was 1.05, and in the second quarter just under 1.04. I have admitted that I am disturbed at the loss of production, particularly in the last few weeks, but do not let us run away with the idea that since this Ministry was formed, or since this scheme was put into operation, there has been a steady decline in output, because it is entirely contrary to the facts.
Reference is also made to the lack of a production director. That is one of the weaknesses I am up against. The shortage of man-power is not confined to those who work at the face and underground. That shortage is reflected on the technical side. I have had the greatest difficulty in getting a production director, but at last I have got one, a man of tremendous experience on the technical side. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the name?"] It has been announced. I do not want hon. Members to think—this is another point that has been put by one or two speakers—that the Ministry delays doing things. The hon. and gallant Gentleman again said that with regard to absenteeism and so on. This new organisation of investigation officers has investigated 128,000 cases since the Ministry was set up. Most of the officers are men who have worked in the industry at one time or another.
I take a tremendous personal interest in the pit production committees, and, despite the fact that only one in four is functioning well, I am not going to despair, because I believe that in the pit production committees you will eventually find something of tremendous advantage to the industry. There are some that do not work, but I know that those that do work seem to be very good institutions indeed. There are perfect co-operation and good will and perfect freedom in exchanging information between both sides. When the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) tries to ridicule the organisation in his part of the world, let me give him a word of advice. He would do much better service if he used his influence and authority to try to make it work. He could be of great assistance because he knows the difficulties, and, if any of the things that he said are in fact so, he could do a tremendous lot. If the committee cannot get information from the Controller, there is nothing to prevent his getting that put right, and it would be of great assistance.
The scheme is an experiment, and experiments do want help. The hon. Member knows a great deal about the coal industry. He is right in the middle of it. If he finds the scheme breaking down because of personal difficulties—most of the difficulties in the industry are personal—if he would use his influence to try to improve the machine, not leave it as it is and say it is not worth while trying to work, he could help tremendously, and so could many others who are in close touch with the industry.
One word on the broader aspect of the position. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) mentioned that we balanced the budget last year, but that there is a limit to what you can do with increasing demand. I entirely agree. So much do I agree that it is exactly what I said yesterday, that there is no possibility now of so drafting the budget that you can tell that consumption is going to be so and so and production so and so, because there is now a new element come in which is entirely unpredictable. Therefore all we can do is to strain every nerve to save fuel and to produce as much as we can. The right hon. Gentleman said one thing that I really must disagree with. He said we were saved last winter by the privation of consumers and by the grace of God. I accept the latter part, but I cannot accept the privation of the consumer. I have no evidence of privation. Inconvenience, yes, but privation, no.
The right hon. Member also said that the feeling in the industry is much worse than in the last war, and he repeated what has been said so often in the last two days, that the miners cannot forget the past. I must repeat that that is not a good atmosphere to work in. No one recognises more than I do the reasons why the past is so prominent in their minds, and no one sympathises with them more than I do. We have to get out of that frame of mind if we are to progress. What other reasons are there for the conditions to which my right hon. Friend refers? He says nothing substantial has been done. I shall not stand at this Box and say that everything necessary has been done, but do let us recognise what things have been done. Let us go along step by step. Tremendous things have been done in respect of wages. The conciliation machinery is a tremendous thing, and I should like to re-echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) said with regard to Lord Greene, because the country owes a great debt to him for the skill and despatch with which he has conducted things. Therefore, do not let us forget what has been done, and, really, we have started, especially recently, to do a great deal, though a great deal has still to be done. I ask the House to believe that I am not unmindful of that, because I believe there is a lot of leeway to be made up.
I have been told there will be gloom in the homes of the miners to-morrow, I assume because the mines have not been nationalised to-day. [Interruption.] If that is not the argument, there is nothing that we cannot do, between us, towards removing the gloom—taking all the causes of disaffection, all the injustices, and attacking them boldly in order to put them right. That we can all do at the present time, and nobody would be happier than I to take a hand not only in removing the causes of the injustice, but in doing everything we can to ensure security, because security is of the first importance in my opinion.
I would not accept that. That is not really true. There are other injustices. There are things which we can do together to the great benefit of this industry and those in it. Speaking of the White Paper, an hon. Member said that my proposals were not very acceptable, were inadequate. After working this scheme for only 12 months, before this Debate was even thought of, I had myself conducted a searching examination into how it had been working during the period of its operation. I had reports from all over the regions. The Government came to the conclusion that if the scheme could not operate properly because of any defect we would take steps to remove it. I personally have been examining it for some time. The difficulty is not confined to machinery, there are other things which affect relations, and my colleagues who have assisted me in that task and I can assure my hon. Friend that no time whatever will be lost.
I was called an appeaser to-day or yesterday. If I was called an appeaser because I refuse to join in the general denunciation of those who say that the whole of the loss of coal is due to the miners of this country, then for the first time in my life I do not mind being called an appeaser, because I share the view of the Prime Minister that great work has been done, under great difficulties, by the overwhelming majority of the miners. The Prime Minister said to-day that I had a thankless task. I dare say, as far as the immediate position is concerned, that that is probably so, but I am far from regarding my immediate task as the only one I have in this industry, and the other task I am not regarding as thankless at all. It is a task which I am very happy to take part in. May I say that I am far happier when I am going round the coalfields than when I am taking part in a Debate in this House? I know that industrial relations have been bad for many years. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walk-den) saying something of this sort, though I do not pretend to quote his exact words, when the White Paper was first brought to our notice: "Why cannot you get relations in your industry like those we have in ours?" I took great encouragement from that, because 36 years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was President of the Board of Trade, and he told me that the directors and the men would not sit in the same room and that he, the President, had to run up and down stairs with messages from one to the other. I was very much encouraged when the hon. Member said that his industry was a pattern to the miners. My mind went back to what my father had told me of what happened 36 years ago. Let us hope it will not take 36 years to get relationships in this industry into the same state. All I can say is that I regard it as a privilege to be in a position to contribute something, however small, to that improvement.