Question again proposed,
That a further sum, not exceedingx00A3;30, he granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Fuel and Power, for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1945, namely:—
|Cllass X., Vote 5, Ministry of Fuel and Power||£10|
|Class X., Vote 16, Ministry of Works (War Services)||£10|
|Class X., Vote 15, Ministry of War Transport||£10|
I was about to say that those criteria will remain constant, whether or no this industry is nationalised, is conducted on a communal basis, or under the most conservative interpretation of private enterprise, Recently, some of my colleagues on the Tory Reform Committee and I made a study of the coal industry, and we found this consideration to be a most valuable aid to objectivity.
What is the situation? The internal consumption of coal in this country before the war was in the nature of 178,000,000 tons. We must expect, in the period immediately post-war, some considerable increase on that figure, something in the nature of 200,000,000 tons. We must also expect to resume at the earliest moment supplies to the Continent of the order of 50,000,000 tons. That is no greater than our supplies immediately before the war. We must, if we are to implement the implications of the White Paper on Employment Policy, foster exports, and in particular coal exports, by every means in our power.
Perhaps I might remind my right hon. and gallant Friend of some words which were used by his distinguished father in 1915, in this regard:
In peace and in war King Coal is paramount Lord of industry. It enters into every article of consumption and utility, it is our real international coinage. When we buy food, goods and raw materials abroad, we pay, not in gold but in coal.
In the face of this imperative and imminent need for 250,000,000 tons, we find a disastrous picture. The production of coal has fallen by about 34,000,000 tons since 1938. It fell sharply last year by 8,000,000 tons, and the immediate prospect this year is little or no better. Even with the inclusion of open-cast coal, I should say that we shall not have more than 185,000,000 tons available in the year 1944, and that is against an internal demand at this moment of 188,000,000 tons. In fact, it means that we shall not have a single ton with which to provide for the requirements of the Continent during the war or for export after the war, without encroaching on the supplies that are essential to maintain our own economy.
We are apt to console ourselves a little too much with the fact that we are doing as well as, or better than, we did in the last war. During the last war, output fell by about 60,000,000 tons, but even with that fall the industry was still producing the very formidable figure of 227,000,000 tons when the war was over, and was able, by 1920, to export 43,500,000 tons. On that occasion, more- over, there was the advantage of the return to the industry at the end of the war of about 250,000 miners. On this occasion, as hon. Members know, but a small fraction of that number can be due to return at the termination of hostilities, and we shall have to face the diminution of our labour force by the disappearance of great numbers of the Bevin boys. I say advisedly "great numbers" because it is a source of great encouragement that, all over the country, a very fair proportion of those Bevin boys have already expressed their intention of remaining in the industry.
Coupled with this situation there is, of course, the whole question of the cost of production to be considered. Once again we should be wise to take a lesson from what occurred at the end of the last war. On that occasion, for a few years, we subsidised the internal price of coal at the expense of our customers abroad. We did it at a moment of their need, and we were unwise to do so. It took us about 20 years of patient endeavour to regain part of the ground we lost on that occasion in face of their resentment. I feel that we must, at any price, avoid a repetition of that mistake on this occasion, and that we must produce coal for the customers' requirements at competitive prices. I have never joined with those who suggest that costs can be brought down by bringing down wages. I say that with due emphasis. On the contrary, I welcome the fact that the conscience of the nation has decided that miners should have a minimum of £5 a week, and that there should be a guarantee of that wage level until, anyhow, 1948. I do not think we can expect any sense of security, or even sense of co-operation, within the industry unless we are prepared to pay a decent wage. I should also like to take this opportunity of saying that I think we should be wise to revise the whole of our wage scale of the technical and managerial class within the industry. We must appeal to our fair share of the best brains in the country to join this industry. We cannot expect them to do so unless we are prepared to pay proper wages. But these wages are only a "potential gain" to the miners because it will be impossible to maintain the real value of these wages in coal, or indeed any other British industry at the present high cost of production.
I am going to make an assessment of the effect of the Porter award on wages, and to that I add the 21st April agreement. In the White Paper, the cost per ton we have considered up to April, 1944, is in the region of 28s. 5d. I suggest that that figure will now become of the order of 32s.; more or less exactly 100 per cent. greater than it was at the commencement of the war. That figure must be considered in relation to world competitive prices. In the United States they are today producing coal at the pit head price of 13s. Id. per ton. [An HON. MEMBER: "And paying twice the wages."] No, they are not paying twice the wages but a higher wage. We are very inclined to discount what occurs in the United States on the score that their conditions are in no way comparable to our own, but hundreds of pits in the United States are very similar to our own.
Even if we discount 5o per cent. of the difference on those grounds, 13s. 1d. remains a figure to be conjured with. It gives them an ample margin for transport costs if they wish to compete with British coal in the South American markets. We have to consider the prices obtaining in the Ruhr and Silesia when they enter into competition with us. Their pre-war figures f.o.b. were 15s. for Silesia and 10s. for the Ruhr. I cannot compute what they will be precisely post-war, but we must bear in mind that before the war they were producing per man shift nearly two-thirds more than we were.
Wages in the last war, in fact, fell proportionately from 77 to 75 per cent. of total costs. On this occasion they have gone up sharply from 66 to 75 per cent. The relevance of that figure is that if we are to maintain wages constant we have only 25 per cent. of the cost of coal, apart from additional production, with which we can play about. That 25 per cent. does not allow a very wide margin. A lot of the figures in it are constant whatever height of production is maintained. In the last war we finished up with a profit figure of round about 3s. 1d. per ton. On this occasion the figure is 1s. 4d., and even this is artificially maintained by the operation of the Coal Charges Fund. That 1s. 4d. represents merely a 6 per cent. return on the capital value of the industry, and even under a system of nationalisation, which would do away with any reward for the production of coal, the wiping out of the 1s. 4d. would make very little contribution to bringing down the costs of production.
I think there can be very little doubt that the Committee, in the light of the figures that they have received from the Minister and that they have been able to adduce from the White Paper, are of the inevitable opinion that the only solution lies in an immense increase in production per head employed. I am not suggesting for a moment that that will be any easy matter. From 1913 to 1938 we barely progressed. Output per man shift had only risen from one ton to 1.12 tons. During that period, we spent £190,990,009 in mechanisation, but had very little more than kept pace with the wastage of our thicker seams. Yet the 100,000,000 had on the whole been wisely expended. What we have to consider now is not the odd cwt. We have, in fact, if we are to maintain the wage level and our position in the face of world competition, and to make it possible for British industry to compete in foreign markets, to produce something nearer two tons per man shift. That will only be possible by immense reorganisation, and by a policy of expansion far beyond, I suggest, even what the hon. Member for Gower had in mind.
We have heard a little to-day from my right hon. Friend of the visit of this American mission from the Joint Resources Board and some of the conclusions to which they have come. Hon. Members may feel that we are thrusting American methods a little too much down their throats, but I think it would be unwise to take that point of view. If we look back over the history of the coal trade for the last 70 or 80 years we must recognise that other countries have, from time to time, taken the lead in technique. Seventy or eighty years ago the Pas de Calais was foremost in the technique of coal production. At a later stage for a short period Belgium was to the forefront. The lead came back to England, and was wrested from us subsequently by the Germans. It has now undoubtedly gone to America, and we should be wise to profit by their example, and by the phenomenal results they are able to obtain. They pay a very high wage rate in America. They have mechanised to a degree beyond anything we have hitherto achieved in this country. With regard to the adoption of these methods, and the installation of American machinery, I have previously expressed my views to the House. We have made a great many mistakes, unfortunately, but those most closely connected with the industry are now becoming sanguine of the possibilities in this direction. Certainly I join with my right hon. Friend in hoping that we can press forward with this aim by every means in our power.
I promised to speak only for a short time, so I will cut short what I have to say. I have, from time to time, criticised my right hon. Friend. I have, from time to time, expressed grave doubts about the conditions within this industry. I am afraid the figures I have produced to-day do nothing to allay those doubts in -my mind. But whether or no the record of this Ministry is good or bad, or whatever my criticisms may be, neither are of any importance in the face of the stark reality of this situation: we have not got the coal, we are not at the present juncture going to be able to provide the coal required by our Allies for the rest of this war, and we are in no position to enter into the export trade after the war unless a radical change occurs. I feel that that change can occur. I do not favour nationalisation. I want a national policy for coal. I want a lead in this matter from the Government. Given that lead, and given faith and co-operation, we can achieve it. I have no doubt whatever about the miners. Anyone who has had any experience of the 5oth Division, or the South Wales Borderers, or the Sherwood Foresters, need ever doubt what they can do and what they will do. What we require is a lead. If we get that lead I have no doubt that, in due time, this industry will resume its position in the forefront of the world.
I was very glad to hear the last speaker on the question of what he would be prepared to do in relation to miners' wages. He would be prepared to give, for four years, a minimum £5 of a week. There was also—it is the first time I have heard it mentioned in this House or even outside—.the question of the upliftment, if I might put it that way, of the clerical staff, who work in the offices of the mines. These men, I know very well, having worked alongside them for many years, have always been very badly paid. As the previous speaker said, if we are to attract the better minds into the industry, particularly on the clerical side, very much better wages will have to be paid.
I do not intend to deal with the technical side of the industry, but to leave that to minds perhaps greater than mine. But there are some matters on which I would like to touch, in reference to the health and conditions of the miners. I was very glad, two months ago, to listen to the passing of the miners' welfare levy for another ten years and I could mention one or two points in relation to that. I think it is the best money that has been spent in the last 20 years, for the social life of our men. It has, in many instances, revolutionised our village life. It has given us recreation, miners' halls for social life, libraries, and many opportunities for the use of leisure. Also, from that source have come pithead baths which have been a real revolution in the country, and aretone baths have been given at a number of places. I hope there will be more of these baths. Maybe hon. Members do not know much about these aretone baths, and what they are. It is a bath which massages the whole body in bubbling water. The man sits in a bath and compressed air is put into it and gives him a complete massage. A number of our men have been won back to health again by these baths. It has cured a good many cases of rheumatism; it tones them up. The Miners' Welfare Commission objected to putting in a lot of these baths. Let me say from practical experience that they are an excellent thing in helping many of our men to win back health and strength again.
I would like to refer to the question of laundries attached to pit-head baths. Where there are, say, half a dozen pits in a district it would be easy to arrange for a laundry and have the miners' pit clothes washed at the pit-heads, instead of having them taken home. It would be a very great stride forward, socially, if the men were allowed to leave their clothes at the pit-head baths. Another thing to consider seriously is the provision of holiday homes, to which the men could take their families. I hope that gone are the days when homes will be built around the pit-head, so that many women's hearts are broken by having to live practically in the pityard, with all the dirt and filth. These men and their families are entitled to a much better social life.
While we admit that accidents and deaths have slightly decreased in the mines, there is a terrible toll even yet. I would like to see the mining industry compelled by law to re-employ their injured men. A number of hon. Members will not agree with me on that. Why should men who are injured in the mines have to apply to the labour exchange, OF to public assistance, when they have been maimed? Only last week a man came to me who had been injured. They were not able to find him work at the colliery, and he had to go to the labour exchange. Thousands of men have been in the same position. After six months, when he has had the statutory benefit, he is handed over to the Unemployment Assistance Board, and then half of his compensation is taken into account. Why should these men be put into this terrible position? I repeat what I said in my maiden speech in this House—that there should be work or full compensation for the men who risk their lives every day in this great industry when they are injured. They are always in the front line. It is horrible to think that we are losing as many men in the mines as in battle—one out of every four. Perhaps the scheme of rehabilitation which has been mentioned will help. The centres which are now working are doing a grand job. I have been to see them myself. Men with broken backs and other very serious injuries are being won back again. These centres have the confidence of the men. I am glad that the Minister says that more of them are going to be established.
I am glad also to see, from the White Paper, that we are getting near to Too per cent. provision of canteens. My right hon. and gallant Friend has in many ways expedited this service. The Welfare Commission, to which I have referred before, is very much more sympathetic now than it was. I remember very well my own experience in the early days of the war in getting them to finance a scheme at the colliery where I was working, which was the first in the country to give a full meal. Three years ago 2,500 men began to feed there. We had to spend our own funds, and take the risk of not getting the money back, until we had persuaded the Commission to help us. It took 12 months to persuade them. They had not the vision, at that time, to see what was needed. They were just about as stupid as the Government were when they allowed our coalface workers to go into the Army. We had all that experience after the last war, of men being taken away and brought back again after their training. Suppose they had brought back thousands of these men: they were already trained, and if the need became clear, they could have been sent back to the Army. Another point is that when repair men were wanted in munitions works and factories at least half the men in the pits who were capable of doing repairs were asked to go to the munitions works and factories. Yet, in the mechanised pits, these men are more important even than the men who work at the coalface. I have seen men stopped for hours on end waiting for machines to be repaired. When pits are mechanised, repairers are needed to keep the show going.
Something has been said about research. Dare we go on wasting coal in open-fire grates, when coal can be subjected to extraction processes near the pits? If this industry had been progressive, we should have had that done on a much larger scale. It was said recently that the Government are prepared to help to finance research work. That is very encouraging. It would be very much cheaper to export things after the war if we took the by-products from coal. The saving in shipping space would be considerable. I understand, too, that it is not long since, in West Yorkshire, the gas people had to fight very hard to get a Bill through to enable them to convey the gas to the people in the rural areas. They had to fight like demons, and get interest and influence, to force the Bill through. We can take a great deal more from coal than what is extracted to-day. A good deal more can be used in industry.
Give the miners better wages and conditions, and create a new confidence which they have lost during the war. Help the miner to feel his importance in the industrial life of the nation, and do not merely give him sympathy in the days of disaster. We want a new Mines Act. The present Act has been in operation for something like half a century or more, and it is obsolete. Bring the regulations up to date. Give good wages and better working conditions. It has been pointed out to-day that five days a week is enough for these men. I agree. Give the pits a chance every week to cool down and get aired a bit, and allow the repair work to be done at the week-end. That, perhaps, will reduce accidents. The men are breathing this atmosphere for six, seven, eight, and sometimes nine days a week. [Laughter.]
That was a slip: plenty of hon. Gentlemen have made little slips in this House, I am afraid. If my suggestion were adopted, that would give a real chance for recreation. I have worked for 25 years at the coal face, and I know what I am talking about. There were times when I could not hold my tools, and had to cover them with the dust because of the sweat. We had good food then: the men are not getting good food to-day, and they have had five years of war. Give the miner a real chance of a better life for himself and his family. If the facts are recognised we can obviate the need for these little towns for the Bevin boys. What is going to happen to these colonies after the war? I hope they are not going to be wasted. I think these boys would be much better in the homes of our miners. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) had an idea that a lot of these boys from higher social scales will stay in the industry. It will do them good to stay, for they will learn a lot about conditions of life which they have never known. Give better conditions in the industry, and you will get the people you require for the industry. If we only look at these simple things we can find even better ways of spending this money than on the present method of housing these boys. But if these places are to be used after the war, I have nothing against them.
It is not surprising that there is feeling among these men, who are risking their lives in the interests of the nation, when they see their daughters bringing home from the factories more money than they themselves get from the pit. I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) is here, because I think I ought to make a confession to him. I said before that I did not care for his baby, outcrop coal. I did not think that it would be so successful as it has been. The outcrop coal industry gives better conditions than the miners underground enjoy, and it even pays them better. The men do not risk life and limb, as the miners do down the pit, and they have better conditions. Previously I refused to go and look at these outcrop coal places, and said that I did not think much of them: I am glad to see that they have been successful. That is a real apology. We do not ask for sympathy: all we ask for is a square deal for the miner. The wastage of man-power which has been mentioned to-day should make every hon. Member think very seriously. We cannot go on with a loss like that. We can, and must, arrest this great loss of the industry. It is a question of the bringing up of the children afterwards—of the mothers and the bairns, who are left to struggle in the world alone. Give them a square deal—not merely sympathy, but something practical.
By no stretch of the imagination am I as well qualified to intervene in the debate on the coalmining industry as the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat. He spoke from a wide practical experience, and the moderation and quality of his remarks impressed the whole Committee. I make no apology for intervening in this complex and controversial matter, because it is not a subject which is of sole concern to those men who have invested either their money or their labour in it. It is something which affects the whole of our industrial and social life.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister can be complimented on the almost brutal frankness with which he has put the facts of the situation before us. When one reads the White Paper, and listens to the speech of the Minister and others which we have had, particularly the speech from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster), one could be under no illusion as to the very serious situation with which we are faced at this present moment. Everybody who has spoken, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde, is agreed that some drastic action is required in this matter, and it seems to me that while my right hon. Friend has posed the problem for us, the question we have to answer is, "What can we do now about this situation?" I emphasise "now"—all the difficulties now existing, the political situation and all the other problems we have to contend with. What we can do now, at the present moment? I know, of course, full well that these problems of the coalmining industry are human problems whose origins lie deep in the past of the industry. There are some dark and ugly pages in the history of that industry. In some areas, in bitterness, in hatred and mistrust we are paying a heavy price for the folly, and sometimes for the greed, of other men in other years.
Having said that, I would say that we cannot solve the problems of this industry by concentrating on the past. I think it was the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) who described some of the hon. Members on this side of the House as "young men who were walking backwards with their faces to the future."I would like to turn the phrase, if one may deal so cavalierly with the hon. Member's epigram. I would say that no one of us on either side of this House, by standing stock-still and gazing at the past, is going to discern the future of this industry. Surely, the most hopeful way of dealing with this matter is to look at the facts, and then, without too much regard to the things said on one side or the other about the industry in the past, see what is best to be done at the present moment. I am not going to elaborate those facts. Our coal output is declining at the rate of 9,000,000 tons a year and costs are up to 27s. a ton and may rise still further. The coal output in 1944 is not going to leave much of a margin beyond our domestic consumption and, if that is so, whatever the cost, we shall not have any coal for export. The fact is that in America 600,000 miners can produce 500,000,000 tons of coal whereas in this country 700,000 are producing 200,000,000.
I am glad of the hon. Member's intervention. The fact is that in this country, even under the pressure of war conditions, only 69 per cent. of the coal is cut by machinery, let alone conveyed or power-loaded. Between the wars one-twentieth of the workpeople engaged in the industry—I am blaming neither one side nor the other—were responsible for two-thirds of the time lost in disputes. We could argue for ever as to what construction ought to be placed upon these facts, but I think that anybody who looks at these facts will agree that there is a wide margin for increased efficiency in the industry, and that unless we do attempt to make up that margin the whole of our industrial and economic structure is likely to suffer. It is not a subject to be solved by stumbling from one crisis to another, or applying palliatives. What is required is a comprehensive policy to deal with the technical and human problems involved. I think the hole Committee will agree with that.
I know there is an acute division in this Committee between those who believe the mines ought to be nationalised and those who take a different view. I am going to be wholly uncontroversial. I am not going to express an opinion one way or the other because I believe that nine-tenths of the problems of the coalmining industry are human, technical and practical problems that have got to be solved whether the mines are nationalised or not. I suppose there are two objectives in any policy concerning coal. The first thing we have all got to do—and hon. Members, I am sure, would take the same view—is to produce the maximum amount of coal at the least cost consistent with maintaining the proper wage standard.
Then there is the human problem. We have to ensure to the men security of employment, opportunities of advancement and some share in the conduct of the industry in which they work. I think that is the human side of it. There are three parties to this business—the Government, the mineowners and the miners.
That is a point I want to come to. I would take the rôle of the Government first of all. Surely, the first task of the Government is to produce a national policy for coal. As I understand the Government's policy from their White Paper on employment I take it to be their view that the Government should seek to assess in advance the economic trends of the nation. They are committed to that policy. What does that mean and what does it mean when we apply it to a practical issue such as coal? I should have thought that His Majesty's Government, in consultation with the industry, would properly assess in advance the home and export requirements of the coal industry. Until that assessment is made, nobody in the industry really knows what it is that he is trying to do, so that is the first thing that has got to be done.
The second thing the Government have to do is to ensure that a scheme for reorganising the industry upon an efficient basis is produced at the earliest possible moment. The third thing is to ensure that when that scheme has been produced it is implemented as quickly as possible. I am not going to be dogmatic about the machinery. We have the Mining Association, the Mineworkers' Association, the Coal Commission, the organisation of Regional Commissioners, and so forth. There is any amount of organisational machinery whatever permutation or computation is made. First I think the technical schemes ought to be prepared in the region and sent up to the top rather than the other way round. Secondly, I think the body which prepares these schemes ought to have on it representatives of the Government, representatives of the mineowners and representatives of the mineworkers. Thirdly, I would simply say that I believe that in such a matter compulsory measures will be required and will have to be taken by the Government.
Does the hon. and gallant Member know that the miners and the Government have been desirous of getting the industry organised for years and that the mineowners will not allow it to be organised?
I am afraid my appeal to the hon. Member to stop looking backwards and to look forward has fallen on deaf ears. I am sure all of us have made mistakes in the past, but the first job of the industry is to try to put its own house in order. It has to produce schemes for reorganising itself and I am not going to lay down—indeed I am not qualified to lay down—how those schemes are to be worked out. Two things will be essential. First, there will have to be a substantial reduction in the number of undertakings. I am not being dogmatic about the size of undertakings or minimum tonnages, because conditions vary widely throughout the country, but I think that, on balance, there has to be some substantial reduction in the number of undertakings, and there has to be a very extensive programme of mechanisation. Secondly, the industry must have a chance to prepare these schemes so as to get them to work as soon as possible, and, finally, when, and not until—and I emphasise that—reorganisation schemes have been prepared, then I think the maximum responsibility ought to be place, fairly and squarely, on the shoulders of the men who are running the newly organised undertaking.
The third thing I want to talk about is the position of the mineworkers. I do so with some hesitation, because many hon. Members opposite are much better qualified to speak about it than I am. It seems to me that the mineworker wants good wages, security of employment, opportunities of advancement and a share in the conduct of the industry, and I believe he can have all these things. I am not going to enlarge on the wage system, because it has been dealt with already. On the question of security of employment, supposing the Government hall to assess, in advance, the domestic and export coal required, is there any reason why that assessment should not be translated into terms of labour required? The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) referred to some form of guaranteed employment on the basis of a five-shift week of 7½ hours a shift. I want to say that I am in complete agreement with him, and have said so. It is entirely possible, in my opinion. I know there are technical difficulties about stocking coal, but they are not insuperable, and I believe we are at a stage in the history of this matter when guaranteed employment for a period of an annual assessment could be given to the workers. Regarding opportunities for advancement, there is an immense pool of managerial and technical skill in the mines. We are talking about an extension of mechanisation. It is not only machines we want, but men. I believe that, in the past, the industry has spent too little in getting hold of the best men available for these managerial and technical posts.
Finally, I come to the rather difficult question of how far the mineworkers can share in the conduct of the industry. I do not believe that any Act of Parliament or anything done in this Committee is going to secure that share. I do not believe it can. I believe it is something that can only be secured after a good deal of trial, some error and a great deal of effort on both sides. We have made a start with the pit production committees. I would like to see an advisory committee drawn from those pit production committees for each new amalgamated undertaking. If we did that, and also adopted the suggestion I made for approving schemes at the top, we would ensure that the mineworkers were represented from the top to the bottom of the industry, and that would not be a bad start, under a Coalition Government.
Those are the views which I hold. I will add this. Of the Mining Association I would say—I hold no brief for them—they have got, at the present moment, a great chance of trying to put their house in order. They will be well advised to take it. It may well be their last chance. To my hon. Friends on this side I would say that all I have urged is a policy of efficiency combined with individual responsibility, which should appeal to any Conservative. To my right hon. Friend the Minister, I say I thank him for the White Paper, but I would ask him to go back to the Cabinet and say that we have learned the brutal truth from his own lips and that now we want the answer to the problem. We feel that the time is past for this desperate attempt to make both ends meet. The time has come for a real step forward, but perhaps it is not the Mining Association, or my hon. Friends on this side, or the Minister, who holds the key to the solution of this problem. It is held by hon. Members opposite. It is a great responsibility.
Let us face the fact that hon. Members opposite believe, as they are fully entitled to believe, in nationalisation. If there is a party Election and the Labour Party is elected, and it wishes to nationalise the coalmines, presumably it will. I may describe this as a dazzling possibility. What we have to face is what we can do
now under the conditions of this present situation. There are hon. Members opposite who have spent a lifetime working in the interests of the men who labour in the pits. I pay full tribute to the work done in that direction. They can help them now by taking the things that can be got at the present moment—the security of employment, the wages and the other matters I have mentioned, but I appeal to them not to sacrifice the substance for the shadow in this matter. If either party allows subservience to political dogma to cause delay now, we shall be jeopardising not only the coal industry and those who work in it, but the whole industrial structure of the nation. Let it not be said of us:
Too late, too late; you loitered on the road;
Too long you trifled at the gate.
In rising to address the House for the first time I do so, not for the mere purpose of making my bow to this honourable Assembly but particularly to ventilate some of the grievances keenly felt by my constituents and the miners in the coalfield with which I am associated. Although one might be tempted to speak at length this time, one observes the desire of hon. Members to participate in this Debate, and I am not going to detain the Committee very long. Before my entry into Parliament I was a local miners' leader engaged at a colliery where there are 12 coal-winding shifts each week. It is a colliery which has not lost a single working day through strike action since the war began, a colliery where the percentage of absenteeism will compare favourably with any other pit in the country. I say that to indicate to the Committee that I desire to assist the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in his desire to maximise the output of coal in order to assist the war effort.
Listening to the Minister's opening speech, one could not help feeling that his enthusiasm has been misapplied in some of the operations of his Ministry. In referring to open-cast mining I understood him to say that it had been useful, to put it mildly. Probably it has. On page 17 of the Statistical Digest—and let me say here, in parenthesis, that this is the most admirable document which has yet emanated from this Ministry, and that whoever is responsible for its compilation is deserving of high commendation—reference is made to the output from open- cast mining, and the fact that, in the North Midland area in the last quarter, 559,000 tons were yielded.
My dilemma is to understand where the operations of the Ministry of Fuel and Power begin and where the operations of the Ministry of Works end. I feel rather like the boy who, speaking about the snake, said he did not know where its head finished and its tail began. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is claiming credit for the output from the open-cast working of coal, he should accept responsibility for some of the mistakes that have been made. The initial blunder in open-east mining is in the prospecting that takes place before these places are excavated. There is an utter disregard of local knowledge. On many occasions borings are made, when, if those who are performing these operations had made inquiries of the local inhabitants, they would have been informed that the shallow seams of coal of which they were in search had been worked two generations before. It might be borne in mind as an admirable solution of the post-war employment problem—the digging of holes and filling them up again—but it is surely a profligate waste of man power at a time when the country needs it. Half an hour in the surveyor's office at a colliery would avoid a lot of this needless boring.
On the site of an open-cast mine, of which the Minister has been informed, which is intended to yield 200,000 tons of coal, a few weeks ago corn was growing which was the admiration of many agriculturists in the area. I do not know what the relation is between the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Minister of Agriculture, but the Minister of Agriculture cannot look with equanimity upon the wanton destruction of growing corn at a time when the food position of the country is considered to be serious. Miles of concrete roads are made so that this coal can be transported to the dumps which are necessary, so we are told, for its use. Why it is necessary to transport coal three and sometimes ten miles away from the open-cast working to these dumps I cannot for the life of me imagine.
In one instance of which I know, where the railway is contiguous to the excavation, coal is being taken to a dump three miles away in order that it can be dealt with for distribution. The coal is conveyed in lorries which are overburdened to the extent of carrying twice the amount of coal they are designed to carry. Great trouble is caused to the local authorities and the police by the racing about of these lorries; the drivers presumably work on piece rates and have to race in order to get a good wage. To the utter surprise of all mining folk, bulldozers race to and fro upon the top of these heaps of coal. I am told that this is done with a view to the retention of its calorific value. That sort of thing does not convince me, and it would not even convince a first year mining student. But whatever is the reason for crushing it, brand new screens are erected with which to grade it to the required quality after it has been crushed in bulk.
Another point I would like to mention concerns the restoration of these sites. Restoration, it would appear, has in many cases been done satisfactorily, but there are many cases in which farmers declare that the tenant rights of their land will not be restored for eight or ten years because stone and clay have been left on the surface. I was glad to hear the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say that he appreciated the fact that miners' wages to-day were approximating to the general wages of the community and commensurate with the arduous and dangerous tasks which they have to perform. I am credibly informed that the men engaged on these outcrop workings—"sunshine pits," the miners call them—are earning three times the wages of men who go into the deep pits and undergo the dangers they are called upon to face. The whole scheme is ill-conceived and ill-considered and is calculated to lower the morale of mining communities more than any other operation which the Minister has introduced. I hope that no hon. Members opposite will come forward at the hustings at the next General Election and put this forward as an example of State enterprise. It is private capitalism in its most comic form. I hope the criticism will be accepted in the spirit in which it is made, and I want to suggest to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that, when he resumes his peregrinations over the coalfields, in addition to addressing groups of pit production committees, he will devote some of his time to this question of opencast mines.
Having delivered myself of that criticism, I would like, in perhaps more restrained language, to refer to one or two matters. I want to support the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Brooks) regarding pithead baths. In the "Digest," page 50, I observe that 12 baths were completed last year, which is not nearly enough. If the Minister is thinking of the industry becoming more attractive, I can assure him that it will never be attractive to the lads of our country if they have to go home with black faces and dirty clothes. Everybody appreciates the reasons for cutting off the building programme for pithead baths but surely we have now reached a stage in the war when the production of certain munitions has reached saturation point and there should be some steel available for the construction of more pithead baths, an amenity which is much desired by a very large section of the mining industry.
In conclusion I want to refer to another welfare matter, and in this connection I would mention that in the White Paper issued in 1942 reference was made to the medical services which should be available to miners. Every man who was desirous of leaving the industry had to submit himself to medical examination and in some cases to a medical referee. In the White Paper of 1942 it was contemplated that, if it was possible for a man who was leaving the industry on medical grounds to receive treatment which would restore him to fitness for work underground, that treatment should be afforded him by the Ministry.
But why are so many men leaving the industry on medical grounds at the present time? If my right hon. and gallant Friend is concerned about the man-power problem in the industry, he ought to pay attention to this question of the medical service. Is it because there are not enough doctors, or because the powerful British Medical Association refuse to operate the scheme? I do not want to belittle the admirable work being done at Bury Hill and other places for injured miners, but I have yet to hear of one man who has left the industry through illness who has received treatment through the medical services in connection with the pits. I suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend that some attention is needed, and I say to him with all the earnestness I can summon, and with all the solemnity of which I am capable, that one experienced miner so retained in the industry is better than three Bevin boys unwillingly directed to the pits.
I am sure the whole Committee will wish to join with me in extending our congratulations to the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Neal) on his maiden speech. The sincerity with which he has put forward his views, and the obvious knowledge he has of this industry, will, I am sure, find him a ready reception when he comes to take part in succeeding Debates. First I should like to congratulate the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary on the peace they have restored to this great industry. I know how much the problem of strikes and difficulties preyed on the mind of my right hon. and gallant Friend over the past few months, and how diligently he and his officers have worked to bring about a successful reconciliation of the mining position as far as wages go. I hope that that peace will be continued, and that he will be able to follow on now with his wider plans of reconstruction. This great industry has such a part in our national economy that it is impossible for any Member of the House of Commons, whatever are his interests, to neglect a full and close examination of everything that goes with it. Our whole basis of life cannot be altered after this war is over unless substantial plans are made for the future, and I was delighted to hear in the speeches of the hon. Member sitting beside me, and the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) of the progressive line which they have envisaged, the building up of this industry.
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and I have had the privilege of going to America since the last coal milling Debate here. We went in opposite directions, but we met at Washington and we debated there late into the night the merits of the British coalmining and the American coalmining industries. I think both of us came back with the firm conviction that America had a great deal to show us in the rehabilitation of our own industry. Conditions are not always similar, of course; there are physical difficulties here which make impracticable some of the great mass American schemes but, on the other hand, we saw men in deep coalmines in America using half the effort that our men have to exercise in the British coalmines——
—and turning out four or five times the amount of coal that we are able to here. It is a very serious thing to have to say but, quite frankly, there has been gross neglect of the mechanical possibilities of mining in this country during the past few years. I know that political disagreements in the coalmining industry have created an atmosphere which has made impossible the prospect of looking at this great national development with a planning conscience, but our whole national economy cries out and demands that this industry—which this country has done so much to develop not only here but in every part of the world—should be put on to a proper basis at the earliest opportunity. I can only say again what I have stressed in speeches which I have made on this subject before, that mechanisation is the only thing that will do it. The day has passed when a man will lie on his back in a coalmine with a pick and shovel getting coal. It has gone by, and quite rightly too, in this mechanical age. The present methods in some of the coalmines in our country are only comparable with an old horse and cart in contrast with a modern fast motor truck. We have the brains and the knowledge. I have pressed the Minister of Production in the last few weeks to see that some of our manufacturers should start to manufacture power loaders in this country. That has not been done. We are having to rely on America, which is already short, for these machines for our industry. We must put it on to our own machine shops. These things are as vital to this nation as guns are to the Army, and we have to have them made here with British labour.
There are great opportunities for revising this industry now. We have got peace, I believe we have got good will. I believe that in the House of Commons there is more unanimity of action amongst all hon. Members now than there has ever been during the nearly 20 years I have been a Member. That is all I have to
May I interrupt to underline something which my hon. and gallant Friend said about the American mines? There is grave danger in putting American machinery into shafts sunk for old-time methods and, therefore, there ought to be completely new shafts sunk.
I have already written to the Minister and to the Prime Minister putting forward a plan to sink 8o new shafts in this new area, and to build a new mining industry in this country, over a period of ten years, in a virgin area of coal where we can apply these modern methods. I know the difficulty of trying to put the machines down old mines. It is a heartbreaking and a dangerous job, obviously, when you have been mining in the old way, when your main roads, and so on, are not laid for this new method of dealing with the job.
There is one other point. I would not have an advancing line of coal extraction allowed again in this country. I think it has caused more accidents and been more dangerous to the miners than anything we have done. If we are going to extract coal, let us put our collieries right to the boundary and bring them back on a retreating basis, leaving all the trouble behind. We shall then get a total extraction of coal, valuable to the country, saving life, and building up a more confident atmosphere in the mines. That is all I have to say about the coalmines. I do not dispute the suggestion of my hon. Friend about the American mines, but I would tell the Committee that the contract figure for American miners down the pit is a dollar an hour. That is the new standard contract figure, and it averages them out about £12 a week in wages and, at that, they are producing coal at 13s. 1d. a ton. So obviously the whole thing shouts for examination by everybody.
The hon. Member for Clay Cross described the bulldozer racing over the heaps of outcrop coal. I am sure that is not a general practice. I am glad to think that some of the things I said originally on this matter have become possible. I want to tell the Committee to-day that the Government, and not myself, have proved the existence of 68,000,000 tons of this coal, which can be obtained in this war. I want to say to those who have had their land damaged and the amenities of their towns and surroundings vandalised by this scurrilous method of taking up the land that, obviously, this is a war-time project. It was only under extreme pressure that one could have had a situation of this sort, and I am glad that the Minister has said that it has helped him out. The Ministry of Works, under the direction of General Appleyard and his staff, have laid out fine plant for this work, and a fine team of public works contractors—nearly go of them—have been able to utilise plant which was not really very suitable. I want to say, "Thank you" to our American friends for the machines which they sent us to help us out with this job. They have sent us nearly 200 large excavators with which to do the work. They are larger than any we have ever had in the country before and will go far towards lessening the cost of this operation, which, at the moment, is too high. This coal is costing the Government, without any Government overhead charges, 27s. 4d. per ton, and it is far too much.
That includes the cost of everything, apart from the Government's administrative costs. It is very much too high, but, on the other hand, we are now operating in many cases on a ratio of eight yards of over-burden to one yard of coal. So the picture is different from what it was a year ago. The shallow coal has mostly been obtained, and we are now coming to the hard digging into substantial seams of hard rock which overlie the depths, all of which have to be blasted and blown. On one job we are having to blast and blow 40,000 cubic yards per week.
Yes. I want now to give the Committee some idea of the man-power being used in this operation. This year we shall probably recover nearly 12,000,000 tons of coal with 9,000 men. That gives us an average yield per man employed of 1,340 tons a year, compared with the miner's contribution of 280 tons a year per miner employed. Of course I do not want to compare the two jobs, because they are so different, but that is the man-power we are using. The United States of America are helping us under Lend-Lease and we now have in operation some of the very biggest machines they use. They will do much to reduce the cost. But we have something more than their machines. They have sent us three young technical advisers, who left their own responsible jobs to come here and give us advice. Mr. Bailey, Mr. Young and Mr. Beasley have been working, with the contractors and they have improved our technique and methods and have given us better opportunities of setting out this work through their knowledge.
I want to put another proposition to the Committee, because it was the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) who first gave me any encouragement to do this work, when he was Secretary for Mines. He allowed me to go on with an almost private scheme; he gave me his blessing, and the success of this operation is largely due to his confidence that I should De able to carry it out. After the outcrop is taken off and before getting to the deep mining there is an area of coal which, in many cases, is not being obtained at all now. This coal can be drift-mined from the open-cast position. You can put anus in and use the new American method of power loaders and conveyors. I want the Ministry of Labour to take note of this, because this is an opportunity to train "Bevin boys" in mechanical mining near the surface, in good conditions, and it may be the means of saving many of those lads for the industry when the war is over. I intend to try one scheme of drift mining near Sheffield—the Minister has given me permission—and I hope we shall show the country what can be done. We shall make a contribution to the war in France with this open-cast mining. I have heard of five mines in France which are now being open-cast worked by the Germans. I sent plans to the Minister, and I am prepared to send the machinery and men there, because I believe we can get 20,000 tons a week when the Army has moved sufficiently far forward. If the plan can be worked it will saving shipping and be well worth while. It has been gratifying to me to see that the plan on which I worked so hard has come out reasonably well, and I want to thank my hon. Friends for the consideration and tolerance they showed towards me at a time when nobody knew very much about open-cast mining.
First of all, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Neal) on his maiden speech and to express the hope that we shall hear a good deal more from him in the future. It must be obvious to those who have been listening to this Debate, and to the discussions which have taken place in the country for many years, that coal is becoming a national incubus. Owners, miners and the public generally all go about in fear and trembling, looking over their shoulders to see what blows this terrible ogre will level against them in the future.
I should first of all pay a tribute to the profound knowledge of the mining industry and the enlightened views of the mining Members of the House. I have learned more from them about their work than I have learned from anyone else in the House about his particular work. At the same time, to be quite fair, one must note the welcome change which has of late appeared in the attitude of the more progressive coalowners. I remember not so very long ago that, when there was a great prosperity in the coal industry and when prices were soaring, we countenanced a policy of get-rich-quickly, and of tearing the coal out of the earth anyhow, making a ghastly horror of the countryside as we did so, and it says something for the sterling quality of the people engaged in the industry that we did not make a ghastly horror of the manhood connected with it. To-day we have learned a lesson in the hard school of experience and there is now a change of heart towards this great product of the beneficent earth. It is now for the Government to translate this change of attitude into hard and permanent fact.
We are all troubled about the future of the mining community, not merely as individual fellow men but, at least so far as we are concerned in South Wales, as an integral part of our national life, and speaking as a Welshman, I cannot see any sort of future for my country as a whole if the Government cannot succeed in solving the coal problem. The collapse of the coal industry would, of course, have a disastrous effect on the whole of Britain, but it would go far to end the individuality of Wales as a nation. We are a nation of workers—coalminers, quarrymen and craftsmen—and our national culture depends on our being able to maintain the traditional pattern of our working communities, and among them the coalminers have a leading position.
I should like to raise one or two points which have not been mentioned yet, first of all the question of research in the coal-mining industry. The Ministry is a wartime Ministry as at present constituted and I should like to ask the Minister, or perhaps the Prime Minister, this simple question. Will this Department be continued as a Ministry of Fuel and not merely as a Ministry of Mines and, if so, will it be given the additional powers of planning and reconstruction which are, in my opinion, essential to the future welfare not only of the coal industry, but of the general prosperity of the country?
The great competitor with coal, as far as we see it in South Wales, is going to be the hydro-electric schemes. What will be the position of coal when there are vast hydro-electric schemes which are national and coal is still in the fumbling hands of private ownership? That is my answer to my hon. Friend. Is it not time that we revised our views of coal as some black and final substance? At present we seem to be mesmerised by the idea of coal as a finished article and we believe that, when we have dragged it out of the bowels of the earth, with much toil and sweat, we have done all that is necessary. There is no prospect of solving the coal problem until we have learned to regard coal as a raw material and that in future a great part, perhaps even the greater part, of the coal industry will be dealing with coal after it has been hewn out, whether underground as in the Russian experiment, or on the surface. The technology of coal has been cramped by the unenlightened policy of the Governments of the past, and the politics and economics of the coal industry have for many generations been vitiated by it. They have regarded it as a finished product, or they have used it as a means towards another end, something on which to base Stock Exchange speculation or as a means of paying for imports.
I should like to say something that has never been said in the House before. It seems one of the most tragic mistakes that we have made to regard coal as a means of balancing our imports. I do not even pretend to suggest a remedy, but I have no doubt what one of the first steps should be. The Government should at once set up a Committee for University Teaching and Research in Mining and Fuel, particularly in mining and fuel joined together. At present there is no proper liaison between the coal industry and the colleges. There are three very vital questions: first, the production of coal as a raw material; secondly, the tilisation of that raw material; and, thirdly, the economics of trading in coal. Perhaps it will surprise the Committee to hear that every single book or document —some of them are excellent—which has been published on the economics of the coal trade has been produced by the Labour colleges. Not a single book has been brought out by a university, because no university has the finance for the purpose, and the coalowners them- selves have never published one of their documents on the subject.
I am sorry to have to say this, but the general opinion both among owners and miners is that the Ministry is not so well informed as it might be about some of the technical possibilities of coal, and it does not seem to be possible to put matters right unless we have some such Committee as I have mentioned. I am aware that there is a Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Eustace Percy. I do not wish in the least to disparage it, but it is confined to technical education in general, and it is limited to England and Wales, and Scotland is left altogether out of its purview.
There is also a Safety in Mines Research Board, which is a Department of the Government, but this, in the opinion of experts, is too small and generally inadequate. University research, so far as our limited resources have allowed, has already done infinitely more to secure safety in mines than any Government action. I need only mention silicosis and pneumoconiosis, knowledge of which is due to university research, and particularly, I am proud to say, to research done by the University of Wales in the Mining School at Cardiff. The mining interests of South Wales through this department have done more to fight the occurrence of dust than all other bodies in the country put together. May I ask what the Safety in Mines Research Board have done comparable to this? I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend, who, I am certain, is sympathetic to all these plans, will tell me his attitude towards the committee I have suggested.
I am glad to have the opportunity to deal with one or two little questions that have come up in the course of the Debate and have not been much discussed. It is of vital importance to the industry as well as to those outside to realise—and I speak as a much-despised coalowner—that if there is to be any success for us in the future—and I am speaking of both sides of the industry—the industry has to take its place as a unit with the rest of industry. We have arrived at a stage when we either make progress as an industry or we go back very much indeed. My right hon. and gallant Friend took some courage in making the statement that he was not only Minister of Fuel but Minister of Fuel and Power. Speaking as one who is interested in electricity as well as coal, may I put these points to him? The future of coal really consists in being thoroughly linked up with ancillary industries that exist today and that ought to be made to exist in the future. The future of coal, therefore, depends on grouping together all those industries as far as possible, and in diminishing as much as possible the transport of coal from the place where it is mined to the place where it will be used in any event.
May I take, for instance, the industries of gas production and electricity? I ask the Minister, when he is considering the future, not to allow himself to be left out of the question of the location of industry, which is extremely important to the coal industry—just as important as to the rest of industry. In drawing a picture of how I see these things working in the future, I ask myself whether there is any reason why the bulk of gas production should not take place very near to, or almost at, the pit head. Is there any reason why most of the great power stations should not be located as near as possible to the source from which the coal is drawn? Is there any reason why new industries, such as plastics, and the by-products that are got in the distillation of coal, should not be located near the pits? Surely there are enough pits throughout the country where we could regionalise the whole of our arrangements in that way. It is in that direction that we could even bring in such a question as waste heat for industry, which is so important when there is a burning of coal in any respect. Is there any reason why we should not consider our industry in that light? I go further, and say that if we do not consider it in that light, we shall be very much left behind. I am not going into the question of the feeling between the two sides of the industry. Ever since I have been in the House I have done my best, in a progressive sense, to help to overcome that difficulty. All I would say is, "Let the dead past bury its dead and look at the future in an entirely different way."
The Minister has been criticised much more on his short-term than on his long-term policy. I thank him for the factual and courageous way in which he put the position to us. If he will allow me to say so, he must go elsewhere for final decisions in a good many of these matters. I hope that, in getting those decisions, he will take to those who order these things some report of the feeling in the Committee to-day. I do not believe it is possible suddenly to expedite the production of coal, whatever method we adopt. These things are the results of processes which often go back a long way. One cannot suddenly come here and say, "The Americans are doing this and that with this and that machine; why have you not throughout your industry gone in for the kind of mechanisation that the Americans are going in for?" I would ask some hon. Members opposite what would be the effect of a sudden mechanisation of that type, if we decided to go in for all the capital expenditure necessary? To begin with, where are we to get the skilled men to deal with such mechanisation?
That brings me to another point. One of our difficulties in the industry will be that we shall no longer be asking people to go into the industry as an industry which is self-contained in all respects, and one in which they must consider only the pit. We shall have to compete in the future with skilled men who will be considering whether they will not go into other industries beside the pit industry. Our work in future will mainly be one of engineering, and when parents are considering what sort of industry the boys will go into, they will first ask, "What is the prospect of the boy when he becomes a fully skilled man? What is the prospect, not only in his wages, but for security, which is as important to a man as his wages?" Therefore, we are faced with the necessity of devising a far better scheme of instruction than we have ever had before. The mining industry will have to get these skilled men and compete with other industries for them in the future. We shall have to look at the problem in that way much more than we have done in the past.
It would have helped the industry very much if the Government had had from the start some sort of wages policy. It would never have allowed the inequalities which have caused so much trouble. I do not believe that, with the trend of the industry in the future, it will be possible to go on wihout a definite wages policy. I do not think it will be possible for any industry to consider its wages and to demand increases or otherwise without reference to other industries similarly circumstanced into which workers can go equally well. You cannot get on without some sort of general wages policy, in which are equated those questions about which everyone who is going into the industry ought to know before he goes in. In the longer term policy, we are told mechanisation is inevitable. I think it is, but it is not going to be done quickly, because we have to find the people and teach them. It is not everyone, however good an engineer he may be, who is fit to go down a pit, and is pit-minded. Not everyone of the Bevin boys has gone down the pit by any means. We shall get to it in time, and the sooner we get to it the better. Everything possible is being done to increase mechanisation and I hope that the speed with which it is being done will increase as time goes on.
I do not think it is any good our going on, as we have done in the past, considering individual pits. There will have to be very considerable amalgamation, of which I have always been in favour. I opposed a Bill on the subject for the one simple reason that it gave no opportunity for the people who were to be amalgamated, to have any say in the matter of their amalgamation. I would oppose anything of that kind. People ought to be properly heard, before they are dealt with in that way. I think the psychological moment is here now. I think you will find many people, who would not have been very willing for amalgamation, now willing to have it in the future. My right hon. and gallant Friend can do a great deal in that direction, by way of suggestion and help, in quarters which, perhaps only a few years ago, would not have been willing to accept the suggestion. I am speaking, as the Americans say, off the record, but I hope it will have some result.
One word more in relation to the general conditions in the industry. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) made a most excellent speech. Whatever may be said about the Tory Reform Committee, he showed a very considerable amount of vigour and a good deal of courage in the opinions he expressed. It does not do any Government any harm to have a reform committee, on whichever side they are. We cannot say today how much the export trade is to have, and how much is to be for home consumption. The export trade in the coal industry will depend in the future upon the price at which we can put that coal into an international market, in open competition. Do not let us make any mistake about that. For this reason, we are supposed to be in process of having a discussion with various delegates and representatives from other countries about some sort of division of international trade in the future. Is it supposed for one moment that we are to get an international agreement which will say: "We will allot to our coal consumption in England so much, and alter that, so much among so many other countries, at any price which we choose to ask and which the conditions of our industry might demand at the moment"? We might bind certain people not to compete against us, but you could not prevent other people, who were not bound by that agreement, going into the market and under-selling.
What will be the position on the Continent when the war is over? Do not let us forget that we shall have in Silesia, in the Ruhr and in Russia centres of production, with people only too willing to work almost for bare subsistence. Some of them are producing today, and will produce in the future, coal which is quite as good as any we can produce, to stand open competition, in the Mediterranean and generally in other markets. My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned just now open-cast coal workings and he saw an opportunity for the same sort of operations in France. Life will be so hard and conditions so difficult on the Continent for some years that the great essential will be to find labour. Very often people will not be asking what the conditions are, but will be glad to get almost a bare subsistence. That is the competition which we shall have to meet in our export trade.
Therefore, it is no good our sitting around until we know what the future is to be. I believe that the future of the coal industry lies in its realisation that it is only one of the great industries of this country and that only by a proper allocation of industry shall we be able to integrate our industry, improve our pro- duction, and diminish our costs. H we do not look at it in that way I am convinced that there is no help for us whatever.
I was interested in some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Eccleshall (Sir G. Ellis). When he spoke of the difficulties of the export trade in the post-war years, I agreed. I also say that if exports can be secured, only at the expense of the people who produce the coal in this country, I hope that we will not secure the export trade at all. There are two phases of this coal question, the immediate situation and the long-term policy. Nothing is more true than the statement that the coal situation is closely bound up with the whole economic life of this country. If we are to continue misusing coal as we have done in the past, there is very little hope for the coal trade. If we again settle down to a policy of attempting to sell raw coal, produced at the lowest possible cost, there is no hope whatever for the coal trade in that direction.
I am rather surprised that the Minister has not come in for a great deal more criticism during this Debate. I do not think he is entitled to get away as easily as he has done, because his Ministry has not been the success one would expect it to be, or that it has been boosted up to be. The suggestion that it has been a success is entirely unwarrantable. There is plenty of officialdom, and money has been poured out like water, but we get no coal in exchange for that expenditure. We are just living from hand to mouth, and rushing from one crisis to another. We have had statements from the Minister in regard to the loss of coal. I wish he would put on a new record when addressing the Committee. His statement in regard to the question of loss of coal from disputes is becoming as monotonous as "Haw-Haw" at his worst, and I would seriously advise my right hon. and gallant Friend to make a change. I think he reached the limit when he trotted out the statement about the colliery that was idle because of the dismissal of a canteen attendant. It is quite true that the colliery was idle; it is quite true that the officials in the area did their best to prevent it; it is quite true that the colliery ought not to have been idle. But do not forget there was considerable irritation for months and months over the employment of this person, and the canteen committee could, quite easily, have obviated all the trouble had they made the change before the stoppage rather than after. When the Minister goes further and says that miners are using the war to buy leisure at the expense of the State, and then denies that he was accusing miners of being unpatriotic, I am quite unable to follow his argument.
Major Lloyd George:
I cannot let the hon. Member get away with that statement. There has been too much of that, and I do not know what is his purpose in making that statement, which I denied when he interrupted me. I made a perfectly clear statement that 76 per cent. of the miners of this country were working, and losing no shifts in the week at all, and that a very small minority were losing a large number of shifts. No one in any quarter of this Committee would deny that a very small minority are, in fact, doing what I have said.
Major Lloyd George:
I think I am within the recollection of the Committee. I took particular care to make that statement because I have always said I resented attacks on miners as a body. I did point out, and I repeat, that to-day there is a small minority, not amongst the older men in the mining industry, but amongst people who have no excuse, a very small minority among the younger men, who could do better than they are doing.
We will have an opportunity of reading it in HANSARD to-morrow. In regard to the district which my right hon. and gallant Friend chose for his attack, the district of Ayrshire and Dumfries—he referred especially to the Scottish miners, with special emphasis on this particular incident—I find according to the Digest that he has placed in our hands they are among the districts with the highest annual output per man shift of any in the country—[Interruption]—and more shifts. In Ayrshire, where this pit is located, output per wage earner for 1940 was 374·5 tons. In 1943 it is still placed amongst the districts with the very highest output in the country, and I resent most strongly the attempt of my right hon. and gallant Friend to cloud the issue by bringing in this paltry little incident which he mentioned in the course of his speech. He also made great play about the loss of output through stoppages, and again I would like to turn to his Digest, just to show that there are other causes of loss of output far greater than disputes. I intervened at the time to say that Table 16 showed the total loss for a year of 10,721,220 tons. It is quite true to say that out of that, 7,617,090 tons are due to recognised holidays, but out of the total, 1,090,710 tons were lost through stoppages. But accidents and repairs, for which, surely, the working miners have no responsibility at all, account for 1,322,330 tons. My right hon. and gallant Friend did not mention that at all in his speech.
He said something very vaguely about transport but he did not tell us that 500,790 tons were lost through difficulties in transport and want of wagons—half as much through transport difficulties as through the whole of the stoppages in the British coalfields. Other causes, indefinite, account for 190,300 tons. In the district of Ayrshire in Scotland, there were 202,310 tons lost from all causes. This district, which has been pilloried to-day, lost 52,130 tons through disputes. I think that my right hon. and gallant Friend requires to revise very seriously the statement he made to this Committee in his opening speech.
Accusations have been made of serious loss of output through other causes, and in the previous Debate in this House in October the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) made allegations that a certain colliery was being worked with an eye to the future; he made specific allegations and gave details. The pit production committee of which he had just been a member had, for a long period, complained at meetings, and reports had been submitted to the Regional Office. The Minister promised on that occasion to have the matter investigated, but what has happened? There has been no investigation, or at least if any investigation has been made, no facts have ever been divulged, and the situation remains the same. The accusation has been made here that this coal company is preparing and developing to produce coal in 1947 or 1948. No satisfaction has been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton in regard to the allegations he made pre- viously. He was advised when some meeting of some kind was held not to attend. He agreed not to attend and has heard no more of the matter since.
Is it not a fact that it is a sound method for efficiency in the mining industry to have a policy for five years ahead so that you know what you are going to do during those years?
I quite agree that, in developing mines, you want to look well ahead, but it has also been stipulated that no development shall take place at the present time for future policy, and this coal that they are prepared to develop in 1947 or 1948 could be worked in an adjoining mine, particulars of which have been given by my hon. Friend. Here is a matter to which I must draw the Minister's attention. He has waxed eloquent about American machinery. He has, I am sure, done a lot in that respect. He has, been responsible for bringing machines to the country and handing them over to the coalowners, and I think we should know something about the financial responsibility. Are those machines just being handed over holus-bolus to the mineowners, and what responsibility has this House? It is one thing to say that we are buying so many machines and bringing them into the country, but we should know what financial responsibility the owners have in the matter. We have had these machines established in some mines in Fifeshire. There was a statement by the Prime Minister, in the coal Debate last October, that the Minister of Fuel and Power would use his powers on the question of agreements on American machinery to ensure smooth working in the coalfields.
I think the Minister is aware, through correspondence with the National Union of Scottish Mineworkers, that no consultation took place with the Union on wages before the installation of the machinery, although we know that a promise was made, either by Lord Hyndley or by the Minister, some time ago. We have cooperated to the best of our ability in Scotland with regard to output. We raised no obstacle regarding the introduction of this machinery. We did not question the right of the owners to introduce it. We were prepared to allow our men to work these machines. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] There is no reason why not. I am saying that we were prepared to do so. But if the men had not worked them, they would not have been worked at all. We raised no barriers at all, but were prepared to allow the men to work the machines. In exchange for that, they arbitrarily laid down the wages that were to be paid, without any consultation with our people. There are other areas in the British coalfields where machines have been introduced. The Parliamentary Secretary knows about Yorkshire. The wages paid by the Yorkshire coalowners were 30s. per shift. In Cumberland they paid 28s. per shift. I have an agreement in my hand that was signed by the Fife Coal Company and our representatives, whereby a certain wage was paid. But what happened? The Fife Coal Company, at Comri Colliery, fixed the following rates: First facemen, 26s. 8d.; second facemen, 25s. 2d.; and then 23s. 8d., 23s. 2d., and down to 20s., with certain conditions laid down before these wages are payable. There is another clause, saying that, if the conditions are not fulfilled, the basic rate to be paid is 16s. 3¾d., plus Is., plus 2s. 8d.: a total of 19s. 11¾d. At another coalfield, belonging to the same company—No. 11 Lumphinnans—the wages proposed are:—First facemen, 225. 2d.; second facemen, 21s. 7d.; and for the third man, 19s. 2d. Should the conditions not be fulfilled, the wage would be 15s. 2d., plus is., plus 2S. 8d., making a total of 18s. 10d. This matter was discussed by the negotiating committee of the National Union of Scottish Miners and the Scottish coal-owners. What the coalowners wanted to do was to refer the matter to a neutral chairman. The National Union are not prepared to allow this question to go to a neutral chairman. The answer of the Minister—I see him looking over his glasses—may be, "You have the machinery." We are not prepared to accept the machinery in this instance. We are not prepared to go to a neutral chairman, who might fix a rate of wages far below that of any other district in Britain. This is a matter in which the Minister should intervene, to uphold the promise made by the Prime Minister in October.
My suggestion is that we are demanding that the Minister will uphold the promise made by the Prime Minister. He said that the Minister would use his powers, on the question of agreements on American machinery, to ensure smooth working in the coalfields. What does that mean? Does it mean that we are to allow this matter to go to a neutral chairman, who may arbitrarily fix a rate of Wages that we are not prepared to accept?
The hon. Member said that he is not prepared to accept the findings of a neutral chairman. Does that mean that he has doubts about the strength of his case? If he thinks he has a good case, why will he not accept a neutral chairman?
It is not a case for a neutral chairman. It is a case for fixing wages in conformity with the rates fixed in other districts. I hope that the Minister will listen to this. Dr. Reid, the coalowners' representative, stated to the workmen's representatives, "If you do not accept these wages, we shall take the machines out of the pits altogether."
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow the coalowners to take the machines out of the pits after he has brought them from America especially for the purpose of increasing output in the coalfields? Will he allow the machines to be withdrawn from the pits, if the owners do not get their way in regard to the question of wages? This is a very serious matter, and will have serious repercussions.
I do not want to take up a lot of time, though there were some other things that I would like to say. I do not want to stand between other speakers and the Committee because many have contributions to make in this discussion. But I hope the Minister, who has been responsible, to a very large extent, on the question of wage rates for piece workers, will, in the near future, have some sort of equalisation made, so that the cases of those who have still not received any increase may be met. It is still a very sore point with the miners in many districts. I am not blaming the Minister for this. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman took us out of a very difficult situation, when the position was very bad, and I want to impress on him now that there are a good number of men, between the two grades, who have received no increase in wages at all. I hope the Minister will make a point of examining the position, so that there will be some equalisation made between those who got an increase, and those who have not.
This is the first time that I have ever heard an hon. Member of the party above the Gangway requesting the Minister of Fuel and Power to fix a rate of wages in that industry. If my recollection serves me right, the whole of their policy over a period of years has been entirely in the opposite direction, with a view to taking it out of the hands of the Minister of the day. I must say I think it was unfortunate that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) went out of his way to misrepresent the speech of my right hon. Friend. I have sat through the whole of the Debate, and certainly, in my recollection, the Minister made no attack on the general body of Scottish miners. On the contrary, he went out of his way to draw attention to the fact that, in no less than 76 per cent. of the cases, there had been no stoppages at all, and only, as he was in duty bound, drew attention to the isolated case of a strike being brought about by a dispute over a canteen manageress, which, in his submission to the Committee, did not in any way justify a stoppage of work. I think that, in that submission, the Minister carried the Committee with him.
I was particularly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd). He went out of his way to stress the interests of the Principality, in connection with the coal industry, but, in doing so, he used most odd and curious phrases, and referred to the coal industry in Wales as "a national incubus," a "terrible ogre" and set forth that it was a symbol of national futility, and that the coal in- dustry was being fumbled in the hands of private enterprise. What is more important, and was so surprising to me, as a fellow Welsh Member, was to hear my hon. Friend say that the coal market must not be regarded in any way as bargaining power in our export trade. Where would our export trade have been before the war if it had not been for the trade agreements which the Government of the day were able to effect with Scandinavia, certain European countries and the Argentine? Is my hon. Friend prepared to ask us to throw away that vital instrument? Had it not been for these trade agreements, it would have been utterly impossible for us to import into this country the necessities of life for the community and preserve a balance of trade. That is a problem which is very near to the heart of the constituency which I have the honour to represent—Cardiff South, which embraces Cardiff docks.
In fact our whole interest in this matter is one of markets and the sale of the coal to foreign buyers after the coal has been won. All the Welsh mining companies in the valleys have their sales organisations in South Cardiff, and, indeed, the whole of the dock facilities in that great port were built up and developed mainly to deal with this traffic. Therefore, it is obvious that the retention, or, should I say, the regaining, of the foreign market is of vital importance to them. It is, of course, not true to say that it plays an important part to-day, owing to war conditions. We know, from the statistical returns of the Minister's Department, that, in 1941, exports and foreign bunkers were only responsible for, roughly, eight per cent. of our coal consumption, and that, in 1938–39, they were responsible for 46·5 per cent. of coal consumption.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) asked, in his very eloquent and telling speech, what is to be the position after the war, and that is exactly the question they are asking in South Wales to-day. It is a vital question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers of the Government have told us, and, in my submission, rightly, that we have got to sweat and strain after the war to improve our export trade in every way. Some Ministers have gone so far as to say that, if we are to survive, we should at least double it. The demand, after the war, for our coal will be great. It will came, not only, I hope, from our foreign friends but also from our home industries, and the Government will have to decide what proportion of that coal can he allocated to the foreign market, what proportion to the essential demands of home manufacturers, and what proportion of the raw material is to be used for its by-products.
I hope the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will address himself to that prospect, and give some indication to the Committee whether it is intended to ration home consumption of hard steam coal after the war, and what is the view of the Government in relation to the export market. The Minister, in his interesting speech, had a lot of ground to cover, but did not find it possible to address himself to this problem, but I think it is universally agreed that the time has come when it can no longer be ignored.
In that connection we might inquire how costs of production affect this problem. Whether coal is produced for the foreign market or the home market, it will have to be produced at a price sufficiently attractive to the buyer equally at home as well as abroad. In his speech, my right hon. and gallant Friend told us that whatever happens, whether you nationalise the industry or whether you do not, one fact is of paramount importance and will always be present, and that is, that the industry must be efficient. I would go further than that and would say that, whether we have a system of nationalisation or of large combines or whether we have a Tory Administration in this country, or a Communist Government, a Liberal Government or even a Socialist Goverment, we have still to face and overcome the same problem, that is, to produce our coal at a profit and sell it at home and abroad, otherwise the outlook will be such that it will be impossible for us to survive. That is the economic law which even my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will have to observe if he is to win through to the goal which he is anxious to achieve.
I have listened with great care to speeches of hon. Members above the gangway, and that aspect of the problem does not seem to be borne in mind and it has not been stressed in any speech here to-day by Labour Members. They dis- cuss the production of coal—that is right —but having produced the coal, it is as much in their interests as in the interests of all other parties concerned to find a market for the coal. Unless our manufacturers are successful in obtaining coal at an economic price it will be quite impossible for them to win back the export markets for their manufactured goods which will be vital to us. An hon. Gentleman above the gangway on the Government side said that it is a mistake to regard coal as one complete industry; it is only a unit in the whole and we must have regard to the whole picture. What is the remedy? How is this going to be brought about? It will certainly not be brought about by inadequate wages and unduly long hours, and certainly not by subsidies. I hope the time will never come when it will be necessary for the Government to suggest that the coal industry is in such a state that we must again subsidise it from taxpayers' money. That would be only another way of adding to the production costs of manufactures which have to compete with other countries.
I have studied with great interest the "Statistical Digest from 1938," and it is a momentous document, produced with the utmost care, and is of the greatest use to everybody who is interested in this problem, but no one will deny that it is also a most alarming document. But we have to address ourselves, when it comes to production, to pre-war figures, and last night I was looking up the returns and was surprised to find that between 1913 and 1918 the coal output in cwts. per man-shift increased in Great Britain by 15·35; in the Ruhr, by 78·3; in Poland by 100 cwt. per man-shift, and in the Netherlands by 118·5. If this sort of thing is to continue after the war, where on earth will this country be in the competitive coal markets of the world?
I am going to say something which I honestly believe to be true, that, in spite of our decreased output to-day, it is the gallant old men in the mines who are doing their stuff and producing the coal. It is not the younger generation; it is the old men who know their job, and in spite, in some cases, of physical disability, are going back to the mines and doing a full day's work. The results of their efforts have enabled us to achieve the production which we have to-day.
Nonsense or not, the question we have to face in future is, Can we make the mines acceptable to the younger generation? Unless we achieve success in that direction, there is no future for the coal industry. We must at least try, and it is obvious from the speech of the Minister that imaginative attempts are already being made by His Majesty's Government. He referred to shower baths and lockers arid other facilities. I would like to see as many facilities as possible provided in order to ensure that the miner can go to and from his work as clean and as well dressed as the city clerk. There is a tendency in some quarters to decry the dignity of manual labour. That has to be reversed, and anybody who is in a responsible position must play his part. Schools in the mining valleys of South Wales have a particular responsibility in this connection. Schemes of training must be improved so that the young miner can acquire a knowledge of the skill of his craft, which, in the old days, he only got by working alongside his father or elder brother. This aspect, however, is a little outside my scope. There are many other Members who are much more competent to make practical and concrete suggestions in this direction, and I hope they will do so whenever they have an opportunity. May I, in conclusion, refer to a quotation from an article which appeared in the American magazine "Mechanization" published in November of last year? It was written by Mr. Wyn Williams, who concluded his observations with these words:
It rather looks as though the coal mines of America will have to be the coal scuttle of democracy, just as its other industries have been an arsenal
If he is right, the outlook for this country is very bad. I do not accept that position, although I do not underestimate the difficulties, but I am confident of this, that with the right leadership, the essential spirit and a practical realisation of the obstacles to be met and overcome, once again we shall lead the way in a manner which will bring contentment to the miner and prosperity to the industry.
The hon. and gallant Member for Cardiff, South (Sir A. Evans) told us towards the end of his speech that he was not very closely acquainted with the mining industry, and I think that was pretty clear from his observations. I seem to remember the time when he came to this House as one of the young men of the Tory Party, quite a number of years ago, when the mining industry was fighting against a decision of the Tory Government which virtually prohibited our export trade in South Wales, and not' only in Soul Wales but in other parts of the country. I would remind him that at the time he came to this House and when that decision was taken there were 270,000 men in the Welsh mining industry. As a consequence of what has happened there are 105,000 employed there now, and he gets up and tells us that he does not know much about the industry. I think that is perfectly clear, and I say that with every respect. He has referred to the German mining industry and the increase in output. That came about very largely as a result of the free access of British capital for development in the post-war period, when there was a very substantial rationalisation of the German mines. He referred also to the development of the mining industry in the Netherlands. Obviously he is not aware of the fact that the mining industry in the Netherlands is owned by the nation, and since 1914 up to the present time it has increased its output ten times. That is an enormous development.
It IS 12,000,000 to 14,000,000 tons, and the conditions in the Dutch mining industry are the best in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is only a relatively small industry."] That does not matter. The position in this country is that of about 1,500 undertakings half of them are quite incapable of being modernised. There will never be modernisation of the mining industry until there is national control.
I rose for one point, rather apart from the course of this Debate. It is with regard to supplies of gas for domestic and industrial purposes in a district that I have mentioned to the Minister. He knows about it perfectly well. The shortage of gas in that district is of a serious character. A number of big factories are doing war work there at the present time, and one day last week the shortage was so acute that a number had only approximately one-ninth of their re- quirements. One factory in particular wanted 200,000 cubic feet a day, and on the day to which I am referring got 20,000 cubic feet. Another wanted i60,000 cubic feet and got about 17,000 cubic feet. Clearly a great deal of work is lost in consequence of the shortage of gas. This gas is produced by two privately-owned undertakings, one of which is antiquated, out of date, and costly to work. On the best evidence I have been able to get from the experts, that concern may fall to bits within the next two or three years; we shall be lucky if it lasts that long. In that district there is at present roughly a 3o per cent. shortage in the production of gas to meet the existing requirements. When the winter months come that will drop to round about 50 per cent. and hon. Members will realise at once how serious that is.
But there is another fact. The district concerned is in a Development Area, and there have been strong hopes of accommodating there a substantial number of modern industries, many of which would need gas to work them. Those hopes are very feeble indeed unless gas can be supplied. I understand that a scheme has been submitted to the Minister with a view to taking immediate action to put down a new plant in order to satisfy the gas requirements of that district. What has happened with regard to it I am not aware, but I am hoping to-day that the Minister will be able to give some assurance that steps are being taken immediately by him in order to put gas supplies there on a proper basis.
I do not want to take any more time, because I know a number of speakers want to talk on the main subject of the Debate, and I am grateful to the Committee for giving me the opportunity of raising this one point.
I have listened to a particularly interesting series of speeches to-day and one thing I have noticed about them is that all the speakers except two indicated quite clearly that they have some close interest in the coal-mining industry. One hon. Member intervened in the Minister's speech to make the extraordinary suggestion that only those who were connected with the coalmining industry had any right to ask for information about coal. He is entirely wrong. I have no personal knowledge of the coal industry at all. There is a lot of coal in my constituency but, up to now, it has proved impracticable to extract it and, to all intents and purposes, coalminers are unknown in the part of the world to which I belong. However, I represent 147,000 constituents, and practically every one of them, together with everyone else in the constituency who is not on the electoral register, is a consumer of coal.
I would like to congratulate the Minister on the digest of figures which he produced last week. It has been very well done and it was very badly needed. As long as I can remember, the industry has proceeded from crisis to crisis, and in every crisis, I think, the public has displayed a very considerable and sympathetic interest in the difficulties of the industry. Whatever may be the position of those who are actively engaged in getting the coal, the ills of the industry are of vital consideration to all those who depend upon coal for their heating, cooking, lighting and water supplies and, more particularly, those who depend for their livelihood on the operation of machinery which depends on coal for its motive power. During all these crises, when the public has wished to take an interest in the difficulties of the industry, it has always been extraordinarily difficult for an uninformed individual such as myself to arrive at a picture of what was going on in the industry. We have been told nearly continuously that the miners were underpaid, but when we tried to find out what, in fact, the miners were paid, we were given a set of such complicated figures—apparently an incomplete set of figures—that an expert was required to calculate what might be the final result. This digest should clear away a great many of the misapprehensions held by the public. I have noticed, in the short time I have been in the House, that on all occasions coal has come up for discussion—except to-day—hon. Members on the other side have cried out against any criticism of the miner. I am sorry the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) is not here to-day because I have heard him say several times, "Stop nagging at the miners."
With all respect to hon. Members who have a great deal more experience than I have, I submit that is bad policy. Surely the one thing we have all learned during the last few years—or we should have learned—is that it is bad policy, in this country at any rate, to try to hide unpleasant facts from the people.
I think that is a mistake most commonly made by everyone in this country, since the last war, and the present Government are not entirely innocent of it. The Prime Minister has shown repeatedly that he believes in putting hard facts before the public, and I think everyone agrees that that is one of the explanations of the great quality of his leadership. I wish that the same policy could be found in all Departments of the Government—but perhaps I shall be ruled out of Order as irrelevant if I try to pursue that point. I have talked to a number of people who have had the opportunity of becoming intimate with miners, without being in any way prejudiced by connection with the mining industry. I remember during the last war a great friend of mine serving with a battery largely manned by miners. I was serving with an Indian battery, and naturally we compared notes. He had no praise too high for his men. He said they were a grand set of chaps.
As I was trying to say, he said they were a grand set of chaps, and he was convinced that, if he could give them the right sort of leadership, they were capable of great things. Everyone who has spoken on this subject has confirmed that view. I do not think the public recognise that. Unfortunately, the majority of them hold the view that miners are simply a nuisance and that pits are a thorn in the flesh of the country. That view is held largely because of the absence of reliable information about the mining industry, and this digest will, to a certain extent, dissipate that. Another unfortunate opinion which is held among a growing section of the community is that the industry has too many political leaders. We know that many hon. Members opposite did all they could during the Spring to prevent the disastrous strikes which took place, but unfortunately not all miners' leaders, apparently, did. I was reading yesterday a foreword to a book written by Mr. Will Lawther, who, I believe, has considerable influence among miners.
That may be so, but I do not think it affects my argument. I was saying that I was reading his foreword to a book, the name of which I forget. It was about coal and was written by a lady with a foreign name, and published by the firm with the unpronounceable name which ends with the letters "cz." I could only think, reading that foreword, that it could have only one object, namely, to perpetuate unrest among miners. That attitude is not representative of most of the hon. Members I know on the other side of the House.
I am delighted to hear it. If that is so, I cannot understand how he came to write the foreword to that book. I know my words do not carry much weight with hon. Members opposite, or, indeed, any weight at all. No matter what I say the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) will continue his perpetual cry about the coalowners. In spite of that, I appeal to hon. Members opposite to try to instil into their less responsible colleagues the fact that such writings as I have just referred to, do nobody any good, except a few officials who wish to establish their position.
I do not propose owing to shortage of time to take up the thread of the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for Antrim (Mr. Campbell). I want to express my deep appreciation to the Minister of the White Paper which has been published by his Department, and which contains a mine of information and a collection of data touching upon many details connected with the mining industry. It is an illuminating document and throws much light upon many aspects of the industry which were withheld, owing to the embargo put upon publication of certain details in war-time. There are two points I would like to make. The first is in connection with man-power. I would direct the attention of the Committee to Table III in the White Paper which shows the serious decline in manpower which has taken place in the industry, particularly since 1938. In the age group between 14 and 16 the figure fell from 27,600 in 1938 to 18,200 in 1943, and in the 16 to 18 age group the figure shrank from 42,800 to 31,500 in the same period.
Upon these general figures may I make a local point? There is a colliery in my neighbourhood which is one of the most productive in the whole of the British coalfields. This colliery employs at least 2,000 men, but I was informed only a few months ago, that fewer than a dozen under 16 years of age were employed. That is something which causes us all great concern. Why should this be so? There must be a valid reason. This particular situation is not localised; it is general throughout the whole of our coalfields. Mining, as a career, has no appeal whatever to the juvenile members of our community. When I started work as a pit boy I, and others like me, were bubbling over with enthusiasm. But time has altered all that; there has been a remarkable change. The reason why our young men are not anxious to go into the mines is because of the propaganda of their parents at home, who remember the past. I do not want to harp too much upon the past, but the prospects of the future, while this basic industry is in private hands, will be anything but rosy. I desire to make a quotation in this connection, which I believe is to be found in the Book of Jeremiah:
The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge.
The sources from which mining labour has been recruited are rapidly drying up. There is a marked indisposition, as the figures in the White Paper show, to take up mining as a career. I am not surprised. Many of us on this side foresaw this situation. There is in the mining areas, and outside too if my experience is to be relied upon, an anti-pit psychology [An HON. MEMBER: "Who caused it?"] There is a ready answer to that question. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said he had been approached by managements to lift the Essential Work Order. As I said privately to the Minister of Labour, were it not for the operation of
the Essential Work Order, there would be an exodus from the industry greater than that of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
May I give two examples to illustrate this indisposition amongst the mining community, and particularly the juveniles? One is that of a man of 50, at one end of the scale, and the other that of a boy on the point of leaving school. In January last year the man contracted the dreaded disease of dermatitis, and it was certified as such by the certifying surgeon. The employers took full advantage of the law and sent him to the medical referee. He said, "You certainly have dermatitis but it is of a particular kind. It is constitutional and not occupational." The man asked, "Does that mean that I am not going to get any compensation?" and that is what it really meant. For seven long months he eked out an existence on public assistance and friendly society pay. Then he was certified fit for light work and he threw himself on the tender mercies of the employment exchange, because he was not allowed to go back into the pit. When I questioned him, he said, with a twinkle in his eye, "In spite of all I have gone through, I am satisfied that it has been worth having dermatitis to get a job out of the pit." In the case of the boy, I asked him what he was going to do when he left school. He said, "Joinering, engineering or anything." I said, "Are you taking up mining as a career?" There was an uncanny silence for a second or two and he said, "I have certainly got more sense than that."
I think a few words should be said by someone who is neither a member of the Tory Reform Committee nor a colliery director. I think the Debate has shown a considerably less bitterness than many that I have known, and for that reason I welcome it, but I am bound to say that the picture painted in the White Paper is, to me, a disturbing and depressing one. We see on the one hand a falling output and rising costs and a slowness in the introduction of machinery and we see a considerable dislike on the part of new entrants to go into the coal trade. There are things that have to be faced, and it is the duty of the Committee and the Government not merely to recite them but to endeavour to find some remedy. May I remind hon. Members opposite that, if they had nationalisation to-morrow, every single one of these problems would have to be decided?
They cannot be solved merely by a change of ownership. Whether we have nationalisation or not may depend on the next Election but our task is to try to find a way of reducing costs and, at the same time, increasing output. I know that the past history of the coal trade has been a hard and bitter one, but I do not think that that is largely responsible for the voluntary absenteeism that there is today. I give only one reason. It is admitted on all sides that absenteeism, particularly at the coal face, is least among the older men, and they know more about the craft than those newly coming into it. Unless we look at the coal trade as part of industry as a whole, we are wasting our time in talking of it. If we look at it in regard to industry as a whole, I should say that the reason there are bad workmen in it is, perhaps that there are men who have been brought up in distressed areas and who had no other opportunity of getting work, and any Government which is going to get really good work after the war will have to keep clear of the horror of those depressed areas.
On the general question of absenteeism, according to the White Paper there is about 6 per cent. of voluntary absenteeism amongst workers at the face. One realises that that is, to some exetnt, at its heaviest at the beginning of the week and just after holiday time. I understand that the Minister has a good many special officers whose task it is to see that these questions do not go to the police-court, and we do not want them decided in the police-court atmosphere. I suggest that these special officers might be asked to turn their minds more closely to that particular form of increase which we see, especially at the beginning of the week and in holiday time.
I would also ask the Minister whether we could not in the near future have once again the monthly reports in regard to absenteeism. If as a result of the Second Front there has been a spurt on the part of bad workers, they are entitled to get a pat on the back from the public. If there has not been, the public is entitled to know. The three-monthly figures seem to cover far too wide an aspect. I hope, at the same time, that the Ministry will time after time emphasise as far as they can the few good points in the White Paper. It should be made as public as possible that, in spite of the fact that there is a certain increase in the accident rate, serious and fatal accidents in the pits were lower during the past year than perhaps in any year in the recorded history of the industry. That is the sort of thing we want parents to know if we are to get the boys to come into the pits after the war.
A good many people are imagining that there is an anti-mining complex which will stop boys coming back. Boys were going into the pits up to 1938–39. Then the employment period came, and the growth of munition factories gave the opportunity for the boys to earn high wages. If there had not been the munition factories there is not a single fact to show that in 1940–41 there would have been more difficulty in getting boys into the coalfields than in 1938–9. I am not saying that because I do not want conditions to be improved, but all these matters have to be put in their proper perspective. This is a gloomy White Paper and shows particularly a certain lack of initiative in getting new machinery into the mines. I would ask the Minister how it is, if machinery is of such vital importance, that there has been no spurt in the provision of machinery, either for cutting at the coal-face or for transport, during the last few years of Ministerial control in comparison with the three or four years before. Between 1938 and 1941 there was a 10 per cent. increase in machinery for transport and only 2 per cent. between 1941 and 1944. There may be an admirable reason for it, but the Committee should know it. I can assure the Minister that, however much we may differ on various matters, everybody wants to see this industry prosperous. We want to see the men content, but we must see the costs of production go down if not only the coal trade, but industry as a whole, is to give full employment after the war.
I think there has been general agreement in the Committee that the publication of this digest has been very helpful. While there are certain parts of it, of which one can be fairly proud, one need not hide the fact that on the production and man-power side it is a gloomy story. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster) rather complained that there was an omission in the statistical table of the figures for the second quarter of 1944. The reason is that we wanted to get the digest published early enough for hon. Members to have a chance to read it before this Debate. To bring the picture up to date, I can say that the provisional figure for the production of saleable coal in the second quarter was 46,470,000 tons, that is 1,930,000 tons less than in the same period in 1943. Of this loss 600,000 tons were accounted for by disputes, 430,000 tons of it in the first week during the stoppage in Yorkshire. I am glad to inform the Committee that since the Wages Agreement of 10th April disputes have been at a relatively low figure of about 13,000 tons a week, which is one of the lowest figures of the war. With regard to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's other question about figures relating to international production and so on, it has not at the moment been found practicable to supply them. I can say, however, that my right hon. and gallant Friend intends to keep this digest up to date without promising what the specific period of publication will be. My hon. and gallant Friend also asked about the cost of the Porter award. The cost worked out something like this: Minimum wage award about £5,000,000 a year; overtime and week-end wage £5,000,000 a year; holiday with pay £1,500,000 a year, and wages agreement another £8,250,000, making a total of £19,750,000.
The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) has a difficult problem to deal with at the moment and he has explained why he has had to leave. He represents a district where there has been a breakdown in the gas supply, and I have been spending some time there trying to deal with a difficult question. The position is that there is a set of coke-ovens which are very old and have been going for 33 years. That is longer than the average life of coke-ovens. We have done all we can with regard to the immediate repair position and also with regard to increasing the amount of gas at the Pontypool end by the use of C.W.G. plant and other means. What is essential, however, and what the hon. Member is concerned about, is that a battery of new ovens is needed because the others have been in existence so long that they keep collapsing. When I was there in consultation with the local council and the local gas company, all concerned knew that a new battery of 11 ovens was needed for immediate purposes, and we shall be glad to do everything we can to get that work done. Discussions and consultations are taking place, and I promise the hon. Member for Pontypool that he need have no fear of any delay. I have kept him in touch with the varying production figures. I wanted to say this because it was essential from the local point of view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) will not expect me to delve into the historical side of the mining industry, much as I would like to do so. He said that the miner had done a good job of work in this war: There is no doubt about that. Nobody would say that the majority of miners have not done a good job of work. As a pitman myself, I would defend the miner anywhere at any time. My hon. Friend went on to refer to the man-power position before the new Ministry was created. At that time I happened to be Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Mines, and I can bear out the anxiety that my hon. Friend had in those days about the man-power position in mining. He knows exactly what took place, and I do not think he will expect me to deal with that side of it very fully, except to say that we are conscious of the position. There is a gross wastage in mining of, roughly, 40,000 a year. That is a big and serious problem. In order' that we can understand what the wastage problem is, figures have been broken up to show the different classes of men who are leaving the industry. It must be remembered that the men are getting older. Some of them were on the point of retirement when the war took place, and have willingly spent a few more years in the pits, where they have done and are doing jolly good work.
Let us take an average week's wastage in the industry, of roughly 700, and this is what we get. There are about 70 deaths, natural and accidental. Retirement from gainful employment, usually when a man has got past work, at about 65, and excess of compensation cases over those returning to colliery books represent 375. I will have something to say on this point shortly. Some have gone to His Majesty's Forces, mainly to the R.A.F., which shows that there are still sufficient men in the pits with the courage to volunteer. Other causes, such as dismissals for misconduct or on grounds of redundancy account for say 150. All those men are not lost to the industry, because, as a rule, the relatively young or middle-aged miner who is sacked at one pit for misconduct finds a job somewhere else in the industry, although it is difficult to check exactly what the position is.
That gives some idea of the continual wastage. Anyone who is familiar with the accident rate in British mines will agree that the figures for 1943, and I am pleased to say also 'for the present year, are relatively low, both for fatal and serious accidents; but there is, as the statistical digest shows, a tremendous increase in minor accidents. They are between 150,000 and 160,000 for the year. We always say "touch wood" in mining. A pitman, whichever side he is on, seldom boasts about his freedom from accidents. We have known occasions when, altar we have boasted about having a clear year without fatal accidents, something has happened. What is remarkable and pleasing is that a good many lives have been saved from falls of ground, both at the coal face and on the haulage road. My hon. Friends will agree that there is no single cause for the reduction in fatal and serious accident rates, and that it is due to a combination of things that have been in operation during the past eight or 10 years. After the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower decided to appoint nine extra inspectors, for the purpose of attending to roof control, and that has had some effect. I think those inspectors and the committees in the different areas are doing an exceptionally good job of work. There have been, in operation since the Report of the Royal Commission, certain very beneficial things, by order; for example, there is the matter of stone dusting to prevent coal dust explosions. In the old days 50–50 was regarded as being the right percentage, but experience has shown that in certain pits it may be 60–40.
There is one serious matter which all Welsh hon. Members should keep in mind. The hon. Member for the Welsh University (Professor Gruffydd) men- tioned the amount of research work that had taken place by one of the universities in Wales with regard to silicosis. As the Committee knows, my right hon. Friend, in conjunction with the Home Office, some time ago put through a scheme and an alteration in the law, which changed the word from "silicosis" to "pneumokoniosis." That was a very excellent piece of legislation, very speedily done and, if I may be personal for a moment, I am very proud of the little part I was able to play in it. In addition to that, there has been recognition that, when a disease is eating into the very vitals of men in any coalfield, while you may think out a cure, it is very necessary to probe for causes in order to prevent it. It ought to be put upon record, because we are sometimes told that there is not sufficient cooperation in the mining industry, that in South Wales, which has a reputation for being rebellious, the tripartite committee has dealt with this very serious problem of dust suppression and has done a good job of work and deserves our thanks. Let us see to what extent they have done it, because it is interesting. There has been sufficient steel piping allotted to represent approximately 220 miles of pipe of various sizes, and it covers, in the Cardiff and Swansea Division, the approximate length of coal face treated by wet cutting and by water infusion, which is 36,003 yards. They have done a remarkably good job of work.
My right hon. and gallant Friend mentioned that he would be very pleased to arrange for Members to visit certain coalfields and see what is being done. If there is one regret I have when I hear criticism of the mining industry, it is that the industry has never put into the shop window the progress that has been made. I have taken the precaution during the last two years to visit underground workings and see dust suppression methods in operation, such as mist sprays, wet drilling and that kind of thing. I would like them to have an opportunity, physically discomforting though it might be to hon. Members, to accompany a party into some of these pits, to see exactly what is being done and the progress that has been made.
There is a side to pneumokoniosis about which the Committee is entitled to know. About 12 months ago, my right hon. and gallant Friend set up a Commit- tee, mainly of doctors, under the Regional Controller in the South Wales coalfield, for the purpose of recommending what was best for the treatment and rehabilitation of these pneumokoniosis patients. That report has been handed to my right hon. Friend and will be published in due course. It will be well worth everybody's while reading it carefully, if only on humanitarian grounds. The position so far as coal is concerned, and the effect of the disease is that the committee are satisfied of the cause, but when it comes to treatment and rehabilitation, they admit frankly, that there is no known specific remedy for it. I remember visiting the first meeting of that committee and asking the doctor what was the thing to do. I was told that, in Canada, Banting was at that time experimenting on the inhalation of aluminium dust and was not too optimistic about the results. They said quite frankly that so far as treatment and rehabilitation was concerned, they have not much to offer at the present time. Here is a curious thing. Some of these victims of pneumokoniosis, especially those partially incapacitated, and who have had to leave the pit, have done remarkably well during the war in other industries. They have adapted themselves as engineers, inspectors and so on. They have done wonderfully well. There is no doubt that the totally disabled man is in a different category. The mere fact of bringing him out of the pit to an open-air life would not in itself cure the disease but would prolong that man's life.
The committee made a number of recommendations to my right hon. and gallant Friend mainly on the line that further research is necessary with a view to obtaining more accurate knowledge of the disease, its causes, prevention and treatment, including rehabilitation. They suggest the early establishment of a treatment and rehabilitation research centre, with certain indoor accommodation. They also suggest periodical clinical X-ray examination of miners and so on, and the setting up of a co-ordinating bureau to deal with it. What they ask for in general, is for further facilities for research. My right hon. and gallant Friend has not had time fully to digest all the implications of these recommendations, although he himself is most anxious to do whatever is best with regard to this report. I am authorised to say that we are giving it the fullest consideration, and the Committee can take it, that everything that can possibly be done with these recommendations, to make the treatment of this terrible industrial disease more effective, will be done. In view of the fact that this disease is so rampant in the South Wales coalfield, I may be excused for telling the Committee exactly what is happening there. It is not limited mainly to the anthracite coalfields. They are very much concerned about the steam coalfields, but, on the whole, this committee has done a very good job of work. This is an advisory committee. Anything we can do to implement these recommendations we certainly shall do.
One or two very important speeches have been made on the organisation of the coal industry. I think the hon. Gentleman should deal with these, and point out that it can only be organised if the mineowners are got rid of.
We have had to-day one of the most interesting discussions. We have had a recognition by all speakers that there is something wrong with this industry, and that it has got to be put right. The difference of opinion was as to method. We have been asked what we are doing. Believe me when I say there has been, in the two years since the Ministry was set up, a good deal of thought and inquiry as to what is best to do, not merely with coal as coal, but with gas, electricity and so on, and my right hon. and gallant Friend did indicate that he has asked his regional organisation to have a factual survey made' as quickly as possible so that he himself will have some evidence in knowing how to formulate policy. I think that the hon. Member for Eccleshall (Sir G. Ellis' was right in saying that you cannot treat coal in isolation, that good economic organisation suggested a closer connection between coal production, gas and electricity. The Committee have been informed that my right hon. and gallant Friend has been meeting the different bodies connected with electricity, both in production and distribution, quite recently. He has also got an advisory committee working with regard to what is best to do with gas, and the Committee may take it from me that there is plenty of thought being exercised inside the Ministry as to what is best to do with this industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "We want action."] A Ministry has always to put up its plans to the Government, and the Government then decide policy. Hon. Members can take it for granted that the preparatory work is being done.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Sir A. Evans) asked me if I could state what is going to be the Government's position regarding the export of coal after the war. That is a question that few people could answer at this time. Let us be perfectly frank. While we have got to maintain an export trade, and obtain as large a one as is possible, it certainly does raise a question of high policy with which no Parliamentary Secretary could be expected to deal on an occasion of this kind. But one thing we all hope, as the hon. Member for Pontypool mentioned, is that there will not be the same mistakes when the next peace treaty comes as were made when the last one was signed. I happened to be close to some of the events in 1920 with regard to reparations and of knowing the effect on the export trade. While we are thinking about the matter, and the Government are aware of it attention is being paid to it, I hope I shall be excused if I am not able to give an answer. One very important thing before I close——
With regard to Scotland I have sufficient material here for another half hour. We are looking into the points that have been mentioned. I would like to refer to one thing of a general character. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower expressed a fear about the four years under the new wages agreement. It is only fair to say that the six months' notice on either side was put in that agreement purposely, because if there are six months in which to talk, there is plenty of time to thrash out differences. I am not looking forward to four and a half years in which we shall have another big strike or lock-out. I think we shall have sufficient common sense to avoid the same tragic strikes and lock-outs that we had after the last war.
With regard to the colliery mentioned by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) I think the position is this—my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) paid a visit to our regional office in Scotland and I think he met the Regional Controller with regard to the matter. Rightly or wrongly, I am told that after the company had explained the position my hon. Friend felt a little easier in mind than he had done before. If that is wrong, I will look into the matter again; but that is the information supplied to me.
That is certainly wrong. It has been looked into for four years now. The Regional Controller has had the matter before him for two years, and up to now he has not been able to report one way or the other.
I will look into that. Any points which have been raised, and which time has not allowed me to deal with in full, will be fully considered, and, where possible, I will answer them by correspondence.