Orders of the Day — Ministry of Fuel and Power Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd February 1945.

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Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton 12:00 am, 23rd February 1945

On the whole, I think the hon. Member is quite right. Now these things cannot be settled by a magic wand, they take time and a long-term policy as well as an immediate one. A great deal of preparatory work has been done. In addition to this committee of technicians there have been regional surveys. When they are published, as they will be, they will make very interesting reading and give hon. Members information about some of the difficulties which have to be faced in the various districts if we are to plan the mines such as questions of mining subsidence, draining and water generally, the higgledy-piggledy way in which coal has been cut in the past and the difficulties arising from that fact. My right hon. and gallant Friend can take some credit for having done a good deal of preparatory work.

For two and a half years we have had quite a lot to do with gas and electricity, and that has been more or less my work. On the whole I think we can say we have got through exceptionally well. We had difficulties in that industry with regard to man-power at one time, and we had to take action in order to get more labour, but we have done fairly well. With regard to the gas grid, there is no doubt there is plenty of room for development. The only grids we have of any size in this country are in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. I remember the first day that gas from coke ovens was pumped into one grid. There were millions of cubic feet of good coke-oven gas being wasted in the air. It was then brought into Sheffield in a gas grid. The gas grid is a good thing for the pits, for the consumers, and for everybody concerned. My right hon. and gallant Friend appointed the Heyworth Committee to go into the question of the gas industry and he is awaiting their report. There has been a good deal of policy with regard to electricity, more than I dare say at the moment. Therefore, I do want to assure hon. Members that in two years and nine months, even though output has gone down recently, we have not been lazy.

Do not let the House think that we have ignored these problems. I know that the figures have been far too low, but we have done our best. We do not expect thanks. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham knows that he was not so popular when he was Secretary for Mines. I know that he did not expect thanks, but that he did what he believed to be the right thing. We have done the same, and we are not ashamed of it. I am prepared at any time, anywhere, to justify the existence of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, with its limited powers. Whether the administration of the Ministry has been good, bad or indifferent during the last two and three quarter years we have felt that after this war there must be a separate Ministry for Fuel and Power, and that it must not go back again as a Department of the Board of Trade. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because of the problems which we shall have to face. If Members are so "dumb" from the chin upwards that they cannot visualise what will happen in this country after the war in relation to coal and our prosperity, then I cannot educate them.

I can tell Members what is the statistical position with regard to production, and what I foresee is likely to happen. We shall have to conserve coal after the war more than we ever did before, and extract from it some of the wealth we have been wasting. Then we shall have to put some of that wealth back into the industry, in order that it can occupy its rightful place in our national economy. But, as I have said, we have no need to be ashamed. Members said to me when I came to this Ministry, some time ago: "Good luck, but I think you will be out in three months." Some people seem to live in a perpetual state of mental crisis and we have lived a little too long for some of them, but at any rate we are still there, and we are not ashamed of what we have done. I hope, therefore, that this House will give this Bill a Second Reading.