I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
I believe there are far too many Ministers in this House. I added them up the other day in one of the issues of the OFFICIAL REPORT and found that there were 102, excluding officers of the Household. If we subtract some Ministers in another place, and add those who have reason to be grateful to the Government, such as the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the Governors of the B.B.C. and the Parliamentary Private Secretaries who, although unpaid, are tied to the Government, there are, in my estimate, 140 to 150 Members who are interested in the existence and the continuation of the Government.
I wanted to be as short as I could. The first reason why I want the Bill to be of limited duration is that there should be, before the end of 1948, a review by the Government to see whether one of those who are left could not be got rid of also. The next point is that this Ministry, as it stands, is controlling coal, oil, gas and electricity. No one can foretell the future of any of these industries, particularly coal, and it seems to me that one is putting the cart before the horse in setting up a machine before one sees what that machine is to control. I am borne out in that by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Drake (Lieut.-Colonel Henry Guest), who on the Second Reading said:
I think that to try to set up a Ministry for all time by a vote to-day, until we have judged the,great question of nationalisation or not
nationalisation, would be most unwise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1945; Vol. 408, C. 1151.]
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Lieut-Colonel Lancaster), although he supported the Second Reading, said he was watching the Ministry with some anxiety to see how it would develop. There, again, it seems to me there is a reason to review the position and the powers of the Ministry in three years' time. It was a war-time Ministry set up for a specific war-time purpose and it was created purely for war-time purposes. If it is allowed to continue indefinitely it seems to me that a precedent may be created for other war-time Ministries, which seems to me dangerous unless we can get a definite statement that its continuation will not create a precedent for the continuation of other war-time Ministries. Again, coal, in my opinion, should not be under the sole control of a Ministry of Fuel and Power, but should be under the aegis of the Board of Trade. I think we must look forward, if we are going to have a prosperous coal industry after the war, to a large expansion of the export trade. The Board of Trade are the people—
I will say no more, except that there should be a review of the set-up of the Ministry in three years' time to see whether the co-ordination between it and the Board of Trade is sufficiently good to justify its continuation. I have chosen the particular date because I think that on 30th June, 1948, the Porter Award Wages Agreement comes to an end, and I wanted to give the Ministry six months to review wages, and to set up a wages organisation, so that, if it was decided to discontinue the Ministry after the end of 1948, there would he six months to settle the situation. I am extremely anxious that the coal industry should be reorganised, and I want to give them three years to do it. I think that we are all agreed that, whatever the system of the coal industry may be in future, we must have a change which will make it much more prosperous than it was before, and we want to give the Ministry three years' trial to see if it, can make a success of it. At the end of the three years there should be a review to see whether the doubts and fears expressed on the Second Reading were right, and, if they are justified by the event, the Ministry ought to come to an end in 1948.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has offered some observations on the number of Ministries in the Coalition Government. There I am in full sympathy with him. There are too many Ministries. But these Ministries were created by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Conservative Party. They were not created by Members, certainly not by Members on this side, but by the Prime Minister, who is solely responsible. There is the villain of the piece. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) said that many Members on this side occupy positions in the Ministry. I understand that they occupy positions in proportion to their numbers in the House. Whether there are too many is a matter of opinion. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether this Ministry should be terminated, in its proposed form, in 1948. Any Ministry can be terminated if there is a strong expression of opinion to that effect in the House. Pressure can be brought to bear on the Government of the day at any time to terminate any Ministry.
I agree that it is not automatic, but there have been occasions when, because of strong pressure on the Government, certain Ministries, not immediately but in due course, have been terminated.
We have had several instances where there have been modifications. We had a Ministry of Shipping, which was amalgamated with the Ministry of Transport because of pressure brought to bear on the Government, and there have been several instances of that kind. No one will deny that, if a majority of Members at any given moment wished to bring any Ministry to an abrupt termination, they could do so. The Government could not resist such a demand. That must be obvious to anybody.
What is my hon. and gallant Friend objecting to? Not to the existence of the Ministry, but to its powers. He is afraid that its powers are too comprehensive. He is obviously afraid that those powers may be abused—from his point of view—and he agrees that if the Ministry were terminated in 1948, we could revert to the old Ministry of Mines under the aegis of the Board of Trade. Although the Ministry will have the apparent power—it is no more than that—which is provided for in the Bill, it will still be a Ministry of sorts, and 1948, even allowing for the six-months period for the termination of the Porter Award, may not be the best possible time. It is probably the worst possible time. In fact, I cannot imagine a worse time. The hon. and gallant Member seems to think that if we allow six months for the settlement of the wage question, that will be the only issue involved, but there may be a series of issues. There may be a serious crisis in the coal industry. Is this House to engage in acrimonious controversy as to whether this Ministry should go on or not, at a time when there is a serious crisis in the coal industry?
If the Porter Award is terminated in June, 1948, does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that a settlement of the wages question can be effected within six months? I believe that a much longer time will be needed. We cannot tell, and it is all highly speculative. Surely the one thing we want is some measure of stability in these matters. I cannot imagine any time when stability will be more required than in the next half-dozen years or so, to assist in reupholstering British industry. It will require that very badly and if we are to "monkey about" with Ministries that are concerned with fundamental industrial problems, it may go very hard with us.
I can understand our divesting ourselves of the Ministry of Production—I know this may not be strictly in Order. If I had my way I would abolish the Ministry of Production to-morrow, and I would do the same with the Ministry of Information. There is a number of Ministries which are of no use at all, because they are redundant. That case ought to be expressed very forcibly and put to the Prime Minister. After all, those Ministries have had a fair run, and they ought to go. They are no longer necessary to the war effort; but here is a Ministry that is necessary for the war effort. We have agreed to that, and have accepted that principle. The Ministry is surely necessary, if we are to build up our industrial life in the future as to its direction and its activities. Surely the hon. and gallant Member recognises that we have already settled that matter. It is not the Minister who determines it. He can be questioned, criticised and castigated. I was about to say that he can be called upon to resign, but that is not an activity to which Ministers usually apply themselves. It is very seldom that a Minister resigns.
We can interrogate Ministers every day when the House is sitting and, when they come forward with legislation, we can subject it to fierce and hostile criticism either with a view to rejecting it or to amending it. The power lies in our hands. So, in 1948, which is the date which the hon. and gallant Member has in view, if we feel strongly, if my hon. and gallant Friend is here and if I am here, even with a reduced majority, and if we are not satisfied with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, who may still be Minister of Fuel and Power, we can tell him so, and both of us can bring pressure to bear upon the then Prime Minister to draw this Ministry to an end, if we regard it as unsatisfactory.
This is not the way to handle a Ministry, giving it a short period of life. It must go ahead with its mind concentrated on its problems and with the idea forcibly impressed upon it that it has room to breathe and years of life before it. The problems relating to coal will not be settled in three years. Problems of coal utilisation and conservation, and cognate problems will not be settled in three years. I doubt whether they will be settled during the next 10 years. At any rate, we have to make the effort. I therefore hope that the proposed Amendment will not be accepted.
I found the arguments of my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment very potent, and it is a pity that more Members were not here to hear them. The Minister will not be surprised at finding my name supporting the Amendment, if he recalls some of the remarks I made in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. I found the greatest reluctance in not trying to prevent the Bill having a Second Reading at all. I made it clear in my speech then that I was only prepared to do so if the Bill were amended in Committee so as to limit the period during which the Ministry was to be continued. I therefore welcome the opportunity of associating myself with this Amendment, which has been so ably and cogently moved.
My principal reason for wanting the period of existence of the Ministry to be limited is that I think the Ministry has a bad record. I do not propose to repeat now the reasons that I gave in my Second Reading speech, but there is no doubt that it would be extraordinarily difficult for anybody who was not extremely biassed the other way to defend the record of the Ministry from the results which have been shown. The mining industry is in chaos. The responsibility of the Ministry for controlling the industry has been clear from the first, but the chaotic condition of the industry has not been improved by the control exercised by the Ministry, although I am perfectly willing to believe that the Ministry has done its best; but that is not a defence. I object also to this Ministry, which has made a thorough mess of the mining industry, has failed to produce the coal for the people and done little or nothing to stop disgraceful strikes, which still prevail all over the mining world—
The hon. Member who has raised the point of Order himself covered a very wide range in his speech. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who is now addressing the Committee is giving reasons, I understand, why he does not want this Ministry continued indefinitely, and why three years should be its limit. On an Amendment such as this, we cannot go into the whole question of the organisation of the coal industry. The discussion has already gone a very long way and I must rule that we cannot go into the question of the whole running of the Ministry. We have already accepted the Ministry, and now we are considering a proposal for limiting its term of life to three years.
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Williams, and I will certainly respect it, but I think the Committee will agree that when we are asked to employ somebody for an indefinite period of time we have to inquire whether the record of past service is sufficient to warrant the engagement, or whether it should be for a more limited period of time. This applies to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I think it should have a chance in the post-war world to rehabilitate itself in the respect and confidence of the country. Its handling of the coal industry during the war has won it no confidence at all. It is with that motive that I most warmly support the Amendment to limit the period of time.
My second point is that I do not want the Ministry to control indefinitely anything other than coal and mining. Let us go back to the Ministry of Mines, if necessary, after the period suggested in the Amendment. I see no reason why we should have a Ministry controlling petrol, gas, electricity, or any other fuel at all. I am willing to admit that it may be necessary and advisable to do so during the war, but why the Prime Minister should be blamed by implication I cannot see. The Prime Minister may have set up the Ministry, but he did it presumably with the full collective responsibility of the Coalition Government and presumably with the full consent of this House, including the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell).
Surely the principle of collective responsibility must apply. The Prime Minister cannot be blamed for having set up this Ministry, see no reason why petrol, oil and other forms of fuel should be controlled indefinitely after the war. Let us see what the situation may be in 1948. It may be very different. We may have a very different form of Government. Public opinion has become so tired of Governmental central control that people may want to reduce it to a minimum. I am hopeful that they will. The date suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend is a very reasonable one. It may be that 1948 will be in the post-war period and, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, the Porter Award on coal wages will be coming to its close. It is to be hoped —
I am sorry, and I beg pardon. I appreciate the point, which is that the wages agreement will be coming to an end. There will be a little lapse of time after the war for us to shake ourselves together and I am looking forward to the day when the industry will be freed as much as possible from the controls which must be put on during the war. Here, we are tying up the industry to a Department which loves controlling yet has made a mess of it.
I want to say a word in support of what has just been said by my hon. and gallant Friend. I listened with fascination to what was said by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). Despite the knowledge which he customarily brings to bear on these matters, I still think that no case has been made out for continuing this Ministry indefinitely. One has only to think of the trouble there has been throughout the country and to look at the record of the Ministry which we are proposing to set up indefinitely. When one thinks of the chaos that has been caused among the consumers of coal I do not see how we can possibly say that a case has been presented for an indefinite period of continuation of this Ministry, and I see no reason why the matter should not be reviewed automatically in 1948.
As I understand the hon. Member for Seaham, he says: "No, let us have this Ministry indefinitely, and then, if necessary, or at any other time, Parliamentary pressure can unite to bring the matter on to the Floor of the House for examination." That, I think, was the point of his argument as to why it should be allowed to continue. It is perfectly true, I suppose, that the collective power of this House could do anything with any Ministry. All we ask is that there should be automatic action at the end of a certain period. Knowing how the Ministry has failed since its birth, and knowing the chaos that it has failed to stop, we say that in four years' time there should be another automatic examination of the Ministry. May I remind the Committee that one of the powers of the Ministry is the efficient distribution of coal? Would anybody say that there has been any efficiency at all in distribution while this Ministry has been in existence?
It seems to me that hon. Members on both sides have missed one of the essential functions of the Ministry, a function which, I think, might justify its continuance for an almost indefinite period. The main function of the Ministry so far has been to be the whipping boy for the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of Labour having got the whole labour situation in a hopeless state, particularly in the mining industry, the Ministry of Mines is here to take the kicks so that we cannot get at the Ministry of Labour, which is responsible for the whole of the trouble in the coalfields.
And the hon. and gallant Member attributed it to the existence of the Ministry. I ask him, as a reasonable man, what he thinks would have happened if there had not been a Ministry during the war.
There has never been such a war. This Ministry has been functioning under the greatest difficulties. I have met some of the difficulties, as every Member who is in contact with his constituents has, but when they are examined it is easily seen that had there been no Ministry there would have been such a condition of affairs as would have brought about revolution in this country. It has been said that the Ministry is not justified in any event, and that we should put a period to its existence, because, even in exceptional circumstances, it cannot be foreseen that the Ministry will be required after the period mentioned. That view fails to understand what is the true value of the service which is involved in coal, fuel, gas and electricity. Hon. Members have to understand that there are certain things which are essential to existence, and these things must be removed from the sphere of the profit-making motive. Because they are essential in the lives of the people, they should be controlled—
I was going to show that a time will arrive when we shall have to regard the value of what the miner produces, not at the price he gets at the end of the week, but as a service which enters into every aspect of social and commercial life. Because of that fact, it is not possible for us to leave such important services to the free play of private enterprise. If we put a termination on the period of the Ministry it means that as soon as that time arrives we shall throw industrial life into the chaos which will arise from the necessity of making it pay and produce a profit. If we put a period to the life of the Ministry, it will mean that this industry must become completely uncontrolled, and this will lead to a chaos which will mean that the people will suffer. If and when a time arrives when the Ministry is no longer required it will cease to exist.
The hon. and gallant Member will know that the brilliant brains of the Conservative Government created a Ministry which was called the Ministry of Thought, and because that Ministry thought nothing it passed out of existence. There was also a Ministry for the Co-ordination of Defence, and because there was no co-ordination and not defence, it went out of existence. The truth is scientifically that as soon as a thing ceases to have any purpose, and as soon as there is no longer any reason for its existence, it ceases to exist.
The hon. Member is a better judge of nothing than I am, because his peculiar way of looking at things is to escape from the unalterable process of evolution. We cannot go back to the period when we lived as individuals; life is becoming more complex. This Ministry is a very important Ministry and is justified by the value of the service which it has rendered.
I hope that the Committee will not hesitate to reject the new Clause. I have heard from my hon. Friends behind me no sound reasons for it. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) asked if the continuance of this Ministry would establish a precedent. There is no question of a precedent. It stands on merit, and the merits of the case are that this Ministry should continue in the post-war world.
It is not a question of precedent, but of merit. My hon. and gallant Friend asked whether the continuance of the Ministry was linked up with the question of nationalisation. There were a number of Members before the Second Reading who took the view that the continuance of the Ministry would make it more difficult to nationalise the mines. This is not a question which has any connection with the continuance of the Ministry, because, if the electors decide that the mines shall be nationalised, the Government will find ways and means of doing it. Experience showed that to have electricity under the Ministry of Transport, gas under the Board of Trade and coal under the Mines Department was not the best way of dealing with them. They all have a common origin and, therefore, the Ministry of Fuel and Power took them over. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) seemed to be losing his temper slightly, and I do not mind exchanging a few blows with him about what he said. Some people seem to imagine that strikes in the mining industry only started after this Ministry was set up. I had been through about eight before I became Parliamentary Secretary. The fault with regard to strikes does not lay with my right hon. and gallant Friend. He has done a great deal for the mine workers, and whether all have played the game or not does not matter. Strikes have been—
I must apologise. The hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew said on Second Reading, and repeated it to-day, that the year 1948 was chosen because the wages agreement then comes to an end and that would be an appropriate time to review the whole situation. On the contrary, it would be one of the worst things, because the impression in the mining industry would be that we would be getting ready for a show-down at that time. I remember when the Mine Minimum Wage Act was passed in 1912 for three years only. What the lads used to say in the coalfields was, "What's going to happen at the end of three years? Are we going back to the days when there was no minimum wage?" Owing to the war the Minimum Wage Act was put in the Expiring Laws Bill, and it has been there ever since.
It is essential to give something like continuity and stability to the mining industry. It was largely owing to the concern about the long-term problem in mining that my right hon. and gallant Friend was induced to ask for powers to continue this 'Ministry on something like a permanent basis, that the House of Commons has got the power to say either "yea" or "nay" to any Ministry, that it has been done, and that it can be done again. A Vote can be withheld, and if a Ministry does not get its Vote it 'cannot exist. A good deal of preparatory work has been done in the last three years. There are large numbers of reports now being submitted upon which action will have to be taken. There are the regional surveys, which will deal with development work, with new sinkings and with all that goes on to make something like a coal policy. There is the question of the Reid Committee Report, which will deal with making the industry more efficient. It is not a question of a three-year policy in the mining industry; there must be a longer term policy than that.
In some respects it has done, but we should be out of Order in discussing that. Then there is the Severn Barrage Report, which envisages a period of eight years for its maturity. What would be the position of a Ministry with these long-term policies in front of it if it were under sentence of death?
There are other activities in the Ministry besides mining. There is the gas industry. Does anybody believe that the present structure of that industry is perfect? There is the Heyworth Committee sitting, to consider the structure of the gas industry. Then again, in electricity there is plenty of room for improvement, efficient though it is in many ways. It would be wrong and a retrograde step to limit the life of the Ministry to three years with all these matters before it. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Leicester (Colonel Lyons) talked without his brief and without knowledge in the few things he said about coal distribution and what the Ministry had done. He does not know the facts. There was no more chaotic service in the country than coal distribution before some action was taken. There were 30,000 coal merchants, not co-ordinated or linked up in any way except through the merchants' organisation. The House Coal Distribution Scheme did a good deal, and I am going to pay this tribute to the Service Directorate of our Ministry which does not get much praise. It has done a very good job of work. There are towns and cities which have actually consumed more household coal during the war winters than ever they did in peace time. One of the difficulties in peace time was this—
I was making the point because the coal distribution comes under the Minister, and I did want to say that the service side of the Ministry had done a good job. In conclusion, may I say there is absolutely every argument that the mining industry and all it means should have a Ministry which was not limited in life and I ask the Committee to reject this Clause.
The hon. Member wants the continuation of this Ministry, whereas we have just had the most wonderful lesson in regard to getting rid of a Secretary for Petroleum at the very moment when we want some more petrol.
What we want is more coal. Certainly my constituents do. The hon. Member said that if the Ministry was going to be inefficient and undesirable, then we should combine at the right moment and guide it. I wish I had the same faith in Parliamentary ability to do this. I wish it might be possible. I am not satisfied in leaving this Bill as it is to-day, without a limitation which might lead to an automatic review of the situation. I am afraid if we let it go we shall have this Ministry saddled on the taxpayers of the country for the rest of our existence. There is, however, a very small attendance in the Committee, it is Friday afternoon, and in those circumstances, what point is there in my challenging a Division? If there was a bigger attendance, I might have taken the necessary action. The Parliamentary Secretary did, however, afford me one grain of hope for which I want to thank him. He said that this Bill is not a precedent for the continuation of other war-time Ministries. I heard him say that quite clearly, and I want to get it on record. He told us that quite frankly and bluntly from the Front Bench, speaking as a Minister, and I accept it from him as speaking for the Government and implicating them in what he has said—