Ministry of Fuel and Power

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th February 1947.

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Photo of Sir Herbert Butcher Sir Herbert Butcher , Holland with Boston 12:00 am, 19th February 1947

I do not think that at this time, even although the hour is getting late, we ought to pass the Supplementary Estimate presented by the Ministry of Fuel and Power without the most careful examination. For Members of the Committee may feel that, indeed, it is more than likely that that Ministry will be as wrong in their financial estimates, as they were in their estimates of the availability of fuel. I would therefore ask the Parliamentary Secretary for information under certain of the heads shown in this Estimate.

The first, if I may take them alphabetically, concerns the question of travelling expenses. I really think that an extra sum of £25,000 for travelling expenses incurred by the representatives of the Ministry is something which requires most careful scrutiny by the Committee. I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is the reason for this increase. No longer have the representatives of the Ministry to go round and supervise the wicked capitalist coalowners. They only have to travel now to the Coal Board and to the mines owned by the Coal Board, unless, of course, this provision covers holiday jaunts to Himley Hall. Why is it essential that we should spend this additional £25,000 on travelling expenses, because there is no increase in salaries, and therefore there can be no increase in the number of officials to spend this extra amount in jaunting around the country? I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give an explanation; it will probably be, that the Ministry's Estimates are vague and unreliable, and that they now find the original Estimates cannot be justified.

Under Subhead C, reference is made to publicity, instructional films and exhibitions. I cannot help feeling that the Minister of Fuel and Power has received a substantial amount of publicity lately, although it has not perhaps been the kind of publicity he would want. Nevertheless, the Ministry have received an adequate amount of publicity, and I must press the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us how this money is being spent. He will remember that just a fortnight ago, before the Ministry landed us in the present economic crisis, I asked the Minister whether he proposed to continue to insert the advertisements in the newspapers that "We are on the highway to prosperity." The Minister said "Yes," which was, of course, a very satisfactory answer as far as it went, and I really felt that we were on our way to good things. Having told me that these advertisements were to continue, I have carefully examined the newspapers since that date, but have not been able to find one. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether these advertisements have been discontinued, and if so, whether there is to be any saving on the Estimate. Before leaving the question of advertisements I should like to ask whether it is proposed to advertise the thanks of the whole community to the miners for the admirable work they have done. Let us make it clear that any improvement in the coal position is not due to the Minister of Fuel and Power, but to the miners working in the mines. We now come to instructional films. I must ask the Parliamentary Secretary how these films are being made; whether he is taking advantage of the admirable film-making facilities connected with the Post Office, or whether he has found it necessary to go to the wicked capitalists.

Then we come to the question of exhibitions. It is very easy to think of the Minister of Fuel and Power in this connection. I feel that no one would want a more dreadful exhibition, but I am sure that is not what the word means in connection with these Estimates. Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman what kind of exhibitions have been arranged, and what is their purpose. If they were organised for the purpose of saving fuel, it is very poor providence indeed which rests the whole of the saving of coal on a few exhibitions, the cost of which is covered by £20,000. We would like more explanation on this question of exhibitions before we pass this Supplementary Estimate.

11.45 p.m.

Passing over Subheads D and G, both of which, I think cover commendable expenditure, I come to Subhead H, the last line of which reads: Expenses in respect of consumers' councils appointed under Section 4 of the Act "— the Act being the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary what kind of work can consumers' councils do for £1,000 in the period between now and the end of the financial year? How many trained staff can be placed at their disposal? This is not one council; it is at least two—I believe one for England and one for Scotland. There will perhaps be more than two, and the more councils there are, the less will be the sum available for each. I would ask him to turn to page 46 of the Supplementary Estimates, where he will see that the Ministry of Civil Aviation have a much better appreciation of the way to run—