Orders of the Day — Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th March 1947.

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Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam , Newcastle upon Tyne North 12:00 am, 11th March 1947

Because there was no planning, did the hon. Gentleman say? The unemployment at that time was largely due to causes which we could not control, but now the whole problem, as I see it, is one of coal, so far as employment in the heavy industries is concerned. Take shipbuilding, for example. There is no industry in the country I believe which entails the employment of so many sub-contractors as does shipbuilding for the various fittings and appliances required in ships. Already I gather that the building of ships is in danger of being held up, and this at a time when, as the White Paper emphasises, there is a necessity for building more ships. The shortage of the various materials which are necessary for the fitting out of ships is due, no doubt, to the fact that so many of the sub-contractors have had to close down, or partially close down, their factories as a result either of shortage of materials or, latterly, of shortage of fuel and power. I would emphasise the fact that this shows more than ever the vital necessity of a greater production of coal. I do not think for a moment that the 200 million tons of coal which the Government are demanding, is anything like enough for our national needs.

Yet we were told the other day by one of the miners' leaders—I think it was Mr. Horner—that that amount of coal was beyond the powers of the miners at pre sent. If that is the case I am sure that what my right hon. Friends the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) and the senior Member for the City of London (Sir A. Duncan) said last night, and what my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) repeated today, is wise advice, that the Government would be very well advised to purchase foreign coal now If we are successful in producing the coal asked for in this country, and it is really sufficient for our purposes, we should have it in stock, and could no doubt utilise it. We might even be in a position to export a little coal, and so pay back some of the money which the foreign coal would cost.

The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey), representing the miner's point of view, emphasised some facts in regard to the psychology of miners. He seemed to me to be living in the past, because most of the grievances which miners suffered have been taken away. They have achieved the nationalisation of the mines, they have higher wages, they have been given various privileges and are promised more. What I am afraid of is something rather different. I well remember at a very critical period of the war there was considerable trouble at some pits in the county of Durham, and production was gravely affected. I suggested to one of the miners' leaders—a very important member of the mining fraternity—that it might be a good thing if he and I went to the pits concerned, as we were known to be strong political opponents, and tried to explain the critical state of the military position, which was then very bad, and adjured the men to work. He agreed to that and we went round to some of these pits. I made my contribution, and he made a very eloquent speech adjuring the men to work. But what was curious was the slight effect his speech seemed to have on them. At that crisis in the war, they were far more interested, indeed, entirely interested, apparently, in, the small local troubles at their own pits. That self-centred feeling has to be got rid of some how or other. There is no doubt that it is an element in the coalfield at the present time throughout the country, an element which is not under the control of the union leaders.

The hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) pointed out the importance of the personal touch in industry, and this is intensely so in the mining industry. The men should be led to realise the vital importance of their work to the country, and that without coal this country must undoubtedly go downhill very quickly, and disappear as a great nation. This would lead to a lower standard of living for us all; it would affect all classes of society. We cannot have the new world in which it is to be so pleasant to live, unless we can support the standard of life which is desirable for us all to have in these days. This should be made clear to workers in industry, employers and employees alike —that unless they can put aside their old grievances and troubles, and live in a new world, they will never have a new world in which it will be worth while to live. That point of view should be emphasised by the Government in every way. If it is the intention of the Government to carry on their Socialist policy, and to proceed with nationalisation, they should at the same time point out that nationalisation really carries us nowhere; that it is only by work that men can live, and only by doing their utmost can they be of use to society. That is what we have to learn in this national crisis.

An industry which I do not think has yet been mentioned in this Debate is agriculture. It is upon agriculture and coal that we have to depend to weather the storm. Whilst everything is being done to help the miner—and that will have to be explained to other heavy industry workers—nothing is being done, so far as I can see, to encourage the agricultural worker. I trust that the, Government will bear in mind the importance of agriculture, and will do more than is set out in the White Paper in the interests of agriculture. I honestly believe that if we can induce the miners to work their hardest —and they can do the work necessary in a five-day week if they choose—we shall soon get back to our old position in which we not only had all the coal we needed for our domestic consumption, but also coal for export.