Control of Fuel (Restriction of Heating) Order

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st May 1947.

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Photo of Mrs Lucy Middleton Mrs Lucy Middleton , Plymouth, Sutton 12:00 am, 1st May 1947

In making my contribution to this Debate I shall speak not so much as a Member of Parliament as a housewife. During the major part of the time that I have been in the House I have also been running a ten-roomed house of my own, mostly single-handed. I, therefore, know something of the difficulties in which the Order will involve the housewives of this country. I want to add my voice to those of hon. Members who have begged the Minister to withdraw the Order and to substitute something which will be equitable in its operation. I am opposed to the Order on two counts. I first suggest that it is impossible to apply the Order. Secondly, even if it were possible to apply the Order to some extent, I say that the Order would be inequitable in its operation.

I want to beg my right hon. Friend not to make the housewives of this country into a class of law breakers and law evaders, for that is what is likely to happen. I speak from my own experience. During the time when we were restricted in the use of electricity during the fuel crisis I found it impossible to run my home satisfactorily without to some extent evading the Orders which had been imposed upon us. I had to be here in the morning for a Standing Committee and throughout the day to do my duty in this House. I found that if I were to run my home as it ought to be run and to provide for the comfort of those who live there, and if the Order was not to be broken, I needed to stay up after I had left this House, until one o'clock, two o'clock or even three o'clock in the morning, in order to do the cooking, ironing and other things which needed to be done.

I suggest to the House that the Order which we are now discussing places upon women who, like myself, are doing another job, besides working in their homes, a burden it is impossible for them to bear. I would like the House also to remember the effect that evasions of the law have upon public morale. We have seen something of this effect in countries on the Continent of Europe during the resistance movements. Even though laws were broken in a right and just cause, it is now generally agreed that constant evasion of the law had a demoralising effect upon people who were constantly living a lie in the interests of liberty. I do not want to see that kind of thing happening to the housewives of this country. Housewives have borne a very heavy burden, both during the war and since. It is our task to see that further burdens are not placed upon them in the way in which a burden would be placed by this Order.

I suggest to the Minister that there are other things that could be done to bring about the economies he desires. If I am within the rules of Order I want to suggest one of the things which can be done. All kinds of new electrical equipment have been introduced into the houses on the new housing estates and into the prefabricated bungalows, but very little has been done to instruct the housewife in the proper use of it. As one who uses an electric cooker I know how difficult it is—indeed how almost impossible it is—for the uninitiated house- wife to avoid considerable wastage of electric current. She does not know just by instinct when to turn the oven off and when the heat will be sufficient to finish her cooking. Much help could be given to her which today is not given. My right hon. Friend would be doing a far greater service to the housewives in general and to the saving of fuel in particular if he paid some attention to instructing and assisting women who are using electrical gadgets for the first time.

I should like to give two illustrations from my own personal experience. I was told a few weeks ago by a woman who goes into these new homes on behalf of a certain gas company that, in a prefabricated bungalow, she found a woman using the refrigerator to air her husband's socks. That suggestion may seem ridiculous, but nevertheless it is true. It was a gas refrigerator. In the side of the refrigerator towards which the heat was drawn, in the process of referigeration, there was a warm patch. The housewife had discovered it and there she put her husband's socks to get them aired. She did not realise, because no one had told her, that by so doing she was actually hampering the process of refrigeration. Again, I went recently into a home where a young woman said, "I am in very great difficulty about my 'Ideal' boiler; either it roars away and the water boils, or I cannot get it to heat at all, or else my kitchen is filled with smoke; nobody has told me how to manage this stove." It so happens that I have an "Ideal" boiler at home, and I was able to go into the kitchen and, in a few moments, tell her how to work the dampers in the stove so as to get the desired result. I give those illustrations because I want the House and the Minister to realise that if there were more help given, particularly to young married women, in using equipment of this sort, there could be a very considerable saving made in the use of electricity, gas and solid fuel, and, moreover, the housewives themselves would very greatly appreciate it, because, particularly in working-class homes, it would help them to cut down their consumption very considerably.

I believe this Order will be impossible to carry through. The Government cannot compel people to obey the Order. If they cannot compel them to obey, is it not much better to get people voluntarily to co-operate, abandoning compulsion? The housewives of this country, who have done so much for the country during the last eight to ten years, who have carried burdens second to none and probably greater than all, will co-operate with the Minister because they realise the need for co-operation, but the Minister will get the maximum result if, instead of imposing penalties, he carries through a campaign of publicity and asks the housewives to co-operate with him in order to save the nation in this very difficult time in our history.