Fuel Situation

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Timmons Mr John Timmons , Bothwell 12:00 am, 1st May 1947

I do not intend to deal with the saving side but with the production side of the problem. In response to the oration of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), and since he referred to the fuel deficiencies and the savings he tried to effect, I will tell him that the serious allegations that have been made about deliberate waste are true. I know of a big industrial concern which kept a fuel officer whose job it was to save fuel throughout the works. But when the fuel crisis came they dismissed the officer and, throughout every department, used coal indiscriminately. That is an example of the efforts of people to sabotage the fuel saving campaign and to embarrass the Minister. A stranger coming from another land into this place and listening to the attacks made on the Government about this fuel position would think it was something which had just arisen. But it has not. This is a heritage that has been handed on. It was only in January this year that the National Coal Board took over the industry. Before that, the Government had no power to reorganise the industry.

I want to put in a word for my own county of Lanarkshire, in which my right hon. Friend said sometime ago the coalfield was dying. But there are vast resources of coal in Lanarkshire—vast resources which are still to be extracted. I want to put this word to my right hon. Friend the Minister. There is coal lying under water which can easily be worked. Schemes for that can be prepared. I can produce a scheme for him. We have vast areas of coal which can be dewatered, and not at the cost of 2S. 6d. a ton. I can show him areas where it was contemplated to put down new pits. There are still ample opportunities for extracting coal in Lanarkshire. There is this point, most important of all—that Lanarkshire made a big contribution to the mining industry in the way of manpower. We find that since 1940 some 15,000 miners left the industry and went to other industries inside Lanarkshire alone. These men are between the ages of 35 and 45.

What is happening? When the recruiting campaign was set a-going I was rather interested in the appeal that was made to these men to go back to the industry. The Lanarkshire men were willing to go back to the industry. An employment exchange manager told me they have more men than they can place. That is the situation inside Lanarkshire, and it is still the biggest coal producing area in the whole of Scotland. We cannot uproot the miners in Lanarkshire to send them to Fife or the Lothians. Quite a number of the younger men who went to Fife or the Lothians to work had to come back because there is not housing accommodation for them there. In the long-term policy I think that the Regional Coal Board, the National Coal Board and the Minister ought to pay more serious attention to future developments inside Lanarkshire, not only to avoid losing manpower, but in order to make new sinkings.

There is another problem we have in Lanarkshire. I want to draw the Minister's attention to this. There are many small mines, particularly in my own Division. These small mines are not working to capacity. They are working under licence, but they are not conforming to the conditions that prevail in the industry. They are not developing to the extent of producing the amount of coal which they could produce. I know, in my own area, of a number of small mines which could develop and employ far more men than they do employ at present, but they simply refuse to do that. At the same time, I see men going and coming from employment exchanges who cannot get an opportunity of finding work in the mines. I ask the Minister if he will pay attention to this matter and ensure that these small mines which are working under licence conform to the conditions that prevail in the mining industry in the much larger pits.

Another question with which I am concerned is that of the five-day working week. As one who spent many years working a five-day week in the mining industry, I can say that there was a period when, in Scotland, every county had its own working week. Lanarkshire, however, maintained a five-day week, while Fife and Stirlingshire worked 11 days a fortnight, and Ayrshire 12 days a fortnight. During the whole of that period, wages and conditions were determined by the amount of production. The most remarkable thing was. that during that period, output per man-shift was much higher, and the aggregate far higher, for weekly production than in any other part of the coalfields. As one who knows the practical and technical difficulties and problems of mining, I say that I have no doubt that we shall lose nothing by the acceptance of the five-day week. What we get at the moment is a six-day disorganised week. Under the conditions imposed in the five-day week, the country is safeguarded to this extent—that we shall get an organised five-day working week in which we shall get full production throughout the whole week. I know that there are adjustments that can be made, and the miners Members in this House know that, by means of certain adjustments over a period of five days, it is possible to compensate for the loss of the Saturday. I have no doubt that the five-day working week will work out very satisfactorily.

We are told that there is a new spirit manifesting itself in the industry at the present time. I have said here in this House, during the last Debate we had on this subject, that I had faith in the miners, and I still have faith in the miners. Certain adjustments require to be made and these will be made as time goes on. We cannot expect the miners to produce a psychological change overnight. The time will come along when they will not allow anything to stand in the way of production. An hon. Member said to me tonight that the miners would never get the coal. He was offering me a £100 bet that the miners would never get the 200 million tons of coal this year. I offered to take him on, and then he wanted odds. Nevertheless, I am quite confident that the miners will get that 200 million tons of coal this year.

There is just one other point i want to make. I must refer to the position to which reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister). It concerns the development areas. New industries are being built up in these areas. They cannot start production, because they cannot get steel. The steel firms say that they cannot produce the steel because they cannot get coal. We cannot afford to carry 80,000 to 100,000 unemployed in Scotland because we are sending coal to England for her factories. I do not know to what extent our coal is being exported from Scotland to England but I want to say to the Government, and particularly to the Secretary of State for Scotland, that it must be stopped. We must ensure that we have the coal with which to build up a policy of full employment in Scotland.