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

Mr. Amory:

It is a fantastic idea. One other thing we ask of the mining industry, to return at the earliest possible moment to its prewar standards of quality and choice of grades. Today we are getting much coal unsuited to the purpose for which it is required. Some of it is really frightful stuff. We do not hear much about the price of coal today, but looking forward a year or two, let us remember that the cumulative effect of the price of coal comes to a substantial element in manufacturing costs. And coal has to be sold in the markets of the world competitively. Today we are paying stiff prices for coal which is not of the average calorific quality which we were getting before the war.

The importance of exports should be stressed whenever we talk about coal in this House. It will be a disaster if the notion takes root that never again is this country going in for exports of coal. The Minister of Fuel and Power has said that a united effort is necessary to solve the fuel problem. I believe that he is right, but that kind of effort must be inspired. The right hon. Gentleman is in a position where the example which he sets is of the very first importance. The right hon. Gentleman has estimated production this summer at six million tons less than the figure of last year. That simply will not do. Industry is profoundly disturbed, not only about what it is to get this summer, but what it is to get next winter, because industry has to plan, whether the Government do it or not, at least six months ahead. Arc the Government at last going to apply foresight and forward planning, or are they going to hope again for the best and for a mild winter? It all comes down to a question of leadership. When the trumpet gives forth an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle? The nation wants leadership in which it can feel confident. I feel that, too often, the kind of leadership we are getting is like the rapidly cooling exudation from the top of a moribund volcano caused by spasmodic eruptions and internal strains and stresses. The nation has given the miners what they wanted; it now asks the miners to give a fair return—enough coal to keep the wheels of industry going faster than ever before, enough to keep the houses of the people warm and dry, and to do the washing and cooking, and enough to provide exports to buy those vital imports that nothing except coal will buy today.

Have the Government courage to set such a task? Something more than 200 million tons is needed this year and a good deal more than that next year. If that is achieved, the nation will have its feet set firmly on the road to economic recovery; if not, then there lies ahead an endless vista of stoppages, dislocations, shortages, under-employment, and uneconomic working. These things will cause an indefinite postponement of the day when this nation once more pays its way, an indefinite postponement of the day when the shops are filled with things the people want to buy, and a progressive paralysis of our whole economy for which history will lay a large measure of the blame with the present Government. I trust that, this evening, the Minister of Fuel and Power will convince us that the Government are equal to this crisis which is of such desperate import for our future destiny.