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 Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham 12:00 am, 1st May 1947

On the other hand, had we resorted to rationing last year, of the use of gas and electricity, there would have been violent and vehement complaints from the Opposition benches. At any rate, I understood that hon. Members opposite thought that rationing would not be a bad idea. It is very difficult to understand what they mean when they suggest that alternative measures, other than those which we have suggested, could be adopted. The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) spoke about a voluntary appeal for more co-operation. We had innumerable appeals last year, and if I was criticised for one thing, it was on the ground that I resorted to appeals for voluntary co-operation.

We do not mind being criticised by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, because we know them for what they are. At the Fuel Efficiency Conference on 8th October last year, I made an appeal for a 10 per cent. cut. Three weeks afterwards it was obvious that that appeal had failed. It was necessary then to consider the preparation of a scheme of rationing, and we did so. That has been discussed in the House, and it will be within the recollection of hon. Members. Now when, in order to assist in conserving fuel supplies, to enable industry to work at as high a pressure as possible, and to prevent short time and unemployment, we ask domestic consumers and non-industrial consumers to suffer some inconvenience so that industry shall continue, we are told by hon. Members opposite that we ought to have sought alternative measures. The fact of the matter is—and we had better understand it—nothing that this Government will do, whether it is right or wrong, will 'ever satisfy the Opposition. As for the silly, futile, vapid and infantile attacks which are launched against me from time to time from these remarkable geniuses on the Opposition benches, including the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) who, in his pontifical speech this evening, indicated that all was well when he was at the Ministry of Fuel and Power and everything went wrong when he left it, if it was not that I know right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite, because of my lengthy experience in this House, I would probably take them at their word and be a little worried about what they have said. As it is, I am amused and nothing more. If it comes to a war of words, I can assure them that I will be willing to accept their challenge at any moment.

What does it boil down to? It boils down to production. Of course, it does. Who has repeated that more often than myself? I have said it all over the country. I dislike restrictions. I detest prohibitions in the use of this, that or the other commodity—of course I do. So do others on these benches. Indeed, so do we all. But, in the circumstances, it is inevitable. I hope it will be temporary in its duration, and, in so far as it is necessary to adopt modifications, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated, we are prepared to consider any reasonable proposal that is made to us. I repeat, at bottom it is a matter of production. We cannot solve this fuel problem unless we get more coal. [HON. MEMBERS; "Hear, hear."] These modern Columbuses on the opposite benches have made a discovery. We happen to have known it for a long time, precisely because we understand that production alone can solve this problem, however much one cares to promote fuel efficiency, which, of course, is very desirable. I can tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke in parenthesis, that we are doing far more in respect of fuel efficiency than ever he did when he was Minister of Fuel and Power, no matter what he has done. [Interruption.] Of course, I know hon. Members opposite do not like what I am saying. That is precisely why I am saying it. No matter what one does in respect of fuel efficiency, no matter what may be done in the way of imposing restrictions on consumers, it is production we want, and it is production we must seek.

We have tried to increase production, but, obviously, it is not the Ministry of Fuel and Power that increases fuel production. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is certainly not hon. Members opposite who will increase production; and, if I may be permitted to say so—because I want to be fair in this matter—nobody in this House can increase production. It is the men in the pits who will increase production. We must depend on them. What has happened? In the three months preceding the end of last year the trend of production was accelerated. There is no dispute about that. What has happened since? Hon. Members are well aware of what occurred when the severe weather set in. Many pits were inaccessible; there were considerable transport difficulties, and, in consequence production was impeded. That had nothing to do with the Ministry, and nothing to do with hon. Members. The miners were not to blame. There were the facts. It was due to the severe weather. But, in spite of the severe weather conditions, in spite of insuperable transport difficulties such as this country has not encountered for a very long time, the miners succeeded in producing about 3½ million tons more coal in the first four months of this year than they did in the corresponding period of last year.