I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This little Bill has caused some consternation and a good deal of publicity and interest among all hon. Members of the House, and particularly among hon. Members opposite. It really is a simple little Bill, in two Parts, one to deal with the 1946 Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, and the other to deal with the 1911 Coal Mines Act. Both Parts of this Bill are designed to amend those Acts in the light of experience gained while they have been in operation.
While Part I of the Bill does amend the 1946 Act I should say that the Government as a whole do not regard this moment as the time for reconsidering the whole of the provisions of that Act. That may be very desirable; indeed, at some time or another, it will be most desirable—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that I have the concurrence of hon. Gentlemen opposite. That time will come when the Act has behind it sufficient years for us to have had reasonable experience of its operation.
For the moment, therefore, we are concerned with one or two details, and I am sorry if I weary the House, because I propose to deal in rather great detail with what this Bill contains, and not to be led up any side roads by hon. Gentlemen who, I am sure, will want to discuss many things which are not in the Bill itself. This Bill does not produce any new principles. It is not intended to do so, not until such time as we are looking back on the 1946 Act as a whole and we can take note of new principles and additional facts then placed before us.
Clause 1 of this Bill provides for an alteration in the composition of the National Coal Board. This is really the only part of the management structure of the industry for which the Act made provision, and nothing at all was laid down as to the kind of structure sub- ordinate to the National Coal Board. That structure was left for decision by the Board itself, and, so far as the Act is concerned, the Board is perfectly free to make any changes that experience may suggest are desirable in the subordinate structure of management.
The Act provided for a chairman and eight other members, and, having regard to the enormous task that the Board had to undertake in the initial stages, it is not strange that most, if not all, of the members should be full-time, and I do not think that anyone in the House would suggest that that was wrong in view of the enormous job which a small Board had to do. Nevertheless, I am perfectly certain that it will be within the recollection of the House that, in the Debate on coal which took place on 24th June, my right hon. Friend did say something about part-time directors and that he had in mind that there was a necessity for part-time directors. If I were to quote him, I think it would put the matter quite concisely. My right hon. Friend said:
Personally, I think there is a case for having a limited number of part-time members because they bring fresh ideas and experience to bear … I will go as far as to say that the present Act is somewhat limiting in this respect because it fixes a maximum of nine, and it may be that that is a pity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June, 1948; Vol. 452, c. 1599.]
The view of the Minister has been confirmed recently by the Burrows Committee, and that was announced in the statement published by the National Coal Board recently. That Committee recommended that the Board should be enlarged by the addition of a second deputy-chairman and by three part-time members. Clause 1 of this Bill has been designed specifically to give effect to this recommendation and to introduce this greater measure of flexibility in the composition of the Board. It enables the size of the Board to be increased to a chairman and 11 other members. At the same time, it restricts the number of full-time members to the chairman and eight others, which was the original size of the Board. It would not, however, prevent my right hon. Friend from deciding to have more part-time directors and fewer full-time members of the Board.
Clause 2 deals with the area of the Board's activities in a geographical sense. [Laughter.] I shall explain what I mean, because the hon. Gentleman apparently does not see the point about the sphere of activities being geographical. It is really very simple. The fact is that the original Act prevented, upon the vesting date, the overseas assets of colliery concerns and subsidiaries vesting in the Board. There is no intention of disturbing that situation, but it is important that the Board should have freedom to do things for themselves, to have, for example, an agent in another country, to set up business premises and offices in another country, and that it should not be at a disadvantage with other coal-producing countries in its search for foreign markets. That is what I meant by extending the sphere of activities in the geographical sense.
This is a very important point. Does the hon. Gentleman mean that the National Coal Board would now wish to enter into competition with existing British concerns abroad?
I have not as yet said so. What I have said is that it is right that the Coal Board should be in a position to conduct their affairs abroad in the same way as other countries are able to conduct their affairs in relation to the sale of coal. There is no threat at all to those people engaged in the business, and I am certain that hon. Gentlemen opposite will be the last people to suggest that there should not be competition from the National Coal Board on this matter.
Let us have a look at some examples which one could give. For many years before the war, the Ruhr coalfields, producing great quantities of coal for sale abroad, had an organisation—the Rhenish-Westphalian Coal Syndicate—which was responsible for selling coal in foreign markets. It had offices in Paris and other places, and these were the shop windows for the Ruhr coal. Since the war, Poland has established a sales office in France, and is also stationing resident representatives in other countries. These activities constitute activities within the meaning of the 1946 Act, and are activities from which the National Coal Board are prevented by statute in engaging. This Clause enables the Coal Board to have that freedom.
The Board will now be able to appoint a representative to supervise their purchases of items of equipment in the United States; they will now, with the passing of this Bill, be enabled to establish bunker depots abroad. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ha, ha."] What is it that hon. Gentlemen opposite are saying "Ha, ha" about? I thought they liked competition. The Coal Board will now be able, if this Bill receives approval, to establish bunker depots abroad. After all, this was the common practice of firms under private enterprise. The Board will probably wish, as their predecessors did, to sell direct to foreign buyers. At the moment, the chartering of a ship is an activity outside Great Britain, and the Coal Board are precluded, by reason of the present statute, from so chartering a ship. This Bill will enable them to charter a ship, and to sell direct to foreign buyers. I think that is a very reasonable proposition, and one with which the House will be in complete agreement.
Clause 3 is an interesting Clause. I am certain it will be most interesting to the House because it empowers the Coal Board to terminate, subject to compensation, the provisions of certain contracts which the Board now consider to be a hindrance to the performance of their statutory functions. This is a new provision for which the need has become apparent now that the existence of the terms of these contracts has become known. Prior to vesting day, the numbers of contracts and the form of contract were, of course, quite enough. Since vesting day, the National Coal Board, having taken over certain contracts, now see that there are some very peculiar contracts which, in effect, prevent them from carrying out what this House has laid down should be carried out by the Board.
Let me give one or two examples. One contract says that the Board will deliver to firm "A" all coal required for the purposes of the firm's business; all deliveries shall be made within 14 days of the order, and, unless otherwise agreed, shall consist of two particular kinds of coal; deliveries shall consist of not less than 68 per cent. or more than 90 per cent. of the first kind, and the remainder of the second kind. Another contract says that the Board shall supply works "B," for a term of 30 years from 1933, with all the coal they need at such prices as shall not be less favourable to "B" than those charged in 1933, subject only to such percentage variation as may arise by increase or decrease in miners' wages. No account is taken of any other increased expenses in relation to coal.
Another type of contract which, again, I think the House will find interesting is where the Board finds that, by taking over such a contract, it has to supply firm "C" with up to 1,000 tons per annum at 5s. a ton. Then there are other contracts in relation to agencies. There are agreements for exclusive agencies in particular markets. Many extend over long periods and some contain no provision at all for termination. These agency agreements together cover the sale of very considerable quantities of coal—11 million tons in South Wales alone. It is perfectly clear, as I am sure the House will agree, that the existence of commitments of this kind must hamper the Board in their statutory functions.
I can assure the House that I have only given some examples. At the same time, I can appreciate that contracts between the Board and their customers are private contracts, and I very much doubt whether my right hon. Friend the Minister would be entitled to demand that such contracts should be published. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will, on the Committee stage, be able to supply further information on these matters.
Therefore, the position is that the National Coal Board have a statutory duty to perform as laid down by this House. It must secure
(b) … the efficient development of the coal-mining industry; and
(c) … supplies of coal available, of such qualities and sizes, in such quantities and at such prices, as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest in all respects, including the avoidance of any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage.
With these contracts they cannot possibly carry out the statutory obligations laid upon them. How can they secure efficient development if they have
to maintain a colliery, however inefficient, merely because they must conform to a contractual obligation to maintain delivery from that particular colliery? How can they avoid undue or unreasonable preferences if they have to supply a customer at a price reigning prior to 1933? How can they assure that everyone gets a fair share of qualities and grades if they are committed to supply 11,000,000 tons to specific individuals or firms? The answer is, of course, that the Board will not be able to do any of these things, or at least, they will be hampered in doing them while they continue to be bound by contracts of this kind.
The Clause provides that, if the Board decide that they must determine a contract of this kind, or such of its provisions as the Clause enables them to determine, they must pay compensation. I want to say something about this compensation because it cannot be left simply at a decision to pay compensation; there must be certain conditions. In any case in which the provisions terminated are of a normal character, that is to say, where they contain such terms as would be expected in a contract entered into in the ordinary course of business in the open market, and between independent persons who are negotiating at arms' length, the compensation is to be assessed in the ordinary way as loss sustained. But in cases where the provisions terminated are abnormal, compensation is to be assessed as the loss which would have been sustained had the actual terms been so adjusted as to satisfy the conditions I have mentioned as the hall-mark of a normal contract.
Of course, some of the contracts in question, although they may have been bad commercial bargains, may have been perfectly normal contracts, in which case they will be assessed on the face value of the contract. In other cases—such as where a contract had no provision at all for termination—it might well be argued that the omission of such pro, vision would be most unexpected in a normal contract entered into in the normal course of business in the open market. The two original parties to the contract may have been in the same ownership or otherwise inter-connected. Some of my hon. Friends behind me who have to deal with district wages for miners know a good deal about that. In such circumstances, the Clause demands that, in assessing compensation, regard shall be had not only to what was written, but to what was left unwritten, because it would be inherent in the relationship between the original parties who were not independent persons and were not negotiating at arms' length.
Clause 4 is necessarily complex because it must follow and recite the provisions of the original Section 37. What it does is to clarify the meaning of Section 37 in two ways, and to remedy a minor omission. Firstly, it makes clear in Subsection (1) what was always the intention, namely, that the Board have no power, still less obligation, to pay pensions or compensation to anyone who has not been in their employment or who has not been in the employment of a concern which was nationalised. It is perfectly clear that the Board cannot be expected to compensate everyone who may have been adversely affected by nationalisation.
An estate agent may have lost a colliery client because the board have decided that the work needed can be done more efficiently by their own staff. The estate agent would not be compensated because he is self-employed. If he had to dismiss one of his clerks because that clerk dealt with that particular business, it is not reasonable that the Board should be expected to compensate that clerk. If that were so, there would be no end to the obligations of the National Coal Board in respect of compensation. So it is made clear that the Section applies only to persons employed by concerns in connection with assets which were nationalised and who lost their employment or whose expectation of specific benefits ceased or were prejudiced for that reason.
Subsection (2) restates in clearer terms than those of Section 37 (2) what is due to persons who had expectations of accruer of certain benefits, whether as of right or of course under customary practice, had they remained in the employment of their previous employers whose assets were nationalised. I am advised that where it was intended to lay on the Board a definite obligation to make payment, the Section as it stood might have been interpreted by the courts as imposing no such obligation at all.
Alternatively, it might have been held that they had an obligation to pay very much more than was intended or was reasonable; in other words, that the court will admit, say, the validity of the expectation of a comparatively young man, that he would have remained in that employment for 20 years and would ultimately have become the managing director at £5,000 a year, and then he would have been paid a pension on that basis.
What is now clearly expressed is what I believe to be perfectly fair and reasonable, namely that persons who have lost or who lose their employment because of nationalisation shall be compensated for the prejudice or cesser of any expectations they had, and that the amount of compensation shall be ascertained by reference to their actual length of service and actual emoluments. The Clause also makes provision for the fees of referees appointed by the Ministry of Labour and for certain expenses to be paid from public funds.
I think it will be clear that by far the most important aspect of Part I of this Bill is the provision as to the greater flexibility in the composition of the National Coal Board, and at the same time there are the other matters I have mentioned which are important from the point of view of the Board's proper performance of their functions and their ability to provide an efficient service and keep in touch with their overseas customers. Finally, there is the amendment to Section 37, which is necessary to ensure that the field of persons eligible for compensation is clearly defined, and within that field individual cases are properly dealt with.
I want now to turn to Part II of the Bill, which is, of course, quite different from what has been considered in Part I. [Interruption.] It is probably not of great interest to hon. Members opposite, but it is of vital interest to hon. Members on this side and those who have the welfare of the miners at heart. We shall see, as the Debate goes on, how much time hon. Members opposite will devote to Part II.
Part II is concerned with the health and safety of the men who work in the pits. Since 1911, when the Coal Mines Act was passed, the Ministry of Fuel and Power have issued regulations from time to time to deal with these matters in accordance with the provisions of that Act. That Act was a great Act, but it cannot be expected, after 37 years, with all the developments of modern mining technique, that it is completely adequate today. Indeed, in 1938 the Royal Commission on Safety in Coalmines reported the need for a complete overhaul of the Act, and all those who have been acquainted with the industry know it to be true.
Is it of any consequence who set it up, except to say that it was set up, that it was a good thing that it was set up, that its recommendations have been extremely good and have been acted upon by the Ministry of Fuel and Power under the Labour Government? If the right hon. Gentleman wants his name on record as having set it up, I do not mind mentioning it, or perhaps one of his hon. Friends will do so. A good many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission have been implemented because the 1911 Act itself gives power to the Minister of Fuel and Power to issue regulations concerning those matters, but some of the important changes have not been made because the 1911 Act does not authorise him to make regulations in respect of certain aspects of that Act. Part II of this Bill gives that authority to the Minister.
We are very concerned that, with the technical improvements now adopted in coalmining, there should be a higher standard of qualification for miners and officials. It is generally recognised, for example, that the present qualifications for a deputy are totally inadequate for the type of man demanded by modern mining conditions. At the moment under Section 15 of the 1911 Act the minimum qualification for a deputy is that he shall have at least five years' practical experience underground, including two years at the face; he shall have obtained from an approved body a certificate based on a simple examination to prove his ability to make accurate tests for inflammable gases and to measure the quantity of air in an air current; and that his hearing is such as to enable him to discharge his duties efficiently.
The Royal Commission made recommendations concerning qualifications and duties of deputies, and if the recommendations are to be carried into effect my right hon. Friend will require to have the power to modify the provisions and to make regulations under Part I of the Coal Mines Act. This principle of making regulations in the light of the new development is in itself not a new principle, and it is a principle, in any case, that is endorsed by the Royal Commission. Indeed, their recommendation was that in all matters, any future Coal Mines Act should deal with principles and it should leave the details to be covered by regulations. It is only in this way that change can keep pace with the technical developments without frequent amendment of the main Act itself. With this recommendation the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers are in complete agreement.
So far as the regulations themselves are concerned, both employers and employees in the industry are fully protected against unreasonable proposals by the procedure prescribed for making regulations. This requires the publication of a draft order, and an interval of at least 30 days during which objections may be made. If agreement is not reached, such objections have ultimately to be settled by an independent referee. A further safeguard is provided in the case of coalmines operated by the National Coal Board by the fact that since vesting day we have had this better and newer spirit between what are now the owners and the men, and consultative machinery has been set up by the Board which facilitates the discussion by both sides of the industry of any proposed new regulation.
Clause 8 gives the Minister power to put on a permanent basis the arrangements for medical examinations which are now made under the Defence Regulations. Although there is authority under Section 86 of the 1911 Act to make regulations requiring persons to be medically examined, there is no power to restrict the employment of persons who refuse to be examined or who do not attain a specified standard. Without this power the authority for the medical examination is practically useless. It is our determination, as far as it lies within our power, to make the mines of Great Britain the healthiest in the world, and this can only be done by scientific research into the causes of certain diseases to which miners are particularly prone, by the making of regulations imposed with the authority of law, by preventive action by owners of mines and quarries, and by adequate medical supervision of the men serving in the industry.
I have gone through this Bill probably rather painfully, and I have probably taken more time than I ought to have taken but I have tried to deal with each Clause in my own simple way.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, while extending widely the functions and activities of the National Coal Board, fails to make provision for essential changes in its machinery and framework which the experience of the last two years has shown to be necessary.
The engaging amiability of the Parliamentary Secretary often commends him to the whole House, but I felt that on this occasion he fell below his normal standard. His jeers about the Conservative Party's lack of interest in miners' welfare or in safety is, indeed, a piece of class warfare which one would not expect from him. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) was responsible for the setting up of the Royal Commission on safety in mines. Further, let me tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that we are as much interested in the safety and welfare of the miners as they have ever been.
The Parliamentary Secretary went on to describe this Bill as a little Bill. His bedside manner was charming, but it does not lull us into any sense of security. This is not a little Bill, as I shall show, although I heartily agree with the remark of the Parliamentary Secretary that there are no principles in this Bill. We never expect any principles from the Government either in compensation or in any other matters which affect the life of that part of the community which does not vote Socialist. The Parliamentary Secretary said a very strange thing, about which I hope the Minister, in his reply, will give a little information. He said the Government, as a whole, think this Bill is necessary. Does he mean the Government are not united? That is surprising language from a Minister.
He talked about very peculiar contracts which have been entered into in the past. I am certain that, as there were about 1,700 pits in this country, some of the gentlemen responsible for them might have entered into bad contracts, for all I know; but, as the Parliamentary Secretary has stressed this matter of publicity about contracts, could we see the service and other contracts made by the Coal Board? I am sure that some very peculiar contracts have been entered into and it would quite surprise the House if they saw either the remuneration or the pension offered to gentlemen who now serve under the Coal Board, and who had no knowledge of coal whatsoever before they received their lush employment.
Certainly. I am merely asking for publication. I am following the good example of the Parliamentary Secretary and saying that when we get into Committee and see these contracts he will have all the justification he needs.
The Parliamentary Secretary talked about the wickedness of long-term contracts. Do not the Coal Board wish to enter into long contracts for export? If they do not wish to enter into long contracts, then that is very bad business indeed for the miners of this country. I should have thought that security and wisdom lay in entering into long-term contracts and I was quite surprised to hear that the Coal Board intend to supply Europe with coal on short-term contracts. That is a revelation of the sort of management that exists in the Coal Board.
I think that that really should be corrected. I am used to listening to the right hon. Gentleman twisting the words in somebody else's mouth to make them mean something different, but the fact is I never said anything of the kind. What I did say—and it will be within the recollection of the House whoa is right and who is wrong—was that the Coal Board felt themselves hampered by contracts which provided for coal at a sum of money per ton which was not to be changed for the next 30 years.
This is a most interesting explanation. It is always dangerous to try to explain oneself. I maintain that in 15 years' time some of the contracts which the Coal Board have entered into—if they enter into long-term contracts—will look very peculiar indeed. I am warning the Parliamentary Secretary not to suggest that the Coal Board should not enter into long-term contracts. That is a friendly warning. I should be thanked for it.
The Parliamentary Secretary's explanation passed all understanding and, if I may say so, was thus altogether worthy of the Bill. Let me begin by lamenting the verbosity and obscurity of this Bill. Surely the draftsmen have plumbed the depths of "Whitehallese." This Bill empowers the Coal Board to mine or treat coal outside Britain. Why should they wish to do this? Have they not enough muddles on their hands at home without creating more abroad? If one can pierce the fog of the draftsmen's English, the Board also seeks very big powers to enter into competition with the bunkering industry. I am very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for being so frank this afternoon about the Government's intentions of entering into competition with the bunkering industry and, so far as I can discover, also with the shipping industry. We could not understand it from reading the Bill. We had our suspicions and we are very glad that they have been confirmed by the Parliamentary Secretary.
When the Government enter into competition with the bunkering industry they will add to their own and to the nation's burden and will do great harm to our invisible exports. What do the Government or the Coal Board know of this complicated business of bunkering; which is inextricably mixed up with oil? The gains of the bunkerers obviously attract the Coal Board. Amateurs as they are, they have not chartered the losses in bunkering. In a buyers' market they may discover that these losses can be catastrophic.
I wonder whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer realises the effect on British industry of the Government taking this tremendous risk and entering into the bunker trade? They can nationalise coal or transport or anything they like in Britain, but there is no oil to nationalise here. If they destroy the bunkering industry they will do a tremendous disservice to our invisible exports. And let me remind the Government that they have anticipated an immense increase in their invisible exports by 1952, just as they have guaranteed a delivery of a supply of coal which seems to me to be absolutely preposterous.
The Parliamentary Secretary rather skipped over Clause 3 and I would ask hon. Members to look carefully at the language in Subsection (2) of that Clause. In many ways it is the most remarkable language of any in the Bill.
If the Board are of opinion that they are, or are likely to be, hampered in the efficient performance of their functions by the operation of the provisions ….
of the Act of Parliament passed in 1946, they seek powers to change the provisions in that Act. It is almost incredible that such language should be used. If the Board think something is "likely to be"! Why, under that sort of charter they can do anything in the whole wide world. Retrospective legislation is bad, but anticipatory legislation is much worse.
Turning now to the beginning of page 4, we find a beautiful piece which might have come straight out of "Alice in Wonderland." It refers to compensation payable between
parties independent of each other who negotiated at arms length.
If the parties were independent why drag them in at arm's length? This obscure, not to say ludicrous, language used in Clauses 3 and 4 may be a smoke screen to conceal a grave breach of faith with the contractors of the Coal Board. What we heard from the Parliamentary Secretary today confirms my grave doubts as to the real intentions of the Coal Board.
There are, of course, many other blemishes and obscurities in the Bill. As the Parliamentary Secretary rightly said, we can discuss these matters upstairs in Standing Committee. The Government's passion for discussing anything concerning fuel in Standing Committees upstairs astonishes me. The self-sacrifice I have made to try to do something to their Gas and other Bills upstairs—something to improve them—is to my mind one of the most creditable actions of a Member of Parliament. But I would say to the hon. Gentleman that when we do have our amiable Committee meetings upstairs we shall certainly want further and better particulars on this question of the compensation to those people who have served the coal industry faithfully and well for many years, and we shall also want to know on what basis the National Coal Board desire to renounce contracts.
The most important part of the Bill is Clause 1, which deals with the reorganisation of the National Coal Board. It is, of course, of the highest possible importance. In discussing the affairs of the Coal Board I hold that we should spend little time on arid academic arguments about the virtues or defects of nationalisation. That policy will be judged by results by the electorate. Perhaps I may be allowed to read a sentence from what I said about the National Coal Board the other day:
I am not surprised by the fact that the National Coal Board made a loss in the first year of its existence.
But I confess that I am rather astonished by the size of that loss. It would be utterly unfair, however, to generalise on the future operations of the National Coal Board on the result of their first year's activities. I am making no small point today. I hope indeed that this Debate will be given over to organisation rather than nationalisation. I am more interested in increasing coal production than in increasing dogma. Though we cannot help referring to nationalisation, because, after all, the Bill is founded on nationalisation, I feel that our first task today is to deal with the organisation of the National Coal Board.
This Bill is an attempt to shore up the structure of the National Coal Board. Let me tell the Minister that that is labour in vain. Neither the nationalisers nor, indeed, private enterprisers could prosper the coal industry if burdened by this strange contraption called the National Coal Board. This Bill really adds to the swollen overheads of the Board. Clause 1 is obviously an uneasy compromise between the National Coal Board and the Burrows Committee. So we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary, and he did not condescend to give us any further information. So I feel that it is essential for the House to recall the reasons for the setting up of the Burrows Committee. Sir Charles Reid, a great leader in the mining industry, and outstandingly the ablest member of the National Coal Board, resigned his membership on the ground, as he said, that the Board would never succeed without the most vital changes for which he continually pressed. His resignation created a great stir, and the National Coal Board, in order to burke criticism, appointed one of its own members, and two worthy gentlemen unconnected with it, to report on its organisation.
The report has at last been published, but it has also been heavily bowdlerised. I ask the Minister what is the justification for this arrogant censorship? The Government and the Board are constantly telling us that the public now own the mines. Are they not entitled to information about the management? Is it fair to ask us to judge the proposals in this Bill without letting us read an unexpurgated Burrows Report? Must we have the same secrecy about the Coal Board's affairs as we have about the doings of the Atomic Energy Commission? What would the House think of a board of directors who publicly announced the appointment of a public committee of inquiry into their business affairs, and who later produced a report censored by the directors? I should like to hear the opinions of hon. Gentlemen opposite on such a procedure.
This Bill contains the Burrows Committee's suggestion that three new members should be added to the National Coal Board. They are apparently not to be full-time members. I do not quite know what their functions are. But if that is the Coal Board's idea of bringing order into its affairs, all I can say is that it is a wonderful idea that one can produce more coal by appointing three part-time gentlemen to add to the debates in a London board room. That is, apparently, the National Coal Board's and Government's idea of reforming the industry.
I do not want to attack the Coal Board today. What I want to say is that the blame for the Coal Board's errors belong to the Government. Impossible was the task set upon the Coal Board—impossible. It was asked to carry out the promises made by the Socialist Party for
over 40 years, and after its members were suddenly appointed they rightly expected a policy or a plan from this Government of confident promisers. They must have been encouraged, of course, by the assurances given by the Minister of National Insurance in 1945—I think in June. The Minister is, appropriately, the successor to the Secretary of State for War in the Chairmanship of the Labour Party. Let me read the Minister's declaration on coal policy. He said:
Labour's policy, and Labour's policy alone, can set our coal industry on its feet again and give the nation the coal it needs.
[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer, but let them read the Minister's speeches at almost every week end. I must say I congratulate the Minister on his energy and on his self-sacrifice, for he goes to almost every part of the country begging for an increase in production and telling the miners we have not got the coal we need. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not yet."] Unfortunately for the Minister of National Insurance, and, indeed, for the National Coal Board, his indiscreet—his perpetually indiscreet—colleague, the Secretary of State for War, later—long after the General Election was over—told us that the Government of course had no practical plans for producing the coal we need under nationalisation.
All that happened was this. "Let there be nationalisation," the Government decreed in 1946. Without thinking out a policy or producing any sort of plan, the Minister tossed the responsibility on the Coal Board, on nine gentlemen, most of them elderly, who are described by Sir Charles Reid in one pregnant sentence:
Most of those appointed had little or no experience of running any business at all, not to speak of a large scale enterprise.
That was a candid thing to say. The Government might have been appointing new trustees to the British Museum rather than absolute controllers of the greatest industry in Britain—as, indeed, they were.
If hon. Members opposite think that this is an exaggerated description, let me remind them of some of the responsibilities of the Coal Board. The Parliamentary Secretary recited some of them this afternoon, but he showed a strange economy in language. I have a list of some of their responsibilities: the management of many more than 1,000 pits; the responsibility for employing more than 700,000 men; many water works, power stations, carbonisation by-products and other plants; 55 coke ovens producing over two-thirds of the country's hard coke; tar distillation plants; benzol, sulphuric acid and pyrites recovery plants; 85 brickworks; 141,000 houses; nearly a quarter of a million acres of farmland; other buildings, such as offices, shops and hotels; a cycle track and a slaughter house—and I think that there will be little improvement in our coal affairs until some of the bureaucrats in Hobart House are put right inside that slaughter house. But this is by no means an inclusive list of the Board's responsibilities. As we know from Sir Charles Reid, these responsibilities were taken over by the Government without any plan or blueprint, and no instructions whatsoever. Never in history has a Government shown such irresponsibility and such cynical levity.
At their London headquarters the National Coal Board are surrounded by an ever-bulging bureaucracy, which has created its own image in all the eight divisions. Of the members of the boards in charge of these divisions, Sir Charles Reid has said:
Few had ever been in control of a business.
I think that is a lair comment. The Coal Board have become a sort of Chelsea Hospital for retired generals, admirals, and other brave warriors, and—[HON. MEMBERS: "Coalowners"]—and former coalowners, and various other people. I think it fair to describe the regional boards as largely staffed by amateurs—at any rate, amateurs in the coal industry. Now, the functional members of the National Coal Board are, indeed, power misers: authority has been grossly over-centralised at their headquarters in Westminster; they are remote from the miners and the managers; and bureaucracy wants to increase minutes rather than coal. Meanwhile, absenteeism grows; targets look more ludicrous; and some of the ablest managers and engineers are leaving the Board's service.
If any Member of the House thinks we on this side get any satisfaction out of this development, he is greatly in error. The Government's suggestion for cleaning up this monstrous mess is to add three new part-time members to the Coal Board. What a futile suggestion. When I read it I searched for that quotation about finding a pill to cure an earthquake; it is there all right, but I could not find it.
As a matter of fact, I kept looking and I found an even more appropriate quotation from Carlyle:
Brothers, I am sorry I have got no Morrison's Pill for curing the maladies of Society.
I am sorry that the Lord President is not here this afternoon, because I hoped that this quotation would stir him up to purge the organisation of the Coal Board. Though I am a political opponent of the Lord President, I had good reason during the war to know his capacity as an administrator; he is an extremely accomplished administrator, and I feel certain that the Coal Board has need of his reforming abilities.
If the Lord President wants any help from the Conservative Party in improving the Coal Board organisation, we can help him in such worthy work. Let him read, for instance, the admirable suggestion for reforming the National Coal Board made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). He and Sir Charles Reid have expert knowledge of coal production; there are few men in the country who have more expert knowledge; and, allowing for the fact that both are experts, there is a remarkable measure of agreement between them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Both Tories."] I do not know why hon. Members opposite should say they are both Tories. Certainly my hon. and gallant Friend is proud of being a Tory; but, as I understand it, Sir Charles Reid is a strong advocate of coal nationalisation.
Both Sir Charles Reid and my hon. and gallant Friend called for radical measures of devolution; both hold that an over-centralised bureaucracy cannot manage mines; and I should have thought that the Minister would, on the whole, be inclined to agree with them. The Minister is working very hard indeed on one of the toughest jobs in the country, and I feel sure that with his experience of the Ministry over which he presides he cannot hold that an over-swollen bureaucracy can manage mines.
Hon. Members opposite complain that I am quoting merely from Tory sources. Let me give them a quotation from a book called "Men in the Pits," published recently by Mr. Victor Gollancz, who is not exactly in the inner council of the Tory Party. Here is an extract from this deeply interesting book:
There is no doubt that the most important single truth one can learn from the study of all this is that in no industry is real decentralisation more needed than in the coal industry. Centralisation of this industry must necessarily mean frustration, disappointment and stultification, with disastrous effects on output.
None of us could better that description of the operations of the Coal Board up to date.
Neither the present Coal Board, with its ever busy functional directors, nor the divisional boards obediently fulfilling the orders of those directors, can increase the production of coal. I think that hon. Members opposite, many of whom have worked in mines, will not dissent from what I am about to say. Production is really a task for managers and miners who understand each other. The Coal Board—and, be it admitted, some of the former mineowners—do not understand the vital part a good manager plays in production. Heavy is the responsibility of a mining manager. First of all, he must consider safety—a terrifying responsibility; he must do all in his power to improve welfare facilities; he must always be available to listen to grievances—and miners have, as we all have, plenty of grievances. One of the grievances I saw recently expressed by a forthright miner was that politicians were very fond of complaining about abstenteeism in the mines; but a study of the attendance at the House of Commons led this miner to the conclusion that it was unwise to generalise about absenteeism.
I have had a little experience of mining in various parts of the world, although it is a tiny responsibility by comparison with that of the gentlemen who manage the Coal Board's affairs—at any rate the responsibilities are much less—and I have learned the wisdom of a policy of trusting the mine managers, sparing them paper work and encouraging and rewarding initiative, always remembering that a contented mine is the mark of a good manager and that without authority a manager's position is futile. Members opposite will also agree that no sensible person responsible for a mining enterprise, whether it is nationalised or privately owned, would ever believe that a manager was good if he were in constant friction with the miners. I hold strongly the view that the best test of a good manager is how he gets on with his men.
The Coal Board, with its hordes of administrators, should hand over much of their authority to the managers who are in constant touch with the men in the pits, and they ought to give up their dreary habit of alternately exhorting and scolding the miners. The miners are fiercely independent men whose calling is hard, dreary and dangerous, and they will not listen to lectures from sedentary men in Westminster. I will say this of the Minister, that he conducts most of his exhortations in private and has the sense to realise that it is a great mistake to lecture the miners publicly. We shall get no coal from the miners by hectoring or trying to persuade the trade unions to fine them. The miners will respond to able leadership from men whom they respect through their constant contact with them at the pit. Hobart House, Westminster, is as far off to the miners as the people of Hobart City, Tasmania, which is about 13,500 miles away from London.
The Opposition's Amendment calls for extensive changes in the machinery and framework of the Coal Board, and I very much hope that we shall obtain some support for it from Members opposite with long experience of mining. We are certain that devolution of authority from Hobart House is essential. Some time ago I suggested to the Minister that there should be at least 20 divisional boards or corporations. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde and Sir Charles Reid hold that 25 or 26 would be a better number. There is no need for me to argue figures with my hon. and gallant Friend or with Sir Charles Reid, because they speak with greater authority, but I think we are all agreed that real decentralisation is both vital and urgent.
We want the control of the industry brought nearer the pits. Our desire is not unlike that of staunch old M. Clemenceau who, when the first world war was going badly and Paris was threatened and his feebler colleagues were begging to remove the Government from Paris to a safer place, replied: "Yes, Gentlemen, let the Government move to the front." We want the control of the National Coal Board moved very much nearer the pits, and until that is done there will be no health in the industry.
We hold that the present eight tightly controlled divisional boards should be replaced by some boards which will have a large measure of home rule. I certainly do not agree with some suggestions made by Sir Charles Reid about the powers which should be given to the 25 divisional boards. For instance, I do not think that they should have financial home rule. The divisional boards should have home rule in all matters that affect the day-to-day workings of the pit, and if that is done a great benefit will accrue to the industry.
Moreover, these boards with a large measure of home rule will be staffed by men in constant contact with the pits. In this connection, it seems strange that the Coal Board have not yet been able to discover some really good assistant managers, or even managers, from the vast number of people who are their employees and began their life as miners. It is a tremendous satisfaction to a man who works in a mine to find that his manager knows all about the pits, has worked in them and has served his apprenticeship in them.
Perhaps I had better say "military gentlemen," or "warriors." There is a whole list of these gentlemen who are parked on the industry in one capacity or another. [Interruption.] Even Lord Hyndley is, in a sense, a manager, and it is management we are talking about. The staff of the Coal Board are now the greatest paper-chasers in the world, and I believe Members opposite will confirm that statement from their own experience. No industry, be it managed by capitalists, socialists or even communists,——
—can prosper under the present organisation of the Coal Board. Members opposite know in their heart of hearts that a radical reconstruction is now necessary. Sir Charles Reid suggests that we should scrap the present National Coal Board and found a new one. I am afraid that I cannot accept that suggestion. The Board certainly needs rejuvenation, and it must also shed many of its functional ambitions. After that, the Board can concentrate on manageable and tremendous tasks; for instance, the wise choice of divisional boards requires much judgment and effort, and mining research must be a most important part of the Board's responsibilities. All sorts of new mining techniques are being employed in countries like the United States, Australia and South Africa. Astonishing inventions for the discovery of minerals have been made during the war. It is, therefore, of the highest possible importance that the Board should see that the research part of its organisation is equipped with the ablest possible men. First-rate mining engineers, geologists and men skilled in geophysics are hard to find, but the Board should do everything in their power to recruit them.
I think the Board made a mistake in working out a sort of Civil Service salary scale for their employees. They might reply that they were being criticised for extravagance in Parliament and ask whether it is now being suggested that they should pay large salaries to engineers and geophysics. My reply to that question would certainly be "Yes." We cannot get these men unless we are prepared to compete with many foreign countries. Geophysics alone has changed the whole course of mining. It is no use for the Board to search for able men if they only offer rewards based on a Civil Service standard with a little increase in salary year by year. They have to enter into the world market to find these engineers, geologists and geophysists. The Board should also try to obtain the best consultors in the world-wide mining industry. As I envisage the functions of the Board in the future, it will provide a first-rate consultative service to the 25 divisions of boards, as Sir Charles Reid and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde suggest.
The supervision of the finance of the mining industry is obviously a vitally important duty of the National Coal Board, and the responsibilities of approving plans for development for new mines rests upon them. I hope that they will fulfil that responsibility as quickly as possible. To fulfil all these high duties, the National Coal Board must decentralise now. I stress the word "now."
The war turned coal into black diamonds. During the last three years, the market for British coal was almost limitless. Alas, we missed much of that market. We must now prepare ourselves against strong competition from foreign and Dominion coal producers. The Poles are preparing a greater coal export drive. They secured some very fine mines as a result of the defeat of Germany in war. They are aggressive in their campaign to sell their coal abroad. The Parliamentary Secretary told us this afternoon that they were establishing a selling branch in Paris. I am sure that they are. They will have a selling branch everywhere; they may even start one in London. The Americans are also increasing their interest in export markets. We are under an illusion today about the United States of America. We think that because they give us and many other European countries great supplies of steel and coal and many other things, that is done for their own convenience in order to keep Wall Street at a good level! Was there ever such nonsense? The Americans are making tremendous sacrifices in delivering coal abroad. The time will come when America will once again be a large coal exporter in competition with us. We cannot resent that competition; in fact we should welcome it.
Again, the Ruhr seeks to become an even greater producer of coal; and whatever we may think of the Germans, there is no doubt about their capacity to do a long and hard day's work. They have also some of the best engineers in the world and, believe me, we shall experience very heavy competition indeed from a revived German coal industry. South Africa is very anxious to export coal, and I believe that the Government have a scheme, in co-operation with the Government of Southern Rhodesia, to develop astonishing coal resources at Wankie. I do not know whether the Government have really thought out what they are doing in this matter. They are apparently willing that Wankie should supply the Argentine with large supplies of their coal. If Wankie coal is going to our Argentine market, what is going to become of the miners in Wales and Yorkshire when we get into depression?
The British coal industry is also threatened with new forms of competition. It is unwise to generalise, but I think we should all agree on this generalisation, that high prices stimulate competition. Certainly, the high price of coal has stimulated hydro-electrical development in many countries. Mr. John Lewis has done much to encourage the American desire to apply atomic energy to industry. There are people who say that that is a matter which we can consider as a menace to coal in the year 2000. Believe me, that is not true. Immense strides have been made in this task of applying atomic energy to industrial purposes. I take no delight in pointing out the dangers ahead of the coal industry in this country, but I see a cloud much bigger than a man's hand that has cast a shadow on that great industry.
At no time in its long life has it more required daring and imaginative leadership, because mining is the most speculative of industries. There is nothing else like it in the world. It is the easiest industry of which I know in which to lose money and it is not as easy to make money as uninformed persons believe. We have to take risks. No mining management in the world is worth consideration unless it is ever willing to take risks. Risk-taking is the life of mining.
The existence of much coal in Britain has not proved that it can be profitably produced. Many of our coal reserves are at very deep levels and lots of risks must be taken in sinking new shafts. This business of shaft sinking is not as scientific as many people believe. Certainly, generalising from bore holes is about as wise as taking advice from a palmist about one's health. I say again that mining is the most speculative of businesses, and, therefore, much resolution will be required by the National Coal Board to open up new coalfields; even more will be required to close down old pits and to concentrate production in rewarding coalfields. No considering person on either side of the House can believe that the vast problems which I have only touched upon can be solved by a Coal Board immersed in administrative details. These are but a few of the reasons that impels my right hon. and hon. Friends to place this Amendment on the Order Paper. I apologise for the shortness of my speech in dealing with such a great subject.
I wish to point out that I do not intend to speak so much on the Bill as on the Amendment which appears on the Order Paper in the name of certain Members of the Opposition. I realise that the National Coal Board have no competitors in the home market and that the consumer is fastened to its wagon, willy-nilly. Therefore, I believe it is imperative that Parliament and the nation should pass their judgment on the organisation and general set up of the Board; first, making very generous allowances for the many handicaps which have beset the Board since it first took over.
The longer I sit in Parliament, the more I am baffled by the attitude of the Opposition. Their main argument against most of the legislation which we have passed is that we should have had more time in which to consider it. I think that if the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) had his way, we should still be sitting on the Gas Committee. The argument has been that a thing done in a hurry is as good as nothing done at all; yet they are trying to pass a Vote of Censure on the Coal Board for not performing miracles in one year. What are the supporters of private enterprise saying? They are using such phrases as, "I told you so"; "What could you expect?"; "When we were in power we had cheap coal and no army of bureaucrats—we had no army of well-paid officials." We have been obliged to think that these statements emanate from the old diehards because they are disturbed by the reasonable success of the Board. It is approximately two years since the Board took over, and the great organisational problem they had to tackle can be assessed by the fact that when they took over there was no organisation above pit level. The only terms of reference from the colliery agent or manager were "Get coal where you can, how you can and as cheaply as you can." Very often the cheapness was at the expense of the miner.
I believe the Board have done a good job. They started from scratch, and have built up an organisation which, although it has its defects, must be judged from the point of view of what they inherited rather than their efforts to improve. Mistakes have been made—it would be folly to suggest otherwise—but those mistakes are nothing compared to the misery and desolation caused by private enterprise. If Sir Charles Reid and his playmates, and the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), had preached the emancipation of the miner through nationalisation years ago, the mining industry would not have sunk to so low a level, and we would not have heard grouses about the set-up of the industry's administrative machine. The industry would have had the privacy for which it longs, and would be working out its own salvation.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth referred to the £23 million deficit on the first year's working of the Coal Board. I was pleased that he did not blame them too much, but I cannot say that about other Members of the Opposition and adherents of the Tory Party who have made great play with this loss. Will anyone suggest that because the Board have lost £23 million in their first year, they have failed? As has been said before, the Board could have increased the price of coal to such a level that there would have been no deficit but a reasonable profit. Even if they had done that, I cannot imagine the Opposition showering congratulations on them for their efficiency and business acumen. The Board have been taunted with being inefficient, but I do not think we need spend much time on pursuing this will-o'-the-wisp because the performances of the Board are on record.
Their achievements have been substantial, as I will show: First, they have placed the miner among the best paid workers in the land; second, they have spent a good deal of money on the safest investment of all, namely, securing the good will of the miner. This is an asset which, when it is fully realised, will earn for the Board the nation's gratitude. Further, the Board have made the industry an attractive industry.
Perhaps it is because not enough young Tories have been going into the mines. There are more young people going into mines under the present system than ever would have been the case under the old system. Not so long ago parents were disappointed when their sons had to enter the industry. Only economic pressure induced their fathers to send their sons into the mines. Schoolmasters have said that before 1946 no healthy and intelligent boy showed any real desire to go into the industry. Since the Board took over, however, large numbers of boys have shown themselves anxious to take up mining as a career. We are still short of man-power, but I believe that the policy of the Coal Board, in placing the human factor at the highest point of priority, will solve the man-power problem in the industry within the next five years.
The question before us today is whether we can improve the present setup without making it more top-heavy. The Burrows Report recommended that the total number of members on the Coal Board should be 19. That, I think, is fantastic. I am glad the Board and the Government have decided not to accept that recommendation, but have proposed, as set out in the Bill, that there should be three additional part-time members. I am also pleased that the Board are giving more power to colliery managers. In that way the miner himself will have more confidence in the Board. The consultative machinery at lower levels must be improved.
I should like a clear statement from the Minister about the provisions of Clause 8, which deals with medical examinations. I hope the House realises that there are vast numbers of men in the industry whose long association with it has resulted in their health being impaired. They do various kinds of necessary jobs, what we term in the industry "light jobs." What will be the position of these men under this Clause? As I have said, the Coal Board have done a good job during the short time they have been working. For many years the industry was a shapeless mass, an inert body, but since the Board took over they have breathed new life into it, and I have every hope that within a reasonable time the country will get all the coal it needs.
I was not quite certain during the speech of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) whether he was more concerned to defend the National Coal Board against the Burrows Committee or against the Tory Party. In fact, as a result of the Parliamentary Secretary's laudable desire to cut short his speech, we are left wondering what precisely is the intention of the Government in regard to this Bill and in particular to Clause 1 of the Bill. It is necessary to go back to the last occasion on which we debated coal and to remember the Minister's attitude to this matter. I have re-read that Debate and I formed the impression that the Minister spoke with a degree of complacency which was quite unwarranted by the facts.
In dealing with the National Coal Board he displayed a hurt petulance with regard to criticism which seemed to me quite unreasonable. Surely we have arrived at a time when this is no longer essentially a political matter, but one which has emerged into the industrial and economic fields. No one on this side of the House wants to criticise individual members of the National Coal Board, who are men of great public spirit and have carried out in their own way a good job of work. Lord Hyndley was a man who had long experience on the distributive side of this trade. Sir Arthur Street is one of the most eminent civil servants in the country, and in that regard I should like to take this opportunity of withdrawing a remark I unwittingly made when I attributed to him in my speech in June last the statement in regard to the filing system in this industry, which I am now told he never made. I should like to express my regrets in that connection.
Mr. T. P. Young, the production manager, is one of the most distinguished mining engineers in this or any other country. Mr. Ebby Edwards is a man who is held in great repute throughout the trade union world. Nobody, as I say, wishes to criticise these men in their individual capacity, but we are entitled, and it is our job, to make such criticisms of them as we feel are necessary in their corporate capacity. Not one of the gentlemen to whom I have referred could lay any particular claim to being an expert in the field of productive administration.
It would be absurd at this moment to ignore the fact that there is a great deal of concern up and down the country with regard to the organisation of the National Coal Board. The Government, of course, must take the major share of the responsibility as the architects of the scheme under which the Coal Industry (Nationalisation) Act came into operation, but the National Coal Board themselves are responsible for setting up the scheme in which the divisions and the organisations operate, and they must, of course, bear their share of that responsibility.
Let me carry the House back for a mement to the origin of this matter. I have always contended that when the former Minister of Fuel and Power insisted on the vesting date being rushed forward against the advice of the newly constituted Board he did the industry a great disservice. It was impossible in the short time at their disposal for the Board to set up an organisation which was capable of dealing with this immense problem. We have since heard the right hon. Gentleman's candid admission that there was no scheme in being when the Labour Government came into power. Surely that makes the excuse for his action in this matter less understandable.
The then Minister put forward his reasons as being psychological, but surely those psychological advantages were at the best ephemeral, and if they were to be stultified by unsatisfactory organisation and results which were not going to bear out the high hopes held forth to the miners they were, in fact, going to do more harm than good. The National Coal Board, however, must bear some degree of responsibility for those early days. Either by direction or for some other reason not so far explained they were totally unwilling to listen to any outside advice on these matters. No one can hold that they should have been bound by such advice, but surely it was not in the interests either of the industry or of the nation that they should have wilfully disregarded all the experience and advice which could and would have been at their disposal had they called for it.
The resignation of Mr. Gridley and subsequently of Sir Charles Reid, the high cost of coal, its inferior quality, the failure to reach targets brought, as my right hon. Friend has already said, the invitation to Sir Robert Burrows to join the Board and later to the setting up of the Burrows Committee. I took the earliest opportunity of welcoming the advent of Sir Robert Burrows to this Board. He has brought to it a wide knowledge of finance and of the conduct of large industrial undertakings, but Sir Robert would be the last person to claim that he had specialised knowledge of the administration of production in this industry. We must bear in mind that this inquiry into the activities of the National Coal Board had for its primary object an improvement in the structure of the industry as it affected production.
The sense of disappointment which the Board's recommendations have created has been due to the fact that there has been no recommendations in regard to structural changes but merely to alterations in procedure. I will not take up the time of the House in repeating the measures which I proposed when we last debated coal on 24th June. I have since then printed them in pamphlet form, and I should like to explain that such alterations as now occurred have been due to further consideration of this problem, and the fact that during the interval I have had advantage of taking advice from those who I feel were most capable of giving it to me. My purpose has been to outline a scheme which would give effect to the Reid recommendations. Can the Minister claim that what I have proposed are otherwise than what the signatories of that scheme would themselves have adopted? That is not a purely hypothetical question.
The principle is one to which I remain constant. It is that administrative emphasis should be as near to the point of production as is possible and that, superimposed above that, should be a central board whose main purpose is that of policy and such other activities as are obviously of a national character. There is nothing new in this. I have been interested in the administration of area organisations for a number of years and I have submitted my views in this matter both to the former Minister of Mines and to the National Coal Board before the vesting date. I believe, as a result of the two years which have elapsed, that the the structure of the National Coal Board was misconceived and that the area boards are unsuitable for their tasks.
The second principle is to hold clearly the fact that production and administration are two separate functions. Very seldom are those two functions combined in the same individual. It is to be hoped that in due course enough technical men will gain administrative experience to enable the majority of area chairmen to be technical men. I think that is desirable; that they should as often as possible be production men. But it is wholly unwise to attribute to men qualities and experience which they do not happen to possess, and to imagine that because titles and position are given to them in the coal industry they are enabled to carry out functions for which they have no particular knowledge.
What I conceive to be required, as does Sir Charles Reid, is an organisation at the area level which will enable production to function with maximum efficiency. The main burden of administration should be removed from its shoulders and there should be an opportunity of having decisions given as matters arise day by day and not, as at present, by formal consultation with divisional boards at monthly intervals. Chairmen of divisional boards, in the majority of cases, have not the industrial knowledge, and certainly not the knowledge of this industry, to enable them to give a quick and correct answer.
This is not to ignore the other main departmental duties which must be carried out by the National Coal Board and at area level but, essentially, all those various duties are ancillary to the main purpose of production. It is to this end that I consider it is necessary to be drastic and to sweep away the divisional coal boards. It has been suggested in various quarters that this is too violent a step to be taken at this moment, but if Parliament in its wisdom decided at the end of 1946, when the industry was just getting on its feet, that it was justified in taking the great risk that it did take and causing the disturbance which it inevitably did cause in setting up this new organisation under nationalisation, we are not entitled at this moment to refrain from taking measures which are as important and as essential as the one that Parliament took at that moment.
If we are convinced that the structure of the present organisation is unsound, we should not hesitate even though it may appear to be a drastic step, to take what steps are necessary in this matter. I suggest on this occasion that the measures should be carried out over a reasonable period of, say, 12 months, certainly a far more reasonable period than the six weeks notice which was given on the last occasion, and that during this 12 months the necessary changes could occur smoothly and efficiently.
In opening the Debate for this side of the House my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) pointed out at the end of his speech that time does not allow of further procrastination, that in a few short years competition will be coming from America, Poland, the Ruhr and elsewhere, and that unless we put our house in order, reduce the costs of production of coal, and produce the amount of coal which is required, we shall lose our place in the race for the post-war world markets. Once again, with all the emphasis I have, I would urge the Government to take their courage into their hands and make the necessary changes, changes without which this great industry will continue to flounder as it is doing at present.
I was delighted to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) withdraw in generous terms the observation which he made on a previous occasion concerning the Deputy-Chairman of the National Coal Board. I wish that the Leader of his party were here this afternoon, because he too might have made as handsome a withdrawal. Had that been done, the controversial effect of the earlier observations made from the benches of His Majesty's Opposition might have undergone a little cancellation, as in the case of the hon. and gallant Member, and we might be able to discuss a great part of this important question in a non-controversial, but not in a friendly way. We cannot do that, because of some of the irrelevancies, the startling and challenging irrelevancies, put forward by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken). I will deal with them in a moment.
In speaking on the Iron and Steel Bill Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said:
Nationalisation in the mines has already, largely by the creation of its incompetent and top-heavy, over-staffed and over-paid organisation, at the top produced an average 20 per cent. increase in the cost of coal to the consumers whether it be for the home firesides or for the public services, power, heat, light and transport."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 16th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 227.]
That was a most irresponsible statement. It is objectionable because it uses the term "incompetent" in relation to this board of eminent and capable men who, whatever little niggling criticisms and hen-peckings there may be from the Benches opposite, have done a magnificent job and have made a tremendous contribution to the national destiny and national prosperity.
I speak with pride as a member of the miners' group in this House. When I talk about the miners I am talking as "one of us," and not as if they were somebody else. Therefore, I am entitled to speak with a little authority, and I certainly speak with conviction when I say that I was horrified at the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth when he informed us today that the Tories are the friends of the miners. That took my breath away. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that if there is one thing about which the miners are quite sure it is that hon. Gentlemen opposite and the philosophy which they represent are quite clearly characterised as the political enemies of the miners. Let us make no mistake about that.
Before there was a National Coal Board, when some of the businessmen in whom Sir Charles Reid has such a childlike confidence were in charge of the affairs of this great industry and when Tory-dominated Governments were in power, my people were singing in the streets of London. They are not singing there today; they are facing the future with greater confidence than ever before. They are conscious of the fact that they have a new status, and they have that largely as a result of the work which the National Coal Board has done and largely as a result of the tremendous advances which have been made out of the resources of the industry.
The Opposition can never talk about the National Coal Board without referring to the "loss," and they always talk about the wrong loss. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth was astonished by the size of the loss. The right hon. Member for Woodford has referred to a loss of £20 million last year. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, in dealing with the industry under the heading "The organisation of the Coal Board," is unable to avoid these ominous words:
In 1947 there was a deficit of £23,250,000.
It may be a contribution of a little value to the Debate if I make an attempt to dispose of this clear misrepresentation once and for all. Nobody on the Opposition benches objects to the £15 million set aside for interest and interim dividend. There has not been a breath of criticism of that item, which is warmly approved of presumably, except that some hon. Members opposite might think it not sufficiently generous. On these benches we think quite differently about that. However, that £15 million is an additional burden; it is not part of the loss caused by some defect in the administration of the Coal Board, and hon. Members opposite know that is so. They know that if we had perfect administration under the Coal Board, the question of £15 million would be something quite irrelevant.
There is also the loss on imported coal. Is it suggested that the loss on imported coal is shown as an item because the National Coal Board was a bureaucratic organisation which was lacking in efficiency in producing coal? I have heard His Majesty's Government blamed for the weather. I should not be a bit surprised if hon. Members opposite blamed the National Coal Board for it. There was an amount of £1,600,000 in respect of imported coal. What I am getting at is that the actual trading loss which should fairly be quoted is £6,187,300, and I wish that the Opposition would quote that figure and not £23 million when dealing with this subject. Their object is quite clearly—speaker after speaker from the Opposition benches have done it—to suggest that because there was a loss stated to be £23 million, there is something wrong with the National Coal Board. If there had been a substantial profit during the first 12 months there would certainly have been no criticism of the Board's administration.
That brings me to a very significant point. There is a reason for the Opposition's feeling hot under the collar over this matter. Something has happened in the coal industry of greater significance than anything which has happened in the previous generation, and that is that more than £60 million has gone to the miners themselves. That is the figure which must be considered against the £6 million, and not the figure of £23 million. That being so, the picture looks rather different, and it being the fact that the National Coal Board have made this tremendous contribution to the status of the miner and it also being the fact that the Opposition are quite clearly attacking because they are thinking really of the £60 million and not the £23 million at all, we can see that once again we have the sort of mentality which nearly brought this industry to the grave and which we find in the case of the businessmen of whom Sir Charles Reid is so fond.
I should have felt happier regarding the assessment of the criticisms directed against the Board if they were united criticisms and if the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde had been able to say with confidence and sincerity that this was really not a political matter at all. However, how can we pay any attention to a remark of that sort when we have this peculiarly coloured document? I looked very carefully at the front cover of it, and the Opposition will appreciate that I spotted that it is not quite red although it is nearly so. It will probably be known as the "ruddy" pamphlet by those who consider it. Apart from its distinctively coloured cover, perhaps the most significant thing is that there is a foreword. I sincerely hope that hon. Members will read that foreword and will do as I have done—underline the word "individual."
If we were to accept the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, this is really an industrial and economic matter, and not a political matter. He might convey that to the Conservative political centre and ask the
people there if they will issue political literature because on this occasion they have made a mistake as this pamphlet contains industrial and economic matter. Perhaps the Conservative political centre had their mind on their work after all because in their foreword they say that the proposals of the pamphlet:
Constitute an important individual contribution to a topic. …
That leaves them in this position. If it is found by the facts as they develop—as I believe will be the case—that the views of the hon. and gallant Member are entirely discredited by the work which the National Coal Board will do and if it is found that the arguments which he propounds are, on being carefully examined, literally torn to rags, the pamphlet can be set aside as simply an individual contribution.
If, on the other hand, by some mysterious means at present beyond my comprehension, these proposals were put into effect—if they were I believe that catastrophe would descend on our great industry—the Conservative political centre could say, "We issued the pamphlet. If it had not been for us, it would not have been published. We brought this information to the notice of the people. We disseminated it throughout the country." Let the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde take this point, that before he comes to this House and submits these matters for the serious consideration of His Majesty's Government, at least he should give some evidence that he has utterly convinced his own Front Bench.
I want to make as clearly as I can one or two points about the Burrows Report in answer to the observations of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth. He suggested, and to my mind quite unfairly, that the Burrows Report should be published, but he did not say anything about the fact that the Burrows Report had not been published because they asked the Coal Board not to do it. Is he suggesting that the National Coal Board, in defiance of the request of this confidential committee, should say, "We insist upon publishing this confidential information although the evidence has been obtained perhaps by a subordinate saying quite frankly what he thought of a superior"? Mr. A and Mr. Y might have had some nasty things to say about each other. They could say them in confidence, and it would be valuable in such circumstances, but would it be right that information obtained under a promise of confidence should be published in flat defiance of the representations of the very committee which procured that evidence? The right hon. Gentleman is being absolutely unfair in making such a suggestion, because he put it as if the National Coal Board were concealing something, whereas in point of fact the Coal Board were only doing the gentlemanly and decent thing in consequence of representations made to them.
Since the right hon. Gentleman is referring to me, let me point out to him that I asked the Minister not so long ago whether we could see the evidence given to the Burrows Committee. The Minister quite rightly said that he did not think there was evidence given to the Committee at all. I think the Minister's assurance was founded on knowledge. However, I am not taking it too much to heart because, so far, the hon. Member has been talking awful twaddle about the report.
Obviously the right hon. Gentleman has taken my observations sufficiently to heart to remove his feet from the Table, to get up, and to address the House. There I will judge the right hon. Gentleman by his actions rather than by his charming words. There is no inconsistency between the observations of my right hon. Friend and myself on this point. The essential point is that the Burrows Committee asked the Coal Board if they would treat it as a confidential document, and the Coal Board have accepted that situation.
I must correct my hon. Friend on that. If he will turn to the statement issued by the National Coal Board, he will see that what the Board say is that the evidence which the Committee obtained was not given to them. Most of it was oral, and all of it was given in confidence. I must make it plain, as I understand it, that the Coal Board are solely responsible for the decision as to what is published.
I think the right hon. Gentleman should accept the important point that it was in confidence. That should be taken into account. The Bill is making provision for terminating onerous contracts. We think it is time that these sales agencies were brought to an end, and I hope there will not be a single argument submitted from the Opposition Benches in support of this out-of-date invoice business which is now being so highly paid for.
The proposals made by Sir Charles Reid and the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde are not made in an identical way but they are in substance the same at this point, that they propose, in effect that there shall be an elimination of the divisional boards, and that there shall be instead of the present number of areas a smaller number of areas which shall be largely autonomous. Obviously, if there are to be fewer areas, there will be a remoter control, since obviously each area must cover a larger geographical area. There is one great defect in this, that in the pamphlet and in the proposals of Sir Charles Reid there is hardly anything at all said about the selling of the coal, which is an essential part of organisation. The criticisms of Sir Charles Reid and the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde are extremely limited, and are, to my mind, entirely without justification or substance. We on these benches regard this Bill as an important Measure which will help the National Coal Board in the performance of the great work it is doing for the prosperity of our national economy.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) made one point with considerable satisfaction. He said that because there had been a loss of £23 million-odd by the Coal Board, it really was not anything like that, because £15 million of it was due to what amounted to compensation clauses. I suggest to the House that that is taking far too simple a view of it. If nationalisation is worth while, it is the object of nationalisation first, to pay what is regarded as reasonable compensation by both sides; secondly, to sell whatever its commodity may be at a reasonable price; and, thirdly, to avoid making losses. Merely to take the view that £15 million, which is part of the burden of nationalisation, does not matter at all is totally counter to all business views and to the views of the community as a whole.
Whatever there may be in that point, surely that is a matter for the Government. The fact remains that I am dealing with compensation that was paid with the agreement of the Minister and everybody else. I am not prepared to join in squabbles between the back benches and the Front Bench of the Government. There will be plenty of them without my joining in.
Before turning to my main observations, I am bound to say that, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), I regret the observation passed by the Parliamentary Secretary that the Second Part of this Bill would be of no interest to these benches, because it dealt with safety measures. It was the kind of comment which is not only unnecessary but utterly cheap. Beyond that, the hon. Member endeavoured to be extremely skilful by informing the House that they would judge whether his view was true or not by whether Part II was dealt with in detail in the course of the Second Reading on the Floor of this House by Members of the Opposition. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman has had sufficient experience by now, both of the Floor of the House and of the Committee stage, to know that those points of safety measures, which are agreed by all sides, are dealt with in Committee, not on the Floor of the House. I can assure him that when we come to Part II during the Committee stage, he will find a considerable number of Amendments designed to improve the safety measures in Part II of the Bill—unless, of course, the Government decide, as they do on other occasions, to curtail discussion so that Part II cannot be considered at all.
Having said that, I want to turn to the reasons why I very strongly support the Amendment which is now before the House. It has been said that this is not an important Bill, but it is a Bill which is of very considerable importance, particularly Clauses 2 and 4. I always suspect a Government whose representative gets up with a smile and says, "Here is a very little Bill. It is a very small baby, it does not really count." By careful scrutiny we are going to find that this Bill contains a number of proposals which need the most careful consideration, whether in Standing Committee or upon the Floor of the House, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that scrutiny will he as thorough as we can make it. We on this side have some experience of being thorough in these matters.
Beyond that, the main criticism on Second Reading is that it envisages certain steps which go beyond the proposals for the original Coal Board. In our view the National Coal Board and, in particular, the Government which appointed it, have got to show and to satisfy the House—they may be able to do that, but they will not satisfy the country—that the workings of the Coal Board thus far, in view of the difficulties they have to face, have been reasonable, satisfactory and businesslike, before we give further powers of the kind envisaged in this Measure.
I shall hope to show, at least to all unprejudiced minds——
I am not sure that I should include the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. E. Porter) in that category. I shall hope to show to all unprejudiced minds that the Coal Board had, in fact, failed, first, to arouse enthusiasm amongst the workers. It was claimed that that would be the first thing it would do. Secondly, it has failed effectively to stimulate production and, thirdly, it has failed to cheapen costs. My summary, which I do not mind making at the beginning of my speech, will be that the Coal Board, not of necessity through the fault of the members, but through the fault of its construction and the Government which constructed it, has proved not a boon and a blessing to the nation, but something which approaches a miserable fiasco.
It is a bad workman who blames his own tools. Constant "pep talks" have been aimed at miners in the course of the last two years. Miners are being urged from every side to increase their production. It has been indicated by managers of foundries that various coalfields are not producing to the extent they could. But I do not hold the view that because, on the one hand, steel production has mounted rapidly to pre-war levels, whereas, on the other hand, coal production is miserably below pre-war level, that means that steel workers are industrious and miners are idle. That is a view I would never accept. The answer is a very different one. It is that in one case, under the vigorous and efficient leadership of private enterprise, the best has been got out of the industry. In the other industry, however, there has been none of that leadership without which no worker can be stimulated to the degree necessary if we are to regain our pre-war position in the production and export of coal amongst the nations of the world.
At long last we have had the good fortune to have the first statement of accounts of the Coal Board. However speedily the Government might move in the nationalisation of an industry, it is indeed interesting that the first real opportunity to deal with these accounts should be somewhere about one month before the end of the second year's workings. Now that we have gleaned a little information from the accounts of the Board, I propose to put certain points before the Government. I will deal later with 1948. In 1947, by an effort of conjuring which did great credit to the ingenuity of the Minister of Fuel and Power, if to nothing else, the right hon. Gentleman contrived to make that year, with its production of deep-mined coal, a 53-week year. As a result he reached a figure of about 189½ million tons, which means, in the normal sort of year to which I am accustomed, a production, in fact, of about 186½ million tons in the 52-week year of 1947.
I do not want to go into a lot of figures but, if everything has been changed for the good and we have got away from the wickedness and evils of private ownership and colliery bosses, it seems a little surprising that, whereas in 1939, this country contrived to produce no less than 231 million tons of deep-mined coal, the 1947 figure was 186½ million tons. That decrease hardly shows that the brave new spirit has been finding its way so gaily through the Coal Board and down the pits, as we might have imagined from the way it was heralded in with many flags.
I am obliged to the hon. Member and can assure him that I shall not be long in coming to those further figures. One must face these matters in due proportion but I had to give the production figures first. I have always given the full figures when talking to audiences all over the country and I think hon. Members opposite will give me credit for trying to put my figures fairly before the House.
In 1939 there were considerably more miners. There were 766,000, I think, as against 712,000 in 1947. Having said that, however, I must say two more things which are necessary to present the full picture. First, it is the actual output per man which is the important factor. All kinds of things can be said about man-shifts, but it is the output per man per year which really shows whether or not the coal is coming up in sufficient quantities. In 1939, the output per man was 302 tons, and in 1947 262 tons, or 40 tons per man employed in the coalfields less per year in 1947 than in 1939.
While he is on that point, would the hon. Member tell us the distance to the coal face in 1947 as against 1938? It is over 4,000 yards further, which means that the coal has to be hauled that much further than in 1938.
It is, of course, true that the distance to the pit face has increased between 1939 and 1947. But it is also true that machinery, both coal-cutting and coal conveyor machinery, has very largely increased during the same period. Speaking from recollection, I would say that coal-cutting machinery has increased by 16 per cent. between 1939 and 1947; a very considerable figure. I have not the figures for coal conveyor machinery, but I think the House will agree with me—and let us agree on what matters we can—that there, too, there has been a considerable increase.
In a sense, one of the most depressing things was said by Sir Charles Reid, just before he resigned from the Coal Board, somewhere about April of this year, when he stated that during 1948—to which I shall come in a moment—with the amount of extra machinery in the pits and with the present manpower, somewhere about 230 million tons ought to be produced. I am quoting not my own view but the views of experts. We must judge the Coal Board, to some extent, by its results, and not simply by the rather attractive language used by the hon. Member for Wigan. In parenthesis, I should here like to congratulate him upon his facility of style.
We must go beyond that. Between 1939 and 1947 something over 40 million tons less of deep-mined coal was raised in the pits. Admittedly, there are now fewer men in the pits, but the production per man is down by 40 tons per man per year; and, although there are possibly longer distances to travel to the face, there is considerably more machinery now than in 1939. I should not call that the sort of thing to encourage one to feel that, on the question of production alone, all was happy in the Coal Board, or that the moment had come when the powers of the Coal Board ought to be further extended until the Board had been drastically altered so as to become effective in the modern world.
I do not wish to give a lot of figures but the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), whose interjections I always appreciate, keeps me going on figures, and the more I am kept going on figures, the happier I am when I have got a good case, as now.
I have not those figures, and I never believe in guessing at figures, I do know that the average age has risen since 1939. I also know, however, that it has been stated—and stated, I think, by the Coal Board itself—that absenteeism, which is still a headache and is now considerably greater than it was pre-war, is to be found not amongst the older men but amongst the younger age groups—particularly, if I remember aright, men between 28 and 35. In passing, let me take this opportunity of paying tribute to the magnificent work done by the older men during these years. To have maintained in output and general work the efficiency of their earlier days, in a way which many of us find surprising, is extremely creditable to those men.
Surely, the hon. Gentleman will agree that absenteeism has got nothing to do with man-hours. The number of hours worked is the number of hours worked, and absenteeism does not come into it.
I am afraid the hon. Member has not appreciated that I was dealing with production. At the moment, my whole thesis—I have brought in the average production per man, amongst other things although I must not make my speech too long—has been on the question of production, and one thing which is certain in an otherwise uncertain world is that absenteeism plays a considerable part in the amount of coal produced in the course of a year. I do not think any hon. Member, on either side of the House, would agree that that statement could in any way be contradicted. Indeed, it is such a platitude, that but for the hon. Member's interjection I should not have made it.
We now come to 1948. Although we have not yet had the full figures, it is rather depressing to realise that this year the Government with much of their machinery now in full blast, have, nevertheless, accepted the timid figure of only 200 million tons for 1948—a figure 31 million tons below the amount produced in 1939. I need not labour the point, which I have already made, that, according to Sir Charles Reid, with the extra machinery now available, it should have been possible, this year at any rate, for the Coal Board to have produced about 230 million tons. Unfortunately, even the figure of 200 million tons will not, obviously, be reached. I dare say the figure of 198 million tons will be reached. But this timid target was set, and the Coal Board, with all their experience, have missed it.
Not only have the Coal Board missed on their timid production target, but they have also missed their recruitment target. We have been told—and this again is a matter which affects our views on the organisation of the Coal Board—that recruitment would be greatly stimulated by the change over from private to public hands. This afternoon we had from the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) a speech which rather underlined what he called the new spirit in the mines. There is no doubt that in the early days of the Coal Board there were signs that the number of new entrants would exceed the ordinary wastage, and for that reason the Coal Board set a target of 750,000 miners for the end of this year. There were 712,000 miners to start with; by August they had reached the peak of 726,000; they are now down to slightly below 725,000—the latest figure being 724,500. Therefore, at best we can assume that at the end of this year the recruitment target will have been missed by 25,000.
It is depressing to note that if there had been a gradual and continuing rise, it might be said that the momentum was gathering force; but the picture this Autumn is that the recruitment drive—including, I suppose, some foreign labour—has between January and now raised the number of men in the mines from 712,000 to only 725,000. The 750,000 hoped for is far away, as are so many other pipe-dreams of but a few years ago. There is no sign at the moment of a rally to recruitment; no sign of any serious increased production, despite the increased machinery.
Most serious of all—I would put this to the Minister if he were here, but his Parliamentary Secretary will no doubt take a note for him, and the Minister will no doubt cross swords with me again before this Bill is over—is the fact that this year, with all the aids, new machinery and increased number of miners there has been an increase production of about 5½ per cent. But this year there is an increased consumption of coal of no less than 10 per cent. If we go on in this way the time is not far off when once again we shall be drawing on our stocks, and once again the export position, for what it is worth, and it is poor enough now, will be gravely challenged and gravely prejudiced.
I must not say much on that; the hon. Member must not tempt me, at this stage, to do the Government's job for them. The time may come when I shall have that opportunity, and I shall welcome it. But, since that point has been put to me, I will say one thing. If there is to be increased recruitment there must be the feeling among those who go into the mines that they are getting proper leadership at the pits. There must be proper leadership and proper authority for the management in the pits. It is one of the weakest things about the Coal Board at the present time—[Interruption.]—the hon. Member may disagree but I have the right to express that view.
The hon. Member has not referred to the fact that during the 25 years up to the war there were predominantly Conservative Governments and that private enterprise was in control of the mining industry. Yet there was a steadily declining industry and a steady decline in man-power. The whole case which the hon. Member makes is against his own side.
Not for the first time in this life, the hon. Member has made an error, and he will make many more. During the years before the war, it is perfectly true that there was difficulty over recruitment and that there was some difficulty in regard to the number of men in the pits. The fact remains that if the Minister could provide figures showing anything like the number of men engaged in the coal industry in the last two years which there were before the last war, he would be a far happier man at the present time, It is also true to say that if a figure of about 760,000 men could be reached, with the increase in machinery it would be possible gradually to see the number of men in the pits progressively reduced. But the fact of the matter is that at the present time, we are obtaining nowhere near the output that was obtained before the war. At the same time, in spite of the recruitment drive, the National Coal Board are very far from obtaining the number of men obtained before the war. If the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) does not like that, it is his own concern. To me it appears to be perfectly conclusive in support of the criticism I am passing.
I do not wish to go into the question of the cost of production per ton for more than a moment or two. I realise that as a result of various causes—increased wages for the miners, the rise in the cost of living, etc.—we could not expect to have a cost of production per ton in this year of grace 1948, at anywhere near the figure at which it stood in 1938–39. Nevertheless, there are certain things which are a little alarming. It will be admitted on all sides of the House that during the war, by the Porter award and various other things, the miner in the pit was getting a better deal than he got in the days before the war. Since the end of the war, the costs of production have continued to rise, and to rise rather alarmingly. In 1946 the cost of production per ton was 35s. 10d., in 1947 it was 41s. 3d., in the first quarter of 1948 it was 44s. 8¾d. and in the second quarter it was 45s. 4d. There is this ever-increasing cost of production, although I think I am correct in saying that under private enterprise, wages amounted to about 71 per cent. of the cost of production whereas today wages amount to about 65 per cent. of it. These figures are alarming.
I know that this year the National Coal Board is likely to make a very small profit. We know how it is being made. The price has once again been put up to the consumer. That was at the beginning of this year. There has also been 25s. per ton placed upon export and bunker coal. In those ways it may be possible to avoid losses, but those are not the ways in which we shall be able to regain our markets in the world or to provide coal at the sort of cost which will enable other British industries which are dependent on coal, to play the part we would wish them to play in the time that lies ahead. I do not wish to go further into that subject. Costs are a subject in themselves, and no doubt other of my hon. Friends will deal with them further.
Broadly speaking, the outlook is unsatisfactory and doubtful, with no sign of any real improvement in any quarter. The main contribution which has been made by the Government since the resignation of Sir Charles Reid, and incidentally the resignation of Mr. John Hunter, who is almost as great a loss, has been the Burrows Report, which has already been dealt with.
We are reaching a curious situation. In the first instance, the man who was supposed to be the greatest expert on coal in the country, Sir Charles Reid, resigns. Then, as a result of that, there was a new investigating committee set up under another member of the National Coal Board, and a new one at that, which seemed rather odd. Finally, there was a report which was itself so much edited that one could not even tell from it whether it was unanimous. When one makes any inquiry as to what was really said in evidence before that committee one is merely informed that, after all, everything had to be verbal and confidential and that it would not be right of anyone to say anything which would give offence to anyone if it appeared in print. In fact, nothing must appear to show that the Coal Board was falling down on its job. That sort of report leaves me somewhat cold.
I thank hon. Members opposite for the quietness with which they have listened to me, because our views are very far apart. It is, however, only by the courageous expression of views on both sides that we can get any sense in a world like that in which we live today. I support this Amendment and the view that the National Coal Board should not have its powers extended until it is drastically altered, drastically decentralised and instead of mere verbal encouragement being given, something is done by which mine managers get that greater authority without which they cannot do their job decently and well.
I sympathise with the effort which the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) has made to cover many aspects of this subject. We all share those difficulties, but I could not quite follow what seemed to me the novel point of view put forward by him that it was proper to discuss Part I of the Bill at great length on Second Reading, but that, somehow, Part II of the Bill, dealing with the subject of safety, could be better dealt with in the Committee stage, and that in the Committee stage, there would be a great deal to say and many Amendments to be made.
I did not make my point clear. It was that Part I of this Measure deals with certain matters of controversial importance vis-à-vis extra powers being given to the Coal Board at the present time. Those are great matters of principle between the two sides of this House. Part II deals with safety and security measures, the need for which is agreed on both sides of the House. Surely Part II, which deals purely with the detail of improving those conditions, should be dealt with later in Committee, rather than that we should be befogged by detail at the present time. I think that is perfectly reasonable, and that the Minister will agree.
I am quite sure that everything which the hon. Member has said sounds extremely reasonable from his point of view. But there have been serious charges made across this Floor, and just as we have listened very quietly, I am quite sure that he, in his turn, will listen to some points regarding safety legislation and safety practice in the coal pits which are not quite so obvious or simple or agreed either in theory or in practice as he might imagine.
I should declare an emotional vested interest in this Debate on safety for my father was a safety man and until he left the coal pit at the age of 60, nearly all his years in the coal pit he was engaged as a fireman or inspector or deputy, as the job is variously known in different coalfields. Hon. Members opposite who do not know the seriousness of it, do not enlarge on the second part of this Bill as much as some of us may want to do. I take it that when they say they assume that safety measures affecting the life and limb of men in the pits are and always have been agreed, they are stating that in good faith. I wish to assure hon. Members opposite that nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the hardest struggles in the coal pits of, Great Britain before nationalisation was the struggle of the deputy for his integrity—to be a safety man and not a production man. So great was that struggle, and so often was that struggle lost, that when first I met the Minister of Health, he was a bit shocked because I was the daughter of a deputy. He wanted a bit of explanation on that point, because in South Wales deputies were not admitted to the miners' union. They were admitted in Scotland. My father was a most ardent trade unionist, as I need hardly say, as well as all the other things that every honourable miner is.
One of my colleagues reminds me that in Durham also deputies were not even admitted to the miners' unions. This was because it was taken for granted that they were masters' men. If time permitted I could give this House a vast array of names and addresses where safety men were beaten down into being production men. In fact my own family led a strike where the dispute was not about wages but whether pit props which the deputy refused to sign as adequate for safety, were adequate or not. The safety man said "No." The management tried to force his hand.
I assure hon. Members opposite that we on this side of the House are deeply concerned, not only that the technical qualifications of the safety men should be higher than ever before, but that the integrity of the safety men should be recognised, and that never again in the history of British coal mining should the problems of production and profit be regarded as higher than the safety of the men. Hon. Members on all these benches ought to give thanks to the Government and thanks to the Ministry of Fuel and Power for the untiring efforts which they have made since the responsibility was theirs in this field. They have spared no effort, no research and no expense on this vital matter of safety.
A question was asked of the hon. Member for Wavertree as to what he would do to help the recruiting of young men to the pits. He did not know the answer, but I will give one answer. There is one way in which we can encourage the recruiting of young men. I hold in my hand a little sample bottle of a liquid now used in the fight against coal dust underground. Some of us in this House were shown an experiment the other day and every hon. Member who is interested can have the same opportunity of seeing it. I shall take this liquid and a tumbler of water and display them in the mining communities where the mothers and the general families as well as the men who go underground are hungry for knowledge about the pits. They are extremely anxious to know what is going on. I shall demonstrate that coal dust put into a tumbler containing ordinary water can be seen to cake on the top. But if coal dust is put into a tumbler of water and treated with a small quantity of this liquid, instead of the coal dust remaining on top it will be seen gradually to fall down and cake on the bottom.
I hope that no serious embarrassment will be caused to the Ministry of Fuel and Power by my disclosure that I was presented—no doubt at public expense—with this sample bottle. One or two of my colleagues told me they were taking their sample home to show its usefulness in washing, because it is a super water softener. I hope that those of them who have not used up their sample bottle already in that way will remember that it can be used for a very good public purpose. This sort of thing will reveal, not only to the men but to the mothers in the mining areas, that there is a serious and successful fight against the worst diseases in the mining areas, against the worst risks to life as well as safety from accidents. That kind of thing will make its contribution towards attracting young men to work in the pits.
I ask the House now to consider for a moment not only the problems of safety, but also production problems that have been touched upon. I read, as I am sure did every other hon. Member, the charming job that the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) has done for the Central Office of his party. I do not blame him too much. He is a good partisan and so am I. We do not agree with him very often, but we think he knows the reasons for the case be puts forward and that is an improvement on many others. We have read the Burrows report and the articles that Sir Charles Reid has contributed to "The Times." In addition, many of us have been going round collecting wisdom from our own people in the coalfields. They have a great deal of technical knowledge, although it has never been publicised.
One of the regrettable features of this Debate is that from both sides there is so much political feeling that—inevitably—we must fail a little in doing our duty of criticising the work of the Coal Board in fair manner and revealing how far its shortcomings can be improved. When we read various suggestions which are made, one thing is quite clear, and that is that the experts do not agree. There is not one proposal or one line of criticism, but many. When he addressed this House in June the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde thought it would be desirable to have 30 area boards. Now he says that perhaps it would be better to have 20 or 25. I feel that a blanket of pessimism has descended on him. In June he was willing to declare that perhaps 30 top-level men could be found in the industry for these jobs. But in his latest pamphlet he says we shall be lucky if we can get 20 or 25.
Again, on the problem of the divisional boards, in June he said it was wrong to have eight of them and that it would be better to have four main offices. I do not say that he calls them divisional boards, but the description of the job he wants done is roughly equivalent to that of the divisional board. This House ought to be congratulated for not taking the hon. and gallant Member too seriously in June. It would have been a shocking nuisance if we had given him what he wanted in June, and he now came along and said he had made a mistake and would like to try all over again.
The most important note of this Debate is one which perhaps has not yet had the emphasis it deserves. It was a historic occasion when the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Gray)—a miner and miner bred—said early in this Debate that the coal manager ought to have more power. Not only the House but the country perhaps holds too cheaply the greatness of what is being done in this country today, not only the greatness in scope but the ease in terms of social tensions compared with the price paid in many parts of the world when fundamental changes are carried out.
I am not in the habit of reading Mr. Stalin a great deal, and a quotation from a speech of his may seem completely irrelevant at this moment when we are discussing production in the mining industry and the functions and powers of the coal manager. But I looked up an old pamphlet on Russia, whose authorship I will not disclose, in order to read again a speech on production that was made by Stalin in 1935 and which seemed to me to have relevance. That year represented the end of the early Russian years of bloodshed, of civil war and of the complete discouragement of anyone who showed any managerial capacity or responsibility.
On that occasion, in May, 1935, Stalin addressed the graduates of the Red Army Academy in words something like these: "Up till now we in Russia have been paying far too much importance to machinery and equipment. We have been saying that everything depended on machinery and that nothing at all depended on the difference between one man and another." Now in one of those abrupt turns of policy with which Russia meets its problems, we have Stalin saying that they must change their slogan and that instead of saying that machinery is everything, they must say that the skilled personnel, the cadres, are everything. He said:
The old slogan, 'technique decides everything' must now be replaced by a new slogan, the slogan 'cadres decide everything.' That is the main thing now. It is time to realise that of all the valuable capital the world possesses, the most valuable and the most decisive is people, cadres. If we have good and numerous cadres in industry, agriculture, transport and the army, our country will be invincible. If we do not have such cadres, we shall be lame on both feet.
I know that the House, with its great sympathy and intelligence, already appreciates before I explain further, why I think that this speech is so relevant to this Debate. In that part of the world vast changes took place. In the first phase, citizens who, by training or inheritance, took on managerial responsibilities, were jeered at, sometimes murdered and sometimes exiled. Russia went through a phase when it was much safer to know nothing and to be anonymous. Only after vast suffering did the policy change completely to one insisting that skilled personnel were the most important single factor.
Three years after the end of a world war, less than two years since vesting day in the coal industry, the hon. Member for Durham speaks as he does. We remember the victimisations, the cruelties and greeds of the industry before the war. Against that bitter background— and how bitter it was some hon. Members opposite still do not understand—or in spite of it, we find representatives of the miners saying in this House that they will not stand for any old-fashioned manager who was a tyrant acting on caprice, but that they will uphold the authority of every manager who plays the game with his men, who is technically efficient and who is just in personal relations.
Are we not a lucky country? Are we not given a chance given to few peoples on earth when, in the most embittered industry in the country in this short period of time we are doing something much more fundamental than the suggestions of the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde or those of Sir Charles Reid? Both have made good suggestions but their suggestions usually come first of all from us. Certainly, Sir Charles, along with many others, stressed the importance of seeing that the coal manager should have his authority maintained. I would add along with it, that of the trades union representatives and the pit committees. If in the next year or two we can settle the problems of the pithead—I agree with what was said about the importance of the point of production—we shall have solved the problem in mining.
But it is childish for any hon. Member opposite to suggest that a great industry can be run only at the point of production or only at the individual pits. Obviously, we shall consider with an open mind every suggestion, no matter where from, for improvements in the Coal Board's organisation. We shall for instance give the support he deserves to every man trained and fit to do a managerial job. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde said that there were only 20, 25 or 30 high-grade men left in the industry. I hope that he will face the responsibility of his former associates and successive Conservative Governments for this state of affairs. They must answer for the fact that not only at the pithead but at every administrative grade, this industry was reduced to a dangerously low level.
But there is something new stirring in the coalfields and hon. Members opposite ought to know about it. It is something that I have seen much of in my personal life, as well as studied as part of the general problem of the mining industry. I have talked about managements and men, but there is also the struggles of those who sought to train as managers. My father was one of those who taught young mining students. He ought to have been a teacher instead of a miner. I have watched the dilemma of young men with great intelligence and vitality who could easily pass their mining examinations, but had to make up their minds whether they could honourably work as managers, in an industry in which they would sooner or later find that they had to turn against collier brother or father.
I recall generous-spirited young men, the type suited for handling fairly men working under them, who gave up the struggle. This kind of loss was suffered by every mining community in Great Britain. Every one of these young men asked himself, "Is it worth my while becoming a technical expert?" and they decided that matter by saying "No. Mine managing is a dirty job and we are having nothing to do with it." That was all wrong, but today it is no longer a dirty job, but one of great responsibility and honour. We are anxious that every manager should have not one chance but two or three, and that, if the pattern of relationships in the area where they have been for several years is such that it is impossible for them to come to friendly terms with their colleagues, they should be sent to another part of the country and given another chance.
There is a new spirit in the pits which will relieve hon. Members opposite in a very short space of time of their anxieties about the coalmining industry. I hope they will learn to rejoice as, year by year, the figures of production increase and as safety devices and the general conditions of miners in the pits are improved. I am satisfied that, although the National Coal Board can be criticised from top to bottom on a thousand minor details, in the main it is doing a good job.
The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) has told us something of a speech made by Mr. Stalin to Red Army graduates in 1935, which reminded me of some words which were used to me when I was a young soldier. They were to the effect that there were no bad men; there were only bad officers. It is because we have not enough good officers from the top to the bottom of the National Coal Board that I and my hon. Friends are supporting this Amendment.
The most important part of the Amendment which has been moved from this side of the House is that which declines to give this Bill a Second Reading, but I gather from the earlier remarks of the hon. Lady opposite that she thought that we extended the same lack of cordiality to the second part of the Bill. That is not the case. It is unfortunate that the two parts of the Bill are tied together, but I hope that much good may come out of the second, and I do not think the hon. Lady really need be anxious that it will not get due consideration upstairs. I hope that we shall have helpful contributions from all parts of the House, because I believe that much good may come out of these discussions.
This is an amending Bill which has been introduced less than two years from the vesting date. I must say that I have been expecting a Bill of this kind for some time, and I feel sure that it is only the first of a series which we may expect in the future. This Bill is inadequate, because in some ways it goes too far and in some others not far enough. I intend later to go through it Clause by Clause as the main subject of my speech, but I first want to refer to the latter part of our Amendment. We ask the House to decline to give a Second Reading to this Bill because it is one which,—
while extending widely the functions and activities of the National Coal Board, fails to make provision for essential changes in its machinery and framework which the experience of the last two years has shown to be necessary.
In other words, before making a job of its present commitments, it takes power to acquire a considerable number of fresh commitments, some of which have been mentioned earlier, and which concern the export and bunkering side of the distributive trade. I say "before making a job of its present commitments" categorically and after due deliberation, because the National Coal Board just has not done so.
In paragraph 35 of the 1947 Report, it is stated that the Board is responsible, through the Minister and Parliament, to the public for everything that happens in the industry. I would ask what has happened in the last 23 months?
My hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) spoke of output, and, as we try to work as a team on this side of the House, I will not repeat what he said, but I would like to touch again on the question of the relationship between management and workers, because I feel that there has been little improvement, if any, in that relationship. There are hon. Members who have claimed that they see a considerable difference, but, during the last few years, there have been a large number of unofficial and a few official strikes, and their number is not decreasing. There is absenteeism and the problem of recruiting, which has already been referred to, and, from the consumers' point of view, the quality of coal is no better than it was and the present output is insufficient. In that connection, I would like to point out that the latter fact is indicated by the stocks of the public utility companies today. I believe that the gas companies have only about four and a half weeks' stocks, and the electricity companies only about six and a half weeks' stock. Before the war, at this time of the year, which was almost a peak period, stocks were something like 10 or 12 weeks' supply. If we get a continuation of the present weather, there may be some anxious moments for the Ministry before we come to the Spring.
Hon. Members may reply that, considering that the National Coal Board has been in existence only for the past two years, and also considering the mess in which the industry was when they took it over, that provides an abundant excuse for their inability to do more than they have done. I want to make the point that they did not take over the coal mines from the coal owners direct, Actually I said this in a Debate here the other day, when the Minister replied:
There was a form of control within the industry, as well as in many others, but I do not think it can be denied that the industry was substantially under private ownership and control. Regional controllers had the power to intervene here and there, but so far as I know they did not intervene to any substantial extent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 894.]
I believe that is really an under-statement and I believe that the National Coal Board indicated the position more
accurately in its Annual Report for 1946, in which it stated:
Since 1942 the industry had been under the operational control of the Government, exercised by the Ministry of Fuel and Power through a Controller-General in London and eight Regional Controllers in the coalfields. The Regional Controllers were responsible for the policy and general conduct of mining operations. They supervised the collieries closely enough to be able to issue directions to the companies on the measures to be taken to increase output, including concentration of labour and machines. They were also concerned with recruitment and wastage of manpower, absenteeism and joint consultation.
In those circumstances it cannot be said that they took over from the mine owners. In fact the Coal Board had a flying start. The Government had been for four years in operational control before they kicked off. But even in six years, either with the Government acting departmentally, or through the Coal Board, the State have been unable to make a decent job of running the coal industry.
Our Amendment provides the focus for three independent sources of criticism. There were three admirable articles in "The Times" last week by Sir Charles Reid, at one time a member of the Board and in some ways the founder of the N.C.B. since it was largely due to his Committee that the Board was set up; secondly, there was the organisation proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster); and thirdly, the statement by the National Coal Board on 19th November on the main recommendations of a stocktaking committee under Sir Robert Burrows.
I wish to make one or two comments on that statement. I want to know why the inquiries, although completed last August, were not published until 23rd November and were then extremely difficult to obtain. They were in the Press before we could obtain them in the Vote Office here. I regret that the complete Report is not published, although it was actually produced as a result of public opinion. It detracts very much from any report if it is known that parts are not published, and I read with some concern in the introduction the lines:
It was found necessary to elucidate the views of the Committee by discussions with them and the result has been generally to amplify the Committee's recommendations and to resolve some apparent differences of opinion.
That is what we used at school to call "cooked." Frankly, I think the original Report, as it appeared in August, was a great deal more critical than the present one, but, even as the Report stands, these three streams of criticism do agree that the Board have been guilty of the fault of sacrificing policy and planning to functional and administrative organisation. Another thing on which they agree is that we might very well do without the divisional level.
Now I wish to turn to the Bill. Clause 1 implements the Burrows Report up to a point. That is of considerable interest to the Opposition because, on the Committee stage, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. A. Macmillan) moved an Amendment suggesting that only the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman should be full-time and the remainder might or might not be full-time, according to what was desired. I seconded the Amendment, and I would support it today. I believe that a board possessing the responsibilities which the Coal Board have, do require the very widest possible experience and vision and I do not believe that that can be combined with departmental duties. Our Amendment, however, was turned down, and the Minister took personal responsibility for the constitution of the Board as it is at present. He said about our Amendment:
… I do not agree with it. … It is proposed in the Amendment that there should be a Board consisting of a chairman and deputy-chairman who will be full-time, but it is not expressly stated that the other members should be full time. I have decided that, for an undertaking of this character it is essential to have a full-time Board. … We cannot entrust such an obligation to a part-time Board.
He also said:
As regards the full-time Board, I have in mind, in the main, a Board of a functional character; not a Board where a number of gentlemen gather round the table and talk."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C; 26th February, 1946, c. 1211–1220.]
These quotations are most interesting. In the first place, they show once again the ignorance and prejudice on the part of Members of the party opposite with regard to the true function of directors. Secondly, they support what I have felt for a long time, namely that the troubles in the coal industry today must not all be laid at the feet of the miners, or also to a
certain extent at the feet of the Board, but that the real blame lies with the leaders of the party opposite, who rushed into this policy of nationalisation without having properly thought it out and knowing what it really meant and with none of the necessary machinery required to implement it.
In regard to Clause 2, I have to declare an interest and therefore I do not intend to go into the matter in detail. However, I feel that this should be regarded from a national angle as well as from any personal point of view. My chief fear is that if these powers are taken the Board will be forced, by pressure from without, to implement them. It may not be in the interests of our export trade and the position of our balance of trade if they are implemented. I believe that if there were free competition there would not be very much danger, provided it were free. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary who said he knew that we on this side of the House did not mind competition. We do not mind competition, provided it is fair competition, but in the circumstances under which the export trade is bound to be managed since the raw material is provided by the National Coal Board, we believe it will be difficult, with the best will in the world, to make it absolutely fair.
Supposing the N.C.B. do take a hand in export—I think they might lose more than they gain. A considerable number of exporters during the war, when British coal was not available, built up a trade with coal from other sources through agencies, which could never be given to any nationalised bodies. I believe that if those agencies were squeezed out a considerable amount of invisible exports would be lost. Trades in connection with ships' stores and engineering stores is based on the fact that there is a certain amount of bunker trade, and that also might go.
One cannot exaggerate the importance of our export trade. Coal is the only available bulk cargo we have and it has an enormous beneficial effect because it is possible to give return freights to reload the ships which bring in corn and raw material. Coal is the best bargaining counter the Foreign Office have and lack of it is always leading us into difficulties such as the not unnatural fear of the French of the development of the Ruhr mines which is necessitated because we cannot give Europe the coal we gave her before the war. I feel too that the actual financial side should not be disregarded. In 1923, valued in today's currency, we exported more than £180 million worth of coal. That would help our balance of trade today if it could be repeated.
I will not touch on Clause 3, because I do not know what contracts may be affected and what may not, and I may have an interest. On Clause 4 I am free to express an absolutely unfettered opinion, and I do so—a very strong opinion. I have in my hand a number of letters from employees in collieries now nationalised. The writer of one says:
Up to the present I have had no cause for apprehension, although no terms of assimilation into the Board's superannuation scheme or terms of settlement in respect of customary practice pension rights have been offered by the Board.
In passing, I would emphasise that much anxiety is being caused to a great many of these people by the delay of the Ministry, and, I suppose, the Board, in not announcing these terms. Two years have passed and some people still do not know where they stand. The writer goes on:
Everyone considered that Section 37 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, has generally been believed to be sacred. Moreover, whatever can be said regarding the old owners, we, their former employees, are well satisfied that they set out to leave their staff in as secure a position as possible by fighting for the inclusion of this Section 37. Now it would seem that the Bill sets out to nullify the old owners' good intentions.
I hope those fears are groundless, but they are widespread.
In other letters I gather that there is considerable anxiety about the possible cessation of the advantages which employees should have obtained under the 1946 Act from what are termed "customary practices." It is rather a hardship that the employees of Class B subsidiaries should be left out. They include such people as employees in brickworks and waterworks which have been taken over by the Board. I remember well that at the time of the 1946 Bill, I and many others' protested vigorously against their being taken over. Not only was it economically undesirable but it appears not to have been in the interests of the employees either.
Clause 6 refers to Scotland, and I am told by my Scottish friends that if the expression
charge or lien for securing money or money's worth
is the same as "lien" there is not much wrong with it. No doubt, when we get to the Committee stage that point will be debated at greater length.
In introducing this Measure the Parliamentary Secretary referred to it as a small, simple Bill. I think it will be found that it is not so small or simple as it appears. It is impossible to amend a big Act, even by a comparatively short one, without raising a vast number of points. The more I see of this Bill, the more convinced I am that if many individuals are not to be prejudiced, it will require the most careful examination as it goes through this House.
The discussion has been fairly broad this afternoon, but I propose to confine my remarks to one or two points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) and to two or three other matters. As former miners, we have no objection to coal coming under examination once again.
Before the introduction of the Bill we were favoured with three articles in "The Times" by Sir Charles Reid; two editorials, wise and otherwise, in two of our evening newspapers; the Burrows' Report and a pamphlet entitled "The Organisation of the Coal Board" by C. G. Lancaster, published by the Conservative Political Centre. All this free advice may be to the good, although I cannot free myself from suspecting the motives of some of the advisers. It is because of my suspicions that I ask the Government and the National Coal Board to stand firmly by their policy of an overall national plan for coal. That simply means that there should be equal treatment for the poorer and the richer coalfields, and the organisation of production and of distribution on a national basis.
I do not consider that the changes proposed in the Bill are adequate to achieve the object we all desire, namely, coal and more coal. It will have no effect upon the administration of the industry in which there are pits producing coal at a loss of £2 and in some instances £7 a ton. Something more is necessary than an alteration in the composition of the National Coal Board. I am convinced that the first consideration should be the pit. We cannot hope to increase the output of coal or even maintain the present output unless the organisation at the pit level is improved. Reorganisation at the pit is the first essential.
There is much truth and common sense in what the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) states in his pamphlet. He says:
Joint consultation in the coal-mining industry in various forms can do great good, but it cannot work properly unless the level at which it takes place is also the level where effective day-to-day decisions can be taken. The less remote control there is in the industry the more real say the miner will have in his job.
To that extent I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I do not accept his proposals for the reorganisation of the Board's administration of the industry. In the last analysis it is the mine worker who produces the coal, and there should be a form of administration suitable to his capacity and requirements.
I also submit that there is nothing antagonistic between centralised ownership of the industry and decentralised or localised management. The organisation of areas and divisions should conform to or be in accordance with the organisation at the pit level, and not the reverse. I know the miner. Without his willing cooperation we shall not have more coal in this country; neither shall we get it by threats, intimidation or exhortation, any more than we shall get it by abuse or by pursuing a policy of discrediting the system of nationalisation for which his generation and previous generations have struggled and succeeded in achieving. That co-operation is imperative because it is essential to secure a prosperous mining industry.
The problem is, in what capacity and to what extent can we secure his willing co-operation? I want to remind the House of Justice Sankey's words in the Interim Report of the Coal Industry Commission on 20th March, 1919:
We are prepared, however, to report now that it is in the interest of the country that the colliery worker shall in the future have an effective voice in the direction of the mine. For
a generation the colliery worker has been educated socially and technically. The result is a great national asset. Why not use it?
As an ex-miner and one who has lived all my life with miners I am unable to be released from the belief that the success of the mining industry depends upon a larger measure of participation in the running of the industry by the mineworker; that is essential.
It may have been, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware that we are now dealing with the coal situation under an entirely new system, a system which, I regret to say, has not yet received the commendation of the right hon. and gallant Member himself. I am convinced, for whatever it is worth, that in some quarters, especially where knowledge is confined to soap, steel and chemicals, there is a definite plot to do everything possible to make for the failure of the nationalisation of the mining industry. Here I propose to submit some of the evidence.
The Amendment moved today is moved because it is claimed that the experience of the last few years has shown it to be necessary. No one can accept that Amendment without the implication that the loss on the industry under the new system and also the increased price of coal are two very important factors. Speaking in the Debate on the King's Speech the right hon Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) made this statement in the House:
What about costs in coalmining? In 1939 the pithead cost of coal was 17s. 11d. per ton. At the end of 1946, at the end of private enterprise, it was 39s. 4d. At the end of 1947 it had risen to 43s. 8d. and in mid-1948 it had risen to 47s. 1d.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 687.]
As was to be expected—and we have had evidence this afternoon in support of the statement made by the right hon. Member for Southport—those figures were used with one object in view, and that was to discredit the new system under which the miners are now working. There is no other reason for using those figures. But do they discredit it? I propose to show that they do not. Although the right hon. Gentleman could have gone
back to 1904, when the pithead cost of coal was 7s. 3d. per ton, or to 1883, when the price of coal at the pithead was 5s. 8d. per ton, such a comparison would have been equally dishonourable. In any event, the figures are not strictly comparable, but they will suit my purpose and I accept them.
As they show, the difference between the pithead cost of coal in 1939 and 1946—that is, at the end of private enterprise—was 21s. 5d. per ton. That was the increase in cost, whereas the difference between the cost in 1946 and that in 1947 was only 4s. 4d. per ton. If we take the figure for mid-1948, we find that the difference between the cost in 1946, the last year of private enterprise, and that of mid-1948 is only 7s. 9d. compared, again, with an increase from 1939 to 1946, under private enterprise, of 21s. 5d. per ton.
My analysis of these figures shows how they can be used by persons who appear to possess a monopoly of political dishonesty. Moreover, the critics of the Board's administration know perfectly well that the increase in the price of coal is due to the increase in the wages of the mineworkers and to improvements in their conditions of employment. During the period in which the Board has been in existence the people in the mines, the mineworkers, benefited to the extent of £62 million. I would ask the Opposition a question. I think we are entitled to an answer, and I can vouch for the fact that the miners are anxious to have an answer to this question. It is, ought those payments to have been made to the mine workers? If not, how much of the total should have been paid? We should like to know the answer and the miners would like to know the answer.
As ex-miners and representatives of mining constituencies, we have repeatedly pointed out in this House that the output of coal has been reduced from 276 million tons in 1923 to 187 million tons in 1947. That is a reduction of 89 million tons. Since 1943, the year 1947 is the only year in which there has been an increase in the output of coal in this country. It was an increase of approximately 8 million tons. I want to put this point to the opponents of the present system, especially to those who are disposed to pass judgment on its failure or success. I have shown that there has been a steady, uninterrupted decline in the output of coal for the last 23 years, under private enterprise. My proposition is this: when the new system has been in operation for as long as it took the industry's previous owners to ruin the industry, then will be the time to pass judgment as to whether the new system is a failure or a success. Much of the present criticism against the two years' administration of the coal industry is not only premature, but is immature; it is unjust, it is dishonest and absurd.
There is in this connection another little matter which deserves some consideration, and it is this: with very few exceptions it is precisely the same individuals who are running the industry now as were running it before the introduction of nationalisation. I want to know whether the Tories' criticism is a charge of inefficiency against these men or is it that these men are not disposed to work as honestly for a nationalised industry as for one in which they had a direct financial interest? Moreover, under the present arrangement the nation has had a much-required extra 5 million tons of coal. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clark), talked about absenteeism. He did not possess sufficient political honesty to point out that, as a result of the decrease in absenteeism under the Board's administration, this country has benefited to the extent of 91 million tons of coal. That is the fact that is contained in the Board's report. There is another extra 5,500,000 tons due to an increase in manpower—a total of no less than 20 million tons, all made possible by increases in wages and improvement in the conditions of employment.
We hear a tremendous amount of talk about losses. No one would think that there were any losses under private enterprise. However, what do we find? That the ex-secretary of the Coal Owners' Association stated that if allowance were made for threepence per ton, representing interest of debentures, bank loans, overdrafts, etcetera, it would be seen that the industry as a whole was operated at a loss for the 10 year period from 1927 to 1936. For 10 years, according to him, the industry was run at a loss. We hear a lot of talk about the losses in the industry that is the most favoured industry of the Tories, but which would be run at a loss if it were not for the subsidies we are giving it. I mean agriculture. Before dealing with that I want to point out that under private enterprise in the mining industry no less than £30 million was given to the industry by the Exchequer, in order that it might declare a profit.
I am rather surprised that the hon. and gallant Member, who knows a little about the industry, should make that observation, because he knows that under the present system the wage is about the average of £8 per week, whereas during the period of subsidies the wage was not in excess of a miserable £2 10s. If regard be had to the Coal Charges Account, we see that the industry received in some form or another, public assistance in excess of £57 million. There is no one here who can state the amount of subsidy which is paid to the agricultural industry. I have made a very rough calculation, and I find that——
I think the hon. Gentleman had better keep off agriculture. There are many other hon. Members who want to take part in the Debate. Let us confine ourselves to the subject of coal.
I realise that, Mr. Speaker. The only point I wanted to make was that there are other industries than the coal industry which would declare a loss if it were not for subsidies paid from public funds. I conclude by saying that I hope that nothing will be done to alienate the support of the miners for the campaign now taking place for the production of coal. I believe that, given fair play and a measure of support, this industry can still be made a very prosperous industry. Unless it is, this nation will cease to exist.
The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) devoted the latter part of his speech—I think, perhaps, the greater part of it—to an examination of times past. He was anxious to prove that the old private enterprise system was not good, and he was equally anxious to show that the new nationalisation system was very much better. I do not want to go into that ancient history because I do not think it will help us very much. What I myself feel that one ought to do tonight is to admit frankly that something is wrong with the coal industry, and to endeavour as far as possible, to see what that is, and to advance a remedy.
There is no doubt that there is something wrong. The Minister of Fuel and Power, as has been said earlier tonight, is devoting every week-end, it appears, to the task, which cannot be a very easy one, of going round the country exhorting miners and, no doubt, all the officials of the Coal Board, to larger and larger output. He tells us here in London, he tells us in the regions, in broadcasts, and in public statements that production is not big enough and is disappointing. The Chairman of the Coal Board is going about the country saying precisely the same thing. The chairman of the Scottish miners' organisation, a political colleague of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher)——
—is doing the same thing, going around saying production is not good enough, that we are not getting the coal we need, that bigger production is needed. There is no doubt that, by all the evidence, it is an established fact that the industry is not doing as well as it should. Coal is needed today on account of our own economic position, and our obligations to Europe. Coal is needed today as it was never needed before. We got all the coal we needed for the nation before the war. We are not getting it today. Yet we need it more than ever today. It is our duty, therefore, to inquire why that should be, and, if possible, to find the remedy.
The hon. Member referred to Abe Moffat, a very highly trusted official in Scotland. Apparently, the hon. Member approves the work Abe Moffat is doing in endeavouring to get the production of coal. Does he also approve of what Abe Moffat says, that the granting of the miners' charter will be one of the finest measures that could be taken for getting more coal?
I am too old a colleague of the hon. Member for West Fife to follow all the trails he invites one to follow. I did not say anything about approving. I was only producing facts.
What, then, is wrong? I think I can say without any doubt at all, that on all sides of the House we agree that the chief cause of the present trouble is an administrative cause. I think that in all parts of the House we agree that the present administrative system is not satisfactory—that is to say, the whole scheme of managing the coal industry that we have now. [Interruption.] I am not going to talk long and I hope hon. Members will not interrupt me.
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that from these benches, when we were passing the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, the practical miners said we should not get any material advantage in output for five years?
Yes, but the trouble is that we cannot afford to wait for five years. I do not pretend to know anything about the industry except from such contacts as I have in Fife, but I am satisfied that the Fife miners recognise that we cannot afford to wait years and years, and that something has to be done quickly. In all parts of the House, in all parts of the country and in every section of the industry, I believe that it is admitted that the present administrative system is largely to blame. How? It is so much centralised that no man at any level has real responsibility. He can always, to use a familiar phrase, "pass the buck" to someone else.
That is a fundamental weakness in any system. That must be altered. How is it to be altered? I know of no way of altering it except by some scheme such as Sir Charles Reid and others have proposed. What is that scheme? I am most interested in Sir Charles Reid's scheme of 25 corporations because my colleagues and I on these benches, some five or six years ago, addressed ourselves to this problem. I was chairman of the Committee, and we produced a report which is in print. Our proposal then was to create a series of public utility corporations. I need not go into detail because that is now history. The principle, if not the details, was very like that which Sir Charles Reid is now advocating. The National Coal Board—a central board—fails because it tries to do too much; because its members are, for the most part, performing functional duties; and because they are performing these duties for the whole industry, they have not the time nor the facilities which make it possible for them to take the broad, detached view of the average director whose concern is primarily with policy. No one—to move to the other end of the chain—at the coal face, or at the pit, or at the area, or at the division, so far as I am aware, is able to take a substantial decision upon an important point without getting his view confirmed at the top. In all those cases there is delay. I think that has to be altered, and I see no way of altering it except by decentralisation, as has so often been said.
I invite the House to consider what that decentralisation would mean in practice. Suppose we had 25 corporations such as Sir Charles Reid has suggested. I understand that his idea is that there should be three in Scotland, one I suppose to cover the Fife area—an area which, as the hon. Member for West Fife and I know very well, is large enough and which is going greatly to develop in the course of the next few years. I think that area, covering, as it will, vast quantities of coal and large numbers of men is quite big enough for any one group of managers to look after or any one board to manage.
Sir Charles Reid's proposal is that there should be established in Fife a Fife Corporation. It would be composed of the managing director, with executive powers to control, to manage and to make decisions. That is vital. It would have a sales director, a mines manager, and three or four part-time men who would be on the Board. Who would be the part-time men? They would be, first, local men—essentially local men; second, men with business or mining experience, or both kinds of experience. That would be the place for the trade union leader—the local miners' leader. That is where he would throw his knowledge into the common pool. That is where he and perhaps one or two of his colleagues would represent constantly the miners' view in the control of the' industry locally.
The duty of the local corporation would be to take the whole industry into its confidence. The local corporation, for example, would, by cinema and other kinds of propaganda, let it be known in Fife what were all the plans of the area corporation. Not only would the miners and miners' representatives be on the Board doing these things, but the Board, I hope, would take every possible opportunity of making their plans known to the whole mining community and, indeed, to the whole public community. I think that we should get by these means real responsibility and, therefore, rapid, effective executive action. I agree that all rests with the miners; it is because we have not the full-blooded enthusiasm and loyalty of the miners at present that we are not getting the coal. I am seeking a way to get these things. I think that if we had such a local corporation, carrying out the work which I have detailed, we would get, for the first time, the cooperation, enthusiasm, loyalty and backing of the miners, because it would be in their own interest, and they would feel that they were running their own show.
What happens in Fife now? I meet miners each time I go to Fife. These men tell me that they feel that the bosses are so far away that they cannot get decisions. Everyone knows that to be true. My proposal would bring a controlling interest into Fife, and what applies to Fife, also applies to South Wales, Durham, Northumberland and every other part of the country. We would get local loyalty established in that way, and more than that. One of the troubles now is that costs are rising. They are not rising because wages are rising. They are rising quite apart from wages. Wages no longer form as large a part of the total cost as they used to do. Administrative costs are growing. That is inevitable with a great cumbersome machine of this kind.
How would the local corporation deal with the problem of costs? I agree that one could not possibly make these corporations entirely independent as some parts of the country have easily-got coal and, therefore, are productive and profitable. Other parts of the country suffer severely, and there are losses. We must balance one with the other. If we had a local corporation running a local industry, as it were—the Fife Corporation running the Fife mines—composed of miners as well as other experienced men, they would see that costs were kept as low as possible and efficiency as high as possible. They would be keen to beat the other mining districts. The corporation would be calling for figures and reports and comparing them with those of other corporations. I am certain that is the way, because it is the only natural way, of getting the best out of this great industry and the best out of men and management.
The speech of the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) was exceedingly attractive. She spoke about the manager and suggested that it was almost an historical event for a miner from Durham to have got up and said something good about the management. It may be true that this is the first time a Labour Member has done so in this House, but it is not the first time that the miners have admitted the importance of the manager. Sensible miners have always recognised the manager of the pit as the key man in the industry. In Fife, we have had great managers; Sir Charles Reid was one of them. No one is going to tell me that Sir Charles Reid, because he was a competent, honest, good and efficient manager, was not respected by the men. He was. It is true that sometimes he found himself at loggerheads with the men, but he never lost their respect, and the Fife pits under his control were, on the whole, reasonably contented pits. There were troubles, but he was a success because he was a good manager. I ask that the good manager be given his head in this business. I feel sure that the Minister must agree with that view.
The only question that remains is: When do we set up this new type of organisation for which I am pleading, and for which Sir Charles Reid has pleaded? At the beginning of the Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary admitted that substantial changes would have to be made, but his case was that this was not the time to do it. He said that we cannot do it for a year or two, or until such time as something has been proved. With great respect, I do not think that that view can be upheld; I doubt very much whether it can be seriously held by the Minister or the Government. They know that things are not going well, and that they will not get better until substantial changes are made.
I do not think that any legislation is needed for such changes; they can all be brought about by the Board itself with the support of the Minister. Here is a piece of real reorganisation for the Board itself to carry out, but, in so far as the Government are responsible to this House for the Board, our appeals must be addressed to the Government. After all, our Debates are political, and this is where I become frankly political. It is the Government's responsibility to take on this job. If we fail to get the coal we need, the Government will be blamed, and rightly so. But none of us can afford to contemplate a failure in this great industry.
I opposed nationalisation when the Coal Bill was passed, but we have now got it, and we cannot denationalise the mines. It is now the established system of our country, and it is in everybody's interest—whether we like it or not—to make this new State-managed industry a success. That is the truth of the matter, and all that one seeks to do is to ensure that progress, development and reform, will take place. I repeat that the responsibility lies upon the Government. It is a great responsibility, and there is no doubt that something drastic must be done. If the Government delay in bringing forward effective reform, they will be blamed by the nation.
I have listened very carefully to most of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite in this Debate. While it is true that one or two have mentioned that some of the defects are due to absenteeism, the majority have glossed it over, and said that the miners themselves are jolly good fellows. When I hear hon. Members opposite talking in that strain, I look for the hidden meaning. In the same breath, they criticised the working of the National Coal Board. It seems to me that they are trying to put over some kind of propaganda, to drive a wedge between the miners and the Coal Board, and to bring about the same bitter feeling that existed in the old days between the miners and the colliery owners.
As one who has had 35 years' experience of working underground, I can safely say that, so far as the miners are concerned, and with all the defects of the National Coal Board, they are more satisfied with the work of the Board than they were with the old private owners.
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) said that to get from the manager up to the division, one had to go through various stages—that the manager had not the power he used to have. Before coming to this House, I was at a pit owned by one of the largest colliery companies in the country. Whenever we met the local manager, we could never get a decision; he always referred us to the agent. When the agent had examined the matter, he invariably said that he was sorry, but that he would have to refer it to the general manager. In many cases, the matter had to come to London for a decision. Therefore, even under private enterprise, this sort of thing was no different from what it is today. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) that in local matters the manager and the men at the pits should and could be able to settle things instead of taking them to divisional level. I accept the fact that small things could be settled at the pits and that a lot of managers could and would be quite willing to settle them.
The hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) suggested that the relationship today between managers and men was no better than in the past. If the House will bear with me, I will tell them of an incident which happened on Saturday morning. I was walking down the street in my home town and met a man who in September last had lost an arm just below the elbow. Being an old colleague of his, I naturally asked him how he was getting on. He first of all told me how well he had been treated in hospital, and then said that, to his great surprise, one of the under-managers had come to see him. Two days after that visit, two deputies also came to see him. I asked him what was remarkable about that. His reply was that in the old days they would never have dreamed of going to see injured miners. He said that in the old days miners were just a cog in the machine. If they were able to go back to their work, well and good, but, if they were not, the management tried to get them to take as little as possible by way of lump sum compensation, and then they were placed on the scrap-heap. The remarkable thing was that while I was talking to this man, another man came along who had lost his arm in a pit accident, roughly 20 years ago, and who had never since been able to work, except for a casual job here and there. The owners at that particular time did not care whether a man lost his arm or not.
The hon. Member for Wavertree also suggested that production had not increased. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) proved beyond doubt that, while it is true that from 1939 to 1946, production gradually decreased, 1947 was the only year since 1939 that production actually increased, and that the reason for this was that the men in the industry realised at last that there was something for which they had striven, and that, although it was not a good organisation to start with, it would gradually improve. They were doing their bit to get the extra production.
I wish to ask the Minister a question in regard to medical examination. Part II of the Bill says that new entrants must undergo a medical examination. There is one thing I want to be sure about because I can foresee that, under the long-term policy of the Board, various pits will be closed down, and that, as pit room becomes available elsewhere, the men will, in due course, be transferred. I should like the Minister to explain whether, assuming that a particular pit is closed down and that, perhaps, 30 or 40 men have to wait three or four months before they can be transferred to another pit, they will have to undergo a medical examination as new entrants. The probability is that some of such men, who might be in their early fifties, may have contracted some disease in the pits. They may have contracted nystagmus, or some other pit disease. Are they likely to be debarred by this medical examination from earning their living in the mines? I should like to have an assurance on that.
I think that the general principles underlying the Clause are good and will enable us to get the best men in the industry, but I am worried about these men who have already been in the industry for a long time. I welcome the Government's action in consolidating the safety measures. As one who has had practical experience in coalmining, I have always felt that everything possible should be done in regard to safety measures. No matter how much money is paid by way of compensation, it cannot replace the loss of a limb or a life. As the Parliamentary Secretary has said, this is a small Measure which provides for the appointment to the Board of three part-time members. The Bill does not say, however, what are to be their duties, but no doubt we shall be told about that during the Committee stage. I cannot see how the Opposition Amendment, which suggests the appointment of 20 area boards—which to my mind will simply mean an extra charge on costs—can improve production, and I hope, therefore, that this Bill will pass its Second Reading with the majority it deserves.
Before I address myself to the Bill, I think I ought to clear up a misunderstanding in regard to parentage. The Parliamentary Secretary had some fun and games with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) in connection with a Coal Bill which was introduced some 30 years ago. I would remind him that, like all progressive Measures in those days, that Bill was introduced by a Liberal Government, and, to save the face of the Opposition, I would point out that the Leader of the Opposition, who then belonged to the Liberal Party, was responsible for it—that was before he took the wrong turning.
We have had a very useful contribution to this Debate by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Sylvester), who speaks with obvious knowledge based on his own experience in the pits. One always listens with respect to a man who is deeply concerned with the industry. There has been a certain note of bitterness in some of the speeches that have been made today, but I think it is time we forgot the past and addressed ourselves to the present. It does not help to rake up all this old business of when the mines were controlled by private enterprise. I know that there was injustice in those days, but we should now look to the future with a view to improving efficiency and giving a fair deal to every section of the community. I voted for the nationalisation of the coal industry because I thought it essential that the industry should be under public ownership. That was the first nationalisation Measure introduced by the Government.
It was the first nationalisation Measure so far as industry is concerned. It has to be accepted, I think, that the framework of the organisation is not perfect. I am disappointed, however, that the Opposition have not made helpful criticisms of this Bill instead of turning the Debate into a political stunt. I am sure Members opposite will agree that there is room for improvement, and are not completely satisfied with the organisation. Knowing little about the coal industry, but having had some knowledge of general business organisation, it is my intention to make some suggestions which will. I trust, be helpful. If we are to obtain the desirable effect of improving the coal industry, we should direct our attention towards a happy relationship between men and management at all stages. I understand that there is still some uneasiness at the moment because that has not yet been accomplished.
It is not unfair to say that there is still a good deal of absenteeism. The figures for absenteeism improved considerably when the nationalisation Measure was first implemented, but they have gone back a bit and this is causing a certain amount of anxiety. I think it is also true to say that the industry could give a better service than it does today, and that we should direct our attention to costs which have risen considerably. We have to introduce two factors into the industry; to encourage initiative to the fullest extent, which is not being done under this present organisation, and to create the desire for a ready acceptance of responsibility. The criticism is often levelled against the Civil Service that people are always "passing the buck," or, in other words, that no one cares to take responsibility. It is said that under the dead hand of the State people are always passing responsibility up the chain of control. Not only in this industry, but in all the nationalised industries, must we try to bring out the maximum initiative at every stage of control, while at the same time creating the desire to take responsibility.
I believe that when this Bill was drafted, the Government, instead of starting at the pit, started at the top with the Coal Board and then worked down the line of control until ultimately they reached the colliery. For my part, in dealing with the various stages of control, I start at the pit, where the most important person is the manager. The manager should be made fully responsible for day-to-day decisions. He should be able to take decisions on his own without reference to the area board, provided that his decisions are within the framework of the policy laid down by the area board. That is most important.
If problems are to be passed up the chain of control to the top and then brought down again there can be no proper exercise of responsibility. I also believe that there should be a half-yearly balance sheet of each colliery, in order to see how things are working out. The next stage of control is the area board. A number of suggestions have been made in various reports recently in favour of fewer area boards than there are under the present set-up. There is a great deal of consistency about the criticisms. In the old days of the Mining Association there were 23 control areas. These areas came through local experience and knowledge. Sir Charles Reid suggests 26 control areas, and the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) has suggested 20 to 25. I think it a little unfair that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should be criticised because he was not too precise in his definitions.
The number of area boards must and can only be settled by experience. In the same way as the manager of a pit should be allowed to make decisions so should the general manager of an area board, without having recourse to the Coal Board, provided that he is acting within the terms of policy laid down by the Board. This would encourage the taking of decisions and speed up the whole policy of the Board. The main point behind the suggestion concerning fewer area boards is that it is far better to arrange these boards on a geographical basis, to take into consideration their nearness to a point of distribution. How the Minister arrived at the figure of 48 districts I do not know. I believe the approximate figure of 200 million tons of coal per annum was divided into areas, each being an area of four million tons production. I can imagine a civil servant working out these figures. It is fantastic nonsense, and I hope the Minister will adopt the suggestion of a smaller number of area boards.
I cannot see any argument for the retention of divisional boards which, I believe, act as a brake on the whole organisation. They are a barrier between the policy of the Coal Board and the executive action of the area board. I daresay that they also increase the cost but, chiefly, they are redundant. The Coal Board should be mainly, if not wholly, concerned with policy. The general managers of area boards should act in close liaison with the Coal Board; there should be at least one monthly meeting of general managers and members of the Board so that both sides can obtain a full picture of the organisation. I would remind the House that nationalisation is a very new thing; it is only two years ago since the first nationalisation Measure was brought into the House. The whole technique is new. There is still a lot to learn. A Committee should be set up by the Government to consider all nationalisation proposals, and to perfect present nationalisation control. I urge the Government to perfect the present organisation, and not do as the Parliamentary Secretary suggested—wait for a few years when, perhaps, it may be too late.
I have sat through the whole of this Debate so far and to catch your eye at this time, Sir, is patience rewarded. Very little has been said from either side about Part II of the Bill which, to me, is more important than Part I, because it gives powers to the Minister to implement present safety measures in our mines and make regulations to bring about greater safety in the industry. Much more important than what we shall do with the Coal Board, with the divisional boards or the area boards is the question of safety, because the reservoir of labour is not inexhaustible. The introduction of safety measures in our mines is of paramount importance if we are to retain the men already employed in the industry.
I am not unmindful of what the Ministry have already done in this field, but I was a little disturbed when the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) said that Members on his side of the House were as much concerned about the safety of miners as Members were on this side of the House. I hope the right hon. Gentleman did not experience any physical discomfort by descending from the top of the monument in Trafalgar Square to make friendship with the miners. In the course of his speech he also recommended that we should read a book called "Men at the pits." If he wants to secure a clear understanding of what is happening in our mines in regard to safety measures, which we have tried to bring about I recommend him to read "Coal pits and pit men" by Nelson Boyd. In that book he will find something of the struggles of the miners for greater safety in this country.
What is the picture before our eyes in regard to greater safety? In 1946, 543 men were killed and seriously injured numbered 2,335. The number of men injured in our pits in 1946 who had to experience a loss of more than three days work was 167,210. In addition there were 14,220 suffering from incurable diseases. Of that number 216 died from pneumoconiosis and many from silicosis. I could paint a bleak, dismal picture, and I think it is essential that the House and the public outside should know why Part II of this Measure is being brought before the House and why we are supporting it.
If it were possible to form these broken, bruised and sick men into a procession in ranks four deep, it would stretch 40½ miles. There would be an ambulance nearly every 31 yards and a, hearse carrying a dead body every 131 yards. In addition we should have a procession three and a half miles long of those suffering from industrial disease, and in this procession will be a hearse every 25 yards. There we have a picture of the mining fraternity every year. Here are some other statistics. There are two men killed every working day, one man killed every 12 hours. There are 673 miners injured every working day and 28 injured every hour, with one miner injured every few minutes. One miner goes down with industrial disease every 2½ hours and one miner from pneumoconiosis every working day. One mine worker is killed or incapacitated for every 1,000 tons of coal won from the bowels of the earth. That is the picture, and that is why we on this side of the House and particularly ex-miners welcome Part II of the Bill.
The next point I want to make is in regard to research. I want to pay my tribute to the Ministry of Fuel and Power for the research work being done at one of the deepest pits in the country which is a short distance from where I live. This enables us to focus our minds upon certain diseases which have grown up with the mining industry, such as pneumoconiosis, silicosis, nystagmus, beat knee, beat elbow, etc. I have here a photograph of one of our men who is suffering from a disease, and we have not yet been able to discover its name. The medical profession, after a careful and thorough investigation, and analytical chemists, who have been down the pits and tested the water and conditions generally, have failed to give us the name of this particular disease. This is a photograph of a man who is called upon to suffer this disease.
I stress this matter of improved safety measures in our pits because I have seen so much in my own area as an ex-miner of 35 years experience. I know something of the matter not so much from the point of view of physical suffering experienced by those who have been overtaken by accident or by disease, but of the tremendous amount of worry and anxiety and the economic loss in the miner's home. It is of paramount importance that every available step should be taken by the Minister of Fuel and Power and his Department in the interest of health and safety. In that I include the medical branch of his Department which has done wonderful work and which is bringing about a great change in the industry. I want improved measures pressed forward with all the vigour which my right hon. Friend can bring in the interests of the greater safety of the pits of this country.
A great deal has been said by hon. Members, particularly by the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes), about the Coal Board and how it has failed to bring about happier industrial relations. I wish hon. Gentlemen opposite would take the trouble to find out what is taking place in the coalfields. I am very much afraid that when they come to this House and talk about unhappy relationships they do not appreciate what is happening in the coalfields. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said, there is a better atmosphere now. I feel it every week when I go home and I live in a little mining village. We never experienced this feeling four or five years ago. A change has come over the miners. The week before last there were glaring headlines in the "Manchester Evening News"—and they are not by way of being sympathetic towards us—in regard to the record-breaking targets reached in the coalfields of that area. One paper said that the men were tearing the guts out of the earth to get coal for the nation.
Last week when I went home and took up the local paper, I read about a record output of coal and happier industrial relations. This is another paper which is not of the Kemsley Press, but of the Tillotson Press, Bolton. I will not go all through the article, but I will read some of it because it is as well that hon. Members on the other side of the House should know what is happening. Here is an extract:
Local miners last week made another magnificent contribution towards a record output with 334,992 tons for the north-west area, the third successive week that a new high figure for the region has been set up. The Manchester area, in which the pits in this district are included, also had a record output of 142,962 tons compared with 139,000 tons the previous week. Just what a splendid effort this was can be judged from the fact that the weekly target for the area is 128,500 tons lass than the total achieved.
I intensely dislike hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from the other side of the House trying to undermine and underestimate the effort of the mine worker. Here is what the editor of the paper says on the same subject:
The steady increase in coal production, so noticeable over the past few weeks, is attributable to the new spirit of co-operation now existing in the mines and the genuine willingness among the miners to do the best in response to recent appeals. Coal Board officers give credit to the N.U.M. officials for playing their part in encouraging an output pride, and pit consultative committees composed of managements and workers are also helping materially to ensure smooth and happy relations within the industry.
That is the opinion of people outside the industry.
From my experience of coming into contact with the miners in my little village, I say that nobody will convince me that the miner himself is not pulling his weight. Evidence week after week is conclusive. I pray hon. Gentlemen opposite not to castigate and incriminate the miner by saying that he is not pulling his weight.
Never mind my own Government. I am speaking as I feel and according to my convictions, and as an individual I reserve that right. The right hon. Gentleman will not take that right from me, however much he interjects.
Let me deal with the question which has been raised from time to time about the inferiority of the coal which is put into the consumer's cellar. Questions have been put on the subject to the Minister of Fuel and Power also about the extra large content of foreign matter. The inference to be drawn from the questions is that the miner is responsible for the dirty coal which is put into the coal. He does not do it deliberately. Changed conditions have been brought about. Mechanisation has altered the whole structure and technique of filling coal in the pits. It may interest hon. Gentlemen opposite and some hon. Members on this side to know that there is a section of men in the industry who have to produce 21 cwt. before they get paid for one ton. Did any hon. Member ever experience anything like that? It happens on the Duke of Bridgewater's estate.
The idea some people have is that the miners deliberately put dirt into the coal in order to annoy the consumers, but that is not true. I know the miner and his characteristics. If one thing impressed me more than another when I started in the pit at the age of 12 and later started to work at the coalface at the age of 17, it was that I was always taught by my father that I must keep the coal clean because it had to be sold, it may be to our next door neighbour.
A great change has been taking place, and some of our best and cleanest seams have now become exhausted. We have inferior seams which were left untouched earlier while the better quality seams were there. In 1924 4.6 per cent. of our seams were under two feet. In 1944 the percentage was 3.7. So when we come to the bigger seams which used to give a large yield of clean coal, we find that in 1924 the seams between two feet and under three were 17.6 per cent. and now the figure is 22.0. For those of six feet and over the figure in 1924 was 10 per cent. and now it is only 8.1 per cent.
There is not only a change of working conditions brought about by mechanisation but a change in the structure of the seam. One further point on which I and some of my hon. Friends feel very strongly is that under private enterprise provision was never made for screening plant, to have gone along with the progress of mechanisation underground. We should not have the same complaints and trouble as we have today were it not that only 42 per cent. of the cleaning plant in this country on the vesting date was capable of dealing with coal from underground, and 58 per cent. was absolutely of no further use for the screening of coal to meet the needs of today.
I want to deal briefly with the reference that has been made to Sir Charles Reid. I have a great respect for his knowledge of the mining industry and I would pay him a tribute because of the practical manner and the high efficiency of his technical knowledge of the mining industry. I was very much disturbed at what Sir Charles Reid wrote in "The Times" on 23rd November, when he said:
Production has not risen by an appreciable extent above the low level to which it had fallen during the war years.
I want to deal with this question about Sir Charles Reid, having regard to what he said in his report. The report shows an increase of 20 million tons from 175 million in 1945 to 195 million in the following year. That was an appreciable increase, equal to a rise of about 12 per cent. There are few industries which can claim to have increased their output by 12 per cent. From 1918 to 1920 the output from the coalfields of this country was stable. In 1921 there was a sharp drop. I put to hon. Members who are supporting the present Amendment this question in all seriousness: Do they want to return to the position of 1921? Do they want the mining industry in that position with all its horrors of unemployment? If they do, let them vote for the Amendment.
A great deal has been said about the increase in cost. I do not think hon. Members and right hon. Members of the Opposition pay regard to the increase in the cost of steel and other accessories for mining machinery which has gone up since pre-war days by 155 per cent. Surely, if the article being brought into an industry is rising in cost, then the cost must be recovered from the proceeds of the industry into which the article goes. That is elementary economics. The main cause, they say, of the increasing costs complained of by Sir Charles Reid is the improvement in the miners' wages. Would he, as a leading expert on mining matters in this country, responsible for that voluminous and enlightened report, prefer to push the miners to eightieth in the list of earnings of the industrial workers, or would he prefer that they should be first on the list as they now are?
Those are serious questions which have to be put to these men who are telling us continually that the miner is not pulling his weight or, if he is pulling his weight, he is filling an inferior quality of coal. All these things come like an avalanche upon the miners. I do not want to see any sliding back to the position in 1920 to 1938. We have risen above that, and I hope we shall continue to rise. However, I expect—though not this year or next—that when the plans now formulated and being worked upon by the National Coal Board in the respective districts come to fruition, and the output is increased to a greater volume than we have seen already, there will be a desire on the part of the National Coal Board that the first consideration shall be given to the lowering of the price of coal to the home and industrial consumer. It would be welcome in the minefields and throughout the country——
Just wait a minute, my friends. I have sat here all afternoon, you have just popped in. I am hoping that first consideration, when the organisation of the industry has reached that degree of perfection we are anticipating, will be given to a cheapening of the coal, both to the consumer and to the industries of this country. Let us carry on, with the good work, which began on 1st January, 1947.
The general lines of argument that have been advanced on the opposite side of the House in this Debate show that there is, on both sides, a genuine anxiety to bring about such a reorganisation of the industry as will obtain the best results. There is a good deal in common between us now. However much we opposed the nationalisation of the coalmining industry, my hon. Friends have made it plain that they have no intention of reversing the nationalisation that has taken place and we are all concerned to bring about the best results.
The fact that this Bill has been introduced indicates the desirability that Parliament, having taken over responsibility for a number of nationalised industries, should devise a means by which it can effectively scrutinise the administration of those industries. I am not one of those who desires to see Parliamentary questions admitted which will deal with every point of day to day administration that may arise. Such questions would necessarily be casual, capricious, superficial and inconclusive in their effect. In my submission what will be necessary is that Parliament shall devise the same kind of machinery for supervising nationalised industries as was devised in the past in the case of national expenditure.
As I suggested in an article in the "Spectator" on 27th February, and my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) said in a letter to "The Times" on 10th June, we believe it will be necessary for a Select Committee to be set up to scrutinise the administration of nationalised industries. The Public Accounts Committee is the analogy that I would suggest. Some hon. Members might say that the Estimates Committee is a closer comparison, but most people would agree that before the war the Public Accounts Committee was far more effective for its purpose than was the Estimates Committee. I think the main reason for that was that the Public Accounts Committee had the services of the Comptroller and Auditor-General with his staff, and it was possible, therefore, for the material to be prepared and collected and brought up before that Committee.
I am not suggesting that such a committee would deal only with details of internal administration. The very fact that the Bill has been introduced shows it is difficult to be sure, in the administration of any great industry like coal or the other industries which have been nationalised by the present Government, exactly where the balance of national interest lies. The interests of the consumer are manifestly not the same as those of the producer. Indeed, the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) showed to what extent in this House the interests of the coal producer have in the last few years been predominant over the interests of the consumer.
Clearly, these are not matters that can usefully be explored by 640 Members of Parliament in discussion. They must be referred to a committee with power to send for persons, papers and records. When such a committee had read and examined the annual reports and accounts and had looked into the matter it would report to this House which no doubt would wish to debate it. In the case of the Estimates Committee, it was found necessary to set up a special committee of that kind to look into the Estimates for any particular Department. The general policy of the administration of any particular Minister, however, is considered by the House as a whole in Committee of Supply in one of the 20 allotted days, and the Report of the Estimates Committee may or may not be quoted.
After a Select Committee had examined the administration of any of these vitally important industries, I believe the House would usually wish to debate the report of that committee. It would be vital to the success of my proposal that the sponsoring Minister, in this case the Minister of Fuel and Power, should not be obliged to adopt any particular attitude either in accepting the report of the committee or in defending the corporation. It would be most important that the administration of these Departments should be taken out of the ordinary conflict of party disputes and the Minister should not regard himself as being pledged, right or wrong, to support the corporation. Equally, on the other hand, the report of the Select Committee, if it happened to be critical in some respects of the administration, should not be regarded by the Opposition—by any Opposition—as being a missile to throw at the Government. A special day would be required for discussion of matters of this kind. It should not be one of the Allotted Days because that would immediately put the Minister on the defensive.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that putting the Minister on the defensive in a case of that description would be necessary to a thorough understanding and a balanced Debate on the matter? The partisanship of the Minister in defence of the organisation seems to be vital for the consideration which the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.
I think not. I am suggesting that it should be taken out of the realm of party conflict. There should be a Select Committee, naturally representing different parties in the House, who would examine the matter in the more or less impartial and detached way in which similar matters are examined by the Estimates Committee, or the Public Accounts Committee. While it would be perfectly proper and right for the Minister to express his views and the views of the Government, he should not be obliged either to defend the corporation, or to adopt criticisms that had been made by the Select Committee. Because I say he should not be obliged to take either one point of view or the other, that does not mean he would not be entitled, and indeed, have, an obligation quite frankly to express his considered point of view and that of the Government. I suggest it would be wrong for that to be dealt with on one of the 20 Allotted Days, because by implication that would extend the responsibility of the Government to defending the administration of any particular corporation and, under the Rules of the House, would preclude any proposals that would involve legislation.
These suggestions are a little out of the cut and thrust of the Debate, but one of the criticisms which have been offered has been that there have been no constructive suggestions made from this side of the House. What I am saying is largely in line with the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) in the previous Debate. I believe that the very fact that an amending Bill of this kind has had to be introduced shows the desirability of this House devising a means by which it can protect the interests of the consumer and taxpayer in the efficient and progressive administration of the large business properties which in the last two or three years Parliament has taken over on behalf of the taxpayers.
The last time we had a Debate on coal in this House the temperature was hardly such as to encourage people to take a great interest in coal. Tonight is more appropriate to our discussion. We always have in Debates on coal, speeches from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are well versed in the industry, and who can from practical experience contribute words of value to us. Today has been no exception.
I do not propose to enter into any discussion on the rights or wrongs of nationalisation. It seems to me to be entirely irrelevant to what we are discussing today. What we are really discussing is not whether it was a good or a bad thing but, so far as the Amendment is concerned, whether the machine that has been set up to implement the nationalisation of the coal mines is really working in the proper way, or is indeed the right sort of machine. Not unnaturally, hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have been loud in their praises of the work of the Coal Board and are all for the extension of its powers. I am bound to say that from the speeches I have heard—and I have heard most of them—very little evidence has been forthcoming as to the great achievements which have made them so enthusiastic in support of the Board.
I do not see any reason why this matter which we are discussing at the moment should become political. It is for us on this side of the House to show that the organisation which is at present set up is such, and that its record is such, as not to warrant an extension of any powers. It is nearly two years since the mines of this country were taken over, and it is surely obvious that all is not well with this new organisation. I should have thought that that was hardly a matter for argument. I do not believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite really believe in their heart of hearts that the organisation is going very well.
Let us look at what has happened. Let us take some of the eminent men who, as Members on all sides of the House would agree, are pre-eminent in the particular industry which they have served. The author of the Reid Report has gone. Two eminent engineers who help him to compile that Report have gone, and the reasons given are that under the organisation as it exists, they do not think it is possible to put their recommendations into operation.
Let us take the young men who are going into industry. We have been told today by more than one speaker that since the Coal Board has taken over, it has made the industry so attractive that people are going into it who would not otherwise go. The Ministry issued some statistics the other day which showed that 20,000 young men under 20 joined the industry in 1947 and 10,000 of that age group left it. Of those between 20 and 26 the number who entered the industry totalled 23,720 and—a much more startling figure—20,000 left it. I should not have thought that that showed that things were all right with this organisation.
But the Board itself has had a stocktaking committee on its organisation within less than two years of its being formed. That committee have made certain recommendations, some of which are accepted and some of which are not. I would repeat here a point that has been made already, that surely the public of this country—and by "public" I mean their representatives in this House—should be allowed to know something of the evidence on which these conclusions were arrived at. I am not stressing this for the purposes of blame. The fact of the matter is that this great industry lost £23 million in its first year of working. Indeed, in the two years before they took over the industry lost another £27 million. That has been written off without anybody, so far as I know, paying for it at all. The Government paid for that. The point is that, with a loss of £23 million, which is a very substantial loss, surely the representatives of those who are in fact today the proprietors of this industry ought to be allowed some idea of what evidence was adduced to make this Committee come to certain conclusions.
The Nationalisation Act, the main Act referred to today, laid certain duties on the Coal Board, including the working and getting of coal—only then in the United Kingdom, and now this Bill suggests they may go outside it. Secondly, the securing of the efficient development of the coal mining industry. I think that before supporting a Bill to extend the area within which they can function, we are entitled to know how they are doing in the area which they have already got. The coal target last year was not attained. We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that target was the minimum that this country could afford to have. It is very doubtful whether the target for this year will be attained. The Minister himself, in a Debate at the beginning of this Session, said the results, compared with the hopes that they had enjoyed at the beginning of the year, were disappointing, and that so far as absenteeism was concerned, the figures were bad.
I should like to say a word about absenteeism. There are a lot of things said about absenteeism by people who do not understand the real figures. The figures of absenteeism as we are given them, are purely mathematical—the number of shifts a man can work, the number he does work, and the relationship between the two is the absentee figure. When we consider that as a result of the five-day week, absenteeism dropped something like 4 or 5 per cent., we find that most of that drop is due to the fact that the number of shifts the men could work were obviously less, and the relation between the two figures was consequently very much altered. That is an important point to remember. The right hon. Gentleman is a good deal more cautious, but his predecessor stood at that Box and pointed to the great drop in absenteeism as a result of the five-day week. That is purely a mathematical calculation which even I, on occasions, can work out.
The real point is this. There has been set up a committee of the Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers to look into the question of absenteeism. I suggest that there was no need for that committee at all, because every member sitting round the table knew the reason for the trouble. The whole of the miners in this country suffer because of the delinquencies of a few. In the minds of many the miners as a class are regarded as people not doing their job. As a matter of fact, during the war I do not think there was a section of society that did a better job than the miners. I remember giving figures in 1944 showing that 76 per cent. of the miners worked every shift in the week. They never missed one. Seventeen per cent. missed one, and they were not working five shifts then, but six days. And—this is the important figure—7 per cent. missed two or more.
When I went round the coalfields, when I was in the Ministry, I spoke to about 1,000 pit production committees. They all used to say to me, "You are talking to the converted when you are talking to us. The people you should try to get hold of consist of the small percentage. We cannot get hold of them, because they are absentees from our meetings as well as from their work." I suggest today that the number of people who are really upsetting things is a small percentage, and the effect of their absenteeism is much greater because they upset the cycle of operations. Those are the people who must be got at. When more exhortation is issued, it simply means that the better type of miner, who is in the vast majority, is ready to work harder than he ought. These small percentages are the ones that should be chased.
We cannot blame the Board for the difficulties which they are encountering. The Government must take a very good share of the responsibility for the troubles of the Board today. The Government had no plan beyond the change of ownership. That is all the plan they had. That is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. They had no blue prints. Those of us who served on the Committee upstairs do not need to be told that there were no blue prints. The Board were simply told by the Act of Parliament, "You are constituted by the Minister." That is about all the plan the Government had. It is no wonder that shortly after the Board were formed the deputy-chairman said, they had to start making honey, before they had built the hive. I do not intend disrespect to any member of the Board when I express the hope that the proportion of drones has not risen in relation to that of the workers. The figures I have seen show that the percentage increase in the administrative and non-industrial side of the Coal Board is very much greater than the increase in the percentage of men hewing coal.
I also have a certain sympathy with the Board on the situation they found in 1947. Stocks of coal were millions of tons below the minimum hitherto regarded as safe. We all know what happened. There was personal inconvenience and hardship, and very substantial national loss. Even by April, which is the end of the coal winter, we were still four million tons below the stocks hitherto regarded as the absolute bare minimum for the safety of the country. That was the time chosen to bring in the five-day week. This is a criticism of the Government. They make it themselves. The five-day week was brought in, and within a very short time the Government found the plan was not working and so they appealed for longer hours. Really, the Government criticised themselves.
Every man who has had anything to do with industry will agree that the five-day week is absolutely essential once mechanisation has been achieved, because of the maintenance which must be carried on. But in view of the Government's action a short time afterwards, could anybody say that that was the proper time to try this experiment? The Minister suggested that they had no alternative. I would point out that there was an agreement in existence signed by every leader of the National Union of Mineworkers pledging them to do nothing to alter conditions or wages until April, 1948. Therefore, there could have been no question of bad faith on the part of the Government. Every leader of every district in Britain signed that agreement in my presence. When we were discussing the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill upstairs, I asked the then Minister what would happen to that agreement as a result of the change of ownership. He said that he could not conceive that it would be altered in principle. I took it that the Government would stand by that. Therefore, there could be no question of bad faith.
The question is whether everyone in this House, for example, is satisfied with the way this organisation is working. Everywhere there is evidence of dissatisfaction with the National Coal Board. It is a vast unwieldy machine which, in many cases, is completely out of touch with the coalfields. To use a phrase men- tioned by the Parliamentary Secretary, "it is not very flexible." How often have I heard it said in this House, during coal Debates to which I have listened and in which I have taken part, that coal is got at the face and not in Whitehall? I can see hon. Gentlemen opposite who told me that time and time again.
What is happening now? The figures of the non-productive staff, the administrative and non-industrial staff of this industry have gone up in the last 12 months by 4,412, a percentage increase of 14 as opposed to about 4 per cent. for mine workers. I am afraid—and this is true of most of these great monopolies, national or otherwise—they remind me very much of the Army. Before the war it was laid down by the Staff that every battery or battalion must have so many people who could be effective in action against the enemy, but what happened when war was declared? An officer was taken away from the unit to try to cope with the mountains of paper—which was called something else in the Army and of which everyone who has served has had experience. Then another and still another officer was taken away until the only place from which the fighting unit could take replacements, was from the enemy, which would not prove very easy. Once we start on this process of passing instructions which take away from the efficiency of a fighting unit, and try to build up a gigantic organisation, we can only do it, in the case of coal, at the expense of the miner who is hewing the coal.
A great deal of work was done before either the Coal Board or this Government ever came into office. A lot of speeches have been made today which give the impression that the history of the coal industry began in 1945. After hearing some of the things that have been put to the credit of the Coal Board, I really feel that some hon. Gentlemen opposite really know far better than that. The Reid Report on the reorganisation of the industry, which is the blue print which this Government had not got when they introduced their Bill, was not the work of this Government, and may I say, in order that there should be no misunderstanding, that a very complete survey was made of the whole coal-producing areas of Great Britain at about the time of the Reid Report, or a little later. It was not only a geological survey, but it went into the questions of the productivity of pits, the long life of pits, the types of coal produced in them, the welfare of the miners, housing and everything concerned with the getting of coal. All this was contained in a very full report representing every mining area in Great Britain.
There is another thing which, quite frankly, I resented very deeply today. More than one speaker, including the hon. lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) gave the impression that nobody was interested in the welfare or safety of miners except hon. Members on that side of the House. I resent that very much, from my personal experience of the coal industry.
In wartime, it has always been feared that standards of safety might be lowered, because of the urgent need for getting coal, but, when I was Minister, there was a steady decline of deaths from accidents right to the end of the war. I may have been lucky; I do not know. I am simply saying that there was a steady decline in the number of fatal and other casualties in the mines of Britain to the end of the war. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock told us something that Stalin said in 1935, and I gather, from what she said, that Stalin said that, good as the efficient machine was it was not as valuable as the efficient man. I could not agree with her more, but I would like to ask her this question: Would the miners of Great Britain like to swop the safety regulations of Russia with those they have in Britain?
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman gives an irrelevant answer to a relevant question. I was pointing out that Russia had gone through great pains and had suffered great losses since the Revolution, and that we are lucky in this country, in spite of the loss of life, in the past, in that our safety regulations are being further improved to increase the efficiency of both machines and men.
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is even more irrelevant than she was when she started. She actually stated that Mr. Stalin said that men were more precious than machinery. I entirely agree with that. I am simply saying that, obviously, we in this country have a higher opinion of human life than Mr. Stalin has. Indeed, I doubt whether there is any country in the world, with one or two exceptions, which has better safety regulations, and a better record, than we in this country. I agree that there is a great deal still to be done, but do not let us make this a party issue. One cannot make the safety of men in the mines a party issue. It should not be forgotten that the men themselves are not altogether free from blame for accidents. On more than one occasion, I have had to prohibit something which was being done at the men's request. This is a two-sided matter.
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) mentioned pneumoconiosis. It was during my time that pneumoconiosis was made a disease for which compensation was payable. I set up the first clinic in this country for the purpose of looking into that disease. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where did the pressure come from?"] The fact is that I thought something ought to be done about it. The pressure came from the very fine staff in the Ministry who look after the men, and, of course, from the miners themselves. The idea that nothing was ever done before this Government came into power is something which I resent. I could mention a good many other things, such as dust suppression, for which hundreds of miles of pipes were laid in Wales during the war. Let us at least try to keep the party politics out of this particular issue.
We were told, on page 16 of the Burrows Committee Report, that the National Coal Board are responsible through the Minister and Parliament to the public for everything that happens in the industry. It is refreshing to know that, and that we may get some information from the Ministry. Before the House agrees to the extension of these powers, surely we ought to know what is happening. We have all accepted the Reid Report. What did that Report say? Briefly, it dealt with the grouping of pits, the closing down of uneconomic pits, the reconstruction of others, the sinking of new shafts, the development of underground transport, and of man-riding facilities, which is a very expensive and difficult item. Is the Minister satisfied with the progress made in that work of reconstruction and reorganisation? Is he satisfied with the priorities he is getting in men and materials for this important work, because no one disputes that there can be no higher priority today than the coal industry.
It is a little disconcerting to hear people say from time to time that such and such a thing ought to be done. I should have thought that there was a good deal that ought to have been done by now. For instance, have the districts sent in their schemes for reconstruction, or have they been set a target for what they ought to do? It is unfortunate that some people who would have been of great help to the industry left it because they did not think the existing organisation could do the job. Sir Charles Reid wrote a series of articles in "The Times" last week. One or two disturbing statements were made, and I should like to ask the Minister to state his views upon them. Sir Charles Reid said that large staffs were built up at headquarters without due regard to their necessity or their cost. That is a very serious statement. We know that the figures have gone up because they have already been published at staff headquarters in London. They have gone up by 444 in the first year.
Each department in London, he said, insisted on having its counterpart in the division, whether the division felt it necessary or not. Is that a statement which is entirely reckless and irrelevant? Divisional boards, he said, deprived of initiative and responsibility, were just a sorting office for the continual stream of instructions from London, and I can well believe it. All are agreed today that there is too much centralisation. There is nothing which destroys initiative and responsibility anything like as much, especially in an industry like mining where initiative and responsibility are so terribly important. Only by decentralisation can this industry be made a success. At the moment the men feel that they are in a vast overwhelming machine and they have lost all their individuality.
An hon. Member said today that when he was talking about miners he was talking as one of them, and he said that he could assure the House that all miners thought that the Coal Board had done a wonderful job. I must disagree with him about all miners. I know one at
least who does not think the Coal Board have done a wonderful job, and he wrote a letter to the Press yesterday. He said:
Production can only be solved at the pit level, which implies less direction from remote control at the top and more power vested in the heads of management and men. Let the practical workers be the determining factor, not the theorists.
It was a miner who put that letter in the paper yesterday and he signed his name.
I have heard before about remote control. I heard it tonight from the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Sylvester). It used to be the complaint that because certain pits were amalgamated, the personal contact of the men with the manager of the pit had been lost, and all one used to be told was, "That must be referred to the general manager." A tremendous number of disputes have occurred in the mining industry because of the delays in settling these things which in the old days could be settled by the manager on the spot. That was called remote control. What do they call the present organisation? It is a remote control of a kind for which we have not yet discovered a name, but it is about as remote as anything of which I can think.
Reference has been made to the management and the men. I had a cross-section made during the war—it was not a very big one, but still it was a crosssection—of the good pits for production and the bad ones, and it is an extraordinary fact that in most of the good pits the managers had no complaint to make about the men or of their attendance. On the whole, it was the bad pits from which the complaints came. There is no doubt at all that the man who wrote that letter is right when he says that more responsibility must be restored to the manager because he is the man who is in contact with the men every day.
If we give this Bill a Second Reading we shall be saying, in fact, that we are satisfied with the organisation and its functioning, that we are satisfied with how we get the coal, and that we think the number of staff can be increased and their functions extended. Surely, in view of the evidence that is available, no unbiased person could be other than dissatisfied with the organisation as it is today; and when I say "unbiased" I am not talking about bias in terms of nationalisation or non-nationalisation, but from the point of view of the organisation set up as the result of nationalisation. The best way we can show that dissatisfaction is by going into the Lobby in support of the Amendment.
Most of the speeches in the Debate have dealt not so much with the substance of the Bill as with the broader issues raised by the Amendment and that, I think, is not surprising in view, first, of the very clear and convincing case made out for the Bill by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and, secondly, because there is no doubt that it is more appropriate that the matters of detail dealt with in the various Clauses of the Bill should be considered in the Committee stage.
Let me hasten to add that I was a little alarmed by a reference, I think by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), to Clause 5, in which he seemed to imply that there might be a very lengthy discussion on the precise meaning in Scottish law of the word "lien." I hope that does not mean that we shall have in the Committee stage of this Bill a repetition of our experiences during the Committee stage of the Gas Bill.
If it all depends on me I am sure the answer will be quite clear, but I am afraid it depends more on the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken).
Nevertheless, I want to say one or two words about the Bill itself, in reply to certain questions which have been asked and certain comments which have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey) asked me a question about Clause 8. I think he was worried lest this Clause would in some way prevent men who had been injured, or were in other ways not wholly fit, from continuing to occupy light jobs on the surface which, in a sense, they had specially taken on. I can assure him it will not have any effect of that sort. Indeed, the power in Clause 8 which we seek to obtain for the Minister is already available under the Defence Regulations or, rather, the Supplies and Services Act. Since the Supplies and Services Act will not go on indefinitely, we feel it is appropriate that we should insert this power under the 1911 Act.
I want to say a word also about the impressive and most attractive speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). For my part, I was sorry that there was a certain hostility between the right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) and my hon. Friend. I did not feel that her remarks were in any sense of a partisan character. On the contrary, I thought she was giving credit particularly to the officials of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, under whatever Minister they may have served, and also to the Mines Inspectorate, and I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree with her that in recent years they have, in fact, done a magnificent job. I am sure they will be most encouraged by what my hon. Friend said and will continue with the same enthusiasm, indeed with greater enthusiasm, to do everything possible to improve the safety and health conditions in the pits.
For the rest, and reverting to the Bill itself, I am not clear in the least as to what attitude the Opposition are adopting towards Clause 1. I do not know from the various speeches that have been made whether or not they are in favour of this comparatively minor change in the composition of the National Coal Board, a change which empowers the Minister to appoint three additional part-time members. I do not want to press right hon. Gentlemen opposite for a decision tonight, but I hope they will be able to make up their minds on this comparatively simple issue.
Turning to Clause 2, I cannot believe that the Opposition are really anxious to deny to the National Coal Board the opportunity to carry on what are obviously essential activities in the interests of exporting coal. Spurred on by the anxieties of coal export firms, and anxious to protect their privileges they might, of course, be rather suspicious about this Clause, but I hope their suspicions will not lead them into violent opposition. There is no reason for such suspicions. It is obviously quite out of the question that the Coal Board should be in the position where they cannot even open an office in Paris for the sale of British coal in France. That happened to be the example given by my hon. Friend tonight.
As for Clause 3, and the changes in contracts, my hon. Friend made out a most convincing case about the onerous character of the contracts which the Board had had to take on. He made it perfectly clear—and I am not so sure that all my hon. Friends would be entirely sympathetic on this point—that those contracts could be abandoned only at the cost of compensation to be paid to the firm or agency concerned and settled by arbitration. I cannot myself see that there could be any objection to that Clause.
I should like to turn to the Amendment, and especially to the last part of it where the Bill is criticised for failing
to make provision for essential changes in its machinery and framework which the experience of the last two years has shown to be necessary.
The implication of this wording is perfectly clear. It is not merely that the National Coal Board organisation is wrong, but that it should be put right in this Bill; in other words, that some kind of new framework should be laid down by statute under which the Board should operate, and that Parliament and not the National Coal Board itself should make those changes. Otherwise there would be no purpose in criticising the Bill for failing to make provision for this new framework. I hope I am right in supposing that that is the Opposition's view—that they do not like the Bill because it does not go sufficiently far, if I may put it this way, in defining the framework within which the National Coal Board should operate.
I cannot, of course, speak for hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway; I speak for myself. I should have thought, as I said in my speech, that very substantial changes could be made by the National Coal Board itself and by the Minister under the present legislation. It is because that step has not been taken that I, at any rate, shall support the Amendment.
That may be an argument for opposing the Second Reading of the Bill, but it is not an argument for supporting the Amendment. I agree with the hon. Member: it is perfectly true that the National Coal Board could make a great many changes—indeed, any changes—except those affecting its own composition, which is laid down under the present legislation. I must ask the Opposition to face this issue. Unless they mean that these changes should be made by statute, there is no point in the Amendment at all, except to enable us to have, perhaps, a wider discussion than would have been possible otherwise on Second Reading of the Bill. If that is the case, I naturally make no objection, and I assume that the Amendment will be withdrawn in due course, having performed its function.
I do not propose to deal with the position of the industry at great length tonight. Some of my hon. Friends have handled that subject with great ability. I may remind the House that I did speak at some length on the position of the industry, as compared with what it might have been under private enterprise, during the Debate on the Address.
I should, however, like to reply to one or two points put by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) in his speech just now. He referred to absenteeism. Of course, I entirely agree with the point he was making, that absenteeism is not very easily judged by simply quoting percentage figures. Indeed, I have attempted to explain that myself to the House. However, it is only fair to point out that, if the decline in percentage absenteeism when the five-day week was introduced is not a fair criterion, neither is it fair for the period when extended hours were being worked, and the absenteeism percentage goes up because of the increase in the number of possible shifts. It is far better to take as the criterion the actual number of shifts worked. For my part I always endeavour to do that.
The Joint Production Committee, whose report the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to, was not concerned so much with the causes of absenteeism but with what was to be done about it. They put forward certain proposals not all of which were acceptable to every coalfield, and that particular section of the report is under further consideration. I agree that that is not a matter that can be dealt with simply by exhortation. I do not believe that exhortation by anyone is going to produce results. Although I have spent a part of my week-ends going round the coalfields, I did so, not so much as to exhort as to explain, and to explain as a background to certain specific measures recommended by the Joint Production Committee. Maybe those explanations did no good, but I am sure they did no harm, and so long as that is the case and they may have done some good, I think that it is wise of the Minister to carry on in that way.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also asked me whether I was satisfied with the progress of the reorganisation of the industry. I think that I can say that I am. I am sure that hon. Members opposite agree. The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde, during the passage of the 1946 Act, made it clear that it is bound to take some time to work out the capital development plan, first of all in the areas and divisions, and then to get our national plan as a whole. A great deal of progress has been made in this, although the plan is not yet absolutely complete; nor can I say, in all honesty, that I think that progress is greatly held up by any lack of priority. So far as steel is concerned, I do not think that the National Coal Board have any reason to grumble. It is the case that in time of full employment it is not possible to get as quick a delivery of electric motors, or mine tubs, etc., as it would be if there were large stocks in manufacturers' hands. Subject to that, I do not think it right that we should ride off any criticisms by saying that the Government have not given priority, or that we cannot afford as much steel. Naturally we have to be careful. Steel is very short but, in the main, I think that the industry is getting as much as it requires.
The main part of this Debate has, of course, been concerned with the structure and organisation under the National Coal Board, and it is towards this that I want now to turn my attention. Before beginning that subject, I should like to say a word about what should be the aim of good organisation. No doubt, at the moment, hon. Members on all sides of the House would be inclined to say, "Why, of course, maximum production; that must be the aim." At the moment, I concede that to a large extent that is the case, but even now costs cannot be ignored, and, taking the long view, it is not simply a matter of maximum produc- tion; it is production at minimum cost of the total quantity of coal required to meet home and export demands at prices which enable the Coal Board to pay its way.
That, I think, is a fair and probably acceptable statement of what the aims should be. I emphasise it because the organisation which would achieve maximum output at individual pits would not necessarily solve the economic problems involved in the criterion which I have mentioned. In other words, the National Coal Board have a task to decide where the coal is to be produced at less cost; where the development is to take place, and, as the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) said, this can, I think, be answered in terms of a national plan which relates investment and costs and prices to ensure expansion in the right direction, bearing in mind all the implications, social as well as economic. In addition to that, of course, organisation must secure the maximum economy from production by large-scale units, while avoiding the unquestionable dangers of large-scale enterprise.
On this side of the House we have never denied that there are disadvantages in large-scale production. Of course there are. It is easier with a one-man show. As soon as you move above that you have a problem of human relationships, a problem of delegation, a problem of settling who is to be what, and, of course, the problem becomes more complicated the larger the organisation. On the other hand, it is undeniable, and it is made perfectly clear in the Reid Report and I think shown by experience in this case, that larger units have great technical advantages. The way out I do not think is in dispute. It is the maximum delegation of responsibility, the pinning down of responsibility, so that it is not diffused in any way, and the maximum encouragement to local initiative. All this is common ground. We all agree that that is the aim we seek.
Finally, I am sure that an organisation should not be rigid or fixed for ever; it should be flexible, capable of being adjusted to suit the personalities who happen to be in control or in key positions at any moment, and to develop in accordance with circumstances. Those are the aims we should have in mind, and I think probably I carry the House with me so that they are generally acceptable.
The Debate centres round the organisation of the National Coal Board. May I begin by describing briefly what this organisation is? The National Coal Board, was, as has been pointed out, set up by the 1946 Act. I must at once say that it really is absurd to speak in this connection of "eminent and able men hampered by the misconceptions of the Government which provided their terms of reference." I cannot see why or how an Act of Parliament which simply sets up a National Coal Board and then tells those "eminent and able men"—so described by the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster)—to work out their own organisation, in any way hampers or restricts them. It may be, as some hon. Members opposite suggest, that the Government should have provided the plan——
The right hon. Member for Bournemouth seems to be sure about that. Let us pursue the possibility a moment or two. At that stage, as we know, even Sir Charles Reid was in favour of the present organisation. He has said so in his articles, and presumably at that stage the organisation would have been laid down rigidly, something that could not have been changed, so many divisions, so many area general managers, and so on. In that case we should have to amend the Act before any changes of any kind could be made. Could anything be more foolish?
Of course it is true that the original appointments to the National Coal Board—and I suspect this is what the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde had in mind—were understood to be functional in character. My predecessor made that clear during the Committee stage. But there was no legal obligation in connection with a particular function, and changes have been made since then as the National Coal Board have made plain. In fact, out of the nine members of the Board, only four now have specific functions, and those changes have been made without Ministerial approval or concurrence. Lord Hyndley did not come and say, "May we please do this? It is a change from what the Government intended originally." If he had done so, I should have agreed with him, but that is something which they were perfectly free to alter at any time.
Are we to understand, therefore, that the decision to appoint independent men to be chairmen of the divisional boards was one of the National Coal Board or of the Government?
Unquestionably one of the National Coal Board. I am coming to that question later. The Government had nothing whatever to do with it. Perhaps I might say, to clear the ground, that the Board is partly a functional Board. There are four members who have executive or departmental functions. It is a matter of argument as to how far that is right, but I say this to hon. Members opposite: that I would find it surprising if that National Coal Board could operate without having at least one member on it who was a specialist in labour relations, and available to deal at any moment with the full-time officers of the National Union of Mineworkers. I do not think there could be a satisfactory arrangement without at least one full-time person on that side. Four other members, however, are at present non-functional and we propose, under the Bill, to add certain part-time members.
There is the National Coal Board. At the other extreme, when they took over, there were simply the collieries and the previous companies under which they were organised. A decision was taken to group these collieries into 49 areas. I do not think anybody can deny that that decision was fully in accordance with the Reid Report. Nor do I think that, even now, Sir Charles Reid particularly objects to that organisation. It was, however, thought necessary to interpose between these 49 areas and the National Coal Board seven divisional boards. I want to emphasise that it was always the intention and idea of the National Coal Board that the areas—not the divisions—should be the truly executive operational units which employed the labour and mined and sold the coal. There is no doubt that as area management develops the divisional boards will become more and more merely co-ordinating and supervising bodies, handling certain questions which otherwise would have to come to national level.
I thought I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth say he thought that the divisional boards were unnecessary. That, of course, is the view of Sir Charles Reid and of the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), and I will come to that in a moment.
I am saying now that it is intended that the areas, and not the divisions, should be the operational units. The areas themselves were set up by the divisional boards. Nobody else could have set them up; at least, there would have been no great gain in setting them up from London. Somebody had to draw the boundaries and to decide what would be the best operational unit, and obviously the divisional board was the right body to do so. It is inevitable, therefore, to start with, that there should be what I might call rather more interference with the management in the areas than there will be eventually. All the time there is a movement in favour of and in the direction of more decentralisation down to the area level. There is no dispute about that. The National Coal Board is quite clear on this point and I can give an assurance that it will continue.
In striking contrast to this organisation are the proposals made by Sir Charles Reid and the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde. Although vague in certain respects, these proposals definitely involve the elimination of divisional boards and their replacement by three or four times as many area boards, each of which would have on the average approximately two areas under it. Finally, there are the proposals of the Burrows Committee which, while accepting the structure of the National Coal Board, considered that changes should be made to enable that organisation to work more effectively.
The Burrows Committee laid down certain principles, and as the statement by the National Coal Board makes clear, the committee were not satisfied that in every case their principles were being carried out adequately. Proposals were therefore made for getting better results while leaving the structure unchanged. Although what the Burrows Committee proposed and what the National Coal Board said in opposition, or in reply, to the committee is not, in my view, par- ticularly appropriate for discussion in Parliament because it involves matters of great details, I will, later on, say something on that subject.
Our main task this evening is to consider the question of structure which is thrown up into relief by these two alternatives: the present Coal Board structure and the proposals put forward by Sir Charles Reid and the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde. It is to those proposals I now turn. Certainly the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde shows no false modesty, if I may say so, in presenting his proposals. He claimed, when seeing the Press about his pamphlet, that if only the Government would adopt this plan, and presumably insert the necessary Clause into this Bill, we could save the industry and produce 230 million tons of deep-mined coal next year.
I must say that is a rather astonishing claim. One cannot help comparing it with the detailed estimates of what is practicable made by the Joint Production Committee set up by both sides of the industry. Hon. Members will be fairly familiar with them. They took a series of alternatives and indicated that under certain hypotheses, and given certain cooperation, it might be possible to produce about 214 million tons. I may add that the 15 per cent. increase implicit in the claim of the hon. and gallant Member is something which, as far as I know, has never been achieved in this industry from one year to another; so it is a very substantial claim. Sir Charles Reid was not quite so definite, but once again he gives the impression that he believes his plan will work in such a way as to solve all the problems of attendance and output at the face so as to produce a broadly similar output of about 230 million tons.
What is the magic formula, the miraculous scheme, which is to lead to these results? Partly, of course, it is changes in the National Coal Board itself, but the most important part is the changes in structure betwen the Coal Board and the pits which I have described. The proposal is to set up somewhere between 20 and 30 boards—originally it was 30, but I believe the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde has cut it down—who are intended to be independent "industrial concerns in their own right" as he described them. Sir Charles Reid was rather more cautious and said they should be in complete managerial control. I ask the House to note that the membership is to be chiefly from the management side in the old industry. Sir Charles Reid would like to see an almost completely part-time Board with, I believe, three whole-time Members. The hon. and gallant Member would have more full-time members.
It is our duty to examine the schemes impartially and objectively, even though some of us feel that there are political implications about them. The first question I wish to put is how independent are these area boards really to be? Are they going to own the assets in their own areas? That is the real criterion of independence. In the case of gas and of electricity the area boards own the assets. How far are they expected to pay their way? The hon. and gallant Member gives no guidance on that point, but Sir Charles Reid, in his letter to "The Times" next day, as an afterthought, thinks it would not be possible for them to pay their way. But this is the most crucial question of all when it comes to independence. If they are to pay their way, I must tell the House that that is only going to be possible by raising prices in some areas very substantially, or closing down pits ruthlessly—and incidentally, losing coal—and, indeed, eliminating some areas altogether.
If, on the other hand, they are not expected to pay their way, as Sir Charles Reid admits, how can we think that the National Coal Board, who are required by Parliament to pay their way, taking one year with another, should fail to exercise a considerable degree of control? How can we expect the National Coal Board on whom we place the obligation to meet all their costs, to allow these area boards to carry on as they like and say, "You can make either a loss or a profit?" That is an impossible situation. If, as I think we must admit, that they could not be expected to pay their way, what are to be their relations with the National Coal Board?
The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde admits that the Coal Board would have to be concerned with yearly budgets of area boards, whatever that means exactly, broad plans of large scale development, co-ordination of selling prices, certain aspects of wage negotiations and the initiation and supervision of research. They must inspire—the workers presumable—and disseminate information and must mobilise resources, whatever that may mean. Sir Charles Reid says that the National Coal Board must be concerned with overall finance, national wage policy, advice on scientific research, training, welfare, the settling of maximum salary scales, co-ordination of development plans, allocation of capital to each corporation, and so on. Incidentally, he also regards the National Coal Board as responsible for the day to day supervision of the corporations to see that policy is carried out. Even the poor National Coal Board, which is being attacked for over-centralisation, never suggested that they should supervise the area boards from day to day.
Neither the hon. and gallant Member nor Sir Charles Reid pays any attention to the number of other statutory functions which the Coal Board must carry out—administration of superannuation and redundancy schemes, licensing, problems of compensation in taking over from the former owners, allocation of coal supplies and export policy. I want to ask hon. Members opposite what precisely the National Coal Board are now doing which they suggest they should not do, because we have had no clear account of this matter.
I dare say that hon. Members will recall that Sir Charles Reid made a particular suggestion. He said that recruitment is something which should be taken away from the National Coal Board and carried out entirely in the divisions or in the areas. How many people are employed at the headquarters of the National Coal Board on recruitment? One person whole-time and one person part-time. That is the present situation. What is the value of a suggestion of that kind?
In fairness to Sir Charles Reid, who is not here to answer for himself, I suggest that it is not quite correct for the Minister to suggest that he made no suggestion and no definition of the functions to be taken from the central board and passed on to the local corporations. His articles were explanation of the transfer he had in mind.
I am very familiar with Sir Charles' arguments. I have studied them carefully. I have taken one of his suggestions. Another is that research should be supervised from the centre but not managed from the centre. What conceivable gain could there be from that? There is everything to be said for centralised research. Take training. A great deal of the work must be carried out in the divisions. It always was. But there are certain central schools—the mechanisation school at Sheffield for example—which must be supervised by the National Coal Board. As for welfare, which was also referred to by Sir Charles Reid, at present the whole processes and arrangements for welfare are being decentralised far more than they were under the old regime, which, under the Miners' Welfare Commission was a very centralised affair indeed.
The crucial point is that if, under these proposals, the National Coal Board has no fewer functions than today, the coordination of from 20 to 30 area boards would involve more, not less, staff at headquarters. The fact is that questions now handled at divisional level, such as questions of labour and supplies, would all have to go to national level. There is no gain whatever in that.
It has never been made clear in these proposals what happens exactly to the present areas. Are the area general managers to continue or not? I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) says they are. Very well, all that is to continue. These proposals then, simply mean putting on top of the area general managers, in far closer control than the divisional boards, a new board. That would be simply substituting shall we say 25 boards for seven, and giving them a much closer control. Or, if the existing areas are not to continue, but are to be merged under the proposed area boards, I say without hesitation that the new areas then created would be far too large for effective administration. I cannot really see how an increase in the size of a business unit—because that is what it amounts to—could possibly lead to quicker decisions by the management. What the area general manager decides at present himself with the advice of his officers would have to go to the chairman or even the Board in every case and there would simply be more delay. Both Sir Charles Reid and the hon. and gallant Member rely a good deal on the character of these new boards. Part of their criticism is against the present divisional boards.
What does the hon. and gallant Member say?:
Members would be drawn from a wide range of experience and not for the most part full-time. Above all, area chairmen should come from the industry and be selected on grounds of administrative ability and knowledge in this industry.
Sir Charles Reid's account of the matter is slightly different. But there are two characteristics. They both attack the present chairmen of the divisional boards and neither of them would provide for labour directors to take any part as full-time members of these boards.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? He keeps using the words "labour directors" and referring to people who had experience in dealing with labour. Could he elaborate the qualifications considered desirable?
I am simply quoting from the plans put forward. It means presumably people who have trade union experience. All the labour directors in the divisional boards have in fact, had experience in union affairs.
The right hon. Gentleman' the. Member for Bournemouth made great play with his attack on generals and admirals. I cannot believe that he thinks that General Sir Noel Holmes, who throughout the war was Director of Movements at the War Office, and responsible for the movement of troops and supplies in every theatre of war is not of great administrative ability. Does he really think that? If so, I suggest he asks his right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). Would the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth like to say anything?
No doubt with his experience at the Admiralty, the right hon. Gentleman would prefer admirals. For my part I can only say that I completely disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Few men have more experience of large scale administration than men who have been at the top in the Army, and few men have more experience of leadership. I am surprised that this attack should be made.
I am afraid that I do not agree. As for the other divisional chairmen, if I had the time I would take each one in turn. Some of them were appointed by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) as Regional Controllers of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and one of them was the Controller-General of the Ministry. Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman take the view that they should not have been given these jobs?
Who is it who is to be put in charge of these area boards in place of the men brought in from outside and who were brought in largely because of the bad state of relations in the industry? The old mine owners: the men with experience and ability in the industry. That is what these proposals mean—bring the mine owners back and put them in charge——
As for the labour directors, the National Coal Board deliberately chose to put on these divisional boards some men who, at any rate, came from the union side in order to give confidence to the miners that men familiar with their problems would be on the divisional boards. That is a point of view that can be argued about, but if I were in the position of hon. Members opposite I should be very cautious before I threw overboard a principle which I myself believe has done enormous good in the divisions. As for the rest of the divisional boards they are, as a matter of fact, almost entirely drawn from the industry at the moment, so I cannot see that there can be any possible objection to them.
The hon. and gallant Member for Fylde is extremely vague in his proposals regarding the National Board; Sir Charles Reid is much more precise. He wants people who are men of proved leadership and experience in large scale industrial and commercial enterprise together with men skilled in labour problems. Certainly, there is something to be said for men of proved leadership and experience in large scale industrial and commercial enterprise. But they are not very easy to find. If one looks at the Coal Board, certainly the Chairman would qualify. So also would Mr. Gridley who was the Chairman of the European Coal Organisation.
I cannot see myself that there is much value to be obtained by making general statements of this kind saying the type of man that is wanted. Of course, this afternoon the Opposition have repeatedly said that they did not want to attack the National Coal Board, and that they have nothing to criticise about the individual members of the Board. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman calmly went on to say that of course they are only capable of looking after a museum.
The right hon. Gentleman must not misunderstand me. I was complaining that the Government showed such little care in making these choices. I said that the most important industry in this country, in many ways, was mining and the Government appointed these people as if they were appointing trustees to the British Museum. I was blaming the Government.
I think that the record will be perfectly clear. The trouble is that the right hon. Gentleman does not realise that other people outside this House do not understand him. We know him. We realise that this is all part of the game, that this is fun. We are used to being called names by him; but people outside do not understand. He really ought to be more careful in what he says.
I pass rapidly to the Coal Board's statement on the Burrows Committee. This is in my view quite a different document. It makes a number of propositions for improving the present organisation. I do not think that most of them can usefully be discussed here. One of them, however, does affect this House and the Minister particularly—the proposal that the divisional chairmen should be members of the National Coal Board. I want to say that on that subject I have no very strong views, that it is possible that something of that kind would be an improvement but that, on the other hand, there are great difficulties about it, as the Board point out. On balance when one is faced with a proposal which has a lot of points in favour and a lot of points against, and when the National Coal Board say, "No, we do not believe that this is a good suggestion," I take the view that it would be wrong for the Minister and the House to impose it upon them. That is why we do not propose in this Bill to make any provision of that kind.
Finally, I wish to say a few words on organisation. The first consideration is that there must be flexibility. The type of organisation that is necessary at one time may be quite inappropriate at another as conditions change, coal shortages are overcome, equipment is no longer in short supply, capital development plans have been laid down and divisions and areas become financially profitable. Obviously, changes in the organisation may be appropriate then. Secondly, I want to say that organisation depends, and must depend to a large extent, on personalities. It is a great mistake to lay down a rigid scheme which cannot be fitted in with different persons.
Let us remember this: organisation is not everything. Most of the problems of this industry transcend those of structure. Indeed, the problems are laid down much more clearly in the joint production committee's report than they are anywhere else. What we now want is that the energies of everybody, of the Board, of the union, of the lodge officials, of the colliery managers—and I was glad to hear many of the things said about them—and of the under-officials must be concentrated on carrying out that report. The
|Division No. 19.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||McAdam, W|
|Albu, A. H.||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||McEntee, V. La T|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon A. V||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||McGhee, H. G|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Mack, J. D|
|Alpass, J. H.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Ewart, R.||McLeavy, F|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R||Farthing, W J.||MacPherson, M. (Stirling)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Fernyhough, E||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Field, Capt. W J.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Fletcher, E G M (Islington, E.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Bacon, Miss A||Follick, M.||Mallalieu, J P W. (Huddersfield)|
|Baird, J.||Foot, M M.||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Balfour, A||Freeman, J. (Watford)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Barstow, P G||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Barton, C.||Gallacher, W.||Marquand, H. A.|
|Battley, J. R.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S||Mellish, R. J.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Messer, F.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon F. J||Gibson, C W.||Middleton, Mrs. L.|
|Benson, G.||Granville, E. (Eye)||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R|
|Berry, H.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Mitchison, G R|
|Binns, J||Grey, C. F.||Monslow, W.|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Moody, A. S.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Morgan, Dr H B|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Guy, W H.||Morley, R|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl Exch'ge)||Haire, John E (Wycombe)||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Hale, Leslie||Morris, P (Swansea, W)|
|Bramall, E. A.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Mort, D. L|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Hannan, W (Maryhill)||Moyle, A.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hardy, E. A||Murray, J. D.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Harrison, J.||Nally, W.|
|Burden, T. W.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Neal, H (Claycross)|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford. N.)|
|Byers, Frank||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Callaghan, James||Hewitson, Capt M||Noel-Baker, Capt F E. (Brentford)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hobson, C R||Oldfield, W H|
|Chamberlain, R. A||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Oliver, G. H|
|Champion., A. J.||Horabin, T. L.||Orbach, M|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Hoy, J.||Paget, R. T.|
|Cobb, F. A||Hudson, J H. (Ealing W)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Cocks, F. S||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Pargiter, G A|
|Coldrick, W.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Parker, J|
|Collick, P.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Collindridge, F||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Paton, Mrs. F (Rushcliffe)|
|Collins, V. J.||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Paton, J (Norwich)|
|Colman, Miss G, M.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G A||Pearson, A|
|Corbet, Mrs. F K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Janner, B||Peart, T. F|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Jeger, G (Winchester)||Perrins, W|
|Crossman, R H S||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Platts-Mills, J F. F|
|Daggar, G.||Jenkins, R. H||Popplewell, E|
|Daines, P||Johnston, Douglas||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W)||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Keenan, W||Pursey, Comdr H|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Kenyon, C||Randall, H. E.|
|Deer, G.||Kinley, J.||Ranger, J|
|Delargy, H. J||Kirby, B V||Reeves, J.|
|Diamond, J||Lang, G.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Dobbie, W.||Lavers, S||Rhodes, H|
|Dodds, N N||Lee, F (Hulme)||Richards, R|
|Donovan, T||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Leslie, J R.||Robens, A.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Levy, B. W||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Dye, S.||Lindgren, G. S.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Lipson D. L||Rogers, G. H. R.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Lipton, Lt-Col. M||Royle, C.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Longden, F,||Sargood, R.|
|Segal, Dr. S.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Shackleton, E. A. A.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.|
|Sharp, Granville||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Wigg, George|
|Shawcross, C. N. (widenes)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Thurtle, Ernest||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Shurmer, P.||Tiffany, S.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Silver man, J. (Erdington)||Titterington, M. F||Williams, R W (Wigan)|
|Simmons, C. J.||Tolley, L.||Williams, W R (Heston)|
|Skeffington, A. M||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G||Willis, E.|
|Skinnard, F. W.||Turner-Samuels, M.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Smith, C. (Colchester)||Ungoed-Thomas, L.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A|
|Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Vernon, Maj. W. F||Woods, G. S|
|Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Viant, S. P.||Wyatt, W.|
|Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)||Wadsworth, G.||Yates, V. F.|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E)||Walker, G. H.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Stross, Dr. B.||Wallace, H. W (Walthamstow, E.)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Stubbs, A. E.||Watson, W M.||Zilliacus, K|
|Swingler, S.||Weitzman, D.|
|Sylvester, G. O.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Symonds, A. L.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)||Mr. Snow and|
|Mr. George Wallace.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Neven-Spence, Sir B|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Nicholson, G.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P|
|Birch, Nigel||Head, Brig. A. H.||Nutting, Anthony|
|Bower, N.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Odey, G. W.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Hope, Lord J.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Howard, Hon. A.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N J||Pickthorn, K.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hurd, A.||Pitman, I, J.|
|Butcher, H. W||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Carson, E.||Keeling, E. H.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Channon, H.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Conant, Maj. R J. E||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Langford-Holt, J.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Linstead, H. N.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Dela Bère, R.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S)|
|Digby, S. W.||Low, A. R. W.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Thomas, J. P. L (Hereford)|
|Dower, Col. A V. G. (Penrith)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Dower, E. L, G. (Caithness)||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Drayson, G. B.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Touche, G. C.|
|Drewe, C.||MoCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S||Turton, R. H.|
|Duncan, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (City of Lond.)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie|
|Erroll, F. J.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Fox, Sir G.||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Marsden, Capt. A.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Gage, C.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Medlicott, Brigadier F.|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Mellor, Sir J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|George, Mai. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Molson, A, H E.||Commander Agnew and|
|Gridley, Sir A.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Mr. Studholme.|
|Grimston. R, V||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)|
Question put, and agreed to.