Coal Shortage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st February 1951.

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Photo of Mr Roderic Bowen Mr Roderic Bowen , Cardiganshire 12:00 am, 1st February 1951

I agree with those observations, but I would respectfully point out that they tend to strengthen my point. What would be the position now if a greater effort had been made to produce the wages agreement in October? The fact remains that no wages agreement was concluded in October.

Another feature of the agreement is increased Saturday working. I join with the Minister in paying tribute to the miners for their great effort in that respect, but again the question arises whether the increased Saturday working could not have been brought about two or three months earlier. Take the supplementary pension schemes. If there had been an agreement or an announcement on that subject some months ago, might it not be reflected in an easier situation now, and particularly in the winter months which still lie ahead of us?

The Minister said that he felt fully justified in regard to what he said in September, that is to say, that we had no reason in September to expect that we would be in difficulties similar to those which we experienced in 1947. Whether he can be blamed or not for failure to anticipate those difficulties, one thing is quite clear. It is that the view which he and his Ministry took of the minimum stocks required for safety purposes was quite wrong. Whether he should be blamed is quite a different question. At that time, quite clearly we did not have sufficient stocks to provide a margin of safety, and I should have thought, with great respect to the Minister, that it would have been far better if he had made that perfectly clear.

There is not a shadow of doubt that there was a miscalculation. Whether it was something for which anybody can be blamed is a question with which I shall deal in a moment, but there was a miscalculation of the needs of the situation. It is true that up to the end of September production had shown, not a very high increase, but some increase compared with comparable months last year, and it might be said that up to September there was nothing to cause undue apprehension.

At the same time, during the summer months, we should have built up far greater stocks than we did, unless we were prepared to take a gamble on the weather. Increased domestic consumption is not a new feature. It may be that the increase has been more rapid than was anticipated, but bad weather and the increase in domestic and industrial consumption are all matters—particularly after the fuel crisis of 1947—which should have been very much in the mind of the Minister in deciding the safety level to build up to during the summer months.

By the end of September it was obvious that we were likely to be in great difficulty. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his speech on 12th December, indicated that the Ministry had realised by the end of September that they might well be in great difficulties. I respectfully suggest that those indications were present long before that, and that they were taking, to say the least of it, a very substantial chance that the weather would not be severe and on domestic and industrial consumption being kept down. The Parliamentary Secretary agreed that as from September it was clear that there was a real danger of another fuel crisis. What I feel unhappy about is whether during those months from October to December everything was done to avoid our present difficulties.

I feel that there should have been a greater sense of urgency. The country should have been warned of the dangers, and we should have got the response we are now getting at least a month, and probably two months, earlier. In the 1947 fuel crisis, once the miners realised the seriousness of the situation at the end of January there was a magnificent response. Their response during the last fortnight has been most praiseworthy, and I believe a legitimate point to put to the Minister is: Could not the wages agreement have been brought about two or three months earlier? Could not there have been an agreement on a supplementary pensions scheme months earlier?