I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the last Annual Reports and Accounts of the nationalised Fuel and Power Industries.
The field of possible debate and discussion before the House today in reviewing the Reports and Accounts of these industries is vast in the extreme. I think it necessary for us all, and most necessary for me in initiating the debate, to practise the very rigid exclusion of a large number of subjects with which I should like to deal and to confine myself to a definite theme which surveys the largest possible area of the subject in a comprehensive way.
As the House knows, at the present time the country is engaged on the one hand upon the complete re-organisation and re-equipment of the mining industry, and, on the other, on great changes in the use and utilisation of fuel. These two processes can be thought of from a practical point of view as a combined national operation, and my purpose this afternoon is to give to the House a progress report upon them.
Before the Minister proceeds, may I ask whether he has information affecting the coal-mining industry later than 31st December, 1952, and if so, would he circulate it to hon. Members? We are starting this debate under the disadvantage that the last Annual Report that we have for the coal industry is up to December, 1952, and the other two Reports up to March, 1953, which is an intolerable position for hon. Members.
I appreciate the difficulty of the hon. Lady and I shall endeavour to assist by giving a little more up-to-date information.
The position and prospects this year were bound to be difficult in the coalmining industry because of the miners taking their second week's holiday for the first time. No one is likely to grudge them that. After all, other industries have it and from the very nature of the work it is particularly necessary. We must remember that miners to a very large extent do regular Saturday work. Nevertheless, when account is taken of the possible effect of the second week's holiday and the Coronation, it represents, so to speak, a loss of actual output of about 5½ million tons.
In the first few months of the year, production in the mines was disappointing and nowhere was this felt more than in the mining industry. For that reason the joint campaign between the National Coal Board and the miners' leaders took place. Thereafter there was a very considerable improvement in the rate of production as compared with the year before. In the summer, for example, a million more tons of coal was got on Saturdays this year compared with last year, and in the five-day week—which is particularly important when judging the true performance of the industry—nearly 2 million tons more was got in the summer months of this year than in the summer months of last year.
If we add it up, we reach the position that at present, out of 5½ million tons loss of output, 3½ million tons has already been made up. That is a very considerable achievement. We must face the fact that there is still a gap of 2 million tons which has to be made up, but we still have the two months to go which are normally the biggest producing months in the year in the mining industry.
It is not my purpose to give exhortations to the industry or the miners. They know that the country needs coal. They know there is a rising trend in industrial consumption and that we can use much more for export. I do not propose to nag at the industry, or the miners. I trust them—and I am sure the House will do the same—to do their very best, in the light of what is possible, for the country.
I would say a word about the stock position. Every year since the war the country has cast an anxious eye at the stock position with which it has had to start the winter, and I am glad to be able to give the House reassuring news. This year, owing to the second week's holiday, the stock build towards 1st November, the beginning of the coal winter, was bound to be lower than a year ago, and therefore the Ministry and the National Coal Board made their plans upon that basis. I am glad to say that these plans have worked very well.
Recently stocks have been rising exceptionally fast. That, of course, has been helped by the weather, and also by the import plans announced earlier on. The latest figure, on 17th October, was just under 18·4 million tons. We have still two weeks to go before the beginning of the coal winter, and on the average stocks have risen by between 300,000 and 350,000 tons a week in recent weeks. The House will see, therefore, that we have a very good prospect of arriving at either just under or just over 19 million tons by the beginning of the coal winter. That is—apart from last year—more than two million tons higher, than the country has had as stock with which to face the winter in any post-war year. House coal stocks should be just under two million tons. We can say that by post-war standards the-country will face the coming winter with good stocks.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, importation was decided upon simply because of the special problem of the scarcity of large coal, with which I shall deal later. We are importing about 600,000 tons.
However we look at the situation, the margins are too narrow. The situation will have to be carefully watched throughout the winter. We shall never get away from these anxieties, we shall never have enough coal for export, until much more progress has been made with the fundamental re-organisation and re-equipment of industry. I turn my attention to that subject.
It goes without saying that, like previous Governments, the Government are doing everything possible to help the industry in this problem with priorities for materials and finance. It is well known that the limitation has not been the amount of finance for capital equipment that the Government have been ready to allow the industry, because in effect for several years there has been almost no limitation. The limitation has been the capacity and the speed of the industry effectively to engage in capital development itself.
It is also well known that the fundamental limitation has been the shortage of technical men, especially the shortage of mining engineers trained in planning development work. The Board have been making strenuous efforts to overcome this difficulty. I am glad to say that they have been making a lot of headway by using a variety of methods. First, they have been getting a stream of new entrants among the mining engineers from their own training schemes, which have been fairly comprehensive. Secondly, they have been bringing in mechanical and electrical engineers from other industries, and also they have been employing a number of outside contracting firms to take charge completely, with all their own technical consultants, especially of surface works in collieries. Also, they have recruited a certain number of foreign mining engineers who have the very highest technical qualifications.
With all this they have been able to make notable progress in the speed with which they have been able to carry on the capital development of the industry. What I am about to say relates to the real nub of the problem, which is actual investment in collieries themselves and not in any of the outlying industries connected with coal. In the Plan for Coal, investment in collieries was to average £38 million over the five years from 1951 to 1955. That was at 1949 prices, and to get a proper basis of comparison we must revalue the figures to take account of the increased price of this investment since then. Therefore, this figure becomes £53 million.
In 1951, against that figure of £53 million, the actual expenditure on colliery investment was only £27 million, which gives an arithmetical deficit of £26 million. In terms of the real investment itself, probably that deficit at present-day prices is between £20 million and £25 million. In 1952 the Board were able to increase the rate of investment by £10 million over the year before, bringing it up to £38 million. This year the rate of investment has been increased by another £10 million, bringing it up to about £48 million. I am informed that next year it will almost certainly go up by another £10 million to reach a figure of £58 million which, for the first time, will carry the actual investment in collieries above the figure in the Plan for Coal.
The House will be pleased to know of this progress. Whether it was that they were encouraged by this considerable progress in the technical and financial sphere, or whether for other reasons, the Board have been encouraged to make some forward moves in the field of organisation, of which they have informed me and of which I should like to tell the House. Everybody who has studied the subject will agree that there are two important objects always to be secured, if possible, in the organisation of the industry. The first is that the colliery manager should have the maximum responsibility in the day-to-day management of his pit. The second is that the area is really the proper unit of higher management in the industry.
I know that Sir Hubert Houldsworth has always believed in these principles When he became Chairman of the Board he preferred, I think wisely, to proceed by a process of evolution and to test the ground carefully in the various coalfields before taking action. Now, however, he has informed me that the Board have issued instructions making it clear throughout the whole organisation that the area is regarded as the vital unit of higher management, and that the area general manager is in effective charge of his area, subject of course to necessary co-ordination and full accountability to the divisional board.
Sir Hubert has also told me that the Board intend to carry out an examination of their whole organisation and, in particular, to make sure that it is well adapted in the light of the Board's instructions to which I have referred. It is also the intention of the Board in this work to seek advice and help from those who have experience in other large industrial enterprises and. of course, from the T.U.C.
I turn to the other side of our national fuel problem—the question of the use of coal. I direct attention first to the enormous figure of 100 million tons which every year is consumed by the public utilities largely for conversion into other forms of fuel and power. I deal first with electricity. The electricity industry for many years has shown a remarkable and praiseworthy ability to put themselves into the position where their industry can make effective use of the kind of coals that other people did not want. In doing so they have been doing something which is very good for their industry, but it is equally—indeed, almost more—useful from the point of view of the nation as a whole. It is most fortunate and important today in its relation to the problem of large and small coal, which I shall refer to later, because the electricity industry primarily uses the smallest types of coal.
Every year the British Electricity Authority are improving the thermal efficiency of the generation of electricity. This is primarily done by the new power stations that are being built every year. For the last two years we have been fortunate in the large number of new power stations that have come into operation. There has been the happy effect that power cuts have been notably diminished, largely for that reason. Again this year the margin between the generating capacity of the electrical system and the maximum demands in the winter is a more happy one than it has been in any previous post-war year. In doing this, the British Electricity Authority are saving one million tons of coal a year, which is a very important figure, and something which we ought to bear in mind very much when we are considering the question of capital investment in this industry.
Because it is very relevant to our problem, I ought just to remind the House of the new nuclear establishment at Calder Hall in Cumberland and also the new breeder reactor which was mentioned in January by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply. It appears that we shall get useful quantities of electricity from these two establishments. I am advised that, although it is not possible to be very exact about the figure at present, around 50,000 kW will be generated as the result of these nuclear activities. Much more important than that is that they will provide the data on which future atomic generating stations will be based.
It is too early yet to say what real contribution we shall get from atomic power stations or when they will begin to make a significant contribution to the solution of our problems, but one can say that there is no reason why they should not before long make a useful addition, at any rate, to our power resources and also, therefore, make a useful contribution in reducing the amount of additional coal which will be required for the power stations as the industrial progress of the country proceeds.
It would be premature to say that, but the British Electricity Authority are in close touch, through my Department and the Ministry of Supply, with the work which is going on in connection with these power stations.
What I have said about electricity is true in a different way about the gas industry. The thermal efficiency of new gas works is increasing all the time, and although its coal consumption is on a smaller scale, the industry nevertheless saved between 300,000 and 400,000 tons of coal last year. The coal industry, although its consumption is smaller still—it uses some 10 million tons of coal a year for its steam generation and so on at collieries—has also been making considerable savings in proportion to its consumption. It is interesting for us to observe when we are considering this great block of 100 million tons of coal consumed in the country every year how much continual savings by the great industries can amount to in a comparatively short time, because, compared with three years ago, these three industries are saving between 4½ and 5 million tons of coal a year.
I now turn to what I think is the next in order of logical consideration—the big industrial users. In this connection I am thinking primarily of the steel industry, cement, the sugar refineries, the breweries and other big industrial users to whom the cost of coal is a big item and a big proportion of the total cost of production. There are some magnificent fuel-efficient plants in this country; I believe there are no finer in the world. Broadly speaking, this block of industries is accounting for the use of some 25 million tons of coal a year. On the whole, progress is going on satisfactorily.
Once we leave this field we get into far more difficult country. When we get into miscellaneous industry, a great deal of work is being done and a great deal of progress is being made which it is much harder to make and also much harder to measure. The basic difficulty here is that in so many of our industries the cost of the coal which they use is a relatively small proportion of the total cost of the article which they are producing and, therefore, the need to economise in the use of coal is not nearly so important to the individual firm as the aggregate of their savings is to the nation
We are Crying to tackle the problem in this difficult field by three main methods. The first is the loan scheme. The House will remember that last year we introduced a scheme of loans from the Exchequer to industrialists for approved fuel-saving schemes. This year the Chancellor has notably improved the terms of the loan. For example, the first two years are to be interest-free, and the repayment is to be spread over the period which would be taken up by the writing off of the equipment for tax purposes, with a maximum of 20 years. Incidentally, I might mention that the type of equipment which may come under the loan scheme has been much widened. The early scheme applied simply to a certain number of approved items, whereas the present scheme applies to all additional items to existing equipment which will save a substantial amount of fuel. Industrialists will agree that that is a very considerable improvement.
Secondly, following the recommendation of the Ridley Committee, we have arranged for a non-profit making company to take up the work of fuel efficiency. The real reason for this is that everybody who has been into the subject carefully realises that in this rather difficult field it is essential to get maximum co-operation from trade associations and individual industrialists. I am glad to say that the British Productivity Council have agreed to sponsor the company, that the company is being formed with a strong board, and that the British Productivity Council is announcing the names of the members of the board today.
I now come to the third method that we have been using. There has never been in this country, curious as it may seem, a really systematic investigation into the generation and usage of steam by industry. With the co-operation of industrialists, we have been carrying out such a survey. Therefore, for the first time there will be available systematic knowledge of the usage of steam in industry and also a proper knowledge of the potentialities of power generation by back-pressure methods of high efficiency in industry. I ought to tell the House that one of the first points to come out of this survey is that one-fifth of the industrial boilers in use at the present time are more than 40 years old. I am informed that were it possible to substitute new, modern and efficient equipment for those boilers, there would be a saving of two million tons of coal a year.
I believe that this information and other information which comes out of the survey will be of particular use to the new fuel efficiency company, and we very much hope that the fuel efficiency company and the Exchequer loan scheme will work together fruitfully in increasing fuel efficiency over the general body of miscellaneous industry. Before that can be achieved, we need very much the cooperation of industrialists themselves and their trade associations.
I ask the House to give attention for a moment to a field of very special difficulty, that of the railways and domestic consumption. I link them together because they are both users of large coal. Between them, they use 45 million tons a year, which is three-quarters of the total amount of large coal used in the country. Here we face, not just the straightforward question of overall fuel efficiency which we have been discussing, but the special scarcity of large coal. The House is familiar with the problem. Partly as a result of mechanisation in the mines and the working of thinner seams, there is a continually falling proportion of large coal and a continually rising proportion of the smaller types of coal in the total output produced now. The House may be interested to have the figures in their stark quantitative, although simple, form. Over the last four years saleable output, apart from anthracite, in British mines has risen by 17 million tons, and within that total treated and untreated small coal has gone up by about 12 million tons, while the amount of large coal has actually gone down by 1½ million tons.
One line of progress in dealing with this problem in the domestic field is the improved grate, because, first of all, it can burn the smaller types of coal, and secondly, it is particularly adapted to burn smokeless fuel. Here, the Coal Utilisation Council are doing fine work, and I am glad to say that their effort is mounting all the time. I do not know whether any hon. Members have had a chance to visit the excellent demonstration rooms which they are establishing in all the larger cities. I should also tell the House that the Government have introduced many of the higher standards recommended by the Ridley Committee, and a great many of these grates are now coming into production. The National Coal Board have doubled the production of "Phurnacite" smokeless fuel, which is a substitute for large coal, as well as being smokeless. The production is now 300,000 tons, and they intend to double it again.
Coke is also very useful as a substitute for large coal, and it has the advantage of being a smokeless fuel. I am glad to say that the coke situation is sufficiently good to allow me to increase the winter ration this year from 30 cwt. to 2 tons.
I should also like to say that there is a very considerable increase in the amount of fuel oil being used for central heating. This has a considerable advantage, because the commercial and industrial consumers of coke now going over to oil for central heating were large consumers of coke, and, in so far as they turn over to oil, they free coke, which again is a substitute for large coal and a smokeless fuel.
This is proceeding on a considerable scale, and it is the fact that oil consumption for this purpose of heating and in industry is increasing at the rate of 1 million tons of coal equivalent every year at the present time, and, therefore, we are saving that amount of coal. It should go a good deal further, when the many oil refineries now being built come into operation.
The Minister of Transport and the railways are helping the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the National Coal Board and the country very much. They have agreed to take a considerably increased quantity of briquettes, which from one point of view, are the ideal solution of this problem, because in their production we are actually turning the very smallest coal into a substitute for large coal. The railways are taking an extra 600,000 tons of briquettes, and, therefore, all the briquette works are running at a full rate of production. The railways are also taking a considerably increased quantity of the smaller types of coal in various forms, and, as a result, we are now saving about 1½ million tons of large coal a year. Of course, the House will see that considerable progress is being made in all these fields, but it is very definitely in the field of large and small coal that we have to watch the position very carefully, with a view to making further progress.
I will sum up by saying that I have surveyed what I call this combined operation to produce and save coal in this country, which is vital for our economic health. I have mentioned two important developments for the long-term future of the coal-mining industry, on the one hand, and tried to provide hon. Members with a kind of general synopsis or map of the main fields of coal usage on the other. I have tried to show how the work of fuel efficiency is proceeding in the two main fields in order to assist hon. Members in their consideration of the problem.
I can only conclude by saying that, in any time of chronic shortage of a basic commodity like coal, the Government must have the responsibility, which all the war-time and post-war Governments assumed, to do what they can to help the situation in various ways, and that we are doing. In this particular field, although the fundamental responsibility is that of the Government, there is a statutory responsibility on the Minister, and it is much facilitated, so far as co-operation in the fuel and power industries is concerned, by the statutory Boards set up under the Nationalisation Acts affecting those industries, and also by the full and ready co-operation of the oil companies.
It would not be my purpose to give the House a detailed account of what has become a very formidable machinery of cooperation and co-ordination between all these fuel and power industries—quite apart from the Ministers' Co-ordinating Committee which, as I announced last year, I was setting up as a result of the Ridley Report, and the meetings which I frequently have with the chairmen of the nationalised fuel and power industries. In these matters, we have to look at the problem from different points of view and consider what is going on in any particular area of the country.
I myself have been interested lately—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will be interested, too—in the work that is going on in co-operation between the boards, and particularly between the Wales Gas Board and other fuel and power industries in Wales. In this case, what we have achieved is not the vague aspirations expressed in the House of Commons, but actual concrete work now proceeding in this particular part of the country, although similar co-operation is going on elsewhere.
In South Wales at present, there are two gas grids, which represent a considerable degree of progress over the old independent gas works. The Eastern grid takes a large quantity of its gas from the National Coal Board's coke ovens, and the Western grid also takes a large quantity of its gas from the Margam Steelworks. The Gas Board are also experimenting in taking tail gas from the great refinery at Llandarcy of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and they will also take methane gas drained from the seams of the Point of Ayr colliery. It is hoped eventually, as the coke oven capacity of the Principality increases, that the British Electricity Authority will use the surplus coke oven gas at the weekend for the generation of electricity.
Thus, the House will see that there is real, practical co-operation growing up between the different nationalised fuel industries and private industry, and the result is that the Wales Gas Board at present makes much less than half of its gas in its own works and is buying the rest in ways which are obviously beneficial to the Principality and the country. I believe that that kind of work, which is extending in other areas, too, will gradually spread over the whole of the national structure.
I begin by being a little unusual in that I heartily congratulate the Minister on his excellent speech. It is one which any of us on this side of the House would have been equally delighted to have delivered. The right hon. Gentleman has justified to the hilt the action taken by the Labour Government in bringing under public ownership the coal, gas and electricity industries. What the Minister has just said about Wales and the co-ordinated effort of the gas, coal and electricity industries, together with the oil refinery at Llandarcy—the use of coke oven gas, the drainage of methane and the tail gas from the refinery—is precisely what we ourselves said. We said that when these industries could be publicly owned, that was the kind of planning that could be achieved and which would represent the very best contribution to the public interest. I am more than glad that this debate is held in a much cooler atmosphere than many a fuel and power debate which I and my colleagues remember so well.
The Minister has heartened us considerably by what he has said with regard to investment in the coal industry. It is a great tragedy that capital investment in the industry has been held up, not by lack of capital, but in the main by a lack of technicians and men with the special skill required for development purposes. It is a great achievement that in the last two years capital investment has risen successively by £10 million each year, and we are glad indeed to learn that in the coming year the level of investment will be even higher than was planned in the national Plan for Coal. What the Minister said was very heartening and will undoubtedly lead to a considerable increase in total output.
I doubt very much whether there will be a marked increase in the first year or two. Probably we shall have to be content with the extra 2 or 2½ per cent., but no doubt later we shall get higher increases overall. What we shall be able to do, I hope, is to switch the production from the high-cost pits to the low-cost pits. That is one of the great problems at present facing the Coal Board, and I should like to draw attention to it.
Another item from the Minister's speech which I must mention is the decision of Sir Hubert Houldsworth, whom I regard as one of the finest men in industry on human relations in industry; he has made a special study of this aspect through the years and is applying it in the coal industry with very great effect. I am glad that Sir Hubert has decided to regard the area as the unit of higher management and to place the full responsibility for management upon an individual—in this case, the area general manager.
I accept, of course, that that dovetails within the divisional board and also within the organisation of the Coal Board, but we on this side of the House have always said that while at the very beginning this huge industry had to be put together and pooled, as soon as it was possible to do so responsibility should be distributed. I hope that this distribution of responsibility can go on until, as the Minister said, we can have the manager at the pit really doing his job of managing, with full responsibility and with the knowledge of that responsibility which he carries. It is a good thing to put responsibility upon people's shoulders and not to give them the opportunity of passing the buck to somebody else.
I welcome very much the Minister's announcement of Sir Hubert Houlds-worth's intentions, and I am glad that Sir Hubert has decided, after seven years of nationalisation, to have an inquiry into his own administration. That is a sensible thing to do. Any big industry brings in business consultants and pays them high fees for looking at the industry and saying what they think about it. It is a good thing that Sir Hubert has done this and that Parliament has not interfered, as at one time it was thought that Parliament might interfere. I am quite sure that the people whom Sir Hubert puts on the job of investigating his organisation within the Coal Board will be very much more efficient than a bunch of politicians, eminent though they may be.
The Minister also gave some interesting information about coal utilisation in the nationalised industries. It shows that they have set the lead. I was interested to know how, although there has been increased total coal production in the Coal Board's organisation, the Board have themselves made a great contribution, by fuel efficiency at the collieries, in reducing the amount of coal which they themselves consume. When production in 1945 was 174 million tons, collieries themselves used 105 million tons of coal, but last year, with production at 214 million tons, they used only 102 million tons. They have, therefore, obtained that increased production and they use even less coal themselves, which is an excellent thing.
At this moment, I enter a mild protest that we should have to discuss three Annual Reports in a matter of 6½ hours. When one bears in mind the Front Bench speakers at the beginning and end of the debate, very little time indeed is left for many hon. Members who have a great interest in the subject and wish to speak. I make no complaint about the Government, because we ourselves were as much to blame. True, we did not hold the debates on the separate industries all on one day. Nevertheless, this is a Parliamentary and not a party point, and I hope that Parliament will be able to devote much more time to the reports of the nationalised industries and that there will be a minimum of one day allotted to each of the industries.
I should hope that if it were possible for interim reports to be produced by the nationalised industries, we would be given the opportunity of a further debate midway through the year. I am glad to see that the Leader of the House is present and I hope that he agrees with me and will do what he can in the coming Session to try to provide much more time to discuss these nationalised industries. As the Minister today had to admit, he has merely had to brush the surface of this vast subject.
The nationalised fuel and power industries have not done badly. While the cost of raw material for the gas industry has gone up considerably since before the war, the price of gas is only 75 per cent. higher than before the war. With the efficient work that the gas industry has done on appliances, less gas is required in modern appliances to do the same job as was done with the old appliances. So they have really done a good job in keeping down their costs and in improving the efficiency of their own appliances through the research establishments and through close contact with the manufacturers of appliances. I have been through many of their factories and they do good research themselves in this connection. I believe that co-operation between the industry and the manufacturers of appliances has been good and has been beneficial to the consumer.
There is no doubt that the less raw coal we can use in industry, the better. The gas industry has played its part, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) would have a good story to tell, if he caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, as to what has happened in the potteries. The first gas-fired kiln was established there in 1932 and there are now 229 of them. They are more efficient and there is less smoke pollution. Whereas before the war the kilns used about one million tons of coal, today they are using only 400,000 tons. That must make a big difference to the atmosphere in the potteries.
The gas industry will have to face the growing shortage of suitable coals for carbonisation, as the domestic consumer and the railways have had to face a great problem with regard to large coal. That is serious because it is a natural problem which can be dealt with only by intensive research into the blending of coals and finding other blends of coals that will carbonise. We cannot put into the ground what is not there, we cannot turn a coal which is unsuitable for carbonisation into one that is, but if we were to spend more money and time on blending our good seams which lend themselves to carbonisation, it would increase the amount available. There is no doubt that as the Durham seams are running out, they will be difficult to replace.
I was glad to hear of the methane drainage that is taking place in South Wales, but the Minister will agree that this is happening in 16 other collieries. It is not only a measure for improving the use of our national resources but is important from the point of view of the safety of the men in the mines. The more we can drain methane gas away from the seams before they are attacked, the more the safety factor is improved.
If there is anything for which I want to award a palm to the gas industry, it is for something which I thought the Minister might have mentioned, though probably he wanted to be brief. I am referring to the bold step which has been taken to search for natural gas in cooperation with the D'Arcy Exploration Company. Anglo-Iranian, through that exploration company, have done a good deal of drilling in seeking for oil in this country, and they have been useful in discovering many other things at the same time. I have no doubt it will be quite expensive, but it is encouraging that a public corporation has been prepared to spend some money in searching for natural gas.
If they do not find it I hope no one will say that they have thrown away those few million pounds, because I do not believe that the gas industry can afford not to run the risk of losing a few million pounds since, if they strike large deposits of natural gas, it will revolutionise the entire industry. The United States use an enormous proportion of natural gas and they have learned how to pump it over long distances. Therefore, I congratulate the Gas Council on having had the courage to search for it. They may have bricks thrown at them if they lose money on the project, but it will at least have been lost in a good cause, and I, for one, would not blame them.
I was glad also to learn that recently they had a meeting with the trade unions to deal with efficiency in their industry. With regard to the development of joint consultation, there is a small point that I want to take up with the Minister. I have mentioned it to the right hon. Gentleman, so it will not come as a surprise. I read the report of a Margate conference—not the one I attended but the one which the Minister attended. [An HON. MEMBER: "Was he there?"] Oh, yes; he was there because, according to the "Scotsman" of 9th October, there was apparently quite a debate at Margate on the nationalised industries and two trade unionists from the gas industry gave the Minister some good advice and an invitation. One of them said:
Nobody here today has told you how to save money. I will tell you. Go to your administrators who ride about in cars all day long and use free petrol at your expense and my expense. They make the cost of gas rise and rise. I know what nationalisation is and I would like to say very strong words. I would like to swear. …
It being the Conservative Conference, of course he did not.
I would like to see the Minister of Fuel and Power come with me to the Old Kent Road
and I would show him in two hours how to save £200,000 a year.
The "Scotsman" says:
Mr. Lloyd, replying to the debate, said: 'I am very interested in what he said and I should be delighted to accept his invitation '.
What I want to know from the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary is, whether the Minister has been up the Old Kent Road? Incidentally, I understand that the station was closed down for generating gas a long time ago and that it is now used only for storage. And how much has he saved? We shall all be interested to know. I have not the slightest doubt that that statement by those gas workers would be greeted with squeals of delight from all the members of the Primrose League and the delegates at Margate, and it is only fair that the Minister should have the opportunity of telling us how he saved £200,000 a year in two hours.
The other thing I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is more serious because I feel that what he then said was in the heat of the moment or in the enthusiasm which is generated at such a conference.
One of the gas trade unionists said that in talking as he was talking—I shall not read all he said because most of it was nonsense—it was quite likely that he was "talking himself into the black books of the board." This really becomes serious because the Minister, referring to that gentleman said:
I would like to tell him that if he gets into black books for anything he has said here, the people concerned will get into my black books.
I do not mind that piece, but I object to this:
I do, at any rate, have the power of appointing and sacking certain members of the board.
If the Minister was saying that he would use his power of appointment and dismissal over members of the board merely on the ground that at a conference an individual—who is quite irresponsible judging from what was said
—says that he is going to get into the black books of the board, it seems to me that the Minister is not fit to have that power of appointment. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of saying that he made a facetious remark and that he would not take such strong action over the attitude of an irresponsible individual.
Now I turn for a moment or two to electricity, in order to say how much I welcome the publication by the B.E.A. of their excellent survey of the five years of nationalisation. It was also interesting to read in the newspapers about the Press conference which Lord Citrine had in relation to the financial results of last year. The surplus then was a little over £7¼ million and for the five years the industry has had a surplus of £28 3 million, which is a little less than £6 million per annum. That is not an extravagant profit. It represents about 2 per cent. on the turnover—in fact, the 1952–53 result represents 2½ per cent. on a turnover of £292 million.
Here again, the electricity industry, because it is now integrated, has been able to give very good service. It connected over 2 million new consumers so that it now has 14 million. More important is the increase in the farm connections from 85,000 in 1948 to 134,500 today, an increase of nearly 50,000 in the last five years in farm connections as compared with the 80,000 farms connected in the previous 50 years. The B.E.A. have built 52 new power stations and increased the power installed by 35 per cent. As the Minister has said, because of that equipment and building, compulsory load spreading is no longer required. They have improved the efficiency of generating from 20·87 per cent. in 1947–48 to 22·72 per cent. now.
That increased efficiency is going on, but I am a little concerned as to what is to happen in the future, and I should like to know what exactly the Minister intends regarding Government investment in the construction programme. From the figures announced, it would look as though the present construction will bring us back to a situation in which we shall require load spreading, and possibly load shedding, once again. While the figures will probably be the subject of year-to-year review, the British Electricity Authority must know years in advance—it takes four years or thereabouts to build a power station—just what its programme is to be.
The Anglo-American Productivity Team said that the American worker has to help him three-and-a-half times the horse power that is at the back of the British workman, and it would be very foolish if, when we are pressing hard to get increased industrial power at the back of the elbow of the British worker we had a capital investment programme which, while giving full employment, and enabling us to pay our way and keep up production, meant the gap would grow wider as the years went on. In point of fact, the American worker is to have more horsepower at his elbow, but the gap between the British and American worker will grow wider. That is a serious matter; Lord Citrine has drawn attention to it, and I hope the Minister will regard it as important enough to look at it very closely.
Nor do I agree with all the electricity people; there are more fanatics in that industry than in either of the other two industries—they go electricity mad and will not look objectively at the nation's fuel and power policy. The Minister will have to talk to the electricity people and make them understand that there is such a thing as the national consideration to be looked at.
Someone was good enough to send me some notes for speakers—always very valuable for a parliamentarian to have—"Facts About Fuels." Looking through this I came to Question 38:
But should not public tastes and preferences be taken into account?
The answer is:
It is an integral part of the electrical interests' policy that families should be allowed freedom of choice so far as this is possible. The most sensible choice seems to be to use coal or coke appliances in cases where continuous comfort heating is required, especially in the winter, and electricity or gas for intermittent heating.
So far so good, but it goes on:
According to the National Coal Board 'little, if anything, would be gained if the intermittent heating jobs now done by electricity were taken over by solid fuel'.
There it finishes.
I read the Ridley Report very carefully and that seemed to ring a bell. I
looked up my Ridley Report; it said exactly what was printed:
Little, if anything would be gained if the intermittent heating jobs now done by electricity were taken over by solid fuel.
But there follows on immediately:
Here the obvious choice is gas.
That, I consider, is absolutely shocking.
Would the right hon. Gentleman go on and tell the House that this scurrilous pamphlet was put out by the British Electrical Development Association, a subsidiary of the B.E.A.?
The hon. Gentleman has done it so I do not need to repeat it, but that is shocking because it has taken the evidence of the Coal Board out of its context and put it into an electricity pamphlet, so giving a wrong impression—I am not sure that the Coal Board has not a case for libel against the Electrical Development Association. Seriously, it is very wrong and I hope the Minister will look into it. I think it also a bad thing for promotional advertising to go on unlimited—very wrong indeed—and the Minister should produce a policy that would limit the amount of promotional advertising. For instance, one of the Electricity Board commercial managers advised that no gas should be laid on in a certain housing estate. "It is a waste of time," he says. "In a few years atomic energy will come. Electricity will be so cheap that it would be likely to render gas services to new estates redundant."
That is silly. Each Board has a job to do, and it is the job of Parliament, who are the shareholders' representatives in this matter, to see that each industry makes its proper contribution to the national economy. It is disgraceful that public money should be thrown away in this manner when it ought to be used for a much more important objective survey.
If I turn, last of all, to coal it is because it represents the biggest problem. I am quite sure that the general public do not appreciate the enormous task of the mining industry in producing coal for this nation. Fourteen thousand miles of roadway are made every year and 50 square miles of coal seams are removed from underground. It is an enormous task. When we look at the great variety throughout the fields we find one half of the deep-mined output is produced at an operating profit, and just under one-half at an operating loss, that one-sixth of the output—35 million tons—is produced in 283 pits at a loss of 10s. per ton or more.
Unless we had an integrated industry half those pits would be shut down; no single person owning a pit could go on producing coal at a loss. Then there are 9 million tons of coal being produced from 118 pits at a loss of over £1 a ton, and there are 2 million tons of coal being produced in British pits at a loss of over £2 a ton. I say that it would be quite impossible, without integrated ownership, to go on producing that coal. It is now a question of swings and roundabouts, the lower cost pits helping to keep the higher cost pits going, but what the Coal Board must turn its attention to is to devote its efforts to reducing production from the high cost pits and spending its money on research and development where coal can be produced much more cheaply. Even if it reduces profits in certain pits, because of high development, it would be worth it.
We have also to look at the social conditions arising from the closure of pits, but I am satisfied that with the arrangements made with the National Union of Mineworkers pit conditions are such as would not have been dreamed of in the days of my right hon. Friend the' Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), and that it does not represent a problem. It is perfectly clear from an examination of the cost of production that there are a large number of pits which, under private ownership, would have to be closed and which, in an integrated industry, are being kept going, and thereby the coal is being made available to the nation as a whole, although this throws a very heavy financial burden upon the nation.
We often used to hear of the effect upon the price of coal of high wages that were supposedly paid by the Coal Board. I have looked into the accounts, and one finds that, taking all the salaries of over £750 a year, the total cost amounts to less than 8½d. a ton. With the cost of production at 56s. 9d. a ton, it is perfectly clear that the charge which was so often made had no substance in it whatsoever. I believe we are all glad to see the improvement that has taken place in the standard of living of the miner. In 1938, the average earnings overall were £2 17s. 11d., and the average wage today is £11 14s. 0d. That is a very big jump—a justifiable jump—and we are very glad that the miners have been taken out of that very low wage level.
Production has improved, but it is slow. It is slow for a number of reasons, most of them geological ones. Nevertheless, the improvement is there and is continuing. Output per manshift is steadily improving. The output at the face and overall steadily improves, but the output per man year is also improving. There always used to be a challenge from hon. Members opposite when I was on the other side of the House and I was able to show increases in output per manshift, both overall and at the face; hon. Members opposite used to say, "But what about the man year?"
The output per man year was 290 tons in 1938. It was 260 tons in 1946 when the industry was nationalised, and today it is 299 tons. I admit that that is a reduction on last year, but recruitment and training had an effect upon that. We are better today both in output per man shift overall and at the face, and in output per man year.
Nationalisation of the industry is often blamed for the substantial increase in coal prices. Yet from 1939 to 1945 coal prices were increased by 19s. 5d. a ton at the pithead, and since nationalisation from 1947 to 1953 by 21s. 2d. Therefore, over half the increase in coal prices from the 1938 period was not during the period of nationalisation. I only say that because we ought to have these matters in proper perspective.
What else has the Coal Board done? It has done a wonderful job in the education of its employees and in its training arrangements. For the last year or two there has been a scholarship scheme, and it is a cheering thing to know that by this September 82 Coal Board scholars have got their degrees mainly in mining engineering. That is a great achievement, for men coming from all walks of life to go into a university and get their mining degrees.
I should like to see more successful applicants for these university scholarships. There have only been 63 successful applicants for the 100 scholarships. I cannot believe that out of the very large manpower employed in the mines, there are only 63 men who are capable of becoming successful for the 100 university scholarships. I wonder whether the Coal Board could make a greater concentration and do a good deal more about selection. I am quite certain that hidden among the thousands of miners, there are young men who would qualify but who are not being pulled out for some reason or other. I hope that the Coal Board will have another look at its selection and try to get the 100 scholarships fully taken up.
I do not think the Coal Board is spending enough on research. I do not think ¾d. a ton is enough for research. The Minister has told us about the shortages of large coal and the larger quantities of small coal. One of the big jobs in research is blending, carbonising and producing large coal out of small coal, which they can do, provided they are given the pilot plant which is required, the capital and the scientists. I hope that the Minister will tell the Coal Board to spend much more on research. We want to reach the stage when we no longer burn any raw coal. It should all be carbonised. It should be used in the very best possible way; we should get all the richness possible out of the coal. It is criminal to burn raw coal. I hope that the Minister will press the Coal Board to enlarge its research establishment and spend much more money on real research into coal utilisation.
The Minister has referred to atomic energy in relation to power stations, and I hope the Government will press on with that work. No matter how successful that will be, obviously, in our lifetime, we shall still have to have coal, and we shall have to use it usefully. Sir Ben Lockspeiser, who is Secretary of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, said recently at a luncheon at the Savoy Hotel:
We have the science and the technology which could save from 15 to 20 million tons of coal a year at no greater cost than the additional expense incurred by importing coal since the end of the war.
Sir Ben Lockspeiser knows what he is talking about, and I should like to take the Minister up on that statement. If that is so, the Minister ought to go out and save that 15 to 20 million tons of coal. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is giving up his own Ministry of Fuel and Power efficiency branch. That, in
my opinion, is a colossal error, as I said when he first announced the fact. I hope the new organisation will be equally successful, and indeed better.
I am certain that the Minister will never get the smaller industrialists, whose coal costs do not figure to such a large extent in the cost of the final product, to burn their coal efficiently until he does with the industrialists what he and we did with the housewives; that is to tell them frankly that unless they use their coal efficiently they will not get the coal. The housewife has not been allowed to be extravagant with coal. She has been forced to have efficient grates, and it has been a good thing.
Why is the industrialist, who is burning from 50 to 100 tons of coal a week, told, "You can burn that as recklessly as you like," while poor Mrs. Smith gets only 40 cwt. a year and is compelled to use it in an efficient way? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
There have been many reports on fuel efficiency in industry. The big firms are doing a magnificent job, but there are all sorts of small firms who are wasting coal. They have no right to waste it, and I hope the Minister will bear in mind what has been said by Sir Ben Lockspeiser and many others and tell these people, after an expert examination has been made of their premises and an assessment made of the coal they ought to have if burned efficiently, "That is the amount of coal you are to get in the future, and no more." In 12 months we should get a very remarkable result and we should go a long way towards this 15 to 20 million tons saving.
Yes, indeed it does. The hon. Gentleman thought he was going to score one there off the miner, but he has not.
The Coal Board is engaged in a most intensive drive, dragging out old grates that were put in by the old mine owners, and putting in new approved appliances; and the miners are giving up their concessionary coal for the new grates that are going in. The Coal Board is now building 20,000 houses, for which the Minister of Housing and Local Government will get the credit when they come into his figures. They are being built with proper fuel appliances and insulation, which most modern houses do not have. The miners are doing very well in giving up concessionary coal and the Coal Board is doing a good job in housing. I thank the hon. Member for Croydon, East upon giving me this extra two minutes, which I was not going to take.
I leave the Minister with these things in mind and hope that he will go forward with great energy to make sure that we have a fuel and power policy which is properly applied throughout industry.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) prefaced his remarks by congratulating my right hon. Friend upon the excellence of the speech in which he surveyed the very wide field over which his province extends. I join in those congratulations.
I shall confine myself to one aspect of the remarks made by my right hon. Friend in connection with his pronouncement on behalf of the National Coal Board that an examination would take place into the organisation of the coal industry. He also mentioned that the National Coal Board had come to certain decisions in regard to their attitude both to the position which the colliery manager occupies within the industry and the part which the area should properly play within the field of the nationalised undertaking.
This is an important pronouncement, which is none the less important because of its inevitability. Looking quite objectively at the situation in the coal industry, no one can say that during recent months it has been altogether satisfactory. My right hon. Friend quite rightly said that we had improved on last year to the tune of some 3 million tons, but if we look at last year remembering that there was a very considerable addition of manpower within the industry, and that last year was five years after the inception of all the advantages which accrued with nationalisation, the 1 per cent. advance achieved cannot by any stretch of imagination be looked at as in any way satisfactory.
I go so far as to say that for something like two years now it has been evident that the advantages of nationalisation have been outweighed by its disadvantages. I want to be quite clear about this. I am not saying that nationalisation is wrong. What I am saying is that the very obvious advantages which accrued with nationalisation—centralisation of control and research, priorities for equipment, the finance of the country behind the industry, and the enthusiasm of the men who manned it—were being outweighed by some equally obvious disadvantages.
Those were inherent in the organisation, control and administration of the industry. That is not altogether surprising. The scheme was put together very hurriedly. Only six weeks elapsed before final decisions were made both with regard to the particular form of the scheme and the appointment of individuals who were to occupy key positions within it. It was equally appropriate that although, possibly, not the best scheme had been set up, some years should elapse before the dislocation of any major alteration should occur. Nevertheless, it was obvious, after three or four years, that the original scheme was not a satisfactory one and that, sooner or later, some very drastic alterations would need to be made.
I am delighted to think that an examination under the purview of the National Coal Board will now be made into the whole aspect of the organisation of this industry. Recognition of the part to be played by the colliery manager and the areas is no more than an attitude of mind. The important thing is, what is going to emerge from this examination? I imagine that all hon. Members hope that it will not be a repetition of what occurred on the occasion when the Burrows Committee inquired into the industry. We were denied the advantage of their Report in full, and only a part of what they recommended was in any way acted upon. When this examination is completed, I hope that the House will have the opportunity of considering the examination in its entirety and seeing precisely what are the findings of the Committee, and what has actuated their minds in whatever recommendations they may make.
I also make a plea that the approach to this problem shall be completely objective. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are very often apt to approach this matter from their own particular bias. On the one side it is said that everything has been right since nationalisation and, very often, hon. Members on this side of the House are apt to hark back to some appropriate year, such as 1938, and draw comparisons which bear hardly on the nationalisation years.
From time to time we are all apt to make fairly wild statements. Last year, as an example, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) made what was, to me, the astonishing statement that 10 times the amount of research was going on under nationalisation as had occurred in pre-war years. I drew attention to that matter, and the right hon. Member for Blyth reinforced what his right hon. Friend had said by producing some figures which referred to the footage bored. It did not have much relation to the matter I was dealing with. Both statements were made in perfectly good faith.
It was physically impossible for anything like that to have occurred. Research, as it is properly understood, is a highly complicated scientific and technical matter which requires very specialised knowledge. As I said last year, there simply were not the bore masters—not only in this country, but in Western Europe and even the Western Hemisphere—to have brought about a tenfold increase in research. We had to wait until the end of the year to see upon what that claim was based.
Pure research resulted in some 38 deep borings—of over 1,500 feet—being made in 1952. If 10 times as much had been done compared with the years before nationalisation, it would have meant that only four similar borings were being made in the average year before the war. In fact, in a good year before the war, something between 40 and 50 similar borings were made. I am not saying that everything was right before the war and everything is wrong now, but that sort of statement very often goes unchallenged, and it gives a completely false impression of the conditions in the industry today and also the conditions in relation to some previous period.
One of the effects of nationalisation has been to iron out any considerable differences. The areas now represent a level of efficiency higher than the most inefficient and, perhaps, lower than the most efficient pits before nationalisation. A more standard condition of affairs has now been brought about. I very much hope that in the examination which is to take place the approach can be completely objective and that it will be recognised that some very good things as well as some very bad ones happened before nationalisation occurred. If we can take advantage of the good things which were happening then and apply them to the good things which have been learned since nationalisation we shall begin to get somewhere, but if we approach this problem in any way biased in any one direction we shall fail once again.
As an example of that, I should like to deal with one of the salient mistakes made when nationalisation was first brought into being. In this matter the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) must take the very real responsibility. It was decided at that date that one phase of management was, if not unimportant, anyhow not essential to the organisation which was being set up. I refer specifically to administration. It was considered, quite wrongly, of course, that the administrator, a managing director very often, was a political being who had prejudices, quite unlike the technical man, who was supposed to be devoid of those prejudices. Whereas it was considered appropriate to retain the technical man, it was considered expedient to get rid of the administrator, and in one fell swoop a great many of the most able men in the industry were disposed of.
That was a very grave decision to take. It was something that had never previously occurred in any part of industry. Certainly no other nation had ever attempted to reorganise an industry on the basis of dissociating from it a complete phase of management. I remember going to Russia a great many years ago. I was invited in 1931 to see conditions in the Donbas coal basin. I spent a number of months out there. Even the Russians, with their enthusiasm for change, had not gone as far as that. They were still using pre-Revolutionary administrators in their coal industry.
What we did was to try to turn the technician into an administrator, and very often he was by no means an appropriate man to attempt to turn into an administrator. Therefore I do hope that in this examination an approach will be made quite objectively. It may be found to be the case that though the men who were disposed of are no longer available, men with similar qualifications in other industries could be brought into this industry. Administration, after all, is something that takes nearly a lifetime to learn. The best type of administrator is a rarer creature than the best technician.
We have been trying to administer this industry for the last five or six years without the very best administrators available. I do not think we can go on doing that. It may be necessary to look about outside the industry now and to bring in men who have high administrative qualities. It may be possible, however, to bring back some of the previous administrators. I should like to see that happen. I do not think for a moment it will be found that those men are opposed to nationalisation as such or would give any but the best service to the industry. It was a fundamental error ever to have adopted that attitude towards those men, and I hope that on this occasion we can rectify that very real mistake.
Finally, I should like to make this plea. The answer to this question lies, in the last resort, in personnel. If we want an analogy I would take that of farming. No two farms in this country are exactly similar, any more than any two pits are. The difference lies, perhaps, in the size or the scope of the farms, or in the texture of the soil, or in the amount of rainfall—in 101 matters; but in the last resort the difference between a good farm and a bad farm is the difference between a good farmer and a bad farmer. Exactly the same holds good in this industry. The difference between a good pit and a bad pit, other things being equal, is the difference between a good colliery manager and a bad colliery manager.
That is true in the areas and all along the line right up to the National Coal Board. If we cannot have the right men at the appropriate places, all the organisation, all the administration, all the technique that we apply will fail us. We have got to have the right man at the right point. I hope that what may emerge from this examination will be a clear recognition that quite a number of men are in the wrong places and that quite a lot of men are being retained who really are not up to the job they have been given, and that a whole lot of new men may have to be upgraded, or brought in from outside. In the last resort we are going to succeed only if the right men are there in the right places, and I hope that that consideration will be in the forefront of the examination which is now going to be undertaken by the National Coal Board.
I listened very attentively to the Minister today. I have been present at most of these debates since nationalisation. I was agreeably surprised at the tone in which the Minister presented his case. In fact, I think he deserved the congratulations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), because I do not think that from this side of the House the case could have been put any better. What I wonder is, has it convinced some of the right hon. Gentleman's own hon. Friends? We on this side of the House did not need convincing.
To look accurately at the National Coal Board—and I am particularly dealing with the Coal Board as a result of my years of experience in that industry—one must look back for a few years, not in a spirit of recrimination but in a spirit of inquiry, to see how the industry has advanced during these years. For 30 years before vesting day production had been gradually going down. In 1945 production was only 175 million tons. In the last year of private enterprise it was 181 million tons. The Coal Board took over those pits, some economic and some uneconomic. Since those days there has been an upward trend in production.
Between 1946 and 1952 production of deep mine coal was increased by 18 per cent., and in 1952, according to the Report, it reached a figure of 214½ million tons. The increase in those years, between 1946 and 1952, was more in volume than the whole of the output of Belgium. Furthermore, output per manshift during that period increased by roughly 20 per cent. Let us look at a further example, because we are now nearly at the end of another coal year, so that while the Coal Board's Report for 1952 is being discussed we are nearly in November, 1953. The available figures that I have for the first 39 weeks of this year are 156,259,000 tons compared with 157,461,000 tons in 1952, and in 1951, 156,223,000 tons.
That means that there has been a loss of 1,206,000 tons for this period by comparison with last year, but we must not forget, as the Minister rightly pointed out, the extra week's holiday which the miners have been awarded and which shows a changed atmosphere on the other side of the House. I am pleased that hon. Members opposite have become enlightened, because during my working days we had no holidays at all. The fact remains, however, that during the 39 weeks of this year 8¼ million tons were produced by the voluntary working on Saturdays. In fact, from August, 1952, until July, 1953, out of 172 million shifts worked, nearly 22 million were overtime shifts—12·7 per cent. This is despite the fact that unfortunately the man wastage this year is greater than the recruitment.
No one can suggest, therefore, that the miners are not pulling their weight in providing increased production. That is the overall picture, but individual pits can show an even greater achievement. Many examples could be given of figures of individual pits, and I will quote one from my own constituency—that of the pit which I went down during the Recess. The name of the colliery is Wheldale. In 1947 the output per manshift in this colliery was 20·9 cwt. Last year the output per man-shift was 35·5 cwt., an increase of 70 per cent. I am sure that example could be multiplied in thousands of other pits. It is true that this pit has been modernised; it was an old pit working under out-of-date conditions and it has been modernised. I am sure that modernisation would pay in thousands of pits in this country, just as it has paid in this case.
Another aspect which we should consider is that of industrial disputes. During the period of nationalisation the only disputes have been unofficial disputes. Between 1920 and 1939 70 per cent. of the man-days lost in stoppages in all industry were lost in the coal mining industry, but between 1945 and 1950 under 30 per cent. of the days lost were lost in the mining industry, and, moreover, thousands of those days were lost by sections of the men who never dared to strike under private enterprise—deputies, winders and clerical workers, for example. The figures for disputes have proved that the miners themselves realise that the conciliation machinery which has been set up has been an advantage and has obviated the necessity for them to strike as they had to strike in the years from 1920 to 1939.
A point which is of great concern to people outside the mining areas is the price of coal. Ordinary people have a right to complain, of course, but it is strange that they should have in their minds the idea that the high price which is being paid for coal is a result of increases in the miners' wages. I will not go into those figures, for my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth has given figures on that point. According to the National Coal Board, in 1952 the average pithead price charged was £2 17s. 3d., yet the price being charged in the London area was much higher.
Eight grades of coal are being sold in the London area. The highest grade is being sold at £7 4s. 5d. and the lowest at £4 14s. 5d. If we set any of those prices against the £2 17s. 3d. which is the average price charged at the pithead, we wonder where the difference arises. In my opinion the distribution of coal is a problem which will have to be tackled in no uncertain manner. Incidentally, it would be interesting to know what is the price being paid for coal by the steel industry since it has now been passed back to private hands. I do not know, but it would be interesting to know.
There is also the other price which is paid for the nation's coal, the price in human lives. Together with the N.U.M., the National Coal Board have for a long time been conducting a campaign for greater safety. Yet the figures in this Report show that in 1952 409 men were killed and 2,073 were injured; and over 234,000 were injured in such a way that they were off for more than three days. In all, over 237,000 people were affected. We must add to that the most dreaded scourge of all, industrial disease—3,308 certificates for industrial diseases were given—to see the price which the men in the industry are paying.
With all its defects—and there are some improvements which are due to be made and which could be made—I have tried to suggest that the National Coal Board has done better both for the nation and for the miners than was ever done by the previous owners. Yet I remember in the early days of this year certain hon. Members opposite putting Motions on the Order Paper and writing letters to the Press suggesting that this structure should be broken down or, as they called it, that there should be decentralisation. We feel, especially those who come from the mining areas, that that would mean pitting one district against another.
Let me say this: the miners are determined not to go back to that old situation. We remember what happened in those days and the misery which the coalfields experienced. To those hon. Members I say this—and it is also the view of the National Union of Mineworkers, of which I have been a member for over 40 years: any attempt to interfere with the national structure of this industry by decentralisation on a district basis will be resisted by that union with every legitimate means at its disposal.
I therefore suggest to anyone who is thinking along those lines that they should remember the words of a gentleman who was once very prominent on that side of the House—Lord Templewood. In one of his books he wrote—and he ought to know—that he had learned that there were three institutions most difficult to defeat—the British Treasury, the Vatican, and the Miners' Federation. Lord Templewood said that. I am not saying it; I am only quoting him. He should know, because he was in the Baldwin Government when all that trouble was on. Therefore, I am suggesting that those hon. Gentlemen who are thinking on the lines of decentralisation, as they call it, should think again, because we on this side of the House will resist it to the utmost. I am sure that even the Minister after his speech today, must, if he is true to what he said, resist that pressure from wherever it comes.
I say in conclusion that, while probably we have not as much coal as might have been anticipated, and that there are grounds for examination here and there, I am satisfied that the examination could be carried out successfully by the men who know the industry, that is by the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.
It gives me personal pleasure to speak after my good friend the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Sylvester), because, in other days, he and I were engaged in the same colliery company but with different responsibilities.
The hon. Member has said it; and therefore it gives me very great pleasure to follow him. I was amused at his reference to the Treasury, the Vatican and the miners. I know that the miners have a much bigger heart than the Treasury. When I was listening to the two Front Bench speakers this afternoon, I thought what a good thing it would be if every miner in England could have put into his hands a copy of those speeches, perhaps with the little bit of light-hearted stuff about Margate cut out, because I was present at Margate when that rather boisterous gentleman to whom reference has been made was on the rostrum, and I can assure him that the reply given by my right hon. Friend was equally light-hearted and made in the same sort of jocular manner. I am not entering into any argument as to whether a man has the right to stand up anywhere and express his views without intimidation, but there was a good deal of laughter at Margate, and if the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) had been there he might have enjoyed it, and it might have done him a little good.
There is one question about which the miners want more assurance. The Minister gave a great deal of encouragement with regard to the most spectacular and formidable economies that have been made in the consumption of coal used in many important industries; but there must be in the minds of the miners the question: "Where do we stand?"—where does their security stand? Is there even now a danger of overproduction? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give them some clear reassurance, because reassurance can very positively be given. There is the urgent need for increased exports, about which we have not said much this afternoon, but which is in the mind of everyone, and there is the position of the domestic consumer, who requires more coal and would be prepared to take it if it could be made available. There is also always the question of putting an end as soon as maybe to opencast coalmining. I think that the sum total of these three particular aspects, apart from any development in the overall productivity of the country, ought to be reassuring to the men.
I think the public also wants a little reassurance, particularly the housewife, with regard not only to the supply of coal and to the quality of coal, but to the price of coal. Whatever we may say and feel about the industrial aspects of this matter, we have all to bear in mind the position of the housewife and the fact that the price of coal bears very heavily upon her.
I should like to refer briefly to something which was said by the right hon. Member for Blyth, which I endorse, with regard to the scholarship scheme within the industry. He regretted, as we all do, that there are not more young lads in the industry who are coming forward. I venture to suggest that one explanation, among many others, is that these boys see a quick, immediate, attractive wage in front of them by going down the pit, and that they are a little intimidated by the thought of a university career and the sacrifice which would have to be made in time, energy and money. I hope that the Coal Board will ask the individual mine managers to do more to encourage likely young fellows, the sons of miners in particular, and put them in the way of taking a university scholarship.
There are many hon. Members who want to speak this afternoon, and therefore I will confine myself to two particular aspects of what was said by the Minister. Among the good things he said, the most important was the decision of the Coal Board, which I think was a wise and sound decision, to invite an outside team of competent men to give them advice on the question of administration, and that the Board had taken the initiative by placing immediately the area general manager where he always should have belonged.
Throughout this year I have been privileged to visit most of the coal fields in Great Britain. It has been a very illuminating experience. I have only been able to pay short visits to most of the coal mining areas, but I was able, during that time, to see many of the managements at all levels and, equally important to talk to many of the men. I should like to give some of my impressions.
What was perfectly clear was that the area general manager controls the whole industry. He is the fulcrum and around him the whole industry should swing. I have no doubt that the Committee when they look at the industry, will find that what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) said has a great foundation of truth in it, that the nationalisation of the industry was in fact a surgical operation. The industry amputated a great deal of first-class administrative ability; a lot of men had to get out of the industry at that time, a loss from which we have suffered ever since. These men are not easy to replace.
On the question of division of authority, I consider that the National Coal Board should be in the position to instruct, the divisional coal board should be in the position to guide, and the area should manage. The area is the point at which top management really operates. In this sense, I would say that even now the areas are too big. There are 49 areas in the country, and it surprised me to find out that these area general managers, without any board around them, and with a very skeleton staff, were expected to control the operations of between 12,000 to 20,000 men at anything from 10 to 20 pits, and to do it without very much technical help but with a great deal of functional direction. One of the fundamental mistakes of this industry was to put strait-jacket Civil Service methods upon an industrial enterprise and to impose a whole series of functional officers right down the whole line of responsibility, dividing the real responsibility. Divided authority and divided responsibility will never work.
I hope that when these gentlemen are examining the position and advising the Board, they will look carefully at the possibility of increasing the number of areas. If we are to impose upon the area general manager the direct responsibilities that have been forecast, in addition to those he has already, we are asking for a superman, and supermen are not easy to find. There may be some in the coal industry; there are certainly some very fine area managers, but they would be the first to say that what they are already doing is quite a big burden for them. I should like to see an extension in the number of area boards by reducing the size of the areas, so as to get them down to workable, competitive units.
One thing which I emphasize is that there is no idea of any change in the national wage negotiation structure. That is important. This industry is so full of suspicion that anything which is left unsaid is suspect. For that reason, it is important that the two Front Bench speeches which we have heard tonight should be made available to the men.
I would move to one other point, and that is the development of new mines and the introduction of machinery. I found on every hand an extraordinary surge forward in the development of machinery for increased production, as well as new pits and new sinkings. There is no doubt that in the next 12 months a lot of this development will be showing good results. Development will greatly help. But if we are really honest when we examine present output figures—they need a good deal of examination—we must admit they are not satisfactory considering all the circumstances. We must say we are not bringing up sufficient coal either for home needs or to send abroad in those exports so vital to build up the financial strength of our country. There is a fundamental reason for it—the mining industry still lives too much in the past, and is fearful of the future.
What we want in this industry is a new dynamic. We must wipe the slate clean of memories of the past in this industry, because they are beclouding and bewildering the men. I hope that those who will report on this industry will do so with no suspicion of political bias one way or the other, and will try to get a new distribution of authority by placing responsibility where it belongs. If that were done, I believe that under good leadership something would happen in this industry which would surprise us.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way. I want to pick up the very interesting points that he is making. Will he tell us exactly how to obliterate the memories that are so bitter in the minds of the miners?
That is a point I want to come to. We have to understand the mind of the miner. We shall not solve anything in the mining industry until we do so and until we appreciate where the miner stands, what he thinks and what are his hopes and fears. One of our mistakes is to talk of men as "those miners," putting labels on them as though they were something apart. We have been doing that for too long with the miners. I found, certainly, that there were 700,000 miners, but they were 700,000 individuals, good, bad and indifferent. The "run-of-the-mill miner," so to speak, was very much like the average Member of Parliament. They are mostly good fellows. Many of them are very fine and many are not pulling their weight.
I should like to tell a little story to illustrate what I mean. One afternoon, when I was in Scotland, I was privileged to have a group of miners around me, and we chatted away with each other. The local miners' agents were there too. One or two of the younger men were trying to make a political point against me, and I was trying to avoid this, as I was not there in any political capacity: I was trying to appreciate their position and point of view. Then one of the miners' leaders said, with the greatest dignity: "Boys, Mr. Robson Brown is our guest this afternoon. Fair play." What a beautiful thing to say. It really was. That was the attitude I found throughout the whole of the industry.
In order properly to understand the psychological attitude of miners, we have to appreciate the effect of isolation upon the miners. I do not think that I ever realised this before. We shall never solve the problems of this industry until first we appreciate the miner's isolation from the general public. Second, is his isolation in the village in which he lives, amongst no one else but miners, and ofter far away from the cultural opportunities of the big towns. There is also isolation in his job. Perhaps I might just say a word about that, without being sentimental.
I have not been down mines for many years, but I went down again with a new and more objective attitude, trying to put myself in the place of the miner. What in fact happens? The miner goes from his home to the pit top. He goes down the pit and goes in to the face. From that moment, and for at least eight hours, he is down there in front of two, three, or four feet of coal, and working at those shallow heights. In a few places the height is greater.
Most miners are in complete isolation from everybody else. This industry is like no other that I have ever been in. The miner is working without the light of day. If I may be a little sentimental, I would say that by the time his face is black you cannot even see when he smiles. His mine manager may go to see him, but it cannot be very often. His contacts with his fellows will be very few and far between during the shift. We have to find some way of relieving that sense of isolation of the miner. When you go into the ordinary factory, the workers have contact with the manager and the staff, and they may have a word and a smile. They can be given credit for good work, and the men can pass a joke on from one to another. They can all see what is happening in the works; there is continuous human contact. But there is nothing like that in the mine.
One of the first things to which the National Coal Board could apply their minds is a re-orientation of thinking about operations underground. I do not want to go into technical details. I think the National Coal Board have their finger nearly on the point. It is a question of human communication. There has to be a nearer approach to the team sense and towards identifying the miner with what is going on in his pit and in the industry. When the miner throws the coal over his back on to the conveyor, that is all that he sees of the results of his work. There is no further pride of production, nothing further to be proud about. We have to identify the miner with what happens in his pit, with the success of the industry and its effect on the welfare of the nation.
I found a tremendous reservoir of good will in this industry, but thinking and sober-minded miners are worried. The average miner is not as complacent or blasé as we think he is. We must remember that the miner has been subjected to praise and blame, exhortation and criticism, judgment and condemnation, and that his skin has become pretty hardened. One value of today's debate is that they tend to create more human understanding on each side, and to show our determination to deal only with the miners and understand them. This will do more than anything else to answer the question which was put to me a moment ago by the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Murray).
The men are still full of suspicion and fear. We can wipe out the past, but we have to face their fears of the future. The miners want to be much more satisfied, and the National Coal Board have to convince them, that everything which is being done is in their best interests, including the development of the mines and the cutting down of the number of men. I would say something here on this point with which everybody might not agree.
I should like to see the number of men in the mining industry reduced, and the figures go from 700,000 downwards. I should like to see the machines and not the men doing the work. I should like to see fewer old men going into the mines, and the men who are there operating, not so much by the sweat of their brow, as by skill in the use of machines. We have got to bring the men to have faith in all of us before they will change the stint or decrease the percentage of absenteeism.
There are two factors controlling output in the mining industry. The stint is the calculated fixed output of each man per day. Sometimes he can work and earn a great deal more. In the case of the second factor, absenteeism, everyone in the industry knows the true facts about absenteeism. If we can get a new attitude on these two points, I believe that even without the additional machinery, we can increase output from 5 to 10 per cent.
The men are afraid of over-production, putting too much coal into stock and then someone using it as a weapon against them. There is the fear of redundancy in their own pits, and the Minister might give thought to this problem. His speech this afternoon shows that he has applied his mind in many directions to some purpose. He has surprised a lot of people by his speech his afternoon, and he has taken away a lot of criticism. I should like him to think about the question of redundancy in the pits to see if some financial provision cannot be made in the industry for the men affected in a more practical way than has been done up to the present. I am encouraged by what has been done about redundancy in the steel industry in South Wales.
Finally, let us give more information about markets and so on to the managers. The more they know the more they can encourage the men and the more confidence there will be in the industry, with the result that we will get more and more coal. I hope the new Committee will bear the burning question of the human relations between management and miner fully in mind, and I wish them all success in their efforts and congratulate the Minister on his survey.
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) has talked in terms of great sympathy and fellowship with the miners. Might I put to him three very simple tests. The next time we are having a miners' demonstration to protest against the miners who are suffering from pneumoconiosis being denied extended benefit, will he take part with us in it?
One of the things I was very proud of when in South Wales was an invitation to attend one of the miners' lodges. I said that I would be only too pleased to go there and discuss any aspect of the miners' industry—it was not to be a political discussion—that they cared to bring forward, but it was a great personal regret to me that the invitation has not been confirmed.
It is a reply, but it is still not an answer. I wanted to follow that up by asking him, with his overflowing good fellowship, not only to take part with us in educating public opinion on what is being done for the most helpless and exposed among the miners, but to vote with us in the House in support of the policy of a future Labour Government, which quite certainly would be, on that simplest test of all, that when an old comrade in the mining industry is set aside because of this most dreadful disease, if suitable work cannot be brought to him in the community where his home and friends are he will not be pushed on to public assistance and find himself worse off than he was before.
Another test is this. What would the hon. Member say to those miners' families who are not getting the average wage of £11 14s. 6d., and where the bread-winner is taking home sometimes less than £7 a week? Yet they, too, are facing the rising cost of food. There are many miners who pay no Income Tax because their income is such that they do not qualify. The sort of article appearing in the "Daily Mail," stating that the cost of living is going down, appears to be a mockery to these good people. That article stated that here and there an item of food is dearer, but there is a corresponding reduction in Income Tax.
I did not intend to follow this line too far, but I am pursuing the mood introduced into the debate by the hon. Member for Esher. The miners are expected to do the best they can in the industry and to encourage the younger men to remain in the coal pits; but all the time they are seeing the purchasing value of wages brought down, and I have not heard a single word yet from any hon. Member opposite suggesting that those miners who are taking home the minimum wages ought to be given a rise which at least corresponds to the rise in the cost of living.
The third point I put to the hon. Member is one that arose last weekend in my constituency. I heard of a youth of 17 and his father who are working in the pit. There are seven in the family—the father, the mother, two boys and three girls. They live in a house which has two bedrooms, which are very damp, and one living room. The conditions are bad. There is no bathroom in the house. The two men are working at a colliery where the pithead baths are in the process of construction but are not built yet. They have to go across an open yard to get to a lavatory.
They are on the waiting list for a house, but they are in an area where the local authority is being mocked when it is told it can build all the houses it wants, because it has already been held up on some of its building schemes, at one time by the shortage of bricks and at another time by shortage of cement. All the time labour and materials are being drawn off to other parts of the country where private contractors who are able to build houses to sell can offer better terms.
I do not share the mood so far in this debate. I find it very different from that which prevailed when I attended a delegate conference of miners in my constituency last weekend. They were responsible men. They were men who are actually working in the pits. They were men who were lodge officials, very proud of their industry and very grateful for nationalisation. Here I can endorse the point already made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) that there must never again be an attempt to divide the miners in one part of the country from the miners in another part. If the Government want to stop every coal pit in Britain, that is the quickest way of doing it. That was one point, at least, with which I agreed in the speeches of the Minister and my right hon. Friend.
We are not discussing today whether gas, electricity or coal will follow road transport and steel and go back to private enterprise. Steel is a nice, juicy piece. It is being advertised in all the newspapers of Great Britain today in full-page advertisements, all of which will go on to the cost of production. The investor is being told that the industry is a nice safe investment which will return 7 per cent., 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. I am prepared to argue the percentage of profit with the hon. Member. The Government are underwriting this pleasant profit.
One of the things I was asked by the miners in my constituency at the weekend was this: "The steel industry is now back in private hands. Can you tell us if any of the coal that we are mining is being sold to that industry below the cost of production?" What could I say to those men? I could have referred to an article of mine in a weekly journal known to some Members of this House, in which I protested at the replies given to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton), who put down a number of specific Questions asking how much of our coal was sold below the cost of production, where was it going, to what market, and if any was going to steel. We were told today that 2 million tons of coal were being sold at £2 million less than the cost of its production.
We cannot hold a debate of this kind on the basis of us all scrounging for information from technical friends in the industry or from the men at the coal-face. We ought to come to a debate of this kind equipped with information that we receive in our capacity as Members of Parliament.
I have mentioned some of the questions affecting the workers in the industry, but the fact that they are being asked to produce coal which is being sold to some private industry below the cost of production is a very sore point with the thinking miner. We do not know the answer to it.
We are not discussing the handing back of coal, gas or electricity to private enterprise. Nationalisation of these industries is a very great advantage to the men and women working in them, as well as to the nation. I suggest that this House is being treated in an extremely shabby way. We are assembled here today almost as if we were an old-fashioned German Reichstag under Herr Hitler. We are not to be asked our opinion and are not to discuss this subject on the basis of information supplied to us beforehand. Instead, we are given a general though very agreeable and good talk by the Minister.
I intervened during the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to ask whether he had more up-to-date information than that contained in the National Coal Board's Report issued in November, 1952, and, if so, whether he would be good enough to share it with us. In some ways the Minister is a fellow victim of this situation, but as a House of Commons we must not allow the situation to be repeated. Naturally, some of my hon. Friends are interested in the trade union and technical side of the industry, and I do not propose to go into many problems which can be better dealt with by my colleagues; but I do say that we ought not to have to go round almost as if we were collecting contraband information.
I suggest that the House of Commons ought to set aside one day for the discussion of coal, another for the discussion of gas, one for the discussion of electricity and yet another for discussing the coordination of all three industries. I believe that if the Minister were at the head of this great combined operation it would help more than anything else to illuminate the whole industry, to enlist the sympathy of the miners and to answer a few problems.
If the Minister had in his possession all the information he required, and if we as Members of Parliament could put down on the Order Paper day by day Questions affecting the industry, and particularly our own areas, then we should have a continuing picture. It would mean that I would not have to go to my constituency and find there all sorts of rumours circulating, most of them baseless, but some quite serious rumours. We ought to be able to put the flashlight of publicity on this industry. That would help everyone. By that means we could get rid of the rubbish and bring into the forefront of the picture those things that are wrong in the industry.
We have been told that an investigation is to be made into the organisation of the coal industry. That may do a little good, but it is not enough. We in this House ought to be carrying on a continuing investigation. We are the people who, when reports indicate that something is wrong, ought to be able to go to the Minister privately. It does not always have to be done by Question and answer. We ought to be able to build up a knowledge and background so that when a debate of this kind takes place it can be a genuine debate. This is a farcical debate so far as the information made available to us is concerned.
I am delighted by the case so inadvertently put today for extending national ownership beyond these industries, and beyond taking over the steel industry. Other hon. Members will say more about that. I think that a very good case has been made for taking over the engineering industry as well. It is not good enough to be told in this House that a very high percentage of the boilers used in the industry are 40 years old. I was not given any advance information on the matter, and I am trusting to my memory, but the information given to me coincided exactly with the very able case which has been put by the engineering trade union. They have been stressing for a long time that there are far more inefficient and badly-run industries than this country can support.
I do not think that we can tackle this problem—and I say this with all respect to my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench—and the other fuel problems in British industry by saying we should treat the textile factories and all the other industries like the housewives; that we should give them a certain ration on which they must make do by putting in fuel-saving devices.
That is not a serious way of tackling the matter. The fact is that far too much of the machinery in British industry is obsolete. Therefore, I ask the House to consider whether the time is not overdue when we should have a real policy and programme for the country with an efficient system of publicity so that the people taking part in these industries may know what is going on.
The miners will never know what is going on in the coal industry if they depend on their local consultative committees. In that way they get to know something about their own pits, but they want to be excited by feeling that they are not helpless, and that they are citizens with full rights. They want to be told what is going on, and they are looking forward to a continuing process in which not only the fuel and power industries, but engineering and other industries will more and more be taken away from private enterprise and planned and co-ordinated in the way which many of us believe is absolutely essential, not only to ensure fair play to the citizens of Great Britain, but for the very economic survival of this country.
Of course it is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs that we are called upon, in one and the same Parliamentary day of only six and a half hours, to discuss the Reports and Accounts of three highly complex industries controlling something like £2,500 million of fixed assets and, in addition, what may be called the co-ordination of these industries. We are a little better off, however, than we were last year, for on 28th October, 1952, we did not attempt to discuss three, we attempted to discuss eight Annual Reports on one and the same day, and for good measure the Ridley Report was thrown in as well. It is an impossible task.
A Select Committee sat recently to investigate the matter of accountability and Parliamentary control over these nationalised industries and made the important recommendation that there should be a permanent Standing Committee of Members of this House to inquire into, but not to control, the nationalised undertakings. I hope that Committee will indeed be brought into being at an early date and that 21 experienced Members of this House will have ample opportunity in the course of a working year to inquire in much greater detail into these concerns than we are able to do in a short space of time today.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power made an important announcement about the transfer of emphasis in management within the National Coal Board to the area level. I welcome that statement, for it is something which my hon. Friends and I have felt for a long time is urgently needed. But I am sure that my right hon. Friend did not mean by his statement what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) implied, namely, that Sir Hubert Houldsworth is to have a sort of committee of inquiry into the National Coal Board.
It is to be only a committee looking into the structure of the National Coal Board and without prejudice to two important things—the seven-year independent inquiry into each of these nationalised industries which is the principle that has always been supported by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is a seven-year independent inquiry into every aspect of every nationalised undertaking, and on the board of inquiry shall be included Members of this House. This N.C.B. committee of inquiry is without prejudice to that, and in the terms of the right
hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) who, speaking on 25th October, 1950, said:
In the case of the B.B.C. the principle of 10 years was well established. It must not be too often.
I quite agree with him there.
I think that something in the nature of a seven-year period would be about right for the public corporations. If they are held too often, there is the disadvantage that the men running them would get nervous and be looking over their shoulder. I think about seven years would be right. It would be right to include a limited number of Members of Parliament as was done in the case of the B.B.C. Inquiry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2806.]
I hope that what the Coal Board undertake under Sir Hubert Houldsworth's leadership, with the aid of businessmen outside the nationalised undertaking, shall be without prejudice to a seven-year total inquiry into each nationalised industry and also, in addition, the establishment of a Standing Committee upstairs to inquire continuously into the affairs of nationalised undertakings.
My right hon. Friend had something to say about the coal stocks position and notably the difficulties that have arisen in the last few years with supplies of large coal. Before I turn to the main part of my speech, which is in connection with electricity, I should like to make one or two observations on what my right hon. Friend said. Of course, there is a continuing shortage of large coal, of course the householder suffers most, largely because the railways have been wasting large coal for years, and of course briquetting plants can make a contribution.
I commend the alacrity of my right hon. Friend in this matter since last July when I was able to bring to his notice that the briquetting plants were occupied to only 50 per cent. of their maximum capacity. He says that they are now very fully employed and that briquettes are going to the railways in substitution for large coal. But I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that briquettes have a very useful household purpose as a substitute for large coal. They can convert "fines" and very small coal into most useful domestic fuel. Briquettes have a bad reputation in households for some unknown reason. I do not know why. I see that ex-miners opposite are nodding agreement, but that reputation is not true.
I was the first Tory Member to have the honour to address a Co-operative conference of coal managers last July. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I do not know why, but perhaps they thought that it would be instructive to be addressed by a Conservative Member of Parliament. The Co-operative coal managers were interested in this problem and pointed out that in many of their depots there are reserve supplies of household briquettes which are not subject to the domestic allocation system and yet are not being taken up. I checked that when I returned to Birmingham and ordered a ton of household briquettes at £6 17s. 2d. compared with £5 3s. 10d. for grade 3 house coal. If my right hon. Friend wants to popularise briquettes, he must try to make an arrangement with the National Coal Board to bring the price structure for household briquettes more closely into relation with the price of the corresponding grades of household coal.
There are good briquettes and poor briquettes. There is a purpose to which each type of briquette can be applied in industry and the railways with relative ease, whilst leaving the better quality for the domestic market.
I turn now to the position of the British Electricity Authority. It is not altogether satisfactory, as my right hon. Friend implied in his speech, and there is certainly a good deal to be criticised in their Annual Report. Sales of electricity in the United Kingdom in the year 1952–53 have risen by only 3·7 per cent., of which 2·5 per cent. was accounted for by an increase in industrial sales, 1·7 per cent. in domestic sales and 11·8 per cent. in commercial sales.
The capital investment programme of the British Electricity Authority today is something like £160 million a year, which is the largest single slice of capital investment allocated to any single industrial purpose. This £160 million a year is based upon the assumption that there will be a continuous increase in the demand for electricity at the rate of 10 per cent. per annum. In fact last year's electricity sales increased by only 3·7 per cent.
Perhaps the hon. Member will stop shouting at me. No doubt it was attributable to the fact that in the early part of the year under review there was a recession in the textile trade. Also it is the fact that the load factor of British Electricity Authority power stations declined in the year under review. In an industry employing more than £1,000 million of capital, should there be a decline in the load factor it means as a concomitant that the capital employed in the industry is less effectively employed, and for the first time in many years the load factor of the British Electricity Authority showed a substantial decline last year. It had previously been going steadily upwards. It had reached a figure of 51 per cent. in 1951–52 but declined by 5 per cent. in the year now under review, 1952–53. Will my right hon. Friend or the Parliamentary Secretary tell me at the end of the debate why their capital and their plant was less effectively employed, because this is a most grave figure in the Report of the British Electricity Authority.
I do not praise everything which the nationalised industries do. The British Electricity Authority turn out this magnificently documented volume of hundreds of thousands of words each year representing their Annual Report and all that it really consists of is scratching themselves on the back and telling Members of Parliament what a frightfully good business body they are, that they have done everything perfectly and there is no cause for criticism. I was sorry that my right hon. Friend similarly could find no cause for criticism.
It is significant in this matter of load factor that during the four years while the load factor was rising the British Electricity Authority put that fact into their summary in the front of their Annual Report; but this year, when the load factor has fallen, did they put that in the front of the Report. Oh, no. They did not put it in a prominent position, but tucked it away in the body of the Report, where no one could find it.
No, I would give it a rather stronger word than that, a word I used this afternoon about the British Electricity Development Association. [Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends says it is dishonest. I did not use that word, but it is an extraordinary and ingenious device for distracting attention from a very grave figure.
It should be our earnest desire at all times to see that the plant in nationalised industries is employed as continuously as possible and to maximum effect. I wish to say a word about the peak load problem for the forthcoming winter. The right hon. Member for Blyth pointed out that the number of power cuts had declined last year as compared with the year before. The general impression has been created by my right hon. Friend and others that there is no danger of future power cuts or low frequencies in the winter months. Accordingly my right hon. Friend has released all restrictions on promotional advertising. It is rather important to observe in the Report of the B.E.A. for the year ending 31st March last the inclusion of these words:
Britain's electrical generating plant today adds up to many millions of horse-power more than it did a few years back.I quite agree; so does our industrial production, I might add. [An HON. MEMBER: "So do the shares."] The advertisement continues:
That plant could produce more electricity. As things are, the plant is giving full output only for short periods once or twice a day; continuous full operation would cheapen the cost of electrical production.Of course it would. It goes on with this extraordinary sentence:
That is why British Electricity welcomes an increasing use by the housewife of electricity for cooking and water heating, as well as an increasing industrial demand for electricity.There is not a word in that advertisement about the danger of peak loads and power cuts caused by domestic consumers operating appliances at peak hours, in spite of the fact that the B.E.A. readily recognise that they have not enough generating plant to meet peak hour demand next winter.
If there is a mild winter we shall not have power cuts. If there is a mild winter we shall not suffer from a shortage of domestic coal. But, if there is a severe winter with several weeks of ice and snow, a hard winter, not only will there be very severe power cuts but total stoppages—particularly in the Midlands—of industrial plant, brought about by the fact that housewives are still being encouraged to put in domestic water heaters, cookers and electric fires and not being told that if they do put them in they must switch them off at peak hours. That is one of the dangers inherent in this general release of promotional advertising. I am sorry that this policy has been followed.
I regard it as a danger and if we have a very severe winter it may lead to disastrous implications for industrial production.
I make a final point from the Report of the British Electricity Authority in connection with their summary of sales. A few days ago we debated in this House the last Annual Report of the British Transport Commission. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, supported by hon. Members in all parts of the House, stressed the urgent need for pressing on with railway electrification. I think the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) made an impassioned plea for electrification of local and suburban lines in the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas. Of course he was right; of course my right hon. Friend was right.
From a fuel efficiency point of view, it is important to remember that when railways are electrified the coal is burned at the power houses at a thermal efficiency equal to the average of 22·96 per cent. in the light of the last B.E.A. Report, whereas the average locomotive burns coal in the fire box at a thermal efficiency of only 6 per cent.
Railway electrification can make a vast contribution to the balancing of our coal budget, but what is happening in regard to electric traction? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Minister of Transport ought to do some serious talking to the nationalised authorities. In the Report we find that railway traction and the electricity supplies for it show an increase of 21·6 per cent. since 1947. That means that a steady extension of railway electrification for suburban traffic and elsewhere has led to an increase in the electric power consumed of approximately one-fifth, but, immediately following we find in the Report that street traction has declined by 19·1 per cent. in the same period.
Railway consumption of electricity has gone up by 21·6 per cent. since 1947–48 and street traction has gone down by 19·1 per cent., so that all the advantages which we are supporting for extension of railway electrification are being nullified by a commensurate decline in electric street traction because we are scrapping electric trams. I am not pleading for the retention of trams. I am saying that there are many economic advantages in replacing electric trams by electric trolley buses and in not going on to diesel oil buses which depend on transport of fuel oil over thousands of miles across the ocean; and all that fuel oil contains a 12½ per cent. dollar content.
In addition to that, the exhaust fumes add daily to the "smog" problem which the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) has been complaining about so loudly during the past few weeks. Apart from that, all the time that the load on the electricity system for street traction is going down the load factor of the power houses is going down. The street traction load is very largely on off-peak load. It often represents passenger transport late at night and early in the morning—very often for shopping, etc.—and is, therefore, of great economic advantage.
I do not agree, for the Authority and its area boards are supposed to be commercial organisations; they are supposed, in selling their products, to display some drive. Evidently they prefer to go out and sell electricity to be burned wastefully in electric fires because there is a great shortage of domestic solid fuel. They go out and sell electricity to be burned in electric fires rather than achieve the difficult thing and what is the economic thing in the national interest.
Electric trams are being scrapped and replaced by their competitors, diesel oil driven buses. I asked my hon. Friend to intervene in this matter. He said he would not do so because it should be left to the free choice of the local authorities concerned. I had hoped that these local authorities might perhaps be guided by the Minister who is responsible under the Ministry of Fuel and Power Act, 1945, for the economic use of our fuel and power resources. I hope that as a result of what I have said today he may think again about this matter and be prepared to advise local authorities as to their best course in an important matter of this kind, in which fuel technology is so largely involved.
I belong to the school of thought which says that we shall not balance our coal budget with ease during the remaining period between this date and the arrival of atomic energy on a large scale; there will be continuous shortage of coal. In those circumstances freedom of choice is a myth. The hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer), who is an electricity fanatic, says that there ought to be freedom of choice. But electricity and gas are not rationed, whereas coal and coke are. It is easy to plead for freedom of choice, but I believe that there must be guidance from the centre as to the correct end to which each fuel should be put in the national interest, and to secure the greatest possible conservation of coal—in other words, an overall national fuel and power policy similar to that advocated by the right hon. Member for Blyth.
The release of promotional advertising for unbridled competition between gas and electricity is wasteful, extremely expensive and deeply resented by the consumer who has to pay the excessive costs inherent in promotional advertising campaigns.
I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) in congratulating the Minister on presenting the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for 1952 and also the reports on electricity and gas. I shall make a brief reference to the latter theme, but I wish first to say something about the Report of the National Coal Board for 1952. Several hon. Members who have spoken indicated that they had spent a lifetime in the industry. I can say that I have spent the best part of my life in the industry—on both sides of the industry—and I do know something about coal extraction in the British coalfield.
The Report indicates that we have the best possible report under the circumstances, and it will be necessary for me to go into some of those circumstances. "More production" comes glibly from the lips of portly old gentlemen who know nothing about coalmining. I wish briefly to review the position in the Scottish coalfield, which might be taken as comparable to the rest of the British coalfield. Since vesting day the National Coal Board has been compelled to close, in Scotland, 18 pits and 34 mines, flinging idle 5,280 men producing 1,326,000 tons annually. But the Board have opened since vesting day one pit and 36 mines—a pit producing 288,000 tons annually and 36 mines producing 1,693,723 tons annually, and these employ 5,893 men.
The Board are sinking in Scotland seven pits and 14 mines, and they anticipate an annual output from these of 7¾ million tons. They have planned four collieries, mostly in the east of Scotland, with a projected output of 3½ million tons. I regret to say that that is not yet, in my view, sufficient to meet the needs of this country. One chairman of a divisional coal board indicated some time ago that 600,000 were quite sufficient to produce the coal requirements of this country. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) indicated that he would like to see fewer men in the pits. I do not know that the workers in the pits are at all enamoured of the job, but I submit that it requires far more than 600,000 men to produce the amount of coal necessary to meet the industrial and domestic needs of this country. That can be done only by capital investment and the introduction of more men into the pits.
Some people imply that miners detest using machinery. As an experienced miner, I can definitely assure the House that the opposite is the case, because miners today employ electrical coal boring on the least pretext. We, in our day, had to use the old hand method; they are glad to get the coal cutter. The coal cutter, of course, produces a certain percentage of small coal compared with the old hand-cutting method which we used to employ. The introduction of briquetting plant can counter that problem of small coal to a great extent.
I was very interested to learn that in the north of Scotland the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who owns an isolated coalmining unit in Sutherlandshire, was to introduce briquetting there. That will be a fine stroke of business for the Highlands of Scotland.
The hon. Member is perfectly correct. It will be noticed that I am not biased, and up till now hon. Members taking part in this debate have not been biased. I congratulate hon. Members on the constructive nature of their contributions and I wish to make a few suggestions which I know can be of assistance to the industry.
The hon. Member for Esher said he would like to see opencast working abolished. No one likes the effect of opencast working, but nevertheless it gives us 12 million tons of coal annually. I suggest that in Scotland a material improvement could be made on that figure because in East Scotland we have seams of coal lying so shallow that there is not sufficient thickness to cover the working of coal by mining methods. It is absolutely necessary that that coal be extracted, because it is a public danger. It may take fire at any time and once it ignites there is no knowing to what extent the danger may spread. It would be far better for the country were we to recognise the loss incurred by the farmer by compensating him adequately for the use of his land.
There is no doubt whatever that the ground can be reinstated adequately. The National Coal Board and the Ministry of Fuel and Power took me over various reinstated areas in East Scotland and they have demonstrated to me by the crops that were grown just how well they can circumvent any damage to the soil by disturbance. If the Treasury, a Department which is difficult to move, will see to it that the necessary money is provided, there are firms in Scotland who are ready and willing to take on the work. There, I think, we can make a notable contribution to the annual coal output of the country.
When the seams reach a depth where cover is too thick for the coal to be uncovered by means of diggers, we find that opencast workings are filled in and the faces are lost. As a practical experienced miner I submit that none of these faces should be lost sight of. Reinforced tunnels, built either of stone, brick or reinforced concrete from any angle necessary, should be constructed to keep the faces open. Our old men who are no longer able to go down the deep pits, and stumble over ropes and pulleys, and travel long distances to the coalface, could be employed opening out those faces.
They could take with them the younger men which would help to fill a gap in the ranks of skilled labour which exists in the mining industry today. In the old days, when the hand-cutting method was operated, the young men went with their fathers and served an apprenticeship in the coal pits. Nowadays there exists a gap, because a man must be an experienced coal stripper before he can go to the coalface. He must be able to understand and control the roof or he will be a danger to himself and his fellow workers. Before a young man who goes down the pit to work at day wage work, such as transport, is fit to go to the coalface, he must be trained in some way. In the way I have suggested it would be possible for young men to assimilate sufficient knowledge and experience to enable a pool of skilled labour to be formed, and there would be ample face room always at the disposal of the management.
That is not apparent today in the Scottish coalfield. In East Scotland we have a reception area for redundant miners, Lanarkshire in Scotland is the equivalent of Durham in England. There we see a dying county. Lanarkshire men are being shipped to Midlothian and because of a lack of face room in Midlothian they are being relayed again to the West Midlands. In my opinion, that is not an economical way to employ our manpower. I hope the Minister will, as far as possible, advise the Coal Board along the lines I have indicated because only in this way shall we be able to employ skilled men and have a continuing quantity of skilled men being trained for the forthcoming years.
The Coal Board has worked wonders in the coal-mining industry. The hon. Member for Esher says we must have a re-orientation of mentality in the mining industry. No one would like to see that more than I. But when I look back and think of the years about which I have heard Tory Members of Parliament boasting—they say, when criticising the mines of today, "Look at the amount of coal produced in these days compared with 1913"—I recall that in 1913 there were 1,753 men killed in British mines, 439 in one colliery in South Wales alone. In the Scottish coal mines from 1873 to 1913, 46,269 men were killed, and that does not take account of the number of men involved in minor accidents.
In some districts silicosis alone costs from 7s. to 8s. a ton and it costs 3s. 6d. in four collieries in Kent. So hon. Members will understand that some people are not so eager to agree with orientation when they are the victims. It is all very well to have re-orientation, but when we think back to the years 1922, 1923 and 1924, when coal profits were £50 million in the three years, an average of £16,657,000 a year, and it will be seen that in the mining industry there is a great deal to think about where re-orientation is considered.
The Minister gave us an account of the 600,000 tons of coal imported into this country. I deprecate that, because I firmly believe we do not require to import any coal into this country. It is no use dictating to other industries about what they have to do. It is our job to see to it that coal is produced. It can be produced, I submit, only by the introduction of more men into the industry and by the provision of more face room.
Men will employ machinery so far as possible, but in the Lothian coalfield modern American machinery has been scrapped. Under the machine system men were producing only some five or six cwts. per man, but with the pick and shovel they are putting up to 22 tons of coal on to the conveyor. It will be appreciated, therefore, that machinery cannot be employed in every seam or in every mine, and we have more seams in Lothian than anywhere else in Britain. Some people talk about 15-inch seams. We have not 15-inch seams, though I have worked them at less, but today we have seams of from 19 inches up to 10, 12 and 14 feet. We are recovering coal from waste where it was stowed under private enterprise working. Under private enterprise the easiest and nearest and best seams were worked first and the second and third quality coal was left.
The National Coal Board have been faced with another difficulty. They have many brick works. They have to supply bricks for housing purposes, especially their own houses. Today they must take the responsibility of employing outside labour to shift the old colliery bings laid down under private enterprise and to take them to the various brickworks, whereas it would be far more profitable to open up one old colliery in Midlothian which is sunk into a great deposit of clay. Instead they have to conserve labour for the purpose of producing coal. So, because of the manpower problem, we find haulage contractors shifting the old bings and taking them to N.C.B. brickworks.
We can attribute safety in mines to the Board's system of safety and welfare officers who look after the interests of the men. During the last three years we have seen a decline each year in fatal accidents. Though it is true that 409 men were killed last year in the pits, there has been a tendency in the right direction. This system was unknown in my day in the mines.
Mention has been made of stoppages of coal production. One cannot compare these with the stoppages of the past. When we stopped we did not stop for a week. I give two illustrations. In 1919 I was compelled against my wishes to lead a strike in the Lothian coalfield which lasted for six months. We turned down the Minister of Mines twice upon open ballot vote of the men, and we won after six months. In 1927, at Loanend colliery in Lanarkshire the men struck for six months and the fight was drawn. Nevertheless, in 1919 the men lost a tremendous amount in wages which were then at the rate of £1 0s. 6d. a day in the Scottish coalfield.
Today men do not strike for that length of time. They do not strike unless they have a grievance. Were it not for the operation of the Industrial Relations Section of the Board there would be far more strikes. Only recently in the Lothian coalfield at the Newcraighall colliery, where there was a great fall of roof, there might have been most serious consequences. There could easily have been a long drawn-out stoppage had not the industrial relations officer ensured that the good relationship between the men and the Board continued.
We in this House compliment the Minister on his presentation of the Report. I will not go into the other aspects to show what the miner has got by way of benefit since vesting date, but the cooperation of the N.U.M. has been a special feature which has contributed to good relationships between the Board and the men. The men know well the value of their union.
In Scotland we have three electricity boards—the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, the South-West Scotland Electricity Board and the South-East Scotland Electricity Board. I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that the South-East Board, in its first Annual Report, pointed out that this was the last area to bring electrical power to the rural districts. I wish to impress upon the Minister the fact that all the farmers in the south-east are clamouring for supplies of power. This is a developing area. There must be a loosening of the purse strings so that power can be brought to our fast developing areas.
Before vesting date in the gasworks of Scotland, especially in the rural areas—not so much in the towns and cities where we found the best machinery and equipment—we had the greatest collection of scrap material that it has been my lot to see in industry. The Scottish Gas Council has caused a vast change to be made. Today from Edinburgh gas supplies are being taken east and west to our rural area. But, again, there must be a loosening of the purse strings. There must be more capital investment to open up the developing areas.
The Minister mentioned oil, although it is not one of the nationalised industries. I do not know why, because Scottish Oils is a subsidiary of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and I do not know who owns that company if it is not the Government of the day. The greatest apprehension exists in the oil-bearing area. Here in the shale field we produce the finest octane spirit which can be used both for industrial and domestic purposes. Shale is a declining industry. The shopkeepers and business people of both West Mid-Lothian and West Lothian are most apprehensive about the future of the industry.
As the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said, in war-time we should have the greatest difficulty in shipping oil from the sheiks in the Middle East and we should be forced back on our own resources. I warn the Government that it would be dangerous to allow the industry to decline. It would be far better to encourage and expand it and to provide alternative industries to employ the women. I understand that shale is being brought from Nottinghamshire to be refined at West Lothian. I ask the Minister to note the position in the oilfields because there is a feeling of discouragement there today.
In having the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, immediately after the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde), I should like to follow up certain points on which he commented. He referred in particular to the need for capital investment in the Scottish coalfields and also to the need for extended face room.
In addressing the House on this subject, I should first like to say that I speak with the greatest deference in the presence of men who have won their way through the mining industry. My knowledge of it is necessarily superficial. It is that of a Member who happens to have some 40 per cent. of his constituents drawing their livelihood from coal. All I can bring to the subject is such expertise as I have as a professional newspaperman, in looking at a fresh problem with a fresh eye. It is in that sense that, as an entire layman, I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting a number of pits in Lanarkshire and making friends with many miners for whom I have come to have a very deep respect and, indeed, genuine affection.
I cannot help joining others in expressing my gratitude to the Minister for the news that we have had from him about the National Coal Board. I believe, from what men in the industry have told me, that the prospect of some devolution to area managers will be welcome. The prospect that the mine manager, who gets the thickest stick of all, may have some greater freedom to carry out his duties, and the prospect that the National Coal Board will take a look at itself in the interests of performing its industrial functions to the best of its ability, all these things will be very welcome to the men.
In going round the collieries in my constituency I have been very much struck by a certain element of criticism of the Board, which I believe the Board will in due course overcome, but it is sometimes ignorantly supported by members of the public also. One facet of N.C.B. operations which strikes me very much as an outsider is the welfare side. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) referred just now to the great isolation of the miner and his village. It is far-sighted, imaginative and sensible that the Board should try to help village life. There are villages in Lanarkshire where the National Coal Board dramatics producer is a welcome personality, and he helps to develop something in village life which might not otherwise exist. Where men are happy, it may be expected that they will work better.
There are also the residential training colleges. In my constituency there is Dungavel College, through which 1,500 or 2,000 of the young men who go below ground have passed to receive their preliminary training. A couple of weeks ago I had the most stimulating experience of visiting Dungavel and of observing for myself the extraordinary keenness which these young men have, the enthusiasm which they put into their studies and the care and imagination used in instructing them.
It is not for me as a layman to comment, but it may be worth while recording that there is a common complaint that these young men, having learnt the correct way to get coal, when they get below ground and to the face are sometimes taught less correct and less scientific methods by their elders. I have not the qualifications to offer a comment on that, and I merely repeat it for what it is worth.
I believe it is the case that the residential college system can already be shown to have achieved results in at least one respect. There are now about 1,500 to 2,000 young men who have been through the college. They spend three months there—boarding—and the sudden intervention of the boarding school is an important innovation, and I believe it is useful. The observation which can now be made, and is made, I understand, by the National Coal Board is that the wastage in the pits among young men who have been trained at the college is substantially less than that among those whose training was non-residential.
Again, one frequently encounters—I find it on all sides among the public and also among the miners—a general peevishness about the National Coal Board relating to the fact that an industry of enormous importance to the country may fall into a state of crisis or otherwise over a mere 2 per cent. of its production. That production is drawn from 900 pits of very many kinds, no two being alike. Surely there is a very strong case indeed for a central statistical service which will sort out the facts and try to discover what are at any given time obstructions or aids to progress.
When one notices that, according to the National Coal Board's Report last year, some 90 pits in the East Midlands produced 44 million tons with a profit of £13 million and at the same time 190 pits in Scotland produced 23 million tons with a net loss of £4 million, the case for careful statistical analysis appears to be overwhelming. I believe the National Coal Board is undertaking it with great resource and imagination.
Having said that, there is another facet of the problem which strikes me as an outsider. I am sick and tired of hearing people say "We are not getting enough coal because the miners are slack and because they do not go to work often enough." I believe that to be a gross slander upon a very important element in our national life. I heartily agree with what has been said by several hon. Members, including the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), about understanding this isolated but so important and so critical element in our working population. That is something which outsiders ought to appreciate.
With regard to absenteeism, is it not common sense that in an extractive industry of this kind wherein a man may work for four, six or eight hours lying on his side 50 or 100 yards from anybody else, his health is absolutely vital? If he is not up to par but goes down the pit in a bad condition, that may represent a hazard not only to himself but also to others. Therefore, there is a certain amount of justification and reason for absenteeism in this industry which might not apply in some others.
Are not the figures of absenteeism most bewildering when we analyse them? For example, I notice from the National Coal Board's return that in 1950–51 absenteeism at the face rose from 14·51 to 14·75 per cent. But instead of falling, the output per man year during the same period rose from 293 to 303 tons. Again, in 1950–51 absenteeism at the face was apparently constant at 14·75 per cent. Yet output per man year fell during that period from 303 tons to 300 tons.
According to the figures that we can get every week, between January and March this year total absenteesim rose from 15 to 15·9 per cent. I am told that influenza was very largely responsible for that. Never mind what was responsible; the fact is that, although absenteeism rose by 0·9 per cent. during those three months, output per man shift rose as well. Is it supposed that the people who were left behind worked better? What I am suggesting is that the public are inclined to relate figures which, strictly, ought not to be related.
Again, from April to June this year total absenteeism fell from 15·9 to 14·9 per cent. and output per man shift also fell from 3·17 to 3·13 tons. I submit that the ordinary public comment that absenteeism is at the root of our troubles is a false comment and needs to be scotched. Any opportunity that we can take to educate our countryman about the complexity of the industry is well taken.
We are also told that the men do not work hard enough. I am neither a miner nor a farmer; but, just as when a man talks about the "feather-bedding" of our farmers, I reply, "All right, come and sleep on the brae side and see how soft it is," so to those who accuse the miners of not working hard enough I say, "Come and do it yourself." I am sick and tired of the nagging at the mineworkers, who are sensitive like any other section of the population. They deserve a square deal in public esteem.
From such comments as have reached me, I believe that if they get a square deal from the public, they will also give a square deal to other members of their own profession, and at present the miner who criticises other miners for slacking is by no means uncommon. Morale in the mining industry in that respect would be stiffened and strengthened if the public were not nagging at the mining community in general.
I believe there are useful lessons to be drawn from an analysis of the Coal Board's most costly 24 million tons. Apparently, according to the Coal Board's analysis, not only are £18 million a year lost on this most expensive 24 million tons of coal, but 26 per cent. of it comes from South Wales, 18 per cent. from Scotland and 22 per cent. from Northumberland and Cumberland.
These are the divisions that seem to show the greatest overall losses and the greatest incidence of absenteeism and disputes. It may be thought that I am now contradicting what I said before, but I submit that the fact that the most costly coal seems to come from those areas where there are most disputes may well be held to bear out what many mine workers are saying. They say that in large degree the issue of productivity does relate to lay-out and modernisation. That has been said many times before, but it still needs repeating.
Furthermore, if that is the case, I submit that it may very well be that what the miner is suffering from is a lack of face room, and, therefore, a lack of capital development. That fact, to which the latest National Coal Board Report bears ample witness, is perhaps the gravest single feature of the whole industrial picture.
There are many lessons that may be drawn from that lack of capital development, and, maybe, there are also many reasons for it, but there is one point which I think is well worth bearing in mind. It is related to the size of the stint. So often one hears complaints, sometimes by managers and sometimes by others, that the stint negotiated by the N.U.M. and conceded by the Coal Board is too small, I am not competent to comment on that. But, as an outsider, what strikes me as common sense is that, if the men have any uncertainty about the industrial equipment behind them, they will want a margin of safety. If for instance, they have any reason to fear, as they had two years ago when rubber was so hard to get, that the haulage system was liable to let them down and conveyor belts could not easily be replaced, they would want a smaller stint to make allowance for choking up the pit in the event of a breakdown which would cost them wages. Uncertainty about the machinery, and delays in repair or replacement are bound to affect the stint. That is a perfectly reasonable consideration.
One of the points which the Minister should look at, as I am sure he will, is the lag and delay in providing machinery. I was told the other day that there might be a delay of anything from 15 to 30 months in obtaining delivery of a coal cutter. That was the lag a few months back. I hope that period has since been cut down. In the case of conveyors, the delay was from 11 to 15 months, and for electric motors 30 to 60 weeks, for underground locomotives two to 12 months and for haulage mechanism anything up to 60 weeks. If these figures are true the delays are very serious. One of the jobs on which the attention of the Ministry should be focused concerns the assistance that may be given to industry in getting speedier deliveries of equipment.
There is one other facet of the problem to which the hon. Gentleman opposite referred—the appalling question of mine disasters, and it is still appalling. There is no reason to be satisfied with the present position. The hon. Member also referred to the ease with which, in days gone by, a pit could be closed down. It is quite obvious that, if we could move people about like men on a chess board, then we would move miners from the less profitable to the better pits.
But there is a human factor in all this which the general public, and perhaps others as well, so frequently forget. Not only can we not move these people about, but, even if it was desirable and practicable, they still would not go.
Some months ago, I had the very great privilege of staying with a miner, who wrote to me quite out of the blue, and who was living in the most deplorable conditions in a wooden hutted camp in my constituency. This camp may in some ways be likened to a set of gipsy shacks. The man works in a mine nearby. I said to him "Why don't you go off up to Fife?" He said: "Och, mon, I went; but I couldn't get on with the Fifers." This man had been offered a first-class house ready for him to walk into. But, in the face of a demonstration of that regional patriotism which has so often bedevilled Scotland, he preferred to stay on in his shack rather than go into the new house. There, I believe, we have displayed, in all its raw and gaunt tragedy, one facet of the human problem with which the Coal Board is faced. The Board naturally want to move people about, but they are people, and not chattels.
What a fine and generous spirit there is in this industry, and how welcome is the man who is prepared humbly to learn. I have received nothing but courtesy and kindness from miners whom I have met. I well recall a group of miners from a particular village writing to me and saying that they believed that there was a lot more coal in their mine, but the Board were going to lose it. They asked me to help them to get it.
I met them, and I went into the problem with them, and I cannot say that the problem proved to be quite as simple as it was presented. But the thing that struck me was that here were men who felt that if they could get that coal, and thus prove that there was a long life for the pit, they could build up their own local community. They could get houses, a bowling green and other amenities. They felt that with hope in the future they could lead a better life. I was glad and proud to try to help. Such indeed is the spirit which is now to be found. I only give these rambling observations from a small area which I have been privileged to visit—as a general illustration.
Let me conclude with this reminiscence. I was going down one pit, and, once below ground, according to my normal practice as a journalist, my first object was to escape my escort. All the baggage train of mine managers, area managers, division managers and inspectors went on in front, and I managed to keep at the back of the file while they went tramping on ahead. At last I came to the junction of that road and another gallery.
At that point a man said to me, "If you want to see something, get up there, but you will need to crawl a long way." I was very frightened, but I did crawl. I crawled along a gallery which was perhaps three feet high, and I was very struck with the fact that the props were not upright but bent. I said, when I reached the other end, "What about those props?" A stripper told me, "There is always movement down here."
He was a young man—28. He had been down the pit since he was 14. I said to him, "This is a strange place to work, when you could work in a garage or driving a bus in the light of day. How do you stick it, down here? Why do you do it? "After a pause, he replied," I like coal."
Listening to the debate, I have found it difficult to believe that I was in a real world. Years ago, when I was in the pit, I discussed nationalisation with my fellow workers on many occasions, but none of us ever dreamed that we should see the day when members of the Tory Party would be expressing agreement with public ownership, especially in the coalmining industry. Even 30 years ago, if hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House had expressed the feelings and opinions that we have heard from the Government Benches today, they would have been derided, criticised and ridiculed.
It has been amusing to listen to some of the simple elementary things from the Government benches that we have been saying and thinking as miners about the coalmining industry for decades. I regret that the Government did not allow the iron and steel and transport industries' nationalisation to continue so as to confer upon those industries the blessings that Government supporters have at last learned in connection with public ownership in the coalmining industry. I welcome this change, and I am delighted to have heard some of the speeches from the other side of the House this afternoon. I shall not be critical; in fact, I join in the general agreement with the work of the miners and of the National Coal Board.
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to two or three phases of development, and if he gives the kind of attention to them which I shall suggest, it will help the industry and the relationship of the miners to the industry. Quite recently, a wages claim was made by the National Union of Mineworkers on behalf of the lower paid workers. That claim was rejected a few days ago. I admit that the rejection is understandable in the present economic and financial position of the industry, which last year showed a loss of £8·2 million and, during nationalisation, taking the good and bad years together, has shown a loss of roughly £14 million. If the coal-mining industry got a just, economic price for its coal, that financial and economic position ought not to exist.
Reference has been made to one aspect of this question of the just price for coal, and I shall develop it further, because I think there is a way in which the National Coal Board and the country can meet the miners' wage claim without increasing the general selling price of coal. A Question was put in this House this afternoon about the price that the iron and steel industry pays for its coal. What price are other industries which use coal for the purpose of carbonisation paying for that coal? We do not know the particular prices, but I suspect that there is an arrangement like that against which we protested 20 or more years ago, and which is known as the "transfer price," that is, the price between the coal industry and ancillary industries for the coal passed on to them. It is transferred at the expense of the financial position of the coalmining industry. In those days we protested against that practice. I suspect that a similar arrangement is operating now.
We have read that the iron and steel industry made a profit of £64 million last year and of £54 million in the year before. During the years of nationalisation the electricity industry has made a profit of £20 million. I submit that these industries are not entitled to be making profits unless they are first paying an economic price for the coal which they consume. To do otherwise is wrong practice in principle, for industry and for the nation.
The second phase of this matter is the question of redundancy. The county of Durham, in which I had my coalmining experience, is very concerned, particularly about the closure and partial closure of pits in the west and northwest of the county. Half the coal output of the county consists of best quality coking coal which is used by the other industries which are making substantial profits, and about 33 per cent. of the output comes from seams which are 14 inches to 20 inches in thickness. Some of these seams have been partly closed and others have been threatened with closure in the next few years, not always because of the exhaustion of their reserves but because the limit of un-profitability is being reached. This means that best quality coking coal, said to be the best in Europe at least, and as precious as gold, is being sold at a price substantially below the cost of production. That is not fair.
It has been said already today that 118 pits in this country are producing coal at a loss of £1 per ton. I should not wonder if some of them are producing this high quality coal. Unless we do something about the present position the nation will lose this coal. It cannot afford to lose it, and I want to suggest to the Minister that he ought to consider a suggestion to increase the selling price of this coal, because this matter is within his responsibility.
This is the one industry which does not fix the selling price of its product. To do that is within the authority and responsibility of the Minister. I suggest to him that in order to meet the wages demand which has been made on behalf of the lower-paid workers, and also greatly to reduce the redundancy which is developing in the Durham coalfield, the Minister should increase the price of this high quality coking coal to the industries to which I have referred and which are making substantial profits. It could be done without increasing the general selling price of coal throughout the country. I am not asking the housewife to pay more for her coal, but that industries which quite clearly can afford to do so should pay a just, economic price for that coal to the coalmining industry.
On 18th May, "The Times" published a letter from a Mr. Sam Watson, in which he drew the attention of that newspaper and of an hon. Member on the Government side to this problem, because the comments appearing in "The Times" on the Report of the National Coal Board were critical of the administration of that nationalised industry. Mr. Watson, a Durham area official of the N.U.M., posed to those who criticised that administration the question whether these 15 to 20-inch seams of high quality coal were to be left unworked, and whether the nation were to be deprived of it.
The industries which use this coal should pay the proper price for it. As I say, we are not asking the housewives and other consumers of coal to pay an increased price, but we do suggest that the industries which are at present buying this coal at an uneconomic price, and whose profits considerably exceed the £13 million which it is estimated would be required to meet the wage claim of the men working in the industry could, at the same time, by paying a higher price for their coal help to reduce the growing redundancy in the Durham pits.
Some day this nation will need this high quality coal, and if the miners in those parts are transferred to other areas, we shall never be able to replace them. Through working and living in those areas they have acquired a skill which cannot be found elsewhere. I have travelled through half the collieries in the Durham coalfield, and I can assure the House that if these men are allowed to be transferred elsewhere merely because the coal is unprofitable to work, we shall regret it. We may need men of that type in the years to come, and if they have gone we shall not be able to replace them.
I believe that this type of coal represents about half the total production of coal in Durham. To increase the price would not only benefit Durham, but would also improve the financial position of the industry throughout the country.
The other matter to which I wish to refer—and I do so in no critical sense—is the development in recent years of mechanisation in the mining industry. Is the Minister satisfied that all the experimentation which has taken place and the different types of machinery which have been tried out during the last 10 years are really justified? Have these new methods of machine mining increased production over the period as a whole compared with the tested and proved methods of previous years?
I object to these constant changes in mining methods for two reasons. The first reason is that they involve a tremendous amount of capital expenditure. We have paid heavily for experimenting in these matters in recent years. My second reason is that I believe the time has come when our mining engineers should get together and from their experience gained in the last 10 years produce a type of machinery suitable for varying conditions so that we may get a settled period of high and maintained production from such machinery.
During the last eight to 10 years there have been three distinct phases in the installation of different types of machinery. First of all, we went crazy over the Meco-Moore machine. A few years later we changed over to a large extent to the Joy loader and shuttle car for transporting coal from the face. I can quote several examples where that very expensive machinery has been withdrawn from collieries, and in more recent years we have been concentrating on the so-called German plough as a means of slicing and cutting coal at the face.
One constantly hears about certain machinery being introduced and about the great output being obtained with it. Then no more is heard of it, and for some reason or other that machinery is withdrawn and very often stands about the pit deteriorating until it becomes of no value at all.
It is interesting to note that the manufacturers of mining machinery are enjoying what seems to be a constant boom. One big firm in the north-east area has extended its factory and is importing machine parts. That means that engineering in other countries is also booming in this respect.
I know some of the difficulties about getting sufficient technicians in the industry, but I am sure that we have enough of them to be able to have a thorough examination of this problem with a view to reaching a decision as to the best type of machine to use. In that way, we could have a settled period of production.
Some months ago another hon. Member and I went round an engineering firm and saw there some heavy plant. We were puzzled to know how they had got it. They had not made it. It had been sent to them for reconditioning. We learned that it had never been in a pit and that it was being reconditioned for export to South Africa. These shuttle cars and Joy loaders were imported, first of all, from America.
In answer to a Question a few months ago, the Minister gave me some idea of the capital value of mining machinery imported from America. I believe it amounted to £409,000, and at that time at least a quarter of the machinery had not gone into any pit. I seriously suggest that this is a matter which ought to have the Minister's urgent attention.
Therefore, I submit two points. First, it is uneconomic and unjust that the industry should have to sell its best quality coking coal at under production cost, and, secondly, the Minister ought to pay attention to the question of the development of machinery in the industry with, as I have said, a view to having a settled period during which we may obtain the best results from it.
There are two smaller aspects and, though this might seem a little party political, I must in fairness put it. In April, 1952, the Coal Board became responsible for opencast mining, and I read that that kind of operation was to continue for many years with an estimated output of 10 million tons. Two things worry me here. Are we not taking this too far, in the sense that it is actually reducing the lifetime of existing pits? I have seen some sites working quite near to existing pits. That is not merely reducing the life of the pit, but bringing to an end the community life built up in that district. I should like to be satisfied that, in all cases, the coal could not be got just as economically by deep mining methods, having regard to safety and other factors, as by opencast mining methods.
Secondly, I read that this estimated output of 10 million tons per annum will mean taking out of production each year 25,000 acres of agricultural land. I admit that the cost of production of opencast coal is a few shillings less than the deep mined, but does that cost of production take into account the loss of food that we sustain in these operations?
Taking, perhaps, the narrower political issue, I read that of the total opencast output last year, the amount stocked was increased from 400,000 tons to 3,100,000 tons. From that it would appear that opencast coal is not so essential, and it should be borne in mind that for the nine months that the Coal Board were responsible—April to the end of the year—their output was roughly 9 million tons, so that one-third of the opencast mining output has been stocked. Has that been done at the expense of our exports? Has that been done at the expense of something such as balance of payments to make the position appear better in regard to coal, or to give some party political satisfaction that coal is being stocked? It is important, if we have coal that can be exported, that we should still be striving to build up exports as high as possible.
On a previous occasion, when speaking, not in a fuel and power debate, but on the occasion of the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech last year, I mentioned the urgency of a new Coalmines Act. Changes have taken place in the industry since the Coal Mines Act, 1911. I asked the Minister then to give this matter attention with a view to introducing such a Coal Mines Act as early as possible. That has not yet been introduced. Despite the Queen's Speech next week, I wonder whether the Minister can indicate any progress in this matter.
I do hope the Minister will give early and particular attention to those two points, that the mining industry shall receive a fair, economic price for its high quality coking coal, and that some close attention be given to some settlement, as it were, in the kind of machinery we are going to use, and can use, in the mining industry, and thus save a good deal of capital expenditure. I think I have sufficient experience to justify my asking that closer examination be made of that side of the industry, commencing with those two matters. The miners in my part of the country are especially concerned about this rejected wages claim, and about the growing threat of redundancy in some parts of the country.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley) has dealt with one aspect of the question of prices for certain qualities of coal, but I do think it is right that some one should speak from the consumer aspect, particularly with regard to variation in prices. I may say that I know Chester-le-Street extremely well, having been there for three years, 1926 to 1929, when mining was in a very different state from what it is now.
In North Devon, where I live and which I represent, we have had many complaints, not only through me but more recently through the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council, about the extraordinary unfairness with which coal prices are fixed according to the particular zone in which one happens to live.
In 1951 the system was evolved of zoning different areas and pricing coal to merchants, and retail prices from merchants, in those zones. Nowhere in England, Wales or Scotland is domestic coal more expensive than in Zone 2B, which is North Devon, and there are 61 zones, so it is quite a fair number to look through. The price of Group 4 fuels delivered to merchants in a very fortunate zone, No. 45, is 67s. 2d. per ton, whereas in my zone, 2B, it is 109s. per ton. That is not all, because those are only the prices delivered to merchants; the retail basic rates in those zones are, respectively, Zone 45, £4 10s. 10d. a ton. compared with £6 15s. 1d. in Zone 2B—more than 45s. a ton difference for the same quality of coal. The rural areas in my district are very scattered so that additional haulage costs have to be added.
The Domestic Coal Consumers' Council went into this particular problem and mentioned it in their annual report up to 30th June, 1953, and I think they were
absolutely on the right track when they said:
Price zones. Two years ago we welcomed the introduction of the zone prices scheme, as we believed that it would be generally acceptable to consumers, in spite of certain anomalies that remained. Some among us attached importance to the demand in some quarters for price equalisation over the whole country, but the majority thought that there was not a clear case for taking this drastic step. We did feel, however, that a measure of equalisation could have been introduced by widening the zones established in 1951.
Then it goes into some detail about the prices, and it finishes by saying:
We are sorry therefore that though you were prepared to authorise changes when the variation in prices was only of a few coppers, you could not agree to the rather larger adjustments suggested in other areas and that in consequence the proposals were abandoned. We hope that this has not finally been disposed of.
In the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of the National Coal Board for the year ended 31st December, 1952, at page 38, this aspect is mentioned under the heading "Relations with Consumers." It says:
Thus, during 1952, the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council made various suggestions for altering the scheme of zone-delivered prices for house coal. For example, they suggested that the number of zones should be reduced, and the Board began discussing with distributors the possibility of doing this.
I want to ask the Minister, first, whether those discussions have been finished and abandoned or whether they are still in progress, and whether he will exert his best endeavours to encouraging the Coal Consumers' Council and the National Coal Board to have a further investigation into whether there should be some reduction in the number of zones and a corresponding reduction in price by averaging the prices throughout those larger zones.
In January, February and again in May of his year I have put this problem to the Minister, and on each occasion I have received an answer which did not in any way help me or the people whom I represent. I impress upon the Minister that this is an important point from the consumers' point of view. We do not feel that because one lives in a rural area miles away from a coalfield we should be called upon to pay not only £2 per ton more for coal of a similar quality to that which is being delivered in another zone, but over twice as much for the coal that we get compared with the price charged to the distributors in another zone. It is neither fair nor equitable.
People in the scattered rural areas which I represent feel that they gain no benefit from nationalisation. Since nationalisation was introduced they have seen prices increase time after time—5s. a ton or whatever it may be, more and more, always increasing, and they always seem to have to pay more than anybody else. It is no encouragement to live in the country, and it is no encouragement to return to the land. I ask the Minister to have another look at this problem and go into it with the National Coal Board to see whether some better and fairer arrangement can be made.
I am pleased to have this opportunity of following the hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto) on the subject of prices and distribution costs. I did not intend to start on that point, but in view of the remarks which have already been made about the cost of coal to the steel industry, I should like to ask the Minister whether he is prepared to give us some guidance on the question of distribution costs. The public ought to know that the pithead prices of coal are in the region of £3 per ton and that in London they are subject to a 50 per cent. increase. More detailed information should be given about the cost of coal to other industries so that the miner in the coalfield may know exactly where he stands.
I feel that in this debate there has been a complete capitulation by the opponents to nationalisation. We should not forget the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers and the mineworkers themselves who have made such an important contribution to its success.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley) has referred to the question of wages. The public ought to know that there are many in the mining industry who still cannot make ends meet, and this is tragic when we realise that coal is the most important commodity in the life of this nation. I hope the Minister will agree to some investigation being made promptly into the subject of the wages earned by some of our day wage workers in the mining industry.
I now want to refer to the winning of coal. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street spoke of mechanisation, and I should like to point out that when dealing with coal in natural conditions there is quite a lot of trial and error involved. I do not say this boastfully, but there is no Member in this House who has been in more pits than I have, and I have seen natural conditions completely defeat the finest mining engineers. My hon. Friend discussed the question of mining engineers pooling their resources and trying to get some type of machinery which would be successful, but we have to understand that what is successful in one seam is unsuccessful in another, and this state of affairs goes on the whole time.
I want to draw the Minister's attention to this fact relating to large coal. When a pit is highly mechanised one has in most cases to undercut, and then what happens? The incidence of shot-firing has increased tremendously in the last twelve years, and the result is that 75 per cent. of the coal is going to the washery. I wonder whether more experiments could be made with the Gullick hydraulic burster. I have seen some splendid results from it. It all depends whether it is being worked in a friable seam or not. It must not be thought that because we have mechanisation it is impossible to get big coal, because I have seen big coal obtained by the Meco-Moore and the Gullick hydraulic burster. Therefore, I feel there is yet plenty of scope for investigation in that field.
There are two ways of having more coal—by winning more in the pits and by saving more. It is perfectly true, as has already been said in this debate that a tremendous amount of coal can still be saved. The Minister certainly made an admission this afternoon when he referred to antiquated plant and machinery. It is claimed by certain manufacturers that during the past 100 years 500 million tons of coal have been saved by fuel economisers. Yet at the present time there are industrialists who are adamant in refusing to introduce modern plant or fuel economisers because, they say, "What we save on that account, the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes on the other." It is necessary for the Minister to take some direct action. We could save at least 20 million tons of coal per year with more efficient industrial plant, and I hope that we shall see some positive results in that direction.
We have been using coal for more than 1,000 years, and even in the 13th century London complained about the smoky conditions. It is abominable to think that in the 20th century we still have an enormous amount of grit, smoke emission and pyrites. I am prepared to agree that the National Coal Board are making every endeavour to increase their washing plant, but further investigation is necessary.
Each of the three main sources of power—coal, gas and electricity—should be used for its own purpose, compatible with the interests of the country, but what have we at present? What the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said about the B.E.A. is true to some extent. I received today a letter from a local authority stating that they are having an additional financial burden of £9,000 placed upon them in connection with a small housing estate. This local authority—Rothwell, in Yorkshire—specified wiring their houses at a cost of £25 each, but B.E.A. are insisting that these houses should be wired to a specification of £45 each, so that immersion heaters and electric cookers can be used—and they have the power to do it. This is in an area where they have concessionary coal.
I hope that the Minister will give some reply to this. His colleague was questioned on this score at a conference at Filey, and it is causing a deal of dismay in the West Riding. Why should the B.E.A. demand this when there is no need for it? As has been said, if these implements are used during peak hours they will be cut out. The Minister must agree that the position should be dealt with immediately.
It is too late to start asking for more physical effort from the miners. What we need is more technical development. We are lagging behind. The potential is there, but are the right people coming forward? It is all very well for the National Coal Board to award scholarships, but are we getting the right material? In the mining industry one needs not only brains but brawn and backbone. I wonder whether some of the appointments are going by favour instead of by the ability to adapt oneself. Changes have taken place during the last two or three years. Young men who have entered the industry have struggled at evening classes and have obtained manager's certificates, but have been overlooked because they have not the necessary academic qualifications. Academic qualifications will not bring us more coal. One has to take one's gloves off in the mining industry, and I hope that too much emphasis will not be given to academic qualifications in the industry. Many young men in the pits are frustrated because they have been overlooked.
The Minister failed to refer to a new coal mines Measure. What is good enough for one generation does not necessarily suffice for the next. The National Coal Board have issued their own supplementary rules, and there is a good deal of confusion with regard to the question of safety. I hope that the Minister will expedite the introduction of this new Measure, because we are all waiting for it. He promised it in the very near future and I trust that, although he failed to mention it this evening, he will fulfil his promise.
It is an undisputed fact that the mining industry has won its way into the hearts of the people, in spite of what may have been said. Nevertheless, we must have the good will of everyone if we are to get the necessary coal. A great deal has been said about the 260 million tons, but it would be far better if the Minister would do as various hon. Members have asked and cut out the enormous waste that is taking place. I trust that he will also see that the wages in this industry are compatible with the work done in the pits.
I hope that the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) will forgive me if I hark back to the speech made a little earlier by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley), because there is a real connection between the subject of coal saving and the subject of prices. I was glad that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street introduced the question of the price policy of the National Coal Board for the first time in this debate. I largely sympathise with his observations, except that when he referred to the coal in the Durham mines being produced at a loss I think that he really meant that it was being sold at a loss, which is not necessarily the same thing.
It is my misfortune that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) ended his speech with the very quotation with which I intended to begin mine. Nevertheless, I hope I may be forgiven for quoting it again—a little more fully—because it was a very striking utterance of the Secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. He said:
We are still the champion coal wasters of Europe. We lack neither the science nor the technology to save from 15 to 20 million tons of coal a year, and at no greater cost than the additional expense we have had to shoulder by importing coal since the end of the war.
That reference to imported coal sent me to the remarks made upon the subject in the National Coal Board's Report. In paragraph 128 they say:
All the coal imported was sold at the same price as comparable British coal, and this involved the Board in a loss of the imported coal of about £1¾ million or 103s. a ton.
If the people who used that imported coal had been charged £5 3s. per ton more than the price of British-produced coal, I venture to say that they would have found the means to economise and dispense with the whole or part of it, and they would have done so at considerably less expense. The difficulty is that the "we" who spend money on importing coal are different from the "we" who ought to be introducing the measures of economy which would render that importation unnecessary. In the one case it is the nation which is footing the bill; in the other case it is the decision of the individual who uses coal priced at £5 3s. per ton less than it costs to import.
But imported coal is only a very minor and relatively unimportant example of the principle. The same thing is happening with the coal which we mine here at home. In the Neath area in 1952 11½ million tons of coal were mined and sold at a loss of over 23s. per ton. In the Bristol and Somerset area 2½ million tons were mined and sold at a loss of 24s. per ton. There straight away are 14 million tons sold at a loss, counting overheads and capital charges, of £4½ million; 14 million tons of coal, almost the same amount as the Secretary of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was saying could easily be saved by the devices of science and technology which we have at our disposal.
The people who used that 14 million tons of coal which was sold at a loss of £4½ million were subsidised. They were subsidised by the users of all other coal, because the essence of the Board's average price policy is that the users of low-cost coal subsidise the users of high-cost coal. So once again we have a separation of interest between the individual users of coal and the nation at large. If those users had not been receiving this subsidy of £4½ million from the rest of the community we may be assured that they would have found that it paid them either to use alternative fuels or to use the same fuel more efficiently. The "we" is a different "we" in the two contexts.
I believe that this whole question of price policy in coal has been bedevilled by a confusion between price and real cost. The real cost of getting the coal which is produced in this country is the labour and other resources that go to extract it. The real cost of mining that 11½ million tons in the Neath area is the same whatever we sell the coal for. It is the same if we give it away. It is the same if we sell it at the price of fine gold. The real cost is the labour and resources which go into extracting the coal.
If the marginal coal, by which I mean the highest-cost coal, were saved by economies which cost less—which is the hypothesis—then the nation would be the gainer by the different and more profitable employment of the labour and the resources which would be saved. Two hundred and fourteen and a half million tons of coal, which was the amount produced and sold in 1952, would not in fact have been demanded if it had been sold at the marginal price. Therefore, we must, by doing so, be wasting a very substantial amount, though not an amount which can be precisely defined, of those real assets, our labour and our physical resources.
What is most serious is not that we wasted them in 1952, by using more coal than we needed for the purposes for which
it was used, but that we are wasting these resources for the future; for by this price policy we are impeding the transfer from high- to low-cost production of coal. Whatever force there may be in the criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) of the British Electricity Authority's Report, no one can say that the National Coal Board's Report lacks anything in frankness and in determination to face the facts, pleasant or unpleasant. Certainly on this issue they have been remarkably outspoken. In paragraphs 40 and 41 of their Report they explain how this demand for marginal coal which results from the price structure is impeding the transfer of production from higher to lower cost.
For some years now"—
the unrelenting pressure for current output has caused development for future output to fall behind what was required, and the cost of providing capacity for extra manpower, with development work already in arrears, set managements at many pits an extremely difficult problem.
Then they underline it again. They say:
As time goes on, increasingly more reliance has to be put"—
for increased productivity—
on the big schemes. But most of these schemes have fallen behind schedule, some seriously so; and many pits"—
these are the really significant words—
with extremely low productivity have had to be kept in production, which otherwise would have been closed, and the men transferred to other pits where their efforts would have produced more coal.
It is the demand which has to be satisfied for this marginal 15 million to 20 million tons of coal which, on the Coal Board's own admission and statement, has been the prime factor in impeding the improvement of productivity not merely in these few years but for a long time to come. Once again the reason is that the nation pays the true cost of that coal—the nation pays the real cost of extracting every ton of coal that we use—but a substantial proportion of the users are denied the knowledge in terms of price of what it is costing to get that coal. They are being subsidised.
For the future of the coal industry—and it is not much exaggeration to say that that is the future of the country itself
—this question of coal price is absolutely critical. It is now over a year since the Ridley Committee reported their general view of the principle which should govern the price structure not only in the coal industry but also in the electricity and gas industries. They set it out in paragraph 232 of their Report:
The best pattern of fuel and power use will be promoted not by the direct intervention of the Government, but by the exercise of the consumer's free choice of his fuel services—provided that competition between the fuel industries is based on prices, tariffs, and terms of supply which closely correspond to the relevant costs of supply, and that the consumer is enabled to make an informed choice.
The price structure which the National Coal Board are operating could not be better designed if its object were to prevent the customer from making an informed choice and, in particular, to prevent all those users of coal who have the means to economise from making an informed decision as between going on using coal as they are at present or adopting better methods of utilisation.
Since the Ridley Committee reported, Parliament has, in the case of another nationalised industry, rail transport, made a substantial contribution towards bringing within the reach of practical possibility this principle of prices related to real costs. It was unfortunate that when they came to apply the principle to coal prices the Ridley Committee were divided 50–50, though they were unanimous in recommending a Tariffs Advisory Committee to study this whole question of price by itself and take it out of the immediate purview of the individual nationalised industries.
I regret that price policy has figured so little in our debates and appears to have attracted so little anxiety and attention on the part of the three nationalised industries which we are discussing today. So long as the principle which is embodied in the Ridley Report is not implemented in practice in the structure of coal prices, so long will the National Coal Board year after year have to deplore that the desired measure of coal utilisation and coal efficiency and economy has not been reached and that the redeployment of the resources of the industry is proceeding more slowly than had been hoped.
I am old fashioned enough to believe that one of the advantages of having publicly-owned industries is that we can have a degree of public control and, indeed, Parliamentary supervision. I therefore join with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) in saying that I deplore the way in which this debate has been arranged. If hon. Members like to combine the discussions on gas and electricity, I would concede that, but I think we should have had one day devoted to the Report of the National Coal Board on its own, in which case we should have had a better debate and there might even have been more hon. Members in attendance.
One point Which has interested me in the debate has been the attitude of the Minister of Fuel and Power. I enjoyed his contribution which, if he will allow me to say so, I thought was a very useful and constructive contribution in the all-party spirit in which we are participating in the debate today. Personally, I was very glad about that because in the past—I may have been unduly suspicious—I thought I detected a tendency on the part of the right hon. Gentleman rather to deflect criticism from himself on to the boards of the nationalised industries, a suggestion of this sort—"If you criticise, you should remember that, after all, you nationalised the industries." Perhaps I may have been too suspicious. Certainly I am glad to find a Conservative Minister facing his responsibilities, now that the priciple of nationalisation in fuel and power is no longer in dispute, and making the achievements and the occasional failings of the nationalised industries his business.
I should like to make some comments on electricity at the risk of being described, perhaps, as an electrical fanatic. I do not mind that very much, because if to believe that every household in the country, particularly every working-class household, should have a supply of electricity, with all the advantages which it can bring to them, is to be an electrical fanatic, then I plead guilty with the greatest pleasure. In dealing with the Report of the British Electricity Authority, I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has flitted away from us, because had he been here I should have had one or two things to say to him, on the subject of load factor. I tried to explain this to him previously but obviously I did not succeed.
I want to come to the Report of the B.E.A., I hope quite briefly, and I shall start by discussing the financial aspect. We are all agreed, I think, that the financial showing of the British Electricity Authority is, on the whole, satisfactory. There is a surplus this year of about £7¼ million, and since nationalisation the total of surpluses has amounted to £28 million. May I make this further point? These surpluses have not been achieved, as far as I can see—looking at the matter as objectively as possible—at the expense of the consumer, because the average price of electricity in this country, in spite of all the increases in the costs of coal, capital charges, materials, wages and salaries in recent years, is still only 25 per cent. above that of pre-war.
Perhaps I may quote another very interesting figure, that of the total number of persons employed in the industry. The number for the whole industry, in spite of the development of the industry, increased last year by only 1·3 per cent. Another interesting figure which can be drawn out of the Report, if hon. Members like to probe it sufficiently—is that the number of generation employees per megawatt is now 2·36 whereas before vesting date it was 2·69, which shows again that the efficiency of the British Electricity Authority, judged by fairly normal business tests, is satisfactory. I know that this is all wrong in theory; according to hon. Members opposite there should be a great conspiracy against the public, but history has not worked out that way. Conservative Members will have to agree that there must have been something wrong with the special pamphlets which they used to publish for our mis-education at the time we were nationalising this industry.
Nevertheless, I want to preserve the all-party spirit of this debate and to make two observations on these financial results. I do not think the British Electricity Authority should be too complacent because, after all, the industry was never an inefficient industry. I concede this quite gladly: under private and municipal ownership it was, on the whole, an efficient industry, so that if it is still an efficient industry the B.E.A. should not be too complacent about it.
Another point which I think is worth making on the financial results is that in certain directions the accountancy methods of the British Electricity Authority are a little doubtful. I am no accountant; I am an engineer. I am referring in particular to the allowance for depreciation. "The Economist" is right I think when it criticises the depreciation policy of the British Electricity Authority in these words, referring to the comparatively low price of electricity in this country:
Part of that cheapness comes from the rooted conviction that the British Electricity Authority does its duty as a public corporation by providing for depreciation on the basis of historical cost; as history moves on and more plant at current costs has to be depreciated, the provision will have to be increased.
I should be glad of the observations of the Minister on that point, for it is a point which the Authority and the Minister ought to be considering.
I turn next to some of the technical achievements which have been mentioned by the Minister and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). In this matter, again, on the whole the industry under nationalisation is equal to its own traditions, and the American team which came over here and went into the affairs of British electricity and the area boards conceded that technically the industry was progressive and go-ahead. I need not weary the House by mentioning them in detail, but I could refer to the super-grid, the cross-Channel connection and, in my view, the quite startling achievements of the area boards in rural electrification. The new thermal efficiency figures are on the whole also excellent.
In the technical sense there is much that I believe can be done. Much more progress can be made in standardisation and simplification. I was glad to have the semi-assurance of the Minister that an opportunity would be given to electrical engineers to gain experience in atomic energy. Perhaps I am going too far in assuming that assurance, but certainly I should like an opportunity to be given to the British Electricity Authority to have a few experimental atomic power stations of its own, because if in the future electrical technologists and engineers are to use atomic energy, they should get in at the beginning and gain experience.
There is one technical point in the Report on which I want to make an observation. It is in Appendix 32 which gives an interesting list of the consulting engineers or consultants being used still by the British Electricity Authority. I think that most of these consultants are employed on the generation side. There is a list of about 20. Is it necessary with the nationalisation of the industry, with its regionalisation for distribution and with the creation of many central planning departments, for the British Electricity Authority still to employ, at some considerable cost, I believe—we cannot get the exact charges from the Report—these consultants?
I know of the national case for having consulting engineers with some experience of this country who will be engaged later on foreign contracts, but I suspect that there are one or two consulting people who take it for granted that they should have their cut of this work. They have long, ancient and, I am sure, honourable connections with the technical leaders of the industry, and what went on in the past they hope will go on for ever more. I should like to have information on this use of consulting engineers by the national electricity supply industry.
On the matter of administration and organisation, I think that Lord Citrine and his colleagues have worked very hard to re-organise the industry in accordance with the 1947 Act. If there are defects in that Act, we can hardly put the blame on the Authority; we should put it on this House. I was in the House at the time and I supported the principle of public ownership, but I was not too happy at the time, and I am not satisfied now, that the correct organisational forms have necessarily been adopted. That is not to go back on the principle; but it would be interesting for the House to know that not only is the National Coal Board looking into its organisation but so also is the B.E.A. and the area boards.
There has been in existence, in my opinion much too long, a special reorganisation committee. Its report has been received, the Authority has it and they have now appointed one or two working parties who are apparently going to explain the report even to the Authority. Perhaps I am being a little too suspicious again. I want, however, to say that this continuing atmosphere of pending re-organisation is not good for the industry and certainly not good for its labour relations. There is too much uncertainty. I believe that it should not take all this time for the Authority and the area boards to make up their minds whether they want a two-tier or a three-tier system of distribution. This is a relatively simple point and they should be able to make up their minds without taking two years over it.
Another point which interests me has not been discussed recently in the House in relation to the coal industry, the gas industry or the electricity industry; but now that we have a Conservative Minister of Fuel and Power—I hope that will be a temporary arrangement of course—I am interested to know the principle for future appointments to these boards which he is following. From time to time, quite honourably and properly, chairmen of electricity boards retire, receive their presentations, and others are appointed in their place. There seems to be a growing tendency for engineers, or administrators, already in the industry to be appointed to the vacant places. Does this mean that the Minister has discarded altogether the principle of occasionally appointing an outsider?
Also I am doubtful increasingly if part-time members of area electricity boards are really effective at all. I have a feeling that with the power in the present organisation given to the chairman and vice-chairman, who are usually knowledgeable people with great engineering or administrative experience, they are in fact not only chairman and vice-chairman but general managers, that part-time members come along occasionally and simply rubber stamp what the chairman, vice-chairman and assistant administrators have already decided to do. I wonder whether some of these bodies can properly be described by the title of boards.
I think that the broad conclusion which the House can draw is that the nationally-owned electricity supply industry is doing, on the whole, an effective job on behalf of the nation. Technically it is very good, but its public relations are still indifferent. I do not agree with those who say that it is wrong for a publicly-owned industry to advertise. It was most unfair that a nationally-owned industry should have had this ban placed on its advertising at a time when private interests, particularly the solid fuel interests, were going ahead with every kind of advertising. If we do not want that system, we must take away from this nationalised industry the obligation to pay its way from year to year. It is not fair to blame it for doing something which it is obliged to do by the nature of the Act by which it operates.
I now come to an important issue around which so many of our fuel and power discussions in this House evolve. What should be the relationship between the nationalised coal, gas and electricity industries and how should this relationship be related to the conservation, which we all desire, of our scarce fuel resources. There is an argument used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth—by both the supporters and opponents of nationalisation if one is to go by the arguments advanced also by the hon. Member for Kidderminster—that because coal, gas and electricity are nationalised they should be a common service. When they are not clear as to what they want, they just use the magic word "co-ordination." This view ignores completely the assumptions behind the establishment of separate public corporations for coal, gas and electricity.
Many of the ideas—I think my hon. Friends might agree with me in this—that went into the preparation of the schemes for these public corporations were drawn up in the 1930s, and we took for granted at that time the existence of a free market. The assumption which was behind these publicly-owned businesses was that they should pay their way ultimately according to commercial tests and in the supplying of a free market. If we now want to make these industries give a common service it really means, if we are honest about it, that we should repeal the existing Acts and introduce new Acts of Parliament.
Also, I think it means that we should at the same time be honest with the public and tell them that when we talk about co-ordination we mean officially abolishing free consumer choice. It comes to that. I am one, however, who believes that consumer choice is perfectly compatible with public ownership and socialisation. I think it would be democratically wrong in principle to abolish consumer choice. Nor do I believe that co-ordination under British conditions would achieve the desired technical result. When every aspect is taken into account—the efficiency in the utilisation of solid fuel, gas and electricity for domestic purposes—it is particularly in the domestic sphere that controversy arises—is roughly about the same: 20 per cent.
We can all agree that that is much too low, but it is only technical competition which will improve it. That is why I agree that there should still be, with public ownership, reasonable technical competition between coal, gas and electricity. If any proof is required in support of that view, I refer hon. Members to the British Electricity Authority's Report, in which they point out that in 1920 it took 3½ lb. of good coal, as it was then, to make one unit of electricity. In 1952 it took 1½ lb. of very poor grade coal to make one unit of electricity. There have been comparable achievements in gas and in solid fuel. That kind of technical competition will, under British conditions, continue to make for higher technical efficiency in the future.
It is a great pity that outside industry, privately owned manufacturing industry in particular, has not shown the same energy as the electric supply industry has shown in the efficient utilisation of coal to the last decimal point. Coal in this country was at one time, so far as industry is concerned, much too cheap. That has meant fuel being thrown away and wasted. And there are still in existence in this country tens of thousands of Lancashire boilers, badly stoked and with unlagged steam systems. Even in new factories there is often a lack of effective thermal insulation. Until these things are put right it is not fair or proper that the ordinary domestic consumer and housewife should be made the scapegoat for the sins of industry.
Finally, there is the report of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity—"Fuel Conservation." It contains an interesting picture of the borough of Kidderminster—I am again sorry that the hon. Member for Kidderminster is not here. I gather that Kidderminster is in this country; it is represented in this House at all events. I have yet to understand how it has got into the U.S.A. I suggest that the Minister should not take this report very seriously in spite of the vast publicity which it has had.
It contains some valuable information but I regret that its main recommendations are fantastically unreal and outside its terms of reference, in the same way as Kidderminster is outside the United States. The report proposes, for instance, a most remarkable thing, a "non-political" fuel and power board. How, in a constitutional country, we can have that, I do not know. It is an illustration of the muddled thinking on this matter.
I am all in favour of the co-ordination of the fuel and power industries at the top, but I believe that lower down, in order to preserve ultimate technical efficiency and consumer choice, there must be reasonable technical competition. As I say, I do not like the muddled approach in that report. I much prefer the approach of the Ridley Committee, where they recommended that the pattern of fuel use should be determined by the consumer's own choice, provided prices corresponded with real cost, and here I am with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), provided, of course, there is also accurate information about services and appliances available to the public.
Coal production and coal use have been the two themes to this debate. I wish to confine myself to coal production, since I find myself more out of agreement with what has been said on that topic than on anything else. In the first place, I wish to make a comment of detail on the Minister's statement with regard to organisation. As I understand it, the National Coal Board now lays it down that the executive heads, the pit and the area managers, are responsible for what happens within their fields. That seems to me an unexceptionable statement. I do not object.
As the debate has been under way, however, I have been glancing at some past reports of the National Coal Board and I find that in Chapter 10 of the Report for 1948 exactly the same statement was made. I welcome the reaffirmation, but why it should have been necessary I am at a loss to understand. At the same time I should like to utter a word of warning. Today there has been much talk of development of future expansion. Well, future expansion is the work of the planning staffs, of the technicians and the engineers, who act as advisers or consultants to the area managers, to the executive heads. But while advisers they necessarily have an importance and status of their own, and I trust nothing in today's statement is calculated to depreciate that status.
As to the inquiry, I wish to make a suggestion with regard to the composition of the committee. Any organisation to function well, must surely command the consent of those who are organised, and it would be most unhappy if any fresh organisation which emerged from the deliberations of this committee were imposed or appeared to be imposed, on the industry from above. I suggest that at the inquiry there should be representatives of the lower tiers, of the pits, areas and divisions. If that were so, I believe that the conclusions of the committee would carry extra authority. So much for comment on detail.
I confess that I do not share the optimism about this inquiry which has been expressed from more than one quarter today. I do not believe that an inquiry will ever lead to much improvement. I do not believe that on two grounds. In the first place, whatever advantages flow from an inquiry, there must always be a compensating disadvantage.
Every inquiry, whether internal or external, must necessarily be destructive of the corporate spirit of any organisation, and there I am in accord with the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer). Just think of it. A committee of inquiry sits in state and examines a, b, c and d, and so forth. Think of the disloyalties that are fomented and the jealousies that are fanned. Further, follow the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). Multiply the inquiries, have a Select Committee of this House, have a seven-year inquiry, as recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison); in other words, put the industry in a permanent state of inquisition, and I for one would not like to answer for the consequences. I could not vouch then for the morale or discipline of that organisation.
More fundamentally, I do not really believe that what is wrong with the coal industry is a matter of organisation. In my experience personality always matters much more than organisation. Take decentralisation, whatever that may mean. An organisation may well appear decentralised on paper, but whether in fact it is decentralised or not will depend entirely on the personalities concerned. Surely, it is not for us, whenever anything goes wrong with a nationalised undertaking, to call for a committee of inquiry or a change of organisation.
The redress envisaged in the nationalisation Act of 1946—it seems to me rightly envisaged—lies in the Minister's power of appointment and dismissal. The Minister appoints a Board. Very well, having appointed them, let them carry on with their job; let them alone. If, however, the Minister begins to lose confidence, then he has to draw the proper conclusion; nobody surely would deny it.
If it is not organisation that is wrong, what is wrong? I shall attempt a very partial answer because no answer could be more than partial. Despite all the encouraging signs that have been given us today, this industry seems to me to be very sick. It was sick before nationalisation and it is still sick. What was wrong was to encourage any hope that nationalisation would provide a quick cure. Equally, it would be wrong now to ascribe the troubles to nationalisation. It has nothing at all to do with it. By the very fact of the past this industry has to undergo a very long healing process.
Unfortunately, and this is really our difficulty, just because the industry is in a troubled state we may be tempted to take panic emergency action. I understand the temptation. We ought, however, to resist it. We ought to practise a policy of forbearance while the healing process of which I have talked is under way. I do not necessarily mean that we should sit back and do nothing, but we ought to forbear from action which is likely to exacerbate, rather than alleviate.
I shall try to give three instances. First, we have heard a lot today about development and future expansion. My right hon. Friend gave us rather an encouraging figure, but we ought not to be deluded by that. The figure he gave us was in sight of the annual target established in the national plan, but that target was in itself too low. Not only that; there are all the deficiencies of the past years to be made up and the figure itself does not necessarily imply in toto reconstruction. It contains a large element of patching up. The figure is gratifying, but it is not enough.
Why is it that investment has not been enough? I do not really believe the answer that there is an inadequacy of staff. The inadequacy of the investment seems to me to be a direct result of the production crises of earlier years. Think of what happens. There is an output crisis and all the pyschological pressure is on immediate production, with the result that future development is neglected. That is what has happened. We were tempted to meet each output crisis only at the cost of creating future crises. That is bad. Somehow the vicious circle has to be cut. I believe that my right hon. Friend has taken the first step to cutting it in allowing this year a certain importation of coal.
I go further. I believe that we must contemplate an import of coal for some years to come. That is a most serious and difficult thing to say—an island of coal importing coal. Nevertheless, we must contemplate it as part of what I have described as the policy of forbearance while the new developments are under way.
Secondly—the second instance of what I mean by forbearance—it is obvious from the trend of the debate that there has been taking place in this industry a social revolution. I do not want to dramatise, but nationalisation was clearly a great victory for the miners. I do not object. But every victory turns to ashes unless the victor, in the moment of his triumph, can hold his hand and refrain from pushing his victory too hard. In my judgment, the miners have tended to push their victory too hard. I believe that that tendency has been aggravated by the fact that the miners' leaders, in considerable numbers, have been transferred to the side of management. For instance, the labour directors in the divisions and areas have been recruited from the unions, with the result that the unions have been denuded of some of their wisest counsellors. I suggest that, as part of the policy of forbearance, which I believe the miners as well as others of us have to observe, the transfer from the union side to the management side should be reviewed.
Lastly, I should not be above applying my motto of forbearance to ourselves as politicians. I endorse everything that has been said in the Chamber today about the relationship between coal and politics. Coal was brought into politics because it was sick, but I can think of nothing more likely to impede a cure than a further dose of politics. All taint of politics must once and for all be removed from this industry. Unfortunately, the tendency is that a party in power sees its pride hurt unless a nationalised industry does well. I understand that. Nevertheless, unless we too in the House of Commons exercise forbearance I believe we shall extinguish the last faint hope which we are still entitled to cherish of an eventual recovery of the coal industry.
Like many other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, I am sorry that these great industries and the public consequences of what they do have to be discussed in the six and a half hours or so that we have for the purpose today.
I should have liked to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones), because in the contribution he has made he has referred to many serious problems to which none of us has given real attention. For instance, there has been no real discussion of the important suggestion that, instead of continuing to produce coal from the very high cost pits, we might consider closing them and importing coal to keep our supplies at the level at which they ought to be. I am not suggesting that that is one of the ways out of our difficulties, but it should be discussed.
In the few minutes left to me I shall have to confine myself to the main point that I want to make. It has been clear from all the speeches that we have not got a co-ordinated—I hate to use that word, but brevity compels me to do so—fuel and power policy; but it has also been clear that an understanding is at least growing up that such a policy is needed. It is true that the ad hoc improvements in output, production and economy by these nationalised industries add up to great and substantial progress over the last few years but they do not make a co-ordinated policy.
I shall give one or two examples of what I mean. The British Electricity Authority, for instance, still has before it a large policy of expansion which envisages the building of great new power stations to produce the electricity which this country needs, for we are, of course, not producing enough. However, so far as I can tell, it is not the job of anybody to question the British Electricity Authority except upon the timing of its expenditure. It is not the job of anybody to question the policy, to find out whether the programme is right in all its details and whether it is the right programme for the nation. Nobody seems to question whether the locations of the new stations that are proposed, or of the extensions proposed to other stations, are correct or not, and how they will fit in to the future development of the coal and gas industries. There is no co-ordination in that sense.
I should also like to ask whether anybody considered if it was really necessary to have all the big new power stations that are promised, because I suggest that we ought, first of all, to consider now the ways and means by which we are going to produce electric power, not in the distant future, but in the next few years. For instance, the proper development of coke ovens, not only for the manufacture of coal and manufactured fuel, but the carbonisation policy to give us more by-products out of coal, and the piping off the methane gas, and the possible gasification of the difficult pits, all of which should be developed in a pretty big way, and, possibly, also the use of national gas, surely suggest that a way out would be by development of the gas turbine idea.
Wherever there is a surplus of gas, from whatever source available, that gas could be used for the development of electricity by means of gas turbines. We cannot store electricity, and that is one of our greatest problems in the fuel and power field, but we can store gas, and, instead of having enormous new power stations, we ought to consider whether we can feed into the grid at peak times, which is the most important point, the electricity produced from hundreds of small stations scattered in the coalfields and many other places where gas is available for national gas. We could feed into the grid the electricity produced by many small stations using gas turbines. Apparently, that has not been considered by anybody, and there is no proper coordination of policy in that direction.
I may be exaggerating the whole thing, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) pointed out, we come into these debates ill supplied with the information we ought to have. In that regard, I think that we ought very seriously to consider the setting up of a Standing Committee to go into these industries and keep them constantly under review—not the kind of Standing Committee proposed by the body that looked into this matter, but a Standing Committee of the House to keep these matters under review in order that we are supplied constantly with the information which we ought to have.
I hope that somebody is going to look very carefully at the electricity programme, particularly on the lines I have suggested, but also in regard to the location of the electric power stations. It has always seemed to me, since we had the grid, quite wrong to have power stations scattered about the perimeter of our country, involving long hauls of coal by rail to places far from the coalfields and at great expenditure of coal, and knowing very well, while all this is going on, that the easiest way to transport fuel and power is by means of overhead cables.
In the case of a train carrying 400 tons of coal from the Midlands to the South of England, at least 2 per cent., and perhaps 3 per cent., of that coal is lost in the process. About four tons are burned by the locomotive, which is 1 per cent., and I believe that the Ministry or the Coal Board makes an allowance of another 2 per cent. for the coal which has been shaken from the inadequate wagons and lost in the course of the journey. That loss is going on all the time, because we sited our power stations rather badly, and I sincerely hope that, when we come to deal with fuel and power in its wider aspects and get away from the Departmental way of looking at these matters singly by examining the National Coal Board and then the British Electricity Authority and the Gas Council, we shall have a proper examination of the whole field of fuel and power, and that, in that examination, these matters will be considered.
Now a word about the domestic problem. The Minister said that the National Coal Board is to put up a new plant for the production of "Phurnacite" briquettes, and that the plant will bring output up to 600,000 tons a year. I imagine that is about one-tenth of what we need. What are the Government going to do? With the development of fuel-saving grates, we ought to be doing what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) suggested, working towards a situation in which we shall stop the domestic consumer from burning raw coal.
We ought to be going ahead in that direction as clearly and as quickly as we can. We want to see to it that in every house in this country the householder is given encouragement and help to get modern fuel-burning appliances and manufactured fuel. That is why I suggest that to be content or complacent with the production of 600,000 tons of "Phurnacite" briquettes a year for domestic purposes is wrong; it is quite inadequate.
This is a field in which capital investment on a big scale would pay quick returns. When we are considering the fuel and power industries it might be more desirable to have big investment in this direction than in the building of big new power stations. I throw out the suggestion for very serious consideration that not one fuel or power industry should be allowed to proceed with a capital investment programme on its own. The whole of these industries should be considered together, and we should decide what is best for the nation, not what is best for each particular industry. We should like to hear more about the production of briquettes for industry and for railway locomotive consumption.
From whichever side of this problem we start and whichever facet we examine, we come in the end to the conclusion that without a properly co-ordinated policy, particularly governing capital investment in the fuel and power industries, we shall not only not get the best out of our resources but we shall waste a lot of money. Quite a lot of investment, particularly in electricity, is very costly and could be reduced if we decided here and now to deal with electricity in the next 15 or 20 years and what new motive power we shall have for the generation of electricity.
If we fitted these and other considerations into a co-ordinated policy we could look ahead more confidently, and with some satisfaction that our coal resources—everything comes down to coal in the end—will be properly used for the nation and not wasted by anybody, whether it be the British Electricity Authority, the housewife, the railways, or the inefficient managements of private British industry in this country, which are probably the biggest wastrels of the lot.
Twelve months have elapsed since we had a debate on the fuel and power industries. The present Opposition have been more tolerant than their predecessors. When Government supporters were on this side of the House, the demands for these debates were so repeated that we had one almost every two months. Questions by the score were placed on the Order Paper every week. We have not attempted in that way to exploit the difficulties confronting the Minister of Fuel and Power. We have not attempted to make the fuel and power industries the shuttlecock of party politics. It could easily have been otherwise. I think that the Minister and many of his colleagues will agree that, in the main, the practical experience and the technical knowledge of the fuel and power industries resides on this side of the House. Behind me are hon. Members with a lifetime of experience of those industries.
I wish to put on record the restraint that hon. Members on this side of the House have shown in matters which vitally concern their constituents and the economy of the country. Of course, the Tories have always paid lip-service to this tolerance in the fuel and power industries, but it has been left to the Labour Party to set them an example.
Even if there is a general conversion of Government supporters to this bipartisanship in industry, it should not deflect Her Majesty's Opposition from offering constructive criticism, even though the candour may sometimes exceed the bounds of felicity. With the exception of the debate on the Gracious Speech, this is perhaps the most comprehensive debate of the Session. It would be too formidable a task for me to attempt to paint the map of all the wide activities of these industries. I propose, therefore, to confine myself to the main points of the debate and to what we consider to be the important problems facing these nationalised industries.
In his speech today, I thought that the Minister added to his reputation for sweet reasonableness. I have previously mentioned how difficult it is to follow a Minister who has such a disarming manner. This is especially the case when one has had, momentarily perhaps, a look behind the scenes at the difficulties confronting the Minister. However, it was a pleasure to hear the right hon. Gentleman's welcome appraisal of the nationalised industries under his supervision, and I profoundly hope that the satisfaction which he expressed today will become contagious on the benches behind him.
I wish to join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) in welcoming the inquiry into the coal industry which the Minister has told us that the chairman of the National Coal Board proposes to undertake. I shall have some comments to make on that later in my speech.
What is the test which we apply in judging the success or otherwise of our nationalised industries? Is it profits, is it service, or is it both? So far as the gas and electricity industries are concerned, the Minister and my right hon. Friend have said enough today to satisfy the House on both counts. From vesting day to the end of 1951–52, the gas industry has shown a surplus of £3,500,000, and during that time its capital investment has totalled £109 million. One of its outstanding achievements, as the Minister correctly described today, is the gas grid in different parts of the country. It is significant that the gas grid is less generally known than the electricity grid. One has to go, perhaps, into South Wales to see it in perfection, where a gas main had been constructed over a mountain to make the grid, to eliminate obsolete gasworks and to increase efficiency.
With regard to the electricity industry, from vesting day to the end of March, 1952, the British Electricity Authority had a surplus of over £20 million. In the four years since vesting day £482 million have been put into investment. Here again, there is remarkable development taking place. New power stations are being built, like the one at Uskmouth, which are a triumph of British workmanship and craft. Another feature to give satisfaction is the phenomenal increase in the number of consumers. It may be 10 years before the required expansion has taken place in the electricity industry, but the foundation has already been laid by this nationalised industry to meet the needs of the consumers in the country.
Having briefly skipped over the gas and electricity industries, there remains only the coal industry to undergo our test of efficiency and success. The National Coal Board's Report for 1952—and I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) that it does appear to be outdated, when we are discussing in October, 1953, a Report which deals with the working up to the end of December, 1952—taken with its predecessors, provides ample justification for the bringing of this industry under public ownership.
On the financial side there can be little ground for complaint. From 1946 to the end of 1952 the total deficit of the National Coal Board was £14 million, but that represents only 2 per cent. of the Board's income for 1952. What is rarely pointed out is that the deficit arises after payment of interest and interim income charges by the National Coal Board to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. These, in 1952, reached a figure of £14 million. In the face of these figures, if the National Coal Board were being run as a private combine it would say that it was running at a profit.
I was glad to hear that the Minister felt reassured about the output figures he quoted. The total output to date clearly reveals a 2½ million ton drop on last year's output, but this decrease is due to not unexpected interruptions. The Coronation decreased output to some extent, but why should not the miners, like other workers, celebrate the crowning of their Queen? The second week's holiday which the miners are now taking had the effect of reducing the total output, but the miners have had a second week's holiday in their charter for 10 years and there was an inevitability about it which neither the Ministry nor the National Coal Board could resist any longer.
I am sure also that the Minister must be pleased at the incidence of voluntary absenteeism. It appears to have been arrested this year. Last year it was running at a rate of 5·86 per cent. and in the first 40 weeks of this year it is only 5·086 per cent. If there is anything I dislike, it is to read articles in the newspapers about voluntary absenteeism among miners, with never a word said about the enormous amount of overtime that is worked by miners to complete their shifts and increase the output of coal.
The Minister must be equally pleased about the amount of coal that is resulting from Saturday working; 8½ million tons up to the present time this year is a formidable figure. It must be remembered by those who are not familiar with the mining industry that there is an agreed five-day week in that industry and that there is nothing to compel a miner to work more than five days a week, but he voluntarily surrenders the chance to indulge in sport and social activity in order to assist production.
I frankly admit that to me the most disturbing feature of the 1952 Report of the National Coal Board is the drop in output per man shift. I am not going to apportion blame. I deplore the veiled attacks that have been made on miners in this respect, and I was glad to hear the Minister say that he was not going to exhort the miners to work harder. It is usually those people who do no work themselves who prescribe more work for other people. The first to criticise the miner is usually the last to do his job. At the same time, I do not think that this decrease in output per man shift can contemptuously be dismissed as the result of withdrawing men from the coal face for development work. Some of it may be due to that cause, but not by any means all.
Perhaps the Minister may take some confidence in this matter, since there seems to have been an increase in output per man shift since the beginning of the year. In 1951 it averaged 1·21 tons; in 1952 it dropped to 1·19 tons, and in the first 39 weeks of this year one is pleased to note that it is running at 1·20. I hope that by the end of the year it will at least have risen to the 1951 figure.
There have been few criticisms by hon. Members opposite; indeed, the congratulations and the expressions of satisfaction have been so numerous that there is hardly any criticism to which one can reply. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown), for the most part of his speech, I thought, seemed to wish to be a sort of Father Christmas to the miners. He said that a new dynamic was required in the mining industry, and he wanted to wipe the slate clean of the old memories of the past. He then proceeded to revive those memories by advocating a policy which was operating in the mining industry 27 years ago. In effect, he was advocating de-centralisation of the industry, a policy which led to the district arrangement of wages. I have lived through that period as a working miner——
The hon. Gentleman ought to let me finish what I am saying. As I said, I lived through that period as a mining worker, and I can remember what happened in those days. The hon. Member for Esher may say that he is anxious to preserve national wage standards, but our experience was that it was impossible to preserve national wage standards in those circumstances. They led to conditions in which one-third of the people in the mining industry were thrown on to the industrial scrap heap, with their livelihood alternating between the public assistance board and the labour exchange. I was a working miner in those days, and I make no apology for saying that I shall neither forgive nor forget those people who imposed such conditions upon us.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman misread into what I said anything of the sort. I have no wish to change the size or the structure of the divisional areas or the geographical apportionment of the industry. My suggestion was that the divisional boards should contain a greater number of areas, so that the men managing them could deal with much more compact units. No other opinion of any sort was suggested or implied.
I am glad to get that confirmation. The hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) referred to a complaint which I have heard him make previously. He said that a considerable amount of ability was lost to the National Coal Board by dispensing with the services of former colliery managers. I am weary of hearing this.
The hon. and gallant Member was referring to the administrators of the coal industry prior to vesting day. I do not know whose axe he is grinding, but I do know that some of those whose services were dispensed with were in their jobs because they were the sons of their fathers. As he has so much knowledge of the large number of those people who have a service to render to the industry and can make a contribution to its success, he ought to inform his right hon. Friend so that their services can be made available for the sake of the nation.
I turn now to stocks, imports and exports. I group them in this way because I believe that they are indissolubly mixed with each other. I assert that we can get through the winter on 17 to 19 million tons of coal.
The Minister signifies approval. If peace breaks out in the world as the result of his right hon. Friend's attention to foreign affairs, we might get through on 16 million tons. At any rate, he agrees that we can get through on 17 to 19 million tons. But he already has 20 million tons at his disposal. The figures issued by his own Ministry reveal that on 10th October the distributed stocks—public utilities, merchants and miscellaneous—totalled 18,108,000 tons. Colliery stocks on the ground and in wagons made a further 1,126,000 tons; opencast coal at sites and in central stocking grounds made a further 1,252,000 tons, making a grand total of 20,486,000 tons.
In spite of this formidable total, we get the announcement that we are to import coal. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth invited the Minister to give us the sources of origin and the amounts to be imported there was no reply. I am not blaming the Minister. It was doubtless a Cabinet decision, at a time when he was suffering the limiting influence of the "overlord." However, this Government are noted for their panic measures, and I am not surprised if they take more.
I can remember the taunts and sneers made in this House when the Labour Government imported coal from America. I can remember how hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite harassed my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) for using dollars to buy coal. Of course, we are told that these now are soft currency transactions, but the Americans were never our coal customers. This is a much bigger blow to our prestige than anything that the Labour Government did. This year, with a difference between production and consumption, a deficit, of 25 million tons we are exporting x million tons to the Continent and they are exporting x millions tons to us. Shades of Strasbourg. This is surely the biggest economic incongruity Parliament has ever been told of.
The Minister says, "Yes, but this is large coal that we are importing in exchange for small coal." Really, this is a remarkable discovery in the international exchange of commodities. There is no telling what limits may be reached if this sort of thing becomes infectious in Government Departments. We may find the Minister of Agriculture exporting small potatoes for large ones, or the President of the Board of Trade exporting baby cars for limousines. I can imagine the bewilderment of the seamen as their ships pass and repass each other in the Channel with large coal for Britain and small coal for the Continent.
When the Minister last year propounded his plan for an electricity linkup between the French hydro-electricity scheme and the power stations in the East Midlands, I thought that was strategically imperfect and fantastic enough, but to buy coal from our traditional customers is an admission that the British coal industry has reached the optimum of production. It is also an unnecessary admission of the inferiority of small coal. The Minister and the Government must digest this economic and scientific fact. Small coal contains the same calorific value as large coal. No matter how many times one splits and divides a piece of coal it does not lose a proportionate amount of calorific value. In accordance with its size and weight it has the same chemical properties.
It is the main function of the Coal Board to produce coal. It is the job of the Minister to enlist the services of the scientists and combustion engineers to find means of using the small coal at our disposal. The Minister must be suffering some embarrassment because of the amount of large stocks of small coal he has on hand. Their location and amount is a secret known only to his own heart and to the Coal Board, but the quantity must be alarmingly large. No one expects the British Electricity Authority to help him. It is his difficulty. The B.E.A. have always accepted inferior coal; 90 per cent. of their consumption is of smalls and fines and duff; but even if they relieve him of some of these stocks, that would not assist him in the slightest so far as the declared need for large coal is concerned.
Does not the Minister realise that much of the large coal he is importing is going to be small coal when it gets here? The very mechanical handling it has to undergo from colliery to railway trucks, from railway trucks to the holds of ships, and so on, reduces it in size a good deal, from large to small. The commodity on the invoice is different from the commodity when it arrives here.
As has been said this afternoon, a good deal of the small coal produced in this country is the result of modern methods of mining. In the old days, when the miner was forbidden to use a shovel, millions of tons of small coal were thrown away every year and wasted. At the time of the Sankey Commission it was estimated that 3,235,000 tons of coal were thrown into the waste every year. Nowadays the machine cannot separate it underground and this loss to the nation is saved because the machine loads the small coal. I know that a good deal can be done by reducing explosives and by supervision of machinery underground, but the disadvantages of mechanical development must be accepted with its advantages. The Minister must enlist the services of those who can help him to provide means of using our small coal. We must find a way of effective cleaning. I believe that is vital to the survival of the coal industry and to its supremacy over its competitors.
Finally, I turn to the inquiry proposed by the Minister into the organisation of the National Coal Board. We are glad that at least he has not entirely capitulated to his back bench friends and their demands. They wanted an inquiry into the structure and the administration of the Coal Board. I want to warn the Minister that that would be industrial dynamite. I am glad, too, that this inquiry is to be conducted internally, in private, and is not to be vulgarised by public inquiry during which a National Coal Board official could be interrogated for everybody to hear.
There are one or two suggestions which I have to make to the Minister about this inquiry, and the first concerns labour relations. No industry is as dependent upon the good will of the workers engaged in it as the mining industry, and if there is something the matter with labour relations we ought to get it put right. Mr. Ebby Edwards, late member of the National Coal Board, is reported as having said that since vesting date £139,281,000 have been lost in wages as a consequence of unofficial disputes, and I think there is an overwhelming case for taking a look at this question of labour relations. It may be that the trade unions and the National Coal Board have something the matter with their educational propaganda in this connection.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming mass of miners are loyal, hardworking citizens. Ownership brings responsibility, and I should be the first to admit that some miners have not faced up to their responsibility. We believe in the right to strike, but a strike should be conducted by the accredited trade union of the workers after every other avenue has been explored. The pioneers of nationalisation never envisaged the day when the success of a socialised industry would be endangered by the actions of those who worked in it.
I know that the National Union of Mineworkers are doing all they can to work the consultative machinery and I know from my personal experience how perturbed they are at these unofficial strikes; but are managers doing their share to work it? I have heard of managers who say that consultative committee meetings are a waste of time. The manager who says that does not deserve to hold his job. This committee of inquiry, in collaboration with the unions, should take a look at this problem and try to find a solution which would settle these grievances at pit level.
I want to say a word about managerial responsibility. I am confident that the committee ought to inquire into managerial responsibility. I should like them to rebut the feeling that if a manager wants to spend a few hundred pounds he has to get the decision of the area general manager before he can spend it. That is all ballyhoo. If the committee could clear up some of these misunderstandings, I think that it would be to the advantage of the Coal Board and of the country.
I want also to say a word about public relations. I should like to see an end to these scares raised by the distributive trade at different times of the year which frighten housewives into believing that they will be shivering in their homes in the winter. These people in the coal trade well know that they can always go to the Minister, and that he is always willing to help them. No Minister and no Coal Board official would purposely inflict hardship on the public. It seems to me that, to eliminate this, what is needed is a good public relations department of the National Coal Board so that the coal trade and the public can be properly informed of what is happening.
We on this side of the House do not fear a properly constituted inquiry with suitable terms of reference. We do not believe that we have reached man's final expression of what an industrial democracy should be. We are not opposed to changes, but we believe that the changes should be for the better. Our coal industry is a partnership and it behoves each partner, the National Coal Board, the miners, the distributive trade and the consumer public, not to inflict any injury upon each other. The coal industry has withstood the test of six difficult years because it is a collective effort. I beg all sides of the industry to make that their continued ideal.
I think we have, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) intimated in his opening remarks, in a spirit of prophecy, enjoyed a remarkable debate today and a very friendly, informative and constructive debate. I would say to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) two things. First, I would thank him very much for his complimentary remarks to my right hon. Friend and express our appreciation for his point of view with regard to what my right hon. Friend has said.
Secondly, I would say that the remarks which he addressed to the House in the latter part of his speech, particularly with reference to his suggestion concerning the inquiry, will, I feel quite sure, be taken note of by the National Coal Board and by the Trades Union Congress, because the inquiry in question, as my right hon. Friend intimated, is a Departmental inquiry from the point of view of the National Coal Board. It is a board inquiry set up by them and it is not for my right hon. Friend to indicate to them the lines on which they should operate, but I have no doubt that they will take heed of the suggestion put forward by the hon. Gentleman.
We have had today many excellent speeches, and I think the House will probably agree that the debate has shown that we are beginning to see in this House the point at which the nationalised fuel and power industries are fitting themselves into the industrial and national field in this country. When one comes to think of it, it is a remarkably great experiment and they are fitting themselves in in a remarkably short space of time.
Seven years ago we knew private enterprise and we knew Government service, but now the statutory undertakings, commercial enterprises which are responsible to Parliament in the last resort, are beginning to take their natural place in the field of industrial enterprise throughout the country and are linking up private enterprise and Government service. We have advanced a considerable way during the past year, as is shown by this debate, in our recognition of the sphere which they occupy and of the way in which they are responsible to Parliament and in the attitude which hon. Members adopt towards them.
I am not by any means suggesting that the nationalised industries are perfect in their functioning as yet; it will certainly take them longer than the period during which they have been in operation. But one thing has emerged from this debate today—there has been far more inquiry than criticism. Hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies also have gone out of their way to seek information rather than to assume, as has been done in the past, that they knew the information and that it was wrong. There have been much more constructive suggestions instead of destructive complaints; and I think that speeches such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones)—a very thoughtful speech indeed—indicate the line of philosophy upon which we are beginning to approach these subjects.
It is certainly our desire to give all possible information we can to the House. I do not think that in the space of time I have at my disposal this evening it will be possible for me to reply to all the questions which have been raised by hon. Members during the debate but I shall go through HANSARD tomorrow, and such points as I fail to take up in the course of my remarks I should like, if I may, to write to hon. Members about and try to clarify any information which they desire to have or for which they have asked.
In the meantime, may I try to paint in some of the details following upon the theme with which my right hon. Friend opened this debate. I wish to try to indicate to the House the ways in which these nationalised industries, in developing their own industries, consolidating their own position, are improving their own efficiency as they serve the public with an increasing supply of their commodities. For unless they improve their efficiency their service will be by no means perfect to the community as a whole.
During the five years, to take electricity first, it has increased the number of consumers which it is supplying by more than two million. That is a substantial figure and indicates a considerable increase not only in the development of the system itself—its physical system—but also in the necessary administration and organisation whereby these consumers have to be served. The total amount of electricity which it is sending out is very nearly half as great again as it was five years ago. That too is an indication of tremendous expansion.
The expansion has gone hand in hand with efficiency. That is shown by the fact that during the past year, while expansion was still continuing, though not at so great a rate, the non-industrial staff in the electricity industry actually fell. Those of us who—I admit, I myself—in the past have been inclined to accept the criticism that the nationalised industries had too unwieldy an administrative or non-industrial clerical staff will be glad and will take heart from the fact that despite last year's increase in the expansion of the business the non-industrial staff throughout the industry was actually less at the end of the year than it was at the beginning.
Nevertheless, we are still a long way behind America in the use of electricity. Hon. Members have referred to the fact, mentioned in the Report of the Productivity Council, that in America the ordinary industrial worker has, on the average, three and a half times as much electricity at his elbow as has his counterpart in this country. Worse than that is the fact that the gap is actually increasing. If we are to keep pace with productivity in America it is essential that that gap should be closed.
One of the problems confronting us is the cost of supplies. I appreciate what has been said, both by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth and by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), that the capital cost of supply is a matter of paramount importance in the minds of hon. Members. There are several ways in which the problem may be approached. I would suggest as one that the first essential is to reduce the amount of capital cost under which the industry is suffering.
My right hon. Friend made reference to the recently published report of the Beaver Committee. Hon. Gentlemen who have studied that Report will notice that it calls attention to the well-known fact that in America it takes, roughly speaking, two years to build a power station. The comparable time in this country is four years, and that is a very big difference. Quite clearly, the longer it takes to build, the more expensive it will be. If we can cut down the period of construction substantially, it will reduce the capital charges. If it can be done in the United States, why should not it be done in this country?
I am certain that this is a challenge which the industry will accept. I know it is a challenge which they are exceedingly active and interested in meeting. I hope that with regard both to the detailed recommendations concerning the construction of power stations contained in the report and also to the main principle about shortening the period of construction we shall see a great improvement throughout our industry.
In the gas industry we have a similar story of expansion and increased efficiency during the year compared with the previous year. Sales are up and the number of customers has increased. Once again, though in this case it is with regard to the total of employees in the industry, we find numbers are down. That is a very satisfactory indication of the increasing efficiency throughout the industry. The gas grids are being extended, in some cases in a very considerable degree. They have the satisfactory result that gas can be sent to customers who had previously been supplied by old out-of-date uneconomic gas works, from big modern gasworks producing gas at a much more economic rate and much more efficiently.
As a result of this policy, which is being followed by most of the area boards, during the period since nationalisation it has been possible to close down no fewer than 140 of the old gas works which were operating on an uneconomic basis. In addition—and this, I think, will rejoice the hearts of some of my hon. Friends—there is one area board which claims that as a result of internal economies which it has effected itself it is saving no less than £750,000 per annum. That is an example of a high degree of efficiency of which we may well be proud.
But may we look at the matter not only from the point of view of economic efficiency but from the point of view of coal efficiency—the efficient use of the coal which is the raw material of the gas industry. Three years ago, in 1950, the average throughout the industry was to produce 71·6 therms of gas from one ton of coal. As a result of increasing efficiency, better carbonisation, and newer plants coming into operation, that figure has now been increased to 73·6—an increase of two therms from one ton of coal. To some of us that may not mean a lot: to some of us who are rather more technical it may mean a great deal. I will tell the House what it means from the point of view of coal. It means a saving of 750,000 tons of coal a year. That is highly satisfactory.
Another aspect touched on by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth is of the utmost importance. It is the question of the supply of carbonisation coals. They are the scarcest and most expensive. It is vitally essential for the industry to tackle the problem of the blending of coals so that with their high grade carbonisation coals they can blend in and use more coals of lower grades, thus easing the demand for the scarce and valuable coals and at the same time securing their own position in the coal market. It is not easy. There are mechanical difficulties. There are also expenses involved, but here again this is a challenge which the industry must meet and I am sure they will be prepared to take it up. I hope that it will result in considerable improvement in this respect.
To revert to the electricity industry, I would say on the question of coal conservation that electricity was not to be outdone by gas. The hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) quoted an interesting figure going back to 1920. That is a very good date. He quoted 1920 as the time when it took 3½ lb. of coal to produce one unit of electricity. The reason why it is a good date is that it indicates that development has been going on the whole time, that even prior to nationalisation there were people working to improve the efficiency of all these industries, and that it is not simply as a result of an Act of Parliament that miracles have occurred. If it were not for the research, the development, the ingenuity and the real endeavour of those who ran all these industries in pre-war days, we should not be able to make the advances that we are making or achieve present satisfactory results. I like the date 1920, and I thank the hon. Member for having introduced it into the debate.
At that time it took 3½ lb. of coal to produce a unit of electricity. Today the average throughout the industry has come down to 1⅓ lb. of coal per unit of electricity, and in the newest and most modern generating stations the amount required is only 1 lb. The House will see that the whole time we are gradually achieving greater efficiency.
It is more than that. We talk about coal here in rather a generic way, but the word "coal" itself covers a vast multitude of different categories of that fuel, different qualities and different grades, and what the modern power stations are burning is coal such as the housewife just would not recognise as that commodity at all.' It is the unwashed and untreated smalls which might almost be described as the refuse of the mine which is brought up. [Laughter.] I said that the housewife would not recognise it. It is a tremendous advantage to have not only a market for this commodity but also a market which will convert it into a really efficient form of power for the use of the community as a whole.
Before I leave the question of electricity again, I should like to return to something which was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster upon this subject in the very enlightened and informing speech which he made. [Interruption.] I mean that seriously. My hon. Friend was the only person to call attention to the fact that in the electricity industry the load factor fell last year. However, he did not deduce from that a conclusion which necessarily follows from that fact. By and large, taken over the years, from one country to another, it is an inescapable fact that the demand for electricity doubles itself every 10 years. That does not mean that every year the demand increases by 10 per cent. The 10-year figure is an average figure; some years it is rather more than 10 per cent. and in other years it is considerably less.
Last year there were two coincidences. The first was the industrial recession which substantially reduced the demand for electricity and resulted in a reduction in the normal increase in the demand for electricity, bringing it down to an increase of 3·7 per cent. The second was that there was introduced into the industry the maximum new installation of plant which it has ever received, and these two factors together necessarily meant that there was for the time being a certain curtailment of the distribution of the supply over the period of the day, which resulted in a reduction of the load factor.
There is one other point which I would take up with my hon. Friend. If we are going to improve our load factor, and it is necessary for the industry we should do, it is quite impossible to say to them at the same time, "You are not to publicise it, or go out to sell additional electricity." The two must go hand-in-hand. It is not a question of our having given to the industry an unbridled right, as my hon. Friend suggested, to publicise it in any way they like whatever. I would refer both my hon. Friend and the House particularly to the reply he received from my right hon. Friend recently in which my right hon. Friend stressed the point that he had fully discussed with the nationalised gas and electricity industries the lines on which their advertising and publicity should be conducted, and he went on to say:
I am now satisfied that it is best for the Boards themselves to have full responsibility in this matter, and I believe that they will exercise this discretion in line with the national interest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October. 1953; Vol. 518, c. 270.]
Attention has also been called by my hon. Friend, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth, to the recent publication of a pamphlet by B.E.D.A. I have seen it, and, in my view, it is not composed in accordance with the lines of the arrangement at which we arrived. I am accordingly having inquiries made into the matter, and I do not therefore propose to make any further comment on it at the moment.
I had noticed that there had been some references to coal, and the hon. Gentleman, by his intervention, is only curtailing my opportunity to deal with it.
There is another point put to me by my hon. Friend in his remarks about load shedding. We have not done away entirely with the request for load-spreading this year, and I particularly wish to make it clear that my right hon. Friend is asking domestic and small commercial consumers to do no less than industrial consumers by being as careful as possible in their demands for electricity at peak hours during the critical months of November, December and January. That is in the hands of the regional boards at the present time.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Bartley) wants to know if I have heard of coal. I can assure him that I have.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman several things about it in one minute. Coal is going to maintain its position in this co-ordinated but competitive race for efficiency. There are many things which have been referred to in the debate today, particularly by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) and my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown), who made an exceedingly good speech, which indicated the lines on which progress ought to be made. I should call attention to the fact that the industry has in hand at present 115 major colliery reconstruction schemes, including 10 new collieries and eight big drift mines, as well as a considerable number of other schemes for improving efficiency and the production of coal.
That is the end of the year's story. This debate will be welcomed by the nationalised fuel and power industries. They appreciate this informed examination of the year's results by grand jury. As a result of it, executives in the industries will feel greater confidence in getting on with their jobs. By it the industries will be encouraged to fulfil their task.