I beg to move,
That this House regrets the failure of Her Majesty's Government to plan the place of the coal industry in the national economy.
The chairman of the National Coal Board and the noble Lord, Viscount Hall, in another place, described the present coal situation as grim. The chairman of the National Union of Mine-workers described the situation as hopeless. The Minister of Power, in another place, said that neither of those terms was accurate and that he thought that the situation was neither grim nor hopeless, but anxious. Whatever adjective we care to apply to the present situation, no one would deny that it is an extremely serious situation, and it would have been quite wrong for the House to have risen for the Summer Recess without turning its attention for some time at least to one of the biggest employing industries in this country.
The situation in the coal industry is changing from month to month. Demand was about 20 million tons less between 1956 and 1958, and in the first six months of 1959 demand is down another 10 million tons. What the position will be at the end of 1959 one cannot say, but, certainly, it will show demand in 1959 to have been about 30 million tons less than it was in 1956, which is only three years ago. This is a fantastic, phenomenal change in the situation. The truth is, of course, that there is a world glut of fuel, both of coal and of oil, and the result is that both in Europe and in this country we are piling coal stocks to an alarming extent.
Taking the last figures which I have, which were at 4th July, the total of undistributed stocks and distributed stocks was about 44 million tons, and of that about 29½ million tons was held by the Coal Board. This in itself brings a financial problem of considerable magnitude, because the interest payments alone on the capital investment in stocks lying on the ground is very substantial indeed.
There are two main reasons for this. One is the world recession, but the second one, and, perhaps, in a way, the more serious for coal, because we shall pull out of the world recession in trade, is, of course, the intensified oil competition. In view of the fact that this industry is Britain's basic industry, the industry upon which Britain made her greatness, her industrial prosperity, the industry upon which Britain will have to depend for many, many years ahead as the major source of her energy requirements, it seems to me that we ought to ask the Government what they propose to do about the coal industry.
There is involved indirectly in the industry much more than the 750,000 people directly employed by the Coal Board. There is involved enormous capital investment, over £500 million—although I know that the Paymaster-General, in the last debate, decided that it did not matter very much about capital investment being thrown on one side. He gave us a little story, saying we must not buy a motor car while there was life in the old horse yet. It was very good debating stuff.
I suppose that while some of us were earning our livings and learning our jobs the right hon. Gentleman was busy at the university learning just that sort of debating stuff, which caused roars of laughter. It was not amusing to me, for this is far too serious a matter about which to make cheap debating jokes like that at the tail end of a debate in this House.
There is not only this enormous capital investment which the right hon. Gentleman has been partly responsible with his noble Friend for issuing in the last three years. In 1957, there was an approved investment of about £100 million; in 1958 about £102 million and in 1959 £104 million. It seems to me that Parliament has a right to say that Ministers responsible for publicly-owned enterprises should safeguard the investment they themselves approve. Therefore there is some point in saying that the investment in this great industry should be safeguarded as well as the employment possibilities of the men in the industry.
The noble Lord the Minister is tucked away in another place and, therefore, it is quite impossible for us to get at him. He has a much easier time in another place than he would have if he were sitting in the place of the Paymaster-General.
For that, I suppose, he is doubly grateful.
All we have had from the Paymaster-General is that the policy of the Government is based upon consumer freedom of choice, competition in the fuel industry. At the end of a debate we get the rhetorical questions we are used to getting from the Paymaster-General, for which he never gives time for us to reply in detail. We are asked, "Do you believe in consumers' freedom of choice?" I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we do believe in consumers' freedom of choice consistent with the need to look at the social and economic needs of this nation. When we talk about consumers' freedom of choice I say right away that; we would not want to dictate—[Interruption.] Does the Parliamentary Secretary wish to interrupt?
We would not want to dictate to the domestic consumer as to whether he should use oil, coal, gas or electricity Nor would we want to dictate to industry generally what kind of fuel it should use. We think that the fuels to be used should be those most appropriate for the functions they are to serve, but the task of the Minister is a co-ordinating task. He is statutorily required to co-ordinate the fuel and power industries. I want to spend a moment or two in telling the right hon. Gentleman that if he permits freedom of consumers' choice within the nationalised industries without regard to the economic and social events which will follow, he will be destroying—not building up—this industry, upon which we shall require to depend a great deal in future.
I want to refer the right hon. Gentleman to the position of the gas industry and the Durham coalfield. I give this only as a simple illustration, because I think it important that an illustration about this question of consumers' freedom of choice should be made. The gas industry decided to embark upon a programme which meant that it would use more and more oil as a raw material for making gas. It said there was not just a marginal difference in the cost, but a substantial difference. For the moment I shall not argue that point, but accept what the industry said. The gas industry, looking at the situation purely as a gas industry, has decided to reduce its consumption of coal from 27 million tons to 22 million tons, by the middle of the 1960s.
The 5 million tons that industry would have taken would come from coalfields which produced gas-making coal, and of all those fields the Durham coalfield is the outstanding example. If 5 million tons of gas-making coal is not taken from the Durham coalfield, that will mean that the output of 21,000 miners will not be required. The total number of miners in the Durham coalfield is 96,000, and there are 120 pits. The annual output is 24 million tons. I ask hon. Members opposite, and especially the Paymaster-General and the Minister of Power, Lord Mills, to consider the social conditions of Durham if this coal is not used to gain what, over all, in the gas industry can only be a marginal benefit to the industry.
I want to be clear on this. This is not a debating point, but an important point. The right hon. Member seems to be arguing that while it is quite proper to give freedom of choice, say, to the chemical industry to buy oil instead of coal, that is not the case in the gas industry. I am not arguing against that at the moment, but I am saying that that seems to be the proposition he is making.
I am coming to that in a moment. One of the principles of public ownership is to co-ordinate the activities of these great industries so that they serve a social purpose as well as an economic purpose. [Interruption.] I know that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinching-brooke) does not agree, but the noble Lord is a reactionary who never agreed with this at all. His background is one in which no progress in any shape or form could be made. One recognises that. The point is that one of the main purposes of public ownership was to enable a real social and economic policy for the benefit of the nation to be carried out.
It is not the subject of this debate, but there is a case for public ownership in many other fields as well as that which we are now discussing. Industry must follow a social pattern. If industry does not serve a social purpose, the State must take it over and make sure that it does. The people have to live their lives within the nation. They do not exist to serve one small section of the nation and to make private profits for a few. So I put this back to the Paymaster-General. Certainly, we see the chemical industry differently from the publicly-owned enterprises, but I should like him to look at his own Act of Parliament. Why should we say that it is the task of the Minister to co-ordinate the fuel and power industries if we do not want him to do it?
I say straight away that this doctrine of consumers' freedom of choice which the Paymaster-General has put forward, on behalf of his noble Friend the Minister and the Department, is not one which the Government follow all the time. In fact, what came out of the questions this afternoon about the Stockholm free trade discussions? From both sides of the House there was the plea to protect the agricultural industry. Why is the agricultural industry protected? It is for purely strategic and social reasons. By direct subsidy from the taxpayer we protect it to the tune of about £243 million.
There needs to be a little education, also, among the colleagues of the Paymaster-General, because the President of the Board of Trade, a week or two ago, was saying in the House that there were subsidies to the nationalised industries. The Paymaster-General knows that that is not so. The nationalised industries borrow their money from the State and pay interest on it. They repay the loan, but the agricultural industry has had subsidies for years, running at about £250 million a year directly from the taxpayers' pockets. Where does freedom of choice come in there?
Where does it come in relation to the Stockholm discussions? This is the very thing that the Paymaster-General, who went there personally to negotiate the agreement to set up an Association, has decided that he will not have in agriculture. He will not have consumers' freedom of choice there. We agree. So this is not a policy that the Government are following. They do not believe in consumer freedom of choice in all industries, only in this one, the nationalised industries, and why?
What a difference in the attitude taken by the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministerial friends today as compared with that of the late Stanley Baldwin, who gave substantial direct subsidies to the coal owners when the mines were under private enterprise. What a difference between the right hon. Gentleman and the days when the late Neville Chamberlain put an import duty on oil in 1933. For what reason? He said that it was because we must protect the industry which employed so many of our people. They are not our people any longer; they are the Coal Board's people, and they do not matter. Why has there been a change? I will tell the House why. If the industry had been privately owned today the right hon. Gentleman would have stood at that Box making very different speeches from those he has been making. We would have been subsidising, we would have been compelled to assist in maintaining this great industry.
I say that the doctrine of freedom of choice is a "phoney" that the Government have thought up because there are neither votes in the coal mining areas for them nor is there anything in the way of profits because the coal mines are owned by the State. I warn right hon. Gentlemen opposite that unless they are prepared to change their policy for the industry they will find a tide of revolt among the workers which will engulf them. They cannot afford summarily or lightly to dismiss an industry which employs upwards of 750,000 men directly, many more indirectly, and which provides about £200 million a year of purchasing power for private enterprise. Nor can they afford lightly to dismiss an industry where the social conditions are completely different from all others.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really intend to turn Durham into a series of deserted villages? Is this the process of thought behind his mind when he talks about consumers' freedom of choice? I say that the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends will have to think again. I know we shall be told later in the debate that the Ministry is now waiting for the plan of the Coal Board before it can proceed to give its own views about the future of the industry. As I understand the position, from reading the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate in another place, the officials of the Ministry of Power are associating themselves with the Board to produce the plan. This is not a Coal Board plan at all.
I should like to make it clear that it will be the Coal Board's own plan, but the Board discusses with the officials of the Ministry a number of things—for example, future estimates of demand—and we provide it with information on which to base its plan.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear, because the Minister of Power made it clear in another place that the plan will be prepared with the co-operation, help and assistance of the officials of the Ministry of Power. Some of us have been in the Department and we know what that means. This will not be a Coal Board plan, although the Government will make it the Board's plan. Any onus of responsibility for the sad things that will happen will be on the Coal Board.
We do not know what the plan will give us. The general impression of the industry is that what we have been saying from these benches for two years is about right, namely, that the deep-mined coal industry should be built around an annual production of about 200 million tons. I am concerned about pit closures. I looked at the two previous plans for coal, the one of 1950 and the other of 1955 called, "Investing in Coal", to see whether I could find any clue as to the possibilities of pit closures.
Let us remember that since 1939 the industry has been braced to produce coal at any price to the extent of 240 million tons. Now, production must be contracted to 200 million tons. It was on the basis of these figures that the pit closures were decided, and the plan for coal in 1950 stated that between 1961 and 1964 300 pits would have to be closed, whereas "Investing in Coal", in 1955, stated that 260 pits would have to be closed. We cannot add these two figures together and say that 560 pits must be closed because some of the closures will overlap.
If the officials have yet got to this point in their calculations, will the right hon. Gentleman deny that within the next five years we shall probably have to close between 300 and 350 pits? Would he not agree that possibly next year the number of pit closures can be anything between 60 and 100? If that is the case, and all the factors appear to point to it, we shall have in Wales, in Scotland and in England, particularly in Durham, wholesale unemployment. There will be many deserted villages where men and women have lived their lives, where there are all the facilities for community life, but where there will be no pits and no work.
I am sorry, but I cannot give way because the time is too short. I say that the social consequences of such closures must be one of the prime factors moving the Government in relation to the industry. I say this to them: there is no Luddite mind, either on the part of hon. Members on this side of the House or of any single miner in the industry.
If the day could ever come when it was not necessary to send one man into the bowels of the earth to spend over one-third of his life there in bringing energy to the surface, it would be a very good thing, but only provided that everybody had a job, and provided that villages were not left derelict because new industries were brought there. So there is no Luddite attitude about this.
I say on behalf of this side of the House that what the industry needs more than anything else is time in which to contract. Given time to contract there will be no bad social consequences as a result of closures, and we could get 200 million tons of coal from a much smaller number of highly productive pits. Coal brought out of those pits would be competitive with oil anywhere in the country. That is why I repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech, that I would give consumers' freedom of choice to industrialists when the industry is streamlined to the necessary extent. The first few months of the year showed how well the streamlining was going, because there was a profit of £6 million in those months, although stocking has wiped it all out. Nevertheless, we are getting on to the productive, low-cost pits and also the better wage pits.
Therefore, I say that it is time the industry wants. It needs cushions. I turn now to say what cushions there are. First, there is power station oil. This is important, because it is no criticism of the electricity industry that I now make. It is important because electricity is the best customer of the Coal Board. Speaking from memory, I think that the first and original programme for conversion from coal to oil was for 17 stations. That was modified to 13 or 14 stations and subsequently two of them were to be deferred for a year. The present position is that oil-burning stations will be burning an oil equivalent of about 6 million tons a year. That is how the process is running.
I come now to a second criticism which was made by the right hon. Gentleman against the Opposition, one of his sharp rhetorical questions. He said, "Do you agree or do you not agree with the breaking of commercial contracts?" I replied that we did not approve of the breaking of contracts. But that is not the end of the story. One does not have to break commercial contracts to get them waived or to secure changes in them. The leaders of the oil industry are as well known to us as they are to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I know that they have no desire to kill the coal industry, for it is not in their interests to do so. Because of the pressure, very largely in this House in Questions and in debates, they have brought that programme down to the present one of 6 million tons. The right hon. Gentleman must go back to the oil companies and endeavour to secure a further reduction in the amount of oil and ensure that coal is burnt in those power stations.
This is a vital cushion and one which must be provided. Even if it means paying compensation, the compensation will be cheaper than paying thousands of miners unemployment benefit with all the social consequences which follow from that. This great figure of coal equivalent of oil which is being burnt in power stations is one of the cushions which the Government, if they so desired—they are one of the biggest shareholders in the biggest oil company in the country—could reduce if they got the contracts reduced, and they ought to do that. They have done it already, though they have said that they cannot break commercial contracts, and I am sure that, provided the right approach were made, they could do it again, perhaps by paying some compensation, but the compensation would be worth while.
Secondly, I do not disapprove of the gas industry looking for alternative sources of its basic raw material if it can make substantial reductions in the price of gas. However, there ought not to be this contraction of 5 million tons in such a short time. The gas industry must play its part. It is the task of Lord Mills to contract the amount that it wants much more slowly than by this sudden contraction of 5 million tons by 1965. It should be cushioned at about one-third of that rate, because the gain in the lower price of the gas overall—not at particular gas stations but overall—is so marginal that it is not worth the repercussions upon the coal industry. Therefore, this reduction should be spread out rather more.
There is a third cushion for the right hon. Gentleman. He should now have a rather more rapid rundown of opencast coal. The whole basis of the Government's proposals about this year's coal situation was that 3 million tons would not be raised because 36 pits would be closed. The estimate was 9 million tons surplus to requirement. Three million tons would be put into stock and 3 million tons would not be obtained by running down opencast coal production. The estimates are all wrong. The 9 million ton figure is wrong. We have had a reduction in demand of 10 million tons in the first six months of the year. Opencast mining must take its share. I know all the arguments to the contrary, the arguments about the high cost of machinery and so on, but, nevertheless, it is again, technically possible to spread a contract over a longer period and it is possible to reduce somewhat the opencast contracts.
If these three things were done, then, instead of this savage rundown, the process of moving over from the uneconomic pits and the pits which are reaching exhaustion point to the better, newer pits could be done in such an easy manner that the Coal Board would have the same satisfactory results that it has had in spite of the 200 or more closures which have occurred since nationalisation, for those closures were brought about with care, proper consultation and without any bad social effects.
What I am pleading for is time, and I am proving, I hope, that the Government have it in their power to give the industry time. I believe that if they will give the industry time and then build a streamlined industry around 200 million tons of coal a year they will have a coal industry second to none in the world. For the first time in twenty years the coal industry can look at the way in which it is producing coal rather than at the amount of coal that it must produce.
I would say that 200 million tons is a fairly easy amount at which to aim. I will not go into details, but if we take coke ovens, gas, electricity, the railways and domestic use at considerably lower amounts, with the exception of electricity, than they are consuming now, there is 142 million tons in respect of those uses alone, and I see no difficulty about general industry taking another 41 million tons by the middle of the 1960s. Thus, the 200 million tons is there. This is the answer to the Parliamentary Secretary, who shrieked the other week, "It is all right talking about 200 million tons, but you have got to sell it when you have got it." Of course one has, but it can easily be sold. There is no need to get bothered about it.
We could export 10 million tons of coal a year, too. Here the Government have to do something. I want to know what good is the treaty of association with the European Coal and Steel Community. What value has it proved to be? I thought that it was going to be a real association, which would somehow help our coal industry. I should like to know from the Paymaster-General what its value is today. Germany has imposed restrictions on imports of British coal. This is the country to which we doled out millions of pounds to help in the recovery of its economy. Belgium has imposed a licensing restriction. In the case of France, I am told by exporters that they are encountering an official discrimination, a surcharge on anthracite duff.
Will the Paymaster-General tell us what is the value of the treaty of association? When there is in Europe a market which will take about 250 million tons of coal, when despite oil and nuclear energy 250 million tons of coal will be required for the next ten to fifteen years, are we not entitled to say that we could sell 10 million tons there through ports which are geographically important and properly situated in relation to our coalfields and our traditional customers? I believe that this can be done, and it is important that we should have some exports.
It is not just a matter of the disposal of 10 million tons of coal. We must think of the gains to our railways in transporting 10 million tons of coal to the ports. We must think of the gains to the ports exporting coal in South Wales, Scotland, Merseyside and the North-East Coast. There can be very substantial gains arising from the export of 10 million tons of coal, and they should not be lost.
I would ask the Paymaster-General—he deals with these matters in another sphere—what the Government propose to do about bilateral agreements. Finland, Spain, Denmark—I hope the right hon. Gentleman will note "Denmark", because it is in the Stockholm group and we have just taken a 10 per cent. tariff off its bacon imports—and Sweden have all signed bilateral agreements with the Russians or the Poles. I want to know what the Government are doing when they involve themselves in trade negotiations with other countries about suggesting coal as one of the materials which we might export. If the industry were in private hands, the private owners of pits would be forcing the Government to do this. They do not do it, because they do not care.
I shall now read the relevant portion of an extract from the Board of Trade
Monthly Economic Reports. Referring to the Soviet-Danish Trade Agreement, they say:
Danish imports are to include 500,000 tons of petroleum products instead of 140,000 tons, 250,000 tons of coal instead of 80,000 tons …".
That is 250,000 tons of Russian coal instead of 80,000 tons which the Danes took the year before. That is the result of a bilateral agreement between the Soviet Union and Denmark which is a member of the Stockholm Group. We have to remember the abolition of the 10 per cent. tariff on imports of Danish bacon into this country. What have the Government done about it, if anything? This Agreement means that the Danes are less likely to get their coal from us.
Sweden has signed a similar Agreement with Poland, of which the Board of Trade Reports say:
…a further increase in imports of Polish coal is envisaged.
When I asked the President of the Board of Trade about this some time ago, he did not know very much about it and we could not get any sense from him. The Paymaster-General has responsibility for the coal industry and I hope that he will understand that it is important that we should have an export market for our coal, that that export market will not be obtained easily and that technical methods of dealing with that must now be left to the experts of the marketing department of the Coal Board.
But the Government can play a part and they should not easily allow those who are our friends and who are associated with us in many matters to make bilateral agreements which not only damage our coal industry, but prevent us from getting in on a fair competitive basis. There is no consumers' freedom of choice about this. When there is a bilateral agreement, we have "had it". Government influence should be used with our friends and traditional customers against their making bilateral agreements about coal. Selling 10 million tons of coal at the most favourable points on the Continent geographically is not unreasonable and not something which we are not entitled to pursue.
The coal industry can now take a new road, a road different from the old, because we have been producing coal without regard to anything else. Now we have to produce coal at a cost which enables the coal to be sold in competition with other fuels. I am certain—it is not merely a belief—that the publicly-owned coal industry can do this job, but we cannot turn an industry which, for twenty years, has been producing coal regardless of other considerations into this new streamlined instrument in one year or two. The only people who can give this industry the breathing space necessary to make it once again a great prosperous industry upon which village life and men's employment can depend, are the Government. Are they prepared to do it?
It is a matter of only a few weeks since we had a debate on coal. I am not in any way criticising that, because, as the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said, it is an extremely important industry, and it is only right that we should frequently debate its affairs when there are difficulties such as those which the industry is now facing. But inevitably the ground we cover and the arguments we use will not be very different from the arguments we used in the previous debate.
I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman on the question of debating points. I sometimes find that the phrase "debating points" is used by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to describe arguments which they cannot answer. I hope that they will not think that it is a debating point if I point out, as I think I am entitled to point out, that the right hon. Gentleman combined a violent attack on our policy of freedom of choice for the consumer with an assertion that that was also the policy of his own party, except for the nationalised industries.
If the right hon. Gentleman reads his speech tomorrow, he will find that that is what he was saying.
I must say that I found myself in complete agreement with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman said. I am not sure that our respective assessments of the future of the coal industry are very different. His assessment of the future of the industry and the prospect that it can become fully competitive with oil and other sources of fuel on the basis of a slightly contracted industry of about 200 million tons capacity was a proposition which one could readily accept.
But I thought that that was not consistent with some of his phrases. I think that it is a great mistake to exaggerate the present difficulties. He quoted my noble Friend saying that there was cause for anxiety. Of course there is cause for anxiety. The prospects are anxious, but they are not grim, the word he used. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was exaggerating when he talked about wholesale unemployment, deserted villages and a savage run-down. I do not want to minimise the difficulties or the problems, but I ask that they should not be exaggerated. Exaggeration is bad for the House and bad for the industry.
I want to try to assess what seem to me to be the problems facing the industry, and what the Government and the National Coal Board are doing about them, before saying one or two things about the proposals of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The difficulties of the Coal Board are two-fold, short-term competition and short-term decline in demand, and a new doubt about long-term prospects for the industry. I think that it will be recognised, as the right hon. Gentleman recognised, that any industry, even a basic industry, in an economy which is changing and developing with new technical ideas and possibilities is bound to be liable to face difficulties of this kind.
Indeed, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in Durham the other day said that if we could find new forms of energy, well and good. He said:
We would rather work in white overalls on the top than in black underneath".
That seems to be an unarguable proposition. I do not think that anyone is trying to say that it is necessary for ever to maintain a coal industry of a certain size.
The point the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth was making, and it seems to me to be a fair point, is that the industry needs time to contract. He rightly said that there were two special features of the coal industry. He did not stress the first of those this afternoon as he has done in the past. It is that coal is our indigenous source of fuel and that we should make the best use of it. The second, to which he did not refer at great length because it is well known, is the special social problems which arise in the contraction of this industry. The Government fully accept that it would be wrong to consider the economics of fuel in this country without regard to the social consequences of any development. On the other hand, we must recognise that the economy is one economy and that the mining industry cannot prosper unless the economy as a whole is prospering and taking the fullest advantage of technical change and new technical developments.
I should like to divide what I say about the problems facing the industry into two parts, the short-term problem and the long-term prospects. As the right hon. Gentleman said, between 1955 and 1958 there was a decline in coal consumption equivalent to 13 million tons a year. He attributed that to two things, to the world recession and to the competition of oil. I think that with the world recession one can link the growth of efficiency in fuel use, because that must have greatly contributed to the decline in demand for fuel. Certainly the competition from oil has been a very serious matter.
So far as I can see, it is based on three things: first, the technical factors, that oil is on the whole more consistent, more homogeneous in quality and easier to handle for a number of purposes; secondly, there have been doubts from time to time about the adequacy of coal supplies, thirdly—and we must always remember this—there was a substantial increase in the price of coal over the ten years from 1947 to 1957, which was bound to have an important effect on the competitive position of and the demand for coal.
Is there not a fourth factor? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is going on to explain it. Is there not the very low social standards of the countries from which the oil comes?
I do not think that that is a factor in the demand for coal. The fact is that the price of oil has not risen anything like as much as the price of coal. I do not think there is any difference of opinion between us on that.
The right hon. Gentleman outlined three or four reasons why oil is becoming so much more competitive. He did not add the factor that oil is relatively cheap because of the low social standards of the countries from which it comes.
Nothing of the sort. The world price of oil is set on Gulf prices, and if anyone thinks that the standard of living in Texas or the Gulf is low he is mistaken. I was trying to analyse the reasons why the coal industry is feeling the competition of oil, and price is undoubtedly one of them.
As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth said, in the first half of 1959 inland consumption was down by 9·4 million tons. We must always make adjustments for the weather factor, and I am told by the statisticians that the weather has accounted for a decline of 2 million tons. We have also seen an increase in the consumption of oil by power stations where consumption has been reaching its peak. The steel industry, which is a very heavy consumer of coal, has been recovering from a world recession, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, slower than other industries.
Those are the reasons which we must take into account when considering the short-term position, which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, has led to stocks amounting to some 44 million tons. That is a very large stock and a heavy financial burden on the coal industry.
I now turn to the long-term prospect. Some while ago I said that the best calculation that we could make of the inland demand for energy in 1965 would be about 300 million tons. To reach that figure by 1965 the expansion that is taking place in industry now will have to go ahead very fast, but I still think that it is reasonable to take 300 million tons as a rough figure for the total energy demand in the middle 1960s. The amount which the coal industry will secure will depend on its competitive position.
I want to consider one or two of the large consumers of coal to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. If we do that, we will see that the real picture of the future prospects of the coal industry is not so gloomy as is sometimes suggested. Let us first consider industrial and domestic consumers and the railways, because it is in these groups that the coal industry is under the greatest pressure from oil competition.
I should have thought that in the case of general industrial consumption, which is a very large item, a fully efficient coal industry which has its production costs under control would be able to compete very effectively with oil. It is, however, under heavy pressure and will continue to be because of the many advantages that the industrialists see in present circumstance in the use of oil. That is really the sector in which competition in the coal industry is most severe.
Look at the other main consumers. There will undoubtedly be a large increase in the consumption of coal by the electricity industry. By 1965 there should be an increase of some 9 to 10 million tons a year in the consumption of coal, a very large item. Coke ovens are also large consumers of coal. We think that the consumption of coal by coke ovens will increase by several million tons between now and 1965, even taking into account technical developments which may enable a ton of steel to be made with a smaller weight of coke than is the case at present.
In the case of electricity and coke ovens, both of which are very large consumers of coal, there are prospects for a substantial increase in coal consumption. That leaves the gas industry as the other main consumer, and I should like to say a word or two about this.
It would be wrong to suggest that there has been some sudden new development in the gas industry; as it were, some attack on coal and some deliberate switch to oil. That is not really a fair picture. As I understand it, over a long period the gas industry has used a fair amount of oil in making carburetted water gas and recently a number of factors have encouraged the gas industry to make greater use of oil. For example, there is difficulty in selling coke. We can never consider the economy of the gas industry without remembering the importance of the disposal of coke. Also, if there is a chance of using waste gases from refineries it is sensible to use them and not blow them into the air.
There have been difficulties and dangers in the past about the supply of carbonisation coal. That is not so at the moment, but two or three years ago it was very difficult to be confident about the future of carbonisation coal. Also, the gas industry feels that the increase in the price of the coal that it uses for carbonisation has been considerable.
For all those reasons, the gas industry, as a natural evolution of its policies, has been ready to utilise more oil and products of that kind.
The gas industry is clearly going to continue to be predominantly based on coal. Together with the Coal Board and other people the gas industry is pursuing experiments into the complete gasification of low-grade coals. We regard this as being of the greatest importance, and I know that the Gas Council also regards it as most important.
It is wrong to suggest that the Gas Council is deliberately turning its back on coal. It has been driven to use more oil, for reasons which I have been explaining. The gas industry has to sell its product in competition with other forms of fuel. If the gas industry does not prosper, it cannot be a good customer of the coal industry. I ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to bear that in mind. The gas industry can be a good consumer of coal only if it is prosperous, and it can prosper only if it keeps its costs and prices down to face competition, which is quite severe.
At the request of my noble Friend the gas industry and the Coal Board are making a thorough objective appraisal of the whole situation. I am sure that that is the right first step to take. I am also sure that my noble Friend will take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said today about the way in which he thinks the gas industry should be regarded by the Government in this matter.
I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's thesis that it would be right and proper to restrain the use of oil by the gas industry while at the same time continuing to allow freedom to industry generally to use oil if it wished to do so. That is a very interesting point of view. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the continuation of experiments by the Gas Council. It would be wrong to hold up any experiment that might give rise to substantial reductions in the cost of gas.
We should not assume that the development of things like liquid methane need lead to the displacement of coal. They might lead to the displacement of oil. In any case, it is impossible to take a decision on this matter until we have more information about the experiments with methane and the technical and economic consequences involved.
At the request of my noble Friend the Coal Board and the Gas Council are carrying out a joint study of the whole matter. I am sure that they are doing it in a spirit of friendship and co-operation because they have a close interest one in the other. It is not in the interests of the gas industry to damage the coal industry, nor is it in the interests of the coal industry to damage the gas industry. Their prosperity is certainly closely linked.
We have now been going forward with researches and experiments in the underground gasification of coal for twelve years at Newman Spinney, near Chesterfield, and at Bayton in my own constituency. Huge sums of money have been spent on these experiments. We can never obtain any information as to whether we are going to gasify coal underground in this country. It is four years since the Minister of Fuel and Power came to my constituency and promised progress. Nothing whatever has happened.
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like the House to be clear on this subject of the reappraisal of the situation in the gas industry. Do I understand that, in consultation with the National Coal Board, the gas industry is now considering the production of a smokeless fuel, extracting all possible gases, so as to make it cheaper to the consumer and, at the same time, more suitable for open grates?
Both the National Coal Board and some of the gas boards have been doing extremely good work with smokeless fuel. The National Coal Board has "Warmco", which is a very good development, and some of the gas boards are also working on similar fuels. There is a great deal of co-operation between them. It is obviously a very fruitful field for co-operation between the industries.
I should be glad to give way to any right hon. or hon. Gentleman who wishes to put questions to me, but I think that it would be out of order if I endeavoured to give way to a mutual discussion.
The fact is that the Coal Board said some months ago that it had decided that it did not intend to proceed further with experiments in underground gasification, because it did not feel that the commercial prospects justified the expense on research which would be involved. It thought that there were better things on which to spend the research moneys available.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it has not been stopped on scientific grounds, but purely because of the financial difficulties of the Coal Board and the need for economising in cash, among other reasons?
That is not very far from what I said. I said that it had been stopped, not for technical reasons. When one looks at what would be obtained from the commercial exploitation of this process, it is not sufficiently advantageous to make it worth while devoting to research all the large resources which the Coal Board thinks would be better employed otherwise.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the notice in the paper, either yesterday or today, suggesting that the latest experiments on underground gasification of coal lead to the suggestion that there may be possible hopes from it?
I saw that in The Times. I made inquiries and that is why I am so well briefed this afternoon.
I should like to sum up on what I am trying to put as the most objective analysis of the prospects of the coal industry. In the field of industrial and domestic consumption generally and the railways, there is clearly a danger of very severe and increasing competition. On the other hand, in the electricity industry, which is the largest single consumer, the prospect is of a very substantial expansion. The same applies to coke ovens, and the gas industry is not in as difficult a position from the coal point of view as is sometimes suggested.
When all those various factors are added together, we should not think, as some people tend to think, of the present level of coal production as the beginning of a further decline. We should think of it as a point which can certainly be held if the industry is organised on the most efficient basis and if proper control and attention are paid to cost. I gain the impression that on this basic proposition there is not so very much difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself.
On the short-term problem, the Coal Board's proposals were to reduce opencast mining by 3 million tons, deep-mined production by 3 million tons and to stock 3 million tons. As the House is aware, the amount put to stock this year will have to be considerably greater, for a variety of reasons. Stocking by consumers is down and exports are disappointing. It was the belief of the Coal Board that any additional coal should be put to stock and that there should be no additional economic closures this year.
Of the 10,000 men displaced by the economic closures which have taken place to date, all but 1,500 have been found other employment. There remains a serious problem, particularly in Wales, I understand, and parts of Scotland, but I think that it is encouraging that through the co-operation of all concerned the placement of men who have lost their jobs by the closure of pits has gone ahead better even than we thought at the time it was first announced.
On the long-term position, the Coal Board's new plan is not yet available and will not be available for a few weeks yet. Clearly, it is impossible to speculate precisely about what its form will be, but I think that we can see the key to the situation in the assault that has been made recently on the problem of costs. As the right hon. Gentleman himself said, costs in the December quarter of last year were down substantially. I do not see why that trend should not be held and why there should not be further reductions in costs if the Coal Board is not faced with the imposition of further additional costs which it finds impossible to absorb. I am sure that the secret in the long-term prospect of coal lies, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in having an industry of the right size and in competitive condition on the basis of comparative costs.
In previous discussions there has been some talk about the flexibility of prices, and often people suggest that the Coal Board should conduct a sort of bargain sale of coal to dispose of its stocks. That would be a mistake. There is no point in selling coal to people much cheaper this year if the result is only that they buy less coal next year. Very great importance is often attached by consumers to continuity of supply. This applies both to home and export consumers, as the Board is well aware. The House can be assured that the Board and all its employees are well aware of the importance of costs and prices to the future prospects of the industry.
The other way in which we think that the industry's position will be improved is by the most vigorous pursuit of improved methods of utilising coal. A great deal of work is being done in this field by the Coal Board—I know that the right hon. Gentleman is very interested in this—by the Gas Council, and by the British Coal Utilisation Research Association. There is research into solid fuel equipment into the use of producer gas from coal rather than oil in the glass industry, the gasification of low-grade coal, to which reference was made, and bricquetting. We believe that all these activities will be given a further stimulus when we have later on the Report of the Wilson Committee which my right hon. Friend recently appointed.
The argument I want to make before I turn for a little while to the Opposition Motion is that the situation in the coal industry, though anxious, is not as grim as it is depicted by the adjectives in speeches from the party opposite, though I think that the situation is probably far more akin to the substance of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. We believe that in the short-term the Coal Board has been right to carry the increased burden this year on stocks rather than turn it to more economic closures. We think that the Board is right to concentrate in the future on making coal cheaper and more acceptable in every possible way to the consumer.
I was trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman, and he did not refer to it. I was rather surprised that he did not, because in a recent debate in another place the noble Lord who spoke officially for the Opposition suggested that the nuclear power programme should be slowed down. I was interested that the right hon. Gentleman did not say that, and I am, therefore, assuming that the party opposite is not asking us to slow down the programme of nuclear power stations.
I do not quite understand what is meant by that. The Coal Board is always planning the output of coal. It produced "Plan for Coal" and "Investing in Coal," and it is now producing another plan, which it will discuss with the Government and with the National Union of Mineworkers, setting out what it believes to be the right place of the coal industry in the national economy. In so far as the Government have approved these plans and the capital investment placed on them, clearly the Government are approving of this assessment of the future place of coal in the national economy.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that unless the Government underwrite the plan which is now to come forward, it is not worth the paper that it is written on? The first two plans have proved to be abortive, and this plan will also be abortive unless the Government underwrite it and see that it takes its place in the national economy. Unless the Government do that, we shall have another plan in three years' time.
That is the point I want to make. Clearly, the point of the party opposite is that if the plan goes wrong one does not alter the plan to fit the facts, but alters the facts to fit the plan. That is the kind of policy on which the party opposite has been trying to run the country. I am going to deal with the argument. Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to intervene again?
I only plead with the right hon. Gentleman to talk sense to us and not to try out his dialectical skill in the House. We want to talk plain horse sense on this. The right hon. Gentleman knows that what he is now accusing us of now is not true.
It is difficult to say much in face of the noise coming from the right hon. Gentleman.
The fact is that the policy statements of the party opposite are becoming fraudulent. The Coal Board and the Government make a plan for the amount of coal they wish to produce. They then find that that plan is not exactly right, that the demand for coal is not what they thought it would be. We say that in those circumstances the plan should be adapted to changed circumstances. But not the party opposite. It says that we should go on producing the coal. That is not a sensible policy.
It is an extraordinary thing that when one deals with the policies of the party opposite its members do not seem to like it. We must really be clear on this point. Too often are phrases such as "plan the place of the coal industry in the national economy" used by the Opposition. That is exactly what we are doing.
In its various plans, the Coal Board plans a certain output of coal. The only argument is what happens if that production turns out to be more than the demand. We say that in those circumstances we should stimulate demand by bringing down costs, and, if necessary, trim production. What the party opposite is saying is that we should, in fact, increase the demand for coal by stopping people using something else. Every time that we analyse the difference between the party opposite and ourselves it comes back to this. What hon. Members opposite mean by the word "plan" is the stopping of people from using a substitute for coal. If it does not mean that then it is no different from what the Coal Board and the Government are doing.
I am coming to that. It might be useful if I based myself on the official statement of policy by the party opposite. Hon. Members opposite say:
This must be based on giving the coal industry a long-term output figure around which to plan.
That is what we are doing.
That brings me to the point which the party opposite can never learn. Even after all the experience of the party opposite between 1945 and 1950, with all its extraordinary Economic Surveys stating how many people will be working, hon. Members opposite never learn that one can plan till one is blue in the face but that one cannot force people to consume what they do not wish to consume.
The party opposite says that the second consideration after coal
will be the use of oil products from United Kingdom refineries.
It is extraordinary for anyone to think that one can confine the use of oil in a country to oil produced by the refineries in that country. There is no reason why the pattern of consumption and the most efficient balance of refinery output in any single country should coincide. How can one stop people bringing in oil without making it subject to quota? This would be contrary to our international obligations. The right hon. Gentleman himself said this afternoon that he is quite happy for industrial consumers to use as much oil as they like. That seems inconsistent with his policy.
Then the party opposite talks about its programme for the conversion of power stations to oil. It says:
It is probable that the costs of reconversion to coal would be less than those involved in maintaining large numbers of miners on unemployment and redundancy pay. …
I would say again what I have already said on the subject on two occasions in the House. The amount of oil to be taken by the power stations has been reduced by a coal equivalent of nearly 4 million tons. Why were the contracts made in the first place? They were made because it did not seem likely that adequate coal supplies would be available. The contracts for oil were made as an insurance because the Coal Board could not guarantee to provide enough coal. It seems quite wrong, therefore, to repudiate a contract simply because the circumstances have changed.
The Government are being asked, in view of the fact that they determined the use of oil because their planning in 1955 was wrong, to go back to the oil companies and to renegotiate.
The contract is between the electricity industry and the oil companies. If the electricity industry wishes to go further in its negotiations that is a matter for the industry alone. Nothing on the lines suggested by the right hon. Gentleman can be carried out without instructions being given to cancel contracts, which we are not prepared to do. That is the answer which I have to give him on the question of the consumption of oil by the power stations.
The only other point which the right hon. Gentleman made in his speech was that there should be a further review of opencast coal operations. Do the words "further review" mean further reductions?
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to say whether the Government are prepared to find the necessary time and equipment to put the coal industry right. Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the power stations, the gas industry and opencast mining? Will he give straight answers to straight questions?
I have answered two of the questions, but have not been given the necessary opportunity to answer the third.
We are not prepared to get people to break contracts. On the gas industry, I gave a very considered statement on the position. On the matter of opencast mining, there has already been a rundown. Output this year will be down by 3 million tons, a far heavier proportionate cut than that applied to deep mining.
From the Coal Board's point of view—taking account of the facts and figures—opencast mining is a profitable operation, and it is right for the Board to take that fact into consideration. It is running down opencast mining very fast. It is well down already and it will be down to 7 million tons next year. We have announced that the Board does not intend to make any more contracts for opencast mining save in exceptional circumstances. There may be exceptions, I cannot generalise, there may be special types of coal, for example, which can be obtained only by opencast operations, but this is what I am informed by the Coal Board and I take the word of the Board because I consider that it is fairly well informed in these matters.
The Board is running down its opencast mining operations very rapidly and I think that it is justified in saying that it should not go faster because of the financial considerations involved. So I have dealt with all the things which were suggested by the right hon. Member for Blyth.
I have been subjected to a constant stream of comments from the right hon. Member for Blyth, not one of which had much relevance to the arguments which have been advanced. I have dealt with the three points about opencast mining, about contracts and about the gas industry, So far, I have not discovered that the party opposite proposes to do anything different from what we are doing, other than that now it says that opencast mining should be reduced whereas up to the present it has asked only for a further review.
The fact is that hon. Members opposite are making a fundamental error in over-painting the gloom of the situation. If they will examine the position in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon, if they will consider the short-term and the long-term prospects, they will find that they are considerably exaggerating in what they say. The short-term problem gives cause for anxiety as we would agree. That has been dealt with by the Coal Board and by the Government by stocking on a large scale and providing financial facilities for stocking. The long-term problem can be dealt with only by making coal competitive.
The sale of coal will depend on the demand of the consumers for coal. However much we plan we cannot sell coal that people do not want to buy, unless they are forced to buy coal, and the party opposite has never yet had the courage to say that it will force anyone to buy coal.
The right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster-General has a curious "blind spot" on the subject of oil. That has been evidenced on many occasions in the Answers which he has given and in those which have been given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power. The right hon. Gentleman talks about world prices for oil and in doing so he seems to fear that because of the control of so-called Gulf prices there will be stability in the prices for oil that this country will have to pay. I wish to draw his attention to the fact that at present there is a world surplus of 200 million tons of oil and that countries like the United States of America have imposed compulsory import controls to prevent the importation of foreign oil.
As an example of the point I am making, one need only consider the case of Venezuela and read the speech of the Chairman of the Ultramar Company which is reported in The Times this morning. Venezuela has lost a substantial market in the United States and is being forced to find new markets. That will be done by dropping the price of oil to consumer countries such as ourselves. We are, therefore, not only faced with the problem of the existing threat of oil to our coal industry, not only with the attraction of the convenience of using oil, which was referred to by the Paymaster-General, but also with a likely tendency for oil prices to drop and to continue to be an increasing danger to our economy. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to face this issue.
We ask for a planned use of fuel in this country. I believe that even the party opposite will be forced to adopt such a policy in due course, and it is not true to say that if a plan is produced by the National Coal Board, it will stand or fall by its own worth. We have seen in recent months that, by their economic policy, the Government can wreck any plan produced by the Coal Board. We had evidence of that in the deliberate restriction of credit, and the consequential and deliberate reduction in the demand for solid fuels which has led to the present trouble.
I think it regrettable that there should be this carefully calculated hostility towards the mining community. We have heard evidence of that from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I do not blame the hon. Gentleman. It is characteristic of what the ordinary Conservative speaker says in his constituency.
I do not propose to be drawn into giving my personal opinion of the hon. Gentleman: I am not sure that I should be in order.
The fact is that local papers in our constituencies print the sort of speeches exemplified by that made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works at a Conservative ladies' luncheon club—or whatever it was—at Coulsdon, when he talked about a plan for separate boards of individual directors, in other words, reverting to the old system of management. I do not think that the average collier would welcome a return to the form of managerial control which existed in the old days. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works talked about the failure of centralised production of coal, but that is a result of the deliberate intention of this Government to wreck the policy of the National Coal Board.
The hon. Gentleman may think it very funny. But this afternoon we have been accused of being overanxious and worried about the future of the Coal Board, and all I can say is that the experience of the hon. Gentleman is not the same as mine. I took the trouble to discover the feelings of people immediately concerned with the winning of coal. Men and women in the mining communities in my constituency are extremely anxious and worried about the future. This anxiety takes two forms. A man of 40 says, "Am I doing the right thing by staying in the industry for the rest of my working life?". The younger man says, "Is it worth going into the industry at all?" In my opinion we all have a duty, irrespective of party, to provide some sort of stability for the labour force in this industry. If we do not, we may find the effect of the present uncertainty very damaging to our economy.
I do not blame my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) for saying that, by and large, we would not object to seeing miners leave their work underground and find cleaner, easier, and more lucrative jobs elsewhere. But this country cannot afford to have that sort of thing happening, because we shall depend on the production of coal for many years to come.
Reverting to the question of oil imports, I wish to know why there has been an increase in oil imports from non-British sources. I find that in 1957 we imported 828,000 metric tons from the Netherlands. In 1958 we imported 2,111,000 metric tons. In 1957 we imported 101,000 metric tons from France and in 1958 we imported 454,000 metric tons. When I questioned spokesmen of certain oil interests in this country I was told that, because of the pattern of refining in Europe, we re-export refined oil. Why cannot we export refined products from our Commonwealth crude oil resources? Why do we have to import from the Netherlands and from France nearly three times or four times as much?
It may well be the case, but the general pattern of trade is that we are apparently importing a far greater proportion of oil than is necessary, when we take into account the availability of Commonwealth supplies. I think that the Paymaster-General knows that that is a fact.
On the question of traction on our railways, I think we all accept the proposition that the sooner we get rid of steam traction the better. Cleanliness, efficiency and braking speeds are all increased by some form of traction other than steam, which we have to get rid of. Why cannot we do it by electricity rather than by dieselised locomotives?
If the hon. Gentleman had taken the interest that I have taken in this problem over the last fifteen years he would know that although electrical traction is ultimately more economical it is a much more lengthy process to install. Therefore, it has been thought desirable to integrate diesel electric locomotives with the railways as a short-term measure. Ultimately there will be total electrification.
I would like to be convinced that that is really the policy of Her Majesty's Government in these matters. Hon. Friends of mine and myself have consulted the Transport Commission and it seems to us that the Government are literally encouraging the use of dieselised traction.
So many hon. Members want to speak that I will try to keep my remarks as short as possible, but I want to refer to a particularly human matter. We all agree that we have to maintain manpower in the coal industry for many years to come, even though it be on a reduced scale. There is an assumption that mechanisation has improved the conditions of work at the coal face but I am not at all sure that that is the case. I made inquiries from the only two sources at my disposal, the National Coal Board, and through the Library of the House of Commons, other sources, to see whether any investigation had been made into the effect of mechanisation on work at the coal face, as regards both cutting and loading on to belts, and there is little evidence of investigation.
I am informed, however, contrary to the belief of many people, that the effect on the health of the miner has been worsened by mechanisation. I hope my hon. Friends who have been miners will not dispute this point. My information is that when a man gets to about 50 years of age and has been working at the face, he has gone over the top of his maximum productivity as an individual and that from that time his earnings go down because he has to go on to a lighter job. I am told that one effect of mechanisation is that men have to get away from the coal face earlier.
In that case, in the planning of our manpower we must take into consideration the fact that men who have been winning coal by means of mechanical processes will have their earnings dropped earlier than was the case before, and we must try to move towards the point at which miners are retired upon proper retirement pensions at a much earlier age than this country has ever thought necessary. I would bring an example from another country and a different industry. It has always been amazing to me that the French railway first-class locomotive driver is retired at 50 years of age on full pension, as compared with the much higher age in this country. The same principle could be applied to the mining industry.
I beg the Parliamentary Secretary not to give the impression, as I think he particularly does in this House, of an essential hostility towards the miners. I have been rereading his replies over the past four or five weeks to Questions put mainly from this side of the House about the future of the mining industry. I have the impression that the Answers that we got were essentially unhelpful and hostile, and even cynical. I do not know what the reason for this may be, but I wonder whether there are not as long historical memories on the Government side as there are on this side of the House, and whether Government supporters fear the political cohesion of the miners of this country. If that is the situation, they are taking a very short view indeed of the future. Whether they like it or not, coal has to be produced in this country as an essential commodity for many years ahead.
A great deal of criticism has been levelled at my noble Friend the Minister of Power, and much of it is unjustified. My noble Friend has to his credit several important achievements in the last three years.
The first of these achievements is that he has ended coal imports into Great Britain by the policy that he has followed.
In 1955 we spent no less than £80 million, very largely in hard currency, in bringing 12 million tons of coal to this country because our mining output was inadequate. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about steel?"] I am not talking about steel at present. I may deal with it later. The second achievement of my noble Friend is that he has ended house coal rationing.
It is not important to a member of the National Union of Mineworkers, because he gets large quantities of concessionary coal. My constituents, under the rationing arrangements, were getting 34 cwt. a year as compared with a coal miner, who could get approximately 5 tons a year of concessionary coal.
The third great achievement of my noble Friend is that he is rapidly putting an end to that dreadful process which I dubbed in 1950 "the scourge of rural England", the opencast mining of coal. Who was the principal protagonist of opencast coal mining in those days? None other than the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). Upon an unprecedented occasion in 1950, so rattled did the right hon. Gentleman become by my attacks upon opencast coal mining, which I made on behalf of farmers and residents in rural areas, that he actually flew into print in the correspondence columns of the Daily Telegraph, trying to rebut what he said in those days were the fallacious arguments of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. I wanted to end opencast coal mining. What hypocritical arguments the right hon. Gentleman put before the House this afternoon. The third achievement, therefore, of my noble Friend is that we are now in sight of the end of opencast coal mining and——
My hon. Friend has had a close association with these matters for many years. [Interruption.] Did I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) say that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite) had made a lot of money out of it?
I was about to compliment my hon. Friend on bringing opencast methods from North America to this country in the early war years. It was essentially an emergency wartime measure. It was the right hon. Member for Blyth who announced in this House in 1950 that he expected to see the end of opencast coal mining by 1953, but it has dragged on for a long while after that. I am not satisfied that it is being wound up as rapidly as it ought to be.
As I have said, the third important achievement of my noble Friend is that he is greatly accelerating the winding up of opencast coal mining with, I believe, great economic benefit to the rural areas. I hope that he will be in office after the next General Election to witness its final demise. My noble Friend, in his period of office, has proved resolute, perspicacious and intelligent—much more so than many earlier Ministers of Fuel and Power. He is my fuel and power pin-up.
Various adjectives have been applied to the coal position today. Incidentally, I see that I have driven my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West from the Chamber. Some have called the coal position grim, and some have called it hopeless. [HON. MEMBERS: "What does the hon. Member call it?"] I call it worrying. Mining Members opposite, by which I mean hon. Members who sit for predominantly mining constituencies, will recall that I said in the last coal debate in the House on the subject of stocks that I regarded an economic figure for stocks as 50 million tons, or about one calendar quarter's reserve, assuming a total rate of output of 200 million tons a year. I still take that view. I do not quarrel with the right hon. Member for Blyth as to what should be our anticipated coal output during the next four or five years. I think that it should be about 200 million tons per annum and that we should endeavour to maintain stocks at about 50 million tons.
Today, stocks are 44·7 million tons, made up of 29·2 million tons of undistributed stocks and 15·5 million tons of distributed stocks. In the passage of the next ten weeks, before the commencement of the coal winter—and I hope that it is a cold winter as well, to burn up more coal—I believe that stocks will rise from 44·7 million tons to 50 million tons. I reckon that at the commencement of the coal winter, on 1st November, we shall have an aggregation of distributed and undistributed stocks of approximately 50 million tons.
This is an interesting theory and I know that the hon. Member has said this before, but what about the difficulty of getting stocking grounds? No doubt the hon. Member is conversant with the fact that the Coal Board loses more than 10s. per ton on every ton stocked, which means that £25 million will be lost on a stock of 50 million tons, and yet the hon. Member is constantly attacking the Board for not making a profit. Already, £15 million has been lost on stocking, plus the fact that £150 million is locked op.
The hon. Member will know that pre-war we normally retained one quarter's reserve of coal. This is not £250 million of public money that if locked up, because from that will be deducted distributed stocks paid for by private industry, nationalised industry, merchants and householders at rebated summer prices. For example, my last task before coming to the House today was to order my winter coke—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hurrah."]—at summer prices, at an economy of 21s. 7d. per ton.
I do not burn coal. I burn coke, because it is entirely smokeless, in support of the clean air policy.
It is not that kind of public money that is wrapped up in these coal stocks, but I foresee that we cannot go above 50 million tons of coal in stock. That is the economic figure. There must be in sight a curtailment of coal output unless we risk going above that figure which I regard as an optimum.
Another reason why I think that we must limit our stocking to 50 million tons is that the Board's finances will not run to any more. We have authorised huge sums in borrowing powers to finance these large stocks. Shortly after the forthcoming General Election, which I fancy will take place on 29th October, 1959, one of the first duties of my right hon. Friends will be to consider the financial position of the National Coal Board, for if stocks rise above 50 million tons the concomitant will be to authorise further borrowing powers for the Board. I say that that is unnecessary.
Urgent steps should be taken. I am not far removed from the right hon. Member for Blyth. I believe in the sanctity of commercial contracts, of course, but it is much cheaper to break the contracts with the opencast operators and pay them compensation than to mine the coal and put it on the ground at the high stocking cost to which the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) referred.
Last year, we mined by opencast methods 14 million tons of coal, the highest figure in our history. In a critical debate a few months ago, my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General suggested that the figure should be reduced to 11 million tons. I told him that he was wrong and that he ought to have reduced the figure to 5 million tons. He laughed that off and said that that was too steep a rundown. Today, my right hon. Friend is talking in terms of 7 million tons. He is coming towards me much more rapidly than he generally does. I have no doubt that in twelve months he will be with me completely.
I say, "Abolish opencast mining next year." I am not worried about the so-called expensive plant and equipment engaged in opencast mining. Practically the whole of it may be employed for alternative civil engineering. It may be used for road building, for quarrying, for opencast iron-ore winning. It may be used for a multiplicity of purposes. These artificial arguments adduced over the years about capital locked up in opencast mining equipment are very largely fallacious.
The first objective to help the deep-mined coal industry should be to abolish opencast mining before the end of 1960, paying compensation if necessary—the Coal Board to pay that compensation.
I hope that the hon. Member will not laugh before I have finished my sentence. Payment of that compensation would be much cheaper than the cost of putting 5 million or 7 million tons of opencast coal per annum into disused quarries and on stocking sites, with no determination at all as to when it could be used. I believe that is bad business, and I want to advance that point to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.
First of all, the hon. Member saddles the Coal Board with £25 million loss on 50 million tons of stock, plus a greater loss because of the deterioration of the coal. Now he also saddles the Board with compensation for closing down opencast mines. The hon. Member is being hypocritical in his arguments. Time and time again in the House he has abused the Board, hook, line, and sinker, because it has not made a profit. Now he saddles the Board with more loss.
I did not say that. I said that at the beginning of the coal winter there would be an aggregation of 50 million tons in stock, and, out that, 17 million or 18 million tons will be distributed stocks. The Board does not finance those. The other 32 million tons is held in stock by the Board, but I am trying to prevent that total stock rising further. I say that it is cheaper to cancel contracts for opencast coal and pay compensation than to face heavy stocking costs over an indefinite period.
My hon. Friend is adducing an argument on prices and costs but he has not directed himself at all to the fact that opencast mining is the cheapest form of coal-getting we have.
I will do so in due course. Let me deal with these points first.
The second point concerns power-station oil. I think that this has been somewhat exaggerated. The tonnage of oil consumed at British power stations in 1958 was 2·6 million. Allowing for the difference in calorific value and converting it to a coal equivalent, that is about 3¼ million tons of coal. There are certain power stations which we could not swing back to coal. For example, nobody would suggest that we should convert Bankside, a mile down the road from here, which, for reasons accepted in all parts of the House, was designed for oil burning and should be operated on oil.
I am in favour of switching all the remainder of the oil-burning stations back to coal as quickly as possible, again, if necessary, paying compensation, because in my view the compensation would be smaller than the cost of stocking coal. I am not alone in this. Mr. S. P. Chambers, deputy-chairman and incoming chairman of I.C.I. in place of Sir Alexander Fleck, addressing the Oxford farming conference in January of this year, made a similar point, commenting:
There are power stations just erected, some indeed still being erected, based upon oil, and some of these are in the centre of mining areas where there is a surplus of British coal and where British coal would be far cheaper, and far more economical than the imported oil. You might say that that is absolutely crazy, and it is. It is due not to any viciousness, but to a miscalculation made some 3½ years ago as to the availability of coal. But we must take a long view and we must use our own coal—for it is cheaper.
He is the incoming chairman of I.C.I. and he was making a speech to a farming conference. He is in no way biassed in his outlook in these matters.
In 1955 nobody could have been more critical of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd), during his tenure of office as Minister of Fuel and Power, than myself. I am often erroneously attributed with having driven him from office by my criticism. A large number of those criticisms for strategic reasons were directed to the increasing use of oil. We must, however, face the facts that in 1955 our marginal deficit of coal had to be met by imports and by a greater integration of oil fuel. The pendulum has now swung too far the other way. I would therefore stop oil burning in power stations at the earliest moment. I would pay compensation, knowing it to be cheaper than stocking coal on the surface.
A good deal has been said about the value of investment in coal mines. May I say something in defence of alternative fuels? We have invested in coal £598 million in the period between 1947 and 1958. In approximately the same period we have invested in United Kingdom oil refineries and oil installations about £300 million, and in addition to the £300 million invested in this country we have invested a further sum of about £900 million of British money in refineries, oil pipelines and tankers, oversea. The British investment—I stress, the British investment—in oil production, transportation and processing at refineries at home and abroad is hugely greater than the British investment in coal.
It is also hugely more productive. I am not disparaging the coal industry. Last year the coal industry earned £20 million by exports. The petroleum products exports from this country were £105 million, five times as great. Even allowing for the whole of the imported oil refined here balanced against outgoings in various forms, there is still a net gain to our balance of payments in respect of the oil industry.
I agree, but if the hon. Member will allow me to continue my argument a moment I will deal with that part of the oil refined here which is not exported.
I compared the direct exports of coal at £20 million with the direct exports of petroleum products at £105 million. Let us take that part of the consumption for each of these fuels which is retained in this country to promote the export trade. Certainly coal is indispensable for electricity and gas, but oil is equally indispensable.
No doubt due to the shortage of time in which to make his speech, my right hon. Friend did not refer to the huge diversification of petroleum and petroleum products which are of an essential character when we produce fuel oil. For example, a balanced refinery production schedule includes motor spirit, derv fuel, marine fuel, aero fuel and oils, all rail fuel oil, lubricants and grease, road-making materials, fuel and domestic oil. We cannot produce economically that huge diversity of petroleum and petroleum products without producing fuel oil in large quantities.
The most important of all those products which I mentioned, of course, is motor spirit. We now have about 7½ million vehicles in this country, of which about 7 million are propelled by petrol, as opposed to diesel oil. To produce the huge quantity of refined motor spirit needed for these vehicles makes it indispensable for economic refinery production purposes that we produce pari passu with it all these other refined products. It is, therefore, valueless for coal-mining spokesmen to cavil at the increase in the consumption of petrol and petroleum products in this country.
It was the Leader of the Opposition—and I say this in no spirit of partisanship—who said at the Labour Party Conference last year that he hoped that in the passage of time every family in this country would have a motor car. So do I. But these cars have to be fuelled, and to produce this vast quantity of motor fuel means that all these other products have to be produced, notably fuel oil, otherwise there is no proper balance. The mining community must surely face the fact that this is not unfair competition. On the contrary, it is all part of the pattern of fuel production and distribution in this country and it would be an impossible state of affairs—no Labour Government would dare to do it—to discriminate by fiscal or other means against the use of petroleum or petroleum products in any shape or form. If they attempted to do so they would so unbalance the delicate arrangements for the production of diversified petroleum and petroleum products at our refineries as to cause irreparable damage to what is today one of our major industries and certainly one of our major exports. No Labour Government would dare to do it.
We have come a long way since then. The hon. Member's trouble is that he is living in the world of 1935. I am not. I am living in 1975. [HON. MEMBERS: "H. G. Wells."] I am not an H. G. Wells. He was a Socialist. In all fairness to the hon. Member I would point out that certain things were done in 1935 when we had only 2 million motor vehicles in this country, and possibly even fewer.
If he wants a justification for oil why should he not consider what the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) did as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was the first person in this country to give a real impetus to the conversion of coal burning plants to oil burning plants at the end of the war. This was prior to the coal supply breakdown at the beginning of 1947, when he had been advised by his right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that it was quite impossible for the coal industry to match the increased and increasing demands. Therefore the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland gave special advantages to those who were prepared to convert their plants from coal to oil. But once industrialists do that they cannot easily be persuaded to convert them back again in a hurry.
Yes, and I can justify every word of what I wrote in that document—which sold out many editions. We must bear in mind that in those days, immediately following the fall of the last Labour Government, the country was having power cuts on many days weekly and there was a huge deficit of energy and coal. We had to pursue a policy of restriction for a few years. Further, nuclear power had not even made its first appearance. That is why I advocated a very stern policy of fuel rationalisation and economy. I wish that policy had been followed. If it had, hundreds of millions of pounds of national capital investment would have been saved. But the situation today is that, far from there being any marginal deficiency of fuel of any kind, there is an abundance of fuel of every kind—coal, fuel oil and natural gas—in every part of the world.
I want to say a word in pursuit of the supplementary question which I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer today, when he was reporting to us upon his visit to Stockholm. I was not fooling when I asked him whether he remembered to remind the representatives of the Seven nations that we have 30 million tons of surplus coal in stock. The right hon. Member for Blyth was not far removed from me in that respect. I have no doubt that he has travelled in Northern Europe, as I have, every year since the end of the war.
One of the saddest features of travelling around Scandinavia today is the fact that Denmark, Norway and Sweden, who, before the war, were among the largest users of British coal—for the same ships that took our coal to central Sweden brought Swedish timber back to this country, on a very economic basis—now use practically no British coal at all. They buy in Russia, Poland and all sorts of quarters other than Britain. They do this because it is cheaper. The Polish coal is heavily subsidised for export purposes.
I was not fooling when I told the Chancellor that I was very cross with him. He did not answer my supplementary question. Perhaps he was misled by the end of it, when I asked Mr. Speaker when we were going to commence the coal debate. It was a lead into the debate, and it was intended as such. But is was also intended to have its serious aspect. As my right hon. Friend would not answer me this afternoon he may have a Parliamentary Question from me next Tuesday asking whether he warned the Norwegians, Swedes and Danes that if we are to give them concessions, for example, in regard to Danish bacon, it might be a good idea if some special concessions were given to British coal. The re-establishment of these coal markets should form a part of every trade agreement that we seek to make in Western Europe.
A highly critical speech was made by the right hon. Member for Blyth, but he did not tell us what he would do in the calamitous event of a Socialist Government coming into office next November. I want to put a few pointed questions to the Opposition spokesman who will wind up for the party opposite. In order to increase the demand for coal, would the Socialists mutilate the nuclear power programme? Would they curtail it, or prolong it? At present it is based upon 18 million tons of coal equivalent saved by 1966. Do they propose to mutilate or prolong that programme? If they do they run the risk of impairing the progress of what may well be one of Britain's greatest national assets in the next decade. I hope that they will answer this question.
Secondly, do they propose to be led along by the nose by Mr. Ernest Jones, president of the National Union of Mine-workers? He said that he would fiscally penalise oil and imperil balanced refinery production, and the £105 million worth of petroleum products which are exported, by putting a special tax on fuel oil. He has advocated that, and the National Union of Mineworkers has supported it. There are many members of the National Union of Mineworkers sitting opposite. Do they support Mr. Jones? I want to know. [Interruption.] There are no members of that union on this side of the Committee. Will their spokesman tell me, when he winds up for his side, whether it is the intention of the party opposite, in the calamitous event of a Labour Government succeeding in November, 1959, to put a tax on fuel oil? Let us have an answer to that question.
It is not tedious repetition. We are waiting for an answer. The National Union of Mineworkers suggested it, and I am waiting for an answer.
On 6th February last the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) advocated a tax on fuel oil. Has he departed from that view? May we have an answer from his front bench tonight? I would prefer it from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, for I shall have a lot to say about it at the hustings, if the party opposite advocate a tax on fuel oil tonight?
Thirdly, do they really suggest that consumer freedom of choice among fuels should be restricted by Governmental action, or by action of the nationalised industries—or both? It would make a very useful talking point for all my canvassers in the forthcoming Election if they made a suggestion of that kind.
Fourthly, do they suggest that uneconomic pits should be kept in operation, as historical institutions or ancient monuments? Or do they think that they should be shut down as quickly as possible, so that production could be concentrated in the most economical and profitable pits? It was the right hon. Member for Easington, in a Labour Government, who wrote into the coal nationalisation Statute of 1947 the requirement that the National Coal Board should pay its way, taking one year with another. It should still pay its way.
They are four very pertinent questions for the Opposition to answer. They have moved a Motion of censure today in regard to Her Majesty's Government's policy on coal and associated fuels. Let them tell us, before the debate ends tonight, exactly what answers they would give to those four questions, for if they have nothing better to advocate than our present policies, which I warmly espouse, they will be failing in their duty as a virile and vigorous Opposition. Moreover they should tell us before the General Election, because I, for one, want to use these important matters in every speech I make in the Parliamentary constituency of Kidderminster.
Whatever terms the Paymaster-General or the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) may use to describe the present situation of the mining industry, there can be no doubt that it is facing a very serious and critical time, and I am convinced that unless special measures are taken by the Government to deal with this position there will be considerable unemployment in some of our coalfields.
Reference has already been made to our coal stocks. If they do not represent a crisis, I do not know what does. Everywhere, millions of tons of coal are being stocked, and those of us from the mining constituencies, at least, are fully aware that that stocking entails a great deal of cost to the National Coal Board, to say nothing of the difficulty, mounting week by week, of finding space for the stocks. If space cannot be found for the coal, increasing unemployment is bound to result.
It is obvious, therefore, that the industry is in a critical situation. This is in no small measure due to the policy of the Government. They bear a heavy responsibility here. The credit squeeze and the slowing down of industrial expansion left a serious mark on the industry, and now, when things are improving to some extent, oil is a serious competitor. Just when there are some signs of improvement, oil is being consumed at a greater rate and is taking the place of coal.
The last occasion on which we faced such a drop in the demand for coal was in the 'thirties. I do not want to hark back too much to the past, but let us look at what the situation then was. We were faced with a serious drop in coal consumption, which was accompanied by mass unemployment and the misery and poverty that percolated from the mining areas through the general economy. Up to now, we have been able to avoid that, because we have a nationalised coal industry that has been able to stock the coal. It has preferred to do that than to put men on the road. On the other hand, it has reabsorbed large numbers of men declared redundant in the pits, and has done so for some years.
In the 'thirties, when the pits were privately owned, men were dismissed as redundant and forced on to unemployment benefit and the Poor Law but, in the 'fifties, when quite a large number of pits have closed, the majority of the men declared redundant have been reabsorbed into the industry, and have been paid redundancy pay. All that has been accomplished by a nationalised industry
In another place—last week, I think—the Minister of Power said that for some years pits have been closing at an average rate of 20 a year, owing to exhaustion, but the men have been reabsorbed. We now know that because of the economic situation 36 pits are earmarked for closure this year. I think that 28 or 29 have already closed——
About 1,000 of the men involved are still redundant and in receipt of unemployment benefit—the majority being in the South Wales coalfield, in Northumberland and Cumberland. The policy that has been pursued is a credit to the Coal Board and to the National Union of Mineworkers. Their joint efforts have kept unemployment to a minimum, and in the present circumstances the Minister of Labour has a great deal to thank them for.
I submit, however, that if there are to be further closures—and here we come to the issue—it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reabsorb large numbers of men. We are now coming up against the real difficulty, and it is most unfortunate that we have not before us today the revised plan of the Coal Board. We adjourn next week for the Summer Recess, and we shall not meet again until October.
This plan may well contain proposals that will mean pit closures. Some of us represent mining constituencies in which large numbers of miners are unemployed, but we shall not be able to discuss the plan here until October. It is true that it may not come into operation until next year, but I hope that when Parliament resumes a very early opportunity will be taken to look at it.
I would point out that if pits are to close and our miners find themselves out of work they will not remain silent. If the pits are to close without there being other work available, there will be a hue and cry in the coalfields. It is not the first time in their long history that the miners have voiced in no uncertain way their opinions on economic planning, and they will do so again.
If a local colliery closes down—and I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) referred to this—it spells disaster to the community. Many of our colliery villages depend on the colliery. A mining village's housing estate, its travel facilities, its educational system all revolve around its pit, and if the pit closes without there being work available it needs little imagination to understand what results. I want hon. Members opposite to picture that situation. It is all very well to sit here in comfort, but these men some of whom may have earned fairly good money will find themselves out of work. It is the duty of this or of any other Government to maintain the community life of our people. That is the first consideration and, in these circumstances, that is the duty of the present Government.
It is for that very reason that we on this side have pressed on a number of occasions for a more vigorous application of the provisions of the Distribution of Industry Act. During the last two and a half years we have said that there was a need to plan ahead. Indeed, some of us were very sceptical about the industry's future two years ago. We had an idea that things were not as they should be. As I say, we have pressed the Government to prepare their plans for the establishment of industries—in South Wales, in particular, and in Durham and Scotland.
That has been the principal feature of our debates on Welsh and Scottish affairs, but, until recently, the Government have put the Distribution of Industry Act into cold storage. Only in recent months have they shown some interest in it.
Therefore, for that reason, I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that if we are to have a plan for the Coal Board it should not only be a plan for the Board itself, but should be one which will show where the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour fit in, and indicate the provision of employment for a long way ahead. I agree with my right hon. Friend that if there is to be further closing of pits it must be phased over a period of time, to allow the Board of Trade and other Departments to work together in a spirit of co-operation to find employment for those men who cannot be absorbed into the industry. In other words, it is not something that we can leave entirely to the Coal Board.
Quite apart from this, the Government have an obligation to the miners and the mining industry. First, they have a moral obligation. Throughout the years, coal has been the foundation of the British economy. We could not have lived without it. While there may have been troubles and difficulties, in war as well as in peace, the miners have kept the wheels of industry going.
I agree with my hon. Friend. They worked on Saturdays, when workers in many other industries were not doing so. They supplied the nation with the necessary fuel by which industry could work, and, in these circumstances, I think that for that reason alone there is a great moral obligation on the Government.
Looking back over a period of years on what coal and coal miners have done for this nation, surely one of the first considerations today should be what we can do in the present crisis to assist this industry and the men employed in it. Apart from that, the obligation is all the more evident when it is realised that this industry has had to carry heavy burdens and severe penalties. What have they been? The cost of importation of coal to the amount of £70 million and full liability for mining subsidence.
What is worse, until recently the industry has been unable to operate as a commercial concern. In past years, by any ordinary commercial standards, in which hon. Members opposite believe, the Coal Board would have been justified in increasing the price of industrial coal, but the hands of the Board were tied, and it was unable to increase the price. That may have been in the interests of economy, but it is a debt which the people and Government of the country owe to the miners. The Coal Board's hands were tied, and it could not operate as an ordinary commercial concern.
Now that the industry is faced with all these difficulties at this moment, when it is faced with the competition of oil and with declining markets, it is told that it can operate as a commercial concern. The Minister of Power, Lord Mills, has said "Yes, we can go on now; we can enter the race," but the industry begins under a very heavy handicap. It is like a horse going on a racecourse half-starved, with a very heavy burden upon it, while Lord Mills says, "Go on. Have a go." The industry has never been able to compete before as an ordinary commercial concern, but now it is allowed to do so.
If the Coal Board had been allowed to operate as an ordinary commercial concern in years gone by, it would now have millions of pounds in hand. It would have been able to have accumulated about £400 million. It would have been able to compete with oil, and able to meet on level terms the competition of the oil industry. It had been deprived of that opportunity and has been handicapped in this struggle, which is an unequal one. The least that the Government can do in these circumstances is to see what financial aid can be given to the industry in this crisis, if only for a temporary period.
After all, the oil industry has the reserves. No oil firms could do what they are doing now and sell fuel oil at less than the economic price if they had not the necessary reserves or the excess profits from many of their subsidiary undertakings. When the mines were nationalised, the interest paid to the coal owners was 2½ per cent., but since then it has gone up to 5 per cent. and even 6 per cent., which the Coal Board has had to meet. For the first five years of nationalisation, the interest payments were £15 million per year. Last year, they were £32 million. I agree that this was partly due to increased borrowing, but largely it was due to the monetary policy of the Government.
I would remind the House of what the Government did when this country ran into a balance of payments crisis. The Government sought and obtained permission from the United States to waive the interest payments. They went to America and said, "We are in difficulties; waive the interest payments for the time being," and they were able to get away with it. I submit that, in these circumstances, it is not too much to ask the Government to do the same for the mining industry as they have asked the Americans to do in connection with the balance of payments crisis. This is a financial question.
Is it too much to say to the electricity industry that the new power stations proposed to be operated on oil should be operated instead on coal? Is there anything unreasonable about that? This crisis is not due in any way to prices. That has not been the position, because the Paymaster-General said very clearly this afternoon that it was due to the fact that we were suffering a shortage of coal at that time, and that it was intended to go over to oil. This is not a question of economics, or of price. Therefore, it is not too much to ask, when the employment of thousands of our men depends upon it, that 11 or 14 power stations should be using coal and that arrangements should now be made accordingly.
What applies to the electricity industry certainly applies to the gas industary. I do not want to criticise the gas industry for the experiments which it is making at the moment, because it is showing initiative and enterprise. It must look to the future, but I do say that, since the coal industry has been the pioneer and the economic foundation of this country, it is not too much to ask the gas industry to restrict oil consumption.
I look with alarm on the experiments conducted by the gas industry in the use of liquid methane. I should have thought that this was contrary to all Tory philosophy. The Tories have always said that we should make ourselves less dependent upon countries abroad and imports from them, but this is a policy which will make us more dependent on imports from abroad. We have already been reminded that for years it has been the policy of the party opposite, supported by my own party, to assist the agricultural industry. It has been done to give support to home production and to avoid the necessity for imports as far as we possibly could. We say that the same policy should apply to the coal industry in the present situation.
It is unnecessary for me to remind the House that we are living in an age of great scientific achievement and technical improvement, in which there is a continually increasing application of mechanisation to industry. That is so in the mining industry. On a five-day week basis, deep-mined coal production is about the same this year as it was last year, but with 30,000 fewer men. The industry is now reaping the harvest of past capital expenditure, and it would be a calamity if help was not given to the industry in these circumstances. I am confident that, given fair competition and proper and adequate assistance, the industry can maintain and improve the prosperity of this country.
Here I should like to reply to a point made by the hon. Member for Kidderminster. We on this side of the House want to do nothing to impede the advance of atomic power. We believe that atomic energy will mean for the workers fewer hours of employment. After all, who wants to go into the pit if energy can be supplied on the surface? But, as my right hon. Friend has said, this must be planned. Planning, however, is alien to Tory philosophy. When planning is mentioned there is a feeling of scepticism among the Tory Party. We want nuclear energy and atomic energy to be planned. These are great sources of power and they can mean fewer hours of employment. During the period 1919 to 1926 the miners enjoyed a 7½-hour day. That was thirty years ago.
But that was taken from us. Surely it is not too much to say today that, in view of the increased productivity, miners should be entitled to a restitution of a shorter working week.
Meantime, coal must and will remain our main source of energy for years to come. If we neglect it, then, bearing in mind the continued trouble that we get in the Middle East, we shall do so at our peril. We are passing through a serious phase. If, in this panic, we do not limit the use of oil, it will be at our peril. I agree that oil has come to stay, but must we make other industries dependent upon oil for the major pant of the energy that they require? In the bowels of the earth we have millions of tons of coal. It is the only raw material that we have. Without it, our economy would be no different from that of Ireland. It is ours to use to the best advantage. If the Coal Board is given a square deal, in co-operation with the men in the industry, it can maintain and improve the prosperity of the people.
It would be folly on our part to think that there is not deep anxiety in the mining areas. I have lived all my life in mining areas. We have seen ups and downs throughout the century, but never before has our anxiety been so deep or widespread. But when hon. Members opposite are assessing the situation they should not exaggerate it, for it is bad enough without exaggeration.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) made a comment with which I thoroughly agree. He said that all industry today, whether private or nationalised, must have a social purpose and conscience. In the free enterprise sector in recent years we have seen a remarkable appreciation of that responsibility. I spent some time in Hobart House recently, where I found a very deep appreciation of the social needs of the situation as reflected in the mining industry. The redundancy situation so far has been handled with great skill. The Coal Board has not caused a great deal of unemployment and there is no reason to think—I say this in all seriousness—that it is planning to create vast pools of unemployment.
This great industry is not dying. We must retain the skill in the industry so that its future can be a rising and not a declining future. The Coal Board's plans are to retain the maximum number of skilled men within this industry. The new plans are being drawn up with that aim in view, and I repeat that the Coal Board will not create vast areas of unemployment throughout the country.
The Coal Board is charged with not planning the whole of the industry sufficiently. It must be evident to anyone that any industry can retain its position only if it retains its customers. The coal industry has failed to retain its customers. We can ignore for the moment the causes, but the fact is that the industry has failed to retain its customers and, therefore, it has lost its planned place—perhaps its over-planned place—in the national economy.
Whatever we may say of other spheres, we cannot be charged with a lack of planning in the coal industry. We had the 1950 plan, the 1956 plan and now we have the 1959 plan. We have been planning all the time, but the plans have been going wrong on the technical and marketing sides. There is no need to try to hide the fact that some of the factors which have been making inroads into home sales in recent years will continue. The main factor, I believe, is the price—though I agree we had a recession. Since 1951 the price of oil has gone up by 7 per cent. while the price of coal has gone up by 50 per cent. in the same period. The cumulative effect of these factors has been to put the industry into its present position.
Oil is a very seductive opponent. It is cheaper and cleaner, and lends itself readily to automatic control. We do not need to keep stocks. Supplies are readily available and the quality is always constant. These are important factors. It was the party opposite who, quite rightly, brought oil into industry and introduced industry to switch over to oil by removing the tax from it. In industry the feeling got around that oil was preferable in many ways to coal, and not merely in terms of the price. So it is here to stay. It is a very serious competitor which must be faced. I do not think the coal industry intends to lie down under that competition, but it is here to stay and the industry might as well face it.
The chairman of the Coal Board said that sales had gone down by 20 million tons between 1955 and 1958, and we know that they are down by 10·3 million tons this year already I believe that sales dropped by about 10·3 million tons last year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said, sales will have dropped probably by 14 million or 15 million tons by the time the coal year starts. On the bald facts of the situation, things look desperate, but, looking into the situation as we must, is it really so desperate as that? We must analyse the facts and spend a little time to see whether we are really down by 10·3 million tons this year and, if so, whether that really means that we have lost markets for 10·3 million tons or whether we can recover them.
Sales to the electricity boards dropped by 1·1 million tons in the first twenty-eight weeks of this year, but stocks have been run down to that extent, and that is a nonrecurring lost. Stocks may be reduced further—I do not know—but that loss is a non-recurring one, and we can look forward to recovering that amount. Sales to the gas industry are down 1·4 million tons in the first twenty-eight weeks of the year. We must be quite frank about this. In one of his less wise speeches, the chairman of the National Coal Board criticised the gas industry very severely and, I thought, very unfairly. The gas industry must live in a world of intense competition; it has been losing customers year by year and paying more for its coal year by year.
If the Coal Board is losing trade with the gas industry, then the remedy possibly lies in its own hands. The gas industry cannot stand still and watch its trade disappear because the prices it charges must rise with the rising price of coal. It has to take steps to remain alive. I suggest that the way to approach the gas industry is to try to meet what it is plainly stating is its need. The gas boards say that they are driven to using alternatives to coal because of the price of coal. Instead of lambasting the gas industry, the chairman of the Coal Board should go along with proposals in an attempt to meet the real trouble in the gas industry, namely, the price of coal. I believe that he could retain that trade, and the signs are that it should be possible to do it in the not too distant future.
Coke has taken 2 million tons less. We can recover that 2 million tons, and more, as the years go on. Supplies to the railways are down by 0·6 million tons. That is lost for ever. Supplies to the steel industry are down by 0·5 million, and I believe we can recover this. The figure for industry is down by 1 million, the figure for house coal is down by 1·3 million, and exports are down by 1·4 million tons.
I have looked at the position in every industry which contributed to the loss of 10·3 million tons. I claim that 6·3 million tons of it can be recovered. I have not analysed the 20 million tons, and I do not believe that there were 20 million tons lost in the two years; at any rate, I have not analysed that figure. Out of the 10·3 million, I believe that we can recover 6·3 million, and I believe that quite a proportion of the 20 million tons can be recovered in the future. The loss of 30 million tons about which the chairman spoke, desperate as it looked, is not so serious when analysed.
There is keen competition from oil which is, as I said, a very seductive opponent. We must look at what is happening in this area of intense competition and consider what can be done. In 1955 coal supplied 87 per cent. of the needs of industry, and oil supplied 13 per cent. Now, the position has changed; coal supplies only 75 per cent. of the need and oil's share is 25 per cent. That is an indication of the progress which oil has made. It has meant a loss in the industrial market of 5 million tons a year. We should not lie down under it. We can recover if we follow the right plan.
We have been told today about what should be done, and I believe that we must look at everything that is put before us. First, there is the closure of collieries. The right hon. Member for Blyth, in the last debate we had a few weeks ago, said that he wanted to close the 160 collieries which, he said, were losing over £1 a ton. I cannot find any confirmation of that figure; I could not get it from the Coal Board, and I should like to know where the information comes from. These things are important.
The right hon. Gentleman said then, and he agreed today, that collieries must be closed in the course of time. Grossly uneconomic collieries are a drag on the industry in its fight back, and they must go. They are planned to go. We are told, in the National Coal Board's Annual Report, that 28 million tons of output will, by planning, be put out of commission before 1971. This closing down of collieries—I emphasise this in the hope that people will realise it in the coalfields—will be done in a way which will not cause vast pools of unemployment in the mining areas.
We have been stocking coal and nobody has suggested that we can go on stocking coal indefinitely. Obviously, stocking must stop at the end of the year. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) when he says that three months' stock is the right thing for the winter. There is far too much coal in stock. There is no doubt about that. At no time before the war did the industry retain three months' stock for the winter. I think that everyone will agree that we can no longer have the cushion which stocking has given us.
It has been suggested that we should convert power stations back to coal. I agree, but I do not consider that it is a job for the Ministry. It is the boards which have entered into the contracts and it is the boards which have a duty to see that they use the most economic means of production. The National Coal Board should, in the ordinary commercial way, go to the boards and make a proposition, saying, "We believe that we can generate your current for you more cheaply than oil can do it, and here is what we suggest". In America, that is being done just now. In the United States, there is a great deal of dumping of oil below cost price. The power boards, the miners and the various concerns associated with the coal industry have appointed a committee of eminent men to go thoroughly into the matter and to ask the utility people to look at it from their angle and consider whether power can be produced in America by coal as cheaply as by oil, if not more cheaply.
I believe that directors of the oil companies of the world, not just of this country, are the best businessmen in the world, who can always put their case with great force and subtlety. The coal industry has not put its case with great force or subtlety. Quite frankly, I believe that this is a commercial matter between the National Coal Board and the electricity industry. I believe that they can get together and solve it themselves. The Government do not need to act on everything in this business. The people concerned can sort it out for themselves, and I sincerely hope that they will set about it.
What has the Minister done to help the situation? He has stopped two conversions, which will mean, in the early 'sixties, a saving of 4 million tons annually, and he has deferred the construction of another two stations, which will save 1 million tons in the period of deferment. He has now, in association with the National Coal Board, agreed to eliminate opencast mining over a period, and this will help the industry to the extent of 14 million tons.
Will the hon. Gentleman show us where the consistency of his argument lies? He told us earlier that to invite the oil, electricity and coal industries to try to get coal back into the power stations had nothing to do with the Minister, but now he is giving the Minister credit because he was the one who brought about the deferring of the conversions and the reduction in the number of stations to be oil-fired. In just what way does the Minister come into and go out of the hon. Gentleman's argument?
All right; I am quite prepared to accept that from the right hon. Gentleman. The point is that it has been done, and I do not care who did it. It has been a help to the industry. If all these things are done and the effect of them is added up, in a few years the industry will be receiving assistance to the tune of 18 million tons per annum from that source. It may look today as if the gap were 30 million tons or wider, but it really is a great deal less, probably about 20 million tons, as the permanent loss on present estimates. Against that can be set the 18 million tons by those steps which are to fructify in the next two years. Therefore, while the outlook is an anxious one and there is great concern in the mining areas, one sees, if one looks into it deeply and helpfully, as one must, that it cannot be described as grim.
I have said that I think that we want a plan to get back our old customers. I said this in the last debate. Today, hon. Members opposite have put forward suggestions for aid to the coal mining industry in many ways, but the Coal Board is not asking for aid. Its attitude towards the present crisis is clear. The deputy chairman of the Coal Board said in Coal, of June, 1958:
We have had to embark on a very keen drive for efficiency and economy. We must compete effectively on equal terms with other fuels.
That was his outlook on how the future should be faced and how the industry should be saved.
The chairman of the National Coal Board in the "Iron and Coal Trade Review" of 9th January said:
I am not going to give way to oil. I only recognise it as a formidable competitor. I do not accept that further encroachments by oil are inevitable. I am thinking about how we can get our lost customers back. The growing competition the Board could expect
from oil depended upon how well it could manage to control the price of its coal. If it could reduce its prices, for example, the picture would be altered.
There is no weeping and wailing there about the position and no claim for assistance. The Coal Board is out to do the only thing which, to my mind, can save the industry, and that is to produce coal efficiently and to compete on equal terms with other fuels and to win back its markets on merit. I believe that that can be done.
Today, we have heard references to what has been happening in the industry this year. We on this side have been critical of the National Coal Board in many ways in the past, not unsympathetically. On occasion, I have taken it to task about the speed of capital development. It is very important that, in order to save the industry, new pits should come into production as quickly as possible. It is a good business tenet that if one proposes to spend money, it should be spent as fast as possible. We did not believe that the Coal Board was spending fast enough, especially in sinking shafts.
I am delighted to say that vast advances have been made recently in shaft sinking. I have often compared the speed of shaft sinking in South Africa with the speed here. I was afraid that we would take so long to learn how to sink shafts that we would learn only when we had no more shafts to sink. However, we brought across South African contractors and equipment and South African know-how, and brought about a rate of travel never before achieved in this country. It is a remarkable rate by our standards, but not by modern standards. Let us give credit to the Board for expediting the speed of shaft sinking by 200 or 300 per cent. in the last year or two. There has been a similar increase in progress in tunnel driving. These are important matters because they will bring the new collieries into production at an early date and will produce cheaper coal quickly.
Not only in the capital schemes are we seeing improvement, and I give full credit to those who have brought it about. Output was down by 3·6 million tons in the first 28 weeks of this year, but we are working with 22,000 men fewer than at the beginning of the year. As the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) said, output with the five-day week is about the same as it was with the five-day week last year. It is quite an achievement that there is very little loss of output in spite of the fact that manpower has been reduced by 22,000. This means a saving of £12 million per annum in wages alone. Output per man saved is the main criterion for a step forward. This will be the saviour of the industry, and I think that it can go a great deal further than it has. There has been an improvement of 6 per cent. this year alone in overall figures. The same improvement has been shown at the coal face.
I believe that this vast and important industry, which plays such a vital part in the life of the country and will play a vital part for many years to come, can retain its position if it faces up to the issue that, on a price basis, it must compete with other fuels if it is to stay alive. Anything that is done temporarily will be no use unless the industry puts efficiency first. That is what it is doing, and I wish it well in the drive forward which it is making.
I am told by men in authority in the National Coal Board that they expect that improvement to continue. Therefore, what the chairman and deputy chairman said was their policy—to fight to get back their lost customers—is, I believe, the only plan for the coal industry. It must be efficient and must fight to win back the markets which it has lost. I believe that the industry can do it and I believe that it has made a good start along the right lines.
I do not believe that the position is in any way as hopeless or as serious as it has been made out to be. It is serious, but if the management and men realise that between them they have the saving of this industry in their hands—the Government have placed the tools in their hands to do it and the country has not grudged capital money for the development of the industry nor for the raising of the standards of the miners-then by their own exertions they can save the industry.
Finally, I should like to say a few words about Scotland, where there is grave anxiety. Every mining area has
been seriously in the red for a long time. The chairman of the National Coal Board said in the "Coal Trade Review" of 29th May:
One of our most important objectives is the concentration of productive effort in those working districts, those seams, those collieries, which provide the greatest opportunities of producing competitive tonnage.
The question we must constantly ask ourselves is: are we getting full value for money, and if not, what can we do about it?
What I am afraid of is this. In the plan that is being made attention must inevitably be directed towards the areas showing the worst results. Almost inevitably, the most serious penalty will be inflicted upon them. If that is done, Scotland faces a pretty grim outlook, for it has the areas with the greatest losses over the longest periods, most strikes and most troubles, and I believe that the blow will fall heaviest in Scotland where we have had so much labour trouble. I calculate that Scotland has lost £73 million since nationalisation. Unless the two sides of the industry get together it may be that in future the miners and perhaps the management in Scotland will kill their own industry.
Now is the time, if there is common sense in the industry, to get together and face the issue which might lead Scotland's mining industry to the guillotine. I am certain that there are many pits which are showing heavy losses, but which, by co-operation and planning, can be made to pay. In the event of their not being improved the blow may fall over a fairly wide area. I appeal to the two sides in the industry in Scotland to get together to save their own industry, just as I believe it can be saved in Britain.
We on this side of the House are perturbed about the present situation in the industry and even more perturbed about its future. I am therefore pleased to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), because he spent some time talking about the future of the industry. He was a little more optimistic than I am. We have already had an intervention from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who, strangely enough, never mentioned a word about the future. He was too busy saddling the National Coal Board with more costs than it has at present.
I was perturbed that the Minister repeated time and time again that there was doubt about long-term prospects. I know that when talking about the future of the industry we must rely upon many calculations that can easily go wrong. Both the National Coal Board's Plan for Coal, in 1950, and Investing in Coal, in 1955, were wrecked completely because of Government action. When the hon. Member for Pollok talks about the industry getting together and planning its future, he must remember that it depends entirely on the behaviour of the Government whether the coal industry has any kind of chance.
In Investing in Coal, which was not published until early in 1956, the coal equivalent required by 1965 was put at 310 million tons. That is the figure that the Paymaster-General has mentioned many times in speeches in the House and again today. We have asked many times at Question Time how that 310 million tons was made up so that the constituent parts of the industry would be conversant with the rôles that they were expected to fulfil.
Hon. Member opposite must realise why the industry is in a grim situation. The 7 per cent. Bank Rate and the fiscal policy imposed upon the economy by the Government, resulting in two and a half years of deflation, have been more responsible than anything else for sinking the mining industry. The economy went soaring away without any control by the Government. Then, they had to impose the 7 per cent. Bank Rate, which has played a bigger part in sinking the industry than any other factor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] If hon. Members dispute that, let them recall that in every industry, boards of directors immediately got together and started worrying about their bank overdrafts, how to cut down their overheads and how to stop weekend working and overtime. The deflation began and is still with us. That is one of the reasons for the state of the industry. I charge the Government with others, but that is the major one.
The hon. Member for Pollok analysed various industries and tried to discuss whether we had a chance of recovering the market lost by coal in each sector of industry. To begin with, the coal demand is still dwindling. There has been a catastrophic drop since 1957. It has not tailed off and we are still losing our markets. On the railways, dieselisation will continue and the market will not be regained. Electrification will come in a little and we might get a small proportion of the market back, but it will be negligible. I agree, therefore, with the hon. Member for Pollok that that is a market we have lost. Because of dieselisation, the railways will never get back to coal.
The Clean Air Act is my second charge against the Government. From the outset, that Act was biased against coal. It was not publicised in the national Press. The Coal Board is partly to blame, too. It is its duty to inform the nation of these things that harm the sale of its products. Everybody in smokeless zones thought that coal was a banned fuel and immediately began to turn to gas, electricity, oil and paraffin burners. Local authorities were not given sufficient notice. They should have been able to contact the Coal Board, so that, immediately smokeless zones were declared, the fuels, although few of them were available at the time, would be diverted to the smokeless zones.
Distribution has let us down badly. The Minister must take note of the recent report which asks that the small distributing companies throughout the country should band together into greater groups to tackle the problem of distribution. Last week, the Minister of Housing and Local Government had to bring in an Order so that the mechanical fuel stokers which burn smokeless fuels can be allowed in smokeless zones. This is another indication of how the Act came into being with a bias against coal.
What are the chances of getting those markets back? Feeling has been engendered against coal in every area where the Clean Air Act operates, and we cannot regain the market for coal. Cinemas, theatres, large schools and other buildings which had coal-burning apparatus have had to convert to oil. Now, the Minister has introduced his Order. Does he expect that this market will be regained? Of course not. That is another fault of the Government.
The gas industry is a typical example of Ministerial interference on a non-statutory basis as practised by every Minister on the Government Front Bench against the chairman of every nationalised industry. We had an example in the recent Report of the Select Committee on Estimates concerning the air corporations, when the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation interfered on a non-statutory basis with the Chairmen of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. We have had the same thing on coal prices from the Minister of Power to the chairman of the Coal Board.
We get it, too, in the gas industry, where the Minister has purposely intensified competition between the chairmen of each board. He has been fostering the commercial profit instinct among the members of these boards and in the industry, too. The attitude now of each individual board is that "We shall swim and the rest can sink." That illustrates one of the differences between the two sides of the House. Every person who believes fundamentally in Socialism has as his basic aim to bring out the finest and noblest instincts in mankind. There is no higher aim than that. Time and time again, however, because of the sectional interests of the party opposite, we have seen the Government cynically exploiting the lesser instincts of mankind. They foster in the chairmen of the boards the instinct of greed for profit. This brings in its train fear of unemployment among the workers, including those in the mining industry.
In the main, we have lost the market in the gas industry. It is switching rapidly to oil, and I think that its liquid methane experiment will succeed. I do not quibble about this. Every nationalised industry has the right to try to better its own relationships, particularly with its immediate neighbours in fuel and power, and it has the right to try to prove that it is more adventurous than the rest.
In every branch of fuel and power, however, we are tending to rely too much on overseas sources of supplies. The gas industry, for example, relies on overseas for oil and for liquid methane. It is obvious that the Government have given the Gas Council the green light to go ahead and to ignore coal. It has told the gas industry that it is quite safe to do these things, particularly to importing oil. It is not easy to switch back again to a different form of fuel. In the main, therefore, this is another market that has been lost.
There is another example which, even though it is small, must not be overlooked, because this is a trend which has been increasing. The National Coal Board is developing a wise and sensible policy, and one which receives my encouragement, of draining methane gas from collieries. It is doing very well in perfecting the safety aspects of the process. This makes it possible to increase considerably the quantity of coal to be produced. In North Staffordshire, for example, five pits have just had their methane drained off and their output has increased by 5,000 tons per week.
In conflict with that, however, the methane so extracted is used by the local gas boards. The Coal Board makes a profit on it, of course, but the demand for the coal is lessened. In the No. 1 area of the West Midlands division, 6 million cu. ft. of pure methane has been drawn off and is feeding 25,000 houses. Not only is this kind of policy reducing the demand for coal, but it is increasing the output when there is no sale for the coal. We must face the fact that if the methane can be drawn off safely, it will adversely affect the demand for coal and jeopardise the future of the industry. This is another reason why I do not think we shall be able to regain much of the market in the gas industry.
With Government encouragement, the Central Electricity Generating Board acted similarly to the Gas Council. Agreement was reached to import a tremendous amount of oil and to convert the power stations, but there is a measure of comradeship and friendship between the electricity industry and the coal industry, far better than that with the Gas Council. Consequently, the electricity industry has listened to our pleas and is gradually converting back, but we shall not regain all we have lost.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster, who posed questions concerning atomic energy earlier in the debate, is not present.
When I speak in the House I always look to the hon. Member's customary place. He would seem to be out of his usual position.
Here again we can charge the Government. Time and time again from this side of the House we have demanded that coal should be granted a recognised place in the economy of this country. We are doing it with atomic energy. We have decreed in the nuclear power programme that the Atomic Energy Authority shall be responsible with the Central Electricity Generating Board for power equivalent to 18 million tons of coal to be produced by 1966, and for power equivalent to 40 million tons of coal to be produced by 1975.
I do not doubt for one moment the prospects of nuclear power for this country and I do not intend to see it slowed down. So far as I am concerned, it will be speeded up. We have one of the finest teams of scientists, technicians and engineers in the Atomic Energy Authority itself, as some of our achievements have already proved. They are not lacking in determination. I will explain why the future of atomic energy is assured. First, we are now experimenting with an advanced gas-cooled reactor, using enriched fuels well in advance of the Calder Hall type of reactor. Secondly, we have started on the Dounreay fast-breeder reactor, which as well as producing will be able to breed its own fuel. Then there is the prospect that in the immediate years ahead there will be an inevitable drop in the price of uranium, and if we can manage to get agreement internationally on the suspension of nuclear tests followed by the stopping of manufacture of nuclear weapons, thousands of tons a year of uranium will be on the market.
Only yesterday, the Atomic Energy Authority in its Report stated that there would be a 30 per cent. drop in the capital costs of building. A combination of any two or three of these factors is sufficient to ensure that there will be cheap atomic power. This is estimated to come by the mid-1970s. If there is a drop in capital costs and uranium prices fall, we can well anticipate that that will be easily achieved. I am not worrying unduly about atomic energy being slowed down. I think that it will come along very rapidly indeed, and if these factors operate, as I have suggested, we shall get it quicker and cheaper than we imagine.
In the supply of oil, we are fast becoming a Middle East dependency. What will determine the life of the coal-mining industry is the extent by which we can install coal-burning plant in the industries of the country. One hundred million pounds per year is being spent on the installation of coal-burning plant—primary plant using raw coal, power stations, coke ovens, gas-making plant and industrial steam-raising plant.
Comparisons made are wrongly made between the burning of coal and oil. Every time a person makes a comparison he is talking about the removal of old-fashioned coal-burning equipment and the installation of modern oil-burning equipment. If we compare like with like coal is competitive with oil. There is one lesson that the Tories learned from Suez. They learned the lesson that it took them longer than they thought it would to switch tankers from the Middle East to the Atlantic route and that we needed to have oil reserves in this country.
We are spending £6 million already on installing oil fuel reserves in this country in case anything of that nature happens again. Therefore, they are not worried unduly about our getting oil from the Middle East. This has given the green light to the oil industry. It said, "It is obvious the Government are not going to put any embargo on oil. They are themselves preparing to have an oil reserve." Therefore, the oil industry went ahead and started freezing coal out.
We have to recognise that the grim situation before us arises, first, because there has been a deliberately planned deflationary period during the last two and a half years; secondly, because the Government have created emnity between the chairmen of the boards of the nationalised industries instead of bringing them together and co-ordinating their activities as the Minister of Power has the right to do; and thirdly, because they have encouraged the preference of oil to coal, and the losses that have been suffered will not be fully recovered.
We have now set up rather late the Wilson Committee, two and a half years after the depression started, to try to find out the various uses of coal and particularly of the small coal piling up in the country. Even if the Wilson Committee Report suggests what should be done, it will take many years to get rid of the 40 million tons piling up, 29 million to 30 million tons of which is already undistributed. It will be a tremendous task for it to find uses for 30 million tons of coal, breaking it down into its various derivatives.
Consequently, we have to encourage the use of smokeless fuel. The Coal Board has a part to play in this in advertising and salesmanship. The Government must make sure that distribution is effected and they must carry out the recommendations of the Report that the small companies concerned should come together so that distribution can be more effective and we can have the coal at the right places at the right time. We also have a chance in exports as industrial activity picks up in Europe, because by our natural geographical position we are in closer proximity with the European plants. We can operate smaller ships for the movement of coal from wharf to wharf, and there is less damage to coal in transit than on the Atlantic route.
Quality for quality our coals will compare in price with any on the Continent. I think that we have a chance of picking up a little there. We have more than 40 million tons of coal in stock, 29 million tons of it unsold. We have already lost £15 million on stocking the coal itself. Much of that may never be picked up. In any case, it will deteriorate in value.
I should like to ask this question of the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the debate for the Government. I understand that the Coal Board has considered offering to industry special terms to take this undistributed coal and stock it during this era of coal stocking. This would help the Coal Board and help private industry, because it would be getting this coal relatively cheaply. I understand that the Government have intervened and stopped the Coal Board from carrying out this plan. I should like the hon. Gentleman to give us some information on that when he winds up.
We must recognise that, with these stocks, we have more than £150 million of Board and Government money locked up. In August a new plan is due to come out. We have in mind this interference by the Minister of Power, and the fact that we have 131 mines losing £1 on every ton produced, and a percentage more of marginal mines, some due to close in any case because of natural exhaustion. This is a new factor in the situation, for they are mines with plenty of life in them yet, producing good quality coal but of a type for which there is no market, and so they, too, are in danger of being put on the closure list. With all this in mind, this is a very grim picture indeed.
The noble Lord the Minister of Power, talked in another place about an "anxious" situation. That is most nauseating to Members of Parliament who represent mining constituencies. We recognise what a grim situation it really is. With high coal stocks, continuing losses incurred by the Board, uneconomic pits still working, and a Tory Government still in office, what are the prospects for the future? Irrespective of party we must recognise that there is going to be contraction of the industry with a relative increase in the efficiency of the mines, but playing a much smaller part in our economy.
The question is, how far will it contract? Will it be a sensitively phased contraction or a cruel, callous contraction? I warn the House and every miner in this country that if the Conservatives get back at the next General Election, with their known interference with the Board, their dislike of nationalisation, their wrecking of Coal Board plans, we can visualise that within a very few years there will be a cruel contraction. Indeed, I am certain that the new plan which is coming out next month will reveal—because I see that they are thinking of making it—a cut back in investment and that another batch of pits is due to be closed. There are 814 pits under the Coal Board's wing. Of those, under a future Tory Government, 131 are doomed to close as uneconomic pits.
They will look round every region and see the marginal pits in unco-operative regions and they will close them. They will look at the pits which are producing good quality coal and with many years of life in them, and because the coal they produce is not required, is not of a type which is required, they will close them as well. It will mean that, within a few years of their return, we shall see the industry whittled down to just over 600 mines and about 500,000 men. There will be a highly profitable core left within the industry.
Once that has been done the stage is set for denationalisation. There is one Minister already in this Government who has said in recent weeks that they will split up the regions and there will be boards of directors, and then we shall have the pre-1939 basis of areas competing against areas. That is the future for the mining industry if this Government are returned.
Instead, this is what we think should be done. First, let the place of the industry be recognised in our economy. Give it a target, as the Government are giving atomic energy——
—a target and a chance to live. Secondly, the Minister of Power should use his responsibilities and powers under the Statute and he should bring the chairmen of the boards together and, if he wishes, he could bring in the oil industry, too—bring them all together round the table to produce a co-ordinated plan. Then there would be planning for the nation's well being, not having the nationalised industries cutting one another's throats, which is the aim the Minister has been engendering in their minds during the past few years.
There is a third suggestion I would make. I should like the Board to send out a directive to every one of the areas, to each area general manager, instructing him to co-operate to the full with every local authority in his district, and to give them foreknowledge five years ahead of every pit in the district, whether it is going to close, if it is uneconomic, whether it is marginal and how many men will be affected.
We must realise that if a pit is closed 2,000 men become unemployed, and in a small district that can be a catastrophe. If we can have the area general managers working with the local authorities in their districts and giving them knowledge five years ahead of what is to be done, they can prepare sites, and arrange for special facilities for the introduction of other industries, and the Government can grant aid in that respect. We do not want to see any more ghost mining villages reappearing on the scene.
There are the social implications of the closure of pits. Social implications are not high in the Tories' priorities. Their record proves it, particularly in the mining areas. We must remember that thirty-six pits have been doomed this year. They are not all closed yet, and there are still 1500 of those men still seeking jobs——
—because absorption is taking place. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned them today. With a new batch of pits doomed to close the absorption will have taken place and it will be hard to find those men work in mining.
Then there is the loss of the productive skill of those men who have worked in the pits all their lives and have graduated at the coal face, whether colliers, machine operators, skilled drillers—whatever operation they were doing at the coal face, but all skilled work. That skill will be completely lost to the nation because it cannot be transferred anywhere else. In that respect miners are not unique, but, by jove, there are very few of them by comparison. Once they go out of the industry they are relegated to the status of labourers and the skill of those men cannot be used again. Their wages are lost to them, too.
We have in every colliery a percentage of men who return to light work when they have suffered industrial disease or industrial injury. They return by agreement with the union and every pit takes a percentage of those men who have been industrially crippled because of the hazardous nature of their occupation. What is to happen to them? If they do not get jobs in the industry those men are virtually unemployables.
Another factor is that of the men in their late fifties or early sixties prematurely retired. What chance have they of getting a fresh job? We have 13,000 men in the industry at the moment who are over 65 years of age. They will suffer very quickly indeed.
All these are social implications following pit closures and it is time the Government did something positive about them. First of all, I want them to give consideration to the suggestion I made that every local authority should be conversant through the area general managers with the future of the pits in their districts. Secondly, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to convey our apprehensions to the Minister of Labour and the President of the Board of Trade and to suggest that those two Departments set up an inter-Departmental committee to study the social implications of pit closures so that Ministers themselves can prepare a report and offer advice and, if necessary, financial assistance, to those areas which will be affected.
I think the situation is grim because I am with miners every weekend and I understand their feelings and their apprehensions. The Minister of Power said in another place recently, so typically of Tories who advise from afar, that there is an "anxious" situation. For us who are concerned, it is grim, and we expect this Government, or any other future Government, to do something positive about it.
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), who has made such a very forceful speech of the sort that is always good to listen to. But I cannot agree with a great deal of what he said and I would particularly disagree with his very grim outlook, on the future of the mining industry.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman's experience of the mining industry is great and that, as he has told us, every week he talks to miners who are, naturally, worried about the future of the industry, as we on this side of the House are at this time also, concerned. As some of my hon. Friends have already said today, we do not attempt for a moment to avoid the fact that there is a severe problem in the coal industry. Nevertheless, it is a problem which is quite new. It can be said that the National Coal Board cannot be fairly criticised for its not having anticipated the size of the present problem. I believe that to be so. By the same token, the Government can also be excused for their grappling only now with a problem which has come quite suddenly. We have moved so quickly in coal, from shortage to sufficiency.
I will attempt to deal in the course of my speech with one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Barnsley, and I assure him that we on this side of the House, also, are most anxious that there shall not be a sudden, cruel and callous contracting of the industry which will bring those grave social consequences of which the hon. Member spoke. The social consequences of redundancy in the coal industry have been mentioned several times today. I was most interested in the account of what can happen in a pit village, as so ably and colourfully described by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). I was particularly interested in that he and I represent constituencies in the same part of the country, and most of my political campaigning in the north-east of England has been in pit villages. I now represent a section of this city to which it is said coal should never be taken, and I fully appreciate the sufficiency of stocks at the moment. I most certainly would not welcome coals coming to Newcastle at this time.
We have had to adapt ourselves in Tyneside generally to the great loss of our coal exporting trade. It may well be, if we look ahead, that nuclear-powered cargo ships may sail in the foreseeable future from the Tyne. I should like to think it possible that these ships may once again carry coal from the Tyne, and I was very pleased when the hon. Member for Barnsley struck a short note of optimism in his speech and suggested that "we had a chance" in exports. I agree with him. The difficulties of recapturing our traditional markets in Western Europe and in Scandinavia should not be underestimated.
At the same time, we should be studying now a buyers' market. If the Board is really studying this consumer demand in Western Europe as well as at home, if the immense capital expenditure of the Board during the past few years has been wise, if the proposed sensible concentration on pits, on which money has been spent, and the research on the processing of small coal, are carried on, encouraged and carefully directed, coal may well leave the Tyne again and we may well recapture some of our export markets. I recommend that every effort should be made on the part of the Government and the Board alike to recapture this traditional trade.
The main problem in the industry today seems to be the inert reaction to the competition from oil and from atomic power. The answer cannot lie in a policy of despair. It surely lies in a policy of adaptation. The Report of the Wilson Committee, which has been mentioned several times today, is eagerly awaited on both sides of the House and, I have no doubt, throughout the industry. Any suggestion that our nuclear programme should be delayed is to be deplored. Such a suggestion could only mean a curtailing of our economy as a whole, and I believe sincerely that the mining communities themselves would deplore it.
I believe that there is a national pride in our nuclear programme, a national determination to see it carried out, and a general realisation of the disastrous economic consequences that the loss of our world lead here would mean. In ten years it is estimated that the cost of nuclear power will be level with that of conventional fuels. We must, of course, have co-ordination, but I wholeheartedly support the principle that our indigenous fuels shall be used to the maximum provided that it is not uneconomic to do so.
Two main factors stand out at this time and should be given the fullest consideration by the Government, on the one hand, and the Coal Board, on the other. The Government must encourage industry generally towards greater efficiency, if we are to maintain our markets in the world. Any attempt by this or any future Government to curtail the use of the cheapest and most economic form of power can, and will lead to disaster. The Government must at all times stress the lunacy of resisting the inevitable tide of scientific advance. In this stage of rapid change, the Government must firmly establish the most efficient possible machinery to avoid any hardship which would come with redundancy.
Here, we on this side of the House are with the hon. Members opposite. We do not want any hardship or any deserted villages in County Durham or anywhere else. I believe that this can be avoided. This Government have established the machinery to deal with redundancy and I shall support all future measures to strengthen and extend it. The Board must meet competition and adjust itself to the demands of today and tomorrow. According to last year's Economic Survey, domestic consumers in this country used 53 million tons of coal, against the use by power stations of 46 million tons.
Throughout the country there has been a general indication during the past few winters of a shortage of the right sort of fuel for the housewife. Here, within the terms of the Clean Air Act, is a tremendous opportunity for the Coal Board to extend its sales to meet domestic demands for cheaper fuel and healthy air with such products as "Warmglow", "Cleanglow" and "Coalite".
Competition from oil is very strong and, as far as I can see, this competition will grow. I disagree with the hon. Member for Barnsley that we are becoming completely dependent upon the Middle East. In future, there is every possibility of cheap oil from the Argentine and Brazil. I understand that European companies have made attempts to prospect in those areas, but that, for political reasons, they have not been allowed to do it. Whether those countries do it themselves or anyone else does it, there is every possibility in those areas of more oil and cheaper oil. France is rapidly developing her Sahara area, in which we have interests, and this could become an alternative, and possibly cheaper, source of supply than is the Middle East.
Finally, I submit that in attempting to define the future of any fuel industry it is necessary, first, to calculate the reserves at our disposal, secondly, to calculate the weight of competition, and thirdly, to link the two to the possible future scientific advances we shall make The way ahead for coal is not easy, and I join wholeheartedly with all those who have spoken today from both sides of the House in hoping that we can cushion the contraction of the industry. We all hope that contraction will be gradual, until we have that hard core which will become an efficient coal industry.
I hope sincerely that the future for coal will be reasonably bright. I believe that it will. I cannot see that we shall serve the industry by spreading gloom unnecessarily. As I see it, provided that the Coal Board, with Government support and encouragement, adapts itself to modern needs, trends and demands, coalfields such as those in Northumberland and Durham can have a reasonable future and a definite place in the economy of our country.
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches should not express surprise at our anxiety about the future of the British coal industry. We reflect the opinions and anxieties of the mine workers in the coal fields and, indeed, of many hundreds of thousands of people not directly associated with the coal industry who depend to a considerable extent for their livelihood upon the operations in that industry.
At the same time, I agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott). We are not presiding at the impending funeral of the British coal industry. We do not want to create alarm and despondency amongst the miners and their families and in the mining villages and townships. Of course not. Yet at the same time we must recognise the facts, and we cannot be complacent about them. They are too obvious and they contain in themselves a grave situation.
At the beginning of his speech this afternoon the Paymaster-General reminded us that only a few weeks ago we had a debate on this subject and that we are now having another one. Why not? The right hon. Gentleman should not be surprised, should a General Election ensue in the course of the next couple of months, if we return to this subject, not only in the mine fields but throughout the country.
This is not merely a matter for the mine workers; it is equally a matter for coal consumers, and it also concerns many engineering and other firms manufacturing mining machinery, belting and a variety of requisites used by the coal industry. We shall have a lot to say, but I hope that what we shall say will be constructive in character. For whatever disagreements may exist, and this debate has disclosed several, we are naturally and inevitably concerned about the future of this great national industry, upon which the livelihood of millions of men, women and children depends.
I apologise for having been absent for some time from the House this afternoon because I had to attend an important committee meeting. I have been interested to note that there has been no criticism of the principle of nationalisation. Do I gather from this that both sides of the House are agreed that nationalisation of the mining industry, being a fait accompli, is not to be disturbed or modified or readjusted, and that the Government intend to support the principle of it if, by any political misadventure, they are returned at the next General Election, and that there is to be no "mucking about" with the nationalisation of the coal industry? They can depend upon it that if any trick of that kind were played, there would be serious industrial trouble in the country. Not that I have any right to speak for the National Union of Mineworkers, but I imagine that they would dislike any attempt on the part of the Government to make the situation worse than it is
I said a moment ago that we ought not to create alarm and despondency. Indeed, if one examines the statements, publications and speeches made by the National Coal Board to the National Union of Mineworkers, and made available to the country, apparently the Board does not exaggerate the gravity of the situation, and I support that view. I need not apologise to the House for speaking on this subject for I advocated nationalisation of the mines over forty years ago and I had the responsibility of assisting in the administration of the industry thirty years ago. Also, as hon. Members know, I was honoured by the then Prime Minister with the task of piloting the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill and the Electricity Bill through the House.
I do not pretend to know as much about the mining industry as some of the experts on both sides of the House, but I understand its mechanics and its commercial ramifications, past, present and possibly future. In particular, I understand the social implications, to which we must attach importance. They cannot be ignored. I will tell the House why I say that.
When, on the opposite side of the House, I was piloting the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill through Parliament, I ventured to make the statement that nationalisation as a principle had to be adopted not only in the interests of the whole community but also for the purpose of improving the social conditions of the mineworkers. Unless it had had that second objective, it would not in my view have been worth while. I believe that to a large extent it has succeeded. The miners' conditions are vastly improved. There are, of course, conditions here and there which are not regarded as completely satisfactory, but in wages, hours of labour, holidays with pay, welfare arrangements and the like there has been a remarkable improvement.
As I say, that was one of the purposes of nationalisation. We are proud of it, and I do not see why anybody on the Government benches should object to it. If, indeed, the purpose of the Government is, as has been said, to double the standard of living in twenty-five years, we had better make a start, for now is the time.
It is a melancholy reflection after all the labours for which we were responsible in connection with nationalisation and all the criticism that was levelled against me, in my judgment very unworthy criticism—but hon. Members would expect me to say that—that we should have all this difficulty now. I am not blaming the National Coal Board. I judge that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not blame it. It has been faced with the gravest difficulties from the very start, from the days when Lord Hindley was the chairman, through the days of Hubert Houldsworth who succeeded him, and their successors down to the present chairman, Sir James Bowman. Under each of those chairmen the Board has faced considerable difficulties.
First of all, there was the reorganisation of the mining industry. When I heard the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), who is a mining engineer, speaking as he did, it reminded me of the gross neglect and terrible waste in the mining industry before the war, which could not be rapaired during the war for obvious reasons. The Board has had to tackle reorganisation. That is a very costly business, and it has meant the expenditure of hundreds of millions of £s. It has also retarded production, naturally, because during reorganisation one cannot produce to the same extent. Then there was the shortage of coal. Who was to blame? It may have been the Ministry of Fuel and Power. It may have been the Minister at that time.
One would expect that kind of response from the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). He does not really mean it. In private he is a most amiable person, but he has to do that sort of thing in order to keep his courage up. It is a kind of Dutch courage that helps him. Whatever you do, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, do not take him too seriously.
It does not matter who is to blame. The fact of the matter is that difficulties were encountered all along the line. I was just about to mention the difficulty that because of the shortage of coal we had to import coal from abroad, and the difficulties consequent upon that.
There has been a great deal of talk about the switch-over to oil. I should like to tell the House how it began. It began because we had not enough coal.
The hon. Member probably said it because he had heard me say it previously. This plagiarism is abominable.
When we were faced with a shortage of coal, naturally we had to propose a switch-over to oil, and my successors intensified it. I was then no longer responsible. It has continued. There were many other difficulties facing the Board.
When we talk about the condition of the British coal industry under nationalisation one might suppose that there is no trouble in any other coal-producing country. But we have only to examine the reports to see that that is not so. There is not a coal producing country in the world which is not facing considerable difficulty in connection with production and, in particular, distribution. Even the United States has had to reduce production of coal which is easily got, for the most part from drift mines and on the surface, and many men have had to be dismissed. It is the same in Germany and every other Continental coal-producing country. It is a world problem.
It is a world problem because every coal-producing country is faced with two factors—the recession which began two or three years ago and the competition from oil. It is as simple as that. It is a very grave matter, but it is one which can be easily understood. What are we to do about it?
I have been reading the Board's Reports, and I want now to address myself for a few minutes to what I regard as the constructive side.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that what he has just said is an extraordinarily sound appraisal of the situation and that, therefore, not very much blame can be attached to Her Majesty's Government for the present situation?
I will deal with that. I had not intended to touch upon it but was about to say, "What is the use of attacking the Government?" They are so thick-skinned that it does not matter. With them it is like water running off a duck's back. They are impervious to criticism. We ask questions daily, and look at the silly answers that we get!
The trouble is that we get from the hon. Member both silly questions and silly answers.
There is not much point in attacking the Government even if there seems to be justification for doing so. They have been attacked about inflation, the recession and so on. What troubles me more than anything else is their complacency.
The Paymaster-General dealt in his speech with almost every aspect of the problem, but he did not indicate—perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with the matter—whether in the next two years the Government, on the assumption that a Tory Government are returned at the General Election, intend to support the Board in whatever plan is produced. This is a very important matter. The Board will produce a plan. We have not seen the plan, but we have some idea of the shape of things to come. We can imagine what the pattern will be.
Suppose the Board says, "By 1965 we do not expect to be called upon to produce more than 200 million tons of coal a year. We expect the electricity stations to take about 80 million tons of that coal, whereas last year they took only 55 million tons." Suppose it says, "The gas industry will be a real problem because it estimated that this year it would take 27 million tons, last year it took only 25 million tons, and we now understand that it is to take only 22½ million tons".
Something must be done about it. That is 200 million tons, probably with another 100, or perhaps more, pits closed down. There may be more efficient production of coal and a possibility of selling more, but there will still be financial difficulties. What are the Government going to do? In other words, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) rightly asked, will the Government underwrite the activities and operations of the Board in future as long as it is necessary to do so, or are they going to leave the Board in the lurch? Unless we can have an assurance on this point, the anxieties of the mine workers will increase, and we cannot ignore them. The mine workers are afraid, which is understandable, and therefore we ought to have an answer to that question.
Turning to what I consider to be the constructive aspects, there is much to be said for the Government adjusting their policy about the provision of oil for electricity generation. After all is said and done, we can never tell what will happen about the amount of oil that may be required in this country. The United States has been in difficulties about the oil in that country. Indeed, that is why the United States Government intervened in the Middle East—intervened far too much, in my view.
It may well be that difficulties will occur in the Middle East at some time, not necessarily military or political difficulties, although these may occur, but technical difficulties, geological difficulties and physical difficulties, and we may be short of oil, or at any rate unable to secure all the oil we require. We shall then have to rely on coal and to readjust the situation. That is not planning or looking ahead. It therefore seems to me that the Government, in conjunction with the Coal Board, must apply themselves to some kind of adjustment in relation to the provision of oil or coal for the electricity stations.
I should like to direct attention to a question asked by the Minister of Power in another place. We cannot quote what he said, but I will mention a question which he asked. For example, he put this question to the Labour Opposition in another place: "Would you restrict the consumer's choice of fuel? Would you say that he must use coal instead of oil?" My answer is very clear and simple: "Yes, if the national interest requires it". That is fair enough.
Do not let us forget that the Government have themselves already responded to that principle. They have promised that instead of proceeding with all the schemes for converting electricity generating stations from coal to oil, they will suspend the conversion operations in a few of them. That is restricting consumer choice. If the Government believed in the principle of competition and of no restriction on the consumer's choice, they would never have agreed to that proposition. They would never have agreed that the time had arrived to say to the electricity authorities, "You cannot continue with oil generation. You must use coal."
There is a restriction on the consumer's choice, and the restriction applies not only to coal or oil or gas or any other fuel; it applies to food and clothing and a variety of other things, because of the creation of monopolies in this country. We do not always buy what we want to buy. Sometimes we buy what we are compelled to buy, because there is no choice. The Minister of Power, therefore, had no right to ask that question or to imagine that there was no answer to it.
Is there any reason why we should not encourage consumers to use more coal, but in another form than its raw state? Could they not be encouraged to use it as smokeless fuel? It is not merely a question of a restriction on the consumer's choice, but a question of encouragement to use the right fuel, which in this case is coal. I believe that in the case of electricity the Coal Board will find itself in a more advantageous position in the course of the next few years. I take a very optimistic view about that.
What of the possibilities of industrial expansion? If I am to believe what the Coal Board says—and the statements by members of the Board have not been challenged—the Board expects an increased rate of industrial expansion in the course of the next few years. I hope that that is right, and if it is right more coal will be used. It is possible that more household coal will be used, but in a different form, as a result of the production of derivatives. The only gloomy aspect of the Coal Board's Report applies to gas. The Board is very worried about the position there, and I want to turn to it for a moment.
Without any hesitation, I would restrict the use of gas, first of all because it does not use coal to the extent that it should and secondly because in many respects it is wasteful. Whether gas is produced from oil or from coal, great quantities of gas are produced which are of no use at all. Is it possible, as a result of research and experiment, to produce smokeless fuel with less gas? I believe that it will be possible by experiments—I understand that there is research on the subject—to produce a smokeless fuel out of coal without any gas at all, or, at any rate, to reject some of the volatile matter so that the smokeless fuel can be burned more easily in the open grate. That, I think, would be of great advantage.
In any event, I believe that both for illumination and for space heating to a large extent it is far better to use electricity than gas. I do not want to pursue the matter because it may be that I am technically wrong, but I understand that that is the position.
I end on this note. I beg of all concerned—my colleagues, with great respect to them, hon. Members opposite, the mineworkers and their friends—not to be too pessimistic about the future of the coal industry. We ought to encourage the coal industry to prosper. That ought to be our main concern. One makes appeals, but often no notice is taken of them. However, I plead very sincerely that we should try to escape from the political prejudices about nationalisation. Let us regard it as a fait accompli. Let us make the best of it, encourage it, nourish it and cherish it. Let us back the Coal Board, criticising it where necessary, for there is nothing wrong with that. By all means criticise the Board. Let us, nevertheless, accept nationalisation as an accomplished fact and let us build it up.
It is for the Government to help financially. There is nothing wrong with that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth has pointed out it was the Baldwin Government who provided subventions for the private owners of the coal industry. Moreover, it has also been done for agriculture. If it is necessary to provide the finance, let it be done, and let us give the Coal Board, the mine workers of this country and this great indigenous industry the opportunity to proceed with their activities. Let us encourage them in every possible way so that one day, perhaps, in the course of the next few years we may have a debate in the House during which we can say that, as a result of our united efforts, of our co-operation and perhaps of co-ordination of the three fuel and power industries, the National Coal Board has achieved a great success.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), in his entertaining and erudite speech, spoke of large quantities of useless gas being produced. He said that there was too much of it about. I assure him that I do not think that his speech amounted to that, and I trust that mine will not amount to it, either.
The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to explain to the House that the difficulties of the coal industry were paralleled in every country of the West, which rather kicked the bottom out of his colleague's contention that it is the Government's fault that we are in what they described as the present mess. The right hon. Gentleman made a plea about nationalisation. He asked us to accept the nationalisation of the coal industry as a fait accompli and to leave it alone. Is he prepared, and are his hon. Friends prepared, equally to accept the non-nationalisation of other industries and to leave them alone? It may be possible for a deal to be done on these lines.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we want to denationalise coal. Speaking for myself, and as one who is unable to bind anybody, except possibly by boring him, I would say that it is unlikely that we should ever wish to denationalise the mineral rights, but I see no earthly reason why the operation of coal mining should not be denationalised sooner or later. It might add extra stimulus to the industry and allow it to be more efficient and to provide better rather than worse standards of living in the future.
The social benefits which have accrued to people in the coal industry since nationalisation are very substantial, all will agree, but can we say with our hands on our hearts that that is essentially due to nationalisation and in no way due to the fact that there has been the biggest ever sellers' market for coal since the war? The right hon. Gentleman himself said that he introduced oil burning because there was a shortage of coal. Surely that made it automatic that the coal industry, in whose-ever hands it was, could sell everything that it produced.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington expressed misgivings about the supply of oil. Surely it is true that there is now a wider variety of suppliers of oil in different parts of the world than there was a few years ago during the Suez crisis. I cannot help thinking that there is a wider choice of source from which to get our oil and that we might, therefore, feel a little less committed to the Middle East which, I agree would be an unfortunate thing today.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would restrict the consumer's choice. I am sorry to have to tell him, but his right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said that it was not his policy to dictate to users which fuel they should use.
That is a substantial qualification, but, at the same time, the right hon. Gentleman believes in a kind of interference. His right hon. Friend was at some pains to point out, though, also, with a qualification, that his colleagues would not attempt to interfere with the user's choice of fuel.
I was entirely in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman on his one great point of constructive value. He said that there must be an improvement in the future market for coal by the conversion of coal into some form of smokeless fuel. I agree, if for no other reason than that the burning of coal is almost criminal waste. The higher chemicals contained in coal are of the utmost value to the chemical industry. To burn coal in a grate seems a terrible thing to do when it could be converted to smokeless fuel and benefit obtained from the chemicals that come out of it.
I realise, as often happens in this House, that I am speaking in the presence of a small group of highly qualified experts, almost all of whom have an interest in the subject under discussion. I have no interest to declare and I am not an expert. Most of the speeches so far have dealt with the coal mining industry, coalfields, and the people who work in them, and I would be the last to disregard their interests. It would be foolish to do so. There is, however, a point of view which needs expressing but has not been expressed. Large tracts of this country are outside and remote from the areas of coalfields. I should like to consider those areas, although the opinions held by people in those areas may pull other ways from those of almost every previous speaker.
Without doubt the price of coal is producing this setback in the industry. Nobody has disagreed with that. My right hon. Friend started by saying, and I think everybody else has agreed, that price is the thing under which more distant areas of the country groan. In my constituency there is a parallel which I have heard many times and which the House may appreciate as illustrating why this malaise exists in the industry.
Flour is imported into Southampton. The price paid for flour is the same all over the country, being controlled by a system of price maintenance. Needless to say, the people who live near the point at which flour enters the country have to pay the same price as is paid in John o'Groats or Penzance. They think it is unfair that they should have to pay nearly twice as much for coal as people in the coalfields. This may seem illogical, or irrational, but it is an argument that is widely heard.
No doubt the high cost of coal is attributed to the colossally long and heavy haulage involved. Surely it is rather absurd that in hauling coal to the south and west of the country large quantities of other coal have to be burnt to do so and that there is a colossal tying up of the railway system in trucking this stuff about.
With that in view I should like to make a reference or two to the other industries. I concur with everybody who has said that there is a setback in the coal industry. There is undoubtedly a drop in the demand for coal. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington agreed with my right hon. Friend that this was a passing phase, and that the longer term prospects were of a substantial increase because the demand by the main consumers would be maintained. My right hon. Friend said that by 1965 9 to 10 million tons more coal would be needed for electricity. That is very encouraging. If the total demand is 300 million tons equivalent per annum by the mid-1960s, of which the coal industry will get the lion's share, I feel that the despondency which has been expressed, sometimes violently, this afternoon has been exaggerated. Having said that, I shall have to look at events later to see whether I have misjudged the situation or have judged it aright.
If the demand for certain kinds of coal diminishes, it cannot be denied that the Government will have the responsibility of treating this problem with the closest care. The problem of the closure of pits is not so devastatingly alarming. Although 200 pits have been closed since the war, with proper care and consultation among the interested parties there has been no substantial drop in the redeployment of the men who worked in those pits. I gather that the present programme is to close about 130 more pits during the next five years. That does not make a rate of closure of any different order; it may mean that a greater effort will have to be made, but not an effort out of proportion to what has gone before. I do not therefore think that there is cause for despondency, even if the figures that I have heard quoted are right.
I agree with the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) that it should be the duty of the Coal Board to notify local authorities and other interested parties as far as in advance as possible where there is a prospect of a pit which is uneconomic being closed. As far as I can make out, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth was criticising the Government for streamlining the coal industry too fast; in other words, not for failing to plan a place for the coal industry—which the Motion says the Government are doing—but for planning too small a place.
The right hon. Member for Blyth demanded time to allow for the proper contraction of the industry, and I am sure that nobody would differ from him about that. There must at least be time for redeployment and resettlement, although there must not be a refusal to permit the contraction of the industry, because anybody who tried to stand in the way of that contraction would be a sort of subterranean King Canute, as far as I can make out.
Mr. Chambers, the future chairman of I.C.I.—as quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro)—talked about the insanity of establishing an oil-fired power station in the middle of a coalfield, but it would be just as insane to establish a coal-fired station so remote from the coalfields as are some parts of southern and western England. In future, the south and west of England must rely on oil and nuclear power. Oil is imported into the country in and around the south and west, and refineries are scattered around the area, and it is, therefore, obvious that oil should be used. Equally, I am sure that nuclear power must be used. I was interested when the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas) referred to the fact that in neither opening speech was any reference made to nuclear power, until he intervened quite late in the second of those speeches.
A great deal of difficulty is being encountered—and I have met it sharply myself—because when a nuclear or other power station is being projected a fairly detailed plan is the first thing released to the public. That seems invariably to arouse the strongest local opposition, because nuclear power stations must be situated in rather remote places which are generally considered to be places with attractive scenery. I hope that my noble Friend will try to secure that more long-term and general hand-outs are issued about the siting of future power stations.
A preliminary announcement should be made that a power station will be required within a certain part of a certain county. If that is said it will be up to the local people—who would be fools to oppose erection of such a station—to decide which part of the area in question would give least offence locally, so that instead of running into this almost invariable opposition my noble Friend would be able to enlist local opinion on his side. That would improve the prospects of getting the stations that we all want to see erected, because those in the South are starved of power unless we pay a high price to have it made.
In short, I would not on any account have any interference with the use of oil in southern and western areas, and I would not agree for a moment to any diminution of effort in the nuclear power industry. That is just as much an industry of this country as is the coal industry. Instead, I would have that industry expanded, because I am sure that, with the better prospects of reducing prices, in the long run that industry will give us ever-cheaper power and will be a most valuable asset. I am being quite consistent in saying this. I have pressed throughout for the greatest possible expansion of the nuclear power industry.
I do not believe that the coal industry is in anything like the doldrums that some people have suggested. There is little justification for some of the observations which have been made. I believe that the industry has a great future. If coal is used more slowly nowadays it will last longer and the industry will have a longer future. There is no ground for this depression. I believe that the Government are conducting a genuinely realistic policy for coal.
I appreciate the candour of the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett). Several appeals have been made by my hon. Friends for those on the Government benches to accept nationalisation of the coal mines as permanent, and something that will govern whatever may happen in the future. The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham made his position very plain. In effect, he said, "I am a Tory. I do not believe in nationalisation. Why should I say that, no matter what future circumstances may be, I will be committed to supporting nationalisation?"
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) was right when, in his very able speech, he said that we get a clarity of thought and help the country to understand not merely the problems of the coal fields but the wider social problems of this country if Tories talk according to their philosophy and Socialists talk according to theirs. The trouble arises when people try to blur the issue; the result is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley said that once the coal industry reaches the point where the weaker pits are eliminated, where vast capital development has taken place, and where we have a core of efficient coal mines, there is no reason to assume that a future Tory Government might not say, "Why should not we take the matter further and give the industry back into private hands?" The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham said we had to consider the fact that had the coal pits not been nationalised, because of the sellers' market there would have been an increase in the standard of living of the men in the industry. What he did not say was that the modernisation of the obsolete coal pits would have been carried out by private capital. In other words, as a Tory—I do not disagree with him stating his point of view; in fact I was pleased to hear it—he has no objection at all to public money being used to subsidise private industry.
I assumed that the hon. Member was a loyal member of his party. Perhaps I have done him less than credit by that assumption; it may be that he has little "flutters" of his own. The official policy of the Conservative Party is fully in favour of subsidising private industry with public money.
One has only to look at the cotton industry and what is being done in sections of the steel industry. One need only contemplate the money being spent on Colvilles and other sections of the steel industry. But if one wishes to see this in its neatest, plainest and most opulent form, one has only to look at the £250 million a year which is put into the agricultural industry, public money subsidising private industry.
I will explain what I wish to do if the hon. Member will permit me.
I have made my point. The party to which the hon. Member belongs has not the slightest objection to public money being used to subsidise private industry. Therefore, I can quite understand that if hon. Members opposite could have had public money to subsidise the old coal owners and to modernise the machinery in the pits, they would have ruthlessly set aside all the weakest pits, although it would have created pockets of unemployment. That would have been the kind of post-war Britain which a Conservative Government would have tried to give us.
I should not only be surprised, but shocked, if the hon. Member had been.
Let us be clear about the real argument. In this kind of debate a fascinating schizophrenia is apparent in nearly every speech. Sometimes it is fascinating, sometimes it is irritating. There are occasions when we talk as though we were a Council of State, as though we could deal with the problems of the coal industry in isolation; as though the only argument between us was the best manner in which either to guess or assess ways to produce coal and the potential markets for it.
The Paymaster-General said to hon. Members on this side of the House that, so far as he understood the situation, the only difference between us was that though we all tried to make estimates, when those estimates were proved inaccurate, he, as a hard-headed Tory, tried to adjust the industry to the changing market situation whereas we on these benches, as idealists, tried to go ahead as if no change had taken place. The right hon. Gentleman is not now present in the Chamber, but I think that that is a fair summary of his closing remarks.
We all know that often the Paymaster-General talks with his tongue in his cheek. He knows as well as I know, and most hon. Members know, that that is not what the argument is about at all. It is utter nonsense, economically, financially and socially, to try to discuss the problems of the coal industry as though the industry were an isolated unit My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said that we on this side of the House were not Luddites, that we had not the slightest desire to keep open obsolete and unprofitable pits for an indefinite period. That is true. We are all eager to make suggestions about what should be done.
If one visits a typical mining village one finds that the young men do not want to work in the pits. They prefer to work as engineers or for one of the subsidiary industries. But we are all profoundly concerned about maintaining the fabric of the mining community. We are concerned about the men who have their roots—their homes, their schools, their churches and their clubs—in the mining villages. For those men it is a great tragedy to be uprooted. We know that we can cut down in manpower and make temporary openings, provided that the whole process is phased, but the terrifying people are those who now constitute Her Majesty's Government.
It is shocking, in the world in which we are now living and when hardly a single major country with which we have to compete denies the need for a planned economy, that Government supporters are still playing off coal against gas, electricity, nuclear power, oil and all the rest of it. They ask us silly questions, such as whether we are in favour of restricting or taxing oil imports, and whether we want to reduce the consumer's choice. We want a contemporary plan for the industry that will go even beyond the fuel industries to those who use fuel, and it would include transport, shipping and the major framework of a modern industrial society.
I am not afraid about the technical expertness of the men who are in charge of the mining industry. We have fine technicians in the mining areas. I often see the young fellows who are going into the pits. If there is any scholarly inclination in them it is encouraged and not discouraged. We can take it for granted that we have the men, and that others are coming on, to give us a superb mining industry. They will do the production side extremely well, but not the marketing side. The Government do that. Those men do not decide where our exports are to go. Quality and price are big factors, but the policy of the Government determines our relations with other countries and how far we are making the right kind of trading agreements which will settle how far we have export markets for our coal.
I am frightened at the philosophy of Government supporters. I know they thought that it was perfectly all right to hive off the most profitable sections of the steel industry and felt the same way about the transport industry, without any shame. They have no shame at all in taking over a business like S. and G. Brown's, a skilled industry, built up over the years. How can they support an industry in which there can be no take-over bids, no gambling on the Stock Exchange and no capital gains? In their philosophy, a man who is producing, whether coal or potatoes, is looked at grudgingly if his wage packet goes up beyond £10 or £12 per week. It is abnormal, and he is on the frontiers of being a spiv or a profiteer.
This dichotomy, this schizophrenia, makes the same people think that it is perfectly proper that a small minority in our community, who often are producing nothing at all—no coal, housing or education—that is social and useful, can be worth £1,000 on one day, and the next day can be worth £10,000 or £100,000, or even £1 million. We have been having a vivid education from the Press recently on the fortunes that can be taken over.
This problem of what is going to happen to the mining villages is intimately interlocked with what is going to happen to the whole economy of Great Britain. Whether we are dealing with the cotton industry which is private enough but is worrying us all, whether we are dealing with agriculture which can survive only so long as it is subsidised to the extent that I have already indicated, I can see no future for this country unless we form a modern plan and stop this nonsense of pretending that there is something wrong with a subsidy if it is for a nationalised industry, but that it is all right if it is for a private industry. It is the private industries which are getting a subsidy, and the nationalised industries are not getting any subsidy.
There are two elements to be considered. First, we have the long-term problem of what is to happen to our mining villages. I have no answer to that. I know only the beginning of the answer. We have got to get rid of hon. Members opposite, because they do not understand. They belong to the Stone Age. They have not caught up with coal, let alone nuclear energy. Their philosophy is the philosophy of each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. That may be all right inside large sectors of industry, but it will not do for Great Britain.
I wonder how hon. Members opposite would have felt during the war if they had been told that the Navy, the Army and the Air Force were going out on their own. One Service had to step back in order that another could step forward according to the overriding defence needs of the country. What applied during the war in terms of defence applies now in terms of our industrial development. We have got to have plans. We have got to decide how far we are going to use coal, gas and electricity, but it is absolute nonsense to talk as if those industries were in competition with each other.
The short-term aspect of this debate was ably stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth. We are deeply worried about the short-term aspect, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) will come back to this point when he winds up. His head and heart are in it We have seen too much of our mining villages being destroyed not to be deeply concerned. There is still a lot of happiness because there is a lot of love and kindness in our mining villages. I go every weekend to some of these villages and I attend galas and similar events where I see the generosity of our lads when they have a penny in their pockets. They want to look after the old people and spread prosperity. They want to be one family. There is not a great deal of snobbery in the mining villages. We are born and bred with a deep sense of family.
But I remember what happened when there was unemployment in our villages before the war. A place like Oxford, for instance, was developed and, in my opinion, was largely spoiled by the Morris works. It gathered from Scotland, from the Clydeside and from the mining areas the pick of the miners and the skilled engineers. They were given wages a little higher than the current rate. They were engaged on the "hire and fire" principle because the management were not going to have any trade unions interfering. But it was the community which had to supply the schools, homes, hospitals and the social furniture. No one uproots even a flower in his garden before making proper preparations to transplant it somewhere else. Yet family after family was uprooted and taken to places where its transplantation was not even financially in the national interest, quite apart from anything else.
I am not suggesting that everybody must stay at home. The young have a sense of adventure and they may well want change. The possibilities for change must be there. But it will be financially disastrous and socially barbarous, against everything in which we on these benches believe, if we do not see to it that we phase the future of our mining industry in such a way that, when an old pit dies, there will be young industries growing up around it in order that we may keep the community life of our land which is so precious.
Because of the time, I must restrict my remarks, and I propose, therefore, only to emphasise one particular aspect of this grave problem. In doing so, I do not think that I shall irritate the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee); indeed, I believe that I shall have her with me in what I say. I wish to emphasise the social factors in the grave difficulties which face the coal industry.
In this connection, I was encouraged by a remark which my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General made in his opening speech, but I do not believe that we can possibly pay too much attention to what I call the human and social approach to these matters. As the hon. Lady said, the coal industry and the mining communities have served us in Britain well for many generations. Britain owes a great deal to the miners and their families. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that we owe them a debt which can never be repaid.
To put it mildly, the mining communities have very grave difficulties ahead of them. In these circumstances, Britain must at least seek to lessen the blow. We accept it that many pits must be closed. Many miners, particularly the older ones, will become redundant. But, for heaven's sake, let us not envisage even the possibility of large pools of unemployment, with villages as black spots of depression in the mining areas. That will happen unless the Government take prompt action. A little foresight and imagination now can make all the difference to the future outcome.
In the post-war years, and now, we in Britain have been spending £300 million or £400 million on creating new towns. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), whom I see in his place, knows all about that. He knows my views on that subject. I believe that that money, or some of it, at any rate, should have been spent on developing our old towns and, particularly, the mining villages of Britain. In Parliament this week we have also been urged to increase the millions which we are at present spending on underdeveloped territories overseas. I say let us now spend a few million pounds on developing our own mining areas.
Something should be done about this—especially in County Durham. Unless alternative industry is taken to the mining areas, they are bound to be faced with exceedingly hard times, whatever anyone says. Villages will decay. Families will be broken up. There will be widespread unemployment. The Government must take legislative action, and they ought to take it in the very near future.
A very serious problem faces the mining communities of Britain, particularly those in Northumberland, Durham and South Wales. Existing legislation seems to be totally inadequate to deal with it. Recently, I have been in correspondence with the Board of Trade about the situation in my constituency of Hexham, where two mines in the Prudhoe area are to be closed in the very near future. At least 800 miners will become redundant there. That is a very large percentage of the working population in that little corner of southwest Northumberland.
I have asked the Board of Trade what it can do under the Distribution of Industry Acts to encourage alternative industry to be set up in advance of the closure of these pits. I am sorry to say that the replies I have had from the Board of Trade have been little less than ludicrous. On 19th June, the Parliamentary Secretary wrote to me saying:
Thank you for letter of 9th June about employment prospects in the Prudhoe Urban District. … Under the terms of the Distribution of Industry (Industrial Finance) Act, 1958, however, the Board of Trade are precluded from taking into account threatened, as distinct from actual, unemployment.
I wrote again asking whether there were other Acts under which the Government could take action. The reply which I received, dated 17th July, reads:
I will, of course, see that a close watch is kept on the position. I am afraid that there are no other Acts which could be used to assist industry setting up now in Prudhoe.
If that is the position, I say that the Government must review the situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] They should consider taking additional legislative action to strengthen the Distribution of Industry Acts.
We must look ahead. We must have a little foresight and a little imagination in dealing with this very human problem. I accept the fact that the mining industry is on the way out. It will not disappear suddenly, but the writing is on the wall. If we take steps now to deal with the situation, we can certainly minimise the blow. I think that we are entitled to ask the Government for more consideration of this very serious problem. I urge the Government to look at this social aspect urgently and sympathetically.
I would say, right away, how very much we all appreciated, and were moved by, the speech of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir). I want to applaud the appeal which he made and to return to the major theme of his speech if I have time.
In the long, tumultuous and often tragic history of the coal mining industry—my industry—there have been many periods when it has had to make adjustments to changing situations. Most of the troubles that have occurred in the industry—it has had more than its share—have been due to the fact that, when it has had to face tremendous changes and adjustments of all kinds, wrong policies and wrong methods have been used, and no attempt has been made to try to meet them in a planned and orderly way.
I want to reinforce the plea made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), in his very able and vigorous speech in opening the debate. I do not want to be pessimistic, or too optimistic, but to be realistic. I realise that the coal mining industry is facing a tremendous problem of readjustment to changed conditions—immediate and long-term conditions, but the Government, this House and the nation owes it as a duty, not charity, to the industry to enable it to plan its way through this transition. My right hon. Friend's major theme was that the industry should be given time to contract. We say, "Provide it with a cushion. Give it a Plimsoll line so that it can go through this period in a phased, orderly way with the minimum industrial and social dislocation."
I want to say why I believe that Her Majesty's present Government, and, indeed, all future Governments, have a plain duty to help the industry in every way possible. In 1946 we nationalised the coal mining industry. I have always said that my only regret when the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill was before us was that we could not insert a Clause making the Bill retrospective to 1919. How much trouble we could have saved. When we nationalised the mining industry, however, and we set up the National Coal Board, we gave it an immense task. The Coal Board inherited an industry which had been broken by twenty-five years of depression, poverty, strife and bitterness. It was a tremendous task to reconstruct the industry physically and technically and a still more immense task to rehabilitate it spiritually. All of us who come from the mining industry and the mining areas know how true that was.
It would have been for the good of the industry and of all the men in it if, when that tremendous task was undertaken, the Board could have done it without being compelled by successive Governments and by the nation to face the immense task of seeking to meet, for the first time in my lifetime, the demands of an economy working at full pressure in peace time. We had never had that before except during war. The result was that in its first ten years the Coal Board, having inherited that broken industry, was confronted with a tremendous demand from the Government of which I was priviledged to be a member, and from the Government of which right hon. and hon. Members opposite now are members, to get more coal, and to get it quickly, anyhow and anywhere, because unless we could get it we could not sustain the economy of the nation and maintain full employment.
During its first ten years, the Coal Board was confronted with an increased home demand rising to 30 million tons fairly evenly over the ten years. In one year—1948—there was an increased home consumption of 8 million tons. The industry was confronted with that task of getting the coal and of getting it anyhow. The way in which we compelled the mining industry to meet the national needs of those days is part of the handicap it now faces in the present situation.
I speak as a miner. One of the consequences of that tremendous demand for quick increased output was that the Coal Board had to mechanise the industry at a feverish pace. I think that it was the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) who once said—and I shared his view—that in some ways mechanisation had proceeded at too feverish a pace.
One of the consequences of that demand for more coal and the consequent intensified mechanisation is that the mining industry now produces the coal in different proportions. Increased mechanisation at this pace means less large coal and more small coal and more dirt. So urgent was the demand for coal that we told the Board to get it quickly and to get it anyhow.
Looking back, it can be seen that one of the problems caused by the urgent demand was that the Board was not able to get a balanced investment programme to meet the changes in production and the consequences of those changes. For example, there should have been a balance between the mechanising of production, with its increased output of small coal and dirt, and the provision of preparation and cleaning plants, but that could not be done. Even now, only 67 per cent. of the production is treated in that way. The fact that we face this situation is because all Governments have told the Board to get the coal and to get it anyhow.
I want to say a word about the miners. If any body of workers in this country is entitled to a five-day week, it is the miners. Indeed, it was, in my view, a very fine day for the miners when, in discussing their charter, the Coal Board accepted a five-day week. They kept it up at the request of the Government of which I was then a member and at the request of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Government went to the miners and told them, "So desperately urgent is the need for coal that we want you to work a six day week, although your agreement provides for a five-day week."
As one who has had some experience of these matters—and other hon. Members have had longer experience than I have—let me say that this change in methods of production meant an enormous change in the old traditional customary wages structure of the industry. I want to pay my tribute, not only to the Coal Board, but to the National Union of Mineworkers. The country owes a deep debt of gratitude to the statesmanship shown by the leaders of the union in facing up to all the consequences of this tremendous technical change.
When I contemplate the problems that arose in the coal mining industry over the wages structure, I believe that its adaption to new methods, with as little friction as has taken place in the mining industry, is a great tribute to the statesmanship of those concerned. I should like to pay tribute to Ernest Jones, shortly to retire, and to Arthur Horner and the rest of my old colleagues. They served this industry and the nation, well, and we ought to be grateful to them. That was the call we made upon the industry.
I come to another matter. There was a desperate shortage of coal. For the first time for more than half a century the coal mining industry found itself in the position in which its product was in urgent demand, and the demand exceeded the supply. Never in my lifetime had the industry been in that position. The boot had been always on the other foot. I want to say to the disciples of free competition, because this is one of out charges against them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]—that we cannot have free competition on our own terms. The National Union of Mineworkers—with its memories—for the first time for half a century, could, had it wanted to, pay off old scores—and how many old scores it had to pay off! For the first time for over half a century we found ourselves with our product in demand and the market favouring us. What a wonderful time for free competition.
Coal was wanted. I have heard it described by my compatriot, David Lloyd George, in the faraway days of the First World War, as Britain's "black diamonds". That was after it had been Britain's dirt and the miners had been Britain's Cinderellas for fifty years. Suddenly the industry found itself in this position. What did it do? It did not take advantage of the market. It did not do a Mr. Clore. It entered into a gentleman's agreement that it would not increase the price of coal by one penny without Government consent. That is true. No one can deny that.
The industry was called upon to answer this national demand when it had all the advantages. This Government and the Government of which I was a member—I accept that—asked the industry to do that. However, I say that we have obligations to the industry in return. All the time that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about coal they say "We must have consumers' choice. We must have free competition. The people must be allowed to buy what they like. Every industry must compete." Is that what they say to the coal miners? If so, why did they not say that to them then? They said something different to them when the market was on the coal miners' side. Is it not a raw deal that now the situation has changed, and changed very rapidly, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should preach free competition to the miners?
They have no moral right to ask the industry to accept those burdens at this time when they prevented the industry from getting the fruits of competition when the industry could have taken advantage of the earlier conditions. I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that if the coal mining industry had been enabled to get the fruits of free competition in those years it would have built up reserves of hundreds of millions of pounds.
Because of this tremendous demand at home we compelled the industry—I say "we" for the moment, and we on this side accept that we as well as the present Government did it—to surrender its export market. Did we not? Of course we did. Then, later, when the demand became still more urgent, and even the increased output of the pits failed to meet it, we imported coal, and we imported coal from abroad and sold it at less than cost price to the steel owners. Did right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite object to that? Because of that nearly £70 million loss was borne by the Coal Board.
I know that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will say that the Labour Government did it. I accept that. But I also accept this, that since we and the present Government placed burdens upon the coal industry, and since the industry played fair by the nation and gave its service to the nation and helped the nation to sustain full employment during all that time, now that it is facing this tremendous readjustment it has the right to ask the Government and the nation for due consideration in return.
There are two things I want to say, first, about consumers' choice—my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth has spoken about that—and about protection. Apparently, for the first time since I have been a Member of the House I hear that the Conservatives are getting frightened of the word "protection". When we talk about protection for an industry they seem to be frightened by it. Why did right hon. and hon. Members opposite protect the steel industry? They did not say to the steel industry, "The consumers must have the right of choice. They must have the right to buy cheap Belgian steel if it is cheaper than yours." They said that we must have a tariff on steel and keep up prices. Who are they to talk about free competition?
It is for that reason that we say to the Government—and this is our charge against them—that having tied down the mining industry for the nation during the whole of that period when the industry's product was in urgent demand, now that it is facing these difficulties they are throwing it to the wolves.
I come to the other matter. We are discussing this problem in what are probably the last days of this Parliament. It is a pity that the new plan of the Coal Board is not available to us. I want to ask a question or two, because the right hon. Gentleman said that if we produce a plan and then the facts change, then, as we cannot change the facts, the plan must be changed. The Government do not say that to other industries, but only to the coal industry. The Minister of Power, in another place, said of the discussions which were taking place that there could be a new base. I want to ask some questions about this, because I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman said that officials of the Ministry of Power and the Coal Board are meeting to discuss a revised plan.
It is quite clear that the plan laid down in 1950, when we on this side of the House were in power, and in 1955 by the party opposite, aiming at a target of 240 million tons in 1965, has gone. There is to be a new plan and a new base and that, obviously, will be something less than 240 million tons. The Minister used the term "base". What does he mean by it? Does he mean a base which the Government and the country guarantee? If not, the word is meaningless. Unless we have a new base of that kind the only alternative, I suppose, is to say to the coal mining industry, faced with these tremendous changes, "Now that you are confronted with these problems, you are free. Fight your way out."
I do not want to hark back to the past, but when I listened to the Paymaster-General's speech today I seemed to recall that I had heard those sentiments before, and I have. I put this very seriously to the House and to the country. Here we are confronted with a problem, as we were confronted with it in the 1920s. I was then an active member of my union and we were confronted with the task of readjusting the industry and contracting it because of world depression and a fall in exports from Durham, Northumberland and South Wales where the exporting industry was tremendously affected.
The Miners' Federation of Great Britain presented a plan. I remember sitting in the public gallery of the House of Commons and listening to Vernon Hartshorn speaking for the miners and for his constituency and pleading with the Government to adopt the plan. The plea was for a cushion, a Plimsoll line, and for orderly transition. I remember the then President of the Board of Trade, Sir Robert Horne, turning it down. He did not want a plan or any order. It was a case of, "Fight it out, and turn out cheap coal."
The coal owners won and the Government backed them up and we had an intensive fight and free competition. The price of coal was driven down. When I became president of the South Wales Miners' Federation, in 1934, the price of coal at the pithead was 9s. 7d. a ton. There were thousands of miners working six days for less than £2 a week and many tens of thousands working three days at 7s. a day, and we entered into competition in the European market.
We fought the Westphalian syndicate which charged a levy of £1 a ton on every ton of coal sold inland and used it to subsidise exports up to £2 a ton. We had to fight Polish competition in the Scandinavian market. I went to the Polish coalfields in the 1930s. I travelled 370 miles from Katowice to Gdynia and I found that the transport of coal was being subsidised. The coal was conveyed that 370 miles for less than it cost to transport coal 20 miles from the Rhondda to Cardiff.
Everybody had cheap coal and the consumers had their choice. What did it profit anybody in this country? I say to the industrialists, "When you had cheap coal at 9s. 7d. a ton, what did you do with it? Did you produce a prosperous and decent Britain?" The cheapness of coal brought the others down, and the cheapness of coal brought about a Britain of which I am sure everyone is now ashamed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Except the Tories."] I believe that the miners were right and the owners were wrong and the Tories were wrong. Will anyone deny that now?
This is the situation that confronts us. We shall divide against the Government because in our view the industry, having served the nation, the nation must stand by the industry and see it through. Immense changes must take place and I realise that the industry must contract. I say this, that if the time is reached in this country—perhaps not in my lifetime—when no one need go down a pit, I shall be very glad. It is not a nice job. In the meantime, there is the problem of contraction. Contraction means closed pits. Closed pits mean desolate communities. By the accident of geology the coal mining industry is concentrated. I often wish that it was not. I wish there were coal mines in the south of England. I would like to see one in Bournemouth. We are isolated from one another, and how easy it is to forget.
One of the things that has pleased me most in the past few years has been that for the first time in my life the miner and the nation have got nearer to one another. We lived apart, we were isolated. The rest of the nation to us was "them" and "they", far away. I remember one day being in the pit where I worked shortly after an explosion. I will not refer to it in detail, but hon. Members will understand that they were tense days.
One of the old miners on the spell, where we had a few minutes' wait before starting work, said, "I saw in the paper yesterday that as a result of the explosion they are to offer prayers for us on Sunday. When there is an explosion, they pray for us. When there is a strike, they curse us. In between, they forget all about us".
I do not beg this Government, because they will soon go. I speak to the nation. Do not let the miner be driven to that once more. You need them. I believe that the industry has a fine future if it is helped over this stile. Give it time, give it a breathing space, give it a Plimsoll line. I believe that it has a future if we learn how to use what somebody once described as the bottled sunshine of days past. We must learn how to extract the utmost from coal, but for many years we shall need men and lads in the pits. I say this kindly, because it is a fact, but we can only get pit lads from pit homes. Where else? What other home has given a lad to the pit? Unless we give the miners a square deal and give them a sense that we are now sharing their burdens, as they shared our burden in the years after the war, what right have we to ask them to go there?
The Minister said the other day that it would be a disaster for the country if the feeling grew in the mining areas that there was no future in coal. I hope that he will remember this when he is discussing the base, for this base, and the underwriting of it, is essential if we are to attract lads into the pits. We need them, but we have no right to ask for them unless we give them decent security for the future.
Lastly, on the question of mining communities, I join in the pleas made by my hon. Friends that we should begin now to discuss the new programme, which, I hope will be a phased, orderly one. Begin now to plan alternative industries before the pits are closed. What did we find in our area in South-West Wales—in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams) and myself? We found there that the old pits, the old anthracite pits, were uneconomic and were losing money. New pits were being sunk, but suddenly the old pits were closed. They were closed two years before the new pits were ready. The men were unemployed. The young men have drifted away and we have lost them.
This is the problem, and unless the Government face it there will be gaps of this kind and we shall lose the men. The communities also have a say in it. What will it gain this country if the village communities are lost and everybody lives in subtopias and conurbations? Something vital will have been lost from our lives.
I say at the turning point once more of the industry that we have tried competition. We have tried a price war, but we cannot have a price war without its soon becoming a wages war, and I do not want that. The industry has had enough of strife and turmoil. What it needs now is a decent chance, a Plimsoll line, an opportunity to build for the future. My right hon. and hon. Friends have no confidence that the Government will give it the Plimsoll line that it needs, and that is why we shall divide the House tonight.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) is in his place. I have heard nearly every speech in the debate, but he made some observations about me which I hope he will on reflection regret or even on some proper occasion withdraw. He suggested that during my tenure of office I had shown actual personal hostility to the miners. I know that my whole outlook on economics and politics is diametrically opposed to that of the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that there are many hon. Members, and not confined to this side of the House, who will do me the justice of believing that since I took this office nobody could have addressed himself more single-mindedly according to his lights to trying to push forward what he felt, rightly or wrongly, to be the best interests of the coal industry. Unless the coal industry is to live, there is no possibility of a happy, contented or secure life for the miners working in it.
I can only say what I feel. I have taken the trouble to read the hon. Gentleman's Answers to many Parliamentary Questions. I used the word "cynical" about him, and I think I am justified in that by the fact that hon. Members opposite have been absent for long periods from the Chamber this afternoon and this evening. I think that they represent his mentality towards the miners. I repeat the word "cynical"; I do not withdraw it.
I will leave that to the feeling of the House.
One of the most interesting things about this debate has been not so much what has been said from the Opposition benches but what has not been said. We still do not know whether right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite want to cut the nuclear programme drastically to assist coal. We still do not know whether they propose, if they ever have the power, to tax fuel oil heavily in order to help the coal industry. [Interruption.] It is what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite did not say which is important. It is very easy to utter long and sentimental platitudes without committing oneself to anything definite.
The only two suggestions which were—[Interruption.] We listened very quietly to the speech of the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), and I hope hon. Members opposite will now listen to my speech. We have had only two suggestions. Oddly enough, they came from this side of the House. They came from my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) has made several speeches, some of them standing, but most of them sitting down. I hope he will now try to listen.
The first suggestion was that we ought to pay compensation, or that the Coal Board ought to pay compensation, in order to bring about a more rapid reduction in opencast mining. I have dealt with this on a previous occasion in the House and have pointed out that the margin on which there could be any further discussion about opencast mining is much smaller than one might think, for reasons which I cannot now give in detail, although they are to be found in HANSARD. There is nothing in principle between us on this matter. If the Coal Board finds, in the very small number of sites where a reduction would be open to reasonable consideration—I quoted the number of about half-a-dozen on a previous occasion—that it can do a business deal on the basis of cutting down opencast production still further and paying compensation, the Government will not stand in the Board's way. There is certainly nothing between us on that.
The second and much more important proposal was that still further alterations should be made in the oil-to-coal conversions in the power stations. Here I must warn the House that the compensation would be of quite a different order and would be severe. Nevertheless, the Government do not dissent as a matter of principle from what was put forward by right hon. Gentlemen opposite and by certain hon. Members on this side of the House. If a free agreement on reasonable terms can be reached between the parties, the Government will not stand in the way. What we will not do is forcibly to break contracts, and I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Blyth is calling for that. Again, on this issue as a matter of general policy, we are not being asked to do anything which has not already been done and which we are prepared possibly to see carried further, bearing in mind the warning which I have given.
About 1955 the Coal Board said, in effect, that it could not produce the amount of coal which was likely to be needed in the power stations in 1965 by about 10 million tons. Something had to be done. Both parties agreed with the conversion to oil. A small portion of the energy was to be provided by nuclear power, but it was recognised that very little could be obtained from nuclear power for several years. Later, for other reasons, the nuclear power programme was expanded, but it was also expected that the demand for energy would be rather more, and that this would produce a situation in which there might have been a slight surplus in the middle 1960s. That would, however, have been in the middle 1960s and not now.
As soon as it began to be clear that in the future there would be a surplus, the nuclear power programme was rephased slightly. The oil programme has been reduced. We brought it back more or less to a rough balance. I do not see what else anybody could have done. Indeed, I do not see that we need argue whether that was or was not planning the place of the coal industry in the national economy.
Some interesting things have been said and I shall refer to one or two of them later, but I think it right, at the end of the debate, to bring the House back to the point raised by the Motion upon which we are to be asked to vote. This is not a general discussion of the coal industry—we have had such discussions in the past—but is, in effect, a censure of the Government for not planning. It is to that subject that I want to direct the main par) of my speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I will direct my speech to it, although whether anybody will be able to hear it depends on right hon. and hon. Members opposite.
This, of course, is part of the general discussion of Socialism versus the free economy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I make no complaint about that. There will always be Socialists as long as there is anything left to steal——
I have frequently ruled that an expression which, if used about an individual Member, would be a gross breach of order, is not out of order when applied to a party. I have heard many hard things said about parties.
I should like to put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that we can conduct these debates with all the cut and thrust that goes with them only of Ministers, and particularly junior Ministers, learn to be at least unoffensive or not so necessarily offensive to those on this side of the House. I want to draw your attention to the fact—[An HON. MEMBER: "He cannot take it."] I can give it, never mind take it. What the Parliamentary Secretary said may not have been an expression that is not to be used in this House, but it was a very offensive remark. He said that there would always be Socialists while there were things to steal. [Interruption.]
I want to put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Parliamentary Secretary's remark was unnecessarily offensive. If I were to say that there would always be Conservatives while there was loot and private profit to be got that would be just as offensive. I ask you whether you do not think it worth while to draw the attention of those people at the Box to the subject under discussion and ask them to continue the debate; otherwise it will be impossible for the debate to continue, despite the fact that you are in the Chair.
I ask the House to have a certain sense of perspective about this. I am always averse to hon. Members on either side of the House using expressions of an inflammatory or inciting nature. I do my best to assuage the natural tendency of hon. Members occasionally to indulge in sharp words, but I cannot prevent it unless the rules of order allow me to do so. I think that the House ought to take these things as part of our Parliamentary proceedings and although frequently one may not like what is said by the other side in this House, one ought to take it in the spirit in which it is delivered.
The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth made a very wounding and damaging personal reference to me. He did not take the opportunity to withdraw it. Hon. Members must now take it from me.
The main point I want to put to the House, if I am allowed to, is this—and I think it is the main point separating the two sides. The whole notion of planning—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—that one can determine within 5 per cent.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—the whole notion that one can determine within 5 per cent., five years ahead——
Order. I should be very sorry to have to adjourn the House, but if this goes on I shall have to. As far as the rules of order allow me, I will check the words that are used, but I hope the House will listen to the rest of the debate in silence. The trouble is that everyone is trying to speak at once. We can only have one speaker at a time.
I am one of the Socialists to whom the hon. Member has referred, and I am proud of it. Having made a contribution to this debate, however, I take great exception to being called a thief, and I expect the Speaker of this House to give me the protection to which I am entitled. There is no point in being called an hon. Member if Mr. Speaker does not defend my right to be called it.
The hon. Member was not called a thief. In the course of his own speech, as he will remember if he thinks back, he said some very hard things about the other side.
Are we to understand that what the hon. Member has said is a foretaste of what the party opposite will say when the election comes? It has the familiar ring of 1924 and 1931.
I am sorry, but I cannot answer that question. I am rather grateful to think that I shall not be involved in that controversy. I would ask the House to behave itself. Other people are looking at us.
The National Coal Board has very carefully been attempting to decide the likely demands of a whole series of its customers. It has attempted, with some success and with agreement with us, to determine what is the likely demand of electricity, gas and industry in general. It has added up those figures and arrived at the best estimate that can be prepared of likely demands. Further, as in the past, the Government have attempted to estimate the likely total fuel demand. We have tried to bring the best informed guesses of both the Coal Board and the Government into agreement, and there will be a substantial bracket around them.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] As the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) has indicated that hon. Members on these benches were plunderers and as the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) indicated, or said, that hon. Members on these benches had alrealy stolen all the coal—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—may we not at last call quits in this matter, and get on with the debate?—[Interruption.]
The best efforts that the Coal Board and the Government have been able to make has reduced the amount—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] When I sit down I shall not talk—you talk when you are sitting down.
We have to bear in mind that that bracket must be something of the order of 15 million tons. It is worth bearing in mind that a possible award of a tribunal in the future could easily make a difference of 15 million tons in the Coal Board's production of coal in a year. Therefore, the difference between us is this, that we must make the best estimate we can with the Coal Board, but we realise at once that it can be very little better than a guide.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite try to turn a statistical exercise into a straitjacket. If their policy means anything, it means, that, if the circumstances change, either they will compel people to buy coal they do not want or they will produce a situation in which the coal, or the fuel required, will not be available on. fair terms. The difficulty about this debate, which has been recognised by hon. Members on both sides—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."]—is that even those of us on both sides of the House who want to debate it are not in possession of the Coal Board's Plan. That, however, does not mean that we have no sort of picture of what is likely to be happening to the coal industry in 1965. In the last year we were producing about the same amount of coal with many fewer men. [Interruption.] It is quite clear, indeed, it has been clear ever since the original "Plan for Coal," that approximately the same amount of coal as is used now will be produced, with many fewer men and many fewer pits but with a greater output per man-shift. That better productivity will be at the expense of a substantial number of closures. In "Plan for Coal" it was expected that by 1965 the number of pits working would be between 200 and 300 less than now.
These closures present a very serious problem for us all but the problem must not be exaggerated. The only chance for men in the industry to keep their livelihood is that the industry, whether nationalised or not—that is not the question tonight—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—the industry as it is, must be made competitive. People will not go on buying something dear if they can get something better cheap.
The right hon. Member for Blyth, in one of his speeches—I cannot remember whether it was when he was vertical or horizontal—said that there would be between 60 and 100 closures next year and between 300 and 350 closures before 1965. The right hon. Gentleman was very confident about those figures. I am equally confident that he will be proved wrong.
In the last twelve months—if hon. Members cannot hear they had better stop talking—no very serious unemployment has resulted and the Coal Board has done a very good job. It was possible for it to provide money to finance the extra millions of tons of stocks. Experience shows—[Interruption.]—the right hon. Member for Blyth will go on talking—that the total unemployment as a result of the closures will be very much less than the pictures the alarmists have painted. I cannot agree with everything that the right hon. Member for Llanelly said about the need to take action early as soon as closures are decided upon. I suggest a phasing of these closures, which will be substantial. It was always expected that they would be substantial, as is mentioned in "Plan for Coal"; but it is not an unmanageable task.
Here I come to observations which have been made on both sides of the House that our job is to support and encourage the National Coal Board to go forward with the only possible policy which will make the continuance of the coal industry on anything like its present scale possible. A good many anticipations have been made, and I would correct those which indicate that the fall in coal demand will go on at its present rate. I cannot go into exact figures until plans have been finalised and presented to the Government, but I do not dissent from the broad picture put by the right hon. Member for Blyth and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminser that about 200 million tons, approximately the present production, is likely to be needed during the next four to six years.
In those circumstances, prophecies of woe are out of place. They damage the prospects of recruitment. It is one thing to say that the industry should make itself competitive if it is to survive, and another to say that it cannot be done and that the industry is on its way out. That is false. I am not attributing blame to anybody for the fact that the coal industry has priced itself out of the market in recent years. When we came into office the import price of fuel oil was nearly £1 per ton higher than it is now, and the pithead price of coal was 30s. a ton less than it is now. That is the plain fact.
My time tonight has been less well spent than it might have been. I shall not be able to answer the points put by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), which I would like to have done, and one or two other points. The question which we have to decide is whether we think, in the light of experience, that we shall do better for the coal industry by giving it a reasonably elastic estimate, to the best of our ability, of what it could sell if it could make itself competitive, or alternatively, cripple its markets with a statutory monopoly and compel people to take its products whether they want them or not.
I should like to have spoken about the gas problem, as some points have been raised in connection with that matter, but in the remaining few minutes I should like to bring this issue back to the plain question: do we plan or do we not? On this side of the House we just do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to go back to the days of power cuts and coal rationing. We have not the slightest intention of allowing
any industry to ride roughshod over the preferences, the pockets or the efficiency of the rest of the country. I believe that that policy is a recipe for disaster. It will do no good to the coal industry and, in the long run, it will do no good to the miners. That policy, indeed, will do no good to hon. Members opposite, but they will not pay attention.
|Division No. 174.]||AYES||[9.57 p.m.|
|Abso, Leo||Fletcher, Eric||MacColl, J. E.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Foot, D. M.||MacDermot, Niall|
|Albu, A. H.||Forman, J. C.||McInnes, J.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McLeavy, Frank|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Gibson, C. W.||Mahon, Simon|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Baird, J||Greenwood, Anthony||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Grey, C. F.||Mason, Roy|
|Benson, Sir George||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Beswick, Frank||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Blackburn, F.||Hale, Leslie||Monslow, W.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Moody, A. S.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hamilton, W. W.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Boardman, H.||Hannan, W.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hastings, S.||Mort, D. L.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester S. W.)||Hayman, F. H.||Moss, R.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Healey, Denis||Moyle, A.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Mulley, F. W.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Herbison, Miss M.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hilton, A. V.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. p. (Derby, S.)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Holman, P.||O'Brien, Sir Thomas|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Holmes, Horace||Oliver, G. H.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, c.)||Houghton, Douglas||Oram, A. E.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Orbach, M.|
|Carmichael, J.||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Oswald, T.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Owen, W. J.|
|Champion, A. J,||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Padley, W. E.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hunter, A. E.||Paget, R. T.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hynd, H, (Accrington)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Cliffe, Michael||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Clunie, J.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Coldrick, W.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Janner, B.||Parker, J.|
|Cronin, J. D.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs,S.)||Paton, John|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Peart, T. F.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Pentland, N.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Probert, A. R.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Diamond, John||Kenyon, C.||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Randall, H. E.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||King, Dr. H. M.||Rankin, John|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Bromwich)||Lawson, G. M.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Ledger, R. J.||Redhead, E. C.|
|Edelman, M.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Reid, William|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Rhodes, H.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Lipton, Marcus||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Finch, H. J. (Bedweilty)||McAlister, Mrs. Mary||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Fitch, A. E. (Wigan)||McCann, J.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Ross, William||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Royle, C.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Wigg, George|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Swingler, S. T.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Short, E. W.||Sylvester, G. O.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Symonds, J. B.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Skeffington, A. M.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Slater, J. (Sedgefield)||Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Snow, J. W||Thornton, E.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Tomney, F.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Woof, R. E.|
|Sparks, J. A.||Usborne, H. C.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Spriggs, Leslie||Viant, S. P.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Steele, T.||Warbey, W. N.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Stonehouse, John||Weitzman, D.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Stones, W. (Consett)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)||Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Pearson|
|Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Hesketh, R. F.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Cunningham, Knox||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Currie, G. B. H.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Dance, J. C. G.||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Davidson, Viscountess||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount|
|Arbuthnot, John||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Armstrong[...], C. W.||Deedes, W. F.||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||de Ferranti, Basil||Holland-Martin, C. J.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Holt, A. F.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hope, Lord John|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Drayson, G. B.||Hornby, R. P.|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||du Cann, E, D. L.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Balniel, Lord||Duncan, Sir James||Horobin, Sir Ian|
|Barber, Anthony||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence|
|Barlow, Sir John||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth West)||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Barter, John||Eillott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.)||Howard, John (Test)|
|Batsford, Brian||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Errington, Sir Eric||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Erroll, F. J.||Hurd, Sir Anthony|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Fell, A.||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Finlay, Graeme||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Fisher, Nigel||Hyde, Montgomery|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Hylton-Foster Rt. Hon. Sir Harry|
|Bldgood, J. C.||Foster, John||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Freeth, Denzil||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Gammans, Lady||Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Johnson Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Body, R. F.||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Gibson-Watt, D.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Glover, D.||Joseph, Sir Keith|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Kaberry, D.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Godber, J. B.||Keegan, D.|
|Braine, B. R.||Goodhart, Philip||Kerby, Capt. H. B.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Gough, C. F. H.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton|
|Brewis, John||Gower, H. R.||Kershaw, J. A.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Graham, Sir Fergus||Kimball, M.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Kirk. P. M.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Lagden, G. W.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Green, A.||Lambton, Viscount|
|Bryan, P.||Gresham Cooke, R.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Grimond, J.||Langford-Holt, J. A.|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Leavey, J. A.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A.(Saffron Walden)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Leburn, W. G.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Gurden, Harold||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Carr, Robert||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Linstead, Sir H. N.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Llewellyn, D. T.|
|Cole, Norman||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Lloyd, Ma). Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Longden, Gilbert|
|Cooke, Robert||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Cooper, A. E.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby|
|Cooper-Key, E. M-||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Hay, John||Lucas, P. B.(Brentford & Chiswick)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||McAdden, S. J.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Partridge, E.||Storey, S.|
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Peel, W. J.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|McLean Nell (Inverness)||Peyton, J. W. W.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain (Enfield, W.)||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|McMaster, Stanley||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Pitman, I. J.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Macpherson, Nial (Dumfries)||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Teeling, W.|
|Maddan, Martin||Pott, H. P.||Temple, John M.|
|Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W.(Horncastle)||Powell, J. Enoch||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Profumo, J. D.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.||Ramsden, J. E.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Marshall, Douglas||Rawilnson, Peter||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Mathew, R.||Redmayne, M.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Remnant, Hon. P.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Mawby, R. L.||Renton, D. L. M.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Ridsdale, J. E.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Medlicott, Sir Frank||Rippon, A. G. F.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Moore, Sir Thomas||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Roper, Sir Harold||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Nabarro, G. D. N.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Nairn, D. L. S.||Russell, R. S.||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Nicholls, Harmar||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)||Sharples, R. C.||Webster, David|
|Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E.& Chr'ch)||Shepherd, William||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Sir Allan||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Noble, Michael (Argyll)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Nugent, Richard||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Speir, R. M.||Wood, Hon. B.|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard||Woollam, John Victor|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Stevens, Geoffrey||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Orr-Ewing, C. Ian (Hendon, N.)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Page, R. G.||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Legh and Mr. E. Wakefield.|