§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (12.25.) MR. LEAKE (Lancashire, S.E., Radcliffe)
I rise to move the Second Reading of the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill. It is a Bill, as hon. Members will see, not overburdened with clauses. Its effective clause proposes that the hours of daily labour underground shall be restricted to eight. The provisions of the Bill are to apply to all underground workers in the Kingdom. These, according to the latest Return, number 531,000, of whom 506,000 work in coal mines, and of these 506,000 there are 48,000 boys of ages between twelve and 16, and perhaps hon. Members will bear in mind this latter fact. The miners of the country take an intense interest in the Bill, and that interest is shared, I think, by the great majority of Members in this House and by the country at large. With the important exceptions of the counties of Northumberland 1558 and Durham, I may venture to assert that the miners of Great Britain are practically unanimous in requiring this legislation. They were not always so. Within the last few years there were great differences of opinion; but, at the close of 1889, in Conference at Birmingham, they came to the decision to support the movement in favour of this Bill, and since that time unanimity has not decreased, but has been confirmed. I have heard no dissentient voice raised by miners' organisations or through their representatives, with the exceptions to which I have adverted, deviating from the decision arrived at by the Conference. What are the claims of the miners to this assistance at the hands of the Legislature? The first claim I think is in the largeness of the numbers employed in the mining industry, and the peculiarity of their toil pleads with us also—their eight or ten hours daily toil, carried on far from the light of day. The dangers of that toil cannot be overlooked by us. It is no mere figure of speech to say that these men take their lives in their hands when they descend the mine to earn their daily bread. The appalling disaster in Belgium is fresh in the minds of all of us, and this country has contributed to the long roll of such disasters in the mining industry. Every mining county in England has had its explosions and fatalities similar to the catastrophe we are now deploring. The death roll for 1890 shows 1,160 fatal accidents. Of the casualties, of the disablement—short of death we have no complete record but, opportunely enough, there came into my hands the other day the Report from a Miners Friendly Society in my Division attached to one of the finest and most efficiently worked collieries in Great Britain—the Bridgewater Trust Colliery—and by this Return I find that within the year, out of 5,195 miners employed, 1,101 received benefit from the fund in respect to disablements to the extent of £2,000. These statistics, coldly stated, appeal to our intellect rather than to our sympathies; but if we are to realise what these mean, we must follow the history of such in relation to the individual and the family. It was my good fortune a few months ago to be introduced to a constituent, 1559 an old man, grey and bent, but still vigorous. He was 77 years of age, and had been a miner 55 years. Fourteen years ago he received into his simple home three sons, colliers all; one 28 years, another 26, and the third 17. They were brought to the home they had left in the morning, battered and dead from the mine in which they worked. He had also three brothers; one of them was killed in a mine in the Division represented by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Hardcastle). The second brother was burned to death in a mine from which my own home has been supplied, and the third was killed in a mine within rifle shot of my home. The history of a family like this vividly brings home to the minds of hon. Gentlemen the peculiarities and the dangers that beset the life of the miner. What is the demand I have made? Is it a reasonable demand in itself? On this I will not advance any argument of my own. I will put in evidence Lord Salisbury. In a speech to the Associated Chambers of Commerce in 1890, Lord Salisbury said—I believe that as a rule eight hours work is quite as much labour of the muscle or tension of the brain as an average man can give.Lord Salisbury referred to all kinds of labour; but, none the less, these remarks are absolutely conclusive in the case of the miners. I will put in another witness, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley). Speaking at Sheffield, in 1890, he said—Public opinion, I venture to say, is strongly, distinctly, and unmistakably in favour of the proposal that eight hours labour underground is enough, if it be not too much.I have yet another witness. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), speaking at West Calder in October, 1890, said—Though I am not a miner I have been in a coal-pit a sufficient number of times to have the feeling, which it seems to me every man who has been in a mine must entertain, that eight hours out of every 24 are quite enough for any human being to labour under such conditions.I claim from these quotations that the justice of the demand which I make is admitted on every hand, that an 1560 eight hours day would be a beneficial reform for the miners. The controversy on this question arose when the miners appealed, as they are now appealing, to this House for legislation to aid them in obtaining that beneficial reform, and it is my duty to weaken or remove the objections which have been brought against such a proposal. Perhaps it would be useful to assisting the House if I were to give some idea of the condition of the hours of labour of the miners at the present moment. There is a Return presented to the House at the instance of the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Provand) on the hours of miners. It is dated July, 1890. From that Return I find that there are 450,000 underground labourers. Of that number 125,000 work eight hours and less underground, 250,000 were returned as having a day of nine to nine and three-quarter hours, and 50,000—I am speaking in round numbers—as working eight and a quarter to eight and three quarter hours, while nearly 25,000 were working the extraordinary number of from ten and a quarter to ten and a half hours a day. There may have been some slight modification in the hours since the date of that Return, but no appreciable change has occurred. With these widely varying hours before them, I think, hon. Members will be better prepared to see the desirability of regulating or restricting to eight hours by legislation the period during which miners ought to work underground. The supporters of this Bill are first met by the contention that the miners ought to help themselves. It is urged, "You have powerful Trades Unions, why do you come to Parliament?" Again it has been said, look at the recent action of the miners and see what they can do. Well, I recognise that. I notice that the hon. Baronet the Member for Durham (Sir Joseph W. Pease), in a thoughtful and temperate letter in the Times of 1st March, put that contention strongly. He says:—The appeal to the House of Commons to legislate as to a reduction in miners' hours comes logically to an end. The Federation has proved that it can at a fortnight's notice arrest the entire labour of its constituents and consequently that it can also regulate their action in obtaining reasonable hours for their employment.1561 But I submit to the House that the hon. Baronet's reasoning is inconclusive if not fallacious. The organisation may be powerful enough to determine a brief holiday. The whole affair has only been an experiment from which we can predict nothing. While the Trade Unions were powerful enough to do this they may be powerless or nearly so to establish a permanent eight-hours day for all the miners of the Kingdom. But consider what would be the consequence of Trades Union action if it attempted to effect this object. It would mean war all along the line. Can this House contemplate with equanimity the inevitable strikes that would take place? Although the judgment of the mine owners was against the recent holiday, there were some alleviating circumstances attending it which made their resistance not so very strong, but in the case of a demand on the part of the Trades Unions for an eight hours day underground, I think it would be met by very general resistance on the part of the mine owners. Those who advise this action on the part of the Trades Unions are the very men who would be the first to condemn it if it were undertaken. On this point I find a very significant statement in a letter recently written by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Pickard). The hon. Member says—The people who urge Trades Union effort to obtain this desirable working day for miners are the very persons now declaring against the action of the Federation.I do not deny that war must be encountered if it is to resist an intolerable wrong. But is this eight hours day a wrong? If it is not a wrong, why not establish it by law if we can? Why should not the law anticipate, and prevent war? There is a second contention against entertaining the Second Reading of this Bill which is perhaps more formidable. It has been clearly and dogmatically put by the head of the Government. Lord Salisbury, in the speech already referred to, said—With the ordinary labour of the adult man Parliament has not a right to interfere.Lord Salisbury's contention is represented in this House by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Elliott Lees), who has an Amendment upon the 1562 Paper. He says, in effect, in that Amendment, "You are grown-up men, and because you are grown-up men we will not interfere; we ought not to interfere." I trust the hon. Member wilt not forget the 48,000 grown-up boys from 12 to 16 years of age. The hon. Members phrase "grown-up men" is, I think, an improvement upon Lord Salisbury's. It sounds better when addressed to men. We men are nothing if not manly. I have no doubt the hon. Member thought the phrase a very catching one. It is a very catching phrase, but let me tell the hon. Member it has not caught the grown-up miners. The miner wants to know what the Legislature has been doing with him and his labour for generations. Is the grown-up miner free to do what he likes with his labour now? There is scarcely an Act of Parliament on fiscal, social, or economic questions which has not, and does not, interfere with his freedom to use his labour as he chooses. There are Acts regulating the production and distribution of commodities, the condition and appliances of mills and workshops, affecting even the hours of the great textile industries, and Acts affecting the miners themselves. There, is especially, the Act of 1887 passed by the Home Secretary. If this interference by law with labour in these directions has been thought expedient and beneficial, why is it a violation of a great and manly principle when applied to the hours of miners? It may be urged that this interference by legislation with the freedom of grown-up men, who have a right to do what they please with their labour, has hitherto been indirect, and not direct. The enfranchised miner recognises no appreciable distinction between direct and indirect restraints by law, if both alike be effective and beneficial. On this question of direct and indirect legislation I would ask the permission of the House to quote again the words spoken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian in addressing the electors of Midlothian—I make another admission, which is this—that our legislation with regard to factories has been legislation which has embraced the case of men, and, therefore, I hold that this business of the Eight Hours Bill for miners is a matter perfectly open for free and unprejudiced consideration.1563 I will add no words of mine to those weighty words of the right hon. Gentleman, except this: that I think the inviolability of the ordinary labour of Lord Salisbury's adult man is in danger, or will it turn out in the sequel that the labour of the miner is not ordinary labour, but extraordinary labour? The miners are not afraid of direct legislation or of the restrictions on the free use of their labour which have been imposed by the Mines Regulation Act. Those restrictions have proved beneficial. They were the outcome of their own experience. They were imposed at the suggestion of their leaders, men of intelligence and foresight. They were pressed persistently on the Legislature against the dogged resistance of the mine owners. ("No!") Yes, many of them were. I have a perfect remembrance of the circumstances—and in spite of the natural obstruction which the public offer by their engrossment in their own affairs, these restraints were imposed by the miners themselves upon themselves. These restraints have not lessened their manhood, and they now ask for another legal restriction—that their individual liberty to work 10 or 20 hours underground may be under the restraint of their collective judgment, that judgment to be formulated in an Act of Parliament recorded in the Statute Book. I ask the House will it entertain that demand for restriction on the part of those who are to be restrained, and not consider it an infliction upon unwilling men? I have said in my opening remarks that this demand for legislation was practically the unanimous demand of the miners of Great Britain with a notable exception. I refer to Northumberland and Durham. The miners of Northumberland and Durham are against it. And because they are against it, it is urged that this House ought not to pass this Bill. But I have yet to learn that laws have ever been the product of unanimous assent. Have the Factory Acts, the Mines Regulation Act, or the Employers Liability Act received the unanimous assent of the House or the country? It is because unanimity is impossible in any community that law becomes necessary. I do not wish to pass lightly by this 1564 opposition from a valuable contingent of mining labour. I will give it my most candid consideration. The esteem in which their Representatives are held in this House, I think, by every Member in it, and by myself in an especial degree, is such, that if I had only the good fortune to have them on my side, I could say that the burden of my task would indeed be light. I believe, had I their assistance, it would have such an effect upon the judgment of the House as would secure the passing of the Second Reading of this Bill with accord. The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) has an Amendment on the Paper that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. The hon. Member cannot oppose the Bill on the ground that legislation would be improper, because I hold in my hand printed extracts from a speech of, his on the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Kilmarnock Burghs on the Coal Mines Regulation Act in August, 1887, to the effect that in Scotland underground labour should be restricted to eight hours. The hon. Member for Morpeth said upon that—If there is evidence Of a general desire on the part of the Scotch Members to have this inserted in the Bill, I, for my part—if we were dealing with Scotland only—would have had no hesitation in supporting the Amendment.Then the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Fenwick) said in almost identical terms—If the hon. Member chooses to bring in a Bill for Scotland to enforce the eight hours system I shall support it, because I believe that the Scotch miners strongly desire to have that system.Therefore, we are not at issue with the Representatives of the miners of Northumberland and Durham on any question of principle as to interference or non-interference. Whence, then, does their opposition arise? I cannot anticipate my hon. Friend's argument on this matter with any certainty. He may possibly point to the strength of the Unions, and to what they have done through the agency of their Unions. He may probably tell us that three-fourths of the underground workers already enjoy more than the benefits which would be conferred by such a Bill as this. Probably like other strong and prosperous men, in address- 1565 ing the less strong and less prosperous, he will point to Northumberland and Durham and say, "Do as we do." Well, if this House does not avert such action by assenting to this appeal, I think it is not unlikely the miners who ask for this legislation will try and do as Northumberland has done. Will the House consider the cost of such a course? It has always appeared to me strange that the miners of Northumberland and Durham and their Representatives, having succeeded in attaining this boon in their own way, should be so strenuous in their opposition to the miners throughout the rest of the country who endeavour to obtain it in another way. I would ask my hon. Friend another question: Why does your great, powerful Union not abate the long hours of the heaviest tasked underground workers in the mines of Great Britain, who are working side by side with you and living in your midst? I refer to the 24,000 underground workers—boys and youths—who toil from ten to ten and a half hours in the mines of Northumberland and Durham. They are nearly one-fourth of the underground workers. If I turn to the evidence before the Labour Commission, I find some statements bearing on this question. Mr. Patterson, the Secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, in his evidence before the Labour Commission, in answer to Mr. Burt, said there was a majority of the miners of Durham against an Eight Hours Act. The same gentleman, in answer to another question, says that a single eight hours shift would mean an increase of one and a half hours each day for every coal miner. Again, to another question whether this double shift system which prevails in Northumberland and Durham will be possible under an eight hours shift system for the men, the reply was a double shift would be possible with an eight hours shift of men and an eight hours shift of boys. It would appear, then, that the long hours of the drawers for the hewers—the boys and men who bring the coal from the face to the pit bottom—are necessary, in their judgment, to maintain their own short hours of seven or seven and a quarter per day. 1566 That is not a good reason, though it may influence them and explain their action. I trust they will use their influence, and maintain their position by fairer means. But my hon. Friend may tell us that the ten and a half hour men and boys—they are chiefly boys and youths—do not want protection under the Bill. If that be so, I think we shall hear more about it in a not distant future. For myself, I cannot conceive any underground workers so insane as to prefer a ten and a half hours to an eight hours day. I trust, Mr. Speaker, that these young miners are not under undue pressure from those who are older and more advanced in the labour scale than themselves. But be this as it may, I would venture to predict that the miners of Northumberland and Durham will advance to meet their fellows elsewhere on this question rather than that they will convert their fellows to their view. But if they do not, what is their position? It is for the House to consider whether 95,000 underground workers in Northumberland and Durham shall be a bar to the desires of 400,000 workers in the rest of the United Kingdom. Why they should take up this position I do not know. Three-fourths of their own number are not affected by this Bill; and if the views of the remainder are against it, it would amount to this: that 24,000 underground miners in Northumberland and Durham, who work ten to ten and a half hours per day, are to be an effectual barrier against legislation in this House for the relief of 400,000 men elsewhere throughout the country. I have endeavoured to show that neither a preference for Trade Unions' action, nor a consideration for the adult man, nor a regard for the interests of Northumberland and Durham should induce this House to reject this Bill. But there is one important consideration on which much may depend in this House. Would a limited day of eight hours underground be beneficial or injurious to miners, to mine owners, or the community at large? It has been asserted that it would diminish the output. Possibly, if this House passed suddenly a measure of this, kind, without due notice, the first effect might be a diminution, and a slight diminution, of the output. But that 1567 would soon pass away; and if due notice were given, both miner and mine-owner would be prepared for the change. It is also asserted that it would increase the wages cost of coal. But, generally, wages do not depend in exact relation on the number of hours worked anywhere. In the case, however, of 90 per cent. of the underground miners, I am informed that wages do not depend on the hours worked, but on the amount of work they do. By the Returns which are in the possession of the House, it does not appear that the output of coal bears any exact proportion to the hours of the miners' working day. If hon. Members will turn to the Statistical Summary of the Reports of the Inspector of Mines they will find evidence on this matter. I will take four counties only, not to weary the House. In Lancashire the men have nine and a half hours of an underground day, and the output is 357 tons per worker per annum. In Yorkshire, where the day underground is eight hours, I find that 350 tons per worker is the output. In Northumberland and Durham, where the underground day is seven to seven and a quarter hours, I find that 420 tons is the output per person. I think that this consideration is a noticeable one, but I would not press it beyond its fair length. But without any statistics, the experience of Members of this House will tell them this: the miner, his labour and output, do not depend on the revolution of a wheel, or the working of intricate and delicate machines, nor on the durability or insensibility of iron or steel. His motive power is not steam. A miner's working power is in himself. He can spare himself in ten hours, and he can spend himself in eight hours. No, there are a hundred stimulants to his action, stimulants of a subtle but forcible nature, and there is necessity behind them all. The miners must live. The family must live. They must rise, if they can, in the social scale. Each man lives by the tons of coal he gets; and if his labour is limited to eight hours, he will still get those tons. I cannot sufficiently impress on the House the intimate connection between shorter hours and concentrated energy, and long hours and dilatory application. 1568 We have all here had experience of that principle. I would suggest to this House that this Bill is more a Bill for the regulation of labour even than for its restriction. With an hour, or an hour and a half's daily holiday that the miner may spend in his house with his family, he would take fewer irregular and erratic holidays. His labour and his strength would be spread more regularly over the hours of the days of the week. Another and last consideration of the effect of a short day's labour on the output of mines I would bring before this House, in a quotation from a speech of a colliery proprietor, delivered within a fortnight since in the bounds of my own constituency. Contemplating an eight hours limit, he made these remarks—Colliery management throughout the country would be stimulated to find means by which the men would not waste their time in sitting idle—waiting for firemen to light shots, datal men to dress up falls, for props, tubs, and for trams to take them from their work. If the miner has only good tackle, the roads kept in order, and things made handy for him, he would still get his eight or nine tubs.A colliery proprietor giving this opinion I am free to confess my belief in his opinion when he says he sees no chance of a permanent diminution of output if this House grants the miners the boon which they ask. Predictions of disaster from the prospects of change are not unknown to Members of this House. I think that the capitalist is as fearful of change as the politician. It is to them like the lion in the path. But I, for one, do not believe that capital is without resources for self-protection, nor do I acknowledge that any captain of industry who is worth his salt would be easily baffled by the establishment, of an eight hours day for miners. With one word more I conclude. I cannot doubt that there are many Members of this House who, whilst willing and ready to vote with me, and to admit the case presented on behalf of the miners, are still troubled in their mind by a fear that they cannot stop there. Lord Salisbury has put this fear in very pertinent language. In the speech to which I have already referred Lord Salisbury asked whether his hearers were so simple as to think that if this eight hours limitation were applied to 1569 mines it would not also be applied to other industries. In this argument I seem to see the features of an old friend—the thin end of the wedge. This fear of the thin end of the wedge, if my hon. colleagues opposite will permit me to say so, has been the bane of their political life. So far as my hon. Friends sitting round me are concerned it has been one of the most troublesome obstructions to all the numerous proposals for reform which have ever been made. If this argument is advanced to-day. I trust it will not be advanced by any hon. or right hon. Member who sits on this side of the House, and if it emanates from the other side, I hope it will not receive the faintest encouragement from those who sit on these Benches. Neither the individual man nor the Legislature ought to be debarred from approving and endorsing a remedy which can be shown to be beneficial, which can be shown to be applicable to the matter in hand, through any fear that he or they will be asked to do something that will not be beneficial at some future time. When that time comes, their liberty of action being reserved, he and they will be able to say "No" to any prejudicial legislation that may be proposed, and to say it more strongly than ever, from the knowledge that they have said "Yes" now, and assisted in the passing of this beneficial measure.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Leake.)
§ MR. BURT (Morpeth)
I think we must all appreciate, at any rate I do, the tone and temper in which my hon. Friend has brought this Bill before the House to-day. There is much that my hon. Friend has said with which I entirely agree. I am not going to contest the statement that eight hours work is long enough for anybody; I will supplement it by saying that I think 8s. a day is as little as a miner should have. But these are pious opinions, and we are dealing with practical questions. My feelings on this occasion are mixed. I am glad, of course, of this opportunity for discussing this Bill, but I regret that I am not in a position for the moment to act with those with whom I am accus- 1570 tomed to act, and with whose object I feel very deep sympathy. I think I may perhaps also state that I do not rise with the intention of opposing a shortening of the hours of labour. I have always advocated the shortest practicable hours for all classes of workmen, and I think that in connection with many employments the hours of labour may be considerably reduced with advantage, not only to the workman, but also with advantage to the employers. I have always considered that the worker is not, and ought not to be, regarded as a mere wealth producing machine, but that he is entitled to time that he can fairly call his own, and which he may employ for social intercourse, for mental improvement, and for recreation. Therefore, in principle there is no difference of opinion between my hon. Friend and myself. But, Sir, although the difference is mainly one of method rather than as to the object sought to be obtained, still the difference is not an unimportant one. I hold that the best way of shortening the hours of labour is by mutual agreement if possible between employers and workmen. I think that can be won not only with less friction, but carried out most satisfactorily and most effectively. I would not hesitate to go a step beyond that, and say that where workmen have thought out the subject for themselves, and where they can by the power of their unions establish what they may deem fair and moderate hours of labour, I would advocate that in preference to enacting a hard and fast law and enforcing it by penalties. But, Sir, I wish to state distinctly that I am not prepared to lay down the general principle that under no circumstances should Parliament limit the hours of labour of full-grown men. I can easily conceive circumstances which would justify Parliament interfering, as, for example, if the hours were oppressively long, if the workmen were incapable of protecting themselves, and if there was, I will not say a unanimous, but a very general desire for such protection, and if moreover the workmen had tried to do what they could for themselves and had failed. Well, now, Sir, I object to uniformity. I believe you cannot 1571 have uniformity of hours by Act of Parliament on the lines prescribed by this Bill. This is not a Local Option Bill; it would impose an arbitrary rule upon all workmen connected with underground work, irrespective altogether of their own wants, wishes or interests. My hon. Friend spoke of the opinions of the miners, and he says that they are unanimous in demanding this Bill, with the important exception of the counties of Northumberland and Durham. Sir, I question that unanimity even with the qualification that my hon. Friend has appended to it. He says, and he says with perfect truth, that this is a comparatively new idea; that this unanimity has not been in existence for long, that it has been attained only during the last two or three years. In these few years I admit very striking progress indeed has been made. Many of the chief advocates of the eight hours' movement were opponents a few years ago. I simply state that as a fact, and not as a taunt. We all change our opinions sometimes in even less than two or three years. Well now, Sir, I should like to point out that there is a Royal Commission sitting at present inquiring into this and other questions. I regret that circumstances have compelled me, while having the honour of being a member of that Commission, to speak and to vote on this question to-day. I make no complaint at all against those who are in favour of this measure availing themselves of one of the very few opportunities that can be obtained for discussing the question. That Commission issued a request to all the Miners' Associations, and to all the Trades Unions throughout the country, asking them to send witnesses. Now, with regard to the miners, the position is this: in Scotland and in Wales representative miners have given evidence before that Commission in favour of the Eight Hours Bill. In England the only men closely associated with large bodies of miners in an official or other representative capacity who have given evidence before the Commission have opposed the Bill, and have likewise stated that in their particular districts it would be impracticable. Now, Sir, in one district?—namely, Derbyshire—where I have 1572 no hesitation in saying that, to my mind, the majority, and a very considerable majority, are favourable to this Bill, yet miners, two of them members of the Union, have given strong evidence against this eight hours system. All this evidence against the Bill remains unanswered; although I do not say it is incapable of being answered. There may be reasons of sufficient account why the advocates, of an eight hours day have not availed themselves of this opportunity of putting their case not only upon platforms, but also where their statements and arguments can be subjected to examination. With regard to Durham and Northumberland, my hon. Friend admitted that the majority of the miners are opposed to a legal eight hours day. He endeavoured to anticipate my argument, but I cannot congratulate him on his success. In Durham and Northumberland a great deal has been done, and in every mining district in the country a great, deal has been done, through Trades. Union action in the way of moderating and reducing the hours of labour. Within my own memory the hours of the coal-getters have been reduced from ten, eleven, and twelve—in fact, there was no system, everyone did just as he liked—to what they are now—namely, six-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half hours from bank to bank. It is quite true, as my hon. Friend said, that a very small portion of men and a considerable number of boys work longer; but the statement as to 24,000 men in Northumberland and Durham working from ten to ten-and-a-half hours per day is certainly entirely inaccurate. My hon. Friend must have got hold of the figures for the United Kingdom rather than for the counties, which he specifically mentioned. The system in operation is what is called the double-shift system. There are two relays of men for one of boys; one-half of the men go in at an early hour—namely, two or three o'clock in the morning, and the boys about six, and they all come out about four or five o'clock in the evening. Now, I am not going to say that, so far as the boys are concerned, that is an ideal system. We do not live in an ideal world, though most of us take excursions into a world 1573 of our own making which is infinitely better than this. But, Sir, I want to say that, so far as the majority of miners are concerned, they recognise this evil; they have endeavoured, not wholly without success, to mitigate it; they have faced the difficulty and discussed it in all its bearings; they have been subjected to a great deal of misrepresentation; they have been called—though not in this House—selfish and inhuman. They can only be taunted to a limited extent. It cannot be said that the boys employed in collieries in Northumberland and Durham work, as a general rule, longer than they do in some other districts; but it is because the adult miners there work shorter hours than they do elsewhere that the miners lay themselves open to this taunt. But, Sir, they have fully discussed the subject; votes have been taken from time to time; and whatever else may be said, the miners have, at any rate, declared very emphatically what their opinions are. Only a few months ago a vote was taken, when over 11,000 members of the Miners' Union voted. Of these, 2,587 voted for a legal eight hour day, and 8,720 against. About two years ago a Committee was appointed to consider the subject in all its bearings. We had at that time a conference with our friends in Durham, and the hon. Member for Mid Durham will be able to speak as to the opinion of the miners there. This Committee consisted of miners, some of whom had boys of their own, and who are certainly not wanting in regard for these boys; and after very fully considering the subject, they came to the conclusion that, although not satisfied with the existing system, they could not, as practical men, alter it without introducing greater evils than those which they would remove. Shortly afterwards a vote was taken, and at the time only one colliery—an important colliery having nine votes—voted in favour of an Eight Hours Bill. The position, as I have already said, is no doubt recognised to be not altogether an ideal one; but what the miners in Northumberland and Durham say is this: that if an Eight Hours Bill were passed into law it would either compel the dismissal of nearly one-half of the hewers in the counties named, 1574 or it would involve other practical evils of a most serious character. I would ask if everything has been done that can be done by voluntary effort on the part of the miners generally throughout the country? I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend (Mr. Leake) says as to the danger to which the miner is exposed. I quite recognise that, and appreciate entirely the spirit in which the hon. Member spoke. But, on the other hand, the miner has more powerful Unions and has those Unions more under his control, or under the control of his representatives, than any other body of workmen in the country. The miner, therefore, can do more for himself than any other workman. Now, has everything been done that can be done for the miner by voluntary effort? My own belief is, while admitting that a great deal of benefit has accrued from the public discussion of this subject and from its having been taken up by the advocates of an eight hours' day of labour; while I appreciate their energy, vigour, and resolution, I do not hesitate to say that if half that energy, vigour, and determination had been directed to the achievement of the object by voluntary effort a great deal more would have been accomplished. I do not say it would be easily done; I do not think it would. My hon. Friend (Mr. Leake) was silent on the crucial question about reckoning the hours from "bank to bank." No doubt something can be said for that. When the miner descends the shaft he often has to travel two or three miles before he reaches the face of the workings. And that is no child's play. Very often he has his tools to carry with him. That is very exhausting; but, on the other hand, it is not remunerative labour, either for the miner or his employer. The further the distance is from the bottom of the shaft to the face of the workings—other things being equal—it will be admitted, by practical men on all hands, the greater is the disadvantage not only to the; miner but also to the employer, because the latter has to maintain the ways a greater distance; he has all the extra cost of the transit of material; and, therefore, it would considerably handicap—to use a sporting phrase—those 1575 employers who are already at the greatest disadvantage. My hon. Friend (Mr. Leake) said the miner was not worked by steam. Well, he is not worked by steam, but steam has a good deal to do with his work. A very important practical question would be the length of time during which machinery could run in winding coals up the mine. My hon. Friend said the average output would not be diminished. Well, we want something more than mere statement on that point. If you reduce the time during which coal can be brought out of the mine from nine or nine and a half hours to seven per day, certainly in the case of many mines where the machinery is kept going from the beginning to the end, you would considerably decrease the output. In the case of the manual labourer, I believe nearly always within certain limits—and I would certainly not put the limit above eight hours, especially when you are dealing with men who are paid by the piece—you may diminish the time very considerably without at all lessening the produce or increasing the cost of production. But it is otherwise with other machines than the human. I do not want to examine this Bill in detail; it is a Bill which has the advantage of being very brief. But there is one point in it which I think it is open to a little criticism. I have always advocated civil equality between employer and workmen. I think that is a sound principle which can be maintained either in this House or out of it. This Bill would impose penalties only on the employer; and although the employer can take care of himself, this aspect of the Bill is hardly consistent with my notion of equality. I would punish the transgressor—I would punish the law-breaker—whether employer or employed. This statement has been made before the Royal Commission by great numbers of the employers, and it is uncontradicted. The employers say—"We are prepared to agree at once to an eight hours working day, and we do not ask any of our men to remain longer than eight hours at work in the coal-face; they can go away at the end of eight hours, some go before the end of the eight hours; we never interfere with them, 1576 and we should not object to any man leaving at the end of eight hours." Then, I think those who are advocating this measure would do well also to consider the result of similar legislation elsewhere. There are three countries on the Continent of Europe—France, Switzerland, and Hungary—where the hours of adult labour have been fixed by Statute. The limit in these countries is from eleven to twelve hours. Several of the States of America have also adopted similar measures. But, according to all the evidence that we can gather, these laws remain a dead letter. I believe Australia is the only country in the world where an eight hours day has been established and successfully carried out. Now, with reference to Australia, that has not been done by legislation. It has been done by voluntary effort—by the power of the "Unions; and it is only within the last year or two, in connection with mining—an Act in 1883, and an amending Act in 1886—it is only within that period that there has been a Mines Act for eight hours in operation in that country. But the eight hours was fixed by mutual agreement; all that was done was to get the sanction of law to what had been previously agreed upon and carried out in practice. But even there it is not an eight hours day from bank to bank, but from the time of leaving the surface until the day's work is completed at the face of the working. It does not at all follow that what is suitable for Australia would be the same everywhere. There are, however, some valuable lessons to be learned from what has taken place in that country; the workmen there have always recognised that this was in reality a wage question. They stuck to their eight hours, and were always prepared to negotiate about wages. I have to thank the House for the very great attention with which it has listened to me. I have also to repeat my regret that I should find myself in opposition to so many friends, but I do not think that will lessen our friendship at all. If this were simply a measure to confer benefit on a certain number of men who have studied the subject, and who have deliberately come to the conclusion that they are powerless to help 1577 themselves, I would not hesitate to advise the men with whom I am associated to make a sacrifice for the sake of unity, and for the good of their fellows, who may be less well situated than themselves. But that is not the proposition. The proposition is not only to confer a benefit on others, but to force that benefit, or what others deem a benefit, upon the miners in the North of England, who consider it would be a great disadvantage and a great loss to them; and would cause a great amount of suffering and misery on all hands. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ (1.55.) MR. HOWORTH (Salford)
I beg to second the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). I would say, at the outset, that a moribund Parliament is a difficult and dangerous tribunal in which to try issues in which the prejudices of a large number of our constituents are involved. It seems to me that recently we have had several measures introduced to this House which are very trying to the courage, and perhaps to the honesty, of many of us. When such measures and such Motions are introduced, hon. Members are tempted to indulge in sophistry, and to find distinctions where no substantial distinctions really exist. It seems to me absolutely impossible to treat this question purely as a miner's question. It cannot possibly be separated from the general question of an Eight Hours Bill, not merely on account of the spread which the example may have, but, on the other hand, from the very patent fact that you cannot throttle the industry which produces coal without, at the same time, throttling every other industry in this country. The coal industry is at the base—it is the key-stone of every other industry in this country. And, if legislation is introduced whose ultimate effect will be either to stop the output or to put up the price of coal or otherwise affect its production, that will, almost necessarily, affect every other industry in the country. As a general question, the limiting of hours by legislation is by no means a new one. I have by me here the first volume of "Statutes of the Realm" which I think 1578 it would be well for some Members of this House very carefully to read, and to read that famous Bill called the "Statute of Labourers" of 1349, when the Houses of Parliament in this country attempted to limit the hours of labour of workpeople, and also to fix the rate of wages they were to receive. That Act was followed by others, and they were all repealed after having done a great deal of mischief. Turning to modern times, I think the most striking example we can have of the mischief of this kind of legislation is the similar attempt made by Robespierre during the French Revolution to introduce measures almost on all-fours with this now before us, and which had to be repealed for the very same reason as in the other cases. We have in recent years avoided legislation for the limitation of the hours of adult male labourers, but we have legislated in this sense for women, children, and slaves. It is a curious fact that one of the few Acts ever passed by the House of Commons for limiting the hours of labour was the well-known Act passed to limit the hours of West Indian blacks to nine hours per day. One of the most famous speeches ever delivered in this House was that delivered by Lord Macaulay in 1846, on a question very like the one before us, in which he tabulated what, in his view, were the limitations desirable in this kind of legislation. His Lordship said one of the first considerations was the health and safety of the community, and that where it can be shown that the community at large is likely to suffer because the hours of labour in any particular branch of industry are too long, then we may have reasonable excuse for limiting and regulating these hours, but not otherwise. And Lord Macaulay put the position with singular force and power, and came to the conclusion that it was perfectly unjustifiable to interfere with the natural law which regulates supply and demand in the labour market only when the health or morals of the community were involved. If this be so, it seems to me that a very strong case indeed has to be made out when some exception is advocated to the general rule. The general rule is further based upon a position 1579 which I take to be absolutely incontrovertible. You cannot possibly limit and interfere with the hours of labour without, at the same time, limiting and interfering, with the rate of wages. Some of the arguments which have been used seem to me singularly sophistical, such, for instance, as the attempt to show that you can, when prices are going down and competition becomes more keen, in some way or other keep up the rate of wages by reducing the number of hours. To me that position is hardly arguable. The colliers around me in Lancashire, it is said, can work harder, if they are driven to work harder, and can thus keep up their wages, which would otherwise be restricted by the hours being reduced. To this position I entirely demur. The colliers are men who have now a great many means of enjoying their leisure, and it is their desire to earn as much money in as short a time as possible, and as a rule they work as hard as it is possible for men to work in the mines. And if there is to be a reduction in the hours of work they inevitably will have to bear a reduction in their wages. This is a position which, it seems to me, has never been put before the men as it ought to have been, either by Trades Union leaders, or those who have introduced this measure to the House. Two of the most influential of the Northern Trades Union leaders are well known to me; and I asked them whether, if the matter was put to the colliers, that a reduction of the hours of labour would in bad times necessarily involve a reduction of the rate of wages, they would then be content to vote for a measure which made it impossible to keep up wages except by working longer hours. In reply they said—"I think we are strong enough to manage that part of the business." It can be managed in only one way, and that is by making the price of coal very much dearer than the law of supply and demand could make it, and thereby imperilling every other industry which is dependent on the price of coal. The margin is very small indeed. In the North1 of England recently, notices have been issued by certain large manufacturing firms that unless some modification in the 1580 price of coals was made it would be impossible to carry on these industries. Colliers are very sensible people, and once they realise that any scheme of a compulsory or inelastic nature is quite certain to involve a reduction of their wages, the sentiment in favour of an eight hours day will be very seriously modified. Let me ask, what are the reasons why a collier should be treated differently to every other man engaged in any industry in this Kingdom? The hon. Member (Mr. Leake) drew a touching picture of the daily life of the collier and his liability to accidents and dangers. Will those accidents and dangers be reduced in the slightest degree by a reduction of the number of hours? Those accidents and dangers are not dependent on the number of hours a man works or on his state of physical energy at the time—they are dependent on agencies entirely beyond his control, as, for example, on the fact that he strikes a face of coal from which an explosive gas is emitted and causes an explosion. Accidents, for the most part, depend on a hundred other agencies absolutely irrespective of the number of hours the miner works. Consequently, this argument fails altogether in finding a basis of justification for an alteration of the law in regard to adult labour. It cannot again be said of the colliers as a class that their physical characteristics are weaker or worse than those of men engaged in other industries. The finest football players in England are the colliers of Swindon, who live within a mile and a half from my house, and who beat all the other football clubs in the country. I know no men who are so healthy and vigorous as the colliers. If a shorter number of hours could be introduced for these men, consistently with their earning the income necessary for their daily wants, and without interfering with the natural laws regulating the price of coal we should all agree to the number of hours being shortened. But that is a question absolutely outside our discretion at this moment. The question before us is whether that cannot and has not been secured by the operation of a set of agencies other than an inelastic Act of Parliament? As to the hours of the young boys in Dur- 1581 ham, to which the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) referred, there is a curious reason why they work such long hours as compared with the men. It is because the maximum time in which boys can work in Durham is fixed by Act of Parliament, and the time for the men is not fixed at all. Consequently, the men are working fewer hours and securing greater advantages to themselves by means of their Union, while the boys are worked up to the minimum prescribed by the Act of Parliament. We hold that the Trades Union which controls the colliers is the strongest Trade Union in the country, not merely because of the number of its members, but because in controlling the coal trade of the country it controls the interests of a vast number of other industries, and therefore brings a vast amount of public opinion to bear whenever there is a serious question involved. I hold there has been no satisfactory ground of any kind presented to this House why there should be exceptional legislation for colliers more than any other industry in the country. I would ask any Member of this House who has studied the elements of political economy whether he can get up in his seat and advise these men, that when competition becomes keener, and when work is less remunerative, it will be possible that any limit of wages can be sustained and kept up by means of an Act of Parliament passed by this House, and which must become the absolutely stringent measure of the level of wages. It seems to me that the colliers, in endeavouring to secure this Bill as a crutch and prop on which to lean in bad times, are simply endeavouring to secure a prop which will absolutely fail them. I am reminded, Sir, of an aphorism which was used on one occasion from these Benches by Lord Morpeth, which is full of real wisdom for us all—"Charity has often had to weep over the results of her own handiwork." I trust that we here are all philanthropists, and that there is not one of us who would not do what good he could for his fellows, and especially for those engaged in such arduous and disagreeable toil as colliers are. But we must take care not to interfere with the cruel—if you like—but in- 1582 evitable laws which control the prices of all kinds of commodities, including the price of labour. Presently we shall have the curious spectacle of a number of men who are committed in every way to Free Trade trooping into the Lobby to vote for a Bill which is one of the most retrograde towards Protection that you can conceive. By it you are not only going to fix the hours of labour, but the price of coal, in order that miners' wages may not be lowered in bad times. I take it we are here for another purpose than to listen to the echoes of the coming General Election. I admit that the east wind blowing from the ballot box has a very parching effect on many of us, but I hold that we, who have had far more experience and have had far more opportunities of studying the laws of economy than the men for whom we are legislating, ought to be honest and steadfast, and move neither hand nor foot to do anything which may imperil their fortunes or future in any way. We must also think of the great mass of industrial people who stand behind the miners, and whose fortunes and future will be dependent on our taking a rational view of this particular question. If because the colliers in certain districts are very powerful we are going to concede to them the surrender of a great principle which we have always maintained, to some of us a seat in this House will be neither a matter of value nor desire, and some of us would like to be away from it. In sitting down I beg to second the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Burt.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (2.30.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I am aware that there are a great many Members who are entitled to be heard, who desire to speak on this question, and, under these circumstances, I shall put what I have to say in the smallest possible compass. On that ground I will not follow in detail the remarks of the last 1583 speaker, the hon. Member for Salford, except to say that I regret his concluding observations, which I do not think were altogether worthy of him. He seemed to impute that everyone who in this Debate supported the Bill did so with a distinctly personal and interested motive, and suggested that we should do so against our own convictions, in order to secure the votes of the miners. It appears from the statement that he has made that his own constituents are opposed to the Bill, but I should be loth, on that ground, to accuse the hon. Gentleman, who is well known to be one of the most independent Members of the House, of voting against his own convictions in order to please his constituents. I have not a single miner in my constituency, and apparently I have nobody who has taken any interest in this eight hours question, as I have received no suggestion or request in reference to the subject. I have formed my own independent judgment on grounds which I desire to state to the House. There are two points which I think the House will do well to keep in view, and which raise altogether different questions. First, is it a desirable thing that there should be a maximum eight hours day for miners? By that I mean a uniform eight hours day for persons ordinarily employed in mining operations. Secondly, granting that such an object is desirable, what is the best method of obtaining it? Should it be obtained by legislation or left to voluntary effort? With regard to the first point, on the merits alone I think we should all be unanimous. The hon. Member for Salford told us that mining is a peculiarly healthy occupation, because it appears that from miners are taken the leading athletes of Lancashire. But even then he admits that mining is a very disagreeable and laborious occupation, and its conditions are of a most unpleasant character. I believe every man will admit that eight hours continuous honest work at this occupation is quite sufficient as a fair days' work for any man. But the objection, the difficulty is, we are told, that if the hours of labour in mines are reduced to eight hours the output will be reduced, and if the output be reduced one of two things must happen—either 1584 wages will be reduced — which I believe to be almost certain; or else the prices will be raised, and then competition will come in, and competition will affect not merely coal mining, but all the industries dependent upon the use of coal. Therefore, the question whether an Eight Hours Bill is in itself desirable or not depends, in my opinion, on the other question, whether its result would be to reduce the output of coal. If the output be reduced, I believe wages will be reduced. The hon. Member for Salford said he did not think the miners generally contemplated any change in wages consequent upon a change of hours. I do not think that is quite accurate, because I have seen it stated on behalf of the miners that they are willing to submit to some proportionate reduction of wages if it were necessary, because they hoped to find their compensation in the fact that a larger number of their fellows would find employment. Whether that view be correct or not, the argument is a very generous, a very disinterested, and, I think, a rather Quixotic argument. I do not believe that the effect of decreasing the output would be to find increased employment. Even if the result were that more persons were brought into employment, in the shape of double shifts or in other ways, that would complicate the conditions of the trade, and add to the cost of production, and would, therefore, increase the price of the product and the price of everything dependent on the use of that product. It would increase, therefore, competition and reduce still further the demand for this commodity, and consequently diminish the demand for labour. If it can be conclusively proved that the output will be diminished, that will mean decreased wages—directly, by reason of the employers paying less wages for less work, and indirectly, by the increased competition which would come in consequence of the increased price of the article. But I say that, in my opinion, there will be no such decrease on the output as some persons imagine. I think the fear of this decrease is altogether exaggerated and largely imaginary. My own conviction is—and I speak from what I have heard and also from personal experience—that 1585 long hours mean listless work, inefficient work, and even bad work, and that there is a maximum beyond which you cannot go with any efficiency in the labour, but that there is also a minimum beyond which you cannot go without increasing the cost of production. The question is, have we reached that minimum? We have really a great deal of evidence to go on, with regard to the effect of shortening the hours of production. One of the most important was the Ten Hours Bill of 1847, which reduced the hours in textile factories from twelve to ten. At the time many of our wisest advisers were of opinion that the consequences would be disastrous. Mr. Homer, the Factory Inspector, thought that the time was ill-chosen, the change too great, and that the results would probably be serious. The first result was a reduction in wages of 25 per cent., due partly to the reduction of hours and partly to the bad trade at the time. Within one year of the passing of that legislation Mr. Homer, who was against that legislation at the time, was able to write that from information supplied to him by the workpeople themselves, he found that they were earning, owing to increased exertion in the shorter time, as much as or more than during the longer hours. There was the same result in the case of M. Dolfas, the Alsatian manufacturer, of Mulhouse. He reduced his hours from twelve to eleven, and he found in a few years time that the production in the shorter hours was from 4 to 5 per cent. more than in the longer hours. That shows that the hours were excessive. But we have also some very interesting evidence from America. In the United States we have the State of Massachusetts, a great manufacturing State, where the ten hours system prevails. The ordinary practice in America is eleven working hours, and that system obtains in New York. The Labour Commissioner of Massachusetts in 1882 made an examination into the comparative results in Massachusetts and New York, and he says in his report that it is apparent that Massachusetts, with its ten hours working day, produces as much per man per loom or per spindle, equal grades being considered, as the other States of eleven 1586 and more hours, and that the wages are as high, if not higher, than in the States, where the mills run longer times. That is the experience of a reduction from eleven to ten hours. But I will go further. Lord Brassey, in his book on Work and Wages gives a number of illustrations bearing on this point, but I will only take one, the case of Messrs. Ransome and Sons, the great agricultural implement makers of Ipswich. In the year 1872 they reduced their hours from 58½, which was practically a ten hours day, to 54, which was practically a nine hours day. The result is described in their own words—The men working the engineer's tools have so successfully striven to protect themselves against the risk of diminution of wages from the Nine Hours Movement when employed on doing piecework, that the power employed to work the tools has been increased from 12 to 15 per cent. With regard to the vice-work, all of which is done by hand, the operators execute quite as much as in the previous long hours. In the blacksmiths' shop, where there is a great variety of work, the men are in every case making equally good wages on the old piecework prices. The same remark applies to the iron moulders.I will give an illustration from my own town which shows a still greater reduction than any to which I have referred. Messrs. Watson and Manton, button manufacturers, reduced their hours in 1866 to eight and three quarters hours per day, with one and a quarter off for meals. The Factory Inspector reports in 1870, four years after the experiment was tried, that the results had been eminently satisfactory to the firm, and he said of the workpeople both at home and in work that they were more industrious and more intelligent, and he added this remark:—They have worked fewer hours and earned more money. We have found that longer hours mean listlessness and loss of power.I will give one further experience, and that is my own. When I was in business—that is some 20 years ago—my firm was working under great pressure twelve hours a day. Shortly afterwards the Factory Acts were applied to Birmingham, and we reduced the hours according to the Acts to ten hours. Again, a few years later, we voluntarily reduced to nine hours, after the experiment had been tried for a little time in Newcastle of the nine hours engineers' day. The hon. Member for Salford 1587 said that in cases where machinery was involved we must of necessity expect that the production would be proportionate to the number of hours worked. In our case we were working what are called self-acting machines; that is to say, that all the workpeople had to do was to feed the machines and see that the tools were in order. Consequently, you would expect that in this case, if in any, production would be reduced in proportion to the number of hours worked. But what was the fact? When we reduced our hours from twelve to ten, a reduction of 17 per cent., the reduction in preduction was, I believe, about 8 per cent. When we reduced again from ten hours to nine, a 10 per cent. reduction, the reduction in production was only 5 per cent. That is to say, that with a total reduction of hours of about 25 per cent. from the original time worked, there was only a reduction in production—and I doubt whether even that reduction was not afterwards made up—of something like 10 per cent. I say, under these circumstances, it is perfectly evident when you are dealing with such periods of labour as twelve hours, ten hours, and even nine hours, that very considerable reductions may be made without any insuperable reduction in production. I will give one further example from my own experience, which, I think, is rather significant. At the time of which I spoke we were manufacturing these self-acting machines we employed in our business. At the same time similar machines were being manufactured in France by a firm which employed 6,000 or 7,000 hands. I had an opportunity of going over the matter with our competitors in France, and I found that the price paid in wages for making precisely the same machines was almost exactly the same in France as it was in England, only in France the men were working twelve hours a day and were only getting about 4 fr. as their ordinary wages per day, whilst we were working ten hours a day and our ordinary wages were 5s. Thus, with the time of working one-sixth less, and the wages one-fourth more, the cost of making these machines was almost precisely the same. I say, therefore, both from my 1588 own experience and from the experience of those who have seen reductions of hours tried, I am convinced that a further reduction of wages in this industry of mining would not be accompanied by any of that decrease of production which has been feared, and consequently we may dismiss from our minds the consideration of the question, either of lower wages or of increased competition which otherwise would have had to be faced. The argument is all the stronger when, as we know in the case of the mining industry, the hours are on an average very nearly approximating to those that it is proposed to establish by law. In some cases the maximum of eight hours is not nearly reached. In the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), the miners are working only six and a half hours at the full, and in other cases where the eight hours is exceeded it is by so small a period of time that no considerable difference would result. My next point is that, although there is some difference of opinion amongst the miners on this question, undoubtedly, to my mind, it is uncontested; that the great majority of the miners are in favour of this proposal. I say, from my judgment, the first question which I hold to be of importance must be answered in the affirmative. It is desirable in the interests of humanity that the ordinary miners' day should be eight hours. Then the only question that remains is how is it to be secured? Are you to trust to the efforts of the Trades Unions or to voluntary organisation, or may you settle the question by legislation. One thing cannot be denied—legislation is the simplest, the easiest, the quickest, and the least irritating way of settling the question. Do hon. Members who advise that this matter should be left to voluntary organisation, consider what it is they are advising? They are advising the miners to still further strengthen their organisation, and to use their organisation to put pressure on their employers, and if their employers refuse to yield to that pressure then to proceed by way of a strike. I have no doubt that in that way the end can be attained, and will be attained; but I do not think it is either a patriotic, a prudent, or a 1589 politic act, for any of us to advise the miners in a direction which infallibly will lead to strikes, to industrial warfare, to the injury both of the employers and of the miners, and to trade generally. If we can avoid all the irritation and bitterness which result from trade disputes pushed to this conclusion, we should be wise to do so. But it is said that to call on Parliament in such circumstances as this would be to invoke legislation to restrain the liberty of the subject. The liberty of the subject is being continually restrained for the advantage of the community, and the question, therefore, to my mind, is not whether the liberty of the subject is going to be restrained, but whether the object is worth it. We are proceeding upon the hypothesis that the object is a desirable one, and that it is desirable to obtain it, at all events, by voluntary organisation. Suppose you obtain it by voluntary organisation, does not that involve interference with the liberty of the subject? There is the pressure of the Trades Unions. Does the pressure of the Trades Unions never interfere with the liberty of the subject? and if the pressure of the Trades Union is successful without a strike, without picketing, without all the proceedings we are so well acquainted with—if it should be successful at once in proving the necessity for some new regulations, will not the employers themselves be interfering with the liberty of the subject when they make it a rule that no one is to work more than eight hours? This interference with the minority who desire to work more than eight hours must take place if the object is to be attained, and the only question is whether it shall take place by legislation or some other more indirect, but as I think less desirable, way. There is another point. Suppose you fail. Suppose that in default of legislation the majority are unable to compel the employers to adopt the eight hours, then the liberty of the subject is interfered with. It is the liberty of the majority of the miners which is interfered with instead of the minority. In that case it will be the minority who have influence enough to carry out their determination to 1590 work more than eight hours a day, and to force the majority also to work more than eight hours. It is all very well to say that in these days of competition they have their liberty reserved to them. We know very well that under these circumstances there would be many collieries in which the men would be compelled to work the same hours as the men in the collieries beside them. A second objection is, that it is said that the interference of Parliament, in dealing with a subject of this kind, dangerously extends the functions of the State. It does extend the functions of the State, and I want to know whether there is any one really nowadays who is prepared to abide by the strict doctrine of laissez faire which perhaps 20 years ago was accepted as preferable to that other doctrine of constant niggling and unreasonable and imprudent interference which preceded it. Nowadays the doctrine is a much wiser one. It avoids the extreme of continual and impertinent interference on the one hand, but deems it the duty of the State to interfere when it can do so for the good of the community. My idea of the true doctrine is expressed in the words of a political economist, who certainly is not a Socialist, or an extreme man in ordinary matters—Professor Jevons. Professor Jevons says that the State is justified in passing any law, or even in doing any single act which, in its ulterior consequences, adds to the sum total of happiness. I accept the doctrine of Professor Jevons, and I say that, in my opinion, it is not an undue expansion of the functions of the State when it interferes by its corporate action to do what cannot be done at all, or done less efficiently, less advantageously, either by individuals or by a combination of individuals. The last argument which has been used against the interference of Parliament is that it is against precedent, that we are for the first time interfering with the labour of adult men. I have never myself been able to see the difference between interference with the labour of adult males and interference with the labours of adult females. It is quite true that females are called the weaker sex; but, in these matters of 1591 trade, in many respects at all events they are perfectly well able to take care of themselves; and, having fewer responsibilities and obligations, they are really more independent than the men. But, putting that aside, I say that the State has already directly, and more often indirectly, interfered with the labour of adult males. It has interfered with the labour of adult males in a case precisely analogous, in the case of Sunday labour. In the case of Bank Holidays, the labour of adult males is interfered with by Parliament, and it is impossible for adult males to work on those days in consequence of the Act of Parliament. It has interfered indirectly in the case of the Factory Acts, because, although nominally, at any rate, we interfere only to protect the women and children, yet, as women and children are working in almost all the factories in which males are employed, in all these cases the labour of adult males is interfered with just as much proportionately as the labour of women and children. We have interfered generally with the labour of adult males in their right to do certain things in such legislation as the Merchant Shipping Acts and the Truck Act. The Truck Act is a very strong case where, for the protection of adult males we have prevented them from making contracts to receive their wages in the form or shape in which they may desire to receive them. There is also the case of Sanitary legislation, and I might go further afield and quote the whole of recent legislation which has been a constant interference with the freedom of adult males to make contracts. In all these cases the good of the community has been a supreme law, and if we have the good of the community to serve in the present instance that is the sole point we have to prove, and in that case I believe the interference of Parliament is justified. I say in my opinion there is no principle in this matter which precludes us from dealing with the matter by legislation. I say, in the second place, that the object is a good one, and it will not have the ill effects that are anticipated from it. I say the majority of the persons concerned 1592 undoubtedly desire it, and in those circumstances I believe we ought to take the best and quickest means for securing the object. While I say that on these grounds I am going to support the Second Reading of this Bill as an admission of the principle, I think it would not be fair to say that, without adding that if the Bill gets into Committee now or at any time, I hold myself at liberty to criticise the details, and in Committee perhaps to alter the Bill materially in the way of giving greater elasticity to its provisions. I believe there are differences in this trade, local differences, which deserve consideration. There are deep mines and shallow mines, mines of thick seams of coal and mines of thin seams, mines in which the men have to go a long way to the face, and mines in which the working coal is close to the shaft. All these are differences which deserve consideration. Then again there is the question as to the different classes of labour employed in mines. I am told that in order that the hewers may work eight hours a day it is necessary that the drawers should work nine hours a day, and in order that the hewers and drawers may not be employed in working more than eight hours it will be necessary that the overseers, and the winders, and the people in charge of the majority must work more than the maximum time. These are difficulties, but at the same time I do not for a moment believe that there are any difficulties which might not easily be got over by a practical committee of experts who were acquainted with the necessities of the trade. All I desire to put in by way of explanation is that I am not committing myself in voting for the Second Reading of the Bill to all the details of the measure as it stands in its present form.
§ (3.0.) SIR F. MILNER (Nottingham, Bassetlaw)
We have to study this question so far as it practically affects the interests of the country. So far as my own interests are concerned it would be to my advantage to vote for the Bill, because I have in my constituency a considerable number of 1593 miners who have declared that they will not support anyone who will not vote for this Bill. But I should scorn to win a single vote at the sacrifice of my conscience, and I think if Parliament were to pass this Bill it would be the cause of very serious injustice and hardship. Many hon. Members seem to think that an Act of Parliament is a panacea for all evils; but your object is by no means accomplished when an Act of Parliament has been passed. It has been shown on many occasions that a coach and four can be driven through an Act of Parliament. Hon. Members know that Acts have been passed to secure the consumption of smoke and to prevent the pollution of our rivers; but neither have been effective. An Act was then passed to prevent the pernicious system of ready money betting, which has brought so much misery into so many homes, but still on every race-course you can see the system in full operation before the eyes of the police. I have considerable sympathy with the miners, both in their desire for shorter hours and also for greater uniformity of hours; and with regard to the desire for this change in the Midlands and in the South of England that I think the owners would be well advised if they took the bull by the horns and offered to discuss the question in a friendly spirit. I have been assured that many employers are perfectly willing to discuss the matter with the men on the basis of an eight hours coal winding day. It has been said, and perhaps will be said again, that if a thing is right when brought about by combination or co-operation, it is equally right that it should be brought about by legislation. The answer is obvious. A reform such as this can only be brought about by those who have practical knowledge of the conditions existing in the various districts, and only such people can understand how the reform can be applied to the various districts and made sufficiently elastic to meet all the circumstances. Mr. Young, the secretary of a Northumber- 1594 land miners' organisation, took the same view in the evidence that he gave before the Labour Commission, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, in a speech at West Calder, declared that if the labouring men of the country contracted a habit, whenever there was a difficulty before them, of calling for an Act of Parliament to put it down, it would be destructive of freedom of action amongst themselves. If the men preferred the stark and rigid action of an Act of Parliament to freedom of discussion and freedom of action, they would seriously depreciate the habits of the time, and place themselves in a lower, and not a higher position. These are weighty words from an eminent authority, and hon. Members will do well to ponder them before deciding to vote for this measure. It is only quite recently that there has been any desire for this legislation. A conference of miners was held at Newport in December, 1889, representing over 320,000 miners. The delegates were specially chosen as men understanding the wishes of those they represented. At that conference there was such a strong opinion against legislative restriction that when a discussion on this question was introduced it was decided by 100 votes to 20 to adjourn the question. Nothing has occurred since to make the opinions of the men of greater value now than it was at that conference, and I do not hesitate to say that the present opinion in favour of the Bill has been formed on altogether false issues. I contend that if this Bill were passed even for a short time there would be a smaller quantity of coal sent up, and that it would become absolutely necessary to reduce the miner's wage. That being so, I am certain there would be a considerable majority of them who would be opposed to any legislative enactment which would effect a reduction of their hours if they really understood the question. This is not so much a question of the reduction of hours as a question of wages. In order to show how opinions have been formed in this House upon this question, I will refer to the case of the hon. Member who opened the 1595 discussion on this Bill to-day. In 1889 I was standing as a candidate in opposition to the hon. Member, and we were both asked questions as to whether we would or would not support an Eight Hours Bill for miners. I gave a direct negative reply. The hon. Member answered in a speech which he delivered shortly afterwards, and which was a long and exhaustive argument against legislative interference with the hours of labour. At the end of his speech he said:—He did not see the necessity for such a Bill, and he had not heard any reasons which would convince him as to the policy of introducing it.It is true, as in the case of many of the hon. Members who sit at the feet of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, that there were certain loopholes in the speech by means of which he could escape, if necessary; but the hon. Member had upon his track no less a person than the president of the Lancashire Miners' Federation, Mr. Samuel Woods, who was determined to bring the hon. Member down to a definite answer. After some heated correspondence the hon. Member said:—It is needless to say that my vote always goes with my judgment, and that I cannot, therefore, vote for an Eight Hours Bill.Now, that was on 10th September, 1889. Well, on the 1st February, 1890, I accepted a challenge from Mr. Woods to debate the question on a public platform. In the speech made by Mr. Woods at that time, he roundly denounced the hon. Member for his opinions on the subject, and advised all the miners present to withhold from him their support at the next Election. On the 6th February, however, there came a letter from the hon. Member to Mr. Woods—Dear Sir,—You will be glad to hear I have decided to vote for an Eight Hours Bill.The hon. Member not only promised to vote for it, but to do his best to have it placed on the Statute Book; and I must say he has carried out his promise. This shows the way in which hon. Members on both sides of the 1596 House have been squeezed by the importunities of their constituents to support a measure which certainly had gone against their original convictions.
§ MR. LEAKE
Will you allow me, Sir, to make an explanation? The hon. Member, in quoting my speeches and stating my position, has done me an injustice before my Colleagues in this House. He has not told the House that in the speech of 1889, before the Lancashire miners were decided themselves upon the subject, I recommended them as a matter of expediency to try what they could do by their own power of combination, and I reserved my judgment upon the question. I said it might become expedient to restrict the hours of labour in particular trades by law. The subsequent letter to which the hon. Member referred was written after the whole body of miners had become unanimous on the question.
§ SIR F. MILNER
I have spoken of the hon. Member from my own personal knowledge, and the quotations I gave were from his speeches.
§ SIR F. MILNER
I still contend that the hon. Member was over-persuaded into going against that which was his original decision. I would remind the House that if Members play fast and loose with the interest of the coal trade, there is a body far more potent than the miners, namely, the consumers, who will want a day of reckoning before long. There is nothing more to be regretted in political life than the way in which those who seek to represent constituencies go about the country and promise this and that without having given due thought or study to the questions upon which they pledge themselves. I trust they will follow the practice advocated by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) at the Eighty Club a short time ago, when he said— 1597One word of advice I would give to candidates, and that is—go straight. It is essential to the integrity of representative Government that men should not pledge themselves on any questions without having thoroughly studied and mastered both sides of the controversy.I maintain that the passing of this measure, which recognises the right of the State to prevent a man using the labour of his hands, would be nothing more or less than the initiation of State Socialism. I am sure that if the sanction of Parliament is given to this Bill it will be fraught, not only with the greatest danger to the liberty of the individual, but also to the welfare of the State. I will now place before the House one or two practical arguments against the Bill. I say, in the first place, we are not very much encouraged by the example which has been set us by other countries in regard to this question. I do not think anyone can point to another country where a Bill to restrict the hours of labour has been successful unless it has been accompanied by permission to work overtime. I contend that the tendency of the present day is to shorten the hours of labour, and you cannot point to any county in England where the hours of labour have not been shortened considerably during the last 25 years. It would be most unfair to force all miners to work the same number of hours, because while some of them are able to get to their work within 20 minutes after reaching the pit bottom, others have to walk three or four miles before arriving at their stalls. Moreover, in order to make a measure such as that which is before the House workable, you must have practical unanimity amongst those for whom you are going to legislate. Now, have got that unanimity? You have not got anything like unanimity amongst the miners with regard to the question. I could quote, if necessary, from the hon. Member for Midlothian, a very strong statement to the effect that it is absolutely necessary to have practical unanimity amongst the men who are to be legislated for. Not only do we find 1598 the North of England united against this measure, but that there is not unanimity amongst those who are asking for a restriction of hours. Some want eight hours from bank to bank. Others would have a clause inserted in the Bill to make double shifts illegal. If it could be shown that the hours of labour were so excessive that it affected the health of the miners in any material way or made their occupation more dangerous, then I would say there is a case made out for the Bill. But, so far from that being the case, we find they are the most healthy class, and that they have the lowest death-rate of any class in the United Kingdom except agriculturists. These arguments are worth the attention of the House. The Division this evening will be an extremely interesting one, and it will present a somewhat curious spectacle, for there will be found in hearty agreement those who are generally widely divided. We can reckon at any rate upon the support of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench—the right hon. Member for Newcastle, the right hon. Member for Leeds, and the right hon. Member for Sheffield. These right hon. Gentlemen will, I am sure, all act according to the spirit of their speeches. The opponents of the Bill will also be supported by a majority of the direct Representatives of the miners and labourers. I hope to have the support of the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition below the Gangway—I beg pardon—I am anticipating—I mean the hon. Member for Northampton. I trust that the right hon. Member for Midlothian will not remain neutral on this occasion, but that he will remember that he is the keeper of the consciences of a great many hon. Members who would be influenced by his example. It would be hardly dignified on the part of the right hon. Gentleman if he still retained an open mind and absented himself from the Division. In conclusion, I would say that I yield to no Member who is supporting this Bill in the sympathy I feel for the mining classes generally, but I believe that if the miners persuade the Members of this House to pass a Bill to restrict their 1599 hours of labour, they will bitterly repent it. Therefore, it is as much for the sake of the miners themselves as for the sake of the owners, that I would urge the Members of this House to go into the Division Lobby against this Bill.
§ (3.39.) MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
I think that the case of the opponents to this measure is a weak one. It is amusing to hear hon. Members tell the miners what they can do, whilst they carefully stop short of recommending them to do it. If hon. Members have the courage of their opinions and are prepared to recommend 700,000 men who are working in the mines of Great Britain to stop work in order to obtain a reduction of their hours of labour let them do it. They dare not do it. Resistance to any further reduction of hours is stronger far than anything that can be found with respect to wages. The employers will certainly ten times more readily grant an advance of wages than submit to a reduction of the hours, I think, although the former may be equivalent to the latter in so far as actual money is concerned. The reasons for this are obvious, for any reduction in the number of working hours has almost always been permanent, whereas wages fluctuate and may be advanced at one time and reduced at others. Nobody regrets more than I do the circumstance that in this matter the labour Members will not all be found in the same Lobby. I am glad however to find that with one exception every speaker agrees with my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth that the difference between us is simply a difference of expediency and not one of principle. I am glad to find so many hon. Members agreeing with the miners that it is desirable that their hours of labour should be reduced to eight per day. The hon. Member for Morpeth and others who opposed this Bill are altogether in favour of the settlement of this question, if possible, by mutuality of agreement between the employers and the workmen. I am in favour of a settlement on these lines, 1600 but experience has proved that it is not possible to obtain it. In Northumberland an endeavour in the year 1880 to reduce the hours to eight met with a distinct "No" from the employers. Then there is the case of the 100,000 miners in Montgomery and South Wales. In 1889 they attempted—having settled the question of wages satisfactorily—to reduce the working hours, but the employers also met that demand with a distinct "No." Take again the great effort of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain which includes two-thirds or three-fourths of the miners of Great Britain. In January and February, 1881, the Federation met the employers in London with the object of trying to arrange this question of hours by mutual agreement. Again, Sir, they were met with a distinct "No." Therefore so far as five-sixths, indeed so far as the whole mining community is concerned the settlement of this question by mutual agreement has altogether failed. That is the reason of this Bill for an eight hours day from bank to bank. My hon. Friend referred to some evidence given before the Royal Commission on Mining Royalties. He very fairly admitted that from Scotland and from Wales the witnesses were unanimous in their desire to have the hours shortened by legislative interference, but my hon. Friend forgot to mention that, wisely or unwisely, the Miners' Federation of Great Britain—the body that has by far the largest number of members—has kept apart from the Commission. It is well known that that Federation, with between 300,000 and 400,000 members, is unanimous on this question. Well, Sir, if Scotland is unanimous, if Wales is unanimous, and if the Miners' Federation is unanimous, who, then, is opposed to interference by legislation to reduce the hours of labour? There is Durham and Northumberland, but they only represent one-sixth of the mining community, and I think I am entitled to say, taking the miners as a whole, there never was a class that exhibited greater unanimity than do the miners in this matter. Sir, I am aware that three working men gave evidence before the Royal Commission against the reduction of the hours 1601 of labour. Of these one was a contractor, who admitted that any reduction of the hours of labour would seriously interfere with his interests. The second man was in the employment of the first. The third was undoubtedly a bona fide working man. All three admitted to the Commission that they represented nobody but themselves, and merely stated their individual opinions. When asked why they came before the Commission they could not explain. I found out the secret. There is a gentleman, a Tory candidate, and, pulling the wires behind the scenes, he was the means of bringing these men before the Commission. Now, Sir, there is another point which, if left unexplained, may leave a false impression on the House. It was asserted, in the evidence before the Commission, that men were able to leave their employment at the end of eight hours. That needs a little explanation. As a matter of fact in no part of the country save one does the evidence prove that men have a right to leave their employment before the end of the stipulated hours of winding. It was shown by Mr. Rhodes that in Yorkshire and South Wales a man may leave his employment, but he is not allowed to come up the shaft and go home to his family until the end of the term. It is said this Bill will interfere with the liberty of the subject. Allow me to tell the House the collier has no liberty. The colliers must be at the pit mouth at a certain hour, and if they are not there at that time they are, in nine cases out of ten, not allowed to go down the pit that day. The men must remain down the pit until the specified hour of winding, and even though an accident occurs and they can do no work, and cannot earn a single penny, they are not allowed to ascend the shaft. The collier, therefore, has no liberty save what is given him by his employer. I have no doubt that the House and the country are forming their opinions on this subject very greatly on the supposition that the action of the colliers in Northumberland and Durham has been successful. But it was stated at the Trades Union Congress at Newcastle, over which the hon. Member for Morpeth presided, 1602 that in Northumberland 11,840 worked less than eight hours a day from bank to bank; that 6,481 worked more than eight hours, 4,648 worked more than nine hours, and 4,745 worked more than ten hours. Therefore, in that great district while 11,840 men are working less, 15,874 are working more than eight hours. Does that prove that the action of the Trades Unions have been successful? In the evidence given by Mr. John George Weekes, a member of the Northumberland Coal Owners' Association, and a mining engineer in that district gave evidence before the Commission. He said he became a colliery manager in 1859, that the hours at that time until the year 1872 were 12¼; that in 1872 they were reduced to ten per day. In 1879 the hours of young persons above 16 were again advanced to eleven, so that according to these figures it took 22 years to reduce the hours of young persons from twelve to ten. If that is a fair specimen of the power of the Trades Unions where they have been established for a long time, then we may expect to wait another 22 years before the hours are reduced from ten to eight. There is another point. In the year 1871 the Mines Act was discussed in this House. That same year a concession was made to the boys in Northumberland and Durham. The Mines Act provided that no boy under 16 should be allowed to work more than ten hours from bank to bank, and that when the employers acceded to the demands of the men in 1871, they did that, knowing that the Mines Act would compel them to do it at the beginning of 1872. In 1879 while the hours of boys under the age of 16 could not be increased, the hours of boys above that age, where the law did not interfere, were increased, although it is quite true that at the same time an advance of wages was given. Does not that prove the superiority of legislative enactment over the efforts of Trades Unions, If when times are favourable Trades Unions are able to obtain their object without the aid of the law, when times are unfavourable employers will have their own way, whereas if the matter is settled by legislative enactment it will remain, 1603 and the hours will not be altered. In Northumberland the Miners' Association has been formed since 1863. One of its chief objects was to reduce the hours of boys to eight per day. It has taken them 30 years to reduce the hours from twelve to ten, and on the same calculation it will take them 60 years to bring them down from ten to eight. I hope my hon. Friends will not blame us in attributing this condition of things to the complete failure of these organisations to attain their own object. I apologise for keeping the House so long. I thank the House for listening to me so indulgently; and I conclude by saying that I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ (4.12.) MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
I am glad that my hon. Friends from whom I differ on this question recognise that our difference is an honest one on a question of expediency, as has been stated by the hon. Member who has just sat down. Our difference is not one of principle, for our objection to the present proposal is based on the method by which it is proposed to deal with this question. Like the hon. Member for Morpeth, I have never considered that there was much principle for us to fight over; and I have never taken my stand on the ground that Parliament had no right to interfere with the labour of grown persons; but our difference is none the less acute because we differ as to the method rather than as to the principle, and I venture to say that several of the speakers in support of the Bill have failed to appreciate the difficulties we have to face. Although large bodies of workmen anxious to fall into line with my hon. Friend and his colleagues have given this question a very full and careful consideration, and have come to the conclusion that there was no practical way out of the difficulty by legislation which would not be more injurious than the evil we seek to remedy, yet my hon. Friends and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham are willing to take upon themselves the 1604 responsibility of fixing legislation—it may be of a tentative character—upon these people, and determine for them what they themselves—a not inappreciable minority, fully acquainted with the facts and technicalities of the case—consider would be detrimental to their best and truest interests. I should have thought that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who has championed so stoutly the rights of the minority in Ulster, would have had a little more compassion for the Ulster of the North of England which is opposing this measure. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham is willing to undertake a little experiment in this matter, and he gave some instances to show that where experiments have been made they have not been attended with the disastrous results which some had expected. But the instances he cited have been put in operation without any statutory enactment. My right hon. Friend assents to the proposition; but there comes the crux of the whole question. In all these cases the matter has been arranged by conference between the employers and their workpeople, and the change was only adopted after careful consideration, and after adjusting to some extent the plant and machinery in order to enable them to keep up the same amount of production under altered conditions, and within a limited number of hours. That is not the proposal which we have to deal with in this Bill. If it be accepted, this House, by abrupt action and by one stroke of the pen, would compel employers on a given day, fixed arbitrarily for them, to so adjust their plant and machinery that they might keep up the level of production, which the right hon. Member for West Birmingham says could be obtained under an Eight Hours' Bill. I venture to prophesy that we should find, at least during the period of transition, and at least until the machinery has been so adjusted as to meet the altered conditions of things, that much privation and suffering would be entailed both upon employers and workmen. In 1888 considerable disturbances took place in the Westphalian district of Germany, and the hours of labour in 1605 the Government mines were reduced in some instances by one hour, and in others by two hours per day. They were reduced to eight hours' work, and not to eight hours, as proposed by this Bill, from bank to bank. The result, so far as the output is concerned, I have upon authority which my right hon. Friend will accept as satisfactory. In 1888–9, the year before the change took place, the output of the Government mines was 1,072 tons per shift; while in 1889–90 it fell to 919 tons, a decrease of 10 per cent.; and after that there was a still further reduction of the output, until it reached between 15 and 20 per cent. I wish the House to observe that this is practically what the supporters of the Bill expect will be achieved when it has been adopted by this House. In 1888, when the Trades Union Congress met at Bradford, the Vice President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, Mr. Samuel Woods, speaking of the proposal to limit the hours of labour in mines to eight per day, said that such a reduction would do much to restrict the output of coal, which was 20,000,000 tons more than was needed. (Mr. ABRAHAM: Hear, hear!) "Hear, hear," says my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda; but will he get up and argue the case for this Bill on the ground that it will restrict the output of coal? [Mr. ABRAHAM: Yes, yes!] Well, I should like to road some words spoken by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Pickard) whose absence from this Debate I regret. In an interview with the Home Secretary some time ago, and also with the noble Lord the Member for Paddington and Lord Dunraven, my hon. Friend said that this proposal for which they were seeking Government support would not interfere with trade, would not interfere with the profits of employers, would not increase the cost of production, and would not even limit the output. Yet we are told now that that is one of the reasons why this proposal is submitted to the consideration of the House. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham has entered into an elaborate argument to show that the reverse would be the case; but I venture to say that my hon. Friends who 1606 argue that a limitation of output would be brought about by this proposal are much more likely to be correct than he is upon this point. My hon. Friend the Member for the Radcliffe Division of South East Lancashire, who introduced this Bill, referred to a letter written by the hon. Member for Normanton to the recent Congress held in London, in which he rightly speaks with horror of the effects that are likely to be produced by a general stoppage for the purpose of bringing about the proposed limitation of hours. But in that letter he also claims that the holiday week had been a complete success, and had achieved the object in view. If that is so, why not try the experiment of a short holiday—a week or a fortnight—and call it by another name? and then it will not be invested with all the horrors which are associated with strikes, if we are to believe the testimony of those who support this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton has further said that if this proposal is not sanctioned by Parliament it can only be enforced by a huge strike, and he appears to have a righteous horror of strikes. But when was that righteous horror begotten? In a Report from the Miners' Federation of Great Britain of the International Miners' Conference, held in Paris on the 31st of March, 1891, and the four following days, there is a passage extracted from the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton, in which he says—That the history of strikes showed that all the liberties of the miners in England had been won from strikes and lock-outs, and it could not be said that as a matter of history strikes were injurious.Now, however, we are told they are injurious to the people engaged in them and in their effects upon the general public, and the idea of a general strike is condemned in order to induce this House to pass this Bill. I am not an advocate of strikes, but I am not one who would willingly give up the workmen's right to strike, because I recognise, as does the hon. Member for Normanton, that strikes, either actual or potential, have been in the past, and will be in the future, the workmen's strongest remedy 1607 against many of the evils of which he has at present to complain. Other arguments have been adduced in this Debate to which I should like to reply; but as time is getting on, and we want to hear what the Home Secretary has to say in answer to the proposal now before the House, I will only refer to one more point. It is held that mining is a most dangerous occupation, and in that I fully and heartily agree. The miner's occupation is undoubtedly hazardous, but I do not think it is more so than many other industries in the country, as has been stated by some of the supporters of the Bill. Considerable stress has been laid upon the argument that a large number of the fatalities which occur in mines occur rather in the later hours of the shift than in the earlier ones. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Sir F. Milner) referred to the Return which was granted two years ago, and that Return has been supplemented by the Inspectors in their Statistical Abstracts for 1890 and 1891. Those Returns show that in 1890 the number of lives lost in the first four hours of the shift were 427 as compared with 333 in the last six hours of the shift, so that even taking six hours against four, you have a considerable reduction in the number of lives lost. In 1891 the figures are, for the first four hours, 477, as compared with 338 in the last six. I may also say that the comparative statement of mortality issued by the Registrar General in a supplement to the 45th annual Report shows that 55 other industries have a higher mortality than the average mortality of miners. I do not wish to minimise the hazards and dangers of the miner's calling; he has always, practically, his life in his hands, and whatever can be done to render him more secure in his calling ought to be done, and, generally speaking, we should find people willing to do it. But I have shown that, if this Bill be passed, the probabilities are that a reduction of output will follow, and that the cost of production will be increased. I am not holding a brief for employers, who are well able to take care of themselves, but I am here as one having the confidence of a large 1608 number of workmen; and it is my duty, as their Representative, honestly to examine how far legislation proposed to this House is calculated, directly or indirectly, to injure their employers, and also to carefully consider how far the damage done to the employers by raising the cost of production is likely in any way to affect their social and material interests. It is because I honestly believe that, so far as we are concerned, our position would be infinitely worse than at present that I shall have no hesitation in voting with the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), to the effect that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS,) Birmingham, E.
I am very unwilling to interpose for a short time between the House and hon. Members who desire to speak, and who have more knowledge of this subject; but, at the same time, I feel that the House will probably expect some expression of opinion from this Bench, which I will endeavour to give as shortly as I can. I do not wish to enter at any length into the somewhat theoretical doctrine of whether or not legislation of this kind is legitimate, whether interference with the labour of adult men is permissible on the part of Parliament. I am disposed to accept the canon of the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) when he said the good of the community is sufficient reason for interfering with the labour of adult men. I could give a very large example of that class of legislation in the whole of the Criminal Law, in which the liberty of adult men is largely interfered with for the good of the community. But I am at a loss to see that any one of the arguments advanced to-day shows that the Bill affects the good of the community. It is put forward for the good of the one class which is to be legislated for. I confess that I belong to the old-fashioned school which believes that adult men and women are better judges of what is good for themselves than is this Parlia- 1609 ment, and that the most conclusive evidence ought to be produced of the necessity for any interference with what adult men, and women too I will say, choose to do in their own interests and in satisfaction of their own wants. We have to go back for legislation of this kind to the remote periods which have been referred to. I do not know that we could find an example of legislation of this kind since the days of Elizabeth, and you have to go back to the earlier ages to which the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Howorth) alluded to get a full example of this interference with the hours of labour of adult men and women. A real and undoubted necessity ought to be brought home to the mind of the House before it assents to a measure of this kind. In the first place, is there any necessity of this kind on account of the helplessness or impotence of those you are attempting to legislate for? I do not think that argument can be advanced with any success when you look at the history of the past few years. There has recently been a very extensive strike. The result of that strike has been to impose on the employers, against their will, a diminution of one day a week, the men working five days instead of six, and is it to be supposed that the men would not equally, if they were so minded, impose a restriction upon the number of hours per day that they would work? Further than that the example of what has taken place in Durham without a strike, due to what the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland (Mr. Fenwick) called the potentiality of a strike, shows that it is possible for the men, by gradual adjustment of their interests and those of the employers, to secure such diminution of hours as they desire. In Durham success has been achieved without a strike immediately directed to the object of shortening hours. And I cannot shut my eyes to what has been going on for 30 or 40 years in all districts of the country. When I look at the Return granted on the Motion of the hon. Member for Nottingham, which comes down to August, 1890, I find that great diminution has taken place, without legis- 1610 lation, in the hours of labour. Any hon. Member who is interested in this subject will see the gradual reduction from 1850 to 1860, to 1870, to 1880, and to 1890, displayed in that Return. He will find a gradual process of diminution going on in all the districts, until, at last we have arrived at this result—that the average number of hours from bank to bank at this moment is below nine hours in all districts throughout the country. The figures of the Return are 8.50; those given by the Miners' Federation are 8.51. Thus, by the gradual operation of voluntary effort and adjustment in course of years the hours of labour have been lowered almost to the point hon. Members desire. The hon. Member for Rhondda Valley (Mr. Abraham), who spoke with his usual picturesque warmth, said that took too long a time—that the miners could not afford to wait for the action of voluntary arrangement. It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that the reduction which takes place gradually and slowly is more valuable, and is likely to be more beneficial, than reductions suddenly made by the intervention of legislation without due regard to all the exigencies of mining operations. Therefore the ground that the men cannot help themselves is not sustained. The other and the main argument advanced by the Mover of the Second Reading was this—that the dangers of the miner's calling demanded some such legislation. After having given the most careful attention to such facts as have been ascertained on this subject, I have arrived at the conclusion that that argument utterly breaks down. There is no doubt that the miner's is a dangerous calling; there is no doubt that, as has just been said, the miner carries his life in his hand. How is that to be remedied or cured by cutting off an hour of his day's work? In order to establish that proposition you would have to show that the occurrence of dangers or fatal accidents is much more frequent in the later hours than in the earlier hours of the day.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
Then it was altogether misleading. The greater part of the hon. Member's speech turned on the dangers of the miner's calling, and was intended to influence our minds in the direction of feeling that this was legislation called for by those dangers, and that they would justify interference. Legislation does interfere, for instance, with suicide, and does not allow a man to kill himself, and in the same way it might interfere to prevent men working a number of hours which would directly endanger life and health. It is, however, now practically admitted that the life of the miner will not be rendered more safe by the adoption of shorter hours of labour. The hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fenwick) has shown that conclusively. There are Returns of accidents extending over two years, and in all the greater number of accidents occur in the first four hours of the day's work as compared with the subsequent hours. And I ought to add that, from a comparison I have had made between different districts, I find that the smallest number of accidents occurred in those districts in which the hours are longest. I find, for instance, that in the Midland district, where the hours are amongst the longest in any English district, the average number of hours being 9.24, the number of fatal accidents per persons employed was, in 1890, in the proportion of 1 to 1,039. Let me contrast that with the South Staffordshire district, where the number of hours worked is only 7.82, a little over seven hours and a half. There the number of persons employed per fatal accident in 1890 is only 665. So that the long hours of the Midland district produced a far smaller percentage of accidents than the shorter hours of the South Staffordshire district. And I could go all through this table I have before me with a similar result. I feel disposed to agree that the diminution of hours may in many cases tend to increase the number of accidents. You reduce the number of hours during which the miner can employ his labour productively, and the inevitable ten- 1612 dency of that would be to induce the miner to neglect or scamp the work of timbering and other similar work, which is all very necessary, but not productive, and only useful to prevent accidents. There would be a tendency to neglect that important work in order to get a larger amount of time for remunerative labour. There would be a tendency to wind fast, which is a very dangerous thing. Is there any argument based on the health of the miners? The hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division has answered that conclusively. The Return of the Registrar General shows that the average mortality of miners is less than that of all the males in every district but one, and that is the South Wales district; but if you eliminate deaths caused by accident, you find that the mortality of miners in South Wales from all other causes is also less than that of all the males in the district. Is there any such universal demand as to justify legislation which is in every way exceptional—highly exceptional? I will not repeat what has been said about Northumberland and Durham, but I would like to point out to the hon. Members for Morpeth and Wansbeck that it is impossible for this House to know what motives have influenced the minds of the various Miners' Unions and the Federation, who no doubt express joint opinions—corporate opinions—in favour of this Bill. We cannot tell how far that assent is a really unanimous assent; but we have the most prominent, the most valuable, the most respected Representatives of the miners in this House, who certainly tell us of a divided opinion on this Bill, if not of a majority against it. And may I say this: I have watched with great interest what has taken place at meetings of the Miners' Federations on this subject, and I have never seen that at any of these meetings they have been brought fairly face to face with the economic side of this question, with the effect that it would have on their wages. That is a question which this House ought to weigh most carefully. What effect on the material interest of the collier is this Bill going to have? Is the output going to be reduced or not? The hon. Member for West Birmingham cited many instances, some culled 1613 from his own experience in other industries, to show that decreased hours did not necessarily mean decreased output; but that a point may be reached when a man may be so exhausted that additional hours may add little or nothing to the work done, and no doubt the energy of production may be compressed into shorter hours. In Durham they are able, doubtless, to pack into the seven hours day as much work as you get in eight and a half hours in the other districts. But how is that done? By relieving the hewer of all work except the actual work of hewing, relieving him of the timbering, and putting the coal into the tubs, which is done by other persons. I believe that the Durham hewer works harder in his seven hours than the hewer in other districts, whose time is partially devoted to many other and lighter tasks, and there you have the difference between the two cases. But the result is a reduction of the output. In Durham, before January, 1891, coal was drawn for eleven hours, and the hewers' hours were eight from bank to bank. Since January, 1891, coal has been drawn for ten hours, and the hewers' hours are seven from bank to bank. This reduction of one hour's drawing and hewing has resulted in a reduction of output to the extent of 780,000 tons of coal and 20,000 tons of fire-clay. It is said that it has increased the number of workmen; it may have done so; but it is one of the great fallacies underlying the speeches of hon. Members, that they think they are going by this Bill to introduce an artificial system by which employers will be compelled to put on more hands. But do you suppose the wages of the workers will not be affected by the Bill? That question can only be argued in one way. The output throughout the country would be reduced, and the output per man will also be necessarily reduced. If you reduce the working period under this Bill to eight hours per day bank to bank, the hours for hewing will be less; they will be on an average not more than six or six and a half hours; and if you so reduce the hours of hewing, it is clear the output per man 1614 must be reduced. The wages of a large proportion of the colliers depend on the output per man, and, consequently, the amount of coal each man gets in a day fixes the amount of the wages he receives. How, therefore, can it be argued that wages will not fall, unless the argument carries with it the hope, the delusive hope as I think, that by restricting the output you are going to raise prices and force the employers to give higher wages? That, I believe, is an economic fallacy. I do not believe that prices can be governed in that way—by artificially reducing the output. The result of such reduction would be to call into operation various sources of competition which are now unable to compete with the industry. I believe the immediate, and probably the first, effect would be to hasten the hour at which a great many collieries will be unable to be profitably worked at all. The lowest point of possible profitable production in many collieries will be reached much sooner than under present conditions, and the closing of those collieries will have the result not only of throwing many colliers out of employment, but ultimately of permanently lowering wages all round. Experience has shown that there is a remarkable difference between good and bad times. When everything is prosperous the men work short hours, and the output is naturally lessened; but when times are bad and wages have fallen with the prices, the men work longer hours in order to eke out a salary. All that adjustment to the necessities of the moment will be rendered impossible under the rigid rule which this Bill introduces. So far as I can form a judgment, the principle of the Bill is economically unsound, and it will result in diminishing wages; and then the men will not thank us for the boon of reduced hours. The operation of a hard-and-fast rule of this sort will be unjust and unequal as between pit and pit and as between man and man. I do not know that that has been developed as it might have been. There are great differences between the distances men have to go to their places of work from the pit bank. One man may have to 1615 go a distance which, there and back, takes him nearly two hours; another is only a few minutes from the pit bank. Thus it is obvious that a rule fixing the number of hours from bank to bank would apply unjustly to different classes of men in a pit. The mere difference of being first down or last down will, with this hard-and-fast rule, be found to create an undesirable inequality. In many collieries where the shaft is very deep, with the best appliances it takes an hour to wind all the men down. You will have to take the hour of winding up from the time of the first man, and the consequence would be that the last man down would lose an hour or perhaps an hour and a half compared with the first man. I feel that the sittings of the Labour Commission are throwing much light on this subject, and are likely to produce much more. It is a subject to which the fullest inquiry and the most anxious consideration must be given before attempting to control the labour of so large a class. Before the Commission have reported it would be premature to embark on legislation which is novel in its character and contrary certainly to the principles which this House maintains in dealing with different classes of Her Majesty's, subjects, which is not unanimously called for by that class itself, and which, at the same time, is surrounded with dangers and difficulties. I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ (5.0.) SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
During the whole of this afternoon not one of those Members who represent the vast capital of, say, £180,000,000 invested in mines has taken part in this Debate. They are opposed to this Bill. A large number of miners, especially in the district which I represent, are opposed to the principle of this Bill. The question really is, is this legislation necessary, or can adult men be trusted to make their own arrangements? The Bill is absolute in its character. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham says that when it gets into Committee we can alter it; but the 1616 principle of it is that no miner is to work more than eight hours, and no mine to draw coals more than eight hours, and in that respect I agree with the Home Secretary that it makes mining still more dangerous. Further than that, it is absolutely one-sided. Suppose the men desire to work more than eight hours and do not come out of the pit the agent or coalowner can be fined 40s. per man to the extent of something like £800 or £900 a day, but no penalty is imposed upon the men who decline to leave work. In many of the districts of Durham and Northumberland the men are now working less than eight hours a day, and the only people who work more are the putters, engine men, stone men, and others, whose duty it is to bring out the produce of the mine. The Cleveland ironstone miners are very much opposed to this Bill. They say that it would make a serious addition to the cost of mining, and would have a bad effect upon their labour. They, like the colliers, work comparatively limited hours. This Bill would not prevent an employer from working his men six days a week and eight hours a day, which is longer than many work at present. What would be the effect of this Bill upon the Cleveland ironstone industry? It would raise the price of ore something like 1d. per ton, which would mean an annual charge of £1,700 on a mine producing 8,000 tons a week, and it would raise the price for ore alone in every ton of pig iron 3½d. per ton. Let us look at the question from a national point of view. The pig iron industry is decreasing. It has gone down 1,000,000 tons since 1889, and there is not a single man in the Cleveland district who last year made 2½d. a ton profit on iron; and if this additional tax is put on, you increase the motive of the Cleveland ironmaster to obtain his supplies of ore from Spain. Nearly one-half of the quantity of iron made is already from Spanish ore, and you will injure your own miners for the benefit of the miner on the Bilbao coast of Spain. Why should you take away from the men the responsibility of dealing with their own hours of labour? The Member for West Birmingham said by the voluntary 1617 arrangement we ran the risk of strikes. There has been no question of strike in Northumberland or Durham over the hours of labour, and there has been no question of a strike on that subject in the Cleveland district. It has been done by arrangement between master and man. I agree with the Member for West Birmingham that shorter hours of labour have not altogether and always produced a corresponding shortness of supply; but the shortening of the hours for drawing coal in Durham from eleven to ten has very much decreased the quantity that the colliery can produce, and very much increased the cost of production on the remainder of the coal. Any addition to the cost of production should, it is true, fall upon the purchaser; but when the purchaser's profit has been turned into a loss, his ability to pay increased prices comes to an end. If you tamper with the labour question in the way that this Bill suggests you will increase the cost of production and drive capital out of the country, and you will find that you will have done the mining population no good, either in safety or health, by endeavouring to regulate their labour instead of leaving it to themselves.
§ (5.13.) MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
I wish to state, for myself and for right hon. Gentlemen who are similarly situated, why I am unable to give a vote on this Bill. One hon. Member who has spoken this afternoon dealt throughout his speech with evidence which had been taken by the Royal Commission, but that evidence has not as yet been presented to this House. I appeal, therefore, to the House to say how it is possible, in the absence of that evidence, for those of us who sit on that Commission to go into the merits of this question, as some of us would very much like to do, or forestall our verdict on that Commission by voting either for or against this Bill. When I consented to take a seat on that Commission I resolved that I would put aside all my preconceived notions and come to an impartial judg- 1618 ment. I can only wish that this House had before it the evidence that we have already taken, because I am quite satisfied that many of the opinions that have been expressed would have been modified, and the House would have seen how very grave and important this question is, not only in its bearing on the particular industry under discussion, but on those dependent industries which are so nearly allied to the coal trade as to be almost wholly dependent upon it. The Member for Rhondda spoke of the absolute unanimity of the federated miners. I can believe that the great majority of the federated miners are in favour of this measure, but some of them came before us from Scotland and from Wales, and we had one from Rhondda, and he distinctly said that what he meant when he came to the House for legislation was not eight hours from bank to bank, because that was impossible. You must have some arrangement by which the conditions of the collieries can be considered. The Member for West Birmingham, in concluding his speech after advocating this Bill on the lines presented to the House, said that if the Bill went into Committee it must be made elastic, and the conditions must be so altered as to adapt themselves to the varying conditions of the various collieries and districts, and that is the whole difficulty of the Royal Commission. That is the question that is exercising the minds of the men. I do not think there are two men in this House who would not be glad that the hours of labour of the miners should be made much shorter, and as far as possible uniform, but the difficulty is with respect to the varying conditions of their employment. I hope the House will forgive me for saying that if I had any doubt when I went upon the Royal Commission as to its necessity and value I have none now. I have never sat upon a more laborious Commission; it has been sitting now for nearly twelve months, and the sacrifice of time and labour given by its members is almost unexampled and almost beyond praise. There will be placed before this House 1619 a body of evidence of immense value to labour in every department of industry that will form the subject of legislation for some time to come; and while we are in the midst of our deliberations, and before we have had time to do more than report the evidence, and are all agreed and unanimous in reporting that no conclusions must be drawn from that evidence as yet, I want to know how I, as chairman of a group, could sit down with seven or eight worthy men, who have discharged their duties most ably and honourably on that Commission, having delivered my verdict here to-day before we have completed the evidence. While the matter is sub judice I should be guilty of the gravest impropriety, and unfit to occupy the position of chairman of a group on that Commission. We have taken a mass of important evidence from every district in the Kingdom. We have had evidence from the miners of North Yorkshire; we have had evidence from Scotland and also from Wales. Now, I trust that, whatever is the result of the discussion to-day, the members of the South Yorkshire Federations who have not yet given evidence will come forward and lay their case before the Commission. I am sure they would have everything to gain and nothing to lose by it; and it looks like shirking the question when they do not come forward to submit themselves as witnesses for examination. I have never listened to a more interesting debate than that which has just taken place; and I must say on my own behalf and that of my colleagues on the Commission that we cannot, and we ought not, until we have had time to consider the evidence brought before us, deliver an impartial opinion upon it or come to a conclusion with regard to it.
§ (5.42.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
We have had a very interesting debate this afternoon, but I must say that our case in favour of the Bill is by no means complete. Only three Members have been afforded an opportunity of speaking in support of it, and there are several others on this side of the 1620 House who are anxious to do so. I would, therefore, be glad if the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House would promise us another day upon which to debate this exceedingly important question. Millions of people—all classes of working men, besides miners—are desirous of having their opinions expressed in this House with regard to it.
§ (5.45.) MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid)
As one who represents a very large mining county, I would also ask the First Lord of the Treasury if another day could be allowed us upon which to discuss this very important subject. I think it would be an ill-advised thing to take a vote upon it this evening. There are many things to be said with regard to it on our side of the question. I, therefore, representing those who oppose the Bill, would add my appeal to that of the hon. Member (Mr. Cremer) that the right hon. Gentleman should give us another occasion upon which to discuss it.
§ (5.46.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
An appeal has been made to me that I should give some Government time for the further discussion of this Bill, the importance of which I fully recognise. I may also say I recognise that many Gentlemen are entitled to speak who have not yet had an opportunity of expressing their opinions. At the same time, the House will feel that the difficulty that the Government have hitherto experienced in getting through their own Business makes it absolutely out of the question that I should make any promise or pledge upon the subject of Government time. I venture, however, to suggest that if it be thought desirable—and I think it is—that the Bill should be threshed out, some arrangement may be made in regard to private Members' nights. There are still a number of private Members' nights left before us, and some of the objects are of far less interest than this. If an arrangement of that kind can be come to I need hardly say that the Government will be extremely glad.
§ (5.43.) Mr. LEAKE rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the word 'now stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 160; Noes 272.—(Div. List, No. 52.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.