§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ *SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle) moved that the Chairman do leave the Chair. He remarked that this Bill had come on the 13th of August, at a period of the Session when the House was, in his humble opinion, unable properly to Weigh the very serious matters that were contained in it. He was thoroughly well acquainted with the subject, and he felt a great dread of legislation of this most important character being brought forward at a time when so many Members had paired and gone away, being unable to believe that Her Majesty's Government would afford facilities on the 13th of August for a Bill of this very great and important character. He was certain that the adoption of the Bill would add very largely to the cost of the article produced by the miners, and the result would be to increase the depression of trade, which they all so much deplored. He saw in the Lancashire newspapers statements to the effect that mills in that county were lying idle, no there and there but in groups; and he knew that in his own district ironworks were being stopped because of the competition with Belgium and other countries. Under these circumstances, he asked whether it would be wise to proceed with a Bill which, in his belief, must add to the cost of production? Another grave and important question for consideration was what effect the Bill would have upon the employment of workmen in this country. He believed its effect would be very much to diminish the number of men employed. Those who were thus thrown out of work would go into other districts which were already over-populated, and further reduce wages.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE () Burnley
rising to Order, asked whether the hon. Baronet had a right to make a Second Reading speech on the Bill?
The hon. Baronet is not entitled to discuss the Bill at all at this moment. He must confine himself to reasons for his Motion.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
said, he was endeavouring to give reasons for reporting Progress. The Bill would have a much greater effect upon the country than the Budget of the present year; and when he remembered how many Members had paired and saw how thin the House was, he contended that they were not in a position to give all the attention they ought to give to a subject of such vast importance. The Government had taken the unusual course of granting facilities for a private Members' Bill, whilst they were leaving over for another year Bills which had been announced in the Queen's Speech, and which were of a much more national character than that now before the Committee. It was a most unusual course for the House at so late a period of the Session to take up a Bill of so important a character, and especially one that would interfere with the rights of adult labour.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."—(Sir J. Pease.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
Of course, I cannot go into the earlier topics dealt with by my hon. Friend in his speech, as they really did seem to me to be arguments against the Second Reading of the Bill. At an earlier period of the Session, when the House was very full, the principle of the Bill was affirmed by a very large majority, and, therefore, I think we can put aside all the earlier reasons given by my hon. Friend for having made this Motion. I would ask the Committee whether it is not the desire of the great majority of Members to deal with this Bill, and to deal with it now? If the Committee is not of that opinion it has the opportunity of expressing its view upon the Motion of my hon. Friend. Everybody has had full notice for weeks past that this Bill was to be dealt with, and there has throughout the country been a full expectation that it would be considered today. I think it would be a matter of great surprise and disappointment to the many thousands of people, on whose behalf my hon. Friend professes to 802 speak, if it were found that the House of Commons was not willing to entertain the question to-day. Miners have for a long time looked forward to the discussion of this question, and would resent it if the Committee now determined not to consider a matter which has so long been pending. Those are the reasons why I for my part cannot assent to the Motion of my hon. Friend; but of course it is for the Committee to say whether or not they desire to proceed with this stage of the Bill.
§ MR. GEBALD BALFOUR () Leeds, Central
said, he thought the Motion of the hon. Baronet was fully justified by the circumstances of the case. It appeared to him to be little short of a public scandal that a Bill of that important kind—not being a Government Bill—should receive facilities for discussion from the Government at a time so late in the Session, when practically the only proper business which remained to be got through was the business of Supply—a time moreover when probably more than half the Members of the House were paired and away. The hon. Baronet had emphasised, as he was justified in doing, the importance of the Bill, which introduced a most novel principle and was brought forward in the interests of a section of the community—indeed, he might say of a portion of a section of the community, although it must profoundly affect the interests of the community generally. The Bill dealt with an industry which numbered 600,000 workers—an industry which provided a cheap and abundant supply of fuel without which the great industries of the I country, on which their prosperity depended, could not be carried on. He would like to ask what discussion the Bill had received up to the present time? The only discussion which it had received was the extremely imperfect and perfunctory discussion of two Wednesday afternoon Debates. This showed that the Bill had not received mature consideration. He did not hesitate to say that a Bill of this extreme importance and far - reaching character should not receive facilities under any circumstances unless the Government of the day not only ensured that it should have mature consideration, but were prepared to take the responsibility upon themselves of making it a Govern- 803 ment measure. But he contended above all that facilities ought not to be given to such a measure at a time like this. It was notorious that pairs were made on Party grounds. What did that mean? It meant that at the present time the House did not fairly represent the balance of opinion in regard to that Bill, or any Bill which was not drawn upon Party lines. These considerations seemed so obvious that one could not help asking what were the reasons which had induced the Government to give this Bill exceptional facilities? When the Leader of the House announced that it was his intention to give this Bill exceptional facilities, he offered to the House two reasons for doing so. One of these was that the supporters of the Bill had obtained an exceptionally favourable place by means of the ballot, and the other was that the Bill raised important questions which it was desirable should be submitted this year to the judgment of the House of Commons. If the first of those reasons was to prevail and form a standing precedent for future occasions it was clear that every year there would be half-a-dozen Bills or more which it would be necessary for the Government to add to their programme or to give exceptional facilities for, even at the end of the Session. As to the second reason—that the Bill raised important issues which should be decided by the House of Commons—that was an argument against giving facilities, not in favour of doing so. If a Bill raised important considerations it was all the more important that it should be brought forward at a time when the House could fairly debate those important considerations. If it was desirable that the judgment of the House should be expressed upon it, let it be expressed at a time when the House fairly represented the division of opinion in the House upon the question at issue. He thought it was impossible to doubt that the real reason why the Government had given these exceptional facilities to the Bill was that the noble Lord who was at the head of the Government, early in the year, at a time when the Government seemed to have given very little consideration to the Bill, and when lie must have been very imperfectly acquainted with the views of his colleagues upon the Bill, gave a promise that the measure should receive excep- 804 tional facilities. He, of course, understood the difficulty of the position in which the Government was placed owing to those pledges given by its head. But the Government had duties to the public and to the House as well as to a section of its followers, and he thought the interests of the public and the House demanded that the Bill should not be discussed at that late period of the Session. He could hardly expect the Members of the Government themselves to support the Motion, but he thought they might fairly ask that they should not influence their followers to vote against it, and that if the Motion were carried they should agree that the Bill should no longer be proceeded with.
§ SIR J. JOICEY () Durham, Chester-le-Street
said, the position of the Bill was that it had passed the Second Reading by a considerable majority. It was brought in by a private Member, and was in the category of private Members' Bills. Were there no other Bills of the same character—no other Bills which had passed that House by large majorities and were as much entitled to the special consideration of Her Majesty's Government, if not more entitled? For instance, there was the Rating of Machinery Bill, which had been approved in that House by large majorities for two or three years, which was not a Party measure, and which, in his judgment, had far more claim upon the Government than had the measure before the House. He could not quite understand the position the Government had taken up on the Bill. He had been under the impression that the Government took the whole time of the House in order to push forward the measures to which the Party was pledged, but instead of carrying those measures into effect the Government had taken the Bill selected especially from all the Bills which had been passed by large majorities and had given it preference, not only over those Bills, but over their own measures. As a supporter of the Government, and as representing a district which had returned a large number of supporters of the Government to the House, he protested against their present action. He thought they had treated with but scant courtesy the Counties of Durham and Northumberland, which had for years sent an almost unbroken phalanx of Members to represent the Liberal cause 805 in Parliament. If the Bill had been made a Government measure Members would have known upon whose shoulders rested the responsibility of pressing it forward; but the Government seemed, for some reason or other, not to have had the courage of their convictions. He could not see why they should not have taken the responsibility of the Bill upon their own shoulders; but what had they actually done? Not only had they given special facilities for the consideration of the measure, but they had issued a four or five-line Whip for the Second Reading, and that morning again a five-line Whip had been sent out and special attention called to the Bill. He regarded the discussion of the Second Reading as absolutely inadequate to the importance of the subject. He himself, as representing a constituency deeply interested in the question, was specially anxious to give his views upon it on that occasion, and rose practically every time there was an opportunity, but he failed to catch the Speaker's eye, and in the end the Debate was closured. He strongly supported his hon. Friend's Motion, and he hoped the Government would see their way to agree to the proposal he had made.
§ MR. LEGH () Lancashire, S.W., Newton
said, the hon. Baronet who had moved to report Progress and the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken were such faithful supporters of the Government that he was convinced they would not have taken such a course as they had adopted had they not felt bound to do so. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself had only an hour before expressed the opinion that the inscription, "Abandon hope all ye who introduce Bills into this House in the middle of August," ought to be put up. What discussion had they actually had upon the Bill? Two miserable Wednesday afternoons in an attenuated and listless House; scarcely anyone speaking for more than 10 minutes, most of the people best worth hearing not speaking at all, and the discussion finally terminated by the closure. They had not heard the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Leader of the Opposition upon the Bill; above all, they had not heard the opinion of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. He was specially anxious to know what 806 that right hon. Gentleman had to say, as well as the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Under Secretary for the Home Department? As a good Party man he was ready to believe most things of the present Government, but he could never have believed that they would have assisted to rush such an important Bill through the House at that period of the Session. Apparently many other people were of the same opinion, for he noticed that of the gentlemen who had some of the most important Amendments down on the Paper, many were absent. Attention had been called to the fact that there were about 200 Sessional pairs, so that the Bill was apparently going to be decided by a House of about 100 Members. It must be borne in mind that the Bill was not only opposed from the Opposition side of the House, it was still more violently opposed by many of the Government's own supporters, and yet they were told that it was going to be rushed through the House in a couple of days. He had no hesitation in characterising the action of the Government as a Parliamentary outrage of the worst possible description.
§ * MR. J. WILSON () Durham, Mid
suggested to the hon. Baronet who had moved that Progress be reported that, after the expression of opinion which had been evoked, he might fairly withdraw his proposition and let the Committee proceed with the discussion of the Bill. With regard to the action of the Government respecting the measure, he might say that as one of the least of the Liberal Party, he had been, in and out of the House, one of its consistent supporters. He had done his best to assist in the return to that House of Members pledged to support Liberal measures, because he believed those measures were best for the class to which they belonged; but during the present Session they had seen the most complete setting aside of any recognition of the views he and those from the North had expressed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that sufficient time had been given to the House to allow Members to prepare themselves for that Debate. From time to time, he, with others, had put questions to the right hon. Gentleman, asking him to name the date on which the Debate would be taken, 807 and to state, as nearly as he could, the amount of time which would be allotted to it. But there had been the most constant evasion of the questions. He had done his very best to ascertain that they might be prepared, but he ventured to say, looking at the pairs which had been made, as pairs are continually made, on Party lines, that the House was not in a state in which a question like that could be properly discussed. It seemed to him that the Government had taken upon their shoulders a burden they shrank from carrying. If they were so enamoured of the measure, why had they not made it a Government measure—why were they going to allow it to pass, with their support, as a private Member's Bill. He knew that he was expressing the opinion of a large number of working men outside when he said the opponents of the Bill had not been treated in the fairest of manners, but he would, nevertheless, advise the hon. Baronet that, having obtained that expression of opinion from both sides of the House, he should allow the Committee to proceed with the discussion of the Bill.
§ * SIR. S. POWELL () Wigan
said, he had the honour of representing a large mining constituency—indeed, he believed the majority of those on the Register were employed more or less in mining occupations. He had been in communication with a large number of his constituents, and he felt that it would be a grave injustice to them if the Bill were forced through the House of Commons at the present time. The feeling against the Bill was most earnest and emphatic on the part of a large proportion of the mining population—a proportion so large that, though a minority, it was entitled to the utmost respect—and he felt that the great questions involved in the measure could not receive due consideration so late in the month of August. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had reminded the Committee that the Second Reading was carried by a large majority; but the Bill was essentially a measure of detail, and many Members who supported the Second Reading were anxious to see carried important Amendments which would, in their opinion, make the Bill more effective. The discussion of those Amendments must occupy some time. The interests involved were gigantic, overwhelming, almost overpowering; 808 and he felt that the House would not be doing justice to those affected—employers, employed, or the country at large—if they proceeded further with the measure that day. For it was not only the employers and employed in the mining districts who were concerned in the matter—there was the great body of consumers; and he was certain that the passing of the Bill would enhance the price of coal.
§ * SIR F. S. POWELL
I only mentioned it as an illustration of the gigantic interests involved in this question, and, therefore, as a reason why the Bill should not be discussed at this period of the Session. I am glad to have had an opportunity of making this protest, and I know I shall have the thanks of many in the borough I represent.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE () Northumberland, Tyneside
said, the Leader of the House had stated that he proposed to resist the Motion, on the ground that the principle of the Bill had been affirmed by very large majorities of the House. He had taken the trouble to analyse the figures of the Divisions, and he found that in May, 1893, the number of Members who took part was 484, and that the majority was 78. In April, 1894, this year, 479 Members took part, and the majority was 87. Of the Members who voted in the Aye Lobby last year 45 were absent this year, and 63 who voted in the No Lobby last year were absent this year. One changed his vote from Aye to No. Four, owing to extreme pressure from the Government, changed their votes from No to Aye. Therefore, the total of those in favour of the Bill was 326, and of those in opposition to the Bill wore 257. Those who faced both ways were five, and those who were absent altogether were 82. The majority of those who voted was therefore 69, and that did not equal the number of those who abstained from voting. He thought that if a Bill of this importance was to be proceeded with, it should only be with the support of the majority of the whole House. This had never been the case with respect to this measure, and was another reason why they should not now legislate in a hurry. In the majorities to which he had referred the Nationalist vote 809 of 64 Members went solidly in favour of the Second Reading. He hoped that that solidity would not be maintained in any future Divisions on the Bill, for though the Nationalist Members, in voting on the Second Reading, might have believed that they were supporting a democratic principle they were not voting for the advantage of the whole community. Another reason why the Bill should not go at that late period was that the Labour Commission Report had been issued since the Second Reading Division. That Report should have due weight attached to it in the consideration of such a measure as this. But that was an advantage which they could not have at this late period of the Session.
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS () Merthyr Tydvil
said, he wished to join in an appeal to the hon. Baronet not to press his Motion to a Division. A very timely protest had been entered against the action of the Government in specially facilitating the Bill, but, that protest having been entered, he did not think anything further would be gained by persisting in the Motion, and if a Division were taken upon it a wrong impression might be created. At the same time, he fully agreed with the strictures which the hon. Baronet had passed upon the shilly-shally attitude of the Government, who, he thought, had not even treated their own supporters fairly, and whose action in no way redounded to their credit. Not only had no adequate discussion taken place so far, but the country had had no opportunity of expressing an opinion either on the Bill itself or on the proposals which would be made to amend it. The Bill was not in the Government programme; it was not in the Newcastle programme. More than that, it was deliberately excluded, after full consideration, from that programme, on which, practically, the Government were returned to power. Several reasons had been given for the curious attitude of the Government, but he did not know that it was desirable to mince matters, and his own belief was that that attitude was due to the fact that several right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Ministerial Bench represented constituencies in which the mining vote was too important to be lightly treated. At the same time, the Prime Minister had given a distinct 810 pledge that the Bill should be considered in Committee, and he would be sorry to be a party to causing the Government to break any pledges; therefore, he suggested that the Bill should be proceeded with. It was not properly discussed on the Second Reading, and that was all the more reason why they should now take the earliest opportunity of considering it fully, so that those who did not fully approve of it might point out in what respects they considered that it failed most seriously.
§ * MR. TOMLINSON () Preston
said, he desired to say a word or two on behalf of a class whose interest had not been taken into view. He represented a constituency which was not directly con nected with the mining industry, yet depended for its livelihood on the regular and cheap supply of coal, and all the great industries conducted in his part of the country would suffer seriously if that supply were to be diminished, as certainly he thought it would diminish if this Bill passed into law. In the textile and in the iron trades the depression was now very great, many concerns were carried of without profit, and if they were subjected to a considerable additional charge for coal it would be difficult to carry on business at all. The Bill would operate very seriously in that direction if instead of eight hours actual work in mines per day the work was reduced to 6 or 5¾ hours, which would be the actual result. The Representatives of other than mining districts had not, perhaps, given attention to the details of the Bill, and many of them had paired and were away from the House. The discussion would suffer from their absence just at the time when they could make themselves acquainted with the real working of the measure. He protested strongly against the manner in which the Bill was being pushed through.
§ MR. FENWICK () Northumberland, Wansbeck
hoped that the hon. Baronet would not put the Committee to the inconvenience of a Division, but would yield to the appeal made to him, and withdraw the Motion to report Progress. He quite agreed that a protest against the action of the Government was called for and in stronger terms than had been used. In their own opinion the Government had made an adroit move, but, in his opinion, their conduct had 811 been neither candid or courageous. This conduct would be noted out of doors and public attention would be secured by this Motion, which however might now be withdrawn and the discussion of the Bill allowed to proceed.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH () Bristol, W.
had no desire to comment on the action of the Government in regard to the Bill, though he could say a good deal about that. It was quite unnecessary, after the strong and cutting language which had been heard from supporters of the Government representing districts where the Government had hitherto appeared to enjoy a considerable amount of popularity. If this conduct should decrease that popularity, the Opposition could afford to look on the result with some complacency. To his mind it appeared quite indefensible that at the very moment when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had announced that it was impossible, looking at the length of the Session and the exhaustion of the House, for the Government to proceed with any single Bill of their own if it was in the slightest degree opposed, that they should ask the House to proceed with as thorny and difficult a question as could be presented to the House of Commons. But his object in rising was solely to add his request to others that had been made that the hon. Baronet would not press his Motion to a Division. Enough had been said to make sufficient protest on the part of Members against the conduct of the Government in regard to this matter, but for himself he would say that whatever might be the view taken of this Bill as the House was sitting this evening there would surely be a desire to proceed with some business or other. But if Members would look at the Order Paper having regard to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the fact that effective Supply had not been put down, it would be seen that if this Motion were carried in about 10 minutes the House would adjourn. He therefore expressed the hope that the hon. Baronet would not press the Motion to a Division, but having made his protest would allow the consideration of the Bill to proceed.
§ MR. RATHBONE () Carnarvonshire, Arfon
had some hesitation in speaking on this subject, but it did seem to him a very dangerous thing for the House in 812 its present state and under the circumstances of the time to enter upon a policy entirely novel, contrary to all precedent, and opposed to English character and traditions. The House, which was unable to discharge its own business satisfactorily, was now going to regulate the details of labour for the whole of the country in all its varied forms. ["No, no!"] That was so, because when this new departure was understood in the country it was evident where it would lead. In other trades the question would be raised, "If miners have this restriction of hours why should not we?" The consequences would be very injurious. He was interested neither on behalf of employers or employed in this controversy, but speaking in the interest of employés generally he believed that this step would have the effect of endangering, and if proceeded with would largely decrease the employment and means of subsistence of large masses of our population. We were entering upon the application of a principle which statesmen of the past had considered most dangerous and objectionable. Perhaps the man who had done more than any other to promote the shortening of hours of labour was the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Mather), and his testimony was emphatic on this question that a rigid law passed by members of an Imperial Legislature when votes were given as required for Party reasons could never provide a safe remedy for the difficulties that arose in connection with hours of labour. This question was now brought on in a House that could not be said to represent the opinion of the country, while so many Members were absent, having no expectation that this business would be taken, and who had not a chance of returning the pledges they had given on the subject.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
rose in response to the invitations given to ask leave to withdraw his Motion, which had served its purpose as a humble though strong protest on his part, strongly emphasised by others, against the conduct of the Government in bringing forward a Bill promoted by private Members on the 13th of August with the House in its present condition.
objected to the Motion being withdrawn now that it had served its purpose. If there was any 813 validity in the reason alleged against proceeding with the Bill that there were too few Members present, let that allegation be subjected to the test of Division. Then would be shown where was the desire to have a fair discussion and where the intention to merely obstruct the Bill and prevent its consideration.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON
was very sorry the hon. Baronet was going to withdraw his protest, because a Division would have shown the country the extent and character of the support given to the Government on bringing forward so important a Bill at this period of the Session. He thought the hon. Baronet by his Motion had offered the Government a golden bridge to enable them to retire from their opposition and abandon the Bill. After the remarks of the hon. Member for Rhondda he might be allowed to express the opinion that the Bill would do a vast amount of harm to every colliery in South Wales. It was not an Eight Hours' Bill at all, it was a Seven Hours' Bill, and its effect would be to reduce work and to risk the sacrifice of life. He regretted the hon. Baronet withdrew his Motion, for it would have been well for the country to have seen, even in such a thin House, how strong was the condemnation of the conduct of the Government.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ * MR. D. A. THOMAS
said, if be was in Order he would, even at the risk of censure from his hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, suggest that this clause be postponed to a later period of the discussion. He would not press this to a Division if there was very serious objection to it, but certainly as the clause stood it was a misnomer and misleading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Clause 1 be postponed."—(Mr. D. A. Thomas.)
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE
asked, would it be in Order to alter the title of the Bill, which at the present did not make sense?
§ * MR. D. A. THOMAS
said, the clause as it stood was a misnomer and altogether misleading. It was not for "Hours of Work"; it was to regulate the hours from surface to surface, from bank to bank, or hours underground, and there fore he moved to omit the words "of work." He did not think it could be contended they were hours of work; in fact, the time of actual work would only be some six and a-half hours, the remainder of the eight hours being occupied in going down and up again, in getting to and coming from the place of actual work.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 7, to leave out the words "of work."—(Mr. D. A. Thomas.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 2.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY) sheffield, Hallam
said, the acceptance JL the Amendment of which he had given notice, and which would speak for itself, would not necessarily be fatal to the Bill even in the opinion of the promoters. It was asserted that under the very peculiar circumstances the legislation the House was entering upon should be given an experimental character and less of a cast-iron form. There was a very strong precedent for his proposal in the Employers' Liability Act of 1880, to which a duration of seven years was given. At that time the fears of those who objected to the Bill were such as induced many to believe that the effect of the Bill would be bad.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 9, before the words "a person," to insert the words "until the thirty-first of December one thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine."—(Mr. Stuart-Wortley.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ * MR. TOMLINSON
desired to substitute "1897" for "1899." The Act would be experimental, and for the purpose of experience of its operation a 815 couple of years would be an ample period and much to be preferred to five years. Of course, what was contemplated was the possibility or probability that long before the end of 1899 was reached the Act in its operation would be found so disadvantageous to the workmen subject to it, that there would be a strong desire for its repeal. That such would be the case he was convinced, for in many parts of the country it would be impossible to carry on colliery work under these restrictions. The shorter period was therefore desirable.
§ Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "ninety-nine," and insert the words "ninety-seven."—(Mr. Tomlinson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ MR. LEGH
thought that a period of seven years was too long for the experiment. [Several hon. MEMBERS: "Five years."] Five years was too long for experimental purposes, and personally he should much prefer the shorter period. The Bill might have all the advantages its promoters claimed for it; it might turn out to be a benefit to everybody concerned, but on the other hand there must not be left out of consideration the possibility of its being unsuccessful. If he were allowed to do so he would like to refer to reasons which led him to express some doubt as to the effect the Bill would have on our foreign coal trade.
§ MR. LEGH
said, he was about to quote from the evidence given before the Labour Commission as to the desirability of making the Bill an experiment only. The Mining Federation did not give evidence before that Commision, but witnesses who were in favour of the Bill did. There was Mr. David Morgan, agent for the Aberdare and Merthyr 816 Mining Association, who in reply to Questions 3,942 and following, approved of the proposal for an eight hours' day. When asked as to his opinion on the probable effect on trade, he said he would not be an advocate of an eight hours' legislative day in this country unless a similar proposal were adopted in foreign countries. And further on he expressed his belief that foreign countries would follow the example of this country.
* THE CHAIRMAN
I must call the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Question before the Committee now, whether the date should be 1899 or 1897.
§ MR. LEGH
said, one more sentence would be to the point. The witness wont on to say that, if foreign countries did not follow our example we should have to return to the existing system. He admitted that such a Bill might not be an entire success, and certainly in taking such an unusual step it was well to be cautious. The proposal accepted was a fair and reasonable one, but the shorter period would be more satisfactory in view of contingencies that might arise. Should the Bill prove a success there would be no difficulty in renewing it, but if, on the other hand, it was destined—as he believed it was—to become a disastrous failure, then it would be well to have a ready means of retiring from a false position without undue delay.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Amendment (Mr. Stuart-Worthy) agreed to.
§ * MR. D. A. THOMAS () Merthyr Tydvil
confessed he was very agreeably surprised at the spirit in which the promoters of the Bill had accepted Amendments so far, and was even encouraged to hope that they might accept the Amendment he was about to move. He frankly admitted it was of a far more important and far-reaching character than those which had been accepted, yet still he hoped that by the time he came to the end of his remarks hon. Gentlemen would be convinced of the justice of the claim he made on behalf of the majority of those who would be chiefly interested. He had very little doubt that had the House gone into Committee on the Bill at an earlier 817 period of the Session, when the normal number of Members were in attendance, the Amendment be was about to move would have been carried, but as to its fate now he had considerable doubt. Within the House and its precincts there were probably not more than a third of the Members of the House of Commons, and he was in the unfortunate position that many supporters of Ins Amendment were absent, having paired with Members of the other side of the House, who also were supporters of the Amendment. He hoped that those Members who were present would approach the consideration of this question with an open mind. The Government had over and over again declared they took no side as a Government upon questions involved in the Bill; the Prime Minister had said so, the Leader of the House had said so, and the Home Secretary had said the same thing, so that the prestige of the Government would in no way be affected by any decision at which the Committee might arrive. Members who were pledged to support the Second Beading were not committed to any line of action towards Amendments proposed at this stage, and in fact several hon. Members who supported the Second Reading did reserve to themselves the right to support any modifications they might see fit to adopt in Committee, and several declared that they would not be prepared to support the Third Reading unless the Bill were considerably modified in Committee. That view was taken notably by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West, Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) and by tire right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). He would refer later on to the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham in his clear and able speech in support of the Bill a couple of years ago, but first he would refer to the speech of the late Prime Minister in support of the Second Reading of the Bill, which was word for word identical with this. He, for his own part, attached very great weight to that speech, and the attitude taken up by the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion, and believed it contributed materially to the decision the House arrived at on the Second Reading of the Bill, and he hoped the Committee would bear with him while he read extracts. In 1893 the 818 right hon. Gentleman recorded his vote with certain reservations. He said—I am bound to say I do feel that this is a question in which the protection of minorities, if they are thus to be called, is a subject having the utmost claims upon our attention. I frankly own that, after every fair allowance for uncertainty and disputed points, I am not ready to consent upon the Third Reading of this Hill to apply the compulsion it would impart to a community such as that which is represented by the miners of Northumberland and Durham. … For my own part, it appears to me, I confess, that a compulsory measure of this kind ought not to take effect except with the moral certainty on our part that the measure would express the sense of a majority so large in the various districts of the country that it might be said to be the general sense of the community.Now, there was no proof whatever—far from a "moral certainty"—no proof whatever that the majority of the working classes affected favoured the Bill in its present form. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say—It is quite clear that you cannot always have regard to minorities altogether insignificant in their numbers, but, at the same time, I must own I think it would not only be an unwarranted, but a dangerous course on the part of this House in compulsory legislation of this character, and in exceptional legislation of this character, to have no regard to anything except to the fact of a considerable majority of the mining class at large, and to be prepared to override the local sense of such important communities as those of the Northumberland and Durham miners. I almost think that many of the friends of the Bill, when they come to close quarters on the question, when we pass out altogether from the region of what might be called abstract discussion, and have to answer to ourselves what degree of compulsion and under what circumstances we were prepared to apply it, I almost think that some of them will shrink from the application of that compulsion in such a case as I have supposed.That was the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman in 1893, and from a recent letter it was to be gathered that he had not changed his opinion. In that letter he said—I am clear that if the miners desire the Eight Hours Bill with a degree of concurrence approaching unanimity, they have a moral title to it. Of the moral title to impose it on a considerable minority I am very doubtful, and I apprehend that if the minority is really considerable it will be found practically more difficult to overpower than some among the promoters of the Bill may imagine.[Cries of "Read on!"] He had no objection to read the remainder—The general adoption of the eight hours will give me, personally, very great satisfaction. I must not omit to say that, in speaking of Local 819 Option, I contemplate the action of districts rather than that of single collieries in near neighbourhood to one another.His Amendment in contemplating local option proposed counties and not single collieries. He regarded this letter as showing that the right Gentleman still held the view that local option should be adopted as part of the Bill. He was doubtful of the moral title of the majority to impose a Bill such as this on a considerable minority, and it was only where the majority was so great as to amount to practical unanimity that he would support the Bill in its present form without local option. He (Mr. Thomas) did not think the hon. Member for Ince or any hon. Member present would dream of saying that there was anything like practical unanimity amongst the miners throughout the United Kingdom in support of the Bill in its present form. He should like to point out the very varying degrees of reduction which would take place in different parts of the country under the Bill in its present form. In some counties the Bill would cause hardly any reduction in the hours of labour, while in others it would involve a reduction of from 20 per cent, to 25 per cent., and thus the Committee would see that it would be very unequal in its treatment. He was not opposed to the principle of Parliamentary interference; his objection was entirely to the Bill in its present form. As the Committee knew, he himself had introduced a Bill on this very subject, so that his objection was entirely to the Bill in its present form. If an Amendment he had down for a later stage had been accepted by the promoters, it would, to his mind, have removed many of the most serious objections to the Bill, and he should not have been found here to-day moving this Amendment. The hon. Member for West Fife had stated that in his district the hours at the present time were eight from bank to bank. Then, again, from evidence given before the Royal Commission on Labour, it was clearly shown the hours of work in many districts were something like eight from bank to bank. Mr. Parker Rhodes, Secretary to the South Yorkshire Coalowners' Association, gave this evidence before the Royal Commission on Labour— 8207850.—Chairman: What are the average hours of the collier from bank to bank?—I got that out as carefully as I could, in order to make a Return to the Board of Trade, and also to your Commission; and the average hours from bank to bank are eight.7851.—That is from bank to bank?—Yes, it is eight hours and eight minutes really.Colonel J. B. Cochrane, Chairman of the South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire Coalmasters' Association, gave this evidence—10915. Mr. Dale: From your observation and experience, what would you put the average hours of the miner at from bank to bank?—I should say 7½.10916. That of course must include the descending time, and the meal time?—But not the ascending.10917. That is just as you choose to put it. It is better to put it including the ascending time?—Then I would make it from 7½ to eight hours, I think.On the other hand, Mr. William Jenkins, manager of the Ocean collieries—the most extensive in South Wales—gave this evidence—12103. Mr. Dale: "Of course that is equivalent to saying you know that the time now from bank to bank is 9¾ hours?—Quite so.So that in many districts the hours at the present time were only eight from bank to bank. In Fife, Midlothian, Worcestershire, South Staffordshire, and South Yorkshire the hours were already eight from bank to bank, so that the Bill would not make any practical difference in those districts in the hours of colliers and hewers, who formed the most important section of workmen underground. It might make a little difference in individual cases, but nothing of a serious character. It was most curious that the original demand for the Bill came from districts where the miners already had eight hours. They practically had the Eight Hours Bill themselves, and, not satisfied with that, they wanted to impose it on other districts. They did not wish to have it in South Wales. They there had nine hours winding coal, which practically meant 10 hours from bank to bank. On some days in the week in various collieries they worked 10½ hours. He would give three main reasons for the Amendment which he proposed—first, that any district had a right to determine such a question for itself, without the intervention of Parliament, provided that it did not interfere in any way with other districts. If he could show that South 821 Wales—for he spoke more particularly I in regard to South Wales—might be allowed to decide for itself what hours it would have, without affecting Yorkshire or other districts in England, he claimed that it should be allowed to do it. His second point was this: that there were different classes of coal produced in different districts, and that, while the Bill would not adversely affect the federated or home trade district from which it emanated, it would seriously affect the South Wales and Northumberland and Durham, which depended on foreign export business. The Committee would see that his second point had a very important bearing indeed on the question of local option. Men who wanted the Bill would not suffer in any way, but the men who did not want the Bill would be much prejudiced by it if it were passed in its present shape, as they would have to compete with foreign coal, the production of which could be increased in proportion to the falling-off in the output at home. His third and most important reason for asking the Committee to allow each district to decide the matter for themselves was this: there were differences in the geological and natural conditions under which coal was produced that made the present form of the Bill undesirable, and there would, therefore, be injustice and unreasonableness in applying the same cast-iron rule in every district. But, before discussing these points in detail, he should like to deal with an argument very constantly put forward, and which unless disposed of at the outset, might prevent due weight being given to the considerations he had to urge. It was this: it was said that, although the hours might be reduced, the output would not be diminished, because the men would work with increased enery, and in the shorter time would be able to produce quite as much as in the longer hours. They were told that the experience of the past bore that out. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, in the speech he had made in support of the Second Reading last year or the year before, put that argument forward very clearly and very forcibly. But he (Mr. Thomas) would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that in the illustrations he had used, the hours had been reduced from the long hours of 12, 11, and 10 to 822 10 and 9, but that in this Bill it was proposed to reduce the hours from eight—for the longest period worked in South Wales, he thought, did not exceed eight—to six and a-half, or six, or even, in some districts, possibly to even less thant hat. He wanted to show this: that this argument of the experience of the past, where voluntary arrangements had been entered into, was far from being an argument in favour of a reduction of hours by Act of Parliament, and was really an argument in favour of no interference at all. In the past, reductions had been made by voluntary agreement in almost all cases. What did that mean? It meant that employers conversant in each particular case with the nature of the employment engaged in, considered that by a reduction of hours a certain result would follow—that was to say, that the men by increased energy would be able to maintain the output. They had done so in the coal trade all over the country. Certainly in South Wales they had made reductions in the hours of work which they had felt would be followed by no material reduction in the output. They had been right. Then could they not claim to be right when they said that no further reduction could be made? That was why he claimed that the argument was in their favour. The employers were right in the past when they said that no reduction of output would follow from the reduction of hours, and they thought they were right when they said now that further reduction of hours would be followed by a reduction of output. There was a limit to the argument. They could not go on for ever reducing the hours without curtailing the output. There must be some limit beyond which they could not go. If there was no limit, they would soon be in the enviable position of doing no work at all, and enjoying themselves at leisure immensely on a toy output produced by nobody. He believed the limit in coal-mining had been, he would not say quite reached, but very nearly reached, for the present, and, if they would allow him, he should like to give his own personal experience in the matter. No doubt the hon. Member for the Rhondda Valley would say he (Mr. D. A. Thomas) was not always against the eight hours.
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS
The hon. Member said "Clewch, clewch." He (Mr. Thomas) confessed he was a convert, though perhaps not so recent as some people. He would tell the Committee the reason—which his hon. Friend, although he knew it, had never been candid enough to state in public. As a young man, he was ambitious to be a pioneer in this movement, and he put into force the eight hours bank to bank system.
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS
Yes, with a double shift, and he was certain his hon. Friend would not get up and move the prohibition of the double shift in the Bill. He would challenge him to do it. He tried the system in a colliery with the management of which he had a good deal to do. The result was that, at the end of 13 months, with the desire that it should succeed, and everything being done on his part to make it succeed, the men declared that they would not go on working in that way, because they objected to the double-shift system. But how did it affect their output and wages? The output per collier per day, working the shorter hours, was 1.67 tons per day. When they returned to the longer hours it was 2.06 tons, or a difference of about 23 per cent. Now, he was curious to know what his hon. Friend would have to say in reply to that. On the expiration of the 13 months it was shown that the reduction in the output under the system was almost exactly proportionate to the reduction in the time. That showed that in South Wales, at any rate, they had reached a limit, below which no considerable reduction in the hours could be made without materially reducing the output. In a neighbouring pita similar result bad been arrived at, though the average was taken over a longer period and single shifts were worked. The hours in this case were 10½ from bank to bank on Fridays, and eight on Saturdays. From 1888 to 1892 the averages showed that the production on Fridays exceeded that of Saturdays by, roughly speaking, a quantity proportionate to the increased time worked. The output was from 25 to 25¼ percent, larger on Friday than on Saturday. 824 Those were facts from actual experience which were worth a ton of theory. They were in this difficulty in dealing with the question; he did not know what view the hon. Member for Eccles took, but some hon. Members declared that no reduction in the output would follow. The hon. Member for Normanton said that whereas the Members for Ince and Rhondda said it would, and no doubt they would not care a snap of the fingers for the Bill unless the out pit were reduced, for they belonged to a school of economists who thought that the less there was produced the more there would be to divide. He hoped that during the course of this discussion the hon. Members for Normanton and Rhondda would endeavour to settle their differences, and ascertain which was the correct view. He had on this point an extract from a speech made by the Member for Rhondda which he would like to read. The hon. Member said—It was only by the reduction of hours or adhering to the nine hours a day system that the restriction of output could be satisfactorily carried out under the present system.The nine hours a day system meant nine hours winding coal and not from bank to bank, which they did not adhere to at present according to his hon. Friend, and this in itself seemed to show that there could be no very strong demand for eight hours from bank to bank. The nine hours' working day meant 10 hours from bank to bank, which was the system in vogue at the present day.
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS
said, that if it was nine hours winding coal it was practically 10 hours from bank to bank, for his hon. Friend must know that it took 40 or 50 minutes in a big colliery to let the men down, and a similar time to bring them up, and as they could not bring them up in exactly the order in which they went down, an hour must be deducted from the bank to bank time to get in the time left for coal winding.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM
The hon. Member gave just now this piece of information—that in South Wales they were winding coal 10 hours a day.
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS
said, he thought he had said 10 hours from bank to bank and nine hours winding coal. If he had not said that he had made a mistake. Some hon. Members around him, who 825 were on the same side as the hon. Member for Rhondda upon this question, assured him that he had said that: The hon. Member for Rhondda had also said, in a speech delivered a few months back—From a computation recently made it was found that between the overtime paid for and the overtime not paid for the men worked 11 hours per day instead of nine; and if they agreed to strike off that two hours they would restrict the output by about 20 per cent. Two hours knocked off from the 100,000 miners of South Wales would give additional employment to 20,000 more men. If that could be brought about it would create such a demand for labour as to considerably strengthen the market and do away with the danger of reducing prices.The hon. Member had added—And he appealed to them most earnestly to do all in their power to bring about the nine hours' day.So that the miners in the Rhondda Valley, whom the hon. Member represented, and whom he said were so extremely anxious to have a seven hours' winding day, he had to appeal to to do all in their power to bring about a nine hours' winding day. That did not look as if they were very keenly in favour of this Bill. He (Mr. Thomas) said, the reduction in the output in South Wales would be from 20 to 25 per cent., but his hon. Friend argued it would be more than that. He made it 40 per cent.
§ MR.D. A. THOMAS
said, he had read the hon. Member's speeches, and that was his view if he was correctly reported in The South Wales Daily News, which was a newspaper on very friendly terms with the hon. Member. He now wished to go a little more fully into his reasons against the compulsory form of the Bill. His hon. Friend would go with him as far as he could on this principle he was sure, because in the controversy which bad been going on between the sliding-scale party, and the federationists in South Wales, his hon. Friend had always been a strong advocate for Home Rule for Wales on the wages question. That was whathe(Mr. Thomas) was asking for Glamorganshire on this question, and he therefore hoped he should be able to carry his hon. Friend with him to some extent as to the first point he was endeavouring to make. But he thought the onus of showing that Wales could not be allowed to remain as it was and that the independent action of Wales would affect other districts, rested 826 upon the promoters of the Bill. He contended that there was little or no competition between the South Wales district and the Midland districts, from which the demand for this Bill came. He assumed that South Wales, if left to itself, would not accept the Bill in its present form. The hon. Member for Rhondda would dispute this, and would no doubt speak for himself. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean disputed it; but if he was wrong, when South Wales came to take a ballot they could declare in favour of the Bill. At a recent ballot taken in the Merthyr boroughs, at 21 collieries no ballot was taken at the collieries in his hon. Friend's agency for obvious reasons—there was a majority in every case against the Bill in its present form. The total majority was four to one, the figures being 2,567 for the bank to bank and 8,838 against. One little point arose that he should like to draw attention to. After it was decided by the district generally that a ballot should be taken he received a letter from the secretary to the Dowlais Workmen's Committee in April last saying that the Dowlais workmen wished him to vote for the bank to bank Bill, that they had taken a ballot some few years previously, and by 1,600 to 300 odd had decided in favour of the bank to bank Bill, and saw no reason for taking a fresh ballot. He went to Dowlais himself and called a meeting of the colliers. About 1,000 men were present, and it was very clear which way the meeting was going, and an Amendment was proposed to the resolution against the bank to bank Bill in favour of taking a ballot by the very gentleman who had written to him. He suggested that both the motion and the amendment might very well both be passed, and they were passed, and the meeting decided against the eight hours' bank to bank Bill. On a ballot 1,973 voted against the eight hours' bank to bank, and 428 for. This showed the tremendous change which took place in the feeling of the workmen in two or three years. On the first occasion there was an overwhelming majority in favour of the Bill, and then there was an overwhelming majority, even greater, against it. This was evidence that the leaders of the miners might sometimes be mistaken as to the feeling of the men; and it showed 827 also that that House ought to take great care not to pass hurried legislation in regard to this matter. He had now, he thought, convinced the Committee that he had some authority for speaking for South Wales. They had taken a ballot, and over and over again they had challenged their friends on the other side to take a ballot; but they would not do so, and the only conclusion he could come to was that they were afraid to do so. He came now to his next point—namely, the character of the South Wales trade. The South Wales, Northumberland, and Durham trade was a foreign trade, while the trade in the Federation districts was a home trade. He should like to call the attention of the Committee to this fact—the South Wales and the Lancashire and the Northumberland and the Durham miners comprised altogether very nearly half the miners in England and Wales. There were over 250,000 miners in those districts, and 330,000 in the rest of England, which they might call the Federation district. In 1892 he found, from Returns which were available to every Member of the Committee, that the foreign exports from England and Wales (he was not speaking of Scotland) were rather less than 25,500,000 tons; the export from South Wales and Monmouth and Tyne ports was over 22,500,000 tons—that was to say, the exports from non-Federation districts were 22,500,000 out of a total of 25,000,000. Consequently, from these districts there was exported nine-tenths of the whole of the coal sent abroad from England and Wales. He would now point out what proportion of coal produced in South Wales was exported, and what proportion in the Federation districts. In 1892, Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire exported for foreign and bunker use 18,000,000 to 20,000,000 out of its total production of 30,000,000, or between 60 and 70 per cent. In the Federation districts, out of a total output of 90,000,000, there was exported only 3,000,000, or less than 3 per cent. That showed the Committee how entirely different the trade of the districts was. He thought this had a very important bearing on the question of local option. It was clear that a very insignificant proportion of the coal produced in the Federation district was exported, and therefore it did not matter, as far as foreign competition 828 was concerned, what happened in regard to the hours of labour; but in South Wales, where 60 or 70 per cent, of the output was exported, if the Bill passed in its present form it would have a very disastrous effect upon their trade, increasing the cost of production by 20, or, as some people believed 30 per cent. He was l0th to say much about the question of foreign competition, because he knew it had often been put forward as a bogie in order to get reductions and put off advances in wages. There was no doubt, however, that foreign countries-had made very great progress as compared with this country in recent years. A few years ago we were millions and tens of millions of tons in advance of the United States, but now they had very nearly caught us up. He should like to give an instance or two upon this question of foreign competition, and the House would understand that he was speaking from actual experience, because he was engaged every day of his life in selling coal, and knew something about foreign competition. In many places abroad the competition was becoming exceedingly severe, so that English coal was being rapidly driven out by foreign coal. He knew it had been pointed out that notwithstanding this the total aggregate exports of the country were increasing. That, no doubt, was so; but many causes had contributed to that, to which he would refer later. Figures showed that in 1892 the coal exported to competitive points was materially less than in 1883, notwithstanding that there was a vastly increased number of steamers, as against 10 years ago. In 1883 we exported to the Russian Southern ports, 312,333 tons; in 1892, 42,506 tons; to British East Indies, 323,620 tons in 1883, and 202,894 in 1892; to China and Hong Kong, 64,804 tons in 1883, and 19,110 tons in 1892; to British North America, 174,314 tons in 1883, and 71,674 in 1892; to the United States, 111,736 tons in 1883, and 22,576 in 1892; and to the Foreign West Indies, 272,453 tons in 1883,and 117,788 tons in 1892. The total result was, that whereas in 1883 we exported over 1,250,000 tons, in 1892 we exported less than 500,000 tons. He knew from his own personal experience that steamers went out to the East and returned 829 without using any English coal at all. They coaled at Antwerp, where they got Belgian coal at 13s. 6d. a ton, and at the other side they got Japan coal at Singapore at 7s. per ton less than best Welsh. The coal trade had been materially benefited during the last 10 years by the enormous drop in freights and the consequent cheaper conveyance. There had been enormous reductions in freights. The freights to Singapore, Martinique, and Bombay, which were something like £1, say, in 1880, were to-day 10s., 7s. 6d., and 8s. respectively. The quotation to Antwerp was now 4s. 3d., and to Malta 4s. This great fall had immensely stimulated the South Wales coal trade, but it could not be expected to continue. It had reached its limit in fact, and steamers had ceased to be remunerative. Japanese coal was fast cutting us out in Singapore, where it could be obtained at something like 7s. per ton less than Welsh coal. Another point he wished to make was the difference between the working conditions in the Welsh mines and the Midland districts, imposed by nature, and which could not be altered by this Bill. He had worked out from Government Returns some figures showing how much more difficult it was to work coal in South Wales than in some of the districts from which the demand for this Bill came. The hours were longer in South Wales, and the output was less; and the hours were longer because the nature of the strata demanded it. He daresay hon. Members had often observed how frequent accidents were in South Wales from falls of the roofs and sides as compared with other districts. The reason for that was the brittle character of the strata as compared with that in English collieries. In England one might go a long distance through a colliery without seeing any pitwood, whereas in Wales the sides of the road were studded with props; and it took three or four times more pitwood in a South Wales mine than in an English mine, which enormously increased the cost of production. It was not only the pitwood itself that was expensive, but there was the cost of putting it up to be taken into account as well. In order to produce 1,000,000 tons of coal per annum, with eight hours bank to bank, it took 338 repairers in 830 South Yorkshire, while in Glamorganshire it took 734. Again, four men in Glamorganshire could only produce the same amount of coal in a given time that three could produce in Nottinghamshire. Hon. Gentlemen would see what bearing this had upon the Amendment he was moving. If it took so many more men to produce the same quantity of coal in a given time it was unreasonable to lay down the same working hours for each district. By reason of the natural condition of things men in the more difficult districts must either work longer hours or receive less wages. He believed that in South Wales the men would prefer to work a little longer than in other districts, and have their wages maintained. He would make an appeal to the hon. Member for Haddingtonshire, who was a very strong opponent to the principle involved in this Bill some little time ago; he appealed to him to explain to the Committee the change in his opinion that had occurred. The hon. Gentleman told his constituents recently that he would do his utmost to put the Bill into a practical and working shape. He (Mr. Thomas) did not know what experience his hon. Friend had of the matter they were discussing, but he hoped he would tell them what changes he proposed to make in the Bill in order to make it workable. Did the hon. Gentleman think this Amendment a practical one? If not, why not?
(continuing) said, ho was bound to say ho should very much like to Lave the views of the Home Secretary. He (Mr. Asquith) had said he was convinced that this Bill was a practical one. Holding the position he did, he thought they were entitled to have his opinion, and that he should show them how this Bill could come into operation without prejudice to the district he represented. He did not know whether he might make any appeal to the Irish Members, but he hoped that they would carefully consider this Amendment and come to a decision entirely upon its merits. Hon. Members on his side of the House were divided, and he would remind them that three of the direct Labour Representatives were in favour of the Amendment, while three were opposed 831 to it. The Liberal Party was divided upon this question, and he begged hon. Members from Ireland in their own interest not as a body to take sides or to do anything which might damp enthusiasm for their cause. Finally, he asked each individual of the Committee to recognise the vast responsibility that rested upon the shoulders of those who recorded their vote upon this Amendment.
Amendment proposed, in page I, line 9, after the last Amendment, to insert the words—
In any county in which a majority of the workmen employed underground in the mines therein shall so resolve, in manner hereinafter provided, and so long as such resolution shall remain unrescinded."—(Mr. D. Thomas.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. ROBY
said, he regretted that he should be in any way opposed to his friends from Northumberland, Durham, and Wales, but he could not help thinking that the)' looked with a too conservative eye at their own arrangements, without considering how much could be done without incurring the changes and risks that they feared. All these difficulties were dealt with upon the occasion of the Second Heading of the Bill, and he thought that those who voted for the Second Heading would be of opinion that the decision arrived at really involved the rejection of this Amendment also. He could understand the desire of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment to show that there was no competition between Durham and South Wales and the rest of the country; but, unfortunately, be was not right in that matter, because, during the coal strike, the colliery owners availed themselves of any opportunity they had of entering into competition with other districts. This Bill had from the first been one of a very limited and definite character. It did not permit any exception whatever, and he believed that no substantial exception could be admitted to the Bill. If they had eight hours enacted by the Legislature in one part of the country, they so far tied the hands of the masters and workmen in that part as against the other parts of the country. They could not, in a country which had so many facilities for carrying coal from 832 one district to another, to be used in the manufactories, proceed upon the same lines as though a primitive state of affairs existed, and coal was consumed only in the districts in which it was produced. If the coal of South Wales was consumed only in South Wales there might be more to be said for the case of the opponents of the Bill. His hon. Friend spoke of Wales as though the miners there were all of his way of thinking, and as though their number was very large. The number of underground miners in South Wales was 70,000.
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS
The only place where the matter has been tested there were four to one against the Bill.
§ MR. ROBY
said, he did not think that would be a reasonable conclusion to draw. Such figures were really for a purpose of this kind worth very little. What should be done was to take the largo organisations and see how they had continued to act year after year in this important matter. The Aberdare and Merthyr districts were spoken of by Mr. David Morgan before the Labour Commission; but he could only speak for the men in the Union. The number of men in the Union was 7,000, while there were 15,000 men in the Valleys, so that more than half were not represented by the Union, in which only a majority was in favour of the old system. As to Northumberland and Durham, he frankly admitted that from the first he had seen that the case of those two counties was a strong one. If, however, this Bill were carried it would not force upon the hewers in Durham and Northumberland more hours of labour than they had at present, as they were now working seven or six and a half hours. The persons whose work it would reduce were boys, who were now working 10 hours, and in whose interest the eight hours might well be enforced. He regretted that this and other Amendments in the same direction had been placed on the Paper. He believed he was only expressing the opinion of the supporters of the Bill when he said that they regarded one and all of those Amendments as fatal to the Bill, and were not prepared to go on with the Bill if they were carried. If this Amendment were adopted, on Northumberland and Durham and the Aberdare Districts 833 would rest the responsibility of rejecting a measure which was desired by all the other districts, and which would, he believed, be of great assistance to the country generally. The proposal must be fatal to the Bill, because it would prevent the system working with harmony all over the country, and would thus prevent the removal of one great cause of strife.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM () Glamorgan, Rhondda
said, his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. D. Thomas) had admitted that he had laid himself open to the accusation of having changed his opinions. No one knew better than his hon. Friend how many times he had changed his opinions on this question, and any one who would look through the list of Amendments to this Bill would see that his hon. Friend had, with great ability, proposed a considerable number of contradictory Amendments. His hon. Friend had trimmed his sails so as to catch every wind that blew. Anything that was accepted he would accept, and if anything was refused he would also have a finger in the pie. His hon. Friend had contended that the difficulty in regard to the production of coal in South Wales was the physical difficulty of strata. The facts connected with his hon. Friend's own collieries, however, proved otherwise. The men in Wales, it was said, were able to produce 25 per cent. more coal than the men in Nottingham, but lately the system called "the Nottingham system" had been introduced into South Wales, and whore it had been tried it had been found that the men were able to produce about 25 per cent, more under the new system than under the old, so that means had already been provided by his hon. Friend and other coal owners of making it easier to carry out the change proposed by this Bill. He did not think it mattered much to that House what were the personal opinions of his hon. Friend and himself with regard to this question. They wanted to know the opinions of the working men themselves. It was well known that in South Wales and Monmouthshire there were 110,000 people working in and about mines. Since 1887 those men had been represented in the Trade Union Congresses in this country, and had always voted in favour of the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill, and they had sent representatives to the 834 International Congress, and the miners of South Wales each time until the last occasion had given their votes solid in favour of miners' eight hours from bank to bank. His hon. Friend (Mr. D. Thomas) himself, when a candidate for Merthyr, and for some time after that, was known to be a strong advocate of the eight hours from bank to bank. He had changed his opinions, and had given his reasons why.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM
I again say my hon. Friend during the time he was a candidate for the borough of Merthyr, and for some time afterwards, was a strong advocate of the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill from bank to bank.
§ MR. D. A. THOMAS
If I may be allowed to correct the hon. Member, in 1891 I voted against the eight hours bank to bank. In this House, in 1888, I think there was no talk of any Eight Hours Bank to Bank Bill.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM
said, that explained his position, because his hon. Friend had no vote when ho was a candidate. In moving the Amendment, the greatest argument adduced by his hon. Friend was that a portion of the miners of South Wales were against the Bill. But that was beside the question entirely. That was not the Amendment before the House. His hon. Friend had not been able to quote a single voice among the leaders of t he workmen in South Wales, who were in favour of this Amendment. The ballot that was taken among them was on the question whether they were in favour of eight hours from bank to bank, or eight hours working. His hon. Friend had 20,000 miners in his constituency, but he was only able to account for 10,000 of them ill the ballot. With all respect to people who had changed their minds, they had not changed theirs, and they did not see the necessity of taking a ballot. The men themselves did not see the necessity of taking a ballot, and if they were to take a ballot at the request of his hon. Friend, they would want to know from him whether he had finally made up his mind upon this question. They had not heard of any leader of the men in South Wales who had changed his opinion, and there was nobody in South Wales who had the same opinion as his hon. Friend.
* SIR F. S. POWEEL () Wigan
said the Bill would have unequal effects in different districts. In some cases the coal workings were at the shaft, in others they were at a great distance from the shaft, and there the effect of the Bill would be most disastrous upon the hours of work. There was a large colliery in his constituency where the time spent in going down to the face of the coal was an hour and the return to the bank was 75 minutes, making altogether 135 minutes, and there was an incidental waste of a quarter of an hour in the lowering and in the ascent. The total result was the loss of one hour and 50 minutes, and the hours of work would be only six hours and 10 minutes. In another colliery the time spent in going backwarks and forwards was an hour, and that only left seven hours actual work. The nature of the working and the character of the coal must also be considered. In some cases it was worked much more easily than in other cases, and to have a severe limit of hours would give them a great advantage compared in collieries where the working was more difficult. In some cases the charge would be so great that collieries would be entirely closed and men would be deprived of their occupation. He contended that danger must arise if the limit of hours was eight. There was danger from the haste in which some men worked. It was not easy to restrain the eagerness of the young collier who desired to get down the coal in as little time as he could. In addition to that natural eagerness, there was the further difficulty of his being pressed by legislation; and he was quite sure that danger would be greatly increased, and the number of accidents would be considerably multiplied. There was another injustice which they desired to avert by carrying this Amendment, that was the injustice to slow workers. Some men constitutionally worked more slowly than others; and probably a careful workman who desired to protect himself and avert danger from his neighbour worked more slowly than a more impetuous man. Therefore, on the ground of danger, he contended that the privileges and exemptions claimed by this Amendment ought to be conceded. The necessity for the Bill could not be put upon the plea of health, for they knew, from statistics, that the occupation of the 836 miner was a healthy one. He was surprised to hear his hon. Friend the Member for Eccles speaking against the principle of local option in this respect. The Bill meant coercion; it meant compelling workmen who desired to be free to submit to what they regarded as bondage; and, in supporting the Amendment, he did so on behalf of a large number of workmen in Wigan whose sentiments were well known to him.
* MR. TOMLLNSON
said, he believed the Bill contained in itself the seeds of so much real disaster to the general interests of the country that he only looked upon an Amendment of this kind as in some degree mitigating that disaster. He believed that the feeling in favour of the Bill which had, no doubt, been expressed by large bodies of workmen at different times was being diminished the more the workmen became acquainted with the possible or probable results of carrying it. out. Though he did not look with any great amount of satisfaction on any of these so-called local option Amendments, the carrying of them would have this advantage. Upon workmen of each colliery, or each district or county, or whatever unit was taken, would rest the responsibility of carrying into operation the provisions of the Bill. Another thing that would happen, if in any way local option was carried out, was this: that the men would have to consider the question not as it affected the day's work, but as it would affect the week's work, the month's work, and even the year's work. At the present moment in Lancashire no individual collier worked more than five days a week, and he believed the average all over the Kingdom was rather less than five days a week, the last Returns putting it at from 4½ to 4¾ days. In no large district in the country did the miners work six days a week, but if this Bill passed and the men wished to make the same wages they made now they would have to work six days a week, and therefore the men ought to be left to decide for themselves the course they would adopt. Local option undoubtedly brought them face to face with these alternatives, and it should be left in the hands of the men to decide whether they would accept lower wages or work for a greater number of days. The reason this Bill was regarded with less favour in the districts of South Wales and 837 the East Coast, was that those districts were the chief exporting districts, and the men came to the conclusion that the result of the Bill would be to raise the price of coal in those districts, and tend to interfere with the export trade. The same thing would apply to the Mid-land coalfields, including Lancashire and Yorkshire, although the operation would not be so direct. Even at the present moment it was extremely difficult for those interested in and dependent upon the coal industry to maintain themselves against foreign competition, and it was a matter of common notoriety that the Belgium ironworks were driving out the trade of the English ironworks in many parts of the country. He knew of one large building now in course of erection intended for manufacturing purposes, and in the heart of the manufacturing districts, in which the whole of the ironwork came from Belgium, and there was no doubt that the competition of Belgian iron was even now depriving British works of the business formerly carried on. He knew there were many hon. Members who said that the price of coal would not be materially increased by the adoption of this Bill, but he believed that those who said so had not fully studied the effect of the Bill. It so happened that he had in his hands the result of an experiment which had been carried on at a certain colliery with a view to ascertain what the effect of the shorter hours would be: 8½ hours' winding coal was equivalent to 10 hours from bank to bank, and the output in that case from 155 men was 313 tons; when the working time got down to 8¼ hours from bank to bank, with 169 men, the output sank to 247 tons; and an eight-hour day, from bank to bank, with 152 miners, gave an output of 208 tons. He need not go through all the details; but the increased cost per ton worked out, for 8¼ hours' day, at 6d.—7, and with a reduction to 8 hours the increase of cost was 11d.—8. If the workmen were to earn as much upon the new basis as upon the old, they would have to be paid as much as would make the additional cost of getting the coal 2s. 5d.—3. If the result of the Bill was to increase the price of coal to that extent it would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a considerable number of industries which required coal to be carried on, and the inevitable 838 consequence would be to drive trade into foreign countries, and to throw large bodies of men out of work in this country altogether. His view in supporting the Amendment was that before the Bill became operative in any district the colliers who were to be the subjects of it should have the opportunity of putting themselves face to face with what the real effects of the measure would be likely to be—namely, the alternative of lower wages or a greater number of hours.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON () Tower Hamlets, Stepney
said, it was now something like a quarter of a century since he had the control of perhaps the largest coalfield in South Wales, so that credit would be given to him of having some experience of this subject. He might also mention that while a great many of the enthusiastic advocates of to-day of eight hours for miners were in the nursery, ho was advocating such a limitation of hours, so that the subject was not in any sense a new one to him. On the contrary, it was a subject to which he had devoted a considerable amount of thought and attention; and it was one which was very near and dear to his breast. But he took the liberty of saying that this was not an eight hours Bill at all. It was a very short Bill, but it was a very mischievous Bill. It had been conceived by those who knew little or nothing about colliers or colliers' interests; and he ventured to say that if the hon. Member who drew this Bill had his time over again he was certain he would never dream of drawing a Bill such as that which had been presented to the House this Session. There were several points in the Bill which, to the experienced mind, went to prove that it was not an Eight Hours Bill at all. When he advocated eight hours for underground men, he took the line that the eight hours should mean from the working; but it was well known that a certain amount of time was occupied in a man getting to his work in the mine, and this ought not to be included in the time devoted to the working of the coal. To include that time in the hours of working would be just the same as if in a warehouse, where young men had to go from 9 839 o'clock in the morning till 6 o'clock in the evening.
I must call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that he is not speaking to the Amendment.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON
said, he would endeavour, as far as possible, to keep within the limits of the Amendment, but he thought that what he was saying was coming to the point. He maintained that if the Amendment was not carried the effect of the Bill would be to increase the cost of the production of coal, to decrease the wages of the men, and to increase the number of accidents in the mines. The views that were stated by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil represented the views of the majority of the miners in South Wales. He was rather amazed at the little quibble which was made with regard to the meeting which had been called by the hon. Gentleman, and at which, out of 2,300 men present, 1,900 were on his side, and 400 against. He maintained that any gentleman who represented a constituency in South Wales who was able to get together a meeting of 2,300 miners had secured a very representative gathering, and one which he was quite justified in being proud of. If the hon. Gentleman would come into his district, into Blaenan, or into Nantyglo, or into the Ebbw Vale district, he would find hundreds of thousands of miners ready to rally around him and to vote in identically the same manner as those 1,900 men did. This proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the hon. Member for Eccles knew nothing of the requirements of South Wales. He might know something about Yorkshire and Lancashire, but he maintained that he knew nothing of what was required for South Wales. If the Committee would permit him, he would point out that the eight hours which were in this Bill were not even reduced to seven hours, but were reduced to six and a-half hours in many instances, and he was sure hon. Gentlemen never could have contemplated passing a Bill which not only gave the colliers the right to work eight hours, but also gave them the privilege of reducing those eight hours to six and a-half hours. There was another matter to which he would like to call the attention of the Committee. A collier, in 840 order to earn his livelihood, was paid for the amount of coal he cut. It was manifestly clear that, if a collier was paid by the amount of coal he cut, with all these drawbacks in getting to his work, he could not possibly cut a sufficient amount of coal to earn a livelihood. In cutting the coal a man was obliged to leave what was known as a vast amount of rubbish in the pit, and if he had to vacate the pit while that rubbish was being removed he would lose a great deal of time in which he might be earning money.
§ MR. LITTLE () Whitehaven
rose to a point of Order. He submitted that the hon. Member was not speaking to the Amendment.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON
said, the Amendment embodied so much that it was difficult in speaking upon it not to refer to many points bearing upon the subject. The hon. Member for Eccles had stated that the Amendment embodied so much that if it were carried they would have to abandon the Bill, and as it embodied the whole Bill——
I do not think the Amendment embodies the whole Bill. The question raised by the Amendment is whether the majority of workmen in the country should have the power of adopting the Bill or not.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON
said, he was explaining these different matters in order to show that if the men had local option they would have the course most beneficial to themselves, and it was impossible to explain that point without showing the great number of objections there would be from the view of the colliers to the passing of this Bill in its present form, and how much preferable it would be that they should have local option. There was also the matter of repairing in the pits. Everybody knew perfectly well that if a collier was deprived of that privilege, which he had hitherto enjoyed, and special men should have to go into the pit to do this work, the collier would consequently lose a large amount of his pay. Then they came to the matter of local option, and he ventured to say that if this Amendment was agreed to by the Committee, at least 95 per cent. of the men in South 841 Wales would agree to the Bill on those terms immediately. An hon. Member said "No." He did not know whether that hon. Member had the same knowledge of South Wales that he had, but from the experience he had had in South Wales he had no hesitation in saying that there was no point on which the men were so rigid as that of local option. Only quite recently, in 1892, they had a strike in South Wales. The men went out, not of their own choice, but by order of their delegates. The men had no more idea why they went out than the man in the moon, but as soon as they were approached and asked on what terms they would go back to work they at once said they would go back if they could have local option. The hon. Member who had brought in the Bill had thrown a sort of political grenade into the midst of his Party, and he did not appear to be a very welcome guest among them. If the hon. Member would take his (Mr. Isaacson's) advice he would agree to the Amendment, which would thereby greatly strengthen his Bill.
§ * SIR C. M. PALMER () Durham, Jarrow
said, his constituents, who were entirely working men, many of them being miners, naturally felt that this Bill was one of the most serious importance to their district. In Northumberland and Durham it was believed that if the Bill passed in its present shape it would paralyse mining and other industries. He was possibly one of the largest coal-owners in the North of England, and when this Bill was introduced he felt it was only due to the miners to investigate the whole subject and inquire how the proposal would affect them. He did so with a natural desire to reduce the hours of labour as much as it was in his power to do so. He found on consulting the agents of his mines, which produced upwards of 2,000,000 tons of coal a year, that if the Bill were passed as it now stood the output would be reduced at least 10 to 20 per cent. This reduction in the output would mean that a large number of miners would be thrown out of employment, while the cost of coal would be increased by from ls. to 2s. per ton. This would render it impossible for many of our national industries to be carried on and would paralyse our export trade. The export trade employed shipping, and thus 842 gave employment to the shipbuilding yards and to other industries connected with them. Bad as the shipping industry was now, it would be rendered much worse if the Bill became law. He held in his hand an extract from a newspaper article in which it was stated that our export of coal to Hamburg had fallen from 820,000 tons in the first six months of last year to 760,000 tons during the corresponding period this year, while the import of coal to Hamburg from Westphalia in the same period had risen from 420,000 to 540,000. The fact was that we were losing our markets, not only in the North Sea, but also in the Baltic and other places. The Bill, if passed, would have a most disastrous effect upon the trade of Northumberland and Durham, and he hoped that if the Representatives of other parts of the Kingdom were desirous of having the hours of labour curtailed they would, at all events, give the miners of Northumberland and Durham the right of saying whether the Bill should apply to them or not.
§ MR. FENWICK () Northumberland, Wansbeck
said, his hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Roby) had said very truly at the opening of his speech that this Amendment raised the whole question of local option. The proposal was to his (Mr. Fenwick's) mind so natural and so reasonable, having regard to all the difficulties of mining operations, that he should have thought that the least that could have been expected from his hon. Friend was that he should have listened with a free and open mind to the arguments and facts brought forward in support of the Amendment. His. hon. Friend, however, had told the Committee in effect that, however strong the facts, however cogent and conclusive the arguments brought forward, the promoters of the Bill had made up their minds, and would withdraw the Bill if the Amendment were carried. His hon. Friend had said that, if this happened, on the supporters of local option would rest the responsibility of having withheld the privileges conferred by the Bill from those who would have enjoyed them had the measure become law. He (Mr. Fenwick) should have thought that not on those who supported the Amendment but on those who withdrew the Bill in the event of the Amendment being carried would rest the 843 responsibility referred to. He was glad that the Debate had been so far conducted in the best of good temper, though he was bound to say he deeply regretted that his hon. Friend the Member for Eccles and those who were acting with him should ha ye come to the conclusion which had been announced before hearing the case the supporters of the Amendment had to present to the Committee. His hon. Friend the Member for Eccles seemed to treat somewhat lightly the argument advanced by his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. D. Thomas) in reference to the question of foreign competition. Of course it was a common thing to meet that argument by saying it was the old, old bogey that had been trotted out again and again. He (Mr. Fenwick) was not very much given to being startled by bogies, but having considered this question very carefully and fully, and the effect it was likely to produce in the district he had the honour to represent, he had come to the conclusion that there was more real substance in this bogey than would be found in many other bogies that were brought forward. He wished to deal with the question almost exclusively in its relation to the County of Northumberland. Roughly speaking, the output of coal in the United Kingdom was 180,000,000 tons per annum. The output in the County of Northumberland was about 10,000,000 tons per annum, or about one-eighteenth of the entire output of the Kingdom. He believed he was correct in saying that at least 80 per cent, of the coal produced in Northumberland was exported, having to compete in the open market with coal that was produced in France, Belgium, Germany, and other parts of Europe. The total export from the United Kingdom in 1892, when the coal trade was in a fairly normal condition, was rather under 30,500,000 tons, but it was fair to say that this included cinders and patent fuel. He had taken the figures from the Statistical Abstract. They showed that practically Northumberland sent out more than 33 per cent, of the entire export of coal from the United Kingdom. Under these circumstances, when there were only 2,000,000 tons of the total export left for local consumption and for domestic purposes, it was absurd to say that Northumberland competed with the 844 districts which were generally demanding that this Bill should become law. He had heard it said that during the recent dispute in the coal trade a certain percentage of coal came from Northumberland and Durham and the Midlands, and that was an evidence of competition. It was absurd to tell the Committee that because, during the prevalence of an abnormal state of things such as existed during that dispute, coal was brought from Northumberland and Durham into the Midland districts that was an evidence that those districts had ordinarily to face the competition of Northumberland and Durham. Indeed, to advance such arguments savoured of an attempt to impose on the Committee, though he must do his hon. Friend the justice of saying that he did not think he had any such intention.
§ MR. FENWICK
agreed that it might occur in an entirely abnormal state of affairs such as was brought about by the great coal strike, but denied that it occurred under normal conditions. Over and over again he had called the attention of the leaders of the men in the Federation districts to their own statements to the effect that the northern counties did not compete with them; and when he again quoted those statements at the Birmingham Conference in July last year not a single one of his friends ventured to get up and contradict him. What were those statements? Again and again during the coal dispute, when the owners advanced the argument that it was owing to the competition of Durham and Northumberland that they were driven to seek for a reduction of wages, the reply was made by his friends, the leaders of the men in the Federated districts, that Durham and Northumberland in no way competed with the coalowners of those Federated districts. Returning to the question of foreign competition, he would, in order to show how real and tangible was the danger, call the attention of the Committee to certain facts which any hon. Member could verify in the Library. There they would find, from evidence given before a Royal Commission, that in 1883 the output in 845 the United Kingdom was 45 per cent, greater than that of France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Japan, Russia, and the United States all combined. What were the facts 10 years later? In 1892–3, although in the interim the output in the United Kingdom had increased by more than 20,000,000 tons, we were 69 per cent, below the combined output of the countries to which he had referred. That was to him a very serious and a very important question, representing as he did a district 80 per cent, or more of the produce of which was sent abroad, and had to compete with the produce of the countries of which he had spoken. He really thought the Amendment which had been moved by his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil afforded them on the question a reasonable modus vivendi—a fair compromise on a plain question. He knew, of course, that those who took the position he held were very frequently misrepresented both by other public men and by writers in the public Press. It was only a few days before that he took up a Loudon journal, in which he was not a little surprised to find himself described as a vehement and unqualified opponent of the eight hours day; while another London paper a few days ago described him as a violent and uncompromising opponent of the movement. He did not know what other people thought of him, but he had never been disposed to regard himself as violently opposed to an eight hours day or to a legislative eight hours day, for he had never been one of those who declared that Parliament had no right or authority to interfere with the hours of adult labour. He had treated the question they were considering as one of practical politics, and from the point of view of the practical effect it would be likely to have upon the district which he had the honour to represent, and the interests of which he was charged to protect and defend. He did not feel called upon to define for the thousand and first time his position in relation to the matter, but it was practically the same as that which he told his constituents that he held in 1887, when the question first came before them. On that occasion, after pointing out to the miners present at a large meeting in his own county the difficulties that would have to 846 be encountered in the event of an eight hours day being forced upon them, he defined his own position by saying, as he said now, that if they were prepared to accept the responsibilities and to face all the consequences that might follow such an important change as the Bill involved to their own district, he for one would not be found to stand in the way of its passing; hut practically his position in reference to the question had always been one in favour of local option, and he was glad to find that in that opinion he was strongly supported by evidence which was given before the recent Royal Commission on Labour. One or two instances he would like to bring briefly before the House, and his extracts should be taken from the evidence of gentlemen who could not be said to be in any way prejudiced against the adoption of a legal eight hours day. He would first take the testimony of one who had taken a very active part in the labour movement, and who was a very firm and fervent advocate of the legal eight hours day—Mr. Tom Mann. A question was put to him by the hon. Member for Morpeth to the following effect:—"You also spoke," said the hon. Member,of trade and local option, and I under stand from that that, even in connection with the same trade, where through certain local circumstances there may be a desire to be exempt from any system, whatever it might be, you would allow there an exemption as to the eight hours?Mr. Mann's reply was—I have not even proposed that they should be put to the trouble of asking for exemption. I have proposed a plan whereby those who desire it must ask for it.Then this question was put by the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Leeds—The plan which you suggest of local option and trade option combined would obviously give greater elasticity than a uniform eight hours Act?and the reply was—Yes.Then in answer to another question Mr. Mann added—I have said do not cover the whole trade— in order to give this requisite elasticity I should be content with covering the district.And that was practically all that was asked for in the Amendment—that there 847 should be given to the district the right of option either to come within the provisions of the Bill or to refuse to do so if the colliers of that district thought their interests would be in any way jeopardised by the enforcement of those provisions in that particular district. He would like to take another example or two from the evidence given by his hon. Friend the Member for West Ham. The hon. Member for Leeds put this question—If it could be proved that the mining industry in any particular district would be seriously prejudiced by the establishment of an eight hours day—so seriously prejudiced that many of the collieries in that district would have to be closed—would you, nevertheless, insist upon and press for a legal eight hours day?The reply was in the negative. "If," went on the hon. Member for Leeds—it could be shown that the economical result of it would be disastrous in certain districts, you would abandon your advocacy of an Eight hours Bill?The reply was—I should meet the case in the way in which similar difficulties are met under the Coal Mines Regulation Act. There are certain clauses of that Act from which exemption can be obtained on application to the Home Secretary, and if it could lie shown, and the miners in any given district declared by a majority of their members, that the operation of the Act would injure them and their trade, I would give them power to obtain exemption from the Eight Hours Act so long as it was that way.And that was all which they who suggested the Amendment asked for. So long as they were convinced, and the miners of the North of England were convinced, that it would be injurious to them and detrimental to their interests to have the provisions of such an Act as that forced upon them, they desired that they should have the power to free themselves from its injurious consequences. The Member for Leeds went on—But I am speaking now, not of a trade, but of a district.—for he was careful, evidently, to distinguish between trade option and local option. My hon. Friend said—Yes, I know, but in the case of the miners—not that I believe that any disastrous results such as are anticipated would follow, but in order to obtain our Eight Hours Bill for the benefit of these districts which at present work unduly long hours—I would be prepared seriously to consider a proposal of that kind.848 Still more important is the reply given by my hon. Friend to a question addressed o him by my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Morpeth, who asked—Suppose you have a body of men who are fairly well organised, and who, after considering the subject very fully, have come to the conclusion that an Eight Hours Bill would be very injurious to them, would you enforce an Act of the kind upon them regardless of their wishes and opinions?The reply was—"I would not." Thus he had found in the testimony of the two witnesses he had cited strong support of the opinion which he personally held, and which he had stated to the Committee. It was their belief, their sincere belief, in the North of England, that the provisions of the Bill, if they were universally and u informally applied, would injure their trade and their interests; and here again he might call to his aid the testimony of his hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, who, in a recent article in The Scottish Leader, pointed out in unmistakeable terms that the establishment of an universal miners' eight hours would meanthe breaking up and upheaval, so far as the Counties of Durham and Northumberland are concerned, of old and long-established customs.That, he thought, was a fair statement of what would be the effect of the Bill if its provisions were forced upon the whole mining industry. He thought the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil met all reasonable and legitimate requirements, and afforded to districts which honestly and sincerely believed that their interests would suffer by the enforcement of the provisions of the Act, an opportunity of freeing themselves from its injurious consequences. He did hope the Committee would seriously pause before rejecting such a reasonable proposal as had been placed before it, and he again expressed his deep regret that the promoters of the Bill should, before they had had an opportunity of listening to arguments for the Amendment, have closed their minds and have come to a determined conclusion that, whatever the case for local option might be, they would rather reject the Bill than accept it with such a principle.
§ * MR. WRIGHTSON () Stockton-on-Tees
said, he had listened with very 849 great interest to the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck, because it was in that division that his own interests lay. The effect of an Amendment which was proposed and agreed to at an earlier part of the evening rather, as he considered, altered the scope of the Bill, and made it an experimental one. The Bill was now to terminate at the end of December, 1899, and as this was the case, he would ask the Committee to deal with the experiment in the ordinary way in which prudent men usually dealt with experiments, and that was, to limit the area of the experiment in such a way that the danger might not be incurred of wrecking a great deal of the trade of this, country. With regard to the present Amendment, he supported it from the point of view of a Northumberland coalowner, because he was convinced that the Bill if passed would largely reduce the trade of the county. About 80 to 90 per cent, of the coal raised in Northumberland was exported. Therefore, if the cost of raising their coal were increased, as it certainly would by this Bill, they would be handicapped in a most serious way in their exports of coal. It was quite a different thing in the midland counties. The midland counties might be quite justified in making this experiment, but an experiment of this kind in Northumberland might be disastrous. The right course would be to try the experiment within the area which sent representatives in favour of the Bill. They in Northumberland would be most willing to look on and see how it worked, and if by December 1899 it had been a success in the districts in which it was tried, they might then be disposed to consider whether the area should be extended, and the Bill made permanent. There were many reasons why Northumberland should be so exempted. The county differed from other districts in that it had no manufactories amongst the collieries. It was true that there were manufactories on the Tyne, but they could be served equally well from the County of Durham. The fact that 80 to 90 per cent, of their saleable coal was exported made it peculiarly necessary that the effect of any change which would lead to increased foreign competition should betaken into account, 850 He had mentioned that he now looked upon the Act as an experimental one, and he might be in Order in drawing attention to the failure of another experiment on very similar lines which had just been announced. On the 9th of this month a deputation from the East End of Loudon was introduced to Lord Spencer for the purpose of urging that contracts for the construction of ships of the Royal Navy should be given to the shipbuilding yards of the Thames.
Order, order! The Question here is whether a majority of miners shall decide whether the Act shall be enforced in their district.
§ * MR. WRIGHTSON
said, that of course he bowed to the Chairman's ruling, but he had thought he was in Order, as he was merely pointing out that by a previous Amendment the Bill had become an experimental measure, and that another like experiment had so utterly failed that it did not encourage them to make further experiments in that direction. He trusted he had said enough to draw attention to the fact that an experiment which was proposed by certain so-called Labour Members representing Metropolitan Divisions had utterly failed, and that now they were asking that the Admiralty should give orders on the Thames, because it was found that owing to that experiment having failed such orders could not be obtained by legitimate competition. He would point out, with regard to the effect of the Bill in Northumberland and Durham, that the increase of the cost of coal which would assuredly take place after the passing of the measure would affect other industries of the district. Durham and Cleveland were the largest centres of the iron and steel industries in the world; coal was largely employed in those industries, and he hoped the Committee would not forget that any increase in the cost of coal must necessarily largely increase the cost of the steel and iron produced in the district. There was an enormous amount of competition on the Continent for orders, and he could assure the Committee that merchants of the City of Loudon were giving their orders to a very serious extent to the Continent, and they were orders which had to be paid for largely by English money. We must on no account carry any legislation which 851 would so raise our cost that we should put ourselves out of position to compete with foreigners. It was well known that with the hostile tariffs which were placed against the admission of English goods into Belgium and Germany that the Belgians and Germans were able to undersell us in our markets, because they sacrificed part of the large profits which they made in the articles supplied for their own home consumption, and lowered the cost when they had to export their productions in competition with us. What with the advantage which protective tariffs gave to these countries, what with the fact that our day of 8, 8½, or 9 hours had to compare with their day of 11½ hours or 13 from the time the men entered the factory to the time they left it, what with the fact that they had lower wages also; if they added another difficulty by increasing the cost in this country they would sacrifice the position they had held of being the greatest manufacturers of the world. Up to this time there had been a great reluctance on the part of civil engineers in this country to sub-letting work to Belgium and Germany, on the ground that the quality of their workmanship was not equal to ours; but he had ascertained from civil engineers of prominence in this country, who had been obliged to place their orders in those countries, that the quality now produced by the Germans and the Belgians was quite equal to what we had been producing. Therefore, he submitted that at a time like this, when competition had become so keen, it was absolutely necessary that the House should refuse to countenance any legislation which would add one iota to the cost of our production.
§ MR. S. WOODS () Lancashire, Ince
said, the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Fenwick) charged them with not approaching this question of local option with an open mind. They did not approach it with an open mind simply because it struck at the vital part of the Bill, that it would vitiate the whole principle upon which the measure was founded, and that if this local option clause were to pass nine-tenths of the miners of this country would be in a thousand times worse position than they were at present. The hon. Member for 852 the Wansbeck Division complained that the supporters of the Bill had not waited until the facts were before the House. But they had been familiar with the facts for the last three years, and the very same arguments that were used by the hon. Member were used on the Second Reading of the Bill and had been urged again and again. The contention of the supporters of the Amendment was that some particular coal-mining districts would be seriously affected, if the Bill became law, by foreign competition. Not a single word, however, had been said as to the action of this Amendment with respect to local option in causing one district to compete with another. The Amendment, it was clear, would put districts into a very unequal position with regard to competing one with another, and local option of this character would be injurious to the whole body of miners. As to what had been said with reference to the effect it was alleged the Bill would have in increasing foreign competition, he would point out that during the 16 weeks' lock-out of the miners less than 2,000 tons of coal were imported into this country. That was an illustration of how far they were affected by foreign competition. What he was most struck about in regard to the opposition to the Bill was that it came from districts where the men were working 7 and 7½ hours a day. He could have understood the Amendment if it had come from the counties where these men were kept going to the extent of 11 hours a day. But the fact was, that where long hours were worked the men were in favour of this Bill. He believed that this measure ought to apply equally to all miners and to all employers, and that it would be very unfair to allow a body of employers in one portion of the coal-fields to work their men 10 or 11 hours a day, and at the same time to legislate so that other employers could only work their men eight hours a day. The Mover of the Amendment set out by remarking that they had not proved that the miners of this country desired this Bill without the Amendment. He thought it was self-evident that there was not the slightest doubt but that the preponderating majority of the miners of this country had not two opinions, and had decided that there should be no local 853 option or exemption from the operation of the Act. He was not sure whether, if they looked to Northumberland and Durham, they would find that in either of those counties there was a majority in favour of this Amendment. He knew that last year, when he moved the Second Reading of this Bill, he quoted some statistics given by the secretaries from Durham and Northumberland before the Royal Commission on Labour, showing that if every man had been allowed to vote the result would have been in favour of the Bill.
§ MR. J. WILSON () Durham, Mid
Every man in the mines of the County of Durham is allowed to vote in every ballot that is taken.
§ * MR. J. WILSON
I am compelled, for the character of the county, to say that that is not exactly correct.
THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. J. LOWTHER)
said, he thought it was very undesirable to carry out controversy in this way.
§ MR. WOODS,
proceeding, said, that reference had been made to a letter from the right hon. Member for Midlothian. The reference was made by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, and he fancied the impression was conveyed to the House that the opinion of the Midlothian miners was in favour of the local option clause. The leader of the Midlothian miners, who waited upon the late Prime Minister last year, stated, however, that almost to a man in that constituency the miners were against the local option idea and in favour of the Bill as it stood. The Mover of the Amendment said the Bill would bring 854 about a great amount of inequality and disturbance in some districts if the local option clause were not carried. That was the very principle underlying their conduct. What they said was that matters were unequal now and unfair; and what they wanted to do was to put every employer in the same position and give them equal facilities for competing in the markets of the world. Who were the advocates of this Bill. They recognised amongst them some of the largest colliery owners in the country. What evidence was given before the Royal Commission on Labour from Wales and Scotland, and some parts of England and from districts to which reference had been made? Almost the unanimous verdict of these men was that they were opposed to the local option idea, and in favour of eight hours from bank to bank. One thing struck him with great force, and that was that most of the opposition to the Bill as it now stood, and its strongest opponents, came from Members sitting on that side of the House. That was very remarkable if they made a comparison of what took place at the beginning of the year and what had taken place to-night. They were discussing at the beginning of last year the Home Rule Bill, and he found that those who wanted to put local option into this Bill were those who were amongst the most strenuous opponents to the insertion of the local option clause for Ulster. He contended that this Amendment would be very unfair in its application, and he would mention here that the employers in the Midland Counties were as strongly opposed to local option as the miners themselves; and he would ask whether it would be fair, in the face of the united opinion of employers and employed, that the House should carry local option into the Bill. Hon. Members would find in this Amendment something that had been overlooked, and that was the machinery which was to be established to carry it into operation. He knew the hon. Member had another Amendment on the Paper to the effect that there should be a ballot taken every three years as to whether the men wished to be exempted from the operation of the Bill; but he asked whether the House would commit itself to the establishment of such machinery as would 855 be required to carry out a ballot every three years. It must be evident to everybody that such a proceeding would create perpetual friction, and they would have one part of the British coal-fields working eight hours a day, another part working 9 hours a day, and still another part working 10 hours a day; and every three years this state of things would be reversed. He thought this Amendment was one of a most harmful character, and one that could not be put into operation without the greatest difficulty. The promoters of the Bill hoped the Committee would support them in maintaining the principle of the measure, which was carried by a majority of 87 this year. They felt sure that the gloomy forebodings of some of the hon. Members who had spoken would never be fulfilled. Every question of an understood or economic character discussed in that House for the past 50 years had been met with the same arguments, but none of the adverse and disastrous results predicted had come about. They had shortened the hours of labour in many instances, giving the people more leisure and a higher rate of wages, without producing any evil; and in this case he hoped the House would not be afraid of maintaining the principle of a practical and useful Bill, which would bring good to many and harm to none.
MR. LECH () Lancashire, S. W., Newton
said, that speaking for those whom he represented, he found it difficult to say which was the more obnoxious—the Amendment or the Bill in its present shape. If they reconciled themselves to the fact that the House of Commons had committed itself to the principle of interfering with adult male labour, he was afraid that all that remained for them to do was to consider how this principle was to be enforced. That being the case, his opinion was that local option was preferable to the hard rigid rule which the Bill proposed to establish. It had been admitted by those who supported the Bill and by those who most strongly opposed the Amendment that the particular circumstances of the case varied considerably in different localities, and that the difference of time required to get out a given quantity of coal varied in different parts of the country. What stronger argument than that could be adduced in 856 favour of the fairness of allowing the miners in the different parts of the country to decide themselves what would be a fair day's work? Surely if there was one question more than another on which a man of ordinary intelligence was fitted to give an opinion, it was that of deciding the number of hours which it was to his best advantage to work. The Labour Representatives did not consider, however, that the miner had any right to give an opinion on the matter at all, although, curiously enough, they considered him in turn to be the best judge of the time that a third party should or should not be allowed to work. They might, in his opinion, quite as justly deny that a man had a right to eat his dinner because his neighbour had been unable to enjoy his breakfast. The object of the Bill was not to reduce the hours of labour so much as to reduce the amount of the output of coal. He did not believe that there were any representatives of the miners who were not in the House or who were Parliamentary candidates who were in favour of the eight hours from bank to bank. There were doubtless only some miserable 500 or 600 coalowners, on the one hand, whilst there were on the other some 500,000 or 600,000 votes to be obtained from the miners. Moreover, it was said that the wretched owners were divided among themselves on the question. The division of opinion among the owners was due to the fact that the owners of Durham and Northumberland thought one way, whilst the other owners thought the other. He had come to the conclusion that if he voted for local option he should be striking a blow at the district he represented, whilst if he voted against it he should be doing an injustice to other districts. In these circumstances he felt that, as an honest man, he had no course open to him but to refrain from voting either way.
§ MR. W. ALLEN () Newcastle-under-Lyme
said, the coalowners were supporting this Amendment because if it were adopted the case of the boys in the Durham and Northumberland mines would have to be given up. The hon. Member for Northumberland warned them not to interfere with the customs of the northern counties, and his speech would have been rather convincing if 857 they did not reflect what those customs were. But these customs were that the hewers worked 7 or 7½ hours, while the boys were kept working 10 or 10½ hours. It might be said that the work of these boys was comparatively light, but he believed it was just as hard work as anybody could do, and it was work which had to be done by the boys just at the time when they were developing and before they had got their full strength; and it seemed to him, if they accepted this Amendment, and Northumberland and Durham were allowed to contract out of the Bill, they would be permitting these boys to be driven and worked almost as galley slaves, which was an iniquity which the House of Commons would never tolerate.
§ * MR. J. WILSON () Durham, Mid
The hon. Gentleman's statement is most unfair and unjust to the men of Northumberland and Durham, of whom he is speaking.
§ MR. W. ALLEN
said, that the work of the boys employed as hand putters was the hardest that could be conceived. They had to work in a stooping position in narrow and ill-ventilated passages at a time of life when they were not fully developed. He repeated that they were driven and worked like galley slaves.
§ MR. W. ALLEN
said, that these boys worked as hard as any men could do, and it was most unjust that they should be made to do such work for such a number of hours.
§ MR. W. ALLEN
said, these boys worked as hard as any men could do in an ill-ventilated place for over 10 hours a day, and it was most unjust that they should be made to do such work for such a number of hours. Injustice would also be done to those connected with the mines in other parts of the country if the Amendment was accepted. The hon. Baronet the Member for Durham, when introducing a deputation the other day to Lord Salisbury, stated that the Durham men were practically united on this question. But in the ballots which 858 had been taken a great number of the men abstained from voting, and did not seem to care very much one way or the other. Under all the circumstances he should certainly vote against the Amendment.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
said, that whilst he did not doubt the ability of the North Country collieries to face this question, they would, if the Bill were passed as it now stood, have to face it at great loss of labour amongst their workpeople. There was not a finer set of boys than those employed in the mines of Durham and Northumberland. It was true they worked longer hours than the men, but they were not working the whole of the 10 hours that they were below ground. They worked practically about 7½ hours. Some lads had, no doubt, very hard work, but the question was whether they were suffering from it, and the Health Returns showed that they were not; neither was there a single complaint from the Government Inspectors. He asked the Committee whether it was reasonable to follow the advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Woods), and because one fox had got its tail cut off in the trap, that every other fox should have his tail cut off. The real point which they had to consider in the trade and to look at in the interests of their men was, Would there be employment for the men under the altered circumstances, and would they be able to preserve their trade? He thought that in two minutes he could show the Committee why he held they ought to have local option, and why they believed they would be injured by the Bill. They would, if the Bill passed, have to provide two shifts of boys, and they could not get two sots of boys to begin with. If they had two shifts, each must either work at a less price, or if they got the same price they increased the expenditure, and this must greatly increase the cost of production. He stated on the Second Beading that Northumberland and Durham objected to be placed in the same category as districts which were not affected by foreign competition and by the iron trade, which was at present utterly unproductive. Belgian girders had been put up not far from the House of Commons, and during the present unfortunate moulders' strike 859 castings were coming from abroad in considerable quantities. Competition was thus at their very doors, and in the iron trade they could not lay out a single sixpence for any increased cost of coal. The Bill would therefore be attended with the utmost and gravest mischief. Half the Cleveland furnaces were now using Spanish ore, and if the Bill passed the increased cost of Cleveland iron, amounting to 2s. 6d. per ton, would probably drive the whole of the furnaces to use Spanish ore, on which it was acknowledged there was a less margin of loss—and in some cases a profit. It would, therefore, be madness for the Committee to say to Durham and Northumberland that they must be bound by Act of Parliament to work eight hours a day when they preferred other arrangements which suited them better. He did not hesitate to say that if the Bill became law the firm with which he was connected would have to lay in three out of the 11 collieries which they owned, and thus 700 or 800 men, with their wives and families, would be thrown out of employment. They had heard a great deal of agricultural depression. If the people engaged in the coal and iron and kindred industries were kept well employed, instead of having work taken from them by legislation of this kind, there would be more flour and more meat taken in every cottage, and that would produce a very different state of things in agriculture. The miners were well able to take care of themselves, and why should Parliament interfere with them by legislation which was perfectly uncalled for? So long as they had to look to foreign trade, as they had to in the North, they could not handicap themselves by such legislation as this. He had represented a mining constituency for many years, and the only question he had been asked in connection with this matter was, Would he vote in favour of the miners being free to make any arrangements they liked? He would not detain the Committee any longer, and he would only say, in conclusion, that he should not have spoken so strongly on the subject as he had done if he had not felt that the policy of this Bill was a fatal policy.
§ MR. C. M'LAREN
wished to say a few words on behalf of the coalowners 860 —of whom he was one—of the Midland district. If this Amendment were carried the Miners' Federation, which was all-powerful in the Midland district, would put the provisions of the Bill into force. If they were to believe hon. Members who had spoken for Durham and South Wales, the Bill would not be put into operation in those districts; so that at the very outset enormous differences and inequalities would be imported into the industry. Everybody knew that at the present time colliery owners were happy if they could make 6d. a ton profit on their coal, and he found that 1d. a ton was the lowest limit which they could put upon coal as the effect of this Bill. If this. Bill passed as it stood, the cost of getting coal in the Midlands would be at least 1d. a ton of an increase, and in many cases the increase would be from 6d. to 8d. a ton. In Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, and Nottinghamshire they had coal centres which sent a very large quantity of coal to London. They were, as everybody knew, in very close competition with the Tyne. During the last 12 months the Tyne had put a larger quantity of coal into London at the expense of the Midlands than ever they did before. If, therefore, this Amendment were carried, so great would be the restriction which would be put on the output of the Midlands, that he had no hesitation in saying that the whole of the London Trade from Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire would be destroyed. It would be absolutely impossible for the Midland owners to send a ton of coal to London. But London was not the only market for the Midlands. They sent an enormous amount of coal to the Eastern Ports for shipment to the Baltic, to France, and to other parts of the world, and that coal was also in direct competition with Durham and Northumberland. If the hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pease) was right, and they were now at a point at which it was difficult to compete with the foreigner in the export of coal, it was perfectly clear that if this Amendment were carried, and the Midlands were placed in a disadvantageous position with regard to Durham and Northumberland, they could not expect to export any more coal from Derbyshire or South Yorkshire. There was the 861 question of gas contracts, and there was also the question of railway contracts, which, as everybody knew, were of enormous importance to the Midlands, and if they were to be handicapped not merely with the foreigner, but in their competition with two such important districts as Durham and Northumberland, he ventured to say the effect of this Amendment would be destruction to that trade. Supposing Derbyshire adopted the Bill and South Yorkshire refused to adopt the Bill. He would undertake to say the effect of this course would be that South Yorkshire would sell every ton of coal to the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company, the Great Northern Railway Company, and the Midland Railway Company, consumed in that county, and that Derbyshire would have nothing left to sell. He saw the possibility of au annihilation of a large portion of the trade of these counties if the Amendment was carried. And the worst of it would be, that no district would know what was going to happen next. This Amendment, by a provision which stood lower down on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Merthyr, provided for a ballot to be taken every three years. What was to be the position of the coal-owner in Nottinghamshire six mouths before the period of expiration? His contract for gas coal was to go for a period of 12 months in advance, or his railway coal contract had to go for the same period, and under the terms of the Amendment, taken together with the provision for the ballot, he would lie utterly unable to know what price to put upon it. He did not want to say anything on the side of the miners' view. That had been very ably represented that night by those Members who more particularly represented the miners, and expressed by the hon. Member for Ince; but when they had the conditions affecting the coalowners coinciding with the conditions affecting the miners, he thought the Committee ought to pause before they passed an Amendment which had far more widely reaching effects than the Committee were apt to suppose. The Bill itself, in its present form, would make a very considerable change, but the House had accepted the principle of the Bill, and he humbly submitted that that 862 being so it was the duty of the House now to put provisions into the Bill which would make it work with as little friction and as little injury as it were possible to conceive; and if any other hon. Member intervened in this Debate, he should be very glad to hear in what way he should propose to ensure those districts under the Miners' Federation against the unfair competition, the State-protected competition it would be under this Amendment, with the industry of Northumberland and Durham and South Wales. He hoped they would see nothing in this country of local option in trade matters as between one district and another. Surely, if they were deliberately to allow the Legislature or a Government Department to interfere in the ordinary course of trade they would be lessening all those distinguishing features of commerce which had made this country great in the past. They would tie themselves hand and foot, and he ventured to think that even if this Bill did take a step in the direction which many hon. Members opposite thought it did, as perhaps against the right principle in these matters, there was no reason why they should go further and more deeply into what might turn out to be a morass, and so clog their footsteps that any retrocession became impossible. If this Bill passed as it stood, he did not think the coal trade of this country would suffer, for districts, on an average, would be treated all alike, and he had no doubt the difficulties which their Durham friends talked about in working their pits would be counterbalanced by a considerable increase in the price of coal. He believed the working classes throughout the country were, in the main, in favour of this measure both as consumers and as miners. The difficulties of taking ballots of the men to decide as to whether a particular county should be in the Bill or should not be in the Bill were illustrated by the different Amendments which they had heard to-night as to the feeling of the men in Durham and Northumberland. If they could not on an important question of this kind really find out, to the satisfaction of all parties, how the miners of Durham and Northumberland felt he thought it was pretty plain they could not find out their opinion if this Amendment and its corollaries were car- 863 ried. He strongly opposed the Amendment, and he implored hon. Gentlemen who represented the employers, or hon. Gentlemen who represented the interests of miners, to pause before they voted for it, and he assured them that if they voted for it they would be doing an injury, which he was sure would be very lasting, to one of the largest and most important industries of this country.
§ MR. STOREY () Sunderland
said, he thought the hon. Member who had just sat down had talked too much about interests and too little about things more important. For his own part, he was not concerned very much about the talk of foreign competition, nor was he troubled by the fact, which he learned from an hon. Member opposite, that all the coal-owners were against the Bill. That would be, he confessed, rather a temptation to him to vote for the Bill. But he would ask the House before it went to a vote upon this, the only important Amendment to this Bill in his opinion, to consider seriously what they were going to do, and what it was to end in. Every man who had listened to the speeches which had been made that night, and who had studied the matter outside, knew this: that if this Bill were passed in its present shape it was not the only Bill that would be passed. This Bill was but the precursor of many Bills of a similar type that were to follow until they were all hard-bound in Atlantic or Arctic ice; and instead of having free play to work out their own salvation, subject only to the limitations which human kindness imposed upon them, they would be in a position which he for one should not desire to see. If this Bill was the precursor of other Bills, would it not be a very reasonable thing, when they were settling that night or tomorrow the most important Amendment they had to settle on that Bill, that they should seriously ask themselves what were the principles upon which they were going to vote, not only on this Amendment, but all the Amendments and all the Bills that were to follow. For his part he would state to the 864 House clearly what were the lines upon which he should act upon this Amendment. He thought he had been all his life in favour of the limitation of the hours of labour and in favour of the demand of the poor man to have leisure to develop his higher faculties, but he had all his life preached that in his judgment that was best to be got by the action of free men acting together outside the interference of Parliament. And when he saw so many of his hon. Friends coming to Parliament and asking Parliament to adopt another method he beseeched them, and all Radicals in the House, to consider seriously what was the method upon which they were to act. What was the condition of facts that was before them that night? Here was a Bill which said to all the coalminers in all England, wherever they might be, under whatever limitations they might work—whether they were in hot or in cool pits, whether they were in hard or in soft coal, whether they had to walk two miles to the face of the coal and find it broken, or whether they could go down the pit and find fresh coal there to work; which said to every one, strong or weak, old or young, under all the conditions of getting into the pit—whether they wanted to work a longer or shorter time according to their local circumstances, "You must all work the same time. You must work not more than eight hours whether you will or no, whether you are a man with 12 children, or whether you are a bachelor. You are only to work eight hours, and no more." There were only two conditions upon which he would ever submit, as a free man, to vote for or support that. The first was: this that it should be proved to him that it was for the general interest that this should be done. If that be proved, there was the first condition he wanted. He had said that in his sober judgment the limitations of the hours of labour to eight all over the country for every working man would be for the general advantage, and therefore on that ground he had no objection to take to the present proposal. But what was the second thing he demanded? He demanded that, if they departed from the general eight hours principle and came to a specific eight hours in a specific trade, before ever they ventured to legislate in that House for that trade, he submitted 865 to the common sense and good judgment of the House that they ought to have behind them general concurrence and opinion amongst the persons who were engaged in that trade. Did anyone say they had got that that night? Would his hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) venture to tell him that of the hundreds of thousands of men engaged in mining in this country he had an immensely preponderating opinion, well defined and intelligent, in favour of this general proposal?
§ MR. STOREY
had not asked for that, though he would even dispute that as being the fact. But if there were absolute proof of it, he would yet put it to his hon. Friend that this proposed change would effect not merely interests and profits, but also the general well-being and life of hundreds of thousands of his fellow working men, and that before he made the change the hon. Member should be assured that the enormous preponderance of the people in that trade demanded it. The hon. Member who had just spoken—he was a coal owner—said with a sneer, "We have heard a great deal of Durham and Northumberland to-night." So the Committee had, and they could not hear about a more intelligent part of the country. He did not speak of the coal owners there or of newspaper bodies like himself; but he said of the working men of these counties that there did not exist a body of men more competent than they to give an opinion either upon general politics—well, nearly all the Members from these counties were Radical, and what could he say more than that?—or upon books, or upon the history of their country, and, above all, upon the common circumstances of their daily lives. These men had a very clear opinion on this subject. He had the means of ascertaining all round the district what they thought, and he asserted that an enormous preponderance of the intelligent workmen, the men who were accustomed to think of these things and to guide their fellow-men, said to this honourable House, "Gentlemen, you are sent to London to legislate for us according to our wishes, and our desires, unless our wishes conflict with the general 866 interest, and we say to you that if you choose to legislate for men who want this Bill, legislate if you like; but so long as we are satisfied that our interests and our desires are better served by the existing condition of things we beg you to refrain from interfering with, our arrangements." He would therefore say, if the Committee would have an Eight Hours Bill for those who wanted it, then in the name of freedom and in the name of common sense let them not impose it upon those who did not want it.
§ * MR. J. WILSON () Durham, Mid.
said, ho would not detain the Committee very long, because he gathered from the promoters of the Bill that they were desirous of taking a vote; but as one who could speak with some authority for the workmen of Durham, and who had taken some part in arranging not only for wages but for reductions of hours, he desired to add his quota to the discussion. As it appeared to be a time of soul-searching he would put himself on the altar for a minute or two. He was against State interference with the hours of adult labour all round where men could combine. He opposed, two or three years ago, a similar Bill when it was before the House, not because he was against a reduction of hours, but because he was in favour of obtaining them in the most expeditious and permanently satisfactory manner possible. He said this, because he had now to vote for a species of State interference in voting for the Amendment. But as the choice was between two evils he was going to take the lesser; as the issue was between giving a county a voice in the fixing of hours and fixing a rigid unworkable law, he would be best serving the interests of those who sent him there, and be most in harmony with their views, by voting for what he had called the lesser evil. He was one who was called an old Trades Unionist, stereotyped, fossilised, ready to be placed in some museum of antiquities and curiosities. He had always been, and was now, a believer in free and full negotiation between employer and employed. He recognised that the House had never interfered with the hours of adult labour, but only 867 with those of boys and juveniles in factories.
§ * MR. J. WILSON
said that women were not concerned here, and he therefore left that section of workers out of consideration. He also recognised that the short hours that had come to them in the North and in Scotland had been secured and kept by Trades Organisation, and that it was only where the organisation became weak that this advantage had been lost. He therefore believed in free and full negotiation between employers and employed in preference to any rigid, fixed, unalterable law that Parliament might pass. The Committee, he was afraid, had had a rather meagre view of the trade and occupation of miners presented to them by some hon. Members; and they would forgive him when he said that no question had come before the House on which grosser ignorance had been manifested than had been shown with regard to miners and the technicalities of their work. Even the hon. Member in charge of the Bill had confessed his ignorance of these technicalities, although he no doubt had had the most complete coaching from experienced practical men. He thanked the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) for the high eulogy, not unjustified, he had expressed on the men of Durham and Northumberland. They were able to take care of themselves. When the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Allen) talked about the boys of Durham being galley slaves, he (Mr. Wilson) asked himself whether he was fully developed, for he was once one of those boys. He went down the mines when he was about 10 or 11 years of age, at a time when the working hours were three or four hours a day longer than they now were; and whether he was fully developed in brain and physique he would allow the House to say. As to the speech of the hon. Member for the Bosworth Division (Mr. C. M'Laren), he would assure him that when the owners of the Midlands sent round the hat they would be relieved in the hour of their dire distress and necessity; but he had not heard of many owners in the Midlands going into the Bankruptcy Court, and they had been 868 for some years in competition with Durham and Northumberland. He was confident that the hon. Member had a much greater circle of learning than he could lay claim to; but he would recommend to his careful reading that one of the Ten Commandments which said: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods." It struck him, during the whole of the hon. Member's speech, that he was coveting the commercial and industrial superiority of the owners of Durham and Northumberland. The hon. Member left out of account the idea of the promoters of this Bill that it was necessary to give miners more leisure and greater exemption from danger, and all he could say for the Bill was that it would place the owners in the Midlands in a more advantageous position than the Amendment would.
§ MR. C. M'LAREN
I said nothing of the kind. I objected to local option because that would place us in a worse position. It is my hon. Friend who covets our goods.
§ * MR. J. WILSON
understood that the hon. Member entered into a description of the different classes of coal—gas, railway, &c.—to show that the owners in the Midlands were in an inferior position to those of Durham and Northumberland, and argued that as they were not now able to compete with these two northern counties, local option should be refused in order that the Midland colliers should impose upon the miners of the two northern counties the rigid eight hours' day, and thus restrict their opportunity for competition. He regretted that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Allen) was not in his place, for he uttered words which, in his opinion, were unbecoming. He did not like to use harsh words about anyone, but the hon. Member's remarks about the Durham boys were untrue, and were insulting to the men of Durham. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), speaking when he was surrounded by his supporters, also said that the boys of Durham and Northumberland were like galley slaves. He must repeat that such an expression was an insult, unbecoming, and uncalled-for. Did the Committee think that these were boys brought from some workhouse, sent by 869 Boards of Guardians to be apprenticed in the mines to bring profit to the pocket of the men? These boys were the men's own lads, their own flesh and blood. The men had, as lads, passed through the same experience, and knew exactly what was best for them, and the boys were confident that their fathers, and brothers, and kinsmen would do the best they could for them. It had been said that the boys under 16 were not allowed to vote, and some stress was laid upon the statement that the putters were below 16 years of age. But the hand-putters did not put at 16; they were young men of 18, 19, and 20. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, when he took his excursion down one of the northern coal mines, went with his mind biassed; and a biassed man was generally able to extract the ideas and "facts" which were in accordance with his own preconceived opinions. In the North some of the hand-putters were married men, and, in nearly every case, above 18 years of age, and were not the boys that they had been described—below 16 years of age. They were young men, and there was hardly one of them but had a vote in the ballot that was submitted upon the eight hours' question, and consequently they were not excluded from recording their ideas. If he understood the Amendment aright, it would give every boy a right to vote; it would take into its cognisance not only every man above 20, but every workman in the pit, the boys below 16 being able to turn the scale of voting; and if hon. Members thought that local option would turn the scale, why should they fear local option? For his part, he did not think they should discuss this question from the view of foreign competition. It was not before his mind, and he had never expressed any fear in that direction. He had heard it said that leaders of Trades Unions and workmen should not have any regard for the result of any legislative enactment. That was not his idea; he thought they should have full and due regard to the results of any enactment they might pass through this House or through this Committee. He believed the adoption of this resolution would be in accord with the generally expressed view of the Trades Union Congress. He saw the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Keir Hardie) opposite, 870 and perhaps the hon. Member, who had been already referred to, would forgive him for referring to him again. The hon. Member moved a resolution in the Trades Union Congress of 1891 to this effect: "that legislation restricting hours of labour to eight per day should be enforced in all trades and occupations, save where an organised majority of the members by ballot-voting were proved against the same." It might be thought that applied to a whole trade. Why was the majority of the trade put in that resolution?. Simply because there were divergencies and differences between the different trades, and consequently one trade did not bind another. That being the case, he said they were right in supporting this local option. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) in his speech used two words for the purpose of impressing the minds of hon. Members, and these words were "unfair" and "unequal." He referred entirely to trade, but he had no word for the workmen. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Roby) spoke about competition between districts—that was to say, that if they had a uniform Bill passed for the whole of the country they would avoid competition between counties. That idea implied there was a uniformity of conditions all over the coal mines. If they spoke about an Eight Hours Bill for the engineering trade they had a uniformity of conditions. [Cries of "No!"] He was going to tell them what it was if they would only listen before saying "No." They might take a man from the Tyne who was in an engineering works and place him in a shop in London, and the conditions surrounding him would be as nearly as possible uniform. ["No, no!"] He said, yes; the same conditions were in operation in the one shop as in the other, but they could not speak of uniformity in coal mining when nature was against them. They might as well pass an Act of Parliament to say every man should be of one stature. All nature was against them. He ventured to say that the Forest of Dean would not be able to compete with the thick seams of the Midlands, and they could not make uniform nature's conditions by any Act of Parliament; therefore the men in the various counties, knowing their own 871 situation, should be left to settle their differences between their employers and themselves. He would like to draw attention to one or two expressions of ignorance that had fallen from hon. Members who ought to know better, because one of the hon. Members had been a working miner and the other had become a professor by theory. The Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) had been a working miner, and in 1893, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, he said he would undertake to prove that the average time in going and returning from work in the pits was nearly a quarter of an hour each way. That was not the experience in any locality that he (Mr. Wilson) knew of. The other was the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke). The right hon. Member, speaking in the Forest of Dean, said that if every man was to be punished who should be more than eight hours below, the hours would have to be still further reduced to make it impossible that any one, even by chance, should be more than eight hours below. He (Mr. Wilson) was a miner, and when he heard expressions like those he had commiseration for the ignorance of such persons.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE () Gloucester, Forest of Dean
said, perhaps he might be permitted to point out that that referred to an Amendment that stood lower down on the Paper, and upon that Amendment they would have the opportunity of discussing the question.
§ * MR. J. WILSON
said, it was one of the difficulties they had to meet; how were they to get the man who went down at 6 come up first except they put a ticket round his neck to show that he was the first to go down. Had the right hon. Gentleman ever been down a pit?
§ SIR C. W. DILKE
said, this showed the inconvenience of discussing the question interrogatively. He agreed with the hon. Member, and his argument was directed to that very point.
§ * MR. J. WILSON
said, he wished to point out when such ignorance was manifested—[Cries of "Question!"] He thought he was speaking to the Question, and during the few minutes he had occupied the attention of the Committee 872 he had not diverged from the Question. If he had he begged leave to apologise to the Committee; but what he wanted to say was that when there was such ignorance in the Legislature, there was no wonder there was confusion of mind outside. Now he would appeal again to the Irish Members. If there was one part of the country where the Irish Members had strong and solid supporters it was the part he came from. He had often heard the Irish Members say that a Bill was being forced upon Ireland by the English votes and not by the Irish, and he would venture to say that if this Amendment were lost it would be lost this evening by the Irish votes. The Bill did not affect Ireland, and to throw out the Amendment would be forcing upon the English workmen a thing they did not require, and it would be done by the Irish vote. He hoped the Irish Members would hesitate before they gave the vote they did on the Second Reading. If the Bill did not interest them he would appeal to them to take a different course, and not do anything to repel those who had been their staunch supporters.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR () Leeds, Central
said, he was surprised that the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Roby) should a short time ago have asked the Chairman to impose the Closure on this discussion, because he did not hesitate to say that from beginning to end of this Debate the argument had been entirely on one side. He could not think this Debate had continued at all too long; nay, he did not think it had continued long enough. There were a great many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen whose opinions they would have been glad to have upon this question, and he could not help thinking it was an extraordinary circumstance that upon an Amendment of this importance and character they had not had the least guidance from any Member of the Government. Upon a Bill so important as this they would have liked to know the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and they would very much have liked to have heard the Chief Secretary on this subject, upon which he held very strong views. To proceed from the Front Bench to the back, they would have been glad to hear the views of the hon. Member for Haddington 873 (Mr. Haldaue), as it was well known that he was opposed to the principle of the Bill, though he had heard that the hon. Member might vote against this Amendment. They would very much like to know why the hon. Gentleman proposed to vote against it. There was his right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney), who was always ready to give an impartial judgment upon every question. The right hon. Gentleman had been a Member of the Commission, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman was acquainted with this matter. Again, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) had not uttered a word in this Debate, yet surely this was a question of sufficient motive for them to have heard what he had to say. And, lastly, the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Ham had been directly appealed to in this Debate, and he must say he trusted before the Debate came to a conclusion the hon. Member would be persuaded to stand by the answer he made or state lie had changed his opinion, and if ho had changed, why he had done so. Before he proceeded to consider the larger question raised by the Amendment of the hon. Member he should like to say a word or two on the Amendment to the Amendment that stood first in his name. The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. D. Thomas) proposed to make the county the unit of local option. He did not consider himself that the county would be altogether a satisfactory unit to take. There was no doubt very much to be said for taking the individual colliery as the unit, but if a district was to be taken he did not think the county was the proper district; what they wanted was that it should constitute an area of similar conditions in respect to the mining industry, and he did not think they had any reason to suppose that the geographical limitation of the county would correspond exactly to the limitation of areas of similar condition. It might be that such an area would embrace more than one county, for it might be that more than one district would embrace more than one such area. He listened to the dispute between the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. D. Thomas) and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Abraham); he was 874 not competent to decide the merits of it, but he would assume there was in the mind of the hon. Member who opposed the Amendment just such a difference as he had described. They had one hon. Member representing South Wales moving the Amendment, and another hon. Member representing South Wales also, opposing it. He did not think the county would be a satisfactory unit for the application of local option, and, in his opinion, it would be far better to trust to the discretion of the Home Secretary, who would be guided somewhat by the districts allotted to the Inspectors of Mines, and still more by the organisations which existed among coalowners and miners. He attached considerable importance to his Amendment, and even more importance to the one following it; but of course he recognised that both were of small importance when compared with the question raised by the original Amendment, and he wished to make the point plain. He should not necessarily ask the judgment of the House on the Amendment, he had placed on the Paper, and if it were rejected he should vote with complete conviction in favour of the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. D. Thomas). If his Amendment were accepted those in favour of the principle of local option could vote for the Amendment as amended. Now he came to the merits of the Amendment itself, and he should like first of all to call attention to this, that he supposed no Government would have taken upon itself the responsibility of imposing legislation of this kind without a preliminary inquiry of some kind or other. The Government had been prodigal of facilities, but they had not chosen to adopt this measure as their own, but where the Government were feared to tread the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) and the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Pickard), whom they had not heard to-night, were not afraid to rush in. It was perfectly true that this question had been investigated, and very thoroughly investigated, during the last 20 years. It was not until after the Second Reading of this Bill that the Royal Commission on Labour reported, and that Report was, in a sense, adverse to this Bill in every particular; and not only that, but the chief promoters of this 875 Bill, who represented the miners, declined to appear before the Commission and give evidence, though they had never explained why they refused. Perhaps they might say they had no confidence in it, but, at all events, in the earlier period the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) did not show any want of confidence in it, for within a few days after the appointment of the Commission the hon. Member wrote offering to give evidence. That was in April, 1891, and it was not until a month or two later, though before the Commission began to take evidence, that the representatives of the Federation of Miners wrote to say they had passed a resolution declining to appear before the Commission; declining to give evidence, information, or to help the Commission in any way; and the consequence was that they had not the advantage of hearing the evidence of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods), the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Pickard),or Mr. Ashton. If the Miners' Federation felt that want of confidence in the Labour Commission, and were unable or unwilling to assign any reason for it, they would not be surprised if it was inferred that they declined to have their case investigated because it was a bad one. He opposed this Bill on the Second Reading, and he did not pretend for one moment that the adoption of this Amendment would make it to him an acceptable Bill. Quite the contrary; but without some Amendment of this kind, and unless the principle of local option was introduced, this Bill would establish an intolerable tyranny, and nothing short of that. He would ask what moral right had the House to insist that the miners should carry on their work in a way different to that in which they now carried it on and with which they were perfectly satisfied? He would even go further, and begged the Committee to ask themselves whether they had got the power to enforce legislation of this kind upon districts unwilling to receive it. It must be clear to those who would look at the question impartially that the House of Commons was now being invited to enter upon an exceedingly dangerous course, of which it was impossible to foresee the end. They were told that if this Amendment were carried the Bill would be lost. Well, as 876 an opponent of the Bill, he did not deny that personally he should regard such a result with a considerable degree of complacency. From the standpoint of those who voted for the Second Reading of the Bill, at the same time reserving the right to vote for this Amendment, he would ask why the adoption of this Amendment would be fatal to the Bill? That was really the essential question to which they demanded a clear answer. During the Debate he had listened for an answer, and the only answer he had been able to gather was that uniformity was necessary in order to prevent competition between one district and another. He must say he had listened to the calm way in which the doctrine had been put forward, or, at all events, assumed, that it was the business of Parliament to help one district against the competition of another.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
(continuing) said, that surely such a doctrine as that had never before been put forward in the history of Parliament. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) told them the aim of the Bill was to cure inequality by putting all upon the same footing. Had it never occurred to the hon. Member for Ince there were certain differences between one district and another, between one man and another, and that the Bill would not produce a true equality? He would also remind the hon. Member for Ince and the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Roby) that when they said, or assumed, it was the duty of Parliament to protect one district against the competition of another, that such a doctrine applied to wages as well as hours.
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.