HC Deb 01 August 1900 vol 87 cc369-76

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]

Clause 1:—


said he had on the Paper an Amendment, the object of which was to widen the scope of the Bill, and especially, if necessary, to prohibit the exportation of Welsh coal, without necessarily prohibiting the exportation of all coal.

Amendment proposed — In page 1, line 6, after 'exportation of' to insert 'all or any of the following articles— namely.'"—(Mr. Gibson Bowles.)

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 6, to leave out 'and.'"—(Mr. Gibson Bowles.)

Amendment agreed to.


The next Amendment will enlarge the power of Her Majesty by proclamation.

Amendment proposed — In page 1, line 7, after 'naval stores' to insert 'and any article which Her Majesty shall judge capable of being converted into, or made useful in increasing the quantity of arms, ammunition, or military or naval stores.'"—(Mr. Gibson Bowles.)

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

Is it intended to discriminate between Welsh coal and any other kind of coal?

MR. WILLIAM ABRAHAM (Glamorganshire, Rhondda)

said this was a very important question, whether the power to prohibit the exportation of Welsh coal should be excluded without the sanction of Parliament. It ought not to be hurried through without the Committee thoroughly understanding the full bearing of the proposal against which he entered his solemn protest.


It is perfectly true that the effect of this Amendment will be to prevent the exportation of anything which might be used as a munition of war, but there is nothing in it which is in any way inconsistent with the Bill or which would affect the coal question in a manner to which the hon. Gentleman can object. Under these circumstances I think the hon. Member will see that there is nothing in the Amendment which will affect coal in the way he fears.

*MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

agreed that in any case of national danger nobody would object to prohibit the exportation of any article that might lie used against this country, but in the event of the prohibition of the export of coal as a munition of war it would clearly be necessary to go a step further and provide for the maintenance or sustenance of those engaged in the production of coal. Eight-tenths of the coal produced in Northumberland was exported.


I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. This Bill does not give power to stop the general exportation of coal. That power is already given under another Act. The only exportation affected by this Bill is that limited exportation to persons who are likely to use that very coal against Her Majesty's forces. It therefore cannot affect the general trade in which the hon. Gentleman takes such deep interest.


agreed it would not affect the general trade, but it might affect a particular district producing only a steam coal, as was the case in Northumberland. Supposing there was a likelihood of war with Germany, and the exportation of coal was prohibited, that prohibition might easily be extended to France, as it might reasonably be urged that the coal, although not going to a, country actually at war with us, was going to a country from which it might easily be reshipped to Germany. His point was that in the event of the Government being compelled to take such a course, there ought to be some provision made for the vast numbers of men who had previously been employed in producing the prohibited article, and who by that prohibi- tion would be driven out of employment, and forced to fall back upon public subscription for their support and maintenance.


said he should be sorry if the hon. Gentleman went away with the erroneous impression that this Bill would injure the industry in which he was interested. Under the existing law, in the case of war there might be an absolute prohibition; but this Bill proposed a prohibition of a very limited kind to a particular place, and perhaps to a particular part of a country, before war broke out. Under such circumstances, too, there was always a special demand for steam coal by the Admiralty, in consequence of the great activity of the Navy and the use of transports. The industry, therefore, would not be injured in that way, and the power sought was really necessary for the safety of the lives of our own countrymen.

SIR JAMES JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)

quite understood the anxiety of the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division, and ho believed that when the Bill was first introduced anxiety was caused in the coal-producing localities. He agreed that the Act of 1899 already gave complete power to Her Majesty's Government, either by proclamation or by Order in Council, to prohibit the exportation of coal, and that this Bill gave only a limited power. Ho did not, however, agree that guns and coal wore on all fours. Guns might be manufactured whether there was any demand or not; they could be kept in stock for years, but that was not the case with coal. If the exportation of coal was prohibited the people engaged in the production of coal would be thrown out of employment. He had very little fear of any Government attempting to stop the exportation of coal generally, because with such powerful allies as the coal interest had in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Scotland, and Wales no Government would be so foolish or mad as to stop that industry. While he should like to sec some amendment of the clause, he thought the power was one which ought to be given.


quite appreciated the hon. Member's anxiety, but the clause empowered the prohibition of exportation of coal only if it was capable of becoming naval stores. Moreover, by the existing law, which had been in existence for twenty years, the Sovereign might by proclamation prohibit the exportation of such coal to any place in the world, and therefore what this Bill proposed was to give a much smaller power.


said the more the clause was explained the more dangerous did it appear. In the opinion of the First Lord of the Treasury this power could be used if it was believed the coal would lie used for warlike purposes. There would be no fear if the country was actually at war, because then all the coal would be required at home. But if the power was to be used in the case of mere contemplation of war, thousands of men might possibly be thrown out of work. Nobody desired to produce coal for the enemies of the country—everybody would rather fight than do that; but what was to become of these thousands of men if the exportation were prohibited without any provision being made for their maintenance?

MR. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop Auckland)

made a suggestion which, if practicable, he thought might meet the difficulty. It was conceivable that under this Bill a coal-owner might be unable to carry out his contracts. If ho could show that by the operation of this Act a particular contract had had to be given up or broken, would it not be possible to make some arrangement by which the Government would undertake to accept that contract themselves, and take the coal which otherwise would have gone out of the country?


said that with regard to China, which was probably the instance present to most minds, it was not very likely that it would be necessary to prohibit the exportation of steam coal at all; arms and ammunition were more likely to be of use; there. He would remind the Committee that even if exportation were prohibited under this Bill to any particular place, the whole of the rest of the world would be open to the coal industry. As to the suggestion of the last speaker, if through such pro- hibition any existing contracts could not be fulfilled in accordance with law, there would be a complete answer to any proceedings which might be taken.


My suggestion was founded on what was said by my hon. friend behind me, that some provision should be made if possible to enable a coal-owner to carry on a contract and find work for his men—that the work should be done for the Government instead of for the foreigner with whom this country might be at war.


said he had some hesitation in giving such full powers to the Government as were proposed. Hitherto Section 8 of the Customs Act had not been put into operation, and we had had no ill effects from it. What he was afraid of was that in times of scare like the present, Governments, like individuals, might get into panic. Supposing that any difference should arise between this country and France or Germany, the very fact that the Government had these powers would affect purchasers from these countries. They would say, "What is the use of buying coal from Great Britain? We had better get it from America or some other country which is a producer." There was great danger of these powers being used for the disadvantage of this country. He was anxious that Her Majesty's Government should not issue a proclamation without giving sufficient time at all events for the coal industries to prepare themselves.


said the Members of the House representing mining districts were particularly interested in this matter, because the industry in which their constituents were engaged was vastly different from trades manufacturing the ordinary munitions of war. Such firms as Armstrongs' could go on making guns and shells, and the articles would not deteriorate. It was different in the case of coal, which deteriorated when exposed to climatic influences. Coal-owners would not undertake to bring coal to the surface when a proclamation had been issued. They would prefer to close down their mines, and the men would remain idle while the proclamation was running. The miners' representatives did not object to a proclamation such as was contemplated by the Bill being issued in the case of actual hostilities, but the danger they feared would arise when there was a prospect of hostilities, when there was imminent danger of hostilities breaking out between this and another country, and when the Government might be tempted by pressure from without to issue such a proclamation prohibiting the exportation of coal to that country. The rupture might never come, but considerable suffering might be imposed by the prohibition of the export of coal, because of the prospect of hostilities between this country and, say, France or Germany. If they had some assurance from the Government on that point they would be set at rest at once.

MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR (Essex, Romford)

expressed the hope that similar Bills would be introduced in the colonial Parliaments. There was a large amount of steam coal produced in the colonies.

MR. PICKARD (Yorkshire, W.R., Normanton)

said no explicit information had been given to them with regard to this proposal. What they wanted to know was how this proclamation would affect the coal trade. They should like to know whether the Government would do anything for the colliery proprietors when they stopped the exportation of coal. Would they be prepared to pay for all the coal that was stopped on that account? If this country believed that war was imminent, they would have no objection to a proclamation being issued. If they believed that France was storing coal for warlike purposes, all he could say was that it would be rather awkward if they were going to prevent South Wales from sending coal to France. He thought that would mean a declaration of war against France. That was the general impression. He could only hope that the Government would not intervene to prevent France from getting coal in this country. The landowners would get their royalty rents, but the men would be idle. Would they stop cotton goods from going to China and France? Would they prevent wine coming to this country from France? Would they prevent the shipbuilders on the Tyne from building their ships? This proposal meant a great deal more than they conceived if they prevented coal from going out of this country in the way contemplated by this Bill. If the Govern- ment would say, "When we know for a certainty that there is to be war a proclamation shall be issued," he did not think there was any man in the House so unpatriotic as to wish to send war material to any country.

*SIR J. COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

said there was no cause for the apprehension felt by his hon. friends in regard to the effect of this Bill. The powers conferred by the Bill would not be exercised by the Government until the relations between this and a foreign country had come to a point which rendered that course necessary. There would then be a boom in the coal trade by demands from our own ports and shipping abroad.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

thought it was extremely dangerous to allow this power of proclamation to be exercised by the Government alone.


It can be so exercised already.


Not in respect of coal. The danger he conceived was that they might have a Government who would lie carried away by newspapers. He thought it was possible that they might have some speculators in coal who would imitate the practices of the South African financiers, and who would hire two or three editors and send them over to France or Germany or America. The gentlemen who engineered such a panic would then cause them to turn round and remove the danger after they had caused the people of this country to buy enormous quantities of coal. They would remove the cause of alarm by dismissing their editors. So long as the power applied to exports it would be impossible for a clique of financial speculators to form a ring in one commodity and influence the country. He did not think that even the present Government could be influenced by the financial press to stop all the exports of this country, though it was extremely probable they might be influenced to stop the export of coal. This was legislation in panic, which was always dangerous, because people shut their eyes to everything except to the danger immediately likely to occur.


pointed out that the law had existed over since the Act of 1879, and the only power which this Bill gave was a power to enable the Government to prohibit the export of particular warlike stores to particular places.


agreed, but at the same time pointed out that the powers under the Act of 1879 had never been put into operation by the Government. This Bill showed that it was the intention of the, Government to put these powers into operation, and it was that fact that made people so anxious. The Government seemed to be under the impression that if the exportation of English coal were prohibited, the supply of coal to foreign Powers would be stopped. This country had long ceased to be the only coal-supplying country. We now supplied a very small proportion of that which was used, and the only result of this legislation would be that other countries would secure the trade. He asked for an assurance that the proclamation should not be issued so far as coal was concerned, excepting in the case of breaking off of diplomatic relations or the commencement of hostilities. There was a great difference between coal and other goods; guns and ammunition might be exported years before, but no country would ever think of importing coal more than three months before it was required.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.