§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. BRUNNER (Lancashire, Leigh)
in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said it had been before the House of Commons seven times, including its first introduction in 1892. Four times it had been rejected and three times carried. It came before the House this time in a slightly different form from that of previous years. The example of the French Act had been followed in drawing it up. That Act laid it down as law that the hours of work in mines should be reduced gradually from their present number to eight per day. That example had been followed in this Bill. It was proposed that the hours of work below ground in coal mines should be gradually reduced till they reached the limit of eight hours. The time of employment would be nine 'hours in 1907, and by means of a reduction of half an hour in each year the limit of eight hours would be reached in 1909. He made no claim to be an expert either as a proprietor or as a workman, but he laid claim to a good deal of expert knowledge as a works manager. There were three parties to be considered in this Bill; first, the men; secondly, the employers; and thirdly, the consumers. He invited the House to look at the Bill first from the point of view of the men. It had been said to be a principle of the House that 42 it should not interfere with the employment of men. But the House had interfered in the past with the employment of women and children, and there was no difference in principle between interfering with the hours of labour of women and children and the hours of labour of adult men. It was only a question of degree. In the case of railway servants, too, there had been legislative interference with regard to the hours of labour. He trusted, therefore, that the House would not in this case look upon non-interference with adult labour as a sacred and inviolable principle. How was the object of the great majority of the miners in this country to be obtained? They might obtain it by agreement; possibly by strike; or by legislation. The miners had already tried to get an eight hours' day by agreement, and they had failed. He did not think anybody in this House would recommend the method of strike. Labour Members had frequently said that no one who had experienced a strike would wish to repeat that experience. A strike would paralyse not only the coal trade, but, in fact, the whole trade of the country. There had been substantial agreement in the speeches on this subject in previous debates that eight hours' underground work was sufficient for any man. The toil was arduous, and was done in darkness, which was only made visible by the feeble light of a safety lamp. The air was bad and very often the temperature in which the men worked was very high. Miners were subject to diseases which men who worked in the open air were not subject to. Altogether the work underground was disagreeable and arduous. The Bill provided for a working day of eight hours from bank to hank. It had been suggested in previous years that there should be a working day of eight hours at the face, because mines differed very much in the distance of the working fare from the shaft. Going to the working face of the mine was a necessary part of the miners' daily occupation. There were sometimes miles of underground walking in a stooping position before the working face was reached, and frequently the miners, after their walk, had to sit down to rest before, actually beginnning their work. The time occupied in getting to the working 43 face ought therefore to be included in the eight hours of work. From the health point of view, there was no need to argue the Bill. With regard to the wages of the worker, they would always depend in the long run upon his output. If anybody thought that this proposed reduction of the hours to eight would increase the demand for workmen, and therefore would increase wages, he hoped he would get that idea out of his mind as soon as possible, because it was quite certain, from an economic point of view, that a man's wages would depend in the long run upon his output. Cases of the reduction of the hours of labour with good results were numberless. Hon. Members had only to look at the reports of debates upon this question to see that that was so. He need only say further that if Hon. Members would look up the Board of Trade Returns they would find that there was an annual net decrease in the hours of labour in spite of an increasing trade. Reduction of the hours of work so improved the physical condition of the workers that the output was the same as or better than when the hours were longer. He had had a good deal of experience of that kind in the business with which he was connected. His company had a universal eight hours day, and so satisfactory had they found the reduction of hours to eight that they would not under any circumstances go back to the old long hours. He would not advocate this Bill if he did not believe that, after its passage, the men would do the same amount of work as they did when there was a nine or ten hours' day. The consequence of the reduction of hours would be that there would be eight hours of strenuous labour instead of ten hours of slow work, or eight hours of strenuous work with long intervals for rest. It was surely better for miners to have their meals above ground than below ground under the disagreeable conditions there existing. There had not been a return of hours of labour in the mines since 1890; but if hon. Members would look at that Return they would find that as the hours of labour were long so were the meal hours long. If the Bill passed the work underground would be lengthened by the meal times being shortened. With 44 regard to the case of the employers, he did not think for a moment that if this Bill passed there would not be cases of individual hardship. Mines which were nearly worked out might under this Bill come to an end more quickly. Many mines, he believed, were not managed as well as they might be. In many cases they would be forced under this Bill to take steps which they ought to take now. It would not be the first time that Parliament had regulated work in the mines. There had been a succession of Coal Mines Regulation Acts. Governmental interference had been justified in that they saw year by year a progressive decrease in the number of accidents in mines. He believed that if this Bill were passed those who raised an outcry would adapt themselves to its provisions. There were many cases in which the miner worked less than eight hours a day from bank to bank, and he could not find any reason for the differences in various parts of the country. It did not seem to be governed by the hardness of the coal or the thickness or thinness of the seam. It seemed simply to be a local difference of custom. If he was right in this contention one part of the country could surely adopt the methods of another part. He did not think the colliery owners of this country could complain of excessive Governmental interference. He had spoken about the French Act. That Act was in existence to-day for the reduction of hours of labour. Germany had also stringent colliery legislation. He now came to the question of the consumer, who, he believed, would have to pay for a short time more for his coal, and, cheap raw material being necessary for trade, as everybody would agree, it was to be hoped that period would be as short as possible. The arguments he had put forward went to show that he did not consider prices would be enhanced for very long. In the near future, the output per man would be as much as it was to-day. He thought hon. Members would agree as to the necessity of the new provision exempting a mine from the operation of the Bill where it was necessary by reason of any accident causing the stoppage of the working of the mine. The number 45 of underground workers whom this Bill affected was very large. In the last Return, in 1904, the number was given as slightly over 670,000, among whom were 6,789 boys under fourteen years of age, and it was for those boys he would particularly plead for a reduction of hours. He was glad to say the number of boys was rapidly decreasing. From 1903 to 1904 it had decreased ten per cent. If the House approved of this Bill it would be doing a great deal for a very large and deserving class of the community. He begged to move.
§ MR. ENOCH EDWARDS (Hanley)
said that as this was the first opportunity he had had of addressing the House on this question, he might be pardoned if he made some reference to his experience as an observer in the galleries for a number of years when this Bill had been before the House. The hon. Member for the Leigh Division had fairly stated the case of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. For a great number of years the principle involved in this Bill had been discussed on both sides, and a majority of the House had more than once voted in favour of that principle. To-day they were asking for an affirmation of the principle in the hope that their desires on behalf of thousands of struggling workmen would be realised early in this Parliament. The House had got beyond one stage of the question. There was no opposition to the underlying principle that eight hours was long enough for either a man or a boy to be employed underground in one day. In the judgment of some of them it was too long under some atmospheric conditions. Unfortunately, while it was easy to assent to general principles it was not so easy to apply those principles. The chief difficulty in dealing with an eight hours Bill in this House was the special conditions which obtained in the northern counties of Durham and Northumberland. In speaking of those two counties he should try to reflect what had been his own feelings for a number of years towards the representatives from the north, and he hoped that whatever might happen in this debate would not impair or destroy the friendship which existed between them. They had gone on in the hope that some way would be found of reducing 46 the long hours worked by a certain section of the mining community in the North of England. There it was admitted that the boys worked ten hours a day, whilst the adults in the mines worked much less. Many Members felt that if any section of the mining community ought to work shorter hours and receive special preference and protection it was the young boys who were employed in the mines. Unfortunately, up to the present time they had not been able to reduce the number of hours of miners in the north. Notwithstanding the fact that there had been numerous debates and conferences on the subject, no reduction of any tangible character in the number of hours worked had been made. It had been admitted that it was the system of work which precluded the mineowners in the north from making any change at all. He did not think it was a sufficient argument to say that because a system had been in existence for a great many years it should not be disturbed. Surely that was no argument why the system should not be interfered with, and he thought that it was quite time that an eight hours day was adopted. The chief difficulty came not from the colliery owners in the north but from the miners. It had been stated that this Bill would increase the cost of production, but he did not agree with that contention. He was not surprised that there was opposition, because whatever subject was brought up in the House of Commons they would be sure to find some one opposing it. He remembered that when the change was made h the law in 1872 very strong protests were made on the ground that the Act would increase the cost of production. To-day the operation of the Workmen's Compensation Act was fairly well known, and nobody attached too great importance to that argument now. He wished to point out that the average number of days worked by miners this year would not exceed four days per week, and notwithstanding that fact, there was an increased output of coal last year by 3,000,000 tons. If the Eight Hours Bill was put in force to-morrow he did not believe it would prevent all the general trades and interests from one end of the kingdom to the other being supplied with fuel in 47 abundance. The means of production were such that arguments as to a possible panic and a rise in prices were entirely out of place. Every practical man knew that the old conditions in regard to production no longer obtained, and there was no possibility of a coal famine in this country unless the House of Commons persistently refused to listen to the voice of the workers n the question of an eight hours day. He hoped this question would be settled without resorting to what he would describe as a piece of brutal ignorance—he referred to a strike. They were now seeking to settle this question upon the lines of least cost and inconvenience. In the district which he specially represented in the mining world, previous to the Act of 1872 men and boys were employed underground for eleven hours per day. At that time they were told that any alteration in the number of hours would ruin the industry, but it had not been ruined yet. The hours were reduced to forty-eight hours per week for winding coal and eight and a half hours to nine underground. That system had obtained for thirty years, and yet the output of coal per man to-day was higher than it was in the days when the hours were the longest. Were they to wait until some measure was passed which would not affect or disturb any small collieries throughout the country? If that was the logic of all this opposition, then they might say good-bye to an Eight Hours Bill for the next generation. He wished to have a system by which they would gradually apply the eight hours day in the interest of trade, workmen, and employers, and everybody concerned, because it was much better that a change of this kind should be introduced with the least possible friction. When they were told that this measure would seriously affect the cost of production, he would remind the House that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer imposed a tax of Is. per ton on exported coal, which largely affected the northern counties, the collieries were not closed up. In the interests of common humanity he hoped the House would resolve to relieve the miners of this burden, even if it was a little costly. He thought the change would be worth making a sacrifice for, and he appealed to the House to pass this measure by a majority of 48 such a character as would hasten the settlement of this question. He did not want to magnify the significance of what was going on around them, but there were mining experts who knew what was going on in the work in coal mines at the greater depths, at which in many instances there was a terrible risk to health owing to the atmospheric conditions. Instead of talking about an eight hours day, he believed that in some instances four hours would be long enough for men to labour in the mines. He believed that the opponents of this measure would not be willing to tolerate such an atmosphere even for four hours a day if they could possibly get away from it. He contended that the trade of mining was one which appealed in a peculiar and special way for the adoption of an eight hours day. They had heard discussions with regard to raising the moral, physical, and social tone of the working-classes. In this connection he would ask the House to remember that there was no class of the community who suffered more from exclusion from ordinary life than working-men engaged in the mines, He did not want, in supporting the present Bill, to picture too strongly the tragedies which so often occurred in mines, with the result of devastating mining villages, but if they considered the danger, the toil, the circumstances, and the surroundings of the occupation, he held that the supporters of this measure might reasonably claim the-votes of hon. Members in the House, and also some recognition from the people of the country. No one in the House would quarrel with those who took a different view. No one would quarrel with the right hon. Member for Morpeth who had graced the House with his presence for so many years. He was satisfied that there was no community in the country who did not regard the right hon. Gentleman with affection. They realised, however, that there was a difference between the North of England and themselves. He believed that his friends from Durham and Northumberland would not oppose the Bill so strongly as they did, but for the fact that there were special conditions which had grown up under the two-shifts system. The French Act was not that which he and 49 his friends desired, although they accepted the principle of it. He and his friends had been engaged for sixteen years in the great work of propaganda in regard to the question of hours, and although Continental miners had obtained reduced hours, the miners of this country had not so far received like advantages. Everybody believed that eight hours was long enough for a man to work at any sort of trade. The house itself had declared by its rules that it was quite enough for hon. Members. Our competitors in Germany and France were moving along these humane lines. Let it not be said that the Mother of Parliaments was to be outrun by the people in competition with us. The German Government realised that in the high temperature of pits six hours was long enough to be employed underground. In asking the House to support the Bill, he recognised that they were all animated by the best of motives and desired to make the lot of the people of this country better and brighter. It was on these grounds that he appealed to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. For passing this measure Parliament would receive the thanks of men who had toiled in darkness and danger for years waiting for the dawn. He begged to second the Motion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid.)
said he hoped the speech of his hon. friend the Member for Hanley had not carried away hon. Members from the line of reason in regard to this question. He found himself in a difficulty not because he had a bad case—he believed it was as good now as in previous years when this proposal had been discussed, but because he found himself in opposition to hon. Members with whom he had worked shoulder to shoulder on many occasions. The hon. Member who moved the Second Heading of the Bill had stated the economic aspect of this question in a clear and explicit manner. The seconder of the Motion had spoken with enthusiasm and fervour in pleading for the Bill on grounds of humanity, but even if five-sixths of the Members of the 50 House were to vote for the Second Reading to-day he would next year, if representing those who sent him, still oppose the measure. He did not oppose it in the interest of colliery owners, or from the fear of a rise in the price of coal, but because he felt that if the Bill became law, two of the foremost coal-producing counties in England would be injured. It would be injurious, not to the owners only, but to the workmen. It was for them he pleaded. He thanked the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading for the sympathy he had expressed for miners. From his youth onwards he had been a miner, except during two little breaks— once when he worked in a quarry, and another time when he was a sailor. These occupations were useful for polishing men and bringing out their finer faculties and feelings. Although he did not agree with the proposal in the Bill now before the House, believing that its supporters were putting forth their endeavours in the wrong direction, he appreciated the sympathy they felt for miners and their desire to carry out, if possible, a change which they thought would have a beneficial effect on those engaged in the mining industry. The mover had stated that he was a manager of works, but he would re mind the hon. Member that there were great differences in the methods of working mines This Bill was unjust to labour itself. In view of the opportunity which workmen now had for combination this Bill was a plea of cowardice. They were forgetful of their self-reliance in beseeching the House of Commons to do what, if expediency, or the exigencies of trade would allow, they could do for themselves. He did not preach on this matter to converted people; he preached to sinners. The mover of the Bill had stated that the miners had failed to settle the question for themselves, but the hon. Member did not seem to know that the Miners Federation some time ago entered into negotiation with the employers. It was on record that the employers were willing to agree to an eight hours day, subject to certain conditions in regard to the winding of material, and if these conditions had been accepted the eight hours' question would have been settled before now. An hon. friend of his, who was a sympathiser with all working class aspirations, had said that there should be an eight 51 hours day pure and simple for every man. But that system had been tried and had failed. With all his experience in mines, and all the complications as between one kind of labour and another, he insisted that there must he some room—some latitude for negotiation between employers and employees. He was at one with his hon. friend in deprecating strikes. He was not a fighting man; but when a fair strike was proclaimed and he was forced into it, then he accepted the position as a man and kept to it as long as he could. He was ready for the retort, which had already been made, that with their strong trade union combination they ought to have settled this matter of the eight hours day long years ago. Well, he had lain awake of nights and had spent hours during the day trying to fit in these things and to keep the benefits they had acquired as trade unionists intact and entire; it was not for the lack of support from the most powerful combination of unionists in the country, but because a solution of the difficulty was impossible while they kept the present system. It was because those who were at the head of that combination had failed to suggest a substitute. The hon. Gentleman had said that no hours had been shortened in Northumberland and Durham. That was not correct. In 1890 an arrangement was made with the coal owners, and the hours of the coal-hewers were shortened so that they were not to work more than seven hours from bank to bank. And during the last three years the hours of employment of 1000 boys in the Durham district had been shortened. At the present moment the union was in negotiation with the employers in Durham to try and arrange that the hours of employment of boys under sixteen years of age should be shortened in accordance with the very principles of this Bill. Therefore, it was not correct to say that they had failed in trying to arrange this matter by negotiation. They opposed this Bill simply because they dreaded a revolution in the conditions of labour which would lead to a dislocation of the trade in the two Northern counties. It was because of that that they were so consistent—he would not say, so courag- 52 ous—in their opposition to this Bill. The front of their objection to it was the welfare of their people, and lest a greater danger should come upon them than at present. The House would bear with him if he sketched the difference between the conditions of labour in the mines in Northumberland and Durham and in the other mining counties in the country. Apart from other economic considerations, if the hours of working in other coal fields were reduced from ten to eight, it would not introduce the smallest dislocation; In every other part of Great Britain if an hour, or half an hour, were taken off the working hours of the men, it would not interfere with the smallest part of the arrangements of the mine. But in Durham and Northumberland they had two shifts of men and one shift of boys. [AN HON. MEMBER: "How many boys? "] He was sorry he could not tell the hon. Member the number of boys employed. But there was one shift of boys of ten hours. The men who went on for the four o'clock shift went into the pit for the purpose of getting coals ready to take away when the boys arrived in the mine. The second shift of the men went on at half past nine and came out with the boys and by that process they were only engaged from six hours to six and three-quarter hours from day to day, from bank to bank. There was great ignorance on this question. One Member had said that these boys were taken in before the men to open the doors; and an hon. Member outside the House asked another hon. Member if these men had not time to finish their work with an eight hours day, why did they not take their work home with them? [An HON. MEMBER: Was that hon. Member sober?] It had to be remembered that the hewers went into the mine two hours before the boys; but in every other coal mining district in the country the boys went in together with the men. That had been the custom all along. If this Bill was passed it would dislocate that local custom, and he must confess that up to the present Time he had tried and had miserably failed to fit in an eight hours day for the boys so as to keep up that custom. He hoped that 53 the hon. Member for Barnsley would give the Durham and Northumberland miners credit for the same regard as he had for the boys. A circular had been sent out by the North of England United Coal Trade Association which put the case very fairly, showing how the mines in these counties would be specially affected by the provisions of the Bill. That circular stated that—The system of working by two shifts of hewers to one of boys is necessitated by the natural conditions of the coal-field which render it impossible to maintain the existing output of the pits by a single shift of hewers. Under the regulations proposed to be enforced by the Bill it would be impossible to continue this system, as the time left for the boys to work would not be sufficient for them to get to the shaft the coals produced by the two shifts of hewers, whose time would be consequently ineffective.
What would the boys be doing until the men started to work?
The following appear to be the only alternative methods of working under the provisions of the Bill:—(1) A single shift of hewers served by a single shift of boys and other workmen; the hours of all classes being eight from bank to bank. (2) Two shifts of hewers, each to be served by a separate set of boys and other workmen, all being employed eight hours from bank to bank.
§ Nothing had been more striking than that in the North of England the number of boys under fourteen years of age available for mining work were getting less and less. Nothing was more certain than that with a gradual improvement in the condition of the working classes, the tendency of the time was for boys not to go into the mines as young as they used to do. That was apart from the operation of any Act of Parliament. Boys started work now at an age at which the boys of long ago thought themselves men. If the coal owners were right in their statement—and they were —that there must be two shifts of boys, where were these two shifts to be obtained? The hon. Member for Rhonda Valley laughed, but he would know that the number of boys for the mines was getting less and less. As had been stated by the seconder of the Motion, the wages of workmen and the profits of the employer depended upon the demand for coal, and the raison d'être of their position was that they were afraid of the present system being entirely upset and thrown on one side.54
He was sure that the House would not be led away—he did not say this in the way of disparagement—by the rhetoric and passionate declamation of the hon. Member for Hartley, when he appealed to the House for humanity's sake to give them this Bill. His hon. friend was one of those but for whom they might have had a measure dealing with this question twelve years ago. In view of the fact that the House was largely composed of new Members, he wanted them to consider the history of this Bill, which was rather a chequered one. In 1894 it was carried through this House and went into Committee, but the hon. Member, supported by other hon. friends of his, refused to accept an Amendment to the effect that in any county in which the measure was adopted by workmen employed underground in the manner set out in the Bill it should come into operation. That meant that where the workmen in any district decided for an eight hours' day, it should become law. Would any hon. Member tell him where, on that occasion, the plea for humanity came in, outside the districts of Durham and Northumberland, on the part of those who opposed a proposal which, by a bare majority, would have given them an eight hours day? The alleged inhumanity to boys who were kept down in the darkness of the mine for eight hours had gone on for twelve years, in consequence of the refused to accept that Amendment. But hon. Members, in spite of that inhumanity, refused to accept that proposal. If humanity was crying out with such a loud voice why was this local option refused? And it should be remembered that that local option applied to five-sixths of the mining community of this country. The hon. Members, in refusing to accept the local option, said it would put the districts in a very unequal position with regard to competing one with another. He would ask the House to observe that there was no plea of humanity here. They wanted to give the coalfields of this country equal rights and equal facilities in competing for the markets of the world, and this claim for humanity would not be found in previous debates on the subject. All that had been previously dealt with was a matter of commerce, and in dealing with the
matter, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham asked whether the House of Commons was to be a place where commercial differences and inequalities were to be settled. He was not going to plead for local option itself, although he thought it would be a very good thing for this House to consider and decide upon, but he wanted to deal with this matter from the point of view of the prosperity of the workers and employers. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), who was an advocate for local option before the Labour Commission, was asked the following question, which had a bearing upon mining districts—
If a case could be made out that a particular trade or district would be injured, or that it would close a number of pits and throw great numbers out of employment, you would not in that case be prepared to enforce the Act,
The answer was—
No. If it could be shown that giving that power to districts would enable us to secure the eight hours day for the districts which are in favour of it, I would be prepared, in order to obtain the eight hours Bill, to make such a concession.
§ The last Trade Union Congress passed a resolution on the eight hours, giving trade option, but the fact was not recognised that there was as much difference between the mines of this country as between trades. If this measure was forced upon them it would constitute a great revolution. If he were an employer and he found the lads were suffering, he should shorten the hours at once. He and others had been charged with cruelty, and no doubt everybody who looked upon him regarded him as a cruel monster, every lineament of whose face betrayed his coarseness and severity. In reply to that he would give a curious little bit of anecdotal history. He was motherless at four and a half years, fatherless at nine and a half, and then he commenced to work for four-pence halfpenny a day. Ever since he had been engaged in forcing his own way upwards. He had not forgotten the requirements of youth or turned a deaf ear to its hardships. If one of the boys in their county had a finger-ache they felt it. If this Bill was passed, however, it would 56 only enforce the workmen's, point of view, while that of the owners was left out altogether. It should be remembered in this connection that we were in competition with other countries, and that 90 per cent. of Northumberland coal went across the seas. His opinion was against the interference of the House of Commons with adult labour when men had the power to combine. They had before them the welfare of their people and when hon. Members opposite said they did not represent, labour, he could only say he represented the miners of Durham as fairly and truthfully as any Member in the House, and his colleague the hon. Member for Morpeth had for forty-three years been the Secretary of the recognised society of miners in Northumberland. Surely he represented labour. They were now speaking on behalf of their people, and they asked that this question should be settled once and for all. He suggested that if this Bill were read a second time that it should be sent before a Select Committee to inquire into all the circumstances of the case, and to devise a scheme which would settle these difficulties once and for all. If that were assented to he would not oppose the Second Reading.
§ Amendment proposed—
§ " To leave out the word now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"— (Mr. John Wilson Durham.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BURT (Morpeth)
congratulated the mover of the Second Reading of this Bill upon his excellent maiden speech, which had added to the long array of good maiden speeches delivered in the House this session. He did not know that he disagreed to any substantial extent with anything the hon. Gentleman had said. The hon. Member had pointed out that this Bill was to some extent a new departure based upon the principles of a Bill passed by the French Legislature. He had no objection to following a good example set by other countries. As his hon. friend the hon. Member for Hanley had 57 pointed out, although it was based on the French Act, it was not copied there-from. There were one or two very important exceptions. The hon. Member referred to meal times in mines, and in that respect there was a great difference between the Bill now before the House and the French Act. Moreover, under the French Act the manager had power to make certain exemptions, and very often for as long as two months at a time the Act could be suspended. That again was a very great distinction. He was glad to hear the hon. Member for the Leigh Division, as a large employer of labour, add his testimony to the good effect of the eight hour day as adopted by his own firm, because one always rejoiced to hear of success in that particular direction. Upon this point he disagreed with what was said by the hon. Member for Mid Durham. He did not object to interference with the hours of adult workers. He thought each case should be treated on its merits. He rejoiced at the tone of this debate. The hon. Member for Hanley had spoken of their long friendship, comradeship, and co-operation, notwithstanding the difference of opinion between them. He hoped that would always be so. His hon. friend the hon. Member for Mid Durham had entered very fully into the question of their double-shift system in the North of England, and had pointed out that their objections were based on the enormous, the almost insuperable, difficulties in adapting that system, which had many advantages, to the proposals of this Bill. They could not see that they could shorten their hours further compatible with the advantages they now possessed. He admitted that an eight-hour day was very desirable and that it was a thing which he would sacrifice much to obtain, but he could not see his way to attain it without greater evils being introduced than those from which the miners of the north suffered at the present time. That was their position. He was glad no charge of inhumanity had been made as regards the miners. No such charge ever had been made by their mining colleagues. He had heard it made many times, but it was made by kindly philanthropists, who were absolutely ignorant of the subject 58 upon which they spoke. For many years their own committees had considered this subject, with the object of devising a scheme to deal with it, but so far they had been unable to see their way to bring the hours of the boys down to eight a day without introducing greater evils than those they removed. He desired to reiterate and emphasise the appeal made to the Home Secretary by the hon. Member for Mid-Durham, that if the promoters of the Bill would agree, this Bill should be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee. The supporters of the Bill would lose nothing in doing that. It must strengthen their position, because it would then be carried by the unanimous assent of the House. They could hardly expect the Bill to become law this session, and therefore, in his opinion, the better plan would be to agree to that proposal. For the Government would have to take a decided line one day or another upon this question, and if the Home Secretary could see his way to appoint a Departmental Committee to examine into the whole subject the House of Commons would be able to take definite action. All Parties would have an opportunity to put their views before the Committee, and then it might be possible for the Government to take the matter up and deal with it in some coming session. If hon. Members did not agree to that then they must vote against the Second Reading. They had been successful four times upon this question and had been defeated four times. The Bill had been carried in less democratic Houses than the present, and would no doubt be carried to-day, but the Second Reading would not help them to solve their difficulties. If the House thought the existing system in the north was growing intolerable and should be done away with, let them end it. He only suggested that the House should think before it acted. He had known statesmen to get into considerable difficulties by acting before they thought. In conclusion, he would say, not what some said, that this Bill, if passed, would destroy the coal trade in the north; but he did think that it would cripple the industry. To be successful they must combine sound business principles with their philanthropy.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. GLADSTONE, Leeds, W.)
said he rose in answer to the appeal of his right hon. friend to state the general views of the Government upon this question, but he first desired to join his congratulations to those of the previous speakers to his hon. friend the Member for the Leigh Division upon his very interesting maiden speech. He congratulated him not only on the substance of that speech, but upon the fact that it had fallen to him to move the Second Reading of this Bill, a very old friend of the House, on an occasion which would probably be found to mark the advance of this question from the academic to the practical stage. They had listened to the admirable speeches of the hon. Members for Mid Durham and Morpeth which had been in the spirit which ought to mark all discussions of controversial subjects. He did not intend to enter into a discussion as to the provisions of the Bill, but one point that he would deal with was the new provision which had been based on the French system. He agreed that it was an admirable system, and, however far the proposal taken from that system might contribute to a settlement of this problem, it shewed that there was a conciliatory spirit among those who were responsible for this measure. The Bill was tolerably familiar to the House. Most Members had voted for it over and over again, and no member of the Government wished to go back from the position he had taken up in this matter in past years. What was the position to-day? It was admitted that there was no prospect of the Bill making further progress this session. Even if the Government were to give it facilities it could not make progress, because both of the Grand Committees were already choked with business. It would probably be admitted, too, that no Bill of this kind could be thoroughly satisfactory which was not generally agreed upon by the workers for whose benefit it was designed; and a Government, especially a Liberal Government, would make a great mistake if it attempted to ride rough-shod over the views of the hon. Members repre- 60 senting Northumberland and Durham. He recognised that his hon. friends from Northumberland and Durham agreed that there was a force majeure against them on this question with which, naturally, they were obliged to reckon; and he had not failed to recognize, also, the views of the coal-owners on the subject. In these circumstances they had to seek some solution of the difficulty which had always confronted the Bill since its first introduction. Ever since 1890 the debates had, necessarily, taken a somewhat academic turn. The economic side of the question had never been considered by any responsible or neutral authority. As a consequence the most widely divergent views prevailed. It was both affirmed and denied that the effect of the Bill would be to diminish output, to increase the cost of coal, to reduce exports; to give an advantage to the foreign producer; to create hardships because of the inequalities that existed, not so much between one district and another, as between one colliery and another, and one seam and another; and also in the case of pits where long distances had to be traversed to the coal In addition there was the divergence of opinion as to the economic results of the Bill between Northumberland and Durham and the rest of the country. There had been no authoritative or official intimation as to the economic conditions which were alleged to differentiate Durham and Northumberland from the rest of the country. Some of his hon. friends had said that the Bill would lead to a great reduction in the number of hands employed, and that it would cripple the coal trade of Durham and Northumberland. To all these and other matters full consideration, impartial and scientific, ought to be given. When a Government having to deal with an awkward matter suggested an inquiry, they exposed themselves to retort. But he was in the happy position that an inquiry was pressed upon him by the representatives of Durham and Northumberland; and he imagined it was not thought undesirable by the supporters of the Bill.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
said the fact remained that at this stage they had come to close quarters on the question. No one had anything to lose by such an inquiry as had been suggested. He thought it would be admitted that no progress could be made with the Bill in the present session, and he gathered from the representatives of Durham and Northumberland that they would acquiesce in the Second Reading on the condition that a Committee of inquiry should be appointed. He said frankly the Government would be very glad to appoint such a Committee. He was certain it would help matters forward. Therefore, so far as the Government were concerned, they were quite ready to institute an inquiry into the economic side of the question, and to be guided as to its nature by the opinion of those principally concerned. For his part he was more inclined to a Departmental Committee, because it could sit all the year round. He would point out that, though it might be thought by some that the conditions were so well known that a Committee of inquiry was unnecessary, under the circumstances the inquiry would not lead to any loss of time, and the net result must surely be, something gained. Consequently he hoped there would be a general agreement to the appointment of the Committee. If hon. Members preferred a Select Committee of the House the Government would raise no objection, but as the session was getting advanced that course would probably mean loss of time. He would sum up the position of the Government by saying they were quite ready to refer the question as suggested by hon. friends on both sides to a Committee of inquiry, and to give a cordial support to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY (Kent, Ashford)
claimed to speak on this occasion because he had been for over twenty years connected with a company which had very much to do with mining matters. For a good many years he was chairman of the company, and he was glad to know that some of his best friends were among those who were employed in the mines in connection with that company. If he were ever proud of being associated with the mining interest, he was still 62 prouder to-day when he thought of the speeches that had been delivered in this House by mining representatives, which in tone, in eloquence, and in argument had been seldom equalled. He was very glad that the appeal which had been made to the Government that there should at last be a thorough inquiry into this matter had been received by them in a cordial spirit. The right hon. Gentleman, however, in saying that this was the first occasion on which the matter had been treated from a practical rather than from an academic point of view must have forgotten that time fourteen years ago, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Mid. Durham, when the Government took the unusual step of adopting a private Member's Bill as their own in Committee of the House. It was the memory that during all those years there had been really a spirit of conciliation behind which would have enabled this matter to have been settled if the promoters of the Bill had really desired it, that he welcomed the prospect of arriving at a practical conclusion upon this matter. So far as the inquiry was concerned, he would suggest to the Government that it would be far better to have a Departmental than a Select Committee. A Departmental Committee could go thoroughly into the matter without interruption of its sittings. They knew the extreme value of Departmental Committees emanating from the Home Office. They had had a good instance of it in connection with the Workmen's Compensation Bill. There was, he thought, no more expeditious manner of obtaining the information required than the method he suggested. The questions in connection with this-Bill were of three kinds. The first was the difficulty which had generally absorbed the larger part of the debates on the question in the House, namely, that there was not a distinct mandate from the men in favour of this particular change. In another Bill which they had been discusing this week, the Government had acknowledged that if one child over one fifth of the children attending a school was against a particular facility being given, the opinion was to be final and was to be taken against nearly four-fifths. If that was to be laid down by the Government as a fair principle, 63 surely the plea of Northumberland and Durham deserved consideration, creating as it did an exact analogy, because they represented just about one-fifth of the coal output of the country. He did not desire, however, to enter upon the difficulties in connection with the Northern part of the Kingdom, because anything he might say would be extremely inadequate after the eloquent defence of the position the House had already listened to. The second difficulty was as to the interference with the hours of labour, and that had also been put forward strongly in a previous speech. He believed the right principle to follow was that as a rule labour was able to take care of itself. But of course they had frequently admitted, and probably would in the future, that there must be many exceptions to this rule, and if it could be proved that there was any peculiar injustice resting upon the miners of this country which justified such an exception, then he should certainly be the last to stand in the way of an exception's being made in their favour. But what were the facts? They knew that in a large part of the country miners were not now working the limit of hours fixed in this Bill. The average of the miners with whom he was connected was something like seven working hours per day. It was not the fact that there was this great demand which should cause them to make an exception to the general rule he had referred to, and there were peculiar conditions which rendered it much more difficult to carry it out than was the case in other industries in which work ceased at a particular moment. The peculiar conditions of the mining industry had always stood in the way of a settlement of this question. Reference had been made to the French system, but he believed there was a great difference in the calculation of the eight hours in France from that proposed under this Bill. He believed the French system was that the eight hours were calculated from the last batch of men to go in the mine until the last batch went out, which made it an easier matter to arrange. No solution had been given by the promoters of this Bill as to where the liability was to lie for ensuring the carrying out of the Bill. It was impos- 64 sible for the owners of a mine to ensure, where hundreds of men were concerned, that every miner should be actually at the surface at a particular moment. It was very important that the question of liability should be fixed before such a Bill as this was passed into law. By limiting the hours of labour there was no doubt a danger of more accidents occurring, because the men would have their attention more occupied in coal getting than in the safety of the workplaces in which they were engaged. It was a question which had been brought home to them by proceedings which were taking place upstairs, where the representatives of the men were increasing the liability of the employers very largely for minor forms of accidents, thereby throwing a heavier burden upon employers. Under this Bill a claim was being promoted which was likely to cause an increased number of accidents, which would cast an additional burden on employers. This sort of question had not, he thought, been dealt with by the promoters of the Bill, and, therefore, it was very desirable that they should have a very careful inquiry into the subject. The economic side of the question had also to be considered, because many Members—though, of course, not those who were connected with the mining industry—were liable to forget that proposals of this kind largely increased the cost. It was not only the men involved in coal-getting who had to be considered, but the men who were paid, not by the piece, but by the day; for if there was any decrease of output, of course it would tell on the expenditure in connection with their wages. If the time of output was limited, it would involve to the employers a larger use of day men in order to enable them to get through the work in the more limited time at their disposal. He had made inquiries with reference to the pits with which he was connected, and had ascertained that sixty-three per cent. of the men were employed on piece work and 37 per cent, by the day. Therefore, in considering the economic side of the question, they had to consider the extra cost which would be necessarily involved in connection with all the day men in the quarries. After all, it should be remembered that the coal trade was not a nourishing trade 65 which could bear new burdens constantly being placed upon it. They had the best proof of that in the fact that the 1s. duty on coal was the duty the Chancellor of the Exchequer considered it most essential to take off. It showed that a shilling extra on the export position of our coal was considered to be a serious burden. If that were so the coal trade was not in the flourishing condition that it could stand any greater strain upon it. Speaking as one who was connected with the employers, he welcomed this inquiry, because he believed it would place the matter in a further and fairer light before the House and the country. The debates in this House had too often followed only one line, that of the difference between the northern counties and the Miners' Federation, and the economic question had been rather laid on one side. It was most desirable that at a time when the House comprised so many new Members this matter should be reconsidered, and he hoped that hon. Members who were opposed to this Bill would be content with the declaration of the Government. He trusted that the question would be settled by the House in a friendly spirit.
§ MR. GLOVER (St. Helens)
said he had listened with great pleasure to the debate, and he assured the hon. Member who had moved the Second Reading that they had no complaint to make on the score of humanity. The right hon. Gentleman who had seconded the rejection of the Bill admitted the principle of an eight hours Bill, but with him it appeared to be a question of the system under which they were working, and that seemed to be the bone of contention. He wished to put to the House one or two questions on this subject. The mover of the Bill had pointed out that there were three interests concerned, and the first was the workmen themselves. He was sure there was no hon. Member in the House who would not admit that the working men themselves ought to be largely taken into consideration in dealing with this question. What was the position of the workmen in this country in regard to this measure? It had been said that Northumberland and Durham were against this Bill, but he wished to point out that the whole 66 of the workers in those two counties were not opposed to this measure, for when the ballot was taken a large number of them had declared in favour of it. He was sorry to say that in the part of the country which he represented in the House of Commons he had to report that it was a black spot so far as the long hours were concerned. Again and again through their organisations they had made requests to meet the employers on the one side and the representatives of the men on the other with the object of bringing about a shorter working day, but in every instance they had failed to get a meeting with the employers. No leaders of the working men or of the miners desired to have a strike upon this or any other subject, because they knew full well the horrors of strikes, and they did not desire to bring about the change they were asking for by such means. It had been admitted by his hon. friend opposite that an eight hours day was long enough for any miner to be engaged at work in the bowels of the earth. Consequently it was only the system that was preventing their friends in Northumberland and Durham from voting with them upon this question. It had been said by the Government that they were prepared to institute an inquiry into the question, but he should like to know what they were going to inquire into. The question had been discussed before the House of Commons for the last twenty years, and they seemed to get no nearer a solution. They had been told that the Bill would mean an increase in the price of coal, and that it would make coal so dear that it might cripple the industries of the country. He did not believe that if an eight hours day came into operation to-morrow there would be any diminution in the output of coal. Last year there was only an average of four days per week worked by the miners, and yet 240,000,000 tons of coal were raised, or 3,000,000 tons more than the total raised the year before. It was contended that they were going to place the miner and the off-hand man on the same level, but that was not the case. Upon this question of the output they ought to bear in mind that during the last ten years the facilities for producing coal and increasing the output had been very 67 great. In the year 1904, 190,000,000 tons of coal were raised, but by improved facilities in 1905 no less than 240,000,000 tons of coal were raised. They had been told that they had no right to ask the House of Commons to do for the adult workmen what they were able to do for themselves. They had also been told that the workmen could come up from the pit whenever they liked after a certain time, say two o'clock or one o'clock. That statement, however, was not true, for instead of facilities being offered in the past for the workmen to come out of the mine at two o'clock, he was sorry to say that they were frequently at work in the district which he represented until three o'clock, in some cases half-past three, and in others as late as four o'clock? Could any hon. Member say that there was any liberty to the miners when once they descended into the bowels of the earth, and were compelled to stop there till half-past three or four o'clock. Surely that was interfering with the liberty of the workmen. On these grounds he thought they had a right to ask the House to pass the Bill now under consideration. This was not a new subject, and he hoped it would be the last time they would have to come to the House of Commons with regard to it, and that facilities would be given for passing the measure through all its stages this session. With regard to the suggested appointment of a Committee, that seemed to him to be only a means of postponing dealing with the question. He did not see why there should be either a Royal Commission or a Departmental Committee appointed on this question. Everybody understood what the opposition to this Bill was, and there could not be much more information presented to them after an inquiry than what they already possessed Hon. Members representing the north of England had clearly stated that they were not opposed to a shorter working day for boys as well as men employed in mines, and their only opposition was because the Bill would upset the whole of the arrangements under which they worked in Northumberland and Durham. He was pleased to note that they had not upon this occasion had any opposition from those who represented the employers in the House. He 68 hoped that the Bill would be accorded a Second Reading and that it would be placed upon the Statute Book this session.
§ MR. RAPHAEL (Derbyshire, S.)
hoped the Government would reconsider its position and allow the House to determine once and for all the principle of the Bill without relegating it to the distant future. The measure had been before the House year after year, and the same arguments had been repeated. It had been proved time after time that what was now demanded by the workers would not affect the coal trade disadvantageously. It was impossible to conceive that they would ask the House to pass a measure which would prejudicially affect them in regard to the means of obtaining a livelihood. The miners were dependent for their livelihood on the prosperity of the trade, whereas the mineowners, having other resources, would not be affected to the same extent in their means of existence if the trade were injured by the adoption of an eight hours day. He thought great stress should be laid on the fact that an enormous majority of coal miners asked this change themselves. He believed that six-sevenths of the men employed in coalmining asked for it. The Home Secretary had said that several matters required to be inquired into. These matters had been thoroughly thrashed out time after time, and no amount of extra information could be obtained to make the position clearer than it was at the present time. Why did the Government assume this attitude now? On all other occasions the members of the Government had voted for the change, and now that they were in power and had the opportunity for legislative action they did not carry into effect the views they professed whilst in opposition. The coal miners were very dissatisfied with these dilatory proceedings. The matter was now in a critical and crucial position. They had been endeavouring by peaceful means to obtain this reform. They were tired of the matter being hung up year by year. It was perfectly obvious to those acquainted with the trade that the ability of the miners' leaders had been greatly exercised in restraining them. He was afraid that if the matter was to be hung 69 up indefinitely the men would say that there was no hope of obtaining anything from Parliament, and that they would take the matter into their own hands by having a strike. He asked the House to consider what might be the consequences of a strike on the part of five-sixths of the men who produced coal. It would be a strike without parallel in this country. It would be too late to consider the matter after the man had been driven to extremes. What was the difference between the two sections of miners on this question? In Northumberland and Durham they wanted to employ boy labour; in many cases the boys were children.
§ MR. RAPHAEL
said he called a boy of thirteen a child. The House had been told of an arrangement by which 1,000 boys had had their hours of labour reduced. The fact that this could be done in the case of 1,000 boys surely showed that there were methods of management not yet exercised in some mines where they could be put into operation. It appeared to him curious that when it was suggested that a system should be devised in order that these young people should not be employed so many hours a day they should be told that it could not be done without damaging or ruining the trade. The House ought, in the interest of humanity, to put an end to the confinement of boys in mines for ten hours a day under conditions which must be bad for their health, bad for their future growth, and bad for the interests of labour, because young people whose growth was curbed in this way must be less useful on attaining manhood. Surely a demand so moderate, and so often put forward by such a large number of men who lived by coal mining, ought to have some respect paid to it by the House. They did not want shorter hours in order to damage the trade by which they lived, but rather to cultivate to some extent the amenities of home life, to improve themselves mentally, and to enable them to take a still more active share in public life in which they already took a prominent part. He asked the House to pass this Bill, 70 and thereby do something to enable the miners to gratify these desires. They were always told that it was going to increase the cost; but what if it did, if it increased efficiency? He thought the increased cost of getting the coal would be counterbalanced by the increased efficiency of the labour.
§ MR. SAMUEL ROBERTS (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said that after the statement by the Home Secretary it would not be necessary for him to move the following Amendment of which he had given notice—That it is inexpedient to proceed with the Coal Mines (Eight Hours) Bill until, by means of a Royal Commission or some other suitable inquiry, more complete information is available as to the necessity for such a measure in the interest of the workmen, its consequence to the industry directly affected, and to the community, and, if any limitation of the working hours in mines is necessary, the method by which such limitation should be secured.He was satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that a Departmental Committee would be appointed. He hoped it would meet as soon as possible and report, so that a Bill on the subject might be introduced next session. He did not think those connected with the mining interest were against the Bill on principle, but they did say that so important and novel a change ought not to be made in the law without inquiry to see whether justice was being done to all the mining disticts of the country. The debate this afternoon had been very businesslike, and it had been conducted with good spirit on both sides. He thought the inquiry would be a good thing for another reason. Was this House a suitable tribunal to judge of the question? Did not the deserted state of the benches give a sufficient answer to that question? The subject was too technical for an ordinary Member of Parliament. An hon. friend had told him that when speaking in the lobby to an hon. Member this afternoon in regard to this Bill that hon. Member said to him, "If the miners have not finished their work after eight hours why don't they take it home." If that was the position of hon. Members he thought the Government had come to a wise conclusion in appointing a Committee 71 to advise them. The practices in the working of mines not only varied in different districts, but also in different collieries in the same district. He was a shareholder in a colliery in South Yorkshire where an eight hours day was in operation now. As the result of an inquiry which had been made he could tell the House that all through South Yorkshire the owners in this matter stood in a most, favourable position, and he was not at all sure but that this Bill, if passed, would assist them in levelling up the hours in other districts. He hoped, therefore, the House would see that in what he said he was perfectly impartial. The inquiry to which he had referred showed that, after making allowances for the time occupied in winding up and in travelling at the pit bottom, the actual average time that a collier worked at the face was only six hours and fifty-two minutes. Considering that the men only worked four and a half days a week, the hours of the colliers in that district would come to about thirty per week. Surely that was not unreasonable. As to the effect the passing of this Bill might have on the output of coal, both the mover and the seconder admitted that it would decrease the output. The calculation of some colliery proprietors was that the output might be reduced from 10 to 25 per cent. Taking the output at 240,000,000 tons a year, a 10 per cent, decrease would amount to 24,000,000 tons. That would be a very serious matter. The result would be that both manufacturers and householders would have to pay more for their coal. Up to the present the colliery owners had not felt the effect of the general improvement in trade. Hon. Members were all glad to know that trade was prospering at present, and no doubt the low price of coal had been conducive to that prosperity. It was important that the industries of the country should continue to have a good and sufficient supply of cheap fuel. He was not at all sure but that a decrease in the output to the extent of 1,000,000 tons a year would represent the margin involving the difference between a high and a low price for coal. He was sometimes surprised, however, that the colliers themselves, when they urged this matter, had 72 not reflected that they were paid by tonnage, and that unless they got an increased tonnage their wages would suffer. He thought the point that if they got less coal they would get less money had not been sufficiently thought over. Reference had been made to the French law, but the French law only applied to the actual hewers of coal, while this Bill would apply to every one who went down the pit. which was a very different thing. He hoped that the committee to be appointed to inquire into the question would be able to make some recommendations whereby elasticity might be secured. A rigid rule in this matter would be impracticable under certain conditions. There was another question which the Committee would have to consider, and that was the question of the safety of human life; If this Bill was introduced without any elasticity of the eight hours rule, how were they going to provide for breakdowns, falls of roof, etc.? There were three ways in which an eight hours day could be brought to operate. First they might calculate it from bank to bank; second, from winding to winding; and third, the time spent in hewing the coal. In regard to the latter, the districts in which it was in force were not numerous; but he was informed that the colliers in the Forest of Dean had passed a resolution in favour of making the hours from winding to winding only. Those for whom he spoke were quite agreed that eight hours work in the day was long enough; and all that they asked for was that certain provisions should be introdced into this measure, so as not to endanger the safety of the mines. That was, he believed, the position also of the hon. Members representing Durham and Northumberland. If these requirements were complied with, he believed a satisfactory settlement could be arrived at, and that next year, or the year after, a Bill might be passed which would be acceptable not only to employers, but to the country generally.
§ MR. BRACE (Glamorgan, S.)
said he had listened with exceeding interest to the discussion, and especially to the speech of one of the hon. Members for 73 Sheffield. He took it that that Gentleman was speaking on behalf of the Mining Association of Great Britain, which included all the colliery owners in the country. The hon. Member declared that the employers were not against an Eight Hours Bill from bank to bank. He was very much obliged for that declaration, because he felt that when the principle of the eight hours from bank to bank was conceded, there would be no great difficulty in settling the details. An entirely different statement, however, had been made by the coal owners in the North of England association, who had circularised hon. Members preparatory to this debate. He found from that circular that there was a very serious and strong opposition offered to the Bill upon grounds which led him to think that the members of that association had not studied their own case with advantage. They stated that in other employments, including quarrying, the hours of labour were reckoned from the hour the man began to work until he left off, and took no account of the time occupied in travelling to his work. The idea of comparing the position of a man employed in a quarry with that of a miner in the depths of the earth led him to think that the members of the North of England Coal Trade Association had not considered this matter with the care which they should have done. There could be no analogy between men employed in quarries and men engaged in deep coal mines. He noticed further that the admission was made that the coal owners had tried, but had failed, to come to a mutual arrangement with the trade unions to settle this question of the hours of labour. Surely, with the power of the trade unions of the miners in Northumberland and Durham, and the desire of the employers to come to an arrangement, some settlement might be brought about; but it was because it had been found in practice that such a settlement could not be reached that this Bill had been brought into Parliament to finally settle the matter. In another part of the circular to which he had referred, it was stated that the conditions under which the miners found employment were much more "comfortable'' than in other employments. He emphasised the word 74 "comfortable" The idea of associating comfort with working in a deep mine was highly amusing, if not ridiculous. Every one knew that if there was an occupation which was anything but comfortable, it was that of working in a mine. He knew of nothing so unpleasant. The miners had to go down into Egyptian darkness and travel along roads which were rough in the extreme, carrying their picks and shovels under their arms. Anyone who tried to do that would find that the conditions were anything but "comfortable." Again, it was stated in this circular that "the miner was protected from the vicissitudes of the weather." There was no word in the English language strong enough to criticise such a document as that properly, and yet it had been prepared by some gentleman speaking in the name of the coal owners in the north of England, who were really supposed to know something of the conditions under which miners pursued their calling ! He found, further, that in the circular the question of the cost of production was raised. Of course, the cost of production was different in different parts of the country. No measure dealing with the industries of the country had been introduced into Parliament without this argument of the cost, of production being urged against the concession of any reform. The workmen said that whether the cost of production under an eight hours measure would be increased was open to doubt. When the Compensation for Injuries Bill was before the House, it was said that the cost of production would be increased by 3d. or more per ton, but in practice it had not increased one penny per ton. Therefore, hon. Members should be wary in accepting that plea as against the Bill now under discussion. The miners had no desire to add to the cost of production, because that was a very serious matter for the workman as well as the employer; but there was one thing on which there could be no compromise, and that was the sacredness of human life. This was a question which ought to be considered in a category entirely apart from the cost of production. It was always difficult to oppose the hon. Members for Morpeth, Wansbeck, and Mid. Durham. They always put forward their 75 proposal with such a sweet reasonableness that it made it most difficult for their colleagues to oppose them; but he was authorised to say on behalf of his colleagues that they did not think that at this juncture the reference of this subject to a Committee ought to be made a condition with them. They felt they must carry the question to a division. If his hon. friends opposite would agree to allow this measure to pass without a division, it would make matters much easier, but they must have it on the records of the House where they stood. And in this connection he desired to say that they were a little grieved at the attitude taken up by the Home Secretary. For twenty years they had been continuing this agitation for an eight hours day, because they felt it was a question which ought to be dealt with by Parliament rather than by trade unions. He did not believe that there was any danger of dislocating the trade of the country. As reasonable men, who had given some attention to the welfare of the country, they came to Parliament to ask an eight hours day for miners by law, rather than use their power as trade unionists to accomplish that object. There could be no local option on a question of this kind. When other industries came to the House and asked for amendment of the law dealing with life and limb, there was no talk of local option. A majority of the miners of Great Britain demanded this Bill, and why was not the majority to rule in the case of the miners as it did in all other matters? They conceded that the Bill should not become fully operative until 1909, in order to give an opportunity to their friends in Durham and Northumberland to put their house in order. Surely, if the French coal owners and French colliers were entitled to an eight hours day, it might be agreed that British miners should have that boon granted them; and he hoped that before this year was out they would have an eight hours day from bank to bank.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
said he wished to disabuse the mind of his hon. friend, if necessary, of the impression that there was any idea that he, and those who agreed with him, were anxious to obtain any tactical 76 advantage over the promoters and supporters of this Bill. He recognised very fully and very gratefully the concession which the promoters of the Bill had made in the measure this year as compared with the Bills introduced in former years. There was undoubtedly a distinct movement on the part of the promoters of the Bill to lighten the difficulties with which they, in the north of England, were confronted. But the present Bill did not entirely remove those difficulties; and in putting forward the suggestion which he and his friends had made, they were actuated purely and simply by the thought of a rapprochement between the parties, and that they might get a Second Reading for the Bill without a division. The suggestion of an inquiry, either by a Select Committee or preferably by a Departmental Committee, was not put forward in anything like, the nature of a bargain. They thought that as there was an attempt at rapprochement by both parties to this question in order further to reduce the difficulties which confronted them in the north of England, nothing would be lost by an inquiry, and possibly everything might be gained. It was universally admitted by all parties in the House that at this stage of the session the Bill could not become law this year. His hon. friend the Member for South Derbyshire had said that the promoters of the Bill I had been contending for it year in and I year out for the past twenty years; and that they were not fools. Might he respectfully say to his hon. friend that in all these years he and his colleagues in the representation of Northumberland and Durham had been opposing the Bill, and that in their humble judgment they were not fools either? All he could say was that the men on the spot had not been able to devise a plan which, while reducing the hours of labour of boys, would not end in inflicting greater hardship on other workers. Of course, men on the spot were not always the best judges, but the fact remained that they were the men who were confronted with these difficulties and had to deal with them. It was with them a choice of two evils, and the question was which was the lesser. He was glad that it was frankly recognised and 77 acknowledged by his hon. friend the Member for Hanley, in his excellent speech, that, after all, the differences which existed on this question were honest differences. To have that frankly and generously stated was a great admission and helped them along wonderfully on the road towards conciliation. These differences were not confined to one side of the House nor to one party in the House, and the opponents of the Bill held their opinions as honestly as the supporters held theirs. In making the suggestion that an inquiry should be held, the opponents of the measure thought that by that course they might be able to obtain the opinion and advice of impartial men who would bring all the soundness of their intellect and all their ingenuity to the consideration of problems which had baffled their own ingenuity from year to year, and also the ingenuity of the man on the spot who were as earnestly in favour of the eight hours movement as any hon. Member who took part in the promotion of this Bill. The men he was talking about had children working in the mines, and had worked in the mines themselves, but they had been bound to admit that they could see no way out of the difficulty except by a plan which would increase and not reduce the difficulties of the normal situation. It had been admitted again and again that one of their difficulties was with regard to the double shift system. His right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean had said very truly that if they could only solve the question of the employment of the boys in the Northern Counties, the opposition to the Bill would disappear. The question, however, was how that problem could be solved without doing injustice to other people, and that was the problem with which they were confronted. The double shift was admitted on all hands to be the most economical system of working coal mines, but if that system was adopted they would require two sets of boys to perform the work. They had not got them, and there was no prospect of their getting them if the Bill was passed. They did not want more adult labour, as they had sufficient already, and parents of boys were not 78 likely to come into mining districts in order to get an opportunity of employing their boys when there was no demand for their own labour. If the system suggested were adopted, the only way in which the complement of boys could be completed would be that young men who were actually hewers should be employed to do the work of boys. These young men were sometimes married and had families, but they would be compelled to keep them at boy labour for a much longer period than they did at the present time. Such an arrangement would be strongly resented both by the boys themselves and the young men aged twenty-one or twenty-two. They had been told again and again that they had failed to settle this question in all these years by their negotiations through trades unions, and it was now proposed that where they had failed Parliament should come in and assist them. He did not think Parliament was quite prepared to assist them, but it was suggested that they should apply force where conciliation had failed. He did not conceal for a moment that if hon. Members cared to adopt that system of force they could compel the northern miners to alter their system and could impose upon them any additional cost they liked. He repeated that hon. Members could by the force which this House possessed declare that they must alter their system at whatever cost and subscribe to the doctrines laid down in an Act of Parliament. But Parliament would not be assisting them. Of course they would have to obey the mandate at once and set their house in order, but in all probability they should have to dispense with the labour of a large number of their coal hewers. These men would be thrown upon the labour market and would compete with miners in other districts, and that was not a problem which ought to be presented to labour organisations in large districts. He repeated that while hon. Members could compel them by the force of an Act of Parliament to subscribe to their terms, that did not help them in the north, and it would not improve the conditions of the men employed in this industry. He thought that if under all the circumstances, hon. Members 79 would consent to have an inquiry between now and the meeting of Parliament next year, it would very materially assist them in the consideration and treatment of this question. A Departmental Committee, as the Home Secretary had pointed out, might, if appointed, continue its labours while the House was not sitting, and could bring up a report next year when the Government would be able, if they were so minded, to pass legislation founded on that report. If that report was in favour of this scheme, the position of the supporters of the Bill would be strengthened and that of the opponents correspondingly weakened. It was obvious, having regard to the advanced stage of the session, that the Bill could make no further progress this year, and next year in order to forward it they would have to go through the same rigmarole that they had gone through this year. To get a place, they would have to stand the chances of the ballot, and it would depend upon their being successful whether they would have the chance of bringing the Bill before the House. Even if they succeeded in obtaining a place, the promoters of the Bill would have to face the same opposition that they had faced on the present occasion. He thought, therefore, that they would be well advised if they took a Second Reading of the Bill and then allowed the Government to set up a Departmental Committee to consider it. Again and again they who came from the north of England had been criticised as if they were lacking in human instinct and feeling towards their own offspring. Humanitarian sentiments were very fine sentiments indeed, and he would be glad if there was a great deal more desire to promote ideals of that sort on both sides of the House. They were not more wanting, however, in regard to humanitarianism in the north than were their friends in other parts of the kingdom. Twelve years ago if there had been anything in the humanitarian argument this Bill would have been put in operation in four-fifths—or he might say five-sixths—of the districts in the United Kingdom. It was not so much the humanitarian idea, however, which was at the root of the action of those who were supporting the Bill, as 80 the fact that they desired to equalise the commercial differences existing between one district and another. Parliament had no right to interfere in such a matter. If there were geographical conditions which gave one district economic advantages as against another district, it was not for this House to seek to over-ride those geographical and economic advantages in favour of less favoured districts who were engaged in competing in the race for commercial success. He urged his hon. friends who were promoting the Bill to give some slight intimation of what their intentions were. They did not on that occasion wish to force them to a division if they would give them an indication of their intention to allow the Committee to be constituted. If they would allow the Bill to go to such a Committee as had been suggested he was quite certain that many of the difficulties which now appeared insuperable would be removed and they should find themselves in a position to deal with this question next session.
§ MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Barnsley)
thought it was very desirable that in a new Parliament this question should be discussed, in order that they might know the position in which they stood. The hon. Member for Mid Durham had referred to him as a Durham colliery owner who was in favour of this Bill.
§ MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid.)
I never mentioned anybody's name, and certainly not that of the hon. Member
§ MR. JOSEPH WALTON
said he understood the hon. Member to indicate that he as a master sitting on that side of the House would go down to Northumberland and Durham and put this Act in force at the collieries in which he was interested. He should be glad to put it in force as soon as it was put in force in other collieries. He did not hesitate to say that he was strongly in favour of the miner's eight hours day. The dangerous and arduous class of labour which was carried on in coal mines made it necessary that that labour should be safeguarded by special legislation. If hon. Members 81 generally had experience of the conditions under which miners worked he was sure that few would oppose the Bill. He made it his duty from time to time to go down into the collieries and to see for himself the conditions under which the men were working. During the Easter recess he went down one colliery in order to see some electrical coal cutters at work. He had to travel in a main way which was only three feet high for half a mile, and he could only say that when he got to the face of the coal he needed rest before he could make an inspection. The time spent by the men in getting to and from their work was by no means the least arduous of their day's work. He therefore thought that the time should be counted from bank to bank, He should be glad to see the hours reduced even below eight from bank to bank. He was perfectly well aware that there were greater difficulties in applying this measure to the coal mines of Durham and Northumberland than in any other districts. He had always recognised that and believed that the hon. Members for Durham and Northumberland were honestly desirous of reducing the hours the boys worked, and that it was only in consequence of the difficulties that they hesitated at all about the Bill. He would ask, however, whether there was not a danger of exaggerating the difficulties of applying the Bill even in the collieries of Durham and Northumberland. He suggested that by the application to a greater extent underground of mechanical haulage, by the application of the power of electricity and by many other methods the difficulties might be obviated. While he desired to see a division taken on this Bill he did not wish to shunt any inquiry. After they had passed the Bill he should be perfectly willing to have it considered by some Committee. He, however, supported the measure and trusted that in that new democratic House of Commons it would be carried by the largest majority that it had ever received since it was brought before Parliament,
§ MR. WALSH (Lancashire, Ince)
said he only rose for the purpose of making it few observations upon certain points 82 which he thought had been overlooked in the course of the discussion. When the supporters of the Bill pressed for its adoption upon humanitarian grounds, they did not mean to imply that hon. Members from Northumberland and Durham were lacking in decent human sympathy. They supported the Bill upon humanitarian grounds because great national interests were involved. What in the matter of technical education was the great complaint to-day? It was that although extremely costly secondary schools and technical institutes were erected and maintained at a great expense, national and local, the general experience in the populous centres was that the boys could not be got to attend the classes owing to the long hours they spent in the mines. In the mines of Lancashire not only had the hours of work increased within the last quarter of a century, but they had relatively increased having regard to the hours worked in other counties. That was not because they had not honestly and conscientiously tried by combination to reduce the hours of labour of their people, but because of the overwhelming competition. The outputs had increased very largely. When he was a boy working in the mines the average output of a mine was 400 or 500 tons per day. Now he could quote cases of mines the average output of which was over 1,000 tons. He was himself connected with a mine not long ago where the output was nearly 1,900 tons per day. This enormous increase was accounted for by the use of modern mechanical appliances. Could it be seriously contended that in the face of such results flowing from modern appliances, mechanical inventions, and the general bracing up of efficiency in the mines, the same necessity existed for working long hours? On humanitarian grounds alone there was an overwhelming case, not merely for the sympathetic consideration of this measure by the House, but for the absolute approval of the measure either unanimously or by a large majority. The conditions of labour in other countries which were dependent upon foreign nations for their supply of coal did not apply in regard to the hours of labour worked in this country, because we supplied the world with coal. This was a great national question which 83 concerned the welfare of our adult population and of our boys, and he thought the Bill should be passed. He was very disappointed and grieved to hear the Home Secretary bring forward at this late hour—later even than the eleventh hour—the plea that the whole matter might be relegated to the consideration of a Committee. He did not agree with that proposal. In 1886 the measure was brought forward in the House of Commons—in the very same year that the Home Secretary's honoured father brought forward the question of Home Rule. He wondered whether, if the Home Rule Bill had been adopted by this House, any one would have suggested after nineteen years that it should be referred for inquiry to a Committee. It seemed to him to be a monstrous proposal. Did Committees prove anything? When had a Select Committee proved anything? Would they not, in attempting to get rid of one point of controversy, raise hundreds of others in its place? Would they not, in laying one devil, raise seven more devils each more fearful than the last? This was a case in which the analogy of the predominant partner should be applied. Even in the great Imperial issue of Home Rule, an issue that hundreds of thousands of people thought contained a great deal more than one question of controversy, Lord Rosebery himself had said that if he thought that the predominant partner was convinced of its necessity he was prepared to go on with it. In this case the predominant partner had been convinced for twenty years. It was with the greatest misgiving that he had heard the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, and he most earnestly hoped the leaders of the Miners' Federation would not accept the suggestion; that they would press the matter to a division and utilise in the near future every resource of civilisation to bring the Government to a proper sense of its duty in regard to this matter. He did not think any useful purpose could be served by remitting this Bill to a Select Committee or a Departmental Committee. They were satisfied that this was a great national question, and he believed and hoped that they would see it settled within a few years.
§ MR. J. JOHNSON (Gateshead)
said he was very pleased with the temper of the debate, and to think that although they were diametrically opposed to hon. Members, opposite on the question of the eight hours day, they did not differ in any other regard. All he desired to say was that he did not think that his hon. friends opposite were well advised in refusing this Departmental Committee. It had been urged again and again that nothing would be lost by accepting it. It seemed to him that they would be in a better position by so doing, because even if a division carried these proposals to-day, the question would not be settled. He could see no possible way in which they could agree with hon. Members opposite upon this question which had been honestly put forward. There seemed to be a latent feeling in the hearts of his hon. friends opposite that the suggestion for this Departmental Committee was not honestly put forward, because they said— "Why was it not put forward, before." And for that reason he should be very pleased if this debate could be carried without a division. There was one point to which he wished to refer, namely that in the whole of the debate, so far as he had been able to gather, not a single-Member on the opposite side had addressed himself to the question of the special difficulties of the miners of the North. It was easy enough to say that the thing was desirable, and he could conceive a position when a day not of eight hours but of six hours was desirable. They were not arguing, as some hon. Members supposed, for longer hours. They held no brief from any mine owner's association. He had never regarded this question from the point of view of £ s. d. He had always admitted that there was an economic difficulty, but had always said that that was a matter for the owners to deal with. What he had in his mind, speaking as he did with his hon. friend for Mid. Durham for 90,000 miners, was that it was not their wish. That they refused; that was to say so far as their force and power could accomplish it they refused and would refuse to have the hours of their men lengthened. Therefore it was incumbent on the promoters of the Bill to seek for 85 some means of grappling with their difficulty. He only said that to point out that not one hon. Member opposite had attempted to appreciate that difficulty. It was not pleasant for him to speak against the sense of the House, but it was his duty to do so, and so far as he and those who thought with him were concerned, they were prepared to undertake the unpleasant duty of protesting to the utmost limit of their power against the lengthening of the hours of those whom they represented. It was said to be desirable, but surely something should have been brought forward to show how it was desirable when it was likely, as had been pointed out, to inflict great hardships on others. Hon. Members opposite, especially the hon. Member for South Glamorganshire, had indicated in their speeches that the passage of this Eight Hours Bill would end all difficulties; that was to say, that there would be general uniformity. That was not his opinion, and they might be assured that if this Bill passed it would not end the difficulties in Durham, but begin them. There was a strength of purpose in the northern miners who would not sit down and see their hours lengthened without protest. If the Eight Hours Bill was passed into law there would be an emphatic protest by the miners of Durham and Northumberland which might have large and grave consequences. He did not propose to deal with the economic difficulty, because it seemed to be the sentiment of humanity which ruled in the House. It was a very laudable sentiment. But was it for humanitarian reasons that they were asked to support the Bill? Was it not really the ballot-box which hon. Members had in view when they voted for the Second Reading. There were many hon. Members who represented constituencies other than mining constituencies, who would probably vote for the Bill, because though this question was not theirs it would affect the ballot-box in the next election. The hon. Member for Barnsley had been exceedingly moderate and temperate in his speech. In fact he had been surprised at the moderation of the hon. Member, whose attitude upon this subject was usually much more spirited. The hon. Member had admitted that the condition of things was bad 86 in Durham. He himself did not say they were good. He was not speaking with the experience of having worked in the pit for thirty years for the purpose of telling the House that the pit was a desirable place. It was a very undesirable place indeed, and it would be desirable if they could shorten the hours not only for the boys but for the men. But while the hon. Member sat for a constituency in which the feeling in favour of this Bill no doubt largely predominated, he would like to know what the hon. Member had done within the conclaves of the meetings of his own association; whether he was prepared to seek by some means to persuade his fellow-owners-to grant the eight hours. They could not accept the hon. Member's conclusions because so far as they were earnest and real they ought to have been translated into action by the hon. Member in his own association in trying to persuade that association to concede this very desirable arrangement. He concluded by earnestly urging hon. Gentlemen opposite even at this late hour to accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, because he had no doubt that after very careful consideration of evidence collected from all parts of the country there might be a reasonable chance between now and another year of meeting together and to agreeing upon a scheme satisfactory to all concerned.
§ MR. WILLIAM ABRAHAM (Glamorganshire, Rhondda)
said that those who had spoken against the Bill had admitted fairly that their chief objection to its provisions was that they were afraid that the advantage given to the boys would inflict a greater disadvantage on the adults. In other words, there was a fear that the benefits accruing to the boys would be overridden by the disadvantages accruing to the men. What did that mean? It meant that hon. Members opposing the Bill were not prepared to meet the necessities of the boys by any kind of sacrifice on the part of the adults. But were not his hon. friends mistaking the whole object of this Bill. The memorandum of the Bill read as follows—This Bill will, of course, not have the effort of increasing the hours of work in mines where 87 by custom or agreement the hours of work are already less than those proposed by this Bill.That was the memorandum, and the intention of the promoters of this Bill was in the memorandum. Hon. Gentlemen had appealed to their considerations as gentlemen. They in return appealed to them as gentlemen. The Bill was their honest opinion of what was necessary. They did not seek in any way to injure the position of any adult by increasing the protection of the boys. They agreed that whatever was the position of the boys in Durham and Northumberland, it could not be worse than the position of their boys in Wales. But hon. Members did not see I that though their objection did not sweep away the fear of injury it did prevent the Bill coming into force all over the country. He, acting on behalf of many men and boys in another part of the kingdom, appealed to hon. Members opposite to withdraw their opposition. He appealed to them to let the Bill go through and trust to them to see what could be done.
§ MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
said he could not speak upon this question with the experience of other hon. Members who had addressed the House, nor, could he speak with the responsibility of a coalowner, because he believed upon this matter he held opinons not universally held upon the Opposition side of the House. He rose because he had represented for a good many years a constituency in which there were a large number of miners, and because in the early days of his candidature, fifteen years ago, he certainly was much impressed by the views expressed to him by many of the working miners of that district. There seemed to be weight in what they said. They pointed out how in the long days of winter the men and the boys would go down the pit in the morning before it was light, and would not come up again until after the sun had gone down. Day after day they would go down, spending their lives in darkness, both above and below, and that had a very depressing effect upon their constitutions. He thought there was a great deal in that contention coupled with the fact that while down the pit the miner 88 was faced with the daily dangers and difficulties of his occupation. He thought under the circumstances that the least he could do would be to go and see what the position really was in many of the mines in his constituency. So he went down the pits and crawled along on his hands and knees, with his lamp in his cap, and talked to the men at the face, but did not hear them speak of the comforts of a thin seam and a wet mine, such as had been alluded to in the course of the debate, and he had looked for those comforts in vain. Of course it was a more difficult undertaking for an amateur like himself to do this than it would be for a working miner, but still enough remained to make him think earnestly and truly that a man who had worked at the face of the mine under those conditions for eight hours a day had done a very full day's work. Those were, and had remained, his strong personal convictions. Why, then, was it that an eight hours day had not become universal in the part of the country which he represented? On that he thought the employers were entitled to express their opinion. And he had gathered from them that the chief difficulty they had to face was this. They were dependent upon the arrival of ships to take away their coal. If, owing to storms or other unforseen circumstances, the ships were delayed, it was impossible to clear the trucks already loaded, so that the men were kept waiting in the pit, often for hours at a time, with no work to do, until the trucks they had filled could be emptied and fresh ones sent to take their place. He thought that if some scheme could be devised to meet that difficulty, a good deal of the opposition on the part of the employers would be removed. The palliative of the Home Secretary—his remedy for this condition of affairs— was to appoint a Departmental Committee or a Commission of some kind. He believed that fifty Departmental Committees or Royal Commissions or Select Committees of this House had been appointed by right hon. Gentlemen occupying the Government Benches, to look into various questions during this session. Had not every argument that had been used on one side and on the other been put before the House? Yet 89 they were not in a position now to come to a decision. He claimed from the right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches that they should now give the House their guidance and advice, that they should not shirk their responsibilities and seek to throw them on the shoulders of a Committee. They ought to give the House a distinct lead upon this matter, and not only guide their deliberations, but enable them to come to a conclusion. The Bill seemed to be more moderate in tone than any similar Bill laid before the House during an experience, and he could only say chat whether the right hon. Gentleman granted this Committee or not, he should vote for the Bill in the hope that this country would be at least brought up to the level of other countries in this matter.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL, Yorkshire, Cleveland)
said the hon. Member who had not heard the Home Secretary's speech had evidently been misinformed as to its purport, and other hon. Members had misinterpreted his remarks, although they were very clear and definite. It had been assumed that the Home Secretary's suggestion was that the Bill should not be pressed to a Second Reading, but that the subject should instead be referred to a Departmental Committee. He had suggested nothing of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that if the Bill went to a Second Reading he would support it. That was also his own intention, and, he supposed, the intention of his colleagues present on the Treasury Bench. The Bill having passed the Second Reading, it was proposed that then a Departmental Committee should be set up in order to attempt to discover some means by which the position of Durham and Northumberland might receive consideration. Hon. Members opposite must realise, as all the House must realise, that it was impossible in the present state of public business that the Government could give such facilities as would enable this highly controversial measure to pass this session. Since the Government could not give those facilities, and private Members below the 90 gangway could not get the Bill through without them, the final decision must be reserved till next year. Was it not reasonable to utilise the interval to find some means of mitigating the grave difficulties that had been urged? After all, Durham and Northumberland were not unimportant counties, and their protests could not be brushed aside as a matter of no moment. The Miners' Federation, he believed, had no desire to ride rough-shod over their colleagues in the northern counties; and the Government view was that since the Bill could not pass this session, it was advisable to appoint some authoritative body, which, after hearing evidence and after due inquiry, would be able to present to the House and to the nation a declaration which would carry official weight. It might be that as a result it would be possible to modify the difficulties of the right hon. and hon. Members for Northumberland and Durham. Some change in the method of working the mines might be suggested. A larger number of boys might be employed in their shift to carry away the coal hewn by the men in their two shifts. The opposition might be conciliated, and the question settled by common consent. As the hon. Member on the front bench opposite was going to vote for the Second Reading, and his friends would probably not oppose it, and as the hon. Members for Northumberland and Durham were prepared to accept the Second Reading since the Government had proposed to inquire into their case, the promoters of the Bill would do well to accept the suggestion offered. They could have no stronger affirmation of the general principle of the Bill and the desire of this House, if possible, to shorten the hours of labour in the mines than would be conveyed in the Second Reading by consent. It might be in that way that means could be found for settling the question so that its settlement might not be the occasion of widening the breach that had so long remained open between the various sections of miners, but of cementing that union which all desired to see.
§ MR. J. M. ROBERTSON (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said he could not understand why the promoters of the Bill 91 could not agree to the solution suggested. There would be no reason for his speaking at all upon this matter if his hon. friends opposite had shown any desire to assent to this inquiry. It was because they refused to do so that he desired to say a few words. What he wished to do was to point out that no effort had been made on the part of the other side during this debate to deal with the special circumstances of Northumberland and Durham. There should have been at this stage of the Bill a technical discussion as to the conditions affecting every part of the country, but the hon. Member for Rhondda only went so far as to read the memorandum to his Bill and say that the promoters had no desire to inflict hardship. But the memorandum did nothing to help Northumberland and Durham, and merely said that it would not increase working hours. Supposing the northern miners found themselves forced, for the preservation of their wages, to lengthen their hours as a result of this measure, the memorandum could hardly be used to prevent their doing so. They on that side asked the promoters of the Bill to agree to the inquiry, which, while it would leave them in no worse position than they were before, might do something to solve the difficulties of the northern miners. Hon. Members said their sole object was to shorten hours and to better the conditions of life among the boys. In that he agreed with them, but when they were asked—"Why will you not accept local decisions in the matter?" they admitted directly or indirectly that it was for financial reasons, and that it might result in an economic disadvantage so far as they were concerned. There was no other explanation, and he ventured to say that even the mover of the Bill, to whom he desired to pay his tribute of admiration for the moderation and temper of his speech, would not deny it. The hon. Member had said that there would be as much work done in the shorter hours. He was well aware that the ten hours day's work from bank to bank by the boys did not mean ten hours work. It was largely intermittent, and the effect of this Bill might be to induce harder work than before in shorter hours. At the age of thirteen 92 he worked twelve hours a day with intervals for meals and intermittent work. At the age of fourteen he worked nine hours a day with short intervals for meals; but the solid nine hours day was a very much harder day than the twelve hours day with intermittent work. He had no hesitation in saying the nine hours day's work, as done now in many factories, was a much more exhausting and ageing work than the work done in the longer hours of the old system. The mover of this Bill had argued that more work would be done in the shorter hours; he said there was a lot of loafing—the hon. Member called it loafing; he himself called it rest—in the ten hours day. He admitted that a greater pace would be put on, and if that was so this humane solution of shorter hours was a very imperfect solution indeed. He again appealed to hon. Members opposite to accept this Committee. The hon. Members for Northumberland and Durham could not see how their problem was to be solved. If the Bill was carried it might break down the two-shift system and create infinitely more industrial misery than they could possibly hope to compensate for by the shorter hours. He therefore urged hon. Members opposite to give some consideration to the problem of Northumberland and Durham and agree to this inquiry.
§ MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid.)
said that after what had fallen from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office he begged leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.