§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Lords Amendments be considered forthwith."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
It would be a great convenience to the House if the right hon. Gentleman would give a survey of the Amendments before the House, as we have no Paper, and cannot, therefore, see what they are. Of course, no one is to blame, but under the circumstances, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will survey the Amendments to be dealt with.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. GLADSTONE,) Leeds, W.
Practically there are three points for the consideration of the House. The first deals with the period of five years during which, under the Bill as it stood, the second windings were to be excluded. The second point deals with 2270 the penalties—in what was Clause 6 of the Bill as it left this House. With regard to that the Amendments are complicated and somewhat lengthy, but the upshot is a new clause upon which an agreement has been reached, and in regard to which I do not think any exception or objection can be taken. Explanations will be given upon those Amendments when that point is reached. The third point is in regard to the date. Those are the three main points which this House has to consider.
In page 1, lines 12 and 13, to leave out the words 'during the five years after the commencement of this Act.'
§ Read a second time.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
In rising for the purpose of asking the House to agree with this Amendment, I have to express my regret that the Amendment has been—I will not say imposed upon this House—but sent down to this House for its consideration and practically for its acceptance. The Bill as it was introduced was not an eight-hours bank to bank Bill which, as I may remind hon. and right hon. Members opposite, was the demand put forward by the miners of the country. The Bill as it was introduced really provided for an eight-and-a-half-hour bank to bank day. There was on the average half an hour more per day than under the scheme first proposed by the Miners Federation. That was one concession which the miners were asked to make and they made it, and made it cheerfully. Then a further concession was made by the Government, to which again the Miners Federation agreed, in the exclusion of two windings for a period of five years. Now I must remind the House that over and above these concessions, the Bill provided that upon sixty days in every year an hour's overtime was to be allowed in every colliery. So that the House will see that the miners themselves had advanced in the point of concessions a very considerable distance. Now we are asked to assent to the further concession of eliminating the period of five years, and by so doing make the exclusion 2271 of both windings permanent, I am not going to waste any words on this occasion. We are met here for the purpose of business, and I will only say that the Government accept this Amendment under strong protest; that we do so in the hope, first of all, that that acceptance will conduce to the mineowners loyally co-operating in carrying out the purposes and objects of this Bill. We make this further concession, making it perfectly clear at the same time that we do not surrender our position. We do not admit that the Act was either dangerous or wrong as it stood when it left this House, and we hold that at the end of the five years period we shall be fully entitled to reconsider the position and take any constitutional measures that we think fit for the restoration of the position to that proposed in the Bill in the shape in which it left this House. I confidently believe that the country by that time will have seen the error into which the prophets of evil have fallen. I regret that we have to accept this Amendment, but we do accept it in the hope that it will lead to conciliation, to peace, and, as I have said, to the loyal co-opera ion of those who have pressed this Amendment upon us so that we may ensure that the fullest benefits shall be obtained from the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—Mr. Gladstone.
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
regretted exceedingly that the Government had, apparently without protest—[Cries of "No, no."]—without effective protest, agreed to consent to this permanent mutilation of the Eight Hours Bill. He had read somewhat carefully the reports of the debates in another place on the Second Reading and Committee stages of the measure, and was convinced that if the Government had made it a condition o* carrying this Bill through that the five years period should remain, the Leaders of the Opposition in the other House would have given way. So far as he could gather no negotiations had taken place, no attempt had been made to save the Bill. The hope indulged in by the Home Secretary that to accept this 2272 Amendment would make for peace and for conciliation was in the very nature of things doomed to bitter disappointment. Had the Bill remained the question would have been settled once and for all. With this Amendment it remained open, and during the next five years there would be constant uncertainty as to what was going to happen at the end of that period, agitations on the part of the miners with the probability that if a proper Bill was not introduced there would be a big dislocation in the coal trade to secure what the Bill would have secured for the miners if it had remained as it left this House. Was not this a good beginning to the campaign for the overthrow of the House of Lords? What his hon. friends opposite, the leaders of the Federation, were going to do was for them to say. They, after all, were the responsible parties in connection with the matter. He hoped for their own sake and for the sake of the Bill they would carry the matter to a division. If, on the other hand, they agreed to accept the decision of the Government, they on those benches would not take the responsibility of pressing a division in opposition to their wishes. He felt very strongly that if the House even now disagreed with this Amendment, the Lords, rather than run the risk of a conflict between themselves and the organised workers, of the country, would climb down as gracefully as they could. What they were asked to receive was only the remains of the Eight Hours Bill. The trouble all through this matter had been too much concession. If there had been less concession on the part of his hon. friends opposite and on the part of the Government the Lords would not have dared to make this Amendment. But the mischief was done, and he hoped his hon. friends would still show their opinion of the action taken in another place by carrying the matter to a division.
§ MR. E. EDWARDS (Hanley)
was with the hon. Member for Merthyr in his regret that this clause had been put into the Bill in another, place. They regarded the extension from three to five years as a substantial concession to carry the Bill through. The Miners' 2273 Federation, who had been working for years to get eight hours from bank to bank, had always realised that there might be some difficulty in securing it at once, but when the measure was in Committee of this House, the Bill as drafted met with the general approval of the miners throughout the country. They regretted that in another place where no representatives of working men had an opportunity of stating their views, where no member of the Miners' Federation was permitted to put their case, they should have thought fit to omit the five years and exclude the two windings. The Miners' Federation had had their annual conference that day, and had carefully considered this matter, and did not share to the full the views of his hon. friend the Member for Merthyr. The Miners' Federation realised the responsibility of the position they had taken up, and while they were as anxious as the hon. Member for Merthyr to carry an Eight Hours Bill, and while they were satisfied that at present they had a Bill which gave them eight hours underground, they, at the same time, most energetically protested against the action taken in another place. Whatever the Miners' Federation might do with the Members in another place was not for him to say, but one thing was certain, namely, that they would not let this question rest where it was. Having secured, at any rate, the machinery of this Bill, and that there should be no double-shift working with the men and overtime—having laid down that principle in this Bill—they would seek to secure what had been the goal of the Miners' Federation in the near future, an eight hours day from bank to bank. While they protested they did not feel as a Federation called upon to destroy the Bill, and having said that they would support the Government in their efforts to carry the Bill through.
§ MR. PONSONBY (Stirling Burghs)
said he rose to support what fell from his hon. friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil, and he would go one step farther than he did, and, if necessary, divide the House on this question. It was late in the year, and they were all agitated by one common feeling, which 2274 was to get away from this place; their bags were packed, and they desired to go, but such was the Constitution that the most important matters happened just at the end of the session. The result of accepting that particular Amendment of the House of Lords meant that they were not passing an Eight Hours Bill. It meant that the question was not settled, and that there would be an agitation for fresh legislation in the near future. If it were to be a compromise for the sake of a settlement, he would be the first to vote for it and to acquiesce in it, because, after all, their political life to a great extent depended upon compromise. This, however, was not a compromise for a settlement, but a concession which prevented a settlement. He hoped his hon. friends the Members for the Miners' Federation would not consider it presumptuous on his part to take this action. He had no desire to dictate to any man or to any Party, but he thought it would be better for them to listen to the advice of a friend than to submit to the dictation of their enemies. He did not believe that peace could come of any settlement of this sort. It was not as if they did not know very well the motives why the Lords had forced this Amendment upon them. The basis upon which they built their edifice in this matter was profits and prices, and not principle. He thought they were coming to a hasty decision which they would very much regret in the future. If they had had time for more calm deliberation, he felt sure the Miners' Federation would not have come to this decision, nor would the Government. They were forced up against Christmas, they were forced up against the desire of Members to go away, and in a weak moment, instead of showing some sort of moral courage, the Government had given in. He supposed they ought to be thankful that the Bill was discussed in Committee by their Lordships, and not disposed of in some private house in Mayfair; but in the great campaign against the Lords was their first step to be on their knees? Were they to show this timidity and allow themselves to be dictated to, not only submitting to have their Bills rejected in their faces before they were read a 2275 second time, but, if they were given a second reading, having the details altered so that they came back to them in a form which prevented their being efficacious or being the policy which the Government originally laid down? He had done his best during the autumn session to support the Government by keeping his mouth shut, but there was a moment when he could no longer do that. He felt very strongly on this point. He felt that they were making a great mistake. They were spoiling a very valuable Bill, and all for the want of keeping up till the last moment—at the end of a very exacting session, he acknowledged—their moral courage and strenuous desire to fight for the liberties for which they as a Party cared. He should certainly divide the House if no one else did.
§ MR. BRACE (Glamorganshire, S.)
said he had not intended to intervene in this debate, but as a miners' Member, he felt that they could not be expected to sit down under the rather severe strictures upon what after all had called for very mature and careful consideration on the part of the leaders of the organisation. It was all very well to talk about dividing the House and about fighting the House of Lords. If there was a body of men in this country who had displayed fighting capacity of a first-class character it was the miners, but, side by side with that fighting capacity, they had displayed some sagacity too. When they were going to fight they were going to select ground that would not be disastrous to themselves. Upon this occasion, what had they facing them? They had an Amendment from the House of Lords, an Amendment which they all deplored, an Amendment which they thought ought never to have been put in the Bill, an Amendment that would demand from them continuous agitation and ultimately again to demand that Parliament should give them what after all the miners had a right to ask. They were told in that Amendment that they were wrong. He associated himself with his hon. friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil when he said that the mistake in tactics that they made in this House was to compromise too much. 2276 But they were now face to face with either accepting their Lordships' Amendment or standing the risk of having their Bill rejected altogether. If they thought that their Bill would not be rejected altogether, their attitude would be entirely different, but he asked the House to take it from him, as speaking with his friend and colleague the hon. Member for Hanley on behalf of the Miners' Federation, that they had spent too much time working, waiting, almost despairing for this Bill to take that risk, and rather than risk dividing the House—and, after all, what was the value of dividing the House of Commons unless with the intention and the determination to carry the House against the Amendment—it was because they felt that, when their President was put up in their name to enter their protest they entered their protest there on the floor of the House of Commons, and they would enter their protest against the House of Lords in all the ballot boxes, they could command in the country.
§ LORD R. CECIL
said he could not help thinking that some hon. Members regarded this Amendment as of more serious importance than it appeared to be. After all, it would leave the Bill precisely as it was when it left this House; the only effect would be that it would make a change five years hence unless some other Bill was passed. The hon. Member for Stirling Burghs had made an impassioned speech against the House of Lords. It was not the first time that they had heard such speeches against the House of Lords. [An HON. MEMBER: It will not be the last.] He had no doubt they would hear many more, and with precisely the same result. The hon. Member seemed to think the Government were in earnest in the matter, but surely the hon. Member should be convinced by the history of the past few years that that was an absurd hypothesis. Of course, this was merely part of the ordinary Parliamentary stock-in-trade of the Liberal Government. When anything went wrong they abused the House of Lords, and threatened all the terrible things they were going to do to them, without in any way compromising the length of their existence. The hon. Member had his sincere sympathy 2277 but he thought he was more ingenuous than he used to believe him to be.
§ MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
asked if he might say one word on behalf of the Government. It had been stated that this was not an Eight Hours Bill, and that was quite right. It was a seven-hours Bill, or a six-and-a-half hours Bill. The Miners' Federation had sent up Resolutions to the Committee relating to the hours of work underground, all under the impression that it was fixing eight-hours work underground. The Bill fixed practically not more than seven hours work underground as the maximum possible under the terms of the Bill as it now stood. Therefore, for people in favour of an Eight Hours Bill to object to this Amendment on the ground that it allowed too much time underground was inconsistent. If they did not wish the miners to work seven hours, let them say so, but let them not kick up a row because the Bill only allowed seven hours maximum work underground.
§ Read a second time.
§ Agreed to.
In page 3, lines 19 and 20, to leave out the words 'during five years after the commencement of this Act.'
§ Subsequent Lords Amendments to the Amendment, iR page 3, line 19.
MR, KEIR HARDIE
said this was an Amendment to which he wished to raise objection. It was not necessarily a consequential Amendment following upon the one already accepted. It would be remembered that under the Bill firemen, examiners, and deputies during five years were to be allowed to remain in the mines nine and a half hours a day, and thereafter nine hours a day. The effect of the Amendment made by the Lords was that the nine and a half hours per day would be stereotyped so long as the Bill remained the law. Everyone of his friends and colleagues agreed that thet was a very serious matter. He did not know whether 2278 the Government had considered it. At any rate it was not a consequential Amendment on the one already agreed to. The effect of it would be that firemen, examiners, and deputies would have nine and a half hours a day, and he was sure the House of Commons would not desire such a result. These men held responsible and very often onerous positions, and he thought this was a point on which the Government might reasonably expect opponents of the Bill in another place to give way. The Amendment could be rejected without in any way endangering the Bill or interfering with further Amendments of any kind, while at the same time ensuring that the hours of these men whom he had specified should not be fixed at nine and a half but at nine hours per day. He therefore moved to disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—(Mr. Keir Hardie.)
§ * THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir S. EVANS,) Glamorganshire, Mid
I hope that the hon. Member will not persist in his opposition to this Amendment, which is a consequential Amendment. The proviso in the Bill as it left this House was that in the case of firemen, examiners, and deputies, the maximum period below ground should—During the five years after the commencement of this Act be nine and a half hours, and thereafter nine hours.Nine and a half hours was the maximum we laid down during the five years, and nine hours afterwards. But the House has already accepted the Lords' Amendment to strike out the five years in the first clause, the effect of which was to make the conditions which we laid down for those years, applicable generally, until the law would be altered; and the Lords by this Amendment have struck out the words "During the five years after the commencement of this Act and thereafter nine hours," so as again to make the provisions laid down by us for the firemen and deputies for the first five years, applicable generally, subject to future alteration by Parliament. I think 2279 this Amendment, therefore, is clearly consequential. The hon. Member for Merthyr twice in the course of his speech said that if we agreed to this Amendment we should be stereotyping and fixing the hours at nine and a half hours a day once and for all. The Amendmant does nothing of the kind; it does something very different. When this matter was in Committee, and again on Report, I urged that we could not really fix the hours of firemen and others who are mainly and primarily responsibl for the safety of the mine to be the same as for those who ordinarly work in the mine, and who, shough responsible as in-dividuol workmen, are not responsible as officials. The firemen who are mainly responsible for the safety of the mine are not regulated by a particular shift. The firemen have to go down a considerable time before the shifts, but it does not necessarily follow that they remain down nine and half hours. I urged the desirability of such arrangements being made between these men and the employers as would enable them to work the mine efficiently and safely, and I believe that will be done by arrangement between the masters, the officials, and the men. It is quite clear that we are not increasing the hours; in many cases the Act will greatly diminish them; nor are we fixing or stereotyping the hours at nine and ahalf hours a day; what we say is that that nine and a half hours would be the maximum period beyond which it would not be possible for them to remain underground. They have to go underground, as I have said, before the miners, and therefore they cannot be in the same shift as the miners at all, and really they are in a separate and different category. Far be it from me as representing, not only the Government, but a mining constituency, to urge that these men should be kept underground longer than others; and it cannot be in the interest of the owners or of themselves that their hours of work should be such as to slacken their energies or to weaken their efficiency; but circumstances may arise out of the obligations resting upon them which may require, apart from questions of sudden or unforeseen emergency, that they shall be allowed in soms cases to remain underground somewhat longer than the ordinary miner. I have had no representation 2280 myself from the firemen to show that they cannot trust these matters to be regulated between themselves and their employers. If they thought it necessary that they should come within the hard and fast rules applied to the miners engaged underground, I think they would have made a representation to me on the subject, or to me they would have made a representation indirectly through their special representatives. I think the reason that they have not made such representation is, as I have said, that there is a difference in their position, and that they recognise that difference. The whole of these men form only some 3½ per cent. of all those engaged in the mining industry, and they may fairly look for a limitation of hours, not to an Act of Parliament framed for the benefit of those who are not able to take care of themselves, but to arrangements made between themselves and their employers in view of their joint and respective obligations to look after the safety of the colliery.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Lords' Amendment agreed to.
§ Lords Amendment—
§ Subsequent Lords Amendments to the Amendment in page 5, line 35, agreed to.
In page 5, line 35, to leave out subsection 2.'
§ Read a second time.
§ SIR S. EVANS
This Amendment is the last of a series, which makes a considerable difference in the form of the clause from what it was when it left this House, but I can assure hon. Members that there is really no difference at all in substance. As the clause now stands there will be a substantive obligation on the employer and his representative to make that regulation, and to provide the necessary facilities for raising the men out of the pit in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The only other alteration made is this. If failure to 2281 comply with the Act is proved or if there is any contravention on the part of anyone directly concerned, or if there is indirectly connivance at contravention, there will be an offence committed on the part of the owner, agent or manager of the mine. There is considerable difference in form, but really little, if any, in substance, and I beg to move to agree with the Lords Amendment.
In page 6, lines 11 and 12, to leave out the words 'as respects mines in the Counties of Northumberland and Durham.'
§ Read a second time.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
I beg to move that the House disagree with this Amendment. It will be necessary to detain the House two or three minutes because the point is an important one, and it is necessary to state the reasons for our disagreement. Two points emerge quite clearly from the debates which have taken place here and elsewhere. First there is a general agreement apart from those who may be specially interested in the trade of a particular district that a summer date for the commencement of the Act is desirable. In the second place it is also clear that any date which may be proposed is open to serious objection from one district or another—possibly from several districts. The House knows what has happened. The date in the Bill when it left the House was 1st July, 1909, and the date now is 1st July, 1910. I understand that in another place there is a full disposition to acquiesce in the views of the Government, provided, and it is a proper condition, the Government takes full responsibility upon itself for the date. The Government never has desired to avoid this responsibility, and, assuming that it has a perfectly free hand, naturally that responsibility must rest upon it, and I therefore frankly say that we do accept full responsibility for the date which we are going to propose. What are our reasons for reverting to the date as it was in the Bill when it left the House? We say as regards 1st July, 1910, 2282 in the first place it is far too distant a date, and in the second place I would suggest that, looking at it from the general point of view of the consumer, it may be that the conditions of trade under which the Bill would begin to operate in 1910 would not be nearly so favourable as they are at an earlier date. I pass to the date of 1st January, 1910, which has also been proposed. As regards that I say emphatically after full consideration that we cannot take the responsibility of bringing this Bill into operation in mid-winter all over the country. As regards 1st April, 1910, or 1st October, 1909, no serious arguments have been brought forward as alternatives. I come by a process of elimination to 1st July, 1909. Then the question turns upon the concession which we have made with regard to Durham and Northumberland. I agree that that is a matter which may fairly provoke discussion. We proposed that an extension of the preparatory time should be given to Durham and Northumberland of six months, so that the Bill should begin to operate in those counties on 1st January, 1910. It has been urged that the Committee presided over by my hon. friend behind me found in its conclusions that, as regards the probable economic effect, more serious consequences were likely to ensue in South Wales and parts of Lancashire than elsewhere, and that has been used as an argument against this concession. But I do not argue that because the ground of our concession is a practical one. Is the reorganisation possible by 1st July? I would say this, that no representation has reached the Government either from South Wales or Lancashire with regard to the difficulty of making sufficient preparation by 1st July, and the reason is this, that though the Committee may be right in regard to their conclusion on economic grounds, yet the problem of reorganisation in those districts is far simpler than it is in Durham and Northumberland. Why? Because it seems that in South Wales and Lancashire hours will have to be knocked off, so as to bring them within the operation of the Act, and then economies of time in various respects will have to be made, and, where necessary, multiple shifts may be introduced. But, as regards Durham and 2283 Northumberland, the case is quite different. Through the past year my Department has had constant representations from Durham and Northumberland from both masters and men as to the necessity for giving more than six months, and we found in our judgment that, as the present system of working in Durham and Northumberland is incompatible with the provisions of this Bill, more time will, in fact, be necessary. It is not a question of reorganisation only in Durham and Northumberland. It does mean undoubtedly reconstruction from top to bottom. There will be the difficulty of providing a full equivalent shift of hands for the hewing shift. There will be the difficulty of finding men and boys sufficient by the time the new arrangements have to be made. We have never denied this. New conditions of work and pay will have to be arranged. All these difficulties exist, I maintain, so far as reconstruction and reorganisation go, to a greater degree in Durham and Northumberland than elsewere. We propose to give Durham and Northumland not so much preferential treatment, but, broadly speaking, equalisation of conditions in starting the operation of the Bill. I should like to quote in no critical or hostile way some words spoken by the Leader of the Opposition, because on 9th December he put this question to the House, and he addressed it in particular to the representatives of the miners, both in Durham and Northumberland and elsewhere. He said—How is the industry in Northumberland and Durham to be remodelled by July so as to be brought in accordance with the scheme of this Bill? The House will see that I am trying to confine myself to a very practical issue. I am not going on theory at all. The practical issue is of the first importance.2284 And then he put his question to the practical men in the House as to how this proposed change could be effected in Durham and Northumberland, and I imagined from that that the right hon. Gentleman was possessed with the difficulty of the question in Durham and Northumberland rather than elsewhere. The question was answered, and my hon. friend, who represents the Miners' Federation in this House, supported the proposal of the Government, which, after the right hon. Gentleman had spoken, I made to the House, that this concession should be made to these two counties. There remains for consideration whether that concession involves preferential treatment which is unfair to other parts of the country. From the first I had in mind the possibility of that. For that reason more than three weeks ago in the Standing Committee, in answer to a very powerful appeal by my hon. friend the Member for Mid-Durham, I said I would see if the Government could meet the special claim of Durham and Northumberland to an extension. I did not commit myself, but I said that advisedly, so that it might be known what the Government were thinking of, and that if any special representation could be made by those concerned it might be made before the Government committed itself to that plan. There were no protests in the Standing Committee—
§ MR. GLADSTONE
I thought the only protest came from the senior Member for Merthyr Tydvil. However, I quite accept the statement that two hon. friends behind me made a protest. But no other protest reached my Department, except one or two from individual 2285 mine owners who wrote and said there would be difficulty caused by competition. The first day on Report stage the right hon. Gentleman opposite dealt with this question, and I said I proposed to make this alteration, and I did so make it two days later. As I said even then, no protest from the trade had reached me; the hon. Member for Mansfield did protest strongly, but the House accepted the Amendment without a division. I agree there may be something in the argument of my hon. friend in regard to the possibility of some advantage to Durham from this concession. But surely this concession is a small thing. It is not as if Durham and Northumberland were to have six months full advantage. They will have to make their preparations, and the whole of their reorganisation and reconstruction will have to come into force on 1st January 1910. Therefore in the last months of the extension they will have to be making their preparations. I maintain that it hardly lies at any rate on the mine owners all over the country, who for twenty years have said that this change would cause special loss to Durham and Northumberland, to say now that if this small concession is made it will have a disorganising effect on other parts of the country. These very mine owners themselves propose that a local option clause should be put in any such Bill to enable Durham and Northumberland to contract themselves out of the Act. I cannot but think, having regard to the fact that the coal owners have not made any representation to the Government or to my Department against this clause, that we may safely propose to disagree. I understand that in another place the disagreement here will not be opposed, and, therefore, I move to disagree.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have nothing to criticise or complain of either in the tone or in the substance of the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered. I think the question of date is an extremely difficult and delicate one, and I do not think any arrangement of date would altogether avoid grave objection, and I think in these circumstances the responsibility for settling the date must rest upon His Majesty's Government. At any rate, that is my view. As the House will remember, as the Bill came from Grand Committee it was coming universally into operation next July, and as it left this House it was coming into operation next July except in Northumberland and Durham, where it was coming into operation in a year's time. The House of Lords—I am not surprised at it—saw the very great inconvenience that arose etfrom having two dates. It was pointed out to them, I think by the Government, that a winter date had most serious Objections inevitably attached to it, and, therefore, they suggested that a summer date should be chosen, but a summer date which would give ample time to Northumberland and Durham to come into the Bill. Therefore, they suggested that it should be July year, and I think there is a good deal to be said for it. But let it be noticed that it has this very serious disadvantage. I cannot believe that it is for the interests of either employers or employed that this thing should be hanging over them for a year and a half, and what moves me even more than 2287 the question of employers and employed is the fact that no human being can tell what will be the condition of the coal market a year and a half hence. We cannot be certain what it will be next July, but we cannot bring in the Bill before next July, and we have much better means of forecasting the future for six months than for eighteen. In these circumstances I am bound to say that if I were in the place of the Government I should feel the responsibility of deferring the whole date for a year and a half to be so great that I should hesitate to take it on my shoulders. But the Government have gone further than that. They have clearly laid down that in their view out of all the possible solutions the one, which is not indeed unobjectionable, but which is open to the least objection, is that which brings in the general operation of the Bill in July and in Durham and Northumberland in a year's time, and if they take that view upon their responsibility I for one should certainly support them.
§ MR. MARKHAM
said that on the last occasion when the question came up for discussion he was unable to find anyone to second the proposition that he made, and he was not able to take a vote of the House. The Home Secretary had stated that he had received no communication from any coal owners with reference to the extension it was proposed to give in the North of England.
§ MR. MARKHAM
asked how it was possible for the trade to communicate with the Government when they had been chopping and 2288 altering the Bill about as they had done. When it came down on the Report stage there was no extension in the Bill for Northumberland and Durham. The Mining Association of Great Britain had met to discuss this matter, and they were unanimously of opinion that a preference ought not to be given to Durham and Northumberland. He was authorised by the Yorkshire Coal Owners Association and the Derbyshire Coal Owners Association to say that in their opinion the giving of this preference would have the very gravest consequences to the counties of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, and Derbyshire. The position of the coal trade at the present time was one of great depression. They had just passed through a period of inflated prices. During the last three weeks, although they were told the passing of this Bill was going to cause a great increase in the price of coal, contracts had been made by all the large collieries over next year at a reduction of no less than 2s. 6d. to 3s. a ton. It would mean that they were going by legislation to increase the cost to the Midland Counties by at least 6d. per ton, and to leave Durham and Northumberland during that period without any addition to their cost. He could assure the House, speaking with some knowledge of the coal trade, that a difference of 2d. or 3d., so keen was the competition, would mean a loss of contracts to the Midland districts. He hoped the House would acquit him of any selfish motive in raising this question. He said that chiefly for this reason. After the debate on Monday night he went to Yorkshire, and he found in Yorkshire the pits were working three days, three and a half, and in some districts two days a week, and 2289 the complaints he heard from the men at the collieries with which he was connected were of short trade. He pointed out that the Liberal Government were going to give them less trade, because they were going to give a preference to the North of England which was bound to dislocate the trade and make them work short time, whereas the trade with ordinary competition and without the Bill would have been equally divided between the North of England and the Midland district. He strongly dissented from the view of the Home Secretary that it would take twelve months for Northumberland and Durham to change their system of organisation. If Northumberland and Durham, with the very able Members who represented the mining industry in those counties in that House, together with all those gentlemen who had made so much money in Durham and Northumberland, and who were experts on these questions of mining, could not settle this question in six months he was quite certain they could not settle it in twelve. Speaking again with some long experience of mining work, it was ridiculous from a practical standpoint for coal owners to come to the House and attempt to persuade the Home Secretary that this reorganisation could not take place under twelve months. He understood, and it had been formally notified to him by representatives of the Mining Association of Great Britain, that protests against this preference were made in another place by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, speaking for Scotland, by Lord Dunraven, speaking for South Wales, and by other noble Lords, speaking on behalf of other districts. It was amazing that after Lord Lansdowne had stated that they had decided to 2290 abandon preferential treatment for Durham and Northumberland, and make the Act begin on the same day for all the collieries, they had nothing more to say. He thought the arguments advanced by Lord Lansdowne were not only most cogent, but were based on solid foundations of fact. They were such as would, he was sure, in the long run prove true, and if this preference was given it would cause dislocation to the trade which hon. Members who had no knowledge of the coal trade little understood or appreciated. All the Coal Owners Associations had had urgency meetings in connection with the matter, and had passed Resolutions, but they had not sent them to the Home Secretary. They had sent them to the miners' leaders, to himself, and to others who were speaking on behalf of equal treatment for all interested in the trade. He hoped the argument of six months was not one which would commend itself to the House. The Home Secretary had the best motives, but he had been squeezed by the coal owners and the miners' agents in this matter, and had given way to them, whereas he never ought to have given way. This preference would inflict a great injury on his constituents and on all those associated with the trade, and, therefore, he should certainly vote against it and divide the House as a protest against this unequal contracting-out clause. He was not going to speak for South Wales, because the hon. Baronet who was largely interested in the trade in South Wales would lay before the House, he was sure, in an able manner, the position in that, district, which again was in keen competition with the North of England.
§ * SIR C. J. CORY (Cornwall, St. Ives)
said he was very disappointed that the Home Secretary had not seen his way at least to make the clause read that it should come into operation in the whole country on 1st January 1910, even though he did not agree to the Amendment made in another place. He would beg to point out to him that in Committee he had an Amendment down that it should not come into operation before 1st January, 1910. He strongly urged also that the whole of the country should be treated alike, and that if any preference should be given to any particular coal field South Wales and Monmouthshire had the most need of a preference. He also urged the same thing on Report stage and on Third Reading. He could quite confirm what the hon. Member for Mansfield had said that the Mining Association of Great Britain had all along urged that no preference should be given to any district. He had also had numerous telegrams and letters from the South Wales and Monmouthshire Coal Owners Association, the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, and numerous traders, urging that the Bill should not come into operation so far as South Wales was concerned before January 1st 1910. Although some large companies in South Wales had declined to make contracts bayond 30th June, 1909, other companies to a very large extent had made numerous contracts over the whole of next year. Whether it would be a loss or not they had been bound to make their contracts so as not to lose customers, and if the Bill came into operation in the middle of next year it might mean a very heavy loss to them. Further, the agreement with the miners did not end until the end of next year, and if the Bill came into operation in July it would possibly 2292 cause a dispute and even a strike. That did away, to his mind, with a great deal of the winter argument—that if it was brought in in the winter they might have high prices—because if the miners of the South Wales coal field went on strike when the Act came into force in July and remained out for some time that would send the prices up in the winter. He was sure it was to the advantage of the country generally that the Bill should not be brought into operation until 1st January, 1910, and he appealed, even at that late hour, to the right hon. Gentleman to agree to that.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
said that Northumberland had never asked for any preference, nor did they want any preference. All that they were asking for, and what they had always asked for, had been time in order that they might carry out a complete transition from one organised condition of things to another. All those hon. Members who had sat in previous Parliaments and had heard what they had to say on this subject would bear him out when he said the essence of their objection to the Miners' Eight Hours Bill had been the want of time necessary in order to reorganise the districts concerned, but the Federation would not grant that time. They rigidly adhered to the time limit which was far too short to reorganise the whole industry in the North of England. They had protested against the Bill on principle from the very first. All that they asked for was that they should have time allowed to them to be able thoroughly to reorganise the industry as they would d[...]t veha from top to bottom. The condition of things in the two counties of Durham 2293 and Northumberland was absolutely and totally dissimilar to the condition of things existing in any other part of the mining community throughout the United Kingdom. The contracts in [...] humberland—the county which he knew best—were fixed for the whole of next year, and his hon. friend would have them fix the period for this Act coming into operation as 1st July, the same date as in other parts of the country. The hon. Member would have them further adhere to all the contracts which they had made, and fulfil those contracts at the risk of having to pay for the breaking of the contracts if they were not carried out. He would have them reorganise the whole of their industry in six months. He knew that his hon. friend the Member for Mansfield possessed great organising capacity, but he assured him that with all his ingenuity and all his organising capacity if he were to go down to Northumberland and Durham he could not reorganise the industry in the way it would have to be done in a less period than twelve months. He had simply risen to thank the Government for having moved to disagree with the Lords Amendment, and for their intention to reinsert the language of the Bill as it stood when it left this House. He and his friends had no desire for a preference. If his hon. friend and the Federation had come to ask for twelve months, they would not have been parties to opposing their getting that period.
§ Remaining Lords' Amendments disagreed to.
§ A consequential Amendment made to the Bill.2294
§ Committee appointed to draw up reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of the Amendments made by the Lords to the Bill.
§ Committee nominated of, Mr. Enoch Edwards, Mr. Secretary Gladstone, Mr. Herbert Samuel, Mr. Solicitor-General, and Lord Edmund Talbot.
§ Three to be the quorum.
§ To withdraw immediately.—(Mr. Gladstone.)