§ (1) This Act shall not apply to any sale of coal for export, or to any sale of coal for the manufacture of patent fuel for export, or to any sale of coal to be used on any ship.
§ (2) This Act shall not apply to the sale of coal supplied in pursuance of a contract made before the commencement of this Act.
§ (4) This Act shall have effect during the continuance of the present War and a period of six months thereafter.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "export" ["coal for export"], to insert the words "other than for the use and purposes of the Allies of Great Britain and Ireland in the present War."
The object of this Amendment is to give the Allies of this country the benefit of the provisions of this Bill—that is to say, that the Allies shall have coal for the use of their countries at the same price as the people of this country. I understand that my right hon. Friend is going to make a statement which will in fact give to our 1884 Allies substantially what I propose by this Amendment. I will therefore say no more until I have heard what he has had to say. I am sure the Committee will agree that we ought to make some such provision, particularly at a time when the enemy are in possession of a large part of the French coal-fields.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity of making a statement on this subject. I have the authority of the Department for announcing that the Admiralty is giving to the French Navy and the French State railways the full advantage of the arrangements which exist now between the Admiralty and the Welsh coal owners. That is to say, the full benefit of the prices which we have secured for ourselves we have also secured for the French Admiralty and the French railways. They get their coal on exactly the same terms also as regards shipment. With regard to Russia and Italy, no question has yet arisen. I understand that the Governments of both these countries have contracts running on terms favourable to them, and on which they are for the present satisfied to rely. When those eon-tracts expire the question will probably arise, and I need hardly say that the Admiralty will be prepared to treat those Governments in exactly the same way as the French Government is now treated. Under these circumstances my hon. Friend will sec that the States which are allied to us during the present War are getting the advantage of the arrangements which we have ourselves made with regard to shipping Welsh coal, and such other coal as the Admiralty requires, and to that extent we are doing for them all that we should do even if his Amendment were included in the Bill.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. The arrangement which he mentioned refers only to the Welsh coal owners. I do not know whether he is aware that Admiralty buyers have been cutting into the market and buying at high rates. There have been no arrangements made with the South Yorkshire, Nottingham, and Derbyshire owners as to any particular rate which the Admiralty shall pay. But what my right hon. Friend says in respect of coal for the Navy and for the Allies entirely meets my point.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1885
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words, "or to any sale of coal to be used on any ship."
My object in moving this Amendment is to point out that this Bill is not limited, as the right hon. Gentleman himself mentioned yesterday, to the sale of coal only? for domestic purposes, but realises, and takes into consideration, the fact that coal used in factories and for the transport of goods have an indirect effect on the cost of living, almost as much as the coal which is used for the manufacture of goods, cooking, and other purposes. If the Bill expressly states it is leaving out coal for export and coal for manufacture, but includes everything else, with the solitary exception of coal to be used on any ship, we ought to have some explanation as to why that omission is made. Yesterday in dealing, I think, with the first Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Barnsley, which limited very much the scope of this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said that in fact he thought the Bill was in some respects a limited Bill. I wonder whether he had in mind this exception of Clause 3, as to the sale of coal to be used on any ship, which is left out of the Bill? I cannot myself see any distinction in principle between the coal that is consumed in the transport of goods in carrying the export trade of this country from point to point, and the coal that is used in the transport of precisely similar goods by land—by the railway—which may be removed a very few miles at any point from the course the ship would take. There must be some reason. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what it is. I shall still be better pleased after he has told us that this Bill is not a very substantial Bill, if in order to make the Bill more logical and watertight he is prepared to accept this Amendment.
I have often, in dealings with the Board of Trade, had to complain on behalf of the shipping community that the influence of the shipowner at the Board of Trade was very strong, and the influence of merchants, captains, and seamen was nothing like as powerful. I do not suggest for a moment that it is modesty on the part of the right hon. Gentleman that he wished to offer the great shipowners as a kind of sacrifice: to say when passing the Bill, which is in his charge, that he was not going to take the benefit of it for them. But I would point out that some of us have very good reason to complain of the Board of Trade, having control of a large 1886 amount of tonnage which was badly needed, particularly for the transport of coal coastwise, rates of freight were fixed which were three or even four times as great as those which were in force before the commencement of hostilities. If there is far greater need for transport in the winter and for the use of vessels for the conveyance of coastwise coal, we do not want to be told, in excuse for enormous rates of freights, "Oh, you must remember that when the House of Commons passed the Price of Coal (Limitation) Bill, bunker coal was expressly exempted, and therefore it is not the shipowners, but the greedy coal owners who cause this enormous freight rate to be necessary for the transport of the necessity for heating and lighting in this city and others." Therefore, I think it would be very much better to pursue a policy in regard to this Bill which is least intelligible. If it is not to apply to coal for export, but to every kind of coal, and for all purposes for which coal is used, including transport, we should have the email Amendment I ask for. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain the origin of this exception. In the interests of consistency I should be very glad if he sees his way to accept my Amendment.
The reason why we have not thought it well to include coal to be used as bunker coal, or with bunker coal—because in the case of foreign-going ships, those which are making what are called three-cornered voyages—really a portion of our normal export trade—is that we have regarded it as necessary that the export trade should be kept up to as high a value as possible. There is every reason for that both nationally and commercially, but particularly nationally. If we take our foreign exchanges it is, quite obvious that such a thing as our invisible exports should be maintained, as well as the actual material which is sent abroad, at as high a value as possible. A great many of these three-cornered voyages, including one trip at least in the carriage of goods into foreign countries, are in the nature of invisible exports. This extra cost of coal for bunkers is one of the items. In any case if you had limited the price of the coal to be purchased by the shipowners for the vessel it would have been meeting the shipowner, whereas there is no limitation of the amount which he can earn in the foreign trade. Nor did we wish to put any limit on the amount to be earned in 1887 the foreign trade. Any limitation would have been a limitation of the value of our invisible exports. If the hon. Gentleman knows what I mean by referring to invisible exports he will know that the freights earned from foreigners are just as good for the purpose of equalising our exchanges as though we had exported commodities from this country.
It cannot be in the national interest to limit what is earned by shipowners in carrying the foreign trade. It is obvious that artificially to reduce the price of the coal which they are paying for their business would merely mean that a present would be given to them without a corresponding advantage, although it might be very small in amount just now. We therefore felt it desirable to exclude shipping from the beneficiaries in this Bill. The hon. Member draws a distinction between a foreign-going ship and a coastwise ship. There is a great difficulty in deciding exactly how far the coals which go into the bunkers of a vessel are to be used partly for coastwise purposes. A vessel, for instance, may have loaded her cargo at Copenhagen and discharged a portion of it at Newcastle. She may take in at Newcastle coal for the Thames, or she may bunker at Newcastle, may take enough coal at Newcastle to carry her either the whole of her round voyage — it may be to South America,—or part of her voyage out to the East. It would be impossible to earmark or label the coal which went into the bunkers, partly for the trip from Newcastle to London. It is very much better to leave the whole of the coastwise bunkers in the same position. When the hon. Member put the point he did as to the coastwise freights, he must have omitted to make a calculation as to the amount of bunkers used in a coastwise ship. Take the case of a North country collier. It burns twelve tons a day. It takes thirty-six hours to come from Newcastle to the Thames. Therefore the amount of coal affected on her trip from North to South would be eighteen tons, and eighteen tons back, or thirty-six tons altogether. The difference of two or three shillings on thirty-six tons could not be calculated when we have the freight charged on many thousands of tons of cargo to consider.
As an excuse we can dismiss it along with many other excuses which are made for charging high prices.
I quite appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. One can quite see under present circumstances we want to get as much money into this country from our exports as possible, and if we can include in the price we get from exports the higher price we get for coal all the better. I should have thought it was a pity there were not some means to take goods out to the Argentine and bring back food from the Argentine with cheaper bunker coal, so as to make its wheat cheaper. One of the greatest pleas shipowners have put forward most consistently for high freights is the cost of bunker coal, and no matter how small the price of bunker coal may be, it always figures very largely in their arguments. Coastwise steamers carry about 20,000,000 tons of coal a year, and surely the difference on the aggregate sum by cheaper bunker coal must be very considerable. Goods carried coastwise from one part of the country to another are also of enormous value, and the extra freight through the higher price of bunker coal must be a considerable item. What I am sorry for is that the right hon. Gentleman often gives it up as a bad job because a thing is not so very simple. Surely it is within his Department's ken and that of the merchant shipping trade and merchants in London to devise some scheme by which bunker coal for ships for the Home trade as well as our Allies could be made as cheap as possible, and thus relieve the public of this country of the high price of coal and the high prices of other commodities carried by coastwise ships.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The next Amendment on the Paper, standing in the name of Sir E. Cornwall, was, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words, "except for the purpose of determining the proportion of the coal from any coal mine consigned or sold for consignment to places within the United Kingdom."
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
Might I, on that point of Order, submit that the question raised is to enable arrangements to be made to give some security in London and 1889 other large centres that a supply available in the country should not be kept from those centres at a time of great scarcity. If, therefore, you rule that that subject is outside the scope of the Bill, and we are unable to discuss it, one of the most important questions which arises out of this Bill is kept from the consideration of the House. I do not know, Sir, whether you have fully considered how important that is to London and other places.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I have given very full consideration to the point of Order. While I quite realise the importance of the Amendment, I must adhere to my decision that it is outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the words, "the sale of." I think this Amendment makes the Sub-section clearer.
§ 4.0 P.M.
It really does not matter, I am advised, whether the words are in or out. The words in the Bill, however, are, on the whole, better, because the Bill applies to the sale of coal.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), after the word "contract" ["in pursuance of a contract"], to insert the words "or agreement."
My Amendment has the object of including verbal agreements. A large amount of business of coal owners, especially with regular customers year in and year out, is done by verbal agreement, each side being willing to trust the other without any written contract.
I am afraid the object of the hon. Gentleman is still a little obscure to me. Either an agreement is a contract or it is not a contract. If it is a contract, obviously it comes under the Bill; if it is not, I am afraid I do not know the object of his Amendment.
I should say that it is perfectly clearly a contract. I do not think there is any doubt about that, and, therefore, I suggest that the hon. Member's Amendment is unnecessary.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1890
§ The next Amendment, standing in the name of Mr. Dickinson, was in Sub-section (2), to leave out the words "commencement of this Act," and to insert instead thereof the words "twenty-fourth day of March, nineteen hundred and fifteen. Provided that in any contract made between the twenty-fourth day of March, nineteen hundred and fifteen, and the passing of this Act, it shall be lawful for any party thereto to give notice to the other party that he desires to have the contract to be revised with respect to coal to be supplied after the date of the application, and thereupon he may apply to a judge of a County Count who may revise the contract and may fix the price or prices to be paid for the coal to be supplied thereunder so as to make such price or prices equal to the price or prices which in the judge's opinion would have been inserted in the contract had it been concluded on the basis of the price or prices of the coal at the pit's mouth as fixed under the provisions of this Act."
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I have doubts whether, in view of the Debate which we had on this question yesterday—when the Committee negatived the Amendment on which the discussion took place—I can allow this Amendment to be moved. The hon. Member has, however, made some slight alteration in the Amendment, and I am quite willing to hear what he has to say on the Amendment before giving a decision.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I am obliged to you, Mr. Maclean, for putting it that way. The circumstances last night were these: The Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone) with reference to contracts, and during that discussion I pointed out that I could suggest an alternative for dealing with the question. It was proposed to withdraw that Amendment with the idea of giving the Committee an opportunity to consider the alternative, and, unfortunately, the hon. Member who moved the Amendment not being in his place, the Chairman ruled, no doubt quite rightly, that nobody else could withdraw it for him, and therefore it had to be put and decided upon. I would venture to submit that the Amendment I have on the Paper is an alternative Amendment, which is so different from the Amendment discussed last night that the mere fact of a decision having been arrived at on the first Amendment should not withhold from this Committee the right of 1891 considering the alternative. The Amendment which was before us last night was that—In every contract for the sale of coal at the pit's mouth under which such coal has been sold but not delivered at the time of the passing of this Act it shall be an implied term that the price of such coal shall not exceed the lawful price as determined by this Act.That not only referred to all contracts, but it also definitely stated that the new price was to be in all contracts. The method I suggest is in the Amendment on the Paper, and in it I propose to say in reference to all contracts made between thetwenty-fourth day of March, nineteen hundred and fifteen. Provided that in any contract made between the twenty-fourth day of March, nineteen hundred and fifteen, and the passing of this Act, it shall be lawful for any party thereto to give notice to the other party that he desires the contract to be revised with respect to coal to be supplied after the date of the notice, and thereupon he may apply to a judge of a County Court who may revise the contract and may fix the price or prices to be paid for the coal to be supplied thereunder so as to make such price or prices equal to the price or prices which in the judge's opinion would have been inserted in the contract had it been concluded on the basis of the price or prices of the coal at the pit's mouth as fixed under the provisions of this Act.Therefore my Amendment not only limits the contracts to which they can apply, but it also definitely points out that it is only in reference to coal supplied after notice is given, and it provides for an application to the Court and enables the judge to deal with the case as ho thinks fit. The County Court judge will be left with a discretion to put in the price or not as he thinks the justice of the case requires. Therefore, I would submit that there is a very wide difference between the proposals contained in my Amendment and those which we discussed last night.
On a point of Order. May I point out that the discussion last night ranged over very wide ground, and anybody who heard it from first to last I think would hold the opinion that the proposals of my right hon. Friend in the Amendment now before us, although not in the same phraseology, certainly come within the purview of the Amendment discussed yesterday. I would suggest that 1892 the Committee having negatived the Amendment yesterday in the absence of its Mover, the Committee did actually negative any proposal for the tearing up of all contracts. While impressing that upon you, Mr. Maclean, I would like to add the suggestion which I made last night, that this subject must of necessity be dealt with and reviewed by the Board of Trade before we come to the Report stage. I hope then to be able to make proposals which will remove some of the difficulties raised by this Amendment. I submit that the negativing of the Amendment last night makes it unnecessary for us to go into a smaller proposal which was more than covered by the other discussion.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
My difficulty is that in what the President of the Board of Trade suggested last night he was prepared to consider the tearing up of contracts with regard to specific bodies, and therefore I am left in a rather difficult position owing to the fact that technically the Amendment was negatived. Taking it as a whole, however, this point is a matter upon which I can exercise my discretion either way, and I must decide the point now. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to permit this Amendment to be discussed on the understanding that the general grounds discussed yesterday at such great length and with so much thoroughness should not be gone into again, but that the discussion should be confined to the specific suggestion in dispute relating to the County Court judge's decision. If the discussion is kept to that point it will be in order, but if it goes beyond that point I am afraid I shall have to intervene.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Will it not be in order on the Question "That Clause 3 stand part of the Bill" for any hon. Member to review the whole Question?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making that suggestion. After what the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has said, that between now and the Report stage the whole thing is going to be very carefully considered, I would respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson) that it would be better not to press the Amendment now, but to take the discussion on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and then the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill will be in full possession of the views of all 1893 the Members of the Committee who wish to take part in the Debate, and will be fully armed to meet his advisers without troubling the Committee again.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I am quite willing to follow your advice, but I do not understand that the right hon. Gentleman has held out much hope that he is open to consider this question. If I felt that his mind was still open to consider between now and the Report stage the general question raised by my Amendment I should be content. I agree that we should get a better discussion on the Report stage than now, but I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has simply stated that he is going to introduce some Amendment which will deal with public utility requirements of coal. If I had any sort of notion that he is still considering the general question raised in the discussion last night I would certainly fall in with his suggestion. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will say anything in that respect at this moment or not.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think that the course which I suggested would meet the wishes of all concerned.
§ Mr. J. O'CONNOR
I beg to move, in Clause 3, after Sub-section (2), to add,(3) This Act shall not apply to Ireland.I have the knowledge that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept my Amendment, but Members of the Committee may wish to know why I ask for this exemption. It will be observed that the whole operation of the Act depends on the existence of coal being produced under similar conditions and in similar quantities to those conditions and quantities which prevailed at a previous date. There is no data whatever in existence in Ireland in order to ascertain whether the quantities or the conditions are similar. The collieries to which this Act will apply if Ireland is not exempted are very small collieries; indeed some of them are only resuscitated old workings, and do not supply any of the data from the past that would enable the Act to be put into operation in the present. It is an easy matter here in Great Britain to ascertain what are the similar conditions and similar quantities, because you have collieries which have been in working over 1894 long periods of time under similar conditions, and producing year after year probably similar quantities. These conditions do not exist in Ireland, and therefore it would be found very difficult there to put the Act into operation.
There are other conditions also that should be taken into account. In Great Britain you have a large output from almost all collieries and, as we know, in every undertaking the cost, when distributed over a large production, becomes smaller and smaller as you increase the amount of that production. But in Ireland the quantities are small and the costs therefore are very-great. They are great also for this reason, that the collieries are remote from rail heads, from canals, and from all means of distribution, and therefore you have not only a small output but an increased expenditure by reason of the fact that you have to carry to the collieries at great expense all the requirements necessary for working them. Coal is therefore raised in these small collieries at very expensive rates.
In my observations on the Second Reading I pointed out that these were mostly infant industries, and I submit this to the Committee with confidence, because I know what I am saying. The people of the district who carry the coal from the pit's mouth by their own carts are perfectly prepared to pay some slight, additional cost in order that these collieries may continue to exist in their midst, for they derive, indirectly, other benefits from the existence and growth of these infant industries. The people who live near the collieries and use their output will have the benefit of the restrictions that you are now imposing on the collieries in this country, and therefore it will be impossible for any colliery owner in Ireland to put an extravagant price on his output, because he will have to meet the competition of the collieries on which you are putting these restrictions. I am, of course, aware that there is a provision in this Bill whereby circumstances will be taken into account, and that an appeal can be made to the Board of Trade in order to have the standard raised where, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, it will be just to do so.
I would point this out to the Committee with regard to that provision that it can scarcely be worth while to include collieries in Ireland within the scope of the Bill, even though those collieries may have the protection of that Section of the Act. 1895 They are so small. What would happen would be this. When the Act comes into operation, supposing Ireland were not exempted, each of these small collieries knowing well that they conduct their business under the circumstances that would affect the mind of the Board of Trade—if such an impersonal body can have a mind—they would have to make application and a commission would have to be appointed to go down to the colliery and ascertain whether the circumstances do exist. I submit to the Committee and to the Government that it really would not be worth while to put the machinery provided by this Bill into operation in order to bring about this equitable condition of things. With these few observations I propose my Amendment. I believe that it will be sympathetically entertained and considered by all the Members of the Committee. I have reason to know that it is sympathetically entertained by those who are in charge of the Bill, and I am thankful to the Committee for having allowed me to state shortly what were the reasons that induced me and my colleagues to propose that Ireland be exempted from the operation of this Bill. We did so because we believe it to be equitable and just to do so.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I have handed in a manuscript Amendment to the Amendment just moved from below the Gangway, which I hope the Government will be willing to accept. My Amendment is, after the word "Ireland"—
§ Mr. M. HEALY
On a point of Order. Before the hon. Member moves that Amendment, I desire to propose to amend the Amendment by making it read, "This Act shall not apply to coal raised in Ireland." It is quite plain that the Bill as a whole must apply to Ireland. In so far as we buy coal from England we must have the protection of this Bill. The contract might be made for the sale of English coal, and a contract made in Ireland could be brought before the Irish Courts. But that could not be done if it is said that the Bill shall not apply to Ireland.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I will point out that I called on the hon. Member for St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill) to move his Amendment, and he is in possession of the Committee. It is for him to say whether he will give way.
§ Mr. M. HEALY
On a point of Order. If the hon. Gentleman's Amendment is added to the proposed Amendment subsequent to the point at which I wish to insert my Amendment, it upsets the practice of this House.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Fortunately it is also the practice that when hon. Members have Amendments they are good enough to send them to the Table.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
As a matter of fact, the hon. Member for St. Augustine's Division did send in his to the Table, and it is entirely a matter for him to say whether he will withdraw it.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
As a matter of courtesy to the hon. Member, I have not the least wish to shut out his Amendment, provided that it in no way prejudices my Amendment. On that understanding I will give way.
§ Mr. M. HEALY
I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after the word "to," to insert the words "coal raised in."
§ Mr. J. O'CONNOR
I submit to the Committee that these words are absolutely unnecessary. Let me point, out that the first words of the first Clause of the Bill are:Coal at the pit's mouth shall not be sold or offered for sale.The whole Bill is governed by those words. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. M. Healy) says that we want the whole Bill for Ireland. You have the whole Bill for Ireland, but the whole Bill devolves round those governing words—Coal at the pit's mouth shall not be sold or offered for sale.Therefore the Bill governs only coal that is raised at the pit's mouth, and the proposed words are words of supererogation. They occurred to my mind in conversation with the hon. Baronet who sits below me (Sir C. Cory), and he pointed out that my Amendment was not comprehensive enough or that it excluded portions of the Bill. I then suggested that the words now proposed to be inserted might cover the case. But, on considering the Bill carefully, I found that the words I have proposed were adequately sufficient and covered the whole scope of the Bill, and that the words that occurred to my own mind, and which I mentioned to the hon. Baronet, were absolutely unnecessary. 1897 The words that I have proposed are words that occur in every Act of Parliament where either Ireland or Scotland are excluded from the operation of an Act of Parliament. Those are the simple words that have always been used. But the words that are now proposed are unusual, and, I submit to the Committee, absolutely unnecessary.
§ Mr. M. HEALY
(indistinctly heard): The words of the Bill apply only to coal sold at the pit's mouth. It is not necessary that the contract should be made at the pit's mouth. It is the coal at the pit's mouth. You may make a contract in Ireland for the sale of coal at the pit's mouth in England, and if that was done and the price of the coal was greater than it is in this Bill and a man bought in Ireland on a contract for the sale of the coal, the Act would not apply to Ireland, and consequently the Irish consumer is not and cannot be entitled to the benefit of the Act, It is not clear at any rate.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I beg to move, at end of the proposed Amendment, to add the words "or Kent."
The effect of the Amendment would be that the Act should not apply to two areas within the United Kingdom, one being Ireland and the other being Kent.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman proceeds with his argument I should be glad if he would inform me whether his Amendment is based upon the differentiation of Kent as a coal area from the rest of the United Kingdom, or simply Kent as a county being part of England?
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I was going to explain that. I proposed an Amendment yesterday to exclude from the operation of the Bill pits the average output of which was less than 500 tons a day. It was resisted expressly and exclusively upon the ground that that would apply to a number of coal-fields in other parts of England. The right hon. Gentleman made no reply to the case that I made for the coal-fields in Kent owing to their special conditions, but he objected to my Amendment on the ground that it would 1898 include other coal-fields to which I had intended it to apply. I have listened, though I do not know that the right hon. Gentleman did, to the hon. Member below the Gangway, who used the most convincing arguments for the exclusion of Ireland from the operation of this Bill. Every word that he used is equally applicable to the pits in Kent. There are only three mines, the hon. Member says, in Ireland, and they are subject to very different conditions from the ordinary colliery in England, and exactly the same applies to Kent, except that there there are only two. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman, remembering the reasons for objecting to my Amendment yesterday, will accept my Amendment along with that of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. J. O'Connor). I am afraid I do not feel any great confidence that he is going to treat me with the same kindness as the hon Member. I do not know why there is that differentiation either.
§ Mr. McNEILL
An hon. Friend opposite gives a reason which, under existing circumstances, I should have been very sorry to suggest. I would like to have asked the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway (Mr. J. Q'Connor) to take me under his protection, and to carry me along with him in the pressure which he has brought to bear upon the Government. He belongs to a group in this House which can always bring pressure to bear upon the Government, and I am sorry that he has not taken my Amendment along with his. I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is going to accept the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend because, if he was going to resist it, I should have arranged a logrolling deal with the hon. Member and have arranged that if he would accept my Amendment I would accept his, and together we could have combined and beaten the Government. I do not see, under the circumstances, much hope from the Treasury Bench, but I do make a last appeal—I will not say ad miserecordiam—to the right hon. Gentleman's sense of justice that he should accept my Amendment.
I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. McNeill) will rely on Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 of the Bill. If Kent can make out a sufficiently good case to the Board of Trade under that Sub-section, then Kent will receive full justice at the hands of the Board of Trade.
§ Amendment to proposed Amendment negatived.
§ Amendment made:
§ After Sub-section (2) add as a new Subsection:—
§ (3) "This Act shall not apply to Ireland."
§ Mr. LAURENCE HARDY
I beg to move, in Sub-section (4), after the word "Act" ["This Act shall have effect"], to insert the words "shall come into operation on the first day of August, nineteen hundred and fifteen, and."
I hope the Government will accept this Amendment. It is a very small matter. At the time I put it down I thought probably the Royal Assent might be given to the Bill at any earlier date than it may be given. It would be of very considerable convenience in bringing this Act into operation if we started at the beginning of a month, because all accounts are made up at the end of the month, and it would be possible for coal owners to prepare together to bring the Act into operation. Until we discussed the Bill last night, it was quite uncertain what lines the Act would follow, whether we should take average prices or the procedure of the Bill, and also whether all contracts were to be included or not. There is a good deal of arrangement to be made, and it will be difficult to get things in order, even in he very few days extra which I ask for in this Amendment. I hope the Government will give even this small measure of relief.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think it necessary to press this Amendment. It is true that we are not very far from the 1st of August now, but if in the course of next week if any consumers wish to make contracts with collieries, I think they ought to have the advantage of the Act. If, as I trust we shall, we get it through the House on Monday, any consumer who wishes to do business next week ought to have the full advantage of its provisions.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill"
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
The second Subsection of Clause 3 provides:—This Act shall not apply to the sale of coal supplied in pursuance of a contract made before the commencement of this Act.1900 I want to point out to the Committee that even the most conservative journals in the United Kingdom, both of Conservative and Liberal opinion, take the line that the view of the House of Commons in regarding contracts as a sacred obligation which ought not to be disturbed, is a view entirely contrary to that which they hold in times of national danger. We must try once more to impress on my right hon. Friend the necessity of making this Bill a real living Bill. It is not going to be a real living Bill if it only deals with 20 per cent. of the output. In that case this Bill will be, as my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras said last night, a sham and a fraud, and the people of this country ought to know it. My right hon. Friend is a very moderate man and never uses strong language. The great industrial population of this country believe that under this Bill, brought in by the Coalition Government, they are going to get cheap coal. Let the people of the country remember that under this Bill, if the Government on Report persist in their action, there is not going to be the smallest benefit to the great industrial community. No attempt is being made to deal with the question of the sale of coal after it leaves the collieries. It would not be in order on this Clause to deal with the number of hands through which the coal passes before it reaches the consumer. I will only say that if the consumer is going to have the advantage of only 20 per cent. of the output of house coal in the country—the amount is rather less—to which this Bill applies—for the great industrial concerns are well able to look after themselves—he will receive no benefit if the Bill passes in its present form, because the contracts have been entered into at prices greatly exceeding the prices provided for in the Bill.
Through the fault of the Government alone the Bill has only been introduced at the last moment and it is not right that the country should be penalised in consequence of that fact. The right hon. Gentleman has been dealing in time of war with an office which probably ought to have had half a dozen Presidents of the Board of Trade. I am told that he has been working at his office day and night. Therefore I do not blame him for not introducing this Bill before, but if he had not time to do it, as the hon. Member on the other side said last night, why did they not appoint some other Under-Secretary— 1901 there are plenty of them on these benches above the Gangway only too willing to have undertaken a Bill of this kind—and he could have had plenty of time in the short sittings which we have had in this House to deal with this question. If the Government definitely settle that they are not going to deal with contracts, all we can do on Report stage is to take the Government to a Division. Last night they kept the telephone going to get people to come up to vote for this Clause when they had not heard a word of the discussion. If the Government are disposed to persist in this Clause, if the President is not inclined to vary it, then hon. Members from this side of the House, from the other side, from the Labour and from the Irish Benches unanimously appeal to the President not to be stubborn in this matter—I do not know why he should be—and ask him carefully to think it over on Sunday and reflect on the evils which will accrue to the industrial population of this country if he persists in this action. I hope that he will come down on Monday and tell us that the Government will meet with the views of the House of Commons. I trust the Coalition Government will not be used as a party instrument, but that the House of Commons will be allowed to exercise its own judgment. I make this last appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to continue his present attitude in regard to this matter, and I hope that on Monday, when he comes down here, he will let us have some enlightenment and will allow the House of Commons to settle this question.
§ Sir C. CORY
It has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Glasgow that the corporation of that city have made contracts in respect of the gas and electric light undertakings. That is perfectly true. But I think, so far as England is concerned, that before anyone takes a contract into Court for revision there should be power to obtain a consideration of the whole of the circumstances of the case on the one side and the other before the price is brought down. I have in mind some cases of contracts made on the East Coast. As we know, when the War started, prices went down to an extremely low level, far lower than what the price had been before the War broke out. This made it difficult for the coal owners to keep their collieries going. It will be in the recollection of my right hon. Friend that they endeavoured to induce shippers to send orders in order that they might keep 1902 the pits going and the men in employment. I believe that state of affairs lasted until the end of the year and into the commencement of the succeeding year. The consequence is that coal owners who entered into contracts at extremely low prices to keep the pits going are still carrying them out. The contracts were made for the whole of the year, and in regard to the coal owners who are parties to them it would appear to be only right that they should now have the benefit of higher prices and should not be limited in this way. If my right hon. Friend's proposal is not modified, those circumstances which I have stated will not be taken into consideration by the County Court judge, and if the matter goes before the County Court there will be different decisions all over the country. In such cases as I have described, the Board of Trade should deal with them, and go into the whole of the circumstances, due weight and consideration being given to them by the Department in making a revision. I therefore trust if the right hon. Gentleman deals with the point that he will take the matter into the hands of the Board of Trade instead of leaving it to the County Court judge.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
One sometimes gets tired of hearing this interest and that interest apologising and explaining while all the time these costs are going on and prices are going up. Unless action is taken on the lines suggested with regard to contracts there will be a feeling of real disappointment among the great cooperative societies and the working-class organisations, and especially of real disappointment among the working people. The President of the Board of Trade bases opposition to this on the sanctity of contracts. If he is going to interfere with the contracts in that regard to the big municipalities, and as I think he should do, he destroys his own case in regard to the sanctity of contracts. If he is prepared to modify contracts in regard to coal going to the municipalities, why not modify contracts in regard to coal going to be supplied to working-class households? I do submit the case is as strong in one instance as the other, and also in regard to manufacturers. In regard to this talk about the sanctity of contracts, many of the coal owners themselves have set aside their contracts since the War began and have imposed new contracts, which people could not resist, upon various manufacturers. That is well within the knowledge of those 1903 who are carrying on manufacturing businesses. It is only when the Government propose to take action that we hear so much about the sanctity of contracts, and the coal owners do not respect those things to any great extent themselves. As so large an amount of coal has been contracted for twelve months ahead, this Bill will be absolutely useless, so far as the poor people are concerned, unless it goes further. If the right hon. Gentleman will read the leading article in to-day's "Westminster Gazette," an organ of not very extreme Radical opinion, he will see that there he is encouraged to take the step that we are pressing. Unless that is done there will be a feeling that this legislation is not a piece of genuine legislation. If it is intended to affect the price, I do not believe it will do anything in the right direction unless something is done. I would strongly urge that between now and the Report stage a very important step should be taken by the President, and in taking that step he will have the support of the country as a whole.
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is expected to spend a certain portion of Sunday in deciding whether or not existing contracts should be brought into this Bill. May I remind the Committee that this Bill does not force any coal owner to sell coal in any specific quantity? Would it not be better if the right hon. Gentleman is going to deal with existing contracts to give the seller and the buyer the option of cancelling the existing contract and let them make a fresh deal?
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I want to support the appeal of the hon. Member for the Mansfield Division. I make no apology for detaining the Committee a few minutes, as I am one of the representatives of a district which is particularly affected by this matter—the Potteries. The other representatives of the stable industry of that district are engaged in military duties; therefore it rather falls on me to present the case for the district. Coal enters considerably into the cost of the manufacture of pottery because of the large amount of coal used in the ovens; therefore, as far as they are concerned, the attitude taken up by the Board of Trade is particularly unfortunate. We are at a time of devastating war, when the object of the Government ought to be to 1904 prevent undue hardship falling on the people, and to maintain as far as possible the stable industries of the country. We know that the rise in the price of coal does inflict great hardship on the poor and hampers the carrying on of industry at a time of great difficulty. Look at the question from the point of view of industry. The Board of Trade have more than once I think—certainly once—held exhibitions of foreign glass-ware and pottery. They went to Stoke, established an exhibition there, and invited the manufacturers to see German and Austrian-made goods, so that they might undersell them in neutral markets. Then, when we ask the Board of Trade to do a simple thing for the manufacturers—that is, to see that the price of coal is not raised extortionately—the right hon. Gentleman says he cannot do it, not so much because of the sanctity of contracts, as because it would occupy too much of the time of the officials of the Board.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The officials of the Board would be better occupied in accepting and carrying out this proposal than in running about with shows and exhibitions and letting the price of coal run up against the manufacturers. The right hon. Gentleman said that the manufacturers should have been shrewd and not made contracts. No doubt he has received a letter from the borough of Stoke-on-Trent dealing with this matter as far as they are concerned. The hon. Member for St. Ives rather threw doubt on the suggestion that the Glasgow Corporation had been squeezed.
§ Sir C. CORY
I did not cast doubt; I merely said that before judgment was given, both sides should be heard.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I will show what happened in regard to Stoke. In the letter which I have received from the borough council they say:—?For instance, take the case of ibis corporation. By Section 3 it it is proposed that the terms of the Act shall not apply to contracts already entered into. Just lately we have had to renew for a further twelve months many coal contracts of considerable tonnage, chiefly for gas and electricity purposes, in accordance with our usual custom at this time of the year. None of the collieries were prepared to renew for a short period; they all asked and insisted upon an increase of 6s. or thereabouts, the result being that, having no coal to go on with, we have had, whether we liked it or not, to agree to their terms, and any benefit to be derived from the Bill will not apparently apply to these contracts.These people were as shrewd as the right hon. Gentleman himself, but they are in 1905 the hands of a combine. All the collieries there are in the combine, and the corporation had to submit to this pressure. They say:—Can anything be done at this stage to remove, at any rate partially, the very heavy burden which the colliery proprietors have, by their determined attitude, cast upon large consumers under contracts recently entered into, with knowledge apparently of impending action on the part of His Majesty's Government?As a matter of fact, the colliery proprietors get ahead of the Government. They knew that this Bill was coming, and they took advantage of the fact to compel under duress the corporation and individual manufacturers to take long contracts at high prices. If this happens to corporations, what must be happening to individual manufacturers in the Potteries and elsewhere? Undoubtedly they are under the same squeezing, the same pressure. This Bill, therefore, has been correctly described as a fraud—and a very pitiful kind of fraud, too, considering the conditions under which it is being perpetrated. The people, the manufacturers, and the corporations expected that the Government would take action, and, having taken action, they have presented something which it is absolutely fallacious to suppose will put an end to this matter. At such a time the Government should not consider any sanctity of contract or anything else save justice to the country and the condition of the people.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I do not rise to discuss the general point that was discussed last night, but I do want once more to appeal very seriously to my right hon. Friend to consider the position between now and the Report stage. It is not a question of our hitting upon any particular scheme to put forward. It is, in my opinion, a question of grave public danger in the course of the next winter. When my right hon. Friend has considered the danger of destroying contracts he has also to consider a far greater danger of so exciting the poorer people in our crowded centres that the price of coal may really bring about a crisis. My right hon. Friend has been so concerned, I venture to say, with his ordinary business that he has probably not been able to meet his constituents. I have; and no one who has gone amongst his constituents in London, or elsewhere, during the last few months could avoid being convinced that this question of the increase in the price of coal, and the neglect of the Government to deal with it at the proper time, has assumed very serious proportions.
1906 5.0 P.M.
The Government, of course, can flout the House of Commons. They can, as the hon. Baronet said last night, send for their supporters to come from dinners and outside, and without having heard a word of the Debate, vote down those who have spoken. But not one who listened to last night's Debate could come to any other conclusion than that had those who had been engaged to that discussion divided, there is no question but that the Government proposal would have been thrown out. I mention that not by way of recrimination, but because I really believe that the House of Commons last night reflected the state of public opinion far more accurately than do the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman insists on sticking to his Bill as it stands in regard to these contracts, he will be going against the wishes of nine out of every ten people in the country. That is not a safe position either for him or for the Government to occupy at the present time. The Government is not altogether viewed with satisfaction by everybody. On this question of coal its attitude has been cavilled at and criticised with the very greatest force during the last few months. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to look at the question from this point of view, and to see whether between now and the Report stage he and his able draftsmen cannot devise some scheme which will meet what undoubtedly the House last night wanted to provide for—that is, some system whereby all contracts made during the last two or three months will be revised—fairly revised—by some competent authority. My hon. Friend mentioned what was undoubtedly a flaw in my Amendment on the Paper yesterday. That has been altered; for I quite recognise that our object should be to give the opportunity for both sides to be heard, and for a discretion to be given to a County Court judge, or what other responsible authority you like, to settle what shall be the price of coal in particular contracts, bearing in mind all the circumstances. If that is done, I do not see why coal owners or anyone else should object. It is perfectly clear that what we all want to get at is that the price of coal at the pit's mouth should be sold at a definite price representing a definite increase over the prices of 1913. I feel certain it can be done, either by the words of my Amendment or by some other method, which I have no doubt will occur to the advisers of the Government; but I do believe that, unless some attempt 1907 is made to meet this question, the Government will find they have placed themselves in a position which will be severely criticised when the Bill comes into operation.
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
I should think by this time the President of the Board of Trade has realised that there is a very strong feeling in favour of applying this Bill to contracts, and, at all events, he would be able to justify his action by taking up the line that it is the view of the House of Commons. When the right hon. Gentleman suggests he might meet this matter half way I am more concerned than ever, because I can understand the Bill not applying to contracts or applying to contracts, but when he says he hopes to get over the difficulty by exempting contracts entered into by corporations and gas companies it seems to me he rather makes matters worse than better. Under all the circumstances I really think that, as the right hon. Gentleman has decided to reconsider this question between now and Report, he had better grasp the nettle boldly and apply this Bill to contracts.
But, having said as much as that, I do not think it is quite fair for hon. Members to say that the Bill, even if it does not apply to contracts, is a fraud and a failure and a window-dressing Bill with no purpose and no object in it. From those remarks I dissent altogether, because the Bill, even if it exempts contracts, does achieve a great deal. It does standardise the price to an extent. It is known at what price contracts are made, and it also makes it clear that any coal bought outside contracts may not be at a greater price than that laid down in the Bill, and any fresh contract entered into for a certain period cannot be above the price ruling between 1913 and 1914 and an addition of 4s That may not be as much as we should get if the Bill applied to contracts, but to say that it does nothing is, I think, not fair to the Bill. Everybody admits that there is a very grave danger of a scarcity and a shortage of coal whether we have the Bill or not. With the scarcity and shortage of coal which we know would exist if we had a very cold winter in London, with fog and long frost, without this Bill there would be no holding the price at all, not through the fault of anyone, but the famine would lead to famine prices. This Bill does prevent famine prices.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
May I point out there is nothing to prevent the price of coal under this Bill going to £5 a ton?
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
There is a very great deal in this Bill to prevent coal going to £5 a ton, because this Hill makes it perfectly plain that the whole world will know what the price of coal at the pit is. There would be a knowledge of the actual cost at the pit. There is an understanding come to by the coal merchants of London and the South of England that they will work in harmony and co-operation with the Board of Trade to control the price and limit the profits of those traders in London and the South of England. This Bill, based on 1914 prices, makes it quite clear that if there is only a variation of 2s. 6d. between the summer and winter prices in that year under the arrangements the coal merchants have made with the Board of Trade the price cannot go up more than 2s. 6d. per ton whatever the scarcity may be, and not necessarily so much as that. I rose to urge the President to include contracts in his Bill, but, at the same time, I thought it was only fair to dissociate myself from those who say that the Bill is worthless without the inclusion of contracts.
§ Mr. WALTER ROCH
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken forgets that this Bill does not apply to merchants, who are left absolutely free. He has also forgotten that the Bill affects other places in the country besides London. I have some sympathy with the President of the Board of Trade with regard to the position in which he finds himself. I think everybody must appreciate what a tremendous and difficult problem he has to face in tearing up contracts. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman improved his speech last night by saying that he is prepared to tear up a part of those contracts. The tragedy of this Bill is that it has come too late, and the complaint which comes from all quarters is that the suggestions hon. Members have made week after week and month after month have been disregarded. For months the right hon. Gentleman has received the deputations and suggestions pointing out what would happen with regard to the price of coal, and urging that contracts were being made and that he would be placed in the very difficult position in which he now finds himself. I think we have some ground for complaint that when these suggestions were made again and again really 1909 very little regard was paid to them. That is the lesson which we learn from this Bill. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give this subject his very serious consideration. The difficulty which the President of the Board of Trade finds himself in is entirely occasioned by the fact that he is only doing now what he should have done many weeks ago. We have been living in a vicious circle formed by an unholy combination of the coal owners and the miners, and the result is that the right hon. Gentleman is powerless in their hands. One argument which the President of the Board of Trade used with apparent force in regard to the exclusion of existing contracts was that wages arrangements were being made in the coalfields. That was occasioned entirely by the fact that the price of coal had not been previously regulated, and so, owing entirely to the question of delay, we find ourselves powerless in the hands of this unholy combination. I appreciate the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman, but while we have been discussing here so much the sanctity of contracts we really have in our mind the coal consumers of the country. Their case is the genesis of this Bill, but their case, I am afraid, is most inadequately met by this Bill on account of the fact that existing contracts have been respected. Something will have to be done in the months to come, and I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman comes to give the matter further consideration the primary considerations which will weigh in his mind will be the householders who have to use coal and the great consumers of coal.
§ Mr. WATT
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has made any advance since last night on the question of the sanctity of contracts with corporations, particularly with regard to the contract which has been made with the city of Glasgow. The Glasgow Corporation has been squeezed in the placing of contracts for 1,000,000 tons of coal during June, and the advance which they have been forced to pay is over £250,000. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us in his reply that he proposes to deal with a situation such as that, because it affects other corporations. If my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield divides the Committee, on this Clause, the reply of the right hon. Gentleman will have some effect on my vote. If he can assure us that corporations who have been squeezed will be 1910 considered, and that the sanctity of their contracts will not be preserved, I shall have the pleasure of voting with him.
The hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt) asks me whether I will do anything for his squeezed constituency. I can add nothing to what I said last night. I do not know whether he heard the earlier part of the discussion on the question that this Clause should stand part of the Bill, but if he did he will have observed that one of the charges brought against me this afternoon has been that last night I said that I would do something to help the local authorities, who in another aspect are really the State.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.