§ (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.
§ (3) This Act shall not apply to Ireland.2190
§ (5) 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" ["This Act shall not apply to any sale of coal for export"], to insert the words "other than coal sold to the Admiralty or any other Government Department, or purchased by them on behalf of the Governments of any country which is or may be fighting in alliance with the United Kingdom during the present War."
On the Committee stage of the Bill I raised the question of the Allies of this country obtaining coal under the provisions of this Bill, and my right hon. Friend in effect asked me to withdraw my Amendment, inasmuch as the Government of this country and our Allies would substantially obtain that which my Amendment seeks to accomplish. My right hon. Friend during the Committee stage was quite clear that the Government of this country would be entitled to avail themselves of the provisions of this Bill when buying coal. I was rather doubtful about that view which he expressed, and I took the opinion of a legal Gentleman in the House, who assures me that my right hon. Friend has not been correctly informed about the matter. Then the discussion reached what I may call a private stage, and I cannot, of course, without the permission of the right hon. Gentleman, deal with that. But, passing from it, let me say I am asking the House to accept an Amendment, the object of which is to enable the Government of this country to have the benefit of the provisions of this Act, and not only our Government, but also our Allies. The proposal is that they should likewise receive coal at the increase of 4s. per ton on the pre-war prices. It seems a most remarkable proceeding on the part of the Government that it should refuse to insert into this Bill words which would give it the same advantage as is conferred on consumers and householders. Why, I ask, should not the Government of this country obtain coal from the collieries at 4s. increase over the prices of 1913–14?
What has happened in practice has been this. The Admiralty, under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act, are entitled to requisition coal, and have done so, from the collieries. They have no power whatever to fix the price which is to be paid for any portion of coal that they may 2191 take from any colliery. But the Admiralty have met the colliery owners, and, by agreement, have arranged prices which they suggest are reasonable, but which I think are wholly unreasonable. Take the district of Yorkshire as an example. The Admiralty, in Yorkshire, are represented by very able men, who buy coal extremely well. Nevertheless, at a certain period of this year, they were paying for coal for Admiralty purposes from 10s. to 12s. a ton above the prices prevailing in 1913–14. Owing to the operations of the Export Committee, the price of coal had fallen very considerably in South Yorkshire, but, notwithstanding that, the Admiralty go into the market like ordinary consumers for their supplies, and also for supplies for any of our Allies who require coal, and they have been paying these high prices. In Wales an arrangement has been arrived at between the Admiralty and the coal owners of Glamorganshire, under which the Admiralty get their coal at the price of 25s. per ton, and if they had the provisions of this Bill applied to them they would clearly be entitled to receive that coal at a price very considerably less. Seeing that 1s. per ton represents an enormous charge on the general taxpayer of this country, and bearing in mind that we have no idea how long this War is going to last I cannot understand why the Government should not avail themselves of this opportunity, and why, too, our Allies should not also have the advantages of this Bill.
What is the reason why the Government Departments do not desire to come under this Bill? They would get their coal cheaper under it than they could do by voluntary arrangement. To say that a voluntary arrangement is better than statutory power seems to me to be an argument so futile that I am at a loss to understand the attitude of the Government in the matter. I should not have let this point go through on the Committee stage unless I had had some assurance from the President of the Board of Trade that this Amendment, in principle, was going to be accepted. I have not the Report of the Debate before me at the moment, but the effect of my right hon. Friend's speech was that what the Amendment sought to achieve was practically carried out by the Bill itself. I cannot make a speech in reply on the Report stage. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman is going to say in answer to 2192 my argument, but I do want to put this point to him. We are spending £3,000,000 on the War, and, owing to our gross waste and want of efficiency, we are throwing money away on all sides. Our Allies the French are only spending half the amount which we in this country are paying out to-day. Here is a chance of saving money, and the Government reply is, "No, let the money go." I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the Admiralty in Yorkshire alone have been paying prices 10s. or 12s. above those which prevailed in the year 1913–14, and I remind him, too that they are also paying in Wales prices considerably in excess of what they would have to pay under the provisions of this Bill. I then ask him to accept the Amendment. I do not say that the phraseology is very good. I do not think it is. But it will be possible, if my right hon. Friend accepts the principle, to alter the wording in another place. I am sure the principle is sound, and I am equally sure that the Bill ought to apply to our Allies.
Look at the position of our Allies. The greater part of the French coal-fields are in the hands of the enemy, and they have to rely practically on us to-day. In Belgium the mines are also in the hands of the enemy. In peace time France draws what supplies she requires above her own production from Belgium, Germany, and this country. Belgium and Germany are closed to her, and half of her own coal mines are in the hands of the enemy. It does seem to me, when we are fighting shoulder to shoulder with our Allies, when we bear in mind the great sacrifices they have made, when we remember that their mines are destroyed, it is only right that we should give them the opportunity of obtaining the coal they require at the lowest possible prices, and we should give them the full benefit of the powers we are going to take for ourselves. The same argument applies, more or less, to Italy, not with regard to mines, but she is a poor country, and to call upon her to pay 2s., 3s., or 4s. more per ton must make a very material difference to her when she has to use large quantities of coal in the manufacture of munitions. In these circumstances I hope my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment.
I regret that on the Committee stage of this Bill I was not in possession of full information as to the 2193 decision of the Admiralty, as I might have been, and I spoke on the assumption that the information I had received represented its final decision. To-day I can only repeat what is their decision, for, naturally, I am not in control of the purchase of coal supplies by the Admiralty, nor am I able substantially to control the Contract Department of that body. My hon. Friend knows a good deal about the method of buying, both in Yorkshire and South Wales, and I dare say he could, if he liked, give much information as to the way in which the Admiralty have been making purchases since the War broke out. I have not that knowledge, and I can only give the House the latest information I have as to the view of the Admiralty. They consider their business arrangements are such as not to make it advisable for them to come under this Bill. They have to make arrangements in South Wales and other parts of the country with which I am not conversant. I can only speak in what I may call a secondhand capacity as to the policy adopted by the Contract Department of the Admiralty. I have always been informed that that Contract Department was most efficient, although those with whom they have dealings may differ in their views as to its business capacity. On the whole the purchasing capacity of the Admiralty—its ability—has not been one of the least conspicuous features of the Admiralty since the War broke out. If the Admiralty decide that they do not wish to come under this Bill, I fear I have no other course open to me than to say that the interpretation of the Bill which I gave on the Committee stage is not one which the Admiralty has any desire to apply to themselves. They would rather be free to make arrangements in their own way and under their own conditions than take advantage of the Bill as now drafted.
My hon. Friend says we ought to give the full benefit of the Bill to our Allies. I agree with him, and the arrangement which I announced on the Committee stage will be adhered to, namely, that when the British Government is buying coal for itself, it will also buy coals on the same terms and under the same conditions for the French Government. Further, when it is requested to do so, it will buy coal also for the Italian and Russian Governments. Up to the present the Russian and Italian Governments are quite well satisfied to go on with the contracts which they have at present running, and 2194 naturally they are not going to take advantage of our prices until their own good contracts have expired. When they do expire the Admiralty will be prepared to make purchases on their behalf on exactly the same conditions and terms as it is making them on behalf of the Government. I regret that I have no power to accept the proposal made by my hon. Friend. What may have been the inner business organisation reasons which have actuated the Admiralty I cannot explain to the House, but if my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty were here—
He would make the reply I am now making, that it is not in consonance with the public interest that I should say exactly how coal is purchased by the Admiralty.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
When the right hon. Gentleman says the British Government will buy for the Allies, does he mean that the Allies will have the advantage of the prices fixed under the terms of this Bill, or will their supplies be purchased at higher prices'! In other words, are the Allies to pay the same prices as those paid by the British Government on the market, and is it the case that neither the Allies nor the British Government are to get any advantage out of this Bill?
The information I have received from the Admiralty is that the arrangements they can make are better than those which they would be able to make if they had to depend purely upon this Bill.
§ Mr. HODGE
The hon. Baronet the Member for Mansfield has made a definite statement that in Yorkshire the Admiralty has paid from 10s. to 12s. per ton more for their coal than the prices which prevailed in 1913–14. I asked why the Admiralty were not represented here to-day, as the right hon. Gentleman stated that he was not in a position to give any information so far as that Department was concerned. I think if the Admiralty had been represented, we could have been told what is the position, and whether they are prepared to go on buying at this extra price of 10s. or 12s. per ton.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and negatived.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I beg to move 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 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.I propose to ask the House to allow me to move my Amendment, in spite of the fact that the President of the Board of Trade has put down another Amendment. I do so in order to meet the wishes of the House expressed during the Debates on the Committee stage. The Amendment which has now been put down by the right hon. Gentleman is one that raises certain very distinct points of issue. The suggestion I make is very different from that which the right hon. Gentleman makes in his Amendment. I will not keep the House longer than is necessary, but I should like to bring back the recollection of the House to the position on this question. We had a lengthy Debate in Committee, when one or two things were proved beyond doubt. It was shown that the proposal of the Bill to limit the price of coal at the pit's mouth by an additional 4s. had been rendered almost entirely nugatory by the fact that a provision was inserted in the Bill under which all coal that had been contracted for up to the passing of the Bill would have been put outside that limitation of price. Therefore it appeared almost useless to pass the Bill in the form 2196 in which it then was. The right hon. Gentleman has explained to the House why he proposed to limit the price at the pit's mouth by this additional 4s. He explained at considerable length the process of thought which had gone through his mind and it expressed itself in the last words in his speech on the Second Reading, when he said:—When all the extra expenses are added together, the total amount by which the expense of getting the coal has been increased is something over 3s. How much over I cannot say, but the average has not been less than 8s. Some happy coal owners have succeeded in keeping the cost lower than that. Some of them have already placed their contracts at prices under the standard rate named in the Bill. Four shillings was therefore inserted in the Bill as a figure which was fair to the coal owners as a class and individually, and fair also to the consumer."—[OFFICIAL REPOST, 19th July, 1915, col. 1213.]I take it that the essence of the proposal was that the additional 4s. put the coal owners in a position in which they would make as much reasonable profit as the right hon. Gentleman thought was fair. I submit that is the very problem that we have to meet in a number of cases in connection with this War. If it was thought that the coal owners should only receive the amount of profit represented by that figure on their coal, it ought not to be possible—I think this appeared from the discussion—for them to escape from that obligation and to get an additional profit simply by reason of the fact that they had entered into contracts during the last three or four months to the extent of selling, as we understood in the Debate, at least 80 per cent, of their whole produce for the winter. I may, perhaps, be allowed to give one example, not an example given during the Debate in Committee, but one I have ascertained to-day. I think it exemplifies the necessity of the House considering very carefully the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed. I find that a coal merchant who has entered into contracts to sell his coal to bakers for the purpose of making bread contracted for that particular coal in 1913 at a price of 10s. 3d. at the pit's mouth, and has now contracted at a price of 17s., with an additional obligation to pay 3d. per ton for every 2½ per cent, increase in wages. If you take this Bill and add to the 10s. 3d., which was to be paid in 1913, the 4s. allowed under the Bill, you find that the price the purchaser ought to be able to buy at is 14s. 3d. instead of 17s., the price at which he contracted to buy, or a difference of 2s. 9d. If such contracts are made in a case like that, I shall be able 2197 to show that under the proposed Government Amendment, if they are left in this position, the bakers of bread will have to pay a price of 2s. 9d. more for their coal in order that the 2s. 9d. should go into the pockets of the coal owners and put those coal owners in a better posiiton than the House has intended all coal owners to be in under the present conditions of the War.
The same thing applies to other classes of coal. I find in regard to kitchen coal he has contracted for a price of 6s. above the 1914 price, which is almost 7s. over the 1913 price, and in regard to large nuts he is contracting at a price of 5s. over the 1914 price, or 6s. more than the 1913 price. The question, therefore, is whether this House will consent to allow that profit to go to the coal owners. The President of the Board of Trade has argued that it is as fair to let that profit go to the coal owners as to let it go to a large manufacturer. He says that somebody is going to profit by it, and shall it be the large manufacturer who is to get it cheap, or shall it be the coal owner, who has managed to sell his coal at higher prices before the passing of this Bill? That may be the case with regard to large manufacturers, but my contention is that the nearer you get to the manufacturer the nearer you are to the consumer, and it is far more likely that the consumers will reap the benefit of the reduced price when it has come into the hands of the manufacturer than if it is left in the hands of the coal owner. Take, for instance, the case of the bakers, to which I have just referred. The bakers will profit by the reduced price of coal and it is almost undoubted that that would help in the direction of cheapening the supply of bread—a very important question at the present moment.
I would point out to the House how the proposals in my Amendment differ from the proposals made by the Government in order to meet the wishes of the House. My Amendment excludes all contracts from the 24th March until the passing of this Bill. It excludes them with reference to all coal that is to be delivered after a notice that is to be given after the passing of this Bill. The Government Amendment approximates to that proposal. They take the time from the 1st April to the passing of this Bill as being the time during which contracts made are to be varied, but they add a period of three months for the delivery of the coal—that is 2198 to say, no one will get any advantage from that Amendment. The proposal is that the coal contracted for between April and July shall come under the lower price, unless delivery takes place approximately after the 1st November. So that all coal which is to be delivered during the next three months will still have to be paid for by the public and everybody at the higher price which is included in the contract. By that means the proposal of the Government will withdraw a very great deal of the relief which this House wishes to give to those persons who purchased under contract. My view is that the State is quite entitled to say, just as it said in regard to free coal, that the coal owners are not to make more than four shillings increase on the 1913 prices; and that the State is quite entitled to say, notwithstanding any of the contracts made during the last three months, that all coal delivered after the passing of this Bill should be benefited to that extent. The Amendment, in fact, goes further than this, because it not only gives a period of three months, but a further period to any extent if the Board of Trade think it is reasonable and proper that the period should be extended. That is one important point of difference.
There is the second point, which is still more important. The Amendment I venture to put before the House provided for the sale of all coal—that is to say, that everybody who had made contracts for coal during the present summer should have the benefit of this Clause which is going to give them the reduced price. The Government propose to limit the operation to what is called in their Amendment "excepted coal." Excepted coal is the coal supplied for domestic and household purposes and also coal to be supplied for various purposes of public utility, such as gas works, public authorities, water works, and so on. It appears to me that this limitation is sure to be very much resented by a large number of persons who think they are entitled to relief, and will, in practice, be very unsatisfactory. Take, for instance, the bakers.
The right hon. Gentleman is really not discussing his Amendment. We have not heard a single word about the County Court judge. He is discussing, in anticipation, the Amendment of the President of the Board of Trade. That is not fair. If he wishes to discuss that Amendment he ought to allow it to be moved properly and then discussed. If 2199 he wishes to discuss his own Amendment he should confine himself strictly to its terms.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I bow to your ruling, Sir. I can only in explanation say that I thought, perhaps wrongly, that it would be as well to explain the two Amendments, because the Government Amendment was put down as a suggestion meeting my Amendment. That was, as I understood it, the particular position that arose in Committee. I do not wish in the least degree either to offend against your ruling or to occupy the time of the House unnecessarily, and I suppose that some of these proposals I shall be able to move as Amendments to the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, which would give me the opportunity of dealing with these points. With reference to my own Amendment, I would say, first of all, that it includes all contracts from the passing of the Bill and, therefore, does not exclude those under which delivery does not take place until a certain time afterwards. Secondly, it includes contracts made by all kinds of merchants. The advantage of including all kinds of merchants is that it gives the benefit to the small manufacturers and small tradesmen. I was quoting the case in which the merchant has bought coal at a certain price at the pit's mouth and has contracted to sell it to bakers. I am particularly anxious that the fact of reducing the price of coal should operate to the advantage of people like bakers.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I believe I have a right to withdraw the Clause, have I not? At any rate, I think I have said all I wish to say in regard to my own Clause, and, of course, if the House will not allow me to withdraw my Clause I shall be bound to have it put, and then the other question will arise how far these Amendments are precluded by anything that is said in this Amendment that I move. I bow entirely to your suggestion, and I will ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (2), to add the words:—
"Provided that where any contract has been made on or after the first day of April, nineteen hundred and fifteen, and before the commencement of this Act, for the sale of coal by the owner thereof at the pit's mouth, coal delivered under that contract after the expiration of the period fixed under the provision, and shown to be excepted coal within the meaning of this provision, shall, if the other party to the contract within two months after the commencement of this Act gives notice in writing to that effect to the owner of the coal at the pit's mouth, be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be sold at the time of the delivery thereof.
If in consequence of this provision the price to be paid by any person to whom coal is delivered is reduced by any amount, the price to be paid by any person to whom the coal is delivered in pursuance of any subsidiary contract shall be reduced by an equivalent amount.
For the purposes of this provision 'excepted coal' means coal supplied for domestic or household purposes to any person and coal supplied for any purpose to any local authority, or to any undertakers supplying gas, water, or electricity in any locality in pursuance of authority given by an Act of Parliament, or by an Order confirmed by, or having the effect of, an Act
The period fixed under this provision shall be a period of three months after the commencement of this Act, but the owner of the coal at the pit's mouth may apply to the Board of Trade for an extension of that period and the Board of Trade may, if they are satisfied that there are special reasons in the case in question for such an extension, extend the period for such time as they think just under the circumstances, and the period as so extended shall in such a case be the period fixed under this provision."
§ Mr. LAURENCE HARDY
A verbal Amendment is necessary in the first paragraph. The word "the" ought to be "this."
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I beg to move, in the first paragraph of the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "and shown to be excepted coal within the meaning of this provision."
The effect of having these words in the proposed Amendment is to limit the coal to which this exemption is given and thereby, of course, to limit the persons who will benefit by the provision. The phrase "excepted coal" is defined in these words:—For the purpose of this provision 'excepted coal' means coal supplied for domestic or household purposes to any person and coal supplied for any purpose to any local authority, or to any undertakers supplying gas, water, or electricity in any locality in pursuance of authority given by an Act of Parliament, or by an Order confirmed by, or having the effect of, an Act.I submit that these words, if left in, will withdraw from a very large number of people the benefits which they would anticipate from the concession which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman. It will prevent the small and indeed the large manufacturers from getting any advantage from this Clause, and I do not know why it is necessary to put this exception in. Moreover, I think it will bring about a considerable difficulty. It means coal supplied for domestic or household purposes to any person. If the coal is supplied at the pit's mouth, as it is very commonly under contracts for very large amounts to the ordinary coal factor, who then deals with it as he thinks best, I submit that a contract like that will not come under this Clause at all. The limitation is that the coal is supplied for domestic or household purposes, and the factor w-ho buys the coal will say, and I think will argue with some amount of success, that he is buying coal to sell to other people for all kinds of purposes, and you will not be able, therefore, to say that the contract is one which will get the benefit of this Act. These are my two points, and I trust my right hon. Friend will not limit the advantage which he has given by this Amendment to the enormous extent that it is limited by these words.
The point raised by my right hon. Friend is whether the benefit which is given under this Amendment should be extended to manufacturers of various kinds, using the words in its broadest possible sense, or whether it should be restricted to those who want 2202 coal for domestic or household purposes, and for the purposes of local authorities in the wider sense. My right hon. Friend said he did not know for what reason the manufacturer was left out. I believe he sat through the Debate on the Committee stage. He was seldom absent from the House, and if he had listened to what I said at the close of that Debate he would have seen at once how pernicious it would be to actually give a benefit to one set of business men under this Clause and to take it away from another without there being anything like the appeal made ad misericordiam for the household or domestic consumer, or made on the grounds of the services rendered by the local authority, especially in the case of such towns as Stoke, Glasgow, and so on. I hesitate to repeat what I said in Committee, but it must be perfectly obvious that if you are going to insert into this the manufacturers you are actually going to make a present to one set of business men at the expense of another set of business men. Let me take a very simple case. A steel manufacturer may have made his contract for coal on the 15th or 20th of April. He proceeds as soon as possible to cover his output on contracts for the sale of steel billets. Having done that, if he is now to get the benefit of this Amendment, provided the addition to his price was over 4s., he will have a reduction in his coal bill without there being any possibility of a guarantee that he will make any reduction whatever in what he gets for his steel. It simply means that you will be giving the steel manufacturer a present at the expense of the coal owner. It is not my business to plead the case of the coal owner here, but, if the House is to accept this Amendment on the grounds of expediency, I will not say of abstract justice, I fail to see where the expediency comes in of putting money into the steel manufacturer's pocket by taking it out of the coal owner's. So far as I know, the coal owner is no more culpable than the steel manufacturer.
I have given only one simple case, but there are any number of cases, and in every case you take of a manufacturer receiving a benefit under this Amendment you cannot and you could not have any guarantee that he would make a corresponding reduction in the price of his commodity. Even if he were inclined to do so, it would be extremely difficult for him to say exactly how much coal has been an ingredient in the price he was charging 2203 under the contract. My right hon. Friend's object is to widen the Amendment as far as possible. Naturally he would very much prefer his own Clause. I have put this Amendment down as a compromise, and I can only recommend it to the House as a compromise. If there had been no possibility of arriving at a compromise when the Bill was taken on Thursday night, I should then have asked the House, as indeed I did, to negative the Amendment of the hon. Member below the Gangway, and make the Bill apply only to contracts made after this date. I believe it was scarcely justifiable to depart from that condition, but it was expedient to do so, and when the arrangement was made on Thursday night by which the Amendment of the hon. Member below the Gangway was negatived, it was on the distinct understanding that I was to propose something in the nature of a reasonable compromise. I have done my best. I have made a proposal which incorporates something of what I said in my speech on Thursday night last, I have provided for the ease of the local authority. I have gone further than I said on Thursday night, for I provide for the case of the domestic and household consumer, and I trust my right hon. Friend will accept this Amendment, as it has been put forward with the object of meeting the view's of the Committee as far as possible, and that he will not press the Amendment which he has now moved, simply for the reason that if he docs so he will not be doing any justice to any one class of the community, but will merely be making a transfer of a certain amount of profit out of one pocket into another without any public gain.
§ Mr. BIGLAND
In this Amendment there is one Clause where the right hon. Gentleman says no good will happen. Let me put this case. I have a letter from my Constituency in which a co-operative society which acts in a dual capacity, both as small manufacturers and suppliers to the poor of coal, wants to know how it will stand in the contracts it has made at an excess price. It has to provide large quantities of coal for its bakeries and other businesses, and I should like to ask whether, if the Amendment is not accepted, it will come within this reduction or not?
§ Sir D. GODDARD
I should like to ask what is really included in this Amendment? The expression used is "the sale of coal by the owner at the pit's mouth." I want 2204 to know, if a gas company enters into a contract with the owner of a colliery f.o.b., whether the contract comes within the other contracts which are mentioned here as being made at the pit's mouths? It is rather an important question, because there is a vast number of these contracts, especially by what are termed utility companies, which are made f.o.b., and not at the pit's mouth.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
As we have had a very strenuous fight in the Committee stage on this question of the supply of coal to the householder and the consumer at large, I wish to express to my right hon. Friend my thanks for the Amendment which he has placed on the Paper. I think he has met a difficult position in a generous way. Personally, I should have preferred that he had gone the whole hog, but he has produced an Amendment which I am sure will be of real benefit to the consumers at large during the coming winter. In the period of the next two or three months the merchant is buying his coal under summer prices at a reduced price compared with what he pays in the winter. My right hon. Friend has met us very fairly. We could not expect to get everything, but this Amendment as it now stands will, I think, make the Bill of real advantage, and my right hon. Friend deserves full credit for meeting what is a very difficult case, although we shall hear a great deal in the country about the sanctity of contracts—when the House yesterday dealt with the question of revising barristers my right hon. Friend equally had courage—and has dealt with one of the most complex trades, which is, after all, the largest industry of the country. I again thank him.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WATT
I associate myself with the hon. Baronet who has just spoken in thanking the President of the Board of Trade for having met us in regard to this Clause. As the hon. Baronet has indicated, this is a compromise, and, therefore, if an individual who desires to have his own way does not get it, he must accept the best compromise under the circumstances. There are two points to which I would like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, and in regard to which I would like an answer. They are points which are rather disturbing to corporations, who come under this Clause, and they would like to have them elucidated. The first difficulty is that of the purchaser from an agent or a factor, and it is the difficulty of forcing the original purchaser to give the required 2205 two months' notice under this Clause. It may be that the purchaser at the pit's mouth is not desirous for some reason or other of giving the notice, and under those circumstances those who have bought from him afterwards have no power to compel him. The second point is that some explanation is needed of the words "at the time of the delivery thereof." Suppose a contract spreads over six months, and deliveries are made of 2,000 tons per week. Is the price to vary with each delivery of 2,000 tons, or is there to be some arrangement whereby the price will be the price fixed for the whole run of the contract, and there is to be no variation in connection with each delivery?
§ Mr. WARDLE
Like other hon. Members, I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having effected some kind of compromise, which I do not think he can say goes apart from justice. I believe it is both expedient and just that this compromise should have been made. There is one point in the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Watt) which I want to be quite sure is made clear, and that is, as I understand it, the question of co-operative societies or a workman's coal club or a large corporation, giving notice and having their contract revised. How can the consumers, and particularly the poor consumers, compel those factors who have arranged contracts with the colliery companies to revise their contract so that they can get the benefit of the lower prices? I feel there is a difficulty there. If there is some method by which they can bring pressure to bear so that the ordinary householder, and particularly the poor consumer, will have means at his disposal of compelling a revision of the contracts, then we shall be quite satisfied with this Clause.
§ Mr. LAURENCE HARDY
I spoke on the Second Reading of this Bill with reference to the objections of coal owners. Undoubtedly they did feel that the Bill affected them prejudicially, and especially that if the question of contracts was entered into they would be somewhat hardly used. I think that the general body of coal owners would like to take this opportunity of saying that, they are very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the great courtesy and attention he has given to the objections which they have raised on the Bill. They believe that he has honestly endeavoured to arrive at a settlement in the nature of a compromise 2206 which will give as much satisfaction as we can expect to get. I only rise to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he has met this particular question, and I hope the House will accept this Amendment as an honest compromise.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
It seems to me that the last seven lines of the Amendment are dangerous, because they give the coal owners the right to appeal to the Board of Trade. On that appeal to the Board of Trade, if the Board thinks that the coal owners have made out a very good case, they can extend the period, which would mean that the Board of Trade can extend the period to another three months. If that is so, it seems to me that the later part of the Amendment will nullify the early part, and I doubt very much whether the Amendment will confer the benefits intended by the Board of Trade. I would like to ask the President of the Board of Trade what reason there is for these last seven lines being inserted, because they do give the Board power to extend the period, which may inflict hardships, especially upon the consumers who purchase coal day by day and week by week. There is another point to which I would draw attention. It is quite true that a very large number of local authorities are not in the habit of making contracts direct with the coal owners. They make contracts with coal merchants, like the hon. Member for St. Ives (Sir Clifford Cory).
§ Mr. W. THORNE
At any rate, there are a number of coal factors in London like Cory and Sons, and a large number of local authorities make contracts with that firm. There are other local authorities who make contracts with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Sir E. Cornwall). Where the local authorities are making contracts with the coal factors, I cannot see for the life of me how that will come under the definition of making contracts at the pit head. There is nothing to prevent colliery owners setting up dummy merchants, so that coal may be purchased from the dummy merchants, directly or indirectly. I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to give the House some reasons why the last seven lines have been inserted in this Amendment. Otherwise I agree with what has been said, that the early part of the Amendment is very reasonable and fair.
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
I think the President of the Board of Trade may rightly feel gratified at the compliments paid to him from Members of the House on his having steered a very difficult Bill with so much success. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out when this Bill was introduced that it is not watertight legislation. I am afraid a good deal of the discussion we have had on the question of contracts, and on other questions raised by the Bill, has been on the assumption that this is ordinary legislation, and that it ought to be so framed as to go through the Courts of law, and stand the test of lawyers and judges, as though it were legislation in the ordinary course of the country's affairs. It is nothing of the kind, and the right hon. Gentleman never claimed that it was. It is emergency legislation, passed to deal with circumstances during the War, and six months afterwards. Therefore, I join with all those hon. Members who have congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on steering the Bill between the watertight lines and the emergency lines. I wish to express my pleasure in regard to the complimentary remarks that have fallen from the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Laurence Hardy). I was very glad to hear him, from the coal owners' point of view, join in the thanks and the congratulations to the President of the Board of Trade.
We must recognise that this Amendment which the President of the Board of Trade has put down does interfere with contracts. It interferes with contracts made by coal owners, and I have been wondering, as I listened to the Debate, how this Amendment would be received not only in the House, but also by the coal owners outside. It is no use passing these Bills into law if you do not have friendly co-operation between the people who are carrying on the business affected. You cannot carry on business by going to the County Court judges, and the Law Courts generally, and having controversies about your affairs. You can only carry on business at ordinary times with a good spirit on both sides. You do not conduct business like you conduct trench warfare, the parties being at a certain distance from each other and firing at each other all the time; therefore, if this Bill had passed against the views of the coal owners, and not accepted by them, we should only have got into a great deal of trouble, controversy, and difficulty. Now that the right hon. Member for Ashford, 2208 on behalf of the coal owners, has expressed his gratitude to the President of the Board of Trade, I take it that that means that the coal owners are going heartily to accept the measure, and that we shall not have any difficulties arising because of this legislation. If you get difficulties and you get into the Law Courts, neither this Bill nor any other emergency Bill will hold water. Take it to any Court, take it to any judge, and anyone who wants to drive through this Bill can do it. The coal owners, the coal merchants, could drive through this Bill. Anyone could get through a Bill of this kind. With the support of the right hon. Member opposite, and of the coal owners, I think we ought to be able to look forward to this measure being of great advantage to all concerned
In regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. William Thorne) as to dummy merchants, I know that that has been very carefully considered by the Board of Trade. I have had conversations with the President and the officers of the Board, and it is understood that they are well within this Bill. Of course, I am not a lawyer and I cannot say whether that is so, but the belief is that they are inside this Bill. You cannot have a dummy or a bogey merchant coming in between the working of this Act and the pit-mouth prices. I hope that is so, because, if it is not, it will be a real danger. I am informed, however, that that point is safeguarded. Under those circumstances, perhaps the hon. Member will be satisfied. I had an Amendment, but after what has taken place I do not propose to move it, because I join with all the other hon. Members in the hope that we may get this Bill through and have the benefit of it as soon as possible.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
I accept the Clause as it is now proposed with some satisfaction, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having yielded. I think we should also thank ourselves, for if we had not hammered the permanent officials thoroughly in Committee they would never have given way. They have given way, however, and they have yielded to what was practically the unanimous sense of the House. At the same time, I think the Minister who had the courage to give way deserves public recognition when he has given way and given way gracefully. I feel gratified that he has done so, and I feel that the country generally will thank him. In regard to what the hon. Member 2209 for West Ham has said, I had the same feeling of anxiety which he has expressed, but I do not really see how the Clause could otherwise have been drawn. If he reads Clause 1, Sub-section (1), he will see that the coal which is affected is defined thus:Coal at the pit's mouth shall not be sold or offered for sale by the owner of the coal, etc.Therefore, we are only legislating for coal at the pit's mouth sold by the owner. Consequently, when you come to an Amendment dealing with that matter, it refers to the sale of coal by the owner at the pit's mouth.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
The last seven lines are the most dangerous, because they give the Board of Trade power to extend the period.
§ Mr. HEALY
I think the Board of Trade can be trusted in that matter. I have no suspicion whatever that they will discharge their duties otherwise than properly and satisfactorily. Of course, the Clause as it now stands makes it absolutely imperative that the ridiculous proposal with regard to Ireland shall be knocked out of the Bill. Unfortunately I was not here the other day when it was put in. A more absurd Amendment was never made in any Bill during all the time that I have been in this House, and I am sure that it will disappear when we come to it.
§ Mr. ROCH
I will not repeat what was said by other hon. Members in thanking the right horn Gentleman for this Clause. Perhaps he will take all the pleasant things which they have said as being said by me also. I hope that he will not think that I am looking a gift-horse in the mouth if I ask him whether this Clause is really quite watertight as it stands. As I read the Clause the original person who contracts for the price of the coal at the pithead can get a revision of his contract, and then, in the event of his doing so, the Clause seems to contemplate subsidiary contractors also getting a, revision of their price. I do not know whether, in certain conceivable circumstances, the original holder of the contract may not, perhaps, wish to take the benefit of the revision, while the subsidiary people may. As I understand the Clause at present, if the original holder of the contract does not seek to get a revision, then the subsidiary people could not set the Clause into motion. That does seem to me to be a 2210 difficulty. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will give further consideration to this point, so that, perhaps, in another place he may have an opportunity of making a change if necessary.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
In the case of a large number of corporations and public bodies the people with whom they contract is not the owner of the coal when it is taken out of the pit, but the factor who deals in the coal with the pit owners, and I doubt whether the words "directly or indirectly" cover them. I understand that some assurance has been given that this case would be covered, but there can be no question that in the great majority of the contracts to which I have referred the corporation is dealing with, as principal, not the owner of the coal but the factor who sells the coal. That seems to be rather an important point. There might possibly be circumstances in which the factor might not wish to take advantage of this Clause, but the actual purchaser of the coal from him might. And from the point of view that the contract has been made with the factor and not with the owner, I think that there is in this point a matter for consideration by the right hon. Gentleman perhaps at a later stage.
§ Amendment to proposed Amendment put, and negatived.
I beg to propose, in the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "two months," and to insert instead thereof the words "one month."
As consequential to this Amendment I propose lower down to delete the words "three months," and insert instead thereof the words "two months." The object of those changes is to bring this provision into operation a little sooner than otherwise would be the case. As it stands it will come into operation after three months. That is, for practical purposes, not until the beginning of November, and the general plan of the scheme is that where the purchaser desires to take advantage of the provisions of this Clause he shall give notice within two months after the commencement of the Act, and the Clause shall come into operation within three months after the commencement of the Act. My suggestion is that those periods should be reduced to one month and two months respectively. It would seem to be an advantage that the benefit of this Clause should come into operation at the beginning of October instead of the 2211 beginning of November, and I feel sure that one month would give sufficient time to allow the parties to consider the matter.
The Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend is meant to be taken in conjunction with the second Amendment in which he suggests to put in two months instead of three. I have no objection to one month being taken at the beginning, but I would point out that the period of three months lower down was inserted by way of compromise. I do not want to discuss the long negotiations which I have had since we discussed the thing in Committee, but the proposal was made that six months would be a fair period. I resisted that very strongly, and it was only after a very long discussion that we finally arrived at the period of three months. I hope, therefore, that the House will not wish to disturb that arrangement, but I shall be very glad to accept one month at the beginning.
In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said I do not think that I should press this Amendment, because if the three months is to stand I certainly think that the two months should stand, in order that the people may have as long a time as possible to consider the situation. Therefore, I do not move the Amendment, but on behalf of the city of Glasgow I would like to join in the expressions of thanks which have been made to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I beg to move, at the end of the second paragraph of the proposed Amendment to insert the words "and any purchaser under any such subsidiary contract shall have the same right to give notice to the owner of the coal at the pit's mouth as the person who has made the original contract with that owner, and any person who has sold the coal shall, if required, communicate to the purchaser the name of the person from whom the coal has been bought."
In moving this Amendment, perhaps I may be allowed also on behalf of the city of Glasgow, which has been prominent in this Debate, to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the consideration which he has given to a case which affects not only them but also other authorities. The point which I want to raise is this. The case of an agent standing between the purchaser 2212 for consumption and the coal owner at the pit's mouth has not been met, and it is quite conceivable that the interests of such an agent might be different from the interests of the ultimate purchaser. If he is an agent he is probably paid by a percentage, and obviously the amount of his remuneration will be greater if the price is kept high. Therefore it may well be that he might refuse to make a demand for readjustment of the price under this Act, and as the Clause now stands the ultimate purchaser would be helpless to enforce any revision of the contract. Therefore I propose to add these words.
I do not know that in practice there is really much need for the Amendment which has been proposed by the hon. Gentleman, but, in case there is any doubt about it, there is no reason why these words should not be inserted. We naturally do not wish to leave the gap, pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Roch), which would allow the first purchaser practically to obliterate the benefits which would be given under this Amendment to those who are subsidiary purchasers. I therefore propose to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member, adopting some changes in drafting which have been suggested.
I have taken a broad definition, because I was unable to make use of a narrower one. It applies to any local authority which is supplying gas, water, or electricity under powers given by an Act of Parliament. I cannot take a narrower definition than that.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted in the proposed Amendment," put, and agreed to.
§ Words proposed, as amended, inserted in the Bill.
I think that the best way out of it is to accept the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Before this Bill goes up to another place I desire to ask this question: Under the provisions of this Bill, if His Majesty's Government were included and were able to buy at the same price as the consumer, then they would be able to obtain coal at the increased price of 4s. over the price prevailing in the year 1913–14, and our Allies would also be able to obtain coal at the same price. We have been told that the Admiralty have no desire to benefit under the provisions of this Bill. I want to know why. The Admiralty to-day are paying for best Welsh coal 25s. a ton. They are paying in South Yorkshire prices which have varied very much from day to day. These prices depend entirely upon the action from day to day of the Export Committee. If the Export Committee are refusing licences the coal has to be put on the market. The only buyer then is the Admiralty who are able to get fairly cheap coal, and the Admiralty have used the provisions of this Export Committee very largely in obtaining coal at a reasonable rate. Still, even with the action of the Committee they would obtain coal considerably cheaper under the provisions of this Act than they would otherwise obtain it. I therefore want to know why the Government refuse to avail themselves of the provisions of this Act? What harm can it do to the Admiralty to come within the provisions of this Act with the certainty of getting coal cheaper? The right hon. Gentleman knows that the colliery owners have contracts with the Admiralty. There is nothing that he can tell me that I do not know; in fact, it is part of my business to know as much about it as the Admiralty. Why should the Government not have the benefit of this Act? The President of the Board of Trade is willing to give them the benefit of this Act if they will take it. He gave me that undertaking on the Committee stage. Perhaps he will tell me why they will not take it? The Bill as it has been changed now is a living real Bill. Previously it was a sham and a fraud. I think that was the word with which I branded it and which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson) also used. I am very glad now to be able to withdraw that word, 2214 and to say that in my humble judgment this Bill will be of real advantage to the consumer during the coming winter and next year, and I hope that the Government will now see that they also are going to get the benefit of its provisions.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
In respect to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield, I understand that the reason why the Admiralty are not coming under the Bill is that it does not quite fit their particular case. Our pre-war contracts, as the hon. Baronet knows, vary, and to adjust them on the fixed basis of 4s. a ton—
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I know; but to apply the 4s. basis to pre-war contracts might mean, where we take largo quantities at the most favourable prices, a rather rigid obligation. The hon. Baronet must remember that we are taking, in many cases, perhaps the whole output of collieries producing the best class of coal, irrespective of pre-war contracts, and whether they are small or large quantities. Therefore, we are not quite in the position that the merchant occupies, and the Admiralty prefer, having regard to the general structure of the Bill, to conduct their business by negotiation on lines that suit the circumstances of each case. I can assure the hon. Baronet that if we find that we cannot obtain favourable terms for the Department and our Allies as well, then certainly—and I give the assurance on the behalf of the Board of Admiralty—we shall not hesitate to come to Parliament.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I think the Admiralty are quite right in the conclusion to which they have come, and I am perfectly certain that a good many Members of this House who, in a superficial way, think they have done a very magnificent stroke to-day, by and by will come to consider the view of the Admiralty. You cannot, by passing bits of paper, dispose of a complex system connected with a large industry; if that were so, we might have merry meetings once a year to fix up the whole human family. You cannot interfere with such a complex industry as that of coal in this way; nor can it be thought that Members have solved a very intricate problem. I have not thought it advisable to interfere with the general view of the House, but in my 2215 opinion this Bill will not accomplish what the House thinks it will. So far as I am concerned, I do not want that there should be any misapprehension about the fact that in some cases the Bill is doing severe injustice. There is no doubt about that. I have a number of collieries in my mind that have not paid for the last twelve months, and this Bill hits them more severely still. They will endeavour to keep the pits going, but if the collieries are closed down it means a less output of coal. The hon. Baronet the Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) openly said in this House that he would like the smaller pits to be closed down. Is that what we are legislating for, that the smaller pits shall close down, and coal in the coming winter therefore be less available to the community? I could not help hearing the satisfaction expressed by hon. Members around me in regard to the Bill, and it is because of that I have ventured to intervene. I know that Members of the House like to go home thinking that they have solved a problem.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I do not think that many people outside will be led to indulge false hopes about the Bill, which is such a feeble instrument, for when it conies to be in operation I fear that they will be very keenly and bitterly disappointed. I hope I shall turn out to be wrong; I hope that the Bill will do some good; but it does seem a somewhat hard case that because of the retail prices charged in the back streets of London you should immediately try to remedy it by going to the pit-head. There is dissatisfaction with the retail price of coal in the back streets of London, and the legislation brought in deals almost entirely with the price at the pit-mouth, and not with the retail price in London, from where the complaint comes, and where the difficulty arises. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill made a wise and moderate statement to-day, that, if the price was fixed at the pithead it would eventually, in a modified form, affect the retail price to the consumer. The right hon. Gentleman has not put it higher than that. There may be something in that. I hope it will be so. I do not think it will be very much, but it is probable that in some degree the legislation regarding the pit-head will reach the small consumer in some form even in London.
2216 Nobody hopes that more than I do, but I think from the amendments hon. Members have put into the Bill they will find not what they expect will be the effect, but an effect exactly the opposite to what they intended. This has been characteristic of all the emergency legislation passed by this House. Amendments have been introduced into these emergency Bills, as they have gone through the House, with the distinct object of benefiting the people, and it turns out that the introduction of those very Amendments has done harm. I do not want to be too dogmatic about this, and I hope that my own views will turn out to be wrong, but I have not much confidence in this Parliament, or any legislative body in the world, being able to interfere with well-known economic laws by legislation in a hostile spirit, which will work out in the manner expected. I need hardly remind the House that, in passing this Bill they are inflicting an injury upon many lawfully conducted businesses which the owners have the greatest difficulty to keep going at the present time, and, if Amendments are asked for at a later period, in case that harm is proved, but which is not now in the minds of Members, I hope the House will prove sympathetic towards any Amendment Bill brought forward to save some collieries from being closed down.
§ Mr. HEALY
I heard the argument which the hon. Gentleman used in the year 1881 in connection with the Irish landlords. The main point is this—there was an evil, and we had to encourage the Government to deal with that evil. The public believe that the Government have tried to deal with that evil. If we pretend that that evil has not been dealt with by the Bill, of course the coal owner will go about to see how he can get out of it. There is always a psychological moment when the question of prices is raised. It is talking that sends up prices, but the thing the coal owner has got to understand is that they have got hold of the monopoly of a prime necessity of life, that we are at war, that ordinary competition has ceased, and that this House will somehow, by hook or by crook, prevent the faces of the poor being ground by the rich. The Government need not be ashamed if it has to amend this Bill later. There have been six Defences of the Realm Acts, and it would be no shame to the Government if they have to come in September to remedy some points in the measure The Government in time of war must have the confidence of this House, 2217 and even if they make mistakes in emergency legislation, it is not for us to complain that they are making mistakes, but to help them in getting out of the mistakes.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I desire to say two or three words on the Third Reading of this Bill, notwithstanding the general chorus of applause, perhaps only tempered by the scepticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth). The fact is that we have the evil of the far too terrible increase in the price of coal to the consumer, which will cause a tragedy in hundreds of thousands of homes in this country. The Government, in endeavouring to deal with that evil, are deserving of credit for the best intentions. They say that they will limit the price that can be charged at the pit-mouth The price at the pit's mouth is very different from the price to the consumer in the back streets of London, and if we had only to deal with the differences between the payment to the coal owner and the payment to the sleek and well-nourished middle man I think this House would be well advised to leave it alone; we should not trouble about it. But the Government have good intentions. They say very frankly, "We are going to limit the price at the pit's mouth, notwithstanding our belief in the sanctity of contract, and we hope that some of the benefits will trickle through and rejoice the consumer in his little home." I am not very sanguine about the realisation of that hope. "It is a long, long way to Tipperary," and it is a long way from the pit's mouth to the consumer's home, and, if you want to know how far it is, you can consider the difference in price as measured by distance. I do not think it at all likely that the poor will have much advantage by this Bill, and I wish the Government had had the courage to destroy sanctity of contract not only at the pit's mouth but in the back streets of London. A constituent writes to me saying, "God only knows what will be the price of coal in Holloway in the coming winter." I think my constituent is right; I certainly do not. The council of the Metropolitan Borough of Islington, with a population of 350,000, the largest Metropolitan borough in London, sent to me, through the town clerk, complaining of the Bill, and hoping that it would be dealt with so as to be actually useful to the public. The whole of the Metropolitan boroughs passed resolutions to that effect.
§ Mr. RADFORD
No; that is a very shallow view. What these councils have tried to do is to alleviate the misery of the poor. It is not a question of the middlemen or the coal merchant, or the owner of the coal at the pit's mouth. They do not believe that this Bill will accomplish what the Government, with a degree of sanguineness on which I congratulate them, believe it will effect. All I can say is in the words of Dean Swift, "Blessed are they who expect little, for they shall not be disappointed."
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I do not think that any Member, or very few Members, have any wild or extravagant hopes as to what is going to be accomplished by this Bill. What we have tried to do in the House is to make it a quite honest, workable measure, and we have all thrown our Amendments into the common stock from that point of view. I will, however, say this, that if this Bill does not effect any improvement in the situation, then I am quite sure that next winter the working people of this country are not going to allow themselves to be exploited by any powerful private interests. We have had far too much exploitation and far too much talk about economic laws and about inflicting injury on the coal owner while the prices have been going up. If this attempt to regulate prices does not have the effect of bringing cheaper coal into the homes of the poorest people, then we shall have to go further and take a much bigger and bolder step. We shall have to ask ourselves whether it is in the best interests of the nation at any time, and most of all at a time like this, that the coal mines of the country, and that a basic necessity like coal, should be in the hands of private people whose private purposes are against the common weal. Without doubt, if the measure breaks down, the whole question of the ownership and control of the mines will be raised, not as an abstract or theoretical issue, but as a practical issue for consideration and debate inside this House as it is already being debated outside. I believe that that will be one of the outcomes of this Bill. From that standpoint, if from no other, and also because I believe some good will be done, I welcome this Bill.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I desire to refer to two points. The first relates to the position of the Admiralty. As I understand the 2219 explanation given by the Parliamentary Secretary, it is that the Admiralty do not desire to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill, but if in practice they find that it will benefit them, then they will come and ask for powers by an Act of Parliament. Surely that is not a wise position for a great Department to take up. Would it not be better, and I put this for the consideration of the Admiralty, for the Admiralty to take the option now under this Bill not to come compulsorily under the Bill, but take power to come under it, which would save the necessity of any amending legislation? I think that is worthy of consideration, and if they should reconsider their decision this might be set right in another place. My second point has relation to what may be expected from this Bill. The few speeches we have had show great diversity of view as to the possible results of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Mr. Radford) has warned us to expect very little from it. I think that to some extent the President of the Board of Trade is at one with him, and he has discouraged the House and the country from expecting great things.
What, after all, has brought this Bill into being? It was the panic prices for coal which prevailed last winter in London. I understand the Bill is designed to prevent the recurrence of those panic prices in the course of the coming winter. Why did those panic prices prevail last winter? There was either a shortage or the fear of a shortage of coal last winter in London, and undoubtedly on that account panic prices prevailed. But the more immediate cause was that the price of free coal, as apart from contract coal, was raised to an exorbitant extent. When the coal owners found that free coal was rising by leaps and bounds they said to the people with whom they contracted that they could not deliver up to contract, and they accordingly claimed that they were entitled in many cases only to deliver something like 70 per cent, of their contract. The remaining 30 per cent, of the output they were able to sell at the high prices which prevailed for free coal. It was the combination of those two things—namely, first of all the oxorbitant price for free coal and the refusal of the coal owners in many cases to carry out their contracts, and the selling of the balance as free coal, which sent up the prices. Under the Bill the price of free coal is limited at the pit's mouth to 2220 the figure mentioned, and by that limitation it will be impossible to raise the price of free coal, so that there will be no inducement to the contractor to break his contract. I think, therefore, that the Government have secured that during this winter the consumer in London and other large centres will be protected from panic prices.
§ Mr. WATT
I desire to express my surprise at the attitude that has been taken up by the Admiralty on this question. They say that they prefer not to come under this measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) informs me that the price which the Admiralty is paying for coal in South Wales is 25s. per ton, and he informs me, further, that the corresponding price under similar conditions of similar quality coal last year was from 15s. to 18s. 6d. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] Thus you have 7s. of a difference, and if this measure were taken advantage of that would be limited to 4s. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty tells us he does not want to take advantage of this measure, as the Admiralty find that they can do better than the 4s. rise on the prices of last year. That is an extraordinary decision. Seven shillings and sixpence is being paid, and 4s. will be paid under this Bill. It is the taxpayer who pays the 7s. At a time when we are loudly calling out for economy it is an extraordinary thing that we have the Admiralty, through their representative, preferring to pay an advance of 7s. instead of 4s. provided under this Bill.
§ Sir C. CORY
I think it is only fair to make a reference to the figures which have been mentioned by the hon. Member. If those prices prevail in the district of the hon. Member for Mansfield, his district is very fortunate. As far as South Wales is concerned, up to about two or three months ago the coal owners were receiving for Admiralty list coal 1s. less than what the current price was before the War broke out. The hon. Member (Mr. Watt) stated that the price before the War broke out for contractors on the Admiralty list was 15s. I wish to correct that statement. I say that the price they were receiving was going up to over 21s. per ton. Therefore, if you take the contracts under this Bill, the price that they could get would be very much more than what they are getting possibly. I think that the Admiralty list contractor is receiving a very moderate price. As I have stated, up 2221 to a few months ago they were receiving 1s. less than the prices before the War, and since that they are only getting about 2s. more, so that the price would be 23s. There is another thing to be considered, and that is that the Admiralty are taking practically the whole output of those collieries.
§ Sir C. CORY
The hon. Member for Mansfield says "Hear, hear!" by which he seems to infer that it is a very good thing for those collieries. I take quite a different view, for these reasons: Those collieries are in this prejudicial position, that they are losing the whole of their customers and the people with whom they usually have contracts. Other people take their customers, and when the War is over how they are to keep going everybody is at a loss to know. There will then be a scramble for orders, and the position of those on the Admiralty list will be very bad. I thought it was only fair to make this statement in view of what has been said with regard to the South Wales colliery owner.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.