HC Deb 18 August 1919 vol 119 cc2000-1

I have dealt with most of the general questions which affect Labour, and now I come to a very important industry which concerns so many of my hon. Friends who sit opposite me. I come to deal with the question of mines. At the beginning of the year we were threatened with a great industrial upheaval in the mines, an upheaval which would have seriously retarded the re-establishment of industry, and the Government invited the House of Commons to appoint a Commission, presided over by a very able judge, to investigate the subject in dispute. There were two separate classes of subjects referred to this Commission. One was an immediate question—the question of the hours of labour. The others were great questions of policy relating to the conditions of the industry and the best method of working it—its organisation, questions of waste in the present system of working, the social conditions under which the miners live, nationalisation of minerals, State ownership and management of mines, and co-operation of the workers in the control of the industry. These were gigantic questions of policy. Some of my hon. Friends and many outside seem to assume that when a Government appoints a Commission, it is in honour bound to accept all its recommendations and to put them into operation. I never heard of that doctrine in the whole history of the House of Commons. There have been multitudes of questions referred to Royal Commissions. There have been some whose recommendations have been legislated upon, and there have been many in which this was not done. But even taking those where the Government and Parliament immediately took action, it has never been suggested that the Legislature was bound to take every recommendation exactly in the form in which it was made.


Unless the Government promised to do so.


Quite so, but they did not. I introduced that Bill, and I was present when it went through. I have looked through all the speeches I have made on the subject, and I never uttered a syllable which would commit the Government, and certainly not Parliament—which I had no right to do—to accept any recommendation made by the Royal Commission upon every subject referred to it. I said the Government would give respectful consideration, and attach due weight to everything the Commission reported. That I have done. There are certain questions which you can refer to arbitration—questions of wages and of hours of labour—and the Government treated the Sankey Commission as practically the arbitrator in respect of the questions of hours and of wages. But when it came to a great question of policy, that was a totally different matter.

Mr. J. JONES rose—


I do not object to interruptions as a rule, and I know the hon. Member's is not a discourteous one, but he had better allow me to complete my statement. That would have been an abrogation of the functions of Parliament and of Government. I have a high opinion of the capacity of the Chair man (Mr. Justice Sankey), and I deeply deprecate any attacks which have been made on him. He is one of the ablest and most highly respected judges on the Bench. His task was a very invidious and a very difficult one, and I think he deserves the gratitude of the State for the trouble he took. But there were one or two incidents in the proceedings which I am bound to say detract a good deal from confidence in the findings of that Commission. Take one, which I think is unprecedented. Two of its members left the seat of judgment to go into the witness box. It is difficult to treat with respect decisions arrived at by Commissioners who take that view of their functions. They were there to deliberate upon very vital matters. They were supposed to reserve judgment, whatever were their preconceived opinions, until they had heard the whole of the evidence. What happens? They go into the witness box and express an opinion. It was a most regrettable incident.