§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
For the convenience of the Committee, and the procedure of the Debate, may I ask a question on a point of Order In view of the fact that the question of nationalisation would, of course, involve legislation, within what limits would you suggest that the Debate should operate to-day?
§ The CHAIRMAN
In Committee of Supply we discuss, according to the Rules, the administrative acts of the Government, and not legislation either past or future. That is our general rule. 1 recognise that on the matter we have to consider to-day the two subjects of administration and legislation are very closely connected, and it will not be possible to debar some slight reference to legislation. It will not be my duty to permit anything like set speeches on the question of nationalisation, either for or against, but, as I understand it, the proposed increase in the price of coal is closely connected with the reduction of the hours of labour. That can be done for the moment by administrative act, but the next Order on the Paper shows us that legislation will be clearly required. I will do my best to give reasonable elasticity, and, at the same time, to conform as closely as may be to the ancient Rule of the Committee.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Auckland Geddes)
The subject -which we have to debate to-day 78 raises issues as grave, I think, as any which have been raised even during the period of the War. Last week the Government announced that it was necessary to increase the price of coal by no less a sum than 6s. a ton, and it is to discuss that increase that the Board of Trade Vote is specially taken to-day. I would like to say, first of all, that I know of no ground whatever for the suggestion which has been freely made that this increase in the price of coal was based upon political considerations. It was based upon nothing but a realisation by the Government of the very serious position by which the country is faced at the present time, in connection with the supply of the main source of power. We are faced by a serious reduction in the amount of coal which is available for use. It may, perhaps, be most convenient if, before I proceed to the question of price, I look in some detail, and discuss in some detail, the question of the reduction of output. The causes that have been assigned for the reduction of output are numerous; the causes which are operating are certain. It is quite wrong to suggest, as has been suggested, that all these causes are to be found inside the coal industry itself. There are many outside causes. I propose to look at those causes which are making for a reduction of output under two heads. Under the first head I will deal with the external causes, and then causes internal to the coal industry. Among the most important of the causes external to the coal industry is the present transport position in the country. There is not the slightest doubt that output is being checked at many mines because wagons are not forthcoming as required, and that failure to get wagons to the pits is in some cases extraordinarily serious. I have examined the records of the arrival of general user wagons at some forty pits which were specially affected by this difficulty, and I found that at those forty pits in pre-war time there were used, loaded, some 10,000 general user wagons in the course of a week, in addition to privately-owned wagons. At these same pits during a recent week it was possible to have present waiting for loading only some 700 wagons. That is, of course, not an average of the whole country; it is taking the worst group of cases where this factor tending towards reduction of output is operative. It may well be said, "Why are not the wagons there?" There is not any one reason that can give full explanation of 79 that fact. There are many reasons operating to strangle the flow from the collieries, and one of these reasons is this: The coal after it has been loaded on the wagons is longer on them than it used to be, because they cannot be cleared at their destination, and the reason for the difficulty of clearing these wagons, of emptying them at their destination, arises in this way: We have now got an eight hours' day in force on the railways, and as a result of that there are difficulties precisely the same as those in connection with the fish traffic, of which we heard a moment ago. As a result of the institution of the eight-hours' day on the railways we are having delay in clearing away, because there is loss work being done and the new men who are being taken on are not well trained or so expert. That is one reason. We have also associated with the eight-hours' day another factor—that the work is over sooner, not so many wagons have to be cleared in a day, and there is a delay in getting the wagons back because the work is not going on so many hours.
Then a great difficulty arises in connection with the whole of the railway system through the enormous freights which now have to be charged for coastwise service, and those in turn arise from changes which are being made in general conditions of employment. We have got much higher wages being paid, and we have got, in some cases, less work being done. I rather lay stress on these points because I want "to emphasise one fact, the recognition of which is vital to the country at the present time, namely, that less work being done in one industry reacts through that industry on to others, and we really cannot go on with anything like our old pre-war state if the work of the country is not done. The work of the country at the present moment is, for one reason or another, not being done. There is a most pernicious doctrine being preached, and that is that if a man does less work it leaves more work for others to do. The real thing is, that if a man does less work there is less work for other people. That is one of the things we see at the present moment in the mines.
§ Mr. SEXTON
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us who are "mitching." [An HON. MEMBER: "Is it all of them?"]
§ Sir A. GEDDES
We have got here an example of less work being done in indus- 80 tries outside coal altogether, and the fact is beyond dispute that less work is being done. [An HON. MEMBER: "In all industries."] In these industries of which I have been speaking, industries out side mining. I will come to the factors inside the mining industry in a moment. We have got here the fact that less work is being done outside mining making it impossible for another industry to get the flow of its products away, and, therefore, checking back the work in that industry. It is right that that fact should be clearly recognised. This question of the inter-dependence of industries is complicated by other factors, and it may not, perhaps, bore the Committee if, for one moment, I just explain how it is that the drought we had in the early summer is also a contributing cause to blocking back coal. As the result of the drought there is obviously going to be a shortage of hay, and high prices, and people who used to do carting and, therefore, helped to clear the railways are no longer doing that carting because it does not pay. That fact has added to the difficulty of coal output. Not only is the flow from the coal industry checked by conditions of labour and employment in industries outside itself, but the actual production within the industry is cheeked by conditions arising in industries outside itself. There is at present the greatest possible difficulty in getting forward to the mines the steel rails they require, the machinery they require, the tubs they require, and we have got those difficulties accentuated by a change in the hours of labour and the amount of work done per day in the steel industry, for example, and other industries. There again we have another example.
An HON. MEMBER
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that the output is reduced in the steel trade where they are paid at a piece rate?
§ Sir. A. GEDDES
As a result of all the factors operating on the steel trade, and more especially as the result of less work which is being done, it is not possible at the present moment to get the supplies of manufactured steel which are required for other industries. The fact is quite clear and quite beyond any dispute that there is the greatest possible difficulty in getting deliveries of machines, such as rails and so on, that are required. We have got that also operating as a factor from outside the coal industry which is affecting 81 output inside the coal- industry. There are some of the outside factors. In short, one may say you cannot take an old country such as this and suddenly profoundly change the conditions under which the majority of its people live and work without causing widespread disturbances outside the area of those changes themselves, and we are suffering at the present moment from changes not only in the industries themselves but changes in other industries.
Inside the coal industry there is no doubt that there are factors at work tending to reduce output. Taking the side of the coal owners first we know that as the result of the Government adoption of the recommendations of the Interim Report of the Sankey Commission their profit is now fixed at 1s. 2d. per ton. It does not matter to them, therefore, how much the ton costs to raise, although it does matter the number of tons that are raised. Taking the side of the men themselves we know that wages are very much up. It is freely alleged that there are men working in the industry who find they made enough in the course of the week and do not go on to make more. I think that is probably true. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] The figures of absenteeism in the mines suggests that something of that sort is happening. In the White Paper which has been publised on page 3, the following sentence occurs:The percentage of absenteeism due to sickness, injury and voluntary absence, shown as a percentage of the possible number of shifts which could have been worked, increased from an average of 10.7 per cent, in 1913 to an average of 12.5 per cent, in the first twenty weeks of 1919 and to an average of 13 'per cent, in the four weeks ending the 24th May.There we have apparently another factor at work tending to reduce output. I understand from the Coal Control Department, that that absenteeism is now in the last week less, but the figures show that during the time covered by this Report that there was an increase in that absenteeism. There was also during the same time, and published in the Report, a reduction in the output of mines for a period of four weeks, decreasing from 19.8 tons in 1913 to 16.8 in the first twenty weeks of 1919 and increasing to 17.1 tons in the four weeks ending the 24th of May, during which period there were no holidays and few stoppages. For the last four completed weeks, excluding Whitsuntide, the output was 16.7. Those last figures by themselves of course prove nothing, 82 because, as I have already said, there are factors operating from outside. But as a result of those figures there is no reason to doubt that there is still an unused capacity for output existing within the coal mines themselves, and that point was, I think, fully conceded by one of my hon. Friends who was himself a miner when he said the other day that if there was a campaign to get an increase in the mines he was quite sure something would be done. That means there is an unused capacity, and I am sure my right hon. Friend thinks that it exists. So that we have got a very wide range of causes in connection with the reduction of output, and therefore something which cannot be put right at once, and something which no single man find no single body of men representing any one industry can put right by their own efforts. It has got to be a national effort to get this vital question of coal output put right.
I now turn to the increase of price. We have seen that there is reduced output; we have seen that there are many and complex causes operating to cause that reduction of output. We know that as one result of the reduction of output there must be some increase in price. It may not be without interest if I take a series of figures showing where the money which is, being paid for coal at the pit mouth is going. I have had this worked out most carefully to show the prices at the pit and where the money went in 1913, and what you will have to pay after the 16th of July. First of all, per ton of coal raised, and, secondly, per ton of coal available for sale. The average pit price of coal per ton raised in 1913 at the pit's head was 10s. 1½d., and the same figure to-day is 26s. 0½. For tons sold the corresponding figures are: 11s. and 29s. 3½d Those figures are made up as follows: I take first the 10s. 1½ That was made up of the following items: Labour, 6s. 4d.—that was labour in and about the mine, timber and stores, Is.; other costs, l1d.; royalties, 5½d.; owner's profits,1s. 5d. That was for 1913. The corresponding figures to-day are: Labour, 19s. 5½d. as against 6s. 4d.; timber and stores, 3s. 2¼d.; other costs, Is. 2½d.; royalties, 6¾d.; owner's profits, Is. 2d.; compensation to owners for working under the instructions of the Controller of Mines, mines which would not otherwise be worked, 3¼d.; and there is another penny required for administrative purposes in connection with coal 83 control, and the 1¾d. which we have as a surplus on the price. Now, taking the same things correspondingly per ton sold, because it is rather instructive to get these figures, the price in 1913. I said, was 11s. Labour in that year was 6s. 10½d., timber and stores 1s. 1d., other costs 1s., royalties 6d., owner's profit Is. 6½d. After 16th July the following will be the state of affairs: Labour per ton 21s. 10½d., timber and stores 3s. 7d., other costs Is. 4 ¼d., royalties 7 ½d., owner's profits Is. 3 ½d., compensation as before. It will be observed then, that as a result of the increase of wages and the reduction of output, labour costs have increased by 13s. 1 ½d. per ton raised, or 15s. per ton sold, out of the total increase of 15s. l1d. per ton raised or 18s. 3d. per ton sold.
§ Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what the labour includes—whether it includes construction of ovens, etc.?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
No; this is labour in and about the mines, actual labour associated with getting the coal.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Yes, with pleasure; they are figures taken from the evidence given to the Sankey Commission by the Coal Mines Department. They were sifted by the Commission, and the actual figures were those for the September quarter of last year. I am sure the hon. Member will remember that evidence being given. To those figures have been added the necessary amounts to cover such increases as those resulting from the application of the Sankey wage, and the increased cost resulting from the return of men to the mines who, although back, are not sharing to the same extent as those who were there before in output. The other costs, timber and stores, and so on, are adjusted to the actual cost at the present time.
Perhaps it would not be without interest, though, it is a little bit outside the immediate point of the 6s., if I traced the cost of coal through actually to the coal seller and consumer in London. Taking 29s. 3d. as the cost actually paid for the coal at the pit-mouth, I find that that coal should be sold in London and is sold in London for 49s. 6d.; £l 0s. 3d. marks the increase on the cost, and that is distributed as follows: First of all, the pit price, 84 29s. 3d. The average railway rate in London is 6s. 4d.; wagon hire, 1s. 6d.: loaders' wages, 1s. 9d. per ton; carmen's wages, 1s. 10d. per ton; other cartage charges, 2s. 7d. per ton; loss on smalls, 7d.; sacks, replacement, £d. per ton; railway siding rents, demurrage, etc., 1d. per ton; salaries, establishment charges, and the various administrative costs in connection with the offices of the factors and retailers, 3s. 6d. per ton; and the profit distributed between the factor, which amounts to 4d. per ton, and the actual small retailer, or between two factors or three factors and the last man, 1s. 8d. per ton on the average. Those figures are rather interesting contrasted with what was the case in 1913. Then, for this particular coal of which I am speaking, best Derbys, the pit price was 13s. and the London price 27s. The railway rate was exactly the same as it is to-day, 6s. 4d. per ton; wagon hire was 1s., against 1s. 6d. at present; loaders' wages, 11 ½d., against 1s. 9d.; carmen's wages, 10 ½d., against 1s. l0d.; other cartage charges, 1s. 0 ¼d., against 2s. 7d.; loss on smalls, 4d., as against 7d.; sacks, only l ½d., against 5d.; railway siding rents, demurrage, etc., exactly the same, 1d.; salaries, establishment charges, etc.. 2s. 4½d., against 3s. 6d; and the profit l0fd., against 1s. 8d. That profit, of course, excludes the 1s. 2d. fixed profit allowed to the coal-owner, so that the Committee will see that we have been able to account for each item in the cost of coal that has to be met, and these figures are, I feel quite satisfied in my own mind, after the most careful checking of them, reliable. I would like to point out that in this last group of figures, the price delivered to the consumer, there is as yet no allowance for any increase in carriage resulting from the various increases of costs by which the railways arc faced, of which one. of course, is the increased price of coal; and the present price of delivery of coal in London or in any town in Great Britain, or in any port of Great Britain is a subsidised price—the Government is subsidising the delivery. These figures that I have given to the Committee are the actual effective figures of what we in this country have to pay.
There is something else to be taken into consideration. Not only is delivery subsidised, but the actual coal getting is subsidised still, and will be after this is done, not by the State, not by anyone here, but 85 by the foreigner, because we are carrying into these figures still the subsidy derived from the export profits, and that subsidy is falling in amount day by day.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
It will disappear altogether shortly.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
It is falling in amount very rapidly, and my hon. Friend says it will disappear altogether shortly. I trust it will not; if it does, the price of coal will be up another 1s. 4d. at once, then the price will be 7s. 4d. instead of 6s. There is at the present moment an effective subsidy of rather more than that, but as a result of the various factors which I have put before the Committee, Is. 4d. is the subsidy which we are counting on to keep the price at 6s. This is the cost of coal, and I would like for one moment to trace the most serious things which are following from it. We have got at the present moment to face a rise in the price of our pig iron of anything from 15s. to 20s. a ton, perhaps more. In steel and finished iron we have got to face an increase of 25s. to 30s., and perhaps a bit more;coke will be up about 10s. a ton; spelter will go up £2 a ton; gas, 6d. to 9d. per 1,000 feet; electric power, one-fifth of a penny per unit; paper, up to 10s. a ton; glass, 5 per cent, to 10 per cent.; textiles, about 4 per cent; bricks, about 5 per cent.; machinery, about 12 per cent.; chemicals generally, about 10 per cent.; some of them, such as caustic soda, sodium sulphide, and bleaching powder, from 20s. to 30s. and up to 50s. a ton. So that this question of the increase of price in coal is a question of the most grave and serious nature for the whole nation, and not only are we losing our subsidy from export coal, but we are going to lose our national earnings from exports. Listen to these figures.
Rails in Britain before the rise in coal, £16 a ton; after the rise £17 10s. a ton; and in the United States to-day, £10 a ton. Ship plates, £17 15s. a ton before the rise in coal; £19 5s. probable new price; American price, £14. Crown bars, £21 a ton before the rise of coal; £22 10s. probable new price; American price, £11 15s. Pig iron, Cleveland No. 3 Foundry before the rise, £8; after it, £9; and No. 2 Pittsburg, £6. Those figures must, I think, make everyone in this House and everyone in the country realise how grave is the crisis with which we are faced, because we live by our exports. We live 86 by nothing else, and our export trade is gravely threatened by this position which has arisen. So the Committee may judge that it is with no light heart, no thought, of temporary political advantage, but because they were compelled to, that the Government decided to raise the price of coal by 6s. The position is one of great gravity and great seriousness.
The Committee has had presented to it a White Paper, which shows some of the figures on which the decision to raise the price of coal was based, and, obviously, the figure of the whole lot is this: What will be the output of coal during the coming twelve months? That is the key figure. It you once can determine what that figure will be, the rest is comparatively easy. How are we to determine what the output of coal is going to be? You can only base the estimate on experience of actual output. It is no good basing a figure upon a pious hope, and it is no good pretending that things are otherwise than they are; and we have got figures upon which to base the estimate. We can either take twenty weeks of this year—as is actually done in the White Paper—or twenty-six weeks of this year—the figures of which we now have—or we can take a selected recent period. There is a good deal to be said for each of those bases. If factors determining the possible output of coal were all confined to the coal industry, and strictly limited to it, it might be possible to say, "Well, by good will, by the same sort of patriotic leadership of the miners which they got from their leaders during the War, they could get the output up at once." No amount of work on the part of the miners can get the output of coal up to the figures which we want, although they can get it up a long way until we-have got all the other things right.
So that we are absolutely bound to look at the factors which surround the coal industry in deciding what estimate we are to take; and if we work it out on the basis of the twenty weeks of the early part of the year, and make the deduction necessary because of the coming reduction of working hours, we arrive at an estimate of 217,000,000, odd, tons. If we take the first twenty-six weeks of the year, we arrive at an estimate—and this is a figure which is not in the White Paper, because the figures were not available for distribution—of 216,000,000 tons. If we take a selected four weeks, when all these factors were concentrated upon the out- 87 put of coal, we get an estimated output of 214,000,000tons. Now that involves one factor which we have followed from the Sankey Report, and which I feel it right to stick to; but we are reducing the actual hours by 12 ½per cent., and we are only counting -on a reduction of 10 per cent. That may be right. We have the authority of the Coal Commission for that, but with the factors which are outside the coal industry operating upon it, I am not sure that that 10 per cent may not be rather optimistic.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
Was it not higher than that estimate?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Oh, no! But this is affecting the future, and we can only estimate that; we cannot prophesy what is going to happen. So that we are estimating, and that estimate involves a 10 per cent, reduction, although, as I have said, I am by no means sanguine that in the first weeks, at all events, there will be only a 10 per cent, reduction. I think it may well be more. With those estimates of 217,000,000, 216,000,000, and 214,000,000 we have, perhaps unjustifiably— "Hope springs eternal"—taken the 217,000,000 to work on, and all Members of the Committee have got a tabulation in the White Paper, in Table 6, which shows a deficit of £46,600,000 upon the working for the coming year. Now, those figures were handed in to the Coal Coin-mission. They have been before the public for weeks. There has been no serious -criticism of them. I think they are fail-figures, and I think they are right. Now, £46.600,000 is, of course, 4s. 3d. per ton on all the coal raised, but—and here ail of us who are concerned with this estimate must don the white sheet—although that £46,600,000 is a deficit in relation to 217,000,000 tons of coal raised, it is related to a tonnage of 161,000,000 which will be affected by the increase, because we have got the coal used in the collieries—18,000,000 tons—on which it is no use putting 6s. a ton, even for bookkeeping purposes. There is the miners' coal, which is part of the miners' wages, and then there is the coal for export, and bunkers sold at open market prices above the minimum. That is to say, these 32,000,000 tons of coal to which I now refer are already earning more for us than they would earn if you were to put on the 6s. Supposing the minimum price were 30s. If you raise it to 88 36s. or 38s. it makes no difference. So that these 32,000.000 tons are not affected by the rise of 6s.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Is that 6,000,000 tons included in the cost of coal at the pit-mouth, or, in other words, wages to miners?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I do not quite follow.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Six million tons is granted to the miners, as I understand it, at a very low price, as part of their wages. Is that included in the calculation the right hon. Gentleman made just now as to the cost of the coal at the pit-mouth?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
§ Mr. HOUSTON
Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to deal with the effect which the loss of our exports will have on the price of food in this country?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Yes; I have a few words to say on that.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
If the 6,000,000 tons is included in the cost at the pit-mouth, why set it out against us again?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
It is not set out twice. If it is burnt in the miner's cottage, it is not sold to a man in London.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
That is if it is included in the cost of coal at the pit-mouth. The right hon. Gentleman has already said that it is. You cannot add it again.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
You cannot add the 6s. to it.
§ Mr. SPENCER
That is not exactly the point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] Suppose coal costs, say, 10s. a ton in the London market, and the labour price is 5s. a ton, it must be 5s. a ton. for the 6,000,000 tons supplied to the miners. What we want to know is, is that 5s., which is the cost to get the miners' coal, transferred to the market price
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I thought I had made it perfectly plain when I gave four sets of figures, the first one per ton raised to the pit-mouth, and the next one the number of tons sold at the pit-mouth In the first lot of figures which 1 read out is the actual cost per ton raised. The second lot of figures is after the cost of the tonnage, which does not get away from the pit, is added to the cost of the tonnage which does get away from the pit. You cannot add 6s. to it when the 6s. has not been 89 put on. This is a deduction from the amount of coal which is available for supplies, and the calculation then is perfectly simple. There is 5s. 9 ½d. per ton to add. In addition to that, there is the cost of the Coal Control to be met. That at present amounts to seven-tenths of a penny per ton, but in all the new circumstances, the now difficulties that are arising, the Coal Control at present is not adequate, and we must allow another three-tenths of a penny per ton for Coal Control, which will make it one penny per ton as the future cost of Coal Control. The seven-tenths of a penny per ton was the past cost of the Coal Control without allowing for a reduction in output. So that we get, therefore, a price of 5s. 10 ½d., according to this method of calculation, which is an absolutely necessary increase so as to get a balance. To that we have added three-halfpence in order to give a slight margin according to that estimate.
But I have another estimate to lay before the Committee, got at in a different way, an3 that other estimate we have worked out from the actual subsidised cost— subsidised by export trade—at the pit-mouth, a relatively easy thing to obtain from the figures actually in possession of the Coal Control, and which were given to the Sankey Commission. Taking, as I have, in this particular estimate, the 216,000,000 basis, and knocking off the 18,000,000 tons used in the collieries and the 6,000,000 for the miners' cottages—from which, by the way, there is derived a revenue of almost exactly £1,200,000—there remains 192,000,000 tons for commercial disposal. The subsidised cost of raising this 192,000,000 tons is £281,250,000. Knock off the £1,200,000, and you will be left with £280,000,000. Domestic and industrial use absorbs 157,000,000 tons. The present average pithead price—which is without the 6s. rise obtained for the coal, is 22s. per ton. That is equal to £172,700,000, which leaves a balance of £107,350,000 to be obtained from the sale of coal for export and bunkers. For these purposes and on this basis we shall only have 36,000,000 tons in all available. At present the prices for this export and bunker coal range from 15s. per ton for the poorest qualities, anthracite duff, and small broken dross at the lower end of the scale up to 90s. per ton, depending upon the quality. Last year's average was 29s. At present the average price is 39s. But, unfortunately, our diminished exportable quantity is having this effect, 90 that the composition of the exported mass— some of which is good, big coal and some of it bad stuff—the average composition of our export and bunker mass has deteriorated.
There are some quite instructive figures on that point in the trade returns for June. Taking 1917, the small coal we exported in June of that year amounted to 535,000 tons, and of large we exported 2,000,000 tons—a ratio, roughly, of one to four. This year we exported 724,000-tons of small, and only 1,500,000 odd tons of large—a ratio of one to two. The average price that we are getting for our export coal is falling because the quality of the composition of the mass of the coal is less good than it was; and as the amount of coal we have to export declines, the composition of what is exported gets worse. So we are estimating for a, price of 35s. for our export on an average against 29s. last year, and 39s. at the moment. That is we may expect to receive £61,250,000 for our export and bunker coal. When that has been deducted-from the £107,000,000, which ought to have been paid for our export, we are left with a deficit of £46,100,000. This deficit, according to this method of calculation, has to be spread over 157,000,000 tons, and it works out at 5s. l0 ½d. per ton. Allow 1d. per ton for Coal Control, and you reach 5s.11 ½d
These are the different methods, one checking the other, of calculating the amount that should be put on to the price of coal, and they both point to the 6s. increase if the country is prepared to go on subsidising its domestic coal out of the profits of its exported coal. It is rather dangerous to imagine that during the coming year we are going to have a great deal of coal to export at a good price, because competition is getting very keen. It may surprise some hon. Members to-know that American coal f.o.b. at Atlantic ports is almost exactly 20s. She is nearer' some of the places to which we sent coal than we are. But it is not only coal that we have to consider as a competitor, but oil. Let me read a short extract from a letter from South America which has come to my notice:It has come to my notice that for a long period the West Coast of South America has been left without adequate supplies of patent fuel coal. This has had the effect of establishing; oil in that market. I am afraid that is the permanent position there now. During the War the oil companies91 the American oil companies—made contracts for three years with various consumers on the West Coast who used to use our patent fuel coal at 120s. per ton delivered. Their idea of the three years' contract was that they could recoup themselves for the establishment of tanks, pumping arrangements, and shipping in that period. The three years' period has terminated. The American oil companies have intimated that they are prepared to contract for one year for 70s. per ton of oil (which is worth 2 tons of coal in calories). The price for the second year is based on the current price at the end of the first year, and similarly as to the third year. I think you will agree with me that oil at this price, taking into consideration the easy facility for transport it offers, will be a most formidable competitor to coal …for many years we were practically without competition; I am afraid that happy period is past.That is some of the competition we have got to face. We have also got to face this: that the Americans are now offering long term contracts, and if we are forced, in order to maintain our hold on the markets, also to offer long term contracts, our profits must be further reduced, because the price will have to be lower than the price we have been getting hitherto. So one can only say that, though we are estimating on a 6s. per ton rise for coal, we are doing it knowing that we are taking a very considerable risk in having underestimated the amount that we ought to put on, because that 6s., the Committee remembers, is arrived at after allowing full credit for about Is. 4d. subsidy derived from our export trade.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
There is a considerable subsidy in railway carriage, but I could not put that subsidy in figures. There are one or two other points with which I wish to deal. I see in the "Times" a statement from the Secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. In this he said:Apart from the single economy in the proven wasteful system of coal production, here are the actual facts vouched for over the signature of the Coal Controller, dated 3rd June, 1919: Table 7. Estimated output for the year 1919, 230,606,000 tons; estimated deficiency for the year ending December, 1919, after providing the owners with a guaranteed profit of 14 millions, £36,900,000. This sum, spread over 230,606,000 tons output, equals 8s. 2.4d. per ton. Thus, in the teeth of the Government's own witnesses, Sir Auckland Geddes would increase the price to the consumer by 6s. per ton, even when advised that the arithmetical deficit is only the 3s. 2.4d.That statement has had considerable vogue, and I have been asked a good many questions about it. Therefore, I think it 92 not useless to refer to Table 7 of the White Paper for a-moment, where we see the deficit of £36,900,000 referred to—the deficit upon this year. No part of that deficit, so far, has been raised from the price of coal; it has been met from the taxpayer or borrowed money. If we have to pay the whole of that £36,000,000 of this year, as apparently suggested in the statement I have just quoted, the increase in the price of coal on the remaining part of the year, inland coal, would have to be 9s. 2d. per ton. If we wiped out all that is behind us, and started afresh now, for the period of the reduction of hours, the calculation is then precisely the same as the other calculation which I have given to the Committee. Only there is a half-year to be dealt with. Therefore, the increase in the price of coal would be precisely the same as that which we have made.
Another point which has been made strongly is that in the past there was an increase which is described as a useless or unnecessary increase in the price of coal, of 2s. 6d. It is said, as a result of that the Government made a large profit out of the coal industry. I do not think that that transaction has ever been fully understood. The half-crown increase was imposed in June, 1918. In the spring of 1918 it was ascertained that the Coal Mines Agreement Act was being worked at a loss. The accounts up to March of 1918 showed a deficit at the rate of £6,000,000 per annum. In order to make the agreement self-supporting it was necessary to impose a charge of 2s. 6d. For the March quarter of 1918 the actual pithead price of coal supplied to inland consumers was 8.24d. per ton over the cost of production. That was before the 2s, 6d. was put on. In the next quarter the actual cost at the pithead was only 1.86d. over the cost of production. Actually in the September quarter, after the imposition of the additional 2s. 6d., the resulting profit was Is. 6.58d. per tone over the cost of production. It has been said that the Government was profiteering out of the people of the country. It was doing nothing of the sort. It was preventing international profiteering. The actual cost of coal raised and the price paid for the coal raised were so near each other that even after the 2s. 6d. was on there was only a profit left of 1s. 6d. and a very small fraction to the mine-owner, as against the present 1s. 2d. The profits that were made out of the 5.0 P.M. 2s. 6d. rise at that time in connection' with the 2s. 6d. were profits made from overseas. For example, 93 we had during the War to get large quantities of goods from neutral countries for which high prices were asked and in fact we got those goods by bartering coal. The only way that we could keep the price of those things which we were buying any-think like reasonable was by charging 1 the arrangements for barter a larger sum for the coal, and that was the source of the so-called profits. They were not profits in a sense, but they were going against what the Government was paying for stores t the War. These sums of money only passed as a matter of book-keeping through the coal industry, and on the international basis that money was absolutely required to meet our war charges accruing overseas. That was what happened at that time. But the actual arrangements, so far as the industry at home was concerned, leaving on one side altogether its export activities was this, that after the 2s. 6d. was asked there was Is. 6 ½d. profit per ton of coal available for the mine-owners in this country. The mass of money which passed through the coal industry—it was not taken from the coal industry but passed through—at that time was altogether coming from outside the country, and was part of the general adjustments in connection with the international bargain.
These possibilities of so-called profits no longer exist. We have not got the coal to export, and as I have already said, it is absolutely urgent that every section of the -community should realise how grave- is the position. If we have not the coal to send overseas our ships will have to go out in ballast if they are to come back bringing iron ore, or whatever it may be in the way of raw material. [An HON. MEMBER: "Food supplies!"] If we have not exports to send out, and we shall have few exports if coal, iron, and finished iron and steel are dear, the exchanges must go more against us, and we must be placed in a position of having to pay more for all our food. And so I would say to this Committee that this is no time for any section of the community, or for the Government to think that its interests are separate from the interests of the whole lot. If we are to get through the dark and anxious days which lie ahead we have got to get back to the spirit which we had during the War. It is no good anybody saying that anybody else especially is to blame, excepting on one thing, and there the blame is heavy if it can be proved in any way whatever. The 94 men who are to blame at the present time are those who are not doing their best to get production, to get output, to get the cost of production down by increasing its, bulk. That, at the present moment, is the most urgent need of every department of our national life, and that is the point upon which the miners, the actual workers in the mines, can do more to help the country than in any other way to get ahead, and whatever the other difficulties outside the industry may be, or of getting the coal away from the mines, let us see that the maximum amount of coal is got out of the mines that can be got.
I will ask the leaders of the miners to go down to the men they know so well and say to them, "This is no time for doing less than the maximum you can do." I would ask the leaders of the other section of the community to say the same thing to their people, but because coal is the basis and principal source of our power, its shortage, and its dearness affects us more than the shortage or dearness of any other thing except bread. Therefore, I would ask every man who has influence with the miners, if they see, as they must see, and know that many of the men are not working to the limit of their capacity—[An HON. MEMBER: "And many of them have not the chance"]—many of them who have the chance are not working, and many who have a limited chance are not working to the limit of their chance. If they will work to the limit of their capacity then I have very little fear that it will be possible for us soon to say, "The output is rising so well that we may run the risk of bringing down the price of coal." I would say this: If the output goes up we will only be too glad and willing to meet the rising output by a fall in the price of coal. If the output can be got up I think I might say, on behalf of the Government, that as the output rises w e will only be too glad to get the coal down 6d. a time, or some small amount, and not wait till there is a big lump, but we will take it off by sixpenny blocks in order at once again to get our industry freed and our exports cheaper. But unless we get coal, and unless everybody really will do all he can to get output, and unless men of other industries will do all they can to free the circulation of goods in the country to get up the supply of things required for the miners, we shall have great difficulty. The key of the position, the final key rests with the miners— 95 [An HON. MEMBER: "Carry out the Sankey Report!"]—;it rests upon the miners not on any Report, but working.
§ Mr. BRACE
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100. I do not remember, since I have been a Member of the House of Commons, a more depressing speech than the one to which I have just listened, and that speech is really the strongest condemnation I have heard of the policy of the Government. If the position in the country is such as the right hon. Gentleman has portrayed, then to come down to the House of Commons, without any warning or inquiry, and without any consultation, to give notice of an advance in price of coal to the extent of 6s. per ton, is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever heard. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?" J No one recognises more than my colleagues and myself that this is a crisis which has to be faced and solved if the nation is to be safe. Our complaint is as to the way the Government treat us. I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that it was no part of the Government policy to select the eve of an election when a Labour candidate is fighting for a seat in this House to announce a 6s. per ton. increase in the price of coal. All I can say is that, if it was not part of the electioneering tactics of the Government, it was a very peculiar coincidence that this announcement should have been made at such a time.
The right hon. Gentleman, in his concluding remarks, made a very strong and moving appeal, not only to miners or mine-owners, but to all the organised industries in the country, to co-operate in dealing with what the country is faced with. Part of the gravamen of the charge levelled against the Government is that they do not give us a chance. Why were we not taken into consultation? Why were we not asked to meet the right hon. Gentleman or the Government to discuss a situation so grave and serious. To come down to the House of Commons itself, as the right hon. Gentleman has done, and overwhelm us with schedules of figures which we ought to have time and opportunity to examine, is really not the proper way dealing successfully with what, after all, is a very grave problem. Are not the Government and the right hon. Gentleman aware of the desire on the part of organised Labour to co-operate with them. Very nearly on the last day of the Coal Commission the 96 Miners' Federation of Great Britain representatives made an earnest appeal that they should be allowed to co-operate with the Government in finding a way for dealing with this reduction in output, and the reply we had, very much later, was 6s. a ton increase on the price of coal. Is that the way to deal with this problem? Surely not.
There was a meeting only last week—the very day that the right hon. Gentleman came down and made his dramatic announcement to the House—of the Advisory Committee and the Coal Controller. There were present representatives of the Government, coal-owners, and workmen, but not a word was said there as to the necessity for placing 6s. per ton on the price of coal. If the right hon. Gentleman really desired the co-operation of the mining industry towards a solution of the problem, surely the way to do it is not to come here and declare an advance of 6s. per ton increase on the price of coal, but rather to invite us to a consultation with him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?" and laughter.] If my hon. Friend opposite thinks this is a subject for laughter, all I would say is that that is not the impression which the right hon. Gentleman's speech has left upon my mind. I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman has-told the Committee that it is essential in the national interest, if we are to be saved' as a first-class industrial and commercial power, that we must have an increase in the output of coal. It is essential, and I am directing my mind to that problem.. My complaint is that the Government have delayed taking us into their confidence, and allowing us to co-operate with-them in any way whatever.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
May I interrupt my right hon. Friend just for one moment? His complaint is not that he did not know that this increase was necessary, but that the public did not know. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, as long ago as the 4th of June, called the attention of the House and the country to the deficit, and announced that it would have to be dealt with.
§ Mr. BRACE
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for his statement, which was not at all needed. This is by no means the first crisis that we have had. This is by no means the first time that we have been faced by a very serious national situation because of a shortage of coal. In 97 1915, owing to the large number of miners being called to the Colours, we were faced with so serious a position in the coal industry that the Government themselves felt called upon to take steps to secure the co-operation of the coal-owners and workmen's representatives to increase the output of coal from the mines of the Kingdom. What did they do? They convened a great conference of representatives of coal-owners and workmen at the Opera House, and there the whole position was explained, with the result that they went home and individually and collectively explained to their respective people that the nation must have more coal or perish, and the output went up at once. Look at Table 1, on Page 4 of the White Paper, and there you will see it given in a nut-shell. In 1913 there were employed in the mines of the United Kingdom 1,111,000 men and boys, producing an output of 259 tons per man per year, which worked out at an average of one ton per man per shift. When we come down to 1915, the number of men and boys employed had fallen from 1,111,000 to 952,000, and as a result of the Opera House meeting, when the present Prime Minister and the then Home Secretary frankly explained what we must have to save the nation, these men went back home, and they increased the output of coal to an average in 1915 of 266 tons per man per year, or 1.02 tons per man per shift.
§ Sir CLIFFORD CORY
That was not due to the conference between the Government and the Miners' Federation, but to contraventions of the Eight Hours Act.
§ Mr. BRACE
I do not understand why the hon. Baronet should have interposed. I am not inquiring as to why or how; I am stating the broad fact. Supposing they did agree to set on one side for the time being some of the provisions of the Eight Hours Act, the whole of my point is that when requested both coal-owners and workmen's representatives agreed to cooperate and did co-operate with such success as to give an increased output.
§ Sir C. CORY
We are now being asked to reduce the hours.
§ Mr. BRACE
If the hon. Baronet will forgive me, he will quite see that I cannot argue the Eight Hours Act on this question. Another coal crisis faced the situation in 1916. The position had become so acute and the need for coal by our Allies and ourselves was so great that the co- 98 operation of the coal-owners and the workmen's representatives was again sought. A meeting was held at the Central Hail, Westminster, and was addressed by Mr. Asquith and the then Home Secretary, Mr. Herbert Samuel. The whole position was explained, and those coal-owners and workmen's representatives went back home and explained in detail to their people exactly what the nation must have to make good in connection with the War. Look at the result that we got, as shown on the same page. In 1916 the output was 265 tons per man per annum, and the average output per man per shift was equal to that in the record year of 1913, while the percentage of absenteeism had fallen from 10.7 in 1913 to 9.7 in 1916. There is the evidence, quite clear. Whatever may be said about the miners, they are a patriotic people. After all, the miners are a very independent kind of people, not uneducated let me say. The young miners of to-day are much better educated than my colleagues and myself. They have had the advantage of a very much better later education. They have some of the most wonderful educational institutions in connection with their mining villages. They have splendid libraries which they have erected, and which they maintain themselves. There they have the advantage of all the current' literature of the day. These men are well educated. You cannot drive an educated people, and the miners resent the way that they have been treated. They resent all these charges which are being levelled against them, not perhaps by the Government, but by people an the country and by some of the Press of the country.
If you want to move the miners, then you must operate upon the policy of appeal and trust, rather than demand and condemnation. It was upon this policy of appeal and trust that the miners responded on the last occasion, and I invite my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the Government to appeal to and to trust the miners. Let us know the situation. Let us not have it fired at us, as we have it to-day. Until my right hon. Friend spoke this afternoon there was hardly a man or woman in the country outside the mining community who did not think that the miners alone were responsible for this reduction in output which necessitated this increase of 6s. per ton. I was very glad to hear him explain that one of the causes for the shortage was a shortage of 99 material at the docks and another a shortage of wagons on the railways. Those are matters with which I invite the Government to deal direct with the representatives of the workmen and the employers in those particular industries as I invite the Government to deal with us direct as workmen and employ és. We felt a strong resentment last week when we heard the right hon. Gentleman's statement and when we read the criticisms and opinions afterwards. As a mining community, we felt strong resentment at the way in which we had been treated. We came down here to-day expecting an entirely different story. I thought my right hon. Friend doleful, I thought him rather depressing, but from the standpoint of damping down any feeling that the miners' Members may have in this House, rather subtle and shrewd. It is rather difficult to put on him what we thought we would like to put on him, and to that degree he has eased the position of the Government.
We do realise how serious is the national situation. No one can know better than ourselves that so long as you have the cost of living of the standard which exists to-day you must have agitation and unrest. No one can know better than ourselves that if we are to have a reduction in the cost of living then it must be by increased output. That is one of the things that I have been preaching all along. One of my complaints against the employers of labour in this country is that they have concentrated so much on questions of wages and hours, rather than upon output. The real test of prosperity is not so much wages and hours; the real test of prosperity is the amount that we produce. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman appeals to my colleagues and myself for an increased output, we offer ourselves ready most cordially to co-operate, because, if I may be allowed to say so, we do love our country, and we have a deep regard for our country's welfare. But I hope this Committee will not allow themselves to be brought to the belief that the workmen are responsible for the economic situation of Britain to-day, or that the miners are responsible for the position of the mining industry to-day. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Richards), who is an official of the South Wales Miners' Federation, has been good enough to hand me a series of replies which he has received within the last day pr two from the collieries to a number of 100 questions which he has sent out. In connection with his organisation and my own we have an out-of-work fund, from which we pay 10s. per member and 2s. 6d. per child up to a certain age, if the workman, through no fault of his own, is off work one week, or six days consecutively, or twelve days in the month. In 1917 we paid out to members who were idle-through no fault of their own £41,862, and in 1918 we paid out £'43,240.
§ Mr. BRACE
No, this is simply the out-of-work fund for South Wales alone. The-strike or lock-out arrangement is an entirely different one. The Committee, therefore, will realise that if our members could have been given that opportunity to produce which they were anxious to have we should not have paid out in 1917 £41,000 and in 1918 £43,000. Why were they idle? These are the replies. One hundred and fifty-seven collieries were unable to work because there was no trade, on 670 days last year. [An HON. MEMBER: "No trade?"] Yes, no work. The collieries were at a standstill because there was no trade, no wagons. One hundred and thirteen collieries were idle because there was an insufficient number of trams, tubs, at the collieries; 101 collieries were idle because of a shortage of timber and rails; 111 were idle because of a shortage of horses and mechanical power; 91 reported a decreased output because of the delay in repairs; and 82 collieries reported reduced output because of the delay in developing work at the collieries. The-Committee will, therefore, see at once that the loss of output is not caused by any unwillingness on the part of the workmen to give to the nation what it wants, but because of a lack somewhere in the organisation of the industry to give the workmen an opportunity to produce I, therefore, invite the Government to let us get into-touch with each other—the Government, the coal-owners, and the workmen. Let us have a repetition in 1919 of what we did in 1915 and 1916. Let the Government and the industry work in hearty co-operation. If you do that, then I think you may be assured, even if we cannot get back at once to the standard output of 1917, we shall be able to wipe away a large margin of the deficit which we have cause to deplore this afternoon.
The Coal Control Department itself have-made some blunders too. You know they 101 say the miners are a fighting people connected with a fighting race; but they are patient too, and if they were not patient the Coal Controller would have had trouble quite recently. I will take a case in point to show how a Government Department works; yet my right hon. Friend comes down here and leads the country to think, not intentionally perhaps, that the Government are everything they ought to be, and that the miners ought to be condemned. Here is how the Coal Controller's Department acts. It is necessary in the arrangement for the reduction of the hours from eight to seven to fix a piecework rate which will meet the new situation. In Yorkshire and Lancashire, and, I believe, in Notts and Derby, the coal-owners and the workmen have arranged for an increase of 14.3 as the necessary addition to be placed on the piece-worker's rate of pay to enable them to meet the reduction in the hours. My right hon. Friend and some of my colleagues met the coal-owners in South Wales and talked the matter over with them, and ultimately they said they would like to have time to consider it. We fixed a date for another meeting, and on the day appointed we met. I had just started to open the case when one of the coal-owners said to me, "I have a letter from the Coal Controller." "What is it?" I asked. "Oh," was the reply, "it states that the maximum amount of increase that we are to agree to must not be more than 10 per cent." I said, "Well, that is awkward; we cannot go any further. What are you going to do? In Lancashire and Yorkshire, and, I believe, in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, they have agreed to 14.3 increase." He replied, "I do not know; here is the order; the maximum is not to exceed 10 per cent." If we were not a patient people we should have begun to make a row. But we did not. We said, "There is something wrong." So we communicated with the national executive which got into touch with the Government, and I think they met my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and were able to prevail upon him that the Coal Control Department had made a mistake in fixing 10 per cent, as the maximum. But up till now we have not yet received a letter telling us that the 10 per cent. order has been altered, but although the alteration of working hours comes into force this week—on Wednesday— we have made no arrangements with the 102 coal-owners or the Coal Control Department as to what is to be the rate for pieceworkers in this great industry. That is something we have to deal with at Keswick this week. An hon. Friend near me tells me that the men will be out to-morrow as a result. I venture to put it to the Government that this is not the way to deal with an industry which is a key industry. This is a matter which should have been dealt with long ago, and if the Government really realise the seriousness of the coal situation, which is the foundation upon which British industries rest, then they ought to conduct the operations of the Coal Department in a way other than that which offers a serious temptation to men to stand idle because no rate has been agreed upon. So much for the Coal Control Department.
Then the coal-owners are not free from blame. Sometimes I sympathise with them; at other times I condemn them, and this is one of the occasions on which I do condemn them. Here we have at this moment—well I understand that the men have returned to work to-day—but we have had at Nixon's Navigation Collieries from 6,000 to 8,000 men idle for a fortnight or three weeks over a little dispute in regard to a tram of rubbish. A man went into the pit to work in the morning, finding an empty tram ready for him to fill But a haulier came along and said, "You must put a tram of rubbish in first." He took the empty tram out of the man's place and substituted for it a tram of rubbish. That man can only be of advantage to the nation by hewing coal, not by unloading rubbish. He said, "I have no room in this stall for this rubbish." The haulier replied, "Never mind, here is the order and there must be room for it." "There is no room," retorted the man; "the place is full except, perhaps, at the top, and I cannot put any in there." The haulier replied, "You have to have it," and left it there. As a result the men went out. A settlement was attempted by arrangement, but the company replied, "Oh, no; the order is that the man must unload the tram of rubbish, and the rubbish must be unloaded." All this occurred at Nixon's Navigation Collieries. Ultimately I took up the case. I said, "Cannot you use this ton of rubbish somewhere?" The reply was, "No, it must be unloaded there." I suggested that, as it was denied there was room in the stall for the rubbish, the company should send 103 a labourer in the next night to unload the rubbish, and the answer at once was, "No; all the men must unload their rubbish. We are going to establish our right to make the colliers unload it." In establishing that right the company got all the men employed by that firm out.
Is that the way to increase outputs Who is responsible for that loss of 15,000 or 16,000 tons of coal there? It was very nearly a crime in face of what the right hon. Gentleman has declared to be the situation of the nation. [An HON. MEMBEE: "And it applies to other industries as well."] If the difficulties cannot be settled here, it must be settled by negotiation—by consultation—and I invite the Government to give us a Committee to inquire at once; not to impose the 6s., but to give us an opportunity of entering into consultation to see if we cannot immediately increase the output of coal. 1 am authorised by those who act with me to declare to the Government that we are entirely at the service of the State for this purpose. No one can recognise more than we the situation. We know we cannot go on as we are going on. We believe that we can increase the output; absenteeism can be reduced, and by a better reorganisation of the whole of the concerns of the collieries we shall be able to have an output which will approximate more nearly to the needs of the nation than does the present output. I can imagine someone saying, "All this is brought about by tinkering with nationalisation." I hope it is not going to be argued that because the industry has been under some kind of Government control for some time that that is a demonstration that nationalisation has failed. You have got the worst of two systems under the present system; you have all the disadvantages of private ownership with Government control. You had better by far have private ownership and private control than that kind of mixture. If you want to have the full advantage of nationalisation, then you must not only have Government control, but Government ownership. [An HON. MEMBER: "And Government officials!"] Why not?
Workmen look to the Government to give legislative effect to the Coal Commission Eeport—the Sankey Report. I regret to have to say it, but there is a feeling of real suspicion in the atmosphere in which private employers and the Government 104 live, in these days. If we are to make the best use of our industries, then we shall have to welcome the introduction of every labour-saving appliance that science can give us. I should mislead the Committee if I did not tell them that there is not a readiness amongst workmen to welcome the introduction of machinery to produce profits for private individuals; but they undertake by resolution to welcome it if you will nationalise the industry and let the product of their labour go to the advantage of the nation rather than to that of private owners. I would venture to submit to the Government that delay in dealing with the question of nationalisation will only add to their trouble and difficulty. Men of my class are convinced that if we are to bridge the gulf successfully in this great world evil, and if Britain, industrially and commercially, is to find herself right on the top, it can only be by the nationalisation of such key industries as the mines. This is still a free country.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Are we to be allowed to discuss this question of nationalisation?
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)
The right hon. Gentleman was only making, as I understand, a passing reference.
Mr. BRACE: I respectfully submit that I am quite within the rules of order in touching thus lightly upon the question of nationalisation, which 1 offer as part of my solution of a great and difficult problem. Some of my colleagues will deal with the figures of the White Paper, but we cannot accept them. I was very interested in following or trying to follow— I found it very difficult-my right hon. Friend in his exposition of the real meaning and balancing of the 2s. 6d. At the end he came to the conclusion that there was a number of collieries who had some profits which otherwise they would not have had and they certainly did not require—Is. 6 ½d. I think was his figure. I want to put in my caveat here against the White Paper. We do not accept the figures of the White Paper. I should be trespassing upon the time of the Committee if I attempted to deal with it, but some of my colleagues later on will, doubtless, deal with it in detail. Our contribution towards a solution of this difficulty is to offer our services to the Government to help to increase the output, after consultation. We, 105 therefore, propose that the 6s. per ton should not be imposed on Wednesday as was intended, but that we should have an opportunity of looking into the matter and giving us and the coal-owners a chance to increase the output without any delay. Our second proposition is that, in order to make the industry as productive as possible, to keep peace and to enable the miners to have faith in the Government, they should carry out the recommendations of the Sankey Coal Commission Report, and without the slightest delay come down to the House with their legislative proposals for nationalising the mines of this country. Speaking on behalf of the miners, I say at once that even without nationalisation our call of country is sufficiently strong to make us exhaust ourselves in giving every output and to ensure the future placing it, without any shadow of a doubt, upon sound lines: If you will give us nationalisation, which is the key system and which we believe the nation must have to save itself, then there will be an encouragement for us to welcome with open arms every labour-saving appliance which science can devise, and which will enable us to increase the output of the British mines to a higher standard than it ever reached before. I regret the circumstances which have caused the right hon. Gentleman to come down to the House of Commons and to make a declaration in favour of a 6s. per ton increase. This increase cannot go on if the other industries are to have a chance to live. This increase cannot go on if we are to have an opportunity of reducing the cost of living throughout the homes of the people of this country. We regard it as vital that it should not be put on. We ask the Government to give us an opportunity, by consultation and by conference, to devise ways and means which will give them the increased output necessary and make it unnecessary to place upon the cost of coal 6s. per ton increase. While we enter our protests against the way in which the Government has treated us up to now, we still feel as good citizens our obligations to the State, and we offer this as our contribution to the State, but as a protest I am bound to move a reduction in the salary of the Minister by £100.
§ Sir EVAN JONES
As this is the first time I have addressed this House or a Committee of the House I crave the usual indulgence. I think I may claim even greater indulgence than usual owing to the importance of this subject. My right hon. 106 Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace;—I think I have every right to call him my Friend—Has in his very powerful speech pleaded guilty. The whole tenour of his speech was a plea of guilty in view of what has been said by the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman has with great magnanimity made an offer to the Government, and those who have to carry out the instructions of the Government in this matter will appreciate it to the full. He has offered in connection with this particular difficulty the whole forces, the whole strength, and the whole influence of the powerful organisation of which he is so distinguished a member, in order to put this matter right. That statement and that promise on the part of the right hon. Gentleman is the one great ray of hope in what otherwise is rather a cloudy atmosphere. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he did not accept the figures of the White Paper. May a remind him that the figures of the White Paper were presented to the Coal Commission six weeks ago. They were at that time circulated in full detail through the public Press of this country. Copies of them were sent to every member of the executive committee of the Miners' Federation, to every coal-owner in the country, and to the Mining Association of Great Britain. I have not seen a single criticism either on the part of the Miners' Federation or of any other body of the figures contained in that White Paper until the statement now made by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman does not tackle them himself. He simply says, "I do not accept the figures of the White Paper, but I am going to leave somebody else to say what is wrong with them." Neither the Coal Commission nor the Miners' Federation of Great Britain nor any member of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain has ever questioned the accuracy of one single detail in this White Paper. I am surprised to hear my right hon. Friend, although he did it in a most genial manner, at this stage question the accuracy of those figures.
Again, the right hon. Gentleman complained that he had received no notice of this proposed increase in the price of coal. At the same time these Papers were circulated through the medium of the Coal Commission, the President of the Board of Trade, on the very same night, said in this House that the estimated deficiency on the working of the coal industry for twelve months from July of this year would 107 amount to £46,000,000, and that in order to meet the situation, if the taxpayer was not called upon to make good the deficiency out of taxes, that cost would have to be transferred to the consumers. That statement was made publicly six weeks ago. The whole of the figures in the White Paper have since been subject to public scrutiny, and the basis on which the estimate of £47,000,000 was made has not been questioned. To-day, after six weeks' notice, after ample opportunities for all persons concerned to inquire into the whole basis of these figures, the right hon. Gentleman comes down and says that he has received no notice of the intention of the Government to put this increased cost on to the price of coal. The right hon. Gentleman said that he and his Friends have felt rather hurt because they were not called into consultation by the Government to consider this question. The light hon. Gentleman has referred on previous occasions to meetings held at the Central Hall and, I believe, one or two other places, between representatives of the Government and the miners, which we all admit produced a magnificent result. But surely the war feeling of this country was then strained to the uttermost. The men and all other persons connected with the State would have jumped to render any assistance under any conditions. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that we are to continue our war methods in days of peace? Does he suggest that the same methods which the Government thought fit to adopt to meet the extraordinary conditions caused by the stress of the War are to be the methods by which they are going to build up the country in a time of peace? If that is the contention of the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends, why do they so object to our friend "Dora"? The proper way to carry that out would be to consider whether we should not go on in times of peace by maintaining the principles of the Defence of the Realm Regulations. The right hon. Gentleman forgets what the condition of affairs was then. He wants to know why the Government did not take him and his Friends into consultation over this matter. At that time the Coal Commission was sitting. The Coal Commission is a body appointed by this House, with full statutory powers, to inquire into all these matters which the right hon. Gentleman now complains that the Government did not call upon him and his Friends to 108 discuss with them outside this Commission altogether. The Coal Commission was sitting. It was charged by this House to inquire into these very matters which are the subject of this Debate. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman suggests that either the Coal Controller or the Government, or anyone else- should have gone over the head of the Commission to inquire into matters with which they were specifically charged under the Coal Commission Act. If I was a member of the Commission I should certainly have considered such a proceeding on the part of the Goal Controller or anyone else—to hold an inquiry into this very matter that the Commission were inquiring into, and while the Coal Commission was sitting—as a distinct reflection upon the proceedings and powers of such a Commission.
I should like to say a word on the Sankey interim Report, which was accepted by the Government in the letter and in the spirit. I want to show with what hopes the Government were looking forward to the realisation of the anticipations raised by that Report on the subject of output. The spirit of the Sankey Report, which recommended an increase of wages of 2s. a day and a reduction of hours of one per day, was based clearly, distinctly, and unmistakably on the supposition that that output would be maintained, and not only the standard of what was estimated to have been the output in September, 1918, but that by improvements and by better work on the part of the men it would be further increased, and, therefore, that the deficit, which was estimated by the Sankey Commission at £13,000,000 per annum, would have been decreased, and the course made easier for the Government to find the money. The Chairman and those who signed the Sankey Report said, We rely on the honour of the miners' leaders to see that they carry out their promises to maintain and increase the output, and if those promises can be realised, then it would be very much easier for the Government to find the money for the payment of the £13,000,000 deficit estimated by the Sankey Report. It was in that spirit, I am sure, that the Report was accepted by the House. The Sankey Report itself estimated the deficiency at £13,000,000. The Government, by its acceptance of that, shouldered that deficiency, but they shouldered it under the full understanding that 109 the output would be maintained at the level on which that estimate was based, and that it would be so increased that the deficit would be a gradually diminishing quantity, and that about the end of 1919 practically the industry would be self-supporting and paying its own way.
What has happened? How have those anticipations been realised? What is the position of those who ought in the first instance to bring this matter before the attention of the Government and tell them what is happening? Week by week the Coal Control Department watched the course of the output, eagerly looking for the slighest indication of an upward tendency. Week after week they were faced with a gradually decreasing output. They waited. After the payment of the Sankey wage, and with the acceptance by the Government of the Sankey Report, they still watched and waited to see if there was any indication before they took any action or made any comment. It was the duty of the Control. Department, while the Sankey Commission was still sitting, to make sure that these facts were brought before the Government, so that if they thought proper they should be communicated to the Commission. Instead of the output maintaining even the level on which the Interim Report was based, it was seriously declining. The deficiency which the Sankey Report estimated at £13,000,000 was based, as therein set out, on an estimated output for the first half of 1919 at the rate of 264,000,000 tons a year. The actual realised output is about 231,000,000 tons without any reduction of hours. There has been a reduction in output of 25,000,000 tons on the anticipated output on which the Sankey Report estimated the deficiency. We still waited, down to the very last week for which it was possible to obtain information, and week by week the same result has come. There was no ray of light, and no apparent hope in any of these figures to indicate that there was even any slight upward tendency in the output. Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggest, in face of the fact that the Coal Commission was sitting to inquire into all causes that were operating in connection with this industry, and all questions concerning the cost of production of the industry, that the Coal Controller should call together his Advisory Board, the very members of which were sitting on the Commission itself day by day, with the owners and the Miners' Federation, and begin to open an 110 inquiry over the head of the Commission? I am quite sure from what I know of my right hon. Friend that he has not fully taken all these facts into consideration. As to the very urgent necessity of obtaining our supplies of coal at as cheap a price as possible, I am sure that the Government, with alacrity, immediately they begin to see a genuine upward tendency in output, will at once reduce the price to meet it. That is not only a wise policy, but it is a policy of keen business methods and it is the only way to meet it The moment there is any upward tendency to any marked degree, 'I am quite sure the Government will not wait before they begin to reduce their prices.
I have known the right hon. Gentleman for many years and I have never known him more pleasant than he is to-day. It is sometimes said the more pleasant a man is the more dangerous he is. I know that is not the case with him. I know him too well. But he tried very jocularly and nicely to get in one at the Coal Mines Department on the subject of its blunders in connection with piece-work rates. I presume the Miners' Federation of Great Britain provides the members of its executive committee with the instructions they receive on important matters. It is true that the Coal Controller sent out an instruction limiting the increase in piecework rates to a maximum of 10 per cent., which my right hon. Friend held up as one of those examples of its mysterious blundering. On that occasion the Coal Controller did not send that out on his own authority but under the direct instruction of the right hon. Gentleman representing the Government on the Front Bench. The Miners' Federation of Great Britain then approached the Leader of the House, and after considerable argument convinced not only him but all of us that there was one element in his calculations that had been left out in fixing the 10 per cent, maximum, and it was then arranged that while the 10 per cent, should be operative over the country as a whole, the maximum should be arranged in accordance with a formula, and instructions in connection with it were sent out to all the owners and a copy to the Miners' Federation of Great Britain three days after the meeting with the Leader of the House. If my right hon. Friend; has not received those instructions I can only suggest that he should communicate with the secretary of the Miners' Federation and ask him what he has been doing. 111 My right hon. Friend also made some reference to the mystery of the 2s. 6d. increase that was put on the price of coal in June, 1918. I think the President of the Board of Trade in his statement quite clearly explained the reasons for that increase, reasons which were perfectly legitimate, and which made that increase not only advisable but absolutely necessary. The main facts which were operating and which governed the imposition of that increase were that the Coal Mines Agreement Act passed by this House imposed a distinct obligation upon the Government, which the Government accepted, that the working of that Act should be made self-supporting. What happened? As the accounts for the working of the agreement came in it was found out early in the spring of 1918 that the mines were being operated at a loss of about £6,000,000 per annum, and it was found necessary, in order to comply with the distinct mandate of this House to make the working of the Coal Mines Agreement self-supporting, that 2s. 6d. should be put on. After that 2s. 6d. was put on, and when the accounts had been brought out and we were able to tell what happened in the September quarter, upon which these abnormal and artificial profits, and the £4,000,600 of estimated profit was based, it was found that even in that quarter the profit, or the difference between the selling price of the coal at the pithead and the cost of production of the coal used for inland consumption, was only 1s. 6d. a ton. That was in spite of the 2s. 6d. per ton that had been put on. The rest of the profits, which added such a glamour and made the country think that the Government was scooping in huge sums of money out of the coal industry, were profits derived from the sale of export coal, which, as the President of the Board of Trade explained, were used in an international sense in connection with the War.
In spite of the 2s. 6d. which was put on the price of coal, the coal for the inland consumer was still being subsidised, and is still being subsidised to-day, from the export profit at the rate of something like 1s. 4d. or 1s. 6d. per ton. If we lose these export profits from which the coal of the inland consumer is being subsidised, then, as the President of the Board of Trade has said, the price of coal would have to go up by another 1s. 4d. or 1s. 6d. 112 a ton. Is it a healthy sign for the industries of this country that the consumer of coal should have coal at less than the cost of production? Is it reasonable? Is it sensible? That is what is happening today. The inland consumers, of coal in this country, even with the 6s. increase, will be getting coal at less than the cost of production, and I submit that that is not a healthy sign. I think the President of the Board of Trade would have done better if he had faced the situation now a little more boldly, and had told the British consumer that in order to restore a healthy atmosphere to this industry, he must put on not 6s. per ton, but 7s. 6d. I shall be somewhat interested to know in what respect the figures of the White Paper are going to be contested. It seems rather belated, after ample notice has been given, and when nothing has been said during the whole of the intervening period, that we are now informed, without reasons given, that these figures are not accepted.
§ Mr. C. EDWARDS
Can the lion. Member amplify the figures in the White Paper by letting the House know the extent to which sanction has been given to the coal-owners to go in for what in ordinary times would be capital expenditure out of the profit?
§ Major MORGAN
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
Perhaps the Coal Controller can give us the figures of absenteeism for the weeks subsequent to 26th April?
§ Sir E. JONES
The absenteeism figures for the five weeks down to 28th June show a distinct improvement. They have gone down from 13 per cent. in the first twenty weeks to 11 per cent. in the five weeks in question. But I should like to point out that while the absenteeism figures have gone down the output per man has also gone down. I think right hon. and hon. Members will quite understand the reason. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the reason?"]
§ Sir E. JONES
The reason why it has gone down is this: With a fixed output, if the absenteeism is less naturally the output per man must be less. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, No!"] If hon. Members will go into that they will find that that is the case. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] I am speaking in terms of percentages, 113 and if hon. Members will look into the question from the percentage point of view they will find that the percentage must vary as I have said when the output is constant. The percentages are derived from the output and the percentages must vary accordingly. With regard to the question as to exploration costs, it is the regular practice of the finance branch of the Coal Mines Department not to allow any charges for exploration to be put as a charge against expenses of working. That has to be carried by the owner. But in connection with new developments which it is most essential should be allowed to be carried out while this uncertain atmosphere prevails, because if developments are stopped it will have a most pernicious effect upon the output in future, the Government have intimated that when they introduce a Bill into this House to deal with the interim Sankey Report they will introduce Clauses with regard to the manner of dealing with these development charges, of which full particulars have been sent to all the parties concerned.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
Can the hon. Member give to the House the figures of expenditure under the name of development charges?
§ Sir E. JONES
I think that question should be addressed to a Minister. I think I can speak on behalf, at any rate, of the bureaucratic official branch of the Board of Trade in this matter have seen charges levelled against the incompetency of the bureaucratic official who was responsible for the huge blunder of the estimated increase of 4s. 6d. instead of 6s. per ton. I am that bureaucratic official. I have never been an official in a Government office in my life until I voluntarily undertook this exceedingly pleasant job, and I am not at all averse to a change in the business habits of a long lifetime to be now invested with the glory of being a bureaucratic official.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I think I have addressed the House on three previous occasions, and on each occasion I have omitted saying something which I should have liked to have said, and I have said something I wish I had not said. To-day I am going to say only the things which I believe ought to be said, and if hon. Members opposite will not interrupt too much I believe I shall succeed. We should approach this problem not as Labour leaders or employers, not as 114 nationalises or anti-nationalisers, and not as supporters or opponents of the Government, but as citizens who realise that we are faced with a very serious problem, and that the duty devolves upon us to try and find a solution. It is not merely the mining industry that is concerned. We have a very serious situation arising in every direction. We have subsidised railways, subsidised agriculture, subsidised buildings, a subsidised post office, and now we are faced with subsidised mines. We have only to have the textile and the metal trades in the same position and we shall be bankrupt. While we are in this position we are borrowing money to pay our way. I am sure no responsible citizen can view the present situation without grave misgiving, and without some anxiety as to the general welfare of the people of this country in future. But I do not take the gloomy view of the President of the Board of Trade. I want to deal with his figures. I see in Table 5 that in 1913 we produced 287.000,000 tons of coal. It is estimated that in twelve months from 16th July of this year to the same date of next year we shall produce 217,000,000 tons, The table says that in 1913 it was necessary for carrying on manufactures, keeping the home fires burning and providing bunkers to consume 210,000,000 tons. It is estimated that in the next twelve months we are to be content with 191,000,000 tons, and this notwithstanding the fact that in 1913 we exported 77,000,000 tons and in next year we are only to export 23,000,000 tons. If those figures are correct, if that estimate materialises we are in for a more serious situation in this country than we have ever been faced with in the lifetime of the oldest man in this House.
The President of the Board of Trade has said that you cannot build up one industry without at the same time keeping on the other in a state of prosperity, but what hope is there of building up any industry at all if this is to be the position of the coal industry. If you are only going to have 16,000,000 tons less than we have in 1913 for trade purposes at home and for bunkers and for domestic purposes, I do not see how any prosperity in any of the trades is possible at all. But I do not believe myself that those figures are going to materialise, and I say that the Government have no right to sit down and say that that is to be the future and that they are simply putting on 6s. 115 to cover it, without making some effort to see that that is not the future. And that is the problem we are up against in this House. Anyone who looks at Table 6 will see that we have a number of estimated figures there, but we have one that is an ascertained figure, and I want to get on to some agreed facts. It says that the ascertained profit for the quarter ending 30th September, 1919,— I suppose that is 1918—on the basis of an output at the rate of 228,000,000 tons per annum, with the average number of persons employed as 961,000, is 3s. 7d. per ton. Those are ascertained figures. They are representative of the mining industry at the time. As I understand it, it means that, if 961,000 men produce 228,000,000 tons of coal, they not only earn their own wages and produce sufficient to cover all the other items in the cost of production, but they also leave a margin of 3s. 7d. profit. Pursue that one stage further. If 981,000 men produce 228,000,000 tons of coal, that means that each man produces 237 tons per year. So we are brought down to this simple fact, that the mining industry, with a production of 237 tons per man per year, is a paying proposition to the extent of 3s. 7d. per ton.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
That was before the Sankey award.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I ought to have explained that this was the position on the prices ruling and the wages paid in the September prior to the Sankey Report. But if every man who goes into the mines will produce 237 tons of coal per annum, we have a paying industry without paying 6s. or anything else additional for the coal. That is clear. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, on that proposition. I will come to the other items in a few minutes.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
That 3s. 7d. is the profit from overseas trade—[HON. MEMBEES: "No!"]—export profit which was ruling, and which it is quite impossible to expect to return.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
The profit is the margin left after all expenses have been met, whether it comes from home consumption or foreign consumption, and all profit was not made from the foreigners. We got the actual figures before the Commission and we know what they were; but I submit, and I do not think the President 116 of the Board of Trade will deny—that if in September last every person employed produced 237 tons of coal, that is a paying proposition.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
It was then.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
That is all I want: it was then. I want the Committee to take note of the figure 237 tons, because, in my opinion, that was the only figure by which you can judge the value of this Table 6, or of the estimates that have been made, as to whether we ought to pay 6s. per ton or anything per ton, or whether the industry can be made to pay its way without any extra charge at all. Look at the next item. Deduct for the wages of 163,000 additional persons employed at the pre-Sankey rate, on an average of some £3 a week, which comes in round figures to about £25,000,000–2s. 3d. per ton—and then the outside public are called upon to pay, in the circumstances, 3s. 2d., arrived at by dividing the amount by the 161,000,000 instead of the 228,000,000. That is the most astounding proposition of all. Out of the 6s. that is to be paid as an increase in the price of coal 3s. 2d. is to provide wages for 163,000 miners for the next twelve months, who are not to do one single stroke of work or produce one single ton of coal. That is the proposition with which we are faced. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Let us read it again. I confess that I turned it upside down and twisted it inside out before I could get what this meant, but when we are asked to deduct from the 3s. 7d. that was profit the wages of 163,000 men for twelve months, which is estimated at 2s. 3d. per ton on the whole of it, and which is 3s. 2d. per ton on home consumption, that is a fairly strange proposition, to my mind. If we get 163,000 additional miners into the mines, all these men have to do is to produce 237 tons each, the same as the 961,000 are producing, and instead of making it necessary for the public to find them wages for nothing, those 163,000 miners will have earned their own wages, will have covered the cost of production on output, and will have added 38,000,000 tons to our total of coal at 3s. 7d. per ton profit. All that resolves itself into the problem, Can you get from the men employed in the mining industry an output of 237 tons per man per year? If you get that, there is no necessity to put a cent on the coal of this country, and in this we should not only wipe out the 6s., but 117 we should have an enormous surplus and be able to reduce the coal. I challenge anybody to contradict that statement, if that first item in this Table 6 is correct.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
The hon. Member says that if we could get 237 tons per person working all would be well. That is not so. The figures here deal with the period which was quite a peculiar period that will not recur. It was the pre-Sankey period. We will not go back to pre-Sankey conditions. Those are past and gone. We have also got here the vast profits of the war period from the export trade when there was no competition, and included in this are those sums which I was speaking about earlier to-day, which belong really to the system of balancing our purchases overseas. You cannot base anything on the 237 tons per man. The next point is made about the number of men who have gone into the mines. My hon. Friend says that they are doing nothing on the average. If those men by their efforts there do not create an increased output then they are doing nothing. That is just what has happened.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I am coming to that.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
There are 1,139,000 men in the mines—that is the latest figure— and they are not getting the increased quantity. That is what is putting on the increase of 6s. on the coal. That is what we are asking to get changed, so that these people will do increased work.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I understood that this was the proposition on the basis of which the 6s. was imposed. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if 961,000 men produce 228,000,000 tons of coal and you only get the same output when there are 163,000 men additional, then these men are doing nothing so far as the total is concerned, and that is what this proposition amounts to. That is what it is based on. That is the proposition, and I want the House to try to appreciate it. We are facing an estimate, a forecast of what will happen, twelve months from next Wednesday. I want to know exactly what this estimate means, and whether it contains any sort of justification for putting on 6s. a ton, or whether we ought not to apply a remedy which, in my opinion, can be applied to make it unnecessary to put on a single ¼d. 118 I say that, with the figures in this document, and pre-Sankey wages, 237 tons per man per annum is a paying proposition.
Let us take the other items. We are asked, the public are asked, first of all, to pay 3s. 2d. per ton to find wages for men for doing nothing. It is 2s. 3d. in this document, but the outside public are asked to pay 3s. 2d. The next item in the Paper shows that the output is going down even from that figure, for it lays it down that not only are 163,000 additional miners to do nothing, but that even the 961,000 are going to do less. The original total must be reduced by 5 per cent. You knock out another 11,000,000 tons, and by that process of reducing production you increase the overhead charges by 3d., and the outside public must pay 7d. Then we get another item on account of this reduction of 11,000,000 tons, for we have to reduce exports by 11,000,000 tons. That means a loss of profit to the extent of £11,000,000, and the outside public must be asked to pay 1s. 4d. a ton to cover that loss. So that you have 3s. 2d. for 163,000 men getting wages for nothing; 7d. on account of increase in overhead charges due to reduced output; another 1s. 4d. due to loss of export profits; and then, in order even to make this 217,000,000 tons, we have to keep collieries going that ought to be closed, for the Controller says, "You must keep them working and you must have £3,000,000 for doing it." There is about 3d. a ton charged on that, and the public are asked to pay 4d. on their house coal.
That is the scheme. That is the document which is put before us. I am not painting the lily at all. I am simply trying to interpret a document placed in our hands, I want to get back to the question—Is it reasonable to suggest that we can get, even under the seven hours' day, an output of 237 tons per man per year? If I can prove that it is reasonable to expect that, I will afterwards revise the table in this document and show how it would work out. Let us get back to the output of the last twenty years. What have the miners done? What is the history of the mining industry? Let us get back to the passing of the eight hours' day. It was passed in 1908 and came into operation generally in 1909. In 1909 the output per man was 268 tons per annum; in 1910 it was 260 tons; in 1911, 262 tons; in 1912, when we had a six weeks national strike, it was 245 tons; in 1913 it was 259 tons. For 1914 the figure is obviously incorrect in this 119 document, and I have not made use of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] You have only to look at Table 1 to see that in 1914 the number of men is given as 1,117,000, and in a footnote it says that that is the number of men employed in July of 1914. But we had 200,000 men taken from the industry for the Army before December of that year. In 1915 the output was 266 tons per man per year, and in 1916 it was 265 tons. I will come to 1917 and 191S later. During the whole of that period the average output is 263 tons per man per year.
The question is, can we, under a seven hours' day, get 237 tons output as against the average of 263 under the Eight Hours Act? Mr. Justice Sankey has estimated that there will be a reduction of 10 per cent, on the coming into operation of the seven hours' days. Ten per cent, deducted from 263 tons leaves 237 tons. In that short history of the coal trade we have seen what the miners did without any coaxing and without any threatening. I have given you the figures for the years in which we had the most troublous periods we have ever known. In 1909, 1910, and 1911 I was organising strikes; everybody was organising strikes. We had the Tonypandy riots and thousand's of men out for twelve months. It culminated in the national strike, but notwithstanding all the strikes we produced an average of 263 tons per man per year. What is to prevent us producing 237 tons per man in future? Even with the reduction of hours from eight to seven? Are we likely to have a reduction of more than 10 per cent.? Fortunately here, again, we have experience to guide us; we have facts and figures and a long record to fall bark upon. Let us go back to 1901, before the reduction of hours took place. In 1901 the output was 281 tons; in 1902, 285 tons; 1903, 283 tons; 1904, 284 tons; 1905, 285 tons; 1906, 294 tons; 1907, 294 tons; and the average annual output per man during those eight years was 286 tons. You have, therefore, an output of 286 tons under the Nine Hours Act taken over a long period, and 263 tons average with a working day reduced by one hour. That is a reduction of rather less than 9 per cent. I want to emphasise one fact, namely, that it does not matter how the number of men varies—no matter how many men are employed in the industry, the output per man during the last twenty years has been almost with- 120 out change. Figures are not available as to the number of men employed in 1901. In 1902 the number employed was 810,000, and they produced 285 tons per man per annum. There were 623,000 the next year, but the output was then just about the same, namely, 283 tons for every individual. By 1905 the number employed had gone up to 843,000, and the output; was still 285 tons for each man; and even when you come down to 1913, when there were over 1,000,000 employed, you will find the same output per man. That being the case, I say that we have gone on altogether wrong lines' in forming a basis. The Government has taken what as their basis? The first twenty weeks of this year. I have taken as a basis the last twenty years of experience in the industry. What does the first twenty weeks in this year mean? Let us look at it. If we can make up the difference, as 1 submit it is reasonable to assume we can, and if it is possible we ought to do the needful to get it, what happens? We could abolish rationing to-morrow, we could put our home production on the 217,000,000, and, instead of reducing our exports from 34,000,000 to 23,000,000, we could increase them to 56,000,000, simply by getting the men to do in the next twelve months what they have been doing without any effort on anybody s part at all year after year for the last twenty years. If that is the position, why not tackle the problem and solve it on the question of production and not by putting on this 6s. per ton, which is going to ruin all the industries of the country. I will give one more figure in relation to the output per man. What does the 217,00n 000 tons per year mean, and what is the estimated output per man on which this 6s. is based? It is estimated, and this is what the Government budget for in this' Paper, that we are only going to have from each man in the mining industry during the next year 1 83 tons of coal.
§ Sir W. RUTHERFORD
Is not that what they are actually doing to-day?
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
We are talking about the next year's work, and 183 tons per man is what the Government have based this 6s. on We have been doing 263 tons, and we are to get a reduction next year of eighty tons per man. That is the statement. In 1908 there was a fall of twenty-three tons, but with that exception year after year it has never varied more than a ton or two in the year and 121 here we have eighty tons knocked off. That is the estimate. We had a 9 per cent. reduction when the Eight-hour Act came in, and now you have an estimate of a 30 per cent. reduction in the output per man employed, or from 263 tons per man to 183 tons per man. To those who are associated with the industry all I have to say is that tin; thing is too silly to laugh at. If you will allow me I will just redraft Table 6 of this estimate.
§ Sir W. RUTHERFORD
Perhaps the hon. Member will excuse me for interrupting him, but we are all very anxious about this point. Is not this reduced output upon which the White Paper is made up not an estimated but the actual figures taken from the present working?
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I will answer you quite frankly. This estimate is based on the assumption that what has been done in the first twenty weeks of this year will be done all through next year, and I will tell you what it moans for next year. Let us, instead of going on this basis of 183 tons per man, take 237 tons per man, which is the natural proper output to get. [An HON. MEMBER: "But you cannot get it."] Table 6 says, "Ascertained profits on 228,000,000 tons is 3s. 7d. per ton. "Let us redraft that by saying 237 multiplied by 163,000 equals 38,633,000 tons, making a total of 266,631,000 tons on a profit of 3s. 7d. We have abolished the £25,000,000 required to pay 163,000 men, and we have abolished 3s. 2d. out of the 6s. We have 5d. down for increased charges due to diminished output, and if you get this raised to 236,000,000 tons instead of increased charges you are going to have reduced charges. You can wipe that 5d. off, and put another 6d. profit on, and you get 4s. 1d., instead of 3s. 7d. an profit. But we have got a loss of profit due to less exports, but there is no need to have that loss. We cannot only abolish the loss, but we can increase the exports, and instead of having 1s. 3d. less, we ought to have 1s. 3d. gain. I am making this statement in all seriousness, and it is, I think, incapable of being upset, and I am making it on the assumption that we can get 237 tons per man per year. By that one process you get 5s. 4d. a ton profit and all you have to make up is to deduct 30,000,000 tons for the Sankey Award which works out at 2s. 3d., not 2s.9d. Taking 2s.3d. from 5s. 4d. you have 3s. 1d. left, and you have to deduct the coal-owners 1s. 2d. and you have still 1s. 11d. left. You have to deduct 122 compensation for remunerative collieries, of say, 3d. per ton, and all you have then is 1s. 8d., and I say that is what will result from getting all our men to produce 237 tons of coal in the year during the next year without putting a penny on the ton of coal, and what does that give us? Instead of a deficit of £46,000,000, we would have a surplus of about £22,000,000 by increasing the output and doing nothing else. Let us get down that problem.
Why has the output per man gone down, and what has to be done in order to get it up? That is the problem. We have got a reduction in output per man, that is clear. If we go on for the next year producing, as the Government budget for, 183 tons per man from the men employed, we simply cannot live on it, and this country cannot exist on it, if the forecast contained in that White Paper is realised. I think that White Paper ought to have a black border on it, and it ought to be entitled "A Funeral Dirge."
§ Mr. SEXTON
We had one.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I could not help feeling that we had a funeral sermon from the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon. I have not got into that gloomy state of mind. Let us look at the first twenty weeks of this year. For five years we have been in a state of war. The mines have been denuded of labour. Does not everybody in this House know that the colliery owners wanted horses and could not get them, wanted ropes or machinery or rails or timber or trains, and could not get them. Do we not all know that? Is not that the position into which hundreds of thousands of men have come back and gone. You had a denuded industry for five years and a shortage of machinery, of rails, and ropes, and trams, and timber. What do we find? I have been dealing with this question of output in my own district amongst the men I represent. I have gone to them, and pointed out to them what declining output means. I have urged them to improve it, and they have said to me, "Mr. Hartshorn, what do you advise us to do, we have been lying down in the whole district simply because we have got no timber," and they have asked me, "Do you advise us to work in danger?" I know that in the mining industry one out of the six men and boys employed on the surface and under ground is injured every year, and I know that every time the clock goes round four British miners go West. I will never ask 123 British miners to work in danger. Those men say, "Give us timber, and we will give you coal." Neither the British Miners' Federation, nor the miners themselves, nor the colliery-owners can get timber. It is the business of the Government to see that we get it, and it is their business to organise this thing as the country was organised for war. There is the Controller, but it is said, "We are not going to adopt the same methods in peace as we did in war." If that is the spirit in which we are going to approach this question then there is nothing but bankruptcy staring us in the face.
We have got to tackle the problem in the spirit in which we tackled problems during the War. If we do that, and if the Government will say, "We will organise the material and those things which are required in order to be able to produce the coal," then we say here from these benches with the full authority of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, we will stake our very existence on the fact that without any threat our men will produce as much coal per man per year as will make it altogether unnecessary for one single penny to be added to the price of coal. Do not let anybody imagine that putting on this is going to induce the miners to produce. It is not. [An HON. MEMBEE: "On the contrary."] It only irritates the miners. There is no more loyal body of men in this country than the miners; there is no more sporting body, there is no body of men to whom a national appeal can be made with a greater certainty of a ready response than the miners, but if anybody thinks they are going to threaten or bludgeon him into doing something they are on the wrong track.
When the President of the Board of Trade says, "Increase the output, boys, and we will bring it down 6d. a ton if you like," that is not the way. If the Government will say to us to-morrow, "We will organise the material "—and why should they not say it? How are we going to build up our other industries, how are we going to revive trade, unless we can get the coal which is the very basis of all future prosperity? What have we as miners got to trouble about the 6s. for if we are only thinking selfishly? It will not be put on to us. We have nothing to lose by it. We are thinking merely as citizens and of the general effect on the 124 nation, and if there is one cent put on the price of coal it is simply because the Government are not prepared to get down to the real serious problem of organising material and enabling us to organise and supply the coal that will enable it to be produced at a price which does not require any increase at all to be put on. I want to make an appeal to the Leader of the House and the President of the Board of Trade to give us a chance. Why not meet the Miners' National Executive? Why not see what we can do to organise this industry? The matter of three months would be a trifling matter. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] A matter of three months, even if it means a few pounds out of taxation, will be a very insignificant matter compared with the evils that are going to result to the general prosperity of this country by putting on 6s. on the price of coal, and I sincerely hope that you will give us a chance, in an atmosphere free from friction to get down to this problem in a spirit in which it is possible to solve it, and in the only spirit in which it can be solved.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The Committee will entirely agree with me in expressing our great obligations to the hon. Member for the admirable speech he has made. The whole point between him and the Government, as I understand it, is entirely this question of output. The whole question is, Is the Government right or wrong in relying on the experience of twenty weeks? I do not pretend to be an expert in the coal trade, but I must point this out to the hon. Member, because I think it is very important, that we have bad the assurance of the Coal Controller, on which we are absolutely bound to rely, that not only does the twenty weeks produce an. average output per man which justifies the figures of the White Paper, but there is no sign of any improvement. That is the formidable fact.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
The point I make is that I do not think there is going to be any improvement until the Government takes in hand the organisation of material, but the moment that is done you will get your improvement.
§ Lord R. CECIL
It is possible it is the organisation of the material, but it seems to me very astounding that in all the mines of the country they are all being held up by this want of material and nothing else. I have some difficulty in believing it, but, if it is so, it is a very serious criticisms 125 of State control. I do not propose to go into figures, and I should not be able to cope with the hon. Member's great knowledge of the subject, still less with the knowledge of my right hon. Friend, but I want to ask the Committee to consider very seriously the position in. which we are placed. My right hon. Friend made a speech which has been characterised as alarming. Well, it is alarming, very alarming, and he said, what is perfectly true, that if we cannot find some solution of our present industrial position there really is very little to hope for in the future. We have got to recognise that. The hon. Member opposite recognises that. What are the two causes that seem to me to be at the root of the matter? One is the immense rise in the cost of production, due to the rise in the cost of labour, which is in its turn due mainly, if not altogether, to the rise in the cost of living. The real thing we have got to tackle is this question of the rise in the cost of living, and I wanted really to make a few observations to the Committee as shortly as I can on that point, because it seems to me that it lies at the root of the whole thing. It is no use going to the wage earners of this country and saying to them, "You shall have higher wages," if in point of fact when the higher wages are paid they do not buy any more goods. That is the way to produce discontent. I sit for an agricultural constituency, and I am told that the wages of the agricultural labourer have risen from something like 17s. a week to 38s., but that even at that new figure the agricultural labourer is no better off and in some respects he is worse off than he was under the old one.
§ Lord R. CECIL
That is not the point. What is the cause of this immense rise in prices? It is at least two and a half times what it was before the War. Why have prices gone up? I know there are a certain number of my hon. Friends and of hon. Members opposite who say it is all profiteering. Well, I have no wish to defend any profiteer, but I have great difficulty in believing that there is a gigantic conspiracy of profiteers who had succeeded in outrageously raising the prices, not of one commodity but of all commodities, not in this country alone but all over the world, except in one country, and that, I am told, is America. Why there should be no profiteers in 126 America seems to be an amazing thing. The figures given by my right hon. Friend in reference to coal to-day traced exactly what the cost of coal at the pit's mouth was and how it rose to the price at which it was sold to the consumer, and it was quite evident that though there may have been a certain amount of profit to the various middlemen and dealers in coal, yet the profit was in no way excessive. I think it amounted to 1s. 8d. a ton a about 50s. per ton cost. If it is not the profiteer—do not let me be misunderstood. I would like to re introduce the-Star Chamber to deal with the profiteer. I believe it was introduced originally to deal with people something like-profiteers, and it is the only successful method that has ever been devised. But whatever measure is necessary to deal with the profiteers I am sure the whole House is absolutely and unanimously in favour of dealing with them. But I do not believe for a moment that that is a complete account of the state of things we have to face, nor do I believe it is due simply to a shortage of supply, which is the ordinary reason, because as far as I can learn—and when I was working on the Economic Council in Paris I endeavoured to make some inquiries—I cannot learn that there is anything like a world shortage of the essential materials. I do not mean to say that if everybody all over the world bought as much as they did before the War there might not be a shortage, but, as a matter of fact, there is no-difficulty in supplying, so I understand, the demands that are made, nor even is the question of transport, the question of shipping, so serious—it is not negligible—as to produce any shortage to account for the rise in prices. Then what is the meaning?
I am very glad to hear the Government are going to appoint a Select Committee, though I am rather doubtful of a Select Committee, having served on some Select Committees myself, as the best means of arriving at the truth of a very delicate and very difficult economic inquiry such as this. I would prefer a small Royal Commission of exports. I believe that would have been a more satisfactory body, but; that is a matter for the decision of the Government. I venture to suggest that the real cause of the rise in prices is the great increase of the currency. [An HON. MEMBER: "The gold standard!"] No; it is merely the actual increase of the amount: 127 of currency. That may or may not be the explanation, but it does fit the facts more or less. You have a great increase of currency in this country, something like two and a quarter to two and a half times what it was before the War, and you have approximately a similar rise in prices. You have, I am told, in France a much larger increase. It was stated to me—I Cannot say that I had the figure officially as four times their pre-war currency, [An HON. MEMBER: "Paper currency!"] I do not want to be led into an elaborate economic argument, but it is not really a question of paper currency. It is the actual amount of counters that are available; it is the ordinary law of supply and demand. If you have a great increase of currency, you have a great increase in prices. The value of the currency goes down because there is an ample supply. In France the currency has gone up, I believe, about four times. Prices are higher in Franco than they are in England. In Germany, I believe, the currency has gone still higher; but I admit that the circumstances there are so peculiar that you cannot argue from that; and a similar thing, more or less, will be found, I believe, in all the countries of Europe. In America there has been a comparatively small increase. I believe there has been some, but a small increase, and practically prices are no higher in America than they were before the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Not materially so. I am assured, speaking generally and broadly, that prices have not gone up to anything like the same extent as they have gone up in this country. That does not mean that they are not nearly as high in America as they are here, because they were much higher in America before the War than they were here.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
They have gone up about 25 per cent.
§ Lord R. CECIL
My right hon. Friend tells me the increase of prices is about 25 per cent. in America, as against 100 or 125 per cent. in this country. Those are the facts that are given to me. If they are true, we ought to be prepared to apply the remedy. One remedy, no doubt, is to increase the output. That is the remedy for everything, because if you increase the output, in proportion you will diminish the price of the articles of which you increase the output, but I doubt myself whether that is a complete remedy, and I would venture 128 to suggest to the Government and to the House that if this really is true they ought to be very careful not to go on increasing the currency now. I am told, and I believe it is a fact, that the currency is still being increased week by week. I have not the figures before me, but it is still going on, and it must go on as long as you make large capital expenditure. That is the fact. If you are only providing currency for ordinary trading operations, you do not want more than enough to make the necessary medium of exchange. But if you have to provide currency in order to pay for expenditure which does not produce any immediate return, and no return a all in the case of war expenditure, then you have an extension of the inflation—I do not like using the word "inflation," because it has a special meaning— but an extension of your currency, which is exactly the danger you have to avoid. I would ask my right hon. Friend and the Government to look at this very carefully. We had the other day—I merely take it as an illustration—a speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir E. Geddes),who foreshadowed large capital expenditure in putting right—I dare say an excellent object—the transport services of this country, and nothing could be more sanguine and more cheerful than my right hon. Friend in bringing it forward. He was going to reconstruct the railways, to make a large number of roads, and to reconstruct the canal system of the country. He was as cheerful as the President of the Board of Trade was the reverse this afternoon. I could not help being reminded of the French proverb, "Jean qui rit et Jean qui pleure."
§ Lord R. CECIL
I was going to give a translation—"Geddes the gay, and Geddes the sad." If what I am trying to present to the House is anything like accurate, we ought not to have what I may call a certain incoherence in the policy of the Government. You ought to say about each capital expenditure, and still more about military expenditure, not only, "It is desirable," but also, "Can we afford it?" That is the first point I desire to make in connection with this question of the industrial situation which really lies at the bottom of the whole question, because if it were not for the difficulty we are in industrially we should not have had the necessary rise of wages, and we should not have any question about an increase of price at all.
129 There is one other observation I want to make. The hon. Member who spoke last said undoubtedly the output could be increased. He did not quite undertake to say how it could be increased and he did not quite give us any clear account as to why it had diminished so seriously, except this want of material. I am afraid I do not regard the want of material as a sufficient diagnosis of the difficulty. I do not think we ought to conceal from ourselves what the right hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) said as to there being a certain amount of suspicion, and that you could not disregard that fact. I think that is true. I believe that the wage-earners in this country, and in all the countries of the earth, are in a position of profound unrest, and I am sure they are thoroughly dissatisfied with the present industrial organisation of the country. I do not believe—I never have believed—that it is a question of wages, and hours simply. I do not believe that is the real trouble in the matter. I believe that they desire greater industrial freedom. I do not like the phrase that is some times used about the wage-slave. It is a gross exaggeration, of course, but there is an element of truth in it, and every honest man ought to admit it. What is really the position of the wage-earner in most industries? He is paid so much wages. He is a mere item. He has to carry out a certain industrial policy on which he has never been consulted, and with which he has no power of dealing at all. He is not really a free, self-governing man in industrial matters. I hope I shall not be suspected of revolutionary tendencies, but I do not think that we ought to conceal that from ourselves.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I am sorry to hear my hon. and gallant Friend say that, because it makes me distrust my opinion. But, seriously, that is, I am sure, at the bottom of a great deal of the present discontent. It is really at the bottom of this claim for nationalisation. The real reason, as I think my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench said, why it is difficult to persuade the wage-earner to increase output is because he says that any extra profit will go into the pockets of the, owners and nothing to him. The suggestion is that nationalisation will put that right. I hope my hon. Friends opposite will consider very carefully this question of nationalisation. Increased profits from increased 130 work will not go any more into the pocket of the miner, whether he is working under the present system or under a national system. Even if there were no waste, and everything worked well, or better than it does now, the amount that he would get as the reward for increased labour would be insignificant, and, as for freedom, his position, I am convinced, would be infinitely worse. I take my right hon. Friend's story of the Coal Controller. I do not wish to make any attack on that hon. Gentleman, who made an interesting speech this afternoon, but, assuming that my right hon. Friend's charge is absolutely true, what does it mean? It means that a Government Department issued an ukase that no advance upon 10 per cent, was to be made, and no one could get behind that in any way until a political negotiation had taken place in this House by which the Government Department was over-ruled. That is the story of my right hon. Friend. Does not that show how helpless the miner would be in a condition of nationalisation? Then take the case of the hon. Member who spoke last. He said that the whole trouble is that the Government will not provide timber. What greater condemnation could you have of the theory that the miners would have a greater influence under a nationalised system on the management of mines than they have under the present system? I am convinced that it is a complete delusion that nationalisation will give freedom to the wage-earner, and I do not believe hon. Members opposite, when they give the matter their impartial consideration, can believe for a moment that nationalisation would in itself increase output. Do they really want the House to accept from them, on their authority, the proposition that a worker for the Government works harder than a worker for a private employer? I do not think any hon. Member would say that privately.
Is the Noble Lord aware that, during the whole War, there were fewer strikes in Government Departments than anywhere else?
§ Lord R. CECIL
That does not answer my question. But, really, do not let us draw our illustrations from the period of the War, because you had a really great patriotic sentiment then working at high fever, which set aside many of the ordinary defects of industrial human nature. At any rate, that is the sug- 131 gestion I venture to submit on nationalisation, but I do not think we can afford—I say so quite frankly—to say, "We will not have nationalisation, and we are not prepared for any other reform. We propose to go on just as we are." Personally, I am not prepared to say that. I do think—I have said so in public more than once, and I say so in this House—the time has come when it is only fair and right that the wage-earner should have a voice in the management of the concern in which he is employed. I believe the demand for what I believe President Wilson called "the democratisation of industry" is just as strong and just as reasonable—at any rate, just as deeply founded in human nature—as the demand for self-government. I know it is said by many of my friends in and out of the House, "If you do that you are going to weaken or destroy your efficiency. Industry can only be carried on autocratically. You must have one head to decide." The same, or much more, was said about autocracy in politics. It is quite true that for mere efficiency the Government of an autocrat who really understands his business is better probably than any other form of Government, but the convinced opinion of the world, and particularly of the English world, is that they would rather have slightly less efficient Government and freedom than greater efficiency without freedom. Hon. Members opposite will say whether I am right or wrong from their experience, but I think that is the foundation of the whole trouble at the present time.
I believe we have got to find some system by which the wage-earner will have—1 will not say the lull control—but, at any rate, a voice in the management and a share, I think, in the profits of the industry. Those are views 1 hold, and I do ask the Government not to treat this in a piecemeal way. I am far from making any attack on the Government. I know the enormous difficulties under which they have been working during the past six months, with a large part of the Government, perhaps the most important—the Prime Minister, at any rate—away in Paris, and the rest of the Government here. But the time has come when, in the interests of the country, they must have a comprehensive policy in these matters. It is no use saying, "We will not make up our minds about nationalisation for months and months, after which we shall be able to give some advice to the country." They 132 are entitled to some time to consider a very difficult question, but they must realise that the longer they put off a decision the greater the unrest of the country. It is essential, in the country's interest, that the Government should have a de-finite policy in this matter, and should put it forward clearly and courageously in this House.
May I add one word to my hon. Friends opposite They are now coming to a time when they will be, in my expectation, the most powerful party in the State. Their responsibility is very great. They must not look at these things from a sectional or class point of view. They have got to look at them from a broad, statesmanlike point of view. I am not the least afraid, if my hon. Friends opposite will realise their responsibilities, that they will discharge them as thoroughly as have other Englishmen in times past, but I do hope, if my words have any weight, that they will look at this matter not sectionally but broadly, and in a statesmanlike manner, so as to arrive at a real settlement in the interests of the country at large.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I have had the privilege as a chartered accountant of acting professionally for some twenty-five or thirty colliery companies during the past five years and I have consequently been in constant touch with the Coal Controller's Department since it was established—therefore I may perhaps claim to have had some experience in regard to collieries and the Government. I desire to try to show to the House that it is unnecessary at the present time to in crease the price of coal by 6s. per ton. I believe the estimates have been exaggerated and that everything has been shown at its worst. Charges which ought not to have been allowed against the profits have been included, and deductions which ought to have been made have been left in. I am going to ask the President of the Board of Trade and the Coal Controller if they will be good enough to look at the White Paper. I am afraid that I have not got their attention—;—;
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I am sorry if I appeared not to be listening, but, owing to the stir, I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Perhaps hon. Members will be good enough to suppress their conversation.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I am going to ask the President of the Board of Trade to look at the White Paper and to refer to the second item. In the second item there are 163,000 additional persons, the result of which is that the right hon. Gentleman deducts 2s. 3d. per ton from the 3s. 7d. on the ascertainment of the quarter. I want to take the House back to the beginning of the War when many men left the collieries to join the Forces. The result was that the collieries had to abandon certain districts and certain seams. The enlistment of the men, and the subsequent comb-out, made it that the collieries did not only give up districts, but they also gradually gave up doing the repairs which they had been accustomed to do underground. When they came to the hard headings they had to leave them as they were instead of cutting through them in the usual way. Most of the colliery companies—that is the larger ones—paying excess profits duties, saw that this expenditure was going to come later, and they approached the Inland Revenue authorities. In many cases they were given provisional allowances, for it was said that later, though they had not been doing the repairs, they would have to pay on the Excess Profits Duty on the amount which they subsequently expended, and which had been allowed. Then coal control came along and excess payments, and provisional allowances, at different rates and over several years, were settled; for it was felt that repairs, not done for three or four years over the War, would bring such a state of confusion that it would b impossible for any one to face the situation. Therefore it was decided to make an allowance to the colliery companies forthwith—an allowance which should be final. I can speak with some authority because it was my privilege to settle this on the part of the colliery companies with the liaison officer who acted for the Inland Revenue and the Coal Controller.
§ Mr. C. EDWARDS
Can you give the House the total figure?
§ Mr. HOLMES
I hope the hon. Member will not interrupt me. I have not the slightest idea. What happened was this: The arrangement made was that so far as any district which was closed was concerned, that the colliery company should estimate the cost of re-opening—there were roofs falling, roadways choked up, rails possibly to be relaid—for rails in many cases had been removed and put 134 somewhere else during the War. It was agreed that the colliery companies should estimate the post-war cost of those re-openings, and the amount of those costs were charged up in the accounting period during which the closing took place. So all the colliery companies have carried forward, from the date in which they closed either districts or scams, sufficient money to reopen whenever they so desired. In regard to the hard headings and repairs which the colliery companies were unable to carry out during the War, this was the arrangement come to—that the pre-war average of profits should be taken with the increased cost of doing the repairs, or of cutting through the hard headings, and that in such accounting periods—1914 –15 –16 –17—both for the Excess Profits Duty and the coal mines excess payments, the difference between the amount actually spent and the pre-war average, plus the increased cost at the present time, should be allowed. So that in regard to this every colliery company is carrying forward considerable sums—thousands of pounds in some cases—which they have in hand to do underground repairs and drive through hard headings at the end of the War.
The reason why they were unable to do these things was because so many men enlisted. This loft the companies with their men devoted to the actual coal getting. The companies took the men off repairs and hard headings as far as possible. They have now the men back. The number now amount?, approximately, to as many as when the War started. Therefore, it is absolutely certain that a large number of men who have gone back since the Armistice are engaged on this work of reopening districts, of making underground repairs, or on the work of driving through hard headings; the money which is being paid to them, which is hero debited on the White Paper, should not be charged against profits for the next twelve months, but taken from the reserve which has been made during the five years of war. Not only that, but it must, I think, be assumed, so far as I can see, that at least 60,000 men out of the 163,000 are engaged cither on new work which will be charged to capital, or the reopening of districts, the driving through hard headings, or in doing underground repairs. Therefore, at least l0d. per ton will come off that 2s. 3d. because the wages of these men will be paid out of these reserves which the collieries have, and, besides, in the 135 £30,000,000 is included the extra amount paid to these 60,000 men. Therefore, that proportion is about 5 per cent., or 2d. in the £, as given by the Sankey Report in its calculation. I trust the President of the Board of Trade follows my argument.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
§ Mr. HOLMES
The right hon. Gentleman shook his head over the last point. I say that for the next twelve months, if I may sum it up, you will have at least 60,000 of these men doing work for which the colliery companies have reserves. Their wages in advance have been allowed— were charged with Excess Profits Duty and coal mines excess payments for 1914, or subsequently. It is not right to charge these particular amounts up against profits for the next twelve months; therefore, the President can immediately reduce his increased cost of 6s. per ton to 5s. for this item alone. To continue, in the White Paper 5d. per ton increase is for the extra cost of overhead charges due to a decreased output of 11,000,000 tons. Up above, on the White Paper, we are told that, on the basis of the Sankey Interim Report, if the output increased from 228,000,000 tons to 264,000,000 tons—that is an increase of 36,000,000 tons—6d. per ton would be saved on the overhead charges. If on a reduction of 11,000,000 tons we actually lose 5d. per ton for overhead charges, one of these figures must be wrong, for you cannot increase by 36,000,000 and gain 6d. and decrease by 11,000,000 and leave 5d.
§ Sir E. JONES
The 6d. allowed and referred to in the first case was after allowing for the payment of the wages of the additional men; the 5d. under the second head is independent of that.
§ Mr. HOLMES
One is given duplicates of these statements from the Coal Controller's Department. I will go straight on to the next point with regard to last profit on the export trade. Here we are told that, as a result of the reduction in the export of 34,000,000 tons to 23,000,000, we shall lose £l per ton profit. This is taken off the ascertained profit for the quarter ending 30th September, 1918. But the profit then on the export trade was not £l per ton, but 10s. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted it himself this afternoon, and it was given in evidence before the Coal Commission at 3s. 7d. per ton—made up of 1s. 6d. per ton on the inland 136 coal and 10s. 0.38d. on the export coal. If you are going to compare these, you should surely only take 10s. per ton profit and not £l! You are probably making £1 per ton profit at the present price. The Coal Controller shakes his head. I must press this; it is frightfully important to the public. We are going to make the consumers pay this 6s., and I am submitting, in the first place, that, so far as Is. is concerned, it is not necessary. In regard to these 160,000 odd people now, I suggest, with regard to the 5,500,000 it is unnecessary in regard to the profits of the export trade.
§ Sir E. JONES
The £l per ton profit is the actual figure adopted in the Sankey Report, which makes an allowance of 9,000,000 for the reduction of profits from the export trade. The whole of the estimates are based upon the Sankey Report.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I really cannot see that at all.
§ Sir E. JONES
If my hon. Friend will refer to the Sankey Report, he will find the figures given there.
§ Mr. HOLMES
We are acting on the basis here, in this White Paper, of 3s. 7d. per ton, and that 3s. 7d. per ton represents 1s. 6d. per ton on inland coal and 10s. per ton on export coal; therefore, if you are trying to cut down all your loss on a reduction of exports, you must take off, with that 3s. 7d., 10s. per ton and not £l per ton. I cannot see that the explanation is in any way relevant.
§ Sir E. JONES
If I may interrupt again, I would say that the whole of these estimates are based on the actual basis and calculation adopted by the Sankey Report itself. The £l per ton was arrived at on the supposition—which was correct—that the reduction in exports estimated by the Sankey Report referred to the reduction of profits on exports to neutrals, upon which the profit at that time was nearer £3 per ton than £1.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOLMES
This 3s. 7d. is not based on any estimate, but it is an ascertained profit, and from that you have to take off to make it fair the 10s. per ton which was included as the profit. I do not agree with the Coal Controller's explanation at all. The estimates of the Coal Commission have nothing to do with it, and I submit that at least £5,500,000 should be taken off the 3s. 7d. per ton ascertained profit. The President is estimating that on the 137 23,000,000 tons to be exported he is going to get 10s. profit per ton. I suggest that on the average he will obtain far more than that. He is exporting coal now up to 9s. a ton. He has a minimum rate to Greece and Norway of 75s. for the best coal, but bunker coal which was 55s. at the beginning of last week is now 62s. 6d. The more you reduce the amount you have to export the higher the price you will get for it. If we have only 23,000,000 tons instead of 34,000,000 tons to send abroad we shall get a higher price, because some people will have British coal, and as the supply will be less the demand will be more, and the price will be greater accordingly. Under these circumstances to put 10s. per ton down as the profit on the 23,000,000 tons exported is perfectly ridiculous, because this coal has gone up 7s. 6d. per ton in the past week simply as the result of all this talk. The demand is very great, and will be greater as the supply is reduced, and I believe that we shall find instead of 10s. profit on export coal we shall find in the ensuing twelve months, if you only export 23,000,000 tons, that the profit will be nearer 30s. per ton.
Then there is the £3,000,000 added as compensation to owners. I hope the President will let us know the real state of the finances of the Coal Mines Department. Tile Coal Controller said it was intended to be a financially sound concern, and they have, therefore, to add that 2s. 6d. per ton last year in order to try and meet the expenses of their own Department. I want the Coal Controller to tell us what the amount of the coal mines excess profits outstanding comes to. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget Debate said that £350,000,000 excess profits were due to the Government and had not been collected. Similarly there may be millions of coal mines excess profits. One of our biggest colliery companies owes thousands of pounds, and probably the best part £500,000, for coal mines excess profit. Their assessment has not been settled, and they have paid nothing. I know another which also owes well into six figures who has only paid a few thousand pounds, and there must be others, and all this surely is coming in during the present year. Will it not be possible out of this £3,000,000 set aside as compensation to owners working under the instructions of the coal controlled mines to meet that out of the coal mines excess profits It was intended that this com- 138 pensation should come out of such a fund. If we can have a proper estimate of the coal mines excess profits, I think we ought to meet that £3,000,000 compensation out of that fund.
I will now turn back again to the first page, and there we find that the coal for exports and bunkers comes to 32,000,000 tons, instead of the 23,000,000 tons put down as coal for export. That means, I suppose, that 23,000,000 tons are going to be exported and 9,000,000 tons sold for bunker coal. If that is so, you have underestimated in the White Paper the profit which is going to be earned on bunker coal. The Controller has taken that amount in at 10s. a ton profit, and ho will certainly get £l profit on the bunker coal during the corning year. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] May I remind the hon. Member that bunker coal has gone up in Cardiff 7s. 6d. per ton this week, and I found this out by telephone this morning
§ Sir CLIFFORD CORY
For bunker coal a far more inferior quality is sold.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I am aware that the prices vary and they are all sorts of prices. I do not suggest that you can get £l per ton profit on bunker coal, but I believe the average will be nearer £l than 10s. I will now summarise what I have attempted to put before the House. My first point is that the 60,000 additional workers in the mines should have their wages for the next twelve months paid out of the funds which the collieries have accumulated under the scheme agreed between, the Inland Revenue and the Coal Controller's Department and the collieries, and this should not be charged against the profits of the year. That will effect a reduction of Is. per ton, so that instead of being Is. 10d. it will be l0d. per ton. There is one other very important point that I have not mentioned. We have put down here £12,600,000, representing 1s. 2d. per ton on the output, which is going to the colliery owners. I think the President of the Board of Trade has expressed the opinion that the Sankey award means that the 1s. 2d. per ton is to include not only the profits on coal, but the profits also on coke and by-products. I know the matter was referred to the Cabinet, but I do not know whether they have come to a decision. I also know that the draft Bill which the President of the Board of trade prepared to ratify the 1s. 2d. does include the coke and the by-products profits, and 139 I want to know, Are they included here? Therefore you must deduct from the £12,600,000 the profits on the coke and the by-products, because in the 3s. 7d. per ton you have no profit on the coke or the by-products.
Nobody but the Coal Controller can tell us what those are. I put them at £7,000,000, taking coke at l0d. and the by-products at 4d. If you deduct £3,600,000 profit on coke and by-products, this makes the figures of the White Paper different all round. We substitute the loss of is. for the loss of 1s. l0d. and, let us say, £9,000,000. I should knock out altogether the loss on exports, but, instead of being £11,000,000, I will put it at £5,500,000, and that will be more than made up out of the increased profits you will make in the coining year on export coal. The guaranteed profits to owners should be reduced to £9,000,000, and that will leave the compensation of £3,000,000 as it is. That reduces the total the Coal Controller has got to raise to £21,000,000, instead of £46,600,000. That is not taking into account the increased profit which I suggest will be made on bunker coal and exports beyond 10s. per ton if my figures are right. This is without taking into account many other factors which might very well be taken which would tend- to reduce the proposed increase from 6s. to 2s. 6d. As I have said, every estimate here shows the case at its worst, and no attempt has been made to look into the various small points which one might raise, but even on these broad lines I say there is no necessity to raise the price of coal by more than 2s. 6d., and I shall be interested to hear what reply the Coal Controller has to make.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
No one will deny that the prosperity of this country absolutely depends upon having a cheap and abundant supply of coal both for home use, shipping, and for export. The history of the coal trade under private enterprise is an astounding one. In 1855 the output was 64,000,000 tons, and by 1913 that output had been increased to 287,000,000 tons by private enterprise. We hear people stating that the system of individual ownership stands condemned, but, as a mater of fact, the present serious position in which we stand in regard to the coal output has largely arisen through the substitution of Government control in place of the control and management of 140 the coal-owners, who understood the business. It is estimated that the output for the twelve months commencing 16th July will be down 70,000,000 tons. The diminution in the output of coal during the War, we know, was largely—in fact, almost entirely—due to the fact that no less than 250,000 coal miners patriotically volunteered to serve their country. Today the greater part of those men are back in their employment in the mines. The number of men employed in the mines today is practically the same as in 1913, and I submit, with some knowledge of the coal trade, that, given proper management and proper arrangements and understanding with the men, there ought to be no difficulty in the men getting back to the 1913 output, namely, 19.8 tons per month, as against the last return of 16.7 tons per month. I am quite aware that we have to take into consideration the diminution in hours of working from eight to seven. I suppose in that case that 10 per cent, would have to come off, but that would still leave the output enormously higher than the estimate made for the next year of 217,000,000 tons.
To-day we have had from representatives of the miners most able and fair speeches, in which they have announced their intention and determination to cooperate with the Government in every possible way to increase the output of coal, which is absolutely essential for the prosperity of this country. They have not only offered to do that, but they have admitted that in the absence of coal for export and in the absence of sufficient coal for our manufactures, our own home needs and shipping, there would be practically ruin facing this country. Talking of coal output, we have to remember that in the United States of America they have steadily increased the output during the War, until they have reached the enormous output of 770 tons per man, as against 240 tons per man in this country. I know that there are differences in the character of the seams and the conditions under which they work, but there is no difference to account for that enormous disparity between 240 tons and 770 tons. I am not throwing stones at the miners; I have had the honour of representing over 20,000 of them in this House for years, and I should be the last to do that, but I do say that there is great room for inquiry as to how this enormous difference arises, and what can be done in any way, either by improved methods of working or 141 organisation, to bring our output per man beyond 240 tons per year. Personally, I believe it can be done with goodwill and by working together on both sides, masters and men.
I believe that Governmental control is partly responsible for the fact that so little repair work, so little replacement, and so little development have taken place during the War. Fresh capital is required for improved equipment in many cases, but the enterprise of owners has been absolutely paralysed by the management of the collieries being taken out of their hands, by the uncertainty prevailing, and by the absence of any proper incentive to stimulate individual effort. We have reason to be proud of what British enterprise and individual effort have done in the coal trade, both on the part of the owners and workmen. We have had evidence, shall I say of incompetency, on the part of the Coal Control Department, which does not give us much encouragement for entertaining the idea of nationalising our coal mines and putting them under Government control. On 4th June the -Coal Controller intimated to the Coal Commission that it was estimated that the deficiency on the working of the industry, on the basis of the estimated output given for the twelve months from July next, after providing for the guaranteed profit to the owners at the rate of 1s. 2d. per ton, would be about £46,600,000, or 4s. 3d. per ton. We are now told that they omitted in the Coal Controller's Department—someone made a terrible blunder—to take into consideration 18,000,000 ton3 coal consumed at the collieries, 6,000,000 tons coal supplied for the miners' use, and 32,000,000 tons coal for export and bunkers, and that the deficiency of 46,600,000 tons would therefore have to be averaged over 161,000,000 tons and not over 217,000,000 tons. The deficiency therefore would be 5s. 9 ½d. instead of 4s. 3d. Such a blow to the future public administration, will cause a revulsion of feeling in the country against any idea of Government control of the mines by nationalisation. Such a great mistake certainly would never have occurred if the collieries had been left under the management of experienced colliery men.
(Member of the Cabinet): There was no inconsistency. The 4s. 3d. estimate was based upon total output; the 6s. is on a good deal less.
§ Sir J. WALTON
They ought to have known that 18,000,000 tons were required for colliery consumption, that 16,000,000 tons were required by the workmen for keeping their fires burning, and that they could not apply the 6s. to the 32,000,000 tons for export and bunkers, because they were sold beyond the minimum prices and the profits brought into the account on the credit side. I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend back and I congratulate him on the excellent service that he did for his country while he was in Paris. In the absence of largely-increased coal exports, how are we to pay for our food imports and prevent further rises in prices? We know perfectly well that the 77,000,000 tons that were exported in 1913 constituted the main factor in enabling us to get cheap food supplies in this country. We sent our ships to South America, Argentine, Russia, and elsewhere, laden with coal, and they brought back wheat. It stands to reason that if the ships go out light and have to charge a double freight on the return journey it means increased food prices. We must not forget that we cannot any longer pay for our imports with the interest on foreign investments which we have already parted with during the War. We cannot pay to the same extent by shipping freights that would be owing to us from all over the world on our huge carrying trade before the War, because of our depleted Mercantile Marine, thanks to the barbarous and savage methods of Gorman submarine warfare. We are likely to have a reduction in general exports from this country owing to the increased cost if coal prices are to be raised by 6s. a ton. In competition with the United States of America, Japan, and Germany, with their cheaper coal supplies, we are certain, to some extent, to lose trade that we used to have before the War. We already have Australia buying iron and steel from the United States. Even Glasgow has sent an order very recently for 5,000 tons to America. And do not let us overlook the fact that our manufacturers and colliery owners, and indeed everybody in this country, with big incomes, and big interests, are handicapped to the tune of 10s. in the £ war taxation. All this has to be borne and paid and it accordingly reduces our ability to compete with nations like America, where taxation is practically nil, and Japan, who has enriched herself during the War, and is paying practically no taxation at all.
143 I believe the War has left us facing a new world, and we ought, therefore, to approach all these questions of trade, wages, and employment on entirely new lines. It is generally admitted that the increase in the price of coal will really increase the price of everything we have to buy, whether home- produced or imported. My judgment is that the Sankey Coal Commission's terms of reference ought to have included some instruction to inquire as to whether the high prices of coal would allow rapid economic development and the restoration of prosperity to this country. The Committee should have been instructed also to consider how the excessive prices of coal could be reduced to the consumer—manufacturer, ship-owner, and householder alike. There is no doubt whatever that the coal-miner ought to be well paid. But while admitting that, I think everything should be done to reduce coal prices. A system of subsidies has sprung up, unfortunately, to a very large extent. In connection with the coal mines at the present moment there is a deficit of £46,600,000, which is to be raised by charging 6s. a ton extra for the coal, or else it has to be paid by the taxpayers of the country, and trade will be subsidised to that extent. I believe that is an unsound system. The railways are being worked at a loss of £60,000,000, bread is being subsidised at an expense of £50,000,000, workmen's labour is being paid for, and altogether something like £200,000,000 is being provided as subsidies—that is a larger sum than our total pre-war national expenditure—in different trades. All these subsidies must be abolished before we can reach a sound financial position. The price of coal must be such as will cover the cost of production, and the charges for rail transport must be sufficiently high to cover the cost of the services rendered.
Naturally one has thought a good deal about the various suggestions which have been made to bring prosperity not only to the coal trade but to other trades. I have often wondered whether if we had the nationalisation of the coal mines it would mean industrial peace in the coal trade. Would it mean giving up the idea of direct action, which certain trade unions propose, and which, as far as I can see, would sweep away Parliamentary Government altogether, holding the nation up to ransom? I do not believe the majority of my working men friends hold with that view 144 at all. So far from State control introducing more economical management, better technical methods and greater efficiency on the part of the workmen securing the maximum output, I believe it will have the opposite effect. I honestly believe that. Our experience of Government control has not so far been encouraging. I do not notice that the Post Office and other State employés are a very contented lot of people. I do not find that they are as contented as those, who work for private employers, at any rate that is what I find in my constituency. The Government management of the telephones has been both inefficient and expensive. The Government control of the railways has landed us into a deficit of £60,000,000. The coal is going to cost another £46,600,000. State control by the Coal Controller has been a disastrous experiment. Advances to the extent of 16s. 6d. per ton in the price of coal to the consumer, including the 6s. now proposed, has been the result. I opposed the Coal Control Bill for all I was worth because I believed that all that was necessary was to leave the management and working of the coal trade in the hands of those who understood it, by mutual agreement between employers and employed, and having the Coal Prices Limitation Act to-prevent unduly high prices being charged. That was all that was necessary in the interests of the nation and of the consumer, and I believe if we had gone on working under those conditions we would not have been in the serious position in which we find ourselves to-day.
While I doubt very gravely if there would be any advantage in the nationalisation of the coal-mines, I do believe in the nationalisation of coal royalties. I have always held that the State ought to own the minerals under the soil, and if it can be done now, with fair compensation to the royalty owners, I would have the State acquire these mineral rights. I hold that it ought to safeguard the nation and prevent any mineral royalties being paid in connection with petrol, which has now been discovered in this country. With regard to the nationalisation of coal royalties, I would advocate that because certain districts can be more cheaply and better un-watered by great central pumping stations than as at present by separate pumping-arrangements at each of the collieries. Cuttings to prevent the influx of water are more necessary in some areas than in others, and the working of that by the 145 State would make that more easy. I do not think that my miner friends object to the coal-owners receiving a margin of profit of 1s. 2d. per ton. Some collieries have been comparatively inexpensive to win. In some collieries the capital expenditure per ton raised is two and three times as much as it is in other collieries. To give 1s. 2d. all round is a very unequal distribution. A percentage on capital expenditure would be a fairer division. I do not believe that coal-owners and coal-miners are in any need of State interference. With good will, they can settle between themselves on fair and equitable lines both the conditions of work and the share of profits made by each side putting all their cards upon the table. That is my belief, not that, as one a little interested in coal, I want to have undue profits.
A very large proportion of the miners would prefer not to be compelled to work under one employer only, namely, the State, but rather to have continued to them the choice of employers as they have now. I say unhesitatingly that many of those who have served their country in the Army have had such a dose of State or Government control that they will not want to have it perpetuated in their daily work for the rest of their natural lives by the nationalisation of the mines. Nobody knows better than I do the dangerous and arduous nature of the calling of the coal-miner. I have represented coal-miners for twenty-two years in this House, and I have always advocated improved conditions, good wages, and shorter hours, but I do say that care must be taken to modify the demands both of coal-miners and of colliery owners so that they shall not injure and hinder the prosperity of the other trades and industries of the country. That, in the long run, is in the best interests of the 20,000 miners I have so long had the honour to represent in this House. It is time this nation woke up to realities. The artificial prosperity or the last five years has been obtained only by spending one-half of the accumulated wealth of the country and by piling up a National Debt of £8,000,000,000. This living on capital cannot go on without bringing the country to absolute ruin. I hope that the present prices will be considered and settled on lines which will promote the general prosperity and well-being of the whole nation. This does not apply to coal-miners and coal-mining alone. It applies, as we were told to- 146 day by the President of the. Board of Trade, to many industries outside coalmining, but which affect coal-mining and react one upon the other. I hope that all electioneering considerations and Parliamentary tactics will be brushed on one side in the consideration and settlement of these most important problems. Coal is most emphatically the most important key industry in this country, vitally affecting as it does the well-being and prosperity of the whole nation. I say unhesitatingly that coal-miners and coal-owners alike must do what is their duty towards the nation as a whole, putting aside, to some extent at any rate, selfish personal considerations. One thing above another I declare, namely, that the largely increased production of coal and the sale of it at a reasonable price are essential to our national prosperity, and I welcome the assurances of the representatives of the miners in this House of their willingness to co-operate and assist in every possible way in bringing this about. Another point is economy in the use of fuel, which is now wasted to a criminal degree by crude and obsolete processes. Had the Government devoted themselves to enlightening the nation in a more economical use of fuel, they would have done much more good than by their ill-advised and disastrous interference with the working of the coal industry, in regard to which I am afraid they are open to the charge of having shown lamentable ignorance. Naturally so! What did they know about coal? I do not suppose that anyone in the Coal Controller's office has ever been down a pit in his life. There may have been two or three who had some knowledge of collieries. The less State interference and control, the better it will be for the trades and industries of this country, which have built up their prosperity in the generations gone by by personal initiative and enterprise. The sooner we clear our minds of depending upon State assistance and determine to help ourselves, so much the sooner shall we have brought back to this country that prosperity which we all so much desire.
§ Lieut.-Col. Lord HENRY CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I am sure the House will agree with the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Walton) when he said he hoped the question would not be approached from any electioneering point of view. It is much too serious a question for either the miners, the employers, or the Government 147 to spend their time in scoring points off one another and in manoeuvring for position in the battle for and against nationalisation. I hope the Government will continue to pursue this subject in the same reasonable and conciliatory spirit which has been displayed in this Debate. I hope, therefore, they will lose no time in accepting the invitation held out to them from the Labour Benches for a Conference on this subject. I feel certain that if the Prime Minister or his representative addresses the coal- owners and the men, and ask for increased production, it will not be in vain. I hope, too, most sincerely, that the suggestion of the Sankey Report will be followed that pit committees shall be set up. I believe pit committees were instituted during the War, notably in Lancashire and Cheshire, with the very happiest result I believe they led to increased production, and the power and the increased responsibility placed upon the men, not only for doing away with absenteeism but in making suggestions for the improved transmission of trucks down the roadways, was amply rewarded. I have in my Constituency a considerable number of miners, with whom I have the friendliest relations. Last week I had a conference with their leaders, at which a mine manager was present, so I had the benefit of hearing both sides of the question. What the men repudiated with great indignation, amply corroborated by the mine manager himself, was the suggestion that the decrease of output per miner was due to any slackness on the part of the miner. The falling off in the output of the individual miner is due to perfectly intelligible and understandable causes. It is one of the effects of the War. We called up during the War a vast number of miners. Ninety per cent. of them were young men of eighteen, nineteen, or twenty. In the ordinary course of events they would have been skilled hewers of coal. They lost the opportunity of learning to be skilled hewers, and now they have come back to the pits and are learners again. That is one of the causes of the falling off in output per man. There is also the fact that there are in the pits a great number of returned soldiers, many of whom are crippled or suffering from malaria or other diseases The miners' calling requires the utmost muscular efficiency, and here again we have a cause for the falling off in the output per miner for which the miner himself is in no way responsible.
148 I found, too, a, very strong feeling with regard to the shortage of tubs and the disrepair of the roadway, which is hampering the miner in his work, in addition to causing great hardship to the pit ponies. I found a very strong feeling also with regard to the shortage of trucks. As a miner said to me, "I have often lately walked very nearly two miles underground to the face of the coal, and then only been able to make half a day's work owing to the fact that there were not enough tubs or trucks to clear away the coal." The President of the Board of Trade spoke as though the shortage of trucks was to a very large extent the fault of the railway men. He said there was undoubtedly an unwillingness to do as much work as before, but I cannot help thinking he was somewhat unjust to the railway-men. I was informed last week in my Constituency that the directors of a certain railway have paid off the men who were working on the handling of night traffic, simply and solely because they were forced to pay them time and a quarter. It was more expensive to handle goods traffic by night than by day. It stands to reason that if that is done the cessation of handling traffic by night increases the congestion by day. For that, at all events, the railway men cannot be blamed. There were 30,000 trucks in France, of which only 3,000 have been brought home. The coastal traffic has almost entirely been destroyed by the subsidy given to the railways. Is that inevitable? Is it beyond the power of the Government to revive the coastal traffic, or must it inevitably die out so long as the subsidies are given to the railways? I really think we have a grievance against the Government, inasmuch as they have taken no very active step to provide an increased number of trucks on the railways. It is not the fault of the railwaymen, but of the actual shortage of trucks that there is congestion on the railways. I have in my Constituency what was a very large Government factory. A certain firm was anxious to take it over when the War ceased in order to make steel railway trucks, and they made an offer to the Government, but there was the usual official delay, and it is only comparatively lately that the firm has been able to take the place over and commence the manufacture of trucks. We seem to be suffering from the evils of control, and also from the evils of individuals. We are suffering from the fact that a body of men are controlling the railways and the mines 149 who offer no inducement to handle the traffic efficiently or to increase the output of coal at a cheaper price. I question whether it would not be a wise step on our part to cut the Gordian knot, and to nationalise both mines and railways. We should, at all events, get good will on the part of the men, and we could not have greater inefficiency than we are getting in the management both of mines and of railways. I, for one, shall look upon the nationalisation both of mines and of railways, when the question comes up to be seriously discussed, with a perfectly open mind.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I desire to associate myself, and I think other hon. Members of the Labour party also desire to associate themselves with the view which has been repeatedly expressed that we should try to deal with this problem broadly, without passion or prejudice, and certainly, as far as possible, with an absence of political bias. We are confronted this afternoon with a great economic issue which is not confined to the coal industry in this country, but which is in large measure the result of the legacy and the conditions brought upon as as a people through the War since 1914. Repeatedly during the War men connected with all points of view in politics and in public affairs have advanced the opinion that the Government was following a very dangerous course, that they were borrowing money right and left instead of taxing, so far as they might tax, to meet acute war needs. They were diluting labour in a large number of industries, they were diluting the currency of this country, as has been strongly emphasised by the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) this afternoon, and they were introducing into wages over a very large part of the industrial field an artificial condition of things which was bound to re-act in the most violent manner after the War had concluded. It is one of the results of the legacy which we have before us to-night. There can be no difference of opinion on these benches or in any part of the House on the question of production. I am glad that in many ways hon. Members opposite who differ very strongly from us not only in economic views but also in political colour have not seriously advanced the argument to-day that any considerable section of the Labour movement is committed to the policy of underproduction, or failing to turn out as much as we can in any indus- 150 try in which we are engaged. I realise, and I admit that outside, in certain sections of the movement, there are one or two people who have urged in the past that under production, or a form of sabotage of that kind, as I regard it, is one method by which they might accomplish in the industrial field what they were failing to achieve elsewhere. That, however, is only a small section of the movement, and even that section is now realising that the policy which advocates under production is one that must react most violently in the last resort on the workers themselves, must tend to keep up prices by the shortage which it incurs or involves, and must tend to make the solution of our economic difficulties harder than they would have been.
What is, broadly, the difficulty confronting us? We on these benches who believe with the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin that Labour must be statesmanlike in all its proposals before it has a right to look for power or government in this country, have been advocating very strongly that production must be maintained. Up to the point so far as output is concerned there has been no difference between us, and, if I may use the term, the most abandoned proprietor of capital on the benches opposite; but where we part company from them is that while we jointly and commonly advocate maximum production in this country as vitally necessary for a proper reconstruction we devote at least equal attention to the problem of distribution. We believe that these two finings are inseparably connected, and so bound up together that one, more particularly the second, reacts very strongly upon the other. We differ from the argument which is commonly advanced by many men that production of output is everything. We push it beyond that, and we ask the people of this country and the House of Commons to have due regard to distribution. What does that mean in the crisis which confronts us now? Coal is bounding up in price. Very largely by reason of the financial and economic policy followed by the Government during the War, we have succeeded in this country to very high prices. I am not complaining. We have fully recognised that this inflation of prices is not confined to our own country; it is a world movement. But I submit very strongly that we must make allowance for the discontent and the unrest which exists in the industrial community 151 to-day, and we must take into account that the tremendous pressure of these inflated prices, and the effect they are exerting upon the great body of people. Coal, iron, any industry you like to name is affected in precisely the same way, and the workers have tried to bring up their remuneration to meet the increased cost of living, which may be anything between 100 and 125 per cent. I do not think any hon. Member, however prejudiced he may be against the point of view expressed on these benches, will say that over the whole range of wages of industry in this country there has been an increase to a corresponding extent. It is true that in certain highly-paid industries wages have doubled and perhaps more than doubled during the War, or at all events the household income has shown that increase, but for the most part, while there has been advance it has not been up to the point of the increase in the cost of living, and to that extent the real position of the people is worse and not better to-day. These are fundamental facts which account for a great deal of the difficulty that confronts us in this problem.
I want to see the output in the coal industry and in any other industry resolutely maintained and increased, but there are one or two things which the Government must do, and do very quickly, before they can expect an all-round improvement in production. First of all, it is urgently necessary that the Government should declare its attitude as regards our future trade policy. What is to be the policy outside this country in future trade relations? Are we to embark definitely upon a system of Protection or Preference, or is there to be a sound economic policy or, if I may use the term, an economic side to the League of Nations? That is the first call which we make upon the Government's attention. We believe that not only has that a profound influence in the case of coal but it is of very great importance to the whole range of British industry which is in a state of uncertainty and insecurity regarding the future, not knowing where to turn because of the absence of any declared and definite world commercial or trade policy. In the second place—the issue of nationalisation has been permitted to some extent in this Debate—the Government will require to make up its mind very early whether it is going to consent to fullblown public ownership, with all that that involves, in the staple industries of this country—;coal, railways, and so on, or 152 whether it is going to embark upon a modified policy of public ownership or whether, on the other hand, it is going to abide by some modified qualification of the existing system. The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin indicated in a speech which commended itself to every Member on the Labour Benches, his great fear that nationalisation involves in effect the serfdom or slavery of masses of the workers. He said even if you got efficiency as the result of national ownership there would remain the great danger of a bureaucracy operating on the people. But I do think that he fell short in his argument in not pushing it a little further. Very few members of the Labour movement who know their business al the present hour are content with the old ideals of State ownership and control. There was a time when State socialism was very powerful in certain sections of our movement, but there has been a tendency in recent days away from State Socialism, on the lines which were obviously in the mind of the Noble Lord, to what I may describe as the guild ideal, which combines the benefits of public ownership with local or democratic control. That argument has not cropped up before in the course of this discussion, but there can be no question at all that if the minds of the miners, for example—it is their case which is under discussion—were examined under that head you would find among the best educated of the miners to-day a very strong belief in the guild ideal as regards the future of their industry compared with State ownership or the application of State socialism.
No doubt these are very large and perhaps academic considerations, but I make no apology for mentioning them in this Debate, because perhaps to a larger extent than we realise in the House of Commons they arc governing the point of view, the disposition and the whole temperament of great numbers of people in the industrial world to-day. I urge strongly in the second place that the Government should define its attitude towards nationalisation, especially of staple industries, at the very earliest moment for another reason. Most of the hon. Members opposite, while they differ most strongly from our faith, will at least do us the service of making a plain and thorough examination of our arguments. The choice which is going to face them is not a question between them and the 153 Board of Trade or any other public Department. It is a choice between some form of public ownership and control of domination by the trust or the combine in our business, industry and commerce. It would be unfair to the House to multiply the illustrations which might be multiplied from that point of view. Not only the evidence written up with great care and accuracy by Mr. Macrosty, in recent years, but in the past month or two you have the report of the Reconstruction Committee on Trusts, showing the enormous extent to which these trusts or combines or associations, etc., have made progress during the War period, encouraged in many cases by public Departments themselves, who, to do them all justice and fair-play found no other course open to them in the circumstances, and this has a close bearing on the question which is now being discussed and on all these industries. The President of the Board of Trade and the Government may have this or that view about nationalisation, but they cannot reverse the strong economic tendency in this country towards the trust or combination! This factor has entered very largely into the views of great numbers of workers outside, who see the evidences that these trusts are controlling a large part of even the finance of this country and are responsible, directly or indirectly, for a great deal of its trade and commerce. All these things have impressed the workers and have strengthened the claim for nationalisation, and it so happens that it is proposed in the case of the coal industry at an earlier hour than in others, and by those who are the most resolute advocates of that great policy in our national affairs.
There is a third point. If the Government are going to take any real steps to increase production, they will require to examine very closely the whole question of methods of remuneration in industry and commerce. While the War was proceeding wages were artificially dosed. In some cases very large sums of public money were set aside for the provision of remuneration which had not any strict relation to the needs or the means of the industry to which they were applied. Money was paid out because of the acute national need. But we have succeeded just in that sphere, as in other spheres outside this, to artificial consequences which it is the plain duty of the Government to examine and to analyse and, if possible, 154 to get rid of at the earliest possible moment. Let it be admitted that in the trade union world, in the coal industry itself, or in any other industry we like to discuss, there is a widespread diversity of opinion on this point. Many of the unions are strongly committed to a policy of opposition to any system of payment by results. Other unions are prepared to admit it. But with this rivalry of schools it is the duty of the Government to examine the matter and lay down something which might be adopted. It would have a great bearing on production if we could get rid of these questions in connection with remuneration, and would contribute to a very great extent to a solution of the problem which confronts us. The experience of any change in the methods of remuneration, particularly from the point of view of introducing a system of payment by results, has been singularly unfortunate so far as the workers were concerned.
The principle which was laid down by employers and owners was simply this, that they must have maximum production, and, so far as the workers are prepared to accomplish this, which is a public duty, they said, "We are prepared to pay you higher rates in the light of the extra services which you render." That was followed up, and was responsible in many industries for the part they played during the War. But what was the policy immediately introduced by a considerable number of employers where statutory regulations did not prevent their doing so? Immediately the remuneration went beyond a certain amount, perhaps owing to the men taking the extra work "out of their physical strength, rates were cut, and the history of payment by results is, perhaps, the most tragic of all on the question of the manner in which rates were cut when the workers responded to the call for increased production. How far these considerations are going to operate in the near future it is difficult to say, but I would urge the Government to consider them for this reason, that not all of us in the Labour movement on these benches are directly and intimately connected with trade. A very few of us, if I may say so, belong to the despised academic element in the movement. I trust that we are not without our contributions at this hour. I want hon. Members opposite and the Government to believe that Labour has a real statesmanship, that it is not bound up with the policy of under-production to achieve some temporary aim. If hon. 155 Members, particularly right hon. Members opposite, will embark upon a fearless policy outside this country and in its domestic industry inside, I have no fear whatever that the great body of people we have the honour to represent will respond in the days to come.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I do not think there is a single Member of this Committee who does not feel the momentousness of the situation which is being discussed. We are all agreed on the one hand as to the disastrous effects that the increase of 6s. per ton on coal will cause throughout the country. I do not wish to labour the point; it has already been made amply clear. It means an increase in the cost of living, an increase in the cost of production, and, with the increase in the cost of production, comes again a further increase in the cost of living, apart from the effect on our export trade to which the President of the Board of Trade has alluded. We are all agreed, again, as to the other side of the dilemma, which is that the country cannot go on indefinitely subsidising one of the richest trades. I think, perhaps, we are all agreed on the third point—and that is, that all Members of this House are only too anxious to do their best to face the problem in order that the whole industrial situation of the country shall not be prejudiced. That has been made abundantly clear both from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who answered the President of the Board of Trade and by the miners' representatives.
What action ought to be taken if the situation is to be met, and met effectively? Very shortly the Government have to take a decision, with a full sense of the seriousness of the consequences, and what the Committee has to do is to bring home to them what is really the best step that can betaken. There is one factor to which, I think, not quite sufficient importance has been attached. We all now recognise the difficulty of the problem. But it was not until the announcement of the increase came—in fact, not until the speech of the President of the Board of Trade was made— that the country, as a whole, realised the seriousness of the outlook. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the benches opposite stated that a great deal, if not all, of the falling off in production was due to the fact that the mines had not been properly supplied with all the appliances they need—with wagons, trams, steel rails, timber, and all the rest of it. It will be 156 agreed that the absence of such appliances would account for a great deal of the reduced production. I do not profess to be an expert on figures, but I do not think that it can account for all. I think there is a natural falling off in work as well. What is more, I do not think that hon. Members on this side are really in a position to cast the blame for this falling off, if there has been any. After the period of war there is the war weariness to which the Noble Lord has alluded. There is also the inflation of prices, to which reference has been made. Very often the economic fact that if you want to consume you have to produce is wrapped up and hidden in the question of money, the inflation of prices, and the apparent extravagance that is going on. Take it all in all, it seems to mo that, even if there has not been the production that there might have been, it is not the miners who are to blame. At any rate, they have great excuses. We recognise it here, but it has never been brought home.
I venture, therefore, to make this suggestion to the Government, and not in any spirit of criticism. What will happen if the 6s. per ton is put on now? It means that we start again on the vicious circle of raising the cost of living, of raising the cost of production, and that the whole process will continue. If it is true that the evil might be cured by greater productivity, by getting better appliances for the mines, would it not be worth our while to cut our losses for a definite period, say a period of three months, and to recognise that it will cost the Stale a sum of £12,000,000, but making it absolutely clear at the same time that if at the end of that period the situation is not better from the point of view of production, then without question an amount that is justified shall be put on the price of coal without any hesitation at all. As a corollary to that, if I might make another suggestion, it is this: The miners' leaders, by their speeches this afternoon, have made it abundantly clear that they are willing to help the Government and to do their best so far as in them lies in order to remedy the situation, but at the same time I am sure that they will say—indeed, I have heard it from one or two of them perfectly frankly—that while they have expressed their own belief in the necessity for greater production, at the same time the necessity has never really been brought home to the bulk of the workers. It is not only the miners' leaders who are in 157 question. If better appliances or a better supply of appliances, is needed, a remedy must be found there, too. In the provision of steel rails or timber, and in the repairing of the railway wagons required— in these industries and their ramifications increased productivity is required. So I would suggest to the Government that what is really required is not only a meeting with the miners' leaders.
We have had propaganda during the War in order to get recruits at a time when recruits were vitally needed. We have had propaganda throughout the country since the War, just lately, in order to secure, the Loan. To put this matter of increased production on a proper basis is more important to the country even than consolidating floating debt. I respectfully suggest to the Leader of the House that the Government might consider whether we should not endeavour throughout the country to bring home to the people what is a vital question, and to do it with the same care and the same thoroughness as were shown in the case of recruiting and the raising of the War Loan. If that is to be done, may I venture upon one other remark. This is likely to be a most difficult matter. Anyone who can claim any cognisance of labour questions even from the outside, realises the suspicion and in some ways the justifiable suspicion with which a mere request for Increased production is received. Consequently, if we are really to go to the country with any effect, we have got to go with clean hands just as we went during the War. We have got to go to them in such a spirit that the workmen themselves may be free from the suspicion, which as I say, has not been unjustified, that when they are asked to put forward all their efforts to remedy the situation it is not going to be for the exploitation of their work and simply to make greater profits for individuals. We must employ men for the purpose whose knowledge can easily grasp the economics of the question like the great body of school teachers, and in whose impartiality there is not a shadow of doubt. The one great object of the Whitley Committees has been, if I may say so, the humanising of industry throughout the country, and the recognition of the fact that the workers in an industry have a right not merely to the ordinary daily or weekly wage, but that they really have the right to take an interest in the industry, to understand 158 what the industry is, and to have a share-in the management and a knowledge of and a share in the policy and control. If that is part of the new development, at any rate an appeal can be made on these grounds too, that there is a social obligation towards the commonwealth on their part as well as an economic reason for greater production.
There is one more point to which I would like to refer. A background to the whole of this Debate has been the question of nationalisation. I will not venture to discuss it in detail or to take up the time of the Committee about it, but I may say frankly at once, I am not nearly so severe in my opposition in principle as the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). If anyone were to come to me and say, Are you in favour of nationalisation?" 1 should be inclined to reply, "Nationalisation of what, and by what method."] do not myself believe for a moment that the experience which we have had during the War is either a justification or condemnation of nationalisation on its merits; but would it not be a mistake to import the question of nationalisation into this problem. When all is said and done, nationalisation is not really an end but only a means. It is intended as a means to prevent the exploitation of wealth. It is intended as a means to the end of giving, as I say, to the workers a human interest and share in the work in which they are engaged. Is ft not worth while to try and prevent the question of nationalisation being imported into this question to prejudice the result or to prevent the question of nationalisation bring made the battle ground of politics in the immediate future. Sometimes I think we are inclined to believe that there are only two alternatives, complete capitalist industry of the old kind on the one hand, and unadulterated "hotel" management on the other. There is every sort of different kind of management in industry which is possible, and kinds of management by which the ends about which we all agree can be obtained without, perhaps, some of the drawbacks which are involved in the nationalisation of some of the industries. One instance is the London Port Authority, another instance, though I am not a universal believer in profit sharing, is that of the South Metropolitan Gas Company. Thirdly, and even more interesting, are the proposals which are made at present in 159 the Whitley Council as to the pottery trade, for something like the old guild system worked by masters and men.
I venture to say, as modifying what the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin said, that we would ask for a policy from the Government on the subject; but we would ask also that instead of that policy being -brought out ready made, finished, and to be taken or left, that information should be gathered about the different kinds of control and management of industry which are possible, as alternatives to either the old state of affairs on the one hand, or complete "hotel" management on the other. I do not believe at this time of day it is really possible for the Government to produce a new policy, home-made, to be taken or left in a matter of this kind. I venture to say the nation has got to be carried along with it, and the sooner information of this kind can be really collected by investigation and placed before the country, the better for all concerned. It may prevent, as I say, this problem being complicated by questions of nationalisation, and on the whole question of nationalisation we may get wiser results than we would do otherwise. If 1 may venture to do so, I would urge this upon the Government, because I believe if we can take these steps we really may avoid some of the evils which seem so heavy and lowering over us how. Let us, if possible, put off for a definite period the absolute levy of 6s. per ton, but let it be clear that at the end of that period it must go on the industry, which can no longer be subsidised, if the efforts made in the meantime are not sufficient and do not come up to prophecy. In the interval, let us have the case amply placed before the people of the country, and. as I say, let us also dissociate if possible the question of nationalisation, not that it should not be discussed, but that we hope it may not prejudice the question under discussion,
§ Mr. ADAMSON
The subject which we are discussing to-night is of supreme importance to the continued prosperity of this country. If the speech to which we listened from the President of the Board of Trade reflected the exact position, then I do not think there is any doubt existing in any of our minds, but that we are in a parlous position, indeed. Fortunately, however. I think, both for the peace of mind of the House and of the country, my hon. Friend one of the Members for South 160 Wales (Mr. Hartshorn) was able to deal very effectively, I think, with that speech. For some time past we have had the question of key industries very frequently discussed both in this House and in the country. The question we are discussing tonight is one that affects the key industry, the industry on which all sections of our industrial system rest. In view of the importance of that, I think it is incumbent upon each of us to give the question under consideration our serious and earnest consideration in the course of this Debate. This is not a question on which we can afford to gamble, either with a view to securing a political advantage or to giving gifts either to royalty-owners, mine-owners, middlemen, or any other class. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or miners!"] As far as I know, and 1 have forty-five years' connection with the trade, the miners have their first gift yet to get, and anything that they have got up till now they have had to work very hard for. So far as I am personally concerned, I want to examine the question from that point of view. I favour thorough examination of all the essential factors, before this increase of 6s. a ton is made, or, as a matter of fact, any increase is made in the selling price of coal. I believe I am also speaking the mind of the mining community when I say that they are strongly in favour of the most minute inquiry being made into this matter before such action is taken as the Government propose. This is too serious a decision to be taken in the haphazard fashion in which decisions of this kind relative to the coal trade have already been taken I am strongly of the opinion that the decision to increase the selling price by 6s. a ton has too much of the gambling element in it, and whether it be for the purpose of gaining political advantage or defeating the probability of nationalisation, this great industry is too vital to our continued commercial prosperity for us allowing either the one element or the other to influence us unduly.
I want to confess quite frankly that up till the time that I heard the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon emphatically denying that tills action had been taken for political purposes. I, in common with many of my fellow countrymen, was of the opinion that there was a political motive behind it, but whether the motive be of a political character or not, or if on the other hand it is for the purpose of defeating the nationalisation of the 161 industry, then all I want to say to the Government is this, and I think it will at the same time answer some of the remarks that have fallen from the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), and the hon. Member who. spoke last. It is not nationalisation that is on its trial in this House to-night. It is private ownership of mines plus Government control that is on its trial here now—private ownership of mines plus the kind of control that neither I nor the mining community like, because if you are going to have control either of mining or of any other industry that leaves out a section of your people who, because of their experience and their knowledge gained in that particular industry, are qualified to give the most valuable assistance, then you are not having the proper kind of control. The Committee may remember that Mr. Justice Sankey, in his Interim Report, says among other things:We are prepared, however, to report now that it is in the interests of the country that the colliery worker shall in the future have an effective voice in the direction of the mine. For a generation the colliery worker has been educated socially and technically. The result is a great national asset. Why not use it?You cannot successfully control an industry of this kind without bringing into your service the vast experience and knowledge of the men engaged in the trade. Unless the control has a character of that kind I say that you are not having the greatest advantage that it is possible to secure from a system of control. The proposal of the President of the Board of Trade to increase the price of coal by 6s. a ton completely reverses every estimate that has hitherto been made—made by the Government's own witnesses on oath before the Commission and supplemented by the document handed in by the Controller. Both Mr. Justice Sankey's Reports are based upon an output of 250,000,000 tons per annum. When this output is reached we are informed that there need be no deficit and consequently no necessity either for 6s. or any other amount being put upon the selling price of coal. That figure cannot be reached until the Government and those responsible for controlling the mining industry of the country have carried out the findings of the Commission in so far as they affect an improvement in mining with a view to increasing output. I am not referring to the question of nationalisation at the moment. Are we, therefore, to assume that the Government have no intention of carrying out these 162 vital recommendations, but are going to depend on trying to put the blame for a falling off in the output upon the shoulders of the miners? I quite recognise the fact that the President of the Board of Trade, in the former part of his speech, told us there were a number of elements that entered into the reduction in output, but the closing sentences of his speech, I think, clearly demonstrated the fact that a considerable amount of the blame for the falling away of output rested on the shoulders of the miners. I think that the Coal Controller, in his excellent speech—excellent from his point of view—also was inclined to put the blame for the falling away of output on the shoulders of the miners. So far as I am personally concerned, I am not prepared to allow the blame to be put on the miners either by the President of the Board of Trade or by any Member of this House, without doing my best to try to defend them. If we take, again, the very elaborate statements that the President of the Board of Trade has prepared, I think we shall find that they are set out with a view to showing that there is a considerable amount of blame attachable to the miners for the falling away of output. What were the recommendations of the Commission which I suggest must be carried out before the output will reach the figure of 250,000,000 tons. I want to quote from the evidence of one of the Government's own officials, namely, Sir Richard Redmayne, the Chief Inspector of Mines. He says that in order to guard against any estimated loss of output arising from the reduced hours of labour, steps must be taken forNo attempt has been made since these representations were put forward by the Chief Inspector of Mines to carry them into effect. But, if I may set aside the failure to do so for the time being, and examine the position as we have it to day, I join issue with the President of the Board of. Trade on his estimate of 217,000,000 tons 163 output for the twelve mouths, beginning from 16th July. What is the position as we have it in the coal trade to-day? I take my own district as an example, and the position there roughly represents the position in other parts of the British coalfield. Notwithstanding the great demand for coal, coal in my part of the country is being put on stock at certain of the collieries. Anyone with the slightest experience of mining knows that the stocking of coal is not an economical process. Not only is coal being put on stock, but collieries are being laid idle. In the last week, at certain collieries, we had 2,000 men idle for want of trains or for want of wagons in one day. These represent, roughly, a loss of 2,000 tons to the nation. Not only had you the loss of 2,000 tons by these men being laid idle, through circumstances over which they had no control, but, in consequence of that, these 2,000 men have to be paid 3s. war wage. The stocking of coal and the laying idle of the pits is stated to be due to the want of wagons. The President of the Board of Trade, in part of his speech this afternoon, confirmed that. Pooling of wagons would, to a considerable extent, assist in remedying this particular evil with which I am dealing at the moment. In a number of cases, not only have we coal being put on stock, and men being thrown idle, but we have a considerable number of cases when the men at work are not getting a full day's work. As I have already stated, from information I have obtained from my friends around me, this position in the district I represent largely reflects the position in other parts of the British coalfield.
- "1. Making good the loss of technical efficiency resulting from the abstraction of the most efficient miners for war service and from the worsening of the equipment of the mine.
- 2. The possibility of better clearance from the pithead, and the pooling of privately-owned wagons.
- 3. The reduction of voluntary absenteeism.
- 4. Conveyance of miners underground by mechanical haulage.-
- 5. Greater utilisation for the out-shaft for the winding of coal and miners.
- 6. Greater use of double-deck cages.
- 7. Employment of winding plant and engines.
- 8. Extension of the multiple shift system.
- 9. Greater use of mechanical coal-cutters, etc.
Then there is another factor that enters into the position and adversely affects the output at the moment. Within the last six months or thereabouts we have had a considerable number of men returning from the Army and the Navy. In many cases these men have had the greatest difficulty in getting work. Some of them have had to go for weeks, and in some cases for months, before they could find work. Why is this? Because mining is not like other industries. When once you have withdrawn a large number of your men, as you did during the War to put them into the Army and the Navy, unless you are prepared to take special pains, the travelling ways and the working places are very quickly closed, and it takes weeks, and in some cases months, to reopen them again when the men return to their employ 164 ment. This is a matter to which the Government cannot say they have not had their attention called. As early as May, 1917, I personally, interviewed the Prime Minister upon this and other matters. In the early days of 1917 the submarine campaign was seriously affecting the working time in my own district, being largely an exporting district, and I interviewed the Prime Minister with a view of making certain suggestions to him for improving matters. While I was there I at the same time took the opportunity of pointing out how the failure to take the necessary precaution to keep the work places open would also affect other parts of the country, as well as my own district. The Prime Minister at that interview, at which one of the members of his Cabinet was present with him, suggested that I should put what I had said to him into writing, and send it to this particular member of the Cabinet, so that they might have an opportunity of considering the matter, and, if possible, dealing with it. I carried out that request. Amongst the matters that I wrote to that member of the Cabinet about was:That the restrictions placed upon the coal-owners in regard to the outlay of capital on development work such as sinking new shafts, driving stone mines, and the opening of new sections be removed so far as our district is concerned, and in this way enable these coal-owners to provide suitable employment for the number of men idle. In my opinion, not only would this help to relieve our present difficulties, but it would at the same time be a wise step for the Government to encourage with a view to providing work for a large number of our men who will be released when the War is ended, and demobilisation takes place.I went on to say:If this step is not taken, not only in my own district but in other mining districts of the United Kingdom, I am convinced that a very serious situation will arise as soon as the War terminates. So far as this district is concerned, if 50 per cent. of the men who have gone to the Forces were to be released at once the employers could not find working places for them inside of twelve months. The consequence of such a state of matters is too serious to contemplate, and the Government would be well advised to take time by the forelock and guard against such a contingency by encouraging coalowners to keep as many working places open as possible for the return of the men.The reply of the Government to that, and to what I had said to the Prime Minister, was:The question whether any large development work can be allowed can only, they think, be decided on the circumstances of each particular case.10.0 P.M.
There the matter ends. We are facing our difficulties to-day largely in conse- 165 quence of the failure to take those necessary precautions to keep open the working places. I know that I may be told that there was a war on at the time I put this matter before the Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, I am aware of it. Personally, I am only too painfully aware of it. But surely that is no reason why, when the failure to take the action suggested brings us up against this serious situation, that the miner should be blamed in any sense for the trouble? To my mind if the President of the Board of Trade, and the Government, would spend as much time in getting these matters that I have been bringing before them put right as they spend in compiling these figures, which means so very little after all, we would quickly improve the output of coal, and so do away with the necessity of this increase of 6s. per ton.
I join issue, as I have said, with the "President of the Board of Trade on his estimate of 217,000,000 tons for the year beginning the 16th of the present month. Set about putting the things right that are wrong in the mining industry and your output will not be limited by 217,000,000 tons, or—if the matter is gone about in the right way—by even 250,000,000 tons, even with your shorter working day. If these steps are taken, and the result which I believe will follow, does follow, then your financial difficulties will disappear, and the trade on which all the industries of this country vitally depend will be made a valuable asset instead of, as it threatens to be under existing conditions, a millstone hanging round the neck of the nation that threatens to involve it in industrial ruin. That being the position as I know it from my own personal experience, and the experience of hon. Friends around me, I again join with those who already have made an appeal to the Leader of the House to refrain from putting on this increase in the price of coal for a reasonable time—and the hon. Member who spoke last I think put that reasonable time at three months or thereabouts. In the meantime let a careful and searching inquiry be made into the whole position. That is a wise line for the President of the Board of Trade and the Government to follow.
You are not going to help British credit and British industry by the doleful picture painted this afternoon by the President of the Board of Trade. Fortunately many of us who know the coal trade better than does the right hon. Gentleman—and may 166 I respectfully suggest, even better than the Coal Controller himself—take a more optimistic view of the situation. We do not want to see the coal trade of the country subsidised, either by the taxpayer or depending for subsidies, as it is put by the President of the Board of Trade, on our export coal. Up till now—and the coal trade of the country has a very long history—it has been able to stand on its own legs. For many, many years to come I believe the coal trade of the country, if properly handled, can produce sufficient money to meet all requirements without subsidies of one kind and another. I may differ in opinion from other hon. Members as to what may be the proper way to handle the coal trade. Certainly, I believe that it will never be on a sound footing until it is nationalised. I say this also: Being the key industry on which the whole of our industrial system rests, it is too vital to be in private hands, too vital an industry to be made the by-play of either one section or another of the community. We require, in the interests of the nation, to have this industry nationalised! We may be able to secure nationalisation in the near future or we may not, but that does not alter my opinion or the opinion of my hon. Friends who know the trade. If the proper steps are taken the coal trade can be put on a sound basis, and that is the position. Why should the whole of our people be excited in the way they have been during the past few days by the announcement of an increase of 6s. per ton without a full and proper inquiry? Before any such drastic step is taken I hope the Leader of the House will see his way to withdraw the proposal and have the fullest inquiry made.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
There is really only one subject which ought to be discussed as a result of the action of the Government, and that is simply whether the time has now come that the coal trade should pay its own way or whether we should continue to subsidise it at the expense of the taxpayer. A good many subsidiary questions have arisen, and I shall try and deal with a few of them before touching upon the main issue. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last seemed to blame the Government because the definite proposal to carry our particular schemes for increasing output recommended by the Sankey Committee have not been adopted, but nobody knows better than my right hon. Friend that the Government cannot 167 be blamed for that, and they are in no way responsible. It was part of the recommendation made in the Interim Report of that Commission that they would send out interim reports dealing with these subjects, and the Government cannot be blamed for anything that has not been done in that direction.
I was very much interested in the speech of my right hon. Friend who represents the Welsh constituency, the name of which it is so difficult to pronounce, but I do not quite follow his case. He was very much surprised, and even tried to be indignant, but without much success, at the sudden and unexpected course the Government had taken. What is the actual position in regard to coal? The indignation could not have been because the hon. Member and everyone else closely following this matter were not aware of the facts because they knew them all. This was not news to Mm. The surprise and indignation must have been simply because by the action of the Government the whole country has been made aware of what was apparent before to hon. Members opposite. The same thing was said by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, and he also suggested that this proposal had something to do with political electioneering. I think a complete answer on that point was given by the President of the Board of Trade.
What are the facts? There is no mystery about it whatever. On the 4th June my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade called the attention of the House and the country to the position of the coal trade, and he stated in this House that that meant we must raise the price of coal, or else the taxpayer must make good the difference. That was made perfectly plain in this House. As to electioneering, I know there is a widespread belief, which perhaps has some foundation in fact, that the Prime Minister does understand that subject. As a matter of fact, until the decision was announced the subject had been constantly before the Government, and at the beginning of the month, after a great deal of previous discussion, the President of the Board of Trade submitted to the Cabinet a definite proposal that some steps should be taken. Nobody can look forward with confidence to the future. I do not know what is in store for my right hon. Friend, but at the present time I do not think he is an expert in electioneering manoeuvres.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
That action coincided with the polling at a by-election.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have already explained that the definite proposal that this step should be taken was made by the President of the Board of Trade at the beginning of this month. It was discussed by the Cabinet, and they came to this decision, subject to the approval of the Prime Minister. We submitted our proposal and our reasons for it, and the Prime Minister agreed with the Cabinet that it was our duty to take this step. Therefore, it is obvious that the criminal, from the electioneering point of view, was-not the Prime Minister, but the President of the Board of Trade. I will now say a, word or two about the basis of the calculation on which our proposal rests. We have heard a good deal about figures this afternoon. I am not going to attempt to deal with them in detail, but I think in a very few sentences I can say enough to convince every hon. Member of this House that we have made out an unanswerable case that this figure is required if coal is to pay its way. [An Hon. Member: "No!"] Perhaps the hon. Member had better listen to my few sentences. First of all, there was the right hon. Gentleman who spoke first. He said he was convinced that our figures were wrong, but he would leave it to another of his colleagues to prove it to the House. Then my right hon. Friend who spoke last took an even simpler course, and he said, "I take issue with the President of the Board of' Trade." That is very easily done, but he added that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cam-bridge was ordered to make this case. Well, there is nothing much in that. We are all often ordered to do things, and I may have been ordered to make this speech to-night.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I do not think any of my colleagues knew the kind of speech I was going to make, and I was not ordered.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That may be so, and I do not mean that the hon. Member was putting forward views that were not his own, but let me point out this fact in relation to the figures. Nobody has questioned the necessity of amending this 4s. 3d. to 6s., assuming that the original' basis was right. The basis of this calculation was put before the Royal Commission, which contained, if any body could,. 169 the experts best competent to judge. It was a question of vital interest to that Commission. Yet not a whisper was raised in any quarter that there was an error in it until this statement was made the other day. Can anything be more convincing that there was nothing to which to take exception until prejudice was raised and it was to the interest of somebody to show that the figures were wrong?
We now come to the argument of my hon. Friend (Mr. Hartshorn). It again was a very simple one. There is no difference whatever between him and my right hon. Friend except as to the method of calculation. What is the difference? My light hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in his calculation, which, remember, was presented to the Coal Com mission, took as his basis the actual output for the first twenty weeks of this year, and he used that as an estimate for the coming year. The hon. Member's basis is quite different. He takes not the last twenty weeks but the last twenty years, and says that it is upon that we ought to count in estimating the loss in the coming year. The hon. Gentleman is a very shrewd man. I wonder, if he were running a business of his own, and if he were making a calculation as to what the loss was likely to be next year in a particular form of business, he would base it on the experience of the last twenty years, or on the experience of the last twenty weeks, with this addition, unfortunately, that the last four weeks—since this Paper was issued—showed a worse result than the previous twenty weeks? That is the whole case. Are we right, in forming this -estimate for the coming year, to take as our guide what is happening now, or are we to take the average for the last twenty years? There is a great deal to be said why we should not take the last twenty years as a basis. In the first place, the hon. Member referred to what happened when the miners' hours fell from nine to eight. He pointed out that the loss in output very soon became only 9 per cent. Nobody knows better than he that there is some qualification to be put on that. At that time, though the change was from a nominal nine hours to a real eight hours, the average time worked was nothing like nine hours, but was less than eight and a half.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
That is not at all correct.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Those are the figures given to me, and I think they are right. I do not base it entirely on that. What I am going to say ought not to be regarded or used as if it were something unfair to the miners, but, really, we have got to be frank with each other in dealing with this kind of thing. When the change was made from nine hours to eight hours, there was no addition to the wage; therefore, if the man was to get the same amount of remuneration after as before the change, he would have to work harder. Under this arrangement there is an increase of wage which will enable the man to get the same income by doing less work than he did before. That must have an effect on output. I am afraid that human nature applies whatever one's position may be or whatever his occupation. When a man has got enough to live upon in the way in which he has been accustomed to live, he has not the same temptation to work harder in order to get a larger income. That, surely, is the truth, and, that being so, when we are looking simply at this matter, not judging its merits, not condemning or criticising, but looking at what is likely to happen, are we not right in saying that if we are to form an estimate it must be based on immediate experience? There is another point 1 should like to bring to the notice of hon. Gentlemen. Their whole argument to-day has been that we are wrong, and that the output will be far greater than our figures indicate. My right hon. Friend who opened this discussion quoted, as an example of the stupidity of the Government, its action on piece rates in relation to the change in the number of hours. And my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) spoke of that rather as an argument for nationalisation. But look at the facts. The agreement entered into by the Government was to accept the Sankey Report, which reduced the number of hours to seven. Our acceptance, as we said at the time, was based on the estimates contained in the Report. Very well. One of the estimates in that Report was that the output will be reduced by less than 10 per cent. If we are to accept that Report and act upon it then we must make the rate of remuneration per hour bear on a precise reduction of less than 10 per cent. in the output. We must do that, otherwise the whole basis on which we accepted the Report is wrong. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken to-day tell us we are wrong, 171 and that the output will be far greater than the estimate. But I have heard one hon. Member say that unless we allow for piece work a far greater rate of payment than 10 per cent. there will be a strike of the miners. That means that the miners will strike for no other reason than that they know the output will be reduced by more and not less than 10 per cent.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
There are coalfields where there has been no reduction at all in the hours under the Sankey award, and others the reduction may be more than 10 per cent. But taking the average for the whole country it will be 10 per cent.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Member was, I believe present at the deputation where I agreed on behalf of the Government, to leave out parts of the country where there was no change; so that does not in the least alter the nature of my argument. Now I come to the real question, whether or not we should allow things to go on as they are; whether we shall allow the coal to be subsidised out of the taxes, or make it pay its way. What are the reasons which induced the Government to take this course? Do not let hon. Members think that by raising the price of coal by six shillings we are going to get rid of all subsidies No, nothing of the kind. Already we have actually paid in subsidy this year—these were the figures given to me, for I asked for them a short time ago, by the Board of Trade—;counting the loss of Excess Profits Duty, to which I referred in introducing the Sankey Interim Report, close on £20,000,000, instead of the £13,000,000 mentioned in the Sankey Report. But that is not nearly all. You start now with the basis on which our calculation is made on which the hope is based—that the 6s. will enable coal to pay its way from the time the shorter hours come in. But there is a big subsidy there. That calculation is based on this, that we will get from the higher price, from the sale of exported coal, a sum of money over and above the ordinary price, which will be an equivalent to a subsidy of 1s. 4d. per ton on all the coal used at home. That is to say, even after we have taken this 6s., and even if all our expectations are realised, the State will still be paying a subsidy—otherwise it will come to the Treasury—of fully £10,000,000 a year if all our calculations are realised.
Therefore it is not any hasty or unconsidered conclusion at which we have 172 arrived. I wish the Committee and hon. Gentlemen opposite to realise what that means. I quite realise—I need not emphasise it: we all know it—the seriousness of this additional price of coal to the whole trade of this country. Figures were given by my right hon. Friend which make that abundantly clear. It did not need to be made clear, because everybody understood 'it. What is the alternative? The alternative is to go on in the hope that in the dim and distant future things will right themselves by having one of the biggest industries of this country subsidised at the-expense of other industries. Do you think that things will ever right themselves as long as that continues I do not say for a moment that the State ought not to act in a matter like this as a prudent business man with a varied business would. Such a business man often allows one department to continue making a temporary loss, which is covered by the profits-of other departments, in the knowledge that in the long run it will pay him not to let that department starve. Up to a certain point it might be to the interest of the State, rather than have this great loss in our export trade, to go on paying a subsidy for a limited time. Well, we considered all that, and we did very deliberately come to the conclusion that we-ought not to go on, that things will never right themselves until the public knows what the real position is. That really was our view.
Let me take two considerations which have been pressed upon me from the benches opposite. My hon. Friend the Member for the Erdington Division of Birmingham (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), who made a very interesting speech, said the same thing. Why not delay it? If the House assents, as it must—because all this-playing with figures does not touch the reality—if it accepts the fact that this 6s. is needed to make coal pay its way—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—;the more you examine the figures the more you will see it—;if you accept it, what are you going to gain by delay? I think you run the risk of losing, apart altogether from the question of the finances of the country, and I have-been so recently Chancellor of the Exchequer and I hear so much from my colleague who fills that office now, that I wish the House to realise more than it does the seriousness of the financial position and that we really cannot go on m this kind of way.
173 Apart altogether from that, looking at this as a business proposition, as if you were saying, "Will it pay to keep this going at a loss for a little while?" I think it would not. At present prices everywhere are high. Freights are high. The competition to which we have had our attention called most strongly, that of the United States, is not so bad now on account of high freights. Suppose we allowed this thing to drift on for three or four months till things got more and more in a normal condition in the country of our competitors. Is it not certain that it would be far more difficult to adjust than it will be now when the prices are high everywhere? But there is more than that. Prices act and react upon each other. I have a great deal of faith in this country. Our business is embarrassed, but we have great assets, and I think we shall pull through. Prices act and react on each other and the fact of our prices being so high will, I think, tend to make the American prices a little higher than they would be if ours were lower, and it may help us in that way. In any case, I am convinced that if you look at it only from the point of view of trades like the iron and steel trade you run the risk of making it a good deal worse from the point of view of competition by waiting three or four months if the conditions are as they are to-day.
Now let me come to the main argument which has. been put by the miners' representatives. My Noble Friend (Lord E. Cecil), in a very interesting speech, as able as usual and with a little lighter touch than, usual, which charmed the House more, dwelt largely upon the cost of living and the effect it has all round. He spoke a great deal about inflation and currency notes. That is a subject that specially interests me, but I am not going to argue it now, though I think the effect of it is greatly exaggerated. The assumption- is made that our increased currency is issued in the same way as the German was— creating paper in order to pay debts. We never did that. It was only an increase of currency. But whatever truth there is, and there is a great deal, you must get down to a sounder basis all round if things are to go well. Whatever truth there is in the dangers of inflation you will never cure them by continuing an artificial state of things. You must get back to realities. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) told us miners were 174 very patriotic. They were, and part of our trouble was due to the fact that so many of them left the mines so early, and I am sure the War is not such an old story that we are going to forget this kind of thing, whatever arises in the future. He says they are a sporting lot, but you must not bully them. I am not going to try. I saw in some paper that they bullied me. I do not think that; is true. At all events, I am not going to try to reverse the process. But how is it bullying the miners for the Government, which has the responsibility, to decide that the price of coal, which is 'in their hands must be at a figure which will pay its way? What harm would that do to them. If there was any class that would be detrimentally affected it would not be the miners, because they would get their full wages; it would be the other trades. Surely we are committing no offence upon the miners. How are we offending them by saying, not that we are going to reduce their wages, but that material which you sell and for which we are responsible, is to be sold at as near as we can get it cost price. There was one thing I was pleased with in the Debate. All the miners' leaders who spoke to-day—;I know their view, but I am not sure that it is as widespread as it ought to be—;put the case that unless you can keep up production all this higher standard of living must go. That is evident. It is essential that that should be done. I put, even to the hon. Gentlemen opposite, and with greater or equal confidence to the whole House, which is the better way to get that realised, and to get every man who is affected by it to have it in his mind all the time? Is it by leaving the taxpayers to go on paying a subsidy or is it to bring them face to face with the facts and let them see exactly the position? Which is likely to have the best effect? It is said that if we no longer are able to export coal and the material which is made out of coal that is fatal for all of us.
You cannot get better wages than the trade will supply. I remember sitting on the bench opposite, I do not know how many years ago, and I express the view I then held, which I have always held, and which I hold now, that the aim of all of us ought to be to give the men who are working in all industries the largest possible share in the profits of those industries which does not dry them up. You cannot get wages 175 beyond that limit. There has been a very widespread feeling—I am sure all hon. Members will realise this—among all members of the working class that there is in the owners' profits an inexhaustible reservoir which will enable them to have their wages raised to whatever limit they would like to have them raised. That has to be cured. They have to realise that the share they will get will be in proportion to the work they do. This also must be realised—I am glad my right hon. Friend dwelt so much upon it, because it does not apply to one trade alone; production in one trade affects trades with ramifications which you cannot forsee—that the people of this country and of all countries got during the War into an abnormal state. They got the idea that they were going to have an easier time than they had had before. That is a great mistake. Apart from the suffering, if you look at the actual condition of things during the War, I think many members of the working classes have had in spite of the cost of living better conditions than they ever had before. We want that to continue, but that prosperity was largely due, and could not continue for ever, to the spending of unlimited quantities of borrowed money. We have got to pay for that somehow or other, and the only way in which we can pay for it is by spending with more care and working harder. There is no other method. I have said that the working classes had the idea that there was an inexhaustible reservoir, and this discussion and the widespread interest which it has aroused ought to do good in this way. It ought to show clearly that that idea was wrong, and that you cannot count upon the manufacturers' profit. It ought to be evident to the most mediocre intellect, and for this reason: The total profits of the owners are 1s. 2d., and you cannot deduct 6s. from 1s. 2d.
What we have done is not an attack on the miners. It is taking a very grave decision, but nothing that I have heard to-day has made me think that it is not a right 3ecision. Then the right hon. Gentleman has made to the Government an offer of something in the nature of co-operation in trying to find out the causes of the falling-off in output and helping to remedy them, but they make it a condition that we should not put on the increase of 6s. Why? If the sporting instinct of which the hon. Member opposite spoke would come into effect, then just in proportion as the pro- 176 duction increased the price would drop down. I have had a calculation made that every increase of a ton per four weeks per man would enable the price to be reduced by something like 1s. 9d. per ton. There is a great incentive to increased output. The output per man in 1913 was 19.8. It has fallen now to 16.8. On this I would like to add that there is a great deal of room for improvement from the point of view of the miners. I would say, then, to my right hon. Friend, Why should we quarrel about this? We want to speed up production. We will co-operate with you in any way you like for that purpose, but meantime the interests of the nation require that coal should pay its way. I have got, in the absence of the Prime Minister, very often to take sudden decisions, and I am never afraid to take them on the ground of being accused of weakness. All this is a question of what is best for the country, and I say, then, to my right hon. Friends that if they can give an equivalent for the dangers which I see in delay, if they can say to me on the floor of the House, "If you postpone this for three months we will join with you and put our backs into it to increase the output, and during that time there will be a period of suspense, and there will be no stoppages or strikes for the three months," I would be inclined to accept it, and 1 think that the Government would do so also. I think that that is a fair offer. I have got to take the responsibility, and I prefer to take it if they will give me that undertaking. If you will give me an undertaking that for three months there will be no stoppages, and that every effort will be made to increase output, I am convinced that the country will gain by the arrangement.
§ Mr. BRACE
My right hon. Friend is, of course, making us an offer which he must know we are not in a position to accept this evening. We are prepared to give our word that if he would withhold the addition of the 6s. we will undertake to set up an inquiry and co-operate for an increased output. On the question of a general stoppage the most that we can do is to lay the proposition of the Government before the conference at Keswick, if necessary to-morrow or the next day.
§ Mr. BRACE
Yes, as far as I am personally concerned; but I do not want in 177 this House to eater into a thing I could not carry out. Personally, I would recommend that for the next three months. All I can do is to lay before the conference at Keswick the view of the Government. 1 would gladly agree to a policy of suspending anything in the form of stoppages of work, either general or individual, for the three months coming, so that we may have time to go further into this matter with the Government and set up an arrangement which would give us an increased output, and so abolish the necessity of adding the 6s.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
We are prepared to take any steps we can to carry out the offer, but we are not prepared to delay the policy which we think right unless we have good reason to believe that the offer is going to be accepted. If my right hon. Friend will undertake to give me a definite answer by Wednesday, I will undertake to delay the putting of this into operation until Monday.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
There is one part, and a vital part of the argument of my hon. Friends and myself that has not been touched by the Leader of the House. He has not indicated in any way whatever that the Government are prepared at the earliest possible moment to remove the causes which, we say, have reduced output. We are anxious to co-operate with him in that direction.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
May I interrupt? If the right hon. Gentleman means that he cannot consider the offer that I have made without an undertaking from the Government to go in for nationalisation, I say at once "No."
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Nationalisation is not in my mind at all. The causes which we have put before the right hon. Gentleman are, men being thrown idle and collieries being kept idle.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
We will undertake to do all that.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
We are stocking coal at some collieries. Men are not getting a full day's work. There is a want of essential material. There is a need for the pooling of wagons, for improving machinery of various kinds. These are the 178 things which are reducing the output of coal. They are very vital. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the lack of trust!"] That is also a very important factor. We are quite prepared to accept your offer and to put it before the Conference, and endeavour to give you an answer by Wednesday.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I am bound to say that the offer by the Government, so far as I am concerned, raised a great load from my mind, and the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend of acceptance is a matter which I think the whole country will regard with the deepest satisfaction, and the hope and trust that a speedy result may be arrived at.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I would suggest to the Leader of the House to make it Thursday instead of Wednesday for the reply, as a vote may have to be taken.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am not going to quarrel about a day, and in the meantime I will postpone the Order until Monday.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported to-morrow; Committee to sit again to-morrow.