§ Motion made, and Question -proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.."—[Colonel Sanders.]
§ Mr. BRACE
As arranged with the Leader of the House, I am raising a question of national importance in regard to the appointment of the new Coal Controller and I shall deal incidentally with the Coal Control Department. It is common ground that coal production is of vital importance—in fact, it is the spindle on which the commerce of this nation must turn. It is of more value than gold to-day, and any Department that deals with the question of coal is 1420 one that stands out for consideration of the most careful character. Why should so important Department as the Coal Control Department be a kind of annexe of the Board of Trade? One would have thought that if the Government had recognised the importance of coal as the nation recognises it, they would have been prepared to have created a special Mining Department, staffed by men with special knowledge of the technical requirements of an industry which means so much to this nation and to this Empire. The Government do not seem to realise that the miners have a peculiar kind of mentality of their own. It is most difficult to understand the mining community unless you have a close acquaintance with it—and in speaking of the mining community I include not only the workmen but coal-owners and the managerial staffs. They have their own special viewpoint which it is difficult for anybody to understand, and the Government have not made it their special business to understand it. I suppose it is because of the peculiarity of their calling and the circumstances of their occupation. The House will be aware that miners work in large bodies and live in communities by themselves, with the result that the point of view of the miner is a particular and special point of view.
Many times during the War has the Government felt it was very desirable to get into close touch with the mining population. The Prime Minister on more than one occasion felt called upon in the interests of the State to approach the mining community, both employers and workmen. It is a fact that the Prime Minister and other representatives of the Government have gone into conference with members of other important trades in this country, but the miners could never be prevailed upon to go into conference jointly with other trades. That is a peculiarity which the Government really must have regard to if they want the best results from the mining population. When the Prime Minister met the mining community and made an appeal for men, and, later on, an appeal for production, he was given a response which was remarkable in its character. Men flocked to the Colours by their scores of thousands, and yet, despite the great reduction in the mining community, the men increased their output because they were appealed to to do so. What has come over the Government and the right hon. Gentleman the President of 1421 the Board of Trade in regard to the question of co-operation with the mining population? The President of the Board of Trade clearly prefers to do without cooperation. He acts as a law unto himself. I do not know whether this is a trait of the so-called super-man, but, at any rate, it is a trait for which the nation is paying a pretty heavy price.
May I inform the House that in the early days of the War there was an advisory committee appointed attached to the Coal Control Department for the purpose of co-operating with the Government in bringing about the best results from the mining industry? What is the personnel of this Committee? The workmen have eight representatives on it, and the coal owners an equal number. On the workmen's side there is Mr. Robert Smillie, the President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, a man with a great knowledge of the mining industry and the mining community. Then there is the right hon. Thomas Ashton, the General Secretary of the Mining Federation of Great Britain, a man who commands the respect both of coal-owners and the workmen, and who has a great reservoir of information and knowledge which he would place at the disposal of the State if asked to do so by the State. Then there is the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Stephen Walsh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Maesteg (Mr. Harthorn)—two men who would gladly, if asked, place on the altar of the State all they possess in order to help it in these days. Then there is Mr. Herbert Smith, President of the Yorkshire Miners' Association; Mr. W. Straker and Mr. Robson (of the Durham Miners' Association), President of the Durham Association. There you have a schedule of names which commands respect in the coal-mining industry, whether it be on the part of coal-owners or of workmen. Now I come to the other side. There are eight coal-owners. Sir T. Ratcliff Ellis, who is not only a great lawyer but a great mining expert, a man who has, I think, as much knowledge of the legal technicalities of the mining industry as any man in the world; there is Mr. Pease, a brother of Lord Gainsford, a distinguished coal-owner, a man of great capacity; Mr. Charles Rhodes, of Yorkshire; Sir Adam Nimmo, from Scotland; and Mr. Hugh Bramwell, a great mining engineer from South Wales, with whom I have acted as a colleague, a man of great capacity, great knowledge and a great sense of fairness. Then you 1422 have Sir Francis Brain and Mr. W. Jones, another Yorkshire colliery owner. The mining industry in this list of names has a tremendous driving power, but the President of the Board of Trade does not think it worth his while to use it.
I remember some time ago when the President of the Board of Trade came down to this House and startled it with a demand that 6s. a ton should be added to the price of coal for British consumers. On that very day this important Committee was meeting, and what did it consider? Was it the adding of 6s. a ton to the price of coal? Were they asked to advise the President of the Board of Trade and the Government what ought to be done in connection with that problem? Not at all. They were considering the price of horse-feed, and my right hon. Friend never thought it worth his while to inquire of them their opinion about putting 6s. on the price of coal! I shall want an answer from the President of the Board of Trade to the question why he has beers treating this advisory committee in this cavalier fashion. The country is dying for the need of coal; the world is starving for the want of coal, and one would have thought that the President of the Board of Trade would have exhausted every resource at his command to have secured from the mining industry the very largest output possible. You have this important committee brought into being, but it is not allowed to work. I say it is a serious and grave reflection on the Government and on the President of the Board of Trade that this joint committee of experts have not been called in to advise and help in these days of serious coal shortage.
Why did not the right hon. Gentleman think it worth his while to have a word with this Committee about the new Coal Controller? What is there wrong about consulting a joint committee representing on one side the workmen and on the other the colliery owners? What is there wrong in taking their view as to the new Coal Controller? In setting up our conciliation boards we have always endeavoured to agree mutually upon a man who will hold the important position of independent chairman of the board. We have thought it a very acceptable and desirable principle that if both parties in the industry could agree upon an independent person who will play so important a part it was infinitely better to have an agreed independent chairman than a nominated 1423 independent chairman. It is true that we have had a proviso that where we did not agree we appealed to either Mr. Speaker of this House, or to the Lord Chief Justice, or to some other high authority, to nominate the chairman, but we have found in practice that it is a very good rule to have an agreed chairman. Would it not be an immense gain if we could have had an agreed Coal Controller? I am not unmindful of the fact that a Coal Controller has functions rather different from those of an independent chairman. What is it the nation wants from a Coal Controller? First, coal, of course. The nation wants the Coal Controller to get coal. But you cannot get coal unless you have peace in the industry, and therefore the first essential in a Coal Controller, if he is to be successful, is to keep peace in the industry. If disputes arise—and they often do—miners and coal-owners are rather inclined to disputations, and upon occasions it is necessary for someone to interpose to pacify and to negotiate a settlement. Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the chief functions of the Coal Controller is to deal with this phase of industrial life? Should the officials of the Coal Control Department fail to arrange a settlement, the procedure is for the Coal Controller himself to interpose. When my hon. Friend (Sir E. Jones) was Coal Controller it was my privilege to meet him upon more than one occasion to endeavour to settle disputes, and it is well for the mining industry to feel, rather than indulge in a stoppage of work, by way of strike or lock-out, that as a last resort there is the Coal Controller to appeal to who will sit there not as an arbitrator but as a conciliator, having both parties before him, endeavouring to reconcile the differences between them and thereby bring about a peaceful settlement of a dispute.
The third part of the functions of a Coal Controller is to encourage production, and to keep down costs. A Coal Controller, to be successful, must operate largely upon these points. First he must endeavour to reconcile the differences between capital and labour or between employers and workmen, secondly he must get a larger output of coal, and thirdly he must keep down costs. I really question whether the President of the Board of Trade understands the real functions of the Coal Controller. Last week when my hon. Friend Mr. Hartshorn put his question and the 1424 right hon. Gentleman gave his reply, I interposed and put this question to the President of the Board of Trade:Has the right hon. Gentleman either directly or indirectly attempted to get the views of either the coalowners or miners as to the appointment of this gentleman as Coal Controller?This is the right hon. Gentleman's reply:No, Sir. The position of Coal Controller is now becoming one which it is eminently desirable that a man of legal training should occupy. As the House is aware, the Government have announced their intention of proceeding to nationalise the mineral rights. That involves most intricate and very difficult operations from a legal point of view, and it is in order that we may have at the Coal Control Office a man with legal training that this gentleman has been appointed on a temporary basis as a civil servantWould the right hon. Gentleman like to correct that answer? If that is his view of the functions of a Coal Controller, he really does not appreciate the real business and duties of the Coal Controller. I then interposed again—May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, as the responsible head of the administrative Department for dealing with output, what special qualifications a solicitor has for securing that output which the country must have?This is the right hon. Gentleman's reply:The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery is surely wrong in saying that the Coal Controller is responsible for output.The President of the Board of Trade does not view the functions of the Coal Controller as we in the industry do. If his view is that the Coal Controller's great function is to have a legal mind, so that he may help to bring in a Bill for nationalisation of mineral rights, I am not surprised that he has appointed a solicitor as Coal Controller. But it is not solicitors who are appointed by landowners for valuing mineral rights. It is a mineral engineer. In the person of Sir Richard Redmayne we had at the Coal Control Department one of the most capable mining authorities for this very purpose. For some years of his life the valuation of mineral rights was part of his duties. I simply take him as a case because the President of the Board of Trade would know him. The real authority on valuing estates with mineral deposits is not a lawyer but a mining engineer. Therefore, when the President of the Board of Trade puts forward the claim that he must have a lawyer as Coal Controller so that he will have an expert for valuing mineral rights, it is not in accordance with the information I have been able to glean.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir A. Geddes)
Will the right hon. Gentleman show me where I suggested that a lawyer could value mineral rights?
§ Mr. BRACE
What is the use for which you require the Coal Controller? If you want pure legal advice then you must go to a Law Officer of the Crown. If it is law you want, you do not go to the lawyer of any Department. As President of the Board of Trade and as a Cabinet Minister you would go to a Law Officer of the Crown —the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Will the right hon. Gentleman say when I said that a lawyer would value mineral rights?
§ Mr. BRACE
What is the real inference that one can draw? I must come back to the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave. I was so amazed at the answer that I pressed the point. He said:The position of the Coal Controller is now becoming one which it is eminently desirable that a man of legal training should occupy. As the House is aware, the Government have announced the intention of proceeding to nationalise the mineral rights.If it is a question of law the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General are the authorities.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to misrepresent anything I have said. Will he tell me whenever, in any place, at any time, I suggested that a lawyer might have to value the mineral rights? If he cannot, then I hope he will take the usual steps and withdraw.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Then I may take it that my right hon. Friend has never heard me suggest on any occasion, and he knows of no record when I suggested, that a person of legal training would be a suitable person to value mineral rights.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
It is not a question of concession; it is a question of a definite statement. My right hon. Friend made a point that I had selected a lawyer to value mineral rights. I ask when that happened, and I now await his explanation as to when it did happen.
§ Mr. BRACE
I hope I am not only a sufficiently old Parliamentarian, but that I am a sufficiently fair controversialist to frankly admit at once that I have no information other than the reply to the question which the right hon. Gentleman gave, and upon that I am bound to ask what inference could I draw. If the right hon. Gentleman says: "No, I have not appointed Mr. Andrew Rae Duncan because of his legal skill in dealing with the mineral rights question," then I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has appointed him because he wanted a lawyer at this stage. If he says he wants a lawyer then I say at once that the proper people to deal wth the law in connection with the nationalisation of mineral rights is not a lawyer of his Department but the two Law Officers of the Crown.
§ Mr. BRACE
I hope I did not lead the House to think that the right hon. Gentleman had said it, because I cited the question and answer, and upon that I based my argument. It is well within the recollection of the House what I was arguing. If my right hon. Friend takes the point that he has never said in set language that he appointed Mr. Andrew Rae Duncan because of his knowledge of milling questions, then I accept that and declare at once that I have not known him, either in answer to a question or at any other time, to make that declaration.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Surely that was not the point. The point was as to the valuation of mineral rights, and not knowledge of the answer that I had given. On the question of the valuation of mineral rights he made his suggestion. It is upon that I should like some information. When did I say what the right hon. Gentleman suggests I said?
§ Mr. BRACE
The right hon. Gentleman did not, in answer to a question, and has not to my knowledge in explicit terms declared that he appointed Mr. Andrew Rae Duncan because of his knowledge of mineral rights, but what other inference did the right hon. Gentleman want the House to draw? To assist output? "The Coal Controller has nothing to do with output. That is not his business. I want a man there who will have sufficient knowledge and skill to help me to draft a Bill for the nationalisation of mineral rights. "All I can say is that that is a peculiar 1427 view of the Coal Controller's duty. I was surprised to learn the other day that Mr. Andrew Rae Duncan is not the third Coal Controller since the Department was established, but the fourth. Therefore, I want to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman. The first Coal Controller was the late lamented Sir Guy Calthrop, general manager of the London and North-Western Railway, a man of great energy and distinction. He was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Sir Evan Jones); but I gather that another Member of this House was appointed. The right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to answer now, I can say that the hon. Member for Hackney Central was thought of among various other gentlemen for the position of Coal Controller. There were various reasons, which it is quite unnecesary to enter into now, which made the choice fall in the place in which it did, when we appointed the late Coal Controller.
§ Mr. BRACE
That is sufficient for my argument. The whole point upon which I am addressing the House is that the President of the Board of Trade really fails to appreciate the functions of the Department and the mentality of the industry which he is called upon to control. He says that the hon. Member for Central Hackney was thought of as a suitable Coal Controller. What are his qualifications? I find that he was the secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society and Registrar of the Pharmacy Acts. The point I am making is this, that the Board of Trade is failing lamentably to understand how to do the business in connection with this industry, and as a consequence of all this failure the nation is suffering for want of its very life blood. In proof of this I cite the admission by the President of the Board of Trade that at 1428 one time they thought that a gentleman who was secretary to the Pharmaceutical Society and Registrar of the Pharmacy Acts is a suitable and proper person to be Coal Controller. I very naturally wanted to know something about the history of the new Coal Controller. I am prepared to accept a statement that as a lawyer he is the greatest lawyer in the land. l know nothing at all about the gentleman. He may be one of the most brilliant intellects. in the country. My complaint is, that the nation will make a profound mistake if it allows a man to be appointed as Coal Controller who has no knowledge of the mentality and psychology of the mining industry. If the Coal Controller is to succeed, he must have the confidence of the coal-owners and the workmen. If my colleague and myself have no confidence in the Coal Controller, how can we be expected in a time of industrial stress to go to him and submit our case? It is asking for trouble. The Government really are going out of their way to seek trouble, and I am convinced that unless you get a Coal Controller acceptable to the nation we shall have a repetition of this thing. It is time this House of Commons should interfere in the matter. Executive government is all very well, but this is a House of Commons question. Coal is the life blood of the nation, the one thing that can correct the exchanges that are against us. A sufficient supply of coal is the one thing necessary to reduce the cost of living. If we are to send our vessels across the seas in ballast instead of with cargoes of coal, then, as a result, we must have higher cost of living.
I am going to ask this House to demand a Select Committee, and that the Committee be appointed forthwith, to investigate and report (1) upon the suitability or otherwise of Mr. Andrew Rae Duncan as Coal Controller; (2) the working of the Coal Control Department as a branch of the Board of Trade as to whether it should be abolished or reconstituted and, if so, in what form; (3) to inquire into and report upon the imposition of 6s. per ton upon coal prices in all its aspects, and whether it should be continued, reduced, or cancelled; (4) to inquire into the methods adopted by the Coal Controller's Department for compensating capital invested in the coal industry both upon coal exported and consumed at home and the amount; (5) to investigate and report as to the amount of money which the Government has received 1429 through the Excess Profits Tax from the coal industry; (6) to inquire and report as to the causes of the decline in output and the remedy for the same, and that the Committee be clothed with full authority to call for witness or documents upon any or all these questions. I make no apology for bringing this matter before the House. Fuel for the nation is a House of Commons question. If the Coal Controller's Department is all that it ought to be then the Government need fear no inquiry. If the Coal Controller's Department is not what it ought to be then the Government ought to welcome an inquiry. In this matter there ought to be no division between the Government and the House of Commons and the people, and it is because my colleagues and myself are profoundly anxious as to the future of this country unless we can have not only-a full quantum of coal but have it at a reasonable price that we have ventured to raise this Debate. I am not in order in moving the Motion, but I raise the question without any apology and without reservation.
Mr. CLEMENT EDWNARDS
Without endorsing particularly the detailed arguments which have been advanced by the right hon. Gentleman, I desire cordially to support the broad claim which he has put forward. For ten months my colleagues and myself have been loyal supporters of the Coalition Government, but I have had very considerable misgivings, and a great deal of mental disquiet. [An HON. MEMBER: "You deserve it."] If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen occupying the benches opposite had manifested the usual sanity which has been expressed by one or two of them it would be different. But they have allowed themselves to be run by the wild cat element and the extremists.
Not only on Saturday, as has been said by the hon. Member for Silvertown, but on a good many other Saturdays, and they have not even recovered from it on the following Monday. But I desire to pursue my arguments without being drawn away by any interruptions that may be made. From the beginning I have had grave misgivings and a great deal of mental disquiet as to the coal control. I have gone carefully into things, and I desire to say that the coal control by the Government has been a gross and outrageous scandal upon this nation. Financially, I do not believe— 1430 and have not believed from the first—that there has been the slightest foundation in the actual figures to justify the increase of Cs. that was put upon the country. I have pursued this thing much more closely than many Members may think, and: neither this House nor the country has been supplied with the right figures with regard to the coal output either to justify or not justify the increase of 6s. I may recall the discussion that took place in this House when the White Paper was produced proposing the 6s increase and seeking to justify it. On that occasion I put two or three questions. I put a very searching question to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. lie in accord with Parliamentary ethics, evaded the question. I then definitely put a question to the hon. Member who was at that time Coal Controller. I followed this up subsequently by putting a further simple question. I asked the President of the Board of Trade what was the total amount of money sanctioned by the Treasury and the Coal Controller by way of return out of excess profits to the mine owners, under the heading of "development expenditure." He said he would look into it. Subsequently he wrote-me a letter in which he said that the details—I never asked for details—were of a confidential nature that had been supplied by the individual coalowners under a particular Act, and that he could not disclose them. I ask him here and now, on the floor of the House, not for details, but to tell the House in common frankness what is the amount of money that he allows to the coalowners of this country as expenditure for developments. What has been the. policy of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and the Coal Controller, the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire, and his predecessor? The policy has been a policy of sheer and absolute deception of this House and of the country. I am speaking advisedly.
We were supplied in the early part of July with a White Paper, which sought to supply justification for the increase of 6s. per ton. We were not supplied with the actual finance a this Department—not a bit of it—but we were given, as though we had been school children, the figures of output prior to a certain date, with the number of men employed, and then we were supplied with the output, together with the number of men employed for a subsequent period; and the total output was divided by the total number of 1431 men employed. We were asked to argue from the fact that there was a lesser product per man employed, that therefore there would be a general total diminution in output for the whole year, and that, that being so, there must be an increase of so much per ton. What were the facts? There were two salient facts which then existed. The first is this, that following upon the Armistice there was a priority in demobilisation for those men who had been enlisted from the mining areas; and, secondly, that the mine owners were then in a position to employ men for the development of roads, retimbering and reparation in the mines, following upon the necessary negligence of the War period. These men were so employed. I can take mine after mine. For seven or eight years I represented in this House the greatest mining constituency in the United Kingdom, and I know something about the subject, though I am neither a coal owner nor a practical miner. I say unhestitatingly that to divide the total number of men then employed into the total production of coal was entirely misleading. Men were employed on the reparation of roads that had not been retimbered during the whole period of the War; they were employed in cutting hard headings that had never been thought of before, for the purpose of getting the maximum production during the War period. We were given a perfectly horrible picture of how extraordinarily the men had gone ca'-canny, and had neglected their work, and how the product of coal had diminished in this way. I say unhesitatingly that either the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade knew that he was misleading the House, and the Coal Controller knew he was misleading the House, or they were so incompetent as to be incapable for the jobs they then occupied.
They are now putting in a new Coal Controller. What is the position? The Government have declared in favour of a policy of nationalisation of mineral rights. With that I agree entirely. They have also declared in favour of a policy of setting up joint councils on the lines of the Whitley Report for the mining industry. With that I entirely agree. Thirdly, they have declared against the policy of nationalisation of the coal mines. With that policy I agree. I agree, because I believe the right and ultimate policy for this country is the nationalisation of mines, and as a profound 1432 believer in the policy of ultimate nationalisation I am a profound disbeliever in those whom they are going to put in charge or would put in charge of nationalisation here and now, for being opposed to nationalisation they would use the interim of two or three years to show that the policy was impossible for the country. Thereby they would smash the ultimate idea of nationalisation. What do they do? I say frankly that I have not been enamoured of the capacity of either of the Coal Controllers who have hitherto occupied the position. Now they come along with a new Coal Controller. Who is he? He is a Scottish solicitor. To begin with, that to my mind would be an entire disqualification for any man to deal with collieries in Wales and England, whatever his capacity may be for Scotland.
That is not all. This gentleman has been brought up in the office of a Scottish solicitor who has attained, and I believe rightly, a very wonderful reputation as the most successful strike-breaker in the United Kingdom. I know the gentleman. I had to deal with him when I acted as mediator in the great engineering dispute of 1897. I had to deal both with the gentleman who is the present Coal Controller's superior and with this individual, who was then a very active youth in his office. I know something about him. I say that a gentleman who has been identified on the aggressive side with the Engineering and Shipbuilding Employers' Federation is not at this moment the right kind of individual to place in this position. This gentleman has got a knowledge of Scottish law, but with regard to mines that knowledge has to be entirely unlearned when he comes to the law of mines in Wales and England. The second point is this: The Government will have a heavy enough burden to carry in this great controversy without this appointment. They have declared in favour of a measure to nationalise the coal rights of this country and to give effect to their idea of the creation of a joint council of control in the coal industry. They are going to get opposition from the representatives of the Miners' Federation on one side, and from the representatives of the Miners' Association on the other side. If, following upon all that, they are going to put into the supreme position, for the purpose of this controversy, a gentleman who cannot claim any particular knowledge of the law in England and Wales 1433 and who cannot claim any particular attitude in either England or Wales or Scotland with regard to the practical administration of mines, but who does bring to the controversy the supreme disadvantage, for this purpose, that he has been identified for twenty-three or twenty-four years with people who have attained a reputation, rightly or wrongly, of strike breakers in this country and of opponents of trade unionism, then I say that the Government are taking upon themselves with a supreme degree of folly an extra burden, which, when the people of this country come to understand it, they will not be able to discharge. I was elected frankly as a supporter of the Coalition Government. My colleagues and myself have consistently supported the Coalition Government through thick and thin up till to-day, but we are not going to—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"]—I have no doubt that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite realise it, for they watched us carefully.
They watched us so carefully that often they have absorbed themselves in watching us instead of discharging their own duties to their own constituents according to their consciences. I say this in all sincerity to the Government. My colleagues and myself have from the beginning of this Parliament supported the Coalition Government and given them thick-and-thin support. We have carefully considered this matter. We think they are committing a profound and egregious blunder, and my appeal to them is to reconsider the position and put somebody in control of the Coal Department who understands the thing and the practical side in England and Wales, instead of bringing this import from Scotland, whatever his other qualifications may be.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
As this Debate results from a question which I put down on Wednesday last, I would like to say that in asking that question and in taking part in this discussion I am not in the remotest degree influenced by any personal consideration. To the best of my knowledge I have never seen the gentleman whose appointment is under discussion and I certainly would not know him, and it is not on personal grounds at all 1434 that this matter is being raised. I am opposed to the appointment because it represents a Board of Trade policy, with which I am in entire disagreement. It is a policy which has already resulted in very serious consequences, and which, if pursued, will, I feel convinced, lead direct to disaster. It is because I regard this appointment as part and parcel of that policy that I am opposed to it, and it is with that policy rather than with personnel I propose to deal. My right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) made reference to the questions and answers on this subject last Wednesday. On that occasion my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. T. Richards), who is general secretary of the South Wales Miners' Federation, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery and myself asked questions, and it is very remarkable that all our questions dealt with the subject of production. In considering the question of the appointment of a Coal Controller, our first consideration had reference to production. Strange to say, the Government regard this question as outside the necessary qualifications altogether. I want to say if the functions enumerated by the President of the Board of Trade of a Coal Controller were such that all that was required was a man of legal training to deal with the Bill to nationalise mineral rights and to administer the Regulations under the Control Act —if that is a proper conception of the. functions to be. performed by the Controller, then, as far as I am concerned, I have no objection to the appointment that has been made. For performing those duties I have no doubt the gentleman appointed is thoroughly competent. But we do not in any sense accept that view of things, because we hold that not only is the question of output a matter in which the Coal Controller should interest himself, but we hold that the first business of a Coal Controller is to see that the mining industry is so carried on and that materials of transit and facilities are provided, and that in a general way the industry is so productive as to enable the industry to yield to the nation the largest possible output at the lowest possible cost, consistent with a reasonable standard of living for the men employed in the industry, and as long as we have got private ownership a fair return on the capital invested in the industry.
I am very concerned about the attitude of the present President of the Board of 1435 Trade, because there is no question about it that he has adopted an entirely different attitude in relation to the control of coal from that which was adopted prior to his appointment. From the very commencement of the War the Government realised the importance of taking this industry in hand, and they set up in the Home Office a Committee consisting of an equal number of miners' representatives and owners' representatives with the Mines Inspector, independent of both, to act as chairman. Under the control and guidance and work of that Committee, as everybody knows who has followed the statistics of this industry, we were able to maintain during 1914, 1915, and 1916 the pre-war output per man employed, and it was not done without effort. It was done because that Committee concentrated chiefly upon the question of output, but under that Committee nobody controlled the thing at all except men who had a thorough knowledge of the mining industry. The workmen's representatives kept in touch with the miners of the Kingdom; what ever decisions were come to by that Committee were made known to the miners, and by the influence of the leaders were accepted and adopted by the men generally. The coal-owners viewed questions relating to mining purely from a national point of view. It was in consequence of a recommendation made by that Committee that we had the Limitation of Prices Act. The miners stood to lose everything by limiting the prices. Our wages were fixed on the price of coal, and the higher the price of coal went up the better we should be off in the matter of wages. The coal-owners stood to lose everything by keeping prices down, because their profits largely depended on prices going up, but miners and mine-owners, viewing the situation from a national point of view, recommended this House to introduce a Limitation of Prices Act for the purpose of keeping prices down, and we concentrated on the question of output. From beginning to end of that Committee we were never interfered with by anybody outside, but our advice was taken from beginning to end.
Then we had a Coal Control Board established. We had as Controller a railwayman, and a very able man he was, a man who has placed this country under a big obligation or debt of gratitude to 'him, a man who, I believe, gave his life, 1436 having attended to his duties when he ought really to have been in bed. But he, great man as he was, was big enough to know that he did not understand mining, and that if he wanted to do the best in the interests of the nation he must take guidance from the men who did understand it, and so he added to the Committee that had been set up in the Home Office a certain number of others, and we became a very representative Committee. During the whole of his period of office he brought almost everything of importance to the notice of that Committee, and under his rule again we maintained a very substantial output from the mines. What is the position to-day? The moment the President of the Board of Trade came into office he did not scrap this machinery, but on two occasions only since the Armistice has that Committee been called together, and on both occasions it was to consider a question affecting the amount of insurance that the colliery owners ought to pay to insurance companies, or something of that kind. As to the industry, the question of output, or prices, or anything generally affecting the output, we have never been consulted. I say that that has become the Policy of the President of the Board of Trade, and his answers to questions last Wednesday revealed his mentality. "Surely," he said, "my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery is wrong in suggesting that a Coal Controller is responsible for output." We want to know, if the Coal Controller is not, who is?
I desire to refer to just two incidents of recent date to indicate the very serious consequences that accrue to this country through not having mining intelligence and mining knowledge at the head of the Coal Control Department. First of all, I would refer to an incident which arose out of Justice Sankey's interim Report, a Report which the Government said they were going to accept in letter and spirit. Part of the agreement under that Report was that there should be a revision of piece rates to enable the miners to earn as much wages under the shorter day as they formerly earned under the longer working day. Justice Sankey estimated that the reduction in output due to a reduction in the working day would be 10 per cent., and to cover that reduction we were to have a revision of rates. The Miners' National Executive knew that this was a very complicated business, we 1437 knew it was not a general reduction of one hour all over the country, we knew that in some coal fields there would be no reduction at all and no revision of piece rates, and that in other places there would be a reduction of fifty minutes, in others of forty minutes, or thirty minutes, or sixty minutes. A piece revision that would suit one coal field would not suit another, and it was only men with a knowledge of that industry who could possibly know the kind of solution to meet that situation. The President of the Board of Trade or the Coal Controller issued instructions that not more than 10 per cent. was to be paid anywhere. Some of the coalfields had negotiated a settlement already. When we took the matter in hand as an executive they were bound to admit they had made a mistake, and they changed it from 10 per cent. to 12 per cent. We proved to them again that they had made a mistake, and they changed it from 12 per cent. to 13.3 per cent. We proved they were still wrong, and they changed it from 13.3 per cent. to 14.2 per cent., but in the meantime what had happened? The men who had negotiated their settlements in the coalfields became resentful about the instructions that were being issued from the Coal Control Board, and we had the Yorkshire strike, we had the men out in Nottinghamshire, in Derbyshire, in Staffordshire, in Monmouthshire, and we lost over that bit of blundering between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 tons of coal during that period. Now, I say if there had been a mining man at the head of this movement he would have said, "This thing has to be fixed up. It is a difficult and complicated proposition, and I had better get a meeting of the representatives of both sides. We had better get down to this thing and get it discussed and settled." If that had been done we should not have had the Yorkshire strike, and we should not have had these coalfields idle, but simply because we have got men in charge of this industry who do not understand anything about it we are faced with these disastrous and deplorable consequences. Unless we get a different man from a lawyer at the head of this business, that kind of thing is going to be. repeated. We cannot afford the repetition of that sort of thing, and there is no necessity for indulging in it.
The other matter to which I would refer is the imposition of the 6s. a ton. The President of the Board of Trade came 1438 down to the House and said, "I estimate that the output from the mines of Britain from July, 1919, to July, 1920, will be 217,000,000 tons, and because of that we must increase the price of coal by 6s. a ton." He said that 163,000 additional men had come into the industry, that they were not ready to do anything, that we must find them wages for a year, and that we must put 3s. 2d. a ton on the coal for that. He also said that we were going to have 11,000,000 tons reduction in our export trade, and that we must put another 1s. 4d. a ton on the coal for that. That is the sort of nonsense which is put to this House, and that is the kind of case upon which the 6s. was built up. Is there a man in the House to-day who does not realise that at that time it was a mistake and that to-day it is a national scandal? What does 217,000,000 tons a year mean in weekly average? It is 4,173,000 tons. You are getting the weekly records of the output from the collieries. What does it amount to? Included in the estimate of 4,173,000 tons is 700,000 tons of coal from Yorkshire. In making that estimate the President expected to see 700,000 tons from that coalfield. If it had not been for the blundering which resulted in the stoppage of these coalfields there would not have been a single week from the time that the 6s. was imposed until to-day—except the August Bank Holiday week, when only half a week is worked generally—in which his estimate would have proved right. Take the weeks since the Yorkshire coal strike was settled. For seven of the last eight weeks you have an average output—excluding the week of the railway strike — at the rate of 231,000,000 tons per annum. In that seven weeks we had three weeks which were adversely affected by strikes, because, although the Yorkshire strike came to an end, the normal output was not reached until some time afterwards, and although we only had one week's railway strike, the next week was considerably affected in consequence of all the trucks being full. Taking all that into account, the average for these seven weeks is 14,000,000 tons a year above the right hon. Gentleman's estimate. If you take the last week, they are now producing 500,000 tons a week more than his estimate. That is the last record. That is going to be continued. It is going to be increased, and as the weeks go by that estimate is going to be more and more falsified. Although till now we have lost 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 1439 tons on account of strikes in the industry and 2,000,000 tons on account of the railway strike, the estimate upon which this 6s. is based will be exceeded by many millions, and, notwithstanding that, there are millions less in wages to pay, on account of the time the men have been idle.
Had there been a mining man at the head of affairs he would have said, "It is true that in the early days of the year the men have not been turning out very big outputs, but that is due to the fact that when they left the Army there were bad faces in their district that required "filling in." They had to come back to repair work, and instead of filling coal they had to fill rubbish. They had to wait until the quarries opened out again before they could get to their faces and begin to get coal. Every mining man knew the estimate was wrong, and a mining man ought to have been advising the Government. What more disastrous thing could happen than to be putting 6s. a ton on coal at a time when everybody ought to be doing all they possibly could to bring prices down to the lowest possible point? But suppose the estimate had been all right and had worked out right, ought we to have allowed it to remain at that? The President of the Board of Trade, instead of trying to remedy the evil, says, let us put some more on the price. The lowest output on record in this country from the mining industry was in 1912, when we had a six weeks' national strike. That year the men produced 245 tons per man. What has happened from then till now? All that has happened has been that we have had forty-seven minutes a day knocked off the working day. That is what the Seven Hours Act has brought about. We lost more time through the national strike than we are losing through the Seven Hours Act. There is no reason why we should not have 245 tons per man to-day as well as in 1912. With about 1,150,000 men in the industry, as we have, we should be averaging 280,000,000 tons a year. Yet we had 6s. a ton put on because we were told there could not be more than 217,000,000 tons. The right hon. Gentleman may say that we are not getting the 280,000,000 tons. That is what we are complaining about. We do riot want to say it is the coal-owners' fault, or the Government's fault or the miners' fault, but we do say it ought to have been the business of some- 1440 body to find out the fault, to find the cause and to apply a remedy. We think we know the cause or the causes. Every man in the mining industry knows the causes, but we cannot organise the remedy, simply because, although the machinery exists—there is no industry in the country so completely organised on both sides as the mining industry—yet that machinery will not be used by the Government in this matter.
The Leader of the House, when it was suggested that the Coal Controller had some sort of responsibility in this matter, said, "Well, yes; in a sense he has, but it is the head of the Department who is responsible to this House." I think the head of the Department is a professor of anatomy. We had some description given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery of somebody whom they had thought of putting in as Coal Controller, but I cannot twist my tongue round that name. Nobody ever believes that the President of the Board of Trade has the requisite knowledge to tackle this question. I sincerely hope that as a result of this discussion the allowing things to drift will come to an end and that a really genuine effort will be made to put this industry on a different footing. If we were only producing what we produced during the submarine warfare we should have over 270,000,000 tons. Why cannot that be done? My right hon. Friend has asked for a special Committee to find out the cause and ascertain what is exactly the reason for this position. We do not want to shirk it; we want to solve it, but you are not going to solve it by putting a lawyer at the head of this Department, and I sincerely hope that the House will show its disapproval of the appointment and that it will be remedied.
§ Mr. GOULD
I am not in the least bit interested from the colliery owner's point of view in this discussion; in fact I do not personally hold any share or interest in any colliery, but from the point of view of the constituency which I represent this matter is a very serious and important one. A number of those actively engaged in the Colliery business on the managing side are diametrically opposed to the appointment of any man as Controller who knows nothing at all about the industry. No claim is made that this gentleman is not thoroughly capable of occupying some position of responsibility, but it is claimed that he is a man who cannot face the 1441 seriousness of the position and deal with it from the point of view of the employers and miners, and, more especially, from the point of view of production and price. We have to take into consideration the cost of the coal produced in other countries and the effect of that competition as far as we are concerned. In going over the recorded prices for this year and in dealing with this 6s. per ton increase, for which I, personally, think that there was absolutely no justification whatever, I have found that the average export price per ton was 36s. f.o.b. throughout the country. I think the actual figures for last month were 2,670,000 tons of the value, as declared for export, of £7,733,000, or practically £3 per ton. I can tell the House that the colliery owner is not getting that profit; it is going somewhere, and it is restricting our trade very much when it comes to doing business abroad. I have recently travelled through the coalfields in America, and, notwithstanding the fact that they are there faced with a very big and momentous strike, they are producing coal for export at seaport towns at 25s. per ton, which is a serious menace to the trade of this country. When we come to consider that the average pit head price in this country is 26s. per ton, we would like to know something about the difference and where it goes.
Personally, I view this matter with the gravest concern. It is strangling our trade. This year we shall probably export something like 18,000,000 tons, valued at £50,000,000, as against the pre-war export of 73,500,000 tons, which, if produced at the prices prevailing to-day, or at even two-thirds, would be sufficient to bring to this country something like £295,000,000, or the amount of the balance of trade against us. In this matter, the Government have to take into consideration not so much the ability of the individual who may be selected for the post from the point of view of his legal knowledge as his ability from the point of view of his knowledge of the trade. When all is said and done, it is the trade of the country that we have to protect. This particular gentleman must of necessity by his appointment be regarded as antagonistic from the miners' point of view. One cannot expect otherwise. His great experience in commercial life has been on the employers' side, and he must be regarded with suspicion. I know that a great many of the coal-owners are extremely desirous for peace, and they want a man at the head of the coal control 1442 who can authorise and dictate the expenditure of money on development, because if we do not spend money on development we cannot increase the output. If we do not have a man who has the sympathy of the miners and the confidence of the mine-owners, and who knows when to authorise necessary expenditure, we shall certainly not be doing anything towards increasing the output of coal in this country.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been that my constituents and friends in Liverpool desire me to bring before the House the state of affairs in that port. I shall limit myself to three points. There is a Committee of experts acquainted with all the circumstances of the port of Liverpool which was set up by the right hon. Gentleman himself. That Committee is consulted, but that is all that happens. It advises, but apparently its advice is not always accepted. The administration is to a large extent centralised in London, with the result that there is great delay in listening to complaints, answering complaints, and in accepting the recommendations. I plead that that local committee should have more power. We are now prevented in Liverpool from getting what we call the local supply of coal from Lancashire and Yorkshire. We get it mainly from South Wales, with the extraordinary result that, while the price of South Wales coal, ship bunkers, during August was 95s. and in September 110s., the coal drawn from the local coal fields was 50s., less than one-half, and the price of coal supplied to inland consumers and domestic industries was 35s. The Board of Trade has recently allowed us to take 25 per cent. of our coal from the local coal fields, and we press him to allow us to take a larger supply. I think that covers all the points that I wish to bring before him at this moment, and, as to the general question, I prefer to leave it to men much more entitled to speak.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I do not rise with any special knowledge of the coal industry, but I do rise as a London Member to speak on behalf of the coal consumers in London. I would point out to the President of the Board of Trade and the Leader of the House that there is a great and growing dissatisfaction among consumers in London against the increase in the price of the ordinary commodities of life. I have tried to study the reasons which were 1443 given by the President of the Board of Trade for this 6s. increase in the price of coal, made in July last, but I find it extremely difficult to explain to the ordinary consumer who buys ½cwt: or 1 cwt. of coal and who has to pay-considerably more than he paid in July for it. I do not wish to make any complaint against the coal contractors who deliver the coal, because when they are charged 6s, per ton extra for the coal, naturally they must charge it to their consumers. That means, roughly, 4d. per cwt., and in constituencies such as I represent where everybody is a consumer of coal, and many of them very small consumers, the increase varies, I am told, from 6d. to 1s. per cwt; That means a very great deal to the poor person who has to buy and use coal to-day. It is in the recollection of the House that we have had some very wonderful elections last Saturday in London, and I know that my hon. Friends who sit on the Labour Benches are quite cheerful at the result of those elections. But may I say that I believe one factor which had a good deal to do with the result of those elections—and I speak with some knowledge of London—was that prices of ordinary commodities are gradually increasing day by day. In July it was coal, recently milk, and this week it is sugar. I believe the results on Saturday last express the opinion of the consumers of London against the gradual increase of prices lately. As I was returned as a supporter of the Coalition Government, I would specially and urgently draw the attention of the Government to the fact that this gradual increase of prices is having a very bad effect outside, and is making the consumer very greatly dissatisfied.
There is one other point that I also wish to raise on this coal debate. Before the Recess I asked the President of the Board of Trade some questions as to the price of bunker coal. I am a member of the Port of London Authority, who are very large consumers of coal. Since this 6s. was put on we have found that, contractors of all kinds who use coal have greatly increased the price of all articles where coal is used in the manufacture of those articles, such as cement, steel-plates and iron-plates, and goods of that description, because of this 6s. increase. One of the most remarkable increases is that on bunker coal. We buy coal both for bunker purposes and for ordinary land purposes, and while the ordinary coal has increased since July 6s., 1444 some of the bunker coal, which we buy from Durham, has been increased as much as 20s. a ton, and some of the large Welsh coal, which we use for another purpose, has been increased by 35s. 6d. a ton. I have been trying to find out who gets this difference of price on bunker coal, and I have not yet been able to find out. I should be very glad, and I think people who are in the same position as the Port of London Authority would be very glad, if the President of the Board of trade could give some information as to why this bunker coal has increased in the way it has. If I may give the House one other example, we do buy a certain kind of Welsh coal both for bunker purposes and for land purposes for use in boilers and bunkers. Although we buy the same quality coal from the same people, we have to pay for bunker coal at 70s. to 85s. per ton at the pit mouth, and for land purposes we only pay 39s. 9d. for the same coal, or a difference of from 30s. to 45s. a ton. I appeal to business men in this country whether that is not an extra-ordinary position for the Coal Department to take up? We may be told, as the President of the Board of Trade told us in answer to some questions before the Recess, that the reason for the large increase in the price of bunker coal is because the Department in some way average the whole price of the coal in order to make up the loss on cheap coal, but I venture to suggest that a Department which carries on its business in the way I have just described does seem to want the ordinary elements of ordinary common-sense business. To charge an authority—and I presume the same rule applies to any other public authority or user of coal in the asme way—for exactly the same coal for land use one price, and for bunker use a considerably higher price, seems to me to want a lot of explanation, and I, therefore, speaking purely as a London Member interested purely in London questions, where we are large consumers of coal, do again repeat that this kind of increase of price is having a very serious and grave effect outside, and I do hope the President of the Board of Trade and the Leader of the House will look at it from that point of view.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Probably enough has already been said to convince Members of this House of the necessity for the inquiry that has been proposed. But, coming from another part of the British 1445 coalfields—not an unimportant part—I would like to give the House the impression that we are united on this question. Like a previous speaker, I do not know the Coal Controller. I would not know him if I met him. I have no animus against him. There has emerged during the discussion the fact that he is a lawyer, and it has been argued that because he is a lawyer it is not a qualification to be Coal Controller. Then it has also been mentioned that he is a Scotsman. Probably if there is any qualification for a Coal Controller, it is the fact that he is a Scotsman, after the excellent character Scotsmen got here in this House a few nights ago. This is the third Coal Controller. First we had an English Coal Controller, then we had a Welsh, and now we have a; Scottish, and after this Coal Controller passes away we may have an Irish Coal Controller. I sincerely hope that in till's question we will rise above that of labour and capital. This is a great national question. We have had dinned into our ears everywhere production and more production from the coal mines. The Members of this House are charged with carrying on the business of the nation, and we, as representing the coal-mining industry, ask for this inquiry, because we want the nation to get the greatest possible production of coal consistent with good conditions underground for the miners.
Hon. Members are business men, and I wonder if anyone in this House running such an industry as a mining industry would appoint a lawyer even if he were a Scotsman, to run his industry if that man had no knowledge of the industry ! There are l,000,000 men employed in the industry, and to get the best possible out of a man you have sometimes to know something about the environment, the upbringing and conditions under which that, man lives. We sometimes have disputes in the coal-mining industry—I do not know where there are not disputes. We go to the Coal Controller about them, and I want to tell the House at this stage that, as a practical miner, when we go to see the Coal Controller to discuss these questions he knows very little about the practical side of mining. There is the other question—the question of production. We want peace in the industry. The miner does not like to strike merely for the fun of the thing. The miner is just as patriotic as any man in this House. We want peace. We want production. We want to know why in the mining industry the mines are standing 1446 idle for lack of transport; why sometimes a man goes to the mine only to get half a day's work; and why the mines are not in a condition they might be in order to obtain the greatest possible production?
The Coal Controller, it has been pointed out, is not a practical man. I think we ought to know the reason why. This House and the country ought to be told why these sixteen practical men—it is not a question of employer and employed!— on the one hand there are eight men representing the miners, and on the other eight representing the employers, all practical men—we have a right to know why these sixteen practical men who did such good service during the War in maintaining production are not being called into existence at the present time to insist on a given production? Every Member of this House who loves his country and who wants to see his country prosper should unite with those who have brought up this question. Let us have the fullest possible inquiry as to why we are not getting the greatest possible production. No harm can come from inquiry. As one who is in the mining industry and views it from the miners' point of view; and from the point of view of one who knows the necessity for increased production of coal, I would urge the House to give the inquiry asked for, and I believe it will have the result of getting the production of coal necessary for the fulfilment of all needs.
I am not a specialist at nationality like the last speaker, but I have the very greatest sympathy and accord with his remarks; and I should just like this evening to make a few remarks upon the question generally of the Coal Control. It appears to me that all controls are undesirable in this country. Control is the most clumsy and expensive way of running an industry, and can only be justified by some extreme national danger. In the case of coal the danger is of course a danger to the consumer. That danger partakes of a two-fold character—one of too high prices, arid of unequal distribution. As regards the question of too high prices that is guarded against, in my opinion, by the Price of Coal Limitation Act and by the Wholesale and Retail Prices Orders. These two Orders are the steps taken to safeguard the interests of the consumer for which the Coal Controller can take no credit. They are steps obviously to be taken whether or not the coal control exists.
1447 10.0 P.M.
The last speaker mentioned the obvious inadequacy of the coal control in the country over the industry which it is supposed to govern. Upon that point I should like to say that the figures which were provided, presumably by the Department of the Coal Controller, to justify the rise of 6s. in the case of coal are so obviously inaccurate as to be absurd. The estimates upon which the rise of 6s. per ton was based were formed upon the supposition that the price of export coal was, for example, to be 35s. per ton when at this date we find it to be 57s. 9d. There must be something seriously wrong with the Department that provides those figures. Upon that record as regards prices I say that the coal control should go.
I come to the second point—that of distribution. This again involves two sides—the question of tonnage and the question of transport. Coal, as the hon. Member opposite remarked, is an assential commodity and the main fact that emerges from the situation is that there is a shortage of coal; there is not enough coal to meet even the rationing which was established by law and that every houshold is entitled to. What is the fact which follows from that? It is that every household in this country ought to be short of coal. The real fact of the matter is that some householders are short and some receive a very full ration. I maintain that what coal is available to distribute ought to be distributed evenly, instead of which we find an unequal distribution. The reason for that is perfectly obvious. Anybody who has any association in the distribution portion of the trade knows the reason is that the inhabitants of the big towns get a preference of the expense of the remote and rural districts, and because the merchants who supply the former can frighten the Coal Controller into giving them supplies. Again, in this matter of distribution the same thing happens in the case of any individual firm of merchants. They naturally supply those of their customers nearest to them instead of those more remote. This happens in the country districts every day. The small country towns get served with such supplies as are available, while the more remote districts get practically nothing at all.
How is the Coal Controller endeavouring to solve the problem? A firm goes to 1448 the Coal Controller and tells him they are short of supplies. He issues an order to a colliery, telling that colliery to divert supplies in order to enable this particular firm to get what they require. What happens? The colliery gets the order. They have not got any surplus to supply the requisition, and they merely divert the coal from one firm to another, with the result that supplies are diverted, and one consumer is supplied at the expense and robbery, so to speak, of another. As regards transport, I admit it is essential in the interests of distribution that the wagons should be controlled. I hope in the few suggestions I am about to make I shall make some attempt to deal with the problem adequately. Vague denunciations of the Coal Controller are absolutely useless. Concrete suggestions are wanted. I hope those I shall make will receive consideration even if they do not attain success.
As regards the point of prices, it seems to me perfectly feasible and possible to enforce the already existing laws and regulations by establishing local committees. I suggest these should be composed of the members of the magisterial benches, in order to enforce these prices, rather than the existing Profiteering Committees, because obviously, on the latter are men who are interested in the trade, and therefore who are not capable of sitting in judgment upon the cases arising out of the disregard of existing regulations. Excessive prices and unequal distribution would come before them, and such committees would be given the power to seize the stock of any merchant who did not comply with the regulations, issue tenders for delivery, and charge the merchant with the cost of delivery. The merchant would hate them —and if I may digress for a moment into a personal matter, I am afraid I shall be very unpopular in making that suggestion, because my own father is a merchant, and when I get home he will possibly have something to say to me on the point. If the coal control was taken off distribution, there would be a great danger of an almost unholy scramble for tonnage. Every firm would be out to get as many wagons as it could; the result would be that those firms which owned private wagons would have an enormous pull. They would get all the supplies, and therefore the big profits. I think the arrangements which was suggested a long time ago, when the Ministry 1449 of Transport Bill was first mooted, that railway wagons should be taken over by the State, should be carried out. I believe it would be feasible for the right hon. Gentleman to go to the firms engaged in production and take over the wagons, and I am sure this would lead to economy, because everybody in the industry knows that the running of railway wagons is an exceedingly profitable enterprise.
The next point I would suggest with regard to distribution is that you would have to fix the ration of those who buy direct from the collieries, that is all wholesale and retail merchants and factors who buy direct, and you could fix that ration by allowing them a percentage of the amount they received during the year ending the 30th June, 1917. In that year supplies were fairly good, and since that time very few, if any, new collieries have been opened from whence supplies have been drawn. There is another point about the price and amount of export coal. You would have to take measures to fix that amount and fix the price with a better regard to the actual figures and costs of the industry generally than has been done in the past. You would have to take powers to vary the prices charged for inland coal different to those prices made under the Orders I have mentioned. You would have to take powers to negotiate the acquisition of mineral rights to which the Government is committed, and which has been given as the excuse for the appointment of the present Coal Controller. All this involves the setting up of a central body, and I suggest that a committee should be set up to take over from the Coal Controller's Dpeartment those duties which it has discharged inefficiently. As to the composition of that committee, I would suggest the present Coal Controller should be the chairman—it will be observed that I am giving him a job—and it should also consist of fifteen members, three from the Coal Control Department, three from the wholesale merchants, three from the retail merchants and factors, three from the Mine-owners' Association, and, this is important, three from the Miners' Federation. That would give those who are actually engaged in the production of coal a real interest in the control of their industry.
I recognise it would be impossible to wind up such a big business as the coal 1450 control in a very short time, and I would not propose that the committee I have suggested should come into operation tomorrow, but it might be established with a clear prospect of success, say, in three or four months' time. I am not going to urge any personalities or put forward arguments in the interests of this section of the trade or that, but I want to consider as far as I may what are the best interests of the industry as a whole, and to secure to the consumer not only his coal at a cheaper price, but the full amount which he can arid should obtain in accordance with the total output of coal in this country.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
A large number of points have been raised and a large number of suggestions have been put forward, but before I deal with them there is one thing I am sure every hon. Member would like me to say, and that is to express in the House our recognition of the extraordinary good work done by the late Coal Controller who has recently resigned. I have never known any man devote himself more whole-heartedly, without thinking of himself, to carry out voluntarily the duties of this extraordinary and difficult job as a national duty.
The points which have been raised fall under three main heads. First of all, there is the question of the personality of the new Coal Controller, his qualification, his training, and suitability to the office. Next, there is the general question of the coal control, and then there is the question of prices. Outside those three heads there are certain minor questions which I will deal with before I sit down, if time permits. In the first place, I will deal with the personality, training, and suitability of the new Coal Controller. I would preface my remarks by saying that the appointment of the Coal Controller is not a matter which comes altogether in my Department. It is true that the Coal Controller works under the President of the Board of Trade, but the actual appointment is not one made by the President of the Board of Trade.
Why has the Government selected this gentleman for the office? We had before us a very large number of men who might have been chosen. In the first place, it was quite obvious when we came to pick out the most suitable man for the post that it was undesirable, and we thought it impossible, to contemplate the appointment of a coal-owner. We thought it quite impossible, and indeed undesirable, to 1451 appoint a coal manager or a manager of coal mines. We thought it undesirable, and in fact impossible, to appoint a representative of the Miners' Federation as Coal Controller. Consequently, we were driven outside the industry to look for a man to fill this post. I do not think anyone will dispute that this was inevitable in the present state of affairs inside the coal industry with the difficulties which may arise in the future. I have no hesitation in saying that, great as is the criticism made on this point, I believe if there had been an appointment made within the coal industry itself, the criticism would have been far greater than anything which has been said to-night.
What sort of a man were we to look for? Clearly we required a man of great personal gifts, and we required a man who had a wide knowledge of the industries of the country. Besides this, we required a man of good physique, with powers of endurance, for, believe me, no man unless he be of good physique could carry on this job without breaking down. Therefore good physique was an essential part of the qualification of the individual for whom we were looking. It was also desirable that he should, if possible, have a wide knowledge of the other industries, because although you can equip your Coal Controller with expert advisers in every aspect of the coal industry you cannot equip him with expert advisers in other industries, and he must therefore be a man who knows where to go to get expert knowledge, because the Coal Controller stands between the coal industry and the other industries of this country; and it is only necessary to have listened to this evening's Debate to realise that the action of the Coal Controller is mainly outwards from the coal industry into other industries and it is the experts who work under him who must work inwards to the coal industry. In Mr. Duncan, after a long search, after considering many names, we found a man who came as near meeting our requirements as any man in the country. He is a man of great experience and knowledge in other industries. The hon. Member for South East Ham said he knew him in 1897. But his experience is not quite so long as that. The hon. Member said he knew him as a strike breaker in 1897. But Mr. Duncan was at school in that year.
§ Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS
I said I saw him in 1897 and since then I had known him as a strike breaker in connection with the Engineering Shipbuilding Employers' Association, and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to deny that fact.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
My hon. Friend will find what he said in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow. He said that the strike was in 1897 and he knew Mr. Duncan as the strike breaker.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I beg pardon. In 1897 the Secretary of the Engineering Shipbuilding Employers' Association was Mr. Biggart, and if the right hon. Gentleman will inquire he will find that Mr. Duncan was associated with Mr. Biggart subsequently, and he has since then become notorious as a strike breaker and a very skilful strike breaker. I think Mr. Biggart at that time represented the employers on one side and the right hon. George Barnes, a Cabinet associate of the right hon. Gentleman, was on the other side. Between them I acted as mediator and brought that dispute to a conclusion.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Of course, but Mr. Biggart it not Mr. Duncan, nor has the hon. Member, so far as I can understand, explained in the very least what he meant if he did not mean that Mr. Duncan in 1897 was associated with Mr. Biggart as a strike breaker, whereas at that time Mr. Duncan was at school.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
No, I will not give way again. The statement was definitely made. It was a most unfair and most cruel statement, deliberately made in this House.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Mr. Duncan's record throughout is the very opposite of being a strike breaker. He has been on the most excellent terms with Labour when he has been brought into contact with it. On that side Mr. Duncan's qualifications are, I am sure, such as entitle him to the confidence of the Miners' Federation. I hope they will give him a chance, that they will not assume that he is not a thoroughly suitable man for the post simply because they do not know him. I am absolutely 1453 certain that in a few months' time, when they do know Mr. Duncan, they will look back upon some of the things which have been said to-night with regret. I would appeal to them, and I am sure I shall not appeal in vain, to give him a fair chance in this office which lie has taken up at what I might fairly say is a considerable personal sacrifice. It is at the request of the Government, to carry out a national duty, that he has accepted the post. It is true that immediately, at the moment, there is an increase in salary over that which he was receiving before he came to this post.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Two thousand pounds a year, with. £300 war bonus. He was offered that amount to stay where he was, and his prospects were extremely good, but he selected temporary Government service. He is not serving for a pension. He has come in out of a patriotic desire to help the country at a lower rate of pay than he could have got, with worse prospects. [An HON. MEMBER: "Pretty good pay!"] It may be pretty good pay, but it is less than he would have got outside.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I have made very careful inquiries, naturally, before any appointment of this sort was made. I know exactly what his position and his prospects were, and what his mental attitude has been with regard to taking the post.
As a member of one of the affiliated unions, we were very much surprised to hear that Mr. Duncan ever received the salary the right hon. Gentleman says he is receiving.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I have not said what salary he was receiving. I said he was receiving a slightly smaller salary, and that he was offered the same amount to stay on, with much better prospects. There was nothing in it for him except hard work and a very difficult job. I believe in making this selection and this appointment we have made the best selection and best appointment which could have been made in the circumstances and with the men who were available. It really has to be a whole-time appointment if it is to be successful. 1454 Leaving aside the personality of Mr. Duncan, I would like to speak of the coal control. I have already said what I think of the work of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Sir Evan Jones), but the time has come when there must be a big reorganisation of the coal control. The conditions which were suitable in the War period, the powers which were available during the War period, and the direct interference which was tolerated dieting the War period can no longer continue. We have to get some modification of the system of coal control. That is what we are now working at, and I am hopeful that we shall find a solution of the difficulty. At the present time we have a control which exists over the whole of Great Britain, and over the coal within Great Britain and Ireland, but coal control ends, if I may use the phrase, at the beach, and any coal which crosses the beach, even if it is for the use of bunkers, passes out of the area of coal control and becomes liable to the world play of economic forces, and is sold practically at world prices, just exactly as the exported coal is sold at the world price. Inside the line of the beach, in the island, the coal is controlled, and its price is controlled, and a large stock of money is required at the present time to subsidise the coal sold internally in order that it may be sold at the present low prices, which seem so high. We heard a great deal from the hon. Member for the Ogmore Division (Mr. Hartshorn) about the great increase in the output of coal. I would remind him of some figures. Speaking here in July, I think it was, I said that we estimated that the output of coal would be at the rate of 216,000,000 tons per annum. Since then—I admit all the difficulties—the ascertained rate of output has been under 200,000,000 tons per annum. It is true that you can take up good weeks. It is true that last week was an extremely good week, but the fact remains that if it were not that the prices we were getting for the export coal and for the bunker coal was higher than we estimated, we should have required to add another 2s. to the price of coal per ton in order to pay the cost of production. The extra price would have been 8s. if it were not for the increased profits on export and bunker coal. It may be all right to talk about the uselessness of having put on the 6s. and the unjustifiability of it. Do you think that any Government with any sort of sense—and I do not think that 1455 anybody, not even his worst enemy, would accuse the Prime Minister of not having considered a question of this sort—
§ Sir A. GEDDES
What election? The 6s. per ton is only adequate just now because we are able to reinforce it by 3s. 4d. per ton from export and bunkers. When I spoke in the House in July I said that the 6s. would only be possible if we were able to reinforce it by is. 4d. We are now subsidising at the rate of 3s. 4d. a ton all the internally consumed coal. That position comes about from the fact that the obtained output of coal, for one reason or another, is only at the rate of 198,000,000, as against the 216,000,000 tons. I quite agree, and I agreed in July, that there was no reason which was insurmountable why the rate of output should be so low as 216,000,000. If any hon. Members who are interested will look back at the OFFICIAL REPORT of that date they will see that I said that as the output of coal rose we should be able to take off the increase of price, and we would be willing to do it by 6d. steps, in order to get the price of coal down. That we are still willing and anxious to do, and I believe that we shall soon be able to do it. The first thing to be done is to get down the price of bunker coal. That is more important for the moment, from the point of view of prices in this country, even than the high price of internal coal. Among the reasons why the output of coal is improving is that transport is improving. It is not good yet, but it is better than it was. Supplies from the pits are improving. They are better than they were. The pits which were not in full working order are now in better working order. It is also true that the miners in some districts are settling down and working much better than they were earlier in the year. Those reasons are all contributing to the increased output of coal which I think is coming. There is a general indication that it is coming, and it is very interesting to notice that the Coal Controller, when discussing the percentage increase in the piece-rate wages 1456 that should be allowed to compensate for the decreased time was right, and that the men's representative overstated the reduction which would come about.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
The calculations were not based on the statements of the workmen's representatives. All the calculations were based on the estimate of Mr. Justice Sankey's 10 per cent. We had nothing to do with it.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
My hon. Friend knows quite well that there are records of meetings which show exactly what was said, not by him, I admit, or by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr Brace), but by others who were there to speak on behalf of the miners, who pointed out that the increase would be greater than 10 per cent., and that you could not be expected to give as little as 10 per cent. because the year's reduction would be far more, and so on.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
My contention was that Mr. Justice Sankey said that the rate of reduction would be 10 per cent. You were making arrangements for a revision of rates to cover that. You were four times wrong in your calculations. You cannot deny that.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
We slatted off with 10 per cent. That was right, and that is where we should have stuck, but because of the arguments that were brought forward, because of the great knowledge which various speakers on behalf of the miners had of the underground work, because of a whole lot of other circumstances of that sort, we allowed ourselves to be over-persuaded, and accepted the calculations of the miners' representatives. They were wrong, and I believe they always knew they were wrong.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
It is not the case that the series of misunderstandings which led to the Yorkshire strike were based on an error by the Coal Controller. The facts are now definitely provable by anyone who takes the trouble to look into the matter. The Coal Controller was correct, and the 1457 other people were not, on appreciation of what the effect would be. The loss of tonnage which resulted from that strike and from other strikes about that time in the industry, and the loss of tonnage from the upheaval on the railways, are responsible for the fact that we have fallen so far clown in the estimated rate of production of coal. My hon. Friend says, "Look at the output for last week." Does he seriously believe that we are not going to get other abnormal weeks in the future?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
The whole of the estimate is based on an average sort of working year, with its ups and downs; it takes in what we may expect the rate to be. I agree we are wrong. We have over-estimated. It is not, as the hon. Gentleman stated, that we have hopelessly underestimated. It is true that we level out. I am sure we shall not get such big upheavals in the next few weeks. Then who knows what is going to happen in regard to coal output. We have to expect that there will be oscillations; we have to deal with facts as they are in this world. I would remind the hon. Gentleman, as I told the House the other night, that now, far from profit being made by the Government out of coal, the Treasury has had to contribute—it is not contributing now, the subsidy having stopped—in round figures, £26,000,000 to the coal industry.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I cannot answer, but I will get the figures. That is not a sum of money owing for Admiralty coal, but a sum which the Treasury has had to advance direct to keep the industry going during the period that coal was being subsidised. Approximately it was £26,000,000. There is a very long way to go before that can be paid off, and I do not suppose it will ever be paid off by the industry. So that we have at the present time to face this deficit, andunless we getup the output of coal and unless we can maintain the price we are getting for export coal or export more coal, the price of internal coal will have to be raised. I do not believe we will have to do so, but if those two "ifs" came about it would. I do not think it will be, but there is quite the possibility. The price of export coal at South Wales has fallen 15s. per ton in the last fortnight.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Certainly. The average has fallen from 50s. to 36s. in the South Wales coalfield during the last fortnight.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
The hon. Member has got to remember the price of coal at the pit. The average was 50s. according to the figures in the possession of the Coal Control Department, and there is no possible question as to the accuracy of those figures as returned to the Department. If that fall goes on—and had it not been for the American coal strike it would have gone on—and if we do not get an increased output, and therefore increase the amount available for export, then the price of internal coal will have to go up. The first thing we propose to do is, if we can, to cut down the price of bunker coal. Bunker coal has been varying in price equally from quarter to quarter very largely. A very large element in the price of bunker coal is the actual carriage to the port, which is heavy, but overseas foreign-going ships have been bunkering with the actual price for coal, not transport, at 75s. per ton. It is proposed that we should extend the area of control as soon as we can see a satisfactory method of doing it to include the bunkers and to equalise out as far as we can the price of bunker coal, using any profits we can get on the export coal to keep down the present retail price of the home-consumed coal, and to lower the price of bunker coal to British ships and ships of other nationalities calling at our ports. How soon exactly we will be able to do that depends on output, depends on peace in the coal-mining industry, depends, in some measure, upon the development and improvement on the transportation side, which, I think, already visible, and certainly I hope will be marked before long. There are great difficulties to be met in connection with clearances. We have had one bit of luck from the money point of view in connection with coal, and one bit of bad luck in connection with the home consumption of coal, and that is that as a result of the difficulties of distribution and of the fact that the disturbances of production or output have been greatest inland, and that we have not been able to move coal from the seaboard collieries 1459 inland in sufficient quantities, we' have had a larger amount of coal actually exported, and internal coal users had to go somewhat shorter either than we desired or hoped. The actual reduction on the internal coal user has been from a rate of 181,000,000 tons per year to a rate of 153,000,000 tons per year, and the export has benefited accordingly It is that benefit on the export that has helped us through. I do not know that we can expect to keep up the volume of export that we so far have been maintaining since July. While I am speaking on this point in connection with the price of coal and the price of bunker coal, and the fact that we have had a sort of windfall on the financial side, partly as a result of the disturbance of distribution, I would like to speak of the difficulties we have had to meet at Liverpool. One of the most difficult problems we have had has been the problem of bunkering ships at Liverpool. As the result of the Yorkshire strike there was a great shortage of coal in the Midlands, and we had to use some Welsh coal in that area with a certain amount of Durham and Yorkshire coal. The Welsh coal was required in such great quantities that it was not possible for arrangements for railing it to be made, and a good deal had to be sent by sea. Liverpool is equipped for bunkering with rail-borne coal, and the equipment and the appliances are not suitable for bunkering with sea-borne coal, and it has been a very real difficulty. The committee of shipowners in Liverpool has been of very great assistance and help in that matter, and I hope that soon we shall be able to allow a considerable amount of coal to be borne to the port by rail for bunkering purposes.
I think that covers the series of points to Which I wished to refer about price and arrangements for bunkering. There remains the procedure with regard to the future stimulation and encouragement of the industry. It has been suggested that for some obscure reason I have been unwilling to consult the Advisory Committee which was appointed during the War to work with the Coal Controller. Nothing really could be further from the fact. The position has been this: A decision was arrived at long before I had anything to do with the Board of Trade that during the sittings of the Coal Commission, and until the arrangements with regard to the decision to be taken on the 1460 findings of the Commission should be settled, the Committee would not meet, and I think if my hon. and right hon. Friends would look back over the records they would see that there has been no regularity. There have been two or three occasions since the Sankey Commission was set up. That may have been right or it may have been wrong. It was certainly not done out of any desire to slight or ignore the Committee. It was done as a direct and deliberate step in policy with regard to the proper relations to be maintained at the time the Sankey Commission was sitting. It is true that r carried on that practice after I went to the Board of Trade in consultation with the Home Office. Therefore, if there has been any misunderstanding on this point I would remove it. I welcome and have always welcomed the assistance of the industries with which whatever work I am doing is directly associated.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
What is the price of coal paid by the Admiralty as compared with the 75s. for bunker coal?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
The profit to be allowed the coal-owners, as has been announced in this House on five or six separate occasions, first by the Leader of the House, and at other times by me, is for this year at the rate recommended by the Sankey Commission in their Interim Report, namely, 1s. 2d. per ton raised.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
When coal is raised it is raised to the surface. It is the amount raised. It has nothing to do with export. It is 1s. 2d. per ton raised. The profit in the export is a national profit. In so far as it exists as a profit at the moment it is carried over to equalise prices, to make good losses, and keep down the price. There is no individual person making great sums out of this export of bunker coal. In addition to this point of the Committee which has been made, the Prime Minister intimated last summer the setting up of a public Inquiry into reasons for the declining output. That Committee of Inquiry has had a strange and somewhat irregular his- 1461 tory. We have made great efforts to find some person suitable to act as chairman of that Inquiry, and it was decided that the Government should appoint the chairman and then consult the three big interests in the mining industry: the owners, the managerial staff, and tile men, about the composition of the Committee of Inquiry and the exact procedure. After much hunting we have, I believe, found a suitable independent man to-day. I hope to to be able to be in a position to announce his name in the course of the next day or two. That, I think, covers all the points which I wish to specially debate at this time. In summary, I may say that we believe we have got in Mr. Duncan a man who is peculiarly suitable to take on this difficult job of organising the Coal Control Office and co-ordinating its activities with the other industries of the country. We believe that in a comparatively short time he will be able to reorganise the Office and control in a way which will be helpful to the country as a whole. In conclusion, I appeal to the representatives of the miners that they will help him to carry out his difficult task. Without their help —with their opposition it would be impossible—he cannot succeed.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I have no intention at this late hour of attempting to reply to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade other than to say that as far as we are concerned his reply is of a very unsatisfactory character. We have asked for a committee of inquiry, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) has given a list of the points we want inquired into. These questions are of vital importance not only to the coal trade of the country but to the country itself, and if the position of the coal trade be such as has been outlined in the speech to which the House has just listened, then there is great need for inquiry. I am not sure that the speech of the President of the Board of Trade has not furnished quite as many reasons for an inquiry as the speech of my right hon. Friends who have already spoken. It is quite true that he has spoken about some Committee that he is about to set up. The Committee, as far as I could gather, is of far too limited a character, and we have had no information as to the reference to be submitted to that Committee. This is one of the vital industries of the nation, and, according to the President of the Board of Trade himself, it is not in a 1462 healthy condition. We want the fullest inquiry, so as to get this industry at the earliest possible moment put upon a sound footing, and I suggest to the Leader of the House that we should have further time granted to us to discuss this very important matter. It is not possible to discuss this question in all its bearings from a quarter-past eight to eleven o'clock. The time is too short; and I hope that we shall have an assurance from the Leader of the House that we shall be granted a full day in the near future to discuss this very important matter.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am rather disappointed at that request for this reason, that it would be really very difficult to get through our Parliamentary business if we were to have a preliminary canter before every discussion. I cannot at this moment make any promise in that respect, but again I say, what I have always said in these matters, that, if time be available, we shall try to meet the general wishes of the House. Hon. Gentlemen have talked about Committees, and they want a Committee to inquire into the appointment of Mr. Duncan. That is impossible. The Government of the day must take the responsibility of choosing its servants. We could not have an inquiry into that, and I would really appeal to hon. Members to give this new gentleman a chance. We have had no motive in choosing him—and I was partly responsible—except to get the best man, and I think that we should let him have a chance, and see whether we were right in appointing him. It really is absurd of hon. Gentlemen in various parts of the House to say that these figures of cost are wrong. It is simply a case of addition and subtraction, and if hon. Gentlemen on the Miners' Federation wish to appoint an accountant of their own to go into these figures we are quite ready.
It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.