HC Deb 21 October 1920 vol 133 cc1221-4

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 19th October, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."


At the close of Debate on Tuesday I submitted a question to the Prime Minister as to whether he was prepared to summon a conference of the parties concerned in the mining dispate, in the hope that that conference might lead to some satisfactory result, and perhaps bring about a termination of the dispute. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman now if he is a position to give a reply to that question whether a conference is to be summoned or whether he has any statement to make on the present situation?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)

I wish I could give a more satisfactory answer than I am in a position at the moment to give. It is true that my right hon. Friend put the question to me at the conclusion of the Debate on Tuesday: Whether the Government were prepared to summon a conference of the miners' representatives and mine owners? I then indicated to him that, in my opinion, we had to proceed cautiously because, as his experience, as well as mine and others, in the matter of trying to settle strikes shows, there is nothing worse than an abortive conference. Therefore, before a full conference was summoned, it, was very desirable that the ground should be prospected, not with a view of arriving at a settlement—because no one would have the right to sanction a settlement except a full body representing the miners on the one hand and a body representing the mine owners on the other; but I thought it possible there might be informal discussidons with those who had the confidence of the miners which would lead us to a conclusion as to the best time for summoning a conference.

We have been actively engaged—my colleagues and myself—during the last two days exploring the ground. We have been in contact with some of those who were the spokesmen of the miners in the Debate on Tuesday. We were engaged this afternoon in very full discussion with some of them with a view of finding out whether there were not other ways of reaching a settlement which might be satisfactory to both parties. I think we were making favourable progress, but I cannot withhold from the House the fact that, the very precipitate action of the railway executive has embarrassed the negotiations, and may I say that they are not merely embarrassing to one party, but to both parties. It was an interference which was exceedingly rash, exceedingly indiscreet and precipitate, and I cannot find that it was desired by anybody. I am perfectly certain that it has been no help to any of the parties. It has been a great misfortune, and it has added very seriously to the difficulties, which will be obvious to anybody. I know perfectly well that men who are engaged in negotiations on behalf of vast bodies of men have their difficulties with their constituents just as the Government have difficulties on their part; and actions of that kind encourage the more irresponsible sections who are behind the responsible loaders, who know what a Strike means, and are most anxious to avert it and its consequences. For the moment it has not been merely unhelpful, but very injurious.

Negotiations have not been broken off—I hardly like to call them negotiations, because it would not be fair to those who have been discussing, for that would mean that we were treating them as plenipotentiaries, which they are certainly not, but they are men who, as I am sure the House will be glad to know, are in the confidence of the Government, and they are making an examination of all the various alternatives with a view to presenting a solution to their respective executives. I hope that the discussion will be pursued later on, but it would be very much easier if it were left to the miners themselves to conduct these negotiations, without interference from other bodies, who do not know the facts in the least.

I wish I could have given the House a more encouraging report, but all I can say is that, as far as the Government are concerned, we shall not cease to make every endeavour to seek a peaceable solution of this great difficulty—a solution which will be satisfactory to all the parties concerned, and certainly satisfactory to the community as a whole.


For obvious reasons, which will be appreciated by the House, I make no comment on the decision which it was my duty to convey to the Prime Minister, but I ask him, as one who at this time more than any other would deplore this issue being made a fight to a finish, to believe that every hour is precious. As one who is satisfied that every day the strike continues must inevitably lead to complications, I ask him to keep clearly in mind, as he has already indicated, that however much he may deplore the decision, and whoever may be responsible for that decision, I, speaking individually at the moment, would beg him not to allow even that decision to prevent peaceful negotiations continuing.

This strike has only now lasted—[Interruption]—I do not know what the interruption means. I heard what was said, but those who have been with mc to-day know that I am not entitled to any sneer or suggestion. I am anxious to find a bridge in spite of opposition from my own side. I appreciate very much the statement of the Prime Minister who has said nothing, in spite of the Resolu- tion to aggravate the situation. On the contrary, he has said everything that can be termed conciliatory. Therefore I would only ask him, in spite of the decision that has been arrived at, not to allow the decision to prevent the negotiations being continued.


On Tuesday evening I think it was admitted by every section of the House that two miner Members of Parliament, without official sanction, had proposed on their own responsibility a way out. They pointed out that the Miners' Executive were the people to be approached. Every hour that the strike goes on means, of course, as everyone knows, increasing danger. I would ask the Prime Minister whether any intimation of any kind has been sent to the Miners' Executive suggesting or agreeing in any way to the proposed confer-once, or even intimating that you are exploring the ground.

Lieut. - Colonel Sir J. NORTON-GRIFFITHS

I would suggest that in the event of no solution being possible leading to a settlement, the Prime Minister should consider the advisability, in the interests of the country, of agreeing for a period to the two shillings, and then submitting the whole matter to the country, and letting the country decide.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Thirteen minutes after Eleven o'clock.