§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Sir Robert Horne)
I beg to move: 130That the Regulations made by His Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, by Order dated the 1st April, 1921, shall continue in force, subject however to the provisions of Section 2 (4) of the said Act.The Resolution which I am moving proposes to continue the Regulations that have been made by Order-in-Council to meet the emergency which has arisen, I do not propose at all in my speech to deal with the details of these Regulations. Questions which may arise upon these can be dealt with at a later stage in the-Debate. What I propose to do is to tell the House, if I may, what are the conditions out of which this emergency has arisen. Unfortunately for the second time within six months the House and the country are confronted with a stoppage in the coalfields. Such a situation would be a matter of the gravest anxiety at any time, but taking place to-day the effects are far more serious than would even ordinarily follow. We have come through a winter of the most severe depression. I doubt whether there are many people in the House who remember any time when trade and industry have been confronted with so many difficulties and troubles. We had only discerned the first flicker of reviving trade when this calamitous occurrence took place. It has extinguished it. When that flicker may be relighted no man can say. It is not, however, merely the general trade and industry of the country that are affected. The coal industry itself is going to suffer serious disaster. The result of the last strike was to rob us of many-markets to which our coal used to go. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!" "Hear, hear!" and "The Peace Treaty did that."]
§ Sir R. HORNE
For the first time in the history of this country American coal came to Europe in large quantities. [Interruption.] You may lay the blame where you like, but the fact is incontestable. 10,000,000 tons of coal came from America to Europe last year. Prior to that the export of coal from America; to Europe was absolutely inappreciable. In the month of October as much as 800,000 tons went to France alone from the United States. Already, as the result of this present threat, orders are being eagerly sought from America and some 131 have already been placed. I am not now talking about the responsibility. I am talking about incontestable facts. What has happened is not only a great injury to industry at a time when it has an intolerable burden to bear, but it is indeed a disaster to the coal trade itself.
These conditions I know are apt to create feeling—and we have seen some signs of it already—a feeling on both sides of the House which may give rise;to some harshness of language. I hope, however, most fervently that we shall be able to conduct this discussion in a spirit of calmness as well as of candour. I am sure if we do that that we may be able in the course of this discussion to elucidate matters sufficiently to make a solution of things easier, and to create a spirit out of which a desire for a peaceful settlement may spring. I have referred to the fact that this is the second occasion within six months upon which I have had to deal with a condition of this gravity arising out of the coal industry. The contrast between that which was said six months ago and that which has happened in the interval is very striking and very interesting, and I refer to it because it tends to throw some light upon the present situation and upon the attitude in which it is being treated. At that time the Miners' Federation was demanding an increase in wages on the footing that there was going to be a surplus fund of £66,000,000 derived from the coal industry in the pockets of the Government by the month of July next. Not only is there no surplus, but already the Government has had to meet a serious deficit. Then also the Miners' Federation asked that we should reduce the price of coal to the consumer within these islands because we were charging them too much. To-day complaint is made that we have let off the consumer in this country so cheaply in the past that we ought now to tax him in order to subsidise the coal industry. The fact is that there has been a great slump in coal prices and that all our anticipations on both sides have been falsified, and we have now to meet that situation. Following upon the last coal strike, one of the terms of the agreement was that the Miners' Federation and the owners should set themselves to find a new basis for the payment of wages. 132 They had five months within which to do it. They arrived at certain agreed con elusions. It may seem to-day as if the negotiations have been abortive, but, in point of fact, very much has been done during that period. They first of all arrived at the principle that there should be, as a first charge upon the industry, a certain standard rate of wages paid to the miners. They next fixed that there should be profits paid in proportion to the wage bill, and that thereafter any surplus which the industry yielded should be divided in two portions, one for labour and one for capital in certain percentages. It is perfectly true that they never arrived at the exact proportion, but they came within comparatively near figures of each other, and I have not the slightest doubt myself that there is any insurmountable obstacle to an agreement as to what the precise share of the wage-earner and the owner should be in the profits of the coal industry.
All through, however, there was one shadow which lay across the path of settlement. The owners desired that any wage basis that was fixed should be settled district by district. It was so in the days before the War, and the owners insisted that that principle should remain. On the other hand, the Miners' Federation contended that the settlement must be a national settlement, and that involved, as they admitted, the necessity of establishing a pooling system whereby unprofitable concerns should have their position retrieved by those which were successful in their operations. If you had, for example, deficits in Somerset, the Forest of Dean, or South Wales, these would be recouped by contributions from Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, or other districts which proved to be profitable. These were the two contending theories, and all the negotiations broke down because no settlement could be arrived at upon that great question. There came, about the month of January, a condition of things when the Government decided to decontrol the industry. I do not go into that matter at the present time, because it has all been so recently before the House. If any question be raised about it, I shall be only too happy to answer it, but I do not wish to take up the time of the House on a matter which was fully before it and discussed three weeks ago. At any rate, the conditions under which the Govern- 133 ment always said that control was necessary had disappeared, and we decided that the time for decontrol had arrived. When it appeared that no settlement was going to be arrived at, the coal owners decided that it was necessary for them within a fortnight of the time at which control expired to give notices to the men that the contracts under which they had been working must come to an end.
§ Sir R. HORNE
That is quite true, and I do not wish to make any distinction of that kind. From whatever aspect you view these notices, they were entirely necessary. They were necessary unless the coalowners were prepared to carry on the industry at the old rate of wages. They could not do it, as my hon. Friends opposite themselves admit. Therefore, they had to give notice that they could no longer carry on at those rates, but at the same time the notice stated that their pits would be kept open and employment offered to everybody in their employment after the 31st March at rates which would be published, and they proceeded afterwards to publish the rates. I noticed an observation in the Press this morning that animosity was excited by the use of the word "strike", and that it would be well to use the word "stoppage." [HON. MEMBERS: "Lock-out!"] I am perfectly prepared to use a colourless word, such as "stoppage," but, if prejudice be sought to be created by calling this condition a "lock-out," then I do wish to say something to the House on the matter, because it is only fair that if we are not to call what has happened a "strike" we should equally not call it a "lock-out." To give notice that you are going to carry on your pits at a lower rate of wages and employ everyone who wishes to come can scarcely be described as a "lock-out." Let me test it by a simple illustration. Precisely the same notices based on the same principle were posted in South Yorkshire and Leicestershire as in all the other districts, but the principle there worked out, not at a decrease, but at an increase in wages. Would any of my hon. Friends opposite contend that the miners of South Yorkshire have been locked out? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] I am content to leave the matter there. [HON. MEMBERS: 134 "Tell us about the others!"] As I have pointed out, precisely the same principle for adjusting the wage was adopted in every other district.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I shall come to that in a moment. The point about these notices with regard to wages is that the rates are district rates, and I shall immediately answer the question of my hon. Friend opposite. He says: "Will you tell us how they were arrived at?" So far as I understand the methods by which they were arrived at, they were based, in the first place, upon a standard rate which was the 1914 rate of wages, plus certain additions which are too complicated and too intricate for description in a speech such as I have to make. There was added to this standard rate another figure I have told the House that the lines on which discussion was proceeding in the negotiations between the owners and the miners was that the surplus profits over and above the standard wages and standard profits should be divided between the two parties in some ratio. The owners added to the standard rate of wages the whole of the surplus profit arrived at on the basis of the February figures. They said: "For the purpose of this period of tiding over, we shall forego all that we would be entitled to in the way of surplus profits."
§ Sir R. HORNE
I think, if my hon. Friend were listening, he would gather that, in the second place, I have been talking about surplus profits.
§ Sir R. HORNE
This arrangement was one which had been incorporated in a Report to the Government, and it con- 135 tained a qualification as to differences or modifications that might be made in the event of the March figures or a period subsequent to February showing that the proceeds of the industry could not bear it. My information is that in all districts except two no modification was made. At any rate, only two districts have been brought to my notice in that connection. [HON. MEMBEES: "Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire."] Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire form one district which I have heard mentioned, and the other is Durham. These rates which have been proposed have appeared in the newspapers, and there has been a considerable amount of canvassing of their merits and demerits. I should like to give this warning. Only the average rates have appeared in the newspapers up till recently, and these average rates cover all the workers from the piece-worker at the base down to the women and boys who are working at the pit-head. Accordingly, they give no proper information with regard to the wages which would be earned according to these rates by the more highly paid people about the collieries. The second thing I wish to say is this: I do not propose to-day to discuss whether these rates in particular districts are fair or not. I do not think we have reached the stage at which that kind of discussion is of any benefit to anybody, and I will tell the House why. The reason is this, that up till now the Miners' Federation have refused to discuss these rates with the owners, and they gave instructions that their representatives might meet the owners and hear what they had to say with regard to the district rates, but they were on no account to negotiate upon them, and until the rates have been discussed between the people interested and involved, there is very little benefit to be obtained by any outside person coming in to discuss them. I have also to keep this well in view, that one never knows what part one may have to play in the way of conciliation, and it is much better that I should pronounce no opinion at the present time.
There is, however, a much stronger reason than those I have given. I met the representatives of the Miners' Federation last week just before the stoppage took place. The cases such as have been referred to where the Miners' 136 Federation thought that the owners had not quite done what they said they were going to do in the report to the Government were brought to my notice, and I immediately said: "If I can help by having these rates reconsidered by the owners, shall I be of any assistance to you?" The answer I immediately got was: "It is no good your going to discuss these rates with the owners for this reason, that nothing you can do can solve the situation except by the Government granting a subsidy." The reason was this. It was explained by a member from South Wales, who used to be a very honoured Member of this House representing the Miners' Federation, that in South Wales the owners were offering them all the money that was in the industry, and he said: "What is the good of discussing these rates, because they are not enough, and the only thing that can be done, and the only thing we can accept, is a subsidy from the Government." Accordingly, the House will now understand that the present controversy is not really about the particular rates which are being offered. The real controversy is whether the country is to come to the assistance of the coal trade with a subsidy, which may run to tens of millions of pounds in a single year. Associated with this question of subsidy is the other great question as to whether the Government is going to impose by legislation upon the coal trade a pooling system by which the more lucrative collieries shall make up for the deficiency of those which are less successful.
I turn briefly to the consideration of these two points, the question of the subsidy and the question of the pooling arrangement. I shall not delay the House long upon this question of a subsidy by the Government either to the coal trade or any other trade. I cannot think of anything that would be more pernicious to industry as a whole than beginning to grant subsidies, but apart from that general principle let us consider how this subsidy would be paid. How would it be got? I suppose it could only be got by taxation. Who are the people who pay the taxation which is to go in the shape of this subsidy? There are many people from whom that taxation would have to come who are already overburdened and who have no war bonus at all, who endured endless privations during the War, and who now find it 137 very difficult indeed to maintain an existence. For the most part they have been bearing that burden quietly and inarticulately. In addition to that I suppose some of the greatest taxpayers of the country are the great industries. What is happening to them at the present time? There is scarcely a great industry which is not suffering the direst privation and tribulation. A large number of men are now working on short time, and there are 1,500,000 people who cannot get work in industry. Are you going to tax these crippled industries which are maintaining themselves with great difficulty in order to subsidise an industry which has better chances and more chances than any other with which I am acquainted at the present time? As I said to the Miners' Federation, there is no hope of a solution of this great question to be found along that line.
The other suggestion is that this is not enough and that it still requires, according to Mr. Hodges, in addition to a subsidy a system of pooling profits. I have already said in this House that I cannot imagine anything which would so destroy the incentive to activity and enterprise than that people should feel that no matter how hard they worked or however greatly they developed their skill and efficiency, it was to be used to subsidize people who worked less hard and who took less trouble and were at less pains to make their industry profitable. Accordingly I told the Miners' Federation on behalf of the Government that it could not be supposed that the Government would come to their aid in that fashion. What then is the result. The result in our view is that an attempt must be made again, after the abandonment of these principles, with regard to which, so far as I can see, there can be no compromise, to come together and really discuss the wage systems for each of these districts.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am very sorry to hear that, because they have never yet been discussed, and I hope before many days are over we shall see a change of attitude in regard to that matter. Two suggestions have been made. It has been suggested that we ought to carry on for a month under a revised system of Government control. [HON. MEMBBRS: "No!"] Whether this suggestion has occurred before or arises now for the 138 first time does not matter, but it must be perfectly plain to the House that that would have afforded no solution if the attitude is, as my hon. Friend says, that they must have this subsidy and this control. If that is the attitude, what benefit is a month's delay, because it only means a further expenditure of public money and the certainty of trouble at the end of it. I see it has been stated by those who wish to create a situation of prejudice that this is the first attack upon wages, but how can this be said to be an attack upon wages? Let me again take the case of South Yorkshire and Leicestershire where the wage offered under this system is actually higher. Can that be described as an attack upon wages?
§ Sir R. HORNE
If I am wrong about the figures, then I have been wrongly informed, but I am perfectly sure that it only requires a few moments between us to put the figures right. I am assured that in South Yorkshire and Leicestershire the average figure is higher. It may be that certain proportions come out at less, but, on the other hand, some others may come out at more. I venture to say that nobody can assert that a system or a proposal which is made upon the same system throughout all the districts of the country, which offers a higher average rate in two districts by creating a rise in wages, is a deliberate attempt on the part of anybody to make an attack upon wages. I wish to say something more upon this head. The Miners' Federation does not contest, indeed it acknowledges the fact that the industry cannot pay today the wages they are asking, because the money is not there, and the prices will not yield proceeds sufficient to do it, and that is why they are asking for a subsidy. Can you say that a reduction in wages which is involved in an economic system like that is a deliberate attack upon wages? Is it to be said that in every case you can construe it as a 139 deliberate attack on wages if the Government refuse to come forward to subsidise a particular industry in order to give them the wages they want? I leave that to the judgment of the House.
The truth is that the country just now is in a position industrially of great difficulty, and every trade is suffering alike. It is impossible for the coal trade alone to escape. Many people to-day are not getting anything like the wages they used to have, but on the contrary are getting no wages at all, and we have to take account of these circumstances, and we shall all have to suffer. I venture to say to the coal miners, who have more opportunities of employment, and more regular opportunities than any of the other great industries, leaving out the railways, that they should take into account the difficulties of all the other trades, and the difficulties with which the country and every citizen in it are confronted. They can see in the principle the coalowners have offered, apart from the particular figures which are still open to negotiation, the opportunity for increased wages with every revival of trade that takes place in every industry in the country, and is it too much to ask them to bear like the others the difficulties of the present situation and to look forward to the more prosperous times that we hope for in the future. I do not believe that the coal miners of this country are impervious to these considerations, and I hope that the few days that have elapsed since the struggle began may have given them opportunities for reflection, and that they will be more ready now than they were last week to enter into negotiations for a peaceful settlement upon lines which will not involve further subsidies from the State or further taxation on the already overburdened taxpayers, nor yet the resumption of the control of an industry which, I am certain, everybody was anxious to be rid of.
§ Mr. CLYNES
A combination of very rare gifts and qualities hastened the advent of the right hon. Gentleman to the position of great distinction and authority which at this moment he fills, and I can offer to him, apart altogether from the occasion of this controversy, the congratulations of the House upon his occupancy of the high office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Great as are his gifts, they have not on this occasion 140 enabled him altogether to conceal the degree of embarrassment which clearly he feels as a result of the policy pursued by himself and the Government in the last few days. I shall have a little to say on two or three very striking omissions in the speech to which we have just listened, but I want to begin by resenting the implication, for at least it was that, that the miners some time ago, by the steps which they took, were the cause of the loss of export coal trade. Many obvious and admitted reasons, not unconnected with the region of foreign affairs, have had much to do with the breakdown of the export coal trade as well as of the export trade of the country in many other particulars, and we must decline to shoulder the blame, and I think the miners are entitled to resent the imputation that they are to blame, or that any steps they have taken are responsible for the falling off in the export coal trade. I was very glad to hear the statement of my right hon. Friend when dealing as he did too briefly, with the history of the negotiations between the mine owners and Miners' Federation —I was very glad to hear him say that during the progress of those negotiations considerable headway had been made towards points of agreement. The right hon. Gentleman might well have spent more time in pursuing that theme and in explaining to the House why these negotiations were not continued, and why they were not assisted, and I will even say nursed and guided by the hands of the Government, for there was so much at stake that the Government should have exerted itself fully and used every possible resource to see that the negotiations were brought to a successful issue. The right hon. Gentleman referred also to the Conference which on one occasion he had with the representatives of the men. He met them—and it is not now a private story for it is recorded in public documents—he met them on the 11th March.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Yes, but I am referring particularly to that one occasion. The right hon. Gentleman met them and went exhaustively into the matter and Mr. Hodges, the chief spokesman for the miners' representatives, put before him the devices or proposals, call them what you will, for avoiding the threatened 141 stoppage and for arranging a settlement. And having heard a full statement from Mr. Hodges and his colleagues, this was the impression left on the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. I will read his own words—I have listened to as lucid and well expressed a statement as it has ever been my lot to deal with, and I cannot fail to confess to you that I am very much impressed by the statement Mr. Hodges has made. It would be idle for me to pretend to give a reply straight away to a scheme which I have now only seen and adumbrated for the first time.
§ Mr. CLYNES
A quotation from a report. I will continue:I would be less than candid if I did not say that while Mr. Hodges' explanation of your unification scheme gets rid of many difficulties which I have in my mind, I cannot admit that at the present moment it gets rid of them all, but I certainly would like to read the scheme at my leisure, and to give it the consideration which it undoubtedly deserves.That is more than the language of compliment, and I am quoting it merely to express the point that clearly the two sides were endeavouring to use every resource to avoid a conflict, to propound plans, and to seek their acceptance in the hope of work being continued in the industry, and the President of the Board of Trade, as he then was, was very exceptionally impressed, not merely with the lucidity, but with the substance of the proposals put before him. The document from which I have quoted is a report of a Conference between the representatives of the Miners' Federation and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, which took place on 11th March. I refer to this quotation again to ask—
§ Sir R. HORNE
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he appears to be passing from the point. Was he informed that, after three days' consideration, I wrote a letter to Mr. Hodges explaining that I had carefully studied his scheme, and, after due consideration, had come to the conclusion it simply was a system of pooling the profits in a more detailed form, and that accordingly, on behalf of the Government, I could not accept it.
§ Mr. CLYNES
That makes this particular point a little more clear to the 142 House, but it does not at all lessen, I think, the weight of the point which I am pressing, namely, that negotiations up to a certain point seemed to promise prospect of some settlement, and if one proposal was not acceptable it might be replaced by another. What I am coming to is this. In spite of agreement being reached in stages, in spite of the employers on the one hand making proposals and men on the other making them, suddenly something occurs to completely break down the negotiations and to produce these lock-out notices from the employers! It was for that reason no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman preferred only to glance at and then to turn his head away from the very important question of the Government policy on control. He did not wish to debate control on the ground, that it had been adequately discussed-with already. But really the House did not permit that Debate to proceed so long as many hon. Members desired to continue it. Apart from the effect of the Closure which suppressed discussion there is a definite policy of the Government suddenly reached for reasons yet quite-unexplained, and what I want to know is how is it that we have upon the Statute Book a law providing that control should continue until the 31st August— [An HON. MEMBER: "Not later than"]—I say until the 31st August, and why, with, that date on the Statute Book as the limit of the period of control, in the interim, while negotiations are being continued by the two parties, and to some degree assisted by the Government, there is suddenly this resolve to antedate the last day for control and to bring in a Bill, and force it through this House in spite of every effort either on the floor of the House or in Committee to fix the date of decontrol as the last day in March. I hope that is a not unreasonable request. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Budget."] Then are we not to have anything in this country which is going to cost the country anything at all? That seems to be the policy of some hon. Members, and I venture to say that all you will get on those lines would scarcely be worth having when you got it. You cannot balance this question in the scales of profit and loss. I had better try to make that clear to some hon. Members. You could save a given sum per month by decontrol. You have saved it to the Treasury, but what is it costing the country? The 143 balance of loss which decontrol has caused because of this stoppage of the coal industry, if contrasted with the amount saved by the abolition of control—
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am sorry that some of the facts which I am trying to produce are so disturbing to the minds of hon. Members that they cannot allow me to proceed. I am putting the view to the House that, in these great questions of policy, Parliament, whilst it must have regard to principles, can so worship a principle as to be sacrificed to it. That it what I am now arguing. In spite of our repeated appeals to give still a short period of control—we pressed strongly for a month—in which period everything would be done to try and arrange matters and compose differences — instead of taking that line, which, I agree, would have cost the country something, a line has been taken which it required no prophet to see was certain to cost the country far more. The right hon. Gentleman chose to say that this was not now a stoppage resting upon any question of figures of wages. I press him to modify that view. It is a question of figures to the miner. To the wage-earner, the coal-getter, the greater of the two questions is, surely, that of wages, the second question being that of method. As to method, the whole mining community, on the men's side, desires a continuance of the hard-won right of national settlements. It desires to continue that method to the end of securing and retaining fair wages. It does not reject, as I understand, the possibility at some time or other, according to variations in the cost of living, of diminished wages; but, if there is to be a diminution in wages, it must be on the principle of a uniform percentage diminution, and not upon such a scale or plan as the employers have proposed.
I repeat, therefore, that, while these negotiations were pending, it would have been higher statesmanship and better public policy for the Government to have insisted upon the two parties coming together, instead of coming between them with this Decontrol Bill and producing a spirit of embitterment and an atmosphere which made it impossible to arrange any settlement. Beyond doubt, prior to the War, there were low wages and cheap coal. 144 In some sense what is called the community—trade and business and industry —profited by cheap coal; but the miners, surely, had a right to rise and struggle for better conditions, and I need make no appeal to the heart or mind of any hon. Member to consider the miner as a wealth producer and a man. Even in those moments when there may be cause for anxiety, and when there is a lapse, from one cause or another, from the path of right conduct, let us not forget what the miner in the mass is. Judge him as a coal-getter, as a sportsman, as a soldier, as a citizen—judge him from any of those angles, and testimony as high as that which has been publicly expressed by the Prime Minister himself can be cited in the miner's favour. There must be, then, some underlying cause for the differences which have arisen and for the difficulties which now rest upon them. I therefore re-echo the sentiment expressed in the right hon. Gentleman's opening speech, when he appealed that this discussion should be directed upon some lines of trying to produce, from whatever quarter we can, suggestions, ideas, to bring the parties together again. It can be fought out, of course; but it might be better to think it out than to fight it out. The whole community must suffer deeply and for a long time, according to the duration of this struggle, and if anyone is to begin to consider ways and means for composing differences, this, of all places, is the proper place in which to do it, for it was here that the trouble started.
I claim for the miner that his offence against the community, as it has been described by eloquent newspapermen and others, is not, at the worst, so great as to justify this intolerable reduction in the amount of his weekly wages. We have lists, and there seems to be no doubt about the figures. The proposed reduction appears to vary from anywhere about 20 per cent, up to 50 per cent., and I am told that in one or two cases it is even more than 50 percent. Even in an industry which is not paying, that is a very stiff proposition. The country, it is said, is in a state of insolvency and hardly paying its way. It is only by the ingenuity of Chancellors of the Exchequer that the State balance-sheet can be made to balance. What would all civil servants say, what would all those of us who are in the pay of the State say, what would members of the 145 Cabinet and the Government say, if they were told that, because the State is not paying its way, they must submit to a 50 per cent, reduction of their salaries? I have said that a stage may be reached where some reduction eventually might come as a matter of agreement, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman or the Prime Minister dare attempt any justification of a reduction so outrageous as this one of 50 per cent. If the miners as a body were a body of saints, they could not do otherwise, in face of this proposed reduction, than tell the Government to go to heaven and get its coal itself, rather than that they would submit to this reduction.
Clearly, some new plan for the rescue of the mining industry from its old condition must be devised. The present proposals of the mineowners, apparently supported by the Government, or at any rate, neither criticised nor repudiated by the Government, are proposals to throw back the industry to the condition in which it was before the War. [HON. MEMBERS: "Worse."] The evidence for a change was so overpowering that those who issued what we know as the Sankey Report declared that some other system must be substituted for it—either nationalisation or a method of unification by national purchase or joint control. Everyone appears to be agreed that there must be some plan other than the present plan, and yet this is the only plan which for the moment appears to command the sympathy of the Government. I would, then, ask the Prime Minister to address himself to the question of bringing together the parties to this difference. I think he was not in the House during the time when we were discussing in its later stages what is known to us as the Decontrol Bill, and I want, therefore, to inform him that hon. Members speaking officially for the Miners' Federation appealed fervently for a little more time—for a month or two. I am no judge myself as to the precise period which might be sufficient, but it would be better to give two or three months for the settlement of this difference than to have the loss even of two or three weeks' stoppage in the coal industry. Let me put the view, as I see it, as to who are the interests or parties having a definite responsibility in relation to this difference I suggest to the Prime Minister that there are four interests or parties to this unhappy difference. The 146 State is a party. It cannot wash its hands of the job and say that it is done with. It cannot, during the trade's period of prosperity, when millions of pounds were being made by the trade and were flowing into the Exchequer—it cannot during that period keep its hand upon control—
§ Mr. CLYNES
I think it can be shown that that is true. In connection with the Excess Profits Duty, as a result of the fact that coal was being sold at far below the world's price, and was, therefore, indirectly a great source of revenue to the public purse, I say that the community, the State, has directly benefited financially by the control of the mining industry. Then the miners are a party. They cannot under any circumstances, nor do they under any circumstances, say that they will submit to no variation in their wages. The mineowners come in as a third party; and, lastly, there is the whole body of the consuming public. Here, then, we have four factors or partners to this great concern—the consumers, the State, the mineowners and the miners. It is, surely, a fair proposition that, whatever burden must fall upon the trade, if any burden has to fall upon it, should be borne in some part by each of those partners, and not by one alone. It would appear that the Government, instead of taking the initiative and bringing or keeping the parties together, so as to exhaust completely every possible means for arranging a settlement, has released three of the parties from their obligations, and has thrown the whole burden upon the remaining party. I put it to the Prime Minister that it is not-fair to throw the whole of this burden upon the producer. Indeed, I go further, and say that, of all the partners, the one who has the greatest claim is the producer himself. You may use Proclamations-they may be necessary—you may use all the King's horses and all the King's men and get the mines in your grip so far as the law is concerned, but they will remain absolutely useless until you get the miners down into the pits.
There are lots of people in this country who, though they may indulge themselves freely in condemnation of the miner, will not go the length of taking his job. That is the miner's strength, but I do not want to use 147 it in the sense of abusing it. Clearly, however, the miner proposes to withhold his labour on the new terms. The silliness as well as the size of such a reduction as is proposed would stagger a body of men in any trade or occupation. Psychology is no monopoly, and had a similar proposal been made in any other industry in the same manner by any other body of employers you would have the same result. I hope, however eager some of us may be at times in expressing our views upon this question, we shall not close this Debate by leaving it absolutely barren of any suggestion which may produce good results. Let not the Prime Minister forget that it was. he who began to tell the workers of this country to be audacious, to unite, to band themselves together so that what they had been able to win in the War they would be able to hold. The Government surely can find no fault in the fact that occasionally working men take the advice of their elder statesmen. Those who take the view that in this case the miners were wrong but that this is an outrageous proposal to seek to impose upon them, appeal to the Government to return to its real function, a function which it deserted a few weeks ago when it threw these two warring parties together and said, "Settle it amongst you." Let it return to its function as mediator and compose the differences of which its policy was the first cause.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I ask the indulgence of the House while, as a private Member, I intervene in this Debate. Anyone who wishes to suggest a basis upon which this dispute can eventually be settled has to come to close grips with the figures which must be the subject of discussion between the parties. I am not personally able to do so as a private Member, and especially as one not skilled in figures, but if I cannot really make a material contribution to the Debate, I hope I may at least try. We all agree that this is not a matter into which it is possible for reproach to enter on either side with advantage either to the country or to the House. The history of the coal industry is one which might be discussed with interest, but hardly with profit, at the present moment. If it were necessary to discuss the circumstances in which the fall in export price has taken place and how it has affected the country and the 148 industry, there is a great deal that might be said which might incriminate, if I may use that word, both the mining industry and the Government, because it is quite certain that the Government made a great many of their plans in connection with the coal industry in consideration of the high prices which were being extracted from our Allies. It is equally certain that the miners egged on the Government to bank upon the expectation that those high prices would be realised over a long period. I do not wish to enter into that discussion this afternoon, because there is no room for reproach or recrimination.
What I do want to urge first of all is that it is incumbent upon all of us to try and see the other man's point of view. That is what I am going to venture to try to do. I have tried to measure how my life would be affected if my income were suddenly and unexpectedly reduced by 20, 25, or, has been said, even 50 per cent. There is more human nature involved in this subject of wages than we generally realise. It is more a psychological than an economic crisis, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) has suggested. I am quite certain that some of the results of the present policy of the miners were not intended; perhaps they were not even contemplated by them. I am sure it is not the cold calculation of material gain which has led the miners or the miners' leaders to insist upon the withdrawal of the enginemen and pump men from the pits. I am quite sure it is not callous disregard for the dumb beasts that has made them insist on the retention of those animals in the drowning pits. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not true!"] I am sure it is not callous disregard of the mute appeal of the beasts. It is the result of emotions which, if we make an effort, we can understand. It is a mistake to suppose that all the miners in the various parts of the country are as well instructed as those of us who are constantly dealing with these matters. They are certainly not as well instructed as their leaders. They are very often the servants of those from whom they receive information in the lodge or in the private discussions which take place. When this tremendous reduction in wages took place—tremendous to them—I can imagine, when I put myself in their position, the feeling of surprise, based upon ignorance, and quickly ripening to dismay and then 149 to anger—mad, wild anger, if you will—but still an emotion intelligible in the circumstances, and leading to results which, I am sure, some of those who have felt the emotion already regret as much as we do. What I have tried to do in endeavouring to discover if there is any solution of this question is to seek to understand the point of view of those who are said to be responsible for the position at the present time. I have tried to measure my life by theirs. I have tried to picture to myself their hardships, their perils, their difficulties, their temptations, their pleasures—they have few pleasures compared with those which I enjoy—and the lack of the realisation of the good things of life which a great many of us have.
When I try to imagine what the loss of all those things which I enjoy would mean to me, I can imagine how this emotion which I have mentioned would act upon the minds of men who are perhaps not very well informed about the economic position of this industry. What they are groping after, and groping after perhaps with steps which often go astray, is a life free from the torturing anxiety of privation in, I will not say the luxuries, but the necessities of life. We hardly realise the extent to which this torturing anxiety enters into the lives of these men. When I have tried to do what we have all been told to do, namely, look not on our own things but on the things of others, I can imagine how these emotions will lead men to do the wildest and most reckless acts. However much we regret—I regret it as much as anybody—what the miner is doing in destroying his means of livelihood, I do say that the very first step to the solution of this question is to try to understand the psychological process by which it is possible for these things to come about. This point of view has been too much absent from the discussion which has proceeded so far outside this House. It is necessary and interesting that figures should be presented to us, but what does the weekly wage mean? What is its measure? What does it convey to us who count our incomes possibly in hundreds or thousands? What does it convey to us when we say that the miner has £2 10s. or £3 10s. a week? We may say that is wealth to the miner, but what do we know of his necessities or of its relativity 150 towards them? That is not a matter which we can discuss, because needs are infinite and the value of the wage to the individual is as elusive as his needs are infinite. I hope I am not revolutionary when I say that we have to get beyond the point of view or the attitude which has perhaps been too common up to the present time, that these wage wars are merely encroachments upon the general wealth of the community which have to be resisted at all costs. We have to get beyond that point of view and we have to meet as man to man, each trying to understand the point of view of the other fellow and see whether, mistaken though he may be and mistaken though we may be, there is not some common ground upon which we can join for the benefit of both and, most of all, for the benefit of the country.
Having said so much, may I say that the new spirit in which the owners have made their offer has not been sufficiently recognised. I hope hon. Members opposite will allow me to say without contradiction that I think it displays a really generous spirit on the part of the owners, when one knows and understands the history of wage settlements in the coal industry during the past. When one looks back to the days of those means of settlement so much associated with the names of Sir William Lewis and Lord Merthyr and thinks of what the owners are doing and what they are giving up now in the offers which they have made to the men, I think if the miners were properly instructed by their leaders they would recognise a new spirit in these offers. Then the additional fact also must be recognised that the industry is bankrupt except in certain coalfields at the present time. I have figures from a colliery in one of the richest parts of the South Wales coalfields which show that last working month the cost per ton was 61s. 2d., and the price realised free on board was 28s. 3d., a loss of about 32s. for every ton raised. In another pit the cost was 61s. 5d. and the price realised was 37s. 9d. These facts are perfectly well known in the House, but it is desirable that the public should have some actual information as to particular losses. How can it be said that the owners could do more than they have done, at any rate up to the present moment, in the extraordinarily generous offer which they have made to the miners 151 —not perhaps adequate to the individual miner, but generous from the point of view of those who are making it. I came down to the House with the idea of making a small suggestion which would have involved me in no particular loss, namely, that there may be those who have drawn comparatively large profits in the coalfields in the past who might have been prepared to surrender a portion or the whole of their undertaking for the benefit of the community or of the miners. It would have involved a small loss on my part, because what I possess in the coal industry runs into a few hundred pounds, but it does not exist because in one pit the gob is on fire and the other three pits are drowned and the company will come to an end. So that proposal is not one which I can make.
That being the position, what are the suggestions that we can make1? I have no figures to give. I can only catch hold of something the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) said and throw it out humbly and respectfully, perhaps afraid I am suggesting things which are impossible or which the Government may not care to contemplate. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that these reductions are from 25 to 30 or even 50 per cent., and said that must fall hardly on a miner's household. Of course, it must. It means a sudden revolution in his manner of life. It means, perhaps, a reduction below the proper subsistence of life level. What the right hon. Gentleman threw out, if I caught him rightly, was that, at any rate, the industry was entitled to a uniform percentage reduction. I would add to that a graduated uniform percentage reduction, by which," instead of 25 or 50 per cent, taking immediate effect, is it not possible that a reduction shall take place by a graduated process which will reach an economic datum? I contemplate what I think would be generally accepted, that if the industry could get to work with a good heart we should again have an increased output and a reduction of costs, which in time, on the basis of the owners' offer, would increase the wages, and the miners would get the benefit of the reduction in costs which will at once result from the increased output. Is it impossible for the. Government to consider some advance to the coal industry which will enable the wages to be reduced by a 152 uniform percentage all over the industry and which conceivably may be repaid out of the industry over a period which will be determined between the industries and the Government? I throw out these suggestions rather timidly, but I cannot help thinking we have to discover some way by which the burden can be eased to the miners of a sudden reduction. The last thing in the world I want to do is to embarrass the Government. The Government are entitled to sympathy, and the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to the admiration of the House for the fearless way he put the question before us, without passion and without heat, and certainly without any animus against the industry for which he has already done so much. If only his spirit can be imitated by those who are responsible on the other side—and I know they have the security of the country as much at heart as he has—I should have thought the men of great capacity that there are on both sides , could think of a solution, if not on the lines I have suggested, at any rate on other lines, which will enable the men to go back to work without thinking they have been treated hardly, and which will enable the country to feel that submission is not being made to a great threat. I should not like to think that any of us have yielded to force. I feel that as joint effort and common sacrifice won the War for us, joint effort and common sacrifice on both sides, miners and owners, will enable us to win peace for the industry which is so essential to the welfare of the nation.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
I sincerely hope the Debate will be continued in the same spirit in which it has begun. I re-echo the words of the last speaker on that subject. I should wish also most cordially to emphasise the fact that in my opinion the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Labour party was very much after that style, and was most statesmanlike. Both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Leader of the Labour party have asked us if it is possible to throw out some suggestions which may perhaps be helpful for dealing with the situation. I think it is the duty of any private Member who knows anything about the business to offer any suggestions he may think might be useful. 153 In doing so myself I wish to make, it perfectly clear that I have no brief whatever for the Mining Association. I have had no conversation with the Executive of the Mining Association or the Central Committee, but speak simply as a private Member of the House, as a coalowner and as one deeply interested in other industries of the country. When these negotiations commenced and continued for some time we were told, with the consent of both parties, that they had come to agreement on two or three main principles. The first was that the first charge upon the profits of the industry should be the men's wages and the second charge should be a minimum profit to the owner, and secondly, that the wages to be paid should be such as the industry could afford. We hear to-day that we are at the breaking point and that the miners have had their wages suddenly reduced and they want more time for negotiating with the owners, and in order to enable them to have that more time they ask that the Government should subsidise the industry on the present basis. Another idea has been thrown out by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Inskip) that wages should be reduced by degrees. That also means the same principle of a subsidy from the Government. That has been entirely and absolutely repudiated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That is dead as far as the Government is concerned.
The second snag between the two parties is the pooling of profits. My right hon. Friend said the owners are unalterably opposed to this, for the simple reason that it would be the death of any industry were this to be carried on indefinitely, because all inducement for economical working or further developments would gradually cease. The worst thing that could possibly happen to any industry would be the pooling of profits. I should like to ask anyone interested in business how he would like to have all cotton businesses pooled into one, so that a man who managed his business well and made 20 per cent, profit had to divide it up with a man who made 2½ per cent. He would not bear of it. I do not see why, having tasted the sweets, or rather the bitterness of this pooling for four years, we should be asked to continue it now. It is unthinkable. The third snag in these negotiations is this: The owners 154 base their calculations as to wages on what each district itself can afford to pay. The miners, on the other hand, say: "We will not have these district computations; we must have it on a national basis." That is where the difference comes between the two, and where I hope to be able to throw out a suggestion which, if it does not lead actually to a satisfactory conclusion, may still induce the two-parties to come together and have more talk, and will also give more time for the other trade unions to think seriously before they take a step which may be fatal. We have in the different districts worked out what each district can afford to pay in wages.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
The coalowners. I am sure the hon. Member will not contest that point. They have worked out, as far as they are able, and I believe honestly and fairly, how far particular districts can pay to each grade of men.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
I can absolutely say with regard to the district I know that we even stretched a point to give the men more than a great many of the owners thought they could afford to do. I went into it myself. In every district there are good mines and bad. The good mines, of course, could afford to-pay, but it is quite a moot point whether the bad ones could pay, and I put it myself to the chairman that we ought to find out before we settled about this, offer whether all the mineowners present were willing to carry on and whether it paid them or not, because they must know on the face of it whether it would pay them or not. He put it to every individual owner and they said, "We are willing to try so as to have some way of carrying on." That is what happened in my own district, and probably the same thing occurred elsewhere. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes), from my knowledge of him, would be the last man to insinuate in any way that the owners have not on this occasion done their very best to come to a just conclusion. 155 The owners have made these calculations in every district and they have found out as fairly as they possibly could what is a fair wage that that particular district can afford to give to each particular grade of workman. Where my hon. Friends opposite differ from us is that they want these particular wages for each particular grade to be settled nationally. There is not very much between us. If you get the particular wages of every particular grade settled in every district, you have the number of men in every district of the particular grade, and it is very easy to add them together, to collate the different results in the different districts, and to make a national computation of what the average national wage of every particular grade would be for the whole country. That is what I believe the miners' leaders have asked for. If that average wage for every particular grade was worked out for the whole country, and if the miners who have been offered higher wages than the average, as in South Yorkshire, Leicestershire, and other districts, would consent to have their wages brought down to the average—which is what the miners' leaders have asked for; they want a national wage—so as to allow in the districts where the miners of every particular grade have been offered something in wages lower than the average, to receive the average, the same wages in the aggregate would be paid all over the country to every grade. Every man would be getting the same thing, and the owners would not have to find any more money because it would be the same amount that would be involved.
Therefore, I throw out this suggestion to my friends on the miners' side, and to my friends on the owners' side. It is not very much for the owners to give in and say: "Well, in order to give us more time to consider these proposals, which we have all asked for, we will consent, say, for three months, to carry on this national wage. Although it is not really fairly and squarely an economic wage—we all know that—we will consent to have an average wage for the whole country for all grades of men, and will give up our point that we must have the thing settled by districts." If, on the other hand, the miners' leaders would recommend their men in the rich districts, where they have been offered higher wages than the 156 average to accept the average, then if that proposition is approached fairly on both sides, there will be some ground and reason for the two sides to come together again and for sober counsels to prevail, while the other trade unions who are considering drastic action in support of the miners will have more time to consider amongst themselves what their action might mean for themselves and their country.
§ Mr. HOLMES
If we cast our memory back to industrial disputes of the past, we shall realise that there has always been some clear-cut issue, such as the demand for higher wages of a definite amount, or for the reinstatement of dismissed workpeople. In such cases independent persons were, able to pursue a policy of conciliation and compromise with tangible facts before them. To-day, the nation finds itself facing a most menacing dispute, concerning which not one person in a thousand can give the concrete facts. There is no definite issue; there is even a difference of opinion as to whether there is a strike or a lock-out. There is the greatest danger of a withdrawal of labour by the workers in other industries, and there are possibilities in the situation that appal one to contemplate. It is, therefore, well, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that in the calm atmosphere of the House of Commons we should review the facts concerning the recent history of the coal industry, and the House will perhaps forgive me if in view of the new situation I repeat one or two points which I made on the Report stage of the Coal Industry (Decontrol) Bill.
Coal control commenced in November, 1916, when a serious dispute had arisen between the South Wales coalowners and miners. Prior to that time the coal industry had regulated itself according to districts, such disputes as arose being settled by District Conciliation Boards. The coalowners were organised by means of District Associations, and each District Association was affiliated to the Coal Mining Association of Great Britain. If a strike occurred at an individual colliery, the other collieries of the district submitted to a levy on their profits as compensation to the colliery owner whose men had struck. The miners, too, were organised in districts. They collected and invested their funds locally, and each district was affiliated to the Miners' Federa- 157 tion. It will be remembered that in the strike last year the strike pay depended upon the invested funds of the miners' District Associations, and was not a flat rate for the whole country. The method of remunerating the miner in the pre-control days was on the whole a good one. He received a minimum wage, but his actual weekly earnings depended upon his output, and were augmented according to the selling price of coal; but the minimum wage was settled according to districts, and differed greatly in various parts of the country. One of the aims of the Miners' Federation for many years has been to establish a national minimum wage for the whole country.
The imposition of control at the end of November, 1916, for South Wales and at the end of February, 1917, for the remainder of the country altered the whole basis on which the industry had been worked. The Coal Controller surveyed the whole area as one, fixed prices without regard to districts and the cost of production, and ordered coal to be despatched to the place where it was most required or to which it could most economically be carried by rail or coastwise traffic. The nationalisation of the coal industry which thus occurred so far as supplies and prices were concerned made it necessary that profits should be pooled. The method by which the profits were divided amongst the coalowners has been fixed and amended by four Acts of Parliament, and without going into details the result has roughly been to enable the coalowner to retain from the beginning of 1917 to the end of March, 1921, a period of 4¼ years, a sum equal to 4¼ times his pre-War standard of profits. The effect of this upon the position of the coal industry it the present time should be realised. The national supply of coal can only be maintained by the regular development of new pits, the sinking of shafts and the opening of fresh seams of coal. This also applies to the cost of production, for as you win the coal farther away from the bottom of the shaft, so the cost of production rises, and fresh seams are necessary to maintain a reasonable average of cost. Regular development work requires a regular supply of new capital, and in the coal industry this has been mainly raised, as in other industries, by setting aside a portion of each year's profits. The effect of 4¼ years of control has been, firstly, 158 that very little development work has been done; secondly, that owing to the owners only receiving a sum equal to their pre-War standard during the period little money has been set aside for now sinking new shafts and for opening new workings in place of those which are becoming exhausted; and, thirdly, that with the country's financial resources so limited the colliery companies have very little prospect of getting fresh capital from the usual sources. Four and quarter years of control have left the industry in a sorry state from the coalowners' point of view.
Let us now look at the miners' position. I have already said that in the pre-control days his wages were fixed by districts and rose according to the selling price of coal. The limitation of prices put an end to this basis, and the miner after the imposition of control found that his wages remained stationary while the cost of living rose by leaps and bounds. He therefore, in 1917, appealed to the Government for a rise in wages to meet the increased cost of living, and an increase to the extent of 3s. per day was granted. So commenced the fixing of the miner's wage on a national basis. No further increase was given until this Parliament met at the beginning of 1919, when a very serious position had arisen in the coal industry. The Miners' Federation were then putting forward a demand for increased wages, decreased hours, and the nationalisation of the coal industry. A Royal Commission, with Mr. Justice Sankey as Chairman, was appointed, and in its interim Report recommended inter alia, an increase of 2s. a day in wages on a national basis, which was intended, not to meet the increased cost of living, but to improve the social position of the miner's life. The 2s. per day was granted and dated back to January, 1919. In the autumn of last year, the Miners' Federation applied for a further increase of wages to meet the further increased cost of living since the Armistice. The strike which ensued was settled on terms which practically said to the miners, "If you will give us increased output, we will give you increased wages." The miners gave the increased output, and for a few weeks received their increased pay, but owing to circumstances for which neither they nor the coalowners were responsible they had lost by the beginning of March the whole of the increase which they gained 159 from the settlement. The chagrin which must naturally result from such an occurrence must be generously taken into account at the present time.
There is another matter connected with the strike settlement which must be referred to. One of the terms of settlement was that coalowners and miners should meet with a view to settling by 31st March the general conditions on which the coal industry should be carried on, and in particular that the miners should in future share in the profits made. These meetings were duly held, and while it would be incorrect to say that an agreement was in sight, the conferences had succeeded in eliminating many points of difference and were proceeding on lines that promised eventual success, notwithstanding that the conditions of the export trade changed completely during the period. But the negotiators on both sides received a bolt from the blue by the introduction by the Government of a Bill early in March to decontrol the industry on the 31st day of that month.
It will be recollected that by the Mining Industry Act, 1920, the date of decontrol was fixed for 31st August next. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If it was to be earlier why was it necessary for the Government to introduce a Bill to make it the 31st of March? Many of us, when the Decontrol Bill was discussed here, pleaded for an extension of time of at least a month or six weeks, so that the negotiations then in progress might be successfully concluded. We pointed out that the negotiating bodies were cumbrous and that time was necessary so that both sides might consult those whom they represented and obtain their sanction for various proposals. It was argued that, even if the result of continuing control for one month or six weeks should place a charge on the Treasury, such charge would be as nothing compared with the loss that would accrue to the' nation if the negotiations broke down. The Government were scornful at the suggestion. The Secretary for Mines said on the Report stage of the Decontrol Bill.The argument that by fixing the date at the 31st of March we in some way damnify the amicable negotiations that have been going on between the owners and the miners' representatives is one that I find difficult to follow. We hear to-day that160excellent progress is being made, and I see no reason why an agreement should not be reached. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that as a rule agreements are not reached until the last moment that it is necessary to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1921, col. 1897, Vol. 139.]This wonderful prophecy that "it would be all right on the night" has proved incorrect. The Decontrol Act effectively damnified the amicable negotiations which had been going on, and to-day we find ourselves on a slippery slope, and are wondering when we shall be able to stop. Claiming, as I venture to do, some knowledge of the coal industry, I say without hesitation that the precipitate passing of the Decontrol Bill is alone responsible for the position in which we as a nation find ourselves to-day. The negotiations were proceeding between the coalowners' and the miners' representatives. The former were unfortunately placed, and the latter were in a very difficult position. But the miners' representatives had agreed that control could not be maintained indefinitely, and that the industry must be placed on an economic basis.
Having reached that point, it was not unreasonably sanguine to anticipate that an agreement would be arrived at between the two negotiating bodies, the chosen representatives of coalowners and miners. But it must be remembered that these discussions were taking place behind closed doors, and that, if and when an agreement had been arrived at, the difficulties of the miners' representatives were not ended but just beginning; for it would then have been their task to go to their various districts, and even to the individual lodges, and explain to those they represent the whole position of the industry and the proposed method of putting it on an economic basis for the future. Such a task, requiring courage of the highest order, could only have been carried through with a plenitude of time. The Decontrol Bill represented the Government's refusal to give time, and coalowners and miners alike gave up the attempt to arrive at an agreement.
So the matter passed into the hands of 1,000,000 men who spend their working days in darkness many feet underground and whose opportunity of learning the fluctuating economic position of their industry is small. They have been exhorted by their leaders for years to share 161 and share alike, and they hold this principle dear almost to a man. They consider that a man who hews 2 tons in an easy "place" should not receive considerably more wages than a man who wins 1 ton with equal exertion from a difficult "place"—and I venture to believe that the House will have some sympathy for this view. They went out on strike last October for higher wages, and after apparently succeeding have discovered that after a few weeks they are back in the old position. Considering the conditions and dangers under which they work, the increase of wages which they have received in the last few years is not unreasonable. These men had to decide the issue; their leaders were disheartened by the Decontrol Bill and had neither the time nor the inclination to attempt to persuade the rank and file. But a member of the Miners' Executive made a very brave and able speech in my constituency and succeeded in obtaining an unanimous vote from a meeting of miners against a stoppage; and this fact confirms me in the view that a postponement of decontrol would have avoided the present crisis.
Of course, if the policy of the Government is to describe the miners as a million Bolshevists who are endeavouring to abolish law and order and property in this country, it is no use attempting to strive for a settlement. If the whole object is to prepare the ground for a General Election when all the moderate Labour leaders can be dubbed Lenins and Trotskys, nothing can be done by way of influence or suggestion to end the present impasse. But I am prepared to believe that everybody recognising the national dangers which the present situation is holding will be prepared to sink every other consideration to that of ending the existing dispute.
The case for the miners has undoubtedly been prejudiced by the ghastly mistake of their executive in calling for the withdrawal of enginemen and pumpmen from the pits. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] To pull down the pillars of the house on their own heads as well as on others is devoid of wisdom.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I can only give my own opinion on that particular point. Most of us at some time of our lives have vowed 162 that we would do this or the other thing, no matter what it cost us; and resolutions passed in moments of disappointment and desperation should not loom bigger than more important matters or obscure our vision from the main object. While it is necessary for the House to give the Government such necessary powers as they may require to secure the essentials of life for the people, it is also its duty to seek a way by which the dispute may be ended and by which the emergency powers may become unnecessary. It is necessary for us to turn a deaf ear to the hotheads of both sides; we need pay no regard to the man who says, "To hell with the miners" or to the man who is endeavouring to use the situation to bring about what is termed "the revolution."
My object in speaking to-day has not been to heap blame upon the Government. My endeavour has been to prove that if the Decontrol Bill had not been passed the negotiations between the coal-owners and the miners would probably have had a successful issue; and I venture to express the opinion that this should help us to find the path that may lead the country from the present position. I suggest to the Government that the two bodies should again be asked to resume their negotiations. It will, however, be much more difficult for them to do so than it was a fortnight ago, and by way of assisting them in their joint endeavours I suggest that the Government should ask three business men and three trusted Labour leaders who are not connected with the mining industry to form an advisory committee in order to promote an agreement. The previous negotiations, protracted though they had been, were successful to the extent that the coal-owners' representatives and the miners' leaders were beginning to understand each other's point of view. The individual coalowner and the individual miner have not had that opportunity. Let the two sides get together again. We are not a nation of fools, and everybody realises that the present situation is hurting all and helping none. We must end it by common sense and good will.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
It is unfortunate that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in dealing with this question, has practically made it impossible for anything in the nature of an agreement to bring the parties together to receive 163 the sanction and support of the Government, and I think it a waste of time on the part of hon. Gentlemen on either side to make suggestions of that sort. Had the Chancellor of the Exchequer been as friendly disposed to the miners as he is to the employers the difficulty would not have arisen. He has omitted on this occasion to make reference to his sympathy with the miners, as he always does, because he was born in a mining district. I worked in that district and I know it underground better than he does above ground. It is almost the last place in which I attended a Sunday school. I had to go out to earn my livelihood much earlier than he had or any individual Member of the Cabinet who are responsible for the position in which we find ourselves to-night. Not only in the Sunday school, but in the ordinary board schools, I was taught that honesty was the best policy. Quite recently I heard the Prime Minister say that Christianity was good business. Neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor the Prime Minister believes in that. If there had been an honest policy pursued up to the present, I say again that we would not have been in the difficulty in which we now find ourselves. The miners have been lied to by the employers; they have been betrayed on every occasion when the employers got an opportunity of betraying them; and on this occasion, particularly during the last six months, they have been betrayed by the Government and the Government has assisted the employers in making statements which are not true. I am going to be perfectly frank and I do not much mind whether what I say rouses bad feeling on the other side or not. I am a believer in constitutional government. I have done as much as anyone to get our men to realise the advantage of putting their faith to a considerable extent in Parliamentary action; but I believe the men are right on this occasion, and that they are perfectly justified in the step they have taken. The Regulations which you pass to-night by an obedient majority may involve a calling together of the military and the Black and Tans in the mining industry; but that will not get you any extra coal, it will not get you out of your difficulty. Suppose you were to defeat the miners and compelled them 164 to accept the conditions that are offered by the employers and the miners went back to work, I would remind Members of this House that the resources of civilisation are not yet exhausted. You cannot compel the miners to produce more coal than they are willing to produce. If the Government is not willing to ask the taxpayers of this country, among whom are the miners, to pay back to the miners or to the mining industry that which was taken by the Government from the industry during the past five or six years, or to give back a portion of it—we do not ask for all—then I as an official and as a responsible leader of the miners am prepared to advise the miners that they should themselves take control of the industry and that they should regulate the amount of coal that should go into the market and its price.
I want to remind right hon. and hon. Members that before the outbreak of the War our wages were ruled by the realised selling price of coal in the market. If the miners from early in 1915 to the end of last year had been prepared to look at the question of their relationship to the State on a purely economic basis and had been prepared to demand all that their power would have given them, you would not have been troubled now with the reparations to be paid from Germany. If anyone won the War it was not the men sitting on the other side of the House nor the interests that they represent. I can speak with some authority and feeling on this matter because I have a son lying in France. [HON. MEMBEES: "Some of us have also."] I know you have. The nation entered into an arrangement with the miners and did not keep it. My son is only one of hundreds of thousands of miners who joined the Army, and only one of many thousands of miners lying dead in France According to your own theories of political economy every soldier in the British Army was estimated to have an actual value of £600. Had you given the miners organisation £600 for every miner killed in the War the position would have been different. The point I want to make clear is that from 1917 up to the present time there is no section of the community which has rendered greater national service than the miners have rendered. Yet they are the first to be attacked. You are asking them to accept a reduction 165 of wages to a point 50 and 60 per cent. below the living level. If you defeat the miners you expect to break the labour movement. You will do with the railway men exactly what you have done with the miners. The railwaymen's agreement expires on 15th August, but ours should have gone on until 31st August. You have begun with the miners; your policy is to divide and to conquer. You are not going to conquer this time, at least not by division. I am speaking quite frankly. There is no Member of the Cabinet who has a greater regard and love for his country than I have, and there is nobody who would be more sorry to see anything in the nature of revolution occurring. But I have two boys working in the mines, and if you gain your point of smashing the miners' union I have nothing to return to except the mines. Without a fight I am not prepared to go back to the conditions that existed before 1914.
Many statements are made that are not true. They are made by prominent members of the employing interests. Before reading one or two of them I want to say that all our discussions with representatives of the Government were open, that the Government took a report and published everything that was said, but that every time there was a meeting with the employers the proceedings were secret. The Chancellor of the Exchequer appears in his place as the advocate of the employers' position. I will read what Lord Gainford said quite recently in another place, and to put against that a reference to what was said by the chairman of Bolckow, Vaughan and Company at the shareholders' annual meeting. Lord Gainford said:The average profit in the United Kingdom of the coalowners was 1s. 5d. per ton, after the reduction of 1s. 2d. for Income Tax, leaving Is. 4d. net for the shareholders. In the present year (that is 1920) we are making 1s. 8½d. per ton, with a reduction of 6s. in the pound Income Tax, which leaves a net payment to the shareholders of 1s. 2½d. per ton, as against 1s. 4d. per ton before the War. The profit made by the coal trade has been derived almost exclusively in recent months from exported coal, and it has been limited practically to the two districts of South Wales and Northumberland and Durham.I want to make a comment on that, and to draw attention to the fact that there are counties in Scotland which export coal. Almost the whole of the production of Fife and the Lothians is export coal, but 166 in fighting their own case the Government decided that practically the whole of the export of coal from Scotland should be stopped, and they compelled the coal produced in those districts to be disposed of in the home market. It is not good enough for Lord Gainford or any representative of the Government or anyone else to suggest that in Yorkshire or in Durham or Northumberland the reduction will be so much less than it is somewhere else. The position in Durham and North umberland and in South Wales during the period of the War was due entirely to the policy of the Government. So far as we are concerned, it was not the last strike, the strike of two weeks among the miners, that lost the trade. It was the Government's strike against the democracy in Europe; the Government, supported by the Coalition Members, were responsible for the losing of the trade. Lord Gainford goes on to say: "We take exception to the men grasping at this pool created out of export profits, with a view to increasing further their wages, when they are already receiving 25s. 1½d. per ton sold, as against 6s. 10½d. per ton sold, which they were getting in 1913. Their wages have gone up 265.5 per cent." That is what Lord Gainford said. I suppose he is an honourable man. Here is a reference to what the chairman of Bolckow, Vaughan and Company said:At the annual general meeting of Messrs. Bolckow, Vaughan and Company, Limited, the great Middlesborough coal, iron and steel concern, the chairman gave some interesting figures with regard to the wages of the men employed in the company's collieries during the 12 months ended 30th June, 1914, and the 12 months ended 30th June, 1920. In the former month the number of men employed in the collieries was 8,844; last June it was 9,487. On the figures given the chairman seems to have proved his point right enough, that while the average output per man employed in 1914 was 262 tons, in 1920 it was 170 tons; while the wages cost per ton of coal had risen from 6s. 4d. in 1914 to 19s. 7d. in 1920, although I daresay there is another side to this question. The interesting point, however, is that this company has probably given figures that enable the outsider to see the average wage per miner employed and the percentage of increase on 1914. In giving the figures the chairman reminded the shareholders that in Durham, where the company's collieries are situated—and where a number of Lord Gainford's are situated—the men have a free house, or where that cannot be provided by the company, an allowance for house rent, and in all cases a more than generous allowance of free coal. It appears that for the twelve months ended June, 1914, the 8,844 men 167 employed in Bolckow, Vaughan's collieries received an average weekly wage of 31s. 11d. each, and that the 9,487 men employed during the 12 months ended June, 1920, received an average weekly wage of 64s. 5d., or just over 100 per cent, increase.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
That is a question to put to the Chairman of Bolckow, Vaughan and Company. That is his statement. It is the same company giving the figures of the wages earned.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The hon. Member gives the figures of weekly earnings in two cases, but he does not tell us how many days were worked to earn those wages, and it is impossible for us to judge of the value of those figures unless he can also give us the further particulars which will enable us to average out the wage.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
It may be that these figures are not correct. I am not a shareholder in that firm and do not get a copy of their balance sheet, but I do hope that when the time comes that an arrangement is arrived at between the miners and the employers, whether the Government or the present owners, we will get a more honest and more truthful statement of the actual position in the different companies than we have got up to the present time. I am giving statements as they are made by representative employers in the coal-mining industry. Lord Gainford said our wages are up 265.5 per cent., and the Chairman of Bolckow, Vaughan, and Company for the same year says that in his colliery the men only earned slightly over 100 per cent. increase. There is a Member sitting in this House at the present time representing a great South Wales firm which goes under the title of William Cory and Sons, Coal Merchants, Cardiff. Their profits at the end of March, 1915, were £215,300, and their profits in 1920, notwithstanding control, were £755,000.
§ Sir C. CORY
That firm has no connection with my company at all, and they own no collieries in South Wales.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
It may be that I am wrong, and I do not want to make any statement that is unfair or false. It may be that I am wrong with regard to the 168 hon. Gentleman who has made the disclaimer, but I am referring to the company, and the statement is taken from the "New Statesman" for 3rd July, 1920, and it represents a position which I am sure has never been very well known to this House.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Well, it is in the "Mining Manual and Year Book" as a colliery concern, and if you turn up the pages of that book you will also get a similar statement. I will come nearer home and deal with that part of the country that I am acquainted with. Reference has been made to the very generous proposals or offers made by the employers, to the effect that they are going to forego all their profits for the purpose of tiding the miners and the industry over the present difficulties. That is not their game. Our wages in Scotland prior to the outbreak of War in 1914 were regulated by the realised selling price of coal, and in July, 1909, against a selling price of 6s. 8.57d. we had a standard minimum wage of 6s. a day. Our owners very generously offer to give us a 7s. minimum wage now, and they say for a seven hours' working day, but it is against 20s. 10d. costs, and they claim that against our 7s. a day they should have 1s. 9d. per ton, or 17 per cent., profit. In 1909, under the Chairmanship of a Member of the other House, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, the representatives of the colliery owners said that their profits varied from 2½d. per ton to 11d. per ton, and what the colliery owners are asking that we should agree to under a district arrangement, backed by the Government, is an arrangement which will provide that our wages shall not be higher at the minimum than they were in 1914 and that their profits shall increase from 2½d. in one case and 11d. in another case to 1s. 9d. per ton. That is what they are asking the miners to agree to, and that is what you expect the miners' leaders to advise the men to accept. We are not going to advise them to do anything of the sort.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
My hon. Friend is referring to royalties, and I may just as well say what I have to say with regard 169 to royalties. Our wages have been reduced since September of last year; the miners' wages in Scotland—at least in a part of Scotland—have been reduced, and you do not know anything at all about it. As a matter of fact, one of the principal colliery companies in Scotland have intimated to our Association that when the miners resume work they will only be allowed to resume work on condition that they are prepared to accept a very substantial private or personal reduction in addition to the general reduction, and if they are not prepared to accept that the collieries are to shut down. That is their position. With regard to royalties, our wages have come down, but royalties have risen in Scotland. That is a curious position of affairs, but it is a fact, according to the returns published by the Government. If you get the September "Quarterly Statistical Return" you will find the payment of royalties in Scotland is at 10½d. per ton, and if you get it for February, you will find that the payments to the landlords for royalty rent in Scotland is 1s. 0.23d., or nearly 1¾d. per ton more than it was in September, while our wages have very considerably fallen. I want to give another statement here, because I have been at the trouble of finding out what the position of the employers is, in Scotland at least. I have here a statement taken from the "Mining Manual and Year Book" for this year, showing the position of 16 companies, eight of whom are purely coal companies, and eight iron and steel and coal companies. These companies employ 40 per cent, of the people engaged in Scotland in the mining industry above and below ground, and in the six years before the War they earned on their ordinary capital a profit of £5,984,313, and in the six years since the War they have earned a profit of £6,448,429, or fully 107 per cent., so that they have done fairly well out of the War. One of these companies is represented on the Negotiating Committee by Sir Adam Nimmo, a native of more or less the same district that the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes from. That company for fifteen years before the War earned an average profit of 6.86 per cent., and in the five years since the War they have earned an average profit of 18.33 per cent. That is one of the men that the Government employ to control the mining industry.
170 There is absolutely no hope that the miners' leaders will be prepared to advise the men to accept the conditions that are laid down. We cannot do it. We know it is absolutely impossible for the men to live under the conditions that are proposed, and we are not prepared to advise them to accept conditions "of that kind. I want to suggest that if the Government had played an honest game with us this sort of thing would not have happened at all. No miners' leader or official, and very few of the miners working at the coal face, are at all anxious for stoppages of work. They are the last thing they want, because nobody suffers more than they do when there are stoppages of work. Our men are idle to-day because they have no choice left. They feel that they might as well starve idle as starve working, and unless the Government are prepared to pay some regard to the promises made during the last five or six years to the miners, I see nothing but a very hopeless and black prospect in front of this country from the point of view of the mining industry. The Prime Minister met the British Miners' Federation Executive in 1919 and offered us a Commission. He begged of us to accept a Commission, and I will give his exact words:Human nature is not so bankrupt in resource and sense and conscience as all that, and therefore I beg you, and I am not ashamed to beg you, as head of the Government, to agree with us in the setting up of a Commission that will investigate these facts, with an imperative order for them to report by the 31st March, which is only a fortnight later than your own time, and that they should also investigate all these other conditions to which you attach so much importance, and to which I attach importance as well—mining royalties and their effects upon the industry, profiteering and its effects upon the industry, whether you could best conduct your industry by means of joint control, nationalisation, or any other method, in the interests, not merely of the miners, but of the whole community, because after all the coal is not there for the interests of any industry, but it is there for the benefit of the whole nation. I want all that investigated, and I ask you to assist in the formation of a tribunal, which will not be merely a good one, but a tribunal which will command the confidence of the whole country, and not less the confidence of that very important branch of industry which you so ably represent.That was the statement made to the miners on the eve of a stoppage of work fully two years ago—a statement which induced our officials and leaders of that time to advise the men to accept the 171 Commission. We did accept the Commission. We had three members on that Commission out of 13. The Prime Minister appointed the Chairman. We would not have chosen him if the choice had been left to us. He was not in favour of nationalisation when he took his seat as Chairman of the Commission. He was the only man, however, that was open to conviction, and he was convinced. He recommended not only in favour of nationalisation of mines and nationalisation of royalties, but he said that the coal control should continue for three years from 30th June, 1919, and when the coal control passed away then the State should become the owner of the mines. He recommended that fair compensation should be paid. Nobody on this side of the House will object to fair compensation, but everybody here is very much opposed to, and will fight to the uttermost against the acceptance of the principle laid down by the Government, that a colliery owner and a land owner in a particular part of the country is entitled to get all the advantages which follow from the easy working of the coal in the situation in which it is found. The man who works in a bad place in a pit works harder than a man who works in an easy place. I know from experience, and all the Members here know from experience. We are against anything in the nature of a district agreement, because the employers do not mean a district agreement, but a colliery agreement, a pit agreement, and there is as much logic and sense in claiming that there should be an agreement for every individual man as there is for district arrangements in the sense that the employers understand that particular proposal. We may be compelled, as I say, to go back to the districts. We have no desire to see the country in any difficulty at all.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I want to be quite frank. The child of a miner is of more importance to me than the horse of a colliery owner, and we have nothing to do with the mines. The Government say 172 that a mine is the property of a private individual, and it is his business to get out that property which is in danger or likely to be lost, and not us at all. I want to be further quite frank. The employers, before they had finally finished with us as a negotiating committee, knew what the attitude of the Government was. They knew it months ago, and they have only been playing with us the whole of this time. The men have got that in their mind, and they are not as unintelligent as many of the public in London believe them to be. I am prepared to address a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and see that good order is kept, in my own constituency in Hamilton, which is a mining town, and deal with these questions and the honesty of the Government with regard to this particular matter. I have had handed to me here a statement, which shows the position of Cory Brothers and Company, Limited—chairman, Sir C. J. Cory, Bart. I understand that is the gentleman who denied having any connection with this particular company, and this is taken from the Stock Exchange Year Book.
§ Sir C. CORY
I denied connection with William Cory & Sons. I did not deny connection with Cory Brothers.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
This is the statement—Cory Brothers and Company; Chairman, Sir C. J. Cory, Baronet. The Company was registered on 9th April, 1888, to take over the business of colliery proprietors, of the firm of the same name. I think that should be quite sufficient. I can speak three languages more or less correctly—English, Scotch, and unparliamentary. I do not wish to be unparliamentary. I want to point out that this statement justifies all I have said with regard to Cory Company.
§ Sir C. CORY
The hon. Member has justified nothing whatever. He has read out the profits of another firm, and now he gives the name of my Company to point out facts with regard to the other firm.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
It is quite obvious that I have hit the mark. It is equally obvious that the figures supplied by the Government to us during the last few years cannot be depended upon, and the miners want, in their own interest and in the interest of the nation, a national 173 arrangement, which will make it possible for the miners to have a reasonable living wage for their labour. We are anxious that the industry should be taken over or controlled by the Government, in the interests of the nation. We are not so anxious for revolution as some people imagine. The revolutionists are not on this side; they are on the other side, and, unless the Government are prepared to change their policy, and the Prime Minister takes up a more accommodating line in replying to-night than that taken up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am afraid that very considerable damage will be done to the national interests, and it will not be the fault of the miners.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I shall not occupy the attention of the House more than a very few moments, because I confess I think this is a case in which, at this stage, it is peculiarly difficult for anybody, whose governing object is the attainment of industrial peace, to offer, with any confidence, useful or fruitful counsel. But I feel that I cannot remain altogether silent, partly because I have had an experience, which has fallen to the lot of very few on either side of the House, of dealing with a coal strike of great, and, indeed, most formidable dimensions, which lasted for a considerable time, which plunged the country into every kind of industrial anxiety, and a certain amount of turmoil, and which caused myself and my colleagues days, and indeed weeks, of arduous and anxious labour to compose. Speaking from the experience so gained, I will say at once that I know enough, and learnt enough then, of the miners of the country to be quite satisfied that they do not embark on struggles of this kind out of motives of mere pique or passion, but only under a conviction, which may or may not be well-founded, but which I am sure is honestly entertained, that, unless they resist, they will be called upon to face hardship in this case in the way of a reduction in wages, which they do not think justified in their own interests, or required in the interests of the community.
On the other hand, I listened with almost complete agreement to what was said at the opening of the Debate by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on two vitally important points, namely, the cessation of control—I say nothing for the 174 moment as to whether the process might not judiciously have been more gradual—the cessation, or rather the non-resumption, of control, and, equally important, the impossibility, in the state of our national finances, and of the general industrial conditions of the country, of calling upon the taxpayer to maintain in a condition of solvency any particular industry by public subsidy. The question, to one who holds both those views, as I do very strongly, is whether it is not possible even now for some step to be taken to avert what is already a most serious, and what threatens to become, if it develops, as we are told it may not improbably develop in the course of the next few days, an overshadowing and overwhelming national calamity. The suggestion which I make—and I make it with all diffidence, and not in any dogmatic spirit, and, of course, with a very inadequate supply of the information which is in the possession and at the disposal of the Government—but the suggestion I make is this.
I listened with very great care to the speech of my right hon. Friend who leads the Labour party, and it appeared to me that the point which he made—at any rate, the point he made most strongly, and with most feeling—was that the miners found themselves more or less suddenly faced with the alternative either of submitting to what they conceive to be unreasonable, sudden and substantial lowering of their remuneration, or of ceasing work. Now, where is the root of the difficulty between the two parties? It is in the distinction, or very largely in the distinction, between regulating wages in this industry upon what is a national or a district basis. That is the root of the whole thing. We were concerned in the settlement of the strike to which I have referred, and we were responsible for setting up district boards. I believe that we were perfectly right in doing so Subsequent events seem to show that matters were gravitating in a different direction. From the moment when under the stress of the War you established a system of control which was regarded—rightly or wrongly—certainly regarded by many miners as the first step towards a more complete system of nationalisation—there are other causes which contributed—there can 175 be no doubt that there has been in the mining world a very strong and growing dissatisfaction with the district system as leading to inequalities and injustices, and a desire for the substitution for it of a national system.
I am not at all satisfied—and, as I say, I am speaking merely by way of suggestion and for the purposes of discussion—that further deliberation between the parties, with the assistance of the Government, might not show that the gap between these two things is not so unbridgable as at first sight it appears. I can conceive of your accepting the principle of what I may call a national standard, taking that as the norm by which the system of wages is to be regulated, and at the same time finding within its limits the means for elastic variation in regard to special local conditions. I believe if it can be thrashed out in a friendly spirit with a desire for accommodation—I do not wish to give expression to any sanguine feeling—I should hope that in the course of such discussion it might be possible, with a certain amount of elasticity and flexibility, for the miners not to sacrifice the principle and main purpose with which I and many others have a good deal of sympathy. I think probably such a discussion might show—and here again I do not dogmatise—that it is possible to graduate in point of time, and what is perhaps of more importance in point of amount, what is proposed in the way of reduction, so that it should not come suddenly and precipitately—as it has done—upon the wage-receiving classes; but that the process of decline should be gradual, so that in the first stages it was not so severely felt.
These are two practical suggestions. Let me add that I think it is an essential preliminary condition to any such discussion that in the meantime the life of the mines should be preserved in its integrity. After all, these are the great potential sources on which the prosperity not only of this industry depends. We are all directly concerned, practically every household and every trade in the country is concerned in the industry, and dependent upon it. It is a national duty not to squander or wantonly to injure that infinitely valuable source of our future 176 prosperity. If, that condition being fulfilled, it were possible for the Government to encourage the bringing together even at this stage of the interests concerned to discuss the matter in that spirit and more or less on that basis, gloomy as the prospect appears to be, I cannot altogether abandon the hope that we may yet be saved from what threatens to be an irreparable national disaster. I make these suggestions with great seriousness to the House, and as the best contribution that occurs to me in the crisis with which we are faced.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
There is one point upon which we shall all be agreed, and that is that these continually recurring crises in the mining industry must come to an end unless disaster is to overtake the industry, and affect the well-being of the nation. Of that there can be no two opinions, and anything that can be said to bring about that result will be to the good. I want to say that in my opinion the first essential to that end is for the Government to act in relation to this problem in such a manner as to eradicate from the minds of the miners what has become a deep-rooted conviction, namely, that the Government are in league with the owners to thwart the ambitions and aspirations of the miners and to side with the employers. Rightly or wrongly that conviction is deep-rooted in the minds of the miners. It is not without some reason. After all, the handling of the coal problem during the last two years can hardly be described as of a satisfactory character. Two years ago we had a great crisis. The Government appealed to us to submit our case on its merits to the arbitrament of reason. They said: "You are asking great changes, seeking to introduce revolutionary changes: you can hardly expect the Government to be a party to these great alterations without adequate inquiry. Submit the case in all its bearings and facts to an impartial tribunal."
We accepted the suggestion. Everybody knows—it is common history—what happened as a result! There is no miner in this country but considers that the Government betrayed him in the treatment accorded to the Report of the Sankey Commission. The Sankey Commission Report stated amongst other 177 things—not a Report signed by our representatives, but by a very distinguished Judge of the High Court, and by three very distinguished employers of labour—that they were satisfied on the evidence before them that the present system of conducting the mining industry stood condemned and ought to be changed. The Leader of the House speaking on behalf of the Government said, "We undertake to accept and adopt that Report in the spirit and in the letter." So far from treating the old method as being condemned, and as something which must be replaced, they are seeking to put us back into exactly the same conditions and the old terms—[HON. MEMBERS: "And worse."]—so far as the methods are concerned, the old machinery, and the old relationships, it is simply reverting to the same thing.
The Government introduced a Bill recently to embody their policy for the future governance of the industry. They embodied in that Bill proposals for area boards. The Government knew perfectly well that we were not prepared to accept such boards. They knew the whole industry had been in revolt against it. We absolutely refused to touch the Bill, to sit on the committees, or to set up the machinery. The Government knew exactly what was the position. This demand for a national wage-system has not grown up during the War. It is the very basis upon which the miners' organisation is built. When the Miners' Federation of Great Britain was first established it consisted of what is now called the English Conciliation Board area, embracing Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, and North Wales. These were the coalfields which were then organised, and they had one Wages Board for the whole of that area. Subsequently, Scotland joined, but Scotland had an agreement which overlapped the English Conciliation Board agreement. Wales joined. They had an agreement overlapping. Subsequently, Northumberland and Durham joined. At every national conference which was held prior to the War resolutions were passed that no future agreements must be entered into that were not coterminous. If England had an agreement overlapping by a year, then Wales must make an agreement for one year only so as to bring it into line. We were for many years before the War trying to get all our 178 agreements coterminous so as to get one national agreement.
The year 1915 was the first occasion when that desired result would have been achieved. We had already decided by resolution what were the principles to be embodied in the national wages agreement, and had there been no war this fight for a national wage agreement would have taken place in 1915. The miners, by resolution, decided to suspend the realisation of their ambition during the War in the hope that they would get through with it later. This is nothing new. It is really the foundation on which the whole structure rests. To suggest now that we should revert to the old district system of regulating wages is to put us back into a position to which we are not prepared to go. It is of vital importance that that fact should be borne in mind. Whatever is the result, whatever the outcome of this disturbance, peace in the mining industry on a district basis is an absolute impossibility. You cannot ensure peace in the mining industry on a district system basis, however much you may try. That is the first fact that must be borne in mind. Last year during the strike we discussed on the national executive—I was then on it—the deplorable position which was developing in the mining industry. We saw our output going down—our output per man. We saw distress coming on the industry. We knew that the state of things was growing largely out of the determination on the part of the miners to get nationalisation and the determination of the coalowners to get rid of control. The one was trying to bring private enterprise into disrepute, and the other was trying to bring control into disrepute; and they were both working for bad results for entirely different purposes. We said that was a state of things which could not possibly result in any good to the miners ultimately. It must be ruinous to the miners' interest, and as an Executive we deliberately came to the conclusion that we ought to advise the Miners' Conference to eliminate, entirely and completely, from their consideration of the negotiations all political considerations; and that whatever was done politically in relation to this question should come as a result of elections or through the ordinary development of political thought. We decided that it 179 should not weigh with us at all so far as industrial considerations went. In the absence of the Government, we met the owners' representatives; we told them this, and we said: "We think the time has now come when a proper relationship should be re-established between the owners and the workmen. We have deliberately come to the conclusion that, as a first essential to that end, we must get rid of political considerations, and we ask you to agree that the next step shall be that any agreement entered into must, be on a national basis." Sir Adam Nimmo and Mr. Evan Williams, who are both in the Gallery listening to what I am saying—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]—I am only speaking of this—stated, on behalf of their side, that they regarded the very frank statement of Mr. Hodges, on behalf of the Executive, that they intended to eliminate political considerations as a tremendous step in the right direction, and one which went a long way to ensure peace. They added that they were now prepared to admit that any settlement that could be effected, having regard to the circumstances and conditions prevailing in the industry, at any rate for some time to come, must be on a national basis.
When I left the National Executive I did so under the clear impression that both sides were agreed on that one great broad principle, which had been publicly stated in their presence, that negotiations were to proceed on a national basis. I understand that since then conversations have been proceeding with a view to getting some kind of national agreement, or a basis on which to build a national agreement, but that the owners, when they received notice of the Government's intention to decontrol, said, "In face of that, we can no longer consider a national basis of settlement and we must revert to the district basis." I know of no period in our history more inopportune than the present for decontrolling the industry, and for making an attempt either to establish a national or a district agreement. The conditions in the industry to-day are not only abnormal, they are exceptionally abnormal. I wish to say a few words in reply to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said about the last strike. He stated that the result of the last strike was to rob us of many markets to which our coal used to go. In my opinion the 180 facts are all against that statement We had practically but one market at the time of the strike, and that was the French market. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Practically, we were sending 17,000,000 tons to France and our exports were only a little over 20,000,000 tons. We were reduced almost entirely to one foreign market, and the strike had absolutely nothing whatever to do with our loss of the French market. American coal did not come over as a result of the strike, it was coming in large quantities long before there was a strike at all. In 1914 America sent to France 57,000 tons. From June, 1918, the time of the Armistice, to June, 1919, she did not send more than 22,000, but after June, 1919, she began sending in more, and by June, 1920, she had sent 1,500,000 tons. Month by month it crept up until by September, 1920, she was sending in coal at the rate of 6,000,000 tons per year. That was long before the strike was commenced.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
Whatever market there was in France was being supplied by us to the extent of our ability to supply it up to the time of the strike. Before ever there was a threat of a strike American coal was coming in in large quantities. It was coming in because they were bound to have coal, and we could not supply them with sufficient. What happened? Just about the time of the strike, the Spa Reparations Agreement was made. That provided that Germany should supply more coal to France than Germany and Britain had ever supplied to France in its history. In 1910, the United Kingdom and Germany supplied to France 11,750,000 tons.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
In 1910, the French mines were all right. In 1911, Germany supplied to France 13,000,000 tons. In 1912, 13,000,000 tons; in 1913, 16,000,000 tons. During the War, when Germany was not supplying France at all, we sent, on the average, 17,000,000. Now I understand that Germany has to supply 24,000,000 tons a year, or 2,000,000 tons a month. That has destroyed not only our 181 market but the American market also. It is not that the American has come in and taken our market; German coal has come in, and has destroyed our market and that of America so far as France is concerned. As a matter of fact some of the American coal, which was sent into France at 28 dollars a ton during the strike, and which had been contracted for before ever the strike took place, is still unused, and they cannot even get a market for it at 7 dollars a ton. It was offered in December at 13 and 14 dollars a ton. The German reparations arrangement is simply destroying, absolutely and altogether, our market for export coal. That being the case, in what position has it placed the miners employed in export districts so far as employment and wages are concerned? Let me give just two or three particulars about the South Wales coalfields. I read a letter in yesterday's "Times" from Lord Askwith, in which he asked for fuller particulars of the meaning of the owners' proposal. He said that if, as is sometimes stated, the owners' proposals mean that the miners' wages will be two and a quarter times their pre-War wages, he did not think they had much to complain of. Two and a quarter times would only mean an increase of 125 per cent.—one and a quarter times increase. The cost of living is 141 per cent. more, so that if the wage actually stood, under the proposals of the owners, at two and a quarter times above the pre-War wage,, it would still be substantially below the pre-War standard of living. What is the position in South Wales? We are offered our pre-War wages, plus 46 per cent., while the cost of living is 141 per cent, above pre-War times. We are asked to meet that additional cost with 46 per cent. increase on our pre-War wages. That is an absolutely hopeless proposal. It is a wage on which people cannot make both ends meet in this time of high cost of living. Let me give one or two illustrations, because when my hon. Friend was quoting figures just now he was asked to give the number of days, the time worked, and so on. I could give cases by the hour, if you liked. We have a very considerable number—
§ Sir C. CORY
I would point out that the percentage over the pre-War rate is 55.83, and not 46, as the hon. Member stated.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not understand his own proposal, and I would certainly suggest that before he interjects again he should inquire as to its real result. We had some of the 55.83 per cent. in pre-War days, and the only increase over the pre-War wage is 46 per cent. I want to give-some individual illustrations. We have a considerable number of grades of workmen in the Welsh coalfields, and prior to the stoppage they were getting 14s. 9½d. per day. They are asked to accept 7s. 9½d.; 7s. a day reduction out of 14s. 9½d. There is not a person in the Welsh coalfields over 18 years of age who is asked to accept less than 7s. a day reduction. Our surface labourers, for instance, work 7¾ hours; that is their contract term, and they are offered 7¾s.—7.9d.—for it. That is 1s. an hour. There are employers in all the industries of the country sitting on the other side of this House. Can one of them get up and say that any body of workmen in this country are asked to work to-day for Is. an hour? Nobody; but that is what our men, thousands upon thousands of them, are asked to work for. Some road-making is going on in the district. There were a number of men unemployed before the general stoppage took place, and they were put on to road repairing. The Secretary of the Municipal Employées Association arranged terms for the work to be done. The rate they receive is 1s. 10d. an hour if they are paid in wet or fine weather, and 1s. 11d. if they are only paid when they work. These men are getting 1s. 11d. an hour, and our men are asked to work for 1s. an hour; yet people cannot understand why they do not accept the proposal. I had my gas bill last Saturday for the March quarter, and I saw on the back of it, "Five shillings for repairs, and for two hours for a fitter, at half-a-crown an hour." I asked the gas manager if that was what they paid their fitters. He said, "Yes, half-a-crown an hour." I looked to see what our colliery fitters are getting in South Wales. During the War an agreement was made which raised the fitters' wage and before the stoppage that came to 16s. 1d. per day, which, at 7¾ hours, worked out at 2s. 1d. per hour. They are now asked to accept 1s. 2d. per hour, yet the gas works fitters in the same locality, and, I am told, those in the engineering works, get 2s. 6d., 183 2s. 8d., and 2s. 9d. Are we to understand that the colliery owners or any body of employers are to say to their men, "You can take 14 days' notice; you are to have 7s. a day reduction in wages, and you must accept it, and you must not get unemployment pay, regardless of whether you can live on it or not. You are not to be regarded as unemployed." Is that what they are going to be told? If this is to be the attitude of the Government, then they are putting a weapon into the hands of the employers' class which is much too dangerous for any body of men to wield, and the men who represent the miners will have something to say upon this matter. If the mineowners are allowed to force this on to the miners under the pressure of starvation, such a state of things will have developed which I should have thought was absolutely impossible. That is the kind of thing to which we are asked to agree. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said there was very considerable agreement between the negotiating parties, but I am disposed to think that he has rather exaggerated it. It is true that the broad principles were agreed to, but it is on the question of the details ultimately that the whole value of an agreement depends. I wish to say that when the coalowners suggest that they should have 17 per cent profit on standard wages and 20 per cent. of the surplus they are making a proposal which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as reasonable. Last year the ratio of profits to wages was 10 per cent., and there is no reason why they should in the future have 17 per cent, on one part of the wages and 20 per cent. on the other part. At any rate, there will have to be some different proposal before there is any hope of agreement in the mining industry. I would like to reply to the suggestion made that the Miners' Federation are wrecking the collieries. What has actually taken place? Every miner and every mine worker in the Welsh coalfield received 14 days' notice, and at the termination of that notice the coalowners put up printed notices at each colliery as follows:Notice is hereby given that all workmen who shall be employed at the above collieries on and after the 1st day of April, 1921, will be employed upon day to day contracts at the existing rate of wages known as the 1915 standard.184 That notice was put up telling the pumpmen, ostlers, and the stokers that they must accept 7s. less than they have previously been getting. Could any of these men possibly accept such a reduction?
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
Is it not a fact that in the majority of the collieries the pumpmen wanted to come back and remain at their work, and that their leaders and Mr. Hodges have forced them to come out?
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
If anybody has come in contact with one individual in the mining industry who wishes to work on these terms, then he has done something that I have not done. I have not found a single individual who would consent to work under those terms.
§ Sir C. CORY
As a matter of fact, certain classes of men have been offered the present rate of wages to remain at work, and they have been prevented from coming on to the colliery premises at all; in fact, they have all been prevented except the manager. There are a number of horses absolutely starving.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I am not talking about what individual workmen have been offered. We met last Tuesday at the conciliation board, and we got the terms officially which were offered to the workmen. Anything done outside of that I do not know anything about. I am speaking about the official terms supplied to the Press and the public. I want to say where I think we have gone wrong. When the Reparation Agreement destroyed our export trade, I think it called for something more than the ordinary procedure. I submit that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was President of the Board of Trade, seeing the good conditions that were developing in the industry, should have said to the miners: "When there was prosperity and when the cost of living was going up, you asked for increased wages. Now that the tables are turned and the cost of living is going down and there is less prosperity, you ought to help us to bear the loss." You should have said to the employers: "You have had profits guaranteed while there was prosperity, and now when there are no profits at all, you ought to bear some of the burden, in order to help us over this trouble." That should have been done, and if it had been done I have no doubt that by 185 negotiations an arrangement could have been entered into which perhaps would not have wiped out entirely all the deficit, because that is due to abnormal conditions, and you really cannot under present conditions wipe out by a reduction in wages an abnormal deficit.
You get in the South Wales coalfield three days' output, but the wages cost is not two or three days' wages but it is two or three days' wages of the men employed at the collieries including the clerks, ostlers, mechanics, winding enginemen, colliery officials and a huge army of men who have to receive a week's pay with the result that you get an abnormally high labour cost. If you are going to wipe that cost out by reducing wages, it means that the men working short time must have their own wages reduced in order to find wages for the other men. That is not a sensible proposition, and in these circumstances I suggest that the Government should adopt a very different attitude, and I think this House wishes to adopt a very different attitude. In the Debate on the Decontrol Bill almost everything we said has now come to pass. We appealed for some assistance by the Government to get a settlement but there has been no response. We might come here and make fiery speeches and denounce teach other; we might adopt a stiff-neck attitude but we may get nothing done, and in addition to the miners' strike certain other developments may take place. Nobody knows what may come of it. It may be a bad thing for the miners and it may be a bad thing for other people. I think it will be a bad thing for everybody.
This is a business which is of the deepest interest to the Government as well as to the miners and employers of labour. We are not appealing for ourselves alone. After all, we have as much interest in the well-being of the nation as anybody else, and I feel convinced that the Government should adopt an attitude of meeting both sides, realising that there is a very serious abnormal situation in the industry which must be met. If necessary they should call upon all sections to give some contribution towards bearing the burden, but to ask the miners to bear it all is an utterly unreasonable proposition. I am not on the negotiating committee, but I am satisfied from what I do know of the general outlook of the miners and the executive 186 that they are as anxious as anybody can be to get a satisfactory solution of this problem, and I trust the Government are not going to adopt an attitude of saying that under no circumstances and to no extent will they give assistance in order to tide over this period and assist in getting a settlement arranged.
I do not think anything is to be gained by saying, "We will do it for two or three months." The Government should get down to this thing with the miners and assist in getting a settlement. The Government can exert pressure and exert their authority, but they can only do it when they are helping to mould a fresh policy and that is what they should set about doing. We can all make fiery speeches but they are no good. The Government should adopt an attitude of the kind which I am certain is being adopted by everybody on our side because we are anxious to avoid a, repetition of this kind of thing, and we are anxious to get a settlement at the present time.
It is only by adopting that attitude of mind, and by the Government getting the parties together not merely to patch up the question, but to secure terms which will provide a basis for a permanent settlement to govern this industry for the future, that, in my opinion, any good can accrue from this Debate.
§ Mr. KIDD
If for no other than selfish reasons hon. Members representing mining constituencies are bound to be anxious on this occasion to find some way out of the difficulty. They rightly recognise that extraordinary distress must be occasioned by what is going on. But my difficulty, a difficulty which is shared by other hon. Members, is that, after all, despite the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) and other speeches which we have heard, no one among the miners' leaders in the House has given us much assistance. There has been an appeal for extra time. It would be as well to know how the miners' leaders propose that that time shall be occupied. Are they proposing to use it in reconciling the miners to the acceptance of the hard facts of the situation? Will they use it in seeking to foster ideas with regard to nationalisation, or will they use it for the promotion of doctrines of national as against district pooling? If they will say 187 specifically in which of these ways they are going to occupy the extra time they ask for, they will help some on this side of the House who are desirous of assisting them.
No one will deny that something very serious must have happened to so disturb the mentality of the miner as to lead him to exhibit the unreason represented by allowing the mines to go to waste, and animals to die for want of water or from suffocation. The something which has happened is not so much economic as psychological. One might seek for the source of the miners' difficulties to-day in what was known as Control. That control may have been well intended and cleverly devised, but in it we can discover the source of the difficulty at the moment. If I am right in that—and I think the Labour party will agree with me that the control has brought about this confusion of mindx2014;then they will further agree that, inasmuch as they largely dictated that control, they must take a large share of the responsibility for the present position. What are the facts with regard to it? Control, I take it, was only devised and adopted by the Government to escape the chaos threatened in the country when the miners' leaders demanded nationalisation. The Government did not see their way to grant nationalisation, and, as a kind of middle course—a temporary course—control was instituted, and instituted as a direct result of the arguments of the miners' leaders and the threats of the miners' leaders. I am not now going to discuss nationalisation. I presume I would not be permitted to do so, but had I been free to do it, speaking after extensive consultation with the miners, I think I would be able to show that nationalisation would inevitably have meant lower wages, less security, and the destruction of the liberty of the miner.
Leaving nationalisation aside for the moment, we cannot escape the fact that control was dictated by the demand for nationalisation. How did that control work? In my opinion it worked to the serious detriment of the miners. I have heard in this House statements with regard to miners' wages which, in my opinion, are absolutely without justification. Time and again we have heard it declared that miners are overpaid. How are they overpaid? Anyone who takes 188 the trouble to investigate will find that at intervals the miner, like other workers, has his harvest. The nearest approach to the harvest which they should have enjoyed in recent years was that resulting from the Franco-Prussian War, when they got a wage of something like 30s. per day. That was one particular harvest. It was earned under conditions of freedom of the coal trade, but in the recent War there was an amount of interference with his trade which rendered it impossible for him to earn anything like that wage. Instead of giving him freedom of trade, we restricted the export of coal. That export was bringing a lot of money into the country at the very moment when money was most required. Then we stipulated that coal should be supplied to the home industries at cost price, and we supplied it at that price to industries which were paying an Excess Profits Duty. The House will, I think, agree with me that an industry which paid an Excess Profits Duty could not have required any bounty from the coal industry. The pool maintained by the profits of the mining industry was largely reduced by these restrictions attached to the export of coal and to the prices of home-consumed coal and the wage of the miner suffered. The miner under free trade would have got a higher wage. He knows there was interference with his industry which prevented him getting that higher wage. But his leaders insisted on control. If his wages had been allowed to rise freely, and he had thus got the fat, he would have realised that in these days he would have to take the lean. The difficulty is, however, that he did not get the fat. At any rate, he believes he did not get it, and it is an extreme probability that he is right, taking the facts as we know them and contrasting them with similar facts under similar conditions at the time of the Franco-Prussian War. Hence his irritation now. I hope Labour leaders will at least have the moral courage, in order to give peace to the country and to avoid chaos, to say that the control was a mistake, and to admit that they had a large share in the responsibility for it, and thereby destroyed the cream of the miners' trade. The mere consciousness that they did not get what they might have had is, I think, the cause of their irritation.
Am I to understand that the Labour leaders take this view—that the slump in 189 the coal trade is not the beginning of a general slump in our industry and might have been avoided? Are we at this time of day, knowing that the accumulated wealth of the world has been destroyed, to remain under the delusion that we can live as comfortably as we did in pre-War times? It is an obvious absurdity, and for the Labour leaders to encourage that absurdity at the present time is to threaten the country with chaos. It will involve a serious responsibility on the Labour leaders if they do it. We may all talk nonsense at times on public platforms, but there is only one way by which we can make up the wealth which has been destroyed. We must bring our living down to a lower standard. That experience will not be confined to the miners It will extend to other classes, even to those which are no less workers even if their faces are clean. We shall all have to bring down our scale of living, and if the Labour leaders will tell the House that they accept it as a necessary and inevitable consequence that wages must drop, if they renounce nationalisation as a gospel, and if they repudiate control as having been a wrong policy, although dictated by themselves, if they will give these assurances to the House and simply appeal for genuine sympathy in order to relieve the distress from which the miners are suffering, then they will get much consideration. The right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) indicated that instead of a sudden drop in wages it might be useful for the country, even at some little cost, to cushion the fall. There are many hon. Members who will be ready to support that proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, but before doing it, we must have some indication that a time allowance is to be put to the expedient. If the time is going to be occupied in explaining that there is no slump and no necessity for bringing down wages, in misrepresenting the mine owners—who certainly have not had any profits—or in misrepresenting the Government, who have not got a halfpenny as the equivalent of the Excess Profits Duty paid by other industries—if the time is to be spent in that way, then we are simply prolonging and adding to the agony of the miner, and in those circumstances the Chancellor of the Exchequer will do well to stick by 190 his present position. In my country there is a proverb which, translated into the language of your country, is to the effect that you cannot take the trousers off a Highlander. [An HON. MEMBER: "The breeks."] I am glad that you say that; I was trying to accommodate myself to you. The Labour leaders at the present time are attempting that feat. It is the sartorial equivalent of squaring the circle, and the Labour leaders will find it to be so.
Why cannot we meet the miners with perfect frankness? Why cannot we tell them that, however much the Government may have erred in regard to control, and however much the Labour party may have erred in concurring in that control, we are sufficiently conscious of his courage-and endurance and spirit of adventure to make us entertain the most earnest desire to save him at this time from the calamity which threatens him? If we tell the truth to the miner, as man to man, in that way, if the Labour leaders will join with us in simply stating the elementary facts, if they will exhibit the moral courage to admit that they were wrong in demanding nationalisation, in maintaining their demand with threats, and in compelling control, then we can settle with the miner to-morrow. He is a man of common sense. You do not find a man of adventure, courage, and endurance squirming in a difficult situation. Why cannot we try and get the miner to realise that we are all in a difficult situation, that he is only the first to be struck, and that, as he is struck to-day, others will be struck to-morrow; and that making allowance for his irritation, so far as it refers to interference, with his liberty to get the biggest price he could for his work during the War, we are prepared to meet him now and make some gradual descent to a proper basis? Before that gradual descent can be made we want to know the proportions of the stages of reduction; we want to know the output which is to justify the reduction; we want to know if the basis to which we are going and which the Labour leaders are going to accept, is that the wage finally fixed must be the wage which the industry can bear. If they will not accept that as the ultimate test, then, whether we con tinue the trial for one month or two months, there is no use in attempting any compromise; we are up against an impossible proposition; we are being asked to 191 do something which no Government could do; we are being asked to repudiate the idea that the industries of this country are to be self-supporting.
The argument of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) was rather difficult to follow. At one time he seemed to be arguing that he wanted a subsidy; at another time he seemed to seek to justify his demand for a subsidy by saying that it was not really a subsidy that he wanted, but that he wanted something back which the nation had got from the miners. What has the nation got from the mining industry? While other industries were paying millions in Excess Profits Duty, the mining industry—our basic industry, our greatest industry—has not paid a single copper to the Exchequer. The mineowner has had nothing extra; his return has been kept at pre-War level. Where has the money gone? Possibly because of the control we did not earn as much as we could have earned, but that brings us back to where I began. The control is responsible for the irritation in the minds of the miners. Those who were responsible for the control are the parties who must to-day do their very utmost to assist us out of our difficulty, and I venture to express the opinion that the Labour party, by reason of their action on the subject of nationalisation, and of their threats at a time that was most critical for the country, cannot escape responsibility for having dictated control. Therefore, they must give their substantial support to the Government in its efforts to redeem the country from the present crisis.
The hon. Member who has just sat down divided his speech into three categories. Firstly, he blamed the Labour leaders for all the ills from which the country is now suffering, and he pointed out that the miners are really innocent, honest people who have been gulled and influenced by their wicked leaders. He proceeded to give sound advice to the leaders; and then he assumed the rôle of speaking for the Government, saying, on their behalf: "If you will do so-and-so and so-and-so, then I will deliver the goods." I would remind him that the position is far too serious for playing that rôle to-night. We are not face to face with the possibility that some mere political advantage may be secured by one side or 192 the other. We are not debating some party measure in connection with which we may hope to gain some advantage from the electorate. We are debating something that will not only affect the miner and the mineowner, but will affect every man in this House, and every man, woman and child in the country. Therefore, I am not going to follow, or be tempted to reply to, the method or manner of the hon. Member's speech, except to say that the best comment I can make upon it is that his facts are wrong. He stated that the control of mines was due to the miners' demand for nationalisation; but he probably did not know—I am sure that if he had known he would not have made that statement—that control of the mines commenced on the 29th November, 1916. There was then no demand for nationalisation of the mines, nor any talk of it, nor had there been any conference to discuss nationalisation of the mines. Control of the mines was adopted by the Government for precisely the same reason as control of the railways, of food, and of shipping, namely, that the whole resources of the nation might be directed towards winning the War. That may have been a good reason or a bad one. I think it was a good reason. I think it was justified by the circumstances, and that the Government had no alternative but to say, "We will concentrate and direct all our efforts upon winning the War." If taking charge of the coal industry was a means to that end, they were justified in doing it. Therefore I hope that when my hon. Friend speaks next he will keep clearly in mind that the agitation, whether right or wrong, for nationalisation followed the Armistice, and was not a question that was raised during the period of the War. Then my hon. Friend lectured us for, to use his words, refusing to tell the working classes that they cannot be so comfortable to-day because of the War. I would respectfully submit that the people who should be lectured are the Gentlemen sitting on the Bench opposite, and that they should take into consideration how many of them got in under an election pledge of a new heaven and a new earth for the workers.
I am within the recollection of the House, and they will know that the substance of my hon. Friend's speech was, first of all, a general lecture to us as to our duty to the men. I leave it at that, and come back to my first point, namely, that, of all the industrial disputes which have occurred—and they have been many and serious and difficult—I know of no dispute or industrial crisis in which the position, for reasons into which I will go in a moment was so difficult to handle, and in which the possibilities were so serious. I think, therefore, that I am justified in saying that, speaking generally, no one can complain of the tone of the Debate to-day. We are all agreed that the House generally is seized with a sense of responsibility, and that none of us, and especially those of us who are entrusted with responsibility, ought to say a word during the Debate that may make the possibility of settlement more difficult. It is in that spirit that I, at least, intend to approach the question. The House of Commons will have to contribute to a solution of this question. I know of no better sounding-board than the House of Commons, and I want it always to be the sounding-board, especially in a matter of this kind. If, however, this House is going to contribute to a settlement, it must not only try and, ascertain the facts, but must try and ascertain what it is that is influencing the men. You may say to a man, "You are wrong," but that man may be as honest in his view as you are, only he does not look at the question from precisely the same point of view. That the miner is not an inhuman man is shown by his record, whether in war or in peace, and especially during the recent War. The man who, when there is an explosion, will be the first to volunteer to save life, whether of horse or of man, is not an inhuman man. Therefore, I want to try to get the House back to the position of feeling what is in the mind of the miner at this moment. What is it that, in your judgment, makes him so cantankerous, if you like? I will try to put it. Firstly, there is a general feeling that there has been a breach of faith on the part of the Government. The Government, on the one hand, say, "We never intended, said, or implied that control should continue until August." That is the Government's case in a few words, as stated by the 194 right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines when decontrol was being discussed. He said, in substance, "All the statements that are made that we contemplated control up to August are-foreign to the fact."
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Bridgeman)
What I said was that we contemplated control would terminate as early as possible after that.
§ 8.0 P.M.
There is no difference in substance. That is the statement of the Government. Our answer to it is this—and I want the House to follow the point because it is the real point in the miners' case—"No, that is not true, not only on evidence of general understanding, but it is not borne out by the facts and documents at our disposal." The point I am making is that by decontrol on the 31st March you acted in bad faith with the miners. When the last agreement was, made—I only want to deal now with agreed facts—there was a Clause in that agreement which said that the masters and men must get together and submit to the Government an agreed scheme before the 31st March. I ask the Prime Minister and I ask the Leader of the House whether any man reading that agreement would not anticipate that the Government assumed the existence of control on the 1st April? I do not say a word about August, because I will not bring in any disputed date, but if the Government said, "Bring us an agreed scheme by the 31st March" the Government must have had in their minds that they intended to control after the 31st March, because there would be no point in saying it otherwise. What earthly use was it to ask the leaders of the men and the coalowners to bring in a scheme before the 31st March if they did not contemplate control. [An HON. MEMBER: "They contemplated decontrol!"] I am trying to put clearly before the House what the miner thinks. If the Government did not mean what I have said, then the position becomes more serious, because the miners' leaders will then be entitled to say, "You were bluffing us in talking about the 31st March. If you did not anticipate control after the 31st March, why did you mention 31st March?" It is because, rightly or wrongly, they assumed that control was anticipated after that date that they now feel the 195 Government are responsible for a breach of faith.
My right hon. Friend (Sir E. Home) this afternoon asked, What is the use of talking about a month's extension in this matter? I agree that at this stage it is no good talking about a month's extension. I desire the Prime Minister to remember that previously, when we were here at three o'clock in the morning, I myself, in answer to my right hon. Friend who had said, "My information is that the negotiations are going on so smoothly that there is the strongest assumption that there will be a settlement," got up and said that my information was absolutely the reverse. I then said that my information was that there was no possibility of a settlement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. A. Henderson) had hours before that tried to negotiate privately. It is no secret to say that so anxious were we on this matter, so seized were we with its importance, that we asked the miners' executive to come here, and the miners' executive were here at 12 o'clock at night. Why? Because we felt that they were discussing things in an atmosphere that gave them a little more time to see if they could get agreement. That is why my right hon. Friend was right in saying there is no good talking about a month's extension now. The mischief is done. Temper, passion, feeling have been engendered now, but the month when we pleaded for it would have been invaluable. No notice was taken of the plea we made. That is what is responsible for the atmosphere I have been trying to describe to the House.
My right hon. Friend said another thing, and I am sorry he said it because the miner knows it is not true and the facts cannot justify it. He said that the last strike was responsible for the slump in the coal trade. I want to examine that statement. My hon. Friend (Mr. Hartshorn) gave some figures which proved that American coal not only came into France prior to the War, but since the War and before the threatened strike more than was ever known before. Last week I was in the Ruhr Valley, where the German coal comes from, and I discussed with the German miners' leaders the problem of their supplying 2,000,000 tons of coal to France every month. This is a statement that they can prove, and I 196 should like some answer to it. Not only has the supply of 2,000,000 tons per month to France had the first effect of throwing the French collier out of work and lessening the demand for coal from the English coalfields, but I am assured that Belgium is sending back to Holland at 45 guilders per ton coal supplied by Germany to Belgium, which wipes out a market that we hitherto supplied. What is the use of talking about the miners' strike being responsible? All the facts are against that, and because they are against it I am justified in telling the Government that the miner says to them, "Not only are you wrong in decontrolling at this time, but our case ought to be considered in connection with the Government's own policy on the question of Reparation."
My right hon. Friend says he does not propose to examine the wages figures of the miners. That is just the sort of thing the miner wants examined. He not only wants it examined but some answer given to him upon it. I ask the House of Commons who, after all, want to do justice to the miner, do they know that the men who are locked out to-day in Kent are locked out because the conditions which they are asked to accept provide for underground labourers receiving 43s. 4d. per week or an equivalent of 17s. 6d. pre-War? Let the House of Commons clearly understand that. When you are talking about this being a strike, remember that these men are simply saying, "We accept the notice you have given us because we cannot live on an equivalent of 17s. 6d. pre-War." When we go to South Wales—everyone knows the kind of existence and the abnormal conditions which obtain there—we find underground enginemen with all their responsibilities and knowledge and work, are refusing to go into the pit, or in other words, are accepting the lock-out notices, because they refuse to agree to 44s. 9d. a week, an equivalent of 18s. pre-War. I could go on quoting these figures, but what I do want to impress upon the House is that if the House of Commons is going to support the Government and is going to justify the Government's action then they must accept the responsibility of saying that they believe miners in South Wales should to-day work for a wage equivalent to 18s. pre-War.
On the minimum basis. I ask the House of Commons whether there is any man who would attempt to justify those figures? If so, they can do it during the remainder of this Debate. That being the case, I want to meet quite legitimately the argument of my right hon. Friend when he says, "Yes, but the only means of dealing with this question is by subsidy, and the Government are not going to have any subsidy." Hon. Members heard the general cheer which greeted that statement. So far as I am concerned, I opposed a subsidy in the case of the railway service, and I can speak with consistency because I am opposed to subsidies of any kind, including subsidies to the farmer. Curiously enough, a large number of those who this afternoon cheered the opposition to a mining subsidy seemed to forget the subsidy that is paid annually to the farmers. What is the difference in the subsidy paid to the railway companies at this moment? Just let us examine the actual position of affairs. Supposing the Government announced calmly that on and after 30th April they proposed to wipe out control of the railways, what would the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) say and what would a large number of the other railway directors in this House say? There would be a howl about breach of faith. It is because the Government seem to have squared the coal owners in a different way to that in which they could square the railway directors that they do not propose to deal with the railways as they have dealt with the mines. But when the Colwyn Report was being considered, and a Committee of the House of Commons was asked to examine the railway situation, all the Press of the country, all the railway chairmen, and scores of hon. Members, including myself, said to the Government, "You took our property. You have no right to hand it back to us in a less advantageous condition than when you took it." That is exactly what you have done with regard to the mines, and the claim we make for the continuance of control is not a claim for a subsidy, because if the strike ceased to-morrow, on your railway finance alone, it will have cost you £2,000,000 to-day, and you know it as well as I do. What is the use of saying you are not going to be influenced by a subsidy? 198 Under the same agreement that you have cancelled with the coalowners and are continuing with the railways you are paying a subsidy, and this strike is increasing the subsidy that you are paying as the result.
It is not fair to call it a subsidy. Is it not true to say that during the War the Government paid the market price for all the coal they bought? Is it not equally true to say that in South Wales, to give one illustration, if the industry had been uncontrolled the men would have got £2, £3, £4 a week more? Anyone who knows the facts of the sliding scale, which was based on the selling price of coal, knows that during the period of Government control the South Wales miner would have got pounds more than he got under the existing arrangement. No one can dispute that. Therefore, the miners said: "We will sacrifice this in the general interest of the community." Who benefited? The Government and the community benefited by paying less for the coal they received, and yet when the period of decontrol takes place the Government says: "You people who have benefited shall not contribute. The only people who shall contribute are those who made a, sacrifice by receiving less wages during the War." Can you blame the miner for feeling that this is an unfair attack, when he says: "I sacrificed my wages during the War, I abandoned the sliding scale that gave me more money than I got under the Government; I advocated the consumer benefiting, I supported the Government benefiting by paying less for the coal, and then when retrenchment is to take place the only people who are called upon to make a sacrifice are the miners," and the miner says, "No, this is not playing cricket."
We have heard a lot to-night, and rightly, about the callous, brutal action of the miners in flooding the pits. I do not believe in the destruction of property of any sort or kind because when this strike is over, whether it be short or long, the fact remains that the men have got to work. There is no value whatever in the destruction of property. But let us examine here again, in order to ascertain the facts, who was responsible for the situation. It is one thing to deplore it and to condemn it as I do, but let us be quite fair in allocating the responsibility 199 and the blame. Who advised the miner to give this particular kind of notice? In one case they gave notice to the men and said, "on and after a given date you can go to work at 7s. a day less than at present." If any Member of this House was the servant of a corporation or the director of a concern, and merely received a brutal notice that on and after a certain date he should resume work on terms which he did not want, could he be blamed for not accepting it? But the owners' position is less justifiable when we remember that in one case to my knowledge—there may be more—in Yorkshire they actually said to the pumpmen, "You can go to work on the existing terms and not at reduced rates."
Which means that in one case they were prepared to bribe the men, and in the other case they were prepared to throw the responsibility on the miners' executive of having two policies and a division in their ranks. This ought to be understood by the public, and the owners, before they gave notice to these very vital and essential men, ought to have satisfied themselves that they were capable of protecting their own property. I should prefer to see those responsible for bringing up the ponies or for pumping working for nothing than that the mines should be ruined. I have no hesitation in asking this House to join in apportioning the real responsibility, and seeing for themselves how criminally callous some people have been with regard to this deplorable dispute. I also observe, from statements in the Press, that they are at last making up their mind that this is to be a fight to a finish. I read some statements in responsible journals this morning that all good and true citizens must rally to the side of the Government. Now was the time to fight this matter to a finish. I do not believe in any such policy. We have already, from responsible quarters, had too many speeches indicating a class war. We have already had too much talk of the division that is to be created in two classes, and that at this moment is not helping us in our difficulties. I have no hesitation in saying to these people who believe this ought to be a fight to a finish, and that both sides must rally their respective 200 forces and fight it out, that whoever may win in a battle of that description, the nation will certainly lose.
I have endeavoured up to this moment to deal with what I conceive to be the miners' point of view, but I want to conclude with one word with regard to the worker's general point of view. Whether we are right or wrong there is a deliberate and unanimous opinion in the minds of the workers that this is only the first of a determined effort to reduce the level and the standard of life among the population. The railwaymen say to-day: "If the miners go under, we are the next line of defence and we shall follow." Then there are the transport workers who say, "We shall be in the same boat." Can you wonder why some of us know that even to-morrow there may be a grave danger and possibility, more than a possibility, that this will cease to be a miners' strike? I do not want to say a word that will aggravate or render the position more difficult, but this House of Commons ought to know it. This House of Commons ought to know that at the moment, whatever we may say upon the question, the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of this dispute spreading, and those people who talk glibly about a fight to a finish, those people who talk glibly about fighting it out, may to their bitter cost find what fighting it out really means. That policy the Government ought to calmly reject.
There have been from all quarters suggestions to the Government to realise that the sooner this dispute is ended the better for all concerned; but the Government would be deceiving themselves if they did not clearly understand that the figures offered to the men are figures that would justify them in saying: "No, we prefer to starve to death than to work to death under those conditions." That is the feeling of the miners of this country, and in that opinion they will be backed by organised labour. I have no hesitation in saying that I would not stand by, whatever the consequences, and see men called upon to work for an equivalent wage of 18s. a week. Not only organised labour, but every decent employer ought to rebel against any such thing. It is no good talking about the sacrifices of the War. It is no good paying tribute to the memory of a million dead, and it is no good paying lip service to the sacrifices of the miner during that troublesome 201 period if he is to be rewarded with a starvation wage such as is offered to him to-day. He will not accept it; he ought not to accept it, and we will support him in not accepting it. That is why we say that this House of Commons ought to examine the facts. It is not sufficient to say: "I am not going to bother with these wages." The people who have to live on these wages are the people who must bother about them, and it does concern them. I hope the House of Commons will use this opportunity and this Debate to bring both sides together, and not only to bring both sides together, but to point out to the country, as has already been indicated, that they have no right to suddenly call upon one section of the community to bear the whole of this burden. Much as we deplore the circumstances of this Resolution, much as we are opposed to the substance of the Resolution, if the bringing forward of this Resolution and the Debate in this House enables the Government to have behind them the common sense and the overwhelming desire of this Parliament to try to bring this dispute to a speedy and honourable settlement, no one will regret the gracious message we have received from the Throne.
Colonel C. LOWTHER
May I preface the very few remarks that I intend to make by an appeal? Nobody knows more than I do that we are confronted by a very grave and serious crisis, and I want to plead, more particularly with those who have influence with the miners, on behalf of the mining ponies. It is a terrible thing to think that at this moment there may be ponies in the mines, and I believe they are none too rare, either drowning bit by bit or gradually starving to death.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I think it is only right to say that I have received a promise from the acting leader of the Miners' Federation that he will send a telegram to any place which I know of if ponies are still below to assist in getting them brought up. It is well that the House should know that. I am extremely grateful for the action which he has taken.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for that assurance? I knew that failing, that assurance I only had to appeal to the humanity of the 202 miners and to their sportsmanlike feeling.
I heard that there were ponies which were drowning, and that was sufficient for me to make the appeal. I have listened most carefully to the different speeches to-day. I came here for enlightenment. I knew, naturally, what the dispute was about, but all that I could gather from most of the speeches was a reiteration of what the dispute was about. Nobody could inform me as to any solution of the question. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) attributed the dispute to the deep-rooted conviction of the miners that this was a direct capitalist attack or an owners' attack upon the miners. He went on to say that the ideal of the miners was a national wage agreement, that they had been promised that, that it was discussed by the Miners' Federation and the Prime Minister. He said that the day had passed for any settlement other than on a national basis; but just as I was expecting to hear how this could be settled he went on to say that it could neither be settled on a national basis nor on a district basis. He did not say how it could be settled.
The right hon. Gentleman who leads the Labour party in this House said that there were four different parties—the State, the consumer, the miner, and the owners. I should like to know what is the difference between the State and the consumer. What is the State if not the consumer? It is true that Louis IV. said, "L'état c'est moi"; but 200 years or more have passed since then, and much water has passed under the bridges. There are those who think that the owners are right, and there are those who think that the miners are in an untenable position. I am not at all certain that I do not see the miners' point of view. I think they are in an untenable position on this occasion. I quite understand that their wages have been cut down by 50 or 60 per cent.; I learned that this afternoon. I thought it was 80 per cent, in some cases. That was my information. If a workman's wages are suddenly cut down by 80 per cent., can you expect him to thank the Government which is in power for that, or can you expect him not to be bitter against the 203 owners who he thinks are bloated capitalists, and who he is told by Bolshevik agitators, paid by German gold—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—I am talking of the extremists—who he is told by Bolshevik agitators have only one desire, and that is to ruin him, to profiteer, and to get everything possible out of him? Therefore, I do understand that the right hon. Gentleman who presented the case for labour was right in saying that this had been thrust upon them with lightning suddenness.
Is it this suddenness with which they find fault, or is it the diminution in the wages, or is it both? If it is only the lightning suddenness with which this has been thrust upon them, if it is simply that he and the other Labour leaders and the miners expected that the control would last after the 31st March for another six months, surely the matter can be arranged. Surely it is not too late for discussion between the Government and the miners and the owners to avoid this hideous contest? But if it is that he wants to create a perennial minimum wage, I think that it is impossible. I have got the interest of the miner and the working man at heart, and therefore I would like to know with what money are you going to pay this extra wage? Nobody has told us that. Some have said, "Subsidise the mines;" others, including, I think, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Thomas), who spoke last, say that they object strongly to a subsidy. Even if you do subsidise the mines you put your hands into the pocket of the taxpayer who is already overburdened by taxation. You can no more call for higher wages than you can call for rain to come down from the Heavens. No one has told us yet how these extra wages can be got. It is easy to say, as has been said, that if the Government re-control for another six months or a year it would cost very little in comparison with what this strike is going to cost the country. I agree. But will the Labour leaders, who have influence with the miners, agree that if the Government agree to do everything in their power to effect a settlement, and to re-control for, let us say, another six months, they on their side will do everything in their power to bring about a solution of this question? That is the only hope that I can see that a settlement will 204 be arrived at. I hope it with all my heart for the miners' sake, the owners' saker and above everything, for my country's sake.
§ Captain ELLIOT
I have no special knowledge of the problems under discussion, and I should have been doubtful about intervening in a Debate of this sort except that at this hour it seems to me that it might be useful for one or two members of the general community to put forward a more general view perhaps than has been taken yet in the technical discussions which we have had. In my own constituency there are many miners, and I have the highest respect for them, but it is not particularly as a miners' and coal masters' quarrel that this matter interests the nation at the moment. There was recently published in the Press a cartoon which seems to me to put the case in a nutshell—the unhappy "John Citizen" sitting in a cell with a label on; the door, "To be shot at dawn," and saying to himself, "What have I done I should like to know?" If it is the fault of the community, the community is suffering for it. But whether it is the fault of the community or not, the community is suffering. We cannot stand by indifferently and look on at this great struggle which is being fought out by the masters and men, because it is being fought out over the bodies of the women and children and of the ordinary plain citizens of the country.
Is the objection raised by the miners an objection to the suddenness of the change or to the rates of wages which has been proposed? The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) put with great force and fire the proposition that in no circumstances could these wages be accepted and that everybody would rather starve than take them. Suppose, however, that what I fear is true, and that this is not a struggle between the miners in this country and the employers in this country, not between the coal masters, who are at present merely agents, and the miners, but between the miners in this country and the real masters who live in Brazil, the Argentine, India and America. As far as we can see the people who will no longer pay the wages to the miners in this country do not live in this country at all.
The people who in the long run have to send the food to the population of this country do not live in this country. We are faced on a gigantic scale with 205 what is taking place all over the continent —the strike of the countryside against the town, the countryside refusing to send food to the industrial worker. I beg the Labour party, and particularly the right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) to give us if he can some information as to the attitude which the miners will take up if it is proved that the present wages rates are being dictated, not by the coal masters in this country, but by coal consumers on the continent, and South America, and other places, the people who send us the four loaves out of five which are eaten in this country. They are the real masters in this country. The people who control the bread control the worker in the long run. Great Britain is not a country. It is simply one gigantic town surrounded by salt water. It is the people who send food to this town who in the long run are masters of the town and dictate the wages to be paid to the people in the town.
If it is a quarrel between the coal masters and the miners in this country the men in the long run can enforce their will. If it is a quarrel, as we fear, between the men in this country and the men in foreign countries, then the men in this country cannot enforce their will. The right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) and myself were recently in Scotland on opposite sides in a by-election in which his party won a great victory. There the coal mines standing along the seashore were run largely on an export trade. How are we to induce foreign consumers to buy that coal and to pay the wages which the West Fife miners say they must have? That is the crux of the difficulty, and it has not been faced by speakers on one side or the other. Mr. Frank Hodges has put forward a suggestion which savours of Bedlam. He suggests subsidies, which I presume would not only be paid for home coal, but also for export coal, or it would be of no use to the West Fife miner. We are to dig up the coal, the irreplaceable asset of this country, carry it to the foreigner, and pay him £1 a ton to cart it away. Could any proposition out of Bedlam be more absurd? I cannot conceive that it is put forward seriously. Certainly it could not be put forward as a remedy for the stagnation occurring at the present time in the West Fife coalfields. Is it a dispute as to the ratio in which the proceeds from the coalfields are to be divided? I understand the present pro- 206 posal is 83 per cent, for the men and 17 per cent, for the masters. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) shakes his head. I understood that 17½ per cent. was to be the return to capital, and also that Mr. Frank Hodges suggested that the return should be 10 per cent, to capital. I may be wrong in those figures, for it is a very difficult and technical subject. If it is a dispute as to the ratio of the division of the money from the coal industry, then we can come to an agreement, but if it is a demand for an absolute sum of money out of the coal industry, it may be impossible to come to an agreement, because that absolute sum of money in the long run does not depend on the people of this country, whom we can reach, but on the people overseas over whom we have no control.
On another point which has been made with a good deal of justification, I should like some information. It has been said that the miners suffered from the price of coal being kept down during the War by the Coal Controller, and that, therefore, they are entitled to have sums of money paid from the country to them when they are in difficulties. There is again a dispute here. It is said that this is a temporary expedient to tide over the difficulty, but what difficulty is it that we are supposed to be tiding over? If we are to tide over the difficulty until the foreigner is again willing to pay £7 103. a ton it is not a temporary but a permanent expedient. If it is a temporary difficulty, to what factors of relief are we looking forward? It seems to me that as a nation we have committed a great sin. We have indulged in a piece of national profiteering to a gigantic extent, with the hearty agreement of the Socialist and Labour parties and of the Conservative and Liberal parties. There is no party that has clean hands in the matter. When the last demand was made for an increase of miners' wages it was specifically stated that the increase was to come entirely out of the profits on export coal, which is to say that it was to be paid entirely by a piece of national profiteering. We have now the drop that awaits every profiteer in the long run— the consumers' strike. It is true, as an hon. Member said, that the demand for our coal was falling off before the strike of last autumn and that American coal had begun to appear in July. That was the beginning of the consumers' strike. 207 It is no use saying that the difficulty was due to the Spa Reparations Commission or anything of that sort. In the long run an extortionate price exacted, as this nation exacted it, meets its own Nemesis. That is one of the great facts of the situation.
We shall not again get the exorbitant price for export coal by means of which we were able to pay the high wages of the miner and to produce home coal at a reasonable cost. Is it not true that the Belgian mines are producing five per cent. more coal than in 1914; that the ruined French mines are producing more and that from those mines and from the Germans the French are getting the supply they need; that in America the huge 30 feet seams are being developed and that a current of communication is being established between those 30 feet seams and the blue water? A cargo of coal in blue water competes with every other cargo of coal in blue water. It is a competitor whether sold to a gas company in South America or to drive the tugs on the River Seine. We have discussed this question all day to-day as if it was a domestic problem. Great Britain is simply a ship tethered in the middle of a sea. We are on a boat. If two men quarrel in the middle of a grass park and merely tear up the turf with their boots it does not matter very much, but we are fighting this quarrel on a life boat in the middle of the Atlantic and if one puts his foot through the side of the boat the boat and all on board will go down. As to the miners' sacrifice of wages during the period of coal control, it has been said that if the miner had had a higher wage he would have been able to stand the strain now. There were others producing articles under control during the War, and if they had all been allowed to get the highest possible wages the miners' high wages would have brought him very little indeed in value for money. If we had allowed the price of food to rise to what it might have risen in this country had there not been a stringent control on the, price of wheat, the agricultural labourer would have received enormous sums, and he could have profiteered on ah article of prime necessity. The Scriptures say:Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.208 A man will give more in the long run for a loaf of bread than for a sack of coal, and if the agricultural industry had profiteered to an unlimited extent, it could have exacted wages which would have made the miners' wages look like a mere fleabite. It did not, however, and yet the agricultural industry has no right to come now and ask for a subsidy. It is all very well to say the agricultural industry has been promised a subsidy. That is not quite accurate. An hon. Member, speaking below the Gangway, said he would not dare to ask his men to go back to work for 1s. an hour, but what is the agricultural labourer getting to-day? For a 50-hours week he is getting a 48s. wage, or less than 1s. an hour. Are we to ask him, after sacrificing his wages during the War, not only to go on sacrificing them, but to subsidise out of his scanty wage the wages of the men in the coal industry?
When it comes to a question of sacrifices made during the War, we admit that the coal industry made great sacrifices, but so did every industry, and unless we had all made them, we should never have got through the War successfully. There is no doubt to-day that if the miners and the transport Workers and the railwaymen like to drag down this country they can do it. I am no optimist in this matter. I believe we are skating on the thinnest ice we have ever gone over in this country. Blinded Samson has got his arms round the; pillars of the temple, and if he likes to pull, the temple will come down, and there is no doubt about that. Samson, when he pulled the pillars of the temple, knew very well that in falling the temple would crush him too, and if that is the state of mind of the industrial masses of the country, there is no doubt whatever that they can accomplish their object.
If they would sooner starve than accept a reduction in wages, undoubtedly they can wreck the industrial fabric of this country, and this country, which has only food for less than half of its population, will go through a period of misery and tribulation which has never been equalled in the history of any country since the world began. If they are out for an absolute standard of living, as against a relative standard of living derived from what the industry will bear, I do not see a hopeful prospect for the future of this 209 country, but if they have regarded these factors from the world point of view and claim that, in spite of the world position, they can see their way clear to the industry paying its way on wages considerably larger than the ultimate wages which have been published in the lists given by the owners, then I am sure that this House will gladly do its best to see the quarrel settled along these lines; but if it is a question of getting a quart out of a pint pot, no votes passed by this House will do any good. If the money is not in the industry, we cannot get it out of the industry, and if the money has to be paid by the men abroad to be given to the men at home, we must realise that we have no control over the men abroad, and if in the long run we find we are up against a consumers' strike, then the will of the world consumer will have its way in this case, as I believe it will have its way in every other case and in every other economic problem before the country.
§ 9.0 P.M.
Mr. S. ROBERTS
I do not want to say one word in this Debate which would cause bitterness. It would be a very easy thing to answer many of the arguments put forward from the other side of the House, and to discuss the question as to whether this is a strike or a lock-out, but I do not think there is any need for bitterness of any kind, because this is not really a, quarrel between the mineowner and the miner at all; it is a quarrel in which the mineowner and the miner are on one side, and on the other is an economic fact and circumstance over which they have had practically no control. Five millions of money a month seems, when you hear it spoken, to be a figure that none of us can really comprehend; it does not convey much to the minds at any rate of the big majority of Members, but when you reduce that £5,000,000 a month down to shillings and pence by seeing what it means in wages, and when you find that in some districts reductions of £1 13s. 5d. in wages are proposed simply to meet the loss, it shows how bankrupt the trade is. It shows how great is that loss, and what a big burden it is proposed to put on the State by those who ask for a subsidy, or what an enormous burden it is proposed to put upon the coalowner if his is asked to go on carrying on his business, paying the wages paid in the month of February, with this loss of £5,000,000 a month running at the same time. I do not know 210 that the House fully realise that in the month of February losses were made, in all districts except two, that ranged from 2s. to 18s. per ton, and in the two districts where profits were made those profits were 3d. and 1½d. per ton, and the average loss all over the country amounted to 6s. a ton. This including no capital charges and no figures for profit whatever. Of the total amount of the proceeds from the sale of coal in the month of February, 90 per cent. went in wages, so that there is practically no other fund from which a substantial sum can be taken that will enable the trade to be got back to an economic basis.
One hon. Member said there were various sections of the community that all ought to bear their share, and that it was not right or fair that the loss should all fall upon the miner. In this case the coalowner is prepared to take his share of the burden. The offers that have been put forward by the coalowner mean that on the present figures there would be an average loss to the coalowner of 4d. a ton, taking the whole of the industry from one end to another. I do not suppose the coalowner is making these offers, which will put an average loss of 4d. a ton on the industry, for any reasons of philanthropy. The reason why he is prepared for the moment to carry on at a loss is in order to make an endeavour to get back the trade and the markets, to recapture the export trade and get back the goodwill which has been lost, so that this trade may once again be run on a proper basis. I think that is where we can find a hope of settlement, if all sections of the community would only get together. We have had a good many arguments on the figures that have been offered in the different districts by the coalowners to the men. All the arguments based on those figures and attacking those figures are quite beside the point, because the miners' representatives have refused to discuss them. If they had been figures which were stuck to definitely, after a reasonable discussion and an attempt to come to some form of settlement, then those figures might have been used. They were brought forward, but not discussed, not on the merits of the question, because in many instances the men would have accepted them on the merits, but because they were on a district and not on a 211 national basis. But if the parties could get together on the basis of trying to come to some temporary arrangement until the industry could be got back on to a proper footing, the owners, I am certain, are prepared in the meantime to do without profits. If there is to be a settlement without a subsidy, it is necessary there must be, to some extent, a reduction of wages, but I do not believe it is beyond the wit of man, if there is only goodwill, to get the industry back on to a paying basis. A subsidy the country will not stand. But I believe, with goodwill on either side, and the owners showing quite plainly and quite openly that they are prepared to do without profits during the period of distress, in that way some settlement could be come to, and I am perfectly certain that it is the wish of every Member of this House that a settlement should be come to of the most terrible trouble which hangs over the country at the present time.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
We have had a very interesting speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Lanark (Captain Elliot), in which he put forward certain questions and propounded certain proposals. He made a personal appeal to me, as one of the officials of the Fife miners' organisation, to tell the House what was going to happen to the Fife mining industry. He pointed out that, like other districts in the country, we were an exporting district, which is perfectly true. Prior to the War, 70 per cent, of the coal of that district was seaborne. It did not mean that all the 70 per cent, was exported abroad, but a large proportion of the 70 per cent. was exported abroad, and he seemed either not to have been in the House when my hon. Friend the Member for the Hamilton Division of Lanarkshire (Mr. D. Graham) dealt with this very point, or, if he was in the House, he failed to note that my hon. Friend had pointed out, in a very interesting and valuable comparison of figures, that the Government, by the action they had taken during the War, practically water-logged the export trade so far as Fife was concerned, and that by their action during the period of control they had diverted the greater portion of the export trade to South Wales, to Northumberland, and to other more easily reached ports than 212 the West Fife ports. Consequently, the West Fife coalfield has had to depend very largely upon inland sales since then. Another point that the hon. and gallant Member made was that someone during the course of the discussion had stated that the Government should have done so-and-so in order to carry us over a temporary difficulty, and he wanted to know what was meant by "a temporary difficulty." I did not hear the particular speech to which he referred, but I take it that some Member during the course of the discussion had been urging the Government to continue the period of control for a time longer in order to carry us over a temporary difficulty.
§ Captain ELLIOT
Not specially in the Debate, but in the whole course of the argument in the Press, the suggestion is made that it is to carry us over a temporary difficulty.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Then let me deal with this temporary difficulty. Whoever is writing or speaking has in mind two facts. He has in mind, first, that the cut in wages that is proposed by the coalowners of the country is a very serious one, and is sought to be brought about at a time when the cost of living is still 141 per cent, over the pre-War cost, and that one of the factors that would have been affected, in all probability, if the Government had continued to control the industry, would have been the cost of living. It is in the process of coming down, but it has not reached such a figure that would anything like justify the cut in miners' wages that has been made. That is one of the points which, I think, the hon. and gallant Member, and many who think like himself, had better seriously keep in view in discussing this matter. Another of the points he raised which, I think, calls for a word or two in reply, is that evidently this nation, through its successive Governments, has been guilty of an enormous sin in bleeding the people to whom we have sold coal. They have been charging too much money for export coal and have been guilty of a heinous sin, and he added —and this is the only point with which I want to deal—that this was with the consent of the Socialists and the Labour party. He seems to be unmindful of the fact that at the beginning of the War the statement was then made by the President of the British Miners' Federation, 213 on behalf of the mining community of this country, that if the Government of the day would prevent profiteering and the cost of living from rising, he would undertake on behalf of the mining community not to ask for any increase of wages. They made a substantial offer to the Government of which the Government did not avail themselves.
§ Captain ELLIOT
I would like to make this point clear if I can. It was not the home man I was talking about, but the foreigner. That offer was a firm offer not to ask for an increase in wages. There was nothing said there about not selling coal abroad at a high price, and when it was done, it was done with their hearty approval.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
But the hon. and gallant Gentleman forgets that he and his right hon. Friend blame the extraordinary rise that has taken place in the wages of the workmen for the high price that was charged both at home and abroad. He cannot have it both ways. So far as the workmen were concerned, they made a specific offer to the Government, of which the Government did not avail themselves, and therefore they cannot be blamed. You must blame the Government and the nation, but please do not blame the workmen for being a consenting party to a policy of the kind mentioned in the hon. and gallant Member's very interesting speech.
In his interesting speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that the House and the country were face to face with a most serious and dangerous situation. The right hon. Gentleman added that it deserved the careful and serious consideration of all the Members. He urged that we ought to examine the position as calmly as possible under the circumstances, and possibly be able by that to come to some decision that would get us out of the difficulty. He pointed out that the two parties had been together and that certain advances had been made in the course of negotiations. He pointed out the direction of the advances, but added that he was unable to say whether the offer made by the coalowners was equitable or whether it was the fullest offer that they could, under the circumstances, have made. Let us for a moment examine the offer, because certain hon. Members are labouring under difficulties 214 as to the respective offers that have been made by the owners, on the one side, and the miners on the other. The owners proposed that, when the period of decontrol took place, instead of there being a national arrangement for regulating wages, we should revert to the old district arrangement; that instead of there being a national pooling system there should be a district wage; and, further, that the wage to be paid to the men under the new conditions should be the July, 1914, wage. That wage is one that varies as between one district and another. But it is a common wage from one end of Scotland to the other. It was 7s. a day. That was the standard wage the owners were prepared to pay under the new conditions.
So far as profit was concerned the owners suggested that they should get 17 per cent, of the wage paid to the miner as their minimum, and all surplus over the minimum and standard should be divided on the basis of 80 per cent, to the workmen and 20 per cent, to the employer. What does that percentage of profit mean? That the owners were asking from the workmen a minimum profit equal to their pre-War profit. The miners' wage was to be 7s. at the lower point. Their minimum profit was to be the pre-War profit. That does not square very well with the pledges of the Government, the employers of labour, and various other sections of the community, that when the War was over and we were back to normal times we should be living in a new world, and dealing better with each other than we have been accustomed to in the past; that there would be a different feeling existing between the owner on the one hand and the workman on the other. If my hon. and gallant Friend opposite will just remember that the profit claimed by the owners was equal to their pre-War profit, he will see that all these oft-repeated pledges go by the board. The owners' offer further was that this arrangement should be governed by monthly ascertainments, which again meant that the miners might have further reductions imposed upon them month by month—with no guarantee given to them.
During our discussion with the owners, as a matter of fact they pointed out that they were aware that while the February prices would justify a certain rate of wages offered to us, that during March there had been a still further fall in the 215 selling prices, and that that would rule in the arrangement for the succeeding month. The offer made by the men was that this national wage arrangement should continue, and that we should have a National Wages Board; that there should be a national pool from which wages and profits should be met. We suggested that the present wage—that is, the wage previous to the dispute—should continue, and that the minimum profit of the owner should be 10 per cent., not 17; and that all surplus profit over the minimum should be 10 per cent., and any reduction from the present wage figures should be a matter to be settled by negotiation between the two parties. These are the respective offers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of his interesting speech said he was not competent to judge as to the employers' offer—whether fair or not. He then went on to deal in a fairly exhaustive way with the salient features of the men's offer. Evidently he felt quite competent to deal with this. The first point the right hon. Gentleman dealt with was that if the present wage was to be continued there would undoubtedly require to be a subsidy by the Government; that if the Government continued to subsidise the industry it would bear heavily on certain sections of the community who were already very much overburdened; and that a section of the community got no War bonus during the War, and were not in the same position as that other section of our people which did get a bonus.
He also pointed out that if we continued to subsidise the industry we should be taking a step that would cripple other great industries in the country and would place on them the burden of assisting an industry that was in a better position so far as employment was concerned. I suggest that that was a very unfair way for the Chancellor to put the point at issue between the miners on the one hand and the Government on the other. I am not inclined to call the suggestion made on our behalf a subsidy at all. In the course of the Second Reading Debate on the Government's Decontrol Bill, I pointed out that I would rather call it a repayment by the Government of part of the large sums taken by them during the period of control from the mining industry. Not only was it taken by the Government, but the benefit was partici- 216 pated in by both classes of the community to which the right hon. Gentleman referred — by that section which he describes as the already overburdened taxpayer and by those engaged in this great industry. Owing to the fact that there was a limitation of coal prices, which existed from 1914 until a few weeks ago, the mining industry undoubtedly did not get the benefit of the world's price for coal. If they had got the benefit of the world's price for coal possibly another £800,000,000 or thereabouts would have been earned by the mining industry and divided between the owner on the one and in workmen on the other.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I would like to know what some other sections of the community did for our Allies. The less we say about that phase of the question the better. There are very few people sitting in this Chamber who could throw stones without fear of breaking glass, and if they begin to discuss the question along those lines glass will be broken all round. Those two classes of the community, and also the Allies to which the hon. Member has just referred, got the benefit of the limitation of the coal price to the extent of something approaching £800,000,000. That did not end all the benefits that the Government got. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Wallace) drew my attention to the question of excess profits. Taking only six months I will give hon. Members an example. During the last six months of 1918 the Coal Controller thought it necessary to put an extra half-a-crown on the control price to the people of this country. He did so on the ground that the miners had had an advance in wages, and that it required the extra 2s. 6d. to meet this advance. In the beginning of 1919, six months thereafter, it so happened that we had a Coal Commission sitting over the way. One of the Government's chief accountants was summoned before that Commission and was asked a question about the 2s. 6d. which was put on the price. He told the members of the Com- 217 mission point blank that the Government did not require to put one penny on the price to meet any advance that had been given to the miners in wages, and that in the course of the six months, owing to the additional 2s. 6d. which had been put on the price the Government had made no less than £25,000,000. He further let the cat out of the bag to the extent of informing the Commission and the country through the Commission that the Government had dealt with this on the basis of handing £23,750,000 to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and £1,250,000 to the much-burdened coal-owner, to whom the hon. Member who spoke last referred. The hon. Member said that 90 per cent, of the total received for the coal went away, and that a very small part went to the poor coalowners. The amount I have referred to was only a slice of what the Government obtained during one six months. In addition to that, huge sums were rolling in to the Treasury in the form of the Excess Profits Tax, and these were paid by the mining industry.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Produced by the miners. The owner digs no coal. The men who dig the coal produced the money that paid the excess profits. Suppose the Government had continued the control of the industry and had continued to pay the wages which were being paid up to the time that this dispute began. That would not have been a case of subsidising the industry, but of making a repayment to an industry from which they have been able to get a considerable sum of money during the War. Apart from that, I suggest that during the trying times through which we have been passing, and shall be passing for some time to come, it has been and is the responsibility of the Government to do their best to carry the people successfully through. One of the strange things I heard in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech was that he was not in a position to deal with the salient features of the owners' proposals, but he was quite able to deal with the salient features of those of the miners, and to criticise and to cut them up. I am endeavouring, as best I can, in my lame and halting way, to reply to that criticism of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His next point was that our proposals 218 contained a suggestion for the continuance of a national pool. He said that if we continue this national pooling system, from which wages and profits are paid, that that arrangement will kill any initiative in the better managed companies whilst helping the inefficiently managed colliery in this country. That was, he said, a proposition to which he could not consent. Is that really the position? Surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer must realise—I admit frankly that his knowledge of coal mining is very limited—that coal mining is not like any other industry in this country. There is a marked difference. The mining industry is governed by certain geological conditions, and it is not a difference of good or bad management, but a difference in the fact that one colliery company has cleaner and richer seams to work than another. Already this country has lost countless, millions of money by the fact that there has been no sensible arrangement for working all classes of seams together. We have had colliery companies working the bigger and richer seams leaving alone the coal that did not pay large profits, and in that way you have had the wealth of this country wasted to a shameless extent, and it is high time that the Government took note of it.
We have reached a stage when it is not good enough for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to simply ride off by saying that if we were to continue the pooling arrangement it would result in the well-managed company being exploited at the expense of the badly-managed company. Coal is a national asset, and one of the things that we have sufficient to supply our own needs and enough to export to other countries. It is one of the few raw materials in our own possession, and we cannot afford to see it wasted in the shameless, stupid way that it has been wasted up to the present time. Is it suggested, because there is a danger of killing the initiative of the best-managed collieries in order to assist the other collieries, that the miner in one district should have a much lower wage than that which is paid to the miner in another district? The miner in the worst class of mine is undergoing the same danger as the miner in the other mine, and we should not forget the great danger that the miner is undergoing. Miners are engaged working in the same hard and 219 uncomfortable conditions in the mean class of mine as in the rich mine. They are performing the same service to the State in winning what is so essential to our national well-being and comfort, and they ought to have the same wage in the one mine as in the other. Unless you have some pooling arrangement different to what we have been accustomed to you are only going to continue wasting your wealth, and at the same time you will impose upon the miner a gross injustice. You cannot expect the miner to be a ^consenting party to any such a rate.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there has been no attack on wages. Does he hold that opinion still? My hon. Friends have done their best to prove that there has been an attack on wages. Take the part of the country with which I am best acquainted. When this dispute began the standard wage was 17s. per day. If the men had begun work under the new conditions offered by the employers their wages would have been 12s. 10d. per day for the men underground. The above-ground workers are in even a worse position. When this dispute began their daily wage was somewhere in the region of 13s. 6d. per day. If he had begun work on the 1st of April, instead of that wage he would have been paid from 7s. 6d. to 8s. per day. In addition to that, within the two previous months his wages have been reduced by 3s. 6d. per day. The underground workers' wage in January last was 20s. 6d. per day. If he had started work on the 1st of April under the new terms his wages would have been 12s. 10d. per day, or a reduction of 7s. 8d. per day, representing a reduction in two months in the case of the underground worker of 37½ per cent., and roughly 50 per cent. in the case of the above-ground worker upon the January wage. If that is not an attack, and a serious attack, upon wages, then I do not know what is an attack on wages. Do not let us forget that in addition to the serious cut I have already pointed out in the wages of the men, the owners' terms are only from month to month, and still further serious cuts might be made in the immediate future if the men were consenting parties to any such arrangement as has been put forward by the owners.
In conclusion, I want to point out, as I did on the occasion of the Second Beading of the Government Decontrol 220 Bill that, in this regard, the Government have a responsibility of which they cannot easily divest themselves. They were willing to control the trade, and to continue to control it, so long as there was something in the trade that made it worth their while—so long as they were able to make millions out of it. But as soon as they found that the industry was getting into deep water they attempted to shred themselves of their responsibility. They cannot do it so easily as they imagine. Both the mineowners on the one hand and the miners on the other have already pointed out, in the most emphatic terms, that the Government have broken faith with them. It is true that the mine-owner, in his anxiety to get recontrol of the industry, is not prepared to carry his protest as far as the miners have done, and it may be true that the Government have squared the coalowners of the country, and that is why they are not prepared to carry their opposition to the extent that the miners are doing. But both parties have been equally emphatic in pointing out that the Government have betrayed their trust and have been guilty of a breach of faith so far as this industry is concerned, and that therefore they cannot divest themselves of the responsibility in the manner they are attempting to do.
I hope that before this discussion closes the Government will seriously think out the position and try to come to some amicable arrangement. I want them to calmly and dispassionately review the whole situation, and, before it is too late, to reconsider their responsibility so far as the miners and the country are concerned. I know it will be far more difficult to deal with the miner now that ho is locked out than it would have been if he had been dealt with before the lockout took place, but it is not too late for the Government to retrace their steps. I can assure the House and the Government that the longer the settlement of this dispute is delayed, the more dangerous will the situation become, both for the Government and for the country. Of this they may rest assured, that the mining community of this country is not going to calmly sit down and accept reductions of wages within two months amounting to from 40 per cent, to 50 per cent. As a matter of fact, they cannot do it and live, for it would make such a cut into their standard of life. There- 221 fore they will not be consenting parties to it, and it would be better for the Government and for this House to dispassionately think out the situation before it proceeds to a more dangerous extent. I hope the net result of our discussion will be that the Government will repent the error of their ways and be ready to meet in consultation the two parties to this dispute and fix it up on the basis of a spirit of equity and justice to all those concerned.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I speak as one who has no direct interest in or connection with the mining industry, but rather as a Member of the House of Commons who is anxious above everything else to try and find out, at this time of great national anxiety, what one can do, in however small a degree, towards helping a settlement by suggestion or by attitude. The tragedy is this, that those of us who are not acquainted closely with the details of the trade find it very difficult indeed to know what are the true figures and what are the true facts. We hear it stated on one side of the House that the reductions proposed in wages range from 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. and immediately that is contradicted from the other side of the House. A figure was given by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) who always speaks with authority, clearness and moderation on this subject, and he was at once contradicted by a representative of the industry who suggested that the increase was 55 per cent. and not 46 per cent. as stated by the hon. Member. I mention these incidents to show how difficult it must be for an average member of the public, as it is also for a Member of the House of Commons, to find out what is the truth and how it is possible to do something towards arriving at a decision which may be helpful. I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that this was not primarily a discussion with regard to actual wages, but that the principal point is whether the settlement of wages shall be a national or a district settlement, and that it was not upon the various proposals made in the various districts that the actual quarrel took place. I understand that in certain parts of the country—in Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire—the rates proposed, while not regarded as entirely satisfactory, are considered to be 222 not altogether improper to the reduction which it is admitted by many must take place if the industry is to be carried on on an economic basis. I trust that the Government will consider some such suggestion as that made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley in his very helpful speech, namely, that provided the mines can be protected during the interval, there should be further opportunity for discussion between the two principal parties involved, as to whether it is not possible, in those districts which are particularly hardly placed, to find some method of give-and-take to meet the conditions prevailing. I would urge very strongly that such an opportunity should be given, and that the whole trade of the country should not be sacrificed through disagreements or misunderstandings about the rates or figures which have been used in these arguments. The figures used appear to me to be sometimes average figures and sometimes actual figures. What I should like to know is, whether some of the figures quoted include the wages paid to boys. Everyone admits that the industry is being carried on under great difficulties and is handicapped by the cost of production; and if it be true, as I am told, that while before the War boys in the collieries were receiving from 15s. to 19s. a week, their recent wages have been between £3 and £4, and if those figures are included in the average rates upon which the resistance to reductions is based, we must feel that to pay boys £3 or £4 a week in an industry which is not self-supporting is a position which cannot be supported on economic grounds. If we could know what are the actual figures for each class, it would help us in arriving at a judgment and in doing something to prevent a disaster the prospect of which is so terrible.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
Every hon. Member must appreciate the spirit of the last speech, and the very proper desire expressed in it for definite figures. There has been, perhaps, some little confusion because percentages have been spoken of which were disputed, and it is desirable to give the actual figures, so that the exact position can be seen. In response to the hon. Member's appeal, I will deal, first of all, with men of 21 years and over engaged in the mines of Lancashire. I will give the actual figures paid up to the 31st 223 March, and the figures which the employers propose to substitute for them. The collier to-day, working in what is called an abnormal place, that is to say, where admittedly the geological and other conditions of the working place are such that he cannot earn a proper day's wage, and is, therefore, paid the admitted high rate—that man up to the 31st March, was receiving 18s. 1d. per day.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WALSH
It includes every penny that is paid—the whole of the bonuses and the whole of the advances negotiated by the trade unions or given by the Government. Every penny from every possible source is included in that 18s. 1d., and every penny from every possible source will also be left in the 14s. 9d.
§ Mr. WALSH
I will deal with every one of the arguments. The Lancashire miner, in nine cases out of ten, pays full commercial rates for his coal, and also pays rent. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do not in South Wales."] I am speaking of Lancashire. The coal-getter who is paid on the minimum rate was, up to 31st March, paid 16s. 5d. a day. He will now have to undergo a reduction of 3s. 8d., making his wages 12s. 9d. per day. The adult drawer—the man who is engaged with his mates at the far end, who does the filling and the tramming of the coal, and is engaged in some of the most arduous work in the mine and always has youth on his side—this young man of 21 or over was, up to 31st March, receiving 15s. 9d. a day. He will now receive 11s. 9d.—a reduction of 4s. a day. The man known as the day wage hand or day hand, who is engaged in the repair work of the mine—the constructional 224 work, timbering, roofing, laying roadways, clearing away of debris, and the thousand and one other operations that must be carried out in the mine—was receiving, up to a few days ago, 14s. 3d. a day. He will now be called upon to undergo a reduction of 4s. 5d. per day leaving him with 9s. 10d. These are positive figures, they are not percentages, they are not disputed. These figures were supplied to the members of the Lancashire and Cheshire Coalowners' Association, the secretary being Sir Thomas Ratcliffe Ellis, one of the best known mining men in this country. These are his figures supplied to us and posted at the pit head.
§ Mr. WALSH
I will give you the boys' figures, only you are very anxious to find out as to what was the definite amount of reduction, -and I was about to give you the whole facts. As you have asked for it I will proceed to give you the figures relating to the boys. Instead of these boys receiving enormous wages of £3 and £4 per week, so far as Lancashire is concerned, no such figures are in existence. At the age of 16½ a young fellow was receiving 9s. 10d. a day. If you will multiply that by five—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not six?"]—people who submit a question like that simply show an abysmal ignorance of the mining industry. As a matter of fact you ought to know perfectly well, if you are sitting here as legislators, that falls must be removed, places must be ventilated, a thousand and one conditions must be attended to which make a six-day week impossible. There has never in the industry since it started been a continuous six-day week per man in any colliery in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not true."] It is true.
§ Mr. WALSH
Let any Government return be gone into and see what is the definite average weekly return of work, even in the most prosperous times, and you will see that to ask why there should not be a six day week is simply suggesting 225 a counsel of perfection. What about the men's health. Here are the figures. The boy of 16½ receives 9s. 10d. a day, and that multiplied by five is £2 9s. 2d. There is no three or four pounds there. The boy of 17 gets 10s. a day, which multiplied by 5 is 50s. The boy of 17½ gets 10s. 5d. a day, multiply again by 5, or if you like by 5½, for I do not mind if you take 11 days a fortnight as normal working time. This young fellow is to sustain a reduction of 4s. 5d. a day, bringing him down to 6s. So I could go on. In 1912 there was a great strike in the coal mining industry, and this House took part in the passing of a minimum wage Act, it being contended and agreed to that the miner was working under conditions which in a vast number of cases prevented him earning a definite living wage, and the House said that for every person working underground a minimum wage must be fixed. That minimum wage in the case of boys was fixed in many districts at 2s. a day. If you will multiply that 2s. of 1912 by the ratio existing between the cost of living in 1912 and the cost in 1921, these young people are being pressed substantially below the standard fixed by this House in 1912.
It was said by the Sankey Commission —and I do not think there was anyone who agreed with it more completely than the Prime Minister himself—that the researches of the Commission proved that miners had fallen materially below the social level of other classes of workers in the country. Indeed, an advance of wages was recommended as a result of that Commission, and although it is disputed as to what was the particular amount that was to go towards raising the social level of the miner, it is admitted that some of that 2s. per day advance was for the purpose of levelling up the social status of the miner to that occupied by other working classes in the community. All that is now to go. A body of men admittedly below the social level of other workers are to he pressed lower than ever they were before. The Minimum Wage Act of 1912 is to be practically nullified. That is the effect of what we are threatened with now. Let me cite one or two other cases. A young man of 18, who was getting up to March 31st 12s. a day, will now get 7s. If you will divide this 7s. by the ratio of 240 to 100, that will really represent its pre-War 226 value. Everyone knows what that is. He will receive that which was represented by 2s. 11d. in 1914—a young man of 18 years of age! I want to know whether this House really has any responsibility for maintaining at least a fair level the standard of living of a vast body of people, namely, the miners and their families. [HON. MEMBERS: "No! "] We have no responsibility? Yet a few years ago this House did recognise the responsibility. It did recognise that there should be a minimum wage which gave a decent standard of living and some hope to the miners. Are we to be told to-day there is no responsibility at all. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer says the industry must fend for itself. If we had been left to fend for ourselves, if the State had not interfered we would indeed have been able to present a far different result, but you did not permit us to fend for ourselves. For 20 years in the federated area we maintained almost uninterrupted peace without a serious strike or trouble. From 1894 right on to the outbreak of the War we in the English federated area managed to maintain the same rates of general wages in the whole of that vast area. Three-sevenths of the whole Kingdom had the same general rates of wages, and the changes, when they were made, were made for the whole of that area, showing clearly that what we are asking now was performed for 20 years and could and would have been performed for the whole time had the State not interfered. No one denies the right of the State to interfere. The State not only had a right, but I believe was under an obligation to interfere during the War, but it is because of Government interference that we have the present deplorable results, that we have districts that used to be very nearly uniform in their general conditions now divided. I have in the House now record after record for scores of months showing that the gradual effect of the management within the federated area was bringing practical uniformity throughout the whole of that big district, in which I should think there are at the very least 450,000 people in employment with their wives and their families, representing at the very least three-sevenths of the whole output of the kingdom. For those 20 years a gradual condition of uni- 227 formity was growing up, and it was a state in which there was almost unbroken peace. It is true that here and there there were comparatively small outbreaks, but over that vast area the general peace was preserved, and when the War broke out we said we would bind ourselves solemnly not to have any disputes, that any dispute should be settled by arbitration or by conciliation, and that would have been the case to-day.
Now the Government, in face of these facts, which cannot be disputed, having completely overthrown that set of conditions, says, "We have no further responsibility." The Government has a grave moral responsibility for the conditions that exist to-day, and they cannot, merely by these easy gestures, get away from that responsibility. But a few weeks ago we told you exactly what would happen if the Government persisted in their policy. I was charged with being theatrical and with not meaning what I was saying. We said, "We are not using this as a threat." I appealed with all the solemnity in my nature to give us some little time to think where we were going, to recognise the possibility of the gravest social disorder that the mind of man could conceive. I appealed to you. That which was foretold has now happened, not because the miner has a double dose of original sin, but because he has the right to live, and so have his wife and children. If he gives fair labour in the mine his living conditions ought not to be governed by the geological character of the seam. That man has a right to live. Why do you deny to the miner what is given to every other artisan? The carpenter, the bricklayer, the engineer, will receive—I need not enumerate other classes of artisans—wherever they go a definite rate for their work. [HON. MEMBERS: "District rate!"] They will probably get more in the metropolis, but there is a uniform wage guaranteed to those men, and not merely because one particular job or one firm is prosperous. The man who goes upon that job is guaranteed that money. We are now told that the miner must have his living conditions and that of his wife and family conditioned by a particular mine. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which will be the worst mine."] Yes, as a matter of fact, it will be the worst mine in the district that 228 will bring the wage down to the minimum. In the meantime we are told how generous are the employers. I would like to examine that particular plea of generosity. The generosity of the employers is being exemplified because they say to the miner, "We will offer you a minimum wage, but consistent with that minimum wage we are going to have a minimum profit." That is held up as a condition precedent to employment. There is to be a 17 per cent. profit calculated upon the gross wages of the whole colliery. That is to be the minimum profit. I know of many cases. I will give one case, that of a colliery with a paid up capital of £200,000, which employs 3,000 men. The average wages of that firm may be at the present time £2 a week. The average wage for 3,000 people is £104 a year, or £312,000 per year. Seventeen per cent, on that £312,000 is to be the minimum profit, not the surplus profit of the colliery. That amounts to £53,000 which the owners must have if the workers are to work at all. If they are to start at all they are to guarantee that £53,000 a year upon a paid up capital of £200,000. About 26½ per cent, is to be the minimum profit of the owners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name."] An hon. Member opposite need not shake his head. What I have stated is a fact. That is their generosity. One hon. Member, I believe he comes from Ireland, said he was surprised at the generosity of the employers hi the terms they were offering to the men. Their minimum profit is to be guaranteed every year. Even if they lose in one year it is to be made up in any subsequent year before the worker can get a single penny advance. A cumulative preference share is to be made good at the rate of 26½ per cent. That is the generosity of the employer. In addition to that we are to sign and to guarantee 20 per cent. to them in future when the minimum profits are made good as against 80 per cent. for the worker. Then we are told that the owners have been compelled to do this because, poor fellows, they have made no profits in the past. The withers of right hon. Gentlemen were wrung with sympathy for the poor profitless owners of the past. Here is the case of the Astley and Tyldesley Colliery Company. In 1909–10 they made 22½ per cent., in 1912 20 per cent., in December, 1913, 15 per cent., for the three half years to 1914, 17½ per cent., for the three half years to 1915 they made 12½ per cent. In June, 1916, 229 they paid 15 per cent. In December, 1916, they paid 20 per cent. In December, 1919, they paid 15 per cent, all free of Income tax.
§ Mr. WALSH
I can give from the begining of that company. In the case of Bolckow, Vaughan & Company it was stated that there was great need for wages to be lessened, because there had been such a heavy burden on the fortunes of the company. That company in 1915 paid 11 per cent., in 1916–17 12 per cent., in 1917–18 12 per cent., in 1918–19 12 per cent., in 1919–20 12 per cent., and last year they paid 12 per cent. These are the firms that are so generous to us and are compelled by the hard facts of the situation to take this big slice from the workmen's earnings. The Broomhill colliery in 1915–16 paid 10 per cent., in 1916–17 20 per cent., in 1917–18 15 per cent., and in 1918–19 20 per cent., and in 1919–20 20 per cent, free of tax. These are the people for whom our sympathy has been excited. The Bullcroft colliery in 1917–18 paid 25 per cent., in 1919 it paid 15 per cent., and last year it paid 20 per cent. I am taking these collieries indiscriminately. They are not selected. The Carlton Main in 1912–13 paid 17½ per cent., in 1913–14 it paid 20 per cent., in 1914–15 20 per cent., in 1915–16 25 per cent., and the same in 1917, 1918, and 1919, that is, 25 per cent. for five continuous years. This is the kind of people who say their losses have been so heavy, who have had their profits guaranteed to four days ago to 90 per cent, of their pre-War controlled profits, and who now say they cannot afford to pay the men without driving them to conditions which are worse than serfdom.
Take the Wigan Coal and Iron Company. This is a perfectly classic example of over-capitalisation. It is the one outstanding example in the whole mining industry of horrible over-capitalisation. In 1915 they paid 7½ per cent.; in 1916, 10 per cent.; in 1917, 10 per cent.; in 1918, 10 per cent.; in 1919, 10 per cent.; and recently the dividends have been free of Income Tax. Take another firm, Pease and Partners. In 1915 they paid 17½ per cent.; in 1916, 1917, and 1918, 230 17½ per cent.; in 1919, 12½ per cent.; and last year they paid 18 per cent., free of Income Tax. These are the folks who are in a ruined industry, who cannot afford to pay, even for a few weeks, wages that even now are less than what is required to meet the increased cost of living. Similar figures could be repeated almost indefinitely. I hope, for the honour of this House, that we shall hear no more of the miserable nonsense about the lack of profits in the industry. It is pure drivel, and hon. Members know it. As a matter of fact, the profits made in the industry have been enormous.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
Is it not the fact that Bolckow, Vaughan and Company, and Pease and Partners are not entirely confined to collieries and that their dividends are also paid from the steel works and coke ovens?
§ Mr. WALSH
I have been in the trade union movement for 40 years. I have never known a deputation to meet the coalowners when the latter did not retort that the profits were not made from coal at all but came purely from iron and steel. That has always been the reply, but if you take companies that are purely collieries and have no connection with iron and steel, you have the same exaggerated dividends. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must have repeated that particular question to deputations scores and scores of times. These are colliery companies. I want to put a question to the Prime Minister. Does he think that he can divest himself and his Government of responsibility for the action of the employers? After all, are we to be driven back into the horrible maelstrom from which we have emerged only with great pains? Are we to have the existing generation and generations yet to come depressed into conditions of existence which, for the work involved, would not be equal to the cost of keeping people in the poor houses? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is a fact. Take the average family of a man and his wife with three children, which is about the average family in the mining districts—in fact, it is slightly under. That father, when he has been working a full week, will go home with about £2 6s. 2d. to keep a family of five on for seven days, because, although the average working week is five days only, the people must live for seven days. I ask the 231 Prime Minister whether, with all his past professions and declarations, made with what I know to be his honest feeling at that time, that we should never be driven back into the horrible conditions of the past, when he told us to be audacious, whether he really believes that that statement at that time is consistent with the pressing back of people into the conditions I have just named. It is impossible to live, and our people might as well starve and play as starve and work. No self-respecting body of men can accept these conditions. This will not only depress the miner now, it will depress his people for generations still to come, and that is too grave a social outlook for any nation now to be content with. I most earnestly appeal to the Prime Minister to give what we asked only a few weeks ago—time to call together all men of goodwill. That is what we implored you to do a few weeks ago, to call together the people in the industry, and yourselves, the Ministers of the Crown, not to stand on any false dignity, but to come with us and try to find a solution to one of the gravest problems that has ever confronted this nation. If you will do that, there is real hope. The miners are not stupid, stubborn people; they are perfectly willing to face the facts, but their right to a living wage, their right to decent conditions as citizens, their right on their own part and on the part of their wives and children, is undoubted and fundamental. That must be recognised; if it cannot be recognised, the gravest dangers will confront this State that the mind of man can conceive, and that is not a threat. I speak as one who has been in this movement for a good share of half a century, and I have never misled this House. I have always spoken frankly and told the truth, and we told the truth a few days ago, but we were scoffed at and sneered at. In a House with less than a sixth of the Members every statement we made was jeered at. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There was not a single Member opposite who got up. They simply sat there jeering at us, charging us with being theatrical, with threatening, and so on. We appeal in the same spirit again. Do not thrust us back. Give the movement time. Let us all get together and do our best to find a solution of this grave problem.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not propose to attempt anything in the nature of a debating answer to the points made by my hon. Friend who has just sat down, or, indeed, to any of the preceding speakers. I refrain from doing so, not merely because there are only 20 minutes left, but for the reason that I do not think that at this stage any good could be achieved by my attempting merely to refute certain of the statements made and to controvert some of the arguments which have been advanced. What we are all really anxious to do is to arrive at a pacification of this very dangerous dispute, if it can be done in a way which is compatible with the interests of the nation as a whole. I will, therefore, content myself, before I come to examine one or two suggestions which have been made, with a short re-statement of the Government position, not that it is necessary after the very powerful speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but in the course of the Debate some of the statements which he made have been so overlaid with other issues which have been raised, that there is a real danger of the House forgetting exactly what the issue is.
What is the Government position? First of all, there has been a general demand for decontrol in all industries. The feeling is almost universal in favour of decontrol—that the restrictions and the strict supervision of certain industries, which were rendered necessary by war conditions, should come to an end as soon as the war conditions had terminated. That demand was not confined to the mining industry, but it certainly included the mining industry. The second point I want to put about the Government position is that the subsidising of a great industry out of taxation is wrong in principle, and completely indefensible.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Up to the present there certainly has been no subsidising of the agricultural industry. Under the Bill which was carried four years ago there has been no subsidy. That cannot be said about the mining industry. The third point is that a subsidy of that kind at the present moment is especially indefensible, having regard to the heavy taxation in the country and the condition of the 233 Exchequer. The loss, at any rate, before the 31st March upon the working of control and the payment of wages and of guaranteed profits came to over £1,000,000 a week. As prices were falling, that amount would increase, but even at the last rate it meant a loss of between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000 a year to the Exchequer, unless that arrangement were terminated, and it might very well have run up to figures like £100,000,000. No Government could possibly be justified in placing a burden of that kind upon the overburdened taxpayers of the country in order either to pay wages or to pay the profits of the mine-owners, for it was part of the guarantee that there should be guaranteed profits for coalowners as well.
That is the general position of the Government. We have been told that if we guaranteed wages and profits for another month or so, all might be well. What prospect was there? Supposing at the end of a month there had been no agreement. Notice of decontrol had been given in January, and we went on paying till the 31st March. My right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) in his very able speech said that it might take two or three months. My other hon. Friend opposite was not clear that two or three months would be long enough, and thought that a guarantee might be necessary beyond that. Therefore if it were purely a question of amount it might be worth while placing even that burden on the taxpayer in order to avert the calamity of a great national dispute. But there was no promise, no guarantee, there was not even a sure prospect that at the end of the two or three months we might not be faced with exactly the same position. It was essential, therefore, that the industry should be brought face to face with the end of control; otherwise we should never have got rid of this increased liability upon the Exchequer. What made it all the more necessary was that there was no inducement, if I may say so—for either of the parties to bring the negotiations to a speedy termination. The coalowners had their profits guaranteed. The miners had their wages guaranteed. They were discussing how to bring to an end the present condition of things which neither of them were particularly 234 anxious to terminate. The only parties who had an interest in a speedy conclusion were the taxpayers, who were represented by the Government? The negotiations began in November. The parties undertook to come together immediately in order to arrive at a permanent settlement of the conditions of the coal trade. We gave them five months in order to arrive at that conclusion; but while the guarantees existed, there was no particular hurry to come to a decision. That is the position. Those were the conditions under which the Government came to the conclusion that you must bring to an end, by a definite and decisive Act, control and subsidy, and put the industry upon an economic basis.
I want to state that, not in order to prolong controversy, but to make our attitude clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) and other hon. Members have asked the Government to assist in bringing this dispute to an end. My hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Walsh) has very eloquently reinforced that appeal. It is our business to do our best to bring it to an end, and we should be very glad to take any steps to promote further discussion between the mineowners and the miners' representatives with the view to arriving at a further and better understanding. We can either take part in this discussion ourselves or we can leave it to the parties to discuss these conditions amongst themselves. That is a matter for them to consider. During the last dispute they preferred for some time to meet without the presence of any Government representatives.
That is a question which they have to consider, but I think we must make clear the two conditions under which we shall be prepared to enter into any discussions. We will not hold out any question of what wage the industry can bear. Figures have been bandied about, and some of those figures have been challenged by hon. Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House. I am not going to enter into this, and I am not going to say whether they are adequate or inadequate. I am not going to say whether the industry can pay more, or whether it ought to pay more. To express an opinion on those subjects would be to cripple our effectiveness in any negotiations that may 235 take place. But we must make it clear that we could not enter into any negotiations which were based on the expectation that we could recommend to Parliament the maintenance of this industry out of the general taxation of the country. We could not enter into any discussion upon the assumption that it would be possible to resume control of the industry. With those two limitations there is a very wide field for discussion. The whole of the ordinary questions that arise in industrial disputes of what wages it is fair for workmen to demand, what wages it is fair for the owners to pay, and what the industry is capable of can be discussed.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The discussion would naturally be a discussion with the Miners' Federation and the Mining Association. All the discussions we have ever had have been discussions of that character. Anything that the Government can do to assist in promoting a good understanding between the mineowners and the miners, that we shall be willing to undertake. I fully trust that before anyone undertakes the responsibility of prolonging a controversy which may become a very disastrous one for the mining industry itself, and not only for the mining industry but for the nation, will make that further effort to arrive at an understanding. It is essential that the Miners' Federation should give every facility and assistance to prevent the pits from being destroyed and also to save the lives of those poor dumb animals which, I am sorry to say, in a few instances at the present moment are living under horrible conditions and have been allowed to remain down the pits. I only want to make that condition, and I think it is worthy of the House to protect these poor animals. I am perfectly certain that everybody in every section of the House will sympathise with that object.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I sincerely hope that the leaders of the miners and those who represent the coalowners of the country will be able to meet to see whether with or without representatives of the Government it is not possible 236 immediately to arrive at some permanent settlement so that not merely this dispute should be brought to an end but also that a repetition of these disputes should be prevented because they are not only damaging to the mining industry but they are also a menance to the whole industry of the country.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
I understand that the Government are willing to ratify an arrangement that this discussion should continue until 8.15 to-morrow evening.
The Government readily accede to that suggestion. We understand that the Debate will be brought to an end by 8.15 by common consent.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned accordingly; to be resumed To-morrow.