Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House)
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn"
The conditions are much graver than my noble Friend supposes, but the House, very naturally, desires to get to the bottom of the matter, as, indeed, does the whole country. I think it is a little unfortunate that we should be forced to a discussion before we have the ipsissima verba of the deputation's reply before us, but, since it appears to be the desire of the House that an irregular discussion of this kind should not go on any longer, I make this Motion, in order that the discussion may be regular.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I should like to ask a question arising out of the discussion which has taken place, as I think it might throw some light on the nature of the misunderstanding. Is it not the case that the condition which has been laid down with regard to a conference—the only primary condition which has been laid down—is the condition which has been laid down by the Prime Minister and by the coalowners that, before a conference takes place, the mine workers should consent to a resumption of work by the pumpmen; and that, in reply, the mine workers have said that they will consent to that condition on 'two other conditions? That is the point that I want to clear up. After having listened to the exchange of views that has taken place, I want to suggest that the primary condition which has been laid down is the condition laid down by the mineowners that, before entering into conference, the pumpmen must resume work; and that when that condition has been put to the workers, they have said that they will only consent to it on two other conditions, but that, if that condition is removed, they are then willing to enter into conference without any conditions whatever. The conditions which it is suggested that the mine workers have raised are not primary conditions; they are only conditions to the acceptance of 502 the condition raised by the mineowners; and if that primary condition, which governs everything—the condition laid down by the mineowners, and embodied by the Prime Minister in his suggestion—is removed, then the workers are willing to enter into conference without any conditions whatever. Is not that exactly the position?
§ Mr. FINNEY
As a member of the Executive of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, I think it is right that I should associate myself with the observations of my hon. Friend (Mr. D. Graham), who is also a member of the Executive. I should like to say definitely that we are very sorry that this misunderstanding has arisen. As we understand it on our side, we are perfectly willing and ready to meet the coalowners without conditions being attached beforehand, so that we can go into an open conference with them and discuss the points of difference between them and ourselves, with a view to arriving, as we hope, at some friendly decision that will bring us out of this great difficulty into which we have been landed by a miscarriage of good intentions. Everyone has been trying to do 'their best, but we are landed in the worst condition that we ever were in in our lives, and we want to get out of it. We want the country to help us to get out of it, and we want the Prime Minister and the Government and this House to help us to get out of it in an honourable way. We say that we are ready to go into a conference, but we do not wish to be trammelled by any conditions beforehand. We should go into that conference with a real intention to do our best to find a settlement that would be satisfactory to ourselves, and, we hope, to everyone concerned. I thought it right that I should associate myself, as a member of the Executive, with the observations of my hon. Friend. We have come direct from the Executive to this House, so that it should be understood that we are quite willing that all these things should be cleared out of the way, in order that we may have a chance to get together and see if we cannot settle the matter.
§ Mr. LUNN
I am totally unaware, except from what has taken place in the House during the last few minutes, of what transpired at the meeting this morning, but, coming from a mining 503 district, I am very anxious that every obstacle that at the moment is in the way of negotiations may be removed. I have seen a position created in Yorkshire, during the last two or three weeks, of great difficulty in this matter. It may be within the memory of many hon. Members of this House that when the Miners' Federation referred the question back to the districts as to whether they would vote for a national or a district settlement, Yorkshire's vote went in favour of a district settlement, and they came to the Federation prepared to vote for a district settlement. The National Federation, by a very large majority, decided in favour of a national settlement of this dispute. Since that moment, the associations in the South and West of Yorkshire have been meeting, and the whole position has been discussed as to what those two separate associations would offer, supposing that the Yorkshire miners were prepared to accept a district settlement. It was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night that the workmen in South Yorkshire would gain an advance in wages by a district settlement, and I think I said that many thousands of workers would not get an advance by the offer of the coalowners in South Yorkshire. I see in this morning's paper a statement by the Financial Secretary of the Yorkshire Miners' Association in which he says that two-thirds of the employes in South Yorkshire will get a reduction through the offer that is made by the South Yorkshire coalowners. But that is not my point. In West Yorkshire the Association, instead of helping towards a settlement even upon district lines, have divided up West Yorkshire into two separate associations—two separate agreements, two separate understandings—and though the Yorkshire Association has been fighting for many years for one Association for Yorkshire, the West Yorkshire Coalowners' Association say: "If you are to have a district settlement there must be an Eastern Division and a Western Division in the Western portion of Yorkshire," which means a lower rate in the new Western Division than what we have understood as being the West Yorkshire Division before.
I only point that out to show how much that has changed the Yorkshire miners' point of view and has brought him into 504 line, whatever was his position before, towards a national settlement of this question. Until you can get the two parties together to discuss the whole position there is no possibility whatever of a settlement of this dispute. I believe the whole mining population to-day is not only anxious but determined that the settlement must be upon national lines. I do not say that has been laid down as a condition, but I believe that is the determination of the men. But let them get together. That is the way to settle a dispute. Lay down no conditions which will prevent them. I am not expressing a, personal opinion as to whether the pumpmen should go back to work or not. I have heard this discussed for hours by delegates from various collieries, and I know what their feelings are. I know the anger that is displayed by the miners at the sudden determination of control. The Government is primarily responsible for the position, and I appeal to them in the interests of peace, not only of the miners, but of all classes of workers, and in the interests of the nation, that they should bring the two parties together without delay and immediately get the men back to work. If they could be brought together I believe the men could be got back at work by Monday morning. There is a lot of piffle talked by those who do not know anything about the position as to the condition of the mines. They are not in that disastrous condition that some people believe, but they will be if these conditions are continued, and if prompt methods were taken, as they could be taken by the Government if they wished, I believe the men could be got back to work, which means so much to the mining districts and to the nation at large.
§ Colonel Sir ROBERT WILLIAMS
It was said just now by an hon. Member opposite that the miners' case ought to be stated and the owners' case ought to be stated, but I think he forgot that there is a third case that ought to be stated, and that is the case of the whole population. The whole population of England is concerned in this, that disputes as to wages or hours ought not to be allowed to waste the assets of the nation, and that while the dispute is going on the coal mines ought not to suffer. Every day makes them worse, and therefore the assets of the nation are being dissipated 505 and wasted while the dispute is going on. I hope they have got that in their mind. I am very glad we have two Members of the Miners' Executive to answer my question if they can. The Prime Minister, if I rightly remember, stated quite clearly that the condition on which he would ask the mineowners and the men to come together was that the pumpmen were allowed to return. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It was stated in the House on Tuesday that the condition on which the Prime Minister would act would be that the pumpmen were allowed to go back. I want to ask the Miners' Federation had they got that in their mind when they sent the acceptance? Was it not in their mind and in their knowledge that the Prime Minister had stated on Tuesday that the only condition on which he sent the letter was that the men were going back? Was there a misunderstanding about that?
§ Sir R. WILLIAMS
What do you call a condition? If the Prime Minister says that the condition on which he will send the invitation is that the pumpmen go back, is not that a condition? I am certain that if any Member of the Executive could answer my question he would, and their silence is to me a proof that the miners knew, when they wrote that letter to the Prime Minister accepting his offer, that the condition on which the Prime Minister had sent it was that the pumpmen should go back. I am quite content to leave it where it is, and I am very sorry that neither of the Members of the Miners' Executive has got up to answer my question.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I wish to make a brief but very earnest appeal to the Prime Minister. Is it not, after all, the most important thing in the interests of the nation that the parties in this dispute should meet together once more, and is it not possible that if they do meet a more conciliatory and reasonable spirit will be displayed?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. HOARE
I hesitate to say anything at all, but it seems to me the situation is so serious that even a private Member like myself cannot leave it without saying something. Yesterday the hon. Member (Mr. Duncan Graham) made a very bitter speech, and 506 seemed to me to make the situation much more difficult than it was when the Prime Minister made his statement, but I do not want to be diverted on that account from trying to find some escape from what seems to me to be a very unfortunate misunderstanding. The Prime Minister to-day has stated that the Miners' Executive insisted upon two conditions prior to sending the pumpmen back. Certain hon. Members opposite seem to doubt the accuracy of that statement, and to be under the impression that there has been some misunderstanding. It seems to me to be vitally important that there should be no misunderstanding whatever on this point. Would it not be possible here and now for the Prime Minister during the Sitting of the House to communicate at once with Mr. Hodges and to find out whether the situation is as is described by hon. Members opposite or is not? It seems to me that only in that way can misunderstanding be avoided. I cannot help thinking that both miners and owners would be wise to set aside any preliminary condition at all and to go into a conference at which the first subject for discussion would be the question of the withdrawal of the pumpmen. It seems to me that if no conference is held the pumpmen certainly will not return, and on that account the owners will be no better off. It might be impossible that the owners and the men can come to any agreement. At the same time it seems to me to be the only hope of getting the pumpmen immediately back that to-day, if possible, at any rate without any delay, the two parties concerned should meet under the presidency of a representative of the Government and see whether, as the first subject of the conference, they cannot come to an agreement on sending the pumpmen back at once. Having said that I can say nothing more, but feeling as strongly as I do, I thought it necessary to throw out that suggestion.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Perhaps the House will allow me to make a fuller statement than I could in the course of replies to questions across the Floor of the House. If the House can be brought back to the position of Tuesday it will show quite clearly, I am afraid, that it is not a question of misunderstanding between the parties, but a very fundamental issue which has been raised, and 507 I do not want the House to minimise in the least the gravity of the situation. If it were purely a misunderstanding between the Miners' Federation and the Government that could easily be cleared up, in the way indicated by my hon. Friend, by sending over to Mr. Hodges and asking him whether we failed to understand each other this morning. But that is not the case, and it is no use our going away under the impression that it is a mere matter of verbal misunderstanding, and discussing things as we did this morning in a perfectly calm and friendly attitude. What is the position? The question of condition was raised first of all by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) in the Debate on Tuesday. He first of all makes two practical suggestions. I am not going into those because they do not arise at the present moment. Then he said: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 of this industry depends. We are all directly concerned, practically every household and every trade in the country is concerned with 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 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1921; cols. 175–6, Vol. 140.]That was the question of the condition. It was raised first of all by my right hon. Friend, and I afterwards repeated it at the end of the statement which I made that very evening: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."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April; col. 235, Vol. 140.]That was the position on Tuesday night. The following day I wrote an indentical letter to Mr. Hodges and to Mr. Evan 508 Williams inviting them to a conference at the Board of Trade this morning and calling their attention to the statement I made in the House. It depended upon the conditions which had been laid down. The replies I read to the House. The mineowners referred to the conditions, and practically repeated the conditions made by the Government. Mr. Hodges made no reference at all to them. I then wrote to Mr. Hodges and asked him whether I was to assume— I have not the actual words—that the conditions laid down, and which I quoted from my speech, were accepted by the Miners' Federation. The Miners' Federation replied in the terms which I summarised to the House last night, that they could not accept the conditions. I then invited them to meet me and my colleagues this morning. They refused to accept the conditions, and they went beyond that. I will read what Mr. Herbert. Smith said on behalf of the Miners' Federation. It is on page 20. He said:It is no good our bargaining about this, Mr. Prime Minister. We have got to get first two fundamental principles agreed to, the National Wage Board and the National Pool, and then we can talk about the safety men.I replied:So far as we are concerned if you insist upon that and say that the safety of the mines is not to be proceeded with, that you will not permit us to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of the mines until we have conceded beforehand two things which, amongst others, will have to be discussed, then that is an impossible position. That is an ultimatum of a much more serious character.That is my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn). It is not we who ruled out these things from discussion, but it is the statement of Mr. Herbert Smith that until these two points have been conceded the pumpmen will not be allowed to resume work. Those are the conditions of the Miners' Federation and not ours. Mr. Frank Hodges replied to me:To be perfectly frank, that is the decision of the Federation.I said:I am very sorry.I then asked that we should be allowed to retire to consider this very grave statement, and on returning I made a statement. I am only repeating this in order to show that I tried to make it clear to 509 the Miners' Federation what I believed to be their position, and I invited them to correct me if I was wrong. I said:One of the statements made by Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. Frank Hodges put it very clearly and definitely. I think the only difference between us was whether the arrangement as to the pump men should be the preliminary condition of the negotiations or whether it should be left to be discussed at the first meeting of the joint Conference. I understand now, from Mr. Herbert Smith, that under no conditions can the Miners' Federation agree to take steps to preserve the mines from destruction unless there is an acceptance in advance of two fundamental principles, one the National Wages Board and the other the National Pool. I do not see how this can be achieved without either control or subsidy, but I should be quite willing to listen to arguments on that point—I did not rule that out—because neither control nor subsidy can be agreed to as part of a permanent arrangement in regard to the miners, and to say that this must be agreed to before steps are taken to save the mines raises an issue of the very gravest importance.If there was a misunderstanding there was an opportunity for correcting it. I stated with the most complete clearness to the miners then what I conceived to be their two conditions, and I ended up by saying:This is one of the gravest challenges that has ever been thrown at the State.Then I added:I do not know whether you would like to say something now or to discuss it among yourselves.I thought they would like to retire and discuss it among them selves, or to discuss the answer which they had given. Mr. Herbert Smith—this was after consultation with Mr. Hodges; he did not answer straight away, but he turned to Mr. Hodges, and then he said:I think we have nothing further to say on the matter.I said:Well, I am sorry.If there be a misunderstanding, it was a misunderstanding which could have been corrected at the time, because I stated, I think, with absolute clearness what I understood to be the two preliminary conditions imposed by the Miners' Federation before they could, as I put it, permit pumping. I did not say "resume pumping," but "permit pumping." Mr. Herbert Smith said that he had nothing to say. I do not mind saying that I am 510 very surprised. If there is some misunderstanding; if Mr. Herbert Smith did not quite understand what was the decision of the Federation, after consultation with Mr. Hodges, then we should all be delighted to see the matter put right; but I do not want the House to minimise in the least the gravity of the position if that represents the deliberate decision of the Miners' Federation. I have not yet heard. I know that one of the hon. Members for Scotland (Mr. Duncan Graham) takes a very strong view upon the subject; but what I should like to know is whether this is the deliberate decision of the Miners' Federation. We made it quite clear on Tuesday and it found general acceptance in the House. There was no challenge when the statement was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley early in the Debate. He got up about 6 or 7 o'clock, in a very full House, when the Labour Members were well represented as well as other sections of the House, and stated the condition very clearly. I stated it in an equally full House later in the course of the evening, and I never heard any protest from any quarter. That condition is a condition which I should have thought was vital to any negotiations.
It is no use getting the miners and the mineowners together if the first thing that happens is this: that it will be said, "What about the pumping of the mines. Something must be done to prevent the mines being destroyed, because there are very valuable mines which are being destroyed at this very hour, and there is interference with voluntary efforts to save them." Therefore, the first thing that would happen after the Chairman had taken his seat would be this: "Let us consider the question of pumping the mines." The first answer given by the Miners' Federation would be the answer which they gave to me this morning, that they had deliberately decided that they would not permit the pumpmen to return unless two fundamental principles had been accepted. It is useless to have a conference under those conditions. I am sure that those who have been engaged in industry on both sides, and who have had experience of negotiating, will know how futile it is to proceed with negotiations under such conditions. It really only exasperates and irritates, and until those conditions are withdrawn, until the miners are prepared during the nego- 511 tiations to act in a spirit of truce we cannot proceed to negotiate. It is only a question, I believe of 25,000 men altogether out of a total of over 1,000,000. Could they not permit these 25,000 men, or a minimum in the most dangerous pits, to look after the pumps, just during the time that their leaders and the mine- owners were sitting round the same table to discuss this question? I do not think it is an unreasonable thing to ask, but it is a perfectly unreasonable thing to attempt to discuss this question when the mineowners know that their mines are being destroyed. If anyone will read the speeches they will see that it was 'defended as an act of war. It was said that it really would speed up a decision. Any body who believes that does not under stand the psychology of their own people, and it is for that reason, so far as we are concerned, that we use no language of menace at all; for the simple reason that, apart from the effect of the language of menace on policy, I know perfectly well that it only puts up the backs of people and makes them more determined to fight—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
What is true about the miners is equally true about the mineowners. We are all of the same flesh and blood, and the idea that if you just say to the mineowners, "Unless you agree to this speedily your mines will be completely destroyed" that they will surrender shows that they do not understand the spirit of their own people. It does not conduce to agreement, and until there is an agreement upon this matter we must concentrate upon doing our best to save the mines and must ask the owners also to assist us to save the mines and all well-disposed citizens to assist also. When the mines are perfectly safe those will be the only conditions under which we can have negotiations. That is the position. If anyone will say that the statement of Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. Frank Hodges was misinterpreted by me I should be very glad. Mr. Herbert Smith does not say so, Mr. Frank Hodges does not say so, but if on reflection they come to a different conclusion we shall all be rejoiced if it be possible to resume negotiations.
§ 5.0 P.M.512
§ Mr. CLYNES
It is not usual for the Prime Minister in a situation like this to explain to the House at great length how impossible it is to have a conference unless and until this and that condition is agreed to beforehand. What I have in my mind, and what I hope will be generally shared by the House when I have done, is that instead of anticipating difficulties and believing in advance that those difficulties will make conference fruitless, we should view it from another angle, and assume that even if the conference fails it would be well worth trying it without any conditions. The Prime Minister has not yet dealt with the point repeatedly pressed by two members of the executive of the Miners' Federation. It is the point which is in no way disputed by this report, that the Miners' Federation have expressed their willingness to go into a conference without conditions. There never was in the industrial history of the country a moment of greater crisis than this, and it may be that we have not yet reached the height of the crisis. Other large bodies are conferring and considering as to what they ought to do, and we cannot set aside the probability of bad being made even worse. Therefore I say that the Government should rise to the height of its wisdom by allowing no minor consideration, no secondary cause, to stand in the way of the possibility of an agreement being reached between the two great parties to this dispute.
I must not be taken as defending the action of the Miners' Federation on the question of pumping. It is not necessary I should do so for the purpose of putting my view. My view is that if you are going to allot blame or regard these acts as blameworthy, the two parties surely are to blame. The mineowners who gave notice to the pumpmen are as much to blame as the Federation is to blame for telling the pumpmen to accept the notices and conform to them. The position of the pumpmen for the moment is of secondary importance to the larger national issues involved in the dispute as a whole, and it is upon that aspect of the question I should like to address a few words to the Prime Minister. I was in doubt as to what the Prime Minister said on this question of the pumpmen in the Debate on Tuesday, but I was not left in any doubt after the Prime Minister spoke on Wednesday. It is quite clear from every record that the Prime Minister has 513 laid it down that conference must be subject to the acceptance of this condition—the return to work of the pumpmen. That is the Government's position. Very well! The miners' representatives say, "In answer to that one condition we offer you two. If you insist upon the return of the pumpmen as a condition of approaching the question of general settlement, we say you must accept two of our conditions before we go into a general discussion on the whole of the wage question." [HON. MEMBERS: "Your conditions."] Well, if hon. Members think that, anything can be done for the preservation of property by the maintenance of this attitude I do not share their view. We must look at this question, not merely from the standpoint of what we would like to get, but of what it is possible in the circumstances to get. You may exhaust yourself in appealing to the miners to go back to the pumps and find that they have not gone near the pumps at all; you may waste your energies in that way; but the real question is, which is the wiser as well as the fairer thing to do to deal with the general question?
The Prime Minister speaks of a truce. That is exactly what the miners' leaders ask for, but not a truce limited to the return to work of one group of workmen. Let it be a complete truce. The miners' leaders say: "Yes. We shall have a truce, but it must be a truce under which all the men will come back to work on the terms existing before the stoppage." [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the pits"?] I think hon. Members are only magnifying the seriousness of the property difficulties that so far have resulted from the neglect of pumping, and I am asking hon. Members to balance the probabilities of profit and loss arising from this attitude as regards the industry as a whole. Let a week-end go over without the Government moving from this position and the miners will not have moved. We may travel through next week, and so on, the dispute not being narrowed but extended, and let us see" whether at the end of that time we can claim any credit for displaying this spirit of stubbornness, or for standing upon a condition that should never have been enforced. The Prime Minister is not given to building up obstacles in the way of conference or to imagining insoluble difficulties. I would prefer to look at this matter on the assumption that if the two 514 parties get together, so much is at stake that their minds will be attuned to a process of "give and take," but if you start by insisting that one side must, to begin with, do something which you know it is unwilling to do you are doing something which is absolutely fruitless. I say, then, the miners' leaders wish to have a truce, and the Prime Minister has done no more than to amplify what he said very clearly on Wednesday. All that Members of the House can do now is to appeal to the Prime Minister to further discuss the matter with the miners' leaders, or jointly with them and the; owners, to see whether some arrangement cannot be come to between them without insistence on this condition as to the return of the men to the pumps. What, is the good, at this stage of the dispute, of insisting upon a condition which I am sure is not laid down merely for property reasons?
§ Mr. CLYNES
I want the masters to look at this question of the pumps from the standpoint of the miners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why only the miners?"] I do not say only from the miners' point of view. I am afraid some hon. Members are looking at it only from their own standpoint. A good thing in this question is at least to try your best to get the standpoint of the other man. I am not altogether an infant in questions of negotiation. For 30 years I have had some little experience of industrial conferences, and I have learned how helpful it is to try to get the standpoint of the other side. How does the miner look at this? He argues that it was not he who took the first step to cause the stoppage. Secondly, he says the pumpmen are part of the general army of mining labour; that they were as subject to the threatened reduction of wages as anybody else, and that the stoppage of the pumpmen is a strategic advantage to the miners in this particular struggle. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I am putting the miners' view, not my own. I have my own view of the strategic value of this particular step. I have always believed that in these industrial struggles the first thing a labour leader ought to try to do is to win over to his side the great court of public opinion. Even if it requires a magnanimous concession to do so, it is well worth it in the 515 general balance of advantages and disadvantages as they may arise. Try to look at the question as the miner sees it and not as any hon. Member or I or any other individual happens to see it. He thinks there is strategic advantage in this, that it would so completely prevent the mines from being used by other people and would inflict such a sense of loss upon the mine-owner and upon the Government that it was a good thing to do— I will not say "good," but at any rate a necessary thing to do. Result: The miner says, "The pumpmen are out with the rest of the men and will stop out until the rest of the men can go back." Viewing all these points as they are embedded in the minds of the workers, it will not do for the Prime Minister to console himself with the idea that it is not he who will give way, but the miners who will have to give way. I fear he will have to entertain that hope for some time before it is realised. I suggest to him that time in this case is the essence of any opportunity this House is to have to make a real contribution towards the settlement of this very serious question.
I want to put one other view. The miners declare that if they go into a conference and there is an insistence upon the return of the pumpmen, that: return can take place only on the condition that they are guaranteed the national wage and the pooling arrangement, but they do not insist on either of these conditions if the condition of the Prime Minister is first of all removed. I am trying to place this problem before you as a complete one. You cannot say you must have the question of the pumps settled as a detached one before you go into any other matter. It has become a part of the general question, and, I almost fear, a part which cannot be segregated from the whole until the whole problem comes under general discussion as between miners and owners. I am driven to that conclusion by my inner knowledge of the industrial situation and the general working-class view as expressed by the various leaders of organised labour who recently held mutual conferences. In this House we have been trying to use Parliamentary opportunities to make a real contribution to settling industrial problems, but if this particular obstacle of the Prime Minister's 516 is insisted upon and if other Members of the House magnify it, as I fear many of them are doing, to the exclusion of even considering the miner's point of view, they are not making themselves helpful at this moment of crisis. The only thing we can do is to ask the Prime Minister to carry his notion of a truce to the uttermost extent and ask for a resumption of work by the whole of the men on such conditions, as regards State support or State action, as can temporarily be arranged until the two parties are able to come to terms.
Again, I approach the point of what is to be the financial profit or loss from any such action. If right hon. and hon. Members are to attach so much importance to the question of pumping on the ground that it seriously affects the value and the condition of property, if they are to look at this matter always from the angle of money—[HON. MEMBERS. "No," and "The nation."]— I fear that I have failed to make myself clear. There is no life at stake. What is at stake is the property value and the property condition of the mines. [HON. MEMBERS: "The life of the nation," and "The industrial life of the country."] The mines must be affected by the incoming of water, and, of course, the nation shares the view that property is being so damaged. Thus we approach the question from the standpoint of its value in terms of property, and the conclusion we reach is, that if the action of the Government in relation to pumping is the cause of the continuance and extension of this damage, its continuance and extension will have involved the nation in greater loss of property and money than the nation would incur in even making a permanent contribution of money to the solution of this question. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No!"] If I am not justified by the facts at the moment, feel that I shall be justified by events in a few weeks. All I can do now is to repeat my appeal to the Prime Minister not to regard his action as the very limit of his resources of negotiation. He has still unrevealed arts in moments of crisis and difficulty, and I am sure that he has not done himself justice in coming from that conference without having tried to bring the two parties together, free of conditions and in the belief that under his guidance we would put an end to this dispute.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I intervene for a few moments because it is partly owing to me that this discussion has taken place. After listening to what the Prime Minister has read from the account of the discussion between himself and the miners' representatives, it is difficult to see that there was any misunderstanding. I think it right to say that, because I suggested that there was a misunderstanding, and now that we have fuller information, I do not see any ground for that suggestion. As I understand it, the position taken up by the miners' representatives was this: that they were not prepared to permit the safety men to resume work until the two conditions of a national wage and a national pool had been conceded. I do not understand them to take up the position that they were not prepared to go into conference until those conditions had been granted. They were prepared to go into conference, but they did say, as far as my opinion of what was read to the House is concerned, in the clearest language, that when they got into that conference they would not agree to the return of the safety men until those two conditions had been conceded. That is a very serious position. Because I agree with a great deal that fell from the Prime Minister as to the danger of a conference in those conditions.
It is obvious that if you are to have a conference in which the first things to be discussed are the national wage and the pooling arrangement that may last for a long time before you begin even to discuss the question of the return of the safety men, and all that time the damage will go on. And I agree very much with what has been said by more than one speaker that this is not only a question of the injury of the owners' property but a question of a national injury. It is an injury to the miners. It means if we are to talk in terms of war, which I deplore, that the devastation after the war is to be greater than it would otherwise be. I see therefore very great difficulty in the way of a conference on those terms, and, though it does not matter whether I regret it or not, yet I do regret very much the attitude that has been taken up by the miners' representatives in this matter. I think that it is deplorable. I think that it will be regarded by the public opinion of the country as deplorable. I think that 518 it will do their cause a great deal of injury, and I regret it because I think that it proceeds on what is to be a fundamental misconception—that you can arrive at a settlement by force. I do not believe in that in international affairs, and I believe in it still less in domestic affairs. It is a deplorable situation when you get one class, whether they are employers or employed, saying that they are going to force a settlement. Therefore if I were in a position to make an appeal I would appeal with all my strength and emphasis to the miners to withdraw this attitude which they have taken up and to allow the property on which their livelihood and the prosperity of the nation so largely depend to be saved.
But at the same time—perhaps I am an incurable optimist— I cannot absolutely abandon my belief in the reasonableness of my fellow men. I want to see everything tried. I want to see every avenue of settlement explored, and though I agree with the Prime Minister that there is a great disadvantage and there may be a certain danger in a conference when you have already been warned that one of the parties is going to take up what I must at any rate call an inadmissible attitude, still will it really do any harm to have such a conference? Is not there some chance, even if it is a hundred to one chance, that it may conduce to a settlement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" "Yes!" and "Will they come?"] I know nothing about it except what has passed in this Debate, but I understand that they are prepared to enter and discuss matters in unrestricted conference as they call it, in which the matter can be discussed. Surely it is worth the trial. If it results in a breakdown that breakdown must take place immediately, and I cannot help feeling that in view of the strong recommendations of some hon. Members and right hon. Members of this House there would be some chance of success. In view of the strong recommendation of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Clynes) that there should be such a conference I feel that there is sufficient chance that such a conference might lead to a more rational or rather, I should say, more hopeful frame of mind than prevails at present to justify me in asking the Prime Minister and the Government very respectfully to consider whether it would not be worth 519 while to try even this expedient, even if the probabilities of its success are remote.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
The statement made by the Prime Minister is very clever, but that is all that can be said for it. Notwithstanding what he has said, I wish to say that if any statement was to be read to this House the whole statement should have been read, and, if it had been, one or two misconceptions might have been removed from the minds of certain of the Members of this House. You imagine, for instance, that you are going to save the mines if the pumpmen are allowed to work, but you are not. The pumpmen are not the most essential men. [HON. MEMBERS: "The safety men."] I will deal with that. I happen to know something about it. The pumpman are of comparatively small importance in the question of safety. If all the safety men were to be employed it would be necessary to employ 30 or 40 per cent, of the men who have already stopped. The fireman is as necessary as the pumpman. The pump man cannot go down the pit unless the fireman is there. The repairers are required if the pit is to be kept in a condition for working, and the point which I am now making was put to the Prime Minister to-day. He says, of course quite correctly, that it was suggested that 25,000 men would cover the men who were in the minds of the employer, but, if so, then the employers are not troubling themselves about the safety of the mine, because if you want the mines to be in a condition for the re sumption of work a week or a fortnight or a month hence they will require not merely the pumpers, but the repairers and the firemen, and these will include an enormously larger number than the number stated by the Prime Minister. Again, the shift men or on cost men—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that this morning my figures were accepted by all the other miners' representatives who were there, and he is simply taking a different view.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
I still stand to that position, and it is perfectly correct. The shift men or on cost men, which include pumpers, repairers and road men, are 520 all necessary for the safety of the mine and keeping it in good condition for working, and they are not the most important portion of the mining community, because the man who produces the coal, the actual coal getter, is the most important man. If the employers are anxious to have their pits kept in good condition and say that they are willing to pay the wages that were in existence up to the end of March for that class of labour, if they are willing to pay the wages for that class of labour, which is unremunerative to a certain extent—it certainly is not productive—why are they not prepared to pay the same wage to the whole of the men engaged in the mines until the question of the national agreement has been considered and decided? That is our position. When we met the Prime Minister this morning, we did not meet to discuss the points on which he has laid such emphasis this afternoon. We met to consider the question of the bar that has been put up by the Government and by the employers before a meeting could be held. We were prepared yesterday to go into conference with the employers, free of conditions, and when we met the employers we would have claimed, whether the meeting was held a week or a month or a year hence, a national wages agreement. That is our claim, and we are prepared to bring forward arguments that will justify the operation of a national wages agreement. But that matter was secondary so far as our business with the Government this morning was concerned. We were anxious to find out whether the Prime Minister was prepared to remove that ban and allow us to meet the employers, but he rather cleverly converted the discussion into one whereby he got an opinion of the position the miners would adopt when they met the employers. He immediately makes that a cause of trouble, and now takes the side of the employer, I suppose quite naturally.
I want to be quite frank and fair. I voted in favour of meeting the Government with the object of paving the way to a meeting with the employers, but if this House decides to prejudge the case, and that is evidently what is the intention of the Government, they are not convincing me. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If it is not so the House will be prepared to allow us to put our own case to the 521 employers, and it will leave the matter as it stands. If the House is not prepared to do that, the Government will accompany us in our meeting with the employers, and will say that this is the considered opinion of the House of Commons, and that the House of Commons represents the opinion of the country. We do not want to be put in that unfair position. We have considerable difficulties even at the best. We do not want to have our case prejudged before we meet the employers. I would remind the Prime Minister that when a decision is reached, which will mean advising the men to resume work: it is not the Members of the Government who will give that advice to the men. They will leave that rather distasteful job to the trade union agitators and the Labour Members of this House. I happen to know, and any Member of this House who has any knowledge of mining conditions or represents a mining constituency knows, that when the time comes for us to advise the men to resume work, we have not a very pleasant job. I do not think it is fair on the part of the Government and the employers, and particularly on the part of the Government, having the influence and the power they have, to load the dice against us. That is exactly what is being done. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
I have been described as not much of a diplomatist, and it is also said that if I got my way there would be little chance of a settlement. The man who makes that statement does not know what he is talking about. I may have a rather rough exterior, but I have a very kindly heart. I would be very sorry to be the cause of a single extra day's stoppage of the mines, but, after all, the miners are being asked to submit to conditions which will make their lives impossible, and, while the leaders of the miners and members of the Labour party are prepared to do as much as it is humanly possible for men to do, in the national interest and for the national good, still we are in the position that we cannot advise the men to accept these terms. We cannot do it, because you are asking them to go back to conditions worse than those of 1914. I put it to the Prime Minister and to the House that, instead of their putting any barriers in the way, they should help in the removal of obstacles. I repeat that we did not lay down a condition, but we 522 must fight for the principle, which is an entirely different thing. We are not laying it down as a condition to-night. We ask that no bar should be put in the way of the employers and the miners meeting. When we meet the employers will put forward their claim, and we will put forward ours. It is possible that we shall not agree, and there may not be a settlement, but at least, so far as we are concerned, we are putting no barrier in the way of a meeting. I do not want to be unfair to the employers or to the Government. I want the position of our association to be put fairly and to be judged fairly. You cannot judge fairly if you come to the conclusion that we are wrong before we have stated our case.
With regard to public opinion, I have been in a number of strikes more or less successfully, and I never remember a time when we were right from the point of view of the public. The public were always against us, and we were always right because we always won. We have gained our points, and we shall gain the point for which we are fighting now, whether or not we are compelled to go back on the conditions offered by the employers. In the course of time we are bound to gain the point we are now claiming, namely, a national regulation of wages. The miner who works in South Wales under difficult and abnormal conditions is entitled to a reasonable wage equally with the man who is working in the same colliery and in the same seam or in any other part of the country under better national conditions. If you are anxious to look at this matter from the standpoint of national interest, let it be remembered that the employers do not consider the national interest at all. If it were possible for you to get the facts as to what has happened during the last few months, you would find that millions of pounds' worth of material have been put into the mines and hidden. That is in preparation for the passing of control. There are very few collieries, at least in Scotland or in that part of it from where I come, in which it will be necessary for the employer to purchase timber for the next 5 or 6 years. The employer claims, evidently with the support of the Government, that if he happens to have a colliery situated under good conditions, convenient to the seaboard or to a market, and he can get a high price with a small cost of production, the miners working 523 in that colliery should be paid only the average wage obtainable in collieries working under infinitely worse conditions. We contest that point on the ground of national utility and national good.
We claim that the attitude of the employers is unnational rather than national. I do not want to enter into a discussion of the whole matter, however. So far as we are concerned as an executive, we may not be very clever people, but we are honestly anxious to serve the interests of that section of the community which is connected with the Miners' Federation, and they are a very big part of the public. We ask also that the Government, instead of prejudging our case or requesting this House to do so, should leave the field clear. We will try to put our case fairly and reasonably. If we fail to agree, the matter can come back to this House, if the Prime Minister desires. So far as we are concerned, we are quite willing to meet. I hope the Prime Minister will not be different this afternoon from what he was at the start of our meeting with him this morning. He was then very well disposed towards us, and I think he could have cracked jokes with us. He was not inclined for much cracking of jokes when we had finished, but if he is in the same humour now, or if he can get himself into the same humour as when we met him this morning, he will remove a barrier that stands in the way of a meeting of the Miners' Federation executive and the colliery owners.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am sure the House has listened with great sympathy to the genial outpourings of the hon. Member who has just sat down. If I may so, his speech was admirable in temper, and he presented the case with much force and with complete moderation of spirit as well as of statement. I regret he should have been tempted to imagine for one moment that this House is in any disposition to prejudge the case. I am certain that that is not the temper of the House. Very much the contrary. I myself, speaking two or three nights ago, not only dwelt upon the fact, which is proved by experience, that the miners of this country are a body of men who do not rush in fits of passion or impulse into great adventure of this kind, but I also acknowledged that there were many points of serious substance between them-on the one hand and 524 the coalowers upon the other, and, I will add, the community at large as a third party, which were entitled to be dispassionately considered and discussed at a joint conference. I am certain there is no disposition in any quarter of this House to prejudge the issue of such a discussion, and still less to prejudge it unfavourably to the miners. As far as we are concerned, the dice will not in any sense be loaded. I confess I have listened to this discussion with profound disappointment and regret. I had hoped—we had all hoped—forty-eight hours ago that we were at any rate within a measurable prospect of setting up the machinery for a settlement of the many grave and difficult and complicated questions which this case presents.
I used at the close of my speech one expression which I wish I had not used, or I wish I had expressed it somewhat differently, in a passage which has been very properly quoted by the Prime Minister. I said, after making one or two practical suggestions, "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," I used the word " condition," and I thought at the time that I" was speaking with the general assent of almost everybody in the House. I was not attempting to lay down anything by way of stipulation, as lawyers do, on entering on an arbitration; the terms and conditions by which the judgment of the referee should be guided and to which it must conform. What I was saying was this. We know the miners. I have had, as I reminded the House at that time, as close and as anxious an experience as anybody of them during a six weeks' national strike, and during the whole of that strike, when very embittered feelings were aroused, there was no. attempt to interfere with the preservation of the safety of the mines, from beginning to end. There may have been one or two isolated cases, but it was never any part of a systematic or recognised policy of the leaders of the miners, very able men as they were—indeed it was a policy which they repudiated—not to preserve that which was the common asset—who not forget that—of mineowners, of miners, and of the community, namely, the life and integrity of the mines themselves. Therefore, when I spoke of the hope of going into a conference, I assumed—and 525 I was not attempting to lay down lawyers' conditions—that my hon. Friends on this Bench who represent the Labour party received my remarks with perfect sympathy, as also did the whole House. The Prime Minister later on in the evening repeated very much the same thing, but I believe he did not use the word "condition," which I have used. That was the whole purport of my remarks. I would omit the word "condition" perhaps, but in substance and spirit I repeat to-day what I stated then.
When the Prime Minister wrote his letters, and when his invitation was accepted, as I understand it was, by both parties, and when he met the miners this morning, he found, from the reports presented to us, that the language used on the part of the representatives of the miners was this. The Prime Minister seems to have said: "All we are asking is that whilst the negotiations are going on firing should cease and the armies should stand to arms." That is picturesque language, and I understand that that was his rhetorical method, of which the Prime Minister is such a past master, of suggesting that they should let the pumping men come in. This is the reply—and I am reading from the transcript of the shorthand notes. Mr. Herbert Smith, who was the leading representative, I understand, of the Miners' Federation, said: "It is no good our bargaining about this. We have got to get these two fundamental principles agreed to—the national wage board and the national pool—and then we can talk about the safety of the mines." The Prime Minister described this as an ultimatum. Mr. Hodges said: "That is the decision of the Federation." I cannot help thinking—some members of the executive of the Federation, I hope, are still here—that there is room for a reconsideration, on their part, of that statement. It is very dangerous to hold people, as the French say, to the foot of the letter in a conversation of this kind, more or less informal, and I cannot believe that it is the settled determination of the Miners' Federation to postpone, in any discussion that takes place, the consideration of the safety of the mines till first of all the two most thorny and most vexed questions in the whole controversy, namely, the national wage and the national pool, have been decided, and, as I gather, decided in their favour.
526 Let me appeal to them. I am speaking as an old friend of theirs—I really am—certainly with no kind of prejudice against them in this particular dispute. Let me appeal to them to reconsider that position. My hon. Friend who has just sat down takes a rather sanguine view of his career as a strike leader. He informed the House that he was always right, but did he always succeed? He used two different sets of phrases. He said he had been more or less successful in his operations. I do not want to go into the precise details of his record, but he said that public opinion had always been against him. That is not my experience.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It is a very delicate question, as to how far what is called public opinion is spontaneous and how far it is manipulated, but there is such a thing as really genuine public opinion in this matter. It does not always find expression among those who profess to be its authorised organs and exponents, either inside or outside this House, but there is such a thing, and it is all important—I am not speaking now from the point of view of the miners or the mineowners—but it is all important to the parties, upon the one side or upon the other, in any great industrial controversy such as this, the continuance of which is disastrous, so long as it lasts, to the interests of the community at large, that they should have that genuine public opinion upon their side, or, at any rate, that they should not, by resorting to methods which are obnoxious to that opinion, unduly prejudice the fair hearing of their cause. I venture to make a strong appeal to the Miners' Federation to reconsider the position which they have taken up. They will not prejudice their case with the public; on the contrary, the public is very much disposed, and growingly disposed, to look with sympathy on many of the objections which they have raised to the proposals now put forward from the other side, and certainly, with a view to the future organisation of this great industry, to see that the enormous part which they are responsible for, the part which is exposed to real daily hazard and danger, should not fail to be, so far as it can be in terms of money, adequately remune- 527 rated and insured. I assure them they are very much mistaken if they think public opinion in that respect is predisposed against them. The one thing that can and will alienate public opinion is to adhere to a position, I hope somewhat unadvisedly taken up, and perhaps not altogether even now accurately expressed, which makes, I will not say not only the possibility of a settlement, but the creation of an atmosphere favourable to a settlement, difficult, if not unattainable.
I make that suggestion to the Miners' Federation, and if, as I hope, from a reconsideration of the whole situation, without abandoning one jot or one tittle of the claims and the case which they have put forward on its merits, which is a case to be adjudicated upon after full and free conference and discussion, if necessary by this House, at any rate, by public opinion in the country, without receding in any way, if you like, from the extreme limit of that, they will take into consideration the desirability of coming at the outset to an agreement on this particular matter. Then I should have the utmost, I will not say confidence, but I should have the most sanguine hope that a free and full discussion between them and the employers might lead to a settlement which would approve itself to this House and the nation. I do not think it is necessary, but if it were I would appeal to the Government—if they think the matter is approached in that temper—that they should not interpose anything in the nature of an artificial barrier to a free and full, face to face, and heart to heart discussion between those who are really the two interests primarily concerned. The Government are quite right to take a hand and have got to bear in mind always the interests of the consumer and the State and the community. I am sure it is not their intention or disposition to make such a discussion difficult by the interposition of anything in the nature of technical obstacles or legal or artificial conditions, but to let it be as free and open as they can. At a time like this, when we survey the industrial and economical position of our own country, and, indeed, the whole world, it is nothing short of a crime—I will go further—an act of treason—against the interests, the good name, the future prosperity, and, indeed, the integrity of 528 this country as a productive and commercial nation, that perhaps the foremost of all our industries, one in which something like a 1,000,000 people are employed, people who carry on the work of production under conditions of difficulty and danger which are almost without a parallel in any other great industry, should be paralysed, riven by internal dissensions, and sterilised for all the purposes of conserving and augmenting our rational wealth. The misery and harm done by the embitterment of our social relations would be indescribable.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
On many occasions I have heard with gratitude the words of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, but never, perhaps, have I been more grateful than for the words of peace he has just spoken. We want peace. I am, perhaps, rather old fashioned, and I am old enough to remember the miners' leaders when some of those who are now leading were not born, and I remember the old fights, and how one sympathised with the miners in the old days. For many years I have sat for a constituency in which the miners form a very large part. My sympathy has always been with the workers, but I am sometimes astonished at the position that they are taking to-day. I cannot understand how they think that the destruction of a mine is a mere question of destroying property. I have never been on the side of the mineowners, and I have never attached to property anything like the value that I attach to human lives and human happiness. But I do look upon it as a crime to destroy a mine, not because it is the destruction of property, but because it is the destruction of the happiness and the prosperity of the miners of the future. You are taking their bread away when you destroy a colliery. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are taking ours now."] That is a point I should like to see the Conference decide. I am not taking your bread away; I never gave the notices or had anything to do with the strike.
§ Sir C. WARNER
We have not put the rents up to anything what the houses cost us even in the mining districts. I am not going outside the question to that extent, but I think in the future it will be found 529 that what we have done has been justified. I want to make a suggestion. It may be old fashioned, and it may be stupid. Why should not the Miners' Federation get into direct touch with the employers without going to the Government? It is quite true the Government of late years has been in the habit of getting the people together. It is quite true in this case the Government has a special interest, because for some time it has subsidised the mines. But I think, if there is no objection, that the Federation should get together with the employers and have a discussion with them without reference to the Government. The Government is tied on one point. Everyone is tied. This House is tied on it, and that is why we cannot spend public money on any particular industry. The nation is quite determined not to have a subsidy for any industry, and there we are tied. Members will not get constituencies to return them if they want to vote for subsidies. This House is the guardian of the taxpayers' purse. The Government is not free to give a grant from public money; it is not theirs to give. It is the people's money, and it cannot do it without the vote of this House, and this House cannot do it without the support of the country. On that point the Government's hands are tied, but everything else is a question between employer and employed. God speed the work of those who try to make peace between them! I would do anything I could, and I am sure hon. and right hon. Members on the other side are equally anxious. We want to see peace. We know that it is the forerunner of prosperity. We know that without it there is nothing but misery and degradation, and I appeal to all who have got some power to help in bringing about peace to make great sacrifices rather than continue the war that is ruining not only the mining industry but the happiness of many families of workmen as well as of employers throughout this country.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
I want, as a back bencher, to support the earnest appeals made by the right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) and the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) that, even at the eleventh hour, the Government may not stand upon any sense of pride in regard to accepting the offer which the Miners' Federation Executive made, and I say 530 that, although I entirely disagree with the position that the miners have taken up with regard to pumpmen. But, really, what is the alternative? The Noble Lord referred to the present state of things as being like international war, and I submit to the Government that if it were a case of war they would not hesitate to explore every possible avenue to avoid war breaking out in reality. I do, therefore, appeal to them, realising that the nation's welfare is at stake, not in the interest of miners, not in the interest of mineowners, but in the interest of that large body of people who are standing aside for the moment, but who will be brought to ruin and destitution if this thing goes on. What way out is there? No doubt the Government were right in insisting, in the first instance, that the pumpmen should go back. But if it is impossible—and it appears to be—is the nation going to lose anything by allowing the chance of an open conference? Surely the position cannot be worse than it is to-day, and there is the ghost of a chance that it may be infinitely better. Therefore I hope the earnest appeal made from the Front Bench will have weight with the Government. They should realise that the country looks to them to strain every nerve, to stand on no sense of dignity—I am sure they will not—but to seize the opportunity that is offered to them. Let the parties come together. If they do fail, surely the last position is no worse than the first, and there is the glimmer of a chance, there is a last hope, that some settlement may be come to. I do urge upon them that they should not slam the door, that they should accept the offer of the miners to come into open conference without restriction, because otherwise there is sure to be an infinitely worse state of things next week. It may bring peace, and, in any case, the position cannot be worse than that which is certain to follow from the attitude taken up. I admit it seems unreasonable that the miners should stipulate as they do, but if they are unreasonable, is that any reason why the other side should be unreasonable? If the other side feel that they are right in their position, then the stronger side can make greater sacrifices, and take bigger risks, to bring about the peace we all desire.
I moved this Motion in order to give the House an opportunity of discussing the matter. I 531 do not think we can usefully carry it further at this stage, and I will, therefore, ask leave to withdraw my Motion in order that we may get on with the business of the day.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
Before the Motion is withdrawn, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will state what the business will be next week?
Assuming we get the Second Reading of the Tuberculosis Bill to-day, we propose to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates on Monday, and to take Supply—the Education Vote—on Tuesday. I will announce the business for Wednesday and Thursday later, but I think Thursday will also be a Supply day.
§ Mr. HODGE
Before the question is put, I should like to ask if there is any chance of the Government considering the appeal which has been made to have an open conference between the two sides? All the other trades in the country are suffering very much as a result of the present position. The industry I represent will, in another two months, have exhausted its funds, and, as a matter of fact, find difficulty in borrowing from the bank. Probably in an access of patriotism we put our money in War Loan, and we cannot sell it, except at a loss. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see whether he cannot help us to the full extent of our investments, so that we can continue to pay our unemployed benefit. May I also, in connection with my appeal for an open conference, say that in the great iron and steel trades of this country neither side ever commits an act of war until, if I may so put it, the resources of civilisation have been exhausted? Notices from the other side are never given until negotiations have failed. In this instance the mine-owners did not place before the miners the wages which they intended paying. They did not, previous to the notices being tendered, let the miners know what money they were to receive. That was an act of war. Surely negotiations ought to have taken place before notices were either given or received There you have reason for the excess of bad spirit, probably, upon both sides. 532 The act of war came from the mine-owners. Why, then, should there be a condition for negotiations on wages? Let the Government withdraw their condition; otherwise you are loading the dice against the miners, and that appeals to the other workmen in this country, and to myself as an individual, quite outside the merits or demerits of the question of wages You are laying conditions upon the men they ought not to accept. Let them come into conference with the other side without conditions. Unless the Government do that I think it will be found that the rank and file of the trade unionists of this country will sympathise more and more with the miners, considering that the Government are taking sides in this dispute.
May I repeat my appeal to the House to allow me now to withdraw my Motion. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]
This discussion, I trust, has served a useful purpose, and I really do not think we can carry the matter to a further point. Certainly, the Government cannot add anything effectively to what they have said. I earnestly beg the House to allow me to withdraw my motion, so that we may proceed with -the business that it was intended to take.
§ Mr. J. ROBERTSON
Am I to take the statement of the Leader of the House to mean that the Government will refuse an open conference?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In spite of the appeal of the Leader of the House, I really think that this matter is so serious that, in view of what may happen, I do not think the appeal ought to have been made. I am going to ask to be allowed to trespass a little more upon the Government's time, and, so far as I am concerned, I believe I am right in saying that the rest of the business will be got through all the quicker. After all, we on this side of the House have met the Government pretty consistently in this Parliament in the matter of arranging the business, and I think the Patronage Secretary will admit that. The House rose at six o'clock on Monday. At that time I ventured to make a 533 slight protest against our early rising in view of the possibilities of this grave crisis. We have had this discussion on this very, very vital question. There are other hon. Members who may possibly be able to point the way out. What may happen? It is quite possible that decisions may be made shortly that will bring out other big industries beside that of the miners. I represent a port, as do some other Members, where we have been suffering acutely from the coal policy of the Government for the last few years. My constituents and myself are intensely interested to see where we stand. They are losing very much. If we can have the opportunity to get out of this impasse I am anxious to see an issue out of it, and I want very briefly to put a suggestion which I have not yet heard to the Government. It is this:
In the first place I do want to put to the House this point of view. It was put partly by my right hon. Friend below me (Mr. Clynes), and it has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for the Hamilton Division of Lanarkshire. There is yet another aspect I wish to put. There is, first of all, the trouble about the safety men which at present is the crux of the difference. Do hon. Members realise this, that the miners at the present moment are in the very weakest position for an industrial dispute? Their funds are depleted, and the coal trade is at the bottom of the way. The trade depression in the whole of the country and the whole of Europe is so serious that the industries that want coal will be putting immediate pressure upon the mineowners to get the dispute settled. The miners are in the very weakest position possible. From their point of view, therefore—I do not know quite—but this matter of the safety men is looked upon as a weapon, and to ask them to put back the safety men before discussion can be entered into when the mineowners are in an admittedly strong position, is scarcely a suggestion that you can expect the miners to accept. I do not want to say anything that will tend to embitter feeling, nor do I wish to be misjudged in what I say; but the mine-owners think they have got to settle this wages question to-day, and they feel that they are in a strong position, and this will make negotiations from the point of view of the miners difficult. I trust I have described the situation temperately and correctly.
534 The suggestion I wish to put forward; is this: We have got so far to this point, that the Government are demanding that the safety men should be advised to return to work before there can be any further negotiations, and the miners an; saying: "We are prepared to enter upon negotiations, but if we are to accept the condition that the safety men should go back to work, then we must demand as a condition the pool and a national wage." It is here that I desire to point to a bye-path which may lead us out of this impasse. The Government, the mine-owners, and the whole of the public wish the mines preserved from damage. That is one point of view. On the other hand, the miners are saying, and saying with great and bitter earnestness, that they cannot find their way to accept the new decision as to wages; they do not see how they can get any satisfactory conclusion.—I am giving their point of view—without some pooling arrangement and a national wage. That is the problem.
I suggest that the Government should enlarge the conditions of the conference in this way: that they should put forward the idea of an immediate resumption of work of the safety men and of the whole of the other workers f or; 30 days on the basis of status quo ante. My reason is this: We discussed the question of decontrol before the House rose for Easter. I sat out a very long sitting here, and voted against the Government proposals. The Third Reading discussion was carried on almost entirely by hon. Members on these Benches with the House practically empty. From time to time a few Members wandered in, listened for a time, and wandered out again. On this occasion the Benches have been crowded, the feeling intense, and the whole tone and the debates have been good. Hon Members, obviously and naturally extremely interested in this point of view, are looking, I am sure, with anxiety for a settlement. The whole of the Press of the country, the great newspapers, are full of the details of the present position of the mines and the industry of the country; therefore the whole of public attention and the whole of the attention of this House is concentrated upon this problem. If, therefore, we can once get the men back to work, not only the safety men, but the others, we will have a totally different atmosphere for negotiations, 535 and these could proceed in a situation in which the whole public would be watching intently.
Nine out of every ten men in the street, I venture to say, were taken completely by surprise at this coal stoppage. The man in the street outside the coal-producing areas was really unaware of the seriousness of the situation with which we were faced. In fact, I go so far as to say that many hon. Members of this House who have listened to-day were taken quite unawares at the first results of the Decontrol Bill, which has brought about one of the most menacing industrial situations with which this country has ever been faced. I put forward the suggestion that I do and say that it, or something like it, might be carried out so that negotiations may be proceeded with on an entirely different basis. I go further, and say I do not think the mineowners, judging as one may judge, altogether realised with what they would be faced. I do not think that they quite realised that the men would insist upon the withdrawal, of the safety men. In view of this consideration I do say to the Government that this is a suggestion that might be explored. It has occurred to me during these last few days, and I think it is the duty of any man who has an idea under the circumstances, which may contain the seeds of settlement, to put it forward. I end as 1 began. It is most harmful, and it is not conserving the best interests of the country to close down this discussion now, seeing that hon. Members are prepared to do their best to try to find some way out of this terrible situation.
§ Mr. J. ROBERTSON
I have no desire to continue what is considered an unprofitable discussion, but I would again like to ask the Leader of the House if he can make a statement as to whether or not it is still the intention of the Government to refuse to go into an open conference that might bring about a settlement until the miners agree to ask the safety men to go back to work? Is that still, after this discussion, the position of the Government?
§ Sir ROBERT THOMAS
As a miners' representative I should like to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman in making an earnest appeal to the Government to 536 listen to the practically unanimous demand made by all sections of the House that the Government should take steps to re-open these negotiations. I represent a mining constituency where there is no flooding of the mines, where there is no question of any damage being done. I do think, before it is too late, that an opportunity should be given to the owners and the miners to meet face to face, apart altogether from the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have denied."] Then may I ask that it should be done again. We have had speeches to-day from representatives of the Miners' Federation saying that they are perfectly willing to enter a conference with a clean slate. Why not let the Government retire in the meantime, and withdraw, not only the conditions which they have put forward, but withdraw themselves, and let the miners and the coalowners meet face to face to discuss their differences? [An HON. MEMBER: "There is nothing to stop them."]
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I know they can do it at any time, but they require some intermediary to bring them together. Can the Government not make use of its good offices to bring both sides together and leave them alone to discuss their differences? I do earnestly appeal to the Government to give a reply before this Debate is closed to the unanimous request of the House, from all sides, that something should be done to satisfy this House that both parties will be brought together once again to discuss their differences?
§ Mr. WALLACE
I just wish to reinforce in a very few words the appeals which have been made to the Government from nearly every quarter of the House. I only wish that the negotiations which started this morning, and came to an abortive close, could have been continued in the same tone and spirit which has characterised the Debate here this afternoon. It is most unfortunate that these negotiations here not continued. I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister's statement, and I think he stated, from the point of view of the Government, an absolutely watertight case. In spite of that, however, there is 537 Obviously a conflict of evidence. We have had the most definite statements made here this afternoon by two members of the Executive that they are perfectly ready to go into conference, and to waive the conditions which were stated by the Prime Minister this afternoon which they previously made conditions precedent to negotiations. If that is the case, why not waive other conditions as well?
There is not a single Member of this House in any quarter but condemns absolutely the madness and wickedness of flooding the mines. I am quite sure the Labour leaders here take that view. I regard it as the highest degree unfortunate that the Executive have identified themselves at any time with a policy of that nature, but the mischief has been already partly done. Although the Government now say that the return of the safety men must be a condition precedent to any further negotiations, let them not underestimate the difficulty of getting these men back. The temper of the miners in various districts is unfortunately rising, and although the Executive might order these safety men back, it might be a most difficult thing to ensure that they did return to their duties. I understood that preliminary negotiations were taking place for the return of the safety men. I believe that the return of these men might have been accomplished before now if my suggestion had been carried out. I appeal to the Government to give some heed to the general expression of opinion in this House. We are in the presence of an unspeakable national calamity if this strike is allowed to go on. The Government have been and still are anxious that no stone should be left unturned which has any possibility of bringing about a settlement. I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been so closely in touch with all these negotiations, is extremely anxious for a settlement, and nobody doubt the sincerity of the Government on this matter. I do feel, however, that as a result of this Debate certain facts have been urged which were not clear to us before, and it is quite impossible to put on one side the offer made by those two miners' representatives who are members of the Executive that they are ready, without conditions, to enter into negotiations.
I do not enter into the merits of the question generally, but the last speaker 538 said something about the surprise which has arisen in the country regarding this mining crisis. The Prime Minister said yesterday that as far back as November the Government told the mine owners and the miners' leaders to get together and enter into negotiations with regard to future working conditions. That was perfectly well known to the mine owners and leaders of the miners, but I do not think it was known to the men all over the country, and I believe it came as an absolute thunderbolt to a great body of the miners when a fortnight ago they were told that 20, 30, or 40 per cent, was to come off their wages. We have to take these facts into account. We all know that wages must come done, and the miners know it, but we must have negotiations so that the fall, as far as possible, may be gradual, and something like reasonable conditions may once again be reached in that great industry upon which we all depend. I regret extremely that some of the mines in the country have been damaged. I know the miners intimately, and, speaking, of the Scottish miners, I am sure the great majority of them will resent the outrage of damaging the mines which has been committed by the extremists. I am sure the great body of the Scottish miners in no way associate themselves with sabotage of that description.
§ Mr. KIDD
As the representative of a mining constituency, I am very glad to hear the explanations which have been offered. I argued here the other night that ultimately the only possible basis that can be accepted as a test of what the miners' wage should be is the wage which the industry is able to bear. Before we arrive at that basis it seems to be desirable to have some suggestion made to the miners as to the possibility of what the- industry can afford. The Prime Minister has given us a fair statement of what took place at the conference to-day, but that affords very little hope of a settlement. At the same time we cannot entirely ignore the perfectly sincere and straightforward statements made by the miners' representatives in this House as to the practical effect of the statement made by the Prime Minister, and the construction put upon it is rather a surprise. Undoubtedly they have come here believing there was still some little hope for a conference which would not sacrifice any of the interests involved.
539 While I keenly appreciate all the difficulties of the Government, and while I certainly shall never be a party to a national wage or a national pooling arrangement, I hope the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government will be able to contrive some method of waiving the conditions which have been laid down. I hope the situation will not be complicated by any further reference to national pooling, and I trust that the feeling of the miners on this subject will be allayed. I have received a letter from one who cannot be suspected of having undue sympathy with the miners, and who has no interest whatever except as a worthy and patriotic citizen, and he has brought before me vividly the national calamity which is threatened, and he has given me the benefit of his guidance as to how this may be avoided. He is a man in a large way of business, a capitalist if you like, and his suggestion is that in view of the miners' position in the country he hopes that as a result of the conference we may have a settlement along the lines of giving some permanent satisfaction to the miners in the sense that they will accommodate themselves to the change that is coming over the country, and that they should be given some assurance that the drop in wages will be gradual. The right hon. Gentleman realises, as we all must realise, that we have now to pay the price of the folly represented by the aftermath of the great European War.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I represent a very important mining constituency. I have not attempted to take part in the Debate previously because there are men who are practical miners in this House, and who have been dealing with the technicalities of the trade, and I have always considered that they were more fitted to deal with these matters than myself. I represent a constituency in the Forest of Dean which includes a very large mining area, and I want to say that I do not believe there is a more loyal body of men or a body more desirous of adopting constitutional methods than the people whom I have the honour to represent. I want to point out that so far as that mining constituency is concerned, it will be one of the hardest hit in the whole of the areas of the United Kingdom. When you come to realise that the amount of reduction in their average wage is £1 15s 3d, you can quite 540 appreciate the indignation that must be created in their minds when they first heard of the amount that they had to suffer by reduction in wages, a reduction which reduces them below the level of the average laborer in any industry you might name. Naturally there was intense indignation about the whole business.
When the Decontrol Bill was forced upon the House at midnight, and the closure was applied at 3.15 in the morning, there was no statement published as to what reduction would come into force, and no statement had been issued. No information was conveyed to any of these districts, and if the notices to terminate contracts had been posted up every man and boy would have known what was going to be the result. Notice was subsequently given to terminate all contracts on the 31st March, and the men were told that if they resumed their employment on the 1st April, they would have to accept the scheduled list of prices which was published. No statement was made in this House or out of it to the miners that if the pumpmen resumed their occupation they would resume on the old conditions. We never heard of that until yesterday, and if the mineowners were so anxious, as one would naturally expect they would be, to preserve their property, I should have thought that they would have published a statement when the notices were issued, saying that they expected that all the safety men would continue their employment on the old conditions and the old rates until a settlement had been arrived at. Then there would have been reason if the men had withdrawn their labour to complain about it. But no attempt was made at that time to announce that conclusion. It was the closed door against all employés, and not only was the door closed, but it was locked, bolted, and barred, and it so remained until the danger arose and the demand for the resumption of work was brought about.
I was not surprised to hear that the attempt this morning had been a failure. I will tell the House why. When the Prime Minister read the two replies, one from the Miners' Federation and the other from the Mining Association, I noticed that the one from the Miners' Federation said, "Yes, we are quite prepared to meet the mineowners with a Government representative." That was all it contained. But when the letter 541 from the Mining Association was read, the one signed by Mr. Evan Williams, it was found to clearly and definitely state that they would only meet the miners on the condition that the whole of the pump and enginemen returned to work. That was significant, and I, as an old campaigner, having been in many troubles, thick and thin, during past years, and having been up against propositions of a similar nature in which both the men and the employers have been exasperated, knew what it meant when such a condition is put in the way of negotiation. The moment I saw this condition in the letter I said in my mind, "That settles the whole job; there will be no conference." I am absolutely convinced that the attitude the Government has taken up in insisting on this condition is due to the fact that the mine owners have made it a condition of meeting under any circumstances, either with the Government or without the Government, and the Government felt itself unable to go against the mine-owners' demands. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] It is not for me to enter into an exposition of the whys and wherefores.
An hon. Member asked, "Why not let the two sides come together?" Can anybody tell me why they should not come together? There is nothing in the world to prevent them doing so if they so desire. I do not know that the Government would put any obstacle in their way. It would simply say to them, "Come in, and God bless you." I remember once being engaged in a dispute when we were called into a room and the Government representative promptly locked the door and told us we would remain there until an agreement was come to, and would not be allowed any refreshments or even to go out and get a breath of fresh air. After seven hours of that I won and the other fellow asked me to have dinner with him. We have been very good friends ever since. I am certain the Government would welcome a meeting of both sides, with or without a representative of the Government, and would gladly lock them in if that would help to solve the problem, and not only lock them in, but also provide them with some refreshments as long as progress was being made.
I am sorry to note the silence of the Leader of the House in reference to a direct question of the hon. Member for 542 one of the Scottish Divisions. I am convinced that that silence does not mean that the Government has finished with the job. It is due rather to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman cannot add anything to what has been already said. The silence fills me with hope that the Government are still considering the position, and will invite both parties to come together unconditionally and fight the dispute out amongst themselves. Some of us have had experience of disputes of this nature. We have known them to go on for days and even weeks, and yet, in the end, we have come to an agreement which seemed hopeless and impossible at the beginning. There is always hope if the opposing sides come together and discuss and consider the question. If the Government will take the view that both sides should come together and discuss it, then whichever party refuses to do so unconditionally and unfettered will be the party which will be responsible for the failure of the negotiations, whether it be the mine-owners' representatives or those of the miners. To-day there has been a series of appeals from every quarter of the House for a meeting. I am not looking with so much alarm upon the position as it exists to-day as upon what it may develop into. It is that which fills me with fear. I am afraid of the consequences in the future. I am not here to dictate a policy to the Miners' Federation. I have always acted on the principle that the man handling the job ought to know best how to do it, without interference from others outside. I am convinced the Miners' Federation realise the importance of both parties coming together unconditionally, and if that is done we may hope for a settlement to be arrived at.
§ Mr. RENWICK
I join most heartily in everything that has been said with a view to bringing the two sides together. There is one aspect of this question which has been rather overlooked during the Debate. Hon. Members opposite ask us to return to the status quo ante. That, however, would not help the matter at all. The position we are in in the North of England is this, which we cannot keep the collieries going at the present wages. If we started to-morrow we would be unable to keep the men employed. We want to get a reduction in the cost of coal produced. If we get that we believe we can recover many markets, and there 543 would be the additional result that at the end of the week the men would have more money in their pockets if they worked full time than if they only worked two, three, or four days weekly. That is the point I want hon. Members of the House to consider. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Graham) asserted that we wanted to bring the men down to a lower level than in 1914. We want to do nothing of the sort, but it is no good fixing a rate of wages if you cannot employ the men at it. We want to be able to employ the men fully. Thank Heaven! in Northumberland, we have no trouble with regard to keeping the mines going. They are always kept open. The men behave themselves well and have every consideration for the poor animals down in the mines.
§ Mr. RENWICK
It is absolutely hopeless for the miners or any other body of men to think that they are going to get wages in peace time such as they received in war time. I am probably the only member of this House who was actively connected with the coal trade in the time of the Franco-German War. That is carrying one's mind back a long time. Then we had a similar state of affairs, and I was making invoices for coal which before the War stood at 5s. 6d. per ton free on board—I was making them out for my employers at that time at £2 10s. per ton. In 1874 I started business on my own account, believing that I was going to carry on under similar conditions. They were then selling small coal at 20s. per ton, but I had not been long in business on my own account before I was able to buy the coal at 1s. 4d. and 1s. 6d. per ton free on board, and to sell it at German ports at 8s. 6d. per ton c.i.f. after paying 7s. freight. We got over those difficulties and it was not long before we had better times. In the same way we can hope to tide over the present hard times and we will do our very best to work the mines at full time and thus bring about a better state of affairs. But it is absolutely impossible to do it under present conditions and at the present rate of wages.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
I think all sides of the House must regret that we have not been able to maintain the spirit that 544 actuated the whole of our discussion during the sitting on Tuesday last. When that Debate closed hope had seized hon. Members on all sides that we were in a fair way of steps being taken whereby negotiations between the two sections, with a representative of the Government, would be resumed. I should like if possible to get back to the position that obtained on Tuesday night. What have been the main factors in bringing in the more disturbing elements that unfortunately now exist in connection with this industrial crisis? After Tuesday night the Prime Minister proceeded to invite the two parties to resume negotiations. I have been discussing during a great part of the afternoon, with representatives of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, the position that they found themselves in on Wednesday morning, when they received the Prime Minister's communication. They took the Prime Minister's invitation at its face value. They claimed then, and they claim now, that there was no condition whatever associated with the invitation. If the parties to whom the invitation was addressed received the communication and interpreted it to mean a clear, plain, straightforward invitation to come, or to allow him to arrange for them to come to meet the coal owners, surely, if a misunderstanding has arisen, it is essential we should find out to what it is due. Now let me take this letter of invitation:Dear Mr. Hodges,I would direct the attention of your Executive to the statement which I made in the House of Commons last night on behalf of the Government with regard to the desirability of negotiations being resumed between your Federation and the Mining Association.There is not the slightest reference to any conditions in his speech. The only reference there is, "with regard to the desirability of negotiations being resumed between your Federation and the Mining Association." What is the second part of the letter?I desire to repeat that the Government tender the use of its good offices for the purpose of bringing the parties together, and I shall be glad to know whether your Federation is willing to re-open negotiations."—[OFFICIAL BBPOBT, 6th April, 1921; col. 272, Vol. 140.]Not a word about conditions, not even a word about any conditions that had been laid down in the Prime Minister's speech 545 the previous evening. There are eminent men in the legal profession on the other side of the House, there are many business men who, in a time of difficulty, if they were extending an invitation to a party to meet and if they wanted conditions, would state clearly what those conditions were in the first communication that was being forwarded. I again repeat that no such condition was even hinted at in the Prime Minister's letter. A similar letter was sent to the Mine Owners' Association. Up to the time that the invitations were issued it seemed that we were in a fair way of getting the parties together and of having negotiations resumed.
Here is the reply of Mr. Frank Hodges, and I want to make it perfectly clear that this reply was made with the only interpretation which I think the letter I have just read is capable of. Mr. Frank Hodges said:DEAR PBIME MINISTER,Your letter of even date has been fully considered by my Executive Committee, and I am instructed by them to inform you that they are in a position to meet the coal-owners, with representatives of the Government present, at any time or place convenient to all parties.My Executive Committee would be glad to hear from you as to when the meeting can be held.Yours faithfully,(Signed) FRANK HODGES.[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1921; col. 307, Vol. 140.]
No conditions referred to; no conditions even hinted at; no conditions suspected. Had—and this is the point to which I want to call very careful attention in view of the fact that similar letters were sent to the mine owners and to the Miners' Federation—had similar replies been received I believe the negotiations would have been entered upon before now. May I read the, reply from the Chairman of the Mining Association. I will not trouble the House with the whole letter because it merely covers ground about which there is no dispute. The last five lines are of the greatest importance—But I assume that if the latter agree to meet the owners they will have taken steps which will ensure that the collieries are kept free of water and in a safe condition for a resumption of work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1921; col. 307, Vol. 140.]It was at that point—let there be no mistake about if/, the receipt of that letter—where the first hitch occurred in Vol. 140 546 the arrangements for the reopening of negotiations, which I believe the whole House hoped at the close of the Debate on Tuesday night would be resumed almost immediately. Then what took place? On the receipt of this first reply from the Chairman of the Mining Association, the Prime Minister despatched the second letter. That letter has not been published. These letters have been published; we have the benefit of them in the OFFICIAL EEPOBT. In that second letter to Mr. Frank Hodges for the first time the definite condition is laid down, and it is the same condition which has been introduced into the correspondence by the four or five lines I have read from the Chairman of the Mining Association.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I do not want to prolong this Debate. I do not think it is very much good merely contenting ourselves with apportioning blame. There is something more important, in a crisis such as we are in and in a greater crisis which we may be in before many days are over, than merely apportioning blame. This House, whatever may have been the intention of individuals, was seized on Tuesday night with an overwhelming and universal desire for the re-opening of negotiations. The Prime Minister took the first step to secure the re-opening of the negotiations, and he did so in letters of a similar nature to the two parties immediately concerned. In those letters there is no single condition or hint of a condition stated. Cannot we get back to the position of the first letter? I asked the Leader of the House earlier on, before the Adjournment had been moved, if it were not possible to get back to the position of this original letter. I was authorized then to say that the miners' executive had tried to convey to the Government, in the conference this morning, that they were willing to enter into a conference without conditions on either side. As I said a moment ago, I have been discussing with the officials of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. They have called my attention to the first letter which Mr. Hodges received, and may I again say that they consider this letter to be a free and open invitation without conditions of any kind attached, and in that sense, as their own letter clearly shows, they 547 accepted it. They authorise me again to say to the Government that they are prepared to go back entirely to that position. They admit the statements that were made—they can do no other. They are here. I have a copy with me of the verbatim note that was taken this morning. To that position they adhere—the position contained in this document.
They were faced, in the discussion this morning, with a condition laid down by the chairman of the Mining Association. They were asked to meet the Government this morning to see if that condition could be got over. That condition has not been got over. That condition is still before them. The condition is that, before any negotiations are entered upon, as a preliminary to any negotiations, they are faced with this demand, that they must be prepared to order back a certain number of their workmen. They met that with another fighting condition, and is that a surprise to any hon. Member of this House, or to any Member of the Government, when they are faced with the demand that they should give away what they consider to be an important part of their case? Personally I may not be in sympathy with the first decision regarding the safety men. It does not matter what my opinions are at all. They are out, the decision has been taken, and they are fighting. Whilst the fight goes on, before any conference is entered upon, and as a preliminary to a conference, somebody says to them, and in the first instance, so far as they are concerned, it is said to them with the knowledge that it was contained in the letter of the very people whom they were fighting—I hope that Members of the Government, and especially the Leader of the House, will not lose sight of that fact—" something that the employers say is very serious to our property; something that the men say is very important for our fight." One side says to the other, through the Government: "Before we get you into a conference, and before we will meet you face to face, you must withdraw from this position and throw aside this point." I ask any employer who has ever been through a trade dispute—and some of us on both side of the House have been associated, directly or indirectly, with disputes large and small—has there ever been a case where, when fiche employers and the men have been at 548 war, it was a condition that the one should throw away many of its fighting weapons, or any of its fighting weapons, before they both sat down face to face?
I want the Members of the Government to see the position in which the men's leaders were placed by this demand, coming to them, as it did, in a second letter and not in the first letter; coming with the knowledge that the point had been so prominently raised, in fact almost laid down as a condition, by the chairman of the opposing association, they say that they met the fighting condition that they were up against this morning with part of their fighting case. They say; "We will go back to the first letter from the Prime Minister with no conditions, and to our first reply to the Prime Minister with no conditions." If the Government is prepared to call a conference—or if they do not care to call a conference in view of what has taken place during to-day and last night—is there any reason why they should not say to the chairman of the Mining Association, " So far as we are concerned, we leave you entirely at liberty to invite Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. Frank Hodges and his executive to meet you to-morrow morning and to get to business to see if you can do anything." I can quite see that there may be some difficulty about the Government standing in in this business, but there ought to be no difficulty now that control has gone.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
Can it not be in some way expressed by this House that the two parties should get together on the plain position of an open conference, leaving each side to state its position? I have no hesitation in saying that the position presented in a conference, when you have been in an industrial struggle, is often very different from the same question when it is put to you as a condition of your asking your men's authority to go into that conference. I appeal to the Leader of the House, before this Debate closes, to say frankly whether the Government are prepared to go back to the first letter which the Prime Minister addressed, with no reference to conditions—
§ Mr. HENDERSON
If the right hon. Gentleman dissents from that, I must ask him to take the letter and make any 549 better reading of it than I have done. I have read it and have discussed it with others, including the leaders of the miners. It is here, and it speaks for itself; there is no condition even hinted at. I ask whether the Government cannot go back to that position, or whether, now that control is removed, they could not express an opinion that the two parties be asked to come together in the same spirit which was manifested in the House during the Debate on Tuesday, and which characterized many of the employers exceedingly helpful statements. I ask whether it could not be suggested that the parties should come together in that spirit, and see if they cannot get over even this very great difficulty to which so much importance has been attached this afternoon, and which is recorded in the notes of this morning. I have now had handed to me the whole of the letters. I had not seen the second letter of the Miners' Federation, but I think that on examination it will be found that that letter is in strict harmony with the other letters which were addressed to the Prime Minister, and that all along the miners thought that they were being invited to an open conference. In the interests of the entire community, the sooner we get back to the position of the first letter the better. The sooner we get back to that position, the sooner we are likely to reach some point of settlement.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The Debate has shown the great and natural anxiety on the part of Members of this House that some solution of this very grave difficulty should be arrived at. I need scarcely assure the House that the responsibility which lies upon the shoulders of the Government at the present time is not regarded by any Member of the Government as a light one. On the contrary, we have striven in every way in our power to find a means of settling this trouble. I think that some of the hon. Members immediately opposite me do not entirely realise what the position is, or that, if they do, they are for the moment blinding themselves to its importance. The matter of pumping the mines has been referred to throughout this Debate as if it were an ordinary counter in the play upon industrial disputes between employer and employed. It is nothing of the kind. It has been talked about this afternoon as the miners' natural 550 weapon in a strike, but it has never been so regarded by the miners of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are putting the case of the coalowners!"] I am not talking of the coalowners at the moment; I am looking at it from the Government point of view. As I have said, this is a weapon which has never been used in any national strike up to now. In the course of the last strike—which is not so long ago that we have forgotten its details—instructions were given by the Miners' Federation that the pumpmen were not to come out, and that the pits of the country should be preserved in operation. One can very well see why that should be so. The pits themselves are not only of the greatest possible importance to the nation—because they provide the means by which all our industries are carried on—but they are the very essence of the livelihood of the miner.
Let us consider the conditions that are caused by mines becoming flooded. It is not merely that the owners' property is so far destroyed, but for long months, it may be, there will be no possibility of working those mines, and the employment of the miner is taken away for the period during which the mines are being brought back into operation. But the situation is even worse than that in many cases. Already there are mines in this country which, by reason of the flooding that has taken place during the last few days, can never become operative again. Is not that a matter of very large importance to the Government of the country? Look at it merely from the point of view of the village communities congregated around those mines. If the pits go out of operation, the whole means of livelihood of those people is gone. Their homes are there, close to the work they used to get, but there is no work for them. What is the position of those communities? Where are they to go for work in the future? The situation which faces them is one of despair, and the task which confronts any Government that has to deal with the matter is one of very great and weighty responsibility. Is it surprising that the Government has been anxious, in connection with these negotiations, that the pumping of the mines should go on at once before anything more was done? Why should it be said against us that, because we are anxious to see that property preserved upon which the livelihood of these communities is dependent, we 551 are, therefore, siding with the owners? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) said in the course of his speech that you could not estimate this in terms of money. We are not estimating it in terms of money; we are estimating it in terms of the happiness and contentment of the people of this country, and the possibility of their employment. It is not a new matter. It-was adduced to the House with great ex-plicitness on Tuesday night, not merely by the Prime Minister, but also by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), and both laid the utmost stress upon a return to the pumping of the mines as an essential and preliminary condition of the resumption of discussion. Not a single voice was raised in the House in protest against those sentiments, and it was assumed by everyone that that was the first preliminary to the resumption of negotiations. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Henderson) has made this afternoon a rather lawyer-like speech upon a particular letter which was sent by the Prime Minister to Mr. Hodges. He does not, however, attribute enough importance to the first phrase in that letter, which says:I direct your attention to my statement in the House last night.The statement in the House contains the conditions upon which negotiations are to be resumed. My right hon. Friend suggests that in some way or other the Government have identified themselves with a condition made for the first time by the coalowners of the country. He has only to read the Debate again—
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. I had here the speech of the Prime Minister; I knew what it contained; I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley; I heard the suggestion about its being essential. I was dealing with what the Prime Minister had said to those who were not in this House, to those who were not taking part in the Debate, to the Executive of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. If the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to read the whole 552 sentence, and not half of it, he will see that I am justified in raising the point in the interest of the Miners' Executive.
§ Sir R. HORNE
My right hon. Friend is entitled to raise any point that he likes in the interest of the Miners' Executive, but I am equally entitled to point out what the letter says in specific terms. It was not a matter for anyone to be ignorant of, because, in point of fact, for at least a part of the time during which the Debate was proceeding in this House the chief members of the Miners' Federation were in the precincts of the House—some of them in the Gallery and some of them on the Floor of the House. I do not think there is, any doubt at all as to what were the preliminary conditions for the resumption of negotiations. My right hon. Friend says, " Oh, but if you could only get them together into a conference." Let me assume that nothing had been said at all in any letter with regard to the question of the men going back to the pumps, and let me assume that this morning the representatives of the Miners' Federation had met the representatives of the Mining Association. What would have happened? We know exactly what would have happened, because the Members of the Government this morning who are concerned with this matter met the representatives of the Miners' Federation. I do not assume that the representatives of the Miners' Federation are less well disposed towards the Government than towards the owners. So far as I can discover, they would be more ready to take suggestions from the Government than from the coalowners. How did they meet us upon this point? Obviously, the first question which would have been raised by the coalowners would have been, " Are the pumpmen going back to the mines? " What answer would they have got? I assume that it would have been the same answer which we got, and that was that that was the fighting weapon of the coalminers, and was one which they were not going to discard; and, further, that they would never advise the men to go back to the pumps until there were conceded two fundamental principles—the national pool and the national wage system. How far would negotiations have got upon that basis? The parties would have separated at once, and, so far from any good being achieved, we should have had 553 a position of still greater difficulty than that with which we are faced now.
I have had now a little experience of industrial negotiation, and one thing which I can say with the greatest possible confidence, and which I am sure will be agreed to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, is that there is nothing so bad for the purpose of achieving a settlement as abortive negotiations. In fact, I think it is an axiom under the conditions of an industrial dispute that you should never try prematurely to get the parties together until you see some sort of foundation upon which they are going to agree. It was perfectly obvious from the conversation we had with the representatives of the Miners' Federation this morning that there was no basis for common agreement at all at that stage. They were asserting the two very principles which the coalowners so far had set their faces against and one of which at least would have involved the recognition of a principle which we as a Government certainly cannot give effect to, namely, that of imposing upon the coal industry a system of pooling profits. If these are the conditions of the moment, what benefit are we going to get by bringing the two parties together under these circumstances? We should like to get some common point of view on which this matter can be settled, but we are not going to take action which is doomed to disaster from the beginning.
I would make the same appeal to the representatives of the miners as was made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith). He begged them to abandon the conditions they have put before the Government this morning. He begged them to realise the position in which they were putting themselves towards the rest of the country by allowing this great asset of the nation's prosperity to go to rack and ruin while negotiations were going on. If these negotiations were going to last any time at all, look at the wreckage which in the meantime is occurring to the mines. I would beg the miners to take thought of what is happening and to abandon a course which they have never before thought of adopting, and to have some regard for the property which hitherto, even in times of the greatest industrial stress, they have always observed. If they will do that, I am certain they will not only put 554 themselves in a better attitude towards the country, but they will create an atmosphere 'which in negotiations will be far more favourable to a settlement. I accordingly beg those on the opposite Benches, who have influence with the miners, to urge upon them these counsels. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Thomas) and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) have both declared that they themselves do not agree with the policy which has been adopted by the miners in this respect, and it was hinted in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henderson) that he is of the same opinion. We are asked to do -everything in our power to try to get a settlement. I ask these three right hon. Gentlemen, with the great influence they possess in the labour world, to do their best to get a settlement, and there is no single thing which would contribute so much to a settlement as if they could induce the Miners' Federation to abandon the course they have taken of jeopardising the industries of the country, and induce them to send back once more the pumpmen to the pits, where necessary, for their preservation.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to assume that either of us on these Benches was not anxious for a settlement and had not been for days doing all we could to bring about a settlement. I am sure he would be the first to realise that it is because we are anxious for a settlement that we are anxious to remove any misunderstanding. I would ask the House to observe the significance of the right hon. Gentleman's statement. I have already publicly expressed my view, and I do not retract a word of it, that I do not believe in the destruction of property. I do not believe it does good. The right hon. Gentleman said this is a new weapon of the Miners' Federation that they have never used before. I would ask the House to realise what that statement means, because the House gathers from it—and if that is not the implication of it there is no value in it—that the Miners' Federation in this fight are for the first time using a new weapon against the employers. That is not true. Never in the experience of the mining industry M'hen the miners were given notice, when a lock-out or whatever you like to call it took place, were the pumpmen given notice. If you are-going to charge the 555 miners with introducing a new weapon, we are entitled to ask if the circumstances were analogous to that in the past. These notices were given to the men for the first time and they implied a reduction in some cases of 50 per cent. How can you fail to understand the feeling of the pumpmen themselves when their employer says to them, " On and after Monday next, you will be expected to work for a reduction of 50 per cent."? How can you expect them to do other than to refuse to work on those conditions
§ Mr. THOMAS
Does not that give the whole case away? If that implies anything, it means that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with the other men, where full wages were not given, accepting the notice.
§ Sir R. HORNE
No, the right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to give that interpretation at all. I am trying to meet his argument.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I have publicly expressed my view. I do not shrink from it at all. It is no good holding opinions and merely trying to hide them. My view is clear on that point. I am dealing with the statement that the Miners' Federation are introducing a new weapon, and I say it is not true because never before were the pumpmen given notice. The right hon. Gentleman follows it up by saying, " What about those who were offered full wages?" I reply by saying that the implication underlying that interruption is that those who were not offered full wages were at least entitled not to go to work. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The right hon. Gentleman has made his statement, and I have made mine. I come back and say, " Yes, we accept the invitation that he has given to do all we can to bring about negotiations," but we are entitled also to say to the Government, " You also must not be unmindful of your responsibility." I would ask the House to judge of the facts emphasised by the right hon. Gentleman. A letter was sent by the Prime Minister to two parties. Two replies came to that one letter, one unconditional and the other conditional. Does the House observe the importance of the fact that the second letter was 556 sent in order to explain the first? All these things, to put it no higher, have led to confusion. No hon. Member, whatever his views may be, desires this dispute to continue, or to be prolonged, or to be widened, merely on misunderstanding. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman makes a debating point. He has not, after, all, had so many years of negotiation as some of us have, and we who have been in disputes before have known periods where you are apparently as wide apart as the poles. I could give scores of illustrations where there has been no apparent hope of coming together, but when we have come round the table, there is always a desire not to break away. I believe there would still be this desire. I would put this to the Leader of the House for the Prime Minister. Up to now he has met one side. I frankly admit that it was good tactics on his part, because it showed a real anxiety to remove, if possible, a misunderstanding on one side. But the fact remains that he has met one side, and he has said to the one side, " This is a barrier to real negotiation," and everyone will admit that, whilst that barrier continues, not only this question cannot be discussed, but the bigger question which will take a much longer time.
What is the real difficulty in summoning both sides, because the Government in this matter will have to assume responsibility. What is the difficulty, then, in bringing both sides together, and making this very question a condition as the first negotiation? At the moment the Government say, before real negotiations can take place this condition must be complied with, to which the Miners' Federation answer: " We interpreted your letter as being free from any condition." You say on the other hand: "You were wrong in so interpreting it." That is the real point of difference. I am genuinely anxious to get them together. Instead of going back over the old ground, let the Government invite both parties, and make that a condition when they are in negotiation. Some people may. think that there is not much advantage in it. People who do not know what negotiations are may shake their heads, but I repeat that there is often settlement made by bringing both parties together, and I urge the Government to consider it in that spirit. Let me conclude by 557 urging the House in judging the case to keep clearly in mind that, however much they may deprecate this weapon that is now used, it is a weapon rbhat was never used before because the employers have never previously acted in a manner similar to their action on this occasion. Whatever difference of opinion there may be I conclude by expressing the same hope that I expressed two nights ago, that nothing in this Debate will widen the breach, but that something may emerge that will bring both parties together.
§ Major HAMILTON
I rise to take part in this Debate with great diffidence but with the memory that I have worked down a colliery, and that not many Unionist Members have done that. I know something of the conditions underground, and I know something of the conditions of the men who work the pumps, for I have installed the pumps myself, and worked them. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has enormous influence, which I feel sure he will use in the interests of his country, but the speech that he has delivered is not, in my opinion, very helpful. He has emphasised the fact this/t the owners gave a general formal notice to all their wage-earning employes to terminate or the day that control ended, and he knows just as well as I do that some of the more igno rant workmen may think that that notice meant dismissal.
§ Major HAMILTON
Let me finish my point. Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that some of the more ignorant men—[HON. MEMBERS: " Do not use that phrase ! "]—may take it as a notice of dismissal, but he knows as well as I do that it was never intended as a notice of dismissal. It has been made perfectly clear in this House and outside that it was a formal notice, so that they could open wage negotiations when Government control came to an end. The right hon. Gentleman should not emphasise that point to mislead men who do not understand it as he does.
§ Major HAMILTON
I am referring to the right hon. Gentleman's point about the formal notice. That notice about terminating their employment was purely 558 formal in order that they could open discussion about wages. [HON. MEMBERS: " Oh, oh."] I am trying to speak helpfully, as I believe my right hon. Friend did. The second point in his speech was about the Prime Minister's letters. The Prime Minister addressed identically the same letter to the employers and to the Miners' Federation. Exactly the same words were used in the two letters. The Masters' Federation did not overlook the opening paragraph of the Prime Minister's letter; but in their reply they drew special attention to that paragraph, and said—the reply was read in the House by the Prime Minister yesterday, and the hon. Member for the Ogmore Division (Mr. Hartshorn) apparently did not notice this point: " We presume that the meeting will be in accordance with the conditions laid down in your speech in the House of Commons to which you have drawn our attention, namely that the safety men shall return to maintain the collieries." The real difficulty at this moment is that the Miners' Federation have definitely said, " We cannot order the safety men to go back into the collieries to maintain them." The owners say, " We cannot discuss the matter until our collieries are safe in the national interests."
The crisis with which we are faced is a crisis which will shake our country to its very foundations, and it is the duty of this House and every man in this House to try to find some way out, and I am going to be bold enough tD offer a suggestion. I do not suggest that it will be of much help; but, at any rate, it is a suggestion. The Executive of the Miners' Federation have ordered the safety men to come out from the collieries, and as a result of that, where managers and officials are helping to save the property of the mines, the men who have come out under the orders of the Federation, believing in them and supporting them loyally, are actually assaulting the managers and others and preventing them from working the pumps and firing the boilers. Could not the Federation say, " We have ordered the men to come out. We will withdraw the order and allow the safety men, if they wish, to volunteer to go back to their duties and to maintain the mines "? That would be a method of saving the face of the Federation. They have committed themselves some- 559 what. They have laid down definitely their orders. Could not they get round that in the national interest by saying that they will withdraw their orders to the safety men, that they can go back if they wish at the old rate of pay, that any manager or volunteer who can bit found to save this property in the national interests shall be allowed to go into the pit in order to save them, and that they will issue a manifesto saying that there shall be no interference with these men in their work of saving the livelihood of these villages, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out, and in saving this great national asset?
I appeal to the miners' leaders to consider this as a way out of the difficulty, that they should make this offer to allow voluntary work in the mines to save this great national asset in the interests of the nation and to prevent the terrible crisis with which we are faced. I hope that this will be made in a good spirit, supported by the Executive issuing a manifesto that there shall be no interference with safety men or volunteers and engineers or any other people who can go down and help to save the mines. I know that you cannot get volunteers to do a great deal of the work about a pit, but you can get volunteers to work the pumps and to do a good deal of other work as well. If the Federation will say that it is not their wish that there should be any interference with such men, but that they should be allowed to work freely and be given such support as can be given, I believe that the owners would be willing to meet the Federation, and the whole problem of national wages and district wages could be threshed out. The national property, the mines, which are the livelihood of so many millions of people, could be saved, the discussion could proceed and probably a solution would be found.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
No one can accuse me of representing the mineowners, nor can it be said that I am unfriendly towards the miners; but there are two points I should like to make. I do not purpose entering into the merits of the dispute. I have had considerable experience of these disputes, and having been an official of the Labour party, and very intimately connected with considerations of miners' questions, I am 560 aware of the difficulties and the complexities thereof. Therefore, I am not presuming to offer advice thereon; but there are two considerations which ought to be remembered. I remember in the course of previous disputes that there have been within the Miners' Federation sections who have favoured this form of sabotage; who have favoured the withdrawal of the pumpmen in order that the mines might be destroyed or that they would be threatened with destruction, in order to exercise keener pressure upon the owners to come to a settlement. That has been the struggle waged within the Miners' Federation and throughout the Labour movement for some years past. Hitherto, the better-minded and more far-seeing of the Miners' Federation have been able to keep these elements in restraint; and it is true to say that previously whenever that policy has been advocated inside the Federation this form of sabotage has not received the sanction of the leaders of the Labour movement. The point which really concerns me is that it is a recrudescence of a struggle which has been going on in the Labour movement for a long time, and unless the leaders of the Labour movement who believe in constitutional action and who desire, as I know they desire, the maintenance of industrial peace are able on this occasion to exercise restraint on that section, the whole of the Labour movement is changed, trades unionism assumes new functions and I believe the Labour movement, as we have understood it, is inevitably driven towards destruction; and not only the destruction of a party, but the detriment of the nation as a whole. Therefore, if I can say a word, it would be a word of encouragement to those of my friends in the Labour party in this House who are endeavouring to combat this element, it is to have courage in this emergency, because when they are called upon to assume the government, as they will in due course, it may be that this policy, if it succeeds on this occasion, will hamper them and make it impossible for them to carry out their industrial undertakings.
I am alarmed in the second place because there is to-day an inclination to assume that this is a question alone for the mineowners and the working miners. It is not exclusively a question for these two sections, or even for the Government in conjunction with them. The main- 561 tenance of the mines, the nation's most valuable asset, is a matter of vital concern to the humblest citizen in the land. If it be that many mines are allowed to go to destruction, and if we restrict the quantity of coal that will be available when peace is restored, we are affecting most adversely our foreign trade, because we shall have less wealth to exchange for the things we must purchase. We found during the period of food control that a miners' strike or the threat of a miners' strike was the most sensitive thing that could occur, because it had immediately an adverse effect on the cost of living, on the cost of everything that we had to purchase in order to supply our people with the means of life. I know that my friends in the Labour party who stand for constitutionalism deserve, and should have, every encouragement thai; we can give to them, and I say in their own interests, unless they are able to withstand the policy to which I have referred, it must result to the detriment of their party. On the other hand, the main consideration is that of the well-being of our people as a whole, and I do very sincerely hope that wiser counsels will prevail. I know that it is little use my offering to be of any assistance. [HON. MEMBERS: " Hear, hear! "] I think I am just as competent as others to render assistance in an emergency of this character. I have served on previous occasions, and at least I know something of the difficulties of the miners' leaders and the complexities of the problem with which they have to deal. I know these are not very popular statements to make. Nevertheless I feel these two things should be stated, and having stated them I can satisfy myself with the belief that I have said what is best in the interests of organised labour and of the community as a whole.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I take this opportunity of saying without the slightest hesitation that if I were at a colliery at the present moment I should not only use my influence against any interference, but I should not mince words with men who would lead the miners to pass from the passive to the aggressive in these matters. I have on every occasion tried to face, in small disputes as well as large, the situation in a practical way, and I have learned from experience that the man who counsels others to pass, to physical force is usually the last person there to suffer 562 the effects when the physical force begins. Having said so much, may I say further that I came to the House expecting to hear counsels of moderation? I would risk almost anything to counsel moderation, even to the point of sacrifice, but after I heard the first speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and more so after hearing his speech to-night, I feel that the effect and the influence of that representative of the Government will be to increase the fighting force throughout the Federation area, so that he will make it more and more difficult for anything to be done along the lines of moderation. I was amazed at his attitude. I expected to hear the Government's point of view placed before us. But the speech he made was not a mere putting of the Government point of view; it was an outright defence of the position taken up by the coalowners. When he was dealing with the condition of the coalowners as to the district ar^ rangements, and its effect on the country at large, he pointed out that in one case at least it would mean an increase; and we had to interject to remind him that the coalowners had not stood by the arrangement made here in London. Then he referred to Nottinghamshire and Durham. The right hon. Gentleman knew very well, and refrained deliberately from telling the House, that, whereas as regards a great county like Durham principles were laid down which would have had the effect of giving us 216 per cent, upon the "79 basis, yet when they met our men in Newcastle they told them that percentage had been reduced to 155 per cent. When asked the reason they said that when they had been prepared to accept the February prices and to stand the loss, the March prices were so rushing down that they must protect themselves against the possible great fall that was coming. The right hon. Gentleman knew that well, yet he went on to make a defence of the district method of settlement.
What can you expect of men when we hear a Government representative putting what is supposed to be the community's view and boldly declaring the coalowners' view? I have sat here during the past two or three days as a man who would almost take any course or sacrifice anything in the interests of the well-being of this nation, because I know sufficient about the make-up of human society to know 563 that this great country has brought to fruition democratic government. Yet, when I heard the case put in this fashion during stage after stage of the Debate, I felt that the right hon. Gentleman was more concerned about using this situation for party purposes than about using it for community purposes. I may be wrong, but the force of the facts, even though I do not want to accept them, compels the conclusion that the less the right hon. Gentleman has to do with this matter, the better it will be for the community and the country at large. ' Take the position created by the withdrawal of the men from the pumps. It is no use anyone saying that this is a new method introduced by the Miners' Federation. I do not remember any period when the miners got notices from the coalowners before. It has been the miners who have given notices to the coalowners, and when they have given notices no question has been raised about these men. The miners got the notices on this occasion. An hon. Member on the other side has said that " the miner thinks it is a notice of dismissal;" Well, he got 14 days' notice to clear out, and that means that he has to clear out, and the men accepted the coalowners at their word. It appeared to me that even then it would have been possible to deal with this matter. I want to know why the Government has really accepted the coalowners' position? I venture to say that if on Monday the coalowners and the miners had got together this question would have been made easier of settlement. But it has been raised from one stage to ianother, and when the Government accepted the coal-owners' position it made a mountain out of what had been a molehill, and it is going to make the position more and more difficult as the days go by.
I cannot for the life of me see why the Government should not accept the offer of a free and unconditional meeting between the owners and miners. The right hon. Gentleman says that while this is going on the mines are being damaged, and that it means many of them will have to be abandoned. That may be true, but I wish the right hon. Gentleman had been concerned about that kind of thing before. I have been concerned about it, because in the constituency which I represent there was a pit where sufficient men worked to bring nearly £2,000 a week 564 into the village. It was a good mine; in fact, if it were in Somersetshire, or some of the other districts mentioned as being possibly districts where there would be deficits, it would be one of the best kind of mines. Yet it has been 'closed. There has never been any reference to the men, or any concern for them, in connection with it. When I asked the Secretary for Mines to go into the matter I think the coalowners practically told him to mind his own business. The people in that village are now face to face either with starvation or else with the prospect of finding some other means of livelihood, while, apart from the present dispute, good seams have been standing idle without any reasonable cause being given. The Miners' Federation have laid down a certain principle which seems to me a very reasonable one. It is, that they will accept a national wages board and a national pool, even though it means a reduction. Take the case of the pit I have mentioned. It might be that the company was paying. Yet in that instance there was no regard for the people who were working at the colliery; they simply had to accept the inevitable.
As far as the aggressive side of dealing with the pumps is concerned, my influence shall be against any attack on or interference with people who are doing that work. But I want to say just as emphatically that I believe the influence of the right hon. Gentleman has been used deliberately for party purposes, and that the less he has to do in this matter the better. One of my hon. Friends has used the case of two different parties being locked into a room, and told that they had to stop there until they settled their disputes. If the Government method of dealing with this matter in the future is not an improvement upon what we have experienced in the past, the virtue of that method would lie in the Government being locked out of the room. One of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who has taught some of us at least the way to deal with practical affairs, knows very well from his experience as a judge in our arbitration courts how often we went in there with what we thought was a great case on some one point, and when we got face to face the matter became dwarfed and insignificant as compared with what we thought it was before. That, I think, would be the case with this matter of dealing with the pumps, 565 important as it seems at the present time. Every day we go on the matter is growing worse. This apparently insuperable barrier will grow higher as time goes on. I hope the Government will use every influence to accept the unconditional proposal laid down in order that the matter may be ended instead of going from bad to worse and damaging, not only the miners, but the coalowners and the nation and the Empire as a whole.
§ Question, " That this House do now adjourn," put, and negatived.