HC Deb 30 May 1921 vol 142 cc561-3

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether, as reported in the Press, he informed the executive of the Miners' Federation that, if they did not agree to the suggestions made by the Government, legislation would be introduced compelling them to submit their case to arbitration?


The answer is in the negative. The Government hope that the terms suggested may be accepted, but I made no announcement of the steps which were to be taken in the event of their being rejected either by the miners or by the mineowners. The question of asking Parliament to establish a system of compulsory arbitration was not even mentioned. It was agreed that no note should be taken of the interview, and that nothing should be communicated to the Press except what was agreed upon by the parties. This shows, I regret to say, the danger of depending entirely upon arrangements of that character. I earnestly hope that in future that, when interviews of this kind take place that an unauthorised communication will not be sent to the Press by any of those present, otherwise it will be quite impossible to conduct these negotiations. Having reporters present makes it very difficult to do business at all. This is one of the illustrations of the danger depending entirely upon reports of this kind.


Would the right hon. Gentleman explain how this report got into the Press about the Government making this definite statement to the Miners' Federation, that unless they were prepared to accept the terms, the Govern- ment would bring in a Bill for compulsory arbitration? The report has already done a tremendous amount of harm in the Miners' Federation in all parts of the country.


I cannot account for it.


But was the statement made?


No, no! The words "compulsory arbitration" were not even used, I venture to say, in the whole course of the proceedings. How they came to be reported I do not know. Something was said about what would happen if the owners refused to carry out certain terms, and I think I said, "Well, the Government would have to consider what steps they would take to press them to do so." I do not know whether someone drew the inference as to compulsory arbitration from that observation, but the words "compulsory arbitration" were not used by anybody during the whole course of the proceedings.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the first reading of this statement has created the impression that the report was an official report? That is the impression it gives one, and it has done undoubted damage among the miners of the country—


No doubt about that!


Can the right hon. Gentleman see his way to take steps against the people who publish such statements?


It was certainly not official on this occasion. I should be very much surprised if anyone on the part of the Government—I mean that certainly no member of the Government has done it, and I doubt very much whether—well, I do not think it is fair to say more—all I know is that it has appeared in the Press, but I do not know where it came from. The words "compulsory arbitration" certainly do not represent in the least what passed at the conference.


Will the Prime Minister issue an official denial?


I am giving that now—at the first opportunity I have had.


Was an official note taken of this interview?


No; we discussed the question whether there should be an official note taken or not. On these occasions, I usually put myself in the hands of the parties, and inquire whether or not they want an official note taken. On this occasion they said, "No, we think on the whole we can talk much more freely if there is not an official note."There was not even an official note-taker present. We relied upon the honourable understanding that nothing should be published except what was agreed upon. Unfortunately, someone made a statement to the Press who, naturally, were hungering for information about this very important conference, and this has appeared, very much to my surprise, and to the surprise of all others present.

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD

Is it possible to do something considering the injury which has been done to the prospects of settlement? I understand that up and down the country—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had his attention directed to the matter—but in many cases the meetings have not even considered the proposals, but merely taken the alleged threat of compulsion, and turned the thing down. Under these circumstances it is most unfortunate. May we, therefore, assume that it was an enemy who made this report—someone who did not wish the terms to be accepted?

Forward to