§ Mr. S. WALSH
The Consolidated Fund Bill set down for Second Reading this afternoon contains a sum of £1,070.000 for Unemployment grants and expenses, and it is because of this provision that we are raising this matter in connection with the mining industry as I think it is true to say that no industry suffers more from unemployment and its effects than the basic occupation of coal mining. This great industry gives direct employment to over 1,000,000 workers. It maintains a population dependent upon it of 5,000,000, and the conditions existing therein powerfully affect all the staple trades in the country. Now the economic conditions of such a large section of the population would be a matter of deep concern in any representative assembly, but most of all, I think, to a House of Commons fresh from contact with the constituencies. So the Bill before us this afternoon provides the only opportunity this' Session of submitting the conditions of our mining population to the consideration of the House. The real point that we desire to bring before the House is the position comparable with that occupied by the miners in 1914. I propose to submit data that are not disputed. A great deal of argument and a great deal of trouble have arisen over the actual facts, but out of all the hubbub there have emerged certain data which are accepted by everybody connected with that industry, by the Board of Trade itself as representing the Government, by the coal owners and by the miners.
In 1914, the average wage of all the miners—the highly—paid officials, the administrative staffs, the people who were guaranteed the full working week, the people who were paid constant wages— every one of the highly—paid people, as well as the miserably underpaid people— was 6s. 5½d. a day. Incidentally, one remembers the picture, so to speak, of 2994 the grossly overpaid miner in 1913 and 1912. The actual figure over all in 1914 was 6s. 5½d. a day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Does that include boys?"] It includes everybody, women as well. It includes those with £1,000 a year, as well as those with 2s. a day. The total wage paid to everybody engaged in and about the mines in 1914 was 6s. 5½d. a day. To-day the figure for the whole mining population of Great Britain is 9s. 1.16d. We will call it, if you please, 9s. 1¼d. The latest returns of the Board of Trade show that the increase in the cost of living has been 80 per cent, over that of 1914. Therefore, if wages had maintained the same ratio of advance as has the cost of living, the miners' wages over all should have been 11s. 7½d. per day, instead of which they are, as I have just stated, 9s. 1½d.
There is thus a clear loss, comparing the present conditions with those of pre-War, of practically 2s. 6d. per day, or, to make the matter a little more simple, if we try to take back the existing wages paid to the miner to the pre-War position, he is to-day receiving 5s. 0¼., compared with 6s. 5¼d. before the War. Those would be the comparable figures. Multiply that by the average number of days worked a week, which, taken over all, may be said to be 5¼ days, as the pits are working well if throughout the whole year they work 21 or 22 days in a calendar month— very well, indeed. We need not allow anything for sickness or for the mischances that occur in the mines. We need make no allowance at all. If a man is working 21 or 22 days in the calendar month, he is really putting in a splendid working average and the pit itself is putting in a splendid working average. Therefore, taking the figures at the best, and multiplying 5¼ by five, we get a wage over all, including the thousands and tens of thousands of highly-paid officials, including the thousands engaged upon the permanent staff with constant wages, including the men engaged at the collieries in the shops and at the engines, who are paid a standing week's wages-putting all in, we get an average which, in 1914, would have been 26s. 3d. per week. While our memories are very short, there is not an hon. Member who does not know that eight years ago, before the outbreak of the War, a wage of 26s. 3d. was hopelessly insufficient to maintain a single man, never mind those with families. This is data that is not disputed.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WALSH
I thank the Prime Minister for that admission. The House will see, therefore, that, as the cost of living has increased by 80 per cent., the position of the miners is exactly as I have stated it. It may be asked: How have these conditions, deplorable as they are, been brought about? The mining industry is the basis of all the staple industries of the country. It is an integral part of the industrial life of this nation. It has made contributions to the economic progress of the nation in the past, and it is making great contributions to the economic progress of the nation even in the present. There have been in the past, I will not say fabulous, but handsome profits made, and the miners' wages in the past have been described as very great and, indeed, something very much higher than those received by people engaged in other industries. An arrangement was effected—I will not say an agreement, because it would be an abuse of the term—on the 30th June last year whereby a scheme came into operation, described by the late Prime Minister as "the greatest profit-sharing scheme ever applied to any industry." I would like the House to pay attention to those words. From that time, leaving out the first three months, which were known as the temporary period, there have been continuous reductions in practically every mining area in Great Britain. In Scotland a wage of 17s. 8d. per day in March, 1921, has been reduced to 9s. 2d., a reduction of 8s. 6d. per day; in Northumberland a wage of 16s. 11d. has been reduced to 8s. 1d.; in Durham a wage of 16s. 9d. has been reduced to 8s. 9d.; in South Wales a wage of 18s. 9d. has been reduced to 9s. 6d.; in the Eastern area, or as it is probably better known, the Midland part of England, a wage of 17s. has been reduced to 9s. 6d.; and in Lancashire and Cheshire a wage of 15s. 6d. has been reduced to 8s. 4d. Taking the average throughout Great Britain, wages have been reduced from 16s. 11d. in March, 1921, to 9s. 1d. in November last.
§ Mr. WALSH
Including all classes, wages have been reduced from 16s. 11d. to 9s. 1d., and this is the greatest profit-sharing scheme ever applied to any industry. I am usually generous in my construction of people's motives and of the language which they use in this House, because one knows perfectly well that in the heat of debate many things are said which one afterwards regrets, but I cannot imagine that any statement was ever made with so little knowledge. Yet it was presented by the late Prime Minister, after consultation with people who seemed to know, or who at least professed to know, all the internal conditions in the mining industry, as the greatest profit-sharing scheme ever applied to any industry. Perhaps it would be well if I gave to the House the effect of the agreement, as described by Mr. Frank Hodges, in an interview which the Prime Minister was kind enough to give us a few days ago. This is what Mr. Hodges said:The agreement has been in operation for practically 18 months. Three months ago we had every one of our districts down on the minimum wage below which they could not go. Under the agreement, there is a clause which provides that when the owners are unable to make their 17 per cent, standard profit upon the standard wages paid the deficiency shall be carried forward and shall accumulate to be made good some day out of some future surplus when the industry is better off. We have at this moment seven districts with accumulated deficiencies. We have in Lancashire a deficiency of nearly £170,000. We have in several districts deficiencies that could not be made up if the workmen gave up wages altogether for six weeks. In Kent, the deficiency is so tremendous that the miners owe to the mine-owners practically three months' wages, and in Lancashire, North Wales, South Staffordshire and Salop, Cumberland, the Forest of Dean, and Kent, no matter how the output improves during the next two or three months there can be no advance of wages even if there were prospects of trade improving. This is a situation unparalleled in the history of the trade.I would like to submit the actual figures, and here I would ask the House to consider the effect of this greatest profit-sharing scheme ever applied to any industry. The Cumberland miners owe over £200,000 to the owners. The actual figure is £200,976. In Cumberland they have a total working population at the mines of about 12,000, so that each man, woman and child is mortgaged in advance to the extent of nearly £17. Pawn- 2997 broking has taken a good many forms since it was instituted hundreds of years ago, but I never thought that the coal-owners would develop such a pawn-broking business as this. It is true that they do not put out three brass balls, but they have got the people in pawn far more effectively than any pawnbroker has ever held them. The right hon. Gentleman a fortnight ago, speaking to the deputation, said that all the facts were known; there was really no serious disagreement upon the facts themselves, and he did not see what an inquiry could do. He appealed to us in a most despairing tone: "What can I do?" He then went on to say that he himself thought there was a little hope, an appreciable hope one might say, now presenting itself, and that in two or three months the condition of things might have so improved as to do away with the necessity of an inquiry. I submit that in Cumberland, no matter how trade improves—unless it improves with such gigantic speed as to I be outside any possibility of present-day conception, which neither the domestic nor the foreign situation even faintly warrants—these people will be steeped in their misery for years to come. No possible improvement that is likely to be; realised can lift them out of the terrible position in which they find themselves. They are pledged years and years ahead. Whatever improvement comes in trade cannot get them out of their condition, which is not one whit better than that of I bond slaves to their employers. Take another case. The case of the miners in South Staffordshire and Shropshire. Broadly speaking, there are 4,000 of them. They owe to the employers over £95,000, or £24 a head for every man, woman, and child. It is really worse than that because the administrative charges do I not come into the Staffordshire wage. The payment of those engaged in administration, the payment of the managerial expenses, does not come into the standard wage at all. Therefore, it is the standard wages of the lowest-paid workpeople that are made responsible for this enormous deficit. Under these circumstances I ask the Prime Minister: whatever improvement in the trade is at all likely to be realised, how is it possible that you can build up any substantial improvement in the conditions of the people?
2998 Take Kent. It is not a very big area. They have broadly about 2,400 people engaged in the mines. They owe the employers nearly £63,000 or £26 per head. I will not go into any other figures. There are other figures not quite so formidable as these, but all of them embodying the same principle—all of them depriving the workers in these areas, in Lancashire, Staffordshire, Kent, Bristol, the Forest of Dean, in Cumberland, South Staffordshire, Salop—conditions which deprive the workers of the faintest ray of hope. In Lancashire this last month we have paid back £24,000. At a time when prices are certainly as high as they are ever likely to be, and when the output of the mines is as high also as it is ever likely to be, when the costs of production —at least so we are informed by the employers—have been brought down to the almost irreducible minimum, this has been done. I submit to the Prime Minister, and to the House, that the condition of things in an industry such as this, representing directly, as it does, from 13 per cent, to 14 per cent, of the population, and lying at the very basis of the industrial life of this country, demands the instant attention of the Government.
The reductions effected in one year— and many of the areas, indeed most of them, have been on the minimum wage for getting well on to 12 months—the reduction in the wages bill of the miners will not be less than £2,000,000 per week, or well over £100,000,000 per year. One can quite imagine when you have conditions which, biking everybody with over a wage of 9s. as making five days a week working time, one can quite imagine, without playing on the emotional gamut, the misery and distress that that means in tens of thousands of the miners' homes It is perfectly true that we have at least 60,000 unemployed. We have three times that number under-employed. We have in many homes conditions where the people are receiving more actually under the unemployment benefit scale than they are getting for working in the mines and encountering all its risks and difficulties.
It may be said, who is responsible for this? I say that the Government that came to an end in October last is directly responsible for the conditions of the mining industry at the present time. Without going too much into past history it will be remembered that the control by the Government of the mining industry, 2999 in so far as the wages of the workers and the profits of the employers are concerned, began in 1916; in the later months of 1916 in South Wales, and in the early months of 1917 in the rest of the mining fields. This was inevitable because of the grave peril that confronted the nation because of the submarines and a thousand and one things that need not be now specially described. It was inevitable, too, that a state of chaos would result in the industry. No Government is responsible for that. It is quite true that South Wales ships had to coal in the Mersey, that Liverpool ships were sent to South Wales, that Midlands coal was sent to them in the North, and that Lancashire coal was sent down to the Midlands and to South Wales. All this, I say, was inevitable because of the conditions of war which did not take into account at all the smooth running of these things. That is not the charge against the Government at all. No Government could have prevented the chaotic conditions that ensued. Admitting that— which I do quite freely—it was surely incumbent that the Government of the nation, having taken over the control of the industry, should have given a reasonable time to the industry before decontrol was effected. What was done? An Act of Parliament was passed in August, 1920. We on these benches said we would take no responsibility for that Act of Parliament. Whatever we said against that Bill was of no account. The Government, as they had the right to do, proceeded on their way. They placed in the very centre of that Act of Parliament a Section stating that control "shall continue"—let the imperative verb be noted, "shall continue"—until 31st August, 1921. But in a later Sub-section of that very same Section they took power to continue control until 31st March of this very year. It was quite clear that the intention in that Act of Parliament was that control should be continued until 31st August, 1921, and a later possibility was envisaged of continued control being necessary. They took the necessary power in this later Sub-section to continue till March of this year.
In defiance of entreaties almost piteous in their terms, the Act of Parliament was rushed through this House within one week, revoking the provisions of the Mining Industry Act of 19S0, and prac- 3000 tically making these huge reductions inevitable. The Government paid no attention to the applications that were made by the mining industry as a whole. It was surely right that the Government that had taken over during the War the whole control in respect of wages and profits of that great industry, should have some regard to the conditions that had been created in the meantime. It was surely right that they should give some breathing time to the employers and workmen alike engaged in that industry, who were desirous of such time in the interests of the interests and of the nation. We appealed from these benches, and when we did so we were answered: "Oh, you are really trifling with the House; you are such excellent friends, miners and owners, that you will make it up within a week." It was said that both employers and workmen were such extremely good friends in this great industry that in a week "you will be going on just as smoothly as ever." We have told you that it is no pleasure to us, no satisfaction to say: "We told you so." No satisfaction is to be derived from that. The industry has passed through such a horrible time that sometimes it haunts one like a nightmare to know what the miners have gone through. When we draw attention to these matters, we do so with a deep sense of responsibility, for it was Governmental action in 1921, in suddenly decontrolling the industry and giving us no time to prepare for decontrol, in defiance of the actual time in the Bill—12 months in advance of the time for which they had taken power— that has brought the industry into its present lamentable condition.
It is impossible for me, with the resources of language I possess, to describe the misery in the miners' homes. I cannot. Having no such power, I cannot place before this House anything like a recital of the actual facts. But, whilst saying that, I would say that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, as men of the world who know the value of money, and know what a pound will purchase, who in their own constituencies are brought week by week and year by year in contact with the working classes, and have knowledge of them, know somewhat of their households, and know for themselves that the facts are as I have stated. They are not disputed. What, then, must be the state 3001 of misery and degradation in thousands, indeed, in tens of thousands, of our miners' homes?
It may be said: "What are you going to do about it; what remedies are you proposing?" That question is more rightly answered by those who are responsible for having brought the industry to its present condition. They that are whole need not a physician. It is we who are sick. It is we who are seeking for a physician to prescribe for us. We are suffering now. Thousands, tens of thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of our people. They are suffering unmerited misery. Children are suffering by going short of food. Wives and mothers hardly know where to turn for the next meal. Thousands of them have had to appeal to the boards of guardians to eke out the wages they are receiving. This state of things exists in the mining industry. We have a state of things unequalled since before the Napoleonic wars. After the conclusion of those great campaigns the people had to have their wages eked out by the Poor Law. This is the richest nation even now. After all we have gone through we are still the richest per head of the population. It is, therefore, a matter of the gravest reproach that we should have tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands living in this unparalleled misery. We say it is the duty of the Government of this nation first of all to raise the wages of the miners so as to meet the cost of living. That is the only condition we ask. We say that this industry is national in its character. It cannot be conducted except upon national lines. We say that the men themselves possess no individual freedom. We say that private enterprise has been banished. We say that through a long course of years and in circumstances for which, not this Government but the whole capitalist system is responsible, that the people engaged in this industry have been reduced to a condition of helotry. They are bond-slaves in fact just as surely as were those for whom indentures were taken out in the old days, or those who lived in the days of Cedric the Saxon. They cannot go to work elsewhere. They cannot sell their labour freely. They refused to accept this arrangement—it never was an agreement—it was an arrangement forced upon them by the pressure of 400,000 soldiers and many thousands of sailors, and of the Emergency Act passed 3002 hurriedly through this House. Those were the conditions through which it was passed.
The men have never been willing contracting parties to this arrangement. They repudiated it at the beginning. They have repudiated it ever since. See the consequences that have resulted. I say it is the duty of the Government in the case of a great industry like this, which is suffering so indescribably, to see that the people engaged in it are guaranteed conditions which will give them a wage equivalent to the cost of living. After that, inquiry can be made into the conditions that obtain. We know that between the actual selling price at the pithead and the price paid by the consumer there is a tremendous leakage. We know that the industry is burdened with many charges which in their incidence are very unfair, and that there are thousands of ways in which mines could be made to yield profit as a result of inquiry if one were undertaken by the Government. Just in the same way as the Prime Minister consented only a few days ago to an inquiry into another basic industry, an inquiry with which we all agree, just in that same way we hope that full and complete inquiry will be made into this industry, so that all the facts can be brought before this House, with the result that the overwhelming human right of the workers engaged in the industry to a living wage shall be conceded by every honest-thinking man.
I apologise for having taken up so much time. I know that the Prime Minister, whose bonâ-fides everyone trusts, is aware that all the salient facts and data I have submitted are incontrovertible. They cannot be disputed. We have a great population, a great working population, well over a million men, women and children, with a dependent population of' practically five millions; we have cognate industries which represent three times those figures, dependent in a greater or lesser degree on the wellbeing of this great industry, the conditions of which are such as to be absolutely unparalleled in the history of the 19th or 20th century. In these circumstances, I am sure we shall not appeal in vain to the Prime Minister and his colleagues to take into their consideration the arguments I have urged, and to see that these people who are willing and efficient workers—we do not want it for unwilling and inefficient, 3003 workers—shall at least be guaranteed a minimum wage equivalent to the cost of living. That is a principle which cannot be denied, and if it he admitted here today we shall have done something to remove the scandal at present resting on the nation.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
My hon. Friend has painted a very gloomy picture of the present condition of the mining population, and to a very large extent, at the immediate moment, he is justified in the picture he has painted. But for my part I think that of all the industries in this country at the present time the most hopeful is the coal mining industry of England and Wales. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh, oh"] Let us consider the position calmly, and compare it as it is now with its real position in those so-called happy times before the end of the Coal Control to which the hon. Member has referred. If we take March of last year, before the Coal Control ended, what was the condition of the coal industry then? It was this: that very large sums of money, amounting to some millions per month, were being taken out of the pocket of every other member of the community and paid over to the miners of the country to maintain for them a completely uneconomic wage. Hon. Members who protest against that know perfectly well that that was the case, and they know also that that was the reason, and the only reason, which induced the railway men and the transport workers to refuse to enter into a struggle along with the miners. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Oh, yes; we have had this out in the House before now. The only reason why the National Union of Railwaymen and the Transport Workers would not go into the dispute between the miners and, not the mine owners, but the people of this country, was that they declined to go out on strike in order to compel themselves to contribute from their own wages to subsidising the wages of the miners. I do not blame the miners in the very least for endeavouring to carry out their somewhat humorous device, because the railway men did exactly the same thing in respect to the miners, and, what is more, they succeeded where the miners failed. Every miner at this present moment is paying over quite a considerable proportion of his weekly wage, small as it 3004 is, to maintain the "standard of living" wage of the railway workers of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is not complaining of that,"] As the hon. Member says, the miner is not complaining, and that is in fact the great feature that gives cause for hope at the present time. Anybody would imagine from what has been said to-day that the miners of this country are seething with discontent and calling for the pity of their neighbours. I say they are doing no such thing, but they are courageously and patiently facing their troubles in a way which I do not think has been exceeded in the past history of this country.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Let me explain myself. I suggest the bon. Member has hinted that the miners are asking their neighbours to take pity on them. He said that the Government must do some thing so as to secure a minimum living wage for them. How is that going to be done? It is only to he done in this way, that you must have the old coal control, which means taking money out of the pockets of every other worker in the community and paying it over to the miners to maintain for them a minimum wage. I say it is one of the most hopeful signs of the present day that a great body of men in this country, who might be expected, with good reason, to be impatient of the conditions under which they are suffering, have been so courageous and so patient during all these months. They are going to have their reward—there is no doubt about that—under this profit-sharing schema. What has happened? Up to the present time, practically without exception—the exceptions are very small indeed—this profit-sharing scheme has resulted in reduction after reduction of wages. I know something of profit-sharing. I have had practical experience of it in my own works. My men have been on a profits sharing scheme for a very much longer time than the miners. What is their position? During the autumn and winter of last year we were losing money week by week under that scheme, and at this time last year they were in debt to me for a considerable sum of money for 3005 wages which had been paid in excess of what the profits earned had been able to provide.
Exactly the same situation as the hon. Member for Ince has said obtains in Cumberland and in Kent in the mining industry at the present moment. In both of those cases the miners are in debt to the owners to the extent of from £12 to £25 per head. The hon. Member spoke of bonds of slavery. He forgot to say that the £12 or the £25, as the case may may be, per head represented money advanced by the coalowner to the miner without interest, without security and with very little prospect of its every being paid back. That is what he ought to have brought out. Are we to blame the coal-owner for lending money to the extent of £12 or £25 per head to the men he employs without security and without interest? I think rather we should praise him for doing it. When this time last year I found that my men, under the profit-sharing scheme, were heavily indebted to me, I did not regard them as having been reduced by my action to the position of bond slaves. I rather congratulated myself that I was able to let them have that money for their use without charging them any interest. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member is very proud of himself."] The hon. Member who interrupts is grossly impertinent. To explain the present state of affairs in the mining industry, I am obliged to mention this profit-sharing scheme. During all that period when my men were getting into debt week by week, there was no falling off in output, there was, perhaps, even a greater effort than before, and the result is that the men are back again on a more prosperous basis than they were before the slump set in. My men simply did exactly what the miners are doing to-day. They watted during the hard times for better times. They knew perfectly well that under the profit-sharing scheme whatever the industry could pay would be paid to them in the long run. I believe it is this profit-sharing scheme (which I admit I opposed to a certain extent when it was before the House at the end of 1921) that makes the position of the coal-miner in this country at the present time an endurable rather than an intolerable position. The miner knows perfectly well he is getting all that it is possible for him to get, and no matter what privations he may suffer he knows he is being treated 3006 justly and is content to wait for better times. The hon. Member for Ince must be perfectly well aware that the output per man is going up distinctly, and to such an extent that even a drop of one hour in the working day underground is now practically made up for by the better output of the men. He knows further, that in order to increase the profits from the coalmining industry it is necessary that there should be an immediate and very heavy capital expenditure on the part of the coalowners. He knows that in many parts of Lancashire the men are very much hampered at the present time by the lack of tubs. He knows that tubs do not grow on gooseberry bushes, and that they have to be paid for; and not only tubs but machinery also is required. That is a matter which touches me closely. I happen to know something about it. I know that the coalowners all ever the Kingdom are most anxious to spend money on new-machinery, which will increase the profits of the coal industry and thus directly increase the wages of the miners. But they are not able to do so because their profit under this profit-sharing scheme was fixed at such a rate that it did not allow for a sufficient expansion of capital to meet the requirements of the pits. It is perfectly true that the coal-owner can keep up repairs and renewals because they are chargeable to the revenue account and do not come in under the profit-sharing scheme. But if he wishes to put in any new machinery, plant or tubs, capital expenditure is involved and it can only come out of the owner's pocket under this scheme.
§ Mr. WALSH
Let me put the hon. Member right on this point. As a matter of fact the wagons provided, the boxes in the pit, and the thousand and one 3007 materials of that kind, all the impedimenta necessary to carry on the work of the mine is charged to revenue by the decision of the independent chairman, and not by any agreement.
§ Mr. H0PKINSON
I know that the Income Tax authorities would not allow new tubs to be charged to the revenue account, but only repairs and renewals. If that is so, I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) is mistaken, and if they are being allowed to charge new tubs to revenue account they are going to get into very severe trouble. There are millions of pounds worth of new machinery wanted in the pits to-day, and there is not the money to buy the stuff, and there cannot be until the profits of the coal industry get greater, and the men's wages get greater, under the profit sharing scheme.
I have, to the best of my ability, drawn a comparison between the state of the coal industry immediately before control was removed and its state now. I have endeavoured to show that the outlook of the miner at the present day is far more hopeful than it was towards the end of coal control. Under coal control he was gradually massing against himself the opposition of every other worker in the country. All the other workers were beginning to understand that they themselves were paying, week by week, to maintain an uneconomic wage for the miner. Besides this we were losing practically the whole of our export trade, and in every way disaster was confronting us before the end of the control.
At the present moment there is every prospect for the miner of his benefitting very largely, though slowly, under the pre sent wages agreement and profit sharing scheme. I think the profit sharing scheme is one which might very well be given up at the end of six or 12 months, but it would be utter madness for the miners at this time, when they are just beginning to get something out of it after losing so much, to give up their scheme 3008 now. I am sure they will do no such thing. I protest to this House that the miners of this country are totally misrepresented by their leaders in this House, and anyone who thinks that the coal miners of England, Scotland, and Wales wish to be a millstone round the neck of every other industry is very much mistaken.
Look at my own industry, the engineering trade. The district rate of wages in my district is only 56s., and that rate puts them very considerably below the pre-War standard of living. But even at that, the percentage of unemployment amounts to about 40 per cent, on wages far below what would give them the 1914 standard of living. I quite admit, and hon. Members opposite will agree, that the position of the Lancashire miner is exceptionally bad, but why is he in such an exceptionally bad position? I live on the main line between Lancashire and Yorkshire, and I have seen every month hundreds and hundreds of tons of slack coming from Yorkshire, and the Midlands, into Lancashire, and I have seen hundreds of tons of Lancashire slack turned out on sidings, because they wanted the wagons at the pit bank.
It is owing to the heavy depression in the shipbuilding and the iron and steel industry that the Yorkshire and Midland slack, which used to be made into byproduct coke, cannot find a market, and it has to come over into Lancashire to be sold, and odd lots of it have been sold at 1s. a ton within the last few months. The only way that we in Lancashire can improve our selling price, and therefore the wages of the miners, is by getting that Yorkshire and Midland slack absorbed in its own district, and the only way to do that is to get a free sale for the coke, and to keep the blast furnaces and the open hearth steel furnaces going.
What is standing in the way? At the present time heavy steel makers are quoting prices right down to 1914 steel prices, and yet before they can put a single ton of sections on board an average of from 25s. to 35s. has gone in paying railway charges on the raw material. There are many reasons for the depression of the steel trade and for the necessarily consequent depression of the coal trade, and many of them are such as we cannot remove. They are world reasons. We may protest against 3009 them until we are black in the face, but we can do nothing to remove them. But there is one important item which we can remove, and that is these excessive transport charges and the charges for putting goods on the ships at the docks. The reason for this is that the railwaymen are on a cost-of-living basis of wage, such as the hon. Member for I nee wants in the case of the miners, and, therefore, whatever happens to the miners the railway-man is going to maintain his standard of living.
Who is going to pay for it? Why, the miner and the worker in every other industry. The railwayman, alone, is to have his wages maintained on a standard-of-living basis at the expense of the others. Do not think I am suggesting any blame to the railwaymen for this. They played exactly the same game as the Miners' Federation played, but they won while the Miners' Federation lost. They have used their victory with very great consideration to other workers, and they have submitted to a large number of reductions, though not so heavy as in the case of the miners, but which they need not have submitted to if they had cared to fight, because they had the whip hand.
I think we are very much indebted to the railwaymen for the way they have agreed to these reductions. Further reductions will be necessary in the railway-men's wages, or else there will have to be a very much higher efficiency in their standard of work. So let us recognise that, although they have won the whip hand over the miners and other industries, they have used their power with very great consideration.
§ Mr. MURNIN
I hope the House will overlook any mistakes which I may make, because this is the first time I have addressed this Assembly. I listened last night to the protests made from hon. Members opposite when the statement was made that it was the desire of employers all over the country to bring down the wages of the workmen to the 1914 standard. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) has been more honest in his statement than his hon. Friends were in the early hours of this morning, for he has told us that the miners are a courageous and a gallant body of men. We did not need to hear that from the lips of the hon. Member for Mossley, because the world knows it. During the 3010 War the late Prime Minister and his colleagues boasted of the gallantry, the courage, and the tenacity of purpose of the miners, but when the War was over the same parties soon forgot their meed of praise, and they were able to bring the men who assisted in saving the nation to the verge of starvation, and that is the position to-day.
I want to tell the hon. Member for Mossley that there is no dread of the miner attempting to get his wages improved at the expense of the railway worker. We have arrived at a stage now when we understand that if a reduction of wages takes place in any industry, it means that this will be used in order to get a similar reduction in other industries. That, however, is not the policy which the trade union movement is prepared to adopt. We are prepared to meet to the best of our ability any attack upon wages made by the capitalists of the country for the further increasing of their already largo profits. Everybody understands now that the railwaymen have not had a wage in excess of the cost of living, and it can be no satisfaction to the railway-man to know that his wages are comparatively better than those of the miners, simply because the miner is down and out. The miner is watching very carefully the trend of events, and he understands the situation in a more practical way than many hon. Members of this House. The miner has implicit faith in his leaders. The hon. Member for Mossley is under the impression that the miner and all other industrial workers would be very decent fellows if it was not for the influence that was brought to bear upon them by the agitator. That is his opinion.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MURNIN
And so is every other industrial worker a decent fellow, but the people who have the power forget to treat them decently. That is the unfortunate position. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) dealt generally with the mining industry, and gave an outline of the position in various parts of the coalfields. I want to draw the attention of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House to the situation in Scotland. I am under the impression, from the information I have been able to gather from all parts of the coalfields, that the 3011 miner in Scotland is about in the worst position of anyone in any part of the coalfields. We have 18s. 5d. as the minimum wage for the coal hewer. We have men working underground, 18, 19 and 20 years of age, for from 4s. to 4s. 6d. per day. We have thousands of fathers of families working underground for about 5s. 3d. to 6s. per day; and when I tell the House that we have thousands of surfacemen working now for 4s. 9½d. to 5s. 2d. a day, they can realise the position of the people working in the coal industry in Scotland at the present time.
We feel that something should be done. We have the idea that one of the functions of the Government of this country is to see to it that there should be equality, equity, and fairplay between the parties, that the weak should be protected from any outrage by the strong. I think that that is the province of any Government, but, unfortunately for us, the employers are the strong party. They are able to impose on the industrial workers in the mine any conditions they care to, and the Government say they are unable to prevent them from doing so. That is not, to my mind, a proper attitude for the responsible members of a Government to adopt. It is the business of the Government to see to it that there should be equity and fairplay between all conditions of people in the State. That is the reason why the Labour party and the mining portion of the community are appealing to the Government. We are not squealing in the way that the hon. Member for Mossley suggested. We are taking our gruel without much complaint. We realise, as the hon. Member realises, that there is a bettor time in front of us, and, when it does arrive, I hope, and trust that the miner will learn by the lesson he has received. I am satisfied, from my knowledge of the miner, that he will make better use of his opportunities, when they do come, than he has hitherto done. The mining community, as I think is demonstrated by these benches, are beginning to think for themselves, and I believe that when they get that opportunity— and I hope it will not be long delayed— they will give further proof that they are awakening to a sense of their responsibility. The Government could do much. We had a Commission, and I want to point out to the Government that that 3012 Commission recommended that the mining royalties should be taken over and nationalised. Some of our Friends on the other side of the House may contend that of this million odd pounds, or the tax of 7½d. on every ton of coal raised in Great Britain for mining royalties, a portion goes to revenue in taxation: but if the Government wanted to adjust matters, they would nationalise that part of the industry. They would accept the recommendation of the Sankey Commission, and, if they wanted further taxation, there are many sources from which they could tax people without taxing an industry that is at such a low ebb at the present moment.
§ Mr. H. H. SPENCER
Does the hon. Member suggest that the royalties should go to the trade or to the nation?
§ Mr. MURNIN
The royalties should go to the State. They should be nationalised and handed over to the State; and, if that were done, the hon Member would agree that there could be a readjustment between the State and the employé. That is one way in which in improvement could be brought about, in this industry. We are more than anxious that hon. Members should give heed to this great question. The profit-sharing scheme was imposed upon the miners by starvation. Not 5 per cent, of the miners in Great Britain believed in the scheme, but they were starved into submitting. That scheme has not worked out in the interests of the workmen. No scheme can work out in the interests of the workmen in any industry that brings them to the position in which the miners are at the present moment. They are 40 per cent. below the cost of living: they are worse by 40 per cent, than they were in 1914 We have young women to-day working on the pit banks in Scotland for 12s. a week—12s. a week to feed and clothe and house themselves. We have families of six or seven in Scotland to-day, whose total income coming into the house only provides for two meals a day at 4d. a meal. There is nothing for clothing, nothing for house rent, nothing for coal or any other of the necessaries that go to make up the home comforts of any individual or any citizen of this State. That is the position in which we are, while hon. 3013 Members on the other side of the House who are captains of industry are, numbers of them, engaged in speculation, and exploiting the worker.
It is no use hon. Members on the other side demurring to that statement. We are being exploited on each and every occasion, and hon. Members cannot deny it. What a sad reflection it is on their boasted development to tell us that there is no remedy for the unfortunate state of the people working in the mining industry in Great Britain. Have the brains of the captains of industry become so bankrupt that they cannot suggest something to improve the conditions of these people? They know themselves that they can do it, but the reason that they will not do it is that, in the present depressed conditions, they are quite comfortable, while we are suffering. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Oh, yes. That is the reason. I believe they are a decent, respectable body of people until you bring them into their commercial concerns, and when they get there you might as well attempt to take blood from a stone as get fair play from them. What they want—and I have listened very patiently now for three weeks—is a new soul. The soul that they have at present is not fit for a dog, although they boast about their humanity and Christianity.
The miners and the industrial workers generally have some little confidence in this House, and the representatives of the miners appeal to the Government and to hon. Members on the other benches to attempt to do something to take us out of this slough of despond. We cannot remain in it much longer. We know that in every part of the British coalfields there are large families whose little savings have gone to meet the requirements of the household. In hundreds of thousands of the miners' homes the furniture has been sold to keep body and soul together. Their little children are unable to be seen in the public streets because of the condition of their wearing apparel, and because of their pinched faces owing to the starvation they are undergoing at the present moment. The women-folk remain in the colliery villages because they have not sufficient decent clothing in which to go out into the town. That is the condition that prevails at the present moment in the mining villages in Great Britain. It prevails in many 3014 quarters of Scotland. The Scottish people, in particular, never carry their poverty on their sleeve if they can avoid it; they have sufficient independence at least to hold up their heads in face of great adversity, and they appeal for some attempt to do something. The Government can do it if they are in earnest.
I want now to refer to one question that was raised by the hon. Member for Mossley. He said that prior to decontrol the nation and the other workers were subsidising the miners to give them their wage. Has the hon. Member any knowledge of the millions that the Government took out of the coal trade when it was taken over in the first two or three years? I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hillhead Division of Glasgow (Sir R. Horne) said in this House that the fabulous profits which the nation were able, during the first two or three years of control, to make from the coal trade belonged to the nation, and did not belong to the industry. Millions and millions of money went to relieve taxation, but, as I have attempted to point out, immediately the pinch came, and it was necessary to subsidise the coal industry with a few million pounds to tide it over the hour of adversity, in the hope that something better would arise, that was refused. It was forgotten that the Government had taken from the coal industry millions of pounds to subsidise the expenditure of this country in other directions. That is not statesmanship. People should always remember that, when an industry gives money to the State, the State should not be so niggardly as to refuse to assist it out of its difficulty. It is not creditable to the Government or to the nation as a whole, and I hope that, out of the discussion that will take place here this afternoon and evening, some solution of this great difficulty will be found. Our people cannot go on much longer. Their patience is just about exhausted. The leaders of the miners in Great Britain are anxious that there should be no trouble. Trouble might be disastrous at a period when there is just a hope of some little improvement in the coal industry. It might mean misery, not only to the miners, but also to the people engaged in all other industries, and, therefore, we are anxious that there should be no trouble. But we cannot carry on. We cannot still the uneasy disturbances that are springing up 3015 in the minds of the workers in the coal industry in every part of Great Britain if this goes on any longer. If you people are in earnest and you want to assist the Miners' Federation to preserve peace in the coal industry you will have to impress on the Government that it is their duty to see to it that they are going to give this serious consideration with the hope that they will bring about an improvement in that industry for the benefit of all.
§ Mr. GOULD
I had hoped the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) would have gone rather more carefully and fully into the finances and conditions and wages of the mining industry. I was rather disappointed that in putting his case he depended more upon sentiment than upon fact. I was rather hopeful that he would have compared the condition of the mining industry with the condition of the other industries of the country and would have put before the House facts and figures which would prove that he had a right to claim the sentimental consideration and compassion of the country. To my mind, he failed lamentably to do so. He based his case and his argument upon statements which have been made and reiterated in the Press as the result of an interview with the Prime Minister. He re-hashed the conditions which arose out of the Debates which were held in the last House and reiterated many complaints and many arguments which were brought forward at various times during various discussions and Debates on the decontrol of the mining industry, but he offered us nothing at all which we could take and put into comparison with the other industries of the country in order to arrive at some definite conclusion as to the real reason for the miners bringing forward at this time a claim for specific consideration. I rather took him to blame the agreement for the cause of the present trouble. I am asking him if I am right in assuming that.
§ Mr. GOULD
I want to be perfectly correct. I took the hon. Member to say the agreement was responsible for the present condition of the mining industry. I think that is best answered by the "Labour Magazine," which I have received this morning. In an article written by Mr. Frank Hodges, referring to the agreement, he definitely and categorically states this:The results have been calamitous and have been shared by workmen and colliery-owners alike. The colliery proprietors were left with the alternative of either cutting their prices, thus keeping the collieries going, or maintaining them at a point which would have strangled their hope of ever regaining their market. So far then we see nothing either implicit or explicit in the agreement which may be stated to be responsible for the terrible conditions in the exporting districts, although many people, including many miners, attribute the unfortunate wage losses to the agreement. I wish to assert as strongly as I can that Government responsibility in this matter is plain and unmistakable.I think, therefore, there can be no question in the minds of the House and the people of this country that the Agreement itself is not responsible, seeing that we have the authority of the secretary of the Miners' Federation for the repudiation of such a suggestion.
I have no desire whatever to enter into contentious argument, but I think, when there has been so much propaganda and so many statements and mis-statements and so many figures bandied about, that it is difficult, especially as we are facing a possible Recess of two months, during which time many people will be making statements which cannot be challenged in the only place where they could be challenged, that we should have a plain statement as to the condition of the industry. The miners are well represented in this House;—far better and to a far greater extent than the coalowners—and I have not the slightest doubt that there is not a single case where the miners' representatives in the House may not be able to put up a special case of grievance. By no means does anyone seek to contend that there are not special grievances in the mining industry. There were cases of grievance before the War. There are special cases of grievance in every industry, and always will be, but there is no more special case of grievance and no more peculiarity in the mining industry than in any other industry. I fail to see why, because of the organisation the 3017 miners have, they should seek to bring forward their case and show the disadvantage they are suffering under without first of all making clear the actual position of the mining industry compared with other industries. What is the position of the industry? There are just 5,000 more men employed in it to-day than there were in 1914. It is the one industry where the rate of employment is above the rate of 1914, and yet the production of coal throughout the country is at the rate of 17,500 tons less per annum— 270,000,000, as against 287,500,000. In South Wales, the area of great contention, the number of men is 2,500 less than it was in 1913, and the production of coal is something like 3,750,000 tons less.
The statement was made only last week by the Inspector of Mines at Swansea that there were 50,000 unemployed men in the mining industry in South Wales. That is a very serious statement coming from an individual who holds an official position and it is one which I think should be corrected without hesitation, because it is apt to lead to misapprehension, and it has certainly been used for propaganda purposes by certain members of the Miners' Federation. I do not accuse anyone on the other side of the House. What are the facts? There are 2,500 fewer in the industry in South Wales than there were in 1913. I had not time to get the figures of how many men are thrown out of employment as the result of the withdrawal of the safety men in 1921 and how many pits are dislocated, but I know there was an influx during the War of nearly 50,000 men from other industries into the mining industry, and those men may have been thrown out of employment owing to the return of the legitimate miners. There were in January, 1920, 271,000 men in the South Wales mining industry. Tom Richards, at a conference only a few weeks ago, estimated that the total number of men at present out of employment did not exceed the figure of 10,000. During the period when the men were producing a very small quantity of coal, at the rate of less than 220,000,000 tons per annum, when we knew in South Wales that we had to take inferior and inexperienced labour, we knew the pits were being worked, as has been admitted time and time again, not with regard to economy, not with any regard whatever to profit nor with regard to anything except the fact that they were under 3018 Government control, and over two years ago I remember well that the miners were endeavouring to the best of their ability to discredit private ownership and the coal-owners were doing their best to discredit control and no one cared about anything as long as they got money and wages and the Government paid. When decontrol took place those men had to go and we had to remove the redundant miners from the industry.
§ Mr. GOULD
It is a very good thing for the country that they did not. We had to remove those men, and there are 40,000 to 50,000 men thrown out of employment in the industry. Anyone who knows the facts of the situation in South Wales will agree that that is not so. Here is a case of an industry employing 5,000 more men than it did in 1914, and it is complaining as to its position. Compare the position of the industry with cither agriculture, steel, shipbuilding, engineering, the cotton trade, where they are working half time, or a score of other trades— people who have not the opportunity of getting employment and who are asking us from day to day "Give us work, we do not want the dole." Here we are faced with an entirely different position. We are faced with a complaint that the men are not receiving a living wage and a wage which is in accord with the level of subsistence. The contention of the miners in regard to that is not correct, because we have to bear in mind that you cannot have the benefit of shorter hours and at the same time, under the conditions existing to-day, the same relative earning power of labour. I admit without argument that in 1920 the average wages in the industry were £4 5s. per week. What happened in that year? We had a coal strike. [HON. MEMBERS: "Lock-out!"] Call it stoppage if you like. We had two stoppages before the end of 1920. We have got to come down to an economic basis. During the War we had maintained prices because we were under the necessity of paying anything at all for coal. We were not in a position to import our coal from any other place. Other countries who required our coal had to pay what we asked them for our surplus. I am not going to re-hash all the 3019 conditions and the subsidies which the Government gave with regard to home industries, but the fact remains that when the industry was put on an economic basis the level of wages came down, frankly, to a very low figure, a figure of 9s. Id. per day, and for South Wales 9s. 6d. It has been agreed that the present wage is only 43 per cent, above the subsistence level of 1914. The average wage for 10 years prior to 1914 was 29s. 9¼d. per week. In October, 1922, according to figures I have had given me —and I think they are substantially correct—it was 50s. per week in South Wales. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) stated that the level of wages in 1914 was 5s. or 6s. per week above the subsistence level in 1913–1914. If that is the case the rate on which we are calculating wages at the present time is obviously impracticable. If we are talking about wages which are above the subsistence level before the War, obviously we must get right back to what was the subsistence level before the War. If I am correct in assuming that my hon. Friend made that statement, then I am correct in saying that the rate of wages paid to-day is not 43 per cent, above the subsistence level of 1914, but actually 63 per cent., because 5s. or 6s. a week on 30s. is approximately 20 per cent. That brings us into a rather different position. That brings the level of wages up to something like 63 per cent. My hon. Friends will admit, and I am sure that there can be no contention about the matter, that the cost of living as far as the miner is concerned cannot be regarded in the same ratio as it is for other people. In the first place, especially in the North of England and Scotland, there is free housing. That is calculated, probably, to be worth at least 5s., 6s., or 7s. a week. Then there is cheap coal.
An HON. MEMBER
Am I to understand from the hon. Member that in Scotland the miners have free houses?
§ Mr. GOULD
Then miners are given cheap coal. Coal is supplied to the miners at 3s. 6d. a ton. This is the latest figure given in the Board of Trade Return. The cost of coal entering into the calculation of the cost of living is put down at five points. If we add to the 63 per cent, which has been agreed, these five points in respect of coal, we arrive at 68 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "It has not been agreed! "] It was admitted in all the discussions which have taken place between the various parties. Therefore, there can be no question about it. The actual position is that the rate of wages received by the miner is very much in excess of what the public presume it to be. First of all you have the admitted figure of 43 per cent, above the pre-War standard, and next the admission that the cost of living in 1914 was 5s. or 6s. a week above the subsistence level, which means another 20 per cent. Then you have the further five points in regard to coal. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO! "] Yes, you cannot get away from it. Where is the difference between the total figure at which we now arrive and the 80 points? There is only a difference of 12 points. How are the 12 points accounted for? They are accounted for by reduced output.
§ Mr. GOULD
Yes, and there we get back to the point. When Mr. Hodges was seeing the Prime Minister recently he quoted certain figures He stated that it was necessary to say in order to make a correct comparison with 1914–and I think the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) quoted the same figures this afternoon—that the difference per shift was 2s. 11½d. That figure needs correction. If it is gone into carefully the figure is 2s. 7½d., but if you take into consideration the subsistence allowance it is only 2s. 5d. That is the greatest that can be argued about it. Another question which has been brought forward at great length in the House and in the 3021 country is that of the subsistence wage. How can the miners' leaders protest against the subsistence wage? That is not a matter which is fixed by the coal owners. The coal owners have nothing to do with it. It is not fixed by any arbitrary body. The miners' leaders have the right to select any independent person and to go before that independent person and to fix the subsistence wage and the level of subsistence. Therefore, if they cannot accept it they must not blame the coal owners. In that case they are simply going behind the back of the independent person whom they have selected. Therefore, I do not think that there is any ground for their complaint in regard to the subsistence wage
§ Mr. GOULD
I have a great deal of experience of it. I have received far less than the minors are receiving to-day. I do not think that anything ever meets the situation so well as the giving of actual figures. Actual figures are the best illustration of the condition of any industry. Hon. Members seem to regard with some degree of suspicion my references to Scotland, but I will give figures from Scotland. I will take, not selected pits, but normal pits, neither good nor bad; there are better pits and there are worse pits. Let me take the earnings per week for four collieries: between 20s. and 30s. per week, 10 per cent.; between 30s. and 40s., 15.9 per cent.; between 40s. and 50s., 20 per cent.; between 50s. and 60s., 19.6 per cent.; between 60s. and 70s., 16.5 per cent.; between 70s. and 80s., 9.4 per cent.; over 80s., 8.7 per cent. The average throughout the country is 9s. Id. per day.
§ Mr. GOULD
I do not. I put them forward for my side. I have the figures for the whole of Scotland. Now I will take Yorkshire. I will give figures relating to one- colliery in Yorkshire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] I cannot give the name, but I am prepared to give it to any hon. Member in confidence: 317 men 3022 receiving 35s. to 45s.; 544 men receiving from 45s. to 55s.; 618 receiving from 55s. to 65s., and 847 receiving over 65s. Similarly all through the Midlands. Here are the figures for the Midlands. Less than 25s., 62 men; less than 35s., but over 25s., 30 men; from 35s. to 45s., 165 men; from 45s. to 55s., 100 men; from 55s. to 65s., 28 men; over 65s., 388. I could add to these figures over and over again. I can assure the House that big wages are-being earned and can be earned when the men want them. I will tell the House what we are suffering from. Here is an extract from the "Daily Echo" of last Saturday. It is rather interesting. It gives particulars of a typical case of a man who was convicted for absenting himself from work. That is the position with which we are faced again and again. We have had it over and over again in South Wales. It is one of the things from which we are suffering very badly. The men claim that they are not getting the wages, but the wages are there, and they are obtainable, but it is a fact that the more wages that are given, the higher the wages, the greater is the degree of absenteeism. We are faced with the fact that absenteeism is increasing. We know that at least 50 per cent, of the absenteeism is avoidable. Absenteeism is costing the industry something in the neighbourhood of 2s. a week in wages in the case of individuals who are subjecting not only themselves, but others, to penalties by absenting themselves from their work. At the present time the average earnings of the men are 143 per cent, as compared with 100 per cent. in 1914.
§ Mr. GOULD
It will have to be faced as soon as the miners' leaders can save their faces, and it will mean that you can get to 157 per cent. With that, and the reduction of costs which would naturally accrue, you would be able to obtain the 1913 standard, plus the 80 per cent, increase in the cost of living. The seven-hour day is the cause of the trouble. A 3023 great deal has been said in regard to cost. It is said that they are piled on by the coalowners in order to fleece the miners. What are the costs? Stores, timber, insurances of various kinds, local rates, workmen's compensation and additional workmen's compensation claims. [HON. MEMBERS: "Directors' fees, managers' fees!"] I was going to refer to that Directors' fees do not amount to more than one-tenth of a penny per ton of coal, so that you can disabuse your minds on that point.
§ Mr. GOULD
Now I come back to the question of additional costs. Take stores, timber, and rates and taxes. What are rates and taxes? You cannot get away from them. They are something which you impose upon yourselves, although they may to a certain extent be fixed upon you by the imperial taxes. To a great extent, the local authority—and in most mining areas you cannot get away from the fact that the Labour party is in control of the machinery of the local bodies —are responsible for the taxation locally. So far as local taxation is concerned, it has on an average increased from four to six times since 1913–14 You cannot expect to give subsidies and benefits to those who are unemployed and those who are engaged in the industry who are receiving less than a subsistence wage without paying for it, and it means that it has to be added to the charges in the particular areas. Those who get the benefit have to pay. It is the case of the dog chasing itself round. The greater the benefits you give the less you are going to have to distribute among the industry. The more you increase the charges, cither for costs or for compensation, the less chance there is for the mining industry, where you have participitation in the profits, of gaining any benefit.
The hon. Member for Ince referred to the profit-sharing scheme as something that had been wicked. So far as I can see, it was the first step in any industry in that direction, but whether it will be continued or not depends to a very great extent upon hon. Members opposite. It is an endeavour to give the workers in the industry a share and participation in the profits. Three and a half million 3024 pounds have been paid out by the owners up to the present time to meet the deficiency under the Agreement. In other words, if the miners had owned the pits they would have received £3,500,000 less in wages than the industry made. That is the general position of the industry. It is useless to contend that the miners want a share in the profits, and yet complain about the loss, for the simple reason that what the miners want is to share the profits, but to dissociate themselves from the matter of loss. If there is any loss, it is to be wiped out. Where the loss is to come from nobody wants to know; all they want to know is that somebody is to pay the loss and that they are going to share the profits. How they are going to carry on on these principles I do not know.
Compare the condition of the mining industry with other industries. You have 5,000 more men in the mining industry than before the War, at what I claim to be a rate of wages 74 per cent, above the subsistence level of 1914. In the steel industry you have from 30 per cent, to 40 per cent, of the men unemployed, and the furnace men only get 60 per cent, above the subsistence level of 1914 and the steel workers 54 per cent. In the shipbuilding there are 36.3 per cent, unemployed, and the wages of all trades are only 44 per cent, above the subsistence level of 1914. In the engineering trade there are 22 per cent, unemployed, and wages only 47 per cent, above the subsistence level of 1914. The mining industry has got a far better position than any other industry in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not saying much! "] It may not be, but it might be worse, for they might be out of work. The position is that they want to be subsidised. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] They want bigger wages. They cannot get bigger wages if they do not increase the output and increase the markets, unless they increase the price. And if they increase the price of coal they will lose their markets and stop the revival of industry which is slowly, but steadily, taking place.
Why are there so many thousands of men walking idle along the streets of Sheffield or Stockton-on-Tees, around the Clyde district, or through Newcastle? Works costing hundreds of thousands of pounds have been idle for many months 3025 at a time. The real reason why those works are not going is that coal is too dear. Do hon. Members realise that coal is required to make steel, that we cannot compete at present with Germany, America, or Belgium, and that we have to compete with them in order to get business? And I say this sincerely, without wishing in any way to talk platitudes, that we have come now to a position in industry in which we are making great sacrifices to get trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are 'we'?"] I am speaking as an employer of labour, and I am not ashamed of it either. We have come to a position where we realise that if we are to reduce the burden of taxation, so as to make recovery possible for us, we have to take business at a very serious loss, in order to relieve the State of the burden of paying doles and gratuities to local authorities. We have got to take on ourselves some of that burden, because we realise that if we see a prospect of peace to-day, and can reabsorb those men into industry and establish our markets, creating confidence, we shall be able by and by to get better prices and to make a profit which will enable us to pay better wages. The idea of a subsidy has been mooted and has been refused, and rightly so, because it would be nothing but a contribution from those in a less fortunate position to those who are already working full time, who are working at better wages and in better conditions. It really means that if you grant such a subsidy, the unfortunate steel worker, the short-time worker in the textile trade, the man in the engineering trade, and the man in the shipbuilding trade would be contributing, and he would have far more than £25 per head per annum to contribute. He would have around his neck, as they have in the mining villages in South Wales, a loss for which he and his family would be liable for generations to come.
If we allow ourselves in any circumstances to be led into a position in which we are going to force up the price of coal at the present moment unnaturally or quickly, the revival of trade now taking place will, just as surely as I am standing here, come to a finish just as suddenly as it started. The moment you have any big jump in coal, because it is the basis of all our industries there is going to be a jump in the price of every commodity produced by the industries which are 3026 creating the revival. It is hoped by the 1st January to increase the number of blast furnaces working up to 220, but the moment we talk of increasing the cost of coal down goes the number of blast furnaces. The miners may be able to get their subsidy, but it will be at the expense of every other trade and industry in the country. That is a condition which the country cannot face. This is a time for plain speaking. We have had all this sob stuff, and it is time we made it clear to the country that while our sympathy lies with the miners, our sympathy also lies with those unfortunate people. [HON. MEMBERS: "More sob stuff"]—in the agricultural industry, the steel industry, the shipbuilding trade, the textile trades and the pottery trades who have not been asking us for subsidies but for work, and if there is going to be any real sympathy the country is prepared to give it to them and not to those who have work and are asking for something additional.
What the House forgets is this, that in the cycle of high wages which were given from 1915 to 1921–[HON. MEMBERS: "High profits"]—high profits which the State took with the result that we are suffering to-day. An hon. Member said that the subsidy was only given to the mining industry because the Government took the surplus profits. But that applies to every single industry in the country, because every industry paid its due to the State in excess profits during the War. But what hon. Members forget is, that we have tampered with the fundamental laws of economics, with our subsidies and our interference with the regulation and control of trade, and by trying to divert it from its normal channels into channels organised by us. That cannot be done and we are paying the price to-day. Hon. Members opposite say that we do not appreciate their point of view We have been silent. We are not going to be silent very much longer. What we want to do— [Interruption.]
§ Mr. GOULD
We have been for some years interfering with the question of high wages by interfering with the laws of economics. Railwaymen are getting more wages for shorter time. Miners are 3027 working shorter hours and are getting wages substantially higher than before the War. If the miner wants bigger wages he has got to work for them the same as I have got to work for them. I believe that the sympathy of the House and of the country will go out to those people who really deserve it. I cannot agree to any form of subsidy in any circumstances for the Miners' Federation or the mining industry, for this reason, that I would rather give a subsidy, if there should be need for a subsidy, to those who cannot help themselves, and who have got no employment, but are asking us daily and hourly to give them work.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) and the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) both referred to the agreement in the British coalfields as an innovation and as the first profit-sharing scheme in industry. In that statement both hon. Members showed complete ignorance of the ordinary methods of adjusting wages in every industry. All industries have their wages determined in a certain ratio of profits between the owner and the workers employed therein. The so-called profit-sharing scheme in the coalfields at the present time is a misnomer, because for the last 12 months no profits have been available for sharing. This is the amusing device described by the hon. Member for Mossley to fool the people employed in the mining industry, and the people not employed in it. This is the incentive by which the workers in that industry carry all the loss save a very small proportion of loss carried by some owners in some of the districts.
The industry in the part of the country to which I belong was, in 1914, at the height of its prosperity, and wages were determined by the selling price of large coal, about which the hon. Member for Central Cardiff knows something, at the seaports on the Bristol Channel. That was a crude method of apportioning to workers and employers their respective share in the production of coal. At that time the condition of life for the mining workers were tolerable. There was a much higher standard than exists to-day. When war broke out the cost of coal went up, and the hon. Member for Central Cardiff was very largely responsible for that increase in price. But because wages 3028 in the South Wales coalfield were determined by an agreement made in 1910 the mine workers got no advantage from the increased price of coal until 1915, when the old agreement terminated. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff and his colleagues in the shipping and coal exporting business sent up the price of coal with no justification. Mine workers experienced, in common with other workers, the effects of the increase in the cost of living, and they made efforts to raise the standard of wages. After five or six years of endeavour to follow the increased cost of living, there came the slump of 1920. Early in 1921 there was serious unemployment in the coal export trade, and we found the employers and the workmen at that time endeavouring to set on foot a national wages board, which would determine wages nationally in accordance with the capacity of the industry to pay. But before the owners and the workmen had framed that agreement, the Government decontrolled the industry. The owners, acting in collusion with the Government, I believe, issued an ultimatum to the workmen, who were driven out of the pits on 31st March because they refused to accept the 1914 standard of wages as a standard wage for the period of the new agreement which it was sought to impose upon them.
I ask any fair-minded man whether he would have been prepared to accept the 1914 standard of wages, with the cost of living 130 to 140 per cent, higher than in 1914. The miners refused the terms. After 13 weeks' stoppage, terms were imposed upon them, and those terms mean that the minimum wages in the coal field are not 43 per cent, higher than the wages of 1014, but 20 per cent, above those of 1914. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Central Cardiff knew that. The 43 per cent, represents the additional wages cost to the industry, partly due to the Seven Hours Act. The cost of living to-day is 80 per cent, above the pre-War level, and last year on an average it was 105 per cent, above the pre-War level. These are very hard times for the men and women and children in the coalfields, and it is not good enough for the hon. Member for Central Cardiff to come here and make the comments which he has made to-day. The miners are well represented in this House, because of the poor conditions in the 3029 mining industry. That is why there are over 40 miners' Members of Parliament. In the last few years one of the problems in international affairs has been that the standard of currency has been changed from a gold basis to a system without any basis at all. One of the political phenomena of Wales is that the Gould basis is the lowest basis of politics in that country. I ask the hon. Member for Central Cardiff whether he believes that he would stand any chance of being returned to Parliament by a mining constituency.
The minors feel that they have been badly dealt with by the last Government and would be badly dealt with by the kind of Government which represents the political interests of hon. Members like the hon. Member for Central Cardiff. The late Prime Minister, in his election campaign, referred to the politics of Mayfair and Manchester. We have, too, the politics of Cardiff and of the fihondda Valley. The politics of the Rhondda Valley are the politics of the miners who have been so badly treated by the Government and by capitalist interests in this country. There are cases of grievance in the mining district. Has the hon. Member for Central Cardiff found that out only lately 3 As there are grievances, is it not necessary that there should be attempts made to remedy those grievances? If the hon. Member is in sympathy with the miners, why does he decry the organisation which seeks to better their condition? It has been said that the rate of production is lower to-day than it was in 1914. We challenge that statement. We say that the men are working harder than ever. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff said that with 5,000 more men in the industry production has gone done by 17½ million as compared with 1914–from 287,000,000 to 270,000,000 tons. The reply to that has already been given by the hon. Member for Ince in his statement that 60,000 men are totally unemployed and an additional 100,000 men only partly employed. I have been in the mines nearly 30 years. I knew the mining industry when the hours were 9½ and 10, and I say, without hesitation, that the colliers working seven hours a day to-day produce more coal than did their fathers who worked 10 or 11 hours a day. Men have never worked in the coal mines as they work to-day. That is beyond question. The 3030 rate of production shows it. The individual production is better than it ever was
I wish the hon. Member for Central Cardiff had had the experience that I have had. I wish that he had had to breathe as much coal dust as I have breathed. Then his sympathy would be of a more practical character. The hon. Member produced a set of figures showing that a percentage of the men in a particular group of collieries are receiving £4 or more per week. If he knew the mining industry as well as he might do, he would know that the percentage includes the officials; that is to say, the people who are well paid in order to see that others are not paid enough. The officials are on the wages sheet, and they generally get about twice as much as the average workman. The hon. Member also said that if the profit-sharing scheme had not been operative, the workmen in the coalfield would have received £3,500,000 less than they received last year. I think that that 'applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. Does he not remember that during that period a profit of £9.000,000 has been declared, and that even in South Wales, badly as the coalfield has been affected, the considerable profit of £l,500,000 has been shown for the same period. There is no profit sharing. The agreement does not provide for profit sharing at all. It is simply a method of collecting the aggregate results of the industry—a pooling of accounts, if you like.
At this time, when wages are so intolerably low and when several colliery firms are said to be finding it difficult to carry on, there are still in the South Wales coalfields some collieries which are making exceptionally good profits. The aggregate returns are being brought against the workmen's wages, and the workmen's general wage standard has. been reduced because the aggregate returns do not show more than a certain profit. When the standard wage of 1914 is being paid to the workmen the corresponding standard profit to the owners is equal to £4,000,000. This Agreement is responsible for a great deal of the hardship which the miner has had to suffer in the last two years. I dare say the Prime Minister will say: "What would you do? This industry is insolvent and cannot be made to pay good wages, because the proceeds of the industry do not 3031 permit it." I do not think we ought to miss the opportunity of saying that there is no special obligation on the miner and his family to maintain this industry in solvency. As it stands to-day the mine worker with an insufficient wage goes home, and his wife tells him that she will require more wages to meet the family needs. He replies that he cannot get any more. They go to the local grocer or other shopkeeper and tell him: "We have only £2 this week, but we require £2 10s. or £3 worth of goods. Will you let us have these extra goods in order that we may live V It is the mine worker and the local tradesmen who have financed this industry in the last 12 months. Private enterprise has failed to maintain a proper Standard of life for the working people, and although the working man himself cannot carry the burden, the local tradesman has shared that burden with him, and between them they have put into this industry not less than £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 to maintain it in solvency. Apart from the local tradesman there is someone else to' be considered. While some of the coalowners are at their wits' end to keep concerns going; while the miners are enduring what is practically famine in their homes, there is a class of people who take for each ton of coal extracted from the earth, an average royalty of not less than 8d. I think this Government and this House must say to the owners of land, "Here is an industry to which you have contributed nothing but upon which you have battened and fattened. It has now come upon its seven lean years and we must declare that you shall not in this time of hardship impose any longer upon it. The royalties alone would help the industry considerably. I support the demand for an inquiry. I am quite satisfied that the mind of the public is fair enough. I do not think it would be content to allow 1,000,000 men and their families to go on as they have been going for the last year. Their position is growing steadily worse. Two years ago they had their savings and they were free from debt; now they have exhausted their savings, and their condition grows more parlous day by day. I believe it is time a full inquiry was made and that a full inquiry would find that the first charge to be made upon the industry is that of providing a decent standard of living for the people engaged therein.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Lieut. -Colonel Lane-Fox)
The whole House, I am sure, will think with very great sympathy of the condition in which the coal industry finds itself at this moment, as described by many hon. Members who have spoken. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh), whose warm feeling we all know, has painted it in colours rather dark. I hope I shall be able to show that there can be a less drastic picture than that drawn by the hon. Member. He represents one of the worst parts of the country, where the conditions, perhaps, are the most difficult, and it is very natural he should take a very gloomy view of the situation. I think, however, he has made this picture rather too dark. I do want to say this at once. I am quite sure that the industry deserves all the help and support and sympathy which this House can give it. Whatever may have happened in the past, nobody can deny that since the troubles of 1921, masters and men in this industry have pulled together. They have, I believe, done their utmost to pull the industry round. [An HON. MEMBER: "At the expense of the miners! "] Cannot we discuss these matters without prejudice? Really it does not help argument to introduce matters of that kind. You cannot get over the fact that the output at the present time has nearly risen to the pre-War level, although with shorter hours. In spite of that, when the men find that, in spite of their great efforts, and in spite of the way in which they have worked, their wages show no great sign of rising, they naturally feel a sense of bitter disappointment, and wonder what their position is going to be in the future. The House should be willing to recognise that these men have been extremely patient. As. we know, they were patient during the great stoppage of 1921, and now, in a difficult position, when many of them are deeply in debt, they certainly deserve our sympathy. It is not much comfort to them, though it-is undoubtedly true, to point out that there are other industries which are distinctly in a worse position than they are. That is true, and the House has got to recognise it. This is not the only industry which has to suffer these difficulties. Mention has been made of the agricultural industry. The engineering industry, the tinplate industry, the shipyard industry, and a good many others could be 3033 mentioned in which the conditions are at least as bad as, and in some cases certainly worse than, in the coal industry. In addition to that, many of these industries have a very large proportion of unemployment which, at any rate, does not affect the coal industry. In the coal industry, though the wages have gone down so much, the rate of employment has remained steady and continuous.
Sympathy alone is not going to help. I hoped that in some of the speeches made before I had the opportunity of addressing the House there would be some suggestion as to what could best be done to improve the position. It is correct, technically, to say, as the hon. Member for Ince says, that he is not responsible till he becomes Prime Minister and it is not his business to make suggestions. That I admit, but I think we are all most anxious to improve the position of the coal industry, and there are hon. Members on the other side who have unequalled authority and knowledge on the subject. Cannot they for once put away prejudice and hand over to us the benefit of their knowledge and help us to deal with this problem? There is a long evening before us, as I understand this Debate is going on for a considerable time, and I make the suggestion that hon. Members who speak after me, and who know the subject from A to Z, should assist us. Surely they are patriotic enough to make some suggestion and not to keep the secret entirely to themselves by which the industry really can be improved and some practical solution of the difficulty found. The hon. Member for nee in his temperate and very interesting speech spoke strongly of the hardship which would be inflicted on the coal industry and the men employed in it by the deficiency which was arising under the present agreement. Let me say, first of all, that it was very surprising to me to hear hon. Members talk of the agreement as they did. Nobody can deny that the hon. Member for Ince and the hon. Member who spoke last took the same line. The agreement was described as a "so-called profit sharing scheme," and I think it was described in other terms of great contempt. I have turned up the remarks of another great authority and a man of great influence, and I find he says:Those who attribute the present low wages and employment to the miners' 3034 national agreement are guilty of false reasoning. There is nothing wrong with the fundamental principles of the agreement. They are better than any principles that have operated in any previous agreement.Those are the words of Mr. Prank Hodges, spoken on 15th July last, at the Northumberland miners' gala in Morpeth. He goes on to say:My advice to the workmen in this coalfield is to carry on with this agreement until we get back to something like normal trade. Then, if we have to make fundamental changes, let us make them when we are on the crest of prosperity and not when we are down in the valley of despair.If I may suggest it, that is extremely good advice, and I am certain the hon. Member for Ince has every intention of following it. Ho has spoken of the deficiency, under this agreement, which may have to be paid. We shall come to. that matter in due time when things improve. I do not think, however, that the hon. Member put the matter quite fully. In the original arrangement, the-proportions as between masters and men were 83 per cent, for the men and 17 per cent, for the masters, but at a later stage an extra 20 per cent, was added to the standard wage, and no provision was made for anything extra for the masters from which to pay it. That has got to come out of the so-called profit of 17 per cent. In addition to that, it has been decided that no deficiency can be declared, which can be set against what the men are to receive until ascertainment in any period comes down below the original bed rock of standard. It has to pass through the whole of the 20 per cent, before it can really become chargeable against the men. The hon. Member did not mention that, but in dealing with these figures it is only fair to remember that the masters have had this extra charge to pay out of their share, with the result that nobody can pretend, who knows the facts of the case, that their profits have ever approached the figure of 17 per cent., which was originally fixed in the agreement.
§ Mr. WALSH
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. There never was any agreement, except upon the minimum wage, which is 20 per cent, over the standard wage. The standard wage carried with it the employers 17 per cent, of standard profit. The 20 per cent, has to be added to the 3035 standard wage as the minimum wage originally agreed upon, and there has been no variation in that agreement.
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
I think it would have been fairer had the hon. Member pointed out that this addition has to come out of the masters share. I think the only suggestion of the hon. Member was that there should be an inquiry into the conditions of the industry. Is it worth while prosecuting that when we have at the present moment a National Board which commands the respect of the whole coal industry? Could any Government suggest a better body to investigate the conditions of the mining industry than that which already exists in the National Board? If the industry is not satisfied with the Board it is up to them to alter it. It was set up under the agreement which they themselves desired and the most brilliant of Prime Ministers could not have the imagination to invent a Board which would more competently carry out an inquiry into the particular points which it is desired to deal with. I cannot think that this suggestion has been very well thought out. We have all heard, at different periods of political controversy, inquiries being called for by people who did not know exactly what they wanted. I can only suggest that this is possibly one of those cases. At the same time I hope before the Debate concludes that we may have some more useful suggestion.
There is another point that has been made by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Murnin), who, I am afraid, is not in his place, but he said that the State had taken millions out of the coal trade. That is not the fact at all. The balance is against the State. The State has paid £41,000,000 to the industry. Although a considerable amount was collected from the industry, from those who made large profits, very large sums were paid in at various times and voted by this House to keep the various collieries going which were not making profits, and which were in a bad way. Therefore, although a considerable sum has been paid over to the State in the coal levy, the net balance remains against the State, which is owed something like £41,000,000, money which it has paid into the industry and which it has not got back. There is no question of the State 3036 having robbed the industry of very large sums. The facts are the other way.
§ Lieut-Colonel LANE-FOX
For the Agreement Act, which operated from the 1st December, 1916, to the 31st March, 1919, Estimates were passed by this House of £8,900,000; for the Emergency Acts of 1920 and 1921, £19,000,000; the Sankey Wage of 1919, £6,350,000; and, finally, there is the Coal-mining Industry Sub vention, £7,100,000, making a total of £41.350,000 voted by this House, and that is the net result of the business.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
Was the £41,000,000 paid under the Coal Emergency Act or by the State, apart from any collections from the industry?
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
I thought I had made that clear. About £60,000,000 was collected and about £100,000,000 was paid, and the balance is about £41,000,000 against the State. What we want to know is how the industry can be assisted, what is the cause of its troubles, and what are the remedies.
On many occasions it has been alleged that the reparation coal from Germany was the original cause of the trouble. I should like to point out that, whereas the first delivery of reparation coal began in September, 1919, the foreign demand for British coal remained steadily good till the latter part: of 1920. There was afterwards a very low output; demand fell off owing to the industrial depression abroad and depreciation of exchanges, and these were fatal to our export trade. But at the end of the great stoppage of 1921 our output began to increase, and there was a steady improvement, which has gone on till now in 1922, the exports to France are practically the same as they were in 1913, and the exports to Belgium are considerably higher than they were. Therefore, it is not true to say that at this moment the coal industry is suffering from the competition of German reparation coal. I would like to point out, also, one great advantage resulting from this reparation arrangement. Owing to the fact that the German exchange is so depreciated, it would be possible, if there was no control over German coal, for that 3037 coal to undersell us in every market in the world, and we know quite well that, before the War, that is the sort of operation they were constantly engaged in. But with the present depreciation in the exchange it would be specially easy for them to do it; indeed, it would be difficult for them not to do it. But the mere fact that the German coal is tied up under the reparation arrangement leaves the whole of the other markets open to us and must have an effect for the better rather than a worse effect on our foreign trade.
The real cause of the trouble is, to my mind, the great slump in the world's trade, and if once things really begin to improve and the signs of improvement that we see now continue and increase, there, I think, lies the great hope for the recovery of the trade. There is, therefore, a chance that there will be a great improvement in the coal industry. What are we going to do to improve the position? Various suggestions have been made. It has been suggested that it might be possible to raise the selling price of coal. We all know that the great proportion of the coal produced in this country is produced for consumption in this country, and we also know that at this particular moment, with trade in the very shaky condition in which it is, it would be absolutely disastrous and fatal to the great masses of the people if anything were done to take away from them the benefit of as cheap coal as possible, and not only would it be disastrous to those people, but it would kill the demand for the coal itself, and therefore that remedy would be worse than the evil. It has been suggested, I believe by Mr. Frank Hodges, that in the case of public utility undertakings, gas and electricity companies, railway companies, Government undertakings, such as the Admiralty, and so on, it might be possible to sell them coal at a higher price than that charged to the ordinary consumer, but surely that is a suggestion which is perfectly impracticable. It would result, in all probability, in people coming along and manipulating the prices to their own advantage, if you had the same article selling in a free market at different prices.
When you come to the export of coal, at the present moment the coal that we are exporting abroad is very dear for the foreigner to buy. Owing to his depreciated exchange, he finds it difficult 3038 enough to buy, and it would be a very dangerous experiment to try and raise the price against him. It might have the fatal effect of entirely, or at any rate largely, destroying the market. Therefore, I do not think there is much to be done in the way of raising the price.
There remains the question of whether anything can be done to reduce the cost of production. Some have suggested that we might return to the system of longer hours. I am not going to argue that on its merits, for this reason, that it is no use arguing a thing that is not within the present range of possibilities. You could not possibly go back to longer hours except by agreement, and this is not an agreement with which you could expect the men to come at the present time. They see their output well up, and apparently no corresponding, at any rate no serious, rise in their wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are falling."] Wages are beginning to rise in certain districts. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] They are rising in the Eastern Division and Northumberland and Durham, and we hope that rise will continue. I am not sure that Scotland has not just risen. The point is, that I do not think it is any use suggesting longer hours, for the simple reason that at this moment it is not practicable, and therefore I dismiss that suggestion
As regards freights, railway rates, and so on, the constant suggestion is made that undoubtedly the industry is hardly hit in this respect and that in other costs of management, distribution, and so on, there might be considerable economies and better trade arrangements made. As regards distribution, there has been a Committee sitting on that question, which has not yet reported, and Mr. Frank Hodges is one of its members. I have no doubt we shall get some useful suggestions from that Committee, but surely these are matters in which the owners are as much interested as are the men —probably more BO—and this is a matter which might well be considered by the National Board and thrashed out by them. It is surely a mistake for any great industry to suggest that it wants Government help in the management of its own affairs. If, however, there is any chance of the Government being able to help to reduce the cost of management, or to help in any way to make the conditions easier, any practical suggestion would be received 3039 with a most sympathetic ear, but we must have some practical suggestion, and so far, I am sorry to say, the Debate has not yielded it.
In my view, the best chance of improvement in the industry lies with the improvement in trade which we see beginning, with the increased demand that will certainly come for coal at home and abroad as that improvement in trade begins; therein lies the hope of better things. I hope very much that nothing will be done, even in the way of an inquiry, which might interfere and disturb things just at the moment when they may be beginning to improve. I hope very much, if possible, that the industry, out of its undoubted ability and brains on both sides, will produce a capacity of helping itself which would be better than anything that can be got from the Government- I am glad to say that nobody on the opposite side of the House has seriously advocated a subsidy, which, I am sure, would be regarded as a mistake in all quarters, and I very much hope that, with their own capacity, and with their own undoubted patriotism, which they have shown in trying to pull the industry round during this last year, they may yet succeed in steering it into a pleasanter, more cheerful, and more peaceful harbour.
§ Mr. POTTS
I want to deal first with one or two paints which have been put by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould), who has been making certain statements, and the first point he made was on the question of output. In 1914, the year he quoted, the correct figure of employés in and about the mines was 1,124,301. In October just past it stood at 1,114,695, so that it is the other way about. He said, with reference to wages being 50s. per week on the average, that that applied to South Wales. I hold in my hand a document from the coalowners' own paper, namely, "The Colliery Guardian," and the heading of the statement referred to is:The Mining Association has just issued a tabular statement (reproduced here) which shows the wage position in the mining districts before and after the War.The weekly wages are set out by the owners from 1900 down to October, 1922, and for October the figure of 50s. is given as the average earnings of all people employed in and about the mines. Those 3040 who have arrived at that figure have arrived at it as follows: Taking the Ministry of Labour figures for November, the time worked is given as 5.44 days. They take 5.44, and they multiply that by the 9s. per day, which gives them exactly the 50s., in their way of putting it. What they have done is to drop off the few points. The wages for October, when they come out, will be found to be an average of 9s. 3d. per day, which figure I have privately. The figure, therefore, which has been given is wrong, and the basis on which it is taken is wrong, and with the usual practice of the colliery-owners, the people, and, in particular, Members of this House, are left in a position in which they do not know exactly what the situation is. The time given in the document at 5.44 working days at the colliery is the time during which the pits are actually open for work and not the time which the men actually put in in the mines. The correct figure of actual working time is 4.9. On an average of six years, you will find that it does not vary from that figure one point in actual working time. The net result is that the owners show a wage just inside 4s. a week more than was actually earned in October. That is one point on which my hon. Friend opposite is wrong. He put it more than 50s., and applied it to Wales, whereas it applies to the whole of the Unied Kingdom, and not to Wales alone.
I hope we shall deal with this matter in a friendly way on both sides, and discuss it in a friendly spirit. If we cannot argue this case on its merits and enlighten each other, we have not as much intelligence as we ought to have; but if we have intelligence, we ought to use it. Therefore, I hope we shall not get angry, as we did last night. Let us endeavour to keep our heads and remain friendly. We on these benches are appealing to Members opposite and below the Gangway for some consideration' for the mining industry. We honestly believe we are entitled to it. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) must admit, I think, that even if miners have 50s. a week, it is not a wage that will sustain a family at a time like this, seeing that the cost of living in October stood 40 per cent, higher than our wages in that month. Taking Scotland, Northumberland, Durham, South Wales, the Eastern area and Lancashire, which are all the important mining districts, the average of 3041 all these places in March, 1921, was 18s. 9.17d. per day. In November, 1922, the average wage was 8s. 10½d., so that the wages had fallen from March, 1921, to November, 1922, by 9s. 10.67d., or a fall in percentage of 111 during that period. The cost of living in March, 1921, Stood at 161 points increase. It stands now at 80. Deducting 80 from 151 leaves 71, and taking the difference between 71 and the 111 per cent, in the fall of wages, it leaves exactly 40 per cent, that we stand behind in wages as against the increased cost of living at this moment. You can take it another way by putting the increased cost of living on to the wage they had, and you still get the same result as that which I have given. Roughly the wage bill has fallen £150,000,000 per annum from what it was before the lock-out.
Let us come to the output. In the year 1913 the output of the mines of the United Kingdom was 287.000,000 tons. If we take the four weeks of November, the output was at the rate for the whole year of 282,252,100 tons, showing that, for all practical purposes, if November could be maintained for the year we should be up even to the 1913 position, when the output stood at the highest figure we ever had—not the highest for the individual employed, but, so far as output is concerned, the highest figure ever attained in our mining industry, and we are approaching that figure. I stated before the Royal Commission that, given time, even although the hours were reduced, our industry would be able to get back to the same output with a six-hour day as we were then producing under our eight-hour system, which meant nine as a matter of fact. We are approaching the position which we had in 1913, and what I said at that inquiry I repeat now, that in due course of time the mining industry of this country will produce in six hours as much as it did in eight hours in 1913. So that, looking at the figures from that point of view, there is nothing in the argument to justify an increase in the time worked at our collieries in the future. We are against any increase. Instead of increasing the working time of the miners, we are expecting, and intend in due time, a further reduction in the hours of working our mines.
There is a point which I want to clear up, as it has been raised two or three times since I have been here. The 3042 miners' lock-out has been deemed to be by some on the other side of the House as a strike. I hold in my hand a draft copy of what was submitted by the coal-owners on one side, and ourselves on the other, and from that document I can produce evidence to show that it was a lock-out, and not a strike. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff and some other hon. Members spoke about high wages. When the hon. Member tries to make this House believe that profits in the mining industry are not high, he is simply leading or attempting to lead the country to believe something that is not the actual fact. Inasmuch as the hon. Member has drifted into that—I did not want to say a single word about it—and as the matter has been discussed from that particular point of view, I intend on the other side to give the profits of the industry right up to date, in order to satisfy the House. I will give the figures for 12 years. Hon. Members can take them as being absolutely accurate, because they conic from returns produced by the Government itself. Those returns-are made up in two years, and from 1903–1904 to 1914–1915 the actual profits in the mining industry amounted to £230,734,638. Coming to 1913–here I want the attention of the House, because this is very important indeed—the profit was £13,000,000, or Is. per ton, which, at that time, taken on the average estimated capital of the industry by Dr. Stamp, at the Royal Commission's inquiry, and based on a statement of the capitalisation of the mining industry at that date, works out at 10 per cent. In 1914 the coalowners' profits were £15,000,000, or Is. 4½d. a ton, and 13.75 per cent, on their invested capital. In 1915 the profits rose to £21,500.000, or Is. 8d. per ton, and 16.6 per cent. In 1916 they rose to £37,800,000, equal to 2s. ½d. per ton, or 29.16 per cent. In 1919 the total profits were £27,750,000, equal to 2s. 2½d. a ton, or 22.08 per cent. 1918 showed the crowning figure. The Royal Commission estimated the profits, and that estimate turned out to be correct. The total rose to £39,000,000, or 3s. 6½d. a ton, or 35.41 per cent, on the estimated capitalisation by Dr. Stamp himself.
I want to take a clear year under the agreement. When we went back to work last year—1921–in the first clear year's working of the mines we produced just 3043 215,000,000 tons. The proceeds were £219,937,531, so the average selling price was 20s. 4.67d. Let us see how the figures work out in the whole of the industry. The cost of timber, stores and materials, spread over the entire year, was £29,521,081, or 13.42 per cent. Rents and royalties were £5,690,433, or 2.59 per cent, of the total proceeds. Other costs, which have been talked about in the House, took £31,784,032, or 14.45 per cent. The owners' standard profit due under the agreement —they did not get it, and I will come to that "afterwards—was £15,733,680, or 7.15 per cent. The amount due to them under the agreement, the surplus profit, was £7,208,317, or 3.28 per cent., making a total, under the agreement, of 10.43 per cent., if it had been paid, of the whole proceeds of the industry. The standard wages were £92,551,132, or 42.08 per cent. The surplus was £37,179,803, or 16.91 per cent. Somerset did not make a complete return, but the total money was £269,053, or .12 of a penny, bringing back the figures to the 100 per cent.
I may say, because there has been some misunderstanding about it in the country, that a subsidy was paid by the Government to the amount of £7,068,649, in addition to the actual wages shown in the 12 months. Therefore, the wages, as shown in the document certified by the accountants, amounted to £143,601,838, which sum ought to include the amount of subsidy given by the Government to aid districts over their difficulty. The eoalowners' profit was not that figure. Their trading profit was £9,084,688. What this House and the country should have regard to is the fact that, if the industry had been in the position to have carried out the Agreement, and if the owners had received profits in accordance with that Agreement, their profits, which were 1s. per ton in 1913, would have been 1s. 10d. per ton on the year's working. Some of the owners' profits had to go into wages, arising out of the Agreement, because, as the right hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) has said, the standard wages are there and the owners get the 17 per cent. Owing to the 20 per cent, minimum being in existence, however, if a particular district cannot meet this 20 per cent, with the money allotted to it under the Agreement, it has to come out of the owners' profits. That is why we are in debt in many districts, because 3044 money has had to he paid in wages to secure the amount which is the minimum under the Agreement.
Under the Agreement, even if it could be carried out, the miner will not have a living position, and still cannot live. That Agreement would not give a wage that would maintain a man and his family. Whilst it would not provide sufficient to maintain the man, it would increase the owners' profits from 1s. per ton in 1913 to 1s. 10d. per ton under it. The Agreement is like that because we were defeated and had to accept the inevitable at the time it was made. We then said, through the Executive, that the profit which the employers were demanding—17 per cent, on the standard and 17 per cent, on any surplus that might arise—was too high. A year's working demonstrates that it is too high. The owners are not getting it at the moment, because the position of the trade will not allow them to do so. There is the position, and for that reason I say that the miners at this moment are drifting into such a condition that something must be done. We are meeting here at a very crucial time, which fact ought to be noted by hon. Members on the other side. I want the House to reason the matter out, to consider where we are, and where we are likely to be. The miners of the nation are in such a condition that they have pressed us, as an Executive, to call a National Conference to discuss the situation, and that will take place a few days from now.
The miners are awaiting a decision by the House to do something in their interests. If that is not done, I fear the wrorst will happen. We know that the miners cannot live at present. In my own county, I was for many years—I have just resigned—the treasurer of the great organisation called the Yorkshire Miners' Association. I have been paying out money for some considerable time in that organisation. I know exactly the position of Yorkshire, and Yorkshire has been in one of the most favourable positions as compared with some of the districts—in conjunction with the Eastern area, of course. In Yorkshire we have men by the thousand who cannot live; they are working at many collieries on short time. Wages are not as high as some people imagine. I know of people with large families—I can prove it if necessary—who are working five days a 3045 week, and who are receiving maintenance from the workhouse, because they cannot maintain their families. Our people are in such a deplorable condition that they cannot go on any longer. What they are saying to us, even in Yorkshire, which is in a better position than Scotland, Wales, Lancashire, and some other places, is that they might just as well be fighting on the surface of the earth as working and starving. People are going to the collieries, at this particular moment, taking dry bread with them. They cannot help themselves, and that is true.
Hon. Members on the other side ought to take heed of our warnings. I am not exaggerating in any way. What I am saying to the House is that I want them to reason out the justice of the case, and to recognise that we have reached a point when the industry itself cannot maintain the people in it. It is time for the Government to step in and see that something is done for them. I say that for this reason. We in this House have a duty; that is why we are sent here. We are in exactly the position which the guardians occupy locally in a district. We have to care for the people. Our first consideration ought to be the feeding and clothing of the people. Hon. Members can talk as they like about the first consideration, but in what does the strength of a nation consist? It lies in the vitality and vigour of its people. If the vigour of the people goes down, if you let them sink into a certain condition, what will happen? If we wish to depend upon our manhood and upon our nation, as we had to depend a few years ago, let us put them in such a position that they will feel their manhood and their self-respect, which they are not doing to-day.
We are sent here in the expectation that, we shall care for and provide for these people. In my own division we have thousands of men out of work at this particular time- I have in my possession now votes of censure from the guardians-—they are nearly all Conservatives, except five Labour men—votes of censure upon this House and the Government. What for? Because the people are starving. We are here as representatives of the people, and the people require consideration. The Minister has asked us what we can suggest. It has been suggested that some of our colleagues on 3046 this side and he and his colleagues should hold an inquiry into the mining industry. That suggestion has been ignored. I put it again now. But if an inquiry cannot take place, then let a Committee of this House inquire into and find out the rights and wrongs on both sides. We are either right or wrong. Hon. Members on the opposite side may think we are wrong. We say we are right. The only way to find out where the truth lies is either by Royal Commission or by a Committee of this House being chosen jointly from both sides to find out the actual facts. That is what we ask for. I hope this House will move in that direction, and so on, let us hope, towards a remedy for the evils and troubles of the mining industry.
§ Mr. GAVAN DUFFY
I respectfully solicit the indulgence of the House which I understand is usually extended to Members who try to address the House for the first time. In doing so I would like to take the opportunity of corroborating the statements made to-day by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Ince Division (Mr. Walsh), particularly his references to Cumberland. I have known that county for the last 15 years. I know practically everything of its social life. It may not probably be known to the Members of the House that the coal mines in Whitehaven run four or five miles under the sea, so that it is impossible to conduct the mining industry in that town with the same safeguards as are expected to be provided under the Coal Mines Regulation Acts. The fact remains that in the event of any catastrophe occurring the men are penned in like rats. The unfortunate and disastrous result is that Whitehaven is now known from one part of the kingdom to the other as the centre of disaster in connection with the mining industry. Yet despite the fact that these poor men have to take their lives in their hands day after day, as my right hon. Friend said, no matter what happens to them, whatever extraordinary and other changes may take place in the development and prosperity of coal mining, they, at any rate, for at least three months after a change find it impossible to derive one single farthing of benefit, either directly or indirectly. These men are housed in a horrible state. They are clothed in a horrible state. They are fed in a horrible state. This is a consequence 3047 of the contemptible wages which they receive.
I happen to be a member of the board of guardians at Whitehaven. So low were the wages of the miners and so insistent was their claim for Poor Law relief, that the clerk to the guardians was instructed to interview the coalowners, and ascertain if it was not possible to avoid relief being provided for these men by a wage in return for their work that would provide them and their dependants, not with the luxuries of life, but with the common necessities of life. I am not quite sure that they succeeded in their mission. The Secretary for Mines, in what, I am sure we all agree, was a very temperate speech and very distinct in character, sympathy, and accuracy to the speech delivered by that plaster of Paris imitation of Adam Smith who represents the Mossley Division (Mr. A. Hopkinson) or another hon. Member who spoke—the Secretary for Mines, with very great justice I think, asked us what it was we wanted to inquire into. May I tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman for a moment or two one or two of the things which I think would bear investigation?
Perhaps hon. Members have forgotten a good deal of the information which was given to them at the time of the Sankey Commission. It may be that they are not anxious to have their information brought up-to-date. Le us, however, look at the coal industry, not exactly from the standpoint of the coal owner or coal miner. As a matter of fact I happen to be neither. I am one of the poor consumers. Let us look at the matter from the consumers' standpoint Let us understand what is his position. The coal owner tells you that he is working his mine at a loss. The coal miner, who takes his life in his hands in order to get the coal from the bowels of the earth, he certainly is living at a loss. The consumer is paying at least 150 per cent, more for his coal now than he was in 1913. The house in which I live when at home is built on a coal mine. Yet the price of coal to-day works out at a strange figure. Would it not be a valuable inquiry to ascertain how this comes about? Who is telling lies? Is the coal owner working his mine at a profit? That might be a matter for inquiry. Is the miner getting a living wage in return for his work? That might be a matter for in- 3048 quiry. And the consumer, who, after all, is worthy of consideration in this matter, is he getting what might be termed fair treatment from both the others? May I put another matter to hon. Members? Those of us who are concerned, either directly or directly in the mining industry, do not exactly swallow the statements that are very often made in regard to the losses of the mine owners. We regard these statements with very great suspicion. I suggest, in respect to some of these loans and some of these losses, the huge amounts of money which the miners are said to owe to the coalowners are likely to be on the Kathleen Mavourneen system," The may be for years, and it may be for ever."
There is another point. Let me give an illustration that came under my personal observation only a week or two ago. There is one colliery in West Cumberland where they have an exceptional seam of coal. It is not a good industrial coal, but it is a good household coal. The manager of the colliery, with the consent of his directors, was prepared to sell that coal, and did sell it, at from 3d. to 5d. per bag less than the price fixed by the Coalowners' Association of Cumberland. What happened I He w as a member of that association, and they told him that if he did not desist selling coal at less than the price which they had fixed, they not merely would expel him from their association—he did not care about that— but they would actually deprive him of any services from the rescue station to which he would be entitled as a member of the association in the event of any accident taking place in his colliery.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Mossley, not once, but many times—it is the food on which hi? folly feeds—that trade union tyranny is a very awful thing. I can imagine no sort of tyranny more cruel, more inhuman than that an association of men will say to one of their number: "If you do not put up the price of your coal to that fixed by us as a standard in the event of an explosion taking place in your mine, or a heavy fall of coal or stone, not one single piece of apparatus shall be taken out of the rescue station to save the lives of the men involved." I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that this also is a question that is very well worth inquiry. There is another point for inquiry—a point which is really full of interest. I am sorry the Secretary for 3049 Mines is not now here. I have here a copy of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1911. Paragraph 5 of the Schedule 3 of that Act of Parliament says:A sufficient supply of wholesome food and pure water shall be provided daily for every horse which is in the stable or whilst at work.Is this not a very caustic commentary upon the industrial conditions of this country? We in times when we were promised a land fit for heroes to live in, yet we have to come to the House of Commons and ask the House of Commons to give to the men who drive these pit ponies and hew the material these pit ponies draw that sufficient amount of proper food and clear water that the country, by Act of Parliament, said—and said quite properly—should be given to the ponies. We have got extraordinarily low in the conception of human life when we have got to do that. But the men to-day are not getting the nourishment that you are bound by law —and rightly bound—to provide for the pit ponies. They have to be properly fed, and rightly so. Surely a similar state of things should apply to the men! If your organisation is so lacking, and your capitalist system so rotten, that it cannot be made to find work for men, then the men ought to be maintained. That is what I would suggest to the Secretary for Mines. He may reply that the Government can do very little in these matters, or that they can do nothing. We are told the very same thing by the employers when we go to see them. They tell you when we say: "Look at the cost of food," that they realise it. But they add, "We did not increase the cost of food, and we cannot reduce it." Very well, if the employers cannot do so the Government can.
I have been estimating, and I trust with some degree of accuracy, that out of 20s. of groceries bought by the working classes, 7s. 5d. goes in direct or indirect taxation. Is it not practically a swindle when you give to your unemployed man £1 at the Employment Exchange and take 7s. 5d. from him in taxes at the first grocery shop he enters in order to buy food. The Government can reduce that taxation on food, and I suggest with great respect to the Secretary for Mines that if he can persuade the Government to reduce taxation on food by 4s. in the £ that is equivalent to an increase of 3050 4s. in the £ in wages. Can that be done? I know there are on both sides of the House advocates of a free breakfast table. All I have seen of the free breakfast table is that the Government have kept it very bare, and sometimes the table itself has been taken away for the rates. These are matters which can be inquired into, and ought to be inquired into.
I would like to draw the attention of hon. Members to another branch of the mining industry in West Cumberland, namely, the iron ore mining industry. I do not know whether hon. Members have heard of that industry, but the Government found it very useful indeed during the War, when our mines were placarded with notices announcing that iron ore was the first line of our national defence. It seems very strange that as soon as the War had been won the Government were the first people to tear up the agreement made with the men with regard to control, and they threw this industry back upon its obsolete methods and old machinery with the result that many of these mines have been closed down and the men now out of employment number thousands.
Many of these men were teetotallers and thrifty, and lived a religious life, and what has happened to them? Owing to being out of work for nearly two years their savings have gone and they have been practically reduced to the standard of the drunkard and the neer-do-well who had not saved a penny piece. This has been to them a tax upon thrift. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) said that various other industries were now subsidising the enormous wages being paid to the railway workers of this country, but I never heard a more monstrous statement in my life. In the iron ore industry to-day we have hundreds of married men working in the mines who do not go homo at the weekend with more than 27s. after working six days. In the same district the standard of outdoor relief laid down by the Whitehaven Board of Guardians is 37s. 6d., and yet many of these men, after doing six days' honest work, receive no more money than 27s. a week. Hence it is clear that the mere provision of work which does not provide a living for those who do it is neither a thing to pray for nor one to bless when it comes, and the sooner my hon. Friends on this side of the House realise that fact the better. We need not 3051 always be going down on our bended knees asking for work if it does not bring sufficient to supply the workers with the reasonable necessaries of life. When men have to work without getting a decent living there is no incentive to work. We all know what enormous profits have been made out of labour in the past. We realise that the proportion of wealth distributed between those who produce it and those who direct production is very inequitable.
Finally, I wish to make a strong appeal to the Government in regard to another matter. We were told last night that two new battleships had been ordered and that they will cost something between £10,000,000 and £12,000,000. Personally I think it would have been possible to have spent that money on something better than battleships, but if the nation is so well off, if your Exchequer is so exuberant that it can afford to indulge in costly fireworks of that character, then I suggest that they ought to be English fireworks. I think there ought to be some stipulation that the ship-plates and steel used in the manufacture of those ships ought to be made from British ore. In that way you would certainly find a very large amount of work for the people of this country. I am not suggesting, in making a plea of that character, that you should adopt any scheme directly or indirectly tending towards Tariff Eeform. That is not the remedy. I realise that owing to the working conditions under which iron ore is produced in Spain an absolutely unfair competition with British ore is set up, and if you are placing the order for these ships so that they may alleviate unemployment in this country then in West Cumberland we should have an equivalent to what is being done in other parts by using British iron ore, because our miners at least can do this work with the same skill and ability that British workmen always have shown.
§ Mr. RAINE
As I am addressing the House for the first time I shall not take up very much of its time. If I were to do so I should probably repeat many of the arguments that have been brought forward, and I do not want to do that. I preface my remarks by saying that I have practically lived in the centre of the Durham coalfield all my life. I have been engaged in the coal trade for 35 years 3052 and I need hardly say that my sympathy is with the miners. There are certain facts which ought to be looked in the face. I do not quarrel with the statement made by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh), but I should like to criticise one thing which he said, because I think it is a great pity that we do not always get a clear statement of the various difficulties we have to encounter in connection with the coal trade. The man in the street does not understand the situation as to wages or anything else. Other speakers have referred to similar questions, and I think we can safely say that the reason for a lot of this misunderstanding is loose speaking.
The hon. Member who represents one of the Yorkshire Divisions stated that the output of coal was now practically up to the 1913 standard, but if the hon. Member reflects he will see that he is wrong by about 15,000,000 tons, because he has not taken into account the fact that there are certain holidays which the miners enjoy. If you take the present output the figure for the full year is 270,000,000 tons instead of 287,000,000 tons, which was the figure in 1913. It is a well-known fact that if you take the pre-War level there would be certain extra profits to be distributed in accordance with the Agreement, and that has to be taken into account.
Referring again to the picture painted by the hon. Member for Ince, which was in very gloomy colours, I think he only painted part of the picture and the other side ought to be stated. There is the very serious question of absenteeism. A case has been referred to which occurred in the town I represent, but the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) did not mention the evidence that was given in that case. In the course of the evidence it came out that absenteeism reached 13 per cent, in the middle of the week, and 20 per cent, towards the end of the week, as against an average for the County of Durham of nine per cent. The average percentage of absenteeism for the whole country is 7½ per cent, in regard to which it is generally stated that about half of that is avoidable. I think hon. Members on the Labour Benches might very well devote their attention to questions of this kind, and let the people who will not attend their work regularly know that they are not going to put up with it.
§ Mr. RITSON
In the case which the hon. Member has mentioned, is it not a fact that the owners of the mine have refused to have an absentee committee at all?
§ Mr. RAINE
I was not referring to Wearmouth. I am giving the information as it was officially given to me. The case was tried at Sunderland and the colliery it is true was out of my own constituency. My next point is the question of unemployment which has been dealt with very fully, and consequently I will only say that it is a very unfortunate fact that we cannot have exact, information given to us. The man outside desires to understand this question and he wants to have full information about it. He wants to know on which side his sympathy should go. In 1913 the number of men employed in the mines was, according to the hon. Member for Cardiff, about 5,000 more than before the War On the other hand, we have been told there are now practically 10,000 less employed, but according to a return issued by the Mines Department for the quarter ending the 30th June—I admit the figures alter from time to time—the total is now 1,025,000. Whatever be the facte, I say we want to know the truth. We do not want loose statements. We want authoritative statements, and it would be better for all parties if we had them, as it would enable a just, correct and sympathetic view to be taken of the whole situation.
§ Mr. RAINE
Those who know anything about the coal trade will agree that we want the true facts. There is only one other point I desire to refer to. The hon. Member for Ince dropped a remark as to the difference between the pit price and the price to the consumer. I am not going to weary the House with figures, but I may say this that, taking Derbyshire coal, which is probably the coal mostly sold in London for household purposes, railway carriage and wagon hire absorbs 11s. 10d. per ton to-day as against 7s. 4d. in 1913. The cost of handling the coal at the depot, putting it into the carts and delivering it at the consumers' house is 6s. 9d. per ton as against 2s. 10½d. in 1913. I have no hesitation in saying that the increased cost of the delivery of coal from the pit mouth to the consumer 3054 has practically all been due to the increase of wages. We are most anxious to see this question settled, because we do not want to have any disruption such as that threatened by the other side. We can see a little improvement in trade coming, and we do not wish it to disappear. Hon. Members opposite might very well take into account this question of absenteeism in connection with unemployment and consider how far they can improve matters from their side.
§ Mr. HERRIOTTS
May I ask the indulgence of the House, as this is the first attempt I have made to address it. The last speaker has dealt with the question of absenteeism in one of the Durham collieries. That colliery is Ryhope. I may inform the House that that is one of the hottest pits in the whole of the United Kingdom. I am not quite sure whether the ventilation in that pit is good or bad, but I am certain that there you have a degree of heat ranging from 85 to 90. Therefore I may put it to the House that if there is any absenteeism in the colliery there is very good ground for it. As a matter of fact the men who work on the coal face in that colliery have to work in an almost naked condition. If hon. Members were at the coal face they would think the men working there were not ordinary civilised beings, but were beings who had lost part, of their culture and civilisation. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Raine) also dealt with the question of the price of coal to the domestic consumer. I think he might well have ranged himself on our side for the purpose of demanding an inquiry into these things. Out of every £100 received from the sale of coal not more than £60 on the average goes into the miners' pocket in wages, and there is therefore quite a decent margin for inquiry. We ask in the consumers' interest that there should be that inquiry.
I am glad we are having this Debate this evening. I am pleased we are discussing this matter on the Floor of this House, because I believe it will be for the advantage of the nation if we can draw the attention of our people to the wisdom of discussing these questions on the Floor of the House rather than relying upon strikes or other methods. It was a wise decision to debate the matter this evening here because, if we want the workers of this country to rely upon Parliamentary effort, if we want them to rely 3055 upon Constitutional action, we must show them we are in earnest when we debate these matters in the House. It is no use, either by clever Parliamentary effort or by speeches ingeniously delivered, attempting to deceive the people. We are asking our people to rely upon Parliamentary effort and Constitutional action, and hon. Members on the other side must convince the workers of the country that they really intend to consider these questions in a just and fair spirit. Then the people will rely upon Constitutional Parliamentary action. My hon. Friend the Member for the Central Division of Cardiff (Mr. Gould) when speaking attempted to make out a case that the miners of this country were not in receipt of a very low wage. I thought there was common ground between us. Mr. Hodges, when putting his case before the Premier, a few days ago, declared that the conditions in the mining industry were appalling, and the Prime Minister said, "yes, I agree; but perhaps the word is too harsh. "The conditions are horribly bad, and I thought we were all agreed that they were very bad indeed. We are told that the miners have not more than 40 per cent, on their pre-War wages. I believe that is not seriously disputed. We have an average wage for all workers in the industry of 9s. per day. That, again, is not seriously disputed, and if we were to be put on our pre-War footing the rate of wages to-day would have to be not less than 11s. 7½d. per day. These are the conditions that obtain.
We may be asked what is our remedy. My reply is that we are not the people who are expected to evolve schemes for remedying the present condition of things. We are not in power. You are in power and it is your duty to evolve schemes for the betterment of the industry. You yourselves are the upholders and supporters of and believers in private enterprise. Here are the results. You must deal with those results. If we were to make suggestions they would be suggestions which have been made from time to time to the House and which have been rejected. May I remind the House that a Commission was appointed to inquire into the industry, and, reporting upon the evidence given, declared that the present system of ownership working in the coal industry stood con- 3056 demned and that some other system must be substituted for it There is a suggestion, if you care to accept it. The responsibility lies on the Government of placing remedies and suggestions before the country. We on these benches say that, so far as the miners are concerned, they are giving of their best to the State. They are at the present moment producing almost as much coal per person employed as they did in 1914, and they are doing that in spite of the reduced hours. We say that, having given of their best to the State, having expended their energies and done all they could to make the industry successful from the standpoint of production, they are entitled to have a living wage out of the industry. Whatever system or method you have to deal with the situation, we say that the first charge upon this industry must be a decent existence for the people who produce the coal, and it is for the Government to see that that is provided. I do not know by what means at the moment it may be done. We suggest there ought to be an inquiry which will go to the root of the whole question. There should be an investigation into every department in order that we may put this industry in a position which will benefit not only the miner, but also the people and the State. Let us have that inquiry into the whole industry. Let the industry be treated as a unit, and not in sections. Do not let colliery owners think only of their particular little pit, but let them think of the welfare of the nation as a whole. We, on this side of the House, try to look at the matter from the national and not merely from the miners' standpoint. We ask the coalowners and we ask this House to look at the matter from the national standpoint, and to treat the industry as a whole as one unit.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
Like the previous speaker, I crave the indulgence of the House for this, my first effort in its Debates. I have listened with very great interest to the speeches made on both sides of the House on the condition of the coal industry at the present time. I regret the absence of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson), who made a speech which was typical of the individualism of the last century. I should like to remind hon. Members, who hold his view, that, had it not been for the low price at which coal was sold in 3057 the home market during the period of control, he and other engineers in this country would have been bankrupt by to-day. Then I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould), who knows so much about the coal industry, and is, probably, the greatest international expert in the world in regard to it. He said that if the miners worked harder, and, particularly, if they worked as hard as he has worked, they would get better results in wages. Certainly, the hon. Member has worked exceedingly hard since the War, and he has had his reward a thousandfold. He, of all men, is the last who should appeal to miners to work harder, because he should know, from his knowledge of the South "Wales coalfield, that the harder a miner works the poorer he gets to-day.
I am satisfied that the Prime Minister is anxious, with us, to do something to improve the condition of the coal industry. He has certainly admitted, on behalf of the Government, that the coal industry of this country is in an appalling condition. That word is sufficiently strong for us, and we accept it. Those of us who are in the industry, and know the lives of the miners, know that that word is not too strong. As a Member from the South Wales coalfield, I should like to draw the attention of the House to a startling anomaly. The South Wales coalfield is admitted by all mining experts to be the richest coalfield in the world, producing the finest quality of coal, and admirably situated at the geographical and commercial centre of the coal markets of the world. It was admitted during the War that the miners of South Wales were as loyal as any body of men in this country to their country's call. We were told with pride that it was the Welsh smokeless steam coal which kept the Navies of the Allied Powers on the high seas and kept the Germans out of sight. I would remind the House that the miners of South Wales were so heavily recruited during the War period that a stop had to be put to it, in order to enable them to maintain the output for the Allied Navies. And yet this richest coalfield in the world, which has always in normal times, for generations past, produced the highest rates of profit for the capital invested, and the highest rates of wages of any coalfield in Great Britain—and, I may add, the highest rates of mining royalties 3058 to the landowners of any coalfield in Great Britain—this richest of our coalfields is to-day the poorest in Great Britain as regards economic and social conditions.
Why is that? The House may not be aware that the South Wales coalfield is the largest exporting coalfield in the world. Two-thirds of the coal produced in South Wales is exported, and it goes to all parts of the world. Therefore, whenever the international trade situation becomes depressed, the South Wales coalfield feels the consequences sooner and more fully than any coalfield in Great Britain, with the result that, great as is the distress in the coalfields of Great Britain generally, I regret to say that in. South Wales it is even more than the average. In my opinion, the price of coal oxported from this country at the present time is too low. We are exporting coal to-day at least 5s. a ton cheaper than the price we could get for the quantity which is demanded at the now lower price, provided that the coalowners of Great Britain had the sense to unite their forces and control the industry upon a reasonable basis. It is not coal that is being burnt up at the present time; it is the lives of the mining community of Great Britain that are being burned out day by day by the appalling conditions that now prevail. I would remind the champions of private enterprise that the British coal industry is the basis of British commercial prosperity. It is coal grit and British grit together that have built up the great British nation to its great state of commercial prosperity for the past generation.
There are four economic reasons why, in my opinion, the British coal industry has been so successful. The first is that we produce the best quality of coal in the world: the second is that the British coalfields are geographically situated in the best markets of the world; the third is that those markets have been long established with their valuable connections at home and abroad: and the fourth, and not by any means the least, is that the British miners, with all their faults, are the best miners in the world. Because we have had these four great advantages we have been able to hold our own up to now in the markets of the world, and I would ask the Prime Minister, who is in charge of the Government policy, to try to realise what William Ewart Gladstone realised in this House many years ago, 3059 namely, that the coal industry, after all, is, from the nature of our commercial connections throughout the world, the basic industry of our whole structure. Private enterprise in the coal industry stands condemned as the result of an impartial inquiry by the Sankey Commission. That Commission proved, what many of us knew before, that for the last 200 years, during the period of the development of this industry, we have actually wasted, underground and in other ways, nearly half as much coal as has been sold in the markets of the world. We have wasted in that period 4 billion tons of coal, which, at £2 per ton, is equivalent to our present National Debt of £8,000,000,000. We have paid in that period to the landowners, merely for the right of extracting the coal from the earth, over £400,000,000.
There are ample resources of coal left, in spite of the extortion of the Royalty owners; but the great point, in my opinion, and the one which we want the Prime Minister, as the exponent of the economics of the long run, to take into account, is that in the long run it is upon the proper and efficient development of the coal industry of Great Britain that the future, as well as the past, prosperity of our country rests. While there is plenty of coal left in this country to work for hundreds of years to come, it is not the quantity that is left that matters, but how long we can continue to produce that coal at a cost of production which will enable us to meet the competition of other coal-producing countries in the coal markets of the world. Private enterprise has failed, and cannot possibly succeed, because of the wasteful methods which have been followed. Finally, I want to point out that a late and honoured Member of this House, one of the most distinguished men of our country, made what is, in my opinion, a remarkable prediction as far back as 74 years ago, when dealing with this very question from these benches. John Stuart Mill, in 1848, made this prediction with regard to the future relations of capital and labour:The form of association, however, which, if mankind continue to improve, must be expected in the end to predominate, is not that which can exist between a capitalist as chief and workpeople without a voice in the management, but the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working 3060 under managers elected and removable by themselves.That, I submit to the Prime Minister and to the Government, is the ultimate solution of the proper working of the coal industry in this country. While, however, that is our ultimate policy, which we shall see to it shall be realised in the near future, in the meantime we are faced with the appalling facts of the social condition and poverty of our people; and, while we will press in this House, Session by Session, till we get the power, through the electorate or through pressure on the Government of the day, to carry out that ultimate policy, in the meantime we respectfully suggest that the conditions are so acute and so alarming, and the discontent is growing so rapidly among the miners of Great Britain, that it is in the national interest, that it is a matter of public policy, that the Prime Minister should make arrangements as soon as possible, with the mine owners and with the mine workers through the Federation, to devise at once means of raising the standard of life of the miners of this country to the level of the cost of living; and that the financial adjustment necessary to cover the cost should be placed, not as a subsidy upon the taxpayers of the country, but upon the coal industry over a long period of years, in such a way that the industry itself, out of its future earnings when trade recovers, shall pay for it. Our proposal is not a subsidy, but an advance over a period of years, just as a loan is granted to a local authority to carry out local government work. That appears to mo to be a suggestion worthy of serious consideration. I trust that, as the result of this Debate to-day, the Government will realise that the miners expect from them something more than the palliatives offered through unemployment schemes, something more than the degradation of having now to go to the guardians for Poor Law relief. We say that the time has come when the British coal industry should be re-organised upon a national basis and run in the national interest, and that the first charge upon the industry should be a living wage to the coalminers.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I crave the indulgence of the House for my first effort here. Might I, at the outset, express my amazement at the empty benches we are gazing upon and speaking to on this very 3061 important question. We have heard expressions of sympathy many times during the past few weeks, but when we are slowly but surely reaching what should be a finale, we find that the Members of the Government not only insult the Opposition by leaving the Chamber, but incidentally they make up their minds that they are not going to be persuaded that twice two are five nor that twice two are four. They realise the futility of attempting to avoid the very sensible arguments which are submitted from time to time, and, as the line of least resistance they leave the Chamber so that we may have the pleasure of talking to empty benches. This is not the time for criticising the causes leading to the present state of the mining industry. Immediate assistance is needed by the miners. The Prime Minister and, I believe, his confederates have already agreed that the position of the mine workers is deplorable indeed, and if it is true that the miners as a whole are not less than 40 per cent, below the cost of living, and realising that their wages in the days before the War were none too large, at least we ought to be agreed not only that immediate assistance shall be forthcoming, but that all steps that can be taken should be taken to place the industry on a much better foundation than it is at the moment. Hope, which appears to be the only thing we are likely to get from the opposite side, will neither feed the empty stomachs of the miners nor will it clothe or provide boots for their wives and children. Six shillings and fivepence halfpenny per day pre-War as against 9s. to-day leaves us in a position when we not only cannot maintain the poor standard that we enjoyed before 1914, but are considerably worse off.
When the Prime Minister and hon. Members opposite tell us that there is no possibility of securing subsidies towards the miners' wages, one wonders whether they have ever attempted to examine the question from the opposite side or not, for, after all, if the mining industry is the very basis of all other industries, and the men who win the coal, making it possible for all other industries to go along, are not receiving a living wage, is it not fair to say that if the nation is unable to subsidise any one particular industry, surely any one particular industry is quite unable to subsidise the nation as a whole, for that is what it amounts to in effect. 3062 If industry, after having been worked on the most efficient and the most economical lines, finds it impossible to produce a very necessary article for the wellbeing of the nation, and provide the workers therein with a decent standard of life, surely there is some room for investigation. We have not only got the geological and geographical advantages, and the capabilities of the men who win the coal, but we have the organising power, if it were only applied to the winning of coal on the most economical and most efficient lines, and yet we find that, notwithstanding the various periods of success and depression that we have passed through, at this very moment, we are unable to provide the men who produce the coal and make it possible for all the wheels of industry to revolve with sufficient to enable them to continue maintaining a decent standard of life. No industry can hope to go on for a very long period if the people working in it are not receiving wages which will enable them to buy a plentiful supply of pure food, for physical deterioration is bound to set in, we shall have inefficiency, and we shall find that the men in future are not going to be as capable of producing coal as they have been in the past.
While the suggestion of subsidies is turned down by the Prime Minister and many other hon. Members opposite, I would remind them that even this morning at a very early hour we were handing over £340,000 to a private enterprise. Moreover, is it not true that we are actually providing a large sum in interest, £1,000,000 per day, for no services rendered by the recipients of that colossal sum of money? We can subsidise the permanent unemployed in the shape of interest, and we ought to be able as a nation to provide all that the miners are seeking this evening to enable them to continue winning the coal which will regain our industrial prosperity as a nation. One need not remind the House of the very arduous and dangerous task that the miner performs. The fact that some 1,200 miners are sent to their doom every year ought at least to cause some little thought, in the direction of those people who are in that perpetual industrial war. 120,000 of our members who work in the mine are injured to such an extent that they are compelled to play for more than seven days in every year. Consequently, the very arduous nature of the occupation, and the dangers to which 3063 these men are subjected day by day, warrant the Government in giving them more than the sympathy and hopefulness which has been expressed to-day. Moreover, although the War only commenced in August, 1914, by March, 1916, no fewer than 282,000 miners had enlisted, whilst before the War actually terminated some 400,000 of them had joined the ranks. Either this indicates an extraordinarily high degree of patriotism amongst the miners, or else it indicates that the occupation they follow is not giving them the wages we are led to believe from time to time by many newspapers, or otherwise they would have remained at home and at work.
There is another thing which may, perhaps, be said of some miners. If one takes the Yorkshire miners and I know this is typical of the miners of the whole country. They have a sense of honour, which has not been expressed from the opposite side many times during the past three weeks. In a period of some 11 months they have paid no less than £102,000 to private traders who guaranteed them credit during the great lock-out of 1921. They have paid back £127,000 to the co-operative societies, they have paid back £100,000 which was borrowed, and not less than £200,000 for out of work pay and assistance to their comrades generally. So that there is some sense of honour amongst the miners which one would like to see practised by Members of the opposite side when industrial workers find themselves in difficulties, as the miners are at present. Since the miners have not only shown in practice their honour to the nation as well as to their friends in need, it seems to me that the nation ought to rise as one man and see to it that not only shall wages be sufficient in future to enable them to buy a decent supply of pure wholesome food, as is demanded for the pit pony, but that they shall be able to maintain a standard of decency similar to what they enjoyed during the past few years.
While we are appealing for what we conceive to be right for the miners, we are not disregarding the unfortunate people in other trades, neither are we disregarding the profits that have been taken from the industry during the past few years by the coalowners. During the four years of the War £160,000.000 were taken away in profits, and if we assume 3064 that only a very small portion of that sum has been set aside for these days of depression, there is no wonder that the mineowners stand idly by and leave the miners' representatives to put forth this appeal to-night. When one refers to the Eastern area, comprising four or five counties, we find that to-day, notwithstanding the poor wages that the workpeople are receiving, for every ton of coal extracted from those counties during October of this year 1s. 9½d. per ton profit was taken away by the colliery companies. Therefore, the companies are not doing so badly as some people would have us believe. Whilst they are making fair sums of profit, other colliery companies where geological conditions are not quite so good are not so prosperous. When we seek assistance we are not seeking a subsidy that will enhance the profits of the various colliery companies, but we seek to obtain for the workpeople that which will enable them to continue to produce coal in times of depression, so that we can take hold of the oncoming trade and greet it with open arms and do for the nation that which it has failed to do for itself during the past few years.
As an ex-mine worker, and one closely connected with the practical side of the miner's life, I am convinced that not only have we the seams of coal, but we have the men capable of producing so that we may sell in the international market in competition with the nations of Europe. With the same science applied in the methods of production and distribution that was applied during the War, I am convinced that, not only could we compete successfully, but that we could see to it that every mine worker in the country has a fair and decent standard of life. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould), who is connected with the shipping industry, has spoken to-day. I would remind him that when the nation desired to economise in the expenditure of mechanical energy, and when they wanted to utilise every organisation to the highest point of efficiency, they found that amongst other things, they had to take over the ships of the country, but not before the ship owners had netted £350,000,000 profit in 31 months. When people like the hon. Member give lectures to this side of the House as t6 what the mine worker should do, one wonders whether they are representing their 3065 constituencies or the particular shipping firms to which they belong.
There are costs other than wages that have to be considered. We are often told that while wages have bounded up other things have also gone up. We find on investigation that while wages are 40 per cent, over the 1914 wages, other costs are approximating to 135 per cent. increase. We are told that, in such a way as to be led to believe that the colliery owners are called upon to pay these various sums. National Insurance, the ninepence for fourpence business, Unemployment Insurance, the something for nothing, increased rates, due to extra unemployment relief which has had to be be paid, and even the welfare fund for the miners, and other costs, including the costs of the managerial department, are extracted from the returns of the coal sold before either wages or profits are encountered at all. These costs other than wages, even the cost of erecting stations where safety appliances are erected, are extracted from the proceeds of the mining industry. While that is so, if any particular firm or any number of firms close down, the miners who have worked at these collieries and have paid for the stations to be erected would not be the owners of one single brick embodied in these particular buildings.
Consequently, we feel that having all the factors that would lead to industrial prosperity, taking the mining industry as the pivot, we have also the organising capacity, if we were only given the opportunity to apply that particular capacity. The Secretary for Mines has said that the Government do not want to enter into the controlling of industrial concerns. Neither do we, but we do want the Government to step in and to give those who stand here, and those they represent, who understand the industry, the opportunity of controlling the industry in the interests of the nation. We feel, and not without justification, that we are not taking our own practical knowledge of the mining industry as our guide, but we are prepared to accept the evidence of men who listened to the expert witnesses that were broght before the Coal Commission in 1919. They are the people alone able to determine as to whether or not the industry is efficient, and they have declared not for the continuance of private enterprise, with all its waste and inefficiency, but for the mining industry 3066 to be taken over as one particular unit. They know and they realise that one of two very important things have to be done, either the mines have to pay a decent living wage to the people who win the coal under private ownership, or the Government have no alternative but to take over the mines and immediately nationalise them. Unless the Government are prepared to do that, they are going to declare that one million miners and their families are to be driven to destruction. I do not think that that is going to take place. When Julius Csesar was alive, the furthest distance he could travel was 40 miles per day, and at the same time the distance that one could make one's voice heard was, perhaps, in the next field; but to-day we can travel 40 miles in two or three minutes, we can make our voices heard from one side of the world to the other, we can ride in the air or under the sea. If science has brought us to such a state in so many departments, surely that same science could be applied to producing the coal scientifically, distributing the same, giving the nation all that it needs in industrial efficiency, and, incidentally, giving the miners that to which they are entitled, namely, sufficient wages to enable them to live in decency and to give their wives and children that type of life to which they are entitled.
§ Mr. BATEY
My remarks will be concerned with the Durham coalfields. Durham is a large coalfield. We have employed there at the present time 158,000 people. The last 18 months have been black months in which our people have suffered very much. During the recent Election wherever one went one was struck with the fact that the people in the colliery villages seemed to be sunk in poverty and have the mark of poverty upon them. We have suffered in the Durham coalfields in three ways. We have unemployment, low wages and underemployment. So far as under-employment is concerned, we have got over that trouble, but as regards unemployment we have some 10,000 men who are still unemployed. I believe that every one of those 10,000 men might be employed today in the Durham coalfields if only the Durham coal industry were properly organised. Experience has taught us that coalowners have been inclined to stop those collieries or parts of collieries which in their opinion were not profitable to 3067 them, and have been prepared to work the collieries and parts of collieries which were most profitable. We believe that no one or two men, because they claim to be employers of labour, should have the right to stop a colliery or part of a colliery and to throw the people dependant on that colliery out of employment and leave them to fare as best they can.
People in colliery villages are in a different position from those engaged in towns, where a man working in a shipyard or a factory, if he loses his work, has the possibility of finding work somewhere else in the immediate neighbourhood, but in the colliery villages we have our men walled in, and if a pit or part of a pit closes there is no chance for those men who are disemployed to find work anywhere else. Those men are doomed to idleness. We believe that men have a moral claim for work when they have been walled together in a colliery village. There are thousands of them with their wives and families depending on them who have this moral claim for work, and no one or two employers ought to have the power to stop a colliery unless that colliery can no longer go on, but as long as coal can be worked from that colliery we believe that that colliery ought to be worked and those people provided with employment. Those are our grievances so far as unemployment is concerned. But we have an equal claim in regard to low wages.
Reference has been made to the fact that wages in Durham have fallen from 16s. 6d. a shift in March, 1921, to 8s. 9d. Two years ago the wages in the Durham coalfields were 27s. 6d. per shift. To-day they have been cut down to 8s. 9d., which is a reduction of 11s. 9d. on that great class of labour. To take 11s. 9d. per shift off people whose wage is £6 or £7 a day would not matter so much, but to reduce the wage from 20s. 6d. to 8s. 9d. is something which cannot be justified. An hon. Member opposite referred to the question of subsistence wage, and on that we have an equal grievance, because we have a large class of labour who have simply got to exist upon a subsistence wage of 6s. 8½d. per shift, and a large number of these men cannot get more than five shifts per week. I am prepared to admit that many of them do get six shifts per week, but we have thousands of those men who cannot get more than five shifts per week, 3068 and those men have to exist on a total wage of 33s. 6d. per week. That is the gross wage, but when the necessary deductions are deducted from the gross wage, those men are compelled to exist upon a wage of less than 30s. per week.
An hon. Member on the opposite side said that in Durham nice had free houses and free coal. I would remind him that this applies only to married men, and in the Durham coalfield miners to-day there who have either a colliery house or free coals are condemned at the same time to work for this extremely small wage, which is not sufficient to maintain these men as they ought to be maintained We believe that we could solve this question of unemployment in the, Durham coalfield if the industry were properly organised. We have taken out figures for the last two months, and we find that last month the Durham coalowners made a profit of 1s. 10½d. per ton, and that in the previous month they made a profit of 2s. 0½d. When at the Coal Commission Mr. Justice Sankey proposed that coalowners should be entitled to a profit of 1s. 2d. a ton, some of us thought that that was an exorbitant figure. If you go through the records of the coalowners' profits, which were given at the Commission, you will find that from 1874 down to the outbreak of war there was only one year in which the coalowners' profits reached the figure of 1s. 8d. a ton. For four or five years they averaged no more than 10d. per ton. We find to-day in the Durham coalfield that for the last 2 months the owners had a profit of 1s. 10½d. per ton and 2s. 0½d. per ton. While the owners had those profits the great body of miners were compelled to exist on a subsistence wage of 6s. 8½d. per day.
We have been told from the other side that when we have grievances we ought to take them to the coalowners. We met the Durham coalwoners at the time when we found that they had a profit of 2s. 0½d. per ton. We pleaded with them to increase the subsistence wage of 6s. 8d. per day. The reply we had was that they absolutely refused to increase the wage. They said, "Before you came into the room this morning we spent a long time discussing the question whether we should not apply for a reduction of the subsistence wage." It is clear, therefore, that if the coal industry is to be left in the hands of private owners to do as they 3069 please, there will be no betterment of the conditions of the miner. The Secretary for Mines referred to-night to the statement made by Mr. Hodges that the present National Agreement was not to blame for the condition of the coal industry. I agree: with Mr. Hodges statement, but at the same time I do not agree with the National Agreement. I believe it will be necessary to amend that agreement before we can better the conditions of our men. It has been alleged from the other side of the House that what we are asking for is a subsidy. We are not asking for a subsidy. We do not want a subsidy for the coal industry. But we do want an inquiry into the conditions of the industry, with a view to seeing whether it is not possible, by re-organisation, to better the conditions of the miner. None the less we believe that there can be no peace in the colliery districts and no real betterment until the industry is nationalised. Until the Government is prepared to face the question of nationalisation, it is not possible under private enterprise to better the conditions of our men.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
T should not have sought permission to intervene in the Debate, not being a miner, but for the fact that the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinsou) made a most unwarranted attack upon the railwaymen, and sought to show that all the troubles of the miners were due to railwaymen and railway rates. By his speech the hon. Member showed, in the first place, that he knew nothing about railway work. I have spent 35 years of my life on a railway, and seven weeks ago I was driving an express passenger train on the railway. The hon. Member said that the railway-men and men in other industries must work harder and produce more. Had the hon. Member known anything about railway work, he would have known how foolish it was to make such a statement. If in my ordinary business I have to prepare my engine and take it to the terminus to work the Scottish express to Leeds, as I have done for 15 years; I cannot put off until to-morrow a job that I ought to do to-day. If I did not oil my engine properly I should probably get a hot bearing and have to account to experts for the failure. If I lose time the guard and the signalman are checking against me. They have clocks and watches given to them, but none is given to me. I have to account for every minute lost. My 3070 fireman has to keep my steam gauge up to the mark; otherwise I am responsible for losing time. The signalman cannot shirk his work, which has to be done as it comes along. It is the same with the shunter and the guard. If there is one individual who might take things quietly it is the goods porter, but he is paid by tonnage and bonus, and is therefore paid by results. But the hon. Member for Mossley obviously knows nothing about it.
There is also the question of railway rates and their effect on industry. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Raine) clearly showed just now that the railways were not making such inroads into coal charges as have been alleged. The railway freightage from the Derbyshire coalfields to London is 11s. 10d. a ton, including wagon hire, and the latter represents about 1s. 9d. a ton. It was pointed out that to take the coal from the wharf to the cellar a journey of a mile might be necessary. The distance from the centre of the Derbyshire coalfield to London is 128 miles. For that the charge is 11s. 10d. a tort. The cost of taking the coal from the wharf to the cellar is 6s. 9d. per ton, or somewhere about 60 per cent. of the amount charged by the railway company. The hon. Member for Mossley also said that we were paid an abnormal rate of wages and that we would have to submit to some reduction. The hon. Member does not seem to know that in our union we fought for 25 years to get machinery set up that would deal with wages and avoid industrial dispute. When we consider that the centenary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway takes place in two years' time, and that there have been only two national strikes in the century, it is obvious that railwaymen cannot be accused of having taken harsh measures in order to get their wages above the general level.
How were wages fixed? By a long series of negotiations, in which I have had the honour to take part. For over two years we were negotiating with the late Government to get railway wages fixed, and, afterwards, when the machinery was set up, two most respected Members of this House, the hon. Member for Stratford (Sir T. Robinson) and the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Manville), were on the Board and gave us our reward. That all means this: We set our case before this tribunal and it gave us our award. Therefore, I do not think that we can be 3071 charged with having got what we have by any methods of force or by overstating our case. Those two hon. Members were parties, and very prominent parties, to the award. One-third of the tribunal is made up of railway managers, one-third of our own people, and the remaining third of railway users, among whom were the two hon. Members mentioned. We have submitted to reductions. Than the railwaymen there was no more loyal body of workmen in the State when the Great War broke out. A settlement of wages and hours was long overdue. We had our programme in, but when the War broke out we withdrew it unconditionally. We said, "This is not the time. Let us get on with the job we have to do." It was not until prices went up to abnormal levels that, in order to keep ourselves alive, we asked for a bonus. We have got our agreement and the hon. Member evidently did not know that up to the present, since the Armistice, we have given up somewhere about £23,000,000 in wages per annum. Nothing at all has been heard about that. The railway managers are making a further demand upon us, but we have not been telling all about that because we believe we have the machinery to deal properly with the matter; we have our trust in the hon. Members I have already mentioned, and I believe an amicable settlement will be arrived at. I wish to refer generally to the effect of railway rates, as so much has been said about their effect on costs. I may refer to one article particularly, in which some of us are interested, though my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) is, perhaps, not so much interested in it, and that is beer. With the cost, perhaps, 75 per cent, above pre-War, the rate on beer from Burton to London is 23s. per ton, or one penny on six pints.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I am afraid the hon. Member is getting out of order. I thought he was going to give figures with regard to the railway rates on coal, and not on beer.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
I merely wish to show the effect of rates, but perhaps I am too close to the border line of Order, and so I shall refrain. If we look through the whole of the railway charges it will be seen how little we pay in railway 3072 charges on the things we buy. Railway-men all agree that rates might be lowered, and the late Government also agreed with our solution. For about 25 years we, as railwaymen, have argued that the present system was wasteful and that a State system of railways would be far more economical. Incorporated in the railway rates in 1913 was a net income of £53,113,000. That has to be borne by the rates. On a national system of railways that net profit, as such, would be wiped out, and the users of the railways would get the benefit of it. Further than that, the Committee which sat during the War, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) was a member, clearly showed that a- further saving of between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 could be made if the State, took over the railways and ran them as a unit. Our experience during the War proves that we could not have won the War unless the railways had been working as one unit. The setting free of wagons for the conveyance to docks of munitions of war for overseas was phenomenal, and was only possible because the railways were being worked as one unit. Mr. A. K. Butter-worth, in a memorandum to the Board of Trade, states:At present much of the time and energy of the more highly-paid officers of a railway company is taken up with the work in which the trading community has no interest, and which is only rendered necessary in the interests of the shareholders whom they serve by the keen competition which exists between companies.If you wish to make new savings, if you wish to get an efficient- service of transport whereby many of the difficulties under which the miners are suffering might be made easier, it can be done by carrying out the promise that was made and by doing that for which we have been agitating for 25 years—by making the railways one unit and working them in the interest of the community, not as an interest-bearing proposition, but in the same way as you use sewers, roads, and the water supply, as the handmaid of industry. In that way you will remove many of the difficulties from which we suffer and many of the troubles with which we are now confronted will disappear.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I think I can claim from the House that special indulgence which has been granted to all Members 3073 who, so far, have made their first incursion into the Debates of this House. Perhaps I am entitled to even greater indulgence, due to the fact that I am coming in at what I suppose is the end of a Debate in connection with what, to me, is one of the most serious questions that will have to be discussed and finally settled by the House of Commons. Personally, I believe it is inside the House of Commons that the mining community will have their sufferings relieved. I believe it is by means of political action it will be done, but we are not going to get it from the hon. Members opposite. In the very near future we are going to occupy those benches, and it is then that we shall be able to carry out the reforms which are necessary. I have listened to three Debates in which the House has tried to deal with humanitarian principles. We had a Debate on unemployment and we heard of the sufferings of the unemployed. We on these benches agree that the sufferings of the unemployed are very great; in fact, no words of ours can adequately describe them. On the other hand, I make the claim that there is a section of the community in industry, who are employed and yet, being employed, are treated as badly as the unemployed. I have read in the Scriptures that the wages of sin is death. I have come to the conclusion that with the mining industry in the position it is in to-day, the wages of the miner are both starvation and death; starvation while working and the death which is meted out to him in connection with the industry.
I heard hon. Members opposite plead for humanitarianism as applied to animals, which are to be transported from Canada to these shores. I hope humanitarianism will also be applied to the mining community within our sea-girt shores. I am not going to plead for sympathy from the other side of the House. I believe too much has been made from our own benches in connection with a sympathy which I do not believe will come from the other side. There are two kinds of sympathy. There is the sympathy which may be created by outside knowledge, or by seeing the sufferings of a part of humanity, and there is another sympathy which comes from a realisation that one has come through the sarnie trouble oneself. I can speak with a 3074 knowledge of the horrors which exist in connection with mines. We have heard of the financial aspect of the question. What about the tragedy of mining? Three times I have been carried home from the mine on a stretcher. I have known my kith and kin to be carried home, never to rise again from the beds in which they were laid. I have known what it is to go into a miner's home to break the news that the father who left home hale and hearty in the morning would never return to that home as its breadwinner. I have seen a miner's wife drop in a dead faint because of the knowledge that that breadwinner was not coming home again. Knowing these things, I trust hon. Members opposite will recognise that if, at times, we demonstrate in a manner which is rather out of order, in connection with things on which we feel so bitterly, we do so only because of our knowledge of this suffering. If humanitarian ideals are applied to animals surely it is not too much in a Christian country to ask that the leaders of industry should extend to common humanity that which some of them have pleaded for in connection with animals.
I want further to point out that certain suggestions have been made from the Government Benches, and it has actually been suggested that the Scottish miners have received an increase of wages. The Secretary for Mines actually made that statement, and technically it is correct. We have received an increase of wages, of 2½d. per week—for a family of five one halfpenny a week of an increase, for the purpose of dealing with the tragedy of mining life. Surely it was not suggested seriously that we had received an increase under circumstances such as those. It has also been suggested that if production were increased to what it was in 1913, we would be in a better position as an industry to meet the demands of the mining community. Would we? I ask the Secretary for Mines if he is prepared seriously to make that claim on behalf of the Government. There are thousands of miners unemployed at the present time, and there are thousands of miners only partially employed, and I have a vivid recollection of once taking part in a very serious struggle in a coal mine because I was fighting for increased production, and the answer that I got on pay day was "3d. per ton roduction to Mr. Westwood." That was the reward, 3075 so far as the miner was concerned, of his endeavour to increase production, and even although 17½ million tons per year were increased in this country, so far as the miners are concerned, it would mean possibly reduced prices and reduced wages. I am never going to be an advocate of increased production so long as increased production means increased profits for the Members who sit on the benches opposite and reduced wages for the miners that I am here to plead for, and always will plead for.
We have been asked for serious contributions to the Debate for the purpose of helping on the mining industry. It has been suggested that, so far as the miners are concerned, they will have to grin and bear it and that they can only accept what is in the industry. What is the Government going to do in connection with the promise made by Members on the Treasury Bench in connection with royalties? Are you going to abolish the stupid system of allowing men to have the right to draw royalties for that which they never put into the bowels of the earth? Are you going to allow from £6,000,000 to £9,000,000 a year to go in royalties to your dukes and your lords, whilst miners are dying in the bowels of the earth, and dying when they come to the surface also because of the starvation wages that you are prepared to continue paying to them? What are you going to do in connection with royalties? What are you going to do in connection with the efficient running of the mines? We are here to make the charge that the mines are not efficiently run at the present time. You do not take advantage of the knowledge of those engaged in the industry. With all due deference, if it were a question of an examination tomorrow morning as between the knowledge, the scientific knowledge, that I have got of mining and that of the Secretary for Mines, I am prepared to say that I should win easily, and there are hundreds in the mines in exactly the same position who are prepared to give all their scientific and technical knowledge to enable us to run the mining industry in a scientific manner, for the use of the people instead of the exploitation of the miners engaged in the industry.
Might I seriously suggest that all the arguments that have been used against 3076 control are arguments (hat are unsound? This Government has followed the procedure laid down by the late Government. I am not saying this in any offensive manner, as I believe, so far as sympathy is concerned, we shall get real sympathy from the present Secretary for Mines, but so far as actual knowledge is concerned, exactly the same principle is being applied as was applied in connection with the control of mines. The late Government appointed three Coal Controllers, not one of whom had any knowledge of mines. The late Government appointed the last Coal Controller, who was rejected by the people of Glasgow, and who was appointed because, he was a man physically fit for the position. That was the argument used from the benches opposite, that he was a man who was strong physically, not that he was a man who had a knowledge of the industry. I suggest that, so far as the Government is concerned, the right way to run this industry and to deal with the Department is to have someone at the head of the Department who has actual knowledge of mining, so that his knowledge can be brought to bear in connection with the questions that have to be discussed in regard to this great industry.
Something must be done. I have here a letter which was sent to me during the last fortnight, a letter that, more adequately than I can do, outlines the tragedy of mining life. Here is a case of an individual, working every day in the week, with a net income of less than £2 per week for the purpose of keeping eight— two adults and six children—alive. The result is that whilst some of the hon. Members opposite say they are going to have nothing whatever to do with subsidies, we have got to subsidise the mining industry locally, although you refuse to do so nationally. We have to provide boots and clothing for the children. Only three weeks ago I was 'phoned up, when I went home for the week-end, with an appeal for boots and clothes for five children, three of whom had not been at school from the 5th September, and two of whom had not been at school from the 2nd October. Neither boots nor clothes could be bought for those children, and the parent was working every day. We had to subsidise that industry locally, because we had a Labour representation that said: "If you will not subsidise nationally, we will subsidise locally, for 3077 we are not going to allow children to be starving and to go without boots and clothes." You have to meet it either one way or the other, and I suggest that this suffering can only be relieved when once we make up our minds as a nation, and when the Government opposite accept the recommendations made by a Commission that was set up by themselves. The Prime Minister pointed out, in reply to a question, that, so far as the statement made by himself was concerned, that they would apply in letter and spirit the findings of the Sankey Commission, that applied to wages and hours. We on this side make the claim now that neither in wages nor in hours have the late Government or the present Government applied in letter or in spirit the principles which they said they would apply.
I plead that the Government will agree to an inquiry in connection with the running of the industry and the charges m connection with the industry. I plead for that inquiry in the interest of common humanity, because of the fact that the miners to-day are in the most tragic position possible. One out of every seven is more or less injured during the year; one every throe or four minutes meets with an injury more or less severe. If you could picture a procession reaching from York to Darlington, and back again from Darlington to York, every yard in that procession there would be a man or boy who had been more or lese injured in the mines of this country last year, and every 100 yards there would be a man or boy who had been killed in the mines of this country last year. That is the physical tragedy in connection with mining, and therefore I plead with hon. Members opposite to agree to the demand for an inquiry in connection with this industry, so that we will be in a position to give to the industry a little more of the decencies of life than they have had the opportunity of enjoying during the last 18 months.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I think the House, whatever views may be held in it, will join me in welcoming the speech to which we have just listened. It is a very striking speech, and a very typical speech. It is a speech which shows how the injured workmen feel. It is not a question primarily of money; it is not a question primarily of material possession; it relates to those qualities which we sometimes call soul, and which 3078 at other time we call spirit. It is that peculiar and curious quality of humanity, the humanity of the father, the humanity of the husband, the humanity of the son, in respect of the family which has always suffered when adversity overtakes a trade, and involves thousands of people in unemployment. If hon. Members opposite would just remember what struck me, at any rate, as the very charming apology—it almost amounted to—which my hon. Friend made for certain outbursts in this House, explaining it by the simple fact that the heart was full, that passions were strong, and the feeling that if they held their tongues the very stones would cry out. The better we understand each other on that ground, the better, I think, it will be for our country. We have listened to a Debate which has swayed hither and thither, now on one side and then on the other. There have been statements made and statements contradicted. There has been an appeal to our humanity and an appeal to our business sense. I think everybody who has spoken, I think everybody who would speak, even if every. Member in the House had an opportunity of speaking, would confess to one thing, and it is this, that we are all baffled by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. There has been no speech from either side of the House which I would consider as completely satisfactory, and when I make that statement, I make it in the full knowledge that what I am going to say myself is going to be worthy of a similar characterisation.
We have got the coal trade, which is one of our undoubted key industries, going through a crisis the like of which, I think, it has never gone through before. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) went back to Napoleonic days. I do not know whether he is right or wrong. The conditions, of course, were abominable then. Other conditions were quite unequal, almost incomparable, but, so far as the present is concerned, there is not a man or woman in this House but will admit that, owing to a series of causes created by certain industrial evolutions, the state of the coal trade is deplorably bad, that the prospect is not at all bright, and that it deserves the very best intelligences of our country to be devoted to the hammering out of some practical solution. I know how very difficult it is to make a 3079 beginning in these long series of evolutionary processes, saying, for instance, that the War started in 1914, and so on, but, for purposes of survey, we have got to try to fix a point from which the disaster started. The miners' representatives fix that point at a time when the lae Government started its decontrol revolution. It was sudden. It was the breaking of a bargain. It was done by sheer physical force in this House—the physical force of counting heads in the Lobby. There was no justification for it at all, except the financial justification of saving the taxpayer at a time when the agreement, under which the taxpayer had paid, was drafted by the Government, was signed, sealed and delivered by the Government, and was only broken in order to convenience the Government. As I say, the miners fix the point of the beginning of these recent disasters there. One hon. Member, who addressed the House, referred to a statement made by Mr. Frank Hodges. He did not quote it all, but I will supply the omission. He said that, in Mr. Hodges' opinion, it was not the agreement which was responsible for the debacle. I am not aware of anybody who says the agreement was responsible for the debacle. I do not know any miner who says that the agreement was satisfactory, or could be carried on under abnormal conditions, but I do not know any miner who said that it was because of the agreement that the debacle had overtaken the trade. What Mr. Hodges said was this:I want to assert, as strongly as I can, that the Government responsibility in this matter is plain and unmistakable, and most of the misery now experienced can be brought home to the Government, which, after having used a great industry to its maximum advantage during the period of the War, abandoned it to its fate at a moment when it could not help itself, except through the unimaginable suffering of its people, the effects of which will last for generations to come.That is the miners' case. That fixes the period when the trouble began so far as the miners' view is concerned. What do they do to-day? I think the House must give them credit for modesty. They have not asked for subsidies. They have asked for an inquiry, and they have asked for an inquiry, I think, partly, at any rate, because the Prime Minister himself asked them to ask for an inquiry. He received 3080 a deputation from the Miners' Federation on Saturday, 2nd December. This is his final word:I myself am convinced that an inquiry would upset things when there is a chance of improvement at this moment. That is my opinion. If, after the House meets again you still wish to press definitely upon me to have an inquiry, I will consider it, but I think at present it is not advisable.Hence this Debate. Surely every hon. Member who has listened to the Debate must have been impressed with the necessity for an inquiry. We have had the most bewildering contradictions by experts; experts on that side, experts on this side. We have had figures that have been contradicted, we have had statements made that have been characterised as being false. What can I, a poor layman, one who wishes to do my duty to the country through my membership of the House of Commons, do I am not a miner, neither by my muscle nor by the power of my pocket. I am neither the servant of a mineowner nor a mineowner myself. But I feel as an elected person; I feel as a Member of this House; I feel as a Member of the Opposition in this House, that it is my duty to see that the facts of the mining industry are understood. I also feel it my duty to say that this key industry must surely be the subject of certain fundamental propositions regarding its health which surely can be agreed upon by both sides. Surely there are great propositions, regarding economic working, regarding capital, regarding expenditure, regarding control, regarding marketing, and regarding a score of details that arise, centred round the operations of the coal pit. Surely there must be—I decline to believe there is not —a possibility of both capitalist and workmen agreeing upon certain fundamental propositions regarding this which will promote economy and efficiency.
This Debate has shown a sharp division. There is one side and there is the other; no common meeting ground; no possibility of agreement. And not only there, but when you come to the Agreement. A very interesting speech was made by an hon. Member from the Front Bench below the Gangway. He was piling up a very impressive' argument and, as I listened to him, his sentences came out just like bricks laid by a skilled bricklayer. I saw a great erection of antagonistic argument being created, almost in front of my very 3081 eyes. Unfortunately, the whole of this argument of his was based upon the assumption that certain costs were costs of production. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince who interrupted him, upset the whole of his foundation, and all this beautiful argument, that was becoming so formidable in my amateur eyes, came tumbling down like a load of bricks. Surely we can agree about that. Is it true or is it not true that the Agreement is so drafted that certain costs of production which, say, the Income Tax Authorities would insist upon treating as capital, can be treated as income? Is it true or is it not true that this distinction between costs of production, between income and capital, is of such a nature as to upset the equitable working of this Agreement as between master and men? We have had no reply to that. This House does not know what the facts are.
Take another case. Another hon. Member who spoke from a seat further remote from the Front Bench told us a great deal about free houses, about free coal, and about other emoluments that were not included in wages. I find that Mr. Smith, the President of the Miners' Federation, talking from a knowledge which nobody can dispute when he is dealing with facts, in that interview to which I have already referred, said to the Prime Minister:You have been given some figures about certain workmen and their percentages. You have to remember in the figures that Mr. Hodges has given you that, apart from cost of living, the workmen have to pay 150 per cent, more than in pre-War days for their explosives "—a very important element in wages. Then I come to the precise point which suggested this extract to me as I listened. Mr. Smith said:The figures given you are before any deductions have been made. You have all these extra costs." And then,The average colliery rents in areas I know are 11s. a week; I am talking about houses with two rooms up and three rooms down,How can there be arrears if there are no rents made?Then you talk about not having to pay for coal. We use a quality of coal that the ordinary consumer would not buy, a quality of coal far inferior, and we pay for it on an average of 3s, a week, which we are supposed to get free. These things cannot go on.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Again, the hon. Gentleman has only contributed to my argument that what has been said in this House to-day is the best proof of the necessity of an inquiry, if possible.
There is another important point in regard to production in relation to working hours. Those of us who have been working at perhaps more or less abstract economics—not at all a bad exercise for a business man—know perfectly well that you can reduce hours without reducing production. We also know that there is a limit, but that can only be found by experiment, you cannot find it by abstract theorising. The miners' hours have been reduced to seven. We have had experience of the working of seven hours, of eight hours, of nine, ten and eleven hours. Why is not that experience made available for us in a proper way? Is it proof that the seven hours' experiment has given results which would justify hon. Members opposite saying that production must be limited on account of the reduction of the hours? I do not believe it. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not true."] I am not going to say whether it is true or not. So far as the facts are concerned up to now, which up to now have been produced, they do not warrant my coming to that conclusion. Surely if the industry is important there is going to be no dispute on either side. My friends as workmen work under conditions so terribly dangerous, so uncomfortable, and altogether so objectionable, that if we can reduce their hours not only to seven, but to six or five, we will do it. How can you do it? You can only do it if, every time that you make an important experiment like this reduction from eight hours to seven, the whole matter is handed over to a Committee of men of knowledge, men of experience, men of capacity, to inquire what the actual results would be, so that we Members of the House of Commons should have that information in our hands in order to decide what legislation, if any, is necessary in order to stereotype the good experiments and save us from making bad mistakes.
What better case can this House have than that for an inquiry? I do not treat this industry as a profit-making concern at all. I do not treat the industry as a method for making percentages for capital, nor as a method for employing two thousand men in it. I regard this in- 3083 dustry as an essential part of the life of this nation. I regard the industry as absolutely essential both for our domestic welfare and for our general international welfare. I am bound—hon. Members surely must agree with me in this contention—to say that if this nation is going to co-ordinate its industries and practice economy in life as well as in expenditure, then every one of these experiments should be carefully and scientifically inquired into. They should be taken out of the sort of battledore and shuttlecock game, in which first the employer gets up and tells you he is ruined and then the miner gets up and tells you he is ruined, and so they keep the ball flying across the net until someone gives it a scientific knock. So nothing has been solved at all of the problem, which is simply left till another opportunity occurs when there is a suggestion of dealing with the matter afresh. If this House is going to do its duty, in view of the facts disclosed here this afternoon and evening, it must see that a proper and scientific inquiry into the working of this industry is set on foot. There is one thing I think we might make up our minds about. It has been said that this industry is suffering along with other industries. That is quite true. You cannot have a flourishing mining industry with all the other industries depressed. You cannot have a flourishing British mining industry with the Continental markets destroyed. As a matter of fact, it is mere commonplace to say that. The cause is so simple that it is self-evident. But is it a legitimate deduction from that commonplace to say that when you do get good trade, good general trade, again you will have to solve difficulties, and so you may banish them now? I would warn hon. Members opposite if they are indulging in a thought of that kind.
Let me give the House two very simple facts. In the week ending 18th November the coal production amounted to 5,376,000 tons, almost a pre-War production. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite!"] I want to make my case as moderate as possible so that by avoiding exaggeration those who know intimately the ground along which I am travelling will have confidence that the conclusions I come to are sound. That is the production on a seven-hour shift. It was worse—or better—than that.
3084 It was the production upon an average week which was not a complete average week. What has happened? Practically nothing. There is a very slight tremor of 2½d. per week. How long is it going to be before that tremor becomes a real swing? It is this slowness, these delays, that break the hearts of men and destroy their confidence in the remedying of grievances by the ordinary operations of things.
Let me take another case. In the eastern district at that time 20 cwts. per man per shift was turned out. That is a pre-War production. I was informed by my hon. Friend, when I asked if my information was correct, that not only in the Eastern district was that so, but it is practically the normal condition when work is permissible, and when a man is in a position to do his best and work his full time. The increase in wages was three points. What optimism hon. Members must have if they imagine that that sort of thing is going to bring peace to the coalfields, or the satisfaction to the miners that their lot is as good as it possibly can be made. Whilst all this is going on, whilst coal production is increasing, wages are not looking up, and the conditions of the miners are not improving. I assume that it was in view of those conditions that the hon. Member who spoke from one of the benches behind described the scenes that he saw in Sheffield. In spite of all that there are thousands of people unemployed. It is with no pride and with no satisfaction at all that I say that good trade is going to be no guarantee of peace in the coalfields. The unfortunate thing is this: that if hon. Members would take the history of Labour they will find that in no trade has there been a more callous disregard of the workpeople engaged on the part of the employers than in the trade of coal mining. This is a question of fact. I am not referring to disorganised sweating trades in the East End of London, where things were so bad as to be even worse than in the mining, but I am speaking of those employed masses of people collected in towns and villages whom we know perfectly well. Take the matter of housing. Do hon. Members remember the work of my namesake, Alexander Macdonald, who once sat in this House for a time as the first miners' representative, or of the late Mr. Thomas Burt, or the work of John Wilson, 3085 of Durham, or bake the history of the coalminers' trade unions in Scotland, in the North of England, and in the Midlands. Is there any hon. Member of this House that will dispute the statement I make that no organised trade, none of the large industries in the country have such a bad record from the point of the employers in their treatment of employés than have those of the coal mining industry? Therefore from that point of view an inquiry is desirable.
If we have this in the coal trade, and apply the brains, not merely of the capitalist but also of the workmen, to solve the problems of the coal trade, now is the time to do it. I agree things are getting a little better, slowly it may be, but I think that the bow of the boat is just beginning to tip upwards. I agree that this could not have been introduced at a more opportune time, or that the House, with perhaps more advantage and more effectiveness, could look into the matter at a time when this change is coming, when the workman and the employer must see that the old game of "Pull devil, pull baker" is not worth the candle. Employers and employed must know perfectly well that a state of economic civil war is a state which has to be banished by both, or it is going to be damaging to the general interests of the whole community. He must not blame one side. The initiative comes sometimes one way and sometimes the other.
The thing I want to impress—and the more experience I have had on both sides the more I believe it to be true—is, that while you have this rivalry and diversity of interest you will never be able to put your finger on the real cause, because it is inherent in the system. It has been suggested that an inquiry would be a bad thing for trade, but I do not see that at all. There are inquiries going on every day by important authorities in the trade. What is there in the coal trade which is going to be upset, disturbed, or damaged by this House, or this Government, appointing three, four, or five men of great ability and of accepted authority and knowledge, men held in respect by both employers and employed, to consider carefully and scientifically the whole mechanism of this key industry? Will employers object to that?
§ Mr. MacDONALD
The hon. Member objects to an inquiry as to how wealth has been made in South Wales during the War, and he says such an inquiry is unnecessary. Sonic hon. Members opposite do not want this inquiry, but that is all the more reason why this House should want it. Is a majority of this House going to tell mc that they are going to refuse an inquiry when such a good case has been made out for it, because one hon. Member opposite is afraid of it and says that it is not necessary? How can a legitimate trade, with nothing to hide, with a case in which it believes and a record of which it is not ashamed, with a position which it is prepared to defend, how can one side which can be defended in that way oppose an inquiry when the other side welcomes it with open arms?
It has been suggested by a right hon. Gentleman opposite that the National Board should conduct the inquiry. The National Board cannot conduct such an inquiry, because it has been created for the specific purpose of keeping in operation the Agreement to which so much reference has been made to-day. It is a Board composed partly of employers and partly of the men, and it was created for [...]at specific purpose only. My hon. Friends would never think of suggesting that the inquiry should be conducted by a body consisting of half of employers and half of the men. We want an impartial inquiry which will take employers and workmen as witnesses, and which will hear the ease as a judicial authority. [An HON. MEMBER: "Like Mr. Justice Sankey!"] The conclusions of the Sankcy Commission did not please hon. Members opposite, but that is not any reason why the name of a very reputable and upright judge should be sneered at by an hon. Member of this House.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
It was not the hon. Gentleman, but an hon. Member sitting below him. We have in the Sankey 3087 Report a statement, signed by three impartial Commissioners, which says:Again the coalowners, in their turn, should do everything in their power, by improved methods of coal-getting and underground travelling, to save labour and lengthen the actual time spent at the face.Has that been done?
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I am informed that that has not been done, and why not I What is the use of coming here this afternoon and weeping tears over the cost of production, and the difficulties of production, when this recommendation made in 1919 is still unfulfilled, and with this inefficiency still in existence? Perhaps that is the explanation of the objection of the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) to a further inquiry. The Sankey Commission suggested economies in production, in transit, and in distribution. They said:All these can undoubtedly be effected, though it is difficult to place any money value on them at the present moment.Have these things been done? [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Have they contributed nothing to the present difficulties of the coal trade? Why do hon. Members opposite fear an inquiry? Here is another extract from the same Report:Even upon the evidence already given, the present system of ownership working in the coal industry stands condemned and some other system must be substituted for it, either nationalisation or a method of unification by national purchase or by joint control.Has that been done? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Has any attempt been made to do it, and yet hon. Members opposite come here and blame the miners. They blame the hours, and the wages and conditions, and they have not a word to say with regard to proposals made by a Commission specifically appointed to inquire into this question and which investigated the whole subject. That is the way these recommendations have been treated. Hon. Members opposite are objecting to an inquiry, and they are trying to persuade the Prime Minister that if he grants such a request it will be very difficult to continue the industry in the beautifully inefficient way in which it is being conducted now. I did not intend to take up so much time as I have done, but one gets run away with by his subject on 3088 occasions. There were various other things I wanted to deal with. Let me point out that the interest of the coal indusry is the interest of the consumer. I can tell my hon. Friends round about me that, so far as I am concerned, I am not nearly such a good patron of their labour as I would be if I could get my coal cheaper, but when I am called upon to pay £4 5s. a ton for anthracite coal I understand it does not increase their wages at all. Were it to have that effect I would pay with better grace. It does not increase the wages of any section of the community, not even of the railway men. Why cannot we find out why it is that coal produced in South Wales cannot be sold for less than £4 5s. a ton, although it costs so much less to produce? These things ought to be inquired into. All I claim is this, that to-day's Debate, first of all, on the quality of the speeches, and, secondly, because of the contradictions and mis-statements that have been apparent on matters in dispute, has established in the most unassailable way our case for an inquiry. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to listen to those tame-hearted employers who have some reason for shirking inquiry, but to grant our demand in the interests of the country so as to co-ordinate our claim that both capital and labour shall be economically used, and the maximum of efficiency got out of both. It is on those grounds I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to grant our request.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. Member began with a remark which is obviously true, that no speech can be entirely satisfactory. I would congratulate him in one respect. When I filled his place as Leader of the Opposition, I always felt that my speech was moderately satisfactory if it excited the enthusiasm and won the whole-hearted support of those who sat behind me. The hon. Member's speech fulfilled those conditions. He referred, in a portion of it, to a deputation of miners' representatives which I received the other day. We spent a long time in discussing various aspects of the question. May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he did not quite show the amount of logic which I would have expected from one of his nationality, when he said that the statement that I had recommended the miners to come to me some time next Session and, if they 3089 then asked for an inquiry, I would consider it, was the real reason for this Debate? The real question which interests those who are engaged in the industry is, I am sure, not that of an inquiry. To that I will refer later on. It is not an inquiry going to the root of the evil. It is a question as to the best methods of having better conditions in the industry. That is the point aimed at. There is really, I think, no division of opinion in any part of the House as to the very deplorable conditions of this industry. I said so to the deputation, and I think the reason must be obvious to every Member of the House. It is this. Over and over again, during the War and subsequently, we urged upon the miners the importance of output as a remedy for the evils from which they were suffering. I do not know that there is anything to be gained by going back on past history and considering the mistakes that have been made. One hon. Member stated that all this trouble dated from the time when the Government decontrolled the industry. It happens that that action was taken after I had left the Government, but there was a very great deal to be said in favour of the view which the Government then took.
In introducing the Bill my right hon Friend who at the time occupied the position of President of the Board of Trade, made it perfectly plain that what was meant was to decontrol the industry at the moment when conditions became normal. Of course there will always be a difference of opinion as to what are normal conditions. I believe my right hon. Friend used more exact words than I have given, but the main point was that he said that control would cease when things became normal, and Lord Peel, who was speaking in the House of Lords at about the same time, declared that when export and home prices were brought together, then control would cease. Still, there is no object in going back on that. We have to look at facts as they are. In my view the reason why we are entitled to regard the condition of this trade as so bad is that the men have done precisely what everybody asked them to do. They have worked, undoubtedly, in such a way as to produce the best output. One hon. Member has declared that, with practically the same 3090 number of people employed, the same amount of coal is turned out with the seven-hour day as before the War was turned out with an eight-hour day. No one will deny that. Taking that into account, and taking into account also the belief—which I think is sound—that the only chance of prosperity for the coal industry is to get a big output at the lowest possible price, so as to enable the other trades which depend upon coal to nourish also, I do think that, when the miners have done so much, it is in the highest degree deplorable that we should have to admit that, taking their wages, even with the increased standard, and comparing them with the cost of living, they are something like 20 per cent, worse off than they were in the period immediately before the War.
I say that quite frankly, but hon. Gentlemen opposite will not complain if I make a little qualification. The year which is quoted was, as everyone knows, an exceedingly good year in the coal trade. Although I have not looked into the figures, yet, knowing that that was a good year, I am sure I am right in saying that, if you take the average of five or 10 years before, you would not find, taking the cost of living and wages together at this moment, they were much worse than during the period to which I refer. I think that is right, but I am not making a point of it, for, whatever the reason, after they have worked so well, it is in the highest degree deplorable that they should be worse off than before the War. There is another qualification that we have to make. We know that the coal miners run great risks in addition to the ordinary hardships of their life, and I am sure that there is no one in this House, on whatever bench he may sit, who would not have liked to see a real and permanent improvement in the coal miners' standard of living. But we have to take this into account, and it is undoubtedly true, that, bad as is the position of the coal mining industry, it is not nearly so bad as that of many other trades at the present time. Take, for instance, two trades which greatly concern and interest some of the new recruits in the present Parliament who have come from the city which I also represent— [An HON. MEMBER: "Misrepresent!"]— or misrepresent—there will always be a difference of opinion about that.
3091 Take the shipbuilding and engineering trades. The wage increase is almost the same as in the case of the miners, and, therefore, the wage rate, as compared with the cost of living, is very much the same. The figure in the case of the miners, I think, is 43, as against 45 or some figure like that. Consider another factor, and it is a terrible one— unemployment. The coal mining trade is, I think, as free from unemployment as any industry in this country at the present moment. [Interruption.] I am talking of the trade as a whole. The unemployment in the trade as a whole is under 5 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Those are the figures, and I am sure that anyone who has examined them will agree. In the shipbuilding trade the unemployment is something like 36 per cent. It is obvious that, however bad the coal trade may be—though this is no comfort to those engaged in the industry—it is not nearly so bad as many other trades in this country.
We have to consider what can be done by way of remedy. I do not think it is much use my dealing with the different statements that have been made as to the cause of the bad trade. For example, it was pressed upon me, and I think it has been referred to in this Debate, that it was due to the reparation coal sent from Germany to France. I am sure it is obvious to anyone who has studied the question that that, at all events, is not a serious factor in the present situation. If coal from Germany goes to France, the coal trade is aware of it, and the gap which is left in one place is filled in another. As a matter of fact, we have been sending to Germany large quantities of coal during recent times. That, therefore, is not a factor. The hon. Member left out of account altogether the different remedies suggested by the miners who met me. I am going to try, quite fairly, to consider in what way they would help the position. The view taken by nearly every speaker to-day, and it was presented to me quite definitely at this conference, was this: "This is the position of our trade; it is up to you, the Government, to put it right" Does my hon. Friend really say that?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Very well, I will deal with that. It is up to us to put 3092 it right. How can any Government do that? Supposing, for example, that my hon. Friend, instead of having a very vigorous minority, had a majority in this House, how could he apply any of the remedies which were suggested to me? His speech showed that his idea is to upset our whole social and economic system. It is quite evident that, if that is to be done, it will not be a short process. If my hon. Friend were in my place, I presume that, as he would think it wise to make the road to the millenium a gradual one, and would not expect to get it the next day, he would begin by dealing with the situation as it is. Now what could he do? One of the suggestions made to me, and it has been put forward in this Debate, was to fix a minimum wage. But how is that going to help? It is perfectly true that, if you were dealing with an industry—if there were such an industry—which depends entirely on consumption at home, and where there is no competition, something of that kind might be done. I should be very glad if it were possible to have a minimum wage for every working man in this country at a reasonable level. But when you have to compete, not only with those who are in the same trade at home, but, as in the case with coal, in the markets of the whole world, is it not obvious that, if you put on a rate of wages which raises the price of coal to such a figure that it cannot compete, or cannot compete so well, the inevitable effect must be, not that you will be better off, but that pits will go out of use and the whole industry will cease? There is only one way in which that difficulty could be got over. It could be got over by giving a subsidy.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Or a loan, if you like. It comes to the same thing; but I think that if I were concerned privately in such a transaction, I should not be very fond of giving that loan, for I should be doubtful of ever getting it back again. But, putting it either way, if you are to get the same amount of coal, and yet not destroy your power of competing in the world market, while you raise wages beyond what the industry can pay, there is only one way, and that is that the State, out of the pockets of other taxpayers, should give an addition to the coal miners' wages.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will deal with that later. It was raised by my hon. Friend, and I have not forgotten it. It is one of the methods which was recommended to me. You can only get out of an industry which has to compete what that industry produces. There is another way of dealing with miners' wages. They may assert that the proportion given to the owners is too big and that more is to be got for wages out of that fund. Let us look at that. My hon. Friend quoted the words of Mr. Hodges in regard to the Agreement. I have seen him often in connection with the mining trade. The hon. Member is perfectly right in saying he wishes something far better than this Agreement, but when he says the cause of the present fall was not the Agreement, that, on the contrary, it was the best arrangement that has ever yet been evolved for dealing with this question, he said something that was obviously true.There is nothing wrong with the fundamental principles of the agreement. They are better than any principles which have operated in any previous agreement.Let us see exactly what is possible in this connection. [Interruption.] I do not object to any interruption of that kind. I do not expect everyone to agree with me or even with Mr. Hodges. But this is a fact. If this agreement gives the masters under present conditions no more than the share which is necessary to make them keep the pits open, certainly nothing can be got in that direction. Consider what the position is. The agreement means that of the profits of the industry 17 per cent, is to go to the masters and 83 per cent, to the men. This is certain. There may have been times in the past when the coal masters made profits of which they ought to be ashamed, as the hon. Member put it, but under this agreement, though particular collieries—and this is inevitable as long as you have a district rate—may be making excessive profits, yet it is utterly impossible that the masters can be making even reasonable profits if the miners' wages are below the minimum.
That is a fact in the agreement which anyone who has studied it will admit. It is obvious, though I agree with the hon. Member that when trade improves and it becomes possible to make much bigger 3094 profits, it is very likely that those who work in the mines will be disassatisfied with their share and will ask for more. But at this moment—I am sure I am saying what will be agreed to by everyone representing the mining industry or who has studied the present position—a great many mines are being kept open at a loss, and any attempt to diminish the proportion would have the immediate effect of reducing the number of mines kept open and giving less work to the miners. There is no doubt about that.
Now we come to the third possible method, that is, to make an attempt to raise the price of coal so that better wages may be given to the men, by agreement I suppose. It is obvious to everyone that if such a thing can be done, and it were wise to do it, no doubt not even a Government of which the hon. Member was the head could possibly declare in the House of Commons that they were parties to something like a ring to keep up the price of any commodity, even of coal. That is not a matter that is practicable. Taking conditions as they are, as regards that particular method of giving relief, there is none that is open. Now I come to deal with what I consider the real remedy. It is the only remedy in my opinion, and if it does not work, though I am not a pessimist, and I do not believe we are going to disaster, I say, without the smallest hesitation, that unless in a reasonable time there is an improvement in the whole trade of this country, our population cannot be maintained in anything like decency and comfort on the present conditions. That is the remedy, and I think it is the only one. It is obvious that, if that be the remedy, as so much of our coal is employed in industries at home and as these industries have all to compete with world prices, unless we can keep them all on a level, unless we can get expansion of one trade as well as another, and not attempt to keep coal at a high price while other industries are not profitable, there is no hope.
I am convinced, as much as any man can be about anything which is in the future, that unless some great disaster happens— I can only think of it in connection with something about foreign affairs—we are going to have better trade, and we are going to have it before very long. That is my firm conviction. We have proof of it even in the figures of the Board of 3095 Trade. In August, practically every district was down to the minimum, but at this moment—and will hon. Members realise what a big change it is— the majority of the men are above the minimum, and in the case of one of the most important of the districts, the eastern district, it is actually 14 points, and in another is 18 points above the minimum to-day. The fact that there has been that change over the whole area is itself the best proof of some improvement, but it goes much further than that. The coal trade depends for its buyers very largely on the iron and steel trades of this country. Like everyone else I have done my best, not by studying articles but by talking to men engaged in trade, to find out the position. It is a fact that there has been a considerable increase in the amount of pig-iron produced, and a considerable increase in the malleable iron and steel of all kinds. Everything in that direction does point to an improvement in trade.
There is one answer to another point. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh) said that even an improvement in trade will do the miners no good, because those who have been out of work have so fallen into arrears of debt that it will take them years before they can get right. I do not think that there are many people who understand this position. I am sure that my hon. Friend does. I have a suspicion that I do, after a great deal of trouble in studying it, but I am quite sure that I cannot put it in a way which the House will understand. I can, however, put this in a way that the House will understand. The hon. Member for Ince said, and I think the House generally understood that under the Agreement, the masters have to pay out of their own profits, whether they have made any or not, 20 per cent, above the standard, and that the whole of the 20 per cent, has got to be paid off before there can be an improvement in wages. That is not the case. That money comes entirely out of their pockets and they can never get a penny of it back.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I said that I was sure that my hon. Friend understood it, but that the House did not, and that the House thought that the 20 per cent, had to be paid back to the masters before there could be any advantage to the miners. I am sure that I was right in thinking that that was the view that was taken generally. My hon. Friend suggested that there can be no improvement in wages. Let us look at the facts. In August the whole trade was at the minimum. At this moment out of a total number of employés of over 1,000,000 only 180,000 are not at the minimum. That brings it down to something like from 12 to 15 per cent, of the total. All the others get 83 per cent, of the increased profits and benefit immediately by the change in the position. That makes a tremendous difference.
It is very well known to everyone who has been engaged in any kind of business that once an improvement in trade begins it is apt to be pretty quick, and the real difference is this, that when the coalowner has to go to the offices of men who buy coal and urge them to buy things are going back, but when that is reversed, and the coal user has to come to the coal seller and ask him to sell, then we get the beginning of real improvement. It has come to that now, and unless something unforeseen happens, all the advice that I can give is to the effect that we have reason to hope for a real improvement. That is why I said I did not think that an inquiry would be useful now, and I am sure that I am right. My hon. Friend said—and now I am coming to one of those fiery passages which aroused the enthusiasm of his hon. Friends behind him—that the existing National Board could not deal with these things at all, because it is to deal with the agreement. There is the answer, unless you assume that you are going to alter the whole system, and have another inquiry, which deals not so much with coal mines as with the nationalisation of coal mines. And that is what my hon. Friend wants. [HON. MEMBERS: "What we all want!"] I put it to the hon. Member or any of those who are facing mc now, can you possibly believe that, at a time when trade is so bad and when there is the beginning of signs of improvement, you 3097 are going to get any advantage by suggesting that the whole system at this moment is going to be upset?
The hon. Member, referring to a game which I like to play but never played very well—in which you knock a ball from one side to the other—gave an exact description—you could not have a better —of what happened before the Sankey Commission. Do you want all that over again at a time when trade is in the position in which it is to-day? Surely the only justification for that would be that you felt you were in a position to change the whole system and that it was worth doing soon. If you do not mean that surely it is madness again to raise expectations which will interfere with the working of the trade and do the very thing that you want to avoid, that is, to prevent an improvement in the conditions of the miner. Although the hon. Member showed that he had taken great trouble, as I did myself, to understand the trade, I do not think he understood it fully. The things to which he referred in the Sankey Report and in regard to which he asked "Have they been done?" are things which in my opinion the National Board can do to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I think I am right about it. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are useless!"] They can do it. They can have an inquiry. That is the point I am making. It is in their power. Listen to what was said at the deputation:Mr. HODGES: I have no doubt that many economies could have been effected in the internal working of the pits themselves if they had adopted some such proposal as ours.The PRIME MINISTER: May I ask you, do they allow you freely to make suggestions of that kind?Mr. HODGES: Oh, yes, they have not been able to impose any limit on our capacity to make suggestions.
Read on!The PRIME MINISTER: But they never really take into consideration the things you suggest.I am not debating the subject. If hon. Members had not interrupted, they would have seen that I was about to meet their point. I said to the deputation, "Well, these are considerations which seem to me to be of the same value to the masters as to the men. It ought to be the interest of both to get a Conference." I said also to them, "If you really believe 3098 that anything more could be done in that direction I would be quite willing to have the Department summon a joint meeting of representatives of the men and of the masters to go into it together and to see whether any proposals that are made would be properly considered. Has not that met the case? The hon. Gentleman spoke about distribution. Again I think he has forgotten one of the factors of the case. There is now sitting a Committee, of which Mr. Hodges is a member, which is going into the question of distribution.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
Are you proposing to summon a meeting of the coalowners and the miners to consider the point that you have mentioned?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If the hon. Member had been present at the deputation he would have known that I put it to them. They have always dealt with me most fairly. I put it to them whether they believed there was something practicable to be got out of it. They did not ask for it.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Was not the reply that it was quite impossible to make the suggestions, that they did think something would come out of them, but that the employers would not agree to adopt the suggestions which they made?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That may be. I do not remember the exact phrase. Surely that does not alter the fact of what I said. If they think that something can be done in that way we are perfectly ready to use whatever influence the Government have in order to have proposals of that kind properly considered. More than that we cannot do. The hon. Member, as I say, forgot the Committee on Distribution. It is sitting now, and its Report will be out soon; I am sure it is not likely to be long. I do say to the House that the question of the rates in distribution is one which the Government might properly have inquired into. We have agreed to do it in the case of agriculture, and it is a subject which the Government are quite right to try to consider and deal with as best they can. We really come down to this. Of course, I cannot expect any of the enthusiasm of the reception which is given to my hon. Friend, but I do not think there are many of those who sit opposite who will disagree with me. We a 3099 have really come down to this—that none of the proposals which have been put before us to help the position at present are practicable, and an inquiry at the moment is more likely to do harm than good. If the conditions, contrary to my expectation, should continue bad for a much longer time than I hope, I do not promise at all to have an inquiry—very likely I will take the same view then as I do now—but what I do say is that it would be quite right to reconsider the position then.