Motion made, and Question proposed;
That a sum, not exceeding £95,284, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."[Note: £75,000has been voted on account.]
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Bridgeman)
I hope the Committee will allow me, as this is the first opportunity there has been since the formation of the Mines Department, to make a short review of the work which that Department has done and is doing. I should like, first of all, to call attention to the fact, which I hope will be gratifying to the Committee, that there has been a very considerable reduction in the expenditure of the Department and in the staff since this time last year. When the Mines Department took over the work of the Coal Control Department, there war, 683 members of the staff employed. That was the figure in July, 1920, just before the Mines Department came into existence. In July, 1921, they had fallen to 496, and on 1st May this year they had fallen to 361. Although the Mines Department has been reduced in number, I should like to say, on behalf of the staff, that it has not been reduced in energy. The staff during the period, which includes the long coal stoppage, have shown very great devotion to duty. I should also like to point out that the expenditure is less, and that the reduction has been effected without the assistance of the celebrated Committee on National Expenditure. Last year the Estimates amounted to £215,000 odd, and this year they amount to 173,000. If you take the allied services, which we have to 572 account for in our Vote, and deduct from them the Appropriations-in-Aid, the figure last year was £248,635, and this year it is £195,330. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will, at any rate, feel that very useful economy has been effected.
There is a misapprehension in some quarters as to the origin of the Mines Department. I have heard it said that it is a Department which has arisen in consequence of the War. That. is quite a misapprehension. There is only one function of the Mines Department which is the result of the War. It is that connected with the control of coal, the affairs of which are still being wound up. The Department was formed on the recommendation of no less than five different Committees and Commissions. The Government were pressed to bring the different branches of work connected with mines under one roof. Some of it was being done at the Home Office, some at the Ministry of Labour, and some at the Board of Trade, and the Mines Department was formed so that they should be connected under one roof, and therefore great economies in work and time effected. The only part which can be said to be directly due to the War is that part of the Accountants' Department which deals with the control accounts. That is only about one-seventh of the expenditure of the Mines Department, and that, of course, is temporary, and will come to an end as soon as it is possible to finish the accounts. I should like to say with regard to that section that they have very arduous work to do. They have to deal with a turnover of something like £18,000,000, and their work in checking accounts has resulted in a saving of £900,000 to the taxpayers of this country. I do not think anything can be said against an expenditure of from £25,000 to £30,000 if as a result you can save £900,000.
About another seventh of the duties of the Department are concerned in carrying out the Mining Industry Act which was passed when the Mines Department was formed. I should like to say a word or two about some of the more interesting features of our work in that connection. There were two Advisory Committees set lip under that Act, one for coal and one for metalliferous mines. They have both proved of great assistance to the Department. The main advice which we have 573 received from the Coal Advisory Committee has been with regard to statistics. Of course, it was desirable that time should not be wasted in collecting statistics that would not be of value, but I am glad to say that the Advisory Committee supported the view that. I have always held that certain statistics which have been recently produced in the quarterly accounts are necessary for the industry and for the public at large, and that they should be continued. Those quarterly statistics have very often obviated great misunderstandings which might. have arisen if they had not been available, and it is most important that those, figures of cost of production should be continued. I am glad, therefore, that the Advisory Committee have recommended that the quarterly returns should still be supplied. I am also glad to say that the owners are assisting in getting those figures. We have an Advisory Committee on metalliferous mines. They have been very active, and they have been dealing with the regulations necessary for metalliferous mines and for quarries. The Quarries Committee have also been assisting us with regard to quarries. The regulations, which require a good deal of amendment and overhauling, are now being carefully considered by these Committees, and I hope will lead to great improvement in the future. They have also considered a good many questions connected with the health of persons working in metalliferous mines, and those questions are being remitted to a small medical committee, which I am glad to say has consented to work for the Department on questions affecting health in mines, whether coal mines or metalliferous mines.
Another function which is carried out by an independent Committee under Lord Chelmsford is the allocation of the Welfare Fund set up under the Mining Industry Act by the levy of 1d. per ton on coal produced. The sum available now amounts to just about £1,000,000, and Lord Chelmsford's Committee have been very active in trying to arrange for its allocation. Four-fifths of that sum has to be spent in the localities from which it is raised, and there has been very considerable delay, owing to the difficulty of getting district committees to make up their minds exactly in what form they wish to take money out. There has born a certain amount allocated, and amongst 574 the interesting variety of objects I will mention: assistance in setting up institutes, recreation grounds, the extension of mining schools, for which, I think, a grant is being given by Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Perhaps the most attractive scheme of all is one in Ayrshire, where the district committee have recommended the allocation of the whole of their money, not only this year, but for the whole period of the grant, to the acquisition of a sanatorium for the mining community. They have a fine mansion, and 100 acres of land, and there will be accommodation for 100 patients in this convalescent home. I hope we shall have many varieties of objects for the welfare of the miners recommended by the district committees. I think this Committee would like to know three or four of the different works which are being done with the money.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
A very small portion has been expended. Grants have been paid up to £14,000, the grants allocated amounting to £167,000. I venture to hope the district committees will hasten their proceedings, and try to make up their minds on what they want the money spent, because in many cases it would lead to a great amount of employment in building, the laying-out of grounds, and so on, and the sooner they make up their minds the better. The money is there, and as soon as the Central Committee approves of schemes all this money can be paid out.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
There are district committees which know the amount of their share, and they are invited to send up schemes to the central committee. If the central committee approve of them, then the central committee settle whether they will give the whole of the sum due for the object, or whether they will give them a part, or whether they will help then at all. Then there is one-fifth of the fund which can be spent centrally, and the committee have decided—as think, very wisely—to use that, so far as possible, for large national work., such 575 as research work, or larger questions of education, which go beyond the limits of any particular district. The principal work which we are hoping to start out of this fund is a new station for large experiments. There is now one at Eskmeals in Cumberland, which was found to be inconvenient, as it is a very inaccessible place, and a good deal of the plant is now worn out. The committee have decided to give a considerable sum towards the erection of a new experimental station, and I hope that we shall soon be enabled to get a site upon which to erect it, and to get to work before very long in carrying out experiments in coal-dust and all the other works that have been going on, as well as the ordinary work of testing miners' lamps, which went on at Eskmeals before.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
No; there has been a great difficulty all over the place in finding a suitable site. It is not a very easy thing to do. In the first place, one wants a not very expensive site, and one wants a good deal of space, because some of these explosions are done down a long tube gallery, and very often a flame goes out for many hundred yards beyond the end of the tube, and, therefore, you want a clear space in front of you. I rather think we have a site now, but I am not at liberty to mention it, because negotiations have not reached finality. There is only one other point to which I should like to refer as coming under the duties imposed upon us by the Mining Industry Act.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
It is a penny a ton. I do not know at what date it began to be collected, but we have collected just over £1,000,000. There is still a sum due, but I do not. know how much. Under the Mining Industry Act we have the power to try to bring people together, and make drainage schemes in mining districts. That is to say, where different concerns do not cooperate, and keep water out of their pits, it is within our power to make schemes to assist them—of, course, some can easily do it without assistance—and it is generally a business which takes 576 some time to negotiate; but I am glad to say that I have to-day signed a scheme for the drainage of the South Staffordshire area, which will, I hope, lead very largely to the resumption of work in pits which otherwise would become derelict very soon. There are other cases where we are making investigations to see whether it is not possible, by bringing people together, and making a scheme and allocating the amount each has to contribute, to relieve the water in a considerable area where there is a favourable chance of mining, not only in coal, but also in other mines.
I have mentioned work which involves the services of two-sevenths of the Department, so far as money goes. Practically the whole of the rest, with the exception of a small sum spent on statistics, which used to be done by the Board of Trade, but is now clone by our Department, goes in work formerly done by the Home Office on health and safety, which is the most important work my Department has to perform. The figures which we have got about fatal and other accidents are, at any rate, gratifying to this extent, that we have fewer fatal accidents in this country per thousand than any other country except Belgium, and Belgium, being a small country, is not really a very fair comparison. Even so, I am not satisfied that the accidents cannot be reduced very considerably. I do not think it can be done by piling regulations upon regulations; in fact, I think an excess of regulations very often has the opposite effect But I am trying to get statistics that are more easy of comparison—accidents by man shifts, which, I think, will be a better comparison from year to year. Of course, last year there were fewer men at work and, therefore, the number of accidents could not very properly be compared with any other year, but I hope we shall get those figures and be able to have a fair comparison. We have lost in the Department a very valuable servant of the Home Office, Mr. Walker, who was Chief Inspector, and whom, I think, many hon. Gentlemen opposite will remember as a very energetic and sympathetic inspector. [Hot. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear] I am sorry to say that failing health caused him to retire somewhat before his time, but I am glad to say that, in the leisure he has, he gives us the benefit of his advice on one or two 577 committees, and other subjects when we call him in. I should like to express here my thanks to him for all the work he has done.
There is one thing I have been able to do, and which, I think, has brought greater uniformity into the work of the inspectorate. I believe, under the Home Office, there were meetings of the chief inspectors from time to time. I have now arranged that we shall have them quarterly, and we have had two or three of them already. Before they come up to the general meeting in London, they have meetings of their sub-inspectors in their own districts, so that we can have a chain of communication from the minor divisions of the country to the major divisions, and so up to the Department itself. The meetings generally last about two days, and a great variety of subjects is discussed, experiences are exchanged between the inspector of one district and the inspector of another, which must conduce, I think, to greater uniformity of action, and greater knowledge of how to deal with any particular difficulty, and I am very glad to think they have so far proved their success.
I referred just now to a Medical Committee. We have, I am thankful to say, the advantage of being able to consult a very able small Medical Committee consisting of Sir Walter Fletcher, Dr. Haldane, Sir Kenneth Goadby, and Dr. Collis, and when the committees call the attention of the Department to some question of health, there is this Medical Committee to whom we can refer it for professional investigation before we take any action. Then there is also the Mining Dangers Research Board, which is doing, and I hope will do, very valuable work with regard to questions of safety, and under it are questions such as nystagmus, miners' lamps, and spontaneous combustion—all these questions which are involved in the accidents that are reported to us. Under them is a Sub-Committee of technical people to go into the question of safety appliances, about which many hon. Gentlemen opposite have been inquiring from time to time lately. It is very important that any safety appliance should have a proper and a long test before it is made compulsory, or even recommended. A safety appliance which is not thoroughly 578 satisfactory may do a great deal more harm than if you have none at all. Therefore, it is most important that these safety appliances which are invented by various people should have a full and proper test, and that we should have the advice of this technical committee before recommending them, and certainly before making them compulsory.
There is also a Medical Research Council with whom we were in close touch, under the Privy Council and not under the Mines Department, and I am glad to say that we have asked that Council, and they have consented, to consider two or three very important questions. One is stone-dusting. That is as to what kind of stone should or should not be used in stone-dusted mines. This matter, I think, is of very great importance. There is also an investigation going on into beat-hand and beat-knee, and several other cognate matters. I should add that we get assistance in these research directions from the Universities, and also from organisations for which the owners pay. When I look at the fatal accidents—and I make a point of reading the report on every one—I cannot help feeling that a large number of them could be avoided by a little greater care. After all, care is the best safety appliance you can possibly have. There are an immense number of accidents due to easily avoidable carelessness, and there are others due to not having first-aid. A man, say, gets a small scratch. He thinks little or nothing of it, and goes on working, but a few days later septic poisoning or something of the kind sets in, and he dies three or four weeks later. If it became a habit always to go for first-aid treatment for any scratch or injury, however small, we should save a good many lives. I quite realise that many men do not care to make a fuss about what seems a small matter, or a small wound, but it would be better for everybody who met with an injury of the kind with which I am dealing to get it into their minds that it is their duty, however small the accident, to take advantage of first-aid.
I am trying to initiate and push a "Safety First" campaign. This is being done in one or two places already. I am sure a great deal more could be done in this direction. Hon. Members, I think, are familiar with the safety-first placards 579 and advertisements which one sees about London in relation to crossing the streets, getting on and off omnibuses, and so on. I have tried hard to get something of that sort done which will illustrate the dangers of the mine and the way in which many of them can be avoided. These could be exhibited in the schools and institutes in the mining districts, and on the premises of the mines themselves; but in this matter I must ask for the help of the miners themselves, and I hope I may look for that help to hon. Members who represent mining constituencies. I trust that they will support any effort the Department may make to promote this Safety First campaign. That is all I want to say about the work of the Department. I think I have dwelt upon the most important sides of it, but I should like to say a word or two on the condition of the industry at the present moment.
With regard to metalliferous mines, I am bound to say that the position is gloomy in the extreme. Nothing but a great revival in trade seems to me to be likely to bring back life to the lead and tin mining industries of the country. Iron-stone mining is in rather a better state than it was. I only hope that the readers of the industrial barometer are right in their forecast of an industrial revival, and if they are there is hope for the metalliferous mines. In regard to coal, I must say that I feel in a more hopeful mood than I was this time last year. My feelings are different now to those entertained then. The contrast is very strikingly in favour of this year as against last. We were then brought suddenly up against the greatest depression in trade. Trade had toppled over in this country, and we had nothing before us but the certainty of lower wages, fewer markets, less work, and the most gloomy and depressing prospects. I am not going to talk about what happened during the stoppage.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Perhaps it is better for everybody that we should think more of the future and less of the past.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Whatever the cause, we have had the stoppage, and we do not want another one. Then we went down to a deep, dark, gloomy period of depression. I think that we can feel now, having gone for a long time on the difficult road, that it is widening out and that the prospects are getting, indeed, more hopeful as we go further on. There are many reasons for thinking what I do. First of all, there is the wonderful recovery in our export trade. I think that. is a most satisfactory feature of the situation. To every country outside Europe, except South America, our exports in the last quarter—I mean the first three months of this year—were greater even than in the year 1913. They were greater to France, while to the principal countries of Western Europe they were only about 6 per cent. below the great year 1913. That, I think, is a wonderful thing when we think of what the position was this time last year. We had then lost all our markets; now we have got some we had not before, and have nearly recovered those, we had before.
The output also is very satisfactory. True, there are fewer men employed, but the output per man, in spite of the seven hours per day, is very much better. It is something like one ton per shift per man. In the last two or three months there has been an improvement in the number employed. Since the revival at the end of last. year something, I think, like 40,000 more men have been employed in the industry than before. There have been more days worked and fewer days lost. All that is very satisfactory. At the same time wages and profits are not satisfactory. I think, however, we may feel this, that the industry has got into a position in which it can take advantage of any recovery in trade, and having faced the difficulties which the industry has faced with a courage that everybody in this country must admire, we can, I think, confidently hope that any revival in trade will find the whole of the industry ready to take advantage of it, which will mean that we start again on the upward path. The coal industry has done more than any other industry to lessen the cost of living by cheapening coal and so cheapening every process of production. It makes me very angry when I hear people say that they want coal to come down still further before some other industries can begin 581 again. What other industry has made the sacrifices which have been made by the coal industry? The coal industry has set the example. They have done what they could to cheapen the cost of living, and I hope that when the cost of living does come down they will, at any rate, get some of the benefit of it, because it will make the money they earn go further than it does now.
I do not know that I can prophesy with much optimism about the coming boom. I find that even my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is careful in the way of prophecy. But there is one thing I should like to say about household coal. There seems to be a good deal of misapprehension about the different qualities of coal. I am constantly being asked why it is that coal can be sent abroad at 20s. or a little more per ton and yet people have to pay twice as much as that, or even 60s. per ton, for their household coal here at home. People do not seem to understand that the qualities are entirely different. They do not consider the fact that when there is a good demand for household coal all through the winter that that keeps the price up, but when there is little demand for industrial coal the price keeps down. If people like to buy cheaper coal and try it in their fires they are at liberty to do so, but they cannot expect the very best coal at the lowest price. Let me give three specimens of household coal which have gone down very considerably in the last month. Take the comparison between now and last year. This time last year Derby Brights were about 62s. per ton. In July they went to 64s.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
In London, I think, but I am not quite certain. I will look into it and let the hon. Gentleman know if I am wrong. On 5th November last year they were 62s., in April last they were 54s. That, at any rate, is some reduction. Kitchen coal was then 59s., then 63s., then 59s., and in April 50s. As to stove coal, I have no quotation for April, 1921, but in July it was 60s. a ton, in November 47s., in April 19s. Those thinking about household coal will derive some comfort from the fact that it is going down in the summer, but it is important that this House should realise that there are many other factors in the cost of household 582 coal beside the wages of the miners and the profit of the owners. There is the cost of carriage, railway rates, the cost of distribution.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
The coal industry is confronted with a very difficult task. In some cases the owners have not been able to make any profits at all, wages have gone down to the minimum, and they have only been maintained at their present rate by a contribution of what would otherwise have been the owner's profit. I think everyone must admire the way in which the industry has made this effort. I know that there is great distress in some particular districts, chiefly because of the short time which is being worked, and I only hope that the recovery in trade will come soon, and put an end to the misery which is so serious in many districts of this country. I feel that whatever may be the future the industry is in a position to recover, and recover very rapidly, as soon as a general improvement in trade sets in.
I only wish to say in conclusion that I hope the efforts of this Department will be mainly directed to questions of health and safety and, if we can have a year without stoppages or disputes, then we shall have time to devote a great deal of our attention to this question and make investigations with the assistance of our scientific friends. The President of the Board of Trade stated that the policy of his Department was to be one of kindly, but not intrusive, beneficence in trade. We do not wish to be either intrusive or obtrusive, but we hope to follow the example of our Mother Department. We wish to be a common meeting ground for all interested in the industry for an exchange of views. We wish to be a friend to all men of good will in the industry, and do what we can to moderate differences. We have had the men's grievances laid before us, and if we have been of any use in these matters so much the better. I think it is a good thing to have a Department which is a medium through which one interest can approach another interest.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I am sure we are very much indebted to the Secretary for Mines for the valuable information which he has given to 583 us in the course of his address. I am certain that the Members of the Committee who are not particulary interested in the mining industry will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the careful manner in which he has outlined the economies which have been effected in his own particular Department. So far as those of us who largely represent mining constituencies are concerned, we are also indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the information he has given to us regarding the continuance of these quarterly returns, welfare, research, safety and accidents, and particularly for the hope which he held out of returning trade. I am certain that we all join with the Secretary for Mines in the hope that in the near future there may be a considerable, improvement in the industry which is under his particular charge.
I did not rise, however, for the particular purpose of following the line taken by the Secretary for Mines. I rose with the object of bringing before the right hon. Gentleman a question of even greater importance than any of those he has been discussing, important though they may be. I think the Secretary for Mines will be the first to admit. that unless we are able in this industry to earn the wherewithal to keep the mining community in some degree of comfort, all these other things will be of secondary importance. I am moving this reduction in the Estimate for the purpose of enabling us to bring before the Committee and the country the serious conditions obtaining in the mining industry, and the deplorable effect they are having upon mining homes throughout the British coalfields.
During the past 15 months there has been a serious fall in wages, in fact it. is the most serious that has ever taken place in the coal industry. I will take my own district to illustrate my point, because it is typical of the conditions prevailing in at least three-fourths of the British coalfields. In my own district wages have fallen during the past 15 months by no less than 12s. 1½d. per day, or a weekly fall in an average, working week of no less than £3 Os.7½dIn addition to the general fall that has taken place in accordance with our agreement, there have been substantial partial reductions which increase the figures I have given considerably. These partial reductions have been made by a particular owner in 584 certain parts of the coalfield over and above the general reductions that have taken place under the terms of our agreement, and they have very substantially increased the figure of reductions which I have already given. I am not going to take the line that this is a breach of the agreement of 1921, but I am going to say that it seems to us, where these partial reductions have taken place, to be a deliberate evasion of certain existing agreements if it is not encroaching on the agreement of 1921.
These reductions have brought the miners' wages down in almost three-fourths of the coalfields to something like 8s. 4½d. per day, or down to a weekly wage for an average working week of five days roughly to £2 2s. per week. That has brought wages down to the minimum under the terms of the agreement, and there can be no further fall, but in all conscience that fall is serious enough, because it means that the wages of the mining population in those parts of the coalfield have been brought down to 20 per cent. over the July, 1914, wage.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
Is not the right hon. Gentleman referring to the minimum wage, and not to the average wage?
§ Mr. ADAMSON
There are many thousands of our men who are not earning that wage, and why talk so much about that? The men are now brought down to something like 20 per cent. over the 1914 wage, although at the moment the cost of living is standing at 81 per cent. over the standard of July, 1914. The mining community, by comparison, are 50 per cent. worse off to-day than they were in July, 1914. When you add to this great fall in wages the fact that short working time is quite common in a number of the different. mining districts of the country, and that we have still thousands of men wholly unemployed, you can form some idea of the tragic conditions existing in our mining community. This simply means that there is actual starvation existing in the mining districts of the country. In addition to the deplorable condition of wages, and as a result of it, the household reserves, in the form of savings for clothing, boots, and other 585 household requisites, are being used up with little or any sign of relief in the immediate future.
During the past four months there has been a persistent rumour in my own district that the miners are to be paid what is known as the Sankey 2s. a day that was given to raise the standard of the mining community. There is a rumour which has persistently gone round during the last four months that this is to be paid retrospectively, and no amount of denials on the part of the mining officials has been able to kill that rumour. The reason is that there is such a terrible need for money in the mining districts that they are prepared to seize hold of any hope of money to relieve the deplorable condition of things existing there. This condition of affairs is producing a dangerous feeling in the coalfields—a feeling sullen and almost silent. I marked the words used by the Secretary for the Mines Department when he was complimenting the two sides on the patience with which they had borne with the condition of affairs during the past year. I can assure him of this, that that feeling is there, sullen and almost silent, but not the less it is the feeling, and as one intensely interested in the mining community, among whom I was born and with whom I worked the, whole of my days, I can assure the Government, the Committee and the country that, unless something is done, unless this condition of affairs can be remedied in some way, and that speedily, we will be face to face with a very, very serious position. I hope, for the sake of everyone, for the sake of the country and of the miners, that it will be possible for the Government and the mineowners to accomplish something that will bring relief to this hard-pressed community in some form or another. During the course of the Secretary's speech I made an interjection. He had made a statement, and I interjected that he would be safer not to discuss a certain line. He said that possibly both sides would be safer not to discuss that particular line. I am, however, going to be bold enough to discuss it, and to try and place the responsibility for the serious condition of affairs that exists in the mining industry at the present time.
In trying to assess the responsibility, I place the larger part of the blame upon the Government. I know that some of my 586 hon. Friends on the opposite side will not agree with me when I make a statement of that kind, but. I think it is a statement I shall be able to prove substantially before this Debate ends. I have no intention.of going fully into the matter. Others will follow me, and I desire to leave them as much time as I possibly can. I will simply deal with it broadly. In my opinion, the Government are largely to blame for the deplorable condition in which the mining industry finds itself to-day, and for this reason. They evidently seemed to think that it was quite possible for them to take hold of this vital industry and run it in all its essentials for no less a period, than four and a quarter years, and then suddenly to hand it over to the miners, on the one hand, and the mineowners, on the other, without disaster occurring. It simply could not be done, and the result is that. the miner to-day is paying the price—far too big a price. He is being asked to carry a burden that it will not be possible for him to carry for a much longer period of time. What I suggest is this—that. the Government should appoint. a Committee to inquire fully into the condition in the mining industry, with a view to seeing what steps can be taken for securing a speedy improvement in the position of the mining population. I make that appeal to the Minister for Mines and to the President of the Board of Trade, and, through them, to the Government, because I can assure them that the condition of affairs is so serious that they will require to do it very speedily if the mining industry and the country are to be saved from a still graver disaster than has already taken place. I hope that the appeal will be readily accepted, and it is in that spirit that I move the reduction of this Vote.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I listened with great sympathy to what. has just been said by the right hon. Gentleman who represents West Fife concerning the position in which the miners of the country find themselves at the present time, and I am not surprised that, on behalf of his colleagues, he has made an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade to see whether something can he done to remedy a state of affairs which in many districts is almost pathetic. I hope, with the consent of the Committee, 587 before I sit down to thrown out some suggestion not only to the Government but to the coalowners and the miners. After four years of control, during which we lived through almost continual threats of strikes and stoppages which we had to put up with as a community we had decontrol of the industry on the 31st March last year. That led to a stoppage which lasted from the beginning of April to the end of June. It was a disastrous stoppage to the country in every possible way. It was settled at the end of June last year by an agreement which was signed by the Secretary for Mines and his Under-Secretary on behalf of the Government, by Mr. Evan Williams and Sir Thomas Ratcliffe Ellis on behalf of the coalowners, and by Mr. Herbert Smith, Mr. James Robson, and Mr. Frank Hodges on behalf of the miners. That agreement was to last until the 30th September this year, and it was to continue after that date unless notice was given on one side or the other to terminate it. We are within a few months of the possible determination of the agreement. I want to try and show the Committee how that arrangement is working, and the means and methods by which it may possibly be improved.
As possibly most members of the Committee know, the country, so far as the coal mines are concerned, is divided into districts, and in each district the result of each month's working is tabulated. Every colliery has to send in the figures to the accountants—and there are, independent accountants acting on each side, one for the owners and the other for the miners. These returns are aggregated and on the result of the figures arrived at the wages of the miners for the following month are calculated. What happens is this. Take any particular county—say the county of Lancashire. The whole of the proceeds from the sale of coal in the collieries of that area are aggregated. Out. of those proceeds the miners get. their standard wage, as it is called. The standard wages are the district basis wages existing on the 31st March, 1921, plus district percentages payable in July, 1914. That is the first charge on the proceeds. Then come the costs other than wages, including timber, clerical staff and other charges that one may call the overhead charges incidental to the business. Then the owners take a standard point. That 588 standard profit is calculated at. 17 per cent. of the standard wages paid to the miners in the district. When these three totals are added together they are deducted from the proceeds and in most districts a surplus is left, and that surplus is divided 83 per cent. for the miners and 17 per cent. for the owners, and the miners' wages in the following month are calculated according to the surplus arrived at on those figures.
That agreement placed the mining industry on an economical basis before any other industry in this country, and this is what the miners are suffering from at this moment. They are simply getting the wages which their industry can afford to pay. On the other hand, since other industries have not been placed in a similar position, they have to pay for the necessaries of life an amount far higher than in 1914 or that it is possible for them to pay on the economic wage they are receiving. If all the industries and occupations had been treated in the same way as the coal industry at the end of June last year the miners' position to-day would be entirely different.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I was coming to that presently. It would be better if the hon. Member would let me pursue my line of argument. I think we may say that the businesses that are on an economic basis are what we may call export businesses; the businesses and industries not on an economic basis are non-export businesses. Where a trade depends either wholly or in part on exports then it has come down more or less to an economic basis. That is not so in the case of the railwaymen, transport workers, and in particular the employés in all municipal services throughout the country, and the effect is —and it is one of the things which has had a psychological effect on the miners' minds at the present time—that the hewer of coal in a given town is receiving less than the man sweeping the streets. That is the result of having tried to put the coal industry on an economic basis without having at the same time put all other occupations and industries on the same basis.
The agreement, in the main, has possibilities of fairness, if only it can be altered in certain particulars, and if, gradually, the result of the industries and 589 occupations of the country get on to a right level. But it was prepared in a hurry, as are nearly all these agreements when strikes and stoppages take place, and I am going to venture to point out three ways in which I think it is acting unfairly, and in which it should be modified. In the first place, the owners receive, as their standard profit, 17 per cent. of the standard wages. That is something very near what happened during the War in the building industry, where the builders were paid on the time and-line basis. They received 12½ per cent. on cost. What did that mean in the building trade during the War? It meant that the move wages they paid, and the higher were the prices of the raw materials that they purchased, the greater was their profit., and there was no encouragement to them to run their business on an economic basis. The comparison is not an exact one, but I should like the Committee to keep it in mind while I am putting this point forward. The result is that a colliery with good workings and a long expectation of life can afford at the present time to cut prices in order to get greater output and greater sales at the expense of the miners and without loss to the owners. I am going to venture to give to the Committee a somewhat complicated illustration in figures, and T hope they will bear with me while I do so.
I will first take, a typical colliery in a typical county at the present time. The proceeds from 18,000 tons for one, month are. 122,500, that is to say, the price is 25s. a ton. The standard wages are £10,000, and the costs other than wages £7.000. The standard profit, calculated at 17 per cent. on the £10,000 of standard wages paid is £1,700; so that the standard wages, the costs other than wages, and the standard profit, amount to £18,700, as against £22,500 of proceeds, leaving a surplus of £3,800, of which the owners take 17 per cent. or 1646, and the miners 83 per cent., or £3,154. The total received by the miners, that is to say, standard wages plus share of surplus, is, therefore, £13,154. The. total received by the owners, namely, standard profit and share of surplus, is £2,346. Now I want the Committee to imagine the owner of that colliery to say that, instead of offering his coal at 25s. a ton, he will reduce his price by 5s. a ton, 590 and offer the coal at 20s. per ton. The effect of that must be—it is happening every day at the present time—largely to increase, his sales, and to increase his output. Of course, this only applies to a colliery which has good workings. The colliery owner can immediately increase his output, probably by 50 per cent., by cutting his price from 25s. to 20s. a ton at the pit head.
Let me show the effect of that by reworking nut the figures for the colliery to which I have already referred, allowing for an increase of 50 per cent. in the output as a result of cutting the price to the extent of 5s. a ton. The proceeds will then be, for 27,000 tons at 20s. a ton, £27,000. By reason of the fact that the output is 50 per cent. up, the owner will employ 50 per cent. more men, so that the standard wages, instead of being £10,000, will be £15,000. The costs other than wages would, I suggest, go up by £2,000, and become £9,000. The standard profits to the owner would then be 17 per cent. of 115,000, so that he would get a standard profit of £2,550. Therefore, on this calculation, you have standard wages £15,000, costs other than wages £9,000, and standard profit £2,550, making 126,550, as against £27,000 of proceeds. The surplus is only 1450, of which the owners would take.£76, and the miners 1374. Let me compare that with my original figures. The result of increasing the output by 50 per cent. and reducing the price by 5s. per ton is that the owner takes, in standard profit pins share of surplus, £2,626, as compared with £2,346 previously. He gets more by increasing his output and reducing his price, because his standard profit is calculated on the standard wages.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The hon. Member has given us no particulars whatever as to the capital expenditure required to produce an increase of 50 per cent. in output, and it may be gigantic.
§ Mr. HOLMES
That is absolute nonsense, because at the present time nearly every colliery in the country can give a greater output if it can get the sales.
§ Mr. HOLMES
The particular colliery about which I am thinking at the present time is only working three days a week, and to suggest that if a colliery works a full week instead of only three days a week it will involve a gigantic amount of capital expenditure is absolute nonsense. I want to point out what has been the result, as regards the miners, of this increase in output and decrease in price. Their share now, in standard wages plus share of surplus, is £15,374, but there are half as many more men engaged in the industry.
Mr. S. ROBERTS
They work twice as many days. If they worked a full week instead of only working three clays a week, they would not need a single additional man.
§ Mr. HOLMES
That may be, but it does not alter the point at all. It can be worked out, if desired, in man-shifts, but it does not alter the point; it is a question of additional shifts. This is a fair illustration. To make the figure comparable with the previous one, it must be reduced by one-third, because you have either half as many more men or half as many more shifts. The comparative figure is, that the miners now get £10,250 divided up among them in wages, instead of £13,154, showing a reduction of 22 per cent. on their wages. That is how this agreement is hitting the miners. The more the price is reduced, the more they suffer. That is seen by many of the coalowners, and, as it is in the agreement, it is perfectly legitimate, and they are doing it. They are able to reduce the price of coal, which is good for the community, not at their own expense, but at the expense of the miners' wages, and that is really what requires to be altered in this agreement. It arises because the method of calculating the owner's standard profit is unsound. It is utterly unsound to calculate it as a percentage of standard wages. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the standard profit should be calculated upon the capital employed in the business. After that., the owners should have their share, and the miners theirs.
I want to point out, before I leave this point, that there is another way in which it pays the owners to cut down the price of their coal, even though they may not 592 get quite so much profit. Everything except coal is shut out from this agreement, so far as the miners are concerned. Coke ovens, patent fuel, and everything else is shut out. If the coalowner can cut down the price of his coal, he is able to transfer it to his coke ovens or his patent fuel at a much cheaper price, because the agreement says there shall be fair transfer prices based on current market values, if a coalowner can cut down the price of his coal from 25s. to 20s. per ton, so far as the public is concerned, he can transfer it to his coke ovens at 20s. a ton, and make 5s. a ton more profit for himself. That is the first point. The second point is that there is insufficient incentive to the men to give increased output per man per shift. The two great objects that every business man wants to achieve at the present time are, firstly, to reduce his costs by efficient management and new methods, and, secondly, to get an increased output per man. We have all been preaching, with regard to all trades and industries, the desirability of increased output. Under this agreement there is not that incentive. I worked out one district for the month of January. If the output. per man had been increased by 10 per cent., the surplus would have increased by £200,000, of which £166,000 would have gone to the miners and £34,000 to the owners. It may, perhaps, be said that that is quite satisfactory from the miners' point of view, for it works out at 13 per cent. on their wages, so that the hewer at the coal face who was previously receiving 11s. 9d. per day can take an additional Is. 6d for working 10 per cent. harder, and for everyone else in the colliery working 10 per cent. harder during his seven hours. On the other hand, if the men all round worked 10 per cent. harder in that particular district, the owners, who had not contributed to that increase in output, would receive, as their share of the surplus, a dividend equal to 2½ per cent. on the capital employed.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that an extra dividend of 2½ per cent. on capital employed is too much on that item. There is a psychology about these matters. The hewer at the coal face, spending most of his life underground, does not, perhaps, understand these things, or take such broad views as we do. He finds that he gets 1s. 6d., and he sees the dividend of 593 the colliery go up by 2½ per cent. as the result of the additional work that he himself does, and he is rather inclined to say, "I think I will go without my 1s. 6d. and let them go without their 2½ per cent." The method that I would suggest for getting over that is that a direct bonus should be given to the miners as a first charge on the surplus, to be arrived at by fixing a standard output per man per shift for each district, and paying a bonus of 15 per cent. on standard wages for every hundredweight by which the output per man per shift is increased. That would still leave a reasonable share to the owners, and give a reasonable incentive to the men to improve their own position and that of everyone in the industry, and at the same time to assist in bringing down the cost of production of coal.
My third point is that it has been generally assumed by everyone who read that agreement and who has taken a sort of general interest in the matter that every colliery company takes 17 per cent. of its standard wages as its standard profit, and then afterwards takes its proportion of the owners' 17 per cent. share of the surplus; but nothing of the sort occurs. Collieries differ in their workings, and the effect is that a colliery with difficult workings has to pay a numb higher wage per ton than another may have to do. The squeeze of nature is more in one colliery than in another, more timber is required, and the wages have to be much higher. The effect is that while in each district a number of collieries may be showing a surplus, and the whole district may be showing a surplus, there are many collieries which are showing no surplus at all and many which are being carried on at a toss. The effect of that is that a good colliery is paying less wages than it can afford because it is allowed to be brought in according to the aggregation—wages are settled by the aggregation of the whole district—while the poor collieries are paying more wages than they can afford, and so it happens that, in the first place, the poor collieries may be making no profit, or may be carried on at a loss, while the good colliery is showing a much larger profit than was intended and is keeping it for itself.
The fear that the poor collieries would be squeezed out was at the bottom of the 594 agitation for the pool which the miners carried on 18 months ago—a disastrous agitation as far as they were concerned. I am not going to suggest that profits should he pooled, but the fact remains that, owing to the aggregation of figures by districts, the good collieries are assisted in their wages bill and the bad collieries are penalised. I therefore suggest that in each district there should be a wages equalisation fund, and that after any individual colliery bad received 17 per cent. of its standard wages and 17 per cent. of its surplus, 50 per cent. of any surplus remaining should be paid to this wages equalisation fund. Similarly, any colliery which cannot afford to pay the rate of wage fixed by the district. ascertainment should receive out of the wages equalisation fund a sum equivalent to 50 per cent, of the amount by which its results fall short of the ability to pay the district wage. It might be argued that the good colliery would be holstering up the poor colliery, but the immediate answer to that is that the good colliery derives a great benefit at present in the way of increased profits from the inclusion in the district ascertainment of the poor collieries' results, and consequently a good colliery has to pay a lower rate of wages.
Those are the three points put to the President of the Board of Trade for consideration before this agreement comes to an end on 30th September next. But above all other things that are required in the coal industry, as I suppose in most industries, is goodwill. As one who has seen a good deal of the way in which this agreement has been carried out, I would appeal to certain coalowners to take a broad-minded view of all matters that come up. I could refer to a good many little things which have been done which are irritating and annoying. I will mention one. It comes about every month that when the standard wage per man is worked out, a good many men have an odd halfpenny in their standard wage per shift. We will say a hewer has 9s. 61d. per shift. There are some colliery owners who go beyond the agreement and are more than generous. They add a halfpenny and make it 9s. 7d. There are some who stand literally by the agreement and give 9s. 61d. per shift, paying the wages to a halfpenny; but there are others who knock the halfpenny off. With 595 five shifts at a halfpenny each it is only 2½d. It is annoying and irritating to the men, and it is one of those things that prevent that easy, pleasant feeling between the coalowners and the men that we all want to exist. I think the feeling between the coalowners and the men is much better than it was two years ago in some districts, and if only they will pull together and there is a little avoidance on the part of the owners of these annoying, irritating tiny points, which make no difference to them but a lot of difference to the men, particularly in the confidence they have in the owners, and if an alteration can be made in the agreement to a certain extent on the lines I have suggested, and if not on those lines perhaps I have thrown out some suggestions which it may be possible for others to improve upon, we shall find that a new agreement is drawn up which will immensely improve the position of the miners and at the same time supply coal to the country on an economic basis.
§ Mr. ARMITAGE
In the interesting review of the coal industry which the Minister gave, he referred to two Departments of the Ministry upon which I should like to say a few words on the question of safety and the question of health. The first point I should like to draw attention to is the question of the winding enginemen. One of the most responsible duties in a big modern pit is that of the winding enginemen. They can so easily let the cages drop and a large number of men be hurt. I cannot help thinking it would be a very great advantage if these enginemen were medically examined at. certain periods, and they should also have an age limit., because, however well a man may be, sometimes he goes wrong in his heart or nerves, and it is of vital importance that. men doing that work should be in the very best of health, and at present there is no medical examination at all of these men, and that. is a most important thing to look into. The other day the question of lamps was raised, and there was also the question of nystagmus. Attention should he drawn to the facts, which must he known at the Ministry, in regard to pits where they have electric lamps as against pits where they have only oil lamps. May I give an illustration of a pit which I have to do with? In 596 1912 there were about 2,400 men employed and the nystagmus cases were 11. The oil lamps were taken out after that year, and while the number of men employed has gone steadily up to 3,000, the nystagmus cases have gone down to three, and we attribute that to a very large extent to the introduction of the electric lamps as against the oil lamps. We have to have an oil lamp to so many electric lamps at the face. The men just hang the oil lamps up in any corner, and leave them there the whole shift. Very often the lamps get hot. No one pays attention to them, and we certainly consider they are a source of danger and not of safety. If there is proper inspection by deputies, the mine will be properly looked after in regard to gas. The other point I wanted to allude to was the question of the safety first. campaign. In a steel works that I have to do with, we have had a great number of these posters put up, and there is no doubt they had a very great effect upon the men. They began to take an interest in little things, which all mount up at the year's end, in regard to small damages and cuts. The last point I should like to allude to is the absolute necessity for first-aid in all collieries, and every man should be made to have it. It is so important that small cuts and damages should be looked after at once and properly attended to and cared for. I am sure that in these ways, with the masters and men working together, a great deal of extra benefit to health will accrue and a great deal less damage to the men.
§ Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
This is to us a very interesting discussion, and I should be very pleased to follow the hon. Member in the discussion as to lamps, but I cannot. We are asked to be very short, and many of us want to take part, although to those who live in mining districts a short speech is pretty difficult, because the feeling is so high among the people who live there that we meet with it every time we go outside the door. The wages are such that a man who is prepared to give his very best work the whole week simply cannot keep things going and cannot make ends meet., and the position of a man like that is one that no one ever ought to be called upon to endure. A man who is prepared to work ought to be able at least to keep himself and his wife and family in respectability and comfort. But that does not 597 obtain to-day, and there are plenty of men, the best workmen you can find, who are earning less than the scale allowed by Poor Law authorities to those in receipt of outdoor relief. It never ought to be like that. Coalowners talk about high wages and low production. I should think the low wages and the high production to-day would satisfy even the hon. Member for Cardiff. Production has gone up more than was anticipated. The low wages, of course, are responsible for that, because men are doing their very best to earn all they can.
The Minister put the point about accidents in mines. He said they were less than in any other country except Belgium. I am not going to dispute that, but I feel that there are accidents even yet which can be prevented. One day this week figures were given about shot firing accidents. I think it was 14 killed and 147 injured. I am not sure that we have a safety appliance which would prevent that, but we think we, have, and there ought to be an opportunity given to test it and to make sure, because if any of these lives could be saved they ought to be saved. The point was put then about safety first. I agree with that, and should like to see it brought about. I know what obtains in collieries to-day, going home every weekend and getting in touch with many of my old friends, as I do. One told me last Saturday about a case where he was in his working place, where there was no timbering put up and he felt it was not safe to go on hewing coal any longer, and when the official came round he said to him, "I cannot work here any longer, it is not safe." The official said, "Please yourself—there is no minimum wage for you —whether you go on working or not." In these circumstances, with the wages that obtain to-day, the men take risks in order to earn all the wages they can, however foolish it may be. We have men in our district who are taking home 36s. and less, and their rent is about 15s. per week in the newer houses. How do these people live? I do not know. I cannot pretend to say how they live. Any industry that is brought down to that condition is in a sorry plight, and something ought to be done to get it out of that condition. The Government have wiped their hands of control. We say that they 598 were wrong, and that they were responsible. We claim that if that control had been allowed to go on until the proper time the coalowners would have looked round for orders and markets, and there would not have been the terrible slump that we have experienced. This has been a very interesting week in the House. We had an interesting Division on Tuesday, and I was glad to hear many hon. Members talking about doing what was right, and declaring that it was wrong to break faith with any section of the community. The very same men who went into the Lobby against us, and also opposed us when the agricultural labourer's minimum wage was taken from him, were talking last Tuesday about what was right and honourable to do, and declaring that it would be a shabby thing to break faith with the teachers.
The Secretary for Mines has been speaking about increased output and export. Export is, in one sense, a very good thing, but when the coal is practically given away it is not a good thing. A reply was given to the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Swan) this week, which stated that the coal exported in 1921 was 1,968,078 tons, and that the value of that coal was £5,201,235. In 1922 the export was 4,281,877 tons and the total value was £5,785,310, or only £584,075 for the extra 2,313,799 tons. We have been practically giving away the one great asset that we possess in this country. The export of coal has increased by 54 per cent. between 192/ and 1922, but the amount received was only 10 per cent. higher than in 1921. That means that the extra output only brought in 5s. per ton. Exports on these lines are not much good to us. There was a protest meeting in Cardiff last January at which a number of coalowners protested against other coalowners who were under-selling them to the extent of 3s. and 3s. 6d. per ton. The result was that there was not a con more coal sold than could have been sold at the higher price, and it was a very serious matter in the wages of the workmen. It made all the difference to their wages. We are sending coal to India, delivered, for about 40s. a ton, and sending coal to San Francisco cheaper than the Americans are able to deliver it. Therefore, this larger output has been given away, and has brought no good results to the miners, who had been asked to give increased output. They have been 599 working hard and giving an excellent output. The output in South Wales for seven hours per day is practically the same as it was in 1913. Mr. Finlay Gibson, Secretary of the Coalowners' Association, says:There is only one or two industries in the United Kingdom where costs and prices have been reduced as much as they have in the mining industry, and none in which production and export has been so much improved.There is general satisfaction with the way the men have worked, and yet the men cannot make both ends meet. That is a very serious matter, and one that ought to be remedied by some means. We were told that if coal was produced all the other trades would start; that the only thing that was wanted was to reduce wages and bring down the price of coal. So far as the miners' wages are concerned the prices cannot come any lower than they are to-day. In South Wales we have had the minimum since last October. The cheapness at which we are sending this extra coal all over the world is of no value to the men who produce it Therefore, other industries can expect nothing from this cheaper coal. There has been no reduction in royalties. The men who toil not, neither do they spin, get the same amount, despite the fact that the men who are willing to work, and able to work, cannot make both ends meet. The royalty owners were paid from July, 1921, to February, 1922, £951,287, or for the whole year practically £1,500,000. There is no help from that quarter for this great industry, and we contend that, with the industry in its present condition, there ought to be some help from that quarter.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
The royalties are the same now as before, and there ought to be some relief from royalties. When a man works and cannot pay his way, surely other people ought to share the burden.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
What we want are markets for manufactured goods. It is said that we must get into touch with our undeveloped colonies. There is one 600 great country that is partially developed and which wants many manufactured articles. If we could get a part of that trade we should be doing more good than looking for markets where we are practically giving away our coal. I refer to Russia. The Government, through the Prime Minister, ought to act on their own, France or no France, in matters of this kind. We ought to be getting our share of the orders for manufactured articles for which that great country is crying out. To do that would be far more important than looking for markets for the sale of coal where we have to practically give it away.
§ Mr. GOULD
There is not one of us who does not appreciate the extraordinarily difficult position in which the miners are placed by reason of the standard of wages existing to-day. There is none of us who does not appreciate to the greatest possible extent the sacrifices which the miners have made, not only in the interests of their own industry but in the interests of other industries in the country. My hon. Friend who has just spoken has suggested that I should be satisfied at the present time with low wages and high production, because I have in the past been a critic of high wages and low production. I think it casts a reflection not only upon myself but upon those for whom I have the honour to speak, and whom I represent in this House. It is a totally false misrepresentation of the point of view which we take of industrial conditions and national necessities. It is no use for us, and we realise it to the full, to expect from the workpeople of this country, or to exact from them a standard of living which makes for discontent and misery, and which is going to cause them to be cast upon the State and to make the State responsible for their maintenance and upkeep. We are by no means anxious to get the standard of living below the level of sustenance, but there are times, and this is one of them, when it becomes imperative in the interests of the nation to get industry on an economic basis on which it can be maintained and sustained, and on a level which will enable other industries in turn to get on an economic basis.
My hon. Friend made reference to the fact that we were giving coal away for export purposes. It is perfectly true 601 that in 1921, at the end of the March quarter, we were exporting coal for bunkers and cargo to the tune of 34,000,000 tons per annum, and it is also true that at the present time we are within 3,000,000 tons per annum of the 1914 export trade in coal. It is also true that the difference in price is between 56s. 2d. a ton in 1921 and 23s. 11d. average price at the present time. What has been the cause of that? My hon. Friend says that we are giving the coal away, and he wants us to maintain higher prices. It was only by the greatest sacrifice that we were able to get our markets back. It was only by sacrifice on the part of the miners and the coalowners that we were able to absorb into the industry in this country 300,000 men who would have been otherwise unemployed. Does my hon. Friend forget that?
There was no market for our coal this time last year, but through the combined efforts of the two parties we have regained practically the whole of the trade that had been taken away from us, which we are only holding to-day in competition. When the terms of settlement are reached between the American miners and the American mineowners, we shall again be placed in a very serious position as regards competition. The hon. Member says that this is an artificial something put up by the coalowners as a threat to the miners. We have no threats to make to the miners. We do not want threats, but we must hold out the possibility of coal being sold in Europe from America for 35s. a. ton c.i.f. You cannot get away from that. We have to face it, and we have to look round and find what are the causes which keep the wages at this low level. Take railway rates. In South Wales the miner is producing within. 5 per cent. of 1914, although the number of men is less by 20,000. It is wonderful to see the spirit of co-operation, effort and endeavour put in by the men during the last five or six months. I only hope that it will continue. But we have to consider the prime factors in the cost of coal to-day which are operating against better wages in the mining industry. Take the railway charges. Before the War—and we are particularly hard hit in South Wales —the average in South Wales was about 1s. 6d. per ton; the average to-day is over 4s. What sacrifices have the railway 602 companies made comparable to the sacrifices which have been made by the coalowners?
§ Mr. GOULD
When they came to distribute the reserves of some of the companies interested in docks in coal mining districts, we find that the shares were pushed up 40 or 50 points. That procedure is still being maintained at the expense of the coal industry in this country. The right hon. Baronet may be able to throw some light on that matter. Not only have we got 4s. per ton charges on coal to-day, and this is for export only, but what about charges on coal for inland transport? We are faced with practically a stoppage of business in the iron and steel trades. They find that they cannot cut their coal costs any more. It takes nearly three tons of coal to make a ton of steel. We cannot expect the coal costs to come down. The only hope of relief we have is in a reduction of railway rates and charges. That does not involve on our part, and we do not ask it, any drastic cut in wages on the part of the railway men, but there has got to be a re-arrangement and a contribution on the part of the other industries similar to the contribution made by the coal owners and the coal miners.
Take the South Wales industry alone. In five months we have lost 1,000,309 dissipated in reserves, to make up the cost of wages to the standard set by the agreement. Take the month of March alone. The results in that month, which make the basis of the wages for May, show that we lost £171,357. The actual proceeds of the sale in the industry only gave us the 1915 standard plus 16 per cent., and by the agreement we are compelled to pay the 1915 standard plus 28 per cent. In other words—and this I commend to the attention of my mining friends—if the miners had owned the whole of the South Wales pits in the month of March, they would have received less in wages by a sum of £171,000 on the total receipts which the industry brought. That is something which the advocates of nationalisation should remember. I am exceedingly sorry that so far no one on the Labour side has sought to discuss the various matters which at the present moment are causing dissatis- 603 faction and trouble in the coalfield from week to week and from day to day. In week-end speeches, and especially on May Day, we heard complaints of victimisation and other things that the coal-owners are doing, and I am sorry that while the Labour party have advocated a day for a discussion of this matter, they have not brought it up in this House. Therefore, I feel it my duty to deal with those matters and to point out exactly what we feel about it and what the truth of the situation is.
I have given this matter very careful and, I think, impartial and fair consideration, and there is no doubt that it has got to be recognised in the first place that the mine owners are as much wrapped up in the prosperity of the industry as the miners themselves. There is no profit for us until they get a first charge upon the industry. We have sacrificed our profits. We see very little prospect, if we are going to maintain our export market, of increasing our profits to any considerable extent, and we feel that in competition it is essential for us to keep the cost of coal down to the lowest possible level. We do not want unduly to force prices, but we do agree that the great way in which we can improve wages is by further improving the conditions of production by stimulating the export and home markets, and by bringing about, through railway reductions and in other ways, a demand for a bigger consumption. In this way we can considerably increase the wages of the miner. One thing with which we have been brought very much M contact of late is the active agitation in South Wales for a further stoppage. It does seem to me that that agitation has two distinct objects. The first is to bring about conditions whereby those people who have left the Miners Federation through dissatisfaction with its methods should be forced to come back to the Federation, and the second is an attempt by a small section of people who do not want peace in the industry to discredit the agreement which is now in force.
The agreement has never had a fair trial, though it comes up for revision in a short time. It came into force at a time when the markets of the world were completely gone from us, and in a period of great depression. Despite all the difficulties and obstacles with which we were 604 faced, and despite the fact that very few of the countries of the world had the money to buy our goods, they still took coal from us, and we have gone back to the position which we had in 1914. The agreement has worked very satisfactorily with very little profit to either side in a most difficult period. It may be modified by agreement between the two parties, but deliberately to seek to discredit an agreement which has never had a chance of working in normal conditions, is unfair and unjust, not only to the country, but to the miners themselves. I have studied this matter very closely, and it does seem to me that the real reason behind most of this agitation is that the South Wales Mining Federation in particular are more concerned about their domestic inside politics than about the condition of the coal industry. That is a charge which I must deliberately make, and which I am sure is borne out by the conditions with which we are confronted to-day, and in speech after speech made in the coalfields.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) is not here. Sometimes he lacks that sense of humour which is so essential, I think, to all of us. He pleads with the coal-owners on one hand to compel the nonunion men to come into the union, and he uses arguments in the coalfields to persuade the men to come in so that they can fight the coalowners. Do my hon. Friends think that they are going to get the sympathy of either on those grounds? While we are desirous of working in every possible way in peace and harmony, we cannot possibly be expected to place a full degree of reliance on the promises of a leader who on the one hand asks us to help his union, because it will make for harmony, and on the other hand goes to the men and says, "Join the union so that we can have a go at the coalowners." You cannot expect us in conditions like those to place full reliance on the words and promise of leaders, but while we are willing to do all we can, there must be a good spirit and fair play between both parties.
I will try as briefly as possible to set out the charges with which we have to deal and which are being circulated today. The first charge brought against us is that the men's wages are below subsistence level. That I have more or less 605 dealt with. We admit without any dispute or argument that the index figure of the standard of living is considerably higher than the ratio of increase in the miners' wages since 1914, but that has been a matter of necessity, as I have already explained, and we were forced against our will to accept that position if we wanted to continue the operation of the mines at all. The effect has been to stabilise the industry and to enable us to re-absorb a large number of men who otherwise would have been thrown on the guardians of this country or otherwise forced to exist as best they can. I may read a passage which occurred in an article by Mr. Frank Hodges in the "Daily Dispatch" of 24th March. He said:The price of coal can be reduced no more. In many districts the revenue from the sale of coal is absolutely inadequate even to provide a living wage for the men or a reasonable profit for the owners. The British coal trade has re-established itself in the markets of the world, but at a very terrible cost to those engaged in the trade.With that we agree, but we do not know how in present conditions we can alter that. If we put prices up to any extraordinary figure, we are going to lose trade. If we lost trade it means unemployment. On the other hand we do not see that we are getting the co-operation from the miners' leaders and my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench (Mr. Thomas), whom I am glad to see here, could, I think, do far more than any other man in this country to bring about conditions which would be of assistance to the miners. There is no use in maintaining a false condition of prosperity in one industry while another industry is starving. The right hon. Gentleman can, in consultation and negotiation with the railway companies, assist considerably in reducing the railway cost and providing better conditions for the miners.
Another point which has been raised from time to time, as one of the causes of trouble in the coalfields, is that the irregular reductions which take place in some collieries constitute a breach of the settlement. This is a very important matter. The base rate and the wage rate have been fixed by agreement, but it so happens in many cases that when the collieries are put into operation we find it impossible to keep those collieries going at the standard rates without involving 606 the proprietors in very serious loss. Every company is faced with two alternatives in those conditions—the alternative of shutting down and, practically, losing its capital, or carrying on until it becomes bankrupt. It has another alternative—to go direct to the men and say, "This is the condition. What are you going to do about it?" I do not know a single case on record in which the coalowners have enforced a standard of wages outside the terms of the agreement except with the consent of the miners' representatives themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I maintain that is so, and I am prepared to accept the proof of any hon. Member if he can give it. There has been no established case within my knowledge in which rates of pay have been fixed except by agreement. I am not going to say for one moment, that there are not many cases on record in which the standard wages have been reduced. I maintain that it is so, but I am prepared to accept proof to the contrary if it can be given. There has been no definitely established case within my knowledge where rates of pay have been fixed, except by agreement. I do not say that there have not been many cases on record where the standard wage has been reduced and where we refused to agree to the continuance of the minimum wage. You must remember that the coalowner, even in closing a mine, is brought face to face with one great difficulty. The closing of a mine and the maintenance of it closed involves a considerable outlay. If that outlay should exceed the total amount of the loss involved by carrying on, it makes it impossible of continuance. Many pits are being run to-day at a loss which is less than the amount that would be lost to the owners if they closed the pits. They are carrying on in the hope that, by agreement with the men and by development of the markets, they may be able to raise rates and improve conditions in the pit.
Charges have been made that the standard of wages in some areas is below that of 1914. I can say definitely that in no case does that exist. There may have been reductions on the minimum wage. But you have to remember this: We have been compelled, through the interference of years of control, to add considerably to the number of men employed. The operation of the collieries during the time 607 of control was not in the hands of the owners or the men, and every time there was any possibility of dispute or trouble, or any question of under-manning, rather than go into the matter and fight it out, as it would have been fought out and settled in the old days, it was a case of "give way and put the men on." Now we are responsible for the operation of the mines, and after having had five or six years of lack of discipline, we are faced with resentment on the part of the men and disinclination to observe the ordinary discipline to which they agreed in 1914. It is true that when anything happens it falls upon the owners, but it must be admitted that if the mines are to be operated for the joint profit, as they are to-day, the owners must have the right to exercise control and discipline within their own pits.
There is another matter affecting South Wales. There was a provision in the agreement for the payment of allowances where the wages were below the level of subsistence. That arrangement has been refused because we would not allow it to apply to the single men. We maintain that the single man without any responsibility, if he is earning the same wage as the married man, is infinitely better off than the married man with a family. There is no reason on earth why the position should have been made to apply to the single man and to operate against the married men. The married men were entitled to take it, but it was refused. There is another charge—that we have withdrawn many of the old privileges. What are they? The fact that we resisted a continuous attempt on the part of a large number of men, who found it, convenient during the period of control to work on the minimum wage. As far as I am aware, there has been no other privilege withdrawn from the men. There was a large number of people in the industry who thought it was much more desirable to work on the minimum wage, if it produced a satisfactory sum, rather than to go back to the proper terms of working and to apply the Minimum Wage Act as it was meant to be applied. The minimum wage provides for one thing only. It provides for the adequate payment of a man working in a place where, through no fault of his own, he cannot earn a satisfactory wage. I say to my hon. Friends who represent the miners. "You 608 have your own impartial tribunals to ad judicate as to any difference that may arise on the point. There is no reason why you should put forward an excuse to convince the public that the coalowners are endeavouring to break agreements."
There is the question of victimisation. As to that I say there is no attempt on our part to victimise anyone. We are up against another awkward and difficult position. You say, "Why should these men not be employed, as they were employed in 1914, or 1918, or 1919?" The imperative necessities of economic life under present-day conditions make it incumbent upon us to have the right of selecting which men shall work. Every man must give a fair day's work for his wage. They are doing it; we admit that. But there are some who do not want to do that. We must have the right of selection, and if there is any victimisation, which I do not think is the case, it is because in some cases we have not taken men back to work, and the reason for that is that from experience we have known that they are not capable of giving the same amount of labour as their colleagues who are in work. We are accused of victimisation because we cannot absorb all the redundant labour of the coal fields. My hon. Friends of the Labour party do not tell the House or the country that 40 years ago out of every 100 men employed in the coal industry 60 were producing coal and only 40 were dead labour. Today, out of every 100 men, 35 men only are working on the coal faces and 65 are dependent for a livelihood on those 35. That is making a tremendous difference in the cost of production.
Another charge against the coalowners, used for the purpose of discrediting this agreement, is that we are in league with the Ministry of Labour on the question of unemployment. It is being said of us that we are deliberately closing down pits in order to throw men back on the Ministry of Labour, and that the Ministry of Labour is refusing to grant allowances because the men are out of work on account of an industrial dispute. Nothing of the kind; it has never occurred to us at all. If we close down a pit, when compelled by circumstances, it is only because it is impossible to continue the operation of that pit without involving ourselves in a very heavy financial loss. If the men will not come to an agreement in these 609 circumstances we have absolutely no alternative but to close down, and, if the Ministry of Labour is taking up the point of view suggested, it is something entirely outside our knowledge and certainly not by agreement with any body of employers in the country. Having regard to the way in which this agreement has operated since last July, there is no intention on the part of the coalowners to do anything to destroy the spirit of it or to engender bad feeling between the men and themselves.
In conclusion let me quote from Mr. Finlay Gibson's circular:The general position in the mining industry itself is, as will have been seen, a much improved one compared with March, 1921. But there is still much to be achieved in the direction of lower costs, higher outputs and reduced rail and dock charges, before the industry can be restored to a sound, economic state, the wages of the men improved, and the industries of the country stimulated by a plentiful supply of coal.I commend that statement to members of the Labour party. The miners are not, we know, getting a wage comparable with that paid in other industries. They have been the first to feel the effects of economic circumstances. But so have the employers. It is not the wage that counts so much. It is the fact that you are not able, by circumstances of to-day and because other people have not made the same sacrifice that you have made, to get value for your money. That is the position. You have made your contribution and others are getting the benefit. The coalowners, too, have made their contribution It is up to this Committee to see whether in the coal trade we cannot bring to bear on other industries the same spirit of sacrifice, which will enable us to re-start and in the coal industry to gain the same relative value for money as we are giving others to-day.
§ Mr. J. BROWN
We are very much indebted to the Secretary for Mines for the very kind things he says about us, and we gladly acknowledge his assistance and cooperation whenever he found it possible to give them. One hardly knows how to start on a subject like this, because some hon. Members who came here to curse have begun to bless the effort that the Labour party is making to call public attention to the awful state of the miners to-day. One can hardly help traversing ground already covered. But one cannot 610 reiterate too often that our men are suffering severe privation. We believe the public do not understand how our men are suffering, and many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House do not understand. The hon. Member who has just spoken talked about discipline and blamed us for lack of discipline. He said that we expected the same conditions to exist to-day as existed during the War, or rather he suggested that we resented going back to the old discipline of the days before the War. Does my hon. Friend understand why this was brought about? Does he remember that there was a War? Does he remember that, at least in the country of which I am speaking—Scotland—30 per cent. of our men went to the War voluntarily, that there was bound to be dislocation, that we were bound to take whatever material we could get, and that after the War there was hound to be a good deal of unrest and dissatisfaction throughout the coal fields? He seems to forget that. We do not say that there should be any lack of discipline where discipline can be maintained, but what we want to focus the mind of the public on is the lamentable state of the men who are working in the coal mines to-day.
Wales has already spoken. One jump over the border and Scotland is now speaking. The same story is true of Scotland as has been told of Wales. Our men there are not able to earn what keeps soul and body together. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Holmes) gave a very fine exposition of their grievance and told us a great many things which most of us who have been working with this agreement knew already, but what I am sure was information to many hon. Members. What we want to get back to is the question of how we are to better the conditions of our people. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) suggested we should have an inquiry. We do want an inquiry in order to bring out all the facts to understand exactly where we are. Let us understand exactly to what all this sacrifice, on the part of the miners, and on the part of the mine owners also in many instances, is leading. Is it going to do the country any good? It is certainly to-day putting our men in such a position that they would be far better with the unemployment benefit and infinitely better getting the parish council 611 dole. That is a position to which no industry should be brought. It is a position to which none of our people in this country, after standing together shoulder to shoulder and defeating the enemy, should be brought. We should not he in such a situation that our men are hopeless and without heart; that they do not know what is to be done; that they cannot exist; that their families are in starvation; that all their reserves are eaten up; and that they do not know to what side to turn for help.
Some proposals will be expected from us to remedy this state of affairs. I am afraid in the time at my disposal I am unable to give very many proposals, but I ask the Committee this question. Why have the miners been dealt with in this manner? Everybody admits that this is a basic industry. Everybody admits that the welfare of the nation hangs on the welfare of the coal industry. We have been told that over and over again. Why, then, have the miners been asked to make all these sacrifices, when a little forethought, a little sympathy, and a few of the vast millions which the Government have spent otherwise would have assisted them very materially at the time the dislocation took place? I remember very vividly the closing days of March last year. I remember how we pleaded with the right hon. Gentleman in charge of these Estimates, until the small hours of the morning, for some little assistance. On what did we base that plea? We based it on the fact that during many years of the War the miners were content to be controlled and to have their wages regulated by the cost of living. Anybody who lived in a coal district during those years of the War is bound to know that many of the men themselves said: "Why should we depart from our old Conciliation Board agreements and accept control?" There is no good in anybody telling me that they had to accept control. Everybody knows they had no need to accept it had they been possessed of less patriotism and greater desire to embarrass the Government. The result to the miners was that, while under the old Conciliation Board agreement they could have earned double the wages that they got under control, they accepted control. We had to withstand pressure from our men outside, who told us—and they were true 612 prophets—that when the time came no consideration would be given to the miners at all. They were absolutely right in that prophecy. We based our plea to the Secretary for Mines on the fact that we had given way, that we had dropped the old Conciliation Board agreements and accepted control by the Government, because of the necessities of the Empire. Having done so and having incidentally given the Government many hundreds of millions of pounds at the expense of the industry, we surely had a right to expect that some little consideration would be shown to us when the time came to show it.
I am not pleading for subsidies. I believe, like the hon. Member for Cardiff (Mr. Gould), that an industry must stand upon its own feet. Sooner or later, the industry decays that is not able to do so. We did not ask for subsidies, all we asked was that something should be given us to tide over the time until an agreement could be made mutually between the owners and ourselves. In the first instance, the owners used to say—I remember some of the bigger colliery owners saying it to meetings of their men and putting it into the public Press—that this was a gross breach of agreement on the part of the Government in relation to the mining industry of the country. That was said during the first few weeks of the trouble. Some of them say so still, but, unfortunately, they did not stand by us when the crisis came, to assist us to get over the difficulty. All we were asking for was some little return on the money which had accrued to the Government during the years of the War through our action. Some hon. Members think there was no breach of agreement at all. I ask them to cast their minds back to the occasion I refer to. Those who are in possession of the agreement know that we considered we could carry on, under it, up to the 31st August.
§ Mr. BROWN
I concede to the hon. Member the words "Not later than." Everybody expected, and I am sure the hon. Member himself expected, that the agreement would he kept, up to the 31st August, but the Government suddenly found itself in a difficulty and said "Here is an opportunity. Here is one of the greatest organisations that the indus- 613 trial world has ever seen. They are numerically strong, they are strong in discipline, and they have large funds. We will attack the miner, and, when the miner is successfully dealt with, all other industries can be dealt with in turn." That, I believe, operated in the minds of some hon. and right hon. Members.
§ Mr. BROWN
Sometimes it does not help very much to refrain from stating the facts. If the Government even now are prepared to accept our view, we on our side will gladly accept their late repentance, and co-operate with them as far as lies in our power to bring about a better state of things. I would like my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mr. Hurd) to get out of his mind the idea that the officials of miners' trade unions want strikes. Owners who deal with us know we do not want strikes, because strikes do not pay anybody. We would rather settle our differences amicably round a table than go to the arbitrament of war, which is always disastrous, let it turn out how it may. We do not want that at all, and we do want to be helpful. I desire to utter another warning. I ask the Committee whether we are taking the right way to bring about stability in the coal trade? I have heard psychology talked about. Miners are peculiarly susceptible to psychological influences. When they discover all round them men working in other industries not receiving too much, but receiving only that which brings them up to the ordinary cost of living, yet receiving double what the miners are receiving—then, I can assure you, psychology begins to work, and something more than psychology. That is where the difficulty comes in. Everybody wants stability, but do you think you can get it while men consider themselves ill-treated and while they are ill-treated, because from its inception this was ill-treatment and a gross breach of faith. The hon. Member for Cardiff talked about the time coming when the coal trade would have an opportunity of going forward. Do you think it is reasonable to expect, if that time does come, that tens of thousands of men will forget the dire distress they are in to-day, and the manner in which they were met by the Government and by hon. Members of this House when they appealed for some 614 little sympathy and support. We are only courting disaster if we do not give them some of that sympathy and consideration which they have a right to expect from the British Parliament. If we do not give them that consideration, then I am afraid the future has not those rosy streaks in it that were depicted by the hon. Member for Cardiff.
I appeal to the Secretary for Mines to make arrangements for this inquiry and to do so with an open and sympathetic mind—as I know he will—but I ask him also to try and influence his colleagues to give that sympathy which is necessary in this crisis. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Another Sankey Inquiry."] By no means. We were talking about royalties a few moments ago. What was the proposal regarding royalties? It was said: "You cannot have nationalisation but we will give you royalties. The nation will acquire the royalties and thus things will be helped a little bit further." Mr. Justice Sankey said, "We will give you this 2s. a day, not as an increase on the cost of living, but as an increase to bring the condition of the miner up to something like the average of the country." He saw at the inquiry all that had happened, and when you did not grant us nationalisation, as I always knew you would not without a very hard fight for it, you ought at least to have observed the other promises that were made and the other conditions that were given; you ought at least to have kept faith with us in regard to the mining rents and royalties of this country. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) said they had not risen any. Well, they have not fallen any, and, as I understand it, in many districts they did rise considerably during the high price of coal. Royalties, like anything else, are now placed on a sliding scale.
§ Mr. BROWN
My hon. and gallant Friend surely was not listening to me. I did not say it applied to all. I would be very foolish to say that, knowing the facts as I do. I said in many cases; it may be more correct to say only in a few cases, but it is growing every day. I implore the Minister in charge to get his colleagues to assist him in getting this in- 615 quiry set up, if he wants any permanent stability in the coal trade and that peace and contentment that must come, if any industry is to be worked profitably and without dispute.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I understand the question before us is that of the salary and expenses of the Minister of Mines, and there are one or two points I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman which appear on the Vote. He gave us some account of what is being done in welfare work with the levy of a penny a ton on the whole of the output in the coal mines, a levy which is to be devoted to the welfare of the miners. Surely now it is time for us to consider whether we cannot properly and justly make some little alteration in the administration of that fund, for it seems to me rather pathetic that in districts like many in Lancashire, where the position of the miner at the present time is worse, I believe, than the position in the district of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Brown), who has just spoken—it seems to me rather absurd that we should be making parks and recreation grounds, and so on, when the men themselves can hardly find enough to keep themselves alive, and therefore I ask the right hon. Gentleman, if it is possible to do it without legislation, to see whether he cannot make some arrangement by which the welfare fund might be applied otherwise.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
That is exactly what I said. I said that if it can be done without legislation, if it can be done by any Order, by all means let us have it. It is rather absurd that men should be waiting for these benefits, which will only mature in the far future, when they themselves are in this sad plight to-day. The second point is this. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be too much impressed by certain questions which have been put to him in the last few weeks on the subject of shot-firing apparatus. We all know very well that it is very desirable that shot-firing should be carried out by the most modern methods; but do not let us press the right hon. Gentleman to commit himself, and his Department, and 616 every body in this country to certain specified forms of shot-firing plant. There are plenty of good and safe shot-firers to be obtained, and it is not in the interests of the industry, of the miners, or of the country as a whole that any monopoly should be given to any particular kind. Let us have free competition in the case of shot-firing apparatus, and then we shall get some invention of greater safety and utility than we have to-day.
The third point is this—and here I am criticising an actual expenditure of the Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman has said—and I think we all agree—that the Ministry has been extremely economical It has kept well within the amount that was estimated for its expenditure, but there is one item of that expenditure which I think many of us here can only pass with very great regret, indeed. The Ministry keeps, as one of its highest paid officials, what is termed a Labour Adviser to the Ministry. I ask the Committee, and especially those hon. Members who are engaged in the industry, if there is anything which that Labour Adviser can do in the Ministry that could not be equally well done by any miner's agent in the country or by any pay-clerk in any colliery. It is perfectly ludicrous to he paying a gigantic salary in these days to a right hon. gentleman, an admirable gentleman in every way, but a luxury which we cannot afford, and it is particularly incongruous in the case of a Ministry, which is so economical in every other way, as is the Ministry of Mines. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind.
There is one other point that I may address to hon. Members opposite which I think they might take into consideration, but I hope they will not think I am attempting to dictate in this matter. I hope hon. Members opposite representing miners' unions will consider whether it is desirable to insist at the present time upon the continuation of a seven-hours' day. I ask that particularly, because it is a matter that comes under my notice every week at the present time. In my own village at home, within a few hundred yards of my own cottage, there is a very large pit which has been shut down for many months past. The main reason why that pit cannot work at a profit is that the vast proportion of the available coal —and good coal too—is at such a distance 617 from the pit bottom that it is a practical impossibility to work that coal at a profit with a seven-hours' day. The only alternative to that would be to spend very large sums of money on the roads, so that men could be travelled under power at a high speed and in safety. I have gone carefully into the figures, and the capital expenditure involved would be such as completely to prevent, the working of the coal at a profit. Therefore, while I do not, as I say, wish to dictate, I do hope hon. Members representing miners' unions will take that into consideration, will examine cases in their own districts, and see whether it would not be desirable to press the right hon. Gentleman to introduce the necessary legislation to put aside for the time being the seven-hours' day. Many people—and I think they believed what they were saying—said that the seven-hours' day would result in a large diminution of the output, but, as a matter of actual fact, their fears have not been realised, and there is no question at all that the average output has not deteriorated to any large extent—only by a very small percentage—but the case I am putting is the case of a large number particularly of old pits that simply cannot be worked, because the men get coal at long distances away from the pit bottom, with only a seven-hours' clay. I make that suggestion to the hon. Members opposite for them to deal with.
§ Mr. SUTTON
May I say that I know something of this colliery to which the hon. Member refers, because it comes under my jurisdiction, and when the workings were near the shaft this colliery has never paid for years and years, because the Manchester Corporation has prevented it from getting the best seams, so it is not the short working day that is responsible?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
What the hon. Member has said exactly proves my case. The coal which remains to be got is beyond the reservoir coal. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire has suggested that the condition of the collier might be improved if the State were to take over royalties. I ask hon. Members to consider calmly whether it would make the faintest difference to the position of the colliers if the State took over the royalties or not. If they take them over, 618 they have got to issue Government stocks returning an equal income to the former royalty owners, with the result that things would be left exactly as they are at the present time. There might be a certain convenience in certain districts in having royalties all in the possession of one owner, but that is rather the exception than the rule.
It is admitted, in spite of what the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) said, that on the average, throughout the whole of the districts, it is very probable that the miners' position is worse now than it was in 1914. In my own district it is much worse; possibly in some districts in the Midlands it is better; but, taking the whole of the districts of this country together, I feel that at the present time the position is probably worse now than in 1914, and it is quite possible that it may get a little worse still, but not much. We are faced with that position. It is no use hon. Members opposite—if I may say so with all due respect—painting us this picture of the privations of the colliers. We know it, and really it does touch us as much as it does them. I think the country as a whole knows it, at any rate, in the colliery districts. But the question before us is whether we can in this Debate in any way help to make that condition better. That is the whole question. Those districts that are suffering worse than any ethers are the districts where it is impossible to get rid of the inferior qualities of coal, the slacks and small coal, which, during the trade prosperity, when the cotton industry and the steel industry were on full time, could be got rid of with considerable ease and at reasonable prices. In my own county of Lancashire at the present time, and in some other counties, they have vast stocks of small coal and slacks which can hardly be sold at the very lowest prices. Cases have come to my notice in the last month where slacks have been offered at the pit mouth at half-a-crown a ton, and there have been no offers for them.
The real reason of that is, as hon. Members opposite know, the depression in other trades. In Lancashire that position, so far as the cotton trade is concerned, is getting very much better at the present time. The cotton operatives, probably the most highly organised workers in this country, having leaders with a thorough appreciation of the economic facts under- 619 lying the present position, have made agreements and accepted cuts in wages of an enormous amount, and thereby the cotton trade is beginning to recover its prosperity. It will be a slow business, but they are on the right course. That, of course, has given an outlet for our slacks and inferior coals in Lancashire, and to a certain extent for the Yorkshire and Midland slacks and inferior coals, but the real trouble is the present condition of the shipbuilding industry and of the steel industry. Hon. Members opposite will correct me if I am wrong, but the right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) painted a picture of East Scotland and the Fifcshire coalfield which was pathetic in the extreme, and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire painted a similar picture of West Scotland. The condition of the Fife coalfield and the Lothians is very much better than the position in West Scotland, I believe, and I take this to be the reason, that in the main it is the export trade of East. Scotland that saves the position there, and it is the depression in the shipbuilding and steel trades that makes the position in West Scotland so much worse than it is in East Scotland. Therefore, it is our duty—
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I must, of course, accept the right hon. Member's explanation. At any rate, the industry is in a very bad position in West Scotland, and that very bad position is caused in the main by the extreme depression in the shipbuilding industry. There, again, to my mind, that depression—and here I must ask the attention of the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas)— is due in a large degree to railway rates. 620 We have this position now in the Midlands, that rails, heavy sections, and steel bars are getting very nearly to pre-War prices. They have had to come to this because foreign competition from Belgium, and through Belgium from Germany, and it may be in future from France, forces dealers to sell at these very low prices. Upon a section now quoted at £10 10s. per ton, which is a low rate at present, some 20s. to 30s. is probably due to railway charges. It is a bitter thing to say, and I say it with no intention of scoring a point—because, after all, the state of the coal industry is such that it is no subject for debating points in this House, and the precarious position of the railway men, again, is such, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby will bear me out in that, that it is no subject for debating points here—but owing very largely to his efforts, for which, I think, his followers may congratulate him, he has got his own men into a position of momentary security, a security which no other workers in the country have obtained. He has got their wages on a purely artificial basis, on a sliding scale which must endure for two years yet, and which is based on the cost of living. Owing to his exertions and pressure on the Government, he has got his followers into that delightful position, while the miners'—
There was no pressure on the Government. The agreement to which the hon. Gentleman has referred was made with the railway general managers, without pressure or any interference on the part of the Government at all. In addition to that, over £1 has come off the railwaymen's wages in 15 months. Instead of condemning me, I think it ought to be appreciated that when I made the agreement everybody condemned me—employers, labour, and everybody. Surely, if I made a good agreement, you would not ask me to break it now.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I suggested that the right hon. Gentleman's followers might well congratulate themselves on his leadership, but I do not think that the followers of other hon. Gentlemen opposite can congratulate themselves. What is actually happening? I say, without any intention of hurting anyone's feelings, that it is a fact that part of the precarious position of the colliery at 621 the present time is due to the security of the railwaymen, and to nothing else. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby knows that. This is another example of what is commonly termed the solidarity of labour.
The question is, what is to be done under these conditions. The hon. Member for Cardiff (Mr. Gould) gave us a number of examples of the difficulty in South Wales, but he did not point out that while in South Wales the average profits on steam coal have fallen from 1s. 2d. a ton to about 10d. a ton at pit bank, the average price free on board for steam coal has gone up to a very much greater extent than has been the fall in the profits. We find that the average difference between the price at the pit mouth and free on board now is 2s. more, than the difference between those two prices in 1913–14. What does that indicate? It is perfectly obvious that the coal shipper in Cardiff at the present time is not making more profit than in 1914, but that he is making less. These figures give an indication that at least 2s. a ton free on board is put on to this price by railway rates. I think that would be borne out in the case of the district of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last. If he goes into the question of free on board prices at the ports, he will find the same condition of things, and that as soon as the coal gets on rail, 2s. a ton goes on to the price. It never used to go on to that extent.
I am not exaggerating at all when I say the right hon. Member for Derby, by his extremely skilful settlement of the railwaymen's difficulty, has caused even greater difficulty for the unfortunate miner. The position this time last year was this—let us be quite open about it, we are friends here—that the miners were bringing great pressure to bear on the Government to cause them to tax the railwaymen, the transport workers, and the workers in every other industry to form a national pool and subsidy for the mining industry in order to keep up their wages to a reasonable level. Just at the critical moment, the railwaymen and transport workers began to understand what was in the wind, and were not having any. The position at the present day is exactly reversed. It is the railwaymen who are getting their own back on the miners at the present time. There, I take it, the 622 right hon. Member for Derby may congratulate himself that in statesmanship and in fitness to rule—perhaps not this Empire, but, at any rate, the industry in which he is concerned—he has shown himself enormously superior to the leaders of the, Miners' Federation.
Mr. F. HALL
We listened just now to the usual lecture from the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson). When he was trying his very best to set one trade organisation against another many hon. Members opposite smiled at the conclusions he drew from the position in which we and the railway men are. I have no intention of replying to any suggestion the hon. Member has made, except to say that we take about as much notice of the lectures which he gives us as he takes of the arguments which the Labour party adduce from time to time. I have spent more than 15 years in the coal industry, and I claim to have some little knowledge of it. I am not one of the leaders referred to by the hon. Member for Cardiff (Mr. Gould). Strikes I detest, and I am glad that so many hon. Members this afternoon have agreed in the statement that strikes or lock-outs are no good either to the trade and industry of this country or to the workmen themselves. My purpose in rising is to draw the attention of the Secretary to the Mines Department to what was probably an omission from the agreement with the miners, under which they are working at the present time. That agreement was made and signed by the two parties really interested in the matter and, if I may put it so, it was countersigned by the Government. The agreement, on the face of it, may have been perfectly fair. The miners accepted it and are working under it, with the result that the position in which they find themselves to-day is absolutely the worst that I can remember in all my personal experience. It has been said that a number of the districts are dawn as low as in 1914. I am glad to say that in Yorkshire we are not at that level at the present moment; but I am afraid we are getting very near it.
That is not my complaint. It. is that the agreement did not contain words making it compulsory upon the owners to carry out the agreement as loyally as have the workers. There is nothing of that here. I heard one hon. Member 623 make a statement to the effect that no one had as yet been reduced below the basic rate of 1914. I can give the hon. Member a case or two in point, and I daresay that my hon. Friends from their district can quote him other instances. My complaint is that not only have the owners declined to carry out their part of the bargain, but the moment they have declined they have thrown open their pits. Directly the pits have been thrown open the workmen have found themselves unable to recover the unemployed benefit for which they have been paying, because of the decision of the Ministry of Labour. The statement I have just made applies to six large collieries in the county of Yorkshire, including one of the largest in the country. Reductions have taken place month after month, in accordance with the agreement, but, notwithstanding those reductions, the management of the various collieries have placed notices at the pithead stating that on and after a certain date the colliery will be closed. When that notice has expired the same management have said to the men, "If you will agree in some cases to 6d. a ton reduction from the basic rate of 1914, then the collieries can work." The men have refused to accept 6d. a ton reduction in the price, and the Ministry of Labour has said to them, "It is a trade dispute, and therefore we cannot pay," and to-day in Yorkshire these collieries are closed. Thousands of men are out of employment, and unable to get the unemployment benefit to which they are entitled, and for which they have paid. That is the point I want the Ministry to consider. The men have carried out their part of the agreement. They suffered the reductions, and they are prepared to work on with those reductions, but because they will not accept a further reduction in a tonnage rate which, in some instances, was fixed 30 years ago, they are not entitled to this benefit, according to the Ministry of Labour, although they have contributed to it while in employment. That is the position as it exists to-day in Yorkshire and in the whole coalfield.
Let me give one other case. We have thousands of men still unemployed in the coal trade in Yorkshire, and if you are wanting output, surely employment can be found for them. I do hope that, whether or not it is by a revision of the 624 agreement, something will be done. The position is bad, and is getting worse day after day. Instead of having a good feeling existing between employers and employed, they are drifting further apart, and starvation is staring men as well as their families in the face. I would deplore it, but you can take it for granted that the last straw will break the camel's back, and, unless some inquiry be made, and some remedy suggested, there will be a stoppage, because there will be no alternative owing to the starving state of the people.
§ Mr. R. McLAREN
In the course of the few remarks I wish to make, I do not desire to enter into the Debate that has gone on as to the profits of the owners, except to say that in my own district it is very appalling that the men just now are taking very poor wages, and I venture to suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff that if he and others like him were a little more human, I think the matter might very well be settled. It puts heart into a man if he knows the owner of the colliery has some sympathy with him, and does not want him to work for a wage which cannot sustain him. I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman very heartily upon his very fine statement this afternoon. It must be satisfactory to the Committee that, so far as he is concerned in his Department, he is trying his best to economise, and I would like to suggest, following upon the hint of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson), that perhaps he might economise in another way in connection with the Labour Adviser. I have never been able to see what is the good of a Labour Adviser in the Mines Department, and I hope next year the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that he has done away with that office.
The right hon. Gentleman made a great deal of the question of quarterly statements. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman really is aware of the extra work which is entailed upon the clerical people at collieries to compile these quarterly statements; and, after all, what good does it do? It was quite enough in times gone by to give a statement every year, and it was looked upon as a statement of some value; but there is very little value in a statement given quarterly. The right hon. Gentleman said something 625 about the Welfare Committee. Scotland has led the van, as it always does, in some of these schemes. It has had a sanatorium for some years for miners in South Ayrshire. With regard to the experimental stations, I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman meant stations where experiments were to be made in connection with coal-dust. Many years ago large experiments were made in Yorkshire in regard to coal-dust. After those experiments were made, I took the opportunity of making some in Scotland in connection with stone-dust mixed with coal-dust to see what proportion would be proper to keep down explosions of coal-dust.
I hope in these experiments the right hon. Gentleman will go a bit further in this matter, and find out if anything can be done to stop the deplorable accidents which occur in some of the English and Welsh mines, but especially I would ask him to see that in these experiments the question of explosion by blasting should be fully gone into. There are very many cases where explosions by blasting might be very well prevented and on this question of safety appliances for shot-firing, I think the suggestion of the hon. Member for Mossley was a very wise one. I think before any safety appliance is recommended, the Mines Department ought to satisfy themselves entirely that the appliance to be given to the miners for shot-firing is one to be depended upon, and to give real safety. He might also make experiments into the important subject of fires by spontaneous combustion underground. There is nothing underground, I think, more deplorable than spontaneous combustion, where fire begins in a coal seam, and gas is given off, and men very often are gassed before they are aware. Very much good might be done in that respect by experimental stations.
Much has been said lately on the question of lamps. My hon. Friend opposite talked about oil safety lamps and electric lamps. So far as Scotland is concerned, we have few cases indeed of nystagmus. I have examined many men for it, and only found one or two cases in Scotland. The reason is that we use open oil lamps. As to the electric lamp, I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to find some means by which the miner may see the condition of the atmosphere in which he works. I believe there is now an invention whereby, through the ring- 626 ing of a bell in connection with an instrument, you can tell how much fire-damp is present. Many years ago I myself helped largely to get an instrument which gave the same results, but, unfortunately, it was too delicate, and there is no use in giving miners a delicate instrument underground, especially in connection with a safety lamp. In that matter, therefore, I think it would be a good thing if you could find out some method of attaching some sort of instrument to the side of the electric lamp, so that the miner could discover whether the atmosphere was safe.
I wish to speak also on the matter of the Mines Department from one or two points of view, first of all upon administration. It may interest the Committee to know that in respect to mining legislation since 1872, no less than 15 Acts have been passed dealing directly or indirectly with mining matters, and when it is realised that every Act means some new regulation, it means the keeping back of development work very often. Many of the regulations seem to be very uncertain, and I speak not only for the mine managers and the owners, but also for the men in this matter. At the present time, under the sanitary regulations, sanitary pails must be put at certain parts of the mines, and the miner very often must either go a long distance to those parts which he finds he cannot reach in time to relieve himself. It is an absurd regulation which is not, and cannot be, strictly carried out. I can remember the time when there was the scare about ankylostomiasis, the miner's worm disease, and men were told that they must see that everything was dry around them before relieving themselves. That was an utter impossibility. There is also the case of shot-firing. Working with a naked light, if a man bores a hole he must wait for a fireman to give him a detonator to put into the hole, and often time is wasted and the man does not get the output he would otherwise. In olden times the man found his own detonator, which he kept in a locked box apart from other explosives, and he could take it when he wanted it. There are other things in connection with the Mines which seem to show that many of these regulations are absurd and useless.
The question of prices has been raised to-day. Having gone into the matter recently, I find that coal to-day costs at least four to five shillings 627 a ton more than it otherwise would, owing to the legislation for mines.
This is a very serious matter indeed, and one which. I think ought to be considered. I quite admit that it is not possible to carry on the mines without considerations of safety, but I go to this length, and say that a very large number of the mining Acts of Parliament had better be scrapped, and only those Acts concerned with questions of safety and health brought into operation. Time was, many years ago, when the inspectors of mines connected with the administration of the Acts were allowed some latitude in reference to the questions submitted to them and I think that ought to be so now. They were looked upon in those days as officers certainly, but helpful ones, and in many cases they helped the management very considerably. How does the thing stand now? If there is anything in a mine which an inspector has to go into, no inspector dare suggest to the manager how best to remedy the matter. He must first consult the authorities in London. The old relationship seems to have gone. I trust something will be done to bring back something like the old times when the inspectors instead of being looked upon as policemen and inspectors, were looked upon as the friends alike of the owners, managers, and workmen; when their advice was sought and given, and I feel sure will be given again.
Take, next, the question of the death-rate. We all want to find out some means of reducing accidents in mines, and it ought to be the object not only of the managers and the owners, but of every miner as well to help in this matter. I am glad my right hon. Friend in the course of his observations went into a certain idea in this connection similar to what struck me some time ago as to the best method of finding out exactly what is the death-rate. The method employed hitherto has been a most ineffective method. We can never get to know exactly the number of persons employed and the figures as to death-rate are misleading to the public. I have taken the trouble to look into the figures for the last ten years, and I find that for 1903–12 that the death-rate per thousand was 1.33, while in 1920 it showed a reduction of 33 per cent. But when we come to look at the question of output in relation to the death-rate, we find that whereas the 628 output in 1903–12 was 213,000 tons, in 1910 it was 222,000 tons. In the one case you get a reduction of 33 per cent., whereas in the case of the output per person killed you only get a reduction of 4½ per cent. Surely there is something wrong in these figures. One can note the difference between the two points. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has taken up the new method of finding out the death-rate per man per shift.
On the question of economy there is an important matter to put before the House. While I quite admit that much has been done in the way of economy in connection with the Mines Department, I think a great deal more might be done. I have been looking into the question of the inspectorate. What is the case now and what was the case some years ago? I find that in 1908, before the new scheme of divisional inspectors came into operation, there were 42 inspectors of mining, whose salaries were £33,000, with clerical assistance costing £3,730. In 1909 there were the same number of inspectors, and practically the same amount paid for them, for travelling expenses, and for clerical assistance. In 1910 salaries had been raised somewhat, while in 1920–21–22 we have increased the number of inspectors to 93, while salaries and travelling expenses amounted to—salaries alone—237,727 (bonus not included), while expenses for travelling came to £24,550. The main comparison is between £64,000 odd now and £33,000 odd in 1909. What does that mean? If there had been more inspections I could have understood the difference, or if we had got double inspections. But one thing I do know is that the divisional inspectors are not able to get down the mines as they used to do, and I say it would be far better to go back to the old system.
I want to bring before the right hon. Gentleman a case which came before me recently, and which I trust he will look into. When the Act of 1911 was passed it was stated in one of the Clauses that before any man could undertake a survey underground he must have a certificate that he was qualified so to do. What was done in the case of the 1872 Act was that managers were given the power to make underground surveys. In the case to which I refer a gentleman had had 15 years' experience in connection with surveying, and he made application at the end of 1918 to get his certificate endorsed. 629 He was unable to produce all his certificates, but produced all but one. Of this one he produced a copy. Time was going on, and the time of the application is limited in the Act of 1918. Subsequently the time had gone, and he did not get his certificate endorsed. Since then he has got an appointment in connection with surveying, but he cannot take up that position because his certificate has not been endorsed. It is quite true the inspector looked into the matter, and was not satisfied that he had all the certificates, but I am glad to say that since that time the proof has been got and the old certificate found. Application has been made to the Mines Department for the endorsement of this man's certificate, and in view of all the circumstances I think perhaps a point might be stretched so that this man may be allowed to take up his appointment. I appeal to my right hon. Friend, whose many kindnesses in connection with miners we all know, to look into this matter.
§ Mr. CASEY
I want to deal with one or two matters suggested by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Armitage), who I am sorry is not now in his place. He suggested to the Secretary for Mines that it would be a good thing for the coal industry that the winding enginemen should undergo a compulsory medical examination and that there should be an age limit set for them. I should have been very interested to hear the reasons for those suggestions. The hon. Gentleman moreover gave no reasons whatever to support the suggestion that this course should be taken. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the. Secretary for Mines stating at the conclusion of his admirable speech that he hoped that in the immediate future there would be peace and harmony in the coal industry. Everyone, of course, hopes the same, but I can imagine nothing worse or that would create more unrest and bring about a definite stoppage of the coal industry than for these two suggestions to which I have referred to be put into operation. What do they mean? I know there are several managers in the country who are considering about putting that kind of thing into operation. As the only representative of the winding enginemen in this House I strongly protest against any suggestion of the sort, for it would take these appointments 630 out of the hands of the colliery managers also their rights to decide as to who they shall put in as winding enginemen, and would put this power into the hands of the medical profession.
Under present circumstances the managers of the collieries are most careful and very considerate in their selection of these men. In fact I am sure hon. Members opposite, and particularly those representing mining, will agree with me when I say that we have not a finer, more steady, or more respectable class of men in the whole of the country than the winding enginemen. I could understand the suggestion of the hon. Member if there had been cases of serious and fatal accident resulting from physical inability and old age of the engine winders. As a matter of fact, the surprise of all who understand anything of the responsibility of these men is that we have so few accidents. There is no body of men in the country who have a greater responsibility, and who have the miners' lives in their hands, more than the winding enginemen, and yet who have so few fatal accidents. I understand that the hon. Member suggested that the colliery owners should agree to a time-limit when they should scrap these men. If they were at the same time provided with substantial superannuation pay there might be something in it. But, after having got the steel out of them in past services, it is not a happy thought that these men should be thrown upon the scrap heap. In the interests of those men who have taken the men up and down the shaft, and as a winder of more than twenty years' experience, I say that the best and most safe winders are not necessarily the young men, but men of middle age and men whom some would call of advanced age. They are the most reliable and are experienced and take less risks. Therefore I trust the Secretary for Mines will never undertake to bring forward the suggestion that there should be a medical examination or that there should be an age-limit. I would challenge any hon. Member to bring forward a single case where there has been any serious accident resulting from physical disability on the part of an engine winder, or because of old age. If, therefore, there is no record of any injury or accident arising from that, surely there is no reason whatever why a suggestion of this sort should be put forward.
631 I want to say another word in regard to over-winding. I have pointed out on previous occasions that the winding law makes it compulsory that a winding apparatus should be put on the winding engines where shafts are more than 100 feet in depth. I know that there is some over-winding apparatus that is absolutely of no use whatever. It is either not adjusted or neglected, and is seldom tested. I urge upon the Minister in charge of this Vote the necessity of the inspectors being given definite instructions to see that these machines are tested. We should not trust merely to the winding engine man, but we should put some trust in the over-winding apparatus to prevent accidents.
Quite a number of our over-winding arrangements are not set right and they are of no use for preventing accidents. Moreover, there are collieries where the managers refuse to allow a test to be made of these machines simply because they say the whole winding machinery is so delicate and weak that it would not stand a sudden application of the brake power. If the drum sides will not stand a sudden application of this apparatus to prevent serious accidents to life and limb, then the machinery ought to be scrapped. I submit that a definite inspection should be made of these machines, and that the inspector should be allowed to go where he likes and tell the engine man to put on the brake while he was running in the shaft. In some cases they would find that unless the engine man takes control the winding apparatus will not pull up the engine.
There are more than 50 per cent. of the collieries of this country fitted with inefficient visual signal machines. There are machines for this purpose which are efficient, and yet so long as the colliery company puts in one kind of machine that seems to meet the requirements of the law. It is the same with the over-winding apparatus. There are efficient machines capable of doing the work, the use of which makes it impossible for an over-winding accident to take place, but they must be properly adjusted and attended to. I remember on a previous occasion I was told that the responsibility rested with the managers and engineers to see that these machines are kept in order. 632 I am aware that the engineer has to sign the books, but, as a matter of fact, there are times when he cannot see them from one week-end to another. I suggest that a test should be made of every machine in every colliery, so that the men who have to risk their lives and trust the man in charge of the winding machine should have full confidence that there is a trustworthy arrangement to prevent over-winding. I think this should be inquired into, not only in the interest of the winding engine men, but also for the sake of the men who travel up and down the shaft, and we should know the result of such investigations. Such tests should be made regularly in every colliery in the country. That would give a great deal more confidence to the men who have to travel up and down the shaft, and it would enhance the high tradition of the Home Office for doing everything it can to give security for life and limb in the mining industry.
§ Mr. ALLEN PARKINSON
This Debate has taken a very interesting turn, and some very good practical suggestions have been made. Those of us on this side of the Committee who represent the miners feel that the men are suffering intense poverty through no fault of their own. At the present time the miners are working under an agreement which the Prime Minister described as the greatest profit-sharing scheme the world has ever seen. We look back with very little satisfaction to the application of this agreement to the people concerned, and it has not done what it was expected to do. It has not brought any satisfaction to the workers connected with that particular industry. On the contrary, we find that our people are getting deeper and deeper into poverty. They are not receiving any help, and there is very little hope of their position improving. While the discussion has been going on I have been wondering whether by airing the circumstances of the miner's life we shall do anything which will tend to improve their condition.
Looking back to the agreement, we must realise that we cannot live on past regrets, but we must try and make things brighter for the future, and although we have passed through a very hard time we must nevertheless do all we possibly can to obtain a higher standard of life in order to make the lot of these men tolerable. Heavy reductions of wages have 633 reduced our people to a very low state of life. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Holmes) suggested in this Debate that the profits of the industry are not apportioned between employers and employed as they should be, and therefore we are not getting that measure of satisfaction which ought to be given to both sides of the industry. He pointed out that the bigger wage bill always means greater profits to employers, and not necessarily higher wages, because a larger number of people employed at a lower rate would bring the same result. As a result of this agreement, the confidence between employers and workmen is not very great, and feeling is rather embittered.
The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) stated that there was no desire to reduce the standard of living below the level of subsistence for the ordinary workers, but when they are living below the poverty line it is not expected that they can be physically fit to perform the task which they have to perform. The hon. Member for Cardiff also made a great point about coal being sold at the lowest possible price, and he said that prices had tumbled down during the last 12 months with great rapidity. I would like to have asked the hon. Member why the cost of materials in the industry has not also tumbled clown in the same way, because such materials still maintain a high level though market prices have fallen very much. So long as the selling price of coal in the market is weakening, we find rather a tightening than a weakening in the cost of the materials and commodities required in the industry.
We find also a great disparity existing between the rates of wages and the cost of living. One of our highest authorities says that the average difference over the whole of the mining community, taking into consideration the cost of living and the reduction of wages, as compared with 1914, is something like 60 per cent. I am not prepared to argue that, but it is sufficient to know that our people are now very considerably worse off than ever they have been since 1914, and for a long time before that year. We have also to look at this fact that a large number of our people are very badly off, and many of them have never worked since the great stoppage in March, 1921. The cost of living now stands at 81 per cent. over 1914, whilst in Lancashire wages stand 634 at about 42 per cent. over what they were in 1914. We find there are some people who have never had an opportunity of being employed since the strike, and as a consequence their families are now in the deepest depths of poverty.
It would be wise for us to look for a moment or two at the number of people employed in this industry during the last two years, because it is only by making comparisons of this kind that we are able to realise what is going on. In the December quarter of 1921 there were 1,206,215 persons employed as compared with the 1,062,400 in the December quarter of 1921, showing a decrease of 143,815. In the quarter ending March, 1921, there were employed 1,213,204, the number in 1921 being 1,070,000, showing a decrease of 143,204. This shows that there are a large number of people unemployed. Probably they are people who have spent the whole of their lives in the mining industry and people who have always been willing to undertake any kind of labour they are able to get.
At the same time we find that the number of people working in and about the mines receiving unemployment. benefit from the State at the end of March were 107,327, which leaves a margin of nearly 36,000 people who are unemployed in connection with the mining industry who are not receiving any benefits from the State. This may have been brought about by many causes. One of the causes has been mentioned this afternoon, and that is the high-handed manner in which some of the managers of collieries perform their work. They do not show either sympathy with or confidence in the workmen in their dire necessity, and, as a consequence, we find the breach is widening, and widening very quickly indeed. I will now pass on to the outlook. The hon. Member for Cardiff believes that the men in South Wales have done better in the last six months than ever before. If we take the first two months of this year we shall find that the output for those months is approximately 230 tons per person employed, and in one month the output actually exceeded the output per person employed in 1913, although they only worked seven hours as against eight hours per day. The hon. Member for Mosley suggested that the miners should go back to the eight-hour day, but while we find that a sufficient 635 output can be maintained comparable with the period when eight hours a day was worked, I do not see any need to raise the question of going back to the eight-hour day. The output is gradually increasing, and has been doing so for several months, notwithstanding the decrease in the number of people employed.
The hon. Member who spoke last referred to fatal accidents in mines. That is one of our chief points. We say that the well-being of our people should be the first consideration. Not only in regard to the mining industry but in regard to workers in any industry that ought to be our first care. We find that per 1,000 people employed in 1919 the average number of fatal accidents in coalmines was .94, in 1920 it was .88, in the first quarter of 1921 it was .76, in the last quarter of 1921 it was .96, and in the first quarter of 1922 it was .93. Speaking generally, the Mines Department has really little to take great credit for on the ground that the rate of fatal accidents is going down. It is not falling as it should do, bearing in mind the great advance made by science and the great research work which has been going on in recent years, work which ought materially to have reduced the rate of accidents. We do not, however, find much improvement. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff speaks strongly about the export trade. The export trade certainly has gone up. We do not doubt that; but if the exports are carefully examined it will be found that many countries, which were our best customers before the War, are now taking no coal from us. While the export trade is improving all round, and very rapidly so, it is up to us to do all we possibly can to get back the trade of our former customers, with a view to improving our position in the markets of the world.
While this is taking place, it is not really bringing any employment for the men who are day after day to be seen walking about the streets. Anyone passing through a mining constituency or a mining district will see large numbers of these people still unable to find employment, their condition being one of physical deterioration. That is one of the things we want to stop. We want an appreciable improvement in the condition of our working men. We want to 636 feel that they are not being physically depreciated, so that when trade increases and they get their opportunity they will have the power to fulfil the arduous functions which coal-mining entails. Today they are living in poverty. Many have no wages and others are working short time. I think I am justified in saying that nearly one-third of the minces in Lancashire to-day are taking home less than an average wage of 30s. per week. No Member of this House will suggest that that is anything like a sufficient wage, and while they have to live on such a miserable pittance we can only expect physical deterioration, not only in the parents, but in the children who are attending the elementary day schools.
In the light of all these hard circumstances, we do not find that employers are showing that sympathy towards the men which ought to be shown. Some of them are quite harsh. Why they sould be, I do not know. Their interests are to a large extent bound up with those of the miners in the industry. They are doing better than the miners, but. we find that they are treating their employés harshly. That is one of the things which is making for less confidence between employer and employed and bringing about the growth of a very ugly spirit in the men. One of the speakers this afternoon suggested that there was likely to come an outburst. There will be. an outburst, unless something is done to relieve the present position. I would like to quote one case in order to confirm the statement I have just made. As a miners' official during last week I had cause to visit a colliery where the managing director had posted up a notice to close the colliery the following Friday. I met him on the Wednesday with a deputation of the men. He never stated why he was closing down the colliery. I wired him from hero asking him to give me another meeting. I met the men and I found he wanted 8¼d. per ton reduction in the coal-getting price. That is a very considerable reduction. I told him I was not prepared to come to any agreement at all, but would meet my men and report to him later. I asked him for another meeting and he promised to give me either Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday this week. I had a meeting with the men on Monday. They would not agree to accept the price he offered. I went to the colliery on Tuesday morning and told the manager that 637 the men could not see their way to accept the price which had been offered them by the managing director. That did not preclude a re-opening of the negotiations or considering a fresh offer, or making suggestions. Of course, the manager had no power to do anything, but I asked him to let me know as early as possible because, I wanted to meet the managing director on other questions. Yesterday morning I received the following telegram:My manager informs me result of meeting. Regret cannot arrange meeting for Friday. Matter closed and mine will stop after Friday next.(Signed) Managing Director.That is one of the influences which is bringing about the cleavage and destroying that goodwill of which so much was said when the miners went to the assistance of their country in such large numbers to fight its battles. When they come back they are faced with difficulties like this. Is it, a matter for surprise that they should become Bolshevists or Communists or something of that kind? Why, the very seeds are being sown in their nature for such development by the treatment which they are receiving at the hands of employers, and that treatment is making these men unmanageable from any point of view. I should like to urge upon every Member of this House and upon every coalowner in the House the desirability of being as sympathetic as possible with the men and of giving them fair conditions of employment. After all, if we are not going to live together in amity we are going to live at variance. The men have been struggling on from year to year and if there is a desire to bring goodwill into the industry it is up to the right hon. Gentleman's Department to do something to tell employers, if they are not treating their workmen as they ought to do, and likewise if it is found that the workmen are not treating their employers as they should do, then the right hon. Gentleman should interfere. Something must be done to relieve the poverty which is existing among our people and to enable them to live a life worth living.
§ Mr. ACLAND
In the few minutes left to me before, by arrangement, hon. Members pass on to another subject, I want to say a word or two about the present position in the Cornish tin-mining fields. As the Committee knows, the miners there 638 have had to learn an even more difficult lesson than that which the coalminers unfortunately are now learning in many parts of the coalmining industry. The Cornish mines depend for their success on the price both of coal and of tin. There is terrible destitution in the industry, but it is being borne with patience and endurance. Up to the present there is very little sign of a revival in the industry on which so many thousands of families depend for their livelihood. Within the last few days a ray of light has descended into the tin-mining fields because the Trade Facilities Act Advisory Committee have granted a small sum to South Crofty mine. I want to ask my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply on this Vote, to make a short statement as to what the position is likely to be in the future. The policy of the Advisory Committee I have referred to has been, I think, to try and get the mining interests down there to do something in the nature of pooling their interests, and working some scheme of joint management with the joint use of power and of pumping arrangements. I think from the point of view of the Government that policy has a good deal to recommend it, because clearly, if they can get the mines working on one scheme, it will not be possible for any particular mine to go to the Government and say, "You have the wrong scheme, ours is a mine on which you ought to have tried your policy." I am afraid, however, that not much has been done to bring the different interests together for a common policy. Still, now that this grant has been made to one of the mines individually, I want to ask what it means, and if other mines may also hope to get grants from the Trade Facilities Act Advisory Committee. I want to ask particularly, is there any hope for the proposition of which my hon. Friend must have heard a good deal and which seems to depend for its success on the price of tin coming back to something like £200 per ton. There is general agreement that the mines could be worked profitably if that were to happen. But there does not seem to be very much hope that it is happening. I know my hon. Friend sympathises with these miners and is doing all he can on their behalf. I trust, therefore, he will fell us what the position is with regard to the policy of the Trade Facilities Act Advisory Committee and whether they have temporarily, 639 at any rate, abandoned their idea of trying to get the mines to pool their arrangements and their management. Is it proposed that the grants shall depend on the price of tin which I have mentioned being reached, and is there any sort of hope for the mines? A statement from my right hon. Friend would clear the air, at any rate. It is better to face the ills you have than to have a quite indefinite future, and not know where you are.
§ It being a Quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.