HC Deb 09 April 1925 vol 182 cc2521-60
Captain BENN

I would explain to you, Sir, that we on these benches have no desire to interfere with the very important subject which our hon. Friends desire to raise. We have not, so far, except for one short speech, taken any part in the Debate, and I can assure you that the remarks which I desire to make, on a subject which is also of great importance and which interests hon. Members above the Gangway as well, will not be long. I shall use every endeavour to make my remarks as brief as possible, in order that their topic may be raised at the earliest possible moment.

Before I deal with the main subject on which I want to speak, there is one small point that I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. It refers to the inquiry into the lace industry. It has been represented to me that some consumers of lace—tnat is to say, individuals who actually buy lace—wish to appear before the Committee in order to lay their case before it. They want to come forward and explain exactly how a duty on lace would affect their own weekly budget. This is a Committee which has been set up, not by this House or under any Statute, but by the right hon. Gentleman. The instructions to the Committee are given by the right hon. Gentleman himself, and I want, therefore, to ask him whether he would so good as to make arrangements, before the inquiry is closed, for one or two individuals representing those who will be affected by any rise in the price of lace to lay their case before the Committee, in order that their interests shall not be overlooked in any decision to which the Committee may come.

I want now for a few moments to speak on the question of shipbuilding. This is a large national question, which has been specially brought home to those of us who represent districts where the work goes on. There was published yesterday in the "Times" an extract from Lloyd's Quarterly Return, giving some figures as to the amount of shipbuilding that is proceeding in the world to-day, and I want to quote two sets of those figures. In the first place, it was stated that, of the motor ships being built, 135, of a tonnage of about 600,000, were being built abroad at this moment, and that 54, of a tonnage of about 350,000, were being built at home. As regards building in general, the figures are, for Great Britain, about 1,165,000 tons, and for foreign yards 1,231,000 tons.

In the first place, as regards motor ships, nobody who is not engaged in ship-owning or shipbuilding can make any remarks of value as to what place the motorship holds or will hold in the carrying trade, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is satisfied that this country is keeping its lead in the matters of science and scientific research and advance. In passing, I would, if he will not think I am dragging in King Charles's head, remind him that all that class of legislation which prevents intercourse between countries—whether Reparation Recovery Acts, protective duties, or Aliens Acts—all this xenophobia, because that is the class into which it falls, tends to cut off this country from world thought; and the tendency, to put it no higher, is to drive us back and handicap our free advance into the foremost position in scientific matters. That, however, is merely an obiter dictum.

On the general question, the loss of the building of the five ships, which brought home to the minds of the public in a very vigorous way the dangerous position into which we are drifting, means, of course, not only the loss of that particular work, but the loss to a great many other ancillary trades which are concerned in providing the materials of which the ships would be constructed, ranging from coal right down to engines and instruments, and so forth. Although I admit at once that I have no high opinion of interference by politicians in industry, because I think that, as an absolute rule, industrialists understand a great deal more about it than we do here, at the same time we must ask, as politicians, whether the policy of the Government., be it their foreign policy or their home policy, is in any way affecting trade, or can be altered so that it would favourably affect the progress of trade.

3.0 P.M.

If we look at the foreign policy of our Government and of our Allies, we are entitled to ask how far it has contributed to the fall of the mark, and the consequent export bounty to Germany which that involves. Further, we are entitled to ask how far the occupation of the Ruhr, to which the right hon. Gentleman himself was very sympathetic at the time, has contributed to our defeat in this competition for the five motor ships. I believe one of the companies concerned had a share of that large subsidy of 700,000,000 gold marks which was paid by the German Government in compensation to the industrialists who suffered under the Ruhr occupation, and though I am aware that the shipbuilding company in question, and I think German official sources also, deny with vigour that any subsidy has been paid in respect of those five ships, we may ask whether they have not in fact been subsidised in an indirect way, namely, by participation in the Ruhr subsidy, which itself was a consequence of the policy of one of the Allies.

There is another question. It was a favourite cry during the election of 1918 that we would exact ton for ton from the Germans for the ships they destroyed of our mercantile marine, and we took a great deal of mercantile tonnage from them. It. was stated two years ago that the German Government had paid no less than £13,000,000 to the shipowners of Germany in compensation for the ships which had been taken from them in reparations. I further observe that in this shipbuilding firm which got the order for the five ships one of the participators is a shipowning line, which no doubt drew part of the benefit of this £13,000,000 which was paid in consequence of the reparation policy of the Allies to the German shipowners to put them in funds in their work and no doubt to help to equip them to meet us successfully in competition.

I say no more about the foreign position, but I turn to the home aspect. There is no question of wages nor is it in any way the fault of the Unions. At present conferences are proceeding between the shipbuilding workers and the shipbuilding employers, and if there is any way in which the right hon. Gentleman could assist that conference I think it is highly desirable he should do so, but at any rate we are entitled to say that all those engaged in the industry have shown the greatest readiness to face the difficulties and do their best to put the industry on a better footing. At the first of these conferences Mr. John Barr, the President of the Shipbuilding Employers Federation, put out five points as the reasons for their present difficulty. I want to take these five points and indicate where I think the policy of the Government may be so adjusted or directed as to assist the industry.


If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is going to take these five points, does he mean to take a quarter of an hour over each of them? Our patience is about exhausted, and I warn Members of the House.


The hon. Member must not raise points like that.

Captain BENN

If the hon. Member will have patience I will not exhaust the time of the House. I fully realise the importance of what he wishes to raise, but I also represent a constituency where tens of thousands of men are walking the streets because they cannot get work in the shipbuilding yards. He will understand that I have my duty also to discharge to those who have sent me to this House. The first of these five points was the price of coal. This touches the matter in which the hon. Member is interested. I am not aware that the Government has any policy in regard to the coal situation at all. We are drifting, as far as I can see, to disaster. Months are passing and I ask the right hon. Gentleman in reply to me and to the hon. Members above the Gangway what policy has the Government? The second point was the price of steel. Of course the price of coal is a factor, and perhaps a dominating factor, in the price of steel. The only information we have as to any Government policy touching the price of steel is that the industry is asking the right hon. Gentleman for a duty. We do not know whether he is going to grant it. He will not tell us officially, though one can find out in conversation outside, whether he has had such a request. The only indication he has given in the matter of steel is that he is sympathetic to the idea, where necessary, of giving a duty. The third point that Mr. Barr put was the weight of local rates and taxes. I am glad to see the Government has introduced a Rating Bill to-day, and I hope it may do something to prevent the concentration on the poorer districts of the heavy burden of unemployment, which means high rates, of course, for the employers. As regards taxes, the only part of the Government policy which touches this is the heavy charge they propose to incur in such matters as the Singapore base. They may very well be building a base in the mud at Singapore at the expense of the shipbuilding operatives in the ports of this country. The fourth point of Mr. Barr was the excessive cost of living. That, of course, is touched by the whole burden of taxes, and also by the burden of indirect taxation. The fifth point Mr. Barr made was the longer working hours abroad. On that subject we have had a lengthy Debate to-day, and I would suggest, following what has been said by hon. Members above the Gangway, that a more energetic attempt to level up the labour conditions abroad would itself be a very serious and useful step towards assisting our workers, who are the best in the world by the admission of everyone, to hold their own in this competition. I have made the points I desired to make, and I hope I have opened a discussion touching also on the coal trade which may lead to some fruitful result. In particular, when the right hon. Gentleman has time—it is outside the ordinary scope—I ask him to answer the special question about the witnesses coming before that inquiry.


While not minimising the serious position in the shipbuilding industry, I wish to call attention to the very serious position with which the mining industry is faced. As a matter of fact, it has become a real national problem, and no real attempt is being made, either on the part of the colliery owners or of the Government, to endeavour to bring this industry back to a real economic basis. We have collieries being laid down in every part of the country. In Durham we have 40,000 men and lads unemployed in the mines. We have thousands more who are just working three or four days per week, and in many cases they are having to apply to the boards of guardians in order to secure relief in that way, and it is a strange thing that we are going through the old process that we have gone through so many times when the coal trade has been in a serious condition. A colliery is laid down, and as soon as the employer gives the men notice he says, although there is a depression in trade, although they cannot get a sale for their coal and there are no buyers to be secured, if the men are prepared to accept a reduction in wages or to extend their hours, he is prepared to keep the pits open, although he says it is impossible to get rid of his coal.


At the present price.


I know all about it. If you will keep quiet I will tell you something about it. The question of price is the real thing, and the question of price can only be dealt with, it would appear, by asking the workers in the industry to bear further reduction in their wages, or to have their hours increased so that they may increase the production in order to cheapen the price. I want to say to the House and to the Minister of Mines, that the miners of this country cannot give away anything more in wages, or consent to any increase of hours, and that there must be something given from the other side. All along the history of the coal mines, or in other industries, it is simply the workers every time who have been called upon to give away something. We have now got beyond that stage in the coal mining industry.

We have been told in this House time and time again that the British miner believes in a system of ca'canny, but figures were given to this House a week ago by the Minister of Mints which show that the British miner is the most productive miner in Europe. We have a maximum shift of seven hours in the mines of this country. In Germany they have eight hours per shift and in Belgium and France they have a 48-hours week, and yet with our short hours the figures from the Mines Department show that we are producing 17¾ cwts. per man shift, as against Germany's 17½ cwts., the French miner 11 cwts., and the Belgian miner 9 cwts. The French and Belgian miners, about whom we do not hear so much in debates in this House, are only able to produce that small quantity because they have a lower wage, of about 5s. 5d. per shift. On these facts, the British miner has no need to be ashamed of the part he is playing in the production of coal.

Some time ago Mr. Lovat Fraser made a statement that the War has so developed our improvements in machinery, and that machinery has been so brought into the industries of this country that we are producing too much to-day, and the world cannot consume the production brought about by this increase of machinery. We know and we believe that the world never produces too much. If the production of the world was so distributed that the consumers were getting a fair share and were able to live decently, everyone would be employed. That is one of the difficulties we have to face to-day.

Is any serious attempt being made to bring the mining industry back to a true economic position? The Mines Department ought to be making suggestions to the employers in that direction, because we have reached a stage when the miners cannot give anything more away. Various suggestions have been made, and perhaps others will be made to-day, that will assist us in bringing the industry back to a normal position. If we have made up our minds that the coal industry is essential to the national well-being, we ought to tackle this as a real problem, and not tinker with it in the way we have done in the past, and in the way that is being sugggested, that miners should be asked to take over a single pit that is uneconomic and try to work it. That kind of thing is no use; it leads us nowhere, even if we are successful in making a single pit pay on these lines. The nation ought to tackle this matter in a national way, because coal is a basic asset. We should tackle it as a national problem, and not allow it to be dealt with along these insignificant lines.

We have advocated in the past that the coal industry is so important to the nation that it ought to be dealt with as a unit and the whole proceeds ought to be pooled. Durham County does not want to have any special privileges over Cumberland. The men in Cumberland and in Kent, as in Yorkshire and Durham are giving the best they can under the conditions of mining life there, and we say that all these men should be treated in exactly the same manner, once we have made up our minds that this material is necessary to be worked in the interests of the nation. We have suggested from time to time that in order to cheapen the price of coal we should tackle the question of distribution from the national point of view. Let us get rid of the coal factor, the coal merchant and all the intermediaries between the pit-head and the consumer, so that we may cheapen the price of coal to the consumer and the workers in the mines may have a better wage.

In February, 1919—the Minister of Mines may have the document in his Department—there was a verbatim report of an interview that took place between the Miner's Federation and the then Prime Minister on the question of carbonising of coal, and there was a promise given on behalf of the Government that the matter should be dealt with from the national point of view. We suggest that that should be taken up seriously and that everything that has been suggested along those lines for making use of coal should be gone into by the Government with a view to the industry being put upon an economic basis.

Evidence before the Sankey Commission proved conclusively that there is much watered capital in the mining industry. Bonus shares were given during a period when dividends were so high that the colliery owners did not want to get public opinion against themselves by paying such high dividends. Therefore, they paid the money out in bonus shares, and afterwards they paid ordinary interest and dividend on the watered capital that had been created by the bonus share. We suggest that the share capital in the industry ought to be brought down at once to its normal point by eliminating the watered capital caused by the bonus shares, and that, if necessary, the remaining share capital should be written down to the lowest possible point, to enable the industry to be brought back to a true economic condition. It is no use a shareholder having £2,000 worth of shares in a colliery which is not working and giving no return. He had far better have £1,000 worth of shares at 5 per cent. in a colliery that is working. On these lines something must be done in order to bring the industry back to something like a normal position. If the colliery owners refuse to examine these avenues, with a view to bringing the industry back to a normal position, the Government ought to take over the industry and deal with it on national lines in the interests of the community, and stop this closing of pits simply for the purpose of reducing wages and increasing hours.


Perhaps a back bencher may be able to express views which may be useful later on. I wish to refer to the subject of shipbuilding, which affects the great ports of the Clyde, the Tyne, the Tees and elsewhere. I wish to urge upon the Government, that at the earliest possible moment they should give a better opportunity than is afforded by the Motion for Adjournment for the discussion of this subject, which is of such vital importance. One industry depends on another. There is no use in anybody claiming that the mining industry stands only by itself. The question of shipbuilding is, to my mind, not as well understood as it might be, so that it becomes all the more urgent to have it fully discussed in this House.

The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Bonn) referred to the question of Germany. I have here particulars of contracts, amounting to something like £3,500,000, which have been given, not to Germany, but to France and to Holland. These are contracts from other countries. I have, in shipbuilding, a subject which I could discuss for the space of two hours, but I am only going to give a few headings. I would be glad to discuss it in detail, but that cannot be done in the short time at our disposal. I understand from friends, who deal with a, firm of which I am a director, that last year, work to the extent of £3,500,000 has gone elsewhere for various reasons. Work has gone to France, for one reason because of the exchange. That is a question which should be explored. Work has gone to Holland, and we want to know why. It has gone for a variety of reasons. I am not one who says that the workmen should be asked to work longer hours. I have always said that we should put our heads together to get the true reason.

There is far too much of hon. Gentlemen opposite and hon. Gentlemen on this side making party politics out of that which is a national question. The shipbuilding industry is vital to our nation. Let us get down to an understanding of the business part of the question, not merely throwing accusations at each other, but trying to find out the truth. I have referred to France and the question of the exchange. In the case of Holland the hours of labour are supposed to be regulated, but the regulations are not observed. The question in Germany is in a different position. I am not going into details, because I cannot enter into all these matters in 10 minutes. There wages are also a difficulty. I have particulars of all the wages at my command. They are roughly as five is to three. I should like to see all workers getting the best wages, but we have to compete at present with German wages, which are very much below ours. Next we have the incident of taxation. Taxation is a toll on products, and products are merely labour plus profit, if there is any. At the present time there is not any. If you have a deduction from labour in the form of taxation, obviously the cost of the product must be greater. That is what is happening at present. It is not only the general taxation, but you have the local rates, which have gone up enormously. Our shipbuilders have to bear these heavy rates, so that they cannot offer in the markets of the world a price which will be accepted.

Then there is the question of the sheltered trades. I have particulars of the City of Newcastle, where the corporation joiners and plumbers are paid higher rates of wages than similar men in the shipbuilding industry. The result is discouragement to those who are in the shipbuilding industry. Incidentally a large number of the most skilled men on that account are leaving our country, and going elsewhere where their industry may be more profitably sold to employers. There are various other points that arise. For instance, referring to Germany, I take it from a Hamburg paper that Germany recently voted a sum of 50,000,000 gold marks to be advanced to shipowners up to the 1st of June next, upon certain terms. These are that the shipowners will pay for the first year interest at a rate of 1½ per cent., for the second year at the rate of 4 per cent., and for the third year at 6 per cent., always provided that the rate of interest shall be 1 per cent, below bank rate. That is a subsidy to the industry of shipowning, and therefore to the industry of shipbuilding. That is a subsidy which, I think, is worth the Government's consideration.

The next question is that of trade union restrictions. These may be divided into, first, the number of unions, second, the demarcation restrictions, and, third, labour-saving devices. We know that in Germany and Holland we have still semi-skilled and unskilled men, and we know that the semi-skilled men perform jobs which would be given in this country to fully-skilled men, and which consequently cost lower there. Also, in those countries there is a minimum wage, it is not shown individually, but to the class. That is again an avenue that should be explored, because it is important to recognise that the Germans and Dutch approach the business, whether as employers or employed, from the point of view of getting the best results. We all want to see wages at the highest possible level, but wages surely mean the results of products, and the whole of the products are merely the result of labour plus profit, if there is one. Consequently, the more we can produce the greater the product and the higher the wage. Where the wages are highest you get the best product.

Nobody is in favour of low wages, least of all those in the industry with which I am connected. I hope that on some future occasion these matters may be dealt with more fully. We have in the shipbuilding industry 84,000 men unemployed, and we have in the allied industry, engineering, 86,000 unemployed. These men have to depend on the other industries of the country. One industry is interlockedd with another. I am at present concerned as a member of a large shipbuilding firm in presenting headings for a discussion of matters affecting the shipbuilding industry because at present we are subject to most severe foreign competition, which is largely subsidised, that is to say, the competition of Germany. We are also subject to competition where there are longer hours, largely by the Dutch, and to foreign competition influenced by the exchange, largely by the French. It is no use in getting up academic arguments as to what is to happen with regard to conventions and other things which we hope may happen in the future when our shipyard will be closed and our work will be ended before these things ever come to pass. I hope that we may have an early opportunity of getting down in debate to the bedrock facts as to why shipbuilding is leaving this country so that we may be able to benefit those for whom we are most immediately interested.


While we agree as to the situation of shipbuilding in this country, and that the figures given by the hon. Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson) are appalling, still we find that the mining situation is even worse from the point of view of unemployment. In February this year there was an increase of 100,000 unemployed in the mining industry as compared with February of last year, and unfortunately that does not only apply in a direct sense only, because indirectly dependent upon the mining industry you have railways, docks, shipbuilding and a large number of other industries, and I am wondering whether the Government are really seriously considering the situation as it applies to this great industry with 1,100,000 who are employed, all producers of wealth, and 131,000 who are at present unemployed and who ought to be producers of wealth if they could only get the opportunity of that employment which they are seeking at the present time. The situation in most of the very large exporting coal districts of this country is certainly very serious. In South Wales we find that in February of this year, compared with February of 1924, the increase in the number of unemployed men is not less than 40,000. It is only fair to compare the figures for January of 1924 as well. Then we had something like 26,000 men unemployed, whereas in February and early March of this year we had not less than nearly 50,000 unemployed. We have had our Blainas and Abertillerys and Merthyrs in South Wales, and there is an extension over almost all the older portions of the coal fields in South Wales, and they are suffering as Blaina, Abertillery and the other districts suffered for some time. I received a letter from my own constituency this morning informing me that 2,200 men were given notice owing to the depression, and that depression is not diminishing but is really extending.

I would like to deal with the position from the point of view of its great national importance. We all know that coal is the basic industry of the country. The output of coal for the year 1913 was a record one of 287,000,000 tons. Last year the output was 10,000,000 less than that of 1913, and it was some 9,000,000 tons less than that of 1923. Last year was a very bad year. From the figures that have been given for 1925 we find that until 21st. March of this year the output of coal for Great Britain was something like 4,000,000 tons less than it was for the same period of last year, whilst in South Wales the output was 1,000,000 tons less for the same period. This matter is of vital importance, and as one who represents a very large mining area I feel that the discussion of this very important question ought not to be dragged in at the last hour of a very short sitting just before the House adjourns for the holidays. I am sure that hon. Members who represent mining districts, whether they be on the Government side or on this side of the House, would have preferred to have had a day given for consideration of all the aspects of the mining situation of the country. We have 130,000 men unemployed. There are their wives and families dependant upon them. The Minister of Labour this morning in reply to a question from Blaina, said that the position was such that out of 100 men who were being examined for work at a neighbouring colliery, only a very small percentage were accepted by the employers' representative who conducted the examination. If this condition is to continue, we shall have a similar experience in almost every mining area of the country.

I appeal to the Prime Minister. He was very fair to the miners in a, speech which he made in June of last year. He asked the people of the country not to regard the miners as a disgruntled lot of men, because they and the employers in the industry had made the greatest sacrifices to bring this country, back to its former economic position. Whatever sacrifices were made before June of last year, the sacrifices since then have been even greater. We can see that there is going to be an extension of our difficulties. I am sure that the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade must be quite concerned about the condition of the coal export trade of this country. Last year something like 20,000,000 tons less were exported than were exported the year before, representing a value of some £27,000,000. Already this year there is a. reduction in the export coal trade of nearly 3,000,000 tons. Coal is so very important in the interchange of trade between this country and the other nations of the world, that if we lose this export trade we shall have seriously to consider what the financial position of this country is to be.

While we are very concerned about the export trade, we are also concerned about the consumption of coal in this country. The export trade is one-third of the total output of coal. Something like 182,000,000 tons of coal were consumed in this country last year. We say that if this coal is required, as it is required, we must see that the men who are employed in obtaining the coal in what is now the Cinderella of our industrial life have an opportunity of something better than the deterioration which we know is going on. The conditions in the coal industry to-day are really breaking the hearts of strong men and brave women. Had there been more time available I would have dealt with the question of the scientific treatment of coal, and the inroads that oil is making on the coal industry, but inasmuch as so many of my hon. Friends wish to speak, I merely appeal to the Government to do something on this very important question. I have very little hope that the inquiry which is now being held will do very much good. We want the Government to take a very bold step. Coal is still the very basis of the industrial life of this country. We want the men and women who are dependent upon this industry to be given the chance that they have a right to expect. Unless they are given that chance, it will mean the end of the coal industry as we see it, and the beginning of the end of the industrial life of this country.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)

It will probably be convenient if I speak now. Although the subject raised is so wide, I want to be as brief as possible so that other Members may have a chance of speaking after me. May I, in a few words, dispose of the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith Burghs (Captain Benn). He asked me, in regard to the lace inquiry, whether I will give instructions for special witnesses to give evidence. The answer is "No." In the first place, I have no intention of interfering with the discretion of that Committee as to the evidence that they shall take. I am perfectly satisfied that the Committee are fully competent to conduct the inquiry, and it is for the Committee to decide what evidence is relevant and necessary.

Captain BENN

Will the right hon. Gentleman empower them to hear evidence?


The Committee are fully empowered to hear all the evidence that is relevant; certainly they are. They have complete discretion as to what evidence they shall hear, and it will be for the hon. and gallant Gentleman, when the Report of the Committee comes before this House, to challenge it if he thinks fit. I am certainly not going to interfere with the discretion of Committees as to the way in which they conduct their inquiries. I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the matter was very fully investigated by the same Committee on a previous occasion. Therefore, I should say it is probable that evidence regarding many aspects of the question will be heard by the Committee twice. Other questions that have been raised relate to shipbuilding and coal. It is not at all a bad thing that the two subjects should have been raised together in a single Debate.

Let me deal briefly with one or two points about shipbuilding. The hon. and gallant Member wanted to know whether we were satisfied with the technical research in our industries, and he suggested that certain legislation, to which I am partial, but which he does not like, militated against research. I rather deprecate the decrying of British research. I think it is good. I think it is keen: I think there are firms showing not only a desire but an anxiety to foster research to the fullest extent of their power. May I point out, however, that even if we were behind other countries in the matter of research, it does not help the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument, because the countries which we are behind are themselves protected countries. He raised the question of subsidies in German shipbuilding. I have gone into that question closely, and I have not been able to find any subsidy in operation at the present time. There is this loan, but it is only for limited periods during and after construction at rates of 4 or 5 or 6 per cent., and the guarantees are on a much smaller scale than those under our own Trade Facilities Acts. He asked me did I think that the Ruhr occupation, and the compensation which was paid by the German Government after it, was likely to operate as a subsidy to these firms? It is true that the firm of the Deutsche Werft, or the Gütehoffnungs Hütte at Oberausen, did receive compensation out of that fund, but I should not 'have thought that really operated as a subsidy and I think, taking it broad and large, the occupation of the Ruhr did German industry more harm than good. Compensation has been paid by the German Government to German industry in respect of stocks seized and so on, but I doubt whether in any way it operates as a subsidy. Of course, if German industry had been left by its Government to bear its own losses through the occupation of the Ruhr, it would be in a worse position than it is in to-day when it is receiving some compensation, but I can hardly believe that such compensation acts as a material subsidy. The most it can do is to compensate for losses incurred.

Then the hon. and gallant Member quoted Mr. John Barr as to certain factors which were relevant to the question of cost. I agree with all of them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned the item of Singapore, the expenses of which he knows this year and next year are practically negligible to this country. I would ask him and hon. Members on our own side of the House, as well as on the other side of the House, to recognise this fact. I quite agree that economy is absolutely vital. There is hardly anything you can do that will help trade more, whatever view you take of the social system, than the bringing down of the rates and taxes. But it is impossible to do that if at the same time any of us on any side are pressing for expenditure which can only come out of the rates or taxes. I wish to say a word about the bearing of that matter. Various palliatives are suggested for one thing and another. Some of them we have tried, some we originated, some were carried on by the Labour Government, and some were added to by them. We are ready to consider any practical scheme that can be put to us upon its merits and I ask the House not to think that we are not considering these schemes, because we are not putting a new one forward every day. I suppose that dozens of proposals have come before the Prime Minister and myself which we are trying to test with the help of practical men, only to turn them down one after another as likely to do more harm than good. Even if you can get a palliative which will hold water you must remember that it cannot be regarded as a permanency. It really means the spending of public money. That public money has to come out of taxation either immediately or by deferred payment, and that taxation must in itself be a charge upon industry. That is what makes it so extremely difficult to devise palliatives, which in the long run are not going to do more harm than good and put more burdens instead of less upon industry.

I agree with all that has been said about the difficulty of the situation, and as to the hardship which it creates. I do not want to go into the question of nationalisation except to say that that itself would be costly, but apart from that I think hon. Members opposite themselves have found out how difficult it is to devise a scheme which is going to do good either to one industry or to industry generally and at the same time is not going to involve a heavy charge. It is said that we are competing against others who work longer hours and that I think is common ground. It is said that we should try to level up the working conditions elsewhere. Certainly that is what we are trying to do. But until the other countries have levelled up, I say do not put a heavier burden upon your own industry because that is really cutting your own throat. May I now come to some of the detailed points raised with regard to coal. One which I find myself at once in agreement with is the vital importance of research. One hon. Member opposite referred to a promise which had been given—I am not quite sure by whom—as to national experiments in carbonisation.


By the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George).


Whoever it was, it was a suggestion, I think, that was common to all parties. We have gone on with that work in the Fuel Research station. The experiments have been helpful and we have not stinted money in connection with them and we shall not do so. We are doing whatever is required to assist those experiments. We have good men at work-, and we have already with regard to carbonisation proved certain things which have been in dispute among people who were working at it for 30 years. I need not go into the details such as the importance of having a metal retort as against a brick retort and so on, but I believe this is one of the most helpful things we can do and it is one of the things the Government can do.


Will the right hon. Gentleman as soon as possible try to carry this out on a commercial scale?


That is exactly what we are going to try to do, but there is no good trying to go in on a commercial scale until you have tried out your experiments. All we have done is to snake the experiments and then to co-ordinate them and try to get the thing going on a sem commercial scale from which it will pass on to the commercial scale. I go further and say we would like to get firms to cooperate with us in carrying out these experiments and in adopting and making the fullest use of our experiments. We are going to put this knowledge as we get it at the disposal of the whole industry.


Has the right hon. Gentleman invited the Mining Association to co-operate with him in this work, and, if so, what has been the result?


As regards this particular experiment, it is quite recently that we have gone to the point which I have indicated. We are going certainly to call on mineowners and others to come in and co-operate. The object of these experiments and of the further experiments which we will be undertaking is to get scientific knowledge, and as far as we can to test its commercial value and then to put it at the disposal of the coal industry so that as far as possible it may be one contribution which the Government has made to the coal industry. We wish to try to get the industry to take up the results of our experiments and to make the fullest possible use of them. With that certainly we will go on, and we want the co-operation, and the knowledge, and the sympathy of, and we welcome the fullest information from, every section in the mining industry, both the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation.

The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley) raised the question of distribution, but that only applies to domestic coal which is, I am sorry to say, a very small part of the aggregate sales. I am speaking from memory, but I think it is only about a ninth, and the hon. Member remembers the Report which was made upon that. Even assuming that there is some margin somewhere—and it is a much smaller one than I hoped to find—it is not a big section of the trade, and it is a small proportion even of that section. I do not want to argue the controversial point as to whether, if you had a nationalised system of distribution, you would get it done cheaper, because that is not the big thing in the coal industry. It would not affect what is so vitally important, namely, our capacity to export coal, to which the hon. Member drew attention, because it is the competitive price in the export of coal that is the problem.


But it would help. It may be small, but if you can eliminate some of the waste in distribution in our inland trade, it will help us to go into the export market with our coal at a less price than we do now.


I agree; where you have a pit that is producing both for the one and for the other, that would be true. In any case, that is only on the domestic side, and the great bulk unfortunately, is industrial coal. If anybody can make a suggestion to us of practical methods, which do not raise great questions of controversy or party issues such as nationalisation, by which a practical thing could be done, either generally or in a particular instance, we are only too anxious to endeavour to help. The bulk of the export trade is so often done by pits which are doing that trade alone and relying almost exclusively upon it, and there you come down to the world conditions, to the price at which the other people can sell. There are railway rates and other things that must react upon the coal industry and its capacity, but there is more than that. Every other trade reacts upon coal, and coal reacts upon every other trade. It is for that reason, I think, that we have to look much further afield than a mere statement of the fact that pits are closing down, at general causes which are world causes, causes which, whatever circumstances we have here, we cannot control—I did deal with the matter in the Debate on unemployment the other day—such as the lesser capacity of the world to buy, its greater productive industrial power, the hours, and the wages conditions, and so on, in these countries.

Therefore, no mere palliative applied to one industry is any cure, and it does come, not so much, I think, to a question of what you are going to do for the coal trade at this moment; it comes to the much bigger question as to whether the whole of your policy is designed to make trade generally better and to give manufacturing generally better facilities. The big thing to work for is world peace. Then there is the development of new markets, because even if you have the world settled, and are getting your share of the existing markets, you have to develop new markets. In cases of emergency you really have got to reserve the right to yourself to safeguard your own industry. I am always struck by some of the points put by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson), who is so anxious about the position of the steel trade. You cannot take a position of pure laisser faire and say that no variation of the present doctrine is right, and then at the same time ask for special treatment of one industry. If it is right on principle to oppose subsidies in aid of sugar beet, if it is right on principle in any circumstances to oppose a safeguarding inquiry, if it is right to oppose any direct assistance or protection to any industry, then really the hon. Member cannot be right to get up and say: "What will you do to help the steel trade?" when he will not allow us to do anything to help any industry at all.

If he departs from that position, let him depart from it with an open mind, and let us try and face this problem without regard to what may have been the academic theory in which we were brought up. Let us deal with practical politics, with the general economic position of the country as it is, and with the general economic sense of the country as it is, not wanting a tremendous turnover of the social system. Within those limits, cannot we agree as much as possible on what in an emergency are the right courses to adopt? Finally, I would say that perhaps the most important thing in a policy of that kind is to try to create conditions here, and to maintain conditions here, in which each industry can fight its own battle and work out its own salvation. It is only the particular industry itself which can do that. Only the industries themselves can work out their own salvation, and they really can only do that if they try to get down together and face their common problems with the determination to see them through. Any help that we can give them in that direction, we shall be only too happy to afford.

4.0 P.M.


I hope the Secretary for Mines will answer the point put by my hon. Friend with reference to unemployment in mines. The President of the Board of Trade has spoken about unemployment generally, but the points raised by the hon. Member are not at all comparable with the general position in regard to unemployment. This is not merely an extension of depression to another industry; it is the collapse of an industry—the collapse of the most important industry in the country. Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman informed us that in the county of Durham alone 75 collieries out of nearly 200 have been closed, but the House will be interested to know this fact—and I think I am well within bounds when I say—that 60 of those 75 collieries have closed within the last few months. That is going on up and down the country in various coal mining districts. There is another fact which the House will do well to understand. When you have unemployment in a mining area, it is not the same as unemployment in a great town, where there are different types of industry. Everybody is unemployed. You have a chain of collieries in every area closed down with an abruptness that is leaving the people almost hopeless, and what we want to know from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines is when is his Department going to get to grips with this question? It is quite clear, as you go about the country, that there is a vagueness as to the cause of this unemployment and collapse. I meet men who are working on the coal-face, and men who take an active part in the industrial life of the country who are asking what is the cause of this collapse in the mining industry. I ask the House to note the fact that in the most fundamental industry in this country, you have men in one of the most highly organised unions in the country, men whose lives are vested in the industry, who have given their brains, their time and their thought to the welfare of that industry, men who have met the managers and been told that the colliery is finished—those men are asking what is the cause of the colliery closing.

I submit that it is not a state of things which ought to be allowed to continue in an industry of this kind. If I said anything, I should say the owners, from their own point of view, made a very great mistake 12 months ago when they refused to grant the operation of Part 2 of the Mines Act. Therefore, I want the Secretary for Mines to make a statement with some authority as to what is the cause, or what are the causes that are affecting the mining industry at the present time. Various people have given us their opinion. We have skilled men on both sides of the table who have their opinions about the cause of this collapse, but no one in authority has spoken. I believe the Miners' Federation at the present time is meeting the coalowners for the purpose of investigating the trouble, in order to try and arrive at the causes of the present collapse in the industry. I am wondering myself if the coalowners know what are the causes of the trouble, because they are individual companies. They are conferring with the men as to the troubles in the industry. I sometimes feel there is greater need of their conferring among themselves as to what are the real causes of the present trouble. Apart from that, there is more than the miner's side, and there is more than the coalowner's side. There is the nation's side, and from that point of view alone, we say it is time the Secretary for Mines was beginning to do business. I would venture one opinion upon this matter, and that is that the companies are trying to fight in 20th century competition with 19th century machinery.

When the Department of Mines and carious other bodies which are investigating the causes of what is going on at present in the mining industry with a view to arriving at a conclusion get to work, venture to think, and hope, that, when they get down to what the Liberals call "unification," the capitalists call "trustification," and we call "nationalisation," then we arrive at some conclusion by which the people will get the benefit of the operation of that principle in the competitive market. It is due, at any rate, to the people who take part in the industry to know what is the real position. We are entitled to ask the Department of Mines to be a Department of Mines; to get to business, to get to grips with the facts as they see them. It is not good enough to let this thing drift. My hon. Friends and myself have been waiting, week after week, like Macawber, to see if anything was likely to turn up, and have waited to see what the Department of Mines was going to do—if anything! If the Department of Mines in the present state of the mining industry, in the hopelessness and despair that is before those connected with it, cannot get to grips in some practical way, then it is about time that the Deparment of Mines was cut altogether.

I believe, with my right hon. Friend, that economic events are driving this country towards national ownership. I believe, too, that what has been said to-day is right—that there is some, hope in the adoption of the scientific methods mentioned, the carbonisation of coal, and so on. But we cannot wait, something ought to be done now. The longer we go without something being done, the worse things will get. We are always told about the coming use of oil, of the generation of electricity by water, and other things which are likely to have their effect upon the British coal industry. But these things have not affected any other coal industry in the world—just the British coal industry! They have not even affected those coal areas in the world where they work for export—just ourselves! It is certainly very strange, if these are fundamental facts that we alone should be affected in the field of the world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley) has said, it is a well-known fact that long before the mine closes down, the men are asked to suffer a reduction of wages. That is a very awkward fact for the employers to meet. But all these things should be examined. I think it is high time that someone spoke with authority. There is no greater authority at the present time than the Department of Mines, and I submit that it is time they got to business.


Possibly my experience, which has taken me into a good many parts of the world, may justify me in putting forward another point of view. I have been connected with mining more or less for the last 35 years, after doing my first course in mining. In addition to that, during the Great War I trained miners in the pioneer work of the new armies, and later took part in the work of transferring the men back again from France. I have, therefore, been brought into close contact with miners. In addition to that I have been in mines in most parts of the world; in Africa, where you get down to deep levels amongst the gold mines; the Dundee collieries, and visited that remarkable hill called Hlobane. Anyone who has seen that hill realises that one cannot possibly compete with coal got under those conditions. There is a hill where the seam runs right through—I do not know what the thickness is—but it is worked by a direct drive, saving all the expenses of a shaft or any other trouble.

Generally speaking, I think one can see that things as they stand now make it impossible for the mining industry to pay, which accounts easily for why pits are shut down. In the case of Scotland one sees that one company cannot pay a dividend, in fact more than one, and the total loss on working, according to the last returns, was about £220,000. On that basis I do not see how one can do very much on the spot to improve matters. A good deal is said about the miners working longer hours. Anyone like myself, who has been on the coal face of a pit with a 2 ft. 6 in. seam, can realise that a seven-hour shift is quite enough for a man to do there. If anyone feels at all sceptical on that subject, he ought to go down and try it. I think the mines carry too many surface men and perhaps too many drawers. I attribute that largely to what happened at the end of the War, when men were sent back rather freely from France. Those who did not understand sent hack a very large number of surface men in proportion to face men. These are details, however, which must work themselves out.

The main causes for the depression I shall consider, outside the use of oil and the internal combustion engine and the growing use of water power. The last speaker thought these had not materially affected the case, but I believe they do to the extent that they reduce consumption very considerably. First there is the industrial depression, chiefly in the engineering and shipbuilding trades: secondly the practical cessation of exports, and though they may not be very lucrative compared with home consumption, exports enable a larger output to be kept up. Another factor is the reduced consumption. This of course tempts one to say that we must encourage that so-called waste which the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie) referred to when he was dealing with low temperature carbonisation, because until we get that on a commercial basis the more coal we use the better. Then there is the question of the high cost for railway and other transportation services—the wages of certain classes like dockers and trimmers and the cost of wharf services—which are altogether out of proportion to other charges.

The question of industrial depression has been dealt with very fully by speakers opposite and by others connected with the shipbuilding industry, so I will not go into that. On the question of exports, I think it is a little difficult for us with our older pits, which are often rather deep, to compete with other countries. There is one pit I have been down, the William Pit, in Westmorland, where the workings run seven miles under the Irish Sea. It stands to reason in a case like that that you cannot compete on the same terms with new pits on the Continent where they have shallow workings and, generally have been able to put in the latest and newest machinery. The third question is the rather delicate one of the increased cost of railway services and of certain other branches, like the dock workers, owing to the wages paid. This point appears to me to be very material. I do not want any of the railway people to think I am particularly criticising them, because I have had a great deal of personal railway experience myself, but I ask anybody to compare the lot of the miner working his seven-hour shift in one of those 2-ft. 6-in. seams with the lot of the railway porter doing his eight-hour shift on a country-side railway platform, waiting for a couple of trains, and smoking his pipe. I think the comparison will not be in favour of the miner, and that there ought to be some redistribution in that respect. I do not criticise the railway wages on the whole, because nobody grudges drivers and members of certain other branches their pay. But anyone who compares the rate of wages paid to cleaners, porters, and dockers with those paid in the mining industry will see they are not very fair to the mining industry. We shall have to arrive at some better solution of that. It must be recognised, of course, that there are capital difficulties. A great deal of capital has been sunk in the mines of this country, and the apparatus and equipment of many of them are out of date. In Scotland we are ahead of England in this respect; we are more progressive with coal cutters and are opening a certain amount of new ground. In older pits this is, of course, rather difficult, and whether we can get more capital into the industry is another matter. Compared with foreign mines, and the mines in America, many of our mines are not up to date in regard to handling gear and pit head baths.

I cannot see how nationalisation is going to produce any cure. How would it have been possible to develop the Thorne End pit under a scheme of nationalisation? After many years it has only just struck the Barnsley seam. And this brings me to the remarks we often hear from hon. Members opposite. We must reorganise the whole of our industries, not only the mining industry, but the shipbuilding, engineering and transport industries as well. These generally work together. We must deal with them all in a very drastic way if we are going to make them work on an economic basis. We must get down to a revision of the methods under which they work and to a consideration of the position as between each of them. We have heard a great deal about the International Labour Convention. Surely it would not be impossible to have a British or Empire Convention which might do a great deal of good in the way of correlating one industry to another and in relation to population. Industry is distinctly over-populated and I do not understand the objection to transferring some of our population. We had a very interesting speech from the Labour Prime Minister of Western Australia the, other day, who said that Western Australia would be able to take 10,000 men a year for many years. Surely it would be much better to encourage some of those who are unemployed, and those who are working on a low wage, to go in search of better employment in these new fields. I myself have served abroad in different parts of the world for many years and I have never regretted it. I really think this is a point worth considering by hon. Members opposite, who have perhaps more persuasive power and would be able to recommend it to the attention of those whom it is designed to benefit. If we can institute a League of Industry then perhaps a British Labour Convention might do a good deal of good in the way of re-distribution and correlation of one industry with another. Socialism seems to me to bring no cure whatever, and when we get that interesting experiment, so wittily referred to by an hon. Member opposite—the day when the social revolution comes off—I am sure he will find it very difficult—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

The hon. and gallant Member speaks of the day "when the social revolution comes off"—that will require legislation, and is out of order.


I apologise. It would mean the conscription of industry and individuals as well, and I for one should prefer to take on the porter's job rather than the coal miner's job at the face. These are some of the difficulties against Socialism as a cure. I ask hon. Members opposite to consider whether a great deal could not be done by establishing some sort of body, which the Government might encourage, which would enable industries to be correlated with one another.


I want first to apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn) for interrupting his speech. We regard him with admiration on these benches, and all we desired was that the position in the mining industry should be discussed before the House adjourned. As recently as Tuesday last I asked the Secretary for Mines a question as to whether the Government had anything in mind with regarding to the mining industry, and pointed out that we were nearing the termination of the agreement—that is in June—which is subject to one month's notice on either side. I wanted to know whether the Government had made up their mind what they were going to do. The answer was, no; they were leaving it to the mining Members, or the Mining Asociation and the Miner's Federation before they interfered.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Colonel Lane-Fox)

The answer was that the Government were not going to assume either that notice will be given, or that, if it is given, it will be beyond the power of the coalowners and miners to negotiate a new settlement in the ordinary way.


The point I am on is this. Last year, when we had a mining dispute, certain hon. Members on the other side of the House asked how it was that we got into that dispute before the House of Commons took a hand, and I determined that, in future, so far as it lay in my power, I would draw the attention of the House whenever the miners were nearing a fight. The time has got quite close now. The miners have had meetings, and have determined that they cannot carry on under present circumstances; the wage is too low. On the other hand the employers have had meetings, and they say that they cannot carry on under the present wages. There is almost certain to be a struggle. What is the position? Under the present agreement we are owing the employers millions of pounds. They are paying us a certain wage, 33⅓ per cent. over the 1914 standard, which is certainly not a living wage; and even then they are not able to clear their books. In Lancashire and North Staffordshire alone we are owing the employers £500,000. One can readily see that when June comes the employers will say that they cannot carry on under these circumstances, and I can tell the House, from the miner's standpoint, that we cannot carry on under the present wage. There is a climax impending, and I put it 'to the Government that in a basic industry like this they cannot stand aside and let us get to grips; as we shall. No Government can afford to do that. The Government must take a hand in the situation. If the mines cannot pay under present circumstances, the Government will have to say that something more must be done with them. It is up to them to deal with it immediately. We on these benches would not be doing fairly by our people if we allowed them to drift where they are drifting at the present time. There are certain conditions, I agree, which will have to be dealt with. In the first place, our exports are falling off, but that is not the fault of the mining community. The mining community cannot work for less wages to get our trade back. In 1923 the mine-owners said to us, "Let us work hand in hand and try and get back our markets," and we were complimented by the mine-owners on having sacrificed more than was sacrificed in any other industry. That has come to an end now; we have got right to the bottom, and, if we mean to get back our foreign markets, either the miners must work longer hours, which we are not going to do, or must accept lower wages, and we are not going to do that. So far as the export trade is concerned, under the present conditions, we cannot hope to get any better trade than we have now.

The second point is that oil, of course, is superseding coal. Many vessels now are being driven by oil that used previously to take coal, so that there again there is a falling off in the demand for coal, but it is not the fault of the miners. It is a question for the Government to take a hand and see if anything can be done. Hon. Members on these benches have mentioned that the mining industry is the basic industry of the country, and so it is. Until something supersedes mining in this country, it is up to the Government to see what can be done to make the industry pay. Reference has been made to the question of supplies in time of war. Britain cannot afford to be left in the position of not being ready as regards coal supplies should war occur. If war occurred, coal would be required more than ever, because there would be no supplies obtainable from overseas, and from the point of view alone of the security of the country it is up to the Government to see that our coal mines and our coal miners are well looked after and kept in readiness for any emergency that might arise. The Government say that they cannot interfere, and I agree up to a point, but when the men are not getting wages, and the employers say they cannot afford to pay, the Government must take a hand and see that the industry is carried on. It has been said that Governments never lead, but only follow. I believe that that is true, and that Governments have to be forced to do anything. We want to tell the Government that they should not wait until the very last moment. We want to lead them on this matter, quietly if we can. We want them to take notice of what is happening. They will only be following, even now, but do not let them wait until they have to be forced to do something. Let them get hold of the situation. It needs it, imperatively.

I would make one final appeal to the Government, if I may put it in the form of an appeal, to realise the position in which we are now placed. We get sympathy every time a disaster takes place in the coal mines, for the horrors and dangers that we have to go through, but, immediately we come for something practical, we are told that the Government cannot interfere, but that the thing must go on as the laws of nature have laid it down. We say that the question cannot be dealt with in that way. It is unfair to the miner to be always praising him, and saying what a great man he is—the best of his kind in a great country—but, when the time comes to offer him anything, to say nothing at all. Even the last speaker said how much he felt for us, but he could not see any way out of the difficulty. That means that we have to be left exactly where we are, but it cannot end there. We are determined quietly, but it is grim determination for all that, to have better conditions for our men, and we appeal to the Government, with its great majority, to take this matter in hand and try and do something before that time arrives.


I am afraid that the shipbuilding and iron and steel industries will have heard with regret the pronouncement of the President of the Board of Trade, which contained so little that appeared to be helpful to them in the tragic circumstances in which they find themselves. The Lloyd's Register Returns which appeared yesterday show that the amount of tonnage under construction at the end of the March quarter was 132,000 tons less than at the preceding quarter, 308,000 tons less than a year ago, and 725,000 tons less than 1913, a sad story of declension of the shipbuilding output. What is almost more disquieting, the returns from foreign countries show an increase in the amount of ton-age which they have under construction. Almost for the first time in our industry history the shipbuilding in this country is less than that abroad.


That is not true.


There may have been in 1922 a period when there was a slight difference, but there is a bigger falling off to-day than there has ever been in our previous history. When you remember that before the War shipbuilding was between 60 and 70 per cent. of the world's tonnage it is unfortunate that we should be in this position. One does not want, in a serious matter of this sort, to bandy words as to which industry is in a worse position. When the House remembers that in the shipbuilding industry 33 per cent. of the men are out of work and over 30 per cent. have been out of work for two or three years, we have surely got into a, most desperate position, which demands more attention from the Government than it has had up to the present. In reply to a question from me yesterday the Minister of Labour seemed to suggest that things were improving on the North-East Coast. I find from Lloyd's Register Returns that whereas at the end of December there were 423,000 tons under construction the figure had fallen to 351,000 tons at the end of March, or a declension of 17 per cent. The question is, what is the remedy? We have had nothing suggested at all from the President of the Board of Trade. In regard to rates and taxes he said we must see that we do not increase this burden, but it is not a question of not increasing it. It is a question of altering the incidence of the burden. One of the most serious features is the very heavy increase in the charge of rates on the local industries.

To illustrate my point may I give one or two figures so that the Government may see how serious the position is. The Chairman of the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation recently gave these figures, that whereas in 1914 the local rates were equivalent to 12s. 6d. per workman, in 1924 they had increased to 48s. per workman, or fourfold. The Member for one of the divisions of Swansea got out some figures with regard to shipyards which are very instructive. He mentioned one yard where in 1915 the local rates amounted to £3,317, and in 1924 that amount had increased to £13,241. In 1915 six vessels were launched, making a burden of £550 per vessel, whereas in 1924 only three vessels were turned out, imposing a charge in respect of local rates on each vessel of over £4,000. That, surely, is a burden which renders competition almost impossible, especially when in foreign yards, particularly in Hamburg, I understand their method of local taxation is based rather on Income Tax than on local rating. It is worthy of consideration how far it is possible to vary the existing incidence of this burden by making it rather a tax on profits than a standing charge as it is at present, because the cost of rates is a burden on production. It is a first charge. It is there whether there is a profit or not, and it is a very serious handicap to the shipbuilding industry and the iron and steel industry that this incidence should go on. I am glad the Government have introduced a Rating Bill, and I 'hope within the four corners of it they may find it possible to deal with this question, which is acting as a very serious detriment to our production and our competition in the world's market. It is not merely a question of shipbuilding. A leading steel manufacturer the other day gave figures which show exactly the same thing. Whereas in 1913 the local rates amounted to 1s. per ton of steel produced, today they amount to 6s. 3d. per ton of steel produced. With these heavy increases it is impossible to compete in the world's markets. I do appeal to the Government that they should examine this question very carefully. It is not a case of asking for a subsidy or a protective tariff, but of asking for protection against these heavy burdens of local rates which are crippling and killing the industry.


I understand that the Minister of Mines will wind up the discussion, and I will only keep the House for a few minutes. I desire to continue the Debate on shipbuilding initiated by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith. The Debate has gone on somewhat controversial lines, and it will have to be continued, but I wish to turn to one non- controversial matter which has not been touched upon in the Debate this afternoon. This is the first time in living memory that the British Naval Estimates presented to this House have contained no new orders for ship reconditioning or ship repairing, and I consider it my duty as a representative of a large and important shipbuilding district to draw the attention of the House and particularly of the Government to this unprecedented feature in the British Naval Estimates. We have had a small amount in some past years, but this is the first year that the industrial areas outside the Royal Dockyards have had no new orders whatsoever.

The re-allocation that will take place afterwards may give us something, and it is in that hope that I am appealing to the Government that something should be done. I see from the Estimates that there are five cruisers, 12 mine-sweepers, three flotilla leaders, 19 torpedo-boat destroyers, and 13 submarines, which are not yet allocated. I submit that those important industrial areas on the Clydeside and the Tyneside, which have responded in past years so adequately to the requirements of the nation, should receive a fair allocation, and that they ought to have some of the vessels which are not yet allocated. From these benches we do not advocate an increase in naval armaments, and I am not putting that, but I say that, as a national arm and as a national defence, those who contribute by service and contribute towards expenses ought to participate on something like an equitable basis.

The point I want to put to the Government is that there is national responsibility in a special sense, apart altogether from the question of Naval Estimates. The men on Clydeside, and the men on Tyneside would have been employed upon merchant shipbuilding work had it not been for a, deliberate national act upon our part, as a Government, apart altogether from any action of employers and workmen in the industry. I am referring to the provision in the Treaty of Versailles which allocated over 1,000,000 tons of German mercantile shipping to this country. That made a provision of 200,000 tons for five years from the signing of the Treaty. The Government as a Government, not as a Conservative Government, but as a Government in the abstract, has, therefore, some special responsibility in regard to this matter, and I suggest that, as far as possible, in the re-allocation of naval work this year, something should be done for the men on Tyneside and elsewhere who have been thrown out of work in consequence of a national act on our part.

I might continue the Debate with regard to the future of shipbuilding generally, but these points have been enumerated by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith and other points have been enumerated by the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson) and they will require to be discussed on some future occasion under their separate heads. They are very important heads, and they will require full discussion when the subject of shipbuilding comes on for general consideration. I put one or two of them in the House. So far as watered capital is concerned that will enter into our deliberations in future with the shipbuilders. Overhead charges which the Federation of British Industries put at 37 per cent. over what it should be will enter into discussions upon the restoration of shipbuilding. The question on costs that has been touched on hastily will have to be gone into.

The hon. Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson) mentioned this afternoon that shipbuilding was a national industry. That is a new attitude on the part of shipbuilding employers. That is an attitude which they refused to take up seven six, and even five years ago. They would not recognise that the employés had any interest in the industry, and were entitled to discuss such matters as the five points that were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith. They never admitted that we had any right or title to discuss these matters with them, but at last they have come to a remarkable frame of mind and they have asked the shipbuilding employés to meet them. I was present at a meeting last Friday in London here. As the time is getting short I will merely say with regard to the shipbuilding industry that what has happened is an indication that the period of secrecy is over. It is now agreed that the workers have a right to discuss these matters with the employers. That is a very hopeful sign. I believe that it marks a new epoch, so far as the shipbuilding industry is concerned, and I am quite ready always to respond to appeals such as those made by the President of the Board of Trade that we should consult together with regard to these things which will bring advantage to the industry and prosperity to the nation.

Colonel LANE-FOX

I am sorry that I cannot reply on the points which have been raised in reference to shipbuilding, but I will pass them on to the proper quarter. That observation applies also to the remarks by the hon. Member for East Newcastle (Mr. Connolly) about Admiralty orders. That is a matter which I cannot go into, but I will pass on what he has said to the Minister concerned. I am sorry that I have not got a longer time to deal with the points which have been raised, but I was anxious to give hon. Members opposite every possible opportunity of speaking to the points in which they are interested. To me the disappointing thing in this Debate—and I have listened carefully to every speech which has been made—is that there has been no concrete suggestion from the other side. Hon. Members will give me credit for perfect sincerity when I say, let them by all means argue that the Government are incompetent, but they would strengthen their case if they would go on to suggest something definite themselves.


We say that co-ordination of the industry will improve it.


We know nothing about inside affairs.

Colonel LANE-FOX

That is an argument which the hon. Member is quite entitled to use, but they go on saying in speech after speech, "What is the Government going to do?", "Are the Government going to get to grips with this?", "It is time that the House of Commons led the Government and forced them to do it." The Government will be very glad to know what it is that hon. Members want them to do.


That is your responsibility.

Colonel LANE-FOX

Yes, but I am going to point out that, in my opinion, the only suggestion that hon. Members have made is absolutely unsuited to deal with the particular difficulties of the industry at the present moment. Let us get back to the origin of the Debate. The main reason why so many pits are being closed, and why so many men have been thrown out of work in consequence, is the curtailment of our export trade owing to the very great development of foreign production, and because coal is more cheaply produced abroad than here. Whatever view one may have as to a remedy, that is the main fact from which we are suffering now—that foreign countries are producing more coal and are producing it more cheaply and are pushing us out of the export market. Hon. Members say, "You have to deal with that." How is that going to increase the export trade? One hon. Member wrote off the export trade as absolutely dead and done. Does he really believe that any system of nationalisation is going to make up to this country our loss of the export trade?


You can export 7,000,000 tons a year to Russia.

Colonel LANE-FOX

I am sorry that I have not time to deal with interruptions. Our main difficulty is that our export trade has contracted. Whatever internal remedies may be suggested, that is the main fact which is causing the closing of pits and the throwing out of employment of large numbers of men. Ever since German production increased, when the Ruhr became open, and ever since the pits in France and Belgium began to recover from the devastations of the War, this competition has developed, and it is getting worse. There is no getting away from that fact. Hon. Members suggest such internal remedies as nationalisation, unification, or whatever it may be called. Considering that every country in the world has found that the carrying on of State coal mines is a far more expensive business than the running of mines by private enterprise, considering that in no instance that I know of has nationalisation made the cost of production lower, how is that to be a remedy for the trouble that our foreign competitors can produce more cheaply than we can?


What is the remedy of the Government?

Colonel LANE-FOX

I must decline to be drawn away from my arguments in the very few minutes that are at my disposal. We have had suggestions made to-day. One was cheaper distribution. That will not do anything to reduce export prices. We have been told that the Government should put pressure on the coal owners. No employer will deliberately close a pit if he can make it work at a profit. Pits are closing at present owing to the owners' inability to make them pay. It is no use suggesting remedies such as those indicated The question of watered capital may be one which needs exploring, but that does not affect the actual cost of production. I need not deal further with the question of carbonisation. I can only reiterate what has been said by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, that every effort is being made to carry it forward, and I hope before long we shall be able to produce some results of real value. Meanwhile, I hope that hon. Members of the House who are interested in the question will be able to come down to the Fuel Research Station and see the experiments going on. I had already made arrangements for this before this Debate, and after the Easter Recess I hope we, shall be able to get a party to go down there, because the more interest is taken in the matter, and the more knowledge there is of it, the better. Again I complain that we have had no concrete suggestion which seems to me to meet the real difficulty of our position.


You will not accept our suggestion.

Colonel LANE-FOX

The hon. Member's suggestion does not deal with the real question which we are up against in the case of cheap foreign production. His suggestion may deal with other points, but it, does not deal with that. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the Government's suggestion?"]

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman should be allowed to continue his argument. I hope hon. Members will listen to him without interruption.

Colonel LANE-FOX

The Government will certainly do all that is possible by research and inquiry to investigate the conditions and to see what they can do, but it is idle to suggest that Government action alone is going to help the industry. This is a matter which the industry must settle for itself.


It is settling it now. It will be soon out of existence.

Colonel LANE-FOX

Hon. Members opposite have compared the output in France and Belgium with the figures for this country. They are quite right in saying that the output of these countries has been less per man shift than ours, but they must remember that France, and to a certain extent Belgium, are only recovering from the effects of the War, and that must be taken into account. I hope that nothing which has arisen in this Debate will give the industry any suggestion that the Government can, like a fairy godmother, come to its aid. The Government will do all it can to help to secure agreement and to assist in other ways. That is the duty of every Government. Hon. Members opposite quite sincerely ask that the Government should do something, but I would remind them that the late Government were in exactly the same position as we are in and they were not able to do more than any other Government. It is far better for the House, the country, and the industry to realise that that is not the way in which salvation can be found. Other industries like engineering and the railways have had to settle their own affairs, and that is the way in which I hope this difficulty will be dealt with. An hon. Member has asked me what the Government propose to do when the agreement is terminated. I reminded him in the answer that I gave that the agreement would not necessarily terminate. It is not terminable before the 1st July, and after that date it is up to either side to give a month's notice to terminate, and so far, I am glad to say, we have had no indication from either side of any termination.


We have decided.

Colonel LANE-FOX

I do not think the hon. Member can tell me, with any authority behind him, that any definite decision has yet been taken, and he had better be careful before committing himself to any statement of that kind. So far, no definite termination has been notified, and I hope that no definite termination will be notified, because I am certain that it is possible for the industry to settle its affairs by, possibly, some modification of detail, but on the general line of the two parties agreeing together and sharing out what profits the industry can yield. It may be necessary that some pits shall continue and others close, but on the whole I do not believe that the very black picture drawn by hon. Members opposite is really justified. I hope it is not, and I can only say that the Government will help in every direction they can, by research, and so on. If hon. Members will give me some definite and really competent suggestion, when we can discuss it more freely than we can now, and if they will come to my room—I wish they would come more often—and talk it out together, I shall be very glad. I believe that is the best way to get at it, and if they can convince me that they really have a useful suggestion that will help the industry in this very dangerous and difficult time, I am certain they will not find me unready to do my best to carry it out and to explore every avenue that offers itself.


I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman is going away home satisfied that he has deserved his Easter holidays, but after listening to to-day's Debate, and hearing his speech on mining, and the speech of the President of the Board of Trade on shipbuilding and engineering, I am going home most profoundly dissatisfied with the five months that have elapsed since the present Government came into office. All that they have said to-day is that hon. Members here will have an opportunity after Easter of seeing the researches that are being carried out with regard to fuel consumption. Of what use is that to the miner, the shipbuilder, or the engineer? Our ships are going right away abroad, and every week a new order is going abroad, and hon. and right hon. Members who were elected by the country with the sweeping majority that they never forget to remind us of to solve the country's difficulties are now telling us that each industry must work out its own salvation. I am not going out for any holiday. I am going out for a fortnight's hard agitation, and I am not going to preach that gospel that each industry must save itself. I am not going to tell the miners they are to fight the mineowners alone, nor the engineers and shipworkers that they have to fight their employers alone. I am going out during the Easter Recess to ask the whole of the working classes to unite together, not to save any individual trade, but to save the working classes, because here we are told by a responsible Minister that great fundamental industries like coal-mining and shipbuilding cannot afford—

It being Five of the Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Resolution of the 8th April until Tuesday, 28th April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this Day.