Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £10,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for a Subvention in Aid of Wages in the Coal Mining Industry.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
My task this afternoon is to speak in support of the Estimate which you have just read from the Chair and to persuade the Committee, as I hope and I believe that I shall be able to do, that the Estimate, in the circumstances of the day, is one which ought to be brought forward and be passed by this Committee. I do not intend to speak at any great length, and I do not want to go so much into details as to lose sight of the wood for the trees; but I do feel, especially having regard to the fact that there are so many Members in this House who have not long been Members, that it is desirable, in the interests of getting a clear picture before our eyes, to run, very briefly, over certain events during the last 13 years in order to show the Committee how and when and why the Government and the coal industry were brought into contact, because, if we do not do that, I think we may be apt to form a false judgment about recent events. It was in 1912 that the Government found it necessary to intervene in a wages dispute. The industry had been brought to a standstill, and, as a result of that intervention, there was a piece of legislation passed, called the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act. The next intervention was during the War. In 1916, as a matter of necessary war-time emergency and for the purpose of safeguard- 1582 ing the supplies of coal required for the essential services of the country, the Government practically took possession of the industry. The export of coal was regulated, home prices were fixed, and general control and regulation was exercised over the distribution of coal. The system functioned, though it was not perfect—no system can be which is devised to meet a special end—but I think the general concensus of opinion would be that it did meet what it was designed to meet.
After the War it was perfectly natural that conditions, to which people had submitted during the War, gradually became intolerable, and it was obvious that control would have to cease. In 1919, there were fresh threatenings of trouble, and the Government of that day appointed the Sankey Commission. In my view, the great failing of that Commission was that it was unable to present a unanimous Report. Various things were proposed by various members, and the immediate result of it was the introduction of the Coal Mines Act of 1919, which reduced the hours of working to seven. The offer which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made to carry out district unification and the State acquisition of royalties was at that time refused. The Mining Industry Act was passed, which provided for a continuation of control, if necessary, to August, 1921, and attached to that Act was a second part which contained certain proposals with regard to joint committees, district committees, and a national board. It was laid down that if Part II was not acceptable to either party by the end of 1921 it should lapse. The curious feature of that is, as I fear has so often happened in industry where the relations between the two parties have for some time past left so much to be desired, that at the time the owners were willing to accept it the men would not, and at the time the men were willing to accept it the owners would not, and so it happened that Part II lapsed according to the statutory conditions.
Early in 1921, there was a falling off in trade. The need for control had dis-appeared, and the Government, after some consideration, took off control at the end of March in that year. But, of course, the fact that control had been removed, partly on the ground of the decline in the 1583 coal trade, led after its removal to considerable reductions of wages, following the removal of the State guarantee. Nor, to go into details, I would just remind the Committee of the fact that one of the longest stoppages then took place in the industry, a stoppage, of three months, which was not settled until the end of June. It was then settled by the joint acceptance of what was known as the 1921 Wages Agreement, and the Government's wages subvention, which, if my memory serves me rightly, amounted to about £7,000,000, was granted in order to assist the industry through the time of falling prices and falling wages. That agreement ran until the beginning of April last year. In the meantime, the miners had put forward a case that under that agreement they were not getting what they believed to be adequate wages, and they had put forward a demand for better terms in the preceding summer. The owners on their part put forward certain proposals. There seemed no chance of agreement, and the men, in January of last year, gave notice to terminate the agreement. As the date approached for the expiry of the agreement, it became obvious to the Government of that time that a dispute was imminent, and they set up a court of inquiry, under the presidency of Lord Buckmaster, and that inquiry recommended a resumption of negotiations. On the 18th June the wages agreement of 1924 was finally signed, providing for an increase in the minimum percentage to any district equal to 33⅓ per cent. over standard rates.
That brief sketch of the history of the relations of the Government and the trade brings us up to the point at which the recent dispute began. I do not propose to make any comments on the facts which I have related as fairly as I have been able, except to say that it is perfectly obvious that you are here dealing with an industry which has been subjected to more interference both by the Government and by Parliament than any other industry in the country. Whether that in itself has been a thing which has made for prosperity in the industry or not, everyone is competent to form his own opinion. The fact remains: and that is why, having regard to this past history, it is almost impossible for the Government to dissociate itself, as it would 1584 appear, from the troubles that do arise in this great industry.
Now I come to more recent events. I must run over them, though they will be fresh in the minds of every hon. Member. At the time that the minimum wage was raised to the 33⁓ per cent, above the standard, there were many of the owners who expressed the opinion—I do not know whether it was expressed publicly, but it certainly came to me—that the wage which had been then fixed was one that was higher than they feared the economic conditions of the industry would allow for very long, if indeed at all. But, however that may be, there is no doubt that during this last year, owing to the fall of prices and competition abroad, the condition of the industry did get into such a state that it caused a great deal of anxiety to all who were concerned in it, and last November the owners proposed to the Miners' Federation to set up a small joint committee to investigate thoroughly the conditons of the industry. That Committee, after a good deal of preliminary negotiation, was actually set up in March of this year. Meetings were held frequently, and that Committee, whatever else it may have failed to do, did reach a substantial agreement on the facts of the condition of the industry. But it became clear, during the progress of those meetings, that there was a grave difference of opinion, not on the facts, but on what ought to be done in the circumstances, between the owners and the men. The Mining Association felt that the case could only be met by altering the Seven Hours Act and by reducing wages. The Miners' Federation were very strongly opposed to that view, and towards the end of June it looked as though a deadlock either had been reached or would be reached very shortly. On the 30th June the owners this time, and not the miners as in the previous year, gave notice to terminate the agreement, and on the following day sent to the Miners' Federation proposals for a new agreement to take the place of the old one I do not think it would serve any useful purpose to go into details of wages which are in themselves extraordinarily complicated. It is sufficient to say that the proposals then put forward did not commend themselves to the Miners' Federation.
By the beginning of July it was apparent that a deadlock had been 1585 reached, at any rate for a time. I, therefore, asked my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, who was Minister of Mines for a time in the Coalition Government, to act as mediator, and to use his best endeavours to bring the two parties together. On the 9th and 10th of July he saw representatives of both sides, but the miners said they were not prepared to meet the owners unless the notice to terminate the agreement and the proposals for a new agreement were withdrawn. The Government, in that situation, decided to set up a Court of Inquiry, following the example of the Labour Government last year, but, unfortunately, as it turned out, with less success in its results. The Court of Inquiry was set up under the Industrial Courts Act, 1919. Mr. MacMillan, a distinguished Counsel, was appointed President, and he had the assistance of Mr. Sherwood and Sir Josiah Stamp. Their terms of reference wereto inquire into the causes and circumtances of the dispute in the coal mining industry.The Miners' Federation decided to take no part in the proceedings of the Court. The Ministry of Labour sent a telegram to their secretary explaining the object of the Court in case there had been any misunderstanding about the inquiry, and the first meeting, which was to have taken place on the 17th July, was adjourned for three days in the hope that the miners would attend, and to enable them to attend if they thought fit; but they adhered to their original decision, and there was nothing for the Court to do except to hear evidence from the one side that was present, though the views which had been expressed by the Minors' Federation during their negotiations with them were examined so far as was possible in their absence. I think everyone will agree that in a very difficult position the Court maintained a very fair attitude, and used every endeavour to see that those who were absent should not suffer, so far as the Court was concerned, by their absence.
The owners sent an invitation to the Miners' Federation on the 21st July to meet them in order to clear up the misunderstanding which appeared to exist, but the Federation said that in their view there was no misunderstanding. Their 1586 position was that they were willing to meet the owners in open conference "if and when their proposals were withdrawn." These matters are alluded to more fully in the report of the Court. On the 23rd July instructions were issued by the Federation that their members should cease work on the 31st July. On the same day my right hon. Friend again met both sides, and succeeded in getting them to meet in open conference, himself being in the Chair, but there was no time on that occasion to do more than to discuss future procedure, and it was impossible to arrange for any further meeting until a day in the course of the following week. In the meantime the owners had given notice in the various districts of the rates which they were prepared to pay in August, and I received a request from the Special Committee of the Trade Union Congress that I would meet them on Monday, the 27th July. I told them, of course, that I would do so. I met them, we had a conversation, and I intimated to them that I proposed to take over myself the work which my right hon. Friend had initiated. The following day the Court of Inquiry published their report. They recognised that the condition of the industry during the past year had been far from satisfactory. They stated that they considered the claim of a minimum wage was a justifiable one, because they did not think that a method of fixing wages which led to an indefinite diminution was reasonable. They indicated, besides, several other matters which they thought should not be overlooked when regard was being had to the permanent rehabilitation of the industry; but they observed, quite properly, that if anything were done in those directions it would be a matter of time, of considerable time, and in no case could any results be produced which would help in the emergency which had arisen.
From that day until the Thursday night I was myself, with some of my colleagues, who rendered invaluable help, engaged in meeting both parties, one after the other, hoping to the last that I might be able to bring them together and that negotiations might take place which would lead to an agreed settlement between the parties, although I must confess that as time went on my hopes in that direction 1587 fell. I was able to get certain concessions from the owners which I thought might have made a basis of negotiations, but I was unable to get the miners to recede from the position that they would not consider the question of either hours or wages, and so it became quite impossible to say what ultimately the owners might have given had there been a real, genuine attempt at negotiations. It was impossible to get them further; it was impossible to get the miners to move at all. The result was that by Thursday evening it was quite obvious that we had reached a deadlock, and it seemed very difficult to find any way round at all.
I apologise to the Committee for the time I have taken, but I am quite sure that for the purpose of the Debate which will follow it is essential that we should be familiar with the history up to the present time. At this point I think we have to ask ourselves one or two very pertinent questions. Was there anything that the Government could have done during the year which would have prevented this trouble? The Committee must remember that here were two parties, those chiefly concerned, the owners and the men, who were in and who had been in negotiation for some time. I do not think anyone, at any rate until later in the year, could have said with any certainty that it would be impossible in the end for the parties to come to an agreement, and, in my view, there is nothing more fatal than Government interference so long as the parties principally concerned are negotiating and conferring. Had we interfered at an earlier date, I can conceive the vigour with which both parties—and many in this House, too—would have said, "If the Government had only let us alone we could have settled this matter ourselves." I admit the position of a Government in these times is extremely difficult, and that whatever the result the Government will be blamed. A Government can only act in the way they decide best, with all the facts before them, and stand the consequences of their action. I must say, for myself, that I always doubted the wisdom, very much doubted it, of premature interference. I am myself convinced now by what I saw during my own connection with the proceedings that at no period could Government interference 1588 have saved us from coming up to the point where we were last Thursday night.
When you are at the point where we were last Thursday night you have only two alternatives before you. One alternative was to have a stoppage; the other alternative was to find a way out; there was no third. I had to make up my mind. Let us just look at some of the obvious reasons for pursuing either of those two courses. What obvious reasons are there for entering upon a prolonged stoppage? There are only two obvious ones that I can see, although I dare say others may be contributed during the Debate. One is this, which has been freely said in the country, "Oh, you are bound to have a strike; have it now and get it over." That I call a counsel of despair. It may be that there will be trouble, but it is the duty of statesmanship to try to avoid it, and I think it is a fatal thing to accept the proposition that there is bound to be trouble. The other is: "The Government had a pistol put to their heads, and no Government ought to accept that." I shall say a word or two about that before I have finished.
But what are the reasons that immediately presented themselves to my mind on Thursday night for avoiding a struggle, if possible? They are so obvious that they are hardly worth recapitulating, but I will state them. They are four in number. The first is that we are suffering from unprecedentedly bad trade; it has lasted a long time, and in some industries hope is nearly lost. I have heard in the last two or three days, from men whose judgment I value and respect, that they feel that in some industries there is the slightest flicker of improvement, how detected I do not know except by that curious sense of coming events that trained business men have that there is some improvement we may hope for. With industry in that state could a Government do a worse thing for the country, if there was an honourable means of avoiding it, than to allow the country to be plunged into a struggle which must not only paralyse all trades for a time, but throw back for months, possibly for years, any chance of revival? More than that, is this a time when you are to enter wittingly, if you can avoid it honourably, on an expenditure and a loss which might easily amount to £100,000,000, and might easily amount to a great deal more?
1589 Thirdly, as I said before, trade in many industries has not been good. Who are the people who suffer most in a struggle like this? It is not the men's leaders, it is the rank and file; and whatever may happen in a struggle of this kind, the personal suffering must be incalculable, and far greater than any suffering that; can be caused to the country by the amount of money in the Estimate which I am going to ask the Committee to pass this afternoon. I have seen this kind of trouble at close quarters. I have seen works closing down, and I have lived amongst them and amongst the people, and I have seen works closing down under the paralysis following a stoppage in the coal trade, and it is not a thing which I am going by any action of mine to inflict on innocent people in this country, if there is an honourable way out. I shall have more to say about that later on.
Fourthly and lastly—and this is a most important point—I ask myself would it be right to allow a struggle of this kind to begin before the people of this country, unwilling and innocent participants in whatever might happen, have had some opportunity of thinking what such a thing means, and understanding it. Now all these four reasons to my mind are cogent and urgent, and the question I asked myself was this: Is there an honourable way out? I saw there was a way out which I felt to be honourable in the circumstances, and it was this.
Let me preface what I am going to say by pointing out to the Committee—and I am quite sure that here, if in nothing else, I am going to take with me the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. One of the difficulties which the Government has to face in dealing with this particular form of trouble in this particular industry is that there have been at different times, and in different circumstances, inquiry after inquiry into different matters connected with the trade, but little or no action has ever been taken. The result is that the plea can be put forward, as was put forward to me every time I met the men, to that effect.
First of all, the particular statement was made that the Government had got them into the mess, and the Government had to get them out of it. That, of course, I do not fully agree with. I was told that the coal industry was my 1590 baby, and that I had got to look after it, to which I very obviously replied that, if it was mine, it was illegitimate. But there undoubtedly was, rightly or wrongly, a very deep-seated feeling among the men that there were possibilities, by means which I need not dilate upon now, of effecting economies in the coal industry, and that to ask them to take lower wages until everything had been done in that direction was hardly fair. I do not say for a moment that I accept the whole of that point, but I put it to the Committee that that was a point which was pressed very much. There may be much in what they say, or there may be little, but I felt that I should not feel that I had clean hands in allowing the country to enter into a struggle of this nature until once and for all I had brushed on one side those claims.
For that reason I formed the opinion that evening, and I am glad to think that my colleagues agreed with me, that the fairest thing to do was to have an inquiry to go into all those matters, and to have the widest terms of reference, which we are now considering, and we are going to consult the interested parties to have such an inquiry, and to help the industry through by the means prescribed in the White Paper as an emergency and temporary assistance, until such time, which we estimate as nine months, that our Committee or Commission, or whatever we may call it, has reported, and the House has been able to give effect to anything which may prove to be necessary and desirable, should such things emerge. When that has been done I think we have done all that we have been asked to do. There was no means of tiding over this time without this temporary help, because the two parties were too far away in their ideas of wages, and we had reached that point where no negotiation was possible.
Therefore I say once more there were only these two alternatives. I have given the reasons which actuated me and actuated my colleagues, and looking back again with the reflection I have been able to give to it during this last week, I am as convinced now as I was then that the course we took was the right one, and a wise one. I was not unaware of the criticisms to which we should expose ourselves. I do not think anything has been said, either by word of mouth, by letter, 1591 or in the Press, which I had not foreseen, showing a remarkable want of originality. But that to me makes no difference. I heard it said that I was a coward. Well, it is a very much easier thing to be rattled into a fight than to be rattled into peace.
I have just one other thing to say before I sit down. We were confronted last week by a great alliance of trade unions who had the power and the will to inflict enormous and irreparable damage on their country. Had a stoppage come, it would, as I said earlier in my speech, have caused an infinite amount of misery in the country. It is apparently with some a deliberate and avowed policy to force a stoppage of this kind on the country, regardless of the suffering, and that is a grave menace—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—I hope the Committee will listen to these few words of mine, because I must say them in my position of responsibility as the First Minister of the Crown. I think that it is a very sad climax to the evolution of popular government that there should be men who have a great deal to gain, whatever they may think, by progressive democracy, and it is a sad climax to this evolution of popular government if they allow themselves to be deflected from the natural evolution, and to take a course right against everything for which democracy stands.
I do not know if the policy which I describe is endorsed in all its implications by the whole of the party opposite to me to-day, but if that be so, I do not see how constitutional Government can live. But I have secured, at a price, a respite during which we can all of us think, and I believe it is a respite which will be of immense value. I have done my utmost in the last year or two, from the deepest conviction, to secure industrial peace in this country, and I have done it because I believe that anything else will lead to disaster, in that it is only under peace that we can produce in this country for our dense population, and enable them to reach such a degree of comfort and prosperity as every one of us desires that they should reach.
But let me say this in conclusion. It is a matter of the will, and, just as the will to peace can bring peace, so the will to strife can bring strife. If the 1592 will to strife should overcome the will to peace temporarily—and it would only be temporarily in this country—and if we were again confronted with a challenge of the nature I have described, let me say that no minority in a free country has ever yet coerced the whole community. The community will always protect itself, for the community must be fed, and it will see that it gets its food. And let me just say this, too: I am convinced that, if the time should come when the community has to protect itself, with the full strength of the Government behind it, the community will do so, and the response of the community will astonish the forces of anarchy throughout the world. I say this entirely in the spirit in which John Bright many years ago warned people about the danger of delaying reform. I say it merely as a warning, and I know that I am stating what is the deep, the fundamental, the widespread instinct and belief of the vast majority of the great and free people who inhabit this country.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I regret very much the closing sentences and the closing tone of the Prime Minister's speech. I think I am not very far wrong if I say, with real respect, that, in the handling of all those modern and very difficult and complicated problems of democratic government, both in its political and its industrial aspect, the Prime Minister has not had very much experience. [Laughter.] I doubt very much if the Prime Minister would dispute that. In the very closest and. if I might almost use the expression, the most tender personal relationships, the Prime Minister is rich, but in the handling of great masses, and in the keeping in touch with great masses of deep-feeling and hot-feeling bodies of humanity, the Prime Minister, I think, is not quite so rich in his experience. T say to him and to the Government that, whatever their experience of last week, find whatever they may be harbouring in their minds as to their actions for the next nine months, I beg of them not to forget that you never had anarchy in any State unless it was conditioned by a feeble and a reactionary Government.
I rather hoped that the Prime Minister would have finished on the note and in the frame of mind of the first three or 1593 four parts of his speech. Nobody, so far as temper and tone are concerned, however much we may differ from certain of his conclusions, would have had the least objection to offer. He began by drawing forth a demonstration from my hon. Friends behind me, which did not relate to himself at all. When he got up, my hon. Friends objected very much. But they objected to the wording of the White Paper. The wording of the White Paper is:Subvention in Aid of Wages in the Coal Mining Industry.That is not an accurate description. The £10,000,000 subvention is a subvention to meet the demands of the owners, and a very considerable proportion of it will go to increasing profits, and not to maintaining labour standards. Our case is this: The right hon. Gentleman gave his story of the intervention of Governments in this industry. Therefore I need not produce any proof or any argument in favour of the continuation of that policy. Neither he nor I could stop it. If we are faced with a dispute in the coal mining industry, whatever Government is in power has got to concern itself with that dispute.
What was the position? The Prime Minister told the House, quite truly, that when we were in office we got a Court of Inquiry accepted, and that by our Court of Inquiry we gained some time. That is quite true. But the secret of the whole matter was that we kept in touch with both sides during the whole development of the trouble. That is the first secret of successful intervention on the part of a Government. What happened in this case? Everybody who has studied this industry knows that at the present moment it is, and for some years it has been, running upon an economic basis that is thoroughly unreal. Wages rates are fixed on district averages, but the pits that pay the wages rates have to pay them, not on district averages so far as their income is concerned but on their own profits. Therefore, the whole basis upon which attempts have been made hitherto to establish a living wage for miners has been the thoroughly fictitious basis of an abstract thing called a district rate.
That absurd and impossible position could have gone on working for some time, but the change in the economic and industrial position of coal, very largely 1594 brought about by the War and by the peace of Versailles, began to break it down. You had this curious position, for instance, last year, that there was a profit on the whole trade of £14,250,000. and yet about one-third of the product of the trade was produced at a loss. Obviously, in the case of the one-third being produced at a loss, if it had to stand on its own legs in regard to the payment of a wage calculated upon the profits, it would be bound to close its pits. A trade which is worked on such a theoretical basis as that can never be free from disturbance and dispute. Do the Government moan to tell us that they were unaware, until the 1st July, of that anomaly, which was bound to break down the economic arrangements of the trade? If they were unaware of it, then we can understand why they did nothing. If they were aware of it, then the history that the Prime Minister has recounted requires to be supplemented by a confession on the part of the Government that they do not keep in touch with industrial movements, and that, therefore, they are very largely responsible for allowing to develop the crisis we saw last week.
The question that the coalminer and the owner have both been discussing is this: Is the disorganisation of the coalfield, which we all know to exist, going to be allowed to dominate wages, or is the coalfield to be organised in such a way that the combined product can afford a national living wage? That is the problem. It is no use talking about the wisdom of standing apart while negotiations are going on. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, if he leaves that problem to the settlement of the owners and miners, there will be nothing but strike after strike, lock-out after lock-out. Let us get to the facts. It is no use expressing nice opinions and all that sort of thing. There is the situation, and that was as patent to the. Government 24 hours after they took office, I hope, as it was last week when they got to the crisis. If it was not patent to the Government, they have no excuse for not having known it. I asked that the OFFICIAL REPORT should be looked up. I have it here, but I will not trouble the Committee with more than a few extracts. I find my hon. Friend the 1595 Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), as far back as 7th April, put this question:To ask the Prime Minister if he has considered the position of the mining industry in regard to the termination of the present agreement between the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation, and if so, will he indicate what he proposed to do.What was the reply given to that question? I will read it.Colonel LANE-FOX: I have been asked to reply. The position is that the present wages agreement continues indefinitely unless, on or after let July, a month's notice is given by either side to end it. I am aware that the question of giving notice is being actively canvassed, but I am not going to assume at present 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 agreement in the ordinary wav."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1925; col. 2011, Vol. 182.]With due respect, that answer was a most absurd answer. There is not a single person who was either a miner or an owner and who knew the temper of his fellows, there is not a single person who was in touch with the miners or the mine-owners and who understood the economic problems of the trade, who would have given that answer. I am bound to say that when I heard that answer given I did not believe that it displayed to the full the concern and the activities of the Government. Apparently I was wrong, and the answer was literally meant. On 9th April the question was again pressed upon the Government, and the Government again refused to believe that any deadlock was possible under the circumstances. On 26th April again the matter was pressed upon them, and, as a last hope, on 23rd June I myself asked the Prime Minister whether his attention was being directed to the dispute, and whether he proposed to do anything. The reply was:I am, of course, aware that discussions are now going on between representatives of the colliery owners and miners that may have important, and perhaps serious, consequences. But it is essential in my opinion that every opportunity should be given to those engaged in an industry to settle these matters for themselves, if they can, and that the Government should only intervene in the last resort. This point, I am glad to say, has not yet been reached, and may not be reached, and it would be premature for me to make any statement on the subject.1596 It was very fatal, as it turned out. Then there were some supplementaries and, finally, I put this question:May I ask, relating to the answer given to my own question, whether it is the policy of the Government to wait until a deadlock arises before bringing its influence to bear on both sides?Surely a very accurate forecast of what actually did happen! The reply was:I do not believe that interference by a Government, unless it is desired by both sides and can be of use, is ever of any real or permanent help in settling questions of this kind. I think at this moment premature interference would do a great deal more harm than good."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, l925; col. 1308, Vol. 185.]Could it have done more harm than actually has happened? This went on, this attitude of the spectator, asking two sides that from the very nature of the case could not settle their differences to solve a problem which had not been created by either of them but which had been presented to both of them by the action and conditions of the State. This watching attitude, this attitude of the spectator—the onlooker—went on until the notices were posted by the owners in July. The result of the posting of the notices was that public opinion was united in the most extraordinary way against the owners. I do not say that that is equivalent to a statement in favour of the miners because it was against the owners. I am making the statement of fact that the moment the notices were posted public opinion was mobilised from all parties and all sections and classes of the country against the owners, because it was felt that the owners were wrong in the action they had taken.
Even then the Government wasted days. We are told it was the 8th before the First Lord of the Admiralty got into touch—so I gather from the speech we have just heard—eight days out of thirty, the notices only a month to run, with difficult problems to face and to settle if possible, and eight of the thirty days wasted by the Government doing nothing, waiting, I suppose, to see if an agreement could be come to without assistance. My mind is not running at all in the direction of my right hon. Friend's very amusing and most apposite imaginative description and criticism of the choice of the negotiator who had to bring the two sides together—the negotiator chosen 1597 by the Government. A simple bare narration of facts in a case like this is the most effective means of pointing out the delinquencies and responsibilities of the Government. Then, they go on to appoint a Court of Inquiry, and it turns out that they did not even consult the respective sides as to what would happen if they appointed a Court. The Government that is so careful to do nothing to interfere prematurely, the. Government that is so terribly conscious of the susceptibilities of owner and miner go without consulting either of them about it, and appoint a Court of Inquiry, and, after the Court is appointed, it strikes them that they ought to send a telegram to the miners to explain exactly what the Court is appointed for. I should have thought the explanation about the Court would have been made to the miners before the Court was appointed and that the way to the setting up and the working of the Court would have been paved, but we know now that this was not done. This is the Government that handles a thing only after due consideration, with due concern and care that it is doing the right thing and not acting prematurely or rashly.
The Court, of course, reported, just as every inquiry must report when it considers the position of the coal trade. There is no inquiry that can be held now into the organisation of the coalfield but will report in favour of two things, the one dependent upon the other. It must report in favour of a minimum wage. It must report that a minimum wage cannot be secured unless the industry is organised on a national basis. Those two things the Court once again reported. But all this time, and even when the negotiations began, even when the First Lord of the Admiralty stepped in, and even when he stepped out and the Prime Minister himself stepped in, what were the miners told? They were never told that the Government was going to come as a sort of honest broker between them. The miners were told that the Government's position was going to be the position of a sort of independent outside authority. It could not assist them in one way or another in ways that were specified, like a subsidy. It was definitely stated that that could not be done. What really was told to the miners, not in words but in substance, 1598 because the miners had to deal with realities and not merely with words, was that they would have to fight the owners' claims themselves. That is what they were told. There was no way out. The owners had put up their notices. They had made certain modifications, it is true, but, so far as the issues that really kept the two sides apart were concerned, so far as the real dispute was concerned, the Government, till late on Thursday, had nothing to say to the miners except what the miners were bound to translate into this, that they had to use industrial action in order to resist the claims the owners were making upon them. No one can deny that statement.
Then what was the position? The other industries in the country knew quite well that if this reduction was begun in the mining industry it would not end there. Moreover, the other industries saw that if they were assailed it would be impossible for them to mobilise public interest round themselves in the way the miners were mobilising public interest round them. Unfortunately, they had before them the case of the textile lockout that has been going on in Yorkshire to which no public attention of any importance outside the area has been drawn. Over 100,000 workers are concerned in it, and yet there they are, going on day after day, without any concern so far as the outside public are concerned. The unions knew perfectly well—and we must try to put ourselves in the place of the unions in this respect—that if the big battle, the miners' battle, were lost, then every other trade would be presented with the same ultimatum and would have to yield. Therefore, they decided that, every door having been closed so far as they knew—I am talking of the time up till the evening of Thursday—they had to prepare for their own defence. That defence drew out from the trade union movement a unanimity and a harmony that has never been known to exist before.
Of course, such a development is one of the troublesome things that must haunt everybody—especially the sort of people who are really trying to find out how they are going to protect the working of democracy under modern conditions. It is all very well to pay lip service to democracy, but democracy is turning out in experience to be an extraordinarily 1599 different thing from the democracy that was written about in the seventies. What are the thoughts of people who want to discuss this subject, not as partisans, not because they want to be reported in the newspapers, but for the purpose of finding out the trouble to-day? What if they turn to any part of the voluminous literature that expresses the faith and the expectations of the sixties and seventies for democracy, and reflect upon their own experience of democracy and their own knowledge of the problems which we have to face and which this House as a whole has to face? In regard to these great modern problems, the impact and contact of economic and industrial forces with political forces, whoever is really interested in that and in trying to find a practical, working solution for these problems, must be painfully aware of the fact that, if trade unionism is to mobilise itself for its legitimate purpose of industrial defence, especially where a Government is concerned, the difference between that and the mobilisation for political effect is extraordinarily thin, and is very often not a difference of intention and will but a difference as to whether it happens that you are considering the situation at 10 o'clock in the evening or at 10 o'clock in the forenoon.
I hope that in discussing this matter to-day we are not going to fall into party ruts. There we have the problem. The miners, owing to the action of the Government, were faced with a great industrial problem, a clearly-defined industrial problem, the owners versus themselves. The Government all along was saying, "We cannot help in the way you wish." That was repeated again and again, day after day. Do hon. and right hon. Members opposite really believe that in these circumstances the miners, the trade unionists, who believed that their living wage, their standard of life, their very existence, their status in the community was threatened, should have stood by and done nothing and have allowed these notices to come into operation? Not at all! Therefore, I say that this extraordinary manifestation of the unity of industrial will was a thing drawn forth by the circumstances of the case, and was justified amply, and should be 1600 welcomed unstintedly, because it was a first line, a magnificent, solid, first line of defence that the miners and trade unionists put up.
Up to now I have been critical of the Prime Minister. I think his Government is responsible for a great deal. Now, I am going to say that, given such a situation, whoever was responsible for it, the situation that developed at 10 o'clock on Thursday night could have been met only in one way, and that was by a subsidy. You may reject it in principle, as I do. You may say what you like about it, but after the Government's failure to seize the situation, to keep in touch with the currents that were flowing down on both sides of them and by their failure at any stage up to then to get control of it, they were faced with a situation at 10 o'clock on Thursday night which meant either a very serious industrial dispute or the Government having to buy off the owners, so that the owners might get the terms they required and withdraw their notices.
That is the situation as we see it—it may be from a different angle from that which hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite see it. We have been at this for 12 months now. We have been urging this view and we have been begging those in authority not to overlook what was happening. On Thursday night last, the whole thing came to a head and the Government, after having said, even on that very day, I think, that they would not give any money grants to enable the situation to be solved, and after having received a letter from the miners, which has been published, regretting the position the Government took up—that letter having been received on the Thursday—the only thing they could have done they did, and that was they decided to give a subsidy, and they are asking us to-day for a Vote of £10,000,000 on account.
Let us be quite clear upon one point. If the Government had not asked for this £10,000,000 vote on account—I hope it will be a final one, but I am afraid it will not—what would have followed? That which the right hon. Gentleman indicated in the part of his speech devoted to his justification. There is one very simple thing that hon. Members can use as a test. There was a dispute in the coal industry in 1921. The cost of that dispute has been esti- 1601 mated on very good, substantial grounds. This Committee must remember that the 1921 dispute was a mere fleabite compared with the dispute that would have taken place last week, and in which we should now be engaged, if this particular course had not been adopted. What was the estimated loss to the nation of the 1821 dispute? Not £10,000,000. The Prime Minister said £100,000,000. Not £100,000,000, but £287,000,000. That is the estimate, and it is an exceedingly conservative figure; a most conservative figure That is the estimate when all the details have been gone into.
Therefore, those who say that to secure a truce, although it is only for nine months, £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 is an extravagant and wasteful expenditure, are not speaking accurately. The results of a secondary character may be very bad. The results, both of a direct and a secondary character in a. lock-out or a strike would have been infinitely greater than the bad after-results of secondary results of the action that has been taken. There is only one further point that I wish to emphasise, and that is one of the reasons why I regret somewhat the end of the Prime Minister's speech. We have the next nine months in which to make the most of our opportunities for a settlement. I regret that this Commission was not appointed, as it could easily have been, nine months ago. There is nothing today that was not written perfectly plainly on the walls of the coal trade nine months ago. Nine months ago it was a little bit of a prophecy; to-day it is an accomplished fact. Still, the situation was the same then.
The evolution of the crisis was so obvious? that everyone must have known that one of two things would happen. The Government had to make up its mind before the time when these notices could be legitimately given and expire, what policy it was to put down at the critical moment. If it did not do that—and I think this course would have been the better one—it ought to have appointed at the beginning of the year the very Commission for the opportunity of appointing which it is now paying £10,000,000. The Commission will sit, and it does not require very much intelligence to make a forecast of what the result will be, because they are all written so large upon our experience. It 1602 will report, if its recommendations are going to bring peace, that a living wage will have to be paid. It will report that you cannot base the economics of an industry upon a fictitious district average. That average which is now fictitious must be translated into organisation, into pounds, shillings and pence. I venture to say that when a full explanation of the district idea has been made, it will be found that it is not adequate and that there must be national control, and in the end that the nationalisation of the mining industry must characterise our social system.
Upon this point let us be clear. Miners, miners' leaders, trade union leaders, and the men do not want rows for the sake of rows. I am speaking now from my own experience. Nobody will work harder for peace than these men. I do beg of the Prime Minister not to make statements which seem to indicate that, if there had been trouble from 12 o'clock last Friday, only one side would have been to blame. That is not the case! He did not say it definitely, but he rather indicated it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] When his speech is read to-morrow that is what will be inferred. If I have done no other good in my speech, if I get a disclaimer of that from the Prime Minister, I shall have done something. Nobody wants disturbances. [An HON. MEMBER: "The coalowners want them!"] I was not thinking of the coalowners, but of the trade union leaders. There is no disturbance simply for the sake of disturbance. Everybody knows perfectly well that no section of the community has to go through harder times during these disputes than the poor people who are fighting in them. We do not require to be told that.
It has also to be recognised that one of the great characteristics of the mining industry at the moment is the tremendous advance in education among the younger miners. It is almost miraculous. If hon. Members go down to some of those mining valleys in Wales and see the great classes conducted by the Workers' Education Association, and university organisations of one kind or another, by the Central Labour College, and so on, they will see that that is a new factor. I believe that the greatest trouble in bringing peace in these situations is not the trouble of finding the 33 per cent, increase or 1603 decrease, but the psychological trouble, the lack of confidence, the feeling that fair play is not being given, and it is that represented in hours and wages which makes the workers' problem at present. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has found, and, as I know to a less extent we have found, this difficulty almost insoluble. To bring peace to industry, Society itself must do its duty to the industrial population. It is not enough to put up these statements about what a wicked and criminal thing it is to have a row. In making such observations, do let us visualise that the wickedness and the criminality belong not to a little section, but to the whole unit which composes our Society. Until we get that point of view, I am afraid that we shall never understand the trade union psychology which has been manifested with such strength of will and such remarkable unanimity the other day.
One thing which I would like to reflect upon, if the Committee will allow me, before I sit down is this. I believe that one of the great troubles that are ahead of us, and that I hope we shall all conspire to solve, or help to solve, is that of making this House, of making Parliament, effective in helping to promote and maintain industrial peace and to improve industrial conditions. Once the faith that we can do that is lost, you can talk as much about democracy as you like, but democracy will be steadily undermined in this country, and what is to take its place? Nobody knows, and no sane man can care to contemplate. There are those of us who came here, thinking that the House could do those things and believing that the Government in those industrial disputes did represent the third party which is called the nation, and that the House of Commons and the Government of the day could bring the outsiders' point of view in front of both sides to the dispute, and take the initiative in leading to a settlement of these disputes. Unless that is done, the faith in this House, and the respect and pride in it felt by great masses of people outside will be forfeited, and will be rightly forfeited, but certainly not in the interests or to the honour of the nation.
1604 Therefore I hope that when we guarantee £10,000,000 to-day the nine months are not going to be used as the last nine months were used, but that the second nine months, with the £10,000,000 Vote, will secure us a truce which will be used for the purpose of really studying the economic and industrial position of the whole coal trade, and that when the Report of the Commission is made, and the recommendations are written down and published, it will be the first of the Government's tasks to carry those recommendations into effect and to take nothing into account at all except their obligation to establish peace in a trade in which there has not been peace for a generation, and in which there never will be peace until there is a living wage paid as a minimum and until the trade is organised nationally.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Prime Minister, in the course of his very eloquent speech, made out a very strong case for Government action and for strong Government action. What he did not attempt to do was to defend the particular action which he is now asking the House of Commons by this Vote to sanction. He took some pains to justify his intervention. I should have thought that that was quite unnecessary. I should have thought that the criticism was rather that he had not intervened early enough. What is it that he invites us to agree to this afternoon? On that point he said nothing. He asks the House of Commons to sanction an unlimited guarantee, a guarantee without any limit of amount, and, as I shall point out, without any real limit of time, of wages and profits in the coal trade, without any settlement in form or in substance. That is a very serious proposition to invite the assent of the House of Commons to. My right hon. Friend has pointed out that this is a Vote of £10,000,000 to pay wages—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"]—in form. The House of Commons is asked to vote £10,000,000 as a subvention to wages, but in the end of the document it says:The subventions will be calculated in accordance with the arrangements set out in White Paper, Cmd. 2488.Anyone who has taken the trouble to read that document—and I hope that all hon. Members will have taken the trouble 1605 to read it before they vote—will see that in form this is a subvention to wages. In reality it is a guarantee of the 13 per cent, profit to the coalowners without regard to the condition of trade during the next nine months. Let us examine the actual Vote, and what it is. I have, said that this is an unlimited guarantee. If hon. Members who have read the White Paper will follow me, they will find that therein it is pointed out that the loss which is guaranteed, if computed upon the basis of the loss between August and May, would come to £7,500,000. If it is computed on the basis of the June loss, it would come to £24,000,000, and the £10,000,000 has no basis at all either in fact or in the condition of things. The £24,000,000 is not a maximum. It is the largest figure mentioned in the White Paper, but it is not the maximum of the guarantee.
The £24,000,000 is based on three assumptions. First of all that June is the worst month which we are likely to have to face. Second, that the settlement which is to ensue as a consequence of inquiry and negotiation and action will have been completed by May, and have borne fruit, and third, that the expenses of running the mines will be kept down under a State guarantee as they are kept down under private enterprise. That is so simple and so trustful a proposition that I cannot imagine the Government accepting it. Those are three assumptions, each of which will break down, but each of which must be accepted before we can say that we are now voting even £24,000,000 let alone £10,000,000. Take the first assumption. Is June the worst month? I have listened to what the Prime Minister said about the trade prospects. It was not encouraging. I thought that it was very depressing. On the faces of two or three of his hon. Friends I saw a little flicker. We have not had any report of the effect of the gold standard upon export trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "Your policy!"] It is very easy to say that, but, whoever is responsible for the policy, this is the effect of the guarantee which has been given, and to which the House of Commons is asked to assent at the present moment.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not think that I shall get many cheers from my Tory friends in this matter—[Interruption.]
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to express his views without interruption.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
When the House of Commons is invited to vote a large sum of money every Member is entitled to say his say. Hon Members opposite are rather amused by the reference to the gold standard.
§ Sir F. WISE indicated dissent.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
But the hon. Gentleman knows something about it, and therefore he did not laugh. Sir Josiah Stamp was one of the three men chosen by the Prime Minister to inquire, and he was the only man who, according to his fellow Commissioners, knew anything at all about it. What he reported was that the precipitate acceptance of the gold standard has had a great deal to do with the present difficulty in the coal trade. I am only quoting the authority of a gentleman chosen by the right hon. Gentleman himself to investigate the facts. No man can say now that June is going to be even the worst month. Take the second question, whether the Prime Minister and the Government imagine that they will be in a position in May of next year to drop this guarantee. They guarantee wages to the amount demanded by the miners. They guarantee profits up to a certain point. It is not clear, on the face of the document, how much is guaranteed. Mr. Cook takes a very strong view as to the amount, and he was a partner to the settlement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No! "] Let us see what is likely to happen. There is to be an inquiry. Negotiations will follow. I cannot imagine any inquiry resulting in anything but a recommendation in favour of a drastic reconstruction of the coal industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Sankey Commission."] That was not the only Report of the Sankey Commission. I was against it, and I opposed it. I defended my action in this House, and I shall do so again, and I am entitled as a Member of Parliament to do so. [Interruption.] It is really quite impossible to examine the 1607 issue unless free speech is permitted in this House.
Let us follow this subject. You cannot settle this business without the most drastic reconstruction of the industry. Up to the present it has been impossible to get agreement upon it. There was a certain recommendation—the Prime Minister referred to it—in 1919, which I then, as Prime Minister, made on behalf of the Cabinet. We adopted a certain course which we thought was a compromise between the various recommendations. We put that before the House of Commons with the unanimous assent of the Cabinet. I forget whether the present Prime Minister was a Member of the Cabinet or not; at any rate, he was a Member of the Government. As far as I can recollect, both parties in the coal trade rejected it. I have not the faintest doubt that they will have to come to it in the end. The proposal for unification, the proposal for the purchase of the minerals, the proposal for amalgamation, something that will save the expenditure by preventing heavy overhead and unnecessary charges, the utilisation of machinery—to all those things, I have not the faintest doubt, the Government will have to come. But all that will take time; it must take time. The Government must make up their minds ultimately to force it upon the coalowners, and, if necessary, upon both parties. It is inevitable. But does the right hon. Gentleman imagine that proposals of that kind could be put through and that they could fructify before the end of May? It is utterly impossible. If the right hon. Gentleman had made terms with the coalowners that, as a condition of a loan to the industry, there should be a great unification which would save expenditure, we could then see the end of it, and I agree that the House of Commons would have gone any length in order to put an end to this constant and repeated trouble in the coalfields, which has baffled every Ministry up to the present, including the Labour Ministry of last year. [Interruption.] The Government certainly did not settle it in 1924. But the danger of this is that it is nationalisation in its worst form. It is a guarantee of wages and profits, without any control, without any limit, and without any restriction I opposed 1608 the Nationalisation Bill of the Labour party last year, and I shall do so again. [Interruption.]
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must point out that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay Mac-Donald) was heard patiently during the 40 minutes of his speech, and that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has not yet spoken for 15 minutes.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The danger of the present proposal is this. In the miners' Bill there was at any rate a provision that a certain number of representatives—I think it came to one-half of the representatives—should be put on the management by the Government. There was that measure of control. But what have we here? There is no control; there is no real oversight of expenditure. There is a guarantee, which is an inducement for both parties not to hurry the matter and to bring it to an end. I think that that in itself is something that the Government ought to have insisted upon; they ought to have insisted upon restrictions, they ought to have insisted upon limits, they ought to have insisted upon control, if necessary, as a condition of a great subsidy of this kind. May I point out something else? Take the question of expenses. There is no real control of expenses here by the mines. As the light hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well—no one knows it better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer—to cut down expenditure involves a good deal of unpleasantness. You have to reduce, you have to dismiss, you have to restrict, and to quarrel with colleagues. It is a most difficult thing to keep down expenditure, and it is still more difficult to reduce expenditure.
When the mineowners and their managers know that the inevitable outcome of no cutting down of expenditure is either the closing of a pit or going into the Bankruptcy Court, there is a strong incentive to reduce expenditure. But there is another alternative now, and that is the alternative of a cheque from the Treasury. All they will have to do will be to say: "Well, what is the good of cutting down expenditure? What is the good of having disagreement with your managers, with your men, when all that you have to do is to send an account to the Treasury and there is 1609 a guarantee? "I ask the right hon. Gentleman to point out a single provision in this White Paper that will enable the Exchequer to exercise any real control over expenses in the mines as long as they have a guarantee. That is the position. The Prime Minister referred to the subsidy of 1921. The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir E. Home) and the present First Lord of the Admiralty were associated with me in that guarantee. May I point out to the Prime Minister what happened in that case? In 1921, as the right hon. Gentleman himself points out, there was a guarantee, and the subsidy was simply a method of bringing it to an end. There was an existing guarantee; it was not a new guarantee that was given. The other matter is that it was part of a settlement between the parties, the miners, the mineowners, and the Government. There was an agreed settlement before the guarantee was given.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Winston Churchill)
After the strike was over.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not quite accurate. It was not after the strike was over that the guarantee was given. The guarantee was offered at the beginning of the dispute. We offered a guarantee of £10,000,000. A demand was put forward, as an alternative, that we should give exactly the same guarantee as the present Government are giving without any limit at all. We refused to do it, and at the end not a penny more was given than that which we offered at the beginning of the strike. That was the fact. A third difference was this. In that case the guarantee was not offered until the threat of the Triple Alliance was withdrawn. The Triple Alliance made the same threat to the Government then as they made last Thursday. There was no guarantee offered of a subsidy until that was withdrawn. That made a very considerable difference.
1610 I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply what will be the position with regard to prices. So far as I can see the effect of this guarantee, it is an incentive to production but not to consumption. I would like to know what is to be the effect upon export prices. For instance, suppose that a colliery loses a contract because a foreign country is supplying the coal at a lower price than that which we offer. Is the colliery in that case entitled to make a lower offer, although it loses money, and, if not, what control have the Government upon the prices which are asked and the prices which are paid?—because the colliery would be satisfied with a guarantee of the subsidy, the guarantee of the 13 per cent, and of the wages. One ought to know whether this is a method of merely giving cheaper coal to our competitors, or whether there is any control over it. The fact of the matter is that there is a much graver issue involved in this. The Government undoubtedly came to these terms against their own judgment, because of the threat which was directed against them. The right hon. Gentleman admits it. That is a very serious thing; it is a very serious action for a Government to take. I am not criticising the right hon. Gentleman for changing his mind in the course of the negotiations. [Interruption.] Every concession is in itself a change from the position which you originally take, and it is the business of Governments to steer an even course between rigidity and timidity. No one knows better than some Members of the Labour party that you cannot negotiate in any business without making concessions. Hon. Members have constantly to depart from the positions they take at the beginning of negotiations. It is the very essence of negotiation.
Therefore, I am not criticising the right hon. Gentleman for having taken up one position, and even on the same day finding it necessary to make a concession and to alter his point of view. That may in itself be a proof, not of cowardice, but of courage. That is not my criticism. The point I am putting is that the right hon. Gentleman came to that conclusion, not because of any considered judgment of his own, but because of the threat which was made. Quite frankly, the Government were afraid of facing cold steel 1611 [Interruption.] There was certainly a threat. I do not know what it was, unless it was a threat. It was certainly a statement of a very serious character, that unless the Government and the mineowners—unless the Government, at any rate— accepted the position of seeing that wages at a certain figure were the result of the negotiations, then there would be not merely a strike of the miners—[HON.MEMBERS: "Lock-out!"]—not merely a lock-out of the miners, but, in addition, there would be interference with the ordinary course of business by other trade unionists.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
They may or may not have been justified. I am not for the moment arguing that proposition. I am on another matter, and it is that the Government decided, not upon the merits, not upon their judgment, but upon an undoubted threat and a menace which was directed against them, and which they refused to face. I think that is as serious an action as the Government could possibly take. It is no use denying it. Nobody has said so in stronger language than the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He attacked the Prime Minister for having, as he said,simply handed over the appearance, at any rate, of victory to the very forces that sane, well-considered, thoroughly well-examined Socialism, felt to be probably its greatest enemy, and the biggest chance that reaction had got in this country now.The right hon. Gentleman, since then, has been pretty soundly birched in private for having told the truth, and he has promised never to do it again. He is getting it so often that his seat must be getting rather uneasy. Whether he said it, or whether he is simply reported to have said it—because he has been very unfortunate in the reports of late—there is no doubt that the statement represents the actual fact. It was a menace—the right hon. Gentleman has put it quite frankly—of a very serious character from a minority in this country.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Whether it was from the mineowners or from others, it was from a minority in the country, and it is upon that menace that the right hon. Gentleman admits he took action.
1612 The Home Secretary has been delivering a great many speeches recently about the Red peril. It really is no use barking at the Red Flag every time it cracks in the wind, whilst his chief is engaged in humbly gliding the flag staff—and with standard gold. Really it is very sad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer assisting in that operation. He was very eager to fight the Reds on the Volga. I am very sorry to see him running away from them on the Thames and leaving his purse behind. That is the real explanation, and I think the most menacing. You have only to read what has been said after that victory by those who have taken the larger part in it—not the hon. Gentlemen here above the Gangway, but the men outside who took that action, who took, if you like, their courage in their hands, and organised this. [HON. MEMBERS: "With audacity!"] Yes, with audacity, and they have acclaimed it and proclaimed it throughout the whole country as the result of the victory of direct action. So it was. It ie no use pretending otherwise.
At the last Election hon. Members opposite were very gallantly fighting against the flaming apostles of Zinovieff and beating them badly. To-night they are being herded into the Red Lobby. The hand that directs them will be the hand of the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury, but the voice that compels them is the voice of Mr. Cook. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister practically admitted it, and I think that was the most serious part of his statement. It was a very candid statement. He said it will never happen again, but this time, he admits, that the force I have indicated was the force that drove him to make a bargain which is an improvident one, and the end of which no one can see. There is no limit of time in it; there is no limit of money in it. It is, for the moment, practical nationalisation with a Government guarantee, and without any control. And the right hon. Gentleman has conceded that merely because he was driven to it by the action of the direct actionists outside. [Interruption.] Well, it was said by the Leader of the Opposition, and why on earth hon. Members above the Gangway should be jealous of Mr. Cook—as they evidently are—I do not understand. He ruled them all out, and took the job 1613 on himself, and would have nothing whatever to do with them—and he was quite right.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he talks about the peril to democracy. Democracy is doomed if it surrenders to the compulsion of a, minority, from whatever quarter that minority comes, and Europe is full of lessons of that kind at the present moment, and they are not all in Russia. May I remind hon. Members, even those above the Gangway, that in Italy, where you have an example, it was first the Left who took a particular action. You never can be sure that the person who wins the first round in this game will win the second. I remember perfectly well—and I came into contact with some of the statesmen of Italy—that, undoubtedly, the first round there was won by the extreme Left. It is now in the hands of the extreme Right. The only people who suffer are those who believe in free government, and therefore the House of Commons depends upon the Government, who are the trustees and guardians of democracy as long as they sit here as a Government. I remember the father of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last great and brilliant speech which he delivered in this, House, and which made a great impression on the House. He was accusing the Government of the day of surrendering to all kinds of sections, and there was some truth in it. The Government of the day was at the other sections' mercy, and he said:You call yourselves a Government. Whom do you govern? One day you are at the mercy of this section; the next day you are at the mercy of another section. Whom do yon govern?I ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether he is satisfied that in this matter it is ho who has governed?
§ Sir LESLIE SCOTT
The Debate in which the Committee is engaged is one of extraordinary gravity. There are two questions before us. The first is: Have the Government done right or wrong in the settlement which they have provisionally made over a temporary period? The other is: How can this House contribute to the solution of a problem which will have to be solved in the future? The Leader of the Opposition has attacked His Majesty's Government on the first question, and the Leader of the 1614 Liberal party has followed suit with an attack upon the Government with regard to what they have done. I venture to think that to-day in this House, it is of infinitely more importance that the House should consider, from all sides, in what way we can contribute to a solution of the problem of the future. I believe that the feeling throughout the country and in this House, in regard to the price paid, and to the appearance of submission to a threat to hold up the community, has been one of anxiety and disquietude, and yet, for the reasons given by the Prime Minister, I am satisfied that the great majority of the people of this country, on thinking the matter over, will come to the conclusion that the course taken, in the circumstances which arose, was the only course possible.
It may be that that course could have been adopted earlier. It may be, on the other hand, that it was wise to leave the parties to the very last minute to make a settlement between themselves, if such was in any way possible. I venture to think had this course been taken earlier, the result would have been exactly the same, and that there was no solution possible for the deadlock to which the parties had come in this industry, but a suspension of the discussion on the terms of a subvention to assist the payment of wages, and the appointment of an impartial commission to inquire into the possibilities of the situation. That is the essence of the matter. If that is so, I ask any Member on the Opposition benches whether, had the Government intervened earlier, he could have suggested any other course than that which has been adopted. We ought not to allow this Debate to be concentrated on the past when the future is at stake. It is true that in order to understand the possibilities of the future we must understand the present and to some extent the past, but only to that extent ought the Committee to-day to be concerned with the past. I do not care, for this purpose, whether the Government could or could not have intervened at an earlier late. The fact is that it has intervened now, and that a certain course is open to the country, and the question is, in what way can this Committee assist in the solution of the problems, which are so extraordinarily difficult?
1615 I have had the privilege and interest of being connected in one way or another with the mining industry nearly all my professional life, and I am bound to say that at the present juncture I believe the position is one in which it is quite impossible to blame one side or the other, or to say that for the present impasse one side is responsible. The facts which have produced the present deadlock are facts completely beyond the control of the industry as it is constituted up to now. Just think for a moment, if I may trouble the Committee with a few figures on the matter. The exports of coal before the War were between 70 million and 80 million tons a year, and in 1924 they fell to 62 million tons a year, in the first half of this year they fell to a rate of 52 million tons a year, and in the month of June they were at the annual rate of 43 million tons. Some 500 collieries have been closed during a comparatively recent period of time, and there are a vast number of miners completely out of employment to-day. Substantially over 60 per cent, of the collieries of the country are to-day, and ' have been for some time, working at an actual loss. The average profits for the year ending 30th April last were nominally 3.6d. per ton over the whole country, including Scotland, and from that them is a figure of something like 3d. which has to come out of those profits, and which in reality reduces the average profits to a figure of under 1d. over the whole industry.
The position is even worse than that, because the average does not represent the reality. There are some 13 districts in this country, from a mining point of view, and in regard to 11 of them—two, the Forest of Dean and Bristol, are rather small, and I have not the figures for them—five have been working for months and months past wholly at a loss, over the whole district. There are only two of the districts which have been making anything like a substantial rate of profit per ton, namely, Somerset and the Eastern federated area. Somerset is so small that one can rule it out. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I mean, for this purpose, in comparison with the whole output of the country. Somerset is a most important place, not only intrinsically, but because of those whom 1616 it sends to this House, but from the point of view of relative importance in the coal industry, it is very small. The Eastern federated area for practical purposes is, therefore, the only area in this country that during the past 12 months has been making a profit, and in the month of June I believe that even that area had ceased to make any profit at all.
Those are the broad facts of the situation, and with those broad facts, what has happened in the negotiations between the two sides? It was obvious that the owners could not go on paying wages out of profits they did not make. The ratio of wages to the total cost of production of coal is something like 70 per cent., and it is, therefore, quite obvious that, if they are making a loss, wages could not be continued for any appreciable length of time. You cannot pay wages unless there is an annual fund out of which they are to be paid. On the other hand, the miners very rightly and very properly say that it is unfair and impossible, in a civilised country, that any large number of people should be asked to work for wages which are below the subsistence level. That being so, these two parties had reached an absolute deadlock, from causes, broadly speaking, outside their control. The causes of our colliery trade being so affected are well known. Partly the substitution of oil for coal has reduced the demand, partly the installation of hydro-electric power in some countries—for instance, Italy—which have been our best purchasers, and partly the competition of other countries. Germany has increased her output of lignite, or brown coal, from before the War by 50 per cent., and that coal sets free the black coal to compete with us on the Continent.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I beg to draw attention to the fact that since Switzerland and Italy have taken on what is called the white coal, there is no appreciable decline in the demand for coal in those countries.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
There has been a very large increase, as officially returned, in Germany of the amount of brown coal produced.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
There were about 85 million tons of brown coal before the War and about 152 million tons last year.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I do not want to drift off into another discussion. I want to try to get a general picture in order that we may see what it is possible to do, with a view to the future. We all in this country want to put the industry, if possible, on to such a footing that it can pay the wages which the Members of the Labour party desire to be paid. We are all out for the same object, and the essential thing is that somehow or another the industry should be enabled to make profits which will enable the wages to be paid. That is the whole problem, and I submit that it is infinitely important to concentrate attention on what I call a constructive attitude. For that reason, I am not going to deal with the points--though, had there been time, I should like to have done so-raised by both the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I want to say only one thing, and that is that in the working out of the amount that is to be paid by the Government to the industry, under the subvention, there is provision for checking the amount paid and the expenses incurred by the colliery companies, which did not exist in 1921. In 1921 there was no permanent agreement between the masters and the men under which the whole of the accounts of the collieries were subject to regular examination by independent accountants. That system was introduced by the Agreement of 1921, and has been in force ever since, and there is material now by which the expenditure can be effectively checked, both by the accountants and by the Government right of audit, which is reserved under the proposal, and it is important to bear that in mind. Secondly, as regards prices, it is not true, as was stated by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, that under the system proposed it is possible for a company to quote a low price and ask the Government still to pay a guaranteed 13 per cent, profit. That is a travesty of the position. The position is this, that the contribution is a contribution, in the first instance, only and directly towards wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I repeat that the direct contribution is simply and solely to pay the difference between the rate of wages 1618 which would be paid under the 1924 Agreement, if it were continued, and the terms that were offered by the owners as the only terms which the industry at present could afford. That is the position, with this result—[Interruption]—I do not want to get into controversy, because— —
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I must say this, because I think it is correct that, if a colliery company took unremunerative prices for its coal, the company would suffer the loss, and it would not fall on the Government's subvention.
Having made that one remark about the speeches that have already been delivered, I want to deal with what seems to me the important, constructive aspect of the matter. For what purpose has the Government agreed to this subvention being given? The only justification for it is to enable an investigation to be conducted, during the interval things being kept in statu quo, for the purpose of ascertaining whether by any alterations in the organisation, in the management, in the administration, or otherwise—quite wide, with no limits—the industry can be made to pay where it does not pay to-day. That is the justification, and it is what has been asked for by many people on the benches opposite. The proposal of the Government is that an impartial Commission should be appointed for the purpose of making that investigation. Every time that any discussion with the owners comes up, the miners bring forward a series of proposals and, if they will forgive me using the word, charges, that the owners' collieries might be run more effectively so as to save more money and make more profits and so allow better wages to be paid. It has been said time after time. They cannot blame the Government for appointing a Commission whose express object is to make an inquiry whether or not the industry can be made to pay.
I am a modest lawyer, with a modesty which is characteristic of my class, and it is not my business to suggest whether it is possible for improvements to be made in the mining business, in the management of a colliery—though I shall have certain suggestions to make which I believe will be useful, not on management but on certain aspects of the industry—but one thing is clear, and that is that it is essential that the Royal Commission 1619 that is appointed should be one which will command the confidence of both sides in the Report that it makes. I see rumours in the paper that a Judge might be appointed as chairman. I very much hope that he will not. I had the privilege, if it be a privilege, of attending right through the Royal Commission over which Mr. Justice Sankey was the chairman. I am a lawyer, and I do not believe that a lawyer or a Judge possesses the proper qualifications to be chairman of such a body. I am not criticising Mr. Justice Sankey. In my view, the problem before this Royal Commission will be quite different from the problem which was before the last. A Judge can, and ought to try issues between contending parties. Today, in this matter, there is no issue between contending parties. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, yes, there is!"] The question is one of scientific and business investigation.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
And human investigation; but the essential thing here is to ascertain how the industry can be, so to speak, aided by recommendations which, if put into effect, would enable it to pay the wages which the hon. Member calls human wages. I accept the epithet. I believe that is the object of everyone in the Committee. Under the conditions of the industry to-day, if the economic wage, and the economic wage only, were paid, it would be far below the wage men should have, in many cases. There is no doubt about that. Therefore, it is most important, and we want, if we possibly can, to see that the Commission embarks upon the inquiry equipped with the kind of talent, experience, and judgment which is required in order to produce a satisfactory report. In my view, the only people who ought to sit upon that Commission are business men. I was present at the last Commission, as I said, and the composition of that Commission, with a set of partisans on one side, and a set of partisans on the other side, made the Commission—and I say so with respect to the learned Judge who presided over it—a farce. It was a complete failure from the point of view of satisfying the general public of this country—[An HON. MEMBER: "It satisfied the working class!"]—the general opinion of this 1620 country, and I hope on this occasion we may have a Commission composed of the kind of men whose advice for the problem in hand is likely to be useful. The problem in hand is a business problem. If you are going to tell the coalowners of this country that they must alter the methods of their business, it is essential that a business Commission should be appointed in order to do it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
What about the million men who will be employed in carrying on the industry—are they not entitled to be there?
§ Sir L. SCOTT
Having regard to the object of the Commission, I hope very much there will not be a single mineowner and not a single miner on it. I see as the purpose of the Commission, the attainment of the same object as the party opposite has, namely, that the industry should be able to pay wages which are proper wages, and, in order to do that, it is essential that we should have business men, and business men only, on the Commission. The kind of chairman we want for the Commission is, if I may quote a name outside this country, because I do not think it would be right to suggest names here—I would suggest a man who has constructed and built up a great business, who has made it a huge success, and who has, at the same time, been able to pay very high wages. I think I heard the name of Henry Ford. That is the type of man that is wanted for the chairman of this Committee. I imagine that the sittings of the Commission will be public. They ought to be. As regards the scope of the inquiry, the Prime Minister has indicated already that that will be unlimited I feel convinced that that is a wise decision; but it is only a wise decision if you have a Commission wisely composed, a Commission of men whose knowledge of the matters upon which they are going to advise will be recognised by everybody. If that Commission be so constituted, I think we may expect that it will consider the problem of the industry in a thoroughly practical way. Whether it will be necessary for the Commission to take so long as from now till next May, or anything like that in order to report, I should doubt very much. I should have thought that a really well-constituted Commission would come to a conclusion of a practical kind at a very much earlier date, and I imagine that 1621 the Government, in speaking of May next, have referred to May as the ultimate limit, beyond which they do not expect to ask for any assistance from this House in the way of subvention.
Assuming the Commission is so constituted, there are one or two suggestions I should like to put before the Committee for consideration as the kind of thing which will come before that Commission, and upon which it is possible that improvements may be made in regard to the capacity of the industry. There are four topics on which I should like to say a few words. The first topic is, obviously, the question of working hours in the pit. I know that the Labour party, up to now, have said that nothing would induce them to agree to any extension of working hours. I hope that it may be possible to see a way to the industry making profits without any extension of working hours. Frankly, I doubt it. There are-so many collieries in this country to-day in which the working face is so far from the pit bottom, where the system of haulage is not adapted for carrying the men by mechanical means, that the length of time left at the working face at that type of colliery is really insufficient Co enable it to compete fairly in the market. The output is too small in relation to establishment charges. I heard someone suggest closing the pit. I agree, in many cases, that ought to be done. That is one question that will have to be considered, and I do put it to the representatives of the workers in this country that very much longer hours, or substantially longer hours, are worked on the Continent by our competitors.
I was the other day at the mining town of Lens, in Northern France, which has been entirely reconstructed since the War, where they have every up-to-date appliance for every by-product, where the mines are admirably fitted out in every respect, where the coal is utilised in every conceivable way, and where the housing accommodation of the miners is perfect. I went into a number of the houses. The life that the men and their families live there is what I am certain would commend itself to Members on the benches opposite. But the men are working, and are satisfied to work, six days a week and eight hours a day. I am not saying that is desirable, but I am saying two things, that so far as I could judge, 1622 there was no discontent with those working hours, and. secondly, from the point of view of competition in the export markets of the world, we are very much handicapped if we are only working seven hours a day, and in most cases five days a week. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the output?"] The mines, as I have said, have only been got back into working comparatively recently, and their output is not a fair test to-day of what they are going to do. It is a matter for consideration. I am expressing no final opinion; I am making no assertion. I am only saying that this is a matter for consideration.
I now come to my second topic. I had the honour of being chairman, in 1919, of a committee appointed to deal with a number of mining topics. A good many recommendations of that committee were passed into law in the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923. On that committee we had a leading coalowner, and also the agent of the Mining Association, the late Sir Thomas Ratcliffe Ellis, and two mining engineers, and I think it will be agreed that they would not be disposed to take a view unduly against the mineowners. But we came to the conclusion on that committee that there were a large number of different aspects, some of them not very important in themselves, but, taken altogether, of considerable cumulative importance, in which private ownership interfered with the successful working of the mineral resources of the country, and we came to the conclusion that those drawbacks of private ownership could quite easily be got over if there were some tribunal which could sanction compulsory orders, under which the particular private property in question could be taken over on fair terms of compensation. Some of these proposals are incorporated in the Act of 1923, and under that Act the Railway and Canal Commission is the Court that deals with applications of the kind. That Court has been working extraordinarily well, and the result of it has been that voluntary arrangements have boon very much promoted By the knowledge of owners that, in the background, there is the power of compulsion which can be used if necessary. The procedure recommended (and adopted in the Act of 1923) was that anybody should be entitled to make an application 1623 to the Mines Department, if he contended that some rights of working coal or otherwise—whatever they might be—were interfered with because he could not get the owner of the rights to agree on reasonable terms, and if it was in the national interest that an Order should be made. My view at that time—and to-day-of the national interest was, and is, that it is a broad expression under which on any ground that is plainly the interest of the public an Order should be made.
Wherever the working of a colliery is unremunerative, unless some injury to the national point of view is going to be done by making an Order, my view is that the coal which it is desired to work ought to be made possible to work, and there should be power for a compulsory Order to be made. The Court has proceeded on those lines and made a large number of Orders. It works cheaply, expeditiously, and with satisfaction to the parties concerned. Mr. Justice Sankey, as hon. Members know, is the Judge that presides over the Court, and he has power to call in mining assessors whenever the Court wants to deal with any difficult question. Among the subjects which it was advised should be made the object of such compulsory Orders was the amalgamation of collieries. A great many hon. Members of the party opposite and the Miners' Federation had said that nationalisation was essential for this. That has been one of their reasons for nationalisation. Another reason has no doubt been to eliminate the system of private profit and private property—and everything else! I put that on one side. Those who are in favour of nationalisation have said time after time: "Let us have nationalisation, because it is only by that means that we can effect such a unification of the collieries as will enable them to work efficiently."
It is interesting to note that most people have come to the conclusion that there is a unit of size which makes a limit in the process of amalgamation or combination beyond which you do not get increased efficiency by reason of the difficulties that come in. [Interruption.] I am putting forward a point which is a perfectly definite one. The unifying of the whole of the collieries in this country in one concern would simply spell ruin and inefficiency, 1624 but local amalgamations are a very different question. There are many cases in which local amalgamations would contribute directly to the profit-making powers of the collieries concerned. There has been some correspondence in the Press about this matter recently, which hon. Members may have noticed. One coalowner said that he could not see why, under a scheme of amalgamation, a colliery that could not pay should be amalgamated with a colliery that did pay; why the successful concern should be asked to carry the unsuccessful concern! I agree; and the answer that I would give to that coalowner is that nobody in his senses would ever make such a proposal. I certainly do not.
But there are many different way6 in which amalgamation would increase the profit. Let me give three different heads. Take, first, the engineering head. The lay-out of the colliery in the first instance may be unsatisfactory and the boundaries may be inconvenient. The cost of the haulage and the cost of working may both be increased thereby. There may be a contiguous colliery which is equally inconvenienced by its lay-out and by the position of its coal. Combine the two, and very often it happens that inaccessible coal in Colliery A is rendered immediately available to Colliery B, and in Colliery B to Colliery A. Hon. Members who know mining questions will realise what I say
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I am not suggesting anything that necessitates interruption. Take the question of pumping down in the Forest of Dean. There are there two or three collieries close together, pumping each other's water. The same water after being pumped from Colliery A goes into Colliery B, and then into Colliery C, and so on. I leave the engineering aspects of the case with this assertion which I feel confident is true; that there are innumerable cases where collieries would be substantially improved by amalgamation. If you have in the background the power to go to a Tribunal and to ask for a compulsory Order, you will find that the willingness to consider this matter would be wonderfully increased.
1625 There is a second type of case where amalgamation is useful, and that is from the purely commercial point of view. Where you have a larger output you can spread your overhead charges, so that they represent very much lower tonnage costs. You can also effect substantial economies in the staff and other colliery expenses. Commercially amalgamation is a benefit to any man's business, and in colliery-owning not less than in others. The third head is this. Hon. Members are aware that during the last few years there has been a steady change, due to scientific invention, under which the character of the uses to which coal is put has been all the time changing. Hon. Members opposite know that time after time they asked the owners to give them a share in the profits of the subsidiary businesses on various grounds, connected with the fact that to-day coal is less bring used and sold for fuel, and is becoming more and more a raw material for manufacture. If you are going to manufacture coal into other things—which is obviously the future to which coal is scientifically destined—there is the necessity in order to avoid the cost of transport, of putting your by-product factory close to the pithead; and if you are going to have your factory close to the pithead you want to have a sufficient output; for that factory to enable it to keep going. To run these manufactories successfully, you want to arrange for a large output such as, for instance, I saw a little while ago in Northern France. In all these matters amalgamation is essential, and I venture to submit it is a matter which obviously is within the range of the inquiry by the Coal Commission, and one in which substantial good might be done.
The third topic I wanted to say a word about is this: There are certain districts which are not paying or paying so badly that there seems very little possibility of them ever making a reasonable profit. I think the only remedy in these districts is to ask the mineowners to close down the collieries and to ask the mining population to migrate.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
From districts where the mines simply cannot pay to new districts which are being opened up. Of course, houses will have to be provided. You cannot force the men to go, but you can 1626 invite them to do so. In the new districts of Nottinghamshire), in that coalfield, I believe the position is that they cannot get enough miners there who know their business, and large numbers of unemployed from the City of Nottingham have been taken on in the mines. I was told that. I have had no opportunity of verifying it.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I am not, for one moment, prepared to accept that assertion. At any rate, it is perfectly clear that in the coalfields which are being opened out miners are needed. It is perfectly clear that in these new minefields there is a practical certainty of making a profit. There is a practical certainty of good wages. I do suggest that those who advise the Miners' Federation should co-operate with a view to carrying out the migration of population from the districts that do not pay to the districts that can pay. [Interruption.] I come now to my fourth topic. What is really the gravest impediment to-day in the way of profitable production in the mining industry?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I believe that it is what has been called the psychological factor. I would ask hon. Members opposite to consider this aspect of the matter. We have to-day two great opposing camps using the language of hostile armies, one bargaining with the other and each trying to make the best bargain. That is not an attitude of mind which is likely to produce the greatest production in the pits. Take an illustration of which hon. Members opposite may not approve, but which I think is interesting—the case of the Vauxhall Colliery in North Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I anticipated that dissent. None the less I ask hon. Members just to let me state my point. [An HON. MEMBER: "Now we will get it!"] As hon. Members will remember, the miners there gave a guarantee to the company against loss. Till the fall of 2s. per ton in the spring of this year, the men at that pit carried on the concern for several months, and made good their guarantee, although at the outset of that period the owners were losing so much that they said they could not go on any longer. What had happened? It meant this, and nothing 1627 else, that the feeling of goodwill and desire in each individual in that pit had succeeded in putting up the output to the extent that enabled the colliery to be run during the three months without loss. That is a very significant factor. Cannot I make an appeal to the Miners' Federation on this matter? Cannot we in the future approach this question from the point of view of trying to find a way in which it can be made perfectly clear that the interests of the men are identical with those of the owners, so that the men might realise that if they put up the profits of the concern they are going to benefit thereby? I know that labour co-partnership is a difficult system to apply. I know that many of the trade unions have expressed themselves as opposed to it. But I do say this, that there cannot be two views that so long as you have the system of private ownership and private profit in force—and I believe no other can succeed—it must be right to establish an identity of interest between the employers and the employed based upon a knowledge of the employed, that, if the concern makes a profit, they are going to get a share of that profit.
I venture to submit on the whole broad controversy of to-day that the whole country, the Miners' Federation included, ought to try and look at the problem with the view of making the best of the system we have got. It is no use causing the mines to incur losses in order to try and force nationalisation. This country is not going to be forced into nationalisation by measures of that kind. If they would only say, "Whilst the mines are being administered under private ownership, let us try and put our heads together and get a system by which on the one hand the owners will produce the greatest profit they can, and we, the men, will try and help to do the same thing, on condition that we have a share in that profit." It is not beyond the wit of man to devise a scheme which will have that result. One thing in favour of the 1921–1924 agreement was that it was based on the theory of sharing profits. I do ask the Miners' Federation, when the Royal Commission has been into the question and made its Report, to approach the recommendations that are made from the point of 1628 view of trying to make the thing work on the lines of a co-partnership between the men and the masters.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
I happen to be one of the members of the Sankey Commission, ' and I think to some extent responsible for objecting to lawyers examining witnesses before the Commission. We objected, and Mr. Justice Sankey, knowing lawyers even better than we knew them, agreed that we were right. The time of the Commission was limited. They had only a month in the first place to report or; wages and hours, and in the second place only a month to report on the nationalisation of the mines. You see perfectly well that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) and his friends were allowed—you have proof of it to-night—to come in to do the work which the Commission itself believed itself best capable of doing, the Sankey Commission would not have been finished yet.
The idea of advising the Prime Minister as to what class of people he hoped the Commission would be composed of, that there would be no miners or mine-owners, well now, surely if a Commission of Inquiry is set up, it ought to be essential to appoint somebody who knows something about the subject. It is perfectly true that they are expected to call witnesses who have special knowledge, but surely it does not interfere with the efficiency of the Commission if as members of it, employers or miners, if it is a mining question, are appointed to it. in order that they can get out the facts. T venture to say that the fact that there were miners on the Sankey Commission enabled them to bring out facts which no learned gentleman could bring out.
The Committee will be aware that we had to inquire into the full conditions and the full life of the miners and their families. We had to inquire into the conditions of women and children living in many cases in the single-apartment house, 14 fret square, where births and deaths took place, and we had to inquire into the surroundings of the miners' homes. But we had to inquire also into the dangers which the miner ran underground. No one was better fitted to inquire into a matter of that character than the men who had run the risk and knew the conditions themselves.
1629 It is perfectly true that after the first three days of the Commission, the mine-owners, evidently in consultation together, decided that their representatives were not holding their end up. They told us that. Their people were not pleased, because they were not holding their end up One of them was a lawyer. It was not because they were not able, but because their end was by far the heaviest end. They had no case. That was the reason they did not hold their end up. Mr. Justice Sankey, I believe, displayed a skill in conducting that Commission that I who have some knowledge of Court, work, never before had seen. I believe he held the balance absolutely fairly between both sides. That is one, of the reasons why there has been, since that time, a strong feeling against Mr. Justice Sankey which perhaps he may not get, over.
I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister and the Government will appoint a Commission of people who know something about the question that is being inquired into. I sincerely hope they will not be prevented from appointing a Judge if they think they can find a Judge who would be the best person for the position. I want to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the statement he has made to-night. I believe that the vast majority of the people of this country are thankful that, the Prime Minister and the Government took this matter in hand and prevented what might have been serious loss of time in the industries of this country. I, like the Leader of the Opposition, regret that it should be thought necessary to bring in a question of fear enforced by anarchy. I feel sure that there must have been something on the human side of the question which weighed with the Prime Minister as well as with his advisers. He had before him the fact that the miners were face to face with a very severe reduction in wages. In Scotland it amounted to 2s. 2d. per day on an already insufficient wage. In Northumberland 2s. 2d., and so on over the country. He must have realised, having the rates of wages before him, that it was impossible to keep a home on the earnings of the men at the present time, and that if they were reduced by 2s. per day—in order to subsidise the coal industry, mark you; in order to subsidise the employers' profits, and the iron and steel industry, it might be with cheaper 1630 coal—the homes would not be able to continue. The children would find themselves ir even a worse place. Knowing the Prime Minister to the limited extent I know him, I feel sure that they had or ought to have had a place in his mind.
I would like to compare the position of last week and the position of 1919. It ought to be remembered that it was not only the mineowners whose claims were in at the present time. The miners, after months and months found it impossible to live decently on the wages they were earning, and they had claims before the mineowners all this time asking that their wages should be raised to a point to enable them to meet the increased cost of living. Will anyone say that that was an unfair claim? We were asking for higher rates of wages, while employers were asking for reductions, but our claims disappeared. We dropped those claims in face of the serious position of the trade, and it was only the employers' side who were putting forward claims. But in 1919, when the cost of living was going up rapidly against the whole of consumers of all classes, when it reached 176 and miners' wages had got not nearly so far, we asked for an increase of 3s. a day and a reduction in the hours of labour. Our men had been working very hard for years to endeavour to keep up output which was depleted by our people being away. We asked for a reduction in the hours of labour and an increase in wages. We agitated for months and months; we had it before the employers again and again, and they refused to give any increase in wages.
We finally balloted the miners on the question of a strike. By a 50,000 majority, the mandate came back that there was to be a strike unless our terms were given, and nationalisation of the mines was added to the question of increased wages and a reduction in hours. We balloted our men. Delegates of every branch of the Miners' Federation met in London at the final conference before the stoppage took place. The then Prime Minister came to us and appealed to us to accept a Royal Commission. He said the Government could not act in any way until they had it proved before a Commission that our claims were just. Our people were very reluctant to accept a Commission. Finally, at the last moment in the Central Hall, the then Prime 1631 Minister was to address a meeting. He pleaded with us not to stop the mines of the country, but to accept a Commission We accepted it. I and my colleagues on the Committee had the greatest possible difficulty in getting our delegates to agree to go on working. The Commission would report in a month, but it might require more than a month afterwards before the Government could do anything. We did not ask for a subsidy during that time. We decided that, although we were the persons who put forward the claim, we would suspend our notices and keep the mines going till the Commission met. The mineowners have taken up a rather different position. The Prime Minister speaks of anarchy. The anarchy, if it be anarchy, did not come only from the miners' side, it was the owners who were anarchists in this case, they who gave notice, in spite of the fact that they knew that the wages of the mine workers were lower than they ought to be. We had indications that a reduction to the extent to which I have said, 2s. or 1s. 6d. a day, was not all that was contemplated. I want to let the House know what was before the miners. I have here a speech by the chief spokesman of the mineowners of this country. It was delivered at a dinner in London of the economic circle of the National Liberal Club. [HON. MEMBERS: "Date!"] On the 22nd January this year. He said:The wages of those engaged in the industry"—I appeal to hon. Members to consider this short quotation—cannot permanently rest upon considerations of cost of living, or what the men may call a living wage. So long as British coal has to compete with the coal produced in other countries it must meet competition by providing similar conditions in respect of the production of coal as obtain in competing countries. It is of no avail to suggest that the wages received do not permit of the miners having a proper standard of living. British coal, if it is to find an overseas market at all, will have to be brought into line with the conditions that prevail in other countries.It is no use to argue that people have to live at all! That is to be left out of the question. There is British money invested in British coal mines in India. Women and children are working there under the conditions that obtained in this country 100 years ago, or almost 100 years ago. It is not good enough for us 1632 to say we must have living conditions here. Oh, no! Sir Adam Nimmo—as is the gentleman who delivered that speech—says: "Whatever conditions prevail in other countries which may come into competition with us, we must come down to the same level." Are you surprised. Mr. Prime Minister, that we object to come down to those conditions? Ninety years ago the people of that day were fighting for better conditions than that, and it was Gentlemen on the other side of the House who secured better conditions by legislation than prevail in many of the countries with which we are competitors at the present time. There would be anarchy and revolution in this country if we were to be forced down to such a position. Our people would do better to die, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, facing the steel rather than lacing the starvation of their women and children.
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is not here. He reminds me of a quotation. Mark Anthony, speaking of Cæsar, said:But yesterday, the word of Cœsar might,Have stood against the world:Now lies he there,And none so poor as to do him reverence.I want to say, but yesterday the word of the right hon. Gentleman might have stood against the world, and now—I dare not say "lies he there," because it might be out of order—but now stands he there, and none so poor to do him reverence. I regret that he is not here, because I wanted to say to him—and I am not going to say anything which, of course, I would not say to his face—I know him, and he knows that I know him. He gave us what I, at least, took as a promise, a solemn promise, that if we accepted that Commission and proved our case before it, that it would be carried out. The late Mr. Bonar Law, I believe honestly and sincerely, said it would be carried out in word and deed. But it has not yet been carried out. Had the promise been carried out, we would not have had the difficulties with which we are faced to-day.
We proved our case. We proved that under present conditions—and I think the speech of the hon. and learned Gentle- 1633 man for the Exchange Division of Liverpool bears it out—it is quite impossible to carry on the mining industry of this country so long as it is owned by so many individual owners. A district may cover 150, 200 or 300 mines, and there may be 100 or 200 different owners. When a district rate of wages is fixed, it has to be paid over the whole district; but there are some collieries with 2s. a ton disadvantages as compared with others. The railway carriage to the market is 2s. per ton more in the case of some collieries than it is in the case of others. The nature of the coal itself varies by 2s. a ton among the collieries; and the difficulty of getting the coal may vary by almost 2s. per ton. Therefore, if the minimum wage agreed upon for the district is to be paid the worst-situated colliery must go out of action, it must stop, or, if it be able to pay the rate of wages fixed, then enormous profits are earned by the better-situated collieries. There is no doubt of that at all. Consequently, we desire unification of the collieries.
The Post Office of this country could not possibly carry on if it were divided into five thousand separate offices. In that case, in a small village, we should not get a letter carried for threehalfpence for 100, or 150 or 1,000 miles. It is because the Post Office system is unified that they are able to carry the letter any distance at the same price. Who among us would advocate going back to the old system of the private ownership of post offices? We desire that the collieries should be placed in the same position, and we had reason to believe, from the promise given to us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, that if we could prove that the Government would act upon it. During the Sankey Commission, my friend and comrade who was with me on the Commission, Mr. Hodges, quoted from a South Wales newspaper a speech delivered by a right hon. Gentleman. The statement was made in that speech that the miners of South Wales were robbed of an hour's sunshine every day they went down the mine—you can see the word painting there, and you can immediately spot the painter—by idle persons who had done nothing for the industry, meaning the royalty owners. Mr. Cooper, a lawyer, and a member of the Commission repre- 1634 senting the employers' side, said, "Where was that speech made?" "In Cardiff," was the answer. "Who made that speech?" "It was Mr. Lloyd George." "Was it at a political meeting?" "Yes, I think it was." "Ah, "said Mr. Cooper," That explains it. You cannot be held responsible for a speech made at a political meeting."
We heard from those benches a speech for a political meeting condemning the Prime Minister and, through him, the Government for this proposed subsidy. You may take it from us that the miners were exceedingly anxious to avoid, if possible, subsidising any industry at all. We know the country has already subsidised the sugar-beet industry. The mining industry, if it requires it, has just as much justification for a subsidy as the sugar-beet industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "It has more."] Yes, but we know that the mining industry has no need of a subsidy; if it is properly organised and carried on there is no need for subsidies.
We do not yet know, Mr. Prime Minister, what your remit is to the Commission which may be set up. I sincerely hope it will be sufficiently broad to go right into the present management of the mines of this country, and to deal with the question of why it is that there are nearly twice as many officials at the mines to-day as there were not so many years ago—nearly twice as many persons receiving salaries, not wages, not 8s. 6d. a day, but salaries going up to £1,000 or, it may be, £2,000 a year. We want to know why, but we are told that we have nothing to do with the industry. The million miners only invest their lives in the industry, so they have nothing to do with the industry; the people who invest their £160,000,000 or £180,000,000 in it have all to do with it. The miners are told, "It is not your business how we conduct the industry."
I put forward this claim on behalf of the mine workers, and I am sure it will appeal to the vast majority of hon. Members opposite. The men and boys who invest their lives in the mining industry, who go down the pit in the morning, and are never sure whether they will come up alive, feel sure that their lives could be made more safe if they had any voice at all in the management of the collieries. I make this claim for them, as I have made it before, and will make it while I am able 1635 to breathe a breath in public—that they have as good a right to a voice in the management as have those who merely have their money invested in the industry. That seems revolutionary, but it will not seem revolutionary 50 years hence.
I hope the remit will be sufficiently wide to go into the carbonisation of coal at low temperatures. I believe that the mining industry can be saved by that means. It cannot be done in a few weeks, or in the nine months, I fully realise that, but I believe the industry can be saved and can be made a fair industry. If carbonisation at low-temperatures does come into general use in this country, the miners are not prepared to have their wages regulated by the price of the raw material, and allow the mineowners who have carbonisation plants to make fortunes and leave the wages paid by the other mine-owners down at a starvation level. We believe, that the mining industry could by efficient management be made a paying concern without the low temperature carbonisation of coal. We hope the reference to the Commission will be wide enough to allow them to go into the great difference between the pit bank price of coal and the price paid by the consumer. This point has not yet been fully gone into. We know where some of those profits go, and that is the reason why I hope this will be made a part of the terms of reference. There are many other important points which one would like to put before the House, but I do not wish to take up too much time. We have been told that the French mines, and particularly the old mines, were re-equipped after the War by the money got from the Germans. Supposing they do produce more coal per miner than we do in our own mines, one would naturally expect that because they are equipped and brought up to date with all the latest machinery.
If you inquire, you will find that in France the miners wash themselves at the collieries and they get their clothes dried there, and the same applies to Germany. In those countries the miners do not take that work home to the poor overworked mother. There are no miners in the world who work more willingly or better than our own, but when you say 1636 that we should have more co-operation between the owners and ourselves, what I say is that if there is lack of co-operation the fault is not on our side. There is bound to be lack of co-operation between two different parties if one says, "I am going to dictate all the time," and the other party is told that he has no right to dictate. We will co-operate with the mineowners when they co-operate on equal terms. I believe that that is one of the ways which may lead in the meantime in the direction of peace in the mining industry. It may be taken, and this is not a threat by any means, that the mining question will never be settled until the nation owns the mines and works the mines for public service, and not in order to make a profit. We can go on with our propaganda and we will ultimately convince the nation that it is the duty of the nation to take over this essential industry, and carry it on in the interests of the whole of the State. I believe that during the nine months which has been mentioned the miners will be willing to give to the Commission all the assistance they can in finding out some ways of enabling the mining industries to go on and pay decent wages to those engaged in the industry itself, until the time comes when the nation will have the good sense to take over the mining industry and carry it on.
In conclusion, I want to make an appeal on behalf of the mining folk. It may seem somewhat strange, but I feel that the miner is an honest worker doing his best in the production of coal, and I think his wife and his children have as good a right to a comfortable living as the wife and children of any hon. Members of this House. That statement may strike some hon. Members as strange. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] I do not claim great things for the miners, but if they give unstinted labour and risk their lives underground they have a right to expect that the industry in which they run so much risk and work so hard for seven hours a day underground should provide a decent livelihood for their families at home. Nothing else will satisfy the miners of this country, and I sincerely hope we shall assist the Commission as far as we possibly can to establish a state of things which will enable it to carry on the mines by this process.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I am sure the sympathetic spirit of the speech to which we have just listened has gained the admiration of the whole Committee. After the views which have been put forward by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie) there should be no difficulty in our arriving at some conclusions which will be mutually satisfactory if only we co-operate with that wholeheartedness which the hon. Member has described. He has made an appeal to the Committee which it is very difficult for those who have listened to him to resist. When I listen to the hon. Gentleman's speeches I am always so carried away with his sincere sentiments and his power of eloquence that I find it difficult to speak immediately after him in any different sense. Nevertheless I think it is my duty to bring the Committee back to a sense of reality as to the position in this country. We are not living in ordinary times. Every great trade in this country at the present time is going through a period of great misfortune and great vicissitude. It is not alone the coal mining industry which is affected, and this industry is only feeling the blast first and worst.
The coal industry is in some senses only symptomatic of what is going on in other trades. You will find the textile trades, the woollen and cotton trades, shipbuilding, engineering, the iron and steel industry, are all suffering under conditions which are almost as bad as those from which the coal trade is suffering. Accordingly, you cannot look at the present position as one would in ordinary times. You have only to see the figures of the result of the operations of the coal trade in the month of June to realise how abnormal are the conditions. I do not think there is a single district in the country which during the month of Juno worked coal except at a loss. That is it condition of things which obviously requires1 a totally different application than would be required in ordinary times. I am perfectly sure that with regard to what was said the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken so eloquently from the benches opposite, that the whole House will agree that the miner's lot is a difficult one, and he deserves the best consideration we can give to him.
There is no difference of opinion upon that point and the whole question re- 1638 solves itself into this, what can be done in the circumstances in which we find ourselves? The Government have taken a certain course, and I feel it would be difficult in view of the facts in their possession to dispute in any way that the course they have taken is the right one. The situation is determined and nobody can alter it now, and even if you put a different Government on the Treasury Bench to-morrow this plan, would require to be carried out. Accordingly it is somewhat futile to express misgivings in regard to the course they have thought it necessary to adopt. I think, however, it is necessary, responsible as we are to our constituents and the country at large, that we should not entirely overlook the position which we are creating. I think it is necessary that we should take stock of where we are and see where we are going and what our future is going to be.
The process by which we have arrived at the particular position in which we are to-day has been explained so completely by the Prime Minister that I do not venture to enlarge upon it, but I should like to say that the account which he has given of the negotiations which have taken place entirely explodes much of the writings and speeches on this subject during the last few weeks. Nobody can say that the particular difficulty in which we find ours lves has been suddenly, by some extraordinary action, sprung upon us to the detriment of the country. I think I may say, with regard to this particular controversy, that never has there been an industrial trouble which has been reached through steps less hurried or action less precipitate than the difficulty we are discussing upon the present occasion.
The mineowners and the miners have been meeting together ever since the month of March discussing the condition of the coal industry and trying to arrive at conclusions upon it. It may be said of them that upon all the salient matters they do not disagree at all. The figures of the coal trade in other countries and the rates of wages of our rivals are practically all agreed between the two sides. The miners asked the owners to put forward at the end of the investigations their proposals for a remedy, and the mineowners did so and as many mines were ceasing to be worked they at the same time gave notice for a 1639 termination of the wages agreement, which I am perfectly certain the hon. Members who represent mining constituencies already expected. Accordingly, there has been nothing hurried or precopitate about what has been done. I cannot imagine why there should have been found people in this country ready to say that the mineowners and the miners did not know how to manage their business, or that those engaged in this industry have sprung a situation on the country for which we were not all prepared. If people had read the information which has been published instead of reading lurid cases in the Law Courts they would have known exactly what was happening.
The first point which arises is, Could the Government have done anything at an earlier point of time in order to mitigate the present position? For what it is worth, my opinion is that the Government could not have intervened with any good effect at any earlier period in the negotiations which were going ahead, and if it had done so it would have been accused of muddling. From the facts which have been stated, it is perfectly clear that the Government stepped in at the first opportunity when their influence could be in any way efficacious. Now they have decided to meet the situation by granting a subsidy. I know that is a course which has startled many people, and there is a great deal of anxiety as to what the effect of this precedent will be on the other industries in the country. There are many other industries which could, with almost equal claim, ask for some help from the Government to-day, and I do not know how the Government would deal with them.
The Prime Minister has not indicated whether he regards what is now proposed as an exceptional measure which he takes at the present time or whether it is a principle which might be extended in cases where a similar claim could be established. If it were to become, as it might tend to become, a regular panacea in such troubles, it is perfectly clear that the country would be landed in expense which it could never meet. I sec that already a propaganda is being made that the Government subsidy is only a gift to the owners. That is an indication that, on the ground of alleviating 1640 the trouble, this is not going to be a very successful method. It is perfectly true that a part of the subsidy will go to the creation of profits which at present do not exist, but it is equally certain that much the largest portion will go to make up the wages to the minimum which the miners have hitherto enjoyed. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have got it now! "] I agree that they have got it now. It is to make up the deficiency which otherwise would have existed if the owners' plan had been accepted. I quite agree with that interruption.
The granting of a subsidy in this case could only be justified if in the result it would enable the difficulties to be met successfully, and I would venture for a moment to point out some reasons why I think a subsidy in the present case will not meet the difficulties with which we are confronted. The fact is that our difficulties are economic, arising from the condition of industry in the world much more than from any conditions here. The Government cannot control world conditions, but they have done one thing of which I ventured to approve, and of which I still approve, which undoubtedly exercises some effect upon the situation at the present time. The return to the gold standard certainly makes it more difficult—although it may be exaggerated—to sell our exports in other markets. If the pound is appreciated, it is obvious that the foreigner has to find more of his own currency to buy a pound's worth of our coal, and, accordingly, our export market must be affected. Just as, when the currency was depreciated in value, prices had to go up, so, when the currency is appreciated in value, prices must come down if we are to sell at all; and, if prices are to come down, obviously costs also must come down. T ventured to say, in the course of the Debate on the gold standard, that it was inevitable that it should cause some dislocation in industry, although in the end I believed it would be to the advantage of the country. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that by adopting the gold standard we were anchoring ourselves to reality. But I would venture to point out that, upon the first occasion when the reality is presented to us, we immediately proceed to evade it. I cannot believe it is possible to pursue a persistent course of 1641 this kind and really make the adjustments in our business and our finance which the return to the gold standard is intended to bring about.
Again, we have only to look at comparative figures to see that a subsidy is not really going to touch the difficulty. At the present time the wage cost of producing a ton of coal in this country is 13s. 6d. In Germany, according to the figures put before the investigating committee, the wage cost of producing a ton of coal is 6s. 10d. I believe there has been a slight rise in German wages lately, but there are still several shillings a ton between the two costs. It is perfectly apparent that, as long as those conditions remain, the subsidy will have to be kept going if any good at all is to be done. Let me point to one other thing before I sit down. There has been a great deal of talk about efficiency in the working of the mines, and it may quite likely be that in the mining industry, as in many other industries, some mines are inefficiently worked and others are efficiently worked. I must say I was startled to find in the Report of the Court of Inquiry, that, without any evidence at all before it as to what was the state of efficiency of working in the coal industry, the Court ventured to make a pronouncement as to its inefficiency. I must say that that seemed to me somewhat startling. I do not pretend to know whether the industry is managed efficiently or inefficiently, but what I do wish to point out to this Committee is that undoubtedly we have a large number of mines in this country that are most efficiently worked. I think hon. Gentleman above the Gangway opposite will agree with me that much of our mining is the most scientific in the world, and that many of our people are using the very best equipment and the best known methods. It is notorious that many of our methods are copied by ether great mining countries in the world. But what you find to-day is that, taking even the most efficiently managed mines, if they are working only an average seam, they cannot work at a profit. Even those that are most efficiently worked are to-day working at a loss, and, accordingly, it is perfectly plain that you are not going to cure this matter merely by uniting—
I could cite collieries in South Wales that are making a profit to-day. Several of 1642 the efficient modern ones are making a profit.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Yes, I know there are several, but my hon. and gallant Friend is not following my argument. What I am pointing out is that about two-thirds—I venture to put it as high as that—of the collieries in this country would have to close down, even some of the most efficiently worked ones, as, indeed, they are. doing, in the present crisis. Accordingly, you are not going to solve this question by tying these efficiently worked mines to some that are less efficient, because that would only put a burden upon them greater than even at present they have to bear. The Royal Commission is looked to with some hope in this regard, and I do not wish to express any doubt in regard to that matter, because I should rather like to see confidence in the Royal Commission. We have had, however, a very large number of committees of inquiry into the mining trade. There was the Sankey Commission, there was Lord Buckmaster's Committee last year, there was the investigation of the mineowners and the miners in the early part of this year, and there has been this last Court of Inquiry. I do not believe that there is very much more to be known about the mining industry than is known already, but, if the Royal Commission can find a solution, every one of us will be all the better pleased. I hope, indeed, that they may discover it.
At any rate, this period gives us what the Prime Minister has referred to as time to think; but I hope our thinking will not be done merely in an attitude of contemplation. I hope we shall really face and grapple with the facts of the situation, and realise the relation of the wages in the coal-mining industry to those in other industries in this country. I quite sympathise, as everyone would, with the position of the miner to-day, who feels it is unjust that he, in a more dangerous and difficult trade than many, is getting a much lower wage than some, and I think that any Committee of Inquiry must consider, not merely the coal mines by themselves, but the relation of wages in the coal mines to wages in other industries. As I have said, I hope we shall grapple with the facts and face them courageously, and that the results will be laid before the country. If you tell our people in this country the truth, 1643 you will gain their co-operation in the attempt to retrieve themselves from the position in which we are, but, if you lead them to believe that they can live upon subsidies, your plight on the 1st May next year will be worse than it is now.
§ Colonel GRETTON
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R, Home) has brought back to the Committee certain realities of the situation which were in danger of being forgotten in the wave of sympathy that swept over the Committee at one period. All these problems of industry are, in certain aspects, human problems, but, unfortunately, they can never be solved by sentiment. It is only by grappling with the facts of the situation that a solution can be found. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead has endeavoured to put this problem into its right relationship with other industrial problems. It is absolutely true that this country is far from being in a prosperous position. It is overburdened and overweighted with taxation; its main staple industries are waning and fading, and it is only in certain trades, like the food distributing trades, that the standard of prosperity is maintained.
§ Colonel GRETTON
That is one of the food-distributing trades. No one has really tried to examine in this Debate what is the position of the taxpayer in this matter of a subsidy. A subsidy has been announced, and certain statements have been made in the White Paper, but it is very difficult to understand from the printed statement what the Government really mean to do, and what are the limitations upon the payment of this subsidy. The broad intention is fairly clear, but how it is to affect the taxpayer is not indicated. It is certainly astounding that a White Paper, which has taken some days to prepare, should be issued for the information of the House with an estimate at to the cost of this subsidy so wide that it ranges from £7,500,000 to £24,000,000 during the time it is to run. Surely, there was some very loose thinking and very loose estimating in this matter. It is, in fact, a matter which cannot be estimated. Really, the Government went into this undertaking in 1644 regard to a subsidy unprepared, and with the ground not investigated. Judging from the statements of the Prime Minister and the statements issued to the Press by authority, up to the last moment, even up to eight o'clock on the evening of Thursday of last week, it was stated that the Government would not in any circumstances give a subsidy, but shortly afterwards it became known in the Lobby that the coal dispute had been settled and a subsidy was going to be paid. It is clear that the subsidy was agreed to without preparation or thorough investigation.
What is it going to cost? Under what conditions is it going to be paid? Is it intended to stereotype coal prices at their present rate? If so, there can, during the period of nine months before a change takes place, be no relief for those industries in this country which require cheaper fuel; or if they must get cheaper fuel, they will have to get it, not by buying coal, but by turning elsewhere. If it is intended to stereotype present prices, then, clearly, there can be no expansion in our export trade, about which we have heard so much. If it is intended to be flexible, will the flexibility entail, when prices are lower, an increased subsidy from the State, and, as a result, an increased cost to the taxpayer? These are questions that ought to be answered, and they ought to have been thought of, but there is no indication in the White Paper as to what answer is to be given. I want to know further, and I think the country will want to know, what are the relations obtaining with regard to employment. If certain mines, during the period of nine months for which the subsidy is to run, find it impossible or unprofitable to remain open, will they be able to close down and dismiss their employés? If the conditions of the industry should wane, or should not improve, so that the demand for coal decreases, and the number of working hours and the number of shifts per week should tend to decline, will it be a breach of the agreement to reduce wages? These are matters that require elucidation. On the other hand, it should be remembered that, in anticipation of a stoppage, large stocks of coal have been accumulated by many industries, by railways, and, in sore cases, by householders. Those stocks will have to be used, and with a falling trade, 1645 or, at any rate, a not improving trade, they will tend to clog the working of the mines and so diminish employment for some months to come. How is that situation to be met? There is another aspect of the case that, does not appear to have been considered. During the whole of this period, the owners of the mines will be held up. They will not be able to develop their mines, to improve the r workings, or to instal new machinery. Everything must wait for nine months, pending the result of the Royal Commission and the action taken thereon.
There is another matter on which some information ought to be given. We have not been told as yet the terms of reference to the Royal Commission. Are they accepted by both sides? What are they? Has it been arranged with either side or both sides to the dispute that they are prepared to accept the Report of the Royal Commission? Who are to be the members of the Royal Commission? What is to happen if either side, or possibly both sides, refuse to accept the recommendations that may be made? All these are matters that should be before the House of Commons. Yet we are asked, as the price of the postponement of an industrial dispute, to involve ourselves in a Supplementary Estimate of at least £10,000,000—a Vote-on-Account for any amount, of which apparently no estimate can be made to-day. How is the taxpayers' liability to be met? Also, how has this result been attained? Clearly, on the evidence of Mr. Cook and other leaders of this movement, the methods have been those of force and threats. Mr. Cook stated in one of his recent speeches that if there were resistance events would happen that would surprise the Government, and his whole action has been on those lines. Evidently the Government have given way to these threats of violence, or that appearance has been created, and nothing that has been said in explanation or defence of their action has dissipated that view of the situation. What is to prevent other industries coming in and taking similar action, supported by the Trade Union Congress? There is nothing. The Government have said nothing to differentiate, on any main point, the coal industry from others that are essential to our national life. What is to be the limit of these subsidies? Are we to go on and on? We 1646 shall be ruined. No country can endure unless its industry is upon a basis which will pay its expenses, pay for the capital which has been invested, or you can get no more to invest in it, and also accumulate a fund for renewals, repairs, extensions and improvements for the maintenance of the industry.
Members in this House and many persons outside it talk as if there were some inexhaustible, deep mine of wealth in which they can delve for an unlimited period to any extent. The truth of the matter is that the Government of a country has no wealth and no property and no resources whatever except those of its own citizens. It is only when the taxpayers are able to keep their means in hand and to maintain their own incomes and their own capital that the Government is able to go on taxing and raising the enormous sums that are now charged. The whole, transaction has filled a very large number of persons, and a, large number of Members of this House, with the utmost alarm and uneasiness. When we see a Government surrender to force and to threats, the only deduction to be made is that certain Ministers are so saturated with the doctrine of coalition that they cannot be trusted to remain firm and to defend broad national interests. One thing is very clear. The proposals before the Committee to-night are trying Government supporters very high indeed—not only their supporters in the House, but supporters in the country at large. Never did a party and its leader receive so overwhelming a testimony of the confidence of the country as did our party and our leader at the last General Election. It is true that a party is no stronger with a majority of 200 than it would be with a majority of 100. But more is expected by people outside of a majority that numbers 200 than if it were a lesser number. This; Parliament was elected to put trade and business upon a better footing, to economise, to curtail the extravagance of national expenditure and to stand up to revolutionary attacks from whatever quarter they might come. And this is a revolutionary attack to which surrender is being made to-day.
The Leader of the Opposition stated outside the House that, in appearance at any rate, this surrender has been made to a minority movement which is the 1647 greatest enemy of the saner elements of the party he leads. The minority movement is the revolutionary Communist movement. That is the appearance that the Government action has given. They put these men in a much stronger position inside the ranks of the trade union movement than they were in before. Those who are working in other great trade unions to produce similar results will receive great encouragement, and the sane, levelheaded leaders of the trade union movement are thrust backward, and their advice is damnified by the success of the movement promoted by the more violent. All these are most serious considerations. I hope and trust before the Debate closes we may have an asssurance from the Government, for what it may be worth—[Laughter]—if they protest till nearly the twelfth hour that they will not do something, and then give way, there is always a doubt in the mind of their opponents whether they may not go on bluffing, if you like, to the last moment, and never have the courage to stand firm. Among their friends there is a doubt as to whether they can be trusted to see their friends through, or whether, when the pressure is sufficiently great, they will retire. I hope we may have an assurance that the Government policy is not a policy of subsidy, a policy of ruin, a policy of Danegelt to raiders of the public Exchequer, that the Government policy of subsidies will cease with this one subsidy, that there will be no more, and that this subsidy shall cease at the end of nine months. We are in a great difficulty. The consequences will not end in what we are doing to-day. I fear greatly that the consequences of what has been done, and what we have to do today, may spread over a far wider field than the unfortunate dispute in the coal industry.
§ Mr. VARLEY
It has been most refreshing to hear the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just resumed his seat. We have his confession now that the Government have not got illimitable resources of wealth, and that all wealth is the production of labour.
§ Colonel GRETTON
It is the production of talent and brains, as well as the production of the labour of the hands.
§ Mr. VARLEY
I am glad again for the correction. At any rate, if wealth is a combination of the whole, we can claim that labour contributes something. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir It. Home) has left the Chamber. He asked us to look at the facts and to make an attempt to get the discussion back to the consideration of a grant by this House of £10,000,000 for what is persistently called a subsidy of wages. I want to get at the facts and to correct some of the things which he presented to the House as facts. He said that there was not a district in the country which is producing coal at a profit to-day. That is a fact, but it does not present the true picture of the coal industry. If the right hon. Gentleman desired to tell the Committee and the country the facts he should have told us that the Eastern area, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cannock Chase, Nottingham and Leicester, which Has an output equal to one-third of the total output of the country, last year on 86,000,000 tons of coal made a profit of 1s. 11½d. per ton. He could have told us also more recent history. He could have told us that this year, in January they made a profit of 1s. 7d. a ton, February 1s. 6d. a ton, in March 1s. 3d. a ton, and in April 2s. 0⅔d. a ton, and that in May they had a loss of l.6d. a ton.
I wish those who talk so lightly would present the whole of the facts when they have anything to say. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that no dispute had come to a head less hurriedly than this one. Probably he is correct in that. That is one of the reasons why the Leader of the Opposition suggested that as soon as the inquiry started that might have been the appropriate time, if not for Governmental interference, at any rate for Governmental inqiury. No dispute has come less hurriedly to a head, and that is one of the reasons why in every part of the British coalfields huge stacks of coal have been accumulating by the action of the British coalowners. They knew the action which they contemplated. They knew that their suggested settlement would not be accepted.
The right hon. Gentleman said that our difficulties were economic. The miner turns round and says, "Is the cost of living figure economic? If I have to be cut down to a wage dictated by the economic ability of the district in which 1649 I live and in terms of percentage on my 1914 wage, which is 37, how is it that the economic consideration means that I have to meet a cost of living figure at 73?" The right hon. Gentleman did not supply the answer.
In regard to the speech of the Prime Minister, I was in agreement with his historic survey of Governmental interference in the coalfields. I have no complaint to make of his recital of occurrences immediately preceding last Friday, except that he said that the miners would not meet the owners until the notices and the proposals were withdrawn. There has been a good deal of misapprehension in the country, either wilfully created or otherwise, to the effect that the miners were playing a childish game and that they would not meet the owners merely out of pique. Although the point is not very material, I would like the Committee to understand that never from 30th June have the miners insisted upon the withdrawal of notices by the coal-owner?. What they have insisted upon, and what they would have continued to insist upon, was the withdrawal of the proposal without any minimum provision in it. The First Lord of the Admiralty can bear witness to the fact that even before the Scarborough Conference we told him that we would not adhere to the demand for withdrawal of the notices as a condition precedent to going into conference with the owners, but that we would not go into any conference to discuss the proposal they laid down.
The Prime Minister said that he was able to get from the owners certain concessions, but that the miners would not move. That, again, is liable to convey a wrong impression of what actually occurred. One has to have regard to the fact that the status quo was a minimum wage of 33⅓ per cent, on the 1914 wages. Before there was any departure from that, surely that was the point at which one ought to have begun negotiations, but the Prime Minister took the employers to say that they had advanced when they made some little offer in advance of the proposal for the removal of any minimum. Can it be said when people of their own volition would wipe out 33⅓ per cent, of the total wage of the miners, with the certain knowledge that those proposals would never be accepted, if indeed they were ever intended to be accepted, that 1650 any advance from that position is a real advance towards a solution. It was not. Moreover, even if they said when the Commission had returned its findings. "We will pay a minimum but it must of necessity be a very low one and it must be fixed in each district." Even if they said that, that of itself was no advance on the position immediately preceding the intervention of the Prime Minister. In every district in the country the owners of their own volition posted notices of the terms upon which work would be continued after 31st July, and in every one without exception was a provision as to a minimum wage. Therefore, it is scarcely n true picture of what occurred in the meetings between the Prime Minister, the coalowners and ourselves to say that the owners moved from their original position and that the miners were adamantine. We simply stood by our declaration that we would go into open conference as soon as the proposals were withdrawn, but the proposals never were withdrawn.
As a member of the miners' executive committee, I should like to remove a misapprehension under which the hon. Member who spoke last was labouring, when he was talking about the activities of the minority movement. That was, perhaps, echoing the words of the Prime Minister with respect to anarchy. As one who has no connection with the minority movement I disclaim that there was anything in our action which savoured of anarchy. What was it that we threatened? We threatened simply to cease working. Surely the prerogative of every man, if he can live without work. A man need not of necessity be an anarchist in saying that he will not work. If that be a trust of anarchy, then the anarchists are on the other side of the House. If we carry it further and gather into our ranks all men of goodwill who are of the same opinion, and get them not to work, is that anarchy? I do not know what name you may give it, but it is certainly not anarchy. And as to the activities of the Communists and the minority movement, of the 23 men who were conducting these negotiations there were not two who ever made a boast of being Communist, but there was not one who was not wholeheartedly behind the position which we pursued. We would always claim, and on constitutional grounds, that as the only thing we have to sell is our labour, as and when it suits our convenience and 1651 policy to withhold it, we will reserve the right to do it, and we will make no apology to this House, and we will not accept even the implied castigation of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. R. MacDonald). Whether a proper construction has been placed on his speech or otherwise leaves me absolutely cold. We do believe in the policy which we have pursued, and we are not Communists, and are not members of the minority movement,
I could have wished that the people who charge us with being anarchists would have told the House what was our anarchy. It was simply that we said that we will not work, so far as Scotland is concerned, for an average of 8s. a shift, and so far as Northumberland is concerned, for 6s. ll½9d. That was the result of the owners' offer. These are the audited figures which cannot be disputed, and are admitted by both sides. In the county of Northumberland, where probably the dalesmen are the finest colliers who ever lived in this country, they were expected to work for slightly less than 7s. per shift, and because they chose not to do it, they are called anarchists. In the Eastern division we should have been left with an average of 10s. per shift. We refuse to work for 10s. a shift while there is more money in the industry. I wish that we could have had some explanation of the way in which the £10,000,000 will be paid, and why so much money has had to be paid. The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie) has confessed, and so will I confess, that I am profoundly thankful to the Prime Minister for doing what he did to relieve us of the crisis. But when that is said, the price is paid. As a Member of Parliament, I want to forget if I can that I am a member of the Miners' Federation Committee, and I want to think in terms of the taxpayer. The price paid is out of all proportion to what he need have paid.
I appreciate the endeavours of the Prime Minister to build a bridge between the contending parties, but he need not have started building his bridge, as he has done, about a mile and a half before he came to the stream which he wanted to cross. The coalowners in every district in the country had advanced from their original position. So far as one-third of the total area is concerned, the 1652 Eastern area, they have said, "We will pay in the month of August the wage which we paid in July." In every other district they have made some advance, but the Government have most abjectly surrendered to the owners and have given to them everything which they demanded in their original demand. What that means in terms of pounds, shillings and pence I have been at some trouble to try to ascertain this morning. These figures again are taken from the audited returns.
In Scotland in the month of June the returns show that there was a lose of 1s. 7½79d. per ton. One would have thought that even a Scotsman would have been profoundly thankful if someone had come along and relieved him of that is. 7d. The coalowners themselves say, ''We are not so much concerned about making profits at the present time as about carrying on the industry.'' Something was said by the right hon. Member for Hillhead about the fact that we were losing money in June. We always do lose money in June. We always expect to lose money in June in the house coal trade. There is nothing singular about that. In Scotland they were losing rather more than 1s. 7½d. They would have been profoundly pleased to have accepted the fact that somebody was prepared to take that responsibility from their shoulders. The Government proposals wipe out that loss absolutely, and make for the Scottish coalowners 1s. 2.38d. on every ton of coal won during the next nine months—if it approximates to the month of June.
In Northumberland there was a loss of 2s. 7.63d. in June, and the proposal of the Government will give the coalowners a profit of 1s. l.26d. In the Eastern division they had a loss of ll.68d. That would be converted into a profit of 1s. 3d. The net result of these transactions will be that whereas in one month the loss was £957,000, that will now be turned into a profit of £3,077,000. In South Wales they were losing in the month of June 2s. 4.18d., and that would be turned automatically into a profit of 1s. 3d. per ton. Whatever exultation and chuckling there has been on the part of the miners or of the Trade Union Congress, it is not comparable with that which there ought to be on the part of the coalowners. Never, in their wildest dreams, did they anticipate coming out of 1925 so favourably as they now will 1653 do. I believe, or I would not say it, that bad as is the condition of the industry, if the coalowners could have got a reduction in the minimum paid, from 33⅓ per cent, to 25 per cent., they would have accepted that as a settlement.
Suppose they could have got the general minimum down to 25, in the next nine months they would have made a profit of 3.97d. As it is, the profit will be 1s. 3d. So they have got a sheer gift from the Government of the day of 1s. a ton. If in the nine months from now until the 1st May next year the quantity of coal won is equivalent to that won from August, 1924, to May, 1925, there will be won, approximately, 166,000,000 tons, and at 1s. a ton the Government will have paid for this settlement more than £8,000,000 of the taxpayers' money more than they need have done. It seems to me that in face of considerations such as those, that the anarchists at any rate have not their home in 55, Russell Square, but in General Buildings, Aldwych. I suppose that we ought not to condemn the Government, who, at any rate, have relieved us of the necessity of facing the lock-out, and I want to make public acknowledgment of the fact that T am thankful.
The only point which I want the House and the country to understand is that if, at the expiration of this period, the country finds itself mulcted for the payment of sums for which at this moment there has not been even an estimate—all that has been estimated is that it is something between £7,000,000 and £24,000,000—the country should understand perfectly that that has been made necessary, not because the miner has retained his wage, but because in addition to the miner retaining his wage the employer has been paid a profit to which he is certainly not entitled, having regard to the present position of industry in England, and which, with open competition and the present state of the world market he could not possibly have realised. Because of that I hope we shall not be prejudiced when we find ourselves before that Commission.
We hope, having regard to what has been said by the Prime Minister, that at the end of the nine months the subsidy must of necessity come to an end, that the owners will not so arrange any new markets if they get any, and 1654 will not carry on the trade, on the basis that the wage costs will be only what they are going to pay for the next nine months, leaving the rest to be paid in part from the subsidy by the Government, because he never did receive a sum of money equal to 13 per cent, of the profits in the industry. This 1s. 3d. has always been a debatable figure. Before he has enjoyed it for nine months, when we come to settle with him, we feel that our case will be considerably prejudiced by the fact that he has had such an affluent time. Therefore, although we wish this Vote to go through, yet we hope that the examination which is to follow will be a thorough one, and that as a result there will be decisions from which the industry will receive added strength. We sincerely hope, also, that we will not be saddled with the responsibility of having placed a burden on the taxpayer for the rehabilitation of our wages, when as a matter of fact the larger part of the money will have gone to give the owner his undeserved profits.
§ Mr. FORD
I have listened with great interest to the facts and figures and the statements put before us by the last speaker. I have only one remark to make on the line which he followed. I think he admits that the industry at the present time is hardly in a position to pay the wages desired or the profits desired. The only quarrel I have with him is that he seems quite satisfied if by some means the wages are paid, but he seems to think it an injustice if any profits are paid. However, I may have misunderstood his attitude.
§ Mr. FORD
It is arguable what is an excess profit. In any event, that is a point to be thrashed out in evidence before the Commission rather than on the Floor of this House. It seems to me that what we are here to consider is the general principle, and certainly the general figures involved in the action taken by the Government in coming to what I believe all sensible people admit is a temporary solution designed to establish the status quo until 1655 an adequate and exhaustive inquiry has been held. I, for one, regret very much that there was a misunderstanding. I believe it to have been due more to a form of words than to anything else, but it kept the representatives of the owners and the miners apart and prevented them from getting on with the discussion. I do not want to apportion blame to either side, because I think that both sides, because of the state of the industry, were perhaps rather over-anxious to press their own claims, and were not able to act in the spirit of conciliation which one would desire. The Government had to handle a very difficult situation. I can understand the attitude of the last speaker. He is making the case which he is entitled to make. I cannot understand the attitude of the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), who, unfortunately, is not now in his place. I do not like to attack a speech made by an hon. Member when he is not present to interject any remarks he likes.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman professed an inability to understand the White Paper. At first I thought that he was speaking ironically. But as he went on T decided, as he came to other conclusions, that he certainly was incapable of understanding the White Paper. I am not going into details. I suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that if he is in earnest when he asks questions as to what is to be the limit, what will be the effect on prices, will owners be encouraged to open up pits that have been closed or which they would have had to close, what is the chance of can canny and so forth—I suggest that if the hon. and gallant Member will go home and quietly read page 4 of the White Paper, he will see that we are pretty well safeguarded as far as those considerations go, and that the Government has arrived at this temporary solution on conditions which will preserve the status quo, and that the taxpayer is being asked to provide for an industry which at present is not in such a condition that it can carry on while the interests of the two parties in that industry and the interest of the public are being considered by a Commission, before whom the fullest evidence ought to be and no doubt will be given.
That is what we are considering. Was the arrangement reasonable, in all the 1656 circumstances? It was not a question of threats and pistols being held at heads. There was a realisation that with the two main parties to the dispute in a frame of mind which prevented them from giving way, we could not afford to hold up longer the industries of the country. People talk of the arrangement as being a "buying off." If it had been suggested that a subsidy was the final solution of the question, it would have been a very poor scheme, and it would have been a mere buying off of one industry against the interests of the community. But we have to consider all the complications of the coal-mining industry. There is, for instance, the anomaly of the man who is turning out only 14 cwts. of coal and working harder than the man who is turning out 22 cwts. You do not get that sort of thing in other industries. There is the difficulty that the coal mines are a diminishing asset, and that you are bound to reach a time when they are uneconomic to work and must be closed. You cannot meet that by saying, "Well, there is no great hardship in that. If the mines have to be closed down, these people will migrate."
Some of the best of the Scottish and English miners have an affection for their homes and their districts and their ties, and naturally enough they do not like to admit, as long as there is coal to be worked, that in the interests of the community the mines must be closed, because they are not economic. That is one of the great complications. It makes the miners good citizens, but also makes them a little blind to the general interests of the community. All these complications arise in the coal industry and do not arise in any other industry. In all the inquiries we have had none of these things has been gone into thoroughly. We have not had a very serious consideration of the relation of wages in sheltered industries towards what can be done in mining. All these complicated points have to be considered.
The conditions of the coal industry were such that when we were faced with a crisis there was no question of surrender, but rather a question of common sense, and it was necessary to ask the taxpayers of the country that, rather than forfeit the hundreds of millions at stake in all our industries, they should come forward and provide the money, within limits and 1657 for a limited period, which would enable the mining industry to go on in the status quo until evidence had been given, until the matter had been thrashed out, and some settlement of a more permanent nature had been reached. As to the charges which have been made by some hon. Members on this side of the House and by some below the Gangway opposite of a surrender to force, there is no surrender to force. When this matter has been gone into, in what I hope will be a dispassionate and peaceful atmosphere, and when decisions have been arrived at as to what is best in the general interest, if there should be threats of trades not immediately involved withdrawing their labour, not because their own conditions are unsatisfactory, but in order to force a point of view which is peculiar to one industry, I think the Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear that in the interests of the whole community there will be no surrender to such threats.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I think the House ought to be indebted to the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Varley) for the very valuable and cogent figures which he has given to show that this subsidy, whatever we may think of it in principle, puts a great deal more money into the pockets of the coalowners than need be put there. I never speak in this House with a greater sense of responsibility than when dealing with matters which involve a charge on my constituents. I have been at some pains to work out the figures, and I find that the average charge placed by this subsidy upon each constituency represented here, estimated at the most favourable rate, amounts over the next nine months to £35,000. I represent a very poor constituency. Other hon. Members represent poor constituencies and some represent rich constituencies, but before consenting to the imposition of a charge on our constituencies, be they rich or poor, we should carefully examine the need which gives rise to that charge. From almost every part of this House the subsidy has been condemned. It has been condemned with cogent force from above the Gangway; it has been condemned with almost equal severity by the coal-owners and I think it is relevant to quote briefly what has been said by the Coal 1658 Owners' Association of South Wales and by Mr. Cook, Secretary of the Miners' Federation. A resolution of the South Wales Coal Owners' Association contains the following:At the same time the Association must enter its emphatic protest against the manner in which the Government has dealt with and settled the dispute, feeling that the arrangement is gravely inimical not only to the interests of the coal trade but to the nation as a whole.Mr. Cook said:The Miners' Federation has nothing at all to do with the terms of settlement. The Government have conceded to the owners, proposals which were unanimously condemned by the British public.Before proceeding to argue that this is a concession, not to the mine worker, but to the mineowners, I wish to ask the Secretary for Mines a question which I think he failed to answer at Question Time. He was asked if this subsidy would be paid in the case of re-opened pits, and he replied that the answer to the question was to be found in the White Paper. The answer is not to be found in the White Paper, and I draw the hon. and gallant Gentleman's attention to the fact that in the last year 508 mines have been closed, which employed a total number of 110,000 workers. What the White Paper says is that there is no guarantee that the subsidy will be paid in the case of reopened mines. I think we are entitled to know whether or not the subsidy will be paid in such cases, and I invite the Secretary for Mines to give an explicit answer.
I wish to examine some of the theories put forward on behalf of coalowners by the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home). The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Burton represents one extreme view in this House. If a threat comes from people who wish for Home Rule, as in the case of the Irish people, it appals him. If it comes from the coal workers, it angers and astonishes him, but when it comes from the coalowners or from the trade of which he is so distinguished an ornament, it is not a threat at all; it is persuasion. Before the hon. and gallant Member speaks of threats I should like him to examine all threats, from whatever quarter they come. His political faith seems to be expressed in a phrase 1659 which he used this evening when he said, "We want to know if the Government are going to stand by their friends." That is his whole political faith, and the reason why it attracts such small support in the country is because the principal duty of a Government is not to stand by its friends or by any section, but to stand by the public as a whole. Are the Government doing that in connection with the subsidy?
I have good cause to know the conditions under which miners are working in all parts of the country. Those conditions are extremely bad, but I suggest that the condition of the coalowners is rot nearly so bad as it is painted, and I adduce a few facts in support of that assertion. In the first place, these collieries upon which it is being found so difficult to pay a dividend have had their capital doubled and in some cases trebled in the last few years. In 1922–23 alone, without any increase in the amount of property, a sum equal to £23,000,000 was added to the capital value by various adjustments made by company promoters. That means that in one year alone a sum of £2,300,000 has to be found out of wages or something in order to pay dividends. I have taken the trouble to look up the "Stock Exchange Year Book," a volume which is to be found in the Library, and which no doubt is consulted by many hon. Members for various reasons. I have taken haphazard, and without looking for special cases, a few instances of coal mining companies in this connection. I find in the case of Guest, Keen and Nettle-fold's, the great iron, steel and coal mining company of South Wales and elsewhere, in 1918–19, an additional bonus of 100 per cent, on second preference shares and 200 per cent, on ordinary shares. Since then they have been able to pay 10 per cent, and 7½ per cent, on the increased capital.
I think when we are examining the condition in which the coalowners find themselves we should pay regard to the fact that they are estimating their distress on a basis of wealth which is double what it was at the end of the War. The Lochgelly Iron and Coal Company shows 100 per cent, share bonus on the ordinary shares. The Tyldesley Coal Company shows 150 per cent, paid to the ordinary shareholders out of undivided profits in 1660 1918. The Lothian Coal Company record 100 per cent, in 1922, and so the tale goes on and I could stand here for half an hour giving cases where coalowners have doubled the capital in the last few years. It is not only a matter of underwriters' and brokers' commissions, options on new issues, etc., but these diverse and complicated financial transactions make it impossible for collieries to pay decent dividends and also decent wages bills. I think that is one of the first things to be considered, and I commend it to the serious notice of the Secretary for Mines. In these circumstances the owners sought to make the most cruel reductions in the wages of the mine workers. They propounded proposals in which there was one dominant and sustained note, and that was this: After the payments of costs other than wages, 13 per cent, shall be paid to us for mineowners' profits. With the state of industry as it is, I do not think those could be considered as conciliatory proposals. If they had been made to me, they would have antagonised me. I think the principle that is there set forth was monstrous and incompatible with negotiations, and that the mine workers have a perfect right to stand out and oppose it through thick and thin. I wish to say, as moderately but as strongly as I can, that if there has been any hold-up of the nation—and in my opinion there has— there has been a hold-up by the coalowners and not by the coal minors, and because I believe the coalowners are going to get a great deal more out of this than they are entitled to, I hope sincerely that a few hon. Members, at least, will go into the Lobby to oppose the subsidy, and I hope to be among them.
With regard to charges on the industry, I find that in managers', managing directors' and administrative charges these coal mines have gone up by 1V0 per cent, since pre-War days, and that is another point that I think we might have explained before we are compelled to pay this money. That increase is out of all proportion to the amount which is being given in increased wages to the miners, who are only getting, I believe, 40 per cent, above pre-War, and not that in all cases. There is also the question of concurrent enterprises. A large number of these companies—I know it to be a fact in 1661 South Wales, although I have had no experience of mining areas in other parts of the country—run not only collieries, but steel works, tinplate works, and often merchanting and agents' establishments. You often find that there exists a suspiciously close relation between the man who is selling the export coal at the port, and the man who owns the colliery inland, and it often happens that the merchant is making huge profits in exporting coal, whereas the colliery is shown by its books to be hardly capable of paying a dividend. That is one more fact which I offer for the consideration of the Secretary for Mines.
Important as these points are to one who, like myself, represents a London constituency, there is something even more important, and that is the price which the public are going to be called upon to pay for their coal. I find, on reading this White Paper, that in almost every line it expresses the hope that the prices of coal will not go down, and I venture to predict that in addition to the charges which will be imposed on the public by paying their share of this subsidy, they will have to pay a great deal more for their coal during the coming winter. In May or June of this year coal came down to the consumer in London by Ss. a ton in the case of the best qualities, but I think that before the winter has been with, us very long we shall find that 8s. put back, and something on top of it. I questioned the Prime Minister two or three days ago, and again in a supplementary question to-day, as to whether the terms of reference of the Royal Commission that is to be appointed will include an instruction to inquire into the charges which are imposed on the ton of coal by merchants, agents, and factors. The Prime Minister told me that he would consult the coalowners and the Miners' Federation. That is the same old answer that we have been getting from the Secretary for Mines for so long. Ever since this Government has been in office, we have questioned and re-questioned Ministers on that subject, and whenever there is any claim for an increase in the price of coal, the Secretary for Mines sends for the Coal Merchants' Federation. This is his habitual act. He listens to them for half- 1662 an-hour, and they assure him that they cannot reduce the prices, although the London County Council have found out, time and again, and have published their findings, that these charges are excessive. The only action that that stimulates the hon. Gentleman to take is to send for the coal merchants and listen to their soothing eye-wash to the effect that they cannot make any reductions. The country looks to the hon. Gentleman not to accept the words of these men, but to institute an independent inquiry, and, above all, to see that the Royal Commission, such as it is, will investigate this question.
Speaking for myself, I have lost faith in Royal Commissions. There was a Royal Commission set up to examine the question of food prices, and it has been the biggest farce in the political history of this country. The recommendations they made have brought the instrument of a Royal Commission into complete contempt, and I do not look for any better results from this Royal Commission which is being set up to examine the coal question. We hear a great deal about evolution, but my opinion is that this House is standing in the way of an evolutionary development in the coalfields. For the last three years it has been perfectly clear that, under the present system, the coal mines cannot be made to pay. There must be some system of unification or development of coal and power, as advocated in the often ridiculed result of the inquiry presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh at that, but I venture to say that those much maligned recommendations will yet form the solution of the coal difficulties of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] It has been advocated on all hands, and a good many of the members of the party of the hon. Gentleman above the Gangway who says "No!" are coming round to that point of view. This Royal Commission is either going to recommend the solution advocated by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, or it is going to recommend nationalisation. Remember that, and you are going to have your choice between those two things.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
Whichever you choose, if the House of Commons stands in the way of an evolutionary development in the coalfields any longer, it will lead to complete disaster in the industrial life of this country.
§ Mr. GEOFFREY SHAW
I shall not detain the Committee long, but I think I ought to lay the ghost of the low temperature carbonisation of coal first, because this is no panacea whatever for the cure of the coal trade. Even if this low temperature carbonisation does prove to be a success, it can never free coal from the economic conditions of the country. Even if low temperature carbonisation could use up all the coal in this country, unless that coal can be sold to the firms who are carbonising it at a reasonable price, and cheaper than can be done by other countries on the Continent, the Continent will be able to do their low temperature carbonisation and beat us, and will then be able to import coal to carbonise in this country, and kill the coal trade here. From whatever point of view you look at it, low temperature carbonisation cannot be a panacea. My own opinion is that there is no future for it at all, but there are certain people who say that it can be made successful.
We were told by the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) that this is a hold-up by the coalowners. who, he says, have been given much more than they ought to have. They made their original offer in November. 1924. No meeting was arranged till March. The coalowners were then asked for their poposals, and they made them. We were told that the coalowners were prepared to make a concession, but, at the same time, the miners' committee refused to consider the question of either hours or labour. That is the state of affairs. I still say the mine-owners could not have held up the country if they were prepared to negotiate. But the miners demanded an open situation, the abandonment of all the terms which the owners offered them. The mineowners are to have a profit of 1s. 3d. a ton guaranteed, but against that I would point out that coal is a falling market, and the wages are calculated under the agreement, not on the current period, but from a period before to a period after, and the result is, if coal is a falling 1664 market, the coalowner is granted no profit whatever. Supposing for the current period the total proceeds from the sale of coal are £1,250,000, and the overhead charges, other than wages, £250,000. That leaves £1,000,000. Of that sum £870,000 is allocated to wages and £130,000 to owners' profits, but if it is a falling market, and the total proceeds for the next month are only £1,000,000, the overhead charges, apart from wages, remain exactly the same—namely, £250,000. That will leave £750,000, and the miners are entitled to £870,000. That is 87 per cent, of the month before, and that will be made up by this subvention. But I cannot find in the White Paper a single sentence or line that is going to find that £130,000, to which on the calculation of the month before, the mine-owner is entitled. I cannot see how he is making such a tremendous profit. The guarantee is only provided if the price of coal remains stationary. The price of coal has been falling steadily, and looks like going on falling.
The great feeling among coalowners is that this is simply a step towards nationalisation. It was hailed by the "Daily Herald" and other papers as a great victory for the miners, and the first step towards nationalisation. I agree it is a great victory for the miners and a step towards nationalisation, and, as such, I feel it is not going to do this country any good whatsoever. We are told that many improvements might be effected. You have only to look at the various figures, and you will find the proportion of fatal accidents in this country compares very favourably with State-owned mines in other countries. Similarly, as far as efficiency is concerned, our mining methods are being copied all over the world. We have got to remember that the whole country is in a bad way, but that is another objection we have to this form of subsidy. If this subsidy is to be granted to the coal trade, I cannot see how we can honestly refuse the same terms to the shipping industry, which, I think, if anything, is even in a more parlous condition. There is difficulty in the textile industry, both cotton and woollen. Why should they not have a subsidy, too? The only question is, where is the money coming from?
We are asked to-night to vote £10,000,000 towards a subsidy for coal. 1665 We are told it may be £7,500,000, or as high as £24,000,000. It may be even more than that. I should like to know what would be the position supposing there was a railway strike in November, which would very adversely affect all the collieries in this country. Would the extra burden of that strike fall on the Government, and, if so, could it be calculated in ten, twenty or hundreds of millions? If we had a railway strike, would the Government have to find the extra money to get the railways going, or else get out? I do hope very strongly that, so far as this Vote is concerned, we shall get some assurance to-night that there will be some limit to the burden that may be put on the State, and some assurance that we are not giving an absolutely blank cheque.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The hon. Member who has just sat down seemed to be something of the Hamlet type—he wanted to lay ghosts. He began by saying it is necessary to lay the ghost of carbonisation of coal at low temperature, and the remarks which fell from him absolutely obscured any knowledge that he may possess of the science. What he said about the carbonisation of coal at low temperature seemed more to me like an echo of something that somebody had told him to say in the House, because any man with the slightest knowledge of a penny or a twopenny text book on what coal is would never make the remarks that the did. This subject of the carbonisation of coal has become pretty much—I admit it—a parrot cry. As far, however, as I am concerned, it is years ago since I took up the matter, and a long time ago in this House I brought forward this subject of the carbonisation of coal at low temperatures. I claim to know as much about the subject as anyone—and I do not want to speak disrespectfully—in any of the Government Departments. The reason I want hon. Members not 1o feel angry at what I said to the hon. Member about his lack of knowledge is that, having had much experience, and having sat in this House and listened to what has been said about the treatment of coal at low temperatures, what is often said is something that inclines one to what we call in Scotland grue. It makes one's blood run cold.
It has been stated in effect that the carbonisation of coal at low temperatures was an absolute wash-out, a failure. That 1666 is always the language of the man ignorant of the subject; the one who talks about swiping the thing out! I am not going to discuss the question of the carbonisation of coal at low temperatures as a solution of an emergency in coal, iron, steel or any other trade. I want to discuss it in relation to itself, and you cannot discuss the carbonisation of coal in relation to itself without discussing the coal question. It has often, been repeated in this House that it is one of those things that, "if it proves successful"—and the Secretary for Mines, of course, is in the same position as the hon. Gentleman who has just finished his speech. He has told us many times in this House that "if it is proved successful" it may be this, or it may he that. Very well. T know that it is successful. I know that the information that the Secretary for Mines and others have spoken from has been laboratory tests, from information such as some of us have when we say: "If I can get a certain thing I can prove this or that."
§ The CHAIRMAN
When the last speaker introduced this subject I had some doubts as to its relevancy to the subject under discussion. My doubts have now increased, for it seems to me that the hon. Member is embarking upon a voyage of scientific discovery. How does the hon. Member link his observations up with the subject before the Committee 1
§ Mr. HARDIE
I link up what I have been saying with what is before the Committee in this way, that if you take your coal business to-day, we find there are more than 35,000,000 tons in domestic fires. Suppose you found yourselves treating that 35,000,000 tons of coal. How would that help the miners' position? In this way: It has been stated in this House that oil is a great competitor with coal. It is not. Even if it were, the oil that you are using to-day is not oil in foreign competition with coal, but from British capital that should have been expended in bringing British collieries up to date, and which has been expended, in order to try to cut down the miners' wages by getting in oil because it is cheaper than coal. We are not up against foreign competition in the coal trade. It is a question of low costs. In the last lockout of the miners, did we not bring in coal from Bel- 1667 gium to take the place of the coal that the British miner was not allowed to produce? Why did we not bring in coal from Germany? The thing is quite clear.
Why did we bring coal from America? We did it in Glasgow. We brought it there into our gas-house, and the Conservative members of the Glasgow Town Council said: "This is going to cut out the British miner." What was the result in comparison with British coal? You could not continue to make gas from the American coal. If we have the low temperature carbonisation of British coal, we can produce the oil that is now being brought in as a result of British capital invested in foreign countries. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) was talking today on the coal question as a lawyer. He referred to oil versus coal. Then he went on to refer to another thing, the cutting out of the demand for British coal by what he called white coal. He referred to Switzerland and to Italy, which has now water power and electricity, and which has reduced the demand for coal from this country. To begin with, what drove Switzerland and Italy to water power? Was it not swindling them during and after the War by charging them £7 a ton for the coal you sold to them? That destroyed the market, not the wages of the British miner. It was your swindling merchants! Your patriotic merchants! What is the truth about this awful state of things: about the white coal and the water power? If you take the returns of the Mines Department—your own Department!—you will see that there is scarcely any decrease in the demand for coal from Switzerland and Italy since they began to utilise white coal. Why? The reason is simply that—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I would remind the hon. Member that the only question before the Committee is the question of whether or not a subvention should be paid to the coalowners. Perhaps the hon. Member will confine his remarks to that.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I am trying to do so, but if the mineowners and the so-called captains of the mining industry in this country had applied themselves to the 1668 application of up-to-date science in the mines there would have been no discussion on this question, because the mines would have been working successfully. The statement made to-day by the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division in regard to white power was that in order to show the necessity for this country, and especially the miner, getting down on his knees to try to get through a hole that has been made smaller by the use of water power? I am going to prove that none of those things have reduced the demand upon coal in this country. Take Germany. We had quoted to-day the use of brown coal in Germany. What do they use it for? Is it to take the place of any coal? Why is Germany increasing her demand for hard Scottish coal? Because she has no coal in her strata with the necessary byproducts elements to find the fine chemicals even up to the aspirin powders that all our medicine men here use and are glad to get. In fact, our best medicine men tell you the best medicine, when it comes to coal by-products, is to be had from the German side. Whenever the question of the treatment of coal comes up—and now I see the Minister of Health in his place—you have got to realise that it means more than getting the oil and by-products. It means an atmosphere that will save cities like Glasgow and Manchester 1s. 6d. in the health rates. When it comes to the question of seeking coal, you do not get your colliery owners settling down to that. They all thought, during the War, when they took twice the money in four years they ever put in, that it did not matter, the coal mines would go by themselves, and they would invest their money in something else. It is on that ground that the coal industry is what it is to-day in this country. You get a big shower of shareholders, who could not tell a coat pit from a potato pit, sitting back, with no interest except in the dividends they are to get. A skilled man gets his mine manager's certificate. He goes to the mines. What happens? He is not met by any overseer, he is met by the managing director, who represents the shareholders, and whose only sentence is, "Get expenses cut down and profits up." The manager would say he wants to apply the science he has been taught as a mine manager, but he is told he is not allowed to do that, because it is profits that rule. 1669 That is the greatest reason why to-day so many of our mines are in a backward state.
It was said to-night that even some of the efficient mines do not pay. I contradict that statement entirely. I see an hon. Member who is trying to be funny on the opposite Front Bench. He does not need to exercise very much energy to do that. That statement was made by a lawyer to-day. The district he was talking about is a district where you have to take shaft costs into consideration. It is always a terrible thing in the House of Commons to talk technicalities. T know the bias even in discussing this question of coal to-day is that we will get the unbiased mind. That is to say, if you want a tooth drawn you go to the joiner. That seems to be the prevailing idea. Coal drawing and travelling time owing to shaft distances from the coal face, are things not understood at all by Members in this House. Another statement was made by the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) in regard to co-ordination. What prevents co-ordination to-day? Here you have one, coal field and a dozen owners, and between the owners is left what is called "the margin." A nation that was sane would see to it that wherever a coalfield was tapped the shaft would do its utmost. In the iron-ore fields of Northumberland and Cumberland you get five times the amount of shafts required. This is rooted in our present landowning system, and it is the landowning system that lies to-day at the root of the coal troubles. There would be no need to have before the House to-day any talk about subvention, if we had access to our still virgin coal seams, the thick ones, and worked those thick ones along with the thin. If you want to bring down the price of coal, take away the system of one landlord having power to say, "You will only get this coal when I say so. I am bigger than God. I put it there. It is I alone who can give permission." A nation which submits to one man cannot be called an intelligent nation taking an intelligent interest in its affairs. Think of the pumping. One would naturally think that if you had mining engineers with, freedom to exercise their skill, they would put down their pumps where the water is going 1670 to lodge. "A" is pumping water; it runs into "B" and it runs into "C," and all these costs are added on. You had in Saturday's "Times" a statement about certain blast furnaces being closed down for the want of coal, in face of the fact that you have men idle who could dig the coal and men who could work the furnaces. This is what comes from people with the superior business attitude who look upon our people as only skilled in doing things and as being less than they arc. This is the superior man always coming and telling you that not having any knowledge of the subject they are better fitted than you are to give decisions. That is what is bringing your industry down. It is going down low before long or you change very rapidly so far as the Government is concerned.
In conclusion, I want to deal with another matter. Statements have been made about this, that and the other thing being unconstitutional. If there had been any unconstitutional element in what has taken place, we would not be discussing this point to-night. I do not know of any more constitutional than the men who risk their lives every day, when they get down, to live under starvation wages and keep quiet. When we get hon. and right hon. Members talking about the coal business, I often wonder just how many of them have been down the coal mines. It is not a question of being able to go into it like any other industry. In any other industry you can get a glance at what is being done. The miner is away down 250 fathoms, perhaps more, and two, three or four miles underground, lying on his side all day, and yet we are told that under those conditions the miners should subject themselves to reductions in order to keep in that condition. I am against every form of subsidy. What is taking place to-night is not so much a subsidy as it is a failure of the Government to grasp the organisation of industry in this country. The Prime Minister admitted to-day that what they had done this for was to get the time to think. Only now are they beginning to think about the basic industry of this country. In 1918 we were promised a re-organisation of industry, with coal as the basis, and only now are we beginning to think. Under the scheme 1671 suggested, the Government are going to pay for time to think.
§ Mr. BASIL PETO
This is one of those occasions when a great many people would think silence is golden. The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) has given us a lecture for 25 minutes on a technical question which he knows a great deal about and which, on an ordinary occasion, would be very interesting to Members, but in the very few minutes I shall occupy, I wish to deal with the subject of the Vote, and that may be a somewhat refreshing change. Before I come to that, however, I would like to make one observation with reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He told the Committee that the Prime Minister, as he is going to give this subvention in aid of wages, ought to have imposed conditions as to this and restrictions as to that, and on no account should have done it in the way he has. That is a counsel of perfection which, when it is all boiled down, amounts to this, that the Prime Minister should not have made any terms whatever, but ought to have been haggling like a huckster or broker at a moment when instant decision was required. As to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. R. Mac-Donald), I think the castigation administered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs went home only too truly and too well. The right hon. Gentleman's statement, immediately he heard the decision of the Government, was undoubtedly a statement of the truth. The real issue before the country, and the thing that caused dismay in many minds, was that it should have been found necessary, in face of a threat against the national life, to make terms of some kind with people outside this House who are determined, when their time comes, to upset Parliament, Parliamentary government and government of any kind, and who undermine the authority of the real trade union leaders just as they have undermined the authority of the Government of this country. On that question we are all undoubtedly one party in this House. When it becomes a question whether constitutional government should be carried on here, or whether we have to have Soviets set up by a few irresponsible dictators 1672 outside—who are the only people in this country who would gain by it—we are on common ground.
It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, that there is no finality or certainty as to the amount of money that will be required. All we know is that we are voting a sum of £10,000,000, which is probably only £10,000,000 on account. It depends on the course of trade. If those people whose business it is to fish in troubled waters, and who only prosper when trade is bad, interfere, as probably they will, with any revival of trade, they will be adding directly to the burden placed on the country by the decision arrived at last Friday. That money has got to be collected from somewhere. There are only throe ways in which we can raise the £10,000,000, £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 that may be required. One is by direct taxes on articles of consumption, which, as hon. Members opposite constantly remind us, and quite rightly, fall in the main directly upon the working classes. I have heard it suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should increase the duty upon beer by one penny a pint. After all, that would have one merit, that everybody would understand exactly what was happening. It is not a method of taxation that would appeal to me Possibly the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) might think there were worse ways of raising the money. The second way is to raise it by direct taxation in the form of Income Tax. If that is the method adopted, the working classes will inevitably pay in the form of additional unemployment, because of the lessened capacity of our industries to meet competition in foreign markets. There is a third way. Possibly good may come out of evil. We could raise this £20,000,000, and raise it easily, by taxes upon imported foreign manufactures, which directly take away employment from the people of this country and deprive them of what I regard as the first right of a British working man, that is to have the first claim on his own home market.
I speak on this matter as a Protectionist. I am and always have been a Protectionist. There is no doubt we are very near the bankruptcy of our old Free Trade system. When it comes to granting a sub- 1673 vention of £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 to a single industry to keep it alive for nine months, surely we are getting near the end? And when the industry selected is the coal industry, it is the absolute reverse of any sane system of Protection as practised in every other country. The very last industry you would grant direct assistance to would be the coal industry, coal being used in every other industry. Of course the prosperity of the coal trade could be ensured by the prosperity of the steel and iron trade, and the prosperity of the steel and iron trade could be ensured by the prosperity of all the other industries. It is just like the House that Jack built. We are quite tired of being told that this is the basic industry upon which all other industries depend.
Let me now say a word or two with regard to the flood of criticism we have had on every side for the last five days ranging in the Press of every colour and sort. It is so easy, if you are an armchair politician and you have no responsibility, and if you have never been up against a grave industrial crisis such as this, to talk about surrendering to force and the like. I admit that many hardhearted business men throughout this country know their own trade and industry from A to Z. They know its relation to other trades, and they have been dismayed by the fact that it certainly appears to them that it is not a question of settling a difficulty in the coal trade. Of course the White Paper deals with nothing but coal, but the real threat was a combined action on the part of trade unions to paralyse the whole industrial life of the nation. This was frankly admitted by the Prime Minister. I say to those gentlemen who own their own businesses, and know them as well as I know my own business, that it is one thing to be reponsible for your own industry, and another to be responsible as the head of the Government for carrying on the whole of the industries of the country. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, I do not mind the taunts of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) about Mr. Cook being the real power. Personally I would rather put my trust in the skipper who is responsible for the 1674 safety of the ship than in the passenger who sits in the saloon.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I want to say a few words with reference to the closing part of the speech which the Prime Minister delivered this afternoon. That part was very unlike the Prime Minister, and I think that on reflection, when he sees fully the consequences and implication of that part of his speech, he will be disposed to regret it. I am aware that, however abridged any account of that speech may be in the Press to-morrow, even in the so-called popular Press which gives little space to reports of political speeches, I am sure that the part of the Prime Minister's speech which will be printed is that part in which he alleged that this recent movement of the miners and all those who supported them was inspired by a spirit of disorder, of anarchy, and by a wish to commit acts of lawlessness, and not, forsooth, what is their legal right, in defence of a living wage. It was a totally unwarranted aspersion upon the working classes and upon the organised trade union movement. Perhaps it was a concession to the dissatisfied and silent ranks of hon. Members who sit behind him; indeed it was the only part of the Prime Minister's speech which evoked the hearty cheers and approval of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ HON. MEMBERS: No, no!
§ Mr. CLYNES
I was present as representing a very large trade union during the whole of the time of the two great conferences which have considered this matter, although I am aware that the second one was by far the more important, and I can assure the Prime Minister that he is completely in the wrong in reaching the conclusion that this movement was not wholly and solely a movement in defence of wage standards. The speeches delivered by those who addressed those gatherings were expressed in terms indicating a deep sense of responsibility, quite as sincere as could have been expressed by hon. Members opposite. The reason why those conferences took place was that in the other trades the men working on the railways, the general workers employed in transport services and so on, felt that the wage standards of the miners must be maintained lest their own wages would later on be forced down. The Prime 1675 Minister should clearly understand that there is in this country yet a legal right to resist wage reductions. May I point out that in this instance the workmen were not the attacking party? They simply put their backs to the wall, as men who were called upon to act on the defensive. I can assure the. Prime Minister that a considerable number of Conservative miners walked to the poll only a week or two age in the shade of the fear of new wage reductions, and voted for the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Purcell). That is the spirit in which these men acted recently, and there is cause for a real dread of wage reductions.
I should have expected, instead of that menacing statement from the Prime Minister, some few notes of sympathy from him, above all men, for those employed in the mines. But not a note of sympathy has been struck for the miners in the speeches of hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the benches opposite. May I remind the Committee that while we have been talking about this question, at least some three or four of them have been killed at their work. The average yearly toll among the miners is 1,200 dead men, killed in the ordinary pursuit of their avocation, and more than 100,000 injured. At present their wages are below the low pre-War level in purchasing value. It does not surprise me that moments are reached when the men are unwilling to get coal. What surprises me is that men can be found to do such work under prevailing conditions.
If the Prime Minister wants to raise the question of lawless tendencies, and to speak of the forces of disorder, he can find representatives fully grown in his own Cabinet. Let him look to the present Home Secretary, to the present Secretary for India. Their words are on record in the book known to us as the "Grammar of Anarchy." They claimed the right to resist the law when they did not approve of it. That cannot be done by any class in this country. Surely, the meaning of the closing part of the Prime Minister's speech is that the Government on that Friday surrendered to fear. They were afraid of consequences. It is not that they believe in subsidies; it is not that they could not find any other solution; 1676 they were faced with the dread consequences of a great strike. They deserted their post. They have provided, in this fear, £10,000,000 to buy off the disorder which they fear. That is not government. It was an act of cowardice to continue to mass themselves to give the appearance of strength, and I can imagine the line of attack that would have been directed against us had a Labour Government been faced with a similar situation, say during the short time that we were in office last year.
It appears to be the doctrine that employers of labour have a perfect right to force men out of work by the act of locking them out because the men will not accept lower wages, but that it is utterly wrong if men refuse to work in resisting such reductions. I allege that these men were as patriotic and as law-abiding as any that can be found. We speedily forgot the fact that the first men to walk out of the pits into the trenches in numbers too large for that purpose were these men who are now suffering so severely. They had not to be driven out to France; they had to be brought back, because so many of them went there in an act of real patriotic service to their country. Let this be remembered when their claims are now being pressed for slight advances in wages, or to resist reductions. I say, as one who has prevented more strikes than he has caused, as one who never desires to share in a strike, that, in the circumstances, faced with these threats of further reductions, the miners would have been craven cowards had they not resisted, and the rest of the workers would not have been worthy of the name of comrades had they not stood by them, whatever the consequences might have been.
The Prime Minister appeared to justify his allusion to what has taken place in this instance by a desire to preserve the doctrines and laws of democratic practice. We are as stern defenders of the principles of democracy as any, and we ask that, in waging fights in the interest of democracy, the fight should be waged without the use of forged letters, that the fight should be waged under conditions where there shall be a fair Press and fair play, under conditions where employers and workers shall stand equally before the law, 1677 where mineowners as well as men shall receive equality of treatment from the Government in power for the moment. There have been in recent years, I will not say lately, but certainly there have been continuous submissions to very heavy reductions in wages, and a point has been reached where the workers are now unanimously saying that a halt must be called. Indeed, the workers are the only class in the country, after all, that have made real sacrifices —[interruption]—if by sacrifice we mean simply having to do without something that you need—not something that you like, or something that you have, or something that you want, but something that is a physical necessity. There is no body of indispensable workers in this country who have been worse treated than the, miners. Look at their homes, look at their districts, think of their work—its irksomeness, its dangers, accompanied so often, as I have indicated, by death. Think of these things, and your mind should be filled with a sense of admiration for their services, and of forgiveness for anything they have done in defence of their wage standards. These lower wage standards afford no remedy in aid of trade. Naturally, we are as glad as any that a strike has been averted, because we feel profoundly that, along whatever lines a cure for our trouble may be found, it could not be found upon the lines of a stoppage, for, after a stoppage, whoever caused it, whether it were long or short, the problem would be there for settlement. We are glad, therefore, that a way for the time being has been found, and that the men were not compelled to stop work as they intended; but we do say that, if the employers had not receded from a position which no one in this House has stood up to defend, the miners would have been right in refusing to work, and the rest of the working classes would have been right to act with them
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has enlivened, with a spirited and good-hearted speech, a Debate which hitherto has been unexpectedly mild, and I do not think that, with a great deal of what he said, there was any acute or resentful difference on this side of the Committee. I do not think the Government have the slightest reason to complain of anything 1678 that has been said in this Debate, in the speeches we have had from all quarters—from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), from my hon. Friend the, Member for Hillhead (Sir E. Home), from the Labour Benches, or from the hon. Gentleman who spoke so forcibly from below the Gangway. But the conclusion that will be left in the mind of any impartial auditor of those speeches was that, whatever might be the current of discussion out of doors, here in the House of Commons, where these matters are considered with a great deal of knowledge and a great deal of responsibility, no body of opinion was marshalled in any effective manner against the course which the Government have taken.
A number of questions have been asked about the White Paper and about the manner in which this subvention is to be paid. I think I should take up more time than I wish to do if I were to try to go into those details. If I am to epitomise the White Paper, I would say it is based throughout upon the idea that the mine-owners are to receive the advantages they hoped to obtain from the reduction of wages for which they asked, without those reductions of wages being at present made effective upon the mine-workers. But subject to that, with that additional subvention, made good by the State, everything in the mining industry will move upwards or downwards in accordance with the ordinary conditions of supply and demand, and if, as is inevitable when you proceed, as you must proceed, upon the basis of district rates, the prosperous mine will have advantages over the unprosperous, such advantages exist in the world to-day and this system, which does not in any way interfere with the natural movement of events, obviously perpetuates those differences. You will no doubt have anomalies. That is admitted. You will have districts which are poor, and which get a large subvention. In them there will be prosperous mines which, in spite of their prosperity, will get an additional subvention. You will get districts that are rich and which will rise above the profitable level and will get no subvention In them there will be several mines that will have to close because they are not entitled under the district rate to a sufficient subvention to enable them to live. Those are obvious and admitted 1679 anomalies. We have followed, in the emergency which has arisen, perfectly well known and well understood precedents. We have followed the precedent of 1921. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has been courteous enough to explain that he has had to leave for another engagement. We have followed exactly the machinery and procedure which he, and my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, adopted in the arrangements for a subsidy in 1920 and 1921, and that is the only way in which such a temporary measure of assistance could be given to the coalmining industry. The moment you started to pick and choose between individual mines, you would have been involved in immense labour and in inextricable confusion. You can only proceed on the basis of district rates, and on the basis of district rates, though you will have many anomalies, nevertheless upon the whole the industry will proceed on its economic basis plus a temporary Government subvention.
I have been asked what is the guarantee against wholesale, reckless price-cutting, which will lower the price of coal far below the economic level, and leave a gap to be filled by the Government. I will not attempt that argument here, but I am assured by the Mines Department, who have very careful and skilled experts, that there is no danger whatever of the bottom being forcibly driven out of the coal market in consequence of the system we have adopted. The shackles of self interest, and the terrible losses that have been incurred by running pits at uneconomic levels, will unquestionably operate as a stop-block to prevent an unlimited downward trend. If, on the other hand, there is an upward movement, why should the pessimists have the monopoly? They have their place, but, at any rate, it ought not to be more than an equal place in our affairs. If there is an upward movement, of course many more mines will reopen and will come into working operation, but, on the other hand, the amount of subsidy will automatically decline in exactly the ratio of that increasing prosperity. You talk to us about the coalowners' profit. It is a fair question to ask, If you are giving a subsidy of this kind, ought there to be any 1680 profit, or ought anyone who is making a profit to receive a subsidy? It would be a, very short-sighted procedure to keep your whole industry for nine months on a basis where every coal mine, even the most prosperous, was denuded of every scrap of profit. It would certainly leave you a most hideous gap to be filled at the time when the subsidy ceased. But when my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs arranged his system of subsidy there was no effectual limit introduced in regard to the district rate of profit which should rule if the subsidy was to be paid, and the consequences were certainly open to comment, if not to criticism. During the period the mines made a profit of over £5,000,000, and received a subsidy of over £7,000,000. Some of the district rates, on which the subsidy was nevertheless paid, amounted to 3s. 3d.. 2s. 8d., 3s. 5d. and rates of that kind. That, no doubt, was a first effort, and we have had the advantage of the experience of those who went before. We have established a 1s. 3d. limit on the standard of profit per ton in regard to district rates, which, whatever else you may say about it, will make this arrangement far more thrifty and far more secure against excessive profits than the arrangement made by the Government of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was the head, and of which I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead were both members.
§ Mr. VARLEY
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what were the reasons that determined the fixation of 1s. 3d., having regard to the fact that 1s. 3d. is in excess of the average profit for any year since 1921, with the exception of 1923, the year of the occupation of the Ruhr.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That was determined as the result of very long and very careful discussions that took place and, as I have said, it is far less than the rates of profit, which in some cases ran up to 3s. 3d., that ruled under the arrangement of the previous Government, which obtained the full assent of Parliament at that time.
I leave altogether this special aspect, although no doubt we shall have other opportunities of referring to it, and I come to what, after all, are the general and the main questions before the Com- 1681 mittee. It is surely common ground between us, whatever part of the House we sit in and whatever party we may belong to, that this settlement contains absolutely no element of finality. None of the grave issues, economic or political, which have been raised by the recent dispute, or which were before the Cabinet last Thursday, have been in the slightest degree solved or allayed by this settlement. All that has been done is that an interval has been secured in the hope that further study and patience may lead to a settlement and may spare the whole community the losses of a long, hard and, as it necessarily must be if it ever begins, decisive conflict.
The existing position is plainly intolerable. There is no industry, or there are only a few great industries in which masters and men for a long period of years have done better than in the coal industry. The average employer and the average miner, taking a long period of years, has certainly enjoyed advantages greater than those of the average ordinary workmen or employer throughout the country. Now this industry, which has always held, and rightly held, such an exceptional position, has been quartered on the general taxpayer. I hope I may be allowed to say this, speaking for the outside world not connected with the mining industry on the one side or the other, that they have so managed or, if you like, mismanaged their joint affairs that they have confronted the State with the alternative either of seeing the trade of the whole country ruined, perhaps, for two years to come, or else making a subsidy payment in aid of this particular industry out of the income of the struggling business man, out of the beer and tobacco of working men all over the country, and out of the tea and sugar of the poorest people in the land.
That is a humiliating position for a great industry to have reached as the final result of all the immense, complex organisation which they have built up for dividing profits and for adjusting disputes. It is quite impossible that such a system can continue. To bring it to an end in one way or another by the beginning of May next must henceforward be one of the main and predominant objects of public policy. We have decided to pay what may well be. £15,000,000, in order to gain nine months of breathing space, 1682 but not of resting, to quote the words of my right hon. Friend. Let us see that that time is well spent and that we have not made this sacrifice at the expense of the general taxpayer without achieving some effective advantage. I am not going to make any attempt to deal with the different questions of organisation which have been made in various interesting speeches. The question which the House has to decide to-night is whether the Government is right in paying the high price which it did in order to postpone a wasteful and disastrous conflict, in the hope and on the chance that it may be averted in the interval.
Let us look at the question. It is a comparatively trivial point to discuss the negotiations that have taken place. In every negotiation, if it doss not succeed, anyone who wants to find fault can always say: "Ah! If you had only intervened then! "or "Oh! You should not have intervened at that point!" or "If you had only said this and said that!" There is no point in that. I believe that I express the opinion of the whole of this Committee when I say that, having regard to the temper on both sides, and having regard to the actual facts of the coal trade at the present time, there never was any chance whatever of any intervention by the Government preventing a deadlock, such as was reached on Thursday evening last. That, I am glad to know, is confirmed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hill-head. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is true!"] Of course, we had hopes of a reasonable solution between the two parties. We were led to believe that there was a good chance of their adjusting matters between them. But these hopes faded one by one, and the situation confronting us on Thursday evening was a deadlock in the mining industry, accompanied by a threat of a general stoppage at midnight, not only of the mining industry but, to a large extent, upon the railways and among the transport workers.
Was the decision which His Majesty's Government took right or wrong in the circumstances? Ought we to have accepted this conflict, or were we justified in making further efforts at a heavy cost, efforts which are open to many objections, to avert it? That is what the Committee must decide to-night, and it is really the only question on which their opinion is 1683 asked. May I say one word about public criticism. It is certainly not at all scarce at the present time. People do not like the subsidy, but not many people would have liked the strike. We have chosen the subsidy, and we see and feel its disadvantages. But we have avoided the strike or lock-out, so no-one knows what its disadvantages would have been. It is very easy to minimise in public opinion a stoppage of this kind, and to represent it as a salutary and exhilarating experience, sharp at the time, but really useful for British trade. In such a mood it is very easy to condemn the Government who accepted the grave disadvantages of the subsidy when all the time there was the perfectly simple, straightforward, manly remedy of accepting the strike.
But if we had chosen the other course, does anyone suppose that we should have escaped the criticism to which we have been subjected, or that all parties would have joined together in supporting us in facing the recurring and increasing difficulties which would have come upon us from day to day? Would the Liberal party and the London Press have given the Government, support in the immense crisis which would have ensued? Would the public have been encouraged to endure the hard, long ordeal with determination? Why, Sir, I can hear the speeches which would have been delivered. I can see in imagination the leading articles and the headlines which would have been printed. "His Majesty's Government were utterly incapable of inducing the owners and the miners to come together. Were they proposing no solution of their own?" Hon. Members opposite would have said, "We have said all the time it is quite simple. Only let them nationalise the mines." Hon. Members of the Liberal party would have said, "It is quite simple. Only let them follow the guidance which we gave in our 'Coal and Power,' published a whole year ago by the Liberal Publication Department." Those great popular organs which have such a wide circulation and a very great though superficial influence, which have set themselves deliberately for many months past to discredit and undermine the position of the Government—do you think that the hostile criticisms which they are making now would have been lacking then? They 1684 would have been different only in form. The "Mail" would have said, "The whole blame for this situation rests with the wasteful Government." The "Express" would have said, "What did we tell you would follow the gold standard?"
That being so, it being clear that we should be criticised whatever course we took, far the best thing is for the House to discount interested and partisan criticisms, and to consider in a practical spirit the extremely disagreeable alternative which the Government had to face on Thursday last, whether in all the circumstances that existed they would plunge the country into this confusion and struggle, or whether they would make what is a most objectionable payment from the Exchequer in the hope that time would promote a better solution. That is the question. I have absolutely no doubt myself that the decision which was taken on Thursday was right and wise. I have no doubt that it will be found the best in the long run, in the interests of the public. I am not usually accused of being specially or unduly deficient in combative energy. I have seen as a Minister, almost continuously during the last 20 years, many repeated occasions of strife. I have never known a case where the arguments for patience, for restraint, for delay, for gaining time, for securing n breathing space, for avoiding an immediate rupture, were so strong; nor have I ever seen a situation in which a plunge into decisive and irrevocable action would have been more wanton and more inexcusable.
I say that without the slightest fear of what the result would have been. I put-aside altogether any question of doubt as to the result of such a conflict. I have entire faith in the power of the Government of this country to maintain order, entire faith in the power of this great country to overcome any section or group of sections, however powerful, which may challenge its authority. In the event of a struggle, whatever its character might be, however ugly the episodes which would mark it, I have no doubt that the State, the national State, would emerge victorious, in spite of all the rough and awkward corners it might have to turn. But if you are going to embark on a struggle of this kind, be quite sure that de- 1685 cisive public opinion is behind you; be quite sure that the majority of the nation understand what the quarrel is about; be quite sure that they realise that the Government are only defending fundamental national interests and liberties.
The public were quite unprepared for this interruption and dislocation of their life. Opinions were widely divided as to the merits of the dispute. Opinions were very widely divided among the supporters of His Majesty's Government. No one would relish a campaign the object of which, it must have been avowed, was to reduce the wages of miners in many cases to something less than the pre-War level. The owners stated their ease in its least favourable form, and the report of the committee was more adverse than otherwise, and I cannot conceive of more doubtful circumstances in which to involve the State in a conflict which could not fail to be of extreme gravity. In spite of that, even if the ground were not favourable, that would not, in my opinion, affect the final issue. It would only prolong, widen, and embitter strife and aggravate its consequences. As the struggle widened, as it became a test of whether the country was to be ruled by Parliament or by some other organisation not responsible by our elective processes to the people as a whole; as that issue emerged more and more, and with every increase in the gravity of the struggle, new sources of strength would have come to the State or some action which in ordinary circumstances we should consider quite impossible would, just as in the case of the Great War, be taken with general assent and as a matter of course. It is this very conviction of the power of the State, in a struggle so grave, to carry it to a successful conclusion, that has made it possible for the Government to work for a larger and more temperate solution than could have been achieved by an immediate clash.
The political position of the Government is also a factor. If we were a weak, tottering Government with a precarious majority, dependent on this or that bargain or deal, from day to day and from week to week, such a Government might easily have been tempted to gain a false appearance of strength by plunging into a struggle of this kind and then claiming 1686 the support of all parties because of the national emergency that it had created. But a Government whose Parliamentary position is intact and unassailable, in the first Session of its life, is bound to think for several years ahead and is bound to plough its way through difficulties, abuse, and taunts, and even through bona fide misunderstandings which would prove fatal to any Administration less solidly founded. In small matters prestige counts. In small matters taunts are very provoking and jeers wound, but in larger matters, in great matters affecting the whole life and prosperity of the country, it would be shameful if Ministers who are charged with responsibility allowed their judgments to be influenced by fear of the taunts to which they might be subjected. References have been made to a leading article entitled "The White Peril," and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) suggested that we did not dare to face cold steel. I think we shall show ourselves worthy of our trust and our responsibility if, in the first instance, we treat such taunts and jeers as utterly unworthy of serious consideration. The course which was adopted was chosen, not because we felt ourselves too weak to take a more violent course, but because we felt ourselves strong enough in Parliament and in the country to do what, on the merits and on the merits alone, according to our honest judgment, is best for the interests which we have to guard.
The cost to the Exchequer of a strike or lock-out—of a stoppage of this kind—would have been very serious. The cost of this subsidy, £10,000,000, it may be £15,000,000—I am not attempting to conceal the cost—is very serious. I have made no provision for it in the Budget, and T do not intend to propose any new taxation. It may well be that all the factors I have to deal with will not be so unfavourable. At any rate, I am not going to anticipate the situation which will exist at the close of the year. That is a matter which can be taken into consideration when the Budget for next year has to be framed. We have often, in the past, paid enormous sums, not intended by Parliament to be voted for the payment of debt, through the salutary medium of the old sinking fund, and in this case, if there should be a balance on the wrong side, and very likely there will 1687 be, that is a matter which we must take into consideration in deciding what remissions or additions are possible in regard to taxation next year.
But, whatever is the cost to the Exchequer of the present subvention, it is not comparable to what would have been incurred had the strike or lock-out been allowed to proceed. Exact calculations are impossible, but, assuming that the coal strike were to last as long as it did in 1921–13 weeks—the Treasury would expect to lose between £25,000,000 and £50,000,000 in direct taxation alone. To this would be added £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 on Customs and Excise, due to the general impoverishment of the consuming masses. There would certainly be an increase of at least £15,000,000 in unemployment insurance. Finally, the great expense of maintaining the vital services and of maintaining order might well have cost £10,000,000, and, if the Army Reserves had had to be called out, and a Defence Force had had to be raised, it might well have been another £10,000,000 more. Therefore, without considering in the least the immense indirect reaction on our trade, on our credit, on our exchange, viewing the matter on financial grounds. and on financial grounds alone, I should be forced to contemplate a loss of at least £60,000,000 or £70,000,000 from the Revenue.
Such a loss—and, after all, one must look at both sides to see the advantages of what we have done, and to see the disadvantages of what we have not done—such a loss to the Revenue would require, in the present circumstances, in the present balance of our finances, the sweeping away at a stroke of the whole of the remissions, not only of the last Budget, but of the Budget of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). It would have swept away the reduction on the Income Tax of 6d., it would have swept away the remissions on tea and sugar which were granted and which were so gratefully received, and it would have been a mere matter of prudence to delay the pensions scheme by a year or, possibly, two years.
Above and beyond the whole of this field of finance, there are all the vast, indirect injuries which would be inflicted 1688 on our trade, struggling through this difficult and critical period, the rupture of all continuity of business, the severing of commercial connections, the loss of contracts, the loss of markets, eagerly occupied by our rivals, all added on. In addition, I am bound to say that the state of the heavy industries of this country is such that a violent, prolonged convulsion, of this kind would have resulted in shoals of bankruptcies and liquidations of firms in all parts of the country.
I am entitled, and the Government are entitled, to put this before the Committee, but I put it in no spirit of fear to face the consequences of necessary action. There are some challenges which must be met, at whatever cost. When vital issues are at stake, the State must not shirk its duty, however dangerous, costly, or painful it may be. I agree with that doctrine. There are issues which transcend all questions of profit and loss. There are issues beside which the sufferings of individuals and the convenience of the public cannot be allowed to count. The question which the Committee has to settle to-night is whether these issues were raised on this occasion in a form which gave us no option but to undertake supreme efforts and make supreme sacrifices. Let us look at the nature of the challenge. I do not believe that an attitude of challenge is the mood of the great mass of the mining population. The mass of the mineworking community are in no mood for challenge. They are passing through a period of great depression. They see themselves confronted with the extinction, in many parts of the country, of their means of livelihood. They are passing through a time, not of arrogant challenge; they do not know which way to turn, or how to deal with the problem of their industry. While many workers in sheltered trades have-vastly improved their wages, miners have seen their superior position largely disappear since the War. Their wages have risen less compared with pre-War standards than many less arduous and far less dangerous occupations.
Then they were confronted with the diminution—as the right hon. Gentleman has said, of those wages, and in their resistance—whether wisely couched in the interest of their industry or not, I do not examine—but in their resistance the 1689 Government decline to discern any wish to challenge the State or to dissociate themselves from its fortunes. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that we had almost to use force to prevent these same miners from quitting their pits during the War to proceed to the battlefield. Certainly, we are not prepared to formulate a charge against a class of citizens whom we value and honour, and whose good-will we want. That is not the challenge. There is a challenge, to which the Leader of the Labour party referred in his speech last week, of quite a different kind—not the challenge of masses of labouring men who, naturally, do not want to have their wages reduced, but the challenge of forces to which the Leader of the Labour party referred which are deliberately working to utilise discontent, to take advantage of every difficulty, in order to promote a propaganda which has for its ultimate—it may be its distant—aim, the subversion by violence of the existing system of society. It is those forces, armed, inspired and taught by foreign propaganda, and, it may well be, in some cases, fed with foreign money—it is those forces which are ceaselessly at work. They constitute a challenge of which note should be taken. Indeed, it would be a great error to identify large masses of our fellow-countrymen with that, or so to handle events as to confound them together. What is required for these forces is a policy which will procure their separate treatment in isolation from large popular movements, and it is a matter to which every effort should be earnestly and urgently directed.
There is another aspect of challenge to which, I know, the Committee would wish me to refer. It is a challenge to our Parliamentary institutions from persons far removed from those to whom I have been referring, but it is none the less a very serious, and, in some ways, in a practical sense, a more dangerous aspect. There is a growing disposition among the great trade union authorities of the country to use the exceptional immunities which trade unions possess under the law, not for the purpose of ordinary trade objects, but in the pursuit of far-reaching political and economic aims. It is, obviously, impossible for a Parliament, elected as we are upon what is virtually a universal suffrage, to allow its authority to be disputed by any 1690 section or organisation however respectable or however powerful. We have heard in this Debate of an attempt to hold up the whole community, of the threat of cutting off the vital supply services. The use of such a threat as a political weapon, which has been more and more apparent in recent years, is a grave fact which will require the profound and continuous attention of the House of Commons. [Interruption.] I am not going to dwell upon these aspects of the strife beyond saying that it is justifiable to put them forward, because it must not be supposed that, because we are for peace, we are incapable of the defence of the great interests of the country.
What is the main object of all parties in this Parliament? It is to get a little more prosperity—if we can—for our people, and for all classes in our country. I trust that this Parliament may see an advance, moderate yet definite, and appreciable in all parts of the country, towards a better condition of material well-being. The decision which was taken on Thursday was taken because we have not yet abandoned that hope. If we had plunged into a struggle, allowed a stoppage of the mines, had faced a general strike on the railways, had accepted a temporary paralysis of the entire industry of the country, allowed trade to be checked, allowed social reform to be arrested, our finances to be deranged, had postponed pensions, and restored taxation—if we had taken that position, then for us, and so far as this Parliament is concerned, the door would have been closed to an advance to a better state of things. It may yet happen. But that is not a decision that any sane man or Government would take until every other reasonable possibility had been exhausted. Even if it should be our duty, if ever it should be our duty, to take such a position, then the work of this Parliament is absolutely ruined. For the rest of its life it would be simply toiling back to reach the position occupied in 1924 and 1925—a position which to-day we find much to be discontented with. No chance of improvement! No hope of expansion! No alleviation of the burdens! Just a simple struggle to work back to where we are now. We have refused to accept such a melancholy conclusion. It would be good-bye to the sincere and earnest 1691 desires which animate Members of this House of Commons. It would be goodbye to the high hopes which are placed by their constituents in the country on their exertions, and on the achievements which may follow from their efforts.
In the few moments that is left to me, I should like to reply to the very remarkable speech to which we have just listened. The right hon. Gentleman looked across to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and said: "Whatever you may have promised in 9d. for 4d. so far as I am concerned, I am going to prove that this is the cheapest deal the Government ever made." That was his first one. He secondly said: "Be under no misapprehension. We are staying there for four years." Then in defence of the miners he made a better defence than even Mr. Cook, and wound up by saying: "If danger comes, I am Mussolini." That was the brief summary of his views. I only rise to say if there is a Division I will vote for the Government because I believe that under the circumstances of last Thursday no other course was open. I do not believe in the people who merely shout now of the Government having done wrong and would have blamed everybody if we had got into difficulties.
The real point I want to make is, that if there is any moral to be drawn from this unfortunate business—and no one can be happy about it—it is the mistake that was made not only in this case but which has been so often made, of conceding to force what you never concede to reason. The railwaymen would have stopped work last Friday night, not because they wanted to challenge the constitution, not because they were not as loyal as any other citizens of the community, not because that issue was involved, but because they believed they were doing as you would have done if an injustice were done to your people. You would have resented it. The railwaymen feel that an injustice was done to the miners and they were prepared to stand by them. I hope that this price, whatever it is, will prove cheap in the end. It will only prove cheap in the end if, between now and the next nine months, a real effort is made to find a solution. You may grumble about what 1692 was done, but I am convinced in my own mind that it will be cheap if all sections and all parties realise that between now and the next nine months some real permanent solution for this problem is to be found. That can be done, provided there is goodwill on both sides. That can be done if there is a first, fundamental recognition that a living wage ought to be paid, to those people. That can be done if there is a recognition that the present system is wrong and has caused the trouble. If we apply ourselves in the interval to a real solution, I am quite certain that, whatever the criticisms of the Government may be at this moment, the community as a whole will profit in the long run. I only want to say again, speaking exclusively for the railwaymen for whom I am entitled to speak, that they took that action last week, not as a challenge to the community, because they recognise that in a fight against the community, the community must always win. Equally they took that stand because they believed there was a challenge to the miner's position, which they were entitled to resist and would have resisted regardless of any consequences.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
As a very small minority in this part of the House intend to ask the Committee to divide on this issue, I ask the indulgence of hon. Members to be allowed to state in four or five sentences the reasons which actuate us in this course. Speaking for myself and many of my Friends I wish to say we are opposing the action of the Government through no fear of the so-called "Red peril." We believe that the workers, through their unions, have a right to demand the wages that they think just, and we, at any rate, intend to dissociate ourselves from any clamour that this is a peril of some extreme kind which is menacing the country. That is the first point. The second point is that we consider that the conflict was precipitated by the action of the owners and the terms demanded by the owners, who struck at the two things, hours and the minimum wage, which are the pillars of the temple of the miners' position. We do not think the difficulty in which the Government were placed was due to the shortness of time. If the Government Had been able to command the support of their own followers for the right course, they could have taken, or threatened to 1693 take, action by way of emergency legislation which would have put a completely different complexion upon the situation. The facts are widely known, and are not in dispute. The real difficulty was not the shortness of time, but the unwillingness of the supporters of the Government to support them in the right course. [HON MEMBERS: "No!"]
We are asked for a large and indeterminate sum of money for certain purposes. Few of us would grudge the money in support of the minimum wage, but profit is guaranteed, and the royalties are guaranteed. If the Government had asked the royalty-owners to surrender their royalties towards the subsidy, then there would have been some reason behind the proposal of the Government. Who is going to pay this money? The Chancellor of the Exchequer uttered some sinister sentences in the earlier part of his speech in which he talked about additional burdens upon tea and sugar and beer. This £10,000,000 or £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 has got to be found, and can we trust the Chancellor
§ of the Exchequer, in view of his fiscal record, not to put it upon the shoulders of the working classes? We cannot. I cannot go to the constituents I represent, shipworkers, engineers and others, and tell them I have consented to a course which is going to add to their burdens, and to the prices of the commodities which they purchase, in order to support the Government in a course which was unnecessary and which, in its details, is totally unjustifiable. There are only a few of us, but with every sympathy for the case which has been made out for the miners, we consider we are doing the right thing in their interest and in the public interest in opposing the Vote.
§ The PRIME MINISTER rose in his place, and claimed to move," That the Question be now put."
§ Question put accordingly.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 351: Noes, 16.1697
|Division No. 356.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Dawson, Sir Philip|
|Adamson, Bt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Day, Colonel Harry|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Butt, Sir Alfred||Dean, Arthur Wellesley|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Dixey, A. C.|
|Albery, Irving James||Campbell, E. T.||Doyle, Sir N. Grattan|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Cape, Thomas||Drewe, C.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Cassels, J. D.||Duncan, C.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Elveden, Viscount|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Chapman, Sir S.||Fairfax, Captain J. G.|
|Atkinson, C.||Charleton, H. C.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Fanshawe, Commander G. D.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Chilcott, Sir Warden||Fermoy, Lord|
|Balniel, Lord||Christie, J. A.||Fleming, D. P.|
|Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Ford, P. J.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Clarry, Reginald George||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Clayton, G. C.||Forrest, W.|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Cluse, W. S.||Foster, Sir Harry S.|
|Barr, J.||Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Frece, Sir Walter de|
|Batey, Joseph||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E|
|Beamish, Captain T. P. H.||Cohen, Major J. Brunei||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Cooper, A. Duff||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Couper, J. B.||Gates, Percy|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton|
|Bennett, A. J.||Cove, W. G.||Gillett, George M.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Cowan, sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn. N.)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Glyn, Major R. G. C.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Goff, Sir Park|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Gosling, Harry|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Crook, C. W.||Grace, John|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Grant, J. A.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. H.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Grotrian, H. Brent|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Dalton, Hugh||Groves, T.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Grundy, T. W.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Davidson, Major-General Sir John H||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.)|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Davies, A. V. (Lancaster, Royton)||Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.|
|Burman, J. B.||Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Sexton, James|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew. W)|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Mackinder, W.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Hall, Vice-Admiral Sir B. (Eastb'rne)||MacLaren, Andrew||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Hammersley, S. S.||McLean, Major A.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Hanbury, C.||Macmillan, Captain H.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||MacRobert, Alexander M.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Hardie, George D.||Maitland Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Harrison, G. J. C.||Malone, Major P. B.||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Manningham-Buller, Sir Hervyn||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||March, S.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Margesson, Captain D.||Snell, Harry|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Hawke, John Anthony||Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Hayday, Arthur||Maxton, James||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Hayes, John Henry||Merriman, F. B.||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Meyer, Sir Frank||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxfd, Henley)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Moore Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Storry Deans, R.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Morden, Col. W. Grant||Strickland, Sir Gerald|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Henniker-Hughan, Vice-Adm. Sir A.||Murchison, C. K.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Murnin, H.||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Herbert, S. (York, N.R., Scar, & Wh'by)||Nail, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Hilton, Cecil||Naylor, T. E.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Hirst, G. H.||Nelson, Sir Frank||Sutton, J. E.|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Neville, R. J.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South;|
|Holland, Sir Arthur||Nuttall, Ellis||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Holt, Captain H. P.||Oakley, T.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Homan, C. W. J.||Oliver, George Harold||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (HacKney, N.)||Paling, W.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Varley, Frank B.|
|Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n)||Percy Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Perring, William George||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Huntingfield, Lord||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Warne, G. H.|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Philipson, Mabel||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Pilcher, G.||Warrender, sir victor|
|Jacob, A. E.||Ponsonby, Arthur||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Potts, John S.||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Power, Sir John Cecil||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Preston, William||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. O. (Rhondda)|
|John, William (Rhondda, Will)||Price, Major C. W. M.||Wells, S. R.|
|Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Radford, E. A.||Westwood, J.|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Ramsden, E.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Remer, J. R.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Rentoul, G. S.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Kennedy, T.||Rice. Sir Frederick||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Kindersley, Major G. M.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Riley, Ben||Winby, Colonel L. p.|
|Kirkwood, D.||Ritson, J.||Windsor, Walter|
|Lamb, J. Q.||Roberts. E. H. G. (Flint)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Lane-Fox, Lieut.-Col. George R.||Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Lansbury, George||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Lawson, John James||Rose, Frank H.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Lee, F.||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Wood, Rt. Hon. E.(York, W.R., Ripon)|
|Lindley, F. W.||Rye, F. G.||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Saklatvala, Shapurji||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Little, Dr. E. Graham||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Loder, J. de V.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Looker, Herbert William||Sanderson, Sir Frank||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Lougher, L.||Sandon, Lord||Wright, W.|
|Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Lumley, L. R.||Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|MacAndrew, Charles Glen||Scurr, John||Commander B. Eyres Monsell and Colonel Gibbs.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Fenby, T. D.||Harney, E. A.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Harris, Percy A.|
|Bromley, J.||Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Morris, R. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Livingstone, A. M.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)||Sir Godfrey Collins and Major|
|Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Wiggins, William Martin||Crawfurd.|
|Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
Lords Amendment considered accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.