§ Considered in Committee.
§ [CAPTAIN FITZROY in the Chair.]
§ CIVIL SERVICES SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATES, 1925–26.
§ UNCLASSIFIED SERVICE. COAL MINING INDUSTRY SUBVENTION.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £9,000,000, 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 CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Churchill)
I must begin by apologising to the Committee that the accidental course of public business has rendered it necessary for me to do what I think in technical parlance is called a "double turn" or a "double shift."
This Supplementary Estimate asks the Committee to vote an additional sum of £9,000,000 for the subvention in aid of wages in the coal trade. Wages in the coal trade are calculated by a very complicated method. Every stage has been the result of agreements and disputes between the masters and the men. I shall not attempt to explain this system to the House. There are many Members who understand it intimately, but it is not necessary for the Committee as a whole to understand the system in order to take the decision for which the Government now ask. It will be sufficient to say that in each district the difference between the expenses other than wages on the one hand, and receipts on the other, is calculated over a period of three months. This calculation is made in the fourth month, and the result is divided between wages and profits in the ratio of 87 to 13, and this result constitutes the wage rate for the fifth month. The wage resulting from this process is called the ascertained wage. This wage is also regulated by a minimum standard. When the wage falls below the minimum, all profits, in the first instance, tend to disappear, and thereafter a loss is incurred by the owners which becomes 732 greater the deeper and longer the depression endures. Such is the system. I trust I have explained it compendiously and not incorrectly.
From the moment that the artificial advantage of the occupation of the Ruhr by the French ceased to operate, in the early part of this year, the coal trade sank steadily into a deepening depression. All last summer prices fell to levels which carried the ascertained wage so far below the minimum standard that very heavy losses were continuously sustained by the owners. The owners demanded reconsideration of the minimum basis, and they also demanded a further reduction in wages in accordance with the increasing depression. The miners replied by refusing even to discuss a reduction of wages or a lengthening of hours, and they intimated, not in so many words, but that is the effect of the attitude they adopted, that if there was not enough profit to maintain the wages and conditions of the industry, and to maintain the increased numbers which had come into the industry in the last few years, the difference, whatever it was—the loss— should be made up by the taxpayer. In this attitude the miners were supported by other trade unions, and the public were therefore invited either to pay the adverse difference between the ascertained wage and the minimum or to face a general strike, or what was very largely a general strike, of organised labour.
There is this to be said about a general strike of organised labour; whoever wins, every class, particularly the poorest class, must lose; the whole trade and finance of the country are dislocated; very heavy expenses are cast upon the Government; heavy new taxation has to be imposed; the markets on which we depend for our export trade would be eagerly and rapidly occupied by our rivals; all chance of returning prosperity would be destroyed, probably for several years; unemployment would certainly continue at a far higher level. In the face of all these evils it must he generally agreed amongst sensible people that such a struggle ought only to be entered upon when it is absolutely certain that every other way, every other resource, has been exhausted, and that there are no other means by which the community can be saved from what is a catastrophe.
733 The Government thought, moreover, at that juncture, the end of July, that they saw possibilities of actual trade revival. We did not feel justified in predicting it, but we believed from the evidence submitted to us from many quarters that there were good probabilities of an improvement, of a diminution in unemployment, of an improvement in world prices in relation to our own, and, in consequence, an appreciable bridging of the gap between the ascertained wage and the minimum wage. We were also impressed with the fact that the country as a whole was not sufficiently informed about the character and immense consequences of such a struggle as that with which it was confronted. It is quite clear that a conflict of this kind, launched in this way, might easily cease to be a mere ordinary industrial dispute about wages and conditions and might assume a character altogether different from such industrial disputes. If that were to ensue, then it-is quite clear that such a conflict between the community on the one hand, with the Government at its head, and many of the great trade unions on the other, could only end in one way, namely, by the community, at whatever cost, emerging victorious over an organised section of its citizens, however valuable, important, and even numerous that section was. We considered, therefore, that should such a struggle be found to be inevitable at the very last moment, it was of supreme importance that it should only be undertaken under conditions which would not expose the nation needlessly or wantonly to perils the gravity of which cannot possibly be over-estimated. We therefore decided to postpone the crisis in the hope of averting it, or, if not of averting it, of coping effectually with it when the time came. Accordingly, we entered-upon an agreement with the employers to pay them for a period of nine months the adverse difference, if any, between the ascertained wage and the minimum wage, whatever that might be.
Meanwhile, we set up a Royal Commission to examine into the whole position of this once prosperous and triumphant trade, now reduced to beg the nation for a dole and to extort a ransom from the mass of the citizens of all classes under the threat of bringing the whole business of the country to a standstill. The system we adopted was the only one possible in the urgent circumstances 734 which then existed; but even if a much longer time had been available I doubt very much whether any better system could have been devised. The method by which this subvention is paid has, in the first place, great administrative simplicity. It follows the precedent set by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in the Coalition Government of 1921. You may say it was a settlement on the Lloyd George model, with some revisions and improvements suggested by later experience in regard to the limits of the profits of the owners from the subvention. The system was well understood; it fitted exactly into the method by which the wages are calculated in the industry and which the industry was accustomed to; it needed hardly any additional staff at the Ministry of Mines or at the Treasury to attend to it; it avoided any imposition of the dead hand of Government control. It in no way removed the coal mining industry from the pressure of economic facts. It merely enabled that industry to be carried on by those mines which were not the least prosperous, in contact with economic reality, during a period of acute, but possibly exceptional, depression.
We had no means of forecasting accurately the cost of the subvention on this basis. Accordingly, we carefully avoided attempting to forecast it. In the White Paper which I presented to Parliament we contented ourselves with giving only the maximum and minimum figures of cost between which we believed the truth would lie. We stated the minimum at £7,000,000, on a certain basis, with a clear indication that we were sure it would be more than that; we stated the maximum, on another basis, at £24,000,000, with a strong implication that we hoped it would not be so bad as that. If to-day, with four and a-half months' more knowledge, I am called upon to forecast the total cost of this subvention, I should estimate it at between £20,000,000 and £21,000,000 for the nine months, of which £19,000,000 will fall in the currency of this financial year. To be quite frank, that is £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 more than I personally hoped, on the indications and data which were submitted to the Treasury and which were all that were available to submit to the Treasury in August.
735 Let us see in what way the subvention works. What are the causes, for instance, which increase or diminish the burden on the Exchequer? The first month for which the subvention was payable was August. The ascertained wage of August was fixed by the results arrived at in April, May, and June. June was the worst month recorded up to then. July is much better, but is much better for a very uncomforting reason, namely, that the apprehensions of a strike led to a feverish increase in output at the expense of August, and once the idea of a strike was out of the way the accumulated stocks which had been built up were rapidly drawn upon, and employment which had risen in apprehension of the strike rapidly fell off in large numbers after that apprehension had disappeared.
The subvention for September was calculated on May, June and July, and that subvention was helped by the fictitious amelioration of July. When the time came to calculate the subvention for October, the exceptionally evil month of June was reinforced by the even more evil month of August and constituted a very adverse figure for October. We began to feel the effect of a new factor, the subsidised export trade which we are running at a loss, but on an increasing scale. This began to augment employment artificially, prices hardened, output increased and a larger number of men began to be employed or were more fully employed. The number of men stated in the unemployment returns for the coalmining industry do not distinguish between unemployed and under-employed.
Of course, this increase of employment helps the country in many ways, but it does not help the Exchequer so far as the subvention is concerned. These manshifts have to be paid for on the basis of the gap proved to exist between the ascertained rate and the minimum rate in accordance with the bad months of June, July and August, in which the ascertained wage fell far below the minimum. This gap we have filled on the basis of a larger number of men than were in employment before. The same conditions were observed in November, and will probably operate in December as well. The improvement in trade and employment at the present time aggravates the cost to the Exchequer. It 736 aggravates that cost at the present time, although it will reduce it at a later stage. Of course, the condition of the trade in November was better than that of October, and with the late seasonable weather which may return, and which from the Exchequer point of view we should welcome, the demand for household coal will improve the conditions of the trade.
Therefore it is not impossible that December will be better than November, and it is even likely that January, February and March may show progressive improvement. Such improvement in the coal trade, if it takes place, should be attended by increased employment, and this increase of the number of man shifts will cost us more. On the other hand, as the three months' period moves forward the basis of the ascertained wage will gradually become more favourable, and we may expect the subventions for February, March and April to be less than those of November, December and January, although there may be more miners in employment and more man shifts worked. There is one factor which will operate increasingly favourably and counteract the adverse tendency. If the conditions continue to improve, the Exchequer would benefit. If, for instance, this system went on, the Exchequer would benefit in May, June and July, but as the subvention is to stop in May, we shall not get the benefit of the improvement. Therefore we are in the curious position of having to pay more because trade was bad in August, and more because it has improved in November, although we shall get the benefit later on. I am merely stating these facts to the House and the country as it is my duty to do, and I am not attempting to adorn them, if, indeed, they are capable of adornment, in any way.
Now let us see where the subvention has gone. When the White Paper was issued in July it was described as a subvention in aid of wages, but this assertion was sharply challenged from the Labour Benches. I have no doubt that there are exceptional cases, and no one can possibly frame statistics or general statements which apply to the various fortunes and characteristics of individual mines. There are all sorts of exceptions to every rule, and to every scheme which you try to put forward, 737 but the fact remains that, on balance, up to the end of October over 90 per cent. of the subvention had gone as a direct subvention to wages. Over the whole mass of the coalfields dealing with them as a whole—I cannot trace an individual mine or even an individual district— over the whole area of the coalfields scarcely any profits have yet been made by the owners, and they have just been able to keep themselves going. [A laugh.] I can assure hon. Members opposite that this is not a laughing matter. It is quite clear that if we had to proceed on the basis of no reduction of wages being accepted by the men and no subvention by the State, the owners would have lost in the nine months' period between £10,000,000 or £.15,000,000, and it seems very unlikely that any body of private persons would have been able to bear losses on that scale.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
They are worked out on the methods agreed upon between the owners and the miners which for years have always operated when calculating the profits in this great industry. Joint accountants are employed, and everything has been examined on both sides with the utmost refinement and in great detail. It is clear that in August we were confronted either with the owners closing down, or the men taking lower wages, or the Exchequer paying a subvention. No other solution which I could see was open to us then. Let the Committee observe that the subvention has not led to any appreciable reopening of the pits.
Since the 1st of August, 156 pits, normally employing 32,000 wage-earners, have been opened or reopened, but in the same time 111 pits, normally employing 26,000 wage-earners, have been closed. Bearing in mind the improvement which has taken place in the trade, this is clear proof that the subvention has not given support to the uneconomic mines at the expense of the economic mines. What has happened since August, according to the latest figures which are available, is that the owners, on balance and on the whole, have made practically no profit, although there has been a considerable improvement in employment. Unemploy- 738 ment still continues at a very high and painful rate, for which the State is paying a heavy bill.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The royalties are not an appreciable part of this subvention, and I do not see how the situation would be altered, for instance, if the £6,000,000, or whatever sum is paid in royalties, were gathered in by the State instead of by private persons. I do not see how that would affect the actual finance of the coal trade. Of course, if the State bought the royalties and made a present of them to the miners, there would be a considerable difference, but no one has suggested that. These facts, as now disclosed, and as they appear before us, ought surely to give rise to hard thinking on the part of everyone who is engaged in the coal-mining industry.
This brings me to the consideration of two larger questions to which I must refer before I sit down. The first question is: What will happen in May when the subvention ends? On this point I can only make a few general observations. The coal trade, as I have shown, has been steadily improving in the last three months, and this improvement may continue into the spring. We are all hoping that it will, and so far there is no sign whatever that the steady progress is slackening; in fact, the last week's output is the highest since the middle of May, and it is the first time since then that the figure of 5,000,000 tons has been exceeded. But we must not delude ourselves by thinking that even if oar best hopes are realised the gap between export prices and the cost of production will disappear. Without the subvention the average loss per ton on coal exported from South Wales in October was over 3s. 5d., and from Durham over 2s. 10d. We are regaining our export trade, and we are recovering our position in markets in which we used to reign supreme, which were temporarily lost, but we are only regaining them by the contradictory and futile method of selling at a loss. You can always increase your trade by selling at a loss. There are all sorts of ways of doing it. All sorts of suggestions have been constantly reaching the Exchequer 739 for improving trade by doing business at a loss, but that process is only comparable to trying to quench one's thirst by drinking salt water.
Very few of the 400 mines in Northumberland and Durham, and fewer still of the 700 mines in South Wales, are making any profit at all on the basis of the old wages and costs. It may be that, if things go well, and the improvement continues, the gap will be narrowed, that it will become more manageable; indeed, it is probable that it will be more manageable, more nearly bridgable, in April than it was in July; but it will still be there. In the meantime, we expect the Report of the Royal Commission. The Commission is not composed, as the Saw-key Commission was, of partisans. [Interruption.] That is a perfectly legitimate way of constituting a commission. There are two ways of constituting a commission. One is to have a commission which represents the different competing interests affected, with an impartial chairman— a sort of omnibus commission. The other is to set up a commission of the kind that we have now decided upon—an impartial body of four men of the highest standing and of wide experience in affairs, and to give them every facility for conducting their inquiry. From their Report we expect some important assistance.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Gentleman seems to he a great pessimist. I hope he will not confine his utterances to croaks of pessimism, but that, during the course of the Debate, he will favour us with constructive schemes for meeting a problem which puzzles and engages all our minds, and in the solution of which all have an interest—none more than those who sit in that quarter of the House.
From the Sankey Commission there emerged a bewildering diversity of judgment. Some held that everything was wrong with the industry; some held that nothing was wrong; and every variety of intermediate opinion found expression. From the present Commission the Government expect a definite pronouncement on the question whether there is anything fundamentally wrong with the present organisation of the industry in 740 any branch, productive or distributive, and whether there is any remedy, if that be the case, which the Government can provide by legislative action or otherwise. There is another thing that we hope for from the Royal Commission. We hope to get a judgment on points at issue which will clarify the situation and enable the public to judge, much more clearly than was then possible, the merits of the dispute in July. Were the owners justified, for instance, in seeking to reduce wages? Were the men, for instance, justified in refusing lower wages and longer hours? Ought one side or the other to give way, or is there any middle course?
We shall have, too, as I have said, the guidance of actual experience for some months of the owners' proposals. In July, the owners were making losses, but, even so, the export trade was contracted. They claimed that it was necessary to go to even lower prices in order to turn the tide and hold the market—how much lower, we could only guess. In May we shall know, and a sufficient series of results will be placed before us to enable us to discuss these questions with definite, precise figures before us, That, again, will be an advantage. Thirdly, there is the possibility—indeed, the certainty, if the trade continues upwards during the later months of the subvention—that the owners may make comfortable profits. That, too, would ease the situation. Last July, after months of losses, they were looking down a slope at the bottom of which there appeared only ruin if they kept the pits open; but in the spring there may be some money in the industry that can be put back—and the Government and the public will expect it to be put back—to help to carry the industry over the difficult time which lies ahead.
For all these reasons, difficult as the situation will be in the spring, it will be less, possibly far less, difficult than it was in July. Whatever that situation may be, it is one which will have to be faced. The economic laws, which care nothing for parties, or classes, or politics, do not permit that this great industry, which is the foundation of our industrial prosperity, should become indefinitely a pensioner upon the other industries that it has created. Is it too much to hope that all parties will try to get together 741 and grapple with the problem for themselves? Is it too much to expect the coal trade, who boasted that they were able to settle all their differences if they were left alone, will make an effort to return to their old independent position? The time is short. The backbone, of the export trade is long contracts, and it is almost impossible to make long contracts with the threat and menace of a sudden and violent breakdown and cessation hanging over us in May. There is no more deadly foe to prosperity, to the employment of scores of thousands of men, to a revival of pits around which whole communities are languishing without the means of livelihood—there is no more deadly foe than this uncertainty which is hanging over the trade at the present time.
Is it really impossible for both sides, owners and men, to enlarge their outlook, to recognise that their real interests are identical, that, whatever divergencies there are, they have a common body of interest? Is it impossible for them to range themselves side by side, and, by mutual forbearance and temporary common sacrifices, to avert the catastrophe which is threatening both equally, and in which the general prosperity of this hard-pressed, heavily burdened community is also involved? Is that a vain hope? I do not feel it possible to believe that a great body of sensible Britons will let the months slip away and condemn themselves—their community above all others, their industry above all others—to a further period of misery and depression, with the increasing certainty that ground that is lost will not be lost only for the time, but may be permanently occupied by other competitors and by other competing sources of power.
The second question with which I will deal is one which, when we discussed these matters on that August night, was a burning one. What does the Committee think now, in December, of the decision which we then took in order to avert a struggle? How does that decision look in the light of the present situation, in the light of our knowledge? Does it seem a wiser or a more foolish decision? Does it seem a more prudent or a more reckless decision? Does it seem a far-sighted or a shortsighted decision? Do we., on a general survey, on the reflection which has come to us since, regret 742 the course we took? Does it seem to be more in the public interest, or less in the public interest, than we thought it then? We had no doubts then—I am speaking for the Government—surveying the situation as it existed in August, we had no doubts whatever as to what, on the whole balance of account when it was summed up, was the right course for the Government to take. Is there anyone here to-day who doubts that the course we then took was the right one? I do not see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in his place; I have no doubt that he has other pro-occupations; but, if he were here, I would ask him, does ho still impugn or challenge the practical wisdom of the step we took? Of course, it may be said that, if we had not taken it, it would all have been over by now. We should be standing amid the ruins of our prosperity, the revival of trade would have been set back indefinitely, and, more than that, we should never even have known that a revival was approaching—it would have been completely swamped and hidden under the deluge of a new misfortune. Pessimism, which does this country so much harm, would have escaped uncorrected; people would have had that feeling of despair that the depression was never going to change, but was imply going to move on from the worst moment into a disaster which would have rendered the worst moment permanent, if it had not even aggravated it greatly. In July, the only choice we could have offered the country was a choice between depression and disaster, but I believe that in May it may be possible for the country to see clearly set before it a choice, not between depression and disaster, but between prosperity and disaster. It may not be a choice, as it was in August, between two forms of cursing, but a choice, such as was offered of old, between blessing and cursing.
It is said that the menace overhangs us. I have not disguised at all the detrimental consequences of that uncertainty and suspense. But for this menace overhanging the coal trade, and through it every industry in the country, I am assured by competent judges that we might be in the full current of a strongly setting tide of industrial revival. That is what is standing in the way more than 743 any other single factor at the present time. But it is better to have a menace overhanging you than to be actually engulfed in an avalanche which has fallen on your head. A man may be very anxious when he is carrying a tray of crockery forward, and his anxiety is removed when he has let it crash to the ground, but the situation is hardly improved. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and some of his friends on those benches, tried their best to provoke the supporters of the Government into a fierce quarrel upon the issue which was then raised. I remember the right hon. Gentleman's taunt about the Government being unable to face cold steel. I myself have been in responsible office during all the four great strikes which have taken place in the last 15 years, two on the railways and two in the mines. Although these experiences are very distressing to anyone who cares about the prosperity of the country and the growth and distribution of wealth among its people, certainly there is nothing in them which is at all comparable to the stresses and anxieties with which those who have held office in those rough times through which we have passed have ever had to face. Certainly we do not feel that this taunt which the right hon. Gentleman flung across the House was one which was compatible with the high responsibilities of a statesman who has led the country through such days of difficulty and peril. I cannot attempt to prophesy what the final result of this coal question will be, or how we shall get round, or get through, the situation which will confront us at the end of April. But even if we assume the worst, I believe that the efforts we have made to avert that worst will have been fully justified. The nation will understand the issue and will respect the Government for the efforts which it has made for peace and for pursuing its convictions of what, in its judgment, was best in the interests of the whole community, without regard to the taunts and jibes which were flung at them.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I agree with two points made by the right hon. Gentleman, the first of which is that, while this is a matter of interest in all parts of the 744 House, no one can be more keenly interested in it than we who sit on these benches. And I hope before sitting down to show what real grounds we have for being interested and for being very concerned about the situation that has developed in the coal trade. The other point with which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman is when he says that in July last the Government had no option but to adopt the payment of a subsidy to the coal trade because of the conditions into which that industry had developed prior to that date. As a matter of fact, in July last there was no settlement in the coal trade. It mattered not how much goodwill had been imported into it either by the owners or the workmen or both. It was not possible at that time to have a settlement. I think it is only right to say that the discontinuance of the subsidy at the present time is altogether unthinkable.
Having agreed to that extent with the right hon. Gentleman I am afraid that I agree with few other of his conclusions or deductions from the situation as it exists to-day. I hope, however, nothing that I am going to say will add to the difficulties of the situation, and I also hope that I may make some suggestions which may tend to improve that position But before getting on to that, I should like to say, first of all, I have a few complaints to make about the form in which this subsidy has been applied. We on this side, and the nation as a whole, have real cause for complaint that the Government in July last adopted the coalowners' proposals without imposing reasonable conditions and without attaching any sort of safeguards. I want the Committee to look for a moment at these proposals. What were they? The miners at that time, and for 15 months previously, had been working under an agreement which ensured to them a wage 33⅓ per cent. above pre-War wages. For some years prior to that, they had been working under an agreement which gave them 20 per cent. above pre-War wages. It is not an exaggeration to say that the miners of this country, except possibly in the Eastern area, have gone through four years of semi-starvation, and that few, if any, bodies of men in this country have endured and suffered the hardships which the miners have. Last July they were receiving wages which left no sort 745 of a margin for reduction. They had these unfavourable conditions, as I have said, for four years, and yet they were prepared to go on with them. It was not they who tendered the notices. It was not they who created the situation of last July. The notices wore tendered by the coalowners. What was the demand put forward? It was that in future they should be relieved of any definite liability to pay any minimum wage at all, that they should be relieved of the liability of paying any percentage at all on any base wage that existed, and that they should be relieved of any liability to pay even a base wage which had been established for 10, 20, 30, or 40 years. It was, in effect, a demand that the workmen should agree to work without any guaranteed wage of any dimensions whatsoever.
That was the demand put forward by the coalowners. I say, with great deliberation—and I select my words when I say it—that there has never been such a brazen proposal submitted to any body of workmen or such a preposterous demand made by any body of employers in the whole history of the industry of this country. That is the demand which they made, and which the workmen resisted, and that is the demand which the Government have conceded, and I say we have cause for complaint about the Government having placed the employers in the pampered position which they occupy to-day. In effect, they said to the coalowners: " Just go on and do as you like. Conduct your business as you care. You need not assume that you have any liabilities whatever for anything like a decent standard of living for the men or, indeed, for any wage at all. Go and sell your coal at any price you like. When your business is done, ascertain what the average proceeds amount to, from those proceeds deduct costs other than wages, and then, if there is any surplus left, give 87 per cent. to the workmen and keep the rest yourselves." It matters not what that 87 per cent. may amount to, or what it may represent in wages. That 87 per cent. of the surplus is all the employers retain, and there is the position to-day under that provision. The 33⅓ per cent. has gone. We have no longer got the 20 per cent. minimum wage under the 1921 agreement. We have no longer got the 1914 wage base. We have not got even that base 746 wage paid. In South Wales to-day the coalowners are paying wages which they paid 18 years ago, and they have never paid such low wages from that date to this.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Colonel Lane-Fox)
But does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that that is all the men are receiving?
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
No, I do not suggest anything of the sort. I suggest that you have placed the coalowners in the position of paying only that wage, and in a few minutes, if I may be allowed to proceed, I shall be able to show what you have done for the industry and the extent to which you are responsible for the position which has been developed. I think it is about time that a few home truths were said about the Mines Department. A Department which is dependent for all its tabulated information upon the Coalowners' Association cannot very well take that impartial attitude in relation to mining matters which it should do. I have said that the wage payable under this arrangement in the Welsh coalfields to-day and which the coalowners are liable for is only 87 per cent. of the wage which they received in pre-War days. The Secretary for Mines asks if that is all they are getting. No, of course it is not. I will give an illustration of the position.
In 1914, what we call our low grade wage men in South Wales received 5s. 4d. a day. That was their pre-War wage. To-day they get 8s. 0¾d. That is the subsistence wage. They were getting it in July, and the employers in July were responsible and liable for the payment of that. To-day what is the position? To-day the employers pay to these men 4s. 7½d. per day, and if the workmen had agreed to the proposals put forward by the coalowners last July, that is every penny they would get, and the same thing is operating in all the coalfields of this country. If you go to Scotland they are getting to-day only 94 per cent. of the pre-War wage, in Northumberland they are getting only 83 per cent. and in Durham they are getting 88 per cent. The Eastern area is the only one area in the coalfields of Britain which is really getting as much wages as they got in pre-War days. Having said that, I think I am entitled to repeat my statement that the coalowners ought 747 never to have been placed in this position. They ought never to have had their demands conceded them as was done By the Government in connection with this subsidy. That is the first complaint I have to make.
The next suggestion or complaint or whatever you like to call it, I have to make is that, in applying this subsidy there was a total disregard of the nature of the coal problem. No sort of regard was had for the problem with which we were faced when this subsidy was decided upon and its method of application was determined. The whole position has been treated as though it were a unified industry, as though all the mines were under common ownership and there was some principle of uniformity in the conditions which existed within the industry. The fact that the coalfields of Britain are composed of 3,000 privately-owned mines, all with varying capacities, seems to have been entirely ignored in the arrangements entered into. I am not very surprised at that, because we know that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who is in charge of the Mines Department takes very little notice of and has not studied the problem from the standpoint of private enterprise at all. When we ask for any information which will give us some idea of how things are going on that basis, his reply is that either it is not available, or that he will get it from the Mining Association for us, and as far as he is concerned he is simply not studying this problem at all from the standpoint of the whole of these mines being privately owned and with many varying conditions existing within the industry.
I think I can illustrate the point I am trying to make with a few figures. When the Sankey Commission sat, Sir Lowes Dickinson placed "before it the results of the general conditions that existed in collieries owned by 675 different firms, of which 136 were in South Wales, and I think those 136 firms represented about 75 per cent. of the output of the coalfield. He analysed, for the purposes of that Commission, the financial position of each of those concerns. First of all, he said, taking the 136 firms as a whole, the position was this. The average proceeds were 21s. 9d. a ton, the costs were 20s. 1d. per ton, and there was a profit of 10d. 748 If those 136 mines had been collectively owned—I am not talking about nationalisation—that would have been the position of the whole of that business represented by those 136 firms. But Sir Lowes Dickinson realised that they were not so owned, and he felt it necessary to put before the Commission the real situation as it existed under the present system of working them, and he therefore grouped them, and he found that of those 136 firms 63, producing 63 per cent. of the output, made profits not of 10d. a ton, but of 2s. 8d. a ton. They had not got a cost of 20s. l1d. Their average cost was 19s. 8d. The other 73 firms, producing 37 per cent. of the output, did not make 10d. a ton profit, but 2s. l1d. a ton loss. The moment you realise that fact you have the South Wales coalfield grouped into two sets of conditions. You have two groups there separated in all their economic aspects one from the other by as great a margin as divides any two coalfields in Britain. If that is pursued you will find that in every coalfield in Britain you have exactly the same kind of conditions, and as between one coalfield and another you will have these disparities existing. What has been done is that there has been a total disregard of all that varying competing capacity in the different coalfields and in the different collieries in each coalfield.
Sir Lowes Dickinson went a step further and showed the costs in each of these cases. Of those firms, 45 had costs varying from 15s. to 20s. a ton, 36 had costs varying from 20s. to 22s. a ton, and 12 had costs varying from 22s. to 25s. a ton, so that you had big blocks of coal in one coalfield, separated in the matter of costs by 4s. or 5s. a ton. which had to compete in the same market, and the result is what we find it in the coal trade to-day. Here you have all these people going, with their varying competing capacity, into a great scramble for such trade as is going, and they are undercutting each other, and the result was that last July prices had gone down to such an extent that it was only the low cost output that could live. The higher cost output had been brought down to a point where they were actually losing money. All these facts have to be borne in mind in connection with it. Some people say that has always been the case. We have always had physical difficulties—internal 749 differences in the collieries, and new and old collieries, and all these things make for varying costs. But we have in the mining industry to-day something we never had before, something we did not have in pre-War days, and something that has not been taken into account at all in "the fixing of this subsidy, and that is the fact that a portion of the industry has been efficiently equipped and has had imported into it machinery and modern methods such as never existed before. As a matter of fact, we had in this industry in pre-War days about 400 coal conveyors. To-day we have 1,400. In pre-War days we had 3,000 coal cutters. We have now seven or eight thousand, cutting about 50,000,000 tons of coal. Since pre-War days electric motors have increased to the extent of over 800,000 horse-power. If that had taken place over the whole industry it would have been a great, good thing, but it has been concentrated on about 40 per cent. of the industry and, as a consequence of that, you have 40 per cent. of the coalowners who have a competing capacity and who determine the market and dominate the prices, and leave the other people stranded high and dry.
That is the real problem with which the coal trade is faced. It is represented by figures of that kind. What is happening? We are giving the subsidy to all alike. I have known in the Welsh coalfields two colliery companies producing each a million tons a year, and the cost in the one case is 5s. more than the other. Those two concerns go on to the market, and that with the lower costs gets the contract. The subsidy is given, and it enables the one with the high cost to cut his prices, but the other has gone down and the relative position of the two is left unchanged. It has solved nothing at all but has simply driven down prices, and what is the effect of that? It is seen month by month in the subsidy that has to be paid. In August the average subsidy for South Wales was 2s. 6d. a ton. In September it was 3s. 8d., in October 4s., and this month it is 4s. 10d. a ton. What ought to have been done in connection with this business was for the Secretary for Mines to study the situation which actually exists in this great industry. If prior to last July he had ascertained what the real situation was 750 and had developed a scheme ready for July and come along and said, "If the miners and mine owners will produce a scheme for solving the coal problem, the Government will put £25,000,000 into the scale to help you," I undertake to say there would have been such an effort on the part of the miners and mine owners as would almost certainly have resulted in a scheme being devised which would have brought about a solution of this problem, instead of which all that is being put through the sieve and the industry is left unchanged. No subsidy ought ever to have been agreed to which did not associate with it some scheme for the re-equipping and modernising and making efficient and reorganising of this great industry. There is ample material upon which to work to devise a scheme of that sort, and had that been done there would have been a great step in advance. I am not criticising the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer because that scheme was not devised, because they have plenty of other things to do, but certainly the Mines Department ought to have had a scheme of that kind in existence. Had they been following up the actual position in the industry they would certainly have imposed a number of conditions under which this subsidy would have been paid.
Let me give another case. In the South Wales coalfield we have what is known as the Powell Duffryn Company. They own several collieries. The least that could have been done would be to say, "If you are going to draw public funds you are not to close any of your collieries during this period as long as the whole of your concern is a paying proposition." There is the ocean. They have many collieries. They closed down one colliery in my district and another at Aberavon, and yet they have a good profitable concern. There is an anthracite colliery where it is admitted they have made £238,000 profits in the last balance sheet, and yet they have closed down a colliery. They are getting public funds although they are making hundreds of thousands of pounds profit. The profit is four or five shillings a ton, but the Government have not taken the precaution of saying, "You are not to close down any collieries while this is running." If that is the kind of thing we are to expect from the 751 treatment of this subject I do not think very much good can result from its operation, but very much good might have resulted and a solution might have been reached. There is ample opportunity for the Secretary for Mines between now and next May to endeavour to prevent a thing developing which has gone right up to now. We had in July in South Wales—and the same thing applies to all the other coalfields—a gap of 1s. a ton. We could not fill that gap last July. It has been widened, and we have now a gap of 5s. The industry cannot live on the prices that are being charged. Competition is bringing prices dawn to a point where it is impossible for the industry to live, and what ought to be done is to stop that process now, otherwise you are going to have a situation next May which nothing in the world can fill, and possibly there will be serious trouble. In these circumstances I hope the Minister of Mines will look very carefully into this and see if it is not possible to bring some kind of influence to bear upon the coal-owners to prevent this downward tendency and the expanding of this gap with which we are faced between now and next May.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
With much of the right hon. Gentleman's speech I think everyone interested and having any knowledge of the coal industry will agree. The average figures which are so often quoted are extremely misleading. Average figures usually are misleading. The right hon. Gentleman based himself on the average figures of the industry, by which he proved that if the subsidy had not been granted, a loss would have been made by the industry which would have ruined it. As a matter of fact, that is not a true presentment of what has taken place in the industry, or what would have taken place. As has been pointed out already, in every coalfield a certain number of collieries are making money and a certain number are doing badly. The number of collieries which are doing well may be not so large as one would wish, but they are quite considerable in number, and, if no subsidy had been given, and wages had remained where they were, they would still be operating. Some would be making a profit.
752 The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured, not unnaturally, to make the best of a very poor case. I Jo not think he altogether succeeded. One serious criticism which can and must be brought against the action of the Government in July is that in a matter which was public knowledge for months in the whole of the industrial world, they took no steps and no action, except a negative one, until the eleventh hour. The right hon. Gentleman, when he reintroduced the gold standard, did so for the prime reason of the decline of British coal exports. There can be no controversy on that subject. He foreshadowed, in his speech in the reasons which he gave, that the re-introduction of the gold standard must naturally and automatically produce a decline of wages. Nobody quarrels with these economic maxims. What I am amazed about is that, with his usual foresight, he did not realise that the economic action he was taking then must produce disaster in the coal trade and consequently create a large amount of unemployment in the industry, and must lead to a serious industrial crisis, in which the Government were bound to take a part.
As a matter of fact, the subsidy is a re-inflation of that of which the reintroduced gold standard is a deflation. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. From that point of view, I do not quarrel with him. I objected to the first step, but I say that it would have been more logical either not to have taken the first step, or, having taken it, to continue through with it. It is most illogical to deflate in an industrial crisis, and then in a moment of panic, without consideration, without any safeguard, and without any real knowledge of what you are doing, suddenly to throw £;20,000,000 or £;25,000,000 into the pot. The right hon. Gentleman has not explained why this sudden change of heart took place. Every argument which he produced as to the misery, the deprivation, the degradation, the danger of a great industrial upheaval was just as obvious on that afternoon as it is now, and it had been obvious for months. It had been staring us in the face.
The impression which the right hon. Gentleman and the Government gave was very bad. The impression they gave was not that they had surrendered to logical 753 reason and clear argument, but that they had surrendered to what he himself called extortion and ransom. I think on reflection he will be sorry that he used those words. It is a terrible thing to imagine that in a Government backed by an enormous majority, Ministers should stand up and practically admit that the step they took was to give way to extortion and ransom. I do not think that was a fair way of putting the case. The industry, as the right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) said, was in a bad way. The. difficulties of adjustment were very considerable. Demands were made on both sides, not all of which were reasonable, and not all of which were expected to be granted, but, as is usual in disputes in the coal trade, these demands were supposed to be a start of something which after long, protracted negotiations and bargaining, would finally be adjusted. The fact that the negotiations broke down is not entirely conclusive that no agreement could be reached on a reasonable plan. We have seen that happen often before.
What has the subsidy achieved? Another Royal Commission. We have had endless Royal Commissions in the coal industry. What is there about the coal industry which everybody does not know? What is there further to be ascertained? No industry has been more discussed. There is no industry about which there has been more complete statistics, negotiations, and discussions between the mine owners and the representatives of the workmen and in which every investigation has not been made and every possible phase of information has not been ascertained. The Government have an expensive Department, recently created, whose function it is to know all about the coal industry, and yet when we get into a difficulty, what happens is that some eminent gentlemen, who know nothing about the industry, are set up to tell everybody what to do. I hope they will arrive at some conclusion.
All that could have been done long before July. The fact that the agreement was coming to an end was well known. What the Government have produced is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted was most undesirable, namely, they have created suspense and uncertainty—suspense and uncertainty 754 which depends upon the Report of the Coal Commission, and the decision of the Government as to the continuance of the subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman remarked that in every export trade long contracts are required. But nobody in the coal trade knows what is going to happen in the industry next May. The development of collieries is being interrupted. Nobody will sink any new pits or undertake any new enterprises, or obtain any fresh finance. That is the result all over the country. For six or eight months the development of this great industry is held up because the Government sorely missed taking the obvious step of considering this matter at the proper time.
The result of the subsidy must have been disappointing to the authors, if not to the recipients. It has not been instrumental, practically, in restarting any-closed mines; it has affected very little the question of unemployment, and it has improved very little the condition of our export coal trade. There was a theory in coal export circles that a reduction of, say, 2s. 6d. a ton on export coal would result in our recapturing markets that had gone to Germany and other countries. Reductions were made, but the markets were not recaptured. It was overlooked that our competitors could also make reductions. The German Government is contemplating giving a subsidy. Germany no more than Great Britain can afford to have its coal industry put out of action. The fact is that in Europe there is a vast overproduction of coal. We produce more coal than the export markets can take. Recently, 8,000,000 tons of coal were lying on the banks of the Ruhr, pledged to a bank at a, high rate of interest, deteriorating at a considerable rate, and it had to be sold at any knock-out price. When you have conditions like that it is impossible for the coal trade to return to prosperity.
This is an industrial problem which must be tackled, and it is necessary for those who are responsible for the marketing of the product to endeavour to make arrangements to enable all the countries to sell a reasonable proportion of their production at a proper price, and at a price which will enable them to pay the man who is the backbone of the industry a reasonable wage. That is the key to the difficulty we are in. It is a commer- 755 cial question rather than a technical one. I believe from what I have heard from well-informed quarters that a proposition of that kind would not by any means be impossible to carry out. The subsidy has left the Government and the right hon. Gentleman in this position, that there is increased coal competition in this country and in the world. Those who are doing well have been able to give away the subsidy to their customers, and thereby to keep the less favoured ones in the position they were in before. That is one reason why, although some sections of the industry may have benefited by the lowering of the coal prices, the coal industry, as a whole, is not finding itself in that prosperous position which some people would expect.
Does it not strike hon. Members as a curious thing and almost a paradox that an industry which produces a prime necessity, a fundamental industry of the country, should be carried on on unprofitable lines, and that the owners in that industry should find it difficult to go on paying those engaged in what is one of the most hazardous and unpleasant industrial tasks in this country, a good wage? Surely that in itself shows that something is wrong. Coal is not a luxury. It is not a thing that people can do without. It is not an article that depends upon fashion. It is a prime necessity. There is more need for a selling organisation here than in any other industry, and for steps to be taken to stabilise prices, so as to enable all the partners in the industry to live in peaceable and more prosperous and reasonable conditions. The right hon. Gentleman is not happy about the position. He said that whereas in July we had depression and disaster, he hoped in May he would be able to show prosperity and disaster.
§ Sir A. MOND
I hope we shall not have further depression and disaster. If it is a case of prosperity or disaster, what is going to happen when the contrast is shown? Surely the pressure to continue the subsidy will be irrestible, if you come to a period when what you offer the people is the difference between prosperity and disaster. Is the Government then going to plump for disaster or to continue prosperity by continuing the subsidy? That 756 is a question to which an answer is wanted. The right hon. Gentleman, not unnaturally, and quite carefully, attempted with some skill to give no reply to that. He adopted the silence of the Sphinx, an attitude which is not very usual with him. He made an appeal which was reasonable and one which I wish to re-echo, and that is, whether the industry cannot get together and, before the crucial date, formulate a scheme to put before the Government. I am convinced that nobody except those engaged in the industry are really able to formulate a scheme for the benefit of the industry. Everybody must recognise the parlous position of the industry. It is no use delaying coming to such an arrangement on the ground that some Members of this House and some people in the country believe that an entirely different economic system would be more beneficial to the industry and to the workers. That system does not commend itself to the majority of this House, and I do not believe that it commends itself to the majority in the country. It therefore could not be introduced, if ever, for many years.
In the meantime, the industry must be carried on, and the miner and all engaged about the mines must be provided with reasonable wages, and unemployment in the industry must be diminished. There are responsible leaders among the miners, just as there are responsible people about the coalowners, who must try to arrive at a scheme which might enable the Government—I do not say it will—to assist the industry, not necessarily by means of what I consider a crude, unsatisfactory and somewhat unfair subsidy, but in other ways to help the industry along and to facilitate a settlement. It is a terrible thing to imagine that one of our vital industries in this country should continually, as it has been in my experience for years, be threatened with these terrible crises and strikes which lead to losses for everybody and finally to benefits for nobody.
§ Sir A. MOND
Whatever they are, they are interruptions of industry, and they cause loss to those who have placed their money in the industry and loss to those who work in it.
§ Sir A. MOND
It seems to me that the speech made by the right hon. Member for Ogmore, who is himself a leader in that industry, and knows it intimately, is a. very hopeful sign. It is no use discussing to-day whether the Government did right or wrong in July last. The party to which I belong still dislikes the manner in which this step was taken by the Government and the method by which their policy was carried out. But the step was taken, and it is now impossible for any Government to reverse the position. That being so, I and those associated with me are not going to press to a Division the Amendment on the Paper. This is not, to my mind, a question in which party controversy is necessary. I am not going to discuss the somewhat controversial points that the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced in his contest with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). All I say is that the settlement of 1921 was a settlement which produced peace for a number of years. The subsidy now under discussion is no settlement, although it provides quiescence for a time.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
When the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) discusses the question of rings in industry, I think the whole House and the country outside pay attention, because they have no doubt that they are listening to an expert. On the contrary, when he advocates inflation in this House the interest rather lapses. I myself and, I believe, the general public, will pay much more attention to his advocacy of the policy of inflation when he adopts it in his own business. When we see the great firm of Brunner Mond and Company writing up its stock on a falling market and in other ways carrying out the policy that the right hon. Gentleman recommends as a national policy, we will regard his advocacy of inflation as being as genuine as his advocacy of rings and trusts. So far as the inflationary part of his speech was concerned, and so far as the disasters which he says have overtaken the coal trade owing to the restoration of the gold standard are concerned, I ask the Committee to calculate for themselves exactly what has been the percentage effect on prices of the restoration of the gold 758 standard, and upon the wages of the miners. The figures are available from the records, and I think it will be found that the effect upon the wages is a matter of farthings and halfpennies only.
§ Sir A. MOND
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but does he deny the fact that the restoration of the gold standard has made a difference of 2s. a ton in the export price?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I deny that absolutely. The subsidy has had more effect on the export price than the restoration of the gold standard. With the right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench, I join issue on many details. He drew attention to the enormous variation in the cost of production, even within the same district and the same colliery. But surely he forgot to say that one of the main reasons for the difference in the cost of production, quite apart from geological reasons, is the insistence of himself and his friends in the Miners' Federation upon an absolutely non-variable wage instead of allowing wages to suit themselves to the conditions in various pits. I will give an example. In my own district of Lancashire the geological conditions on the whole are unfavourable as compared with those in Yorkshire, and particularly with those in the Doncaster district. We have much more difficult seams to work, some of the pits are old pits, there is broken ground, and, generally speaking, our markets are not so constant as the markets for the Doncaster district. Against that we have the fact that the collieries of Lancashire are very largely in textile districts, and members of the miners' families are able to find work in other industries.
For example, a miner's boys normally go into the pits, but the girls find occupation at very fair wages indeed in the textile industry of the same district. In the Doncaster district there is not that possibility. The boys of a family no doubt will go into the pits, but, unless the girls of the family take up domestic service at a distance, the wage of the Doncaster miner must be at a higher rate than that of the Lancashire miner in any circumstances. This fact was brought to my notice when serving during the War. Towards the end of the War there were sent to us large numbers of colliery lads 759 from the Somersetshire coalfields, with which I was not acquainted. I was very interested to find that all these lads who came from the pits in Somerset were also skilled agriculturists. As a result it is possible to work the very difficult seams in the Somerset area, where there is an indifferent quality of coal, and to work them where, if there had not been the alternative trade of agriculture to be followed, it would have been impossible for them to provide a living wage throughout the year. Any attempt to get national settlements of wages and even settlements over a whole district is bound to be defeated in the long run because of these facts. The conditions are not the same in different districts. You sometimes find geological difficulties in a mining area counterbalanced by certain economic conditions which enable a lower wage to be paid and enable the coal to be mined.
There is another factor and a very important factor. It is the personal factor and relates to the competence of those who are managing the pits. The right hon. Member for Ogmore referred to one of the great colliery companies of South Wales. It is notorious that in the case of that particular company they have at the head of affairs men of really outstanding ability. As the right hon. Gentleman told us, pits which show a loss are bought up at very low prices without great capital expenditure and are converted into paying concerns. He must admit, therefore, that the personal equation is very important indeed. To combine artificially large groups of pits does not enable those who are concerned with the matter to find out who are the competent people and who are the incompetent people. No Government Department could possibly judge, because there is no criterion as to whether a man is capable of conducting an industry or not, except that of allowing him to go on until he reaches the bankruptcy court, unless he conducts the business properly. The Right hon. Gentleman, I think, drew wrong conclusions from sound premises.
Let me turn now to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall be supported by people outside if I say that his optimism to-day did immense credit 760 to his nature, if not to his capabilities as a prophet. A large number of merchants contracts are expiring at the end of the year, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, those contracts are being renewed at lower prices than the expiring contracts, which means a further burden upon this subvention. Again, I understand that the railway companies, who are very important customers, find that they are in position now to bargain with a strength that they had not before, and that therefore, they anticipate getting their coal in the ensuing year at a very considerable reduction on present prices. Further, when we come to the question of exports it seems to me that theoretically there is absolutely no limit to the amount of the subvention that may be necessary. It is all very well to argue that the method of ascertainment by districts and not by individual concerns does put in a safeguard and a limit to the amount of the subsidy.
But contemplate a district almost entirely concerned with the export trade, a comparatively small district with a comparatively small number of large mining companies, a district in which presumably everybody knows everybody else and knows what everybody else is quoting for coal f.o.b. Suppose that it is a district where there is very little difference geologically or in the market. There is a natural tendency to quote lower and lower f.o.b., in order to meet the lower and lower prices of foreign competitors. The coalowners concerned are able to increase their output, knowing that they cannot lose on it, and that they may make a profit of a few pence a ton. It is obviously their duty to their shareholders. If they see that they can make a small profit and continue to make that profit large in the aggregate by increasing their output, then they act up to their duty to those who have invested their money in the concern, and they increase their output, and the subvention becomes larger and larger. I also join issue with the right hon. Member for Ogmore, who hinted that this plan of the subvention was a plan put forward by the Mining Association of Great Britain during the negotiations. I do not think that that statement is quite correct.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Then I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I thought that he implied that. It is common knowledge that the plan was greatly disliked by the mineowners, and that they did their level best to prevent its adoption. As it was put to them that on patriotic grounds they should not refuse the solution, as by force majeure they were compelled to accept such settlement, one can hardly condemn them for benefiting by it. Since they said in effect, "If you insist on doing this thing, we will carry out the arrangement," no responsibility can now rest on them. For all these reasons I do not think that the estimate of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is likely to be realised. I think he will find, when the ascertainments are made for the earlier months of next year, that the estimate is very much exceeded. It is impossible to condemn root and branch the settlement that was made. I still think that a mistake was made in tactics, but I am forced to admit that the grounds upon which the Government came to their decision were grounds to which the utmost weight must be given.
It so happens that members of the Government have been kind enough to tell mo a good many of the reasons, and they certainly were very cogent. At the time I think many of us here were inclined to think that this was the end of all things in industry, that the Government had made a complete and utter surrender. Yet now we should not adopt quite such an antagonistic attitude. We do not suggest that it was a surrender to violence, but I and those who think with me, claim to reserve our judgment, and we also claim, in spite of what has been said, that the bolder course would have been found the safer.
§ Mr. POTTS
I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state that of this subvention over 90 per cent. has gone in wages. I wish to take up that point and to say at once that 90 per cent. has not gone in wages, and, as a matter of fact, the subvention itself was not in reality given for the purpose of augmenting wages, but was the result of a bargain made by the Government with the coal-owners and not with the miners. I thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have told us more than he did. The right hon. Gentleman must know, if 762 he is not badly advised, what is the present position of the industry. The mining situation is such that, if the industry proceeds on the lines on which it has been proceeding since last July, it will be in a worse position than it was in at the time when the subsidy was arranged between the Government and the coalowners. I desire to give some facts indicating how we are drifting and what the existing condition of things is likely to produce. I do not wish to go a long way back in giving figures; I propose to quote from, the figures of commercial disposals in the eastern area of the coal trade, dated 31st March of this year. This area, in round figures, represents about one-third of the total, and I isolate it because it is always deemed to be the most prosperous area in connection with the coal trade.
I desire to show the Committee exactly how we stand in that area and to demonstrate the situation in so far as the figures are available. On 31st March the commercial disposals in the Eastern area in tonnage came to upwards of 20,000,000 tons. The cash received for the tonnage was £;18,830,000. I wish to show the fall in price us from the beginning of the subsidy and to suggest to the Department in charge of the mining industry that they ought to have been on the alert and ought not to have allowed it to occur. The average price on 31st March for the coal sold at that time was 18s. 1.87d. At the end of June this year the tonnage of coal sold was just over 17,500,000 tons, the actual money was .£;14,721,000, and the actual average price realised was 16s. 8.94d.
Let us examine how the country as a whole stands. For the whole country, on 31st March, the commercial disposals exceeded 56,800,000 tons, the money realised was over £;52,698,000, and the actual average price was 18s. 6.3d. In June, in the whole country the commercial disposals fell to just over 50,000,000 tons, and the money realised was £;43,623,000, equal to a price of 17s. 5.03d. Let us now bring the figures for the Eastern area up to date. We find, taking September and October, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred in his statement, that the tonnage in the Eastern area was 6,145,416 tons in the month of August, and the money realised was £;4,376,348. That is a fall in the selling price to 14s. 2.91d. When we take the month of 763 September, we find the figures are as follows: Actual tonnage output, 7,012,000 tons; money realised, £;4,953,106; average price, 14s. l.51d. In the month of October, the tonnage was 7,859,311 tons, the money realised was £;5,584,187, and the selling price was 14s. 2.52d. For the full three months, the output was 21,017,486 tons, and the proceeds amounted to £;14,913,641. The average over the whole of the three months is 14s. 2.29d.
What does that mean? That the actual selling price of coal from the period of the trouble when the arrangement of the subsidy was made, down to the last three months, has fallen by more than 4s. a ton or by more than the actual subsidy. Who has got the benefit? The miners have not got it. The coalowners in the end are not going to get it. The people who have got that subsidy are the people who are buying the coal. The reduction in the price will bring all that subsidy back to the public to whom we sell the coal. The figures and facts show that it is going straight to the buyer of coal and is not being left in the industry to augment profits or wages. These are facts to which the Secretary for Mines should pay attention. As regards the agreement, when I examine it I find that what the Government have agreed to is exactly in accordance with the arrangement made between the miners and the employers in 1921, which was a dictated policy, laid down by the owners after our defeat. In 1921, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was then Prime Minister, said; "The pits that cannot pay must go out of existence." That is what the right hon. Gentleman told us, and I was there at the time. But the first consideration in the mining industry —and this should be recognised by the House of Commons and the nation— should be the interests of those working in the industry and their families. Those interests should be considered before profit. If we want a proper race of people, we must arrange conditions under which they can live properly.
The industry is not managed well at the present time. Hon. Members on the other side of the Committee may not know what we know, but I ask them to take the remarks of the Chief Inspector, Sir Thomas Mottram, when he was in 764 Yorkshire, and also the remarks of his predecessor. What do they say? Sir Thomas Mottram's report, made when he was in charge of Yorkshire, said that only one-third of the mines in Yorkshire were equipped in an up-to-date manner for the production of cheap coal. If Yorkshire was in that position, what about the rest of the country? Yorkshire is, practically speaking, recognised as being in advance of other districts as regards the coal trade. If we are to deal with this matter next May on a proper economic basis, there will have to be a drastic change. The Government must look deeper than they have been looking up to now for the cause of the trouble. Let me give a word of warning to those who say that the only way to make the industry economic is to reduce wages and increase hours. I tell hon. Members opposite and the country that if the hours of the working miner are attacked, I, for one, and, I believe, all the Labour party, will resist the proposal. I myself have worked in a mine since I was 12 years of age and, even to-day, the life of the miner is not what it ought to be.
In 1921, I had the pleasure of putting the case on behalf of the mining industry for shorter hours at the inquiry, and we established a case by which we got a concession of an hour. I said then, and it was challenged by coalowners, that given proper attention, proper supervision and a proper means of tackling the situation, in a few years time this country would be able to produce, under shorter hours, the full quantity produced in 1913. I said it was only a matter of tackling the problem in the right spirit and in the right way, and if we were to have success we must have co-operation. It was then said, however, "Get wages right and everything else will come right." Has that been the case? Wages have gone down to below the minimum at which the people in the industry ought to be expected to live, but the industry has not righted itself in consequence. I appeal to hon. Members between now and next May to give due attention to these considerations. Otherwise, when May arrives we will find ourselves faced with one of the most gigantic and difficult problems which we have ever had to face in this country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
There is one thing that one has noticed very 765 clearly in the course of this Debate, and that is that whoever has spoken, to whichever party he belonged, he has endeavoured, to the best of his ability, to keep politics out. I am quite certain that that is the only way in which we can take notice of the coal situation at the present time. It is not for us in this House—indeed, it is not for anyone in the country at the present time—to look upon this as a political question. It has been removed from politics, for the time being, by the Government having referred the subject to this Royal Commission. In that way, and in that way alone, I, personally, think that the policy of the Government in granting the subvention is completely justified. I think that anyone who has been in touch, more or less, with the mining industry during the last few months must have noticed that there has come this change in the situation, that the granting of the subvention has, at any rate, had an effect—I am not talking for the moment about an economic effect, but a psychological effect—upon all parties in the industry.
In the part of the world from which I have the honour to come, the county of Durham, I know that both the owners and the men are looking upon this matter far more as an economic question that can be adjusted between them than was the case formerly. Certainly, the change in the attitude of mind from August to November is very noticeable, and I shall be surprised if other hon. Members who come from the county of Durham do not say the same thing. That is a. great achievement, and something for which we can be grateful, because this is primarily an economic question. I was very glad to see that the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), after attacking, more or less kindly, I thought, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, also decided that this was no longer a question of politics. You can quite easily pick holes in the manner in which the subvention, has been granted and the way in which it is administered. I, personally, think some of the criticisms delivered from the front Opposition Bench were rather uncalled for, but that is a matter of opinion, and I shall not venture to enlarge upon that subject at the present time. What I do think is that we must make up our minds that it is primarily a matter for the industry itself to settle. That was 766 the reason why the Government was so long in coming to its decision about granting this subvention. It left it to the last minute, because it thought, as we all on this side think, that this is primarily a question for the industry, and that it is not a matter in which the Government should step in unless it is absolutely necessary.
I think that when May comes we shall find that both parties will have got together. It is absurd to suppose that you can settle this great question, from the point of view of the owners, by simply saying that you cannot make this trade pay unless the men will take less money and work longer hours. That could only be a temporary settlement of the question; it could not be a permanent solution. The question that we have to settle to-day is how we are to regain our lost markets and, at the same time, keep up the proper standard of wages for the men who are working in the mines, and I think that all owners of collieries realise that perfectly well. But the problem is a gigantic one, because admittedly there are many mines in this country which cannot pay their way, and the real problem, I think, that we have to face, and that we shall have to face, is how we are going to find work for miners when they are no longer able to be employed in the mines.
That is the real problem that is at issue, because there is no doubt about it that we cannot anticipate in the future anything like the coal trade that we have had in the past. Putting aside altogether the way in which coal is threatened by other means of power, such as electricity and oil, which we have discussed ad nauseam in this House in other Debates on the coal question, we have to realise that the coal of other countries is being much more rapidly developed than it used to be before the War, and therefore I, for one, do not anticipate that the coal trade of this country will ever be in the same favourable position as it was in the past. The problem that we have to face is a problem far bigger industrially than anything that this country has had to face in the past, and that is why I appeal in this House, as I appeal wherever I speak on this subject, to all parties to forget for the moment that they are trying to press forward a 767 particular political view of their own, and to think only of this great economic question which affects so many thousands of our people, and to pull together in the right way and in the right spirit.
§ Mr. WARNE
I want to follow in the same spirit as that of the hon. and gallant Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam), who has just sat down, and I will not trouble the Committee more than a moment or two, because I do not want to deal with the details of the problem confronting the mining industry at the present time. That problem is well known, but the aspect of it that wants emphasising is that it is not entirely the old problem that has confronted us at certain periods. It is somewhat of a new problem, but the question to which I want to draw attention is more as to the spirit in which we in this country are going to approach the month of May. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, I believe, to-day really tried to deliver a pacific speech, but the right hon. Gentleman has thrown around himself such a martial atmosphere that, even when he is making a pacific speech, he utters sentences which give those who are listening to them an impression quite different from what the right hon. Gentleman wished to convey. He has made a statement to-day which, I am satisfied, when it is read in the Press to-morrow, will be construed differently from the way in which it was intended by the right hon. Gentleman. He was talking about the situation at the end of last July, and these are the words that he used: "We have postponed the crisis until we can deal with it more effectively." It is because of what preceded the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that I am satisfied an entirely different interpretation will be put upon his statement when it is read by the working men in this country to-morrow.
Sitting here on 7th August, when the Estimate was submitted for the subvention to the industry, I heard two speeches delivered from the Front Bench opposite, one by the Prime Minister himself and one by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Ninety-five per cent. of the speeches were admirable under the circumstances, but there was still 5 per cent. which had that defiant note, the same as we have heard to-day, to the effect that the country has been "held up," and that sort of thing.
768 I want to say that, if that gets abroad, or if that is the spirit in which we are going to approach this problem when May comes, there will be no solution of the problem. I want us to realise exactly what has happened since last July. Fascism has got a following. They believe there is work for them to do in the future. "O.M.S." has become quite an institution in our land. The Government itself is not free, for it has issued certain instructions to the local authorities of this country. All this is creating an atmosphere of mistrust. I want to say that I disagree entirely with the remarks of certain trade union leaders in this country, which are creating an atmosphere of utter fatalism, to the effect that nothing can be done in May and that this country has got to he plunged into one of those internal catastrophes which I protest against, because it is the people of my class who are the worst sufferers in he long run.
Can we not from now onward—and I am speaking for my colleagues on these benches—can this House and the Government not from now onward create an atmosphere that is going to be helpful when May comes? Why, we have got, if we care to examine our international affairs, a wonderful example of what could be done in six months. Everybody remembers the marchers to Berlin at the end of the War, the people who wanted to do that, but the Locarno Pact is a long way from that. There was a spirit engendered, I have no doubt by the grim economic forces at work, but it has come. Surely, when we look at Ireland, we see the same thing. There are still people who think that the only way to settle affairs in Ireland is to sink them in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but the Irish Treaty is a long way from that. Surely then, seeing these things work, can we not create an atmosphere, and work so that when May comes some permanent solution, or at any rate, something in the way of a solution that is going to lead us to a greater solution, may be arrived at, so far as the mining industry of this country is concerned?
I believe that, with that goodwill that should be prevailing in this country, we can get through this crisis, which everybody says is impending and is going to land us into catastrophe. Given a spirit of hopelessness, your Commission's Re- 769 port will be a useless document, but given a spirit of goodwill on both sides, the Commission's Report, I am satisfied, will be a charter for the miners of this country which will make for the benefit of themselves, of the mining industry, and of the nation at large. Both sides, from now on till May, have got to abandon many of the obsessions and ideas and dogmas that are occupying their minds at the present time. Let the owners abandon, and the Government give no countenance to, the notion that the only solution for the mining industry is for the miners to sacrifice the already too low standards that they have at the present time, and Jet it come from the miners—and I will put it up here for them to-day—that they are willing. The great mass of the miners and their wives and children are looking to a happier existence for the contribution and the service they render to carry on this very important industry.
If we look at it from that point of view, I am satisfied that if this House and the Government will only bend to, and let the country and the miners and mineowners know, a solution of this thing must be found. The country cannot afford a struggle, and even if we get into a struggle, are the problems solved? Why, they are intensified a thousand times. Seeing the uselessness of conflict internationally, seeing the uselessness of conflict inside the British Commonwealth, I put in my plea that the same spirit of good will, based on that experience, should now be brought to aid in the settlement of the problems confronting the mining industry of this country.
Mr. ROY WILSON
I had not really intended to take any part in this Debate this afternoon, but I rise for a very few minutes to associate myself entirely with the most excellent speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. I can only say it is my profound belief, that if the spirit he outlined in his most eloquent speech can permeate not only this House but also all those in the country who are so ardently desiring a, settlement of this dispute, a settlement will be arrived at, and one that will be entirely satisfactory to all parties concerned. I know something of the miner, representing, as I do, a mining industry, and I want to make my position perfectly clear in one respect. I shall be no party, so 770 far as I am concerned, to any proposals which mean a lower standard of life for the miner and his family, and I am perfectly certain I am voicing not only my own opinion but the opinion of all Members in this House, especially the younger Members of the Conservative party, when I say that we are entirely at one with hon. Members on the Opposition side in the view that the miner's standard of living must cot be reduced.
I would like to associate myself, if I may, with the very eloquent speech delivered by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam). I am quite certain this is an economic question which can be dealt with on sound, business lines if all parties will get together. Undoubtedly, as he said—and I entirely agree—there are too many mines badly producing coal which, possibly, may have to be closed down, but, at any rate, some solution on business lines must be found for those particular mines which are more or less out-of-date, and my word to the Government—if I may offer a word to the Government on this point —is this. I do hope that they will not wait until May comes, or whatever date this Commission produces its report, but that the Minister of Mines and the Government will work with one end in view, and that is to do everything they can in the four months which lie before us to transmit both to the mine owners and the miners' representatives the views which have been expressed in this House this afternoon, and so ably expressed by the last speaker from the Opposition benches. If those four months are wisely used, whatever the Commission's report may be, men of good will will get together, and I, for one, am convinced that one result, and one result only, will accrue, and that is that we shall see a happy settlement of this dispute, and one which will in no way lower the standard of the miners, who deserve the sympathy of everyone in this country.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
I am not sure that we should not get a peaceful solution of the trouble in the mining industry if, as the last speaker said, men of good will would come together and try to find a means of settlement. We on this side profess to be men of good will, and we have on innumerable occasions met the coalowners with a very keen 771 desire to get a settlement, because the last man who is anxious to have anything to do with a dispute, large or small, is a trade union official. We are not going about dragging out coat-tails for someone to tread on, so that we can get up a fight. We are seeking to get a settlement, and while we agree that it is an economic question, we do not agree that it is absolutely and entirely free from politics. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Debate to-day, made it perfectly plain that the intention of the Government is to await the report of the Commission. Part of the duty of that Commission is to submit recommendations that might require legislation again. I hope legislation is not going to be introduced by the Government to reduce the miner's wage, but there is a probability that some of you are hoping that this more or less Tory Commission will suggest legislation that will give the Government justification for increasing the working hours, because there are some people who imagine that the output would be very largely increased if the working hours were lengthened. Curiously enough, the same people say that any number of mines will have to be closed down, and fewer men will have to be employed in the industry.
I want to suggest, with the very best will in the world, that if the industry were organised on a reasonably sound, economic basis, there would be no need, and there never would have been any demand particularly from the miners, for any subsidy. We do not want any money from the State, and it is a mistake to imagine that we are wedded to any particular theory. As things are at the moment, I am a believer in nationalisation, but I am not a bigoted nationaliser. If there were a veal attempt along the lines of good will, if we were to be taken into confidence, and looked upon as people who knew something about the industry, and were treated as equals in an attempt to find a solution, then we do not care what name you give it, provided it means contentment so far as the workmen are concerned, and well-being so far as the community is concerned, because I want to make it perfectly plain that patriotism is not the monopoly of the men and women on the other side, and neither is citizenship. The miner is a citizen in this 772 country, and the miners' leaders look upon it as the duty of the miner to consider the interest of the country as being greater than the interest of himself or the class to which we belong. But we expect to get some sort of recognition of equality in that respect from gentlemen on the opposite side, and particularly the coalowners. I was very pleased to hear the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Head-lam). I would like to know whether he is only giving his own personal opinion, of that of the coalowners. If he is giving the opinion of the coalowners, then there is a possibility of some sort of arrangement, with Government assistance being secured, that will obviate the necessity of any drastic measure being taken either on the one side or the other.
I am not giving hope that the prospects are as pleasant as one would imagine from statements by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am just doubtful that when the period comes along for the subsidy to end, the conditions will not be sufficiently improved at least to warrant the Government withdrawing the subsidy, and I want to put to the Government the advisability of considering the continuance of the subsidy until men of good will on all sides meet together and try to find a solution of the difficulty. It would be wrong of me to lead the House to conclude that we would accept the imposition of worsened conditions. Nothing but starvation will compel the men to work under worse conditions than at the present time. It is said there are too many men on the mines. My complaint is that there are many men drawing very considerable salaries, and very considerable advantages from the mining industry, who are neither near the mines nor working underground. You have thousands of agents and thousands of directors. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir E Home) is not present, and taking some part in this discussion. I understand he is a director of a colliery company, in South Wales, and as a matter of fact the Colliery Year Book gives the information that he, along with nine other directors, form the directorate of the colliery, although there are only 14 working above and below ground. There are thousands of directors of coal mines, but I will not say they are, except for a very 773 few, necessary to the working of the coal industry. As a matter of fact, they are a hindrance rather than a help, and if the question is to be considered from an economic standpoint, I think we should be entitled to ask that those who are not essential to the industry, such as agents and directors, should be entirely eliminated from it.
So far as we are concerned, we recognise that the Government did the right thing in July, and I think they are entitled to the meed of praise we can give them from these benches for the action they took, and for saving us from something in the nature of a catastrophe, because it would have been a catastrophe if a stoppage of the kind that was likely to take place had taken place. To some it would have meant civil war. We do not want war of any kind, far less war inside our own country. The Government are perfectly justified in what they have done, and I want to say that wholehearted support on this side will be given to the Government in continuing its policy until we do get some sort of a settlement, which, I hope, will work for good. I anticipate that there will not be any opposition. Our business here is to help, so far as we on this side possibly can, to get hon. Members to support the Government in any action that the Government may take that will mean the shortening of the difficulties with which this particular industry is concerned. I was speaking in Scotland, in my constituency, and in some respects we are there in an evil position. We have no insurance whatever, so our wages this week are the same as last week.
There is a very considerable amount of waste going on for which we are in no way responsible. Figures are given of which we know nothing at all. We have to accept what statements and figures the managements may give, even though we know that the managements are being conducted in a wasteful fashion. No suggestions that we offer will have the slightest attention paid to them. As a matter of fact, so long as that sort of condition obtains in the mining industry, I am afraid there is little hope of it being really brought into a sound and prosperous condition. At the same time there is reason to believe that such a change may be brought about as will insure a prosperous condition if there is 774 real good will. We can only hope that the expressions of sympathy and good will which are being put forward in this House this afternoon will be translated into action between now and the time-when it is necessary. If they are, I can assure hon. Members that speakers on this side, representing not only the point of view of the official leaders, but the miners themselves, will be glad. We are anxious to get some sort of arrangement which will make it possible to alter the conditions that have been going on in the past.
§ Mr. KIDD
Hon. Members on both sides of the House must, I think, have been enormously gratified by the speeches that have been made this afternoon from the opposite benches. There is no doubt what has been said is true, and we welcome the appeal of the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Warne), and others, to all parties to come together so as to devise ways and means to bring back the prosperity of the industry. I was particularly struck by a point put forward by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. D. Graham), who, while, generally speaking, in favour of the principle of the nationalisation of mines, said he was not wedded to any particular theory. All he was concerned about was to see the mines conducted with the greatest degree of efficiency possible. I can assure the hon. Member that if that is his attitude of mind, it is shared by hon. Members on this side of the House, and I trust in this I am spiking, not only with the lips, but from the heart, The vast majority of Members of this House, after the experience we have had of the industrial troubles of late, are ready now to join with the hon. Gentleman and his friends in devising some way, as he has suggested, out of our difficulties which will preserve the force of individualism.
The rule of restaint is the one dictated by the delicacy of the situation by the fact that we are simply now engaged in implementing obligations already undertaken and by the further fact that the Commission is sitting. The rule has been respected by all parties but the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), speaking somewhat earlier towards the conclusion of his speech, rather attacked the Government for the policy pursued. He said the Government in July had yielded to extortion. 775 What did the Government do? Is the miners' wage to-day an extortionate wage? If not, then all the Government did was to strain every effort to see that that wage should not be less. I do not agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said when (he argued that without the subsidy the industry would have pulled through—some pits making profits while others broke "evens" because that presupposes you could deal with pit by pit while, whatever the future may bring, you could not in July last deal with the industry on that basis. I am not surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) challenged the economics of the right hon. Gentleman, I am in favour of a bigger and bigger production of coal resulting from a very much larger introduction of machinery. This may prove a contributory factor to the solution of the problem. Let me say, in conclusion, that I have no greet fear as to the competition that is sometimes spoken about. I think it is common knowledge: that a great shipping company has fixed its contracts for 1926 on a basis of 15s. per ton f.o.b. At that price coal will challenge oil or anything else in the way of competitive fuel. The point for the moment is to discover ways and means to put the coal on the market at a price even lower than now, while at the same time seeing that the wages of the miner are not lower, but rather that an improvement takes place.
§ Mr. BATEY
Under no circumstances or conditions should we be arguing for a subsidy if it could be helped. We believe the industry is far better without than with the subsidy, but the coal industry at the present time is not on a normal basis. I am certain of this, that without the subsidy the coal industry at the present time could not work. What we have got to consider is this: whether, on the one hand, the coal industry should close down completely, or whether, on the other hand, the subsidy should be given. I have to-day listened very attentively to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As a matter of fact, I have sat here waiting for a. chance to reply just to one or two of the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman. He began by using this argument: He said that it was not to the credit of this great industry to have to draw this dole. There 776 is one thing sure: whether or not it is to the credit of this industry to have to draw this dole, no blame can be laid at the door of the miners. They are not in the least to blame. If there is any blame attached at the present time to the mining industry for having to depend upon the subsidy, the blame lies with the Governments more than with the mining industry.
It was the Coalition Government that, first of all, gave the coal industry its first big blow and knocked it down. In spite of all that has been said to-night, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is to a large extent responsible for the condition of the coal industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is largely responsible because of the introduction of the gold standard When that was mentioned by some hon. Member to-day one of the Members below the Gangway said that the gold standard did not matter to the coal industry, did not affect it to the extent of a farthing or a halfpenny. I want to par to the House something of what was said by Sir Josiah Stamp in his Report. He was a member of the Court of Inquiry in July. I want to read just one or two words of what he said in regard to the gold standard and as to that standard being partly the cause of the present condition of the coal industry. He said:In my view, therefore, the recent improvement in the exchange, or the decline in the price level to which I have referred, whether or not compulsorily brought about by anticipation and then by realisation of the gold standard, is sufficient in itself to account for the special plight of the industry since March.In another part of the Report he said:For these reasons I do not think the state of affairs in the coal industry in the last few months must be regarded as a necessary result either of the normal trade movement or the present agreement: the currency policy has aggravated it.According to Sir Josiah Stamp, there is no question but that the gold standard is largely responsible for the present position of the coal industry. But take another expert, Mr. J. M. Keynes. Dealing with this matter he says, speaking of the price of British coal delivered in Brazil before the adoption of the gold standard:The British could quote about 1s. l0d. a ton under the price of American coal, but 777 with the altered value of British sterling American coal can be quoted at 2s. 8d. per ton less than the British. In nearly every part of the world the gold standard has brought about an increased cost to the foreigner of no less than 1s. 9d. a ton.7.0 P.M.
For that reason, he says, British collieries have had to reduce their price to a corresponding extent. I submit that, however much the Chancellor of the Exchequer might deplore the coal industry having to draw this dole, there is far more blame attached to the Government, and that it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer's introduction of the gold standard that gave this second blow to the coal industry. Far more blame rests there than rests either upon the mining industry or, especially, upon the miners. I was also interested when the Chancellor said that the coal trade had improved and that employment is better, and especially when he said employment was better in November than in October. I got from the Minister of Mines yesterday some figures regarding the men shifts worked in October and July. I asked for the figures so far as November was concerned only. I understood that the Ministry of Mines was not able to give the figures of men shifts worked in November.
§ Mr. BATEY
So far as the figures supplied yesterday are concerned, they show that the men shifts worked in October above August were some 4,000,000. Then we have to take into consideration this fact, that in August there was the Bank Holiday, which would account for a large number of the lesser shifts worked in August than October, and, if you follow throughout the different districts, you find that the eastern district has an increase of 1,250,000 men shifts worked for August, which leaves the northern districts with only a small increase of the men shifts worked for August. That leads me to this, that whilst the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have been able to try to prove that trade is improving—
§ Whereupon THE GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD being come with a Message, the Chairman left the Chair,