HC Deb 10 December 1925 vol 189 cc778-802

Again considered in Committee.

[Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]

Question again 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.


When interrupted, I was dealing with the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that trade was improving, that it was better in November than in October, and I was trying to show by the number of man-shifts worked that in the North of England there are few indications of that improvement. In the County of Durham, there are no real signs of improvement. In July, we had 97 pits closed, to-day we have 91 closed. Certainly six pits have been opened since the subsidy was granted, but to-day we have rather more than 48,000 miners signing the unemployment register. With 91 pits closed—something like 20 per cent. of the pits in the Durham County—and with so huge a number of miners signing the unemployed register—being either totally unemployed or working short time —we are justified in saying that, after all, there does not seem to be very much improvement in the coal trade in Durham County. So bad are the conditions in Durham County that last week our men were forced to the extreme step of taking a ballot of the members individually as to whether they should stop the county or not. Everyone knows that a time like this is not the time to bring a whole county out on strike, and nobody wants to do it, only the conditions are so bad, and the employers of those collieries which are working are forcing such bad conditions upon our men, that they were forced to take that step. A majority of our miners voted in favour of stopping the county of Durham. The number voting in favour of a strike was 44,285, and the number voting against a strike was 42,598. It is only the existence of a rule requiring that there shall be a two-thirds majority before a strike can take place that prevents Durham County from coming out on strike, though it is the very worst time that any county could think of striking. The conditions are so bad with us that the men have simply been goaded into that extreme action.

I want to draw attention to one impression which our people had about the agreement to pay the subsidy. Whether they were right or wrong, I shall not stop to argue, but it was the impression our people had when that agreement was arranged. Our people believed that so long as the subsidy was being paid there would be no local reductions in the county, that the same wages that had been paid would continue to be paid. They soon learned that the coal-owners meant something altogether different. While the coalowners did say they were prepared to pay the minimum percentage, which with us is 110 per cent., they said also, "We still have a free hand to reduce the basic rates,' with the result that even since the Government gave the subsidy the coalowners have forced reduction after reduction upon basic rates, and things with us simply could not be worse at the moment. Through sheer starvation hundreds of our men have been forced to start work under conditions such as they would never think of working under in normal times.

There is another point in regard to this subsidy I would like to put to the Minister of Mines. When it was agreed to we did not expect that it would be. paid on pits that were closed. What we really do want is this. We want every pressure that we can get brought to bear upon the coalowners to force them to open the pits. We never dreamed, in cases where pits were closed and workmen were employed for the purpose of keeping those pits in such a condition that they could be re-opened later on, that the subsidy would be paid upon the wages of those workmen. In circumstances like that the coalowners ought to pay all the wages of all the men he employs. Every step ought to be taken to bring as much pressure as possible to bear upon the coalowners to open the pits, and they ought not to be given the least encouragement to keep pits closed.

We want to make this other small criticism. We believe that when the Government agreed to pay this subsidy they ought not to have pitched it at the coalowners and said, "There is the subsidy. Withdraw the notices you are intending to give—withdraw your notices, or withdraw the number of notices that you please. There is the subsidy; do with it what you like." The Government ought to have said to the coalowners: "We are prepared to pay the subsidy, but while we are paying the subsidy to any colliery company we want that company either to work all the pits or submit to an inquiry as to why the pits are not working." I think it ought to be within the power of the Minister of Mines even now to say to a coalowner who has a pit closed, "We want to hold an inquiry as to why that pit is closed"; and unless the coalowner can give satisfactory reasons, the Ministry of Mines ought to be able to bring pressure to hear upon that coalowner to secure the opening of the pit. I have in my mind the ease of a coal company with four pits in my Division. They are working three of those pits, and have one closed. They are working the three pits six days a week. It would be an easy matter for that company to work those four pits for five days a week, or for any other reasonable number of days, rather than to keep one pit closed, throwing hundreds of men out of work. I would like the Ministry of Mines to be more active in connection with those closed collieries, because we have hundreds of thousands of men who are suffering, who are starving, because collieries are closed. In the White Paper laid before the House of Commons on the last occasion were these words, to which I wish to draw the attention of the Minister of Mines; The assistance given will, of course, enable more pits to work and more men to be employed than if the 1924 Agreement had been continued without Government assistance. I am prepared to admit that later on this is qualified by the statement that there is no obligation on the owners to open pits; but the implication in that sentence is that the subsidy would mean that more pits would be reopened and more employment found.

I was interested when the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked the question, by far the most important question this House can consider, "What is going to happen next May?" He pictured trade as booming, and that next May the coal industry would be able to stand on its own feet and do without the subsidy. My opinion is that next May the coal industry will not be able to do without the subsidy. I want to point out to the Minister of Mines that if the coal industry has to go on until next May under the conditions upon which it is going on to-day, trade will not be better next May, but worse, because this is what happens in the coal industry. Settled conditions are one of the first essentials to a revival in the coal industry. The industry is only in a good condition when it is able to make contracts over a long period. If the industry is not going to be able to make contracts longer ahead than May, there is every likelihood that when May comes trade will be worse than it is at the present time. My opinion is that when May comes the Government will be forced to continue this subsidy, that the trade will not be in a condition which will warrant the Government taking it off. While it is better for industries to do without subsidies, an the same time I believe, personally, that where an industry is not able to pay men a decent wage when they are working, it is the duty of the Government either to take over that industry or else pay for the failure of private enterprise, so that a man can get a decent wage.

Suppose that next May the Government say, "We are going to drop the subsidy; we will pay no more subsidy.' In Durham, we shall then be faced with this position. At the present time, we have got not hundreds but thousands of men working for the subsistence wage of 7s. 6½d. per shift, and not always getting work on five days a week, but sometimes only three or four days' work at 7s. 6½d. per day. Of that 7s. 6½d., 2s, 11¼d. is paid by the Government as subsidy. If the Government drop the subsidy in May these men will have to work for something between 4s. 7d. and 4s. 8d. per day. I am certain no Member on the other side will say the coal industry should be left in a position where it can pay men only 4s. 7d. per day, even if they can get five or six days' work a, week. The men cannot live on that wage. It is impossible for them to live on it. I have no hesitation in saying the Government will find when next May comes that they will not be able to take off the subsidy, and they ought to go into this question without delay, and not leave things until the last minute. They ought to make up their minds as to what they are going to do, and, if they have to continue the subsidy, do so without waiting till the last moment —not wait till the 1st May, but do it as quickly as possible, to help the industry to get on its feet.

Colonel LANE-FOX

There have been a few points raised in the Debate to which I would like? to reply. But before doing so I wish to welcome the spirit in which this Motion has been received, and I only hope that the spirit and good will on this question which has prevailed during this Debate will prevail outside the House as well. I want to thank the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Warne) for the very valuable contribution which be made to this Debate. I can assure him that anything we can do in the Mines Department to secure peace on this question we shall certainly do. I want to repudiate the idea which has been suggested by several speakers, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), that the Government might have done much to prevent all this trouble if they had intervened earlier in the dispute. On that point I feel that I have no need to stand in a white sheet. I am quite certain that any Government faced with the situation with which we were faced last Spring would have followed exactly the course that we took.

We used every influence we could when we saw trouble coming to get the parties together, and conversations between the parties began early in the year. What would have been the attitude of hon. Members of this House if we had intervened before it was absolutely necessary. It is very easy to make suggestions after the event, but I hold very strongly that in a dispute of that kind it is far better for the Government to keep out of it as long as there is a possibility of the two parties coming to an agreement, because you nearly always arrive at a more permanent settlement when an industry settles it amongst themselves, and I think it would have been a great mistake for the Government to have rushed in earlier as has been suggested by several hon. Members.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) blamed the Mines Department, and myself in particular, for the way in which the subsidy had been carried out, and he suggested that we ought to have had greater regard to the different conditions prevailing in different districts, and to the different positions as to profit making, etc. I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentle-man that he is prepared to consider district arrangements, and the country will remember that on some future occasion when the question arises as between district arrangements and a national agreement.


I called attention to the fact that there were two sets of conditions even in one district for which even a district agreement would not meet those conditions.

Colonel LANE-FOX

I know the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that even different districts had different conditions of pits within them which should be treated differently. Has it not occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that, if that had been the method adopted, certain pits would have been penalised, because you would have been subsidising pits in' which the working was not so efficient in keeping down the cost of producing coal. Consequently, you would have been penalising the efficient mines by subsidising the less efficient, and that would have been most unfair. It would have been very unfair to the most efficiently managed collieries which had spent more on development and equipment and installed the best machinery to find that their competitors were going to be assisted, while they were not getting a subsidy at all,

In the case of the two specially large groups of collieries in South Wales, there may seem some reason to criticise, but in most districts of the country I am certain that the only way in which this subsidy could have been administered without unfairness is the way which we have adopted. Several hon. Members have suggested that it is a drawback due to the subsidy that the price of coal has been reduced. It is true that the price has dropped, but prices are hardening now, and those who complain of the price having been reduced must remember that that has been a great advantage to the country, and at any rate it has caused a great improvement in regard to the iron and steel trades. Some questions have been put to me with regard to the present price of household coal, and there has been much resentment on the part of the public that the price of household coal should be raised by the collieries at this moment when there is a greater demand for it. Yet if the price hardens, then I think we shall get a little nearer the closing of the gap and the taxpayer will benefit.

The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Potts) said that this was not a. subvention to wages, but it had gone into the owners' pockets. What are the actual facts? The total paid by way of this subvention up to the end of October was £6,063,000, but the sum to the credit of the collieries was £560,000 only, and, therefore, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon told us, 90 per cent. of the subvention has gone in wages up to that period, and less than 10 per cent. had gone in the shape of profits to the owners. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen said that under this subvention it had not been possible to capture markets we had lost, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that in a small degree we had done this. The exports of coal have increased by 600,000 tons per month as compared with last June, and our output has increased by 3,000,000 tons per month, and I think that shows that our export trade has considerably improved.

I think I have now answered most of the points which have been raised in the Debate. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said that a certain number of pits had closed down in Durham, even under the subvention. I know that under the conditions prevailing in July a large number did close down, but I think it is clear that but for the subvention many more pits would have closed down. With regard to what may happen in May the Government are very carefully considering that position, but at the present moment it is too early for any announcement to be made, but I can assure hon. Members that there will be no want of real thought and forethought given to the very difficult and uncertain position at which we may arrive in May next. One thing I hope is that the same spirit and goodwill which has been shown in this House will spread throughout the country, and I welcome this Debate and the speeches which have been made because I think they will help to improve that feeling.

The hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam) said the great thing we want to do is to try and keep politics out of this question. This is a great matter of national interest, and we should try to keep bias and political feeling and bitterness out of a question of this kind. The country expects after this enormous sum of money has had to be found by the taxpayer in the interests of a national industry that this nine months' period will be used by both sides of the industry to make an earnest effort to arrive at a settlement. The country will never forgive the mining industry if, at the end of nine months, after all this enormous sum of money has been spent, they find the owners and the men remaining in the same position of sullen hostility in which they found them in July last. I hope the influence of this Debate will go out far and wide into the country, and that, long before the Commission has reported, there will be indications that owners and men are getting together and trying to settle their problems for themselves. The Commission can do a great deal, and I hope the results of its work will be very valuable, but there is one thing that would be far better than any recommendations of the Commission, and that would be a joint recommendation from the two hostile sides in the industry itself. If we can get that spirit working, and then carry out any recommendations which the Commission may make in the light of and in view of that spirit, I hope we may avoid that terrible struggle which some are too anxious to predict as certain to happen next May. I hope we may be able to avoid any struggle of that kind, and, if so, I think the House will be right in saying that this expenditure, high as it is, has not Been unjustified.


I do not know that I have ever been present at a discussion in which a better temper has been exhibited all round, except, perhaps, in the opening speech of the right hon. Gentleman responsible for the proposal that is now before the Committee. One did not take down his exact words, but one could not help noting the spirit that permeated his speech. When he spoke of a spirit of extortion and ransom, and of the workpeople holding a menace over the nation, I really wondered if, with all his knowledge, he had made himself acquainted with the actual conditions of the industry at the time when the subsidy was first proposed. It ought never to be forgotten that the workpeople made no demands at all. It was not they who pressed extortionate demands upon the House of Commons; it was not they who made any demands upon the employers. The Secretary for Mines knows perfectly well that, twelve months earlier, a Commission sat, and, as the result of that Commission, miners' wages were somewhat raised. But will it be believed that the miners' wages, even in July last, before the employers' proposals had been submitted, were, certainly in 75 per cent. of the cases, not merely semi-starvation, but positively starvation wages?

Because this spirit which is animating members of the Committee this afternoon is so desirable to maintain, and in order to maintain that spirit and to enable hon. Members to see what are the essential facts of the situation, I would risk them just for a moment or two to consider my own county. Lancashire is a great mining county, and contains a great mining population. Probably one fourth of that mining population work at the coal face, hewing the coal; but three-fourths will be engaged in the work of distribution and in the work of repairs on the surface and underground. Before the employers made any proposals at all in July, in the case of the people engaged in repair work below ground— all able-bodied men, able in every sense of the word, and, in thousands of case?, having families to maintain—the highest amount they were able to receive was Ss. 9d. a day. Putting it at the highest, it is impossible for the pits to work throughout the year more than five days a week. That is under the very best conditions. In the ordinary way, in any normal year, not more than nine days a fortnight can possibly be worked. Taking into account weather conditions, conditions of transport on the railways, the time broken for Christmas and New Year holidays, and the hundred and one occasions that will present themselves to the minds of hon. Members more readily than I can describe them, it may be taken that a man is able to do very well indeed if he can put in 10 days a fortnight, or five days a week, and normally the average working time is about nine days a fortnight.

Taking the case of a workman with 8s. 9d. a day, working nine days in a fortnight, he has £3 18s. 9d., or 39s. a week, before any stoppages go out. He has to pay, at the least, from 7 to 9 per cent. of that in necessary stoppages— health insurance, unemployment insurance, the charges for his lamp, and all those charges which, though small in themselves, total up to a very considerable sum. That able-bodied workman in Lancashire, putting in all the time that is open to him, would not be able to take more than 35s. a week, upon which he has to maintain himself, his wife and his family. That was up to the 1st July last. Then the employers came forward with a proposal which, in its stark outline, meant a 25 per cent. reduction in wages; and yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke in a tone indicating—I am sure that must be the indication to the minds of hon. Members—that it was we, the workpeople's representatives, who were holding the nation up to ransom.

Those conditions were conditions, not merely of semi-starvation, but conditions of complete starvation. What possible use is it, in such circumstances as that, saying, "Come together and try to settle"? No body of men on the face of the earth is entitled to any consideration that would not resist such infamous proposals as were submitted last July. For years, in the coal-mining industry, we have been undergoing a process of reduction of wages and of sacrifice utterly unequalled in the annals of history. Will hon. Members believe that 50 per cent. of the wages have gone since 1921? The wages of the day-wage hand in the Lancashire mines in March, 1921, were a little over 14s. a day. At present, apart from the subsistence wage, they are 1s. a day, and in the case of the surface hands they are often lower. Men who do very necessary work, very arduous work, are receiving 1s. or 1s. 3d. a day less than the figures I have just quoted to the Committee. We did not make any demand on the owners; we did not make any demand on the House of Commons; we simply said, as every self-respecting body of men must say, that wages have been so pressed down as to make decent living conditions impossible, and we would resist any further downward process. To talk about extortion, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer did, and to talk about ransom, is simply to trifle with the English language.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of both sides making equality of sacrifice, and here, again, it is desirable that hon. Members should be acquainted with the equality of sacrifice that the employers have made in the coil-mining industry. I quite admit that the Secretary for Mines is right in saying that we cannot. go into the case of individual pits or into district settlements in these matters —-we have to take the result of the industry as a whole. Let me tell hon. Members that, during the 3½ years from July, 1921, to the end of 1924, the admitted trading profits of the employers were £56,500,000, or at the rate of £16,000,000 a year. Putting it at the highest, there is not a colliery owner living to-day who would say there was more than £180,000,000 invested as capital in the industry. I am putting it very high; in my honest opinion there is nothing like that amount. Taking, however, the statement of the most fervent advocate of the employers, he would not put it at more than £180,000.000, and they had £16,000,000 each year to the end of 1921. They were making that £16,000,000 upon a capital, putting it at the very highest figure, of £180,000,000, which is practically 9 per cent. Perhaps I may digress a little to say that that is after every possible item of expenditure has been met. You cannot conceive of anything that is not first of all paid before those trading profits are reached—royalty rates, local rates, insurances, think of any item you may that goes to make expenditure, and, when that is all met, there is a sum of £56,500,000 left in the 3½ years. That is the equality of sacrifice of which the colliery owners were capable.

8.0 P.M.

What happened in those three and a-half years to the miners? Wages in every mining district in the kingdom, with, I think, one possible exception—the Eastern area—were down to the minimum. In the wonderful mining region of South Wales the minimum wage had been reached in November, 1921, and we in Lancashire had reached the minimum wage in May, 1922. In every area the wages got down so low that what is known as a subsistence allowance had to be added to enable the people to live at all. I ask hon. Members to think of the meaning of the term "subsistence allowance." We had reached in every area, with one exception, in the mines in the kingdom a condition of things in which it was absolutely impossible to live a decent life. It is quite true, and there is not a single one of us will deny it, that in many cases the coal hewer gets a decent wage, but the vast mass of the workers in the mines are incapable of raising their wages. However great the output, their wages stand still and there are 70 per cent. of those workers who are incapable of receiving any advance, and it is these wages that are pressed down to the point I have just described. What really can we expect from a right hon. Gentleman who talks about equality of sacrifice under such conditions? I can only assume that he did not know really what the conditions were. I have mentioned the profits of the employers, I have mentioned the wages of the men, and I have referred to equality of sacrifice, and I ask hon. Members to think what equality of sacrifice there can be under such conditions. It is said in the White Paper that this subsidy is in aid of wages. It is not really in aid of wages at all. It is in aid of profits.

Colonel LANE-FOX

It has gone to wages.


My right hon. Friend, I am quite sure, thinks it has gone to wages but it is only on the distinct understanding that the right is conceded to the employers of the ratio of 13 to 87, that is, before the calculation is made upon which the subsidy is to be paid the employers' right to 15 per cent. of the amount represented in wages has first of all to be conceded. But we do not con- cede that at all. The result is that in hundreds of cases, as can easily be proved, collieries making big profits already and in some cases vast profits, are receiving the subsidy. Is that going in aid of wages? This means, in scores and scores and hundreds of cases, that these employers could pay the wages they were paying in July last without any subsidy at all. Yet because of the calculation which first of all states—and here the right hon. Gentleman, I think, has hardly realised the condition upon which the subsidy is paid—and implies at the very commencement that, after all expenses are paid, the ratio of 13 to 87 is to be the right of the employers. That is really 15 per cent. of the total wage fund and that really has this result, that in the case of hundreds of prosperous collieries who can pay the wages, and in my opinion were willing to pay them had the subsidy not come along, they are now receiving in addition to the handsome profits they are making, the subsidy a? well. Will anybody say that that is going to the aid of wages? Of course, it is clearly a travesty of the actual facts to say that.

We are as desirous in the coal mining industry of preserving peace, of looking forward to the higher interests of the nation, and of helping the higher interests of the community along as any body of men in this nation, and we have prove it continuously. Why, in my own county, when the War broke out, both employers and workmen met together, and we said, "No matter what happens, there shall be no stoppage of work in this county." From 1914 right to the end of the War, and for six months afterwards, we agreed there should be no interference with work of any kind. Let me say, to the honour of employers, that they scrupulously carried out their side of the bargain, and so did we. For years in the English conciliation area we went on without any serious interference with work, but then conditions were pressed upon the men which reduced them to a state of actual starvation. Then the right hon. Gentleman who, I am sure, cannot possibly understand the situation —I am speaking of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not of the Secretary for Mines—I am quite sure he could not have used the words "extortion," "ransom" and "menace to the nation" had he known what the real facts were.

Now we believe that having regard to the whole situation the Government did the right and only thing that it could have done at that time. Peace in a great nation such as this and in a great industry upon which all the rest depend, was the first of all interests. Even if the Government did come to the conclusion at the last moment and at the last hour, still in my opinion, and in our opinion they did the right thing. They are doing the right thing now. I believe myself there is justification for the optimism that many Members feel. The darkest hour is that before the dawn, and I sincerely believe that we have passed the darkest hour and that things will brighten. In any case, I am quite sure that with the facts which have been submitted to the House this afternoon, and with the full facts which can easily be obtained in the ensuing two or three months, it will be seen that it is in the highest interest of the State itself that this great industry should not be carried an at the expense of a degraded and impoverished people.


In anything that I say I shall endeavour to maintain the high level which has characterised this Debate because, having been connected in the coal trade for so many years, I like others, feel the seriousness of the situation and would only be too pleased if some settlement is reached. Like most people I strongly object to subsidies, but as time goes on I cannot help thinking that the Government were very wise in the step they took. They were up against a very serious position. We are still living in abnormal times, and I think they were wise in the step they took, and we can only hope the optimism which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has expressed may be realised before next May.

Unfortunately, we have not got the control of the world markets for coal in the way we used to have. I should like very briefly to make a few observations upon this question, because I would remind hon. Members that the export trade represents, roughly, one-third of the coal trade in this country. In the early summer I had the opportunity of visiting Poland, and along with some other Members saw the coal areas. We had the opportunity of seeing some of the coalfields, examining the pits and going down them to examine the coal, and we were struck with the quality of the coal, with its screening and general cleanliness. We made inquiries into the analysis and found that it would compare very favourably with most others.

Unfortunately, at the present time there is an economic war between Germany and Poland. The consequence is that Poland is not allowed to send coal into Germany, which is the natural outlet for it. These coals, in consequence, are being sent a very long distance by rail at an uneconomic rate to Danzig, and from there they are being shipped to Copenhagen, Denmark, Sweden and to other places. We hope this position of affairs will soon pass; away, but, in the meantime, it is causing loss of trade in this country.

During the recent Recess, while in Italy, I had the opportunity of making inquiries with regard to the Russian coal that is being sent there, and I found they stated the quality was Al. I had the opportunity of looking over certain of the analyses and found that they compared favourably with any of our coal I merely mention these facts, which have come to my knowledge first hand, to show that we have not got the entire control of the coal market. One or two facts have come out during the past fortnight which may be of interest to the House in making up its mind on this question, because it is a many-sided question. The Westphalian syndicate has issued what is practically a command to its various customers, saying they are not to buy English coal in future without their authority. The German Government is severely restricting its licences under which coal is now imported into the country, and I was told on good authority only yesterday that at Hamburg the quantity which is going to be allowed in next month is 100,000 tons less than the quantity for this month. Some of these foreign countries which used to import English coal entirely are now giving a preference to German coal in particular, because they find in most instances that they get better results from these coals. Yesterday I saw a letter setting out the requirements of a gas works in the South of Sweden, which hitherto had taken coal from Durham entirely. The inquiry was for two cargoes, one of which was to be Westphalian and the other might be Durham, but they reserved the right to buy one cargo or the other.

I am not going to weary the House, but only wanted to give first-hand information, and to express the hope that this continuance of the amount of the subsidies by £9,000,000 may be the end of the subsidy, and that we may, before the end of that time, have peace in the coalfields.


I should not have intervened were it not that the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to make some rather pointed remarks on some observations I made during the course of his speech. He gave us a sharp homily on the immutability of economic laws. I should have thought a man who was strongly convinced in his own mind of the immutability of economic law would show consistency by having a constant political faith of his own, instead of which I know no public man who has done more gyrations from one party to another. I quite agree with anyone who says that economic law knows no party, and is not influenced by any flood or ebb of political party, but I wish those who give us these lectures would be a little more consistent and show that they appreciate the truth of the statements they make so glibly. We were reminded during the right hon. Gentleman's speech that pessimism was a danger to the country. It was rather interesting to watch him posing as an optimist while all the time running through his speech one could hear the dull note of pessimism. I do not wish it to be thought for a moment that those who criticise the present conduct of the Government are naturally pessimistic. In fact I think there is more danger in false optimism than in pessimism under certain circumstances. Let us look facts boldly in the face. We are spending, let us say, £19,000,000 to pay for this hiatus—for that is all it is—in the conflict in the coal mines. I have no doubt that money will be spent.

Meantime we have a Commission sitting which, we are told, may come to some finding that will lead us out of this morass. I do not believe the Commission is going to formulate a policy which this Government can pursue and lead to peace. I have listened to one Coal Commission after another. What has happened? The Commission comes to certain findings, but they may as well never have sat at all for all the influence it has on Governmental action. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that if the Commission now sitting formulates a given policy he is quite sure the Government will give it legislative effect. Then he linked up that idea with the other plea. There has been far too much of this. He says " Let us unite to solve the problem," as if there were no vested interests to challenge. I have heard it said to-day on this side, "Let us have peace and good will upon earth." You cannot, as long as the land monopoly holds. [Laughter.] It is all very well to laugh. It is all very nice. You have the coal embedded in the soil of the country and we have had one Commission after another—Sir Richard Redmayne telling you he knows of case after case, where attempts have been made to exploit good seams of coal but the owners refuse to allow them to be used, while miners and mining companies were forced to go on to less than the margin of cultivation, taking coal out of dangerous seams, and that coal was an uneconomic proposition. I put that before the Minister. I put it to the Government—and I hope my voice will reach them wherever they are—that you cannot solve this question of the coal problem until you deal with this immoral and indecent ownership of a mineral which was put there by the hands of God Almighty. I wish hon. Members would go and see these things for themselves. There are mines working in my district—

Captain HOPE

I have as many mines in my division as you have in yours.


I will give the hon. and gallant Gentleman an illustration of what I mean. There are miners in my division who have to travel a considerable distance from the shaft to get to the workings, and the moment they leave the pit shaft they are turning their backs on rich seams of coal which they cannot touch because the owner says they must not. Then they travel all this distance. There are overhead charges in the making of the roadways and convoying the coal from the face to the shaft, all adding to the cost, much more than would be necessary if the other seams were free for exploitation. It has been pointed out truly that you cannot hope to face this issue and deal with it effectively so long as you have two or three thousand different interests in different mines under different circumstances. This mining problem must be dealt with as a national problem, and it cannot be dealt with as a national problem until yon deal with the question of the ownership of the minerals under the land. I dare say the Minister of Mines could not tell us what are the possibilities of the coal still embedded in the earth. It is interesting to notice that when any question of the taxation of land come up we are always told, "You cannot tax land values because you cannot formulate a valuation of ungotten minerals." I am only advancing that to show that there are in this country enormous seams of coal which our miners might be exploiting with less overhead charges than the coal they are exploiting now. That is entirely due to the exactions imposed by the land monopoly.

You may have a thousand Commissions, and they may talk as they will on the other side about goodwill, but until we face the fact boldly that there are vested interests in this industry which are keeping it from developing upon sound lines, and deal with them effectively, there is going to be one crisis after another, and by next May this is what you will have. Yon will have a Commission which cannot give you a clear, definite policy. You will have a Government faced, as the Chancellor clearly said to-day, with disaster on the one hand or prosperity on the other. I can see no way out of this impasse, because I do not see the parties to the struggle getting down to the basic causes of the struggle. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a little brutal in the way he puts things. I am not taking advantage of him, but I wish he were here. He said this was a subsidy to wages. Then he was willing to make a little concession, and he said it was also a subsidy to those who were running the mines, but not a word was said about the regularised, constant subsidy to royalty owners all the time. Whether a mine has a good running or a bad running, the first charge is the royalties, which are a subsidy to the landlords from the beginning to the end. When we are told there are malingerers who take the dole, malingerers who get round various Acts of Parliament, who sponge on the State, I wonder what the landowners of England are thinking about. They do not require to sponge or to go before the unemployment committee. They can got to their hunt, they can go to Monte Carlo, they can go to Heaven or the other place. Their royalties are secured, even by a subsidy, in their absence.

I know that hon. Members opposite are here to secure landlordism, to protect it, to give it, as they did last year, a subsidy of 75 per cent. on the rates. [Interruption.] I heard a remark that I did not catch. I wish their criticisms would come out boldly. These royalties are maintained by the subsidy, and the landowner who renders no service for the royalties he takes is a mean and contemptible parisite, putting his hands forward and taking out of the subsidy the royalties guaranteed by the taxpayers. I want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to realise that when he is talking about subsidising wages he should be a little more honest and admit that it is a subsidy to the monopolists of the country. In these Debates we discuss certain problems which may arise, and we do so as though these problems were in watertight compartments by themselves. I have mines in my own division, and for every ton of output the local assessor is standing at the pit waiting. When it comes up he puts a rate on it, a penalty for the mine having produced it at all. This system of rating would hinder the best mine from becoming a paying proposition. When discussions arise as to competition with this country from foreign producers and sellers of coal, people seem to forget the menacing effect of local taxation on coal in this country. Before this matter can be properly analysed and appreciated, we have to find out what are the overhead charges in foreign countries as against the overhead charges levied on coal production in this country.

I went to a mine in my own division, which is going to be closed down, and in an interview with the manager I asked what were the overhead charges. He spoke about the cost of pumping water, and then he said. "Here are the rates for last year, £8,000." A dead weight upon the industry. If a mine closes down either through the men going on strike or because there is a lock-out, the coalowner can go to the local assessment authority, under the present rating system, and ask for a reduction in the amount of the rates, because they are not producing coal, but the moment coal comes up to the surface rates are levied, and round the corner the landowners are waiting for their subsidy of 75 per cent. in regard to their land.

Colonel LANE-FOX

On a point of Order. Is this argument relevant?

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)

The points which the hon. Member is making would undoubtedly require legislation. He would be out of order in developing that argument on this Debate. So long as he only touches on the points he is in order, but if he seems to argue them, I shall have to stop him.


I hope you will not be too stringent with me on this matter, because I feel very keenly about it. I want, if I can to emphasise the contrasts which I have in mind in regard to the situation.


The hon. Member may feel very keenly, but that would not justify his being out of order.


I am trying to keep in order as far as I can. I do hope you will not be too stringent with me.


The Secretary for Mines in his speech wandered all over the country.


We are being asked to vote many more millions of money which, in my opinion, is money being spent on a futility. If the money were being spent and in the interval a constructive policy was being formulated which would save this country from the crash which is undoubtedly coming next May, I would not make these contrasts. What I am doing now is to point to the inconsistency of the actions of hon. Members opposite. Last week they made great concessions to the very monopoly which is crippling the mining industry, and they come to us to-day and tell us that this crash which may come in May can be averted if we will all be good boys, join hands, sing some Christian hymns, and then we shall all be happy ever after. Such an appeal is not only childish, but futile. It is playing with the confidence of the distressed public outside. You cannot solve this problem of the mines until you challenge the ownership of the raw materials of the earth which are now in private hands, until you do something to encourage the industry of mining by removing the enormous burden of rates which fall upon mining development in this country, until you relieve the industry of the pressure of taxation and rates which now fall so heavily upon it, and until there is some national control, instead of allowing the control to remain in private hands.

I do not mean by that that the State should own every mine, and run every mine, but that the State should have some superior control over the mineral deposits of this country, so that some co-ordination can be carried out, not only in one part of the country, but all over the country, so that we can form a national policy as to the exploitation of the mines. I see no other way out of the difficulty. To go on in this way, hoping for peace, while you are seeking none, and talking about peace while you ace placating vested interests, is futile. At a time like this, when the country cannot afford it, you are proceeding to throw millions away. The Chancellor of the Exchequer asks, "Will anyone say that we have not done the right thing? Will anyone say that the Government made a mistake in the policy they pursued in giving these grants of millions last year? "He is asking the question too soon. Let him ask that question when we come to May, and not until then. We are no nearer peace to-night than we were when the lock-out or strike was threatened, but rather worse. We are spending huge sums of public money for no object. I cannot help saying that I cannot see the Coal Commission coming to any solution.


I should not have intervened in the Debate had not certain statements been made which are not true. We are not really in a crisis. What we are suffering from is not so much a crisis as the anarchist state in which we have been getting coal in this country in the past. We have allowed anyone who owns a coalfield to say whether the coal should be taken or not, and the way in which it should be taken. There has been no regulation as to how the coal should be taken. Thick seams have been worked, and the coal sent abroad at a small price, but at very high profits. Millionaires were made in two or three years. The profits on these thick seams would, in a system worked scientifically, have been retained in the industry in order to meet the higher cost of working the thin seams, and in that way there would have been maintained a level in the price of coal. What we are suffering from is the anarchy and stupidity of all Governments in the past, without exception.

The hon. Member for Mosley (Mr. Hopkinson) seemed to think that because he makes a coal cutting machine for the getting of coal that he knows everything about coalfields. He made a tremendous blunder to-night, and it seemed to me that his view was accepted as being something authentic. It was simply stupidity. He seemed to suggest that in the coal industry in this country, on the one hand, the man who sinks a mine and does not get into clean coal seam, and the mine is not a commercial success, is to become bankrupt, whereas the man in the Yorkshire coalfields who bores into clean, level and untroubled coal is to be subsidised. When you bore there is always a chance of getting down to what is called in Scotland the sow's backs. Are individuals to be penalised because they happen to go down in their boring into something which is going to make difficulties?

What is the use of hon. Members talking about coal being the great basis of British industry, on which the superstructure of trade rests, and yet they tamper with the foundations on which that superstructure rests, in any way in which they can get their grip on it. Take the question of the different coalfields. You have to-day your locked seams in Wales and in Lancashire, and other areas, and you have your free and unlocked seams in big coalfields like Yorkshire. Although the Yorkshire seams are profitable yet we give a subsidy because God put good coal strata there. The Commission appointed might be able to give a report on figures but, having no knowledge of mining, can give no report upon any improvement in coal getting. The relation of this subsidy to mining conditions to-day is very unfair. You cannot use the argument that you can penalise inefficiency. It is not inefficiency where you have natural faults. You could penalise inefficiency if it were real inefficiency. Why pay 2s. more because you want to put a penalty on an inefficient-man? That is not how engineers would approach the subject. They would say, "We know the standard of efficiency and that needs no subsidy and there will be no subsidy paid to any coalowner who does not bring his pits to that standard. But where natural faults and consequent expense has to be met the case would not be one of subsidising inefficiency but carrying through difficulties that must be faced if we are to take out all our coal." That would be common sense, but of course we do not expect common sense from a Tory Government.


The whole problem to-day is not so much the granting of the money to which this House has already committed itself, as the problem of what is to happen next May. The main question is all the time being evaded. The subsidy or some sort of artificial assistance becomes necessary, because there is an artificial competition produced in the coal trade of this country, and in wages especially. There are citizens residing in this country, maintained and protected by the taxes and the Army and Navy of this country, who possess coal mines in Africa and India and China , where they produce coal at 5s. per ton or less at the pit's mouth by paying slave wages. While that position lasts it is clear that European miners are face to face with the necessity of bringing down their wages, and then the British miner in turn finds himself in the same situation. I do not wish to dilate upon the whole subject of how this glaring evil, which is protected by the Government, can be remedied, but I assert that there are very simple and efficient remedies for preventing investors and financiers from blacklegging the labour of this country by employing slave labour in other parts of the world. Unless that is done the crisis in the coal area will not be altered.

I offer another practical suggestion to the Government in regard to their appeal for goodwill. Goodwill cannot be produced by some members of the Government trying to look like baa-lambs in this House and asking for mercy and nice relations and so on. If they mean goodwill they will have to work for goodwill. They will have to give up their ill-will towards the working classes, and they will have to undo many things which they have done during the past few weeks. Rightly or wrongly, the miners and the workers generally are full of suspicion that some of the actions of the Government are directly connected with an intention to bring undue pressure to bear on the miners. It is the duty of the Government to show their readiness to make larger contributions towards goodwill by suppressing the O.M.S. If they cannot entirely suppress it —


That has certainly nothing whatever to do with the coal subsidy.


Goodwill was discussed for a long time this afternoon. The Government cannot put up 167 miners for prosecution and imprisonment, and then say, "Give us goodwill. We want to be at peace." The Government cannot put 12 Communists in prison and —


That is another subject which we cannot discuss to-night.


Among the rank and file in the mining areas there is an impression that all these Measures of the Government are taken in advance in order to bring undue pressure to bear on the miners when the Government wish to enforce a wage reduction in May. The public will examine the actions of the Government much more minutely than is anticipated, and they will not listen to mere sing-song phrases used in this House. Actions speak louder than words. The public will say, "We want actions of goodwill from the Government."


I have listened to speeches from those who have at their finger-ends the case of the workers in the coal industry, and have heard a recital of the conditions under which the miners have daily to face the great risk of entering the bowels of the earth in order to find the requisite for keeping the home fires burning. I have learned that an appeal had to be made for a mere subsistence wage to keep the miners alive. I put those facts against a profit of about £16,000,000 per annum acquired by those who own the mines, and I have only one thought to express. From time to time we have mining disasters, and throughout the land the Press tells the sorrowful story, scenes are described by able journalists, and pictures are published.

Many a time, I am confident, readers of these descriptions have come back to the question that we are discussing to-night. I am confident that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give more scope to his heart than to his head he would never dream of talking about inequality of sacrifice, except by emphasising that which any ordinary man can realise very deeply. The inequality has unfortunately operated against those men who take such tremendous risks and it is a deliberate insult for any man on the Treasury Bench to make an allusion of the kind which has been made. No records of the War give finer examples of the best type of bravery and moral courage than are to be found in connection with mining disasters—examples of Christian loyalty of heart on the part of these men towards their fellow sufferers. All parties concerned in this matter should make a coalition to get to the depths of the question just as the miner goes down to the depths of the mine. It is not for want of brains and capacity to settle this question that it is unsettled but for want of facing those cold materialistic interests which has prevented a settlement and have prevented the nation from expressing in practical fashion the feeling on this matter which I am sure lies at the nation's heart.

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