§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
It is very tempting to follow the subject which has just been under discussion, but I do not rise at the present moment for that pur- 3080 pose. Perhaps I may say one thing about it confining myself to two sentences. The first is this. We have made a bargain with America, and there is no Government that can be responsible for the administration of affairs in this country that will not carry out that bargain. There is no Government, moreover, that will seek of its own initiative to change the bargain in its own interests. I think nothing more need be said, as far as the Opposition is concerned, on that subject. The other is this: Considering the downward progress that has been observed in the settlement of debts due to us by other countries, I am encouraged to hope that, if the Government will begin to negotiate with Russia the question of her debts, and will just take a step as far down when they negotiate with Russia as they have taken in negotiating, say, with Italy, they will be in a position to meet the prejudices of the most. anti-British of the Russian statesmen.
But what I have risen to do is to put a question to the Government regarding the mining situation. We are going away to-day, and we are going to have a vacation of from three to four weeks. Now, those of us who have been striving since before the dispute broke out to get a reasonable settlement of the questions in dispute, although leaving this House, are not leaving the whole problem, and we shall propose to do everything we can to devise means which will settle the present troubles. We would like to know, however, what the Government are going to do in the meantime.I candidly confess, and I do it with a great deal of sorrow, that so far from the situation being nearer a settlement to-day than it was, say, a month ago, it is much further away from that settlement. The progress has been a retrogression. The Eight Hours Act, for which the Government are responsible, has made our difficulties very much greater than they were before. It has put obstacles in the way of peace, a peace of negotiation followed by a peace of agreement. The Government, as I understand it, made themselves responsible for that legislation because they thought it was going to ease the situation. They were told that if they gave the owners liberty to ask the miners to work for eight hours instead of for seven, the owners would be able to make such offers to the miners as would result 3081 in a breakaway. There were certain districts—we all knew them; it is no secret—where it was believed that the coherence of the men was so weak and their association with the National Federation was so slender that those districts would, on their own initiative, return to work, demoralise the whole of the Federation, and so end the strike in chaos. That expectation has not been fulfilled. The Government have been let down.
Now the Government ought to face the facts. They have done this damage to industrial peace; what are they now going to do? The Churches—I use the short term; I need not go into a description of who they were, but representative Churchmen—approached the miners and made certain proposals, certain suggestions. The miners' executive accepted those suggestions, subject to their being endorsed by a national conference. The national conference endorsed those sugestiOns and sent them back to the districts to be voted upon by the rank and file. That vote is now in process of being taken, and I am informed that all the prospects point to the Churches' suggestion being accepted by the body of the miners. That ballot will be declared within a week—on Saturday or Sunday of this week. If that ballot is in favour of those proposals, are the Government going to take any action to give the proposals a chance of being made the basis of negotiations? I would like to remind the Government of this: In those proposals is embodied a suggestion, which the miners would then have accepted. in favour of arbitration. Now, arbitration does not mean merely a settlement of this dispute. If that were all, the feeling is so bad, the friction is so great, that a mere settlement of this dispute would only mean a patched-up peace. If this dispute is settled by a surrender of the men or a surrender of the owners, if the dispute is settled without an agreement between the two sides, and an agreement which the two sides can really and conscientiously work, then, whatever the settlement is and whoever is beaten, it is only by way of truce. Do not make any mistake about that.
But here, in these suggestions, we have the proposal of arbitration. The value of arbitration is this, that the two sides may disagree, may fight, may con- 3082 tend during the negotiations, and at the end of the negotiations may still be in opposition, but then they both agree that an independent Chairman shall give a decision. Now that decision will be accepted by both sides if they accept these proposals, and both sides beginning to work, if not exactly in complete agreement, nevertheless in good will, gives the country a prospect of a continued peace in the coalfield. What I want to say is this: we are going, as I say, to continue our work to try to bring things to a satisfactory termination, not by interfering with either side but by trying to get some accommodation which both sides can honourably accept. We cannot do it without the Government. Are the Government, then, going to take up this position, that after these weeks of fight they are out altogether? Are they simply going to leave it to the boards of guardians to hasten the termination through the operation of dire distress? Are they going to do nothing at all but allow owners and men to negotiate between themselves, in spite of the fact that the Government have declared to this House and to the country that, in their opinion, those conditions can give no settlement whatever? Is their position now that owners and men must be left to fight the matter out, that they have no responsibility, and that, having given the owners all they can, they are going to give no help further? Is that their position? Before we part, I think we ought to have a very definite statement upon these points, and I put these questions and make these observations in order that we may know exactly where we stand before we separate.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
In the previous Debates on this subject I have not intervened, because I recognise that it is a question for those Members who particularly represent the interests of the men as far as this House is concerned. But all of us have, of course, a special interest in this great crisis, and, undoubtedly, it is a very serious matter for the House to disperse and not to have an answer to such questions as those presented by the Leader of the Opposition as to the attitude of the Government, whether or not they are going to intervene in any way at all to bring about a settlement. Personally, I am very glad that the Church has been led to take a, stand in 3083 the matter, and has put forward very reasonable proposals, which have been met most favourably by the men themselves. From personal knowledge of many men in the Scottish mining constituencies, I can say that large numbers of them are undoubtedly very earnest Christian men, and most anxious to consider the interests of the community as a whole. It so happens that, within the past hour, I have received a letter from one of the manufacturers in Dundee presenting this aspect of the question, and I think it is one which it will be well for the Government to have in view. The firm is Sea Braes Mills, Ltd., and the director, Mr. Henry Denny, who, writing on the 3rd August, says:SIR,In view of the very depressed state of the staple trade, we take the liberty of approaching you on a matter which we think should require some consideration, namely, the difficult and costly coal supply.It is with the greatest difficulty that we are able to carry on our works, and to do so we have to pay a very high price for poor foreign coal, and we are forced to consider whether it is worth while carrying on when we cannot recover the extra price of this coal. We are very reluctant to close down and inflict hardship on our workers, but we may be forced to take this step at any time.The Government have given subsidies to mine owners and miners, but never to industrial consumers, who are also suffering. Our position is, that we consume 25 tons of coal per week, which usually costs us 15s. per ton; we have now to pay 40s. for similar coal, say 25s. more, or. say, £30 a week loss, which is irrecoverable. We contrast this expenditure with standing costs. and if they even approximately balance, we prefer to carry on. Now we employ 160 workpeople, who, if they were out of work and on the dole, would cost the Government, say, about 15s. each, or £120 per week.If the Government, therefore, would subsidise us (and industry generally) to the extent of the extra cast of coal, in our case £30, we should be saving the Government £90 per week by carrying on, not to speak of all trades and tradesmen dependent on industry. Probably many have already answered the question by closing down, as we have recently been getting coals from second hands, works that have closed and selling their coal supplies at the high price.The Government may refuse to grant any subsidies, yet the alternative may be an increase in unemployment and the consequent expenditure on the "dole.We should be very glad if the Government could be made aware of this, and we should also esteem your own opinion.3084 This letter presents, not the direct mining industry aspect of the question, but that of the general industry of the country, and, coming from an industrial constituency such as I represent, it certainly becomes us to urge upon the Government the great responsibility which will rest upon them if they are retiring from the field. I, certainly, had no doubt myself, in the earlier stages of the crisis, that the Prime Minister might have brought things to a point, where, on the recommendation of the Commission, it was shown that very probably if the mineowners and the men were brought together, the men were prepared to consider even the question of a reduction of wages, if, on the other hand, the recommendations of the Commission concerning reconstruction were seriously taken in hand. And I know, when one Member on the opposite side asked my opinion on the whole question, I fixed on that point, and he quite agreed with me that that was a point on which there might have been an adjustment.
I think there was time lost by the Government in getting to grips with the question long before now. If we take the position which was adopted by the Government concerning the general strike, that it was an issue involving the whole country, I submit that the position now is for all practical purposes identically the same. The evidence I have quoted could undoubtedly he substantiated by other employers, not only in our own particular industry in Dundee, the jute industry, but in all industries in the country. It lies with the Government to intervene here, and meet the situation, to stop the drifting procedure which has been allowed to take place. It is not a question of leaving mineowners and men simply to come to grips, or one or the other to get the better of the situation, but the Government are expected to come in and deal with it from a national point of view. I submit, from that standpoint, that is the duty of the Government now, and I do hope they are not going to disregard the Church.
There are those who have had the audacity to say that the Church should mind its own business. If the Church has any particular business in operating at all, it certainly has to do with the fulfilment of God's purpose on earth as in heaven. Here is a question of a large 3085 body of the human family being put under tremendous stress, and, as far as public opinion is concerned, I do not know of any previous struggle where public opinion has given more definite evidence of being with the men. They think the strength of the case is with the men. Public feeling is with the men, and I believe when we had that wonderful letter from the heir to the Throne it was not so much the amount of that contribution to the fund, which might have been more, I believe, owing to particular circumstances which intervened, I say it was the strength of the letter, which was to all intents and purposes a remarkably direct appeal from the heir to the Throne for the Government of the day to grapple with this question in the interests of the country at large.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Colonel Lane Fox)
The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) will forgive me if I do not go into all the questions he has raised, although I congratulate him—no one can doubt that he sits for a Scottish constituency—on the proposal he brought forward for a subsidy for a particular industry in his constituency. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) has asked me some definite though rather hypothetical questions. He has pointed out that what are known as the Bishops' proposals are now the subject of a discussion and a ballot in the mining areas, and he wants to know whether, if that ballot goes in favour of those proposals, the Government are going to take advantage of that chance and make those proposals the basis of future negotiations. The House knows that when what are known as the Bishops' proposals were brought before the Government there were certain fundamental objections to them, and those objections have not been varied by anything that has happened since. I want to be frank with the House, and I say quite clearly that since then nothing has happened to make those proposals more satisfactory than when they were pronounced upon by the Prime Minister a few days ago. I would also point out that even if those proposals, as they were put to us, had been satisfactory, they do not seem to me to be the proposals which are now being put before the men.
3086 The other day I, in common with a great many other Members, received a copy of the Bishops' manifesto, and I find it clearly laid down in that that the period during which it was suggested the men should go back to work on the old terms and subject to a subsidy should be one not exceeding four months. When the Prime Minister objected to the period being as long as four months, the bishops pointed out that it was specially laid down that it was not to exceed four months and might be considerably less, but I find that Mr. Cook, at various meetings, has said, instead of a period not exceeding four months, "for a period of at least four months." That is one point. At the end of the bishops' proposals there comes this very vital passage:At the end of the defined period, if disagreements should still exist, a joint board, consisting of representatives of both parties, shall appoint an independent chairman, whose award in settlement of these disagreements shall be accepted by both parties.Further on they say:Attention may be specially directed to Clause VI, printed above, in which it is said that in the event of disagreement at the end of the period of negotiation any questions in dispute shall be referred to an independent chairman, whose award shall be accepted by both parties.What do I find is being said in the coalfield? I see that Mr. Cook, speaking at Seghill, Newburn-on-Tyne, said, as reported in the "Times" of 2nd August:He had never stated anywhere that he was prepared to recommend the miners to accept a reduction of wages, or even to recommend negotiations to secure the best terms possible.He went on to say:If they could return to work on the conditions existing in April, while reorganisation proposals were carried out, and the State acquired the royalties, with the elimination of the middlemen, with the setting up of selling agencies and the municipal distribution of coal to enable the consumer to get fair play as well as the miners a living wage, this could be done within four months.The House knows perfectly well that that is a fantastic statement. Then he goes on to say:If we could get all this done in four months they were prepared to review the whole wages position—There is no suggestion of accepting without qualification the award of any independent chairman. The words are, 3087 "prepared to review the whole wages position," whatever that may mean.
Then he goes on:believing honestly that when those reforms had been accomplished there would be no need to reduce the already low wages of the men in the mining industry.I find that in another speech at Walbottle he said:Neither Herbert Smith nor himself had ever recommended a reduction in wages, and it would be a very long time before they did.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Does the Secretary for Mines allege that the decision of the executive regarding the bishops' terms is on those lines? Was it not in favour of the bishops' terms? Is the ballot a ballot on the bishops' terms or on anything else?
§ Colonel LANE FOX
I do not know what the ballot is on, but I do know the form in which this is being presented to the men, and the form in which it is being presented to them must influence the decision which they take. I say that, unsatisfactory though the terms were, it is still more difficult for them to be considered satisfactory when we realise that they are being presented to the men in a form different from that in which they were presented by the bishops.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
What I want to say is that the bishops have had the same experience, I am afraid, as the right hon. Gentleman and many others have had. They have heard that one thing has been said to-day, and another thing said another time.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
Could the hon. Gentleman give an atom of evidence in support of that statement—any evidence at all? Why the right hon. Gentleman should be continually charging the miners with conduct of which they are not guilty I do not understand. Where is the evidence of that statement?
§ Colonel LANE FOX
The point I was making was that a great many hon. Gentleman, including, I think, the right hon. Gentleman himself, have done their utmost to interpret the statements of the miners' leaders in a sense favourable to 3088 negotiation and to conciliation and to some settlement being made, and over and over again they have been disappointed. They have told us that statements have bean made that they have not been able to get the miners' leaders to repeat—
§ Colonel LANE FOX
—and we find that Mr. Cook, immediately after the termination of the general strike, told the country that he had been bullied by the owners, had been bullied by the Government, but never had he been so much bullied as he had been by the Trade Union Congress. That shows that they were endeavouring, as the bishops have been endeavouring, to get him to take a reasonable point of view. They failed, and I am afraid, so far, the bishops have failed. Now the right bon. Gentleman asks me as to the outcome of the ballot. I can only say that if anything more favourable does come of it, the Government will most certainly miss no opportunity and will do their utmost to secure what the right hon. Gentleman himself said was essential—a genuine and complete settlement. As he said, anything else, anything in the nature of a make-believe, anything which is not a real settlement, can be nothing but a truce. It is perfectly true that if we are to embark on a peace which is not a real one, if we do not face the economic facts fairly and squarely, we shall not get a genuine settlement, and that is why the Government are not able to give any definite promise that unless some more satisfactory basis is provided they can act upon it. The time will be open and the opportunity may come, I hope soon. The right hon. Gentleman says that when we leave this House we are not leaving the coal trouble. I very much hope the right hon. Gentlemen opposite will do their utmost in the Recess to use their influence with the men and endeavour to persuade them to negotiate. There have been offers made to them on a seven-hours basis and on an eight-hours basis, and neither of these offers has been discussed at all, but they have been definitely turned down each time. it is perfectly clear that the miners' leaders want settlement, but they have not the courage to make their own proposals or to suggest one, but they 3089 are merely waiting for the men to give a lead. The leaders are waiting for a lead instead of giving it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Right hon. Gentlemen opposite can be very valuable if they will go out and encourage the men and owners to meet in every sort of informal way and discuss the whole question and really give their leaders a lead. Then we shall be getting nearer a settlement.
The right hon. Gentleman said something about dire distress. I hope that no exaggerated statements will be made on that subject, because my information is—and I say this with all responsibility—from all parts of the country and from perfectly unprejudiced sources, that the alleged starvation about which we have heard so much in this House does not exist. There is no abnormal distress in any way at the present time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go to the mining districts and see it!"] I have this information from all parts of the country. I can do better than go myself by getting information from people who live in the mining areas and who tell me the stories of starvation are exaggerated and that nothing of the sort is happening. I think it is high time that was said.
I do not want to say anything which would prevent a settlement, but I do urge the House to face realities. It is no use having any make-believe over this. We have got to face economic facts, and to get the owners and miners together and get them to negotiate, for unless they negotiate nobody else can do it for them. The Government will do everything they possibly can to make that easy and will take any opportunity that arises, either by mediation or otherwise, to facilitate negotiations, but they are not prepared to see peace where there is no peace. I do appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite to take their part, honestly and truly and to make use of this Recess and really do something practical to bring about a settlement.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
May I ask the Secretary for Mines, in view of the very serious statement he has made about the nature of the ballot, if he has seen the ballot paper, and, if he has seen it, how does he interpret the words of the ballot paper? The words are these:We are—3090 here there is a blank where the miner fills in the word "not" if he is not, and if he is in favour he fills in nothing—We are—in favour of the recommendation of the Miners' Federation Conference to adopt the Memorandum agreed upon between the representatives of the churches and the Federation Executive Committee. Signed.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
When I was asked, I said I did not know what were the terms of the ballot. What I said was, quoting from the reports of statements by prominent miners' leaders, that if the terms were being interpreted to the men like that, it was very natural that they might not understand their full meaning.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The speech just delivered by the Secretary for Mines leaves very little hope that any settlement of this devastating dispute is going to come from anything which the Government are likely to do. It is a very extraordinary speech he has made. Here are proposals, which are in substance proposals to carry out a unanimous Report arrived at by a Commission appointed by the Government, a Report which the Prime Minister three or four months ago expressed his readiness to carry out. The Secretary for Mines knows that there are consultations going on at the present moment among the miners as to whether their leaders should take part in negotiation upon these lines, and he tells the House he does not even know the terms of the reference made to the miners. I should like to know what his Department is doing. Surely they ought to give him information on a thing so vital as this. It is no use quoting speeches delivered by Mr. Cook. [HON. MEMBERS: " Why?"] I will say at once why. In the first place, Mr. Cook addresses huge gatherings, where there are excitable men I have no doubt, but, apart from that, Mr. Cook gets very compendious reports in all papers, but they are very short reports, and everyone knows who has been subjected to that, either from one paper or another, knows perfectly well it conveys a very wrong impression of what you intend to say. The sentences that are good copy are not always sentences which convey your sense or meaning—quite the reverse They are just sentences which are thrown out in order to keep things going during the three-quarters of an hour or the 3091 hour during which you are delivering a speech and keeping the audience together. If you begin to pick and choose the things which make good copy, you do not really get the gist of what is meant. I have no doubt at all that, if Mr. Cook's speeches were reported verbatim, there would be a very different impression of what he says. The newspapers, or some of them, are not on the look-out for that. They are on the lookout for material which helps the particular view which they take of Mr. Cook and his agitation.
It is not a matter of what is said at these meetings. What matters is the document which Mr. Cook has himself signed. He has signed this document. His own signature is attached to it, and that of the president of the federation also. What is more, Mr. Cook—and I am not an apologist for Mr. Cook, and I do not know how many Members there are above the Gangway who would always like to defend. everything he says—at any rate did face a meeting of miners' representatives and obviously there was a minority who were prepared to charge him with abandoning the position which he had taken up, that the terms of the Churches, which means the terms of the Commission, be accepted. That was a very big thing to do at a great conference of that kind. What has happened since? By a majority of about four to three they carry those terms, and they are referred to the mining districts—as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said—in writing, and the mining districts will be voting to-morrow, not on speeches reported in the "Times" or the "Daily Mail" by Mr. Cook but on the actual terms which are submitted to them. The miners are very intelligent in these things, and it is not giving very much credit to their intelligence to assume that they do not know exactly what they are voting on. They do. I have had a good deal of experience with them, and everyone knows they either vote for or against, and whenever they vote for they stand by that in the letter and the spirit. I have never seen a case where the miners have not given an honourable interpretation to every engagement they have ever entered into. That is the experience of everybody who 3092 has done any business with them in the course of the last 20 or 30 years, and I am sure before that.
I ask the Government whether really this is the last word they have to say to the country before the House of Commons adjourns? If so, it is a very serious position. The other day, there was a deputation received by the Minister from the Federation of British Industries, and I rather detected a sort of reflection of the observations of that deputation in the speech of the Minister of Mines. Practically, the right hon. Gentleman has said to us, " You must face economic facts, and the Government must not interfere too much; you have to consider what the economic realities are," and all that seems to have been taken bodily from the document presented to the Government by the Federation of British Industries. Amongst other things stated by that deputation was the statement of a gentleman from Lancashire, who said that un employment was worse there than it had ever been since the great cotton famine of 1864. On the same occasion an engineering representative said that if this dispute went on there would be a setback from which they could not recover, because British trade was being captured.
I notice that some hon. Members laughed at the statement made by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) in a significant sentence in which he said that the foreigners were sending us their worst refuse as coal, which means that they do not think it worth their while to capture our markets, but they are sending their best coal to where we were sending coal before, and they are capturing our markets in that way. In Lancashire we hear of business being taken away in regard to engineering, and we are getting worse from week to week and month to month. Every week we note a worse condition of things than the last, and all the Secretary for Mines says is: " We really do not know what question has been referred to the miners and that is not our business." They do not trouble to inquire what question has been put to the miners, and that is not the way to deal with a vital matter of this kind. One moment the Government say they will accept the Report and put it into operation, and another time they say they will not put it into 3093 operation. The Prime Minister says he is willing to do a thing one day, but the next day someone evidently has got at him and he says he must not do it. The Government are wobbling from one side to the other. You cannot punt through the rapids with a withy bending in every way and doubling up at the first pebble, or any other obstacle you may come up against. There is no firmness or direction in the thing.
I would like to know if the right hon. Gentleman has formed any estimate as to when he thinks this thing will come to an end or how it is to come to an end? The Federation of British Industries have been stiffening the back of the Government and saying they must not give in, which means that you are practically going to starve the miners into submission in order to impose what they call economic terms upon the industry. There is no economy in forcing people to accept terms which the Government know in their hearts to be an outrage upon fair play. You do not help the industries of this country by that means. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to some of those terms and he says to some of them we object. The miners are asking for the right to negotiate on that basis. They are not firing an ultimatum and saying, "Take these points or leave them." They are not presented like the six articles of Henry the Eighth with the threat that if you do not swallow them you will be punished as a heretic. That is not the line that Mr. Cook is taking with regard to the Government.
Why are the Government refusing terms for negotiation? What is it that they object to? On which of these terms do they say they will not negotiate? Can they name one of these terms to which they object and which they say cannot be negotiated upon? Is it the purchase of royalties? Is that what stands in the way? The right hon. Gentleman quoted a passage from Mr. Cook in which he gave a list of the things which they mean to demand. I noticed that, because I had read that very carefully before. He simply gave there a summary of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and the right hon. Gentleman treats that as some sort of monstrous proposition which Mr. Cook has put for the first time before public opinion in this country and before the miners. They are 3094 the very things which the Prime Minister, standing at that Table, was himself prepared to accept within the last few weeks; but, when it comes from the lips of Mr. Cook, it is revolutionary, it is Bolshevik, it is something which is going to destroy the economic foundations of this industry and of the whole business of the country. The Government that approaches the settlement of a question in that spirit is a hopeless Government. It is a fatuous thing to try and settle upon those lines.
Is it subsidy? If it is subsidy, why, the Government themselves have said that they are prepared to give —3,000,000. They have never withdrawn that in this House. [HON.MEMBERS: Yes! "] I beg pardon. The Prime Minister, it is perfectly true, said he could not hold that offer open for ever, but three months is not for ever, nor is even 14 weeks. He has not definitely withdrawn it, except to the Federation of British Industries. The Federation of British Industries is not the British Parliament yet. It was suggested the other day—I have not seen the actual form in which the appeal was made—that the period of four months might possibly be reduced. If it is two months, the —3,000,000 would probably more than cover it, having regard to the fact that during the first month the prices will be so high that no subsidy will be required at all, and, even if the —3,000,000 did not cover it, it would not be too much to ask the owners to make up the gap it at the end of that time they got a fair settlement.
Why should it be assumed that,, if the Bishops' terms a re accepted, it will be an uneconomic settlement? The settlement would be a settlement effected by a joint committee of owners and men with an independent chairman. Why should it be assumed that an independent chairman will decide to give terms with regard to wages which will be so uneconomic that they will destroy the whole industry? I am deeply sorry that the Government have taken this line. We are separating for a month—I am assuming that, if the stoppage is not over, we shall be back at the end of August. [interruption.] I am assuming, Mr. Speaker, that we shall be in a position to discuss the whole situation —that, if we are called back in about a month's time to discuss renewing the 3095 Emergency Regulations, it will be competent to discuss the whole position in the mine field. I am assuming that because I think there have been discussions which have gone beyond the mere terms of the Regulations, and I assume that the general sense of the House will be such that you, Sir, would interpret it in such a way as to give us full facilities, and that, anyhow, the Prime Minister would not refuse to set up a Motion, if necessary, to give us an opportunity of discussing the situation at that time. I am assuming that at any rate in a month's time we shall be in a position to do so, but what will happen in the meantime?
The right hon. Gentleman talked about public opinion. Does he realise that as far as public opinion is concerned, the intervention of the Bishops has altered the whole position? What was the position before? Undoubtedly Mr. Cook's slogan was a very unfortunate one from the point of view of public opinion. I am talking about public opinion outside the mining fields. I am not expressing any opinion with regard to the effect upon the miners, but so far as public opinion outside is concerned, it was having a very disastrous effect when he said, " Not a minute on the day, not a penny off the pay." He seemed to be closing the door against every form of negotiation. I think that was having a very bad effect from the point of view of sympathy with the miners' case as far as the general public were concerned. I have pointed out repeatedly that I do not think Mr. Herbert Smith has ever said it. On the contrary, he has rather indicated that he is quite willing to discuss a reduction of wages. If after reconstruction it leads direct to reduction, he will accept the logical conclusion. He has said so over and over again. But still Mr. Cook, for various reasons, attracted more limelight than Mr. Herbert Smith did, and naturally, because he has greater gifts of that kind. [Interruption.] He has not, and part of our trouble in the South Wales coalfields is that we are run by men who come from outside. As long as we were run by our own people I rather think on the whole it was better. That has been abandoned. What has been the result? I have read articles in the Conservative papers with huge headlines, 3096 "Mr. Cook running away," "Mr. Cook surrenders," "Mr. Cook gives up." If he gives up, why does not the Government go in? You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say Mr. Cook is fighting for something that is impossible, and the next moment say he is running away from the thing he has done.
The fact remains that Mr. Cook and Mr. Herbert Smith, on the documents which they themselves have signed, have gone to the country with proposals which embody not merely what the Churches have recommended but what the Commissioners recommended, and public opinion will judge the dispute in future upon that basis and not upon the basis of the slogan. What position will the Government be in? [An HON. MEMBER: " A rotten one!"] They are in a pretty rotten one now. They will be in this position. They will be carrying on, or permitting to be carrying on—because it could not be carried on a day if they intervened firmly—a struggle which is devastating British industry and which will inflict a damage upon it that is incalculable. It is not merely what you reckon up in the millions that have been lost. It is in the trade that you are driving away. They are going to allow that to be carried on day by day, inspite of the fact that the mining leaders have accepted these proposals, because they are afraid of facing the Federation of British Industries and a few people who are pulling them from behind. I remember a strike in the Welsh Valley shortly after I came into this House. There was Mr. Ritchie who was President of the Board of Trade. He was a very sensible man and he did his best to settle. He intervened to secure arbitration. What happened? The diehards on the benches opposite intervened. I heard one of them get up and denounce him, amidst the cheers of the whole Conservative party, because he had attempted conciliation. He had to give it up. He could bring no further pressure to bear upon the owners. What was the result? The dispute went on until the valley was desolate. The young men went away, the old men, most of them, died during the years that the dispute went on, and the slate industry received a blow from which it has never recovered. We have now a reproduction 3097 on a larger scale of the same thing which happened in connection with the great Penrhyn quarry dispute.
The Prime Minister started reasonable, sane and, I think, wise. He showed the larger wisdom. He said, " Here you are. There are some of these terms that I do not care for. They are not quite the things that I would like, such as royalties and selling agencies, but for the sake of peace I am prepared to use the whole of my influence, and I have carried my Cabinet so far with me, to put these terms into operation." Then came the same process that I saw in connection with the Penrhyn quarry dispute. The diehard sentiment arose. They said, " What! Are you going to nationalise royalties? Are you going to give power to the municipalities to sell coal in certain cases? Are you going to give practically a subsidy?" One after another they pressed upon the right hon. Gentleman, and the result is that he has had to give way. I believe that if he had stood up to them he would have carried the bulk of his own supporters and he certainly would have carried the whole country with him. He would have put himself into a bigger position than he has ever achieved. He would have made peace in this country, and he would have made it in a sense which would have been an interpretation of the national conscience.
I ask the Government whether this is really the last word which they have to offer. During the month of August, with British trade under this juggernaut, we are pretending to make holiday, with the bank balances going up against the great industrial concerns of this country, with unemployment increasing, with Lancashire in a worse position than it has been in, according to the gentleman who spoke at the deputation, since the great cotton famine. Let the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines ask his colleagues to face the situation, to interpret the feeling of the nation, to show courage. They are here representing the people. Let them act worthily of their position.
There are one or two points which I wish to make. The Leader of the Opposition produced what he called a ballot paper. I think the wording of that paper shows quite conclusively that it is nothing of the sort. It is not a ballot paper. It is simply a 3098 form of resolution to be submitted to a miners' meeting for a show of hands. When the right hon. Gentleman described it as a ballot paper he was misdescribing it entirely.
"A ballot paper to the lodge as a whole." A ballot paper which begins: "We, so-and-so, decide so-and-so," is not a ballot paper in any sense in which a ballot paper has been interpreted before. It is simply a form of resolution to be submitted to a lodge meeting for a show of hands, and nothing else.
§ Mr. SEXTON
Will not the hon. Member come down from his attempts at logic chopping, and get down to bare facts?
That is exactly what the Government is, at last, doing. If the Government had given up logic chopping and got down to bare facts three months ago, the industries of this country, and especially the mining industry, would have been in a better condition. Now that they have come down to facts the Opposition is blaming them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whenever he speaks on the coal industry, seems to forget that he himself ever had anything to do with the undertaking. It is no exaggeration to put forward this point, that the accumulative effect of the actions of the right hon. Gentleman himself year after year in relation to the coal industry is largely responsible for the condition of the industry today. Anyone would think, from the fact that at this time last year he was attacking the Government for paying blackmail in the form of a subsidy to the mining industry, that he himself had never paid a subsidy to the industry. As a matter of fact, the subsidy which was paid by the right hon. Gentleman was much bigger than the unfortunate subsidy given by the present Government during those nine months. It was very much larger.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not know what the hon. Member means by that. The subsidy given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hilhead (Sir R. Horne) and myself in 1921, was, I think, about £7,500,000. The Government subsidy last year was about £24,000,000.
I was referring, not only to the blackmail paid to the mining industry by the right hon. Gentleman in 1921, which amounted to £7,500,000, but to the expenditure of this country under the Coal Control Commission, which went on month after month, and which was so vast that even the right hon. Gentleman himself said that it was much better to go on paying a subsidy.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think the hon. Member had better know some of the elementary facts of the case. As a matter of fact I was not responsible for the Coal Control Commission. That is his first mistake. It happened before I became Prime Minister. The second mistake is that the Coal Control Commission instead of being expensive to the country made huge profits.
There was a gigantic loss made in 1920 and 1921. The profit was made at the time when coal prices were very high, a year or two before. The losses on the coal trade were perfectly gigantic, and it was this reason alone that decided the right hon. Gentleman himself that at any cost he would fight against going on paying this gigantic tribute to the coal industry after March, 1921. He also informed us that Mr. Herbert Smith had long been ready to negotiate on the question of wages. I do not know whether he is better informed on this subject than Mr. Cook, but Mr. Cook, speaking at Wallbottle on Monday last, said that neither Mr. Herbert Smith nor himself had ever recommended a reduction in wages. I have taken the trouble of reading what is practically a verbatim report of Mr. Cook's speech at Wallbottle, as reported in the " Manchester Guardians," a paper which the right hon. Gentleman will agree can be trusted in every respect. The " Manchester Guardian's " report of this speech gives Mr. Cook as saying:He was determined first and foremost that they would not negotiate on the question of hours. They would never submit 3100 to an agreement for longer hours. They were determined to stand for a national agreement, with a national minimum of a seven hours day.For the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to get up and pretend to this House that arbitration is possible under these conditions is simply playing with the House. He knows quite well that without arbitration on hours and wages it is simply nonsense and nothing else. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs repeated the Prime Minister's statement that he was prepared on behalf of the Government to carry out all the proposals of the Royal Commission's Report, including those which called for various forms of legislation, on one condition, and that was that the other parties to the dispute would also agree to accept the terms of the Report. One of the parties did, but one of the parties did not, and therefore the Prime Minister, I think to his great relief, was released from that promise, which he had made merely with a view to getting peace.
I think it would be well for hon. Members who have been present this afternoon to be disabused of some of the impressions which the Leader of the Opposition endeavoured to instil into their minds. He said, in effect, that " the situation is worse now than it has even been." I can only say, in reply, that we are 24 hours nearer a settlement now than we were this time yesterday, and that, to-morrow, at this time, we shall be 24 hours nearer a settlement still. I ask hon. Members to examine very carefully the speeches and the actions of Mr. Cook and his colleagues of the Miners' Federation Executive. If they examine the reports as carefully as I have done during the past few weeks, they will agree that there is some reason for optimism at the present time. It is perfectly clear, from the somewhat disjointed orations of Mr. Cook up and down the country, that although the leader of the Opposition thinks that the whole position is perfectly secure, and that the miners are as determined as ever they were, Mr. A.J. Cook thinks nothing of the sort. The attempts which have been made to prevent men working in Warwickshire have not been successful on the whole. They have succeeded to a certain extent, but a good 3101 Many men, valuing the interests of their wives and children more than the saving of the faces of Mr. Cook and Mr. Smith, have gone back to work in increasing numbers during the present week. There are other places where the same thing is taking place. There is another point that hon. Members should bear well in mind during the Recess. It is again and again alleged that if the men are obliged to accept, as they have to accept in the long run, certain conditions which are not as favourable as the conditions prevailing to-day—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I cannot allow these interruptions. I hope that the hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. H. Guest) will set a better example.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will allow interruptors as much latitude as possible. It is a latitude which I very much appreciate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I certainly do not intend to allow either one side or the other to set an example which should not be followed.
I think hon. Members who are not intimately acquainted with the mining districts and who do not live in mining districts should bear in mind that of all the men working in this country, there is less malice to be found among the workers in coal mining districts than any others. I have lived among miners, I have worked with miners for many years, and I have fought with miners; and I can say that there is very very little malice among the mining population of this country. Disputes in the past have sometimes been successfully fought and the men have never shown any tendency to take advantage of their success. I have never observed in my experience—and hon. Members representing mining constituencies can say the same—that miners take a beating badly or grumble and kick up a fuss because they are beaten. In the present 3102 instance, the miners of Great Britain have put up a magnificent fight. I know it is perfectly well understood that they were deceived from the start. When people have put up a great fight—and, what must be a great satisfaction in this case, have broken a record for the duration of a strike—they go back to work in a frame of mind that is very different from that described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) and his followers. They go back thinking that they have put up a good show and that economic facts have been too strong for them and that they will put up a better show next time.
Mr. HUGH EDWARDS
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken with a very cynical speech, which I think will do more harm than good. I am one of those who are very disappointed that the Secretary for Mines has not given a sympathetic reply. I think that those who are associated with him would readily agree that it would be a national disaster if this struggle is fought to a finish. The hon. Member who has just spoken seemed to have an idea that it must be fought to a finish. It will be a great mistake if the miners are reduced to submission by a process of exhaustion. They would go back into the mines not as he thought, feeling elated that they had put up a good fight, but feeling extremely sullen, bitter in feeling, and ready for an opportunity to have another struggle. It would be a, truce, but an extremely bad truce. The Secretary for Mines took exception to the manifesto issued by the leaders of the Churches, but there is one paragraph in that manifesto which I venture to think will appeal to all Members of this House. It reads:No lasting peace is possible in the coal industry except upon the basis of justice and co-operation expressed in such practical methods of organisation as may secure that the worker in return for efficient service may receive adequate remuneration and enjoy humane conditions of labour.However much we may differ on political questions, I think everyone, even the Secretary for Mines, would be prepared to agree with that statement. It will be very hard when we go back to our constituencies and are asked what has been done by Parliament to bring the struggle to a close, if we cannot give a satisfactory answer. If we confess 3103 we are allowing the two sides to fight it out, it will be a lamentable answer to the country. I would make a suggestion to the Secretary for Mines. I would ask him to think of the mining industry and the miners, and not of Mr. Cook. The danger in this struggle is that people seem to think—as I fear the Secretary for Mines thinks — that Mr. Cook is the miner writ large. There are thousands of men in the mines who are moderate men, eager to work, and whom Mr. Cook does not represent. It is a mistake to put him up as the type of miner. He is being paid court to which he is not entitled. I would recall to the House a remark by Lord Askwith who was a permanent official of the Board of Trade when my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was President of the Board of Trade, and who, along with my right hon. Friend, took a leading part in settling industrial disputes. It was admitted in those days by employers and employés alike that there was no fairer-minded man or more skilful negotiator than Mr. Askwith, as he was at that time. I have heard him say that the first condition in an industrial dispute was to get the two sides together and keep them talking. I think that was the policy of my right hon. Friend himself. He always had the two sides talking, and did not talk himself while they were talking. Let the Secretary for Mines get the two sides together, let them begin to talk, and talk all through August, if necessary. I hope he will not allow a hard attitude on either side to determine his own attitude. Let him convene the parties round a table and get agreement, if possible, on minor points. If he does so, he will create a favourable atmosphere, and, in that way, he may induce the frame of mind which will lead to a settlement.
The House will scarcely need to be reminded that this is the anniversary of a historic day in the annals of our country. It is the twelfth anniversary of the Declaration of War. We cannot forget that the miners of the country were then among the most patriotic of the community. There were miners' battalions in the British Army, and thousands of miners laid down their lives, and are sleeping their last sleep in Flanders and in France. I ask that the 3104 memories of those men and the service which they rendered to their country in the day of crisis shall not be forgotten. Do not let us regard the miners as industrial pariahs, who were not prepared to do their part. If we can only get the spirit which prevailed in those days, and the appreciation of their services and patriotism which was then felt, to be a factor in the present situation, I feel sure much can be done. If the Secretary for Mines can only catch that spirit, and bring coalowners and miners together in that spirit, it will not be long before he achieves that great end which I give him credit for having in view—not a mere truce, but a satisfactory and permanent settlement in this industry.
I have only one or two remarks to make to correct, perhaps, some misapprehensions in the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He referred to the question of a subsidy. It is, of course, not the first time that he has referred to the question of a subsidy, but it was interesting to hear him this afternoon commending a subsidy to the Government in language as strong as that which he used just about a year ago, when he said that, if they gave a subsidy, it was because they were afraid of cold steel.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I said that once you gave it you could not get out of it until you had accomplished a settlement. I warned them at the time, and I am still of the same opinion, that once you have given a subsidy you cannot get out of it until you have cleaned up the job.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon has been peculiarly unhelpful in helping us to clean up the job. In the first place, he spoke of the proposals of the Bishops, without discussing them, as being based upon the Report of the Royal Commission. One thing he will find, if he has read the Report of the Royal Commission—
I am interested to hear that. If so, it is strange that he should think that the recommendation of a subsidy for a period of four months is in harmony at all with the Report of the Commission.
The hon. Member is interrupting in the middle of a speech with a point that is not material in the least. Sir Herbert Samuel, as he said himself, spoke for himself alone, He did not speak for the Commission.
He never said he spoke for the Commission. He spoke personally, and he did not say that the Commission recommended it. On the contrary, he made a personal suggestion, which was at variance with his own Report, and there is no question whatever that, so far as the Report of the Commission was concerned, the subsidy was condemned. At the beginning of the negotiations, the Prime Minister offered a sum of £3,000,000 as what is called a temporary subsidy. He excused it at the time as being a deviation from the Report of the Commission, and when the right hon. Gentleman opposite said that the present proposal of a subsidy for four months really did not differ from what the Prime Minister himself had said, and that he had never retracted it, either his memory or his industry must be grossly at fault with regard to what has happened in the House of Commons itself. If not, he would have realised that later on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in an answer to a question in this House, on behalf of the Prime Minister, said that, in the first place, the Government had recovered their freedom with regard to it, and not only so, but what was still available of the £3,000,000, after all the extra expenditure that had been caused by the strike, which the first offer was fruitless to prevent, would probably be needed for other purposes connected with the industry, for persons permanently out of work, and not for a subsidy of wages. 3106 Now, as regards the question of whether the Bishops' proposals have been placed before the miners exactly as they were made. Here are the Bishops' proposals, and here is what is obviously not a ballot paper. I have been making inquiries with regard to what is going on, and I hope to continue to get information, as soon as ever it is available, from the coalfields, to see the decision that is being taken, but the decision that is being taken is not a decision upon a ballot. It is a decision upon a number of resolutions submitted to the miners' lodges, and, as every mining Member knows, that is not a ballot. It is a very different thing. The Leader of the Opposition referred to it as a ballot, and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon, Boroughs referred to it as a ballot.
The question is submitted to the various lodges in the country, and a vote on that matter, as outlined on the paper, will settle the whole principle. The delegate will be instructed to attend his council meeting, and to give his vote according to that.
That may be all very true, and I am not quarrelling with it, but when my right hon. Friend here is taken to task for not knowing exactly what is happening in the coalfields, and the Leader of the Opposition says, " Does he not know the ballot paper which is being submitted to the miners? " I would point out that a resolution submitted to lodges to vote upon is an entirely different thing. But a more important point is as to the way in which the proposals of the Bishops are really being submitted to the miners. It is no use pretending, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs pretends, that you cannot gather anything from the reported speeches of Mr. Cook, that his phrases are picked out, and that, therefore, you are to place no importance upon them. That is manifestly absurd. I quite agree that condensed newspaper reports have to be taken into account, but when it is said that these are merely flowery phrases used to deck out a speech, and consume some part of three-quarters of an hour, I answer that it is something quite different. They are phrases which are interpreted by the audience at a meeting and the miners at large—
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
Is it in Order for any Member to speak twice on the Motion for the Adjournment? The Minister has spoken before to-day, and there are others who are desirous of getting in.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am grateful to the 'House for having given me permission to speak again. As the hon. Member knows, I have given way to every legitimate interruption.
§ Mr. G. HALL
A good deal has been said about a ballot, and the way the-terms are to be submitted to lodge meetings. If the terms are approved by the miners throughout the country, either by ballot or at the lodge meetings, will the 'Government themselves open up negotiations!
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am coming to that before I sit down. The point I am putting to the House is this, though there may be some wild phrases —condensed versions of speeches—which are seized upon, there are other phrases of Mr. Cook's which interpret or profess to interpret, the memorandum of the Bishops. The phrases actually used go far beyond the actual proposals of the Bishops themselves. I take one point which is very essential indeed. Take the Bishops' proposals. In the first one they say:The Settlement, when arrived at, shall be on the basis of a National Agreement.When I read Mr. Cook s interpretation, I find it includes a national minimum. Now a national agreement and a national minimum are two entirely different things. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He cannot remember what the Coal Commission say. If he will refer to pages 140 to 150 of their Report, he will find that what they really suggest in all those pages, taken together, is that there shall be a national form of agreement—that there shall not necessarily be a, national minimum, but there shall be an adjustment according to districts. The consequence is that while it may be argued that the national agreement in the Bishops' proposals is in harmony with the Report, a national minimum is distinctly not in harmony with the Report and Mr. Cook in that respect has entirely perverted the proposals of the Bishops in his speeches.
3108 The other point which I want to make is this. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs referred to this as a basis for negotiation, and asked what would happen if the lodges accepted the proposals put before them. What I can say at once is this: If there is any readiness to negotiate generally, the Government are only waiting an opportunity to try and bring the parties together when there is any real likelihood that bringing them together will lead to any useful or fruitful result. Up to now, the difficulty has been to bring the parties together. We have tried on more than one occasion.
The only reason I can see for the interruptions is that hon. Members opposite do not want to have a reply.
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking at five minutes to five, while the country is waiting for a reply. It is starving the miners into subjection.
§ Sir A. STEEL - MAITLAND
Statements have been made as to the starvation of miners into subjection, which have flatly been contradicted. If hon. Members use that language, then they must be prepared to hear it contradicted, and more than once. I am not prepared to allow statements of that kind to be made, and to allow them, whether there is time or not for other Members to speak, to pass without contradiction. As often as they are made, so often will they be contradicted. There is no starvation of the miners at the moment, and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Mardy Jones) knows it perfectly well.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member knows it perfectly well, and if he makes the statement it is merely for stage purposes.
On a point of Order. Do we understand that the right hon. Gentleman can continue to occupy the rest of the time when he has already spoken once, if objection be taken?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I put the question whether any objection was taken, and said the right hon. Gentleman must ask leave, and he received leave.
In reply to a question from another hon. Member, which is much more apposite—as soon as ever there is a possibility of getting a useful result by bringing the two sides together, it is perfectly obvious that the Government will take that step at once. We have tried already to do so, and we are willing to do so again. What we really want is a fair settlement, and a fair settlement has got to he not merely what is demanded by one, side or the other, but a settlement which really is in harmony with the actual needs of the industry. You cannot neglect them. On the other hand, we must try to see that it is not unfair and not beyond what the needs of the industry really requires. As soon as there is a possibility that the results will be fruitful, we are willing, anxious and ready to take the opportunity. We have got to use our own judgment as to the moment. We have tried already and the moment was not ripe and we were not successful.
May I ask this question: whether, in the event of the lodges approving the recommendations of the executive committee of the Miners' Federation on Saturday, does the right hon. Gentleman think it would then be necessary and opportune for negotiations to be opened?
I would never take a purely hypothetical case with regard to that. [Interruption.] If there be anyone who is versed in negotiations, he will realise that I am right in saying that, whether it be a ballot or reference to the lodges, or whatever you like, when you get one being taken, as at this moment, I am not going to announce any intention on behalf of the Government while the reference is actually, proceeding. It would be perfectly absurd to do so. [An HON. MEMBER: " Is it respectful to treat Members of this House with the contempt which the Minister is treating them? ") Hon. Members know quite well I am not treating them with contempt at all_ It would be wrong to answer hypothetically in the middle of a reference, but I assure hon. Members that, given the opportunity, the Government would have no hesitation whatever in trying to bring the parties together. That I can assure the House, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman opposite that, if he is for fishing in troubled waters, that does not help to a settlement.
§ Mr. SHORT
We have listened to a very extraordinary explanation from the right hon. Gentleman. I venture to submit his reply has been harsh and vicious, and he has proved conclusively to my mind, and I believe to that of the country, that he has been echoing the sentiments of the Federation of British Industries. It is the intention of the Government to see the miners driven back to their work and follow their daily occupation as the result of starvation. He denied certain statements that had been made, but all the facts and all the arguments which he advanced—
§ It being Five of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 3rd August, until Tuesday, 9th November, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.