§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Colonel Gibbs.]
Any feeling which anyone has now, at the end of four months, in intervening in a coal Debate, is that during the whole time certain statements on both sides have been made so repeatedly that they have worn themselves into very deep ruts, and whoever makes an attempt now to restart—I think that is the right word—with any freshness of mind, a consideration of the problem which the nation has now to face, has, first of all, to get the wheels out of those deep ruts. The Government bear the burden of responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves. The Cabinet—I must pay my tribute to it—has been a very efficient, a very faithful and a very loyal sub-committee of the Owners' Association. There has not been a single suggestion which the owners have made that the Cabinet have not taken up. If administrative action were required, the Cabinet responded. If legislative action were required, the Cabinet responded. If no action at all were required, the Cabinet responded. Even when an appeal was being made to a foreign country for assistance of a human kind, the Prime Minister was enlisted into a campaign, and he wrote a letter which was unworthy of himself and still more unworthy of the office which he holds.
Every sign and indication the nation can give of its mind are given in the nature of a vote of censure on the Government. By-elections have gone in certain ways, and municipal elections—I know that they are not always a sure indication of political feeling—but when those who are charged with the interpretation of feeling show that they have no doubt as to what they indicate, and run away from the constituencies they represent, and if, after they have run away, we get a by-election like we had in Birmingham last Saturday, which not only dots the "i's" and strokes the "t's" of what had happened there before, but puts a specially big dot on the "i," and a specially thick stroke on the "t," then hon. Members opposite will excuse me when I say that municipal elections at the present time and in the present circumstances do indi- 160 cate that the nation is thoroughly tired of, and completely opposed to, the Government.
The owners said, "We must have reductions in wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Report."] Well, the Report said, "We think there will have to be reductions in wages, but they ought not to be asked for until certain preliminary negotiations have taken place." That is an old question. I have said that before, and hon. Members opposite know my opinion. The Government, in obedience to the owners, said, "We are very anxious to negotiate, but we will not start negotiations until you have agreed to accept reductions in wages."
In obedience to the owners the Government assented. The owners said: "We must have an increase in hours." The Government said: "Is that so? All right, you will get it." Even their most devoted and mechanical supporter cannot say that that was in accordance with the decision of the Royal Commission. This was at a time when not one of the several inquiries held into the real needs of this industry had reported in favour of an increase of hours. We had had doubts expressed, we had had indications that it might be possible; but anyone, whatever his allegiance to sections or classes or political parties, who has honestly tried, whatever his prejudices or whatever coloured spectacles he was wearing, to abstract himself from the whirling mass of ideas and words of the day, and to visualise the problem that the industry presents as an objective problem, has seen, as is shown in the report published by the League of Nations, that one of the great problems that beset the coal industry in Europe is production, not paucity in production but excess in production. He must have seen that one of the great problems that have to be solved, however it is solved, by cartel action, or by trust action or by the action known as ca' canny—it does not matter how it is going to be handled—everyone who has approached the coal problem from a scientific standpoint and with a sincere desire first of all to understand what it is and then to use his brains to master the problem, has been compelled by the facts placed before him to begin with this 161 proposition—the over-production of coal in the European coalfields in relation to present capacity for consumption.
That is the great problem. You may steal a march, as it were, upon your foreign competitors by cutting wages, by increasing hours, by lowering costs of production, but the moment your enemy —I use the word purely in an industrial sense—your competitor, sees what has been done he uses precisely the same method that you do, overtakes you and then you are exactly where you were before. This was present in the minds of those conducting every impartial inquiry which has been held into the coal industry, and it was mainly the reason why they always finished their report on hours with a doubt as to the desirability of increasing hours; and some of them have taken an even stronger view. No definite recommendation for an increase of hours has been made by any impartial body as a contribution towards a settlement; but the owners, thinking a little bit too narrowly, not seeing the horizon far enough away, thinking more for the day and the to-morrow than of any great plan for a development of the coal industry both for home consumption and export, said "Give us eight hours now." The Government said, "We will," and they did it.
Then the question of district agreements came up. Even upon that the Government could not speak with a united voice. The First Lord of the Admiralty has made a speech on his own responsibility. We all know of Cabinet Ministers and Ministers who wander out at week-ends and, speaking on their own responsibility—[Laughter]—we have all experienced it—utter obiter dicta, which really indicate the true mind not only of the person who is speaking but of his colleagues. He was quite plain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, at Swansea, was a little bit more deft.
A little bit more deft. While encouraging district settlements, he did indicate that they might be embodied in a national agreement. I think I do no injustice to him in that reading of his speech, though I have had to confine myself to what was reported. Reading his speech I think the emphasis was placed upon the district settlement 162 rather than upon a national agreement. Now, to-day, we are in a position which I think we are all agreed is a bad position; it is a deadlock, as I shall show before I sit down.
I wonder if I can get one or two propositions agreed to from which we might lay down some sort of foundation which expresses the desire of the House of Commons. The first proposition I lay down is that in my opinion—I should be very glad if I could say our opinion—there must be a national agreement; and I supplement that by saying that that national agreement ought to be come to between the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. I feel perfectly certain that unless that can be done there is no bright prospect of what I call peace. I do not mean merely the resumption of work—that is important—but there is something much more important than that, and that is peace and good will, a loyal co-operation, hearty production, which the miners have always given—no one can accuse them of ca' canny—and an agreed desire to put at the service of the nation those resources which the nation requires in order not only to flourish but to live at all. A national agreement is the first foundation stone that I would lay.
I make another proposition: Negotiations should be opened up. I have listened to a great many speeches from the Treasury Bench and the benches opposite and from hon. Members in this House, and I have read a good many speeches delivered outside, and I am sometimes amazed at the idea some hon. Members have about negotiations. We have all been in negotiations, some of them very simple, some of them very difficult, some of them industrial, some of them personal, some of them national. The man who says: "I will not negotiate until the other side makes some proposition with which I can agree" will never negotiate at all. That is not the genius of negotiation. It is a perfectly hopeless position to take up. What is the position regarding negotiations now? We are told—I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it in his interview at Downing Street the other day, when addressing the miners—"You have never told us what you are going to give." Why should they? If one draws back from the heat and the squalor of the 163 fight, why should they? It is the purpose of negotiations to bring that out. Both sides have taken up a certain position, and the position of both sides is perfectly clear. There is no doubt about it. When the opponents of the miners like to sneer at them they know what the miners' position is; but when they want to discuss the problem of negotiations they innocently come and tell us, "We do not know where they stand." They know perfectly well where they stand. Let us take the original position, the position that was proclaimed by them four months ago. It was, Not a penny off, not a minute on, and a national agreement. The owners said, making their position equally clear, "A substantial reduction of wages"—they varied the figure a bit, sometimes asking for this percentage and sometimes asking for that—"an increase of hours." At first they did not say, so far as I can make out, "district agreements," but since then they have added that.
There is the conflict. If I may use a military expression and not be made the subject of letters about it, there is the position of the two armies, of the men on the one hand and the owners on the other. What is our problem? The problem of everybody who is interested in this question is, Is a bridge possible, is an accommodation possible, is a meeting possible, is an agreement possible? That is the problem. If whoever is going to offer his good services in a situation like that goes to the men or to the owners and says, "Before I begin my work with you you must surrender this or must surrender that"—then that person will never be called in. I have always held that that bridge was possible. I have held to that belief without having any false ideas of the difficulties. I know both sides. Rebuffs were bound to be encountered, temporary defeats were bound to be encountered, but the negotiator who sticks to his business never allows the other side to make an admission that can be developed without exploring that position that every time a statement is made which gives him an opportunity of building something upon it. Instead of washing his hands of the business and saying, "I do not know what you mean. I will send you a letter 164 and ask what you mean," he will get the whole thing straightened out and advance a further stage with the bridge he is building. I hope that an accommodation is possible, and I think it is if the Government will do all they can do, and what they ought to do in this matter. The position to-day is in one respect far more difficult than ever it has been before. The effluxion of time has gone on and that does not always heal sores, but very often it makes them worse. On the other hand there are elements which tend to make the difficulty a bit easier than before.
Let us see if we can get some proposition towards an agreement. I say that the nation, and the whole nation, wishes everybody with influence or with any authority to take every possible, step to try and get a settlement of this difficulty. Within the walls of this Chamber our vision is limited by these four walls, but to-morrow morning the people will read and consider what we are saying, and they will be hoping that something will be said which will give them the glimpse of an expectation that an end is likely to be brought about to this serious position by the people in authority. I make another proposition. I say that the settlement must contain ingredients which are acceptable to both sides. In other words, negotiations are simply a process of give and take, and not one side putting down its foot and saying, "We will not give anything." The agreement must consist of something which contains in its provisions a reflection of the real situation as it is to-day, and at the same time it must give the men an assurance that if any sacrifices are asked for and given to-day that they will be made good in the future immediately the conditions change.
I make a third proposition, and it is that the settlement should not be a patched-up peace, but it should be of such a nature as will give promise, good promise, of a reasonable duration, and I would define the adjective "reasonable" mainly as meaning time to enable us to see whether the experiment which has been made in the settlement is good should be made more permanent, or whether it is bad and ought to be departed from and another expedient put in its place. Another proposition I make is this. I do not know that I can say this of the owners, and I should like to 165 if I could, but there is a general feeling that, if an agreement could be come to, it would be a great relief to have these questions settled amicably without a feeling of defeat. If anybody imagines that there is such a feeling amongst the men they are living in a fool's paradise. A very large body of men have been involved in this struggle with their wives and families. They have been starving day by day, using every resource they could lay their hands upon, and they have witnessed those resources getting less and less, and the shadow of destitution creeping more closely to them, and when it has reached them it has become deeper and deeper and blacker and blacker; and yet to-day those men and those women are as prepared to go on with this and to go through with it as they were four months ago.
In their hearts and in our hearts there is the conviction that after all it is not beyond the wit of man to devise means by which a settlement which conforms to the lines I have been laying down could be made if only the Government would take the initiative in the necessary things to be done. The stumbling block to-day is undoubtedly eight hours. There is no doubt about that, and we prophesied that at the time the Bill was passed. Nobody who has been in touch with both sides, however informally, can blind themselves to the fact that if the Eight Hours Act was not on the Statute Book the way to peace would be very much shorter than it is now. I think the representatives of both sides will agree with that proposition although I do not want to commit anybody, and I have tried to put myself in possession of the views of both sides. You go to the miners and say, "Will you embody an Eight Hours day in your agreement," and they reply, "Certainly not!" and they give a hard, definite, and blank refusal. Then you go to the owners and you say, "Will you waive the Eight Hours Act?" and they reply, "Certainly not!" and also give a hard, definite and blank refusal. May I put before the House what the actual position is to-day? Negotiations are now proceeding, and let us see what is exactly the situation. I do not know if hon. Members have got a copy of the minutes of the proceedings of the conference held 166 between the miners and the owners, but I would strongly recommend hon. Members to become possessed of a copy of this verbatim report of what took place at that conference. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where can you get it?"] I do not know, but I got my copy from the Miners' Federation, and I think it has already been published in the newspapers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not verbatim!"]
§ Mr. SKELTON
There is no suggestion that there is any difference between the verbatim report and the report which appeared, say, in the "Times."
Yes, it is the 19th. I will quote from the official report, and upon that I want to base my remarks, the intention being to beg the Government in view of the serious situation to again consider what is going to be its future relations with the miners and the owners. Let us see how the matter began. Mr. Herbert Smith speaking for the men asked the owners to open negotiations and he put the matter to them in a variety of ways. He said:We are asking you to meet us to have a general talk upon the situation.Again he said:I think we should go carefully through this thing and see how far we can meet one another eye to eye.He went on to say:The consequence is that my committee is here this afternoon in this way to have a general talk with you people in order to see what we can agree upon, and to try and arrive, as far as we possibly can, at the points we can agree upon, and see what the points are that we disagree upon. I want us to have a friendly talk this afternoon on general questions, and if need be take to-morrow and get to important questions when we have cleared these off. Let us get the roads put into proper repair and then see how much more wants removing in order to get through.Could you have a better spirit than that to open negotiations? The owners, through the mouth of their chairman, Mr. Evan Williams, declined to pursue those negotiations—a very serious position for the owners to take up. Then we come to the question of hours. The owners' position on hours was again 167 quite clearly defined by Mr. Evan Williams, who said:It would be wrong if anything were said which would give you the impression that in our view the Act of Parliament which has been passed is to be treated as a dead letter, and as if it had not been placed upon the Statute Book.Mr. Williams went on to say:The question of wages that can be paid in this or any other industry, as far as I know, must depend upon the amount of work done by the wage-earner; and as we have said over and over again for some considerable time, there is no possibility that we can see of the industry being carried on, even if it were only for the payment of wages, without taking full advantage of the fact that now it is no longer a crime to work more than seven hours a day, as it had been up to the time of the passing of this Act. We have strenuously held that view and expressed it to you, and quite candidly and openly we have exerted ourselves to the fullest extent possible to persuade the Government of this country, through the Cabinet and the Houses of Parliament, that it was absolutely essential that the prohibition which existed to working more than seven hours a day should be removed, and that it should be legal to work eight hours a day in the mines.Further on, he said:That Act has to be taken into full and complete consideration as being intended to be implemented by the owners and the country.I really thought, when I read that statement, that, if I had had the privilege and the great personal pleasure to have been in the company of the Prime Minister, and we had both perused it together, what a humiliated man he would have been after telling this House that it was permissive, after assuring his followers that it was permissive, and after, I believe, himself thinking that it was permissive. He was either deceived by others or he deceived himself, because there is nobody who listened to the Debate in this House and to the arguments and inducements given to hon. Members to support that Act who can say that the speeches delivered from the Front Bench then are reflected in the statement made by Mr. Evan Williams. They were to be permitted to work eight hours. There is no permission in it so far as the miners are concerned. It is compulsion upon the miners.
The right hon. Gentleman says that this Act is not 168 permissive. How, then, does he account for the fact that a number of pits are at present working seven hours and a large number working seven and a-half hours?
The position of the owners is explained by the chairman of their association, who says that they will use this Act whether the miners like it or not. The owners, having the power in their hands, are, according to their president, going to use the Act in accordance with their own will. If the hon. Member cares to pass legislation enacting that somebody may do something against me, I am not thanking him for the permissive wording of his Act, provided my will and intention is no element in the operation of that Act.
The answer is perfectly clear. I would like very much to get on with the run of my argument.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
He cannot answer it.
I will repeat the answer. The answer was this: A Bill, verbally permissive, which gives absolute power to one side to put it into operation or not—
By no agreement with the men. There is no suggestion of agreement here. (Interruption.] If it be a laugh that hon. Members are out for—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The answer will be given better later, and not as a catechism.
I want to get on. No one reading these words will find in them the least suggestion or have conveyed to his mind the idea that the owners mean to use this Act only when the men agree with them that it should 169 be used. As a matter of fact, these paragraphs, the owners' attitude, and the final words of Mr. Evan Williams are as plain as a, pikestaff. The owners say it is no longer criminal to work eight hours. We have gone to the Government, we have used every pressure we can upon them to get this Act, and we are going to use it in our own interest. If you do not accept the increased hours, and if you do not agree with us using the powers under this Act, we will make no agreement with you; we will go on with the lock-out, and we will trust to the dreaded grinding of economic powers and economic ways in order to crush your spirit. That is the idea. I have said that at that meeting the owners made perfectly clear that in future there was to be district agreements, and district agreements only. They have torn up national agreements. They have said: "We will make no more of them." They have said: "If you do come back at all, you are going to come back, not upon an agreement made in London, not upon an agreement made with any central body of representatives, but upon district agreements, and, in the making of those district agreements, there can be no exchange of opinion between district and district so far as the official negotiations are concerned. That is the position. They supplement that with a point which is inevitable. Mr. Evan Williams, towards the end of the conference, went on to say:We have not really any standing."We" is the Mining Association. Having told the miners that there could be no national agreement with the owners and that the Associations could not negotiate for them, he goes on to say:We have not really any standing, therefore, as two bodies for negotiating a settlement of this question, and I say again that if you want a settlement—I believe you do want a settlement—the quickest and the wisest and the best way of doing it is to deal with those who have the power to make the settlement.Yes, no national agreement and the smash up of the Miners' Federation. He goes on further:We …. say that we have no power or authority to discuss with you a national settlement …. If we were to carry on conversations and discussions in the direction of dealing with terms and conditions of 170 employment it would be dishonest on our part, because we should be doing that which we have no authority or power to do.Finally, he says:I think there can be no doubt at all that this is the position which we hold; and, while we differ in this way on these fundamental points, it does not seem to me that any good purpose can be served by prolonging this meeting or meeting again as two national bodies in this way.That is the situation in which the Conference left the mining dispute or whatever you like to call it. Is the House satisfied with that? What is the issue? What is going to happen? You can go on. The owners can go on and wait and enlist more and more men. Well, that will take some time even if it succeeds. Supposing it succeeds, where are you? Is this House really going to go away quietly, as if it had no concern with the dispute, as if it were living in Mars or somewhere, and live its life individually and collectively and just wait for events, wait for economic evolution to settle this matter, wait for an end which is either starvation or helplessness or breaks away? I do not believe it for a moment. I think it is quite possible, after this position on the part of the owners, that the Government might get the two sides together again. How long ago is it since we told them, and since they agreed with us, that we will get no solution of this matter by leaving the two sides alone? The Prime Minister said so from that Box at the beginning, on the 11th May. [HON. MEMBERS: "Fourteenth!"] Then, I suppose, pressure was brought to bear on him, and he abandoned that position. Now they have met, and there is the result. Not only nothing done; it is worse than that; it is a declaration on the part of the owners that nothing can be done by national organisation. I beg the Government to go back to its old wisdom, and, with this Report in front of them and the knowledge that a deadlock has taken place since the two sides met without anybody else present, to bring them back to discuss the situation the trade is in, the one condition being an open agenda and nothing barred as far as discussion is concerned. I would sooner talk for a fortnight and feel that I was getting some data than go on fighting for six months and know that at the end I shall get nothing at all. That is the alternative now.
171 There are only three bodies, the owners, the men and the Government. Those are all that count now, and I think that, if the Government will not act, the venture might be worth trying to find out whether we could not get some man of influence, apart from the Government, to do a good service to the nation and open negotiations, beginning openly in the way I suggest, and bringing the facts before them. I should say you would get something in a fortnight. It is very quickly done. It would be far more quickly done than if this thing were allowed to go on in the way in which it is going to go on. The one thing that is required now is that the Government should get the two sides together, that the Government should make up its own mind as to how it is going to face the questions that have to be discussed. The question of wages, for instance, has been opened up by the decisions of a conference held in London not long ago. What is the meaning of that? How far is this opening up of the wages question going to enable us to settle the hours question? How far is the opening up of the wages question going to enable us to re-establish national agreements? It is all very well for people to sit back in their chairs and say, "We do not know." It is your business to know. It is your business, at any rate, to see to it that there is no fumbling or raggedness at the edges of these matters to make things difficult point by point, stage by stage, and, if both sides care to enter upon a conference with an open agenda, then the Government, certainly, if it listens to what the nation is calling upon it to do, will see to it that before many hours are up that conference will be held, and it will remain present at the conference. It will see to it that the work of the conference is not merely empty language, but that both sides are kept rigidly to a consideration of the actual facts that they will have to face if a solution is going to be found for the coal industry.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
At an earlier stage in to-day's Debate the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition told us that the House ought to meet at an earlier date, and that a condition which he or his friends would reveal in to-day's Debate would be an ample reason 172 to prove this. I am bound to say, after listening to the speech that the right hon. Gentleman has made, that it does not seem to me that speeches of that character, made on a subject as difficult and as important as this is, are an encouragement to more frequent meetings of the House, or give reason to believe that the cause of industrial peace will be helped by further debates initiated in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has initiated this one. Wanting, as I do want most earnestly, an early settlement of this great dispute, I would say that the more we are saved from the kind of remarks which have characterised a large part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, the more we might hope for such a settlement. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tell us where!"] If the hon. Member will have patience, I will tell him. The right hon. Gentleman has opened up the whole question of this dispute; has gone over again the whole grounds of quarrel, and has proceeded to talk about them in the same strain without really producing anything new. He has made the same statements which the facts themselves have since disproved.
He proceeds again to attack the Government for having passed the Eight Hours Act. [Interruption.] The very shouts from hon. Members opposite show how little the cause of settlement is to be promoted by starting a controversy of that kind in this House. The right hon. Gentleman made the point that the Act is not permissive, but that it is an Act which is going to be imposed by one party on the other. It is very easy to say, as he does, that one party has shown that it is going to impose it, and to take up the attitude that, therefore, the case is proved. What do the facts show—and, after all, what we have to come down to are the hard facts? What do the facts show? There has been one considerable district offer, and on what basis has it been? It has been on a 7½-hour basis.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is useless from the point of view of argument to throw catchwords about. Cannot we avoid catchwords in the House?
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
Will the Minister give us the name of the district to which he refers?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Notts and Derby. What I wish to say is that when it comes down to actual facts they show that it enables the extension to be made. So far as the facts have shown hitherto, no support whatsoever is given to the right hon. Gentleman's contention, put to us in such a polemic fashion, that the full eight-hour day is going to be extorted. Indeed, I would put another consideration to the right hon. Gentleman which, perhaps, he has not thought of. It is this. To carry out one of the clear suggestions of the Report itself, this Eight Hours Act would have been needed. The passage in the Report which suggests an elasticity of hours has exactly the same meaning as the Act passed recently. The Act would be needed for the purpose of that elasticity which is referred to on page 175 of the Report. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the facts themselves are the strongest judge of the situation, and up to the present everything that has passed has shown that every syllable of the Prime Minister's statement that this was a permissive Act has been justified. [Interruption.]
I have not quarrelled with the statement that has been quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, and I have not repudiated it. But I want to say again that, with this dispute going on, and with no step forward being made by the one side, it may naturally be that opportunities which otherwise might have been possible may pass. [Interruption.] Opportunities open to the Miners' Federation may pass from them if they continue, as they have continued up to the present, to persist in their rigid attitude. [An HON. MEMBER: "Another threat!"] The right hon. Gentleman has accused the Government of not bringing the parties together. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman meant that observation for me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] I was merely asking whether the right hon. Gentleman meant his observation for me. He accused us, as a Government, of never having kept up negotiations with the two sides. We have had continual negotiations. We brought both sides together, and we sat with them continuously in the first instance. We have met them separately and put all the considerations before them. We did everything that it was 174 possible to do, by means of constant conferences, to produce a settlement. We have always been open to see either side or both sides, and we have been willing to open negotiations as soon as it seemed that there was any possible use in our doing so. [Interruption.] The trouble that has really faced us—and this the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone—is that in all essentials, as we said to Mr. Herbert Smith when we met him only two or three days ago, he has not made an advance of one inch from the very beginning.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
Have the owners?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The owners did make offers, and showed themselves ready to treat, but, we have never had a single advance from the Miners' Federation in any direction.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
Have you read their conferences?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have read all the proceedings. I am no advocate for the owners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"!] The hon. Gentleman is repeating what I thought was the not very worthy insinuation of his Leader at the beginning of the Debate, that we have been a committee to do the owners' will. Whatever we have done we have done on our own judgment. [An HON. MEMBER: "His master's voice!"] The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well in his heart that nothing of the kind has been the case. We brought in an Eight Hours Bill because we thought it was right. When we found a change of percentage which we did not think was justified, we went to the owners and said to them, "This has to be changed," and we should say so again. [Interruption.] We were able to say what we thought with perfect impartiality to either side, and hon. Members opposite know that quite well. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. VARLEY
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the percentage to which he has just refered has since been restored under the Notts and Derby offer to which he referred a few moments ago?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am not aware of that.
Our trouble has been that, when one body of men takes up a position 175 absolutely contrary to the Report, as the Miners' Federation has done from the beginning, and will not budge from it in any particular, it is quite impossible to make a real movement forward. It is impossible for the Government to intervene unless they know that there is any possibility of some advance being made. We did not ask them, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested we did, to say what advance they were ready to make. What was asked the other day was whether they would be prepared to make an advance or to make any proposals. Our difficulty has been, not that they have never made specific proposals but that they absolutely refused to budge from the attitude which they took up at the beginning. They took up the attitude that there should be no reduction in wages at all, and the statements we have had up to now are precisely the same in essence as that which Mr. Herbert Smith made at the Memorial Hall before the strike, that they would consent to no adjustment of any sort or kind until after the question of reorganisation had been gone into and they had seen the effect of it. We have got no advance on that. We have had no acknowledgment of the fact that there must be variations. All that we have had is the continual request from the beginning that there must be a subsidy to the industry.
It is quite inconceivable that there could be no reduction in wages under present conditions, without a subsidy. That is just another proof that the position taken up by the miners' leaders and never departed from till now, has been contrary to the Report. The very intransigeance of it all makes a settlement impossible. We take up now the attitude which we have taken up from the beginning. Let either side show itself willing to make a proposal of substance, and we are ready to consider it, and, if it is a proposal of real substance, to take action upon it. We have said that from the beginning. Our difficulty has been that, in the absence of any such proposal, intervention is quite impossible, and is of no use. It is no good making one proposal after another and being met by an everlasting "Nay." The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Member for Aberavon) knows 176 quite well that he and his friends have reasoned with the miners' representatives to abandon it and they have never agreed to do so. It is not as if we are trying to stand on something which was not real. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he himself has reasoned with them, that his friends have also reasoned with them, and tried to persuade them not to be so intransigeant in their attitude, and he knows just as well as I do that intervention is impossible when one party meets you with an everlasting "Nay." If any proposal of substance is brought forward and any real and substantial advance is made, then it is another matter.
I quite agree as to the loss to the country. The country has suffered enormous loss, although, as a matter of fact, trade has stood up under the strain with an elasticity which is absolutely remarkable. I look at the provisional figures of unemployment, of which the definite figures, perhaps slightly corrected, will be given out this afternoon, and I find again there is a decrease in unemployment this last week. But still the loss to the country is enormous, and I realise that the stress on the mining population is enormous. What I would like everyone to realise is the hardship which that "never-never" attitude of the miners has caused to the rest of the working classes. I have brought to me, week by week, the figures of men out of work, and if it had not been for this dispute, there would have been at least 600,000 more men and women in work than there are to-day. That is the loss which has been caused to the rest of the country, quite apart from the miners themselves.
I have had to rebut the charges brought against me, and I have done so. As time goes on, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has recognised, in a dispute of this kind tempers become hardened. He has pointed to the fact that the owners were apparently more willing to give a national settlement and a national agreement at an earlier stage than they are now. That shows the stag which occur as time passes. It also does mean—and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to note this—that there is less power on the part of any Government to do what it would wish at the end of a dispute than at the beginning. I would 177 apologise to hon. Members opposite if I have been controversial. I have not meant to be, but I have had to answer the attacks made upon us. I say again to hon. Members opposite that there must really be an advance and a willingness to face the facts by being ready to make a substantial advance. The right hon. Gentleman himself and his friends must know that they have counselled an advance of that kind and have done it more than once, and some advance of that kind must be made.
May I just ask the right hon. Gentleman to supplement what he has just said. It is perfectly true that I have counselled that, but I have also counselled the Government, and the great obstacle in getting any move has been the attitude the Government have taken up.
§ Mr. SPENCER
The first observation I desire to make is with regard to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman that the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and the leaders of the Miners' Federation have not, during the whole of this crisis, made any move whatever or departed in any degree from the position they took up at the commencement of this struggle. I would like to say that there may be an element of truth in what he has had to say up to a point, but he cannot say that since the last conference we had in London the position of the Federation has not been changed. The proof of what I am saying lies in the documentary evidence of the meeting held between representatives of the workmen and of the owners on 19th August. Surely when Mr. Herbert Smith said: "Let us sit down and have a talk about all these things," that in itself was an admission that there was a departure from the old position taken up. I would like to say that, as far as I am concerned, I regret very much that that meeting did not prove far more productive of good than it appears to have been. It seemed to be a meeting, not for the purpose of seeing how far the parties could agree but a meeting for the purpose of the owners laying down very definitely and clearly, as Mr. Evan Williams said, what was going to be their irrevocable position. It does seem to me that the reward of the advance which has been made by members of the Miners' Federation is that the owners are themselves receding 178 from their position arid, instead of displaying a spirit of willingness to acknowledge the advances which are being made by the other side and to emulate them and get together, the only reward of that advance has been the receding of the owners themselves. That is a most deplorable position for them to be taking up at the present time.
I would like to try to interpret the mind of hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. I may or may not do it correctly, but I think their position is this, that, survey-the whole field of the dispute, it appears to them that the zenith of strength which the Miners' Federation can derive from their organisation has passed; that there are indications of weakness setting in, and that here and there in certain districts men are returning to work; that it is only a matter of time before the whole stoppage collapses and that the owners will then be able to impose on the men just what terms they like. That seems to me to be the mind of hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side. Let us assume for one moment that that is so, and assume it is true, if you like, for the sake of the argument. Does anyone believe that that is the moment when the owners should have displayed a narrowness of vision, bitterness and hostility towards the men? If they have really the interests of themselves and of the country at heart, what they will display at that moment will be a spirit of magnanimity. They will try to show to the country that what they have been saying in words they are perfectly prepared to translate into deeds. But when we really come to examine what is already taking place, instead of a spirit of magnanimity being demonstrated by the owners, a spirit of narrowness and of selfishness is already being displayed by those who have already made terms.
I have never disguised the fact to the men that one at least of their positions was untenable. I have been prepared to face the facts as much as any living man, and I have seen that it was an impossibility, short of a continuity of subsidy for a long period, to pay, without doing violence to some men in some districts, a national minimum wage. You can only have a national minimum wage on one of two grounds. You must first fix it, if you like, to meet the conditions of the district least able to pay it, and, in so far as you do that, you do an injustice 179 to the districts who are able to pay a higher wage. On the other hand, you can fix it to meet the districts which can pay a higher wage. If you fix it there you must shut up the pits in the other districts. You can only have your choice between these two things, and if you are going to have a settlement, both parties have to face them in a spirit of seeking to do the best they possibly can.
I say that because I want to come for a moment to this question of hours. The owners are saying and thinking that it is an impossibility to settle this question in some districts, if not in all, without reverting to an eight-hour or a seven and a-half-hour day. I am not going to argue the point again on economic grounds. I am arguing it for the moment another way. Supposing it is true, and you recognise that the economic facts are such that the minimum wage must be very low unless the men themselves voluntarily choose to work an extra hour a day, that choice should be the choice of the men themselves. If they say, "No, we would rather choose a greater reduction of wages, believing that that is transitory rather, than a longer day, which may be permanently imposed upon us," let them have the choice, and do not let the owners impose their will on the men in a way the men themselves resent.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
Does the hon. Member think what he is advocating now is compatible with a national settlement? Does it not rather make it absolutely essential that there should be district settlements? I am only asking for information.
§ Mr. SPENCER
That is a very natural point and one that has to be faced. The Commissioners themselves thought it was possible, within the ground work of a national agreement, to have varying minima which would correspond to the economic character of the districts. Let us not be misled by words. Words are not always significant of the things we are talking about. We have not had a national agreement except during the War. Anyone who says we have had a national agreement is not really representing the true facts of the case. All we have had is a national formula locally applied, giving various results. How can you have a national agreement which 180 gives you in one district 50 per cent. more wages than in another? That cannot be a national agreement and you have not had a national agreement. You have had a national formula. But you have had this, which has given it the look of a national agreement. You had a national minimum wage in that agreement. You cannot maintain a national minimum wage unless you have a protracted subsidy. I cannot see the end of the subsidy if you are going to pay the present minimum wage. But you can have modifications of the minimum, as applicable to the economic character of the districts, and at the same time preserve your national agreement and your national formula with regard to the proportions that we are to have. The real virtue of a national agreement to us is that it strengthens our bargaining power. It is a simultaneous attempt to impose conditions on each district.
Under the old conditions you would have one area trying to get an improvement of one kind and another area another, and the bargaining power of separate districts is not commensurate with the bargaining power of the whole Federation. I see no reason why you could not have a national agreement, but accommodation must be found for varying minima so far as other districts are concerned.
In the hon. Member's scheme of things would it be possible for the districts to have varying hours?
§ Mr. SPENCER
I am trying to say that that should be a question for the men.
§ Mr. SPENCER
In the districts if you like, but certainly their voice ought to be the deciding factor. In South Wales last year the coal was sold at less than cost price. Anyone who has common sense knows that that cannot go on, but the Commissioners reported that in facing that fact some changes might take place. I wish those changes had taken place. I wish with all my heart we had accepted the Report when it was offered, and some of these things could have been done. But when it is whittled down to its lowest, when there is still a margin between the selling price and the cost price of coal, my point is, let the men decide whether they will take a reduction in wages or take longer hours.
181 Let me deal with the case of my own county. One of the statements that has been made by everyone is that there ought to be mutual sacrifices—the workmen and the owners must make some sacrifice and, so far as we can get the British public to do it, they must make some sacrifice. These are the terms that have been offered in my county—a seven and a half hour day and a 46 per cent. wage to start with, coming down to a minimum wage of 36 per cent. at the end of three months, that is 10 points less than now, and a change in the ratio under the ascertainment and a reduction of the lowest-paid men from 8s. 9d. to 8s. 3d. The pieceworker is to be reduced 7 per cent. In the forefront of these proposals is the seven and a half hour day. I do not agree with it on humanitarian and economic grounds. I can make out a very good case on economic grounds against any extension of hours. I will not do it again, but all the facts are in our favour during the last two years because with every fall in the price of coal there has not been a corresponding increase in the sale. As a matter of fact, corresponding with the fall in price, there has been a fall in the consumption. At 20s. 10d. the sale was 61,000,000 tons. It came down in two years to 15s. 11d., and we sold 57,000,000 tons. You can get those figures from the White Paper, and I challenge contradiction. I will not argue the point, but it is a bold thing. I began my speech by trying to picture the minds of hon. Members opposite, and I said: "Even if what you think is true you should be magnanimous." Look at the magnanimity of these terms. We have the most favourable economic factors of any district in Great Britain. We can get our coal at 15s. 10d. as against 21s., 22s., and 23s. We have every physical advantage. At the time we stopped we were actually paying our way and making a profit, but we were paying wages precisely in harmony with what the owners are offering at present. That is we were giving the men 46 per cent. of their basic wage plus 67—call it 47 if you like for argument's sake. Now there is an empty market. Belgian coal is coming in at £2 a ton. The owners in Nottingham and Derby could double their price and get it, and yet they are offering the men precisely the same wage. They are going to put every penny of extra 182 profit into their own pockets. Is that magnanimous? Is that the spirit the owners are displaying? I do not want to exaggerate and use language which I should regret afterwards, but no man can contradict this, that with the price they are getting at present they could have paid, not 47 per cent., but 100 per cent. and had a handsome margin of profit. Yet they offer 46 per cent.
But that is not the worst. We are to have no ascertainment until Christmas. I have friends opposite who know the coal trade as well as I do and deplore the fact that they are trying to do this kind of thing. We ought to have had an ascertainment very much earlier than that. Now, when victory seems to be in sight, the owners ought to do what is fair and just to the men, and they are setting us this example in the best district of Great Britain. If these are the conditions they are giving us, what encouragement is there for the men in the bad districts? I said at the commencement of my speech that one of the things that has been said is that there must be mutual sacrifices. See how it works out. Under the ascertainment we used to get 87 when we had paid for the cost of production and they took 13. Now, in this very district of ours, they say: "We are going to take 15 and you are going to take 85," and they are going to drop our minimum wage at the end of three months from 46 to 30. These two points in the ascertainment make an increase in their profits of 15.38 per cent. That is mutual sacrifice. If you work it out, you will see that 13 is to a 100 as 15 is to 115.38, so that they are asking us to accept terms which give them an increased profit of nearly 15½, per cent. while we should take a 10 per cent. reduction in our minimum wage. Is there anyone who will attempt to justify treatment of that character? Will the Minister of Labour attempt to justify that sort of thing? I have read the report of the speeches that he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered to the representatives of those who met him the other day and I will pay him this compliment, that of the two his was far the more reasonable. It exhibits a far greater spirit of seeking a settlement. It had within it a much smaller element of irritation than the other had. The Chancellor's speech 183 seemed to me to be deliberately intended to irritate us, while the right hon. Gentleman's speech appeared to desire to face the facts and get right down to the issue.
Let me come to the other point. Here again, in my district, in spite of what the Commissioners said, that the lowest paid men should not suffer, they are trying to bring down the wages from 8s. 9d. to 8s. 3d. I cannot characterise that as other than mean and despicable. I can see no hope of any settlement if that is going to be the spirit displayed by the coalowners in a district which can afford to pay a handsome wage.
§ Mr. SPENCER
No, I read yesterday that the coalowners said there have been rumours that they could get better terms, but that is nonsense. I would not be a party to imposing those terms on the men of Nottingham and Derby. I am anxious to consider these things and get to peace, but the first condition of peace is that we have to recognise economic facts. On the other hand, the owners have to recognise the points of view that are put by the men, and that they have some claim themselves to decide to what extent they will be affected by hours and wages. That is desirable, so long as they show on their part a disposition to meet the facts and to accommodate themselves as far as possible to those facts, providing that the owners themselves will do their utmost to get the highest possible return for the commodity that the men get.
I agree that we could have had a good many things when this Report came out. The right hon. Gentleman has said that some things that we might have had have passed away. One thing that we are suffering from more than anything else at the present time is the lack of coordination amongst the owners. As I have told my men, we have a lot of rich companies; we have Hucknall against Buttery in the market, and so on. The Commissioners recommended that there should be co-ordination as far as the sales of coal were concerned. If the present competition continues as it has done during the past four or five years, we may rest 184 assured that we are not at the end of our trouble. I do not want to say that we should get together in order to bleed the British public. I do not mind if a representative of the British public sits on the board to fix prices, but I do say that if any trade to-day is getting a return for its capital and its labour equivalent to that which prevailed before 1914, that trade cannot grumble if it has to pay the same standard of remuneration to the coal industry that it is enjoying itself. That is one of the conditions that has to be laid down if there is to be peace in the industry and if there is to be good will.
I subscribe to what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition. I hope that in the peace which has to be built up there will be the elements of real personal understanding between us, and that instead of seeking to magnify our differences we shall concentrate upon the points of agreement, and try to do away with the spirit of narrowness and bitterness which has characterised our struggles during the last four or five years. There can be no peace in the industry while that lasts. There ought to be more mutual consideration, more mutual respect, and a desire to face the facts. If we act on these lines, I am sure that in the long run, even under private enterprise, we can establish in the industry such a peace as will give us a period of prosperity, which we have not had for some time. Two things are essential: we must make the industry efficient and we must make it prosperous, and I believe that if we bend our will and energies to that end we can accomplish it.
§ Mr. WRAGG
I should like to compliment, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer) on the very moderate speech that he has delivered, and to assure him—I think all on this side of the House will agree with me—that had he been in control of the negotiations on behalf of the Miners' Federation from the beginning there would have been no stoppage, or if there had been a stoppage, it would have been over months ago. I will not go into the details of the Nottinghamshire settlement except to say that with a good deal of what the hon. Member has said I agree. I would point out, however, that the four months' stoppage—it is rather more than four months judged by weeks—has cost the owners a considerable 185 amount of money in keeping open the pits. In the colliery company of which I am the chairman it has cost us something like £20,000. Therefore, we are not quite in the same position to offer a generous settlement as we were at the commencement of the dispute.
In my own particular district we made an offer to the miners to continue on the same hours and the same wages until some settlement was arrived at, but the Miners' Federation—led by the gentleman who has caused so much trouble throughout the country, overcome by the fetish of a national settlement, and impressed with the idea that a general strike would bring the country to its knees—refuse to have any local settlement. They refused to allow any colliery to continue, whatever terms were offered. They said, "It is one or all. We will have the whole lot out." Our men saw that we were not giving them notice, and that we wished them to continue. They kept on until nearly the end of April, when they saw that they were getting into an awkward position, and they gave us notice. The notice expired on 11th May, but they left us on 1st May, thereby breaking their contract and rendering themselves liable to penalties. My point is, that the Commission's Deport does not veto district settlements; it does not veto any extension of hours, and it does not veto reductions in wages. It leaves the settlement of these matters to the men in the industry, with the proviso, which it distinctly states, that it may be economical, and I think it will be economical in many districts to work a 42 hour week, say, a week of five days of eight hours, instead of having a rigid seven-hour day.
The Commission's Report distinctly says that there should be a national settlement, with varying district minima. That is a combination of a national settlement and a district settlement, which I think could be arrived at now. It is only a question of words which is holding up negotiations, beginning on the question of a national settlement. When we have the Miners' Federation and Mr. Herbert Smith saying, "We will have nothing to do with a district settlement," I think the owners would be quite willing to have what may be called a national settlement with district variations. A national 186 settlement might comprise, and ought to comprise, such things as the division of the proceeds of the industry, when minimum wages have been paid, and the rate of 87 per cent. for the men and 13 per cent. for the owners, which was imposed until the stoppage began, ought to be continued. I agree with the hon. Member for Broxtowe that to reduce it to 85 per cent. for the men and 15 for the owners is not a generous thing.
I feel strongly that this matter could be settled by an independent arbitrator I am speaking, not only as a coalowner, but as as a large consumer of coal, as the representative of a. constituency in which there are many miners and as one of the ordinary public. I think the public might look to the Government to say that this matter should be referred to an arbitrator, if you like the Chairman of the Commission, to decide on the points in the Commission's Report on which there have been different interpretations put by the miners and the owners, and that both sides should agree to abide by that arbitration. Although it may be very heterodox for anyone on the Conservative side to recommend such a proposal, I would suggest that if the men accept the arbitration of the Chairman of the Coin-mission, who is well acquainted with all the facts, and if the owners did not accept the arbitration, measures should be taken which would make the award of the arbitrator binding upon the owners
The difficulty has always been that we could not get a meeting with any of the district executives of the miners. In Leicestershire we offered eight hours and an increase in wages, and several of us, I think most of us, were prepared to make even more generous offers if we could get the men round a table We made an application to the local miners' executive, but they said, "It does not matter what you offer. If you offer us heaven, we shall not meet you, because this matter has to be settled nationally." That is a. most ridiculous attitude, and one which leads nowhere. Such an attitude will not lead to a settlement.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Yours is the right one always.
§ Mr. WRAGG
I am expressing my own opinion, and I have a right to it. I should like to enter my protest against a great deal of the intimidation which is 187 taking place in the different mining areas. I live practically in a mining area and I have seen something of what goes on. I am convinced that very many more men would be back at work now if they knew that they could go peacefully to work, that their houses would not be beset and that their wives, relatives and friends would not be ostracised. A man came to me asking for work in my clay works. I asked him where he had been employed; he said that he had worked at a colliery. I said, "Why do you not go back?" and he said, "I am not prepared to go back to put up with the insult and intimidation that takes place." I do not blame these men. I believe that in many districts the majority of the men want to go back to work, and it is only the hooligan minority which is preventing them from going back. I happened to be outside a colliery three weeks ago, where 160 men had gone back to work, although many more had signed on. I asked the manager whether he thought there would be any trouble, and he replied that he did not think so. I said that I would like to see what was happening, so I went outside the gate of the colliery and saw a crowd of about 2,000, and four policemen.
The crowd was very brave when there were only four policemen. When the fellows came off the shift, in this free country of ours, they were hustled about, and it made my blood boil that such things could happen in our free country. I went to the office and telephoned to the Chief Constable of Derbyshire and asked why more police were not available on that occasion. The result was that more police were there a day or two afterwards, but the men who had gone to work were not prepared to put up with these insults and intimidation, and they did not go to work the next day, so that the local miners' leaders or the extremists, the minority movement, if you like, the hooligans, got their way. There ought to be more police protection given to men, so that those who want to work can go back to work. Those men who do not want to go back to work must stay out. I said to one man, "Do not let us have a row," and the reply was, "It is the people who are going back to work who are making the row." I said, "No, it is a free country. They can go 188 back, and you can stay out. You can retire if you like." He did not go back to work.
Last Wednesday a case came before the Alfreton Police Court. One poor man who went back to work was returning home when he saw, in the distance three or four hundred men besetting his house. He hid himself from 2.30 until 4.30, hoping that the crowd would have gone away and that he would be able to get back home. When he came out of his hiding at 4.30 he was set upon by two men and a woman. The crowd jeered at him, and he was hit in the face. The two men and the woman were brought up at the Police Court, but they denied that they had used undue force. One of the men said, "I went up against him and we fell over together." He did not seem to think that that was very much. When the man arrived home he found a crowd round the place and his wife absolutely terrorised. She was so ill that she could not attend the Court to give evidence. That is the sort of thing that is happening. I am bound to state these facts, because we have heard so much about police intimidation. From what I have seen, police intimidation does not exist. In my view, the police are carrying out their duties in a very courteous, able, conciliatory manner, and in a very brave manner in these difficult times.
I hope that some settlement will be arrived at by referring the matter to an arbitrator and by avoiding any of the pitfalls there may be in the wording of national and district settlements. The two should be embodied together, and in a national settlement there should be included such things as the ascertainment and any reorganisation which it is considered ought to take place in the industry, while in regard to wages and hours the districts should be allowed to settle the question themselves. It may not be necessary, and I believe that in many districts it is not necessary to have any increase of hours, but you cannot get a settlement of these matters unless you can have a meeting with the local executive. I do not like this dribbling back to work—a hundred men here or there going back and people trying to prevent them. I want a national settlement, with district minima, in accordance with what is 189 recommended in the Commission's Report. If there are any doubts about it, let them be referred to the chairman of the Commission for his decision.
I feel very sincerely for those miners who have either lost all their savings or are likely to lose them. Many men have come to me and said that they had a little money saved before the 1921 strike and that that money went, and that they had some money saved before the present stoppage or lock-out, whatever you liked to call it, and that that is going, and they are faced with having to go for Poor Law relief, which they never expected they would have to do, and which no self-respecting man wants to do. They tell me that they want to get out of the industry, because there is so much disturbance and strikes are continually occurring. I hope that there will be some lasting settlement, but I fear there will not be so long as you have a man who is pulling the strings for the Miners' Federation, who goes into the districts and wherever he goes stirs up feeling, incites the people to beset houses and to indulge in mass intimidations. He contradicts himself day by day and has no settled policy. His whole idea seems to be to incite the men to violence. As long as you have a man like that you will have great difficulty in getting a settlement. But he has changed so much week by week and day by day that, of course, it is still possible that he may change again and in the near future become one of the most reasonable men who ever lived. In the interests especially of those miners who have had small savings and who hate the idea of going to the Poor Law for relief, I hope that some lasting settlement may be reached, if possible, on the lines of the Royal Commission's Report.
§ Sir ROBERT THOMAS
I address the House, not as a colliery owner, nor even as a Member of Parliament representing a colliery district. Perhaps for that reason I may speak a little more independently. But I have knowledge of a colliery constituency, as I had the honour of representing in this House for a number of years a colliery district. I want to say that I have never met in this country a finer body of men than the colliers. When one says that of men one implies that they are men of character 190 and determination. As a rule a fine man is a very determined man, and therefore my hon. Friend opposite, who has indulged in rather strong language concerning the miners' leaders, is not helping these men to adopt a conciliatory attitude. After all, if my hon. Friend opposite were paid to represent a certain class of men, I think he would fight for those men just as hard as the leaders of the miners are fighting.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
We have not all the same way of doing things. But his object would be the same, and that would be to obtain for the miner what he would conceive to be the miners' rights. Whatever defects Mr. Cook may have, I hear from those who know him well that he has some very fine qualities, and we must all admit that he is a man who is fighting for his side, and that he is perfectly justified in doing so. There is no object in vilifying this man or any other man who represents a class of people who pay them for looking after their interests. What happens in regard to the owners? You have men who own collieries, who have shareholders interested in those collieries, and who are in duty bound to protect the interests of those who put their money in their charge. Many of the men who are supposed to be colliery owners are colliery directors. They have public money in their charge, and it is their duty, just as it is the duty of the miners' leaders, to look after the interest of their own side. To where does that lead us? I am now speaking from the Liberal benches, though there are not very many of us here. I have endeavoured to point out that both sides in this dispute are acting legitimately. Both sides believe in their powers. I do not blame one side or the other—not at all—notwithstanding the smiling face of my hon. Friend opposite, the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, who, fortunately, is out of this trouble.
What I would emphasise is that, owing to this dispute, the country is suffering untold losses. I am a business man and a consumer of coal. I know what British shipping is suffering to-day. I know what it means to industry to import coal from America and to pay a freight of 19s. a ton on it. All that is a charge on the industry of the country. Ultimately it 191 affects the working people of the country. It is essential, therefore, that everything possible should be done to bring this dispute to an end. Neither side will do it; that is perfectly obvious. We are to-day at a complete deadlock. Whichever side give way will be accused of giving in. We have arrived at that stage. In the meantime the country is suffering. What is to be done? My hon. Friend who spoke last said, "Appoint an arbitrator." He even suggested who the arbitrator should be—the Chairman of the Royal Commission which sat for months and incurred an expenditure of £20,000,000 sterling to get at the facts of the case.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I have put the figure too low. £23,000,000 was spent by the Royal Commission in connection with the inquiry into the coal trouble. My hon. Friend opposite suggests that the Chairman of the Commission, who made specific recommendations, should be appointed arbitrator. If the Government adopted that suggestion, does it not come to this, that at the outset of this dispute they should have put the Royal Commission's recommendations into operation? I do not like to make insinuations against the Government, but they said that if both parties to the dispute agreed to the Report of the Royal Commission the Government would put it into operation. But my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines must have known then that neither side would agree to the recommendations, and that the suggestion was hopeless. It was his duty and the duty of the Government to put the Commission's recommendations right away into operation and to call upon both sides to carry them out. That, more or less, coincides with the suggestion made by my hon. Friend opposite. If the Chairman of the Commission were called upon to act as arbitrator he would hardly go against the recommendations put forward by the Royal Commission.
§ Sir R. THOMAS
The fundamental facts are there. The Commission reported definitely against an eight-hours day. It is not likely that the Chairman would go back upon that 192 opinion. There were specific recommendations in the Report, and they ought to have been adopted by the Government. It is not too late even now, and I appeal to the Government to put an end to this dispute. They are the only power that can do it. It is hopeless to expect either side in the dispute to give way at present. The dispute will go on, with terrific losses to the country, for months to come. It will carry us right into the winter. The miners and the mineowners will not be the principal losers. It will be the community at large that will suffer enormous losses, and from those losses we may never recover. Commercially speaking, this country is in a very dangerous position to-day, and we cannot afford to carry on this sort of thing. Therefore the Government ought very seriously to consider in what way they can enforce a settlement. They should tell both sides, "This is the decision to which we have come. It is based on the Royal Commission's Report, and we intend to put it into operation."
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I would like to say in what agreement I am, in the main, with the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer). I thought that his speech exactly touched the situation. He has proved that he has the courage to say exactly what he believes to be true. I do not say that I agree with every detail of what he said, but it seemed to me that he laid down the general principles upon which we must go. It is quite clear that if this dispute is to be ended satisfactorily, there must not be left among the miners a feeling that they have been treated ill by the owners or by Parliament. I have always maintained that this stoppage should never have occurred. From the moment when the Government said that they were willing to accept the whole of the Report of the Royal Commission, provided that the parties in the dispute did so, the course was perfectly clear. The Commission Report should have been accepted. I am quite clear on another point—that the stoppage should never have been allowed to continue after the failure of the general strike. It is very largely bad leadership on the part of the Miners' Federation which has led to the present situation. Of that I am certain. Had 193 the leadership of the Miners' Federation been in the hands of half-a-dozen Members of this House who sit on the Labour benches we should have come to terms by now.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
It is a matter of opinion. I am convinced, from what I have heard and seen in this House, that what I have said represents the truth. I am one of those who believe that it would be a mistake if the owners say that they will have nothing to do with a national agreement. I do not believe that you can have a satisfactory settlement unless there is some central body representing both owners and, miners. I do not know that the Miners' Federation has proved its advantages up to the present, and I am certain that it will be necessary to have local agreements or local questions. I understand that when the Durham miners decided to go into the Miners' Federation, their old and respected leader, Mr. Wilson, told them that if he did not live to see it they would live bitterly to regret joining the Federation. I do not know whether that is the opinion generally held in Durham now, but I do know that if we are to have a permanent settlement, we must allow districts locally to settle their own affairs. It does not seem to me that that necessarily means doing away with the central authority. I believe that if you could establish in the various districts joint committees representing the owners and the workers, you might conceivably have on them also representatives from the central Miners' Federation and the central association of employers. In that way, you would be able to enforce a kind of national agreement which would be acceptable in all the districts.
I put that forward as the natural and most sensible way out of the present difficulty. You have somehow to make it clear to the miners that they are not being let down or imposed upon. You have to make it clear that the national agreement holds. But at the same time, it is obvious that you cannot have a particular agreement applied to every district in the country. Conditions change, and are totally different. 194 What is suitable in Nottinghamshire is impossible in Durham, and vice versa. It will be a thousand pities if this dispute be allowed to go on much longer. I, too, would like to emphasise what has already been stated, that there is distress among the mining population. It is inevitable. It is nothing like the distress that there would have been had there not been recourse to the rates. But the ratepayer is suffering through it, and where the ratepayer happens also to be a miner the situation is almost tragic. Cases have been brought to my notice of men who have made savings in better times, and have invested them in a house or houses, and who are now not eligible for relief from the rates. They have had to sell their furniture in order to pay the rates, and they get no relief. Those are tragic cases. The sufferers are not always the men who wish to stop working. I appeal to everyone in this House, on behalf of the moderate men, not necessarily Conservatives, but hard and keen working men. The last thing that such men want is to be locked out, or in any way prevented from working. They want to get back to work. I agree that the dribbling back to work is not satisfactory. We want, somehow or other, to get the two, parties together, and I suggest that the best way to do that is to change the negotiators. It seems to me that we have had enough of these negotiators. They go on as if nothing had happened, and as if this country had not been suffering for months past. The time has come when those great bodies—the Miners' Federation and the employers' association—should select new negotiators, and get together, as they can get together, because the differences are not so very great.
The hon. Member for Broxtowe, in speaking of the attitude of Members on this side of the House, said, that if some of us had our way the result would be that the men would be forced back to work, and the owners could impose any terms that they liked. There are not many Members oil this side, if there are any, who want the dispute to be brought to an end in that way. We want to see justice and fair play, and we know that it can be achieved and ought to be achieved, because there is really not very much be- 195 tween us. Even on the question of hours what the hon. Member has laid down is exactly what we all feel. If the men are willing to work a little longer, they should be allowed to do so. It cannot be imposed upon them by the Act. The same with wages. The Royal Commission laid it down that it was not the lowest paid worker who should suffer. If that took place, I should regard the settlement as wrong. It should not be necessary in many districts to lower the wages or to increase the hours, but in some districts it might be necessary to do the one or perhaps to do both. If we could get rid of this atmosphere of suspicion, and get the miners to believe that this side of the House is not on the side of the owners, as opposed to the miners—that we are anxious for fair play—I believe that with new negotiators we could get terms of peace in a few days, and put an end to this disastrous struggle.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I should not have intervened in this Debate but for some remarks made by the last two speakers on the Government side of the House. They said it was a most horrible thing that some of the miners, who they described as good citizens, should have been forced to sell their furniture, and brought it up to-day as if it was something new and caused by the present lock-out. I do not know the constituency of the hon Gentleman opposite, but I know my own, and ever since I have been in this House my most serious business has been to consider the cases of people who have been compelled to sell their furniture—not through any lock-out. The most important part of the work of a representative of a constituency like mine is to deal with the poverty which exists. He gets hundreds of letters about Labour Exchanges, and ex-service men done out of their pensions, some of whom have to sell their medals in order to maintain themselves; and not because of any lockout. I come from a part of the country where more than once all the furniture in the house, including the bed-clothes, has been seized, every article numbered, a value put upon it, and all because we had the courage to say that we have the same right to live as any colliery owner.
This brings me to the question of the district wage. In previous discussions 196 on this question it seems to me that the very essential basis of a district wage is forgotten or not understood. A district wage is determined by the strata of the coalfield. I remember working in a coalfield, a troubled area, where it cost 2s. per ton more to get coal than it did a mile away over the hill. If you have a district wage it means this, that where the strata is troubled and it costs more to get coal then the miners' wages must become less, because it does not pay to work the pit. What happens? Over the hill where the clean strata exists, and where coal is more easily got, the wage there drops to the level of the wage paid in the difficult field, and that is why the miners stand for a national wage. Let hon. Members opposite look at the subject impartially. Here is this nation with its coalfields, and the cost varies from district to district, but the man who has to work harder in a troubled area has the same right to a living wage as the man who gets coal in the untroubled area. If this is the nation's coal on which it depends for its business and trade, is it not right to say that in getting that coal the nation shall pay an average wage in order to secure a national basis for peace in the industry? If hon. Members who talk about a district wage would think a little and remember what happened before the Miners' Federation became what it is to-day, they will recollect that we were always troubled with district strikes, that there was never any peace in the mining industry. The only time we have had any real chance of peace has been since the establishment of the national agreement.
It is quite evident that the Government have made up their minds, apart altogether from the question as to whether British industry is to be prosperous or not, that they are going to risk smashing British industry and commerce in an effort to smash the Miners' Federation. They might just as well give it up at once because they will never do that. If the Government brought out all the military and all the Navy they could not smash the national combination of the miners. It is funny to sit here and listen to hon. Members on the other side who have never been down a mine speaking on this question. They do not understand the miner's life. An hon. Member opposite said that he was a colliery owner and 197 a clay pit owner and that he lived in a mining area, but he made some observations which showed that if he did live in a mining area he had not observed anything of the conditions or life of the millers, otherwise he would not have said what he did. He said that there were a great number of people in his area who were quite ready to go to work if they were permitted. If he knew the miners as well as the miners' representatives he would know that if a miner wanted to go to work nothing would stop him. You can cut out all the talk about intimidating a miner.
We are now getting foreign coal. We have heard a great deal about this coal, but we do not get any of the facts. Coal is coming in from America and Germany in order to keep the gas works going, but we are not told that they have to pay 68s. per ton for this coal, and we are not told whether half of the £3,000,000 has been spent in subsidising this coal for the gas works. Nor are we told that, as a result of using this coal, we are getting from 2,000 to 3,000 cubic feet less per ton than we got when we used English coal; and that it is almost impossible to purify the gas. I can see a huge bill of costs being built up. We are not told anything about the destruction of locomotives as a result of the use of this coal, or about the plant which can burn British coal, but which is being destroyed as the result of burning other kinds of coal. We are not told any of these facts because the Government want the public to believe a lie and to imagine that things are going on fine. They are not. Now we are told that if we had new negotiators there would be some chance of arriving at a settlement. Suppose we change the negotiators, unless the attitude of the Government is changed, unless the Government considers the question more from the standpoint of the national interest and does not hide behind the colliery owners, unless there is a guarantee that the Government will not be biased in favour of the owners, unless they will take back their Eight Hours Bill and go back to the status quo, no good will be done. If the Government want to show the nation that they are not biased in favour of the coalowners they will withdraw all these things and enable any new negotiators to start de novo with a chance of getting a settlement.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I sincerely trust that the Government have something better to say before Parliament separates than what we have heard from the Minister of Labour. It would be a very sad reflection for the country tomorrow, when it reads that speech, if that is the final word of the Government in respect of a dispute that is inflicting very serious injury upon the trade and industries of the land, and probably inflicting more serious injury than we realise at the moment. It is not something that you can reckon in a loss of £1,000,000 or £1,500,000 in wages. The loss is of a much more serious character, and it comes at a time when we were struggling back—I do not like to use the word—to "normality," but to a condition of somewhat better trade. Therefore, it is a most serious business. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he replies to this Debate, will be able to say something much more definite and something charged with more hope for a real settlement. The Minister of Labour seemed to think that he had discharged his function when he had attacked the miners and criticised their leaders, said how naughty they were and that when they behaved better he would treat with them. That is a kind of scolding which is not worthy of a Government in a great and grave emergency. Therefore, I am looking forward to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us something more effective.
Let us see what the position is now. The struggle has already exceeded the limit of all previous struggles. We have had a struggle of 11 weeks and a struggle of 13 weeks, but this struggle has lasted more than four months. You are now in the fifth month, and although I know there are hopes of an immediate collapse I fear that that is not going to be the end of this struggle. The miners are good fighters. No one knows that better than those who had something to do with the conduct of the War. They fought well for their country, and they will fight for their class. They are not men who can be terrorised or who can be driven back, even by the threat of starvation, until there is a feeling that a real effort is being made to understand their grievances and to do the best within the power of the Government to meet them. I do not mean to say to concede all their 199 demands. They are sensible men; they know all the difficulties, but they will want to feel that the Government have done their best, at any rate, having regard to all the conditions, to listen to their case and to meet it; and I am afraid that that is not what is happening at the present moment.
I am very glad that the Minister of Labour has come in, because I have one or two things to say about him. His speech, if I may say so, did not show that he was really gripping the problem. It appeared that he was just waiting for something to turn up. He said: "I can do nothing because of Mr. Cook, and because of Mr. Herbert Smith, and because of various conditions." I remember that when Chancery barristers for the first time were permitted to cross-examine witnesses in Court, when they got away from the old system of affidavits, there was a very eminent counsel who was cross-examining a witness for the first time, and who was doing it very feebly, in spite of his eminence as a lawyer, and naturally he was getting most unsatisfactory answers. He complained to the Judge that the witness was not treating him well, and the Judge turned round and said: "Tackle him, man, tackle him!" That is my advice to the Minister of Labour—Tackle, them!—and he is not doing it. He says their answers are not satisfactory, therefore he runs away until he gets something that is more satisfactory. My suggestion is that he should take the advice given by that learned Judge, and tackle them all, and that is not being done.
That is why I am appealing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to ask him whether he can really tackle this job. I agree that, as long as you have an impossible demand put forward, perhaps negotiations could not have succeeded, but, as anybody knows who is accustomed to negotiations, you sometimes come to a time when you cannot press a demand of that kind to victory. It may be a sound proposition and a fair demand, but they realise that they cannot, under the conditions, achieve it, and trained men know when that time has come. That is the moment, I think, not merely to negotiate, but to propose honourable terms. If you take advantage of a defeat to impose abject condi- 200 tions, the result will be that you will drown the lesson of defeat in resentment at an injustice, and, therefore, that seems to me to be the time to press for negotiations. In fact, that time arrived, I think, some weeks ago, when negotiations might have been a complete success.
I remember very well the discussions of 1921. Governments have their limitations, and the present Government have as well. In 1921 there was a proposition put forward by the miners, with which I did not agree at the time, and that was a demand for what is known as a pool, that is, that you should pool the whole of the profits of all the mines of the country, and that you should have your wage upon the basis of the whole. Well, it was an impossible demand, but a time came when it was clear to those who were putting it forward that that was impossible of achievement. That was the time to negotiate, but not to negotiate by going to them and saying to them: "Do you drop that? Are you going to abandon this? Are you going to give up that?" That is not the way to negotiate. If you had said to the Conservative party of 1923, when Protection was beaten: "Are you prepared to give it up?" they would have said, of course: "We are not," with their hands on their hearts. They would have said: "We will die for the principle." But everybody knew perfectly well that they had given it up at that moment, until perhaps a more favourable opportunity came, and that they had not the slightest intention of renewing, within at any rate the next five years, the impossible demand which had been defeated at that election.
Well now, let them take that lesson to heart at the present time and apply this spirit of charity to the case of the mining leaders whom they are criticising so very severely. It is no use taking the line, which is taken by too many newspapers, of treating the miners as if you were fighting an alien enemy. It is wrong. It is not fair. You are dealing with good citizens of this country, citizens who, at the moment of danger, showed a more alert patriotism than very many parties in the community—so much so, that I remember perfectly well that one of my first duties as Minister of Munitions was to get back miners from the front, because too many of them had volun- 201 teered, and we could not produce the necessary coal. Therefore, it is not fair that we should have criticisms of that character in the Press. I do not say that Ministers have been guilty of anything of the kind, but I am just appealing that there should be nothing of that spirit in dealing with this particular problem.
The slogan has gone, but negotiations have not yet commenced, and they ought to commence. You have had two recent conferences, at neither of which have you had what anyone with experience would call genuine negotiations. The owners adopted the attitude of victors who had the miners completely underfoot. There was even a taunting note in their attitude. The passage quoted by the Leader of the Opposition was only one out of many that might have been read in order to show what their attitude was. The Minister of Labour said: "In what respect have the miners advanced?" A very appropriate question was put by one of my hon. Friends here—it was not answered—namely: "In what respect have the owners advanced?" So far from having advanced, they have gone back. A district settlement was not part of their proposals originally. I do not know to what extent they pressed the question of hours, but they did not make it a sine qua non. With regard to the other, they have introduced that element for the first time, and they have gone so far as to say that they will never meet the miners, except in the districts, in the future. They have actually gone back, and that is one of the things that is making the miners feel that the Government are not quite holding the balance between the two parties.
If I may say so to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech at Swansea he complained of the action of the miners. I think he could have used exactly the same terms with regard to the owners. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the Government!"] Naturally, you could not expect him to criticise the Government. We must be fair, even if we are not charitable. But he did not point out that the same criticism exactly could be equally directed against the mineowners. Take these two—and I think perhaps I had better confine myself to the discussions between the Chancellor of the Ex- 202 chequer and his colleagues and the mining leaders. There was no real negotiation. They were firing negatives at each other. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was more concerned to say he was not going to give a subsidy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am not for the moment criticising that I am only criticising the fact that he was confining himself rather to that negative attitude, and that he did not go beyond that.
On the other hand, I quite agree that the mining leaders were rather pressing some other alternative. They were never on the same point. They were firing across and past each other, and there was no attempt made to grip the thing and get down to the real propositions which have to be settled before we can get peace in this industry. The Government have taken up the position that it is not for them to make propositions. Quite respectfully, I think that is wrong, and I am going to give my reasons for that. You will not get propositions from the mineowners. They feel that they are on top, there is no doubt, and they mean to take full advantage of that. Their one idea is to get the men back to the eight-hours' day, and they are going to use every advantage. There are some of them who are not doing badly. They are selling their rubbish at 3s. 6d. a sack, and they are not doing so very badly, some of them. At any rate, they feel that they would prefer fighting it out, and I do hope the Government will not take up the attitude which the mineowners have taken in that respect. Therefore, I am going to make my appeal to the Government.
I am sorry for the circumstances that have made it impossible for the Prime Minister to be present. I am making no criticism—doctors' orders are doctors' orders, and I have not a word to say about them—and I am not saying that in the way of a gibe in the least. The only thing that I would like to say, in his absence, is that I am very glad that he has used the same means of communicating with the American public as I have resorted to, namely, the United Press. I congratulate him upon his agency. I have found it very satisfactory. But we have now got to deal with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am not sure that really we have not been dealing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer all along; I have 203 a sort of a suspicion that we have. He has got, I think, judging from past experience, the opportunity in his hand of achieving peace. That is my honest view, looking at all the conditions and reading between the lines of the speeches delivered at the conference between him and the mining leaders.
He has two obsessions which rather detract from his qualifications as a negotiator at the present moment. The first is, I am afraid, that he is convinced that there is going to be an immediate collapse. I hope he will not cherish that delusion. I think it would be a fatal error, even if there was a collapse. It is very difficult to make a peace which is imposed under those conditions a just peace. Anybody who has known anything about negotiating peace when there has been a complete defeat of the enemy knows how very difficult it is to negotiate an absolutely tolerant and indulgent peace that will last under those conditions. [Laughter.] Yes, that is so. However, that is another story. But I am afraid I do not think he is right. He may get a colliery here and a colliery there, he may even get a district, but you want 180,000,000 tons to keep the industry of this country going, and you are not going to get a sufficient number of miners back to produce anything approximating that, unless there are conditions which, on the whole, the miners will feel are the best they can obtain under the circumstances, and nothing so far of that kind has been offered them.
The second delusion which the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to cherish, judging from his speech on that occasion, was that the injury to British trade was not as grave as was feared and he rather gave an optimistic account of what was happening. As my hon. and gallant Friend said earlier in the day, London is a very bad place to judge the trade of the country. Very often London does very much better when there is not the same demand for money in industry as there is when trade is going very well. London is not a very good place to judge either an industrial or a political situation. It is no use having a thermometer which is near the radiator, and that is the trouble with all these political and industrial thermometers in London. There is something there which affects 204 right judgment. If the right hon. Gentleman goes to the North, he will find a very different temper. The Minister of Labour talked about the figures of unemployment being down by about 10,000, but, still, he wound up by saying there were 600,000 more unemployed. That is not the sum of the effect. If you inquire in the woollen and cotton districts, you will find there is much more short time than there was some time ago, and if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the summary, in the "Economist" in the past week, of the effect on the industries of the country—a very calm examination of the whole prospect—he will find that the prospect is very serious.
There is no doubt at all we were very, very gradually, very, very slowly getting back to our old trade. We were competing for a very limited market, and, on the whole, more often than not holding our own in competition, but, still, very much worse off than we were, though we were just more than holding our own in competition. Here you have the competition going on for, it may be, four, five or six months, and we cannot supply the goods for which there is a demand, let alone press into new markets. There is nothing worse than a check in convalescence, and that is what a strike of this kind means—a very serious check in the convalescence of trade. Therefore, I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not allow his very sanguine, not to say sanguinary, nature to interfere with his judgment as to the real gravity of a prolongation for even a few weeks of something of this kind.
The Minister of Labour said that there were no proposals from the miners. That is not strictly accurate. I know he cannot remember everything said in the course of a two hours' discussion, but the Leader of the Opposition read one or two very significant passages from Mr. Herbert Smith. There were one or two very significant passages from Mr. Cook as well. You could not say they were formal proposals: they were invitations for proposals, and I hope the Government will take upon themselves the responsibility of making definite suggestions It is no use asking the owners. They will not. They have made up their minds clearly what they want, and they mean to stand to it. I am afraid it will be very difficult, for reasons I am going to indicate in a 205 moment, for the miners to come forward with definite proposals. But the Government can do it, and if you could get a meeting without shorthand notes, I think there would be an advantage in that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knew he was not talking to free men there, and the miners' representatives knew exactly the same thing. They knew it would be all published the following morning. That is not the way to negotiate, to begin with. You have got to feel your way to begin with, to put forward suggestions which may be dismissed or amended later on. But if you go there with one eye on the Press and one eye on your supporters, you will have no eye left for your job. That is the real danger of these formal meetings with shorthand notes, when everybody is talking for the Press the following morning and for his supporters. There must be a very good deal of very informal talk if you are going to come to any sort of arrangements on those lines.
I think it is the business of the Government to make proposals, and I am going to give the reasons why I think it—I will not say unfair, but why you cannot expect the miners' leaders to put forward proposals. I have never seen it done, and there is a reason. The Government must make allowance for the difficulties of men placed in the situation they are in. They represent a million men, roughly. It is an organisation loosely knit, partly for business, partly for propaganda, and partly for politics. It is not a business organisation in the sense that a mining company is. Another difficulty is this. Supposing you had a business concern, which, whenever it put forward a proposal, had to go round to a million shareholders before they could sign the contracts, and there were no end of cantankerous shareholders, perhaps one or two here and there who had got an eye to being on the board themselves, or who disliked the managing director. You cannot get at the million men, and yet, somehow or other, you have got to carry them with you. I remember, in 1921, the terms which were arranged with the miners' leaders were repudiated on a final ballot by the men themselves. You cannot go and explain to the whole million men, and the Government have got to take into account the difficulties of men who are so situated, that it is very 206 difficult for them to come forward and say, "Here are our proposals," because afterwards, if these are not accepted and passed, they put themselves in the position that there will be those who say: "You proposed so-and-so, and gave us away on such-and-such a thing." Therefore, in these circumstances, the Government have got—they will forgive me for saying so—to use their judgment. They have got their scouts; they have got their means of ascertaining the facts, and it is right that they should use every conceivable means of finding what is the position among the mineowners, what is the position among the men, what might probably be a means of settlement, and upon that basis formulate their own proposals. If they did so, then something might happen.
I am going to make one or two suggestions to the Government, largely daring. I do not pretend to represent any trade union or any miners. I am simply speaking on my responsibility as a Member of Parliament with some experience in industrial disputes, and the first thing I should like to say to the Government is this: They are under-estimating, I think, the importance in men's minds of the question of reconstruction. I know the view of the mineowners; I have had the pleasure of conversing with one or two very able men among them, men for whom I have the greatest respect in regard to their ability and integrity. They are firmly convinced there is nothing in reconstruction, and that you are not going to save a penny piece from it. On the other hand, there are others who say they will; but it is a very, very important question, and it is a far-reaching one, because every industry in the country is finding it necessary to overhaul, to recast and to reconstruct in order to be able to meet competition, and, at the same time, keep their men in something like good temper. We are all under-estimating the devastating effects of the great War upon industry, and that really is what we are suffering from in all these industrial disputes. I will give one figure in order to illustrate it. Take 1913, the year before the War, and take the figure £100 as representing the exports of our own manufactured products. In 1900, we had only sent £58 worth, so that we had made an advance in 13 years from £58 to £100, that is 70 per cent. If the same thing had gone on without interruption, we 207 would have been selling £170 worth in 1926. As a matter of fact, what were we selling? I will not take the present figures, because of the present industrial dispute. In the first three months, the figure was £80. What does that mean? You have not gone back to the pre-War figures, and all the advance which had taken place in those years is completely lost.
That is bound to have some effect upon profits and wages, and the whole question is, How is that to be liquidated? There are three ways of liquidating it. The first is to reduce profits. The answer is given there, and I think it is a good answer. If you reduce profits below a certain figure, you discourage capital from going into enterprise, and capital will find other fields. Another way is to reduce wages. If you take it out of wages, you get exactly what we have had in the last four months, with discontent and disaffection, and that is worst of all. The third method of dealing with it is to reconstruct your industries in such a way as to improve their efficiency, save expenditure, do your best to put your industry on a footing where it will be able to pay the profits and to pay the wages. So that when the miners are fighting for reconstruction, they are fighting the battle of their class, not merely in the mines, but throughout the whole field of industry, and, therefore, they attach very great importance to it. I have got a suggestion to make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A Bill has been introduced and carried to give facilities for amalgamation, and certain compulsory powers are vested in the Government. I am in conflict with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War as to the extent of those powers. He thinks they are very much greater than I think they are. I do not think they are adequate: he thinks they are. But I am not going to discuss the merits of the proposal. I am perfectly certain that it is in the minds of the men at the present time that the Government have not tackled the question of reconstruction, and that the whole of the loss in the industry, which is attributable to events over which they certainly have no control, is going to be met out of their earnings, and that if there is a settlement upon the basis of either longer hours or 208 reduction of wages without reconstruction there will be no motive to reconstruct, reconstruction will be postponed and they will be permanent losers and the public will be losers.
The suggestion I am going to make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer is this—that the Government should give a solemn undertaking to see that the Act will be made effective; that if for any reason it prove abortive—assuming the correctness of the view which hon. Members on the Labour Benches take of it, and which I certainly take of it—or unnecessary delays are interposed in putting it into action, that then the powers in the Act will be put into operation, and that if they are inadequate the Government will undertake to strengthen them by necessary amendments. If that be done, there will be a basis for negotiation. You will begin by taking reconstruction seriously and not leave matters as they are now—lock-outs—stoppages—strikes time after time, without the industry ever being taken in hand; on the contrary, opportunity will be taken of improving the efficiency of the miners. There is something in the contention—I am convinced of it after investigations with men who know a good deal about it—of a saving in overhead charges, a saving in power, an improvement in machinery. Underground workings can be much more effectively arranged if there is anything in the nature of an amalgamation, whereas at the present moment a good deal of labour is completely thrown away and not used for output. I have been amazed at the small percentage of the work put in in many mines which is devoted to output because of difficulties in regard to underground workings which would be simplified enormously by amalgamation; cases where the outlet for the coal may be within a few score yards or a hundred yards of another pit which belongs to another owner, which coal, in present circumstances, has to be carried back a mile or so to the shaft. All these things must have an effect upon profits and upon wages, and otherwise there will be no settlement—I can see that from Mr. Herbert Smith's reiterated appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that reconstruction is taken seriously. I do not believe Mr. Herbert Smith is foolish enough to imagine that you can reconstruct the whole of the industry 209 before you settle this dispute, he has never put that point, but he wants a guarantee that reconstruction is going to begin and that it will be taken in hand. That is something the Government can do, owners or no owners. They have got the power, and if they have not got the power I am certain they have got Parliament behind them in regard to that matter.
Now I come to a much more difficult problem, the question of wages and hours. There is no doubt at all that the passing of the Eight Hours Act has prolonged the controversy. I think that is perfectly obvious. To anybody who has been watching things impartially, it is obvious that it has prolonged the trouble. There is in the minds of the miners a deep-rooted objection to being driven back towards bondage, and I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to read the statement of M. Albert Thomas, in the report issued by the International Labour Bureau, on the question of hours. He says there that this Act has undoubtedly put back the discussion of hours throughout the whole of the world, because Great Britain, the pioneer in shortening hours of labour, has suddenly, definitely, and by a deliberate act, gone back upon its past. There is no doubt that the point he makes is a sound one; and he also points out that if the eight-hours' day is restored here the British miners will be working 50 minutes longer than the French miners, and half an hour longer than the German miners in the Ruhr. It is perfectly true that they will not be on the same footing as the Poles in Silesia.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
Who won the War?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That is what will be the effect of this. May I point out to the Government that, assuming all their point of view, they have never yet made it clear what it all means. There is the alternative of hours and reduction of wages if, after a promise of reconstruction, the mines cannot bear the status quo, but it has never been worked out in figures what the alternative really means. You say "Eight hours or a reduction." But what do eight hours mean in wages? What do seven and a-half hours mean in wages? What would seven hours mean in wages? I have been doing my very best to read all 210 the literature of the controversy, and I have seen nothing that would indicate to anybody what either of these three propositions means. The miner says, "I would rather, if I am forced to it"—that is what Mr. Herbert Smith says—"take a reduction in wages, which would only be temporary, than return to the eight hours, which in my judgment will be permanent, or there will be a danger of its being permanent." But nobody has worked out what each of these things mean, and I would suggest to the Government that, without prejudice, there should be some means of indicating clearly what these things mean. I do not mean the Government should go to the owners and ask them what it means. The owners will naturally exaggerate everything which is favourable to the seven-hours day. They will say, "If it is to be a seven-hours day there will be a reduction of 5s. a day," or some impossible figure. Their advocacy will be directed, their natural bias will be towards putting the figures in a light which is most favourable to the conclusion they want to drive home. But surely the Government have the means of ascertaining impartially what the position is, and once they get the figures they are in a better position to discuss the actual terms and conditions which can be proposed to the miners—if they will make that investigation, make a perfectly impartial investigation upon that basis.
Then I trust they will not assent to the proposition of the owners that the settlement must be a sectional one. There is no doubt that is the aim of the owners' organisation. I think it is a mistake from their point of view, because in the old days when they had sectional organisation there was always local trouble. I know more about the South Wales coalfield than the districts outside, but I know there was always trouble of one kind or another, and I know that we had a strike once which lasted seven months. I do not think it will serve their interests, but they think this very powerful organisation of the miners, covering the whole country, is a formidable factor which stands in the way of the terms and conditions which they would like to impose upon the men. Therefore I hope the Governmnt will not listen to something which is really an attack on the trade unions, and I trust they will 211 not listen to the demand of the mineowners to have the Miners' Federation placed on a charger before they will give any terms at all.
There are differences between the conditions prevailing in one coalfield and another, and I think that is now fully recognised. What matters is that there should be some national control over the whole. The way in which the railwaymen settled their differences in 1920, when there was a national board set up, I hope will commend itself to the attention of the Government. A permanent machinery of settlement was then set up which, as far as industrial disputes are concerned—I am not saying anything relating to the matter of policy when they took part in the general strike, which had nothing to do with the machinery for the settlement of dispute—has worked satisfactorily, and I hope the Government will take all that into account, and before we separate make up their minds to undertake negotiations. I know it is a mistake to imagine that you can settle in a day a great dispute like this, for experience will teach the Minister of Labour, if he will look up the records, that it always takes a long time. The first meetings are nearly always futile. At first you never come to the point, but you gradually begin to discuss business. That is the experience of all negotiations, and I hope the Government will take the matter in hand in that spirit, and not imagine that they can summon the Miners' Federation, and in 2½ hours settle the whole dispute or come to a conclusion of that kind. That is not the way in which it can be settled.
The Government may gradually wear down the miners. I happen to know that there is a good deal of suffering in spite of all that has been said to the contrary, and that suffering will probably increase as the funds of the unions become exhausted. It may be that the terms which are regarded as being so unjust by the miners may ultimately be imposed upon them, but that will do most serious damage, and, I think, irreparable damage to British trade and British industry. Whilst we are having this dispute our competitors are just taking our trade, and Lord Birkenhead pointed that out very forcibly in a speech last week. I would also like to say to the Chancellor of the 212 Exchequer that a settlement of that kind, or, rather, a return to work in that way, is no settlement. A very great financial paper of high authority put this point very clearly last week, and I do not think I can do better than quote the words:Men of all shades of opinion realise that a negotiated settlement is, in the national interest, immeasurably more desirable than a drift into district agreements dictated by hard economic stress. The latter would carry with it no promise of a lasting security for peace.That is a very sound view. I have always held it myself in all these industrial disputes. A settlement that would only be an armed truce would only mean that the conflict would be renewed by both parties at the first opportunity, and that would destroy all that sense of confidence and security which is so essential to British trade. Let the Chancellor of the Exchequer be careful and take the courage, which no one doubts he possesses, in both hands, and bring about a settlement that will end in peace and good will, that will improve the efficiency of the mining industry, and give new life to that great industry and give that sense of stability and confidence to British trade which it stands sadly in need of.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We have heard a great many speeches during the last year on this subject from my right hon. Friend who has just sat down. Some of them have been very defiant, others have been very persuasive and seductive. I think the one which has just been delivered fairly belongs to the latter category, and I should be the last to say that it is a speech which is unhelpful in the present situation, or one in which there are any broad obstacles to that general agreement which he sought to secure. I was very glad that he should have referred, as he did, to the absence under the doctors orders of the Prime Minister. In the absence of the Prime Minister the settlement of any question which may arise in the course of the coal dispute has been placed in the hands of a Cabinet Committee, and as I am a member of that Committee it falls upon me this afternoon to supplement the statement which has already been made on behalf of the Government by the Minister of Labour, who from the very beginning of this dispute to the present time has borne the burden and heat of 213 the day, and has laboured with a single eye to secure a peaceful settlement.
I am not going to plunge into any needless controversy, and I can assure hon. Members opposite that not one word of controversy will come from me to-day. I shall not attempt to repeat the well-worn and almost hackneyed arguments which constitute the general basis of the discussion of the coal problem. We all know the main points; we all know where we agree and where we differ, whether it is a strike, a stoppage or a lock-out, and whether eight hours is permissive or morally compulsory. There are half-a-dozen points of that kind which, whenever they are raised, will, we know, receive cheers and counter-cheers. I am not going to take up the short time that I shall occupy by going over all that ground. We all know, as I say, where we agree and where we disagree. We all know also what the country has suffered and what we are all suffering, what every class and industry is suffering by the stoppage. If I am accused of speaking optimistically of the situation, it is not because I regard the situation as actually satisfactory, but only because I regard it as relatively much less bad than what, with The best information the machinery of the Government can supply, I had been led to believe would actually have been the case after no less than 18 weeks of complete cessation in the coalfields of the country. Of course, we are all injured; of course, injury is inflicted upon the whole economic life and structure of these islands, the whole means by which its crowded population gets its daily bread. No one can measure how deep those injuries are nor how long will be the time required to eradicate or heal their lasting scars.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
It is not merely economic.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is not, I agree, merely economic, because there is bitterness which grows and everything hardens as these conflicts proceed. That is quite true. The sole question which is before us at the present time is not whether we disagree or agree in the House of Commons; is not what the country is or is not suffering, or how long it can continue. The sole question which this Debate brings before our minds is what we can do. Is there anything we can do? Is there any useful practical step that we 214 can take to bridge this period of waste and folly and national injury? Here, again, in this field, I think, there is a certain measure, I will not say of agreement, but at any rate of acceptance so far as the House of Commons is concerned. Let me take some of the points mentioned by my right hon. Friend in his speech. First of all, take the question of a subsidy. It is, I think, generally accepted that a subsidy must be dropped out of this discussion as a practical or useful measure at the present time. It is not merely a question of money, but it is a question of public money being transferred to some particular interest as the result of prolonged pressure. At any rate, our position is quite definite upon that point, and I do not believe, whatever may be said, that in their heart of hearts there are Members in any part of the House who would seriously challenge the wisdom of excluding a resort to a subsidy as a solution of the difficulty.
Then there is the question of reconstruction or reorganisation to which my right hon. Friend significantly referred. I am sincerely under the impression that the Act of Parliament which we passed last Session is a real and definite means of procuring the reconstruction and reorganisation of the coal industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are an optimist."] Hon. Members deride that, but after all, whether you rate the fruits of reconstruction as very valuable or as only moderately valuable, no one has pretended that those fruits can be gathered in a short time before this present difficulty is cleared away, and we have plenty of time before us. There may be a difference of opinion as to whether the powers which we possess are effective. We believe them to be effective, and we are determined to use them and to put them into force with the utmost vigour. My right hon. Friend asked for a guarantee. I will gladly give a guarantee on behalf of the Government that we will do everything in our power to procure reorganisation whether by amalgamation or by improved methods or by selling agencies or by the scientific investigations into the production of liquid fuel which are in progress. Whatever these methods may be, we shall drive them forward with all the skill and energy which we shall be able to command. But it does not rest entirely with us. Here is a matter which can be pressed and spurred on by the 215 strong body of representatives of the mining industry, the miners' representatives, who are in the House of Commons, and who are perfectly entitled, and perfectly capable, of making the pressing on with the process of reconstruction in a genuine and practical spirit one of the features of their Parliamentary life and activities in this House. If you think that the horse is not going fast enough, apply the spur, and we will accept any reasonable pressure in that respect as a contribution towards our goal.
There is the question of wages, and here again is a certain half-spoken measure of acceptance even on that side of the House, a carefully-guarded spoken measure of acceptance. The right hon. Gentleman said that the question of wages had been opened up. What he meant was that the question of the reduction of wages had been opened up. Probably it is better to state the actual facts than to skirt round them as though they were indecencies which cannot be mentioned in public. Then there is the question of hours, on which, of course, there is a complete deadlock. I am not, you will see, arguing unfairly. It is, of course, open to the Opposition to say that the Government's Eight Hours Bill has been the cause of prolonging the dispute. For our part, we believe that the dispute would have lasted till now, whether there had been any Eight Hours Bill or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] As I said, we all know where we agree and where we disagree, and I think we must just leave this difference of opinion and proceed with the argument. Our view on the hours question is that within certain limits, at any rate during a temporary period and in certain districts, the questions of hours and wages ought at any rate to be so far interchangeable that the mining population concerned should themselves have the means and the right of deciding in which form they wish the economic necessities to be met. I do not put it at all higher than that.
After all, what is the object in view? We really must seek out, amid the confusion of fact and argument, the object which I think everyone would say we had in view. The object is to secure the greatest amount of employment and the largest sum of money paid in wages throughout the coal industry under 216 decent conditions, with the prospect of amelioration. That is the object. That is the way in which we ought to try and reorganise or reconstruct or settle the dispute in the coal industry. We want the greatest good for the greatest number, the greatest amount of livelihood and work to be got out of the trade; and we do not want the immediate closing of pits before the life is out of them. There is a lot of reckless talk about all the pits that will have to be closed. No doubt there is a certain proportion of pits which may require to be immediately closed, but it may be less than 10 per cent. With a careful study of the conditions which prevail in the country, the life of those pits ought to be prolonged for as long as is reasonably possible; so that at any rate the closing down is a gradual process, and there are new pits to which the miners can be moved, thereby mitigating the process of replacement and removal, and softening it and spreading it out, so that whole districts are not blotted out at a stroke, and so that all their ancillary, subsidiary industries, and the other industries which are built up on local coal, are not involved in a common ruin. These are the objects that we must bear in mind, and I cannot think that they can be absent from the mind of any hard-thinking trade union leader in the country. We contend that this aspect of the matter ought to be considered, and we are quite sure that it will have to be considered.
Then there is the question of national and district settlements. I cannot, myself, see the slightest difficulty in reconciling the controversy which has sprung up, and which to my mind is largely a controversy of form, between these two points of view. Notice must be taken of all the local conditions, and there ought to be a national survey of the whole of that process afterwards, and a national settlement within the ambit of which district conditions have been properly considered and district arrangements are properly embodied. I cannot see why that should be irreconcilable. [Interruption.] We have Acts of Parliament which contain many Clauses, and the Schedules of which deal now with this and now with that, but the Act as a whole is the Act of Parliament. The Schedules may apply to different parts of the country, but it is absurd that there should be a difference in that matter. 217 [Interruption.] I am going to proceed with my argument. I am quite aware of the hardening effects to which my right hon. Friend referred of a prolonged conflict of this kind. Everyone is set on their own point of view, and, after they have suffered and lost a good deal, it is, no doubt, conceivable that, when they think the advantage is turning towards their side, they should attempt to add compensation for their injuries and exertions to the original demand which they made. That is the inevitable course of all struggles, whether they be industrial or whether they be fought out on the bloody field of military war. But this I will say, that, if hours and wages were no longer an insuperable obstacle, if the difficulties connected with wages and hours had been reduced to very moderate proportions, then it is quite clear that questions of form as between national or district agreements should never be allowed to stand in the way of a settlement, or to lead to the prolongation of this lamentable stoppage.
Here we must ask, is there any offer at present before us? Certainly, there is a greater disposition to face the facts than existed a little while ago, but is there anything that we can take hold of and work into a tangible offer out of which we can create a new situation? I had hoped that the conference which the miners' leaders sought with the Government last week would lead to some offer which would create a new situation, and there was one moment when I thought I saw it on the tip of their tongue; but nothing actually emerged. I had hoped that the discussion which took place yesterday, and in the result of which we were all much interested, might, perhaps, have armed the Leader of the Opposition with the means of laying some new facts before us to show that there had been some change or alteration in the situation. I still hope that the delegate conference next Thursday may be productive of some change. But there really is absolutely nothing that anyone has a right to build upon up to this present moment.
The Leader of the Opposition said, in the more controversial portion of his speech, that the Government were a loyal and efficient sub-committee of the mineowners. [Interruption.] I know that hon. Gentlemen will pardon me if, on 218 behalf of His Majesty's Government, I say that that is not true. [HON. MEMBERS: "Prove it!"] Mr. Evan Williams is quoted by the Leader of the Opposition as saying:We have exerted all our influence on the Government to secure the Eight Hours Bill.Mr. Evan Williams can say exactly what he likes, and I take no responsibility for what he says, but this I do know, that no influence except that of argument, and no influence except that which should be exerted through the legitimate status of one of the parties to a great dispute, has weighed in the least with the Government. Is it suggested that political influences are in the way? What is the political value of these gentlemen's support? Right or wrong, we are strong enough to judge entirely independently of any consideration of that kind. [Interruption.] Let the Leader of the Opposition when he has the power, let the miners' leaders arm us with the weapons of economic truth, and we will see who in the name of procedure or formality presumes to stand in the path of a peaceful settlement. [An HON. MEMBER: "Wait till your chief comes back!"] If I have spoken a word which I know would win the whole-hearted sympathy and support of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, it is that last word of mine. Hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition cannot have the argument both ways. One set of criticism is that the Prime Minister is always anxious to be very tender-hearted and make peaceful settlements, and that I am the marplot who frequently comes forward and intervenes to obstruct. This is a new variant of the argument, and one which is entirely inconsistent with the usual argument of the right hon. Gentleman's friends and allies.
Then we come to the phrase that was used by the Leader of the Opposition when he said that what we had before us was a bridging problem. If I understood him rightly, he said it was a problem of making a bridge. It is a good analogy; but I would like to point out that it is no use trying to use an 11-foot plank to bridge a 12-foot stream, and it is no use, as a compromise, making the plank 11 feet 6 inches long in order to bridge that stream. We are in a difficult position in this bridge-building process, because we have made it clear, so far as we are concerned, 219 that we cannot supply any of the materials. The industry, from one side or the other—I trust from both sides—must provide the material. As far as the Government are concerned, we are willing to aid in the construction, we are willing to carry a line from one side to the other, we are willing to give a hand at this or that point and to give advice from the moment it is thought to be useful by those engaged in the task. But we must have an offer. I do not say it must be a public offer at all. I know the difficulties which these men who are leading the miners have to confront. One can easily understand their difficulties and the processes through which they have to pass in their task, but we must be made aware of a sincere desire to face the realities of the situation by men who are responsible, who can—I use a slang expression—deliver the goods, and who know what the realities of the situation actually are.
I come now to the question of what steps can we take. Supposing any real proposal is forthcoming. What shall we do then? I do not say that the resources of Parliament and of the Government, which is the servant of Parliament, will be exhausted. You could have, of course, a three-cornered conference. That was rather urged by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, a conference of the miners, the owners and the Government. You could have that. We have tried it before, and before the stoppage began. It did not produce any good results. There is always the danger which we have to consider, although I do not expect to carry hon. Gentlemen with me on it, that starting a conference like this, which may be very short and disagreeable, which may be empty and futile, might have the effect of delaying the hard natural processes which all the time are going forward. We must take that into consideration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Starvation!"] There is pressure on all the parties. [HON MEMBERS: "Mainly on one!"] That is really not so. The loss to the mine owners is at the very least £500,000 a week, the net loss through keeping the pits in working order at a time when no production is going forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "Many owners are making profits!"] Many people in the country are making profits, and a great many miners, but do not let us complicate the discussion by 220 straying away into what individuals think right. I was speaking of economic processes. Above all, I think a three-cornered conference would be useless if it was set up in the absence of any tangible evidence of desire to create a new situation by an effort being made on the part of the miners' leaders.
There is another matter—I am surveying all the matters. There is the case of the two parties sitting in different buildings with the Government going to and fro as conciliators with different propositions. That has been going on from the very beginning of this dispute. That is the process we have tried more than any other, of being in touch with both sides, of trying to procure an easement from one that we can take to the other in order to get something from them. That has failed.
§ Mr. PALING
Does that apply to the Eight Hours Act?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We acted on our own judgment.
§ Mr. PALING
Did you go to the miners as to the Eight Hours Act?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not think there is really any advantage in carrying on a running discussion. I say we failed in this process. It may be our fault if we failed, or our misfortune from the obduracy of the situation. However, that has been going on and is still going on. If to-morrow we hear from the miners or mineowners anything that can be conveyed to the other side, we will certainly convey it.
There is another matter which I think it right to discuss in the very few moments for which I shall detain the House. It was touched upon by my right hon. Friend who last spoke. Ought the Government to make a new proposal of their own? Ought the Government, after making inquiries—I shall not say through the usual channels — through any channels that may be found useful, to proclaim what in their opinion is a fair settlement and try to rally both sides to it or as near to it as they can get them. Is that a way in which the helplessness of either side to meet the other can be overcome? We certainly do not shut our minds to such a possibility. If we gather—I do not mean by public declarations, but by the many methods that are open to us—that 221 there was a desire for it on both sides, or on one side if that side was showing itself genuinely earnest and reasonable in our opinion, we would certainly earnestly weigh a project of positive action of that kind. But there are many counter considerations to be borne in mind which will readily suggest themselves to the House. If we try and fail, we are the weaker for having tried and failed, because one cannot keep up a running fire of suggestions in a dispute of this kind; and an expedient, which might be of great value at a later date, might be squandered and exhausted at too early a period. In the second place, we might delay the processes of settlement by a general breakaway in the districts, and there are those who believe that is likely to happen quite soon. On that I am not pronouncing at all. Lastly, if we are not giving a subsidy out of public money our locus and our standpoint for intervention is very much reduced, though of course we are the Government of the country with the great power a Government possesses. It is open to either of the parties to say to us, as Mr. Herbert Smith did, "Thank you for nothing. All you have told us is to go and settle with the owners and you will be very glad." These matters must be considered in connection with the suggestion that the Government should make a proposal.
I do not believe that the difficulties of the problem lie in making a plan. I believe there are several good plans that could be put forward if any man or body of men had sufficient power. The difficulty is in procuring agreement with a plan. Here our powers are limited, and you must recognise how limited are the powers of a British administration. Of course, it is quite true—and this can never be excluded—that we can legislate. The miners have not liked our recent legislation, but we can legislate in a way that would in the last resort affect all parties of this dispute. But even legislation would not solve the problem. Nothing that you can do by an Act of Parliament would compel miners to work or would compel owners to keep their pits open. You may lead the horses to the water, but you cannot make them drink. If both sides were to say to us, "We will take your decision, or the decision of the House of Commons, or of a Committee of 222 the House of Commons, or of the Cabinet; give us the best advice you can for a reconstruction and settlement of the coal industry," it would, in my opinion, be an easy and a rapid process to present a tolerable, an elastic and a good working solution, at any rate for the temporary period through which the industry has to pass before it is reconstructed. All the main facts are known. It is ridiculous to suppose that a long examination is required. The broad outlines of a settlement are already in the possession of all who have been studying the question. But there is nothing at present in the atmosphere and the mood and the attitude of the parties which would render such an enterprise as that by the Government likely to succeed. So far all that the men have said to us, whatever they were about to say, or thought of saying, or very nearly said, is, "Give us a subsidy," and all the owners say to us is, "Leave us alone." In such an atmosphere there would not be much chance of success for an independent proposal.
But the atmosphere may change. It is, perhaps, changing. We are watching the situation day by day. We have full power to take decisions, and we shall be ready at any moment to deal with any new phase of the situation which may present itself. If the miners have any real proposals, let me say to them, "Come on, and make them in any form you like, in any way you like, through any channel you like. We are ready to share in the risk of seeing that those proposals get a fair chance." We will face the risk of it being said that we are delaying a settlement in the country if these proposals are real and afford, in our opinion, a way to a settlement. We will not allow any temporary or minor adverse reaction in the country to stand in the way of honest steps towards a lasting settlement. And surely it is in the interest of the mining community to put themselves in a stronger position with the public in what I feel are the closing stages of the dispute, and surely there ought to be a little generalship among those who aspire to lead a million men. Why is it that throughout this long dispute we have to the best of our belief commanded the public opinion of the country? Why is it that, in spite of no success having been achieved, in spite, no doubt, of our having made mistakes— 223 and, I suppose, others would have made mistakes, though they might have been different mistakes, in the handling of the matter—we have, on the whole, felt ourselves increasingly and steadily supported by the nation? It is because the public view has been concentrated upon what they conceive to be an unreasonable attitude on the part of the miners' leaders, and no one has done more to point out that unreasonable attitude than the leading members of the party I see opposite me.
I have no doubt that as long as that impression lasts in the country we could maintain the life of the country and some measure of its trade almost indefinitely while the stoppage continues, but from the moment the miners' leaders make a sincere and real contribution to a settlement, then I fully admit that the public opinion of the country is liable to make a very swift change and transformation. Take, for instance, the employers in the other industries which are greatly affected and brought to a standstill by the present prolonged stoppage. Hitherto, they have been willing to suffer with and support the coalowners because they have been convinced that the economic position demanded by the men's leaders is impossible, but from the moment the existing demands are withdrawn or modified and a new situation is created, the whole of this important force might swing round on to the side of the men. It is better to weigh these things. I am speaking the words of truth and sincerity to the best of my belief. It is no part of the spirit of this country, nor of the policy of the present Government, to win a triumph for any section or class in the country over another. We do not wish to see this matter end in the triumph of one point of view over another. In England, it may be true of Wales and Scotland also, but at any rate in England, these things are less frequently fought out to the bitter end than in any other country in the world, and people do not press their rights and powers to extremes here as they do in so many other countries.
We shall allow no party consideration to influence our action. We shall not allow any prejudice against individual 224 personalities engaged in this conflict to complicate our task. But you cannot ask us to take sides against arithmetic. You cannot ask us to take sides against the obvious facts of the situation. That is what has governed our action up to the present. Can you doubt that we seek a solution? Can anyone in the House doubt that we desire a settlement? Who can wish for a settlement more than His Majesty's Government? We see the pressure on the men and their organisation. The employers' losses, we know, exceed £500,000 a week—irrecoverable loss to their capital. But the Government, above all, have an incentive to secure a peaceful settlement if it is within our power. We should escape from embarrassments which are most grievous, we should gain in reputation, and above all we should gain the consciousness of having successfully discharged our duty. No one desires to secure peace in the coal trade for a lasting time more than His Majesty's Government. Look at the year we have passed through. It has been an utterly wasted year. Business is all disorganised. The trade union masses are lamentably impoverished. The trade revival has been checked. All the thought of the Government, all the energy of Parliament, and most of its time have been taken up, not in progressive, constructive scientific improvement such as should accompany every Session at the present time, but in dull, sterile resistance to one violent attack after another and in facing a period when hideous reciprocal injuries are being inflicted by British hands on British throats. All this year has been squandered in what is the most melancholy and at the same time the most ignominious breakdown of British common sense ever exhibited. But it is still not too late if we proceed together in a sincere spirit, if we remember that, we all have to dwell together in this small island of which it is our bounden duty, whatever our political opinions, to make the best and not, as we are now doing, to make the worst.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
It is not easy for anyone to rise to take part in a Debate on this crisis when they have a conviction that whatever may be said will not receive a sympathetic hearing from Members on the opposite side. I have come right from the heart of the mining district of Lanarkshire, and I know, from 225 experience there and from experience that I had a week ago when I visited a very large number of mining centres in the North of England, of the suffering and privation which is being borne, not merely among the men, women and children of the mining districts, but in tens of thousands of cases in the homes of people who are not directly concerned in this dispute, but who are the victims of it. I know that there is great anxiety and a great desire for a satisfactory settlement, but I cannot agree with some of the statements which I have heard today that there is a strong desire on the part of a large number of miners to get back to their work, and that it is coercion which is preventing them from doing so.
There is a universal desire on the part of the miners to get back to work, provided they can go back to work on reasonable terms. One of the chief characteristics which the British race can claim is that in a conflict their chivalry places them in the position of desiring to be on the side of the bottom dog. In this fight we have everything against us. The fight is absolutely unequal. It is not of our seeking. There will be no hunger in the homes of any colliery owners, their children will be fed and clothed, housed and educated just as usual, no matter how long the stoppage continues. On our side, there is privation, there is hunger and there is untimely death caused by this dispute. Therefore, we are not on equal terms. I want, even in face of the speech delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to say that there is another force against us besides the employers. The Government of the country is on the side of the mine-owners and against the miners in this dispute.
I am loath to say anything that I feel to be untrue or unfair, even against such a thing as a Government, but I feel sure that the history of the past 18 weeks is a clear proof, and the passing of the Eight Hours Act was a clear proof that the Government of the country are on the side of the mineowners in this fight. Then, we have the Press practically unanimous against us. Nothing is too filthy for them to say, not merely about the leaders of the miners, but of the miners as such. There are men in this 226 House on both sides, men in the ranks of the Government and men among the Liberal party, including the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and certainly men on the Labour Benches, who feel that the miners and their families are the equals in every way of any class in the community. I could read quotations from the speeches, of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Borough in which, when he was Prime Minister, he gave the most delightful character to the mining community that could ever be conferred on any class. I know the miners very well, and I am afraid I know them too well to give them such a character as the right hon. Gentleman gave them. He said that down in Wales the miners were great politicians, so long as they were Liberal politicians. He said that they were great strikers, great footballers, and great fighters. I agree with every statement made by the right hon. Gentleman.
It is this class of people and their families who are being slowly starved to death at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head The wage which was being paid to the miners prior to the lock-out was not more than sufficient to keep the families in a state of comfort. When the Prime Minister said that the children and the womenfolk of the miners were now in some cases being better fed than they were prior to the lock-out, it was the greatest indictment that could be uttered against the conditions that prevailed prior to the lock-out. If they are being better fed by the local authorities, the education committees and by charity than they were when the husband and father was able to earn wages, if the wages were so low prior to the lock-out that the mother could not feed the children properly, it is a great indictment against the existing system. I know from experience in my own home and in the surrounding district in which I live that a large number of the mining community working steadily every day, men who were teetotalers, many of them non-smokers, and who did not uselessly throw away one penny which ought to have gone to the home, had the greatest possible difficulty in paying their way prior to the lockout. If that be the case, how can the wife and mother on a reduction in wages carry on the home as she ought to do? 227 We have all these forces against us. The Press has published column after column against our leaders and against our people, and has said that this stoppage originated in Moscow. It has said, "This is not the choice of the miners of this country. This stoppage originated in Moscow, and is being largely financed from Moscow." I would ask hon. Members opposite, if that be true, who ought to be dealt with under these Emergency Regulations? If the dispute originated in Moscow, if money is being supplied from Moscow to carry it on, it must be the colliery owners of the country who are in the plot. The miners did not go on strike in order to secure new terms. They would gladly have worked on the old terms. But the colliery owners, evidently in conjunction with their colleagues in Moscow, locked out the miners in order to bring about a revolution in this country. That is the depth to which the Press of the country has sunk.
I want to press home upon the Secretary for Mines what I have stated before. Here you are dealing with Emergency laws which are for the purpose of preventing lawlessness during the present crisis. I repeat that when the mine-owners posted their notices locking out the workmen they laid it down that the mines would be re-opened only on the condition that the miners accepted a reduction in wages, accepted a new condition which meant local and district regulation of wages rather than national regulation, and also if they were prepared to work longer hours. The workmen were invited to go into the pits on 1st May, and to work an eight-hours day as against the seven-hours day provided by law. In posting those notices inciting the miners to break the Seven Hours Act, the owners were guilty of a breach of the law. I feel sure that, had they been ordinary common people like myself—what are called "agitators on the Labour side"— they would have been prosecuted and sent to prison for inciting people to break the law. That is one reason why I feel sure that the Government consciously is in league with the employers in the present dispute.
I was glad to listen to-day to at least two speeches by hon. Members opposite, which seemed to show that they at least were of opinion that there ought to be a 228 settlement on fair terms at the earliest possible moment, and that that settlement ought to be such as to provide a reasonable living for the miners and their families. The proposals of the mine-owners will not do that. Of course our people may ultimately be forced into the position of sending their leaders, either through Government intervention or by jointly appealing to the employers, to discuss the question whether a reduction in wages might not finally have to be be accepted. But it will be only sheer starvation that will force our miners into that position. It will not be because they feel that they can live decently on the wages which would be payable with the reduction enforced.
I would put one point to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because the right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs is not the only person who has given the miners a good character. The first speech which I heard the present Chancellor of the Exchequer deliver was from a miners' platform in Swansea, where I spoke side by side with him at a great demonstration of the miners. I could hardly believe myself, knowing something about the miners, that the miners were the splendid fellows which the Chancellor of the Exchequer said they were at that time. The right hon. Gentleman is clever, but he is not such a delightful work painter as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. Yet he did his best to convince the miners that they were amongst the most worthy persons in the community and that they were entitled to a fair livelihood. He was not then a Cabinet Minister or a member of the Government. I have heard him since then, as a member of the Government and speaking, I believe, as President of the Board of Trade, painting the most delightful picture to the miners' delegates of what the life of the workers would be in future. He said it was all being sketched out by the then Government, and the miners would reach their real position at last. I am afraid that he has forgotten all this and has now joined the employers. He cannot believe that the miners are as good as he then said they were, or he would not expect them to go down the mines for the wretched wages which the employers proposed to pay.
229 I am particularly anxious that there should be a settlement of the dispute. I was particularly anxious that there should not be a beginning of the dispute. I believe the dispute was not necessary. In the then state of the country, just emerging from the terrible troubles of the War and the period after the War, it was a fatal mistake for any industry, especially one of such importance as that which produced the raw materials of other industries, to force a stoppage of such a calamitous character upon the country. If the miners had forced a stoppage on the country, if the miners had claimed an increase of 25 per cent. in wages or a reduction in their hours, I feel sure the Government would have intervened long ago in order to bring about a settlement and would have asked this House to give them powers to force the miners into accepting arbitration as a settlement of the dispute. It is not fair that the Government should treat one class in the community different from another, and I am afraid they are meting out different treatment to the miners than to the coalowners. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will follow up some of the rather vague hints he has given. If he and the Prime Minister were as willing as they are strong I believe they could get both sides together and get a settlement. I am convinced of this, that our men are longing for a settlement, our women are longing for a settlement, but they are not anxious to go back under the present conditions, and I hope, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will carry out the hints he has given and do his utmost to get the two sides together with a view of reaching a settlement at the earliest possible moment.
Mr. A. HOPKINSON
From time to time during these interminable Debates this summer on the coal industry and the trouble in the industry members of the Mining Association who have occupied seats in the public gallery and whom I have met afterwards have always told me that what amused them most has been the constant accusation from the Labour Benches that the Government forms a sort of committee of the coalowners of this country. The Minister of Labour, who is the sole representative of the Government on the Front Bench at the moment, will agree with me, as I am certain the 230 Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree if he were present and also the Prime Minister himself, that in these negotiations the coalowners have certainly not shown any great affection for the Government from beginning to end. The coalowners have told me that the Government has done things which they consider have vastly prolonged the dispute, that the Government has been very stupid, has delayed when it should have gone ahead quickly, and gone ahead quickly when it should have been more cautious. And I doubt whether I have heard from first to last from any quarter one single word that can justify the idea that the Mining Association of Great Britain and the Government are working together. As far as I have been concerned in the negotiations, I may say that in every interview I have had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer we have never managed to continue amicably in our discussions for more than two or three minutes; afterwards the rest of the discussion has been a continuous wrangle between us. There is, therefore, a touch of humour in this accusation which is constantly being made.
It seems to me that in any Debate in this House on any subject whatever it is advisable at some period or other to come down to the facts, even if it is at the fag end of the Debate, and when the House has been depleted of Members, as it is now, after the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down The facts of the situation at the present moment are these: The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition have made speeches whose futility is so great, and whose manner of futility is so exactly the same that it almost makes an outside observer believe that there is some collusion between the two right hon. Gentlemen. The Leader of the Opposition, whose speeches I have listened to for some years and am now just beginning to understand, opened his speech in such a way as to give us some idea as to what had been the result of the conference which was held yesterday. Evidently he has not been able to make any impression on the Miners' Federation and they have refused to give him any sort of power 231 to make any sort of statement. Therefore, for half an hour or three-quarters he had to go on in a futile sort of fashion, pretending that he had some authority and that he was in a position to offer some sort of suggestion.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, as usual, impressed upon the Government the necessity that something must be done. If there is one thing certain, when we get down to the bare facts of the matter, it is that the Government can do nothing. From beginning to end of this dispute, from the time of the publication of the Report, there was one thing, and one thing only, which the Government could do to help to a settlement of the dispute, and that was to free the industry from the intolerable burden of the Seven Hours Act. Eventually it was done, but it was only done after a desperate struggle with the Government, who were slow and stupid in the extreme about it. They did not willingly go into the Eight Hours Act. The Chancellor of the Exchequer can bear me out in that. They resisted and argued to the best of their strength and ability; they put it off, in my opinion, to a dangerous extent, and all the time those of us who are engaged in industry felt that the struggle was being prolonged owing to the dilatory methods of the Government, for the simple reason that the Government had one thing, and one thing only, which they could do to help the industry, and that was to take off that bar to its future prosperity which nothing could get over. As long as the Seven Hours Act remained in force, it was impossible—and hon. Members opposite know it very well—to give the miners in some districts anything approaching a decent wage.
Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have again brought forward that good old catchword "reconstruction." The Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with that very briefly, and I am afraid that the whole subject has been dealt with very foolishly indeed in the discussions in this House. There seems to have been a sort of impression in the public mind, and in the minds of hon. Members of this House, of all parties, that you had only to use the blessed catchword "reconstruction," and peace and prosperity were going to be produced in, the coal industry.
232 I think I may claim that any Member who knows anything about the coal industry, and any Member knowing something about it who has taken the trouble to read carefully the proposals for reconstruction in the Royal Commission's Report, must agree, if they are candid with themselves, that those reconstruction proposals cannot possibly deal with the real trouble, that real trouble which is laid down in the Report as being the high cost of production. Those proposals do not, taken in bulk, reduce the cost of getting coal by anything more than 1d. or 2d. a ton—an amount absolutely insufficient to put the coal industry, particularly in the exporting districts, on a reasonable basis of prosperity. Therefore, I ask this House and the public outside, if they are good enough ever to read our debates, to bear in mind that it is no use pinning their faith to anything called "reconstruction." On the whole, it is a mere catchword, and nothing else.
I venture also to say that those who own the collieries in this country, and who are dependent on conducting the industry successfully, can be trusted, surely, to run that industry to the very best of their ability. Even granting that many of them, or even the whole of them, are not so capable as they should be, at any rate, I think it stands to reason, and is obvious, that they are running the industry to the best of their ability. I may add that I have been engaged all my life in the invention and manufacture of labour-saving devices for the collieries of this country, and I say most definitely that it is not the engineers who are waiting for the colliery owners to go ahead with new methods, but it is most eminently the colliery owners who are waiting for the engineers to bring forward those new methods. In the same way, in the carbonisation and the subsequent utilisation of coal, it is not the chemists and the inventors who are waiting for the colliery owners; it is, just as in the case of the labour-saving machinery underground, the colliery owners who are waiting for the chemists and the engineers. I say that to my own shame, acknowledging myself that I ought to have done far more than I have done to keep abreast of the demands of the colliery owners of this country for new and improved devices for cheapening the cost 233 of getting coal, lightening the labour, and increasing the wages of those men who have to go underground to get it. That, I hope, will go to the public. I repeat that reconstruction, so far as new methods and new machinery and new inventions are concerned, is not lagging behind because of the colliery owners, but is lagging behind because of the engineers and the chemists of this country.
But we have to get down to the facts of the immediate situation, and what are they? Reference has been made again and again to recent meetings —to the meeting between the Mining Association and the executive committee of the Miners' Federation on the 19th August, and the meeting between the Miners' Federation representatives and the Cabinet Coal Committee. With regard to the latter, as has occurred on every single occasion, as far as my recollection tells me, the representatives of the Miners' Federation at once got down to what, to them, is the real point in the negotiations— the question of the subsidy. They actually complained of the owners not backing them up in approaching the Government to get a subsidy out of the Government, and, of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear—in a way in which I think it would have been a very good thing if the Government had made it clear very much earlier, that a subsidy is absolutely out of the question. Everyone who, like myself, knows the coalfields, knows perfectly well that the one thing which holds the Miners' Federation in its present form together and keeps Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. A. J. Cook in their predominating position, is that they have promised the men that they will get a subsidy out of the Government; and as long as the Government show any signs of weakening or hesitation of any sort, so long will the supporters of the tyrannous regime which exists in the executive of the Miners' Federation at present believe that sooner or later "Herbert will get it from Baldwin. Stand together; there will be negotiations next week. Observe every set-back. Observe, the Second Reading of the Eight Hours Bill has been held up in the House of Lords. Observe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been saying very nasty things about the coalowners. The 234 Prime Minister is weakening; the Government are going to give a subsidy. Hold out a bit longer." As long as there is that hope, Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. A. J. Cook will continue to dominate the miners of Great Britain.
The proof of that comes from a document quoted very liberally by the Leader of the Opposition—the verbatim report of the meeting between the central committee of the Mining Association and the executive committee of the Miners' Federation. But he refrained from quoting Mr. Herbert Smith to any great extent, and refrained particularly from quoting Mr. Herbert Smith's last remarks on that occasion. The chief of those remarks were these:We said we did not intend to increase our working day; we made that clear to you. We said we were prepared to inquire into the particular point, utilise it to the best advantage, and do all we possibly can to save our own faces—That sentence exhibits the whole history of this devastating dispute, and shows why it has got to go on.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Finish the sentence, please.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has asked me to do so—do all we possibly can to save our own faces if we have to have reductions, and ask the Government to play their part.And what is "their part"? It is the taxing of the wretched workers in other industries, in order that a subsidy may be paid to the miners, to give them a vastly higher wage than the majority of their fellow-workers. As I say, I am glad the hon. Gentleman interrupted. My quotation, of course, brings up memories of Black Friday in 1921. Hon. Members who happened to be upstairs when Mr. Frank Hodges, on behalf of the Miners' Federation, addressed Members of this House, will remember that in cross-examination we got a reply from him in this form. "What," he said, "is the raison d'etre of the Miners' Federation without a national settlement?" and I venture to say that the remark I have just quoted from Mr. Herbert Smith's dissertation at the meeting of the Miners' Federation proves that the Miners' Federation is in exactly the same position as in 1921—that it does not matter to the Central Executive, and particularly not to the 235 President and to the General Secretary, what happens to the industries of this country, what happens to the mining industry — [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense!"]—provided that Mr. A. J. Cook and Mr. Herbert Smith can continue to dominate that body of unfortunate miners who have been foolish enough to entrust their destinies to men utterly incapable of dealing with such a big issue. That being the case—[Hon. MEMBERS: "It is not the case!"]—if any one of the hon. Members opposite can lift himself to a plane of imagination so high as that which I am going to speak from, let him think it possible that some man owning a colliery is not a brute, is not dishonest, has some sort of regard for the welfare of the men employed in his colliery, and has also some sort of regard for the welfare of the country at large.
I admit that is rather a terrific hypothesis, but if hon. Members can bring their minds to contemplate such a possibility, let them further imagine what would be the point of view of such an extraordinary and unimaginable person as a decent colliery owner if he were confronted with the present position. I venture to say that if he had any regard for the welfare of this country, for the welfare in particular of the mining industry, and, above all, for the welfare of the men whose prosperity and happiness very largely depend upon his proper conduct of his own undertaking, he would, if he could see any possible way of doing it, free the miners from this dominating tyranny, which has reduced them to such misery both in 1921 and at the present time. I venture to say that quite unselfishly and purely in the interest of his country, his industry and the men employed in it he would leave no stone unturned to bring about a condition of affairs when the men in that industry would once more be free men, and once more be in a position to look their fellow workers in other industries in the face, a position they are not in at the present time.
That being the case—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is not the case!"]—is there any reason on public grounds, is there any reason as regards the mining industry, is there any reason as regards the wellbeing of the men engaged in the industry, why the Government or anyone else should deliberately set out now to 236 frame a policy with a view to saving the faces of Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. A. J. Cook? That is the question. Is there any reason why this thing should be done? Is there any public object to be served by saving the faces of those two gentlemen? Is there any object, either for the benefit of the mining industry or of those employed in it, which can possibly be advanced by adopting some method by which those two gentlemen can still continue to go about the country and say, "Put your trust in us. Look what we have got for you."
Even if the Government or any other body in this country set out to carry through that policy, they would have great difficulty in bringing it to fruition. Unfortunately, the gentlemen in question have made it quite impossible for their faces to be saved. You cannot go about week after week during a crisis like this saying, "Not a penny off the pay, not a second on the day; we are not going to have district settlements; we are going to have this, that and the other; we are going to extract a subsidy from the Government by sheer force or political blackmail." You cannot do that week after week, and then save your faces if you find you cannot get a single one of the things that you have promised the men. Therefore I say that it is perfectly hopeless at this stage to follow out the advice which has been offered by this side and by that side—the advice to find some marvellous bridge, some very ingenious policy, which will enable Mr. A. J. Cook and Mr. Herbert Smith to continue to go about the country and say, "Observe what a magnificent victory we have won, and how we have got you all those things we promised you in the early days of this dispute."
I admit that I am not delivering what I should call a "conciliatory" speech. But I think it is well that at some point we should come down to realities, and close our ears to the music of the gramophone records on this subject, to which we have been listening from both sides of the House. Hon. Members opposite have asked us to "pity the poor miners." They have told us how extraordinarily noble are the miners of Great Britain, facing privations and almost starving for a noble and an unselfish ideal. Now what is that "noble and unselfish ideal?"
237 Simply a desire to have wages higher than the industry can afford to pay. No one can bring any accusation against the miner for possessing that desire. When hon. Members have worked very hard at anything, it has been for no other reason than that they wanted an income, and very few miners have gone down the pit simply because they regard it as an amusing recreation. They have gone down to work in the pit because the terms and conditions offered to them were the best they could get. I cannot for the life of me see why there is anything particularly noble in sticking out for better terms and conditions than you are able to get.
The present demand of the miners is an attempt to get more wages at the expense of men who are working longer hours than they are at work requiring greater skill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am referring to skilled engineers, who have a much lower scale of wages than the miners, and are much more skilled workmen. Therefore, there is nothing very noble in it at all. It is the sort of thing we all do. If I wanted a job, I should seek out the best one I could get, and I should not regard myself as acting very nobly if I had to sell my furniture in order to keep myself alive because I refused to accept the salary which was offered to me. Let us try to look at the real facts in this matter. The miners have been befooled from beginning to end, because they have been told that in the end they will be able to get a rate of remuneration and hours of work far in excess of what the industry can afford. The Coal Commission was most explicit on that point with reference to a decrease in the cost of production. But the Miners' Federation said, "We are so strong politically that we can force the Government, by means of a general strike, to pay the difference between an economic wage and the wage the miners would like to have."
It seems to me that the kindest thing we can do for the miners is to get them out of this unfortunate difficulty, which nothing but their own folly has brought upon them. The miners' leaders are now saying, "What are we to do? Our faces have not been saved. What is to become of the central executive of the Miners' Federation, 238 because whole districts are breaking away? "Are the coal owners of Great Britain, in these circumstances, expected to frame a policy in order that this body shall continue to exist and make a very hell of the industry? Are the owners to say, "We are going to plunge the industry into chaos again in order to save the face of Mr. Herbert Smith." Everybody knows perfectly well that ever since we have had national negotiations and national settlements in the coal industry that industry has been in a state of chaos. They have not made for peace; they have not made for prosperity; and I say, having tried them out and out, it is quite time that we had an end of them. Of course, it does not matter what our opinion is, whether we are in favour of national negotiations or not; it does not matter if the Government are in favour of a national settlement. The Government are not going to get a national settlement, and the Government know it.
There is only one way of getting a national settlement, and that is when a body, empowered by the miners of Great Britain, can go into conference with a body empowered by the colliery owners of Great Britain, and can proceed to make a joint arrangement binding upon their constituents. Does that condition exist? Not a bit of it. The Mining Association has made it perfectly clear to the public at large, although the public does not seem to have noticed it, that this condition does not exist—that their authority has been withdrawn by their constituents, and has been unanimously withdrawn by every district in the country. And not only that. It is not a case of the constituents throwing over representatives that they distrust, or in whose capacity they do not believe; it is a withdrawal which has been welcomed I should say most heartily by those representatives themselves. The difference between the central executive of Mining Asociation and the central executive of the Miners' Federation is that, whereas the central executive of the Miners' Federation would do everything, good, bad or indifferent, to maintain their wretched existence, the central executive committee of the Mining Association would give anything to end their existence as a central body. At last, their patience has 239 been exhausted. They see the utter futility of going on any further, and they want to get back among their own men in their own places to look after their own businesses. They tell the public, and I tell the public now from the Floor of this House, that there is no central negotiating body of the coalowners of Great Britain at the present time, and I hope and firmly trust that there never again will be such a body.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I should like to refer to the speech to which the House has just listened. I regret that in the earlier part of his speech the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) thought fit to indulge in a cheap, typical, and nasty sneer at the hon. Member who preceded him, one of the most honoured Members of this House, a man who is honoured from one end of the country to the other, and who said nothing whatever in his remarks to warrant the sneer in which the hon. Member indulged. The hon. Member said at least two things which are worth replying to. First, he said, in reference to the increase of hours from seven to eight, that it was absolutely essential to get this increase of hours in order to increase production and consequently cheapen prices. That also was the argument used on the Government Benches during the passage of the Eight Hours Act. But what do we find immediately that the Act is upon the Statute Book? The Government appoint a Committee, called a Fuel Committee, to carry out the recommendations of the Samuel Commission, and they entrust the chairmanship of that Committee to a well-known and respected Member on their Back Benches, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond).
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen, himself a colliery owner, himself a man in big business, goes off to Canada. Before he goes, he gives an interview to the newspaper Press, and the first statement that he makes in that interview is that it is his considered opinion that the chief cause of the trouble in the coal industry is not, as the hon. Member for Mossley believes, underproduction, hut over-production—that the chief trouble is a glut in the market and the slaughtering of prices, which keeps the industry in chaos and in a condition of low wages. And the right hon. Gentle- 240 man the Member for Carmarthen, presumably voicing the opinion of the Government who entrusted him with the chairmanship of this Committee, adds that what we must do is to decrease production in this country by 15 per cent. How any hon. Member can square that official statement of the Chairman of the Fuel Committee—the man whom the Government have entrusted with the job of reorganising the coal industry—with the considered policy of the Government, I, for the life of me, do not understand, and I do not know anyone else who even pretends to understand. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] There are cheers from the opposite side of the House at a great contradiction in their own declared policy. [Interruption.] Do hon. Members dispute the statement of fact made by a man—
§ Major MacANDREW
He says what he likes.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Is that the sort of man whom you appoint as chairman—
§ Major MacANDREW
I did not appoint him.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I think that now the supporters of the Government are not in favour of the appointment of this man of big business, who is a great coalowner, to the chairmanship of the Fuel Committee. At any rate, I am prepared to say this, that, so far as big business operations are concerned, I would sooner trust the outlook of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen in the coal business than the outlook of the hon. Member for Mossley.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I can assure the hon. Member that I would never invest one brass copper in any business with which he is connected, industrially or politically. He made another point. He said that there was no case for reconstruction at all, that reconstruction meant nothing beyond 2d. on the ton of coal. Here again I will put him up against an authority. I will take the late Sir George Elliott, a respected member of the Conservative party and the largest coalowner in the county of Durham. He formed, or attempted to form, a coal trust of all the coalowners in the country, and he issued his plans and statements in full. They 241 can be seen in the columns of the "Times," and no one has ever disputed the fact. What did he say? He said that it would be possible to increase—not decrease—the wages of the miners in this country by 10 per cent. if we had a national coal trust to wipe out useless competition in the industry, and that the cost of coal to the consumer could be cheapened, and profits could be guaranteed to the coalowners in addition. I prefer the opinions of a large coalowner like the late Sir George Elliott to the opinions of the hon. Member for Mossley.
There is only one other point to which I desire to refer and that is the eternal question of the subsidy. I agree that if you are going to have a reconstruction of the industry at all somebody must give up something to do it. The Government through the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that it has burned its lifeboat and that there is going to be no more subsidy. Does that rule out a public loan for the purpose, a loan the interest and sinking fund of which could be guaranteed by a miserable three farthings of the royalty taken at present on the ton of coal? In all these discussions it is the miners who have to suffer or, if you like, the coalowners who have to suffer, but never under any circumstances does anybody suggest that the dead clammy hand of the royalty owner should be taken off even to a small degree. Why should there not be three farthings or a penny taken from the royalty owner to find interest and sinking fund for a publicly issued loan to set this industry on its feet? The alternative to that is to make the miners pay. Making the miners pay means lessening the purchasing power of the miners in the whole market. The effect of that will be felt by the engineers and by every other industry in the country for all time. That is no settlement. You will never have willing co-operation in the mining or any other ndustry by reducing the purchasing power of the workers in that industry. Unless the Government is prepared first of all to tackle the non-producers, the useless parasites, in the industry and to take away something from that annual drain on the industry and use it usefully—not as they did with the last subsidy, simply letting the period elapse with nothing being 242 done—for the purpose of reconstructing the whole industry and putting it on an efficient basis, unless and until the Government of the day does that I can see no hope of peace in the industry. You may get a settlement, but no peace. The miners will gather up again for another struggle. The sooner the trading interests and the House of Commons make up their minds that the first charge on any industry must be a decent wage for the workers in the industry and that it is the business of the House of Commons to see that the industry is reconstructed in accordance with modern requirements, the better for the nation.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I only rise to reply to what the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) said when he referred to the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) and his statement about the increase in the price of coal to the consumer as a solution of the difficulty. I wish to say this, on behalf of the fishing industry which I try to represent in this House, that dearer coal to us means blotting us out of existence. Coal at reasonable price is vital to that industry. We have been struggling along since the great slump in trade, trying to bring our industry back to prosperity. Our men have not complained of working 12, 14 or 16 hours a day. They have done it ungrudgingly for two reasons, to try and bring the industry back to prosperity, and to bring foodstuffs to the nation. If any settlement that is brought about, either by the Government or by negotiations between the two parties, results in coal being at a prohibitive price to this industry, it means that all the efforts of the past few years will have been in vain. During the coal stoppage those at the head of the industry put forward superhuman efforts to keep that industry running for two reasons, to keep the food supplies of the nation up to the mark, and also to find employment for the men, and many thousands of pounds have been lost by those in that industry in carrying on until the dispute is settled. Now if by any act of this House or the act of any Chairman of any Committee appointed by this House, coal is raised 5s. a ton over the price before the coal stoppage, that means absolute ruin for the fishing industry. I hope, whatever settlement is brought 243 about, the interests of those outside either side in the dispute will be taken into consideration, because cheap coal is vital to the best interests of the industries of the country as a whole.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I have a friend who owns fishing boats on the coast of Scotland. He was buying coal through a middleman and was paying 27s. 6d. a ton for it. I advised him to approach a colliery owner 40 miles inland, and he was able to get it at 23s. a ton. That shows the system under which fishing is handicapped. If he cared to go to Belfast, he could coal his boats at 24s. a ton with the very coal sent from the mainland of Scotland for which he was paying 27s. 6d. at an Ayrshire port. The fishing industry is being bled under the system we have now.
I came here thinking we might be able to get a road through this terrible dispute. I never wanted a stoppage in the coal trade, and I was very anxious to get peace. Unfortunately, hon. Members have made up their minds that it is going to be a fight to a finish. I deplore that very much. If I were a member of the Miners' Executive I should break off all negotiations. I would not run after the Government or the employers. I would fight as long as ever I could, and when I reached the point that we were unable to continue the fight I would send the men back, but I would sign no agreement and I 244 would carry on a guerilla war in every district in the country, and in a very short time the people who are closing the door on negotiations now would be very keen for a signed agreement. Nothing else seems to do here. They pride themselves on the fact that by starvation or something else they are driving the men back. I want to warn the House that there is a new spirit abroad, and a settlement such as they have in their mind means war and not peace, and the probability is that more trouble will arise the coalfield than they think because of the stupidity of their policy.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
In the last few moments that are left to us, I want to express my surprise at the attitude of the last few speakers. I have endeavoured to follow very closely the various changes which have taken place in the coal mining industry. I well remember the Sankey Commission and the disaster I predicted when their recommendations were published.
§ Mr. LAWSON
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.—Debate resumed.
§ It being Five of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of this day, till Tuesday, 9th November, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.