HC Deb 27 July 1926 vol 198 cc1991-6
Colonel LANE FOX

I beg to move, in page 11, line 38, to leave out from the beginning to the word "shall" in line 41. and to insert instead thereof the words

"(3) the Miners' Welfare Committee." This is merely a drafting Amendment. Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 12, to leave out lines 1 to 3, inclusive, and to insert instead thereof the words out of those proceeds establish a scheme for the provision of weekly pensions for persons who have been regularly employed in the mining industry, and who have reached the age of sixty years. The proposal is that this money should be earmarked to establish the nucleus of a pension scheme. I look upon this as far more important. It might be that the Commissioners supported or recommended pit-head baths, but they recommend many other things. They recommended the nationalisation of the minerals, and not a deduction of 5 per cent. from the proceeds as proposed here. That therefore cannot have much weight, because we have got a long way from the Commissioner's Report already. A pension scheme for aged miners, I consider, the most important and urgent need there is. There are many things that one approves of. This is the most urgent of all. When we have only so much money to deal with, I think we should consider which is the most urgent object to which it should be put. What I am proposing is the policy of the Miners' Federation. For a long time they have been receiving resolutions from different parts of the country on this question, and they themselves at their annual conference approved of a pension scheme for aged miners. This question becomes now more important than ever before because of the number of men who will be left out whenever a settlement is arrived at, as it will be one of those days. The Commissioners themselves, I think, said that there would be at least 130,000 men unemployed in the mining industry. These 130,000 men will have to be provided for in some way or other.

I put down a question some time ago asking as to the number of men engaged in the industry who were over 60 years of age, and the reply I had was that there was a certain percentage between 59 and 65 and over 65 years of age, making, I think, about 6 per cent. of the total. I should say that there would be about 60,000 men over 60 years of age in the mining industry who ought to be with- drawn and placed upon a pension, because most of them have been already 50 years at work in the mines. That is sufficient for any man to have done. We never knew what unemployment was in 1921, but what we have seen since is aged men struggling to get to work and young men walking the roads with nothing to do. That is unemployment at the wrong end of the scale. For this reason, I am moving that this pension scheme should be applied. That would put right a considerable number of the men left out of employment. The Commissioners knew that a large number of men would be unemployed, and they make a recommendation in which they say that the Government should be ready to take all practicable means for the assistance of any labour that may be displaced, and to furnish such funds as may be required for this purpose. I think that is very plain and distinct, and, if this 5 per cent. deduction from royalty owners was made the nucleus of a fund, and if unemployment pay that will have to be used to allow these men to live was added also, there would be a very substantial pension scheme already.

I know the Minister will say that cannot be done; that it is illegal. But, it is wonderful the things we can legalise if we wish to. There was the Eight Hours Bill which was got through in three or four days. This alteration too could be made in a shorter time than that, because there would not be the opposition to it from our standpoint. I know that the £200,000 which is talked about, which would be brought in by this, would not go very far, but it would be a help. I believe the workmen, notwithstanding the heavy deductions made from their pay every week, would be willing to make a contribution too. I think from the youngest to the oldest they would be quite pleased to make some contribution towards a pension scheme because every one of them would look forward to the day when they became eligible for it, and some provision for old age would have been made.


Did they not all vote against it last year?


I have the account here of a meeting which was held in 1924 between the Central Committee of the Mining Association and the Executive of the Miners' Federation. Mr. Evan Williams said: What we did say was that in our opinion, an opinion endorsed by the Chairman of the Central Committee and other members of the Committee, the amount of a penny to be restricted to the use of private recreation grounds and that sort of thing is more than is necessary, and it is not to the interest of anyone connected with the industry to have an expenditure in excess of that which is necessary. It appears to me that there could be a contribution taken from what is going into the welfare fund already, possibly a halfpenny out of the penny. That would make from the beginning a very substantial pension scheme, and it would immediately withdraw a large number of those older men and would give a chance to the younger ones to obtain work. The present welfare schemes are doing a lot of good. I have spoken in favour of them many times, and am in favour of them still, but when there is only so much money to deal with I consider only what is most urgent, and certainly a cricket ground or tennis court or bowling green and all that sort of thing, although useful and serving a good purpose, would not be put by anyone against pensions schemes for aged miners. I do not think these things are used by our men so much as by people who are outside the industry altogether. They are used more particularly by the young people who are not engaged in manual work, such as shopkeepers and clerks, and I think you would find a much larger volume of that class using them than men who work hard at the pits and require rest. I cannot conceive anybody arguing that these things are as necessary as this scheme I have talked about now.

Then we have heard a lot about pithead baths, another necessary thing, a thing that I approve of. I should like to see them brought about. I know the homes would be much sweeter and better and the hard work the miners' wives now have to do would be at least less because of that. I know all that very well and I am taking that into consideration, but I do not place even that as against pensions for miners. I have had several letters since this Amendment was moved upstairs from different people asking that this should be pressed and expressing the hope that it would be agreed to. I defy any man on either side of the House to say he has received a single letter from a working miner in favour of pit-head baths. Pit-head baths have been really an agitation by the leaders. I have been one of them and I entirely agree with it, but I do not place it in the same category as I do pensions for old miners. A pensions scheme would be the greatest boon that has yet been proposed for miners. I think it would be the greatest contribution we have yet made towards the personal welfare of the men engaged in this industry. We have many of these schemes already. The railway men have had a very excellent scheme for many years. The teaching profession have a very excellent scheme, as have the Civil Service. I believe there ought to be pensions in every industry and it is one of the things we ought to be ashamed of in an organisation like the Miners' Federation that we have not got a pensions scheme in connection with our organisation. I hope to see this adopted and to see the time come when we shall say, like they do to the teachers when they get to a certain age, "You have to retire whether you want to or not." I want to see the young men working and the old men resting.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I can conceive of no better means of utilising this fund than making provision for those who have given at least 40 or 45 years of their lives to winning coal from the bowels of the earth. Anyone who has had any experience in and about mines, seeing the conditions under which these men come to the surface after doing their day's work, must realise that at 60 years of age they ought to be going into retirement and have provided for them a decent subsistence. It is for that reason that I wish to associate myself with the Amendment and to put it to the right hon. Gentleman very strongly that he should accept it as being a reasonable Amendment and one which would make provision for those who have helped to create the wealth of the nation.


Naturally, everyone would like to see a pensions scheme adopted for miners at the age of 60 and pensions schemes increased in every direction for every- one. That can go without saying. But this proposal would mean that the £250,000 a year which is provided for the purpose of pit-head baths would be used entirely for a pension scheme and not for pit-head baths at all. Not only that, but the hon. Member, realising how inadequate that fund would be for pensions—I understand it would not give a pensioner more than half a crown a week if the whole £250,000 were taken—proposed also to take half the levy fund in addition—that is another £500,000 a year—adding 5s. a week to the pension. At the same time, he explained that he was in favour of pit-head baths. He knew they were a good thing, that they improved the morale and saved trouble in the homes, and he also approved of the welfare fund. He approved of everything, but he only supplied the money for half. I approve of everything, but I have only a little money. I have £250,000, which is allocated to pit-head baths. If I were to accept the Amendment, it would do away with pit-head baths, the very purpose for which the fund is being taken from the royalty owners. I am sorry, therefore, that much as I sympathise with the desire for pensions, it is quite impossible to accept the Amendment, which would destroy the purpose for which the fund is set up.


I appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw the Amendment. As I understand it, it means that the whole of the money has to go to a pension scheme. I am more in favour of pit-head baths than of a pension scheme. I want pensions to come nationally for everyone, and at this juncture I would far rather have a pit-head bath scheme out of this money than a pension scheme. I appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.