HC Deb 27 July 1926 vol 198 cc2009-14

I beg to move to leave out the Clause.

I may mention that this Clause was very unexpectedly brought forward in Committee by the Government, and those on the Committee knew nothing about it. I consider the Government are making a mistake in pressing forward this Clause. I want to make myself very plain in this matter to the Opposition that, in moving this Amendment, I am not in any way supporting the mineowners themselves in this matter, because I believe that they and the miners also have adopted a non possumus attitude which has been very destructive to the interest to the country. In moving to delete this Clause for the appointment of joint committees for the coal mines, it is not that I think it will affect the owners or the miners, but it is a question of non-union men, if there are any employed in the mines, and also of those members of the unions who are not in favour with their union. I bring this specially to the notice of the House because I have had considerable intercourse with men in the railway world during the big strike. I was intensely surprised to find that, though we adopted, under the Act of 1921, railway departmental committees, man after man came to me pointing out that those committees were clearly doing harm to the railroad world, because, after all, these men who are elected on the employés' or workers' side to be representatives on the departmental committees, which correspond to the pit committees in this case, are men high up in the union world, and it only gives them more chance of being hard on those men whom they do not favour.

I am not talking haphazardly, but from information that has been brought to me by a good many men in the railway world where I am situated, and may I say also that I know personally that those Departmental Committees, which are similar to the pit committees, have added and do actually add to the expense of the running of the railroads. I think we shall find the same thing will happen with regard to these pit committees, if and when they are appointed, and they will only add to the expenses of the running of the mines. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I could go into that, but Mr. Speaker would rule me out or order if I did so. I could very soon do it if I wished. The Act of 1920 allows the appointment of those pit committees, but they were never adopted. Therefore it shows there was not unanimity for the choice of the pit committees. Now the Government has made it, after a period of two years, a compulsory Act, on application, of course, to the Mines Department, and I ask the House, are the interests of the industries of the country helped by this legislation? I think we have far too much legislation in regard to our industries. It only helps to put them back.

There is only just one other point which I want to draw the attention of the House to, and that is in the Report of the Coal Commission they make this statement in regard to these pit committees: We would express also the opinion that when the pit committees have come into being, the last excuse for the so-called 'lightning strikes' would disappear. If that is correct, according to the assertion of that Commission, ought it not to have helped and done away with, to a large extent, the tendency in the railways for the lightning strike? I think we all realise that it really did not help at all. We have had that lightning strike in the railway world as in all other industries, and I am quite sure that if the Government would only take time to consider it they would agree that this is just a line which they are throwing out in order to help themselves by bolstering up these proposals, and I beg them to consider the matter, because I believe that by this hedging round of our industries we are only hampering them.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

Does any hon. Member rise to second the Amendment. I think the Amendment falls.


I beg to second the Amendment.


You are too late.


On a point of Order. I understood an hon. Member below the Gangway rose to second the Amendment.


I rose intending to oppose the Amendment as much as I could.


If hon. Members insist, I shall be obliged to rule that the hon. Member is too late, but perhaps hon. Members may have no objection to its being moved.


May I say I would have risen earlier to second the Amendment?


Perhaps in the circumstances, as it appears to have been a case of misunderstanding, hon. Members will allow it.




The history of Part II of the Mining Industries Act with reference to pit committees is very well known. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has moved the Amendment has certain apprehensions with regard to the effect of the establishment of pit committees, but I believe the general opinion is that the events which led to the failure of Part II of the Mining Industry Act were most unfortunate. That Act made it possible for pit committees to be established by agreement between the parties. Unfortunately, on the miners' side there was not a willingness to join in the establishment of the committees at a time when the owners were prepared, or professed at any rate to be prepared and I believe were prepared, to establish them. When the miners began to see what I respectfully think was wisdom, the owners unfortunately were not prepared to adhere to their former attitude and the result was that of the lines He that will not when he may, When he will he shall have nay. and the pit committees had to be abandoned in consequence of the failure of each side to adopt a reasonable course at the right time.

The Royal Commission considered the whole question and those parts of their Report are familiar to hon. Members who take an interest in this question. They expressed the opinion that the fears in regard to the establishment of pit committees were not well founded, that friction was not likely to arise in their establishment, and that interference with the management was not likely to take place and that at any rate it could be avoided by the inclusion of some proviso that pit committees should not interfere with the management of the pits. It will be seen that in Clause 21 of this present Bill there is included a provision of that sort. My hon. and gallant Friend has suggested that the establishment of the pit committees would lead to an increase in the cost of working the pits. I am not able to follow him on that point. He said that Mr. Speaker would have ruled him out of order if he had explained the reason he thought that it would increase the cost of management. At any rate, speaking for the Government and for myself, with all my heart, we believe that what is wanted to improve the conditions in this and many other industries is an increase of means by which those interested on both sides in the industry may get together to discuss as far as possible the problems which interest both sides of the industry. Although there has been an unhappy past with reference to pit committees, we think that the time is ripe, after the Report of the Royal Commission, to make another effort to encourage both sides to co-operate in his hopeful movement.

The Clause is drawn in such a way that we shall avoid, as much as possible, the element of compulsion which the Commission thought was likely to interfere with the success of the scheme. It is quite obvious that the pit committee which is based on compulsion is not likely to be a very harmonious body, at any rate in its earlier stages. Whether compulsory meetings would result in establishing a better feeling after a time may, perhaps, be the right view about it, but at any rate we thought it was desirable to give full opportunity to both sides to make arrangements for the discussion of the matters which interested them. There is a great deal of elasticity of phraseology in the Clause which may seem to some hon. Members a little wide and general. It was deliberately drawn in that way, and in no way was the language used for the purpose of discouraging the establishment of pit committees but rather the reverse.

We thought that if the expression were used "if adequate opportunity has been afforded for the establishment of machinery" for discussing questions, it would prevent anybody from saying that they were being kept within a rigid formula which they were not prepared to apply to the facts of the situation. If the owner or the agent of the collier does not give that adequate opportunity, there is power to make Regulations, which may perhaps fill up the deficiencies of the owner or the manager. If the owner or the manager offers opportunities to the men for the establishment of pit committees and the men are not prepared to cooperate, there is no power to make Regulations; but we believe that that is not likely to happen, or we hope that it is not likely to happen in the history of the industry. We hope that if the owners and the agents do give adequate opportunity for the establishment of the machinery, there will be a response in. a more hopeful spirit than happened under the Mining Industry Act, 1920. So far from increasing the cost to the industry, we hope it will produce a better spirit and produce what always comes when there is a good spirit in industry— economic and whole-hearted co-operation between the two partners in the industry in which the pit committees will be established. We therefore ask the House to maintain the Clause in its present form.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, in page 17, line. 23, at the end, to insert (5) An Order under this Section may be made so as to be in force either permanently or for a limited period, and may be amended or revoked he any subsequent Order. It has been considered, in the light of experience, advisable to insert this provision. If this provision were not inserted, speaking from experience, I believe there would be great inconvenience resulting from the omission.

Amendment agreed to.