HC Deb 27 July 1926 vol 198 cc2047-61
Colonel LANE FOX

I beg to move, in page 20, line 23, to leave out the words "this Part" and to insert instead thereof the words "Part I."

This is purely a drafting Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."


I have, on the command of His Majesty, to say that His Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Mining Industry Bill, has given his consent, as far as His Majesty's interest is concerned, that the House may do therein as they shall think fit.



Colonel LANE FOX

I am sorry to stand in the way of the right hon. Gentleman, but I think it would be better if he followed me rather than that I should follow him. We have had a long and very interesting Committee stage on this Bill, and I want to say how consistent has been the good humour, the temper and the real interest shown in the Measure. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition last night said that there was nothing in this Bill that could not be done already, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) said that it is a mere sham, and there is no attempt to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I am precluded, under the strict Rules of Order governing a Third Reading Debate, from going into anything which is outside the Bill itself, and, therefore, I cannot follow the right hon. Gentleman and deal with anything that is not actually in the Bill. But I find in the Bill itself a large number of most valuable proposals, which I am certain hon. Members opposite, when they have had time to get rid of any political anxieties they may have, will realise will be of great value to the country. Very shortly, let me remind the House what this Bill does contain. We have been told frequently that it contains nothing, and, perhaps, hon. Members who have said so have not taken the trouble to study the Bill or else are deliberately trying to give a wrong impression of the proposals contained in it. The first part of the Bill makes voluntary amalgamation easy by removing certain obstacles in connection with the transfer of leases and by providing a simpler, cheaper, and shorter procedure. It then proceeds to make compulsory amalgamations possible by giving power to absorb the undertakings of those who do not wish to come into amalgamations, and behind that there is a power with the Mines Department to make a report which can be followed by compulsory action.

Part 11 so extends the operation of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923, as to remove various qualifications and restrictions in connection with the right of working minerals such as that there must be a direct interest in the minerals and that there must be a risk of the minerals being unworked and many things are now allowed in this connection, which by the previous Act were not conceded. There can be no doubt about the fact that the removal of many of the obstructions and difficulties which have arisen owing to the incidence of private ownership of the soil on the surface not coinciding with the needs and requirements of the working of the minerals down below will be of great value to the industry and that, by the removal of those obstructions, the facilities for working minerals will be enormously increased by this Bill. Part III, as hon. Gentlemen will remember, deals with the levy on loyalty owners, and the provision of pit-head baths. Part IV limits recruitment for the next three years and allows those who are dispossessed, under operations which may take place as a result of this Measure, to be secured in their employment in the mining industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] This is a thing for which hon. Gentlemen opposite have frequently asked, and it is not for them to jeer at it.

Clause 20 legalises the formation of profit-sharing schemes, and Clause 21 makes provision for the establishment of pit committees on a compulsory footing after a period of two years during which they may be set up voluntarily. Clause 22 provides that mining education shall be open to the very best brains of this country, and shall no longer be confined within narrow limits. Clause 23 gives facilities for geological surveys, and thereby secures that all the knowledge derived from new borings shall be available for general use in the national interest.

I am perfectly certain any hon. Gentleman who takes the trouble to understand what is in the Bill will find that it contains the seeds of a great development of the mining industry. Any hon. Gentleman who, after this Debate, goes down to his constituents and repeats to them that there is nothing in this Bill, will make that statement neither truthfully nor honestly if he has taken the trouble to consider the Measure sincerely and fully. If he so considers it, he must realise that it is better to make the best of it, and to give it a fair wind and a good character throughout the country rather than to try deliberately to falsify what he knows to be the truth and to take away its character.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."

I am sure the whole House is delighted with the new evidence that our right hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines has given us of high spirits on the completion of a task to which he certainly has brought an urbanity of temper that could not be excelled. He suggests that we should try to make the best of the Bill, and that is a very proper suggestion. I am sure we can honestly say that in Committee, from the very first moment, we not only offered no kind of obstruction, but we put forward, to the best of our ability, Amendments having for their special purpose the improvement of the Measure. The necessity for reconstruction is admitted by everybody, and I am not going to waste another word upon that, but in order that reorganisation shall take place, in order that the very purpose of this Bill shall be effected, it is surely necessary that there should be some definite initiative placed upon some person or some organisation. From the first word of the Bill to the last, no initiative, no responsibility, is placed upon anybody, any organisation, any company, or any State Department, and we submit that, because of the lack of initiative and of direct responsibility, it is hopeless to expect any definite, useful results to come from this Bill.

We tried to place responsibility upon the owners, but we were beaten; we tried to place responsibility upon a State Department, but we were beaten; we tried to make the Bill represent a single or unified ownership and control, but we were beaten; and, indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) reminds me, after being beaten on the method of unification, we tried district amalgamation, but again we were beaten. On not a single Amendment that we submitted or a single idea that we put forward with the hope of putting some definite backbone into the Bill were we successful, and the Bill remains at present a supine and back-boneless thing, a thing of shreds and patches, out of which not the most optimistic can hope to derive any improvement in the mining industry. Is there any hope from the employers? My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), who always has some entertainment and sometimes even instruction for us, described the attitude of the employers—and he put himself forward as speaking on their behalf—as saying that this Bill was "sloppy eyewash," and that the whole proposals of the Commission in respect to the reorganisation of the mining industry were "sloppy eyewash." It is to the employers in the mining industry, whose mind is indicated by that expression, that the fortunes of this Bill are to be entrusted.

I said the Bill was a thing of shreds and patches, but we could afford to take it with all its imperfections on its head if it were not for Clause 22, which has no direct relation to the reorganisation of the industry, which was never contained in the Bill on the Second Reading, and which, to a certain extent, is really sharp practice in procedure, because when the Bill was submitted by the Prime Minister, neither the right hon. Gentleman himself nor the Secretary for Mines gave the slightest indication that the provisions of Clause 22 were to be embodied in this Measure. Now Clause 22 would, of itself, damn this Bill in the eyes of every working miner, and, if for no other reason, that it is so hopelessly opposed to the useful and admittedly beneficial provisions of Sections 9 and 10 of the Act of 1911, which are now to be repealed. The repeal of those Sections, which were agreed to after years of discussion between the mining employers and the miners of the country, must be detrimental to the mining industry. They are to be repealed in order that men possessing a liberal education may be brought into the industry—men with no practical experience, not even the small amount that is required under the present Regulations; men with no technical knowledge, not even the knowledge which entitles a man to an approved diploma. These men of liberal education are to be brought into the industry at the whim or the caprice of the President of the Board of Trade.

What nonsense it is to talk about General Regulations which can be referred to a referee! We require to have a request by one-third of the men before any action can be taken; and the workmen about a mine are taken to include the whole of the men, north, south, east and west—the men en the sidings, the men underground, the men on the surface. At a colliery employing 3,000 men the support of 1,000 must be obtained before action can be taken. The thing is nonsensical. As a matter of fact, no action has been taken under this provision for the last 15 years, and the Solicitor-General ought to have known that, and he does know it as a matter of fact. But that is the kind of nonsense that is thrown at us in Committee. I think it was John Bright who said that the Army and Navy provided a gigantic system of out-door relief for the younger members of the aristocracy. I suppose the mining industry is to be adapted to a similar purpose—is to become a gigantic system of outdoor relief for the younger members of the plutocracy and the "snobocracy." The care of the lives of workers in the pits, where 1,200 lives are lost and over 200,000 workers disabled every year, is not even a secondary consideration. People are to be put in control of the safety of the life and limb of the workers who have not a single atom of technical knowledge or practical experience. There was no call for this. The House did not give this Bill a Second Reading on the understanding that any such provision should be inserted, and it is disgraceful to utilise a Committee upstairs in order to incorporate in the Measure such a pro- vision as this, for which no demand has ever existed and which can have only dire results to the mining industry.


I have listened with interest to the views which have been so strongly expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh), and I am rather surprised and sorry that he should take the view he does on these questions. Might I suggest that if there is any real cause for disappointment on the Labour benches in regard to this Bill, it is largely due to the conditions obtaining in the mining industry at the present moment, and that state of things causes among Members in all parts of the House no little irritation, and hon. Members opposite have a peculiar responsibility towards the mining industry. The House has heard to-day an interesting speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), and I think hon. Members opposite, however much they differ from the right hon. Gentleman in regard to his political views, will agree, I am sure, that he is no mean authority on the subject of mining. He has not been very long on this side of the House, but he was speaking as one well qualified to judge as to the merits of this Bill.

In considering this Bill, one has to have regard to its value to the mining industry as a whole. Hon. Members really should concentrate on three parts of the Bill in order to discover its merits. The first is the part dealing with amalgamation; in the second place the Section dealing with grouping; and in the third place the part dealing with profit sharing. I do not think it is fair to the Bill to regard any one part alone, and I submit that apart from the irritation to which I have referred, and which is particularly strong at the moment, if we take those three parts together, then I am bound to say that we must come to the conclusion that there is much to be said for the Bill. I know that hon. Members opposite discount very much the proposals of this Bill with regard to amalgamation, but what are they? Hon. Members opposite are always hankering after compulsion in these matters, and why I do not know.

What I do say is that in this Bill you lay down a policy that where amalgamation is desirable, then it can be compelled, and you do not want to compel amalgamation except in cases where it is desirable Any frantic efforts at compulsion may result in disastrous amalgamations, not only for the owners, but the miners as well. With regard to recruitment, I have done my best this afternoon to have the shale miners escape the possibilities of that scheme. But I am bound to say that I think there is every justification for the part of the Bill dealing with recruitment.

Have hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite visualised what these big amalgamations mean from the standpoint of employment? They mean, undoubtedly, a very big reduction in the numbers of men employed. Machines will be multiplied very extensively; there will be coal production on a very large scale at diminished cost; there will be introduced into the mines many more technically trained men, like electricians; and the miner will be brought back to the point when he is no longer a coal hewer, but approximates very nearly to the position of a labourer. As such a labourer, lifting coal from the coal cutting machine, he will presently, because of the bigger wage he enjoys as against the labourer on the surface, invite the competition of that surface labourer.

Therefore, there is every reason, both from the standpoint of the mechanical production of coal and from the standpoint of the new competition that will have been introduced, for this new provision with regard to recruitment. The Bill is generous and wise—[Interruption.] I was trying to present an analysis of the Bill in a judicial spirit, to an assembly which I hoped, despite the lateness of the hour, would still retain some little judicial sense, and on that analysis of the Bill I maintain that amalgamation will lead to a very large reduction in the number of men employed in the mines, and such a reduction in the status of the miner, as we know him to-day, as will mean that he will have to face the competition of the surface labourer in the future. For all these reasons, the Clauses with regard to recruitment are justified, and ought to be received with much greater gratitude than they have been by hon. Members opposite who pretend in a special sense to represent the miners.

There is only one other part of the Bill to which I desire to refer, and that is the part which deals with profit-sharing. I confess to hon. Members opposite that I am personally disappointed with this part of the Bill. The Commission did not propose profit-sharing. That is in existence now, and it has not brought peace to the industry. What the Commission did was this: They very acutely saw that the miner must be drawn back to the common point of sharing in the fixed capital of the industry. They did not wish to dwell any longer on the evanescence of wages, or a bonus in addition to wages in the shape of profit-sharing, but they intended to establish the miner in the permanent capital of the concern, so that all engaged in the industry would have a common outlook and a common purpose, and a mind necessarily rid of that suspicion of which we hear eternally, and of which we have heard time and again in this House to-day.

If it be possible to contrive, by means of the Committee which the Government is now about to set up to consider the whole question of profit-sharing or common interest in the industry, if it be possible to contrive to get a common mind in the industry, if that common outlook can be obtained which comes automatically from the knowledge that is common to all in the industry, however varied may be the degree of the different interests, I submit to the House that this Bill, with the larger areas that it creates and the larger possibilities that it affords to the miners by those areas, with recruitment curtailed for the protection of the men who have had to bear the brunt of the battle, and, if, in addition to all that, in the future we are to have a common outlook, then my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines is entitled to entertain the hope he has expressed, and for which he was cheered to-night. That this Bill will warrant his best hopes is the feeling on this side of the House, and, apart from the distractions of the present difficulties of the coalfields, which must affect in a particular degree hon. Members on the other side, I cannot escape from the feeling that they would share with us the hopes that we entertain with regard to this Bill.


I support the Amendment for the rejection of the Third Reading of this Bill. I want to draw the attention of the Secretary for Mines to a statement that he made to the effect that anyone who voted against the Bill could not have studied it properly. The right hon. Gentleman adopted a different attitude before this week. I have always looked upon him as a kindly disposed gentleman, who had not fallen into the Parliamentary habit of going for the other side; but this week he has adopted the attitude that he must carry the fight into the enemy's camp. I think he has been unjustified in going so far as to say that we on this side have not studied the Bill. At least he might have been fair, because all the mining Members have given the most careful consideration to the Bill, and I will show the right hon. Gentleman that that is so. The only good parts of the Bill, so far as we can see, are Parts III and IV.

Part III, the levy put on the royalties for the provision of pit-head baths, is a provision to which no one on this side will object. It is a Measure long overdue and for which we have been agitating for a long time. Had that been left out of the Bill and made a separate Measure, everyone on this side would have supported it. It is only because it is included in this Bill that we have to vote against it. The other point I agree with is recruitment. That will add to the safety of the mine worker. People have been taken into the mines over 18 years of age without any training. The result has been accidents to those people and to others because of their lack of knowledge. I cannot see there would be any good, apart from safety, unless we get a better deal than we are getting now. If you want mineworkers in time to come, you will have to try to get them elsewhere, because very few people will go into the mines. Any miners' agent knows that when a man gets a job out of the pits, even though it is street sweeping, this man will tell you that never again will he go into the mines. That is the general position of any of our mine workers who get jobs out of the mines. The position will be much worse if the employers get their way. Apart from these two points, I do not find a single thing in this Bill that I can support.

The hon. and gallant Member for Faversham (Sir G. Wheler) said the only solid thing in this Bill was Part III. Nothing else appealed to him. If you get one of your own Members speaking in that way, you can readily understand that on this side we see little good in it. The Title of the Bill is: A Bill to make provision for facilitating…the better organisation of the mining industry. Can anybody see any real attempt at reorganization? There are only two things that I can see will reorganise the industry. One is unification or amalgamation, and the other is the scientific treatment of coal. These are the only two things that could remedy the evils in the coal-mining industry. Unless Parliament is prepared to take that up seriously, there will be no real solution. We are passing now through a stage that historians will reorganise as the greatest change ever seen in coal mining. Smoke will have to be eliminated. The burning of coal in its raw state in domestic hearths will have to be done away with. If the 34,000,000 tons of coal now used domestically were treated scientifically we would get from it all the oil we require to carry on our industries. It is on those lines that we can reorganise the industry.

Take the second point, the amalgamation of mines. Is there anything in the Bill that will help to bring that about? There is no compulsion at all. It is left entirely to the coalowners to agree to amalgamation. After it has been said in the House and outside by their representatives that they are taking no interest at all in the recommendations, can we on this side expect them to do anything at all in that direction? There is no compulsion in the Bill. The word "may" appears 32 times up to Clause 4. It is "may" all the way through. There is no attempt at all to put pressure on them. Then we are told that at the end of two years time the Board of Trade will report to Parliament as to what has happened, and then Parliament must decide what shall be done. But now is the time that reorganisation ought to take place. Some compulsion ought to be put on the coalowners to put the thing in its proper order. Unification and amalgamation are not being tackled in a proper spirit. The Secretary for Mines in introducing the Second Reading said: This Bill carries out some of the most immediately practicable recommendations of the Royal Commission. I do not see where they are. He followed that by saying: What the Government have done is this. They have put into the Bill those things which are definitely and easily carried into effect, those things on which the ground is clear, those things which would offer the most immediate assistance with the least opposition, and which have an immediate effect in removing at any rate some of the difficulties under which the industry is now carried on."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1926; col. 388, Vol. 197.] We fail to find any of those things in the Bill, with one or two exceptions. We think the Minister of Mines has not done all he could in this matter. Had there been any real attempt on the part of the Government to put in operation the Coal Commission's findings, help would have been given from this side. As we think it is simply backing the coalowners up in their attempt to prevent reorganisation schemes, you can expect opposition from this side. I heartily agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince in the fight he put up in trying to keep the Bill off the Statute Book. Clause 22 is quite sufficient for anyone on this side to oppose the Bill. I give my hearty support to the Motion for the rejection.

11.0 P.M.


In the very brief summary of the Bill that the Minister gave, it was necessary to pass over a very important Clause which, for the first time, authorises companies engaged in coal-mining to allot shares to persons employed by them. I was very glad the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) stressed this point, and gave it as one of the three provisions which he regarded as of great importance to the industry. When we were debating the question of amalgamation on Friday, this question came up in a somewhat acute form, whether the miners' trade union had or had not the power to invest their funds in a mining undertaking. The Secretary of State for War said: If they take the financial risk and put their money into the collieries and become directors and shareholders, then they can bring in absorption schemes. But the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer), who immediately followed, said: Nothing could be more preposterous than the last point made by the right hon. Gentleman. When he talks about trade unions investing their money in collieries, he knows very well, or he ought to know before he makes such a statement, that they have no right whatever to invest their money in that direction."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1926; col. 1662, Vol. 198.] I have looked at the 1871 Act, and, as far as I can see, there is nothing to prevent trade unions from investing their union funds in colliery undertakings. Surely, if they have that right, Clause 20 will operate very much more rapidly than it would through the operation of shares which individual miners could take up, and I think it is very important, before we pass the Third Reading of this Bill, that we should hear some authoritative statement from one of the Law Officers of the Crown as to whether in law the Secretary of State for War is right, or the hon. Member for Broxtowe is right. It makes all the difference to the operation of Clause 20 in arriving at what, I believe, the Government desire to arrive at in the quickest possible manner, namely, some community of interest between the miners, either through their organisation or individually, and the owners of the mining undertakings. Therefore, I intervene, although the time is late, to raise this question, which, I think, is of very great importance, so that the House should be acquainted with the law on the matter.


It is customary on the discussion of the Third Reading of a Bill to have some reference to the date at which the Act will begin to operate, but in this case there is no date in the Bill at which it comes into operation, and that seems to me to be a most serious thing, because it is essential, when we pass an Act of Parliament, that we should have in that Act a date when it really becomes law. Yet we are to-night asked to pass the Third Reading of a Bill without anyone being able to say when the Act is to come into operation. The Bill is full of "mays." It is just an invitation to a dance—you need not go to it. It is just an invitation to the miners in the coalfield to do certain things, but there is nothing to compel them to do them. We have heard the word "amalgamation," but never the word "reorganization" in its full relation to this, because there is no word in this Bill about the reorganisation of coal getting or of the industry. It only says, it may be possible for owners of coalfields to change their system of ownership as far as districts are concerned.

That may be amalgamation, but there is certainly no reorganisation in spite of the speeches of the Prime Minister when he was broadcasting the great things which were to take place in the organisation of industry, and how coal was to be linked up with a national system of electricity. Yet here we are to-day with an Electricity Bill in which there is not a word in relation to coal or its use. There is nothing in the Bill about making the coal industry better, because those in charge of the Bill do not wish to do anything for the coal trade. If they had been serious about doing something for it, they would have had compulsory and not permissive powers in it. Reference has been made to the Clause about recruitment, but what those who made the reference did not understand was that while it is possible to shift a factory away from the bad conditions of the town away into the country where there is open spaces, we cannot do that with the coal miner, because his position is fixed by the position of the coal mine.


Hear, hear.


If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead had included that in his argument, he would not have been saying "Hear, hear."


If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, that is the point I have been making—that the coal industry differs, as far as amalgamation is concerned, from any other industry.


But the right hon. Gentleman did not pursue that in a logical way. Where you get the seams lying open by nature and where you get them lying clean, we on this side say that, since men have to produce coal from both the bad and the good seams, all of them are entitled to a living wage; but the right hon. Gentleman says that we should have a district wage, which means that the men in the areas where coal is difficult to get ought to be paid a lower wage. I want to come to the question of management. It is one thing to have a knowledge of how a thing should be done, but it is quite another to be able to do it. It is all very well for a man to come from a university or college saying he has been taught how to do it. I have had them under my own charge, from universities, and they showed me their honours and their passes, and I took them to the laboratory and I said: "Just do that." You cannot expect them to do a thing that they have no experience of. You have to start the training of them on the practical side. That is the difference between paper knowledge and practical knowledge. Mining is a dangerous business. I do not care how skilled, theoretically, a man may be in mining, the moment he arrives at the pit where he is to take charge he is up against all those things that only experience can deal with, and he is not efficient as a mine manager until he has gone through the experience.

There is one thing in the management of mines that differs from any other kind of surface management. It is that the men cannot be seen as a whole as they are seen in the workshops. There is a sense of elation that is brought about by personal contact with men that gives you a sense of understanding, and a knowledge of the reliability of the men. It is essential to know whether the men are dependable or not, and whether under certain circumstances they will do certain things. There is more need for that sort of knowledge in mining than in any other industry that I know of. I am sorry that