§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. TINKER
On a, point of Order. I want to ask the Prime Minister on what authority is he introducing this Measure? There is no mandate from the country. There is nothing in the King's Speech to warrant the introduction of this Bill.
§ Mr. TINKER
When the Measure has been introduced, we will not have any opportunity because the weight which the Government have will carry the Measure through automatically. We have to make our protest now, and endeavour to find out what is the Government's justification for bringing in this Measure at all.
§ Mr. O'NEILL
May I ask your ruling, Mr. Speaker, on another point, before we proceed with the discussion? The matter with which this Bill deals is definite, and comparatively restricted. Is it your intention, Sir, to allow the discussion of alternatives, which would in fact be a discussion of the stoppage and of methods of settlement generally?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Members will certainly be entitled to put forward proposals which they consider are better than the proposals contained in the Bill. That is always allowed on the Second Reading of a Bill.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill, to which we shall ask the House to give a Second Reading this afternoon, is quite short and quite simple. Anything, therefore, that I have to say this afternoon will be devoted to giving the reasons why we introduce the Bill, and not to elucidating its meaning which is perfectly plain.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
For a period of five years this Bill enables the extra hour which is already possible on 60 days of the year, to be worked on the other working days as well. It is not a permanent Measure. It does not compel the extra hour to be worked on these other days.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MA1TLAND
It is temporary only in its effect, and it is permissive only in its character. The reasons why the Government introduced this Bill are based on plain facts of the industry. We have looked at those facts with every wish to arrive at the truth with regard to them, and it is because of those facts, and those facts alone, as we see them, that we are led to introduce this Measure. About a fortnight ago, I gave some of the outstanding facts which govern the industry. I do not wish to weary the House by recapitulating them at any length this afternoon, but they are, by themselves, quite convincing and quite overwhelming. If anyone will take the great exporting districts—Scotland, South Wales, Durham and Northumberland—they will find on the basis of the last December quarter —I repeat these figures once again—that on the hours and wages then existing, apart from the subsidy, 88 tons out of every 100 in Scotland would have been produced at a, loss, 90 out of every 100 in South Wales, 97 out of every 100 in Durham, and the whole tonnage in Northumberland [HON. MEMBERS: "Due to mismanagement."] The right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), in a speech which he subsequently made, endeavoured to show that under a system of nationalisation all the difficulties could be met and that any need for a concession, either in minimum rates or in hours, could be avoided. On this point, the Report of the Commission was quite unambiguous and emphatic. They say:We come reluctantly but unhesitatingly to the conclusion that the costs of production with the present hours and wages are greater than the industry can bear.They further say that unless this question of costs is met,many miners, to be numbered probably by hundreds of thousands rather than by tens of thousands, would be thrown out of work.837 They conclude that passage, with which hon. Members opposite are very familiar, with the wordsUltimately a balance might be reached, with the mining industry reduced by a large percentage of its present numbers, a raised cost of living, and an intolerable burden of unemployment.That was the situation as it appeared to the Commission, and nothing has happened to alter the problem in that respect since that date. The prospects are no brighter. Indeed, they are not so good as they were when the Report was written, from the point of view of prices to be obtained for coal in competition with other coal producing countries. That has been the situation, and that was the state of affairs while we were in negotiation with the officers of the Miners' Federation, but they stated to us again and again, in the course of those negotiations, that they would not agree to any concession whatsoever as regards minimum rates. I am not arguing for the moment whether, on the one hand, any exaggeration has been made in leading people to believe that miners' rates are lower than in fact they are, or, on the other hand, what has been the effect of the fall in the cost of living. I am only repeating the fact, with which we were faced during those negotiations, that the miners' leaders would never agree to any concession in rates of wages at all, such as was recommended as absolutely necessary by the Commission.
Under those circumstances, and having regard to the conditions of the industry, was there any way out possible in order to avoid the reduction that might otherwise be necessary? I say quite emphatically that the suggestion for nationalisation, or unification, or any other word that you choose to use, will not meet the situation, and I hope to deal with that point a little later. Is there any other way of meeting the situation as put to us by the miners in refusing the concession in rates? The answer is that the only way that we can see is this extension of hours to meet this exceptional case. The last time that this question was discussed in the House, it was criticised by the party opposite on the ground that it was counter to the Report of the Commission. If that be the ground on which we are criticised, what comes from our critics opposite? When they lay such stress upon the Report, then I am driven to 838 think of the old sentence about Satan reproving sin, though not doing so in this case like a very learned clerk. What has been their own record already? The first main contention of the Report was, as I have said, that a reduction in rates or a lengthening of hours was necessary. That has been quite definitely turned down by the Miners' Federation and those who support them in this House.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member says "Rightly turned down." We will, therefore, see what they do want and what they refuse. The next recommendation was that there should be a variation according to districts. That again was flatly refused by the leaders of the Miners' Federation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—and my hon. Friends opposite say "Hear, hear!" It is not the opinion of all those in authority, even among the miners in Durham. I read a very striking speech by the President of the Durham Miners' Federation. What did he say about refusing any policy of variation? It was that if it was not adopted, half the Durham collieries would be closed, and to refuse any variation was the most callous doctrine he had ever listened to.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The next most emphatic declaration of the Report was that the industry must not continue to have a subsidy. We have had a subsidy demanded by the Miners' Federation, and their apologists in this House have asked for one for them also. The Report quite firmly bolts the door on the nationalisation of the mines, and yet when I read the official Amendment to the last Debate, I see that the first principle they affirm in criticising the Government is that they believe in a comprehensive policy of unification, under public ownership and control. 839 That is only nationalisation in 10 words instead of in one word, but, of course,that which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet,As I have been challenged, I say that it is we who are trying, and with infinite difficulty, to carry out the Report of the Commission, and that criticism as regards this, comes exceedingly ill from Members of the party opposite. Now let me deal with the question of hours and the Report. I will put the position quite frankly. The Commission disliked the alternative of the lengthening of hours, but they always regarded it as an alternative. They used the phrase I have already quoted, thatWe come reluctantly but unhesitatingly to the conclusion that the costs of production with the present hours and wages are greater than the industry can bear.With the present hours and wages. They hope that the alternative of longer hours may not be necessary, but they always leave that alternative quite explicitly open. [An HON. MEMBER: "If agreement can be reached!"] Exactly. They point out the objections to it. Hon. Members will see that I am quite frank, but at the same time the Commission look forward to the possibility that the amount of the wage reduction or the alternative of unemployment that will be imposed upon the industry, if it is to continue at the present hours, may be such as to make it inevitable. We were faced with a blank refusal on the part of the miners to make the concession in rates of wages demanded by the Report. I hate reductions in wages, and we have studied the situation to see if there is any way of avoiding it. In that, I take up the same position as the former Lord Chancellor in the Labour Government, Lord Haldane. These were his words, spoken, I believe, last week:He thought the miners would have to concede something, but he did not want to see them concede it in the way of wages where that could be avoided. He would rather see them work a little longer, half an hour or three-quarters of an hour, at the face, if the effect of that would enable the pits to work on an economic basis, in order that the standard wage could be paid and the pits carried on, instead of being closed and hundreds and thousands of men coming into unemployment.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I put to any Member of the Labour party the authority of their late Lord Chancellor.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Another case of ostracism by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). Let me say this. We are driven to this Measure, and I say once again that we do not make the extra hour compulsory, and we do not make it permanent, but we are quite clearly of opinion that, as an alternative solution, it ought to be open to the industry to choose if it wishes.
I have been dealing up to now with the special case of the coal industry. I have made clear both the permissive and the temporary character of the Measure. Let me also make another point clear. There are some people who think, or affect to think, that what we are doing is a first move in the direction of a general attack upon hours and wages by the Government. I say, again, on behalf of the Government, as I have said recently in public, that there is nothing of the kind attempted or contemplated. No such attack on hours or wages is in our minds for one moment. [Interruption.]
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
A few people may think so genuinely, and some people may say so to serve their own ends, but I repeat quite emphatically that there is no truth in the statement at all. The coal industry is in a special plight, and to deal with an exceptional position exceptional measures are necessary for the time being. I hope, therefore, that misconception, if it be really entertained, may be dispelled.
There is another belief about which I would say a few words this afternoon. It is the idea that a solution for our difficulties, both immediate and permanent, can he found by nationalisation, or, if you prefer to use the word, unification. The question is exhaustively examined in the Report of the Royal Commission, and their attitude in 841 dealing with it was quite unlike their attitude with regard to a possible extention of hours. They did not regard it as an alternative which they disliked but still considered possible. They did not leave the door ajar, even though they hoped it might not be necessary to go through it. They discarded it as an alternative altogether, and they bolted the door firmly upon it.
It might be well if I examined not the question as a whole, but one or two of the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) brought forward in his speech the other afternoon, because I think, when they are seriously examined, it will be found that they cannot possibly meet the situation. I do not wish to misquote him, and he will correct me if I am wrong, but his argument amounted to this: that the subsidy given to the industry was only used to start price-cutting against the Germans, who followed our lead; that it would have been possible to keep prices up; that we could then have taken the industry, on which, in July last, there was an average loss of 3d. per ton, and unified it; and then that all would have been well. May I examine his arguments? In the course of what he said—I heard his speech and also read it carefully—he appealed to us to face the facts. He said "we must face not a few, but all the facts." Further, he told us that we should not take the facts at any one moment without considering also the history that had led up to them. Tested by his own criteria, that is precisely where he himself failed.
For example, he used the figures of our export trade for the first quarters of 1925 and of 1926 to show that the only effect of the subsidy was to depress prices. He pointed out that we exported about the same tonnage in the first quarter of 1925 as in 1926, differing by about 80,000 tons or so, but in the latter year we received £1,800,000 less. These are facts, but, in his own phrase, they are not all the facts that must be faced, and, if I may, I will supply the remainder. Taking the trade over a period of years, and I take the first quarter of the year, because it was the first quarter which he quoted, the facts were these: There was a continuous fall in our exports from 1923 to 1924 and from 1924 to 1925. There was every prospect of a further fall in 1925 to 842 1926 in our own exports and also an increase in the German exports. The fall was quite clearly checked by the subsidy, when it would otherwise have been certain to take place. Far from having no effect upon the volume of our exports, the subsidy had a very great effect indeed. If I were to quote again Mr. Robson, I would say that half the collieries in Durham would have been idle without the Government assistance. The subsidy had a very great effect indeed. You cannot see it if you simply compare 1925 and 1926. You have to take the two previous years as well. I will, very briefly, if the House will not mind one or two figures, give them. In 1923, our exports in the first quarter were nearly 19,000,000 tons.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am giving the course of it, and that is exactly my point. While the Ruhr was occupied, our export of coal was great. When the occupation of the Ruhr had ceased, the fall began as the German mines came into operation. A year after, when they had come into operation fairly, the fall was greater. The competition got more and more keen all through the period from the time the German mines began to come into operation right down to the present year.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Because it is 1923 that has led up to the present time. In 1923, you had 19,000,000 tons in the first quarter; in 1924, a little under 16,000,000 tons; in 1925, 13,000,000 tons; and then, in 1926, there was a very slight increase. I do not wish to trouble the House with the German export figures, although I have them here, but little by little, once the occupation of the Ruhr came to an end, and German coal was gaining upon our markets, the fall in our exports was continuous, and it would have continued had it not been stopped by the subsidy. That is a complete answer, absolutely on the figures, to anyone who thinks that the subsidy did not mean a maintenance in the volume of our export trade, when it would otherwise certainly have fallen. Next, the right hon. Gentleman said that we started undercutting, that the 843 subsidy led us to start undercutting. Let us go to the great merchants and ask them. I have tried to ascertain facts. He will find that the practice of the Germans, after the Ruhr was reopened, was to ask for an analysis of our coal and for coal prices from merchants, and then, having obtained them, to under-quote for a similar kind of coal. As the House will note, the undercutting was not on our side but on the German side. If anyone will compare the figures of our export trade in the five years before the War and lately, they will find that there has been an increase of something like 25 per cent. in German exports and a decrease of 22 per cent. in our exports. It is quite clear, when the exports of one country are decreasing and those of another are increasing, that the initiative comes from the people who are pushing their trade at the expense of the people who are already in possession of it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman sets store by the export trade. I shall be glad if he will tell me whether he does, because when we discussed this point during the negotiations we were told that the miners' representatives would be willing to see two-thirds of Northumberland out and a similar proportion of Durham shut down, provided that the present uniform rates over all the country, together with the present hours could he maintained. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that view.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
If the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me, what I did put forward during the course of the Debate was that, taking the six months from January to June, 1925, if you took all the difficulties into account—the differences between the districts and between the various collieries within each district and the difference between our home and export trade—they were all represented by a loss of 3d. per ton when viewed from the standpoint of a unified industry.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I will deal with that question in my next point. I give the view of the representatives of 844 the miners with whom we have had to deal. They were ready to concede that by the maintenance of the existing uniform rates and also the present hours you might see the greater part of Northumberland and an almost equally great part of Durham closed down. That is the last thing the right hon. Gentleman himself wants to see, if I can judge by his utterances. But, at any rate, those are the views of some of his colleagues.
Let me pass on to deal briefly with the question of unification. Members opposite—I have heard the interruption—have said that I am arguing for and taking the part of the owners. It was only yesterday that I was told that the owners regarded me as a semi-Socialist.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition says that they must be very ignorant. Perhaps his own friends are ignorant too. I am inclined to think that if I am called a protagonist of the owners on the one side and a protagonist of the Socialists and semi-Socialists on the other, I have probably kept the scales pretty evenly balanced. [Interruption.] Perhaps I can have a little gentle conversation on some milder occasions with some hon. Members opposite. They know quite well that they can trust me if I give them a promise.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Well, the hon. Gentleman must get over his surprise. The view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore, is, so far as I gathered from his speech, that some 40 per cent. of the pits are well managed and modernised, and that some 60 per cent. are not, and that when the industry is under some public authority part of the 60 per cent. can he selected and cut out and that the others can be linked up with the 40 per cent. that are efficiently run. I think I have put briefly, and not unfairly, the view of the right hon. Gentleman. I agree that some pits will be closed in any case, but what about the rest of his scheme? I deny that it is possible to put your finger with certainty on some of the pits, though clearly pits that are uneconomic ought to be closed down.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I did not say that you could put your finger on those that were uneconomic. I said it was a matter for investigation.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The question then arises, that if it means further investigation what is going to be done to meet the needs of the industry in the meantime? Now let me take the point put forward by the right hon. Gentleman of machinery. His test of the modernising of pits was the amount of machinery employed and the percentage of coal used at the pithead, together with the amount of coal which is got from the pits. But it must not be forgotten that in the matter of improvement, as time goes on, methods get out of date. A very misleading impression may be given to one who is not acquainted with the mining industry and who reads what the right hon. Member has said in regard to the percentage of coal used by the mine or gained by the use of machinery. I have been living coal for the last four months. As far as the first test goes, let me say that one mine might use 2 per cent. of its production, while another might use 10 per cent., and the right hon. Gentleman suggests that in the one case it is a proof of efficiency and in the other ease au indication of inefficiency. I should have thought that the amount of coal used depended primarily on the amount of water to be pumped per ton. This may vary from a very small amount to 10 tons of water to the ton of coal in some pits in South Wales, and, I believe, nearer to 20 tons at present in some of the new Kent pits. But the amount of water does not indicate efficiency, or the contrary. Take another point. It is obvious that the more power that is generated the more coal will be used; that the more machinery that is used the more economy there is likely to be. Yet at the same time, to take a test of that kind without indicating what it is, is only to give the partial truth. The same is largely true in regard to coal-cutting machinery. I have lived in mining districts a good deal of my life, and though not an expert like some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to me, I have taken pains to find out something of the facts. No doubt the more coal-cutting machinery that can be introduced the better. But you cannot just take the 846 amount of coal-getting machinery as a test of the efficiency in the mines. It depends entirely on whether the particular mine is suitable for it, and whether it is the kind of roof that will stand up—as in Scotland—which will neither run away nor break down. That is vital. Then, again, the pit ought to have a good floor which will stand the machinery. That is why, for example, coal-cutting machinery has been used to such a large degree in Scotland, because the conditions favour it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Again when you get mechanical coal-cutting machines installed, you need the condition of willingness to work them in order to obtain good results.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Greenall) can later develop his views in his own way.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have inquired in various places as regards the mines, but if I am wrong I will withdraw at once. But I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore whether what I have said is not so in the anthracite districts of South Wales. There seems to be an objection to the use of coal-cutting machinery in otherwise suitable mines. There is one instance which occurs to me at the moment, but if the right hon. Gentleman can assure me there is nothing in it, I will withdraw.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
So far as the South Wales coalfield goes, there is no objection to the introduction of machinery. The difficulty is to arrive at prices for the labour when machinery is introduced. Apart from that, I may say that the South Wales conference of the Miners' Federation passed a resolution deciding as a policy that they were not making any objection to the introduction of machinery.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I should be sorry to misrepresent the situation, but I seem to remember something when I was living in the Durham district about a "Chinese compound." Some hon. 847 Members will be familiar with the reference—
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I was reminded of it by something which was said. But I am quite sure that anyone who wishes to introduce coal-cutting machinery into the anthracite districts will be pleased to hear that they have got the support referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore.
Let me take another point—the linking up in larger units. Broadly speaking, larger units, as the Commission pointed out—as I quite agree—pay; but it would be impossible and disastrous in the industry to draw the conclusion that a national body can at once proceed to introduce arbitrary groupings. It is all a question of cost and of management. When you have a large group your overhead costs are greater, but as they spread over a much large production the burden of them per ton may be less. It all depends on comparative ability. I am quite sure, looking over the industry, that hon. Members will find, colliery by colliery throughout the coalfields, medium-sized- pits which, under capable management, ca-n compete in effectiveness with a large combine in similar circumstances. I have in mind certain Scottish farmers with whom I am acquainted. One Northern farmer told me that on the whole they did not get anything out of the co-operative societies, that they had studied their own business sufficiently well and could buy as cheaply for themselves; that, in a word, there was a limit to the effectiveness of co-operation. It is precisely the same with regard to colliery management. You get a pit which is of medium size, and which is thoroughly efficient, and of which the costs are just as small as in some bigger combination. It is essential that there should be some discrimination in the grouping. One other thing must always be remembered—and here again I speak from many years' practical experience, perhaps not of coalmining, but of trade and commerce—that when you get a big combination you need a greater organising power to deal with it. There is one degree of organising capacity needed 848 to deal with.a medium sized organisation where the man in charge can keep in personal touch himself with every part. It does not necessarily follow that that man can deal with a larger type of organisation where he can not superintend it himself, hut where he has to delegate power to others. A wholly different degree of organising capacity is needed when the entity is much larger. The power of organising ability required for the larger concern will he infinitely greater though it is lust possible you may get a man of quite extraordinary capacity who could manage for a certain period.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have now dealt with one or two of the points raised in the last Debate, arguments attractive on the surface but which really fall to pieces when examined as practical measures to he applied. As the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, and as the Report pointed out time and time again, some of these things take a long time for application, and are of no use whatsoever for meeting the circumstances of the present time.
The great trouble, to my mind, of this problem is that so many of those concerned are really unwilling to face the actual hard economic facts. What are those facts? They concern the condition of the industry at the present time, and, so far as can he foreseen, in the immediate future. Instead of proposing remedies which even if they could do anything would only work after a considerable lapse of time, it would be well if those concerned faced the facts. I say once again I have no liking for reductions in wages, but the men refuse to make the concession which the Report said was necessary and as the only alternative to lengthening the hours. Hence it became clear that it would be only fair to make the other choice of longer hours possible. The economies obtained by the lengthening of hours are considerable, as every one knows. You get economies in the working of pits and in a number of other ways. They amount to something like 2s. a ton, taken over the whole of the British coalfield—more in some places, less in others. [An 849 HON. MEMBER: "Why not make it 10 hours?"] That type of argument carries nobody anywhere. The hon. Member says "Why not 10 hours, or why not 12?" I might equally well answer "Why not four, why not two?" There is a range, up and down, within which the extra increase or decrease is a matter of argument. Beyond that range it is out of the question. It is only within those limits, and they are very narrow limits, that the possibility arises of a real difference of opinion as to the increase in the economy that can be effected.
In this ease the question is—according to the Report itself and according to everything shown by the published facts—whether, if the present hours and wages were continued, there would not be a disaster to the industry, a disaster in the shape of unemployment and a disaster to other industries which use coal in large quantities. It is to the economy that can be gained by an eight-hours' day that, quite truthfully, I can say we have been driven, reluctantly, and against our wishes—[Interruption]—in the effort to do the best for other industries and the best for the miners themselves. In conclusion, let me only say this. It is not a matter of compulsion. It leaves men free to make the choice where they were not free to make it before. It is not a definite, permanent lengthening.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
It is a temporary suspension for a period of five years to enable the industry to turn round and recover itself after all the welter that it has been in. As such, I consider that our proposals are amply justified, and I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
I beg to move, to leave out from the word That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which, aiding and abetting the employers' demand for the extension of the working hours of the coal miner, provides no remedy for, but will aggravate, the present difficulties of the coal industry, is calculated to embitter and prolong the existing dispute, and is directly 850 contrary to the recommendations of the Royal Commission.Your experience, Mr. Speaker, is many years longer than my own, but I am sure you will agree that never has such a speech been made in this House on the Second Reading of a Bill as the speech to which we have just listened. The Bill is limited to one central point, and one only, yet in proposing the Second Reading of it the Minister has wandered into a host of irrelevancies. He has given us some interesting observations as to the relations between Scottish farmers and co-operators, and as to differences in mine management and organisation. There has not been a single word as to what has led the Government to depart from their public utterances, utterances repeated at a time when the nation was in a state of the greatest travail, and utterances for which the Prime Minister himself was distinctly responsible. "After all," says the Minister, "I am not a protagonist of the colliery owners." It is a curious thing that the Government, which two months ago expressed their willingness to abide by the whole Report of the Royal Commission, have taken that special point in the Report upon which the Commission were most explicit and upon which the colliery owners were most determined.
The right hon. Gentleman is aware, as is every member of the Ministry, that more than six months ago the colliery owners laid down the condition, an essential and fundamental condition, that there must be a reversion to the hours of labour existing before 1919. What possible good can result from statements that "We are driven to this conclusion" and "We are driven to that conclusion" as being the only alternative left by the Commission? There is not a single word in the Commission's Report which is not dead against the policy of this Bill, not a single word, and the right hon. Gentleman is aware of that. Every reference made by the Commission to this policy of the Mining Association, the policy now adopted by His Majesty's Government, is a repudiation of it in every sense. In not one single paragraph is the policy of the Mining Association, now the policy of His Majesty's Government favoured by the Commission. It would be as well to refer to the public utterances of the 851 Prime Minister himself. What did he say only a very few weeks ago—
"I wish to make it as clear as I can that the Government is not fighting to lower the standard of the miners"—
We have before us at this moment a Measure which, if carried, will have the inevitable result of reducing the wages of every piece worker over one-half the land by 14.2 per cent., and in all the other cases by 13.1 or 12.2 per cent., in addition to putting an hour upon the working day. Oh, but that is not to reduce the wages of the workers or to lower their standard, say Hon. Members opposite. Well may they have been called "The stupid party."
§ Mr. WALSH
Let us see what the Prime Minister has said in addition to that. I would ask him to listen to these words, because they have not often been referred to. He made this speech, a most important one, at the back end of 1923, when he was in the very plenitude of his power, and when his words received great public attention.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make a statement of that sort?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Hon. Members are not using arguments at all by these interjections, which do not add anything to the Debate, and take away opportunities for argument.
§ Mr. WALSH
The right hon. Gentleman was speaking with reference to those who, with a view to developing the export trade, were urging that the cheapest possible production should take 852 place at home—exactly the attitude of the present coalowners. He said:But when you are looking for cheap production the right way of looking is in organisation and management and not in disturbing the standard a life.And then there were cheers:If the standard of life is to be sacrificed the trade is not worth it. The whole principle underlying all these forms of social help is maintaining the standard of life of our people. It behoves our statesmen and our people to give every attention to this matter in time, that everything that human foresight can do shall be done lest we should lose ground that has been hardly enough won, and that, until world conditions are more stabilised, our people at any rate shall be able to maintain themselves at that stage of advancement to which they have already attained. The ideal of trades unionism, to preserve the standard of life, is innate in a Briton. It can never be let go and ought never to he let go.That is not Lord Haldane speaking in another place, that is the Prime Minister of this nation; who is seated now at the left hand of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill. The standard of life must be maintained—ought to be maintained at the standard at which it has now reached—it is innate in a Briton—it ought never to be let go—if the standard of life is to be sacrificed to maintain a. trade then the trade is not worth it.
The Prime Minister is aware that, on the authority of the Royal Commission, the hours in this country do not differ from those in other countries so substantially as to constitute a serious handicap, and this fact, taken in conjunction with the direct and emphatic objection of the Commission to any legal lengthening of hours, makes it difficult to understand why the Government introduced this Bill, or why, having done so, they should persevere with it. I have compared the actions of the Prime Minister on many occasions with his public utterances, and I am bound to say that for a considerable time now I have not been able to reconcile the two. I can only conclude that he is very like the man in Mark Twain's story, which he probably knows—the unfortunate young man who honestly strove to do right but whose instincts were against him.
The most fundamental objection to the Government's Measure is that referred to in- the speech, already quoted, of the 853 Prime Minister himself, namely, the danger of falling behind other countries possessing a lower standard of life. As the Royal Commission point out, if this Measure is carried into law the working day of every British miner will be half an hour to an hour longer than that of the miners in any important European coalfield, except that of Silesia. Is that the method by which the Prime Minister proposes to maintain the standard of life? This is in a country that has always been in the forefront of social and industrial progress. The working week will be longer than that of any other European coalfield with the exception of Upper Silesia. The comparison with other countries made by the Royal Commission is to the effect that so far as it bears on the standard of life we should seek to establish here for British miners, it tells against the proposals of the mine-owners' Association. We have been considering this Measure almost wholly from the social standpoint and the maintenance of the standard of life, but no remedy is offered for the economic difficulties attending the mining industry. Either a greater amount of coal will be raised relatively to the increased working time with the same number of workmen as are at present employed, or the same amount of coal will be raised with a proportionately reduced number of workers, and it is estimated that about one-ninth of the present total of workers would be dismissed, that is 130,000 in addition to those that have been unemployed probably for the greater part of the time since July, 1921.
But now, assuming that the present numbers are retained in employment, the increase in annual production could not be less than 20,000,000 tons to be disposed of at a time of severe depression, when supply by far exceeds the demand, and when the keenest competition exists. This increased supply thrown upon a wholly competitive and wholly unregulated market could only be disposed of by the further cutting of the selling prices followed once again by the inevitable reductions in miners' wages. That is not in any sense straining the facts, and it is in strict accordance with the whole process during the last six years. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Ogmore Division (Mr. Hartshorn) pointed that out on two previous occasions when he addressed the House, 854 and it is the exact process that has gone on in regard to the miners' wages from July, 1921. Here I think it is really desirable to ask the attention of hon. Members once again to this fact, because many of them are new to the House of Commons and others do not read the papers. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh at that statement, but it is quite true, because most of them are engaged in commercial life, and they do not read the papers, and they regard as trivial the constant reductions year after year of miners' wages. That is too trivial a matter to engage their attention.
The financial papers and the other newspapers which hon. Members get hold of do not record those trivial facts, but it is a fact, and hon. Members ought to know it, that when minors are being asked to make what is called a temporary sacrifice it should be remembered that they have been making sacrifices month after month in their wages, until in 1922 their wages had been reduced by 52 per cent. I am speaking of the wages of all the workers in mines in the Kingdom, and it is a fact that their wages by the middle of 1922 had been reduced 52 per cent. since July, 1921. Therefore, I repeat the statement that all these underground workers in the mining industry have had their wages reduced by September, 1922, by 52 per cent., and yet we hear of people going on public platforms, including Ministers of the Crown, who speak as though the miners are only being asked to make a small temporary sacrifice.
The figures given by the right hon. Gentleman who presides over the Mines Department, only a week or two ago, prove that the wages of the men, which in 1920 were £220 annually, had fallen in 1925 to £132. In the meantime a very substantial increase had been given in 1924 as the result of the Buckmaster inquiry, and that increase is contained in the £132 for 1925. Therefore, we appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite to make themselves acquainted with these facts, and when they are asking that the miners should make a temporary sacrifice, they should bear in mind the sacrifices which the miners have already made. I have pointed out that if the present numbers of workers are retained in employment, the increase in the annual production could not be less than 20,000,000 tons. I am putting the figure at a very low estimate, 855 and in all probability it will be nearer 25.000,000 tons that would result from the employment of the same number of men working for an extra hour per day. I was pointing out what would be the effect upon the market, the unregulated market, of this large amount being suddenly plunged there. I was showing that the inevitable result would be the cutting down of prices, and an intense competition would be engendered by those who are best able to flood the market, and who would compel their less fortunate brethren to engage in that competition. That would certainly be the case, even if foreign countries made no change in their hours of labour. We should have an intense competition which always results from an over-gorged market, and this would compel them to follow our example, and any advantage we might temporarily hold would speedily disappear. Is that not a fair way of stating the case, and I ask hon. Members, with their commercial experience, whether that is not the case within their own knowledge, so far as their commercial experience goes in other branches of industry quite apart from the mining industry? In the words of the Commissioners, and I am sure the Government must see how true those words are: All that would have been achieved would be a general lowering of the standard of leisure in all mining countries. Last year the German mineowners addressed their Government in the following terms:In the opinion of the owners, the restoration of the pre-War working time is the most important measure that can be taken to prevent the shutting down of pits, and ensure the revival of the coal trade, and this sacrifice is necessary on the part of the miners all over the country, because the problem to be solved is the reduction of costs so as to prevent the disorganisation of the economic life of the nation and to build it up again.Those terms are almost identical with those put forward by the patriotic coal-miners in this country, who desire to have a reduction of costs so as to prevent the disorganisation of the economic life of the nation. The miners all over Germany were asked to make further sacrifices, and I was under the impression that they had been making sacrifices. And now we are to be called upon, we, the people who won the War, are to be called upon to reduce our wages lower than the level of the German miners, because we are 856 told that is the only way in which we can regain our export trade.
Can anyone deny that that is the real result, the fundamental and essential meaning of the proposals of the coal-owners? There is not a single person who will speak on behalf of the coal-owners who will not be bound to admit that we can only regain our trade from the German coalowners by getting beneath the selling price at which they come into the market, and that also includes the terms upon which their reparation coal is supplied. I was reading a very prominent journal a day or two ago, and I think the words in the leading article so fully expressed the situation that I make no apology for reading it to the House. I think it is only fair that I should give the name of the journal; it is the "Manchester Guardian." That organ says.
"The public is not disposed to support any attempt to revivify coalmining by further encroachments on the miner's already reduced standard of life. There is a much wider recognition than of old that for a permanence a great industry must pay its way, not only in the sense of maintaining output and showing a reasonable balance of profit when one year is taken with another, but also in the sense that it affords its workers the wherewithal of a decently civilised life. The older view held that. where there was a contradiction between these two requirements, it must always be the second that gives way. The modern view denies this, and maintains that where an industry cannot maintain its workers on a reasonable footing there is something wrong with it which calls for amendment. The older view, when faced, for instance, by the plea that the export trade can only be retained or regained by lowering wages, accepted the necessity with a sigh. The modern view asks first what is likely to be the effect on the foreign competitor. If we lower wages and increase hours, what sort of appeal will that make to our German, French or Belgian competitors, who are already working on a lower wage standard than ours, and are nevertheless pressed more than our public understands by our competition? If we lower our standard to equal theirs, why should they not lower theirs a step further? The argument is not one which the foreign coalowner is likely to overlook. But if he succeeds and does lower his wages or increase his hours, we are in the same relative position as before. We should be, in fact, invited to a competition of a socially disastrous kind. The country will not countenance any such competition."
Now, Mr. Speaker, I am sure, from what I know of the right hon. Gentleman the 857 Prime Minister, that that leading article is exactly identical with his own inner views. In his heart, there is no man who is so desirous to maintain the standard of life than he, but he has been led in the company of bad counsellors. If any words of mine could convey an appeal to him, it would be to withdraw this Measure as being a Measure, for the first time for a hundred years, of definite social retrogression. It was said of Queen Victoria by the poet Tennyson:And Statesmen at her Council met Who knew the season when to take Occasion by the hand and make The bounds of freedom wider yet.The poet expressed what was the literal truth, because during the whole course of her long reign, and since, there has been an almost unbroken record of political and social progress. Statesmen consciously and deliberately set themselves to ease the burden of human toil and to raise the standard of life and comfort—in the words of our present Prime Minister. It is only now, in this middle part of the twentieth century, with the strongest Government of modern times, that we have deliberately taken a step of social retrogression and gone out of our way to lower the standard of life for the millions who are connected with our mining population.
To lower the standard of those who are actually working in the industry is also directly to lower the standard of those who are associated with it—the sons and daughters, the fathers and mothers, of our mining population. For almost 100 years this idea has inspired our legislation and not until this moment has a Government been found to take this first step in a policy of social retrogression and deliberately lower the standard of out people. What are the conditions of the miner's life? Death lurks for ever in the pit and daily claims his victims. By fire, by flood, by fall of roof, his dreadful work is done and every year a thousand lives augment the ghastly roll. Every working day throughout the year 600 miners are disabled, a total equalling the numerical strength of the regular British Army. Deprived of those natural and healthful conditions under which the rest of the community conducts its labours, beset by peril on every hand, the miner is already under ground for an 858 average day of 7 hours and 50 minutes. The Bill before this House will enable him to add another hour to this, and thus give him the opportunity of incurring an additional risk of death or disablement for six more weeks in the year. There was an old saying that in politics there is no such thing as gratitude. I think the feeling of the miners will be synonymous with that expression. We are not grateful for being enabled to work another hour, for being enabled to work for a longer time than the miners in any other European coalfields except those of Upper Silesia. I should think that Conservative Members of Parliament who take their responsibilities seriously are not proud that such a Bill as this should be introduced under such circumstances.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I think a great many people when they read the papers yesterday or this morning must have been struck to observe, the deliberate statement of Mr. Herbert Smith, that, if the miners were driven to it, they would prefer a reduction of wages rather than an increase of hours. I desire to make a few observations, not in the least as an expert, on this difficult subject, but as one who studied the Report and is very anxious to appreciate justly and fairly the reasons for that view. As far as I was able to hear the speech of the Minister of Labour, I do not think he is justified in this departure from the views of the Coal Commission at all. I apprehend the broad reason is this. Here are these two factors—the hours worked and wages paid, which in different industries vary and may be altered from time to time. But there is this great difference between them from the point of view of coal mining-industry, that Parliament has intervened and has actually fixed the length of time beyond which the work underground, measured according to the terms of the Act, shall not be carried on. Therefore, if an alteration is made to lengthen that permitted period, you have a definite degradation of the standard which Parliament has laid down. The same thing is really not true assuming that you have to fix a variation of wages. It is regrettable and lamentable, and I can well understand the strength with which it is resisted, but after all as between these two factors, hours and wages, the wages factor is one which from time to time 859 according to the circumstances does vary, whereas the hours factor, once it has been laid down by Parliament, is one which everyone ought to be slow to see changed in the direction of any increase.
That distinction is one which ought to be very steadily borne in mind. It is one of the principal grounds on which the members of the Royal Commission unanimously, after the fullest evidence before them, have expressed themselves strongly against a method of trying to find a solution by an extension of hours. They pointed out that there would be far greater difficulty in retracing this step than might well be presented if you have a variation of wages. I do not forget that the Bill imposes a limit of five years. I have heard of other Bills which impose a limit of five years—the Safeguarding of Industries, in fact. We had all sorts of assurances in connection with that. I am not surprised, therefore, that the Coal Commission should have felt extremely concerned at the suggestion that a solution was to be found by lengthening hours. There is another consideration, and if the Government are facing this terrible conundrum with a desire to find an agreed solution, it amazes me that they should have thought that this method of approach should be successful. There is also the psychological aspect of the thing. To everybody who has followed, even in the merest outline, the course of these discussions, what is the outstanding fact of the proposal to extend hours? It is this—that the employers pressed for it with all their force before the Commission, and that the Commission unanimously reported against it. The Government, in this ninth week of this stoppage, say "The best thing we can do to get the people to agree and start the wheels of industry again is to come forward with this proposal, this isolated proposal, which is the proposal that the employers pressed on the Commision and which every member of that Commission said would not provide a solution." What can you think the coal miners of this country are made of if you do not find, rightly or wrongly, that they say they regard that proposal with the greatest possible suspicion? I know there are some who speak from the inside of the industry on the side of the worker who think it might 860 provide a solution, and we hope it may. But even if it does, it will be many a long day before it is forgotten that the way the Government tried to solve this problem was by inserting a wedge, by accepting what was urged before the Commission by one side and rejected by the Commission itself.
At first sight, one is very much attracted by the idea that, if you do choose between reducing wages and lengthening hours, most people would say, "I would sooner work for longer hours than have lower wages. "That is the view which is very natural, but only superficial. It has to be remembered, first of all, that it is not limited to an extension of hours, but might involve a reduction of wages too. I am not going to lay down any proposition to suggest that the working hours in this industry are not long enough, but there are two reasons stated by the Commissioners is their Report which really ought to be borne in mind. They do not in the least involve any understanding of the technicalities of the industry nor any calculations of wages.
There are two reasons which the Commission insist upon. First of all they say, if you increase the hours of work, other things being equal, you will increase the total amount of coal produced, and they proceed to point out that the trouble from which we are suffering is not want of coal but want of customers. It is certainly a very curious way of dealing with the practical problem here, when already unfortunately there appears to be a glut rather than a shortage of coal, to adopt methods which, if other things remained the same, would increase the total amount of production. I know it is said—and I well understand the economic argument —that if you produce it at a cheaper price per ton, you will to that extent make it easier to sell in competition, and that is true, but the Commission has allowed for that and I am bound to attach great importance to their view. I believe it to be impartial, and I know it to be based on a far more intimate study of the problem than I or any ordinary citizen can give, and they are definitely driven to this conclusion, that on that ground amongst others this is a very unsuitable proposal. The other was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) just now. It may be said, we shall not have a larger 861 amount of coal produced because if people work longer hours, fewer people will be needed to produce it. What a solution! The Commission calculate that 130,000 fewer miners would be employed to produce the same quantity of coal supposing you had adopted this permissive extra hour. What prospect of a solution does that really offer? It seems to me the Commission are abundantly justified when they say the gain, which at first sight seems quite obvious when this suggestion is made, is a most problematical gain, for two reasons. They say it is problematical because of reactions at home and because of reactions abroad. What about reactions at home? I read in the pages of the Commission's Report how previous reductions of hours—the reduction in 1908 and the reduction in 1919—were followed by a marked decline in absenteeism. I suppose the obvious calculation is that, assuming the day's work is not too long, people will work more steadily and for more days.
Supposing this attempt to increase hours is followed by an increase of absenteeism. You will then have a reaction inside the industry in our own country, which will go a very long way, the Commissioners think, to discount the advantage which at first sight might he reaped, but, surely, more serious still is the probability of reaction abroad. Here is an immense competitive trade in which we are bound to have regard to the people not of our own markets but of the world market, not of our own means of supply but of the means of supply of all our competitors. If, indeed, this method is one which brings some relief to the British coal industry, where is the security that a similar lengthening of hours will not take place abroad? Then you will have this result, flowing in an exactly contrary direction from that for which everyone has been striving in the international movement for raising the standard of industrial life throughout the civilised world. You will have, as the result of the action of this Government and this country, a lowering of that not only in this country but abroad as well. I am not for a moment saying any one of us is wise enough to produce a solution of these difficulties, but it surprises me that the Government, after all the time it has taken to consider this Report, should have come here at last and said, "There 862 is a thing which we are going to do and we put it in the forefront. It happens to be something against which the Commission has reported unanimously. It is resisted by the spokesmen of organised labour, but it is recommended by the Mining Association." It surely is from the psychological point of view, from the point of view of trying to get people to work together and believe in one another, one of the most astonishing suggestions that have ever been made.
There is one other feature I wanted to call attention to because it seems to be very material. I read with great attention the speech made by the Minister of Labour over the week-end, and of course it was, as is everything he does, most carefully composed and put before us, but was it designed to give the country the impression that in substance the Government were adopting the Report of the Royal Commission, because they most certainly are not? They have their reasons. 1 am not saying a Royal Commission in this matter is sacrosanct or cannot make a mistake, but it is no good pretending that the Government are coming forward and saying, "Now we are going to legislate on the lines of the Royal Commission." What they have really done is this: They cut out of their programme two things which are prominent in the Royal Commission's recommendations, and more particularly two things which have made those recommendations if not palatable, at any rate worthy of consideration by a large part of the industry. They cut out the business about royalties and they cut out the business about municipalisation of the coal supply, and they announce that side by side with this Bill they are producing some other recommendations. After all the country has paid a good deal for the Coal Commission. You see on the face of the Report that you can have it for a shilling. As a matter of fact it has cost over £20,000,000. It is the only result up to date of the postponement which the Government secured at so great a price, unless you include the general strike. There is no other result up to date of that enormous outlay of public money. Having put so much faith in postponement, bought at such a price, and having got as the only result the Report of the Commission, I must say I think it would be a much wiser course to legislate boldly upon the lines of the Com- 863 mission's Report without picking or choosing, because, apart altogether from the material and practical aspect of the matter, it is only by that method that the Government will ever convince the miners that they desire to act fairly and even-handedly between both sides.
§ Mr. O'NEILL
The right hon. Gentleman made one rather startling economic proposition when he asid that if you lengthened the hours—this part, of course, we all appreciate—you would either produce more coal with the same number of men or else you would produce the same amount of coal with fewer men, and he went on to say that the policy of making the lengthening of hours possible was utterly wrong because it would lead to such a state of affairs that the industry would be prevented from expanding. I understood him to mean that the markets for our coal must be stationary but could not be increased.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The observation I made was almost literally to be found in the Royal Commission Report:This moans either that the total output of coal will he increased by about one-eighth, say £30,000,000, or by more, the number of millers remaining unchanged, or if the total output is to remain unchanged, the number of miners employed will be reduced by about one-ninth, say 130,000.
§ Mr. O'NEILL
I quite followed that, but what I am frying to convey is that the right hon. Gentleman seems to assume that the market for coal would remain stationary—
§ Mr. O'NEILL
Even though there was a reduction in the price of producing that coal by reason of this proposal slightly to lengthen the hours. Surely if that is so, we must say good-bye to all efforts of industrial expansion. Is not the whole history - of the wonderful industrial expansion in the United States due to the system of mass production, by which, although wages are higher than in any other country in the world, still the cost of production is lower. Is it not possible, indeed even probable, that by some lowering of the cost of production, which this proposal presumably will accomplish, there may be such an extension in the markets and in the general advancement of the coal trade as will far more than 864 compensate for what hon. Members opposite fear? I have listened to many Debates in this House on the coal mining industry. I have never before taken part in one. I have not a single coalminer nor coalowner in my constituency. I know nothing whatever from the expert's point of view about coal, but sometimes I think the point of view of the ordinary public is worth pressing in this House, even though some people may not care always to hear it. It seems to me, as an outsider, that the position now—indeed it is common ground—is that a settlement must be found within the economic position of the industry itself plus, as I understand it, a £3,000,000 subsidy or aid, or whatever you like to call it, from the Government. With regard to that, I implore His Majesty's Government to be absolutely plain, definite and unambiguous about this question of the £3,000,000 subsidy. The history of the subsidy has not been particularly encouraging up to date. I cannot help remembering that last July, about a year ago, the Prime Minister said that a subsidy for the coal industry was impossible and unthinkable; and then circumstances arose when, a general strike having been threatened, that view was altered, and the subsidy was given.
§ Mr. O'NEILL
Whether it was a subsidy or a subvention, it was given. More recently than that—quite lately—some ambiguity has arisen. I think that, when the 31st May came, the Prime Minister announced that on and after that date the £3,000,000 of aid to the industry which he had offered would no longer be available, and then, shortly after that, it was announced in this House that some kind of further aid to the industry would be granted. Then, later than that, it was announced, I think by some Member of the Government, that the amount of aid to the industry would be definitely limited to £3,000,000. I do hope that that is a final, definite, and unalterable point of view, so that at any rate we know where we are in connection with future coal negotiations.
I now want to say a word or two with regard to the Report of the Coal Commission, which I have read, in common, no doubt, with a great many other people in this country who are not directly con- 865 nected with the coal industry. As I look at the Report, it really divides itself into two separate main headings. In the first place, the Report, taken as a whole, may be regarded, or might have been regarded when the dispute began—indeed, as far back as last July—as a means of preventing a stoppage, and that was recognised by the Government when, at the beginning of the dispute, they announced that they would accept the Report of the Commission in toto, altogether, as a basis for settlement of the dispute. The other aspect of the Report, once that was decided, is merely, as it seems to me, its aspect as an interesting document raising various considerations and suggestions which may or may not be desirable of adoption. At this critical moment, I think we are entitled to ask the Government a question on a point which to me has never appeared absolutely clear, and that is, is this offer of acceptance of the Coal Commission's Report as a whole still in existence or not? I wish the Government, in the course of this present Debate, would announce their present policy and attitude with regard to the Report as a whole as a means of settling the dispute.
May I for a moment be permitted to put the matter from the point of view of what I think is in the minds of hon. Members opposite? They, no doubt, are inclined to consider that the Government do not now intend to adopt the whole Report as a means of settling the dispute in the industry, because, first of all, they say the proposal with regard to the purchase of mining royalties has apparently been dropped; and, secondly, they consider that the introduction of this present. Bill is another step towards a change in the former declaration of the Government. Of course, however—and this is one aspect the force of which I am sure hon. Members opposite will see—what it was possible to offer before the dispute began it may be too late to offer to-day. All the time this disastrous dispute has been going on the already limited foreign markets of the industry have been becoming still further cramped, and, by the time the mines are set going again, it may be too late to adopt the whole of the Report of the Commission as a basis upon which the matter can be settled. What I want to ask is that the Government should now take this opportunity, after hearing this Debate, to make quite 866 clear here in the House of Commons what their position with regard to that former statement is. On the other hand, it seems to me that the miners should make their side quite clear. Surely, they ought now to say quite definitely whether they prefer a reduction of wages or a lengthening of hours. I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) to say that Mr. Herbert Smith announced during the week-end that he preferred a reduction of wages to a lengthening of hours. If that be so, has it really ever been stated? Have the miners ever said so to the Government or to the owners?
§ Mr. O'NEILL
I gather, from an interjection by an hon. Member opposite, that there is at any rate some reason to suppose that now, at this moment, in view of all that is happening, and in view of the economic facts, which must by now have sunk into many heads which formerly were unable to absorb them—I gather now that hon. Members opposite, of the two alternatives, namely, reduction of wages or lengthening of hours, they would prefer reduction of wages; and the reception with which this Bill has met would lead one to think that that is probably so. Therefore, it seems to me that the miners, on their side, should come forward now, before this 'Bill is passed, and say what their position is with regard to this matter; and that the Government, on their side, should make it definitely clear whether or not they still adhere to their original statement that they were prepared to accept the Report as a whole. I am merely talking as an outsider, and as one who has read the Press recently. I understood that before the dispute began it was stated that the Government, much as many of its members disliked certain aspects of the Report, would, nevertheless, to prevent a dispute, accept the Report as a, whole. [HON. MEMBERS: "If the other parties would accept it."] Of course, if the other parties would accept it. I think that hon. Members who represent the miners should come 867 forward now and say whether they desire a reduction of wages or a lengthening of hours. If they come forward and say that they prefer a reduction of wages, that is the one great point in the Report which until now they have failed to accept, and, if they do accept a reduction of wages, it seems to me that they have accepted the Report as a whole. The Government, as has been said over and over again, obviously could not, by accepting the Report, force a settlement, but I am merely suggesting that this is a time to see if a settlement cannot be arrived at, if it be not too late—as I quite admit it may be—on the lines upon which a settlement was proposed when the dispute first began, namely, on the acceptance by both parties of the Report.
As I said a moment ago, it may be that circumstances which have arisen since the dispute began make that impossible, and I am sure everyone realises that that may be so, and that the only way now will be to deal with the question on the lines of this Bill. It may well be, however, that on the lines of this Bill, a solution of the difficulty and of the dispute will come in a way not half as unfavourable to the miners as many lion. Members think. After all, the miners and, indeed, all of us, are up against the hard, stark facts of economic laws—laws which are absolutely unbending. Economic laws are laws which are fashioned by no Government, which are passed by no legislative assembly, which are inscribed in no Statute Book. They are understood by the few who, through their astuteness, become millionaires, but they are unintelligible to the many who are mere pawns and puppets in their grip, and whose very lives, and the lives of all of us, workers and employers alike, are interwoven with and guided by some of these economic laws which many of us do not fully understand. In these circumstances, it is surely not too much to suggest to the leaders of the miners of this country that, after a stoppage of nearly nine weeks, the time has now come when the economic position should be fairly and squarely faced, when that tin-alterable and unbending attitude which was always based really on the desire to get a subsidy out of the Government, should, now that the idea of a subsidy is definitely and finally gone, be altered,: and when at last, facing the economic 868 facts, it will be possible for the two sides : to get together and come to a reasonable ; settlement.
§ Mr. JAMES BROWN
I, unlike the right hon. Member for Mid-Antrim (Mr. O'Neill) who speaks., as he says, without knowledge, can claim to speak with inside knowledge. If 30 years working in a coal pit, down below, gives anyone authority to speak at all, then I possess that authority. But I want to come back to the Bill. It seems to me that since the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for In[...]e (Mr. Walsh) no one has cared to touch the Bill. They have wandered round about it and talked about the Report, about our needing this section or that section of the Report, but they have not touched the Bill. What the Bill seeks to do is to put an hour on the day of the British miner. The right hon. Member for Mid-Antrim asks which we would prefer, an extra hour or a decreased wage. If we are given a preference, we prefer neither. We did not ask for either of these preferences. Therefore, we have no preference so far as these things are concerned.
When the Minis[...] of Labour was speaking, he talked about the effects of machinery and the effects of this and that, but I fail to understand where he could get from the Report a recommendation for the lengthening of hours. If hon. Members opposite want the Report to be adopted in this particular or that, why not adopt the whole of the Report now? We are asked whether we would accept the whole of the Report or not. As far as I can understand, a misconception has arisen in regard to a statement made by Mr. Herbert Smith. As far as 1 can understand him, he was not against accepting the Report, but he wanted a certain part of the Report to be accepted first by the Government before he would begin to discuss either wages or hours, namely, that we should try to discover what the Report could give us, what saving could be effected by municipal undertakings in the filing of coal, in the grouping of collieries and other things that lay within the compass of the Report. We have never had any choice in the matter.
The Government never said at any moment that they would accept the Report. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] No, 869 they did not. I have looked into the matter very carefully. The Government have never said that they would accept the Report. They have said that if both sides were agreeable they would accept the Report. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] If both sides were agreeable. Both sides never were agreeable, and never would be agreeable, and any Member of the Government when he made such an offer knew perfectly well that in making such an offer he was absolutely safe. The owners were determined from the very start that they would never agree to the Report as a whole. We all knew that. We have been through this thing too often not to know that. There is one part of the Report which would have damned the Report in the eyes of the owners and the royalty owners, namely, the Government taking over the coal of the country, and taking over the royalty rents. We knew that it was impossible for that part of the Report to be accepted by the owners or the royalty owners.
I cannot blame other hon. Members for straying from the Bill if I stray myself. Therefore, I will confine myself to the Bill. Something was, said by the Minister of Labour about machinery. He said, quite truly, that some parts of the coalfield do not lend themselves to machinery as well as others. He seemed to think that in Scotland machinery wits adopted more readily, because of the better nature of the coalfields. I think he was wrong there. The coalfield la Scotland is not more adaptable to machinery than the coalfields elsewhere. It is due more to the up-to-date methods of our Scottish colliery managers. We have adopted machinery in Scotland. What does it mean? The adoption of machinery ought to give a shorter day economically, and a shorter day physically. Does any hon. Member who knows anything about coalmining know what machinery in a pit means? I would ask hon. Members opposite whether they have been down a pit when the machines are working? Have they any conception of the dust that is flying about when the machines are in motion? Have they any conception of the deafening nature of the machinery when it is in motion? A gallant colonel, who shot big game in Africa, went down a pit when the machinery was in motion, and, after a 870 short time, he said, "For God's sake get me out of this." Many hon. Members would have said the same. They may be brave men, but not brave enough to stand machinery in a pit.
Although machinery is being adopted very successfully, instead of something being taken off the day we are asked to put something on the day in order to help the industry. With the adoption of machinery, it ought to be possible to shorten the day rather than lengthen the hours. It has been said that if this Bill passes we shall be in a worse condition in regard to hours than any other European coalfield except Silesia. We know that to be a fact. Hon. Members tell their constituents that the British miner is very much better off in regard to hours than any other European miner, and that he produces very much less coal than his European brother. The Report of the Royal Commission is quite definite on that point. The Report discovered that if we put an hour upon the miner's working day then undoubtedly we should be worse off in regard to hours than any of the European coalfields except Silesia. The British miner produces more per man than the miner in any other European country, and I would ask hon. Members to realise that fact. We are looked upon as being people who try to restrict output, and we are told that if we would do as the miners of other countries do there would be very little difficulty. I say here definitely that if ever any policy of ea'canny was introduced into the coal mines it was the owners who brought it there. If by some fortuitous chance our men did a little more, we know from what happened often before, what would happen again. The manager would go round the next pay-day and say that there would be twopence or something more off the ton. Never has any encouragement been given to our men to do their best. As far as I know it, the temper of the owners remains what it was, with a few exceptions.
It is always said that we work a seven-hour day. Let me correct that statement. The official day of the British miner is 7 hours 38 minutes. That is the average of winding time, whether you take it up or down. But that is not the whole story. The coal getter, who represents a very small percentage of the men working in and around the pit, is usually the first 871 to go down. Here let me say in parenthesis that I have never yet met a coal getter who ever attempted to restrict his output, and I have had a long experience. You may get other men who may ca' canny, but the coal getter is paid by results, and if ever I have had anything to say against the collier it is that he loses all his senses as soon as he gets down below, because, as far as I could ever discover, he would almost run over the dead bodies of other people in order to get an extra hatch out. It is the nature of the work that produces that feeling. In many of our big pits—I am speaking for Scotland—there is something like 45 minutes occupied in winding. I have in mind one big pit where it takes 65 minutes to wind the men. The coal getter goes down in the first 15 minutes. The same amount of time is required for the men to get out of the pit. The coal getter is among the last to get out It is not simply 7 hours and 38 minutes, but very often 8 hours 38 minutes that our men are working.
That is not the whole story. Machinery has been introduced, and managers are astute enough to know that if the walls are not properly cleaned up the men cannot work the following day as they ought to do, and many of them take care that the cut, as the machine is called, is deep enough to give more than a day's work. I have known men over and over again having to break the law in order to get a real clean-up so that the machine can get to work in the afternoon and their fellows can get to work the following day without delay. That is a common occurrence. Every miner and every miner's official knows about that.
Very few hon. Members of this House know that in many of our big pits—here I am speaking for Scotland, and I think I am also speaking for the North of England—no meal-hour is allowed. It is true that the law sees to the ponies. The ponies must have a little relaxation, but the miners are in a different position from the ponies. The miner is not looked upon with the same respect or as being worth as much as the ponies. One hon. Member shakes his head. I am speaking from what I have seen and what I know. I am making a statement deliberately that there is no time given for the meal-hour. I do not say that the men do not 872 eat, but they get no encouragement to eat while they are there.
Putting all these things together, I think the Government is most ill-advised in attacking the miners, especially in regard to their hours. The mining occupation is different from any other occupation. It is the most hazardous occupation. I will not go into statistics of the number of men who are killed every day. Over and above that, we all know the value of sunshine. We know that sunshine is now entering into the healing art, and that doctors are vying with each other in trying to discover how to apply the healing rays to diseases of the body. Go into any colliery district to-day, and you will see some ruddy faced men, because the pits are not working, but go into those districts when the pits are working regularly and look at the countenances of the men. You can pick out a collier who works underground from thousands. The collier is in a different position altogether from any other worker.
Coal is necessary for the nation. Why then should coalmining be made the Cinderella of industry? Why should it he the first to be attacked? Why if sacrifices are to be made should the miner always be called upon to make them? Do hon. Members think that the miner is human like themselves? You are looking at the miner in terms of 100 years ago. If any man should get a fair deal in this country to-day, if any man deserves the sympathy of the nation to-day, if any man deserves that his hours should be shortened instead of lengthened it is the miner. Those who speak for.the men know their determination on this question. If you lengthen the day now—I know the Bill is permissive in its nature—a generation would not see the eight-hour day restored. We know that from past experience, and that is why we resist the lengthening of the hours, not because we refuse to work longer but because we know that if we begin to work eight hours now it will be saddled upon us for a long time to come. We are, therefore, anxious to avoid any lengthening of the hours at all. The Minister of Labour in his speech just now referred to some statements made by some official of the Miners' Federation, and said that official appeared to be quite callous [...] to the large numbers of men who would 873 be displaced. I believe he was misquoting the official; but let us take that particular point. It is estimated that there would be 130,000 miners displaced—I am assuming that you accept the Report of the Commission; you are bound to accept the statement if you accept other parts of the Report. They say that about 130,000 men would be displaced.
Let me put it this way. If any labour-saving machinery was introduced which would do the work of five or six men would the Government hesitate to get rid of those men? Certainly not. I wonder if hon. Members have ever heard of low carbonisation and all the different things that can be produced from coal, oil, electricity, gas, all of which will certainly displace men from the coal mines. The miners do not care, many of them, whether they are displaced to-morrow provided there is other and suitable work found for them. They will take their chance. I ask the Government to try some other method. Let them consider taking over the whole Report; see if coordinating the industry would not do. The Minister of Labour quoted Shakespeare—"a rose by any other name would smell as sweet "—and said that what we meant by unification was nationalisation. We are not troubling about nationalisation. We are fighting for our lives, for cur hours and in order to preserve wages, and this Bill will not give us a guarantee of better wages.
My last point is this, that we have now come to what is practically the parting of the ways. You may be able to put your Bill through Parliament. You have the numbers to do it. You may get men restarted. It is quite possible, because there are limits to human endurance. But that will give no stability to the Government. The coalowners and the Government want to be secured for some years to come, and I can quite understand that security for some years ahead will be a very good thing for the country. Unless you can get that security and good will on the part of the miners you may legislate until doomsday, but you will never do anything for the industry. I ask the Government now to refrain from putting this Bill into operation. Let them think out some other method, because I am sure there are other ways and means. Hon. Members opposite are annoyed; we are also annoyed because we hear them speak- 874 ing, not only with the voice of the coal-owners, but practically in the very accents of the coalowners. The coal-owners have never asked for more than the Government is now proposing to give them, and why should any Government give the coalowners things that they will not give to the miners The right hon. Member for Antrim (Mr. O'Neill) talked about a subsidy. Are we sure about the subsidy? We are not troubling about a subsidy. We do not want anything to do with a subsidy. We want the industry to be so organised that the men will he able to make a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. Knowing the miner as I do, I say that you have not a more contented man on the face of the earth, or under the earth, if you give him decent conditions. If you want stability, if you want the country to get on its feet, if you want prosperity restored, you must give to the miner a fair deal; take the feeling of discontent out of his mind, let him understand that the Government are looking after him as well as the coalowners, then you will be in a fair way to recovery.
§ Mr. BRIGGS
I had better say right away that my support will be given to this Bill because I view it merely as an opportunity of assisting the coal industry at the moment, and not as bringing a permanent feature into our legislation. Having said that let me as an ordinary person stress the fact that there are certain classes of workers who are entitled to special sympathy, and amongst those special classes of workers there is none more entitled to our sympathies and consideration than the miners. To no' the very idea of going under ground is repellant. It is an unnatural method of earning one's living, and when we talk about being underground for seven or eight hours I wonder if we do realise what the present legal limit is. It is calculated from the last man down to the first man up. That means, in many cases, eight to eight and a half hours. Those who have not. looked into this question very closely might think that a man who went in the sunshine came back into the sunshine, within seven hours. He does no such thing, and I say that the miner is entitled to consideration and the highest possible reward the industry can bear. I go further—possibly I shall not receive support from my own side—I say that 875 the coal-mining industry is of such a character that wages should be the first charge before rents or royalties or anything else.
The miners are, I believe, fully aware that this question has an economic basis. They are fully aware that it is only by unity that the difficulties can be met; and why cannot we have this unity? It is because trust is lacking—trust between the two parties concerned, owners and miners, is lacking. And is it not understandable why trust should be lacking in view of past history. No one can claim that the owners have treated the miners fairly in the last half century or that Governments in the past have treated the miners fairly. It is on record what owners and Governments have done in the past, and there is every reason why the miners to-day should not have that trust and confidence which are necessary in order to provide a settlement between them. Even now what have we got? In this trouble to-day, the very first thing that is asked is a sacrifice from the men. What of the owners? They give promises, nothing but promises! Personally, I do not blame the miners for one minute for refusing to accept these promises. I do not think the miners should put themselves in the position of making an immediate sacrifice and relying on the owners' unwritten and unlegalised promises. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why vote for the Bill?"] I will tell you. I believe the reluctance of the miners to enter into negotiations is not clue to the sacrifices they are asked to make at the moment; I believe it is due almost entirely to the fear that they will lose in one moment what has taken years and years of effort to secure.
I support this Bill because it is not compulsory. Hon. Members opposite may not agree with the tactics, but at any rate it is not compulsory and it may help to bring about a better frame of mind. [HON MEMBERS: "Never!"] Even then it is not too late for the parties to come to an agreement provided you can have mutual concessions, not concessions from one side only. If the men would at once agree to negotiate, to discuss wages, hours, and particularly district settlements, and if the owners on the other hand are prepared to forgo their entire profits until wages once more return to the 1924 basis, 876 that, I consider, would give the men some ground for trust in entering into negotiation. If the owners really believe what they say, that the state of these mines is such that, unless economies are made in every direction, they cannot continue, I suggest that the owners should at once express their voluntary intention of reducing all directors' fees by 50 per cent. The amount is nothing, but the action would show their good faith. I have seen no such suggestion of good faith from the owners. If these things could be attained and the parties would negotiate, that would give us hope. A Government cannot compel human effort; it cannot force the miners to go down the mines. But this House. can compel, and this House would enforce, any conditions that were agreed upon between the owners and the men.
I rely practically entirely on the Report for my views on this matter. I would like to see the men and the masters accept the Report in its entirety, and then for the Government to declare, "You accept it, and we will enforce it without questioning." Why quibble about royalties or anything else? Royalties are a thing of the past; they are done for. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come over here."] I have no need to come over. This is progressive Conservative thought; make no mistake about it. I say in all seriousness to the miners, that it is ultimately public opinion that will decide whether the terms arrived at are, fair or ungenerous. Public opinion has little or no knowledge in this matter, and public opinion has already formed its mind and fixed its opinion on these Royal Commission Reports. I ask the men whether, knowing that, they will endanger losing the sympathy which they at present have in the minds of the people by refusing to play the part assigned to them in the Report. I fail to see what else the Government could do, and I certainly shall give them my support for the reason stated. My hone is that the leaders will also see that there is nothing else which the Government could do, and that they will show readiness to negotiate. They must realise how severely and dangerously they are trying the magnificent loyalty shown to them by their members in the past.
§ Mr. LUNN
So far as I can see, this Bill will be no aid to a solution of the dispute. I should be extremely surprised 877 if the present Government came forward with anything that would aid in any way a settlement of the dispute. I have no faith in them whatever. After the speech like that to which we have just listened, full of insincerity from beginning to end, and the speech of the Minister of Labour, without a single argument in favour of the Bill, how can I have confidence in the Government bringing forward any Measure to try to bring about a settlement of this unhappy dispute? Who is asking for this Bill? I take it that, as a rule, there are demands either upon a Government or upon an individual Member of the House that a Bill be introduced into Parliament. It is not the miners who are asking for this Bill; it is not the workers in any other industry who are asking for it.
No inquiry that has taken place since the War hits said that this extension of hours was a necessity. The Sankey Commission did not recommend longer hours; it recommended shortening the hours of the miners to six per day. The Buck-master Inquiry, the Macmillan Inquiry, and the present Government's own inquiry, packed as it was with their own supporters, did not recommend that there should be an extension of hours. The only people who have asked for an extension of hours are a body of men who have shown such incompetence and such inefficiency in the management of the coal industry as has never been shown by any body of men who have run any industry in this country. The other night I listened to a speech by the Lon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis). His constituency is sandwiched near mine, and I was interested to hear him. He said that the only test of efficiency in running an industry is that you shall be able to make profits. I believe that that is what many hon. Members opposite believe.
§ Mr. LUNN
I do not wish to misrepresent the hon. Member. I do not know that it was even "admitted on all hands" that that was the only test of efficiency in running an industry. I think it is a most ridiculous argument to use. Were it true, and were ire to take the state- 878 merits of the coalwoners, they have not fulfilled even that test. They say that they cannot get profits out of the industry to-day, and therefore they do not fulfil the test. But this is an industry from which, during generations, they have taken tremendous profits, and they have shown their incompetence by allowing it to get into the position in which they say it will not now yield profits. They have never attempted to bring the industry into a state of efficiency. There is abundance of room for improvement in organisation without any extension of hours, so that the industry could be run quite satisfactorily and give decent wages to the miners.
What has been the position? I listened to the speech of the Prime Minister on 1st June. I heard him say that the coal-owners had asked him to allow them to fight this dispute to a finish. Ever since that day he has been allowing them to do so, and he has been backing them in every action which the Government has taken. In my opinion, after the coalowners, the man most responsible for this lock-out is the Prime Minister. Let me explain what I mean by that statement. In the week before the lock-out, on 1st May, he had both sides together every day. He asked the coalowners to put down their proposals, and they were put down by one o'clock on 30th April. If he had been a child in negotiations, he would have said to them: "It is impossible for the miners to come to a settlement upon this matter in 10 hours, and the notices ought to be suspended for a period to allow negotiations." In my opinion it was a crime against the nation to allow the lock-out to take place under those conditions at that time. It never ought to have been done. I sincerely believe that the Government, through the Prime Minister, are responsible for the state of affairs in which we are to-day. There are half a million homes in this country desolate, and it might be nothing to Members of this House that such should be the case.
§ Mr. LUNN
There are a million children hungry in miners' homes, and all that the Government can bring forward is a Bill to extend the hours further to murder men. There are 1,200 men and boys killed in the mines every 879 year, and 200,000 who are injured every year. We know that it is in the late hours of the shifts that most of the accidents happen. It is then that the men are thoroughly exhausted. They would he more exhausted under an eight hours' day. Then we shall sec hundreds more killed and thousands more injured next year, if the Bill be carried out as the Government intend. That is what the Government are seeking by this Bill, and that is what they desire, as a means of reducing the population—murdering the men. I am tired of this humbug and hypocrisy. I do not believe that a man should say on the platform a thing That he does not say here. I believe what I am saying, sincerely.
What is the fact with regard to hours to-day? The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown) dealt with it partially. Hon. Members talk of a seven hours-day in the mines. There is no such thing as a seven hours' day for the miners. The average given by the Commission, down the pit, is seven hours and 38 minutes. At many of the pits of this country from half an hour to an hour is occupied in lowering the men, and the same time in raising them to the surface again. There is no rota to provide that the man who goes down first shall come out first. On the contrary, he may go down first and come out last. The man who goes down at 6 o'clock in the morning for a shift starting at 7 may come out at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, or he may be down nine hours instead of seven, or he may go down last and be the first up and be occupied not more than the seven hours. But with the housing trouble, particularly in developing mining areas, a man may live three, five, or even 10 miles from his work, and he may have to spend an hour, or an hour and a-half each day, in getting to his work, and the same time in getting home again. There are many thousands of men who are away from home 10 or 11 hours in order to follow what is called a shift of seven hours. That is the position.
You wish to extend the hours to eight. I sincerely hope that not a single miner will adopt or accept this method of settlement. Much as I want to see a settlement, much as I regret the position in which the mining industry is, and, more than all else, much as I deplore the suffering of the men and their wives and 880 children, I hope that this Bill is not to be adopted as a means of settling this dispute. It is said that it, is necessary to produce more coal. But we cannot sell the coal that we now produce, and many of our difficulties are due to that fact. If it was necessary to produce more coal, and if the coalowners had been the efficient body that sonic of them claim to be, they might have produced millions more tons of coal every year by the proper utilisation of the services of the men when they got them down the shaft. There are many pits in this country where the men have to walk for a quarter of an hour, or an hour, or an hour and a half to the spot where they work, and the same thing is repeated on their return. There are pits where there is no means for conveying the men underground to their work. More exhausting even than the work is this travelling underground. It is hardly as pleasant as walking down Birdcage Walk to be tramping underground in a four-foot or a five-foot seam for an hour or on hour and a half armed with a pick.
The coalowners have done nothing to make the best use of the men's time. In the good times of which they talk, and in which they could have prepared for this occasion, they took no steps whatever in this direction. Last autumn I went down a coal mine in Nova Scotia. At the bottom of the shaft there was a train of trucks with a little engine, which conveyed our party a distance of 1,600 yards in a few minutes, and the same arrangement operated to convey the men to and from the place where they were working. If that were done in our more up-to-date collieries, millions of tons more could be produced. There has never been any attempt on the part of the owners to do anything to make this industry pay as it ought to pay. On 17th November, 1893, the late Mr. Keir Hardie introduced a. Bill into this House to nationalise mines and minerals. Had it been carried the mines would have been ours 20 years ago—ant the miners' but the people's—and they would have been concerns conducted for the profit and benefit of the nation. That has been the only solution of this question. As to the royalty owners, one cannot find out who they are. I have asked the Secretary for Mines who are the royalty owners in my area. He himself is one of theme but I cannot get to know who are the other 881 royalty owners in that area. I think it ought to be easy to ascertain who are the people who have been getting more out of this industry than would have sufficed to buy it out, and who are still wringing £6,000,000 a year out of the industry.
We have had a Commission which was set up by the Government themselves, and which was of their own ilk from every point of view, but when that Commission gives a Report and favours the idea of royalties becoming the property of the nation, it is found to be too much to expect a Tory Government to do anything in that connection. The Government say they will impose another 5 per cent. on the royalty owners for the provision of baths at collieries. That is a very good idea, and one which I should like to sec developed. I wish it had been in operation in the days when T was working underground, but there is no idea in this Bill of aiding a settlement, and this Government do not want one. There is nothing which they have done, nothing which they seem inclined to do in that direction. They are governing the finest nation of workers in the world, a people who are foremost in industrial production, and they are elected by the people. I accept that position. They may be legislating as many people desire, but I am fain to believe that not for long in the future will they continue to legislate on the present lines. We shall await the next by-election with interest. In Walls-end I suppose the Tory "stunt" will be. "We did not feed the Germans; why should we feed the miners."
§ Mr. LUNN
I take it that will be the "stunt" of the Tory candidates in the future. I shall expect my opponent to have that for his motto when the next election comes in my constituency, and I know where he will go—as many other people do who are here. No, Gentlemen—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] No, Mr. Speaker, I am sure we have never had a Prime Minister whose deeds belied his words more than the present Prime Minister. It is rank hypocrisy to sermonise and then to starve the people as we are doing. Our coal trade is gone and the policy of the party opposite, who are telling ns to "buy British goods," is to buy foreign coal and bring it into the 882 country to help in the starvation of the miners. We are starving the wives and children of the miners, and we are destroying the coal trade, which is one of the finest and most remarkable things in our national life. You may take it from me that the wives of the miners are as determined as the men that nothing of this sort shall be accepted as a settlement. They will not have longer hours; they will not have any further possibilities of the ruin of their homes in that respect. We are satisfied, if this proposal were carried out fully, there would be no likelihood of Parliament repealing it once it had been brought into operation. We do not intend that it shall be brought into operation, and I sincerely hope it will not be. I am not appealing to this Government to do anything. I accept the position that they are elected. I do not expect anything from them for the miners. I see the condition to which they have brought the miners by backing the coalowners. They have taken the line of the coalowners, as I expected them to do, but I hope the day is not far distant when the people will have an opportunity of removing them from the side of the House on which they now sit.
§ Sir ARTHUR SHIRLEY BENN
I am a thorough supporter of this Bill. I do not believe and never have 'believed in Government interference in trade. I would keep Governments out of trade as far as I could. In small trades, legislation may be necessary to protect workers who cannot meet employers on level terms, but in big trades, where men can work together in a trade union, that trade union ought not to be hampered. Its representatives ought to be able to go to the employer and say, "This industry gives us our livelihood; it may also give you your profits, but it is our duty to see that it is kept going in order to provide a livelihood for those engaged in it." For that reason, I support the Bill. Why should not a trade union be able to say, "We want to work eight hours, because we think it wiser to keep the industry going." If they consider it wiser to keep the industry in such a condition that. it: will be able to continue to employ the workers, why should not they be in a position to say, "We will work eight or nine hours a day provided we get a sufficient recompense and provided it is not treated as a permanent 883 arrangement, but merely as a method of restoring the industry to a condition in which it may be possible afterwards to reduce the working hours to five or six or seven per day." I speak as one who has worked and I believe in short hours and in big pay. I do not consider that the miners get enough pay, but the industry at present will not stand bigger pay. It is all very well to say that it does not matter whether the industry pays or not. To-day the coal industry in America is paying a wage equivalent to 1.675 dollars or 7s. per ton, and we are paying the equivalent—or the equivalent last year—of 12s. 9d. per ton.
§ Sir A. SHIRLEY BENN
I am speaking from official figures which show the months of August and September and the rate was 12s. 9d. per ton on commercial coal sold. When I was in America I found there were 186,000 miners idle in Pennsylvania. They were out to get a 10 per cent. increase. There has been this trouble in the coal business ever since it was started. We have had it here in England. My hon. Friend the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) talked about what the coalowners did. That story has been going on for a century. We had inquiries nearly 100 years ago, and I happen to have here some extracts from evidence given at a Parliamentary inquiry in 1829. I find that a Mr. Buddle who was intimately acquainted with the state of the coal trade, informed a Committee of the House of Lords that,Although many collieries in the hands of fortunate individuals and companions, have been perhaps making more than might be deemed a reasonable and fair profit, according to their risk, like a prize in a lottery; yet as a trade, taking the whole capital employed on both rivers, he should say that certainly it has not been so.Again being askedWhat have the coalowners on the Tyne and the Wear, in your opinion, generally made on their capital employed?He replied:According to the best of my knowledge, I should think that by no means 10 per cent. has been made at simple interest, without allowing any extra interest for the redemption of capital.884 That inquiry was held because there were then complaints such as we have to-day. There were complaints about the price of coal in London.
§ Sir A. SHIRLEY BENN
No, they were all complaining, both the owners and men. I find about this period the following statement of the position:Colliers are always paid by the piece, and consequently their wages, although at the same rate per chaldron, vary according to the quantity of work they have to do, and it is very difficult to form an average, they vary so very considerably. They have varied from 14s. a week to, in some instances, 40s. The colliers can earn up to 5s. or ever more per day, bat there is not full employment for them. They have seldom been earning more than half that sum during the last year (1828). 2s. 6d. is the certain wages they are hired to receive from their employers whether they are employed or not. That is a tax on the coalowner during the suspension of his colliery, for he pays them their wages whether they are employed or not. The men have the option of finding work elsewhere, but if they cannot do this, they may call upon their master to pay them 14s. per week. It was 15s. a week until last year (1828).We are bound to hav these complaints, but we have the very best coal in the world. That is recognised. Our great trade was built up on coal and its day has not passed. It will come on again and I want to see that the unions representing the men have a free hand and are not hampered by legislation limiting them to certain hours. It is not like the olden days when people were not educated. You have educated men in the trade unions to-day and although there may be certain orators who let themselves go and say things for which afterwards they are sorry, still the great bulk of the miners and their wives and families are as patriotic and loyal a body of people as any in this country. I would not be afraid of leaving the question to the miners, if some of their orators would take a trip to some of the other countries of the world and allow the miners themselves to decide. The miners themselves will say that they have as much interest as the owners in keeping the mines going and they will see that the coal industry goes on so that they may be able to get a livelihood for their people in the future.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
The only information that we have received to-day is that 885 this Bill is to be temporary in its application and permissive in its character, and that it is going to bring about such economies as will help to give the miners a much better wage than they now have. But I am not convinced that either of these statements is very sound. We have often heard about temporary measures, which sometimes become very permanent and are very difficult to remove, and with regard to the Bill being permissive in character, and the miners, having the option of accepting or refusing its terms, I think we can say to the Government very definitely that there is not much hope of the miners of this country accepting a Bill of this kind even for a temporary period. I come from the North of England, where we have the reputation of being the pioneers of shorter hours for mine-workers. As a matter of fact, it was the experience of the Durham and Northumberland coalfields that convinced the Sankey Commission that the underground workers of this country were entitled to a seven-hours day, and it was because of the evidence that we produced before that Commission that the seven-hours Act came in operation. This particular Commission itself states in its Report that in Durham the hewers obtained an agreement as long ago as 1891 for shorter hours, much shorter even than were secured under the seven hours Act. As a matter of fact, my grandfather and my father, working in the mines in Durham county, during their experience at the coal face never worked more than6¾ hours bank to bank.
I have been going into the evidence put before two Committees, a Committee that sat in 1865 and another that sat in 1873, and I find that the late Mr. Burt, who was Member of this House, and a Mr. William Crawford and a Mr. Parker, of the Durham Miners' Association, gave evidence before those Committees and pointed out to them that while the bonds which they signed as employés at the collieries stated that the hours of coal getters should not he more than eight per shift, in 95 per cent. of the cases with which they had come in contact the hewers' hours in those Northern counties were much less than eight, and in many cases much less than seven. It is well to remember that when the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, was first introduced 886 into this House it was introduced as a Measure to give to the miners an eight-hours day, pure and simple, or what we call eight hours bank to hank, but that while it was passing through this House, Amendments were moved which made it really a Bill for 8½ hours, or 8 hours 35 minutes in actuality. The present Bill is to be continued for a temporary period of live years, which means that we are putting the miners of this country, from the point of view of hours, back for a period of 18 years.
That is not the kind of progress that we ought to be making, even under a Tory Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the alternative?"] I have been in this House since 1922, and in that time we have put one alternative after another before this Government, but they have turned them all down as being too trivial, and they have never taken the trouble to examine some of the suggestions that we have made. I, myself, have on a number of occasions put various suggestions before the Government, but, so far as I can see, they do not appear to have had any effect. It is well for the Government to remember the point that was brought out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh), that the Commission itself very definitely says that if you pass a Measure of this kind, it means that the British miners are going to work much longer hours than are worked in any of the other coalfields in Europe. I would like hon. Members to glance at page 170 of the Report, which is an extremely interesting page. There it will be seen that in 1913 we, in Great Britain, worked 8½ hours, in France they worked 8¾ hours, in Belgium 9, in Holland in Germany, in the Ruhr, 8½, in Germany (Upper Silesia) and in Czechoslovakia 9. In 1925, in. Great Britain we worked 7½ hours, in France they worked Belgium 7½ Holland 8, Germany (Ruhr) 8, Germany (Upper Silesia) 8½ and Czechoslovakia from 7¾ to 8. So that the actual hours Coat are being worked here to-day show that we are not much below the hours that are being worked in the European coalfields, and that is one of the things that hon. Members ought to keep in mind, with this additional fact, that however much shorter hours we are working in the British coalfield to-day, we are still the 887 best producers in Europe from the point of view of actual output per man.
Therefore, one of the things that we have to be very careful about, and which cannot be too much stressed in this Debate, is that if this Bill becomes law, its only real effect that I can see is that it will create an idea in the minds of employers in Germany, France, Belgium, and other parts of Europe that if the British miner can have his hours raised, then their miners ought to have their hours raised, because it will be impossible for them to compete effectively with our people in the open market if we increase the hours of work in this country. It seems to me that the only effect that it is going to have is to bring down the general standard of leisure in the whole of the mining community right throughout Europe, and, as a matter of fact, that is what the Commission says.
Then I want to point out, if you give this thing the full value, where it will lead. In Durham, in April last, the costs exceeded the proceeds by £437,835. Ii there is realised the extra output that this extra hour is supposed to give, it will mean on present prices that that will bring in £258,488, and thereby reduce the loss by about half in the Durham district. If you add the other benefit, that by bringing into operation this additional working hour you can reduce your offhand labour and datal workers, it will mean in Durham that you will be able to displace 12,078 men, which, at 7s. 6½d. per shift, will mean that you will save in wages £108,000, so that if you take the full value that this Bill will give you in Durham, it means that you will still be faced with a loss of £71,347. That will be the actual situation, and I want to say very definitely that hon. and right hon. Members who have an idea that the miners can give more in eight hours than they are giving to-day in seven, are making a very big mistake. I am now talking from actual experience, and what I say is this, that there has grown up with the coal getter in the North of England the custom that he never took any food to work. All that he took was a bottle of water, and he never stopped to think about food, but gave every ounce of his energy in his short shift, and if you were to increase that shift to 10 hours, you would not get an ounce more coal, 888 because the man could not give any more energy in 10 hours than he is giving in his short shift to-day. That is one point that I want hon. Members to keep in mind when they are talking about the extra output that will be created by this increased hour.
Then I want to warn them about one other important thing that will happen. If you take this increased output, you will have markets to find for it, because you have not got markets to-day, and if you find markets, it means that you have to reduce the price of your coal in order to undercut your competitors. That means that it is coming back again to the workers to make further sacrifices, because if you have to reduce the price of the coal in order to get your markets, you will have to reduce the workers' wages in order to enable you to reduce those prices. Therefore, I say that from every point of view it appears to me that the workers of this country have got to make a sacrifice. The employers of this country have never in their history seemed to be able to coin another idea apart from the notion that the only way you can put industry on a true economic basis is to reduce wages or lengthen hours. That seems to be the only thing they have ever learned from all their experience. We get back to the same point to-day, and I say that that is one of the worst things that can possibly happen.
The Commission talk about the multiple shift. I do not know what advantage the multiple shift will be in some parts of the country, but I know that it cannot be any advantage in the County of Durham, because there we are already working two shifts, at many places we are working three shifts, and at some places they actually have a fourth or tub-loading shift, which means that the collieries never stop for a second in the day. Therefore, it would be difficult to find where you would secure any advantage from that point of view, and we say that this Measure is a very retrogressive Measure. It seems to me that the Government follow the general line of the employing class in this country. It does not matter whether it is a strike or a lock-out, the workers are always wrong. I have never known the workers to be in the right; they are always wrong. If they ask for a higher standard of life, they are wrong; if they ask to remain where they are, they are wrong; and the Government 889 seem at last to have turned to the coal-owners and to have said: "After all, these people seem to be taking a good deal of beating, so we will turn to your side, and give you what assistance we can by bringing in Measures of this kind." If it were possible to get your additional hour, and if you got your reduction of wages, at the end of the next ascertainment the owners would be sending forth the same cry, that the other people have longer hours and less wages, and because of that fact our people would be face to face with the same economic difficulties with which they are face to face to-day. The one thing that we people have to keep in mind is this. Are the miners of this country going to be forced to make a break away on the question of hours and to have the finger of scorn pointed at us, not only by the trades unionists in our own country, but by trades unionists the world over?
I want the Prime Minister and the members of the Government to bear in mind that we have those who have gone before, and who have made a call to us. My father was one of the men who helped to form the Durham Miners' Association. He commenced to work underground in the mines at seven years of age, an age at which we would call him a baby in these days. He had only worked a. month when he had the misfortune to get his left arm broken, and, because of the rush for output and because of the rush for material values, he was placed at the shaft bottom for seven hours before they could attend to him. As a result of that, his arm was wrongly set, mortification set in, and the doctor said that he would have to have his arm amputated. His father said, "No, I had sooner he died than went through life with one arm." Fortunately it burst, but it left him with a withered arm throughout life, and his fingers were drawn in. He continued the fight for better conditions for his class. He had the good fortune to live to take part in the Miners' Federation conferences prior to the Sankey Commission and to see the Seven Hours Act placed on the Statute Book. Some few days before he died he reminded me of the difficulties that they had had in the mining industry and how glad they were that they had made such progress. He probably foresaw what was coming, because he 890 said to me at that time: "They will attack your wages time and time again. They may attack that Seven Hour Act. You younger men should remember what we older men have done for you. Do nothing dishonourable by word or act which will help to alter those things which we have got for you.' It is in response to that call that I stand here to-day in opposition to the-Bill.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I was very interested in the speech to which we have just listened. The hon. Member confined his remarks to Durham, where my constituency is. The only reason I venture to speak on a subject involving a good deal of expert knowledge is that I have honestly endeavoured, so far as a lawyer can, to ascertain the facts in my constituency. One thing that strikes me as very remarkable in this Bill is that, although the hon. Member for Plymouth (Sir A. Shirley Benn) and the last speaker referred to the historical aspect. it is curious that, through the long train of altering the conditions of the miners, from the very beginning up to now, we have had proposals, we have had suggestions, we have had Commissions, we have had Acts of Parliament, and one and all were in the direction of shorter hours. This is the first time in the whole history of the mining industry that an attempt has been made to lengthen the hours of the working men. When you look at the Act of 1919 you find that. in addition to shortening the hours from eight to seven in obedience to the unanimous and emphatic recommendation of the Sankey Commission, there is a. special section saying that the hours though shortened to seven, might still be shortened to six if it were found to be possible. The way we to-day are carrying out what was in contemplation of the whole legislature in 1919 is not, to take advantage of the altered conditions to further lessen the hours but, contrary to the pledges on which that, Act was passed, to lengthen them.
I would like, if the House would bear with me for a few moments, to try and give what is my own observation in my own constituency of the miner's attitude. It is sheer nonsense to talk about these men being revolutionaries and wanting to upset the settled order of things. They are perfectly content to remain miners, and they would be happy as such if they 891 got what they regard as a fair deal. They are by no means ignorant of the factors that go to make up the present problem with which we are faced. They knew in July last year that not one of the mines of their own district would pay under existing conditions, and they were desirous of a subsidy for that reason.
They disliked me very much because I opposed the subsidy. I told them then—perhaps the event more than my awn wisdom has justified it—that this subsidy would prove a curse, because it must have the effect, in an industry like this, where production is always somewhat greater than consumption, of inducing the successful mines to put pressure on the unsuccessful mines to reduce prices in order to try and increase their trade, and that in the result, when the subsidy came to be taken off, they would find that the wage fund out of which their wages must ultimately come was a smaller quantity than it was before. That £23,000,000, as they recognise now, which has been given by the community to help, has gone, as to two-thirds, to the consumer in reduced prices, and as to one-third to tie mine-owner, who was not in need of any subsidy, while the poor worker himself lots found that, so far from his wages being raised, advantage has been taken by the managers to reduce them to the lowest extent possible under the national agreement, and they are all getting less in Durham and in the North. With all that, not a ton more coal has left this country, and the return for our £23,000,000 is lower wages and the present dispute.
In the meantime, and concurrently with the subsidy, there was a body of men set up to investigate the whole industry. I said to my constituents, the miners, "These are able and impartial men. Believe me, the result of their deliberations will show a deeper knowledge of the industry than either you or I can ever hope to obtain, arid I advise you to abide by it, whatever it may be." Again, they disliked me, because they felt the Commission was an owners' Commission. I knew it was not. It is true that the Prime Minister has said, "Why, I offered the men the Report, and the whole of the Report." Candidly, he did not do anything of the kind. He offered the men the Coal Report if the owners and the miners 892 would be content with it. That is a very different thing. Even if Mr. Cook and Mr. Herbert Smith did act a little wildly, still the point now is not recrimination or saying, "I told you so, it is your fault," but to settle a dispute which is likely to prove not only disastrous to coalmining itself but to all that dependent structure of industrialism of which it is the foundation, and which is likely to bring about unemployment just at the time that the guardians' purse is growing leaner. What the upshot of it will be if something is not done is almost too terrible to contemplate.
There is the position. How is it being met? We have two Bills brought forward. The Eight flours Bill originally stood first on the Order Paper. When I saw the transposition and that the Mining Bill was to come first I certainly thought, "Here now is the Government's plan. Before asking the men to swallow that abhorred pill, the Eight Hours Bill, they will give them, a few days in advance, sugaring for it in the form of a full measure of reorganisation, in which they will see a genuine effort not to take something from them but to take it from the other side." What do we find? The sugar they have put round that pill is so thin that, so far from destroying it, it only brings up the nostrum. What is the quid pro quo for this Eight Hours Bill, an extension for the first time in the history of mining, contrary to every Commission, contrary to every pledge, contrary to the whole trend of legislative proposals? The quid pro quo is amalgamation. What does the Report say? It says that the owners never will amalgamate, that if you leave the initiative to them you will have no amalgamation. The Commission thought it necessary, if amalgamation was to be brought about, for the State to step in actively to enforce it, and they recommended the State to put into their first Bill that amalgamation would be enforced in three years' time, so that the threat, like the Derby Scheme, would force men to do voluntarily what they knew they would have to do compulsorily. In the Government's Bill there was nothing about compulsion to amalgamate in three years' time, but only that in three years time a Report was to be made to the Board of Trade. I merely mention that to show what a poor return we are getting.
893 What is the outstanding feature of this Eight Hours' Bill compared with the Report? The Report says that of all things there ought to be no extension of hours. It said that that was bad, because it would repeat and emphasise what the subsidy had done. It would create a greater output of coal, it would create lengthening of hours abroad so as to keep up with the competition, it would produce a fall in prices, it would destroy the fund out of which wages were to conic, and it would only aggravate the evil caused by the subsidy. I do not say that; the Report says it. Then it says, in effect, "Though we were not asked, we strongly recommend that there should be no increase of hours, even though the men want it themselves"—and it is hard to refuse it!—"we sincerely hope they will not want it because it is so bad for the industry." But pending reorganisation, pending the buying out of the minerals, pending the establishment of the Coal Commission that is to radiate regulation and the reorganisation of the whole industry—it cannot be done otherwise!—the Commission asks the men temporarily to put up with—what? A reduction at most of 10 per cent. of their wages. That is what this expert body says. What do the Government say? "We, the Government, who are not experts, and have not gone into it, and have set up this very Royal Commission and have said we were willing to abide by it, are faced by the suggestion that if you drop 10 per cent. of your wages you need not lengthen your hours." That is met by saying: "You will both drop 10 per cent. and lengthen your hours." That is what this Bill says.
We are told that the Bill is only permissive. Of course it is only permissive. It is only an enabling Bill! What does it do? The owners have come forward and said: "If you give us the power we will enforce the eight hours." Is that an enabling Bill? It is enabling in the sense that you might say to the publican: "We enable you to open an hour longer, and then you may close." Exactly! It is said this is only to last for five years; that it is only a temporary measure. If I were a miner, I would say: "Much as I regret the lowering of my wages I would not have a moment's hesitation in saying that it must be so; cut my weekly wages but do not lengthen my hours, because if you cut the wages, as prosperity returns 894 to the industry then the pressure of economic forces and trade unionism will drive that wage up again as high as it can go." Once, however, lengthen the hours and what will be said later, when the five years is up, and the miner comes forward through Ins representative and says, "Now shorten the hours again." What will be the cry? Not in this House, but throughout the country. "Because of the lengthening of the hours in 1926, Germany has lengthened her hours, France has lengthened her hours; so have other countries." We shall have a howl and it will be said: "Here we are now just getting over the hill: the industry is just again being put upon level ground"—and they will not withdraw the eight hours. They will say: "How can.we reduce them now when others have put them on?" And the feeling also in the country will be so strong that I do not think there will be any Government that will have the courage to do it. You have an illustration of what will occur in the Bill annually brought forward—the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill. It will be said that this Act had better be included because it will help Great Britain, and that this present Measure would fit well into that Act. I could mention half a dozen measures where there has been inserted the most express and emphatic provision that the Measure was only to be of temporary duration, but we find it in the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill, and carried forward. When I and others make our protest we are told the conditions are not now as was anticipated at the time the Bill was passed.
I intend, of course, to vote against this Measure. My sympathies are for a settlement. I have the greatest regard for the miner as an individual. I think he is a decent, steady, clean-living sober fellow, and I am quite sure that if he shrinks from the eight hours it is because he knows more about what it means than we here do. These men who do the work know why they will not have this Bill. We know what the Commission has said. We know what the Sankey Commission said. Every inquiry that has been made has said that lengthened hours are not needed. Is there, then, any alternative? There is. It is not to lengthen the hours, but to try to get as much out of the men as can be got. As one hon. Member has very truthfully said: It is not the case of 895 producing more, it is not a case of not producing too much. The eight hours is not needed for these things. What we need is willingness on the part of the men, and seven hours' willing service is preferable in every way to eight hours' unwilling service. There is no industry in the world where there is less fear, but what the men can do as required, but what will be the result of forcing this through Parliament?
What, then, is the remedy? I read the Report with the deepest interest as one of the most interesting, well-classified, and well-expressed books that I have ever had the pleasure of perusing, and the conclusion I drew from it is this: that that body of experts, anxious to tread on no one's corns, to put it as mildly as they possibly could, they in their Report regard the carrying on, broadly speaking, of the mining industry in this country as being exceedingly bad on the part of the management.
§ Mr. HARNEY
Cannot the House appreciate the statements in the Report without at all regarding the miners as unreasonable! Cannot hon. Members appreciate this? These men, that is the miners, say of the owners—certainly in my part of the country: "They will not pay us a decent wage, and because they will not pay us a decent wage we are to be asked to tighten our belts, bend cur backs for the benefit of every man who is responsible for equipment and management which prevents their paying a decent wage." That is the way they look at it. It is for those responsible for the organisation honestly to come forward and to say: "Our real work is to reorganise on lines of the Report." It is to show a genuine and honest desire, not to throw all the burden upon one class, but to show an honest desire to go really into drastic reconstruction. If this were done I could go to my constituents and say: "The Government really are setting about the matter now; not tinkering with the industry, but drastically, 896 thoroughly, and on scientific lines trying to reorganise it. Rome was not built in a day. Therefore, you men will be asked to take a slight reduction in your wages for the time being." I believe they would do it. But the reason of their objection is—and I believe there is a great deal to be said for it—because the industry and those responsible wish to put the whole burden on other parties, and so try to get off themselves scot-free.
§ Mr. LUKE THOMPSON
Before I deal with the main question I desire to raise in my speech, may I reply in a word or two to what has been said quite recently by speakers who have preceded me? May I refer, in the first place, to an observation that has been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney)? I, too, have read this Report with very great care, and I cannot find a single instance where the Commission wholeheartedly condemn the owners for lack of reorganisation as suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Then again, on the question of the subsidy, it is true that prices were materially reduced when the subsidy was given, but the thing which has never been expressed in the House is also a fact; and that is that it was due to the subsidy being given that there was a great deal of employment created, and a great number of miners returned to work which was directly due to it. It is a well-known fact that in Durham and Northumberland—I am quite sure the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) will agree with me—that there was a very heavy percentage of mines closed down in both those counties, and it was entirely due to the subsidy that re-employment was created. Taking this into consideration it was worth the Government's while to give the subsidy because of its excellent effect.
There is another thing. Several hon. Members have quoted certain figures relative to the hours worked in foreign countries. Whilst it is true that the hours per day are as quoted from the Report, we have not been told as to what are the hours per week as compared with this country. In Great Britain the hours are from 40¾ to 45 per week. Then the hon. Member quoted Holland 48, Germany 48, Upper Silesia 51. It is evident, therefore, that these are working full time, that is for the six days per week. That 897 makes a considerable difference. Beyond the hours there is another thing to which I want to refer and which was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for South Shields, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), and quite a number of other speakers. That is that this Commission in no way recommended the extension of hours. From one direction that is quite a fair statement. But the Commission did recommend something, and I should like to be permitted to quote the concluding remarks of the Commission on page 178. This is what I find:In conclusion, while we do not recommend the State, of its own motion, to make any change of working hours, or to endeavour to force upon the miners a longer working day than at present, this does not mean that if both employers and workmen were agreed in proposing a change the State should refuse to accede to their joint request. It is at least possible, though we hope not probable, that the amount of wage reduction or the alternative of unemployment that will be imposed on the industry if it is to continue with the present hours, may he such as to lead the miners to consider whether they should not escape from these troubles by some extension of working hours. If the Miners' Federation came forward with such a request, it would he difficult to argue that the State should refuse it.This Bill is permissive in its character, and it is practically anticipating what: this Report says regarding the possibility of an extension of hours.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
I will.The important objections to an extension of world rig hours would remain unaffected. Extension of working hours at this time of depression is not a natural but an unnatural way of reducing costs and meeting the immediate difficulty. On the other hand, looking away from the immediate difficulty to the time when the various measures which are proposed for reorganisation of the industry shall have had their effect, we see no reason why the standards of living and leisure already won should not be maintained.I entirely accept that, and I do not think it alters the statement I have made that the Government have anticipated the possibility of an extension of working hours. The reason I am supporting this Bill is because I believe it to be a practicable part solution of a pressing 898 problem. But let me be perfectly candid. I have listened with very great interest to the speeches made, and I think I have detected a desire on the part of hon. Members opposite to face this question from a different standpoint from that which has been adopted up to the present. I think the difficulty we are in is this. It is true that the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, offered to put into operation the Report of the Commission, but that was with the provision that the two parties agreed to accept it. The owners, on their side, made an offer which was not acceptable, but the difficulty is that up to the present moment there has been no definite offer from the other side—no movement of any kind whatever, only the definite statement, "We will not budge one penny or one minute." It is impossible to negotiate in a position like that, and it is impossible to expect that the Government could go on with specific proposals under conditions like that.
What are the alternatives offered by hon. Members as a solution of the problem in the industry? Reference has been made, I think by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Lunn), to the question of nationalisation. I think that looms very largely in the minds of hon. Members opposite. They think, and, possibly genuinely think, that it is the final solution of all the problems in the coal trade. But I feel it will be admitted that it is not a practical and it is not a present solution of the problem. Speaking on this point, the Royal Commission say:We felt bound not to recommend that unless we felt satisfied that there was Present a workable scheme offering a good prospect of success and a clear economic and social gain. We have seen. however, no scheme that will withstand criticism. We perceive grave economic dangers, and we find no advantages which cannot he obtained as readily or more readily in other ways.It will be seen that the Commission turned that down completely. It is only fair to say that the present Government will be obliged to oppose nationalisation; and so long as they are pledged against it there can be no possible present solution on the lines of nationalisation. Let me go on to a consideration of the question of royalties. Here it is suggested there is a partial solution. In regard to royalties, the Commission are very definite in the statement they make. We 899 are reminded, on page 82 of the Report, that, according to a return of the leases held, at present 60 per cent. of the out-put comes from mines the principal leases of which will not expire until between 1940 and 1950. The concluding remarks of the Commissioners regarding purchase of royalties are:The effect of such a course"—that is to say, if it were suggested that these leases should be allowed to fall in, or the present position were altered—upon the conduct of the industry meanwhile could not fail to be disastrous, and we do not know that anyone has.suggested it as a practicable measure.I think it is agreed on all sides of the House that it could be no solution of the present problem, for there is no disposition on the part of the Government, even if they did purchase royalties, not to charge a royalty rent, so that the royalty charge on coal would be merely transferred from one body to another. It would not affect economic production to the extent of one penny, nor would pithead prices be affected.
May I be allowed to say a few words on distribution? I and my family have been interested for the last century in the distributing side of the coal trade, and therefore I think I can claim to know something about it. Abnormal statements have been made regarding distribution. When we discussing the question the other day, a Member for one of the Nottingham Divisions made a rather extreme statement to which I took exception. He said that a particular coal merchant had delivered coal at 17s. 3d. per ton. It is unfair to judge a great industry by the isolated case of an isolated person. Hon. Members opposite would not care to have the trade union movement judged upon some dereliction of duty on the part of one officer, and it is unfair to judge the distributing trade by a single case or a selected number of cases. I would draw the attention of the House to the specific findings of the Commission on this question. They received evidence from all quarters, including merchants and wholesalers. The hon. Member for the Hillsborough Division (Mr. A. V. Alexander) was one of those who gave evidence, and I think his evidence can be relied upon, because specific reference 900 is made to it in the Report. On page 87 there is a table of comparative profits of the coal merchants arid the cooperative society, showing some 6½d. a ton profit in the one case and 11½d. in the other. As to the factors' part in the distributing trade, there is a comparative statement of the profits per ton of factors representing merchants and of the Co-operative Wholesale Society. In one ease it is 6d. per ton, and in the other case 2.3d. If we were to eliminate the full profit accruing to the factor, it would not appreciably affect—it might in part affect pithead prices—the price of coal, as these figures show.
Hon. Members opposite believe there is a certain amount of profit on the distributing side of the trade which could be intercepted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Precisely They think that this money could be used for increasing wages, or could he given in part to die consumer and in part to wages. It has been suggested that to prevent any rise in the price of coal we should allow municipal trading in coal. That will only mean adding another competitor. What happens in my own case? I buy coal at the pithead as cheaply as any municipality does, and if a municipality could deliver coal cheaper than I can or than any other merchant can, it would mean that the consumer would get the benefit. If hon. Members opposite mean by municipaling the sale of coal that they should intercept the relief which ought to go to the consumer, and fictitiously maintain the price of coal at the pithead, we should offer wholehearted opposition to any such proposal. A suggestion has been freely made in this House that prices are maintained by merchants throughout the country by means of "rings." I am glad nobody said "Hear, hear! "to that, because evidently that idea is killed, and if it be already dead I want to give it decent burial. On page 86 of their Report, the Commissioners accept without qualification this statement that was made:Consumers cannot have, or indeed desire, any stouter safeguard than the freest of competition at all stages of the production and distribution of the commodity they require. This they have. There is no ring,' and in addition to the competition between coal producers and distributors there is that of gat and electricity and oil, as alternative means of heating.901 The Commission accepted that absolutely. If I wanted to add one further word I should say that in my own town at present there is a disparity in the prices prevailing. There is a pit in the midst of our town, and usually it sells at prices which are below the possible selling price of the coal merchants. There are no railway rates attached to the delivery of the coal in this instance. We have a coal mine selling coal in competition with coal merchants who have varying prices, and the selling price showed a disparity of between 3s. and 2s. Od. in favour of the merchants as against the co-operative society. There was an equal difference between the merchants' price and the pit price. For anyone to suggest that there was a ring of merchants for keeping up selling prices in that district is absurd, because it is not true.
§ Mr. RITSON
Is the hon. Member not referring to a colliery where the customers are limited to a, certain few?
§ Mr. THOMPSON
Evidently the hon. Member knows more about it than the colliery owners themselves. There is not only a disparity in the price between the pithead and the merchants, but also between the merchants and the co-operative society representing between 2s. 6d. and 3s. a ton. I will now pass to the main problem which is how can we produce coal at the pithead at prices at which we can maintain the industry? I was speaking this week-end to one of the biggest engineers in the county of Durham, who is responsible for raising some 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 tons of coal each year, and he said to me:Away with your subsiduary ideas. It does not matter two strawe to me whether the royalties belong to the State or to private enterprise, or who sells the coal. What f want to know is at what price can I produce 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 tons of coal at the pithead. It must be an economic price, and if I cannot produce it at a certain price I am out of the market, and I am narrowed down to see whether we can produce at an economic point at the pithead which will enable us to compete in the world's market.It is because the tendency of this Bill will help us definitely in this direction that I 902 support it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] We have a right to our own opinions as well as hon. Members opposite.
It has been suggested that unification will meet all our difficulties, but I think too much stress has been laid on the word "unification." As a matter of fact, according to the Report of the Coal Commission, 83 per cent. of the produce of the pits of this country is produced by 323 concerns out of 1,400. There are instances in our midst in which unification has been carried out in some of the finest pits of Durham, where the equipment is nearing completion, but on the best authority we have had the statement made that you can press unification beyond its limits, and then your production becomes uneconomic, unwieldy and artificial. There is considerable difference between unification and reorganisation, and I believe that it is largely in our reorganisation methods that, we shall find release from the difficulties we are in. Let me remind this House that the coal industry is a wasting asset, and that every ton of coal you take out you cannot replace like you can in any other industry. The problem in that direction is two-fold. One of them has a financial aspect and the other an industrial aspect. I want to put before this House a, point which I do not think has been raised in this Debate, and it is that during the War period both owners and workers responded to the request of the Government, and the best seams and the softest seams of all the pits in the country were exploited.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
I did not say the pits were exhausted, but it is true that; every possible ounce of coal was got out during the War period and not a penny was spent upon the pits for re-equipment during that period.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Perhaps hon. Members will permit the hon. Gentleman to make his speech without interruption.
§ Mr. J. JONES
Will anybody be allowed to take part in this fight except those immediately interested?
§ Mr. THOMPSON
There is no doubt that after control the pits were left in an inefficient condition, and large sums of money had to be expended, and are still being expended at the present moment, to bring the pits up to date. Some of the rich companies have done that and others cannot afford to do it, arid alongside of reorganisation it is necessary that the pits should be re-equipped. Of course, this point is too long for me to go into details, but I think there is no room for recrimination in regard to it. The Commissioners have already stated that on this matter there is no need for mineowners to blame the miners or for the miners to blame the mineowners. We want the co-operation and co-ordination of the financial resources of the industry as well as the co-operation of the miners and the mineowners.
May I ask hon. Members opposite belonging to the Labour party, whom I regard with esteem and work amongst, and whom I have known all my life, whether the output has increased per man in comparison with certain other areas to be dealt with? I know we have had increasing difficulties in the coal trade. I have been told by expert opinion as well that there is great room and a margin for the breaking down of old customs in the pits. In my own county I am sure that, if there was re-equipment and a determination to break down all old usages and get the largest maximum output, the industry could once more be placed in a reliable economic position. Because I support this Bill, it does not mean that the men will necessarily work longer hours, it may be desirable to work five days with eight hours per 904 day. I have no authority to say that it would be more profitable to work on those lines, or do the extra work on another day at the week-end. I do not know whether this would create in the industry a state of peace and prosperity, but it might go a long way to assist.
Will the hon. Member give the name of the firm in Durham which is producing 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 tons of coal per annum?
§ Mr. BARKER
I wish to remind the Committee that the Report of the Sankey Commission stated that the present position of the coal industry stands condemned. The present Samuel Commission had devoted 18 pages to dealing with the structure and reorganisation of the industry, and they say on page 229 of the Royal Commission Report:Before any sacrifices are asked from those engaged in the industry, it shall he definitely agreed between them that all practical means for improving its organisation and increasing its efficiency should be adopted as speedily as the circumstances in each case allow.Inferentially in that paragraph the present condition of the industry is condemned. As a matter of fact there would be very little meaning in the Report itself if they had not condemned the present organisation of the industry. The hon. Member who has just sat down said that in regard to royalties 6d. per ton would not make any difference.
§ Mr. BARKER
If the hon. Member says he did not say that, then of course I withdraw my statement, but I believe he did state that the royalties did not materially affect the financial position of the industry. That is what I think he did say. Sixpence per ton is a very substantial figure and it means £60,000,000 in 10 years.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
What I did say was that it did not matter as regards the 905 price whether the royalties belonged to the State or were owned by private enterprise.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BARKER
There is something far more important than the 6d. per ton in reference to the royalties. The royalty owners are the stumbling block to reorganisation and development. Before there can be any reasonable reorganisation of the industry, the royalty owners will have to be removed. This is the second time since 1920 that the national mining industry has been completely stopped by the action taken, not by the miners, but by the colliery owners and supported in each case by the Government. Four Commissions have held inquiries since 1921, at very great cost of time and money, and many very carefully thought out schemes and proposals have been placed before this country as a remedy for the present disorganised state of the industry. In no single case has there been a recommendation to increase the hours of the miners underground. As a matter of fact, the Sankey Commission definitely recommended a reduction of the hours to six. When the time came that the millers could furnish sufficient coal for the needs of the. nation and the market, the hours were to be reduced to six. In my opinion, that is the solution, and the very best solution, for the present state of unemployment in the mining industry. To increase hours will inevitably increase unemployment.
§ There is a great deal being said with reference to the Commission. The Minister of Labour seems to make light of the Commission, and instead of replying to the charges made against the Government for not carrying out its Report, he mocked the Members on this side because, he said, we were not supporting the Report of the Commission ourselves. I want to say, with reference to that, that it has nothing to do with the issue before the House now. It was the Government itself that appointed the Commission and the Government itself is responsible for carrying out the findings of the Report. It is cowardly to put the blame on the miners or the owners it is the Government's own duty to carry out the findings of the Report. This is a reversal of legislation passed by this House in 1919. For 25 years the miners have been coming 906 to this House, lobbying the Members before there were any miners in this House. I myself came 25 years ago to the outer Lobby and the inner Lobby, lobbying Members of Parliament with reference to this matter. It has been before the country for a quarter of a century. That Measure was not, put on the Statute Book except after fullest deliberation. The hours, after they were made eight, were further reduced to seven after the careful inquiry of the Sankey Commission, presided over by one of the greatest Judges in this country.
I want to ask by what authority the Government brought in this Bill? Where had they their mandate from to reverse the legislation on the, Statute Book of this country? 1,100,000 miners to-day are locked out. Have they had any resolutions from these miners asking them to take this limitation of the hours off the Statute Book? They have had no invitation from either the miners or the public in this country, but they have had invitations from the coalowners and no one else. The coalowners in their propaganda said: "Concentrate on the extension of the hours." They have had a vigorous publicity campaign going on every day from that time to the present. The Government have become the advocates for the coalowners. They have degraded the functions of Parliament. They have turned this House into a partisan Assembly and are themselves more responsible than the coalowners for the present position. We have been chided on this side of the House for not supporting the Report. I want to bring the Government hack to their negotiations with the Miners' Federation and I want to know if they are responsible for making it a condition of negotiation that the miners' representatives should first of all consent to a reduction in wages and also—[An HON. MEMBER "Temporary!"] Exactly. What you say is temporary becomes permanent when it is on the Statute Book. "Temporary" is a political term that might delude and take in very simple people, hut it will not take in this party in this House. The leaflet which I have here states the proposals for the settlement of the mining dispute issued by the Government, and it says in paragraph 5:
for a period not exceeding weeks…the miners will accept a reduction of…
per cent in minimum wages other than subsistence rates in all districts.
I want to ask the Government if they think that is a fair way to conduct negotiations? Have any such terms as these ever been put before a body before negotiating a settlement with any Government or any organisation in this country? These are the terms and the conditions that are only imposed by a Government on a fallen foe. But the miners are not beaten yet. It is a scandal and a disgrace to the Government to make accepting a reduction of wages a condition before they proceed to negotiations. It has been resented by the miners and by the miners' leaders, and no leader would dare face the miners if he consented to such disgraceful conditions as these imposed by the Government. But the Government are trying to shelter themselves behind the attitude taken up by the Labour party and are themselves running away from the Samuel Report. I was surprised to hear the Minister of Labour say this afternoon that they were standing by the Report. I want to prove by reading extracts from the Report itself that the Government are not standing by the Report but are absolutely running away from it. On page 234 it says:
The standard length of the working day, which is now on the average 7½ hours underground, should remain unaltered.
It says further on page 166:
All the members of the 1919 Commission agreed in recommending reductions to this point.
That is, of seven and a-half hours. Then the Commissioners asked what would be the effect of restoring the hour taken off in 1919, and they answered very emphatically:
It would make the working day of every British miner longer by half an hour to an hour than that of miners in any European coalfield of importance, except Upper Silesia.
Further on they say, on page 235:
We cannot approve the proposal of the Mining Association that the gap between cost and proceeds should be bridged by an increase of an hour in tile working day.
These are very emphatic declarations made by the Commission themselves, the Commission that was appointed by the Government and took evidence and has cost this country over £6,000 to hold its
inquiry. Its Report is emphatically against the change in the hours. It says on another page:
Should the miners freely prefer some extension of hours with a less reduction of wages, Parliament would no doubt be prepared to authorise it. We trust, however, that this will not occur.
Have the miners freely agreed to this? It is an insult to suggest such a thing, but the Government have gone behind and have violated the Report and are trying to carry out the very things the Report itself has condemned. The Report further on again says:
Extension of working hours at this time of depression is not a natural but an unnatural way of reducing costs and meeting the immediate difficulty.
Could there be more emphatic declarations than these made against the policy of the Government? Why are the Government bringing in this Bill this afternoon? They say it is a permissive Bill. That is sheer hypocrisy, because if this restriction is taken off the Statute Book, the, owners will say that it is one of the first conditions of re-employment that the men work longer hours. The Government know that, and they are working in unison with the coalowners with reference to this matter. We are in this unfortunate position, that we are in a House of Commons with a Government that has a majority of 215 against all the combined parties of the House and can bring in legislation of this character without any mandate from the country. It can inflict the vilest charges an the people and we are powerless to prevent them. It is degrading the functions of Parliament, and the effect of their actions will live a long time after to-day. The most tragic part of the whole business is that it is not a remedy for the evils from which we are suffering. Something might be said for the proposals of the Government if they would be effectual, give the miners regular employment, resuscitate the industry and restore it to its former prosperity. Something might be said for it, and perhaps, in those circumstances, the miners might listen to some appeal that might be made to them. I shall, however, have to quote from the Report of the Commission again, because I find that the Government, when they are bringing in legislation of this character, evade, as far as possible, the findings of the Commission. The Minister of
Labour, in introducing the Bill this afternoon, spent nearly all his time talking about something that he said in this House weeks ago, and said very little about the Bill itself. I want to say here, and I am fortified by the Report of the Commission itself, that, instead of diminishing the evils from which we are suffering, the action of the Government is going to increase them. On page 173 of the Report the Commission say:
The calculation assumes that…the total output of coal will be increased…say, 30,000,000 tons or more…or, if the output is to remain unchanged, the number of miners employed will lie reduced by…say, 130,000 men…It is exceedingly difficult to suggest where that market is likely to be found in the near future.
Again, they say further on that this means adding something like 130,000 persons to the number of unemployed miners.
That is what the Government are doing, and they are doing it with their eyes wide open and in face of the warnings of the Commission which they themselves appointed. The Commission go on to say that the lengthening of working hours might be followed by reaction, both in country and elsewhere, which would neutralise much of the desired advantage. The Government are setting the pace for a reaction that will spread right throughout Europe and lower the standard of living of the workers of the whole Continent. They say further:
We are unable accordingly to recommend the acceptance of the main proposal of the Mining Association for a return to the 8½-hour day.
We, therefore, have the Commission emphatically and at every stage repudiating and warning the Government and the country against the folly of bringing in legislation such as we have here this afternoon. What are the recommendations of the Commission for dealing with the state of the industry? I do not think the Government have paid the slightest attention to the real findings of the Commission. They have, as I have said many times, ignored those findiings whenever they could possibly do so. Here is the final word of the Commission themselves, on page 237 of the Report:
The way to prosperity for the mining industry lies along three chief lines of advance: through greater application of science to the winning and using of coal,
through larger units for production and distribution, through fuller partnership between employers and employed. In all three respects progress must come mainly from within the industry. The State can Item materially by substantial payments in aid of research; by removing the obstacles to amalgamation under existing leases; as owner of the minerals by determining the conditions of new leases; by legislation for the establishment of pit committees and of profit sharing, and in other ways.
The Government have paid no attention whatever to this urgent appeal and these very valuable recommendations that have been made by this Commission. On the other hand, they are doing a most inhuman act in bringing in this legislation. I was reading, only on Saturday, "Unto this Last," by John Ruskin, in which he says that only criminals should work in mines, it is such a dangerous and unhealthy and foul industry; but he even stipulates that criminals should have a fair day's wages for the work they perform.
The Government are bringing in this legislation in face of the fact that this is one of the most dangerous industries in the world, that it killed last year 76 lads from 14 to 16 years of age, that it has injured over 170,000 men in 12 months, and the Government will be responsible for every single increase in the fatal list that will come from these proposals, if this Measure is put on the Statute Book and is carried out by our people. As one of the mining Members of this House, who represents a mining constituency that has been wrung by poverty for many years, I hope that the miners of this country will never for one moment look at the proposals of the Government, but that hey will endure to the bitter end against the tyranny and dastardly oppression that have been thrust upon them. To say that men should submit to-day to an increase in their hours of labour when they can produce now, working a seven-hour day from 30,000,000 to 50,000,000 tons of coal more than can be disposed of in the market is simply preposterous. [f there were an ounce of reason in this Assembly, this Bill would never have been brought in. It is because the Government have a majority who allow them to do their thinking for them, and who follow the Government like sheep into the Lobby, that they are able to impose a Bill like this upon the country.911
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
I have listened with a great deal of interest to a very able speech, which, however, from my point of view, was a little marred, if I may venture to say so, by rather a political bias. I think that this is a question which we have to look at from the strictly economic point of view. I have had a little difficulty in seeing why hon. and right hon. Members opposite should object to what is really a permissive Bill, but it has been pointed out to me in this Chamber and elsewhere that, after all, if power be granted to the employers to insist on a condition of eight hours' work, they will be in a position to say that this is a primary condition, and that they will not employ a man otherwise. I quite agree that that is so, but, after all, whatever may have been the faults of both employers and employés in the industry in the past, the employer to-day is up against very difficult conditions. You cannot force men to go down the mine and work there, and the employer is not going to suggest conditions which make it impossible for him to work. We have had a very touching picture drawn about the terrible difficulties of the miner and the hardships that he suffers, but I want to say at this point that it has been my privilege, in the Lothians and in Fife-shire, to know a good many miners—men working in mines—and, while they never minimise the dangers, yet the man who is accustomed to that sort of work would rather do that work than a good many other sorts of work, such as men who are employed on the railways are set to do.
We do not want to get any undue sentiment about hardships or otherwise. What we want to look at is the economic fact. The economic fact to-day is that, partly owing to the fault of the owners, partly owing to the fault of past Governments, and partly owing to the fault of the miners, the mines are not being operated on the sound economic basis on which they ought to be operated. The great difficulty, when one comes to matters of reconstruction, of reorganising the industry and putting it on a proper basis, is that, naturally, no one wants to make the first sacrifice. Ultimately, if the proper lines of reorganisation are carried out, there will be no sacrifice called for from anyone, but at first there 912 must be, and it is the same in international affairs, matters of international trade and everything. Who is going to make the first sacrifice? This is what we are up against. Reorganisation and unification in production and selling are the essence of this Report that we all want, with possible modifications, because it is not agreeable to all sides as it stands, but the main point of the Report is that we are to have this unification in production and in selling. Until this happens are we going to stand by and lose all the markets we can get? I do not think anyone seriously thinks the miners should work the same number of hours at a lower wage, but the suggestion has been made that they should work for longer hours at the same rate of pay. I quite see the miner's point of view. He says, "I am being asked, in the familiar phrase, to hold the baby, and I may be asked long enough to go on with that not edifying process. It is a case of jam to-morrow, but never jam to-day. When am I going to get my share of the jam? I am asked to make this sacrifice and I am told in a sort of vague way that when these schemes of reorganisation and unification of production and selling have gone through, then perhaps I may be able to work shorter hours, or at any rate to get a bigger wage for working longer hours." If I were a miner I should certainly want to call that bluff if I believed it was bluff. There is too much idea on either side, possibly arising from old differences when there was not the same spirit in the industry, that we are calling each other's bluff. We do not want to do that. We want to get to a working agreement.
What I suggest is this—and I think it is common sense—it may be perhaps such obvious common sense that it is not put forward. Before all these wonderful schemes are carried out, the miners might consent to work longer hours at the same rate on this very definite understanding, to be guaranteed by the Government, that, when the time comes for this improved system of organisation and working in the industry, the bulk of the mines making a profit and a tally being kept of the extra hours they have worked at the same rate, the first charge on the profits of the industry will be what we might call deferred pay to them for doing that—in other words, that they should lend their 913 labour at the same rate, and they will be repaid as a first charge on the profits of the industry when the prosperous times come, guaranteed by the Government, and if it takes more than a certain period, a year or 18 months—it is a delicate question for me to suggest it, as I have an interest in coal mines. I do not want to suggest this matter of the subsidy, but the Government has always suggested that, for certain purposes in carrying out these schemes, there should be a subsidy of some £3,000,000 for a period.
I will suggest that the guarantee of the Government should include this, that if these reorganisation schemes do not enable us to market our coal sufficiently cheaply in order to recapture the markets of the world and if, therefore, the miners having given way and made the sacrifice of longer hours for the same rate of pay, if they cannot be recouped from the industry, then up to that £3,000,000 in 18 months they will be paid by a Government subsidy. Another point has been put. We are producing coal at such a rate and yet we have no market for it. Why? Because we are not producing it cheaply enough, and to my mind the first step in order to reduce the cost of production is longer hours, whether you like it or not, but with the guarantee that the first charge on the profits of the industry will be to recoup you for doing that. That is the suggestion that in all earnestness I want to make. It has its difficulties, but there it is a definite understanding if it is arrived at, and it does not mean ultimately sacrifice for anyone. I believe it will nut the industry, which is our basic industry on a proper footing, and I recommend it very strongly to the consideration of the House.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I have been at a loss to find out why the Government should introduce this Bill. I should like to ask the Minister of Labour who has really asked for it. The miners have not asked for it and I know of no proper authority, with perhaps the exception of the coalowners, who are really desirous of extending the miners' working hours. A great deal was said during the course of the right hon. Gentleman's speech about the necessity of a, reduced price of coal, and I am afraid he and a number of other Members are of the opinion that 914 the major portion of the coal produced in this country is exported. Out of the 247,000,000 tons of coal produced in this country last year it was only about a fifth that had to compete with coal in various parts of the world, but notwith standing that fact we are asked to vote for the Second Reading of a Bill which is going to increase the miners' hours. Of course, we were informed that this is a permissive Bill. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman himself is simple enough to think it is only going to he for a temporary period? I wonder how many Members of the Government are of that opinion They may be honest, but I think they are more simple than honest if that is their opinion. Do they realise that three years ago Mr. Evan Williams, the President of the Mining Association, stated that he regarded it as one of the greatest mistakes of his life when he signed that portion of the Sankey Commission Report that reduced the miners' hours from eight to seven per day, and the whole of his efforts in the future were going to be directed towards increasing their hours? I am not so sure that the Minister of Labour and his colleagues have consulted the Coal Owners Association and inquired from them whether they think this is going to be a temporary measure. They know it is not a temporary measure. In 1921 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) told us it took £350,000,000 to defeat the miners. The hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) told an audience a week last Friday that this stoppage is costing the country £48,000,000 a day—£48,000,000 a week. Already the country has lost about £400,000,000 in an endeavour to defeat the miners again. This action of the Government has consolidated the miners more than anything else that has been done in the last 18 months. Why has it been done? I was very interested in an article in the "Contemporary Review" for the present month, written by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Viscount Sandon). He said:The Conservative party, with its honourable record of past achievements, is hampered in its great work of raising the conditions of our social life by various sections of people, such as notably industrial magnates, and those Press-writing admirals and colonels—though, needless to say, in 915 their ranks are a very great many of an entirely different calibre.That is the secret of the whole thing. The Prime Minister and the Alinister of Labour are simply voicing the opinions of the great industrialists who sit behind them, and not only the industrialists who sit behind them, but the industrialists who sit on the Front Bench: men who are not only interested in coal, but in those subsidiary industries that are so dependent upon coal. I do ask that the interests of the 1,20,000 men who are employed in the industry should have some consideration, instead of the few thousands of people who control the industry.
We may well ask where the Prime Minister stands now in connection with the statement which he made, and to which reference was made by the right hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh). The Prime Minister said:I wish to make it clear, as clear as I can, that the Government is not fighting to lower the standard of living of the miners. Cannot you trust me to get a fair and square deal for the miners?If this Bill is the kind of square deal which the Prime Minister and his party are prepared to give us, we do not want their square deal. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1908, speaking on the Mines Eight Hours Bill, said in this House:I see the miner emerging from the pit after eight hours' work with the assertion on his lips that he, at any rate, has paid his daily debt to his fellow-men. Is this House of Commons now going to say to him, 'You have no right to be here. You have only worked eight hours' Your appearance on the surface of the earth after eight hours' work is, to quote the hon. Member, a reckless and foolhardy experiment.' I do not wonder at the miners' demand. I cannot find it in my heart to feel the slightest surprise, or indignation, or mental disturbance at it. My capacity for wonder is entirely absorbed, not by the miners' demand, but by the gentlemen in the silk hat and white waistcoat who has the composure and the complacency to deny that demand and dispute it with him.The position of the miner is exactly the same at the present time. We do not wonder at the complacency of the miner, but we do wonder at the complacency of the people who are supported by the Minister of Labour and the right hon. and hon. Members who sit on the opposite side of the House. The 916 Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom I do not wish to quote too much, in a speech at Belfast three months ago, said:Even our much abused coalminers hew coal at a greater rate of output than any other miners in Europe.Our coalminers, with a working day such as they had until the 30th April last, hewed coal at a greater rate of output than any miners in Europe. One wonders why a Bill of this kind is introduced. I do not think that a single Member of the Government has given any attention to the real causes of the difficulty in the mining areas at the present time. Does the Minister of Labour realise that the consumption of coal in Europe has been reduced by something like 50,000,000 tons from what it was in 1913? Does he realise that in regard to the export of coal from this country the percentage is as high as it was in 1913? Does he realise that taking into consideration the total export of coal to the world, the position of this country is somewhat similar to what it was in 1914?
The miners of this country do not work a seven-hour day, but a seven hours and forty minutes' day. If the working day is to be extended by one hour, it will mean that the best miners in Europe, who produce more coal per man than any other miners in Europe, and who produce the best coal in Europe, will be working a longer day than any other miners in Europe. Let us see how the position will be if the miners work an eight-hour day. I have here a statement which appeared in one of the South Wales newspapers, to the effect that if we take Scotland, Northumberland, Durham and South Wales, the exporting areas, which export one-fifth of the coal produced in this country, there will still be a loss, even upon an eight-hour day, but if we take the Eastern Federated area, which made a profit of 7d. a ton in the month of February this year, if the miners there agree to an increase of their working day by one hour, with a corresponding reduction in costs, it will mean that the mineowners in the Eastern area will make a profit of 2s. 5d. a ton. That, I think, is the secret of the attack now being made by the Government upon the miners and their conditions.
We know that the Minister of Labour and his colleagues in the Cabinet are hoping that they are going to break 917 through the stoppage, and that there will be a number of men returning to work as a result of this Bill being placed upon the Statute Book. I think he and his colleagues are under a delusion. One of the best things they have done, as far as consolidating the attitude of the miners is concerned, has been to introduce this Bill. It shows not only to the coal miners, but to the country, that, at last, the Government have openly declared themselves on the side of the mineowners. If the working hours of miners in this country are to be increased, the Royal Commission referred to the fact that there would be a possibility of the mineowners in every other European country doing the same thing. Already we know that in Germany some of the mineowners have informed the miners that if the miners in Great Britain are called upon or forced to work an extra hour per day, it will mean that the miners of Germany will be called upon to increase their working hours. The same thing will apply to France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and all the other European countries. In three months or six months' time we shall see the Minister of Labour introducing a Bill for the suspension of the Eight Hours Act, so that the miners of this country may have their working hours increased to nine hours, to enable them to compete with other Continental countries. That is the logical conclusion, and, to be consistent, it is the only thing that the Government can do.
I read with a good deal of interest the article in the "Contemporary Review" by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. He said:When coalowners glibly talk of hours and wages, one wonders if they ever in their dreams see themselves down a pit, stripped almost naked, lying on their backs working with their picks at the coal face. This point can be overdone, hut it can equally be overlooked.We say that the point has already been overlooked by the Government. I wonder whether the Minister of Labour and his colleagues have visualised the conditions under which the miners of this country are working, whether they have ever been underground and seen miners, at least 50 per cent. of them, working with only a pair of trousers and a pair of boots on, and a number of them working without any clothes on whatsoever, 918 only a pair of boots, in an atmosphere which is almost impossible for living beings to endure. In the Coal Commission's Report, Major H. M. Hudspeth, mining assessor to the Commission, says:Several complaints dealing with bad ventilation and high temperatures appear to lie not entirely groundless…The discomfort evidently found by the men is in consequence of the extremely moist condition of the air in the working places, due to lack of air movement, or, in other words, inefficient ventilation. At two mines men were found to be working under conditions where the wet bulb temperature was in excess of 80 degrees Farenheit.… The temperatures in some other working places were 88 degrees dry and 84 degrees wet.I should like to take hon. Members opposite to work under conditions like that for a short time. I should like to take all hon. Members opposite to work, as I have had to work and other hon. Members on this side have had to work, under such conditions. They would not then be so ready to vote for an eight-hour day as they are at the present time. The Minister of Labour, in his speech on Saturday referring to the eight-hour day, said:An extension of hours of this kind could mean an immense economy in the production of coal. Such an economy again had two vast advantages. It enabled a better wage to be made to the men…Does the Minister of Labour realise that when the Prime Minister announced a week ago that it was the intention of the Government to increase the working day by an hour, that only 50 per cent. of the coal districts could pay a wage similar to that paid prior to the 30th April, that. 25 per cent. would suffer a reduction of less than 10 per cent., and the other 25 per cent, would suffer a reduction of the full 10 per cent.; and that only applied to day wage men. In almost every district pieceworkers would suffer a reduction varying from 14.2 per cent. down to 12 per cent., and in every case it would mean a reduction in the wages of the men employed in the mining industry of this country. The Minister of Labour went further and said that not only is it necessary for the purpose of paying increased wages, but that as a Government they had to think of the other great trades like the iron and steel trade and the shipbuilding trade. We know that the right hon. Gentleman has these trades in mind, but does he realise that for the production of a ton of pig- 919 iron, which takes two tons of coal, the total coal bill for the production of one ton of pig-iron is only 6d. more than it was in June, 1914, and to produce a ton of finished steel, for which four tons of coal is required, it was only- about Os. more in September last year than it was in June, 1914. It is not the high price of coal that is responsible for the depression in the heavy industries of this country.
There is no use appealing to the Government. They have definitely made up their minds. They will get their Bill. I do not envy them. I too have been home during the last week-end, and I know the feeling of the miners in connection with this question. You may force the miners to work eight hours a day, but it will only be through sheer starvation. This struggle has already cost the country £400,000,000. In three weeks the country has lost more in trade than it would have taken to pay all the miners employed in this country all their wages for a period of 12 months. In six weeks the country has lost more than it would have taken to pay all the miners their wages for two years—and the miners are not defeated yet. Then there is the question of reorganisation. Schemes have been brought to the notice of the Government, and to the public, under which a considerable amount could have been saved as a result of reorganisation. The late Sir George Elliot, a well-known mining authority, pointed out that it was possible to organise the mining industry in one unit. He said that the total value of the coalmines at that time was under £110,000,000 not too large to be manageable, and he estimated that as a result of working without the boundary barriers, leaving only those that were necessary for engineering purposes, it was possible to increase the output of coal by an additional 10 per cent. He estimated that unification would increase the profits of the coalowners by 10 per cent. to 12 per cent, and would not only give the mineowners of this country a guaranteed dividend upon the capital invested but would also bring the workmen into a profit-sharing scheme. It would also control the price of coal for the consumers of this country and enable the industry to start an insurance fund for the old and infirm workmen who could thus be maintained in fairly decent and 920 comfortable circumstances, after having given the best of their lives to the industry.
I am convinced that the mining industry is not going to be drawn out of its difficulties as a result of such pettifogging Measures as this. One wonders that the Government of this country have not a bigger mind and a broader mind, and instead of bringing in a Bill like this would settle down really to understand why there is this depression not only in the mining industry but in every coal-producing country in the world. If you get your eight hours Bill, if you force the miners of this country Lo work eight hours a day, you are burning into the souls of 1,200,000 people a desire for revenge, to fight back as soon as possible to get what they obtained as the result of the Sankey Commission. We may he assured of this; after this terrible struggle the miners, in the course of the next four or five years, whether it be a Conservative Government in power or not, will be as ready to remove this Act from the Statute Book as the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite are ready and willing to place it upon the Statute Book.
Brigadier - General CHAVITERIS
All who have listened to the Debate so far will agree that for a portion of it there appeared to be some attempt to introduce a new spirit; as if there Was a desire to come together on the two sides. Latterly I agree, that the answer would have to be "No" if a question was asked at the moment. The speeches have become somewhat more bitter, the references to the Coal Commission's Report are less humorous than they were at the commencement of the Debate. But all the same, I feel that hon. Members who have attended to the Debate so far must have noticed how often, on both sides, an appeal has been made to the Report of the Commission. Members on this side have quoted the Report in favour of their arguments, and hon. Members opposite have anxiously quoted it from their points of view. 3t appears to me that if there is really any need for these continued appeals to the Report, it argues that there is in the minds of hon. Members, just as there is in the minds of the people of the country, a belief in the value of the Report, a belief in the impartiality of those who made the Report, and a belief that if effect could 921 be given to the Report, as it stands, there might be an issue out of the difficulties which now beset this industry. But the Report, undoubtedly, did leave ambiguities and obscurities, and, equally certainly, the Report did not—because the Commissioners were not called upon to do so—offer any precise terms as to what they considered was a solution of the present difficulties. The Bill is reviled on the other side because they say that it. is a permissive Bill. They say, also, that it is not included in the Report. They say that although it is only a temporary Measure, it will become permanent.
As to the last contention, I would state that that is riot the view of such of the coalowners as I have spoken to. 1 have no connection with them of any sort. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them!"] I will tell you what was said first, and I will give the name afterwards. He said that so far from their regarding this Bill as a permanent Measure, they reviled the Government because it was not permanent, and they agreed with hon. Members opposite to the extent that they said that because it was only a five years' Bill, "the reduction which we shall have to enforce in wages in certain areas will be, let us say, 10 per cent. worse, but if it were a permanent Measure we should be prepared to reduce it to 5 per cent." He urged me to come to the House and ask that the Bill should be made permanent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is he?"] I will not state the name in the House, but I will give it. privately.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
I must ask hon. Members to allow the hon. and gallant Gentleman to continue his speech without interruptions.
One is entitled to know the name of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's informant. A statement may be made, as was done by other speakers, and immediately we got the information as to what the firm was we were able to show that the statement was false from beginnnig to end.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has stated that the people with whom he was conversing had said that if the present Bill was made per- 922 manent the reduction in wages that they would enforce would be considerably less. That statement is entirely different from any other statement that we have ever heard. We would like to know who was the hon. and gallant Member's informant.
§ Brigadier-General CHARTERIS
My point is exactly the- one that that interruption brings out. I do not agree that this should be a permanent Measure—very far from it. I regret that it has to be brought in at all. My point is that the coalowners anyhow do not regard this as a. permanent Measure. I feel certain that the vast majority of Members of the House would be exceedingly anxious to ensure that it is not at present made a permanent Measure. That certainly is my own view. The point to which I was coming was not quite that. I hold no brief for the coalowners. I have no interest whatever in the industry.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. KIRKWO0D
On a point of Order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he was prepared to give the name of someone to whom he had been talking, a mine-owner. We do not want to know the name privately. This is no private Bill and this is no private matter. It is something which means death or life to thousands of our people and we want to know the name. These statements have been challenged before and we are going to challenge them here now. The hon. and gallant Member is not getting away with his bluff every time, even supposing lie was a General in the British Army.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It is not uncommon to state what some individual said without giving his name. The hon. and gallant. Member has promised to give it privately if it is desired.
§ Brigadier-General CHARTERIS
My point was that surely all these appeals to the Report do lead us to some indication of how we might get a solution. I support this Bill, but I would immediately withdraw my support if one condition were satisfied—if I saw in the withdrawal of my support any suggestion of another proposal which might bring peace in the dispute; if, for instance, it were possible that some proposals could be brought forward even now which would ensure that some authority could suggest conditions which 923 would be accepted by all. I suggest to hon. Members opposite, and on this side, that, as they are constantly appealing to the Report, and as there are obscurities and ambiguities in the Report, is it not possible for the Government to be asked to recall the Commission, and let it elucidate its own ambiguities and obscurities; further than that, to say now, with all the knowledge that they have in their possession and in the light of further knowledge since they made their investigation, whether they cannot indicate a line on which they consider a solution could he reached. I believe that the decision between longer hours or increased reduction of wages is a matter for the men to decide for themselves. It is obvious that to get cheaper production of coal there must be either increased hours or a still greater reduction of wages. It is fair that the decision should be left to the men, if it is possible to get the men's opinion.
I believe that the Coal Commission did indicate that, although the door should be left open for the men to decide, it would be better to obtain the desired effect by a reduction of wages than by an increase of hours. If that proposal were made, if the Government did recall the Commission and charge it with this task of laying down some definite indication of the lines along which the industry could be reorganised, and if, as the whole country would expect, the Government implemented its promise to carry out all the obligations which would be imposed on it in the Report, I am sure that it would be able to implement it under those conditions. If we saw some sign here of such an attitude of mind in hon. Members opposite, if the Coal Commission did make some recommendation of that sort, the Public opinion of the whole country, quite apart from those involved in the dispute, would so rally round the opinion of the Commissioners that we should get some means of bridging the gap and achieving a result whereby the industry could recommence work.
§ Mr. C. EDWARDS
The last speaker lamented that bitterness had been introduced into this Debate, but I ask is it any wonder that bitterness should be brought into it? It is no wonder whatever. This is a Bill for which we never asked and which we never intend to operate. Four 924 days are to be given to this Bill. They are four days of Parliamentary time wasted. In face of a stoppage which has already lasted for eight weeks, with every mine in the country stopped, with 1,000,000 men out of work, and with most of the other big industries stopped or only working intermttently on foreign coal—which has been brought in to beat the miners—the Government bring forward this contribution towards a settlement. This Eight Hours Bill and that other which was brought in last week, will not touch the problem. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) asked why was this Bill brought in. I am going to tell him. It was brought in because the coalowners ordered the Government to bring it in, and for no other reason. The Prime Minister last week used another word, and said he had been "authorised" by the coalowners to say that they were prepared to do so-and-so. I might also use that word, and say the Government have been "authorised" to do this. They have been told to do it, simply becaues the coalowners for some time past have been talking about an eight-hour day, and in some cases have put up notices at the pit tops offering men who would work eight hours certain rates of wages. They knew they were acting illegally in doing so. They were asking men to do what was not right according to the law. Yet there are a good many men in gaol to-day for merely saying certain things which were held to be subversive of the public interest—
The coalowners having put up these notices now tell the Government, "Put us right as soon as you can; bring in your Eight Hours Bill and get it through as quickly as possible." The South Wales coalowners are, I understand, meeting to-day, and are talking about putting up notices to-morrow or next day. I suppose they say to themselves that it will only he a day or two before this Measure is passed. They are going to risk it and put up notices telling the men that if they work eight hours they can come back at the same wages for three months, and then goodness knows what may happen. That is why this Bill has been brought in, and I do not think the Government can deny it. The coalowners in some things have acted astutely. They have stood aside and allowed their agents to do their work, and their agents are the Government of 925 this country. I never heard a statement like that of the Prime Minister that the coalowners had told him to say so-and-so. The Prime Minister of Great Britain to be ordered by a few people like the coalowners to say so-and-so ! It does not add to the reputation—
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
As this statement has been made about the Prime Minister in his absence, may I, on his behalf, tell the hon. Member that the Prime Minister never said anything of the sort.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Does the right hon. Gentleman actually deny that the Prime Minister said that the coalowners had authorised him?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That is quite a different matter. What the hon. Member said just now was that the Prime Minister had said that the coalowners told him to say so-and-so.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I used three words, "ordered," "authorised" and "told." I do not see the difference between them. The Government from the very beginning of this dispute have proved themselves to be the representatives of the coalowners who have stood aside as if they were not in the dispute at all and left the Government to act for them. The coalowners of this country are responsible for the present position. The Prime Minister used to be looked upon as a very honest man, and I am rather sorry that he seems to be getting away from that position, but I am forced to the necessity of saying so. The right hon. Gentleman promised us a square deal. Is this Bill a square deal? Was the Bill of last week a square deal? There is no square dealing or fair dealing in them for the miners. The only good thing about this Bill is that they say it is temporary. Well, five years is temporary in a lifetime, but five years is sufficient to make this permanent if the same people continue to occupy the benches opposite. The only thing that will make it temporary is the coming into power of the party on this side. If we get there, as we are going to get there sooner or later, it will be temporary. Then we are told it is "permissive." What is meant by that? Is it hoped that the miners will give way once the eight hours' day is made legal and 926 notices on the pits such as I have described have been exhibited? It is merely childish to talk in that way. We go among the miners; we do not get our knowledge of them from the "Daily Mail." I see that the "Daily Mail" sends down to the mine districts to find people who say they are most anxious to work eight hours if they were only free to do so. What childishness! There is no other word for it. It is merely nonsense to talk in that way, and if something besides this Eight Hours Bill is not done, the men are not going to work this year, whatever may happen next year. I have never seen the men firmer. They are going to stick it, and they will not alter one iota. We shall be in exactly the same position after this Bill has been passed, with this exception, that the men will be more bitter than they were before.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the hours worked by miners. I suppose the Press goes out deliberately to mislead the general public on this point. I think 80 per cent. of the people of this country compare our seven-hour day with the eight-hour day in Germany, and I wonder how many hon. Members opposite think in the same way. I wish I were made a dictator for about five minutes, and I would make it compulsory on every man who sits in this House to work down a coal pit under exactly the same conditions as the miners, until they had been there long enough to enable them to speak on this matter with some knowledge about it. That is not the case to-day, and there is a lot of misunderstanding. There are men who are down the pits for nine hours a day. Is not that long enough? I think I have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) talk about 5f hours at the coal face. I do not know where he got that figure. He must have taken seven hours from bank to bank, and then the man might only be 5½ hours actually at the face, but lie must have gone down on the last cage and come up again on the first cage. But that does not apply to piece-workers at all, because if the man had to walk the distance indicated underground it would take him three-quarters of an hour, and I may say that walking underground is in itself hard work. I worked in one pit for 20 years, and had to go down a dip of over two 927 miles, and work hard all day with the prospect of coming back again before me all the time. Walking underground is not child's play but hard work, and pieceworkers who are paid by results are not the last down and the first up, and there is no such thing as a 5½ hours.
The coalowners have never yet operated the seven-hours' day and have never tried to do so. There should be more carrying men backwards and forwards underground than there is to-day and some attention should be paid to that matter. They have, in some places, arrangements for bringing men down and up, as a result of which they get their full seven hours at the face and not only that, but the man is fresh going in and while he is at work he knows he will be carried out again which is a very different thing. I was speaking to some coalowners the other day. Sometimes one meets reasonable men even among coalowners when one meets them privately and gets them away from the others. One of these coalowners told me that the difficulty came from the mines inspectors who would not give permission for this to be done. I do not know why that should be, unless the roads are in a bad condition and, if so, it would certainly pay the coalowners to put the roads into proper condition. This is a very important consideration. They ought to try to work the seven hours, and as I say they have never tried to work. Recently I was given an instance about the afternoon shift—where they clear the coal out and so on—and I was told that in one case there was not a single horse on that afternoon shift that had not been out on the morning shift. You have to feed horses whether you feed men or not, and the result was that two hours was taken out of that second shift. These are not isolated complaints. It is a common complaint that the owners have never tried to work the seven-hours' system as they ought to work it, and they should make an effort in this direction before they ask for longer hours.
I was speaking recently to four men who in a week had produced 100 tons. That means "some" work, but they had been given facilities and had taken advantage of those facilities as the pieceworker always will. Between the four of them they got 100 tons, and they were paid at 2s. 3d. a ton, plus the national 928 percentage, which made it about 3s. ld. per ton. They were not, however, paid for the 100 tons, but only for 72 tons of large coal, and the company had 28 tons of small coal for nothing. Yet they say the pits do not pay. There are a number of things that could be done in the pits to make them pay, but as long as the coalowners, with the assistance of the Government, can take it out of the wages of the men, it is the simpler thing to do, and they do not trouble about organisation or anything else. My opinion is that, if the coalowners were offered eight hours, bank to bank, the same as they have on the Continent, they would not have it. It would not pay them to have it. The men would not be at the face as long as they are to-day on piece-work, it would not pay the owners to have eight hours, bank to bank, and I believe they would refuse it. I worked in the pits when we worked more than seven, or eight, or even nine hours. I worked in the pits when we did not see a bit of daylight from one Sunday to the next., unless it was for about half-an-hour on the Saturday afternoon. Some people may say: "You do not look bad after it, and it would be no worse for others than it has been for you," but it is the fact that I worked like that that makes me opposed to this Bill. I do not want the young people of to-day to be shut out from the daylight, year after year, excepting on one day of the week, as I was. Seven hours' coal winding is long enough for anybody, and they are working that time to-day.
The miners' wages are expected to subsidise everything. The shipowners want cheap ships, the shipbuilders want cheap iron and steel, and so on, and to get them there must be cheap coal, and it comes back on the miners. Instead of attending to the organisation of the mines and making them workable, as they ought to be made, the coalowners say:" We will go for the wages of the workmen." That has been the cry all the way through. They talk about Cook's parrot cry of "Not a penny off the pay," and so on, but there. is another parrot cry that the other people have, and that is, "Reduction of wages, increase of hours." That is all that they can say, and that is what we are hearing day after day. There have been sufficient reductions in the last few years, and my opinion is that there is one thing that 929 would be better for the coalowners of this country than any reduction of wages or increase of hours, and that is a long agreement. I believe that if they were given an agreement for three or four years, with an independent Chairman to settle it for another three or four years, it would be the best thing that could happen to this industry. If there is to be a reduction of wages, we shall make the agreement as short as possible, and if there is to be any increase of hours, there will be nothing but agitation until that is put right again, but if the owners were given a number of years, so that they could lay out their work, and plan it, and so on, it would be the best thing that could happen to them. I am surprised that some of the coalowners have not turned to this side of the question. What are wanted in the coal industry more than anything else are stability and peace, and that is the only way in which you can get them. I really believe that a long agreement would be of more service to the coalowners and to the industry than anything else. We oppose this Bill, and shall continue to oppose it. There is no sign whatsoever that it will be accepted by a single miner in the country, and when you talk about taking a ballot, you can take what ballots you like, and you will find the men exactly the same. We oppose this Bill as strongly as we can, and shall continue to do so.
§ Mr. G. W. H. JONES
I have listened to the various speeches that have been made by hon. Members opposite with very great interest. They have opposed, with great power, if I may say so, the proposal of the Government for an eight-hours (lay, but it has been a great disappointment to me, hearing one of those speeches after another, that there has not been a single constructive proposal put forward to deal with the immediate problem that we have to face. It is no good condemning the Government for bringing in this Bill. Here is a problem that has to be solved somehow, and unless hon. Members put forward something on that basis which will be a solution, they are not helping either the miners or the country. The only exception was the proposal put forward by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. C. Edwards), who has just sat down, that the coalowners and the miners should have their wages settled by some 930 sort of arbitration, with a permanent Chairman.
§ Mr. JONES
I was glad to hear that proposal, because it sounded to me as though at any rate the hon. Member For Bedweilty, speaking on behalf of the miners, is prepared to accept the principle of arbitration under an independent chairman, which is a very hopeful way of avoiding trouble in the immediate future. I am sorry the hon. Member does not go so far as to be willing that some such machinery should he available now. The hon. Member says that the miners ire expected to subsidise everything, at the expense of their wages, but surely he forgets that coal stands in a very special position. It is not like a minor industry, in regard to which, if it succeeds or fails, we are so much the better or the worse of as the case may be. We were a poor country until coal was utilised as a means of obtaining power and light, and we shall he a poor country again if we cannot make proper use of our coal reserves. It is the basis of our country's prosperity, and my reason for intervening in this Debate is not because I claim any expert knowledge on this question, but because I think it is essential that the national interest in this question shall he carefully borne in mind, and that the mineowners and miners shall know that, if they wreck this industry, it is not merely upon themselves that the evil results will fall, but on the whole country and its industries and on every man, woman and child in it.
It is essential that those who are in the mining industry to-day should face the facts. If the hon. Members opposite will forgive me saying so, that is the one thing which I do not think any of their speakers have (lone so far. We have here a position in which this vital industry is losing money as to something like 73 per cent. of its output. That cannot go on. It is all very well to say: "Not a penny off, and not a minute on," hut how are you going to run an industry in which three-quarters of its production is produced at a loss? Something has to be done. Hon. Members opposite talk about reorganisation, and I am the last to deny that probably great things can be done in that direction, but you cannot do that all at once. The Commission state that it will 931 take months, and possibly years, but in the meantime—
§ Mr. JONES
The hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) is illustrating the very point I am putting, namely, that they are not facing the facts of the situation. What is the use of talking about four Commissions that we have had in the past? We have to deal now with a strike, in which a million men are out of work, and it is of no use for hon. Members to talk as they have been doing about reorganisation. That will not solve the immediate problem. It may be of very great advantage in the future, but it will take months, and possibly years, and, after all, there are many very efficient mines, so far as I can follow the figures, in which a loss is being incurred to-day. The loss is not entirely due to inefficiency, and the Coal Commission have made it quite clear that many of the miners' representatives have expected far too much from reorganisation.
The position is that is. 6d. a ton was being lost on the average on every ton produced in this country. Nobody, as far as I can see, says that reorganisation would make that much difference. If it does not, it is quite clear you have got to look to something more far-reaching than re-organisation. The immediate question we have to decide is, how are we going to get these mines working now? On what terms can you start them? It is quite clear, and I think nobody disputes the fact, that you cannot pay the old wages on the seven-hours day. What is the result? Nobody, as far as I know, except perhaps Mr. Cook, and one or two more—but nobody in this House—advocates an increase of price, because everyone admits that that would kill trade and is impracticable. Nobody advocates, as far as I have followed the Debate, a subsidy. The country will not stand it, and I am glad to say, will not be a party to it, and beyond the extent of £3,000,000, already promised, the Prime Minister has made it plain that the Government will not go. After all, a subsidy is extremely unfair to the rest of the com- 932 munity, for the bulk of it, or a very large portion of it has to come from men who are earning less than the miner and working longer hours.
§ Mr. G. JONES
If the hon. Member for Silvertown so thirsts for information, I shall be very pleased to give him some information.
§ Mr. G. JONES
I can give the hon. Member a list setting out the various trades in the country, but I think the House is already sufficiently acquainted with the facts. If we leave out the question of a subsidy as being no longer open as a. solution, there are only two alternatives left, and these are wages or hours. It has either got to be lower wages or lengthened hours. I am one of those who was quite convinced by the Prime Minister's point that it might be better, if you are confronted with those two alternatives, to choose longer hours instead of lower wages, because the effect of lower wages means that the standard of living is reduced in the entire family, and that is an extremely bad thing. An extra hour only affects the miner himself, and I can quite conceive that many miners will say that rather than have a lower standard of living for the family they are prepared to work, during this temporary crisis, for a, longer period of half-an-hour or an hour, as the case may be. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are not many miners who say that!"] That may be, and I am very sorry there are not more, because if you do not have longer hours, the Commission show that, for the immediate problem, you must have lower wages, which I should very much regret to see.
I understand that the miners or their representatives take the view that rather than work longer hours they would have lower wages. I regret it. I think the Commission was not right in the line they took, but they took it, and if the miners prefer that alternative, so be it. But I am not quite sure that those who speak so confidently for the miners are quite right, and I am encouraged to think that by the very strong opposition put forward to this Bill. If hon. Members who represent the miners are so confident that the 933 miners will not accept it, why this strenuous opposition to the Bill? Why not say, "Pass the Bill and laugh at it, because we know the miners will not respond." I am inclined to think that a great deal of the violent opposition to the Bill is due to the fact that some hon. Members are a little uneasy as to the possibility of the miners, when consulted individually, preferring the solution of the Government to any reduction of wages.
§ Mr. JONES
We do not want General Elections every 12 months, but when one does come, we on this side are not afraid of it. 1 notice the Opposition are always very optimistic about General Elections, and I remember the Leader of the Opposition was going to sweep the country last time, but he did not. After all, what this Bill does is to say that those men who want to work longer hours, upon terms to be agreed, shall be free to do so. I cannot for the life of me see any objection to giving the men that chance. After all, men have the right to work and live, if so minded, without any dictation from anybody, and if the miner says that instead of taking a reduction, which may be considerable as things stand, he prefers to work an extra hour or half an hour, 1 cannot see why he should not be allowed to do so. When hon. Members talk about the hardness of the miners' work—and I would be the last to say anything to the contrary—we must bear in mind that at the present time the English miner is working less hours than anybody in the world—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—and under this Bill though that state of affairs might no longer exist, I do not think I am wrong in saying that he would be working less than the American workman. At any rate those who are to support the Government in this Measure do so, not because they like it, but because something has got to be done, and this offers in our judgment a better solution than anything else which has been advanced. If 934 hon. Members keep on objecting to every proposal of the Government, what is their proposal for the immediate solution of the problem?
§ Mr. JONES
You say you will have the Report? Well, if the hon. Member will look at page 236, he will see the first thing there recommended is an immediate reduction of wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "No! "] If hon. Members will look at the Report, they will find the Commission laid it down that you have got to have one of two things, either a reduction of wages or longer hours, to deal with the immediate problem, and upon that page—
§ Mr. JONES
Page 236 is a much better page, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look at that page, he will find this is the very thing the Commission has recommended. This is not a, matter of argument; it is in the Report. If hon. Members are prepared to accept the Report unconditionally, I shall be very glad if they will say so, because it means that this question is settled. The fact of the matter is they will not take the Report because they know the implication in regard to the immediate problem, and in the absence of taking the Report they are submitting nothing towards a solution of the difficulties with which we are faced.
I am going to vote for the Bill, because I hope and believe it will do some good. Whether that be so or not, I think it is worth trying, and I prefer the Government, who are making an honest attempt to settle the problem, to those hon. Members of the Opposition who do nothing but criticise, and who, while they are overwhelming the miners with sympathy, are absolutely incapable of putting forward anything constructive to help them in this distressing situation.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I rise for the purpose of supporting the Amendment that has been moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh). I do so because I am convinced of its correctness, and because the Bill will not bring peace into the coal industry in any circumstances whatever. Also I believe that the Government have waited until they think that the miner and his family are so suffering from starvation that they will accept anything the Government like to bring forward. It is unnecessary and useless on the part of the Government to introduce legal powers for any extension of the hours. I am thoroughly convinced that longer hours would not improve the condition of affairs, which for long have been a disgrace both to the Government and the mineowners; and the better plan would be not to ask for an extension, but for the sake of humanity to ask for a further reduction in the hours that men work in coalmines.
For over 30 years I worked in a coalmine, and when I got down the pit I had to walk for 75 minutes from the shaft bottom to the seam where I was working; even then what I could earn was not sufficient for my wife, myself, and family. I had 75 minutes' walk back when I finished my work. On the whole of the road, the haulage way, I was travelling underground. I passed empty wagons that were being brought out, but there was no thought on the part of the mineowneis of helping the men in and out, and all this time I was carrying my equipment, my safety lamp, my food, or "bait," as it is called, and five pints of water that had to serve me while I was underground. A lot of the time I was engaged in travelling I was either touching the roof or touching the side; I had to dodge various obstacles as I went on. I was told it was not safe to carry the men in and out. I ask, was not that a further admission of inefficiency. If on one occasion the pony I was with had not been larger than I was I would possibly have lost my life instead of the pony sustaining a severe injury.
In view of all this I am working as strongly as I can work to improve the conditions and make them better than they are to-day. There are many improvements that have to be made, too, on the part of the owners who seem sometimes forgetful of the fact that they are in 936 charge of mines which are absolutely necessary and essential for the welfare of the mining population and the country generally. Beyond certain obvious and necessary reforms, it would appear to me that unification first, and nationalisation afterwards, are essential if the mining industry is to be carried on profitably for all parties. The coalowners say they are losing in many cases on the production of coal; but assuming for the moment they get an eight-hours day, there will not only be the increased production to consider—if there is increased production—but also increased expenses, and after all things have been considered the position will be much as it is at present. The Government suggest by their Bill that the miner is the only one at fault. and that there is no fault to find with the management. I have known mines in the County of Durham where they have made 100 per cent. Coalowners want to take all this.
The only way to bring real peace in the mining world is for the country to take control of this basic industry. It is an industry we cannot do without. It is a basic industry for all our other trades; but why should this industry be asked to subsidise every other industry so that individuals can make profits in them? We have been told that we cannot get more money out of an industry than is in it. I am not satisfied that a good deal more could not he obtained out of this industry. There are colliery companies engaged in subsidiary enterprises which transfer their coal to those industries at such prices that it is no wonder the mines do not pay, and the wages of the miners, which are dependent on the money coming from that source, suffer in consequence. They transfer coal to gas production and to electricity companies in which they are interested, and the prices they obtain have an effect on the profits of the pits. Some of them are also interested in subsidiary companies dealing in iron and timber. We have warned the Government of these things. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson) told the House of a colliery in his area which, he said, was underselling local coal merchants in the retailing of coal. We know how little coal that colliery company sells in Sunderland. They have refused the Corporation coal for electricity purposes. They would 937 rather send the coal to London, paying shipping charges and transport charges here, than sell it in their own area. Why? Because if they ship it, then ships will get a profit for carrying the coal.
We have learned all these lessons and we are asking for something like a fair and square deal, such as the Prime Minister promised the miners should have. If the Government would look after the interests of the men and put the business on a firm and sure footing then in a very much shorter time than people think the coal industry would again be a useful industry. We have to make up our minds whether or not this industry is to remain as dead as it is to-day. If you think that by passing this Bill you are going to compel the miner to work eight hours a day you never made a graver mistake. We who are living amongst our miners know what is happening. We had to fight too long for justice to the miner to give ap, at the bidding of a Government of the coalowners of this country, what we have gained, and we will not do so until we are absolutely compelled to do so. Mr. Cook's name has been mentioned in this House with something like ridicule. This I say for Cook. He may have made mistakes, but at least he is an honest man. [Interruption.] I wish hon. Members who take that line could have come with me into two colliery villages in my part. of the country and have heard audiences of 30,000 men and women cheering Cook to the echo for what he has done. Cook is right. Cook knows the people; he knows what miners have had to contend with in the past from colliery owners. The miners of this country cannot forget what they have gone through in their lifetime, and the story of it is passed down from father to son and from son to grandson. Peace will never come while the relationships between owners and miners are as they are.
If the Government wish to make peace in this country, if they want it to flourish and to become again the first country in industry, let them take control of this industry—it is not a played-out industry; there is enough coal to serve this nation's needs for generations—and see that it is worked on a better system, not worked on a system of plundering seams here and plundering seams there, and doing all 938 those things which cause early depreciation.
If the industry is worked in a sensible way, no one who is engaged in it will deny that we can soon put things right. Which of you engaged in any other industry would ask a man to spend 150 minutes of his time a day in getting to work when, if things were better arranged, he could get to his work in 30 minutes, and fitter for work when he arrived? But the Government are backing up the people who allow the present conditions to continue. It is little short of hell to do what we are called upon to do in reaching the working places to which we are allotted, and after taking all sorts of risks and undergoing all sorts of hardships, we only take home as much as will keep the candles burning. The allegations of ca'canny against the miners find no support from the Royal Commission. The charge is not worth considering at all. Practically two-thirds of those who work underground are piece-workers, and they are anxious to make the best of things and to work as hard as they can in order to earn money. I wish hon. Members could have come with me to see what was happening in the mining areas under the conditions prevailing five or six months ago. There were children without sufficient food, children without boots, children without sufficient clothing for our severe winters in the north of England. When you ask the miners to submit to a further reduction, it is asking a sheer impossibility. The women and children must at least have as much as will keep body and soul together. Now the miners are asked to accept an eight hours' day and a reduction of wages. If that comes about, I warn the ratepayers in the mining areas that they will have to shoulder some burdens, because the people must have enough to live upon. I shall oppose this Bill with all the energy at my disposal, because I believe it is a retrograde step. As a matter of fact, this Measure will throw back my county 50 years at the very least, and you are asking us to do something which we have never done before, and do you think we are going to accept this sort of thing lying down?
You know what stern stuff a miner is made of, and the Germans know it. During the War the miner was praised as one of the most gallant men in the country, and now he is going to be 939 starved in his own country. Do not let it be supposed for a moment that the passing of this Bill is going to find a solution to this problem, because its only effect will be to make that solution further off. Once the miners realise that the Government of the day are against them they will fight the Government in every way they can. This fight is bound to be continued at all costs, and therefore before it is too late I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw this Bill and announce some other lines to bring about peace. Let the Government really get down to fundamentals and hammer out a solution which will be lasting. I have spoken against strikes all my life, and I have always done my best to prevent them, but the miners must always keep within the hollow of their hands the right to refuse their labour. I think if the Government appeal to the country, and ask the electors what they think on this question they will get a reply that would startle the majority of Members of this House. Before this House adopts this Bill I hope the Government will consult working men and ask for their approval.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I have listened with great attention to almost every speech which has been made in this Debate, and I have gathered that the attitude of the party opposite is that they are absolutely apposed to this Bill. I appreciate a great many of the arguments they have brought against this Measure and the point of view of the hon. Member who has just sat down and others who have stated what the miners have had to go through in the past. I know how dangerous, exacting, and fatiguing a miner's work is, and I appreciate all that has been said on these points to the full. I think, however, that hon. Members opposite have missed the whole point of the reasons for the passing of this Bill. I agree that a reduction of wages or the lengthening of hours is no permanent solution of a great industrial problem like this. I believe that a man should be paid in full for good and honest work, and I would give all industrial workers as high wages for good work, and as short hours, as are consistent with the necessary production. We all want this and realise that it is necessary for industrial prosperity and 940 peace in this country; we all know that something on these lines ought to be done if men are to be satisfied with their work. In my view no amount of reorganisation of the industry would really solve the difficulty at the moment, because reorganisation on a large scale such as we all demand, and such as is laid down in the Commissioner's Report, cannot be done in the twinkling of an eye; somehow or other a means has to be found to tide over the period while reorganisation is going on.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
Perhaps later on I shall be able to give an answer to that question. According to the Report of the Coal Commission, in order to tide over the period, you must either reduce wages or to sonic extent lengthen the hours.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
The Coal Commission decided that it would be better because it would be more acceptable to the men to reduce wages, but the Government has decided otherwise. It has now been decided that it would be better to lengthen the hours, and that is really the whole matter we are now discussing. By this Measure we are leaving this question to the miners as a whole, because the working of eight hours is optional, and this Measure simply says that the miners can work eight hours if they can arrange it with the coalowners. If this was compulsory and we were saying that the miners must work eight hours, I for one should not vote for the Bill. I have spoken to many miners on this subject and they have told me that if it happened to be a question of doing either one or the other they would prefer to work a little longer instead of suffering a reduction of wages. I know this is a matter of opinion, but I do not think there is as numb unity amongst the miners on this question as hon. Members would have us believe, and I have a suspicion that I am right. Nobody wants to work longer hours or take less wages, but the crisis in the industry has to he passed over, and I cannot for the life of me see why hon. Members live so much in the past and dwell so much on all that has been wrong 941 in the past, and not face the present. One hon. Member who spoke from the front Opposition Bench said that if he were a dictator he would make it a, condition that every Member sitting in this House should he a working miner. I think I am not misquoting him.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I would rather like to point out to him that anyone who is a merchant seaman might say he thinks every Member of this House ought to be a merchant seaman. I might carry it further and say that every Member of this House ought to have served in every trade. The best result of all, in my opinion, would be that this House would not sit at all, because everybody would be so busy working elsewhere. I would appeal to bon. Members opposite to try to believe that this Government is not the slave of the mine-owners. It is all very well to make accusations of that kind on platforms and in the Press, but in this House hon. Members should know better. The Prime Minister has given his word that he is out to do the best for the industry. I personally am prepared to believe that he is. The introduction of the two Measures we have before us proves that he is going to carry out the recommendations of the Coal Commission. If only the party opposite or the leaders of the miners had accepted the recommendations of the Coal Commission and the Coal Report we might have been in a different position. They are always quoting from the Report, but they did not show that eagerness to accept it, even now, when one Member asked if they would accept it. They would accept everything that they like and nothing that they do not like. You cannot come to any agreement if that is the frame of mind. I do not believe it is too late, even now, for the leaders to come together and hammer out between them the future organization of the coal industry. But it is perfectly fatuous to think that we can solve this problem by all this raking up of the past. You will not trust the Government, you will not trust the owners, you will not trust anybody but yourselves. You cannot hope to come to a peaceful settlement in that way. I do beg hon. Members opposite to try to adopt a less aggressive attitude 942 and to see that the Government is carrying out its pledges, and we on this side will do our utmost to help towards some agreement.
§ Mr. J. JONES
Up to now, this Debate has been largely conducted by those who are experts in the mining industry. I do not pretend to be an expert in the mining industry, but I know something of the effect this Bill will have on other workers. In the union I happen to belong to and of which I am an official, we are largely interested in coal as consumers. The Minister of Labour said that there was no idea in the minds of the Government of attacking wages in other industries by this Bill. But those of us who have some little experience in trade union organisation know that all the time and every time when we have been meeting employers of labour in every industry the only solution is that the workers must be prepared to work harder, that they must be prepared to work longer hours, and that they must be prepared to produce more and to take less. The Prime Minister himself adopted that slogan not so long ago when he said that all workers must be prepared to make sacrifices. What are the sacrifices? They really amount, as far as the workers are concerned, to this: that they must be prepared to have less food, that they must be prepared to have less opportunities of enjoyment and work longer hours. You are asking us what we have to propose. It is not our business to propose anything. You are the Government of the day. Your job is to propose and carry out what you think to be right. We are ready to meet you at the gate. Some of you who were cock-a-whoop here a few weeks ago when you told us that the general strike was a failure, now find that the strangulation of industry was not the test of a general strike. Try a general election, give the people an opportunity of saying who is right and who is wrong. Your Commission and not our Commission—our court was not held and the devil the presiding magistrate—your own Commission has not backed you up in this Bill. The first part of the Report deals with the reorganisation of the industry, and surely we have a right to ask: "Why begin at the bottom and not the top?" Why not take the Report and deal with it in a seriatim way? 943 Do you imagine that the Minister of Labour was correct when he said it does not mean a general attack on wages? Supposing the miners go down and have to work eight hours below the surface of the earth, what chance is there for the engineers above and the thousands of other workers above? Immediately, the employers will say: "The miners are working eight hours below the surface of the earth; you will have to work nine hours." It is all very well for camouflage speeches to be made by hon. Members on the other side, with tears trickling clown their shirt fronts, talking about the interest they take in us, and not about the interest they take out of us. The first charge must be rent, interest and profit; and the last charge must be a proper standard of living for the miners. We are not here merely because we sympathise with the miner, but because we know that the miner's battle is our battle. You may pass your Acts of Parliament, you may make men work by Act of Parliament, but you cannot get coal out of the pit by passing Acts of Parliament.
§ Mr. JONES
You can lead a horse to the fountain but sometimes the fountain comes to the horse. We ask, why this Bill? What is the object of it? Can it in any direction solve the problem we are now faced with? An hon. Member opposite, who is a lawyer, which I am not, talked nicely to us, and said: "Let us get together." But you have not asked us to get together yet. The only appeal that has been made for getting together has come from our benches. Get together—what to do? To get us to agree to work longer hours; to get the trade unionists of this country to accept the position that the only way out of the difficulty is longer hours and lower wages. You will never get us to agree to that as long as you have heads on your bodies, because we have had to fight so long and so hard. I can understand the intellectual superiority of some of my Friends opposite, who jeer at some of us because we are only labourers, and cannot talk like lawyers. I am only a labourer —[Interruption.] You are not a labourer; you are not intellectual enough 944 to be one. [Interruption.] It is ls. 4d. an hour, but not for you.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member would address himself to me, he would not lay himself open to interruption.
§ Mr. JONES
In addressing you, Sir, I shall be employing my time more usefully than in answering the ignorant interruptions of these uneducated persons. Some of us on these benches will stand side by side with the miners because we know that, when they go down, we shall have to go down with them. That is the basis of the argument I have tried to adduce. I say quite frankly that in this dispute, whatever you may do—whether by the reorganisation of the mining industry, or by the introduction of this Bill—you will find the whole of the organised workers of this country standing shoulder to shoulder with the miners, whatever the issues may be. You may think you are going to resuscitate the industry, and restore so-called prosperity to it. I am sick and tired of hearing about our onetime prosperity. I worked as a labourer for 16s. a week in London, and it is only by trade union organisation that it has been brought up to something like a reasonable standard now. We have had to fight ever since 1889 clown to the present time to try to bring the ordinary builder's labourer, the general labourer, the scavenger, and other people, up to something like a standard of life that is worth having to a. human being.
We have the eight. hours nosy. If the miners are compelled to go back to the conditions suggested in this Bill, a demand will be made upon us by private employers in every other industry to go back to where we were. Already proposals have been made to us to alter the hours and wages, and, if the miners go down, we shall have to go down with them. All that we can say in reply is that we will exhaust the possibilities of effort in every direction from the standpoint of both political and industrial action to see that that thing shall not happen. Although you have your big majority in this House, there have been times when public opinion outside has declared itself to be against what the House of Commons has done. It is the bounden duty of those who want a Bill of this character to go out and claim that they have the right to ask the people to 945 say whether this Bill shall be carried into effect or not. The Government cannot say they had a mandate for this at the last General Election. Suppose that we, the Labour party, happened to be sitting on the benches opposite, and were trying to introduce revolutionary legislation of this character, going back 50 years in the life of the nation so far as this industry was concerned. Suppose that, after a Royal Commission had reported on certain lines, we refused to accept that Commission's Report as a Government. We should be challenged with not having a mandate from the people to carry such legislation
§ Mr. JONES
A Commission appointed by themselves. They laid down the terms of reference and the Commission reported on the lines of the terms of reference, and here we are with this revolutionary legislation and the Government, without a mandate, introduces a Bill of this character. That is an absolute travesty of democratic legislation. All the opposition we can advance in every possible direction, inside and outside the House, will be used for the purpose of making it ineffective. You may pass your Bill but you cannot make men settle down to eight hours a day at the coal face. I know what is going on. I have had some. You may get individual workmen to break away and you may be able to victimise the men who refuse The object of this legislation is more sinister than appears on the surface. The men who will suffer as the result of it will be the good trade unionists who refuse, to accept the conditions of the Bill. They will get the worst places in the pits. They will be the people who will be discharged when packing is necessary, and there will be no dole for them because they have left the job on their own volition. So the whole machinery of the State is going to be mobilised against the workman who is conscientious. We can see through the Bill better than some of its authors can. We know what it means in getting us back to the conditions we have been fighting against for 40 years. I represent the so-called unskilled workers, and am not intimately acquainted with the mining industry except as a casual visitor once or twice in my life, but this 946 affects all of us, and we are all going to sink or swim together.
The hon. Member has told us the Government have no mandate for this Bill. In 1919, when the Seven Hours Bill was introduced, it was my privilege to move its rejection, and one of the reasons I put forward was that the Government of that day had no mandate either for the Seven Hours Bill or for the Royal Commission under Mr. Justice Sankey, which was appointed at that period. At the time the Bill was going through the House the Miners' Federation was sitting at Keswick, and one of the things we were promised if we allowed it to pass was that we should have peace in the industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised that!"] A good many other people promised it as well, and some of them have spoken to-night. The second thing we were going to have as the result of the Bill passing was that they were going to produce as much coal in seven hours as previously they had produced in eight. The Debate took place, starting at midnight, and we sat debating the Second Reading until the early hours of the morning in order to get it through in time for the Miners' Federation for the following day. This is what the right hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) said in that Debate:
He appealed to the Government to pass the Bill into law and to give the miners a real chance of carrying out whatever promises had been made. Every responsible miners' leader would go to the men week by week and month by month to carry production to the highest point in the interests of the nation', and so that the nation might feel entire confidence in the motives of the miner.Later in the speech he said:When the policy was developed, the country's prosperity would be found to be in no way inconsistent with it.Among other hon. Members who spoke in that Debate was the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Richardson), who has spoken to-night. He said:It had been proved that, despite the working of shorter hours, we produced more coal.He also said that we could produce more output. Of all the speeches made in that Debate the most notable was the 947 speech of the Home Secretary, Mr. Shortt. He told us thatWhatever else might lead to shortage of output, a reduction of hours certainly would not. Pass this Bill, and time will show that the result of shortening hours will be an increased instead of a decreased output.I hesitate to quote what I said in moving the rejection of the Bill seven years ago, but I did say that we were not a rich nation but a poor nation, and that instead of having foreign investments we had foreign debts. Those statements are as true to-day as they were seven years ago when I, a very green, young Member of this House, had the cheek to move the rejection of that Bill. There is a great difference between the situation to-day and the situation as it existed seven years ago. If the miners had worked eight hours seven years ago, it might conceivably have been said that the profits which accrued from the eight hours as against the seven hours would have gone to the employers, because the 1921 Agreement had not been made at that time. Since then, the 1921 Agreement has been made, and it has made a considerable difference in the position. If the miner works eight hours when this has been passed, hon. Members opposite cannot go into their constituencies and say that the wicked capitalist is sucking the blood out of the working classes of this country—a statement which they are so fond of making.
§ Mr. REMER
They cannot say that in regard to this Bill, because of any profits made by working eight hours 'as against seven hours, 87 per cent. would go directly to the miner and only 13 per cent. to the employers. I believe this Bill will lead to a lasting solution and peace. We have had nothing but trouble since the Seven Hours Act was passed. There has been nothing but one recurring crisis after another. But there is one great change in this House as compared with seven years ago. Seven years ago I did not know whether I was going to get a Seconder to my Amendment for rejection, but Lord Banbury, or Sir Frederick Banbury as he then was, Seconded the Amendment. We could not get sufficient support in order to divide the House, and it was negatived without a Division. To- 948 day, there are not many Members of the House who are opposed to the Bill which the Government is now bringing forward. When I read the Debate which took place seven years ago, I find that the most strenuous opponent of the Motion I put forward was the hon. Member for the Mossley Division of Manchester (Mr. A. Hopkinson). I think the question of hours should at all times be a matter of arrangements between employers and employed. State interference of any kind is always bad. It must always lead to State control, and State control must lead to the evils of nationalisation. At the present time the country is suffering from the folly of the bad legislation initiated during the Premiership of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Most of that legislation was pernicious, and we shall not be doing any disservice to our country if we spend our time repealing most of the legislation which was passed during that time. We are taking one step in that direction to-day, and I am sure if the House of Commons proceeds on the Tines of repealing a large slice of the legislation introduced and passed during that time it will be doing a great service to the country. Hon. Members opposite are very often forgetful of the economic laws. I am one of the strongest advocates, and always have been. Anyone who does me the honour to read my speeches—
§ Mr. REMER
—will see that I have always been a strenuous advocate of high wages, as high as the industry can stand. But high wages, and in fact any wages, can only be paid if profits are made, and immediately profits cease to be made wages are in jeopardy. This is equally true whether the profits are made for the community, about which hon. Members so often speak, or whether they are made for private enterprise. In this case the miners cannot fear any exploitation of their labour to enrich capital, for whatever advantage may come in the shape of profits 87 per cent. automatically goes to the miner himself. Is it not time, therefore, we forgot shibboleths and slogans and looked at the facts of this question. Appeals have been made in 949 the past week on the facts of the situation, by the right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) and others. Other pathetic speeches have been made about the position of the miners. Is it not time for us to face the facts of the situation as they are There are large numbers of people suffering, not merely miners, but others. Is it not time that their interests should be safeguarded, and that slogans and shibboleths should be forgotten in order that we may see by what means we can achieve a lasting solution of the greatest problem with which this country is faced?
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I, like one or two more who have spoken, am not a professional miner. The only time I have been down a mine was when I used to instal the notorious coal cutters. Years ago, when we put the coal cutters into the mines, the only resentment that was expressed was that the advantage of the invention would not result in increased wages to the miners. It was not that the miners resented the introduction of the machine, as such, into the mine. I have been listening to most of the speeches to-day, and I am beginning to think that the Report reminds me of the Old Testament, and our theological discussions during my boyhood in Glasgow, when everyone resorted in time of distress to tearing texts from the written Word:. It seems to me that that has been going on with this notorious Coal Commission's Report. I am one of those, if there are any besides myself, who look upon the Coal Report as sheer nonsense, almost from beginning to end. As I sat morning after morning at the Coal Commission and looked at a number of men attempting to solve a problem which was evading them at every turn, I predicted that when the Report came out, it would have the net effect which it has had in this House—everyone quoting it, and no one seeming to agree with it.
In listening to the speeches made to-day one comes down to a few elements. You find the proposition coming across the floor of the House that there is no way out of the impasse into which the industry has got, except by longer hours or a reduction of wages. I listened to another speech that was made by a prominent Member on the other side, who said that what we wanted to get down to was a competitive 950 price in coal—how were we to get down to a competitive price between ourselves and nations abroad, a price that would pay on this side for production? Hon. Members seem to allow these two things, wages and hours, to dominate their minds, as if there were no other elements that entered into the analysis. I can never understand British employers of labour who invariably fly to wages when it comes to a question of economies in industry. The Americans for the last year or two have been telling us that the very last thing you ought to do in industry is to discourage the workers by docking their wages. The other day I went into a hotel in my own Division, and I saw a number of good fellows enjoying a good dinner. I asked, "Who are these chaps?" The reply was, "They are the members of the football team." I said, "You are feeding them well," to which I got the reply, "Yes, we feed them well, pay them well, train them well, and house them well." I said, "How strange! You do that when you want to win a football cup, but when you want men to work in the mines you dock the wages, house them badly, and feed them badly." It seemed ironical.
Why is it that this conservative, stupid, block-headed system maintains itself in British industry? You want to ecenomise, because you are in competition with other nations and, immediately, you fly at what you seem to think is the weakest link in the defence, namely, the wages of the workers, instead of throwing into wages all you can in order to encourage the workers to produce the most they can and to put enthusiasm into their labour. This Bill is styled permissive, but hon. Members know full well that it is not permissive. I agree with much that has been said on the other side to the effect that it should not be the duty of the Government to intervene between one man and another on a matter of this kind, but under an economic dispensation such as ours, where the worker is under the whip of competition, with unemployed men looking for his job, the moment you give a so-called permissive Bill of this kind to the employing class, you are giving them greater bargaining power against starving men. You want a competitive price to meet your competitors in the foreign market. I challenge any hon. Member on the other side to disprove the 951 statement that there is no competitor in the international market in coal carrying the overhead charges in taxes and rates which you are carrying in this country. Yet when the employers want to economise, instead of asking the Government to take some of the pressure of rates and taxes off their industry, they accept these as providential and fly to the working man and say, "We must economise on wages or hours."
The miners' leaders in the line of action they have taken politically, are in a bad tactical position, because the Government are now apparently joined with the mineowners in saying to the miners, "You have to face longer hours or shorter wages." The miners are instinctively right in refusing extended hours of labour or lower wages, but the constructive opposition policy should be advanced. Those engaged in the mining industry who are anxious to get a competitive price should ask the Government for relief from the burden of rates and taxes, which causes them to be undercut by other countries not carrying such charges. [HON. MEMBERS" "A subsidy!"] It is not a subsidy. Some hon. Members opposite have deprecated subsidies. There are times when I wonder why this House should be so strongly of one mind on a particular day and of another mind on another day, the mind of to-day being contradictory of the mind of yesterday. Hon. Members opposite supported the agricultural landowners in getting a reduction of overhead charges in agricultural rates, and they did not say that it was a subsidy. When the landowners want relief by a reduction of rates and taxes, hon. Members opposite say nothing, because the agricultural landowners are the basis upon which the Conservative party rests. But when it is suggested, under conditions of this kind, that the mining industry to get a competitive price should have some relief in rates and taxes, without touching miners' wages or tampering with miners' hours, then across the Floor of the House comes the whisper that this is equal to a subsidy.
I want to put it to the Secretary for Mines: Will he, in facing this issue, tell the House in his reply what the relationship is between this country and our com- 952 petitors in the international market, with regard to rates and taxes and general overhead charges, and how we compare with the countries with which we are in competition, so that we shall be better able to judge how far we should economise on that line before we contemplate making the conditions of the miners worse than they are to-day's I know that such an opportunity as this lends itself to all sorts of graphic descriptions and to maudlin sentiment, but I put this to the House: The housing condition in the Potteries that I represent in this House is unfit for brute beasts, and I have to go back and to say to these miners: "Under the new conditions, you will have to accept the £1 19s. 5d. in wages, and an extended hour on to your day." We have had our food to-day. We have clean bodies and we have home accommodation. It is hard indeed for us to get into the psychology of men living under these rotten conditions, and to go back to these men and tell them that the best thing that this House of Commons, that boasts of being the Mother of Parliaments, the best thing that WO men of general intelligence and capacity for understanding legal enactments can offer them is that the finest adjustment in the economic production of coal is not the cutting down of overhead charges, not the re-organisation of the mines, but that they shall work for less wages and longer hours.
It has been truly said that Acts of Parliament cannot make men work, and I would remind hon. Members opposite, because I was intimate, although young at the time, with the beginning of the ca' canny movement in connection with the Liverpool dock strike, when the men on that occasion were beaten and sent hack under inferior conditions. It was then that the two friends of my own from Glasgow who led the strike told those men: "Go back; you are beaten, but if you get poor wages, give poor labour." That was the beginning of the ca' canny movement, and I predict that, if these conditions are enforced, by Statute or by the more powerful weapon of starvation and want, there is no peace. Surely it is, after all, the function of this House of Parliament to get beyond mere petty considerations. What is our prayer each day when we start business'? Surely it is not too late to appeal, even 953 to a Government with this preponderating majority, to deal with the thing economically, to deal with it technically, to deal with it in such a way as to remove from the minds of these men and women the haunting suspicion that they are going to be sent back under this duress of starvation.
I am offering, honestly and sincerely, as a constructive way out of this difficulty, that the economies shall he effected in overhead charges, so far as the Government can possibly effect them, at least. for a time, rather than that the men should have to.accept lower wages and worse conditions. I offer it in all sincerity, in the hope that this House will do something to give a lead to the country. Taking the Potteries district alone, I am told that it will not be many weeks before many of the manufacturers there will be in the hands of the Receivers. This trouble is stopping them through lack of coal, and the paralysis is crawling through the country. Is it to be said that this House is incompetent and cannot handle these problems? I sincerely offer my suggestion to-night, and hope, in God's name, something will be done to stabilise this country rather than that we should continue to run down the gutter of passion and hate leading to nowhere.
Mr. ROY WILSON
I have just five minutes at my disposal in which to offer one or two suggestions. I want, to begin with, to assure Members of the Labour party that nothing which comes from me on this subject will be in any way provocative. It does seem to me that the Debates which we have had on the local mining stoppage. have not been productive, if I may say with all respect, of any concrete business proposals for the settlement of this unfortunate dispute. As far as I am concerned, representing as I do a large number of miners in my own constituency, I can assure hon. Members that I sympathise, just as deeply as any of them, with the terrible sufferings which these men and their families are passing through to-day as the result of the stoppage. I hate, with them, not only the misery and sorrow inflicted on these men and their families, and on the thousands of other people who are out of employment as the result of the stoppage, but I hate also to think of the futility of the whole thing. because, from my point of view, it could have been prevented, and 954 it could be settled to-day if wise statesmanship and wise leadership and sensible handling of the dispute could only take place, even at this late hour.
I cannot help thinking that an unbiassed observer listening to our Debate to-day must have been struck, as I have been struck, by what I may term the futility of most of the suggestions coming from both sides. We have heard from the Opposition side abuse of the Government, and from the other side, from some of my friends, abuse of the leaders of the Miners' Federation. But surely we are losing sight of what is really the fundamental fact of the whole dispute. This is a business proposition, and one which is capable of solution by men of good will and understanding and men imbued with business principles. The suggestion which has appealed to me most during the last two weeks that we have been discussing the dispute was one thrown out in the speech recently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ogalore (Mr. Hartshorn), who pleaded with the Government that Members of this House should get round a table, and try to find some concrete, sensible solution of this unhappy dispute. That was answered by the Secretary of State for War last week and, as I understood his answer, it was this: "Bring with you a mandate from the Miners' Federation, and this thing can be discussed, as the Government is willing and anxious to discuss it, even at this late hour, with any responsible people nominated by the Miners' Federation."
My suggestion to the House to-night is simply this. I am not criticising, nor have I time to criticise this Bill. My suggestion is this, if hon. Members who represent the miners and care for the interest of the miners, as I am sure they do and as I do, could only get together, and induce the Miners' Federation to nominate the right lion. Member for Ogmore and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Varfey) to meet and begin negotiations afresh with the Government, with the one idea of finding a happy solution, I am perfectly certain, even at this late hour, we should arrive at some solution which will dispel and end the unhappy position in which we find ourselves at this present moment.
I am not suggesting any interference by the Government at all. What I want is the Miners' Federation to nominate two new individuals and the mineowners to nominate two moderate men on their side to come together with certain proposals and try and thresh out something, as it will have to be threshed out ultimately, then come to the Government and try to make a fresh start. I pointed that out when I made this suggestion last week. I make it again to-day with the greatest sincerity. Every day that passes is only causing useless misery in the mining areas of the country, and untold loss to the country as a whole. The matter as it stands is going to result in no satisfactory solution. Therefore, I beg hon. Members on this side of the House, with the influence they possess, to try to induce the Miners' Federation to adopt the suggestion that I have made. I leave it at that, with the profound hope that this suggestion may bring new powers of conference that will lead to the ultimate solution of the difficulties with which we are faced.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.