§ The Government has proclaimed a state of emergency"—
and so on. On Friday, when we were trying to bring about peace—[Interruption]—this was brought to us. Again we kept it private. We merely showed it to the Prime Minister and asked him, was it fair? Again, quite honestly, he said he knew nothing about it, which I accept. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] I accept it. Because you disagree politically with people you have no right to assume that everyone is dishonest, and if the Prime Minister says he did not know of it, I accept it, as I would accept it from anyone else who makes the statement. But I ask this House to consider that situation when we were striving and working for peace, keeping these things back, and then to be told that the other action caused the negotiations to break down. The Prime Minister said that as far as he believed, he did not think the trade unionists knew what they were doing. I do not think that anyone will know the consequences of it. I ask the House to remember that, whatever may be said about the merits of it, there can be no doubt that all these men felt they were asking nothing but what was reasonable and just. They felt they were doing their duty in standing by the miners in this simple demand: "Do not lock out men without giving a chance for negotiations." That was a reasonable demand.
I am going to say one more thing to the House with regard to my own views. I am under no misapprehension at all. I am not in a cheerful mood, not because I am afraid of my cause, but because I know, that whatever else results from it, the country is going to suffer. It is 81 because I know that, that I have tried to picture the situation. I pictured the situation to the Prime Minister on Friday night, and this is my summary: I do not believe, in spite of all the talk of revolution, that if a ballot was taken of this country 2 per cent. of the people would vote for a revolution. I really believe it would be less than that, but he is a blind fool who would say that these same people may be driven into circumstances which may have all that effect—and that is an entirely different thing!
I ask hon. Members to picture the situation. The railwayman, who still loves his country as much as hon. Members opposite do, does not want a revolution. He stops to-night because 'se believes it is his duty to the miner. The moment he sees anyone on his train— that is where the danger lies, and that is what I have always tried to point out. I know the Government's position. I have never disguised that in a challenge to the Constitution, God help us unless the Government won. That is my view. But this is not only not a revolution. It. is not something that says: "We want to overthrow everything." It is merely a plain, economic, industrial dispute, where the workers say: "We want justice." We believe it may be—I do not disguise that in its results it may be—that these things may happen. I do not disguise that for a moment. That is the danger of it. That is always the difficulty of the situation.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I ask this House whether it is still too late to avert what I believe is not only the greatest calamity for this country? Whatever the result, the responsibility of trying to save the country rests upon us all. Is it too late? I do not beleive it is too late. I believe, in spite of whatever the Government may have done, or in spite of what we may have done, this Parliament still represents the people of this country. The people of this country would desire an honourable way out of the difficulty. As to the strike, hon. Members may have their own views about it. I do not quarrel with them about that, but I ask hon. Members—I beg of them—not to sneer, or to jeer at us, as before the week is over there may be very serious happenings. Whatever hon. Members' views may be, it will 82 be with no light heart that this fight will be entered into. Because I feel in my bones that a last effort ought to be made, I still plead. The die may be cast. The fight may come. I can only say, like the Prime Minister: Do not let us lose our heads even then. Do not let us have bitterness, whatever the immediate future may bring. Whatever that may be, I at least reciprocate the statement of the Prime Minister, and, bitter, sad, and disappointed as I feel, I will still render my contribution to the solution and give whatever help I can to save the situation.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Motion that was put from the Chair at the beginning of the proceedings to-day declared a state of national emergency. I was one of those who voted for that Resolution. Whatever anybody's opinion may be on the merits of the dispute, there can be no difference of opinion as to the gravity of the emergency that has arisen. In the very few words which I am going to address to the House I shall make rather an appeal to Parliament to see whether something cannot be done even now to avert an unknown catastrophe. We are face to face with something which has never quite arisen before in this country. I think it is worth while for Parliament to step in and see whether it is not possible to bring the parties to some sort of accommodation. This is a great Parliamentary country. In fact, I believe it is the only Parliamentary country in the world—the only country that really understands Parliament. It is the only country where Parliament really governs, whatever Government is in power.
The miners and the mineowners have been negotiating for over 18 months. That has come to nothing. The Trade Union Congress a n d the Government have now intervened. I can see no hope left except Parliament. We have had two very grave and very impressive speeches couched in the language of conciliation. Neither was in the language of defiance. Therefore, I think the temper is still one in which negotiatilons are possible. But I am not sure how long that will last. There are very deep passions lying underneath—very deep and very fierce passions which have been growing for years. The Prime Minister was good enough to refer to the fact that I have taken part in many disputes. I 83 shall refer to that later; and to a dispute to which he did not refer. He assumed it was all since the War, but the difficulties in the coal trade started long before the War. They are not post-War difficulties. There is something inherently wrong in the whole industry. Therefore, I am going as an ordinary citizen to make one more appeal to Parliament. I must speak quite frankly. It is no use unless I do. I think there have been two mistakes made by the two parties. I think the general strike is a mistake. I am not now discussing the merits of the dispute, but there is a great difference between a general strike to force Parliament to legislate on a subject for which a majority of the nation has not declared, and a general strike in an ordinary trade dispute. The first strikes at the very root of democratic government. I am not, therefore, going to express any opitnion as to whether under any given conditions you may have a general strike, but I think it is a mistake at the present moment. I say also that I think it was a very serious mistake on the part of the Government to announce this morning that they would not negotiate. They will be forced out of that position by circumstances. It is a mistake.
May I point out to the Prime Minister and the Government why they are not in a position to do this: A general strike was threatened before July. There was the same kind of threat. What was the answer to it? The subsidy! It was in effect part of the criticism which some of us directed against the subsidy. When my right hon. Friend and I negotiated in 1921 we refused to give a subsidy unless the general strike threat was withdrawn. The Government are not in that position. They gave a subsidy after the threat of a general strike. The general strike is not a new threat in this dispute. It is an old one, and even now the general strike was talked of several days ago. In spite of that the Prime Minister went on negotiating. Why, therefore, the change? Having taken up that attitude—I am not criticising the Prime Minister for having negotiated in spite of the threat of a general strike—that is not the point I am making—but there is no justification for saying now there is to be a. general strike, that, therefore, he is breaking off negotiations.
84 I would, therefore, urge upon the Prime Minister not to stand on the mere question of dignity. If there was a threat to' the institutions of this country; if this movement were directed by men who simply use the language they do as part of the mechanism of blowing up the whole of the machinery of the Constitution, then, I agree, the Government would have no other answer. But everybody knows that the amen who were responsible for this resolution are men who have fought hard against the subverters of the Constitution, against men who were either in alliance with their own party, or were the left of their own party. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not treat this as if it were a menace to our institutions. I do not say that if it goes on it may not have that effect. That is not my point. What I want to put is this: I know a great many of the people responsible. They are as little revolutionary as any Member of this House. They have fought the rebellious ones in their own party. Therefore I want to put this to the House of Commons in all earnestness, that this is not a threat directed by people using it merely for revolutionary propaganda. There is no surrender on the part of the Government if they continue negotiations in spite of what I regard as a mere mistaken threat on the part of the Trade Unionists.
I come to the next point. I should like to ask the Government and both parties exactly what is the position. Many of us have heard for the first time what has taken place. I am not complaining that the Government did not till to-day tell us what the proceedings had been. You cannot do that in negotiations. I am not complaining of my right hon. Friend, or that it was not indicated. You cannot do that while negotiators are moving here and there and trying to keep together. But we have heard, for the first time most of us, what has happened. May I point out to the House of Commons this? Here are two witnesses to the truth. Here are undoubtedly two hon. Members of this House who have done their best to produce peace. The Prime Minister has undoubtedly laboured for peace. Nobody doubts that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has laboured for peace. Nobody doubts that. They have each of them given their version which they regard as a perfectly accurate one of the 85 various transactions. Yet they do not agree. That is a matter which I hope will be taken into account, for there are undoubtedly vital differences between the two.
May I say something which ought not to be forgotten. This has been a dispute about wages. It arose about wages. I do not say that is what is at the bottom of it, but it was a demand for a reduction of wages that precipitated this conflict. Yet I did not know until now that it was not until Friday, after the lock-out had begun, that the demands of the owners were formulated and submitted to the Trade Union Congress. [Interruption.] Yes, the modifications. It is no use quoting what the Commission said. I have read the Report of the Commission with very great care, after having been engaged myself in a great many of these mining disputes, and I could not quite make out exactly what the demand was. I asked for an interpretation from two of the ablest men whom I know, who were quite impartial, having nothing to do with the industry, and I did not get the same account from them as to the actual effect of the recommendations. The miners representatives said, "Tell us exactly in figures what it means." They got those figures for the first time on Friday last.
§ Sir ROBERT SANDERS
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? Was it not a fact that when the lock-out notices were posted it was at the same time announced what rates of pay the owners intended to give. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
My right hon. Friend's understanding is inaccurate there. [Hox. MEIMBENS: "No!"] I am informed that what they said was that the figures would be announced later. That is what I understand.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
I have got a copy of the notice here, and the right hon. Gentleman is totally misinformed.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am not in a position myself to express any opinion. I can only say there seems to be a difference of opinion upon the subject. My hon. Friends on the Labour benches, who come from the districts, inform me that that was the notice. At any rate there was only about a week's notice, I understand.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I have here the notices in respect of South Wales. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that notices were not posted in some districts—that no notices were posted because the owners were perfectly willing to continue on the present basis. They could not post reductions because they did not post notices. In those districts the miners themselves posted notices. In the case of South Wales, the notice I have here was issued to each individual man concerned in the pits. It is dated the 22nd April, and it gives the full effect of the proposals, and is an official notice.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
This shows exactly the position we are in. It only shows the confusion that exists. [Interruption.] I hope the House will hear me. After all, if this begins there is only Parliament left. The Press has gone; there will be no discussion of public opinion. I have seen many strikes, and this House of Commons has always kept its head, and in the end it has been the intervention of the House of Commons that has brought about peace in each case, and I am perfectly certain that is what will happen here. For Heaven's sake do let us keep calm. Let me put to my hon. Friend the reply which I have got. I understand that the document he has was issued by the Miners Federation pointing out what, in their judgment, the effect of the alterations would be.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
It has nothing to do with the Miners' Federation. It is issued by, as it states on the notice, the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal-owners' Association, and it purports to explain exactly the effect of their proposals.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Of course, I accept the statement made by my hon. Friend, but it is a statement with regard to one coal mining area. I understand that in other coal mining areas, at any rate, there has been no explanation. Why did the representatives of the coal miners ask for a document showing the effect of it if they had already got it? It was open to the Government to say, "Why are you asking for the effect, when you have already got it?" It is quite clear that it was only on Friday last that we had any sort of national intimation from the coal owners as 'to what the effect would be. Is it not really rather hard? 87 There has been no negotiation on the figures at all.
I know what is said. The miners have said to their spokesmen, "We will not accept a reduction." Well, anybody who has negotiated with trade unions, or negotiated even with lawyers, knows perfectly well that you do not start by saying you are going to take lower terms. That is the psychology of every negotiation. They are not going into negotiations saying, "We are going to start with an acknowledgment that we are going to have a reduction." What I ask the Government is this, and I ask it in all solemnity—that instead of asking that there should be a resumption of negotiations on the basis of a reduction of wages they should say to them, "Are you prepared to enter into a. discussion about wages?", which is a different thing. Then, when you enter into the negotiations, the question of reduction will naturally come in. [Interruption.] Well, I would ask hon. Gentlemen who have had some experience of negotiation whether there is not great force in that?
The second point I want to put to the Government is this. I want to know exactly what they are prepared to do, for they have really not yet made it clear. The Prime Minister in his speech read the declaration which he made on the 24th March. I confess that when I read the declaration of the 24th March I was under the impression that the Government were prepared to put through the whole of the recommendations of the Commission, however obnoxious any part of them might be. The miners thought otherwise, the miners were doubtful about it. The miners were a little doubtful as to whether he meant that, and I confess that when I read the document issued by the Government on Friday last I think there is some justification for that. The Government then issued a document intimating their general acceptance of the Report, provided it was accepted also by the mineowners and the miners.and although unfortunately there has not been on the part of the mineowners and the miners the same unqualified acceptance, the Government desire nevertheless to reaffirm their willingness to give effect to—What?—to such of the proposals in the Report as we believe will be of benefit to the industry.88 Just observe the difference between the two. On the 24th March there was what I thought was an unequivocal declaration by the Government that they were prepared to legislate to carry out all the recommendations of the Royal Commission, good, bad and indifferent from their point of view.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I will take a quotation from the letter from the Prime Minister to the President of the Miners' Federation on Friday, 30th April:The Government desire nevertheless to re-affirm their willingness to give effect to such of the proposals in the Report as we believe will be of benefit to the industry.They then proceed, and these are the words which are of very great consequence:In particular the Government propose in any case at once to arrange an authoritative inquiry into the best method of following up the recommendations of the Commission with regard to selling organisations and amalgamations.What does that mean? Not that they are proposing to legislate. They will first of all pick the things which they consider to be best for the industry, and they will then set up another inquiry in order to show how the thing could be done. As a matter of fact, instead of proposing to carry out their part of the bargain, what they are proposing to do is to set up another Commission to find out how the thing can be done. The question I would like to ask the Government is this, "Do they stand by the unequivocal declaration they made on the 24th March?"
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That is important. [Interruption.] I am en- 89 leavouring as a Member of the House o ask these questions. We are on the we of a very serious national conflict and we ought to know exactly where we are. I, therefore, wanted to ask the Government, and I understand from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the answer is in the affirmative—that the Government, without any reference to their views with regard to any particular part of the Report, whether they dislike the purchase of royalties, whether they dislike compulsory grouping, whether they dislike municipal selling, or whatever other recommendation there may be, the Government, whatever their own opinions may be, are prepared immediately to legislate for the purpose of carrying it out.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to ask my right hon. Friend this question. Does that mean that there must be agreement on the part of the coal owners also before they will agree to this?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Our pledge was to carry out our share of the responsibility of the Report if the other parties would do likewise, and use all our influence to procure that.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That does not mean—[Interruption.] I really am not making difficulties. I am trying to clear up difficulties. [Laughter.] Well, really, if we are to discuss this in that spirit it will be quite impossible to get a national understanding. I only wanted to know, and I think it is a very important question, because I know this difficulty arose in 1919—what I would like to know is what will happen supposing the coal owners persist in their objection—because they have not yet accepted the agreement—to the recommendation with regard to com- pulsory amalgamation? I take it the Government will regard that as their business, and that whether the coal owners agree to that or not they will legislate upon the basis of the Report. Might I ask if my right hon. Friend, who seems ready to answer a question—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It would be inconvenient for me to 90 attempt to answer categorical questions on these very complicated matters as part of a discussion. [An HON. MEMBER: "Dodging again."] No, not at all. I will gladly give an answer in the course of this Debate.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer take a note of that particular query, because it is very, very important. The first question is whether the Government would be prepared, whatever the views of the parties may be to these recommendations, and whatever their individual views may be, to legislate and to submit their proposals to Parliament and to put them through and afterwards enforce them. The next thing I want to put is this: If there is a disposition to resume negotiations I should like to put this question to the Government. I was one of those who opposed the subsidy. There are very few Members of this House who did, and I did so because I thought it was unwise. We pointed out then that it would artificially depress the price of coal, and make it very difficult to resume normal conditions. I also pointed out that I did not think it was possible to bring it to an end abruptly on 30th April. I felt certain that negotiations would be going on, and to stop the subsidy on the 30th April and imperil negotiations by doing so would have been impossible.
I want to say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this: I want to ask him whether it would not be possible to resume the negotiations now, making it absolutely clear what the Government propose to do, what legislation they propose to introduce, whether they are prepared to undertake to preside over the discussions of the Trade Union Congress Council and the miners and mineownera with a view to ascertaining what can be done. If that were done I do not think even those who have opposed the subsidy would object to the subsidy for a fortnight or three weeks more, which would he necessary in order to conclude the negotiations. There is something which is radically wrong with the mining industry, and that is admitted. It is no use saying it is something which arose since the War. In 1912 we had as serious a strike as we have ever had. I was a member of the Government a couple of years before the War. We have had two or three inquiries, 91 and there is one feature in common between the recommendations of all, and it is that they have all admitted that the industry needs reorganisation.
That is not merely the Sankey Report, but the Report of four out of five of the members of that Commission. The Government appointed a Committee of Inquiry under Mr. Macmillan. They inquired last year, and they came to the same conclusion. They appointed a Committee of Inquiry this last winter, and after reading the evidence very carefully I noticed the disadvantage the miners were at as compared with the mine-owners. The mine-owners were in the position of engaging some of the ablest experts to give their views, and they gave expert evidence, but the miners did not do so. In spite of the fact that there was expert evidence supporting the mine-owners there was a unanimous recommendation from this Committee, following-two others, that the industry needed re-organisation, and that it was essential. If wages are depressed, it is not the fault of those who are working the mines. It is something which is inherently wrong in the whole of the industry. That is accepted by the Government to-day. It was accepted by the preceding Government, and it has been accepted by three inquiries.
This terrible conflict, which no one can tell the end of, is just like a fever; you never know where it will discover sonic weak spot in the constitution that no medical diagnosis would ever enable you to discover. An internal conflict of this kind may search out spots of that kind. The victory will not be much use to either party, but it may be disastrous to the State. A victory to those who are organising a general strike will soon get out of their control. That is the history of every movement of that kind. A victory for the Government against the trade unions will also get out of their control. But it will go much further than they anticipate. It will give a sense of superiority to power and wealth, and this is a combination which the Prime Minister is the last man I know to want, and I beg, as a Member of Parliament and as a citizen of this country, the Government just once more to make an effort for peace.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I am certain that there is none among us who having 92 listened to this Debate has not been struck with the solemnity of the speeche: both of the Prime Minister and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas). There is no person, I am sure, in this House who would venture to utter an opinion to-day without a very great sense of responsibility. I, for my part, desire to put the greatest possible restraint upon my language, and I hope what I say will be regarded as a sincere effort to keep the points which we all should understand clearly before the country, and not in any sense with a desire to score debating points or to create provocation. I listened with great care to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. I was one who, like my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Lloyd George) disagreed with the policy of the subsidy, because I think it was a mistaken policy, and I expressed my opinion to that effect here. To-day we know that it has disappointed the hopes upon which it was based, and we are now face to face with a situation which the Prime Minister said was just as serious to-day as it was in July last year, when we decided to grant that subsidy to the mining industry. In these circumstances I think I may be regarded as an impartial witness when I come to consider whether the Government took the right course in the negotiations which followed the issue of the Report.
My right hon. Friend is bound to keep certain factors in view when he is charging the Government with not giving proper consideration to the Report. This particular discussion about coal has been going on since January last year. At that time the coalowners and miners began to meet for the purpose of going into the figures, and by the month of March sufficient had been revealed to show that both parties were in agreement with regard to the statistics of the industry. In fact, I ventured to say—what I am sure the progress of this inquiry has made plain—namely, that no new Commission was likely to reveal any figures which had not already been discovered. This Commission deserve credit for the conspicuous way in which they gave those figures to the public. They were not, however, dealing with an unfamiliar matter, but with something which had been agitating the minds of the coalowners and miners and about 93 which they had been negotiating constantly during a period of 18 months.
Let me give my own version of the progress of recent events as I see them. As the Prime Minister told us, on 10th March the Report of the Commission was issued, and upon the 17th March the coal-owners and miners met and had a general discussion upon the Report. All the recommendations of the Report were before both parties, and were being discussed at that time on the 17th March. They separated, and met again on 25th March. In the meantime the Prime Minister summoned a meeting of both parties on the 24th March. After dealing generally with the Report, he announced the intention of the Government to give adhesion to the Report, and in so far as they were concerned, to put into operation all the items incumbent upon the Government. On 20th March a meeting between the mineowners and the miners took place, and they met again upon 31st March to discuss the terms and recommendations of the Report. Upon 3rd April the owners issued their statement, which came out in the Public Press, announcing their acceptance of the main recommendations of the Report, and these were given in fully tabulated form containing the recommendations of the Commission on one side and the reply of the owners on the other side, so that there was absolutely no dubiety as to their position.
On 8th April the miners met the Trade Union Congress Committee and discussed the Report, and on 9th April they issued a letter to the coalowners in which they said that they would not agree to any reduction of wages or any lengthening of time. Their position was perfectly plain, even to being dogmatic. The Prime Minister met the owners and the miners on the 13th April, and they discussed matters once more. On that occasion Mr. Herbert Smith said in emphatic language to the coalowners that they were not prepared to discuss a reduction of wages. The Prime Minister then summoned the Trade Unions Council and the miners on 15th April, and it was made plain to him that it was no use discussing the question of a reduction of wages or increase of hours in the mines. Their attitude was perfectly consistent throughout, and it has never varied from that day to this.
It is very important to correct that statement. The right hon. Gentleman was not in the negotiations with the Government. I have the documents here, and after consultation with us, and indeed upon our advice—we need not make any secret of it—on Friday, the miners themselves sent a communication to the Government stating clearly that they refused to discuss a reduction of wages as a preliminary to the arguments. But they stated to the Prime Minister, on our request in his presence, and on our advice, that they would discuss the Report from end to end to get a settlement which included even the question of wages.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am quite well aware of the points to which my right hon. Friend refers. I can, of course, only go upon public documents, but I shall give my right hon. Friend and the House the benefit of the reports which were issued, and I think it is perfectly plain, upon those documents. I am not now in any way, as the House will understand, criticising the attitude of the miners as to whether they were right or wrong in refusing a reduction of wages; I am only putting before the House why it was that any attempt to arrive at a settlement upon the basis of the Report broke down, and I think my right hon. Friend will not be disposed to disagree with me when I come to the end of my story. The House will remember that the Commission—I will venture to read this to the House, in case I may be thought to be paraphrasing the language—reported in these terms:If the present hours are to be retained, we think a revised minimum percentage addition to the standard rates of wages fixed in 1924, at a time of temporary prosperity, is indispensable. A disaster is impending over the industry, and the immediate reduction of working costs that can only arise in this way is essential to save it.The Commission laid it down perfectly plainly that the industry could not carry on unless with a reduction of miners' wages, and they said that it would have to take place immediately, because they went on:The reductions that we contemplate will still leave the mine owners without adequate profits in any of the wage agreement districts, and without any profits in most districts. If trade improves, and prices rise, a profit will be earned; if prices do not rise, an adequate profit must 95 be sought in the improved methods which should in any case be adopted.That was the Report of the Commission. It was perfectly plain that, in order to get this industry going at all, an immediate reduction in wages was essential. That, surely, was a pertinent question for the Government to raise. They tried throughout all the negotiations, as the published documents show, to obtain a different answer from the miners upon that point, even after they had given the emphatic reply that I have already described. They, however, got no concession from them on that head. Indeed, from start to finish, there has been no movement on the part of the miners to meet them on any point in this discussion.
Let me remind the House of what took place after all these attempts, by meetings on the part of the Prime Minister with various sub-committees. On Friday, the 20th April, he asked the miners, would they not, even now, consider the question of reduction of wages, as that was involved in the Report. And, since it was necessary to decide whether it would be prudent or not to continue the subsidy in order to give longer time for discussion, it was essential that the Government should know whether they had any chance of getting an agreement as to wages. They were prepared, as they stated, and as is stated in the public print that I have in my hand, to continue the subsidy, for discussion, not as to the amount of the reduction, not to compel the miners necessarily to take the reduction which the Commissioners thought should be accepted, but to give the miners the opportunity, i f they once agreed upon the principle of some reduction, to discuss what its amount should be.
Observe the reply which the Government get at this stage. My right hon. Friend has represented that everybody was ready to meet the Government and give them the necessary information, but here is what happened. The Government sent a communication to the Trades Union Committee, who by that time were taking an active part in these negotiations, saying that there had been no indication during the discussion that the miners' representatives were prepared to negotiate upon the basis proposed by the Report as far as regards wages. On the contrary, they went on to say, the miners' 96 declarations had made it plain that they were unable to accept any departure from the 1924 minimum. But, as a last resort even now, they invited the miners to consider the principle of the Report so far as the reduction of wages was concerned, and then the Government would be prepared to extend the time of the subsidy in order that discussion might take place as to the amount,
The right hon. Gentleman will excuse me again, but this is very important. I have the words here; this is the shorthand note—
Exactly, but I am quoting from the verbatim report. This is what was said on Friday night:
" PRIME MINISTER (to Mr. Smith): Will you accept the Report, Mr. Smith? "
§ Sir R. HORNE
I have not reached that place yet. I have not reached the answer given on Friday night; I am giving the letter of Friday morning, which one would have supposed would at least have extracted an answer. Here is the answer that was sent by the Trades Union Committee in reply to the Government's memorandum:The miners state they are not prepared to accept a reduction in wages as a preliminary to the reorganisation of the industry, but they reiterate "— —I would ask the House to observe this—that they will he prepared to "—to do what?—that they will be prepared to give A. full consideration to all the difficulties connected with the industry when the scheme for reorganisation will have been initiated by t—he Government.They do not say that when the schemes of reorganisation have been initiated they will be willing to discuss the question of wages at all. They were asked an explicit question, whether they woul—d consider the question of wages, and the answer is, "We shall be prepared to consider the difficulties of the industry." I cannot imagine equivocation going further than that answer. Of course, what took place —later in the evening, as is stated in the report quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, was that Mr. Herbert Smith came to the Prime Minister, and had a talk with him and even then his ultimate attitude was, upon 97 that phase, that he was not prepared to consider a reduction of wages. If my right hon. Friend has anything more to say in reply to that, I shall be very glad to hear it.
Exactly. Let the House please observe that, when the right hon. Gentleman talked about this quotation of Friday morning, it was not on the Friday morning but the reply quoted is the reply which reached the miners, with the terms, at 1.15 on Friday mid-day. Then the meeting took place, as the right hon. Gentleman has indicated, and this is the question put by the Prime Minister:PRIME MINISTER (to Mr. Smith): Will you accept the Report, Mr. Smith?MR. SMITH: When you say, will we accept the Report,' I should answer that question like this: When we see what the re-organisation is going to be, and what the amalgamations and selling agencies are going to be, all provided in the Report, we shall he prepared then to discuss the whole thing. If the policy of re-organisation is worked wit properly, we are bound to enter into a. discussion, but I am not prepared to accept a reduction in wages in advance. I want to tell you straight that I want to see the horse I am going to mount.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The House will observe that, after all that verbiage, Mr. Smith has never mice said that he would be prepared to accept the principle of a reduction of wages. But the matter does not stop there. He attended other meetings after that, and his last words of importance, as far as I can find, to the delegates at the miners' conference on Saturday Were that they must not, be asked to accept any reduction of wages. That was not a question of being preliminary to anything; it was—[Interruption.] If my right hon. Friend had been listening, he would have observed, when the Prime Minister was speaking about standing fast on the (pest ion of wages, how many cheers came From the benches behind him, indicating full approval of that. It is out of all question to say that there was any willingness on the part of the miners at any time to accept the principle, which the Report definitely contained, that there must be an immediate reduction of wages if the industry was to survive.
§ Mr. WALSH
Will my right hon. Friend observe that, on page 229 of the Report, it says something very different from what he says, and from what he asks the House to believe? Here are the exact words— 98 these are the suggestions for meeting the situation:Our suggestions for meeting the present situation are as follows:1. Before any sacrifices are asked for from those engaged in the industry, it shall be definitely agreed between them that all practicable means for improving its organisation and increasing its efficiency should be adopted "—before any sacrifices are asked for—[HON. MEBERS "Agreed!"]—as speedily as the circumstances in each case allow.There is a full stop there. I submit to the House that my right hon. Friend is not entitled to say that it is an essential condition that first of all reductions in wages must be agreed to, the first and essential consideration, in view of the statement here, being that, before any sacrifices are asked for, some other things must be done.
§ Sir R. HORNE
—hut it does not give effect to his words. What it says is that, after an agreement, these sacrifices, which were asked of both parties—that is to say, both owners and miners—should be adopted.
§ Sir R. HORNE
There is no question about it. The Commissioners' Report would be nonsense without accepting what they say as to an immediate reduction of wages being necessary, and that reduction—[Interruption]—well, I will read the passage—[HON. MEMBERS: "From the Report !"] I am afraid my hon. Friends opposite are not sufficiently familiar with that document. I have already read it, but I will read it now from the Report, in order sufficiently to assure my hon. Friends that I am reading it correctly:If the present hours are to be retained, we think a revision of the minimum percentage addition to standard rates of wages,' fixed in 1924 at a time of temporary prosperity, is indispensable. A disaster is impending over the industry, and the immediate reduction of working costs that can be effected in this way, and in this way alone, is essential to save it.99 That is on page 236 of the Report. It is perfectly plain that this immediate reduction of costs is the Commissioners' desideratum, and, since it is also plain that the Commissioners said that the subsidy should not be continued, where was the reduction of costs to come from? If there was to be no subsidy, how was the industry to carry on? It could mean only that this immediate reduction of wages was absolutely essential to the carrying out of this Report. I ask the judgment of the House, after these passages, whether it is not grotesque to say that the Government has failed to do its duty in the attempt to bring the parties together. Since the right hon. Gentleman was an gaged in these meeings over Sunday, I wonder if he, or anyone, would give the assurance that at any time they have had the mandate of the miners to agree to a reduction of wages on the principle of the Report.
I cannot, and do not intend to refer to private conversations, which I am precluded from doing, but the General Council told the Prime Minister that they would themselves take the responsibility—they would do it to-day with the authority of Mr. Herbert Smith to discuss that Report, and get a settlement of it which included that recommendation in the Report.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The House knows how clever the right hon. Gentleman is, and if he cannot give a better reply than that, it is obvious that there was no willingness or readiness at all—
§ Sir R. HORNE
—on the part of the miners to agree to that portion of the Report which requires an immediate reduction of wages. I am not criticising the miners for this. I do not say they were not absolutely right to take up that attitude. All I am saying is that when we came to a discussion as to how this matter arose I could find no reason whatsoever to blame a single step the Government took, or to say there was any step they omitted. When the history of this difficulty comes to be written it will be said of this Government that, from the time when they first came forward and gave a subsidy, amounting to a very large sum of the taxpayers' money, to the time 100 when in the end they were willing to extend the subsidy, against the wish of what was known to be a great body of people in the country, they showed every reasonable latitude, and went to every limit that was possible.
There was another remark which the right hon. Gentleman made which I should like to say a word about. There is no one in the country who wishes to see wages reduced, or the standard of living of anyone reduced. Everyone realises that that is only the way to bring trouble. The higher the wages that can he paid, and the more comfortable people are in their existence, the more chance there is of the country going ahead, for the benefit of everyone. But we must be alive to the fact that we live in very difficult times. I am sure every Member of the House receives the same sort of letters that I get daily from a very large number of people who are living to-day at a standard of life that does not amount to 50 per cent. of what they were able to get before the War, and a large number are unable to find any sort of employment at all. The House will forgive me if I give two examples out of my personal post bag to show that it is not only one section of the community that has suffered a diminution in the standard of life. had a letter not very long ago from a young man who had been to the same school I went to in Scotland. He started life in a shipping company's office as a clerk. He did well and came to one of the biggest shipping offices in London. There he made a very considerable success and got an advancement by going to another shipping office in Singapore, where he held a comparatively high post. When the War broke out, he came home and enlisted as a private. He served throughout the War and left the Army as a Captain with certificates such as could not be bettered. That young man to-day, for lack of a job, is serving as a common porter in Covent Garden Fruit Market.
§ Sir R. HORNE
That is one example. Let me give another. A man wrote to me some months ago. He had been a lawyer, and when the War was over his business was gone. He said he could not take a lowly position in another 101 place in Glasgow, and asked if I could get him a job as an office keeper in London. These are only two examples out of hundreds of cases, not dissimilar, that I am sure come to all of us. We have to realise that we are not living in ordinary times. Other people than the miners have had their wage standard reduced. I take the case of the engineers. I am sure the miners do not say they are a much better body of men than the engineers. After all, most engineers are skilled men, who have spent five years in apprenticeship, and before the War used to earn excellent wages. The Commission reports that, whereas the miners' standard of wages was 78 per cent. above pre-War, that of the engineers was only 45 to 55 per cent., and that while the man at the face was earning 70s. a week, an engineer-fitter, a skilled man, was making only 56s. 6d., and in the shipyards a skilled shipwright was making only 55s. 7d. This disaster does not come upon us through any desire to cut down wages in any particular industry. All the unsheltered industries are suffering alike, and the miners must not ask us to believe they are being put in a. very exceptional difficulty as compared with the other industries of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) asked, "What is the strike all about?" Tho answer is very simple. A stoppage has occurred, and for exactly the same reason as occurred when he and I had to confront a similar difficulty in 1921. It is because, as the Commissioners show, there is not sufficient money in the industry to pay the wages that are being asked, and you cannot get more than a pint out of a pint pot. That really is the situation.
§ Mr. MACLAREN
Toes the right hon. Gentleman Make out that capital pays the wages, or does he admit that Labour renders a service for the wages it gets?
§ Sir R. HORNE
If the hon. Member wants a theorotical economic discussion, I shall be delighted to spend an agreeable evening in an amiable argument, but my purpose now is quite other than that. The difficulties of this trade are, really, not difficult to understand. They have been carefully analysed in the Report. It shows that the export trade has been 102 dwindling. Attention has been called to the increased exports in recent months Compared with the first three months of last year, but that arose from two causes. One was the anthracite strike in America, which caused a large export of anthracite from here, and the other is that the coalowners, for the most part, took advantage of the subsidy not to put the money into their pockets, but to endeavour to regain the South American markets. But let the House remember that the coal industry has had a tremendous accretion in its personnel. In 1913 there were 1,110,000 men in the coal industry, and there was an output of 297,000,000 tons. In 1920 you had 1,248,000 in the industry, and the output had decreased by 20 per cut. to 257,000,000 tons. If, accordingly, you have a greater personnel to keep, and a less output to keep them on, is it possible to say you can keep the wages up to the same level?
§ Sir H. HORNE
The truth stares you in the face, that you are trying to keep very much larger bodies of people on a less output, and it is obvious that you cannot have the same standard of life. Now, however, that you have a declaration of a general strike, this crisis Is taken out of the category of the ordinary labour dispute altogether. We have had a declaration that the essential services of the country are to be stopped, and the Trade Union Committee make no bones about using that threat. There is a question as to whether in the matter of electricity and gas they are not in direct breach of a Statute at present. In other cases there arc breaches of contract, but the statute that deals with public utility lays down very strict injunctions as to what a man may do without notice in leaving his job. At any rate they have taken upon themselves to adopt that policy. Happily we have advice upon this matter from no less a gentleman than the Leader of the Opposition. In a letter deliberately written, and not in a public speech or in the heat of debate, he gave his considered views. He said:No Government could live if it did not help to maintain essential services.103 He says further:The functions of Government cannot be assumed by any organisation but that of the Government.And he goes on to say, I think wisely:The more serious the threat the more rigid should the Government he to carry out the letter as well as the spirit of their constitutional responsibilities.''Let us see what this means. I understand it very well, but I- do not think my right hon. Friend (Mr. R. MacDonald) wishes to face the implication of what he said. We have here a very strong combination of unions. It is not the case of a union defending itself against the lowering of wages; it is a combination of unions allied together to act in combination under circumstances which they think proper. Their arrangements are so extraordinary that a junta of men may, without consultation with their constituents, decide to bring the country to a standstill, and to order the life of every citizen in the country. For example, they could, if they chose, having an organisation of that kind, use it for political purposes just as easily as for industrial purposes. They could, for example, say, "Unless you give nationalisation to the mines, we will hold up the. eountry." There is no political problem upon which they cannot use this extraordinarily powerful machine which they have created. This action, be it remembered, is their first. The organisation has not been in existence before. If this is its first action, what may we anticipate will be its further progress in interference with the life of the country?
§ Sir R. HORNE
The constitutional life of this country cannot be carried on if this kind of mechanism is allowed to usurp the place of government, and to dictate. to the people. They arc going to allow us to get our food, not because we are free citizens of a democratic State, but only of their grace and mercy. I remember a remark of the Leader of the Opposition on Saturday, in a speech which he made after the terrible events which I am sure have saddened the hearts of the whole of the responsible citizens of this country. He said he was moved with a great emotion. also am moved to-day with emotion.
§ Sir R. HORNE
This is the saddest spectacle with which any one of us has ever been confronted. There was no episode in the War which created so much anxiety and apprehension in our breasts as the thought that those who would ordinarily be acting with us are determined to ally themselves against the Government. I never understood the psychology which advocates arbitration in all international disputes, but absolutely refuses it in cases of difference between our own kith and kin. I am moved with anxiety about this old country, to which we all belong, and which I am sure we all love. With all its limitations, it is the freest country in the world, and in suite of all its faults, it is the sweetest country in the world. We have gone through a time of great vicissitudes and great misfortunes. We endured the horror, of the War with a courage which was tiring-Hailed. We have faced the after difficulties of the War, and dealt with them in a spirit of high honour and patience that has commanded the admiration of the world. -We seemed just to be emerging at the present time from the tangle of difficulties in which for so long we have been enmeshed. It has been a steep and uphill task, and now it looks as though we arc going to be thrown hack into the abyss. Poor, unhappy Britain! We are faced with this trouble, and we must meet it with the same courage that we have met other misfortunes of our time. You cannot, happily, exhaust the fortitude of the British people in a high cause, nor can you intimidate them. In my opinion, the whole instincts of the British people will revolt against any attempts to take from them their freedom and to plant a tyranny in of constitutional government.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I never rose to address this House feeling more deeply in my heart that I wished it were unnecessary that T should do so. To-day we have to face a situation the end of which, the evolution of which, not even the keenest-eyed foreseer can visualise now. I have' risen to ask the house whether it is impossible, in our moment of great trial, to rise to that magnificent power which would put that trial under our feet and upon it raise ourselves to the height of a great triumph. It is all 105 very well to raise points that are quite germane in negotiation. I, although not having been in the negotiations have been separated from them by such a very thin partition that. I might say the partition was transparent, feel, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) feels, that at this moment we might concentrate our minds upon the real issues, which have suffered a severe setback.
May I try to explain what the situation is and what the difficulty is? A great deal has been said about wages in relation to the Report. What is the position there? Let us be perfectly clear about one thing. If the owners and the miners are alone left to try to settle the question of wages in the coalfield, there will be no settlement and there can be no settlement? Why? When I started this business, I thought that perhaps the difficulty was due to the fact that there was some special devilment in one or in the other of the two parties. That is not the case. In this respect, the value of the Royal Commission upon Coal is not in the document that we all know, which is sold at 13. From the point of view of understanding the real problem of wages, this House must turn repeatedly to those three enormous folio volumes which, unfortunately, cost 15s. In pages 215 and 235 the House will find a series of tables showing the losses in the getting of coal in district after district, in a combination of districts under the national averages, in cost. of production, production per man, production per man shift and so on. What emerges from these figures? In my opinion what emerges is the biggest thing in the whole situation.
Let me ask the House to visualise one thing. Take the table dealing with profits. It begins by showing the maximum profit in shillings per ton of coal raised, and it comes down to sixpences or shillings to the bottom statement, which gives the maximum loss per ton of coal raised. Across the top you get in various columns essential information regarding the amount of coal raised in each category, the amount raised at 5s. per ton. profit, at 4s. per ton profit, and so on. What does that mean? It means this, that the problem of settling a national minimum, on account of the great variety of district prices and district profits exists in the districts themselves. The difficulty in using a paper authority 106 as the basis for the payment of wages does not merely affect the nation as a whole, the whole of the national coal field, but it is pr, sent with the same baffling force in the districts themselves.
It is quite obvious that no wage agreement can be come to, whether it be an increase in wages, a stationary condition of wages or a decrease in wages, without co-ordination. if hon. Members opposite were miners and had to face this problem, after having read the reports of negotiations, from the point of view of their own wives and their children, they would come to the conclusion that unless there is co-ordination in the trade there can be no settlement of the wages difficulty. A very able general manager of a railway once made a remark which I found very enlightening at the time, and I find it so still. lie said: Has it struck you that if we had to sectionalise our railway, every 20 miles or every 100 miles, independently of the whole system, it would be absolutely impossible to run a national system of railways that would take you from John o' Groats to Land's End." It is the co-ordination of the national services to meet the national needs which is the basis of the smooth running of the whole system.
I do not know how far hon. Members are willing to go, but you must have some co-ordination. Now that is what the miners, have stood out for, and when on this day of all others hon. Members come here with nice little arguments about figures that is not going to save the position. Hon. Members know perfectly well that the history of the coal trade is a special part of the industrial history of this country. Hon. Members who come from Lancashire, Yorkshire and South Wales know that quite well. If you take the history of engineering, the history of iron, the history of any of the great sections of our national industries, there is none of them which has its pages so disgracefully black as the history of our coal-mining industry. As reasonable men, and as men of the world, we must expect to find that history reflected in the men who are living to-day. You cannot get away from it. That is one of the explanations of the very true observation which was made by the Prime Minister, that he found himself uncomfortable when he had to go into this freezing atmosphere of unholy suspicion 107 and hostility which you always get the moment you have these two sections alongside or opposing you.
These are facts, and they must be taken into account when you are negotiating. Therefore, when the question of wages was mentioned—not a question of increase or anything else, but just the question of wages—almost any keenly alive workman would immediately pull himself together, feeling that something was being attacked. It is in the air. It is useless to say that you are not contemplating it, because as a matter of fact they have experienced it. Let me put it this way, and in a way that I hope will not be offensive. Suppose one of those contemptible demagogic humbugs who arise from time to time wanted to fix upon something, some cry or slogan, which would raise all the fears and passions of the working class multitudes of this country. If such a man came to me and asked my advice and I was in the way of giving him that advice—if he, asked me from my knowledge of the working-class psychology of the present moment what sort of question he should embody in this slogan he was going to use in order to raise fear and to get certain things in his capacity as humbug, I should say "raise the question of wages; that will settle the whole thing." That is quite true. Every employer knows it.
I blame the Government very much, because I think this is one of the things which the Government might have done before. It threw the owners and the workpeople in the coal trade, with that economic problem which is embedded in these papers and that extraordinarily valuable Report and with that psychology which is prevalent at the moment, it threw them together, and said, "Settle the wages problem between you." That drew from the miners the dogma that not a penny of reduction and not a minute of increase of time and no district settlement should he agreed to. Of course, those of us who are outside it all to a certain extent, and can employ what you might call our free reason upon it in criticising our friends, may say, "Why do do you not keep yourselves free?" It is all very well to indulge in those criticisms. Hon. Members who have any experience of trade union negotiations know perfectly well the tremendous difficulties in doing that. The Prime Minister paid a tribute 108 to the way in which my colleagues have worked for peace. But the Prime Minister really does not know how they have worked for peace. He saw what he did see, and heard what he did hear, but I saw what he did not see and I heard what he did not hear—the fight for peace which was put up by us all, the striving to get security, to get confidence, to get people to believe in each other.
That is what is happening to-day. You are talking and acting, and people are ceasing to believe you, and when you come to them with fine words and say, "We have no intention of doing this or that or the other thing," people are ceasing to believe all of it, and are fearing that you are talking up your sleeve all the time. It is one of the curses of the present day, this lack of co-operative belief that we mean truly what we say, and that we are trying to make our nation better and our people happier. My colleagues have been fighting for that. Of course, on Monday they did not get it, on Tuesday they did not get it; but they did get it stage by stage. What was the excuse for the miners? I am putting it very low. What was their principal excuse and justification? The miners said, "No consideration of wages apart from reconstruction." Now the Commission says that. It is all very well to quote page 236. It is quite true that your quotation is there; I do not dispute that. But, even before this discussion or deadlock arose, my reading of the Report was that everything said about wages was controlled by what was said on page 229. I cannot see how you can vet away from it. It may he that there are different views. I do not know. It may be that page 229 is not the same as page 230, but I refuse to believe that the Commission, which has produced such an extra. ordinarily able Report, was going to mean one thing on page 229 and another thing on page 236. But I can believe, and I do believe, that often when you start to draft. a Memorandum, if you have some large controlling and qualifying idea which is going to run from the beginning to the end of your draft, you put it right the forefront, and then you go on to make statements knowing that all the other statements, even if they are made in an absolute form later on, are qualified by the statement you have put down at the beginning of your draft. It is very important that we should 109 understand the miners' mind, whether it is our own mind or not. This what the Report says on page 229:It is necessary finally to emphasise the fact that in our view a revision of the minimum percentage should depend upon the acceptance by all the parties of such measures of re-organisation as will secure to the industry a new lease of prosperity leading to higher wages.That is the first sentence. Who is going to say whether any proposal is going to secure the industry a new lease of prosperity? Is it the Government alone? Of course not. If there is going to be a reduction of wages accepted by the miners upon a programme of reconstruction, the miners must see that programme of reconstruction first. That is surely common sense. But there is another point. The Report goes on, after passing over a heading, to say "Before any sacrifices are asked"—that is the very opening qualifying warning words—Before any sacrifices are asked "—not enforced but 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.That is the case for the miners. Everything else must follow from that. Now you cannot go away and just blindly say that this or that is the real reading of the Report, and that you are not going to encourage anybody to give it even a chance of exploration. On Friday night, after some hours of black depression, about 9 o'clock I thought that the sun had broken through, because we did get a statement from the miners which, in view of the new things which have arisen and owing to the fact that we were negotiating with the Government, and in view of the fact that we bad put up this point which I have just left in my argument—in view of the fact that. we said to the miners, "Yes, we arc going to try and get the wages question discussed and settled in relation to the reconstruction question," I was hopeful. I candidly confess that if I had been a miner I would not have moved a second before. They did the right thing. They moved. There are masters of the English language here, and there are people who are not masters of the English language. Mr. Herbert Smith made this statement in public on Saturday, and I say that it is quite clear 110 as an indication of what was in their minds. He made a speech which I personally welcome as a great contribution to peace, and then there was some misunderstanding as to what he did say. Mr. Smith made another speech in which he said, "I did not say this, I said that," and it makes much stronger the statement, whatever it is, when it is said in that much more definite way. What did Mr. Smith say in his second speech? This is his second statement:Somebody had declared that he had agreed to accept the Report. What he intended to say was that he was prepared to examine the Report from page one to the last page and stand by the result of the final judgment.[An HON. MEMBER, "That is nothing at all!"] Do not let us hurry. I am trying still—it may be a thankless and Godless task, and I do not know what sort of awkward task. I have not moved from the position I took up last Monday, and I am not going to move from it at all, whatever hon. Members may say. What I say is this, that their statement shows that they are prepared to discuss wages in relation to the Report, and it also indicates that they are prepared to accept the decision. Supposing it is as vague as some hon. Members think, is it worth while fighting on the margin of vagueness in that statement when we have not had time to explore it finally? If you say there is still something there remaining, I may agree with you. But there is a very short time. Is there any justification whilst we are still working at it at this moment. I am putting the case on which, at 20 minutes past seven on Monday, the man who stands for peace takes his stand upon; and I am going to be for peace at 20 minutes past seven on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, and right through until it is finished. This is the situation. We are still working at that, and because there was no time, everything was precipitated. Something has been said about the employers. I think the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made a mistake quite naturally about this; the thing has not been properly published. One requires to have been there, to have been able to follow minute by minute all the intricacies of the controversy. This is what happened. The owners posted up their lock-out notices. There is a new 111 creed out to-day, I have not observed it before, that only those who accept the whole of the Report are saved in this case. When the owners posted up their notices for a district settlement they went home and did not even consult the miners in their districts. They posted up these notices, I believe some of them had figures and some had not, but whether they had or had not does not matter. The miners rejected that absolutely. There is no mistake about that.
Then the Government come in on Thursday, and 1 came in, I believe, on the Monday; but there was no offer except the lock-out notices. On Tuesday from another place, and with great anxiety that not minute should be lost., I sent message after message to push on and get something. Nothing. Wednesday the same. Thursday the same. On Friday I was told that things were getting had, and I came down again. The lock-out notices were actually in operation from either mid-day or one o'clock, and a lat g part of them were to be in operation at two o'clock, when the two o'clock shift came on, and there was no offer from the employers that came even partly within this Agreement, this Report, until a quarter-past one on Friday afternoon. There is no mistake about that—no offer from the employers that came partly within the Report until a quarter-past one on Friday afternoon, a fortnight after the notices had been posted up and after sonic of the earliest of them had come into effect. What have you to say for that Then the offer was not within the terms of the Report, if the Report is the book of salvation. The suggestion about hours was outside the Report.
That is not all. After the lock-out notices had begun to operate this letter which was received by an hon. Friend of mine was conveyed by the Government, not by the owners, and we wanted to know whether it was the Government's offer or the owners'. It contained a paragraph towards the end asking the miners to put up their alternative, proposal. An alternative proposal was put up. It was sent in; the leaflet that the Trade Union Congress had issued about the Report. That leaflet simply embodied the terms of the Report. What 112 happened was that, having been invited by the Government to give their alternative proposals, a letter was put in saying that the alternative proposals are the Report proposals. The thing went on, and it was quite evident that the miners had moved on the question of discussing and accepting wages conditions, and then at 11 o'clock the question was put to Mr. Herbert Smith, "Will you, before negotiations, before seeing our proposals, will you here and now agree to a reduction." That is outside the terms of the Report. You can say it was necessary, but that is another leg on which to stand. You can stand on it if you like, but if you are standing on the Report you cannot resist the comment I have made that the question put to Mr. Smith is outside the terms of the Report. Down came the guillotine after that. We have struggled, We have broken the Sunday in doing a very good piece of work, taking our neighbour's ox out of a ditch, and we have failed.
It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who interrupted me earlier about the subsidy, or the Prime Minister, who said that if an agreement could be come to they were quite willing to see if a bridge could be built between the is and the ought to be, or the is to be; and in the building of that bridge the Government might consider whether anything that it could do through the Treasury would be useful, Personally, the subsidy, in idea, I oppose, but as an expedient at the last minute on the grounds of necessity it may be you cannot yet avoid it, but to imagine that you are going to keep an essential industry of the country, a big industry, iron, coal and cotton, on subsidies is absurd. You cannot do it. This was the idea we were working on, a fortnight's continuance of the status quo during which time a sort of treaty, I believe that was the word used, not only by myself but by some others on the other side, would be made on the basis of certain temporary agreements, and that in making them the question of wages should he faced and faced honestly. The treaty should be determinate by a certain date which should be fixed; a definite temporary agreement, and at the end of that time the industry should be self-contained carrying its own burden and working out its own salvation. Roughly, that was the idea. I do not feel we have finished, or 113 that we have come up against a stone wall.
I really wish sonic Members opposite had been in some of the negotiations I have been in. Some of them had been in as protracted negotiations. Bat from Friday to Sunday night, when we really got to hand gripe, is not long. The worst is this, that whereas you gave us, Labour, from 1.15 p.m. on the 30th to 12 o'clock on that night to give a final answer, it took the Owners from 13th April to the 30th April to send in their reply. There is no doubt about that. On the 13th April the Government approached the owners, who had previously decided to offer terms which were outside the Report of the Coin-mission. I do not know what happened; I do not want to know, and I do not care. I am not interested to know, but whether they defied you, made any answer to your request, the fact remains here, staring you in the fare, that in order to get the owners away from a position which was contrary to the Report, taken up before the 13th April, and which was a subject of representation from the Government on the 13th April, we, my right hon. Friends and I, had to wait until the 30th April before the reply came. At 1.15 on the 30th April we had the owners' reply to a protest on the part of the Government delivered on the 13th April. Between 1.15 and 12 o'clock we were asked to give our reply. That is not putting on colour. During those hours, when we charged ourselves with the difficult task of getting peace, those notices were expiring. Word was coming in, "South Wales out," this place and the other place out, "Two o'clock shift here out," and so on. And when we were sitting in the Committee rooms waiting for a reply, the conversation among our mining colleagues, pulling out their watches, was, "Well, they are all out now; the time has gone." That was the manner in which we had to try to persuade them to see what could be done to deal with the position, and, to their eternal credit, be it said, they accepted our appeals, and they made our statements.
Have we come to the end of it? I do not know. We have all done our best, and we Will continue to do it. The Prime Minister said that he down with an 114 aching heart. I got up with an aching heart. A remark was made about something I said regarding a general strike. If I have a grievance against the Prime Minister for having read out a statement of mine, it is that he selected a very poor condemnation. I have gone far more into detail than that. This makes no difference to me at all. I have made all the contribution I can. With the discussion of general strikes and Bolshevism and all that kind of thing, I have nothing to do at all. I respect the Constitution as much as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). I am not at all sure, although one does not like to say this, what is to happen even in the highest society unless reason is to he the basis of our social life. I said this, "No man and no party can ever stand between society and revolution unless reason is moving on both sides. Behind the darn which requires to be raised and raised and raised, a heavy, overwhelming, overpowering great flood of water is rising. At last the darn is broken." I have said that, and that is the difficulty in which we are finding ourselves. Every hoer or two—a clay or two—can we afford the time.? The miner says, "I must defend my standard of life." Whether he defends it by complicated methods of calculating his wages or not, is no matter; there is no complicated calculation required for the money he gets at the end of the week. There is no complicated calculation in the little group of pay-sheets which I have showing these wages— £1 8s. 9d., £2 0s. 9d., £2 lls. 2d., £2 ls. 3d., £1 5s. 5d., and £l 5s. 5d. It does not matter how that is calculated. That is what he gets.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I do not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but surely he does not represent that as a wage paid to-day to the working miner working at the coal face, or even to a labourer underground. These are the wages of surface workers.
§ The MINIATER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur steel-Maitland)
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that that is the wage paid for a full week's work?
§ Sir R. HORNE
All I want to suggest is that the right hon. Gentleman will find the average earnings in the Coal Commission's Report. Surely that is better 115 testimony than the scraps he has given us here.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
The right hon. Gentleman does not live on average figures; he lives on his actual income, and so do I.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
If the earnings I have quoted are all he is getting, the average figures will not help him in his savings. These are actual wages paid to miners. I do not consider whether they are average or not average. This idea of average earnings is a method of dealing with human problems that is misleading us altogether. [Interruption.] I have had four or five or six of these slips handed in, and I say these are the wages earned by miners working in a coal pit. [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Really we are dealing with serious matters, and I must ask hon. Members to restrain themselves. We have to deal with very large matters, and a great deal may depend upon how we deal with them.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
As a matter of fact, during the last five or six minutes. I have been comp etely misled from the point I wish to make, but let there be no mistake about the figures. These represent the earnings of miners in a particular pit, and no one is to persuade my hon Friends that they are not more or less representative of every individual miner. If you were dealing with a body of men like that, and dealing with wages like that, and if you were a trade union secretary, a national secretary, or a district secretary, and these figures were your incomes, I will do hon. Members opposite the justice, I always like to do them, by saying there is not a single one of you that would be very pliable if the proposition was made to reduce those wages, and if the proposition was made to you to reduce much higher wares, you would be very careful that you did not entertain the proposition without careful investigation first of all. I do not know that the last word of the Government is that a general strike may develop, as it may. Are they quite right in taking up the attitude they have taken? In negotia- 116 tions, further explorations, helpfulness in any way without betraying anybody, without giving advice which one cannot conscientiously give from the point of view of national interests—we are ready to give it, because we know perfectly well what a tremendous industrial upheaval may happen. Above all, whatever our views may be, do not let us enter into it, and do not let us keep in it, except with minds determined to see fair play and to do justice all the time.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman has certainly preserved the calm and restraint which he enjoined upon others and, indeed, the extreme self-control which the House has shown throughout this Debate is the measure of the deep anxiety and sorrow we all feel at the miserable turn which the fortunes of our country have taken. We gladly recognise the efforts for peace which have been made by the Trade Union Committee, by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last and, of course, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), who has striven with all the compulsive and persuasive powers of his nature and of his experience to bring about a. warding-off of this shocking disaster in our national life. We, too, have striven for peace, and we have deeds as well as words which can be quoted. We have the subsidy of £24,000,000 which we have provided, although it ruined and shattered the finance of two successive years and which we have paid for and which is there. We have also provided another sum of approximately £3,000,000 which could be used to ease the bump where the changeover from subsidy to no subsidy would have involved very serious grievance. A sum of £3,000,000 at the present rate of subsidy, applied to the districts where the change would have involved the greatest hardship would have been a very substantial alleviation for probably three months.
Then, apart from making this immense contribution in the money of the taxpayer, we have accepted boldly and frankly the recommendations of the Report as far as it falls upon us to do so. We did not pretend that we agreed with them. The very idea of finding £100,000,000 or more to buy out the owners of mining royalties implies an operation upon our credit deeply injurious 117 to the whole of our conversion situation. We had our doubts about municipal trading in coal, and there were other points, but when it came to a question of this great hope of settlement passing away because, forsooth, while both the other parties adhered to the Report, the Government were not able to give its whole-hearted acquiescence, we said, "Never mind what our opinions on these points have been; we will make the sacrifice of those political opinions in order that the matter shall not fall to the ground through any failure on our part." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) asked what would happen if the owners had not accepted and if the miners had accepted. Well, as far as I am able to state the case shortly, the owners have given a general acceptance with very small reservations, and I am quite certain that if these small reservations were the only outstanding points, negotiation, and if necessary, Parliamentary action, would ultimately have adjusted those very small outstanding points.
If I say that we on our side made great efforts for peace, and if we freely acknowledge the efforts of the Parliamentary leaders of the party opposite, I am not prepared, quite frankly, to extend that tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon. I do not think his record on the subject entitles him to censure and criticise the Government. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing to-day? He is criticising us for not making a further prolongation of the subsidy. He has criticised us for not doing that at a time when a general strike is actually about to take place in the country. What did my right hon. Friend say nine months ago—in July last? I have no quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman opposite on that point. When we gave the subsidy in July last the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogrnore (Mr. Hartshorn) said they Isere grateful and recognised it as a help. "If it is not a settlement," they said, "thank God, it does tide us over." And they accepted it with thankfulness. But my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon used it as an occasion for derision and scorn which he heaped upon the Government, and, not only did he criticise the subsidy, but he criticised the giving of the subskly under a threat 118 nothing like so definite as that which we have now—not a threat of a general strike. He said we had given the subsidy not because of any considered judgment, but because of the threat that was made, and added:Quite frankly the Government were afraid of facing cold steel.That was the line of argument used by the right hon. Gentleman nine months ago, when there was a great justification for the, subsidy, namely, that the facts of the coal trade were not known, and had never been fully explored. I do not think it is possible for the right hon. Gentleman to justify that line of argument which he used nine months ago or reconcile it with the kind of appeal which he has made to us to be reasonable, to put aside any influence of threats and so on, which might be in our minds, and to extend the subsidy on this occasion. I must say that among all the very excellent sentiments which have been expressed this afternoon there has been no success in evading the grim, obvious, underlying facts of the situation. The first fact of the situation is that we are told we must now continue the subsidy. All this talk about withdrawing lock-out notices and giving time for further consideration and allowing negotiations to be continued, reduces itself down to this: that we are to go on paying the subsidy. There is nothing else in it. It is no good our saying, "Withdraw the lock-out notices" when the owners will ask how are they to conduct their business at a loss, prove-able, I believe, on the figures, of about £600,000 a. week? Therefore, if the lockout notices are to be withdrawn, that is only another way of saying you must continue the subsidy.
I do not take up an unreasonable position about that matter. In the Budget I revealed deliberately and by design to the House the fact that T still possessed £3,000,000 which could be used as a taper, which could actually he used for a prolongation of a fortnight or three weeks, but that before we undertook that. step it was essential that we, should be in a position to say honestly that we believed reasonably there was some prospect of matters being further advanced at the end of that period. I can only give a general outline of what has passed, although I have followed with deep interest and close attention all the 119 negotiations, I have not been involved in the actual personal conduct of these negotiations. My right hon. Friend opposite has seen me waiting about outside doors at critical meetings and keeping in the closest touch with events, but I have not been present myself, and therefore, if I state anything which is not precisely and exactly what occurred hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will understand.
I have, however, a general view of the position and I have the information of my colleagues here in regard to particular details and I say, without hesitation, that the impression left upon me is that for all practical purposes the miners have not budged one inch since July last. I do not see, and I do not know in what practical way they have at all receded from the position which they then held so strongly and intensely that there must not be one minute's prolongation of the time or one shilling's diminution of the wage. If they will not accept a reduction of wages, and if the owners cannot be forced to carry on the business at a loss, it is perfectly clear the only alternative left is for the State to continue the. subsidy for a prolonged period. [HON. MEMBERS: "A fortnight."] Does anybody suppose that the continuance of the subsidy for a fortnight is going to allow this matter to be settled? I cannot believe it for one moment. How can we justify prolonging this subsidy while the coal trade is being reorganised?
There is a very important point here. I only deal with the question of the fortnight. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the advisers of the Government actually told us on Saturday night that there might be a possibility of getting general agreement on a basis of the Report within another two days?
Sir A. STEEL-MAlTLAND
The Chancellor of the Exchequer allows me to speak. It was said it might be possible to get agreement. Some people, who were most optimistic, said "in a couple of days" and some said "in a fortnight," and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, ideas as to the time differed. The real question at issue was this: that there would be no real guarantee or assurance whatever that, if an extension was given, we should not be at the end 120 of a fortnight's prolongation in exactly the same state as we are in at the present time, because the miners have never budged one inch from their attitude as regards accepting the Report.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
At any rate, however many differences there may be about the interpretation of what was said and what was inferred on a particular occasion, let the House look at the plain and simple facts. Is there anyone who does not believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has desired to avert this breakdown more than any other man in the whole country? I s there anyone who can dispute the fact that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have as great a political interest in averting this disaster as any other Member of the House. Does anybody seriously hold the idea that the question of a small prolongation would have stood in the way if there had been any practical hope of settlement? We would gladly have made the sacrifice and, even if we had made a statement to the contrary, We would not have allowed that statement to stand in the way provided we were sure there was, not a certain, but a reasonable, hope of getting a permanent solution. Obviously, however, things cannot get into the position where we are committed to an indefinite prolongation of the subsidy while a somewhat vague reorganisation is going on laboriously in the coal trade as preliminary to any readjustment of economic conditions.
It has been said, "What does it mean—it is taxpayers' money." It is money taken from the pockets of the people of the country; it is taken from the necessities and comforts of the working classes. Agriculture, steel, iron, shipbuilding, are all suffering too, and in some cases and in many parts, the conditions both of hours and labour are worse in those industries than they are in the coal industry, or parts of it. How can you justify the whole country being forced to pay this particular levy almost indefinitely, when there is no prospect of any solution? Anyhow, whether it is just or not that there should he a continuance of the coal subsidy to the miners and mineowners in the pressing circum-stances, that is a. question which Parliament and Parliament alone can competently decide. This Parliament 121 representing 45,000,000 is the only body that can judge of the correlation of all the interests in the country.
If that be so, if 1 have given a fairly accurate account of the situation, what is the position created by the decision to call a general strike? That decision is the second fact in the situation. The first fact is the demand for a continuance of the subsidy; the second is the terrible, blasting, devastating menace of a general strike throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman drew distinctions between general strikes. He said there were general strikes to force legislation, and that these were shocking and unconstitutional, but a general strike out of mere sympathy" in a wages dispute, apparently, he regarded as legitimate. sec no difference whatever between a general strike to force Parliament to pass some Bill, which the country does not wish for, arid a general strike to force Parliament to pay a subsidy. There is a great distinction between a trace dispute, designed to bring about a solution as betweer masters and men, and a general strike of this character. We all deplore strikes, but the strike has been found almost the only way, when ether means have failed, of getting to a Conclusion in regard to trade disputes, and organisad labour has repeatedly repulsed the idea of compulsory arbitration. We have recognised it for years as a lamentable method of adjusting disputes when everything else has failed.
Suppose we have a miners' strike; as we have seen twice before it is a process of reducing people, by cruel losses on all sides. Government, miners and mine-owners all are reduced to the same position where, after the lapse of time, they come into a more reasonable frame of mind and offer in weakness or in sorrowto make a settlement. That is the process, and it is the process that British labour has always claimed to have the right to exercise. But that is an entirely different thing from the concerted, deliberate. organised menace of a general strike in order to compel Parliament to do some-thing which it otherwise would not do. A general strike in a great number of trades, which have been selected, and of which we have been informed, in the very elaborate and thorough accounts which have been given in the papers, obviously 122 means, if it were continued for any length of time, the ruin of the country. Therefore, the country and Parliament, which represents the nation, are confronted quite simply with the choice either of being ruined or of submitting to pay very large sums of the taxpayers' money to one particular trade, which they do not think justified. It is really not possible. I am not going to use one single provocative word, for, after all, what is the use of provocative words on such an occasion, here in the House of Commons? Probably our words may go no further than the House of Commons, but all the more should they he sincere and unprovocative. It is absolutely impossible to justify the submission by Parliament to such a demand. We know how hard the leaders opposite have tried to get the miners to makes some concession, but the miners were unable to. Time and again, my colleges inform me, they were not able, their leaders, to give any practical acceptance of the Commission's Report. But whether or not the miners are right really does net arise for the purpose of the argument. Yen may think they are right, and we may think they are not right, but anyhow, right or wrong, the position we a-re in to-night is that we have either got, to face the ruin of the country or submit to a demand which is placed on us under duress. Therefore, it seems that the general strike turns, not upon the decision of the Trade Union Congress even as to whether the claims of the miners are just. it turns on the failure of the Trade Union Committee to persuade the miners to accept some modification. [Laughter.]
This is not a laughing time. If there is a, genuine desire to find the facts, I am going to do it. The right hon. Gentleman is not correct, and I had better correct him. It is true that; the General Council were empowered, and I speak officially on their behalf in saying they will accept all the responsibility, and while we were at a critical moment, a critical letter was handed to us. The Prime Minister knows we. were then engaged in finding, and had already said that we believed that we could find, a formula for acceptance. That was our mutual word between us, and it was an unfortunate fact that this other incident happened that burst it up, just when we 123 were likely to succeed. Do keep that in mind.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am bound to say I do not share the hope that the right hon. Gentleman had at that time, because I have been up against these very grim facts, that the miners are not prepared to accept any modification of their conditions at the present time. I am not blaming them a bit, but they are not, and, on the other hand, we are not prepared to continue the subsidy unless we see some swift finality in that process. But in this position, when it is our view and the view of Parliament that we are confronted either with acquiescing in the ruin of the country or submitting to the dictation of one particular industry, itself the interested party in the dispute, I cannot conceive of any Parliament worthy of the name, let alone the oldest and the strongest Parliament in the world, which would so completely abdicate its position, which would submit to such dictation, without making every exertion, and undertaking every expense, and running every risk, and taking every measure in its power that circumstances may require.
I am told this is not a strike to starve the nation into submission, and I readily recognise the offer which was made to convey food and necessaries by the Trade Union Committee, but what difference does it really make to the issue whether the country is immediately to be starved into submission or whether ruin is to be brought upon it out of which famine will emerge in a few weeks or months? There is no difference. It may have been a wise thing for the trade unions to have done, hut as far as affecting the situation is concerned, it affects it in no way, and what Government in the world could enter into partnership with a rival Government, against which it is endeavouring defend itself, and society, and allow that rival Government to sit in judgment on every train that runs and en every lorry on the road? Our title deeds in this House—and, after all, we represent a great mass of electors—[n HON. MEMBER "Not the majority! "]— We do not represent a majority, but we represent a larger number than hon. Members opposite. Our title deeds do not allow us to contemplate such a situation. We cannot by any means 124 divest ourselves of the responsibility if maintaining the life of the nation in essential services and in public order, and in pursuance of that we are bound to take every measure, and even perhaps, as time goes on, measures which, if they were ventured to-day, would seem very drastic, but which in a few weeks everyone might consider necessary.
In the nature of things that is what is so serious about the situation. It is a conflict which, if it is fought out to a conclusion, can only end in the overthrow of Parliamentary Government or in its decisive victory. There is no middle course open. Either the Parliamentary institutions of the country will emerge triumphant, and the nation, which has not flinched in the past through many ordeals, the nation, which indeed has always shown itself stronger and nobler and more generous in its hours of trouble, will once again maintain itself and be mistress in its own house, or else, on the other hand, the existing constitution will be fatally injured, and, however unwilling hon. Members opposite may be to produce that result, the consequences of their action will inevitably lead to the erection of some Soviet of trade unions on which, whether under Parliamentary forms or without them, the real effective control of the economic and political life of the country will devolve. Such a transference could only mean the effectual subversion of the State, and, therefore, weighing all the consequences, we feel bound to act as circumstances may require. It is hardly to be conceived that any considerations of weakness or fear would prevent Ministers or Members of Parliament from doing their duty to the end. No one can doubt what the end will be, but let me say this one last word before I sit down. If the executive Government of the country were at this crisis, and face to face with the situation which has now, for the first time, developed in our land, for never before has it emerged in this form, if we were in this crisis to show ourselves incapable and impotent and unable to make head and to carry on the control and authority with which the nation has entrusted us, that would not end the conflict. The Government may be brushed out of the way, but other forces, enemies to the Parliamentary constitutional system of this country, forces which 125 deserve and require the consistent control of democrats in every land, would emerge and carry on the struggle in infinitely more disastrous and tragical forms than that with which we are now threatened. From every point of view, including that of our duty in the long interests of the working classes of this country, we arc bound to face this present challenge unflinchingly, rigorously, rigidly, and resolutely to the end.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite said: "Is this then the end?" The position of the Government is not changed in any way. We are seeking peace, we are defending ourselves, we are bound to defend ourselves from the terrible menace which is levied upon us from to-morrow morning, but we are still perfectly unchanged in our attitude as it was last week. The door is always open. The negotiations were interrupted, as they had to be interrupted, because we were getting into the closing hours before this new situation supervened, and a clear and definite statement of the Government's position was essential before possibly all means of public communication were cut off. There is no question of their being a gulf across which no negotiator can pass—certainly not. The right hon. Gentleman asked me, "Is the Government taking the position that it will not negotiate?" Anyone can approach the Government who has authority, and can parley with them, and it is our duty to parley with them. But the Trade Union Congress have only to cancel the general strike and withdraw the challenge they have issued, and we shall immediately begin, with the utmost -care and patience with them again, the long, laborious task which has been pursued over these many weeks of endeavouring to rebuild on economic foundations the prosperity of the coal trade. That is our position. No door is closed; but. on the other hand, while the situation remains what it is, we have no alternative whatever but to go forward unflinchingly and do our duty.
I gather that the Prime Minister has listened with approval to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I just want to ask the Prime Minister whether the clear and specific statement of the right hon. Gentleman, namely, that negotiations could be resumed if the demand for a general 126 strike were withdrawn—does that equally apply to the lock-out, so that negotiations could be resumed? We want to know, because this is very important.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The lock-out cannot be treated of except in connection with the continuation of the subsidy.
Obviously. Of course, it cannot be treated of except in consideration of the subsidy, because obviously the lock-out of necessity means a continuance of the status quo But that does nut mean—lot me put it another way. Is there a possibility of the situation as outlined being covered on the lines of the lock-out notices and the strike notices being both withdrawn. I do not expect an answer hero to-night. I only want the House to know.
Lieut.-Commander KENWOR THY
I am sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not answer the last question put. I think it is appalling that we are going to separate to-night in the present state of things. It shows the complete bankruptcy of the House of Commons. I am sorry that the speeches so far have been made by Privy Councillors or ox-Ministers of the Crown. There has been nothing put forward by any private Member of Parliament, and yet we were sent here to try to avoid the very sort of trouble the country is in. I am sorry the Chancellor found it necessary to make the speech he has just made. it was very different from the speech made by the Prime Minister, and I am afraid we have not very far to look for the author of the ultimatum which has been the cause of the trouble. I do not want to say anything which is going to inflame passion still further. Taunts have been thrown across the Floor of the House that had much better not have been used. But the Government have taken the isolated action of a few printers on the "Daily Mail" staff as a casus belli, apparently looking for an opportunity, and taking a tactical advantage. Those who start tactics are very often beaten be tactic's and I think it is an extremely serious thing that the Government took that incident as an excuse to throw out an ultimatum which they knew perfectly well the Trade Union Congress could never obey. It is only by renewing negotiations and suspending the lock-out notices that any stoppage can be postponed even for a few hours. The 127 last acts of the Government before midnight to-night have not yet been made. We have four hours left. A great deal can be done in four hours, and such is the gravity of the situation, that if my words can reach anyone, I still hope this House can play its part in trying to find some way out of what is, apparently, at the moment, an impossible situation.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
I do not want to intervene for more than a few moments, but I would like to say there seems to be so much misunderstanding, even between people who have been negotiating, and, still more, between people who have not, that there are a few questions about which we ought to get a little more clear. Let us take the question of the so-called lock-out notices. There are no lock-out notices. The notices at the pits which I have seen, giving notice of termination of service at a certain date, state that on that day work will be continued at certain rates. That is not a lock-out. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite must be correct in their terminology. Hon. Members opposite know what a lock-out notice is. They also know that day-to-day rates will be carried on, and, if these negotiations went on, there is absolutely no reason why, as has often been the case in previous disputes, the mines cannot carry on. [An HON. MEMBER: "On reduced wages? "] Negotiations could go on at day-to-day wages at the present rate. [An HON. MEMBER: "Give us that assurance!"] It is on the notice issued. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Then hon. Members opposite, I gather, talk about these notices being given as a threat. The Mineowners' Association had to give a fortnight's notice if they wanted to change the rate of wages. The Trade Union Council. although they ought to have given a fortnight's notice, arranged that the men should come out in two days. The subsidy came to an end on the 1st May, and, if notice had not been given, it would have meant that for a fortnight's, without subsidy, the miners would have gone on at the same rate of wages, and, as hon. Members opposite know as well as I do, a great many pits could not go on doing it. After all, many Members on the other side will admit that a large number of collieries could not go on at the present rate of 128 wages, but would have to shut down. I do not see that any notice need have been given at all. It would have been much simpler to shut the pits down, because they could not pay the present wages, and leave it at that.
§ Mr. D. GRENFELL
That would be better for the workers, because they could have got unemployment benefit.
§ Sir A. MOND
I have no objection to that myself, but that is the position. I have all the time been anxious for a peaceful settlement. I am to-day. [An HON. MEMBER "So are the miners!"] So is everybody. Then why cannot we bring it about? The fact is everybody has issued some slogan from which they cannot get away. Everybody has got tied up with some claim which they do not see how now to get away from. They all seem to be slaves to words, not to facts. That is a very serious thing in a position of this kind. The position is serious, and surely it ought not to pass the wit of man to get away from this difficulty.
Let me say a word about the general strike. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite say it is not an attack on the Government or the general population. But upon whom is it an attack? It is not an attack upon the mineowners. It does not matter to the mineowners whether the engineers or others go out on strike. I have been engaged the whole morning with the responsibility for thousands of men who have to go out, with whom I have no quarrel and who have no quarrel with me. They want to go on working--to go about their daily business. They are working lowlier hours than the miners are working. [An HON MEMEITR "Miners work 8½ hours in many instances."] The legal day is seven hours, Will hon. Members go and tell the chemical workers who are working an eight-hour shift, to go out and lose their wages in a dispute in which they have no interest? They will not do it, that is all; and you will find they will not do it. Why should they? I am not arguing on merits. I am arguing what will happen. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why worry?"] Because I see these thousands of men without wages, and their wives and families suffering. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are you not going to pay them when they work?"] I am going to pay them if they do not work, too.
129 Why should the general body of work-people suffer because of the Trades Union Congress Council? Why should there be misery, why should people be involved in the dispute who have no reason to be invoived? Hon. Members opposite and others concerned cannot have thought of the consequences of the action they have taken. They cannot have thought it out. They are attacking the whole of the working classes of this country. They are not attacking the capitalist. He is net going to be worried about it, I assure you. It is the workman who is going to be worried. Therefore, surely, we ought, if it be at all possible, to get away from the position which has been taken up, and from some of the language which has been used, and endeavour to arrive at something sensible? Surel, we ought to be able to set up a Committee to-night of seven, with an independent chairman, corn-posed, say, of two Members representing the miners, two Members representing the coalowners, one Member from the Trade Unions General Council, one employer who is not a coalowner, and let them take the Commission's Report, and that which appears to be agreed upon in the Report—agreed upon in theory hut not in practice—and endeavour to deal with the points at issue.
Let the matter be decided by a. majority as to what action should be taken, and then let the Government, by legislation, compel compliance with the findings of the Committee. That ought not to be a long, nor a complicated process, and not impossible to achieve. This House has got to take responsibility. It cannot afford to see the trade of the country ruined by the obstinacy of any set of people. [An HON. MEMBER: "The coalowners."] I do not care who by, whether mineowners or others. The country is to be held up, our industries ruined, the people plunged into disaster by the obstinacy of certain people. Something, I consider, ought to be arranged. Everybody should forget what has happened and what they have said, and a fresh start should be made. We might get a settlement. Why do I suggest this? I am endeavouring to put the point, the simple basic fact that if you can only get a selling price for coal, a. reasonable figure for export, and so on, the wages question would become a minor question. We want to look at the broad 130 economic facts. What is the matter with the industry is over-production in the world, not merely national, but international, and under-consumption of coal. What is the answer to that? Not further over-production, but regulation. You do not want to work in this matter in a vicious circle. In a short time, if we took this matter in hand in the way suggest, with a little push, I think we should meet with success. Else we shall see the triumph of ruin, and this when the rising tide of industry seemed to be opening to the view. We want, if there is a chance of getting contracts, not to see them pass by, for the chance may not occur again.
In view of the general anxiety to find a settlement, it seems to me a great pity if we cannot find it. As I say with every body on the Government Benches, the Front Bench opposite, and the back benches, anxious, we ought to be able to find a solution and so avert disaster to the country. I trust that this will he done. I hope that nothing will stand in the way. We know how men are led away and work themselves up into a state of excitement, and conjure up terrible things which may or may not exist. I should like to see the present Government finding a solution, for I think that a solution can be found. What is a million or two if a solution be found? All seem to he anxious—the Prime Minister, right hon. Gentlemen opposite, leaders and followers. I hope that we shall show the world once again the commonsense of the British people, and not let ourselves be held up to scorn before the other nations of the world.
§ Mr. VARLEY
I had no intention of taking part in this Debate had it not been for the fact that the Chancellor, quite unjustifiably in my opinion, seemed to put the whole of the blame for the state in which we find ourselves on to the miners. His exact words were that the miners had made no advance from the position they took up in July last. He said, moreover, that the coalowners had accepted the Report of the Commission, with such slight reservations. If these reservations were the only things standing in the way, they could speedily have been removed. For a minute or two, and with no desire to do the slightest thing that would jeopardise the possibly of accommodation being reached, even at this hour, I do 131 want to suggest that the coalowners are quite as responsible, if not more, for the position in which we find ourselves. The first offer, I agree, was made on the 22nd April. There has been universal agreement on all sides of the House as to the Commissioners' recommendation of a continued seven-hours' day. It is true that they did suggest that agreement could be reached in the several districts between masters and men, and that the Legislature could alter the existing Act of Parliament to meet the situation, but they found no reason to depart from the seven-hours' day. It is perfectly true that the district offers were first made on 22nd April, and they contained an offer based upon the eight-hours' day; also upon the arrangement of wages in the several districts. But the Prime Minister himself told the House this afternoon that in addition to the finding of the Commission, there should be national wage negotiations, and so on. Therefore, in the very first proposal, the coalowners observed one of the conditions laid down by the Commission and violated the other.
Reference has been made to the fact that we received proposals at 1.15 on Friday last based upon the continuance of the national minimum percentage of 20, but that that was contingent upon the acceptance by us of the eight hours working day. Therefore at this moment we have not received from the coal-owners any proposition, which by any stretch of the imagination can be said to be in accord with the findings of the Royal Commission. I think that should he mentioned, and the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last ought to go to his confreres and bring home to them the facts of the situation, and not continue to wrap this controversy in verbiage which seems to imply that we miners, and the men behind us, who have no reserves, have lightheartedly started to break the constitution. There are people in this country who do not know what the situation is; thousands of miners do not, but they do know what is their weekly wage. Although one could talk for hours about the protracted negotiations since we first received notice, I think the House ought to be in possession of the fact that the coalowners of England have not at this moment made a single proposition in accordance with the proposals of the Royal Com- 132 mission, and had we started out, with malice in our hearts, to hurry on the position in which we find ourselves we could not have done worse than the coalowners themselves have done, because they have at one time or another in their proposals violated either one recommendation or another. As a result of the experience which I gathered in the country yesterday, in speaking at three meetings where more than 8,000 men were assembled, and knowing the tone and the temper of those men, I do sincerely hope that the bitterness which is being engendered in the breasts of those men will not be allowed to find an outlet through the occurrence of a general strike at midnight to-night. I make an appeal to the Government to put the miners upon their honour. Trust our word, which at any rate, whatever it is, is as good as the word of a coalowner. We have said that we will take every page of the Commission's Report; and. if time, could be allowed for discussion, even on the offer which has now been made, it may be if we could get the owners to withdraw the attachment to that offer of the eight hours' condition, that an examination of the circumstances surrounding the financial position of the different districts—it may be, I do not say it would—might cause us to alter our decision as to the wages payable generally. We were given only from 1.15 to the time when negotiations broke, off, and I suggest that it is not fair to say that in those few short hours we should have been asked to return a "yea" or "nay" to the proposals which had been put to us. I sincerely hope that at this moment something may be going on of which we have no knowledge—and if there is not, I hope it will be speedily instituted —which may have the effect of removing the shadow which at present overhangs the affairs of this country.
§ Sir HARRY HOPE
The concluding sentences of the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicate, I trust, some hope that we will be able to get a peaceful solution of this problem, and personally I trust that that half-way open door, which he seemed to open, will be opened wider, and that a solution will materialise. There is one aspect of this case which is apt to be overlooked, that though the coalmasters and the miners are the two 133 principal parties connected with the dispute they are not the only parties. The nation has, and ought to have, as much say in this matter as either the coal-masters or the miners. I say that because of the enormous gravity of the situation. I cannot think that it is even yet too late for this House of Commons to recommend a compromise on which a solution can be arrived at. Personally, I think that if the coalmasters' stoppage notices were withdrawn on the one band, and the general strike order were countermanded on the other hand, it would then be possible for us to get out of this difficulty. I only venture to give expression to that view because I realise the enormous issues that are at stake, and though I am only a humble back-bench Member, and have loyally supported the present Prime Minister and his predecessor for something like 15 years in this House, I rose to add my small voice to the pleas already made for bringing about peace, even at this late hour.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
I had hoped that after the speeches of the principal spokesmen for the Government and for the Opposition the House would have been able to adjourn, instead of Members remaining here wasting time, because nothing any of us who are now here, either on this side or the other side, have to say can carry the responsibility and weight that are necessary to bring about a satisfactory solution. I wish it were possible for the House to adjourn at this moment- for a period. I want to put that point first by way of question to see if it can be agreed to. If not, I shall have something to say. Would it be in order to move the adjournment?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
The adjournment of the House is the Question that is now before us, and I do not think the hon. Member would be in order to move the adjournment of the Debate.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Colonel Lane Fox)
ii the hon. Member is asking me, I am afraid I have no authority td say, hut I sincerely agree with him, as 134 my own personal view, that any prolongation of this Debate is undesirable.
§ Mr. G. HALL
If my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Mardy Jones) does not desire to continue the Debate, I should like to add a word or two to the appeal made by hon. and right hon. Members from all sides of the House that negotiations should be reopened as speedily as possible. Without emphasising the importance of this industry, which is well known to hon. Members and to the country generally, the position is such that the country cannot afford a short, let alone a prolonged stoppage. One has been rather interested in some of the references during the Debate to the position the miners have taken up. I do not think it can be said that the miners arc a disgruntled lot of men. As a matter of fact, the present Prime Minister, in addressing a meeting in London a short time ago, himself declared that the miners were not disgruntled, and that there was no section of the community which had made greater sacrifices. to bring about economic stability in the country than the miners. I think that is true. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, at a meeting at Belfast quite recently, went out of his way to pay a tribute to the miners, when he said:Even our much-abused coalminers hew coal at a greater rate of output than any other miners in Europe. For all these reasons I thought it right to counter the idiotic pessimism which prevailed last Autumn with a simple statement that things were not getting worse.A good deal has been said with regard to the wages that have been paid to the miners until the expiration of the notice on Friday of last week. I have in my hand a statement which was not issued either by the Miners' Federation or by the Labour party. It is a statement issued by the Miners' Association with simple facts about the coal industry, and in the. course of this pamphlet published by the coalowners they have a list of 22 grades of employment. They have naturally divided up the sheltered and the unsheltered trades, and as far as payment of wages come out the miners come seventeenth, and those wages were 135 paid until the expiration of the notice on Friday last week. As this dispute has turned very largely about wages, and a good deal of misconception exists in the minds of hon. Members as to what the offer of the employers has been in regard to the district rates and the national rates, it would be very interesting to deal first of all with the offer of the district rate of wages that has recently been made by the coalowners in South Wales.
After all, South Wales will suffer most as a result. of the wages suggested by the employers if you take the district basis. The subsistence wages amounted to 8s. O¾d. per day. Under the new rate offered by the employers at the district rate a married man would receive 5s. per day plus 5 per cent., with the subsistence allowance of ls. 5d., making his total wage 6s. 8d. per day, as against the 8s. O¾d. paid under the 1914 agreement. if the man is a single man his wages will not amount to 6s. 8d. but to 5s. 9d. per day. But that is not the worst feature. In South Wales we have a bonus shift paid to the night shift almost for generations. The afternoon shift men have also a bonus shift payment. Under this proposal the, bonus shift of the night and afternoon shift men would be taken away from them, and in some instances the reduction would amount. to between 13s., 15s., and even 18s. per week.
Now with regard to the pieceworker. Under the 1914 agreement, a pieceworker if he does 7s. worth of work on piecework rates, in addition to the 7s. per day he would get 4222 per cent., in addition to that he would get 14.2 per cent, bringing his daily standard wage of 7s. up to 1ls. 4d. per shift. Under the new terms posted up by the employers he would get for 7s. worth of piecework rates 5 per cent., making the total of 7s. 8d. per day or a reduction of 3s. 7d. per shift or 22s. per week. Those are the terms that were offered by the employers under the district agreement. As far as other districts are concerned, it works out for Scotland a reduction of 2s. per day, Northumberland 2s. 4d., Durham 2s. 10d., South Wales and Monmouthshire 2s. 8d. for the lower paid men and from 4s. 6d. to 5s. 11d. per day for the higher paid men. I do not think it can be said that the offer of the employers of the district terms were such that could be considered 136 for a moment. As a matter of fact, the terms offered on Friday last week, which are the latest figures which were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, were based upon the national minimum and they amount to 20 per cent. above the 1914 standard. Those figures represent a reduction in the present wages paid of not less than 13⅔ per cent. Not only were the miners asked to accept that reduction of 13⅔ per cent., but they were also asked to agree to an increase of one hour in the working day.
The position ought to be put from the point of view of the Miners' Federation. The wages paid at the present time are such that it is almost impossible for our people to live. When you consider what is paid by the State to maintain a person serving a sentence in goal, it almost costs as much to keep a convict as some of the miners are receiving for working a full week. If a prisoner is sentenced to more than three years' imprisonment for a crime, it costs the State more to keep them every week than a miner gets to maintain himself and his wife and family. It costs 30s. a week to maintain each person in our Poor Law institutions, whereas the offer of the employers is such that it is almost impossible for us to consider it. As a matter of fact the position of the Miners' Federation should be put clearly and definitely, because the wages paid at the present time are so low that it is impossible for the miners to live upon such wages. Even a statement made by the employers themselves shows that of 22 grades of employment the miners come seventeenth in the list, and any reduction below that point will mean that the miners will he placed at a point that would be the lowest on the list of these 22 sheltered and unsheltered trades.
With regard to the question of hours, the Miners' Federation, I am pleased to say, will not consider an extension of hours. If we did, what is going to be the position? I think Sir Herbert Samuel put the position very clearly when he said:
The owners suggest that miners should work an eight hours' day which is really eight-and-a-half hours, and it would mean that our miners would be working below ground an hour longer time than the miners of Silesia, an hour longer than the miners in France and Belgium and an hour longer than miners in some parts of Germany.137 We pride ourselves that our miners are better than any other miners in any European country. We have the best coal in the world and we are asked now to agree that the best miners producing the. best coal and producing more than any other miners in Europe should be asked to work longer than any other miners, and at a wage which would give a lower standard of living than exists in almost any European country. We have heard a lot of talk about the subsidy provided by the Government. I would remind hon. Members that when we were dealing with the Budget last week we were told that the first thing we are providing for in the Budget is £305,000,000 for the repayment of interest and £50,000,000 for the reduction of debt. What was the total wages paid to all the miners in the mining industry last year based on the December quarter of last year? There were £142,000,000 paid in wages to the miners, and that was the amount the miners and their families had to depend upon for the whole of last year. Multiply 142 by 2, and it will give. you 284, and half of 142 is 71, which makes £355,000,000. It really means that those people who are drawing interest upon debt and who are receiving repayment of debt to the extent of £50,000,000 are receiving 2½ times as much as the miners employed in the mining industry of this country receive. A country that can afford to pay that amount of money to bondholders and in repayment of debt ought not to expect its miners to work for the miserable wages for which they are working at the present moment.
Of course, we are asked to point out solutions. If I went into a shop to purchase a yard of calico, I should have to pay an economic price for it. If I wanted to purchase almost any commodity in this country, I should have to pay an economic price for it. It appears as though coal is the only commodity that must be sold at an uneconomic price. If you want to get sufficient money in the industry to pay the wages of the men who are employed, do not bring down the wages of the men to an uneconomic level, but raise the price of coal to an economic price. That is the only way in which you are going to deal with this industry. When people talk about a subsidy, might I suggest that there are two ways of subsidising industry in this country? One is for 44,000,000 people to assist an industry that is badly 138 organised—which is not the fault of the miners. The miners have had absolutely no control over this industry, and, if the organisation of the mining industry is bad, then the owners of the industry arc responsible for it. The owners are not called upon to make the sacrifices that the minces are called upon to make. We say that it would be very much better for this country to subsidise this industry for a further short period, until we get a complete scheme of reorganisation rather than that the industry should be called upon to 'subsidise all other industries by producing coal at an uneconomic price. I hope that the discussions that take place will take place upon those lines. Some of us have been in the country during the week-end. The miners are very strong they are behind the Miners' Federation in connection with this question, and, seeing how difficult it is to live on the wages they are paid at the present moment, they do not think the slogan that has been the slogan for the last two or three months is unreasonable—"Not a minute on the day, not a cent off the pay."
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
My contribution to this Debate will be probably one of the shortest on record. I do not intend, if the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down will forgive me, to follow him in the interesting figures and the interesting appeal which he made with regard to the wages of the miners. With a good deal of what he said the whole House will agree, and, no doubt, with some of the things that he said some will disagree; but, in the shadow of the tragedy under which we are meeting to-night, my only reason for rising is to suggest that there is just one thing that I think the House might yet do while there is indeed time, in the last few hours that remain before this strike begins. I think it is possible for the House to suggest, by agreement, that the parties to this dispute should have some short time in which again to get together. The difficulty was very clearly set out by the Prime Minister when he opened the Debate this afternoon, and it was made still clearer by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he referred to The" demand "—meaning, in effect, an extension of the subsidy. I should not be afraid to say definitely that we would 139 extend the subsidy, say for a week, or a fortnight, or whatever the parties may consider necessary, provided that there are two things, namely, that, on the part. of the mine-owners, it is definitely said that they will accept the principles of the Report, and provided that the same statement is made on behalf of the miners. I have attended extremely carefully to every remark that has been made this afternoon on the subject of the consideration of the Report. Over and over again it has been stated that the miners are prepared to begin consideration of the Report and go through it, page by page, but I am afraid that that is not likely to be useful; the point is, are they prepared to say that they would be prepared to accept the principles of the Report before the discussion is begun? If they will do that., and the mine-owners, as we know, will do that, arid will even go further and say they will accept it outright, and the Government have definitely said that they will accept it outright, it is surely not too late for the House to say that, if these premises can be agreed upon, the subsidy should be continued for a week, or even a fortnight, to give these people time in which to get together and achieve a definite result.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I have listened with a certain amount of hope to the speeches that have been made by hon. Members on the other side of the House, and have felt that, if that were the frame of mind, the probability would be that this difficulty might be got through. Unfortunately, however, speeches here are not always the same as those that we listen to outside this Chamber, and it may be only because of the threat that is held over the heads of the nation that a certain amount of reasonableness is seeming to prevail. Quite frankly, I am not a strike man. I think it is a brutal and barbarous way of trying to settle any dispute. I listened with pleasure to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), and I think that at heart he really was trying to find a road through this difficulty, but, unfortunately, he singled out Members on this side of the House as being a stumbling-block. He himself, by his actions outside this House, has convinced me, and has convinced quite a number of people, that he is not satisfied with the present 140 method of carrying on this industry, because he has been engaged in trying to work out some method whereby the foreign competitor should pay for his coal at least a price that would enable the miner to live. That is all to the good, because I do not think it is a good thing that this nation should throw its natural wealth away to people outside the country, and give them even better terms than the people who consume it inside the country.
From the fact of my being in that frame of mind, it may be taken that I am very anxious to try and get through without the privations of a big stoppage, but it is just as well that the House should be clear on the other side of this matter. The Commissioners' Report, on the whole, looks very good, but just now the miner is asked whether he is prepared to accept a reduction of wages. I suggest that it is very bad policy to put a question like that to the miner before the Report is gone into, because I tell the House quite frankly that the miner does not trust the Government in connection with the Report and he does not trust the employer in connection with the Report. We have some justification for taking up that attitude, in view of what happened in connection with the Sankey Report. We had certain promises, some of which were denied later, but there is absolutely no doubt that the miners went into that believing that the promises of Government would be carried out in letter and in spirit. Fortunately, the difficulty was got past at that time, but you have left that feeling of resentment in the mind of the miner, and his position is that if we submit to a reduction in wages that is all we shall ever get out of the Report. I may say frankly that is my view too. The only thing we are likely to get is the reduction in wages. It would be much better that we took the offer made by Herbert Smith. Mr. Smith said the miners were prepared to take the Report word by word and line by line, and he has never attempted to go back from that pledge.
I am convinced in my own mind that the employers are forcing a fight. They have kept up their attitude for so long that there is no possibility of avoiding it. They want to force a fight on the question of wages in order to make it impossible for the Government to carry 141 through the other recommendations in the Report of the Commission. After all, we are dependent on the industry. I have been brought up in the mines and was in the mines till quite recently. We depend on the industry, but we have had no say whatever in its control, and if the colliery owners have made a mess of it it is they and they only who are to blame. I do not believe, as a citizen of the country, that it is a good thing that one industry should be helped by others, but during the years of the War the coal industry was used to bolster up other industries. The nation was saved millions of pounds through the agreement come to with the miners that the price of coal should be restricted, and it was not the miners' fault at all that any difficulty cropped up, because we said at the beginning of the War that if the Government of the day could keep down the cost of living we were prepared to accept the same wages till the end of the War, and it is to the credit of the miner that be was the only individual in the country who made an offer of that kind and would have carried it out. The result was that you allowed profiteering to exist in food and the miner had to come cap in hand to the Government and ask for an increase to maintain his family. During those years the miners could have made their own terms had they cared to take a different course from what they did. The price of coal went up in other countries despite the fact that we kept it down. I have been informed on good authority that coal was selling in the streets of Rome at £12 a ton and in Paris at £8 a ton. Some people took advantage of the low price of coal in this country to make fortunes in other countries, and we have been suffering as the result of that ever since.
In connection with the subsidy, I want to repeat a question that I put at a meeting in Scotland yesterday. I am informed that most of the subsidy has gone away. If we accept that statement as being true, another point is— Where was the money spent? I maintain that much of it was spent by the miners within a five-mile area of where they live in getting the necessities of life. That has been a great gain to the local shopkeepers and it has created employment. Taking that view, it is not the great evil that some people seem to think. The owners offered a clean cut wage, which 142 would mean a reduction in the Scotch coalfields of 2s.1d. a shift. A revised offer was made on condition that they would accept an eight-hour day, hut the feeling is held by a number of people that the Government was drawing back from the pledge they made and that they were allowing the coal industry to stand again on its own feet despite the fact that, since the subsidy has been paid, through the employers' stupidity, or cupidity— you can use either word— they have reduced the selling price of coal to a lower level and made it more and more difficult for the industry to be carried on. I appeal to the Government on behalf of the miners to consider this aspect of the matter very carefully. I am convinced that the men will not accept an extension of the working day.
I read an article in a Sunday paper the week before last written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). I deplore that article very much. He got back to the old talk about a 5½hour day. That thing does not exist. The working time in the mines is seven hours plus the winding time. A man can be underground eight hours and 40 minutes without any violation of the Act. In the Scotch area we have pressed time and again for prosecutions for violations of the Act and we have failed to get any satisfaction. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has been helpful and he has created a feeling of resentment in the minds of people who know he was writing lies. As a rule the miner has to travel some distance to his work, because things have altered in the coalfield. At one time the colliery owner erected houses near the mine. Nowadays they have put that burden on to the community. It has been said that if they could get coal without sinking a shaft, let alone building houses, they would never dream of sinking a shaft. They have evaded their responsibility and consequently the miner has to travel a long distance to his work. He may get up at 5 o'clock in the morning. He has. to be down the pit before 7 o'clock and then make his way to his working place. He is there until 2 o'clock in the day, and by the time he has got up and got rid of the dirt it is nearer 10 hours than seven. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen made a comparison between the miner and the chemical 143 worker. I cannot see it. I had a certain amount of sympathy with some of the other statements he made. With respect to the working hours of the miner and the chemical workers it is a different matter. The chemical workers only have to get inside the gate of their works, but with the miners it is a different thing. With them it is seven hours plus the winding time. There is no likelihood of the miner accepting any extension of his working day. The miner has read the proposals of the Sankey Commission, and he knows that they recommended a reduction in the working time. No attempt was made to carry out their recommendations. Although the miner is not prepared to accept an extension of his working time, realise that he may be beaten into it, but let hon. Members bear in mind that if he is beaten to-day he will fight to-morrow.
In regard to the question of wages, there was much hilarity over some of the statements respecting wages read out by the Leader of the Opposition. I can assure hon. Members that some of those figures were much higher than we get for every day work. If we take the highest wage quoted, about 10s. 2d. to 10s. 4d. per day, how does it work out The right hon. Member for Hillhead spoke of an average working week of four days a week. The miner is not responsible for the four-day week. There are so many things that happen in connection with the miner's work which reduce the average time of work. Therefore, when a certain wage per day is quoted, that sum has to be multiplied by four in order to get the weekly wage. Then there are the usual off-days, and they have been piled up very rapidly for some time past. It is a difficult matter to make out what the miner has to take home in the way of wages. The miner has made up his mind that, as far as the good of the counry is concerned, he has made his contribution. Shortly after the end of the War his wage was 20s. a day. His wage now, on the average, is 9s. 4d. a day, and he says, quite definitely, that he will submit to no further reduction. It is not necessary that he should be asked to go further. The miner ought to have a higher wage than he has at the present time, and if the coal industry was run as it ought to be, there would be no difficulity whatever in meeting that claim.
144 I appeal to the Government, in the interests of the miner, not to be misled. There is no likelihood of the miner accepting any extension of his working time. The Commissioners have told us that that would mean the dismissal of 100,000 men. To do that, would be no help. We have had a statement on this subject by the right hon. Member for Carmarthen. Something else is required; something in the way of restriction of output rather than additional output. The right hon. Gentleman gave an opinion which might be helpful if it were carried out. It is far better to face the question of the re-organisation of the industry. It may cost the nation some money, but if that money is spent inside the country it will not be a great loss.
I deplore very much the attitude adopted by the Government. I have as much love for the country as any hon. Member in this House. I do not want any trouble if it can be avoided. I think the action of the Government in the moving of troops and the massing of motor cars in Hyde Park can only be attributed to panic on the part of those responsible for the Government. That sort of thing does no good now, and it will do no good in the long run. It may be thought hat the people will be frightened if power is shown in that way, but those who are responsible for action of that sort ought to think of something else. The temper of the people of this country is different from what it was at one time. I do not want to preach picnic. I want peace.
I was addressing a meeting as far north as Perth, yesterday, and I find that there is more feeling on this matter than some hon. Members realise. There is more sympathy shown to the miner this time than ever I can remember. It would be much better if we could sit down as we have done hitherto and settle our differences. Surely the genius of our people is sufficient to get us through difficulties of this kind without getting into panic as some people appear to have done. The mobilisation of cars and the moving of troops is an action quite unnecessary. As far as the miner is concerned, he is determined as far as possible to keep the law. There may be other people who will try to break the law, but the miner will not be the first. The other workers are beginning to realise their power, and the 145 power of the organised working class is underrated. One hon. Member asked whether the nation was to be bullied by 4,000,000 of working people. When he made that statement I began to think it over. I was astounded at the lack of knowledge in a statement of that kind. It is not a question simply of 4,000,000 of working people. You have to multiply that figure by at least three, because these organised workers have families, who are dependent upon the industries concerned. It would be better to look at it from that standpoint.
I do hope that we shall be able to do something to stave off the crisis that seems likely to take place. I am not deceived; I realise that we may be beaten hack, but I can assure hon. Members that on the second or the third occasion it will not be possible to beat us back. I would say to those who have been responsible for creating panic, that they ought to sit down quietly and think over the situation. It is one of the worst things that. has ever happened in this country for action to be taken to cause this difference between two sections of the people. I hope that cooler heads and better counsel will prevail and that different tactics will be adopted by the Government, and that instead of providing for force they will set about to provide for peace.
Let me say, finally, that I do not think the miners are likely to accept either of the two things that are put to them as preliminaries. I do not. think the miner is averse to the findings of the Royal Commission, but he wants to know that the whole of the Report of the Commission will be carried out before he is asked to submit in any way to any worsening of his conditions, either as regards wages or working time.
§ Mr. HANNON
I am sure the House will be in full agreement with the closing sentiment of the speech of the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Sullivan), namely, that it would be the greatest of all misfortunes if this economic tragedy with which we are confronted should place sections of the people of this country in antagonism one with another. Before I make a few observations in appealing for the exercise of a little good will and kindly feeling and a spirit of give and take in this moment of supreme trouble, I would 146 like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell that I am quite sure he was not reflecting on what he was saying when he accused my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) of having stated something in a newspaper article which was not true. I venture to submit that no hon. Gentleman or right hon. Gentleman in this House is more careful in the statements he makes, either in public speeches or newspaper articles, than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead. I think it is very unfortunate, and I hope that my hon. Friend opposite will see how inadvisable it is to make statements of that kind about my right hon. Friend in his absence from the House, which statements, I take the responsibility for saying, are entirely unjustified.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I made a considered statement,. That is the feeling that I had after reading the article. It is not my fault that the right hon. Member is not here. T am convinced that he has done more harm than he thinks by statements of that kind.
§ Mr. HANNON
I must, therefore, leave it at that; but I would, in the few minutes I propose to occupy the time of the, House, add my voice to what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), in asking that, even now, at the eleventh hour, some effort should be made to save the country from this impending disaster. Would hon. Gentlemen opposite not see their way to agree to withdraw the notice of a general strike? I represent a large sphere of industry which employs very nearly 20,000 workpeople. If a general strike should take place the whole of these 20,000 people will be turned out of employment to-morrow without any rhyme or reason whatever that they themselves can see, and without their being associated even remotely with this dispute, hut being in the unfortunate position of facing considerable misery and hardship for perhaps a. long period to come, and seeing the striking of a deadly blow at the industry out of which they make their living. It seems to me that those responsible for calling a general strike should pause before they place the country in a position so serious to many thousands of people.
147 On this side of the House we are anxious to do the fullest possible measure of justice to the coal industry. I do not believe anybody in this House who has any experience of the daily life of the miner desires to do anything but absolute justice. But there has been, about these discussions in recent days, too much precipitation and too much desire to make political capital out of the position of the miners, and too much desire to embarrass the country for purely political purposes. I think it would be most unfortunate if we in this country, faced with the competition we have to face to-day in the markets of the world, and faced with the consideration that we are just beginning to turn the corner, and when productive enterprise in this country is becoming better from day to day— should now have the hands of the clock put back for a considerable period of time.
It is all very well to suggest that the coal miners in every country in Europe will co-operate with miners here in preventing the markets taking advantage of cur foreign competitors coal. I do not believe that for a single moment. I am perfectly certain that the result of this trouble if it does come upon us, will be that we shall lose, in addition to what we have already lost, a very large portion of the world's market in coal which we still maintain. I sincerely hope that those responsible for the settlement of this great trouble will do everything possible, even before 12 o'clock, to enable us to emerge from what can only be the greatest tragedy in the public, social and economic life of this country for the past century.
§ Mr. DENNISON
I have listened with considerable interest to the hon. Member opposite, but I feel that what we require more than anything else is some suggestion of how we are to get over the difficulty in which the country is placed. I am one of those who have been, fortunately or unfortunately, in the position of attending the conference during the last week-end, when this question of the mining industry was very fully dealt with, and I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) that we give way to no one on the other side of the House in regard to our desire for peace. In fact, I have attended 148 industrial conferences for something like 25 years, and there has been no conference which impressed me more than that which took place in the last three days of last week. The whole of its time was devoted, not to fiery speeches for which the hon. Member gives us a considerable amount of credit, but to a desire to find a real solution.
I quite agree that the Labour leaders were compelled to come to the conclusion they came to, namely, to rally to the aid of the miners. That conclusion to which they were compelled to come, was duo to the posting of notices by the owners against the miners. I recognise the loyalty of the hon. Member for Moseley to those with whom he is associated, and, having done that, I hope he will not rebuke us on this side of the House for being equally loyal to those with whom we are associated. The thing we want to get down to is how best we can contribute some- suggestions to get over the difficulty with which the country is faced. I belong to an organisation, a trade union, which has a, reputation of having had industrial peace for 35 years. We have not known strikes or lock-outs in our industry as a general proposition in that period. Is it suggested that such an organisation, representing workpeople engaged in one of the largest industries in this country, with a reputation like that behind it, has lightly come to this conclusion, with the desire we have always had of having peace and good relationship with our employers? Did we when we threw our lot in with the miners, do it lightly? Certainly not. We did it after due examination of all the facts.
I feel that the tendency in the mining industry has its reflection in the industry which I know a, little bit about, namely, the iron and steel industry. It is, in fact, an evolutionary process, with a considerable amount of disadvantage to our concern in it. There was a time when we used to know our employer, and he used to know us— and sometimes he knew too much about us. But there was a paternal relationship, if you like so to describe it, which counted for a great deal in those days, and I am not too old yet to say that it was a factor which counted considerably, and even more than questions of wages and hours of labour. A natural evolution has come about, with huge factories, limited liability companies, and 149 corporations, which know no soul in industry. The human factor in production is known only by the number with which he clocks on and clocks off. You cannot be surprised that there is discontent, not only in the mining-industry but in other industries as well, and I appeal this evening, if it is necessary, to hon. Members on the other side of the House who are anxious for peace and an honourable peace to all parties concerned — and I emphasise that point— to say nothing and do nothing which might hinder peace. Otherwise, at Twelve o'clock to-night something will happen that perhaps even Parliament cannot easily solve in the course of the ensuing week. I appeal to everyone in the House on both sides, and I hope I have not introduced a discordant note into this Debate, to do nothing or say nothing to hamper the cause of peace, but to contribute in the fullest possible measure to a harmonious and honourable settlement to all concerned.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I venture to add a word in this Debate in the same spirit as that in which the hon. Member has just addressed the House, and who has introduced anything but a discordant note into this discussion. The only point to which I should like to address myself now, is this. It is the question of all that follows from the decision to have a general strike to-night. I am satisfied, from what has been said on the other side, that it is not the case that the members of the Trade Union Congress who are responsible for ordering the strike thought that it is an attack upon the Government or the Constitution. I do not think they thought that, but— and this is what makes it difficult to talk on this; topic at all— it is impossible to order a general strike without ipso facto and automatically making an attack on the Constitution. That I believe is true, and a strike in an individual industry or a lock-out in an individual industry is in a totally different category from the general strike. If that is true a result has followed from the action of the Trade Union Congress which I do not think they anticipated, and which, indeed, it is admitted and agreed was not in their minds when they made that order. That order of a general strike is unquestionably, if government is to be maintained in this country for the future, the great 150 bar that stands in the way of the resumption of negotiations. Any Government, from whatever quarter of the House it is drawn, representing whatever policy, or brought into office under whatever circumstances, would be forced to take exactly the same decision as His Majesty's present Ministers had to take.
That is not a party question. It is absolutely inherent and dominantly inherent in the whole government of this country. If that is true surely it follows that a step ordered by mistake with quite another object in view, and without, perhaps, a full appreciation of all that it implied—[An HON. MEMBER: "No, no!" I Do not let the hon. Member misunderstand me. When I said that the order was probably made without full appreciation of all that it implied I meant that its necessary implication is an attack on the constitution and government of the country which I do not think was intended, but in the ordering of a general strike there does lie an attack on the constitution. If that is true, and events would prove it to be true, if a false step has been taken, a step which is a great bar to the resumption of negotiations, then I add my appeal to that made by the hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) that no feeling of amour proper should stand in the way of the withdrawal of that order. [An HON. MEMBER:" What about the lock-outs? "That is riot a very fair retort, and it is not exactly a true retort. It is not a fair retort, and for this reason. A lock-out order, although it was clearly shown by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) that there is no excuse for defining this as a lock-out order, in one individual trade is not on the same footing or in the same category as an order for a general Strike. Therefore you are asking for a step to be taken. on the other side which does not meet the case, and, indeed, there is no other proposal which can be made by any group of persons at all equivalent to the order for a general strike, because that is an attack on the constitution of the country.
Therefore, I say once again that no feeling of amour-propre should prevent the withdrawal of that order. I make this appeal. If this be an attack on the Constitution and established government of the country, there can be -neither 151 humiliation nor ignominy in the withdrawal of such an order. There can be no ignominy in the withdrawal of an ill- considered attack on the Constitution, and nobody on this side of the House would, I am sure, treat such a withdrawal as a reason for sneers or anything of that sort. A mistake has been made. Let that mistake be fully acknowledged and remedied, and let negotiations on the true subject of discussion, the future of the coal trade, be resumed. When this threat, which the Government of the country must resist to the utmost, when this foolish, ill-advised, but I hope not irremediable, threat has been withdrawn and the situation once again made clear, then there can be an entire resumption of negotiations.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
If the speech just delivered by the hon. Gentleman opposite is typical of the attitude of mind of the Government, then it is clear they are incapable of distinguishing between a lockout and a strike. When a working man gets notice from an employer that his employment has ceased but will be renewed at a substantially lower wage, he knows that that is a lock-out. If there is to be any suggestion of withdrawing the general strike, there must be a simultaneous withdrawal of the lock-out notices.
On a point of Order. Is it competent for the hon. Member to speak twice in the same Debate? I heard him speak a short time ago.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have asked the Deputy Speaker on that point, and I do not think that what the hon. Member said about the Debate coming to a close was in the nature of a speech.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
I was very much surprised when the Chancellor of the Exchequer analysed the situation and found it to be that either the Government had to defeat the general strike or the country had to go to rack and ruin if our action in this matter was to be tolerated. He seemed to rule out any other possible way than such a struggle. As spokesman of the Government he assumed that the first step to bring the industry back to an economic basis is for the miners to accept a reduction of their wages. That is taken for granted as if the case had been made 152 out and proven, but, as the Leader of the Opposition quoted from the Report, re-organisation must be before any sacrifices are asked for, by those engaged in the industry.
Before. any sacrifices are asked for—that is the position taken up all along by the Miners' Federation and the General Council. It will be soon enough to ask the miners whether they will consider any reduction in their present. standard of life when these other proposals are placed before them and when a guarantee is given by the Government that the necessary legislation will be passed. I want to suggest that there is a way out without. any reduction of wages or increase of hours. The Sankey Commission, the McMillan Committee and the Samuel Commission have all proved up to the hilt that the British coal industry, as at present owned and managed, can never recover an economic basis. It is so inefficiently administered as an entire industry; it is so inherently wrong, that a radical re-organisation upon scientific lines can alone bring it back to an efficient state. I suggest to the Government that at this late stage they ought to realise that the mining population of Great Britain not only believe but know from their weekly earnings that they are at rock-bottom at present and cannot go lower without being placed on a lower standard than that meted out to inmates of workhouses. That is a fact which you cannot get over.
We know that in the exporting coalfields of the country, South Wales, Durham, Northumberland, Scotland and so on, the position is worse than in the inland coalfields. That is due largely to the aftermath of the War and to the restriction of the world demand at economic prices for our coal, and we have to realise that there can be no big increase of prosperity, even up to the pre-War level of the British coal industry, under the present ownership, or any other ownership, unless we can get an increased demand on the export side for our coal. We have to maintain an output of 250,000,000 tons or 280,000,000 tons a year. We have to encourage production not only in the richest mines and the best seams, but also in the poor mines and poor seams, and in whatever position you have the industry there will always be a number of mines on the margin of pro- 153 ductivity and it is these that settle the cost of coal at home and abroad. It is quite evident that it will take a few years, even with the best will among all the parties concerned, to reorganise the industry, whether that reorganisation takes place under private enterprise, with a certain amount of public control because public money is concerned, or whether it goes the full way of nationalisation. What the miners are asked by the Government and the coalowners to do is to bear the brunt and the burden of changing over from an inefficient system. We are being told in plain English, "We know you miners are earning a miserable wage; the coalowners themselves even call it a miserable wage and you are expected as miners to tighten your belts and bear the main burden until such times as the industry is so thoroughly organised as to bring productivity to the lowest cost that is possible from an engineering point of view."
There is the possibility and the probability that the coal demand abroad will grow, because with the smallest annual increase in the purchasing power of the working classes of Europe there is bound to be an increase in the demand for our coal. If we are to allow for the two factors of scientific production and the certain larger demand for our coal from abroad, we have what is necessary to place the industry on an economic basis in the future. The wages the coal-owners originally suggested, if the miners adhered to the seven hours day, were so Tow that practically everybody in the country said they were monstrous and that the miners could not be expected to take 15s. or 20s. of a reduction. Now the owners are trying to show that the reduction wilt not be very serious on the 20 per cent. basis, given an eight-hours day. I do hope the supporters of the Government in their present policy will realise this historic fact, that in this country for the last 100 years the miners and the industrial workers generally, as a result of their experience, have been compelled to organise their forces to raise their standard of life, and all the legislation on the Statute Book to effect that purpose has been won by years of sacrifice on the part of millions of workers in this country. There is no case on record in this country or in industrial America or industrial Europe, either before or since the War, where the workers have agreed 154 to reduce their standard of life by such a substantial increase in the hours of labour.
The miners of Great Britain want to make it clear that they are not going to accept any substantial reduction of wages and they are certainly not going to agree to any substantial increase in hours. What we have won we have won by our strength; and what we have won we are not going to give up to anyone at this, time of day. I suggest there is another way out. I have been in the coal industry all my life, and I have tried to understand the points of view of the coalowner and exporter as well as the miner, and I have great faith in the future of the British coal industry. I do not believe it. is on its last legs. I believe the industry has a great future, provided it is properly organised and all its resources are put into full operation. The people who are to get the ultimate benefit out of the re-organisation of the industry being the nation as a whole, I suggest the nation as a whole should bear the brunt of the cost of re-organisation during the interim period, whether it is to be a year or two years or more. We agree in principle that a subsidy is wrong, but no Protectionist should object to a subsidy, because Protection is based upon subsidy and nothing else. [HoN. MEMBERS: "No! "] The history of Protectionist countries proves it up to the hilt.
If the Government stand by the point that a subsidy is wrong in principle, we are not concerned with that, but what we are concerned with is the fact that there is a way out of the present impasse without asking the miners to accept either reduced wages or increased hours. We believe the industry could produce coal at a greater rate per man per shift on a seven-hour day basis if it were properly organised. The British miner on the present hours produces more coal per shift than any other miner in Europe. That has been admitted by the Mines Department in answer to questions in this House. [HoN. MEMBERS:" America!"] I am speaking of Europe. America is an exception; and everybody knows why America is in such a strong position. It is not because the American miners are any better than ours. As a matter of fact, the British miner is the most skilled in the world to-day and produces more coal than any 155 other miner in the world under like conditions. All the Americans know about coal mining have been taught them by British miners. The suggestion which I have to make is that the Government should provide a reconstruction loan to the British coal industry for the period, be it long or short, required for the proper reorganisation of the industry on an economic basis. That loan should be repayable out of the proceeds of the industry in future years when we are getting the benefit of the reorganisation in increased efficiency.
This Government cannot object in principle to that suggestion. The Electricity Bill proposes to re-organise the supply, generation, and transmission of electricity, and it is generally admitted that electrical power on a large scale and at a cheap rate is vital to the recovery of the country's industries. To secure the efficiency of a standardised electricity supply system, we will have to compensate certain interests at a cost estimated by the Government to be £30,600,000 or £40,000,000. But the electricity question is only a side issue to the coal industry question. The electricity scheme cannot be made a success unless the British coal industry is a success first of all. Electrical power must be generated from coal in this country— there is no other means— and unless the coal industry is restored to efficiency in the near future, the electricity scheme will come to wreck and ruin. If the Government can raise £ 30,000,002 for that purpose, it can raise a loan to tide us over the interim period in the coal industry. I assure the House, the miners have not entered on this struggle willingly.
We have all entered it feeling that our backs are against the wall and that it is our last resource. We have consulted organised labour in every industry in the country. They have given us their consent and they have now taken over the negotiations in the name of organised labour. When the Lord Chancellor twitted us by saying that 4,000,000 people were dictating to 45,000,000 he showed he had no conception of the fact that there are 20,000,000, workers and dependants, behind the miners, but the Government will find it out within a few days to their cost. if they are not going to find some 156 means of tiding over this period other than cutting down the wages of the miners. The miners have had to fight for everything they have. They are accustomed to fight and to sacrifice and to suffer. They are prepared to do so again, and the workers in other industries know that if the miner is allowed to go down in this fight, their turn will come next. This attack on the miners is only part of a. general attack on organised labour in this country. [Laughter.] Hon. Members can laugh and jeer, but they know that is the policy. The miners, however, are not going to accept a reduced standard of life, and it is for the Government to realise that if they are going to force us into the position of having an industrial Parliament in this country, we are prepared to say that it shall be so.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I also fully realise, with other hon Members, the obligation upon speakers not to embarrass any last-minute negotiations in which the Prime Minister and the Leaders of the Opposition may be engaged. However, I feel called upon not merely to speak for one party, but to speak for that large and growing number in the organised labour movement of Great Britain who are determined to put forward new demands and new methods. I realise the Prime Minister's point of view; which does not touch on the merits of the Coal Report or the details of wages. The Prime Minister has abruptly brought the negotiations to an end on what appears to him to be a fundamental principle of preserving the Constitution and on what appears to him to be a subversive move on the part of those who base. taken up the fight of the miners. That view was picturesquely backed up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It appears to me that in this House, as well as in all the circumstances of the case, parties who are arguing with one another are not so much the figures that are leading as figures that are pushed from behind to take the whole matter up. Even the Prime Minister was not quite accurate in describing his attitude. It was only on Sunday night that the Prime Minister thought fit to describe the attempt of the negotiators as an attempt to overthrow the Constitution, when already on Saturday night he was aware of the deliberate action that the Trade 157 Union Congress was taking, and he was actuated by somebody behind pushing him forward to take that attitude rather than himself leading in that line of thought.
The excuse is put forward that the strike in a printing press was an overt act, arising out of these particular instructions of the Trade Union Congress. I am not in a position to give the exact names, and I am talking from memory, but I am perfectly sure of the incident, that some time before this a Sunday newspaper during a trade dispute had a very undesirable editorial put in, and even a few copies had actually gone on the press, and the men then had actually struck before proceeding with the work, and that editorial was altered definitely. The Prime Minister should be aware that it is for a considerable time past that a sort of agitation has been going on in the Labour movement, or amongst the workers of this country, whatever may be said about its wisdom or unwisdom, that it would be a simple and easy thing to put down the Opposition Press by refusing to work for it, and it is not right for the Prime Minister to refer to this particular action as having arisen from the manifesto issued by the Trades Union Congress.
Where I am directly concerned was that the hint was given by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and even by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), as if this were some kind of a preparation, or as if there were some hidden motive behind this, of the Communist party or some mischief makers to turn this into a sort of revolution of the type which hon. Members opposite mean, such as street fighting, open bloodshed, or any form of violence. I may assure them that those who should know the Com_ munist programme would certainly not consider a struggle to resist a reduction in wages as any substitute for a great anti-capitalist revolution. Far from being so, we do not even push this issue forward to use tile tremendous machinery of a general strike, even for the sake of enforcing a nationalisation of the particular industries concerned. It is used definitely for the purpose of saving the children of men from enforced starvation.
I can assure this House that, as far as the Communist party is concerned, our policy has been from the first in this 158 miners' issue to back up the miners, to work along with the miners' organisations, and to help them in every possible way in order that they may be able to realise what they demand. We have not attempted to put forward demands, but we have always desired and attempted throughout the whole controversy for the last 12 months to back up the miners at every stage that they take in preserving their wages, and in a general way the whole of our education has not pivoted on any idea of a revolution amounting to the overthrow of the capitalist system or introducing even nationalisation by degrees, but it has merely acted behind the workers' movement in order to safeguard the fall in their wages which the masters are seeking to get. At the same time, I would admit that it would not be proper or fair to this country to hide the fact that in their harmless or constitutional revolution, as you might call it, there is not the slightest doubt that the methods that the workers of this country are now adopting may be described as revolutionary methods compared with the past methods inasmuch as it is quite an innovation and of a drastically different kind. It would be futile to refuse to see that these things do now exist.
The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), who put the case so excellently on behalf of the negotiating committee, as well as of the miners, said just one thing with which I may show a little disagreement. He referred probably to the Communists, but did not name them, and he said they did not count, that nobody has consulted them, that nobody has gone near them to talk to them. That may be so, but, as I have pointed out, all the figures who are acting are pushed from behind. [HON. MEMBERS:" Hear, hear."] This is a premature noise. The Prime Minister charged the leaders of the Labour movement with having acted on their own initiative, without consulting the rank and file, but the real position is that for the last 12 months, or even more, organised labour in this country has been expressing the rank and file opinions through the various organisations, and there is no doubt that it is the common voice of Labour, permeated, it may be, by left wing elements here and there, but it is this collective voice of the Labour movement in the mining, engineering, railway, and build- 159 ing industries that is now expressing itself, and which induces the leaders of the Labour movement to take up an attitude which they did not take up in past disputes, and which, frankly, our opponents may consider to be revolutionary as compared with past methods. There is no doubt that in the past there never was this joint action or these methods adopted of declaring a general strike, but because it is a new method, or because it is a progressive improvement on the methods used by the workers in the past, that does not mean that it is the Government's duty simply to go and fight it because it happens to be a new method.
Although the workers have been divided by the functions of industrial life into different trades, there is one common factor running throughout the whole of the working classes, that they are all wage-earners who have got to battle against the master class, to preserve their wage, and advance it from time to time. -The whole object of the lesson taught to the workers has been that they have got to work unitedly. The Prime Minister could hardly say that he did not follow the progress of this present controversy. He, and all the members of the Government, must have noticed that not only-have the workers in different trade unions of this country been appealed to, but even the workers who are organized trade unions on the Continent of Europe have been directly appealed to, in a manner which was not- done a few years ago. The Government are not up against any secret conspiracy or any seditious movement working in subterranean grounds. It is again the same position, but the same people have changed their minds, have changed their outlook, have changed their method, have, after experience of past defeats, learned to protect themselves in a better manner. They have learned the value of unify. They have learned the value of combination on a larger scale. They have learned the value of direct action through their industrial organisations, just as much as the mineowners, the shipowners, and the textile millowners have been taking direct action through their industrial organisations in the past.
Having learned these lessons, they have now come forward with the first practical 160 step in carrying out their fight against the reduction of wages. The Government have got to make up their minds that they have got to suppress this, not once, but for all time, because all future trade union disputes are very likely now to be treated by the trade union workers as disputes affecting one united family of workers, not only in Great Britain, but even united with the workers of Europe and Asia. Even in this mining problem, the position of the miners here has been brought about by the direct attack on their export trade, and for that direct attack on the export trade you have got to go back and study the Treaty of Versailles. It is no use merely saying there is an attack on the export trade. You have got to get back to the Imperial policy of Great Britain. In the British Empire itself 40,000,000 tons of coal, which formerly used to be British coal, is dug out in Africa, India and China at one-third the cost of British coal at the pit-mouth. It is no use going before the workers, of Britain, and saying the export trade in particular is suffering. The workers of this land are gradually realising all this, and in a future conflict with the masters, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not only see the trade union workers in various trade unions working together, but even the miners in Africa and India pulling the same way in order to fight the common enemy that is facing them.
I will conclude with one remark regarding the Coal Commission Report. When the Commission was appointed several of us, you may say, in the unrecognised movement, like the Communist movement and the Minority movement, were seriously shaking their heads as to the wisdom of recognising such a one-sided Commission. Even Mr. Herbert Smith has pointed out that the Commission itself suffered from inefficiency, and that it is no use trying to put forward all its findings as if they were infallible findings which could not be altered by the experience of men involved in the industry. To-day the findings of this Commission are a puzzle amongst leading statesmen and politicians. They read paragraphs one against the other, each one trying to put opposite renderings of the Commission's Report as from a very Bible from which the truth is brought out. Each one tries to prove the opposite. 161 and each one relies upon the Report of the Commission that it is the truth. The Government sometime in the future will make a park of motor cars in Hyde Park, send troops to Scotland and Wales, raise a lot of fuss, and bring these O.M.S. circulars— not, perhaps, the Government themselves, but their friends — 24 hours before an emergency is declared, and as to which there has been no explanation forthcoming up till now— they will have all this fuss again when some time in the future there is a Labour attack against the appointment of any Commission or any Committee, if the Government does not allow any elasticity in the reading and interpretation of the Report. There is no doubt that there are various opinions and interpretations, and a variety of readings possible out of the Report. What will happen in the future is that when, following the present example, a Commission is appointed, we will give it out to the workers: "Do not rely upon this Commission and these Reports any longer."
What is the good of it? In one paragraph they say this, and the Prime Minister quotes a paragraph to suit his convenience, and the masters quote a paragraph to suit theirs— each one finding a single paragraph out of the Report. So that great struggle is going on. This afternoon before the Debate was inaugurated we were informed of a gracious and great message from His Majesty the King In that there are these words:
It is enacted that if it appears to Us that any action has been taken or threatened by any person or body of persons of such a nature, and en so extensive a scale, as is calculated to interfere with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel or light, or the means of locomotion, and so to deprive the community or any substantial portion of the community of the essentials of life"—The viewpoint that we are taking is that if this is an emergency His Majesty the King ought to proclaim it every day. There are actions by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in industry which deprive large sections of the community of the essentials of life. We want to tell the Government that they only feel this when the purses of a very few number of persons feel it. These are barely 10 per cent. of the population, and the fact that 80 per cent. of the population are starving daily, that they are going short 162 of that which they ought to have, that 80 per cent. is driven to live on less than what is good for them, or they desire to live upon, is such that some of us think the Government ought to declare a state of emergency every day of their lives.
What we feel is that the Prime Minister need not make all this fuss and bluster on the present occasion. It is far from a great revolution, far from the immediate subversion of the capitalist system. We are not nearing that point. What we of the Communist party unhesitatingly say is, that the workers have now reached a stage when they have got to live by and through crises. One crisis after another they have to fight and struggle through; this time they are trying to save their wages. When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition read out some of the miners' wages, hon. Members opposite felt so ashamed that they made an attempt to deny that they were fighting wages, and that means they agree that those wages ought not to exist, that homes and families ought not to have to be maintained on them. But the fact remains that those wages are there; and the other fact is that there is an organised attack on those wages by people who are in a far happier situation of life themselves; and when the workers combine to maintain their present miserable existence they are called all sorts of names— Bolshevists, revolutionaries, and so on, and the 20 per cent. who are in a different position from them are the democracy. If we are to have the true spirit of democracy the voice of the. other 80 per cent. must also be heard: and whether this Parliament needs to undergo some changes or not. something should he done whereby the 80 per cent. should be fed just as well as the 20 per cent. claim to be fed them-set yes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I do not propose to take up so much time as the last speaker. The Communist party in this House arrogates to itself a position which it has no right to bold. We now hear from the Communist party that it "pushes from behind." I cannot believe that that. is the ease.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
This sort of misinterpretation creates great mischief. I pointed out that there were Labour 163 organisations in this country which were passing resolutions, and that all the actions of the Labour organisations included the left wing movement.
After that interruption I shall proceed. It seems to me that the Communist party takes itself too seriously, and I am glad to believe it is represented by only one individual in this House. Last November I made a short speech in this House in which I ventured to prophesy that when May came we should find that both the owners and the miners had come to a settlement between themselves. I admit that time has shown that I was wrong, but I am absolutely convinced there is no reason why that settlement should not have been brought about had it been really and truly left to the working miner. I say advisedly that when hon. Members opposite state that they represent so many thousands of miners, and talk as if every Miner and every miner's wife and child was in favour of the action that has been taken by the miners' leaders in this crisis —I say I do not believe it for one moment.
I am as certain as I am of anything that a feeling of absolute hopelessness has come over the miners as a result of the decision arrived at in London. I am certain they feel that it is a curious way to improve their wages to cut them off altogether. I myself am convinced that if a decision were left to a free vote, an absolutely secret ballot, if the question were put to the miners as it would be in a Parliamentary election and if only the men over 21 were allowed to vote—and the women—I am as certain as I am of anything that we should find the miners were not in favour of a strike now. I agree that the miners' wages are not what they should be at the present time. The mining industry has its ups and downs.
The hon. Member is not in a position to tell me anything I do not know about the miners; he certainly cannot make me believe that the miners' position can be improved by calling a strike or enforcing a general strike.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The House has listened to different opinions very well during the day, and I hope they will maintain that attitude.
I do not want to say anything to upset the hon. Member opposite. We come from the same part of the world, and we are very good friends, and I do not see any reason why we should not remain good friends. We both have the same interests at heart, but you cannot expect to do any good to the mining industry by bringing about a great strike at the present moment. This opinion has been expressed by other speakers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) was very emphatic in saying that no good is going to be done by a general strike. If that is so, what object have you in bringing it about?
I have the interests of the miners just as much at heart, as any Member of this House. I quite realise that the country is about to go through a crisis such as we have not experienced since 1914. We were just beginning a letter era in trade: there were signs of improvement in many directions. Are you going to risk everything because you will not believe the word of the Prime Minister who has informed us that the Government are prepared to carry out a re-organisation of the mining industry, and that they are ready to carry out all the recommendations of the Royal Commission I do not myself like many of those recommendations, and hon. Members opposite do not like them all, but we have to come to some agreement because the mining industry is in a dire state of distress.
What you are really doing is that you are advocating a surgical operation when the Royal Commission suggest a course of medical treatment. If a strike takes place now and the pits are closed down, in certain parts of England quite 50 per cent. of them will never be re-opened. What is going to happen in those districts? Simply that their population will be far worse off than they would be if you accepted what is now offered by the Government. The 165 period of transition in a matter like this must take a certain amount of time. One hon. Member has explained that in course of time there is a chance of our getting hack our foreign coal trade, but we shall only do this if we can reduce the cost of production, and how is that to be done? Hon. Members opposite say that it can be done by a re-organisation of the industry. We offer you now re-organisation and why not accept it?
As things are to-day there must be a reduction in costs; there is no doubt about that. I think the owners should make sacrifices and know that many of them have made them; I know that in many cases directors are no longer ((thing their fees. Their action is only part of a general reduction in costs. In the same way, the miners are asked to make a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice, but it is better than going out of work altogether, and putting others out at the same time. I have spoken longer than 1 intended, but I have spokes because I really feel that this is a great crisis in our history. Nothing is going to he achieved by a strike—nothing whatever. At the end of it we shall be much worse off than we are to-day— far worse financially, and far worse in every way. There is nothing to be gained by an extraneous body like the Trades Union Council challenging the power of Parliament. We have a Government which have promised certain things, and we have a Report which is a fair Report on the whole. Let us come together, even at the last moment, and let us all in every way that we can, endeavour to avert this (lire calamity that is overhanging us.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
1 shall only trespass on the time of the House for a few moments. I should not have risen had it not been for the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. and gallant Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam). Surely, he knows that I have been longer in the mining world than he, and I want. to emphasise this to him, that I think I know a little more of what has transpired, especially in the County of Durham, where he also has the honour to represent, a division, than he possibly can know. Let me say to him that the miners of Durham seek no strike, and never have. We have prevented more strikes, and so on, than we ever made. Although the 166 position to-day is bad, and we know it, we have had neither part nor lot in making that position. In other words, all the ill that the industry is suffering from does not come from our side, but from the side of the owners. Every one of you knows that in Durham itself dividends as high as 100 per cent. have been paid, and that directors, agents and managers have been made handsome presents because of these enhanced dividends, but that not one penny ever came to the miners. Indeed, those dividends were an encouragement to agents and others to bring down the miner as far as ever they could.
It is said that there is no necessity for the miner to ask for a minimum wage. I have worked without the minimum, and I have gone to a pit and been there for some nine hours, and come out of it without earning one penny piece. I have been absolutely refused anything because there was nothing to my credit. If hon. Members will read the Commission's Report carefully, they will find that what T have said is true. It has been said of us by four Gentlemen who at least are not of the party on these benches, that ca' canny has been turned down. I want to say that the miner has a right to live in exact comparison with his brother artisan in this country. He ought not to be asked to work for less to save others. He is entitled to a. docent livelihood fill the while. All he is asking is Hint 1 he owners should put right (heir own mistake, If they have made a. mistake. why ask the miner to repair it? He ought not to he asked to pay. Get on with your work, get on with your reconstruction—it is more than essential. I think I could find where you could get more actual work done with a seven-hour day by reconstruction than you could with an eight-hour day without reconstruction. That- can be done. An inquiry ought to have been made long ago. I heard it said in my younger days that this country would wake up one day and find that they had had a valuable asset, but that it had vanished and gone. You are nearing that stage now. What is required is a full investigation inside the industry to find out whether it is possible to put it on its feet again and let it take its place amongst the other industries of the world, and I believe it will come out right at the top.
§ Mr. DUFF COOPER
I think there are two issues before the House, and it is important to keep them apart. There is one issue in dispute between the miners and the mine owners. With regard to that, I think the general opinion in the House and throughout the country is very Open-minded. 'If it were a question to-night of a strike taking place in the coal industry only there would be much sympathy throughout every party and every class in the country with the miners' position. There must always be, in a generous-hearted community, sympathies with the poorer side in any matter. But I think the difficulties of strictly valuing and summing up this situation, as the Prime Minister has said, are so complicated that it is still hardly possible for many people who have little leisure or little inclination perhaps to study the question to take a really in-formed view of it. If, however, the country had been present at the Debate to-night, or if they are going to he in a position to read a full account. of it tomorrow, speaking from the most broad minded point of view, I think the general opinion will be that a better case has been made out for the action of the owners than for that of the miners—not an overwhelming ease but a better case. When I hear it insisted upon that the owners made their concession so late that its value was almost robbed of its importance, it is only right to point out that if the owners did delay making the concession until the Last moment the miners never made any concession at all.
Another point that emerges from the Debate is that we are plunging into this awful strife without. really knowing, even at this eleventh hour, what the issue is. I have said the miners have made no concession. I am not quite sure that that is true, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has insisted over and over again that they did make a concession. But that does not appear to be the opinion of everyone else who was at the conference and it is not the Opinion of their leader in the country to-day. Mr. Cook has said again and again—only yesterday I think—that he wishes the miners to understand that never for a moment have they considered the question of a reduction of wages or an increase of hours. [Interruption.] If the 168 difference between the two sides is so small as that, and I believe it is, it seems a very narrow difference when there is some doubt between the two front benches as to exactly what it is. It seems too deplorable and too tragic that the country should be plunged into this ghastly disaster over a matter which might still be adjusted. I do implore both sides, even at this last hour, to consider whether some compromise may not be arrived at. I would recommend the Government not to be afraid of losing dignity by accepting a new offer and entering into negotiations, even under the menace of a general strike. As the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, they have been under that menace all the time. Everybody knew that that was the threat on the other side. would recommend the Prime Minister not to he afraid of losing his dignity. His dignity stands far too high, and is based far too deep upon his character and upon the opinion of the people of this country, for him to damage it by any step he may take at the present time. That is one issue—the question between the miners and the owners: a question which I believe may still he settled. I pray and hope that it may.
There is another issue of quite- a different character, and that is, how this country is to be governed; whether it is to be governed by Parliament or whether it is to be governed by the leaders of trade unions, by the heads of trade unions, unknown people of this country whose names and characters and careers are unfamiliar to the whole of the electorate? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The time may come when hon. Members opposite and hon. and right hon. Members who sit on the Front Opposition Bench will govern this country again. I hope that time is distant; but when it comes, they will have been sent there by the will of their fellow - countrymen. Their fellow-countrymen will have had ample opportunity of summing up their value. They will know them, and their past history and 'resent work. We certainly shall bow to the decision of the electorate and accept them as our future Government. We shall accept them, not with so much fear and trembling as we might do otherwise, because we know them. Although we differ from them in politics, we know the sort of men they are, and we should 169 not feel that we were plunging the country into disaster by leaving the country's government in their hands.
But that is a very different thing from allowing the control of this country to pass into the hands of people whom nobody knows, whom nobody really wishes should control the country, whom nobody has voted to that position, and who are responsible to practically nobody for their actions. I believe those who arc seeking to thrust this disaster upon the country and who lay the responsibility for it upon the coal industry, are doing that industry perhaps more harm than they possibly could in any other way. They arc risking the forfeiting for that industry of the sympathy of the rest of their fellow-countrymen. I believe that moderate-minded people, not only in the party to which I belong but certainly in the Liberal party and many in the Labour party, who realise what is the real issue at stake—the issue as to how this country is to be governed—will have no difficulty and no hesitation in making up their minds.
This country might to be governed by Parliament; by the House of Commons. I am the more strengthened in that opinion by the Debate that has taken place to-day. On the brink of this crisis, with passions running high, as they naturally do upon all sides, with feelings of great depth and great sincerity urging people in opposite directions, with Ministers and Leaders upon both sides tired and worn out by the continual strain of long negotiations, we have had speeches made in such admirable style and with such reservation, and they have been received by opponents with such consideration, that I feel more strengthened than ever before in the opinion that the House of Commons is the right assembly to govern this country, and I hope that it will continue to govern it for many years to come.
§ Mr. GEORGE BARKER
I never heard a more arrogant or a more provocative speech than the speech of the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam). This side of the House has been indicted by the other side and the miners have been charged with making no sacrifices in the present situation. No body of men in this country has made the sacrifices that the miners have made during the last five years. In 1921 170 they were forced to consent to a reduction of 30s. a week, while in the short space of five years they have suffered reduction amounting to £375,000,000. They are not able to stand any further reduction. What sacrifices have the owners made What sacrifices have the royalty owners made? In the space of 12 years the profits of the owners have been £232,000,000 and yet we are told that the miners have made no contribution.
If this House is a judicial assembly, and if it is going to give an impartial and judicial decision on this question, I would ask the House how it is that the owners have not been censured for locking out a million men. We have a million men in this country who are prepared to go to work to-morrow if they only get a reasonable living wage. No less than 15,000 of the miners of this country have been killed in the mines in the last 15 years. Yet they are prepared now, if they only get justice, to go to work to-morrow morning in the bowels of the earth and wring wealth from it for this country. I do not understand the attitude of the Government or of the House in continually talking about the rebellious attitude of the miners, while no word of condemnation is said about the attitude of the colliery owners.
The owners arc the provokers of this quarrel. They are the men who served notices UPOO their workmen. It is not a strike; it is a lock-out. The idea that the other workers in this country are to have no sympathy with the miners is a preposterous idea. The miners arc in the forefront of the battle, and if the miners go down we know what will follow as far as other men are concerned. That is the reason why the miners have been selected for this dispute. It is because the miners have stood in the forefront of tile battle for the wages and the rights of the working classes of this country.
Has there been any real genuine effort by the mineowners and the Government to settle this dispute? What is the problem before the country to-day? The problem is this, that there are from 2(1 million to 30 million tons of coal being produced more than they are able to sell. That is the state of things not only in this country but in every country in Europe. What has the Government done, and the coalowners, in order to solve that problem? What have they 171 done to take that coal out of the market, for as long as that coal is in the market it depreciates the value of every ton of coal that goes in, and that is the reason why coal is being sold to-day at an average of 4s. a ton below cost price. What has the Government done to deal with this problem? We have suggested remedies. We have suggested that the men in the industry, instead of the mines being closed down and hundreds of thousands of miners thrown out of work, should have a six-hour day, as recommended by the Sankey Report. That has been turned down and treated with derision. We have made another suggestion. Instead of having hundreds and thousands of young men being unemployed, we have suggested that the older miners should be taken out of the mines and given an adequate pension. There is no proposal from the Government or the other side to deal with the real problem, which is that you are flooding the market with a commodity that the market cannot take, and you do not attempt to get down to a real solution of this problem. Instead, the miners are upbraided and derided.
There is another point on which I desire to touch. Why are the miners and the other workers attacked because they are exercising their trade union rights? The men have as much right to withhold their labour as the employing class has to withhold wages or a commodity from the community. I do not understand the attitude taken by the other side of the House. The miners and the other workers are absolutely within their constitutional rights in refusing to supply labour if they do not get properly paid for their labour. This attack that has been made one the whole trade union movement will fail entirely because we have as much right as workers to withhold our labour as the employer has to withhold a commodity if he does not want to sell it.
As a Member of this House I protest against the charges made against the miners and other workers. They are only exercising their Constitutional rights. If the Government want to solve this problem they are not going the right way. No one wants this dispute. The miners do not want it and they have done everything they can to avoid it. The coal-owners, we are told, do not want it and 172 the Government does not want it. If nobody wants it why cannot it be settled?
§ It being Eleven o'Clock the Motion for the adjournment of the House lapsed without question put.