§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I rise to continue to another stage the statement and speech made by the Prime Minister yesterday. This morning an Address was published to the nation from a source still nobler, and in a spirit and temper 1043 still more magnificent. Will the House allow me to remind it verbally of the essential part of that Address?"At such a moment it is supremely important to bring together all my people to confront the difficult situation which still remains. This task requires the co-operation of all able and well-disposed men in the country. Even with such help it will be difficult, but it will not be impossible."It goes on:"Let us forget whatever elements of bitterness the events of the past few days may have created, only remembering how steady and how orderly the country has remained, though severely tested, and forthwith address ourselves to the task of bringing into being a peace which will be lasting because, forgetting the past, it looks only to the future with the hopefulness of a united people."I pray that not a word, not a sentence, will fall from my lips this afternoon that will do anything but help to promote the spirit and the words of that Address. The Prime Minister spoke yesterday. There is, unfortunately, a great contrast between what he said yesterday and what is in the "British Gazette" this morning. I think it is a great pity that that should be so, a profound pity. It is not helpful, it is only provocative, and I am rising to ask whether a change cannot take place. Let there be no mistake about this: The strike, whether one agrees with it or not, which was terminated yesterday, was purely an industrial struggle. It was started, rightly or wrongly, with one idea, and one idea only, to support the miners in resisting a threatened reduction of wages. Those responsible for calling that strike, those responsible for conducting it, said before it began, and said whilst it was on, that the moment certain industrial securities came over the horizon, that that moment they would be satisfied and declare peace. That happened. According to programme, according to intention, from which they never deviated by a hair's breadth, the result of yesterday took place. Nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman, after all that has happened, how much courage it requires to do what was done yesterday. Nobody knows better than those who 1044 have been engaged in industrial disputes what risks were run by those who took the step that was taken yesterday. I think it was the right step, and I think it was a step that ought to draw from everybody, from every class and from every section of the community, a determination to help to make this step effective in the establishment of peace.
What has been the result? We have had industrial disputes before; we have had people threatening to crush out trade unionism; trade unionism has had bad smashes; contracts have been broken, bad temper has been raised, and at the moment of peace the most optimistic of us have felt that such great disasters had overcome, not the industry of the country, but the mind of the people, and that peace was only to be a whited sepulchre, a mere simulacrum. But common sense came over them, the common sense of both parties, so that when peace came, and the fight was over, the first thing that the combatants on both sides did was to shake hands. That has not happened now. That has not happened in the newspapers, it has not happened in the streets, it has not happened in some wild and heady demonstrations, it has not happened regarding the conditions imposed upon the men who have presented themselves for work.
I ask the Prime Minister, is that what he meant by the words that he spoke yesterday, is that the programme of application that is going to carry out those gracious words I have just read out to the House? It is not. To-day, I am informed, there are more men out than there were yesterday. I am informed that to-day men have come out who went in, not because they want to hold up the community—believe me, and do not be resentful if I use a hard word, that is sheer rubbish. Those men are out to-day because they believe that after peace the conditions that are being attempted to be imposed upon their fellows who want to go back after peace are such as will make it impossible to continue in industry under peaceful conditions. The right hon. Gentleman will understand what I am driving at. We are not begging, we are not craving. Happily, Sir, we will have to be very much further down than we are before that happens. But I am asking, asking with great sincerity, whether advantage cannot be taken of what has 1045 happened to establish good relationships on a broader and even firmer foundation than they have been, unfortunately, for a good many years in the industry of our land.
Can the Prime Minister supplement his general statement of yesterday with specific information regarding what is being done to carry it into effect? Threats are the last thing I should think of, but let there be no mistake about this. If there is any attempt to smash up trade unionism, if any section of the country, or any foolish person in the country, thinks that after the events of last week and yesterday he can scrape the faces of trade unionists in the dust, he is very much mistaken. We want a settlement. We want no guerilla warfare to begin, and to go on and on and on. We want no resentment left behind. But if that is going to be avoided, it has got to be avoided by treating men as independent, self-respecting working men, who are not going to crawl back, and have not got to be treated as human beings with the yoke of absolute subordination riveted on to their necks. If it is crush, let us know. My desire would be that especially this House, with all its political enmities and its political divisions, and with its very deep and fundamental diversities upon the meaning of what has happened during the last eight or nine days—that this House should now., first of all, make a declaration to the whole of the nation that it wants no crushing, that it wants no humiliation, and that it lifts up its voice and makes its appeal on behalf of healing, restoration and restitution.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I think it is quite right that an opportunity should have been given at an early date with a view to discussing the very difficult situation which exists to-day, and although I have been rather fully occupied during to-day, and shall be in the evening, I, for my part, welcome this opportunity of saying what I have to say. I am not one of those who ever expected that whenever the end or however the end might come to the great upset of last week, it would or could straighten itself out in a day. I always felt that the few days following on a settlement of this kind would be by far the most difficult days through which we should have to pass. In the first place, although the 1046 behaviour of everybody has been, on the whole, admirable, yet on all men concerned there has been a strain, and when that strain is suddenly removed or people think it has been removed, the first reaction is always a very edgy and nervous one. I am sure the Leader of the Liberal Opposition will agree with me when I say that, in regard to problems of this kind, with which he has in the past been confronted, the first few months of peace are far more difficult than those he had to face during the war itself.
There are obvious reasons for that, into which I need not enter. The supreme interest of this country to-day requires that the largest body of men possible should be brought back to work at the earliest possible moment. I take that as my starting point. I repeat now in other words perhaps what I have said more than once, that this is neither the occasion for malice nor for recrimination, nor for triumph. Our duty is to escape as soon as possible from the consequences of this unhappy controversy, and the less we talk about it at the present moment, the better are our chances of success. I will explain what I mean a little further on. There is, however, a real difficulty to which I wish to allude before I come to speak on the specific points which have been raised by the Leader of the Opposition, which I must put plainly before the House. I am going to do it in a completely unprovocative way, but it is essential I should put this point in order that the House may understand it. Whatever the intentions of those who brought the men out last week, in effect had those efforts been wholly successful, it would have meant the complete cessation of the Press and of transport.
In these circumstances, supposing any Government in power at that time had been completely unprepared for a crisis of that kind, what would have happened none of us can tell. I cannot tell those responsible for calling the men out could not tell, but had the Government not been prepared, there would have been in this great democratic country a condition of things approaching anarchy. I know that was the nightmare behind many of the men concerned. It is no good blinking the fact, because it might have had to be faced by the Leader of the Opposition or by the right hon. Gentleman 1047 sitting over there (Mr. Lloyd George), but it was my misfortune to have to face it. In these circumstances—I think there will be general agreement on this point in the House—we could not in any way nave declined to take upon ourselves the duty of providing for these vital services which might have been stopped. I am sure everyone in the House will agree with that statement.
How have those services been provided? They have been provided partly by men who remained at their work and partly by volunteers, but a large majority of them are not people directly concerned in the strike. I have given no pledges at all during this conflict except one, and that is, that those who help the Government should not suffer for having done so. I put this point to the House. I believe that my word stands for something in the country. I hope it always will, although I am going to go through the most difficult time during the next week or two that ever a man has had to go through. But let me ask this question. If ever I went back on that pledge who would ever trust me again? Not only that, but who would ever trust a Government again? Therefore there is a real difficulty in reconciling a pledge of that kind and the taking back of all men to work. That is exactly one of those very difficult points which I have had in my mind in my broadcast message which must be thrashed out between the unions and the employers' associations. It calls for real statesmanship, and I do feel that any prolonged discussion on a matter of this kind where perhaps full and accurate information is not always available, and where a sense of responsibility may be lacking, will hamper those who at this moment I believe are now beginning these very difficult negotiations. I want to put that point first, and then I want to come to what I have tried to do within the last 24 hours, and how the situation stands according to the latest authentic reports that I have.
During the last week of course there has been a good deal of propaganda on both sides. I have an instinctive dislike to propaganda and I dislike it very much. The particular piece of propaganda I am referring to I am only going to use to illustrate what I am going to do. There has been a propaganda that has told the men on the railways that there was an 1048 attack going to be made on their wages, and that there had been a movement on the part of the Government against wages in a great industry where they had been settled on what was hoped to be a permanent basis. So far as I know there was not a word of truth in that. What I want to say is this. I will not countenance any attack on the part of any employers to use this present occasion for trying in any way to get reductions in wages below those in force before the strike commenced or any increase of hours.
We must remember another danger with which we are faced and it is this. You cannot have a general hold-up of the business of the country even for a week or a fortnight without dislocating and disorganising the trade of the country. Of course I have no knowledge of the extent to which this may have happened but indisputably foreign contracts will have been cancelled, and there will have been either a cessation of or a great diminution in fresh orders. The coal stocks have of course shrunk to very small dimensions and in many industries and on the railways they must necessarily suffer a very considerable curtailment of their services owing to the shortage of fuel. In these circumstances with the best will in the world, unemployment must be greater for a time in consequence of what has happened. That will be one of the difficulties we shall all have to face.
Now what have I been trying to do during the last 24 hours? I recognise that a responsibility is attached to me in a peculiar degree, partly because I hold the office that I do, and partly because of the message which I broadcasted on the first day of the strike. I stand by every word of that message. If I fail in carrying it out to everyone's satisfaction it will not be for want of trying. Last night I heard that a certain large employers or a large group of employers were unwilling to meet the union concerned. I lost no time in putting on the broadcast that I thought it was essential that the associations of employers and the trade unions concerned should meet immediately and get to work. I forget the exact words which I used, but I think I told them to discuss the many difficulties that had arisen in the present dispute with regard to getting the men back to 1049 work. I am glad to say that that particular authority has now consented to do what I asked them to do, and a meeting is already arranged to take place tomorrow morning, and it would have taken place earlier but for the fact that the negotiator who will be meeting them in the morning is engaged this evening with another great authority. I may add that there is another body of employers who had an agreement with their men which agreement was broken by the men coming out. The first instinct was to say that a new agreement on less favourable terms must be negotiated if they were going to take the men back. I am glad to say I heard that at a meeting this morning, they decided they would not put forward a proposal to terminate the agreement, or to alter the conditions of employment. The railway companies who, in many cases, have the most difficult task to negotiate—because there, I am afraid, the unemployment for a time must be considerable because of the decline of work consequent on these struggles—are, I am glad to say, to meet—my information is—this evening. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) will tell me if that is correct or not.
§ Mr. THOMAS indicated assent.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is the information which has just been sent to me. On that I wish to warn the House not to accept on face value all the stories that fly about in the Lobby. They do nothing but harm, and what I dread very much about protracted Debates, during the two or three critical days of negotiations, is Members of this House, without a sense of responsibility, just repeating what they have heard or been told by some chance acquaintance, which carries weight, possibly, because it is said in this House, which merely confuses the issue and probably turns out to be based on a complete fabrication.
One instance came to my notice just before I entered the House to-night. It has been said that the railway companies are proposing to take this opportunity of reducing wages and that they propose in taking men back into the service to take them on as new entrants, as a result of which the men would receive lower rates of pay as well as lose the benefits of their seniority. I 1050 telephoned at once to find out if that statement was true. I had a message from the chief general manager of the London and North-Eastern Railway saying, "Both these rumours are entirely without foundation. Men in employment go back at rates of pay they were receiving before the strike and without loss of service" I may say my right hon. Friend has been getting for me on the telephone within the last few minutes some information from the London General Omnibus Company about whom the same statement has been made, and it has been contradicted. I only quote these to show the type of rumour that is flying about and the foundation that really exists. Do let us remember that to-night and to-morrow morning the responsible people—the employers' associations and the union negotiators—are meeting, and will be meeting, as I have said before, in some of the most delicate and most difficult work they have ever been called upon to perform. Let us do nothing in this House to hamper them in their efforts. There is only one other subject on which I desire to say a word or two. I am sure the House will recognise that this is no occasion for me to make a long speech. I wish just to put before the House the conditions, as I see them, and the things that are in my mind.
The Leader of the Opposition devoted a portion of his speech to saying that he hoped there would be no attack on trade unions as such. I cannot imagine that there will be such an attack. I should not countenance it. There must be, human nature being what it is, for a few days, at any rate, on both sides, I daresay, a certain soreness, a certain difficulty of recovering in a moment that friendly spirit of negotiation. There can be no greater disaster than that there should be anarchy in the trade union world. It would be impossible, in our highly organised and highly developed system of industry, to carry on unless you had organisations which could speak for and bind the parties on both sides. If you had not that, you would have sporadic outbreaks, difficult to deal with, and far more interruptive of ordinary industry. One of the dangers, as I see it, of this situation, if allowed to last, is that it may well be that on both sides such organisations will lose their power and 1051 that you do run a risk of anarchy in the organisations on both sides. We know that in all these great organisations there are some who are of little help. At a time like this there are some who like fishing in troubled waters. Let us get the waters calm as soon as we can, lest their work spoils the work of half a century. I have made my position, and the position of the Government, clear. We have no power to coerce, or to order. The whole of our influence is being exercised, and will be exercised, in the letter and in the spirit of whatever I have stated either on the broadcast or otherwise during the last 10 days.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
The object of my right hon. Friend in raising this matter was his anxiety to enable this House, through the Prime Minister, to make some contribution towards smoothing the difficult situation now existing. I think there will be common agreement that the speech of my right hon. Friend and the speech of the Prime Minister himself, whilst maintaining their respective party points of view, were certainly both directed in a helpful rather than in any other manner. I want to say that it is exactly that sentiment, that spirit, not so much the letter, the spirit behind what the Prime Minister said, that has got to be interpreted it we are to get out of this difficulty. The House ought to know the exact situation at this moment. I am afraid they do not. Yesterday a big thing was done by the Trade Union Congress. I am not now, and do not intend, to say a word about the merits of the dispute, but there must be common agreement that with all the responsibility and the consequences that may have followed, with 4,000,000 men and women having answered the call without consultation, without knowledge of any sort, they promptly took responsibility and said, "We call this strike off." There are people on that side of the House who know it required a big effort to do it. They certainly on that bench know it is the case. Why did they do it? They did it because they knew —no one knew better than they—when the Government made this question constitutional issue, not only that Government, but no Government that could dare sit there could budge from the position they took up. Do you think I 1052 did not know it? Do you think any leader did not know it? Of course we knew it, and we know it, not because we agreed with it—because we joined issue with it—but knowing that was the issue you laid down we had to say: "What now is our responsibility?" I will tell you in a sentence what we said. We said: "This is not a constitutional issue." We never allowed anyone to dare to raise constitutional issue from beginning to end, and anyone who did it was repudiated by us. We said more than that. We said: "These men are out, called out, not dragged out, as has been alleged, but called out, and they responded because rightly they believed that they were helping the miners." Immediately they satisfied themselves that that was accomplished they came straight to the Government and the Prime Minister. Here let me say he met us yesterday in a manner we expected him to meet us, and I have no complaints whatever; none whatever. But when he met us in that spirit and we accepted it, our task then commenced, our difficulties then commenced. Our responsibility was then greater than ever. It was to say to this great disciplined army: "Whatever you folks may think, everyone of you in your hearts will admit that such a responsibility as that was not only wonderful, but it was the greatest tribute to any leader that could possibly be imagined."
Therefore, our real task commenced, and we said to the Prime Minister, "This is where you can help us." He said, "Yes, I will help you." This morning, when we saw the official organ, we were not only sore. I do not know who is responsible, but I would ask the House to remember that, when the official publication of the Government was issued, with "Total Surrender," and so on, that went to 2,000,000 men who refused to surrender to the Germans. That was hurled at 2,000.000 men who said, "The Germans shall not make us surrender," and you can imagine the bitterness that followed. We immediately issued a statement on that, and we said, "Never mind, we have got the Prime Minister's word." That was the position when we first met, but this morning, when we arrived at the general office, what did we find? The first thing we found was that the Government themselves were not carrying out 1053 what the Prime Minister desired. The Prime Minister has said to the House to-night, and I agree with every word—I will deal with it in a moment—"Please remember the dislocation that must follow." It would only be a blind, ignorant fool who could assume that all that has taken place could be rectified in a day. You cannot expect to get the wheels of industry and everybody started to-day or to-morrow; no one in his senses believes that you can; but we do believe, and we do know, that the first to set an example ought to be the Government. I refuse to believe that the Prime Minister is aware that the Government themselves have broken, not only the spirit, but the letter of his broadcast speech, of his statement yesterday, and of his statement to us to-day. This is a copy of the Admiralty Order:Following is Admiralty decisions as regards men on strike. Established men are not to be allowed to enter, but are to be suspended until further notice.Do not let us get angry; we are going to state the facts. Even if the House agree with that—which I refuse to believe they can—even if they agree with that document itself, how can they square it with the Prime Minister's word? Not only is it not the spirit, but it is not the letter. That is the Admiralty. This is the War Office, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State is here:Notice to employés at War Office Department Establishments. Men who have remained at work and men who have returned to work by Wednesday, the 12th May, will be given preference of employment, irrespective of their former length of service.That, of course, means—I am only drawing the attention of the House to the first paragraph—that anyone who came in supersedes those that went out. Do not talk about that not being victimising. But that is not the most serious part. Let me read on:Attention is drawn to the provision of the Regulations that all awards under the Superannuation Acts are subject to the condition that discharge at a person's own desire, or due to his own default, forfeits all previous service.That may be true, but, I ask, is that the spirit of good will?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)
Will the right hon. Gentleman an say what is the date on that?
§ Mr. THOMAS
It is the 10th May. [Interruption.] My object is to help. Does that mean—because I am thinking of the men—does that mean that this is withdrawn?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS indicated dissent.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Very well; my right hon. Friend says that it is not withdrawn. Then what becomes of the question of date? I am certain that the Prime Minister would never have made that speech if he had been aware of this. Therefore, I say we must face that fact. I accept in its entirety what the Prime Minister said, and I say that his first duty is not merely to give expression to those words, appreciated as they are here, and accepted as they are, by me at least; his duty as head of the Government is to see that so far as the Government are concerned they are immediately translated into practice.
Now let me come to the second point. The second point is that the Prime Minister himself broadcast his speech last night, intimating a magnificent spirit and a good suggestion. This is how it is responded to by one big employer. This is Tilling's Garage at Bromley Road:Drivers and conductors who are willing to resume work will, until further notice, be paid at the same rate as volunteers, namely, 15s. per day for drivers" —so much for conductors, and so on, and then it says:This arrangement will only be continued until further notice …. The union having broken this, they should understand quite plainly that we do not propose to make a further agreement with the existing union.Let us go on. For the moment I am only stating the facts; I will draw some conclusions from them in a moment. Carter Paterson and Company have given a notice that their men can only resume duty with a reduction of 4s. per week. Bath tramwaymen—but I have so many that I need not go into any more. It is sufficient for me to say that there is not at this moment a town in this country where all these incidents are not enacted. I will say only one word about the rail- 1055 ways, because I think that as regards a solution of that problem I can deal with better with them than I can even in this House, notwithstanding all that has happened during the past week. I am only going to say this about that. I do not know who is responsible for the statement that they propose reducing the wages. Immediately I heard it I repudiated it, because, whatever else may be done, I am quite sure they would not be so foolish as to do that; I know them too well. I have much that could be said on the railway side, but, having regard to the meeting that is taking place, we at least have done much better ourselves without any intervention, and therefore I do not propose to say one word.
I now come to this curious situation, to which I want to draw the attention of the House. Let the House keep in mind the phrase "Total Surrender." No one on the other side of the House who has the facts dare deny that at this moment there are over 100,000 men more unemployed or on strike at this moment than there were when we declared the strike off yesterday. Even I realise—and I am quoting authoritatively, and not from my own side alone—that owing to what has taken place there are actually men who have come out that had gone back. The result of that is that you have 4,000,000 men at this moment out of work. This House is not deceived by a few omnibuses running. No business man in this House is influenced by a few trams or omnibuses. The life-blood of the nation is stopped, and they know perfectly well that paralysis must follow. I want to stop that atmosphere; I want to see it started, and I ask employers in this House, and every Member of this House, not only to follow immediately the words of the Prime Minister, but to give effect to them. I made a speech to the Prime Minister on the negotiations a fortnight ago, and nothing has happened in this strike to prevent my adhering to every word of it. I was under no misapprehension as to what would follow. I will tell you what will follow unless there is an immediate change. The docker, for instance, attaches a different meaning to strikes from what is understood by the railwaymen and others. After the first week or fortnight he merely tightens his belt. He does not ask what strike pay 1056 is there; he does not bother about that; he merely sits down for a week or a month. That is his attitude. The miner is unlike the railwayman in his attitude towards disputes. When I hear my mining friends talk about 12 weeks', 13 weeks', or 20 weeks' stoppage, I get horrified, but they calmly accept the situation. I deplore that attitude. To me it is horrible, because I know the consequences. But there is something even worse than that. What I dreaded about this strike more than anything else was this: If by any chance it should have got out of the hands of those who would be able to exercise some control, every sane man knows what would have happened. I thank God it never did. That is why I believe that the decision yesterday was such a big decision, and that is why that danger, that fear, was always in our minds, because we wanted at least, even in this struggle, to direct a disciplined army.
Those are the cold, hard facts of the situation. I hope I have not said a word of recrimination about the origin of the dispute; I hope the House will believe me when I say that every member of the General Council, who are responsible for that decision yesterday, took it, not only knowing that it was the right thing, but believing honestly—and. I had something to do in persuading them to believe—the Prime Minister's word, not because they doubted it, but because they did not know him so well as I thought I did. I said, "The Prime Minister of this country has given this message, and he will respond to it." I therefore conclude by saying that the position to-day is worse than it was yesterday. If there is no change, no man can predict what is going to happen. There are four million men and women who are angry and bitter. When I, myself, saw an omnibus running into a crowded district this morning with "Total surrender" in front, I was waiting for the news of a riot, because these people do not and will not tolerate that kind of thing. We honourably did the right thing. You responded in the right way. Men and women have shown themselves loyal and law-abiding, and it is to stop the paralysis, to stop what may follow, that I Ask every Member of this House who is an employer, or who has any influence, to join in substantiating the plea of the Prime Minister, with 1057 which I heartily associate myself, and which I endorse.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Prime Minister has appealed that no controversial words shall be introduced which will in the slightest degree embarrass the great task of pacification. I think in every quarter of the House there will be a sincere desire to respond to that appeal. No one knows better than those who have had the difficulty, not merely of settling strikes, but of making peace after strikes, how very great those difficulties are. It 13 for that reason that I. welcome the very wise and calming words the Prime Minister has used to-day. I especially welcome the assurance he has given that he will not countenance any attacks upon the powers of the trade unions as the result of what has happened. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—well, upon trade unionism as such. I should have been very glad if he could have gone further. After all, what defeated the general strike was not so much legal action as the action of public opinion, and when the Prime Minister gives that assurance, he will strengthen the public opinion which will make impossible any organised effort for the purpose of forcing upon the community any decision that is contrary to the public interest. That is why I welcome his statement. The second statement I welcome is that he deprecates any attempt on the part of employers to take advantage of this opportunity to reduce wages or to increase hours of labour or in any way to worsen the conditions before the strike.
I should also like to say I am in entire agreement with him that it is essential that the pledges he gave during the strike should be redeemed. Anyone confronted with such an emergency as the Government had to encounter had to take action for the purpose of carrying on the life of the community. They could only do so by encouraging men to undertake tasks which had been deserted by others. In order to do so, pledges had to be given both to those who remained at their tasks and to those who were prepared to come in, and I cannot see how any Government, or any employers, can fail to carry out pledges of that kind without dishonour. We had to give similar pledges in the great strike of 1920, where the transport of the country was broken down in a great industrial conflict. We felt it an oblige- 1058 tion of honour on the part of those who represent the nation to do our best to carry out every pledge we gave on that occasion. No one knows better than those who have been engaged in these difficulties that it is something with which every employer is confronted in every industrial strike. Those who have to carry on their tasks have to induce men to remain. They have also to engage other men. The difficulty is not a new one. Always, after a strike, employers have to stand by the men who stood by them. But it is not a new difficulty. It has never been insuperable. The Government is bound to see that there is no victimisation on either side, but this is not a new difficulty which is insuperable in practice provided there is good will on both sides. First of all there must be good will on the part of the unions. They must not in the slightest degree make the lives of those who have disagreed with them on this occasion impossible, otherwise it would be quite impossible for the other side to carry out their bargain. On the other hand it is the duty which the employers owe to the country, the supreme interest of which is a real peace, to do all they can to make it clear that, on their part, they are not engaged in any task of vindictive operation against those who deserted at the order of the union to which they belonged last week.
It has always been overcome. There are some cases where there have been failures, but in the main these difficulties, with good will on both sides, have been solved, and I am sure the same thing will happen on this occasion. I very much regret to see the news which is in the stop press of one of the evening papers that there is a strike going on on three of the greatest railway systems of the country at present, and I sincerely wish—and I am sure that is the wish of the House—that my right hon. Friend and the railway directors will be able to find some means of getting rid of the difficulties which have created that state of things. The country wants to get to peace as quickly as possible. There never was a time when it could less afford a prolongation of this kind of industrial controversy.
The trade returns for April that appear in the scraps of newspapers which we still enjoy in London are very serious—that great drop in imports and the still more 1059 startling drop in exports. They are very startling. We cannot afford it. I am very delighted that the Prime Minister, with great courage and with great sanity, indicated the path of peace, because, above everything, that is what we want. Everyone rejoices in his heart that the main part, of the strike is over, but we must not forget that we have over a million miners still out. I am not going to press the Prime Minister at this stage because I know he has good reasons why he has not made an announcement, but there is that still to be settled. The House knows nothing about the terms the Government are prepared to offer now the general strike has been withdrawn. It knows nothing about the conditions, but I trust the Prime Minister at an early date will be in a position to enable us to do so, because unless the 1,200,000 men return to work, the fact that there is no coal being produced in this country will, in itself, throw another 1,500,000 or 2,000,000 men out of work. That was the effect of the coal strike of 1921. [HON. MEMBERS: "Lockout."] —of the coal dispute of 1921. The trade of the country was paralysed. I therefore trust that the appeal that is made on this occasion to all sections of the community—to employers, to unions and to others—to work for peace in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation will have the effect not merely of restarting our industries but of introducing a new temper into our industries after they have been started.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Commander Eyres Monsell)
I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Business being appointed for a quarter-past eight, I will leave the Chair until that hour.