§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]
§ Mr. CLYNES
I was hoping that when the Motion was made we should have some statement from the Government on the general question which has brought us together. The Government has continued to declare that a state of emergency exists. The House of Commons has been brought together presumably because of the conditions created by the continued coal stoppage, and Members must feel themselves to be in an extraordinary position in having no statement from the Government Benches, I will not say on Government action, but upon Government inaction. It would appear, not merely from the silence of the Front Bench but from the noises behind it, that we are likely to have another profitless, totally unhelpful Debate on what is a most deplorable position. Why are We called together at all for two days, one day being, it is understood, for a discussion on the present situation, if the discussion is to take the form of the Government criticising the Opposition? The customary course is for the Opposition to be given some opportunity to make a comment upon a Government policy. Perhaps the Government think their last chance of being of any assistance in this trouble has already gone by.
Perhaps the last chance that the miners have of winning in this struggle has also passed. I do not know. I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when this trouble began contemplating, not only with amazement, but with the greatest alarm, the possibility of this dispute lasting 12 weeks, and he pictured the calamitous condition of the nation if the dispute proceeded so long. It has lasted double that time. It is going into six months. Who knows that it will not go into 12 months? No one desires that, and, accordingly, we were looking to the Government to rise and make some statement which might ease the situation and which might produce a condition desired by all men of good will in the country, namely, an immediate resumption of negotiations for an honourable settlement of this quarrel. From many quarters there are 570 signs of a willingness to come together, a wish for accommodation by mutual concessions, and a wish for honourable settlement. So far as I can estimate the situation it is this: That while there is a mood for and evidence of a wish for accommodation, there is no evidence of surrender on the miners' part. It is true that in the past month or two some thousands of men have gone back to the pits, or, perhaps I should say, have been driven back by the pressure of starvation. [An HON. MEMBER: "At jolly good pay."] Yes, that expresses the mind of hon. Members opposite. By the temptation of bonuses, by the bribes of abnormal rewards, by all those extraordinary though temporary inducements, men have been brought back to work for the time being. But, even if that were not so, even if in the ordinary voluntary sense they had returned, I should not regard that as satisfactory.
I think the very duration of this dispute now affords exceptional opportunities for a settlement by arrangement in place of an end of the trouble by exhaustion. Indeed, that would be no end; it would only be the beginning in a new form of further trouble. There is a deepening of suffering, the winter is upon us, stoppages of trades requiring coal for their purposes are widening, and there is in the country generally influential appeals for intervention, not at all confined to business sides of the community or to labour sides; from Conservative quarters also there is some evidence of eagerness that the Government shall function in relation to the present situation and take some effective steps to bring the parties together. On this side of the House we have pressed with some persistent suggestions for a joint meeting and an open agenda. That suggestion is again offered, and ought to be more helpful than even before in view of this continued stoppage. We, of course, on the purely Parliamentary or political side have no authority to offer terms. The Government have the power which we have not. The Government have power to make a move, an approach to both sides, to impress upon them jointly their obligations to the community as well as the disasters in which they are sharing through a continuance of this quarrel.
I remember that about a month ago, when the House last met, the Prime 571 Minister made a rather long speech in the nature of a narrative or history of the trouble, as the Government saw it. I did not regard it as history in all respects accurate. In the course of that speech, the Prime Minister asked, rhetorically, the question: How legislation make both parties agree? We are not pressing the Prime Minister now to legislate. The Government have a wide margin in which to move without passing an Act of Parliament. But if the Prime Minister is to put to the House that question as to how the parties are to be made to agree by legislation, we are entitled to ask: Why did he pass that Act of Parliament cancelling the working time of seven hours and enabling the mineowners to compel the workmen to work longer? The right hon. Gentleman is the last man in the House who has a right to raise the question of not being able to do anything helpful in this matter by means of legislation. I remember saying to the right hon. Gentleman, following the first hour when he introduced the Bill, that, whatever else was done, whatever steps were taken to shorten the dispute, it was a certainty that the pasing of that Act would help very greatly to prolong the struggle, and unfortunately time has proved the forecast that was uttered at that time. I do not think, in the history of industrial disputes, that there is an instance before where the Government, while the quarrel was on, have asked Parliament to pass an Act to compel one side to concede to the terms of the other. This wholly unwarrantable and unprecedented event stands to the credit of the Prime Minister of the day. The Government can act now without further legislation. How far they are committed, privately or publicly, to a position from which they cannot recede, perhaps the Prime Minister will explain.
The Prime Minister will recall that, in his absence some six weeks ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked the miners' leaders to arm him with the weapon of economic truth by assenting to certain conditions for a conference and settlement which the Government could approve. The miners' leaders did so arm him and accepted terms which, in the view of the Government, required the owners to meet and see if a satisfactory settlement could be 572 arrived at. The miners declared themselves, through their leaders, as willing to agree to a national plan to reduce labour costs, and as the House clearly understood from the discussion, no factor in relation to the cost of production was to be eliminated, or to remain out of consideration in the event of the parties being brought together. The mineowners refused to meet either the wishes of the Government or the wishes of the miners' leaders, and for that they were slightly censured by the Prime Minister himself, who referred to their stupidity and to their incivility. I put it to the Prime Minister that he ought to deal equally with the combatants in this quarrel, and that he ought not to content himself with soft words of censure in the one case and pass an Act of Parliament in the other to compel the miners to work longer hours. At least, we are entitled to expect, after such an Act has been passed and after the owners have clearly put themselves in the wrong in the eye of the Government. themselves, that they shall not be allowed to enjoy the advantage of that Act of Parliament unless now they are willing to respond to some appeal which only the Government can make to bring the two parties together in an effort to end this quarrel. I am amazed at hon. Members expressing themselves, as sometimes they do, in terms amounting to gleefulness at the prospect of the miners being driven to the pits by starvation. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. CLYNES
There is no other influence, no other condition or pressure of any kind, in this dispute which would cause the miners to resume work on the owners' terms except the pressure of starvation. In some parts of the country steps have been taken by local authorities, with the avowed approval of the heads of the Government, to diminish the household supplies of the miners and of their families, and I think the very worst of all the discreditable actions of the Prime Minister in this regard was the sending of that letter to America to stop some source of supply from that quarter. Let us contemplate certain effects and consequences of a settlement by surrender. Think of the shattering results that gradually will have their effect in the labour mind and in the 573 industrial world. Think of those elements of uncertainty in trade and business that are sure to continue and to extend and deepen merely because there is no agreed settlement. The miners are as human as the Conservatives.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The miners fought well during the War for their country. They will not forget it if now they are driven back by starvation. They will not forget how to prepare well for the next struggle. It is not solely in their interests that I am speaking; it is also in the interests of our public well-being—of a more composed condition of trade and industry. We roust not have good will in words only; we must have more of it in deed. The Prime Minister must liberate himself from a condition where at least the miners and labour men in the country regard him as having become in all respects counsel and K. C. for the mineowners of the country. It is useless to ask us and the country to buy British goods, and at the same time ask us to buy foreign coal to compel the miners to return to work. I emphasise my appeal without further argument. The power is not ours, but I know there is a desire for accommodation on the Labour side, and that the miners' leaders in their public speeches during the last week or two have shown their willingness to confer.
Finally—especially in view of the display of feeling in this House on the Conservative side, in the Prime Minister's absence, at Question Time, want to ask whether having regard to the continuance of the trouble for some time, it has not become the urgent duty of the Government to stop the extravagant and shameless profiteering in the coal which is being produced. In the Clynes' household, three weeks ago, one hundredweight of coal per fortnight could be obtained, and for that coal 4s. 8d. had to be paid—more than double the former price. Higher figures per hundredweight were mentioned at Question Time to-day as having been paid in different parts of the country. We are to be asked to pass these Regulations to-morrow, and in these Regulations there are pretty wide powers. Are those powers to be used only against the men? Are they to be used only for the purpose of repressing the men in regard to their 574 mettings and for prohibiting public sentiment? If so, it is a most dangerous and provocative step to take, particularly at this embittered stage of the struggle. I appeal to the Prime Minister to give us some assurance on the question of limiting the price that is being exacted now from the public for the little coal they can get. More than that, I appeal to him to take some immediate steps to bring the parties together and to produce an atmosphere that will lead to peace.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I share the disappointment and regret of my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) at the failure of the Prime Minister to enlighten the House as to the intention of the Government in regard to this very devastating struggle. This is the third Emergency Session which we have held. Things are going from bad to worse as far as the trade of the country is concerned. It is, undoubtedly, a very serious position. No one but the Prime Minister can make an authorised statement. It is quite clear that any proposals made by any subordinate, however powerful he may be, will he thrown over by the Cabinet. It is only the head of the Government who can give us an authorised version of what the Government is prepared to do, and even he has been thrown over once or twice. What is the position? I see that Sir Hugh Bell, an authority on the business of the country, has come to the conclusion that this great struggle has cost us £489,000,000 already. The "Financial News" estimates that it is costing us £3,000,000 a day. The unemployment returns give no indication of the losses in wages, in work, and purchasing power. The woollen trade have gone down to three days' work per week. The cotton trade have had to curtail a good deal of their activities. That is also the case in regard to the iron and steel and many other industries. Is it not time that something should be done by the Government to put an end to that? It is really not a question of the miners and the mineowners. The whole community is suffering.
We are called together for the third time to pass Regulations. Regulations never yet pulled the nation through an emergency. There must be some re- 575 source, and there certainly must be impartiality, but the Government have shown neither resource nor impartiality. It is fair that we should re-state the position. If one reads certain parts of the Press, one might imagine that the miners wantonly provoked a great industrial struggle in order to put forward a demand for unreasonable wages and unreasonable hours of labour, that throughout the whole struggle they have been unreasonable and have refused all fair terms, and that the mineowners have been reasonable and fair. That is a perfect travesty of the facts. What has happened? I am not one of those who think that the miners' leaders took the right course in rejecting the offer of the Government in April. I think that was a very serious mistake. Their president or chairman rather indicated that he was prepared, on certain conditions, to discuss it; but he did not make it very clear. I think that was meant. When I was challenged by hon. Members on the other side of the House, I agreed that the words which I quoted were capable of two interpretations. It would have been better to make it quite clear that they were prepared to discuss the offer.
What has happened since? Anyone who has experience in these matters knows exactly what occurs. The first thing that the public must get into their minds is that this is not a strike but a lock-out. That is vital. What proves it to be vital is that the papers which attack the miners refer to it as a strike and dare not put on their heading "The Lock-out." The second point is this. Anyone who has had experience of these struggles knows very well—there are hon. Members here who have had experience and I have had experience—that at first, undoubtedly, you get men, when they begin a struggle, hot and strong and impetuous. They put forward impossible demands and feel very sanguine in the strength of their numbers that they are going to pull it through. Week after week goes on and they begin to cool. When you come to a mining truggle—the experience that I have had in several of them has been this—at the end of the second month there is a disposition to parley. What happened then? It is vital to understand this point.
576 Just at the time when, undoubtedly, the miners' leaders were prepared to discuss terms, a new cause of quarrel is introduced—an absolutely new cause of quarrel. The question of hours is introduced for the first time, two months after the struggle began, after the Royal Commission had deprecated it, after the Government had given definite pledges that they would not introduce legislation without the consent of both parties, and after the mineowners themselves hail accepted the position of the hours remaining. Two months after the struggle began, this new element of strife, more formidable than the question of wages, was introduced. Why is it more formidable? Wages can be regulated from time to time without the intervention of Parliament. The parties meet. If there is an improvement in trade, there is a slight improvement in wages. The thing can be discussed among themselves. The moment you come to hours of labour, the intervention of Parliament has to be called in. That is a very serious matter. Therefore, we are in this position—that the struggle has been prolonged by the introduction of a new clement two months after the struggle commenced, and by an understanding—I do not like to call it a conspiracy—between the Government and the owners. They did it not merely without the consent of the miners' leaders, but without even the formality of consulting with them. What does that mean? I listened to a speech by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Varley), who is certainly not a friend of Mr. Cook. In the course of that speech, a very powerful speech, he warned the Government that the introduction of that new element would prolong the struggle for weeks, if not months. That prediction turned out to be absolutely true.
Now I come to a second cause of the prolongation of the struggle. I am very glad the Chancellor of the Exchequer is here. He did his very best to bring the thing to an end in August. What happened then? The House of Commons made an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to try his hand at bringing the struggle to an honourable termination. He made an honest effort and I think, up to a point, a very effective effort. What did he propose? In the interests of fair play I would invite the attention of hon. Members opposite who believe that the miners are entirely to blame, 577 to what happened then. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote a letter. I will summarise it. If I give an unfair summary, I will quote the actual words of the letter. In that letter, he proposed to follow the terms of the Royal Commission. That is very important. He proposed to have a national agreement upon general principles and then to refer the question to the districts for the variations that are essential, having regard to the differences in the conditions of the various areas. The Commission were very emphatic upon that. The Commission said:We consider that it is essential that there should be, as there always has been hitherto, considerable variation in the rates of wages in the several districts, but we are strongly of opinion that national wage agreements should continue. Such agreements are entered into in all the other British industries of importance. We recommend that the representatives of the employers and the employed should meet together first nationally and then in the districts in order to arrive at a settlement by the procedure that we have previously suggested.That is the recommendation of the Royal Commission. That was repeated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his famous letter of the 8th September. He ends with these words, and I ask the House respectfully to note them:District settlements, concluded in conformity with the agreed general principles, to form the basis on which work would be immediately resumed. After prolonged thought, His Majesty's Government believe that this is about the best and shortest path that can he found to reach the vital object in view, namely, a business-like and honourable settlement for a good long time.That is not the proposal of the miners. That is the proposal of the Government, made after prolonged thought. It took several days for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to draft the letter after the meeting of Parliament. It took nearly nine or ten days. He took his time, and rightly so—I am not criticising him. He had to communicate with the Prime Minister. He had the sanction of the Prime Minister for it. That was the position then. That was the "best path o an honourable settlement." What happened? Then came intervention. The Prime Minister came back.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. The first step was that the coalowners refused—[Laughter.] There are hon. Gentlemen opposite who think it is a most amusing thing that since the refusal of the coal-owners of what their own Government called the best path to settlement we have lost £120,000,000 according to the computation of the "Financial News." That is a matter for laughter. The first thing, as I said, was the refusal of the coalowners. What happened then? The Government had to consider what they would do, It was not a refusal merely to accept the terms; it was a refusal to meet the Government to discuss them—a thing unheard of in the history of any Government. I have never heard of any Government summoning a body of representatives of any trade or industry in this country, however hostile, and that body refusing the invitation. I remember very well what happened when I used to meet the landowners or the brewers. Whenever I invited them to come and discuss something to which they might he thoroughly hostile, they never refused. That is the tradition of British life. That is why there is no provision in the Constitution to compel them to come. It has been an honourable tradition in this country that whenever a Government representing the King invites anyone to discuss any matter of public importance the invitation is never refused. It has never been refused until this last occasion.
Let us see what happened. The coal-owners refused to come and discuss the matter. What did the Prime Minister and the Government do? The Prime Minister has been quite frank about it. He wrote a letter to the Miners' Association to explain what was done. He said that here was a proposal made by the miners which he and the Government regarded as "a fair basis for negotiation." Those are his words—"a fair basis for negotiation." He said: "I have invited the mineowners to meet us to discuss it. They have emphatically refused." Therefore what? "Therefore I am going to withdraw those terms and give more favourable terms to the people who refused to come and discuss the matter." See what it means. I have said quite emphatically that I think the miners made a mistake in refusing the offer of the Government at the start to accept the Commission's Report. They 579 refused, and the Government then said: "We will pay you out by giving you worse terms." The mineowners refused and the Government said: "We will reward you by giving you better terms."
It is essential in a controversy of this kind that the Government should hold the balance fairly between the parties. They have not done so. There is one standard of conduct for the mineowners and another for the miners. That is the thing which prolongs strikes—the feeling that you are not getting fair play, not getting a square deal, that the Government is giving one set of terms to one party and another set of terms to the other party. It is not the severity of the terms that prolongs strikes always, but that outrage, that they have not been decently treated. The men who do that make a mistake. They do not understand the psychology of the miner. Let them consult any who went with the miners to the trenches; they will know. Why did the Government do it? There is no doubt about it; it is common knowledge. They had a protest from their own political machine, which said: "You must not do this." I am not one of those men who underrate the power of the political machine. It can, undoubtedly, give you a great deal of trouble, but it will give you much less trouble the next time if you face it the first time. But hon. Gentlemen opposite have been going around and saying: "We will have no political interference." What does this mean but political interference? You can have no political interference on behalf of the miners, but to political interference on behalf of the owners you must capitulate. The Government struck their colours without a blow. I am glad the Home Secretary is present. He made a speech the other night in which he said: "There is one thing the country ought to be grateful for now and that is that in this emergency we have got a strong Government."
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
The latest speech that I have in my mind was one delivered at Lewes on Friday in which I said that the right hon. Gentleman was himself eminently unhelpful.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is perfectly true that the right hon. Gentleman delivered his speech after dinner. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is a teetotaller!"] But in his case that is no defence, for he is notoriously not one of those who drown their modesty in strong liquor. This is an illustration of the strong Government. There is no doubt at all that the Government were bullied out of their position by the political machine and by the Press. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Oh, yes, they were; the "Daily Mail," that broke off negotiations on the eve of the general strike, and the "Daily Express." Why, the Government have the "Times" on their side. I had to fight the three for four years. They might face two out of the three—this strong Government. You have two things. Two months after the lock-out began an absolutely new and provocative element is introduced, with the consent, with the connivance and with the help of the Government. The second thing is that there are terms which the Prime Minister called "a fair basis for negotiation" submitted by the miners' executive. There are terms formulated by his own Government, based upon the document, which would lead to an honourable settlement in a short time. All that is thrown over at the dictate of the owners, who refused to negotiate. We hear a good deal about holding up the community by trade unions. What about holding up the community by great combinations of capitalists? If we are to fight the holding up of the community, I am all for it, but it must be all round. That is what the Government are not doing.
Let me put another question to the Government. What is it that they are proposing? The Government say that they have no means of compelling attendance. Yes, they have. They have not read their own Regulations. They have read only that part of the Regulations which enables them to suppress meetings. The part of the Regulations that enables them to give directions and to control the production of coal has never entered their heads. Are they going to pass Regulations here and to carry out only that part of them which suits the coalowners, and whenever they have power to deal with recalcitrant owners to leave the Regulations a dead letter? That is what they have done. I know what is the policy which has been 581 proclaimed. It is proclaimed in the Press. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have never made any concealment of it. I think I am putting it fairly. They say, "You must light it out. You must have done with it. You must fight this out, so that there will be no more trouble. You must show that the trade unions are not masters in the national household. Therefore, it is better, whatever the cost may be, to fight it out now and have done with it. Then in future you will have peace."
Let us examine the policy proposed. In the first place, is that the policy of the Government? It has not been their policy up to the end of September, and later. If it be the policy of the Government now, they have changed their mind. Is it their policy now to say, "Fight it out; let us finish it. If it goes on another month, another six weeks, or another two months, let it go on. Then we will have peace." The trouble is, and I think that the Government will admit it, that they are a divided Cabinet upon this subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer put forward proposals which, if they had been persisted in, would, in my judgment, have brought an honourable peace and would have given satisfaction to the whole country, and would have enabled him to snap his fingers at all those recalcitrant elements which intimidated the Government. Why were they not persisted in? Because you have got the advocates inside the Government of the policy of "Fight it out; crush them; let us have an end to it." So that whenever the Government have started a policy of conciliation the other section of the Cabinet are just strong enough to make it impossible for the Government to persist in it; and on the other hand, those who are in favour of conciliation are strong enough to prevent the others from constantly putting forward a policy of non-interference. Therefore, you have neither the one policy nor the other, and the struggle is going on.
Let us examine that policy for what it is worth. What does it mean? To make it clear that you are not going to allow the trade unions to dominate this country. Let us take the facts. In the first place the nation has made that quite clear already. There is no real need to do so now if there ever were any need. The first point is the general 582 strike and its defeat. [HON. MEMBERS: "No thanks to you!"] I was not the Government, and if I was on the other side, the Government's victory was all the greater, if I may say so. That cost the unions in this country between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000, and there is no doubt they have had nothing for it but humiliation. There is no need to teach that lesson which has already been taught. What is the second point? The second point is that the miners' leaders at first put forward a slogan: "Not a penny off the wage, not a minute on the day," and that has been abandoned. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, it was abandoned in the most specific way. Their proposals were to go back to the 1921 basis, which meant a reduction all round, I think, of about 10 per cent. and, if anything, higher in some districts. That is really, substantially, the Commission's Report. They also assented to arbitration—the first time that the Miners' Federation had ever done so. They assented to the Government's proposal of 8th September. In so far as making it clear that the nation was prepared to face any expenditure and loss rather than submit to unreasonable terms, that point was established by those two great facts. What object was there, therefore, in going on after these things had been done, except to trample down someone who had already shown himself ready to come to an accommodation? That is a method of barbarism.
Now I come to the third and perhaps most important point in reference to this new policy. Will you get peace from it? I do not know whether hon. Members opposite take the trouble to read anything but the mere headlines which in one column say that Mr. Cook cannot get a meeting, and in the next column announce that Mr. Cook has been forbidden by the police to hold the meeting which he could not have had in any case because nobody would have attended it. Have they read the very careful analysis quoted in the "Times" by a special correspondent of the "Frankfurter Zeitung," one of the ablest commercial papers in Europe? It is not friendly to the miners, and therefore the correspondent cannot be said to be friendly. It says that every man who has gone back in Nottingham and Derby has gone back saying, "Till 583 next time." What peace is there in that? Supposing at the end of four or five weeks the miners are beaten, and Nottingham and Derby go back and Yorkshire follows. I am not going to give away any secrets, but I know there are districts that will take very much longer. Supposing at the end of that time you get them all in, is that peace? The first thing that will happen will be that you will transfer the struggle from an industrial struggle to a political struggle of a much graver character, causing a much more serious interference with this and all other industries. The right hon. Gentleman sitting opposite me may say, "We are quite prepared to face them, and we will beat them," but while you have this kind of refusal to listen to the miners when they are accepting the Government's own proposals, and when they are offering to submit even further reduction to arbitration, the one thing that will happen will be that you will create a new sense of class in this country.
Have the Government followed the course of the by-elections before and after the struggle? Before the struggle the Labour party at the elections was not making any headway as compared with 1924. Since the struggle they have made enormous increases in comparison with the polls in 1924 and the Government have been tumbling down in their polls. You are not going to get peace, whatever you do, by merely defeating the miners by processes of starvation. I ask the Government again, whether they will not go back to what I may call—though perhaps it is a breach of order—the Churchill terms. Will they not go back to the great days of the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he was bullied by the Conservative Executive and the editors of the "Express" and "Mail"? Let the Government go back to that position. This is a serious situation for the country. I have been one of those who have been very anxious about the position of British trade for a great many years. Mr. Bruce, the Prime Minister of Australia, in a very remarkable speech on Friday called attention to the same state of things, and I am glad he is producing an impression where I failed, as to the prospects—£3,000,000 a day being lost, our industries being closed down and our rivals working hard to 584 capture our markets. I ask the Government whether they will not once again take the situation in hand, insist upon a fair settlement, see that terms which they themselves regard as fair and honourable are forced, and Parliament, I believe, will support them, and the nation will support them. As they are a Government, I ask them to govern.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
The earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a most perfect example of how admirably an industrial dispute lends itself to the Opposition to frame sticks with which to beat the Government of the day. There was only a single concrete suggestion during the whole of his speech, and that, I think, was offered without any realisation of the events that have been taking place during the passage of time. The right hon. Gentleman, who to-day is leading the Labour party, asked me how far the Government were committed, privately or publicly, and I assume he meant to the owners. The Government are not committed nor have they been committed, privately or publicly, to anyone. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] We may be, as the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last said, losing ground in the country day by day, but the country will be asked in due time to give its judgment on the events of this year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do it now!"] When that judgment is given, we shall—and I have no doubt hon. Gentlemen opposite will also do so—bow to the decision. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Labour benches said quite truly that a month ago I made a lengthy speech giving an historical account of the struggle from, as I think he said, my own or the Government's point of view.
After all, in a protracted struggle of this nature repeated surveys of the events during the struggle are essential to a correct apprehension of the circumstances of the moment, and although I hope to be much briefer to-day, I must allude to what I have said before, just as the right hon. Gentleman opposite have alluded to what they said before. I would only make one observation, which will receive probably as much credit opposite as my last statement. The right hon. Gentleman, whom I hope very much to see shortly as the titular leader of a united Liberal party, has been criticising the 585 Cabinet of the present Government as a disunited Cabinet. My experience of Cabinets is a great deal shorter than his, but I certainly have not seen, nor have I read any historical account of a Cabinet, which has been for two years more united than the one of which I have the honour of being head. Indeed, if it were possible for either myself or any combination of my colleagues to curb the right hon. Gentleman sitting beside me, at any rate, we should have accomplished something which no one in any previous Cabinet had been able to do.
The House will remember what the original offer of the Government was to avoid a stoppage altogether—the acceptance of the Report, to take all necessary steps to carry it out and to sanction ultimate arbitration. As the aright hon. Gentleman said, it was a thousand pities that offer was not accepted. I think everyone will acknowledge that to-day; but it was not, and the stoppage began. After that, all parties—owners, miners and the Government—regained perfect freedom as regards their action concerning the Report. The Government, as is well known, brought in a Bill which is now an Act, giving effect, in their view, to the majority of the recommendations of the Report. That Act was not received, I think, in the same spirit in which it was offered. It was looked on as a fake. Time alone will show whether that Act will do good service or not. It does not bear on the circumstances of the moment, but I believe it will justify itself, and more than justify itself in the future. Those were the steps which the Government took during the earlier days of the struggle to implement so far as they could at that time the recommendations of the Report. The struggle continued for some time without the parties coming together or approaching each other. The Government in the meantime, as has been alluded to by the right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes), brought in and passed that Bill about which there has been so much contention, the Eight Hours Bill. I shall say no more about that to-day, not because I am afraid of the subject but merely because I have over and over again stated the reasons that induced the Government to bring it in. Those who are satisfied by those reasons will be satisfied, and those who are not 586 satisfied by those reasons will continue to believe that we were actuated by various subterranean pressures. Time, again, will be the justification or otherwise of the action which we took, but the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party in this House was in profound error when he stated, or intimated, that we had taken that course by any form of agreement or arrangement or under any form of pressure. It is a little difficult for us to know exactly where our principal faults lie, because we are told here that we have been susceptible to Press influence, whereas for about two years one of the principal charges against me, at any rate, has been that I am not so susceptible, and it is very difficult to know where the truth lies. The alleged pressure of the party machine is one of which I, at any rate, am entirely unconscious.
When my right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill) was speaking in this House in August, during a short time when I was, unfortunately, absent, negotiations were started or were reopened. They were started, and the Government endeavoured to procure a three-party conference, understanding that the men at that time were prepared to deal with hours as well as wages. I think that later we discovered that, as regards the first point, we were in error. The owners, as the House knows, declined to attend that conference on which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has spoken with some vigour. The right hon. Member for Miles Platting said I rebuked them mildly when alluding to their stupidity. I belong to the same school as the right hon. Gentleman. I very rarely indulge in abusive epithets, and when I used the word "stupidity" I meant what I said. I have never yet in public or in private uttered any sharper criticism of the negotiators on the other side. But he asked me to be fair to both sides, and I do think, after long experience, that the leadership of the Federation during these months has been lamentably incompetent. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about you?"] My competence or incompetence will be tried by the country in due course. [An HON. MEMBER: "Try it now!"] I think the general impression after three consecutive general elections in three years was that the country wanted a rest from them. If the progress of public opinion 587 be such as the Leader of the Liberal party has intimated and as hon. Members believe, surely it would be far better to let that public opinion ripen. When the owners refused to come into this conference the Government immediately made a proposal to legislate and to set up an arbitration tribunal to meet what we thought the case which the other side would desire to be met. Although, perhaps, hon. Members opposite did not, or would not, realise it, it was a fairly drastic Measure, because it took out of the power of the negotiators on either side the ultimate decision of terms of labour and it proposed to them, by Act of Parliament, a thing which this House has always been extremely reluctant to do whatever party is in power. But that offer was immediately turned down, not on detail but on principle.
Though further offers were made to us, no requests were made to examine our proposal to see whether from the point of view of those it was intended to benefit any improvement could have been made in it. Then came the offer to which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has alluded, regarding which I said I thought it would afford a basis of settlement. The practical difficulty about that offer was that I did not think that those who made it would have considered the question of hours. You have to look at the practical question, because at that time there were something like 80,000 or 100,000 men working on varying terms of hours over seven. That was the position. It was perfectly clear that, having regard to the number of men who were at work and to the position in the districts, that an offer of that nature could not have brought a settlement. The present position is that there have since then been no negotiations or fresh proposals of any kind and none are going on now. Every effort—and opinions are varied both as to the genuineness of our efforts and of the substantiality of the arguments—but every effort has been turned down.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am sorry to interrupt, but, surely, there has been another very important offer made, to accept a reduction of 10 per cent. with a consideration of the wages question even beyond that, and with an arbitral 588 tribunal on the basis of the Report of the Commission. Surely, that is very important?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The difficulty of that was that the question of hours could not be admitted. I do not think anything could do more harm, after so many failures, as to enter into still further negotiations where you see no prospect of any settlement. At this time I do not think that there can be any hope of settlement if the question of hours were not, at any rate, considered with a view to accepting an extension in certain parts of the country. We have made, as I say, several offers, and they have all been turned down. I admit, of course, that this is failure—failure to that extent. Of course, it is a very tragic state of things. At the same time, it is very wrong to mock people with false hopes and suggestions that negotiations are in progress when, in fact, there are none. Our proposals having been rejected, the Government have no further proposals to make. I agree with a great deal that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, that it is a far less happy condition that will result if there has not been a settlement on the kind of basis we all hoped to see some time ago. The responsibility for the present condition of things—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not going to distribute any blame this afternoon. Wherever that responsibility lies, I think the country in time will pronounce its verdict. It is not for the Government to advise the contending parties how they should settle what is, and must remain, an industrial dispute of the first magnitude. It is for them to do it. With regard to the future, the only thing at this moment that I am quite clear about is that so long as the affairs of that great industry have to be negotiated between the personalities who attempted negotiations this time there will never be much hope of settlement in the future.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I have listened very carefully to the speech of the Prime Minister, and must confess my amazement at the helplessness of the right hon. Gentleman and his absolute bankruptcy of ideas. The Prime Minister stands in 589 his place at that Box to-day, after an industrial dispute has been in progress for 25 weeks, and tells the nation that the Government have no policy at all and no proposals to make. It merely indicates what many of us have been saying during the past few weeks, that the Government have no policy and do not know what to do. The only thing clear about the whole position is this; that, as the Prime Minister became the messenger boy of the coalowners of this country on the 30th of April last, he has continued to act in that capacity during the subsequent 25 weeks; The Prime Minister would have the House believe that at no time has he shown any partiality towards the coalowners, but I shall be able to show not only that he has constantly adopted the policy of the coalowners, but that he has been so closely acquainted with their policy as to adopt the very phrases which the coalowners used. Even this afternoon he has used the same phrase which Mr. Evan Williams used in the defence of the coalowners at the meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer last September. A few moments ago the Prime Minister said that after a certain date, consequent upon certain proposals being rejected, the Government renewed their freedom and were in a position to do just as they liked. That is the phrase which Mr. Evan Williams used on 6th September when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was endeavouring to secure from the coalowners a promise to accept a national settlement of the dispute. This is what Mr. Evan Williams said:I do not think there can be any question about that, and when the Government, which had taken a very active part in the discussions which had taken place, and in such negotiations as had taken place up to that time, declared themselves free from all their offers and no longer bound in any way by any of the proposals which had been made by them, they cannot expect that the same freedom was not accorded to the other two parties at the same time.The Prime Minister has used that very same phrase this afternoon. He has attempted to exclude himself and his Government from any responsibility for negotiations behind the backs of the miners' leaders and the country when preparing for the Eight Hours Act. This is one of the replies of the president of the coalowners' association at that same 590 meeting when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was endeavouring to secure a promise from the coalowners, that, having got the Government to provide them with the Eight Hours Act, they would accept a national settlement; and it clearly indicates that the Government have been closeted with the coalowners behind the backs of the nation and the miners' leaders. This is what Mr. Evan Williams stated:There was an interval during which nothing took place, no negotiations between the Government and the Mining Association, until we come to some time towards the end of June when, as a result of representations and arguments which we put forward, the Government began to consider seriously the question of an eight hour day.The Prime Minister has stated on more than one occasion in this House that the Government have never negotiated with the coalowners apart from the miners' leaders, and that they have never attempted to be anything but impartial from the commencement. This document, which is a verbatim report of this meeting on the 6th September, clearly indicates, not only a secret meeting behind closed doors, but that the policy of the coalowners was very clear even when they were negotiating for the Eight Hours Act. I do not desire to refer to this matter at any great length this afternoon, but let me say this: From the very commencement we said that when the Eight Hours Act was placed on the Statute Book it would make district agreements and pit agreements almost inevitable, and that the effect of these district agreements and pit agreements being so well known to the miners, it would add three or four months to the length of the dispute. Our phophecy has been correct. But listen to what Mr. Evan Williams says further on. Let us see what the policy of the coalowners was when they were persuading the Prime Minister to introduce the Eight Hours Bill. In reply to tie Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Williams said this:It was clearly understood between us that there was no question of a general resumption of work simultaneously, that it would be district by district. … There could not have been a national settlement in the minds of either you or ourselves. … and in order to bring about the very thing which a national settlement could not have brought about, that is to say, a breakaway piecemeal district by district.591 That clearly indicates that when the Government conceded the Eight Hours Act the coalowners had made up their minds fully. There was no possibility of a national settlement; no desire on their part for a national settlement. What they want, and what they are trying to secure—what the Government have assisted them in securing—is a piecemeal settlement based on absolute poverty, destitution and starvation. In view of the statement he has made this afternoon, that the Government have no proposal to offer, I want to ask the Prime Minister one or two questions. In effect, he said that as they had given to the coalowners their Eight Hours Act they were going to allow the dispute to drift on. If the figures in a financial review are approximately accurate, and that this nation has lost £500,000,000 or £600,000,000 already, or three times the value of the whole of the mines and royalties in Great Britain, are we to understand that the Government are so bankrupt of ideas and proposals that they are going to permit the dispute to continue, regardless of the creeping paralysis that is entering every industry and the deadly effect it is having on our export trade? Is that the policy of the Government? It is the only deduction we can draw from the statement of the Prime Minister this afternoon. He was one of the first to tell the miners' leaders, prior to the dispute and during the dispute, that the independent industries could not afford to pay the price they had to pay for their coal.
Sir William Larke told the Royal Commission that for the third three months of 1925 the amount paid for coal for the manufacture of steel was 11s. 11d. per ton. We are told by a colleague of the Prime Minister's that the coalowners are charging as much as £2 per ton more at the pithead than they were charging prior to the commencement of the dispute. If steel manufacturers could not carry on their business when they had to pay 11s. 11d. per ton for their coal, how on earth are they going to carry on their business when they have to pay £3 per ton for it? The Prime Minister's colleague also told us that colliery companies were known to be selling coal at per ton more at the pithead than they were charging when the dispute commenced. The figures published by 592 the Secretary for Mines indicate that there was a loss of approximately 1s. 11d. per ton, so that the profits which these colliery companies must be making now are somewhere in the region of £1 18s. per ton; and these are the people for whom the Prime Minister has been legislating! He now tells us that the Government have no further proposals to make. They allow this exploitation to go on; they watch the slow starvation of the miners, our industries slowly closing down, but the Prime Minister tells us that the Government have no proposals to bring forward. They are just prepared to wait for two or three years, and then the country will have an opportunity of expressing itself upon the conduct of this Conservative Government. This dispute, and all that it involves, calls for more from the Prime Minister than we have yet seen.
Whether the Prime Minister knows it or not, it is clear to the casual observer that in this country there is one law for the coalowners and another law for the millions of workers. Over a million men, 1,200,000 miners, are looked out because they are not prepared to accept terms which no body of self-respecting men would consider for a moment; and the pits are closed against them. Basing themselves on the belief of Lord Penrhyn they say that they are entitled to do what they like with their own; and they close their pits. It does not matter to the coalowners that 1,000,000 mine workers are out of work, that dependent industries are deprived of their basic commodity, or that the nation has lost £618,000,000. They close their pits because the pits happen to belong to them. Notice what happens to the miners who are locked out. I want the Prime Minister to ask himself what the working people of this country who supported the miners are going to think about him and his Government. The coalowners will not forfeit a single meal, but the mine worker who is always within a week of the workhouse is to be starved into submission. There are 2,000,000 other workers who set out to assist them, and all that the Prime Minister and other Ministers could say, and what the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) worked overtime to prove—was that these 2,000,000 workers, who were doing as they liked with the only thing they 593 possess, their labour, were in an illegal position. There is one law for the coalowners, and another law for the millions of working people. I do not know what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to say to-day, but two months ago, in replying to the speeches made from these benches, he said:Let the miners' leaders arm us with the weapons of economic truth, and we will see who in the name of procedure or formality presumes to stand in the path of a peaceful settlement.He took certain steps in that direction, but again the coalowners had been met in the meantime and were masters of the situation. They told the Chancellor of the Exchequer what they were not prepared to do, and when the House of Commons met a month ago the right hon. Gentleman, again replying to the debate, turned a complete somersault and used these threatening words to the House. He said:The primary, indispensable condition without which we (the Government) will not move one inch before we can legislate, is that there must be an order given by the Miners' Federation to their representatives to begin immediate district negotiations."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 28th September, 1926; col. 537, Vol. 199.]That means that on every one of the three important things the Government have completely gone over to the coalowners. First, they gave them the Eight Hours Act; secondly, the Prime Minister demanded on the 14th May before he would even negotiate a reduction that he called X for the moment, but that he interpreted later to mean a 10 per cent. reduction, but subsequent to this what has the Prime Minister done? He has given the owners the Eight Hours Act; he has watched the miners agree to accept a reduction of 10 per cent. in wages, and then he has declared, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they have not only got to accept an extended working day and be willing to concede reductions in wages, but that they have also to accept district settlements before the Government will do anything at all. If that has not been to hand over the case fully and completely as the coalowners desired, I do not know what this dispute has all been about. The Prime Minister will have a good deal to answer for. Not only are miners interested in this dispute, but there are millions of other people whose livelihood is at stake, and who are 594 losing their livelihood because of the futility of the present Government.
The wife of the First Lord of the Admiralty said, at the Scarborough Conference, that, luckily, Providence had been on the side of the nation during this lengthy dispute, which meant to infer, of course, that the coalowners were the nation, that sunshine, added to starvation, was assisting to beat the miners, and that the nation, as expressed by the mineowners, was going to win through. If Providence was assisting the coalowners for the first 23 weeks, circumstances are veering round, and now Providence has come on to the side of the people, who have hitherto been deserted, and whatever the "Daily Mail" may say about a general resumption of work, I have found, on going into the question, that if all the people had resumed work whom the "Daily Mail" has daily reported to have gone back, there would have been 10,000,000 colliers at work in this country to-day. The Secretary for Mines gave us some figures on Saturday, or at least they emerged from his Department, which indicated how few had gone back, notwithstanding the full force of the Government having been on the side of the coalowners. The Minister of Health has manipulated the Poor Law machinery to deprive men, women, and children of what they are entitled to, and the Home Secretary has intervened, with his Emergency powers, with his baton charges, with his police here, there, and everywhere, and with his cruel decisions against men and women and children, too. The Home Secretary is fully aware that in Doncaster a short time ago he had a woman prosecuted for intimidation, with a child taking food from her breast, and she was sent to gaol for a month. The Home Secretary was appealed to, but declared that he could not show any clemency at all, and that is not the only case. That child has had to go to gaol as a result of these Emergency powers, and some very atrocious sentences have been inflicted, but, even with those Emergency powers, what has been the net result?
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines stated on Saturday last that 241,000 people were working in the mines of Great Britain, including all the officials, and clerical staffs, and 595 safety men, and all the rest. That indicates that only one out of every five men has gone back to work and that four out of every five, or at least one million, Are still standing solid, and will stand solid for a considerable time yet, before they will be willing to accept the terms of the coalowners and of the Government. While the miners' leaders have expressed a willingness for accommodation, while it is not yet too late even for the Government to be as definite in their action against the coalowners and for the nation as they have been previously in favour of the coalowners, I suggest that it is their plain duty to act to-day and not to wait until the General Election comes. The Prime Minister, as I have said already, is in charge of this nation, which consists of 46,000,000 people. It is his duty to preserve these 46,000,000 people and not the 100,000 shareholders of the colliery companies of this country, and I suggest that for 25 solid weeks, or at least for 16 out of those 25 weeks, the Prime Minister has been told by the coalowners to stand aside. The hon. Member for the Mossley Division (Mr. Hopkinson) said that if the Prime Minister and his Government would stand aside but for another fortnight, the men would be dribbling back to the pits. A fortnight later they told the Prime Minister the same story, and he again believed them, and so on every month, and every month the prophecy of the coalowners has not been fulfilled. After all that has been done, with every hit of national and local machinery used against the miners, there are still 1,000,000 miners, and before another seven days are out there will be more than 1,000,000 miners, resisting the eight-hours day, a reduction in wages and district settlements.
This is not a question exclusively left in the hands of one, two, or even half-a-dozen leaders. It is a growing consciousness among the rank and file, of injustices suffered for generations. They will continue to stand, and if they are driven back, not at the end of another week, fortnight, or even month, but if ultimately they are driven back, because of the Government's partial attitude towards the coalowners, because of what they have failed to do in the interests of the nation, the Government will have to pay the price on some occasion, but they 596 cannot be called upon to endure the sufferings or to pay the full penalty for the brutality which they have been exhibiting for so long towards millions of innocent men, women and children, who at least are respectable citizens entitled to fair play, which they have never had for a moment during the past 25 weeks.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I have listened to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in all these Debates since the general strike. He appeared to-day in his previous role of trying to see if he could not set some sort of booby trap for the Government. He has always tried to see if he could not get the Government to do something foolish, so that he could afterwards turn round on them, as he did when the mining subsidy was given. The question is an economic question and not a political question at all. It is not capable of being solved by any Government. No Government can force foreign countries that used to buy our coal to buy it again, and unless they are willing to come into our markets and buy our coal, it is a sheer waste of time for the Government to interfere. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do you buy their coal?"] I do not buy theirs, because I have enough timber to keep me going, and in many parts of the Highlands there is enough peat, but in many other parts there is great suffering and indignation. We heard the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs saying how he could settle things, but we all know what his settlements were. They were only temporary palliatives to tide matters over. He reminds me in his settlements of that class of rat catcher whom you employ to clear your house or warehouse of rats. Tie always leaves an old buck and a couple of does, so that there will be plenty of work for him again BOMB time later. Everyone of these settlements has sown the seeds of future disorder. All this trouble in the mines has been largely due to the political interference with the coal industry of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in past times, and this Government is only doing its best, not to clear up the mess, but to let the parties thoroughly understand that they must settle matters within their own house.
Why will not the miners make any settlement that is proposed, even by their own leaders? The secret is plain, 597 and it is known to every miners' leader in this House. There were tens of thousands of men down the mines during the War—many of them are there still—and any miner will tell you that they were not miners at all, but they chose to take up mining at that particular period, and any miners' leader will tell you that until they are out of the mines, there will never be peace in the mines, that the mines are overstocked with them, and that the working miners, the old miners who have been in the mines all their lives, and their fathers before before them, for generations, regard them as interlopers and as foreigners. The old miners would far rather have no negotiated settlement, but would prefer to be free to act on their own initiative and work under district settlements with their employers, than have a negotiated settlement which would leave these other men in the mines. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why don't they do it?"] They are doing it very substantially in a great many parts, and they will do it further, as long as hopes are not held out that some foolish action, instigated by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, will be taken, or that the Government will be rash enough again to dip their hands deeply into the taxpayers' pockets.
The miners have had something like £50,000,000 out of the National Exchequer in the last few years. [HON. MEMBERS: "The miners?"] Well, the mining industry. It is all the same thing. You cannot carry on an industry unless it is put on an economic basis. The subsidy is what kept the mines going, and if it had not been for the mining subsidy, if they had carried on on the basis on which they worked before the subsidy was granted in July of last year, at least 50 per cent. of the mines would have had to shut down. [An Hoist. MEMBER: "Nonsense!"] There is no doubt about it. The seven hours' day that was enacted by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was a thing that should have been left undoubtedly to the districts; it should never have been made a compulsory Regulation. Coal mining is the only industry in the country where that is enjoyed, and what right had any Parliament to interfere with the liberty of the miner and to tell him that, if he wanted to work for eight hours, he should 598 not do it? Plenty of men in middle life like to take their work a little more easily; they feel that they cannot possibly earn so much in seven hours as in eight, and they are willing to work longer in order to earn it. Why should they not have the opportunity of doing that? What right have any Members in this House, or any Government, to step in and interfere with them? If you work a man too hard, he will get tired, and you will not produce enough. There is a kind of equilibrium in these matters, and the nation that reaches it will triumph in the foreign markets of the world. In Germany they had a seven hours' day, but they went back to eight hours and at once increased their output. I say that it was a serious breach of the working man's liberty that that Clause should ever have been put in. It would have been much better to have been settled locally, because there are many districts where a man can comfortably earn a living in a seven hours' day, but there are many other districts where that is not the case.
The country, in deliberately giving large sums in outdoor relief to the families of men who are refusing to work when occupation is open to them, when a job is offered, is being exceedingly generous to the workers, and if equal treatment had been given to the mineowners, it would have made up a substantial portion of the mine incomes out of the rates. It has been entirely favourable to the workers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are you advocating that?"] No, but there is no use saying that the Government have been in favour of the mineowners. It has taken up the most impartial position. I have great sympathy with the mineowners. It is deplorable, the constant political interference that has gone on in this industry, not recognising that it is an economic and not a political question. I very much sympathise with the mineowners, although it excited the indignation of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who has been accustomed to so many years of dictatorship that he cannot understand freedom for an individual or an industry. I must say I appreciated the position of the mineowners when they declined to come to a conference. Why should they come to a conference with the leader of the miners, who had stated specifically that he in- 599 tended to bring the industry to its knees? He said in so many words that he would ruin the industry.
I was pleased that a body of men in this country should have the courage and foresight to tell a British Government, no matter to what party they belonged, to mind their own business, and they should mind their own business. I only wish that, during the time of the Coalition, the different industries who were interfered with by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had done the same. It is time that Governments learnt that they should not interfere with economic and commercial enterprise, because they do not understand it. It is the people engaged in it who have to find the money, who have to pay the wages, and sell the products, and they alone know how difficult it is, and they ought not to be constantly interfered with by politicians who are not engaged in this industry, and in many cases do not understand it. You cannot force a man to carry on a business he does not wish to carry on, and to pay away profits which the industry does not afford. Government interference can only lead to economic bankrupty in the particular industry which is being molested by the Government. The working miner understands that if you do not get the coal out the money cannot be found to carry on the industry. I only hope the same commonsense will enter into the minds of those who pretend to take the lead. I believe the miners are going to throw off the yoke so long imposed on them, and work for success in their own industry, and I believe that with the skill they have, and the skill of those who manage the mines, that industry, if kept free of political interference, will reassert itself as one of the principal industries of the country.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
This is, I think, the seventh time that the logical position has been put to the workers of this country that the owners of industry in this country are determined, that unless the workers resort to the Communist programme and Communist methods, they have no salvation. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) blamed the Government this afternoon for not taking an impartial attitude, and for not doing justice to the miners and to the workers. The right 600 hon. Member this afternoon was placed in a dual position, if he would only remember his own past. The workers of this country know very well that he was never more fair to them than the present Government have been. He has, perhaps, a worse record than the record of the present Government. He is in the position of dwelling in one house, and constantly casting his eye on his neighbour's house, in the hope of getting there and taking occupation. It was on this account that he was very loud in condemnation of the attitude of the Government, but if we take the whole career of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and the policy of the present Government, the logic is perfectly clear, that in a country where individual possession is sanctioned by law, the Government, representing the individual possessors, in the main can never be anything but unjust and unfair to the working classes.
We were also told about the spirit of fair play of the parties on this side of the House compared with that of the Conservative party, and so on. I am afraid that for the last four months the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has been misstating the case and misleading the country most definitely. He was trying to convey the argument that the mineowners in the present mining dispute represent only Conservative politics. I think he will find that there are as many royalty owners, shareholders and mineowners in this country on the Liberal side of politics as on the Conservative side of politics, and the Liberal party has never called a meeting of the Liberal coalowners and shareholders in coal mines and said, "You have got to agree to the terms of the British Miners' Federation." They have, whether Liberals or Conservatives, all backed up the Eight Hours Act and the policy adopted by the present Government, and it is completely misleading the country to say that the Liberal party treat the workers in any different manner from those who call themselves Members of the Conservative party. I am sure if the right hon. Gentleman were to open the subscription list of his political fund, he would find among the subscribers many mining magnates in this country, and I am sure each and everyone disagrees with the right hon. Gentleman and agrees with the 601 Prime Minister, and blesses him for having given them the Eight Hours Act.
I want the country clearly to understand that position. The right hon. Gentleman, in passing, said that the present policy of the Government is accentuating a new class distinction in this country. I think it is vain to attempt to hide the fact that the class distinction and the class war has been well known to all of us, but at each dispute, at each struggle, it becomes clearer to the working class than before. Although on the Floor of this House the Prime Minister and his colleagues want to make the country believe that the class war doctrine and the class distinction only comes from the Communist party and from Moscow, and is a sort of Leninism which has been introduced, in Great Britain, the Prime Minister at Scarborough quoted from a speech of Disraeli, delivered in 1844, in which Disraeli had to deplore the existence of class interests and class divisions in this country. I will quote a sentence from one of the trade union regulations. The right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) is at the present moment, and quite sincerely, engaged in persuading himself that in this struggle, or in any other struggle, the class issue does not come forward, and the class war does not exist, that the workers are to be told to be community conscious, and to consider that in the industrial position in this country there is a larger community interest, under which there are two sub-interests, one of the employers and one of the employés. But that is not the truth, however much a few miners may believe it. This is the book of regulations for 1924 of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers, with which, I think, some Members in this House are closely associated. Here is the first thing in it—an address to the members, and this is the first sentence:Fellow workers. Trade Unionism has done excellent work in the past, and in it lies the hope of the workers for the future. That is the Trade Unionism which clearly recognises that to-day there are only two classes, the producing working class and the possessing master class. The interests of these two classes are opposed to each other. The masters have known this for a long time; the workers are beginning to see it. They are beginning to understand from the masters as a class they can expect no help, and that divided they fall and united they stand.602 I submit that that is a clear doctrine preached by one of the most respectable trade union organisations in this country, and it is vain to attempt to give any other interpretation to our life in this country than that there is a continual and a perpetual class war. It is useless to tell the workers that there is anything in any industrial struggle except the continuation of the class war, and peace will only result by one side ultimately and finally defeating the other side completely. The Government and the coalowners are at the present moment engaged in class war, and it is no use hiding the fact that the entire process is to inflict a complete and final defeat upon the whole of the working classes of this country.
I asked two questions of the Prime Minister this afternoon. I do not know whether I am in order in using this word, but the Prime Minister, instead of answering them himself, asked the clown of the Cabinet to answer them, putting forward the most witty member of his Cabinet to answer for him. Even if the mines were nationalised, even if the British mines were worked as a national industry, under either private ownership or under national ownership, they would suffer as long as the mines of all other countries were running in competition against them; and if the Government were really sincere, the Government, instead of putting forward the false excuse that European miners are working longer hours, would have made an attempt to equalise hours. As a matter of fact, the statement that European miners work longer hours is not true. In actual fact the miners of the Continent are not putting in more hours than seven—or more than the British hours. Instead of putting into operation the recommendations of the Washington Conference as to the eight-hours day, the Government encourage, and believe in, differences in hours. With the great prestige which the British Government enjoy in the League of Nations, it would be easily possible for them to secure a uniform seven-hours day all over Europe. Instead, a Cabinet Minister invites the German magnates to enter into a conspiracy against the German workers and to introduce an 8½-hours day there. The Government are not sincere in pretending they are helpless because somebody else in Europe is, as they say, working longer 603 hours, for it is within their power to obtain uniform hours. In the same question in which I referred to hours on the Continent I put forward another suggestion, that in place of the Dawes Scheme and reparations it would be easily possible for this country to come to terms with Continental countries by giving way over the annual war reparations—it would be only a flea bite—and obtain terms for the workers which would not necessitate crushing down their conditions of life.
I put another question. The Imperial Conference is sitting. What for? To discuss the profits of the motor trade, to discuss the position of the bankers, to see how far the financiers of the Empire can exploit other peoples within the Empire. While they are engaged in that Conference, they have it within their means so to arrange mining hours and wages within the Empire as not to create unfair competition against British miners. There are 50,000,000 tons of coal now raised in the Empire under conditions which are a disgrace to anyone who calls himself a civilised human being. Not only do the present Government permit this, but Members of the Government take a share in the profits, and as long as this game is allowed to go on that state of affairs cannot be regarded as a mere accident of the trade, but is a weapon of the class war. Therefore, we maintain that this is the class war, and that it should be fought out in that spirit, and it is a pity the workers of this country are not led consistently and logically in that spirit. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, acting as a prophet, said the general strike had been regarded as the winning trick and it had been killed. The right hon. Gentleman must wait and see. It may have been killed because it was the first experiment, but it is a serious mistake for anybody to take it for granted that the workers of Britain have learned no lessons from it, have made no mental notes, and are not going to have a more successful attempt on a second occasion whenever self-defence demands it.
The figures with regard to foreign coal show that profiteering is permitted to go on. At Question time to-day the Secretary for Mines told us that he had had many conferences with those dealing in foreign coal but prices are still going 604 up, and that indicates that at those conferences his conscience was not shocked by the profiteering which is going on. If prices are rising, it is clear that profits are rising also for certain individuals, but the Minister has come to the conclusion that this rise in prices is nothing very startling or shocking. This is not merely an accident, however British coalowners and British industrialists will certainly enter into a price war with the Continent of Europe. It would pay them to bid higher and higher for Continental coal, because if the German, the American and the French industrialists, who are rivals of British industrialists, find themselves forced to pay higher prices for their own coal en account of the competitive purchases of the British merchants then they, the British industrialists, would be putting themselves more or less on a safety level against competition.
We therefore suggest to the workers that it is no use their trying to shut their eyes to this struggle. It is not a miners' dispute or a passing struggle, but is a continuation of the class war, not as it was disclosed by Lenin in 1917 but the class war which Mr. Disraeli deplored in 1844, and which has continued ever since. Though some men and women in the Labour ranks may try to overlook it, we find it clearly defined in the trade union doctrines of this country that this is a continuation of the great class struggle. First the miners, then the engineers, then the textile workers, and then all the others, must go to the wall, and the master class must survive them to be the dictators of human life and run this nation as a nation of slaves under the command of those who control its industries. The offset to this is not to be found in a vain appeal to the Government, who are nothing but the master class themselves. The only effective action against it is for the workers immediately, here and now, to levy an embargo on foreign coal and to extend the struggle, and to make the position of the British industrialists in other trades so bad in comparison with that of the American, French and German industrialists that they will soon come to their senses and make peace.
There is not a particle of truth in the suggestion that the economic position of the coal industry is such that it will not 605 produce sufficient wages for the miners. It will do so if only the Government will see to it that the unfair competition created by exploited labour, by their own colleagues and friends, is checked instead of being helped on by exploiters whose names appear every year in the Honours List. Unless this class war is to be won by the possessing class there is no other course left open to the workers except to take up the challenge and to fight the whole fight in the spirit of a real, grim class struggle, and the embargo is unavoidable. People will try to misdirect the workers and say that the quantity of foreign coal coming in is not very much—only 5,000,000 tons a month. But next month it will be 6,000,000 tons, and the month after 7,000,000 tons, and prices are rising, and all this is helping the capitalist masters to crush the workers. An immediate embargo will force the hands of the Government and the hands of those who arcs trying to crush the workers of this country to accept the very just and the very fair demands of the miners. When I say the "very just and the very fair demands" I do not refer to the August conversations. I refer to Cook's formula—he is the only just man who has been leading his men in the right direction—not a penny off the wages, not a minute on the hours. If you wipe out the possessing class it is quite possible to run the coal industry on that basis and obtain a victory for the miners and for other workers at the same time.
§ Major ROPNER
The whole course of the debate this afternoon has shown the difficulty of raising any materially new issue in connection with the mines dispute, and I am painfully conscious of my own inability to bring forward anything new. Like many other hon. Members, I have, during the last few weeks, had the opportunity of discussing this question and hearing new opinions—in my own case, in particular, hearing the opinions of the miners of Durham County. At the outset, I cannot refrain from paying a tribute to the magnificent loyalty and patience with which over a million men continue largely to support leaders in whom, for the most part, they have entirely lost faith and trust. I would like to deal with the economic aspect of the dispute, going back as far as the Commission's Report. It will be remembered that the Commissioners said 606 the economic facts must be faced, and it was emphasised that there was a considerable loss on every ton of coal mined in this country. The figures for the first quarter of 1926 showed that the average loss was very nearly 1s. 5d. per ton, and that in Durham County nearly 100 per cent. of the coal raised was sold at a loss. The Government, the coalowners, and the miners were faced with a problem which resolved itself into two parts—firstly, the reorganisation of the industry, which one hoped would bring increased prosperity in the future; and, secondly, how to deal with the immediate situation.
I do not propose to devote much time to the first of these two questions, except to remind the House that the Commission reported that, on the whole, the collieries of this country were run extremely efficiently, and also that, on the whole, the British miner was an efficient worker. I think it is a pity to foster too great expectations of what can be done by reorganisation. With regard to the immediate problem, the Commission reported that there must be a reduction in working costs. They suggested that there might be a reduction in wages and that it might also be necessary to have an increase of hours. Therefore, the Government is in no way responsible for the economic position in which the coal industry finds itself to-day. It might have been possible for this Government, or even for a die-hard or a Communist Government, or anything between the two, to have gone to foreign countries and have said to them, "You must buy British coat." But, it would have been possible for those foreign countries to have turned round and replied that if they could make a better bargain with foreign competitors they would certainly do so. Nothing our Government can do will assist us in foreign markets.
There are two lines of action, one of which we have taken in the past, to assist the coal industry. The first is a direct subsidy and the second is the control of home prices and a subsidy for coal exported. I think the time has come when a Government will again ask the men who in many trades are working longer hours and for lower wages than the miners to come to the assistance of the mining industry directly or indirectly by means of a subsidy. When speaking to the miners of Durham, I frequently made this offer, that, if any 607 member of my audience would tell me of any solution of the present problem other than a reduction of wages or a lengthening of hours, I would stand up here in the House of Commons and tell them that a Durham miner had found a solution for which the country has been searching for nearly six months. It is almost needless to say that no intelligent or practical solution has been offered by any audience which I have addressed other than a subsidy direct or indirect. It is not possible for the Government to tell a miner that he must work or a mineowner that he must open his pits. Universal industrial conscription may be the logical outcome of State Socialism, but the Conservative party, supporting, as it always has done, individual liberty, could not force the miner to work if he desires to withdraw his labour, and we could not force a mineowner to open his pits under uneconomic conditions.
Who is to blame for the continuance of the dispute? [HON. MEMBERS: "The coalowners!"] I know the mineowners have made mistakes, and I think it was as great a mistake for them to refuse to attend the tripartite conference as it was for the miners to refuse to attend the Macmillan inquiry. The miners have remained absolutely stubborn—I mean the miners' leaders. Although it may have been the case that many offers made by the Mineowners' Association have been inadequate, we mug not forget that it is not at all likely that when there are two parties to a dispute and one party stands stationary, the other will not go very far, and that they will not meet in the centre and shake hands, as well might have been the case long ago had the Miners' Federation shown any signs of modifying their attitude of "Not a penny off the pay and not a minute on the day."
I think the members of the Labour party must bear a considerable proportion of the blame for the continuation of the stoppage. What a magnificent opportunity was offered to the Members of the Opposition, representing millions of trade unionists, to have given a lead by telling the Miners' Federation what they really thought upon this question. Instead of this, they have given the Miners' Federation faint praise in public and feeble criticism in private. The very Members of this House, to whom the 608 trade unionists have a right to look for a lead, have done nothing in the direction of settling the dispute, and the miners must have been woefully disappointed in the men who claim to represent them in this House. They have dune nothing to benefit the miners. They are ruining the industry while the men have lost thousands of pounds in wages. Not only this, but the funds of the Miners' Federation are being dissipated, and the men are faced with the certainty of having to accept worse terms than they could have obtained at the beginning of the stoppage. The country is losing many millions of pounds, and, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, the country may have to bear the burden of increased taxation, and certainly higher rates, for many weeks and months and probably years to come. For this I blame, partly, the foolishness of the mineowners, the deplorable weakness of the Labour party, together with the criminal folly of the Miners' Federation.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The last speaker began his speech by telling the House that the economic facts will have to be faced. I quite agree that we have to face economic facts, but I disagree very much with the statement made by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), who suggested that Parliament has no right to interfere with industry. I think it will be rather an unfortunate thing if the powers of Parliament in the direction of interference with industry are repealed, because that would be unfortunate for the workers in every section of industry. Under a system of private enterprise there should be some standard by which we might judge the whole question of public interference, and how far Parliament might legitimately interfere with the economics of a particular industry or with industry as a whole.
I want to suggest to the last hon. Member who addressed the House that Parliament had a legitimate right to interfere with any industry which has shown itself unbusinesslike and ineffective, more especially when that particular industry is one of such a vital character to the rest of the industries of the nation as the coal industry. With regard to the mining industry, and facing economic facts, I would like to say that there is no sound business man who will take up 609 the attitude that, if his business was going bankrupt, his clerks or porters or those engaged by him should work for lower wages and accept longer hours irrespective of the custom of the industry or irrespective of the question of what the trade union standard might be. The ordinary employer of labour would not ask his employ£s to do that, and he would not seek to impose upon them the results of his own mismanagement, or of the unfortunate circumstances which had brought his particular business to the verge of bankruptcy. As a matter of fact, the mining industry in some sections is upon the verge of bankruptcy, while other sections have been making huge profits. It was shown very clearly in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), in a recent Debate, that if you take the losses made by all the collieries in this country, not simply taking Cumberland and Durham or South Wales separately, the average loss last year in July was at the rate of 3d. per ton. I suggest that that is a question which involves unification.
I know this is going over the old ground and the old arguments, and I do not expect to be able to influence the Government on this question, but I think it is necessary for me to say that, whatever can be said of the tactics of the Miners' Federation and Mr. Cook's slogan, the case made out by that slogan was a good one in the sense that no one can say that an average wage of£2 7s. 6d. per week is a desirable wage for a miner. Therefore I think the idea of resisting that state of things is a sound and sensible one from the workers' point of view. The idea of resisting any increase of the hours is also a sound and sensible idea, because any increase of hours in our mining areas is going to have the effect of stultifying foreign competition, because foreigners will use any increase of hours in this country simply as a lever for imposing longer hours upon their already overworked people. Therefore, the question is one of unification, and you will have to come to it sooner or later. Whether it will come in the form of the nationalisation of the industry or in the shape of public control similar to that exercised by the Port of London, I cannot say. Personally, I do not think you can obtain an efficient control of the coal industry 610 without nationalisation. The coalmining industry must be unified. Let us look at this question from a business point of view. A majority of those who support the Government claim to be business men, and they are interested in big businesses all over the country. During the last week we have had what has been described by some of our newspapers as a development of the new capitalism. We find in the Press reports and statements in regard to iron and steel combines in Europe for running the European markets, including this country. We have also had the merger of the chemical industry. I think this offer is a perfect analogy to the ease of the mines. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) has recently made a statement with regard to the amalgamation of the chemical industry, and he says:The leaders of the chemical industry of this country have for some time been considering the position of the industry in its national and Imperial aspects. In view of the world competition they are faced with by those conditions, they have come to the conclusion after careful study that their industry, like other British industries, in order to be able to meet the new conditions created, should endeavour to form a united front and present to the other economic units of British and Imperial industries an industry capable in every way of holding its own both financially and technically and in competitive strength with any group or combination in any other country.That is the view of a right hon. Member of this House who has large interests in the chemical industries of this country, and has been successful in creating the merger referred to. If it is true in the case of the chemical industry that foreign competition can only be met by unifying the industry and bringing to bear all those higher methods of production which can only he undertaken in a unified industry, why is it not as good a principle for the coalmining industry—an entirely analogous industry? All over the capitalist world we find the same idea of larger business, of big thought in the development of business. Take, for instance, the statements made by Mr. Henry Ford, of America, in the last book that he has written. I am not advocating Fordism. There are many things in it to which I object. But, so far as this question of doing the big thing, of doing the businesslike thing, is concerned, 611 I think Mr. Henry Ford has perfectly proved his case. He has shown that low wages are bad economics; he has shown that long hours are bad economics, and that low wages and long hours are a sign of bad management in an industry. Those are his own words, and he has proved them in his own businesses in America and in this country. If I may be excused for giving one more quotation, which I contend is very much to the point—because we have to look at the fundamentals of this question, and we have, as was said by the hon. and gallant Member who spoke last, to look at the economics of it—this is what Mr. Henry Ford says:For many years we have heard the phrase 'profit motive,' which meant that someone called 'a capitalist' provided tools and machinery, employed men (that is 'labour') at the least possible wage, and then manufactured goods and sold them to some strange collection of people known as the 'public.' The capitalist sold to this public at the highest prices he could get, and pocketed the profits. Apparently the public came out of the air, and also got its money out of the air; and it had to be protected, and someone invented the 'living wage' notion. All of which grows out of a complete misconception of the entire industrial process.He shows that the only way to make business pay is to get rid of your product, and the only way to get rid of your products is to give the people who ought to buy and consume those products wages sufficient for them to live in decency and comfort.
That is the gospel of Mr. Henry Ford. Why should it not be applied to the British mining industry? Why should we be content, as a nation, to allow this vital industry to go upon old-fashioned, unbusinesslike lines because they can get labour cheap, because they can manage to make do and get their profits without applying new ideas to their business, without efficient organisation and efficient management all the way, as it should be? I admit that some collieries are splendidly managed, but others are not. There is plenty of evidence of that—another case for unification. Why should the nation allow them to do that simply because they can make do upon cheap labour, long hours and sweated conditions for their employés? It does not pay even from the standpoint of foreign competition and of foreign trade. After all, 612 all trade is a mutual consideration. You cannot sell to foreign nations unless you buy from them, in the long run; that is a fact which is admitted by Free Traders and Protectionists alike. If that be the case, you cannot solve the problem of foreign competition by low wages, because you cannot buy foreign goods in order to pay for the goods they buy from you if you have an impoverished nation which is unable to maintain a decent standard of life and purchasing power. I submit that these considerations, fundamental as they are, have to be faced with regard to this mining question.
May I just refer once more to the proposal, I think a germane one, that I made when we were last discussing this question? No one has taken it up, and it has not been discussed, but I think it is a practical proposal. It is that the way to get over the immediate difficulties, pending a period of reorganisation and unification, is to raise a loan, to be mortgaged upon the industry, which after a time would be in a fit condition to pay it off. You could raise a loan of £50,000,000 by paying £6,500,000 for 10 years, and yet, by allowing this struggle to continue, you have thrown away the entire cost of the mines and royalties twice over during the six months that the struggle has lasted. Surely, it would be a much more practical and businesslike proposition to raise this loan for the purpose of preventing the forcing down of the wages of the miners or the increase of their hours. Their hours are long enough, their wages are low enough, and the spirit behind the slogan, though it may not be a practical one, though it may not have been sound as a matter of tactics—the principle of the so-called slogan of Mr. Cook, "Not a penny off the wage or a minute on the hours," was perfectly good. I contend that it is unnecessary to increase hours and unnecessary to lower wages. It is bad business. I appeal to the Government to think big upon this question, to think at least as big as those Members of the Government who apply newer ideas to their own businesses and to the general development of the present capitalistic system.
I want to say one more word before I sit down, and that is with regard to the remarks of an hon. Member on the subject of the class war. I admit the existence of class antagonisms; I admit the 613 historic fact of the class war; but I want to suggest to the hon. Member, and to others who may be apt to misunderstand the real significance, as I think, of the expression "class war," that, when it does come, if it has to come, to a real class struggle, the idea of those who talk about class war and understand its meaning is not a mere question of maintaining wages at £2 7s. 6d. or hours at seven a day. It is not a question of wages at all; it is not a question of arrangements for the capitalist system at all. If the miners win, and I hope even at this stage that they may, they will not, after all, have achieved what I hope the working-classes of this country are going to achieve. Before we talk about revolutionary class war, let us make up our minds to have that revolutionary class war for something that is worth while. Personally, I do not think that revolutionary class war is necessary, but class antagonism exists, and it has got to be recognised. I believe, however, that there are other ways of dealing with this question. I do not believe in revolution; I believe in evolution; but, at the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the stupidity and unbusinesslike characteristics of those who are supposed to be the business men of the country in forcing revolutionary changes upon the working-classes of this country. I appeal again to the Government on this question, as on all others, to join with those who can see further than the end of their own noses, and to think big about the mining industry and about industry generally.
§ Mr. PENNY
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said that he considered it the duty of Parliament to interfere in industry. To my mind, nothing would be more fatal; the less interference we have from the Government in industrial disputes the better. Our duty, as I conceive it, is to do all that is possible by legislation to prevent these unfortunate disputes. In listening to this Debate, I have heard no constructive proposals put forward by the leaders either of the Labour or of the Liberal Opposition; they have simply made baseless and unfounded accusations against our Prime Minister. We know that those accusations are absolutely unfounded; we know that the Prime Minister has striven in every possible way to bring about a mutually satisfactory agreement between 614 both parties. We hold no more brief for the owners than for the miners. Both have made grave errors, and I am sure that the nation's verdict, if we were to take it at the present time, would be that the Prime Minister has been far too lenient in his methods, and should have taken a more drastic line than he has.
I hope that the Home Secretary, in addition to forbidding the two meetings which Mr. Cook was going to address, will go still further and forbid him to speak at all at any meeting while the nation is being held up to ransom as it is at the present time. We know that Mr. Cook has no love for this country. He has openly boasted that he is a Bolshevist, and is proud of the fact that he is a disciple of Lenin. He is advising our men to do all sorts of things which would ruin the mines and which would mean further unemployment. Is that the kind of man we want as a leader for our workers at the present time? The Conservative party is a truly national party, which is working in the interests of the majority in this country, including the miners, who are themselves realising that fact. Have these strikes done any good for them? Have they not placed than in the position of having to accept conditions far worse than they would have been able to obtain in the first instance? Their wives and children have been called upon to bear untold sufferings; their union funds have been dissipated; and, while all this has been going on, I would like to ask whether these extremist leaders have been suffering at all? I would like to ask the Government whether they can tell me if Mr. Cook is paid for every meeting he addresses? I want to know the facts, because I have been told that he is paid a very considerable sum whenever he does so. When I was in business, and had to deal with large funds, I retained a brokerage for my work, and I am wondering whether Mr. Cook is getting any consideration for the administration of the Russian money which is extracted from the poor Russian miners who are working under far worse conditions than our men over here. [An HON. MEMBER: "You want to know if he is as bad as you were?"] I want to know if he is paid during the whole of this struggle. I have even heard it asserted that while the strike is on he is getting double nay, and if such 615 be correct I would ask if it is in the interests of a man who does not love this country, who does not love his fellow creatures, to try to bring an. end to this fearful, disastrous strike? For these reasons I say that hon. Members opposite are wrong in accusing the Prime Minister of doing nothing but work for the mineowners—an accusation which they know to be false. I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister will do all that he possibly can to see that the industry is reorganised, so that the men may see that he has their interests at heart and wants to get the industry back upon a paying basis.
The Leader of the Opposition stated just now that the miners are being driven back to the pits by starvation, and that we must prepare for the next conflict. I am sure there is not a man in this House who, when he thinks the whole matter out, will not realise that if a man, no matter in what industry he may be, does not put his back into it, he is bound to starve. That is an economic fact. We all have to work, and it is only by producing that these men can get a sufficient and adequate wage for their work. I am pleased to think that the men themselves are realising this, and gradually drifting back to their work. As regards saying we must prepare for the next conflict, I hope the Government is taking full note of this, for it only emphasises the fact that steps to bring about amending legislation with regard to our trade union laws are drastically necessary if we desire to preserve the country from any conflict in the future. I would ask the Government to stand firm, and to let these leaders see that they are not going to give any further subsidy. I want to see the Home Secretary carry out the powers that are given him by the Emergency Regulations to the fullest extent, not from any reactionary motive whatever but simply for the preservation of the men themselves. I feel sure that if the Government stand firm the nation will be behind them, but if they vacillate and do not take a strong stand, I do not think we shall come back to the House after the next election in the force we are in to-day. I am quite convinced, however, that, so long as we follow our present policy we shall govern the country for years to come, and I am sure while we are in office the country will prosper, and 616 if only the owners and the men will come together and co-operate and bring about a sense of goodwill between them, the coal industry itself will go ahead in the way it has done in the past.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The speech we have justheard was remarkable in that there was no enlightenment in it. It is very strange that a man, who is generally credited with having a very fine free character, should descend into these filthy sewers of insinuation—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member, in his speech, made some reference to a person not in this House, and I imagine the hon. Member was proceeding to deal with that statement. We must hear both sides of the case. If the hon. Member put forward certain things on hearsay he must he content to hear the other side.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Then the word "insinuation" still stands. I paid a tribute to the character with which the hon. Member is generally credited, and I was expressing my surprise that he should descend into these matters without having a single fact and without having made any investigations into his statements, and merely repeat ordinary hearsay about a man who is not here to defend himself and has been lied about continuously. You stand up and make an insinuation in such a way as to make it 617 appear that he is getting twice the sum and that he is paid for what he is doing. If you had been as intelligent as you have always been credited with being in the House, you could have got the information. You would know exactly if you were an intelligent reader of the reports.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member not to use the word "you." He must address himself to the Chair.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I recognise that. If the hon. Member had the intelligence of the ordinary reader of the Press, he would have known long ago exactly what were the financial relations between Mr. Cook and the Miners' Federation, but he did not take that trouble.
§ Mr. HARDIE
No, because every intelligent reader of the newspapers knows. [Interruption.] I am not going to be drawn out. This continual attempt to hide the real facts of the question by red herrings does not get over me. We have heard again to-day statements about the necessity of closing down our mines but for the subsidy, and that this was due to economic conditions. We hear so much about the economic factors. When it conies to the question of a man's wage, you are always up against the economic factors, but you never get these people who are so glib about the economic factors stating the actual facts of the situation. Are we going to admit that we, who are really the first diggers of coal in any large way have failed as a nation, having highly skilled engineers, to produce coal as cheaply or at the same price as other countries? That is the real economic fact.
If you take the conditions of obtaining coal in the countries which have been untruly accused of taking our markets, you find that the strata in no way compare with the British strata nor does the quality of the coal, and, if the Government care, instead of allowing insinuations, to let out a little of the truth in regard to what they are suffering now from trying to use the coal which is said to be taking away our markets, if they would tell us What is taking place in our gasworks, if they would have the courage to tell us that out of every ton of foreign coal which they are buying at an increased price they are getting about 618 4,000 cubic feet of gas less, and instead of getting by-products to the value of a fourth, they are only getting them at a value of an eighth, if the Secretary for Mines would tell us exactly what is meant by a ton of foreign coal which has to be screened, if he would tell us that when it is screened only 10 per cent. of it is round coal, and if you pay per £2 ton it means £4 for a ton of round coal, if he would tell us that you cannot use the slacks because the slacks in the foreign strata contain a large proportion of ash while the large pieces have only a small proportion—these are the factors which will determine the coal position.
That was the position at all times, and those who talked about other coup tries stealing our coal markets were either misleading us or they were talking through ignorance. Go and interview the man in charge of the heating and the steam raising, go to any of the big stations which are being compelled even to mix half and half, British and foreign coal. Take the records in the boilers, take the number of hours, get down to these facts, and you will see exactly that the statement that has always been made by the owners about the economic factors all comes simply to what I call being indifferent to the truth. It has been repeated often in order to try to mislead the British public—"Look out, you are going to get your markets taken away." Not a single one. Even Germany to-day in her pharmaceutical products has had to shut down, waiting till she can get Scotch hard coal. That need not be taken on credit. If you read your technical papers, as you should do if you are going to take part in discussions, von would know it. It is the lack of the technical application of knowledge that brings you to try to reduce the wage of the man who gets the coal.
When is a coal pit not solvent, because that is a question which has never been properly understood. We have had the statement made again to-day that but for the subsidy many coal mines would have had to shut down. That is nonsense. What is the position in relation to any mine which is properly sunk? In ratio to the actual capital used in getting coal out of the shaft, it has always paid. I challenge anyone to contradict that statement. I see a smile on the right hon. Gentleman's face. I am going to 619 take it away. You have mines sunk without the slightest relation to any scientific knowledge. You have shafts sunk twice the depth they need be. You have shafts in the wrong places. My charge has to do with shafts in the proper place. The landowner in charge of the royalties says, "you cannot sink a shaft there. I cannot have an unsightly refuse heap within the view of my house. You must go somewhere else." If you cut out all that, which has done so much in the past to increase costs, you get down to the position you are in to-day. I know the Secretary of Mines can quote to me about going down half-a-mile in a straight shaft, but even that half mile shaft can be less costly than a 100 yards shaft because of the increased power to-day in digging the coal out. It is these things that ought to be discussed if we are going to get down to the basis of the question. Instead of this continual repetition of the miners might do this, or the miners might do that, you have to get down to the facts.
Belgium at her best can only produce 25,000,000 tons a year. The strata is broken up, and they have to get through all the intersections of stone. That means a terrific increase in cost and yet Belgium can make her mines pay. They have applied science to their coal. Even the dust is swept up and made into briquettes, but they do not use it simply as we do and waste 25 per cent. by burning it up direct. They put it into a chamber under super-heated steam and then they sell what they get from it. That is what Belgium can do—a small country with a small output, and yet here in Great Britain, with the richest coal seams known in the world and with all our great natural advantages in possessing coal that stands almost 25 per cent. above any other coal in the world in intrinsic value, after 25 weeks we are to-day still struggling as to whether the people who go down and get the coal have a right to a living wage. It seems almost incredible in this Christian era of 1926 that human beings should still be at this stage which might he expected from the people of the Fiji Islands.
Reference has been made to-day to the question of seven and eight hours and by 620 the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). I know him very well, and he has never been used to it and cannot speak from personal experience of a day's work in the mines. There is a good deal of misunderstanding on the part of those who have not been at work of this kind. I can speak from a long experience in the mines. I know what is meant by a 12-hours day and by a double shift of 12 hours, that is 24 hours without having a rest. I know what is meant by a nine-hours day and by an eight-hours day, and by a four-hours day. I have been through it all. When you come to express the difference betwen seven and eight hours as being nothing at all, it just shows the absolute lack of information on the part of those who talk on these matters. If you take the natural strain on the human body where the getting of coal is physical, it is well known, even to the schoolboy through his studying elementary facts, that if you begin with a certain amount of energy you can only expend that energy in a given time. If you work out half of your energy in your first hour, you have got to spread the rest of your energy which is left over the remaining hours.
You can clearly see that in a system of mining in this country the ratio of coal is always most marked in the first hours. The men put forth every effort in those hours, and then you come to the point where the man becomes less active both mentally and physically. It would not matter so much if he became less active physically, but whenever you get the mental activities beginning to be at rest, then that man is not seeing or understanding the dangers arising as he does when he is fresh. If you take the figures of the accidents in various hours over a period of years, you will see that the moment you get over seven-and-a-quarter hours, you begin to increase in the number of accidents, and the ratio of output by the men declines in the same way. I do not think there can be any need to argue much further on that point. The seven-hours day is a complete day, and it comprises all a man is capable of expressing at that kind of work.
We are told to-day that the mines in this country are fairly efficient. If they were, why did not the hon. Member who made that statement give figures to prove it, as against the facts that are contained 621 in his own Government's white books? That statement that we are efficient in mining is not true. What I am surprised at most is that some months before the subsidy was discussed we had a tremendous fuss in our Press in regard to warnings to the British coal miner of great dangers. There were all these warnings of great things that were going to compete with coal. One day on the opposite side the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) came in quite fresh from Italy and Switzerland and wanted to inform the House that he had been in Italy and had seen waterpower there developing current which previously was generated by coal. As a matter of fact, that was not so, but the right hon. Gentleman wanted to imply that Italy had started to make this current from water and these would be less demand for coal. You cannot have other than an increase in the demand for heat when you have cheap power, for the moment you have cheap power you expand industry. But you cannot get power without heat, and coal is still the cheapest form of heat. We were told that water was going to displace coal in these matters. That is untrue.
Then the same thing was said about oil, but we know exactly what the competition of oil is. For instance, why is it that the people in the oilfields do not use oil for power for their borings? They use coal instead. You do not get these facts in the Tory Press. This is information which they never give. Take the experiments that have been made with running locomotives on oil. It will be remembered some years ago that one railway company built six locomotives specially to burn oil. They had not been using them; they scrapped them because they were of no use in competition with coal. Here you have them running to-day, and what is their cost? It is 51 per cent. more, and yet we were told that oil was competing with coal and that the miners ought to take notice of this and realise it was necessary for them to go without boots and clothes in order to supply coal more cheaply.
Hon. Members must surely have begun to understand from what they have seen of miners in this House that they at least have some intelligence, and it is no use talking to them about doing with less in order to keep our coal markets. The 622 question of markets is something created by the demand of the people who want to live, and, just as you reduce the miners' demands for goods by reducing their wages, so you reduce these markets. That is a suicidal policy. I cannot see what is going to happen at all unless we are to get people in charge of industries in this country who really understand the facts. Hon. Members may laugh, but you always get laughter when you speak the truth. You cannot get a settlement when you have a Government which takes sides and which before the subsidy was given arranged with the owners that when the subsidy was finished it was to be a fight to the finish. You cannot expect over a million men all fairly intelligent to be blind to all these things and those who are trying to press down the miners now do not understand. It is not going to be a question of waiting two or three years. It will not be as long as that. The miners have always had various ways of doing it. The industries of this country are now hanging by a thread, and to interfere in these things is going to put this nation more and more into difficulties with other nations. I have no hope whatever from the present Government.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
It is a very long time since I had the privilege of being in my place in the House and of addressing it. Since I came here this afternoon I have seen that the House has not very much changed and that Members on all sides carry on in very earnest conversation just as they always did and make their speeches over and over again. It seems to me that we are getting no nearer to the settlement of this dispute in spite of all the talk in this House and outside in the country and of the use which the Press has been making of all these speeches from all sides. We have had an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie). I suppose he has made it many times before, but I believe it is a very sincere speech. He dealt in a very masterly manner with the problem, but he did not get us any nearer a settlement, and that is the trouble not only with the representatives of the people in this House, but with the representatives of the owners and of the miners and of all the people concerned. We view it from a distance. I come from Northern Ireland. Viewing it from a 623 distance, we find it very difficult to understand the patience of the people over here. One hon. Member expressed surprise at the patience of the miners under very difficult conditions. We are far more surprised in Northern Ireland at the patience of the nation. The trade of this wonderful country, for it is a wonderful country, has depreciated mainly through the difficulties with which trade has been confronted because of the coal stoppage. Not only does it affect trade; it affects the individual, the home and everything else. I daresay there are some housewives in Northern Ireland, and I suppose in England also, who if they had control of certain individuals or had hold of those who are supposed to be creating all this trouble, there would be less trouble.
The situation is becoming very serious. It is very serious with us in Northern Ireland. There is a great deal of starvation going on. There is even the cutting down of fruit trees in order to try to keep the home fires burning. That is not an economical thing to do. Hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House have their theories as to how the question should be settled, but the theories have never been put into practice. Some of the theories advanced are so impracticable that they could never be put into practice. It is a very difficult problem from beginning to end. The last speaker suggested some of the difficulties of the problem with which we are confronted in connection with the coal industry. We hope in Northern Ireland that, however the trouble may he settled, it may be settled very speedily; otherwise, there will be great trouble and famine with us in Northern Ireland.
Being an Irishman, I have a grievance. As far as I can see, there are very few people in this House who have not a grievance. The possession of a grievance is always credited to the Irish. My particular grievance is not against Mr. Cook, or the miners, or the mineowners, but against the Government. There seems to be in the minds of Government Departments difficulty to appreciate the fact that Northern Ireland is still part of the unit called "Great Britain and Northern Ireland." We find that in almost every Department of the Government. We 624 have found it for a long time in connection with the Post Office officials in regard to Post Office business. I do wish that officials of the various Departments of the Government would appreciate the fact, once for all, that Northern Ireland is as much part of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as Yorkshire, and deal with it accordingly. I am sorry to say that they have not done that. Some 250,000 men are supposed to be working in the coalfields. I presume they are producing coal. Where is it going? What is being done with it Formerly, there were large collieries which did a very large trade with Ireland. They did a large export trade in shipping coal to Ireland. Northern Ireland took large quantities of that coal. Since these particular collieries are working now, I want to know where the coal is going? I want to know whether it is being distributed in Great Britain. Probably it is not being collected at the pithead. Where is it going?
My grievance is that we cannot get a permit for the importation of British coal in Northern Ireland. Our industries are suffering. There was a time when the Government would have said, I suppose, "Go to foreign countries or go to other places and get your coal." In one particular instance we did that, and it was collared by the Government when it was coming in. Recently, I got into communication with a colliery owner, who had been accustomed to ship large quantities of coal to Northern Ireland. I said, "Why cannot we in Northern Ireland get our proportion of the coal that is being produced?" The reply was, "We cannot get a permit to ship to Northern Ireland." We are not selfish; we do not expect an undue proportion of the coal which is being produced in this country to come to Northern Ireland, but we do expect a fair share. That is not an unreasonable request. My principal business in coming to the House to-day was to ask that the particular Department concerned should see to it that we in Northern Ireland get a fair proportion of the coal that is being produced. That it not an unreasonable thing to ask. We are in difficulty at the present time. Our mills are being stopped for lack of coal. Gas is being turned low, and shorter hours are being worked in production at the gas works. Every industry which 625 depends upon coal is being largely curtailed, and in many cases stopped entirely. We are not so greedy as to expect an undue proportion per capita of the coal that is being produced, but we do expect a fair share per capita. I appeal to those in charge of the responsible Department to grant permits for the shipping of coal from Great Britain, from collieries which formerly shipped large quantities of coal to Ireland. I hope the Minister responsible will grant those permits and at least give us a little share, our fair share, of what is being produced. We shall be very grateful to him.
§ Mr. PALING
The last speaker complained, as a Member from Northern Ireland, that Northern Ireland is not getting what he thought was a fair share of coal, That may be so, but I am afraid that unless he, as a member of the Conservative party, can do something to make the Prime Minister shift further than his speech this afternoon indicated, they will go short of coal for some weeks or months longer. If the only attempt to reach a decent settlement is on the lines indicated by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the party with the greatest majority of recent years—a man who is supposed to know all about business, who is credited with the best intentions, who himself says that he is honest, and who has created a reputation for himself in that direction, although a good many of our people in the mining industry have no longer any faith in him—and if that is the only thing that he can do, then I am afraid that the people of Northern Ireland and the people of this country are in for a long period of distress before this trouble reaches a conclusion.
It ought to be known by hon. Members opposite that the fault at the moment is not with the Miners' Federation, in spite of what may be said about their leaders. The Miners' Federation is willing to negotiate with anybody possessing sufficient authority, on the terms of a national agreement. There are three parties concerned in this business, coalowners, coalminers and the Government, and two of the parties have stated that they definitely agree that a national agreement should be the basis of agreement, whenever it is reached. If that be so, and if this Government with its enormous power cannot do anything to 626 compel the owners to toe the line, their enormous majority is not of much use to them as far as the welfare of the citizens of this country is concerned. It is apparent to everyone, in face of what has been said this afternoon and in face of the failure of the Prime Minister, that the Government are more concerned for the welfare of the coalowners than they are for the welfare of the coalminers in particular or of the community in general. I do not wonder at the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) making a complaint. I wish to goodness that when hon. Members opposite make complaints they would have the courage to carry their complaints further and try to bring some pressure upon the unholy crowd in front of us, in order to bring about a decent settlement of this business.
I am particularly concerned with one or two points that were made by the hon. Member for Kingston (Mr. Penny). He made a speech of the kind usually made at Primrose League demonstrations and at meetings of supporters of the Conservative party. I never thought that any Member of Parliament would be foolish enough to make a speech of that description before the House of Commons or before any body of citizens possessing any ordinary political intelligence. Among other things, he went on about the old Bolshevist bogey, which is about the only thing the average Tory can talk about. It is natural that they should do so, seeing that it served them so well at the last election. I suppose we cannot expect them to forget it very easily. Because the Secretary of the Miners' Federation is doing his utmost for the benefit of the people he represents, because out of his love for the people he represents and for the mining community he acts in a certain way with which hon. Members opposite do not agree, the hon. Member, as many others have done, confuses such action with lack of patriotism towards the country. It occurred to me that Abraham Lincoln had something to say on this particular subject about the people in his country who differentiated between love for the workers or love for Labour, and patriotism or love for country. If the House will substitute "Great Britain" for "America," the quotation is very apt. Lincoln said:All that serves Labour serves the nation. All that harms Labour is treason 627 to America. No line can be drawn between these two. If any man tells you he loves America yet hates Labour, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America yet lie fears Labour, he is a fool. There is no America without Labour, and to fleece the one is to rob the other.Before the hon. Member makes another speech on the same lines as that he has made to-day, he might trouble to read that speech of Lincoln's and study the implications of it. I have no hesitation in saying that he will not be so foolish on a second occasion. Then, of course, the hon. Member naturally had recourse to the question of the remuneration of Mr. Cook. He tried to insinuate that, in spite of all that Mr. Cook said, he is making a fat living out of this business, and that while hundreds of thousands of miners are starving Mr. Cook is living somewhat in the lap of luxury. The hon. Member is not alone in making that insinuation. A County Court Judge, only last week, so far forgot his duties as a Judge. The Home Secretary might take notice of this. He is very anxious to take notice of all that our people do, but not so anxious to take notice of all that his crowd are doing in this respect at the moment. The learned Judge, like the hon. Member opposite, was foolish enough to make insinuations of the same kind. He suggested to a man who was before him that he ought to go back to work. He asked why the man did not go back to work and get the coal which Mr. Cook demanded in order to have a fire to warm himself. The insinuation proved to be absolutely without foundation. When Judges and Members of Parliament have the impudence to make statements of that kind, they rather lead us to believe that the class bias is as distinct and as pronounced in Members on the other side as they say it is on this side of the House. Moreover, Members opposite put it into operation while we are accused only of preaching it.
It was also insinuated that the money which has come from Russia, or some of it, was going to Mr. Cook himself. Every Member of this House who is honest to himself knows that that is not true. Every Member knows that Mr. Cook is not receiving his ordinary salary. Everyone in the Miners' Federation knows that Mr. Cook is receiving, above his ordinary expenses, only sufficient to enable him to 628 carry on. The hon. Member cannot understand why anyone should do anything from the point of view of principle. That people should work for nothing or for the love of the work is beyond his comprehension. He said "when I was in business I used to have the administration of large funds, and I got a brokerage for my services." The hon. Member admitted, in effect, that if he was going to do anything as a patriot or in any other direction he would not do it unless he was paid for it, unless he got the brokerage. That being so, it is easy to understand why he should think that Mr. Cook or any one else should be able to follow a different line. It is the old adage, "Set a thief to catch a thief." Because the hon. Member would have acted so, he is ready to accuse everyone else of doing the same thing. He mentioned that the meetings which Mr. Cook and Mr. Richardson were to address in Staffordshire this week had been proclaimed, and he gloated over the fact. He said more. He wished the Government would stop Mr. Cook from speaking altogether.
Is this the new policy to be followed by the Tory Party, by the people who at every election have been saying that Labour sympathisers were responsible for breaking up their meetings and stopping free speech? Hon. Members opposite pose as the upholders of liberty and free speech. The actions of the Home Secretary and the speech to-night of one of his supporters indicate that, so far as they are concerned, if Cook or Richardson or anyone else makes speeches that do not suit the Government they are prepared to suppress entirely the right of free speech. I would like the Home Secretary to tell the House whether he is going to follow this out to its logical conclusion.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. Member knows as well as I do that I follow my own advice and opinion and not that of anyone who asks me to do one thing or the other. I do what I think is right.
§ Mr. PALING
The advice of the right hon. Gentleman has been so bad at times, that this country finds itself in the difficulty in which it is now because of that advice. The Home Secretary has gone further. He stated on one occasion, when we were discussing the Regulations, 629 that in his opinion it was illegal to boo. Evidently the people in authority in the various districts of the country have taken that to heart. In my neighbourhood and that of the Don Valley in particular, there have been many prosecutions and sentences to imprisonment of women who have been guilty of nothing but booing and hissing. Therefore, the advice of the Home Secretary has been accepted by his satellites in the country; because his fingers itch to get hold of these people they have accepted that advice and have prosecuted these people and put a few hundred of them into prison. In spite of his itching fingers the only thing he has had the courage to do so far is to proclaim the meetings of Mr. Cook. It is rather curious that he should have clone that, and that on the next day the other members of the Miners' Executive should be allowed to address meetings in the very same area. It does not say much for the judgment of the Home Secretary or for that of the hon. Member who made such a foolish statement this evening.
The hon. Member said also that if the miners did not put their back into their work they were bound to starve. What does he mean? Is the implication that the men in the mines, even before 30th April, did not put their backs into their work? Is the insinuation that the men were ca' cannying? This statement has been made more than once by Members of the Conservative party. I wonder whether hon. Members opposite are aware that 95 per cent. of the coal got in this country is got under contract and on piece rates? 95 per cent. of our men, if they do not produce the coal, do not get the wages. If they ca' canny the result is that they simply reduce their own wages. The fact is that 95 per cent. of the colliers in this country, working on contract rates, if an opportunity occurs of getting high wages will work till their blood is turned to water almost, in order to earn those wages. For any hon. Member opposite to insinuate that the miners are in the position that they are in to-day because they have been ca' cannying is to hurl an insult at one of the finest classes of men in the country. The hon. Member, who probably has not done a day's hard manual work in his life, ought to be thoroughly ashamed of himself for hurling such an insult at others.
630 He stated that he was saying this kind of thing for the preservation of the men themselves. I heard the Prime Minister say exactly the same thing when he was supporting the Eight Hours Act—that he was doing it for the benefit of the men themselves. Those concerned treated the statement in the only way in which it could be treated, and that was with ridicule and contempt. The right hon. Gentleman deplored the fact that politics were entering into industry. He said that the Government ought to have nothing to do with industry. Yet this Government is passing a Bill which will control the distribution and generation of electricity, and it is still more curious to remember that time after time hon. Members opposite have demanded that the Government should impose duties for the Safeguarding of Industry. Apparently there is no objection to the Government dealing with industry in the way of Protection when it will suit themselves, but when it is a question of achieving a decent settlement for the miners in their dispute with the owners, the argument is used that the Government ought to keep out of the matter, except to the extent that it can use its influence in order to help the coalowners and beat the miners. That is the only function which the Government can perform, according to hon. Members opposite.
If the Government are going to fulfil the policy of letting the thing be fought out until sheer exhaustion brings an end, the dispute will not be finished yet. It will go on for a good many more weeks. I readily admit that the huge majority of our people are suffering extremely, but their belief in the justice of their cause is so great that even 25 to 26 weeks of semi-starvation in thousands of cases has not been sufficient to drive them back to work under the disgusting and contemptible terms offered them. I have had the pleasure, with Mr. Cook and the rest of the officials, of visiting some of the areas where numbers of the men have returned to work, and I have had the opportunity of using my influence in bringing a few Of them out again. I suppose it was the fear of such results which led the Home Secretary to act so foolishly as to proclaim Mr. Cook's meetings. When I was in those districts I learned that almost every man who had gone back to work 631 had done so with a bitterness in his heart that will manifest itself on the first occasion in his kicking against the conditions imposed upon him.
Most of them are willing now if they can be assured that further sacrifices will bring about a peaceful settlement to throw in their lot again with those who have remained solid in order to achieve something like a reasonable settlement. I was going to say that I appeal to the Government, but I think the time has gone for appeals of any description in view of the action of the Government. I am thoroughly disgusted by the contemptible speech this afternoon of the Prime Minister, who comes here and delivers nothing but sermons, and who was saying at the time of the general strike, "Cannot you trust me to give you a square deal." There is not a worker who can trust him for that now. He comes here saying, "I am seeking peace in our time, O Lord!" He dishonours the very religion in whose name he speaks. After the speech this afternoon, the empty speech, the must futile speech of the most futile Prime Minister I ever heard, the only thing I can say is I am disgusted with the attitude of the Government. In spite of their enormous power, they use their bias flagrantly on behalf of the coal-owners in order to achieve what is, in their minds, the victory of inflicting a contemptible mean low standard of life upon 1,200,000 of the best workers in this country.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
Not only the hon. Member who has just spoken, but the country as a whole, will very deeply regret the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon. At this stage of the dispute for the Government, through him, to declare that for all practical purposes they have washed their hands of this terrible difficulty and have left it to the parties to fight it out among themselves, will probably produce a disaster, the effect of which none of us can compute. But I do not rise to take part in the general discussion which seems likely, after what I have heard, to have very little effect. I rise to put one point to the Home Secretary. I am a Staffordshire Member, and, as such, I view with serious concern what happened yesterday in the prohibition of a speech. The time is very short since it happened, 632 and coming up from Staffordshire. this morning I had very little opportunity of gauging public opinion, but as far as I was able to do so—not from partisans on my side, but from moderate men—the gravest anxiety is entertained as to the effect of what took place yesterday. No doubt if I expressed merely my own opinion, the right hon. Gentleman would think that, in speaking in the interests of free speech, I was only acting as a partisan. In order that it may be clear that what I want to urge is not from that standpoint, but from a standpoint which I think he will consider, I propose to quote from a local paper very influential in my part of the country, very much interested in this question, and most friendly to the Government, and a paper which therefore expresses in this mattes an unbiased opinion. After some general references to the matter, they say:Bearing in mind past experience, would it not have been better to have allowed meetings to be held and to have dealt with Mr. Cook personally if he used language calculated to cause a breach of the peace or promote disaffection? It must be remembered"—This is from a Conservative journal:—"that Mr. Cook was engaged in a perfectly legitimate mission. No matter how wrong-headed he may be, he and other officials of the Federation are entitled to present their case to the miners and to enleavour to persuade them to remain loyal to the Federation policy. To deny this is to get perilously near to denying the right of free speech. The prohibition of meetings, unless the danger of disorder is very real and apparent, necessarily raises this issue, and by so doing may easily do more harm than good in the long run.As I have said, had I myself used those words—with which I entirely agree—the right hon. Gentleman might have thought I was only influenced by party views. Therefore I have quoted from a journal of distinction in his own party, in order to put the position to him as fairly and as seriously as I can. The hon. Member who has just spoken said that the right hon. Gentleman had proclaimed these meetings yesterday. Technically I suppose that is the case, but if I understood aright his answer this afternoon, he has given a general discretion to the chief constables of the country to act in accordance with their own ideas of what is right, assuming that they understand the position better than he does. I take it that the action of the Chief Constable of 633 Staffordshire was not taken after consultation with the Home Secretary, but that he was carrying out that general instruction. In view of what has happened I respectfully ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the course he has taken. Is it wise in the public interest, in maintaining the peace of the realm, to leave such a terrible discretion in the hands of chief constables up and down the country? Is not that a matter for the right hon. Gentleman himself? As far as possible, should not the position in every case be brought to his personal knowledge? Should any action be taken without his direct and express authority? That is my point, and I have no desire to elaborate it. The right hon. Gentleman has taken one course. I respectfully submit that it may have dangerous results as regard the peace of the country, and I urge him to reconsider it in the interests of the public peace and the welfare of the people.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Perhaps I may now deal with this point and I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for having raised it. Even if he had not used the remarks of the newspaper from which he quoted instead of his own statement, I would not have found any fault with him for raising it, because I have known him as an hon. Member of this House for many years, and I know he is as anxious as I am that there should be free speech—provided only that free speech is not going to do greater harm than would be caused by the prohibition of speech, The position is that I have certain powers under Regulation 22 of the Emergency Powers Regulations. These will be dealt with to-morrow, and I thought possibly that the question of the stoppage of the meeting in Staffordshire would have been raised to-morrow, but as the hon. Member has raised it to-night, it is only courtesy to him that I should tell him the exact position. Under Regulation 22:Where there appears to be reason to apprehend that the assembly of any persons for the purpose of holding any meeting or procession will conduce to a breach of the peace and will thereby cause undue demands to be made upon the police or will promote disaffection, it shall be lawful for a Secretary of state or for any mayor, magistrate, or chief officer of police who is duly authorised by a Secretary of State. … to make an order prohibiting the holding of the meeting or procession.634 During the last six months I have made a good many orders from time to time, which have been discussed in this House, prohibiting the holding of meetings in certain places. These have, up to this time, been made not by the chief constable, but by myself—or to be quite accurate in certain cases I have given authority to the chief constable to make an order prohibiting a particular meeting if in his opinion it would be likely to cause a breach of the peace. In regard to this particular case I came to the conclusion last week, with a good many possibilities of inflammable material being about the country, it really was impossible for myself as Secretary of State honestly to sign an order, or it might be numerous orders, stating that in my opinion particular meetings would be liable to lead to breaches of the peace. It would be impossible, with a multiplicity of cases, for me to satisfy myself with the certainty that I ought to have, that in an individual case a particular meeting might lead to a breach of the peace. Under the Regulation I have power to delegate either to a mayor or a chief of police, and last week I did delegate to some of the chief constables in the particular area where these meetings have been held, where meetings were likely to be held, and where there might be possibilities of a breach of the peace, the power which Parliament has authorised me to delegate to them under Regulation 22.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I think-Regulation 22 is quite clear:It shall be lawful for a Secretary of State, or for any mayor, magistrate, or chief officer who is duly authorised," etc.I think under the Emergency Regulations it must be either the actual prohibition by myself of a particular meeting, or the empowering of the mayor or chief constable to prohibit a meeting. This is the order I issued in regard to certain cases:In pursuance of the Regulations, I hereby authorise the chief officer of police 635 of any police district where it is proposed to hold any meetings of processions in connection with the present stoppage in the coalfields to make an order prohibiting the holding of any such meeting or procession, if in his opinion there is reason to apprehend that the assembly of any persons for the purpose of holding such meeting or procession will conduce to a breach of the peace, and will thereby cause undue demands to be made upon the police, or will promote disaffection.The governing words there are those to the effect that if in the opinion of the chief officer of the police the procession or meeting is likely to lead to a breach of the peace I authorise him to stop it.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I think, speaking without the absolute certainty of accuracy, to about 14 or 16, dealing with the police in the mining areas where there might be meetings, and where there might be breaches of the peace.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to submit a list of the districts to which this empowering Order has been issued?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Certainly, I will give a list, and I think I can say at once, Notts, Derby, Leicester, South Wales, Durham, parts of Yorkshire—
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Perhaps not, if the hon. Member is there. However, let me explain this particular case The Chief Constable of Staffordshire is an officer who has managed the affairs of the county with a very great endeavour for peace and with very great success. There have been very few difficulties in the Staffordshire division. The Chief Constable, as I think the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. G. Thorne) probably knows, has the support and confidence of the people of Staffordshire in an unusual degree. I happen to know him personally, and he is not hostile to the miners at all. He has endeavoured to keep the peace, and to do what he believes to be right. In this particular case, this 636 Chief Constable did indicate to the Home Secretary, and did say that, in his opinion, it was desirable to prohibit these meetings that Mr. Cook was going to hold at these two particular places, Hayes and Pelsall. He did not ask me to prohibit, nor did I prohibit myself another meeting to be addressed by some body else in the same county. There was a meeting at Tamworth, which was addressed with the full assent of the Chief Constable, because he did not consider that this meeting would be likely to lead to a breach of the peace, and, therefore, he did not use the power which I had entrusted to him to prohibit that meeting. He was quite frankly of opinion that the holding of the meetings by Mr. Cook near Cannock Chase, where there was a large number of miners, some in and some out, would be quite likely to lead to a breach of the peace.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to give the grounds why he thought that would be the case? If this is done generally, we have no faith in it at all. Surely specific grounds ought to be given.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I do not think specific grounds ought to be given. I will give the grounds in a moment in this case, but I want first of all to guard myself. The House has given the Secretary of State certain powers to delegate to the Chief Constable. I have delegated certain powers to the Chief Constable, and all that it is necessary for me to say is that the Chief Constable was of opinion that the meeting would be likely to lead to a breach of the peace. I want to guard myself clearly by saying that, though I am prepared to give one of the reasons that influenced the mind of the Chief Constable in prohibiting this meeting, I do not hold myself bound in every case where a meeting is prohibited to say more than it was in accordance with Regulation 22.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
When the right hon. Gentleman says that this matter here is to be carried into effect when in the opinion of the Chief Constable it should be done, he says there is no reason why opinion should be given. What are the grounds on which he had formed that opinion? I think the House has a right to know the grounds on which the opinion is formed.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I think not; that is where I differ from the hon. Member. If the House had thought it was necessary to have the grounds on which an opinion is formed stated to the House, then an Amendment would have been moved that in cases where the Chief Constable prohibits a meeting, he must give to the House of Commons his reasons.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Is the House entitled to ask on what grounds the Chief Constable bases his opinion and takes action?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Any hon. Member is entitled to ask the Secretary of State any question he likes.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I assume the hon. Member would not demean himself by asking a question that is not in order. Therefore we may assume that any hon. Member is entitled to ask any Minister any reasonable question. That Minister is entitled to say in reply that it is not in the public interest to give an answer. If in any case I consider that it is not desirable to state to the House the reasons that have influenced either the Chief Constable or the Mayor or myself in prohibiting a meeting, beyond stating that we are satisfied that it would lead to a breach of the peace, then I shall do so.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
No; I take here, as the responsible Minister, full responsibility for the action of the Chief Constable. It is open to hon. Members to move a reduction in my salary or carry a vote of censure. As long as I am entrusted with the grave and difficult powers, then I must ask the consent of the House to carry them out in a proper manner. Guarding myself as not establishing a precedent, I will read portions of the speech made by Mr. Cook two months ago. It was very largely on that speech and the feeling in the mind of the Chief Constable that if Mr. Cook made a speech of a similar kind to-day, when matters are much more exacerbated, it would lead to a breach of the peace that the Chief Constable acted. Mr. Cook, in his speech said: 638We could easily smash the policemen, the dirty bluebottles, but I do not want to play their game. If I did not want peace, what good would these few dirty bluebottles be in a place like this? I tell the chief of police that I am a much more important man in England to-day than he is. It is disgraceful that men receiving good wages and an annual holiday should behave in the way they have behaved at Mansfield. They are only inhuman monsters.That speech may not have been of great consequence two months ago. If it had been delivered at this place to-day, when several thousands of men were collected and there was bitter feeling in the district, if that speech or anything like it had been made in Cannock Chase yesterday afternoon, then I am prepared to agree with the chief of police who said, knowing the district, that in his view, a speech of that kind would have led to a breach of the peace. Here was a man who had actually made a speech of that kind. The Chief Constable knows that the conditions are worse in the neighbourhood than they were two months ago. He thought it was his duty to prohibit Mr. Cook from coming here and making a speech because he believed that it would lead to a breach of the peace. He is entitled—and more, he is not merely entitled but has a responsibility, to guard the peace in his own district. I am prepared to say that I believe he was right and I support what he did. He is responsible to me and I am responsible here.
May I ask if that report of Mr. Cook's speech two months ago is a Press report or a police report?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Does the hon. Member really mean to suggest that this report is a false report? All I can say is this, that if the House of Commons has got to that position of accusing the Chief Constable of Staffordshire of issuing false reports, then I decline to discuss the matter.
I trust I made no insinuation. I only want to ask if there is any Press report of Mr. Cook's speech. Is there any corroborative evidence that he used those words?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
If the hon. Member likes to put a definite question down for me to-morrow, I will endeavour to get, as I have no doubt there will be, local reports.
I only asked because I drew the right hon. Gentleman's attention to other matters at that meeting at the time, and very evasive answers were given.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
In view of the fact that the words which the right hon. Gentleman read out have reference to the police, and definitely to the Chief Constable himself, is not the banning of Mr. Cook seemingly due to a sense of offended dignity on the part of the Chief Constable?
§ Mr. MORRIS
Many a miner has been prosecuted for much milder speeches than those of Mr. Cook, and may we ask why Mr. Cook is not prosecuted?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. Member is entitled to ask that question. All I can say is that up to the present I have not seen fit to take proceedings against Mr. Cook. I have warned him in this House as to the nature of his speeches. A month ago—or perhaps it was two months ago—when I was moving the Emergency Regulations I pointed out that it is a little difficult to justify the non-prosecution of Mr. Cook while men in a lesser position have been prosecuted. On the other hand, I have had to realise that he is the admitted leader of a large body of men. A heavy responsibility would rest on me if I were to take away from the Miners' Federation the leader in whom they believe. [An HON. MEMBER: "You have already done it!"] There is a great difference indeed in prohibiting a speech at a particular place likely to lead to disaffection, and putting a man in prison. I can only say that the matter is one of very grave anxiety to myself. I felt that there were very serious difficulties to contend with throughout the country, and up to the present I have not thought it necessary to take the proceedings which the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) suggests against Mr. Cook. I hope it will not be necessary. I have really struggled throughout this very sad 640 six months to have as few prosecutions as possible and to try to get through this grave coal stoppage without embittering feeling more than possible.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
May I ask a further question of the Home Secretary? Does the ban on Mr. Cook apply to the future? Does the right hon. Gentleman know that there has been a very keen demand for Mr. Cook's services in this area for to-morrow, and does he propose therefore to continue the ban upon him?
§ Lieut.-Commander ASTBURY
Before the Home Secretary replies to that question, will he find out from whom this great demand comes and whether it is not from a few of the scallywags there. [Interruption]
§ Mr. BARKER
May I ask this question? Has there been any breach of the peace as a result of any of the speeches made by Mr. Cook during the previous week? Has he not addressed hundreds of meetings in all parts of the United Kingdom, and has the right hon. Gentleman any evidence that there has been any breach of the peace as a result of these meetings?
§ Mr. TAYLOR
Has the right hon. Gentleman satisfied himself that the report of the meeting which he has read was taken by a competent shorthand writer who is accustomed to reporting speeches?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have already said that I will give the full list to-morrow, but I have given authority to the Chief Constables in all the mining areas that if in their opinion a meeting is likely to lead to a breach of the peace to prohibit it. Now with regard to Mr. Cook's speech to-morrow—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have been in the House since a quarter to three this afternoon and do not know anything about this matter. Again I must explain that the Chief Constable is the man on the spot and he will know whether, if Mr. Cook makes a speech in a particular village or town, it is likely to lead to a 641 breach of the peace. If he thinks it might, he is entitled to stop him. I do not know where this meeting is to be held to-morrow, and I do not know whether it would be likely to lead to a breach of the peace. The Chief Constable is the man who would know. With regard to the report of Mr. Cook's speech, it was a report sent to me from the Chief Constable and I have no information as to whether it was taken by a trained shorthand-writer or not. It does not seem to me that these sentences need much shorthand to take down.
§ Mr. BARKER
Will the Home Secretary kindly answer my question? Mr. Cook has addressed hundreds of meetings and has there been any breach of the peace as a consequence?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I must confess that I think a very large number of inflammatory speeches have been made by Mr. Cook during the last few weeks. Whether they have been the cause of many of the troubles in the mining areas I am not prepared to say, but if I express an opinion I would go so far as to say this, that if many of his speeches had not been made fewer disturbances, I think, would have taken place.
§ Mr. GREENALL
Is it not the fact that no disturbance whatever has taken place in any single place throughout the whole of Great Britain where Mr. Cook has made a speech? You have no record of any trouble as a consequence of any speech made by Mr. Cook in any part of Great Britain.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
The Home Secretary has stated that he issued instructions to the Chief Constables on the 19th. Is it not the fact that this meeting was banned on the 18th, and can he explain how a meeting was banned on the 18th while the instructions which he signed were not issued until the 19th?
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
May I put it to the right hon. Gentleman in another way? He informed us that he signed the particular document sent out to chief constables on the 19th, but the actual printed document signed and circulated by the chief constable in Staffordshire was signed the 18th. Will he explain how it was that the chief constable of 642 Staffordshire should sign on the 18th while he himself only attached his signature to the document on the 19th?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have no information at all as to the document signed on the 18th. The House will be sitting to-morrow and perhaps the hon. Member will repeat his question then.
§ Mr. WALSH
Listening to the speech of the Prime Minister, one was compelled to conclude that a more depressing utterance has seldom been delivered. In as much as he gave us to understand that there was a united Cabinet, I take it that the attitude of the Prime Minister is endorsed by all the members of the Front Bench. That attitude resolves itself into this: that this struggle is no longer a matter of national importance and is not a matter upon which the Government need be called upon to interfere, therefore it may quite properly be left to the process of attrition to work out its own results. That is the only conclusion one can reach from the remarks of the Prime Minister. He lamented that a good deal of bad and incompetent leadership had been manifested by the miners' leaders. He admitted that the employers had been guilty of stupidity and discourtesy. After saying all that he left the House under the impression that there is no further responsibility attaching to the Government, that they need take no further action, and nothing remains to be done by them. The whole thing may drift to its lamentable conclusion.
I am quite sure that that is not an attitude which will be endorsed by the nation at large. I am quite certain that the Government themselves feel convinced that that is not an attitude which they are justified in taking. They know that this struggle has long left the category of private enterprise struggles. The moment, in July, 1925, when they handed over more than £20,000,000 of the taxpayers' money to the colliery owners, that moment they took on a national responsibility, which they have no right to cast from their shoulders now. It is said: "But the miners' leaders have been so hopeless." Could a similar accusation not be made with equal truth against the Government? They have counted it to themselves for righteousness that they were willing to accept the Royal Commission's Report if the other two parties 643 also were prepared to accept it. Nothing could be more hypocritical than that. They knew perfectly well that the owners would not accept the Report and that they never did accept it, and when they pretended to accept it they put so many reservations, so many hypothetical and saving clauses in their acceptance that everybody knew that it meant no acceptance at all. The Government knew that as well as did the general public. To make their own acceptance of the Royal Commission's Report contingent upon its acceptance by two opposing sides was no acceptance at all, and they have simply been deceiving this House and the nation when they have said that they accepted the Report.
They never did accept it, and since then they have practically thrown it over, except for the almost equally hypocritical pretence of their Mining Industry Reorganisation Bill, which was passed recently through this House. When they paid £23,000,000 of the taxpayers' money, largely into the pockets of the coalowners, the matter became one of national importance, and the Government cannot evade their responsibility by saying: "We have done all that we can, and now it can go to whatever conclusion it may." Even the Prime Minister himself, in one of his earlier speeches, admitted, and asked the House to agree with him, that everybody knew—his words are on record, and the OFFICIAL REPORT contains them—that the two parties could not settle this matter between themselves, yet now he is content to take up the attitude that that which was impossible a few months ago may become possible in the future. The miners' President said many months ago that he was prepared to take the Report of the Royal Commission from the first page to the last and abide by its findings, and I am bound to say that. I have never known an utterance more emphatic than that. He is not a man who runs away from his words. I may not always agree with him. Most of us disagree with one another in the course of our lives, but that is a very definite, clear, emphatic statement. He said: "I am prepared to accept the findings of the Royal Commission from the first page to the last."
§ Colonel LANE FOX
I suggest that in the statement to which the right hon. Gentleman is referring the word was not "accept," but "discuss."
§ Mr. WALSH
And accept the findings. Surely, if a person accepts the findings, it is good enough. Let us not quibble about words. There is supposed to be a definite meaning to plain English, and if the President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain says: "I am prepared to start from the first page to the last of the Report of the Royal Commission and accept the findings," surely he must discuss it with somebody.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
The right hon. Gentleman does not remind the House that when that was being said, we asked him whether he was prepared to accept, and he said "No."
§ Mr. WALSH
I take it that what the right hon. Gentleman is submitting now is as to whether the miners President was going to accept a reduction to begin with. Surely you were asking the man really to give himself as a hostage in advance. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that while, on the one hand, you are saying that the Commission was insistent upon an immediate reduction of wages, it also says, distinctly, that before any sacrifices were asked from any party, there should be a discussion on reorganisation and so on, and that that should be agreed upon. There is surely as much importance to be attached to that particular paragraph as to the one to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. It shows that there was the possibility of a good deal of disagreement upon the actual record of the Commission, and in order to find out and whittle down to the lowest possible point those points of disagreement, he was prepared to discuss the Report from beginning to end and accept the findings. There never was a fairer statement made by any responsible person than that statement of the President of the Miners' Federation.
Again, we are told that the Samuel Memorandum had offered possibilities, and that the Miners' Federation ought 645 to have accepted it. I daresay it did offer possibilities. I am not here to say "Yes" or "No" to that proposition, but if it did, is it not in existence to-day? Is this struggle not of so grave a nature, are its consequences not so disastrous upon the nation, as to justify the resurrection of that Memorandum? If there were proposals in it that were right within themselves and that the miners might very properly have accepted as a basis of settlement, surely the mere fact of the continuation of the stoppage, with all the grave consequences involved, does not do away with the desirability of resurrecting that Memorandum. That is a means whereby even now a settlement might be effected.
Only a few months ago we were asked from those benches to arm the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the weapons of economic truth, and he turned round to his supporters below the Gangway, and he got a great burst of cheering when he said that, if they were so armed, then let them see who it was that would stand in the way, by formality or procedure, of arriving at a national settlement. He carried it further, and he asked of what political value to the Government was the support of the colliery owners. He did not instance them in so many words, but they were the gentlemen to whom he referred, and again he got another round of cheers. One of my hon. Friends behind me suggested that it would be better if he waited until his chief came back, and he replied that he was satisfied no statement he ever made would receive such complete endorsement from his chief as the statement he had just made, and the moment his chief returned, like Bob Acres, his courage oozed out of his finger-ends. As to whether or not the miners armed him with the weapons of economic truth, whatever that might mean, they certainly presented a formula which the Chancellor of the Exchequer approved, and which he admitted contained within itself the terms of a fair settlement. Yet we are told that nearly all the lamentable leadership lies on the side of the miners. Every step that has been taken, every offer that has been made by the miners, has been treated as simply a prelude to further concessions. In respect of leadership, what about the Eight Hours Act? We told you then that 646 it would embitter and intensify and prolong the struggle. We were jeered at. We told you then, although you were professing that the Bill was a permissive one, that it would be made a condition of employment in the whole country, north, south, east and west, that, broadly speaking, the whole of the coalowners of Great Britain would make it a condition of employment. It was argued from the Front Bench opposite that that would not be the case. We knew perfectly well that it would be the case, as it is the case. Where the owners now are offering a shorter term than the eight hours, in every case they are making their short time conditional upon a reversion to eight hours when district settlements are effected.
Thus you yourselves have taken on the full responsibility of prolonging thin struggle. There cannot be any doubt, and you yourselves cannot deny it, that the passing of the Eight Hours Act, simply at the behest and compulsion of the colliery owners, has intensified and prolonged this struggle, and upon those who are responsible for prolonging the struggle there surely rests the responsibility of doing their best to bring the struggle to an end. The Government cannot deny, and the nation knows perfectly well, that the prolongation of this struggle is very largely due to the passing of the Eight Hours Act, which has embittered the struggle and intensified it. The Government know perfectly well that is the case. In fact, it was made clear by the confession of the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, and by the agreement of Mr. Evan Williams, the President of the Coalowners' Association, that the passing of the Act was conditional upon district settlements which would have the effect of breaking down the resistance of the miners. We were told that the people desired it, that there would be a gradual breaking away of the miners, first of all in the centre, and then gradually, until the whole edifice of the struggle collapsed. We told you that that would not be the case. We told you that you were carrying out the behest of the coalowners. You denied it. "Oh, no," you said, "we are not acting at all upon the impulse of the colliery owners. We are acting because we are quite satisfied there is a desire on the part of the great body of miners to be 647 able to work eight hours, and as soon as the Statute law is so altered that it will not be any longer a criminal offence, then the miners will avail themselves of the eight hours' day." You were doing it entirely on your own initiative, without any pressure from the colliery owners, but we knew perfectly well that you were working at the behest of the coalowners.
Therefore, your action has prolonged and intensified this struggle, has damaged the nation's life, has destroyed very largely the trade upon which the credit of this country is built. Day by day and week by week the facts become more notorious, and it is upon you, who are responsible for the prolongation of the struggle, that the responsibility rests to bring the struggle to an end. You say the coalowners have been guilty of stupidity and discourtesy, but surely a Government which ought to act, and are professing to act, in the interests of the whole nation, have means at their disposal for overcoming the effects of this stupidity and discourtesy. Surely, the resources of civilisation are not exhausted. Are a Tory Government, with the greatest majority of modern times, so impotent that they have to bow before the stupidity and the discourtesy of half a score of colliery owners? It is pitiable if that be the case.
It is said, as further proof of the lamentable leadership of the miners, that they have reverted to the old slogan of, "Not a penny off, and not a minute on." Lawyers know the meaning of the status quo. When the coalowners obstinately refuse to budge, and the Government say, "We cannot do anything at all because they are so utterly stupid and so discourteous," when the whole conditions that have been under discussion have vanished into thin air, there is nothing to do but revert to the status quo. Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman who is leading the House for the time being, to remember that the proposals which the miners, in their willingness, not because they were ever convinced, as I am not now, of the righteousness of those proposals, but they did propose an immediate reduction of 10 per cent. They did propose that the whole of the Commission's findings should be referred to a tribunal, the terms of reference to be mutually agreed upon, the tribunal to be 648 independent, and that there should be compulsory arbitration in the background. There never was a more complete offer, showing the sincerity of the miners' leaders, than there was embodied in that particular proposal, comprising fourfold conditions—a 10 per cent. immediate reduction from current wages to meet the immediate needs of the industry, the consideration by a tribunal of all the recommendations in the Royal Commission's Report, the terms of reference to be mutually agreed upon, and then, when all had been inquired into reorganisation, selling agencies, and so forth, later on, whatever points of disagreement might result, there should be reference to compulsory arbitration, I say, whatever may have been the faults of leadership in the past, there was the finest proof of genuine good faith that leadership could ever devise. It all goes for nothing. Why? Because the Government to-day are, as from the beginning, acting the part of the coalowners.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS indicated dissent.
§ Mr. WALSH
Yes. No shaking of the head and no denial will get that out of the mind of the nation. Not merely the Labour Members, but the nation itself knows that every step the Government have taken has been either promulgated by or in accordance with the dictates of the coalowners. Nothing makes that more manifest than the record of their action on the Eight Hours Act and the proceedings anterior thereto. There can be nothing more lamentable than the attitude of the Prime Minister which, as he says, embodies the action—or inaction, the utter helplessness—of the Cabinet. The Government say, "We cannot get hold of the coalowners by the scruff of the neck," and justify their argument, weak as it is, by the refusal of the miners' leaders to attend the Macmillan Inquiry. The two things are not comparable. In one case the Government set up a Royal Commission, meanwhile paying£23,1500,000, in order to find out the best way of dealing with the industry. Many of us disagreed with its findings, but, putting things at their very lowest, it was the most authoritative Commission which has ever sat upon this industry, there is not the slightest doubt about that. Now, after the £23,000,000 has been 649 paid and the Commission has finished its work of finding out how best to deal with the industry, the Government say they cannot do anything. They will not even put their own Commission's Report into operation. They will not even consider it with the miners' leaders—although lamenting that the miners have been victims of such lamentable leadership—such inefficiency—such hopeless leadership.
We are empowered to say from this bench that the miners' leaders are prepared even now to negotiate with anybody possessing authority, and to negotiate means, clearly—there can be only one meaning to the word "negotiation"—that they will depart from the slogan. The word "negotiation," the process of negotiation, would have no meaning if it simply meant that we were to stand to the slogan "Not a penny off and not a minute on." Inasmuch as the miners' leaders have already offered a 10 per cent. reduction on current rates in order to meet the immediate needs of the industry, it is clear that the slogan has no special or fixed virtue attached to it. They are prepared even now, they are as desirous as any men in such a responsible position can be, to negotiate with people possessing authority; and it is a lamentable and impotent conclusion that the Government reach when they say: "We cannot compel the employers to negotiate. We cannot even compel them to negotiate with us. We cannot get them to meet us." That means that this terrible, fratricidal struggle must go on; that enormous losses, not calculable in terms, must be inflicted on the nation; that suffering and hardship must go on, week after week and month after month, until the miners are forced by the horrible process of attrition to go back into the mines upon terms which, to say the least, are a reproach to the people who offer them.
We appeal even now to the Government to constitute themselves a negotiating authority. They know the facts as well as anybody does. In the Mines Department and the other Departments they have all the facts at their disposal, and they have a state of willingness on the part of the miners to negotiate with somebody possessing authority. That authority does still rest with the Government. I will not believe the Government are as impotent as they 650 profess themselves to be. They do possess authority; they can exercise their power. I am not referring for the moment to their power under the Emergency Regulations, but a Government representing 46,000,000 to 50,000,000 people, representing the King and his subjects, possesses means which can be used if they care to use them. A desire to negotiate with those possessing authority is manifest on the part of the miners' leaders, and the Government ought not to ignore that in view of the condition of the nation, which is worsening as the days go on. Let it be understood that the miners are not beaten yet—not by any means. God knows I am not putting that forward in any sense as a threat, the last thing that would occur to me, but it is really a grave mistake to think that the process of attrition has advanced so far that the defeat of the miners is imminent. That is very far removed from the truth.
Leaving that aside, however, cannot we ask the Government to accept their responsibility? From the moment they paid the sum of £23,000,000 the question became a national one—a subject of national interest, and not to be treated as a sectional disturbance or struggle. When the £23,000,000 was paid and a Royal Commission was set up to investigate conditions in the industry, this question passed into the rank of questions of national magnitude, to be dealt with on national lines. A national settlement can be effected by the Government. The spirit to negotiate is in the minds of the leaders to-day, and I would appeal—if it were the last word I spoke in this Parliament—to the Government to rise to the national importance and responsibility of this occasion. In that way they would merit the thanks of Parliament in a far greater degree than they have up to the present time.
§ Mr. CAPE
After listening to the speech made by the Prime Minister this afternoon, I was a very disappointed man. All he had done in his speech was to give a review of certain incidents during this dispute, and, if I may be allowed to say so, he did not even do that as well as he has done it in the past. He ended up by saying the Government had no further offers to make and no suggestions for a settlement of the dispute. Are we to take it that the Prime Minis- 651 ter really meant that he had no further mandate from the coalowners of this country to make any attempt to bring about a settlement, because I think it can be said that every attempt made by the Government to bring about a settlement or to open negotiations has been at the dictate of the coalowners?
The Prime Minister spoke about the mining industry and said the Government had placed on the Statute Book a Measure that fairly met all the recommendations of the Samuel Commission. All I can say is that if the principle recommendations of the Samuel Commission are embodied in that Bill, then they are not worth talking about. I have a greater regard for the recommendations and findings of that Commission than to think that all their recommendations are embodied in that puerile thing called the Mining Industry Act. The Prime Minister has already been reminded of the Eight Hours Bill, which was not even mentioned in the Samuel Commission Report. My view is that that Bill has, without any doubt, prolonged this dispute for weeks and months, and that Act was placed on the Statute Book at the dictates of the coalowners. We made that charge at the time of the passage of the Bill, but it was repudiated at that time by representatives of the Government, and some of the supporters of the Government were quite indignant about it being assumed that the Government had been influenced by the coalowners. However, there was afterwards an interview between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Evan Williams, the President of the Mining Association, and then it was clearly established that there was no doubt the Government had acted solely at the dictates of the coalowners of this country. During the general strike we were asked to trust the Prime Minister to give us a square deal; we are not now asking for favours, and all we want is fair play.
I now come to the suggestion put forward by the Prime Minister on the 14th May to the executive of the Miners' Federation. Those terms were drafted in pamphlet form. They promised five Bills which were to be presented to the House, and six committees were to be set up, but nothing was to be done until the miners had suffered a reduction of wages. 652 The reduction was stated to be somewhere about 10 per cent., and then we were to have the right to go to a tribunal to see how much we should suffer in the way of reduction, and, if both parties agreed, then the question of a reduction of hours was to be taken into consideration by the tribunal. The next offer made by the Government was the last one, and another tribunal was to be set up. Even in that case we had to compromise our position before we could go before that tribunal. We could only go before that tribunal if any district was prepared to agree to an advance in the hours per day. If we agreed to that, then we could go before the tribunal to discuss the question of wages. The point I want to make is that when the Government told the country and this House that they wanted to hold the balance equally between the two parties, so far as we are able to discern it seems a long way from the truth, because the suggestions they have made are conditional upon the fact that we have to suffer a reduction of wages before we can go before the tribunal at all, and we have also to agree to an increase of hours. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that nothing could be done unless we went back to district arrangements or provisional settlements. What I suggest to the House and to the Secretary for Mines is that even the most desperate criminal is always allowed to stand in the dock until he is proved guilty, but we are not allowed to go before an open tribunal with a free hand, because the conditions made by the Government commit us beforehand to two things. We are prepared to open negotiations with any responsible authority with a view to trying to arrive at a settlement, but we suggest if we have to go before a tribunal, for heaven's sake give us the right to go before it as free men, then whatever the result may be, both sides will eventually agree to a decision. The Government have never said to the employers, "You must do this or that," but they have always taken up that attitude towards the miners. They have said to us, "You have to suffer a reduction of wages or an increase of hours." Their last proposal said, "We will give you a tribunal with statutory powers, but you must first concede an increase in the hours 653 of labour before you can go to that tribunal."
The Prime Minister, in his speech, said a good many things which I do not think were worthy of his position. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the incompetency of the leadership of the miners. It ill-becomes him to talk about the leadership of any organisation in this country, because the worst thing he could say about the leadership of our Federation would be nothing compared with what we could say in regard to the incompetency of the Government. The Government have shown grave incompetency in handling the situation which has arisen in the coal industry, and they have not shown even the slightest resemblance to fairness. Had they done that, we should have been ready to give them credit for making a genuine attempt to hold the balance fairly between the two parties. In this Debate a tremendous lot of things have been said which have no bearing whatever on the dispute in the coal industry. The dispute is far too serious for us to start arguing about what wages Mr. A. J. Cook has, or whether he has any at all. I could tell the House all about the financial position of the Miners' Federation if I desired to do so. If I said that Mr. A. J. Cook has had no salary since the commencement of this dispute, or that every miners' agent in this country has had no salary since the commencement of the dispute, I do not think any hon. Members opposite would believe me, but nevertheless it is a fact. Apart from that, I cannot understand why any Members of this House should have any right to question whether Mr. Cook gets any salary or not when they do not pay it. No question has been raised as to whether the salaries of colliery managers are paid or not, and I do not think it has ever been asked whether Mr. Lee, the coal-owners' secretary, is being paid or not. I am not going to inquire into that, because I have no right to do so. That is the business of the people who engage them; if the mineowners of this country, notwithstanding their poverty-stricken condition, can afford to pay the salaries of their managers and general managers, and if the Mining Association can afford to pay Mr. Lee's salary, it is they alone who are responsible.
I thought it only right, as a member of the executive, that I should make it 654 clear that, as far as we are concerned, we are prepared to enter into negotiations with any responsible authority that has power to negotiate with a view to trying to bring about a settlement. Although the resolution passed at the last conference may be thrown out, may I say to the Secretary for Mines that we only ask the right to go into negotiations on the status quo? Whatever form the discussion may take, however—whether the whole matter be discussed by the two parties along with someone representing the Government, or whether it be discussed before an impartial tribunal—we claim the right, which I think is the right of every man in this country, to be free men when we stand our trial, and before we negotiate. The Government have told us time and again in this House that they have the whole power. They glory in the fact that they have been sent here by a large number of the people of this country, and they tell us they have a large backing of the working class in this country. If that be so, it cannot be that they should govern for the coalowners alone; they ought to govern for the whole of the community. But every move that the Government have made throughout the whole of this lengthy dispute has been practically in favour of the coalowners. I would ask the Secretary for Mines, if he is winding up the Debate to-night, to tell us of any one occasion when the Government have shown any favour towards the Miners' Federation when it went before them, or when any attempt has been made to bring about a settlement. We made an attempt by saying we were prepared to accept the Report of the Samuel Commission and all its implications, and that any points of difference that might arise could be submitted to a tribunal. After that was done, we considered that something should be done while the negotiations are going on, and, with a view to getting the pits re-opened as speedily as possible, we said we would advise our men in the districts to start with a 10 per cent. reduction, thus bringing them down to the 1921 minimum, with the 1924 agreement still in existence, while we were going through the Commission's Report and while the tribunal was settling any disputes that might arise between us and the owners. The first thing we saw was the Tory Press next morning with big headlines and 655 posters, "Miners' Leaders in Full Retreat." Every time we showed any willingness to meet someone and discuss the question, the Press—which, to my mind, is the biggest menace to everyone in this country to-day, and which has done a good deal, by infuriating our men, to prolong this dispute—has come out with headings, "Rebuff for Mr. Cook, "Retreat of the Miiners' Leaders," and so on. Surely, the Government ought to have some control over someone other than the miners, but it seems to me that they only have control over us. They can ban our meetings, they can put an Eight Hours Bill on the Statute Book, and so on, but when it comes to a question of compelling the owners to go into an open conference, or of restraining the Press from infuriating the miners, the Government say, "We cannot do so; we have no right to interfere with the liberty of the public." If it is right to interfere with our privileges, it cannot be wrong to interfere with those of other people.
We have made these efforts in a genuine attempt to try to find a basis of settlement. A long conference took place in Downing Street with a view to getting the Government experts on to these three simple elementary questions, and our President went so far as to leave the only draft we had of our proposals with the Prime Minister for him to use as he liked. The experts met next day, and a telephone message came to Russell Square asking us to send our leaders as well as the experts to go through the proposals—these three simple, elementary proposals that the man in the street could understand, that he who runs could read. Our leaders went, and all day we were expecting a message from the Prime Minister as to what his final decision would be on this offer. That was on the Thursday, but at half-past four we were told it was no good our staying any longer; the experts and the Prime Minister could not make up their minds. On Friday, however, somewhere between six and seven o'clock, the Prime Minister sent his findings to Russell Square. I am afraid they were the findings of the coalowners. My opinion is that he was not able to get hold of all the coalowners' representatives on the Thursday, but that he got hold of them on the Friday, and was only able to give his decision when the coalowners had told him what he was 656 to say. It may seem to be a bit farfetched, but events have proved it, and things that happened previously all pointed in one direction. We were always told that the coalowners and the Government had no interviews or deliberations, and, as a matter of fact, this House was led to believe that we were the only people who had met the Government. It is true that every time we met the Government it was known to all the world that we had met them, but the coalowners have been meeting the Government time and time again, and no one ever knew it. Therefore, it seems to me as though there were connivance between the two bodies to use all the power they possibly could to crush the miners down to the lowest depths of poverty. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ince has said, the miners are not beaten yet, but all sane men, whether miners or otherwise, are trying to find a way out of the difficulties on honourable lines. Therefore, I reiterate that we shall not decline to discuss and negotiate with any responsible authority that will allow us to go into the discussion with a free hand, to start at zero with our case, so that the whole matter may be fully thrashed out and, whatever decision may be arrived at, the contending parties may agree to it.
§ Mr. BARKER
This is about the fifteenth Debate that has taken place on the mining situation. There is nothing special about this attack on the miners, except its ferocity and its intensity. The miners are accustomed to these attacks. In 1921 they were attacked by the coalowners and their wages were reduced by £75,000,000 per year. In my opinion, that was a very great blunder, because it has increased unemployment. Reductions in wages have only one result, and that is that they destroy the purchasing power of the people and increase the very evil they are intended to cure. We were told in 1921 that if the miners submitted to this reduction in wages they would recover the markets of the world, but instead of the position getting better it has from that time to the present got very much worse. I was surprised to hear the Prime Minister to-day attack the competency of the miners' leaders. I do not think the miners have ever been more faithfully and more consistently led than on this occasion. But this is not a 657 leaders' battle at all. That is where the Government side of the House is under a very great delusion. This is a battle of the rank and file. The miners' wages are too low, their hours are beyond the hours recommended by the Sankey Report, and they have been on the defensive during the whole of these six months. It is no use blaming Cook and Herbert Smith. They are only carrying out the decisions of the miners themselves. It is on the records of the miners' conferences that they were to resist to the uttermost any lowering of the standard of the conditions of life, and nothing has been done by the leaders except with the authority of the Miners' Council and the Miners' Conference. To say that the millers' leaders are incompetent is to show great ignorance of the real situation.
No offer has been made to the miners which did not involve a reduction in wages. Even the Coal Commission's Report itself—and it had many admirable things in it—involved a reduction in wages and it cut right across the Resolution of the Miners' Conference. The Samuel Memorandum that we have heard so much about involved two reductions in wages at least. But the Government has never accepted the Samuel Memorandum. It involved a subsidy. It involved the miners going back on the old rate of wages and conditions. It said the industry, as to be reorganised and everyone was to be satisfied that it was properly reorganised before there was to be any reduction in wages. Is the Prime Minister prepared, or has he been prepared from the beginning, to pay a subsidy? If he has not, why is he reproaching the miners for not accepting the Samuel Memorandum when he himself has never accepted it? The terms he put before the miners were quite different from the terms of the Samuel Memorandum. Under that Memorandum the miners would have gone back to work without any reduction in wages, but when the Prime Minister met the miners after the Samuel Memorandum had been issued, the first condition he imposed upon them was that they were to accept a reduction in their wages and to negotiate afterwards. No self respecting body of men could possibly accept conditions of that kind. Therefore the miners, very properly in my opinion, rejected the Samuel Memorandum and 658 the Government Memorandum, with all their implications. It would be as well, in defence of the miners' leaders, if I read the reasons given by the miners executive for rejecting the Samuel Memorandum, because there has been a good deal of discussion with reference to it and the last has not been heard of it:At best the proposal implied a reduction of wages for a large number of men, which is contrary to the declaration of the Miners' Federation, and which they believed their fellow trade unionists were assisting them to resist. They regret, therefore, that whilst having regard to the grave issues involved they must reject the proposal.So that this famous Samuel Memorandum which we have heard so very much about was never accepted by the Government, was never accepted by the coalowners and was rejected by the miners, but the miners are the only party of the three who are blamed for it.
I said at the beginning of my remarks that these struggles are nothing new to the miners. They have always been the pariahs of society. They have always been the helots of industry. God help anyone who is born into this world if he has to have the lot and the suffering of the miner, with his awful death rate, his frightful accident rate and the unhealthy conditions that he has to labour under, away from the light of day and the light of the sun, and yet he is always selected to bear the brunt of any difficulty that the industry may get into, and there is no industry in the country which has yielded such profits as the mining industry. The mines of this country have been bought by the blood and sweat and lives of our people over and over again, yet the miners are always selected to bear the brunt of these attacks by the coalowners of this country.
I have never known in my life, and I say it solemnly, a more inhuman attack made upon men and women and children than has been made on the miners during the last six months. I am living in a mining area right in the middle of this conflict. Our men are starving, our women are starving, and our children are unable to go to school because they cannot get boots to put on their feet. Our men have to go to the top of mountains to dig in old tips and have to carry a bit of coal down on their backs like slaves before they can get any fire in their homes. The suffierings of the 659 miners during the last six months are a disgrace to this nation. No body of men, unless they were dehumanised, could inflict the sufferings that have been inflicted upon the mining community during the last six months. There is not the slightest economic necessity for this dispute to last another hour. Markets are depleted and there is a famine for coal, with famine prices ranging. Coal produced in this country, according to the information of the Secretary for Mines, was formerly sold free on board ship at 18s. a ton, whilst most inferior coal is now being brought in from foreign countries and sold at 65s. and even 70s. a ton according to the Press. Yet there is no attempt made to settle this dispute. The inaction of the Government, if it were a Government representing public interests, could not possibly be explained. It is a violation of the prayer that is read out by the Chaplain from that Table every day when this House is told to put away private interests and prejudices and to bring its mind and judgment to bear for the benefit of the Nation. Instead of that being done, the Government have allied themselves with the most greedy, the most voracious employers that, ever were in this or any other country. Instead of blaming Cook or Smith, one should blame Sir Adam Nimmo and Evan Williams and the Prime Minister himself, who are more responsible for these tragedies than the miners' leaders who are only carrying out the resolutions and the behests of the miners' conference.
What are the terms offered by the colliery owners? The Government, who have professed themselves to be in favour of the Royal Commission's Report, are violating every recommendation of the Commission. The owners offer first an eight-hour day. Why eight hours, when the nation could not dispose of the coal that was got in seven hours and when before the stoppage there were 108,000 miners unemployed because of the surplus of coal in the markets of the country? The Commission was emphatically against an increase in the hours of labour. Yet eight hours is the first condition of the owners, and that is why this stoppage is prolonged. That is the one single reason. If the miners would accept an eight-hour day the mines would be opened to-morrow and the recommenda- 660 tions of the Commission and its predictions as to the inevitable effect of increasing the hours of labour would be entirely ignored. In 12 months not only this country but the whole of Europe would be in a 10-times worse position, as far as employment and the economic facts of the industry are concerned, than at the present time. Then why insist upon the eight-hour day? There has never been a single valid reason given why the Seven Hours Act should be repealed. It is entirely contrary to precedent for this House to repeal an Act of Parliament unless there is a very urgent demand over the whole country for that repeal. The Government cannot get out of their responsibility; they are responsible for the continuation of this struggle. They have aided and abetted the coalowners and have proved themselves not a Government representing the nation but a Government representing the worst section of the capitalists in this country.
The coalowners also want a reduction in wages in addition to the increase in hours. They have placarded the whole of the district I live in with their terms Abertillery is covered with posters proclaiming their terms. They want to try and make the workmen believe that there is to be no reduction in wages, because they state that the 1925 basis will be the basis on which wages will be paid. Further down on their placards one finds in small letters that the 14.2 per cent. paid to the pieceworker will be discontinued. They want then an eight-hour day, a reduction in wages and, in addition, district settlements. Is that in accordance with the Coal Commission's Report? Why district settlements? Is not this a national industry? Are not the men all equally interested in the industry? How is it that it cannot be taken as a national unit like the railways and like other trades? If it was taken as a national industry it would not be in the plight it is in now. It is by the reckless, insane, internecine competition of districts that they have been brought down to the poverty that the industry is in at the present time. It is contrary to the recommendation of the Samuel Commission to bring about district settlements. There is only one motive in bringing these district settlements about, and that is to render helpless the miners 661 in resisting the nefarious attacks made upon them by the coalowners of this country.
Another condition imposed by the coalowners is compulsory arbitration. The miners have always resisted this. The Government has no right, and the owners have no right, to impose compulsory arbitration upon anybody. These are slave terms, and the miners will not accept them. Poor as they are, in the direst misery that any body of men has been in in this country for a century, they will not accept these terms. The idea that the miners are beaten is altogether fallacious. If the miners take this fight underground what will the employers say and what will the Government say? Before this stoppage began, the miners of this country had a higher rate of output per man than any miners in Europe. If the wage of the miner is reduced, do hon. Members think that he is going to increase his production? If he does, he will be a bigger fool than I think him or than hon. Members opposite think him. If the miners take this fight underground, it will be the worst day's work that was ever done for this country by this Government. I am not recommending the miners to take the fight underground, because I want to see it settled at the earliest possible moment.
The miners have made a splendid offer to the Government. Notwithstanding the fact that the price of coal had increased enormously, they offered to surrender 10 per cent. of their wages. They were derided by the Government and the coalowners for months. The Government have made no real effort to settle this dispute. They have said that the miners had nothing to give. At least, they offered a 10 per cent. reduction in wages. On the weekly wages of 1,100,000 miners, that reduction would have meant £250,000 per week from their wages. The Government said "No." Having induced the men to make this offer they said "No. That is not enough." The miners as a result of the attitude of the coalowners and the Government have been compelled to withdraw that offer, but they are still open to negotiate, as has been stated by the right hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh). The right hon. Gentleman put the case exceedingly well, and I defy the Government to find an answer to what he has said. He said that now, in spite of all 662 the difficulties, the miners are prepared to negotiate. I am sorry that the miners are driven into their present position. It is not a reduction of wages that is due to the miners, but a great advance in wages. The Government has the greatest chance that any Government has ever had to demand that the coalowners should come together nationally to meet the miners. It is all sham and humbug to tell this House that the coalowners can voluntarily disown their organisation. These men are bringing ruin and devastation not only upon the miners but upon the whole country. There are tens of thousands of men to-day in business who were being brought to the verge of bankruptcy through this stubborn, insane policy of the coalowners. The economic life of the whole country is in peril, and the Government are lying back looking on as though they had no interest in the business. Meanwhile they are seeing the whole nation brought to the brink of bankruptcy. By their apathy and indifference they are contributing to a prolongation of the dispute. Many appeals have been made to the Government. Many of my hon. Friends are becoming tired of appealing to the Government, because they look upon them as absolutely hopeless.
There is no distinction between the Government and the coalowners' association. I do not know whether this House is going to degenerate into a mere class assembly. We are upbraided on these benches that we are a class party. This House has been degraded as it has never been degraded before in its history by this Government, because the Government have sided, absolutely and unequivocably, with the coalowners. If the Government are to redeem the reputation of this House and to make any claim to be a Government who have the interest of the country at heart, they will, without further delay, summon both sides into negotiation and demand that reasonable terms shall be offered to the miners, and that this misery shall be brought to a speedy end. If they do not do that, the reproach will rest upon them. I will not waste time by talking about a General Election. If a General Election took place there would be many empty places on the other side of the House. It is not necessary to have a General Election and to wait five or six weeks for the result. If this Government have 663 any claim to represent the national interest, they are in honour bound to call the parties together and to see that a settlement is made of this terrible dispute, before it brings the country into ruin.
§ Captain STREATFEILD
I had not intended to take part in this Debate or in any of the Debates that have so far taken place on this great subject, but the speeches to which I have listened to-day have urged me to add a few words to what has been said. The very admirable speech to which we have just listened appears to me to be urging the Government to do what is always regarded as impossible, namely, to make the horse drink when you take it to the water. The Prime Minister not very long ago in this House asked whether anybody could tell him how it was possible by legislation to force an owner to open his mine on terms which he could not afford or to force a man to work in the pits on wages which he did not choose to accept. It has always been impossible to carry out any such legislation. One question which I wish to raise is that of coal prices. In the constituency which I represent, a rural constituency, a good many people have put the point to me that the present charges for coal are far too high. I am compelled to think that there is a great deal in that statement and that there is profiteering somewhere. Possibly it may surprise hon. Members opposite when I say profiteering, but I mean profiteering, and I say it as one who, unfortunately, holds colliery interests.
I claim to know a little about the coal industry both from the technical and the commercial side. At the present time, if we take the country as a whole, the prices charged for coal are about double those under normal circumstances. Of course, we can understand that to a certain extent, because short shifts are being worked, and those short shifts are productive of short quantities of coal, and those short quantities have to carry full overhead charges. Added to that, you have to bear in mind the natural fluctuations in price due to the short supply and the excessive demand. My point is that, although the coal is now somewhere in the neighbourhood of £2 and perhaps £2 10s. above normal, I must honestly con- 664 fess, as an owner, and as one who knows something about the trade, that I cannot see the justification for such a large increase. I think possibly that if you were to put it at £1, or perhaps 22s. 6d. at the outside, that would be a fair return to everyone concerned, in the circumstances. I ask the Secretary for Mines to go into that question very carefully. Again I emphasise the fact that I am an owner, but I say that there are times like these when, after the pits have been idle for some time, there is a temptation to try to put on a price which is excessive, and in my opinion that temptation should, if the Government can do it, be checked quite definitely. We want in these times that are very hard for everybody, to have a fair "do" all round. I ask the Secretary for Mines to use his influence and to see that a certain amount of reasonable control is placed upon the owners and merchants. I think that possibly the latter are largely to blame, though the owners may be demanding high prices. That point must he looked into so that a fair "do" can be had all round.
Among other speakers this evening, the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) stated that the owners were challenging the wages of the miners. We do not want to challenge the wages of the miners at all. The owners sincerely want to see the miners earning high wages, the highest wages that the industry can carry. Personally, I would like to see them earning higher wages than they get now; but they must remember that output has to be big enough to carry those high wages. I can tell hon. Members opposite, who know what the inside of a mine looks like as well as I do, that the very nature of the miners' calling merits a high wage. When I had the honour to work down a mine I never worked six hours or seven hours a day. I was on night shift, and I went down at six o'clock at night and was on the bank again at four o'clock in the morning. That was 10 hours. Even though it was not for very long, for two short years I did get some insight into the working of the mines, and I say definitely that the miner deserves a high standard of living and a high wage. But that can be got only if the output can be made high enough to carry it.
I wish to know whether any hon. Member opposite can answer this question: If 665 you look at any colliery return—I do not care what colliery it is—which shows both the attendance of the men and the output for a certain period of time, you will find that when times are such that you can just make both ends meet, with the colliery working full time, say 10 days a fortnight, both, the output and the attendance of the men are good, but that when you get a period of prosperity, even though it is temporary, and when the wages, therefore, under the 1924 Agreement, rise, you always find that both the output and the attendance of the men show a marked decrease. That is a thing which has caused me to wonder ever since I was connected with the trade—caused me to wonder considerably why, when times are good and wages are good there should be that deliberate decline. Of course there is talk, and there is necessity in my opinion, in order to be able to get one's bread and butter, for wages to be reduced. The same applies to a great many unfortunate people who, like myself, have colliery interests and have received no dividends.
What is the first thing that happens when a period of depression comes? You find that the profits fall. You get a loss. The first person to feel the draught is the owner, not necessarily the directors or the management, but the shareholder, who does not get the dividends that he used to get, and eventually gets none at all. I say quite truthfully that I have received a bare 2 per cent. for my colliery interests ever since the present depression started, and that, I think, is not quite an adequate return, to expect. Still, when times are bad I am perfectly prepared to accept that, but I think that should be spread out over all concerned in the industry. I am quite prepared to take my hard crust as much as hon. Gentlemen opposite, or those whom they represent who are concerned in the industry. Most of the speeches from the opposite side have been levelled against the Government in these terms: It is said that the Government has to do something, that it has the majority and, therefore, it ought to be able to wave its fairylike wand over the whole of the country, to say nothing of the universe, and to make everything all right. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will be kind enough to notice that I use the word "stoppage" and not "strike," because I do not think the word "strike" or the word "lock-out" is 666 right. The attitude that the Government has taken up, I think, is the only possible attitude, and that is the attitude of mediation. The only alternatives I see before the Government are granting the subsidy or nationalisation. Both of these mean the same thing. They mean a loss to the taxpayer; in other words an everlasting subsidy. The proof of that is the position in which the industry found itself prior to the stoppage.
§ Captain STREATFEILD
Another way in which you can possibly see why that cannot be tried is by using the experience of other countries and concerns that have had the misfortune to try it. Neither of those alternatives will do. The Government will not stand for another subsidy, and nationalisation, which is proved on the showing and the position of the coal trade prior to the stoppage to result in a loss, means exactly the same thing. The only solution that I can see for this problem is a joint conference—it has been said many times before, but I venture to say it again with great respect—between the two parties. There are powers. As I understand the position, the coalowners are standing out for district agreements. In that I think that they are taking an extremely narrow view. District agreements, of course, have their dangers. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who are concerned with the mining industry know as well as I do how varied the conditions are in different districts. One district mines one class of coal, gas coal, and another mines steam coal, and another anthracite. Each of these coals is suited to a different purpose, and, therefore, commands a different market. Conditions are bound to fluctuate very much indeed. You get sometimes a colliery which is deep and has narrow seams, and, therefore, is costly to work; and at other places you get exactly the opposite. There are very wide differences, economic as well as technical, between the various districts and if you attempt to combine them in a hard and fast national agreement there is a real danger.
When I hear the miners' leaders holding out for a national agreement I am not satisfied that they mean a very rigid type of national agreement such as we have known in the past, and before the owners decided to stick out for district 667 settlements all the way round they ought to have satisfied themselves that the miners meant a rigid national agreement. There was nothing in the correspondence which took place to show that the miners had in mind a rigid agreement, and it would not have done the slightest harm had the owners met the miners to find out what was the miners' idea of a national agreement. As I read their intentions, the miners desired a national agreement for the purpose of preserving the national character of the Miners' Federation, and to that, as an owner, I see no possible objection. I think it is a very desirable object. At the same time, if the terms of a national agreement were too binding and rigid, though the agreement might preserve the national character of the Miners' Federation, it would be bound to result in failure. If the terms were wide and provided for the varying conditions in the coal mining districts, there is no reason why a fairly sound and permanent agreement ought not to be made, preserving the national character of the Miners' Federation and, at the same time, providing for fluctuations according to the varying conditions of the coal trade from time to time, while maintaining the industry as a homogeneous whole ready to meet all eventualities and prepared to weather any storm which might come. The owners made a great mistake in sticking out for district agreements, but the miners also made a great mistake when they held out for terms which made no provision for fluctuations in order to meet the present industrial situation. I know it is a big thing to ask the miners to accept a reduction of wages. Nobody hates to ask for a reduction of wages more than I do. I like to see wages as high as they can be. We must always remember that the consumption of coal-produced goods depends, not upon the few who have very large incomes, but upon the masses. The more we can get them in the way of wages the greater will be the spending power of the community and, therefore, the greater the demand and the greater the stimulus to industry. Obviously our aim ought to be to have the highest wages possible, but at the present moment I cannot see how the industry can carry the weight of the wages under the 1924 agreement. I only 668 wish it could. Nobody would like to see it more than I. There were originally two alternatives, either a reduction of wages or an increase of hours. I, personally, if I were still working in a colliery, would rather work longer hours than suffer a reduction of wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "Because you never worked!"] I beg to differ from that statement. I have worked long hours in a colliery, and I am not ashamed of it.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Captain STREATFEILD
I got coal as well. However, what I can do or cannot do in a colliery is not to the present point. The point is that we want to get the greatest possible production. An hon. Member opposite has used an argument which has been produced many times before, namely, that there is no use in producing more coal if you cannot sell the coal which you have already produced. I quite agree that if you cannot sell the coal which you have got, there is no good in producing more, but then the point arises: What is the relationship between your demand and your price? I will give hon. Members a personal experience. In the early part of July, 1925, I was making efforts to sell coal in the North. We were asking a price which meant a considerable loss, but we found it difficult to sell. When the subsidy came and we were enabled to reduce the price of coal, we were able immediately, through that reduction, to obtain the market we wanted and the coal was sold. It, therefore, follows that if you increase production you can reduce your price and create a market which did not exist before. Therefore the argument used on the opposite side does not hold good.
I have pointed out that a general conference ought to take place between owners and miners without delay. The owners ought to drop that very foolish attitude of sticking out for district agreements—at any rate until they find out whether the miners require a rigid agreement or whether they are prepared to 669 accept one of a wider character. The miners, on the other hand, ought to go back to what was, I understand, their position last September, when they were prepared to discuss an agreement on a national basis with a reduction of labour costs. If the parties could only get together, whether these terms seem difficult for either or both, I feel that a great deal of good would result. I think on both sides there may be too much pride, a pride which is not doing either side, any good and which is causing untold suffering not only among those splendid miners but among a great many people who are not concerned in the industry at all. I am unable to point to any terms which ought to be made but I hope that when terms are being submitted, the question of remuneration and its relationship to output will be carefully considered.
Under the agreement of 1924 surplus profits were divided between owners and miners in the proportion of 13 per cent. to 87 per cent. I think that was a step in the right direction. It is only right that when times are good and profits are being made, labour as well as capital should get a just return and if profits are bigger it is only fair that labour should get a bigger remuneration. That arrangement under the 1924 agreement, to my mind did not go far enough. It applied to the miners in any one wage agreement district as a whole and not so much individually. I would like to see more individuality, I must confess. I would like to see a joint committee of owners' and miners' representatives at every pit go right through it and arrange a standard of work. When that standard is fixed, remuneration should be paid up to and including that standard at certain rates and any work done above that standard at the same rates plus a bonus or percentage, so that men who chose to work could be able to reap the benefit of what they chose to do and be able to make a much better place in the sun for themselves and their families. I do not mean to say that we should abolish the collective system but I should like to see much more individuality in it. I hope that if the Government are presiding over any joint conference that comes about they will bear it in mind that labour should be considered, not only collectively, but individually.
670 Any solution can only come from a joint conference, for this reason, that the joint conference between the owners and the miners must necessarily be between people who do know the industry both inside and out. I cast no aspersions on Members on the Treasury Bench or on any Member of this House, but I do suggest that the miners' leaders and the owners are the people who could produce a real, sound settlement. I do not say a settlement of any temporary nature, because I am firmly of this opinion, that any settlement liable to break down in two or three years time is useless. A permanent settlement is absolutely vital not only to the coal industry but for every other industry in the country. I would also remind both the owners and the miners that when this disastrous stoppage has come to an end, when an agreement is reached, that that is not going, by any means, to be the end of the story. We had the stoppage in 1921 and a settlement was come to, and a great many people thought most erroneously that that was the end of the whole yarn, that everything was settled. They made a very big mistake. We have had lessons in the past, lessons by which we must learn for the future. The owners and the miners must not forget that when the settlement is reached they will not be out of the wood. There is the future to look to. Under the 1921 agreement wages were altered to a certain extent, but that, I think, was the only material alteration made. There was no change in the system at all. We simply went on in the same old humdrum way and that has led to the result we have got at the moment. Some change is absolutely necessary, and I think those changes can be divided up into two parts. The owners, I quite agree, have erred in not putting quite so much into the industry as they might have. The question that men ought to be in a position to produce more in the same given time must be considered.
I admit that if the owners paid more attention to such matters as tramming men into their work underground and out, a good deal more could be done. By products is another technical matter to which coalowners could give attention. On the other hand, there must be changes in the ideas under which members of the various miners' lodges have been brought up. There must be an entire cessation 671 of these ideas of restricting output. Most of all, I think, if we are to get the industry on a real sound footing there must be a cessation, an absolute cessation of this great creed of suspicion that is cropping up between both sides. I quite agree that in a great many cases that suspicion against the owners is justified, and I will tell hon. Members opposite quite frankly that I would put a millstone round the neck of the owner who does not play the game with his men just as I would round the neck of the men who do not give a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, and I would heave them both into the sea. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is barbarism!"] That is a type of barbarism that will appeal to hon. Members opposite if applied to the owners. They must be fair and apply it all round. The question of suspicion is one which I think influences perhaps district agreements. If you have district agreements and the owners in one particular district are dealing fairly with their men and their men are dealing fairly with the owners, why should they be out of work because people in another district do not get on together?
I think the owners make a vast mistake in not revising their ideas and in not giving the miners a chance to say what they have to say about whether the national agreement can be varied to suit conditions of different districts. The miners in their turn should go back to their idea of last September and be prepared to discuss a national agreement with a view to the reduction of labour costs. They should both broaden their minds and get together; and the situation has now become such that a great deal would come of it. I have not been engaged in public life so long as to be able like some hon. Members opposite, to indulge in wonderful poetic and fairy like language which would bring about a stirring of the heart of both sides, but let me say this. I strongly deprecate that pride which fills the minds of both parties, and as long as it remains there will be untold suffering. If only that pride was dropped by both parties and they made a fair beginning, got down to a general conference, which I hope will come in the near future, I believe a great deal would be done. Until that pride is dropped we must go on in the same old way, the country going further and further 672 down, but once this pride is dropped and the miners and the owners determine to start afresh then there will be a speedy end to this stoppage and an agreement which will be lasting and durable.
Mr. W. ADAMSON
I am sure the House will agree that the hon. Member who has just spoken need not apologise for his speech. I think he has done very well. The Prime Minister's utterance this afternoon will be a great disappointment to the people of this country, at least to a large section of the people. The country has been looking forward to the discussion of this vexed problem once more in the House of Commons, hoping that some settlement might be reached, but the speech of the Prime Minister will disillusion a considerable section of the people. His attitude can be compared to the attitude of Mark Antony when he saidMischief, thou art afoot,Take thou what course thou wilt!He talked about the incompetence of the leaders of the Miners' Federation, but anything more incompetent than his performance this afternoon would be very difficult to find. In taking up the position he did the Prime Minister forgets, apart altogether from the two combatants, the other sections of the people of this country who are bearing three-fourths of the financial loss which is the result of this long controversy. The Government cannot afford to sit still much longer and see the country slowly bleed to death financially. It is the nation's duty, as it is the Government's responsibility, to bestir itself and see that the national wealth is protected and replenished as speedily as possible. Simply to fold the arms, as the Prime Minister proposed to do this afternoon, is a policy of negation. It is the complete negation of government. The responsibility of any Government is to govern, but evidently the Prime Minister and his colleagues are not prepared to discharge that responsibility. Every day millions of pounds are being lost to the nation, and we are getting nearer to financial disaster. Already, according to more than one financial expert, over £500,000,000 has been lost in the course of this conflict. That surely should make a real peace more obligatory on the Government than any reason that any Members in this House can give, 673 and I think it makes it more obligatory on the Government every day that this struggle continues.
The owners refuse to make any move towards a settlement. Up to the present, we have had no real move made by the owners towards finding a settlement, and I believe that the Government are largely to blame for that. Immediately they passed their Eight Hours Bill and placed it on the Statute Book, the owners believed that they had both the Government and the miners in a box, and that they could dominate the situation. Immediately after that, they proceeded to disestablish what is called the Mining Association, so that there would be nobody on the coalowners' side with whom either the Government or the miners could negotiate nationally. That proceeding on their part deceived nobody but themselves. Evidently they were foolish enough to imagine by these means, by refusing to enter into national negotiations, they would be able to kill the Miners' Federation, but I can assure them and the House that they are simply deceiving themselves if they imagine anything of the kind. The men in the coalfield and the men on these Benches will see to it that the Miners' Federation is made stronger and better able to guard the miners in future than it has been in the past. Both in this House and in the coalfield continual appeals are being made, to moderate men in the mining ranks. Men are appealed to who are believed to be men with a real desire for peace. I can assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I am sorry the Prime Minister is not in his place, for I would have given him the same assurance—that that co-operation can be got tomorrow, but only on conditions, and the conditions are that the mining population of this country, whom we represent here, and of whom a large number of us are part and parcel, will get equity and justice meted out to them, which has not been the ease up to the present either by the Government or by the mineowners.
If the owners and the Government want to remove completely the influence of men of moderation and good will, and to make the Minority Movement a Majority Movement, all that I say to them is, go on with your present course, and you will bring that about. In the course of these 674 discussions, we have heard a lot of talk about a pamphlet that was issued in 1912, in which the General Secretary of the Federation, Mr. Cook, is stated to have enlarged on what was the miners' next step. That order has been reversed. It is the mineowners who are taking the next step that is going to bring disaster and destruction upon the mining industry in this country, and not only upon the mining industry but upon industrial Britain. If the Government want to bring the mineowners into a different frame of mind, if they want to bring them into the region of a settlement, what I suggest they should do immediately is to prolong the sittings of this House and remove the Eight Hours Act from the Statute Book. Then they will immediately bring the coalowners into a different frame of mind. The Miners' Federation a month ago made a real move towards peace. The last speaker talked for a considerable time about the necessity of the miners making a move. They made a real move. They were prepared to accept a reduction of 1s. a day.
The hon. and gallant Member reiterated the necessity of the miners making a move. They made a real move. They offered to have their wages reduced by one shilling per day. Ten per cent. is equal to a one shilling reduction in the miners' wages. Not only were they prepared to have their wages reduced to the extent of one shilling a day, but they were prepared to have a tribunal set up that would fix the wages for the future, and, in addition, they were quite prepared that that tribunal should handle the Coal Commission's Report with a view of getting the Report put into operation. This offer was commended by the Prime Minister himself when it was made. The Prime Minister said it was an offer that was worthy of serious consideration. What has occurred to change that opinion? He got into contact with Evan Williams and company, and thereupon intimated that it was an offer which could not be accepted. What have the 675 owners done towards finding a solution of this dispute which is rapidly bringing this country of ours into bankruptcy? What they are prepared to do has been stated several times. They want a reduction in wages, an increase in hours and district agreements instead of a national settlement, and from that attitude they have not moved during the whole of the six months this conflict has raged.
It is true that since coal has risen from an average of 17s. a ton to 70s. a ton they have begun to offer bonuses as an inducement to men to break away. In Lancashire they have been offering 7s. 6d. a day as a bonus, and also Oxo; and they were prepared to give a trip to Blackpool. I have the particulars here. In the Lancashire area the bonus offered was: Every workman attending would receive, on Monday, 7s. 6d.; on Tuesday, 5s.; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 2s. 6d., with a free Oxo breakfast. In certain other districts arrears of rent are to be cancelled. In Wales and Scotland we are less generous. We do not throw money about in Wales and Scotland. There are not such large bonuses being offered there, but in Wales they have been offering a little Oxo to strengthen the men to enable them to dig more coal.
In Scotland the bonus offered in some instances is very small, but they are quite prepared to supply them with "fags" sufficient to keep them going. However, no agreement that will guarantee reasonable and stable conditions has been offered by the coalowners. The offers are in the form of a bonus, a bonus that may be cut out. We believe the offers are made for one purpose, and one purpose alone, and that is to get the men back to work, and that then these bonuses will disappear. Both the Government and the coalowners are prepared, evidently, if these temptations will not do the needful for them, to carry on quietly until starvation does its work. Do you think that will bring a real peace or a peace that will enable the mining industry to live in the future as it has done in the past? If you do you are deceiving yourselves. Reorganisation is an absolute necessity if the mining industry is to live in the future. If these men are driven back by 676 starvation as men sore, disappointed, despairing, you are taking the sure read—
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that in my hurry I have been forgetting the ordinary rules of the House. If the men are driven back under those conditions, you may take it from me that instead of exhibiting the goodwill necessary to build up the industry from the ruins to which this struggle has dragged it down, they will be taking the opposite course, and that will be fatal to the mining industry and to every other British industry. Notwithstanding the unpromising attitude of the Prime Minister to-day, I think the Government, before they are many hours older, ought to reconsider the position. If the two sides cannot settle, it is the responsibility of the Government to find a way towards a settlement. We know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he had been allowed to continue his good work, would have effected a settlement a month ago, but the Prime Minister has not been able to stand up against the men behind him and the men outside this House, who are responsible for the present condition of things in this country. I ask the Prime Minister to stand on his own feet, and find a solution of this problem, because according to his own ideas the two sides in the dispute will not be able without someone intervening to find a way out of the difficulty. In my opinion, the responsibility for doing that rests upon the Government, and I hope that within the next few hours the Government will decide to stand up to its responsibilities and do its duty within a very short period of time.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has adopted, as he usually does, a very moderate and conciliatory line in this discussion. I think, however, that he rather forgets that the position of the Government in this unfortunate and prolonged dispute is not, and cannot be, that of a party to the dispute in the sense of being a disputant. Our position has been well described as being one of mediation, and if the two parties can be got together then we may be useful, 677 but as long as it is impossible to bring the two parties together—at present there is no proposition that the two parties are prepared to discuss mutually—it is worse than useless to bring them together, because the negotiations would only break down. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We shall not get any further towards a settlement if these interruptions continue, and I must ask hon. Members to listen to the views expressed, even if they disagree with them.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
In view of the fact that the Secretary for Mines is making the closing speech of the Debate, and the nation is awaiting some announcement, and considering that the right hon. Gentleman has just stated that it would be useless to bring the parties together, because the Government have no power to deal with this question, may I point out that the Government, under the Emergency Regulations, have power to run the mines themselves and produce coal for the nation?
§ Colonel LANE FOX
It has been stated in this Debate that the owners have refused to make any move whatever, and that from the beginning they have demanded an eight hours' day and district settlements. May I point out that at the early stages of this dispute there was no chance given to the owners for negotiations at all, and it is only fair to say that during the earlier stages there were ample opportunities for meeting and negotiating, but time after time the miners refused to take advantage of those opportunities. It is only fair to remember that when the right hon. Gentleman says the owners have never made any move. They were never given any chance of modifying the original proposals they laid down. We all know that, at the beginning of negotiations, both parties try to put their case a little higher than they intend to press for. The moment the mineowners made certain proposals, the miners said they could not possibly meet the owners and discuss anything of that sort, and were not going to deal with any reduction of wages or lengthening of hours. They absolutely refused to meet the owners. It is rather natural that the owners now—I do not justify their position; I think they are very mistaken, and I regret it— 678 it is very human and natural if they say they are not going any longer to deal with a body with which it is perfectly impossible to negotiate, and that they prefer district settlements, each party dealing through the representatives of its own organisation.
It is perfectly open, if a settlement is really desired, to make provisional settlements in the districts. If the Miners' Federation would give their sanction to it, it could be done this week; in the great majority of the districts of the country, this disastrous dispute could be settled in a very few days if the local leaders were allowed to do it. There would be nothing in that which would destroy the position of the Miners' Federation; it would remain as it used to be before the coal control period began during the War. I should like to remind the House, when we hear these criticisms of district settlements, that, after all, those were the terms under which the industry existed until 1921, only five years ago. It is quite true that during the War period there was control, which brought forward the whole idea of national arrangements, and in the agreement of 1921, which the Coalition Government, under the right hon. Gentle man the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) effected, that was first started.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
I am not talking of the terms, but of the agreement. That was the first time the idea of a national settlement came forward. Therefore, it is rather absurd to talk as though the alternative arrangement is something that cannot be looked at for a moment, and would imperil the whole existence of the Miners' Federation. Whatever the owners may wish, or whatever they may do, the Miners' Federation cannot be destroyed if it has the confidence of the men whom it represents. In that case it will remain in all the coalfields. But the one thing which will break it up is the forcing of the patience of the men who want to go back to work, and of the leaders in the districts who want to make settlements and are not allowed to, and who have shown a magnificent loyalty to the Federation of which the Federation seems hardly worthy. If once that can be done, there is no reason why the 679 Miners' Federation should not continue to exist and have the full power and influence over the industry that it had in the past; but at the same time there is no reason why this dispute should be prolonged in order that the faces of a few men at the top should be saved.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Go down to the districts and tell them that; meet the local leaders and see what they say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I have just come from them, and I know.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
Various things have been said in this Debate, and, in the short time that is left to me, it is impossible to deal with them all, but I wish again to repudiate the suggestion that the Government has been responsible for the length of the stoppage—[Interruption.] Nothing will persuade me to believe it. I know a certain number of mines in my own part of the world and I am certain hon. Members here do not represent them correctly when they say the men would universally prefer to suffer a reduction of wages rather than an increase of hours.
When hon. Members accuse the Government of having prolonged the dispute by passing the Eight Hours Bill I would remind them that in a great many districts that Bill is not being completely implemented, as they said it was going to be, and only a seven and a-half hours' day is being asked, and my private opinion is that if a proper ballot had been taken among the miners it would have been found that a very large number were quite prepared to work an extra half hour in order to avoid a reduction of wages. [Interruption.] If the shareholders of the country were treated as the miners have been treated in the matter of this ballot there would be a great many boards of directors turned out of office. Various remarks have been made about a certain proposal which has recently been made on behalf of the miners, which, as the House was told at the time, the Government did not themselves turn down, because it was not for them to do so. They merely stated that in their view it was not a proposal which would be worth putting before the other side because they were bound to disagree with it. As long as the possibility of in- 680 creasing hours is excluded it is not likely that any proposal will be satisfactory. There may not be the same requirement in all the districts but it is evident under present conditions that there are some districts which for a time will require some extension of hours if they are to maintain a reasonable and decent rate of wages. [An HON. MEMBER: "And profits!"] I hope profits will follow. One thing is absolutely certain, that as profits increase, so under the arrangements under which the mining industry is conducted, a very considerable share of those profits goes to increase the miner's wages.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Hudson) asked why it was necessary to ask for a reduction of wages as the first condition of negotiation. The first answer to that is because the Report said a disaster was impending on the industry and a reduction of this kind was the only method by which it could be averted, and the second reason is that if that was not done a subsidy would have been required to have carried on the industry, and that is the one thing which under present conditions the country is unable and is not prepared to pay and the Government are not going to recommend it to pay. As regards the constant accusation that the Government have been from the beginning in the pockets of the coalowners, that is a sort of party reproach which Oppositions always fling about. When hon. Members come at some future time into closer touch with the owners they will find that the one party for whom the owners have no good word is the Government, and when hon. Members take that line, they should remember that those about whom they make that allegation are the last to believe it.
There have been very few things said to-night by hon. Gentlemen opposite in this Debate that have not been said over and over again, and I do not wish to repeat old arguments. I have answered all the points that have been raised and they have been extraordinarily few. The question of coal prices is one which I have not dealt with yet and which will probably come up in Debate to-morrow. There is a good deal to be said on that. It is a long story and I should very much like to explain to the House what the position is. I can tell bon. Gentlemen this, that the main reason why up to now 681 there has been no control of prices is that it involves a far larger organisation, a far larger and expensive staff, and a far greater dislocation of trade than perhaps they realise. It is not worth while putting on a very large, harassing and expensive control of this kind unless there is going to be time for that body to get fully into working so that we may reap the benefits of its successful working. Machinery of that kind is bound to take a long time to get into working and there is bound to be considerable dislocation of supplies during the earlier stages, and by the time it would actually come into working I confidently hope that commonsense in the industry will have found a solution. I do not want to inflict on the country machinery of this kind unless there is no chance of a satisfactory conclusion. Meanwhile I think we can say we have been able to arrest the increase in prices which has gone far higher than it should have gone. This is mainly due to the prices charged at the colliery. It is not due to the operations of the merchants, but to the operations of the collieries. The collieries, of course, are quite justified in saying that this is not a case of profiteering in the sense in which profiteering is ordinarily defined. There is no one making a corner, it is the effect of the increase of the demand and the limited amount of supply. As the supply gets greater and we depend less on foreign coal, the price of which cannot be controlled by anything this House may do, it is bound to affect the general terms of supply. By limiting the demand by a system of rationing and if at the same time by a larger output we can increase the home supply we shall then most certainly, at an early stage, I hope, see a decrease in prices. At the present time we cannot dispense with a very considerable supply of foreign coal. Hon. Members opposite will not welcome the admission of foreign coal into this country, but many a city and town would have been deprived of light, heat and power had it not been for the supply of foreign coal.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
Who is it that is depriving us of British coal? [HON. MEMBERS: "The Government!"] So long as we are deprived of British coal, 682 it is absolutely necessary for the comfort, security and general well-being of the citizens of this country that a supply of foreign coal should come in. That, necessarily, at the moment keeps the price up. We may have to face the unpleasant possibility of having to take some more drastic system of control all round, but I warn the House that in that event it will mean the introduction of very elaborate, very difficult and very harassing machinery. It will involve far wider operations than may be supposed. Therefore, it will be worth while trying to secure a reduction of price by more ordinary methods if we can possibly do so. In trying to reduce the price we must not, at the same time, leave large areas without any supply of coal whatever. I have not had a vast amount of time in which to reply, but I have tried to make the best use of it. I will conclude by expressing the hope that hon. Members opposite will use their earnest endeavours to bring about a settlement. [HON. MEMBERS: "What will you do?"] Hon. Members opposite have a better opportunity of doing that than any Government.
§ Mr. LAWSON
A good part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech has been devoted to showing that if the rank and file of the miners had an opportunity of voting upon the terms, they would immediately go back to work. With the rest of my colleagues, I have, unfortunately, seen more than one of these regrettable conflicts; but of all the conflicts I have seen, I have never known one—I come straight from my own coalfields, where I live—in which not only the men, but the women, are solidly behind the miners' Leaders in this struggle. I say this, because it seems to me that the Government are under the impression, because of the reports in the Press, many of which are false, about the men going back. The Government and other people seem to be under the impression that it is only a question of waiting for a day or two and then the trouble will be over. Four months ago we warned the Government what would be the effect of the Eight Hours Act. I tell them here to-night that so determined are our people, so much have they to lose as a result of defeat in this conflict, so much have they to gain by the possibility of victory and so much is involved in it for 683 them, that I believe this House months ahead will be here debating the dispute if the Government maintain their present attitude. I repeat what we have been saying to this House for months, that if the Government maintain their present attitude, we are in for that regrettable phase which is known as a war of attrition, a war with every bitterness, and the effect will be that the dignity, strength and self-control which we have seen during the past six months, and of which Englishmen have been proud, may break down in the face of what our people are suffering at the present time. Ballots have been taken, and wherever ballots have been taken the ballots, by 20 to one, have gone in favour of a continuance of this conflict. If there were a ballot taken to-day 99 684 out of every 100 votes would be cast for a continuance of the conflict. I want to warn the Government—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 27th September, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Two Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.