§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I was saying, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that, when the House has passed the Motion that you have submitted from the Chair, its doors will be closed for a month, and, unless something is done to bring to an end the industrial crisis through which we are passing, I suppose it will drag its weary and tedious journey through another month, and we shall find ourselves here a month hence discussing the matter in the same way as we have for the last five months. I hope I shall be expressing the sentiments of every Member in this House, regardless of the party to which he belongs, when I say that we ought not to allow Parliament to adjourn without, at least, making a special effort to bring this great dispute to an end. 512 [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"!] The drain upon our national resources is appalling; upon that we are all agreed. The future resources of the nation are being mortgaged to-day as never before in peace time; debts are being piled up in the homes of Britain which will be a nightmare to millions for years. In these circumstances, it seems to me to be the duty of Parliament to do everything that is possible to bring such a disastrous state of affairs to an end at the earliest possible moment.
None of us desire to have a patched-up peace; we do not want a settlement of this dispute that will leave us with the threat of a repetition of it next year or the year after. We are all anxious that a settlement should be effected which will lay the basis for future peace and future prosperity, not only in the mining industry, but in the nation as a whole. I want the House to consider to-night whether or not we have before us any proposals which, when properly considered 513 and understood, do or do not provide a basis for such a settlement. Members of this House, coalowners, and the Press generally have been declaring for some considerable time past that what is needed in the mining industry is an economic settlement, with that we all agree. As to what constitutes a proper definition of the words "economic settlement," there may be some difference of opinion. I propose to-night to refer to that, and deal with that expression in its ordinary acceptation, meaning nothing more or less than this: Have we proposals which, if acted upon, would enable the mines of this country to pay and be a profitable business? That is the only meaning I propose to attach to-night to that expression.
Before getting on to that, I would like to ask the House to consider that whenever a resumption of work takes place in the mining industry, for the first three or four months the position would be very different from what it had been before the stoppage. Industries in this country do not live from day to day. They all accumulate stocks of coal for carrying on their business. Those stocks have been exhausted. They have to be replenished. Whenever work is resumed the demand for coal will certainly be abnormal for some time, and, whether we like it or not, whatever is the nature of the settlement, the immediate result of that abnormal demand for coal will be a rise in the price throughout the whole of this country. We had a similar experience in 1921. After a three months' stoppage, prices for the first three or four months were certainly much above what, they had been before. Notwithstanding the fact of the reopening of the collieries, the cost of production was substantially higher after the stoppage than before. The profits, even in the export districts, for some months were as high as 4s. or 5s. a ton. I want the House to consider and keep in mind that fact. It is not a question whether it is a good thing to have high price; it is a simple fact that for some months that will be the result of this stoppage and of the demands which will follow. It is only necessary for hon. Members connected with business in this country to-day to consult their accounts and compare the prices they are paying for such coal as is being produced with the prices they paid 514 for the same coal before the stoppage took place, and they will realise that what I am saying is certainly likely to be the result for some months at least after this stoppage comes to an end.
In the light of those statements, I want the House to consider the effect that the proposals which have already been made by the miners would have upon the industry. I would emphasise the fact that those proposals are two-fold in character. First of all, they propose that an immediate resumption of work should take place in all the mines of the country on the basis of a 10 per cent. reduction in wages. That is a proposal for an immediate resumption of work. It is of a temporary character. On a return to work on that basis they propose that a committee or tribunal should be set up having authority to arbitrate and determine the terms and provisions of an agreement based upon the general provisions of the Coal Commission's Report. I would like the House to believe me when I say that, the men who made those proposals have not done lightly. They have undertaken a great responsibility. They have done it with great reluctance. It will not be popular. There will be no halos for anybody if these proposals are accepted and embodied in an agreement. There is no doubt about this at all, that the Miners' National Executive made those proposals believing that if they made a real genuine effort to meet the situation with which they are faced in the mining industry that that attempt on their part would be reciprocated by the coalowners and the Government, and that not only they but everybody else would be equally anxious to do all in their power to bring about a satisfactory settlement.
I want to say that it is not what believe would be the proper settlement in this industry; it is not what the Miners' National Executive think should be the lines along which the settlement should proceed; but they realise we are up against conflicting interests, that there are such diversities of opinion with regard to this matter, such strong feelings are held, and they have come to the conclusion that somebody must make a move. They have made this move, and, as far as I am concerned, I am prepared to associate myself wholeheartedly in this, and share in any odium which may 515 attach to them if any settlement should be effected on those lines. What I would like to convey to the House is that if those proposals are accepted the industry can be worked at a profit from the commencement during the temporary period; that while they are working during that temporary period there will be ample opportunity for the national authority to be set up to investigate any facts or arguments that may be put forward by the coalowners before they come to their decision as to the provisions of the national agreement.
When speaking on this last night, I referred to the fact that if we take the position we found in the industry prior to the adoption of the subsidy, when the mining industry was working under normal conditions we had this position. In Scotland there was a loss of 9d. per ton, in Northumberland of 1s. 3d., in Durham of 9d., and in South Wales of 10d. In Yorkshire there was a profit of about 4d., in Notts and Derby a profit of 11d., in Warwickshire, Leicester, and Cannock Chase a profit of 1s. 4d., in Lancashire and North Stafford a loss of 3d. and in the other districts, such as Bristol, Somerset, Kent, and North Wales, which are lumped together in the returns, there was a loss of 8d. If you take the labour losts at that time, a 10 per cent. reduction varies from 1s. 1d. a ton in Northumberland to 1s. 5d. in South Wales and 1s. 6d. in Lancashire, and if you take each of these coalfields and take the position which we found prior to the subsidy, when everything was normal, the losses could be wiped out and there would be a profit in each of the coalfields varying from 5d. in Scotland and Durham, 7d. in South Wales, 1s. 6d. in Yorkshire, 2s. 1d. in Notts and Derby, 2s. 6d. in Warwick, ls. 3d. in Lancashire, and 9d. in the other districts.
Assuming the prices prevailing in the first half of last year, before the subsidy was put on; if this 10 per cent. reduction were made, the whole of the coalfields of Britain would be converted from losing concerns into profitable businesses—all with the exception of Northumberland, on which there would still be a loss of 2d. a ton. That is all on the assumption that prices during the first couple of months would be as low as they were in 516 July of last year. We all know that that will not be the case, and it is certain that as far as that temporary period is concerned, the proposals which have been made provide an economic settlement for that temporary period. Again, using that phrase "economic settlement" in the narrow sense of making it a profitable paying business, and for that period therefore suggestions have been made which will meet the demand that has been put forward for many months past that we shall have an economic settlement. If we get the men back to work on that basis and if a Tribunal is set up for the purpose of making a permanent settlement, or one for a period to be agreed upon, the mines will not be worked at a loss. There is no subsidy in this. After the three months' stoppage in 1921 the men resumed work on this condition, that during the first three months the coalowners would throw all the profits into the wages account and help wages by themselves surrendering their profits and the profits of 4s. and 5s. a ton which were realised in the first, second and third months were added to the men's wages on the ascertainment in the months that preceded. There is no suggestion of anything of that kind in this proposal. Here you have a set of proposals made by men who believe the miners are not overpaid but are underpaid, but who after a very prolonged struggle realise that something has to be done if this disastrous stoppage is to be brought to an end.
When the Prime Minister spoke yesterday, he only gave two reasons why the Government did not accept these proposals. He said there were two difficulties about them. One is that there is no question here of considering in any war the question of hours. The second is that many agreements have already been made in fact and are working in parts of the country on terms where hours are concerned. What does it matter whether hours are considered or not in a temporary arrangement which provides an economic basis for carrying on the industry, as long as you have proposals which will make it a profitable business? Why quibble about that as a basis for resuming work immediately and all over the country? With reference to the second point, about the other areas, look at it for a minute. If you take 517 Notts, Derby, Warwickshire, Leicester, Cannock Chase and North Stafford, there are about 220,000 men employed in that area, and taking the figures as they appear in the Press at their face value—I do not know whether they are correct or not—70,000 men are said to be back in those mines. [Interruption.] I do not want to quibble about trivialities. I merely say you have 70,000 out of 220,000. Two-thirds of the men even in those areas are not working. They are still unemployed. They are still resisting the terms which have been accepted by some of the others, and let it not be forgotten that those men who have gone back to work have gone because sheer starvation has driven them.
But I want to look at the economic position of those coalfields. Before there was any subsidy put on, with the seven-hours day, with a 33⅓ per cent. minimum, without any assistance from outside, Warwick, Leicester and Cannock Chase were making 1s. 4d. profit on every ton of coal that was being raised, and if they got this concession it would place them in the position, even on the prices prevailing last July, of making 2s. 6d. a ton. What earthly reason can there be for suggesting that the owners in that area should be allowed to hang up this stoppage? I hope the House will try to face the facts impartially and without bias. I am trying to do it myself, and after all we are Britons, and the miners are Britons, and it is simply because we are Britons that we are fighters. But there is one thing to be said. The miners will fight in resistance of what they regard as unjust terms, but no one can charge them with not carrying out an agreement when they make it. They have offered terms which, if accepted and embodied in an agreement, will be acted upon. They will be carried out, notwithstanding the fact that they think they ought to have more favourable terms than those they have offered. The same thing applies in respect of Notts and Derby. For the same period they were paying 11d. a ton without any assistance, without any increased hours, and without any subsidy, and now, and during this temporary period, they would certainly be having higher prices than when they were making these profits. I say the proposals which have been submitted are 518 such as ought to be accepted in the spirit in which they have been submitted as a real, genuine offer on the part of the miners' leaders to meet the situation with which they are faced and to bring this deplorable struggle to an end. They face the facts and look at the position as it is presented to us to-day, and I think the Government must see that they have not given to these proposals that consideration to which they are entitled.
In the exporting districts it is true that we have an artificial situation which has been created by the operation of the subsidy. I have looked into that situation. The Coal Commission told us that our greatest competitor in the foreign market was Germany. I have been looking at our exports and the German exports, and I find that during the seven months before the subsidy was put on there was one penny a ton between our f.o.b. price and the German f.o.b. price. Our price was 19s. 11d. and their price 19s. 10d. We were running neck and neck month by month, with not more than 2d. a month per ton between us in four months out of the seven. Immediately the subsidy was put on our price went down until we found ourselves at the end of the subsidy period with a difference of 3s. 2d. a ton in the price. That was the average over the whole nine months. We did not get any additional business as a result of the reduction in price, and the Germans did not lose any of their business by keeping their price up by 3s. 2d. a ton over ours. All this talk about the export districts being threatened by German competition is not borne out by the actual facts. Those facts are to be inquired into and thrashed out when the national body which is to arrange the permanent settlement gets down to the facts that have to be considered. I sincerely hope that before the House adjourns it will indicate and that the Government will indicate that we have before us a set of proposals which ought to be accepted as a basis for economic settlement of the industry and as a means of bringing this long struggle to an immediate close.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
I do not intend to enter into the economics of the present dispute. The right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) has gone fully into that side of the question, and I do 519 not think it is necessary that anything further should be said in regard to it. When the miner's wife has to go on Saturday night to pay the grocer or any one else and she is 10s. or £1 short of the previous week's wages and she begins to explain to the grocer that economic conditions make it impossible for her to have any more, I feel sure that the grocer will not be satisfied with any explanation that she can give in regard to the economics of the coal industry. That is exactly how a very large number of the womenfolk of the mining community would have found themselves in May last had the reduction proposed by the employers taken place.
I had an opportunity some time ago of congratulating the Prime Minister in this House, wholeheartedly, on the fact that he had seen his way and the Government had seen their way to grant a subsidy to tide over, as they believed, the coal industry during a difficult period. I believe that had that subsidy not been granted by the Government this lock-out would have taken place at that time. The subsidy for the time being tided the nation over that difficult period. When I wholeheartedly congratulated the Prime Minister on his action and on the action of the Government, I pointed out that any subsidy that the Government could give to the mineowners and the miners would be a long way short of the subsidy that the miners had given to the nation during the War. That statement has not been denied. I said that the whole of the subsidy which the Government and the nation gave to the mining industry, not 1d of which went to the miners, would not be 1-20th part of the subsidy which the miners gave to the nation out of their wages, and deliberately handed over to the nation during the War.
It was at the request of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain that the Government fixed the price of coal, at a time when it would have gone up by 30s., £2 or £3 a ton, and their wages would have gone up correspondingly. It was the executive of the Miners' Federation which suggested to the Government that in the interests of the nation, and especially in the interests of the poor of the nation, the price of coal should be fixed at a point which would enable the poor people to secure coal. Therefore, the nation by 520 granting the subsidy last year was only paying back a little bit of what the miners had given. I do not withdraw the thanks which I gave to the Prime Minister at that time, though to some extent my enthusiasm is rather damped, and it has been reduced a little bit by what has taken place since.
I want to bring the human side of this question before the House. I want to point out that it is not the miners who are the aggresors in this dispute. The miners are locked out not because of any claim they made upon the colliery owners but because of the claim made by the coalowners upon the miners for serious reductions in wages, which at that time, the end of April, was already too low. There was great difficulty at that time in tens of thousands of homes in the mining districts to provide decent food and clothing for the children. The miners were locked out because they would not accept a reduction in wages and because they would hot accept longer hours. They were locked out because they would not be guilty of committing a breach of the law. Had they accepted the longer hours proposed by the employers they would have been guilty of breaking the Seven Hours Law which was then established. This House, instead of condemning them, should congratulate them as law-abiding citizens on having refused to break the law at the behest of the mineowners.
There have been other national disputes in the mining industry in my memory and in the memory of many others this House. I remember at least two important national disputes. We pride ourselves as a nation and we pride ourselves in this House on the fact that the law is equal to all citizens of this country, and that everyone may expect the same treatment under the law—even the royalty owner. At least, I am prepared to give royalty owners more than justice, because I do not propose sending them to gaol for past robberies, but only to press for the restoration of national property. That, however, is only an aside. The miners were agitating in 1912 for a minimum wage. Prior to that time miners in many districts might go down the mines for a full eight hours underground, willing to work, and in many cases working, and then at the end 521 of the eight hours shift they had earned only 2s. or 3s., and in many cases not a penny. They were men paid by results, and their position was caused, not by any fault of their own, but by circumstances over which they had no control. We claimed that there ought to be a provision that men who presented themselves for work and were willing to work, but had no opportunity and were prevented from earning wages, ought to be guaranteed a minimum wage sufficient to keep them living. The employers refused to accept that position.
We had a strike covering the whole mining industry of the country. Finally, after some weeks, the Government took the matter in hand and brought in a Bill which proposed, as one of its first principles, that there ought to be the recognition of a minimum wage in the mining industry. They did not fix the amount for any of the districts, but laid down the principle. But in the Bill there were to be tribunals set up which would fix what the minimum wage would be in the various districts. The miners were on strike. The Bill was passed. The miners resumed work under that. Bill before the minimum wage was fixed. They resumed work because they had been the aggressors. The were out fighting for something new, and when the Government brought in the Bill and passed it, work was resumed all over the country. That meant that the aggressors returned to work. Since that time other things of a like nature have taken place.
Before the appointment of the Sankey Commission there was an agitation for higher wages amongst the miners. The cost of living had gone up considerably, and the miners wanted higher wages, shorter hours, and other things. They were about to strike in order to enforce those claims when they were invited by the then Prime Minister to allow the matter to come before a Royal Commission. There again the miners were the aggressors. The Royal Commission was appointed. The miners did not know what the figures of the Commission would be, but they returned to work pending the sittings of the Commission. On the same ground of argument those who are the aggressors in the present lock-out, in which over 1,000,000 men are concerned, should be treated as the miners were treated in the two disputes mentioned. 522 Work would then be resumed on the conditions prevailing before 1st May last. Whatever action the Government care to take to bring about a settlement would, when the decisions were given, be applied. Personally I claim that if the miners of the country were given justice they would resume work on the exact terms which prevailed before the lock-out five months ago. I claim that the miners have as good a right to fair treatment as the owners. They are far more useful members of society than the owners, and quite as respectable in every way, and they ought to get equal treatment with the owners.
I want to give one or two quotations from the speech of a colliery owner as showing what is the position of some of the owners in relation to the Government. One of them, Sir Adam Nimmo, speaking on Friday, 16th July, at a dinner or meeting in his honour, said:However long this strike may go on, supposing it is conceivable that it should last for another six months, I can say quite frankly from the individual point of view, and also from the point of view of the industry as a whole, that the demands of the workers in the mines cannot be met.The miners have made no demands. But Sir Adam Nimmo is an educated person, and consequently he can twist words and sentences to make people believe a different tale from the truth. It was the owners who made the demands and not the miners. Sir Adam Nimmo said also:
If the country was of opinion that the mines ought to be nationalised, they would not find the coal owners standing in their way. Seeing that the country had almost unanimously decided that it would not adopt a policy of nationalization, he and his colleagues were entitled to claim public support in seeing that the policy of private enterprise was not interfered with either by Governments or by the Miners' Federation.That is Sir Adam Nimmo telling the Government that they have no right to interfere with the coalowners in managing their mines as they think fit. That, perhaps, is one reason why up to the present time the Government have not been able to prevail upon the owners to attend a joint conference in order to get a settlement of this deplorable dispute. At that same meeting a, Noble Lord was called upon to move a vote of thanks to a right hon. Member of this House who had spoken, and to Sir Adam 523 Nimmo. That Noble Lord was Lord Buckmaster, who, in proposing a vote of thanks to Sir Adam Nimmo and Sir Robert Horne, said that he "did not believe that this question could ever be really settled either by limitation of wages or by increased hours. They had to get associated with that some bigger scheme in which they could enlist the interest and the goodwill of the men." With that sentiment I am in hearty agreement. Suppose that the men were able to carry on for a month or six weeks or two months longer, and then finally, from sheer starvation among the men and women and children, work was resumed. We must admit that there is severe privation in the mining districts now. I and others who live near the mines, when we are at home see the womenfolk and children every day, and we know that there is extreme poverty in some cases, and in many cases hunger in the homes. The fight will go on for a considerable time yet unless a reasonable and fair settlement is offered to the miners. I agree with the right hon. Member for Ogmore that the miners have at least put forward a proposal. I want to ask what proposal have the owners put forward up to the present? The miners have put forward a proposal which would mean an immediate reduction in wages, which were too low prior to the lock-out. Surely that might he taken as an olive branch held out to the employers to try and get not merely a settlement for a few months, but one that might last over a number of years, and give the nation an opportunity to get back again and make up some of the losses of the past five or six months.
I was hopeful that such a settlement might be reached, and I believe it was within the power of the Government to bring it about. The miners have offered an immediate and very substantial reduction. Where a man, working very hard at the face, earns 9s. 6d. a day, it is not an easy thing to give up a shilling a day. It is not an easy matter to agree to a proposal like that, and I feel sure that on that basis it ought to be possible to settle this dispute. I had some hope a week ago when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in the absence of the Prime Minister, was trying his hand in bringing about reconciliation in the 524 mining industry, and I believe to a large extent it was the owners who stood in the way. I am convinced that if the owners had been willing during the past three weeks or months to go forward by conciliation to try to secure a settlement and the miners had refused, the Government would have been considering this week some method to try and coerce the miners into accepting the settlement.
If that be so, and if the commonsense of the mineowners fails, then something else ought to be tried to move them to take part in a conference to bring about a reasonable settlement of this dispute. I plead not merely on behalf of the miners but of the hundreds of other workers in the country who are not in any way to blame for the dispute and are not among those locked out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad hon. Members agree with me and have sympathy with those people, for no right hon. Gentleman opposite has greater sympathy with them than I have. I am pleading as strongly for those in other industries as for those in my own industry, and I hope the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Cabinet will take this matter into earnest consideration at the earliest possible moment and try to secure settlement by agreement. It would be a pity if this went on until Parliament meets again. I think it ought to be settled at the earliest possible moment and I believe it is in the hands of the Government to bring about a settlement if they will endeavour to do their best.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
The speeches to which we have just listened have been delivered by two of the representatives of the benches opposite whom the House is always most pleased to hear, and there is no doubt that if a case has to be made and presented in a way to make it attractive to the House and to earn the sympathy of hon. Members, the party opposite cannot do better than entrust that charge to those two hon. Members. We had a long Debate yesterday, and I think the closing words of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie) perhaps punctuated an observation which I made yesterday—that one of the difficulties in these situations which have arisen from time to time over recent years is the belief, held in so many 525 quarters, and supported by so many people, that Parliament can ensure settlements. The hon. Member asked what the attitude of the Government would be, supposing that the whole obstacle to a settlement lay in certain behaviour, or refusal, of the miners. I said yesterday, and, I think with the general assent of the House, that there was no coercion which Parliament could put on the miners. We could not coerce them to accept or even to consider the terms which I put forward in April and May, and we could not coerce them to-day in similar circumstances. I do not pay any attention to the quotations from one of the militant parties, because I always strictly refrain from making any quotations from militant parties on either side. I will only say that anything they reproduce from Sir Adam Nimmo, I could cap from Mr. Cook.
I want to make one or two preliminary observations on the earlier part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn). He spoke with a knowledge of figures almost peculiar to him in this House. Figures, of course, are difficult things to use in the House of Commons on these subjects of wages and profits, because they have not been studied as they have by him. But figures are always extraordinarily misleading things, and I do not wish to go into them in any detail, because I think I shall be able to show that they are beside the question. I would only observe this—and I lay no blame to the right hon. Gentleman for it—but the figures he took in 1925 were figures over a. term of six months. To correct the impression made, we must remember that at the beginning of that six months we still had in this country a certain inflation of prices resulting from the coal stoppage in the United States of America, and that prices fell rapidly all through the first six months of that year. If you take the last normal month—and we have been applying the term "normal" to the period before the granting of the subsidy—if you take that, you find that in Scotland, Northumberland, Durham, South Wales and Lancashire, if those prices existed now and any calculation was made on them, then even a 10 per cent. reduction would mean a substantial loss in every one of these 526 districts. I do not wish to make any point out of that. I only want to show, that even over six months, if you take the figures, whether by average or by certain months, they give results entirely contrary to each other.
There was a phrase which the right hon. Gentleman used, and which seems to be used naturally in this House, partly arising, I think, from the Government interference, which has for many years been the rule in this industry, and partly from the feeling that the Government have power to force settlements on parties who do not agree. The right hon. Gentleman said, referring to the proposals on which he discanted at some length, that the Government did not accept those proposals. It is not for the Government to accept or refuse any proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "You accepted the eight-hour day."] What the Government said was that in their opinion the proposals did not form the basis of a settlement, because a settlement has to be made between two parties, and the reasons why the Government considered that they did not afford a basis for settlement were given yesterday both by myself and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We considered both from such arguments as we were able to use ourselves, and also after consultation with the coalowners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Well, any proposals from the one side to a mediator must be brought before the other side. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the eight hours?"] I explained yesterday the improbability of anybody opening the pits until he knew what would be the terms which would Obtain for some little time, so that he might he able to make his sales and his contracts. Another practical difficulty in the way of looking on these proposals as a basis of a settlement is that when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Leader of the Labour party had those discussions which we all hoped would bear fruit—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Name some of the other side.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Hon. Members particularly desired this last hour, in order that they might further explore possible avenues towards peace. These interjections are defeating the object for which they asked for this time.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
When the conversations were held between my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition, although I was not in the country at the time, I was led to understand—and I did not hear it contradicted yesterday—that they both understood that the miners were prepared to consider the questions both of wages and of hours. But in regard to the proposals that were put forward, and to which the two speakers have referred, we understand by the conversations we have had with the only parties who after all are, or up to now have been, able to speak with certainty—that is the representatives of the Miners' Federation themselves—that the question of hours will not be considered; and in our view at this time no settlement into which that consideration does not enter is a proposal which can possibly afford a basis of settlement. There was one other point—the latter part of the proposals, where a reference is made to arbitration on certain terms of the Samuel Report. It is quite clear from the wording that Acts of Parliament would be liable to come under review by the Arbitration Board. That, of course, is a position which no Parliament. whatever its complexion, can tolerate for a moment. But it is fair to say that in conversations, private conversations—and I am sure there is no harm in divulging this—with the miners' representatives, they told us that all that was in their mind was the relations between employer and employed, and that they did not contemplate the revision of any acts which the Government might have taken. But the wording does allow this to he considered.
After all, while it is perfectly right that we should once more examine these proposals, although they were examined yesterday, we must remember that the Government have made a definite offer, which we hope will be considered at the meeting that is to take place to-morrow. And may I remind the House once more why that offer was made. We failed, and the House knows why—because the reasons were explained at great length by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—to 528 bring about a tripartite conference about 10 days ago. Seeing that the prospect of any form of national agreement was impossible to get by agreement, the Government thought it only right that the safeguarding of what we believe the miners feel they have in a national agreement should be given to district agreements if come to by legislation. That was the reason, and the sole reason, why we proposed, in default of a national agreement, and until such time as a national agreement was arrived at, to set up and make function an appeal tribunal. It would operate where either party was dissatisfied with the wages at which work had been resumed. A resumption of work on agreements to be made must be, in our view, a precedent to legislation. Legislation is a serious step to take in matters of this kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "You took it for the owners!"] There is always a risk in legislation that something may be done which may make it impossible for either one side or the other to fulfil their function in industry. But we consider it only fair that in cases where longer hours were being worked, that that safeguard should be given, that it should be seen by the independent national tribunal that the wages for the longer hour are fair in consideration to the extra time given.
I would repeat once more what I have said often at this Box, and what, I think, is generally the view on this side of the House, and that is that, without flexibility in hours, it would be perfectly impossible in certain parts of the country to pay wages which men can accept. It is perfectly true that for a short time—no one knows how short—there probably will he higher prices. But let us remember that, owing to the ratio, those will be reflected in the wages, and let us be very careful that we do not repeat the mistake which, I think was made in 1924 by stabilising, in a moment of better trade, a wage which cannot be held in normal times, and which would have, in such a. settlement, the seeds of future trouble. The Government, of course, cannot tell what will be the ultimate reception of the offer which they made, and which, I believe, the miners still have before them. We said that that offer could only be held 529 a short time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Cut it off now!"] No, I have no desire to remove it until it has been weighed with a full sense of responsibility, but it is perfectly obvious that if that offer should not be accepted, or that nothing can be built on that offer which may lead to a settlement, that offer cannot be held over any longer.
You said, Mr. Speaker, a minute ago that the Opposition was very anxious for an hour at the end of this sitting, which is the end of this part of the Session, to try to explore once again the possibilities of peace, and although the temptation which the Prime Minister has given us to examine the consistency of his position with reference to certain general principles that he laid down is very strong, I am not going to take it. He and I can argue across this table about legislation and so on, and I can ask him whether he forgot certain principles of his six weeks or two months ago. Well, Mr. Speaker, at the end of it all what has happened? Nothing! I am not going to do it, therefore, but I am going to ask the Government have they really made up their mind definitely and finally to stand by the position that has just been enunciated? We are told, for instance, that the Government cannot make themselves responsible for a proposal which will not be accepted. They have made themselves responsible for a proposal which cannot be accepted, and I will tell the Government why. The Government know quite well that this proposal, with its arbitration, with its tribunals, and all what not, is based upon the beginning of a district settlement. It is based, to start with, upon the abandonment of what the Miners' Federation has said from the beginning is really essential, namely, a national settlement. It is based upon a negation of a principle of negotiation, of an approach to a settlement, which the Government themselves, only a few days ago, said they believed to be sound.
What the Government are now asking the men to do is to surrender at the beginning. The question really is, are the Government going to stand by that decision? The Prime Minister said that in the proposal made by the men, which we are urging very earnestly for further con- 530 sideration by the Government, while they have said something about wages, they have said nothing about hours. Is there no reference in that proposal to the Report of the Royal Commission? The Report of the Royal Commission included the question of hours. I happen to know what I am arguing about. It is impossible to discuss the provisions of the Royal Commission Report without discussing the question of hours. Does the Secretary of State for War tell me that there is no reference to the Royal Commission's Report in that proposal which the miners made? What is the use of sneering about these things? The Prime Minister, the whole Government and everyone who has been engaged in these negotiations, know perfectly well that one of the great difficulties in the situation is the negotiation of hours. We told the Government so when they were passing their Bill into law. It is there. They know it. We know it. The Miners' Federation know it. It is one of the most difficult things to do to get any official representatives of the miners to discuss hours. There is no use playing round about the bush. There it is.
But when the Government, if they really mean to try and help a settlement, find a reference made to the Royal Commission's Report, and then they turn round and say there is no reference made to hours, they must know that the statement is an inaccurate and a most unfair one. But that is not all. What has been the Government's position in regard to hours? It has been this. That without certain elasticity in hours, certain wages cannot be paid. The miners have made an offer regarding wages in relation to hours, and if this wages proposal were accepted they argue—and it has never been controverted—that if the wages proposal be accepted as a temporary arrangement which they will work altogether, not piecemeal, immediately the work is resumed, arbitration machinery is set up, and before the period elapses when working on that wages rate ceases to be economical, the arbitration machinery has worked and has produced decisions, then the industry settles down to the conditions determined by arbitration. That is the scheme. There is something else wanted. Why is there no attempt being made to find it? If the Government stand by 531 their position, as enunciated a month ago by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "We want a settlement which recognises and fits itself into the economic facts of the industry," there is a proposal that does so. If the Government want elasticity, there is a proposal that gives it; because the elastic part of the proposal is the proposal for arbitration.
Therefore I ask the Government—if it is any use at all to address further arguments to them—to give us a very clear statement regarding the wages proposal. Are the figures of my right hon. Friend correct? The Prime Minister says he does not think so. That is not good enough. My right hon. Friend is prepared to examine with any official of any Government Department, to examine with any responsible Cabinet Committee or Minister, his statement regarding the economic result of the offer the miners have made. If there is the good will that we have heard so much about, if there is a real desire for peace, why is not that done? The Government have now got a proposal which, says my right hon. Friend, who knows the figures and who is admittedly a great expert in the matter, means—on examination of the only official figures that are at our disposal, the figures published in the bulky index to the Royal Commission's Report—that on the offer made by the miners in relation to the present economic situation in the industry the industry can be carried on for an appreciable period as a paying concern. That position must be met. If the Government knock those figures into a cocked hat, undoubtedly my right hon. Friend's proposal falls to the ground. But there it is, and the point is, and I really press it, Are my right hon. Friend's calculations right or wrong? In any event, the Government have made themselves responsible for offering a certain proposal of their own to the owners and to the men. Will not the Government get the owners' representatives to meet, say, my right hon. Friend—I make this proposal absolutely off my own bat, on my own initiative—will they get representatives to meet and examine those figures, and if they find those figures are correct, why do they not press them as a scheme upon the owners? We are not asking them to do anything they have not done. It is a very simple, a 532 very plain, and, I think, a very practical proposal, and we are urging it again because we are profoundly dissatisfied with the statement which we got yesterday, and I am still more profoundly dissatisfied with the answer which has been given by the Prime Minister to the speech made by my right hon. Friend.
There is this other point, and it is one upon which I lay very great emphasis. In this offer of the miners you have got something which is very precious, something which I warn the Government very seriously against allowing to pass; you have got the beginnings of what, with careful handling, can be a system of arbitration, which may be required very much to carry this industry over a considerable period of peace. That alone is worth something, that alone is worth a great deal. There you have it. You have got a definite proposal upon wages, which ought to be examined, and you have got an agreement to discuss hours, contained in the reference to the Royal Commission's Report. You have got a proposal which is a definite offer to submit the whole economic questions concerned in the industry to a properly constituted board of arbitration, and I say that the Government is taking an exceedingly serious responsibility upon its shoulders if it turns down that offer upon the strength of the speeches that have hitherto been made in regard to it. If it is a bad proposal then all I can say is that that condition of the proposal has not been demonstrated from the benches opposite. I again urge the Government not to throw out an offer like this which means an essential surrender.
You may have an end of the dispute in a short time by breaks away. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not till Christmas!"] At any rate I will give them the benefit of the doubt. Supposing you do it to-morrow? Is that a satisfactory ending? If you have the dispute dragged out with 1,000 or 2,000 more returning to work each day by little spurts here and there. Is that a satisfactory ending? This House knows perfectly well it is nothing of the kind. I would strive might and main to prevent an ending like that, and to get a real agreement. I am convinced from what I know from conversations almost innumerable that the best thing to do is to get a temporary 533 arrangement backed up by the creation of machinery that will work out a permanent settlement between the men and the owners. I believe you have the nucleus of these ideas in the men's offer, and I hope it is not going to be rejected in the way which has apparently been the case up to now.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I rise to ask the Government two or three questions upon their own proposals. I expressed my opinion yesterday as to the unwisdom of rejecting the very favourable terms offered by the Miners' Federation. I am afraid the Government has made up its mind to stand by its own proposals, and it would only be a waste of time to argue the matter further. Men are not, as a rule, convinced by arguments, because the decisions they come to are generally influenced by motives outside the merits of the case. I propose, rather, to assume from the fact that after certain conversations have taken place, of which I know nothing, the Government have given their answer to-night, but I think it would be an advantage, from the point of view of the House and the country, if we were to be told one or two things more about the Government's proposal. I propose to put three questions to the Government. Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer drew a distinction between the practice which has hitherto been observed in making arrangements between employers and employed in the mines concerning a national agreement and district agreements.
It is perfectly true that there are district variations and they are more or less determined by district considerations and consultations. But there are general principles, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out, which dominate, the whole of these agreements, which have been determined nationally before you approach a settlement of the details locally. The Chancellor indicated in the course of his speech that those principles might be embodied in the Government Bill. Do I understand from him that those national principles, which dominate the district settlements, would be a subject for negotiation and consultation between the Government and the miners' leaders before that Bill is brought in and submitted to Parliament? That is the 534 first question that I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer; I hope I have made the point clear.
The second is this: In the appeals from the district settlements to the national tribunal that is to be set up, will hours also be subject to revision by the tribunal? If there is a local agreement where the hours are extended, could an appeal upon that subject be made to the national tribunal? That is not clear in the terms. The third point that I should like to put is this: On the face of the terms, it rather looks as though only the parties to the local settlement would have a locus standi before the tribunal, which means that only the district representatives could appear before the national tribunal. Could the Miners' Federation, representing the whole of the miners of the kingdom, present the, case before the tribunal? I only want to have an answer to these three questions: First of all, will the principles which are embodied in the Bill—the principles that will determine the local settlements, the national principles—be a subject for negotiation with the Miners' Federation before the Bill is drafted? In the second place, would there be a possibility of revising hours before this tribunal, and, in the third place, would the Miners' Federation have a full locus standi before the tribunal, once it is set up? I only want to put these three questions to the Government.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Churchill)
I am as anxious for an organised settlement of this protracted dispute as any Member of the House, but I must confess that it is with very great disappointment, and disappointment in the sense of the dispelling of expectations, that I have listened to the speeches which have been delivered from the, benches of the official Opposition. What do they amount to? They are simply a reiteration of the proposals which were made last week, after midnight, by the Miners' Federation to the Government, and which, at the very first glance, we stated afforded not the slightest prospect of a termination of the stoppage. We gave perfectly clear reasons for that. [Interruption.] This Debate was brought on at the desire of hon. Gentlemen opposite. We have listened to what they want to tell us, but if they do not want to listen to what we 535 have to say, we have no desire to force it upon them. It was, however, their wish, and we are endeavouring to address our minds to the questions which they have raised. At the very first moment when these proposals were raised, it was perfectly clear that they provided no means for an immediate cessation of the stoppage. The first of these four clauses dealt with proposals for a temporary return to work upon the basis of the 1921 minimum and a universal seven-hour day. If anyone imagines, at this stage in this business—and, surely, we ought to be looking at the verities of the case now—if anyone imagines at this stage that this business is going to be settled on that basis, they must be living in a world of the wildest absurdity.
There is not the slightest chance of an immediate resumption of work on a temporary basis of a universal seven-hour day. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the eight hours?"] That is a matter which does not rest with the Government it is a matter of dispute between the miners and the owners. But what is asked of the Government? It is asked that the Government, in regard to these proposals which have come forward from the other side, should legislate, should use the power of Parliament, and should pass Acts of Parliament so that these proposals may be put into statutory form. That is a tremendous thing to ask. Those proposals can have no validity unless they are clothed in a Statute or agreed to by the owners. That is what you are asking us to do, to clothe those proposals with the form of law. [An HON. MEMBER: "You passed the Eight Hours Bill."] The hon. Gentleman cannot take credit for originality in making that observation. We are asked to legislate in a manner highly disputable and controversial in order to give those proposals the force of law. We have laid down—and we have a mind of our own in this matter—the fact that we will not, in any circumstances, legislate upon this subject in this dispute except in conjunction with the immediate termination of the dispute and the resumption of district settlements. That is our position. What is the use, at this stage in the discussion, of pressing us to depart from the position we have newly, definitely, and finally adopted. It is in this connection that I 536 address myself to the questions which were asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in his brief speech.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
May I put a question to you?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am answering others.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member cannot ask the right hon. Gentleman to answer a question at this time.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
The right hon. Gentleman has made a statement, and I want an answer to a question.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is answering some questions already asked.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
On a point of Order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There cannot be a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not give way.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I shall be quite ready to answer a question afterwards if it be put. [Interruption.] I really think that is rather an unreasonable request because the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered a speech. He was called upon by the Chair and he has exercised has ordinary Parliamentary right of putting questions to the Government, and the Government are discharging their duty in giving a reply. If that is an example of the peace intervention of the Parliamentary party all I can say is "Give me the miners' leaders."
§ Mr. GREENALL
I rise to a point of Order.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The point of Order is disposed of.
§ Mr. GREENALL
I want to raise a point of Order.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is only preventing the right hon. Gentleman from speaking.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman dealt not with our own rejecting the proposals which have been put forward by the miners, proposals on which we are not prepared to invite Parliament to pass a Bill, but with the proposals which the Government have 537 put forward and which, as the Prime Minister has said, only remain for a few more days operative. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me three separate questions, and I really do not feel, although he has a perfect right to ask them, in view of the attitude adopted by the leader of the Labour party and by the two speakers who have spoken officially or semi-officially from those benches, that there is any ground whatever for the Government embarking on a committee like discussion of their proposals. The primary, indispensable condition, without which we 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. I hope we are not to take the violent and obdurate answer we have received to-night as representing the true opinions of Mr. Cook and Mr. Smith. As long as we are confronted, not with that any attempt to promote a settle- 538 ment of these difficulties but merely with attempts to create a Parliamentary situation across the Floor of the House, I, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, decline to enter into a detailed discussion.
§ 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."
§ Adjourned, accordingly, at One Minute after Eleven o'Clock until Tuesday, 9th November, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.