HC Deb 27 April 1927 vol 205 cc987-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]


I desire to draw the attention of the Secretary for Mines to a state of affairs in Durham County, the like of which we have not seen for 50 years. At the present time evictions of miners are going on in many parts of Durham County, their wives, children and furniture being put on to the street, although there is no possibility of alternative accommodation being secured. At South Garesfield Colliery there are a number of men who are to be evicted on 1st May, and that is one of the reasons why we desire to raise the matter to-night. I have had information that those men have made every effort to secure alternative accommodation, and up to the moment they have failed. Some of those men have occupied those colliery houses for over 30 years, have been employed at the colliery for over 30 years; now they have been served with eviction orders which are to take effect on 1st May. At Greenside Colliery there is a similar state of affairs. A large number of men there are to be evicted a very short time. We are anxious that the Secretary for Mines shall get into touch with the coalowners of Durham to see that these orders are not put into operation as they have been in some cases which my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) will bring to the attention of the House when I have finished.

I want the House to realise that in Durham in 1879 the umpire fixed the basic rate of wages, after hearing both sides, at 5s. 2d., but owing to the fact that the men occupied colliery houses it was reduced to 4s. 2d. The rate fixed was 5s. 2d., but those who occupied colliery houses were to receive 4s. 2d. That is to say, adult workers were paying a day for the houses they were occupying on the actual evidence that was brought before the umpire. In some cases men have actually paid, during these 30 years, £469 10s. in rent, and yet many people believe that miners have free houses and free coal. When one goes back to the 1879 award one finds that is not the case. Where there are three or four adult workers in the house you have people paying on the average about £704 in rent. When there comes a period of depression like the present, these people are turned out on to the road, not because the houses are really wanted. These men could be employed were it not for the fact that the colliery management is bringing in strangers to do their work and is evicting them in order that strangers may occupy the houses.

The Secretary for Mines and the Government as a whole ought to see that what they have been preaching for so long—namely, harmonious co-operation—is begun by the coalowners. The coal-owners should be told to practise what they have been preaching. They are always telling us that the workers are raising difficulties. These evictions are causing more unrest in Durham at present than anything else I know. People who have served the colliery companies for many years are being moved out on to the streets. That is their only recompense, and I hope the Secretary for Mines will use his influence between now and the end of the week to have these evictions prevented.


I desire to bring before the House two evictions of miners' families which took place last Wednesday at South Garesfield Colliery in the County of Durham. This belongs to Messrs. Pease Partners, a very large coal company. One of the men concerned is 62 years of age, and he was turned out with his wife and three adult sons. This man has worked for this colliery for almost 50 years. Last Wednesday the police took possession of the house, put the furniture into the street, and locked the family out. The other case is one of a man who has worked at the same colliery for 23 years. Last Wednesday his adult son, who is working at the colliery was actually at the pit when the furniture was carried out into the street. There was no house to which they could go, and the local co-operative society was good enough to allow them to store the furniture. The people themselves had to shelter with kindly neighbours. As my colleague has said, it is a number of years since we had evictions in Durham. There have been years of peace, as far as evictions are concerned, but now the practice is breaking out like an epidemic. The owners are using the present bad times to turn these men out of the houses. The men are being turned out of houses for which they have paid, because these are old colliery houses. The men are simply waiting to be restarted at the colliery, but they are paying the penalty of being refused work and of being evicted because they are good trade unionists and were loyal to the Miners' Federation during the dispute. They are refused work; strangers have been brought to the colliery and started; and now they are suffering the further penalty of being turned out of their houses, and they have no other places to go to. I suggest to the Secretary for Mines that this is a barbarous practice. We thought that it had been completely abolished. It must be said to the credit of the coalowners in Durham that during the dispute of last year they never attempted to turn a man out of his house, and during the dispute in 1921 they never attempted to turn a man out of his house; but now they are adopting this barbarous practice, and turning the men out of their houses, and abusing the local police by getting them to go into houses, carry out the furniture and put it into the street.

I suggest to the Secretary for Mines that he should use his influence with the colliery companies, with a view to getting peace in the industry, and persuade them to stop this barbarous practice. Not only have we to complain of the cases where the men have been turned out, but there are notices of further evictions which are to take place. No one can tell what will happen in these colliery villages if this practice is to continue. It is a real reflection upon a great wealthy colliery company, like Messrs. Pease and Partners. Once they had a good name. They were fair employers, who treated their work-people as fairly as did any other colliery company. Now they are soiling their good name by carrying out such a practice. We believe that these coal-owners are carrying out these practices because they think that they have the Government behind them. When this Government are so keen upon protecting blacklegs, we maintain that they ought to protect good trade unionists, and if the men cannot get work, at least the Secretary for Mines should try to bring pressure upon this particular colliery company and other colliery companies to allow the men to remain in their houses until such time as they can be restarted.

Colonel LANE FOX

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) should have thought it necessary in connection with this matter to use such a term as "blacklegs." I think we can discuss the question with less prejudice if terms like that are left out. I can only give the information which I have received by telephone this morning. I am informed that so far only three evictions have taken place and that no general scheme of evictions has taken place. The point is that there are fewer men being employed now than there were before the stoppage, for various reasons. Some men are leaving their employment. The colliery houses are, very naturally, from the point of view of the colliery, required for those men who have work in the colliery.

Those who are not now working in the colliery are, according to my account, having their houses free of rent, and I admit—that is the point of view that is put to me—if they are receiving their houses free of rent and if on the other hand the colliery company are paying rent allowances, as they allege, to these men who have not got free houses, because they have to live in other houses, and at the same time if the colliery company have to pay rates and repairs in respect of the houses in which unemployed men are living rent free, then it would seem that the greatest consideration, according to my information, was given, the men who had been evicted having received notice from the company more than two months ago. The hon. Member said there is no alternative accommodation. The men on whom notices have been served have been given the names and addresses of the workmen to whom the colliery houses had been allocated. That is my information.


In one of the cases the co-operative society has stored the furniture, and the people are living with their neighbours. I can give the right hon. Gentleman the name.


They cannot take these houses because men are coming long distances to the collieries.

Colonel LANE FOX

The hon. Member must see that that is not according to the statement I have received, and I can act only on the information that has reached me.


Does the right hon. Gentleman assume that a man can get another house?

Colonel LANE FOX

Again, that is the information that comes to me. Arrangements are being made by which these men will be told the houses which the other men are vacating. As regards strangers being brought in from a distance to do their work, if it be the fact that these men are receiving rent allowance, it does not seem as though they are entire strangers. If there are fewer men employed in the collieries, it seems that inevitable colliery houses should be occupied by these men. That it should be done with the least inconvenience to people I fully agree, but I fear it is inevitable there must be some modification, some readjustment. If it is the fact that these owners are having to pay rent allowances and at the same time to pay rates for and do the repairs of the houses in question, it is obvious that this is an uneconomic position with which we should have no power to interfere.


There is quite another side to that sort of thing. I know for a positive fact that men who have lost their employment have gone to owners of houses, and the owners have said that it is absolutely impossible to make arrangements for them to have the houses. The only arrangement is to ask the owners to agree to allow these people to remain in the colliery houses they occupy until other houses can be found for them.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'Clock.