§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
I do not need to make any apology for introducing the subject of the condition of the mining areas before the House rises for its Whitsuntide holiday. I am quite willing to agree, and it is only fair to say, that Members on all sides of the House are interested sufficiently in this question to debate it to-day. We, on these benches, are not so anxious to put a case to the ordinary Member on the opposite side as we are to try and influence the Government to take some stronger line to deal with this question than they have done up to now. The situation in the mining districts is tragic, and unfortunately there is not a single bright light anywhere in the country. There are some cases where the unemployment problem is not as severe as elsewhere. It would be infinitely more tragic if all of them were in the unfortunate position in which Wales, Northumberland and Durham, and a large part of Scotland find themselves. In every one of the areas there is destitution, misery, poverty, and almost an abandonment of hope, such as can never before be remembered in mining experience. It is a tragedy, for the men are working in what is described as a basic industry, in which the fortunes of the country are largely bound up. If that be so, it does not become merely a mining question, but a national question, and it is from this standpoint, and from the point of view of the effect on the nation, that we approach this subject, in the hope that the Government will take a more forward, action than they have done recently.
I intend to speak mostly of the position in Scotland, and others of my Friends will deal with other parts of the country with the local conditions of which they are better acquainted. In Scotland 14 years ago, we had 40 per cent. more men working in the mines 2096 than to-day, according to the statistics supplied by the Government. Fourteen years ago, 25 out of every 100 miners in Scotland joined up voluntarily, and the greater proportion of them served for four years. At the end of that time, they came back, expecting that the promises that were made during the War would be put into operation. Unfortunately, however, since the War between this country and Germany, some sections in control of our industries have become so much habituated to the idea of war, that they have transferred the war from the other side of the English Channel to our own country, and there has been constant war in the mining districts since 1919. I will not enter into the merits of the various disputes that have arisen between the miners and the employers, but I would remind the House that, on every occasion when a dispute arose between the employers in the mining industry and the men, the vast proportion of Members on the other side, and the Press generally, have taken the line that the miners were wrong, and that the attitude adopted by the Government at the time, whether a Liberal, Coalition or Conservative Government, was right. Events have shown that the support given by the Government to the employers has not been an altogether wise policy.
I remember that in 1921 we were fighting for what is called a pool, and it was said that it was uneconomic. We find the pool in operation in Scotland to-day; the Scottish coalowners have agreed to a pooling system, and I find that the ablest, and some of the widest read newspapers in the West of Scotland, are justifying the action of the employers. This is a complete change of attitude on their part. They justify it on the ground that the employers are seeking to reduce the output, and thus raise prices, and consequently secure profits. I have on many occasions advocated a restriction of output with exactly the same object of securing fair prices for the commodity produced by the miners, and sufficient, at least, to give him a fair wage, and to allow a sufficiently reasonable profit to those who have invested their capital in the industry. On every occasion, however, that we on this side, or the miners' leaders in Scotland, advocated that policy, we found ourselves bitterly opposed by the Press and the representatives of industrial and commercial in- 2097 terests in Scotland. Some time ago, one of the most prominent coalowners in the West of Scotland wrote some articles for the "Glasgow Herald," and they were pretty widely read. He is a man who has a considerable knowledge of the mining industry, and though we do not agree with him on most of the subjects that arise between us, we are bound to admit that he is a very competent and capable man. In the course of these articles he made the rather interesting admission that the individual output of the miners in Scotland had increased from 1913 to 1927 by two cwt. per man per shift. That is an admission that the post-War miner in the West of Scotland is a better miner than the pre-War miner.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I see my hon. Friend shaking his head; he may think that that is a strong statement to make, but that is the line that has been taken by most of our opponents during the last six or seven years. They have continually said that the trouble in the mining industry was due to the reduction in the individual output, and here we have one of the most prominent employers in the industry lending his name to the statement that, as between 1913 and 1927, the post-War miner is producing two cwt. per man more per shift. The "Glasgow Herald" published a leading article on 12th May this year on the coalowners of Scotland, in which they said:The fundamental factor in the situation was that a very great part of Scotland's coal output was being produced at a lass, and that deficits were being incurred which could only continue at the cost of a large number of collieries permanently closing down. In order to avoid such a disaster the owners devised the present scheme of temporarily putting out of operation the poorest collieries, but so compensating them that they are able to remain on a care and maintenance basis until demand sufficiently revives to offer a market for their product.I challenge that statement. They are not closing the poorest collieries; they are closing the collieries that are economic in the truest sense. If some of the collieries that I know are being closed on the grounds that they are uneconomic, there is not such a thing as an economic colliery working in the West of Scotland. I do not do more than simply challenge 2098 the accuracy of the statement in the "Glasgow Herald." The time has come when ordinary common sense people might be appointed to undertake some sort of inquiry, in place of the experts who have been far too common in all the inquiries hitherto held into the mining industry. There ought to be an inquiry into the actual position in each mining area, and then I think it would be found that there was a strong volume of opinion, not merely in the mining industry itself, but amongst those who are to a large extent dependent upon it, in favour of much more drastic action being taken to relieve the situation than the Government have been willing to take.
The question does not affect miners alone; it reacts upon every shopkeeper, upon practically every member of the community, in each of these mining areas; and we are approaching a period—I think the Secretary of State far Scotland will be able to corroborate this if he takes part in this discussion—when most parishes in the mining areas in the West of Scotland are becoming bankrupt. The social necessities which ought to be provided by the local authorities are not being provided, because they have not the money, and there does not seem to be any hope that they will get it. The serious conditions existing are reacting upon persons who a few years ago did not imagine they were ever likely to be troubled with the difficulties which beset the miners, or they would have taken a very different line during the period when the miners were engaged in dispute. In Lanarkshire since 1913, 71 collieries, which employed 23,839 men, have been closed; in the County of Stirling, five collieries, employing 3,350 men; in West Lothian four collieries, employing 735 men; in Dumbarton four collieries employing 244 men; and in Renfrew three collieries employing 731 men. Those five counties do not comprise the whole mining area of Scotland, because Fife and Ayrshire are in an equally bad position. In some respects, I dare say, Fife is worse than most places, certainly it is as bad as some of the worst districts in the County of Lanark, and in some of those districts where 100 men were at work last year only 25 are working to-day; that is to say, three men out of every four are idle in consequence of this so-called pooling arrangement under which coal-owners are closing down pits which, I 2099 repeat, are not uneconomic. I have in my own constituency a district where nearly 4,000 persons were working last year, but now there are fewer than 1,000, though I venture to say there is not a district in the whole of the coalfield which has better miners or where coal has been produced at a less cost.
There ought to be some inquiry by the Government into the operations of the pooling scheme set up in the various areas. I am speaking particularly for Scotland. We have a National Conciliation Board and are told by the Chairman that it is the function of both sides of that Board to co-operate and work together for the benefit and the prosperity of the industry. He can speak very well on that subject, he has a wonderfully fine vocabulary; but when it comes to putting into operation a scheme like that which is now working such havoc in Scotland, our side of the Board is not called into consultation at all. We know nothing at all as to the real motives animating the men responsible for putting this pool into operation. I hope that as a result of to-day's discussion the situation in each of the coal areas will be given very serious consideration by the Government between now and the reassembling of the House after the Adjournment. We on this side are willing to co-operate, if we are considered worthy of being asked to give co-operation. We are anxious that the industry should be made as prosperous as possible. If there be anything which the coal-owners can suggest which will be of real value in bringing back prosperity to the industry and enabling it to employ a larger number of men, they will find no opposition from us, they will have our co-operation and support. As I said on the last occasion when I was speaking on this matter, when it comes to a question of the employers and the workmen considering the situation and the Government are called in to give their advice, they look with contempt, apparently, on the assistance proffered from this side of the House.
I have almost finished the time allotted to me, and I have only to say that I hope this short discussion will have some influence on hon. Members opposite, and that if nothing is done 2100 between now and the reassembling of the House, and we are compelled to raise this matter again immediately the House meets, we shall then get such support from hon. Members opposite as will compel the Government to take some action to deal with the serious situation existing in the mining areas of Britain. We only ask them to look at this matter from a somewhat similar standpoint to that which was adopted in the case which was discussed a week ago yesterday. The Savidge case is not a political case; the whole House was equally interested in it, and I think I am correct in saying the whole House was unanimous in demanding that justice should be done to an individual. Surely to God, if it be right and wise that justice should he clone to an individual, and I say it is, it is equally right that justice should he done to more than a million individuals who have rendered, are rendering, and are willing to render useful service to this community. Up to the present, all we have got is any amount of advice from people who do not understand our position, but no real attempt to give something like justice has yet been made, and I hope that before the end of this Parliament something of a really serious character will be attempted by the Government with a view to getting a solution of the present difficulties in the mining areas.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
I think I can claim that during the few years I have had the honour of sitting in this House I have not unnecessarily taken up its time, and to-day I will not detain it for long, not because there is not a great deal to say on this question, but because of the limited time at our disposal and the necessity for giving the House an opportunity to hear the views of the miners from each of the districts of the country. I think I may claim that I have had a considerable amount of experience in mining matters. I have known the mining industry, either locally or nationally, for the last 54 years, in the first place as a working miner, and afterwards as an official of the miners' organisation. I have been not merely a keen student from personal observation of the mining industry, but I have felt it to be my duty to read the early history of the mining industry prior to 2101 my own personal knowledge of it, and I can confirm the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Hamilton Division of Lanark (Mr. D. Graham) that never in my experience has the situation in the mining industry been worse than it is to-day. Widespread unemployment does not apply to one or two districts, but it is almost universal throughout the mining industry. It is worse in some districts than others, but it is fairly general over the whole of the industry. The time for which this depression has lasted in many of the districts justifies me in saying that never before in the mining industry have we had such a serious situation to face as we have at the present time.
The time at our disposal for discussion is limited, and I desire to allow ample time to other speakers; but I would like to say a word or two in connection with the situation in the important coalfield of Northumberland. In that coalfield there are some 25 per cent. of the mine workers idle at the present time. I have information from that county which in all probability may be taken as one above the average in steady employment for a period of years, and certainly it is up to the average so far as the skill and ability of the mine workers and the respectability of the mining population are concerned. In that county there is a considerable amount of privation, amounting in many cases to hunger, among the miners' families. Unless we are hypocrites in this House and unless the British people are hypocrites, generally speaking all children are our children, as those of us profess who worship and pray. The children in the mining districts or in the slums of any city in the world are our children, and it is the business of this House and the nation to make sure, as far as possible, that all children are well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed and well-educated. I have heard the prayer offered up in this House "Give peace in our time, O Lord." That would seem to indicate to me that those who pray "Give peace in our time, O Lord" are putting the responsibility for international war and war in industry on the Almighty, and shirking their own responsibilities. International war and industrial war are not the fault of the Almighty, and the Almighty is not going to interfere at all. In this connection, I 2102 would like to remind hon. Members of Holy Willie's Prayer. The House knows how our Scottish people used to have long conversation with the Almighty in order to come to an agreement with Him when they desired sometimes in their own interests, and they used to exclaim:O Lord, remember me and mine,With blessings temporal and divine,And all the glory will be thine, Amen.At any rate, they were prepared to give the Almighty the glory. I desire that there should be peace in industry. I have probably been more blamed during a number of years for preventing peace and spreading disputes in industry than any other man breathing, but I can assure the House that I have never desired to have war in the mining industry, provided it could be avoided. We cannot have peace in industry so long as the children in that industry are suffering from hunger. In the county of Northumberland, which is rather small as compared with many of the larger counties, I am informed, on the authority of Mr. William Straker, a very able man who I am sure would not exaggerate, that where in former years the people have been fairly well off, and accumulated savings in the co-operative societies and the Post Office Savings Bank, generally speaking, all that money has gone. That state of things applies particularly to the mining areas, and in many cases even the goods and chattels of those poor people have been sold in order to prevent starvation among their children. I am informed that in the county of Northumberland the people are suffering from malnutrition, not to such an extent as in many other mining counties, but I know that in my county there are many children going without boots, or at least they are badly shod and badly clothed, and in this condition they have to go to school. I make an appeal on behalf of those children. Mrs. Elizabeth Browning wrote many years ago:Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,Ere the sorrow comes with years?They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,And that cannot stop their tears.Well, my brothers, the children are weeping to-day, and the mothers are at their wits' end to know how to provide food and clothing for them. They desire to send their children as decently to school as the children of other people 2103 are sent, and we contend that they are entitled to be in a position to do that. We may be asked: "What do you propose?" I do not think it is our business to propose. I think it is the business of the Government, if they are convinced that the state of things is such as we have described, to say what is to be done in this matter. I deny altogether that it is through lack of food and clothing in the country that those children are suffering from hunger to-day. It is because of the fault of distribution of the wealth of the country, not the fault of the Almighty who has provided all that is necessary. The skill of the workers of the country applied to the raw material can produce, and does produce, enough and to spare of what we call material wealth to provide for every man, woman and child in the country, and we claim, on behalf of the children of our people, that they have as much right to the good things of life as any class of children in the country.
I want to appeal to the heart of the House of Commons. I do not think there is any Member sitting on either side of this House who could comfortably take a good meal if he knew that there was a starving child of any kind outside, and who would not be prepared to say, "This child must be the first to receive food before I touch any." Well, there are tens of thousands of children who are being insufficiently fed, and who are badly clothed. I want Members of this House to picture the position of a little child of a miner going to school underfed, with his clothes ragged, with his boots, if he has any, torn, sitting side by side with children of what are called respectable people, although no more respectable than the people of that child. I would appeal to the heart of the House of Commons, and to the heart of the nation, that the time has come when something must be done to relieve the serious state of matters that exists in our mining districts. It ought not to be the responsibility of any particular locality to deal with the victims of unemployment. It ought to be a national charge, and I appeal to the Government to give it serious consideration, and to do their utmost to endeavour to make 2104 sure that the children and the womenfolk of our unemployed miners will have the care to which they are entitled.
§ Mr. SKELTON
It is, of course, obvious that one cannot speak with the authority of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie), but I cannot help thinking that it is the duty of any Member of this House who can make even the smallest contribution to the discussion to do so. I, therefore, rise only to repeat, as briefly as I can, observations which, in one form or another, I have often made in this House. We are well aware of the size and difficulty of the problems connected with the great number of miners who are now, and have been for long, unemployed. I do not believe that there is any one general, universal cure. Possibly, like many other political problems, it is one which has to be tackled piecemeal, and the piece I suggest is, I agree, only a very small piece. But in such a problem, I cannot believe it is right to overlook any method by which any considerable number of unemployed miners and their families can be, given a permanent and satisfactory way of life in substitution of the industry which they have lost. It is my opinion—and, I am afraid, I am adamant in this matter—that it is possible in this country to make arrangements to settle a certain number of miners' families with success upon the land. I am sure it is true, and there is, indeed, as I have often said in this House, abundant evidence that it can be done.
In the general work of land settlement, mainly ex-service, which has gone on since the War, it has so happened that a certain number of men whose previous experience was purely urban has made good when settled on the land. When you go into the facts you find that amongst that number of urban trained men, there is a certain number of miners as well as a certain number of those in other urban industries. That being so, it is surely worth while to see whether it is not possible to frame some scheme carefully, on a small scale to begin with, taking every precaution against extravagance, taking every precaution against waste and taking every precaution that common sense can conceive whereby even a few hundred families of miners could be put upon the land in this country, and given a chance of cultivating it.
2105 I have often given examples in this House, and I will not repeat those I have already given, but I cannot forbear to mention a case, not, it is true, of a miner, but of another man of urban experience which I heard in my own constituency the other day, and I beg those who are responsible for dealing with the mining problem to take this kind of case into consideration. A working engineer returns from the War and cannot find employment. His mother has a certain amount of savings. The opportunity opens for the purchase of 10 acres of land, six miles out of the town of Forfar. He purchases them. He builds his own house. He is enabled subsequently to purchase 10 acres more. On those 20 acres, he has been for the last five years engaged in a very special form of agricultural work, the cultivation of raspberries. He is making thoroughly good; he is thoroughly happy. I had this only last Saturday from his brother-in-law who is a gardener in my constituency. The man is thoroughly happy, and is relieved from the anxiety of his previous urban employment. He is out of the engineering labour market. He is safely established on the land, and is making good. The savings of his mother are not thrown away; they are invested in even what to-day is one of the safest forms of investment.
If one searches for examples, one will find countless examples of men of urban training who can make good on small parcels of land, and I venture to say, as I have said before, that it is a mistake for the Government not to try to work out a scheme whereby a few hundreds or thousands of our mining families could be put upon the land. I have often said, and I know that mining Members agree, that there are characteristics of the miner's life and habits which make him peculiarly suitable for life on the land. That is all agreed. It is agreed that they can succeed if you select the right men. The only problem is how to do it with any proper regard for economy. That is the problem which has to be worked out. I do believe we ought to be considering how a certain amount of land settlement for urban people can be done in this country, without imposing too great an expense upon the State. That problem, at any rate, ought to be considered, but I am afraid it is not being considered, and I regret very much to 2106 hear what, I think, is the case, that the Industrial Transference Board has turned down and set aside the question of trying to settle a certain number of unemployed industrialists on British land. I am afraid that is true, and, if so, I deeply regret it. But if the Industrial Transference Board has come to that decision, it does not at all relieve the Government of their responsibility.
I think I know too much about land settlement in Scotland, and some of its failures and extravagances, to urge a too large scale policy to begin with. I only urge consideration. I only urge that the question of expense should be thoroughly worked out, and that experiments should be made. For my own part, being a Conservative, and therefore prepared to move slowly, I do not care if the experiments begin on a small scale. But do let us have some experiments made. Even if only a small proportion succeed —with care, I do not see why all should not succeed—we shall have done something to deal, if only in a small way, with this question of unemployed miners. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the other Members of the Government present today to look at this matter afresh, to look at the facts, to look at the evidence, and, if necessary, to set up a committee to go into the thing afresh and without prejudice. I am satisfied that if that be done, it is possible to settle a certain number of miners' families with success upon the land of this country, with the result that it will increase the production of wealth from the land, increase the home market, relieve both unemployment insurance and parish relief, and do something towards what, I believe, is the main problem of the twentieth century—the re-colonisation of England and Scotland.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am sure the House generally is weary of hearing the mining question raised so often. Personally, I feel both weary and heart-sick. We know very well it is not because this matter has not been brought up in this House. On 23rd March, we deliberated on the eight hours' question, and, on 26th March, we deliberated on the distress in the mining areas, and no one offered a word of objection to the case that was made out. I remember the Minister of Health referring on that 2107 occasion to the terrible distress in South Wales as being only typical of what was happening in all the mining areas. That is why we have to come here from time to time to point out the chronic crisis in the coal industry. A crisis is generally looked upon as being either a strike or a lockout, but on this occasion it is neither. The whole thing has broken down, and one wants to know what is going to happen. In our minds, behind all this is the thought, first of all, that the mining industry up to the last 20 years has been the foundation of all the other industries; secondly, that the coal-owners gained a complete victory in the last dispute; and thirdly, that there is not one coalowner who can say that under present conditions there is any hope for the industry.
We are faced with these three things, and the coalowners, having secured a complete victory, followed that up step by step. Before the Goal Commission they claimed certain things. In the first place, they wanted district settlements: secondly, they wanted a longer working day; and, thirdly, they wanted the 1921 Agreement. The Commission did not agree, and no settlement was arrived at. The Prime Minister then submitted to Mr. Smith, the Miners' President, the conditions under which the coalowners would accept a settlement, and the only thing on which they gave way was that they were willing to have a national agreement. They wanted, however, the eight-hour day and the 1921 wages, and, as the struggle went on, they succeeded in obtaining all their three original points, namely, district settlements, the 1921 Agreement, and a longer working day. The coal-owners having got all this, one did expect some kind of success in the coal industry, because their contention was that, if the output increased, they could outsell the foreign competitor. We increased our output from 18 cwt., in round figures, to 20 cwt., and so we gave all that the coalowners asked, but then they set about pushing out the foreign competitor. It was quite evident to us, however, that the foreign competitor, having got into the field, did not intend to be pushed out—he was going to have his place in the sun; and events have proved that to be the case. 2108 All that the coalowners succeeded in doing was to push the foreigner back for a short period, but he has come back again, and the industry is left in exactly the same position.
This Government and previous Governments have not had the foresight to visualise what was happening in the coal industry, but it has been quite evident for a number of years that under our present system the industry could not hope to succeed. I have argued for many years that we are witnessing a change something like that which was brought about by the introduction of the steam engine. We can no longer afford to burn coal in its raw state, and attempts ought to be made to get the by-products, and especially the oil products, and, if the Government had been far-seeing, they might have succeeded in that way in establishing the position of the coal industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is making in the Budget a slight step in that direction. Some of my hon. Friend on this side may not agree with that, but, as I see it, the only hope for the coal industry is on these lines, that is to say, the working out of methods for the production of oil from the coal. That ought to have been done many years ago, before the mine-workers were driven down to this point.
I want to give one or two instances of what is happening in the industry. Last week I brought to the notice of the Home Secretary several compensation cases where the wages were so low that the amount of compensation paid was very slight indeed. I have now two cases that I am submitting to the Home Secretary. One is that of a young man 20 years of age, who was supporting his father and mother, and whose average weekly earnings at the time when he was killed amounted to 28s. 3d. He was getting no unemployment benefit, because his work was intermittent. The amount of compensation paid in that case was £220, and there can be no question in regard to that, because that was the amount submitted by the employer. The other case is that of a man with a wife and child. The amount of his average weekly earnings submitted in the claim for compensation was 18s. 9d., and his dependants will get £200, because that is the minimum amount. A third case is 2109 that of a young lad 15 years of age, who lost a finger in the mine when he was 14, after having been down for one week. He is now working in the mine, and his mother has sent me a letter asking if I can get the case settled by a lump sum, because she says it is impossible for them to live on what he is earning. The wage for that lad, 15 years of age, is 2s. 10d. per day, and, as he is only getting 2½ days' work a week, his weekly earnings are only about 7s. He is getting no unemployment pay, as he is under 16 years of age.
That is the position in Lancashire. It has got so bad that, while we used to meet the employers on the Ascertainment. Board, we have now withdrawn from that, because the debt is so big that it is not worth our while to go on, and the employers have gone so far as to say that, because the debt is so big, they will, at the end of 12 months, wipe off the previous 12 months, and only carry forward the debt for the current 12 months. The position reminds me very vividly of a tale that I once read in one of Jack London's books. He describes the scene where people are rushing to the goldfields. The sledge, with its horses, has just reached a frozen lake on the trail, and, just as they get to the middle of the lake, owing to the thaw having set in, sledge, horses, and men go through. The description is, "The bottom of the trail had fallen out." So far as the coal industry is concerned, that fits it accurately—the bottom has fallen out of the coal industry; and it is for the Government and the employers, who have won all the way through, to set to and find out in what way prosperity can be restored to the industry, and what can be done for the miners who are suffering so acutely at the present time.
§ Mr. LUNN
I do not think it is necessary for me to continue on the lines on which the position of the coal industry was so admirably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie). The conditions in the industry are appalling everywhere; homes are desolate, and children and women are suffering. There are 250,000 men unemployed, and I think it is admitted that there are more than 200,000 who are not likely to be employed in the industry 2110 again. The Government may not be the cause, but there are many men receiving pensions whose maladies or sufferings or injuries were aggravated as the result of the War, and the Government, in every action they have taken with regard to the mining industry, have aggravated the position. After the many appeals that we have made, it is time that we not only appealed to the Government, but exposed the Government for its actions in every connection with regard to this industry.
I come from a county which is supposed to be the best in the mining industry, but in the county of Yorkshire we have over 20,000 miners unemployed, we have no funds in the trade union to assist them, and victimisation of a character which I have never seen for more than 40 years is being imposed by the employers. We are told that the Industrial Transference Board will publish its report before long, but the only part of the country to which it is suggested they can transfer men is the new Doncaster coalfield, and yet there are thousands of men in that area who are unemployed. I think it would be better to find work for the men in Yorkshire before asking people to come from small homes in Durham or in South Wales to a place where employment cannot be guaranteed even in that county, where we are at our wits' end to know what is going to be done.
I want to say a word about what was suggested in the speech of the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton), whom I congratulate on his persistence in raising this matter of finding alternative work for people who are unemployed. There are tens of thousands of acres of land in this country which are not cultivated as they might be, and there are tens of thousands of idle hands that could be better employed in producing food, which we are now purchasing in increasing quantities from overseas and some of which might be produced at home. I am much interested, and take a very active part, in the question of emigration, and I would like to see schemes arranged of a satisfactory character for the many thousands of people who do desire to go to the Dominions. The difficulty is not here; it is in the Dominions; but I am satisfied that the Empire Settlement Act, much as 2111 it has been condemned, has been a great blessing to some quarter of a million people who have gone to the Dominions. At the same time, we ought to have an alternative scheme of settlement at home, and our people ought to have that opportunity of choosing, although I believe, nevertheless, that the number who would desire to go overseas would be no smaller than it is to-day. I hope the hon. Member for Perth will continue to persist in this matter, not that I have any hope that this Government will do anything, but in the hope that some Government will in the near future do something to make good use of the land in the interests of the people.
The position in the mining industry is so bad that I have never seen anything like it. Wages are low—lower than they have ever been in my lifetime—in comparison with the cost of living. The Government have aided the employers in every one of their actions. Hours are lung, and men have been killed or injured in the industry in larger numbers than under the Seven Hours Act. The Government have taken the side of the employers, and have passed an Act of Parliament of a retrograde character, taking us back to the position as it was when they came into power, and I have no hope that this Government is going to do anything to remedy the state of affairs. The Secretary for Mines has never made a suggestion that would help the industry since he took up his office. He has backed up the schemes that have been set in operation by the employers. The Five Counties scheme is most un-British. It has no enterprise in it. One hon. Member said in this House that we are only going to produce the amount of coal that we can sell, but that is most un-British, so far as I understand British industrial history. We ought to be trying to sell the goods that we make or produce in this country more than we are trying at the present time, and we ought not to be restricting output or carrying on a policy of ca'canny, which is condemned when it is alleged on this side, but which is supported when it is applied to the owners. This Five Counties scheme, so far as my own county is concerned, has meant thousands more men walking the streets, and more homes suffering as a result of the absence of wages.
2112 This Government, so far as I can see, has taken no action since it came into power except to make the position infinitely worse in the mining industry and in regard to unemployment generally. They are doing nothing to-day with regard to the provision of work. I am one of those who believe that the only cure for unemployment is work, and that work ought to be provided, because British people would rather be working and earning their livelihood than receiving money for nothing. My attitude is to urge this or any other Government to take whatever steps they can take, and there are many that can be taken, to utilise the raw material that we have at hand in order to provide work for those who are idle. It would be a comfort and a blessing to the homes of the people if the Government would only take the action which a Government of the people would immediately take, and which they have the power to take.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
There is no doubt that the mining industry is in a parlous condition. The suffering in these areas is very great, probably greater than most of us can remember. The last speaker has said that the remedy for unemployment is more work. That is a truism. The way to get more work for the miner is to sell more coals. No Government can make people buy coal if they do not want it. We are certainly getting back some of our foreign markets, because we have been able to cut coal by half-a-crown, and I believe we shall ultimately conquer in these markets, but there will be a great deal of suffering while we are conquering. The miner to-day is fighting with pick and shovel as gallantly as he fought with bayonet and bomb, but it is an economic struggle. Cannot the miners and their leaders recognise that iron and steel are twin brothers to coal, and that unless your iron and steel trade prospers you cannot expect the coal trade to be in anything like its full volume. With a prosperous iron and steel trade, your home market would consume many million tons of coal. Why does not the other side join with us, who believe in the reconstitution and resuscitation of the iron and steel trade, which is in as parlous a condition as the coal trade.
I am not speaking as an expert on these industries, but I can quote one of the greatest experts in the world, Mr. 2113 Schwab, of the United States, who a few weeks ago, in this country, expressed his amazement that the home market for iron and steel was not protected by safeguarding as it is in the United States. He said that if the 4,000,000 tons of steel which are dumped in this country as surplus products from other countries at cut prices was being made in this country it would practically involve the employment of nearly all the unemployed miners. I have it on the authority of leading shipbuilders that they would expect by such safeguarding not an increase in the cost of steel but a reduction, because the cost of any article depends on the turnover, and, if you had your works working to the full turnover so that your overheads were diminished, you would reduce your costs, less steel would come in, and the industry would benefit. It is one of the profound regrets that I have that my own party did not adhere to the policy of 1923.
Who is to hinder the Government doing it? Who prevents it? It is the policy of hon. Members opposite. You protect your labour, and we wish you to protect it in every possible way. Why not protect the fruits of your labour? It is the very same thing. Protect your industry by preventing goods coming in. I am only advocating your principles. Cannot you come over and help us? The two great parties, Labour and Conservative, have the same views with regard to the protection of our industries. You protect the one side, and we protect the other. Cannot we join together and pay no attention to that little remnant who are busy munching the biscuit of an effete political economy? We speak for the producer, whether he is employer or employé. There is a remedy lying to your hands for the coal trade. Get at your men and create the necessary opinion in the coalfields and steel works, and we could bring such pressure on the Government as would have an immediate repercussion and almost immediately restore industry to prosperity.
§ Mr. LAWSON
We cannot, in the short space of time at our disposal today, discuss both the economic position of the industry and the condition of the people in the mining areas. It seems to me, when the hon. Member speaks about an effete political economy, it would be well for him to take note of the re- 2114 sults of the economic views of his own party. The Government have held that longer hours would give more work. Everyone knows that has failed. The men are working harder to-day than ever men have worked in the mine in the time at their disposal. Their output is higher, and the wages are not only less but are diminishing as time goes on. In Durham, which was rather notable some time ago for the fact that drastic reductions of wages were granted by the arbitrator, it was believed that the reductions, added to continuous reductions of a local kind, would have the result of improving the situation. Everyone knows now, after three months' trial, that the position is worse than it was before, and, if the present position of drift is to go on, there is no hope anywhere of an improvement.
What is worse, and what causes not merely profound depression but despair in the mining areas, is that the Ministry of Mines shows a, strange lack of grip of the situation. It seems to be run with nerveless fingers. We hoped, when the hon. and gallant Gentleman was appointed, he would really take hold of the situation and apply himself to the task. We know it is a colossal one, but the feeling in the coal mining areas is that the Secretary for Mines does not seem to take hold of the situation in even the smallest detail. What have we had in the last few months? There has been a Transference Board. We have been asking what it has been doing. We learn from the Press that it has been into the mining areas. We have not even had a report. We are now going to adjourn over the holidays, and we have not the slightest idea what the Transference Board is going to do or whether it has transferred, or will transfer, a single man. As far as one can see, the net result of the Government policy is that there has been an appeal to the nation and a kind of charity fund has been set up. We do not want charity in the mining areas. Charity is simply going to irritate things. There are such demands for the small sum there is that our people say: "We had better not have anything than have it doled out in this way." They are not a charity receiving people. They like to give, but they do not like to accent that kind of dole, which is the real thing.
2115 We are entitled to demand that the Government recognise that they have boggled this mining situation and that we are worse to-day as the result of the application of that policy. The owners adopted that policy, and it has failed. Things are going from bad to worse. There is no hope. There is no Whitsuntide holiday for us. We shall go home, and we shall meet our friends telling us the most appalling and moving tales, and we are helpless. We have a right to demand that the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge of the Ministry of Mines should take hold of the Department and impress upon the Government their duty and responsibility of rescuing the people in the mining areas from the results of the Government policy during the past year or two.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Those who have listened to the whole of the Debate must have been impressed with the tone in which it has been conducted by Members who have spoken from the opposite side of the House. There has been an almost entire lack of that bitterness which has, unfortunately, been manifested in mining Debates in the past. With every fact they have put before us as a fact I think we all agree, but I ask them to consider whether it is any use blaming the Ministry of Mines and the Government for the present situation in the coax trade. Really in their hearts they must realise that when one after another they get up and say the Government must do something, it really lies with them to indicate some sort of solution that could be put into operation by the Government. I have devoted practically a lifetime to the coal industry and I am convinced—though here I stand subject to correction by anyone opposite—that there is nothing the Government can do.
Let us take the case put forward by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie). I have been acquainted with the district he represents, I believe, for many more years than he has, and the position there is that in default of the Admiralty sending a squadron to bombard the ports of Danzig there is absolutely nothing the Government can do for the Northumberland coal industry, and the remark applies largely to Durham as well.
It might be well to put before the House what the present condition of the 2116 coal industry is, and what may be anticipated within a reasonable time in the way of a change in the situation. Hon. Members opposite have pointed out quite properly that the policy which, in conjunction with the coalowners of this country, I impressed upon the Government—and a very unwilling Government too—in 1926 was based upon three points —the extension of the working day, an economic wage, and district settlements. Although I think that hon. Members opposite are perfectly sincere in the matter, the time has arrived to inform them and to inform this House that when they talk about the coalowners and the Government in the summer of 1926 being hand and glove together, they are totally mistaken. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no!"] My task through the summer of 1926 was to endeavour to keep the Government of the day on something like speaking terms with the coalowners of this country. Right back in the week before the general strike took place there was an occurrence of which, unfortunately, I am not at liberty to put the details before the House, which started a keen controversy between them—the Government thoroughly distrusting the coalowners and the coalowners thoroughly distrusting the Government. It was a very unfortunate incident, but the mistake was made and it did result, as a matter of fact, in very great controversy between the Government of this country and representatives of the coalowners throughout the whole of the summer of 1926.
To return to the three points of policy. I think that hon. Members opposite must agree with this, that bad as is the state of the coal industry to-day, it would be very much worse if the cost of the production of coal throughout this country were raised by an amount of about 2s. 6d. per ton. I think we must all agree with that. As a matter of fact, the cost of production has been very drastically reduced, particularly in the districts represented by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie) and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). I think, therefore, it follows quite logically, that the reduction in the cost of production must have made the present condition in the coal industry, at any rate, some degree better than the position in which it would have been if the cost of pro- 2117 duction had not been reduced. To the extent that the lengthening of the working hours and the reduction from the 1924 basis to the 1921 basis, to the extent that that extension of hours and reduction in rates reduced the total cost of production, to that extent the present state of the industry has been improved as compared with what it would have been if this reduction of wages and extension of hours had not taken place.
At the present moment, we are going through, perhaps, the worst part of the crisis. When the Samuel Commission in its report recommended what practically amounted to the raising of the price to the home consumer in order that we might be in a position to reduce the price of export coal, the coalowners of Great Britain—and I think quite rightly—refused to consider those recommendations unless they were absolutely forced to do so. At the same time, I did put before them, and obtain a certain amount of agreement to, this theory that it is desirable for the national welfare of this country that we should maintain a very considerable export of coal from our ports, even if it costs us a considerable amount of money to obtain that export. The reason is obvious. A great portion of the food and raw material of this country will be very much increased in price unless the ships leaving our ports can find an outward cargo to help to pay the freight of the inward cargo. Therefore that principle which I put before the coalowners in 1928, and to which they agreed to conform as far as possible, is one which this House ought constantly to bear in mind. Whatever we do we must at any rate endeavour to maintain an export of coal of certainly more than 50,000,000 tons a year, and to hope that this will increase until we are able to reach again an export of 80,000,000 to 85,000,000 tons per annum.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The cost of living according to the Government has gone down and yet exports have diminished.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The cost of living has gone down mainly because we went on to a gold basis some two and a-half years ago.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Gentleman's argument amounts to this—if exports diminish the cost of living will rise. The contrary has happened.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Of course it has happened, because there are dozens of other factors besides freights. [Interruption.] I say that the return to the gold standard has reduced the cost of living. Anybody who has brains to apply to this subject knows that. I say that if freights are reduced, the cost of living will also be reduced, and anyone who has brains can see that. Any number of factors apply; this is merely one of them. [interruption.] Has the hon. Member any argument to raise against that.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Undoubtedly, the national welfare of all classes is very much bound up in our preserving, at any rate, a considerable coal export from this country. It is not only a question of reducing inward freights. To my mind, a very great portion of our shipping industry depends upon our being able to get outward freights from our ports in the form of some bulky article such as coal. On that also depends to a certain extent the welfare of such centres as London with the banking, commercial, and insurance work which they do. In fact, it is the pivot of the whole of our industrial position, if we can, to maintain —and I do not say that it is certain that we can—our coal export, at any rate at 50,000,000 tons a year, and if possible at as much as 80,000,000 tons per annum.
As far as the five counties are concerned, an attempt is now being made to get back the exports which have been lost. The attempt has been made upon lines which those who are making it regard with considerable doubt. But the position such that the conclusion they reached was that, much as we doubt whether ultimately the scheme will be successful, at any rate, we think that in the present state of the industry it ought to be tried. The reactions of the five counties' scheme upon Northumberland and Durham and the East of Scotland have up to the present been disastrous, as the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street knows very well. Just when this scheme became effective and when the subsidising of exports from the Humber began to become a matter of practice, Northumberland and Durham were holding their prices at their ports for the first time 2119 for many months. In fact, there was a definite tendency to get a higher price than for some time had been the case. This tendency has been checked by this scheme of the five counties of subsidising of exports; and to that extent Northumberland and Durham and the East of Scotland have been definitely and distinctly endangered by the five counties' scheme.
I think that this danger is only temporary, and for this reason, that the subsidising of the Humber exports under the five counties' scheme is based upon a levy of a certain sum imposed upon all coal sold in the home market. That is to say, that the average price of the five counties' coal sold in the home market is going to be raised by a few pence per ton in order to provide the money to subsidise the Humber exports. I think the House will agree that if any district raises by agreement between the various collieries the home price, it undoubtedly, to a certain extent, and in proportion, contracts the district's home market for this particular kind of coal. As the five counties' scheme, by raising the home price, contracts their home market, they extend, in proportion, the home market of Northumberland, Durham, and other districts outside the scheme. That is the reason why, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many of those who are concerned in the five counties' scheme—although it was worth while trying—it is quite possible that it may prove to be a complete failure.
To refer to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) said, namely, that his solution of the difficulties was simply a protective duty upon iron and steel coming into this country. He quite rightly called for the sympathy of hon. Gentlemen opposite, because, if they are Socialists, they are also protectionists. The two things go together, because protection is another name for inflation and Socialism is a synonym for the same thing, and those things which are synonyms for the same thing are synonyms for one another. Therefore, quite rightly, my hon. and learned Friend asked for the support of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think that in due course, if all goes well and according to political theory, the Forty Thieves and the Socialists will 2120 join together. The fact is, that those responsible for the conduct of the coal industry are very far from favouring Protection. What is the reason? If we are to maintain our coal exports, the last thing we should do is to limit the import of other articles into this country. That is perfectly obvious. For instance, there is still in existence, in spite of official denials, a system of licensing of our imports of coal into Germany. It is not exercised by the Germans to any large extent but it still exists and cases have been brought to me where it has been put into actual effect. When we complain, this is the answer we get: "Well, you license imports of our dyes into your country, and why should we not license imports of your coal into our country?" The answer is conclusive. There is no getting round it. I venture to suggest this to the Government: Is it better that we should lose coal exports to Germany than that we should admit German dyes into this country? This is a problem which is within the scope of the Government to solve. I think that it is far better that we should send tens of thousands of tons of coal into Germany than that we should prevent a few tons of dyes coming into this country.
There is another point where the Government may be able to help us, although I am doubtful, and that is the question of reparation coal and of reparation generally. I think we may say that, with the exception of a few Members of this House, there is hardly any thinking person in this country who does not regard the German reparations as a curse to all our industries. How a Government of a civilised country victorious in the War could ever contrive such a way of reducing the standard of living and upsetting the whole population of this country as to demand indemnities and reparations from the enemy has always baffled me since the General Election of 1918 until now. When it is realised that part of these War reparations are to be paid in the form of coal, I wonder the whole of the miners' Members opposite have not risen again and again and cursed the Government for their folly in adopting such a method of killing the coal industry of Great Britain.
I venture to suggest, first, that there are very few directions in which the Government can help that industry, and, 2121 secondly, that these debates are now being conducted in a much better tone, I think I may claim on both sides, than they have been in the past. Before I sit down I wish to enlarge upon this matter. We all know—it is an open secret—that the various miners' unions in the various districts are going through very difficult times indeed. I assure hon. Members opposite who happen to be officials of these unions that their difficulties are regarded with very great sympathy by those whom hitherto they were inclined to regard as their enemies. The one thing that experience in industry has taught me is that it is fatal for employers of labour to interfere in any way with the internal affairs of trade unions. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Nottingham?"] I may say, quite candidly, that for that very reason, I have always regarded with considerable distaste certain attempts which have been made in the Midland counties to adopt a different policy. Although we employers of labour who have had experience of these matters always, as a matter of policy, abstain as carefully as we can from interfering with what are, after all, the internal affairs of trade unions, I can assure hon. Members opposite that their difficulties are known to us and that their struggles to put things right are being regarded with very great sympathy by those whom they formerly regarded as their enemies. But do not let hon. Members opposite talk too much about victimisation by colliery managers and colliery owners, when they themselves are engaged upon a very necessary purge of their own bodies from certain influences which are found to be of disadvantage to those particular trades unions. Do not let us have this position that the miners' unions, say, in Scotland, are endeavouring to cut out the canker from the body politic and then coming to this House and complaining because the coal-owners are victimising exactly the same gentlemen. I think hon. Members opposite made a mistake in bringing that point up in public to-day.
Let us be content with this, that there is no antagonism towards the district miners' unions on the part of the mine-owners. Towards the end of the great struggle in 1926 I put before the owners the proposition that in the settlement we might go, back or forward, whichever you like to call it, to pit settlements as 2122 distinct from district settlements. The situation then was such that, as hon. Members opposite will admit, the owners in Great Britain had the choice and the miners' unions of Great Britain were undoubtedly at their mercy, so that any policy could have been dictated to them in the latter part of 1926. When I put forward the suggestion that, on the whole, it might be for the good of the industry and the ultimate good of everyone concerned, that the settlement should be made pit by pit instead of district by district, they deliberately took the opposite view. They said, "No. We think it is better that the district unions should remain in being." That was the policy which was deliberately adopted towards the end of the struggle.
I am inclined to think that I was wrong when I put forward the idea of pit settlements, because although the idea which I have always held is that it is desirable that the employers and the employés should come into as direct touch as possible, for I believe that to be one of the solutions of our difficulties in industry, yet at the time time I have always been opposed to any interference by employers in the internal affairs of trade unions. What takes place let it take place naturally and not be imposed upon the industry. I think we shall see a distinct trend in the direction of direct negotiations; because, unlike the old days when direct negotiations were found to be impossible, happily, in the present day, employers of labour are becoming somewhat more civilised than their ancestors were.
Mr. WILLIAM ADAMSON
I am sure the House has listened with interest to the last speaker, who has outlined his ideas of the mining situation, and has spoken on behalf of the coalowners. I would remind the hon. Member that we have had some experience of the ideas of the coalowners as to how the industry could be assisted, and we know how those ideas have materialised. Several of my colleagues have pointed out that the remedies propounded by the coalowners—whatever may have been the relationship between the Government and the coalowners—were accepted in the latter part of the struggle by the Government, and we know how miserably those remedies have failed to produce any improvement in the coal trade.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Does the right hon. Member thereby imply that, if we had not extended the hours of work, the situation in the coal industry would have been better? That is the real point.
We have had experience as an industry of the remedies propounded by the coalowners, and eventually adopted by the Government, and we know that they have miserably failed to touch the problem in the mining industry.
I want to associate myself with what has been said by my colleagues. I am glad that we have had an opportunity of discussing the tragic conditions in the mining industry, and bringing the situation before the country and urging the Government to take some steps in order to deal with the problem. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) said that he did not think the Government could do very much, and he went on to outline how in the process of time the mining industry will gradually improve. What we are more particularly interested in at the moment is the appalling conditions that exist in the industry and to urge the Government to do something to deal with them. It is not good enough for the hon. Member to remind us that 25 years hence or 10 years hence the coal industry will begin to revive and take a new lease of life. I believe that we shall gradually get over our difficulties, but the chief difficulty that we are bringing before the House, the Government and the country to-day is the appalling conditions which exist in the mining industry.
In my own part of the country, the conditions are just as serious as in Durham, Northumberland and South Wales. In 1924 we had over 30,000 persons employed in the mines in my part of the country, whereas to-day we are down to 20,000. That means a reduction of one-third in the number of persons employed in the mining industry. That gives us an idea of the appalling problem which confronts us. One-third of the mining population are idle to-day with their wives and families and are depending upon unemployment benefit. A considerable number of them have been so 2124 long unemployed that they are cut off from the unemployment insurance benefit and are now depending upon the parish. That is the position in the district which I represent, and a similar condition prevails in other parts of the coalfield. I could describe how these conditions have gradually come into being, but that would take me into the region already covered by the hon. Member for Mossley.
The condition of affairs is affecting not only the mining population but traders and professional people living in those parts of the country, who have been brought together to meet the needs of the mining population. In the mining districts of Durham, Northumberland, South Wales and my own district certain of our mining villages are becoming entirely derelict. With a condition of affairs like that, the effect is bound to be serious not only among the mining population but among the people who have been gathered together there and have been associated with the mining population during the whole time that those villages have been in existence. That is placing upon our parish councils and our boards of guardians an intolerable burden which they are unable to bear, and which they will be unable to bear in the future. That is one direction in which the Government could come to the assistance of the mining populations.
One problem which is becoming very serious in some mining districts, is that of rent and rates. There are certain mining districts where this particular problem is not so serious; in Durham and Northumberland I do not think it is as serious as in my part of the country, and in Wales and certain other parts. The rent and rates of the people who are idle among the mining population have been gradually accumulating until they have reached stupendous proportions. The employers of labour, the private owners of property, and the public bodies who own property have exercised up to the present time a considerable amount of forbearance and have not pressed our people bloodthirstily in regard to payment of rent and rates. But the problem is becoming so serious that not only does it mean that the unemployed man is unable to meet it, but gradually the employers of labour and the private owners of property and the local bodies, such as the county councils and the dis- 2125 trict councils, will be unable to meet it, unless the Government can come to their assistance.
Having regard to the importance of the mining industry, we urge the importance of nursing and tiding this vital industry over its difficulties and enabling the people who have followed this occupation all their lives to overcome their difficulties. It is important for the nation as a whole, and it is the duty of the Government to do whatever they can to assist the industry and the mining population. I hope that the Secretary for Mines and the Secretary of State for Scotland who is largely involved in this—
I am relying upon the Scriptural text that the greatest sinner may return. I am not without hope, seeing that the Secretary of State for Scotland is as much involved in this question as the Secretary for Mines, that he will assist us. I make an appeal to the Secretary for Mines, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and through them to the Government, that they should face the situation and face it at once, and do whatever can be done in order to assist the mining population over their difficulties.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
This question of the coal situation has been discussed in this House during the last 10 years more often than any other subject. In every one of these Debates, I have been an attentive listener or a participant in the discussions. I have come to the conclusion that the time has arrived when discussion should come to an end. Talk will not do any good in regard to the problem with which we are confronted. The time has come for action. We want to see the Government take this job in hand and deal with it in a proper and businesslike fashion. I listened to the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) as he developed the argument which has been put forward in every Debate for the last 10 years, that by cutting prices you are going to expand your markets, revive prosperity and solve the coal problem. As an abstract proposition that seems to be arguable, but when we look at the facts in the mining industry I marvel at the temerity of an hon. Member who can get up and 2126 still put that argument before the House of Commons as a reason why things should be left alone and they will right themselves by and by. During the last eight years, since 1920, that has been the one stock argument of the coalowners and the Government; cut prices and it will expand markets.
Let me refer to what has been done in South Wales in that direction. In 1920 the miners in Wales were paid in wages £65,000,000. Last year, they were paid £21,000,000. Since 1920 the wages bill has dropped by £44,000,000; that is the contribution of the miners to an attempt to solve this coal problem. Every penny of that £44,000,000 has been put into a price reduction policy. In 1920, in addition to paying the miners of South Wales £65,000,000, there was a surplus in the industry of £23,750,000, and every penny of that £23,750,000, like the £44,000,000 from wages, has been put into the same policy. It has all gone. It has all been used for price cutting. During the same period there has been a reduction in costs other than wages of £12,000,000, and that £12,000,000 has gone the same way. It has all gone in price cutting. In addition to that the coalowners last year called in £2,250,000 by way of deficit or overdraft or loan, and the total therefore that has been put into one year's output in the Welsh coalfield amounts to £82,000,000, as compared with eight years ago. That is £82,000,000 on one year's output. That is what undercutting has been doing in the Welsh coalfield. And what has been the result on the expansion of mines? In 1920 we had an output of rather less than 47,000,000 tons; last year the output was rather more than 47,000,000 tons. It was practically the same; and we have put £82,000,000 into this policy of expanding our markets. It is not £82,000,000 spread over eight years, but spent in one year.
How much more do the Government think this policy must be tested before they abandon it and except a commonsense policy, the only policy which can deal effectively with the coal situation? When the Labour party was in office in 1924 there were 1,200,000 persons employed in the mining industry as a whole. In 1926 there were 1,100,000; in 1927 there were over 1,000,000, and in 1928 something more than 900,000. If this policy is pursued we shall by next year have 800,000 2127 persons employed in the industry. The Government's record of five years' treatment of the coal question will result in the number of men employed going down from 1,200,000 to 800,000, a decrease of 400,000. It means that one-third of the industry will have collapsed. I am not suggesting that the whole of the fault attaches to the Government, but I say without the least partisan feeling in the matter that when you find £82,000,000 being put into one year's work and failing to expand the markets by that process, that to-day it should appear to the Government that in the general stoppage they were guilty of an unpardonable and inexcusable act of folly in putting all this increased output resulting from the longer working day on to the market, when they knew for years past that there had been a cut-throat policy in a scramble for trade which had already brought the industry to the verge of bankruptcy.
Are the Government now prepared to go back on that blunder? The deliberate action of the Government in changing the hours from seven to eight is responsible, and nothing else, for the fact that 150,000 miners in this country are to be numbered among the unemployed, and a reversal to a seven-hour day would mean that an additional 150,000 possible workers would be employed in the mining industry. I am not saying that it is going to mean 150,000 more than we have got, because we have not finished going out vet. We have still a lot to learn with regard to the eight-hour day and the determination of the Government and the coalowners to continue their policy until they have expended their markets. They have failed to expand them. They have gone as far as they can go; and the result is that the coalowners, who would have nothing to do with assisting the miners to get the industry dealt with on a national basis, are now approaching us to join with them in getting the Government to do something.
What do the Government propose to do? It has been suggested that the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are to be regarded as something which will help to solve the problem. It is estimated that the complete effect of a reduction in the rates and a reduction in the railway freights will mean a reduction in the costs from 8d. to 6d. per ton. 2128 I think the figure 6½d. has been suggested, but I am not in a position to give what can be regarded as an authoritative statement. I am told by an hon. Member behind me that the Board of Trade has calculated the amount at 6½d. per ton, and I suppose they have made a careful calculation. That is what we have to look forward to. It is not long since we had the eight hours day. That was estimated to reduce costs by 2s. 6d. or 3s. per ton. That has gone. It is not long since there was a subsidy of £23,000,000, and it was estimated that it would mean a reduction of 4s. 6d. to 5s. per ton. It has solved nothing, and it is certain if the relief of rates is handed over to the coalowners, to be operated on the policy that has been pursued hitherto, and which, according to the hon. Member for Mossley, appears to be still the policy of the coalowners for the future, that it will only be like a drop in the ocean. It will go through the industry like water through a sieve. It will go like all the rest has gone.
Even this relief, temporary though it may be, is not to come until October of next year. We shall not be able to keep our collieries going until October of next year. I left the country about the middle of January, and the last figure I saw of the number of persons employed in the mining industry in South Wales was 177,000. I came back in 12 weeks' time and the first figure I saw was that the number employed was 165,000. In 12 weeks the number of persons employed had gone down from 177,000 to 165,000, a reduction of 12,000 in 12 weeks. That is at the rate of 1,000 per week. You have to go back 20 or 23 years in order to find a time when there were so few men employed in South Wales as at the present time, and what is true of South Wales is true of all the exporting districts, and in large measure of the Midlands coal producing coalfields as well. In South Wales the position week by week is getting worse. I shall be going home to-night, and to-morrow morning when I look out of my bedroom window I shall see a valley which is practically derelict. I shall see the homes in which live thousands of people; I shall see the Caeran Colliery, which for 20 years has employed more than 2,000 Men. This was reduced to 1,500; and a fortnight ago these 1,500 were put on the 2129 road. The horses have been raised to the surface and the whole of the village is derelict. The whole of the social organisation, the whole of the religious organisation, everything that is near and dear to the people in this valley depends on continuity of employment in that colliery, and the collieries round about.
I should like the Cabinet, who can do something, who have the responsibility and authority to tackle the problem. It is no use preaching to the Secretary for Mines. With the best will in the world he can do nothing. He has not the authority or the power, and nothing can be done to deal with this problem until the Government make up their mind to take the job in hand as a Government. The position is so desperate that it makes me despondent. I hate to go home and face the conditions which exist there. I see the look of gloom and despair and despondency on the faces of the people. I do not wonder that there are extremists about, because it raises the indignation even of moderate men. What we say clearly and definitely is that the miners are entitled to ask, not as a charity but as a right, a fair and square deal from the British people. They are entitled to demand that. We say that it can never be conceded to them until the Government realise that to solve the problem, they must treat this industry as one unit and pool the resources. When they have done that they have to ascertain what are the limits within which the industry can be worked profitably and can give the workers a decent livelihood. Then they have to deal with the other side of the problem. What are they going to do with those for whom work cannot be found? It is no use thinking that this problem is going to solve itself. As I have said for years past, the further this thing goes, the more am I convinced that there is no other solution than, first of all, to pool the resources of the industry, and then to mobilise the resources of the nation in order to put the industry on its feet. Until that is done the industry will go from its present bad condition to a worse and worse condition all along the line. All the evidence that can be adduced goes to prove that that is a correct statement. There is no hope for the industry unless it is unified and made one business, and 2130 the whole of the sales and marketing and merchanting put into proper hands, and a business provided that will enable the industry to be carried on as a going concern.
After giving very careful consideration to the subject, I say that the first thing that ought to be done is for the Government to retrace their steps and to wipe out the great blunder that they made in 1926 when they increased the working hours. That will go a long way to relieve the situation. There is not an atom of evidence to suggest that we should have one ton of coal less in the market. We have nothing to show that there is any expansion of output with the longer hours, but if the course I have suggested were adopted we should have probably 130,000 more men in the industry than we have to-day. Then the Government want to change their policy. They have to face the facts and get rid of the silly notion that by cutting prices and reducing wages and increasing hours they can expand the market. There is no case to be made out for that policy. When they abandon that policy they have to face the alternative, and that is to reconstruct and reorganise this industry and make it fit in with the changed conditions that have grown up. It is no use looking at the situation from the standpoint of pre-War days. We have a different situation today and we must reconstruct this industry in the light of the new conditions that exist.
I do not expect that as a result of this Debate the Secretary for Mines will get up and say anything to indicate that the Government at long last have decided to change their attitude and adopt a policy that will affect this industry. I know that he has no power to do anything off his own bat, but I hope that the statistics, the economic facts and the great human considerations that have been referred to, will at least induce the Government to sit down and reconsider the position, to see whether they have not made mistakes, whether they are not going on the wrong lines, whether there is not another avenue that should be pursued, and whether it is not possible to prevent the overwhelming calamity that is looming ahead. The position as it is to-day is not the worst, and everyone knows that that is so. There is an overwhelming calamity looming over the 2131 coalfields of this country, and if this Debate has the effect of inducing the Government to reconsider the whole situation in the light of present-day facts, our discussion will not have been in vain. I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I presume, is present to represent the Cabinet, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines will seriously consider whether this matter ought not to be taken in hand by the Government again with a view to an entire change of policy and the treatment of this industry on an entirely different footing.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Commodore Douglas King)
I would like to add a word of appreciation to those expressed by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) of the tone of this Debate. Certainly it has been unusually sympathetic and understanding in comparison with many of the very heated Debates on the mining industry to which I have listened in times past. The right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) has perfectly fairly been dealing with the question of unemployment, for which he blames the Government. Before dealing with the general situation I would like to say a few words in reply to his remarks on the numbers that are unemployed and his views as to why they are unemployed. I am not going over the full details of the somewhat long Debate that we had only a few weeks ago on the Eight Hours Act, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was pointed out then, and I think it is perfectly obvious to all Members of the House, that had it not been for the increase of working hours and the reduction of 2s. 6d. a ton in working costs thereby ensured, there is no doubt whatever that many more mines would have been closed and many more men would have been thrown out of work. It is generally accepted that the extension of hours did result in a reduction of 2s. 6d. a ton in working expenses. That certainly placed the industry 2s. 6d. a ton better off in competition. I am not speaking of competition between different areas or different collieries in this country, but of competition between this country and 2132 foreign countries in our export trade. The industry here was certainly placed 2s. 6d. a ton better off because of the Eight Hours Act.
In what I have now to say I do not want to use my time in dealing with small details, but would rather deal with general principles. The right hon. Gentleman said that if the Eight Hours Act were abolished there would probably be employment for another 150,000 men. I would draw his attention to the programme of his own party on the mining situation. I quoted it once before, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was then present, or probably he would not have quoted these figures to-day His own party's programme clearly states that even under the Labour scheme there would be no prospect of the industry keeping 1,100,000 miners permanently employed, and it goes on to say:The view is generally held that there is a surplus of 200,000 to 250,000 workers in the mining industry.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
Does that not harmonise with what I said? I said that I estimated that the result of the eight hours day was that 150,000 men were thrown out of employment. This document mentions 250,000, and that with the 150,000 makes 400,000. Those are the figures that I gave. In that programme you have a statement that we realise that there were more men in the industry than could be absorbed. That is the problem, and I say that you have first of all to reconstruct the industry, and then to deal with the other problem.
§ Commodore KING
I do not agree with the right hen. Gentleman in the figures he has quoted. If the seven-hours' day were reinstated and employment were to be given to these 150,000 more men, that result would disagree with the figures which have been carefully thought out by the right hon. Gentleman's own party. I do not want to make a debating point of it at all. I merely disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's figures, and I bring the matter forward because I want to have it realised that it is accented by the Socialist party, and by the Liberal party in their publication, as it is by my Department, that from 200,000 to 250,000 surplus people are in the mining industry 2133 and have to be disposed of somehow. With regard to the general state of depression in the mining industry, I am sure that all Members of this House fully realise and sympathise with the amount of unemployment that exists. Distress is very great in many areas. I would ask hon. Members, particularly those on the Labour Benches, to stand back from the situation for a moment. I have always considered that they rather lose perspective by taking a close-up view of the individual problems in their different districts, and that by standing back and getting a more distant view they would get a more comprehensive idea of the whole situation.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Commodore KING
Hon. Members should stand back from the wood and get a view of the whole forest instead of having their minds fully occupied by the nearest trees. I get too much of the close-up view. During the past few months my Department has been going into the question of the actual capacity —not the potential capacity—of the mines of the country during the past 12 months. In order to do so, the Department took out the largest weekly output for every pit in the country for last year. It is obvious that if the largest production in any week were carried right through the year, that would give the actual capacity of any individual pit. At any rate, it would give a fair estimate of what the pit could actually produce during the year. Working out the figures for the whole of the pits in the country on that basis we get an actual capacity for this country of 330,000,000 tons of coal a year. Do not let hon. Members, however, think that that is the potential capacity. Many of these mines would, of course, if the demand were present, be able to double or treble that capacity. I am simply talking about actual capacity based on the figures of actual production last year. Hon. Members who are interested in the coal industry probably realise that at the present time the greatest amount of which we can dispose in a year is between 250,000,000 tons and 260,000,000 tons. The difference, therefore, between the actual capacity of last year and the amount of which we can dispose in the 2134 year, represents practically a quarter of our actual capacity, and that is a serious problem. It means that practically a quarter of our actual capacity is not at present disposable.
§ Commodore KING
I am trying to put a picture before the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not want to be turned off into a discussion as to the different ways in which we might account for that capacity. As I have said, the actual capacity has really nothing to do with the working day. The right hon. Gentleman must realise perfectly well that, if the demand existed, the actual capacity of last year could be increased almost indefinitely. The problem of our actual capacity, as against our disposable capacity, is the problem which we all have to face—Members on the other side of the House, as well as Members on this side. The figures, as I have pointed out, show that a quarter of our actual capacity is not required, and it would be wasteful to produce it since we cannot dispose of it. It is also a guide to the amount of superfluous labour that we have in the mining industry, when we find that one-quarter of our actual capacity is not disposable. Therefore, the problem which we have to meet is one of over-production. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore, when he was complaining of certain schemes, said the principle that you should only produce what you could sell was a wrong principle. I think that was practically what he said. He suggested that you should always endeavour to produce more than you could sell so as to increase your market. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, will agree that in the coal mining industry the pits do not have large stocks on hand to be drawn upon, but work to orders placed in advance. It is, without doubt, the case that the output is based on the number of orders in hand, and that, of course, can immediately be increased should the orders increase.
I do not know that I need go too deeply into the question of markets. I think the question of foreign markets was dealt with fairly thoroughly in the discussion on the Eight Hours Act. But when so much responsibility and 2135 blame is placed on the Government with regard to the present state of affairs, I do not think it is unfair to remind hon. Members that a large part of our difficulties is the result of the seven months' stoppage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not at all!"] Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to express my view, which I think is almost universally admitted. Anyone who knows the facts must realise what was lost during that seven months' stoppage, for which I am not blaming hon. Members opposite or the Miners' Federation any more than I blame the Mining Association.
§ Commodore KING
I will not waste the time of the House on such a point. It is obvious that whoever was to blame, and certainly the Government were not to blame—
§ Commodore KING
If the hon. Member will give me the opportunity of stating my case and refrain from making senseless interruptions, I will try to proceed.
§ Commodore KING
I think the hon. Member's interruptions were impertinent. What I want to point out to the House is the result of that seven months stoppage. One market alone which we lost owing to that stoppage was the Scandinavian market, which is a very important one to the Humber trade. That was lost largely because during that stoppage the Polish coafields were able to develop their capacity and to jump in when our supplies failed.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
Did we not lose the Scandinavian market largely because of the embargo which was put on long before the stoppage?
§ Commodore KING
No, Sir. I cannot agree with that view. I think the figures will show the great drop in our market in Scandinavia after the resumption. I 2136 think the hon. Member, if he goes into the figures, will find that the interpretation which I have just made is correct. There is no doubt that the Polish mines developed their capacity during that stoppage.
§ Commodore KING
I am well aware of the method of drawing an hon. Member off his argument, and I am proof against it. I am trying to develop my argument and, if the hon. Member likes to put me any question regarding the statistics at a future time, I shall be pleased to give him what information I can. I said at the outset that I was trying to deal here with general principles.
§ Commodore KING
If the hon. Gentleman does not like listening to what I am saying he has his remedy, but he must allow me to speak. I have listened with perfect courtesy to the speeches which have already been delivered, and I have paid a tribute to the moderation of those speeches. I rose with every intention of falling into line with the previous speakers in that respect. If I am in any way provocative, I apologise to hon. Members opposite, but I assure them that I have no desire to do anything except give a general view of the position of the coal industry at the present time. I have mentioned the question of markets because markets affect our prices. If there is no demand for coal, obviously prices in the ordinary way are reduced, and it is the large contraction of our markets which has swallowed up all these reductions—the half-crown under the Eight Hours Act and the other reductions to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore has referred. With regard to the Humber ports, they are up against this Polish competition which, as hon. Members know, was increased only the other day by the granting of permission to the Polish coal trade to increase their price in their inland market by something approximating to two shillings a ton. This increase of their prices to their own consumers is to be made so that the benefit may be given to their export trade to Scandinavia.
§ Commodore KING
I am only pointing out the fact. Surely the hon. Member realises that, if we are faced with such stern facts as this, and with the grant of such great assistance—I will not call it a subsidy—to our opponents, our coal trade, on which he and other representatives opposite are dependent, cannot sit down calmly, fold their hands and say, "What are we to do?" If there is this two shillings advantage against the British coal trade and a further-cut in prices, surely he will agree that it would not be British and certainly would not be common sense or business at the present time, to sit down and say, "We cannot help it." We have to do our best to meet that competition.
§ Commodore KING
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to develop this point. I am taking rather longer than I had intended. The complaint has been made by hon. Members that all that has been given to the industry has been wasted in cut-throat competition and useless price cutting. I am trying to give some idea as to how price cutting in the export market is taking place. Hon. Members have also complained—justly on many occasions—of price-cutting as between different collieries and different areas. As they have raised those complaints, it is rather difficult to see how and why they should now criticise certain schemes which have been brought into operation in different parts of the country before those schemes have even had a reasonable trial. These schemes are intended to help those particular areas and are formed with the idea of getting better prices and steady employment in those areas. Surely the interests of the miners are just as greatly concerned in this matter as the interests of the owners. The two interests are identical. The owners are trying to get back certain markets and to increase the price of coal, because, although the reductions mentioned have so far been swallowed up, the raising of coal is still done at a loss. It is in the interest of the mineowners to do away with that loss and it is in the interest of the miners to have more regular employment and 2138 higher wages. We all agree that their wages are at a very low point. It is to their advantage that they should have better wages and also more regular employment and it is to the benefit of the owners that they should be able to get a price for the coal which will pay them instead of producing at a loss, as they are doing at the present time.
§ Commodore KING
I cannot tell the whole of the truth because of the interruptions of hon. Members opposite. I wanted to deal with the reference of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore to a scheme which it is hoped to bring into force in South Wales, and I want to point out the differences between certain schemes which are now in existence. The scheme which is proposed for South Wales is one to regulate price. The South Wales owners desire to set a minimum price. They are seeking to cover their loss by hardening the price, which is to their benefit and, as hon. Members opposite have said, to the benefit of the miners themselves. That is the way in which South Wales, by setting a minimum selling price and by putting a levy of so much a ton on the coal and compensating those who do not sell at the minimum price, are seeking to raise prices.
With regard to the five counties scheme—the Yorkshire scheme, as it was first called, and then the five counties scheme, which is now in fact the seven counties scheme—they are seeking to reduce their over production, to which I have already referred, by setting a quota. I have given the figures in the House on several occasions, but that quota is now about 67½ per cent. on the basic tonnage selected by each colliery for any year during the past 15 years. That is a limitation of production by quota. They, of course, are also seeking to get in competition, in Scandinavian and other foreign markets, by raising a levy on all coal produced and using that levy for giving a subsidy on coal sold for export. By 2139 that means they are trying to get back, as the right hon. Gentleman was saying, the markets which they have lost. [Interruption.] It has been pointed out that so far as Northumberland and Durham are concerned, they may have actually benefited by that scheme, but they are not putting a subsidy on coal to be sold in Northumberland and Durham or in any of the English markets served by Northumberland and Durham. A subsidy is being put on in competition with the foreigner.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
They are putting it on to the markets that were previously held by Northumberland and Durham.
§ Commodore KING
Yes, but they are foreign markets, and it is in those foreign markets where Northumberland and Durham, as well as the Humber, are feeling the competition of Poland and other foreign competitors that the levy is being used for giving a subsidy.
§ Commodore KING
I must be allowed to explain the position as it is now. With regard to the Scottish scheme, they are working on a different principle. They are limiting output by compensating a certain number of pits for closing. They ask some pits to close so that the remaining pits which are working should work as far as possible at full capacity and, therefore, be able to produce more cheaply. They are compensating those pits for closing by raising a levy of 6d. per ton on all coal raised and a further levy on coal supplied to public utility companies, which up to the present time have been buying coal much too cheaply. Those are schemes that hon. Members opposite are criticising. In the past, they have always been criticising the owners for doing nothing, that they have been entering into cut-throat competition and wasting all the savings that the men have made. Yet when now, for the first time in their history, the coalowners have come together and have worked out these schemes, hon. Members opposite are blaming them for the operation of these schemes which are started for their own benefit.
§ Commodore KING
Hon. Members must surely realise the step in advance that is shown by these independent schemes which I have already enumerated, the three different schemes. Even 12 months ago very few people in this House would have believed that the coal-owners would have come together to the extent of beginning to operate such schemes. It is a very important and a very definite step in the right direction, and when they have taken that step, surely they deserve a certain amount of sympathy and co-operation from hon. Members opposite who have been advocating this. I asked hon. Members when I started to stand back from the trees so that they could see the wood. An hon. Member here and an hon. Member there are standing underneath a great big tree and cannot see any other trees at all. [Interruption.] I quite agree that many hon. Members opposite have been connected with the mining industry all their lives, and they realise that I have only been appointed to the Department of Mines for some three months, but during that time I have done my best to get as full a knowledge as possible of the mining industry, and—
§ Commodore KING
If the hon. Member will allow me, I should like to say a few words with regard to what the Government are going to do.
§ Commodore KING
It will not be news, but I will cut out some of the other things that I was going to tell hon. Members, because of the limited time. I would like to refer to what the Government are going to do for the mining industry by way of the reduction of local rates and with railway freights.
§ Commodore KING
I am sure the hon. Member is far too young yet to be thinking of dying. That is, to my mind, a real help, which hon. Members opposite have somewhat grudgingly admitted. It is not merely the actual benefit to the coal industry by the reduction of 6d. to 8d. per ton in the cost of production through the remission of rates and railway freights, but what is going to do more good than anything else probably is the 2141 reflected help to other industries. With regard to the iron and steel industry, hon. Members opposite were quoting figures given by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade with regard to the amount of relief on railway freights and local rates. He also quoted in that Debate the figures with regard to finished steel. The accumulated relief on the various heavy materials, such as coal, coke, ore, and so on, which go to make up a ton of finished steel, will amount to something like 4s. a ton of steel.
§ Commodore KING
Hon. Members cannot in one breath say it is going to do no good at all and in the next breath complain that it is not coming in tomorrow. They cannot have it both ways. It is quite impossible, as everybody realises, for a great scheme like this to be brought in at a fortnight's or a month's notice.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
Will the hon. and gallant Member explain how it will be possible for £18,000,000—I understand that that is the figure in connection with the Government's rating proposals— given indiscriminately to all industries, to help the mining industry, when £23,000,000, given indiscriminately to that one industry for nine months, did not solve the difficulty?
§ Commodore KING
I am afraid that that question had better be dealt with on the Bill introducing that scheme. But it will be one extremely useful method of assisting not only the coal industry but the other heavy industries of this country, and through those industries again there will be a repercussive effect on the coal industry. Hon. Members realise that in every ton of finished steel there is required something like four tons of coal, and, therefore, this assistance to the steel industry is going to have a very useful and helpful reflection on the coal industry. In those ways I think the Government are rendering very considerable assistance, and—
§ Commodore KING
I only regret that I cannot get anything inside it, and I am afraid that he does not follow what I am saying. [Interruption.] Really, I do not think, from what I can gather, that hon. Members opposite are anxious to hear what I have to say. I have already told hon. Members that I consider that the Government's proposals with regard to the remission of local rates and the railway freights will be of very considerable assistance, not only to the coal industry but to other industries. The greatest assistance that this House can give, and that hon. Members opposite can give to their own industry, however, is to act in a spirit of co-operation and good will toward these schemes which are under trial at the present time. These schemes are only under trial. One hon. Member opposite said that I had been backing these schemes from the start, but the House will realise that they have only been in operation at the most for two months, and it is not fair to judge any scheme, any new venture of that kind, on such a short experience. I think they represent an effort on the part of the industry itself to help itself, and I would urge hon. Members opposite at least to give them a fair trial and co-operation before they—
§ Mr. PALING
With regard to the Yorkshire scheme, when they were first considering it, the Chairman said that if we were going to have a war and had to fight, we should find it disastrous, not only to this country, but to every other country, and that if they could avoid that fight by reaching an international arrangement, it would be much better for Europeans and for the people of this country too. Now, is anybody taking any initiative in this business of trying to arrive at an international agreement, and, if not, is not that one direction in which the Ministry of Mines could give distinctive help to the mining industry?
§ Commodore KING
Of course, there are always people in the different countries such as Germany, Poland, etc., who are working in that direction, and an hon. Friend of mine on this side a short time ago was advocating closer relations with Germany on this very point. The question is always open and under review, but I, at any rate, as far as my Department is concerned, am taking and can take part in no negotiations of that kind at the present time.