Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,000,000, be granted to His Majesty to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1929, for a Grant in Aid of the Railway Freight Rebates (Anticipation) Fund.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)
It will, of course, be within the knowledge of the Committee that the proposals of the Government dealing with unemployment and depression in industry group themselves naturally into two divisions. There is the main proposal, which will be debated at length next week, and which seeks to de-rate industrial hereditaments as to 75 per cent., and all agricultural land and farm buildings. But a very useful adjunct and reinforcement to this proposal is that represented by the reduction of freights which forms an integral part of the Measure which will be discussed next week, and which, in my humble and considered opinion, will just give that further stimulus which will enable our industries in the depressed areas to compete far more successfully with foreign competitors than they are able to do at this moment. The freight reduction proposals have, however, been singled out for special treatment in anticipation, and it is my duty to-day to propose a Supplementary Estimate of £1,000,0000 as an instalment of the total sum which will be required for carrying this proposal into effect.
It is, of course, impossible, as the Committee will understand, for the Government to be able to say exactly what the amount should be which they should ask the House of Commons to provide for this purpose, but, to the best of their knowledge, they 1956 have ascertained and reckoned that a 75 per cent. de-rating of transport hereditaments on the railways, as defined in the Act to which this Parliament gave assent last summer, would roughly amount to £4,000,000 a year. Of course, as the Committee knows, that £4,000,000 is not to be paid to the railway companies for their own uses, but is, under the permanent scheme, as it will be under this temporary anticipation, to be passed on to the users of those railways who send merchandise and goods over those lines. It is not intended, nor would it be right that this relief should go to anything but merchandise. The Committee will also appreciate that though £4,000,000 a year is a large sum, yet if you spread that amount over the whole of the railway freights in this country, the relief would be so small, something round about 4 per cent., that the effort would be dissipated. The basic industries which we wish to stimulate would not get that help which we all desire to see given, and that 4 per cent. would be really frittering away the nation's resources without giving anybody any great advantage. Therefore, it has been decided, as the Committee no doubt knows, that we must concentrate on basic industries—coal, steel, iron and agriculture. As regards coal, the relief is to be, if I may put it that way, super concentrated. The relief is not to be given to all classes of coal, but to certain classes of coal, which are used in export or in certain industries in this country.
Hon. Members can see in the White Paper the technical definition of these selected traffics, but if the Committee will allow me, I will, in a very brief form and more colloquially, put before them what these traffics are, as some of the phrases used in the White Paper are technical, and might not he understood by people outside the trades. The super-concentration would he on coal, coke, patent fuel for shipment overseas, foreign bunkers and bunkers for fishing vessels, and on coal, coke and patent fuel for blast furnaces and steel works. Those are the freights which will receive a reduction under the permanent scheme and also under the temporary scheme. The industrial traffics are pit-props., iron ores, lime and limestone, and certain waste products containing iron for blast furnaces and 1957 steel works. The agricultural traffics will be manures used in Great Britain, feeding-stuffs, potatoes—except new potatoes, which get no advantage—milk not condensed, and live stock, and I may say that all these items, these selected traffics, have been agreed with the representative associations of the various trades.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The Minister says that associations have been consulted. Is he aware that the agriculturists of the East Riding are very dissatisfied about the differentiation between washed carrots and dirty carrots? Who was consulted? Who represented himself as speaking on their behalf?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
We consulted the Farmers' Union as representing the trade as a whole. I am very sorry that they did not deal with carrots, but we had to consult the Farmers' Union as representing agriculture as a whole. As for coal, in concentrating on this coal we are only carrying out the desires of those representing the coal and the steel trades, on the ground that the whole relief should be made effective and go where it was most needed, namely, iron and steel and coal sold in competitive markets.
§ Mr. TOWNEND
It is surely incorrect to state that the effect of this rebate will go to the iron and steel engineering. It does not do so by any means.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
We say that generally it goes to the iron and steel trade. Hon. Members can raise this point in debate later on. This super-concentration resulted from representations made to us. It also agreed with the views of the Government, which were announced by the Prime Minister on 24th July in the Debate on Unemployment. This freight relief with which we are more particularly concerned to-day was, I think, hon. Members will agree, although naturally they offered criticism, generally welcomed as an effort to help our de- 1958 pressed industries. The greatest criticism that was levied—and I can understand the criticism—was: "It is very nice to have this concession in October next year, but meanwhile the sands of our industrial life are running out. Cannot you do something to anticipate it? "This pressure, which was put upon us by many associations, was very well reinforced by a speech which was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) on 7th June last, and I would ask the attention of the Committee for a moment to this extract from his speech.
He said:I proposed two nights ago that there should be given now that relief in railway rates and railway freights which was contemplated to be offered to industries which are overburdened in this country at the present time. In the main these are the coal trade and the iron and steel trade. As I pointed out, I was not then suggesting that the coal carried for ordinary purposes for sheltered trades should obtain the relief, but only that the coal carried for the purposes of iron and steel works and for export should have the reduction in order that the coal trade might receive a stimulus which it so much requires at the present time. How would that work out? As far as I can estimate the results, it would mean in the ease of coal for export something like 8d. per ton.I think he rather over-estimated it. It is something like 7d. or 7¼d.Hon. Members are aware that a relief of 6d. per ton on coal at the present time would he an enormous help in competition with our rivals in such markets as the Argentine where we are now competing under the greatest possible difficulties. I think the Minister of Health will now understand the position I have taken up, and I urge the Government to take this question into their most serious consideration, because I believe that in this way we could confer an immediate benefit upon these industries which at the present moment are in a crippled condition and most in 1need of help."—[OFFICIAL RRPORT, 7th June, 1928; cols. 401–2, Vol. 218.]I could not put the case better than the right hon. Member for Hillhead put it, and, because he put it so well, because we are convinced of the justice of the case and because we have had deputations urging that this should be carried out, I am now bringing in this Supplementary Estimate. In fact., we are now asking the Committee to give to the depressed areas what the coalowners are asking, what the miners are asking, what the local authorities are 'asking, and what the Members of Parliament want for 1959 these depressed areas. Before we deal, as we shall next week, on Second Reading, with the permanent scheme, we have got to tackle 10 months, from 1st December to 30th September.
§ Mr. LAWSON
May I 'ask the right hon. Gentleman if the miners really asked that they should put 7d. a ton against a great number of the colliery companies in this country? Did the miners ask that the Government should sabotage a great deal of the industry in the North of England?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
What they did ask, along with a great many other authorities, was that freights on railways should be reduced as much as possible.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what the Government's policy is with regard to the private lines'?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The hon. Member need not be afraid that I shall shirk the discussion about the private lines, but I propose to deal with that at the end of my speech. We have got now to deal with the 10 months. We are not taking a Vote now for the whole 10 months; we are taking it simply to the end of the financial year for £1,000,000. Though it may seem insufficient, the Committee will realise that claims for payment will not come in till probably Christmas, or about then, and, therefore, the £1,000,000 ought to take us to the end of the financial year. There will be another Estimate for the balance to carry us to the end of September next. Hon. Members will see that in the Second Schedule certain selected traffics are set out in detail, and I will not say any more about them, because I have dealt with them in general terms.
There is also the rate of rebate which, I submit, is the most important point of all which arises on the Schedule. We have got to find for these 10 months five-sixths of £4,000,000. That is, £3,333,333, which does not come like rain from Heaven, but has to come out of the pocket of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health described the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a fairy godmother, and I think he is, except in one respect, in that a fairy godmother, we assume, has unlimited resources at her disposal, 1960 whereas the Chancellor of the Exchequer in these hard times has the greatest difficulty in making both ends meet. Therefore, what I am trying to put is that the interests concerned are lucky to have found a Chancellor of the Exchequer to have met them so handsomely. But there must be some limit to the amount of money which can be found from the Exchequer for this particular purpose, and, as far as I can make out, it will be impossible for us to proceed any considerable degree further than we are going under the present proposals.
We have then this £1,000,000 that we are voting up to 31st March. From that must he deducted a half of one per cent. for administrative purposes and the remainder, after you have deducted that, must be what we can give to cover the cost of all rebates, leaving a small margin for contingencies. What is the scale of the rebates? Agricultural traffics and industrial traffics will get a rebate of 10 per cent on their carriage charges. That is on the basis of the amount of the total traffics to which each section is entitled. Coal has been very generously treated, as that is the industry which is the most hard hit. It comes into most of our other industries and it is in the most depressed areas. Coal will receive a deduction, roughly, of very nearly 30 per cent. of the freight charge on the public railways. That must be a very sensible addition to the means of meeting hard times which the coal trade will have at its disposal. Hon. Members will see in the White Paper that it is not in the form of a reduction of 30 per cent. but 1½. flat rate plus 25 per cent. deduction on the remainder. The Mining Association pressed very strenuously for the inclusion of a flat rate. The railways, on the other hand, were equally vehement in the expression of a wish that a flat rate should not be included. I need not go into the merits of whether a fiat rate should or should not be included, but a fairly happy compromise was arrived at of 1½d. flat rate and 25 per cent. of the remainder. [Interruption.] There was no understanding at all that 26 should be given.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I think the Committee will agree that the difference between 25 and 26, as long as you get your rough average of 30 per cent., is not a matter of the most vital importance. What I want to make clear is that the railway companies, when the permanent scheme comes on, and when the scheme which they have to put up is gone into, investigated and decided by the Railway Rates Tribunal, reserve their right of putting before the tribunal that there should not be a flat rate, just as the Mining Association reserve their right. Similarly, agriculture can put its case, and industry can put its case. For the purpose of this 10 months scheme it is to be 1½d. flat rate plus 25 per cent. of deduction on the remainder. This is how it works out; the relief on coal is approximately equivalent, on an average, to 7d. a ton on export coal and 10d. a ton on iron and steel coal.
May I say a word as to the machinery for working the scheme? In paragraphs 3 and 4 of the White Paper it is provided that the moneys provided by Parliament will be paid to a fund to be administered by the Railway Clearing House. The Railway Clearing House is a well-known institution, the best known in the railway world, and it commands the confidence of everyone, and I do not think you could have found a better channel through which to distribute the money. In this connection, I should like to pay a tribute here to the way in which the railway companies met us. They are doing it willingly, and primarily it is because they think it is their patriotic duty to do so. It has given them a good deal of trouble. It may be said, and I hope it is true, that eventually this will result in an increase of traffics and that therefore they will benefit, but they met us at the beginning of these negotiations, not with that in their minds, but simply because they felt it was their duty to help the country when it wanted help, just as Sir Josiah Stamp came forward in a public-spirited way and helped us with transportation in the Western Highlands in the Bill which we discussed only the day before yesterday.
Then I should like to draw attention to paragraph 12, which I think is favourable to the Exchequer and to the nation. If at the end of this period of 10 months, 1962 that is 30th September next, there is a surplus in the fund, that surplus is to go to the permanent fund, which I hope Parliament will sanction in the Bill to be introduced next month, and be carried over to the credit of the fund for rebates from 1st October next, but if there is a deficit the railway companies have undertaken to carry that deficit themselves and not come on the fund to make up any money they may lose. Then, as far as the payments of these rebates is concerned, we have endeavoured to make the accounts simple so as to be understood by all—by the farmers, and other people who are not accustomed to making out accounts—and to secure that persons entitled to the money shall not he kept out of it and be obliged to claim these rebates from the fund. Therefore, in all cases except coal exported coastwise, there will be a bill sent to the person who is entitled to the rebate, the payer of the railway charges, showing him what the amount of charge is, and what the rebate is, and what the amount is that he is due to pay, and there will be no difficulty or delay in recovering the money. He will only have to pay the net cost after the rebate is deducted. But when the coal is sent coastwise for export—it first goes on the railway to a port, then down the coast to another port, where it is transferred to the bunkers of a fishing vessel or a foreign steamer or is exported—we must insist upon a claim being made for the rebate. It is a very complicated procedure to be able to trace it, and it is our duty to see that, if this Committee votes money for a certain purpose, that money is not improperly spent and goes to the purpose for which it is designed.
Now I come to the hon. Member's question: who can come into the scheme? All railway companies, including light railways, who are freight-carrying lines and whose premises will be entitled to be de-rated as freight transport hereditaments by the Bill of last summer. We have received an assurance from the four great lines, from the Metropolitan line, and from, I think, a number of the light railways, that they are prepared to come into this scheme on the terms of the White Paper, and therefore I see no reason, if the House of Commons agrees to these proposals, why the freight reduction charges should not come into operation 1963 on practically all the public railways on 1st December.
The subjects I have been dealing with have really been, I hope, non-controversial, because really it would be a pity if there were any controversy on the main principles of the scheme, and the machinery, as far as I can judge from the attitude of the Committee, seems fair to them and as good as human ingenuity can devise. But there is one subject which has been raised at Question time and by other means which is exercising the minds of certain members, namely, why should mineral lines belonging to collieries which carry the coal from the collieries to the sea or to the local port be excluded from the scope of the scheme? It is said that it is very hard on them, and that it is unjust to them that they should be excluded. Of course, we must all have sympathy for practically all those engaged in the coal trade, especially as many of these mines served by these private mineral lines are among the least prosperous. If anything could be done to improve their position, one would naturally like to do it.
The case of these private lines was urged with considerable force by Members, not only from the opposite side of the House, but. by one or two on the Government side in the Debate that took place in July. They were then excluded altogether from the permanent scheme, and the Minister of Health dealt at some length with the difficulties, insuperable he thought, of bringing them in. But eventually he said, "I will do the best I can for you. I will de-rate your lines not as transport hereditaments hut as industrial hereditaments," and, if my recollection is correct, that is incorporated in the Bill that will be discussed next week. I am bound to put before the Committee what I consider to be absolutely overwhelming reasons why the Government cannot possibly agree to this proposal of bringing these private mineral lines into the Railway Pool with the public railways. I should like the Committee, if they will, to pay attention for a few minutes while I read a letter which I received yesterday from The Railway Companies' Association. It was sent to the Ministry of Transport:SIR,I am directed by the four Amalgamated Railway Companies and the Metropolitan 1964 Railway Company to refer to your inter view"—it is addressed to the Secretary of the Ministry of Transport—with Sir Ralph Wedgwood on the 19th inst when you informed Sir Ralph Wedgwood that a suggestion had been made that railways privately-owned by colliery companies should be brought within the scope of the Railway Freight Rebates Fund to be set up under the provisions of the Eleventh Schedule to the Local Government Bill and to be administered by the Railway Clearing House and generally of the machinery set out in that Schedule for securing the allowance of rebates.I am desired by the five Railway Companies to inform the Minister that they will strenuously oppose any such proposal as involving serious injustice to the Railway Companies and to state that if it be given effect to in the Bill they will have no alternative but to oppose the Bill and take every step in their power to make such opposition effective.I am desired to remind the Minister that the basic principle of the whole scheme of Railway Freight Rebates is that the Railway Companies' rate relief shall be passed on by them through the machinery of the Pool to their own customers whereas if the privately-owned lines are to be included it will mean, in effect, that the funds and the machinery of the Pool will he used to distribute subsidies to the traders who are not customers of the railways and in fact who may not unfairly he described as competitors. Further, in the case of a deficiency these traders will be subsidised by the Railway Companies out of the Railway Companies' own pockets, an injustice which the Railway Companies are confident the Minister will net for one moment' countenance.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman states that the railway people say that these traders are not customers of theirs. May I point out that a vast amount of traffic is taken over the public railways before reaching the private lines and therefore these people are customers of the railways. Pit props and all kinds of things are conveyed in this way.
§ Mr. HARNEY
Do I understand from the reading of that letter that the public railways state that they would be subsidising the private lines? Is it not the whole scheme that the public railways pass the benefit on to the owners of the freights?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
My next point may probably answer the hon. and learned 1965 Gentleman's question. What would happen? As I see it, if these private lines come into the Railway Pool on the same terms as the public railways, they will take out very much more than they put in.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The suggestion I understand was that they should come in on the same terms as the public railways.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I was going to say that if they came in on the same terms as the public railways, which, after all, it seems to me, is that for which they have been asking—perhaps the matter will be elaborated later on in the Debate—they will take our; very considerably more than they put in. They pay in the value of their de-rating as an industrial hereditament, that is 1½d. a ton. The value of a rebate of 1½d. flat rate, plus 25 per cent., is 4d. per ton to them, and therefore they would be penalising the general fund by 2½. I submit to the Committee that that cannot be right. I do not know what the representatives of private lines may suggest later in the Debate, but I am bound to assume that they want to come in on the same terms as the public railways, and on that I would point out that they would pay in 1½d. and take out 4d. That obviously cannot be done. I want to point out that, after all, this is a proposal to benefit trade and industry, and the whole basis of the proposal is that the charges, the heavy charges, on the public railways should be reduced. Those using private lines, even after this extra help is given in the case of the public railways, will still have an advantage over those using the public lines. At the present moment, there is a difference in costs. I think that my figures are quite correct as I have gone into them very carefully. In the North Eastern area, the average cost per ton on the private mineral lines, is 1s.0¼d. whereas on the public lines it is 7½.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot be interrupted in his speech unless he is prepared to give way to the hon. Member.
Is the hon. Member rising on a point of Order'? If not, I cannot allow him to interrupt the Minister unless the Minister gives way.
I must ask hon. Members not to ask questions of the Minister under the guise of a point of Order. Hon. Members may ask as many questions as they please afterwards, but they must not interrupt.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I hope that I am not refusing to give way to hon. Members, but it is difficult to make a statement involving figures if one is constantly interrupted. I will give way as much as I can when hon. Members really want information, and I am able to give it. Let me come back to the point that I was trying to make. The figures which I gave have never, as far as I know, been disputed, and they have constantly been given in public. If at the present moment and for a number of years those using these private lines are and have been receiving an advantage of 7¼d. per ton on an average over those using the public lines, I do not see that they have so great a grievance as they make out. The grievance really is with those who use the pubic lines, who all that time have been paying 7¼d. a ton more than those who are fortunate enough to have private lines attached to them. I gave yesterday to an hon. Member opposite a statement that in the North Eastern area the reduction from the freight relief would, amount to 5¾d. per ten. The figures show without any fear of contradiction that although those using the public lines have been in a worse condition all these years and have had to pay 7¼d. per ton more they are only going to receive a benefit under these proposals of 5¾. a ton. The users of private lines will still be 1½d. better off, 1967 even after these proposals, than the users of public lines. If that is so, I really cannot see where the grievance comes in. They will still have an advantage of ½d. a ton over the public lines.
After all, what are the Government doing? Are the Government going against the wishes of the mining industry? Hon. Members from South Wales and Monmouth came to see my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and myself in March last and pointed out the terrible state of affairs in South Wales and the mining areas generally. The burden of that the whole time was: "Reduce the charge on the public railways; it is killing us. We cannot stand it; we must have some reduction." Except. a deputation representing private lines we have not had a single deputation—and we have had many of them from the mining industry—which has asked us to include the private lines in this scheme. What absolutely convinces me that we are only following public opinion in this matter is what the Durham and Northumberland Coal Owners' Association themselves say. One would think that the Durham and Northumberland Coal Owners' Association—if there was really much in the case of hon. Gentlemen who are generally putting forward the case, of these private lines—would be in favour of it. Not at all. They are not supporting it. May I read the letter which is signed "Reginald Guthrie" and sent from the Durham and Northumberland Coal Owners' Association, Coal Trade Offices, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, dated 10th of November, a little more than 10 days ago, to W. A. Lee, Mining Association of Great Britain:DEAR MR. LEE,
Private Railways and Railway Relief.
With reference to your's of the 9th inst., a special meeting of the North of England United Coal Trade Association was held in June. This was convened at the request of the owners of private railways specially to consider the question which they were then raising that some special arrangement should ho made for them to secure a greater proportion of the relief under the Government proposals than that which was provided in the arrangements then under consideration.
§ That I think is the de-rating of their railways.1968
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I know.This Association represents the coal-owners both of Durham and Northumberland. The decision of that meeting was that the Association could not support the application of the owners of private railways, but would raise no objection to the owners of such railways themselves taking such action as they thought fit.Then at a meeting of the Mining Association the representatives of the Northumberland and Durham Coal Owners stated that his Association were not prepared to support the private railways case, having regard to the fact that the railways concerned did not. suffer to the same extent from the handicap of increased railway and shipping charges. When you have the association which represents these owners not supporting it, when you have the Mining Association not asking for it, when you have the fact that they propose to take Out three times what they put in; and when you consider the fact that even when this concession is given those who use private lines will be 1½d. better off than those who use the public lines, I say that the proposals which are put forward here today have no justice, have no foundation in fact and the Government cannot possibly agree to them.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Does the Minister intend to make any statement concerning the participation of the docks?
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
The Minister said he thought that on the main issue there would be no controversy. He was over-sanguine in that view. He said, further, that this scheme was, in effect, what all sections in the depressed areas were asking for. That statement was entirely without foundation. When he came to the question of the railways and the partial treatment of one set of railways against another, I think he had against him not merely a considerable section of feeling on one side of the House but the bulk of Members in all parties. The proposal which he puts forward so far from being fair and reasonable, as he suggests, will not 1969 commend itself to the approval of this House and to the public on which this House ultimately depends.
The whole scheme is an attempt to alleviate the terribly distressed condition in which industry is at the present time. It is perfectly evident, whether we look at the figures of industry or whether we look at the great and growing figures of unemployment, that the condition of things is very serious indeed. The patient is sick from a grave malignant malady and the doctors, in the shape of the Cabinet, have been called in to diagnose the disease. What have these doctors said? They say, "We are quite unable to diagnose the disease of unemployment. We are quite unable to discover the cause."
Only the other day in this House, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, one of the most self assured members of the Government, who would not fail to say that he understood and fully comprehended the cause of unemployment if he thought he did, made this statement: "We really do not know why we have this great slump in trade." He was speaking not only for himself but for the Cabinet and the Government, and he admitted that they were quite unable to say what was the cause of the present disaster. If they are unable to discover the cause, naturally they are quite unable to discover a remedy or to attempt to cure the disease. Therefore, the nimble wits of the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the aid of the Cabinet, and he said something to this effect: "Never mind, Gentlemen, about the cause. Never mind about a remedy which will go to the root of the trouble. What the country will swallow, if we give it to them, is some patent remedy which will deal not with the cause but with some symptom of the trouble. I suggest that we should deal with one of the symptoms and that we should send a bunion plaster, with our best wishes for the happy recovery of the patient from the ills which he is suffering." Therefore, at the bidding of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the Government ventures to send a bunion plaster to deal with the sickness of the whole capitalist society of this country.
Seven months ago, by way of putting this plan into operation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer imposed a Petrol Duty to bring in £14,000,000 during the current 1970 year. He said that it was proposed to raise this money during the present year and to spend some of it after October, 1929. I was very interested at the time to notice that some members of his own party, the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) and others, protested that it was an unconstitutional procedure to raise money in one year which was not to be spent during that year but was to be spent later. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, stuck to his proposal until he found that industry did not at all appreciate being mulcted in £14,000,000 of taxation, in the hope that later on they might get some of it back again. Therefore, we have the scheme which has been put before the House to-day. This scheme creates a precedent. We have here a Bill or part of a Bill with several Clauses and Schedules embodied in what the Minister in a rather airy way has called the White Paper; this Railway Freights (Anticipation) Supplementary Estimate, it seems to me to he a very curious procedure that we should have what is in effect a Bill with Clauses, Mandatory Clauses and Schedules carried through this House, without the usual methods by which Pills are carried through, and that the procedure by Estimate prevents any party in the House from making any Amendments to the scheme or altering it in any way.
The Minister of Transport suggests that this is something on the lines of what was passed in the summer of this year. What we passed last Session was not this scheme at all, but a mere proposal preparatory to the scheme which has been put into the main Bill. This novel procedure may just come within constitutional requirements, but it certainly creates a precedent. We have to discuss what is really, in effect, part of a Bill the Second Reading of which is to be taken next Monday. That places the House in a rather peculiar position. We can, if we like, regard this scheme as standing on its own legs. If we do that we can suppose that even if the Bill which is to be introduced for Second Reading next Monday were to be thrown gut, this scheme would still remain in being. In that ease, we could regard this proposal as a definite subsidy out of the Exchequer for the relief of freights and it would be open to the Opposition to take the 1971 view that that could be supported and the main Bill could be rejected. On the other hand, it is quite clear from the White Paper that this scheme is in anticipation of the main Bill. Those who take that view will realise that it is, in effect, part of a Bill and that if the main Bill fails this particular scheme must ultimately fail with it.
It seems to me that this scheme is a kind of seven months' baby that has been cut out of the living body of the Local Government Bill, before the proper time to deliver it. Because it is of that peculiar character it will present considerable difficulties in this Debate and it will no doubt rest with the Chair to consider as the Debate proceeds how far speeches which really belong to the Bill are relevant to this part of the scheme. That difficulty will not arise in my case, because I am equally as opposed to this particular scheme as I am to the complicated and elaborate Bill of which it forms a part.
What are the real facts of the position? There is great trouble at the present time in productive industries, which find it exceedingly hard to make a living. I am referring not only to the workers, many of whom are unemployed, but to the producers of this country, whether they be employers or workers, engaged in what the Government have chosen to call productive industry and distributive industry. That applies, in the first instance, to coal, iron and steel and farming, which are referred to specifically in this scheme. It refers also to the whole industrial world. Why is it that these industries find it difficult to make a living at the present time? Why is it that they are so much worse off to-day than they were in 1924, and still more so than they were in 1920? There is no question as to the cause of this trouble. It is perfectly well known that it is due to the fall in prices. Every industrialist who thinks about it knows that owing to the fall in prices he is unable to make the living that he did in years gone by. If we note what has happened since December, 1924, we find that there has been a fall in wholesale prices of something like 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. Every industrialist realises that a fall of 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. in prices for his finished product has been the cause of his present disastrous plight.
1972 I was very much surprised when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a few days ago, in answer to me let the cat out of the bag, when he said that the fall in prices was part of the Government policy. He practically admitted that the Government policy was responsible for the serious position of trade. Why is it that this fall in prices remains such a tremendous handicap on British industry at the present time? Why is it that the handicap on British industry is greater than the handicap on foreign industries which has been caused by the fall in prices? The answer is provided quite clearly by Sir Josiah Stamp. Hon. Members on the Government side must realise that Sir Josiah Stamp is one of our greatest economists and one who cannot be the subject for any attempt at ridicule, because in addition to being a great economist he is a great industrialist and one of the governors of the Bank of England.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)
He strongly supports the proposal.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
That is rather trivial on the part of the right hon. Gentleman; I am dealing with a larger issue than he realises. Sir Josiah Stamp said quite clearly in a letter that in every fall it general prices the receivers of fixed national payments took a larger toll of the national production. What is the real position and the root of the trouble in this matter? It is this; there are two classes of persons in this country who share the production between them. There is the active producing element, in which I include not only the workers but the employers as well, those who actually produce, and there is the passive element, the rentier class, who get rents and debenture interest and the proceeds of war loan. The effect of the policy of the Government in altering the purchasing power of money has been enormously to increase the share which the passive element has taken out of production, and this has also been further increased by the taxation policy of the Government who have done everything they can to shift the burden from the direct taxpayers of the country to indirect taxes and rates. That is the great cause of the trouble through which we are pass- 1973 ing at the present time; the producing element is injured and handicapped by the immense toll which the rentier class the passive element, extracts from industry.
Now I come to this particular scheme and see how far these proposals will really deal with what is the fundamental cause of the trouble. This particular scheme proposes to relieve some of the most hard hit industries to the extent of £1,000,000 in a period, or 3⅔ million pounds, if you take a whole year. Let us see how much that is of the whole handicap on industry. It is something less than one-thousandth part of the national income; it is a minute fraction of 1 per cent.; and if we were dealing with the whole scheme of the Bill it would still be a figure far less than 1 per cent. of the national income. It has been calculated by the very eminent man who represented this country on the Financial Commission of the League of Nations, Sir Henry Strakosch, that a fall of 20 per cent. in the price level gives to the rentier class an increased share of the national income of no less than 5 per cent., so that this particular scheme and the larger scheme of the Government. is only giving to productive industry a very small fraction indeed of what they are losing through the whole policy of the Government. But it is a great deal more than that. The proposals of the Government are not to alter the very thing which is causing this trouble, the great share which the rentier class is extracting from industry, all they are doing is to transfer from one lot of shoulders to another lot of shoulders a sum of money. The money which is going to be paid through this scheme in relief of industry is coming out of industry itself. We have imposed a £14,000,000 tax on petrol, and it is only a very small part of that tax, most of which falls on industry already, which is going to the relief of industry through this scheme. We are really doing nothing to relieve industry by putting the burden on the shoulders of the passive element, who have gained so much by the policy of the Government. We are feeding the dog on its own tail, taking away from one part of industry in order to give to another. It will do nothing to benefit industry or bring prosperity to the country, because it does not go to the root of the evil, which is that industry is 1974 being starved and bled white because the purely passive element in the country is extracting from the national product far more than it did in years gone by and far more than it is entitled to take.
This scheme is not merely inadequate to relieve industry, it is entirely unfair and unjustly discriminating. The general Bill, of which this is really a part, has been described by us as capricious, because it divides, quite arbitrarily, industry into what are called productive and distributive. That division has no real foundation for effective purposes. The only division which might have done some good is to divide them into prosperous and unprosperous trades. But this scheme goes further in its capriciousness than the general Bill. It attempts to drive a further wedge between productive industries by dividing them into certain trades and certain other trades. There is no justification for these divisions. Take the most important matter, the question of private railways. It is perfectly clear that if you are going to deal with coal and the carriage of coal you have to see that you deal equitably with all sections of coal freights, and it is not in accordance with equity that your public railways should get all the relief to be given. I think the letter that has been thrown at our heads by the Minister of Transport in his speech this afternoon is really an attempt to intimidate this House. I am quite sure hon. Members do resent a railway company coming to this House and, through the person of the Minister of Transport, saying that if there is an extension of the scheme they will not work it at all.
What we have to do is to put in a scheme which is really just and fair, and when we have found a scheme which is fair and equitable and one section says that they will not work it the Minister should consider what powers he must take in order to compel any recalcitrant sections to toe the line. The question is: Is it a workable and fair scheme? The Minister has said that if he were to do all that he thought the private railway wanted he would exceed the amount of relief they are entitled to get from rating merely as industrial hereditaments. That is not the issue at all. It is clear that where a railway is being used for all kinds of traffic the relief given to it 1975 should he different from the relief given to a railway used solely for the transport. of those things which the Minister desires to relieve. I should have thought that. it is not above the wit of the Minister to devise some scheme which is equitable, and if he comes to the conclusion that some particular proposals would be unfair in their favour towards private railways it is his business to find some scheme which would be fair and equitable. It is quite clear to me that the scheme which the Minister of Transport is supporting now is not fair or equitable as between different private interests.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
If the hon. Member does not agree with the scheme it is up to him to show how it can be better arranged and how it should be done.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
That is quite true, and I have no doubt: it will be done during the course of this Debate. I do not profess to be an expert on the matter of these private railways but there are other hon. Members on this side who are experts in this matter, and. I have no doubt they will devote their special attention to this particular question and put forward equitable proposals. I do not want to take up too much time of the Committee, and I will leave it at that. I want to pass on and say that this is by no means the only unfair discrimination in this Bill. It not only discriminates between railway and railway, but also between trade and trade. It picks out certain trades which are to have the relief of freight on coal and it excludes other trades. It excludes the textile trade, the engineering trade, and the shipbuilding trade from the use of coal, and this discrimination is a matter of grave concern to every hon. Member. That is not all. It discriminates—I am really surprised hon. Members opposite have not noticed it—against the home producer in favour of the foreigner in certain cases. Hon. Members opposite twit us sometimes that because we do not believe in certain kinds of preference we are not supporting the home producer as against the foreigner. I hope they realise that this scheme goes in exactly the opposite direction. There are many manufacturers who use coal for other purposes than in producing iron and steel. If there is a foreign manu- 1976 facturer who wants British coal for his purpose he is to get the relief provided by the freight charge on the coal, but if the home manufacturer is also going to use coal he is debarred from the relief on the freight of coal. That is a very grave proposal for which I can see no reason whatever. Not only does that apply to the foreign producer as against the home producer, but it also applies to the domestic consumer abroad as against the domestic consumer at home. I do not see why the domestic consumer abroad should get a benefit which is denied to the home consumer.
The fact is, however we look at the scheme, that we must realise that it is patchwork, and in patching it, botches the business it sets out to do. Hon. Members opposite are wont to attack Socialism, as they understand it. There is an idea that Socialism means a general sort of interference with industry by the State. If this scheme is their idea as to how the State should interfere with industry, if this is their idea of the kind of thing Socialism would do on a larger scale, I am not at all surprised at their opposition to Socialism. If this is their idea of Socialism I should certainly be on their side. The fact, however, is that Socialism contemplates dealing with industry on a broad and generous scale, in a comprehensive way, which will take all facts into consideration. This scheme, on the contrary, is a pettifogging scheme, a muddling scheme, differentiating capriciously between one and the other in a way which is bound to he detrimental to many interests. In view of that, whether you regard it as a temporary expedient or as a wide and carefully thought out plan, it is bound to fail. You cannot build up a reliable structure on the pettifogging and muddleheaded methods which are the basis of this scheme.
I may be asked, if this scheme is not satisfactory what is my alternative? Of course any detailed consideration of such a thing as that would he outside what I am entitled to say if I am to keep within the rules of order, but I would not like hon. Members to run away with the idea that we have no constructive proposals, and therefore very briefly I shall indicate what our ideas would be. In the first place, in order to find a remedy we have 1977 to diagnose the trouble, and that is what I have already tried to do. We realise that the only remedy that is going to be of value is to transfer burdens from industry and from the general productive work of this country back from the producer to the rentier class. It is only in so far as you really lift the burdens from the producer and place them back on the rentier that you are really doing anything to relieve the productive forces of this country. On the question of rates we believe emphatically that rates have to be relieved. We have to relieve the burden of rates that deal with the able-bodied unemployed, with the roads, and with a large number of other things. But when you do that it is no good merely transferring the rates to indirect taxes on petrol and pottery and all the rest of it. They have to be put on the passive element in the community.
The same remark applies to the penny post. I should welcome the penny post, and I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bring it in. But it will be of no use if what is required to make good the money for the penny post is merely taken out of some other charge upon industry. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer finds the money out of the passive element in the community then only will the penny post be of any great benefit. Equally, if there is some other scheme for freight reduction, if it is to be of benefit it must be found in the same way and must be adequate and fair. This scheme fulfils none of those conditions and if the Government had designed it to buttress the capitalist system, I can only say that it will entirely fail in its purpose.
§ Mr. ELLIS
I want to put one or two questions to the Government, but in no sense of hostility. I was taken to task a moment or two ago as to the difference between 25 per cent. and 26 per cent. of the relief afforded. The difference to the coal trade is between £60,000 and £70,000. That may seem a small thing in percentages but it is not in total. There is another point. In that part of the White Paper which deals with relief to selected traffics exported coal is mentioned. If we are told one thing more than another to-day it is that we have to do everything we can with coal in order to make it a more saleable article, and that we should treat it in 1978 every possible way. I want to know whether under that term there is included any form of patent fuel made at the ports for export. I ask the Minister to consider this question seriously. In South Wales, in prosperous times in the past, we have had an export of something like 2,000,000 tons of patent fuel. At the present time the export is only about half that total, although there is a hope of recovering the trade. Is the remission in rates to he given to coal alone and not to patent fuel?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
If my hon. Friend will look at page 5 of the White Paper he will see that "coal" means "coal, coke and patent fuel."
§ Mr. ELLIS
I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend. That reply answers one question satisfactorily. There is another question which I do not want to press now, though I bring it before the Committee because it may come up in future. What kind of rebate will be allowed in the case of coal that is sent to central washeries or cleaners from the constituent collieries? A further point but rather a remote one is very important to us in the coal trade. It will be found on page 8 of the White Paper, in Part. I of the Third Schedule that:The carriage charged in the case of coal shall be that which would he made for the conveyance of the traffic in owner's wagons.I believe the arrangement of percentages is based on the total charge to us, including an estimate for wagon hire. That is a reduction of the benefit that we were to receive. That basis does not worry us very much, but what does worry us is that apparently it is going to be left for the railway company to decide how much of the charge shall be ascribed to rent of wagons and how much shall belong to the freight to be charged. This does concern Northumberland and Durham, for there you often have very short haulages, and it might well be that the railway company in that locality might charge more for wagon hire than for haulage, and so defeat the object of the relief. If that happened a good deal of the benefit that might have been derived from this scheme for the coal industry would stick in the pockets of the railway company. Before the matter is finally settled it would help us in the coal trade if we could know the basis on which the railway company is to 1979 work. Those who are connected with the trade are well aware that the rates for wagon hire are to-day very small indeed and not remunerative to wagon owners. Is the railway company going to calculate the hire for wagons on the open market basis, or is it going to take the capitalised basis and then say, "The wagons cost so much and our interest is so much," and then charge accordingly? If the company is to be allowed to settle for itself how it shall divide these charges, are we not to be allowed to appeal to the Railway Rates Tribunal to settle the matter?
§ Mr. HARNEY
I am very interested in the private mineral railways, because the question very largely affects my constituency. I do not think that the Minister in charge of this Vote has realised the gravity of the position, and I therefore would like, before saying something about what he called his "overwhelming arguments," to bring before the Committee what is the real position. Under the scheme so far there are two classes of colliery that are differently affected. You have collieries that load their coal on to the public railways, and you have collieries, the older ones, that load their coal on to their own railways. If a colliery loads its coal on to a public railway it gets two advantages: three-quarters de-rating of its own undertaking, and it has passed on to it its proportion of the three-quarters de-rating that is given to the railway. If 'a colliery sends its coal by its own railway it has only one of those advantages, namely, its own de-rating. The grievance put forward here is that the second class of colliery is very badly handicapped in competition with the first class.
I want the Committee to appreciate the extent of this grievance. In Northumberland and Durham the output from the collieries that have private mineral lines is 18,822,000 tons, that is one-third of the whole output of the North-Eastern coalfields. There are 16 collieries involved and there are 69,000 miners employed. What will be the effect upon them if something is not done? The reply is not in doubt. It will put the collieries with private railways at a greater disadvantage than they suffer now against the other collieries by about 5d. or 6d. a ton. You may subtilise as much as you like, 1980 but the broad fact is that the collieries that have private lines will be 5d. or 6d. a ton worse off than they are to-day. The effect of that will be to transfer the output of coal from the old to the more favoured mines, with the further result, undoubtedly, that some of the weaker pits will close and that in all the pits there will be wholesale dismissals. It is very likely, indeed, that half of those 69,000 men who are now working will be thrown out of employment. Yet we are calmly told that the scheme has been introduced to aid in production, particularly in the hard hit industries.
I do not know whether the Government realise the consequence of what they are doing. Visualise it in that locality. The Government say, "Vote for a scheme that is going to give employment." They vote for it, and what do they find? That 20,000, 30,000 and perhaps 40,000 men are thrown out into the streets. The Minister of Transport has said that he really has no sympathy with my proposal. Up to the moment that he spoke I thought the position was that there was great sympathy with these privately-owned railways and collieries, but that there was a difficulty in giving effect to the sympathy. To-day the statement is, "We have no sympathy with you, and no sympathy because of overwhelming arguments."
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I did not say I had no sympathy: I said I had a great deal of sympathy, but that the proposal that they should come in on the same lines as the public railways was an impossible one.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I do not know how that meaning can be translated into the words at the end of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech. He said, in effect, that he really could not see why they should get this; that they were better off now than in times past and so forth. That was the tone which he adopted. Let us take some of the "overwhelming" arguments to which the Minister referred. The first, which certainly overwhelmed me, was a bullying, arrogant, blackmailing letter written by five railway companies. I do not know whether they authorised the Minister to read that letter, but they ought to be ashamed of it. This thing is no business of theirs. They have the impudence to 1981 say in that letter that., if the proposal regarding collieries with private lines is carried out, it will have the effect of making the public railways subsidise private mineral railways. If the public railways do not mean theft, they are not entitled to a penny piece out of that pool. How can they suffer any loss? How can they do any subsidising out of the money which goes into the pool when they are bound, if they act honestly, to pass on every penny?
§ Mr. HARNEY
Indeed We were told —I suppose as a little bit of honey to prepare us for what was coming—that these benevolent public railways, if this £3,500,000 or £4,000,000 did not prove quite sufficient to make all the payments necessary, would generously fill up the deficiency out of their own pockets. They will take jolly good care that there is no deficiency. I wonder why these five big railways are so determined against the claim of the private mineral railways as to write a letter threatening to oppose the whole Measure if the Minister gives way on this point. There is such a thing as a big man starving out a little man. It may be that they think this is their chance to hit the private mineral railways to starve them out of existence and then to take over the lines themselves to get the benefit which they are denying to others. What is the second argument? With all respect, I do not think the Minister understood what was put before him by the deputation. I understood his argument to be that the private mineral railways would only pay into the pool the amount of their industrial de-rating and would take out of the pool their due contribution as in the case of public rail ways. Does the Minister really intend that argument? The private mineral railways have two things included in the industrial hereditament, one the actual colliery, and the other the railway.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I refer to collieries with private mineral railways. The railway is treated as part of the industrial hereditament. They get the benefit of de-rating on the composite heredita- 1982 ment—on the two, the railway and the colliery. The colliery without a line is, of course, only de-rated in respect of the actual colliery. The proposal of the private mineral railways is this. They very justly and fairly say: "Our industrial de-rating gives us an additional benefit on account of our railway being included as part, of the industry. If we give back the benefit which we get upon the industrial de-rating of our railway, then there can be no complaint and we stand on the same footing as the other collieries without private lines." I may be allowed to give an illustration. Here is a colliery with a private mineral railway. Its owners say: "Our colliery itself is de-rated X; our private railway is de-rated Y; you who have no private railway are de-rated X on your colliery, but you have not the benefit of being de-rated Y because you have no railway." Then the owners of the colliery with the private railway say: "Anything we get upon Y we put into the pool, and then we stand without any advantage over you. We now are only de-rated with reference to our colliery, the same as those concerns using public lines." It is in order that they may put themselves on a footing with those who use the public railways that they put anything into the pool. The exact figure which they would put into the pool to right matters in this respect is £27,000 and that £27,000 represents the whole of the industrial de-rating benefit which they receive through all these mineral railways in Durham and Northumberland. That being so, they would stand de-rated only to the extent of three-quarters on the actual collieries. Their competitors are also de-rated three quarters on the actual collieries. All they ask now is that they should be put on a like footing with reference to the railways.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Quite so, but my point was that if they paid in on the same terms as the public railways they would pay in 1½d. per ton in respect of their private mineral lines, and to get the same advantages as the users of the public railways are getting, namely, a fiat rate of 1½d. plus 25 per cent. they would have to take out at the rate of 4d. per ton. Therefore, it would be unfair to put in l½d. and take out four-pence.
§ Mr. HARNEY
Let me put it as I see it. If you pay into the pool the full industrial de-rating that you get on your railways, are you not in the same position as your competitor as regards your actual colliery? You have no advantage over him. Now as to the contribution from the pool. What does the man who uses the public railway get out of the pool? He gets his due proportion of the reduction of rates to the public railways —that is in proportion to the coal carried. The private lines, of course, have no freights but they have the equivalent of freights, namely, the cost of running. The private lines being now on an equality as regards industrial de-rating, having put back into the pool such advantages as they previously had, claim that, just as the users of the public railways get a proportion on what they pay for transport in freights, so they, the private railways are entitled to a proportion upon what they pay for transport in the form of running costs. They do not ask for a farthing out of the pool that is not in direct proportion to their running costs. They take up this position. Supposing the freight paid to public railways to be in or about the figure mentioned, namely, 1s. 7d. a ton, and the running cost of a private railway to be one shilling a ton, they ask that the shilling shall be treated in the same way as the 1s. 7d. Whatever the user of the public line gets in respect of the is. 7d., they claim in respect of the shilling. They say that they have a certain position to-day relative to the other collieries, and they ask no more than the maintenance of that position, and I am pointing out the method by which that position can be maintained.
The Minister in effect agrees that their position, after the scheme is in operation, is going to be worse than it is to-day, but his argument is, "Why should it not be worse?" That very argument is an answer to all the former part of his speech, because it necessarily involves that you are doing something to alter the existing footing. I would ask the Minister, was this scheme brought in to alter the relations between collieries with private railways, and collieries using public railways? Was such a thought present to the minds of the authors of the scheme? Is not the whole purpose and justification of the scheme to create employment and relieve production? It was never intended 1984 that it should be taken advantage of to right what is now alleged to be some sort of injustice in relation to the collieries using public lines. But that is what it is being used for in this case. Is that the purpose of the scheme?
When you ask people to vote for a Measure the sole intent of which, you say, is to better productive industry, is it right or fair to add, "here is an instance where, admittedly, it is going to prove injurious to a certain section of productive industry, but it is quite right that it should do so, because what we really had in mind was to equalise matters in this respect."? The Minister himself must know that that is twisting the whole purpose of this policy to something with which it was never intended it should deal. The Minister says that the coalowners association are opposed to giving the mineral railways any rights. They are not, but they are not enthusiastic in favour of these railways. Why should they be? What are you doing? You are giving an advantage to persons who use public railways over those who use private railways, and you expect those who get this immense advantage to say, "Do not be so generous to us; really, we do not want the advantage." Of course they are not enthusiastic, and it shows how monstrously unfair the scheme is, and what honourable men a good number of the coalowners must be, when men whose every interest is to down those with private lines—because the more the owners of private lines are killed, the more coal output there will be for the others—take this attitude:In the discussion which followed it was pointed out by various Members that the owners of private railways had not suffered so much as the users of public railways through the large increase in recent years of railway charges, and it was considered that the private railway owners should not expect the association, as a whole, to take up their case. It was unanimously agreed that the owners of private railways should take such steps as they considered best to bring their case before the Government.In face of all that, to come forward and tell the Committee that the North of England United Coal Trade Association were against the attitude taken by the private owners—
§ Mr. HARNEY
This is not mere barren criticism on my part, because the Minister must know, from the deputation that called on him, that this can quite easily be remedied. The Act we passed a few months ago was really a definition, defining mineral railways, public railways, and so on. Now you are coming in with your Local Government Bill to say how you are going to fit material things into the definitions already made. There is no difficulty whatever. I have the draft of an Amendment here that will bring private mineral railways, as regards the relief intended by this scheme, on precisely the same footing as those who use public railways; and, if I am not mistaken, I think the Department has already had a copy of the suggested Amendments, which I do not think they can deny would effect their purpose. If there is no real argument against drawing the distinction between these two classes of owners in the future, how is it logical or right to subject one of them to a penalty even for a short time, thus giving the other the advantage? There would be no difficulty in bringing in, within the next few days, a Supplementary Estimate in order to meet the Amendment that you know is going to be pressed into the Local Government Bill in favour of mineral railways; and I press upon the Minister once more to consider this question, because it is a very grave thing, indeed, not to say a serious smirch on the whole of the Government's policy, that a scheme should be brought into operation the first outward and visible effects of which will be that 30,000 or 50,000 miners are thrown upon the streets.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am one of those who, although a member of the mining industry, do not believe that this grant will prove in the long run to be a relief to the mining industry at all. If anyone had lived in the mining districts, seeing the effects of the Eight Hours Act and reduced wages being frittered away and given to the foreigner in the cut-throat competition of one company with another, the only thing that they would feel would be that this too was going in the same direction and that the miners would ultimately be no better off. In regard to the mineral railways, what I object to about this relief is that it is given in such a way as will enable certain companies to 1986 sabotage other companies in certain areas and thus close down pits and reduce wages. What this Committee is doing to-day is not merely considering, a business proposition; I venture to say that if the Government insist on giving this 7d. a ton to the disadvantage of the other companies, what we are taking part in to-day is a great human tragedy, that will ultimately impress itself upon this House in the most direct form.
The process of the enlightenment of the Government on this matter has been very interesting, and I wonder what, the industrial Members behind the. Front Bench opposite think about the Government's activities in this connection, On the Committee Stage of the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Bill, the Minister of Health did not seem to understand that there was a problem of this kind. Here in the North of England you have the oldest colliery area, and the continual trouble of collieries inland, from the beginning of the industrial era, was to get the coal down to the river and the sea. It was the continual effort to do that that gave us George Stephenson's engine, as a matter of fact, and so you got a great area of these railways laid. I think there are about 100 miles of them in the North of England, in Northumberland and Durham, with 69,000 workers concerned, and about 16 companies. In 1927 they exported 19,000,000 tons of coal, and that was 30 per cent: of the whole produce of the North of England. The Minister of Health, on the committee stage of that Bill, was rather, staggered to know that there was such a problem as this, and on the Report stage the Government said they would make it an industrial hereditament. Some of us did not agree with that, and we pointed out that it would lead to all kinds of complications, of which this is the first.
Stage by stage it was impressed upon the Ministry that probably all was not right. I remember the President of the Board of Trade defending this business, and he seemed to think that all was well, but gradually it has dawned upon them that there is a difficulty and a problem, and so much so that they sent a letter to the railway companies, impressing upon them the fact that probably a certain wrong had been done to the owners of private railways. Con- 1987 viction was sinking in upon the Government, and then the representatives of the private railways wrote this letter. The Government attempted after that to defend their refusal to include private railways, on the ground that they were asking for an advantage, but what they did in fact was to admit that the Government of the day was going to be bossed by the five railway companies. This is the Government of which a leading light once told us that Labour was unfit to govern, and now the Government, when they, clearly realise that a wrong has been' done, are prepared to accept the dictation of the railway companies and to hide behind a mere subterfuge in order to avoid a difficulty. The Minister of Transport says, "Of course, we have sympathy with those concerned," but that is 'all very well. As they say in the North of England, "Sympathy without relief is very much like mustard without beef," and that is exactly how it is ping to work out with us. The Minister of Transport began to argue about the' relative costs of the private and the public railways, but I would like to ask -the President of the Board of Trade- if that is the only difficulty?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
It was not quoted as showing the difficulty. What my right hon. Friend quoted that for was to show that private railways were very much better off than public railways, and that even when the full anticipation was given on the public railways, the average costs on the private railways would still be lower than the average on the public railways.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Apparently the Government are not open to a reconsideration of this question at all, judging from the right hon. Gentleman's answer, because we could tell him this, that the only difficulty about this question has been to get the Government representatives to sit, down with those interested in order to work out a scheme which would give strict justice and equality in this matter as between the public and the private railway companies. I do not accept for a moment the statement that those who own private railways are in a 1988 better position than the public railway owners, and the Minister of Transport, in a moment when he rather forgot himself, said that these companies were among the least prosperous. It is a well-known fact that some of these companies that own their own private mineral railways are in the very areas which most need help.
Take the Chester-le-Street area. In my Division I think practically every company, either directly or indirectly, runs its coal, either in part or wholly, over a private railway. In that Division there is what is known as the Pelaw Main group of collieries, which run their coal over their own railways. In 1925 they closed their collieries down, and there were about 4,000 workmen stopped. There were six collieries, and the Committee will understand that that amounts to something like 20,000 people affected. If the Minister of Health were here, he would admit that this is the whole difficulty in Chester-le-Street. Stage by stage the conditions became worse, until, finally, the whole area was almost overwhelmed with debt, mainly owing to this situation. In January, 1926, the collieries began, and they continued after the stoppage of that year. The men have suffered reduction after reduction. In that group of collieries there is an instance of co-operation between workmen and owners which is far beyond what is talked about by Members an the other side of the House. They had so many reductions that in the end those working in the collieries said, "We have taken so much off you that we do not like to ask you for any more, but we will ask you for 10 per cent. for six months; if you do not like it, we will close the collieries, and we will make things right for you to carry on with the benefit." The men suffered the 10 per cent. reduction, but at the end of three months the company said that they could not carry out their bargain and that they would have to close the collieries. The men asked what would enable the company to carry on, the books were examined, they discussed matters, and finally the men agreed to give 5 per cent. for three months, this reduction to be treated as a loan. The men were so anxious to work at that group of collieries, that they were prepared, even when the owners could not carry on, to say, "We will give you 1989 5 per cent. on loan." That was given and it was repaid, but since then they have had another reduction. That company has been just holding on by the skin of its teeth. It employs 4,000 men, it is the very heart of the great industrial area, and it has its own private railways. That is one of the companies which has an advantage over the public companies according to the Government.
What is to happen to the collieries in a case like that, if 7d. per ton advantage is given to their opponents in the market? As a piece of political propaganda it would be all right for me, and I should be able to go to my people at the General Election and say that these pits are idle, and the men are getting reductions, because the Government give what they call relief. I do not want to be placed in a position like that. I would rather lose my seat at Chesterle-Street than see these men, knowing their tragedy of the past few years, suffering as they have suffered, and contemplate what is going to happen. It is all very well for the Government to give us fine figures, but we know very well that in the Chester-le-Street area, and in the North of England, this scheme will put pits out of action, and it will be a tragedy for the whole of our people.
The Minister of Transport read a letter from the secretary of the Railway Corn-parties' Association; it was a brutal letter, and shows that there are companies and coalowners who do not care what happens even to their own fellows in the same association, so what can they care about what happens to the people under their charge? It is an example of that ruthlessness and brutality from which our people have suffered during the last few years. I oppose this Bill, because I do not think that it will bring relief, because it means directly handing to certain coalowners a weapon with which to sabotage other companies in which the lives and well-being of great masses of people are involved, and because the result will be tragedy for the whole of the North of England.
§ Major CARVER
The Minister of Transport put this case very fairly before the Committee, and I should like to support this Scheme in my position as a railway director. I have not been in that position for a very long time. This Scheme has been approved by the four 1990 great amalgamated companies and the Metropolitan Railway Company, and they have signed the Schedule to the Scheme. [Interruption.] I do not know why the railway companies should be attacked. After all, what are they going to make out of it themselves? They have to pass on this rebate, and the issue is very problematical. We hope that more trade will ensue to the railway companies, but it is very doubtful. This money has to be paid into a pool, and if at the end of the time the pool has not sufficient money in it, the railway companies have to make up 50 per cent. of the balance. As this is to be administered by the Railway Clearing House, why should the privately-owned railways come in at all? The Railway Clearing House is very well managed, and in this Scheme it is pretty well under the thumb of the Minister of Transport, who has access to all their books; and I do not see why the railways should consider what is apparently an application from the privately-owned railways. If the privately-owned railways want to come in, why should they not bring forward a scheme of their own, and ask the Government to give a Supplementary Estimate for themselves, but the public railways object to their coming into this Scheme.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I was astonished to hear from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Howdenshire (Major Carver) that he was one of the railway directors to pass this Schedule. This is the first point I want to make, arid I ask Members not to laugh when I talk about carrots, because carrots are produced by smallholders in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's constituency, and 'also imported from the Continent. In the Schedule, on page 7 of the White Paper, is an example of the anomalies in this scheme. I apologise to the Minister of Transport for looking at the teeth of his gift horse, but I have to do it. I am surprised also that the Minister of Agriculture was not here when the Minister of Transport was speaking. Carrots, unwashed, are brought from abroad for cattle-feeding, and also, of course, are grown on our own farms, and they are to get 10 per cent. reduction; but I have found out from the Minister of Transport that carrots which are washed and shipped in bulk for human consumption are to get no reduction. There will be 1991 a 10 per cent. reduction on imported carrots, but the same old freight rates for the home-grown product. I am a Free Trader, and I object to a discrimination against the market gardeners and the smallholders, who largely produce these carrots, which are a valuable article of food.
The same thing can be seen with regard to potatoes. New potatoes get no rebate, but the others do. This will affect the smallholders and the market gardeners, and such is the proposal that comes from the Conservative party, the friends of the land workers, the Protectionists, the Imperialists, and all the rest of it, and I draw attention to it as one of the extraordinary anomalies of the scheme. Grain for brewers and distillers gets the 10 per cent. reduction. We were told on Tuesday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answer to a supplementary question put very optimistically by the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Captain Evans), that all these reductions to the brewers will not be passed on to the consumer. All the other freights are apparently expected by the Minister of Transport to be passed on to the consumer, indirectly at any rate. I can only tell him that he has got "some hopes." These are some of the teeth of the gift-horse, and I plead with the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Agriculture to alter this Schedule. I know that they want the British farmers and smallholders to have fair play, and I ask them sympathetically to consider that matter. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Howdenshire will use his best endeavours with me to get this anomaly removed.
§ Major CARVER
I am immensely interested to find that the hon. and gallant Gentleman takes such a great interest in something that is grown so largely in my constituency—carrots. I went into that question, and I was informed by the Minister of Agriculture that washed carrots are a vegetable, and as such come under the international railway scheme; they cannot, therefore, be put into this Schedule.
§ Major CARVER
I am anxious that they should be included, and I am only trying to give the explanation why they are not.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I hope that the result of the hon. and gallant Member's interruption is that he will join me in having this anomaly removed. The other point I wish to raise is in regard to the docks. If the Government wish to help the export trade, why have the Government left out the docks? If the scheme is to help the export trade, the docks should have had this advance in relief as well, and I protest on behalf of the docks and the sea ports that they have been omitted. I have a telegram, which other hon. Members have had, from the Shipping Committee of Hull, of which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Howdenshire is a member, and they have asked us to press upon the Government the necessity of giving some relief to the docks at once. They asked us to point out that during the War they had great inconvenience and loss through the railway rebates, and they are afraid of a repetition of this confusion. I ask the Minister of Transport to use his influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have the docks treated as fairly as the railway companies. My constituency will be one of those which will be relieved at the expense of Chester-le-Street and other areas which are going to be hit. I am quite certain the coal exporters, the workers and the dockers in Hull and the other ports who are—apparently—going to benefit by this scheme do not want to benefit at the cost of Northumberland and these other distressed areas. I am quite certain that those working men, who are quite prepared to risk their jobs to help the miners at the time of the General Strike, and will never get any abuse from me for doing it, are prepared to accept a scheme that is fair all round, and although this particular proposal would be of advantage to my constituency I am quite prepared to vote for this reduction with my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. L. THOMPSON
It will be within the recollection of the Committee that last July I was intrumental in raising the question of private railways by an Amendment which I put down to the-Eating and Valuation Bill. I mention 1993 that because I was conscious when moving that Amendment that the Committee was somewhat ill-informed upon this question, which affects an important area in Durham and Northumberland, but since that time both the House and the Ministry have acquired such a fund of information on the subject that I was in hopes this afternoon that the claims put forward by the private railways would be really irresistible, and I must express not only surprise but amazement and dismay at the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Minister in charge. The Committee will agree with me that, generally speaking, his speeches in this House are marked by an assurance, fairness and lucidity which we all appreciate, but I think they will also agree that he showed to-day a certain amount of uncertainty and was to a certain extent uncomfortable, because the position taken up in the earlier proceedings was so clear, both to the Members of this House and to the country, that I do not see how the Government can now deviate from it. I recall that I made a special point of going to Newcastle to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer explain the proposals of the Government on this subject. We were told distinctly in that distressed area that the benefits accruing from the de-rating of industrial hereditaments and the relief which was to be given to the railways would be passed on in their entirety to the whole of the coal trade.
I would point out that the Schedule of this Bill includes all coal; there is no differentiation. It includes coal for export purposes and coal for the iron and steel industries, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he intends deliberately to exclude from benefit the coal which passes over private railways for the use of these industries? His answer to us is a twofold one. He says, first, that private railways have an advantage over public railways. I think there is a confusion of thought in his mind, and I wish to try to help the Committe to decide the issue. It is true that in the early days, before public railways were instituted, private railways were attached to collieries, but any advantage gained by private railways in those circumstances has long since been merged in the whole colliery undertaking. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) cited the case of the Pelaw Main Collieries, which changed 1994 hands three years ago. When the new company bought them they bought them at a price which was in accordance with the state of the market, and to argue that the pelaw Main collieries have any advantage in their private railway is simply begging the question, because they have not. We must look at the trade as a competitive trade, the members of which are engaged in competing for export trade and for the home market on an equal basis, and I cannot understand the attitude of the Government in differentiating between private and public railways.
I do not wish to continue this Debate too long but I can give the House instances of what I mean. The private line of one of the biggest group of collieries passes right through Sunderland, and the major part of their coal for export is sent over that line. Their price for export, based on the working costs of that line, is in competition with that of other collieries; but we are going to exclude that line from the benefits which are going to accrue to the public railways. That will be a very serious thing for the constituents whom I represent. I will give another case, and I would like the Minister to give attention to these cases, because he is entirely wrong in his point of view in assuming that there is an advantage of 4d., or whatever sum he mentioned, in favour of the private railways. I will take the case of Seaham Harbour, where there are three collieries merging and shipping their coal into Seaham Harbour Docks. The centre one of those three collieries has a private railway; the two other collieries, one at either side, send their coal over the public railways. We are going to give these two collieries an advantage of 7d. a ton over the central one. What will the result be? We shall either squeeze the central one, or squeeze out of possible existence this private railway against which we are differentiating in this way. I wish the Minister to appreciate the seriousness of this position, because collieries in Durham and Northumberland, and particularly the latter county, have been experiencing an exceedingly hard time, due to competition from Poland and other Continental countries. A question of 1d. or 2d. a ton in their prices makes all the difference. In spite of this competition we are going to say to these 1995 exporting collieries, "We will handicap you, or at any rate we will give you no benefit in your competition with Poland and the other Continental countries."
I hope the Minister will seriously reconsider this position. The Minister made two points. He said first that the private railways have better conditions. My answer is that the private railways have no better conditions, and as a matter of fact they seek no greater advantages than are given to the others. In specific terms we were asked by the Minister to give some idea of what they want, and I think he rather threw out an olive branch to us. He asked whether the private railways wished to come under the same terms. The private railways have never advocated being admitted on the same terms. What they do wish for is that selected mineral traffics carried over private mineral railways should receive relief at the same rate as the same traffics carried over public railways, the percentage being calculated on the working costs of the mineral railways as ascertained and certified under the terms of settlement of 1921.
Reference was made to the North of England United Coal Trade Association. I think the Minister was just a shade unfair in his reference to them. He quoted the date 11th June. The decision of that association was taken before anything was introduced into this House, before the question had been seriously raised in this House. If the minutes and the whole of the discussion on that question when it was in embryo were laid before this Committee, I feel sure it would be seen that there is no ground for the suggestion of the Minister that the association are in opposition to the private railways. It was ultimately agreed that the association should take such steps as they considered best to bring their case before the Government; andIt was further decided that the Association should press the Mining Association to endeavour to secure that private railways and shipping places shall be included in the undertakings.—This was on the 11th June. It was not until 4th July when I moved my Amendment that that was included.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
What it goes on to say is—which are to obtain the concession of relief from three-fourths of their rating.That refers to a suggestion higher up in the minutes. There is no other demand whatever. It has given me the greatest concern this afternoon to hear the letter which was written by some representative of the big railways. If the policy of the Government has to be decided by what any particular group of railways or anybody else suggests, it is a very serious statement. Private railways are not receiving the benefit which has been suggested. The Minister asked if we had any proposals. We have proposals. Our proposal is that the sum arising from the de-rating of the private railways should be paid into the pool and that the private railways should participate in the pool, not to the full extent of the relief given to the public railways but to an extent which relates the cost of the railways to the average charges over the public railways. That is a definite offer, and I hope, in the interests of trade, and of Durham and Northumberland in particular, and also in the spirit of equity and fair play, that the Government will really reconsider this matter and, if possible, bring forward another Supplementary Estimate under which fair play will be given to the private railways.
After listening to the speeches which have been made in this Debate, I think hon. Members generally will resent a Minister of the Crown coming to this Committee giving as his reason for not performing an elementary act of justice advocated by all parties that he has received the letter from the railway companies to which he has referred. If any trade union had conveyed anything like a threat of that kind, the Government would at once have told us that they would never yield to such threats. I want to deal with a more general aspect of this question. This is not an isolated proposal. It is the first swallow, the first harbinger of an industrial revival which the Government have promised to bring about in the few short months which remain of this Parliament. It is the first concrete section of the great de-rating proposal upon which the Government profess to place so much hope and confidence in the future. There- 1997 fore we cannot regard this entirely as a casual million to be given to the railway companies in the hope that they will give some to the colliery owners or that they will give something to the consumer or the worker. We cannot regard it as a casual million thrown out to the vested interests and we must regard it in a more serious light. It is positively alarming if we regard this proposal not merely as a million to be devoted to the purposes which have been explained to the committee, but as the first instalment of further sums to be spent without any kind of safeguard for the working producer or the interests which the Government claim to have. I have read paragraphs 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Report, and they appear to contain the main conditions which the Government have made to see that the Railway Clearing House does its duty.
I think we can wipe out of our minds any idea that the railway companies or any great interests will be more successful because they are going to be managed by patriotic people who will do exactly what we ask them to do. There is not the slightest ground in the history of British railways for the assumption of the Minister of Transport that these patriotic gentlemen will not expose us to very great risks and expense in carrying out their duties. Those who are managing these great railways at the present time are the people who took over the canals in our country districts and destroyed them in order that they could not compete with the railway companies, and in order to place those companies in a position to make very great profits. If the railway companies were going to do what the Minister of Transport has suggested, no one would deny that one of the best things they could do at once would be to recondition the canals which they have destroyed in order to assist in the carriage of goods which are not wanted very quickly. When we have dismissed from our minds those two safeguards which sound well in after dinner speeches, but which are of very little use in a Committee Debate, we find that practically the only other safeguard is that contained in Clause 8 of the White Paper, where we have been told that the Minister of Transport will have access to the accounts. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not understand them any 1998 better than he understood the accounts of the private railways they will not be much help to us.
Besides all these safeguards, we have been told that there is another important provision: that the decision of the Minister of Transport shall be final and conclusive. After hearing the Minister read that letter from the railway companies I cannot have any confidence in the Minister being able to control the Railway Clearing House, which is the only safeguard we have in this Bill. I suggest to the Committee that the whole principle upon which we are granting this £1,000,000 and upon which we are to grant many more millions, is thoroughly unbusinesslike, wasteful, and useless. Very large sections of the coal industry are in a very parlous condition. It is equally true that there are certain sections of the coal industry, especially those fortunate companies which are also interested in pit-prop supplies and coal by-products, which are making very large profits and paying large dividends. It has already been admitted that this Committee will not be able to grant sufficient money to put the mining industry on its feet. If that is so, it becomes our duty to see that the little we can give to those industries should go directly to the root of the industries where assistance is most needed. To give a sum which will ultimately amount to nearly £4,000,000 to the Railway Clearing House in the hope that it will distribute it among the just and the unjust and among the rich and the poor alike is a wasteful, uneconomical and a very badly thought-out way of handling money which the nation can ill afford to provide for the assistance of industry. I suggest that this money will be spent in helping companies who are doing very well at the present time, and that it will not do any good to the majority of those who are doing very badly. As for the miners' wages, you could put the whole £4,000,000 into the coalowners' deficit and a good many years would pass before the miners would get any increase in the wages which were awarded to them under the agreement which they were forced by the Government to sign in 1926.
This proposal is completely unfair to our consumers and to many of our own first-class industries. We are going to send abroad coal which has been sub- 1999 sidised by the British taxpayer to be sold at a cheap rate in order that foreigners may be able to make glass and wool and other goods more cheaply, and this will all be done at the expense of Lancashire and Yorkshire manufacturers. The goods made by the use of this cheap coal will be sent to compete with British manufacturers. We often hear hon. Members opposite speaking very eloquently about protecting British workmen from the British capitalist who employs sweated labour overseas. I suggest that this policy produces one of the most Gilbertian situations which anyone can imagine, because the Government are subsidising foreign industry and supplying them with cheap coal in order to compete with our manufacturers in this country who will not have the advantages of cheap coal. Not only are you assisting foreign industry by cheap coal, but you are setting up a horrible internecine war in our own industries. Under these proposals, three or four industries which are well represented in this House and are very popular with the party opposite will have the benefit of cheap coal in England, whereas some other British industries will not receive any benefit at all.
Where are you going to draw the border line? The Schedules of the Local Government Bill show how many border lines there are between one industry and another. You will find one British industry using specially subsidised British coal purchased at a cheap rate, and the other industries will have to pay for it. That is an irremovable objection to this scheme. In view of an early election, and of the fact that the Government have nothing else upon which to go to the country, I ask: Is it wise to rush through a scheme which subsidises your foreign competitors, which sets British industry against British industry, and which breaks up a very important section of our coalfields? This scheme is going to put a lot of money into the pockets of the railway companies, and I ask the Committee even for the sake of any electoral advantage which you may be misguided enough to think you are going to get: Is it wise to press forward such a hastily prepared scheme devised by people who obviously do not understand the facts and figures? I suggest that such a course is 2000 not a wise one and that it is not good policy. It is not good statesmanship to commit the country to a scheme like this which will waste the money we need so badly for other more useful purposes.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
Let us return to business. There are two small points which I desire to put to the Minister of Transport, and they will not take me nearly so long as it has taken the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Beckett) to make his speech. My first point is in regard to an answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis) in the course of this Debate, and it relates to the question of the rebate on patent fuel. When the question was put to the President of the Board of Trade by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, the right hon. Gentleman referred my hon. Friend to a paragraph on page 5 of the White Paper about 10 lines from the bottom of the page, where it states:Coal 'means coal, coke and patent fuel.I think the President of the Board of Trade will admit that that reply did not quite meet the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. It only concerns one coalfield that is worth bothering about to any extent, namely, South Wales, and so I took the precaution of consulting one or two of the mining Members from South Wales before venturing to bring it to the notice of the President of the Board of Trade. They were in complete, agreement with my view of the matter, which was that, although patent fuel taken over the railways to the ports for export gets the full rebate, as being coal under the section in question, yet small coal taken from the colliery to the patent fuel works, although the patent fuel is going to be exported, does not, I think, on the wording of the White Paper, get that rebate. Let us trace exactly what that would mean, unless we can get it altered, in South Wales, which is the chief patent fuel exporting coalfield of this country. The patent fuel works are, for the most part., for natural reasons, in close proximity to the shipping ports and the docks. Small coal is hauled over the railways to these patent fuel works, and no rebate is given. It will, therefore, pay the briquette works owned in foreign ports to take the small coal from the 2001 collieries and get the rebate, on that as export coal, which will place them in a position of advantage in competing with the manufacturers of patent fuel in South Wales.
I know that the point has simply escaped the Government's notice, and I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to try to give South Wales some assurance upon it. I believe it has been suggested, in the discussion on these matters, that the wording of the White Paper can be stretched to cover that, but I think one may try to stretch words a bit, too far, and they are apt to snap in the process. Therefore, let us, if possible, have an undertaking from the Government that, if they cannot put the matter right on the basis of the White Paper, they will at any rate, in the Bill that is to be brought forward subsequently, endeavour to meet that point and help this very hard-hit industry in South Wales. I am sorry to have taken up so much time over this, but it is rather a technical point, and took some explaining.
The other point also is a rather technical one. It affects chiefly the County of Northumberland, which, as everyone knows, is, like South Wales, having a peculiarly hard time. It so happens that the North Eastern Railway Company on the North-East Coast in Northumberland and Durham, from, I believe, time immemorial, has always insisted that the colliery owners shall use the railway company's wagons for shipping purposes. There is a certain amount of justification for that, owing to circumstances into which I need not enter here. Under this scheme, that gives rise to the possibility of very great injustice to exporting collieries, and for this reason. The railway company quotes an overhead rate for conveying the coal from the colliery to the shipping staithes, including the use of the railway company's wagons, and there has never been any separation of that rate into what represents wagon hire and what represents the actual freight on the coal. What a number of exporting collieries on the North-East Coast fear—and, with all deference to the hon. and gallant Member for Howdenshire (Major Carver), the railway companies in the past have been, perhaps, a little selfish in their outlook towards the collieries of this country—what they fear is that the railway com- 2002 panies, reading the White Paper as it stands, will have the right to say how much of that through rate is wagon hire and how much is mere freight on the coal. Let me take an example that was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Let me give an example, and then, perhaps, even the hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) will understand.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Let me take an actual instance, in which the haul to the colliery shipping staithes is comparatively very short, as it is in many cases in Northumberland. The haul to the staithes is not more than four or five miles, and the actual overhead rate is in the neighbourhood of 2s. 3d. per ton. Supposing that that 2s. 3d. were all freight, and none of it were wagon hire, the rebate to the exporting colliery would be based on the whole 2s. 3d.; but supposing that the North Eastern Railway Company says that only 1s. is the actual cost of the freight, and the other 1s. 3d. is for the hire of the wagons supplied to the colliery, then, of course, the rebate will be given on less than 50 per cent. of the total payment. I again seek an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that he will either correct this in the subsequent Bill or, as an alternative, give the colliery companies some right of appeal against the North Eastern Railway Company—a right of appeal to the Ministry of Transport or some other authority who will be able to say whether the railway company has fairly divided this charge, or whether it has taken advantage of the wording of the White Paper to make an unfair charge against the colliery company. [Interruption.] These are the two points which I wanted to put, and I must apologise to the Committee for having taken up time equal to quite 50 per cent. of that taken up by the hon. and learned Member for South Shields.
§ Mr. JOHN
I should like to emphasise the point that the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) has raised with regard to the position of patent fuel. I think there is a misapprehension with 2003 respect to the reply of the President of the Board of Trade to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis). We are exporting from South Wales at the present time about 1,000,000 tons of patent fuel per annum, and 99 per cent. of that is exported from the Swansea and Cardiff areas. It is quite passible that, by the fact of the small coal sent from the collieries to the patent fuel works—which are in close proximity to the docks—not being entitled to the 75 per cent. reduction, those works will be placed at a disadvantage, and, moreover, unless the collieries in question are able to get rid of their small coal, it will be impossible for them to work. The effect of the anomaly will, therefore, be to create unemployment at those collieries which are producing small coal for the manufacture, of patent fuel. There is also, as the hon. Member for Mossley has said, the possibility that this small coal may be shipped to France, when it will get the rebate, and France, which is the greatest competitor with South Wales in regard to patent fuel, will he able to compete by sending patent fuel back to this country at a cheaper rate than that at which it can be produced in South Wales.
The real object of these proposals is to deal with the question of unemployment, and evidently the Government believe that, by the provision of this sum of £1,000,000, they are going to increase employment. A large number of colliery companies in South Wales, however, evidently do not take this view. There is in my constituency a large combine which has gone into liquidation during the past three weeks. If the Cambrian Combine really thought that the Bill which the Government are going to introduce, providing for a 75 per cent, relief in railway freights, was going to be of any advantage to them, the natural supposition is that they would have held their hands for a short time and would not have gone into liquidation, but would have attempted to keep their collieries working. The shutting down of these collieries is going to have a direct effect upon the other collieries that are working. From the reports in the South Wales Press to-day we find that people who are suffering as the result of accidents in collieries that have gone into liquidation, and who have not been paid 2004 their compensation, have, with their dependants, had to go to the Board of Guardians. The result, in the case of the Pontypridd Board of Guardians alone, owing to the number of people and their dependants who have not been paid their compensation, has been to increase the Poor rate in that area by £50,000 per annum. That increase in the rates will mean that collieries which can barely work at the present time are going to have an increased burden cast upon them. Therefore, these people do not believe that the policy of the Government is going to solve their difficulties in any way.
The Minister of Transport, in introducing the Estimate this afternoon, said that this is going to give relief to the extent of 7d. per ton, but the actual increase in railway freightages in South Wales as compared with 1914, including dock charges, works out at about 94 per cent., or 2s. 3d. per ton; and 2s. 3d. per ton upon the output of South Wales last year meant a sum of £3,000,000. How is 7d. per ton going to assist collieries that are at the present time only barely able to hold up their heads, and, indeed, unable even to do that, for they are at present in the hands of the bankers? How are those collieries going to work which have to pay an increase of 2s. 3d. per ton in railway freightage and dock charges, when the actual relief that is going to be given is 7d. per ton?
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Beckett) pointed out the effect with respect to international competition. An hon. Member opposite made some reference to the competition of Poland with Northumberland and Durham. The international competition is such that, even assuming for a moment that there is anything at all in the policy of the Government, the Governments of those countries are taking much more drastic steps in the direction of assisting their coal-winning districts. Poland has reduced the freightage during the last three years to 3s. 3d. per ton, and Germany has been doing the same thing. Germany has been reducing the freightages since 1926 to 2s. 6d., 2s. 3d., and in some in-stances 1s. 10d. per ton. Belgium, Holland and France have been doing the same thing, and even America has been assisting her shipping companies. Therefore, if the Government believe that this 2005 policy is going to assist the mining industry, they should at least do something comparable with the assistance that is given to competing coalowners in other parts of the world. Even supposing that they said they would give assistance to the same extent as the Polish Government, how is it going to apply? It is going to apply in precisely the same way in which the subsidy applied in 1925. Whether pits were in a bad way, an indifferent way, or a good way, whether they were making profits or losses, the subsidy was paid to the coalowners, and the same principle is going to apply so far as this subsidy is concerned.
Colliery owners who are making profits at present will get the subsidy of 7d. per ton; colliery owners who are simply upon he margin will get the subsidy of 7d. per ton; colliery owners who are suffering a loss of 2s. or 2s. 6d. per ton will only get the same. The result will be to intensify competition, as far as South Wales coal-owners are concerned, for export purposes, and, as far as the coalowners of Great Britain are concerned, for internal purposes. To the extent that that intensity of competition prevails, the natural effect will be that the collieries, which are at present suffering a loss, are not going to be put in a position to continue working by this 7d. per ton, but that it is going to put the coalowners who are earning 2d., 4d., or 6d. a ton in a better position to work, and will provide them with a better margin. That will be at the expense of other collieries who are only working part-time. They will be forced out of competition, and the burdens upon those working part-time will be increased. The ultimate result of this method adopted by the Government will be to intensify competition for export purposes and for internal purposes at the expense of the Durham miners, the South Wales miners, the Yorkshire miners, and the Nottingham miners. I do not believe that this policy is going to relieve the situation at all. It is not going to relieve it to any appreciable extent. It has been suggested that the miners have been asking for this method. I do not think that any instance can be given where the miners' representatives have asked for this form of subsidy.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The Minister of Health and myself received a 2006 deputation from the Mining Association of South Wales and the Miners' Federation of South Wales, and the thing that both the miners and the coalowners pressed most keenly upon the Government was a reduction of railway freights on coal.
§ Mr. JOHN
That was a question entirely apart from the de-rating scheme. The Government at the present time is putting up this as part of a general scheme, which is going to revise the relationship of national and local government, a general scheme which is not going to ease the situation so far as the necessitous areas are concerned. To argue that the workers' representatives asked that the Government should introduce a Measure of this kind, believing that its introduction would relieve the situation, is wrong and entirely misleading.
§ Major PRICE
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that it was put forward, on behalf both of the miners and of the mine owners, at a conference at which he was present, as something that would assist the coal industry.
§ Major PRICE
I know perfectly well that, at the Conference which was held of both parties, it was decided to put it forward as a matter that would give great assistance.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I was not citing anything said to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister. I was saying that a deputation of what is called the Joint Conciliation Board, representing the employers and workmen in the whole of South Wales, working together, came in a deputation to myself, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport. The spokesman was the 2007 president of the south Wales Miners' Federation. Every speaker on that deputation begged the Government to do something to decrease the railway freights on coal.
§ Mr. JOHN
I was referring to the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price). He made a statement with which I disagreed, and in order to jutify myself I appealed to the President of the Board of Trade to inquire about what was submitted to the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. We do not know about the deputation to which the President of the Board of Trade refers, but at the Conference at which the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke and I were present—
§ Major PRICE
What I said was that at the Conference we had between the miners' and mine-owners' representatives there was unanimous agreement that to accelerate the relief in rates would help the coal industry in Wales, and they all agreed that we should put it forward and press it upon the Government.
§ Mr. JOHN
I do not want to pursue this matter for the reason that I am still contending I am correct while the hon. and gallant Member will still contend that he is correct. I have kept signed copies of both the memoranda we sent, and I have resolutions in the minute book where it was definitely decided that we were not to suggest anything at all, that all we were to do was to meet the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and point out to them the serious condition of the mining industry and the burden it had to carry, and ask them to give adequate relief, not a relief of 7d. a ton when in the last three months the average loss in South Wales was 1s. 8d. a ton. We wanted some freight relief given to the mining industry which would enable it to work and to absorb the unemployed miners in the South Wales coalfields. Sorely, the Government are not going to put this forward as a relief to the unemployed miners in South Wales. It is not going to provide work for any more miners than are employed at the present time. If the Government wanted to do something to ease the unemployed problem, they could devise various ways 2008 and means. There is the question of the absorption of the unemployed. If the Government spent the £24,000,000 in providing work for the unemployed, it would have a much greater effect upon the unemployment problem than this mere pittance of 7d. a ton in relief on railway freights.
§ Sir EVELYN CECIL
It is desirable that I should repudiate emphatically one or two suggestions which have been made during this Debate. As a representative of a railway company which has practically nothing to do with the private mineral railways, it may be that the contradiction comes better from me. It has been suggested during this Debate that the railway companies were intending to blackmail the Government in connection with the small private mineral railways. That is a very strong word to use. On behalf of all the railway companies, I most emphatically and definitely repudiate that attack and say that no intention of blackmailing anybody was ever in the minds of the railway companies. To say otherwise is absolutely untrue. I know what I am saying, and I know that from the very beginning of the negotiations, when the Government approached the railways as to what they could do to help traders and suggested that the relief of rates for the railways should be passed on to the traders, the railways most willingly accepted the suggestion, most willingly entered into negotiations, and were anxious to do it through thick and thin in order to benefit the trade of the country. I cannot speak the plain truth more strongly. We were most ready to pass on the rating relief which would otherwise have come into our own pockets. Surely that is a praiseworthy object. It was done to benefit the traders of the country who are the customers of the companies. It is clearly unfair to suggest that those rates are not to be passed on by us to our customers to help the trade of the country, but are to be passed on to other privately-owned railways who are possibly our competitors and who would in any case benefit by the relief of rates on the collieries by which they are owned.
There is one other point in regard to the position of the railway companies. The pool, which it is proposed shall be managed by the Railway Clearing House, is one which, as the Minister of Trans- 2009 port showed when he was speaking, is designed so that the surplus balance which is not required under this scheme should be paid to the new fund. The railway companies have made no objection to that. In other words, it means that any profits from the relief of the rates, any balance, should go to the public benefit and not to their own. On the other hand, as the Minister of Transport also pointed out and as is stated on page 5 of the White Paper, if there is a deficiency, the amount of the deficiency is to be apportioned by the Railway Clearing House between the several railway companies. So that, while we are undertaking to pass on all profits to the traders or to the Exchequer, we are ourselves undertaking to bear any deficiency that may occur. What can be better evidence of a real desire to help the country's trade in the present emergency? I trust that during the course of this Debate no further suggestion will be made that the railway companies are out merely for their own benefit. What they are banking on is that the general trade of the country will improve, and therefore improve for them also, but that, after all, is problematical. I again say most emphatically that there is no question whatever of blackmailing anybody.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I want to refer to what has been said by the right hon. Member who has just sat down and to say that the relief given to the railways was given on the understanding that it was to be passed on to their customers, so that they have nothing to boast about in giving something which the Government said was to be passed on. The right hon. Member sneaks as if they they were doing something great and giving something which they were not compelled to give. As one well acquainted with the mining industry, I am bound to say that the rapacity and neglect of the railway companies are very largely responsible for the position of the mining industry to-day. A few years ago practically the same rates were being paid on a greatly increased price for coal. Prices of coal have tumbled down but their rates have remained stationary, so I do not think the railway companies can take much credit to themselves for having done anything to help the industry.
2010 But I rose for another purpose. Probably my division will suffer mere than any other in the country if the Government's proposals are carried out. The miners have made great sacrifices. No one else can claim to have made any sacrifice whatever to keep the pits going except the miner. He has done everything to help trade along. If this proposed scheme goes through I am afraid he will again be called upon to make great sacrifices. The Minister in introducing the Bill said he hoped that trade was going to increase and that we should be in a better position to fight the foreigner than we are to-day. If the foreigner is fought by a reduction of prices in the foreign market, the burden again comes on to the back of the miner. Under the present agreement, as prices fall so do the wages of the miner. His wages to-day are 6s. 6d. a day—25s. to 30s. a week. If the price is reduced by another 6d. a ton, I am afraid the whole of the miners in my division, with the exception of one colliery, are going to be out of employment. There are 20,000 to 30,000 of them, and it would be a serious matter. God knows there are enough derelict colliery villages in Durham and Northumberland now, and to make more would be the greatest crime any Government could take responsibility for.
I have been hoping that something would be done to help employment. I have no faith in your sending your 10,000 harvesters abroad. When the time comes for auditing the accounts I think it will be found to have cost more to send them and bring them back than it, would have cost to keep them here doing some useful work. All the local authorities are asking for schemes of work, but they have been denied them up till now. Instead of making work, thousands of men, with their wives and children, are being sent to the boards of guardians. I ask the Minister to reconsider the position. In the name of the men, women and children, I ask the Government to see if something cannot be done that will give employment rather than make more unemployment.
§ Colonel Sir GEORGE COURTHOPE
The hon. Member who has just spoken has fallen into the same error that many others have done in imagining that the 2011 great railway companies are opposing the inclusion of the private railway com-panics—
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
Did the hon. Baronet hear the letter read from the railway companies in which they said if they were brought in they would try to defeat the whole scheme?
§ Sir G. COURTHOPE
If the hon. Member had allowed me to finish my sentence he would have realised what I was going to say. He has fallen into the error of assuming that the amalgamated railway companies are opposing the inclusion of the private mineral railways in this scheme owing to some desire to redress alleged advantages enjoyed by those private railways in the past. He is overlooking the fact that the scheme that is embodied in this Estimate was calculated upon the traffics not of all the railways, including the private ones, but of the great railways. The suggestion that the mineral railways, however deserving their case, should be brought in after the scheme is drawn, bringing in a contribution quite inadequate to meet the demands which their traffic makes upon it, is only piling up a certain loss which under the scheme the great railways would have to bear, and that is the reason why the railway companies are opposing the proposed inclusion of other railways in the scheme upon which the whole of this Estimate is based.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
Does the hon. Baronet know what the difference would be? It is the difference between 5.875d. and 5.7d.
§ Sir G. COURTHOPE
If it is so infinitesimal as that I wonder that the hon. Member is so keen about it. My information is that it is a very different figure and that the inclusion of the private mineral railways in the scheme now, after it is drawn, would involve a certain loss to the pool which would have to be borne by the great railways, and anyone who has been watching the railway returns in recent years knows that the great railway companies are not in a position to face a certain addition to their loss.
May I say one or two words with regard to the schedule of agricultural 2012 selected traffics, because there is a great deal of misunderstanding evidently in the mind of the hon. and gallant, Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and, I gather, in the minds of others on the point. He argued that because what he calls unwashed carrots are within the schedule and washed carrots are not, an advantage was being given to foreign growers of carrots at the expense of small holders in his constituency. He used a similar argument about potatoes. The facts of the matter are that a certain sum of money will be available in relief of agricultural traffic, and the desire is that the whole of that, money shall go into the pockets of British farmers in order to lighten their costs of production. For that reason fertilisers and feeding stuffs were included—two subjects which figure largely in every farmer's cost of production. Wherever the source of origin of the fertiliser and feeding stuff, the cost is borne by the farmer who puts it on his land or feeds his stock with it, and therefore any relief given to these two categories will be a definite relief to the farmers cost of production.
If the relief was extended to washed vegetables intended for human consumption it would include the carriage of all imported vegetables as well as the carriage of the home-grown vegetables, because our commercial treaties prevent us from discriminating between the same classes of goods produced at home and abroad, and even if that were not so, it would be impracticable to have two classes of freights on precisely the same goods according to their different source of origin. But it is a fact that our commercial treaties prevent any discrimination against the foreigner in eases like that. That is precisely the reason why new potatoes are excluded. New potatoes come very largely from abroad. If they were included, it would mean that some part of this sum of money available for the relief in transport, freight on agricultural produce would go to the foreigner. Part I of the Second Schedule in the White Paper is so drawn as to provide, as far as possible, that the English farmer, the home farmer, shall get the whole benefit. It was approved, and, as a matter of fact, it was settled, in consultation with the National Farmers' Union of this country, and I believe that 2013 it is so drawn as to achieve its purpose and to secure that the whole of the advantage shall go to the farmer.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
The scope of the Debate has been fairly wide, but it has come back again and again to the narrow issue as to whether this Estimate is going to include a provision, or at least whether the Minister is going to give an undertaking, that private mineral railways shall be brought under the provisions of last Session's Act. It is to the Minister's main argument that I propose to direct my remarks. Before doing that, however. I would like to reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who made the extraordinary statement that if private mineral railways were brought in under the provisions of the Act of 1928 it would pile up such an expense as would nullify altogether the benefits that are going to he given to the users of public railways.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman did not say that literally, but that is what he meant. I take this opportunity of giving him the figures which have been drawn up by the experts. The proposal at present is estimated to bring a rebate of 5.75d., and if the private mineral railways are brought in it will be 5.7d. or a difference of slightly less than one-fifth of a penny per ton. Those are the figures which have been given to us by those who have gone very carefully into the matter. They say that if private mineral railways are included it will make a difference to the aggregate value of one-fifth of a penny. Before answering the Minister's main argument, I want to do what other hon. Members have done on these benches, namely, completely to dissociate myself from the general principles of de-rating in the 1928 Act and from the provisions of the Bill that is to come on next week.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
The hon. Member must not pursue that line. This question deals with transport freight.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I dissociate myself from the de-rating provisions of both the Act and the Bill, and I want to say that which has perhaps been said in another 2014 way from these benches and from the other benches. As far as the whole of these proposals are concerned, including the Estimate we are asked to put through to-night, they will have little or no effect in benefiting industry generally. I am thinking of the North of England with apprehension. I am anxious to prevent more mischief, and that will be the purpose of my remarks. I believe that, instead of bringing employment, if this Estimate goes through to-night without an undertaking by the Minister to bring in the private mineral railways, the last state is going to be worse than the first.
I wish to deal also with the ultimatum that has been issued by the Railway Companies. It has been said truly in regard to this House of Commons that there never was a man who set himself the task of breaking it but who was himself broken in the end by the House of Commons. It appears to me that the Railway Companies are making an attempt which has been made before to overawe and to cow the House of Commons. I would say this to every Member of the House of Commons: If they have any strength or dignity they will resist that which was read at that Box this afternoon. It practically amounts to an ultimatum on the part of the Railway Companies to the Legislature of the country. I come to the main argument of the Minister against the inclusion of the private mineral railways in this system. To me it was extraordinary—and yet it was his main argument—to state that the private mineral railways, even classed as industrial hereditaments, will, despite the provisions that cover the public railways, be at least 2½d. per ton better off than the users of the public rail ways.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
Yes, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman compared 1½d. with 4d. and said that the private railways would be to that extent better off even after the users of the public railways received the full rebate under the provisions of the Act. That would be a very good argument if we were discussing excessive railway rates. If this Estimate was for the purpose of giving relief to the users of railways because they had to pay excessive rates, the argument would be a fair one. I would like to draw the attention of the Minister 2015 to the fact that railway freightage is only one of the overhead charges. If he is going to make a comparison between overhead charges of those who own private mineral railways and collieries and their competitors who do not use private railways but the public railways he mast take into consideration the whole of the overhead charges. You have in any business, whether it be a distributive industry or a productive industry, at least six overhead charges relating perhaps to a dozen different establishments. You may find that in regard to No. 1 overhead charge you have a difference between one establishment and another. It is the same in regard to No. 2 overhead charge, and right along you will find a variation of overhead charges in each of those establishments.
I want to remind the Minister that coal freight rates comprise only one overhead charge. In comparing the position of the collieries that use public railways and the position of those that use their own private railways, why should he not consider whether they have coal cutting machinery in one case as against another, whether they have electrical haulage or horse haulage or man haulage and take account of these different overhead charges. Is it fair to bring in a comparison that private mineral railways transport coal at an average cost of 1s. 0¼d. as against the 1s. 7½d. which is estimated on the public railways. These are only estimates, and I am only taking them because they have been given. But even if they are true, for the Minister to make a comparison with reference to one single overhead charge and to make that the main plank in his argument is a travesty of business principles. I say that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's main argument here this afternoon has broken down. The point raised in this House, and it was raised in another place, with regard to the inclusion of the private mineral railways was the difficulty of assessing the running costs. The Minister of Health here and Lord Peel in another place spoke about the difficulty there would be of bringing private mineral railways under the provisions of this proposal and pointed out the difficulty of assessing the running costs and work- 2016 ing out a rebate pro rata. That has been overcome. The companies that are using the private railways have pointed out that there is a sure ascertainment in the 1921 Coal Agreement, that is, to take the basis of ascertainment for miners' wages. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) reminds me that they are known as T.S. Returns. The owners of private railways believe that this could be taken as a basis of ascertainment if it were brought in under the provisions of the Act of 1928.
I want to ask a question of the Minister. It is one about which my hon. Friends are very anxious. What is going to take place to-night if the Estimate goes through? If this Estimate goes through without any undertaking from the Treasury Bench, will the Government, when the Bill is introduced by the Minister, look upon an Amendment to bring in the private railways as being in Order? If we cannot get an understanding of that kind to-night, it will mean that this Debate will settle once and for all the question as to whether the private mineral railways are to be brought on to an equal footing with those who use the public railways. I would like to ask that question and have your ruling. Mr. Chairman, on the matter.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid I am not quite clear as to the hon. Member's question. I am not sure that my answer will quite meet it. This Resolution, of course, is not the foundation of a Bill. If funds are required for a new object I should imagine that some' Amendment of the Act which was passed in the summer will be necessary. Anyhow, no Amendment by any Rule of the House could be put to this Vote which would bring in any kind of hereditament which is not covered by the Act.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
My experience of this House is very limited in comparison with your's, Mr. Chairman, but I have always thought that before a Bill authorising expenditure of public money is introduced something in the way of a Money Resolution is necessary. The point I wish to put is this: Will this be looked upon as a Money Resolution to cover a provision to be embodied in an Amendment to be brought in in respect of the new Bill. Will that be the position? If this is looked upon as a Money Resolution and there is no 2017 undertaking with regard to an Amendment, it appears to me that the case of the private mineral railways is settled once and for all.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I should not like to say that, and, without a very careful study of the existing Act, I could not say off-hand whether another Estimate could be brought in in connection with that Act and in consequence of that Act to give this relief. Anyhow, when an item like this is brought in in Committee of Supply as a Supplementary Estimate it is not possible to move an Amendment as to its purpose. The purpose is either settled by the recent Act or may he simply combined with some existing service by reason of former legislation. It is impossible to bring in any Amendment to this Vote which will divert for some particular purpose something which is not already covered by the existing laws.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I am glad to have your advice upon that matter, because I think that the Government view is entirely out. Our concern on these benches is not for vested interests either one side or the other. We believe sincerely that the de-rating proposals of the Government will not bring employment. We are assured by those who are in a position to know—I have been assured by the Manager of the Cramlington group of collieries in Northumberland—that if the private mineral railways are not put on to an equitable footing with the public railways it will mean the closing down of collieries and a very serious increase in the unemployment figures. It is because we believe that something very serious will result in connection with the private railways, that we are pressing upon hon. Members in all quarters of the House—I am glad to know that in every part of the House we have some support—to try to bring about what we claim is pure equity for one section of the employing class.
§ Sir WALTER RAINE
After the speeches which have been delivered by north country Members on this question, quite regardless of party, I hope the Government will recognise the seriousness of this question and that it is not too late for them, even now, to take some steps to remove what is undoubtedly going to he a very serious 2018 matter. How serious the question is can be recognised from the fact that out of the quantity of coal produced by the collieries with private railways last year, nearly 19,000,000 tons, which represented one-third of the total output of Durham and Northumberland, just under 9,000,000 tons were shipped over the private railways on what is known as the selected traffics. On a previous occasion I gave some figures in connection with the Port of Sunderland and this matter is so serious for my constituency that I intend to repeat them. I pointed out that up to the end of last month out of a total quantity of about 4,500,000 tons of coal shipped from Sunderland, not less than 2,700,000 tons, or three-fifths of the quantity, had been shipped over the private railways. Therefore, it will be seen that we view with some concern any interference with the private railways or any impediment being put in the way so as to make unfair competition as between the private and the public railways.
We have heard during the past four hours what the Mining Association said and what the Durham and Northumberland colliery people said, and there have been various contradictory statements. I do not intend to go into that matter, but I should like to inform the House that both the River Wear Commission, of which I am a member, and the Tyne Commission view this matter very seriously, so much so that in connection with the Wear Commission I was present at a meeting a month ago when the members unanimously authorised the chairman of the Commission to take what steps he could in order to assist the private railways to obtain what they are seeking. I do not think the Government recognise quite sufficiently the fact that if this rebate were being given back to the component parts of the traffic upon any particular railway, the point which the private railways are making would not be so strong, but it is being given back to certain selected traffics. When you pick out certain selected traffics it is quite a different matter and it becomes, I have no hesitation in saying so, nothing short of a subsidy. While we are very glad to have any help in the coal trade, not only in the North of England but in other places, there can be no doubt that this particular assistance is a subsidy. 2019 Therefore the case is very strong that the private railways should share in the subsidy. I hope it is not too late for the Government to view this matter with the same seriousness as we do. I would ask them also not to regard the red tape so much as they seem inclined to do, but to take all reasonable steps in order to give us the relief which we require in the North of England, because if we do not get it, we are very apprehensive about very large numbers of miners being thrown out of employment.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
I do not intend to take up much of the time of the House in dealing with this matter, because practically everything that can be said has been said by people who speak with authority coming from the mining districts, not merely on the side of the miners but on the side of the mineowners. I believe that this proposal is intended to give some little relief chiefly to the mining industry: incidentally it is intended to help the iron and steel and other industries, but it is chiefly to help the mining industry in its present deplorable condition. Speaking as a representative of a mining district in Northumberland, I may say that I have been approached by a considerable number of mineowners in my own Division and also by those representing the miners there. While this scheme is intended to give some little help to the miners, those of us who know the position of the mining districts of Great Britain realise that it is only a drop in the bucket. We do not for a moment imagine that this is all that the Government ought to do to relieve the poverty and distress at present existing in the mining districts, but, although it is small, we welcome it as a beginning and as a step in the right direction.
I want to make an earnest appeal to the representatives of the Government that even at this late hour they might extend the relief to those collieries which have private railways. I fear that if the Government cannot do that, instead of this scheme being a help to the mining industry it will throw many thousands of miners out of employment. It will put the colliery owners who carry their coal over their own private railways at a serious disadvantage as compared with those who carry their coal over the public 2020 railways. Knowing the mining industry well, I know that the competition at the present moment between the two classes of mine owners is as keen as it can be and that if one section of mine owners are assisted to the extent of 6d. or 7d. per ton, it will mean, with the competition so keen between the two classes of mine owners, that those who carry their coal over their private lines will have to shut down their mines and throw a very large number of miners out of employment. I do appeal to the Government to extend the relief to the colliery owners who have their own private lines.
§ Major PRICE
I should like to support the appeal made by the last speaker. Some of the speeches from the Opposition benches were calculated to put anybody against giving any concession, because it was suggested by speaker after speaker that the scheme was no good, that the rating relief would not help anybody and that it would be much better to leave the thing alone, and damn the Government for all time. I do appeal to the Minister to find some means of bringing the privately owned railways into this scheme. The objection of the great railway companies seems to he to bringing the private railways into this particular scheme by this particular method. I am certain that the owners of the collieries which have their own railway tines do not mind into what scheme they are brought or what method is adopted, so long as they get the fair play to which they are entitled. It is not beyond the wit a the Mines Department to devise something which would enable these particular colliery owners to have the benefit which they seek. I have in my own constituency a, small anthracite colliery which has a great deal of private railway lines. They have that railway not so much because it is an advantage, but because they must have it in order to get the coal down to the main line or down to the small harbour. They are put to this disadvantage that the railway rates when they get to the main line are very much heavier than the railway rates to the other collieries that are near the centre. We do not ask to be given an advantage, but we do ask not to be put at a disadvantage, and I am certain that we have sympathy from all quarters of the House in making our appeal.
2021 It has been suggested that neither the mineowners nor the representatives of the miners ever asked for or suggested relief of this kind. I take exception to that, statement, because I have a very clear recollection of conferences held between the South Wales Members of Parliament and the miners' representatives in South Wales and the mineowners' representatives, to discuss and consider what could he done to help the industry in that part of the country. We met many times and had long discussions, and the one practical suggestion that emerged from that conference was that what was wanted was some measure of relief in regard to railway rates. I do not say that it went any further than that and that when the deputation met the Minister it was put forward by representatives of the miners who sit in this House, but it was a suggestion of the mineowners and the representatives of the mineowners that that would give them some measure of help. I do not put it any higher than that.
With regard to the Third Schedule, Part which relates to agriculture, there is a provision thatIn the case of live stock conveyed to or from Northern Ireland or the Irish Free State and carried at a throughout charge, which includes a charge for carriage by railway in Great Britain, two-fifths of that throughout charge shall be taken to be the proportion thereof attributable to carriage by railway in Great Britain and treated accordingly as the carriage charge from which rebate is allowable.I do not know whether it is possible to make that particular Clause apply to other articles that are imported into this country from abroad which also have a through carriage. I do not know whether they are excluded, but I hope the Government will include them so that benefit may come to the British farmer and not to the foreign farmer.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should like to ask the representative of the Government to agree to report Progress on this Vote. Appeals have been made to him from his own side which I should have thought were enough to convince him that this matter ought to be reconsidered. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken reproved us for wanting to get this proposal extended, while at the same time we object to the main proposition in the Local Government Bill. Our position is simple. We say that, if the 2022 Government carry their proposal to assist the big colliery companies, they have no right to carry it in face of the knowledge which has been given to them to-night, that by doing so they will penalise a number of other traders and industrialists in Northumberland and Durham and make the position in those districts very much worse than it is at the present time. No one on behalf of the Government has contraverted the statements which have been made from this side of the House and from the benches opposite. I am asking the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to agree to report Progress in order that the Government may consider the speeches of their own supporters. Hon. Members opposite pride themselves on having so much more knowledge and intelligence and capacity than hon. Members on this side so that when they happen to agree with us it is an overwhelming reason why the Government should agree to report Progress. I desire to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."
§ The CHAIRMAN
Many other hon. Members may wish to speak on other matters during the Debate, and this is not a Motion which I can accept.
§ Mr. BARKER
I want to say a word in reply to what the hon. Member for Pembroke (Major Price) and the Minister of Transport have said in regard to the South Wales miners. We did not ask for these de-rating proposals—
§ Major PRICE
I do not think I ever suggested they did. What I said was that the mine owners and the miners suggested that they might obtain relief by a reduction in railway rates and dock dues and they asked that it should be put forward as a suggestion.
§ Mr. BARKER
I want to say emphatically that it never entered into the brain of the most inventive member of the party on this side that the Government would bring in such a grotesque scheme as this. It arose, however, in a very natural way. The repeal of the 2023 Seven Hours Act intensified competition on the Continent, and in order to meet this intensified competition the Polish Government subsidises freights from the mine right up to the frontier. That created a serious position for the coal-owners in this country, and especially in South Wales. The Minister has been supplied with the information in documentary form, and it is to meet the request which the coalowners made in order to try and compete successfully with the subsidised railways of the Continent that these proposals have been brought in. In South Wales the railway freights are a serious proposition. On export coal the freight is 1s. 9d. per ton and the dock charges average 10½d. per ton. That is a serious handicap to our people. These charges have increased since 1914 by 94 per cent. The freight charges on inland coal are a perfect scandal to the country. They amount to 4s. 3d. per ton. We never anticipated that the Government would deal with the problem in this way, and we refuse to be entangled in this policy. The scale of relief is totally inadequate. It may relieve the position in certain cases, but, there will be no general relief to industry, especially to the mining industry because the loss per ton on export coal is 1s. 6d. The coalowners of South Wales lost over £2,000,000 in 1927, and will lose about £3,000,000 in 1928.
Let me point out the dilemma of the Government. They have come to the relief of the mining industry by reducing coal freights; they have protected the mineowners from being exploited by the railway companies, but they have done nothing to prevent the coal mining industry being exploited by the shinning industry. I have a quotation here from a respectable authority and I think the Committee should have the benefit of it. I will read it. It is from "Lloyds Bank Monthly," and hon. Members will realise that the shipping companies have stolen all the swag already. As a matter of fact, they have increased the shipping rates by 1s. per ton, and the most the Government can do is to give relief to the amount of 7d. per ton. They cannot prevent the shipowners exploiting the situation. They have taken advantage of the position and this is the result: 2024The recent rise in freights is causing a considerable amount of uneasiness in the coal market which has been badly affected owing to the shortness of tonnage, consequently contract shipments are being postponed wherever practicable and the advance of freights, which has increased the delivered cost of coal on the Mediterranean and other markets by at least one shilling per ton since the beginning of October, has seriously hindered new business, particularly as there is no immediate prospect of securing concessions from the collieries to offset the dearer transport.I do not envy the Government; they have placed themselves in a most ridiculous position. They bring in a de-rating scheme, which is supposed to revolutionise everything. It is supposed to bring salvation to everybody, and here are the shipowners of the country who have actually put up freights by one shilling per ton. They have discounted everything the Government has done. If the Government had doubled the subsidy the shipowners have got away with it. No Government in history was ever in such a grotesque position as the present administration. They have my sympathy, if it is worth anything. They are not dealing with the situation, and things will be much worse when they have done than before they started. This scheme will not add one penny to the wages of the workers. All it can do is to reduce in some small measure the huge losses of the owners, but there will be huge losses still, and even greater if the shipowners continue their nefarious policy. I do not know how the Government are going to get out of this dilemma, unless they bring in an Act of Parliament to curb the rapacity of the shipping industry. However, it is their funeral, not ours, and it is not my place to get them out of the difficult position in which they have placed themselves. It only shows how utterly helpless any Government is under a capitalist system in assisting any particular industry. The Government are wasting the time of the Committee and destroying the allegiance of some of their best friends by these de-rating proposals. We are prepared to take whatever small thing there is in them, but it can be done much better by a direct grant from the Treasury. I shall, therefore, support the Amendment.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
It is one of the ironies of the forms of discussion which take place in the Committee that 2025 the point which I have risen to bring to the notice of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not deal with the wonderful profits being made by shipowners but With the serious loss which may possibly fall upon them. The Committee will be relieved to know that at any rate there is one hon. Member who is not following the long procession of speeches which have been made on the subject of private railways. It is not that I do not feel strongly on that matter, but I think the case has been presented very ably from all quarters of the House, and I rise to bring before the Government one point only. I want to ask whether they have considered the question of the coastwise shipping services of this country and the possible effect which this Estimate, and the scheme behind it, will have upon them. I need not tell the Minister of Transport the great importance of these services to the country and the disaster which will fall on the country if they are in any way forced out of existence. Those who remember the days of the War and after, and who can visualise what might happen in the case of an upheaval in this country, will realise how important it is that these coastwise shipping services should be maintained.
This is the position which arises as a result of the anticipation of the relief in railway rates; it upsets the balance of transport services as between railways, canals and coastwise shipping companies. That balance is based upon a ratio of freights or, land and by sea which is very easily upset. The position is a difficult one for these coastwise shipping companies, if this relief is given to the railways and by them passed on in the way of relief, and no similar relief is given in the case of coastwise shipping. I have in my hand an illustration of what will be the result of the proposal. One company alone, manifestly I do not mention any names, has carried 30,000 tons of potatoes, other than seed potatoes, from Scottish ports to English ports at an average rate of about 20s. per ton. This traffic is very highly competitive. If they must reduce their rates by one-tenth, a reduction of 2s., the result will be that during the period of the year when this traffic is usually carried the company in question will be really unable to carry on at all. The loss which will 2026 fall on them is not a loss of 2s. per ton, it is a loss of their total traffic; and the consequence is that we shall imperil the future of these companies in which I need not say I have no personal interest at all—
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Is it the argument of the hon. Gentleman that the traffic will be carried by the railways and not by the shipping companies?
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
Yes. We may seriously imperil employment at the docks and various other places. I would give one other illustration only. There is another line carrying traffic from Liverpool to London. It has already been told that with the passing of this Measure it will be forced, on something between 50,000 and 75,00 tons of cattle cake, to reduce freights by 2s. 6d. a ton. I am entirely in favour of this Measure and the passing on of this relief, but the Government should consider whether it is not possible to put the coast-wise shipping companies in the same position as the railways—no better and no worse—to get relief and to pass it on in the same way to those who entrust traffic to them. Financially, the matter is not a big one. In fact, it is comparatively a small one, having regard to the £3,000,000 which is under consideration to-night. I have no figures on that point, because is is probably impossible to get them without a great deal of research, but the probability is that the total amount required to enable the coast-wise service to be put in the same position as the railways, and to enable the same amount of employment to be obtained in the docks, and to prevent this relief to industry from benefiting one form of transport at the expense of another, is not more than £100,000 to £200,000. I believe in the great necessity of getting this Measure through, but I hope that the Minister will consider by what means he can help the coast-wise shipping companies to maintain their services and enable them to give to their clients exactly the same advantages as the railways are to give to theirs.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
The speech of the last hon. Member goes to show how absurd the whole policy of the Government is in mixing up relief to depressed industries with local government reform and the rating system. The case of coast- 2027 wise shipping is on a par with the case of the private mineral railways, which apparently the hon. Member does not support.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
I do support them. I merely refrained from saying so in order to avoid repetition.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
Then I hope that the hon. Member will come into the Lobby with us. It is true that private railways are part of colliery hereditaments, but the rating officials in those counties where private mineral railways exist must have taken the values of those railways into account when fixing the rateable value of the colliery. Therefore, these private lines have always paid their contribution to the rate burden of the county. It is a comparatively easy matter for the rate officials in the colliery areas to look up the capital value and the mileage of the lines, and to decide what is the share of the rate burden that they pay as industrial hereditaments. The Government should at least agree to deduct that proportion when they are considering what they will do in the case of the public railways.
I wish to refer to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price). I am sorry he is not in his place at the moment. I certainly do not agree with his interpretation of what has taken place when the joint deputations, representing the coalowners, the Miners' Federation and Welsh Members of Parliament, have met the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other members of the Government from time to time. I have no knowledge of the deputation referred to by the President of the Board of Trade, but I say definitely that the deputation which put the case before the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was very careful not to suggest any specific way of assisting the coal industry. It is true that we submitted memoranda showing the lamentable condition of the industry and the heavy charges upon it, but we did not specify in what direction we wanted the Government to assist us. The method was left entirely to the Government. Not a single miner committed himself to de-rating or any of the other proposals now put forward by the Government. In the joint appeal that 2028 was made the coalowners said that they required a relief of 2s. 6d. a ton, and when it was suggested that they might get a relief of 6d. to 8d. per ton, they simply sneered at it and said it was of no use to them. The remarkable thing is that Mr. Finlay Gibson, who was chiefly responsible for preparing the data submitted to the Government, is reported in last week's issue of the official organ of the coalowners in South Wales to have said this in an interview:Referring to the rebate on railway rates and its effect on coal prices, he emphasised that it is not the intention of the South Wales Marketing Association to make any reduction in the minimum prices in consequence of the reduction in railway rates which is to take place as from December 1st.Then he went on:It would be the policy of the colliery owners to retain the whole of the small benefit which it is estimated will average about 6½d. a ton on export coal, towards the mitigation of their losses. In any case the minimum price schedule would not be affected at all by the coming into force of the reduced railway rates.I want the Committee to realise that what we are doing under this proposal is simply to hand over a lump sum of money to the coalowners, and that we are not exercising any control over the way in which they are to use that lump sum when they get it. Mr. Gibson has admitted that they propose to keep it in their own pockets as compensation to some extent for their losses in the industry. That is quite unfair and unjustified. I do not deny that they are making heavy losses now. The South Wales and British coal trade as a whole has made losses from time to time during periods of depression, hut it has made up for them handsomely whenever there has been a boom of trade. That fact is notorious in the coal industry more, perhaps, than in any industry in the country. I do not think anyone can say that, bad as the outlook is now, we are not going to get another period of prosperity in the near future. Whenever it comes, the big profits in the few years will easily make up for the lean years.
The coal industry should not seek to recoup itself for its losses out of this loan that the Government are to give the industry. The money should be used in an effort to put the industry on its 2029 feet, and the first who have a call upon any money are the miner and his wife and his children, who are suffering to-day in a way that the coalowners never have suffered and never can suffer. It is a gross injustice to hand over this money to the coalowners without any control over the method of using it. In the evidence submitted to the Government—agreed to by the coalowners as well as the miners—it was pointed out that cut-throat methods of competition had brought down the price of coal to within 10 per cent. of the average pre-War price and that the costs of materials for running collieries were still 10 per cent. higher than the pre-War costs. Emphasis was also laid on the outstanding increase in the charges for transport., which were said to be 200 per cent. higher than before the War. It is true that the coalowners tried to induce the miners' Members of Parliament to bring pressure on the Government to relieve the industry by reducing transport charges, but we refused to commit ourselves to that proposal. Everybody knows that miners' wages to-day are at rock bottom. Many of the men are working half-time; a great number are out of work altogether.
There are other and better ways of using this money than handing it over, without conditions, to the coalowners, and that is what this proposal means. The Government will have to account very seriously to the country, when all the facts become known, for ignoring the position of the miners and the miners' families while helping the coalowners in this way. The Miners' Federation put several practical suggestions before the Government for the relief of the industry. For instance, they pointed out that we have something like 65,000 veteran miners in the industry. These men are aged 60 and upwards, and many of them have been miners from the age of 10 or even younger. A miner of that age who has been employed as such all his life has probably spent 50 or 55 years cutting coal for the country's needs. Surely these older men should be pensioned off in order to make room for younger and stronger men who are idle. At the other end of the scale, there are some 70,000 boys in the industry, between the ages of 14 and 16 who in the present condition of the industry ought not to be employed in the mines at all. They 2030 ought to be maintained at school and educated. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Health and other Members of the Government have repeatedly said that they see no possible opening in the future for at least 200,000 miners in the coal industry. If that be so, the coal industry is becoming a blind alley. And yet we have all these boys in it, and when they grow up the majority of them, on the Government's own showing, will not get work. Let me give an illustration.
I must ask the hon. Member to give me an explanation of how this refers to the subject before the Committee.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
The sum of money which we are discussing is meant partly to assist the coal industry. I say that that method of assisting the coal industry is wrong, and I am free, I take it, to suggest an alternative method.
The hon. Member can do so up to a certain point, but he must devote his attention mainly to the proposal at present before the Committee instead of to an elaboration of suggested alternatives.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
The only way I can illustrate the mistakes of the Government is by showing the value of other methods. I submit that if the Government found means of getting these old men and boys out of the industry, and found work for the younger men who are now idle, it would be a better thing. There is a growing practice among coal-owners of employing boys to do the work of men. That is very general in the coalfields. The Government have admitted that the industry is in need of assistance. The general taxpayers and the country as a whole, will have to bear the burden of relieving the industry but the Government have not thought fit to tap another source of revenue which ought to have been tapped long ago. I refer to the landlords and their mineral royalties and ground rents.
I am afraid the lion. Member is getting far beyond the matter which is before the Committee. He must really confine himself to it.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
In that case I would only point out that the money which the Government are offering is not enough. Instead of this small sum of 6½ a ton, they ought to bring it up to 1s. 6d or 2s a ton. The money which they are now offering is not going to assist the industry at all. I doubt whether it will keep one additional colliery open for six months. I fear that what will happen is that the coalowners will simply put it in their own pockets and that we shall have no change in the condition of the industry.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
The constituency which I have the honour to represent has in it a large and important dock, namely Immingham Dock, which, in the past, used to depend largely on the coal export trade of this country. I rejoice to see—and I thank the Government for it—that among the reliefs given in the scheme is relief to export coal and also to pit props. When the coal industry became so bad some years back, Immingham had a very bad time, but latterly the pit-prop trade has increased. As far as I can see the pit-prop trade in Immingham is likely to establish itself, and it will certainly be assisted by this freight relief scheme. As far as Immingham is concerned and, as far as the employment of dockers there is concerned, I see a great chance not only of retaining the work which they have at present but of increasing it.
I should like to say a few words on the agricultural side of this question. I think the Government also deserve thanks, not only for bringing forward the scheme, but for hastening the time of its operation. The agricultural industry, naturally, would like to see the whole of the de-rating scheme brought into operation six months earlier than the time fixed; but, if it cannot get that concession, it acknowledges that the freight relief scheme is a considerable help. In explaining to the Committee how agriculture tends to gain by this scheme, I would divide the industry into two parts, the cattle-raising side and the arable side. On the cattle-raising side, it would appear that smallholders and farmers will have lower freights to pay on feeding-stuffs, and will be to send their live stock by rail for considerably less than the existing rates. The smallholders especially ought to benefit in 2032 this respect. If they use the railway at all, they get their consignments and send them away in small bulk. Small bulk freights are more than large bulk. The foreigner, who has sent over his produce in large bulk, has had a great advantage from the freights in this country as compared with the smallholder. The assistance in the freight scheme, therefore, will tend to help the agriculturists in this country as compared with the agriculturists abroad.
But I am not quite so sure that the arable farmer is going to have quite as much assistance as those who get their living from live stock. As far as I can see, the main assistance is going to be the saving in the cost of transport of his manures and his lime. There is no provision for lessening the cost of his produce as a whole. I should like very much if the Government would say how much it would cost to reduce the freights on grain in this country, because, as far as I can tell, that is not dealt with in the scheme. It is true that offals are reduced, but not the grain, and we must acknowledge that the arable side of Agriculture this season is suffering intensely. I hope very much that if there is any extension of the Government's scheme, the freight costs on grain will be included in it, if they are not included at the present time.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
It prevents the scheme being as much use to the purely arable agriculturists as it is to those who raise cattle, but we realise that the Government have gone some way to help us, and for that we are thankful.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I think there is some doubt as to whether patent fuel is now included in the scheme or whether the manufacture of patent fuel will benefit as a result of these proposals, and I wish to call the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to the position in South Wales, where the small coal is conveyed from the collieries to the patent fuel works, which in almost every case are situated at the dock side. The patent fuel is manufactured at the dock side, and is not conveyed by rail, but placed into the ships, which are 2033 at the dock side and very near the fuel works. As I read the proposals of the Government, the coal that goes to make up the patent fuel, which has to travel distances of from 12 to 20 miles from the pit to the patent fuel works, is not included in the present proposals of the Government, and I would like to impress, if I could, on the right hon. Gentleman the importance of including that small coal. The patent fuel industry is a very important one in South Wales. We are not unfortunately manufacturing as much as we did, but even to-day we are exporting something like a million tons of patent fuel from this country to the Continent, and I think it is right, to say that something like 90 per cent of the patent fuel is manufactured in South Wales. If we are going to do anything to interfere with the use of small coal for purposes of this kind, it will be a serious handicap to the steam coal trade of South Wales, because I think it is admitted that the drier small steams are taken to make up the patent fuel in the way it is made up now, and I hope the President will direct his attention to this question.
I want to follow the points which were put by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Manly Jones), and ask the President whether the Government have any guarantee from the mineowners that the amount of subsidy which they are going to receive as a result of these proposals will be used for the purpose of benefiting the mining industry, because the position, as I see it, is this, that whatever the Government have done during the last three or four years in the way of so-called assistance to the industry has unfortunately made the industry very much worse off than it was before the Government commenced tinkering with it. In my own division one of the oldest colliery companies, owned by an individual who was the pioneer of the steam coal trade in this country, a company that has given good employment to thousands of workmen for 45 or 50 years, closed down last week and, I understand, is going into voluntary liquidation. It is now waiting for one of the big trusts to come along and buy out the concern at a knock-down price, and while these transactions are going on something like 6,000 or 7,000 workmen, their wives, and families are, 2034 unfortunately, destitute. That is the condition which exists in almost every district in the South Wales coalfield, and I want to impress on the President of the Board of Trade that it is of no use the Government coming forward with proposals year after year unless there is some guarantee from the mineowners who will benefit as a result of this scheme that the industry will get the full advantage of it.
I would like to deal with the history of Government interference and its effect upon the industry in the last four or five years. In 1925 the Government gave a subsidy of £23,000,000, without any guarantee at all from the coalowners as to how it was going to be used. The money was spent, and at the end of the period of subsidy the industry was very much worse off than it was at the commencement. In 1926 we had a coal stoppage, and unfortunately the Government came along again with proposals. They passed through this House the Eight Hours Act, which, when it was put into operation, left the industry even worse than it was when the subsidy was paid, and not only left the industry in this country worse off, but also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker) has said, encouraged our foreign competitors to subsidise railway rates to enable Silesia, Poland, and Germany to compete in the export market. Take the position in Poland, which is one of our chief competitors in the export market. Almost as soon as the Eight Hours Act was put into operation in this country, the Polish Government reduced railway rates, with the result that for some time, and even to-day, I understand, the railway rates these for the conveying of coal from pit to port are less than they were in 1913. That has been brought about very largely as a result of the attitude of the Government to this question.
I have heard several hon. Members opposite, railway directors, dealing with the position of railways and asking us to believe that the railway companies will not benefit as a result of this scheme. They may not directly benefit, but the railway companies have benefited considerably as a result of the mining industry during the last five or six years. The hon. Member for Abertillery referred to the fact that the rail rates 2035 in South Wales are nearly 100 per cent higher to-day than they were before the War, and dock dues are over 200 per cent. higher than before the War, yet now the railway companies pretend that they are coming along as philanthropists and going to assist the mining industry with something that they are going to get from the Government themselves! In regard to the condition of the industry before the Government interfered, in 1924 the average free-on-board price of coal in this country, before the subsidy was given, was 25s. 1d. per ton, South Wales price. At the present time it is 17s. 10d a ton, or 7s. 3d. per ton less than before the subsidy was given in 1924. In 1926, after the Eight Hours Act was passed, the average price of coal in South Wales was 21s. 8d. free-on-board; at present it is 17s. 10d., which is really 2s. 4d. less than it was immediately after the Eight Hours Act came into operation.
The whole cry of the mine-owners has been: "Give us these concessions, do this year after year, "and almost every time it is done, they pass the advantage on to the foreigner. Notwithstanding the very low free-on-board price, the export trade in this country is worse than it was 12 months ago. Take the figures for the 10 months ending 31st October this year, and compare them with the same period in 1927. In 1927, with the price of coal about 1s. 6d. per ton higher than it is now, free on board, we exported 43,136,000 tons. In the first 10 months of this year, with the price of coal at is. 6d. per ton lower, we exported 41,639,000 tons, or nearly 1,500,000 tons less than we exported when the price was higher during the first 10 months of last year. While the tonnage exported is 1,500,000 tons less than it was last year, the actual price received for this coal is £6,500,000 less than was received for the smaller quantity during the first 10 months of last year
Everyone admits that the mining industry is in a bad way. Prices have tumbled, profits have gone out of existence, and quarter after quarter during the last 12 months the position has gradually got worse. For the quarter ending 30th September, 1927, the loss in South Wales was 1s. 5d per Lon; for the quarter ending 30th June of this 2036 year, the latest figures available, the losses are 1s. 8.72d per ton. Conditions in the industry are worse than they were 12 months ago, notwithstanding reductions m price. I would ask the Government to get to grips with the cause of the difficulties in the mining industry. I will not minimise any little advantage that will be obtained as a result of these proposals, but in common with everything the Government have done, they are merely tinkering with the situation.
Sooner or later the real causes will have to be dealt with, but I have almost given up hope that this Government will ever realise what the real causes are; if they do realise the causes, they have not sufficient courage to put the remdy into operation. Year after year, month after month the export of coal from this country is being reduced. There is a cause, and if the Government would only attempt to understand it and would deal with it, it would be much better than bringing forward proposals such as those in the de-rating Scheme. While they are tinkering with this problem, hundreds of thousands of the best men and women are suffering agonies. I read in the "Morning Post" yesterday of the condition of things in Merthyr, where for the last two years no less than 75 per cent of the male insured workers have been unemployed. In my own division nearly 50 per cent of the men are unemployed, and in the mining industry generally there are 300,000 mm unemployed. The industry is losing money, old established companies are going out of existence, big trusts are coming in, proposals are made by colliery owners that they should restrict output, adding again to the difficulties of employment, and all this because the Government will not get to grips with the difficulties with which the industry is confronted. I beg the Government to endeavour to understand the problem, and, understanding the problem, not to tinker with it as they are doing by these proposals, but to bring in a scheme chat will really benefit the industry and put it on its legs.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD BENN
I wish to put a totally different point or two to the President of the Board of Trade, or perhaps to a Treasury official if it be necessary. The principle of a subsidy is comparatively new in our financial 2037 arrangements. We remember the Sugar Subsidy, and the big Mining Subsidy, but this is a comparatively new thing for the Committee of Supply to be engaged in. Therefore, it is desirable that as a Committee of Supply we should examine with great care what machinery is being set up in giving the subsidy. The machinery of Supply is for an Estimate to be presented with the necessary details of how it is to be spent, and the Committee votes the Supply; it is then reported to the House, which confirms the Vote, and it is embodied in the Consolidated Fund Bill. The money is spent by the Department, and then the Comptroller and Auditor-General, who is an official independent of this House, goes through the actual expenditure in order to see whether the wishes of this House, which has voted the money on account of the taxpayers, have been properly carried out. If they have not been properly carried out, he makes a report and he has it in his power to impose, if necessary, very severe penalties.
If this procedure be necessary for the ordinary routine Vote for the Supply of the country, it is far more necessary when we come into the area of a subsidy. I am not talking about the merits of the subsidy, but of the financial purity—I do not use the word offensively—the financial strictness which is necessary in dealing with the money. What has happened? We get an Estimate which says that £1,000,000 on account is to be voted. There is some description in a footnote of what the Department is going to do. Whether that actually carries the weight and authority of an enactment, I am not sure, and whether that footnote will be embodied in the Consolidated Fund Bill, I do not know. I am assuming that it does carry the authority of an enactment. This footnote appears at the bottom of page 12 of these Estimates, and it is a very surprising thing:The expenditure out of this Grant in Aid will not be audited in detail by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, nor will any balance of the sums issued remaining unexpended at the close of the financial year he liable to surrender.There is a certain check upon a spending department in regard to Estimates, because the practice is that if too much money has been voted, the money has to be surrendered in a very unromantic way to the Sinking Fund. Here we 2038 are setting up a new fund to be fed out of the subsidy, which is not to be subject to a detailed control by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and the residue of which, if any is not to go to the Sinking Fund, but is to be apparently accumulated in some sort of new minor Consolidated Fund. I imagine that the answer of the President of the Board of Trade will be to quote this White Paper, Cmd. 3215. We had another of these White Papers yesterday, and I feel bound to ask the Government: What is the value of this thing? It is couched in language of the most ridiculous pomposity. We have legal preambles to many of our Acts of Parliament stating "Whereas," but those are Acts of Parliament. This thing, so far as I can gather, is a sort of hymn-sheet issued by the Ministry of Transport. It has no authority; it means nothing. Although I have read it from beginning to end I cannot discover that the Minister of Transport has any statutory power in this matter. I suppose he can print what he likes—we cannot stop that; but he has not, so far as I can gather any statutory power to issue these regulations at all. I take the strongest objection to these regulations. Even in Acts of Parliament we constantly find the little phrase "Subject to regulations issued by the, Minister," but at any rate such regulations have got the shelter of a Clause or sub-Clause in the Act. But what is this thing:Whereas His Majesty's Government have introduced legislation.Whoever has heard of an Act of Parliament beginning "Whereas His Majesty's Government." What is His Majesty's Government? There is a House of Commons, there is a House of Peers, and there is the Crown, but who ever has heard of His Majesty's Government as being one of the estates of the realm? This is a diverting novelty, but I do not think it is a wise thing. It has no authority, and it is no good pretending it has. Then it says further:And whereas His Majesty's Government desire that such legislation should be passed.This might be very suitable to the Ministry of Corporations in Rome but I have never seen any official document stating that His Majesty's Government desire anything, nor do I think anyone cares 2039 twopence whether His Majesty's Government desire it or do not desire it. Now we come to the next sentence, which says:And whereas His Majesty's Government intends to ask Parliament to provide.I may be wrong, but I certainly think the President of the Board of Trade will have the greatest difficulty in producing any document which forms a precedent for language of this sort. From the greater majesty of His Majesty's Government we pass to the minutiae, and we read:Now, therefore, the Ministry of Transport hereby issue.What I would like to hear from the Minister of Transport, or from the Lord of the Treasury whom I see on the Treasury Bench.
§ Mr. BENN
Well then, he is much more important to this occasion, because if he is an Official of the Household I would point out to him that the Royal prerogative is now being attacked. This document goes on to say:Now, therefore, the Ministry of Transport hereby issue the following scheme.Quite apart from joking, do not hon. Gentlemen of all parties think it would be wise, as we are distributing subsidies, to construct some financial scheme or some set of rules which would enable a grip to be kept upon the expenditure? If every Clause in this scheme were infringed I cannot see that anyone would have any redress. The Auditor-General has no redress, because he is expressly excluded, and the House of Commons has no redress, because this is not an Act of Parliament; speaking of it in the most respectful way, this is merely an arbiter dictum of a Government Department. I am not making a joke of this at all, and I would ask the President of the Board of Trade, quite seriously, exactly what is the machinery by which the expenditure of this subsidy can be controlled by those who are sitting in Committee of Supply to exercise control?
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. PALIN
I desire to address myself to another phase of this great question. With others of my colleagues, I do not think that any real benefit will accrue from this scheme to those whom it is desired to benefit, and there is grave fear that the fact of all coal not receiving this subsidy may intensify the difficulties with which some of our manufacturers are beset in their competition with other countries, particularly those who are engaged in the textile trades. Sixpence a ton will be taken off the coal used by their competitors in, say, Germany, and that may be an important factor in determining whether we are able to increase production or whether machinery is to go out of production. However, there are a good many people on the other side who feel, apparently, that this is going to confer some benefit; and if there be any virtue in the scheme, then, like everyone else, I wish to claim that the constituency which I represent should share in the benefit. In my part of the country we deserve a share even more, perhaps, than does South Wales, though their plight is a grievous one. In Northumberland we are in a great difficulty by reason of the pits being exceedingly old. One pit in my constituency is reputed to have been worked in the time of the Romans; I do not know how far that is true, but it is certain that the opening of the pit is lost in the mists of antiquity. These old pits are placed at a great disadvantage in competition with the newer pits, with their superior equipment, in Nottinghamshire or South Wales.
The pits in my part of the country are engaged, for the most part, in producing coal for export, and unfortunately for them, it goes direct from the pithead along private railways to, in many cases, private staithes. In respect of these private railways and private staithes these collieries are placed at a great disadvantage with their competitors. I do not know whether it is in keeping with our dignity to plead with the President of the Board of Trade. He seems absolutely incapable of appreciating the fact that another 60,000 men in Northumberland are going to be thrown out of work. Whether 60,000 men are to be thrown out of work here or there does not seem to matter. We are assured by 2041 the coal-owners—I have to take it from them—that if they are placed in this disadvantage some of the pits will have to dose down, others may struggle on for a time. A colleague sitting in front of me says, "Or they may seek to impose a reduction of wages." So far as the miners in Northumberland are concerned, they would have a difficulty in reducing wages, because the men are drawing so little now, and you cannot reduce men or women beyond the existence level, or they will die. You cannot do with a man as it is related was done with a donkey—you cannot put a pair of green spectacles on him and persuade him that shavings are grass.
The crisis already existing in Newcastle and Northumberland is not one of recent growth. It has existed there, as on Tyneside generally, for eight years, and there are many men who will tell you they have done no work for eight years and have exhausted unemployment benefit and savings. There is a welter of poverty and wretchedness, If this subsidy is to work in this unfair way we shall exclude from benefit the majority of the collieries in Newcastle and Northumberland, and that will not only make confusion worse confounded but will produce a state of things which we do not like to contemplate. If the Government have any bowels of compassion at all, they ought to consider this difficulty and meet it here and now.
§ Mr. HILTON
I would like to put what I have to say in the form of one or two questions. So far, those hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate have approached this question either from the point of view of their own particular constituencies or from the point of view of trade unionists. Judging from what has been said in favour of the Govern-merit's proposals, it seems to me that our foreign competitors will have a preference over us in regard to the de-rating of coal. I want to ask: Will the German and Belgian companies be in a better position than those in the Lancashire cotton trade in relation to the price of coal? We have many thousands of cotton spinners in Lancashire, and I would like to point out that we could consume in Lancashire to-day 2,000,000 tons of coal per annum more if all those engaged in the cotton trade were working full time.
2042 We have in Lancashire perhaps the worst coalfields in England, in the sense that some of them are getting old. I know some of them are doing very well, but we have the two extremes. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) knows the condition of the pits in Lancashire better than I do, but I know all about the state of employment in the cotton trade, and I know that there are more employed to-day in the cotton trade than were employed five years ago.
Yesterday I accompanied a deputation to the Board of Trade asking for some consideration for the cotton trade. I do not think we shall get very much, and even if we get all that we have asked for it will not make much difference, but every little helps. I do not care whether it is on a pre-War basis or any other basis, but I want to know: will our competitors abroad have an advantage over the cotton spinners in Lancashire? Another question I wish to ask is: are we too late for the anticipatory period? I think we may be too late, but, if we are, I ask: can we come in at the later stage? I am sure that I can prove that the cotton trade of Lancashire at the present moment is as distressed an industry as any in England. I do not propose to do that now, but I do submit that for the last seven years we have had a really bad time, and our rate of unemployment has been extremely bad. More than 50 per cent of the whole of those engaged in the cotton industry have been working halftime. We have 450,000 workers actively engaged in the cotton industry, and 250,000 of those have been working halftime. I do not want the President of the Board of Trade to think that I am trying to embarrass him in the slightest degree, because I would not do that, and I know that if any help can be given the Government are prepared to give it. Even if we could get 1s per ton off the price of coal it would be a great advantage. We are paying 17s and 18s a ton for coal, and even 1s per ton from that charge would be a great help. It is from that standpoint that I ask the President of the Board of Trade to give his consideration to the Lancashire point of view.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I want to follow the points which have been raised by the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Hilton) a little further. I want to recall to the 2043 Committee a statement which was made by an hon. Member opposite during one of our comparatively recent Debates upon the mining industry. I remember that during that speech the hon. Member said that the competition between individual owners, counties, and so forth had culminated in such a riot of competition that coalowners were fighting hand over heels in order to give British coal away. The hon. Member to whom I refer alluded to the different conditions obtaining in England and abroad as well as to the general results of internal and external competition, and he said that British sellers of coal had actually approached German steel firms who had made contracts to purchase coal in Germany at a certain price, and had persuaded them to break their contracts with the steel manufacturers and contracts made with coal companies in Germany, although that involved them in having to pay compensation for breaking their contracts. In these cases, the British exporters not only undertook to sell coal at a price below the German price, but they also undertook to indemnify the steel manufacturers for the breaking of contracts with their local colliery companies. If that is going to be the process which will follow the concession which the Government are making to exporters of coal, it will not result in any great advantage to our mining industry, although it will be of further assistance to the German producers. We shall simply be whittling away the taxpayers money and certainly we shall not he assisting the distressed mine workers in this country.
Most of the speakers in this Debate have referred to these proposals as they affect the great railway companies and the privately-owned railway companies. In the past, the President of the Board of Trade has been closely identified with the mining industry, and he knows very well that there are occasions when colliery proprietors with a comparatively large output have been obliged on account of the obstinacy of the railway companies to make arrangements quite apart from the railway companies. In my own Division there is one of the most modern and most costly collieries that has ever been sunk in this country, nearly 1,000 yards deep. It has, I believe, cost the proprietors well over £1,000,000 so far. 2044 Because of their easy distance from a very good port, it seems to them that they would be well advised owing to the lack, of railway facilities, to build a private railway direct to the nearest dock. If this Supplementary Estimate is accepted, and the process of distribution continues as explained by the Minister of Transport, it seems to me that this large colliery, upon which so much money has been spent, will be willy-nilly driven into the hands of the huge railway company, who may or may not provide the necessary transport facilities to enable the charges of the colliery company to be reduced to the lowest possible minimum, and so enable it to compete with other collieries which are much nearer to the large railways.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we are to understand that, in a case like this, where obviously a private railway direct from the colliery to the nearest port would be a distinct advantage to the colliery company, they are never going to get any benefit from these freight reductions? If that be so, obviously the colliery companies will be obliged to accept any facilities that the great railway companies may care to place at their disposal, whether such facilities are good, bad or indifferent; and, if a colliery company should want to make any private sidings, they will probably be involved in large sums of money for the purchase of land, because the landowner must know, and does know in advance that, if they wish to dispose of their coal, they must take it across his land. It seems to me that in the development of the newer coalfields there will be many cases where it will be absolutely necessary for colliery companies to make private railways in order to avoid the imposition upon them of unnecessary and extortionate charges. Otherwise, it seems to me that it will be possible for this freight reduction to be used in such a way as to be most inequitable and in no way helpful, particularly in those areas where collieries are such a costly luxury, now that the seams have gone so deep down. I should like the right hon. Gentleman at least to make one or two observations on that phase of these proposals, for, unless some hope, and probably also some assistance, is forthcoming, the inequities pointed out by previous speakers will be multiplied as time goes 2045 on and the newest Yorkshire coalfield is opened, if, owing to this differentiation, colliery companies are obliged to accept indifferent facilities, which in some cases now mean just the difference between making a colliery a paying proposition and driving it into insolvency. I think the right hon. Gentleman should hold out some hope that colliery companies will not be exploited, either by railway companies, landowners or anyone else, because of the inequities of these proposals.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
A couple of hours ago I asked the Chairman of Committees to allow me to move to report Progress. He declined to put the Motion, on the ground that a number of hon. Members wished to speak, and he thought that it was not an appropriate time. I wish now again to move to report Progress, and I will give the reason. This has been an extraordinary Debate, because most of the effective criticism of the Government's scheme has come from Members on the opposite side of the Committee.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER indicated dissent.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I want to point out that the right hon. Gentleman himself has riot been here during the whole evening.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have been here the whole time since a quarter to four, except for three-quarters of an hour.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman's clock and the one that I have seen do not seem quite to tally. If, however, he has been here all the time, he cannot question the truth of the statement that I am making, that the strongest criticism of his proposals has come from his own side of the Committee, and I cannot believe that the Government were cognisant of the facts that his own friends have brought forward during this discussion. They have told us that already the shipowners have raised freights, and that this subsidy will go into the pockets of the shipowners. We have also been told that certain people who will be carrying coal, or carrying potatoes, will be put at a disadvantage because of the fact that railways are going to be subsidised. I cannot think that a Cabinet of intelli- 2046 gent men can be aware of the fact that they are going to make another huge blunder similar to that which they made when they passed the Eight Hours Act, or rather, repealed the provisions of the Seven Hours Act. That Act threw a lot of men out of work, and we have been told to-night by the right hon. Gentleman's own friends that this proposal, this subsidy, will in effect just mean robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that, if some advantage is given from one direction, it will be taken away in another.
What made me rise was the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Hilton). He has told us that there is another industry which ought to be brought in, and which would be very considerably helped if arrangements were made by which it could receive some of this money, or some extra money which might be voted in a similar manner. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman or the Whips ought not to put such a strain on the loyalty of their supporters as to compel them, like sheep, to go into the Lobby and vote for a proposal which by speech they so thoroughly condemn. Therefore, I wish to move "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
I am afraid that, on the hon. Member's own showing, the Committee has formed its own opinion and is ready to come to a decision, and I cannot accept the Motion.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. I was ruled out because other Members wished to speak. I was not ruled out on the question of the Committee having expressed its opinion.
I must rule the Motion out of order as being an abuse of the Rules of the House.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
If you do not accept my hon. Friend's Motion, I should like to have the opportunity of putting one or two questions to the President of the Board of Trade before he replies. The Debate, so far as I have been able to listen to it—I have not been able to be here all the time—has dealt very exhaustively with various producers' aspects of the rebate provided for in the Estimate, and I want to put one or two questions to the President of the Board of Trade as to what is likely to be the 2047 position of the consumer in the country as the result of the operation of some of these rebates. Would the President kindly look at the first part of the Second Schedule, in which a whole list of rebates is provided for in respect of agricultural requisites? It is not my intention to take up a long time in dealing with each one, but many of them have a very important effect upon the market price of commodities which are the actual common needs of the people. I will take one, the question of milk. You are going to give special rates which will mean a reduction of 10 per cent on the carriage charges in respect of milk. It is only a few weeks since we had what was described as a national war in respect of the settlement of milk prices in this country. A national settlement has been arrived at and we are told that as a result of that national settlement, in London, at any rate, it will be necessary to increase the price of milk to the consumer to a figure that has not been reached in any previous winter in recent years and for a longer period of winter months. I want to know from the President of the Board of Trade, as there has been a national agreement arrived at in regard to milk prices—
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
—I am talking about the national settlement. There may have been variations in certain localities, but the London agreement has been based on fixing milk prices, and in fixing those prices due regard has been paid in the negotiations to the amount to be paid for the carriage of the milk from the producer to the consumer. I take it there is to be given, from 1st December, a reduction of 10 per cent in the carriage of milk, and, unless the President of the Board of Trade says anything to the contrary, the whole of that 10 per cent. saving in carriage charges goes to the farmer. I want particularly to get an answer to that. I take it that the whole of the 10 per cent. goes to the farmer, although this winter the consumer is to be mulcted in an additional price for one of the staple commodities of food as a result of the national settlement. It is a very important question for the Government to address themselves to. There are two 2048 ways of looking at some of the most important products of the country. There is, of course, the necessity of providing that the producer engaged in particular operations should have, at least, his cost of production and a reasonable margin of profit, but there is also the question to be looked at on the other side, and that is whether you can enable the consumer, by prices, to take so much of the commodity that it enables the producer to produce at a profit.
If you go on raising prices of important foodstuffs of the community and the Government subsidise, in some form or another, the carriage of that commodity, then surely we ought, both in the interests of the producer as well as of the consumer to see that they produce in such a way as to secure the largest amount of consumption of that commodity. If the national settlement has been come to on the basis of the old fixed rate of railway charges, then I submit that the Government ought not to give a further rebate in respect to milk, unless they make a provision that the price to the consumer does not rise in consequence. I am aware that the President of the Board of Trade will hardly be in a position to answer that question as definitely as I should like, but, at least, he may be prepared to give an assurance that, in view of the reduction which his Government are going to give in respect of the carriage of milk, he will refer to the Food Council for action the question of the price of milk this winter as a result of this additional saving which he proposes.
There is another point to which I should like to call attention. We have had a most extraordinary position in the last 12 months in this country in regard to the fixing of sugar prices. We have by public subsidy in the last three or four years expended very large sums from public moneys for the subsidising of the British beet sugar industry, but at the end of the whole period of subsidising that industry you have the bottom knocked out of the sugar market, and prices to-day are very close to pre-War prices, so that it is almost impossible, even with the subsidy, for the beet sugar industry of the country to carry on with anything like a reasonable profit. I shall not, in view of what I have said in past years upon that particular matter, shed 2049 very many tears over that, but when I think of the orgy of extravagance of the Government in the past in subsidising the industry, and when I look at the prices of sugar being obtained to-day on the market, and when I take up the Schedule of selected agricultural products and I cannot find any special rebate allowed them in the carriage of the sugar beet to the beet sugar factory, then it seems to me that the Government have not been very mindful of the special difficulties of the industry which they have been so heavily subsidising in the last few years.
The other point is also a consumer's point. We have had considerable experience in the last five or six months of the difficulty of dealing with domestic coal. The Five Counties Scheme has been working, and has resulted at times in London in an actual shortage of supply and, in consequence, in an actual raising of price to the consumer. We are still working in London to-day, and I believe in other parts of the country as well, upon a production of coal, fixed by the coalowners, which may be delivered and, as a consequence, coal is higher in price than it ought to be, and therefore less coal is consumed by the domestic consumer. When one looks in the Schedule one finds absolutely no assistance given in regard to railway freights for coal to be used by the domestic consumer. There are pits in this country to-day which are producing little else but domestic coal, and they are experiencing such difficulty that they have to combine in order to restrict output, and yet those people and the miners who are working in those areas are to get no share of the relief to be given. Why should that be? I have had on one or two occasions in the last few years to get for my own household a truck-load of coal coming from the Midlands. Hon. Members are probably not less able than myself to take advantage of a reasonable step for economy. It is a class of thing in which we are trained in the Co-operative movement. When you get the bill in detail for a truck-load of coal delivered from the Midlands to London, and you examine the charge made to the domestic consumer for railway freight on that truck you find that you have to pay anything from about half a guinea to 12s. per ton for freight alone. Surely the consumer of coal in 2050 this country has some right to be considered in relation to the reduction of railway freights. I want to know why not.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I know that. I am not for one moment suggesting that you should penalise the railways, but if the Government come to the House with a Supplementary Estimate for money out of which they are going to relieve the users of coal from railway freights without damage to the railway company, then why should not the domestic user of coal be entitled to the same relief on railway freights?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am afraid the hon. and gallant Member does not seem to see that the miners wish to sell domestic coal just as they wish to sell export coal. If you could make it easier to sell domestic coal, you would make it easier for the miner who is working in production. I want to put that case to the President of the Board of Trade as well. We have had considerable difficulty, as probably his Department has informed him, with regard to the coal situation in London for domestic purposes in the last three or four months. It has been easier in the last few weeks, but we have had considerable difficulty, and we are as much entitled in regard to that trade to have relief from railway freights as any other part of the country.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have been accused by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) of not having heard sufficient of this Debate. I have heard all of it except for about three-quarters of an hour, and very interesting I have found it. If the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, and who admitted that he had not had that advantage, had heard the opening speech by the hon. Gentleman who led off the grand attack on behalf of the Opposition, he would hardly have delivered a speech so entirely in conflict with that of his leader. I will not traverse all the wide range of subjects that was covered by the opener, but the gravamen of his charge was that the Government 2051 had reduced prices. He said, "Prices have come down 20 per cent. since the Labour Government went out of office; that is our charge." Now we know. I listened for several days during the unemployment Debate. I wanted to find out what was the, remedy of hon. Members opposite for unemployment. We did not get it in that Debate. Now I know. The remedy of the Opposition for unemployment is to put up the prices of your food and all your other commodities. The hon. Gentleman did not like the Vote, not because prices had come down, but because he was afraid prices might not come down. He said: "Why do you give this benefit to agriculture and to the farmers? It is very wrong unless you make quite sure that the farmer is going to pass on every farthing he receives to the consumer." Now we know where he stands vis-a-vis the farmer. He is determined that the farmer, however hard pressed, shall not get any of this benefit for himself. We know now one chapter of the agricultural policy of the Opposition. Long before the arrangement was made between the farmers and the milk combination about prices, it was perfectly well known that this Estimate would be introduced, because the Prime Minister announced the anticipation of railway relief in July last and the arrangement in question was made in September. I was watching it to see what arrangement was come to. The negotiations were going on all through September. But the hon. Gentleman was not even consistent with himself. While objecting to what he called a subsidy to farmers, he said: "I do not believe the prices will come down, and it is very wrong of the farmer to benefit." He contrasted it, or in the same breath he alluded to the subsidy given to sugar beet, and be said: "When you gave a subsidy to beet sugar, the benefit did pass on to the consumer." I am very grateful, and I am sure all my friends are grateful, for these opposite contributions which have been made in the Debate.
I should like to confine myself to the ambit of the Vote and to justify it and to answer those specific questions, some of considerable importance, which have been raised in relation to the subjects that are dealt with in the Vote. In the 2052 first place, the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) said that, while he objected to the Vote on merits, he also objected to it on form. He objected to it, because it was contrary to precedent. As a matter of fact, it is not contrary to precedent at all. There are many Votes which have been presented in this form with a White Paper setting out the terms. The Wireless Broadcasting and the Coal Mines Votes were taken in this form and the Colonial Services Vote on the settlement with the British South Africa Company was taken in precisely this form. Of course, if his object was to hold up the relief that is going to be given, naturally he would wish for a more lengthy procedure, but to those who want to give this benefit, whether it be great or small, as soon as possible—and I think they are the majority of people on all sides of the House—to these hard pressed industries the simple answer will carry conviction that it is only by presenting a Vote in this way that we can bring the scheme into operation on 1st December.
Then I must make my acknowledgments to the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn), whom I am glad to see back. The document from which he read selected extracts, which suited him best, is after all not what he supposed, a kind of recital of the excellent deeds of the Government, though we should not be ashamed of that if it was. It is an agreement that is going to be made between the Government and the railway companies. There are many agreements which begin with "whereas" and continue with an operative part. The benefit of this agreement will continue for our successors in the improbable event of our successors not being ourselves. I am surprised that he should have made an error in Parliamentary procedure, because he is a great expert in that. He said: "Here is a unique Vote. Never before has a Vote been presented to the House in this form. In every other case the Auditor-General has to audit the account. Here the Auditor-General is not in." In every single case of a grant-in-aid as long as grants-in-aid have been in existence, certainly all the time that the hon. Member has been in this House, that is the common form and the Auditor-General does not, in fact, audit the accounts in 2053 detail. He will find that in every Vote, or probably in a good many Votes in every successive Parliament whatever Government have been in power, that is the common form. The precise form in which the accounts are to be kept is laid down in Clause 9 of the Agreement.
Let me pass from that to the main case for these proposals. I think that, however the Committee may criticise them in some quarters, it is generally recognised that they will be of considerable value to these industries. I very much question whether there is anyone who, really divorcing himself from politics and party issues, doubts for a single moment that this assistance in railway freights which is to be given to coal, iron, steel and agriculture is not going to be of great benefit. At any rate, I am quite sure that when we get outside this House, when we come to the people who really do talk business, who come to discuss these things in a businesslike way, we find that the one thing for which they have been asking in these basic trades is some relief of their railway freights. I take the deputation to which I have already referred. It came not at my invitation, but as a result of spontaneous action on the part of the whole of the mineowners and miners in South Wales. People who have often differed in matters of policy or of expediency, for once were absolutely in agreement. They said "We have often come to argue against each other. We come to-day absolutely unanimous." They were led by Mr. Thomas Richards, a man who is held in honour not only in his own country of Wales, but by everybody who has ever had anything to do with the mining industry. He and the chairman of the coalowners came together. They both spoke, the miners' leaders and the leaders of the other side both pressed two things on to us. They said:—this was early in the year, before the Budget—"Coal to-day suffers from two things, the burden of local rates and the burden of railway rates. If you want to help—and the more depressed the industry is the more these burdens fall upon it—if you really want to do something which will give substantial benefit to the coal trade of this country, tackle railway rates and tackle local rates." That is what we are doing to-day. That, I think, is a complete answer to 2054 all those who have asked what value they should attach to this.
Certain special points were raised. There was a question raised by several hon. Members—by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. H. Hall) and by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson)—about patent fuel. They put to me this question: "Does patent fuel come within your scheme?" The answer to that is, of course, yes. Then they put a question which I find it more difficult to answer, and it is a point which has only been raised at the last moment. It is this: Granted that patent fuel comes within the definition of coal, take the case where the coal itself is taken to the factory and is converted into patent fuel, which is then exported—would this come within the scheme as laid down in the White Paper? I would hesitate to give a final opinion upon that. I would require further legal advice. I will certainly give this undertaking. We cannot alter this agreement. It will have to come into force. The question, as I say, has been raised rather at the last moment. I am very glad the question was put in this Debate as to the correct construction of the agreement as it stands during the temporary anticipatory period. I think it is a good point. The position ought to be met if it can be met, and I will certainly direct my attention to it with a view to seeing that if it is not covered by the terms of this agreement, it shall be covered during the permanent period, and the case met in the Bill.
The second point which was put was a very technical question about the basis of wagon hire. The point, as I understand it, is this. In the agreement the rebate has to be given upon the freight charge of coal carried in owners' wagons. That is, of course, quite a, simple matter where the coal can be carried in owners' wagons. Then arises the question, how are you to calculate the rate on which the rebate is to be given where the coal is, in fact, carried in the companies' wagons and at an inclusive rate? I was asked whether it would be possible for the railway companies in making their rebate to charge an exaggerated figure for the cost of wagon hire and a relatively small figure for the cost of actual carriage of freight charge? The answer to that is certainly, no. In the 2055 first place I think I can say with confidence that the railway companies have not the least intention of doing anything of the kind. The intention of the railway companies is to carry on the whole system exactly as it is carried on at the present time. One of my hon. Friends asked me whether, if any such case should arise or if there was no question of bad faith, but a question of a genuine dispute as between the coal industry and the railway, as to whether the division between freight charge and wagon hire was properly made, the Minister would have the right to decide. The hope was expressed that he would. If hon. Members will look at Clause 8 of the agreement they will say that it is positively stated. Clause 8 reads:Any question as to whether any rebate is or was allowable or as to the basis on which any rebate should be or should have been calculated under this scheme, may be determined by the Minister or by some person appointed by him.It is perfectly plain that in the event of a dispute, appeal rests with the Minister to arbitrate and to decide.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I think my hon. and gallant Friend may take it that there it means "must."And, in the event of any such question being in dispute between the Minister, the companies, the Railway Clearing House, or any of them, shall be so determined; and the decision of the Minister or such person as aforesaid upon any such question shall be final and conclusive.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
There is power for the Minister to do it himself or I think he can appoint an arbitrator. I would not like to be explicit on that point, but if the hon. Member will put a question upon the Order Paper a considered answer can be given. The point which was raised was whether the Minister had certain power, and the answer is that the Minister has such power. Some of the speeches which have been made have dealt with this scheme as if it was just some casual subsidy passed on to the mining industry. It is nothing of the sort. If that were the 2056 intention, no doubt everybody would come in and draw equal sums. That is not at all the policy. This is one stage, and an important stage, in the very great policy of de-rating and the rationalisation of our local government system. The railways are being de-rated because that is part of the de-rating scheme. They are passing their relief on to their customers, and it would be unreasonable to ask the railways to pass relief in respect of their rates on to people who are not their customers.
A question was raised as to the Government being blackmailed by the railway companies. I do not think that suggestion was fair to the railway companies. Certainly, I can assure the House, if it needs such an assurance, that the Government have not the least intention of being blackmailed by anybody in this matter, and that in submitting their policy to the House of Commons they will submit just precisely those proposals which they think to be just and expedient. I would point out that throughout the six months' negotiations which have taken place I have been met in a thoroughly reasonable way. I went to the railway companies with a proposition which was not, on the face of it, very attractive; because everybody else seemed to be getting something out of de-rating, something direct given to the producer, and then there was to be considerable remission given in railway rates. I said to the railway companies: "You will be de-rated, but you must pass on the benefit to your customers." With that they agreed. What is more, they have agreed that if there is a surplus in the Fund it shall be carried forward. If there is a deficit in the Fund during the temporary period they will carry the whole of the deficit, and during the permanent period which is to be in the Act of Parliament, and which will go on year after year, the railway companies will carry half the deficit themselves.
When we come to look at the question of traffic, where the rebate is as much as 30 per cent., as it is in the case of the coal trade, that is a very great concession by the railway companies. It would be most unreasonable to expect the railway companies not only to pass on to their customers the whole of the relief which is given in rates, but to tax themselves 2057 for that purpose. That is what the proposition amounts to. That is the specific proposal. It is proposed that there should be a tax upon the railway companies and that the proceeds of that tax should be paid out not only to their customers but to people who are not their customers, but who are, indeed, their competitors. The private railway companies propose to pay £27,000 into the pool and to draw out £146,000. Those are not my figures; they are the proposals made by the private railway companies in the memorandum which I think every Member of Parliament has received. The railways are being de-rated because of the heavy burden of freight charges on the public railways. That is the sole justification for this proposal. We have been impressed with the need of reducing public railway rates because those rates were so high and so large a burden on special trades, and we have selected those trades on which the heaviest burden falls.
I would like to remind the House, and this is very relevant to some of the arguments that have been advanced to-day, of the history of the proposal to concentrate the coal relief upon special types of coal. The House will remember that when we originally proposed this scheme we proposed that all the coal should benefit equally; that the railway relief should be passed on to every single ton of coal carried on the railways, whatever its type and whatever its destination. That would have meant general relief of 7 or 8 per cent. at the outside. What happened? The coal industry met and came to an agreement within the industry. Each area in the coal industry agreed, and the whole of the coal industry came to the Government and said "We ask that instead of this general relief of 8 per cent. over the whole of the coal trade you should concentrate the relief upon selected coals, the coal for export, the coal for iron and steel, and the coal for bunkers. We have made that concentration, and we are proposing that concentration not on our own initiative, because our original proposal was equal distribution, but because the coal industry unanimously begged us to concentrate it in that way. They said that in that way the greatest possible benefit would be given to the coal industry. We thought that that was a reasonable proposition 2058 and that we ought to accede to it. It has been suggested by one of the speakers that in doing so we are helping the foreigners. I think that is a very superficial view. If there were really any truth in that argument would not the first people to object be the iron and steel trades of this country, who are the people who are always complaining of foreign competition? [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] The hon. Member must have stopped his ears and have become deaf, because I have certainly heard many complaints from the iron and steel trade of the volume of foreign competition. The iron and steel trades have joined in supporting this proposal.
§ Mr. PETHICK - LAWRENCE
The iron and steel trade are satisfied because they are getting their relief; there is no preference for the foreigner against them. It is other trades in which the foreigner gets an advantage.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I think they will stand more or less upon an equality. I would put the case on another ground, which I do not think will be disputed. It is very easy to put forward a general theory and to say that if we assist the coal trade in this way, the coal will go out as bunker coal, and the foreigners will benefit; but I do not find hon. Members saying that when they are deploring the absence of coal exports. I have never heard that argument advanced. Month after month I have heard hon. Members opposite say: "Why do you not do something which will increase the coal exports from this country? That is the most important thing. Why do you not address your mind to that? It is vital to the coal trade; it is vital to the balance of trade of this country and it is vital to our shipping industry, seeing that our ships take out coal and come back loaded with other commodities." So long as that was being said I suppose they never thought that they were advancing an argument to help the foreign competitor. They thought that they were helping the British coal industry, and they were perfectly right.
If you analyse the uses to which British coal exports are put you will find that they do not go largely into foreign industries. Take the great export which goes in foreign bunkers; no question arises on that. A great deal 2059 of the coal goes to foreign power stations. I know from my own experience how large are the orders which South American power companies place in this country. That does not go into foreign competitive industries. A large part of the coal of Northumberland and Durham is high-class gas coal. It is sold in great quantities. That does not come into competition; the gas works in Berlin do not compete actively with the gas works in Birmingham. Who are the other great buyers of coal. They are the foreign railways; the railways of Italy and Sweden and countries all over the world. These railways are not competitors of ours, and however specious may be the argument advanced, when you look at the facts and see where the exports of coal go, you will find that the argument which hon. Members opposite advanced is the right one, that is, to try and stimulate our coal exports, and the argument which they now advance is not real.
Let me come to the claim which is made on behalf of private railway companies; and I am prepared to take my stand on the test advanced by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). He asked that they should be treated with strict justice and equality. Let us supply that test, because it is a fair one. Are we, in fact, treating these private railways with strict justice and equality? I think we are, and I hope to satisfy the hon. Member on that point. On the 16th of July Parliament decided that these railways ought to be treated as industrial hereditaments. It is, of course, open to Parliament on an appropriate occasion, and I do not think the present is the occasion, to alter an Act which A has passed, but I quote that date on which Parliament took its last decision, on which we stand at the present moment, in order to point this out. It is suggested that the scheme now before the House was not within the knowledge of the coal trade when Parliament on the 16th July decided that these railways should be industrial hereditaments and have relief as such. That is not true. It was well known to the whole of the coal trade that what they were asking for and pressing the Government to accept was that there should be a concentration of relief in the coal trade. On the 28th Jane a deputa- 2060 tion from the coal trade waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself and urged on behalf of the whole trade that we should concentrate the coal relief in the way proposed by our present scheme. Therefore Parliament and the coal trade were well seized of the position and the demand of the coal industry that the relief to be given should be concentrated in that way; and we all knew that it was very probable that the request of the coal trade would be agreed to.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
No, but what had been announced was that we would consider the proposal very carefully. What was in everybody's minds was the proposal of which the coal trade made no secret as it was in all newspapers, that we should concentrate the relief in the way that is now proposed. Therefore I say that this House in taking the decision it did on the 16th July, took that decision with full knowledge of the desires of the coal trade and the probable intentions of the Government. But there is a much more important consideration than that. The claim which is made on behalf of private railways is really not one which can be sustained in equity on its merits. It is not backed by the Mining Association although I do not say that that is conclusive. But it is a claim which was made to the Mining Association and also to the Mining Association of Durham, where the conditions were specifically known. I want to read an extract, which I think all Members have had, from a resolution passed at a meeting of the Durham Coal Association itself:In the discussion which followed it was pointed out by various members that the owners of private railways had not suffered so much as the users of public railways through the large increase in recent years of railway charges, and it was considered that the private railway owners should not expect the Association as a whole to take up their case. It was ultimately agreed that the owners of private railways should take such steps as they considered best to bring their case before the Government.Everybody can always come and have another tilt at the Government. But this is the important conclusion of the Durham Coal Association as to what they thought 2061 was fair, and what the whole Mining Association pressed upon us as being fair:It was further decided that the Association should press the Mining Association to endeavour to secure that private railways and shipping lines shall be included in the undertakings which are to obtain easement or relief from three-quarters of their rates.That is the recommendation of the Durham Mining Association and the Mining Association of Great Britain which this House carried out in its decision of the 16th July.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The right hon. Gentleman in his statement said it was only known towards the end of July what the Government's policy would be.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-L1STER
I am not misleading the House; nor is the hon. Member. He will not deny that at this moment that is the position of the Durham Mining Association.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Member does not deny it. He will not deny that when that resolution was passed at the Durham Mining Association they knew that they intended to press on the Government the policy that coal relief should be concentrated in the way that is proposed now. Therefore, Parliament has laid down proposals which the whole of the Mining Association of Great Britain and the Durham Mining Association thought to be just. Let me go one step further and justify the Bill. What is the position of these companies? The figures I am going to quote are not in dispute. I take the figures which private lines have given in communications they have made to the Minister of Health, the Minister of Transport and myself, and to this House. I will accept their figures. The other figures that I give are the official figures worked out by the Ministry of Transport and the railway companies. Therefore in connection with the private lines there can be no dispute as to the correct- 2062 ness of the figures. What, then, is the position? On the private lines the average cost is a shilling per ton. On the public railways of England to-day the average freight, with owner's wagons, is 2s. a ton for the whole country.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Yes, coal, hauling coal. On the private lines the average cost is 1s. per ton and on the public lines on the North-east coast it is 1s. 7½. per ton. Therefore to-clay the man who owns a private line is 7½. a ton better better off than the man whose coal is carried on a public line. Indeed that was emphasised by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who drew attention to the advantage which a colliery company might get by establishing a private line. He spoke of a new pit and of the railway freights being very high, and suggested that it would pay the colliery company to make a railway of its own. Does not that show what an advantage the private line is? The hon. Member visualised the making of a private railway as a paying proposition, and that shows that the private railway, constructed a long time ago when the cost of construction was far different from what it is to-day, is probably under a considerable advantage. Then what of the time when the scheme comes into operation on 1st December? The average charge to the user of the public railway on the North-east coast will be 1s. 1½d. as against 1s. on the private line.
Major-General Sir NEWTON MOORE
Could the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea as to the price per ton per mile? Otherwise the comparison is not fair.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
It is a perfectly fair comparison and it is a comparison which the private lines themselves have taken in a Memorandum which they have addressed to the Government.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I shall deal with that point in a moment. If you had a flat rate that would be a very relevant observation, but you are giving a percentage reduction. Instead of taking 1s. off everybody, you are giving a percentage reduction. Therefore, the only fair standard of comparison is the average rate paid. There is no dispute about it. That is the argument which the private lines have addressed to Members of this Committee, and, obviously, if the average rate is greater, then equally the general rate is greater. The cost per ton-mile on a private line is probably cheaper than the freight per ton-mile which people have to pay to the railway companies. Even after anticipation has taken place these private lines will still be better off than the pubic companies.
§ Mr. L. THOMPSON
That is just exactly where we differ from the right hon. Gentleman. I can give two specific cases in one of which the line is removed 13 miles from shipping and the average cost to the private owners is 2s. 6d. a ton and in the other there is an average cost of 1s. 9d. a ton. They will get no rebate, and you are giving the other collieries, on your own statement an advantage.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
It. is no good arguing like that. I can give the hon. Member quantities of cases of collieries in the Midlands, which have to ship coal, not at a rate of 1s. 7d. but at. 3s. 4s. and 5s. Of course the benefit of any rebate must vary with the length of the haul. That is quite irrelevant to the argument. If we are going to argue whether every colliery is to get the same advantage then of course—
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Really, the hon. Member should allow me to answer his point. There are many collieries in England which are served by public railways and which do not sell a single ton of coal, either for steam pur-
§ poses or for export., and they will get absolutely nothing while collieries competing with them in the industrial market will get an advantage.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Yet it is the coal industry as a whole which has asked for this. In addition to that, when the permanent scheme comes into operation next October these private lines will get that measure of de-rating which Parliament has thought it right to give—that measure of de-rating which the Mining Association as a whole has asked that they should get. They will get the further advantage of 1½d. a ton. I submit, on those facts—and there is no dispute about those facts—that these private lines have no claim to a special subsidy, for that is what they are asking. They will still be better off. It may be that some advantage which they have enjoyed, as against those who use the public railways, will be somewhat reduced. I do not for a moment deny that, but why should it not be so.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am not going to sit down. What did the hon. Gentleman ask? He asked that strict equality and equity should be preserved between these two sorts of lines. I say that strict equality and equity is being preserved; and if there is a balance that balance will still be on the side of these private lines. The case has been eloquently argued, but. I say most emphatically that on those facts this House would not be justified either in compelling the railway companies of this country to tax themselves for the benefit of these lines or in forcing the taxpayers of the country to pay an additional subsidy.
§ Question put, "That a sum not exceeding £999,900 be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 115; Noes, 197.2067
|Division No. 14.]||AYES.||[10.27 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Batey, Josepn||Bromley, J.|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)|
|Amnion, Charles George||Bellamy, A.||Buchanan, G.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Benn, Wedgwood||Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel|
|Baker, Walter||Bondfield, Margaret||Charleton, H. C.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Cluse, W. S.|
|Barnes, A||Briant, Frank||Connolly, M.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Kennedy, T.||Shinwell, E.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Duncan, C.||Kirkwood, D.||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Dunnico, H.||Lansbury, George||Smillie, Robert|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Lawrence, Susan||Smith, Rennle (Penistone)|
|Fenby, T. D.||Lawson, John James||Snell, Harry|
|Gardner, J. P.||Lee, F.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Lowth, T.||Stamford, T. W.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Lunn, William||Stephen, Campbell|
|Gillett, George M.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Mackinder, W.||Strauss, E. A.|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley||March, S.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Maxton, James||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Grundy, T. W.||Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (Paisley)||Townend, A. E.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Morris, R. H||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Hardle, George D.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Harney, E. A.||Naylor, T. E.||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Harris, Percy A.||Oliver, George Harold||Watson, W. W. (Dunfermline)|
|Hayday, Arthur||Palin, John Henry||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Hayes, John Henry||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Westwood, J.|
|Hirst, G. H.||Potts, John S.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Riley, Ben||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Ritson, J.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|John, William (Rhondda, West)||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Scrymgeour, E.||Windsor, Walter|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Scurr, John||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Kelly, W. T.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Whiteley and Mr. B. Smith.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Kindersley, Major G. M.|
|Apsley, Lord||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||King, Commodore Henry Douglas|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Everard, W. Lindsay||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Lamb, J. O.|
|Atkinson, C.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Falls, Sir Charles F.||Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Fermoy, Lord||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Forrest, W.||Long, Major Eric|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere|
|Bevan, S. J.||Fraser, Captain Ian||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Frece, Sir Walter de||Lumley, L. R.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Ganzoni, Sir John||McLean, Major A.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Gates, Percy||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Goff, Sir Park||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Malone, Major P. B.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Hacking, Douglas H.||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Burman, J. B.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hall, Admiral Sir R. (Eastbourne)||Meller, R. J.|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hammersley, S. S.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Harrison, G. J. C.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hartington, Marquess of||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Moore, Sir Newton J.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Henderson, Capt. R.R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive|
|Clayton, G. C.||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Murchison, Sir Kenneth|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Cope, Major Sir William||Herbert, S. (York, N.R., Scar, & Wh'by)||Neville, Sir Reginald J.|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||Hilton, Cecil||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hoare, Lt.-Col Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W.G. (Ptrsf'ld.)|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Holt, Captain H. P.||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Owen, Major G.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Perring, Sir William George|
|Drewe, C.||Hurst, Gerald B.||Pilcher, G.|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Iveagh, Countess of||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Ellis, R. G.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Ramsden, E.|
|Rees, Sir Beddoe||Smith, R.W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Watts, Sir Thomas|
|Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)||Smithers, Waldron||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Remer, J. R.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.||Wells, S. R.|
|Rentoul, G. S.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Ropner, Major L.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Salmon, Major I.||Storry-Deans, R.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Streatfelld, Captain S. R.||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Sandeman, N. Stewart||Tasker, R. Inigo.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)||Withers, John James|
|Sanderson, Sir Frank||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Sandon, Lord||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Womersley, W. J.|
|Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustava D.||Tomlinson, R. P.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Savery, S. S.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)||Waddington, R.||Wright, Brig.-General W. D.|
|Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Shepperson, E. W.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Sinclair, Col. T.(Queen's Univ., Bellast)||Warrender, Sir Victor||Major Sir George Hennessy and|
|Smith, Louls W. (Sheffield, Hallam)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Mr. Penny.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.