§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. William Graham)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I must ask for the indulgence of the House in presenting what is for any Government a very difficult and intricate subject. I know that from time to time during the speech which I am afraid I must inflict on the Chamber, Members of different parties will wish to ask questions or seek explanations. The Bill is complicated and highly technical, and I am going to ask the indulgence of hon. Friends in all parts of the House while I do my best to expound this subject, knowing that in subsequent stages the fullest information will be given before the Division is taken on Thursday night.
May I very briefly recall the circumstances which have led up to the introduction of this Bill? Very soon after we came into office on l0th June of this year, we were in consultation with representatives of the Mining Association speaking for the great bulk of colliery proprietors in this country, and the representatives of the Miners' Federation, with a view to ascertaining what steps should be taken to fulfil the pledge under which this Government lay with the miners, and, at the same time, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated, to provide for the better organisation of this industry in Great Britain. During the intervening months, with the exception of our period at The Hague, there has hardly been a week in which we have not been engaged in these discussions, and, as a result of prolonged and careful examination of many aspects of the problem, this Bill, of which I now move the Second Reading, is submitted for the acceptance of the House of Commons.
There are certain preliminary points of great importance that we must bear clearly in mind in dealing with this question. Let me mention first of all the international aspect, as summarised by a representative committee under the League of Nations some time ago. It was clearly shown in that committee's report that world output and consumption of 1246 coal had settled down, over a comparatively fair period, at about 1,200,000,000 metric tons yearly. Normally about one half of that output is produced in the United States of America, and, save in certain times of crisis or difficulty in Europe, there is no appreciable American export either to this or other European countries. The other half of that total, approximately 650,000,000 metric tons, is produced in Europe; and if we take a line through the circumstances of recent years we shall find that output, and, of course, for all practical purposes, demand, have become static; in other words, we are not dealing with an industry in which you have the ordinary economic process of increased output, due to increased efficiency, leading through a lowering of price to an increase in the demand and the better expansion of the market. In this case the whole tendency of the evidence is against what is the ordinary experience. In other words, the tendency of demand makes it extremely improbable whether, even if the fall in the price was more severe, there would be any increase in the demand at all, at all events only an increase within very narrow limits. That is a fundamental consideration in dealing with this question.
Many hon. Members would say, "Why don't you leave this industry alone and let it work out its own salvation?" That is the view taken by a certain number, a minority, of the coal owners themselves as regards marketing schemes in this country, but, of course, we must realise the plight of the mining districts and the very large sums which have had to be paid from public funds in dealing with the problems that arose in connection with coal, and the fact that the position of this industry, while improving, is still serious and calls for measures of coordination and organisation. I make that perfectly clear because here, whatever may be our party faiths, whatever divides us in economic policy as between an individualist and a Socialist policy, does not really apply. We are not dealing with an industry which responds to the ordinary economic tests. The demand is not elastic. Even if there was an improvement in industrial conditions, it is by no means clear that there would be any appreciable increase in the total quantity of coal consumed.
1247 That report to which I have referred, which was prepared with very great care under the auspices of the League of Nations, directed attention to some very remarkable facts. What is it that has contributed to this static demand? Very clearly, of course, there is, in part, the widespread dislocation of industry, exchanges and the rest which followed the War; but there have also been grave industrial changes, strengthened to some extent by the heavy depression or loss which has fallen upon industry during and since the War, leading in the case of Germany to an economy of at least 10 per cent. in the use of coal, and probably, for all I know, to even greater economy in other countries; and further there has been the adaptation of perhaps 38 to 40 per cent. of the world's mercantile marine to the use of oil fuel. In other words there has been a transfer of demand to different forms of fuel which, together with that industrial depression, has contributed to this static element which is the basis of a very large part of this case. That does not mean that I rule out the prospect of improvement. Very far from it. I trust there will be improvement, but I must warn the House that the great burden of evidence is to the effect that at best it will be an improvement in demand within limits. In short, this is not an industry responding to ordinary economic tests.
Let us turn to the circumstances in our own country prior to the War. I suppose the peak point in output was 287,000,000, or about 290,000,000 tons a year. In any case that has fallen and has settled down within recent years to something between 245,000,000 and 250,000,000 tons. I am glad to think that according to our Board of Trade statistics up to the end of November, in all probability the figures for 1929 will be a little better, and that we shall probably touch 255,000,000 tons. For that every Member of this House will be grateful; but in any event we are about 30,000,000 to 35,000,000 tons worse than at the best in pre-War days. The static condition which I have described in the case of European coal is also true, of course, of the British position. In other words, over the past five years we have been moving around a figure of 240,000,000, 245,000,000 or 250,000,000 tons. There has been a certain fall in the home 1248 demand, but far more important and far more critical from another point of view is the fall in the exports of British coal and the great change which has overtaken our place in important European markets. Excluding bunker coal, we probably got rid of 70,000,000 to 75,000,000 tons a year before the War. To-day we are finding it difficult to export more than 50,000,000 to 55,000,000 tons, and the tragedy of a great deal of that export is that it has been effected on terms of either no return at all or on what is frankly a non-remunerative basis. That is conceded by every authority on any side of politics who has applied his mind to this important part of the problem of the industry.
I am not going to suggest that we must sit down to-day and take a gloomy view. I am satisfied, after talking with many of the highest experts in British coal production, that if they are given a chance, if there is some kind of order instead of chaos, they will win their way back in those European markets, not, perhaps, immediately to the full extent that we enjoyed in pre-War times, but at all events to some extent. The importance of this for our shipping industry and the bearing of those outward freights on the return cargoes to this country and the easing of the general price level, apart from the great export considerations which are involved, must be plain to every Member of this Assembly.
So much, in very brief outline, for the economic background of our task. The whole object of this introduction has been to ask for complete impartiality, in the interests of this industry and all depending upon it, and for a fair and a reasonable view of what is not an ordinary or normal proposition. The coal industry has been the subject of investigation on previous occasions. There was the Sankey Commission in 1919. There was the Macmillan Inquiry directed to a specific point in 1923. There was the Report of the Royal Commission in 1925 over which my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) presided, and I would like to join in the innumerable tributes which have been paid to the work of that Commission. And since that time there has been a good deal of inquiry, and more particularly for the purposes of this Bill this afternoon the inquiry which was virtually delegated by 1249 the Royal Commission to the Lewis Committee on selling agencies or marketing schemes devoted to coal. The Royal Commission on the coal industry indicated to us that there were grave weaknesses in the disposal of the commodity, that better prices could probably be obtained, but that they were impressed by the unremunerative level to which prices had fallen, and that the subject should be investigated. As a result of that recommendation, the Lewis Committee was set up under a very distinguished business man and containing in its ranks representatives of the coal owners and also representatives of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. It is of vital importance that the House should clearly recall the tenor of that Report this afternoon.
I am afraid that this speech, however short I try to make it, will occupy some time, because the House will agree that it is of great importance that I should explain what I believe to be the facts and the principles of the Bill. I will try to use as few statistics as possible—rather difficult for me—and put the case just as attractively as a case of this kind can be put. What was the burden of the recommendation of the Lewis Committee? There is not the least doubt that they were impressed by the experiences on the selling side of the coal industry of the Rhenish-Westphalian scheme. They showed that you had there the disposal of very large quantities of coal by a relatively small number of organisations. That organisation parted with the output of coal to an associated syndicate for disposal in terms of something like order and organisation, and was so designed as to get a remunerative or fair price level. The majority of the members of the Lewis Committee said there ought to be every effort to set up these selling agencies or marketing schemes by owners themselves, and that if, after a reasonable time, that was not done, and provided you could get the support. of 75 per cent. of the owners in any particular district, it should be for Parliament to consider—this is the important point—whether any measure of compulsion should be introduced.
To that broad recommendation, with all the relevant evidence which was supplied, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) and my friend Mr. Frank Varley, whom many Members of this House will remember 1250 with affection, signed a minority statement in which they expressed the view that this optional or permissive period was really dangerous, and while they agreed that perhaps some time should be given, they were definitely of opinion that a measure of compulsion was essential. Those two reports were really parts of one report, because the majority report was signed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and his colleague, and they only added that other part as an addition expressing their views. To that report there was a minority statement signed by three coal owners. I do not think I am doing an injustice to that minority statement when I describe it as one of the most hardened individualistic messages of the time. For all practical purposes they resort to the argument, "Let this industry alone. A certain measure of recovery will come." It is a very remarkable thing that the leading figure who signed that minority statement in 1926 is one of the signatory parties to the South Wales scheme which proposes compulsion at the present time. There is hardly anyone whom I have met in recent times who is prepared to say that that minority statement is any use at all in the circumstances which have now emerged. Beyond the shadow of a doubt there has been a great change in the opinion of this industry as regards those marketing schemes otherwise the proposals which have been brought up to this point during the preparation of this Bill would never have been possible.
We have to consider how Tar this measure is in conformity with the recommendations of the majority of the Lewis Committee, and whether what is proposed in our measure of compulsion is justified. What have the owners themselves told us? I want in the discussion this afternoon, so far as I am concerned, to wipe out all recriminations. I am not going to apportion blame for what happened in 1926 or before, or after, or anything like that. That is of no use in this controversy. Our whole object is to try to come together to frame, if we can, a scheme for the recovery of the British coal industry at least on its marketing side, and that is our main consideration. I fall back upon the case which the owners themselves have put up for the organisation of this industry, and I ask the House first of all to note what has 1251 been overtaken before this scheme was put before them. When the owners recognised that things could not remain as they were in different parts of the country in 1928 proposals were submitted on voluntary lines. The chief of these was the five-county scheme in Yorkshire covering in fact nine counties in all, including Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Warwickshire and other parts of the Midland coalfields. In due course on voluntary lines that organisation covered some 90 per cent. of the output in what is undoubtedly one of the most efficient and one of the most productive parts of the British coal-fields.
Of course it contained proposals which will have to be brought into line and altered if a Bill of this kind is to be passed; but in substance, on that voluntary basis, it got all its membership to agree, to the application of a basic or standard tonnage to their pits, and to the application to that standard tonnage of quota, and beyond that power to levy for the express purpose of assisting the export trade in coal and for other steps which were taken as the objects of the Central Counties Association. In South Wales there was a scheme which was by no means so complete. Broadly speaking the South Wales scheme only came as a certain regulation of minimum prices, but it covered a very large part of the South Wales output of coal.
In Northumberland and Durham there was also a scheme which was very largely in the nature of minimum prices fixation, and all this is true largely of the 1928 position. There was a scheme which covered 90 per cent. of Scottish coal production which was based on two levies, one of 6d. per ton on other than export coal and a somewhat higher levy related to a differential price for public utilities, and out of the product of that it provided the fund for what was in that case the temporary extinction of what are described as uneconomic mines. The Scottish scheme broke down for two reasons among others. It was not related to basic tonnage under a quota system. The result was that while they got no product in many of the uneconomic units the production tended to increase in the others and the scheme defeated itself.
1252 The other reason was that in the early part of this year there was a cold spell which gave a temporary stimulus to the industry in this country, and one of the remarkable features of this industry has been that whenever it has got any artificial stimulus, whether it was the occupation of the Ruhr or the destruction of French mines or this cold spell, the organisation has tended to fall back and disappear for the time being, and that is the situation with which we are confronted. The five-county scheme has remained in substance, but we know that some partners in the scheme have given notice to withdraw from it as from the 31st December this year. Anyone who studies the details of this scheme will see that the promoters were driven to make one concession after another because they were operating on a voluntary basis. At the present time these temporary efforts in the direction of marketing have, to all intents and purposes, excluding the five-county scheme, either broken down or got no where at all. We were then confronted with what the owners themselves had to meet when we came into office in June. I believe that if we could have understood each other many of the difficulties with which we were subsequently confronted would have disappeared.
It may be argued that the Government could impose schemes of this kind on the lines that the Government wanted in every coalfield in Great Britain. I do not believe that that is practical politics for a single moment. I have never in any way altered my own economic view, or abandoned any other large industrial proposition, in this sense that I am perfectly satisfied that the inevitable tendency of industry is towards large scale organisation, and beyond that, to public corporations, but I recognise that that is not before us, and we have not yet won a majority for that in this country. We could not act in defiance of the owners themselves. We were satisfied that the terms were fair, and that there were reasonable safeguards, and the scheme contained the elasticity essential to these proposals. The owners themselves, in almost their first interview with the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet Committee on this subject, said that they were taking steps to deal with the marketing of coal, but they were satisfied that they would not be able to 1253 complete their arrangements unless they had compulsory powers. By that they meant powers to bring in a minority in any district where that minority proposed to remain outside. That is the view of the owners. That is, of course, the hardest part of such schemes as have already been attempted. We said that we would be prepared to do everything in our power to co-operate in that effort, and a large part of the discussion in the intervening period has been directed towards the preparation or approval of schemes and proposals which we felt could be brought within an Act of Parliament. This present Bill, which is a comparatively small element in a large proposition, does nothing more than indicate the kind of machinery, national and district, which, in our view, 10 essential for this purpose.
Let me tell the House what has been overtaken so far by the owners. They have prepared schemes in practically all the large coal-producing districts. There is a scheme in South Wales, which is, I think, the best of the schemes so far, and which is closest to the terms of this Bill. It covers, I am informed, 86 per cent. of the output in that area. There is a scheme for Yorkshire and the adjacent counties in which even a higher proportion is covered. There are schemes for Northumberland, Durham, and other areas, which have the support, not of so high a percentage, but of a substantial percentage of the owners, if I exclude the difficulty in Durham at the present time. Scotland has not produced a scheme up to the present. I regret that my countrymen should be diffident in a, matter of this kind, but we are a cautious race, and I suppose they are waiting in Scotland to see the terms of the legislation, to see what progress is made by the House of Commons, and what attitude is adopted by hon. Members. I hope very much, however, that they will submit their scheme, because there are important parts of the Scottish demand and of the Scottish output which are bound up with the export trade, and, if schemes were in force in all parts of the coalfields in this country, it would, in my judgment, be quite impossible for Scotland to remain outside. I feel sure that, the moment the economic advantage is apparent, my countrymen will come in. That is the progress that we have made.
1254 I have undertaken not to worry the House with too much technical detail, because I assume that, in the case of an important Bill of this kind, hon. Members have read, not only the Memorandum, but the text of the Bill, and I will summarise it as briefly as I possibly can. Broadly speaking, there is set up an inter-district or national scheme for the purpose of co-ordinating the district schemes. The national scheme is representative of the owners in all the ascertainment areas in Great Britain. It is the duty of that national body to arrive at what in their view is the aggregate demand for British coal, or the amount of coal for a reasonable period ahead which, in their judgment, could be sold. Then they make the district allocation, that is to say, an allocation to the different districts of the country in terms of what those districts have been doing, and the operative part of this Measure then passes to the owners in the 21 districts which are specified in the Schedule to the Bill. These are the wages ascertainment districts of this country, and from some points of view there are advantages in having areas which are familiar to the owners and to the men. But I want to make it perfectly plain that, if I were a free agent in this matter, or a dictator in dealing with coal, I would reduce these areas to four, five, six, or a very much lower number. The great advantage of reducing the number of areas would be that you would have less difficulty in co-ordinating the national machinery and far less prospect of doubt or confusion or conflict of interest among the districts themselves. Hon. Members will, however, observe that the Bill provides for the amalgamation of districts, and I am advised by the highest authorities in this country that there will be an inevitable tendency in the direction of the amalgamation of those districts for the purposes of more effectively and efficiently working this proposal.
I pass now to the district machinery. The operative part of the district machinery is a district association of the owners, who are charged with the duty of fixing the standard or basic tonnage for every pit or undertaking within the area. They then apply the quota to arrive at the amount which is passed on to them from the national or co-ordinating machinery. They provide for independent arbitration if any owner within 1255 the district is dissatisfied with his basic tonnage, which I will call now the standard tonnage, or with his quota, or with any other conditions or terms which are part of the scheme. That, broadly speaking, is the national and the district machinery. There is provision for arbitration in the national machinery, as there is in the districts themselves.
The House will observe, and I do not disguise it for a single moment, that a large responsibility has been laid upon the owners, subject to the terms of this Bill, and that they form the operative part in the districts, largely because of the importance which we attach to securing their agreement to taking this responsibility. There is, of course, the fundamental safeguard that all these schemes must be approved of in addition by the Board of Trade, and, as I shall show later in dealing with the possibility of abuse under these schemes, that approval may be withdrawn, and, in the last resort, the Board itself has the power to put in a scheme, although I want to make it perfectly plain that I trust that, with good will and co-operation, the necessity for such a state of affairs will never arise. I hope that there will be a desire to work this plan amicably in the interests of a great industry, and that everyone will contribute to that object.
So much for the national and district machinery. I want to pass now to some of the most important questions which I have not the least doubt are in the minds of hon. Members on the official Opposition benches, and which are certainly raised in the Liberal reasoned Amendment for the rejection of this Bill. I firmly believe that in terms of the explanation which I am going to give this afternoon a very large part, if not the whole, of that difficulty will be removed. Of course, I make it perfectly plain that this is a Measure which will necessarily have an acute Committee stage, in which the Government will welcome every constructive contribution to its improvement. It is a technical proposal, and there is not a single hon. Member on our benches who would maintain that we have said the last word on this subject. Very far from it. One of the powers which it is proposed to confer is a power to fix minimum prices. I do not think I need unduly detain the House this afternoon 1256 on that point. There are many critics who suggest that, if you get an accurate basic or standard tonnage—I will allude to that matter in a moment—and if the quota applied to that is also accurate, the price fixation may be left to take care of itself; that, in other words, the output and quota will be so complete that prices would be regulated of themselves.
From some points of view there is a good deal to be said for an argument of that kind, but I am advised that, even if you had very accurate figures, even if you had attained that measure of perfection which I do not think is given to us in human affairs, it will still be possible to find weak sellers within a district, and the presence of a very few weak sellers would undermine the scheme in that area, and would perpetuate the very vices which have shown themselves in some schemes in different parts of Great Britain. In the South Wales, scheme, which may be taken as a test case—it is a great export area, which is in the grip of industrial distress, and so on—the power to fix minimum prices is definitely taken, and I think I can say with safety that there is no scheme propounded from any part of the country in which the same element does not figure. I am speaking from memory, and am subject to correction, but that is my reading of every scheme, and I have examined the details of practically all of them. That is the fixing of the minimum price below which coal classified in the terms proposed in this Bill, and classified not only as regards the quality of the coal but as regards the destination of the coal, shall not be sold. That is a very important consideration. Minimum price regulation is fixed in terms of classification on the lines provided in Part IV of this Measure.
Let me now turn to a very difficult and intricate subject, namely, the question of standard tonnage and the quota applied to it. When the Five Counties Scheme set out on its campaign of regulation, it necessarily had to make al] kinds of concessions to get people in, and it took, for the purposes of standard tonnage, any year in the 15 years down to the 31st December, 1927. The difficulties of a long period of that kind are plain in the kind of problem which is now under discussion. The South Wales scheme which is now before us 1257 proposes to take any one of six quarters up to the middle of 1928, or a month in the early part of this year, subject to certain problematical conditions with which I must not trouble the House, and to make that the standard tonnage basis. But beyond all question the ideal method of approaching this problem is to take an approved recent period for the purposes of standard tonnage, provided that we are satisfied that it represents fairly and equitably what the particular colliery has been doing, and I press that point with very great emphasis in this Debate. A large part of the problem of the so-called uneconomic mines, which is now so acute, will disappear if, under this Measure, in the different districts, there is a proper fixing of the standard tonnage. When that is done, and the quota is applied to it, the question of the uneconomic mine will be, I do not say wholly, but very largely, removed.
That is the position as regards the basic tonnage, the quota, and the fixing of the minimum price. Let me turn to another very important consideration raised in the Amendment which has been put down by hon. Members on the Liberal benches, and which also, I think, is supported so far by some of the criticism which I have seen offered by Members of the official Opposition. There are, as I happen to know, many hon. Members on the Unionist benches who consider that some scheme of this kind is necessary. They may have their doubts, hut they know that you cannot go on selling coal at an unremunerative rate, and that some kind of order must be introduced into the matter. Other hon. Members on the Liberal benches make similar concessions, but dislike or are afraid of the method which is proposed. But part of the criticism has been directed to what is called the subsidy—the levy that is proposed on coal raised for the purpose of assisting either the export trade or, it may be, the supply of coal to the depressed industries in Great Britain. Let me deal very frankly and as clearly as I possibly can with that problem.
First of all I would say to the House that they must bear clearly in mind that, if that element disappears from this Bill, if we refuse to give, in the case of these district schemes, the power to make an arrangement of that kind, it would still be open to district coalowners organised in this country, but on volun- 1258 tary lines, for that purpose, to make a levy of that description. The difference would lie in this, that they would have no power to compel a minority for such purposes, and, when we seek to bring the minority into this scheme, we must specify the purposes in the actual scheme, so that it can be applied, perhaps, over a large part of coal production, or over a scattered part, or in some smaller shape or form. Of course, I do not adopt that as by any means a final argument on that policy. I think also that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the term "subsidy" itself in this connection. If this industry had been able to arrive at some method of working out what is called in other industries a differential price, that is to say, charging a certain price to a particular class of demand, either inside the country or outside, such as the market can bear, and easing the price to other classes of demand, probably very little would have been heard of the "subsidy" argument at all; but the fact remains that it was put in this form in the Five Counties Scheme, it figured in the temporary scheme in Scotland, and it is included in most, if not all, of the other schemes which the owners put forward for the purposes of this Bill.
I must make plain an important consideration. This is not proposed, even if the Bill went through in its present form, for the purpose of placing coal on European markets at a loss, or in terms of the ordinarily accepted meaning of a subsidy at all. The real object of this proposal is to enable the coal industry in Great Britain to compete at the world price, and for this purpose that is the European price. If I can make that abundantly clear during this Debate and during the Committee stage, I think that much of our difficulty will be removed. Hon. Members might say that there is a certain improvement in the export trade, and that is true. I am glad to think that our exports of coal are 10,000,000 tons better to the end of November this year than they were in the corresponding period last year. But it is also true that we shall have the greatest difficulty in recovering more than a portion of the export trade that we enjoyed before the War, and I do not want, at this stage at all events, to rule out a proposal of this kind if we can find one that is sound and 1259 on equitable lines. That is the state of affairs. It is not proposed to subsidise coal in the ordinary sense, but merely to enable the industry to compete at the world price and to get its share of European markets if they can possibly be recovered at all. So much for that stage of the problem; but I am quite prepared to rest the case on another and, as I regard it, a much more hopeful proposal. What has been going on in Europe within recent times in the discussion of these markets? Poland has acquired a very great advantage, largely at the expense of Great Britain, in the Scandinavian markets. Germany has had certain advantages in other directions. Only within recent times has there been a discussion between the representatives of the Five County Scheme and German and Polish producers. There are some proposals for the allocation of the European markets, which are not acceptable to many of the coal producers in Europe. There are other proposals which seek to arrive at some kind of price agreement in order that those countries may make up their minds not to undersell one another, not to offer coal at a loss in what is practically a suicidal competition.
What is the difficulty of making progress along those lines? If we take Poland and Germany to-day we shall find that a very large part of their export trade is concentrated. In this country it is very largely scattered, and it is plain, from an analysis of these detailed discussions, that until we have some kind of organisation enabling us to present a united front in Great Britain to German and Polish and French or other Continental coal in competition, we have little or no chance of getting an effective place in international agreements. The owners have said in the plainest terms in the five county scheme they do not like this so-called subsidy any more than we do. My own belief—and I quite realise the difficulties of the so-called retaliatory argument—would be that the very presence of the power to use it would make it certain that it was never used and that, in fact, the ability to enter into those discussions in terms of this co-ordination on something like lines of reasonable equality would strengthen the hands of these pioneers—because they 1260 are pioneers, in British industry—who have conducted those discussions and widened them to include in our representation representatives of the Mining Association itself.
I am not going to say here, having lived with this subject for five or six months, that the path of international agreement is easy. I should absolutely mislead the House if I said anything of the kind. But I say that, in the absence of some plan of this kind, the difficulties are very greatly increased, and already there are signs that, the moment a plan of this kind is practical politics and is accepted in Great Britain, there will be a movement in those European countries of a very valuable character to Great Britain, because they have been impressed by the aggregate static demand for European coal in terms of that 650,000,000 metric tons to which I alluded earlier in my speech. That is a thing that can be analysed in great detail and I will give additional information during the Committee stage.
I want to turn now to another very important point in the Liberal Amendment. It is suggested there that, under this scheme of fixation of a basic tonnage and a quota, you are giving a vested interest to the uneconomic mine. In other words, you confer upon it the right to the production of coal which probably it could not produce at the present time and, when you pass to any scheme of coordination, you have to expropriate for probably a substantial sum the rights which this legislation will confer on the weaker units. It is a perfectly fair argument and I want to meet it in the frankest and fullest possible manner. First of all, if the standard tonnage is accurately fixed, a very large part of that difficulty will disappear. If that standard tonnage is related to a recent short period, if it has regard to what has been actually happening in coal production, then I do not agree that you are going to confer on those units some advantage, or fictitious advantage, and moreover I want to make it perfectly plain that, if that standard tonnage is so applied, all the evidence shows that it does not follow that these collieries are going to produce at a profit. It may reduce their loss in existing conditions, but it does not guarantee that, if the conditions of the industry change, they 1261 will become prosperous propositions. So that the basic tonnage or the standard tonnage itself is a very large part of the remedy. But it is also common ground that it is very difficult indeed to define uneconomic mines. There are certain mines to-day losing money which are thoroughly up-to-date in equipment, which have all the latest electrical and other plant and which, with the best will in the world, cannot raise coal at a remunerative level or at a profit. I could take hon. Members to other mines which have antiquated machinery and are out of date in nine out of ten parts of their equipment and they are producing coal at a profit. It is not a test of either the equipment or of the finance of the undertaking.
The uneconomic mine is something which is not a good proposition to-day because of some difficulty either in the seams or in the market—something extraneous or something within the industry or within the mine. To-morrow those circumstances may change and it becomes an economic proposition. But I am not going to suggest for a moment that that removes the very practical difficulty which all along I have recognised in this connection. It is very difficult indeed to define the uneconomic mine but, broadly speaking, we know that the aggregate capacity of this country, with the existing plant, is about 330,000,000 tons, and that the aggregate amount the industry is producing, and the market can absorb, is about 250,000,000 to 255,000,000 tons. In other words, a great excess of capacity exists over the amount of coal for which you can find disposal on almost any terms at all.
How do we propose to try to meet that situation? I quite agree, in terms of the Amendment, that you would not help the industry if there was no way of progressively getting rid of these uneconomic propositions once you have proved them to be truly uneconomic. What is the contribution that we propose to that end? First of all, this standard tonnage and quota are applied to the undertaking. Speaking from memory there are probably 3,000 pits belonging to about 1,500 undertakings, but there are 500, 600 or 700 undertakings producing over 90 per cent. of the output and about 86 per cent. of the output is concentrated in 300 or 350, 1262 or some number of undertakings of that kind. I beg hon. Members to observe that that standard tonnage and quota are applied to the undertaking and that the undertaking will be itself the owner of a certain number of collieries which may reach up to a fair, although in no case within my knowledge a very large number.
What will be the tendency of the Bill? For the first time, you are bringing the owners together in these district schemes. You are making them all part and parcel of a district organisation. That in itself would be no mean achievement. But there is allocated to the undertaking a certain amount of coal which it has to raise and which it is itself free to raise as it pleases. Surely there will be a very strong pressure, to put it no higher, on the part of that undertaking to concentrate its output on its most efficient unit. There must be a tendency of that kind, and to that extent an immediate contribution is offered. But, of course, there are other tendencies which are not less important. Here you have a district board operating an organisation of the owners. Let us assume that, in the application of the quota, the output of certain pits is reduced in order to bring them within the terms of this scheme.
This Bill provides, and the district schemes provide, for a transfer of quota. That is, they may purchase, even temporarily, or it may be permanently, from the quota that belongs to other pits, and I suggest that over a very considerable part of the field there will be transfers of quota and, therefore, another contribution will be the concentration of output on the most efficient proposition. Of course, hon. Members will say that that constitutes a burden on the more efficient pits. They have to purchase that quota. That is true, but in the absence of a scheme of this kind do you get rid of that problem? That uneconomic pit may remain on the map, and the extraordinary thing about this industry is that it does remain. The uneconomic propositions would be forced out, it may be, by sheer pressure, but so long as they can keep going at all, so long as they can keep their heads above water, and sometimes not even above water, they carry on, and the moment there is any improvement they appear again upon the 1263 scene, as they did in the Scottish scheme, where they again came into the field, and you lose all the advantage of your organisation.
You do not therefore get rid of the problem of the uneconomic unit by merely saying the transfer of this quota will be a burden on other pith and, in any case, if the weak unit were to be exterminated it could only be exterminated in some terms of compensation or recognition of its assets in the capital of the amalgamated company. So that in amalgamation plans for any district in this country there would still be a question of making provision within the industry—because no one suggests a contribution from public funds; that is quite out of the question—for the expropriation of those pits. Therefore, the net test before us is a test of transfer of quota and temporary payments on the one side, which may shade into permanent suspension, and a definite capital charge, on the other, involved in buying out and getting rid of the competition of the undertaking with other mines. That is the essence of that part of the problem. I suggest that there again you have a case which is worthy of investigation, which in fact meets the arguments addressed to us.
I will make another proposition to the House. The Scottish scheme contained a very interesting proposition. Part of the levy that was raised from two sources in Scottish coal while that scheme was in use was devoted to the extinction of uneconomic pits, temporarily, largely in that case, permanently in some cases. But, for the reasons I have given, that scheme broke down. There was no quota. They had no proper regulation, the increase of production was not stopped and the whole thing was hopeless. Now it may be that you can devise a method of making some kind of levy, and paying part of it to the extinction of these uneconomic units within the industry. If so, I have not a single word to say against it. I welcome any constructive contributions on those lines. I am prepared to consider anything at this stage which moves along what virtually is a common road towards the more effective large scale organisation of coal production.
1264 The Royal Commission, over which my right hon. Friend presided, said that there were far too many separate undertakings in Great Britain. He and his colleagues contrasted that large number of undertakings with the far smaller number in Germany and in other European coal producing countries. I have not a single word to say in opposition to that view. There is over the whole industry, or over a large part of industry in Great Britain, a growing concentration. Many Members have said that we have virtually achieved a trust. We have international arrangements in steel and in other great commodities, and, in my view, that process will continue and will probably be accelerated in its effects. It is a remarkable fact that we have made very little progress in coal. The Royal Commission in 1925 took a definite line against compulsory amalgamation. They said that they would prefer to do it on voluntary lines, but they also indicated that it should at least have a trial run, and the Act was passed on a permissive basis by our predecessors in office in 1926. Are the Government exposed to any charge of losing time on this problem? I submit that on the following facts they are not. In the statement which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made to the House of Commons, he clearly indicated in his first important speech after the General Election that we were going to embark upon what contribution we could make to the co-ordination of the coal industry.
In our discussions with the coalowners that point was raised, but we had to concentrate, first of all, and, I think, quite properly, on these marketing schemes which were designed to stop the sale of coal at a loss or at an unremunerative level and to get into this industry some co-ordination for the purpose of improvement and for the legitimate and just amelioration in hours and working conditions which we had promised, and in my judgment rightly promised, to the depressed mining community in Great Britain. Not only did we take these steps and make that inquiry, but the Royal Commission itself said that there should be a period of two or three years. I ought to say, in passing, that the Liberal Industrial Report adopts for this purpose very largely the Majority Report of the Lewis Committee, and also to a very large extent these proposals 1265 for amalgamation of the Royal Commission, with the further proposal that Commissioners should be set up for the purpose of framing a scheme if voluntary methods did not succeed.
We have had two Reports under the Mining Industry Act, and I suggest this afternoon that we could not reasonably have acted until we had had at least two Reports showing what had been done, and having satisfied ourselves beyond a shadow of doubt that progress was not going to be made on voluntary lines. The first Report was issued in November, 1928, and the second Report I issued to hon. Members from the Board of Trade yesterday. Those two Reports show beyond a shadow of doubt that progress in mines amalgamation is negligible in this country. It does not cover one-seventh or one-eighth of the industry, and even the returns in those Reports are to some extent redundant. Beyond a few amalgamations we are not making any progress in this matter. The fundamental controversy is whether we are to continue on voluntary lines, or apply a method of compulsion. I am satisfied now that the voluntary basis has broken down, and accordingly the Government wish to make it perfectly clear this afternoon, that without any addition to this legislation at all but, as I am at present advised, on the powers that we possess under the Mining Industry Act, 1920, particularly Section 22, and other legislation we can set up a Committee or Commissioners, not for the purpose of dilatory inquiry or anything like that, but for the preparation of a scheme which is designed to work out the district for a colliery amalgamation, th6 collieries which would be amalgamated, to indicate the terms and basis of what will necessarily be a difficult and technical undertaking to embark on, and complete that task at the earliest possible moment. We undertake that that will be later embodied in legislation and will be offered for the approval of this House.
The real question is: Is that the most rapid method of achieving this end? I think that hon. Members will agree that if this is to be compulsory, we have to face, I am afraid, the opposition of a considerable section in the industry. There is not the least doubt about that. I would prefer to do things by agreement. That is my whole disposition and temperament, but you are not dealing with 1266 an ordinary proposition. The most rapid way of preparing teat scheme is on the lines I have indicated. You have two great forces running side by side, the tendency to amalgamations inevitably fostered by the proposals of this Bill, and the accelerated voluntary amalgamations which, I believe, will follow when this Bill is passed, together with the knowledge that the preparation of the amalgamation scheme is going on. The preparation of that scheme will complete the field insofar as it is not already accomplished, and then become an appropriate matter for the consideration of this House. So there, I submit to hon. Members who have doubt about the uneconomic units and about the amalgamations, is a programme just as complete and as rapid as it can possibly be made. I beg hon. Members also to remember that every colliery that is closed leaves either a village or a derelict community or a social problem behind. The House must recognise that every effort should be made to provide work in other occupations, but we all know in our hearts, whatever may be our party politics, the supreme difficulty of overtaking a task of that character, in view of foreign competition in the markets of the world, and changing conditions following the War and great burdens upon industry and commerce. That is the point regarding amalgamations.
I want to say a word or two about another difficulty which has arisen regarding the price level of British coal, land I will try to put this part of the case as briefly as I possibly can. Quite plainly, if we set out to increase prices by four or five shillings a ton according to the fantastic figures of some newspapers—it is round about midnight when these leading articles are written and that is not the time for scientific study—we should deserve to be driven from office at a little more than an hour's notice. But do let the House face the situation. Can anyone believe that this industry itself would propound a scheme which was going to encourage at a stroke the use of alternatives which already compete so strongly, and contribute to the further depression of British coal. That could be the only effect of any fantastic increase of the price level on these lines. Already there is grave competition with oil fuel. The whole of the coal industry is aware of that fact. The burden of this 1267 part of the Bill is not to sell at terms which may rightly be regarded as an extravagant profit, but to stop the sale of coal at a loss, to get a good average price in those parts of the market which can bear that price, and to relieve the price in other parts of the, market. This should be accomplished if this industry is to be saved. Nobody disputes that between 35,000,000 and 40,000,000 tons of coal are going to public utility organisations in Great Britain which in a large part of that area is not obtaining a remunerative or even an economic price. The same is true of certain parts of the export trade. As regards that export trade, there are people interested in coal on the North-East Coast at the present time who are going into these markets and selling coal at a dead loss, or on terms with which owners cannot possibly compete, for certain temporary advantages. There is no method of dealing with that under existing conditions.
I will, however, concentrate for the moment on the home market. As regards those public utility organisations, I say not a single word in criticism of their work this afternoon. We on these benches, perhaps as much as any party in the House—I will not put it higher than that—have had a regard for them as being regulated public utilities. Electricity is regulated under two great Acts of 1919 and 1926. Gas is regulated under a whole series of Acts of Parliament. Railway companies are regulated under the Act of 1921, there are public institutions of one kind and another. These are industries which have either some form of guaranteed return or a monopolistic nature, or have the power of passing on to consumers increased charges. On the other side, you have the coal industry, exposed to grave difficulty on the home front, and still greater difficulty in the export trade. An unsheltered industry: if ever that phrase could be used it is true of coal.
I have discussed this matter with members of those industries who know bow difficult that position is. They do not dispute that it is only fair that they should pay a reasonable price for their coal. I know that they have made a protest, as they were bound to do, but the fact remains that you cannot go on selling coal on that basis, and there is no method of stopping it until these 1268 schemes come into operation. This is part of the plan which this Bill applies. But as regards home consumers and other classes, and more particularly the heavy industries, the definite desire is to give them coal on the best possible terms, whether that is done by the ordinary differential price without any contribution, or is done in terms of that contribution. I ask the House to ask itself this simple question. The whole burden of the Royal Commission's Report in 1925 showed that unless those heavy industries recovered, there would not be restored the domestic demand for British coal. Is the coal industry, which is bound up with iron and steel, going to cut its own throat by penalising those industries? A mere statement of the case is sufficient. Moreover, the amount of coal that is bought abroad for iron and steel plant is limited. A great deal of coal goes to foreign railways and to public utility concerns. In any case in these foreign countries, as in this country, the coal is closely associated with the iron and steel trades, because proximity is the very essence of the economic processes in these industries. I hope that I have said enough to remove a great deal of doubt on this point.
Then, still dealing with the consumer, there is the machinery of the Bill. There is the machinery of these Committees consisting of representatives of miners, owners and the public with an independent and impartial chairman. That is a representative committee for the express purpose of dealing with problems, sent to them from any district. There may be difficulties, there may bee even abuses in some part of a district scheme. We have there a Committee which can investigate that upon the spot, which has power to call for information from the local association and which after consideration can, if necessary, send the complaint on to the Board of Trade. We on our part will do everything in our power to secure the amendment of the scheme. In this case it would be a question of price, although I hope that will not occur, at any rate, not very frequently. After a period, in which a voluntary scheme may continue—if it conforms to the national scheme, and has been approved by the owners and the Board of Trade—the Board of Trade has power failing that to submit a scheme 1269 itself. I do not believe that the owners in any district will willingly pursue a path which will lead to that. Part of their great difficulty under this Bill was that they regretted the necessity of Government regulation and control. We have taken sufficient power of regulation and control, but, apart from that machinery, the great underlying safeguard is the mass of coal competing with other forms of fuel, and beyond that, any step which this Government would certainly take under the powers of the Consumers' Council, if there was definite abuse as regards retail price. Of course, I must make it plain to the House that this Bill does not touch other legislation which may come at a later date—I cannot make any specific promise about it this afternoon—which may be required to settle a problem of this kind.
This is not an industry that can ever be reorganised in the terms of one Act of Parliament. There is a gulf between the pithead price in this country and the price which the consumers have to pay. There is far too great a drop. That was analysed at considerable length by the Royal Commission presided over by the right hon. Member for Darwen. Apart from what I have said about abuse, and the pit-head price, and apart from what I have said about the power of the Consumers' Council in this matter, into which I cannot go this afternoon, there is now an important movement going on which can only be accelerated by this measure between the owners on one side and the Coal Merchants' Federation of Great Britain on the other, when the owners are organised in the terms of this Bill. They themselves have recognised the danger and the force of public criticism applied to that gap between pit-head and retail prices, and they are even now in discussion with the coal merchants for the express purpose a getting rid of a substantial part of that intermediate element. I see no chance whatever of effective progress being achieved on these lines if the owners remain scattered and fighting with one another in their different districts, in the absence of the co-ordination which this Bill provides. It is true that you leave them a certain amount of elasticity, but when you have your standard tonnage and your quota, it becomes the common interest in that district to see that they get the best price at the pit-head, and that they do 1270 not get unfair treatment by the retailer. A large part of the criticism that I have heard expressed in many quarters against the mining community springs from this abuse of retail prices which has little or nothing to do with the pit-head price of coal which, over a large part of the field, has been too low.
I am afraid that I have very much exceeded my time—[Host. MEMBERS: "Go on!"]—and I want to be very brief with the other two parts of the Bill. With regard to hours of work there is, frankly, a direct division of opinion between us. In 1919 the seven hours' day was introduced in Great Britain and that continued until 1926, when our predecessors in office passed legislation that enabled an eight hours' day to be worked in the coalfields of this country. We made it plain at that time that we were strongly opposed to such a Clause. The mine-owners in their evidence before the right hon. Gentleman's Commission made proposals on these lines: to reduce the cost of production of coal by reducing the miners' wages, by adding one hour to the working day, by reducing the charges for railway freight, and certain other things. That was a rather desperate solution that they offered to the Royal Commission—a Royal Commission which did not include a single member who held our economic views. The Royal Commission in its chapter on the subject of wages unanimously rejected that recommendation. It is true that it suggested a certain reduction in wages, and many other proposals, but, having regard to all the circumstances, it said that the working day was, in effect, long enough in this country, and it proposed to allow it to remain. Our predecessors in office took another view. We were pledged to restore the seven hours' day at the earliest possible opportunity, and we offer half of that pledge this afternoon. I make no apology whatever for doing that together with a scheme of co-ordination, because they are bound up together. Only a fool would submit that they are not all bound up together. You cannot separate one from another in an industry like this.
What, is the case that is presented against this proposal? First of all, let the House remember that over Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and for the hewers in Northumberland and Durham, in respect of over 100,000,000 tons of 1271 250,000,000 tons of output at the present time, you have a seven and a-half hours' day, plus one winding time, so that the time, with winding time, as the winding time is averaged out at 35 minutes, makes a working day of rather more than eight hours, largely underground. We all recognise that that is a long day. There is also the problem of accidents and the difficulties of work, with which many hon. Members on these benches and in other parts of the House are more familiar than I am, than I can claim to be. It is true that a large part of that coal output is not, except to a comparatively small extent, related to the export trade, but if there is anything like goodwill even in the export districts this half hour can be covered without reduction of wages.
My hon. Friends on the benches opposite say, and I do not object in the least: "Look at de-rating." We on these benches have always said that many of these charges should be national charges. The essence of our complaint was the way in which it was done, and that de-rating was given to prosperous and unprosperous industries. I am advised that it makes a contribution to railway freight charge at the pits of probably something between 7d. and 9d. per ton in the cost of production at the present time. We will say that there will be 1s. 6d. a ton extra cost of production relating to this reduction of one half hour, although that is a high figure and one which has been challenged in many responsible quarters.
In the case of South Wales—and one can give credit to the Government in regard to this—we have orders for 1,000,000 tons of coal for the Italian State Railways for three years from 15th November of the present year. That was achieved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at The Hague Conference. In the next place, there is a progressive improvement in the export of coal. I have already reminded the House that in this respect we were 10,000,000 tons better at the end of November than at the corresponding date of last year. To crown all, there is a better price level for the coal which is being sent abroad, and I have every reason to believe that that improvement will be maintained. So that we are having a variety of contributions, which, in my judgment, whatever may be said on the other side, would enable, with good 1272 will, this half hour reduction to be covered without any inroad on the present level of wages, which I have never heard a single soul defend on any side of the House, which run down to something like 35s., 38s. and£2 a, week, or very little more than that, except for certain classes of coal production, all bound up with distress and humiliation in these colliery districts which no words of mine this afternoon could properly describe. I know that some of the owners, men who own a large part of the area, are officially against this view, but I am betraying no secret when I say that some of the most representative owners in this industry have said to me: "We are with you. You can carry this, and, in our judgment, it is a proposition to which you can stand if you put it on that basis." I know that right hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite and our Liberal friends recognise that they are in agreement with us on that issue.
I come to the national agreement. What is the difference in the relations of the two sides to that question? There was a national agreement prior to 1926. The Mining Association has said in all these discussions: "We are not prepared again to recognise the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. We are prepared to negotiate on terms with the district councils, with their independent chairman, but we cannot go back to the National basis." The Prime Minister and others have said over and over again to the owners: "Can you continue indefinitely in an attitude of that kind?" Officially they remain of that view. Some of the most powerful industrialists in this country have urged that there is everything to be gained by that national basis and by this reduction of differences, and I want to pay my tribute to the courage and devotion with which they have advocated that view. Questions will arise in the districts, they may be questions of hours, wages or whatever the difficulty may be, and we have taken the broad analogy of the Railway Act, 1921, and propose to set up a National Board representative of the owners and the miners, the Employers' Confederation, the Federation of British Industries and Chambers of Commerce, the Co-operative Union and the Trades Union Congress, with an independent chairman, and it will be the duty of 1273 that National Board to consider any large question bearing on the position of things that may be sent up to it.
The owners say, in that case you will never get agreement in the districts. I do not agree with them. We have made it plain to them, and they know that hon. Members on this side of the House who know the industry will do everything in their power to work the district agreements, to which they rightly attach a great deal of importance. There will be no desire to send up any petty or trifling points to the national body. It will be the large propositions and the substantial problems which will be so sent. Moreover, you have in this body a representation of industry as a whole. If ever there was an industry which is fundamental to British prosperity, this is the one. The public, too, are represented, and there is an independent chairman. The board is also fortified by periodical "reports from the various districts. It gives its opinion, and there is not the least doubt that the opinion of a large and representative body like that would have very great moral weight. Of course, hon. Members will ask, how do you suppose to enforce its opinion? I will be perfectly candid on that point. You can only enforce a view of that description if you are prepared to cross the border-line into compulsory arbitration. Neither side of the industry is prepared to accept that proposition, and in the last resort on all these great questions they reserve on the one side the right of lock-out, and on the other the right to withdraw labour. But you can contribute, from a great public and authoritative body, viewing a problem dispassionately, an opinion, a kind of guidance which will be of the highest value in directing and guiding the Government of the day in any action they may take if, unfortunately, any future crisis arose.
I must apologise to the House. I have occupied far too much time already, but I am perfectly sure that hon. Members will forgive me having regard to the great importance of this industry and to the fair and impartial manner in which it should be discussed. I will add only this very human note in conclusion. Some years ago the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), now happily associated with us in the Government, took me down one of the largest and deepest collieries 1274 in South Wales, and one could see at close quarters, not only the grave risks and dangers under which these men perform their daily task, but also in the surrounding neighbourhood the social environment in which they have to live. I do not think one could ever forget the scene. I saw, as every hon. Member must see, the distress of those villages and mining communities. Judge this Bill impartially and you will find, although it may not be without defect, that it is an endeavour to see that the output of these men, in conditions where they are facing sudden death, is given a fair chance in the markets of the world. I am proud, in an utterly inadequate way this afternoon, to have tried to make some contribution to improve their conditions, and happy to-day to be the steward and trustee of this Measure.
§ Sir PHILIP CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
The House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman, as it always is, for a very clear and lucid speech. He did not deal, however, with all the points which are likely to be raised in criticism, and, lucid as was his speech, it seemed to me to run parallel to his Bill rather than to deal with what exactly is in the Bill. I am not surprised. When we pass from his exposition to that which he had to expose, few of us can pay as sincere a tribute to what is in the Bill as to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I make no complaint on the length of his speech. He said that it was so complex a subject that it could not be introduced in a speech of less length, and that on some parts indeed he would have to curtail what on another occasion he would have to say to the House. That is true. But is not that a far stronger argument than anything we have used on this side of the House for asking that we should have more time to consider this Bill? No small part of his speech was devoted to explaining that he was quite ready to recast Part I of the Bill, which occupies the greater half of print, into a different form. That is a somewhat unusual method of introducing a Bill, and is an additional reason why we should have longer time for criticism.
1275 Anyone who deals with the coal problem has a very difficult task; and that task is not made easier when you are confronted with a pledge very casually given, which you have not the least intention of redeeming—[Interruption.] I will prove that statement up to the hilt. The right hon. Gentleman slid very quickly over the question of the pledge this afternoon, but I am sure it was very definitely in his mind. It is certainly in the minds of most hon. Members of the House. But what did happen? An absolute and categorical pledge was given by the Government that the Eight Hours Act would be repealed as the first act of the Labour Government—[Interruption.] There is no doubt about the terms of that pledge. In "Labour and the Nation" this was said:The disastrous Act by which the Tory Government added an hour to the working day of the miners must at once be repealed.The Miners' Federation, desiring to have from the Prime Minister a very specific undertaking, not a general pledge, asked for further and better particulars; and they got them. In a letter which was published in the "Miner" on the 18th May, written by Mr. Lindsay, Secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party, this was said:Undoubtedly it was agreed that in the first Session of the Lahour Government a Bill would be introduced to reduce the working hours of the miners. All that is outstanding is the decision as to the form that Bill should take"—There is no suggestion of doing it by instalment—[Interruption.] I am quoting the words:whether, for instance, it should he a simple repeal of the Tory Government's Act, or whether it should provide for seven hours hank to bank.That was the absolute plain and specific pledge given at the General Election. Those were the terms of the prospectus on which the faithful or the credulous, subscribed their votes; and this is the Bill they are getting. That was before the General Election. After the Election they found, if indeed they did not know it before—I am sure the President of the Board of Trade knew it before and was not a willing party to any such pledge—that they could not redeem that pledge when they came into office and so, after 1276 the General Election, after they had got votes by that specific promise, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who always has a soothing effect upon the more extreme members of his party, was selected to carry to them the good tidings that they were not going to get a repeal of the Tory Act after all. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking at Leicester last October said, in equally categorical but very different terms to those used at the time of the General Election, that:An immediate return to the seven-hour day would inflict grievous disaster on the industry, pits would close down and miners would be thrown out of work.—[Interruption.]
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was given a good hearing, and I hope that hon. Members will give an equally good hearing to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. CunliffeLister).
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing his Bill, gave a general review of the whole history of the subject and I propose to reply, and with the consent of the House to say everything that is in my mind in criticism. I shall get through it much quicker if I am allowed to develop my argument. If the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been made at the time of the General Election it might not have been quite so fortunate, electorally, to the party opposite but they would have found themselves in rather less difficulty to-day. However, we have the Bill; and there is obviously no intention of carrying out the pledge to repeal the Eight Hours' Act. Indeed, I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman because in the national interest it is far better he should break a pledge than break an industry.
The right hon. Gentleman has sought to justify this Bill on very general grounds, not all of them strictly relevant to the Bill. In deciding whether we should give a Second Beading to a Bill of this kind two principles should be followed. You can only justify action of the kind proposed by this Measure if you can prove, and prove beyond any doubt, 1277 that Government action is absolutely necessary and that a Government scheme is better than anything the industry can do for itself. Another proposition, which is not less important and one which will find even wider acceptance, is this, that if a Government does seek to intervene and control an industry, it owes a very peculiar duty to the community at large. I do not know how many times, when we were sitting on the Government Front Bench and one question after another was raised, that we were not asked "What are you going to do to protect the interest of the consumer?" The President of the Board of Trade, for all the length and clarity of his speech, did very little to explain what was being done in this Bill to protect the interest of the consumer. In presenting his case he said that he regarded the question of hours, and his marketing proposals, as he was pleased to call them, as interlocked. And so they are. But they have to be considered separately as well as together.
Let me take hours first. There is nothing novel in the regulation of hours in this industry. Everyone would prefer that the industry should work 7½ hours rather than 8, subject to two conditions. The first condition is that the industry can stand it, and the second, which is bound up with that, is that by working 7½ hours rather than 8 you are going to make the worker better off. If you cannot establish those two interlocked propositions you are doing a disservice alike to the industry and to those engaged in it. I do not believe there is anyone who would dissent from this statement—certainly not anybody with the least interest in the industry—that the maintenance, and if possible the improvement, of wages, is a far more essential thing and far more in the interest of those in the industry than the shortening of hours.
At the present time the wages which are paid in the mining industry, though certainly no one would suggest that they are too high, are in fact much higher than the wages which are paid in any European mining country, with the single exception of the Netherlands, which is not a very substantial competitor. The League of Nations has conducted two inquiries into the question 1278 of mining wages, and has published a very interesting table which is given in the "International Labour Review" for last October. That table gives the comparative wages in coal mining in this and other European countries. They take Great Britain as 100, and they give both the earnings per day and the average annual earnings. I think it is fairer to take the annual earnings for comparison. If you take the rate of day wages the comparison is even more favourable to this country. I take the yearly earnings, and these are the figures: Great Britain, 100; the Netherlands, 96; the Ruhr, 89; the Saar, 70; Germany (Upper Silesia), 68; France, 62; Belgium, 56; and Poland, varying from 39 to 44.
In face of those figures a very strong case has to be made out by a Government which is going to interfere with hours, in order to show that wages, which are already so much higher than those of our competitors, can at least be maintained and can be maintained without any undue cost or improper cost to the consumers of coal in this country; because in all this, though you may say what you like about miners and miners' wages, the Government have a wider responsibility even than that—they are trustees for the whole country, and they have to consider the interest of consumers as well as the interests of the miner or the mine owner.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The figures are for 1927. They are, I believe, the latest publication that there is, but no doubt the President of the Board of Trade could say whether there are any material alterations either in this country or in foreign countries that would lead to any substantial changes in the figures that I have given. My impression is that the figures are substantially correct to-day. Is not that so?
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I should not like to pledge myself on the point, for at the 1279 moment I cannot recall whether there is a later collocation. Broadly the percentages are on the lines stated.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am obliged. That is a complete answer. With regard to the cost of living, there is another table which worked out wages in teams of purchasing power, and again the comparison is very favourable to this country, although in the other countries the purchasing power of money is rather higher. But I shall not trouble the House with the second table, and will merely say that the conclusion is proportionately the same. In order to justify the proposal it is important to see what was the effect of increased hours upon working costs. There is not the least doubt—I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade would not deny this—that the extra time which was worked under the Act of 1926 has greatly reduced working costs. It has enabled the industry to pay higher wages than it would otherwise have been in a position to pay, and it has improved the industry's competitive powers.
I agree that we should debate these matters with as little controversy as possible. In order to prove my statement I shall give the figures, official Board of Trade figures, from the quarterly returns. They are certainly very remarkable. Cost per ton of coal, commercially disposed, in the March quarter of 1926 was 17s. 2d. for the whole of Great Britain, and 19s. 9d. for South Wales. I have taken Great Britain as a whole, and I take also South Wales because it is the largest of the districts that is working an eight hours' day at present. If you compare those figures with what I think is a fair standard for comparison, the March quarter of 1929, you find that the cost per ton in Great Britain had fallen from 17s. 2d. to 13s. 3d., and in South Wales from 19s. 9d. to 14s. 7d. You get, therefore, a reduction per ton of 3s. 11d. in Great Britain and of 5s. 2d. in South Wales.
Let me take the corresponding wages paid in those two quarters. Here I would remind the House that the wages paid in March, 1926, included the subvention, for at that time there was a very large subsidy paid in aid of wages. Wages per shift, in March, 1926, were: Great Britain, 10s. 4¾; South Wales, 10s. 9d. 1280 In the March quarter of this year, with no subvention, the figures are: Great Britain, 9s. 2¾d.; South Wales, 9s. 4¼d. There was a fall in earnings per shift of only 1s. 2d. in Great Britain and 1s. 4¾d. in South Wales. Therefore it is a simple mathematical calculation to see that the fall in costs, other than wages, due to working the extra time, in Great Britain as a whole was 2s. 9d. a ton, and in South Wales as much as 3s. 9¼d. a ton.
That, without any question, is the result of increased hours. Yet an Act which enabled that to be done is fantastically described as an iniquitous Act and has other epithets applied to it. From these reduced costs there was the natural result that was to be expected and to which the President of the Board of Trade has referred. The result of these reduced costs, due to the extra working time, was an increase in output and an increase in exports. In the first nine months of 1929 we produced 190,000,000 tons, as against 176,500,000 tons in the first nine months of last year. Our foreign coal shipments, including both exports and bunkers, were 60,500,000 tons for this year, and 52,750,000 tons for the first nine months of last year. The output per man per shift of course increased as well.
If these figures be correct—I know that the President of Board of Trade will not challenge them—in face of that increase in production and in output, in order to justify their proposals for reducing hours the Government must prove that the industry can stand it, while maintaining wages and maintaining the industry's power to compete in the export trade. I gather, from something that the President of the Board of Trade said, that he is not prepared seriously to dispute that a reduction of half-an-hour a day in working time in those districts where eight hours is being worked a day, might be as much as 1s. 6d. per ton.
Let me say, at this stage, that if any reduction of hours can he justified, would it not he much wiser for the President of the Board of Trade, instead of having a flat proposition that in every district the working time be reduced by half-an-hour a day, to make some suggestion that the reduction of working time should be averaged out over a week or a fortnight? There cannot be the least doubt that when you come to consider the effect 1281 of working costs and wages it might be much easier for the industry to stand a working fortnight of 90 hours, or even a working week of 45 hours, than a compulsory working day of 7½ hours. I suggest that not only might that be economically much sounder, but that socially it might be a better proposition also. Apart altogether from the fact that, naturally, everyone would be more interested in making sure of higher wages instead of making sure of shorter hours, I think many men would be much keener to work the eight hours on the days when they were at work, if they knew that they were to get a very short Saturday shift or no Saturday shift at all.
I seriously commend to the Government the consideration of an average fortnight, or possibly an average week, rather than the utterly inelastic proposal which they have put before the Rouse. It is plain that the industry as it stands to-day is barely able to pay the wages which are being paid at the present time. I say nothing of the great deficits which have been piled up, though I have seen statements—and I have every reason to suppose that they are correct—to the effect that the deficits which have been piled up in paying the minimum wage during the last two years amount to something like£20,000,000 over the whole of the coal industry. The minimum wage which is paid to-day is, of course, greatly in excess of the agreed percentage and, even in this year, a year in which the coal trade has done much better than it did in the past two years, when costs and proceeds are averaged out and set the one against the other, there is only one quarter in which there is a credit balance. I think there was a credit balance of 9¼d. per ton in the first quarter. In the second quarter there was a deficit of 3½d. per ton and I see the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the third quarter is that they will about level out and that there will not be either a debit or a credit balance.
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that in those accounts which he takes out and publishes the items included as working costs are by no means all the charges which fall upon a colliery undertaking. No allowance is made, for example, for interest on bank overdrafts and many of these collieries are operat- 1282 ing under large bank overdrafts for which they have to pay large sums in interest. In addition, the only allowance which is made for depreciation is the strict Income Tax allowance. I think he will agree that if he were advising an undertaking like a colliery, with a risky and wasting asset, he would advise it to put to depreciation a great deal more than the strict Income Tax allowance. In the face of these figures and facts—and I think I put them quite fairly having taken every single one of them from the official published figures—is it not plain that the Government have made out no case for reducing the hours as they propose to do in Part II of the Bill unless they are able to show that the proposals in Part I of the Bill will very much more than counterbalance the increased cost due to a reduction in hours. I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that they have to stand or fall by Part I of the Bill. If Part I does not justify his claims, then the reduction of hours is not justified. Therefore it becomes all the more necessary to scrutinise very closely the proposals in Part I both from the point of view of the coal industry itself and the point of view of the consumers of coal at large.
Before I come to the details of the proposals in Part I I must say something about the National Board. I do not find it easy to express a final opinion upon that board. A very easy prima facie case can be made out for it, and the right hon. Gentleman paid an eloquent tribute to the advantages which he thought might flow from it. I am not so sure. If it was such a happy thought it is a remarkable thing that it never found expression until the right hon. Gentleman had got to the eleventh or twelfth—or was it the thirteenth—draft of this Bill. During the first five months gestation to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred this brilliant thought did not occur to him. Apparently what happened was that the Miners' Federation representatives came to see him. No doubt they had a word or two to say about not getting the Eight Hours Act repealed and then, I gather, they said that they must have something and so the right hon. Gentleman had the happy thought of producing the National Board. We ought not either to accept it or reject it, simply because it is a last minute 1283 thought and a gesture to cover up something else. What the House will want to consider is this: Is this Board going to serve a useful purpose?
The right hon. Gentleman cited the Railway Board, but there is no real analogy between conditions affecting railway companies and the conditions affecting the mining industry. The railways are of like character, one with another, and while the conditions vary, each has to meet the same variety of conditions and therefore a board is quite competent to give advice and make recommendations and come to decisions affecting all these railway companies, because they have the same problems and the same conditions to face. But in the mining industry the conditions in the districts differ greatly. Certainly the wages in each district have to be settled and governed by district conditions. I believe that you could not do anything worse for the mining industry than go back to national wage agreements or awards in place of the district wage agreements or awards. If you attempt to do that, it is unfair as between the districts, and it is unfair to employers and employed. If you try to get the highest common factor of wages to cover the whole industry it will be too low for the prosperous district and too high for the districts where the working is more difficult. Wages have to be settled as they are to-day by district agreements and I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would for a moment wish to go back on that system.
If that be true then it is of the utmost importance to get the fullest and frankest discussion in the settlement of these district agreements. You want, first of all, in such negotiations to have all the cards on the table. You want neither side in district negotiations to hold anything back. If they know that a settlement is to be reached in the district I believe you will get that full and frank discussion; but if both sides have it in mind that in all cases there is going to be an appeal to some central tribunal, then there is a real danger that each side will keep something back, and you will not get that open and free discussion which is so essential if we are to secure effective agreements. If that is likely to be the effect of setting up a National 1284 Board, I am very doubtful whether a National Board is going to help. I am also doubtful if you are to have a board of arbitration, or quasi-arbitration, whether six coal owners and six miners from other competing districts with two or three or four independent people added would constitute the best form of tribunal to adjudicate on a district dispute. I am not sure that you would not get better results from a tribunal on which the miners and mineowners of the competing districts were not represented, and I should like to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say on that point. As I say, it is the kind of proposal which requires to be considered impartially. We must consider it simply and solely from the point of view of what is most likely to produce full and frank discussion and satisfactory agreements in the different districts.
I pass from that point to what the right hon. Gentleman has called the marketing scheme. I do not think that term is a very felicitous description of what he is doing in the Bill. Part I is headed "Production, Supply and Sale of Coal," but there is very little about marketing in the Bill. What the Bill does is to fix quotas of production and minimum price. It does not deal at all with the way in which the coal is to be marketed and that is one of the great condemnations of this part of the Bill. The Government are taking, as they must take when they produce a Measure of this kind, full responsibility for the Bill as it stands and the Government are compelling, or are proposing by this Bill to compel, every mine in the country to come into this scheme. It must have occurred to many of us when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking that it was a rather remarkable thing that this Government should be introducing a Bill of this kind. I well remember how in the last Parliament I used to be asked almost every Tuesday at Question Time when were the Government going to introduce a Bill to deal with trusts. I put forward the view, subsequently endorsed by the Balfour Committee, that the best way of dealing with trusts was to wait until you got full information—to wait until you had something about which to inquire.
We were told by the First Lord of the Admiralty on many occasions, and I think he said so in his evidence before 1285 the Balfour Committee, that one of the first acts of a Socialist Government, whenever they got into office, would be to introduce a Bill to deal with trusts. I think indeed the right hon. Gentleman told the Balfour Committee that such a Bill was in draft—an Anti-Trust Bill. What is the first Bill they have introduced? It is indeed a Bill dealing with trusts and a very remarkable Bill it is. Another remarkable thing must have occurred to many Members. The right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly said in answer to myself and to others that this was a Free Trade Government and that no matter how harassed or depressed any British industry might be never would they dream of countenancing any form of Protection.
What is Part I of this Bill? It is the negation of Free Trade. It is the most extreme form of Protection, and it is more than that; it is protection of an industry which is a largely sheltered industry. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying the coal trade is an unsheltered industry. An unsheltered industry means an industry subject to foreign competition at all points, but the coal trade is only subject to foreign competition when it goes abroad and meets it in a foreign market. Where is the foreign competition which is coming into the coal trade in the home market? This is plainly a Bill to protect the coal industry, and through an hour and a quarter the right hon. Gentleman explained to us just why he thought it was necessary to protect the coal industry. This is not only a Bill to protect the coal industry, but it is a Bill to protect the coal industry without in the least degree assuring that it is going to become more efficient. It is a Bill to protect the coal industry without any regard to the interests of the consumer.
Where are all the speeches which hon. and right hon. Members opposite made about the Safeguarding procedure? When an industry which was an unsheltered industry applied for a duty and had to go before an impartial tribunal to inquire into its conditions, it had at any rate to prove that it was conducted with reasonable efficiency and economy, and in every case the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends were very ready to come forward and consti- 1286 tute themselves the defenders of the consumer. Really, where do all those speeches and those arguments stand to-day, when the right hon. Gentleman brings forward Part I of this Bill? And more than that. Not only is the right hon. Gentleman going to give the most drastic form of Protection—I will show how drastic in a moment—to this industry, but it is going to he a drastic form of Protection to a raw material, a raw material of all industries. But what is the right hon. Gentleman's answer going to be to the other industries which use this raw material?
Take the steel industry, for example. If the steel industry says, "Our coal is costing us more to-day because of the protection which you have given to this industry, and not only is it costing more in itself, but perhaps it is costing us more even than it would under your price-fixing scheme because of the levy for foreign exports as well; it is costing us doubly more," what on earth is going to be the answer of the right hon. Gentleman to the steel industry when it asks for some countervailing form of protection to compensate it for the protection which the right hon. Gentleman is giving to this trade? When they produce a scheme of this kind, the Government make themselves responsible for the financial failure or success of the scheme. You cannot divorce yourselves from that. You cannot come in and control and conduct an industry without making yourselves responsible to that extent. But what matters much more to me is that you make yourselves responsible for the price of every ton of coal which is sold in this country. Not a ton of coal can be mined except with your approval, under a scheme which the President of the Board of Trade is going to approve. What is more important, not a ton of coal can be sold at a price lower than that which the President of the Board of Trade is going to approve. Protection? Trust? Was there ever a more extreme form of Protection and of monopolistic trust than that?
I should have thought that if the Government were determined to create so drastic a monopoly and so exclusive a trust, they would at least have tried to create the best kind of trust possible. What should be your objective in any dealings which you have with the mining industry? Surely it should be this, to 1287 get the maximum of efficiency and economy, both on the production side of this industry and on its distribution side. What do you do in this Bill to improve production? Absolutely nothing. There is not one word that I can find in the Bill from start to finish which is going to encourage more efficient production in this industry. I listened with the greatest possible care during the whole of the hour and three-quarters of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and I could not find one word which led me to suppose that there was anything in his Bill, or that there was anything going to flow from it when it is in operation, if it ever comes into operation, which will increase the efficiency of production. Indeed, I think the opposite may not improbably result.
It may be difficult for us to define with precision what is an inefficient or an uneconomic pit, but somehow we know it when we see it, and we know that there are efficient and economical pits, and that there are those which are not, but your inefficient pit is under this protective trust going to be stabilised and endowed. However inefficient it is, it will have a quota. It is apparently going to keep a quota for all time, unless somebody comes along and buys it out, in which case it becomes a rentier, and it is going to be secured in its price. I am sure that anyone who had any experience of control during the War will agree with this, that once you go in for a system of price control, even when apparently, as in the War, you try to run your price control in the interests of the consumer—this is going to be price control in the interests of the producer—even then you have to regulate your prices by the cost of production of the less efficient. Therefore, this inefficient pit, stabilised and endowed, is going to have a perpetual quota and a perpetual price, which must on the whole, I think be based upon cost of production. I looked throughout the whole of that long speech for any indication, and I found none, of how the Government propose to deal with an efficient pit or an efficient colliery that proposes to go in for a policy of development. I cannot find that in the Bill, and I shall be very much interested to know where I am going to find it.
So much for production. Now what about distribution? The right hon. 1288 Gentleman, as I say, has called this a marketing scheme, but I say it is nothing of the sort. It is a price-fixing scheme, not a marketing scheme. If you are really going to set up a trust for marketing, what should you try to get? You should try to get efficiency in the grading of the coal sold, in its transport, in the pooling of wagons, in the dealings with merchants, whether they are home or export merchants; you should try to get economy in selling charges, by eliminating unnecessary personnel, unnecessary depots, unnecessary offices; you should try to get elasticity in being able to respond quickly to any variation, any expansion in the market demand. That is what you should try for, I should have thought, on the distribution side. That is what I mean by efficient marketing. Is that what you are giving us? You are giving us nothing of the sort. All that you are proposing is a crude price ring. That is what this Bill establishes. It is not marketing at all, except so far as the inevitability of gradualness is going ultimately to evolve some marketing proposal from it. You are going to set up a crude price ring, with drastic machinery which gives a quota to every pit and a minimum price for all coal.
Where is the safeguard for the public in this? If you have a monopoly and a trust, the one safeguard which the public can look for, and your only justification for having such a trust, is that the public will get more economical and a more efficient service, and that they and the industry together will share in the benefits which flow out from it, but there is not a word about that in this scheme, and there is nothing to encourage it. I am going to show, if I am not delaying the House too much, why exactly the opposite is what is likely to flow from this. I know that there is a Clause somewhere tucked away in this Bill for the protection of the consumer, and that there is going to be a committee of investigation. There is going to be a central committee of investigation, and it is going to have two miners and two mine-owners, and somebody from the Federation of British Industries, and somebody from the Co-operative Union, and two other gentlemen, with an independent chairman, and there is going to be a miniature committee of investigation, composed on the same lines, in each 1289 of the districts. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that is going to be an adequate protection for the consumer? Just see what will happen.
To begin with, I do not know how, if there are many complaints, this committee will hear them, because there is only one committee for each district, and it cannot divide itself into many. But let me take the kind, of point that probably will arise. Someone, whether it is an industry or a mere domestic consumer, who has, I suppose, still got some rights under this Bill, is going to complain that too high a price has been fixed for his coal, and he lodges a complaint, say in November. What happens? The committee has to be got together. Then the district board, the colliery executive board which runs this trust, is required to produce evidence and accounts, and I have no doubt that a great deal of correspondence will take place. We all know just how long it takes to get that kind of information before an inquiry. And then it comes before this committee, with an independent chairman, and two consumers, and a coal-owner and a coal-miner, and the hearing takes place. For once the coal-owner and the coal-miner will really be united. The lion and the lamb will sit down together. I have no doubt that they will lunch together.
Obviously, there is going to be a conflict of interests, because they are to be there to argue for the producer, and the two other people are to be there to represent the consumer, and this not very harmonious inquiry is likely to go on some time. We have all been at this kind of arbitration, where one arbitrator is appointed by one side and another arbitrator is appointed by the other side, and an umpire is appointed by them both. It is really the worst kind of court you can get. You would much better dispense with the two arbitrators, who only serve to prolong the discussion, and refer it at once to the umpire. Everybody who has had anything to do with arbitration knows that if you want a, quick way out of an arbitration, you should dispense with the two arbitrators and leave it to the single umpire to decide. Then this board sits, and ultimately it makes a report. It will probably make three reports. There will probably be a report by the chair- 1290 man, a report by the mine-owner and the miner, and a report by the two consumers.
But that is only the beginning. What happens to the report? It goes to the Board of Trade, and the Board of Trade consider it, and the Board of Trade consult with the parties interested. That means the people who have made the complaint and the colliery undertaking or the colliery board, which is alleged to be at fault, and the Board of Trade may themselves hold a further inquiry, if they think necessary. When they have come to a conclusion, they take it up with the district board. I suppose by this time we shall have passed from November to May, and the Board of Trade will have come to the conclusion in May that the prices which were charged to the household consumers last November were too high. What are they going to get out of it? Compensation? Not a bit of it. The President of the Board of Trade is going to alter the scheme. Really, if he thinks that that is protection for the consumer, he has a very queer idea of protection. The less real this safeguard, the more serious the weaknesses of the scheme, and the more necessary it is that they should be corrected. Look at some of the advantages which are absent from the scheme, and the things which it leaves undone. On the production side it does nothing, and on the distribution side with which it professes to deal, where in the whole of this scheme is anything done to ensure that there will be economy in the distribution or in the selling of coal?
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me one part of the Bill which will ensure that coal is distributed cheaply There is not one. There is no pooling of agencies or of depots. Every colliery is still left perfectly free to sell coal in competition with its neighbour in any way, provided that it does not sell it below the minimum price. You will have difficulties as to the fixing of the minimum price itself. I can imagine that it will be quite a difficult thing to fix at a pit a minimum price which is fair to collieries in the same district. There may be a colliery which is 50 miles from its principal market, the local industrial centre, and there may be another colliery 20 miles off, and to fix a common minimum price for the two collieries is not fair to the colliery which is 50 miles away and has a higher railway rate to pay. If the coal of both these 1291 collieries were sold through a single agency, you might very easily be able to adjust difficulties of that kind.
Then as to the grading of coal. There is some indication in the Bill which may be construed into a pious aspiration that coal will be graded. You will not get an efficient grading under this Bill. It can be done only in one of two ways, either by amalgamation of collieries or through large selling organisations, which will see that the coal which they sell is properly graded. You are certainly not going to do it by a price-fixing scheme of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was a good deal of room—and he is quite right—for the coalowners to get together with the merchants in order to see that the margins of profit or expenses which the merchants charge are not excessive. There is a great opening here, and a large undertaking or a large selling organisation can do that, but what is there in this Bill to ensure that the owners and the merchants will get together?
What does this Bill do for transport? Absolutely nothing. If you get a large amalgamation or a big selling organisation, automatically that deals with transport in two ways. The coal is taken from the colliery which is most conveniently situated for the purpose, in order to be taken for disposal at the most convenient point of sale, but it goes much further than that. The right hon. Gentleman will very soon have to express his view on the pooling of wagons. It is a difficult proposition to get a satisfactory pool of wagons if every colliery has an independent and divergent interest, but it is a simple thing to get a pool of wagons, and you automatically get it if you dispose of your coal through one selling organisation, for the wagons belonging to all the collieries will be used to the common advantage automatically. There is no elasticity in this Bill; you must have quick arrangements to deal with sudden demands for coal. The right hon. Gentleman probably remembers that in the Five Counties' Scheme, there was a sudden demand for shipment of coal, which could not be met because the scheme was not elastic enough.
You cannot work this kind of thing properly in a cumbrous scheme where, in order to increase the district quota, they 1292 have to go to the centre and get special permission, and the centre, having decided that one district may have a little more, that district has to allocate that between the different collieries. I do not think that you can work like that. On the other hand, if you are dealing with large entities, they will make, as an ordinary matter of business, arrangements which can deal quickly with any sudden demand that comes forward. I have tried to enumerate some of the patent objections to this scheme, and to point out the things which are in it, and the things which are left out of it; and I think that, as it has been drafted and presented to the House, it does nothing for production, nothing for efficient marketing, but affords every inducement to the coal industry to raise the price without economising. What you ought to try to establish is the lowest common denominator of price; what you are going to establish is the highest common factor of price. That is not only bad for the consumer, but bad for the coal trade, which ought to be encouraged to put its house in order.
Let me say a word about the levy. It is amazing that power should be given to give that statutory sanction. It is one thing to have a business undertaking which, if it thinks it wise, charges a differential price; one would not object to that so much. Independent businesses conduct their affairs in the way they think hest, but that is not the proposal here. This Bill sets no an exclusive, monopolistic trust into which everybody is compelled to go whether they like it or not, and to stay in whether they like it or not, and this statutory trust is being given the authority to charge a levy in order to subsidise exports. That is a very different proposition from a firm selling at a differential price. I am not at all sure that the powers you give may not be very unfair as between one colliery district and another. If you had a majority of districts on the Central Board, who thought it would be good in their interests to subsidise export, you give that Board the power to order a levy on the whole of the coal of the dissenting districts. You might very well get a minority of coal districts which were opposed to a levy, and which said that a levy could do them no possible good. Yet you put it in the power of a majority of the coal districts, which will 1293 get a benefit from the levy, to make that levy upon districts which strongly object. If that be at all a possible position, you have indeed an example of the maxim that minorities must suffer.
I object to it much more on the ground that this may be very prejudicial to the British consumer of coal. He certainly may suffer through this, and he may suffer not only once, but twice or thrice over. He is going to suffer by the ordinary rise in price which the price ring is going to put on. In addition, he will suffer from an extra rise in price which is to be put on to meet the levy, in order to enable coal to be sold cheaper abroad. If he is a domestic consumer, he will suffer a third time because there will be such an outcry from the unsheltered industries, who will say that they really cannot stand this further charge put upon them. Then the domestic consumer, who in the coal trade is always the easiest man to be bled, will very likely suffer three times in order to provide this subsidy on export coal.
I believe that these are fair criticisms of this Bill, of what it does and of what it leaves undone. It sets up the extreme protection of a permanent statutory penal price ring, without any regard for efficiency, and with a complete disregard for the interests of the consumer. It does nothing whatever to encourage efficient production or to enforce economical selling. It does nothing to pro- mote amalgamations of producers or combined selling organisations. The right hon. Gentleman made an appeal for a Second Reading of this Bill in order to bring peace and prosperity to this industry. We all desire to see peace and prosperity in this industry, but the way in which that will be obtained is by following the path of efficiency. It is because I believe that this Bill does not lead us along that road, that I beg to move its rejection.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
In the observations which I shall address to the House, I do not propose to deal with the particular Amendment that has been moved, or the other Amendment that stands upon the Order Paper, or to discuss the Parliamentary situation in connection with this Bill, although I may have a few questions to address to 1294 the Government which may have a bearing on that situation. I shall address myself entirely to the merits of this Bill, and, I am afraid I must say, to the demerits. With regard to the part of the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) mainly directed his criticisms, the Section dealing with hours, we find no grave cause for quarrel. The expressions in ordinary use—the seven hours' day and the eight hours' day are, in fact, misnomers. There has never been a seven hours' working day in the mines, and there is not now an eight hours' day. When you speak of seven or eight hours, people think that that is the daily period of work below ground of the miner. It is not so. It is a purely arbitrary technical term used for purposes of Acts of Parliament, as meaning the period that has to elapse from the time when the last man on the shift goes down, until the time when the first man on the shift comes up.
As a matter of fact, since the winding time averages half an hour, the miners are working now over the greater part of Great Britain 8½ hours, and over the rest of Great Britain 8 hours. The workers have some recompense in a shorter Saturday. In this matter we are much concerned with the hours worked in competing countries of Europe. It is difficult to make a comparison, but the Royal Commission, with the assistance of the Mines Department and the Labour Department, secured a comparison on a really comparable basis. Since that date there have been some minor alterations. I will give the House the figures as they are, based on the tables in the Royal Commission's Report. In Great Britain, over most parts of the country the daily hours of miners are 8½, in France they are 7½, in Belgium 7½, in Holland 8, in Germany (the Ruhr) 8, in Upper Silesia 8, in Czechoslovakia 7¾ to 8, in Poland (Upper Silesia) 8, and in Dombrova and Cracow 8½ with a statutory half-hour for meals. The 8½ hours applies in Great Britain over the greater part of the country and those hours are not compensated for by the exceptions on Saturdays.
I observe in to-day's "Times" that Mr. Evan Williams, the President of the Mining Association, takes me to task on 1295 this question of hours and gives some figures. Those figures are based on the average hours in the country. I was, of course, referring to the maximum statutory hours for the greater part of the country. You have here that fallacy of averages which so often dogs the footsteps of unwary investigators. It is no answer to the South Wales miner who is working 8½ hours and complains that he is working longer than miners on the Continent, to tell him that he is not really working as long as that because if his day was averaged with that in Yorkshire it would be found to be somewhat less. This country formerly was a pioneer in the shortening of hours of labour and particularly in the most arduous forms of it—labour underground. With a better quality of coal, shorter railway haulage and excellent sea-board facilities, we ought to be able to compete on equal terms with the Continent, even if our hours were somewhat shorter. In any case let the House remember that the present statutory extension of hours passed by the last Government was a purely temporary Measure. They did not enact that the old so-called seven-hours' day, which was really 7½ hours, should be extended in perpetuity. They enacted that after five years the old Act of Parliament should revert into operation and, therefore, the present lengthening of hours without any further legislation would come to an end in 1931. The Conservative Government of that day, therefore, contemplated that the extension of hours they enacted should be purely temporary. The present Government propose that the shorter hours should be reverted to in two stages. Whether the industry will in fact be able to undergo the further shortening will have to be considered later by Parliament.
The other part of the Bill to which here we do not take exception is that which proposes the establishment of a National Industrial Board. The Royal Commission went carefully into this subject and strongly recommended that there should be a national authority in these matters for the mining industry. Every other great industry of the country which is organised and has a system of collective bargaining has a national authority to supervise these arrangements, and we fail to see any 1296 reason whatever why that which is found to be practicable and workable in other great trades of the country should not be practicable in this case. There are national elements in the fixing of wages which ought to be taken into account as well as district elements for the district boards.
And we found—and it is, indeed, common knowledge—that when the mine owners and the miners got together by themselves to settle wage questions there was frequently an absence of that sweet reasonableness which is so eminently desirable in negotiations of that character. We suggested that it was very advisable that there should be brought in a neutral element with an independent chairman to bring the bodies together and inculcate a more reasonable frame of mind. We proposed that, and the Government propose it. They do not propose compulsory arbitration for the reason convincingly given by the President of the Board of Trade, and I think they are very wise not to do so.
Now I come to what I regard as the crux of the whole matter. The Royal Commission found that the industry was most urgently in need of re-organisation. We found that there were far too many producing units. To-day, if you leave out the smaller pits altogether and limit yourself to the mines that employ more than 100 men—and it is right to do so because they account for more than 99 per cent. of the whole output —if you do that, and take into account that many pits are grouped in single undertakings, there are still no less than 584 separate producing units, many owning several pits. The Royal Commission recognised that this did not conduce to the efficient working of the industry, and came unanimously to the very definite conclusion, as the chief conclusion of our very long inquiry, in which we had the advantage of the most expert evidence from all quarters, and highly skilled assessors and advisers, that the industry must be concentrated in a smaller number of units. We were convinced by the experience of the mines already combined that this would conduce to efficient management. It would—and this is an important matter—conduce to the more scientific preparation of the coal for sale. It would help to get rid of the shocking wastefulness of our present transport 1297 arrangements, with little toy trucks wandering about the railways, 750,000 of them belonging to 5,000 separate owners, each making only two journeys per month. That is immensely wasteful in comparison with Germany, where they get more than twice the user from their rolling stock that we do. We have a waste of something like£30,000,000 of capital in unnecessary wagon costs, about 10 per cent. of the capital of the industry.
That was our main recommendation—re-organisation based on amalgamation—and when the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Lewis Committee, and said they recommended a system of marketing, let me remind him of two passages in the Report. It was a highly competent committee of business men whose advice is worth listening to. They said:Organised marketing presents considerable difficulties, but we cannot believe that with experience and goodwill these difficulties could not in time be overcome. We do not suggest, of course, that the transition can be effected quickly or easily. There is no royal road by which a large number of colliery companies can pass smoothly from a state of unregulated competition to an effective marketing organisation. They can only do so by building from the bottom and by groupings….When they come to state the conclusions of their Report, they say:But we feel that a serious impediment lies in the present lack of consolidation in the industry; and we are convinced that the full development and benefits of organised marketing within the industry cannot be realised unless the industry can be consolidated by amalgamation into a much smaller number of units.That is an expression of opinion of great importance, and I will give the House two others. Here is an article written about a year ago by Sir Adam Nimmo, Chairman of the Scottish Coalowners. He said:Whereas in a time of rapid growth and expansion the number of operating units matters little and may even be defended as having certain material advantages, in times of economic reaction the large number of operating units may become an industrial menace an I different methods may have to be adopted. Otherwise the whole industry may have to be imperilled—as it is at present.The other authority I will quote is Sir Richard Redmayne, formerly Chief Inspector of Mines, and now a leading consulting engineer, who said recently on the very marketing schemes now before the country: 1298The colliery owners have commenced at the wrong end. Cheaper production should have been their first aim, and this can only be secured by amalgamation, modernization and better selling and distributing organisation.Let me point out, also, the experience of the countries with which we are in competition. We here produce about 250,000,000 tons per year and we have 584 undertakings. In Westphalia, the great German coalfield, at the time the Royal Commission was making its inquiry, produced 100,000,000 of tons from 70 undertakings; to-day they have about 120,000,000 from 50 undertakings. In the Pas de Calais they were producing 20,000,000 from 16 undertakings and now 25,000,000 from 15. These fields are now producing more than half the total output of Great Britain, and they do it by 65 companies. Here we have 584. Let me take another authority which ought to be welcomed by hon. Members opposite—"Labour and the Nation" which is always a source of useful information:The present disorganisation of the coal industry with its 4,000 mineral owners, 1,400 colliery companies and 25,000 distributors, with its antiquated and inefficient system of production and distribution, its wasteful methods of consumption and its deplorable indifference to the interests of posterity and the possibilities of scientific treatment of coal, which is rapidly progressing in other countries, is by general consent intolerable.That is the declared view of the Labour party. I have dwelt on this at some length, because it is the very essence of the whole matter, and I hope hon. Members in all parts of the House will regard it as established that the reorganisation of the industry is essential. How is it to be accomplished? The Royal Commission made two recommendations. We suggested that the mineral itself should pass into the possession of the State. This is the only important coal producing country, except the United States, where the mineral is in private unregulated ownership. In the United States the industry is disorganised and is subjected to great fluctuations, and frequently to violent industrial disputes. The Government have told us they are going to introduce a Bill for the nationalisation of royalties. Obviously the President of the Board of Trade does not attach much importance to that Bill, or rely much upon its prospects, for in the 1299 course of a speech which gave him scope for dealing with many points he did not, if I remember rightly, say a single word with regard to the second portion of the Labour party's policy, the Royalties Bill which we were told at one time was to be introduced in the course of this Session.
We proposed nationalisation of royalties because we thought the State could use the landlord power in order to secure proper planning of the coalfields. Secondly, we recommended that there should be legislation to facilitate amalgamations, and we urged that where owners of mines wished voluntarily to amalgamate that should be facilitated, and that if a minority objected to conic into the scheme that that minority should be overridden. We considered very carefully whether we ought not to recommend immediate compulsory amalgamation in all cases. We were most anxious to make a report which would not be resented by the industry and which would secure some general measure of acceptance, and we arrived ultimately at this conclusion, that while there ought not to be compulsion straight away and the industry should be given time to effect its own amalgamations, legislation ought to be passed—with a suspensory power to come into operation at the end of, say, three years—under which if the industry had not then reorganised itself, the State should intervene and in the national interest enforce it. When the right hon. Gentleman said the Royal Commission did not recommend compulsion he was in error. We did recommend it, but it was to be in the form of a suspensory power, and we thought that if that power were in the background but inscribed in an Act of Parliament it would greatly conduce to make the industry move and secure agreement by voluntary action.
The last Government passed an Act in 1926, following in part the recommendation of the Royal Commission, to facilitate amalgamations, but they did not include this particular compulsory provision. The action that has been taken since then is, as the right hon. Gentleman says, negligible—that is his own word. In the first two years, as the first Report showed, 54 undertakings had combined into 14, employing 126,000 men. Last year 23 undertakings combined into 1300 eight, employing 43,000 men. Many of those amalgamations are not really industrial amalgamations but financial amalgamations, and sometimes, I am afraid, over-capitalised, and the day will come when it will be as necessary to pump water out of the capital as out of the mines. At the present rate of progress it would take 15 or 20 years before the industry became properly organised, even if the process went on uninterruptedly, but there is no guarantee that it will do so. It is now 1929, three years after that legislation was passed. The period recommended by the Royal Commission has, in fact, elapsed, but the compulsory powers which we recommended should be now on the Statute Book and available are not there. I look at this Bill and find that they are not there either.
The right hon. Gentleman says, in answer to these contentions, that the Government intend to take action. He is somewhat late in the day in making the announcement. He is going to appoint, commissioners who are to go about the country and to prepare schemes of amalgamation. It appears to me that those commissioners will have no effective powers of any sort or kind. He quotes the Act of 1920 establishing the Mines Department. I looked carefully at that, and I have had legal advice on the subject, and it certainly appears that those commissioners will have no powers to require the co-operation of owners in the framing of schemes for compulsory amalgamation, any more than they would have power to go about the country to prepare schemes for the nationalisation of the mines. It was never contemplated by the Act of 1920, and is not covered by that Act. When those commissioners go about the country they will, I am afraid, be treated by the coal owners as well-meaning visitors with no authority of any sort for preparing schemes which are not authorised by any present legislation, and which may or may not be authorised by same future legislation.
An this is entirely contrary not only to the declarations of "Labour and the Nation," but also to what has been described as the immediate policy of the Labour party in relation to coal. At the Blackpool conference in October, 1927, the Labour party passed a special resolution on the 1301 mining situation. It was moved by the present Prime Minister himself and seconded by Mr. Herbert Smith. While reaffirming that the object of the Labour party was the nationalisation of the mines, it declared that it was necessary to have an immediate programmeimmediate!—and in this immediate programme were includedcompulsory grouping and amalgamation of mines so as -to secure the advantages of unification, the establishment of a selling agency on each coal field, either by the State or by public utility societies, and legislation to enable local authorities to undertake the sale of coal.That was the immediate programme. The right hon. Gentleman now comes to us and says: "How could we propose compulsory amalgamation in this Bill? We had to wait until we had two Reports to show whether amalgamation was going on adequately under the Act of 1926." Everyone knew that it was halting, hardly moving at all, "negligible," in his own words. It did not require special reports or a delay of six months to know that, and the declaration of the Labour party in the special Resolution moved by the Prime Minister was that the immediate policy of the party was to be a Measure intended to secure better organisation of the mines. Now all that the right hon. Gentleman proposes is that, without any legislative authority, but by administrative action he shall appoint some commissioners who will struggle as best they can to prepare schemes, without any authority, for some future legislation which may or may not be introduced.
My right hon. and hon. Friends around me are very keenly interested, and have been so for years, in this aspect of the question. On their behalf I desire to ask the Government these questions in order to elucidate the matter, and as some Member of the Government is to speak to-night it would be a great convenience if, before the interval between the two days of this Debate, we could have answers to these questions. Is it proposed to introduce any Clauses in Committee in order to establish the principle of compulsory amalgamation and to give powers to the -commissioners who are to be appointed? That -would not require any great provision, for Part I of the Act of 1926 sets up the whole of the machinery, and it would be only necessary to adapt it and to extend it by 1302 fresh legislation. I think that such Clauses would probably be within the title of this Bill. If not, would the Government be prepared to introduce another Bill, before the House parts with the present one, to deal with this vitally important matter and to secure, as far as they can secure it, that such Bill should pass into law before the end of the present Session? Are they prepared to make the provisions of the present Bill—to which we have very great objection, as I shall point out in a moment—the provisions regarding marketing, quotas, prices and so forth, temporary, merely to tide over a difficult period, with a time limit, and a short time limit?
Are they prepared to secure that if amalgamations take place those amalgamations shall be on the basis of the present valuation of the mines, the real value- of the mines, and not exaggerated values, as they will be exaggerated if the provisions of this Bill come into operation? Are they prepared to secure that if powers are given to bodies to control prices, to fix prices, that there shall be a really effective control of prices in the public interest? Those are my questions, and I trust that we may have definite replies to them.
So far I have been dealing with the provisions which ought to be in this Bill but which are not there. I am rather like an Irish Member of this House who is reported to have said: "When I examine the Bill the most important Clause I see in it is the one that is not there." The omissions from this Bill are its chief defect, but the Clauses themselves are also subject to grave criticism. I cannot attempt to cover the whole field, but I will ask the House to follow me on three points. They are the three main questions which arise in connection with the so-called marketing scheme. Will this be a step that will assist re-organisation or will tend to hinder and hamper reorganisation? That is the main point. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the coal mines of this country have a production capacity of about 330,000,000 tons a year, and that only 250,000,000 or 255,000,000 tons are required. The plan of this Bill is that all pits are to be allotted a standard tonnage. The principle on which the tonnage is to be allocated is not fixed. It is to be left to the framers of the scheme. The right hon. 1303 Gentleman suggests that it would be based to some extent on the actual output in any recent period, presumably chosen by the coal owner—that was the Welsh scheme—who will naturally choose the period at which his pit was at its maximum production. That having been fixed, in order that the production shall not exceed the demand, quotas, being a certain proportion of the standard output, are to be allotted to the pits. This is the vital Clause in the Bill:The quota fixed … shall be the same proportion of the standard tonnage … for all coal mines in the district.That is to say you are to have an arbitrary level not distinguishing between pits in respect of their efficiency or in any other respect. Every pit is to have its 80 per cent. or 90 per cent., or whatever it may be, of the standard tonnage that has been allotted to it. We consider that that introduces a very great element of danger. No one is to be permitted to produce a ton more than his allotted quota unless he can purchase somebody else's quota—I shall come to that in a moment—and if he does he is liable to heavy penalties. Let us examine this closely. The right hon. Gentleman, in his very able and lucid introductory speech, seemed to me to skate rather lightly over this part of the ice, and perhaps he had good reason for doing so.
Let us assume that the various pits are all producing according to their quota without buying from other people and that the scheme is operating apart from subsequent adjustments. It is wrong in principle. The whole purpose should be not to secure an all round reduction but a concentration of production. Concentration should be the purpose to be aimed at, and not all round reduction. What will be the effect upon the well-organised pits? They will have their quota cut down, and they will be working short time, and consequently they will be producing less than their usual economic output, and as a consequence of that they will have excessive overhead charges. From the economic point of view, it is far better to have 30 pits working five or six days a week than to have 50 pits working three days a week, and I am told by a well-known authority that the difference in the cost of production between working three days and four days a week would amount to about 1s. 6d. per ton. It 1304 would no doubt vary in different cases, but it would be sufficient to make all the difference between a profit and a loss.
Let me take another aspect of this question. There has been a movement in the last 20 or 30 years towards what are called vertical combinations. Coal mines, to a large extent, are in the same ownership as iron and steel works; in fact, that is a natural course of development, and certainly the State should do nothing to hinder or thwart that tendency. Mark the position in respect of one of these collieries when the Act comes into operation. A scheme is made. That colliery is allotted its standard output, and the committee supervising the scheme declare that every one of the collieries in the scheme must cut down its output by 10 or 20 per cent. Instantly, the pit which is producing the coal needed to supply its own iron and steel works finds that it is working uneconomically. That pit is not concerned with market prices, and the general state of the industry has no direct effect upon it. That colliery is concerned only with its own immediate group, but, nevertheless, it is called upon to cut down its production, which has been specifically so arranged as to supply regularly the needs of the industry with which it is connected. The result would be that this particular colliery, with its own iron and steel works, would see its own pits compelled to work short time, while at the same time they would have to buy, at an enhanced price, the coal they required to make up the deficiency. That result would be brought about by the deliberate action of this legislature.
The President of the Board of Trade says: "Yes, but the Bill provides for transfers of quotas." The Bill does not provide for transfers. It only permits them. You cannot ensure transfer of quotas. The large pit which has its production cut down is permitted to buy the quota from some other pit, but it cannot be sure of getting it, and, if it did get it, what price would it have to pay for it? There is going to be created for the first time a statutory vested interest for all these small backward pits, and the prices will have to be raised in order to suit those pits. Those small pits can say that they cannot produce except at a certain price, and consequently pressure will be put upon the other pits to raise prices in order to suit 1305 them, and on account of their number they will have a powerful influence with the committees that determine these matters. The consequence will be that the continuance of those pits will be encouraged, and they will not be encouraged to "give up the ghost," as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, because they will find that their position has been greatly eased by the rise in prices which will be the inevitable result of this Bill. Last week we heard an exceedingly interesting speech made by the Minister of Transport on electricity, and I heard him say:I want the electricity supply industry to adopt a policy of push and go and to reject the policy of high prices, quick profits and a quiet life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1929; col. 527, Vol. 233.]The Minister of Transport, in the matter of electricity, last week, suggested the rejection of the policy of high prices, quick profits and a quiet life, but to-day the President of the Board of Trade, in relation to the coal industry, is offering to the mineowners that very policy of high prices, quick profits and a quiet life. As the President of the Board of Trade has said to-day, it is a remarkable thing that, whenever the coal industry shows some readiness to take a step forward and reorganise itself, if there comes about any adventitious circumstance like the destruction of the French mines, the occupation of the Ruhr, or even a cold spell of weather, instantly they lapse again into lethargy. In my opinion, the coal industry will never have such a good excuse for re-lapsing into lethargy as they will have when the high prices guaranteed under this Measure come into operation. What will be the cost? Imagine the scheme in operation. The efficient pits will have to cut down their production and work short time, and they will be obliged to buy somebody else's quota in order to carry on their work economically. You will at once establish an active competition for quotas, and the inefficient pits, when prices have been raised, may still enjoy their quiet life, waiting for the competition to become more and more keen. The sellers of the quotas will command the market.
The result will be that the good and progressive pits which we wish to encourage will be compelled to spend large sums of money with nothing to 1306 show for it in the end, before they can be in the position of producing 100 per cent. of the output. The result of all this must be reflected in the prices charged to the consumer. The President of the Board of Trade may tell us that this effect will also be produced by amalgamation, that amalgamation amounts to the same thing, because you have to buy out the other pits, and you have consequently a dead-weight of capital which is not represented by any effective assets. There seems much truth in that, but there is this great and fundamental difference, that when you are amalgamating under a principle of compulsion you will be paying the real value of the mine either as a going or a moribund concern, having regard to its future prospects. But this Measure gives a statutory right to all those pits, and you will have to pay a very inflated value based upon what they are able to extort for the purchase of their quota. It may be worth while to give an organ grinder sixpence to go away from your window, but, if he has a statutory right to play in front of your window, you would have to pay much more than sixpence to go away. It will be very convenient for the moribund pits and their creditors, who are a very important element in this connection, but very deleterious to the success of the economic conduct of the industry.
Efficiency? This is the endowment and entrenchment of inefficiency. Rationalisation? This is the irrationalisation of the coal mines.
I will now deal with the proposals affecting prices. The Bill provides that the mine-owners organisation shall have power to fix prices. The words of the Bill are that schemes may provide:—For the determination of prices below which every class of coal produced in the district may not be sold or supplied.Penalties are provided against anyone who does not conform to that provision. By these proposals we are told that the public interest is protected, but let us see if that is so. Cluase 4 of the Bill is a long clause providing for a committee of investigation upon which the consumers are represented. The House would like to know if that is a court of appeal from the decision of the Mine-owners Committee. By no means. It is an authority which 1307 can investigate and hear complaints, and their sole powers are limited to reporting to the Board of Trade. What is the power of the Board of Trade? The only power the Board of Trade can impose is capital punishment. They have a right to stop the scheme altogether, to dissolve the whole organisation and appoint other people.
Under this Bill, you cannot use that terrific power on a mere question whether the price of coal is 6d. too much or 6d. too little. Is it intended that there should be some control of prices, and, if so, why does the Bill not say so? Why all this verbiage in the Clause? Why not provide in a few simple words what is the intention of the Government? The history of this Clause may be guessed from its contents. I have no special information, but, after reading this Clause, I gather that it represents a compromise between two contending factors, the Government urging that there ought to be control over prices and the coal-owners insisting that there ought to be independence. At last, they seem to have reached a compromise, and it is that the Government shall have a semblance of control, and the mine-owners shall have the reality of independence. The President of the Board of Trade told us that if this was not enough there is to be a Consumers Council some day to deal with coal as well as milk, bread, and other things. When will this Consumers' Council be set up, and what will be its powers? In my view the right time to impose a check on a function like this is when you set up the monopolistic power, and in this case that time is now.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he was dealing with the present situation, and that we must bring prices up to a remunerative level. Now the whole cry is to bring prices up to a remunerative level, but in two or three years' time the whole nation may be aroused at the result of establishing a monopoly in complete control. That is what happened in Germany where a large syndicate was formed, and, after its formation the Government of Prussia was engaged for 10 years in a struggle against that syndicate, in an attempt to protect the public against the prices which the syndicate imposed. But even if there were an effective control of prices, even if the 1308 Bill did give complete power to the President of the Board of Trade to see that prices will not be more than will provide a reasonable profit above the cost price, that would not be an adequate remedy, because it would be easy to prove that the backward collieries could not produce below a certain figure, and all they would have to do would be to put up the figures to suit their needs. Prices, therefore, must rise. My last quotation is from a colleague of mine on the Royal Commission, Sir William Beveridge, who, without any communication with me, wrote this to the "Times" not long ago:The industry is not simply to be left, but to be drugged, into remaining just as it is, and the difference between present costs and prices is to be taken out of those consumers who cannot escape. They are to pay for the continued irrationalisation of coal.It is to my mind certain that the effect of this Bill must be a considerable rise in the price of coal. That is, indeed, as we all know, its very purpose, and I do not envy the President of the Board of Trade in his conversations with other industries—the much-depressed cotton industry, for example—when he has to persuade them to acquiesce in this deliberate increase of prices; also the iron and steel industry, and perhaps the gas industry, which, in industrial centres, provides from 25 to 50 per cent. of its product for industry. I do not envy the Minister of Agriculture when he meets the farmers—[HON. MEMBERS "He will not meet them!"]—who say to him, "We are a depressed industry, and we are compelled by Act of Parliament to pay statutory rates of wages. You will not protect us; you will not agree to raise the prices of foodstuffs, because you say it is oppressive to the poor; and yet by Act of Parliament you are raising the price of coal—you are giving to this other industry an advantage which you deny to us." I do not envy hon. Members opposite and in all parts of the House who are keenly interested in the welfare of the poorer districts of this country, and who honestly and sincerely spend their lives trying to raise the conditions of the poorer classes of our community. The cost of their living is a vital matter to them, and yet, again by Act of Parliament, you are likely to raise—you will raise—the price of coal and also of gas to the poorest of the population.
1309 If a Conservative Government had introduced these proposals, I can imagine the fierce denunciation with which they would have been met. They would have been told, "You are creating a coal-owners' monopoly, with power to fix prices at their own will, prices which the poorest must pay." Then the Government say, "Yes, but how are you going to deal with the present situation of coal being sold below the cost of production?" The cost of production is not something fixed and absolute. The cost of production depends upon the efficiency and the organisation of the industry. Concentrate your industry, work the pits full time, adopt modem methods of coal getting, eliminate waste in transport and the great waste in the cost of retail distribution, and then you will have one level of cost of production and supply. Leave the industry unorganised, with short time and high overhead costs, or compel them to buy at heavy charges quotas from mines that are thrown idle, the inefficient Setting the standard of prices, let transport and distribution also be wasteful, and then, indeed, you will have another and a very different standard of cost of production.
The consumers will have to pay more, but there is one class of consumer who is not to have his prices raised. There is one class of consumer for whom the price is to be lowered—and now I come to my third and last point on this Bill —namely, the manufacturer abroad, with whom our manufacturers are engaged in vital competition. A strange, inverted form of Protection! We hear from some hon. Members on these benches that we ought to tax the foreigner for the benefit of the Briton. I wish we could do it, but we cannot; at least, we think that we cannot. But what can be done by this House is to tax the Briton for the benefit of the foreigner, and that is precisely what will be the effect of levying a charge upon all the consumers of coal in this country in order to give a bonus for export. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is not intended to sell the coal at a loss, that it is to be sold at the European price. What does he mean by that? If it is not to be sold at a loss, where is the necessity for any subsidy or any levy? I fail entirely to understand the bearing of the observations which the right hon. Gentleman made in that connection.
1310 Look at the general economic condition of this country. Always the economic history of Great Britain has dwelt upon the fact that this country owes its industrial development mainly or very largely to the fact that Nature has given us vast deposits of coal under our soil—deposits still sufficient to last for many centuries, of unrivalled quality, and easily accessible. On that we have built up our great industrial system, and have secured a standard of living higher than that of any neighbouring countries which have not been so favoured; and in the world competition we have been able to meet them on these terms. Now, by this provision, we are deliberately to surrender that advantage which has been given us by Nature, and we are to say to our foreign competitors, "We think it so hard upon you that we should have the advantage of high-quality coal which you have not got, that we will now subsidise your purchases of it at the expense of ourselves as a nation."
Those are my three points of criticism on this Bill. There is no warrant for this scheme in the Report of the Royal Commission; it is, indeed, contrary to the whole spirit and purpose of that Report. It is true that we recommended co-operative selling agencies, and very advisable those co-operative selling agencies will be. But they were to be voluntary, open to competition, not in the nature of a monopoly; and we certainly never contemplated statutory protection for the inefficient, and the cutting down of the product of the efficient. I deeply regret that the Government have not proceeded in this legislation on the lines of their own declared policy. The published policies of these two parties have been substantially the same, and gladly would we have joined with the Government in carrying into effect what we thought was the common purpose. They cannot justly complain if, having put aside their own policy, we do not do so also.
The position now is very much the same as it was in 1926, just before and at the time of the General Strike. Let hon. Members opposite cast back their memories to that time. Then the miners refused to acquiesce in the proposals of the late Government, because they said that reorganisation, which was essential to the industry, was being postponed and was doubtful, while the reduction of wages 1311 was immediate and certain. To-day, it is the increase of prices that is immediate and certain, and the reorganisation is again postponed and doubtful. For a time the late Government took the easy course of meeting the then difficulties of the coal industry by a subsidy at the expense of the taxpayers; now the present Government is taking what seems to be, though I am not sure that it will be, the easy course of meeting the needs of the industry by raising prices at the expense of the consumer. In both cases the public pays. It is thought by some people in the nation that the position is hopeless for the consumer, with the miners, the mineowners, and the Government all combined against him. But he has one resource; he has this House; and this House must not turn a deaf ear to the legitimate case that may be made on his behalf.
I regret very deeply that it has been my duty to speak in terms of criticism of this Bill. When the policy of the Government was first announced, when it appeared in this year's King's Speech, I fully expected and hoped that I and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends would be able to co-operate with the Government in carrying out the policy which they themselves had declared; and we should still welcome an opportunity, if they were to return to their own proposals, of securing, by general consent of the whole of Parliament, the sending to this industry and to its workers, so long and so sorely tried, of a message of help and of hope.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
This subject must be viewed from two diverse angles. In the first place we must ask ourselves whether we want the Bill. The only approach to the subject is: Shall we pursue a policy of doing nothing, or shall we attempt a constructive policy; and, if the latter, is this Bill the best of all policies? If, during the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), I had had the misfortune to be suffering from physical blindness, and if I had not heard him speak before, I should have been led to imagine, long before he concluded his speech, that he had migrated from the Clyde, and that he was one of the extreme left-wingers of the Socialist movement. I could not 1312 have made myself believe that any supporter of private enterprise, who believes that to be the be-all and end-all of an economic system, could have been suggesting to the House that the duty of the Government was to insist upon compulsory amalgamation, to insist upon compulsory selling agencies, and to insist upon the coalowners of the country doing several things that many of us who sit on these benches have been saying-should have been done some 20 or 30 years ago.
The right hon. Gentleman submitted a number of points during his speech. The first was with regard to compulsory amalgamation, and he quoted one or two documents and authorities. He suggested that the President of the Board of Trade was adopting a halting policy. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, if he will go back to the Commission of 1925, that, had it not been for the halting policy recommended by the Commission of which he was the illustrious chairman, there would have been no necessity for compulsory amalgamation to-day. The Commission approached this problem in a very tremulous manner, when one bears in mind the experiences subsequent to the War, all the accumulated evidence of 1919 and subsequent years, and the knowledge accumulated by the Commission during their examination of the question in 1925, for they recommended, not compulsory amalgamation, except it were to-morrow or next year or some time or never, but they recommended, at least for a period of three years, voluntary amalgamation. I recollect that hon. Members who are now sitting on these benches, and who were then sitting on the opposite side of the House, were strong supporters of the application of compulsory amalgamation at that moment, and, if my memory serves me, the majority of those with whom the right hon. Gentleman is associated were averse from compulsory amalgamation at that time, and have always pursued a policy totally adverse to the suggestion of compulsory amalgamation as recommended by the right hon. Gentleman to-day. The question of the quota, to which he has referred, does, indeed, need very careful consideration, and any hon. Member who has any acquaintance at all with mining life could probably make out a very good case, assuming that he commenced from the point of view of damaging criticism and without 1313 any desire for helpfulness at all, against the transfer or sale of the various quotas.
The right hon. Gentleman made a very important statement which ought to be refuted. I should like to recall my personal experience. I represent a division which contains within its confines seven or eight of the largest and newest collieries in Yorkshire. The majority of them are exceptionally efficient, but in spite of the latest electrical and mechanical devices utilisable for the production of coal, for a period of 18 months to two years they have been working invariably, not six days a week but somewhere in the region of 4¼ days, so that if the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion as to the quota transfer takes place, the efficient pits will have their working days reduced, their output reduced, their overhead charges remaining the same, the charge of production with a reduced output will be increased by a shilling to 1s. 6d. per ton. That is not a fear for the future. That is the exact position from which at least the Yorkshire miners have been suffering for two years or so. As my right hon. Friend has said, the difficulty is that the apparently inefficient mines refuse to die and go out of production and, if the Government have to do anything at all, what they do they must do in the light of existing circumstances and not in the light of some flight of fancy which has no material relation to the problem at all.
The right hon. Gentleman's second point was the question of prices. Can he explain how and why it is that during the last few weeks there has been an upward tendency? In my part of the country consumers are paying from a shilling to four shillings increase per ton for their coal. That is the situation that exists at the moment, and not a mere figment of one's imagination, or a possibility for the future. There are no powers to curb the disgusting demands suggested by the right hon. Gentleman for high profits. There is nothing to prevent the coalowners from adopting that policy to-day. Therefore, the question of what the price may he under the terms of this Bill ought to be related to what the price might be to-day, assuming that the Government did nothing and continued to pursue the policy of their 1314 predecessors, so that year by year at Christmas time we shall have the "Daily Mail" appealing for funds to provide for miners' families. With regard to the argument of existing prices, hon. Members on these benches have from time to time declared that it is a false philosophy to suggest that we can afford to allow mine workers to produce coal which we are sending abroad at a price less than it costs to produce. We have always taken that stand. In spite of the practical knowledge of those who have had any connection with mines, the fact of the matter has been that for years before the War we were selling coal abroad at a price much less than that which we exacted from our home consumers. Therefore, this would be no change in the policy of the British mineowners. They would be merely pursuing the same policy that they pursued when the right hon. Gentleman was an illustrous member of a Liberal Government. Some of these arguments may appear very specious if we ignore the conditions that obtain at the moment. It seems to me that the late President of the Board of Trade might very well have left his speech until the Committee stage when the comparatively small points he raised could have been dealt with by the present President of the Board of Trade.
May I try to review the question from the point of view of the man who works in the mine and the four or five million people who are dependent upon him? They could take this very narrow point of view if they wished and could say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, or to hon. Members above the Gangway, "What is a reasonable time to expect a miner to remain in the bowels of the earth?" It may be said seven, seven and a half or eight hours. If the miner descends and performs his duty during the requisite number of hours, the next question is, What is a wage capable of enabling a miner who has done his job to live a decently civilised standard of life? Having determined what is a reasonable wage, the third question is, How are you going to secure that wage? Obviously, you can only secure it when you sell the commodity that the worker produces at a price which will produce the wage. The miner would be justified in merely taking that point of view, because hon. Members above the below the Gangway 1315 have always adopted the philosophy that the owners of industry are entitled to retain absolute power over their own industry.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen will remember in 1919 when nationalisation was spoken about. The then National President of the Coal Association, Lord Gainsford, when some joint control was spoken about, declared on behalf of the Association that unless the mine owners are left with full power, undisturbed by any element of workers' control, they would have nothing to do with the coal-mining industry at all. Therefore, if the mine worker is divorced from either a managerial or a commercial function, at least he is entitled to demand of the State that, after having performed his duties, he is going to enjoy that wage and that standard of life that civilised miners to-day are entitled to expect.
The history of the coal-mining industry has been such that we ought not to have been suffering from the present problem. For 30 years preceding the War profits were too easy in the industry. The normal increase in the demand for coal was approximately 5 per cent. Anyone who had any money to invest knew that a big profit was always available so long as he invested it in coal mines. The demand continued, increased output continued and profits continued to increase. Whereas profits in 1900 were somewhere about B¾d. a ton, by 1913, when we reached the maximum output of 287,000,000 tons, profits arrived at the nice figure of 1s. 6d. a ton. While those conditions remained there was no necessity for the coal owner to have any other philosophy than that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman of high prices, big profits and a quiet life. They adopted that philosophy before the War and during the War and for some years after the War. It was only when it was realised that drastic changes had taken place in Europe, and in all parts of the world, and that the demand for coal was not continuing year by year, and that we had outstepped the normal demands, that artificial methods of some kind had to be used if mine workers were to be guaranteed a respectable living wage. As the Economic Committee declared at Geneva in the first quarter of this year, 1316 the world capacity and the world demand for coal indicates the cause and measure of the problem that is facing us and other nations.
The question of coalowners being left with full power has been tested out, and their calculated stupidity for a large number of years at least ought to satisfy everyone that nothing the Government could do would be unjustified so long as their general desire was to place the industry on a firm foundation and to provide for the workers a reasonable standard of existence. We have reached the stage when profits have almost gone. Wages certainly have gone, and no one in the country can be satisfied now that the industry is on the verge of collapse. The Report of Commission after Commission has been totally ignored. It has been very aptly said that the coalowners have been members of a suicide club, to which no one would have objected but for the fact that they have almost destroyed the miners in the process. So, in spite of any number of expedients since the War, we find we have, by legislative action, to compel the coal-owners to do what would not have been done voluntarily, although there appeared to be no hope of rehabilitating the industry and establishing it on a firmer foundation.
The two Oppositions attack the Bill from totally different angles. I was very interested to hear the ex-President of the Board of Trade demanding of the present Minister that he should establish selling agencies, and do all kinds of things which would restrict the normal efforts of private enterprise. I expected long before his speech had been concluded he would be developing Socialist tendencies were he not extremely careful. Of the three special points in the Bill, dealing with hours first, I think no one can disagree with the suggestion. At least the British mineworker will be down the mine as long as any miner in Europe. After the Bill becomes an Act the hours may be reduced from eight to seven and a-holf, which means actually somewhere about eight hours and a few minutes. No one can complain of that particular part of this Bill. The marketing proposal may be attacked, I repeat, from various angles, but, if there is a desire on the part of hon. and right hon. Members who are speaking in this Debate 1317 to help this industry to a state of prosperity, they must view the suggested Clause dealing with marketing from the point of view of what will be the ultimate result once the Act is in operation, when quotas have been determined, prices have been fixed, and totally inefficient mines have been eliminated from producing coal. The right hon. Gentleman indicated a short time ago that inefficient pits are to be compensated, but what are we to do with them to-day? They suggest no other policy than a policy of amalgamation.
The marketing scheme embodied in this Bill will be the first real step that will make amalgamation absolutely certain within a very short period. The only question that comes to one's mind is that, when fixing prices below which coal shall not be sold, every district will be confronted with the usual difficulty. You will have, as is well known, differential conditions, not only in every district, but almost at every mine in every part of the country. You have collieries actually making losses at the moment, other collieries producing coal at 3d. per ton profit, and other collieries producing coal at 3s. per ton profit. When the price fixing committees settle down to determine the price for a period, how can they possibly determine an equitable price without either making collieries which are producing a small profit lose money, or, on the other hand, making it possible foe collieries which are really producing fairly gigantic profits, to make an increased profit over and above what they are receiving at this moment? Once the price-fixing machinery comes into existence and the quotas have been applied, and we know exactly how many collieries are required to produce the requisite tonnage in accordance with the allocation for any period, the investigating committee will know how many collieries are making huge profits, how many are making medium profits, and how many are making comparatively small profits. When this information is obtainable will be the time that the President of the Board of Trade ought to insist upon amalgamations and upon the high profit colliery joining forces with the small profit colliery, and upon a price being fixed and settled for the period for the district which will at least ensure that the consumer is not going to be fleeced for the purpose of 1318 making gigantic profits for any colliery company in this country.
I want to ask my hon. Friend a question, to which I hope he will give a reply. When fixing the price, will an attempt be made to fix it at a figure which will enable those collieries which can produce the requisite tonnage at an economic price to do so, leaving other collieries to go entirely out of production If so, the next obvious question is: How long shall we be before amalgamations are made compulsory, and when shall we finally determine what is a reasonable profit? Wages have been in dispute until this moment. The two Front Bench spokesmen from above and below the Gangway opposite have been indicating that the next thing the Government will have to do will be to support fixing profits. It would appear that the coal owners are thought to be worse than what ex-mine workers think them to be. Therefore, it seems to me that the restriction of profits will come right into the forefront of politics in a comparatively short time.
We have had an experience of marketing in Yorkshire, and I want to pay my tribute to the progressive individuals among the Yorkshire coalowners who have seen the absolute necessity of the ultimate and only solution of this problem. That will be found when we reach a stage when European regulations can take the place of the county regulations upon which we are insisting in this Bill. They have at least, in the Five, Seven, or Nine Counties Scheme, had some little experience with mines, but three vital factors have not emerged from the scheme which has so far been applied. It may be that this is due to the partial application of the scheme. This new scheme produces what the Five Counties Scheme has so far failed to produce, namely, scientific selling agencies. We are anxious to see the price of coal reduced to the consumer, and we want to see an improvement in the status of the workers, but the Fve Counties Scheme has failed to produce any of these things.
That brings me to the question of selling agencies. I want to ask my hon. Friend, when he replies, to tell us whether the selling agencies, of which already six exist in this country, are collieries or combines who are merely transferring all their coal to an artificial selling agency which is part of the same 1319 organisation, and that for every ton they sell, which is merely a paper transaction performed by one or two ordinary clerks, they receive 6d. per ton. There is, for instance, the Doncaster Collieries Association which disposes of the coal produced by five of the largest collieries in Yorkshire, and, for every ton of coal sold, they receive 6d., though that 6d. per ton does not find its way to the ascertainment, and consequently there is a difference between the pit top price and the ultimate price and the miners receive no benefit whatever. There are also the Rotherham Collieries Association, the Tredegar Coal and Iron Company, Powell Duffryn Company, Limited, Ocean Coal and Wilson Limited, and Guest, Keen and Nettlefold, Limited. These associated selling agencies are merely agencies which are attached to colliery combines employing one or two clerks, and they dispose of the coal after fixing a certain profit per ton. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the price received for the coal should be part of the colliery ascertainments in the future and that no illicit profits either by artificial selling agencies or by any other organisation set up by the colliery companies, should be used for the purpose of exploiting either the workers or the consumers of this country.
I should have liked to have seen another thing emerge from the deliberations which have been taking place over a period of five or six months. I am certainly the last person to suggest that time has been wasted. I know the difficulties of attempting to produce a Bill which can secure the co-operation and the good will of the mineowners of this country, and at the same time receive the good will of the mine workers, and any sort of a welcome from this House. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who have been responsible for this Measure have not only not wasted time but have done extremely well to have gone as far as they have gone in this Bill. But I should have liked to have seen some national body set up to undertake the onerous task of acquiring minerals, including the full aggregating of mineral assets and the re-apportioning of coal values, the promoting of selling agencies, providing for the consumers that safeguard which we all feel they are entitled to expect, enforcing 1320 desirable amalgamations, bringing together the two indispensible sources of production, namely the employer and the worker, and providing the worker with that status to which any man who works down a coat mine is entitled.
Further, I would like to see that national body exploring the question of oil extraction, the pulverisation of coal, and low and high temperature carbonisation. Such a body could be small in number, while representative of the industry as a whole, consisting of representatives of the owner, the worker, the consumer, together with the technician and the accountant. If they were vested with the power to direct inquiries into the industry, I am convinced from our past experience that they could produce a working scheme which would be beneficial to the worker, to the general community and to the State as a whole. We have not yet reached that stage. While there may be some doubts about portions of the Bill, I as representing a mining division welcome the Bill for what it is worth. Although the mineworkers of Yorkshire will not have one single minute taken off their working day, and there is no guarantee of one penny piece going on to their wages, because the Government have made a really constructive effort, because they have moved out of the lethargic condition which dominated their predecessors and have brought forward proposals for putting the industry upon its feet, I welcome the Bill.
§ Major LLEWELLIN
I rise, as I suppose everyone in this House has done who addressed it for the first time, with a considerable degree of diffidence, but in the six months that one has been a Member of this House one has learned that the opening remarks of any new Member are always greeted with great kindness and courtesy from every bench. I am quite certain that I can rely upon that kindness and courtesy to-night. I make no apology for speaking for the first time on so important a Bill as this, because it not only affects the miners and the mine owners but every consumer, and I represent a constituency which is quasi-industrial and quasi-residential. There are these two classes of consumers to be considered with reference to this Bill, but before I come to the part of the Bill which most largely deals with them, I want to refer to another of the three parts into which the Bill is divided.
1321 I will deal with that part which sets up the National Board. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said that the ex-miners have not a very good opinion of the coal-owners. A large number of us who are not connected with the mining industry regret the two sides that seem to exist in the mining industry, the miners having one point of view and the mine owners having another point of view. When one looks back, one sees that both parties are probably in part to blame. In considering the industrial conditions of this country, and the question of limited liability companies, we find that we are suffering from loss of the old personal touch. That old personal touch still exists in the agricultural districts between the farmer and his men, but in the limited liability companies, unfortunately, it does not exist, and I blame very largely the directors of these limited liability companies for not going down more often among the men and getting to know the men. It is because I believe so strongly in that personal touch that I am 'opposed to the third part of the Bill, because that puts us one degree further away from the personal touch. It sets up a National Industrial Board, which puts us further beyond the District Committees, which ought to be able to settle their own difficulties. I would like to see the difficulties settled in the individual mine. You have a far better chance of settling any difficulties that there may be in a district if you have not a National Industrial Board existing, because when such a Board exists people will say: "We have that still to go to." They will not be so inclined to come to agreement if that state of things exists.
What does this National Board do? It consists of 17 gentlemen, the Chairman and the Secretary, who are to be paid out of the taxes, and 18 other gentlemen who are to get their travelling and sustenance allowances. What are they to do when they have met to discuss the problems that are brought before them? They are to record any agreements. We already have places in this country where agreements are recorded. We have, for instance, the British Museum, and we have the Mines Department, and it seems to me that there is no necessity for this particular Board simply for recording agreements. It is merely doing something that the Secretary for Mines 1322 ought to do and I presume does at the present time. The second thing' that it does is to report when it has made its findings. To whom? Back to the owners and the workers, one of whom has presumably taken a point of view adverse to that upon which the report is being made. What does it get back when it has reported? The secretary of the trade union or the secretary of the mining company will acknowledge the communication, with thanks, with the intimation that it will be brought before the next meeting of the trade union or of the company. This National Board has no power. It is merely there giving some hope to somebody, preventing them from settling their disputes earlier, and not bringing any single person one whit nearer coming to an agreement in the coal mines. That is why I object to part three.
In regard to Part 2 of the Bill, the question of hours, no one wants to see a miner working longer hours than are necessary in the pit in order to make the industry pay. No one wants the miners to work longer hours. Indeed, we do not want them to work longer hours than we work in this House ourselves, and very many of us have been voting consistently against the longer hours which the Government would have us work. The only reason why the hours were permitted to be longer, not compulsorily but by agreement, was that at that moment the mining industry was not paying, and this was one way, without reducing wages considerably, by which the mining industry could be put hack on its feet. The root trouble of 1926 really rested in the agreement that was made in 1924, a boom period in mining, after which came the dreadful slump on the Ruhr evacuation. What I fear is that hon. Members opposite will again interfere with this industry and will again bring upon us some such cataclysm as happened in 1926.
It is quite obvious from the speech of the President of the Board of Trade that there is going to be an increase of 1s. 6d. in the cost of raising a ton of coal owing to the half hour that is taken off. Someone will have to pay for that. Nobody thinks, and it has not been suggested, that the mineowner himself can pay that extra sum. It is going to come either, from the miners or from the consumers. 1323 There le nothing in this Bill to prevent wage agreements being made for less rates of wages, with the miners forced to accept these agreements when the Bill has become law. The person on whom it is contemplated that this charge will fall is the consumer of coal in this country. Oddly enough, industries abroad are going to get their coal cheaper than the industries of this country. The hon. Member who spoke last said that this is happening to-day. I accept that from him, but it is a very different matter when an individual mineowner is doing it than when we adopt it as a national policy.
There is one other thing I wish to say about prices. The idea is to put the extra price on the consumers. The President of the Board of Trade talked about the electricity industry, the gas industry, the railway companies and public departments. Let us exclude the public departments. If their coal costs them more it will mean more taxes. Take the electric, gas and railway, undertakings. All these three will put it back again on the private consumer, and worse still on the consumer who is a producer of goods in this country. Quite a large percentage of gas sold in this country goes to industrial concerns, and a large percentage of the electricity supplied also goes to such concerns. The railway companies are, I suppose, one of the largest consumers of coal, and if they have to pay a great deal more for their coal they will be bound to go before the Railway Rates Tribunal and ask permission to put up either their freight or their passenger rates. It seems to me that in trying to make the coal trade a sheltered industry you are embarking upon a vicious circle. Then, there are many poor homes throughout the country which will he affected if you are going to put up the price to the private consumer. I do not see much distinction in the household budget. If you put up the price of coal or of food you are doing much the same sort of thing. Hon. Members opposite very often put up the cry against us when we advocate Protection, that "Your food will cost you more." Now your coal will cost you more. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir Samuel) said that if we had brought in this Bill hon. Members opposite would have said that the Conservative party were 1324 organising this for the mineowners. In saying that the right hon. Gentleman I think was right. What I would like to ask him is, what in those circumstances his vote would have been if this Bill had been brought in by the party who sit on these benches?
I want to deal now with the part of the Bill which takes up 13 pages, but the main parts of which are Subsection (2) of Clause 2, which limits the maximum output for a district and Sub-section (2) of Clause 3, which says that a price may be made below which coal may not be sold. Those are the points at which, on behalf of the consumers in this country, I am at variance with the Bill. The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said that a large number of mines were in an inefficient condition now and that they were not being placed in any worse position by the Bill. But they are; because they will be recognised and stabilised in that inefficient condition by the action of the Government. If you have a quota then, once the quota is fixed, it is rather difficult to change. The President of the Board of Trade said "Oh, this is all right; if you get a fairly recent period that comment against the Bill will go." In coal mining, as in other industries, you get some good concerns and some pretty bad concerns. The good concern wants to bring its mine up to date, to buy new machinery so that it may expand, get more coal, and keep its workers working under better conditions. It has to spend money on new machinery, but when this Bill becomes law, if it ever does, that mine will have to pay for another thing. It will have to pay for the quota of the thoroughly inefficient mine, which must be added to the cost of keeping the efficient mine up to date.
One result of this Bill will be to put extra cost upon the consumer of coal. The Investigation Committee will be a quite useless body, in my submission. It is a Committee that is to look into any complaints that are brought before it. When it has done that it is to make a recommendation to the Board of Trade, and the Board of Trade in turn is to send the recommendation to the district, and if it is not adopted in the district the Board of Trade is to scrap the old scheme and bring in a completely new scheme. 1325 But that will be years after the complaint has been brought forward by the consumer. Another vice about the Bill is that it deals with the price of coal only from the time of "getting" to the time of leaving the pithead, and does not deal with the rise in the price between the pithead and the poor householder. It is the latter price that ought to be dealt with by law. When coal is produced at about 19s. a ton at the pit-head, and is sold in London at 42s. or 43s, or more, it is time for Government action. The Government are dealing with the producer and not attempting to tackle the middleman. If the Government had brought in a Bill really to tackle the middleman and to bring down the price of coal to the consumer, I should have supported that proposal.
Let me summarise my reasons for opposing the Bill. First of all, it puts another charge, though only the small one of£33,000, upon the taxpayer, and it does it for nothing, for I hold that the National Board and the 22 investigation committees will he quite useless and, if I may use the expression, merely camouflage. Secondly, the whole method of the introduction of this Bill by the President of the Board of Trade, and the promises that he made of future legislation, will not help the mineowner. What the mineowners want is confidence; they want to be allowed to get on with their jobs without interference from politicians. I refer to interference in the sense that there is to be another Bill next year and a third Bill the year after that. There is no confidence in going ahead if the Government say that within a few months they may bring in something quite different from the present proposals. Thirdly, there is in the Bill no guarantee at all to the miners. In some districts, not Yorkshire, it is quite true that there will be half an hour less to work per day, but there is no guarantee whatever that the taking off of that half-hour will not have its effect on employment, that it will not put some miners out of work or have some effect upon wages in the exporting coalfield. Finally, from the point of view of the consumer this is a monstrous Bill. It allows prices to be put up without any restrictions at all. It encourages the export of coal so that manufacturers abroad can purchase it at a lower price 1326 than British manufacturers who are producing the same articles as the foreign buyers. I for one certainly intend to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. E. EDWARDS
I want to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken on a very able maiden speech. I am sure that we shall look forward to future debates in which he will take part: In rising to make a statement on the Bill, I want to make it quite clear that I view it from a different point from that of other speakers. I speak as a member of a miners' executive, as one who represents at least 1,000,000 men and one-twelfth of the whole population, and I feel that it is necessary to make a statement on the question. It is significant that this is the first time that the coal industry has been discussed on the Floor of this House free from a great national crisis in the coalfields. In 1912, 1921 and 1926 there were crises in the industry. To-day there is no crisis, and to that extent I believe it is to the advantage of the House in discussing this important question. There is a conception abroad, however, that but for this Measure everything would be well in the industry. I can assure the House that but for the introduction of the Bill by this Government we would have been passing now through as great a crisis in the industry as has ever occurred in its history.
What are the facts? Whatever your schemes are going to do, from our point of view they must raise the status of the miner out of the slavery in which he exists at the present time. As a result of the late Government's proposals, our men have worked an hour longer per day. In my own district it is one and a half hours more. In addition to that wages have fallen 1s. to 2s. 4d. per day in the industry. Moreover, there are now 200,000 fewer employed in the industry. The late Government abolished the National Agreement, and to-day, as stated by the leader of the opposition to the Bill, we have a huge deficiency to wipe off. That in itself condemns the alterations made by the late Government in the industry.
In view of this Measure, the Miners' Federation recommended that its members, while they were committed to work for the national agreement, should ask 1327 the districts to carry on, and that was not all. When the skeleton plan of this scheme was presented, when it was known to the miners that only half of the time of which the late Government had robbed them was to be restored, when they knew that there was to be no addition to wages, no national agreement and not even a guarantee that the existing starvation wages would be maintained—in face of all this the Miners' Federation advised its members to accept the plan while seeking to carry in this House such Amendments as would be necessary. Therefore as far as the Federation is concerned, we are giving our support and the miners' Members in this House are supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. That is more than a compromise; it is a sacrifice on behalf of the miners, in order that this industry at least may be approached by members of all parties in this House with a view to raising the standard of the miners.
I pass from that aspect of the question to make it quite clear that while the Miners' Federation is lending its support to the Second Reading of the Bill the Bill does not embody the policy nor the proposals of the Miners' Federation for the re-organisation of the industry. The Bill leaves the bases of capitalism intact as before. It is not a fundamental solution of the problem of the mining industry. Yet the question to be debated on the Floor of the House will not be how far short this Measure is in its application to Socialism, but how far it is a Measure tending to continue the control of private ownership. Therefore I want to deal with the questions of distribution, organisation and selling prices, because those matters are in the hands of the coal-owners and it is right to state that the miners have no voice in regard to these questions of production and distribution and therefore ought to have their wages guaranteed, if the control of these matters is left quite outside their province. After all, the difficult problem in regard to this industry has not been faced. I wish to give a quotation, not from "Labour and the Nation," not from any Socialistic propaganda literature, but from Sir Adam Nimmo to show what he regards as the problem in the industry: 1328The problem, briefly put, is that there is, and has been for some time, too large a capacity for output existing in the country; control of markets has, therefore, become impracticable under the existing organisation, there are too many competing units for the trade that is available; and, in such circumstances, as the result of the limitation of outlet, the values of coal have been brought down so seriously as to become unprofitable.I wish to give another indication of the chaos existing in this industry, and I direct attention to this quotation:There was the greatest cause for anxiety about the future of the industry.…District schemes, valuable and important as they were, must not be regarded as more than the first steps towards the solution of the main problem. It was an open secret that at present the Midlands were competing with Scotland, and Scotland with Durham and Northumberland, while coal sent by rail from this area to the South was competing with sea-borne coal from the other East Coast ports. The Firth of Forth, the Tyne, and the Humber, without the slightest co-operation, were simply fighting each other like wild cats in markets which were common to all of them. We never should recover our export trade unless all the exporting districts were willing to take united action. Output must be scientifically regulated so as to make it meet demand and no more.That is from Mr. A. W. Archer, reported in the "Colliery Guardian" of 22nd March. That was before this Bill was proposed, and he is the vice-president of the Yorkshire Coalowners' Association. Those two quotations indicate the real problem in regard to the value of the coal itself. While the volume of trade may be a pressing question, the value of the commodity on which miners' wages are regulated is equally important. Figures have been given on behalf of the Opposition, and I wish to state in passing that, while those figures are accurate, we must have regard to the period in regard to which they are quoted. One can prove anything by figures. One can prove that more people die abed than anywhere else, and that therefore it is more dangerous to be abed than anywhere else. If we take the wages in Great Britain and relate them to pre-War conditions and compare them with other countries, I say that the miners' wages to-day are very little more than miners' wages on the Continent. Wages of miners in Great Britain to-day are only 42 per cent. over 1914 in the country as a whole, and in my district they are not 21 per cent. over 1914, while the cost of living stands at over 65.
1329 The Ruhr has been quoted. Their wages have gone up 65 per cent. and the cost of living 54 per cent. When we come to Poland, their wages have gone up 23 per cent., but their cost of living is 18 per cent. below that of 1914. So when we are dealing relatively to 1914, the British miners' wages are worse than those of any other miners in Europe. But that is not all. It is interesting to note that these people who are talking about the consumer were prepared from April, 1926, to April, 1927, to pay£49,461,566 for foreign coal to beat the British miner, and they paid£2 15s. a ton for it, and the selling price at home was only 15s. 9d. a ton when the stoppage took place. They paid to the foreigner£2 15s. for over 20,000,000 tons, and at that time, when the miner was locked out for reductions and increase of hours, the average selling price was less than 15s. 9d. We are told about foreign competition. Some 2,972,000 tons of our imports came from Poland. Therefore, those people who are talking about British commerce and exports were prepared to import from our competitors at three times the price of British coal to defeat the Britsh miner. In addition, when we are dealing with the question of coal to the consumers, what are the facts?
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) indicated to us that this House could deal with the consumer. I hold in my hand the first report that was ever issued on the question of consumers' prices, and who are the people who are condemned there? It is the middlemen, for raising the price 9s. a ton without a farthing increase in pithead prices. I have in my hand a price list issued by the Tyne Main Coal Company in London, and it ranges from best to hot stove coal, from 52s. to 38s. The average of every ton of coal offered by that distribution firm in London is 44s. 9d. a ton. That is the average, while the pithead price for Great Britain for the three months ended June, 1929, was only 13s. 10d. a ton, and in my own district only 11s. 5d. Whatever this Measure may do, even if it is only an advisory board, on which there are consumers and miners, that at least will have a force that will prevent the exploitation of the consumer, and our people could have six hours, let alone 7½, and maintain 1330 the same wages, and if the distribution to the consumers were organised as it should be organised, they could still have a reduction in the price of the coal.
Let me deal with the question as to what has been given to this industry. We are told it is all a question as to what the industry can pay. Let me take the March quarter of 1925, before there was any subvention to this industry, and the June quarter of 1929, the one with a seven hours' day, the other with an eight hours' day, and what are the facts? In the March quarter of 1925, with seven hours a day and with wages 2s. higher, the profits in the mining industry of this country were 6.13d. per ton. In the June quarter of this year, with an hour longer a day, with wages 2s. less, and with thousands fewer employed in the industry, you have a loss on the industry of 3.43d. What is the reason? The reason is that while wages costs have gone down 3s. 8d. a ton in these two periods, while in addition to that costs other than wages have gone down 5.16d. per ton, while all the sacrifices made in wages and hours equal 4s. 1d. a ton, the employers have delivered the coal at 4s. 11d. less. All the sacrifices in hours and in wages by our men have been given away owing to this intolerable competition.
We say that the time has arrived for a change, and that is why we are supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, in order that there should be some regulation in the disposal of the commodity that our men produce. Our contribution has been to stave off fighting against what our men are now suffering. In my own district 60 out of every 100 take less than 35s. a week home, and right hon. Members opposite imagine that but for this Measure there would be tranquility and peace in the industry. Weak as it is, let hon. Members opposite, if they are not satisfied with it, give us an alternative, not a mere negative, as they are doing. A. mere negative to this proposal is to ask that the slavery should continue. We protest, and we ask that this Measure may have its Second Reading. That will be the thin end of the wedge to a greater development in this industry.
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
On making this my maiden speech to the House, I crave the usual generous indulgence which is extended by other Members on 1331 such an occasion. I have listened with great interest to the Debate as it has gone forward up to the present time, and I may say at once that there is nothing that I have heard put forward by the Members who have spoken from the Government benches which has in any way interfered with my judgment that this is a bad Bill. This Bill, to my mind, is dammed, dammed in and around by the vicious principle which underlies almost every one of its Clauses, and not all the cataract of figures and statistics launched by the right hon. Gentleman can break through that dam. If ever there was an occasion on which the Council of State, of which we have heard so much but seen so little, could have been called into consultation, surely a Bill on coal was that occasion, but, as happened on the subject of India, when the Government consulted the leaders of the other parties and disregarded their opinion, and misgoverned, to misquote the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India, so, on this occasion again, we find that the Government consulted the other party leaders and once more flouted their views and opinions.
They have, however, the approval of two great bodies. They have the approval of the Miners' Federation, though I do not think that the Government are doing very much by this Bill for the individual miner; but still, they have to swallow some of the gruel prepared by their cook. They also consulted with the Mining Association, and on that occasion I fear that they did not have a long enough spoon, and did not get much of the broth. I do not wish to lay too much stress on the Clauses which refer to the miners and to the National Wages Board, but to say that this Bill does not do very much for the miner. It is true that it takes half an hour off his time, and very few people in these islands will complain about that. There are few people who do not realise the difficulties and the dangers of this trade, and few who will grudge this extra 30 minutes in the miner's day. A cursory perusal of the Samuel Report would have enabled a harassed Minister to acquaint himself with what can be done to improve the relations between the miners and employers. There is nothing in this Bill about a really effective national 1332 board, nothing about district councils, nothing about pit committees, nothing about family allowances, and nothing about the extension of the Miners' Welfare Fund.
I will not trouble the House with the Clauses which concern the miners and the Board; they occupy only three out of 16 pages of the Bill. I want to put to the House, however, that this far-reaching and important Measure has the backing only of the Minister who is introducing it, of the Attorney-General, and of the Minister of Mines. Where is the name of the Prime Minister, where is the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and where are the names of the principal Secretaries of State? I have had a small experience of Parliament, but I believe that I am justified in saying that in the past no Bill of this far-reaching importance has had such a small and slender support. We do not know whether it means that these right hon. Gentlemen have only a lukewarm approval of this Bill, or whether it means that the right hon. Gentleman who has introduced it is not going to get very much more support from his Front Bench than did the right hon. Lady the Minister of Labour in her last venture in this House.
Coal has been, and I trust that it will continue to be, one of the most important assets of our industrial pre-eminence; it is essential to us, not only because of its existence underground, not only because it can be exported and help our shipping, and because we can get in return food and raw material, but it is important, and it has been important in the past, because it has been a handy and a cheap medium of power for our basic industries. Because of its cheapness, we have been able to compete and to contend with the nations abroad. When the coal industry has been suffering an eclipse of about 10 years, this Bill is brought in to remedy the difficulties under which the industry is labouring, and the first thing that it does is to make coal, not cheaper, but dearer.
The main object of this Bill is to help the exporters of coal, but who is going to decide how far the home industries are to benefit? By this Bill the home industries will be entitled, as much as the foreign trade, to a rebate. Will the Minister have the right of deciding whether the iron and steel industry, or 1333 whether the cotton industry is going to benefit by this rebate, and if he lends a willing ear to the blandishments of the iron-masters and the cotton-spinners, will he turn a blind eye to the charms of the other industries, to the charms of the gas works and of the electric power stations If it is not left to him alone, if he can only act through the committees which are to be instituted, is it going to be left to the sole judgment of the coal owners? Are they going to decide how far the cotton industry, the iron industry, and the steel industry can pay for their coal?
Ultimately, it comes to this, that either our industries will get expensive coal and will not be able to compete with their rivals abroad, or they will be given cheap coal in the same way as the foreign competitor, and the onus of this levy will fall on the domestic consumer. What of the agricultural labourer? He works for a wage of 30s. or 32s. a week. I see no hope for him of getting a rich and soft seam, and of seeing his wages computed and calculated on a percentage basis. His life is as hard as that of the miner; it may not be as dangerous, but it is as hard. He does not work in the uniform climate and temperature of the mines; he is exposed to the rigours of the climate, and he works in rain and wind, in mud and slush, and when he comes home at night after a long day, tired and rheumatic, his wife will say to him that she has not been able to cook him a hot dinner because coal is too expensive. What about the 1,200,000 unemployed, for whom the Lord. Privy Seal is every day failing to find work? Have they not homes and fires to keep up? What about the many hundreds of thousands of poor people whose votes put the hon. Gentlemen opposite into their seats in Parliament7 Are the Government dealing fairly with our people?
I should like to express the point that the bounty is not going to attain its end. Let us take the example of the Ruhr coalfields. In order to compete with British exports into Germany, the Ruhr coal syndicate has instituted a, 2s. umlage which has cost them several millions every year. It cost them about 45,250,000 in the first six months of this year, and the syndicate is wondering whether it is worth while. This money which the Germans are paying is what one German is getting from another, 1334 whereas in our case, when we subsidise foreign exports, it will mean that a British consumer will be paying for part of the coal which is sold to the Germans. Supposing we capture the foreign trade, the first thing that will happen will be that the foreigners in those countries, which were our best customers before the War, will tax us and will not allow our imports into their country. Next they will be competing with our own coal, which will be expensive to our own consumers in this country. Let me give a quotation. This is what was said by the president of the Institute of Gas Engineers, who is also the general manager of the Leeds Corporation Gas Undertaking, in an address recently:Although there is no such thing as a protectionist association for all consumers of coal, it must be remembered that public utility undertakings can continue to get perfectly satisfactory supplies of coal from abroad, and they were, in fact, compelled to do so during the general stoppage of 1921 and 1926.The next thing we have to expect from the coal trade and from the coal-mining community will be the protection of coal. I do not think that is any more fantastic than this Bill. The recovery of the coal industry by statutory organised restrictions is, indeed, surprising after the terrible failure which occurred both in the cotton and the rubber industries. The Stevenson rubber scheme failed lamentably because those countries where the output and the price were unrestricted improved their production and reduced their costs in such a manner that they were able to compete and to oust to a great extent our own rubber-growers, who were secure and asleep behind the barricade of restricted output and fixed prices. The same thing will happen about the coal trade. Our coal-owners will go to sleep and the miners will think themselves secure, but the Germans will keep up their watch in the Ruhr.
To revert to the Samuel Report, I should like to remind the House that if in 1925 the uneoonomio pits had been eliminated, the large pits by their profits would have been able to pay for the losses of the medium pits, and the subsidy of£23,000,000 paid by the taxpayers of this country would have been unnecessary. Today the Labour Government are asking us to pay another subsidy—a more cruel subsidy than the lasts be- 1335 cause it will not fall on the shoulders of the taxpayers, but on the shoulders of those who are least able to pay it. As regards unemployment, I should also like to point out that this proposal is of no real use. It does not give any really reassuring prospects. The big pits will have to restrict their tonnage and output, and that will mean that they will be idle for at least one day or two days a week more than they otherwise would be. If that is all that a Labour Govern-men can do, all I can say is—hands off the industry! For years and years it has worked out its own salvation and eked out its own living, and I believe, if left to its own devices, it would be more able to do so now than under this particularly nefarious Government Bill, which is brought in without giving any of the adequate safeguards which we demanded and without helping to create the compulsory amalgamations which were laid down in the Samuel Report.
It would be better if this Government interference ceased, and we were able to carry on without hurting the community by this legalised and codified blackmail of the consumer. I think it were better to reorganise the coal industry on a sound basis, as we have heard advocated to-night by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). A modernised industry will be able to cut the cost of production and distribution and with the revitalised industrial activity of this country we may get once again the British workman re-entering the workshop and the factory. In conclusion, may I read a passage which puts far better than I could my own view of the situation:The manhood of the nation are at the mercy of economic interests, immensely strengthened by the action of the Government. The mining industry has become more and more a trust, and in the Bill—the inadequate Bill—produced by the Government, no step has been taken to safeguard public interests.That very lucid and explicit statement was made on 8th December, 1926, by the present Prime Minister when he was leading the Opposition. In every word it is applicable to the Bill which is now before us, but the views of the right hon. Gentleman have been blown away like gossamers by the election zephyrs which wafted him into office. What remains of those views has been definitely 1336 dispersed by the trade winds. A few weeks ago the Prime Minister returned from America and gave us a very interesting and lucid account of his visit. He told us that all he had brought back from there was hope. The Prime Minister was too modest. He forgot to tell us that he had also brought back the technique of the Chicago gunmen. This Bill is nothing but a gigantic holdup of the community, but I fear that the amateur gangsters opposite have not acquired the perfect technique of the American gangsters. They do not try to hold up a crowded and full station, they concentrate on one train, and I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that if they concentrate on the Riviera express or on the train de luxe they may possibly succeed, but trying to hold up 40,000,000 people is bound to be a failure.
§ Colonel CLIFTON BROWN
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) on his maiden speech. We may not have agreed with all he said, but anyhow it was a first-class fighting speech, and I am perfectly certain that the House will look forward to his future interventions in Debate with the greatest interest. I have risen because a colleague of mine for Northumberland made a speech just previously, and I also wish to say a word or two on behalf of the north-east coast. I confess that I was a little astonished when I heard the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. E. Edwards) give the full Miners' Federation programme, because I recollect that Northumberland was the last county in England to come inside the Federation, and ever since it has been inside things have been worse and not better. As a matter of fact, even under the reduction of hours Northumberland hewers are still losing the hours which they worked 16 years ago. The hon. Member gave us all kinds of figures to prove that miners could get better wages out of the existing prices of coal. Mr. William Straker, the very respected and honoured miners' leader in Northumberland, told us only this month that there could be no improvement in wages without an improvement in trade, and it is perfectly foolish of Members for mining constituencies to hold out hopes which cannot possibly be fulfilled and to mislead the miners in that way.
1337 Thank goodness, our trade in Northumberland has been steadily improving, and I would like to give some figures to show the rest of the country that determination and good management can in the course of time make improvements even in this difficult trade and in such a difficult field as the North of England. Northumberland is about the oldest coalfield in the country. It has long passed its zenith, conditions are difficult, some of the mines are not too safe, and the coalfield has no home market in which to sell its coal, but has to compete with the foreigner by selling abroad. Although in the first two years since the great stoppage there was a trading loss, after wages had been paid, of something like£960,000, since the beginning of this year, in the first 10 months, a profit of£230,000 has been made after paying wages. Really it was a surplus and not a profit, because there are many items to be set against that figure. In the month of October alone there was a surplus of£50,000 in that one coalfield. Mr. Straker says in his report the prospects for the coming months are considerably better and that at last there is a prospect of miners' wages being increased. The surplus for the first 10 months of this year represents 4¾d. per ton. Curiously enough in the first 10 months of this year the de-freighting scheme passed by the late Government was in vogue. That is what defreighting did for the export county of Northumberland. De-rating came in in October, and, as I have said, the surplus for October amounted to£50,000, or 9½d. per ton. That was the effect of defreighting plus de-rating. The month off December will show better figures still. We can, I feel, have no better testimony to the value of the scheme passed by the late Government.
Now let us turn to see what will happen in the future. For better or for worse, the cost of one half-hour will be added to the cost not of the hewers', but of the other men's wages. That is equivalent to something like 1s. per ton, and instead of there being a surplus of 9d. a ton to swell the wages fund in order that wages may be increased, there will be a deficit of 3d. per ton and the prospect of wage increases will disappear. That is our miners' point of view on the North-East coast. The first effect of this will be to make an increase 1338 in wages, which I think would have been bound to happen next April, now a matter of very remote possibility.
There are other aspects of the situation from the North-East coast point of view with which I would like to deal. We are an exporting area—rather more so in Northumberland than in Durham; we export the greater part of the coal that is won. What is going to happen to that export trade with shorter hours if the prices go up and if the burden is placed upon the home consumers of coal? I would like to know how it is possible for the North-East coast to prosper under those conditions. I am sure they cannot do it, because they export between 60 and 70 per cent, of their coal production. Some other adjacent counties export a very large proportion of their coal production, and they will be seriously affected by this Bill. It is not a question of levying one shilling, but several shillings. Those in the centre of England are the people who will have a say as to what levies are to be raised, and it is absurd that the people of Yorkshire should have to put a tax on their own coal in order to subsidise the export coal of Durham and Northumberland. I think the state of the coal industry will be considerably worsened by this Bill.
I would like the House to consider another aspect of this Measure. The President of the Board of Trade referred, in his interesting speech, to the shipping of coal at all sorts of prices. We have been in the habit of shipping coal from the North-East Coast to London and the South-East Coast, but, if you subsidise coal, we shall lose some of our exports because prices will be increased. In the past Northumberland and Durham were able to send coal to London by sea, and we were able to make up our losses in that way. I think that is fair competition, and it is the only safeguard which the London consumer has in regard to coal prices; otherwise, the price of coal in London might have soared up to any amount. By this Bill you prevent the shipping of coal by sea from the North-East Coast and the consumer in London will have to pay more for coal.
The President of the Board of Trade held out as a result of this Bill and this district arrangement that it might be possible to come to an agreement with Poland and Germany with reference to 1339 the export of coal. I daresay that is possible now, because we know perfectly well that three years ago Germany made many long contracts for the supply of coal from the North-East Coast and other exporting districts in this country. Our export trade in coal has been steadily increasing since those contracts came to an end, and we have been winning back some of our export markets. Naturally, under these conditions, our competitors would like to come to an agreement with us based on the tonnage system, because Germany, by exporting brown and soft coal, is bound to have an enormous advantage on the tonnage question alone. Although we wish to export our coal all over Europe, if we are to be successful, we shall have to have regard to the people who are entering into competition with us. The British coal industry has to face the competition of the world, and yet it is well known that we have better conditions for our miners than anywhere in the world. If we enter into any international combine, we shall find that continental standards will be set up in this country and the working conditions of miners will be worsened thereby.
There is one other point about this Bill to which I wish specially to refer. In the North of England we have our great steel industries. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has referred to some of the difficulties with which the steel industry would be faced under the quota system, and I wish to put forward one or two other considerations. In Durham the steel-makers stand out, because they command the coal markets which give them coal free from any levy, and there is no pressure of any kind upon them. I think it is important that they should have preferential treatment in that way. If you are going to relieve people from their difficulties, however important they may be, as is proposed under this Bill, where are you going to stop? What protection is there for the unfortunate householder who has to buy coal to cook his dinner?
There is another point which I should like to mention. I am the only member of the Conservative party who, in the last Parliament, opposed the safeguarding of steel. I know that some of my colleagues did not approve of my action., but I would just like to say that, although we have not had safeguarding of steel, since 1340 that proposal was made the steel industry has steadily been making headway. Why have they been making headway? Because they have studied the needs of their biggest consumers, the shipbuilders, and have said that, if the shipbuilders guaranteed to place their orders in this country, they would give them reduced prices. If this Bill be passed, however, they will not, owing to the increased costs, be able to do this, and they will lose many of the orders which the shipbuilders are at present giving. In that case the steel industry arranged a scheme of marketing and selling their goods at the right end, getting the good will of the consumer. Why cannot something of the same kind be done in the coal industry It is perfectly true that the coal industry cannot ask people to buy coal from them instead of buying from abroad, but surely it would have been possible for the coal industry, by an arrangement in the districts, to say, as regards big consumers like power companies, gas companies, railways and so on, "Why scramble one after the other for orders? We will arrange that at the last minute, when you are holding out, we will not come in and quote a lower price." They could also have guaranteed regularity of supply, and have made arrangements that orders should not come in at the end of the year, when there was a big scramble, but more regularly. I think they might have started at that end, and thus have saved a great deal of extra cost and waste which now occurs in some parts of the coal industry.
The quota system reduces both the good mine and the bad mine to 80 or 90 per cent. of its production; it falls on the just and on the unjust, like the rain. But let it be remembered that half-time or part-time in any industry has been found to be a convenient way of refusing to face facts, and also that it has its worst effects in industries where wages are none too high; and, after all, the wages of many of our surfacemen in the North are none too high. When the mines are only working three or four days a week, instead of full time, there is inevitably a certain amount of underemployment, and, indeed, the Five Counties Scheme did lead to underemployment, and social reformers who are interested in trying to improve the conditions in some of our villages and 1341 towns will tell you that under-employment is a more insidious, a more demoralising, and a more intractable evil even than unemployment itself. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), at the end of his Report, spoke about leadership in the coal industry. I have not a word to say at the moment about the leadership of the miners; that is their own affair; but it seems to me, as far as the mineowners are concerned, to be a great pity that more of the real capitalists among the mineowners are not on the Central Board of the Mining Association. I was brought up in the Army, and I know that it is all very well to have young staff officers or subordinate officers at headquarters, but really it is necessary to have the big "bosses" there.
There is one further point that I want to make, and this is the last charge that I have against the Government. I cannot help thinking that those owners who stand out against the scheme of the present Government, which, by shortening the hours, will impose great difficulties upon them, although I believe they are determined to win through and maintain our trade, are showing greater courage and greater vision than those who are content to arrange a ring and fix prices and put up the cost to the consumer. To my mind they show a more courageous spirit, and I am prepared to support their point of view. The Government are going to support those owners who have not this courageous spirit, and I do not think that this combination of the Government, the miners and the less courageous owners in the mining industry will be to the advantage of the country.
§ Mr. JAMES BROWN
I must confess that the speeches to which I have listened in this Debate leave me in a deeper Egyptian darkness than ever. To get up and lecture the Labour party because of its weakness is one of the hugest jokes that I have ever listened to during the whole time that I have been in the House of Commons. I speak from the miners' point of view, and I think that, if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will glance back at the history of coal-mining during the last 10 years, they will realise that a great many of their arguments fall to the ground. I remember the great betrayal of 1920, when we were forced, before the 1342 agreement expired, to accept terms from the then Coalition Government. I remember the greater betrayal of 1926. I remember that, when we were endeavouring to keep the hours as they were, and to resist a reduction in wages, some trade union leaders, after the general strike was over, took their courage in their hands, in the face of great opposition from their own people, but all that they received was the jeers and sneers and taunts of those whom they tried to help.
I remember when, with a voice vibrating with anxiety, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) asked the people of this country, and especially the miners, to trust him and to give him a fair deal. They did trust him, but did we get a fair deal? I submit to every Member of this House tonight that we did not get a fair deal then. We were attacked in a way that no trade union has ever been attacked before, in the middle of a great struggle, and, at the behest of the coalowners of this country, the Government gave them what they could not have got by fair fight in an open field. Then, when our wages had been reduced and we had had to accept longer hours, they came forward and told us that this had to be done in order to preserve the coal trade of this country. There was not a miner, there was not a miners' official, who was not as anxious to preserve the coal trade of the country as the Government were, but they wanted to do it by honourable means. We believed that it was wrong to attack us at that time, and we believe that still, but, while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) speaks against the taking off of the half-hour, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) blessed that, but cursed the other parts of the Bill. So that we are between the devil and the deep sea, or perhaps I should say Scylla and Charybdis. It would look as though the Labour party had abdicated all idea of looking after the interests of the ordinary people of the country and the Liberals had taken up our role and were going forward to gain the confidence of all the electors. That will fail. Hon. Members opposite, both above and below the Gangway, are vying with each other as to who is Coddlin and who is Short. They want people to believe that they only are interested in agricultural 1343 workers, they only are interested in the very poor of the land and they only are interested in getting improved wages and conditions for the people.
I have hardly even heard one human note struck during the whole Debate. The Opposition above the Gangway are against their friends the owners. "Here is a conspiracy, here is a combination of miners and the Government and the owners in order to defraud the poor public and to penalise the very poorest of the land." I wish some of them would go to the country with these stories that they only are anxious, and that the Labour party are not anxious to do everything they can. We stand for the Second Reading of the Bill. We think it is a reasonable way to make a beginning, at any rate, with the bigger things which we hope to see put upon the Statute Book later on. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen was quite right. It is not only a seven and a half hours' day. In some districts it is nearer a nine hours' day, because there is the winding time, which often means something like 50 minutes. In spite of all that is said against the miners, the coal getters go down early and come up late, and many of them work S to el hours a day.
After all, the miner is a human being who deserves well of his country. He did as much as hon. Members opposite or their colleagues when the country needed him in her defence. They went to fight the battles of the country, and now we are told that this is not a Bill that will suit the miners at all, but it is a Bill to bolster up the coal trade and increase its profits. I have used the time allotted to me. I am sorry I have so little time to say what I ought to say, but I plead with the House to remember that this is a Bill to help the mining industry, along with the agricultural workers and the poorer classes in all grades of the community, and to remember that we have tens of thousands of miners who are also very poor and broken down. Again, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. You may make up your averages. You may take your directors' fees and managerial salaries and make a fair average, but that does no good to those who for weeks on end are not taking 30s. clear into the home. Whatever defects 1344 there may be in the Bill, whatever mistakes may have been made in the past, or even in the present, I want the House to remember that it is for the miners and their families that we are trying to legislate and that we are trying to make their conditions better so that they may be able to lead a clean, upright, honest and God-fearing life.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
I am very sorry the hon. Member curtailed his speech in any sense to make way for me. I know that the House is always anxious to hear him. There is no man on that side of the House who is more respected and whose speeches are more moderate and more acceptable. He challenged us to go to the country with some of the stories that have been told against the Bill. I can assure him that there will be no difficulty about that. Before many weeks are over, the country will be knowing a great deal about the Bill which it has not yet had an opportunity of learning, and the effect as regards the prestige of the Government may be of a very disastrous character. I must not delay the House too long either, if only for the reason that I do not want to stand in the way of the Secretary for Mines, who has very important questions to answer and who is in a very responsible position. It may, indeed, be that the position at the end of the Debate may depend on whether he ends up as a man or a mouse. Greater responsibility never fell upon a junior Minister than to have to answer the devastating questions which have been put to him by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). On those questions possibly the fate of the Bill, possibly even the fate of the Government, may turn. Of all the really brilliant and devastating pieces of criticism I have heard during the many years I have sat in the House, 'I do not think I ever heard a speech of greater brilliance than that of the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever line of politics we may follow, to whatever party we belong, I think all who heard the speech will agree with that remark.
I feel in almost a parental position to the right hon. Gentleman because I was, Secretary for Mines at the time when the Conservative Government invited him to become Chairman of what has since become known as the Samuel Commission, 1345 and no better choice was ever made. The country can be really grateful to him for the splendid work which he put in and the very great care and trouble that he took throughout the investigation, for the immense amount of labour and industry that he put into it and the clarity of his criticism tonight in the knowledge he gained on that Commission. That speech alone will limit the remarks I have to make. As I listened to his speech, I recognised point after point that I thought possibly I might have a chance of making. I will not spoil them by trying to make them again after the effective manner in which the right hon. Gentleman made them.
I feel that, at any rate, we ought to be fair to the Government. We ought to remember that this is a compromised Bill. Hon. Members opposite went to the country in a very light-hearted frame of mind. They scattered their promises wide and broadcast. Their I.O.U.'s are flying all over the country, and this is their effort to redeem them. It is the half-a-crown in the pound which the bankrupt is compounding. We do not expect very much from that. They promised that they would immediately repeal the Eight Hours' Act. They are not repealing it. They promised that they would give a national wages agreement, instead of which they are giving a National Industrial Board. The Industrial Board may or may not be useless, but it certainly is not the same thing as a national agreement. They have the comforting shade of the suggestion of nationalisation, that old-time remedy which the party opposite seem almost to have forgotten in this connection. In regard to other election promises which were made, they seem to be covered by the general assurance that other Bills are to follow. We know the bustling business and the busy-ness of the present Government, but if all the other Bills which have been promised in that connection ever come here, this Government will be busier in the future than they have been in the past.
What chance has this unfortunate industry of prosperity or of settling down with all these different transactions looming in the future? How is it possible to look forward, and how is it possible for that industry to be revived if you are threatening it with a series of inter- 1346 ventions with regard to its operations? Part I of the Bill is very disappointing to those who have really worked for and want to see better conditions in the mining industry. The Government have chosen a line which is going to mean the raising of the cost of production of coal, and in order to meet that position they are to give the industry a chance of raising prices. It has been said over and over again in this Debate that in this Bill we find no serious trace of the real need of better amalgamation, better economics, care for the interests of the consumer, better development, and to anybody who has really studied and followed this industry, this seems to have been a great opportunity missed.
I am not going into all the criticisms which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen made on this Bill. I should like to refer, as he did, to the fact, and to remind the House of the various points which he made Against it, namely, that there is a standard tonnage under Part I for each pit, irrespective of the merits of the pit, that there is a quota, the same proportion of that standard tonnage, to each pit, irrespective of the merits of the pit, and, thirdly, there is the unfairness of the limit placed on the output of the big developing pit with its great overhead charges, as compared with the smaller pit, which has the same quota. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the reduction of the quota of the pit which is supplying a steel works, and he referred to the inducement that quota confers on certain other pits to hang on instead of going down. He referred to the difficulties in the way of amalgamation in all these matters.
Years ago, when first I went to the Mines Department, one of the first subjects which I found myself always arguing with various coalowners was this subject of better marketing, and they treated me much as one speaks to a nice child who is asking questions regarding a thing that one knows it is better he should not know much about. After a bit, they became more ready to argue, but they always said: "It is not easy for an amateur to talk about these things, As if they are easy of accomplishment. You do not appreciate the thing, you cannot, unless you have been in the trade all the time, as we have." I saw then, what has been mentioned to-night, the internecine struggle of an enormous number of small 1347 undertakings. One saw constant underselling, very often to the middlemen, between one pit and another, and one saw prices ruling which were often well below the coat of production, because the owner of the pit had to get his coal away in order to keep his pit working, and he had to get what he could for it. One saw, in consequence of that state of things, depressed wages and short time for the worker, which resulted in bad conditions.
The Royal Commission over which the right hon. Member for Darwen presided recommended amalgamations and selling organisations. There was some opposition at the time by the mining industry, and this is where I think the right hon. Gentleman was not quite fair to the last Government. We did introduce an element of compulsion which, at the time, was thought by many persons to be extremely shocking. It was a considerable advance on anything that had been done previously. We made it the law that those who wished to form an amalgamation could bring in unwilling neighbours and force them into an amalgamation, on terms, by going before the Railway and Canal Commission. Of course, the Railway and Canal Commission were to secure fair terms for them. We did not insist on selling organisations apart from amalgamations at the time, but we set up the Lewis Committee to investigate the very difficult process of selling organisations, and how best they could be carried out. The Lewis Committee reported very strongly in favour of selling organisations. I should like to quote from their Report the portion which deals with the question of possible economies between producer and consumer. These are the main things which the Committee reported in that connection. They said:The economies which have been represented to us as attainable by a general system of organised marketing fall under the following heads:1348 They also said:
- (a) From pooling of wagons and traffic co-ordination generally;
- (b) From centralisation of selling staffs, commercial travellers, etc.
- (c) From co-ordinated and more effective bargaining with the distributing trades;
- (d) From a measure of assignment of orders and markets to the collieries and districts most favourably situated to execute them, and from the consequent saving of cross freights.These economies of marketing would only he fully attainable by a system of pooled sales. The economies possible under a price output control organisation "—which is exactly what the present Bill is suggesting—leaving each colliery to continue its own sales, would necessarily be narrower.The Report went on to say that the Committee were not prepared to recommend anything in the nature of general compulsion. Two Members of the Labour party were on that Commission, and they made a reservation. They disliked the suggestion that general compulsion should not come into effect at once, or soon. These Gentlemen were the late hon. Member for Mansfield, Mr. Varley, and the right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), who is to speak to-morrow. I should like to know why the right hon. Gentleman for Ogmore, who three years ago was absolutely convinced that within two years some form of compulsion would have to be applied in order to set up a selling organisation in this country, is, I understand, on Thursday night going to support this Bill, which is in favour of having no such organisation in existence. Three years ago he thought it would be absolutely necessary in two years' time. Three years have passed, and the right hon. Gentleman, apparently, is going to support a Bill which does not insist on what he thought was absolutely necessary three years ago.
I believe the country is quite willing to pay a fair price for coal; and I am sure that nobody wishes to exploit the miners. But before the price of gas is raised to gas companies, electricity undertakings, for domestic purposes, and all that is implied in these undertakings, we must have an absolute guarantee that some rise in price is absolutely necessary and that every possible economy has been practised beforehand. That is what the Bill does not give. The chief feature of the German cartel was the efficient selling organisation, and when the right hon. Gentleman tells us that this Bill is framed on the lines of the German cartel at any rate in that aspect it is inadequate. There is one advantage which, I think, might be achieved through this Bill, some day it is bound to come, and that is there will be some international arrangement. At the present moment if a subsidy is given in 1349 one country it is countered by a subsidy in another. A reduction of wages in one country is countered by a reduction in another; but in time we shall have to have some kind of international agreement. That has been the weakness in this country. Some years ago some intelligent Germans came over and talked with us on this matter, but it was impossible to find anyone in this country able to represent the coal industry as a whole and make any arrangement. It was said that their coming over here was a sign of weakness, that they were losing the battle; but we shall all lose in the end, because the time may come when it will be really necessary for the countries to get together and make some sort of agreement among themselves.
I should like to say a few words on Part II of the Bill. Everybody will welcome shorter hours for miners, on certain conditions. The conditions are that the industry, as the President said, is able to stand it and, in the second place, that wages are not going to suffer. I have no hesitation in saying that I would far rather demand the extra half-hour than I would ask the miners to suffer a real serious reduction in wages. During recent years there have been serious losses in the industry, but during this year there has been a recovery, due to the longer hours that are being worked and to a reduction in the cost of production. Already this year, for the first time since these bad times began, in one district in Warwickshire there has actually been an increase in wages above the minimum. That is the first that has taken place. There is no doubt that in other districts also increases were coming. This reduction by half an hour will probably just have the effect of tipping the balance and making it impossible for the increases to continue. I think it is a mistake on the part of the Government to introduce the Bill, not for the benefit of the industry, but merely to justify election pledges lightly given and not fully considered.
I do not wish to go into detailed figures showing what an improvement was beginning to show in the industry. We are promised a reduction of half an hour a day. The Yorkshire miners, however, are to get nothing, although every Socialist who went before them told them that they were to get an immediate return to the seven hours day. No doubt 1350 they will have a great deal to say about that at the next election. What is to be said about the constant suggestions that further changes are to be made in the industry? How is the industry ever going to settle down? How is anyone to make future contracts or to know what the prospects of the industry are to be? How can we ever have peace if the Government announce at this moment that there is to be a half-hour reduction in the working day, while in Clause 9 they suggest that the Eight Hours Act, which was never more than a temporary Act, is coming to an end next year and that further changes will take place then?
Let me draw attention, finally, to what I regard as a foolish speech made recently by the Secretary for Mines. I am sorry to say anything critical of an old Yorkshire friend with whom I sat for years on the West Riding County Council and against whom I certainly have no personal feeling. The hon. Gentleman, at a meeting near Sheffield, used these words:The Eight Hours Act was passed in anger and conceived in revenge, and had no successful result in operation.That was a foolish statement. I would only remind the hon. Gentleman, if he does not already know it, that this was not the case of a dramatic blow by an avenging Government. The Eight Hours Act was passed merely because, misled by their leaders, the miners absolutely refused to adopt the suggestion of the Commission of the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), that there should be a temporary reduction of wages. After some six weeks of a devastating strike, when it was impossible to get a settlement on any other ground, the only chance of getting a reasonable wage paid to the miners was to increase the hours to eight. It was not revenge; it was an Act which was of the greatest help and advantage to the industry at the time. To talk of it as an act of revenge is a travesty of the facts.
We know that our very interesting and elusive Friends of the Liberal party have put down an Amendment. We do not know, of course, what they propose to do about it. But it is always interesting to know what is said of any party from the inside. This afternoon I happened to read the "Manchester Guardian," which had a very interesting comment to make on the tactics of the 1351 Liberal party. I am sure that no one will wish to criticise the absolute Liberal orthodoxy of that newspaper. It said:It is very difficult now to ascertain how the Liberal party will vote. The majority of them are in favour of the Liberal Amendment, but to vote for the Conservative Amendment, though its effect would be the same, would look different.I am sure we are all very much concerned with the appearance of the Liberal party, and it is quite natural that we should consider, for the moment, that looks do count. It is interesting to realise that even in their own party that view obtains. This Bill has been criticised so severely that I doubt, even if it gets a Second Reading, whether it can survive the Committee stage. Those of us who have long wanted to see better marketing will not find in this Bill the real advantages that are to be gained by better marketing and selling organisations. We very naturally feel great sympathy for an industry which has passed through very difficult times, but we must remember that this is only one of many industries in this great population of ours, many of whom are living in great distress, trouble and difficulty. We cannot afford, for the sake of one industry, however great, to scrap the interests and scrap the chances of reasonable comfort in life of all the others. I believe that this Bill will not be of real or permanent advantage to the industry and I believe it will be a danger to the country.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Ben Turner)
I desire before I begin my other observations to answer the pertinent questions put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). He asked first: is it proposed to introdues any Clauses into the Bill in Committee for setting up machinery for the appointment of Commissioners and for the procedure for dealing with compulsory amalgamations? The reply is that, as stated by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of trade, he thinks he has sufficient powers under existing legislation for that purpose. If it is found that this is not so, he will ask for them while the Bill is in Committee. A second question was put but, of course, it does not now arise. The third question was whether it was proposed to limit the operation of the marketing provisions to 1352 a temporary period. The view of the Government is that marketing schemes will be necessary even after large scale amalgamations are enforced, but if the Commissioners reported otherwise the necessary changes would be made when the further legislation is before the House. The fourth question was whether the valuation of pits for purposes of amalgamation would be based on present values, and not on exaggerated values produced by the operation of this Bill. The Government are definitely of the opinion that there will be no added value and that this question will not arise. In any event, the Commissioners will be asked to report on the principles of valuation when they will have regard to this among other considerations.
§ Mr TURNER
That matter will certainly be borne in mind and possibly some observations made during the Debate on Thursday. Anyhow, that is the position on the four questions put down for answer. It is very interesting to learn that this Bill, which is a Bill of many parts, has received very little consideration in its prime or main part. It deals with an industry that is and has been in a very sad condition, full of unrest and full of trouble. It has bothered Commission after Commission, and in every case there have been propositions and suggestions made that have not been accepted by the House of Commons or by the Governments of the day in general. In the discussion to-day there has been little said about the human factor in the industry. That has been somewhat side-tracked, yet this is an industry in which brave men are at work day by day for a famine wage, as has been proved by a statement made by a representative miner on the Government's side of the House a short time ago. The returns show that the wages paid were, for everybody, including the big wage men and the smaller wage men, 50s. a week for 1925, 43s. 6d. a year ago, and 45s. during the last year, and the ascertainments themselves, bad and good, show that there is a desire on the part of the people concerned in the mines to do all the work they possibly can, because the output by the men has increased for even the same hours of labour as have been applying for a few years back.
1353 I have here a miner's pay note. It is from a mine in the North of England, and the man was paid a total wage of£1 19s. 3d. for six shifts—not half time nor short time, but for six shifts—and when he drew his wage on the Friday, with all the deductions taken off, which included 8d. for water and 6d. for fire coal, he drew£1 14s. 8d. This is what his wife says, and the wife is the burden bearer in every household where there are short wages coming in:I now feel that I must sit down and write. I am a miner's wife, with seven children, who have fought hard to make ends meet, but these times have made me a broken-hearted woman.These broken-hearted women have not been thought about much in the House to-day. It has been either marketing or the National Board, but very little of the human side, where women like that and their families are affected. That, to me, is one of the biggest parts of this Bill, this attempting to meet the human factor in connection with this legislation. We have heard the statement that miners are an idle race of people, but it goes beyond dispute that they are among the most energetic people in the industrial world. They do not go down the pit to play at marbles. The results that we have before us now shew that individualism has failed, and the policy of past Governments has also failed to produce bread and meat for the miners. I think that in this case there is something in this Bill that will give the miners a little bit more sustenance than they have had before. [Interruption.] At least, that is my belief, that is my faith, that is my hope. What has been tried before has failed to do it. When you gave the miners the eight hours day, you lowered their wages by 1s. 2d. a day, you starved them 1s. 2d. a day. Is it fair that these men's labour should be undersold?
Is it fair that they should be below sheltered industries like railway works, gas works and the ancillary concerns? It is a well-known fact with regard to many ancillary concerns and by-product plants that the coal is sold below cost price. If it is sold below cost price, it is sold at the expense of those children and of that woman whose letter I read. I have lived among these hungry folk, and I want to help them. This Bill will help them. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] Examine the Bill and you will learn how! 1354 I do not mean to deal with the parts of the Bill concerning marketing and so forth, because I can find supporters of this policy on the Front Government Bench and in Members of past Governments. I have been looking through the OFFICIAL REPORT of 24th May, 1928, when my predecessor made a statement in the House in support of a policy of this kind, and he said:It is a very important and a very definite step in the right direction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May. 1928; col. 2140, Vol. 217.]It is only wrong to-night because the wrong folk are bringing it forward. In the Command Paper 3214 of 1928, he also declared thatof the various measures of co-operation, by far the largest in scope and in potential bearing upon the future welfare of the coal industry as a whole are the district arrangements which have recently been initiated in certain large areas of the coal fields to deal with over-production, regulate competition and prices and develop export markets.Then again the Lewis Committee declared in favour of these things. This has been called a dear coal Bill. That is a manufactured cry; it is a flash line heading of the newspapers. It is called a dear coal Bill, and the opposition comes from newspapers controlled and run by those who have the most money. It is contended that, as a result of this scheme, all consumers will be forced to pay increased prices for their coal. As a result of competition between pits, there has been very severe undercutting of prices during the past few years, particularly for industry and public utility concerns, where prices have been unjustifiably low. There can be no justification for the sale of coal below the cost of production, but there is not an hon. Gentleman who does not know that coal has been sold to gas works, to electric light works, to byproduct plants, and to many other concerns at a price below which it could not be produced to make a profit or to pay a decent wage.
Viewed from that aspect, I suggest that this is not a dear coal Bill from the point of view of the observations made by those who raised the cry. But there are dear coals in the kingdom. They are household coals. Household coal represents about one-eight of the coal sold in the kingdom. Household coal is dear. I married many years ago when 1355 the price of household coal was 11s. 6d. a ton. Thirty-nine years ago I bought my first ton of coal in the town in which I now live at that price. Now it is 49s. Where hat) the difference gone? The collier has not got it. That is where the dear coal is. It is not so in the case of the gas works, electricity works, and by-products plant. It is in the household coal only that it is dear. The President of the Board of Trade is making arrangements to stop that ramp. Those on the other side of the House did not attempt to stop it, but let it go on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which Clause?"] Coming back to the point of view of the miners, I think the miner is a great man. I have seen him at work, and I want to see him well paid. I know what a great man the miner is because I live among miners, and have been down their pits. I can give them a better testimony than that. This was said in a speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) a few years ago:I have seen the miner in various spheres. I have seen him down in Wales. I have seen him as a worker, and there is no better. I have seen him as a politician, and there is no sounder. I have seen him as a singer, and there is no sweeter. I have seen him as a footballer, and he is a terror. But in all capacities he is loyal, earnest and courageous.That miner is sweated to-day because of the conditions in the coal industry, which we are trying to reorganise and lead in the right direction. However, one need not bother about that. One may look at the Amendments on the Order Paper. There has been a great deal of calculation and observation of one sort and another, obscurities and mysteries, in the last few days. What are these Amendments about? There is one brought forward by the Liberal party that deals with amalgamations. I am very glad they have the wisdom to support two-thirds of the Bill, and if they thought about it again they might support the third part. Anyhow, it is open to their consideration to do so. What is the proposition of the late Government? It is a policy, as we say in Yorkshire, of doing "nowt." The industry is in a deplorable position, but there is no suggestion of doing anything whatever to restore it. They may say they are not the Government, and it is not their business, but they have been 1356 the Government and it got worse and worse as years went by. [Interruption]. I beg your pardon, it went from worse to worse as the years went by. The proof of that was seen last winter, when these brave men and their wives and children had to beg clothes and spare boots from here, there and elsewhere. The very fact that the Lord Mayor's Fund had to be started, and£1,000,000, roughly, raised to help to feed and clothe these people, is a proof that the policy of the past has failed and that some new system has to be tried to assist the industry to recover.
§ Mr. TURNER
Whose policy could it have been but your policy? [HON. MEMBERS: "Cook's policy."] If it was not your policy you had no policy, and that is worse still. The President of the Board of Trade made a statement about the hours of labour. The hours of miners in Great Britain are longer than in any other country, except one, on the Continent.
§ Mr. TURNER
Per week, per day, and per understanding of common folks. France's working day is 4 hours. We work 8 hours 35 minutes and the proposal now is to take off half an hour per day of the hour put on by the late Government. My dear old Friend the right hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Lane Fox) quoted a very nice speech which I made near Sheffield some few months ago. I do not withdraw a single word. I may be wrong, but I do not think I am. I think the miners' Eight Hours Act was born in anger, conceived in revenge and put in operation for mischief. Anyhow, the miners are entitled to the half-hour off and the trade can afford it. Think of the gifts which have been made to the trade in the past few months, gifts of 7½d. per ton on freightage and 4½d. per ton on de-rating. They have been gifts for the good of the coalowner.
§ Mr. TURNER
This half-hour is going to be our gift to the miners, who need it and deserve it, and in the interests of the trade. There is one point in the Bill which has not been stressed, and that 1357 concerns the National Board. I am a great believer in machinery to preserve and promote peace in industry. I have been occupied for some year or two, with unfortunate speeches in between, I expect, largely in promoting machinery to bring about peace in industry. I want it, and I believe that this industry, which in Yorkshire has experienced 42 lock-outs and strikes in 40 years, requires new machinery for dealing with trade disputes. It has been suggested this afternoon that this plan will not work because those concerned would rot accept a district decision as final seeing they could carry their case to another place in the hope of another decision. That does not apply in the case of the railway tribunal or in many other industries with which I have been associated. They hammer out all the points they can in the districts, or in the sections of the trade, and they very rarely send a case to headquarters or to the final tribunal. Without this provision there would he no machinery at all if the employers and employés in a district failed to agree, and there needs to be that further machinery, not for use in the case of an ordinary dispute, but for the big apprehended dispute, in order to ensure that everything possible can be done to secure peace.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.