§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I beg to move, in page 24, line 17, after the word "of," to insert the words "a substantial number of coal mines in."
This is a drafting Amendment to bring the words of the Schedule into line with an Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for North Leeds (Captain Peake), which we accepted, to one of the clauses of the Bill.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 24, line 21, leave out the words "the district," and insert instead thereof the words "those coal mines."—[Mr. W. Graham.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Mr. RAMSBOTHAM
We have now reached very nearly the end of our long battle. I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade must be very much relieved that his labours, so far as the Mines Bill is concerned, will shortly cease. I should like to take this opportunity to make my humble contribution by way of appreciation to his clearness and the great courtesy he has shown to the House during this long and protracted struggle. It has been a long battle and cannonading has been continuous and well kept up in certain quarters of the House, though, unfortunately, it has faded away on the benches below me. Such things have happened before in history, and troops have been withdrawn, for strategic reasons, from the battle. In very few cases has that ultimately redounded either to the advantage of those troops or the general in command.
The President of the Board of Trade has been likened to Ulysses by one of his own side. I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that, from our own experience, many on this side have likened him rather to something in the nature of a siren, and we should not have been surprised if someone on the 1399 Front Bench had issued the same orders as Ulysses issued to his crew, and told us to keep cotton wool in our ears while the President of the Board of Trade was speaking. It is largely due to that that he has managed to get as far as he has with this Bill. Although I congratulate him, I feel a good deal of sympathy with him, because if and when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, nobody in the whole country will be more deserving of sympathy than he. I am sorry to depress him in any way by forecasting an extremely gloomy future when he comes to operate this Measure. He has unwittingly created a monster, a Frankenstein. He has created a giant trust the like of which has not been seen in this country before. I do not think the country generally realises what has been done. The Coal Bill is not understood in the Provinces in its full implications. When it comes into operation, gradually the country will become alive to the situation and realise that as consumers, nine-tenths or practically the whole of the country, they are bound hand and foot to the chariots of the coal miners and the coalowners.
We have heard a great deal from the President of the Board of Trade about an economic price. When sometime I have the leisure, I propose to go through the Bill and see how many times the words "economic price" have been used. What does it mean? It is not a nice phrase. It really means a profitable price from the point of view of the coalowners and the coal miners. On many occasions the President of the Board of Trade has skated over difficult matters by referring to this phrase "economic price," without pointing out that the object of what he is doing is to secure as profitable a price as possible for a certain section of the community. In addition to that phrase, the President of the Board of Trade has also used the phrase "weak seller." If in future anybody calls me a weak seller, I shall feel a sense of very great inferiority and annoyance, because, after listening to the President of the Board of Trade and other hon. Members, I have come to the conclusion that there can exist no more despicable, loathsome and selfish person than a weak seller. Of what is an economic price made up? It is the 1400 normal inter-action of buyer and seller—sellers of all grades from weak to strong—and the combination of every conceivable grade of seller, weak, strong and strongest, makes up in the aggregate the normal economic price. In connection with buyers and sellers, the President of the Board of Trade is creating one great, isolated strong seller, but he forgets, on the other side, that he may well be spreading the area of very weak buyers. He talks about economic prices, but an economic price is clearly the interaction of buyer and seller in an unfettered world. If it is going to confer on us an economic price, it is to fix a price with the buyer having very little to say and with inadequate safeguards—a price fixed by owners and miners under a gigantic trust created, ordered and supervised by the Government.
I should like to say a word on the question of the minimum prices. One of the light infantry below me, when they were fighting, used a very destructive argument on the question of a minimum price to which I have as yet heard no answer. How is it to he fixed? In other words, the minimum price for the least efficient coal mine is to be too high for the best coal mine. If you fix a low minimum price you are, by Government action, putting the poor, inefficient coal miner out of business, and if you fix it too high so that the poor owner can make a profit, you bleed the consumer. I have not yet heard an answer which satisfies me. It is this very matter which will cause great trouble when you actually come to deal with fixing a price that is fair and satisfactory to all concerned, and which gives safeguards. The President of the Board of Trade then referred to what I may call the reasonable coalowner. If every coal-owner were like the President of the Board of Trade, there would be nothing more to say. I should say, "Charge me what you like and restrict output as you like." But we have not yet reached that stage of development in the world, and the example of the President of the Board of Trade has not yet permeated sufficiently to make such a thing possible. At the same time, when the President discussed the question of safeguards and of the unlikelihood of advantage being taken of the various powers he has be- 1401 stowed on the owners, he seemed to have rather idealised them. To a certain extent he has extended the halo which his following have placed round the miners, to the owners as well, so that they are both under the same umbrella. I am inclined to think that the President of the Board of Trade has not allowed for human nature in dealing with the treatment of the coal trade. There is in it a little too much of the economic man, with whom we were familiar in the Victorian era, and who figures in a great many Socialist pamphlets to-day, but who does not exist in reality. I do not think the country will be very confident that these enormous powers to be conferred on the owners are such powers as ought to be placed in the hands of the average man who has to get a living out of coal to-day.
Then a good deal of discussion has ranged round the question of committees of investigation, and they have been put forward as a means of protecting the consumer against too high prices. I think the learned Attorney-General pointed out that on the committees of investigation under district schemes two would be consumers, two would be producers and one the chairman. When it is realised that on the price obtained depend both the profits of the coalowners and the wages of the miners, there will be an almost irresistible bias on these committees of investigation in favour of keeping the minimum price which has been fixed by the district committees, particularly if it should be thought that, if that price is reduced, there is likely to be industrial trouble. I cannot imagine any committee being strong enough to take the risk of reducing the price in response to a complaint if they think that thereby industrial trouble will result. I believe the same point was taken in the Royal Commission in 1925. The Miners' Federation put up a scheme of a Consumers' Council and a Producers' Council, something in the same way analogous to the Executive Board and the committees of investigation.
The Royal Commission pointed out that circumstances such as I have outlined might very well arise, that in case of a conflict of judgment between these two councils there would be such a bias in favour of doing anything to prevent industrial trouble that the consumer 1402 would not get very much chance, and the Board of Trade and the Government in that case, and I think in this, would be inevitably implicated in a price dispute affecting a great industry. That seems to me to be one of the major defects in the whole of this legislation that, however much the President of the Board of Trade might wish otherwise, sooner or later he is bound to be drawn into an industrial dispute in regard to prices, output, and the regulation of this great industry. Nothing could be more unfortunate than that the coal industry should be continually coming to the Board of Trade for redress.
I wish to say a final word of sympathy for the Liberal party. I have sympathised with the President of the Board of Trade, and I do not want to leave the Liberal party out, because it must have been very trying for stalwart, courageous men, who fought so nobly before Christmas and stood to their guns, and fired desperately at the Government Benches, almost in the twinkling of an eye to be marched out of the battle. It reminds me of the rhyme of the glorious Duke of York, who had ten thousand men, and led them up a hill, and led them down again. [Interruption.] This general has not ten thousand, but 40 or 50, but they have both done the same thing. He led them up the hill before Christmas, and now he has led them right down to the abyss, where I believe such conduct will keep them. At the same time it is for them to justify themselves in their constituencies because, although these political manoeuvres and tactics and strategy may be intelligible here, a great many people outside will wonder how it came to pass that a presumably important party could for months strenuously oppose a Bill, express their dislike to it in unmeasured terms, and then quite recently, for reasons which we all know, withdraw their opposition to something which they believe to be absolutely contrary to the interests of the country, retire from the scene, and allow legislation to which they object to go through unopposed.
§ Mr. PERRY
I am sure I join with others in congratulating ourselves upon reaching the final stage of this Bill. As one who has played a humble part in the discussions, may I pay a tribute to the 1403 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) and the ex-Minister of Mines for having so kindly helped us on more than one occasion in dealing with very difficult matters. I have not had the experience that many Members have had in dealing with complicated and highly technical Bills, and I think it would be generally conceded that this has been one of the most complicated and highly technical Bills the House has ever discussed. In my opinion the progress that has been made would not have been possible had it not been for willingness in all parts of the House to discuss and help us on questions which could be mutually arranged. In the recollection of most Members there has hardly been a Bill of such magnitude which has gone through the House in such a short time without the application of the Guillotine, and certainly with less frequent application of the Closure.
Now I should like to deal with the situation the Bill has attempted to grapple with. During the whole of these discussions, during the Second Reading Debate, during the whole of the Committee and Report stages, I have yet to hear a sound alternative, or any alternative proposal, put forward. It is an attempt to deal with an industry which is probably in as grave a state as it has ever been. I have more than once said to business men in my constituency that if they had been connected with a business upon which Commission after Commission and Committee after Committee had adversely reported in regard to the efficient conduct of the industry, they would have been heartily ashamed of themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "What did they answer?"] They said they would have been ashamed of themselves. The late Government carried out a policy which cost the taxpayers between £24,000,000 and £25,000,000 in subsidies to the coal industry. What have they to show for it? Certainly very little, if any, success has been brought to the industry by the application of that subsidy.
We were challenged the other night when advocating a policy of abundance, that the principles contained in Part I of this Bill, the regulation of output and the attempt to regulate prices, were against a policy of abundance. When we ventured to suggest, that although 1404 right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen in this House were denouncing the regulation of output, they themselves were actually applying that principle in their own industries, the only reply we received was that that policy was a voluntary one, whereas we were trying to impose it by legislation. I submit that if that policy has proved successful, though voluntarily applied, and if it has been for the benefit of industries, surely it cannot be wrong if it is to be brought about by the direction of the State.
As one who has been intimately associated with the consumers' movement for a life-time, and who is deeply concerned as to the price of the article to the consumer, I say quite frankly that I have no right to have cheap coal at the expense of the man who is risking his life in order to get it. I have said to my friends on more than one occasion that if they had to wait until I went down into the bowels of the earth and risked my life in order to get coal, there would be a great shortage of coal in this country. I think that this would be the view generally accepted by consumers. They do not expect to get cheap coal at the expense of the man who risks his life and limb in order to produce it. Hon. Gentlemen will agree, I think, that what attempts there have been to promote amalgamations inside the industry have not been very successful. The amalgamation proposals of this Bill are far-reaching. We have been told that it is quite possible under the amalgamation proposals of this Bill to organise the whole industry into a single unit. If that is possible, and if that single unit is found to be operating to the detriment of the consumers of coal, I have such confidence in this House and in the electors of this country that I believe they will demand some further degree of public control over the operations of the single unit, or the units, in the industry.
Great objection has been shown in the House, amongst one section particularly, to the proposal to reduce the miners' hours by half an hour a day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) very effectively pointed out that this proposal can hardly come into operation before September of this year, and that if no legislation had been introduced the Eight Hours Act would automatically expire next year. We should then have come back to the seven- 1405 hour day, resuming the old conditions which obtained prior to the Act of 1926. I submit that the slight difference between September of this year and July of 1931 is not going to have the disastrous effect upon industry which many Members of the House honestly fear. The coal industry in this country has passed through very great difficulties with Governments of all parties. The Conservative Government, the Liberal Government, our own Government in 1924, all experienced difficulties and troubles arising inside the coal industry. Many of us on these benches are looking for the establishment of a national industrial board to lay down a new foundation and help to promote a better spirit within the industry. Despite the objections in some quarters of this House, I hope that there is not a Member who will not give that proposal his loyal and whole-hearted support.
The Division to-morrow cannot be on particular parts of the Bill. We have got to the stage when we must take the Bill as it is, or reject it completely. I want to make an appeal to the House. We have threshed out our differences in Committee and on Report stage. Hon. Members in all parts of the House, while disliking many parts of the Bill, have done their best by Amendments to try to improve it, and we may rightly claim that during the whole of these discussions full opportunity has been given for amending the Bill as originally introduced. I hope that to-morrow, when the Division is taken, this Bill will receive a unanimous Third Reading, and that with the passing of the Bill there will come a new message of hope to the mining industry of this country.
Sir N. STEWART SANDEMAN
The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.We have taken very great care that the evil is not going to last very much longer than 1932, but that will be long enough to cause a great deal of trouble in the coal trade. This Coal Bill and the Debate on it have been conducted, on our side at least, on the most constructive and most complacent lines. There have been absolutely no signs of obstruction. If the Amendments which we put forward had been accepted, we should have had 1406 a very different Coal Bill. I do not know what the Liberals would have done if our Amendments had been accepted. They would not have known where they were. I am certain that we should have had a very good, workable Coal Bill. I am also certain that nobody on the other side thinks that we have either obstructed or put forward any Amendment which we did not think was going to help the coal trade, the owners and the employés to come to a better understanding, and also to get cheaper coal for the public. This Bill, as far as the Socialists are concerned, has been what I call a "one-man show." The President of the Board of Trade has kept the bridge manfully night and morning. He has been extraordinarily nice about every Amendment which has been put forward. There has not been any trouble or any unpleasantness, and I am sure we all feel that he has played the game.
Sir N. STEWART SANDEMAN
I say he has played the game as far as the object which he had in view permitted him to do so. I would like to know what the position of the ordinary rank-and-file Socialist will be when he goes to his constituency and says he has voted for dear coal for every manufacturer and every householder in his constituency. Do not run away with the idea that we are not going rabbiting. We are going rabbiting, hot and strong. [Laughter.] You may laugh, but you will not go to your constituencies and laugh and say, "I raised the price of coal."
Sir N. STEWART SANDEMAN
It does not apply to you, Mr. Speaker. I was just explaining that hon. Members opposite will have to go down to their constituencies and explain that, instead of carrying out their wonderful promises, all that they have been able to do, besides putting up the unemployment figures, is to put up the price of coal. This Bill makes one of the worst sort of alliances for owners and workers to get together to rob the public. Hon. Members opposite laugh. It is all very well to laugh just now, but they will have very serious faces when they are asked by their constituents what has been hap- 1407 pening. They may look happy and pleasant to-night, but they will not do so after the next election. I should like to say a few words about my hon. Friends below the Gangway, the Liberal party. They were perfectly wonderful in the early stages of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made a most wonderful speech when he addressed the beauty chorus, and got them to reply to what he said, until they were stopped. The attitude of the Liberal party is amazing. We are told that those who fight and run away will live to fight another day. The Liberals remind me of the banderlog. They talked about the beautiful things they wished to do, but they only wished it, and then, at the end, it is a case of, "Brother, your tail hangs down behind." I hope that it will continue hanging down behind until it drops off. I do not know what the Liberals are going to do. They have taken up a most untenable position. We do not know whether they are on that side of the House or on this side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS "Over here"] That will come, perhaps after the next election, which, pray God, will come soon.
10.0 p. m.
I have voted against the Government on every possible occasion in connection with this Bill. It is one of the worst Bills that has ever been brought forward. From A to Z it will not help anyone except the miners and the mineowners. There are lots of people in the country besides the miners and the mineowners, and I am much more concerned to help the other people than to help forward this sort of class distinction and class war. I am certain that the whole thing is most unfair. The 50 Members who represent the miners come here in great strength, and hold a big stick over the Government. They can do anything that they like with the Government. They do not know how much power they have with the Government, otherwise we might have had an even worse Bill than this. Luckily, the President of the Board of Trade has a good deal of guile; he comes from North of the Tweed, and he knows how to work the miner Members of Parliament. If I had been a miners' representative and I knew the power that I had, I should have made a very much better bargain with the President of the Board of Trade. The President of the Board of Trade has got off very lightly with this pernicious Bill. 1408 There is nothing in the Bill to help anyone except the miners and the mine-owners. What about the cotton people? What will hon. Members say when they have to talk to the iron and steel people and to tell them how much this Bill puts on their costs? What will they do when they have to talk to the cotton people?
The President of the Board of Trade cannot bring in a Bill to fix the price of cotton goods. If he could do that, he would be helping us a great deal. He cannot bring in a Bill to fix the price of iron and steel, or the price of wool. In this Bill he is fixing the price of a single commodity. The supporters of the Bill were not sporting enough to take the 90 hours per fortnight Amendment, which would have made a great difference; it would have helped people who are in need of help just as much as the miners. I suggest to the Government that they should not hang round the miners so much. They should go round the county and try to understand exactly how much other people are suffering. If they did that, they would not be so se[...]-sufficient in their views on this question. Let them go to Lancashire and see the people there. The Lancashire people are having a bad enough time, a far worse time than the miners are having. The miners will be helped by this Bill, but the cotton trade will be hit by it. Unemployment will be increased. The cotton trade will be injured because of the increased price of one of its essential raw materials. Hon. Members opposite talk about being Free Traders. They are no more Free Traders than I am. They are protecting coal. This is an example of the most unscientific protection that I have ever come across. When we come to the Third Reading Division to-morrow. I hope that the banderlog will come behind us in a solid phalanx, although I doubt it, and that this Bill will be thrown out.
Sir N. STEWART SANDEMAN
I am not bitter against the mining class, but I am keen on the cotton trade and other trades. I want them to have a look in.
§ Mr. BATEY
The whole tone of the hon. Member's speech was that the 1409 miners should be kept where they are at the present time. They cannot stay there. He said that there were 50 mining Members. I do not think that we have so many. He also said that we had enormous power, and that if we had used our power this might have been a worse Bill. The fact that we have not used our power to the full, according to the hon. Member, shows our reasonableness. We do not regard this as an ideal Bill. We would have liked far more than we have got, but we have been prepared to accept the Bill as a reasonable step, and we support it because we believe that it is a step towards bettering the conditions of the miners. The hon. Member forgets that after the General Election we came back with bitter memories. Prior to the Election, in consequence of the action of the Conservative Government, we lost our seven-hour day, and the wages of the miners were cut down to such an extent that the mining class were plunged into the gutter of poverty. Many of our miners were not treated well by the coal-owners.
We came back expecting that, at least, we should have restored to us the seven-hour day. We believed that we should be able to get wages increased and better treatment for our men from the coal-owners. We believed that we should be able to get such a reorganisation of the coal industry which would put it on its feet and enable it to provide better conditions for those engaged in it. Part I is an experiment; but it does this. It gives enormous power to the coalowners. The miners have no voice in Part I. We think they were entitled to some voice, and in the Sankey Commission Report it was recommended that the experience of miners was such that it entitled them to have a voice in the conduct of the industry.
We expect two things from the coal-owners after the Bill is passed. One is that they will bear in mind the need for lifting up the mining classes of the country. In the Debates on this Bill we have been told that we are voting for a dearer coal Bill, and last night particularly the Debate was concerned least of all with the Bill and more with the question of dearer coal. Nothing was said about the mining classes and the need for better conditions. The claim of the miners on the attention of this House appeared to be of no concern at all, but I 1410 hope the coalowners will keep in mind the necessity of doing something to improve the conditions of the mining classes.
Rightly or wrongly, the wages of the miners follow the prices which are obtained for the sale of coal. I am not arguing whether that is a good or bad system, but it is there, and so long as the wages of the miners follow prices then the coalowners in selling coal should keep in mind the need for providing better wages for the miners. I hope they will keep in mind the necessity for obtaining better prices in order that there may be better wages for the miners. I hope also there will be better treatment for some of our miners on the part of the coal-owners. After the last trouble some of the coalowners, not all, treated the men extremely badly, and during the last few years there has been victimisation such as I never believed we should live to see. Only this week I had from the Durham Miners' Association a communication pointing out that in one colliery in the county of Durham, East Pontop, where 110 men are employed, only three of the men are members of the Durham Miners' Association. As soon as the manager of that colliery gets to know that a man is a member of the Durham Mining Association he is dismissed. I hope, after the Bill is passed, that as the mining Members have done so much to help the coal-owners to the power given them under Part I, they will treat our men in a very different way, and that because a man is a member of the Miners' Federation he will not be barred from working in a colliery.
If this Bill is going to be a success, particularly if Part I is going to be a success, good relations are essential, and we cannot have good relations so long as the coalowners pursue their present policy. During the Debates on this Bill the only question in the mind of hon. Members seemed to be the sale of coal. I hope the coalowners are not going to be content with the sale of coal. I do not believe coal can be sold at home or for export at a price which will make things a great deal better than they are. Instead of focussing our efforts on the sale of coal, I think we should pay more attention to the treatment of coal. That, I believe, is the remedy. There is a great future before the coal industry in the extraction of oil and other by-products.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We must not embark on a discussion of that question. On the Third Reading the hon. Member must confine himself to what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. BATEY
All I wanted to point out is that in the organisation of the coal industry there is far more to be obtained from the treatment of coal than the sale of coal, and I hope the coalowners will give a great deal more attention to that matter. I am going to support the Bill, and I am glad to be able to do so. It is a step which is needed very badly in order to lift the mining classes to a higher platform and standard of living than they occupy now.
§ Captain PEAKE
The Debates on this Bill have been marked by extraordinary good temper, and I want to congratulate the President of the Board of Trade on the extraordinary good hearted way in which he has piloted the Measure through this House. The peacefulness of the atmosphere has been greatly helped by the benevolent appearance of his lieutenant the Secretary for Mines. I want to go back to the origin of the Bill. The origin was a pledge given before the election by the Labour party to the miners—a pledge which ought never to have been given. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If hon. Members opposite say it should have been given then let them ask the President of the Board of Trade why it has not been carried out. It was a pledge which should never have been given in the economic conditions of the coal industry in 1929. This great industry was not paying its way. It had lost over £20,000,000 in cash during the three years before the election, and it had lost that sum of money on a capital which is only about one-half or one-third the capital of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company. It was a huge sum to have lost on a comparatively small capital. If the coal industry is to be restored to a healthy condition it has not only to be just balancing, making both ends meet, it must be making a profit. Unless an industry is making a profit it is quite impossible to attract any new capital to that industry for reorganisation and rationalisation.
The coal trade requires to make a return on its capital, and it requires rather a larger return than that which can be obtained by putting money into 1412 Government stocks, because the mines in which the money is invested are wasting assets. In 60, 80 or 100 years they are gone and the capital sunk in the mines is gone.[Interruption.] While this was the position the miners' Members thought it wise to give the pledge that I have mentioned. A pledge given to miners at an election is worth far more than a pledge given to any other section of the community. The mining population is congregated in certain districts, and the miners are able to return a large number of Members to this House. That cannot be done by an equally numerous and equally important section of the community namely, the workers in the agricultural industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "They should organise!"] It is not because they are not organised, but because they do not happen to be congregated in certain areas; they are spread all over the country.
In 1926 the hours in the coal mining industry were increased from seven to eight. How anyone imagined after the War that it was possible to reduce the hours from eight to seven, after this country had spent £7,000,000,000 on the greatest struggle in history; how anyone could have thought it possible that the workers in any industry could have more money than before for shorter hours, is a thing that will puzzle those who have to write the history of the period. The history of the mining industry, over a long period, is this: There have been continual and steady reductions of hours for the last 100 to 150 years. There was a time when men were working 14, 12 and 10 hours a day. In recollecting this we realise that under the capitalist system the position of the workers has steadily improved. There was a speaker the other day who said that unemployment was an integral part of the capitalist system.
§ Captain PEAKE
I will bring myself back to the Bill. The coal industry cannot possibly stand still. Everyone recognises that rationalisation must be brought about in the industry. There are those who believe that the proper method of rationalising the coal industry is by amalgamation and by amalgamation 1413 alone. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) pins his faith very largely to amalgamation. Liberals believe in it so strongly that they are going to make it compulsory, and they have even moved an Amendment from the Liberal benches to provide that owners of single pits should obtain an extra allowance of quota—a sort of prize for the naughty boys who refuse to amalgamate. I want to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman, Who believes so strongly in amalgamation, that the British coal mining industry is not quite the same thing as the German coal-mining industry. We cannot apply to the British coal-mining industry the principles which we would apply to any ordinary industry conducted, let us say, in factories. The British coal-mining industry is a far older industry than the German coal-mining industry.
Nature has been very lavish in her gifts to this little island and north-west of a line drawn from Lincoln to Exeter, practically each county has its own separate coalfield. These coalfields are on the whole very shallow, and where you get shallow coalfields you get disturbed coalfields. On the whole, the pits in this country are older and consequently of a smaller capacity than the pits of the newer coal-mining districts of the world, and it is far more difficult for a man or a group of men to manage 20 or 30 of these small coalmines making up an output of, say, 1,000,000 tons a year, than to manage two or three large modern coal mines making up an output of 2,000,000 tons or 3,000,000 tons a year.
Amalgamation as applied to the coal industry does not work out in the same way as amalgamation applied to what I may call factory industries. If we rationalise the steel industry we concentrate production of certain classes of steel at certain places most suited by geography to the production of that commodity. The coal industry, however, has to be conducted at the spot where the coal is situated. The coal industry is more like the agricultural industry than any other industry in this country. For one thing, the people conducting the industry are tenants, and they are in the same position as the farmers in that respect. Like the farmers they have to take something out of the land, and, when times are bad, they can take rather more out of the land than they are putting back 1414 into it in the way of development, or in the case of the farmer, in the way of manuring and so forth.
I do not suppose that the right non. Gentleman the Member for Darwen would advocate amalgamation as a cure for depression in the agricultural industry. [HON. MEMBERS "Why not?"] I have not read all the multi-coloured books produced by the party below the Gangway, but I am sure that amalgamation is not the remedy provided in them for the agricultural industry. What the coal industry wants, and, possibly, what the agricultural industry also wants, is a looser form of combination on the marketing side. The technique of the British coal industry, on the production side is, I believe, as good as or better than that of any other country in the world. Where the coal industry has failed is on the marketing and distribution side. It is not strong enough—consisting as it does of so many different producers all selling separately—to bargain with the other trades and to bargain with big purchasers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come over here!"] I have no desire to leave this side of the House. It is not in compulsory amalgamation that the remedy for the coal industry lies. I have never taken quite the same view as the majority of my hon. Friends here on Part I of the Bill. I believe that some concentration of output by regulation is required in the coal industry, with a productive capacity far in excess of any possible market requirements, but Part I of the Bill goes far beyond anything of this sort. Part I of the Bill consists not only of regulation of output, but of fixation of price.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) prophesied in December, as a result of the Bill, as a result of the regulation of output, as a result of the levy for export or other purposes, an increase in the price of coal of something like 4s. 6d. a ton. It is a very remarkable thing to me that a Free Trade party, so keen, so anxious, that any luxury commodity like motor cars or gramophones should be imported into this country as cheaply as possible, should be apparently wholly indifferent to the fixation of the price of a commodity which goes into every home in the land. If it be true that there is going to be a rise of 4s. 6d. in the price of coal. I should have thought the party 1415 below the Gangway, of all people, would have gone into the Lobby against it. It is an exceedingly novel position. The two Protectionist parties in this House are now situated opposite me and below the Gangway on this side. The chilly winds of December have gone, and the balmy breezes of spring are here. I am inclined to think that it is not the influence of sea power or of naval conferences upon history which has to do with the change of position below the Gangway. The book that I look forward to reading is "The Influence of Hoar Frost on History."
To his many great gifts, I believe the President of the Board of Trade has added a further acquisition during the progress of the Debates on this Bill. I believe he has stolen an arrow out of the quiver of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and I believe that when this vital Amendment dealing with the fixation of minimum prices comes along, the right hon. Gentleman was guilty of a little bit of bluff. I believe that hon. and right hon. Members below the Gangway believed that fixation of price was vital to Part I of the Bill. Those who have had some experience of it know that you can have regulation of output without having fixation of price, but that you cannot have fixation of price without regulation of output. Fixation of price is not in any way vital to Part I of the Bill, but without fixation of price I believe it is impossible artificially to raise the price of coal. Regulation of output cannot be used, in my view, for increasing the price of coal, and therefore if you have to increase the price of coal in order to finance your shorter hours, the only way is to have price fixation in the Bill.
I want briefly to summarise my objections to the Bill. The coal industry when hon. Members opposite came into office was a sick man, but a man who was convalescing. He had been given by the Conservative Government a little useful tonic in the shape of derating. He was approaching convalescence, but he still required, what the coal industry still requires, the vitalising and invigorating flow of new capital. What is the first thing that the party opposite did for the coal industry? By reducing hours at this time they put an additional burden on 1416 to the coal trade which amounts in some districts to is. 6d. a ton; spread over the whole industry it is fair to say that 9d. per ton will be the average increase in the cost of coal through the shorter hours. Ninepence a ton may seem a comparatively small sum, but it represents £9,000,000 a year, or double the benefit which was received by the industry under the derating proposals. That loss has to fall on either the industry or the consumer, or upon both.
That is the crux of the whole charge against the Government. They have put an additional burden upon an industry which was in a bad way when they started, and which will not be in a much better way when they have done. Ever since the Government came into office, uncertainty has hung over the coal industry as to what form this legislation would take. Uncertainty hangs over the industry still. Who knows what the position is going to be in July, 1931, when the present arrangement as to hours runs out? Who knows what the position will be in December, 1932, when Part I of this Bill runs out? That is my real charge against the Government, that uncertainty hangs over this industry to-day, as it did when they came into office, and as it will continue to do so long as they remain in office.
§ Mr. ROWSON
I rise to support the Bill. I have listened during the Debates to the hon. Member for North Leeds (Captain Peake) make many speeches, and also to another hon. Member opposite who is directly connected with the mining industry. I have felt all the time, while listening to these two hon. Members, that it would be a good thing if they would just look back and see what employers in the mining industry have done in the past. The whole of the social conditions of the people that you employ are a disgrace to you and to your forebears. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. ROWSON
It is quite certain that the industry is in a bad way, to judge by what Tory Governments and the coal-owners said in 1926. They said that if they could only get the hours increased, and could cut the cost of production, everything would go right for the industry. We on this side predicted exactly 1417 what has taken place. Everything the representatives of the miners said at that time has been borne out by subsequent events. Commission after commission has reported that the industry was being run on rotten lines, that the methods of working and of conducting the industry were entirely wrong, but in no single case has the recommendations of any commission been put into operation. In the main, the wishes of the coalowners and the Tory Government have been followed; and yet we hear from the hon. Member who has just sat down that the industry is still sick. I am of the opinion that this Bill does at least turn the industry in another direction. Along with many other hon. Members on these benches I confess that the Bill does not give us anything like satisfaction, but we have seen so many struggles, we have gone through so much with our men, have seen the women and children suffer so much, that we are glad to see the industry directed into a different channel without a strike or a fight in the industrial field, and the Government are to be congratulated on doing even this.
It has been said that there is no authority for adopting the system of price fixing and organised marketing. Why, even the Lewis Committee, which was set up by the Tory Government in 1926, said this, on page 19 of their report:We regard it as unreasonable that the coal mining industry, alone among all the industries of the country, should be regarded as debarred on grounds of public policy from organising its marketing Many of its principal customers are organised, many industries from which it has to purchase are organised, and there is no reason why it should be expected to deny itself the same advantage.This conclusion was arrived at by the Committee after considering all the evidence submitted to it by those who were opposed to organised marketing. We hear a lot about price-fixing being likely to raise the price of coal to the consumer. I wonder if consumers are aware of the difference between pithead prices and what is charged to the consumer. I submit that the difference between the pithead price and what the consumer is charged provides an ample margin out of which to meet all the compensation to be given to the industry and for consumers to get coal at their present prices, 1418 and possibly less, with organised marketing.
§ Mr. ROWSON
It gives the opportunity for coalowners to organise themselves and to give consumers coal at a reasonable price while getting a decent price for it at the pithead. I do not want to quote prices, but I am satisfied that this cry of "dear coal" will be falsified the coming years. We have heard from hon. Members opposite that we shall hear about the rising price of coal when we face our constituents and other sections of the community. After going about the country I am satisfied that even should the price have to go up the feeling for the miners is such that there will not be any complaints, if people know that the miners are getting a higher standard of life. I submit that, if the price of coal does go up on the lines suggested, it will not mean as much to the consumers as scores of them are now contributing to the relief fund to heal the sores inflicted by the coalowners and the Tory Government in recent years. I hope that hon. Members have not forgotten 1926. Hon. Members may talk about what others feel in regard to this Bill, but the fact that hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and workers generally downed tools to prevent the state of things which this Bill seeks to remedy is a sufficient reply to those who want to set one section of workers against the other.
Take the Section of this Bill dealing with hours. The bon. Member for North Leeds (Captain Peake) stated that there was no necessity for the Labour party promising to reduce the hours of miners to seven hours per day as we did. I submit that if the Tory Government had not taken the action which they took in 1926 we should not have had to take the action which we are taking now. What was the evidence before the Samuel Commission? It was made public that the hours of miners in this country would be longer than those in any European country with the exception of Upper Silesia if the desires of the coalowners were accepted. On page 172 of the Report of the Samuel Commission it states:The comparison with other countries, so far as it bears on the standard of life that we should seek to establish for miners here, tells against the proposal of the 1419 Mining Association rather than in its favour.All the evidence is against any increase in hours. On page 173 of the same Report we find this statement:All that can be said is that the hours in this country do not differ from those in other countries so substantially as to constitute a serious handicap.That was a statement which was made substantiating the seven-hour day. The coalowners have had an extra hour a day ever since 1926 and, owing to the position in which the miners were placed, the coal-owners were able to reduce the wages of the miners to an extent which is a disgrace to any section of employers in this country. The miners have had an increase in hours and a reduction in wages, and the coal industry is in a more chaotic condition to-day than it was in 1926. As for the hours and all the talk about mines being shallow, there is more reason to-day for reverting to a seven-hour day in the mining industry than there was in 1908 when the Liberal Government gave us the eight-hour day. I submit that for this reason. The mines are getting deeper and hotter with every mine that is sunk, and I know of scores of cases where men are working with loin-cloths on, and bathing drawers, because it is so hot underground and the work is so strenuous. I submit that under these conditions seven hours are sufficiently long for any human being to be underground, in some cases 3,000 feet and more below the earth's surface.
I come now to the question of the Wages Board. On this point, I am particularly thankful that we are going to have a tribunal, provided that Parliament passes this Bill into law, which will at least attempt to settle the disputes that have arisen from time to time in this industry. I am not very old, but I remember the strikes of 1893, 1912, 1920, 1921 and 1926, and in four of these I was actively engaged. I am thankful that here we have, at least, an attempt to avoid—or, at any rate, we shall have a tribunal to which we can submit our disputes, and the evidence for our cases, which may avoid—struggles of the type of those to which I have just referred. I hope that the House will give this Bill its Third Reading, because I am certain that many of the predictions that have been voiced on the other side of the 1420 House will be falsified, and at least it is an attempt by the present Labour Government to turn the industry into a new direction and a new channel.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
During the Debate this afternoon I was anxious to mention a certain point to the President of the Board of Trade, and I was told that it was not in order on the Amendment then before the House, and that I should have to leave it until the Third Reading. I want now to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a very important point. Although we have got as far as the Third Reading in this House, there is another place to which the Bill has to go, and, if anything in the nature of an Amendment can be introduced there, it might be wise that it should be done. Possibly the attention of the President of the Board of Trade has not been called to the matter. I refer to an Amendment moved, in the course of the passage of the Bill through Committee, dealing with the effect of schemes on contracts already made. I put certain questions to the Attorney-General at that time, to which he was good enough to reply, and he gave me, on one point, a quite categorical reply. I wanted to know what would be the position of those people who have made contracts already, which were to run for, say, another 12 months, and I referred particularly to contracts which had been made by people owning fishing vessels. Many of these contracts were made before 11th December, and some have been made since.
The Attorney-General, in reply to my question, said that he could assure me that, as far as these trawler owners were concerned, their contracts were quite all right. I was very much pleased with that assurance, and went away feeling quite satisfied, but there are other sections of that particular new clause, which was moved by the President of the Board of Trade, to which I want to call his attention, because I am afraid that during the rest of the proceedings in Committee, having got that assurance from the Attorney-General, we allowed the other parts to slip through without any close examination. The clause has, however, been closely examined by an eminent legal authority since, and he expresses some doubt as to whether these contracts really will be binding, and 1421 gives his reasons why; and, if I may be permitted, I should like to read his words, because the matter is important. He says:The statements made by the learned Attorney-General naturally carry great weight and deserve most serious consideration, although the construction of the Bill, on becoming an Act, will be for the British Judiciary on the exact wording of the Act. The present position is peculiar and indeed curious for the following reasons.Part I of the Act contemplates the imposition upon, and recovery of monetary penalties from, any owner of a coal mine who offends its provisions. It is a penal section for offences to be made unlawful. You cannot normally make a legal contract to do an unlawful Act. If it is contrary to law how can the law enforce it? This is why illegality of performance usually renders a contract void and unenforceableThere was an original clause in the Bill which rendered the contract null and void if it contravened any scheme under Part I of the Act. The President of the Board of Trade mentioned it himself and stated that it has been placed there in error and he was putting his Amendment forward to remedy the defect. If it were made illegal as regards any contract already made before the Act was passed, we should know just where we are; but, says this legal opinion,The Amendment contemplates that on the one hand a delinquent contractual coal mine owner shall be subject to penalties for exceeding his quota whilst on the other hand he is to be liable to his buyer under any such contract—which seems rather Gilbertian. How can the buyer enforce his contract in such circumstances and how can he secure delivery? It may not be at all satisfactory to have to buy elsewhere and sue for damages whilst a coal mine owner will be reluctant to fulfil—and may stir up excuses for non-fulfilment of—any contract which may involve him in penalties. The Amendment would only excuse him from penalties if the excess of his quota was—
I want the President of the Board of Trade to go into this matter with the Attorney-General, because, if something is not done to remedy this, it is going to put us in a position of very great difficulty. On the one hand, many contracts have been made in good faith, and we 1422 have had the assurance of the Attorney-General that they are perfectly in order. Considering the other sections of this particular clause which were moved, it does seem that there is really ground for further inquiry into this matter, and I sincerely hope that the President of the Board of Trade will look into it, and, if it does require amendment—for I am sure he is not at all desirous of doing anything unjust to either party in these contracts—then we shall get something really beneficial. I want to make it quite clear why it is I am so anxious about this matter. In this question of the price of coal for the trawling industry it is not merely a matter of saving money for the trawler owners, but it affects the men. If these orders are not going to be allowed to stand, we shall be in a much worse position than we are now. Under the Bill, at any rate, we shall have some little respite as regards the increased price if these contracts are allowed to stand.
- (a) solely caused by the fulfilment of contracts made prior to the 11th December, 1929, when the Bill was introduced and
- (b) was reasonably necessary for such fulfilment and
- (c) was not substantially injurious to the interests of the owners of other coal mines in the district."
I want to point out what a serious matter this is to the fishermen concerned. I have a perfect right to do so, because I am here to represent the fishermen of the country in the House of Commons. [An HON. MEMBER: "Some of them!"] I say all of them, for I have travelled in every seaport round the coast, and I know the fishermen much better than the hon. Member. I want to emphasise the effect it may have if these particular contracts are not allowed to hold good and if we have to pay an increased price for coal. We have been told repeatedly, particularly from the benches below me, that the result of this will be an increase in the price of coal, and the right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), speaking on the Second Reading, asked quite clearly if there was going to be no increase what good was the Bill at all? I can see the logic of that. The miners get the biggest proportion of whatever increase there is in the price of coal on their wages ascertainments, and naturally they want to see an increased price, as otherwise it is going to be no good to them. I want to consider the point of view of my own people. What effect is a shilling a ton in the price of coal going to have on our men who are on share? Take a crew that is doing Iceland trips. It will take £14 4s. 9d. a year from the earnings of the skipper, it will take £10 7s. 2d. a year from the 1423 earnings of the mate, it will take £2 8s. 4d. from the boatswain. The third hand will have to contribute £1 4s. 3d. So it goes down even to the trimmer and the cook. I have the right to see to it that contracts which have already been made shall be regarded as perfectly good contracts.
Viewing the Bill from the point of view of the industry I represent, I am not at all pleased with it. From the consumers' point of view it has no virtues whatever. [Interruption.] The hon. Member represents the coalminers, and does it very well indeed, and I do not blame him for making the best bargain he can for the men he represents. At the same time, other people have a right to put the position of those whom they represent. I object to the Bill because its provisions are compulsory and because it means a limit of output. I can imagine what sort of time we should have in the fishing industry if we had a Bill to limit our output. We should have a few complaints, I have no doubt, from hon. Members and from the public outside. It is going to differentiate between one class of coal consumer and another. It is possible to give special consideration to various industries. Naturally, we are all hoping that our own particular industry will be the one to receive special consideration, but I do not think there ought to be any differentiation.
All we ask for is a free market in which to buy. We have this pernicious system of levies. Some of us who have experience of the Five Counties Scheme know what that means. Penalties can be imposed upon defaulting owners and the ring of the marketing board—you cannot call it anything else but a ring—will be entirely controlled by the coal-owners. The alleged safeguards, at any rate in the opinion of the people in the industry I represent, are entirely illusory. We do not see any great benefit that we are going to get out of that. It is modelled somewhat on the lines of the Food Council. It does not seem to me to have any great power of safeguarding the consumer. It can make recommendations but can do practically nothing else. I am not at all satisfied that that is a reasonable safeguard.
1424 For the rest of the community it is going to increase the cost of living. It cannot do otherwise. If it is only in the question of gas, electricity and things of public utility it is bound to make a difference in the cost. That being so, how can anyone on this side of the House be enthusiastic about it? I agree that every section of the community, miners, fishermen or any other workers, have a right to a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. It is not fair or right to penalise one section of the community for the benefit of another section. We have to take our chance as a fishing industry in the open markets of the country. We can only sell our fish in the open market to the highest bidder. Our men have to take their chance as to whether they will earn a profit or not as a result of the voyage they make. They may go out in the depth of winter into the Icelantic waters, and even into the Arctic seas, and risk their lives, and yet when they return to port there is no guaranteed price for them. They do not grumble at that, but they say that, seeing that they have to work under those conditions, they want a free market in which to buy the commodities which they require to carry on their calling. Representatives of mining constituencies may say, "We can go back to our constituencies and they will not grumble." But hon. Members opposite who do not represent mining constituencies will find that this is a very bad Bill to defend when they go into their constituencies, and that people will not be so ready to cast their votes in their favour.
§ Mr. STRACHEY
We have reached the final stage of this Measure, and I do not propose to detain the House or to go into the extravagant charges levied against it by the party opposite. These charges come down to two—that it is going to restrict the quantity of coal to be sold and to increase its price. It is rather significant that the only two Members of the party opposite who have spoken on this Bill and who are intimately connected with mining did not make that charge. The only reference the hon. Member for North Leeds (Captain Peake) made to the actual provisions of the Bill was to give a warm approval to its marketing proposals, while the hon. Mem- 1425 ber for Ecclesall (Sir S. Roberts), during the Committee stage of the Bill, has given the most notable contributions to a defence of the Measure which have only been partly offset by his going into the Lobby against it at the close of his speech in favour of it. It is not surprising, after all, that these gentlemen, who have an intimate knowledge of the state of the industry, should not be able to support the charge that this Bill will in any real sense restrict the amount of coal which can be sold. You can only support that if you take the entirely fallacious view that you cannot have too much coal. That may have been true in the last century in an era when the industry was very rapidly expanding, but it is wholly out of date today. You only want as much coal as the industries of this country and Europe can absorb, and you have to have that coal as cheaply as you can get it. But it is no use supposing that you can get it below the cost of production.
The only restriction which this Bill will make is to restrict the amount of coal you raise to the amount of coal you want, and the only effect price regulation will have will be to ensure that the coal is not sold below the cost of production, which has happened in the past but which is of no real benefit in the long run to those classes of the community which use the coal. When this Measure is on the Statute Book, as I hope it will be in the near future, we shall have the coal industry regulated and controlled to a very large extent. The hours will be fixed, wages are fixed under ascertainments which vary according to price and cost, the amount of coal which can be raised will be regulated, and the price at which it can be sold will also be regulated. Those of us on this side of the House will agree that it is rather a formidable, and we may fear, rather cumbersome machinery which is being set up by this Bill. I do not think that we can doubt that if any of us had been drafting this Bill, or if the President of the Board of Trade could have been given a clean slate, that we or he would have set up precisely this machinery. It has the stamp of the provisional upon it. That is recognised by the time limit which is in the Bill. It is not meant to be anything more than a stop-gap Measure. It is limited to two years, or 1426 two and a-half years, perhaps, from the time that it comes into force.
Looking at its provisions one can see that it is a child born of the exigencies of the political situation as it is to-day. It is only to give the hard-pressed miners of this country a breathing space and to give the industry generally a breathing space until they can recover themselves. It was never intended to be and it cannot be the final solution of the problem which we have to solve. The Debates have shown us that they have brought out remorselessly the logic of the position, that once you abandon the perfectly free play of competition between the thousand or more colliery companies in this country—once you abandon that traditional policy, it is extraordinarily difficult to find any firm ground until you have gone right on to a wholly unified industry. The defects and difficulties, if there are defects and difficulties in this Bill and the degree of cumberousness which we have had to make in our machinery for safeguarding the interests of the consumer, are all due to the fact that we have had to set up something in the nature of a monopoly, and in the political situation as it is to-day we have had to leave that monopoly in private hands. That has necessitated the some-what elaborate system of safeguards and committees and arbitrations which we have in this Bill, and it has brought out the fact that the logic of the situation is that, once you have abandoned, as one does abandon very definitely in this Bill—because we have turned our back upon it the free and unregulated play of competition, which is one kind of safeguard for the consumer, it is very difficult to stop until you have got a unified industry. I trust that in the two years which this Bill will give us—I have no doubt that in practice it will give us a certain stability in the industry for two years—those of us who have this problem at heart and are deeply interested in it, will try to hammer out some scheme whereby the industry can be set on a unified basis. I do not think that any Member of this House, if he was willing to accept the proposition that I have just put forward, would dissent from the view that such a unified industry must be in the last resort responsible to the public, that the ownership of it must be public, and that it must be, in 1427 a phrase which has been used by hon. Members opposite, a public concern.
The problem which will then face us is how to devise a constitution for this unified industry which will give us the safeguard of it being a public concern and in the last analysis publicly owned, and which will avoid those defects of a bureaucratic and too close control by the central government which have often been urged against schemes of this kind. The Bill drives us towards that conclusion as the only possible road upon which this industry can go. Some hon. Members know that it was the fate of myself and another hon. Member, who is now a member of the Government, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell), to devise two years ago proposals along these lines. At that time we were premature, and our proposals for a unified national public coal industry were perhaps equally unwelcome to the extreme right and extreme left of the party to which we belong. That position naturally encouraged us to believe that we were after all on the right lines. Two years later we find that the actual force of circumstances is driving the nation to apply this kind of solution to the mining industry. Unification is the only possible solution, and unification is unthinkable without some measure of public control. How that is actually to be devised must be hammered out. There is nothing sacrosanct in the proposals which we put up at that time. Indeed, they are obviously made out of date by the provisions of this Bill, but the point which we stressed strongly is perhaps the key to these matters, and that is that the relationship of the central Government and of the great public corporations which may be envisaged as running a unified industry should be analogous to the relationship of a private company to its debenture holders.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This seems to be nationalisation, and it would certainly not be in order for the hon. Member to pursue that on the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. STRACHEY
I accept your Ruling. I was endeavouring to show 1428 that the logic of the Bill, as we have argued it in Committee, drives us forward, and it becomes clear that we shall have to make a further step forward after the two years have expired. I was going on to say that the Amalgamation Commission which is being set up under the Bill, must surely be the nucleus around which any future proposals which emanate from this House for the future upbuilding of a unified and national industry must centre. Unification must be the key to this problem. I remember a story of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd-George) when he was in the Great War and was engaged in accomplishing that unification of command which contributed so greatly to the Allied victory. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was not a case of one general being better than another, but of one general being better than two. It is the same with the coal mining industry. It is not that one coal organisation is better than another, but of one organisation being better than the thousand organisations which at present mis-manage the industry. I hope that we shall use these two years in this Parliament in hammering out proposals which may then be laid before this House for the unification of the industry, which a majority of hon. Members can adopt. I am sure that many hon. Members will agree with me that that principle of unification, and the corollary which it must carry with it, is the only principle which can really deliver this industry from the parlous condition in which it has been ever since the Great War.
Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Commodore King.]
Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were rea[...]i and postponed.