I think, for the convenience of the Committee, that I should at this stage make a statement with regard to the Amendments to Clause 9. This part of the Bill, that is Part II, is restricted in its scope. It deals with a temporary amendment of Section 3 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908. The only Amendments, therefore, to this part of the Bill which can be in order are those which propose to make temporary amendments to that Section, and any Amendments proposing to amend any other statutory provision, or even to amend that Section otherwise than temporarily, must be ruled out of order. Under that Ruling, none of the Amendments to Clause 9 now on the Order Paper are in order until we come to the Amendment standing in the name of the light hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in page 13, line 34, which is to leave out the wordson the sixth day of April, nineteen hundred and thirty,and to insert instead thereof the wordsat the expiration of the period of four months from the passing of this Act.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I confess that I am in a little difficulty in regard to your Ruling. Instead of the 7½-hour day which the President of the Board of Trade proposes in the first Subsection of Clause 9, I propose to add a Subsection which, qualifying only the period during which the 7½-hour day is to run, would enable the 90 hours to be distributed over a fortnight instead of a rigid 7½ hours per day. [Interruption.] I am not discussing the merits of the question. I propose to distribute the same number of hours in the fortnight over 11 days instead of over 12 days. It can only be for lack of a phrase that the Amendments in my name are said to be out of order, and I could supply that phrase at once, 2124 which would immediately tack them on to the 7½-hour proposal of the President of the Board of Trade instead of moving it as a separate Sub-section to this Bill—
I can only deal with the Bill as it stands. I cannot anticipate any subsequent Amendments. From the point of view of the Chair, I have to deal with the Bill as it now stands and not as it may be.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Certainly, but I shall ask leave now to alter my Amendments in order to bring them under your Ruling. Instead of moving my proposal as a separate Sub-section, I shall ask lea veto begin with the words: "Provided that." My Amendment would then read:Provided that where by agreement between representatives of employers and workmen the statutory maximum daily hours below ground for the time being in force are not worked on one weekday of the week or of alternate weeks the said statutory maximum daily hours may be exceeded on the other weekdays by not more than one-half hour per day so long as, subject to the exceptional cases specified in Sub-section (2) of Section one of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908, the total hours below ground for the 12 weekdays in the fortnight do not exceed 12 times the daily hours permissible under this Act.That would operate for exactly the same period as the proposal of the President of the Board of Trade, and would have no reference to any other tine than the time referred to in the original Clause. I ask the leave of the Committee to make that alteration.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. William Graham)
I should like to say a word or two on the point of Order. The difficulty turns undoubtedly on Section 3 of the 1908 Act. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) knows that that Section of the 1908 Act is on a strictly day basis. Our position in this matter is quite plain. It would be for he convenience of the Committee this afternoon if we had a general discussion covering all the points, but my difficulty on the question of order is that, as the Amendment stands, it will not be possible to have such a general discussion until we reach the question of the Clause standing part. The objection to that is that on each specific proposal which may be in order there will be a discussion on 2125 the main question, as it were in portions, and one discussion on the wider question would, I think, be a far better arrangement. On the point of Order which you, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, have raised, the proposal of the right hon. and learned Member does raise a difficulty. He refers to certain days and also to the 12 days period. That, of course, is entirely for you, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, to decide, but if it is a departure from the strict and narrow terms of that Section of the Act of 1908, then I am afraid it is not possible as this is a temporary Measure, to deal with the Amendment as an alteration of Section 3 of the 1908 Act. May I make this suggestion to the Committee, and with great respect to the Chair, in order to facilitate our Debate. I understood that the Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson), in page 13, line 33, at the end, to insert the words:and during the continuance of Part I of this Act Section three of the Coal Mines Regulation Act. 1908, shall have effect as if the words 'on not more than 60 days in any calendar year' were deletedwas in order. If that be not the case, then I am afraid I am still in a difficulty. If it be in order, it may be for you, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, to consider whether you could allow a general discussion on that Amendment, which would cover all the points that are in the minds of hon. Members, on the strict understanding that there should be no general discussion on the question of the Clause standing part. I am most anxious to meet the Committee in this matter, and, frankly, that is the best proposal that I can offer.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I must ask the Committee to observe that the point to which the President of the Board of Trade has referred is not the point of Order which has been put against me by the Deputy-Chairman. The point of Order of the Chair is that the Amendment on the Paper is a permanent alteration, whereas I am only allowed to make a temporary alteration in the Statute of 1908. The point put by the President of the Board of Trade is quite different, but I am prepared to meet the point of Order raised by the Deputy-Chairman if it is insisted on against me. What I propose to do by my Amendment is exactly what the 2126 1908 Act itself does, give an allowance on any one day of an additional single half hour. No average is involved. If you lose three hours on one day, you are not allowed to work three more hours on the next day. It is not a question of average. I am concerned with what has been said by the Deputy-Chairman, and, while I am greatly indebted to the President of the Board of Trade for his suggestion with regard to a general discussion, I want to reach more than a general discussion. I wish to reach an effective proposal upon which the Committee can take judgment. Accordingly, I ask to be allowed now to alter my proposed Amendment by beginning with the words "Provided that." It would then be quite clear that my Amendment refers strictly to the period during which the right hon. Gentleman's proposals in Sub-section (1) have effect. That, shortly, I think meets the point.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ATKINSON
I submit that the Amendment is proposing a temporary amendment of the Section in the Act specified in the marginal note. It will he observed that it says that during the continuance of Part I, Section 3 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, which is 8 Edward 7, chapter 57, Section 3, shall be amended in a particular way. That comes precisely within your Ruling. It is proposing a temporary amendment of the Section.
I have read the Amendment very carefully, and I rule it out of order, because it would amend Section 3 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908. As the Bill now stands, there is nothing to limit the duration of Part I of the Bill. I am obliged, therefore, to rule the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member out of order. With regard to the second Amendment, that is out of order on the ground that it seeks to amend, not Section 3 of the Act of 1908, but Section 1 of that Act. Therefore, on these grounds I must rule that out of order also.
§ Sir PHILIP CUNLIFFE-LISTER
With great respect, the first Amendment, not in the form in which it stands on the Paper, but in the form which my right hon. Friend has just proposed as a proviso, is simply and solely in its terms a proviso to a Clause in the 2127 Government Bill. It is confined to the duration of the Government Clause, and to the terms of the Government Clause. With great respect, I submit that, provided the Amendment is so drafted as to mean simply and solely a proviso to the Government Clause, it must be in order, because it can have effect only in so far as the Government Clause operates, and it is in respect of that period of time during which the Government Clause operates. If that were not: right, then the whole of the Government Clause would be out of order under this Bill, and the only possibility which would be open to the House would be to re-commit the Bill for the purpose of introducing a new Clause which would give effect to what the Government are proposing, and to which the necessary Amendments could be moved. There fore, I submit that, providing this Amendment is now strictly limited, as my right hon. Friend proposes by his manuscript Amendment, within the precise terms of the Government Clause, if the Government Clause is in order, that Amendment must be in order.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I hope I may be forgiven for pursuing this matter, because, obviously, it is very important. The proposal in my Amendment has led to a great deal of discussion in the Press, and I am sure every Member of this House is aware that at Geneva, quite recently, this very proposal was adopted by the International Conference. Accordingly, it is no frivolous proposal that I make. I am sure it is one that, the Committee is anxious to discuss, and upon which it is anxious to come to a conclusion. I think it would be a very great pity if discussion of this matter is precluded through some technical point, which, at the moment, I say with all respect, does not seem to me to arise. It is suggested against me that I am seeking to amend Section 1 of the Act of 1908. That, if I may say so with respect, is quite erroneous. The only reason that Section 1 is mentioned is to preserve its provisions. There is no attempt by this Amendment to do anything to alter the effect of Section 1; indeed, its intention is to preserve it, and not alter it. What is 2128 sought by this Amendment is to do precisely what was done by Section 3 of the Act of 1908, only for certain definite purposes. I cannot really imagine why it is out of order.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
Might I, with great submission, refer to the point of Order which you, Mr. Dunnico, have so very courteously allowed to be raised twice? I am extremely graceful to you for that courtesy. The point I want to put is this: The Act of 1926 is a temporary Act—agreed. This proposed Amendment is an Amendment to a temporary Act, and I do not see how it can have a permanent effect as an Amendment of a temporary Act.
I shall be at all times willing to give careful attention to any submission made by both the right hon. Gentlemen, but I have taken every available advice I can. I want to do all I can to facilitate discussion, but after taking advice, I am still confirmed in my opinion that this Amendment is entirely out of order.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
Might I ask a question arising out of the Ruling which you have given? Are we to understand that also by way of a new Clause this point could not be (Subsequently raised at all as being outside the scope of the Bill? It seems that the Committee will be placed in a most difficult position if, on the discussion of this Bill, it is entirely unable to say, if it so desires, that it is willing to shorten the present hours of labour in the mines, provided that some compensation may be found in the averaging of hours during the week or fortnight, though I do not express for the moment any view as to whether that is desirable or not. That, of course, does not arise now, but is the Committee to be precluded from even expressing an opinion upon that matter? Supposing that by some technicality it was said that the Title of the Bill excluded the consideration of that matter, would it not be possible, nevertheless, to insert such a provision as consequential upon the present Clause 9 in the Bill, if the Committee should think it was consequential, and, subsequently, when we came to the Title of the Bill, make the necessary Amendment?
§ Sir R. HORNE
May I substitute an Amendment, namely, in page 13, line 33, at the end, to insert the words:Provided that the foregoing Sub-section shall not apply as respects any mine at which by agreement between representatives of employers and workmen the extension of time made under the said Section 3 does not any one day exceed half an hour and the hours worked per fortnight do not exceed twelve times the daily hours permissible under this Act, andThe subsequent Amendment would run:At any mine where an extension of time is in any wool; made under the said Section 3, the workmen, by agreement between representative of employers and workmen, may, notwithstanding anything in the Coal Mines Act, 1908, as amended by any subsequent enactment, begin their period of work on the Saturday of that week before 24 hours have elapsed since the beginning of their last period of work, so long as at least eight hours have elapsed since the termination thereof.
§ Mr. HARDIE
On a point of Order. The Part which we are going to discuss deals with the question of hours. The hours are related to the day, and not to the year. If you allow this Amendment, which cuts across the whole meaning of what we are going to discuss, in what way are you going to deal with another Amendment which I may move, that, instead of relating to the output of the day, it should be related to the week? Further, do you understand the meaning of this Amendment?
I cannot give a Ruling on something which is not in front of me. Any Amendment the hon. Member puts in will have the same consideration as any other Amendment.
§ Mr. HARDIE
May I put the Amendment now? If you give permission to the right hon. Member to alter his Amendment, surely it is none the less the privilege— [Interruption.]
§ Mr. McKINLAY
Is it in order to discuss an Amendment the terms of which the Committee knows absolutely nothing about?
The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN
Every hon. Member should know that it is in order to hand in a manuscript Amendment.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Are we discussing hours per working day or per working year under the Amendment you have allowed? Are we discussing the miners' working hours or the miners' working year? That is what the Committee wants to know.
We are discussing an Amendment to be moved by the right hon. Gentleman which I have accepted as being in order.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Is that part of the Bill relating to the working day to be altered by the Government to suit the working year?
§ Mr. HARDIE
May I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade? If there has been consultation going on with regard to the other side, why should the same courtesy be denied to this side, and those who have real practical experience— [Interruption.]
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I intervene only by-permission of the Chair and of the Committee. There has been no discourtesy to any section of the Committee. The whole desire of the Government is to facilitate a general Debate on the whole question at this state for the convenience of Members, and in order that, if possible, we may conclude the discussion on this Clause. That is our desire. With great respect I would ask you a question, Mr. Deputy-Chairman. Would you be prepared, on the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir It. Home), to allow a comprehensive discussion in which Members might debate other points relating to the hours Clause? I make that suggestion for his reason: It would greatly facilitate debate and it would avoid this result—that if we do not take that step the wider question will be discussed in small pieces on individual Amendments, which is very undesirable in a matter of this kind.
In matters like this the Chair is always in the hands of the Committee. If the Committee desires a general discussion the Chair will permit it.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The course suggested is obviously very convenient, and I am much obliged to the President of the Board of Trade for having suggested it. It is obvious that we cannot discuss any part of this Clause without overlapping on to other points that must arise in connection with it.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I beg to move, in page 13, line 33, at the end, to insert the words:Provided that—I do not think it lies in the mouth of any hon. Member on the other side of the Committee to reproach us for failure to give notice of the Amendments that we propose. We were left in a very difficult position when the Committee stage was started on Tuesday, and, so far as I can recall, no one on the other side had any bowels of compassion for us when we were suddenly brought before a part of the Bill which we had not anticipated would come up then. So far as my Amendments are concerned, let me assure right hon. and hon. Members opposite that I am proposing nothing which is not to be found in the Amendments on the Paper. They must all be aware of the idea which I venture to present to the Committee, and while the form of words is slightly changed, in fact the proposal is precisely identical with what appears on the Paper. What are the two things that are suggested in my Amendment? One is a thing which I am sure 2132 everyone m this committee is familiar with—the 90 hours' fortnight. I cannot imagine that there is any person who takes an intelligent interest in the recent history of this country who does not understand what a 90 hours' fortnight is. The other part of the Amendment is a provision to allow a longer afternoon on the Saturday. I take this second matter first as it is much simpler.
- (a) the foregoing sub-section shall not apply as respects any mine at which, by agreement between representatives of employers and workmen, the extension of time made under the said Section three does not any one day exceed half an hour, and the hours worked per fortnight do not exceed twelve times the daily hours permissible under this Act; and
- (b) at any mine where an extension of time is in any week made under the said Section three, the workmen, by agreement between representatives of employers and workmen, may, notwithstanding anything in the Coal Mines Act, 1908, as amended by any subsequent enactment, begin their period of work on the Saturday of that week before twenty-four hours have elapsed since the beginning of their last period of work, so long as at least eight hours have elapsed since the termination thereof."
§ Sir R. HORNE
If that is so, all I can say is that so does a resolution which was carried by a South Wales mining community the other day. That resolution asked that this new arrangement should be made in order that the miners should have time to get home and to get away to such pleasures as they might enjoy on a Saturday afternoon.
§ Mr. SUTTON
Does that not mean that we would have to do as we used to do, that is, stay up practically all the Friday night and go to work at three or four o'clock on the Saturday morning?
§ Sir R. HORNE
So far as I am personally concerned, I thought that I was putting forward something that was agreeable to the mining community. Let me say at once that if the mining community do not want it—[HON. MEMBERS: "They do not!"]—I shall abandon it. There are some Members of the Committee who, perhaps, do not understand clearly how the thing will work out. The situation is this: In order to work a full shift on a Saturday unless the miners begin work earlier than usual they are taken along to a time which makes it impossible for them to get home and to be able to attend, for example, a football match in the early afternoon. If they started at an earlier hour than usual on the Saturday morning, they would immediately impinge upon the 24 hours immediately preceding, and accordingly, they would be adding an hour to what was technically Friday's work, and they would thereby violate the Act of Parliament. It was purely from the point of view of helping to bring about an arrangement which would facilitate what I thought was the desire of the mining community that I put down the Amendment. We shall hear in the course of the Debate whether the miners are obdurately against having these 2133 means of recreation. If that be so, as far as I am concerned the matter will come to an end, as it was purely for their pleasure that the Amendment was framed. There is no one who will benefit under the Amendment except the miners themselves.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
Can the right hon. Gentleman point out anything in the Clause which prevents a shorter working day on the Saturday?
§ Sir R. HORNE
There is nothing to prevent a shorter working day on the Saturday, but if the miner works a full shift, as many miners desire to do in order to earn the full pay—
§ Sir R. HORNE
The whole point of the Amendment is this: A miner may want to work a full shift on the Saturday. The ordinary hour of beginning a shift may be seven o'clock on the Friday. If he begins at seven o'clock on the Saturday his afternoon is restricted so that he cannot indulge in the recreation that he desires. If he starts his work at six on the Saturday obviously he is infringing the Statute. If you wish to give the miner permission to begin at six o'clock in order that he may get away sooner to his recreation you are bound to pass this Amendment. If representatives of the miners here are going to tell the Committee that their mining friends do not wish for this particular remission in the rigidity of the Statute, then I abandon the Amendment. I moved the Amendment only because I believed that the miners would welcome it.
I pass from that and come to the more important Amendment. Developments in recent times, in the way of international discussion of matters connected with the coal mines, are the most hopeful sign possible. For years we have suffered, in the coal trade of this country, from the competition of other nations of Europe which work under different conditions from ours. I confess that personally I have never had very great hopes of what might be done by international discussion, but the Miners' Federation has taken a different view. Leaders of the Federation 2134 have pinned their faith on many occasions to resolutions and to what could be done by discussing their affairs with their neighbours on the Continent. I am bound to say that they have made considerable progress in the matter, and I venture to congratulate them on what they have been able to achieve. They have been supported by His Majesty's present Government, and I felicitate my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade on the measure of success which he has had in summoning conferences for the purpose of providing rules that will guide the whole coal trade of Europe.
We have seen one recent example of the success of that movement. In January of this year there assembled at Geneva a Conference which represented the mining industries of all the great countries of Europe, including Great Britain. Those present were engaged as a preliminary technical conference for the purpose of formulating a draft convention to be put before the International Labour Organisation at Geneva in the month of Tune of this year. I must confess that after having read the discussions which took place at that Conference I began to have a hope which I had never been able to entertain before. The Members who represented this country, particularly the Under-Secretary to the Board of Trade, accomplished a great work towards the international settlement of this question. The question of hours was before that particular Conference, and the Conference arrived at a definite conclusion upon what has been called the spreading of the hours of work over a period. It was not a new-subject of discussion, because everyone who has tried to think out arrangements which would affect both this country and the Continent has always been baulked by the fact that the working conditions were very different in the different countries.
For example, in this country you have some places where they work 11 days a fortnight. At the present time in my native country, in Ayr and. Fife, they work 11 days a fortnight, and I believe it is the same in Northumberland and certain other parts of England. In many places in Scotland before the War the miners worked only 10 days a fortnight. Conditions differ in that way all over 2135 the country, and in such circumstances you are against a very formidable impediment as soon as you begin to regulate working hours. Those who work 11 days a fortnight say, "We are not working under the same conditions as you are, and we cannot adopt your idea of working so many hours a day. That would make us work 12 days a fortnight instead of the 11 days to which we are accustomed."
One of the things to which miners used to look forward in many parts of the country—certainly in that part of which I was cognisant for many years—was what they called their idle Saturday, and there is at least one hon. Member for Lanarkshire opposite who knows that, in earlier times, they used to have every Saturday idle, and only worked 10 days a fortnight. These different conditions have to be met and, as far as human ingenuity has been able to discover, there is no way of doing it other than spreading the hours over a limited period, always provided that within that period the number of hours worked does not exceed what would have been worked, supposing the people had been working every day according to the rule. That is the foundation of the proposal which I put forward in this Amendment and the resolution passed at Geneva by the Conference to which I have referred, is in terms almost identical with the Amendment. This Resolution which was carried at Geneva by 18 votes to 7 provides:If by mutual agreement between the representatives of employers and employed, a full day is not worked on one day of the week or of alternate weeks, then the hours specified in Article 2 may be exceeded on the other days by not more than an hour per day, so long as the total hours for the fortnight do not exceed 12 times the daily hours at present specified in this Article.The only real difference between my Amendment and that Resolution is that I have substituted half-an-hour for an hour as the excess period. Even that does not involve much difference because at Geneva they were considering a condition of affairs in which working hours were to be counted from bank to bank, Whereas, in fact, we have only one winding time in this country which is outside the period of work. Therefore the Amendment which I put before the Committee is practically identical 2136 with the Resolution of the mining delegates at Geneva. I have pointed out the general advantages of that system, if we hope to get international agreement. As I say I never had very great hopes of the policy which the Miners' Federation have followed but I see now that, as it is being worked out by these Conferences, that policy is going to be productive of great good and to make for a better understanding than we have ever had. I hope the same policy will not be rejected by the Committee when dealing with this very important matter on the Bill now before us. In addition to its advantages as regards international agreement I think there will be assent that it helps in the work of the mines. I have said that the miner himself looks forward to his idle Saturday and it is a very good thing that he should have it, but it is also of advantage to everybody who is working machinery in mines—and the more machine work we are able to get in our mines, the more the coal trade is going to progress in this; country. If we can have a day upon which, a certain amount of clearing up can be done, as regards conveyers and so on, it will be of great advantage in the general working of the mines.
I ask the Committee now to look at it from another point of view, which seems to me to be vital. We heard from the President of the Board of Trade in that masterly speech in which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill, that the effect of a reduction from the present hours to 7½ hours would be to add 1s. 6d. per ton to the cost of producing coal. Everybody realises that that is a very serious matter in connection with the production of coal in this country. We know what has been the condition of the coal trade in recent years We know according to the figures which have been produced, after the examination by the accountants, on the assessment which it is their duty to make of the coal trade in this country, that during the period covered by those figures it has lost something like £20,000,000 sterling. The industry cannot go on suffering losses of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) has pointed out from time to time the great difficulties under which the coal trade is labouring. It is true that the solutions which he offers are not those which I would entirely accept, hut there 2137 is a great measure of agreement between what he says and what I think about the coal trade. We have worked together at a time when I was responsible for the public administration of these affairs and we do not differ much as to the real condition of the trade and the nature of the troubles which have brought about its present difficulties. It must be obvious to everybody that the trade cannot go on under conditions in which it is losing so much, and if 1s. 6d. per ton is to be added to the cost of producing coal then we are going to experience even greater trouble than that which we confronted previously.
The trade is just emerging—to use a common expression it is just "breaking even"—from its difficulties. It is now beginning to earn a profit and during the last two or three years it has brought down the cost by 4s. 8d. per ton on the average. It has also brought about an immensely greater output with the result that our export trade, which had been steadily dwindling, has began to increase and whereas, in August, 1925. our exports per month had gone down to 3,500,000 tons, in recent months they have gone up as high as 5,000,000 tons and last year we exported 10,000,000 tons more than in the previous year. We are beginning to be able to look towards the prospect of reaching our 1913 figures again. I emphasise all these facts because the whole fate of this country depends on the success of the coal trade. I say that with the fullest possible conviction, and I say it as a person who has no personal, material interest in the coal trade. I never had such an interest in it in my life but I recognise in looking at the trade and industry of this country that nothing can be sustained and no prosperity can ever be retrieved in this country, unless the coal trade is prosperous.
For that reason I urge upon the Committee that we ought to consider very seriously anything which will add to the hurdens upon it. I have said that the reduction of hours to 7½ means an addition to the cost of 1s. 6d. per ton. What can we do to mitigate that result? No one of us is here resisting the proposal to reduce hours from 8 to 7½ We accept that; we recognise that a pledge has been given by the Government to that effect, and we are going forward on the assumption that the pledge must be redeemed. Accepting that situation, 2138 the question is what can we do to mitigate the difficulty? Part I was put into the Bill with the suggestion that it would help. It is very doubtful whether we are going to get part I. There are many conditions about it which, one thinks, will make it almost impossible to carry it, at any rate in its present shape, and many people have grave doubts as to whether any benefit which you may succeed in offering to the coal trade by Part I, will not be more than balanced by the great injury to the public interest in other directions, caused by raising the price of coal to the consumers in this country. I am not arguing that question now. All I say is that you cannot calculate on doing much by Part I to mitigate the burden which you are going to put on the coal trade by Part II.
I have no doubt we shall hear from the Liberal Benches that much is to be achieved by amalgamation, but it will be a long time before we have a sufficient number of amalgamations, even if that is the proper method of mitigating an immediate imposition of 1s. 6d. per ton on the cost of producing coal. For my part, while I have great belief in cooperation and amalgamation, I know of no industry in which they will have less effect than the coal industry, for reasons which are perfectly obvious. In the ordinary industry, you can shift about from one place of manufacture to another. It does not matter whether you desert one place for another, but, in the coal trade, you have to take the coal from where God has put it. You cannot shift the site of your operations and that, in self, not only creates difficulties, but lessens much of the benefit which might be achieved by amalgamation. That is only one element, and I mention it merely as an indication of the fact that the coal trade is not on the same footing as others when we come to consider the benefits to be derived from co-operation. At any rate, I suggest that there is not much to be hoped for in that respect, to mitigate the extra cost. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech on the Second Reading pointed to the fact that the coal trade was going to get benefits from derating. It has already been getting those benefits since October. We have the results before us, and no doubt those benefits are great, but the derating proposals 2139 were not designed for the purpose of giving some extra sop to the coal trade. They were to save it from ruin. If we are going to use that as compensation for the extra 1s. 6d. per ton cost, then, in effect, we are only taking away one of the props which the industry has at present and putting nothing in its place.
I submit that the proposal which I put in this Amendment—and which, as I have said, is really the same as the proposal of the mining communities of Europe at Geneva—undoubtedly will be of benefit and will be a mitigating force in this connection. May I give an illustration. As I have said, the advance in the use of machinery in the coal trade is one of the factors which has enabled the industry here to meet many of its difficulties. It ought to be said on behalf of the coal trade of this country that it is working coal-cutting machinery under conditions far more adverse than those which obtain in any other country in the world, and doing it better. I speak in the presence of many who know the trade better than I do, but there are some Members of the House who are probably not familiar with the working of the mines. The greatest economy is effected in machine working when the face on which the machine is operating is long enough to occupy the whole time of one shift, because time is lost in turning the machine, and the more turnings that have to be made the more is taken off the time available for the process of cutting. Accordingly, by making only the initial turn at the beginning and the other turn at the end of the day, and during that period having the longest possible face to work at—that is the most economical way of operating. To use an agricultural illustration, it is like a man ploughing. If he has to make frequent turns, if he is ploughing very short furrows, he is losing far more time in turning than if he is ploughing long furrows.
§ Mr. LAWTHER
How would that help in efficiency when, obviously, as the Saturday was to be a shorter working day, the machine would cut less?
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am afraid the hon. Member has not understood my argument, because what the Amendment provides is to allow a man to work his 2140 full shift on the Saturday, h is not a short shift, but it begins earlier—I must have explained myself very badly—and it would not be necessary to begin earlier if he was only working a short shift. Returning now to what I was saying about the saving of time on the working of a coal cutter, the more often you have to turn your machine, the more time you lose. Accordingly, you lose less time if you are working the same amount in an 11-day fortnight than if you are doing it in a 12-day fortnight. That, I think, must be obvious to all. At any rate, the information which is before me goes to show that by working 11 days a fortnight, a 90-hour fortnight, you will mitigate the increased cost to at least half its extent, and probably more. That is, as far as I am concerned, one of the main reasons why I put this Amendment forward.
If I could see that it would put any extra burden on the miner, that it would by any chance operate unfairly, that would be a different matter, but I see no way in which the miner would incur any disadvantage, and, on the other hand, I recognise that he would acquire great benefit by reason of the fact that this method of accomplishing the task does not hit so severe a blow at the trade as he would have to suffer if brought down to a rigid seven-and-a-half-hour day, which might have a much more severe effect on his wages and on his chances of getting continuous work. With these observations, I commend the Amendment to the Committee It seems to me to be an eminently practicable and reasonable one. It has been supported by mining experts, people engaged in the mining trade, all over Europe, and I think it would be very beneficial if we adopted it here.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I should like to commend the right hon. Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Home) on his conversion to the possibility of utilising one machine for the purpose of regulating probably the output of coal, the hours of work, and other matters affecting: the mining industry. I am sorry, however, that I am unable to commend the tight hon. Gentleman on his practical knowledge of the mining industry, if his later observations are the best we can expect from him in regard to economy in the production of coal. It seems to me that, the idea 2141 enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman is not a new one, namely, that mine workers be permitted, by some sort of agreement with mine owners, to work a longer working day for five days per week, so that then they could be privileged to have the Saturday afternoon's football match or to enjoy some other sort of recreation.
The plain fact, as seen by the miners of this country—and I want to emphasise this with all the force at my command-is that the idea is that miners should put in six days' work in five days for five days' wages. What does the right hon. Gentleman mean, for instance, when he suggests that some of the mine workers in his country are only working 10 days per fortnight and in other cases 11 days per fortnight, and they complain that if you reduce the hours to 7½ per day, it may mean that they would have to work 12 days per fortnight to earn the maximum wages during that period?
§ Sir R. HORNE
I did not say that miners in Scotland were complaining about the 7½ hour day. What I did say was that some miners in Scotland used to work 10 days a fortnight. I did not say that any of them had complained, but I said that at the Convention at Geneva it was found that owing to their differing conditions, some distribution of hours had to be made, to enable them all to come into the same line.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am within the recollection of the Committee, and I have no desire to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman, but I took down his words, and he said that some miners, now working 10 or 11 days per fortnight, may, unless this elasticity is inserted, be compelled to work 12 days per fortnight for the purpose of securing the maximum amount of wages. The only interpretation that I can apply to that is that the right hon. Gentleman desires, by agreement, which would be no agreement at all so far as the miners are concerned, that the miners be permitted to continue, where the employers demand it, five days per week on eight hours, while on Saturday, where the men are working five hours, the colliery would never work at all. That is exactly what the position is now. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that at almost every colliery in Yorkshire at this moment there are 2142 agreements in existence by which the mine workers, after jumping out of bed at two or three o'clock in the morning, work a shorter working day on Saturday, for the purpose named by the right hon. Gentleman, and it is only in what I would call a backward area where no Saturday arrangement has already been made.
Therefore, it seems to me, from the point of view of the desirability of releasing men for Saturday afternoon, arrangements are already in existence, and from the point of view of working a longer working day, we have seen the results of the Act of 1926. What does the right hon. Gentleman's argument mean? It means, of course, that men working on piece rates may, if they exert their last ounce of energy during the whole of the eight hours for the five days, arrive at somewhere near the wage that would be obtained assuming that they worked seven hours for six days in the week, but what about the 60 per cent. of men who are on day wages? What would the right hon. Gentleman do for them? Is it his intention—I hope it is not—to condemn the day wage workers, who are the least paid of any, both on the surface and underground, to a minimum number of days' work and wages at the maximum hours? That is exactly what would happen if the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion was put into operation.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am suggesting an 11-day fortnight. I am not condemning the day wage worker to anything that is not applicable at the present time in those various parts of the country where an 11-day fortnight is worked. I have no doubt they make their own arrangements.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman must know that whatever his intention and desire may be, the effect of the Amendment, if accepted, would be that the day wage men would be committed to the minimum number of days' wages for the maximum number of hours' work. Therefore, it seems to me that I can say, not only on behalf of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, but on behalf of every miner in every part of this country, even including Wales, who has got the capacity to think and any knowledge of past experience, 2143 that they desire Clause 9 in this Bill to pass through this Committee as it was when it arrived here, without any sort of jiggery-pokery at all.
The permissive idea enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman should be referred to particularly. I well remember sitting on the opposite benches, listening to Members of the Conservative party telling us that the Eight Hours Act of 1926 was purely a temporary and permissive Measure, and that only where the workers agreed to accept the extended working day would the hours of labour in our mines be extended. I went to another place, to listen to a discussion on the Eight Hours Act there, and one of the Noble Lords who intervened in the Debate told their Lordships that they were merely abusing the English language when they referred to it as a permissive Act. [An HON. MEMBER: "How long are they working in Yorkshire?"] For 7½ hours a day, and if the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment were accepted by this Committee it would actually mean extending the hours of labour for the Yorkshire mine workers. I have already said that agreements exist where they work 7½ hours each day for the first five days, and invariably they have a recognised short day on Saturday for recreation purposes. Surely the right hon. Gentleman must know that if his Amendment were approved, he would grant the power to the reactionary coalowner, who has no sense of co-operation and decency—and there is more than one in various parts of the country—to take advantage of these facilities. With regard to the poor unfortunate coalowner, and the mining industry as a whole, what has the right hon. Gentleman to say when he recalls speeches from hon. Members below the Gangway in 1926, when he among the rest declared that the one solution of the problem of the mining industry was an eight hours Act? I have been reading some of these speeches during the past day or two, and in them it is declared that the one and only solution is to extend the working hours. What has been the result? The right hon. Gentleman has reminded the Committee that during 1929 our exports increased by 10,000,000 tons. Surely the right hon.
2144 Gentleman knows that it is more by an act of God than for any other single reason that we were able I increase our exports to the extent we did. Would the right hon. Gentleman suggest that there was a possibility of maintaining these increased exports next year, if the price of coal as sold at pitheads were such as to provide the mine workers with a reasonable wage, and a reasonable existence?
The right hon. Gentleman must know that the real reason for the difficulties of the mining industry is to be found in the price at which the coal has been sold for a number of years. Let him recall the figures, which are a clear indication of the position of the mining industry. In 1920 the price of coal at the pit-head was 33s. 8d. In the following years it was 25s. 6d., 17s. 6d., 18s. 2½d., 18s. 2d., 15s. 8d., 14s. 6d., 13s. 11¾d., and in 1928 12s. 21d. The bad selling of the coal is responsible, not only for whittling away the extra effort put in by the mine workers when working eight hours as compared with seven, but for reducing the wages received by the miners, whose output per man and per pit is increasing to an abnormal extent. I have been looking at the Yorkshire ascertainments for December of last year, and find that the output per person, including every man or boy working in or about the coalmines, has increased by approximately 4 cwts. per person since 1926, and at the same time their wages have decreased by several shillings a day. That is the sequel to the methods of selling employed by the mine-owners in this country. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that half an hour taken off the working day of the miner will make the difference between bankruptcy and prosperity 'Does he suggest that if you create opportunities and facilities for the mineworkers to attend a football match on Saturday afternoon, it will make the difference between prosperity and bankruptcy?
The problem is more fundamental in character than that. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the real trouble is the world capacity as compared with world demand, and the competitive scrambling for markets plus the known geological differences that apply not only county by county, but pit by pit. The 3ompetitive selling that has gone on is 2145 really responsible for the position in which we are at this moment. Therefore, Clause 9 of this Bill, which merely reduces the hours of work from eight to seven and a-half ought not to be tampered with in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman so as to make it possible to continue the eight hours in some parts of the country, while seven and a-half hours are being worked in another part of the country. Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows that, just as we have competition between country and country, we have it between county and county; we have competition also between pit and pit, and when the right hon. Gentleman refers to the question of agreements between employers' and workers' representatives, I presume that he means trade union representatives. He must know that in the nonunion collieries, such as we have in Nottingham, there would be no agreement between the owners and the men at all. The mineowners would impose their own conditions upon the men, and they would exact the maximum ounce out of any concessions that the right hon. Gentleman gave to them as the result of this Amendment.
Therefore, while discussions may have taken place in Geneva and suggestions may have emerged from all corners of the Continent through representatives of various countries, our practical experience as ex-mine workers is sufficient for us to know that we have to have no element of uncertainty at all. It must be placed on the Statute Book, because the bargaining power of the workers always determines whether they can maintain what they have or whether they can make any progress at all. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that as a result of an Act placed on the Statute Book by a Government of which he was an influential member, the power of the worker has been reduced as compared with the powers of the employers, until at this moment there would be no possible chance of real agreement, and it would be a question of enforced terms in every case if this very unfortunate Amendment were to be accepted. Therefore, I suggest, if the right hon. Gentleman desires the country as a whole to be on level terms so far as bargaining powers are concerned, to remember that the temporary Act of 2146 1926 ought to expire, as I hope that it will expire, in 1931, that this seven and a-half hours preparatory Measure ought to go through, and that it ought to apply to the country as a whole without any spread-over possibilities at all.
I hope that the very poisonous suggestion that emerges from the Amendment that miners are to be compelled, even by apparent, but very unreal agreement, to go down our coal pits, some of which are no less than 1,000 yards deep, for 8¾ hours, will not be supported by hon. Members who sit on the opposite benches. There has been some question about the ratification of the Geneva Convention. Does the right hon. Gentleman want to place hon. Members on these benches in such a position that the representatives who frequent Geneva will be able to turn round and say that a British Labour Government are responsible for a piece of legislation which enables men to go down into the bowels of the earth for 8¾ hours, while at the same time we are professing our anxiety to ratify the Convention making eight hours a maximum number for any man to work on the surface?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Was not the proposal that was made by all those countries at Geneva—which is in my right hon. Friend's Amendment—made by countries which have ratified the Washington Convention?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Yes, and if the right hon. Gentleman were to go on for a few moments, he would tell me that some countries have said that 10 hours ought to be empowered. So long as you have employers' representatives attending these conferences, they are entitled to make suggestions, and nobody would deny their right to make suggestions—
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
And if you have Governments, which are made up of coal-owners and steel owners, quite naturally they will make suggestions of that description. I am here expressly to represent the mine-workers of South Yorkshire, and I hope, in a wider sense at the moment, the miners of the federated area. I do not disagree that suggestions were made for a spread-over, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the British delegates were not supporters 2147 of it, and what they did at Geneva was to support the policy of Members who sit on these benches. I hope that the poisonous possibilities emerging from this Amendment will not be supported.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
As one of the Members who put his name to the original Amendment, I would like for a short time to be allowed to intervene. It is one of the most hopeful signs of the Committee stage of this Bill that we have been able to get on to the most controversial part of it in a spirit of admirable good temper, and, if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) will allow me, I would like to commend the spirit in which he has dealt with this Amendment. Although there are on the other side of the Committee many Members who are conversant with every detail of coal-mining, and many who from their earliest years have been below ground, and have lived all their lives in mining communities, it is quite clear that on these highly technical subjects opinions from outside are not altogether unacceptable, especially if they are given in a spirit of helpfulness. In putting my name to this Amendment, I did it in no sense of antagonism to the views of the Miners' Federation or the representatives of the miners, but I recognise that there are many ways in which you can arrange hours of labour, some of which may be unprofitable, some profitable, some humane, and some inhumane.
I have not gathered from the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley that the spread-over is condemned on the grounds of humanity. We therefore dismiss that. It is, as I understand him, subject to so much abuse under some circumstances as likely to be detrimental to the interests of the miners. If it be subjected to abuse, I think that it is otherwise accepted. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It is not acceptable, I know, to some hon. Gentlemen opposite, but the only thing to do, if it is subject to abuse, is to stop all the holes. That is what factory and mining legislation has been trying to do for generations. What we want to get at is the ground on which it is urged that this would leave the miners in a worse position than they are in now. It is in considering that that I venture 2148 to take a large view of the mining industry. I have had the pleasure of living in a community well known to my hon. Friend opposite, and I think that we come from the same birth-place. I am glad to say that I have never owned any coal, and it has not been my fate to work below ground, but I have had a great deal to do with the handling of coal, and during the whole of the time which I have spent actively in business I was as largely dependent for my livelihood on the success of the export coal trade as either miner or owner. Those who have to do with the carrying and the selling of coal abroad are able to take an equally wide view of the whole interests of the coal industry.
What is the thing that strikes those of us who are now watching with grave anxiety the conditions which are likely to be the new conditions in the British coalfields? The first thing that alarms us is that we have by no means the monopoly we had in the past in the coal markets of the world. It is not only that we are fighting competition from white power, which is reducing the demand for coal from Scandinavia and Italy, or that some countries, are doing more mining for themselves, for instance, in East India, to which we used to carry Cardiff coal, there have been opened up some new coalfields which are supplying the great coaling stations abroad, and are selling coal to railways where formerly coal from the north country or Scotland or Wales was required in order to keep up sufficient supplies. I have seen Natal coal come into the East Indian markets and the East African markets to such an extent as to exclude Welsh coal altogether, and that is lost to us for good. In regard to the coaling stations, it has been our general experience that there has been a tendency to depend on other coal than that mined in this country to a greater and greater degree every year. That is particularly true of the present time. It may be news to some hon. Members, though I have no doubt it is well known on the benches opposite, that the Russian exporters of coal are one of the most severe competitors we now have in Mediterranean markets. Only a few days ago my own firm was offered a very large contract for the carriage of coal from Mariapol to markets in the Mediterranean, and, 2149 still more remarkable, for the carriage of anthracite coal right across the Atlantic for sales already made in Baltimore and elsewhere. In these circumstances, I think we are bound to regard our hold on the coal markets of the world as more precarious than in the past.
The hon. Member for Don Valley made reference to the large increase in our export trade last year being dependent upon an act of God. It is quite true. Very large numbers of people in every quarter of the coal trade thanked God last year for the severe frost on the Continent. It was the freezing up of Danzig that really gave a shove off to the prosperity—the modified prosperity—which has come over the coal trade. [Interruption.] In Scandinavia they did, because they got British coal, which is better than Polish. I only mention that as one of the sporadic aids we had; but we cannot count on that again. Here we are now in a comparatively mild spell, and it is doubtful whether the demand of Northern Europe is going to rise to what it was last year. If the export trade goes down you may depend upon it that the whole coal trade will be depressed. The depression is not restricted to any one district; gradually the indirect effects spread right through Great Britain. With that prospect before us—the chances of our losing some of our markets, and new competitors coming into the field—we have to win our way into those coaling stations and elsewhere purely on our merits. Our merits are two, first, that we supply good coal vended by merchants who honestly tell the truth, and sell 20 cwts. to the ton. It is because that is the general reputation of our exporters that we are able to hold our own. In the second place, we must sell at a low enough price. One thing in the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley with which I disagree is that the low average price of 12s. odd last year had to do with bad selling. Believe me, those who sell coal get every penny they can for it. It may be bad selling, but it is not generous selling. It is the opportunity which the consumer has of going elsewhere that keeps those who vend coal in check.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must know that the internal competition has reduced prices to 2150 the public, and that those very low prices are responsible for the loss of earnings by the miners and a loss of profits by the coalowners.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I will not attempt to contradict what has been said by the hon. Member with regard to coal sold inland, but in regard to coal sold abroad our merchants get as much as they possibly can for it; if their prices had been higher they would not have got the markets back. It was because their prices were so abnormally low last year that they were able to regain those markets, and they were naturally assisted in making those low quotations by the fact that their working costs are low. The lowering of working costs has had a bad effect upon the miners, it was bound to have, and in the mass they have had reduced remuneration; but the fact remains that the low price of coal has been one of the means by which we have held some markets and regained others. I do not wish to see the process of last year repeated over and over again. I do not want to see the regaining of our foreign coal trade directly dependent upon the low remuneration of labour.
There are other ways of dealing with that problem. There are some people who believe that by an arrangement of quotas and selling prices such as are defined in Part I of the Bill they will be able to secure for the coal trade the full advantages of higher prices and the elimination of that cut-throat competition to which reference has been made. I must honestly say that I do not like either the quota or selling arrangements; I think that if anything is open to abuse they are open to abuse; but it may be they are the only means by which you can secure to the coal trade the full value of its coal, the only means by which the coal trade will be able to afford to offer 7½ hours instead of 8—I express no opinion upon that at this moment; but I say they are both undesirable. A third alternative has been suggested, namely, that of compulsory amalgamations. What I have seen of compulsory amalgamations does not make me enthusiastic about it. It may be that some amalgamations will tend to a reduction of overhead costs.
On a point of Order. The right hon. Gentleman is always very interesting in his speeches, but I am 2151 wondering whether subsequent speakers will be allowed to have the same latitude. The Amendment before us deals with hours.
It was understood that this Debate should take a rather broad line, and I understand that indirectly every argument of the right hon. Gentleman has a bearing on the question of hours and their bearing upon the industry.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I was mentioning the ways, I hope at not too great length, by which the coal trade, which at the present time is in a very precarious plight, might regain its prosperity. The means that have been suggested up to the present do not seem to be adequate, and if that be so what other thing can be done? Are we to abandon the idea of reducing the hours from 8 to 7½? For my part, I am not prepared to abandon it.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
No. I say, "Cannot we secure the same advantages to the mining community by the spread as you can gain by the rigid 7½ hours?" I put that as a question to the Committee. The Committee are in a very good mood. We are discussing these things on a business basis. We are not divided on this matter on party lines at all, and I do suggest that we should not dismiss it as being merely a machination of the coalowners' associations, but as one which is well worthy of a discussion on which we can arrive at a decision on its merits. I do not think we ought to abandon altogether the idea of international agreement. The right hon. Gentleman has done great service abroad and has been commended, and well commended, for what he has done, and if we are to arrive at international agreement that may be one of the ways of meeting international competition. I would far rather see international agreement with regard to working hours than cartels in the coal trade. But if we are to reach international agreement let us give the right hon. Gentleman a certain amount of elasticity. By that means he may quite possibly, and I hope he will, succeed before his time is over in reaching an international agreement which will 2152 be of advantage not only to his own country but to every country engaged in coal mining. If that can be done, I believe we can turn the corner of this very dangerous crisis and give to the mining community what they need and what they deserve, and we can also provide for those in the coal industry who are engaged in organising, capitalising and selling coal conditions under which they will be able to regain the markets we have lost and to hold those we have won.
§ Captain PEAKE
It is with considerable trepidation that I rise to support this Amendment, because I am fully aware that there are many Members on the benches opposite who have a far closer knowledge of the interior of the mines and of the working conditions in the mines than probably any of us on this side of the House. It is perfectly clear what the effect of the principal Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) would be. It would give, the alternative of opening the mines for a working day of 7½ hours on 12 days in the fortnight, that is to say, a permissive statutory working time of 90 hours in the fortnight, or, in districts where the owners and the men agreed to it, working 11 shifts of 8 hours apiece in the fortnight, making the actual statutory hours for the fortnight 88. This Amendment therefore does not inflict upon the mining community longer hours over the fortnight than are provided in the Bill. In fact, it suggests shorter hours for the fortnight.
In addition to the two hours shorter which would be worked under the system of 11 shifts in the fortnight instead of 12 there is to be taken into consideration the winding time saved by the fact that the miner would descend the pits on 11 occasions only instead of 12. Those who have been down pits know that not the least irksome part of the miner's day is that spent in travelling underground from the pit bottom to the face. It is all right in some of the collieries which my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) represents, modern collieries with a 7-foot seam and steel arched roads, but in some of the older pits—some in Yorkshire and some in other districts—it is a very irksome proceeding. Seeing that the average 2153 travelling time throughout the country has been calculated at as much as If hours per day—I know the Miners' Federation do not agree with that figure, but that is the figure which was produced by this country's representatives to the International Labour Office—it seems to me that if you can arrive at fewer shifts in the fortnight, and you can save that amount of travelling time underground, it might be in the interests of the coal mining industry. The hon. Member for Don Valley referred to the agreement for short Saturdays. The short Saturday is not universal in Great Britain, and I do not believe there is any short Saturday in Scotland. In Yorkshire, there is a short Saturday, but it is not the same in West Yorkshire as it is in South Yorkshire. In South Wales, they have a short Saturday at the present time. It is true that in South Wales at one time they had a short Saturday, and it was taken away after one of the many stoppages.
This Bill can give no guarantee at all that those short Saturdays will be retained if this Measure passes into law as it stands. This Bill cannot give any such guarantee, but the proposal of a 90-hour fortnight guarantees in the districts where eight hours is worked either one Saturday completely free in every fortnight, or a short Saturday in every week of the year. I should have thought that the short Saturday was a thing which the miner would very much appreciate because he is very fond of watching a game of football. I am sure the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Potts) will agree that a short Saturday or even a complete Saturday off, in the Barnsley district would be of great assistance in enabling the Barnsley miners to see the home football matches. This Bill gives no guarantee that that practice is going to continue.
My view has always been that the real grievance, the big grievance, of the mining community is that there is no assured regularity of work. If you could give the miner a regular week you would go a very long way towards satisfying him. After a regular week I think the next thing the miner would like most would be an increase in wages. After the miner had got a regular week and an increase in wages, the third thing he would like would be a reduction in his 2154 working day. Hon. Members opposite cannot promise the miner a more regular working week or an increase in wages, and they have consequently taking the third alternative of proposing a shorter working day.
I am not at one with all my hon. Friends who sit on these benches in thinking that Part I of this Bill is wholly bad. I believe that a scientifically operated quota system, a transferable quota system, is the only way, and it is better than compulsory amalgamation, concentrating production of coal at places where the production is most economic. I believe that Part 1 of the Bill may do something to effect economy in the cost of getting coal. Therefore, there is a hope, a real hope, that, if we do not have a big increase in the cost of raising coal by the alterations which this Bill proposes in hours, of a rise in wages for the men, because, just as you effect economy and concentrate production at the better pits, you will get an increase in net profits, and on the wages ascertainment system you will see a rise in wages. You will also get a more regular working week under the transferable quota.
I want to say a word or two about the effect of this proposal on the cost of production. We were assured by the President of the Board of Trade in his speech on the Second Reading of this Bill that a 7½-hour day would have the effect of increasing the cost of raising coal. The right hon. Gentleman is always very fair in the use of his figures, but I think he made that figure a little on the high side. You can say that in Scotland, where a large proportion of the coal is machine-got, it will add to the cost of producing coal; but I do not believe that in South Wales the figure will be quite so high as the President of the Board of Trade put it. It will not add more than 1s. a ton to the cost of raising coal in South Wales. If we look at the statistical summary for September, we see certain figures showing what are called debits and credits in the various coal mining districts. The unfortunate part about the proposal in the Bill is that the districts where the increased cost of production is going to be heavy are the districts which at the present time are doing the worst in the coal trade. Take Scotland for the quarter ending September, 1920, and you 2155 find that there is a debit of 2½d. per ton. South Wales shows a debit of just over 2½d. per ton, and practically all the other districts show a fraction of a penny credit per ton. During the Second Reading Debate on this Measure, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) took up some time dealing with the accuracy of those figures, and he said that the big losses shown for the last three years were suspected by him to have been manipulated. I suppose there is no better judge of that than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but I do not think, in making that statement, he did justice to the two firms of eminent accountants whose business it was to get out the figures.
§ Captain PEAKE
I have been quoting from an official document published by a Government Department dealing with the coal trade. My point in reference to this statistical summary is that not only does it show debits and credits, and the figures of profits and loss over the coal trade as a whole, but it certainly shows that those figures are not in favour of the coalowners, because the summary contains no figures of any sort or kind of amortisation or for writing off the capital invested in the mines which are wasting assets. If anything, these figures under-estimate rather than over-estimate the losses which the coal trade has incurred during the last four years. This increase in the cost of production can only be met as far as I can see in two or three different ways. It may go on the price of coal. Nobody wants to see an increase in the price of coal, and I do not believe that any great increase in the price of coal is practical politics. I believe that if you put up the price of exported coal by one shilling per ton a very great deal of the trade will be lost altogether. The second way of meeting an increase in the cost of production would be by a reduction of wages, 2156 and, in my view, that is unthinkable, and should be avoided at all costs. I cannot see any way of meeting the increase in the cost of production which will fail to throw men out of work in the coal industry. If you increase the cost of production of coal in Scotland by 1s. 6d. per ton, in South Wales by 1s. per ton, and in other districts proportionately, you will either throw more men out of employment or there will be a greater irregularity of work.
§ Captain PEAKE
I am not giving figures relating to an increase in price. I am giving the figures which were mentioned by the President of the Board of Trade in relation to what he considered would be the effect of this Bill on the cost of production. We all know that no industry goes on working at a loss of Is., 2s. or 3s. per ton on output. Mines close down even if 1s. 6d. per ton loss is not made up, you get a contraction of trade, and more men are thrown out of work. The hon. Member for Don Valley asked what merit this proposal of the 90-hour fortnight has over the day wage. I think it has some merit. If under the hours part of the Bill you do not add to the cost of production—and this proposal of 90-hours a fortnight would not add to the cost of production at all—if you do not add to the cost of production under Part II, if you can get concentration of output under Part I, and a reduction of costs under Part I, and if you then get rather better prices for coal, which I believe in certain cases can be obtained, there is a good prospect of a rise in the net proceeds of the industry—the divisible proceeds. That is the only way in which the day-wage men can ever obtain any increase in wages—by there being a divisible surplus on the ascertainments between the owners and the men.
I now want to say a word or two about absenteeism, because I think it has a bearing on the subject that we are discussing. The figures for absenteeism are more misunderstood by the public than any other figures in connection with the coal industry. The public do not realise on how many occasions men stay away from work because they have suffered a 2157 minor accident which they do not report. The public do not realise that a man has to be exceedingly fit physically to go into the mine every day and do a miner's work. The figures produced to the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry showed one thing very clearly about absenteeism—I am now speaking of voluntary absenteeism, as apart from any involuntary absenteeism due to sickness or other causes. So far as voluntary absenteeism is concerned, the figures showed that, on the day following the day when the wages are made up, there was a big rise in absenteeism. There is a distinct tendency, as soon as a man knows what he has made in the week, to take a day off.
It seems to me that, with a 90-hour fortnight, it might be possible to succeed in concentrating voluntary absenteeism, with which everyone sympathises. Personally, I think it is one of the marks of British character which distinguish us from the American nation in particular, that we do not work in this country to make as much money as we possibly can. We do not have to have laws in this country, as they have in Detroit, to catch men out working two shifts of eight hours in the 24. We sympathise with that voluntary absenteeism, but it, does cause great inconvenience in the organisation and working of coal mines. The absence of a number of workers of a particular class may upset the working of the mine. If, by having an idle day once a fortnight, voluntary absenteeism can be concentrated on the one day, the regularity of work in the pits and the organisation of the work will be very much facilitated. If production can be concentrated under Part I of this Bill, and if absenteeism can be concentrated under Part II, a great step forward will have been taken towards making the miner's life a happier one than it was before.
I want to say one further word, and that is that, to some extent, at any rate, this proposal has the blessing of Mr. Cook. [HON. MEMBERS: "No! "J Mr. Cook may not have been very fairly reported—I do not take in the Government organ—but, in the "Times," Mr. Cook was reported as having said that he felt strongly upon the subject of coming to an agreement with the owners on the question of a 45-hour week or a 90- 2158 hour fortnight. If he did not say that, we should be very pleased to hear, from some hon. Member who is going to speak, what Mr. Cook did say and what his views are.
§ Captain PEAKE
Then I should have liked to see some public denial, or something written to the "Times" to say that he had been misrepresented or misreported.
§ Captain PEAKE
In conclusion, I want to urge that this question should not be considered in a partisan spirit. The atmosphere of the Debate has been very reasonable. I feel that, if one could ask a great many of the miners personally what they felt on this question, they would be perfectly prepared to come to an agreement upon it, and I am very pleased that I have had this opportunity of putting forward what I know to be the view, at any rate, of some miners in this country.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I think it may be as well if, as a first word, I make it clear, with regard to the closing remarks of the last speaker, in which he referred to Mr. Cook as being sympathetic towards, or supporting, the proposal that has been made by the Opposition, that the miners' Members in this House, and the whole of the officials of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, are unflinching and uncompromising in their opposition to this proposal. In making that statement, I have not the remotest doubt that I am voicing the sentiments—
§ Whereupon, the GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD leing come with a Message, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair.
§ MR. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.