§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Mr. ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the purpose of any Act of the present Session (hereinafter referred to as 'the said Act') to provide for regulating and facilitating the production, supply, and said of coal by owners of coal mines, for the temporary amendment of Section three of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, for the constitution and functions of a Coal Mines National industrial Board, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of any expenses incurred by the Board of Trade in paying—
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. William Graham)
In asking for the approval of the Committee for this Financial Resolution dealing with the Coal Mines Bill which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I think it is the accepted practice that on an occasion like this we should simply explain what is required in the financial provisions for the various parts of the Bill without in any way embarking on the merits of the proposal. Therefore, this afternoon, in the briefest and, I hope, clearest possible fashion, I may be allowed to give a summary of the two or three heads under which this expenditure will be incurred. The Committee will remember that in Part I of the Bill there is provision for setting up district schemes regulating production and pithead disposal of coal, and in connection with these schemes covering the 21 wages ascertainment districts in this country there are also provisions in the Bill providing for the appointment of committees of investigation. That part of the Bill is designed to protect the interests of consumers. In the 21 districts these committees will be small, consisting of five people, including an independent chairman, a representative of the owners and a representative of the miners, and two for the consumers. In addition to the investigation committees in the 21 wages ascertainment districts, there will be a national committee corresponding to the national machinery established by the owners. So that for practical purposes we get 22 committees under that part of the Bill.
In the Second Schedule to the Bill power is taken to amalgamate the districts, and I have not the least doubt that if the provisions of Part I are substantially approved, the districts will, in fact, for this purpose be amalgamated from time to time, and the financial provision which has been made tinder this part of the legislation may be corresponding reduced. In addition to that, no one can say this afternoon to what extent the work of these committees will be necessary, but the Committee will know that they are empowered to direct their attention either to the provisions of a scheme, that is, the structure of a scheme as set up by the district, or, what 891 may be very much more likely the case, any abuse or irregularity, or, as it may be regarded, injustice to the public under the scheme, which, nine times out of ten, in my opinion, would be a problem of price. So that this part of the expenditure is governed, first of all, by the number of such committees (together with the national committee) which may be necessary, the extent to which these committees will be amalgamated and the extent to which they are used; but, in substance, we think not more than say £33,000 per annum will be required for this part of the Bill.
The next part of the expenditure, and a very much smaller part, under that heading is attributable to the National Industrial Board which it is proposed to set up for the consideration of disputes arising either as regards hours of work, wages or conditions of employment in the mining industry. The Committee will observe that in terms of the Bill that Board will consist of six representatives of the owners, six representatives of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, and four representatives of consumers, two from the side of industry, the Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of British Industries, and the Confederation of Employers, two from the Trade Union Congress and the Co-operative Union, with an independent chairman. But there, again, no one can venture on an exact estimate as to the aggregate expenditure which year by year will be required. A very great deal will depend upon the number of questions remitted to such a National Industrial Board, upon the character of those questions, whether they are simple or otherwise, and involving long or short sittings, as the case may be. In any event, taking these two parts of the Bill, that is the committees of investigation, local and national, under Part I, and the National Industrial Board under Part III, provision must be made for payment of a chairman, if that be required, for subsistence and other allowances, and we have reached the conclusion, or the view, that probably £35,000 in the aggregate would adequately cover these two features of the legislation.
I now come to the other and new part of the Bill of which I have given notice in Amendments on the Paper, that is, 892 those Amendments which provide for the setting up of a body of Commissioners called the Coal Mines Re-organisation Commissioners, whose duty it will be to survey the whole field of the coal mining industry of this country and to ascertain how best amalgamations of these colliery undertakings can be approached; to prepare schemes of amalgamation, that is, on a compulsory basis, because this provides for compulsory amalgamation; to see that these undertakings are fused into a single unit or such number of units as the Commission may determine. I wish to make it perfectly clear to the Committee that these estimates which I am giving this afternoon cannot be anything more than the most intelligent forecast which we can make in a field which is largely unascertained or doubtful as to the amount of work which will be involved. Without in any way embarking upon the merits of the Bill, there does not appear to be any doubt that if this part of the legislation goes through, numerous schemes will, in fact, be promoted on a voluntary basis, and to that extent the outlay incurred by the Coal Mines Re-organisation Commission will be reduced. Then, the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission may itself take the initiative in many schemes which are carried to a certain point, and at that point the owners may be willing to agree to the proposals which are made, and expenses will tend to disappear.
There will be other cases in which compulsion will, so to speak, run its full course, and owners will exercise their right of appeal, it may be, before the Railway and Canal Commission, or even beyond that body if provision to that effect remains in this legislation. No one, of course, could place a figure upon the cost of amalgamation. There have been one or two recent amalgamations in this industry which have cost large sums of money—and if we try to take the test of other industries it is not easy to find anything which corresponds exactly to this problem—we are at a disadvantage, in a sense, in the very limited degree to which amalgamation has in fact proceeded in the coal mines of this country; but, everything considered, we believe that £250,000 will cover the remuneration of the three commissioners, subsistence and other allowances and technical and other 893 assistance, including valuers and expert help which these commissioners will require from time to time to engage. That accounts for approximately £250,000 which, if it be added to the £35,000 I have already explained, gives a total of £285,000 per annum, which is the provision forecast in the Financial Resolution which I now propose.
There remains one simple point which it is my duty, on financial grounds, to put to the Committee. Under the Mining Industry Act, 1920, which established the Mines Department, there is a limit of £250,000 per annum on the expenditure which that Department may incur. Hon. Members know that there are two classes, if not more, in our Estimates. There are the Estimates which are perfectly clear and open, which may be varied from year to year, and as to which, of course, Supplementary Estimates may be added, and there are other Estimates to which a statutory limit is attached. The Estimates of the Mines Department are in the second class, and while it is true that the actual expenditure under the Mines Department has never in fact reached the limit of £250,000, if this expenditure under the new legislation fell upon that Department, that limit would be very greatly exceeded, and it would be necessary to take powers under this legislation to provide for the removal of a limit of that kind. I am advised that the technical and correct way of doing it—and I depend on Treasury guidance in these matters—is to do it separately under this Bill. Accordingly, this expenditure is quite outside that £250,000 annual limit which is embodied in the Act of 1920, and which, for the ordinary purposes of the Mines Department, remains.
One further and minor point. A certain small part of the expenditure that is attributable to the effort of the Mines Department itself may, in fact, rest on the Mines Department Vote, but that is of no consequence this afternoon. It is merely a minor part of the outlay under this scheme. I ought also to explain that in the case of these amalgamations, the ordinary or what I would call the administrative expenditure of the Coal Mines Re-organisation Commission will be borne on public funds, but the technical and other expenses which are attributable to the inquiry as to whether 894 amalgamation is possible or desirable, and the terms on which it is to be carried out, part of that expenditure will undeniably be recoverable from the industry itself. It is perfectly true that we are now urging that these amalgamations are essential in the public interest, but full regard will be had to the rights of the parties, and they will be also in the interest of the industry itself, and there is ample precedent, of course, for amalgamated concerns in such a position to make contributions to the public outlay which the Commission may deem appropriate in the circumstances of the amalgamation which is recommended. That is a very brief, but, I trust, an adequate, summary of the Financial Resolution, without in any way getting into the merits of the Bill, which are reserved for the Committee stage, and I trust that it will command the support of the overwhelming majority of this Committee.
§ Sir PHILIP CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The right hon. Gentleman has stated very plainly to the Committee what his Resolution covers. In this Financial Resolution he is asking for a very large sum of money indeed, for an undetermined sum of money, but he is limited very strictly as regards the purposes to which that unlimited sum of money can be applied. Before I come to the merits of what he proposes to spend his money on, I wish to raise a point which is of crucial importance to our discussion of this Bill in Committee. I am advised that if the House passes this Financial Resolution in the form in which the right hon. Gentleman has presented it to us to-day, we shall be precluded in Committee on the Bill from moving any Amendments which involve, any sort of public charge not coming within the precise terms of the Resolution—that, I know is the rule of this House—and that I am equally precluded by the rules of the House from moving an Amendment to this Resolution. I cannot move art Amendment which would involve any extra charge; that can be done only by the Government.
I want to put this very plainly to the Government, and I believe it will command assent in all quarters of the House. Whatever may be said as to the merits of the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman said on the last occasion whatever 895 he could say for it, it must be agreed that its reception in the House and in the country has been such as to make it plain that it will be necessary, if it is ever to become law, for it to receive very drastic amendment in Committed The very fact that the Bill is drafted in a way which makes it difficult to reshape it into a workmanlike form makes it all the more important that in Committee we should have free and full facilities to make whatever Amendments are possible within the scope of the Bill. Therefore, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give this assurance to the House: that he will recast the Financial Resolution which he is proposing to-day in such a form that any of us in any part of the House may be able, within the scope of order, to move any Amendment to the Bill which we think desirable. If he is not prepared to do that, then certainly we must vote against this Resolution. During the last Debate he said very frankly to the House, and I think the Prime Minister repeated it, that he invited the fullest criticism of the Bill; that if the House wished to remodel the Bill it would be open to the House to do so. But unless we have a Financial Resolution which gives us the power to remodel the Bill, then that invitation is useless, and by the Financial Resolution which is being proposed to-day, so far from giving us facilities, the right hon. Gentleman is muzzling our Debate; because it would have been even better if he had—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid it would only be in order to ask the Government to withdraw the Resolution. They cannot remodel the Resolution.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
That is precisely the argument which I am presenting to the Committee—that this Resolution as it stands is inadequate for the purpose which this House wants; and unless I can have an undertaking from the Government that the Resolution will be withdrawn and another one substituted for it, I and my hon. Friends will most certainly vote against the Resolution. If I may respectfully say so, you, Mr. Chairman, have exactly summarised my argument.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
On a point of Order. I would like to ask whether it 896 is not competent for the Government themselves to move an Amendment—I quite realise that the Government cannot move an Amendment without withdrawing the Resolution—but I mean move an Amendment in order to make it possible to discuss in Committee any particular Amendment which may be down on the Paper. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) did not indicate the Amendment he had in his mind, but I have a suspicion of what it is. Supposing it were found impossible to discuss that Amendment when we come to it, because it was not within the terms of the Resolution, would it be competent for the Government, without committing themselves on the merits of the particular Amendment, so to amend their Resolution as to enable the Committee to discuss it?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Resolution before the Committee has received the King's Recommendation, and I think we are barred from enlarging the Resolution in the Committee to-day. I feel that the only way to meet the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman would be for the Government to withdraw the Resolution and to bring in another one.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
It may clarify matters if I say that to the best of my knowledge this Resolution is sufficiently elastic to cover a very wide Debate as regards the production and disposal of coal by owners, in the terms of the title of the Bill; but I think I can add this. If during the Committee stage—and that part of the Bill comes at a, very early stage—it were found that discussion were being restricted, I am very willing to consider recommitting the Resolution in order to liberate discussion. My whole object is to have a perfectly free Debate, and I can give the Committee an assurance that there will be no restriction in that matter.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said, and I take it from him that he is anxious to implement the undertaking given on Second Reading that, provided we did not go outside the scope of the Bill, we could put forward any Amendment. That is what he wishes; but with all his good will he can- 897 not override the Standing Orders of the House, and it will not rest with him to decide what we may discuss in Committee, but with the Chairman. I will indicate the type of Amendment I have in mind. I have put on the Paper an Amendment giving a right of appeal by a consumer—or an industry—who considers he is being overcharged for coal or unfairly treated in matters of the administration of the district scheme. My Amendment would set up a judicial Commission consisting of a judge, an accountant, and a man with business experience—a parallel body to the Railway and Canal Commission.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I think this is rather a serious matter. At any rate, we regard it as such. I think the right hon. Gentleman must have found from his investigations that in the country both industrial and domestic consumers are very anxious to know how these schemes may affect them. It is absolutely essential that there should be an opportunity for appeal from a district board, whose functions are undefined, whose operations are not governed by any known rule, according to this Bill, and the appeal should be to a strong, authoritative judicial tribunal, which would have the confidence of the country, and the power to make an award. We regard that as absolutely essential. Already we give this right to traders in certain disputes which arise between them and the railway companies. They can go to the Railway and Canal Commission or to the Railway Rates Tribunal in regard to matters which are defined by precise Acts of Parliament. If it be necessary to have a court of appeal in railway matters it is 10 times more necessary to have a similar judicial court of appeal where you have these undefined powers.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must rise to protect myself. I take it the right hon. Gentleman is just giving these instances as illustrations. We cannot have this point developed in subsequent speeches.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am giving it as an illustration. When I come to discuss the merits, I will confine myself precisely to what is in this Resolution. 898 It is of vital importance that we should know that this Amendment, and, it may be, other Amendments of great importance, will not be ruled out of order if we move them in Committee. Suppose that in Committee I rise to move an Amendment which obviously involves the payment of this Court—the payment of the judge and the two assessors. Within the terms of this Resolution as it is drawn I am obviously out of order and I cannot move the Amendment. I shall have to substitute for the proposed Court some existing body like the Railway and Canal Commission, which is what I do not want to do. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister has said, "I want you to be able to move an Amendment. I want you to have the greatest freedom. If I see that an Amendment of this kind has, in large measure, the support of the House, and that any section of opinion attaches importance to it, I shall be quite ready to move to recommit the Bill." But the point is that I shall not be allowed to open my argument. If the Amendment did not come within the scope of the Financial Resolution, I should be at once ruled out of order, and be told that I could not discuss it. Therefore, however willing the right hon. Gentleman might be to allow me to open my argument and deploy all my reasons I should be ruled out of order by the Chair. I have given that as an example.
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway has ideas about how the trade ought to be re-organised; I do not know what they are, but they would presumably involve large Amendments, and for ought I know they might involve some expenditure of public money. Even if somebody in the Mines Department were asked to undertake some new work, it would have to be paid for. This Resolution, however, is strictly limited to the precise objects which find themselves either in the Bill itself or in the new Clauses which the right hon. Gentleman has put down. While I appreciate the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to offer me full facilities, I cannot close with that offer until I know whether he is in a position to implement it under the Rules of the House. I submit that before we take our decision as to whether this Resolution should go through, or whether we should press the right hon. Gentleman 899 to withdraw it and to substitute a new Resolution, we must have an absolutely authoritative statement from him that he gives us an undertaking that any Amendment that we move within the scope of the Bill will not be ruled out of order. He is quite well enough acquainted with Parliamentary procedure to know that he must satisfy himself with the authorities of the House that he is in a position to give an undertaking and to implement the undertaking.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
On a point of Order. Has the right hon. Gentleman not told us already that it is quite outside the power of the President of the Board of Trade to give him that guarantee, because you are the only individual who has the right to say what Amendments will come before the Committee and what will not? Then what is the meaning of him raving on like this?
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Is it not the case that you alone, Mr. Chairman, have the power to decide what Amendments should come before the Committee and what Amendments cannot be moved. At any rate, you have relegated that power to yourself when some of us sitting on this side of the House were under discussion.
§ The CHAIRMAN
No Amendment has been moved to this Resolution, and there cannot be any Amendment moved to it of the kind suggested. Of course, that does not preclude the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) from putting forward the argument which he is using. The right hon. Gentleman is asking the President of the Board of Trade either to withdraw this Resolution or to find ways and means of making the discussion and the moving of Amendments in Committee wider and more open.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am quite sure that that is not what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) is doing. What the right hon. Gentleman is asking you to do, Mr. Chairman, is to give your Ruling on Amendments a week in advance of the proper time.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have very carefully avoided asking for the 900 Ruling of the Chair on any matter except in regard to the Resolution which is now before the House. I am now doing what I am perfectly entitled to do; that is, I am taking steps to make sure that this House, at a later stage, shall not find the full right of debate curtailed in any way. It is precisely because I fully realise that I cannot ask the Chairman whether he will rule my Amendments out of order at some future date that I am requesting from the President of the Board of Trade to give us an undertaking that he will present what is absolutely within his power, that is a financial Resolution which will not rule out any Amendments which I, or right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, desire to move. I am bound to make that request to the President of the Board of Trade because he is the only person who can give us such an undertaking.
The President of the Board of Trade has stated that this is essentially a matter of Parliamentary procedure, and the right hon. Gentleman has also told us that he wants the Committee to have an absolutely full and unfettered discussion of the Amendments on the Paper. I am submitting—and I believe I am right in my submission—that, unless the right hon. Gentleman puts down a Financial Resolution wide enough to cover the Amendments which we want to move, he will not be able to implement his undertaking, and, when the Amendments come up for discussion we shall probably be ruled out of order, and we shall not be able to move them, although the President of the Board of Trade desires that those Amendments should be discussed. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will reconsider this matter, and intervene at a later stage in order to give, on his own authority as the Minister responsible for piloting this Bill through the House, an absolute assurance that our Amendments will be in order. If he cannot give such an assurance then I ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw this Resolution, and reintroduce it in a form that will permit the moving of the Amendments which we have set down on the Order Paper.
Is it not the custom, when a Money Resolution has been passed, that all Amendments proposed in connection with the Bill which is 901 being dealt with must be in conformity with the Money Resolution. The Money Resolution covers the expenditure necessitated by the Bill, and it is not the custom of the House to alter Money Resolutions in order to allow hypothetical Amendments to be proposed by the Opposition.
§ The CHAIRMAN
When the Bill comes into Committee, I shall consider the Amendments on the Paper in their relation to the Bill before the House and the Money Resolution passed by the Committee.
Is not this discussion quite premature, and surely this Debate ought to be left until the Amendments referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) are reached on the Committee stage. That is the time for the Chairman to decide whether or not a particular Amendment comes within the scope of the Bill.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon is not out of order; he is simply pointing out that the Resolution which we' are discussing does not go far enough, and he is asking the President of the Board of Trade be withdraw this Resolution, or at any rate, to do something to alter the Resolution. No point of Order can he raised on that question.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have endeavoured not to take the President of the Board of Trade by surprise. We have our principal Amendments ready, and they have been placed on the Order Paper in order that the right hon. Gentleman may see them, and introduce his Financial Resolution accordingly. I think I have made my point clear, and I believe it is the general sense of the House, and certainly the intention of the President of the Board of Trade, that whatever is necessary to be done in this matter shall be done. The right hon. Gentleman must either withdraw this Resolution and present another Resolution, or else he must give us to-day an authoritative statement that that course will be unnecessary. I leave the matter there. Unless the President of the Board of Trade can convince us that the Amendments which we wish to move will not be cut out by the Financial Resolution which we are discussing; unless he can 902 convince us that that is the case, I ask him to withdraw this Resolution and bring in another general Resolution wide enough to include our Amendments. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do that, then there is no other possible course for me to take except to advise those sitting on these benches to vote against this Resolution. I understand that the President of the Board of Trade is just as anxious to discuss our Amendments as we are, but I wish to make my position perfectly clear.
I want to ask a few questions about the part of the Financial Resolution dealing with amalgamations. The right hon. Gentleman is taking full power to finance the Commissioners who are to promote amalgamations. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not give us a fuller explanation of his intentions in regard to that matter. When the President of the Board of Trade moved the Second Reading of the Coal Mines Bill, he gave a complete account of everything in the Bill. This proposal to promote and stimulate amalgamations forms no part of the original Bill, as it was dealt with on the Second Reading, and consequently we had no Debate on that question during the Second Reading Debate. I am quite sure that, if the new Clause dealing with amalgamations had formed part of the Bill as it was originally introduced, the right hon. Gentleman would certainly have given a full explanation of his intention and the purpose of that Clause as he did of the other Clauses which formed part of the original Measure. Consequently, we are in a difficulty to-day in this respect. If we go into Committee, or if the Committee considers the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), that the new Clauses shall be taken first, then we shall find ourselves discussing in Committee a new Clause upon which we have not had a Second Reading Debate. I know that we have had the Second Reading of the Bill, but it is very important that, some short time before we go into Committee, we ought to know exactly what is in the Minister's mind.
First of all, I want to ask who are the Commissioners to be? What type of people are to be appointed, and on what principles will the Commissioners proceed? The right hon. Gentleman said that under the Financial Resolution 903 they are to promote and assist schemes of amalgamation. I think anyone who has had much experience, either of the formation of amalgamations or the dissolving of amalgamations which have not been very successful, will agree with me when I say that there is no merit in the word "amalgamation." This is really the last thing you can generalise about, and each case has to be decided on its merits. May I put one other proposition to the President of the Board of Trade? There are quite a number of amalgamations which I think ought to take place and which would be useful, but I would lay down as a first condition that you should see that they are not promoters' amalgamations but manufacturers' or producers' amalgamations. We do not want any amalgamations in which the expenses of promotion are to be paid by an over weighted industry. That is the first cardinal principle which ought to be made perfectly clear.
My second proposition is this: An amalgamation is sound if the result of the amalgamation is to make the units amalgamated more efficient, and if the amalgamation takes place on fair terms. I am sure it would be very easy for any body of Commissioners appointed in this way to find quite a number of weak or inefficient pits which would only be too glad to be taken over and bolstered up by a strong, responsible, and efficient undertaking. If a scheme of amalgamations were to be embarked upon on a geographical basis, if you were to say, "Here is an area, and there are 12 pits in this area; let us amalgamate them all, you might be doing the worst possible service to this industry. We had something to say on the Second Reading about the quota system and the stabilising of a standard tonnage giving a vested interest to an inefficient or a weak pit, and there is a good deal to be said in support of our contention. The vested interest, the unearned and unreal value, which you may give by a standard tonnage or quota to a weak pit, is nothing to the vested interest and the new value that you would give if you took half-a-dozen weak pits that ought to go out of existence and bolstered them up by amalgamating them with a strong undertaking. That 904 would be to give a bad pit a new life and a new value which it ought not to possess.
I know something of these matters, and I am sure that there will not be wanting people with inefficient undertakings who, if they see amalgamations in the air, and see peripatetic commissioners coming and inviting amalgamations, will come forward with proposals for amalgamation with their more efficient or stronger neighbours. I should like to know that, if we give these Commissioners the finance that we are asked to give to them by this Resolution, it will be an established principle and an absolute direction to them that they are not to bolster up bad and inefficient and weak pits by amalgamating them with good pits, whose strength and service to the communnity can only be reduced if they have these liabilities thrust upon them. Then there is the proposal for compulsion. I have nothing to say against that, provided that it is used reasonably. I do not believe in wholesale compulsion where people in the industry itself do not believe in it—
On a point of Order. Are we debating the policy to be pursued by the Commissioners who are to be appointed, or are we debating the sum of money that is to be placed at the disposal of the President of the Board of Trade in order to recompense the Commissioners appointed?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER rose—
Sir P. CUNLIFFE LISTER
I am entitled to speak on the point of order. I submit that it has been the immemorial practice of the House that, if a scheme is put forward in a Financial Resolution and money is asked for for it, we are entitled to ask for an explanation and to criticise that which is the subject of the Resolution.
Further on the point of Order. May I draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that there is no scheme proposed in this Money Resolution? The scheme is in the Bill, and, consequently, when we come to the Bill, we shall discuss the matter, and not on the Money Resolution.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Money Resolution as submitted to the House suggests a certain number of Committees, and those Committees will be set up in the Bill, but, before the money is granted, the right hon. Gentleman is within his rights in asking for information as to what those Committees will be and what their duties will be. He is not entitled to lay down rules and regulations for the guidance of those Committees, but he is entitled to know what their duties will be.
I submit that that is what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. He is submitting procedure which he thinks the Commissioners, when appointed, ought to follow, and, consequently, he is discussing policy.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to be submitting to the President of the Board of Trade a proposal that these Commissioners should not be compelled to carry out any definite scheme of amalgamation, but should be left free to decide how amalgamation should take place.
My understanding, and the understanding of those around me, is quite different. We may have misunderstood, but we take it that the right hon. Gentleman is pointing out the lines along which these Commissioners must go—that they must not be permitted to carry out certain amalgamations of uneconomic pits with economic pits.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman at this stage has no right to lay down rules and regulations for the Commissioners—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to be suggesting to the President of the Board of Trade that the Commissioners should not be forced to do a particular thing.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
You have appreciated precisely, Mr. Young, the lines on which my argument was directed. I want to ask one other 906 question. As I have said, provided that compulsion is exercised in order to compel an obstructive minority to join a sound scheme on fair grounds, I do not think there are many people who would be found to object to it, but to wander outside that path would be radically unsound and unacceptable to the efficient people whom you really want to assist in this matter, and, after spending in this way £250,000 a year—which is a pretty considerable sum to ask for—the industry might be landed in an even worse state than that in which we now find it. Before we give the general sanction of a Financial Resolution to the paying out of a large amount of money to this new authority, I think we ought to know the general lines which the right hon. Gentleman has in his mind.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about one other thing, as I am not sure whether it is within the Resolution or not. Is it within the Resolution, and is it intended, that these Commissioners should have any financial powers—any powers, where amalgamations are desirable and are recommended, to arrange the finance? I take it that there is no direct power to give financial assistance, but is it intended, by the wording of the Resolution as to promoting or assisting these amalgamations, that it should be a function on the Commission to try to arrange for finance in cases of amalgamations? That is very important, because I think we shall find, when we come to consider the question of amalgamation, that you may have cases where amalgamation would be desirable if you can re-equip a pit, make new combined plant, and so on. Is it the intention that these Commissioners should have any power to try to arrange for finance in such cases?
Then I should like to ask—and I think that this also is very important—whether it is intended that the Commissioners in their work should concentrate in the first instance on those cases where, from the knowledge that there is at the Board of Trade, from negotiations which have taken place—and the right hon. Gentleman knows, and I know, that there are such negotiations—amalgamation would be very useful and ought to take place Lastly, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is power under 907 this Resolution to deal with amalgamations for purposes of sale, as distinguished from amalgamations for production. I will not go into the merits of that question now, but I am not clear whether it is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to give the Commissioners power to recommend combined selling organisations as well as combinations for production. I hope that, when the right hon. Gentleman speaks again, he will let us know whether selling combinations will be included.
Whether the action of these Commissioners be justified or not, whatever view we may ultimately take of the appointment of this Commission when it is debated, as it must be, in Committee and in the House, it is certain that the operation of such a reorganisation scheme must take a long time. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that it is much more difficult to arrange for the amalgamation of coal mines than of ordinary businesses. In the case of businesses you have a series of factories, you can see the capital, you can see the accounts, you can see what business they do, what machinery they have, and what their turnover is, and it is relatively easy to arrive at terms for the amalgamation of a number of manufacturing units. It is incomparably more difficult when you are dealing with coal mines, because you are dealing with unascertained amounts of coal below ground, and a hundred and one difficulties and contingencies.
I must rise again to a point of Order. I suggest that this is trifling with the whole question. There is nothing here about amalgamation at all—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] The whole Resolution deals with the remuneration to be paid to Commissioners who are likely to be appointed, to the Chairman of the Commission, and to other people who may be employed; but the right hon. Gentleman is debating the whole text of the Bill—he is indulging in a Second Reading speech.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
Is it not the fact that, but for this Financial Resolution, under the terms of the original Bill there could be no possible amalgamations of any kind?
§ The CHAIRMAN
As I have already said, the right hon. Gentleman is quite in order in wanting to know what the duties of these committees will be. The President of the Board of Trade spoke of powers to promote and assist amalgamation, and the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to information in relation to that matter.
Is it not the fact that the composition of the committees is described in the Bill itself?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The question put deals, not with the composition of the committees, but with the powers of the committees.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The right hon. Gentleman knows so well how complicated and difficult it is even to get a valuation of a coal undertaking, and it is, therefore, obvious that any Commission trying to promote amalgamations is going to take a long time. During that time, presumably, if the right hon. Gentleman gets his Bill, Part I will be operative, and it is, therefore, all the more important that, while this Amalgamation Commission is at work, if we are to have Part I of the Bill, we should have it in a form which will do as little damage as possible. I come back to my first point, namely, the absolute necessity of making sure that we have a Resolution which gives us full freedom of discussion. Let me draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one point in regard to an Amendment of his own. He has put down an Amendment, as a sort of alternative, I suppose, to my Amendment proposing a judicial Commission, that, where a party is dissatisfied with the ruling of a committee of investigation, there may be an appeal to an arbitrator But within this Financial Resolution, as it is at present drafted, I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman can move that Amendment at all. The arbitrator, presumably, will have to be paid, and presumably he is not going to be paid by the parties—at least, I do not think that that can be the intention of the right hon. Gentleman, because he is proposing in his Resolution that the chairman of the committee should be paid a salary by the State. The Amendment proposes a Court of Appeal from the Investigation 909 Committee, and that Court of Appeal is an arbitrator, but in his financial Resolution I think he takes no power to pay the arbitrator whom he proposes to appoint. Therefore, if my contention is right, when he wants to move the Amendment for the protection of the consumer which he has put down on the Order Paper, he will find that it is not within the terms of his own financial Resolution. I hope we need not have a fight to-day on something upon which I believe we are agreed. The right hon. Gentleman is expressing anxiety about it, but I appeal to him to make sure that he can implement that undertaking, and I believe he can only implement it by withdrawing this Resolution and introducing one comprehensive enough to carry any Amendments that may be moved.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The right hon. Gentleman, with his usual lucidity, has made quite clear to us what the monetary provisions of the Resolution will cover. I have very considerable sympathy with the appeal of the late President of the Board of Trade that it should be wide enough to admit of discussion of all germane Amendments, Amendments which do not go to the root of the Bill, but may or may not be improvements of machinery. The House ought to be free to discuss them. I express no opinion about the appointment of a judicial committee, but if there is to be a committee of that kind, I hope it will not be the Railway Commission, for many reasons which I do not wish to state. If there is a Commission, it would be very much better that it should be an ad hoc one. It would be a misfortune if, when we came to that part of the Bill, we found that the Money Resolution had been so restricted that the Chairman would be bound to rule us out of order. I think there would be a general feeling that the House had not had, I will not say a fair deal, because I know the right hon. Gentleman means to give it a fair deal—if it was not permitted to discuss fairly the way in which the Bill ought to be moulded and improved. I am very glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is quite prepared, if necessary, to take any steps, either by an amending Resolution or, if necessary, by withdrawing it for the purpose of enabling the Committee to have a full and fair discussion upon all relevant Amendments. There are two 910 ways in which the right hon. Gentleman might meet us in that respect. After we have had such a discussion as is within the rules of Order to-day, he could then say he would withdraw the Resolution and reintroduce it in a form which will cover all fair Amendments, on the understanding that, when we come to that, there will be no discussion upon it, that discussion should be confined to a discussion upon what is down on the Paper to-day and, when it was exhausted, the right hon. Gentleman should say, "I withdraw the Resolution, but it must be understood that, when the amended Resolution is moved, there will be no further discussion and it will go through by common consent, so that whatever is to be said will be said to-day." That, I think, would save a good deal of time, and it would enable the House, when it goes into Committee, to have a thorough examination of these proposals and mould them according to its wishes.
The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that, in his judgment, this Resolution will cover all the expenditure that is necessary in order to carry into effect the purpose of his Clause. When the Clause comes up for discussion, there will be, in the first instance, not a detailed discussion but a Second Reading discussion upon the Clause itself. I do not know whether he overlooked that fact. You will get a discussion on the principle, and all these issues can be raised and discussed before we enter into a detailed discussion of the Amendments. I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that, when the valuers are appointed, in his judgment their remuneration will be covered by the Resolution. I am not at all sure that the right hon. Gentleman's point about arbitrators is covered. I have looked at it very carefully. My first impression was that it was, but on going into it a little more carefully, you can hardly call an arbitrator a servant of the Commission. He ought to be the master of the Commission. He is neither a secretary, an officer, nor a servant, and it is worth the right hon. Gentleman's while to consider whether his case will be covered by the terms of the Resolution. At any rate, if he is going to withdraw it finally and put it in a form which will make it a little wider, he could certainly cover that point as well as the other. As far as valuers are concerned, I attach great importance to the Resolution permitting 911 Amendments if necessary. I am not sure that the Government Amendment will not cover it, but when we go into Committee I shall press for an independent valuation. I have great sympathy with one of the objections raised by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken to certain amalgamations. I agree with him entirely that it is vital that they should be producers' amalgamations and not promoters'. We have had a very unfortunate experience in South Wales in certain amalgamations. They have been very disastrous from a producers' point of view and also from the miners' point of view. They are generally criticised because undoubtedly there is a great deal—I do not like to use the word plunder—but a good deal of cash there which was not represented by any real asset. It is vital, when you get amalgamations, that they shall be based upon the real value of the mines.
That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's second criticism about taking over weak mines. These mines will only be taken over on their real value. There is such a thing, which valuers always take into account, as a nuisance value. They may be interfering with the working of other pits and, therefore, it may be worth the while of the other pits to pay something to get full command over their own operations, but if there are valuers appointed, there will be no danger of worthless pits being taken over and diluting, as it were, the capital of good pits and constituting a burden upon them. However, I do not propose to enter into that matter, because we shall discuss it when we come to Committee, but I agree that it is very important that we should not bolster up worthless mines, because that would not merely make amalgamation a failure but would add to the burdens and difficulties of the industry, and Heaven knows its difficulties are quite great enough now. The right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the Bill of 1926 gave a very full opportunity for voluntary schemes to be carried through and it gave a very full opportunity to the coal owners to put their house in order. They have not done so and I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has taken the step that is embodied in these Amendments on the Paper. With regard to the terms of 912 them, I will not express any opinion, but I would make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to recast the Money Resolution on the understanding that the Debate comes to an end to-day in such a form as to enable a bonâ fide Amendment—I certainly regard the Amendment referred to by the right hon. Gentleman as a bonâ fide one whatever its merits may be—to be recast in such a way as to enable the Committee to consider all Amendments of that character.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
It is rather difficult to decide on the spur of the moment with regard to the request of the two right hon. Gentlemen because of the numerous and highly technical questions that are involved. But, before approaching that, I should like to say a word or two regarding some of the questions that have been raised. The right hon. Gentleman speaking for the Official Opposition constantly alluded to Amendments within the scope of the Bill and certainly viewing the Resolution, and having regard to the Amendments, I should not have any doubt personally at this stage that the fullest and freest discussion during the Committee proceedings was possible and he is, of course, perfectly correct, as is also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in pointing out that that is our common desire. Perhaps I may first say one or two words of a general character. No one disputes that this Bill raises a very large and important question in one of the biggest and most difficult industries in the country. I have never disputed that parts of it are perhaps highly controversial and that it is of vital importance that there should be the in lest discussion of the Bill during the Committee stage, because I am firmly of the view that a Measure substantially on these lines at this time is essential to the recovery of the industry and to the legitimate protection of the men and their dependants who rely upon it. That is the spirit in which we approach the problem, and my own desire is to regard this financial Resolution as of such a kind as to facilitate discussion of Amendments of the nature the right hon. Gentleman opposite described as coming within the scope of the Bill. I rather think also that, as regards the Committees, the establishment of the National Industrial Board 913 and the duties of the new Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission, the Resolution is of a very comprehensive nature.
Before I approach a specific reply on that point I should like to say a word or two on the merits of the proposals relating to the Amalgamation Commission. During the short statement I made in introducing the Resolution, I expressly avoided the merits of that proposal because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs pointed out, there will be a full-blown Second Reading Debate, so to speak, on the Clauses dealing with the appointment of this Commission. I regarded that as the appropriate occasion on which I should tell the House, not only what was in the minds of the Government regarding the number of Commissioners to be appointed, but the kind of way in which they will go about their great task. I may so far anticipate at this stage of my reply as to say that it is our present intention to appoint three commissioners who will command confidence. This matter will be subject to reconsideration, or consideration, in this House, because I am aware that there are hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who think that the number should be five or even more. The whole object is to get speed, and, of course, accuracy and efficiency in the discharge of these duties, and it is for us together to make up our minds as to what is the best form of tribunal or body to be appointed. Plainly that body will be charged with very difficult and highly technical tasks. Personally I think that probably there should be a very able chartered accountant, a very able lawyer familiar with commercial practice, and a very able mining engineer, and that they should survey this field and take all the circumstances into consideration and see what kind of voluntary material is available—because there may be an increased amount of voluntary material—and then proceed to the more difficult task, namely, the compulsory task. It is only certain coalfields in the country which are so far ripe for the kind of study and the active work in which these men will be engaged.
I said at an earlier stage that it may be one of the results of the passage of this part of this Measure through the 914 House of Commons that schemes of that kind will be stimulated by people who want to be amalgamated on a sound voluntary basis, rather than be compelled to come into some compulsory plan. The initiative will undoubtedly be supplied by these commissioners, that is, compulsion will be inevitable for that part of it, whereas under the legislation of 1926 the initiative has to be taken by someone in the industry before the subsequent partial compulsion becomes applicable at all.
These commissioners will deal very faithfully with the large problem of the uneconomic unit. During the Second Reading discussion on the Bill I tried to explain how very difficult it was to define an uneconomic unit. A unit which might be uneconomic or unprofitable to-day, though it may be a perfectly good concern, might be transferred to some other scheme, or there might be a change in the market and other varying conditions, which altered the whole outlook. I do not think that the Committee disputes for a single moment that efficiency cannot be determined in terms of the plant, electricity, machinery, or whatever the power may be, in a particular pit or unit. We all know that very up-to-date mines are running at a loss at the moment and that what may be described as obsolete concerns are making a profit. In any event these commissioners would have to apply their minds to that and many other problems. They would have to have regard to the public interest, which is the overriding consideration. They would have to be satisfied that the proposals were fair as between the parties proposed to be amalgamated, and, of course, quite definitely to exclude the undesirable. They would have to see as far as human ingenuity could devise, that amalgamation should take place in terms of the actual power of a group of units and on a sound producer's basis and to strip their proposals of the artificial values which would very speedily undermine the whole object of this part of the Bill. Therefore, I cannot give a detailed reply to my right hon. Friend opposite on all these points because they are points plainly for the new commissioners, but during the subsequent stages I shall have to detain the House on many occasions with expositions of what is is proposed to do.
915 My right hon. Friend asked also whether it would be within the power of these commissioners to deal with schemes for the sale of coal. Within the provisions of this Bill we are dealing with the production, disposal and sale of coal by the owners of collieries. We are quite plainly not dealing with coal distribution within the sphere of the retail trade.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I did not mean that. What I meant was amalgamations of the selling organisations belonging to collieries. I did not mean amalgamations of merchants, whether wholesale or retail, but the kind of amalgamations recommended in the Report. The right hon. Gentleman knows that in the Doncaster area there are selling organisations which are not touched at all. They are combined selling organisations representing a large number of collieries each of whom is a partner in the selling organisation although they are not partners necessarily in the production of the coal. It is that kind of selling organisation.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman because I was about to say almost in the next sentence that that was what I understand to be his position. We have not before us the wholesale or retail distribution, but we are concerned with the selling of coal by owners of undertakings. We are dealing with the owners' side of the industry and the disposal of coal. I cannot pledge myself this afternoon on the Financial Resolution, and having heard the previous debate on the subject, precisely what these commissioners will do, but I would say at once that it would be contrary to our purpose if these commissioners were not given a very free hand and a very comprehensive hand to deal with anything which they regard as relevant to the more economic production of coal. And, of course, they have to have regard to the public and any other interests at stake. I think that that applies to the points regarding the uneconomic pit and the question of sale.
My right hon. Friend also asked whether their powers would extend to 916 certain points of finance in the new amalgamated undertaking. In many cases it might not be necessary, as I understand it, to raise any new capital at all. I assume, therefore, that in these cases they will not go to the market. That is why it is proposed to have a very competent financial authority in the role of a chartered accountant on a commission of this kind. That commission, with its business, financial and engineering experience, will have to indicate what, in all the circumstances, in their judgment, are the appropriate financial arrangements, subject to conditions of amalgamation which we are going to discuss during the Committee stage, and which we propose to incorporate in the appropriate part of the Bill. Therefore, there will be a very full review. I have been almost afraid up to this point to enter into the merits of the Bill which are appropriate at this stage.
I want to conclude on the strict point which the two right hon. Gentlemen put to me regarding this Financial Resolution. It would be quite easy for me to withdraw it at this stage and promise to introduce a new Financial Resolution, and I should not have a moment's hesitation in taking that course if I had doubt as to whether Amendments of the kind which have now been discussed would be out of order during the Committee stage. The Committee will forgive one personal word. In 1924, I had a good deal of pretty hard experience of Financial Resolutions, and, while it is true that the tendency has been to draw these Resolutions, and very properly, in strict terms for the protection of this House and of the country, there are Resolutions which have a good deal of elasticity. There are certain Resolutions which enable the Chairman of the Committee to permit a very wide Debate. My view at the moment is that the Amendments are covered by what is on the Paper, but, if on a review of the Amendments to which I am going to undertake to agree, there be the slightest doubt, I should immediately ask for permission to re-commit the Resolution, but in any case there will be, as far as the Government are concerned, the fullest facilities for the kind of discussion which the House desires. I would ask the House not to pass this Resolution at the 917 moment because that might bind hon. Members, but to let us report Progress and adjourn the Debate at this stage, with this understanding, that if I find that the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are fully protected, the Resolution goes through without further discussion in its present form, and that if I find that they are not fully protected I will immediately withdraw the Resolution, put another on the Paper, and all interest will be safeguarded.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am not quite sure that I understand the proposal. The proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman was quite clear. We should finish our discussion to-day on this Resolution upon which other hon. Members may like to offer some observations, and when the Committee has said all that it wishes to say at this stage on the Resolution, we should consider the adjournment of the Debate, and we should, if necessary, have another Resolution so comprehensively framed as to be passed without discussion. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that proposition, and I hope that he will not press his Motion to report Progress at this moment, because I gather that there may be further discussion desired in Committee. After the further discussion of the Resolution in Committee is finished, he then should move to report Progress, and to-morrow, or whenever the further Resolution is taken, he can give us a formal assurance that we are protected, and that if not he can give us another Resolution. On that understanding, I am completely satisfied with the undertaking which he has given.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. There is no difference between us. I simply moved to report Progress at this stage because I saw no desire on the part of hon. Members for further debate. I am bound to say that this rather surprised me because I thought there would be considerable debate. If hon. Members wish to continue, I will move to report Progress at a later stage to-night. If the ground is not completely safeguarded, I will so inform the House either to-morrow or Thursday and take the step which I have proposed if this step should be found to be required.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not oppose the withdrawal of the Motion. It was really a suggestion made very largely to facilitate business, and I think that that is the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench. It was understood that it was only after the discussion had been exhausted to-night, and everybody did anticipate that the Debate would take a very long time. I know from experience that these Debates on Money Resolutions take up a very considerable time, especially when there are contentious measures. On the whole I think that the Government were getting on rather well with the discussion here and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will permit what I thought was a Parliamentary understanding with the Government which represents them on this occasion.
On a point of Order. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was permitted to say something.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member has risen to contest the withdrawal of the Motion, there is no need for him to do so, because I am going to put the Question that I do report Progress and ask leave to sit again. There has been objection to the withdrawal of the Motion. If the hon. Member desires to argue that point, he is in order.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has said that there was a Parliamentary understanding. We understood, on this side, that the Debate should run to whatever hour of the evening was thought desirable, and should then terminate, and that whatever was in the mind of the 919 President of the Board of Trade would be put to the House. When the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs resumed his speech, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade looked round the House, hesitated, and as no hon. Member showed the slightest desire to continue the Debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] I am speaking of what happened when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs resumed his seat. Before replying, the President of the Board of Trade looked round the House, hesitated, and then rose, because no one seemed to wish to continue the Debate. Therefore, we consider that the President of the Board of Trade was not in any way desirous of showing an intention of closuring the Debate when he moved to report Progress. Even when the President of the Board of Trade resumed his seat, no one showed a desire to continue the discussion, until one of the occupants of the Front Bench opposite egged on one of their supporters to rise. If there is going to be any trifling with time, any wasting of time, we can waste it also. I would point out that there are other Measures on the Order Paper to-day. I think the guarantee given by the President of the Board of Trade is perfectly fair and frank, and one which the Committee ought to accept. When the Money Resolution comes forward and the Bill comes forward ample opportunity will be given to every hon. Member to discuss anything that he may think is relevant to the Resolution or the Bill.
Sir P. CUNUFFE-LISTER
I hope that we can carry out what we understood was the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, endorsed by the President of the Board of Trade, which I accepted. But let me make it perfectly plain, that I accepted it on the terms proposed by my right hon. Friend, that this Debate should continue until those who wish to speak have exhausted their right, and that then we should agree to a Motion to report Progress. I make it quite plain that if the Motion to report Progress is to be forced to a Division now, against the wish of the President of the Board of Trade and against the common desire, we reserve our right to speak at any length on this and any other stages of the Bill.
§ Mr. PERRY
I think there has been some little misunderstanding. Earlier in the Debate the late Secretary for Mines (Colonel Lane Fox) wished to take part in the discussion, but I think he gave way because of the conversations that were taking place in regard to procedure. It is clear that we were expecting the late Secretary of Mines to speak, and I think he waived his right while the conversations were going on.
§ Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
The reason why no one rose from this side, was that we were expecting that tile President of the Board of Trade would reply, as with his usual courtesy he did. We are in a very unusual position over this Financial Resolution because, although, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the discussion on the Reorganisation Commissioners can be more fully taken when the Clause comes up, we are asked to pass this Financial Resolution and to authorise the expenditure of a very considerable sum of money without knowing, more than the right hon. Gentleman has told us, what the functions of the Commissioners will be. Although he has given us a certain amount of information, there are certain points that I wish to raise. A sum of £250,000 a year may not seem to be an excessive sum in this House, nowadays, but before it is authorised we ought to know what are the operations which the Commissioners are intended to carry out. What powers are they to have? Are they to have power to go into a district and to force mineowners to meet them, and to discuss their affairs? Are they to have power to demand to see their books and to go into the most intimate accounts of their undertakings? If not, are they to have power to go into a district merely to appeal to coalowners, on a sort of mission to teach, for instance, gentlemen like Sir Adam Nimmo, how they ought to manage their own business? I have a very strong objection to the idea of three superior persons gong fishing about in an industry and trying to teach men who have been in the industry all their lives, how to carry on their business.
921 If this money is going to be used to facilitate or to make easier or more rapid the process of amalgamation, which was certainly facilitated by the Act of 1926, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke with some appreciation, then the money may be very much better spent; but I would point out that, under the Act of 1926, any single owner who is interested in an amalgamation can bring into court the other owners who are not prepared to agree. On the action of one single man a proposal for amalgamation can be brought into court and put into operation. Some of these proposed amalgamations may be such that nobody, apparently, has sufficient interest to take any part in them. When the right hon. Gentleman suggests that a large proportion of the £250,000 will be recoverable from the amalgamated undertakings I say that that is a most unlikely result, because a great many of the suggestions which these Commissioners are likely to make are not likely to be carried into actual amalgamation. They will be dealing with propositions which those interested in the undertakings have not found to be sufficiently attractive or remunerative to make them worth carrying out, and it is extremely likely that in regard to a large number of the amalgamations which they may suggest they may find that the court will say that they are not proposals which they can put through. Therefore, in regard to these matters, there will be no sum recoverable. In other cases where the prosperous undertakings seek to absorb their less prosperous neighbours in order to improve their joint position, there will be no sum recoverable, because those things can be done without any action or interference on the part of the Commissioners.
I should like to know what sort of need of interference and what scale of interference will be necessary before any of the £250,000 will be recoverable. What part will the Commissioners have to take in the forming of amalgamations which will entitle them to recover some of the costs? These are all matters which are of considerable interest and may make a considerable difference to the opinions of hon. Members as to the value of and the need for this Financial Resolution. As regards the question of the single arbitrator and his payment, there is apparently no provision, but I understand 922 that if the right hon. Gentleman finds that that is not covered by the Resolution, he will amend it. We are asked to authorise a sum of money for purposes which are not clearly defined and which have not been explained to us fully, in spite of the courteous intervention of the right hon. Gentleman. We have not been told about the work or the power of the Commissioners. To ask us to vote this sum, blindfold, without knowing the full operation of the Commissioners, is a very unusual procedure in this House, and it is perfectly justifiable for any hon. Member on this side or in any other part of the House to inquire as to the fuller meaning of the proposal, even before we have a Second Reading Debate on the Clause which is to be moved for the purpose of establishing the reorganisation Commissioners.
I strongly object, on principle, to the idea of roving commissioners going about, interfering with business, unless it can be clearly proved that they are going to be of substantial value and use to the community, and can fulfil a need which cannot otherwise be met. It is far better to have amalgamations on the lines of goodwill and by general agreement if we can have them. Until we know something more about the nature of the Commissioners, what they are going to do, what their powers will be, whether they are going to have strong or arbitrary powers or weak powers, so that they will be futile, it is very difficult for us to know whether it is worth voting such a large sum of money.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I apologise for intervening again, but it is my duty to make a brief reply to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that he will expect more than a brief reply on the points that he has raised. At this stage it is impossible to indicate the personnel of the Commissioners. I have already explained that they will number, in all probability, three or five, as the House may decide. There might be an eminent chartered accountant, an eminent mining engineer, and an eminent lawyer, familiar with commercial and industrial practice. These Commissioners will review the state of affairs in the coal industry of this country, as a whole, and they will then proceed to make specific proposals in particular districts. Of course, it is entirely for a Commission of that kind to 923 decide the lines on which it is going to work, but without in any way anticipating the policy it will pursue I imagine that it will look out for that kind of territory which is favourable to amalgamation, to use every voluntary scheme that came upon the scene, provided they are satisfied that it was in the public interests, that it was going to be a sound financial provision, that it was fair to all parties and did not contain those artificial and dangerous elements in its finance to which reference has been made. All these facts will be taken into account by a Commission of this kind.
It is perfectly true that we have passed from the voluntary principle contained in the Act of 1926. In that case it might be the initiative of an individual who suggests that an amalgamation is desirable, and then from that stage what I have always regarded as a modified form of compulsion could be applied. But here it is the Commissioners themselves who would initiate schemes of amalgamation, if those schemes are not suggested by the owners, and they can carry out and complete these schemes, doing their best to get the parties to agree. If the parties eventually agree then these schemes will become obligatory on all, and can be put into practice without further delay. All this is subject to a Committee analysis. If there is dissatisfaction or disagreement there is the right of appeal to the Railway and Canal Commissioners, and any further legal right of appeal which these parties may seek to exercise or enjoy. I will, of course, give a much more detailed explanation during the Committee stage, but I must point out that the suggestion for compulsory amalgamation has been pressed upon us, and, quite frankly, we had intended to incorporate it in a special Measure which would have been undertaken very soon after this Bill. Now we propose to include it in the present proposals. That is a rough outline of the position. There will be a provision, within the Financial Resolution, for the remuneration of the Chairman, or the other members of the Commission, if it is necessary, for technical and other expenses which may be necessary, and for subsistence allowances. I could not give the House a firm figure in this connection, because I do not know, 924 and no other hon. Member knows, the volume of work which will fall on these Commissioners. It will, of course, be considerably reduced if there is a fair volume of voluntary amalgamations. Beyond that I do not think I can go now, but I can reassure the right hon. Member, as I assured his leader, that there will be the fullest discussion during the Committee stage, and I will, of course, withhold no relevant information.
§ Mr. OLIVER STANLEY
I did not hear the earlier speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and I do not know whether he has dealt with this point. Is there any intention of giving these Commissioners statutory powers? Unless they have such powers they will be usable to proceed at all in cases where there are recalcitrant owners. In cases where the owners refuse they will not be able to find any basis on which amalgamation can be suggested. Is it intended during the course of the Bill to give them any such statutory powers, by which they can call for witnesses, and things of that sort?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
The hon. Member will find during the Committee stage that full provision is made for that. It would be idle to proceed unless complete information could be obtained.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I do not know how far one is entitled to go in discussing this Financial Resolution, and I do not want to branch into anything of the nature of a Second Reading speech. I shall be apt, Mr. Chairman, to take the slightest hint from you when I am transgressing. What I feel about this Financial Resolution is this. We are making a provision for unloading on this industry a number of more or less expensive officials who are to deal more or less with compulsory amalgamations. One would assume that those engaged m the industry would be the first to realise when amalgamations are likely to benefit the industry, and would themselves suggest amalgamation. One cannot imagine any third party, however distinguished the chartered accountant, the engineer—I forget the third man—may be, who can possibly come into other people's business 925 and compel them to come in. Compulsory amalgamation strikes me as an extraordinary breach of the ordinary decencies of life. Marriage is a blessed thing, but compulsory matrimony strikes me as being most offensive.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and learned Member is entitled to ask whether they are going to have these powers, but he must not discuss them now.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Thank you. I have drawn an apt illustration, and I am rather sorry I am out of order. I submit that this Financial Resolution should not be passed. It is going to throw a very serious burden on the coal trade, and it will disorganise instead of organise the industry. You may organise it with military precision; you may get it like a regiment—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and learned Member is saying the same thing over again. We are discussing the setting up of certain committees, and the hon. and learned Member is entitled to ask what their powers are, but he is not entitled to make a Second Reading speech.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
That is what I wanted to avoid. Their powers include compulsion, and I want to say that we are doing a great deal to over-burden the industry.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Having got the information, the hon. and learned Member must leave the discussion of these powers to a later stage.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Very good. I will merely say that compulsion is one of their powers. What are their other powers? Are they to be powers of persuasion or seduction, and, afterwards, is violence to be used? If that is so, I submit that you cannot do anything more injurious to a distressed trade than what is proposed here. I enter my protest against the Financial Resolution.
§ Resolved, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Mr. W. Graham.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.