§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I beg to move, in page 7, line 7, to leave out paragraph (f).
I must ask for the sympathy of hon. Members for myself, a mere back bencher, who has to rise immediately after the House has listened to three most eloquent speeches in tribute to a man whose loss the whole country is grieving to-day. I think I am expressing the feelings of every Member in the House when I say with what great pleasure we see that our friend the President of the Board of Trade is again with us. We sincerely hope that his visit to Geneva has considerably improved his health. We recognise that he may have come back with some sense of disappointment in that he was not as fully successful at Geneva as he would have liked, but possibly it will console him to know that his lack of success is very much appreciated on these benches. Although he may not know it, he has won from hon. Members on these benches not only our sincere appreciation but our personal liking.
In connection with the Amendment, the Committee will realise, perhaps with some regret, that the agricultural worm has again turned. The agricultural worm has risen, and on this occasion he is to be used as a bait to catch fish. How many of the fish will nibble at the bait is unknown. How many of the fish will be ultimately landed is unknown. I understand that after what happened last week those then landed having been returned to smooth waters a good many of the fish who nibbled then at the bait are afraid of doing so again, fearing this time that they will be consumed. However, I am merely an agricultural worm and I will leave the capturing of the fish to the expert anglers about the Gangway.
2173 This Bill is known throughout the country as the Dear Coal Bill. That stigma is undoubtedly true in relation to two proposals on the Bill; one which would have enabled a levy to be placed upon British coal to help the foreigner, and the other is the proposal which I seek to leave out to-day. It has been and is still the desire of those who sit on these benches to remove that stigma from the Bill, in the interests of the consumer. Last week the paragraph proposing the levy on British coal to help the foreigner was defeated. The Prime Minister said that that was not material, and that he would proceed with the Bill. It was not material, because what was lost on the swings in regard to the levy can be gained under the paragraph we are now discussing. This Clause states that every district scheme shall providefor the determination … of the price below which every class of coal produced in the district may not be sold or supplied.Under this paragraph, therefore, the loss of the levy can be made up, and British coal can be taxed in this country in order to subsidise the export of coal. I submit that what the Prime Minister lost last week on the swings, it is possible for him to gain this week on the roundabouts. The Committee decided last week against the first proposal to tax the Britisher for the benefit of the foreigner, and to me it is inconceivable that the Committee should not also oppose this paragraph. What has the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said on this question? Speaking in the Debate on the Second Reading, he said that the cutting down of the hours would increase the coal deficit by £25,000,000, and that that deficit was to be met either by reorganisation or by increased prices, and then he said:The Government have chosen that crude, burdensome method, easy but pernicious, of merely putting up prices.Later he said the Clause would add 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. per ton to the price charged to the domestic consumer. In another part of his speech, he said that the prices were to be fixed by the owners and that there was no protection to the consumer; and in yet another part of his speech he said:We think that the other provisions are so thoroughly vicious that we must reserve to ourselves the most complete freedom to 2174 deal with them in Committee."—[OFFCIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1929; col. 1675, Vol. 233.]I submit that the time has arrived to exercise that freedom in Committee to remove these vicious principles from this Bill, Surely the right hon. Gentleman will therefore go into the Lobby with us. If he fails to do so, we cannot but conclude that a bait has been offered that he considers of more importance than the interests of the mere agricultural worker.
What are the opinions of the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel)? He said, on the Second Reading, that the main effects of the Bill would be to raise the price of coal, and he went on to say:You are creating a coalowners' monopoly, with power to fix prices at their own will, prices which the poorest must pay."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1929; col. 1309, Vol. 233.]Again, the right hon. Gentleman took part in the Debate last week, and he then said this was the worst of many objectionable features of the Bill, and that it was a strangely inverted kind of Protection. He also said:There have been many proposals for many years all through the centuries in this House for assisting the British manufacturer to meet foreign competition. To-night is the first occasion when a Government comes to the British Parliament in order to induce it to pass a Measure which will assist the foreign manufacturer to meet British competition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1930; col. 1212, Vol. 236.]The right hon. Gentleman further described this provision as an excrescence upon the Bill, which he hoped the Committee would remove. That excrescence the Committee did remove, and it was largely due to the excellent speech made by the right hon. Gentleman himself. That excrescence is again on the Bill in this paragraph, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot but go with us into the Lobby to remove it. So much for the opinions of the right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Bench below me, but what about their backbench Members? When I put down this Amendment, it was backed by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) and also by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith). Have they changed their opinions as to the necessity of this Clause during the last two or three days? The County of Hereford is represented in this House by two 2175 Members, one in the North and the other in the South. My colleague in the South sits on the benches in front of me, and what does he say about the Bill? He said last week that the levy Clause was one of the most unfortunate provisions in a most deplorable Bill, which violated every principle of sound business, and that—
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I obey your ruling, but I was submitting that the levy Clause and this Clause had the same purpose in view. I would suggest that, as the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. F. Owen) and I both agree, it would be good for him to say that the whole county of Hereford spoke with one voice in opposing this very deplorable Bill. What did another friend of mine, who was my opponent during the Election, the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) say? He said that the Government action was thoroughly reactionary and indefensible. Sitting on the benches in front of me is usually to be found my own Member, the Gentleman who represents me in this House, the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild), and what did he say? He said that this was a bad Bill, which was brought in to make coal dearer and not cheaper. Referring to the £23,000,000 that the late Government had paid as a subsidy to the coal industry, he said:To-day the Labour Government are asking us to pay another subsidy—a more cruel subsidy than the last, because it will not fall on the shoulders of the taxpayers, but on the shoulders of those least able to pay it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1929; cols. 1334–5, Vol. 233.]
§ The CHAIRMAN
This is a Clause dealing with the determination of price. I cannot see how this question of subsidy now arises.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
The point that I desire to make is that the power given in this Clause to fix prices will give a power to charge which is equivalent to a subsidy. However, I will not proceed on that line, but I would suggest to my Member in this House, if he were here, that he should defer to my wishes—he is my Member—and vote with me. Is 2176 the Committee prepared to piss a Clause in the Bill that will make it possible to charge an increased price for the, coal consumed by the British householder in order that coal may be sold cheaper abroad? Are we prepared to pass a Clause in a Bill that will enable this country to charge the steel and iron industry a bigger price in order that the steel industry in Belgium can buy their coal cheaper and with it send their steel into this country in competition with the man at whose expense they hive obtained that cheap coal? I suggest that if that is possible, it is absolutely astounding.
The evolution of industry will be carried upon the lines of co-ordination and rationalisation or amalgamation, and whether we like it or not, I think that will take place. The smaller units in industry will combine into larger units, and they again will combine into still larger units. When that takes place in the future, the capital and the labour in those industries will be able to look after themselves, and indeed they may unite in order to get benefits for the industry itself, but who will have to pay for those benefits but the consumer? I conceive it possible that if these amalgamations increase, the time may arrive when this House will have to institute some price-fixing scheme, because I suggest that we in this House have the particular duty of representing the consumer.
It is said by some hon. Members opposite that we on these benches represent the capital of this country, and that they, on those benches, represent the labour. That is not true, but what is true is that both we and they have one particular duty to perform, and that is to see to it that the consumers are sot exploited by these amalgamations. I am confident that hon. Members opposite will agree to that point of view, because the First Lord of the Admiralty has said that one of the first acts of a Socialist Government will be to introduce a Bill to deal with prices, and that an Anti-Trust Bill was in draft. Industrial amalgamations will continue, and this present Bill is one which will accelerate amalgamations in the coal industry.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must confine himself to the Amendment 2177 and must argue for the deletion of this paragraph, without rambling over the whole Bill.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
The purpose of my Amendment was to defeat a Clause whose purpose is that of fixing prices. I submit that a price-fixing Clause should be a Clause to protect the interests of the consumers, whereas the present Clause is not one to protect the consumers from being exploited, but is one which fixes prices and will compel the exploitation of the consumers by the coal industry. Why has this Clause been introduced? It is a Clause contrary to the very principles of both the Minister and his supporters, because it is a Clause brought in by a Socialist Government to compel the capitalist coalowner to exploit the public. I submit that this Clause has been brought forward reluctantly, under pressure from the Minister's supporters representing the coal industry. It is brought forward to enable a reduction of hours to take place in the coal industry, but the British consumer and British industry will have to pay for the benefit given to the coal industry. The coal industry is not the only distressed industry in this country. There are others equally distressed, such as cotton, and iron and steel. I leave the question of the effect of this provision upon other industries to more able speakers above the Gangway, because, as I have said, I am simply an agricultural worm and I can only speak as to its effects upon the industry of agriculture. Agriculture as an industry is a large consumer of coal. The agricultural labourer is a consumer of coal, and the agricultural industry is as much depressed as the coal industry. Labour in the agricultural industry is receiving, on the average, only 30s. a week, while labour in the coal industry is receiving an average of 48s. to 50s., and it is the purpose of this provision to increase that amount. Coal is selling at several shillings per ton above the pre-War level, whereas agricultural produce is selling at many shillings a ton below the pre-War level. This Bill is brought in for the purpose of increasing the cost of coal, in order that the coalowners may, voluntarily, maintain or increase the wages of the coal workers, but in agriculture, although we have these difficulties to contend with, we are bound by Statute to pay a fixed wage.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman is going very wide of the Amendment. I am trying to be as lenient as possible, but it seems to me that while the hon. Gentleman can bring in references to the effect which the increased price might have on agriculture among other industries, he is not entitled to go into all these details about the difference between the wages of the agricultural workers and those of the mine workers.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I am simply trying to point out the difference between the agricultural industry and the coal industry in this respect.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is not in order to go into the details of the situation as it affects a particular industry to the extent to which the hon. Gentleman is doing so. Other hon. Members are interested in engineering and other industries; they might wish to use the same arguments about each of those industries, and we would thus become involved in a very extensive discussion. It is essential that the hon. Gentleman should keep to the particular provision in the Clause which he himself is moving to omit.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, during the Second Reading Debate, made reference to the difference between the agricultural industry and the coal industry, and it was that subject which I wished to develop, but I bow to your Killing, Mr. Young, and will not deal further with that matter. I submit that this is an injustice to agriculture. Agriculture has to pay its own fixed wage, and under this proposal the agriculturist will also be compelled, through the increased cost of coal, to help in paying increased wages to the coal miner, although the miner is receiving higher wages than the agriculturist can give to his own men. I submit that this part of the Bill is inequitable, unjust, pernicious and vicious, and it is for those reasons that I ask hon. Members on the Liberal benches to support me in the Lobby, and to remove this most pernicious provision from this deplorable "Dear Coal Bill."
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down described himself an an agricultural worm. What justification there is for that description I do not know, but one 2179 could make neither head nor tail of his remarks, and he certainly wriggled about a good deal in spite of the very kindly efforts made by you, Mr. Young, to keep him to his objective. I have only risen to state in a very few words that, in so far as the party with which I am associated here is concerned, we do not propose in the course of the Committee proceedings, which I believe are coming to an end to-day, to take any further part in moving or supporting Amendments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The reason has already been given in the Press. I cannot allude here to the Naval Conference—[Laughter.] I do not know why a reference to the Naval Conference should provoke laughter from hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway. As a matter of fact, I heard from one of the leaders of those hon. and merry Gentlement—at least I think he is a leader, I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—a speech, on Monday, in which he said he refrained from making certain suggestions and criticisms of a very vital character, because he was afraid of affecting the destinies of the Naval Conference, and can anyone doubt that action taken by us to-day of a hostile character would very much more prejudicially affect the fate of the Naval Conference than a speech delivered from those benches?
The reason is that, as I understand it, the fate of the Conference is hanging in the balance. It is a matter of life and death, and there is no doubt at all that any action on our part which would weaken the Government at this particular moment might have a very damaging effect upon the fate of the Conference. [Interruption.] Well, we are all acting upon our own responsibility. Hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway can act upon theirs. We are acting upon ours. We are responsible to our constituencies, and we are quite prepared to face our constituents when it is necessary, and we will take no orders from hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway. We have not been returned here to consider what is best for their political advantage, and we do not propose to do so. We shall consider what is best in the interests of the party which we are here to represent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—and, naturally, we would not belong to this 2180 party, if we did not consider that what is best in its interests, is also best in the interests of the country. [Interruption.] Of course we take that view, and so do hon. Members above the Gangway. Do not let us have any misunderstanding about it. Therefore, we have come deliberately to the conclusion which I have stated. When the Report stage is reached we shall consider what Amendments it will be necessary for us to put down in order to improve the Bill, or minimise its evils.
There were two or three points made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) which showed how thoroughly he misapprehends the attitude which we have taken up. [Interruption.] I think it would be as well if hon. Members above, the Gangway allowed us to present our own case, because, on the whole, we are fairly competent to do so. The attitude which I have taken up has always been this. First, I have always thought that the effort to limit output was the most pernicious part of the Bill. I have never concealed from the Committee, and certainly not from my party, my view that if you were going to curtail the hours of labour, you incurred a certain responsibility for facing the cost which would ensue from that course. I think I said so in the House of Commons, and I certainly said it to my hon. Friends upstairs. I objected to the quota because I thought it would increase the cost, but I am not going back upon that point. We have already put our case and we have gone to the Division Lobby upon it. But I have never doubted that, in order to meet the increased cost which would be cast upon industry as a result of the curtailment of the hours of labour, it might be necessary to have some arrangement, under proper safeguards, for the purpose of preventing any cutthroat competition in the trade. I have never concealed that from my hon. Friends and I have already told the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the negotiations which I have had with him, that that was my view.
The hon. Member for Leominster quoted certain objections as having been made by me. The first was that the Government in meeting this inevitable cost, preferred putting up the price to reorganising the industry. That objection 2181 they have removed in my judgment by bringing in very elaborate provisions for the reorganisation of the industry. The second objection which the hon. Member quoted me as making, on the Second Reading, was to an owners' council fixing prices without any protection to the consumer. Since then the right hon. Gentleman has introduced provisions to meet that particular case. The third objection—that is with regard to the export levy—the hon. Member himself admits has already gone. That it has gone is not due to the action of the right hon. Gentleman, but to the action of this Committee. So those three things have gone. The hon. Member then appealed to us to support his Amendment, but in vain is the net spread in the presence of old birds—especially when the net is so full of holes.
Those three points have been met, but I am not going to pretend that the right hon. Gentleman has met the whole of the objections that we have to this Bill—the whole of the objections entertained quite sincerely by us to these particular provisions. I am not going to say that even the action of this Committee on last Thursday, although it made a very vital change, or even the cumulative effect of both the action of the Committee and the action of the right hon. Gentleman has been to meet the whole of our objections. But I do say now, and I say it without hesitation, and after consideration and consultation with my hon. Friends, that, having regard to the present position of very important affairs, we do not feel that we ought to undertake the responsibility of defeating the Government or even putting them in a humiliating position while the Conference is hanging between life and death.
§ Sir PHILIP CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Had we not received a premonitory warning in the Press, I think the whole of the Committee except perhaps those concerned in recent conferences would have been rather surprised at the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The Naval Conference has been sitting for many months, and for nearly as many months an Amendment has been on the Order Paper which was put down originally by Members of the Liberal party. The names of Members of the Liberal party remained attached to that Amendment through all the most delicate periods in 2182 which the Naval Conference has been sitting. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he does not want us to represent his opinion of this Bill, and that he and his friends are very well able to express those opinions themselves. I quite agree, and I have been fortified in my objection to this particular provision in the Bill not least by the tremendous attacks delivered on this very provision by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). We all remember the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman on the Second Reading. He hit hard but he never hit harder than when he was attacking this particular provision. What did he say? He said:The prices which are to be fixed, who are going to fix them? [HON. MEMBERS: The owners!] Hon. Members opposite are learning their lesson very swiftly. I hope that they will pass it on to their constituencies.I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is going to pass on the new edition of his speech to his constituents. Then he went on:Price is not even mentioned. Why? I do not say that price cannot be referred to a Committee of investigation, but there is nothing in the Bill to say so. When you come to fixing the price at which you sell, and which is fixed by the owner, you are not ashamed to put in the word 'price'—arbitration—but when you come to protect the consumer you must not mention the word 'price'. Why? It would upset the owner."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1929; col. 1684, Vol. 233.]That is a pretty strong statement, but if there be a stronger, it is one made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, who said:The effect of this Bill must be a considerable rise in the price of coal. That is, indeed, as we all know, its very purpose, and I do not envy the President of the Board of Trade in his conversations with other industries—the much depressed cotton industry, for example—when he has to persuade them to acquiesce in this deliberate increase of prices; also the iron and steel industry, and perhaps the gas industry, which, in industrial centres, provides from 25 to 50 per cent. of its product for industry. I do not envy the Minister of Agriculture when he meets the farmers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1929; col. 1308, Vol. 233.]He went on to say that he did not envy Members of Parliament who are trying to do their duty to the poor, when they 2183 visit their constituencies. Then he talks about the protection of the consumer. And he said: "In this case the time is now." This is the only time when this question can be raised, but we must not protect the interests of the consumer to-day. Why? Because it will upset the Naval Conference. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman think of that before. The Conference was sitting when he led as many of his family as he could persuade to follow him into the Lobby against the quota, and all the difficulties which unfortunately face this Conference, and about which there was no mystery, faced it when the quota decision was taken 10 days ago. When the right hon. Gentleman's party voted with more success on the levy a week ago, and the Government was defeated, there was no question of the Conference or the attitude towards the Conference dividing hon. Members of the Liberal party.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is the difference between our two unions. We are united in supporting a policy in which we believe. [Interruption.] I am going to make my speech. The right hon. Gentleman's party is only united in running away from a policy to which hitherto they have been attached.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Then that means that the whole of the party above the Gangway are in favour of food taxes.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Again, I will quote the right hon. Gentleman. We are quite capable of stating our own case, and we have every intention of doing it to our constituents and to his. What a pity that the President of the Board of Trade did not know that all was going to turn on the Naval Conference. He need never have had his difficult and tortuous negotiations. All he need have done was to go to the right hon. Gentleman and appeal to his sense of patriotism and say, "The Naval Conference is 2184 sitting, of course you will foot the Bill." The right hon. Gentleman would have agreed, and the President of the Board of Trade would not have had to have his negotiations, he would not have had to make that indelicate appeal on the quota Clause to ask the Liberal party to keep their bargain. If he had only known that the Conference was the key to the Liberal conscience, he would simply have had to murmur the magic word "Conference," and the Liberal opposition would have been withdrawn. Nobody ever thought of it until a meeting took place a day or two ago. An even longer meeting of the Liberal party, while the Conference was still sitting, and while it was in difficulties—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) simply gave reasons why they would not vote against the Government at a certain stage of this Bill. That does not open the whole of this Debate to the discussion of those reasons. We are in Committee and are confined to the Amendment now moved.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am coming to the merits of the Clause, but I think the right hon. Gentleman devoted the major part of his speech to a justification of the reasons which prevented him supporting—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
As a matter of fact, I devoted only three or four sentences to it, and for the rest I dealt with the three points that were raised by the hon. Member behind me.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
It is perfectly plain to the Committee what is the real reason why we are not apparently to receive the right hon. Gentleman's support to-day. I will not follow the right hon. Gentleman's reasons further, except to say that it was much more a question of saving the unity of a party than any regard for a particular Conference at this particular moment, and what would appear to have been added is a new amalgamation provision to another party.
I will now come to the merits, or rather the demerits of this provision, which the right hon. Gentleman himself has stigmatised as thoroughly unsound, and 2185 which, in my opinion, and I think in the opinion of every Member of this side of the House, is about the worst part of this Bill. What is more, now that the Committee have passed the quota provision, the whole question of price becomes immeasurably more important. Let the Committee observe the position in which we stand. The quota has been passed; there is a power to limit production, and the only safeguard which can remain to the consumer, domestic or industrial, is some protection in the matter of price. An unlimited power to fix price by the coalowners, as is proposed in this provision, is really a more serious provision than a provision to fix a quota of production. When you come to fix a quota of production, you must obviously fix that quota by the known supply and demand, and by the known amount of stocks. No coalowners' association would dare to limit production so as to curtail supplies to a lower figure than the demand which was in sight, and indeed it must be the object of the coal-owners to produce as large an amount as they can. There certainly will be a considerable impetus to get the quota reasonably high, and for that reason I think that the provisions of the quota are really much less objectionable than this unlimited control of sale.
I am, opposed to them both. I am opposed to the quota for the reasons which I gave when we were debating them; but when we come to these restrictions of price, none of the obvious safeguards that exist under the quota can apply, and this provision as regards price is bad from both the consumers' and producers' point of view. Let me take the consumer first. Here you are setting up a statutory price ring by which every single producer is to be bound for every single ounce of coal which he produces. On what basis is the price to be fixed? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will accept an Amendment. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper asking that in fixing prices, the price fixing rings; must have regard to certain conditions, such as average profits and reasonable economies that might be expected. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether at a later stage, if he succeeds in carrying this provision, he will accept any limitations upon it, and whether he will accept any 2186 directions to the price rings as to how they are to fix their prices? At present no directions exist, and they can fix whatever prices they like. When you come to fixing prices, there is no simple test that anybody can see is applied as it is applied to production.
When you come to limit production you see what stocks there are and what the demand is, and are able to say at once whether production is being curtailed in an artificial manner, but when you come to prices, especially when all prices are being fixed in the dark by an association of coalowners, with no directions as to how they are to fix them, you cannot possibly apply any simple test of that kind. Moreover, the case of coal is more serious than that of almost any other commodity, because there is no external competition in the home market. Industry and householders alike have no alternative sources of supply open to them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Fuel Oil!"] Well, to a very small extent. [Interruption.] That does not help the case of the domestic consumer.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
But the people with whom I am more concerned are the poor people. We are all sent here by a great many more poor voters than rich voters, and it is the poor people who are taking a very great deal more interest in this Bill and in the question of price, because they can find no alternative to this source of supply. Therefore, it is more important in the case of coal than almost any other commodity that there should not be an artificial raising of prices, because in no case can we bring in coal from outside to compete with the coal produced here. There is the more reason for anxiety on the part of both industrial and domestic consumers because the foreigner will be getting coal at the world's price. He will buy in a competitive market, in a market where we shall have to sell in competition with producers abroad, and therefore the foreign buyer is automatically protected in the matter of price. Not so we; and therefore there is every expectation, even though the levy provision is cut out from the Bill, that as foreign export coal must be sold at the world price the only coal of which the price can be raised is coal 2187 for domestic or industrial consumption in this country.
Is it not plain that by far the most serious item in the Bill is that we are putting in a clause not only to limit production but to give the coalowners the right to fix prices at whatever figure they like, without any direction? I have no doubt that the paragraph in which the consumer, whether householder or industrialist, will be most interested is this paragraph (f). The acid test of whether hon. Members are going to do anything to protect consumers will be the test of how they vote on this paragraph. It will be very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to make out a case, seeing that prices are fixed in a price ring which includes every pit, whether run expensively or run cheaply. They will fix prices at the figure which will suit, I was going to say the less efficient pits, but I will say the pits which are the morn expensive to work. Of course that will happen. All the expensive pits will be asking that that should be done, and the other pits will be inclined to give way. They must come to an agreement round the table, and they will say, "We could have fixed a price lower by 1s., and still get 1s. a ton profit, but now we shall get 2s. a ton profit; and so we had better fix the price at this figure, which will give us 2s. and give our neighbours 1s." That was the experience of War-time control. My right hon. Friend had a good deal of experience of that kind of thing in the War.
§ Whereupon the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod being come, with a Message, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair.
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.