HC Deb 07 July 1931 vol 254 cc1933-5

The following Amendment stood upon, the Order Paper in the name of Major COLVILLE:

In page 1, line 11, at the end, to add the words: Provided that, if an application, by agreement between representative organisations of the owners and the workers employed in or about the coal mines in any district, is made to the Board of Trade in that behalf, the Board of Trade shall make an order, which shall become effective forthwith, that the substitution of the words 'half an hour' for the words 'one hour' in the said Section three of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, shall not apply as respects any mine in such district at which the daily hours below ground on an average taken over the twelve weekdays in any fortnight do not exceed the daily hours permissible under this Section.


This Amendment is outside the Title and scope of the Bill, and I must therefore rule it out of order.


I appreciate that the test whether this Amendment is in order or not is the Title, but, if you would be so good as to look at the last three lines of the Title, you will find that the last matter dealt with is: to provide for the maintenance during the period aforesaid of minimum percentage additions to basis rates of wages and of subsistence rates of wages. I would like to put before you for your consideration that the object of this Amendment is to try in districts where there are not wage arrangements in terms of the Bill, that is to say, such a district as Scotland, to make provision for the maintenance of the minimum percentage additions. I submit that there is no other way except by the method suggested in the Amendment by which this can be done in districts where arrangements are not already made in terms of the Bill.


Because an Amendment is not within the Title of the Bill, it does not necessarily follow that it is out of order, because the Title of a Bill can be amended to include something that is germane to the subject matter of the Bill. But the object and purpose of this Bill is clearly to restrict the extension to half-an-hour a day, that is to seven and a-half hours. This Amendment would permit an extension beyond the seven and a-half hours for an unlimited number of days. Consequently, it is outside the scope of the Bill, quite apart from the Title.


In the Title of the Bill it is also stated that the object is to maintain the present rates of wages, and the only method of doing that in Scotland is to move this Amendment in order to work a spread-over arrangement.


That is purely argumentative. The Title and purpose of the Bill definitely restricts the extension to half-an-hour a day, The Amendment would negative that, and on that ground I must rule it out of order.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

4.0 p.m.


Those who remember the passage of previous Bills of this character will remember that this extra half-hour was considered by mining Members as an abominable imposition on the miners. I do not think that the Government are justified in coming to the House of Commons this afternoon and asking the House to force an extra half-hour a day upon these miners unless any real reason is given for the decision. I know that we had a series of excuses given by the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon, and for that reason we were compelled at the time to give a Second Reading to the Bill. But, on the Committee stage of any Bill, it is open to any Member to go closely into the details, and when I remember some of the things which have been said about Conservative Members and Conservative candidates on platforms in this country for voting 7½ hours, and when I see the Government themselves this afternoon asking the House to vote the 7½ hours, we have a right to demand from the Government the fullest explanation to justify a Measure in regard to which, not very long ago, we were abused up and down the country, as well as in the House of Commons. The vast majority of the Conservative party will agree with me when I say that we do not wish to see long hours in industry. We do not desire to see miners work long hours underground, and on an occasion when you are using this opportunity to extend the hours of work once again, it is only right that at least one Member of my party should say that we realise that this extension of hours is brought about by the utter impossibility at the present time of doing anything better for the men concerned. I hope the time will come when, by the Geneva Conference, you will be able to better that position.

It is a pity that this particular point has not been explained more adequately by the Government. I can understand why two or three Members of the Government who are present are looking so ashamed in this matter, because they must be having considerable difficulty with their conscience to reconcile their present position with what they said in the past. The Prime Minister avails himself, as he invariably does, of the first opportunity for absenting himself from the House, because if there is any Member of this House who is strongly and definitely pledged on this matter, it is the Prime Minister. I have no intention of voting against the Clause, but I have every intention of pointing out, whenever there is an opportunity—of course, never repeating myself—that, so far as I am concerned, I think that it is a remarkable commentary on the position of the Government that they have to come back to this 7½ hours.