§ 3. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £14,100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."
§ Sir DENNIS HERBERT
I beg to move, to leave out "£14,100" and to insert instead thereof "£14,000."
The Minister not having risen, I take it that we are to discuss this matter without any further statement than we have received on this Vote up to the present time. That shows the difficulty that we are placed in in a case of this kind where on a Supplementary Estimate for a new Service the Minister in charge comes to the House apparently quite unacquainted with the reason for and the details of the Vote, and is unable to give the information in Committee at a time when he could be questioned about it and could speak more than once, and when other hon. Members could speak more than once. We must do the best that we can in the circumstances. So far as the salary to be paid to Sir Ernest Gowers is concerned I am not for one moment questioning that if Sir Ernest Gowers was outside the Civil Service, what one might call in the open market for work, he was fully entitled to expect for work of this kind such a salary as that which it is proposed to pay him. I know that some hon. Members opposite do not agree with that view, but that is a matter on which we can justifiably hold different opinions.
My reason for moving the Amendment is that we think not only that we need a great deal more information on this Vote but that from the information that we already have we have serious cause of complaint against the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with matters covered by this Supplementary Estimate. 1558 I make a complaint against the Secretary for the Mines Department and the Board of Trade because they have adopted a course which I hope to show is entirely contrary to that which was indicated in the debates on the Coal Mines Act and which the House was assured would be followed in regard to the Coal Reorganisation Commission. The Secretary for Mines seems to have been extremely reluctant, and I was not surprised on the whole, to give information in regard to the setting up of this Commission, and the remuneration paid to the Commissioners. When we came to this Vote in Committee the Minister stated that the Chairman of the Commission in accepting that office was giving up all pension rights, and would have no pension rights whatever. He stated that three times in the course of the Debate. He reminded me of a celebrated character in literature, the Bellman in the "Hunting of the Snark":I have said it twice, I have said it thrice,And what I say three times, is true.In the case of the Minister it was not true, and on a subsequent occasion he had to make a long statement entirely to the contrary. When that Debate came to a conclusion the Minister adopted a rather remarkable course in which, although this is a new Service, he suggested that the Committee stage of the Vote for a new Service was not the proper time on which to discuss the details of the Estimate. He made that an excuse for not giving further information which, apparently, he had not got at that time, and he finished up by, if I may say so, a very unworthy attack upon my hon. Friends on this side of the House. He said that he had no hesitation whatever in saying that the Opposition on this side was inspired by one consideration alone, our definite opposition to amalgamation. That is not true. Again, the hon. Member seems to show his likeness to that celebrated character that I mentioned, the Bellman. In effect, he says:Now that you've stated the whole of your case,More debate would be simply absurd.The rest of my speech (he explained to his men)You shall hear when I've leisure to speak it.Perhaps the Minister will not think that I am casting serious aspersions on his 1559 intelligence if I quote a few more words—He chanted in mimsiest tones,Words whose utter inanity proved his insanity,As he rattled a couple of bones.I think the words "utter inanity" is an expression fairly applicable to the way in which the hon. Member finished his speech. Let me go back to the debates on the Coal Mines Act and the Financial Resolution. In those debates the President of the Board of Trade said over and over again that the expenses of the remuneration of the Commissioners would be trifling. Let me quote his words:The remuneration of the Commissioners would probably be a comparatively small element."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1930; col. 663, Vol. 235.]And again:They are not to be full time people. …. They must be remunerated to some extent in terms of honorarium or allowance not disproportionate to what would be some moderate recognition of the work that they perform. … I have explained that to get men on full-time to give up all their other interests.…would involve a very large payment. Neither the Board of Trade nor this House nor the men themselves would want that. But I can say with perfect confidence that on a very small part—it may be so many thousands of pounds—out of the £250,000 will be attributable to this expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1930; col. 2159, Vol. 235]The amount is over £10,000. Again the President of the Board of Trade said:If we set out to get full-time Commissioners and to pay them a salary which would be reasonable.…that would be a large charge upon public funds. Quite frankly it is not intended to do anything of the kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1930; col. 2134, Vol. 235.]Therefore, during the debates on the Coal Mines Act a statement was made over and over again by the President of the Board of Trade that these Commissioners were not to be whole-time men and that their remuneration would be comparatively trifling. Now we find that the Chairman is to be a full-time official and that his remuneration is to be £7,000 per year, with travelling expenses and subsistence allowance in addition. This can scarcely be considered as trifling.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I want to be clear about this. Does the hon. Member say that over and above the £7,000 the Chair- 1560 man is to get subsistence allowance as well?
§ Sir D. HERBERT
Yes, subsistence allowance when travelling on the business of the Commission, and I take it that the work of the Commission will involve travelling and absence from London for a great part of the time in which they are engaged in their work. My complaint is that we did not get proper information or a proper opportunity of discussing this matter when the Vote was introduced in Committee. During the Debates on the Coal Mines Act an Amendment was moved suggesting that the Order appointing the Commissioners should be laid on the Table of the House so that we might have some check upon them and some certainty of knowing the terms upon which they were appointed. The President of the Board of Trade resisted that Amendment and used these words:Of course, when the actual appointment of the Commissioners is being made the names will be mentioned in reply to Any Parliamentary question." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1930; col. 2105, Vol. 235.]I stop there for a moment to point out what happened in regard to that particular subject. On the 9th of December a question was asked the Secretary for Mines as to whether he could give any information on the matter and his reply was that an announcement would be made in a few days giving the names of the Commissioners. That announcement was never made; it was never made until we came to the debate on the Committee stage of the Estimate.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Shinwell)
The hon. Member is wrong. The statement was made and the names of the Commissioners were given.
§ Sir D. HERBERT
I put that point very carefully because, although I have not been able to find the announcement, I thought that possibly it had been made; but on the 9th December it was stated that the announcement would be made in a few days. That certainly was not done before the end of the year, and I think we are entitled to know why the in- 1561 formation was not given in answer to that question on the 9th December because the Secretary for Mines in reply to a question a few days ago said that Treasury approval of the appointment of the Chairman and his remuneration was given on the 6th December, three days before. There seems to be an extraordinary reluctance on the part of the Secretary for Mines to give any information in regard to this Commission and its terms, which are so entirely different to those which we were led to expect when the matter was debated on the Coal Mines Act. Let me go on with my quotations from the President of the Board of Trade:Any hon. Member can raise a discussion on the Adjournment, and of course the administration and work of these commissioners can be raised either on the Vote of the Coal Mines Department, or on the Vote of the Board of Trade itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1930; col. 2105, Vol. 235.]And when the first Estimate of this new service comes before the Committee of this House the Secretary for Mines informs us that that is not the proper time to discuss it. I suggest that the Secretary for Mines should learn a little more about the duties of Ministers towards hon. Members of this House. Let me mention one more point upon which further information will I hope be given. With regard to the Commissioners other than the Chairman it appears from the Debate in Committee that they are to be remunerated at the rate of seven guineas a day with a minimum of 100 days. I want to know, and I think the House is entitled to know, the meaning of that 100 days. Does it mean that the Government guarantee to these gentlement that they shall be paid seven guineas a day for not less than 100 days in each year or does it mean that these gentlemen have bound themselves to give a minimum of 100 days' service to the Commission. The reasons for moving this reduction are therefore ample. There is the lack of information and the inconsistency between the promises of the Government, given during the debates on the Coal Mines Act, and their subsequent course of action, and the difficulty of obtaining any information from the Secretary for Mines in regard to what is being done.
The Commission, we understand, was not set up until some time towards the 1562 end of the year. I want the Minister to let us know the exact date from which the salary of the chairman commences, and the meetings, if any, of the Commission that have been held up to the present time, and what number of days' service have been given by the other commissioners under this arrangement by which they are remunerated at the rate of seven guineas a day. Perhaps he will also take the opportunity of telling us whether the commissioners have really done any work up to the present time. I quite realise that a Commission of this kind, when it first gets to work, must spend a certain amount of time in, so to speak, getting together the details of what they have to do, and I am not suggesting that if they were not appointed, and did not get to work until the beginning of this year, one could reasonably expect them to have effected any amalgamation up to now. But at any rate we ought to know exactly what they have done.
Let me say a few words in regard to the appointment of the chairman. It certainly seems a remarkable thing that it should have been necessary to take away from the Civil Service and from a very important post indeed a man who was eminently fitted for that post, and to put him to do this work outside the Civil Service at this large salary. The Minister will suggest, I have no doubt rightly, that he had considerable difficulty in finding a suitable man to take the position, but I am certain that if he has got—I think he has got—good men for the other commissioners, he could have got a man. There are many who could have been obtained who were quite capable of acting as chairman of such a Commission as this and who would have been willing to give their whole time to the work at a very much less salary than £7,000 a year. It is perfectly true, of course, that the man holding this position has to be free from certain interests, but there are such men all over the country, with a lifelong experience of the coat mining business in its most intricate forms, many of whom would be only too glad to have an opportunity of earning a salary of half this amount, and to my mind they would have been perfectly efficient people to wet as chairman of this Board with these other very able people upon it.
1563 It is unfortunate, in the view of some of us, that there should be this course followed, of taking away from an important post in the Civil Service one eminently fitted for that post, and putting him to do what one may rightly describe as Government business entirely outside the Civil Service. It is a case which, if it were used as a precedent and followed in many other cases, would be likely to be very upsetting to the Civil Service as a whole. I suggest that the course was unnecessary, that another chairman could have been found without robbing the Civil Service, and could have been found at a less salary, though one quite sufficient for the purpose. In view of the promises which were made to us that these commissioners would not be whole-time people and that their remuneration would be trifling, I think it is not going too far to say that the Government have a somewhat serious case to answer. Let me express the hope that the Secretary for Mines will intervene fairly early in the Debate in order to give that further information which we think ought to have been given to the House when he first introduced this Vote in Committee. In those circumstances I hope that some of my friends may be able to make such observations as occur to them on that information, which ought to be in our possession at the present time but is not.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I beg to second the Amendment.
On the last occasion when this matter was debated I moved a reduction of the Vote, and I was then accused of having moved it for the purpose of interfering with the schemes for amalgamation in the coal mining industry. I repudiate any such suggestion. I have no desire to traverse the ground traversed by the previous speaker, but I would recall that the whole House was under the impression, when the Minister spoke on the last occasion with regard to the salary paid to the chairman of the Commission, that this large salary of £7,000 a year, which I consider excessive, in view of the fact that national economy is so essential, was in fact being paid to Sir Ernest Gowers because he had surrendered certain pension rights. I do not think 1564 there is any doubt that hon. Members opposite and on this side were convinced that, although the sum was a high one, it represented compensation for something that this gentleman had given up. The Minister in the Debate pressed that point. He reiterated in his replies to questions—the questions to which he did reply—that it was because of the surrender of certain monetary rights that this high salary was being paid. It should be clearly stated that on this ground, and almost on this ground alone, he justified this high salary. I asked the Minister a specific question on the last occasion, as to whether Sir Ernest Gowers had in fact surrendered any pension rights he may have had. To that the Minister replied: "I said so." Presumably he meant "Yes." I went on to say:I would like to know whether, at the conclusion of his duties on this Commission, he will be entitled to any pension?No question could have been clearer or more specific than that. To that the Minister replied, "No." That is to say, he said quite definitely on the Floor of the House that at the conclusion of his duties on this Commission Sir Ernest Gowers would not be entitled to any pension at all. If any reinforcement were needed for that view, in a further remark on the same occasion the Minister justified the appointment and the method of the appointment by stating:Secondly, he had to forego substantial pension rights."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 26th February, 1931; cols. 2405 and 2413, Vol. 248.]If that means anything at all it means that Sir Ernest Growers lost completely and for all time any pension rights which he might have had in the Civil Service, and that it was because he had given up something to which his service entitled him that he was being compensated by this high salary. The Minister received support, as we expected he would receive it, from the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). In view of the fact that the right hon. Member for Darwen was such a whole-hearted supporter of the Minister, it seems a great pity that he has not found it possible to be in his place to-day. On the last occasion when the right hon. Gentleman made this statement, he did not have the courtesy to give way to a back bench 1565 Member who wished to ask him a question upon it. The right hon. Member for Darwen then said:My second reason is, that it seems to mo most unfair to suggest that Sir Ernest Gowers is to receive a salary of £7,000. That is, not the salary that he is receiving. He is receiving a certain salary, and he is also receiving a commuted compensation for his pension rights, which is included in his salary.Then the right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to Sir Ernest Gowers for his work and efficiency and to that tribute we would all subscribe. No one on this side is criticising Sir Ernest Gowers or saying that he is not the best man for this job or is not worth the best salary he can get. We are not for one moment criticising him. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen proceeded:He is within sight of his retiring age, and he has through his long service earned very considerable accrued pension rights. I do not know what the capital value may be of what he will sacrifice if he remains with this Commission for the remainder of his working days. When it is said that he is receiving a salary of £7,000 a year, it must be remembered that a large part of that sum has to be assigned to the fair compensation which he is fully entitled to receive for services that he has already rendered, and for pension rights already accrued."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 26th February, 1931; col. 2424, Vol. 248.]That is to say, this was to be a complete settlement in respect of anything which he was entitled to receive for services already rendered or for pension rights already accrued. During that Debate the Minister was repeatedly pressed from this side of the House to state exactly what Sir Ernest Gowers had surrendered. He was asked, I think by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), to state specifically what pension rights had been given up by Sir Ernest Gowers, but he studiously avoided giving a straight answer to a straight question. Presumably, the hon. Gentleman, as Secretary for Mines, must have known the terms of the appointment of Sir Ernest Gowers, and whether or not he had given up any rights of this character, and he could have answered that question then to the satisfaction of Members on this side of the House, though perhaps to the dissatisfaction of Members on the other side. What the Minister said on that occasion was: 1566The question of pension rights was superimposed by hon. Members opposite. It is perfectly clear that Sir Ernest Gowers, in stipulating for this salary, had in mind the loss of pension rights."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1931; col. 2432, Vol. 248.]Could anything be plainer than that? The whole burden of the Minister's speech in defence of his position was that Sir Ernest Gowers was being compensated for something which he had specifically and completely surrendered. Questions on the subject were put down by a number of hon. Members, myself included, and I was told that. I could not have an answer to my question because an opportunity would be taken of dealing with it, when the matter was debated in the House. The suggestion was made that the Debate should take place at a very late hour when it would have been difficult to secure a full discussion of the matter, but subsequently the Government made a concession to hon. Members on this side and allowed the debate to be fixed for to-day.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
While the hon. Gentleman refrained from answering these questions to which I have referred, he answered a similar question on Tuesday last, and the reason given by him for answering the question on that occasion, was that the Supplementary Estimate Report stage could not be taken until Friday, and therefore it did not seem to be a matter on which he should keep silence any longer. Now when we get the answer to the question, this is what the Minister says:If Sir Ernest Gowers, after completion of his service on the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission, were to resume employment in the Civil Service, he would be eligible on final retirement to a pension calculated with reference only to the years of his service in the Civil Service and his final Civil Service salary.But we were told that the salary was being calculated at this rate because Sir Ernest Gowers had given up those pension rights. There was nothing in the hon. Gentleman's answer on Tuesday last to show that he had foregone those rights. There was nothing to bear out his answer to the question which I put to him in the previous Debate as to 1567 whether Sir Ernest Gowers was to have any right to pension at all or not at the conclusion of his appointment. Now we find that it is not correct to say that Sir Ernest Gowers is not to have any such rights at the conclusion of his appointment. He is to receive this salary of £7,000 and he can revert to his position in the Civil Service if he so chooses. The Minister, in his reply to the question on Tuesday last, went on to say:If, during his employment as Chairman of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission he were to reach the age of 60 or to become permanently incapacitated by ill-health, Sir Ernest would be eligible under the provisions of the Superannuation Act to receive a pension related only to the period of his service in the Civil Service prior to his transfer to the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission and to the Civil Service salary he was then receiving."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March; col. 964, Vol. 249.]In plain language, the case is that Sir Ernest Gowers is receiving this appointment at this high salary and is able to revert back to his Civil Service salary, so that the argument of the Minister and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen, that he is being compensated for something which he has given up, falls to the ground. I think it a great pity that the Secretary for Mines could not have fairly and frankly given this information to the House when the subject was last discussed. Now it emerges that the hon. Gentleman considers a salary of £7,000 with travelling expenses and subsistence is a proper salary to be paid to Sir Ernest Gowers. That is a debatable point, but do not let the hon. Gentleman seek to defend his position by saying that the £7,000 is being paid because Sir Ernest Gowers is surrendering certain pension rights when in fact he is not surrendering those pension rights at all. Let the House clearly understand, in considering this matter, that the statement to the effect that pension rights were being given up, is not, in fact, correct.
§ Mr. CAPE
In listening to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, one would be inclined to think there was a certain amount of sincerity behind those speeches if one did not know the hon. Members. The hon. Member for Watford (Sir D. Herbert) complained about the Minister's statement 1568 that the Opposition was forcing this matter for reasons connected with the question of amalgamation alone. The hon. Member resents that statement, but, surely, he cannot deny that when the Coal Mines Act was going through this House the Opposition, practically to a man, voted against amalgamation. Therefore I think that anyone who assumes that it is the amalgamation provisions of that Act which has inspired hon. Members opposite in this matter, cannot be wrong. The facts lead us to that conclusion.
In regard to the appointment of Sir Ernest Growers, I am not to be persuaded by the Government or anybody else that he is the only man who could have filled this position. I do not think that the mining Members or Members generally on this side have reached that point yet because if that were so, then had there been no Sir Ernest Gowers, then there would have been no Reorganisation Commission. I think that a large number of men could be found in this country who were competent to act in this capacity. As regards the salary, if I said that I considered it fair and reasonable I would be saying something which I did not believe. I can speak as a miner as one who comes in touch with the mining community every week-end and has a great deal to do with settling disputes and preventing reductions. My time will be occupied this week-end in that way. I would be saying something untrue if I said that the salaries to be paid to the Chairman and the Commissioners were regarded by the miners as fair and reasonable. We think that these are extravagant amounts to be paid for this particular work.
If it had been simply a question of voting for or against the salary alone, I personally would have been voting against this Supplementary Estimate, but there is something deeper involved—and I want to be as frank as I can today—and that is that the Opposition probably look upon us on this side as being a bit innocent in political matters and that we shall be beguiled and persuaded to drop into their trap and vote against the Government. I want to assure them that we shall do nothing of the kind. We are making our protest in this House and to the Government, not against the personnel of the Com- 1569 mission, but against the amount that is to be paid to the Commission, but we do not intend to vote against the Government on this Supplementary Estimate. The Coal Mines Act is on the Statute Book, and every Member of this House should, I think, be a loyalist in regard to Acts passed by the House of which he is a Member. This is an Act of Parliament, and there are several parts of it of which I do not entirely approve. Some of them will not, I think, be as beneficial to us as some of my colleagues think.
I may be wrong, but nevertheless it is my business, not only as a Member of Parliament, but as one of the miner's leaders, to try to work the Act as satisfactorily as possible. It is my duty as a Member of this House to put the Act into operation as far as possible, believing it to be the will of this House; and, therefore, if we voted against this Supplementary Estimate to-day, we should be casting a vote against putting into operation one of the integral parts of that Act. The House decided by a majority that the amalgamation Clauses should be embodied in the Act, and these amalgamation Clauses will have to be put into Operation, and while I have already said that they may not be as advantageous to our men as I would like, the fact remains that there they are, and it is my duty, and the duty of every Member of this House, to do everything humanly possible to give full effect to that Act of Parliament.
It may be some consolation to hon. Members opposite and may save a good many of their speeches, if they think they are going to get the miners' Members or the Labour Members generally speaking—there will probably be an exception or two—to vote against this Estimate, to know beforehand that they will be disillusioned. In conclusion, I would urge hon. Members on this side to be guided as far as they can by the desires and wishes of the members of the mining community on this side to back the Government on this occasion and to help get this Supplementary Estimate through the House. If they do that, part of the machinery of the Coal Mines Act at any rate will be put into more active operation than can have been the case up to the present. Several questions have been asked of the Minister, and he will deal with them and probably enlighten hon. 1570 Members opposite as to what has already been done. We shall oppose the Amendment.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Speaking for myself entirely, and not in any way on behalf of my party, I say quite frankly that I shall oppose this salary. I have been consistently in favour of economy, and no one who is an economist can, in my judgment, vote for a salary of £7,000 a year for this very able official. I take the stand too, as I think the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) also took, that there are other than civil servants who could fill this position, and, if there are, they might well have been appointed. I go further, and I say quite frankly that I do not believe in civil servants managing industry in this country. I have a great admiration for Sir Ernest Gower. He is an extremely able official, but he has no knowledge whatsoever of the coal mining industry, and why therefore should he be appointed to supervise the reorganisation of the coal mines? I cannot think that in the best interests of the working of this Acct a civil servant is the ideal representative to place on this Commission.
But I want to go further than that. This salary of £7,000 a year is wholly disproportionate to the needs of the country to-day. Seven thousand pounds a year is a very large salary. When I came into the House at first we considered £1,000 a year as a fairly good civil servant's salary, but, we have been accustomed to going in for thousands a year, and we seem to vote away money without the smallest knowledge of what will be the consequence. Might I put it to the Minister in this way? Does he realise what a precipitous fall in prices there has been in the last three or four years? Does he realise that a salary of £7,000 a year to-day is worth infinitely more than it was, say, six years ago? These are matters about which we who represent the producers of the country have something to say. I represent a number of small farmers, and £7,000 a year to them is a large sum. They are workers—they are working hard—but they will have to work a very large number of years, in fact all their lives, even to be able to accumulate £7,000 at the end of their time.
If this salary were paid in wheat, I would not so much mind. Let us have it paid in produce. Six years ago, £7,000 1571 would buy 21,000 bushels of wheat; today that £7,000 will buy 42,000 bushels of wheat, which is 21,000 bushels more than six years ago. What is the justification for making this endowment of 21,000 bushels of wheat a year to this official? If you take 30 bushels per acre as an average crop, you are giving the fortunate recipient of this salary the produce of 700 acres of wheat more than he would have had six years ago. I do not think it is right. The farmers have to plough the land, sow it, harvest the corn, and thresh it, and I make a protest, on behalf of the agricultural community, that they should have to work to provide such a salary as this. I shall oppose this salary in the interests of the agriculturists. Recently I heard a gentleman bitterly condemning the reduction of wages of the agricultural workers from 30s. to 28s. a week. I sympathise with him, but we farmers are not making good profits, and apparently the Government, while acquiescing, as they have to acquiesce, in the reduction of the agricultural labourers wages, bring in an estimate to give a civil servant £7,000 a year!
I would advise the Government to withdraw this Estimate altogether. They would be well advised in their own interest. I know that if I went to face a Labour audience, I should bring this up. No one can suggest that my hon. Friend who has just spoken, and who made a very reasonable speech, is not well up in party politics, and knows his way about. In fact, there are no more acute electioneers than my hon. Friends on the other side. Many times I have been lost in admiration of them; they know every movement of the game. But, as my hon. Friend said, this is an extravagant salary, and why should we be asked to vote an extravagant salary? I would suggest something more to the Minister of Mines. If Sir Ernest Gowers is the only man who can fill this position, or if he is the most suitable man to fill this position, why was he not seconded from the Civil Service for this work? That would have saved all these large emoluments or pension rights. I put that to the Minister of Mines. I have made my protest, and I do not propose to say anything more, but I shall most certainly vote against this Supplementary Estimate.
§ 12 n.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I want to take part in this Debate in order to protest against the salary which is to be paid to a single individual. I can never get away from my working class outlook. Even after the years I have been in Parliament, I still look at things from the point of view of the working man who to-day is earning less than £3 a week. [An HON. MEMBER "Getting less."] Yes, getting less; but some of my colleagues say that I exaggerate, and, therefore, I am trying to keep within the lines. My own trade union the Amalgamated Society of Engineers are faced at the moment with a position that is threatening to wreck tens of thousands of homes in this country. There is no finer type of men mentally and physically well equipped, and they have to accept a reduction in wages from £3 a week. Yet here we have a supposed Socialist Government with a Socialist of outstanding national repute, the Minister of Mines, proposing a salary of £7,000 for an individual. I can well remember in the Glasgow Town Council the Minister of Mines causing a scene because the Moderates in the council wished to give a certain permanent official £200 a year increase, which would have made his salary £1,200 per year, and the present Minister of Mines repudiated that idea. That Glasgow municipal servant said, "Well, you have turned me down for my increase, and you can take it from me that all the service you will get will be a thousand pounds worth", and the present Minister of Mines remarked, "We will be damn well off if we get it". Why should my colleagues, when they become part and parcel of the Government of the country, change entirely their outlook? I listened patiently to the hon. Gentleman making his statement last time, to see if there was any evidence that, owing to pressure of circumstances, over which he had absolutely no control, this was the one man to solve the coal mining problem in this country. I would be prepared to go any length, I would give any man tens of thousands, if he was able to solve the problem.
I waited to see if there was to be any statement from the Secretary for Mines along these lines to show that at last the Labour Government have discovered some super-man, for, with all my experi- 1573 ence here and elsewhere, I have never met that super-man yet. I do not see that great outstanding difference betwixt the men that I worked beside in the workshop. I think of men in the Clyde, which I know best, men with executive authority, having to control thousands of workers, building the finest ships afloat, battleships included, having all the difficulties in dealing with labour, having all the technique that is necessary for carrying on a great industry like that, with all its tremendous responsibility. I have known men of that type go home at night, the children wondering what is wrong with their father, and the mother knowing there is trouble in the works over which he has control. The board of directors have asked him to extract more out of the workers. All that for a, third of the wages that the Secretary for Mines is proposing to give to this chairman, and it is not a full-time job at that; he has subsidence allowance and travelling expenses added.
These managers whom I am describing, and whom I know personally, have 8,000 men under them—and here we are asked to give this individual, who has been comfortable all his life, £7,000 a year, with subsistence allowance and travelling expenses, to organise an industry where men at the moment are cursing everything that brought them into this world and sent them into the bowels of the earth; everything is going wrong with them, and they do not know whether any moment they will be blown into fragments. That is the condition of the miners at the moment, and it is no better than it was under the Tory Government. [HON. MEMBERS "Worse!"] You may call it worse, but the miners tell me—and I travel the length and breadth of Britain, and get in touch with them and the rest of the working-classes—that their conditions to-day are no better under the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) than they were under the late Commodore King. Just fancy, here is a gentleman to assist in getting us out of the difficulty in the mining situation, and we are going to give him a, salary equal to that of the Prime Minister of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "£2,000 a year more!"] You have to remember that the Prime Minister has had a rise in his wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] 1574 Well, then, that makes my argument all the sounder. If he would not take it, the reason is that the atmosphere has been created in this country against increases in wages and salaries. The Prime Minister gets no allowances and no travelling expenses. This £7,000 is fun money, because all expenses and a subsistence allowance are to be met.
Here is a Labour Government—I am not putting it any higher than that—which came into Office with the determination to overhaul this country. They found the country in a terrible state, poverty rampant and unemployment rife in every great industrial centre. They found agriculture bankrupt, cotton bankrupt, the mining industry bankrupt, shipbuilding and engineering bankrupt, and railways, transport and all the key industries of this country up against it. That is how this Government found the situation, and they were prepared to tackle the most terrible mess that any Government had tackled in this country. The Prime Minister, the chairman of that Government, did not get £7,000 for taking on that terrible job. My own country, Scotland, that was once the land of the brave and the free, was in a deplorable condition, not only in respect of the mining industry, but of every other industry, and the present Secretary of State for Scotland took on the job of bringing comfort, contentment and prosperity to my native land. How much did he get? £2,000 a year, and if it were not for the atmosphere which has been created against increases in wages, the Government would have increased his salary, but nobody knows better than the Prime Minister that he dare not propose an increase of salary for any Cabinet Minister. Why? Did not we listen to the Chancellor of the Exchequer making that memorable speech in which he even suggested a reduction in the wages of Cabinet Ministers—and not a Cabinet Minister has £20,000 a year.
This is asking too much, even of the miners' Members. The miners' Members have been the most generous of men towards the present Government. I know from personal contact with them that, had it been left to their own personal inclinations, knowing as they do the terrible conditions under which the miners live, move and have their being, 1575 they would never have supported the Coat Mines Bill. It was because the miners believed that they would get something out of this Bill that they supported it. We on these benches protested then, and warned the miners' Members and the miners throughout the country that the Bill was not worth a snap of the fingers to them. The joiners' Members suppressed their feelings and their indignation, and they suppressed the truth, but the truth will ultimately prevail. They suppressed it because they believed that under that Bill there was no way out for the mine owners except to give the miners less hours without any reduction in wages. My dead colleague the late Member for Shettleston stood where I am standing to-day and told the miners' Members that the Bill was not worth a crack of the fingers to them, and that there was no guarantee in the Bill that it would not bring a reduction in wages.
I would like to ask the Secretary for Mines if he will tell us who it was that appointed this chairman. My immediate colleagues of the Independent Labour Party would like to know who appointed him. We want to know if it was the Secretary for Mines himself who selected him, and, further, if he was consulted about the salary or if the salary was suggested by the Treasury. I notice that there is not one representative of the Treasury on the Government Bench at the moment. We have to remember that the Treasury have indicated to employers throughout the length and breadth of the country that they, the Treasury, are in favour of reductions in wages. [Interruption.] It is not a matter of just saying it, they are putting it into operation:Facts are chiels that winna dingAn' daurna be disputed.I am not saying that the Government or the Treasury wish to reduce wages, but the fact remains that they are doing it. I would remind my hon. Friends, too, that the chairman of this Reorganisation Committee had to be appointed by a Socialist Government and by one who has always agreed with me that it is not necessary to pay large salaries in order to get the best results. Why should we go on in this way? I am perfectly satisfied that there are innumerable men in our great Labour movement who are as capable as this individual who has been appointed to the chairmanship, men with 1576 outstanding experience, men with a humane outlook, men with a Socialist outlook, which to me is the most important of all, and which ought to have been the outstanding qualification in the eyes of a Socialist Minister or a Socialist Government. Why do Ministers say when they are standing at that box that they have no bias? They were elected, we were elected, to have a bias, a class bias. Every time that class bias has been put into operation and we have put implicit trust in one of our class he has never let us down; but time and again when the working class have put their trust in the ruling class they have been let down.
I hope that never again will this Labour Government be so careless in the handling of a situation and give away £7,000 because the more thousands of pounds that are paid to men of this type the less money there is for the miners, seeing that it all has to come out of the industry. If the Government view it along those lines they will see that it is impossible to give the miners better conditions under capitalism. The present Secretary for Mines agrees with that. Where I differ from him is on this: Whenever the opportunity presents itself, and the opportunity is here to-day, the Government ought to take a step leading towards the taking over of that industry entirely, making that industry a national charge, so that they could then, irrespective of what the price for the product would be, give a guarantee to the men who are the workers—the colliers—of a comfortable life; because the commodity which they are producing is absolutely necessary to the well being of this country:
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Of all the speeches to which we have listened this morning none surprised me more than the speech of the hon. Member for South Molten (Mr. Lambert). He opposes this Vote on grounds of economy, but it may be recalled that he and his party supported the principle of amalgamation which is embodied in the Coal Mines Act, and a financial provision is contained in the Act which may involve an expenditure of £250,000 annually. It would appear to me that it is somewhat late in the day to preach economy in this connection, having regard to that decision, which no doubt the hon. Member supported. It seems to me rather trifling to quarrel 1577 about the salary of £7,000 per annum which is to be paid to the chairman of this Commission out of an expenditure of £250,000. Clearly, if £250,000 is not opposed on the ground of economy, why object to the £7,000? Hon. Members opposite have expressed objections to this Vote for other reasons, and one of those reasons is that civil servants should not be employed in managing industrial enterprises. I think it will be agreed that the present secretary of the Mining Association presumably must know something about the coal industry, and therefore hon. Members opposite have no objection in this case to a civil servant accepting employment as the secretary of the Mining Association.
Those who have stood at this Box before me have consented to the appointment of many eminent civil servants to very high positions in industry. A striking example was that of Sir Josiah Stamp, the president of the London Midland and Scottish Railway, who, I believe, receives a very high salary indeed. [An HON. MEMBER: "£15,000 a year!"] Although it is perfectly true that this House is not responsible for these industrial appointments, or for the salary which is paid, it is true that the ex-Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who spoke on the Committee stage of this vote, indicated the strongest dissent, presumably on the ground that we were paying too much to the Chairman of this Commission. I would like to remind the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel), speaking at a meeting of the London Midland and Scottish Railway shareholders the other day, spoke eloquently in support of an entirely different proposal, which seems to be that in this House small salaries are to rule, but outside anything they care to pay. I mention that fact in order to show the inconsistency and the peculiar mentality of saying one thing one day and something entirely different the next day.
I presume that that means that hon. Members opposite are opposed to the payment of a high salary, but I should like someone in a responsible position amongst the party opposite to stand up and tell this House that the official Conservative party, and even the unofficial Conservative party, is opposed to the 1578 payment of high salaries. This opposition to the payment of high salaries seems to me to be very unusual and a little belated, and those of us who sit on the Government benches never heard of it before. Under these circumstances perhaps the House will forgive me for expressing a little surprise at the speeches to which we have been compelled to listen this morning. If hon. Members opposite are opposed to the payment of high salaries, let them be frank and say so. I have been asked to be frank and let us have frankness all round. Let the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) rise and tell the House that he is opposed to high salaries and does not agree with the payment of high salaries elsewhere. [An HON MEMBER: "But he does."] Perhaps we shall hear something about this new frame of mind at a later stage.
After the speech of the hon. Member for Watford (Sir D. Herbert) with all its irrelevant literary allusions, I think we are entitled to assume that the pretentious opposition offered to this vote is founded without exception and without qualification on a distinct hostility to the amalgamation of the coal mines of this country. Perhaps we may he informed whether that is so or not. Dark hints have been thrown out within the past few days about this debate, and veiled threats have been the order of the day. Perhaps we may now be informed whether hon. Members opposite object to the appointment of Sir Ernest Growers. I am in some doubt, after listening to the speeches of the hon. Member for Watford, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman, Member for Epsom (Commander Southby), as to their attitude on this matter. The hon. Member for Watford agreed that Sir Ernest Gowers was entitled to the salary now proposed if we could justify it on the basis of the work to be undertaken.
§ Sir D. HERBERT
What I said was that I objected to the appointment of Sir Ernest Gowers because I did not think it was necessary to take away a civil servant for this job. I said that if Sir Ernest Gowers had been in the open market, and not a civil servant, and it had been decided that he was the only one who was considered to be competent and available for this appointment, under 1579 those circumstances I should say that £7,000 would not be an excessive salary, but he was not out of Civil Service employment.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
Your party stated that Sir Ernest Gowers was the best man that could be got for the job.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
If there is any difference of opinion between us on that point, I am willing to accept what the hon. Member has stated, but I would like to repeat my question—do hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that Sir Ernest Gowers is not capable of undertaking this task? Perhaps we may be informed on that point. If they do agree that Sir Ernest Gowers has such qualifications as he undoubtedly possesses—I may remind the House that he was Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, and also, if I may say so with respect to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton, was at the Mines Department for many years, and therefore is presumably acquainted with the needs of the mining industry—if they believe that Sir Ernest Gowers can commend himself as regards the work of the Reorganisation Commission to this House this morning, and to the mining industry outside, on the ground of his exceptional qualifications, I ask this further question: Does the official Opposition, then, object to the payment of £7,000 annually? Of course, that is not their case at all.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
May I say that I seconded the reduction of this Vote on the ground that I thought that the salary was too high. I said that I believed that Sir Ernest Gowers would probably be the best man for this post, but I never said that I agreed with the payment of £7,000. The point that I made was that the hon. Gentleman was justifying the £7,000 on the ground that Sir Ernest Gowers had given something up, which was not in fact the case.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I understand the hon. and gallant Member to say that, even though Sir Ernest Gowers is capable of fulfilling the functions associated with this appointment, he would not be entitled to £7,000 annually, and that a smaller sum should have been paid?
§ Commander SOUTHBY indicated assent.1580
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Surely, there is no I one on the Opposition benches who would I contend that for a post like this, having regard to market values, and having regard to the salaries now paid and offered in the City of London for comparable posts, this is too high a salary to pay. I shall have something to say presently on the general principle involved in the payment of such salaries, but I want to ascertain the mind of the official Opposition, if it is possible to do so. Hitherto there seems to have been some difficulty in expressing clearly what the official Opposition really believe as regards the payment of high salaries. What is the issue before the House? There has been some misunderstanding about the pension rights. I will be perfectly frank with the House; there is nothing to conceal. On the Committee stage of the Vote I was not in possession of all the information which hon. Members desired—
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Member wants to put a question to me, but I am proposing to give him the answer before he asks the question, if he will only restrain himself. The position, shortly, was this, and it is borne out by observations which fell from my lips during the course of the Committee stage. I was under the impression, and I was so advised, that, although this was a new service, yet, having regard to the fact that it was a Supplementary Estimate, seeing that only a few months had elapsed since the Commissioners were appointed and financial provision required to be made accordingly, all the details which might have been asked for, and which, indeed, should be furnished, could be presented when the main Estimate came before the House. That was the intention, and, indeed, I explicitly stated it; there is no concealment or lack of candour at all. I frankly admit that I was not in possession of the whole of the information, and, if I may say so, though it may seem a little unconventional, I was as much perturbed about the absence of this information as hon. Members on the other side apparently were. I was anxious to give it; it was not in my possession; I sought the first available 1581 opportunity of giving that information to the House. As hon. Members in all quarters of the House are aware, there was a succession of difficulties because an opportunity of the right kind for coming to a decision on this head could not be discovered through the usual channels, but, eventually, I took the opportunity of replying in full to a question which was on the Paper, and I not only replied to the question on the Paper, but I informed hon. Members who had put down questions previously that I intended to take that course. Therefore, I submit that I acted with perfect courtesy to hon. Members in this matter.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, seeing that he has been interrupted so often, but I take it that, as he said just now that he had not the information, he was not responsible for the appointment?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I will deal with that question when I come to the point; the beguiling tones of my hon. Friend will not induce me to depart from what I think is the proper course. I submit that the House is now in possession of all the information for which it has asked. Whether the House agrees with it or not is another matter. Shortly, it amounts to this. Sir Ernest Gowers forfeits certain pension rights. In certain contingencies all pension rights are lost, and in the event of his death, obviously, if he is outwith the Civil Service, the usual gratuity cannot be paid. Moreover, should he not revert to the Civil Service, but accept a business appointment—and civil servants have been known to do that, as I have already indicated—he forfeits all pension rights. [interruption.] I assure the House that that is so; on that point I am perfectly clear. I made the statement in the course of my reply to a question the other day, that, if he leaves the Civil Service, and accepts an appointment elsewhere, he forfeits his pension rights. In any event, however, the information which was asked for I gave to the House the other day, and my explanation is that, as I have said, not being in possession of the full information, I was not able to satisfy the desires of hon. Members opposite during the Committee stage.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
If Sir Ernest Gowers returns to the Civil Service, does he then resume rights for which he has been compensated?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I have said that that matter was fully explained in my reply the other day, and I really must ask hon. Members who are anxious to satisfy their inquisitive mood now to read that reply.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Of course, hon. Members are entitled to have the facts, but the facts are stated in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I do not want to detain the House more than I can help, in view of the fact that there is other business before it. I want to reply very shortly to some of the questions that have been put to me, and I do so categorically. One question was as to whether the Chairman is to receive subsistence expenses in addition to his salary. The answer is "Yes." That is quite customary. Even trade union officials receive subsistence allowances in addition to their salaries. There is nothing unusual in that, and I am surprised that hon. Members should make the point. They argue about the salary of £7,000, but they do not argue about the 25s. a night which is the ordinary subsistence allowance.
I was also asked a question about the 100 days minimum. The position, shortly, is this: There are four part-time Commissioners. They are ordinarily engaged in business of one kind or another. There is a minimum period of 100 days which has to be paid for, and it is expected that the full 100 days will be occupied in attendance at meetings. But the House will appreciate that, in this task of promoting amalgamations in the mining industry, the Commissioners must devote a considerable amount of their spare time, when they are not attending meetings, to the perusal of papers in relation to the various amalgamation projects which are contemplated. The minimum was fixed in that way because it was thought desirable not to appoint full-time Commissioners, with the exception of the Chairman himself, and it was regarded as on the whole a saisfactory payment for the Commissioners. It is not an unusual payment for commissioners. Seven guineas a day is, I under- 1583 stand, a standard figure, and, although it may be regarded as a little high as a standard figure, we must remember that, when Commissioners are asked to divorce themselves in part from their own industrial avocations, it is essential to recompense them in some form for that sacrifice.
Another question was as to whether the Commissioners had yet done any work. They have been working on a survey of the minefield with a view to amalgamations. Negotiations are in progress in various parts of the country, but I am not in a position to deal with those negotiations at this stage, and I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate my difficulty in this connection.
Now the question arises whether Sir Ernest Gowers was the only man for the post. I never said anything of the sort. I do not pretend for a moment that he is the only gentleman who could have been found for an appointment of this kind. We endeavoured in every possible way to secure the appointment of other gentlemen. We tried to obtain the services of men who are occupying important posts in the business world. It was thought at one time that we might have succeeded, but we failed in that endeavour. We thought it desirable at one time to secure the services of a part-time chairman. We almost succeeded, but the negotiations broke down.
Eventually, when the question arose as to whether we should appoint someone from the Civil Service, it was decided, first, that Sir Ernest Gowers was the best man having regard to his qualifications his knowledge of the mining industry, his chairmanship of the Board of Inland Revenue and the like and, secondly, that he should not be seconded from the Civil Service, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton thought desirable, but should be divorced from the Civil Service for the time being while functioning as chairman of the Commissioners, so that no charge could be laid at the door of the Commissioners that they would be dominated by the Civil Service. [Interruption.] I am certain the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate this, that we have to secure the 1584 goodwill of the mining industry in promoting amalgamations and, if the mining industry dislikes the alleged domination of the Civil Service, it is wise for the time being to divorce the chairman from the Civil Service so that he is perfectly free and independent to carry on his duties.
Something has been said about the salary. [Interruption.] In this matter I confess at once that I am not pleading with the other side. Hon. Members have spoken with their tongues in their cheeks about salaries. I have said enough on that head already. I address myself to hon. Members behind me. When the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) castigated me on account of my past, I made no protest whatever. What I then said I believed in, as does the hon. Member. What I now seek to justify I believe was the best thing to do in the circumstances, but if they ask me if I believe in the payment of high salaries, I say definitely and without equivocation, certainly not. We have to operate in somewhat limited circumstances not of our making. That excellent picture so eloquently drawn by the hon. Member, which I visualise with him, is not a capitalist picture. It is a picture of another form of society. In existing circumstances market prices have to be paid and market values have to be considered. [Interruption.] It may be deplorable, but no one on the other side need jeer or sneer at it. It is a system of your making. [Interruption.] There is one member of whom I do not propose to take any cognisance whatever, and it is the hon. Member opposite. The hon. Member behind me spoke of the deplorable conditions in the mining industry. No-one can speak with more intense feeling on that subject than myself. I am fully aware of what happened in the industry, but I demur at once to his statement that the conditions of the miners to-day are worse than they were.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
What the hon. Gentleman is stating now is not true. I emphasised the fact, because they wanted me to say that. I said they were as bad—not worse.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I stand corrected, but even with that correction I must remind the hon. Member that in many 1585 parts of the coalfield the miners have at least the satisfaction of enjoying half-an-hour's reduction of the working day and, if it had not been for the opposition of hon. Members opposite, every district in the country would be enjoying it. With my Friends below the Gangway, I deplore a system which makes it essential to respond to the circumstances of the moment.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
That, of course, is the sort of courtesy that we expect. Here is the situation. We have to promote amalgamation. I believe that the Coal Mines Act, with all its defects, is much better than no organisation at all, and I am fortified in that view by a letter which appeared in the "Times" this morning, not written by my Friends below the Gangway, by adherents of labour, but by coalowners themselves. The Coal Mines Act, with all its defects, embodies a form of organisation, a semblance of organisation if you like, superior to the disorganisation and chaos which preceded it. Amalgamation is better than the complete absence of co-ordination. It is the policy of this party. It is the policy of the party below the Gangway. Can it be disputed? If we seek to promote effective amalgamations, we must endow the Commission with all the power at our command. We must fortify them in every regard, and in present circumstances we must recompense them on the basis of market values. I was asked whether I made the appointment. Perhaps my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and Dumbarton Burghs and the House generally will take this from me. For the time being, I am responsible for the administration of the Mines Department and for this Vote. I accept the full responsibility.
§ Sir PHILIP CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am in entire agreement with the hon. Gentleman's last sentence. He is perfectly right to take responsibility for the whole of the Vote, and, in saying that, he is saying what is clearly his duty. But, with that single exception, I think the whole House will have been surprised, and indeed amazed, both at the manner and the matter contained in his speech. He has never in the whole of his speech addressed himself to the 1586 real criticisms which have been advanced on this Vote either in the previous discussion or in the Debate to-day. He opened with some very curious criticisms of hon. Friends of mine on this side. He made an appeal which came a little strangely from him. He hoped that the Debate would be conducted with frankness. I can promise him that as far as we on this side of the House are concerned the Debate has been conducted, and will be concluded, with perfect frankness both as regards the questions we ask and the position we take up. It hardly lies in the mouth of the Minister, who throughout the whole of the Debate in the Committee stage, unwittingly perhaps, but without question, definitely misled the Committee as to the essential feature of the Vote that he was presenting, to criticise hon. Members on this side for lack of frankness. When he goes on and says that he has a contempt for men who say one thing one day and another thing another day, apparently believing it, it is a description which would more accurately apply to himself in his conduct of this Debate than to any Other Member in any quarter of the House.
Replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) he twitted him with his criticism that £7,000 is an excessive salary to pay, and argued that the Mines Act contemplated a total expenditure on reorganisation which might amount to as much as £250,000, and that therefore it is absurd to criticise the expenditure of £7,000 on a single salary, I never heard a more amazing argument. What it comes to is, that because the House authorised certain outside expenditure in an Act of Parliament, every item of which, by the way, would have subsequently to be justified to this House in Committee of Supply, it is suggested that apparently the hon. Member must find some way of spending the £250,000, and so he goes about finding how he can best spend it. When making this criticism, let me make it perfectly plain to the Minister and to the House what is the criticism which is directed towards this Vote. It has nothing to do with Sir Ernest Gowers personally.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I know that I am speaking for my whole party. The Minister desired that the case should be stated officially for the Opposition, and I am stating it. Sir Ernest Gowers, I am very proud to say, was for many years a civil servant serving under me. I never hope to receive more loyal or more able services than those Sir Ernest Gowers rendered every day to the public service. What is more, there is no criticism of Sir Ernest Gowers' capacity to fill this post. As far as I am concerned, if this Commission is to exist at all Sir Ernest Gowers is an admirable chairman for the Commission. I do not in the least think that any man is indepensable—I do not say that nobody else could be found—but there is not a vestige of criticism of Sir Ernest Gowers himself or his capacity to fill the post, and, therefore, that can be ruled out. Nor does this reduction direct itself in the least to the general policy the Act laid down, that there is to be a Reorganisation Commission, and it is simply misleading the House to pretend that it does. It would be out of order to do so.
There is nothing that we can do on a Vote in Committee of Supply which can in the least degree affect the terms or the validity of that Act of Parliament. Suppose that this Vote is rejected to-day or that my hon. Friend's Amendment to reduce it by £100 is carried, it will not affect Part III of the Act. It leaves the duty to carry on the Reorganisation Commission exactly as it was before. The Commission will be appointed; the Commission will go on functioning. In no way is this a criticism of reorganisation as such, nor could it be. The criticism is two-fold. It is a criticism of the manner in which the Minister has treated the House, and it is a criticism of the terms of the appointment which has been made. It really is no good trying to get away from that by generalisation about whether people are paid high or low salaries. Assuming that Sir Ernest Gowers is an admirable man for the post, have, or have not, the Ministry or the Government, who, as everybody knows, are responsible for the appointment, made a financial arrangement which this House ought to endorse? That is the sole point. 1588 I say that they have not made an arrangement which this House ought to endorse.
What are the terms of the appointment? It is not a case of going into the open market and finding some man whom you have to take from industry and to whom you have to pay a salary to leave a very highly-paid industrial post. The man appointed is a very competent civil servant who is enjoying a salary of £3,000 a year which carries with it pension rights which accrue from year to year. There is no doubt at all that, when the Minister was presenting the Vote to the House before, he based practically the whole of his justification for the amount which is being paid on the ground that Sir Ernest Gowers was being taken out of the Civil Service and having, in his own words, to be compensated for very valuable pension rights. The whole House, and I think the Minister himself, was apparently then under the impression that here was a civil servant who for 28 or 30 years had been earning pension rights and was being taken out of the Civil Service just as much as if he were being put into a business post and was going to lose for all time the whole of his pension rights. If it meant anything, that is what it meant.
That is not the position. The position is that Sir Ernest Gowers only loses a very limited proportion of his pension rights. He has the right to go back to the Civil Service; indeed, more than that, he will automatically revert to the Civil Service when his term of five or seven years with this Commission is over. If he does go back to the Civil Service, he will again become entitled as a civil servant to his full rights of pension, the only difference being that he will not count for pension rights, as I understand it, the five or seven years during which he has been serving with this Commission. Otherwise, he will resume his status; he will resume his full pension rights. The hon. Gentleman says, "Well, but if he chose at the end of his time not to go back to the Civil Service but were to pass, as some civil servants have done, into business, he would then be losing pension rights." But that has nothing to do with this appointment. If Sir Ernest Gowers or any other distinguished civil servant passed to-morrow into a business appointment, of course, 1589 he would lose his pension rights. He would lose his pension rights, because he thought that he was making a bargain in the outside world which compensated him for giving up that position. If Sir Ernest Gowers should pass from the Commission into a business career, that has nothing whatever to do with the Vote now before the House, and it is no earthly reason for compensating him in advance for a contingency which may never arise, and which should it arise would be a matter of his own election.
This salary of £7,000 is being paid to a civil servant, and a very good civil servant, and I say that that salary is far in excess of what is a reasonable salary to pay a civil servant In the circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) asked why he should not be seconded from the Civil Service. I entirely agree with him. I have had some experience in these matters. I remember discussing with regard to civil servants of lower status what I thought would be an admirable arrangement, that in some cases selected civil servants might pass out of the Civil Service for a year or two into some occupation where they would get a greater measure of industrial experience, and come back into the Civil Service after having had valuable association, say, with a Chamber of Commerce or some other association with industry. I remember saying that I thought the proper course would he to second them from the Civil Service, and let them carry their pension rights with them. I do not think that it was ever disputed that that would have been a sound and sensible thing to do.
What ought to have been done in this case was to have asked this admirable civil servant to fill this post for the time being, and to second him from the Civil Service, and if it was thought desirable to give him some extra allowance, to give him that extra allowance, but to let him keep his pension rights and let the whole thing carry on, he being seconded from the Civil Service. The Government would have had a much better bargain if they had done that. The only argument that the Secretary for Mines advanced against that suggestion was that we could not do it because we did not want to give the appearance that this Commission is dominated by the Civil Service; there- 1590 fore, we must not second Sir Ernest Gowers, but we must. take him entirely from the Civil Service. I would make two observations on that argument. If by common consent Sir Ernest Gowers is the best man for the job, it is an utterly irrelevant argument, because he is being appointed, not because he is a civil servant, but because he is a first-class man. In the second place, the very way in which he has been appointed gives just as much an appearance of domination by the Civil Service, if that be an objection, as seconding him, because what the Government have done is, in effect, to second him without any financial benefit to themselves. At the end of the time he passes back automatically into the Civil Service in exactly the same way as if he had been seconded. Therefore, no answer has been given on that point.
The analogy which has been taken from the business world, of paying a competitive price, has no force at all. The Secretary for Mines says that he must pay a competitive salary. If he was going into the open market to induce a man to give up a job, he would have to pay whatever salary he thought was a good bargain, but that is not in the least the position in this case. I would make it plain that here is no attack on Sir Ernest Gowers. I think he is an admirable man for the post. There is no question of any attack on the organisation proposals of the Act. We are not allowed to discuss them, nor could we in any way affect them. The sole question before the House is a two-fold one, first, the extremely misleading way in which the Minister proposed this Vote originally, and, secondly, the fact that he has made a bad bargain and that the financial proposal is not one to which the House can reasonably give assent. The issue lies in a very narrow compass, and I sincerely hope that the House, within that narrow compass, will support our view.
§ Mr. BATEY
When this Vote was in Committee it came as a surprise and shock to me to learn that the chairman of the Coal Reorganisation Committee was to be paid a salary of £7,000 a year. I opposed it then, in the heat of the moment. Since the Committee stage one has had time to consider the matter, and I am bound to confess that after the lapse of time I am more confirmed in my opposition to a salary of £7,000 being 1591 paid. I apologise to some of my mining colleagues, with whom I disagree. They have expressed their opinion this morning in making a protest against this salary of £7,000. I think that we have come to the time when we have to do something more than making mere protests on a matter like this. In opposing this very excessive salary it cannot be laid to my charge that I am opposing it on the grounds that are laid to the charge of hon. Members opposite, that they are opposing the salary because they are opposed to amalgamation. I am in favour of amalgamation, but I do not believe that amalgamation in the coal industry is helped by an excessive salary like this.
I oppose this excessive salary on two grounds: (1) that it is contrary to our Labour principles and teaching, and (2) because I do not believe that it will help quick amalgamations. Most of one's life has been spent in the Labour and Socialist movement, and during that time we have been preaching on the platform against big salaries. The Secretary for Mines has my sympathy in defending this Vote and in the delicate position in which he is placed in a case like this. I do not blame him in regard to this excessive salary. It seems to me that there is a hidden hand somewhere. During this Parliament this hidden hand seems to have taken a delight in holding up to ridicule Labour principles. One would like to know, if possible, whose is the hidden hand that makes these ridiculous appointments and makes Labour Members look ridiculous in all that we have been preaching and teaching for many years. I submit to hon. Members on this side that if we went on to the platform we should condemn, as we have done all our lives, excessive salaries like £7,000 a year. We cannot do one thing on the platform and another thing when we come to the House of Commons. When we leave our constituencies, we cannot leave our Labour and Socialist principles behind and in this House accept other principles. If we are to succeed as a party we must live up to our principles.
I come from a distressed area, where the majority of the collieries are standing idle and where the men who are at work are very lucky if they can earn £70 a year, and in these circumstances and at a time when the Durham coal owners are 1592 asking for a reduction in wages, I am not going to give a vote contrary to my labour principles in favour of any man being paid a salary of £7,000 a year. I believe that an efficient chairman could have been found without paying such an excessive salary. The whole thing came out through a mining engineer making enquiries as to whether there was a chance of his being appointed on the Commission. I do not know Sir Ernest Gowers, but I have no hesitation in saying that this particular mining engineer would have been glad to have got this post, and as I have known him for a large number of years I think he would have made an equally efficient chairman. I want amalgamations, but quick amalgamations. As one looks at the coalfields and the condition of the mining industry, one realises that something must be done quickly in order to help the industry and the mining classes.
§ Mr. BATEY
We are now discussing the Vote of the Coal Re-organisation Commission, and the only object of that Commission is to promote amalgamations in the coal industry. I want these amalgamations to come quickly, and in dealing with this matter I am not dealing with the Act but with the work of the Commissioners whose salaries we are asked to pass to-day. I do not want amalgamation to drag on for five or seven years. The conditions in the mining industry are far too serious. If amalgamation is to be of any benefit to the mining industry and to the mining classes it must be done quickly, and by paying the Chairman of the Commissioners £7,000, you are giving him a vested interest in the matter for five or seven years, it may be longer, because if the reorganisation is not finished in seven years it will be continued for perhaps 10 years. Therefore, in giving the Chair-main this salary we are giving him a vested interest and there is no need for him or the other Commissioners to be in any hurry to get on with amalgamation. This Commission was set up at the end of December last and already 10 weeks have passed by. These Commissioners, according to the Secretary for Mines, have only met four times in 10 weeks. The other Commissioners are guaranteed 1593 100 days at seven guineas per day, that is two days per week, and so far they have only met four times in 10 weeks.
If amalgamation is the object then there is every need for them to get on with the work, but they are being encouraged to believe that they are being paid big salaries and given a comfortable position just to take their time, there is no hurry, the milling industry will wait for them. While the Chairman is a full-time official the other Commissioners are only part-time, they are summoned to the meetings of the Commission; and there does not seem to be any hurry to summon them to meetings. But what I want to know is this: the Chairman being a full-time official, what is he doing, what can he do, in the absence of the other Commissioners? His time is practically valueless, and we are paying him £140 per week and getting very little done. Many of my hon. Friends feel that unless this Vote is agreed to amalgamations will be prevented. I do not agree. Suppose the Chairman of the Commission should die suddenly, it would not prevent the amalgamation of collieries. Suppose that as a result of this discussion the Chairman was able to get a better post in the City of London, and most officials of public bodies that I have come across have their eye open for better posts. Suppose that as a result of this discussion the Chairman sees a better post, picks it up, and resigns. All that it means is that a new Chairman would have to be found, but there would be no dislocation of the work and amalgamation would still proceed.
I suppose the argument that the appointment of this Commission with these large salaries is necessary in the interests of the miners. I want to see whether amalgamation will do any good for the mining classes, and my only interest in this matter is that of the mining classes. I have lived and suffered with them, and I know the terrible position in which they are at the present time. I want amalgamation, because I want to see whether or not there is really anything in it for the coal industry, whether it will benefit the mining classes or not. I am prepared to admit that the benefits of amalgamation, so far as the miners are concerned, are problematical. We have had amalgamation of 1594 some of the coal companies in the county of Durham and it has really been injurious to the miners. I remember that at one meeting which I addressed during the Recess I dealt with this question, and one of our sensible men at the end of the meeting put the question "But, Mr. Batey—."
§ Mr. BATEY
I quite agree that the benefits of amalgamation may be problematical, and in referring to the subject I am perhaps travelling rather wide. I do not believe that amalgamation should help to pay such huge salaries as are proposed. I want to deal with the question whether it is essential to have amalgamations in the interests of the miners. I read an aricle in the "Daily Herald" only a few days ago, and it dealt with this question. The writer said, in referring to those who are opposing this Vote:But there is reason to believe that had the opponents succeeded, they would have learned, no doubt with surprise, that they had gravely annoyed the financial authorities of the City.That was given as an argument why we should not oppose this Vote of £7,000 a year to the Chairman of the Commission. I am wondering whether, beneath everything else, the object of the amalgamations is to benefit the miners or to benefit the capitalists in the industry. There are people who say, "Ah yes, these amalgamations will make it easier when we want to nationalise the coal industry".
§ Mr. BATEY
The Vote is for amalgamation and nothing else, as I read it. To amalgamate the coal industry is the only object of the Vote. We would not be passing the Vote except for that purpose. In my opinion this proposal will not help nationalisation, but will make it harder. But I will leave that subject. In my opinion it is one of the most unwise things that the Labour Government has done to try to force through this House a salary of £7,000 a year for one individual, while the great bulk of the supporters of the Labour party have to be content with and cannot get more than £70 a year.
§ Mr. McSHANE.
I do not rise to oppose this Vote on grounds of economy but on grounds of decency. The hon. Member who has just spoken on behalf of the miners appealed to his colleagues on these benches to be guided by their decision. I regret that it is quite impossible for me to accept that judgment. There are other things by which I shall be guided in my decision to-day. We are told that Sir Ernest Gowers is a man of extraordinary ability and capacity for this particular post. I have no doubt that he is, but, with great respect to those who have spoken, I do not propose to enter into all the mathematical calculations and philosophical arguments that might be entered into on the subject. There seems to be a sort of palsy which comes down upon our Government at various times. It is not so many months since we were asked to support the Government in the appointment of Lord Hunsdon, and I need not say how that appointment rent this party in twain.
§ Mr. McSHANE
Surely one is allowed to give an illustration? I am discussing the appointment of Sir Ernest Gowers, and as an illustration I am referring to a similar appointment that was put before the House some months ago. I say that that appointment was as objectionable as this. I am pointing out, with great respect, that that appointment, like this appointment, made many members on the Labour benches feel their position very acutely indeed. I have already said that I do not propose to enter into the mathematics or the philosophy of the matter. This job is essentially a part-time job.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
This is a full-time appointment, and the whole of Sir Ernest Growers' time will be devoted to it.
§ Mr. McSHANE
I made my statement precisely because of what the Minister has said already. He said that we were negotiating with other people for this situation and that we had almost concluded an agreement with another gentleman for a part-time job. I deliberately said that because of what the Minister himself stated in the course of his defence of this appointment. So that if 1596 they were negotiating for a part-time appointment we can still say that in fact, if that appointment had been consummated at the time, we would have been asked to vote this £7,000 for that situation. But £7,000 per annum is too difficult arithmetic for many minds. It amounts to £20 a day for seven days a week, with allowances thrown in, for what might apparently have been regarded as a part-time job. The average wage of a miner during last year was £2 4s. 6d. per week, and it would take a miner 60 years of the hardest toil in the land to get what this gentleman is to get in one year. No mathematical or philosophical subtleties can induce me to accept that position, and I ask my hon. Friends on these benches, how, in face of the wage war which is being conducted all over the land to-day against our own colleagues, against the men and women who have sacrificed so much to get us here to defend them—how can we decently support a salary like this?
I have heard during the last two years in this House, statements to the effect that we are in the midst of a crisis as great as the crisis of the world War. I wonder if those who make that statement believe it. If we believed it, would we not expect Sir Ernest Growers at any rate, to show some signs of patriotism in respect of this job? If the work of this Commission is to salvage the mining industry and to save the men who work in that industry, and their wives and children and their homes, then I know of no Inure patriotic act that a man could do than to undertake that work without insisting—as we were told a week or ten days ago, Sir Ernest Gowers did—upon a salary as high as this. I hope the Government will find some way out of this difficulty. It is, I think, a very terrible thing that one should be expected to vote in favour of giving £20 per day to a man, and then to go back to hungry and ragged miners and try to explain, with philosophical subtleties, how it was possible for such a thing to be done. As the son of a miner, born and reared in poverty, I would never allow my name to be associated with such a proposal as this, and it is monstrous that that, proposal should have come from a Labour Government.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I want to urge those on the Front Bench who are responsible 1597 for this Vote to take it back and give fresh consideration to the whole matter. The Conservative party have indicated that this proposal is distasteful to them; the spokesmen of the Liberal party have also entered their dissent, and the feeling on the back benches on the Government side of the House is one of complete hostility to this proposal. In these circumstances, I ask the Government if the right and proper thing for a minority Government, is not to bow to the will of the House on this matter, rather than compel men like myself to go into the Lobby against them—as I undoubtedly will do—to vote against something which ought never to have been brought forward here. I seldom or never feel sorry for my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines in his political controversies, because I have seldom or never found him in a situation with which he was not fully adequate to deal. I hope I do not find him to-day in a situation with which he is not adequate to deal. I want him to go back to those for whom he is taking responsibility in this House, but for whom I feel in my heart he is not really responsible, and say to them: "It is no use; I cannot put this over, and I am not going to try any further to put it over."
I am told that this salary represents the price in the open market, but I question that statement very much. If the Government had inserted an advertisement in any newspaper in this country for a man to take this position at a salary of £1,000 a year, they would have nearly solved the unemployment problem by appointing people to go through the applications, and, while among the applicants, there would have been a number of the people who are always ready to
§ try anything once, there would also have been hundreds of men with real qualifications, with real skill, and with a record of work behind them, who would have been willing and able to take on this job and to put it through properly at a salary of £1,000 per year. I see the President of the Board of Trade sitting beside the Secretary for Mines. Both belong to the same Socialist organisation as myself. That Socialist organisation is responsible for having them on the Front Bench. I have made appeal after appeal on behalf of that organisation on various issues, but up to now the result has been nil. I ask them, now, not to proceed further with a proposal which they know is antagonistic to the feelings of the men and women who are primarily responsible for sending them to this House.
§ Question put, "That '£14,100' stand part of the Resolution."
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
(seated and covered): On a point of Order. Do I understand that you were putting the main Vote instead of putting the Amendment, so that the discussion on the main Vote will be closed by the Question which you have put, and are we not entitled to have the Amendment put and then to resume the discussion upon the main Vote?
On Report we put the main Vote in so far as the total Estimate is concerned and when that has been disposed of, the Question will be, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," and then the discussion goes on.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 173; Noes, 168.1601
|Division No. 191.]||AYES.||[1.44 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Blindell, James||Cluse, W. S.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||Cocks, Frederick Seymour|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Bowen, J. W.||Compton, Joseph|
|Aitchison Rt. Hon. Craigle M.||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Cripps, Sir Stafford|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Broad, Francis Alfred||Daggar, George|
|Alpass, J. H.||Brothers, M.||Dallas, George|
|Ammon, Charles George||Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)||Dalton, Hugh|
|Angell, Sir Norman||Burgess, F. G.||Day, Harry|
|Arnott, John||Buxton, C. R. (Yorks., W. R. Elland)||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Caine, Derwent Hall-||Dudgeon, Major C. R.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Cameron, A. G.||Duncan, Charles|
|Barr, James||Cape, Thomas||Ede, James Chuter|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Edwards, E. (Morpeth)|
|Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Charleton, H. C.||Elmley, Viscount|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Chater, Daniel||Foot, Isaac|
|Benson, G.||Church, Major A. G.||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Scott, James|
|Gillett, George M.||McElwee, A.||Shield, George William|
|Glassey, A. E.||McEntee, V. L.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Gossling, A. G.||McKinlay, A.||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Gould, F.||MacNeill-Weir, L.||Shinwell, E.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Gray, Milner||Mansfield, W.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Greenwood. Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||March, S.||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Marshall, Fred||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Mathers, George||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Matters, L. W.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Messer, Fred||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Middleton, G.||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.)||Mills, J. E.||Snell, Harry|
|Hamilton. Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)||Milner, Major J.||Sorensen, R.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Montague, Frederick||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Haycock, A. W.||Morley, Ralph||Strauss, G. R.|
|Hayes, John Henry||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Naylor, T. E.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Herriotts, J.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Noel Baker, P. J.||Tillett, Ben|
|Hopkin, Daniel||Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Oldfield, J. R.||Tout, W. J.|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Palin, John Henry||Viant, S. P.|
|John, William (Rhondda. West)||Palmer, E. T.||Walker, J.|
|Johnston, Thomas||Perry, S F.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Pole, Major D. G.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Kenworthy, LI.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Potts, John s.||West, F. R.|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Pybus, Percy John||Westwood, Joseph|
|Lathan, G.||Quibell, D. J. K||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Law, Albert (Bolton)||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Law, A. (Rossendale)||Rathbone, Eleanor||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Lawrence, Susan||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Leach, W.||Ritson, J.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Lees, J.||Romeril, H. G.||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Longbottom, A. W.||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Longden, F.||Rowson, Guy|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Lunn, William||Sanders, W. S.||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Paling.|
|Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Albery, Irving James||Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow. Cent'l)||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Crookshank, Capt. H. C.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Dalkeith, Earl of||Hudson, Capt A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Baillie-Hamilton. Hon. Charles W.||Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.|
|Batey, Joseph||Dawson, Sir Philip||Inskip, Sir Thomas|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Duckworth, G. A. V.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Kindersley, Major G. M.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Elliot, Major Walter E.||Kinley, J.|
|Berry, Sir George||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Kirkwood, D.|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Everard, W. Lindsay||Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)|
|Bird, Ernest Roy||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Ferguson, Sir John||Llewellin, Major J. J.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Ford, Sir P. J.||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hon. Godfrey|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Locker-Lampson, Com. O.(Handsw'th)|
|Boyce, Leslie||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Long, Major Hon. Eric|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Ganzoni, Sir John||Lymington, Viscount|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Macdonald. Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||McShane, John James|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Campbell, E. T.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Margesson, Captain H. D.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J.A.(Birm., W.)||Groves, Thomas E.||Marjoribanks, Edward|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N.(Edgbaston)||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Maxton, James|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Meller, R. J.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Colman, N. C. D||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Millar, J. D.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Hartington, Marquess of||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.|
|Cove, William G.||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Ross, Ronald D.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Muirhead, A. J.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.|
|Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld)||Salmon, Major I.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Peake, Captain Osbert||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Penny, Sir George||Sandham, E.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Savery, S. S.||Wardlaw-Milne, J. S.|
|Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Pilditch, Sir Philip||Skelton, A. N.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Power, Sir John Cecil||Smith, R.W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Purbrick, R.||Smithers, Waldron||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Rawson, Sir Cooper||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Reid, David D. (County Down)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Reynolds, Col. Sir James||Southby, commander A. R. J.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch't'sy)||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast South)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Sir Frederick Thomson and Major|
|the Marquess of Titchfield.|
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. LAMBERT WARD
If hon. Members will turn to the Supplementary Estimate, they will find that there is an item "G.1.—Coal Mines Committees of Investigation, £4,500." Before we agree to this amount, it seems to me that it would be well for the House to know how these committees of investigation are functioning, what they are actually doing, and what steps they are taking to deal with the situation which has arisen, both in the Midlands and on the East Coast, with regard to the quota. The position is this, that owing to the shortage of coal which will come next month, certain of the Hull trawlers—a very large number of them, as a matter of fact; very nearly 50 per cent.—will be unable to proceed to sea. I am not making that statement on my own authority; I am making it on the authority and on behalf of trawler owners in the constituency which I represent. I have had this telegram from one of the leading trawler owners in my constituency:My firm has contract with Denaby Main Collieries to supply our trawlers from January let last to June 30th with bunker coals. Now informed by colliery agents that owing to operation of quota Denaby can only supply 49.4 per cent. of contracts quantity. Other Yorkshire collieries supplying Hull trawlers in same position. Can you do anything to help us to obtain supplies, or are our trawlers to lay up and add crews and other dependant workers to the unemployed millions?Here is another telegram from a similar source:Owing to quota scheme Coal Mines Act collieries notify can only supply 60 per 1602 cent. contract over March, thereby imperilling bunker supplies. British trawlers now fully employed may be compelled to bunker elsewhere or lay up thereby aggravating unemployment. Suggest in interest of all concerned in fishing industry matter demands immediate attention.In answer to a question I put in the House the other day, I was informed by the Minister of Mines that this was being considered by the Coal Mines Investigation Committee. His reply was in these terms:The Coal Merchants' Federation have, at my suggestion, made representations in the matter to the National Committee of Investigation which is constituted under the provisions of Section 5 of the Coal Mines Act, 1930.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1931; col. 1177, Vol. 249.]It seems to me that before we agree to this Estimate, it is only fair to the House to know what action the Committee of Investigation have taken in the matter. I think I am right in saying that they make the Estimate, and, consequently, they had an opportunity of reconsidering the situation which has been brought about by the action of the collieries in refusing to supply more than 60 per cent. of the quantity which they had undertaken to supply. Yesterday this Committee of Investigation met, and I think it is only fair to those concerned that we should know what action has been taken; because unless we know to what extent the committee are functioning, and the lines they are taking, I do not think it is fair to the community that this amount of money should be passed. It seems to me also that if the committee have not decided that the coal quota should be increased, a committee which allows such difficulties to stand in the way of men earning their livelihood—
§ Mr. ARTHUR MICHAEL SAMUEL
My hon. and gallant Friend is raising a very important question, and not a representative of the Board of Trade is present.
§ Sir A. LAMBERT WARD
I want to know what action the committee are taking, because unless the committee make it easier for the ships to obtain supplies of coal, and make it easier for work, it is not well for this House to grant the sum of money required.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. POTTS
The few words I want to say are in connection with the Fountain and Burnley Collieries, Ltd., at Darton, in Yorkshire. I hope that those who have charge of the administration and allocation as far as South Yorkshire is concerned will give reconsideration to this particular firm. I am not here defending the colliery in any shape or form. The colliery should be able to look after itself. I am here to speak in defence of the workpeople who have been put out of employment to the number already of about 1,500, with an anticipated further stoppage of workmen, unless something is done in the near future. Notwithstanding the law as laid down, I have got hold of the allocation of this particular firm, and of various collieries, and, when I look into the figures, I find that this company has not got the actual allocation to which it is entitled. I take it that what has been done is, that they have taken into consideration the allocation of, say, the last two or three years. I happen to know that this firm has been developing its collieries and intended, even in 1925, to develop its collieries. They had started, and carried the development much higher. The number of employés in 1927 and in 1930—
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is dealing with the coal mines administration and the quota system. Does this question arise?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I have no desire to deprive my hon. Friend of the opportunity of making a speech, but the question before the House is whether the Committee of Investigation is properly discharging its duties, and whether the expenditure is justified. The question of the quota is not one for the district or central Committee of Investigation. It is entirely a matter for the coal owners themselves. At the very best all that the Committee of Investigation can do upon receipt of complaints is to recommend that, in given circumstances, the coal owners might consider a further allocation. But the duty of determining what the allocation should be rests upon the coal owners entirely, and we have no responsibility in this matter.
If that is the case, the hon. Member is going beyond the scope of the discussion.
§ Mr. POTTS
It is perfectly true, as the Minister said, that the coal owners have the allocation of the amount of coal, having regard to the circumstances as between colliery and colliery and firm and firm. But I want to come to the point of what has happened in connection with the allocation by the owners, and I do not desire to bring in the extraneous matters.
The hon. Member must show that the Minister is responsible for that, or how the Minister can help.
§ Mr. POTTS
Will you allow me to lead up to the point I wanted to make. I am fully alive to all the points about which you are likely to rule me out of order, and it is difficult on this Vote to get my point out as I should like to put it. We have a colliery down there which has been standing for a long time. When the voluntary scheme was in operation, 120,000 tons a year were allocated to that pit.
§ Mr. POTTS
I want to lead to the point that the same thing has happened under this Act and that it ought not to have happened. When the Act became law and the re-allocation had to take place under the law, they again gave 120,000 tons allocation to this pit which was standing and which was not likely to work. That allocation ought to be given to other developing collieries, to which the workpeople from the standing colliery I have mentioned have gone and who are likely to be put out of work because of the allocation.
If the Minister were responsible, that would be a good point to make, but the Minister has told us he is not responsible. If that be so, it does not arise on the Estimate.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to short-circuit the discussion by putting this point. The particular case which the hon. Member has in mind is now the subject of arbitration. The colliery undertaking has appealed to arbitration in connection with the allocation allowed to them. Therefore, the case being sub judice, it would be hardly proper in any event to discuss it.
In so far as the hon. Gentleman can fasten responsibility on the Minister, he will be in order, but not otherwise.
This is only a Supplementary Estimate, and under the circumstances I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to criticise something for which the Minister is not responsible. 1606 In so far as he can fasten any responsibility on to the Minister, he would be entitled to do it.
§ Mr. POTTS
I will accept your Ruling. I am anxious to get something done in this matter in the interests of the people, and I reluctantly allow the matter to stand over until next Thursday. Mr. Speaker told me this morning that I should be allowed to put this point after we had got rid of the other Vote.
Mr. Speaker told me that the hon. Member was going to raise the question of the quota, but not the particular question which he has raised.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I want to thank the Minister for the consideration which he has given to the representations which I and others have made to him in the last fortnight. He has moved in the matter to ascertain the real trouble as regards the shortage of coal for the trawler fleets, and he has asked the Committee of Investigation to go into the matter. I understand that they met yesterday. According to the newspaper reports, I find that they have ruled that a further allocation cannot be made from the Midlands area for this particular purpose, and I hope that the Minister will indicate whether we are to get supplies of coal which are so necessary to carry on this great fishing industry of Grimsby and Hull. I have had this telegram handed to me—Grimsby desperately short of coal, no coal for municipal contracts in schools, unable maintain supplies for our contracts for trawlers and are being pressed to recommence importing Polish coal as in 1926 with favourable supplies from Poland. Do not wish to do this, therefore will you urge Minister to use all his influence to obtain supplies for the purpose indicated.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
There is a good and sufficient reason why we should ask and demand that the coal should come from Yorkshire. We are not concerned as an industry with any difference of opinion between mineowners in one district and the owners in another, or between the Ministry and a certain section of the owners. That is no concern of ours. We want to see our own men employed. The Hull and Grimsby fishing trade is the only industry which has in- 1607 creased employment in the last 12 months. We have added nothing to unemployment and we ask that we shall not be placed in the position of having to put our men on to the employment exchanges. An hon. Member asked why we want Yorkshire coal. The contracts were made for our coal in good faith, believing that we should get our deliveries. Why the quota has been reduced in that particular area, I am not able to say, and I am not concerned with it, except to say that it is unfair to those people who have contracted, that they should be deprived of that for which they had agreed to pay because of some dispute between two sections of the mining industry.
We are asked why we do not go elsewhere. Our ships have been built and the boilers designed to take this particular class of coal, and why should we be requested to take another type which is probably not suitable for the purpose, and would mean burning out the fire-bars and increasing expenditure all round? If the Minister could say he would provide coal from Northumberland and Durham delivered in the Humber, so that we could put it aboard our ships, we should not have much to say, although we should prefer South Yorkshire coal. Something like 80 per cent. of the Grimsby vessels are running into the North Sea, and to go round to Blyth and the Tyne for coal would mean two days fishing time lost in a week; and it would not be possible to make the voyages pay and for the men who are paid on share to earn a decent living. It is true that certain vessels proceed to the far north fishing grounds, and can call at Blyth and the Tyne, but they only lose a few hours in doing that.
Although I see by newspaper reports that our request has been refused I must impress upon the Minister to use all his influence to see that we get a supply of coal, not on the Tyne, and not up in Scotland, but on the Humber, where we can ship it into our own vessels. It is all very well to say that Northumberland and Durham have a surplus of coal and that we can go and get it, but what about the coal heavers in Grimsby, who have to earn their living by putting the coal into our trawlers? If the trawlers have to go to another port for their coal, those 1608 men will be out of work and drawing unemployment pay, and as the representative of Grimsby I am here to see to it that those men get a fair chance. Our men have done their share to maintain the industry of the country, and if some of the other districts had done the same we should not now be in the position of having 2,600,000 unemployed. To say that, because there is a dispute between one section of the mining industry and another, therefore we cannot have the coal necessary to get our ships to sea, and that our men must be unemployed, is making a farce of the whole thing. If we were able to discuss the Act I should point out that this is what I predicted would happen when it was under discussion. On information which I have received from those engaged in the trawling industry—not only those who own the boats but the men who work them—I said at that time that the Act would never work properly and fairly towards the consumers and those who have to get their living by using this coal.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I hope you will forgive me, Sir, but I feel strongly about this matter, because I know these men, I am speaking of my own men, and I know how deeply they are concerned. I am aware of the difficulties which the Minister has to face; I understand his position. He will probably suggest to us that these Yorkshire owners have not played the game, having supplied far more than they ought to have supplied in January and February to people who were not contracting people, selling in "spot lots" to get an advantage—I know something of what has gone on behind the scenes—but I put it to him that it is not fair that we should suffer on that account, and that it is up to him to make such arrangements as it is possible to make to relieve the position. [Interruption.] Yes, there is coal elsewhere, but bring it where we can put it into our vessels without their having to lose two days' fishing in order to go to fetch it. The question of contract price may crop up. I was told yesterday by a Member of this House—
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
No, Sir, but he will be responsible for finding us coal at a price comparable with the contract price. Polish coal has been offered at a price comparable with what we are paying under contract prices for South Yorkshire coal. If Northumberland and Durham coal can be brought to the Humber at the same price, I say that I should not feel that our people were acting in a patriotic manner if they bought Polish coal. I do not want to see our people using Polish coal, or any other foreign coal. I am as much concerned about the British miners as about my own fishermen, and I wish to see them earning a decent living. I do not want to see our people using foreign coal, but we shall be driven to do something unless the Minister can use his influence to get coal into the Humber at a reasonable price.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
We are dealing now with Sections G1 and G2 of the Supplementary Estimate which relates to the Committees of Investigation and the Reorganisation Commission. If either of these bodies is discharging its functions satisfactorily, how does it come about that at a time when it is known that coal will be wanted for the fishing fleets going to sea from the Wash district and the Humber district there is not enough coal for them? What a farce this Act is! Here we have an abundance of coal, a large number of men willing to win it, and trawlers waiting to take it, and yet we are face to face with the situation which has been described. I notice in a very responsible paper an announcement that the Grimsby Coal Salt and Canning company is either contemplating or has contemplated buying Polish coal at the competitive price of 18s. a ton as against the 17s. 6d. at which the county of Yorkshire can supply it. That may or may not be true; but if our ships go to sea short of bunker coals there is nothing to stop them going over to the Dutch side and taking in foreign coat there. That it should be necessary for our trawling vessels to think of going abroad for coal at a time when we have tens of thousands of miners out of work, 1610 though willing to win the coal, coal in the mines and ships ready to buy it is absolutely the last word in folly. Something must be done to alter this. [Interruption.] An hon. Member asks "Is it true?" To what is he referring. Is he asking whether it is true that the trawlers do not get the coal? They are not getting the coal, and are appealing to their own representatives here to put their grievances before the House. Of course it is true. We ask now what the Minister is doing to get these Committees to work efficiently. Is there any "snag" or difficulty in the Act which allows a condition of affairs to arise in which we have the coal in abundance, men willing to work, trawlers waiting to take and pay for the coal, and yet that coal cannot be supplied?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Member is displaying some excitement over this matter, but I assure him that is quite unnecessary. I give him that assurance. [interruption.] The Noble Lord says he does not believe it.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Very well, but I propose, to show that there is no shortage of coal in the United Kingdom at the present time.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Neither is there any shortage of coal on the basis of the allocation for this quarter. The Central Council of Coal Owners, who determine the allocation for each district, provided for a quantity of coal which, in terms of production, was not exceeded at the end of February. At the end of February, after eight weeks' working of the quota, there was in South Wales an under-production of 2,300,000 tons of coal on the basis of the allocation—partly due to the coal dispute there; in Durham, at the end of February, there was an underproduction of 500,000 tons; and in Scotland an under-production of 200,000 tons.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am coming to Yorkshire. If there is available 3,000,000 tons of coal which coalowners are entitled to produce on the basis of their allocation it cannot be argued that there is any shortage of coal.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Hon. Members are anxious to ascertain the facts, and I am anxious to furnish them. I was pointing out what would happen on the basis of the allocation in the case of the coalowners themselves. I want to direct the attention of the House to the statements which have been made during the past few weeks regarding the alleged shortage of coal in various districts. It was alleged that there was a serious shortage of coal in the London area. We heard a good deal of these scares in certain newspapers, and I was attacked personally because it was stated that I was not doing my duty and that the Government were responsible. I received a deputation from the Coal Merchants' Federation who wanted to consult with me as to the propriety of taking action in the event of the cold weather continuing, and the possibility of a shortage of coal arising. I asked the spokesman of the coal merchants' deputation if there was any shortage of coal in London at the present time, and whether there had been any shortage during this week, and the answer I received was "No". I had an assurance from those gentlemen who represent the coal trade of London that there was at that time an abundance of coal in every part of London. Here again, as a result of the heavy snow fall and the dislocation of the traffic, the position has been affected, but at any rate there was no shortage of coal this week in the London area, and there is no shortage at the present time.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Yes. I am referring to the whole of the London area. I have been informed that this week Scottish firms have been offering coal of good quality at a low market price.
§ Sir G. PENNY
When the hon. Member says at a low market price, is he aware that the average price asked for Scottish coal was 2s. 6d. per ton more than for Midland coal, and that means a very considerable item to a poor man.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
If the hon. Member makes that statement, it is not in accordance with the information which I have received. My information is that during this week, when we were told in the newspapers that there was scarcely any coal in London, Scottish coal was on offer in the London area at comparable prices. As regards the trawler situation the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) spoke about the danger of Polish coal being imported into this country. The newspapers have been dealing with that point, and all sorts of threats have been used. May I point out that not a single ounce of Polish coal has come into the country during last week, although the statement appeared in the Press on Thursday that we bad been compelled to buy Polish coal. It is quite plain that the tales which have appeared in the Press about the importation of Polish coal have been circulated in order to prejudice the working of the Coal Mines Act.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I did not say so. What I said was that the Press agitation and scares were intended to prejudice the working of the Coal Mines Act and the Government. It is true that in the case of trawlers there has been some shortage of coal, but I am informed that this has been due to the fact that the trawlers had to put in to Aberdeen in order to replenish their supplies, and that that entailed an extra cost in some cases of £25. That is the sort of thing that happens at all times when the weather is bad. Of course. I cannot discuss the question of the quota on this Vote. Certain allegations have been made in regard to the Yorkshire collieries, and apparently it has been assumed that Yorkshire would receive a further allocation, which would mean that they would sell more than their share within the prescribed period. On the strength of that assumption, they sold more, and then they had only 58 per cent. left for March.
There is another singular fact which is rather disconcerting. The Midland district did not fix its minimum price and actually sold coal at 2d. a ton less than the price in December. On the other hand, Durham had fixed its minimum 1613 price. There has been some difficulty in Durham; there has been some additional unemployment; but that is not due to the quota in Durham. Durham, because of the fixing of its minimum price at a higher level than the price reigning in Yorkshire, has been unable to compete, and Yorkshire has been capturing trade that might otherwise have gone to Durham. [Interruption.]
§ Major ELLIOT rose—
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member knows anything about this subject. Presumably he does not, and that is why he interjects.
§ Major ELLIOT
Before the Minister accuses his colleagues in this House of not knowing anything of or taking any interest in such a subject, he might show a little more knowledge of it than he is showing at this moment.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
That is a characteristic touch of the hon. and gallant Member, but, if I may so say, it will not go down with the House. [Interruption.] The hon. and gallant Member has just come into the House, and, as soon as he arrived, he began interjecting. I shall take no further notice of him. His interjections have taken the form of sneering because the price of coal has not gone up. Hon. Members opposite have alleged all along the line that, as a result of the Coal Mines Act, there would be an excessive rise in the price of coal, and because that has not happened, they appear to he a little surprised. In any event, the situation in Yorkshire has arisen because they have been selling their coal at lower prices and plunging the coal into other markets. The hon. Member for Grimsby said that he would prefer to use South Yorkshire coal for trawlers, but there is really no difficulty about that now.
What is happening? The Yorkshire colliery owners, who have been responsible for the circular that has been sent out to the various merchants in the country who purchase their coal, have informed their contractors and consumers that they are not prepared to implement their contracts to the extent of 50 per cent. What happens to the remainder? Presumably the coal is going to be sold at higher prices, and they are going to escape their obligations to the persons 1614 with whom they entered into contracts, in order to get a somewhat higher price for the coal which remains. There is no question of a difference between the Yorkshire mineowners and ourselves. Indeed, one of the most prominent Yorkshire mineowners, speaking at a meeting at Leeds University last week, praised the Coal Mines Act and eulogised the quota arrangement, and advised all and sundry to take no notice of the agitation.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I cannot say, but there is no question of a difference between the Yorkshire owners and ourselves, because they differ among themselves as to the propriety of agitating against the quota. A statement appeared in the "Times" this morning, which hon. Members will have seen, and for which Staffordshire owners are responsible, indicating that they are apparently quite satisfied and maintain that there is no shortage of coal. Lastly, reference has been made to the Committee of Investigation. The Central Committee of Investigation consists of owners, representatives of the miners, representatives of the Federation of British Industries, and, I think, of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as some independent persons. They unanimously decided that Yorkshire's claim for a further allocation was not warranted. In face of these facts, why complain about the Mines Department in this connection? The Committee of Investigation was set up for the purpose of hearing complaints and coming to decisions on the issue presented to them. In this case they have come to a decision. Moreover, the Midland Council has not asked the Central Council for a further allocation, but has accepted the decision of the arbitrator—because, as hon. Members are aware, the case was referred to arbitration about a fortnight ago—and they have not taken any action to obtain an increased allocation to meet an increased demand. I can only come to the conclusion that the Yorkshire coalowners have indulged in this agitation merely for the purpose of bringing pressure to bear either on the Central Council of Coalowners or on the Committee of Investigation, with a view to securing a further allocation. Perhaps I might inform the House that I understand that 1615 the Midlands Council has accepted for the next quarter a lower allocation than it received for this quarter, and has made no protest. We shall do all that we can, in spite of these difficulties, to ensure adequate supplies. I am informed by those who have the coal at their disposal and ready to sell that the coal is of good quality and can be supplied at a reasonable price. In all these circumstances, there need be no further talk of actual shortage or of importing coal from Poland or any other country.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would deal with actual facts as they are to-day, and not with statements which he admits were made in the papers a week or two ago. I think the House has rather reached the conclusion that he is a great deal better fitted to deal with corkscrews than with coal. The hon. Gentleman assured the House that there is no shortage of coal. Yesterday, in putting to him a Private Notice Question, to which he replied, I placed before him a telegram which showed that there is actually at the moment an acute shortage of coal in the limestone district of Derbyshire. Since receiving that telegram yesterday, I have received word from another quarry that it has been compelled to close down owing to shortage of coal, and, whatever the hon. Gentleman may say, it is the fact that on the North-West side of Derbyshire there ate men out or work to-day because their quarries cannot get coal, while on the North-East side, only 20 miles away, miners are out of work because the quota system has compelled collieries to reduce their output. It is a most scandalous state of affairs, with unemployment as it is now, that an Act of Parliament for which the hon. Gentleman is responsible should be withholding employment from a very considerable number of men. That situation cannot be dealt with by evasions and equivocations such as we have heard from the hon. Gentleman to-day. The House is entitled, in face of the tact that quarries have had to close down owing to a shortage of coal, to a better and fairer and fuller explanation than we have received from him.
§ Mr. KELLY
With regard to the question of shortage, I am wondering, and I would ask the Department to con- 1616 sider, whether this is a design on the part of certain people in the coal trade to hold up coal in order to create these difficulties. I have a telegram this morning from the Rochdale Provident Co-operative Society, in which they declare that, owing to the absence of supplies of coal, they will be compelled this evening to close down their supply department. I am not suggesting that the Secretary for Mines or his Department is responsible for that. I have known people who were opposed to au Act of Parliament, who were opposed to the law of this country, to play tricks in order to bring an Act into disrepute, or to bring a Government into disrepute. I rise now only to ask the Department to go into this case, and others of which I have heard, and also, if they find that there is a design on the part of people to break the law, to deal with them very effectively if they are preventing the supply of coal. I certainly would have very little mercy on anyone who was preventing supplies of coal from coming through at this time.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The last two speeches, and the avalanche of questions addressed daily to the Minister at Question Time, would, I should have hoped, have shown him the unquestionable facts of the position, and the facts with which we desire him to deal. He must remember that, apart from being a politician, he is the executive head of an important Department of State, whose duty it is, when it involves itself in great executive responsibility by legislation, to do his best by all classes of people in the country, whatever their political opinions. The issues which have been raised upon this Vote—it is the appropriate occasion on which to raise them—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman has an observation to make, perhaps he will make it so that we can hear it. [Interruption.] I am certainly not being rude. On the contrary, I have consistently heard Members on that side of the House saying "Speak up" whenever he happens to speak. If he has an observation to offer that is relevant to the Debate, I ask that it should be made in a voice that can be heard. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear it, but the hon. 1617 Member is sitting in a place where he is not entitled to address the House. He is outside it. [Interruption.]
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
There is no question about the facts, which are making Members in all quarters of the House anxious. There is no possible doubt that in various parts of the country to-day buyers cannot get coal. The hon. Member opposite has read a telegram from his co-operative society. I entirely agree with him. If people are creating an artificial shortage in order to render legislation unworkable, I have no sympathy with that course at all. I do not know whether that is the position of some particular coalowners who want to get some adjustment. I am not concerned with that, nor would it be proper to discuss it on this Vote. Difficulties are being encountered day after day by countless people engaged in work of one kind or another who have no views at all about the policy of the Coal Act, and, for all I know, are no politicians at all. The hon. Member would probably say the co-operative society is a supporter of his. I do not know. Anyway, politics, whether it is a good Act or a bad Act, do not arise. He gets a telegram to say that his co-operative society cannot get coal, and it will have to close down part of its business to-morrow unless it can get coal. My Noble Friend has received telegrams from limeworks in his constituency to say they are shutting down because they cannot get coal. We have testimony from Grimsby. I do not know whether a firm has actually taken an order for Polish coal, but there is not the least doubt that trawlers have had difficulty in getting coal. They may have been able to get it at the last moment.
These are not people who care about the politics of the Coal Act at all. They are ordinary people, conducting their business in their everyday avocations, and they and the workmen employed in their works are the people who are asking questions, and any Minister, what- 1618 ever his political complexion, who has to administer an Act of this kind, is bound to meet this kind of criticism and is bound to say what action he is taking and what he is doing to prevent it. [Interruption.] Really the hon. Gentleman is not entitled to say that. I have sat through every speech that he has made. I have listened with care, and without interrupting, to every speech he has made. I am in the recollection of the House in my general conduct, and I deeply resent his saying that I have not listened to his speeches.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
What I said was perfectly true. His observation was that I did not tell the House what was being done. I am in the recollection of the House. I certainly said the matter had been referred to the central committee of investigation, which had come to a decision. Moreover, the central council of coalowners refused to give a further allocation to the Midland Coal-owners Association earlier in the year, and the arbiters decided against the Midland Council on the arbitration proceeding. Why, then, does he say I have not enlightened the House as to what has been done?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have heard every sing12 word the hon. Gentleman has said and, to prove it, I am gong on to deal with exactly what he said. There is no doubt about these facts. Buyers cannot get coal in the place where they need to buy it for their business. In some cases they cannot get coal at all. In other cases, they cannot get the coal that they require. There is no doubt at all that the export trade is being handicapped. The hon. Gentleman said there is not a shortage of coal in England generally, because under this Mines Act the central committee has given an allocation which in the aggregate is larger than the total amount of coal that, has been mined. I dare say that is so, but, surely, the hon. Gentleman must realise this. It is no consolation to a man in Grimsby who wants Yorkshire coal delivered to him on his trawler at Grimsby to be told that someone in Durham or in Fife has not got the full amount of coal which he was entitled to get under his allocation and that, therefore, there is coal in England in the way that there was corn in Egypt. That man wants coal of 1619 the kind that he requires at the place at which he requires it. It is no good to tell me, if I want large house coal, that there is a great deal of small coal knocking about because there is a stoppage in Lancashire. Lt is no good to tell me I can get gas coal when what I want is house coal, and it is no good to tell me that coal of the kind that I require exists in a part of the world where I do not want to take delivery of it, and where I shall have to pay transport charges in order to get it. What these people ought to have, and are entitled to have, and what it is the function of either the Minister or these committees to give him, is the coal that they want in the place where they want it.
I heard all that the hon. Gentleman said about committees. He says he told the House that these complaints have been referred to committees and that the committees have turned them down. These are the committees whose salaries and expenses we are being asked to vote. I say to him, quite plainly, that it is no consolation to a man who is asking for coal to be told he can have a committee. What he wants is coal and not committees. I dare say it will not hurt, in the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to appoint one or two more committees, but, the question we have to consider when voting public money for their emoluments and expenses is whether it will help to have one or two more, or in this case I think 17 more. I say frankly, that I do net think that a case has been made out for the justification of those committees under the Act. A good many of the criticisms which I ventured to make about the Bill when it was before the House are seen to have been not very far from the truth now that we have the Act in operation. We have to deal with the unfortunate fact that this Act is being carried out. It is no good for the Minister to say, as he did, that the coal-owners sitting on their central committee or area committee agreed to this or that application. I daresay they did. The whole argument I advanced during those earlier discussions was that you have no business to create a compulsory trust in which owners can do what they like.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he has ever heard of 1620 the five counties voluntary restriction scheme?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have heard of it; I was in office while that scheme was in operation. I can tell the hon. Gentleman some things about that scheme. First, it was a voluntary and not a compulsory scheme. The result was that anybody who did not wish to come into the voluntary scheme was entitled to stand out. The hon. Gentleman has created a system in which no one can stand out of the scheme. I was not sure whether he was strictly in order, but he made a most interesting observation. He enlarged upon the scandal that in Yorkshire people had been selling coal cheaper than people in Durham and that thereby they had got somebody else's business. It is coming to a pretty pass when we are told that we can have no remedy and that people are not to have coal, because coalowners have had the impertinence to sell coal at a cheaper price than one of their neighbours.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I do not know about it being Free Trade, but it seems to me the negation of common sense. Whether we are Free Traders or Protectionists, I hope to goodness that we are not going to go in for a policy of raising prices instead of a policy of trying to reduce prices by increased efficiency. I should be glad to argue upon that matter at any time, and when it is in order I will do so. The whole policy is wrong. It is a policy of stabilising inefficiency and raising costs. I hold this view very sincerely and strongly.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am afraid that I cannot he drawn into that matter, which is a very different proposition. Nobody is complaining to-day that they cannot get tin, and everybody, whether in this country or in any other country, is getting tin at the world price.
§ 3.0 p.m.
Sir P. GUNLIFFE-LISTER
I did not start it. I come back to what is the 1621 relevant point. It is no answer to say that the coalowners' committees say they are satisfied with this, if that be the case, and that they do not think that any larger allocation should be given to them. If that is so, it is a great condemnation of the Act. The point which the President of the Board of Trade always held out to us was that there would be two safeguards for the public under which they would be assured of adequate supplies at a reasonable price. What were the two safeguards? The first was that before a scheme could come into operation under the Act, the President of the Board of Trade had to approve of that scheme. He said, in effect, "It will be my duty to see that the scheme is fair, not only to coalowners, but to the consumers, and to see that it will work smoothly." Therefore, the first thing is that schemes which work to the disadvantage of the consumer, not merely in price, but in the actual physical inability to deliver supplies, ought not to be sanctioned by the President of the Board of Trade. If he finds schemes working in that way, he ought to use his powers to substitute something in their place. We were told that the further safeguard which the consumer would have would be the committees whose salaries we are considering to-day. I say plainly to the House that when we find that through the operation of these committees, the people who want coal—telegram after telegram shows it—are unable to get it; I do not see the point of voting money for purposes which do not seem to be giving any results.
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I had ever heard of the five counties scheme which operated during part of my tenure of office. I not only heard of it, but I had to deal with it. Under the voluntary operation of the five counties scheme, in one case, there was a question as to whether there would be adequate supplies of coal delivered in the Humber for bunkers, and for export, certainly at least for bunkers. The usual thing was said, as has been said to-day,
§ that the difficulty was exaggerated, that people who were inimical to the five counties scheme rather exaggerated the shortage and difficulties in order to try and break the scheme. I did not say, "Use coal in Fife or in Durham"; I did what I should have thought was the reasonable thing to do. I sent for the people who were running the five counties scheme, although they were not my statutory creation as these committees are those of the hon. Gentleman, and I had no control as he has under the Act. I said to them, "If you run this scheme you have to run it in a businesslike way, and the reasonable thing to do is to have an adequate pool of unallocated coal which can be thrown into the Humber at any time it is required for bunkers or for export."
§ The result was that there was always kept a balance in suspense which could be worked through the different counties. I think that some hon. Members who know the Yorkshire coalfields pretty well will agree that, as a result of that arrangement, I never heard afterwards of there being any complaint whether for bunker coal for ships, or for export, of any difficulty in acquiring the fullest amount of supplies on the Humber. I think that that is the kind of action which the Minister ought to be taking today. I do not ask him whether he is referring matters to committees; that is of no interest to the people who want coal. I put to him specifically this question before we assent to this Vote, because it is the only chance we have of making an effective protest: What steps is he going to take, either by his own action or through these committees, which will be effective to make coal in qualities which the buyers need available in different parts of the country where it is needed?
§ Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 176; Noes, 78.1623
|Division No. 192.]||AYES.||[3.6 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Ammon, Charles George||Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Angell, Sir Norman||Barr, James|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Arnott, John||Batey, Joseph|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M.||Aske, Sir Robert||Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Attlee, Clement Richard||Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Ayles, Walter||Bennett, William (Battersea, South)|
|Benson, G.||Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Blindell, James||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Ritson, J.|
|Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||Johnston, Thomas||Romeril, H. G.|
|Bowen, J. W.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Rowson, Guy|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Knight, Holford||Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Sanders, W. S.|
|Burgess, F. G.||Lathan, G.||Sandham, E.|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland)||Law, Albert (Bolton)||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Caine, Derwent Hall||Law, A. (Rossendale)||Scott, James|
|Cameron, A. G.||Lawrence, Susan||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Cape, Thomas||Leach, W.||Shield, George William|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Lees, J.||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Charleton, H. C.||Longbottom, A. W.||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Chater, Daniel||Longden, F.||Shinwell, E.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Lunn, William||Simmons, C. J.|
|Compton, Joseph||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Cove, William G.||McElwee, A.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Daggar, George||McEntee, V. L.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Dallas, George||McKinlay, A.||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Dalton, Hugh||MacNeill-Weir, L.||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Day, Harry||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Snell, Harry|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||McShane, John James||Sorensen, R.|
|Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Duncan, Charles||Mansfield, W.||Strauss, G. R.|
|Ede, James Chuter||March, S.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Marley, J.||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Marshall, Fred||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Mathers, George||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Gillett, George M.||Matters, L. W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Glassey, A. E.||Messer, Fred||Tout, W. J.|
|Gossling, A. G.||Mills, J. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Gould, F.||Milner, Major J.||Walker, J.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Montague, Frederick||Wallace, H. W.|
|Gray, Milner||Morley, Ralph||Watkins, F. C.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermilne)|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Muggeridge, H. T.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Naylor, T. E.||West, F. R.|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Westwood, Joseph|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Noel Baker, P. J.||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.)||Oldfield, J. R.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Zetland)||Palin, John Henry||Wilson C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Palmer, E. T.||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Hayes, John Henry||Perry, S. F.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Wise, E. F.|
|Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Pole, Major D. G.||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Potts, John S.||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Herriotts, J.||Pybus, Percy John|
|Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)||Quibell, D. J. K.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hopkin, Daniel||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Paling.|
|Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Albery, Irving James||Ford, Sir P. J.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Reynolds, Col. Sir James|
|Berry, Sir George||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch't'sy)|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Boyce, Leslie||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Savery, S. S.|
|Butler, R. A.||Hartington, Marquess of||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Campbell, E. T.||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Smithers, Waldron|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Hurd, Percy A.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Iveagh, Countess of||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton)||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Macquisten, F. A.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)||Peake, Capt. Osbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Penny, Sir George||Major Sir George Hennessy and|
|Sir Frederick Thomson.|
Question, "That the Clause be added to the Bill," put, and agreed to.