HC Deb 19 March 1931 vol 249 cc2234-84

I am sure that the House will welcome an opportunity of discussing the working of the quota, system in connection with the Coal Mines Act, 1930. It is much too early yet to form a considered judgment on how the system is working. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of disquiet in various parts of the country as to whether or not the Act is working as it was intended to work by those who framed it, and whether hardship is not accruing unnecessarily to large bodies of miners especially in the Midlands district. I propose to deal with certain points which arise from the public discussion of the question, from information received from various parts of the country, and from questions and answers in this House.

It is obvious that certain collieries could employ more men if their quotas were higher. Whether there would be reflex action in other areas is a point which I do not want to discuss now. It is also certain that merchants have found difficulties in certain cases in obtaining supplies. That was made clear during the recent cold snaps in London and elsewhere. There have also been difficulties in certain ports with regard to bunkering. I was surprised at the Minister's reply on that subject because I have made inquiries, and I am assured that there has been very great difficulty in this respect. Whether they are due to the quota or not, those difficulties have arisen, and those who have suffered because of the difficulties, believe that they are due to the quota. It is also said that there has been a great deal of disorganisation of the normal marketing channels, but I do not stress that point too much, because every new departure is bound to bring in its train a certain amount of disorganisation.


On a point of Order. May I ask, Sir, what lines this Debate will take? Will it be open to hon. Members to discuss the whole of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, or are we to be confined to the part which deals with the quota?


This Debate is not on the Coal Mines Act, 1930, but on the Vote on Account, and any questions dealing with the Mines Department of the Board of Trade can be discussed. We cannot discuss the whole working of an Act of Parliament.

8.0 p.m.


This matter, of course, concerns the administration of the Mines Department, and I do not propose to go further than to try to obtain information for the country upon it, and also the Minister's view on the complaints which have been made on this particular point. I also wish to make an appeal to him in one particular case. If other hon. Members have other points to raise, that is a matter which is in their hands, and under your Ruling, Sir, and is not in the hands of those who have given notice of raising this subject. I was about to say that in the ports on the east coast of Scotland there has been a great decrease in export coal as compared with previous years. In the case of my own division, Leith, the figures of last February as compared with those of February a year ago show that the export of coal, which was 111,000 tons, has fallen by 46,000 tons, which is a very serious fall. I am not in a position to say that this fall is due to the working of the quota, but there are certain people engaged in the shipping of coal who hold that view very strongly. I want some information from the Minister as to the reason, in his view, for that big increase. One of the reasons given for framing the Act in this way was that it was hoped to stimulate the export of coal. Whether that object will be achieved over a long period I do not know; but the first quarter is not very hopeful. Very little confidence is felt by minorities in the work of the Central Council. The Minister may reply in the words of a celebrated Member of this House, Mr. Birrell, that minorities must suffer; but that is no comfort to minorities, whether they be coalowners who do not get the quota they think they are entitled to or miners who are standing idle or working short time.

As I understand it, the Central Council fixed the total for the first quarter ending 31st March at about 10 per cent, below the output for the March quarter of 1930, and they divided the output among the various districts. There seems to have been a great deal of trouble in the Midland district, comprising Yorkshire, Nottingham, Derby, and Lancashire. They were allowed a right of appeal, but they did not exericse that appeal. Durham and Cumberland fixed their prices as the Midland district did not. The other districts claim that the Midland district undercut them in an attempt to secure more trade. I understand that the other districts state that they failed to limit their production in January and February to the permitted level. It is quite evident that the total output over the whole of the country has not bean exhausted in the period under review. The Minister, of course, will reply that, since the total output permitted has not been achieved, that is an answer to those who claim that their quota should be larger in the other districts. But there is an answer to that which goes to the root of the whole system. It appears to me now, as it appeared to me in theory before it began to work, that a system of this kind worked by committees of owners could not be elastic enough to meet the needs of producers with regard to their own markets and commitments, on the one hand, and that it could not be elastic enough, on the other hand, with regard to the needs of consumers, considering the great variety there are in the classes of coal. That seems to be borne out, so far as I can judge at the moment.

The Minister will no doubt say that the coal merchants have been caught as the consumers have been caught by the spell of cold weather. But that will always happen, because many people have no coal cellars, and they are unable to stock coal for a long period. Therefore, whatever arrangements you may make theoretically for an arbitrary figure, when a cold snap comes you are bound to get people who have not got their allotted amount. If that happens in an area where the quota is working with insufficient elasticity, the people are bound to be badly hit. I have talked with some merchants, and I have read a good deal of correspondence. The merchants blame the Act. I want to make it quite clear to the House that I do not blame the Act for every complaint that has been made. They quote a circular which has been sent out by collieries in the Midlands, who said that they had not and in some cases could not meet their contracts. Then there ate cases in which large consumers of coal are making inquiries about delivery. The London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company desire to know if a certain company with which they have contracts will be able to meet their contracts, because in the week ending 14th March the delivery was 518 tons below the contracted weekly quantity. The letter says: This, in view of the approaching stoppage at the collieries for Easter is a serious matter, and I shall be glad to hear that arrangements are being made this week and next to send us the full weekly quantities due, also the deficiency created last week. The Secretary for Mines is reported to have stated that a coal shortage does not exist, no appeal having been received by the Central Council from the District Executive Board. I presume this remark is intended to refer to house coal. Assuming that the short supplies of loco coal are the result of the new Coal Mines Act, I shall be glad to hear whether you have stated your case to the proper authorities in regard to your obligation to this company. The Minister will claim, I understand, that the circulars which have been issued by the merchants show concerted action. That seems to be a curious reply. My answer is, "Why not, if the facts warrant it?" In a scheme of this kind, in which the original judgment is made by a board representing a majority of owners, a minority which may have a good case may be over-ruled, and its only chance is to take concerted action with other minorities which may be suffering in other districts. Is the Minister of opinion that the Act is working in the manner in which he forecasted that it would work? In the course of the Debate an hon. Member said: It is nowhere stated in the Bill, so far as I can see, that the Central Council shall take into consideration past results at all. I have no doubt they will do so, but it is nowhere laid down as a principle. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade replied: I cannot say off-hand whether there is a specific reference, but there has never been any doubt about that, and there cannot be under this legislation. The Central Council has to take the present record of the district into account, and it reaches right down to the individual colliery which gets its standard tonnage to which the quota is applied. That standard tonnage, if it is fairly fixed, must have regard to what the colliery has been doing and so from the very foundation of the scheme upwards you get a reference to what has been the state of affairs, subject always to what object of this part of the Bill, the disposal of the coal at a remunerative level, putting such quantities on to the market as will bring a proper price. The House will want to know whether the Minister thinks that, in fixing the quota in the areas, regard is being had to the past output and the potential development and needs of individual collieries or whether the figure is being based on an arbitrary figure over the area with regard to the total which is fixed for the whole country. If we can get an answer to that question, the country will have some idea as to whether scientific judgment is being brought to bear on the application of this system. May I give a particular case which is being largely canvassed in the newspapers? I refer to the case of the pits in the Barnsley district. The Barnsley Town Council—this is not in any sense a political matter—felt that their constituents were being adversely affected by the allocation and made a request for a re-allocation. They passed a resolution asking for an examination by the District Committee of Investigation. This is a copy of a resolution which was passed by the Midland (Amalgamated) District Committee of Investigation at a meeting held in Sheffield on 13th March: That, in the opinion of this committee the amended standard tonnages allotted to the North Gawber Colliery, the Woolley Colliery, the Haigh Colliery, and the Darton Colliery by the Executive Board of the Midland (Amalgamated) District (Coal Mines) Scheme 1930, are having an effect contrary to the public interest and are inequitable. The committee consider that these standard tonnages call for a substantial increase. The committee further resolved that copies of the foregoing resolution be forwarded at once to the executive board of the Midland (Amalgamated) District (Coal Mines) Scheme with a request that it should receive early attention and that the committee may be informed of the action taken by the executive board. I understand from a Press report this morning that the Minister has seen a deputation from the town council and that he has told them that he has no power to act. If that is so, the House is entitled to know whether, pending a re-allocation by the standard tonnage sub-committee of that district, men who were out of work may be allowed to go back and an adjustment made afterwards. The House when it was passing the Bill never dreamt of procedure of this kind. I am not able to discover from the statement of the Minister where the power lies. I do not know whether it lies with the sub-committee itself or whether the sub-committee will have again to report to the investigation committee or how long or how far the process will go. Will the Minister tell the House how long the men are to be kept idle because the allocation is insufficient, or if there are any powers in his hand or in the hand of any other authority whereby these men can go back pending re-allocation which I assume will be made. It is a dangerous thing to have men standing idle by Act of Parliament. It is a dangerous thing from the point of view of the men themselves and of the whole country, and it does seem to me that the report of the sub-committee agrees with the complaints that have been made, at any rate in part, that there has been an allocation on too small a basis and that it is not merely adverse to the men and the colliery owners but to the public interest.

I would like to raise the question of the drop in the export trade in order that we may get the Minister's view about it. There has been a heavy drop this February as compared with February, 1930, in the exports from the port of Leith, and I understand that there is a corresponding drop in all the East of Scotland ports. If that be so, it is a serious thing. The figure for February, 1930, was 111,644 tons and the figure this February is 64,816 tons, which is an extraordinarily heavy drop. I have made some inquiries as to this, and though there is a great difference of opinion about it, there is a good deal of suspicion that it is naturally owing to the new arrangements. Those who are looking for an easy explanation will blame the coal quota for it. Let me put the points that come uppermost in my mind as a result of talking it over. There is no doubt that there are some people who blame the Mines Act for this drop. It is to be contended that the quota system compelling collieries to reduce their output makes it difficult for owners to offer ahead, as they do not know what their available quantity of shipment will be.

It is contended that the quota system operates for all collieries alike for all grades of coal alike, irrespective of the demand for certain special qualities. In certain parts of the East of Scotland, especially in Fifeshire, there are certain kinds of coal which are specially needed for steamships; there is always a demand for them, and it is contended that there is not enough variation and elasticity under this system to enable a sufficient supply to be provided of that particular type of coal, for which there is always a demand, and which is wanted badly by certain steamers in order to keep the pits working at their full output. It is also contended that there are collieries in Scotland producing certain grades of coal which will always find a market, but to-day these mines are working short time, and are dismissing miners, notwithstanding the fact that they could dispose of their whole output if the quota allowed it. Those who attribute the fall in shipments to the quota system say that the quota system is the worst that could possibly be adopted, for it takes no account of the varying classes of coal nor of the fluctuating demand which has always existed and always will exist in the coal trade. It is also held by some of the shippers that the coal market can only be maintained by full production and low costs, and it is the opinion of some coal traders that this particular system has meant higher costs and is therefore disadvantageous.

I hope that the Minister will believe me when I say that evidence comes to us from all parts of the country that there is grave disquiet at the working of the quota. I beg him not to take merely the departmental view that the Act is all right and must be all right for everybody, merely because some central committee says so. If the thing works as it has been working in the first 2½ months, he will not be able long to maintain that attitude. I put in a special plea for the particular miners in the Barnsley district who, as the investigating committee say, are suffering because the scheme is having an effect contrary to the public interest and is inequitable. The committee consider that these standard tonnages call for a substantial increase. If the hon. Gentleman cannot give the House a direct statement now that these men can go back pending the re-allocation, I hope that he will give an assurance that there will be the utmost speed in re-allocating the quota, so that the men who are now standing idle may have the occupation which they are hungry to get, and produce the coal for which there is a market and which is badly needed.

Lieut. - Colonel Sir A. LAMBERT WARD

Almost exactly a week ago I raised the question of the intolerable position which has been created in the fishing trade by what the merchants in the Humber considered to be the operation of the quota; and because the Debate took place on a Supplementary Estimate, I was somewhat cramped in developing my argument. I succeeded in pointing out, however, that unless the position altered considerably before the end of this month, 50 per cent. of the trawlers which operate from Hull will be unable to go to sea owing to the shortage of coal. Trawler owners having contracts in the South Yorkshire area have received intimation that colliery owners are, according to their statement, owing to the action of the quota, unable to implement their contracts by something like 50 per cent., which meant that trawler owners found themselves suddenly and without previous warning deprived of half the quantity of coal which they had contracted for. For some reason or other, the collieries are unable to supply the coal they had contracted to supply. In order to show that this is not raised merely as a party question, I should like to read from a letter which I have received. I understand that the Minister has also received similar letters dealing with this question. This letter is from a firm of coal contractors on the Humber, and they say: Under our contracts we should have received 8,380 tons of coal at the fish docks, Grimsby, this month, and we required every ounce of this tonnage. Against this quantity, the collieries have informed us the best they would be able to do for us is 4,700 tons. The actual coal we have received from this source so far this month is 2,100 tons against these contracts. Providing we received the utmost tonnage from the collieries, and they say it is absolutely impossible for them to do more, we shall still be 3,600 tons short of our requirements. We have the following vessels due from Iceland in a week's time, namely steam trawlers 'Elf King,' 'North King' and 'Spider,' while we have the following weekly vessels fishing in the North Sea: steam trawlers 'Aucuba,' 'Croxby,' 'Riby,' 'Rugby,' 'Russell,' 'Garola,' 'Gadra' and 'Grenada'; while in addition we are committed for this coal to other trawler friends who have vessels due. We may say that during the last three days we have been compelled to buy considerably inferior coal at a higher price than our contract figure in order to get vessels away to Iceland and Greenland. We shall be grateful to you if you can put us into touch with some of the coal said to be available. The remarks I made on the last occasion were implemented by every other speaker. They referred to the fact that offers had been received of Polish-Silesian coal to be delivered in the Humber. I beg the Minister of Mines not to give any encouragement to the importation of Polish coal into this country, and not to throw another market into the hands of the Polish-Silesian coalowners. That coal trade has done enough harm to the trade of this country as it is. Not many years ago, the north country and Durham coal had a practical monopoly of the coal trade in the Baltic. To-day scarcely a ton of British coal goes to the Baltic. Not long ago the Secretary for Mines made a, journey to Sweden in the hope of persuading Swedish buyers to use more British coal. Whether he is satisfied with the results of his journey I do not know, but I know that exporters in this country are highly dissatisfied.

In reply to various points which were raised in the Debate the other day, the Minister said that, taking the country as a whole, there was no shortage of coal, and he mentioned that in South Wales there was a surplus of nearly 2,500,000 tons on the quota, and in Durham a surplus of something like 500,000 tons. But coal in South Wales is of no use to the trawler owners in my constituency. Transport costs from South Wales to the Humber are approximately 15s a ton, within 1s. of the price at which these trawler owners had contracted for supplies of Yorkshire coal. An alternative source of supply is Durham, but if Durham coal is not brought down to the Humber the trawlers have to call in at the Tyne or at Seaham Harbour, incurring very considerable loss of time and very considerable other expenses. The Secretary for Mines was inclined to scoff at the suggestion that Polish coal could be imported into the Humber at competitive prices. For greater accuracy, I will read his exact words: The hon. Member for Grimsby 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 had 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,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1931; col. 1612, Vol. 249.] It seems to me that those remarks were intended to convey the idea that it was quite impossible for Polish coal to be imported on an economic basis. But I have in my hand two telegrams making definite offers of Polish coal. The first one says— Loading about 28th. Offer 3,000 tons Progress. That is the name of a very large Silesian cartel. Moisture 5, ash 2,5, volatiles 34–3,5. Large coal 16s. 6d., cobbles 16s. 9d. to 17s. I have another telegram from Messrs. Worms and Company, the large French coal traders, who have recently gone into the Polish coal trade. Worms offer 3,000 large over 6 inches. Approximate analysis without guarantee is volatiles 34–35, fixed carbon 64, moisture 10–11, ash 4/5 per cent. Similar Gedling bards"— That is the name of a colliery from which trawlers and trawler owners frequently obtain their supplies— suitable bunkers 17s. 3d., Thames 17s. free alongside, Hull, Grimsby, Immingham, 500 tons daily delivery 1/6 stem subject to mutual arrangement; prompt shipment. Those telegrams show that it is possible to obtain Polish coal in the Humber at a price very little in excess of the price the trawler owners have contracted to pay for Yorkshire coal, and in view of the inroads Polish coal has already made into British markets, it is highly inadvisable to throw another market, the home market, into the arms of those competitors. It is not only from the North that we receive these complaints. I have a letter from a firm of merchants in Reading: Dear Sir, I desire to call your serious attention to the shortage of coal in this district which has resulted in consequence of the quota system of the Coal Mines Act. I would point out that there is a real difficulty in obtaining sufficient house coal, and this difficulty is likely to continue during the remainder of the month, as many of the collieries have almost worked their permitted tonnage. There is another case concerning ships trading from London to Jamaica which normally obtain their bunkers from a South Yorkshire colliery which ships from Hull. They have been obliged to purchase 600 tons of bunker coal at Rotterdam. That is coal from the Ruhr, another competitor with the British coalowners.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Shinwell)

I am sorry to interrupt, but the coal the hon. and gallant Member refers to was British coal.


I am only too glad to hear it, but that does not make matters any easier for my trawler owners in Hull. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain why it is possible for that colliery to ship coal to Rotterdam when apparently they are unable to send it to London. As far as the Humber is concerned, I should like to conclude with a telegram I have received to-day from the Chamber of Commerce and Shipping in Hull, a most representative body, thoroughly representative of trade, commerce and industry throughout Hull, which, I would remind the President of the Board of Trade, is the third largest coal shipping port in the United Kingdom: Shipowners, brokers and coal exporters of Hull urge you use strongest possible means to-day to obtain some relief from the most distressing position Hull is placed. Steamers cannot obtain their supplies of bunker coal. Orders are being regularly refused and the trade of this port is becoming almost impossible. In view of that telegram I ask the hon. Gentleman to give us some explanation and to let us know what steps he intends to take to relieve the situation existing in that city.


It will be observed by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that all the quotations which have been given by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) and the hon. and gallant Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) that in no single case do they quote any coalowner, except the Barnsley Colliery, as having made complaints about the administration of this quota scheme.


I purposely refrained from quoting them. I have them, but I did not read them out.


It would have been more convenient if we had had the names of the few colliery owners who have been mentioned.


I alluded to one case for reallocation, and the hon. Member knows very well that, under the present system, colliery owners are not likely to come out in the open.


When all the colliery owners except one small insignificant company in the Barnsley area have made no complaints whatsoever, I ask hon. Members to disregard the complaints which have been put before the House by hon. Members opposite. With regard to the complaints of contractors and merchants, they come from speculators. They have no concern for the miners or the mineowners. What they are seeking is an unlimited output at no price at all in order that they may make more money out of the situation. The campaign which we are now witnessing is only a repetition of the campaign which occurred in the five-counties area. May I point out to hon. Members opposite that, as a result of the application of the quota system to the five counties, the exports there have increased approximately from 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 tons? When the hon. and gallant Member for North-West Hull referred to the decrease in our export trade, surely he had not forgotten that his own party was responsible largely for the rejection of the national levy, and their colleagues were responsible for the elimination of the district levy, thereby continuing to the coalowners the right to make the best arrangements they could for expediting and increasing the export of coal.


Can they not do that voluntarily?


If they had desired to make their industry as prosperous as the electricity industry, they could have done so by the same method. It was merely because coalowners themselves, despite years and years of depression, refused to face the facts that it was necessary to bring in the Coal Mines Bill. It seems to me to be rather late in the day for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to be complaining about the administration of an Act of Parliament which has recently come into operation, which is most difficult to understand, and which is equally difficult to administer. The central fact of the situation has been that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have opposed this Measure from commencement to end. They eliminated some important parts of the Bill which were embodied for a very special purpose, and now they find that the industry is suffering in consequence. It was prophesied that not only would the Coal Mines Bill cause dislocation by the application of the quota system, but we were actually told that the minimum price of coal would be increased by 3s. 6d. or 4s. 6d. per ton. When we talked about tin and tin plates we were told that the Coal Mines Bill would put 16s. on every ton produced. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Car- narvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) told us that the Bill would effect every industry and every hearth and home in the kingdom—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Robert Young)

The hon. Member must not go too far into the Act; we are not discussing that question to-night.


We have already been informed from the Chair that we should be allowed to cover a wide field.


A discussion on the quota is in order, but the details of the Act are not in order.


I was not discussing the quota, but I was recalling to the House the opinion on this question expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) when they were denouncing the application of the quota system and the limitation of output. Both those right hon. Gentlemen seem to have forgotten the effect of the quota in the tinplate trade. No doubt we shall be told in this Debate that their prognostications have turned out to be correct, but I think I can show that not only have they not matured, but, so far as the Act has been given a chance, it has been successful.

What are the facts of the situation? The combine in Yorkshire have received their allocation; they have had an opportunity of appealing to the Investigation Committee, and they had an opportunity of going to arbitration. Hon. and right hon. Members ought to have more confidence in the impartial arbitrators who have met to deal with these complaints, and are trying to give fair treatment in each individual case. The Central Council has fixed the allocation, and it is less than the output for 1930. Each district was charged with the responsibility of fixing the allocation to each individual colliery in each district. The method adopted in fixing the standard tonnage was not to take one area which might be favourable or unfavourable to any particular colliery or combine, but to take five normal years 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925 and 1927. That was the basis upon which the standard tonnage was actually fixed. If those five years, which are a fair average, are applied to every colliery or combine in this country, there is no room for complaint.

If any district in the whole coal-mining area had cause for complaint on the first allocation, that district was the Midland area, of which Yorkshire forms a part. They had cause for complaint, perhaps, because in 1930 they had already a voluntary quota in operation, while all the other districts in the mining area were able to produce as rapidly as they liked. The Midland Counties, however, did not wish to be the first to complain, because they were the home of co-operation, and were actually the inspiration for this co-operative Bill. They made their initial blunder by not immediately appealing to the arbitrators or the Central Council when they felt that the first allocation was adverse to their area. Since, however, they made that blunder, I see no reason why even they should complain two or three months later.

In Yorkshire, for the first quarter of 1930, the allocation was 65 per cent. for January, 65 per cent. for February, and 60 per cent. for March; but when the Midland area secured their allocation for the first quarter of this year, what did they do? Let it be remembered that the South Wales miners were locked out because they were unwilling to accept starvation wages, and the Midland counties, therefore, made up their minds to allocate to each colliery and combine 90 per cent. for January, and 82½ per cent. for February, leaving only 56.86 per cent. for March, and therein lies the real cause of the coal shortage in that area at this moment. But they did more. They waited until Durham and Northumberland had fixed their minimum price, below which they were unable to sell, and then they commenced to undersell their next-door neighbours in all parts of the coal consuming area. Is that a defect in the Bill, or is it a defect in the minds of the coalowners of the Midland area?

It is true that Yorkshire is as much an exporting area as South Wales or Durham, but the exports of Yorkshire are internal. They must export beyond the boundaries of Yorkshire, or otherwise their output would have to be reduced very rapidly. But there was no necessity for the Yorkshire coalowners, or any coalowners, to undercut the price already fixed in Durham and Northumberland, so that they could make long-dated contracts at ridiculously low and unremunerative prices for the purpose of obtaining orders which really and honestly belonged to some other part of the coal-mining area. The statements with regard to trawlers referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for North West Hull, and which also have been referred to on occasion by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), and possibly by the hon. Member for Leith, may be true, but some of the contracts into which Yorkshire coalowners entered are impossible of fulfilment at this moment. Is there any reason why they should be permitted to fulfil contracts that are illegitimate and grossly immoral?

Do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite believe it to be sound business for anybody to be producing commodities and selling them at a price less than the actual cost of production? That is exactly what has been taking place, and, now that the Yorkshire allocation for March is 58 per cent., as compared with 82½ per cent. for February and 90 per cent. for January, clearly the coalowners in the Midland area are not complaining, because they know, perhaps better than any Member in this House, that they themselves are responsible for the position in which they are now landed. I suggest that the Midland coalowners, having appealed to the Central Council and been turned down, having appealed to the arbitrators and been turned down, having appealed to the Investigation Committee and been turned down, have no case, and, consequently, they do not complain. They have been taking orders in Durham and Lancashire and elsewhere that did not belong to them, and now the coalowners in Durham are able to fulfil those orders which are not being fulfilled by Yorkshire or some other Midland owners; and it seems to me that Durham, who have fixed their price, should now come into their orders. That is no real defect in the Bill, but indicates a defect in the tactics and the methods employed by the Midland coalowners.

I suggest, therefore, that this campaign is merely Press propaganda, and propaganda which has been inspired by speculators, factors and merchants, who always want the maximum output at the minimum price—who, despite the fact that the demand for coal has settled down at about 250,000,000 or 260,000,000 tons per annum, would have the miners produce 290,000,000 or 300,000,000 tons, even if they were unable to secure 5s. a ton for it. I would remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of a statement made by one of their colleagues during the discussion on an Amendment in the Committee stage. Referring to the position that existed before the introduction of the Bill, the hon. Member for Eccleshall (Sir S. Roberts) said: Speaking with an experience of the quota system for nearly two years, I can say that some of my hon. Friends appear to he raising bogeys in order to knock them down again"— they are doing that at this moment— and exaggerating the evils of the quota system while forgetting that it has some good points. He went on to say: How did we stand in the Midland area? …. The potential output being larger than the demand led to cut-throat prices, and the price of coal went down and clown. Every concession exacted from the workers from their wages, every economy made in a mine, were all given away by the salesman."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1930; cols. 2486–7, Vol. 235.] Those are the same people who are complaining bitterly to-day. Therefore, I would suggest that this Press campaign, initiated very largely by people who do not produce coal, who have no money invested in coal mines, but who merely sell the commodity of other people in order that they themselves may benefit, ought not to be supported by Members in any part of this House.

With regard to the Barnsley Combine, I would say this in conclusion. Here are four or five collieries which, during the period when the coalowners of Yorkshire and the Midland counties were cooperating to try to bring some element of prosperity into the industry and increase their export sales, played the part of a blackleg. They remained outside the scheme; they made no contribution towards the levy which facilitated and expedited the increase of export sales; they reduced their workmen's wages down to the lowest point consistent with allowing them to live at all; they took every advantage of the situation that the co-operative scheme made possible; and, consequently, at that moment they increased their sales at the expense of their colleagues in different parts of the country.

Now that the present quota is based upon the years 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925 and 1927, and not upon the period when they were taking undue advantage of their colleagues in Yorkshire and elsewhere, they are complaining bitterly, and want Part II of the Act repealed. I would suggest to hon. and night hon. Members that fair dealing in any trade or industry ought to appeal to them, and that, should there be that kind of individual, or collection of individuals, that we find in all sections of the community, in all political parties, and in every trade union—the sort of person who would take advantage of his grandfather—we ought not only to refrain from condoning his actions and rendering him any support, but we ought to let him understand that, if co-operation in this industry is necessary for the purpose of bringing back prosperity to it, he is not going to receive any better terms than any other section of the community.

The number of employés in the mining industry to-day, as compared with six years ago, is between 300,000 and 400,000 less. Unemployment to-day in the mining industry is not, however, due to the application of this Bill, but is due to circumstances over which no individual has any control. I would, therefore, ask Members of this House to pay little attention to individuals, but to seek their information, if they want the truth of the whole situation, from the coalowners themselves. They know the facts, and, because they know the facts, I would suggest that, so long as no complaints are forthcoming from the owners or mine workers, we can well afford to leave the factor, the speculator, and the merchant alone to his own Press campaign or any other policy that he wants to pursue. Not a single ton of coal is coal which has been brought into this country, neither are we likely to purchase Polish coal. Coal is plentiful, if the would-be buyer cares to look round for it, at a reasonable price. If I have one complaint of the administration of the Act, it is that the price has not been fixed so as to enable the miner to receive a much better wage than he is receiving to-day. That is our complaint of the application of the quota system, and it is because I believe that there are still great possibilities in the Act that I want to see it continued, and the owners to come together and do the thing that we think is really necessary before we can get prosperity.


The hon. Member always addresses the House in a very effective manner and presents his case in a very persuasive way. He has quoted to-night some words used in the earlier Debate on coal condemning people who put up bogeys and then knock them over. I think he has been a little guilty of that kind of thing himself. At any rate, he has not addressed himself to the argument that I used on the last occasion, and to the real charge that is being brought to-day. I am not in the least concerned as between one coalowner and another. I think the coalowners in their quarrels may perhaps be left to look after themselves. Nor am I in the least concerned with contractors, dealers and speculators. That is not what causes complaint. The complaint at present is that the consumers, ordinary men in the street, the ordinary factories, gas works, and trawlers cannot get coal of the kind they want delivered at the place where they want it.

It is no good to say that this is a Press stunt. I am not in the least prejudiced. There must be truth in this when Member of Parliament after Member of Parliament gets telegrams day after day from people who are not in the least concerned with the Coal Act, with policy or with the Labour Government—who are not politicians at all. An hon. Member read out a telegram from his co-operative society to say that they would have to close down unless they could get coal. The people who send telegrams to the hon. Member for Hull—[Interruption.] I am not sure. I hope they did. But there is not the least doubt—instances which have been quoted over and over again—about people having great difficulty in getting coal.

9.0 p.m.

I received only to-night a, long list of gas works which are having great difficulty in getting the amount of coal that they require. The list of undertakings in which deliveries of coal are short of contract quantities run into 30 or 40, and include places like Lancaster, Leeds, Market Harborough, Norwich, and Nottingham. A large number of undertakings are also given which have been seriously inconvenienced in their gas supply. [interruption.] A great many large gas works use coal at a very rapid rate. [Interruption.] Probably the gas companies know more about what coal they have to carry than the hon. Member. There is no doubt about it, and the Minister must know that there is case after case where people cannot get coal. The answer that was given by him last time, and by the hon. Member was this: "We cannot help this, because the coalowners in the Midland area got out too much in the first two months. They sold their coal in Wales, and they undersold some Durham coalowners in competition." I daresay that is quite true. I will accept it at once. But what earthly consolation is that to a consumer who cannot get coal? The hon. Member cannot ride off on that and say, "That is not the Act. That is the way the coalowners are working the Act." [Interruption.] I dare say. It is exactly what I protested against when the Bill was going through. Of course, it is the Act. You were not going to convert coalowners or miners or any one into models of efficiency by passing a mere Act of Parliament. You are saying now that this is not the fault of your Act. But who gave these coalowners the power to run this compulsory trust? Who forced them to enter into a compulsory trust of this kind? Who gave them the control over the whole of the trust when farmed? You did by your Bill.


Surely the right hon. Gentleman will not forget that the Midland area is the same area that had a quota scheme in operation prior to the application of the Act, and that there were no troubles at all except shortage of demand, which compelled a short number of working days.


I do not know what the force of that argument is, I think there were some troubles in the early days, and I will come to that in a moment. The hon. Member himself has said that the difficulty in getting coal to the Humber is due to the fact that the Yorkshire people sold too much of their product. He said they got their quota allotted. They used up too much of it in January and February by the ways that he has indicated. I accept that, but it is no earthly consolation to the consumer who is now put in the position that he cannot get the coal he wants at the place where he wants it, because an Act of Parliament has been been passed, not only enabling this to be done, but compelling it to be done. An hon. Member says that I gloat over it. I do not. It is a very gloomly satisfaction to me to see now in practice exactly what I pointed out through many weary months was likely, and indeed almost certain, to be the outcome of the legislation that they were passing. It is some sombre satisfaction, but no complete remedy, to repoice over a sinner that repenteth. [Interruption.] I believe there was one righteous man. At any rate, if the hon. Member voted against it, I beg his pardon. He was a very honourable exception to a band of gentlemen who spoke against it but voted for it.

The real charge that the Minister has to meet is the need of the consumer. It is not merely a question of price, though that may arise. It is to get coal of the quality he wants delivered at the place where he wants it. Nor is it any answer to say that he can go to a committee. A committee is not coal, and, when you want coal, it is no good to be given a committee, which takes a very long time to function. Let me remind the House of the interminable stages through which the consumer who complains has to go before he can get satisfaction. A coalowner who has a dispute with another coalowner seems to get his case heard much more quickly. Their domestic squabbles, about which I do not care at all, are settled much more quickly, but the consumer who has a complaint, either because the operation of the scheme is wrong or the scheme is contrary to public interest, makes an application and goes before an investigating committee. The investigating committee makes a report, the Board of Trade considers the report, and the Board of Trade is then able to make an inquiry, and as a result of that inquiry the Board comes to a conclusion—at least I hope so—and then has to enter into negotiations with the owners. If the owners do not do what the Board want, apparently all that the Board can do is to denounce the scheme and put another scheme into operation.

There is, apparently, an alternative process under which, after investigation by the committee, the committee may refer the matter to an arbitrator, who may report. The arbitrator's report may then be considered by the Board of Trade, and the Board of Trade may enter into negotiations with the owners, and may alter the scheme. That is the machinery set up under the Act. I protested against it at the time as being wholly inadequate and hopelessly inelastic. I said that it would fail to work, and that by the time a man had got his complaint considered, he would have bought coal of a different kind at a higher price, and been greatly inconvenienced. That, apparently, is what is happening. He can either go through that process, or the Minister says to him, "The coalowner is falling down on his contract, and you can sue the coalowner for damages." Of course, he can do that, but what he wants is, not damages, but coal. I am by no means sure whether the coalowner might not, under the intricacies of this Act, find a defence for almost everything with which he was charged. Does not all this show that it is incumbent upon the Minister to use all the powers he possesses?

I should have thought that he ought to have used those powers at two stages. He has the power to approve a scheme. I thought that that was an inadequate power at the time, because, as far as I can see, in approving a scheme, he has to look only at the terms of the Act. It is not the general terms of the scheme which matter, but the way in which it is carried out. I should have thought that the Minister, knowing the sort of risks that were run, and that were even run under the voluntary five county scheme, would have taken care before sanctioning a scheme to make sure that he had provisions for elasticity and provisions for making it work satisfactorily. If he has not a statutory power which he can use, he has great moral power; he must have. After all, these coal trusts are his creation. He is responsible for their daily operation. He has made them possible. He has not only made them possible, but he has forced everybody into them. That makes it incumbent upon him to use all the force in his power to see that these schemes work properly.

I suggest that, whatever the statutory powers may be, he ought to be sending for these people and saying to them: "You have got to conduct your scheme so that the consumers do not suffer. You are not to have quarterly quotas, and then exhaust them and say that people cannot get coal." I should have thought that he might, if necessary, have seen to it that they should have had monthly quotas, and not quarterly quotas. That, at any rate, would apparently avoid the difficulty of people under-selling each other and using up the March quota in January and February.


They could not undercut if they fixed minimum prices.


If that be so, the Minister ought to say "Your scheme shall not operate until you have fixed minimum prices." I have always thought in these matters that this kind of control of production was the very worst possible way of dealing with it. I believe that if you are to have a compulsory system of this sort at all, you have to deal with it at the selling end, and not the production end. If, instead of having 1,700 people selling coal in competition with one another, you were going to take up the attitude that you should have a limited number of selling syndicates which would work with each other, that, it seems to me, would be infinitely a better way. But you do not do it. If the hon. Gentleman would read the long Debates upon the Bill, he would find that on several occasions I said that if we control at all we ought to control it at the selling end. I think we can very easily see that the selling end might be a good deal better and that it might be possible to bring in some of the middle men as well, but, short of doing that, let him at least do that which I did when I had to deal with the voluntary scheme in the Midlands. Let him make sure that there is a mobile pool and supply of coal of the quality and of the quantity which people want available to be allotted and delivered in the areas where people require it.

It is no good trying to deal with this thing in general terms of millions of tons of coal in the aggregate. In the first place, it is no good being told that there is coal in Wales, when you want coal in Yorkshire. In the second place, it is no good if there is coal of one type available when you want coal of another type. The hon. Gentleman knows that the more highly industry is developed the more it depends on the exact type of coal it requires. I believe that in the newest and most efficient gas works they must have exactly the quality of coal they require in order to get the best results in gas, coke and by-products. It is no satisfaction to those people who have spent an enormous amount of capital in establishing their plant, and who place their forward contracts in order to get coal exactly of the kind they require from the pit that can supply it, to tell them that they can get damages from the company, because it is not going to produce the amount of coal, which the company could produce but for the Act, nor is it any consolation to tell them that they can get coal from somewhere else. That brings me back to the importance of controlling the selling side of the business rather than controlling the production side. I would beg of the Minister to face up to the fact that this is a consumer's question and not a coal owner's question, and that as he and his right hon. Friend were responsible for forcing us into the Act, they have to use all the powers they possess under it, and all the powers they possess outside of it, in order to save the consumers in this time of trouble.


Whatever views one may take of the arguments advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) we shall all be agreed, I think, that it is a novel and exhilarating experience to listen to a speaker from the benches above the Gangway championing the cause of the consumer. It is rather as a party supporting the producer than the consumer that we are accustomed to hear speeches from the benches above the Gangway. Whatever views we may have in regard to the merits of the quota system—I was one of the few who, contrary to the opinion of the majority both above and below the Gangway on this side of the House, supported the quota proposals throughout the discussions and in the Lobby—it is useless to hide the fact that there is a serious disequilibrium between supply and demand; a disequilibrium which may be temporary Dr which may be more fundamental. One of the questions to which I would ask the Secretary of the Mines Department to direct his attention is, how far are the defects and difficulties that have revealed themselves inherent in the scheme, if they are at all inherent in it, and how far are they, as I believe they are, merely temporary hitches in the operation of an entirely novel project. [Interruption.] It is none the worse for being novel, but all the better. We need more novel projects, more enterprise, more initiative in order to bring our basic industries to a pitch of efficiency.

How far are these defects temporary difficulties arising out of the trial of new methods? There is nothing in the experience of the last two months, so far as I understand it, to show that there is anything inherently wrong. It is worth noting as the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said that the Act of Parliament provides that the coalowners, if dissatisfied with their position under a district scheme, have the right of appeal to an independent arbitrator, that a whole district, if dissatisfied with its situation, has the right of appeal to an independent arbitrator, and that the consumers, if dissatisfied, have the right of appeal to the National Committee of Investigation. One hon. Member referred to the inquiries which the National Committee of Investigation have made and said that the applicants to that committee were coalowners. That is not so, and under the provisions of the Act it could not be so. It is only the consumers, the public, whose interests are to be protected by the National Committee of Investigation.

Is it not a fact that the district in which the complaint has arisen has made application to an independent arbitrator who, on the evidence before him, has refused the application? As the Minister stated on Friday last, the public, the consumers, have made their application to the National Committee of Investigation, and they have unanimously refused to countenance as tenable the complaints made by the applicants. Therefore, in the one set of complaints arising out of the same circumstances under a scheme which has been working for the last two months, the judicial tribunals set up by the Act have been put into operation and their decision has been adverse to the case of the complaints. How then can it still be suggested that in the only concrete instance where complaint has arisen, that it is really justified? It seems to be an untenable position. Even though that may be so, it is not to deny that, although there may not be that cause of complaint which calls for relief, either from an independent arbitrator or from the National Committee of Investigation, yet there are difficulties and hitches in the operation of the scheme. Here I think the Minister has great powers which he could use in bringing about a more satisfactory state of affairs.

It is no use saying that there is a surplus supply of coal, unless it be available where it is wanted, at an economic price and at the time when it is wanted. I accept the criticism of the right hon. Member for Hendon in that regard, and I also follow him when he directed the attention of the Minister to the necessity of organising selling agencies. During the progress of the Bill through the House, I pointed out that our difficulties in regard to the production of coal lie in the selling of the coal, and I put on the Order Paper Amendments designed to secure that there should be an efficient selling organisation, but those Amendments were not discussed. The Minister has enormous administrative powers. He has opportunities of exercising a very great driving force in bringing together not merely coal-owners within each district, but in bringing together the districts in one central organisation for the sale of their coal. Has he attempted or is he proposing to attempt by the exercise of his administrative powers to create selling organisations extending over the whole field, district by district, and ultimately with a central selling organisation?

The next question which I would put to the Minister, with a view to eliciting some information in regard to the position and ascertaining what the possibilities are, is this: has he begun to take or is he proposing to take steps to secure that coal which on reasonable anticipation is likely to be wanted at a particular time at a particular place, will at that time and place be available? [Laughter.] Hon. Members above the Gangway laugh and jeer at the suggestion which I should have thought would have been recognised as being, what in fact it is, a suggestion for carrying on a great industry in a businesslike and efficient way. If the suggestion is so surprising to hon. Members, I can only say that it fills me with even less confidence than I have had in the past as to their projects and schemes for dealing with British industry. In spite of the jeers of hon. Members above the Gangway, I still put my question to the Minister, and shall be grateful for the reply.

The hon. and gallant Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) dealt with the fact that there has been a considerable reduction in the export of coal, especially to Scandinavian countries. The explanation—and I put it tentatively and in a non-controversial spirit—is in some degree that in the past coal has gone to Sweden, and timber has been brought back at low freights. Now timber has been imported from Russia at prices with which the Scandinavian timber merchants cannot compete, and it has made the former practice an impossible method of transacting business with Sweden. For a great period in the past Sweden has taken our coal even though the price was chiefly above the coal she could secure elsewhere. That narrow margin of price between British and Silesian coal, just at a particular point of time when they could not sell their timber here at profitable prices, because of the low price at which Russia has exported her timber here, provides an explanation in some degree, at all events, for the fall in exports to Scandinavia. I am not arguing the question whether it is a good or a bad thing. It may very well be that the low coal export is compensated for by having cheap timber. I only state the facts, without attempting to draw any deductions.

The quota scheme is a difficult one to operate, and I earnestly hope the Minister will urge on the Reorganisation Commissioners the vital importance of getting amalgamation schemes into operation as early as possible, so as to get the quota scheme out of the way, because the scheme lacks some of the obvious advantages of amalgamations. I accepted the quota scheme wholeheartedly as a stepping-stone towards the amalgamation schemes, but it is to amal- gamations that I look as the ultimate objective. I should like to know whether the Minister is able to give any indication as to when the Reorganisation Commissioners will be able to show results in the form of amalgamations. I am anxious to see the scheme a success, and operating in all its aspects, and I urge on the Minister that, pending further legislation, which may well be necessary, for extending the scheme and bringing the industry into a closer and more coherent whole than it is at present, he should give an assurance to the House that all the powers vested in him in an administrative capacity will be pursued ruthlessly, relentlessly and with the utmost energy.


The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) referred to the position of collieries in the Barnsley area. The actual facts as far as the unemployed are concerned are these. For five weeks from 550 to 600 people have been totally unemployed in these seams. Prior to the Act coming into operation the men worked five to six shifts per week. If there is anything I like, it is the truth and straight dealing. I have read in the Press—and I have cuttings from three newspapers here—the statement that these people have been idle for more than three months. I want to correct that at once. They have not been idle for three months, but have been totally unemployed for five weeks. The locality in which these pits are situated has been very hard hit, having regard to the number of people employed and the number of people working short time. Very largely the trouble at these collieries arises from regard not having been given under the Act to the extension of these collieries to which they had a right. I find that in these pits on 17th December, 1927, we had 6,477 people, and on 13th December, 1930, we had 7,367, the increase in that period being 890 or 12.08 per cent.

Under the voluntary scheme we had a colliery in that area, the Darton Colliery, to which the owners gave 120,000 tons per annum, and while the pit was standing idle that particular trade was going into other localities. Under the Act they have again given that colliery an allocation of 120,000 tons, and the whole of the workmen at the pit are almost entirely working in the developed pits. Under the development extensions, 950 men found work, and the result is that while people are working with this firm, the allocation is less than it ought to be. I maintain that this allocation of 120,000 tons belongs to the pits in this area and to the people who are still residing there. Instead it has gone to Doncaster and other localities. When there is a reallocation I hope that this 120,000 tons will be transferred to this area, or at any rate that the Minister will do all he can to see that this amount is allocated to the collieries in this are and not taken outside in order to give work for other people in other districts.

Take the case of the Woolley Colliery. Their allocation at the moment is 681,698 tons. Looking closely into this matter I find that they were working six days per week before the Act came into operation. I am not going to argue this point but if I take five days work and take the amount of output I find that the allocation to this particular mine is 72.34 per cent. or in other words 27.66 per cent. below what it ought to be if a proper allocation had been given to this particular firm. I am not here to support the company in any shape or form. I am here to support the working people and to see that justice is done to them, to the town, its surroundings, and the locality in which the mine is situate. I say that the allocation of which I have spoken ought to be transferred to this area and should go to the benefit of the people who are living in that locality. I repeat that because it is the essence of the trouble.

Let me come to the position as it was under the voluntary scheme. I want to do justice to the Secretary for Mines and to the Act. We are told that Part I ought to be repealed. I live in the locality, I represent the locality, and I hope that no part of the Act will be repealed. There are grounds for amendment in certain respects, but I hope that there will be no repeal of the Act. Look at the position under the voluntary scheme. I have the facts as to how that scheme worked. In the southern part of South Yorkshire I find that under the voluntary scheme 26 pits were temporarily closed or abandoned, employing 5,093 persons, who are now out of employment. In West Yorkshire 30 pits were either temporarily closed or abandoned, employing 4,412 people, who are now out of employment. That gives a total of 56 pits either closed or abandoned, and 9,505 men who were thrown out of employment. Little was said when these men were put out of employment under the voluntary scheme, and all the shouting now is that it has arisen out of an Act of Parliament passed by a Labour Government. I hope that is a sufficient answer and gives the contrast as between the voluntary scheme and the present scheme.

When I look at the actual workings of the mines in Yorkshire I find that in May, 1930, which is a very important date in discussing the allocation question, that the shifts worked out at an average of 4.71 shifts for the week and in June following at 4.33 shifts per week. In the Western portion of Yorkshire the shifts worked out at 3.88 shifts per week in May, 1930, and in June at 3.86 shifts per week. The question of shifts is very important when dealing with allocation. All last year from the beginning of January to the end of September the average working time in Yorkshire was 4.31 shifts per week, so that we cannot even if we tried work full time even assuming that the Act worked out on a fair and even basis. The complaint I have is that as far as my area is concerned that the company has not got the allocation it should have. I believe the Minister will agree with me in that. I have the figures, and I know what ought to be done, and I know that it has not worked out properly. Even if a mine is not inside the organisation we expect to get, in the interests of the working people, fair dealing and straightforwardness as between one firm and another irrespective or whether they are or are not members or the Coalowners Federation.

Certain things are happening in my locality, and I am going to make a statement in regard to them. It takes a great deal to hurt my feelings. I have been endowed with natural good feeling towards everybody, I happen to be endowed with patience—I am not boasting of it—I am one who can stand any amount of maligning. I am getting it. I am getting it by postcards sent to me saying that if I do not get Part I repealed I need not go there again. I happen to know where these postcards are coming from, and I say at once that any colliery company which will stoop to that kind of thing are not playing the game. I have evidence. It is being done by the colliery company getting the staff to call the employés into a particular room where it is convenient for them to sign postcards and where they are collected and sent to me. I shall do all I can for the company so far as their interests are concerned in trying to get the workmen their rights.

I say, again, that the sending of postcards to me will have no effect on me. I shall continue to do my duty. I am standing here to-night to see fair play to that company and to the workpeople. If we are not getting our fair allocation we ought to get it. But we ask for no more. It is perfectly true, as has been said, that there was a deputation to the Minister yesterday. I was with that deputation, not as an appointed member, but I was asked by the Minister indirectly to be present. I attended, and I can say now that I understand the Minister's feelings, because I have been in negotiation more than most people know, in attempts to get justice done to our people. I have tried to do the right thing in that direction. It is true that the Minister has no power at the moment, except by recommendations, so far as allocation is concerned.

The President of the Board of Trade has done all that he could for this company and has done it effectively. There has been an increased allocation and it came through the President of the Board of Trade indirectly. The present Secretary for Mines has promised to do the best that he could to see justice done, and he is trying to do it. Whilst my people are suffering, whilst large numbers are unemployed and large numbers are partially working, and while there is a prospect of more being unemployed unless something is done, I hope that the Minister will use all the power and influence that he has to secure fair play and justice to my locality, so that these people have their fair share of the allocation to enable them to work equally with other people in the county.


As one who represents an area that has been the hardest hit by the shortage of coal, I crave the indulgence of the House for a few minutes. On Friday last we had a Debate on this question, and the Secretary for Mines in his reply referred to the Press agitation, and said that this was really a scare intended to prejudice the working of the Coal Mines Act. I am going to ask him to dissociate me and those who have acted with me in the negotiations with him, from any such charge. I think he will agree that when this trouble arose in the first place three weeks ago, I approached him directly—I did not put a question on the Order Paper—and put the full facts before him, and stated what I knew of the position. I give him credit that he made a promise—he has carried it out—that he would have the matter thoroughly investigated. It was one of his own colleagues who thought fit to raise the question publicly by putting a question on the Paper, and naturally then the matter had to be dealt with on the Floor of the House. I can assure the House that on no occasion have I attempted to make any political capital out of the matter, because I realise that it is a question of the administration of the Act, and although I opposed the Act when it was passing through the House, I was not prepared to attack the Minister over the matter, provided that by administration he could smooth out the difficulties. I am sorry to say that he has not been able to do so, and that is the reason why I have to put my case forward to-night.

In his remarks on Friday last the Minister referred to a conversation that he had had with somebody connected with the coal industry who was supposed to understand a good deal about this question. Either this gentleman had not much knowledge of the subject or the Minister misunderstood him, because the Minister quoted the case of a ship from Grimsby having to call at Aberdeen fro procure coal at an extra cost of £25. The Minister said he was very sorry that that had happened.


I referred to a case where, as the result of heavy weather, a ship had to go to Dundee, not merely for the purpose of getting coal, but because of the bad weather. The prolongation of the voyage cost £25 in addition to the ordinary expense.


Let me read the exact words of the Minister. He said: The trawlers had to put into Aberdeen in order to replenish their supplies, and that that entailed an extra cost in some cases of £25."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1931; col. 1612, Vol. 249.] That is my point. The Minister has misunderstood what his friend was trying to impress on him. If trawlers are not using the right type of coal, which is Yorkshire hard, there is always a chance that they will run short of coal before they get back to port. It is a question of bunker capacity. Let me show exactly how it works out. Take the case of a ship going to Iceland from Grimsby. She has to take on board a certain quantity of coal to bring her back again to port and to give her proper fishing time. If you get South Yorkshire hard coal, you take 210 tons for a 21 days' voyage. That is what is reckoned. If you take Tyne coal, you cannot do the same trip with less than 231 tons of coal. Most of these boats are built with bunkering capacity that will not take that larger quantity. It means that even if you fill up your fish room with coal as you go on the trip, and as you empty the coal out you put in the fish, you are going to burn a ton of coal per day more, and it will cost you over £20 more for the trip. You run the risk of a broken trip, the loss of fishing time, and a, still greater risk, for while in the case quoted it was possible for the ship to call at Aberdeen to get more coal, we have had instances of ships which have gone into these far Northern waters, run short of coal, and endangered the lives of the men on board. Our people are not prepared to take a risk of that kind.

Again, we ask the Minister to consider this question. Poland has been referred to. I particularly wish to call the attention of the Minister to the words that I uttered on Friday last. I then read a telegram from a Grimsby supplier, who stated that he had had Polish coal offered to him, but that he did not want to buy it if it was possible to get the supplies he required from the right source. I never stated that the coal had been actually bought. The Minister knew that, and for him to say that an ounce of Polish coal had never been bought was all very well in Debate, although no one had ever said that it had been bought. The Minister has all my correspondence on this subject. He knows that I said to him that offers of Polish coal had been made to Grimsby trawler owners, but I never said that the coal was bought. Take the document that I have in my hand. It contains quotations, dated only yesterday, from nine or 10 firms offering lots of coal—there are 2,000 to 3,000 tons in each contract—at 17s. to 19s. 3d. c.i.f. Grimsby.

These are definite offers, representing something like 20,000 tons of coal, ready to be shipped to this country at a moment's notice. Only to-night I have been speaking on the telephone to people in Grimsby who are getting urgent messages offering this coal from Poland and it is idle to say that there is no possibility of this coal being sent into this country if we cannot get the coal which we require for our vessels. I have also heard some remarks about the possibility of preventing this coal coming into the country, and I would like to ask the Minister, whether under any power which he possesses, he can prevent the importation of Polish coal. I do not want to see our people using Polish coal in any circumstance. I want them to use British coal, but I want them to use the kind of coal which is suitable for this purpose. If it were possible for the Minister, by an order, to stop this coal coming into our ports, he would also have to make an order stopping foreign fish coming into our ports, because you would then have foreign trawlers, run on foreign coal, flooding our ports with fish because our own trawlers were not bringing it in. You would have German and Belgian trawlers here trying to capture our market.

What is the position in Grimsby today? The latest information which I have had over the telephone is interesting in view of the statement that there is no shortage. Mr. W. W. Butt, who is one of the largest trawler owners, owning three Iceland trawlers and three North Sea trawlers requiring 700 tons of coal a day, had only 50 tons of coal for them. The consequence is that the three Iceland trawlers, much against his wish, have been sent to Blyth to coal, on passage to the Northern fishing ground—involving a delay of about two days while the vessels are coaling—and, at the same time, 36 of our own men at Grimsby will lose their work as coal-heavers. I would like the Minister to address a meeting of our coal-heavers—who are members of the Transport Workers Union and are not prejudiced against the Government—and hear what they have to say upon this matter. I understand that a Noble Lord a Member of the other House is going up to Grimsby to-morrow night. Let him tackle this question with our coal-heavers. With regard to the three North Sea vessels, they will have to wait for coal to come through, although at the time of writing this communication to me, no advice of any kind had been received by the firm. Since Monday, I am informed a large number of North Sea vessels have gone to sea with light bunkers, taking the risk, and when they return next week unless the situation has been materially improved, many of them will have to tie up. This information comes from one who is not prejudiced against the Government but one who is keenly anxious to see that the trade of our port is kept going.

To-day, undoubtedly, it is the fact that there is a quantity of coal on hand, but it is not the right sort. The Minister's Department has been very busy in this matter, and I have a long list here of people offering coal from Lancashire, Northumberland, Durham, Scotland—anywhere but the right spot for our people. Half of the coal offered is totally unsuitable for trawlers. That is what has happened under this Act which was to be a great example, from the Socialist point of view, of how to work an industry. It has just set into operation a gang of speculators who are offering these lots of coal and trying to get a big price out of the trawler owners, which means out of the fishermen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is the Act passed by hon. Members opposite which has done it. I was in South Wales yesterday addressing two miners' meetings, and I found that the Act is not popular in South Wales any more than elsewhere.

10.0 p.m.

Our people in Grimsby are prepared to do everything they can, even at a great sacrifice of money, to keep these vessels running because they know that during the Lenten season people in this country want fish. It is the best time of year for our fishermen who are paid, not wholly on wages, but also have a share in the proceeds of the voyage, while the skippers and mates are paid solely on a share basis. Therefore whatever extra charge for coal comes against the ship is a charge on the earnings of the skippers, mates and crews. It is not merely a question which affects what some people might call well-to-do trawler owners. It is the men themselves who will suffer. They have mixed some of the good coal—such quantity of it as they have got under their contracts—with some of the poorer quality in order to keep the vessels running. In Grimsby we are determined to see to it that, as far as the trade up to Good Friday is concerned, the supply of fish for the people of this country will be maintained, and no one need be afraid that there will not be a plentiful supply during that period.

There is another factor which has helped us to get over our difficulties. Only 45 vessels have landed catches to-day, in readiness to go out again, and that is a long way below the normal number for a Thursday market. Last Thursday it was 71, and on the Thursday before it was 82. By pooling our resources, we have just got sufficient to coal the vessels which will have to proceed to sea tomorrow. What is to happen after that is a puzzle. I know that the Minister has been receiving reports from Grimsby and has given a great deal of time and attention to this matter. I urge upon him that it is no use suggesting to our people who are running North Sea boats that they can go to the Tyne or to Blyth for their coal. It is not possible to coal these ships there so that the men can earn a decent wage, because it means 'a loss of two days' fishing time. Anyone who looks at a map and sees where the Dogger Bank lies will realise what it means for a ship which is going to fish on the Dogger having to go right up the coast to get coal and then across to the fishing ground. Between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of the vessels which go out from Grimsby are North Sea vessels, and, as for the vessels which are going to Iceland, and further north into the Arctic, calling at the Tyne to get coal, the difficulty is, and we say it quite definitely, that a good deal of the coal offered on the Tyne is not suitable for the vessels, and we would prefer to keep our own coal heavers working and also to save the time involved.

I have also had a report as regards Immingham, and probably the hon. and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) may have something to say upon it. There is a large vessel lying there wishing to take aboard 2,000 tons of coal for South America, and they cannot get it from the South Yorkshire area from which it was ordered. That ship has to lie there, and there are men unemployed—again members of the Transport Workers' Union—and they are not very pleased about it. Merchants report that they have many offers for this grade of coal, but they cannot accept them and the trade is going elsewhere. If the trade were going to some other part of England perhaps I should not complain; but I am afraid it is not, although I have no precise information.

Let me urge the Minister to realise that this is not a question of trying to get political advantage. We cannot carry on as we are doing. I know there has been difficulty with the West Yorkshire owners, and probably much of what the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has said is true, but I cannot give that explanation to my fishermen. Contracts were made in good faith. When the Bill was being passed, I made an appeal to the President of the Board of Trade on the point of the contracts that were running, and he assured me that contracts that were legally entered into would have to be carried out. I ask the Minister of Mines to see to it that contracts entered into by our people in good faith shall be carried out, and that we shall not have our boats laid up when we have done nothing to hinder the Minister in his work.


I agree that any misdeeds of the coalowners individually or collectively should not be visited on the fishermen and trawler-owners, and other consumers of coal. I cannot agree that it is a reasonable thing that trawlers from Hull should be compelled to go to the Tyne for their supplies, even were these the most suitable. It is plain, I think, from the statement made by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) where the responsibility lies, and that responsibility was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister). In spite of that, so anxious is he that no trace of political prejudice should enter the Debate, that he attributes everything to the Coal Mines Act. To a certain extent that is true. If a man is murdered he may be said to be partly responsible, because if he had not been there he would not have been murdered.

We cannot attribute the present state of affairs to the Coal Mines Act. The responsibility is on the people who have withheld supplies of coal which the quota allowed them to give to consumers. That may be a satisfactory explanation of what has taken place, but it is no satisfaction to the fishermen who are out of work in my constituency, nor to the dockers who are deprived of work. The House ought to be concerned with how to put this matter right, and, having put it right, how to prevent it happening again. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon did not explain what ought to be done in order to put the Act right, nor did he say that he would support the Government if they adopted certain measures to exercise greater power over the coal owners than are exercised at this moment.

Two suggestions have been made. One is to repeal Part I of the Act altogether, and to allow free competition. The other alternative is not to repeal Part I, but to strengthen it. If that alternative is adopted, the Minister ought to have power to deal with prices, to impose prices and to deal with sales. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon whether he would support the Government in such a policy? If not, what is the use of blaming the Coal Mines Act? All we can do from these benches is to protest against the treatment of industries of this kind. Any body of consumers, apparently, is at the mercy not only of the of any body of coalowners, but will suffer by any blunders that the coalowners make. The object of the Bill is to prevent such blunders, to reorganise the trade, and to do justice between consumer and producer, and people who protest against the limitations of the Act ought to help to get some Amendment to protect the interests of the community. The Committee of Investigation have decided on two occasions that the Midlands have been fairly treated under the allocation. That definitely places the responsibility on the coalowners of abusing the powers given to them, and will justify the House of Commons in making provision to prevent abuse in the future, and seeing that the consumer, the miner and every grade of coalowner gets a fair deal. I hope that whatever is done in this direction will be done very speedily, and that right hon. Members on the Front Opposition Bench will be as good as their word.


I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Minister for Mines, when he comes to reply, will not treat this as if it were a question merely of grievances that are manufactured by people who oppose the Act. I was opposed to this particular part of the Act. Some of my own constituents are complaining. They are coal merchants who belong to old-established firms, and they have sent orders to the Midlands—it is nothing to do with Yorkshire—to firms with which they have been dealing for a great many years, and they have received a reply that there is no coal available. I have not been able to investigate the matter at all, and I can only proceed upon the perfectly genuine letters which I have received from people in the coal business, and who have been in that business for a great many years, and are not worrying about the political side of the matter at all, but who are prevented from carrying on their business in the way they have conducted it for a great many years. I can only accept the Measure now as an Act of Parliament, and I am wondering whether it is possible for the Government to exercise certain powers which are embodied in the Act in a way that will ease matters.

I hope among other things that they will introduce for the first few months a certain measure of elasticity into the working of the Act. They must not imagine that in the first few months they can secure the same perfect working as they hope to achieve in perhaps six months, and I implore them not to be too rigid in the application of the quota until the thing settles down. It is no use saying to these coal merchants in my district—and there must be a great many in other districts—"You can find the coal elsewhere," for they do not know where to find it. They have dealt with particular firms for 20 or 30 years, and it is too much to tell them that they must find coal of the same quality elsewhere. They do not know how to find it. I have no doubt that in many cases of this kind the quota has been exceeded in some way or other by the owners in the Midlands, but allowances ought to be made for that. People who conduct the business in the districts ought not to be punished for a thing of that kind, and I ask the Minister with all respect not to make too truculent an answer. I do not think that it helps. It is his obligation and his duty—and I make a similar appeal to the President of the Board of Trade, who piloted the Bill through, and who certainly never exhibits any truculence and is extraordinarily courteous in dealing with questions of this kind—to say that men who are legitimately carrying on their business and have difficulty created by something for which they are not responsible are not to blame. Whether the Act is responsible or whether it is the misfaisances of the coalowners, these people who want coal are not responsible.

I therefore ask the Government during the first few months to exercise the powers that they possess in order to introduce an element of elasticity. It will mean that probably they will not be able to enforce the rigid quota for some months, but things of that kind have to be done gradually. I remember the difficulties which I experienced with regard to the Insurance Acts. If we had simply put on the full pressure of the machinery of the Acts, and started prosecutions, there would have been trouble, but these matters were eased, and the Acts began to work without any difficulty at all.

I am perfectly certain that, if the right hon. Gentleman will inject some of his suavity into his colleague who sits next to him and just try to persuade him not to be so very—what shall I say in order to keep within Parliamentary language?—at any rate, I hope that he will not treat this as merely a political stunt for attacking and criticising the Minister. There are legitimate difficulties which honest people are experiencing who are not thinking in the least of politics, but of the conduct of their businesses. I hope he will think of the little people who are consuming coal and buying coal for distribution in various parts of the country, and that he will at any rate give an undertaking that he will look into their grievances and see whether they cannot be eased during the next four or five months by not enforcing with too much rigidity the terms of the Act. The powers which the President of the Board of Trade introduced into the Act, and also the powers which were introduced partly by the intervention of the House itself, should be used with a view to making things easier for everybody all round. If he does that, he will be far more likely to succeed in the object he has in view than if he takes too rigid a view of his duties.


I am extremely obliged to the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) for the moderate and, indeed, generous manner in which he initiated this Debate. I do not complain of the general tone of the Debate, and I can certainly forgive the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for having indulged in an admonition—


An appeal.


—because I have a very vivid recollection of the right hon. Gentleman himself having been severely chastised for having displayed mental faculties and a temper which is sometimes, I think without justice, attributed to him. While I have no complaint to make of the general tone of the speeches or of the criticism we have heard in the course of the Debate, I think I am justified, without displaying any truculence whatever, in directing attention to the speeches delivered outside and to a Press campaign which can only be regarded as a malicious attempt to prejudice the minds of the public against the administration of the Coal Mines Act.


I took no line of that kind.


I accept entirely what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I share the view that there is no desire on the part of those who have taken part in this Debate to put a sprag in the wheel. The criticism during this Debate is intended to be helpful, but that cannot be said of the Press campaign. For example, I read in the "Daily Express," of 18th March, that there were 62,000 inhabitants of Rotherham lacking coal: The local merchants have not an ounce of coal for sale and hundreds of householders who depend on weekly supplies are compelled to do without. Strangely enough in another newspaper of the same date I read that: the coal quota scheme has not so far affected Rotherham very greatly, and ex- tensive inquiries made in the town by a 'Sheffield Independent' representative last night failed to reveal any alarming shortage. That is the view of a newspaper in the heart of the Midlands area stating the facts about an alleged shortage of coal in that particular area. Right hon Gentlemen who are Members of this House and who are regarded as responsible politicians are making statements of a similar kind. I gave notice to the late Attorney-General that I proposed to call the attention of the House to a speech which he is reported to have made on the 14th of March. This is what he is reported to have said: While Canada had stopped the import of Russian coal in order to buy British coal, and while this country was not being allowed to buy British, but was obliged to buy Polish, to keep the miners out of work, the Government on Friday, by a majority of five, decided to pay a salary of £7,000 a year in order to restrict the output of British collieries. Surely there was never more extravagance than was to be found in a grotesque charge of that kind. The hon. and learned Gentleman is totally unable to substantiate a single word of that charge. He said that we had been buying Polish coal and that we were paying a gentleman £7,000 a year in order to restrict the output of coal. I have no desire to detain the House by giving instances of such trivial points, but I think that it is desirable for the purposes of accuracy to mention the matter. Finally, another great legal luminary, Lord Hailsham, who, I believe, is regarded as a possible Leader of the Conservative party, speaking during the Sunderland by-election, reviewed the Coal Mines Act, and added: In Grimsby they are actually having to import Polish coal because the British collieries are being put out of work. That was last Friday.


It will happen very soon.


There was not a single word of truth in that allegation. If I may say so, I deprecate, as I feel sure the House will deprecate, these references to the importation of Polish coal. It would almost appear as though hon. Members on that side, the official Opposition, glory in the possibility of Polish coal being imported. I venture to predict that there will be no Polish coal imported, and I am very glad to be able to say that the Hull and Grimsby trawler owners are displaying more patriotism than these speeches appear to indicate; they are not prepared to buy Polish coal. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) says that that is the reason why the Polish coal has not come. It may be, because of the patriotism of the Grimsby and Hull trawler owners. I accept that. But, if the Polish coal has not arrived, why all this fuss about Polish coal being imported?

I turn from these criticisms of the Coal Mines Act, and the references to the alleged shortage, to the attitude of prominent Yorkshire coalowners in relation to the Coal Mines Act. It appears to be assumed that the coalowners are opposed to the Coal Mines Act, but that is far from being true. On the contrary, not a single complaint has been received from the Central Council of Coalowners, the most representative body of coal-owners in the land. Not a single complaint has been received from any District Board of coalowners. Although there have been isolated cases, as revealed in the Press, in which coalowners have, in the course of speeches, commented on defects in the Coal Mines Act, possibly in relation to administration, generally speaking a serious attempt is being made by coalowners throughout the coalfields to work the Act in a proper spirit. A prominent Yorkshire coalowner, speaking at Leeds University on 26th February, uttered some significant words about the Act. He said, referring to Sir William Sutherland, to whom reference has been made in the course of this Debate: Sir William alleged that in the Barnsley district of Yorkshire, the utter failure of the administration of Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, was common knowledge, and expressed the opinion that the sooner Part I was repealed the better for the miners, owners and the country. Mr. Archer said: 'This is an amazing statement and I assert that it is not common knowledge that Part I of the Act is an utter failure. Indeed, the vast majority of Yorkshire, Midland and Lancashire coalowners hold the reverse opinion.' If there were time, and if it were necessary, I could quote similar statements by prominent representatives of the coal trade—not only coalowners, but exporters and others engaged in the industry.

I want now to come to the issues presented to the House. I make no attempt to dispute that, so far, the Act in its administration has revealed certain defects, but it must be remembered that Part I of the Act only commenced to operate at the beginning of this year, and has only been working for a matter of two months. It is surely much too early to judge the possibilities of legislation of this character in so short a time. Moreover, the defects in the Act arise, not so much because of the failure of the Government to provide the requisite legislation, but because the Bill in its passage through Parliament was emasculated and amended, so much so that the most prominent coalowner in Scotland commented the other day on the difficulties presenting themselves to the Scottish coal industry because of the difficulty of adjusting the inland and the export prices. That arose because Parliament in its wisdom decided that there should be no such adjustment. It decided that there should be no district levy.

One of the amazing facts of the situation is that, when we asked the Scottish coalowners to prepare a scheme for the working of the Act, they submitted a scheme which embodied what in effect amounted to a district levy, and I was compelled to reject it on the ground that it was ultra vires the Act. But the Scottish coalowners are not content, and I have had to assure them that, if they care to secure an Amendment of the Act, we shall do all we can to support them in securing its passage through this House, and, after the speeches we have heard to-night, I have some reason for reassuring the Scottish coalowners that such an Amendment is likely to prove acceptable to Parliament.


If it is agreed that it is so important for Scotland to have this levy, why cannot the Scottish coalowners put a voluntary levy scheme into operation?


I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should ask that question. We have had experience of the Yorkshire voluntary scheme and the difficulty that now presents itself in the Barnsley area arises, as he knows, from the refusal of certain coalowners to asso- ciate themselves with a voluntary restriction scheme. Voluntary restriction schemes have proved a failure, generally speaking, and it is essential for the thorough working of a scheme of this kind to secure that every element in the industry should be compelled to associate itself with the operation of the scheme. Not only in Scotland but in Yorkshire demands have been made for the insertion in the Act of the district levy proposal, whereas in Durham and Northumberland, on the other hand, while they reject the district levy proposal, they are anxious to secure a proposal which will enable the coalfields as a whole to adjust the inland with the export price. In short, they want a national levy. Parliament rejected these proposals and, in so far as difficulties exist, the Government is not to blame.

The right hon. Gentleman quite properly, asked me to secure that, in the administration of the Act, elasticity should be provided. I am happy to assure him that elasticity is there. The Central Council of Coalowners, in determining the allocation for the districts, have regard to the needs of the districts and can at any time subsequent to the original allocation, if special circumstances warrant it, provide a further allocation. That is the elasticity for which the right hon. Gentleman asks. The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, be pleased to learn that the Kent coalfields will be satisfied with their allocation. They made an application for a further allocation and received it, and the Somerset area, because of special circumstances, has been furnished with an additional quota. But why was it that the Midland Executive Board failed in their application? The allocation provided for the Midlands area had regard to the probable demand for coal in that area.


Did that include the coal supplied by that area to outside areas? The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the cases I gave him were of applications from areas outside the Midlands by people who were in the habit of buying from the Midlands area.


I will come to that. It also provided for the sale of coal to the districts outside the Midlands area. That, of course, would have been restricted and limited to some extent by the price of the coal, but, unfortunately, in Yorkshire minimum prices were not fixed.


I really must correct the hon. Gentleman. This has nothing to do with Yorkshire. As a matter of fact, I think it was the Atherstone and Tamworth area; I think that coal came from that area. It has nothing to do with Yorkshire.


That may be, but the fact is that the Midlands area had its allocation, and had the right to appeal for a further allocation at the same time. They failed to appeal, and only after some weeks of working the Act did the Midlands Executive Board decide to go to arbitration, in which they failed, and it seemed that they failed because they had sold a considerable amount of their allocation at very low prices to the detriment of other districts. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs furnished me with a complaint.


I sent it on.


I said that I would deal with the complaint in the course of my speech to-day. Some coal merchants in Bangor purchased coal from Yorkshire coalowners and discovered that there was a shortage, and they complained of the shortage. Immediately we heard of the shortage, we put the Bangor merchants into touch with North Wales coalowners, and immediately thereafter the Bangor coal merchants were informed that they could get all the coal they wanted in North Wales—good house coal at reasonable prices.

Mr. LLOYD GEORGE indicated dissent.


Surely, in these circumstances Bangor coal merchants have no ground for complaint. If they can get coal at their own door, and it appears that the quality of the coal is good and the price is reasonable, as apparently it was, there can be no complaint. I understand the complaint is that we must see to it that the coal is provided. In this case we have seen that the Bangor coal merchants could get the coal that they wanted in North Wales.

What has been the fact with regard to the supplies of coal in the country generally? The complaint is of a local character. The hon. Member for Leith said nothing about difficulties in Scotland, although he made some reference to the export trade. No complaints have come from Scotland in regard to shortage of supplies. Only in the Midlands district have we heard of such complaints. Last week we were told of complaints about shortage of coal in London. I told the House that, as far as I was able to ascertain, those complaints could not be substantiated. What are the facts? There is no shortage of coal in London, none whatever. [An HON. MEMBER: "Warm weather!"] Surely, the hon. Member is not going to complain of the warm weather and to attribute some failure or other in that regard to the Government.

The complaints have been localised. They are confined to the Midlands and they have arisen in the Midlands because the Yorkshire coal owners instead of regulating their production over the three months of the first quarter of this year assumed that they would receive a further allocation. The result was that they exceeded their monthly quota in the first two months and left themselves with only 58 per cent. for the last month of the quarter. It may be assumed that there is some defect in the Act which enables the coal owners to exceed their allocation in any given month. I would remind the House that the allocation fixed by the council is a quarterly allocation and not a monthly one. The right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) argued that there should be a monthly allocation, but no such provision is embodied in the Act. I can assure him that I sympathise entirely with the view he expressed. The Yorkshire coal owners can apply the monthly allocation if they so desire, and we have reason to assume that in the next quarter the monthly basis will be accepted by the Yorkshire coal owners, and that they will operate on that basis, and we believe that no difficulties will arise.

What about the question raised by hon. Members regarding the difficulty of securing employment as the result of the quota? What are the facts? Let us take Yorkshire as an example. In the first eight weeks of the quarter, a period during which the quota was operating, the average days worked in the collieries in the Midlands area amounted to five per week. That is a very high average. It compares favourably with the coalfields in the rest of the country, but the result of that average was that in the last remaining month of the quarter many of the men had to be put on short time. The coalowners have availed themselves of the provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Act and have put the men on three days work, to enable them to claim three days' unemployment pay. If the Yorkshire and the Midland coalowners had averaged out the allocation and had regulated it scientifically, as they were expected to do, and had averaged out the working days, the average would have been something like 4½ days for the whole quarter.

That would be regarded as reasonable in all the circumstances. It might not have satisfied men in the Barnsley area where, preceding the application of the quota, they were working five and six shifts a week, and even more on occasions, but they were working outside the voluntary restriction scheme, to the detriment of the miners in other parts. It is a very remarkable fact, that although complaints have come from the Barnsley area, they were not endorsed in any regard by the Yorkshire Miners' Association, the obvious reason being that the miners in other parts of Yorkshire are getting a little more work. Surely it is desirable that, if there is not sufficient work to provide for full shifts every week, you should spread the work over the largest possible numbers?

Reference has been made to the difficulties of the export trade. I want to put the House in possession of the facts. It is perfectly true that British exports have dropped in the past yeas from 60,267,000 tons to 54,879,000 tons. The assumption has been made that this export diminution is confined to this country. That is far from true. What are the facts in relation to Germany and Poland? German exports have dropped from 26,769,000 metric tons to 24,383,000 metric tons, and the Polish situation has more severely declined by 10.3 per cent., from 13,934,000 metric tons to 12,497,000 metric tons. The diminution in the export trade is attributable entirely to the depression in trade, and is not confined to this country, but is common to all European coalfields. We did make an endeavour to deal with the situation. Accompanied by coalowners and exporters, I proceeded to Scandinavia to ascertain the facts. When we returned from Scandinavia we presented a report. It was a unanimous report. Coal exporters and owners, with myself, agreed as to the facts and the remedies. What were the remedies? To begin with, we asked that there should be a further exploration of the possibility of securing international agreement.

We did not stop there. We directed the attention of the trade to the inefficiency of its selling organisations, and asked traders as a whole to consider the propriety of effecting a measure of co-ordination in the trade, co-operation, in effect, between the owners on the one hand and exporters on the other, making the exporters not the masters of the coal trade but the servants. Several meetings have been held, over some of which I have presided. We have made a steady advance in that direction. As regards the question of the exploration of the possibility of securing international agreement, there have been meetings with the representatives of the Polish Government and the Polish owners, the German Government, and British owners, and only this week meetings have been held in France at which coalowners from certain coal-producing countries were represented to discuss the possibilities of effecting some measure of co-ordination in Europe.

Moreover, we have directed the attention of the coal trade to the desirability of promoting selling schemes. The right hon. Gentleman surprised me in his demand for the setting up of selling syndicates. I am happy to assure him we are ready at any time to assist in that endeavour. Moreover, the Mines Department is ready at any time to submit schemes, providing for the establishment of selling syndicates, either district or national schemes, to the owners of this country. I go beyond that. If there is one defect in the selling organisation arrangements of the coal trade in this country, it is the margin of profit as between the pithead price and the retailer. I am glad to say that despite the difficulties which exist in the Midland area, which may be attributed and properly so to maladministration on the part of some Yorkshire coalowners, that there are coalowners in the Midlands who are sufficiently progressive to proceed in the direction of co-ordinating the activities of coalowners and merchants and that meetings have been held with a view of securing a more effective organisation for the sale of domestic and other coal.

These schemes, in the nature of the case, must proceed slowly. If I or my right hon. Friend had the power to apply our proposals of co-ordination in respect of production or in respect of the sale of coal, or in respect of the proper utilisation of coal, we should very gladly use it, but in the circumstances all that we can do is to go to the coalowners and appeal to them to assist in carrying out these proposals. I am glad to say that there is a new spirit amongst the coal-owners of this country. They are more disposed to accept modern views as regards production and indeed as regards the selling of coal than they were formerly, and we shall do all that is possible in the administration of the Coal Mines Act to provide elasticity and discussions and consultations with those associated with the trade, and in the direction of super-imposing on the Coal Mines Act voluntary schemes if need be and eventually, with the consent of Parliament, legislation if it is necessary in order to effect the greatest possible measure of co-ordination.

I have only to say this, that the coal-owners are disposed to give this Act a chance. It has only been operating for a matter of two months, and I repeat that it is too early to judge of the possibilities of the Act. I make no complaint of the criticisms we have heard this evening. The coalowners themselves can make or mar this Act, but I warn those who are disposed to criticise and to be unhelpful that if this Coal Mines Act is broken there is nothing but utter chaos and disorganisation confronting the mining industry. In my judgment, and I believe hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree with me, we cannot afford to witness once more the spectacle of disorganisation and chaos in the mining industry, and defective as this legislation may be—and I can bear wit- ness to some defects for which indeed we are not responsible—it is much better to have this measure of organisation than none at all.


Despite what the Secretary for Mines has said I am far from satisfied as to the way in which this Act is working. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] In his constituency which is next to mine there are hundreds of men who are deliberately out of work to-day as a result of the operation of the quota. There is no doubt that in certain exporting districts the quota is operating very badly, and unless it is made more elastic, and unless the situation is reviewed more often and transfers made more easy I have no doubt—[Interruption]

It being Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Resolution.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put accordingly, and agreed to.