§ Order for Committee read.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
In regard to the Instructions which have been put upon the Paper, the first one in the name of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape)—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert provisions for the appointment of workers' representatives to the central council and executive hoards established under Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930.is not in order, nor is the last one in the name of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall):That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert a provision empowering the Board of Trade to make orders to ensure the maintenance of existing wage rates in the coal mining industry.As regards the second one in the name of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), I have given it very full consideration, and, although there are some doubts in my mind as to whether strictly it is in order or not, it is arguable either way, and I have consequently given the benefit of the doubt to the hon. Member and shall call it.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move,That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert a provision to continue Section two of the Coal Mines Act, 1931, with respect to calculation of wages.3.30 p.m.
The House will understand that the insertion of the provision mentioned means a continuation of the wages Section contained in the Act of 1931. I was surprised to learn, as were also my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and, I think, many hon. Members behind the Government, that the Government intended to continue the organisation Section of the 1930 Act and the hours Section of the 1931 Act until the Geneva Convention is ratified, but that the wages Section was to be left out. I always thought that it was common ground that organisation, hours, and wages were inextricably interwoven in dealing with the coal industry. I am sorry that the Leader of the House has left the Chamber. I want Conservative Members to take note of the fact—and I am all the 1168 3.30 p.m.
more surprised that the Wages Clause is left out of the Bill—that when the 1931 Bill was going through the House the Lord President of the Council, the present Leader of the House, complained of a time limit being put into the Bill at all. As a matter of fact, he thought that the 1931 Bill continued the Wages Clause, and I hope that the House, and particularly Conservative Members, will listen to the following quotation. I well remember this statement being made. The Lord President of the Council, now Leader of the House, thought that in the interests of the industry there ought not to have been that limitation upon the 1931 Bill and that it ought to have been continued until the Geneva Coal Convention was ratified and carried into operation. Remembering well what the right hon. Gentleman said, I referred to the OFFICIAL REPORT and I find that, speaking on the 6th July, 1931, after the Prime Minister, the present Leader of the House said:There are one or two features in this legislation which I think bad, thoroughly bad, although it is quite possible that they were unavoidable in the circumstances of having left the ultimate settlement to the last moment. I think that the limitation of the term is dangerous. I think it would have been much wiser to have made the Bill run until new legislation was required to bring our hours into line with the Geneva Convention as soon as the necessary ratification took place, because, after all, I cannot believe that there is any prospect of this Convention being ratified within the course of the next 12 months, during the lifetime of this Measure, and I should be very glad if the President of the Board of Trade or the Secretary for Mines, whoever may be speaking later, would tell this House, perfectly frankly, what he believes will be the date by which we may get his ratification, which, I am sure, everyone desires. It is an important question, and by shortening the term to a year, it seems to me that you cause two difficulties, one perhaps arising out of the other.The right hon. Gentleman went on to give reasons, and I wish I had time to read those reasons. He concluded by saying:That is the inherent weakness of this term of 12 months, and I do not know whether even now the Government would consider whether, if they have any date in their minds when the Convention might become ratified, it would be possible to make the Bill run until we can amalgamate with the agreed international hours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1931; cols. 1756–1757, Vol. 254.]1169 That speech makes it quite clear that the Lord President of the Council emphasised the fact that he thought the limitation of the Bill was a bad thing, because it tended to disturb the industry. Hours, organisation and wages are all bound up together. There are certain persons who know nothing about this industry who sometimes blame the miners for all that has happened. That is a very common frame of mind, but no one who knows the industry, least of all the coalowners, and no one who is conversant with the conditions will deny that the present economic conditions in their acute form are due to economic changes in the industry generally.
I have a very vivid memory of what took place amongst the representatives of the coalowners when the negotiations and discussions on the Geneva Convention began. It fell to my lot as the Government representative at Geneva, as a member of the governing body for two years, to move that the first technical committee be set up, but before I could move it the representative of the Federation of British Industries, Mr. Forbes Watson, in co-operation with the coalowners, moved that a technical committee be set up to begin investigation as to the possibility of a common convention on hours right throughout Europe, and to that resolution they gave very enthusiastic support. It was also agreed when that debate took place, that with hours must come the question of international organisation, discussions on quotas, area arrangements and other things. The coalowners have become rather cold on the question of the Convention since a new Government has been in office. I think that is a proper interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman's statement. Their discussions and negotiations in connection with other countries on output arrangements and so forth have practically stopped since that time.
Now when the 12 months are up and there is a fresh Government in office, it looks as if the owners can get over all these entanglements, and the Government consent to cut out the wages section of the Act of 1931. What is the reason for the Government cutting out that section? The President of the Board of Trade is very genial when he meets one on the 1170 question of personal administration and so forth, but when it comes to a question of wages, State regulation, except by tariffs and something of that kind, the State regulating the standards of the wages and lives of the workers, he becomes arctic minded. He becomes cold. He adopts a sort of early 19th century outlook on matters of this description. In introducing the Bill he said, and he was very emphatic about it, and seemed to think that he had expressed a very profound principle, that we have to take the wages question out of politics. That view has been expressed by other Members of this House. That point of view is very common in Tory circles. The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps forgive me when I say that he is a very good Tory on this matter.
It is a common expression of opinion in Tory circles that wages have been brought into politics because I and my hon. Friends from the Miners' Federation are here. As a matter of fact, we are here because of the wages question, which came before this House in an acute form in 1912. Those were the halcyon days of the coal trade, when coalowners made great profits and did extremely well. Some of us were then working in the pits, and were proud of our craft, but we too had to work under conditions which are almost beyond description. After our seven hours' work underground at the coal face we were able to take home 4s. per day as the result of all our efforts and labours. The revelations which took place as to the wages in the coal trade in those days were so disgraceful that they compelled this House to accept the principle of a minimum wage. Those who talk about keeping this question out of politics are about 20 years too late. The right hon. Gentleman increased the hours in the mines from seven to eight per day. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) has told the House that when he and I hewed coal in Durham we started on a six and a-half hour day—
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
How long did boys work?
§ Mr. LAWSON
It is true that they were working 10 hours. It is also true that piece rates have made a generous contribution towards a reduction, but if 1171 anyone has paid for it is not the owners but the men at the coal face. It was felt that the eight hours could not continue and that the matter would have to be reconsidered. The Leader of the House told us that when the eight hours were put through he really did think that it would safeguard the livelihood and the wages of the men. I believe he thought that it would have the effect of increasing their wages.
§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin) indicated assent.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The fact is that wages have gone down and down, and it is indeed a miracle how people live on the wages they receive. As the hon. Member for Down (Viscount Castle-reagh) has said, about 60 per cent. of the men in Durham have a basic wage of 6s. 6d. per day, and they get three or four days work per week. If they get four days work they get no unemployment benefit. That is a condition of things under which men cannot live in ordinary decency. Everyone who knows anything about the wage conditions in mining areas will admit that they are far too low not only for the class of men who are employed, but if they are to live under ordinary rational conditions. The result of the extension to eight hours was a wholesale reduction of wages. It did not do what the Government thought it would do. It did not get trade, it left the old problems unsolved, and the Government had to have a fresh look at the problem. It was a case of seven hours or perhaps some trouble in the industry. There was a compromise on seven and a-half hours, which the miners agreed to accept because there were some safeguards for wages. Now what have the Government done? The Government have taken this course merely because the 'owners have given them a certain guarantee. We had an example of what the guarantee means last night when the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) told us that the Kent coal-owners have withdrawn their guarantee. What is going to happen in the Kent coal mines? What guarantee have we that someone else will not come along and say that certain conditions have not 1172 been kept, therefore they propose to withdraw their guarantee.
The real truth of the matter lies in the President of the Board of Trade's statement that the Government want to take this matter out of politics. That would mean that we must separate hours and wages. Hours are to go on indefinitely, but wages will be reconsidered in 12 months time. Then each district will be taken by itself. The Government knows and the President of the Board of Trade knows that the coalowners stand for district arrangements. The Government in taking this course have deliberately given the coalowners what they wanted, that is to separate wages and hours, and give them an opportunity of a piecemeal settlement, district settlements, with all the disadvantages of such a settlement as far as the men are concerned. The proposals of the Government with regard to wages and hours and their intention to separate the industry into districts will undoubtedly have the effect of creating an air of crisis at every step during the next 12 months. It goes without saying that if the men have no guarantees there will be low wages, and there is the fear of the districts being separated for reductions of wages. That will intensify the difficulties of the situation, and will undoubtedly mean driving straight for a crisis.
We say that this Instruction should be carried in order that the stability which has prevailed in the industry during the past 12 months should continue. Let no one make any mistake about it; the miners are not going back to district settlements. The owners' intention is to get district settlements, but we are not going back. I know we have district arrangements now, but since the changed economic conditions have come about we have always had a sense of unity among the great mass of the workers. But we are not going back, and I do not think any miner will consent to go back, to the ordinary district arrangements that prevailed before the War, which mean reductions on a big scale.
It has been asked: Why should the miners have special legislation? That question has been put on several occasions. I am the more astonished that the President of the Board of Trade put it. What are the facts about wages? 1173 Someone pointed out last night that the railwaymen have a wages board under an Act; of Parliament. As a matter of fact a whole range of workers have special protection under the Trade Boards Acts. My two years in the Ministry of Labour brought me many revelations, some rather unpalatable. Not the least was the fact that under the trade boards, which protect the standards of life of whole masses of people, there are trades which were sweated and which had to be protected by the State, and that as a result they are in a better position than the miners are. If this House would insist on giving a trade board to the miners we would not ask for this special legislation. The point that special legislative protection for the miners is being asked for is, therefore, by no means sound.
The fact remains that the question of hours is separated from the wages question. The hours are indefinite. I would not presume for a moment to discuss what has happened in reference to the Beven-hours Convention. If the Government make it quite clear that they are sincere about that mines Convention there will be a mines Convention in a very short time, but up to the moment there has been no tangible result from what has taken place. Under this Bill the hours are indefinite, and the wages are segregated, leaving the miners in a very bad position. That is very dangerous indeed. The hon. Member for County Down made a speech which was not controversial, and therefore I shall not for a moment think of making any attack upon it, but his speech had special significance because he is interested in coal and represents a very important coal company. Moreover, he is associated with one who is a Member of the Government. He pointed out that districts differ, that Northumberland was not the same as Yorkshire, and that Lancashire differs from Wales. He repeated what was commonly heard on Conservative platforms, that not only did districts differ, but collieries differed. That is all quite true and I could emphasise and underline all that the hon. Member said. But it seems to me that that is an argument for rather than against a national settlement, for in the very county in which he is interested there are something like 150 collieries that differ very much, and they have a common wages system. There is nothing 1174 in that argument for the system has been worked for many years.
In moving this Instruction, I do so on the grounds that it is bad for the industry, and that it will bring an air of crisis in the next 12 months. The Government have given the coalowners just what they wanted. They have fought for this ever since the War. It has been one long process of manœuvring, sometimes of recrimination, but one thing they have asked for and that is the separation of one district from another. The Government have given the coalowners exactly what they wanted. But they are doing damage to the industry. Anyone who knows the state of the industry to-day knows that it needs all that peace and balanced consideration which those engaged on both sides can give it. The Miners' Federation, on the showing of the Secretary for Mines, have not been behind-hand in making their contributions to the organised side of the industry.
The difficulties with which the industry is faced are going to become more acute as time goes on. Indeed, in the North of England they are very acute at the present moment arising from the discriminations of foreign countries. Collieries are closing right and left. I do not know whether the Government are really informed as to what is happening as the result of reactions of the German and French discriminations. There is a colliery close to where I live that through all the evil times since the War has scarcely lost a single day. That colliery closed last week directly as the result—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now entering into a Second Reading Debate. He must remember that this Motion is confined to Section 2 of the 1931 Act, which deals only with the calculation of wages.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I appreciate your Ruling, but I was only trying to point out some of the very difficult conditions with which the industry is faced at the present time, and that, as a result of those conditions, the industry needs peace and all sympathetic contributions that can be made for its well-being generally. But I am afraid that that spirit neither will be given nor can be expected if the Government by their own volition deliberately take the wages which have been 1175 guaranteed for the past 12 months out of this Bill. It has been said throughout these Debates that if you have got to carry on you must have some reductions, and the hon. Gentleman suggested that many of the coalowners were in a bad way. That is quite true. I do not doubt that for a moment, but I think that he overpainted the picture, for the truth is that sometimes in the coal industry it pays not to pay, that is to say, a firm will have a company which sells itself cheap coal, and does not care whether it makes a profit on the coal or not, because it does very well on the subsidiary companies, and, therefore, they come on the right side, anyway. One thing is certain. Arising out of this, the coalowners want the miners in separate categories. They want their reductions. The Government think that that is the law of life, and that those alone shall have their opportunity to wreak their will. In making that statement I am not putting a party case. I am stating the case as the miner sees it, and as he knows it will work out. He is going to have reductions. It is true that they may be 12 months hence, but the aim of keeping this wage Clause out of this Bill is that there may be the necessary flexibility when the time is up, and the miners have to submit to reductions.
A good deal is often said about the work of the miner. We in the mines, of course, do not think much about it. We know we do a man's work, but here is an opportunity for every Member of this House to express sympathy in real terms. The owners got their way by an increase of half an hour, and the miners agreed because they had got a guarantee of legislative protection. Having got that protection, there was some stability. I do not think it can be challenged that there has been really more stability in the last 12 months in the mining world than there has been for many years, and that has been because the wages were guaranteed in the Bill. They offer a sop of 12 months here on the old principle of giving a gratuity, but in 12 months' time the miner is well aware that very possibly he is going to be in a disadvantageous position which will lead almost inevitably to reductions, and perhaps to trouble.
There is one feature about modern mining which ought to be borne in mind 1176 in all these Debates. As time goes on, work gets more difficult, more dangerous and more strenuous in the pits. The machine has taken away a good deal of independence. It has meant concentration. It has meant an increase of output and heat and strife almost on a scale that in previous days was hardly dreamt about. If ever there was a time when legislative protection for wages was necessary, it is the present time. I ask the House to agree to this Instruction in the best interests of the coalfields, and in the best interests of peace in the industry. This industry has a long road to go and very terrible problems to face. Those problems have got to be faced with good will, utilising all the experience both of men and employers. I wonder if we have minds big enough to see all the rocks and dangers ahead as a result of the exclusion of this wages Clause from the Bill. I trust, therefore, Members behind the Government will insist that this protection be given, and that the Section of the 1931 Act is continued in the best interests of the industry and of those men who are working in it.
§ Mr. TINKER
I beg to second the Motion.
I am glad that we have been given an opportunity this afternoon of bringing this matter forward. We all felt very sore about not having the opportunity to deal with it separately until you, Mr. Speaker, allowed it to come forward. To the miners, apart from the shortening of the working day, this is the all-important thing. Wages come next, and, seeing that we cannot get the shorter working day owing to the economic stress, the next thing is to protect our wages. The history of the seven and a-half hour day, going back to the 1931 Act, proves that at that time we were able to impress upon the House of Commons, and not only the Labour Government, for we had not a majority, that these two things ought to go together, and that as long as the seven and a-half hour day continued we should have a guarantee of wages. I think that that was acceptable to all, and the working of the last 12 months has shown that, although there has been some slight difficulty, on the whole it has been satisfactory. We knew, also, that the Government of the day would have to do something before 8th July to put the position on a proper basis, and we ex- 1177 pected at least the same conditions should prevail as in the 1931 Act.
The Government, for some reason or other which will probably be explained later, have decided that the seven and a-half hour day must continue, but that wages must not be allowed on the same conditions as were allowed before. They say that for 12 months they have got a gentleman's understanding. I want to say, personally, that I accept that. I believe the statement of the President of the Board of Trade and that of the Secretary for Mines last night, especially that of the Secretary for Mines, that they fully intend to carry out that agreement, and that any district which tries to break away will be dealt with. But what we ask, for greater safety, is that it may be included in an Act of Parliament, because the seven and a-half hour day is to be indefinite, and is to be governed by the Convention. At the end of 12 months we can see that something is likely to happen. I have returned from the miners' conference to-day. The one thought in the minds of the delegates is, what are we faced with at the end of 12 months? Does it mean that we are going to be driven to sectional fighting, that district after district will be faced with the question of having to defend itself on the wages issue?
It is because of that that we are appealing to the House of Commons to give us protection. If there is any sincerity in the coalowners or the Government; if there is any belief in the recovery of trade, then they ought to give us this security. I understand that the coalowners say that in their mind they have no doubt, but the matter must be left to them. Then the Secretary for Mines, in a very impressive speech last night, said that Part I had been continued for the express purpose of giving the coalowners the opportunity to make it so that there will be no question of any fall in wages, and I think he believed honestly that when they deal with Part 1 as it ought to be dealt with, there should be no idea in their mind of any fall in wages at the end of 12 months. Therefore, putting these two points together, why cannot the hon. Gentleman give to the miners the feeling of security for which they are asking, that this should be in an Act of Parliament for their protection?
1178 It is the remembrance of the way we have been dealt with in the past which makes us so anxious to have this matter included in an Act of Parliament. The fear in our minds is that if this Measure goes on to the Statute Book without this provision, there may be the utmost difficulty afterwards in securing it. The present wages have been quoted many times in all parts of the House. They are miserably low and no one attempts to defend any lowering of those wages. On the contrary, I think nearly all hon. Members would hold up their hands in consternation at the mere thought of a lowering in those wages. If that is the feeling in the minds of hon. Members, why should there be any question at all about conceding what we ask for in this Motion? All the miners ask for is that they should be allowed to have a sense of security, as well as the coalowners, so that all may go forward together and help to put the industry on the way to recovery. I make an earnest appeal in this matter to the House of Commons on behalf of 50 Members of the Labour party including 23 mining Members. We may be only a small portion of the House but I submit that in a time of crisis and on a subject of this kind it is worth while to listen to our appeal.
§ Mr. McKEAG
I support this Motion. Representing as I do a constituency in which there are many thousands of miners, my first inclination was to regard and accept this Bill as a kind of Hobson's choice. I felt that the majority of my miner constituents, wearied with the strife of the past year and worn out with the tremendous struggle to keep their heads above water during the depression of recent years, would also be inclined to accept the Bill in that spirit. The Debate of Monday has entirely changed that viewpoint. It was pitiable indeed for me, with all the admiration which I have for the great ability of the President of the Board of Trade to see his statements torn to shreds in the remorseless examination to which they were subjected by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who, in a speech of commendable moderation, lifted the veil on the so-called negotiations which have been taking place. I was, therefore, all the more pleased to hear the very sincere statement of the Secretary for Mines yesterday. Even so, I do not think there can be any question 1179 that, in introducing this Bill in its present form, and omitting any reference to wages, the Government have laid themselves open to the charge of legislating in the interests of the owners and creating an opportunity for the further depression of wages. It is very regrettable indeed for me to have to say this but some of us feel strongly about this matter and I take this opportunity of making my own position clear. I cannot support proposals which would throw the whole question of wages into the melting pot in 12 months' time when, at the same time, we are asked to legislate for the indefinite continuance of the seven and a-half hours day.
I am not at all impressed with the statements which have been made about the ratification of the Geneva Convention. In any case, if the Government are so convinced that there will be no great delay in ratification, why not secure a guarantee that wages will not be reduced during the intervening period? I appreciate all that has been said about the inadvisability of making wages the subject of statutory enactments, but, if you are going to interfere, surely that interference ought to be on a fair and equitable basis. I wish to add my plea that no opportunity should be afforded for lowering the standard of life of the mining classes. The position in Durham, the capital of which county I represent, is truly heart-rending. Whole communities are in la state of real destitution. Apart from the miners, shopkeepers and others who are dependent upon the prosperity of the miners, are filing petitions in bankruptcy in increasing numbers, and the position really beggars description. It is for those reasons that I support the Motion. I do not want the position which I have indicated to be aggravated at the end of 12 months. I also support it because I believe that, as long as hours are maintained at seven and a-half, there ought not to be the slightest possibility of a reduction of wages. Some provision ought to be inserted in the Bill to ensure that there will be no further reduction in the wages of the already poorly-paid miners.
§ Mr. CAPE
I wish to support the appeal of the last two speakers to the Government to insert in the Bill a pro- 1180 vision for the maintenance of the minimum percentage wages now paid in the districts. We have been told, quite sincerely I am sure, by the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade that the coalowners have guaranteed that for 12 months the minimum percentage wages now obtaining in the districts will remain unchanged. The Attorney-General was also emphatic upon that point, and it would be unfair to doubt the announcements made by those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen. I believe that they are convinced in their own minds that the coalowners will stand by their bargain or their guarantee. I will go, perhaps further than some hon. Members would expect me to go, and express my belief that the major portion of the coalowners will stand by that bargain. Speaking with the experience of one who has been a negotiator of miners' wages for over 30 years, I can say that I have found in the county which I represent that certain elements among the coalowners have been very loyal to any agreements made by them. But we have also one or two who would try to get out of any agreement if they could do so, and, very often, such owners have to be brought to book by their own people, and made to stand firm.
I take it that the coalowners in my district are as good as the coalowners in any other district and, therefore, regarding the question nationally, and taking the whole body of coalowners together, I think it will be found that they are not all angels and that there will be some with a desire to get outside the agreement. We have already been informed, not in this House but outside, that the Kent coalowners, a day or so after giving the guarantee, have withdrawn it. What is going to happen should other districts do the same thing? The Secretary for Mines says it will be the duty of the Government to see that these people are made to stand by their agreement. I presume that that would have to be done by an Act of Parliament, but, in the meantime, there might be a strike in such a district to resist a demand by the coalowners to take something from the miners. There might be dislocation and the result might be more disastrous, not only to the district but to the nation, than the inclusion of this provision in the present Bill. It may be due to dense- 1181 ness or lack of understanding on my part but I cannot see why such a provision should not be included in the Bill when everybody supports the idea that the owners will stand by the guarantee which they have given.
As representatives of the miners what we are looking forward to with apprehension is the position at the end of the 12 months period. What is going to take place then? The danger as we know from past experience is that the weakest district, the most uneconomic district, may make an attack upon the wages of its workers. The workers in that district would have to resist that attack by a stoppage, or for want of strength, they might be compelled to yield to the employers' demand. But the matter does not stop there. In an adjoining district however economically sound it may be the coalowners would say to the men, "The men in this other district, which is competing with us, are to suffer a reduction, and you will have to do the same." So it goes round in a vicious circle and we never get to the end of it. Bad as the miners' wages are to-day, and God knows they are bad enough, there is every evidence that in two or three years' time, unless there is a tremendous change in the spirit of the world, those wages will be brought to the pitiable condition that they were in 30 or 40 years ago.
It is the duty of Parliament to protect those who are employed in this vital industry. If Parliament decrees that the miners ought to accept this proposal in regard to hours, then Parliament ought to give the miners some guarantee that certain minimum percentage wages should be paid so long as the seven and a-half hour day continues. Let us have a fair bargain. Reference has been made to the Geneva Convention. It may be 12 months or it may be five years before it is ratified. It may be that it will take as long to ratify that convention as it is taking to ratify the Washington Convention. It may be that the idea in the minds of the Government is that the Geneva Convention will not be ratified for a considerable number of years. I hope that that is not so but if it is fair to make provision to deal, as the Bill does, with the question of hours, then it is only fair that the wages question should be treated in the same way.
1182 4.30 p.m.
I hope that before these Debates conclude the Secretary for Mines will be able to tell us what is the real position in Kent. I regarded the attitude of the Kent coalowners with grave apprehension. I represent in this House a constituency a part of which is a coalfield and is supposed to be in a very uneconomic condition. Therefore, if any new coalfield like Kent will, without any consideration for the Government or anybody else, withdraw a definite guarantee in such a short time, what will happen in other coalfields? We view that situation with very grave alarm, and I add my appeal to the Government to secure that if the coalowners can be consulted between now and the final stages of the Bill, they shall be asked to allow this question of wages to be included in the Bill, so that the coal industry can settle down. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), that if the minimum percentages and the hours now proposed in the Bill could run in conjunction and go on for a given number of years, there would be some chance, as I said on the Second Reading, of buyers and sellers making long-term contracts. The trouble 13 that at the present time there is no certainty or stability in the coal trade, but if that could be done, there would be a chance of the industry being in a position to take advantage of any improvements that might come along in the European and world markets to make agreements and take long-term contracts.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I intervene to ask a question, in no spirit of carping criticism, of the hon. and right hon. Members on the Opposition benches, but I would like to say, first of all, that I do not think they can deny that whatever may be the form or arrangement for wage payments that they have, it will not affect the capacity of the districts to pay. Therefore, I would like to ask them what is their view with regard to the deficiencies on the monthly ascertainments throughout the districts. I pointed out on the Second Reading that there were some millions owing under these deficiencies, and I cannot understand what their attitude is if a district is definitely losing. The present percentage on the basis in Durham is 65. If that means a loss per ton, how can they possibly ask that 1183 that loss should be statutorily fixed? I ask my question in no sense of offensive criticism, but I want to know how collieries which are definitely losing can go on paying a wage which is fixed by Statute. I hope that before the Government reply, I shall have some answer on that point.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
In reply to the question of the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Martin), we are quite well aware that there are certain districts, according to the quarterly returns, which are in an uneconomic position and have not been paying profits for a considerable time. But if the promise made by the present Prime Minister when the Mines Bill was under discussion in 1930 were carried out, there would be no district, or at least very few districts, which could be described as uneconomic from the point of view of ability to pay profits. The Prime Minister in 1930 said:When you have got amalgamations, as we shall have, when royalties are nationalised, as they must be, and without delay, then the conditions which make Part I of the Bill necessary will have completely disappeared, and the way in which prices then can be controlled will be in a totally different fashion—on account of the amalgamations and the nationalisation of royalties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1929; col. 1769, Vol. 233.]If you look through the quarterly returns for the last dozen years, you will find that the landlords have got more than the owners as a whole, and in certain districts infinitely more than the owners. The industry to a large extent has been worked in the interests of the big consumers of coal and the royalty owners, and we want to get rid of that state of affairs. We agree with the Prime Minister, who was also Prime Minister in 1930, though representing a different party; and when he went to the country last October, a change in the present situation, so far as the Mines Act was concerned, was not contained in the "doctor's mandate." He went further and stated:There is no reason whatever for any reduction of wages when the shift is reduced to seven and a-half hours, and Part I provides the wherewithal for that to be done— not by robbing the public or by taxing the public, but by giving the coal trade an opportunity to get a sound economic price for its goods."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1929; col. 1771, Vol. 233.]1184 That is all that we are asking, that the pledge of the Prime Minister, given two years ago, should be carried out, and that the seven and a-half hour day, so long as it lasts, should carry with it a legal obligation on the part of the Government to continue the conditions with regard to wages. I agree, for reasons that I stated last night, that there may be difficulty in the way of the employers meeting the view that we are expressing, but there should be no difficulty whatever in the Government giving us tonight an indication of their willingness to accept the Prime Minister's pledge as an obligation upon them, that if the Geneva Convention is not ratified within the next 12 months, there should be some understanding by which the Government would be prepared to legislate a year hence for the continuance of the conditions applying to wages until the Convention is ratified.
We ask for nothing more than honest dealing. We enter into an agreement, and we keep it, even though it may work out more or less badly to us. We have done that for years. Our organisation exists for that purpose, and surely, if an organisation such as the Miners' Federation is prepared to act in that honest fashion, it should not be unreasonable to ask the Government to do likewise. I sincerely hope that the Minister will at least give us an indication of the willingness of the Government to stand by the promise made by the Prime Minister two years ago.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Isaac Foot)
The Debate that has been started upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) ranges generally over the ground that was covered in the Second Reading Debate of yesterday and the day before. Strictly speaking, the Motion has application only to wages, but many other questions have been raised, and I would suggest at the outset that it would be wise if we could deal with this Motion as soon as possible, so that we may be able to deal with the very important Amendments on the Order Paper, relating not only to hours and to wages, but also to the operation of Part I of the Act of 1930, as we are very anxious to have a full expression of the opinion of the Committee in considering, as we shall have to consider later on, the Amend- 1185 ments that are needed to that Part. It will be a very great help to the Committeo if those who are experienced in the industry in every part of the country can give to us the contributions that we need, so that they may be weighed when the decisions have to be taken later. I suggest that yesterday we did take a vote, after a full discussion, upon the questions which have been raised on this Motion.
I would like to deal with what was said by the hon. Member, in which he very moderately expressed an opinion that he very sincerely holds. We are led to think that, in doing away with this statutory provision as to wages, we are depriving the collier of some long-standing advantage. If it is so important to the miner that he should have had this statutory protection, I want to know why it was not in the main Act of the last Government in 1930.
§ Mr. FOOT
Whether or not it was ruled out of order, it was perfectly open, if it was looked upon as a matter of vital consequence to the collier, for the Government of the day to have introduced an Amendment into their Bill or to have drawn it in such a way that this statutory protection was given. When did it first arise? We have discussed this matter as if there had been secured in some past day a statutory direction as to wages of which we were very wickedly depriving the miner, but we never heard of it until last year, and it was not then introduced as an important matter of principle. We have had reference made to the Debates of last year. Let the hon. Member who has quoted those Debates read them through carefully, and he will not find, from beginning to end, any suggestion that a great new principle was being introduced into our law.
A Bill was introduced just on the eve of the change that was to take place, on the 8th July. The Bill was introduced ostensibly and declaredly as a temporary Measure, and all that we knew of that Bill was that it was passed through hurriedly and that the Opposition put down no Amendments to it. The time was so short and the difficulty was so 1186 great. The Lord Chancellor said, in another place, that we were standing upon the brink of a precipice, and so there was carried, without discussion, a Bill which included for the first time this statutory provision in relation to wages. It was something that was abnormal, something that was temporary. The whole Bill was temporary and abnormal, and, as I said yesterday, I hardly think it is fair to invoke that Measure in order to secure now as normal and permanent what was then only temporary and abnormal. In spite of the argument that was put forward by the hon. Member, he was a little ingenuous in referring to the words of the Lord President of the Council. I did not need to hear a quotation of that speech, because I had read it very carefully before the Debate started. Naturally, I went through all that was said last year. It is quite true that the Lord President of the Council said that it was an open Bill last year, but at that time he spoke only of hours. I ask my hon. Friend to read the speech again and to tell me of any part of it that refers to wages.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Will the hon. Gentleman point me out any place in the speech where the Lord President of the Council objected to the principle of wages in the Bill
§ Mr. FOOT
There had been a speech made by the Prime Minister, who introduced the Bill as a temporary Measure. Then the Lord President of the Council, when he spoke, said that it was an unfortunate thing that we were in the position of having to discuss a Bill that had to be passed in such great haste. Most of his speech was directed to the point that if a 12 months' Bill were passed it would only make another crisis in 12 months' time. All his argument had reference to hours.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I again make the point that the Leader of the House was speaking of that Bill as a whole, and at no time did he object to the principle of wages being introduced.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
The hon. Gentleman has asked why this matter 1187 has not been raised before. On the last occasion there was a special emergency. The Government were reducing the hours by half-an-hour, and in order to- protect the miners against consequential reductions of wages, they inserted that provision in the Act. We are now in the same position this year, and we require the same protection.
§ Mr. FOOT
The hon. Gentleman's intervention means that I have another speech to answer. The issue can only be settled by Members reading the speech of the Lord President of the Council. I submit that the right hon. Gentleman's argument, when he urged that the Act should not be limited to 12 months because it only postponed the crisis, was an argument that had no reference to wages, but only to hours.
§ Mr. FOOT
It dealt in terms only with hours. It is true that this year we have not the statutory provision that applied last year. and I can quite understand hon. Members who speak for mining constituencies pressing us upon the point, but a decision was taken upon it, and upon that decision this Bill rested, and the arrangement that has been made outside the House rests now upon the proposals that we submit to the House. There was brought in last time, for the first time in our history, some new feature in our law. [Interruption,] I am not arguing whether it was a right principle or a bad principle. I have in front of me a number of very powerful opponents, and it is difficult for me to deal with them all at the same time. Whether it was right or wrong, many wiser people than I am in the history of this country have said that it is a dangerous thing to put in an Act of Parliament an express provision that you shall pay a certain amount. The whole basis of our law, which has been built up by some of the most advanced and progressive men has been this: Do not set in your Act of Parliament an express provision for the payment of a certain amount, but, if you aim to raise the standard of the people, put machinery by which the right conditions can be secured.
1188 Reference has been made to the Trade Boards Act, but hon. Members know very well that that Act did not say that so much is to be paid to this person and so much to that. The difficulty about doing that is that, if you want to alter the conditions for the benefit of the workers, you cannot do it unless an Act of Parliament is passed to change them.. Those who have opposed the principle of an express statutory provision in the past have not done it in the interests of the wicked employers. They have very often been some of the most advanced social reformers, and they have opposed this principle in the interests of the workers themselves. Therefore, let it not be said, while we say that this was a precedent that was brought in to meet an emergency last year, that we are doing an injustice in taking it out of this Bill What we do say is that if we take away that statutory provision we want to secure something in its place. I was not satisfied that this provision should go unless we had something that would be equally satisfactory. I speak for the President of the Board of Trade, and I think for all who are interested in the passage of the Bill, when I say that we want to be satisfied that no worker in any mining district will be worse off to the extent of a penny piece during the operation of the guarantee because he has a guarantee rather than a statutory protection. Unless I had had that assurance, I should have had great difficulty in putting my name to this Bill. I sought advice from those who are qualified to speak. I am not qualified. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) said yesterday that the Secretary for Mines was at a disadvantage unless he was a miner. I admit that, although I do not suppose the hon. Member would be willing to have a mineowner as Secretary for Mines.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
Oh. yes. I would prefer a mineowner at the head of the Department, because, if I had to discuss any question with him, I would know that I was speaking to a man who knew the business as well as I did. For the same reason I should prefer a miner.
§ Mr. FOOT
It will be a long time before there is any Secretary for Mines who knows the industry as well as my hon. Friend with his long association with it. I was apologising for the fact that I am 1189 not intimately acquainted with the industry. Therefore, I went to those who could advise me as to whether the workers would be as safe with a guarantee as with a statutory provision. I was told that when an agreement was entered into, taking the general experience of the industry, it might be a better protection for the men, because the statutory provision of last year did not protect the basic wage—nor does the guarantee now protect the basic wage—and if you have an agreement there is less likelihood of the basic wage being undermined than there might be if there were thrust upon a reluctant community what they thought to be wrong, and thrust upon them what applied to no other industry.
§ Mr. FOOT
I like to proceed on the assumption that a man is innocent until he is found to be guilty. I would expect more, even from the coalowners of the country, if I said that I expected them to carry out the guarantee than if I started with the assumption that everybody was going to break his word. I start with the assumption that they are likely to keep it, but the question may arise that some may not. That difficulty has been mentioned. It was not brought up in the Federation yesterday. I was the first to speak of these difficulties, and the House would have resented it if, having heard yesterday morning of this one trouble that had arisen, I had not immediately brought it before the House. As to 98 per cent. of the total output of this country, the Mining Association is in a position to speak. The guarantees that have been given cover that 98 per cent. Kent is not a member of the Mining Association. It is a member of the Central Committee under the Coal Mines Act of 1930. There have been some differences between the Central Committee and the Kent colliery owners, and those differences have been expressed. It was largely because of those differences that the difficulty which revealed itself yesterday morning arose.
With regard to Kent, I gave the assurance yesterday, not on my own initiative —it was an assurance that expressed the mind of the Government—that it would be impossible, having carried through this Bill on the assumption that the guarantee 1190 was to be as good as the statutory provision, to leave the workers in Kent deprived of that advantage. It does not matter how many are working there: they all have their several responsibilities and families to provide for, and they have a right to look to the House for the same protection as would be given to the 850,000 in other parts of the country. That being so, if the difficulty in Kent persists, it will not be beyond the power of the House and of this Government to overcome that difficulty. Already we have taken what steps are possible in that direction. I have had the opportunity of a conference this morning, and I pointed out that the differences between the Central Committee and the Kent colliery owners must not result to the disadvantage of the men concerned. At this moment that conference is being continued, and later this evening I may be able to make an announcement that Kent has come into line with the rest of the country. Even if that announcement cannot be made to-day, it is upon that assumption that Members can vote for this Bill, namely, that no miners in this country are to be deprived of the advantage of the guarantee that has been generally given.
We have had something said about wages to-day. A very effective speech was made by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies) yesterday, when he spoke of the actual wages that were paid. No one on this side of the House wants to defend those wages. I do not say that the miner is being paid too much. I think he is being paid too little. I suppose that the conditions are determined by many things over which this country alone has no control, and the issue that is now being raised does not involve the justification of miners wages. We make no apology for them. As to the crisis that is going to happen in 12 months time, if we had a 12 months' Bill with a statutory guarantee we might still have a crisis in 12 months' time, so what difference would that make? The same argument could be used about a crisis in that case. Last year Parliament passed an Act which lasted for only 12 months and expires on 8th July, The same argument could be used about a crisis then. I want to avoid a crisis, we want to lessen the possibilities of a crisis, and I suggest that one way in 1191 which we can do it is not to talk about a crisis. Sometimes war comes because people talk about it.
§ Mr. FOOT
I appreciate the point that those who are representatives of the miners and who have had the advantage, or, as they might say, the disadvantage of experience as miners, speak with an intensity which is not shared by others; but there was that possibility of trouble when the 12 months' Act was passed last year. Whether there is a statutory guarantee for 12 months or a guarantee for 12 months, there is always a possibility of danger at the end of 12 months.
When this Bill was first introduced it took into consideration both hours of labour and wages, but now it is confined to hours, and, if a crisis should arise at the end of 12 months, only wages will be involved.
§ Mr. FOOT
I think the answer to that is that in the case of any Bill with a time limit one can talk about a crisis that may arise at the end of that limit. I was suggesting that sometimes war happens because people talk war. They talk war until war becomes inevitable. I am very hopeful that all that is being said in this House will have its effect upon the owners. I think it is their business, mainly, to assuage this fear. They have heard the fear expressed. It has not been put forward simply as rhetoric, simply for the purpose of making political speeches, but is a fear which is genuinely felt by the miners' representatives, and I hope what has been said in that respect will have weight with those who can do most to mitigate the difficulty. I have no wish to repeat what I said yesterday, but I think a serious onus would rest upon those who, given the advantage of the continuation of Part I of the Act, made any attack upon wage standards, already too low in the mining industry.
I think I have covered generally the ground which has been traversed in the course of this Debate, and the suggestion I make is that, seeing this is a fundamental part of the Bill, we should now get on to the several Amendments which have been submitted. The whole of this 1192 little Bill hangs together, all the arrangements made outside before the Bill was introduced are interwoven, and, if the House should now decide to change the foundation of the Measure, which is based upon the guarantees that have been given, then the Bill itself would go, and the negotiations would have to begin all over again, and I do not think that would be likely to promote peace and quietness in the industry. Our proposals, although I know they are repugnant to the Miners' Federation, and are opposed by many Members in this House, were genuinely inspired by the desire for peace, and that desire can be carried further in any steps that may be taken in the course of the next 12 months. After that explanation, I hope the Motion may be withdrawn.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I have listened from beginning to end to the discussion which has taken place this afternoon, and, incidentally, I have listened to most of the Debate since Monday afternoon, and I am bound to say that while I always listen with great attention to what my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines has to say on any matter, he has carried less conviction to me this afternoon than is usually the case with him. I have a sort of feeling that even yet the hon. Gentleman is not quite seized of the difficulty and the apprehension which is entertained on this side of the House in regard to the omission of provisions for wages from the present Bill. I have been astonished at the attitude of the Government in regard to this matter. They claim—and I will not controvert it for the moment; let me accept it as being a just claim—that they are entitled to regard themselves as in every sense a National Government. Surely a National Government above all Governments should approach this problem of wages without any suspicion of bias in favour of one side or the other, without ground for suspicion that they lean either to the side of the owners or of the miners.
But I must confess that the final sentences of the Secretary for Mines gave me reason to apprehend, to put it no higher than that, that the Government have been terrorised by the mineowners. The hon. Gentleman plainly implied, as I understood him, and I think my deduction is a fair one, that if our Motion were entertained favourably by the House it would mean the end of the Bill. 1193 Why the end of the Hill? If the Government were to accept it, at any rate two sides would be in agreement, namely, the representatives of the miners and the Government, and the only party which would destroy the Bill or refuse to operate it would be the mineowners. Therefore, I am entitled to make the deduction that the Government have been terrorised by the mineowners to such a degree that they cannot even contemplate giving a fair and balanced consideration to the proposals we now put forward. In our judgment this Bill, without this particular Instruction, would be a lop-sided proposal. It is well known to everybody that wages and hours are an almost inseparable conjunction of ideas in connection with mining legislation. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade himself used a phrase, which I think puts that point in a sentence when on Monday last he used these words:May I turn to another aspect of what is, in fact, the same problem? You cannot disconnect hours and wages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th May, 1932; col. 850, Vol. 266.]Of course not, and yet the right hon. Gentleman presents us with a Bill which deals with hours for an almost indefinite period, and leaves the question of wages almost completely untouched—certainly there is no reference to wages in the Bill. How has the right hon. Gentleman found it possible to disconnect the two? He has achieved what he said on Monday was the impossible. In the passage to which I have just referred he went on to show that if the hours had been reduced to seven from seven and a-half that that would undoubtedly have had an immediate effect upon wages, proving conclusively the soundness of the general proposition that wages and hours are interrelated. Therefore, are we not entitled to argue that if you grant a change of hours in the opposite direction you ought also to visualise and to provide for a change in wages as well? It seems to me, therefore, that by the very terms of his Bill the right hon. Gentleman has denied the truth of a proposition which he himself propounded to the House only on Monday.
May I put this further proposition to the right hon. Gentleman as a distinguished Member of a National Government? In the course of a speech concerning the 1931 Act which has been the sub- 1194 ject of controversy this afternoon the Lord President of the Council said the then Prime Minister had declared that that Bill did not provide the mineowners with a victory, did not give the miners a victory, it gave nobody a victory. The right hon. Gentleman could not say the same about this Bill. We were then a minority Government, but this is a National Government, which could afford to be independent of these small bodies of mineowners or miners; which, if it cared, could afford to rise above the whole scene of the battle, and give an independent and unbiased judgment. But no; the right hon. Gentleman cannot say this afternoon that this Bill gives no victory to the mineowners, for most emphatically it does, as I shall propose to show. It seems to me that the Secretary for Mines entirely misses the point concerning our objection to the absence of guarantees about wages. I do not think we can blame the mineowners for looking after their side of the discussion, any more than any one would be disposed to blame the miners for looking after their side of it. What the mineowners are mainly concerned with is hours, and the miners are concerned primarily with wages.
In this Bill, as I understand it, the mineowner is guaranteed a stabilisation of conditions in respect of hours for an indefinite period of time, which may be-five years, or, if in the intervening period the draft Convention of Geneva is ratified, until the necessary legislation can be carried to give effect to that Convention. How about the miners? See what happens. The President of the Board of Trade does not seem to be quite seized of our apprehension in this matter. The miners naturally, as bargainers, do not want the problem of hours to be determined out of relation to wages, but the moment you wish to reopen the discussion concerning wages next year when you have again to approach this problem, the mineowner will not have the same inducement to enter a discussion with as much reasonableness as they have now. The mineowner will say: "I have my share of the bargain guaranteed, and therefore I am not interested. I am in-possession, and I have nine points of the law on my side. I am going to stick to my position." What does the poor miner get next year? Nothing at all. The wages point has gone. It seems tome that the Secretary for Mines has 1195 missed what is an essential part of the miners' case, and he has given to the mineowners a concession of the utmost value. I challenge the Secretary for Mines to deny that proposition. In fact, it cannot be denied and that is the critical point in the present situation.
May I make another observation? We have been invited on this side of the House to attach great significance to some paper guarantees which have been given. I do not wish to sit in judgment on the mineowners on this question, but I think I am entitled to ask as to how far those guarantees are binding. Take the case of Mr. Gibson, the Secretary of the South Wales Mineowners Association. He gives an undertaking. Does Mr. Gibson bind every single coalowner in South Wales, or does he only bind those coalowners who happen to be members of the Coalowners Association in South Wales? So we might go on all over the country. Clearly, according to the speech of the Secretary for Mines himself, the coalowners outside the Coalowners Association are not bound by these guarantees. We have already been informed that the Kent Coalowners cannot be regarded as being bound by these verbal undertakings. [An HON. MEMBER: "That has been settled."] It seems to me, therefore, that the question of these guarantees is a matter of great importance, and we should like to know whether they are binding on all coalowners whether they are members of the Coalowners Association or not.
The question has been asked: What better off would the miners be if they had a guarantee in the Bill concerning wages? My reply is that we should be as much better off as the coalowners, no more and no less. Whatever benefit there is in regard to guarantees to the coalowners concerning hours, I think we should have similar guarantees concerning wages. We want the Government to give us as much as they have given to the coalowners. We ask for no more and no less. We want the Government to be fair in this matter. Why should the Government regard themselves as being compelled to give a concession to one side of the bargain, and withhold it from the other? The Secretary for Mines has referred to the moral guarantee, and he stated that that ought to be enough for 1196 the coal miners. If it ought to be enough for the coal miners, then the same concession ought to be enough for the coalowners. Why should the Government give a form of guarantee to one side and not to the other side? There is no answer to that question. I think the Government, who profess to be acting in the national interest, have been very unfair in the way in which they have presented this legislation to the House. Surely, there is nobody who would dare to get up in a public assembly and attempt to defend the present wages paid to miners in any part of the country.
There is another point which I would like to emphasise. So many people when speaking about miners' wages deal with the subject from the standpoint of wages which they think ought to be paid. The President of the Board of Trade should not forget that in some of the newer mining 'areas like my own such is the incidence of the present crisis upon the coal trade that many of the miners are not allowed to work for much more than three or four days per week.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I do not think that on this Instruction the hon. Gentleman is entitled to go into the question as to how much wages are actually paid. The Instruction is merely to enable Section 2 of the Coal Mines Act, 1931, to be continued, and the hon. Member must confine his remarks to that question.
§ Mr. JONES
I was keeping that point in mind. No one has even ventured to attempt to defend these proposals in regard to wages, and what the Government are now asking the House to do is to stabilise a state of things which at the best is extremely deplorable, and, I might almost say, frightful. Let the House remember that we are being asked to stabilise something which in point of fact is a condition of things under which many of these miners are unable to provide for those dependent upon them in any measure of comfort. If that be so, it seems to me that to invite people who have become almost desperate to contemplate having their present conditions prejudiced is an almost impossible proposition. I think the case against this proposal is quite overwhelming. There is not the slightest doubt that the balance of the scales has been held unfairly as between the miners and the mineowners, 1197 and I hope the House for that reason will give us wholehearted support in regard to the proposal which has been put before the House.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I have already spoken on this Motion, and cannot speak again without the leave of the House; but I only intervene to make a short announcement on a subject about which I spoke just now. Last night the subject of the Kent coalfield was referred to, and, very naturally, questions were raised in regard to it, notably by one of the earlier speakers this afternoon. Since I have been in the House to-day, I have been able to meet the representative of the Kent coalowners, and I am happy to state that he has signed the guarantee with the others. I say nothing more than that. I am sure that those who are opposed to the Government's Bill will be equally glad with ourselves that no one is now left outside the guarantee, and, as far as I know, the whole output of the country is covered. The difficulty that has arisen has arisen mainly through a misunderstanding. Therefore, I would like to say, for the Kent coalowners, that there was no attempt to break faith in the matter,
§ but undoubtedly, owing to the exceptional circumstance, to which I referred earlier in the afternoon, that they alone were not members of the Mining Association, some trouble has arisen with which we as the Government were not concerned. Upon the facts being placed before them, they are of course anxious, with the others, that the guarantee should be given, and in this connection I would like to mention that I think the excellent result that has been secured is in no small measure attributable to the efforts that have been made by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour), who raised the matter last night and who has concerned himself closely with it this morning. I think he recognised that the reputation of his county was somewhat involved in this matter, and I would like, on behalf of the Government, to thank him for his assistance.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 53; Noes, 271.1199
|Division No. 205.]||AYES.||[5.28 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||McKeag, William|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Batey, Joseph||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Maxton, James|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Milner, Major James|
|Buchanan, George||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cape, Thomas||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Price, Gabriel|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hirst, George Henry||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)|
|Cove, William G.||Jenkins, Sir William||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cowan, D. M.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Thorne, William James|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Curry, A. C.||Kirkwood, David||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lawson, John James||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Duncan, Charles (Derby, Claycross)||Leonard, William||Williams, Dr. John H. (Lianelly)|
|Edge, Sir William||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Edwards, Charles||Lunn, William|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. Groves and Mr. John|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||McGovern, John|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Balniel, Lord||Brown, Ernest (Leith)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y)|
|Albery, Irving James||Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Browne, Captain A. C.|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Bateman, A. L.||Buchan, John|
|Allen, Lt -Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Beaumont, Hn. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Burnett, John George|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Caine, G. R. Hall.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe||Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Castlereagh, Viscount|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Boulton, W. W.||Cautley, Sir Henry S.|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Brockiebank, C. E. R.||Chalmers, John Rutherford|
|Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-Ie-Spring)||Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)||Remer, John R.|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Renwick, Major Gustav A.|
|Chotzner, Alfred James||Ker, J. Campbell||Reynolds, Col. Sir James Philip|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Rosbotham, S. T.|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Knight, Holford||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Knox, Sir Alfred||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Law, Sir Alfred||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S. W.)||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Crooks, J. Smedley||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Levy, Thomas||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Liddall, Walter S.||Scone, Lord|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Dickie, John P.||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Donner, P. W.||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. Gr'n)||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Doran, Edward||Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Sinclair, Col. T.(Queen's Unv., Belfast)|
|Drewe, Cedric||Mabane, William||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Duggan, Hubert John||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Slater, John|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||McCorquodale, M. S.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Eden, Robert Anthony||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.||McKie, John Hamilton||Smithers, Waldron|
|Ellis, Robert Geoffrey||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Somerville, Annesley A (Windsor)|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Corn'll, N.)||Soper, Richard|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Magnay, Thomas||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Stanley, Hon. O. F. C. (Westmorland)|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Manninghan-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Stones, James|
|Fermoy, Lord||Martin, Thomas B.||Storey, Samuel|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Millar, Sir James Duncan||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)||Stuart, Lord C. Crlchton-|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Milne, Charles||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Galbraith, James Francis Wallace||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Mitcheson, G. G.||Templeton, William P.|
|Goldie, Noel B.||Moreing, Adrian C.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Morrison, William Shepherd||Thomas, Major L. B.(King's Norton)|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Moss, Captain H. J.||Thompson, Luke|
|Graves, Marjorie||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Munro, Patrick||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Nail-Cain, Arthur Ronald N.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||North, Captain Edward T.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||O'Connor, Terence James||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Z'tl'nd)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Hammersley, Samuel S.||Palmer, Francis Noel||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Peake, Captain Osbert||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Hartland, George A.||Pearson, William G.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Peat, Charles U.||White, Henry Graham|
|Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Percy, Lord Eustace||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Hepworth, Joseph||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Holdsworth, Herbert||Pickering, Ernest H.||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Hornby, Frank||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Horobin, Ian M.||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Withers, Sir John James|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Pybus, Percy John||Womersley, Walter James|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Ramsden, E.|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Ray, Sir William||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)||Rea, Walter Russell||Captain Sir George Bowyer and Sir George Penny.|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)|
Bill read a Second time, and committed.
§ Bill considered in Committee.1201
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair]
§ CLAUSE 1.—(Continuance of Part 1 of 20 & 21 Geo. 5. c. 34 and of s. 1 of 21 & 22 Geo. 5. c. 27.)
§ The following Amendments stood upon the Order Paper:
In page 1, line 6, at the beginning, insert the words:
Until six months after a commission of inquiry representing all sections of the coal trade (to be appointed forthwith) has reported to Parliament as to the desirability of its further continuance."—[Mr. Martin.]
§ Leave out Sub-section (1).—[Colonel Clifton Brown.]
§ In line 8, after the word "force," insert the word "or."
§ In line 10, leave out the word "thirty-seven," and insert instead thereof the words "thirty-three, whichever is the earlier."
§ Leave out the word "thirty-seven," and insert instead thereof the word "thirty-three."
§ In line 11, leave out the word "in."
§ In line 12, leave out from the word "Act" to the end of the Sub-section, and insert instead thereof the words "shall be deemed to be so amended."— [Mr. Martin.]
Before I call upon the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Martin) to move his first Amendment, I would ask him to do so leaving out the words in brackets—"to be appointed forthwith."
§ Mr. MARTIN
I beg to move, in page 1, line 6, at the beginning, to insert the words:Until six months after a commission of inquiry representing all sections of the coal trade has reported to Parliament as to the desirability of its further continuance.I move this Amendment on behalf of the Northern Group of Members of this House. The Northern Group have been considering this problem for some time, and have come to an almost unanimous decision in regard to it. Perhaps, before I proceed to deal with the categorical questions at issue, I should read the Clause as it would stand if my Amendments were included in it. It would then read as follows:Until six months after a commission of inquiry representing all sections of the coal 1202 trade has reported to Parliament as to the desirability of its further continuance, Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930 (which is limited to expire on the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-two) shall continue in force., or until the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-three, whichever is the earlier, and no longer unless Parliament otherwise determines; and, accordingly Section 10 of that Act shall be deemed to be so amended.
As the hon. Member has read the Clause as he proposes to amend it, and as in that form it covers several Amendments standing in his name, I think I ought to say that I am assuming that if the Committee so desire we should take a general discussion on this matter on the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown), to leave out Sub-section (1). I called on the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Martin) in order that he might raise the point as to whether an inquiry from outside on Part I of the Act is or is not desirable, and I would ask him to confine his argument to that point.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I submit to your Ruling, but I understand that it will be in order if I deal with my consequential Amendments at the same time.
I would further explain to the hon. Member that two of his Amendments propose to alter the date, and, therefore, are not consequential on his first two Amendments; as, if those Amendments were not moved, his two first Amendments would still be in order.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I will deal with the question on the first Amendment. I would point out, in the first place, that we in the Northern Group are interested in the coal trade, and more particularly in the export coal trade. We represent largely the counties of Northumberland and Durham, which are exporting districts, and, therefore, it is of great concern to us that the criticisms which have been levelled against Part I of the Act of 1930 should be taken into consideration by the House. Accordingly, we have framed this Amendment, proposing a commission of inquiry, in order that those criticisms may be given full consideration by His Majesty's Government. Perhaps I may be allowed here to say that the 1203 Northern Group set up a Coal Sub-Committee to examine those criticisms in detail, and, as Secretary of that Sub-Committee, I produced the report which was accepted by the majority of the Northern Group. In that report we deal with the inequalities and evasions which have been represented to us as arising from the operation of Part I of the Act of 1930.
Perhaps at this stage a summary of the position may be of some use to the Committee. In the first place, the experts who came to give evidence to us in the Northern Group criticised the provisions as to price regulation. They said that the regulation of minimum prices does not work satisfactorily. They said, secondly, that the quota machinery was most unsatisfactory, particularly in the exporting districts. The criticism was that quota was very often lacking when orders from abroad were not lacking, and that, therefore, such orders were lost to our trade because of the lack of available quota at the moment. The lack of quota in such cases was usually due to the fact that the machinery was too slow in its working—that, although they applied for an increase of quota, by the time it was granted the order had been lost. A third criticism came mainly from the sellers of coal and from exporters. They maintained that they were forced to adopt illegal measures contrary to the Act in order to get any business which was flowing in their direction. Those illegal measures are so various that I will not attempt to enumerate them.
Another criticism was that some companies form subsidiary selling companies —that they sell their coal at the minimum price to a company with which they are in close co-operation, and that, afterwards, that coal is sold at less than the minimum price, thereby enabling the original company to evade the provisions of Part I of the Act. We were also told that, owing to the quota system, and also to the minimum price, we were not able to get the advantages which should have been bestowed upon us by the drop in the value of the pound sterling abroad. Also a very important criticism was that the minimum price tended to become the maximum price land that coal buyers abroad, seeing our minimum price, 1204 were able to get from other sellers abroad lower quotations, which made our minimum price the maximum price we could possibly ask. The final criticism that I will enumerate was that inefficient collieries were kept going at the expense of the more efficient.
The Secretary for Mines has told us that all these criticisms—and more—are perfectly familiar to him and his Department, but the point at issue is whether he intends to leave it to the coalowners themselves, as bound by the machinery of Part I of the Act, to remedy these things, or whether he himself intends to make any representations which will, if not force them, at least urge them to bring forward the necessary reforms. The Secretary for Mines suggested thatthe obligation rests upon the industry to check these evasions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st May, 1932; col. 1016, Vol. 266.]The Act has been in operation for some considerable time, sufficiently long to enable the owners to have seen the evasions and the methods by which they could be prevented, and yet nothing has been brought forward even as far as the Mines Department. I asked categorically if the Mines Department have had any suggestions or recommendations on these points from the district boards or the Central Board set up under the Act. The reply was, "No." In other words, the owners have not attempted to find a remedy for those very things of which a great many of their number have been complaining. The most extraordinary thing is that most of the criticisms that we have heard have come from the coal-owners. We suggest, therefore, that the Government should definitely take action themselves and that a commission of inquiry should be set up within a very reasonable time—not an indefinite time —to report to the Department and to Parliament on methods to remedy the defects in the operation of the Act and also to indicate remedies which will be more far-reaching in reorganising and rehabilitating the industry. I note in the "Daily Telegraph" to-day a very important statement which, perhaps, follows on what the Minister indicated in his speech. After referring to the evasions and so on in the operation of the Act, this statement says:These are matters for adjustment, and a new Mines Bill is contemplated for the autumn Session, smoothing out the rough 1205 places and assuring, so far as legislation and industrial experience can do it, the creation of an elastic and satisfactory process of coal production and marketing.It is very interesting, after the speeches that we have heard, to hear the suggestion that there should be a new Mines Bill in the autumn, and I, therefore, ask the Minister to make a categorical statement on that point, because it is not so important to us that there should be a committee of inquiry within a stated period if the Minister himself has any idea at the back of his mind, or even a little further forward than the back of his mind, to produce a new Bill within 12 months. If he can state that such a Bill will be forthcoming after due consideration by all sections of the industry, obviously our Amendment is of no avail, but, if he cannot give that categorical statement, I think we have put forward the best form of ensuring that the industry shall have further and more definite treatment than it is having in this Bill. I would particularly ask the Minister also to indicate how it is proposed to co-ordinate the district working of this new Bill, which continues Part I of the old Act. Section 3 (4) of the 1930 Act empowered district boards tocollect from the owners of coal mines in the district levies for the purpose of facilitating the sale of any class of coal produced in the district.Once more the Ministry stated that there have been no schemes brought forward under that Section. The same answer was given when I asked if any scheme had been suggested under Part I, Section 2 (2, d) for coordinating the operation of district schemes. Nothing had been done and the Ministry had no particular scheme to suggest. Therefore, if the Minister has no definite new Bill to bring forward and if the owners are not bringing forward any new schemes under the powers given in Part I, I can only say that, the question of wages apart, we feel that this Amendment will meet the case for a full inquiry, which will help to bring reorganisation, stabilisation, and, finally, I hope, greater peace within the industry. I have full confidence that, if the Minister cannot give that categorical statement in reply to the quotation that have given from a newspaper, he will not find difficulty in giving consideration to and, I hope, in accepting the Amendment.
§ Mr. DICKIE
In supporting the Amendment, I do not propose to follow hon. Members opposite in their incursions into the history of the mining industry during the past 20 years, to revive the almost forgotten controversies of the Sankey Commission, or to attempt to analyse the reasons why the recommendations of the Samuel Commission were not adopted. The dismal, dreary road which has led us to the present impasse is strewn with the litter of inquiries into the condition of the mining industry. We have had the Sankey Commission with seven distinct Reports, all differing, the Macmillan. Report, the Buckmaster Report, the Lewis Inquiry into co-operative selling, the report of the Samuel Commission and others. It may be said that we are asking for another, but the whole condition of the industry has altered. These things belong to past history. The industry is faced with new and difficult problems. This is no time for destructive criticism. The Government are faced with an extremely difficult position in the industry, and that is the reason why each and every one of us in every part of the House has to do as much as in us lies to help the Government in the difficult task with which they are confronted. As one who was elected on a pledge to give unqualified support to the National Government, I am profoundly astonished and bitterly disappointed that the National Government could bring forward, in order to deal with this fundamental, basic industry, only a proposal perpetuating and stabilising an Act of Parliament which many Ministers themselves condemned when it was introduced and which in my judgment has done very serious injury to the export industry. [Interruption.] I fail to understand the reason for that interruption. The export trade is to-day the most important part of the industry.
I am astonished that the Government, at a time when Parliament and the country are greatly concerned with the question of the balance of trade, should have brought forward no proposal for dealing with the export trade in coal, because that trade is declining. Outward cargoes largely help to pay for the food and raw materials which we import, and the freights of our shipping are not an inconsiderable portion of our invisible 1207 exports. I thought the Government would have recognised the importance of that trade. It is steadily declining and, the further it declines, the more difficult it will be to restore the balance of payments. The position is daily growing more serious and, because of that, I propose to address myself principally to the position of the export part of the industry. In 1913 we exported 98,000,000 tons. To-day that has fallen to 61,000,000. I want to separate the figures for bunkers and for cargo. The figures for cargo in 1913 were 73,000,000 tons and for 1931 43,000,000 tons, a drop of 30,000,000 tons. I wish to call the attention of the Committee and of His Majesty's Government to a very significant fact which, as far as I am aware, has not been brought out as yet in the Debate. While it is true that our export trade in coal has been declining steadily ever since the end of the War, the drop was only 13,000,000 tons between 1913 and 1929. In 16 years the drop was only 13,000,000 tons, yet there is the extremely significant fact that from 1929 to 1931 the export trade in coal declined by no less than 17,000,000 tons. In the first year of the operation of the Act of Parliament the export trade in coal declined by no less than 12,000,000 tons. That was immediately after the placing of the Act upon the Statute Book. [Interruption.] It was the first complete year the Act was in operation. In his speech yesterday the Secretary for Mines eulogised very highly the Memorandum prepared by the Miners' Federation. It is an excellent document, but I should like to call his attention to the particular part of the Memorandum which says:Despite the pressure of great forces all tending to lower the general price level, the Act has succeeded in maintaining that level without loss of trade.I ask the Minister of Mines, the President of the Board of Trade, and those who are responsible for the policy of the Miners' Federation, if it is a true statement of the position of the export trade when we have lost 12,000,000 tons in one year, the first year the Act of Parliament has been in operation. That is a fair question to ask, and one to which the Committee are entitled to receive an answer. It is true to say that the country 1208 has been passing through what has been called an economic blizzard, but I decline to believe that the whole of this tremendous drop in the export trade of coal is due to that cause. In searching for a cause, I have come definitely to the conclusion, after months of examination and discussion, and after weeks in this House of consultation with my colleagues and experts, that there is not the slightest shadow of doubt that a very large proportion of the tremendous decline is due to the Act of Parliament of 1930.
The objections to the Act, particularly as far as the export trade is concerned, are quotas and minimum prices. I am prepared to concede that both those things in the home market may be good things. Given the goodwill of the owners on the one hand and of the men on the other, I see no reason why there should not be a raising of the price level in the home market, always provided that adequate safeguards are given to the heavy industries, such as iron and steel and other industries, which must of necessity produce at the lowest possible cost in order to enable them to sell their commodities in the neutral markets of the world. But there is a very wide field in which the price level could be raised with great advantage to the miners, mineowners and the nation as a whole without doing the slightest injury to any section of the community. With co-operation in the districts and co-ordination between the districts, I see no reason why it should not be accomplished. I am speaking of the pithead price. It is a very important distinction. It is the price at the pithead which should be raised so that any increase in the price should go to the benefit of the industry and not be frittered away on the middlemen.
The foreign market is in a different position. It has always been an astonishing thing to me that this fact was not universally recognised at the time the Act was placed upon the Statute Book. Those who prophesied a decline in our foreign trade have been fully justified. Had the Act contained, as originally intended, a levy on inland coal as is now proposed by the Miners' Federation, the decline in our export trade might have been averted, but in the form in which the Act was placed 1209 upon the Statute Book, it was simply inviting disaster. Some of the most prominent coalowners and coal exporters in the north of England actually foretold what would happen when the question of a levy was thrown overboard, for they declared that the only good thing in the Act had been taken out of it, and that the Act was bound inevitably to bring something akin to ruin to the export trade. The prophecy is well on the way to being fulfilled. Even in these difficult times the; home demand for coal remains fairly stationary, while the failure to maintain our foreign trade has meant that the blow has fallen like a blight upon the export areas represented by those who sit on these benches and by one or two of my hon. Friends on the other side of the Committee. Without a shadow of doubt, the blow which has fallen upon the export areas is, in part, at all events, directly attributable to the ill-considered and disastrous combination of quotas and minimum prices.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I did not hear the beginning of the speech of the hon. Gentleman, but I should like to know how he relates these arguments to the Amendment before the Committee? The only point upon the Amendment is whether there should be an inquiry or not before the Act is extended or continued.
§ Mr. DICKIE
These are the facts leading up to, and demonstrating the need for, the inquiry and, surely, I am entitled to lay before the Committee the condition of the industry in order to demonstrate the need for some immediate action?
§ The CHAIRMAN
; I interrupted the hon. Member with a certain apology because I did not hear the beginning of his speech, but at the same time I must tell him that this is not a sufficient Debate upon which to hang a general discussion of the position of the coal trade as a whole and all its details. He must confine his remarks to arguments in favour of having an inquiry before continuing the Act which is at present in operation.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I defer to your Ruling, but I submit that I must, in the interests of the industry as a whole, give an illustration of what is happening to the industry, and particularly to the North Eastern area, and to show the need for 1210 an inquiry into the state of the industry in that part of the coalfields. Hon. Members opposite for a considerable time have been endeavouring to show that the decline in export trade is due to the policy of the National Government. That is untrue, because, as I have already pointed out, the major portion of the fall took place prior to the National Government coming into office. These quotas and restrictions and that sort of thing are undoubtedly having an effect upon the export trade. One of my greatest disappointments is that His Majesty's Government have not as yet—at all events I have not heard the President of the Board of Trade or the Secretary for Mines make any announcement—any plans for meeting the discriminatory tariffs, quotas and percentages which are hitting us so hard, and which are in operation in practically every part of Europe against the British exporting interests. Of the 12,000,000 tons which were lost, the share of the River Tyne was no less than 3,100,000 tons. The total of 11,200,000 tons which we exported in 1930 declined to 8,100,000 tons in 1931, so that the Committee will readily see how very hard this particular district has been hit. It is true that a small proportion of that decrease, as the Secretary for Mines and also the President of the Board of Trade are well aware, is due to the fact that a small portion of the coal previously shipped from the Tyne has been diverted to other ports, notably Blythe and the River Wear, but it cannot be gainsaid that the decline in export trade both nationally and as far as the North East coast is concerned is mainly due to the operation of the Act of Parliament.
I do not like to trouble the Committee very much with figures, but it has been continually stated that we are suffering from a world economic blizzard and that while we have suffered others have also suffered. It is continually said that others have suffered more than we have suffered. It is true in a sense, but it is not true as far as the export trade in coal is concerned when we consider the position of our European competitors. I have told the Committee that we dropped 12,000,000 tons from 1930 to 1931. Poland with a production of 12,296,000 tons increased her export of coal by 1,123,000 tons or 9.1 per cent. Germany declined only 4.3 per cent. while we declined 22.1 1211 per cent. Holland increased her exports of coal by 6.2 per cent., and Belgium increased her export by no less than 1,780,000 tons, mainly to France, or no less than 45.77 per cent. The Secretary for Mines has informed us that in the days before the War we exported 98 per cent. of the coal into the Scandinavian market and that that export to-day had fallen to something like 34 or 35 per cent. Our objections to the quotas are that the allocations from the Central Council are based upon the output for the corresponding quarter in the year before. That is to say, that for this year they are based on the corresponding quarter of last year, which was the time when the amount of coal being raised was restricted on account of the operation of the Act. The result is that the allocation is smaller. As the export trade declines, the allocation from the Central Council to the District Council grows less, and, if the vicious circle continues, the export trade in coal will disappear altogether. In Durham, the standard tonnage was fixed for the individual collieries based upon the 1929 output, and the quota was given to each on a percentage of the standard tonnage, based on the allocation to the district by the Central Council.
Another objection that we have, and one to which a good deal of attention has been drawn during these Debates, is the fact that this wretched quota system is absolutely maintaining what I call the uneconomic pits. I am in complete agreement with the view that it is extremely difficult to tell what is a marginal colliery, what is an uneconomic pit, but those of us who know the coalfields know perfectly well that the uneconomic pits are being maintained at the expense of the efficient and economic units in the industry. The Samuel Commission's Report was regarded at the time that it was published as one of the most impartial and most valuable documents ever issued in connection with any industry, and that Report said:If all the undertakings could come up to the level of the efficient and the larger ones the problem of restoring prosperity to the industry would be a long way nearer a solution.It is very little satisfaction to an efficient colliery concern to know that if it exhausts its quota it has the right to 1212 buy a quota from an inefficient and not altogether up-to-date colliery. That is penalising efficiency and putting a premium on inefficiency, and that is happening all over the country. Not only that, but if they produce more than their quota they have the satisfaction of being fined 2s. 6d. a ton. In no other industry would such a state of things be tolerated.
There is another objectionable feature, which I consider to be the worst in the whole Act, and that is the question of minimum prices. Minimum prices may be advantageous perhaps in the home markets. Such an inquiry as we propose in the Amendment would demonstrate whether or not that is so. Although these minimum prices may be advantageous in the home market, they are, in my judgment and in the judgment of some of my hon. Friends, nothing but an unmixed evil so far as our foreign trade is concerned. This question of a fixed price and the minimum tending to become the maximum is the worst feature in the Act of Parliament. It can result only and has resulted only in the handing over of a very large amount of business to our foreign competitors. Our foreign competitors have no restrictions; they have complete freedom to compete. Ever since the stoppage of 1926—I am not going into the question of who was to blame and I am not seeking to impute responsibility—the coalowners of the North of England have been faced with the very difficult task of getting back the markets which they lost in seven months when the field was left absolutely open. They were just on the point of regaining those markets and were working steadily up to the old position when this Act was placed upon the Statute Book, and ever since then they have gone steadily backwards.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Will the hon. Member be good enough to give us the export figures in 1928–29 and 1929–30 to justify the statement that he has made that we were getting back to our old position?
§ Mr. DICKIE
I have not the whole of the figures. I am putting the figures which I thought would justify my argument. I have not the slightest doubt that the full figures would be illuminating. [Interruption.] I have taken the period 1929–30. The figures are available 1213 and I have shown that they were steadily coming back. I have not the slightest doubt that if the hon. Member will look at the figures he will see that I was right in saying that we were slowly climbing back to our original position. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Yes, in the whole country in addition to the North-East Coast, but ever since this Act was placed on the Statute Book we have gone steadily back. I am not endeavouring to make the point that it is all attributable to the Act of Parliament. Part of it is due to the economic blizzard which has assailed every country in the world, but if it is possible for Poland, Holland and Belgium to increase their export trade, why should we be the only big exporting country which suffers a decline?
§ Mr. DICKIE
I do not. I am appealing to the Secretary for Mines, the President of the Board of Trade and His Majesty's Government to find some means oil meeting this competition, to regain the markets we have lost and to got our pits working efficiently again. Those are the points that will be brought out if we have an inquiry into the conditions of the industry. Minimum prices have a treble effect. They make it easy for the competitor. The price is known. In what other industry would you find a manufacturer giving away his figures to his competitors? The result is that the competitors have only to quote 1d. or 2d. lower and the order is theirs. That is the position under the minimum price. It also deprives the exporter of any bargaining power when he tries to get a contract. The price is fixed and—this is one of the most iniquitous parts of the Act— he has to take the same price for 1,000 tons as for 100,000 tons. That ought to be remedied as speedily as possible. Moreover, it creates in the minds of the foreign buyer a feeling of resentment, because he has the idea that we are asking more than a competitive price for the article we are selling, and that makes him nationalistic in sentiment.
What is the position of the seller and importer? We must have someone to sell our coal. On the other side of the House the exporters have been described as parasites, but under whatever system we 1214 have, whether we have a central selling agency or not, we must have someone to market the coal. In these days we are told to develop the art of salesmanship. We read articles in the newspapers and we are told by important personages to equip ourselves and go into the world to tell the world what we have to sell. The coal exporter has equipped himself, but when he goes abroad to do that under this Act of Parliament he has both hands tied behind his back. He cannot move hand or foot because his price is fixed. The cheapjack in the market or the guileless oriental who goes aboard the ocean liner to sell his wares is on velvet and in a happy and privileged position compared with the coal exporter who goes abroad, because he has his minimum price, but he does not broadcast it to the world and to his competitors. We hear a. great deal of the art of salesmanship, and an inquiry such as we suggest would show that there is great need for it and great scope for good salesmanship in the marketing of British coal.
There is one other thing upon which I should like to touch and I will do so with some delicacy. There must be something fundamentally wrong in an Act of Parliament which makes hitherto honourable business men resort to tactics of which they would never have thought had this Act not been on the Statute Book. It is common talk that shifts and evasions are going on under this Act of Parliament. There is something wrong, and this House ought to put it right, when an Act of Parliament causes such acts on the part of honourable business men who would not think of doing such things except that they are faced by the fact that their businesses are going to be ruined. The Secretary for Mines suggests that it is the duty of the districts to correct that sort of thing. I suggest to the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade that it would be infinitely better that the Department should remove the cause of these things. An inquiry would show that these things are done because people are in a desperate position. On the North-East Coast a desperate position is growing up so far as the export trade is concerned.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Can the hon. Member tell us whether, in fact, the majority of the Mining Association of Durham is in favour of the continuation of Part I?
§ Mr. DICKIE
I am coming to that, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for asking the question. Before I answer it I would point out, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Curry), that the quota has closed colliery after colliery in the county of Durham.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I am within the recollection of the Committee. He not only mentioned it to-day, but he has mentioned it many times. He has called the attention of the Minister of Mines to that fact.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I know the hon. Member does not want to misrepresent the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). Is it not the case that when the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street has referred to quotas closing down Durham collieries he has always referred to the German and French quotas? Is it not the case that in not one of the four quarters of 1931 has Durham produced within 1,000,000 tons of their allocation?
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I have no desire to do the hon. Member an injustice. It is correct that he has attributed the closing of collieries to quotas and percentages, but I was not dealing with that but with the simple fact, which the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, myself and every mining Member in the county of Durham knows, that those collieries are closing down because of lost trade. When these collieries close down the burden becomes heavier for every other colliery, because the social services have to be maintained. We have not a very economical county council in Durham. The social services and other services in the county of Durham have to be maintained and as collieries close the burden becomes heavier on those which remain, with the result that it is more difficult still to obtain orders for the coal we have to sell in the markets of the world. That is a condition of things which an inquiry into the mining industry would 1216 reveal so far as the North-East coast is concerned. The Secretary for Mines has asked me to deal with the position of the owners. The owners of the county of Northumberland are overwhelmingly against any continuance of Part I.
§ Mr. DICKIE
That is a point which should be cleared up. The chairman of the largest group in the county of Northumberland is one of my constituents. He is strongly opposed to this Act, and has publicly declared that he is opposed to it. Yesterday morning I had a letter from the managing director of the second largest group of collieries in the county, and he says that in his opinion the continuance of Part I is disastrous. That is the view of the two largest groups in the county of Northumberland, and everyone knows that the smaller companies are in almost every case opposed to the continuance of Part I.
§ Mr. G. NICHOLSON
I think the actual facts should be known for the whole of the county before the hon. Member says that the owners are overwhelmingly in favour of the repeal of Part I. To quote one or two letters is not quite evidence.
§ Mr. DICKIE
It only shows that there is need for an inquiry in order that these points should be settled. I can assure the Secretary for Mines that on Newcastle quayside, and everywhere where coal matters are talked, it is accepted by a majority of two to one that the Northumberland coalowners are opposed to the continuance of Part I. I know that from personal knowledge. The position of Durham is somewhat different. It is difficult to know what is the position of the Durham Mining Association, but I can assure the Secretary for Mines that there is a very largo volume of opinion in the county of Durham, where the difficulties are great because it is not only an exporting county but also a county which deals with inland coal, which is opposed to the continuance of the Act in any shape or form. If he will lift the export section from the operation of this Act, then those who are in favour of it will heave a sigh of relief. The reason why I am stressing these points is that we are miners' Members. There is a new type of miners' Member in this Parliament.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I must reply like the late Lord Oxford, "Wait and see!" The hon. Member is an engineer, so am I; and a little fraternity may not be out of place. We who sit on these benches have lived all our lives under the shadow of the chimneys of the collieries. We know the life of the miner as well as any hon. Member opposite. We do not appeal to sentiment. We could if we chose to do so. We could paint just as harrowing a picture of the hunger, poverty, hardship and distress which exist in our constituencies as any hon. Member opposite, and if we refrain from playing upon sentiment it is because we know that these hard hit areas have already the sympathy of the House of Commons. All the sympathy and sentiment in the world will not open a single colliery, secure a single order or put one man into employment. We appeal to the National Government to carry out the mandate for which they were elected and do everything in their power to restore something like prosperity to this fundamental industry. I submit that one of the ways to do this is to set up this court of inquiry in order to find out the means by which the desires of the whole House may be achieved.
§ Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS
I rise to oppose the Amendment. I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with hon. Members from the North-East coast, but the interests of the exporting districts are much allied to the interests of districts which supply the home market. When exporting districts are doing badly we know it, because they invade the inland markets. We suffer when they suffer. I had an opportunity of watching the quota system in work in South Yorkshire for several years before it came into play over the rest of the country. It would be quite out of order for me to relate my experience of the voluntary quota scheme, but it was a scheme without a minimum price, and at seemed to work quite well for a time until other circumstances came in. When the compulsory scheme came in a minimum price was felt to be a necessary adjunct. I have been deeply disappointed with the working of the minimum price and have felt that I should like to see the scheme go because of its injurious and unfair effects. But I have come to the con- 1218 clusion, much as I have suffered personally from the infractions of other people who have not played the game with regard to the minimum price, who have wangled it, that it would be much worse to start again a period of uncertainty, such as the Amendment proposes, than to continue suffering a little bit longer under the evasions and wanglings of the minimum price. To throw the whole thing into the melting pot would be much worse.
I agree that we must get rid of these abuses. It can be done best by those in the industry who know how these evasions take place, but I say this, that if within a reasonable time the central board and the district boards do not deal with these things then the Secretary for Mines, I hope, will. These legal evasions and illegal evasions must not be allowed to go on. Illegal evasions, I know, are very difficult to find out, but the legal evasions are known, and they could be stopped under the scheme.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Will the hon. Member give us his opinion as to whether or not the uncertainty as to the continuance of Part I has been a contributing factor to evasion, and whether we may expect a continuance of Part I to check evasion?
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
My answer to that is that the uncertainty as to whether Part I is to be continued has prevented other owners taking the matter seriously in hand, because they did not know what was going to happen. A great many people were willing to imagine that it would go at the end of the year when they saw the change of Government, and no serious effort has yet been made to deal with it. When I have inquired about the matter, some of the answers were much to that effect. If there is a five years' period of certainty, it ought to encourage those people who are managing the scheme to see that legal evasions are stopped and to look out for the illegal evasions, which are difficult to find. But I still maintain the point that the Secretary for Mines should let the various district boards and central body know that if they do not stop evasions of the minimum price the Government will do it for them. It sometimes makes one almost despair when one finds efforts for regulating the industry set at naught by 1219 people within the industry who, for the sake of a particular contract, will spoil the best possible scheme.
I feel that the Amendment will not really help us. I agree that those who have put their names to it desire the scheme to be continued, but this type of Amendment is very often a disguised attack on the Clause of the Bill. It is a common method for drafting an Amendment to say that the Clause shall not come into force until there has been an inquiry, and, therefore, one is apt to look rather suspiciously at the form of the Amendment. At the same time, I honestly believe that those who have put their names to it really desire that the matter should be inquired into, but I feel that if we are not to know whether the scheme is to go on or not the scramble and dog fight will become worse than ever. I remember that about a year ago, just before the minimum price came into operation, the scramble was to fix up contracts with gas companies at the old prices, perfectly legal, running well into the year 1934. At the present moment, because of the uncertainty as to how long the Act will be in force, purchasers of coal are reluctant to enter into contracts at the present legal price. I think the Amendment would bring worse chaos into this distressed industry.
I am not going to deal with the sorrows of the mining industry. During the last to years we have discussed these matters again and again, and, in spite of all that has been said, I think that the coal industry has held its head above the storm of the economic blizzard better than almost any other industry. We are in a better position than the iron and steel industry, or the cotton industry. I think that that result has been brought about very largely by the organisation which the much abused coalowners have brought into the industry in the past. It was a voluntary scheme that came from South Yorkshire and neighbouring districts originally. It originated in the mind of one of those coalowners who are stigmatised as stick-in-the-mud, stupid, ignorant men. I want to pay a tribute here to Mr. W. Benton Jones, who has put thought and energy and foresight into this subject. If the other coalowners had helped Mr. Jones better than they did to reorganise this industry, I think things would be better now than they are.
1220 I believe that the Government will resist this Amendment. I trust they will, and that the inquiry that is suggested will be undertaken by all sections of the coal industry within that industry, and that all the schemes will be laid on the Table of this House and the Table of the other Chamber. So we can hope to make an end of the defects of which we know. In a trade with a gradually shrinking market regulation is essential.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I would not have intervened but for the speech of the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie). The hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir S. Roberts), who has just spoken, knows something about mining, both from the productive and the selling side, and his speech ought to carry a great deal more weight than that of any representative who merely speaks for a sectional interest which is far removed from the production of the raw commodity. One hon. Member referred to the northern group. The hon. Member for Consett referred to the north-eastern group. They claim to speak exclusively for exporters of coal. Their first demand is that Part I of the Act of 1930 be subject to some inquiry at which all who are interested in coal could come forward and give evidence. The Secretary for Mines informed us yesterday that the owners almost wholly favoured Part I.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
They were sharply divided. There was a large majority, including the Mining Association of Great Britain, favourable to a continuation of Part I.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The Minister says there is a sharp division but a large majority favourable to a continuation of Part I. The Miners' Federation have expressed themselves upon Part I. Therefore, if the mineowners and the 850,000 miners are satisfied with the effect of the operation of Part I, in that it has imported some co-operation into the industry, what other section of the industry do we need to go to for inquiry? Are we to have an inquiry merely because the exporters have tried to put up a case that the price of coal is not as low as it should be, and that consequently we are not exporting as large a tonnage as we ought to export? On the face of it the case of the two hon. Members is absurd and grotesque. The 1221 hon. Member for Consett made great play with the 12,000,000 tons of export coal which we lost in 1931 compared with 1930. He did not tell the Committee that from 1929 to 1930 our exports were reduced by something approaching 6,000,000 tons. He did not tell the Committee that in 1929 our exports increased by 10,000,000 tons over the previous year merely because of an act of God. Europe suffered from a very bad winter, the Baltic was frozen and we had Europe at our feet.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I think I am within the recollection of the Committee. What I did say that, whilst it was true that the export trade in coal had been steadily declining, yet this 12,000,000 tons decrease took place immediately after the passing of the Act.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
But surely the hon. Member will readily admit that the decline in our exports has been taking place since 1924? We were able in 1929 to export a colossal quantity because of the Baltic being frozen, and it was only because of that total that the decline from 1929 to 1931 has been terrific. Would the hon. Member suggest that the quota system was wholly responsible for the Joss of that tonnage?
I must protest against being misrepresented. I said that I did not attribute the whole of that decline to the operation of the Act. I said a portion of it was due to economic causes.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
It is very difficult to know exactly what the hon. Gentleman's argument was. He produced scarcely a single fact or figure in support of his case. Is he aware that in the four quarters of 1931 the Durham coalowners did not produce within 500,000 tons of the allocation for Durham? The coalowners of Durham were permitted in the first quarter of 1931 to produce 9,306,000 tons. They produced 8,500,000 tons, or 800,000 tons less than they could have produced under the quota system.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Quite clearly they were unable to sell more coal than they did sell or they would have produced the quantity allowed under the arrangement.
§ Mr. JENNINGS
They can sell their stocks to-day in the export market, but they are not allowed to do so.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Gentleman must understand that if the Durham coalowners, who are business men, had had orders for the extra 800,000 tons in any one of the four quarters, they would have produced the coal and would have sold it. I think the hon. Gentleman will find it extremely difficult to justify the statement that they were unable to sell the coal because of the fixation of prices. The prices in the four quarters of 1931 were not materially higher than the prices in 1929–30. I defy contradiction when I state definitely that the quota system has been responsible practically for the loss of no tonnage at all, either for export or other purposes. The hon. Gentleman represents an export district. Here is a book written by a gentleman whom I do not happen to know, Mr. H. H. Merrett. He is a director of a firm which controls 100 collieries, and he is interested in the export side of the trade, I understand, in South Wales. This is what he said about Part I:Even if the provisions of the Act have not been perfect, they have at least been protective, and it is quite certain that if no more attractive scheme of control can be submitted to our Government to take its place Part I of the Coal Mines Act will be continued after the end of this year, with Amendments.From my experience of the export trade find the demand from abroad, I am satisfied that the system of schedule prices has not, by itself, lost us any subtantial volume of business—certainly not as much as would have compensated an appreciably lower general price level.That clearly is the point. The exporters of coal want coal at the lowest possible prices at which owners or workers will sell it. They do not mind whether the miner is receiving a living wage. They are not concerned about the person who produces the coal, or even whether the colliery proprietor gets any profits or not. What they want is the maximum quantity of coal to sell at any price. It is a sectional interest, therefore. While the hon. Gentleman is justified in representing a shipping port, he must not forget that Part I of the Act of 1930 was designed not to help any particular section but to introduce common sense and co-operation into an industry which has been suffering for a very long period. 1223 Here is Mr. A. W. Archer, vice-chairman of the West Yorkshire Coalowners' Association, on the same subject:It is clear to me that if Part I of the Act be allowed to lapse, our coal industry would rapidly fall into a state of chaos. The clock of organisational progress would be indefinitely put back. Markets would be flooded with coal and there would be an appalling slump in prices.7.0 p.m.
What the hon. Gentleman has to do is to satisfy those who have been living in and with the industry for a long period of time that if the price of coal is reduced to a very small point the demand for coal will increase, that there is a possibility of an expansion of trade. All our experience since 1921 has proved that a downward tendency in prices has not brought an expansion of trade. It has, however, brought a reduction in profits, and a reduction in wages to such a point that many colliery proprietors are sick at heart at having to pay their workpeople such a wretched wage. We, who know something about organisation, can submit these figures to Members of the Committee who are strictly impartial and who want to consider the national interests as distinct from sectional interests. At one period in the present year there was in stock in one area 1,364,000 tons of coal, including 568,000 tons in wagons and 684,000 tons on the floor. That was coal produced for which there was no market and which had been emptied out of the colliery trucks on to the floor. When orders are forthcoming, that coal will have to be picked up again at a price. Knowing the coalowners as I do, I know that they would not pay wages for emptying that coal on the floor and for picking it up again if there were any orders available in any country in the world. There need have been no serious shortage of coal since the commencement of the Act of 1930. Slight difficulties did occur in the first few weeks or months, but, since the machine commenced to work, there has been no hardship inflicted on any section of the community.
§ Mr. JENNINGS
How are we going to get orders for export coal with a fixed minimum price in this country which is above the price that the foreigner is prepared to pay? The result is that those orders go to our continental competitors.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that the coalowners have the power to fix the price and they, being reasonable men, as reasonable as business men in other industries, are not going to fix a price which would destroy their trade. We are not going to accept the suggestion that the exporter is the only person capable of fixing a reasonable price. Although we would prefer the workman to have some say in the matter, yet, if one of two sections have to fix the price, we would prefer that the coalowner should fix the price rather than the exporter. For these reasons, we support the Government in the preservation of Part I, because we believe it is a foundation that can be built upon, and we are looking forward to this Government or some other Government building upon it and compelling the recalcitrant coalowners to come into the pool and to be loyal to their colleagues. None of the arguments which have been brought forward ought to convince any Member of the Committee that we ought to destroy a machine which is now working perfectly.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CRUDDAS
I beg to support this Amendment. In the last two years a great many people have changed their opinions on this question. Owing to Part I coming into operation five months earlier than we expected, some of us have not yet got a clear vision of the whole picture. I knew that I did not see eye to eye with the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie), but I did not know that we were very nearly back to back. We have discussed this matter together and we knew that there was a difference in our views, but, whereas I am asking for an inquiry into the Act, the hon. Member for Consett seems to be asking for its abolition. I will mention to the Committee two cases into which inquiry might be made. The first concerns the composition of the district board. Members of the district board are elected on votes which depend upon output and tonnage. The smaller collieries feel that they are in the minority on the district board and that they do not have their grievances ventilated. I would suggest that one of the things which might be considered is the placing of one or two independent members on the district board. They might be chosen in some such way as the arbitrators are 1225 chosen. I suggest that with diffidence, because I believe that the less you interfere with an industry the better.
I would also suggest an inquiry into a second point. We are always told that the owners have power to make adjustments in the administration. If that is so, why do they not make them? That would be an appropriate matter for inquiry. There is power under Section 3 (4) to make a district levy to facilitate the sale of coal, but they have never done that. We might well ask why they have not done so. Is it that they think the levy would increase the price of coal to the heavy industries? That need not be, because they could exempt heavy industries. I think that it is because in the exporting districts the inland sale of coal is so small that a levy would make no difference to the export price of coal. The owners should get together and consult with those selling inland coal and come to some agreement which would increase the export of coal, and which would enable them to keep out of the inland market. The exporters could bargain that, if areas like Scotland, Durham and South Wales were enabled to increase their exports, they would not compete in the inland trade. The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) mentioned last night that he heard that there was going to be a levy to help the price of export coal. Is that to be a national levy or is it a district levy which could be raised at present? The exporting districts are badly in need of a national levy to enable them to increase their export of coal. On these grounds—and these two points are vital to the County of Northumberland—I would ask for an inquiry in the words of this Amendment, and not for the complete destruction of the Act.
§ Mr. G. ELLIS
The Minister raised a point just now with the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir S. Roberts) which is very important from the point of view of the general principle of the Bill. He asked him whether he thought that the various equivocations which have been going on in the trade were the result of any feeling that there was no stability. To many of us that has been the whole point for a considerable time. These schemes have been brought forward, but there has been a general feeling that the Government 1226 were not serious, that possibly the House of Commons would not be serious in. the future, and that we could not possibly get that necessary run of several years, which has now been given to us, which would enable us to settle down, to get on with the job and to devise remedies for the industry within the industry. It is not fair to discuss this matter in the way that the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) did this afternoon. In giving his reasons for the fall of exports, he stressed the effect of the Act while all the other reasons for the fall, which affect exports in a very considerable degree, were passed by with a wave of the band as something almost negligible, in order to get the House to believe that the fall in exports is due to the Act. That is not true, as the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) pointed out. This is the first time that the coalowners as such have been given any stability to get on with their own suggestions for the improvement of the trade. It may be the last time that they will get that opportunity, but it is not right for the Commitee to-day to put any obstacle in the way of giving them that opportunity. If they do not take the opportunity, then the judgment will be on their own heads.
§ Mr. McKEAG
Only a moment is needed for me to support this Amendment, in view of the very able, eloquent and convincing manner in which it was supported by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie). I support this Amendment because I am satisfied, from the inquiries I have made and the information which I have been able to obtain from those intimately connected with the industry, that the export trade of Durham and Northumberland is being gradually strangled by the shackles and restrictions of these provisions. Even worse is the fact that the evasions, to which those who are concerned feel compelled to resort in order to remain in existence, are reducing the export trade in the North-East to a veritable sink of iniquity. Dishonesty is at a premium, and Americanism is becoming rampant in the export trade. It is intolerable that this should be the position among owners and exporters, but there it is, and I do not see how the mere extension of Part I of the Act for a further period of five years is going to provide any remedy. Rather should some other means be devised of freeing 1227 the exporting districts from these hampering and clogging restrictions. That is the real case for an inquiry. There should unquestionably be an inquiry into the operations of Part I.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
I wish to explain the reason why I have taken some part in the drafting of these Amendments, and have put my name to them. It is clear from the discussion that there are two wholly different views with regard to Part I. There is the view held by the supporters of laissez faire in general, that we had better abolish the whole system and return to unregulated and uncontrolled competition. There is the other view to which I think the hon. Baronet the Member for Ecclesall (Sir S. Roberts) is now a convert, the progressive view that orderly marketing and control of marketing and production, whether under public or private enterprise, are essential.
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
May I say that I can by no means be described as a convert to orderly marketing in the coal trade? I made several speeches in the last Parliament upon it, and I supported the Labour Government in their Bill.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
What I meant was that the hon. Baronet in his support of orderly marketing seemed to be prepared to ask the Minister to intervene strongly and to enforce the will of the Government. I do not go so far in the Socialistic direction, being always more moderate—more to the right. At any rate, as I say, there are those two different views and it is clear that among those who support this Amendment it is possible to find both those views. It is also true perhaps that even among those who have put their names to the Amendment, there are Members holding the view that we ought to revert to absolute uncontrolled competition, and those who believe that some form of orderly marketing is a necessary condition of modern industry. I belong to the second category, and it is because I feel certain that orderly marketing is a necessary part of the technique of modern industry that I am very anxious that the great experiment which Part I is should be well conducted.
1228 This Amendment is not as some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), seemed to think, an Amendment terminating Part I. It is an Amendment proposing to go on with Part I until there is an inquiry and to go on with it for six months after an inquiry with the object of forcing the Government of the day to legislate on the results of that inquiry. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that all these matters are proceeding, and that everything is ready for such an inquiry both into Part I and what is more important, into Part II. If the Minister can tell us that this Amendment is not necessary because this inquiry is taking place and will be carried out, I, for one, shall be satisfied. As I say I believe it to be a necessary condition in modern industry that there should be orderly controlled marketing—control extending I hope eventually to production—and with all the faults which the system has shown in its first experimental stage I want that system to succeed. I am anxious to avoid anything which may endanger it or cause a reaction against it. I hope therefore that the Minister will be able to tell us that he is giving all his attention to the amendment of the scheme where it is found necessary, in order to make it a success in the future.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I suggest to the Committee that it would be an advantage if we had a full discussion upon what is a matter of grave importance, namely, the continuation of Part I, upon the Amendment suggested just now by the Chairman of the Committee. It is a pity that we should occupy too much of our time upon a limited Amendment as to whether or not there should be an inquiry. We are anxious that the whole of the time should be given so that we may be able to ascertain the opinions of those who come from different parts of the country upon this important question. The suggestion is that if this Amendment can be disposed of now before we proceed to the other business which is to come before the House, we shall then— unless there is some further opportunity before 11 o'clock to-night—devote the main part of the time to-morrow to the consideration of Part I of the Act, and we shall discuss right away the suggestion that there should be this further inquiry.
1229 The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Martin) has asked that there should be a further inquiry, but I can tell him this, that the industry is sick of inquiries. My experience of the Department goes back to September of last year and every one who has come to the Department and every one I have met in various parts of the country, has put the question, "what is going to happen to Part I in December"? We have made the closest and most exhaustive inquiry, and what can we do more? To whom are we to go in making further inquiries? We are expected I suppose to go to the Miners' Federation. They have already made a full, detailed, categorical statement in the Memorandum referred to yesterday. We need make no further inquiry there. There are some 840,000 men whose lives and interests are represented by that organisation. But they can tell us nothing more. We have gone to the Mining Association, and that body, during the last three months, has been in constant touch with its constituent associations. They have been calling their people together and every owner in the country has had the opportunity of giving his experience. Is that the inquiry for which the hon. Member asks? What inquiry can be made beyond that?
We were not satisfied even with that inquiry and we went to the wholesale coaldealers, and they gave us their opinion which I reported to the House of Commons. We went to the exporters and here may I say that I do not depreciate the part of the exporters. I think that they are playing an essential part in the economy of the industry, and I think they must have a voice in this matter. I think their voice must be taken in association with what is said elsewhere. Certainly the producer must be the one who is first concerned, but I do not propose to shut out the exporter from his proper contribution to the decision. We have gone to them and received their report. I made a journey to the North-East and they did me the honour of meeting me and we went into this question closely, hour after hour, discussing this whole position. We also went to the retail merchants. We had representations from the big public utility associations. It is true that they are strongly opposed to the continuation of Part I of the Act. I hope I made that clear yesterday. The big 1230 utility associations of this country think that there is a danger in the continuation of Part I and they represent a great consuming interest.
Further, there is another factor which the Committee I am sure will weigh very carefully. During the operation of the Act there has been in existence machinery by which those who consider that they have any ground for complaint can go to a committee of investigation. There is a National Committee of Investigation and district committees of investigation and the humblest consumer or the largest utility organisation, or any association or any individual, has the right to go to the appropriate committee impartially constituted and including representatives of all the interests. Those committees have had practically no work to do.
§ Mr. FOOT
I can only say that they have had the same right as the individual consumers. If in the operation of Part I it was considered that there had been any injustice to a public authority that authority could have gone to a committee of investigation. I only suggest that as further evidence of the inquiry which has taken place. A further specific question was put to me as to whether there was to be any amending Bill this Session. The statement has been made here that a new Mines Bill was contemplated in the Autumn Session. I was not aware that there was any new Mines Bill contemplated in the Autumn Session until I read it in this newspaper extract which I have here, and I feel very much amazed at what I have read in the newspapers during the progress of the discussion upon this Bill.
§ Mr. FOOT
The foundation, perhaps is in what I said on the Second Reading, which was that at least 20 necessary Amendments of Part I have been suggested to us. I have not time to go through them but there are many directions in which Amendments have been suggested. Most of these Amendments we believe can be done within the four corners of the existing Act but it is possible that when those Amendments 1231 come to be finally considered it will be found that there are some which are considered necessary by the Government, but yet are not possible within the four corners of the Act. If such Amendment is considered necessary by the Government, new legislation will be required and we should certainly not shrink from new legislation if there was some form of amendment which was necessary for the more effective establishment of Part I. That is the only ground that there can be for any suggestion of the kind. I am anxious that no hon. Member who is interested in this matter should be excluded from the discussion upon it and my suggestion is that if we could get on to the broad issue raised by one of the later Amendments, it would be for the convenience of the Committee, and that this Amendment should be withdrawn. If that were done I would defer the answer which I intended to make upon the question raised by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment.
§ Sir N. GRATTAN-DOYLE
In considering this question, will the hon. Gentleman remember the exporters and also the producers?
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS rose—
§ Mr. MARTIN
In view of the statement of the Secretary for Mines and also the fact that we have had a much wider discussion than we ever hoped to get on this Amendment, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ It being Half-past Seven of the Clock and there being Private Business set down by direction of the CHAIRMAN of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8 further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.