§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [30th May], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Which Amendment, was to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:
this House regrets the failure to ratify the international convention limiting the hours of work underground, and declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill dealing with the coal mines industry which does not restore the seven-hour working day or provide for the continuation of the existing legal enactment on wages, introduces no improvements in the national regulation of wages, and ignores the urgent necessity for reorganisation under national control in order to reinstate the industry in the economic life of the nation.—[Mr. George Hall.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Isaac Foot)
The Debate yesterday was one of exceptional interest, and I should like to express my gratification at the constructive criticism which was made. The general opinion will be that the Debate reached a high level. Like many of our Debates of late, it was marked by a number of maiden speeches, some of which were exceptionally helpful. I should like to thank the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater), who certainly made a notable contribution to our discussion and was able to speak out of a wealth of experience which commanded the careful attention of Members on both sides of the House. There was also the contribution which, was made by the Noble Lord the Member for County Down (Viscount Castlereagh), and I have a sufficient appreciation of the continuity of our history to think that it is an outstanding day when one who bears a name such as his should for the first time take part in our discussions. There was a contribution made by the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), who certainly showed, a knowledge of the industry and of its difficulties which should make any further contribution to our Debates very 1012 welcome. I should like also to refer to what was said by the hon. Member for the Blaydon Division (Mr. Martin). His mining constituents are to be congratulated upon his close experience of this difficult question. Further, I should like to pay my tribute to the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Mitchell), who made a maiden speech and got over his primary difficulty in having to represent in the year of Grace 1932 a constituency which in earlier days was represented, not only by Sir William Joynson-Hicks, but by John Wilkes.
Before I deal with the general parts of the Bill, I should like to make reference to what was said by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). He suggested that there was something lacking on the part of the President of the Board of Trade in the negotiations with the Miners' Federation. It was said that the Miners' Federation were expecting a further interview before they received the letter which was sent to them only last week, and that in so far as we did not communicate with them we had failed to do what we should have done. I have been in touch with the negotiations from the very beginning, and I may say that there was no discourtesy intended. There was undoubtedly a misunderstanding, which we deplore, but no discourtesy was intended. Discourtesy on our part would be a very poor return for the way we have been met by the Miners' Federation throughout these discussions. Led by Mr. Edwards, they have shown in this matter not only courtesy but complete candour and promptitude, and there was certainly no intention on our part to keep back from them what they were entitled to expect.
When we met at the end of April it was quite clear that the two parties had come to a deadlock, and they were informed at that time that if that deadlock could not be removed it would be necessary for the Government to make up their mind and bring in their own Bill. At that time complaints were made by the Federation about the reports that were appearing in the newspapers, and they were informed by the President of the Board of Trade that anything he had to say to them would be communicated to them direct. They relied upon that, and assumed that before the Government came to a decision in regard to legisla- 1013 tion they would be called into conference. That was how the misunderstanding arose. It was purely a misunderstanding. We have certainly every desire to keep in touch with them throughout, not merely before the introduction of the Bill but subsequent to its passage.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I certainly accept the statement which has been made by the Secretary for Mines. There was very probably a misunderstanding such as he suggests. The Miners' Executive did expect to have a consultation with the President of the Board of Trade and himself before any definite decision was arrived at to bring in legislation.
§ Mr. FOOT
I fear there was a misunderstanding and I am glad that the point has been cleared up. Now I will deal with the Bill. The first Clause continues for a period of five years Part I of the Act of 1930. Yesterday a number of objections were urged against Part I. As a result of our experience in the Department we have come across many more objections than were urged yester-day. In fact if we took all the objections that were put forward yesterday and added to them all the objections that are likely to be put forward to-day, I might say that in the Department from our experience we know of objections beyond those and probably we could state them in even stronger language. Everything comes to the issue whether or not on the 31st day of December, 1932, Part I of the Act is to go and nothing is to take its place. It is to that issue that I invite the attention of the House.
Part I of the Act of 1930 was admittedly a great experiment. Some of us have a very chequered career in relation to Part I. The hon. Member for Aberdare taunted me yesterday with the fact that I opposed the Bill on its Second Reading. That is true. I might retort that he is now supporting an Amendment which if it were carried would do away with Part I which his Government had great pride in carrying into law. We have to judge not by what was said in the Debates in December, 1929, but by the experience of the last two years. I can only suggest that there could be no more sobering effect upon the minds of Members than to read the Debates that took place in December, 1929, and the 1014 early part of 1930 and compare the prophecies at that time with what has actually happened. We have prepared in the Department and have circulated to hon. Members, three reports covering the four quarters of 1931 and explaining, as far as we have experienced, the operations of that Part of the Act.
When it was necessary to decide whether Part I should be continued we consulted the several interests as to the experience and the advice that they could give us. We have found, naturally, a good deal of opposition. I think the most formidable opposition is the opposition of those who are engaged in the export trade. I can understand the interest that has been taken in the question in the north-east part of the country. The producer in the north-east part of the country, those who are concerned with the export trade and the actual exporters, are very concerned and very determined in their opposition, but I think that their criticism is not always fully grounded. They suggest that the falling off in our export trade is very largely due to the quota. Looking at the markets of Europe the losses that may have arisen through the quota system under Part I cannot be at the outside more than a few hundred thousand tons of coal. I would invite the attention of the House to the fact that last year, apart from bunkers, we sold about 47,000,000 tons of coal abroad. If there had been no Part I of the Act that coal to the extent of 47,000,000 tons would have been sold at a lower price, shillings lower per ton, with a very large resulting loss to the collieries concerned.
However, we have the opposition of the exporters. I have nothing to say but gratitude to the exporters. I am grateful for the way in which they met me when I went to the north-east part of the country to ask them what their objections were. The interests of the exporters are not always identical with the interests of the producers, and there may be some truth in what was said by a distinguished mineowner the other day that the exporter's paradise might be the producer's purgatory. I do not associate myself with that opinion but I think it is worthy of consideration. The next opposition that we have had is the opposition of the Public Utility Associations who put their case with very great force. 1015 Their case deserves the consideration of the House. We have also had the opposition of the National Council of Coal Traders, representing the wholesale coal merchants.
What have we on the other side? We invited the Miners' Federation to express their views and they put their views before us in a pamphlet: a very masterly statement of the case. I have not the manifesto before me and I will not quote from it now. I invite every Member of the House who wishes to acquaint himself with the operation of Part I of the Act to study that manifesto. It was a memorandum for which we were very grateful and it has been a most substantial factor in the decision at which the Government have arrived. I think their case as stated in it is unanswerable. We turned then to the Mining Association and asked for their case. It is true that they are acutely divided, but the majority of the Mining Association is for the continuation of Part I. Officially, they have affirmed themselves as being supporters of the continuation of Part I. In addition, we have had the support of the Association representing the retail traders. That was the position in which the Government found themselves in deciding as to Part I.
The two main elements in the industry, the owners and the workers, say that they want Part I to continue and it would have been a very serious responsibility upon the Government if, listening to the other representations, they had overridden the representations of the two parties named. It is quite true that the owners are not wholly in favour of Part I, but they say that whatever grievances and difficulties and disabilities may have grown up they prefer even an uncertain foundation rather than step out upon nothing on the 1st January, 1933. The broad fact is this that the potential production of coal in this country is over 300,000,000 tons a year. Last year we produced about 220,000,000 tons. That is a difference of nearly 100,000,000 tons, and in that difference you have the problem which will arise if you do away with Part I and leave it to chaotic unrestricted competition. In the desperate efforts to secure forward contracts it would become just an unrestricted game of beggar by neighbour, and the people who would 1016 suffer worst would be the workers in the industry because prices would fall generally which would inevitably mean lower wages. You could pass an Act of Parliament, you could pass fifty Acts of Parliament, but nothing would prevent the miners of this country suffering as a consequence of that policy.
In these circumstances the Government decided to continue Part I for such a time as will enable it to prove its value. It must not be thought that because we are continuing Part I of the Act of 1930 that we approve of it as it is to-day. There are a great number of amendments which should be considered. Some of these amendments have been submitted by hon. Members who are representing North Eastern divisions, and they appear in the "Times" newspaper today. The Mining Association are considering what amendments they have to suggest, and the Miners' Federation, who are generally first in the field, have already brought before us in their memorandum the amendments which they desire. Certainly these amendments which are intended to tighten up the Act of 1930 will have to have their right and proper place in the discussions which will arise during the Committee stage. It must be remembered that power exists in the present Act of Parliament to introduce a large measure of amendment to the schemes. It is not necessary for these Amendments to go outside the four corners of the Act, although one Amendment suggested by the Miners' Federation would make it necessary to go outside the Act. But very large powers were taken in the Act itself to improve the schemes and to restrict evasions, and I suggest that the obligation rests upon the industry to check these evasions. The Act of 1930 enabled the mining industry to do certain things, but without good will in the industry it cannot achieve its purpose. At the same time the Government have a right to look to the industry itself to check the things which are happening in their own midst and if they have recalcitrant and disloyal members they should bring these powers to bear upon them. The responsibility rests more upon the industry than it does on the Department or on this House. That is as to Part I.
I have been asked one or two questions about Part II, which sets up the Re- 1017 organisation Commission. The hon. Member for Aberdare asked me a direct question as to the attitude of the Government upon this matter. If my recollection is right the Act of 1930 in relation to Part I was carried only because Part II was there as well. Part II was intended to set up an organisation to bring about by inspiration and by influence, or by any stronger measures, that necessary integration of the industry which has to be secured by some means or another. I have been in consultation with the Chairman, of the Reorganisation Commission and I have had an opportunity of discussing matters with him. The position broadly is this. There has been great difficulty in the working of that Commission: and the difficulty has been mainly political. Last year it was thought that the position of the Government was precarious and there were certain owners who thought that they need not trouble about the policy of amalgamation as possibly with the disappearance of the last Government Part II would disappear as well. The result was that they did not respond as they should have done to the steps taken by the Reorganisation Commission.
Then came the political trouble of last year upon, which I will not dwell. The new Government came in and those recalcitrant owners who were not much in favour of the policy of amalgamation considered that the new Government would undo the policy of the last Government, and were less than ever responsive to the approaches of the Reorganisation Commission. The Commission therefore has not yet had a fair trial. There would be the strongest objection on the part of many in this country to continue Part I establishing virtually a monopoly for the industry unless we had Part II or something in its place which would bring about some measure of integration in an industry where there are far too many independent units and where some measure of unification must be secured if the industry is to survive. That is a summary of the position.
Now I come to the question of hours. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said that the President of the Board of Trade was not happy yesterday in introducing this Bill. No one could be happy in introducing this Bill. It is nothing about which to ring the bell; at its highest it is only a (melancholy neces- 1018 sity. Many speeches were made yesterday on the question of hours and I was responsive to every one. I thought that I could have spoken in even stronger terms myself. We were told that the seven and a-half hours was really eight 'hours if you add the winding time, that very often miners lived at a great distance from their work. We were told about the special case of the miner. Who disputes it? No one. We were told that it was a most hazardous occupation and that a miner is faced by perils of which other members of the community know nothing. That is all admitted and for myself I think that the case for a seven hour day is academically unanswerable. But when I heard the speeches yesterday I thought that they were all 12 months too late. We were told that we are lengthening the miners' day from seven hours to seven and a-half hours. If there is any lengthening of the miners' day it was done in July, 1931.
§ Mr. FOOT
No, it was done in July, 1931, as a temporary measure, of course. They are all brought in as temporary measures. Any lengthening of the miners' day was done in July, 1931. I am not blaming those who did it. They came in with a pledge to reduce hours from eight to seven, which they gave in good faith, and when they brought in the Coal Mines Bill in 1929 it was a tremendous effort to redeem their pledge, but it could not be carried except to the extent of the half hour. In July, 1931, my predecessor justified the Bill, which was lengthening the hours from seven to seven and a-half, on these grounds. He said:We have been brought to this pass by the fact that action required to be taken, not so much to prevent the seven hour day coming into operation—because, indeed, it was the desire of every hon. and right hon. Member on this side of the House to bring the seven hour day into operation as speedily as possible—but because in the present depressing economic circumstances, which cannot be concealed, which are obvious to everyone confronted with the facts pertaining to this industry, it was necessary as a temporary expedient to invoke the seven and a-half hour day for a limited period. That is precisely the reason for this legislation.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1931, col. 1795, Vol. 234.]That is precisely the reason for this legislation.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. FOOT
My hon. Friend is entitled to that opinion, but I cannot recognise the description, and if he had been with me in the negotiations since last Christmas, and had heard what happened, I think that with that added experience he would have modified his opinion. That pledge was given. The Government intended to redeem it, but they found it impossible, said Mr. Shinwell, because of the depressing economic circumstances. What are they to-day compared with July last year? This is not a case for scoring debating points over each other, but I want Members opposite to address themselves to this fact and answer this question: What is there in the circumstances of this year as compared with July of last year which makes possible now what was declared to be impossible then£ [An HON. MEMBER: "A strong National Government."] Perhaps my hon. Friend has suggested the only possible answer. Separating this issue from the rest I think the Government's decision is undoubtedly right. I know that the critics of this Measure say, "Yes, but why not a limited Measure instead of an open seven and a-half hour day Bill£ "The limited Measure is the device of embarrassed politicians. It is generally the device of those who want peace in their time. The difficulty of putting a time limit in any Act is that you then have legislation not according to the needs of the country, but according to the dictates of the calendar, and I suggest, if it is right in present circumstances to have a seven and a-half hour day, no limit should be put upon it, and when circumstances change, as please God they may in this industry, then you can deal again with your hours' question. All you can do at present is to legislate as far as you can look forward.
I now come to what is the charge against myself. The Bill not only says that there shall be a seven and a-half hour day, but that it shall be reduced if the International Convention becomes effective. According to speeches made yesterday, as well as certain definite accusations in one of the papers, I am 1020 responsible for holding up the Convention, and I want to meet that charge. Will hon. Members allow me to go over a bit of dull history to show how we come to the Convention at the present time? As a result of a request from the League of Nations arising out of the consideration of the possibility of international economic agreement in relation to the coal industry, the International Labour Organisation undertook the study of conditions in that industry with a view to seeing how far international agreement could be reached in regard to hours of work, wages and conditions of service. The first step was taken in January, 1930, when a preparatory technical conference was called at Geneva. That is where the history starts. I will not go over the history in detail, but in June, 1930, at the International Labour Conference, a Convention was drafted, but failed to secure the necessary majority of the constituent elements at the Conference. After the defeat of the Convention in 1930, the question was again considered at the Conference in 1931, and in May and June of that year a draft Convention was drawn up which was adopted by the Conference. It was this draft Convention which was the subject of discussion on the Bill in the House last year. It was this draft Convention which is referred to in the Act of last year.
Now the impression that has grown up in this country is that that Convention has reached such a point that all it needs is ratification. That is not so. Hon. Members who heard the Debates last year, or have seen what my predecessor said about it, will know that negotiations were needed before ratification could be considered. When I took office in September last, I found what the position was. I would draw the attention of hon. Members to what was the next step. We are told that we are the opponents of this Convention, and are endeavouring to hold it up. There were seven important countries concerned, any one of which could have called the next meeting. The next meeting was called by the British Government. That is not the action of those anxious to hold up the Convention. I asked the other Governments to meet, and we met in January of this year. That meeting was held on the initiative of this Government, and when I met the representatives of the other Governments in Geneva, I made this statement. I said 1021 that, having gone into the Convention, I thought there were some difficulties in its application to this country, but that although its difficulties loomed large in the minds of some people, yet they were all subsidiary to the fact that this country was in favour of international arrangement in relation to mining hours, and I mentioned that the Lord President of the Council, and the Home Secretary, as well as the Prime Minister, the three leaders who had spoken in the Debate of July, 1931, all declared themselves in favour of the principle of an international arrangement in relation to hours. Before making any further arrangement in the matter however, I wanted to know if there would be simultaneous ratification, and it is on that point that I would like the opinion of those who sit on the benches opposite.
As things stood, the Convention would come into force if two countries ratified it. I was not prepared, and I do not think that this House would be prepared, to enter into a Convention adopted by ourselves and, say, Czechoslovakia, because this Convention is no simple matter. It embodies a hundred and one restrictions, some of which would be regarded as most onerous, and some of which would have to be enforced by the law and by inspectors and I am not prepared to support a Convention which would put all these onerous restrictions on ourselves, and leave the main competing countries free. If I had done that, no doubt I should be applauded in Berlin and Warsaw, and should be regarded there as the spearhead of progress, but I should have got the condemnation of this House, and the first to condemn me would have been the miners' representatives in this House.
§ Mr. FOOT
It is only a frank interchange of opinion that we are asking, and until to-day I did not know that it was the desire of the miners of this country that they should have this imposition put upon us, while leaving those with whom we are at present engaged in a very desperate fight with a freedom which we ourselves could not enjoy. I do not understand much about racing, but I understand that a certain race is to take place this week. If two of the horses in the race are to be fitted with an awkward saddle and an unaccustomed 1022 bridle, and are not to be allowed to start until the others are well into the gallop, I should imagine, without knowing much about these matters, that it might result in some disturbance of form. Therefore, the only meaning of the Convention, and the philosophy behind the Convention, is that all the countries together shall submit to the same restrictions. That is all, and that is all I ask for.
When that discussion took place at Geneva, what was the answer given£ It was a private meeting, and I am not able to quote the Minute, but I am able to state the facts. One country, not an unimportant one, in Europe said, they would not ratify until every other country had ratified, and then they wanted a period of one year or two years after. Two other countries, among the main coal-competing Powers in Europe, said they could do nothing until the European Conference was held, and that they would decline to enter into simultaneous ratification until that was done. I said, "Very well, gentlemen, that being the position, no further business can be done at this stage." And the meeting was adjourned until April. I asked that it should be an open date, but they asked that it should be adjourned until April. Why was not the meeting held in April? I am accused of holding it up. I see that one of the newspapers, the "Daily Herald," made an accusation against me on Friday last. It said:As to hours, the miners will strongly condemn the idea that the restoration of the seven-hour day or any reduction in existing hours must await international agreement. Feeling on this matter will be all the keener because it is known that the Government has no intention of pressing for such international agreement. The Secretary for Mines has again postponed the contemplated discussions on the subject between the coal-producing countries.What were the circumstances? Since that meeting in January I have been in touch with the late M. Thomas, the Director of the International Labour Office, whose loss we all deplore. He wanted the meeting held in April. I said, "What progress have you made with other Governments—the country which would not ratify at the same time; the countries which wanted everything deferred until the European Conference was held£ "The Conference was to have been held in January, but it has since been postponed. I thought that simply having a meeting in April 1023 when we could report nothing more, would not be an advantage to the Convention, but would arouse hopes which would cause disappointment, and a meeting, which from the very beginning would have accomplished nothing and which would meet with the same objections as in January, was a meeting which would not help the cause of international regulation of hours, but would hinder it. Only on that account I said that, until the other countries had taken a different stand upon this matter, I would prefer the meeting to be deferred. But it was not left there. M. Thomas got into touch with the refractory countries. Mr. Butler is now in touch with them, and I understand that one of the countries has now modified its views, and there is much hope that the other two countries will come into line.
§ Mr. LAWSON
In what the hon. Gentleman has just stated he has given some information which we now know for the first time. I have followed this matter as well as a layman can, and I must say he has told me what I did not know, because, as he said, the meetings he has spoken of were private. The hon. Gentleman could not deny that he was responsible for the postponement of the last meeting, and if he was blamed he can only blame himself, for from the interpretation he has given he did ask for the postponement, and people outside do not understand why.
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not worry about blame. All I suggest is that, in future, if the "Daily Herald" has any reference to me, it should put a more favourable construction upon my action. A further question was put to me yesterday by an hon. Member, who asked how long ratification would take. Last time when this matter was debated in the House the impression was given that it would be carried in 12 months. I give no such impression. The machinery of the International Labour Organisation demands certain steps to be taken. You have first of all your agreement to ratify. Then there must be the ratification. Then there must be the legislation carried in the Parliaments of the several countries, and then, too, according to the terms of the Convention, there must be an interval of six months before it becomes operative. Therefore I do not want too favour- 1024 able a construction to be placed upon it. All I can say is that the Government have declared their policy, and they will faithfully pursue that policy in relation to the regulation of hours internationally.
I have taken so long a time on these matters that I must come now to the question of wages, which I suppose is uppermost in the minds of hon. Members. We are offering, or we have secured, a guarantee in place of the statutory provision. I think it will be generally agreed that the statutory provision last year was an awkward and difficult precedent in our law. [Interruption.] I understood that that was a matter of common ground. I do not think that anyone has a. right to claim that last year this principle was embodied and gravely and deliberately adopted by the House. The Bill of last year was just helter-skelter legislation. Hon. Members will remember that there was no opposition because the legislation was so urgent. In fact when the Bill was introduced in another place it was commended by the Lord Chancellor because "they were on the brink of a precipice." I do not think it is in accordance with the best traditions of Debate to claim for something that was in hurried makeshift legislation, that which should now be an essential part of our law. That Bill was a temporary and abnormal Bill. It ought not to be invoked now to establish something as normal and permanent in our legislation.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor asked yesterday, what about the nonunion owner£ That was a very important question. My name is on the back of this Bill, and support has been given to the Bill on the understanding that no worker in any coalfield in this country during the next 12 months is to be worse off because of the guarantee taking the place of the statutory provision.
§ Mr. FOOT
Giving effect to it may be another question. I have stated the assumption upon which I act. Let me be candid with the House. When this Bill was introduced we thought we had guarantees from every district. This morning I have heard that from one of the districts—I shall not mention the name—there is doubt about that 1025 guarantee. The House would not consider that I was dealing fairly with it if I allowed that fact to pass without mentioning it.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
I would ask the Minister to be explicit on this matter. Has Kent, has Somerset, has Scotland given the guarantee£ Would the hon. Gentleman mind naming all the districts and putting it on record that they have given this supposed guarantee?
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not in the least resent the interruption, which is relevant and must be answered. As far as I know every district has given guarantees, including those named by the hon. Member. One was given by Kent, but this morning a communication came, not to me but to my Department, that owing to some difficulty between Kent and the Mining Association—Kent are not members of the Mining Association, although they are members of the Central Council under the marketing scheme of Part I—owing to some difficulty with which I need not trouble the House now, and some difference between them and the other owners, they are now wishing to withdraw or to qualify their guarantee.
I ask Members to support the Bill on the assumption that I have given, that no one collier in any one district of this country is to be worse off in the next 12 months in respect of those wages which are specified because of a guarantee being given instead of a statutory provision in the Act. But the question then arises as to a single miner speaking through his Federation or individually. I personally have a responsibility to him, and I think the Government have a responsibility to him. As far as I have any influence I should say it was the obligation of the Government to secure for that single man the protection which is indeed the very understanding upon which the Bill is introduced.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
Is the Minister speaking for the Government in saying that? He emphasised the point that he was speaking upon his own responsibility. If a coal owners' district does indeed attempt to make reductions in wages in the 12 months, will the Minister state on behalf of the Government that the Government will take action is respect of it?
§ Mr. FOOT
My hon. Friend will know that the guarantees are given in terms corresponding with those of the Statute, and those guarantees have been given and the Government have received them. To my mind, although I have had an opportunity of consulting the President for only a few minutes, and speaking for myself, I should think there was an absolute obligation on the part of the Government to see that the men who have relied upon them in this matter have their case fully dealt with and redress given. After all, a single-Clause Measure is not a difficulty in dealing with those who are anxious to stand out.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The House will agree that we are now discussing a most important matter. The miners' conference is in session, and the answer that is now given by the Minister will have a profound influence on the temper of that conference. Will the hon. Gentleman acquaint the House with the measures that the Government have it in mind to take if a single coalowners' district does not keep the guarantee?
§ Mr. FOOT
That, of course, is putting to me something which I have not yet had an opportunity of considering, but in broad terms I say this: Our contention is that the guarantee is at least as good as the statutory protection. If that had not been the assumption we should have asked for the statutory protection. Obviously if we commend this Measure to the House on that ground it is the business of the Government to see that that protection is given by them. A few words about the guarantee. That was dismissed yesterday by some as an unimportant matter. But there is a most considerable question involved in it. Part of my duty is the collection of the Miners' Welfare levy. If anyone wants a most disagreeable experience let him take on that job. I have had put before me, in some instances, the story of collieries where there was not a penny given to royalties, not a penny for shareholders or debenture holders, where there was an increasing liability, and yet a mine has been continued, and the mine owner is still struggling there with his difficulties and his overdraft. But I had to press him for his Miners' Welfare levy, and that man now has to give his guarantee to pay these wages for 12 months, when in some 1027 cases they cannot be paid out of the industry and are paid from other sources. There are many such instances throughout the country, and Members would be surprised at the extent of them, where, it may be, there are old family ties, not unimportant, or where the owners are reluctant to cause the trouble that would arise with the closing of a mine. The wages of the last 12 months have in many of these instances been paid, not out of the industry, because they were not there, but have been paid from other sources.
§ Mr. FOOT
Subsidiary industries—I have known men who have made great difficulties for themselves by continuing the mines in that way. I do not want to overpaint the picture. At any rate this matter has caused me a good deal of trouble, and when I know these facts my wonder is that we have a guarantee at all. We have got a guarantee for 12 months, and 12 months is a long time. Think of what has happened since July of last year. The President of the Board of Trade who was then responsible for that Department, has gone from us. He was a personal friend of mine, a very devoted servant of the State. Politically, there is the trouble that has arisen, the financial crisis. I ask hon. Members to think of all that has happened in the last year, and the vicissitudes that we may pass through in the next 12 months, and to ask themselves whether it is not a considerable thing that we have secured a guarantee of wages for 12 months. I would like to know whether that guarantee would not be regarded as of some importance if it were demanded from the owners in Germany, and Belgium, and Poland, and France, and what the workers of those countries would say if the politicians there had been able to secure that safeguard. We have got the 12 months' guarantee.
Accepting what I think is the admitted fact, that the seven-hours' day is impossible, that you cannot demand a guarantee for more than 12 months, what is the only alternative to this Bill? The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) last night, in a speech which I thought was a most effective contribution to the Debate, told us the answer. He made very clear what the alternative was when he said this: 1028We say to the Government, 'If you fail to get a guarantee beyond 12 months as to wages, you ought to refuse legislation beyond 12 months on hours."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th May, 1932; col. 857, Vol. 266.]That is very fairly stated. The only alternative to this Bill, admitting the things that I have mentioned, is another 12 months Bill. I suggest that another 12 months Bill would be a negation of statesmanship. Why are we legislating now£ Why are we discussing this Bill and giving a week of Parliamentary time to it£ Why is the Miners' Federation meeting to-day? Why is the Mining Association meeting? Why are we engaged on this Bill when we ought to be occupied on other matters£ Not because anyone wants a discussion on miners' hours and wages. We are doing it simply because the calendar dictates to us. If we did pass another Bill for 12 months, in another 12 months we should have to give another week of Parliamentary time to a further Bill when the industry needs its time for other things.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
Our contention is that the 12 months guarantee will have the same result, and that the Government will have the same difficulty in 12 months' time.
§ Mr. FOOT
I sincerely hope that any hon. Friend will prove to be a false prophet in that matter. What is to happen in 12 months' time£ One hon. Member spoke of the fear of what would happen in 12 months' time as a legitimate fear. I hope that the miners of this country are not going to have resting upon them the fear of what will happen in years to come. I say this to the owners: "We are continuing Part I of the Act which (had for one of its primary purposes the establishment of such a price that you can pay a reasonable wage. It is your business to see, if Part I is continued, that in a year's time there is not to be a reduction of wages." The onus will rest upon them, and if there is a reduction it will be a very serious onus to discharge, and something with which the Government of the day must, I think, find it necessary to be concerned.
I must deal with Part IV of the Act of 1930 to which reference was made yesterday. Part IV of the Act set up the National Industrial Board. That board, as constituted by the Act, was to consist of 17 members appointed by the Board of 1029 Trade, owners' representatives, miners' representatives, Trades Union Congress representatives, the Co-operative Union and others. The question is now raised, what can be done in strengthening Part IV of the Act, and the question was put to us by the Miners Federation in the course of the negotiations—"What can you do to strengthen the authority of the National Industrial Board?" I wish we could, and I want hon. Members opposite to say how they would strengthen the National Industrial Board. It is a big problem. I can understand voluntary arrangement and I can understand compulsory arbitration, but what is the state of things? Voluntary agreement is Dover and compulsory arbitration is Calais, and there is no foothold between. If the National Industrial Board ought to be strengthened, why was it not done when the 1930 Act was passed? Why did they not set it up with fuller power?
§ Mr. FOOT
No, but I am going to quote what was said by the late Mr. William Graham. When the National Industrial Board was set up Mr. William Graham the then President of the Board of Trade, introducing that part of the Bill, said:It gives its opinion and there is not the least doubt that the opinion of a large and representative body like that would have very great moral weight. Of course, hon. Members will ask, how do you propose to enforce its opinion?That is the question to-day. The late Mr. William Graham added:I will be perfectly candid on that point. You can only enforce a view of that description if you are prepared to cross the border line into compulsory arbitration. Neither side of the industry is prepared to accept that proposition and in the last resort on all these great questions they reserve on the one side the right of lock-out and on the other the right to withdraw labour."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1929; col. 1272, Vol. 233.]If you are going to invest the National Industrial Board with penal authority, if any Member of this House asks that that should be done, then I ask him with what authority does he speak, and what are his credentials? If anything can be done to bring the parties together by all means let it be done. Why should they not be together? I am glad that some- 1030 thing is being done to bring them together on these matters. I have no sympathy with the attitude of owners who refuse to meet the men upon this question. After all, we are leading the world at this time, at Lausanne and elsewhere, in international negotiations, in meetings around tables. Why can it not be done in this country£ It may be that the parties in the coal industry had their hard fight in 1926 and that there are bitter memories of 1926, but at these international conferences we are meeting those who were our enemies only a few years ago. As far as the Government are concerned, they would give every sanction and every help to those who would make possible meetings between our own flesh and blood in this country upon this important question. AB to any suggestion that hon. Members have to make upon that point I can only assure them that, as far as I am concerned and as far as my Department is concerned, they are pushing at an open door, and I believe that I speak for every one of my colleagues in making that statement.
I have only one thing to add. I want this Bill got out of the way so that we can deal with the real questions of this industry. After all, these are not essential questions of the industry. They are secondary. The industry is fighting for its life. It is challenged at home and abroad. We have to face problems of national organisation in the industry. Those problems will have to be solved, and it is my opinion that they can only be solved by both sides together. I do not believe that the owners can solve those problems on their own. I do not think the men can solve those problems on their own. But there is perhaps some hope of solution if we can all get together. Sometimes people get together in adversity. I have known of family feuds which went on for a long time but were forgotten in a time of family sorrow or adversity. If ever the coal industry was passing through adversity it is doing so at this time. No one can go through the experience which we have been through with-out seeing how hardly it has suffered. Adversity may bring together all the elements in this industry, which is fighting as I have said with its back to the wall. That is our hope. We want to pass this Bill which is not, as far as I am concerned the dictation of one side, but is a Bill which seeks to secure that 1031 in a time of real difficulty the two sides shall join to deal with these essential problems. We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day when he brought in his Budget that there was a bleak prospect before us and the right hon. Gentleman drew a picture of this country climbing to great heights. The coal industry is climbing. We are all on the same rope, and we have to face these problems in this industry, as in every other industry, remembering that we are "members one of another."
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Whether we agree or disagree with the Secretary for Mines, I think we all sympathise with him in the very difficult task which he has had to perform this afternoon. He will not mind if I say that if there is any feeling of unhappiness or despair in this matter it is due very largely to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade yesterday and that that feeling has been rather deepened by some of the remarks which the hon. Gentleman himself has made this afternoon. I think everyone in the country agrees that the industry is in a bad way, and, in the prevailing conditions, we do not see very much daylight in front as yet. I will come to deal with that consideration in a minute or two, but I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman first whether the report which he told us had been prepared in his Department on Part I of the Act will be published.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It is very important that we should have all the information possible in reference to Part I of the Act. It is true that the late Government brought in a Measure with which very few of its Members really agreed. Both the Lord Chancellor in another place and the late Mr. William Graham here stated categorically that that was not the sort of Measure which we would have introduced if we had the kind of majority which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has at his command. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have shown us how to put through Tory policy by means of a Tory majority, and, if we have a Socialist majority in the future, I hope that my comrades here will have the same sort of courage as the. right hon. 1032 Gentleman had to put everything behind him and to think only of how to get through the legislation which he desired. But it is necessary to point out that with all its deliquencies the last Measure did positively reduce and not lengthen the hours of labour. An eight hours day was imposed in 1926. We brought it down to a seven and a-half hours day. About that, there is no question.
At the same time we guaranteed wages. On that point, may I say that I accept anything in good faith which the Secretary for Mines tells me, because we all know him to be one who would not mislead the House or anyone else. But I would press him to answer this question: Why should not we have on the Table of the House the letters from the employers in each of the districts, guaranteeing the wages as he says they have been guaranteed? I do not know where the legal obligation in this matter rests. I think there are about 3,000 employers concerned, and I would ask the Attorney-General who knows the Law much better than the rest of us to say whether it is possible for an organisation to pledge the credit of individual employers simply by writing a letter without first consulting the persons concerned. As a layman, I should have thought that there would not be any legal authority to act in that way. It may be that there is, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman in closing this Debate will tell us the law on the subject. As I understand the position, someone in each district has sent a letter purporting to be on behalf of all the employers in that district. I should have thought that, unless explicit authority had been given by each employer to the writer of the letter, it could not be held to be legally binding upon them. I want to see the letters because the hon. Gentleman has said that the workers will not be worse off under this arrangement. But I can imagine the form of the work, the manner in which the work is arranged being altered in such a way that a man would earn apparently the same amount of money each week—
§ Mr. FOOT
The right hon. Gentleman refers to a change in the form of the work, but I would point out that the basic rate was not protected under the Statute, and it cannot be protected under 1033 the guarantee. The basic rate might have been attacked last year under the Statute. I hope there will be less likelihood of it being attacked under the guarantee than there was under the Statute.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
All the same, if it is a day rate, I am sufficiently acquainted with industry to know that it is possible to give a guarantee that wages will not come down and to alter the work so as to get more work for the same money. I want to see exactly what the employers or those claiming to speak for the employers have to say on that important subject. It is true that next year the same situation will arise as has arisen this year and it will arise, I think, in a more acute form, because the employers will then be able to say to the Government: "You only insisted on this for a year, and we just gave in for the year on the understanding that at the end of that time the whole business would be revised." I do not see that the miners have any sort of guarantee or any reason to believe that what I have indicated will not happen. The hon. Gentleman asked us a question about Part 4 of the Act. I do not know what my colleagues who are more or less representative of the Miners' Federation will say in answer to that question, but I can say this, quite definitely and without reservation, that the Miners' Federation will be ready to enter into discussion with the hon. Gentleman on this subject, and therefore I think that he ought to get down to it at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Yes, and we are meeting them too. They will not, I think, want to discuss this matter at this minute, but what I want the hon. Gentleman to understand is that it is not the Miners' Federation which does not want to find a means of dealing with this industry in the proper manner. It is the gentlemen known as owners who from time immemorial have been the most stiff-necked people God ever created. About that, there is no dispute. I heard the night hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin), at this Box, talking about them in such language that I thought at 1034 the time they would never want to meet him again, but everybody who has had any negotiations with them knows very well that they are gentlemen who think only in the parish pump fashion and simply of their own little circle. The tragedy is that the men who had a bigger vision than those who are in control to-day have passed away. I am quite certain that if Lord Rhondda had lived, the mining industry would have been unified long ago. He certainly would not have unified it in the manner in which we want it unified, but no man with his business capacity would have allowed the industry to be tossed backwards and forwards in the way it has been tossed in the last dozen years.
Anyone would imagine both from the hon. Gentleman's speech and from that of the right hon. Gentleman, and from many speeches in all parts of the House, that this discussion was on a new subject to this House. As a matter of fact, in 1912 a large part of Parliamentary time in the early part of the Session was taken up with the coal mining situation, out of which came the first minimum wage legislation. I recall that, because the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman both talked as if this question of dealing with wages was something that ought to be anathema to this House. That is all sheer nonsense, and they know it. In 1912, long before the Miners' Federation, long before there was a Socialist movement in this country as there is now, long before Communism was ever dreamed in this country, the owners had got the mining industry into such an unholy mess that Parliament then, under Mr. Asquith, was obliged to pass the first Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act, and from then onwards there has been continual trouble, year after year, mainly because, in my judgment, the owners have been altogether too selfish and too greedy in regard to the industry.
When I listened to the hon. Gentleman just now painting that painful picture of an employer who was paying out money and not earning a farthing in the industry, and so on, I wondered whether my hon. Friend's interjection really got home to the hon. Member. Very often coalowners make more on the swings than they lose on the roundabouts. That is as true as that we are looking at one 1035 another now, and therefore our hearts do not bleed for the coalowner who pays out money to the Miners' Welfare Fund. He ought to thank God he has got it to do and can help to keep the miners in some sort of decent conditions. The other point about that is that ever since 1912 the miners have been making one consecutive appeal to Parliament. They have not asked you to give them anything; they did not even ask for the subsidy that was given. They have never asked that Parliament should give them a farthing. What they have asked is that there should be machinery to pre-vent their exploitation, but on top of all that they have asked for nationalisation of their industry, and they have given very good reasons for it.
On the question of wages machinery, the hon. Gentleman and his chief must forget, when they continually say what a privileged position the miners are in, that the railway industry has had set up for it, very largely through an Act of Parliament, machinery by which the employé's can sit face to face with their employers and argue out whether there shall be reductions or increases and the whole range of the railway industry be taken under review. That is done, and I would like to point out that there is no compulsory arbitration about that at all. I remember quite well some of the miners' Members, and I think I remember the Dominions Secretary also, making a speech at that Box and saying he could never understand why such machinery had not been set up here. Therefore, I think the House must take blame to itself for the chaotic condition in which the industry now finds itself.
That brings me to this point: The hon. Gentleman 'and the right hon. Gentleman have painted a very gloomy picture, but what have they been doing? What has the Ministry of Mines been doing since last October£ It is all very well to smile. We were told that the doctors were coming in and the quacks were going out, and that these wonderful people were just going to show us what was what, and who was who, and how this job of curing industrial trouble and difficulty was going to be handled; and after eight months in office the right hon. Gentleman and his lieutenant stand at that Box and tell us, "We are very sorry, but we are on the point of death, and we are going 1036 to renew this little thing that the Labour Government did, and that we fought against as hard as ever we could, because it has proved to be just a little beneficial, and we ask you to put it through." What does the right hon. Gentleman mean to do with this industry? Is he going to sit down for a year and Jet it struggle on in the same way, or is he going to try once more to patch up the system which has broken down under our very eyes, and which he admits has broken down?
I would like to point out that it is not Socialism that has broken down, it is not nationalisation that has brought us to this plight, but it is this capitalism in excelsis that has broken down. It is no good saying, "Your system will bring us to ruin." Your system has brought us to ruin already; the system of which the right hon. Gentleman is the spokesman and champion has landed us in this unholy plight. It is no use saying that it is world-wide, because it is worldwide capitalism that has landed us where we are, it is the system, which you try to deal with in a small way in this Bill, of competitive industry, with each little group striving against the other and bringing each to ruin. The present arrangements in the coal industry are admittedly altogether wrong.
The right hon. Gentleman must know that his colleague the Home Secretary sat on a Commission. He is in the Cabinet. The Home Secretary was Chairman of a Commission, and the Lord Chancellor also was Chairman of a Commission, and I believe the Prime Minister appointed one of the Commissions. [Interruption.] No, it was the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who appointed the Sankey Commission, but the Lord President of the Council appointed the Samuel Commission, and these Commissions and two or three Committees also have all declared that only the unification of the industry could give any promise of a real and satisfactory solution of the difficulties. Yet eight months have gone by, and we have this trumpery Bill brought forward. I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman would have said if it had been a Labour Government sitting there to-day instead of the Government of which he is a, Member. I wonder what the Lord President and the Home Secretary would 1037 have said to us. They would have made similar speeches to those that were made two years ago, and rightly so, I think, because if we had had a majority and had only brought forward this kind of Bill, we should have deserved every word of censure that they might have uttered against us.
But the right hon. Gentleman has power in this matter. He need not consider the owners, unless it is a ease of the mutual sympathy of the owner of one industry with the owner of another industry, just as we on our side all hang together in case we might go down singly, and I dare say employers are in the same boat. We want to know why, in face of all the evidence of all the commissions and committees, the Government have not taken drastic action in this matter, and why, if they would not adopt our proposal of nationalisation, they have not attempted to carry out the proposal of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater). The Minister was very complimentary to the hon. Member for Eastbourne on his speech and on his proposals. I should like to know why the Department has not been thinking about this and why it has not been working at it. It is no good saying that they have not had time, because eight months is a very long time, and we had not been in office a month before the hon. Gentleman opposite was one of the leaders in the campaign, saying, "What fire you going to do?"
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. Member was one of our most faithful friends to flog us, but in order that there should not be a General Election he trotted into the, Lobby behind us. I have a good recollection of the sort of stuff to which we had to submit. I used to enjoy it, because it was all in the day's work, and I knew quite well that there would come a day when the hon. Gentleman would sit, just as he does now, almost in sackcloth and ashes, bringing forward a Bill of this kind and apologising for it in almost every sentence. That it is the sort of purgatory that being in a Government places you in. The hon. Member was good enough to quote the Miners' Federation and this pamphlet. Those of us who are not members of the federation are very proud that our friends and 1038 colleagues have such able men at the head of that federation, who can produce such a document. I would like to point out to the hon. Gentleman that our friends deal with the Bill now before the House and with the present situation, but they are only obliged to deal with it because of the conditions imposed upon them by the Government and the House of Commons. If they were free to put their complete proposals for dealing with this industry before the House, they would produce a very different document from this. This is only dealing with your temporary and, as we think, very small measures for dealing with the situation at the moment, because they say:To-day, 'the surplus of productive capacity over present demand' is greater than ever before. A return, therefore, to the old conditions of free competition would be disastrous to the industry and to the country.
§ HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It is very fine for us Socialists to receive cheers in a Tory House of Commons when we lay it down that the old days of free competition would be disastrous to the industry and the country, because that is the fundamental difference between us and the individualist who stands for free competition. This is the point I want to put to the hon. Gentleman. He asked a good deal about Geneva, and this is what the federation says:Finally, it is now being widely recognised that the international application of these principles provides the only means by which the industry of Europe can be saved from collapse.This is the point:But 'national organisation is a preliminary and necessary condition of international organisation.'This country has no one who can speak nationally for this industry. The Government cannot speak for it, and the Miners' Federation alone cannot speak for it. If we had a national co-ordinated system which united the whole of the industry under one control, it would enable somebody to speak on its behalf. I want to emphasise thatNational organisation is a preliminary and necessary condition of international organisation.I wish to impress this also on the hon. Gentleman: 1039In 1929 one of the chief obstacles to this idea was the absence … of national organisation … notably in Great Britain, the chief producing country in Europe.That is a League of Nations report dated 20th January, 1932. What I want the hon. Gentleman to understand is that it is no earthly use sitting down after he has got this Bill and leaving the industry to stew, as it were, in its own ineptitude. The industry has got where it is partly through economic forces over which it has no control, but very largely because those who control it do not possess the intelligence to meet those economic conditions in the only way in which they should be met.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The Noble Lord knows well that political interference started in 1912, because there was no way out but political interference. About that there is no doubt whatever. We maintain that this industry ought not to be treated merely as a coal-getting industry. Some of these mining organisations run subsidiary companies such as coal-consuming" companies or companies turning coal into something else, and make huge profits in the subsidiary concerns. They are really made out of the labour of the men. who work in the pits. The Labour party, acting with the Miners' Federation and the Trades Union Congress, put before the Samuel Commission the case of the Labour party for dealing with this problem, and I would recommend any hon. Member who wishes to understand the Labour party's proposition with regard to this industry to buy a copy of "Coal and Common Sense" at a cost of 2d. We are sometimes told that we come here and make speeches and declaim against other people, but never put anything practicable before the House. As a matter of fact, again and again this party has, not only in public conferences and before commissions, but in this House, put their case for reorganisation.
We want the industry to be organised as a, whole. We do not want the getting of oil or chemicals or petrol or coke or gas or anything of that kind to be separated from the business of the coal industry. That has been talked about and written about by a considerable number of great people, not only in this 1040 country but in America. The Transylvania Company years ago put forward a proposition that the whole of the products from coal should be brought in as part of the coal industry, that coal getting and coal utilisation should go together. The Government are talking in these days about the reorganisation of basic industries, and we would like to ask them what their plan is for the mining industry. They cannot bring in a tariff to help the mining industry, because in all probability a tariff may may injure it. It may be said that they have already done so—I am not arguing that point—but I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will not get up and say that a tariff will help the mining industry. It may be said that it will help by bringing more industry to the country and therefore there will be a bigger consumption of coal, but, if hon. Members will look at the figures of the money we received for coal sent out of the country only a few years ago, they will see where their balance of trade will go if coal exports are really stopped. We put our scheme before the Samuel Commission, and we said:Viewed as a nationally-owned and controlled industrial project, it is no bigger than the United States Government's construction and operation of the Panama Canal and its subsidiary works, or than the Canadian Government's ownership and control of the whole system of national railways, steamships, etc., both of which are very highly successful.That brings me to the other part of the scheme of national ownership and development generally. The Samuel and Sankey Commissions and all the Commissions have said that marketing, both for export and at home, was very badly managed indeed. I will leave someone more expert than myself to deal with the export trade. With regard to coal consumed at home, someone gave a figure of 42s. to 45s. per ton as the price in London, and I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell me why we should have to pay such an enormous price. I have tried to work it out. When I was young I was employed in the coal industry in London, and I never could understand the tremendous difference in those days between the price at the pit head and the price in the cellar. Evidence was given before at least one of the Commissions that the people through whose 1041 hands the coal had to pass were too numerous. Who are these people 2 They only write in a book; they do not handle the coal. Under any properly organised national system the whole of that waste would be swept away.
During the last Government we heard a great deal in the House, in the Cabinet, and elsewhere about big trusts, about reorganisation in transport, and so on, but nothing has been done. The Secretary for Mines can find in the archives of his Department, and the President of the Board of Trade can find in the Cabinet archives, miles of documents dealing with all these questions. I am amazed that the Secretary for Mines has not made himself acquainted with a good deal of this official literature. If he studied it, he would find proposals which would enable a good dual of the tremendous waste that is going on to be got rid of. We maintain that that part of our Amendment dealing with nationalisation, about which I have been speaking, holds the field. We say that intelligent capitalists outside the mining industry believe that unification is the only salvation for the industry, just as the railway companies are slowly but surely coming—of their own volition now —to one railway system for the whole country. Two of the big trunk lines have joined up, and it will not be very long before the other two come in. They are bound to do so. The mining industry, because of the stiff-neckedness of the employers, has refused to accept unification. It is time the nation took the job in hand.
With regard to mining rents and royalties, I heard the hon. Gentleman say that some poor people have not paid any mining rents and royalties at all. In 1930 between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 was paid, so somebody is paying them, somebody is earning them, and somebody afterwards is spending them, but not those who earned them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MAYHEW
What interest is that amount on the invested capital in the mining industry?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I say that £6,000,000 had to be coughed up by a million workers. The hon. and gallant Member can work out how much a piece that is. The miner's wife could spend that money much better than the wife of the royalty owner. That is my argument about that. If the owners of royalties are to be compensated for being got rid of, the nation 1042 and not the industry ought to compensate them. It ought not to be a burden on the industry at all. Nobody made the coal, nobody put it in the earth; God and nature put it there, but the nation has allowed these rights and privileges to grow up, and the nation now ought to take the burden of that £6,000,000 off the back of the mining industry. I think that the Liberal party were with us in that, but whether they would be now under a National Government I do not know. The further point we make—and I put it forward in all sincerity—is that if the Government will not accept our method of national reorganisation, then in God's name let them put forward their own scheme. Do not leave the industry as it is. Do not let us go on year after year in this way.
I was amazed to hear the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for County Down (Viscount Castlereagh). He spoke as if we wanted to continue this system of low production. I do not. I say, and we all say it together, that the fact that with reorganisation and rationalisation more can be produced with less labour is no reason why there should be starvation and want. With a properly organised industry, unified so as to take control of the whole of the by-products, we could, if we would, take out of the industry many of the old men who ought not to be in it to-day and give them decent pensions and not miserable pittances of pensions. There are in the industry some 200,000 or 300,000 surplus workers. What do the Government mean to do with them I What is their policy with regard to them? Last night we had a brief discussion on the flooding round the Don Valley. There are floods all over the country. Anyone who knows anything about it knows that the miner is one of the best men for dealing with a situation of that kind. Why should not we employ those miners to save life and limb and property up and down the country? What rubbish it is to let the youth of the Welsh valleys, the youth of Durham, the youth of Scotland and the youth of the Midland coalfields stand around eating out their hearts through doing nothing when they could be employed in that way! What sense is there in saying that we cannot afford it % We can afford the money right enough. If there were a great war on, the money would be found to the last penny.
1043 This House was elected with a great mandate to deal with industry, to "put the country on its feet," as it was said. Here is the opportunity. So far as we are concerned, this is the one respect in which we would stand in with the National Government. If the National Government said "We are willing to help in every possible way—with money, with organisation and with advice—to reorganise the mining industry and eliminate all waste, eliminate all profit, eliminate everything in the shape of gambling and money making" we would stand with them and say "Good luck," and I believe the miners and working men generally, if called upon to make great sacrifices, would do so in order to attain that end. I have relatives in Russia and I know that there, in spite of what is being said about Russia, the workmen are consciously making sacrifices for what is to them a great ideal. The British workers would do the same thing if this Government would give a lead in real reconstruction. If they would give a lead in really bringing into full use whatever potential wealth there is in the country they would have the backing of every single working man and woman in the country. It is because the Government have failed to do that in the case of the coal mining industry, and have brought in this paltry Measure, that we have moved our Amendment.
§ Mr. GODFREY NICHOLSON
The perennial youth of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition must fill with envy every other Member of the House, and I cannot help regretting that his ability cannot be displayed as a representative of a mining seat. In that case perhaps his remarks would have had more reference to the realities of the situation. As it is, I picture my hon. Friends who represent mining districts trembling at the leadership of the mining industry getting into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] TO come to a much more important speech, the speech of the Secretary for Mines, as a representative of a mining Division, I wish to thank him for that speech. In my mind I pictured him as a sort of combination of Moses, Machiavelli and Mussolini, who would lead the mining industry to the promised land, and I only hope that will be the case. I think I had better say, 1044 straight away, that I support this Bill, and support it with all my heart, for a variety of reasons. One of my reasons ought, I feel, to appeal to every other Member, and it is such that even the Opposition ought to give it its approval and support the Bill in the Lobby. I refer to the present international situation. As far as I can see, any other settlement of the mining problem is bound to be extremely controversial, and with the Lausanne Conference looming ahead I do not think we have any right to ask the Government to embark on long and controversial legislation. Therefore, we must accept this Bill as a stopgap, a temporary Measure, however unsatisfactory hon. Members may think it.
Yesterday was one of the most disappointing days of my Parliamentary life. I came to the House with high expectations that it would be a day pregnant with hope for the whole industry, but speech after speech, with very few exceptions, filled me with depression and gloom. Hon. Members on every side of the House seemed to refuse to face the facts of the situation. Conservative speakers attacked Part I of the Act, entirely oblivious of the fact that they were trying to shut the stable door after the horse had gone. Part I is the acknowledged policy of the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation and of every Government Department that deals with the mining industry, and, whether we like it or not, we must accept it as such and make the best of it. Then, it seemed to me, that the official Opposition, in their genuflections before the mildewed shrine of Nationalisation, had entirely forgotten that that has no relation to the realities of the situation. Rightly or wrongly Nationalisation is out of the question in this Parliament— I think they would be the first to admit it—and, as they come here ostensibly to do what they can for the mining industry, it should have been their duty to concentrate on getting what it is possible to secure, I mean reorganisation. If the speeches from the Opposition benches yesterday had consisted of pleas for reorganisation, they would have had my full support. I would almost have gone into the Division Lobby with them.
I feel that the wage settlement question has been approached from a wrong angle both by the Government and the miners' representatives. First, I think it is an 1045 amazing concession to have got the owners to guarantee wages for a year; secondly, it is the type of concession the men do not desire; thirdly, I think the demand for a guarantee of wages for a further period of years would only put off the evil day, even if the request were granted. The Labour party would be the first to admit that you cannot get a quart out of a pint pot, that you cannot get more out of an industry than you put into it. Their action in bringing forward the Measure of 1930 was a realisation of that fact—an attempt to implement their promise of a seven-hour day by putting enough into the industry to enable the seven-hour day to be worked without a reduction of wages. The whole question has been wrongly approached. I do not think the problem is one of wringing concessions out of the owners to get a reasonable standard of life for the workers, or a question of the owners wringing concessions from the workers in order to obtain a reasonable return on capital. It should be a question of both sides working as hard as they can for a reasonable standard of life for the industry as a whole. In other words, the efficient reorganisation of the industry is the only thing that can be worth the attention of any party interested in the industry.
All the same I do feel very great sympathy with the Labour party's attitude towards wages, because the prospect 12 months hence is not pleasing. It is an undoubted fact that unless something is done there will be every probability that an attempt will lie made to lower wages in the worst paid districts. But I think they have forgotten one point. The whole thing hinges, on what Amendments to the Act are going to be brought forward. When I said that I thought a guaranteed wage for a year was not what the men required, what I meant was that what they require is some guarantee that the richer districts will, in case of need, come to the assistance of the poorer districts. That is a far sounder basis for wage agreements than, a guarantee given in circumstances which nobody can foretell. After all, a guaranteed wage is worth nothing if short time is worked. What matters is how much money goes into the homes of the miners at the end of the week. I have this much consolation to offer to the Opposition. I have 1046 received to-day a pledge from a very high authority indeed in the Mining Association that during the next few months far-reaching proposals will be brought forward to amend the Act, including an Export Levy. I think that ought to be some consolation to hon. Members on the Opposition side, because that would mean that there would be no question of wages being reduced in 12 months' time.
Yesterday I was aware of a very hostile and unsympathetic attitude in this House towards everybody connected with the mining industry. To-day I make an appeal for a changed attitude. I beg hon. Members who have no connection with the industry to regard it in a sympathetic and a generous spirit. After all, it is the staple industry of the country, it is the industry of all industries which, if it collapses, may well bring about the collapse of the industrial North and Midlands, not to speak of Wales. This problem is not one that the House should be asked to deal with and to shelve. The House ought not to be annoyed because this mining problem comes up, because it is at the heart of every single industrial problem, and the state of affairs is far too serious for hon. and right hon. Members to make debating speeches and introduce debating points. If ever it was necessary to face facts without the introduction of party spirit, it is in the case of this industry. The economic position of the industry is as bad as it can be. I would like to take the opportunity of correcting a statement made yesterday by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). When he spoke yesterday, of millions of pounds being paid out in profits, he entirely forgot that all overhead charges such as interest on bank overdrafts, interest on debentures, the expense of keeping idle pits free of water, and so on—
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
Surely interest upon bank overdrafts is merely a case of the banker coming into his share of the profits of the owners.
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
I do not think that is quite fair, because the banker has no responsibility for the continuation of the industry. It is money which goes to sources outside the industry. Those charges came to 9d. per ton in South Wales last year—a very heavy charge on the industry. At any rate, the hon. 1047 Member will admit that the changes for keeping idle pits dry and in order falls on the industry, and they came to 3d a ton in South Wales.
Now I come to the Bill itself, and must apologise for having engaged in so wide a digression. In a sense this is a trivial Bill. It is the omissions and the implications that ought to be discussed by the House, and it is in regard to its omissions and implications that I wish to elicit a definite statement of policy from the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate. The whole question to my mind rests on this point. Is this the Government's last word to the mining industry? Are they under the impression that they have dealt with the mining industry for good and all? Is it final, or is it only the prelude to a definite reorganisation of the industry if the industry does not reorganise itself? This we stand or fall by. Axe the Government prepared to say that if the industry does not reorganise itself then the Government will take the question in hand? Is that the position? If the contrary is the case, and this Bill is their last word on the subject, then I am profoundly disappointed, and I shall continue to urge the Government to take their courage in both hands.
There are two schools of thought which profess to deal with the difficulties of the mining industry. One school believes that natural laws should have free play—that each man should be for himself and the devil take the hindmost. They do not want any Government interference. These very sound principles have seen us through before now. The other school consists of those people who refuse to believe that human ingenuity is powerless to lessen the shock caused by the impact of economic catastrophe. I unequivocally belong to this school. We believe in conscious co-operative planning both of production and sales. I do not believe in nationalisation, but I cannot think that we are now doing anything to postpone the evil day. Certain Amendments are vital, and urgently vital, in regard to this Bill. We see in Part I a step in the right direction and in Part II. Of course it is not perfect; in fact, it is very imperfect, and a coach and six could be driven through it. I could quote scores of cases of evasions 1048 and manipulations, but I state definitely, and defy contradiction, that the majority of the industry vastly prefer continuation to the chaos of repeal. I do not think that 10 per cent. of them would face up to the reality of repeal. But I am perfectly certain that certain Amendments are vitally necessary. We want Amendments to secure concentration of production in the most efficient units not necessarily in big units. I do not believe that big units are necessarily more efficient than smaller ones. We have to realise that to face up this question means shutting down pits and throwing more men out of work. I would rather see 700,000 men employed full-time on decent wages than 835,000 men employed who do not know at the beginning of the week how many days they will work.
In the second place, royalties should be dealt with, because we believe that they are a barrier to effective re-organisation. Thirdly, there should be elimination of uneconomic pits which implies some form of levy. Fourthly, there should be a revision of inland price schedules. Fifthly, there should be inter-district collaboration in order to avoid unnecessary competition. Scotland is a great offender in this respect. Sixthly, there should be reorganisation of the export markets with scientific selling on lines of the Westphalian Syndicate. There must be elimination of parasitic exporters and of fixed prices for export. Foreigners must not know our prices. The man who is only interested in getting commission on tonnage sold is a parasite on the industry, because he has no responsibility for the efficient running of the business. There should be bilateral agreements with foreign countries on the part of the Government. What is more important is that we demand that the industry should be given power to conclude, as an industry, agreements with foreign coal industries and should have power to enforce the terms of those agreements on the coalowners of this country. It is the corollary of any reorganisation that some power should be given to the industry to negotiate as a unit. I have outlined very briefly what I believe to be the lines on which the Government should be prepared to proceed in the event of failure on the part of the Milling Association to produce proposals. I think that is an unlikely event, but, in 1049 the event of the failure of the Mining Association within the next few months, we must secure the ratification of the necessary Amendments to the Act.
Finally, I want to ask the Government two quite definite questions— genuine questions—to which I would like an answer. My first question is, Does His Majesty's Government seriously think that the owners can produce a plan to deal with this question, and produce it in time? Secondly, is it quite fair to ask the Mining Association to reorganise the industry? Is that not rather an invidious duty to lay on them? The Government must consider the size of the industry, and the fact that every owner has to work 12 hours a day to manage his own pit. I think the Government are asking too much of the Mining Association when they say to them, "We have given you all the necessary machinery under the Act; get along with it yourselves, and do not bother us again." Think of the unpopularity which must undoubtedly follow action of that kind. The Government must make up their mind that they have not heard the last of the coal question. I am reminded of the story of a Frenchman who was asked, "How many vegetables are you offered in England?" and the reply was, "Four, and three of them are cabbage." The mining industry depends for its salvation on four principles, three of which are reorganisation, and the fourth is co-operation.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I find myself to a large extent in agreement with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson), and I do not wish to say much about anything except the continuation of Part I of the Coal Mines Act. I am sorry that it has been found impossible to get a guarantee of wages to last as long as the continuation of the seven and a-half hour day, but I recognise the impossibility of getting any more, especially in view of the position of world trade. With regard to Part I of the Coal Mines Act which is being continued for a further period of five years, I must say that when the Bill was originally introduced I found myself on one occasion in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who described the Measure as an incredibly bad Bill. On that occasion the 1050 objections to that Bill were very cogently put forward by the present Home Secretary. I do not propose on this occasion to repeat what the right hon. Gentleman said, but the gist of his argument was that under the quota system, although it was considered necessary to limit the production of coal, nothing was done to reduce the number of pits producing coal. The production was spread over all producers, with the result that the efficient pits had to bear the burden of supporting the inefficient pits. So strongly did I continue to feel that at the election the only point on which I ventured to go beyond the models laid down by the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council was in regard to the quota system.
During the last few months I have tried to familiarise myself with the position of things around Doncaster and I have come to the conclusion that there is not another area where the quota system has had a more harmful effect than in that area. In that district the quota system operates unfairly, particularly on the large modern pits in which a large amount of capital has been sunk, and that capital was invested upon the assumption that the pits would be able to work five and a-half days per week and produce 1,000,000 or 1,500,000 tons per annum. The quota system affects those pits far more seriously than the smaller pits. I speak with some hesitation on these technical points, surrounded as I am by a cloud of expert witnesses, but I understand that where the roof conditions are good and where there is no danger of gob-fires, a pit can be stood for days and work can be resumed without any great increase in costs. As far as the pits around Don-caster are concerned, the effect of the restrictions upon output has put on the cost of production anything between Is. or 1s. 6d. per ton. The quota system also operates prejudicially against those colliery companies owning a single pit. When a company owns three or four pits, it is possible to transfer the quota to the better pits and work them full time, whereas in the area of a single pit, in order to work full time, it has to buy quota. The reports issued by the Ministry of Mines state that the ordinary price paid for quota is only a few pence per ton, but I know that in many areas in Yorkshire 1s. 6d. and as much as 2s. 6d. is by no means an unusual amount.
1051 We should do well, I think, to follow the advice of the Secretary for Mines, and not be guided too much by what was said two years ago; but we should be guided more by the experience of the last two years. I think that the quota system has disappointed its opponents as well as the hopes of its supporters. It has not had the beneficial effects which were anticipated, nor the harm that was feared.
I still believe that the quota system is wrong in principle, and these objections of principle naturally become of greater account when one is proposing to continue the system for five years instead of merely introducing it for two years. But the immediate effect of the quota has been, I think, that it has temporarily shored up the industry in a time of unprecedented depression, though it has done so to some extent at the cost of other industries. It appears to me, if I may make the suggestion to hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches, that this Bill is very similar in idea to the Wheat Bill. In both cases you have an attempt to put a single industry, or a branch of an industry, in a privileged position by enabling it to pass on part of the additional costs of wages and so forth to the consumers of the product of that industry. In spite of the fact that I am on these benches, I am still enough of a Free Trader at heart to dislike intensely all these artificial discriminations in favour of single industries. At the same time, however, I hope I am realist enough to feel that, where you have in this quota system a temporary scaffolding which has protected the coal mining industry from sharing in the general depression of other staple industries, one would indeed be taking a very great responsibility if one suddenly proposed doing away with that temporary scaffolding. It is a remarkable fact that the coal mining industry, for so many years depressed, has not been increasingly depressed during the last two years. In the ''Economist" of the 30th April, this remarkable statement is made:In practically every industry there was a fall (of profits) between 1929 and 1930, and a heavier fall between 1930 and 1931. This makes all the more remarkable the figures for coal mining, which shows profits practically as great in 1930 as in 1929, with a comparatively small fall between 1930 and 1981. leaving the figure for the later year 1052 considerably higher than for 1928. The Coal Mines Act, and the partial measures of cartellisation under private auspices which preceded it, appear to have achieved their purpose.Therefore, I make no apology for rather running away to some extent from my election address, because I am now convinced that simply to abolish Part I of the Coal Mines Act might result in a very disastrous condition of affairs. But that does not mean that I can contemplate with equanimity the continuation of Part I of the Act without any other attempt at reorganisation for a further five years.
I want to put forward a suggestion which bears a considerable resemblance to that put forward by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater), to whose speech I listened with so much admiration and interest yesterday. If, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth, one has to take one's place in one of two schools—that which believes in what is sometimes called cutthroat competition, or that which believes in some system of persuasive restriction of output,—I would say that I have been convinced that elimination by competition, which I look upon as being the ideal system, would be so slow and so costly that probably it is necessary to do what one intensely dislikes doing, namely, to pay good money in order to persuade some producers to restrict their output or to cease producing altogether. I intensely dislike the idea of paying, as it were, blackmail to some producers not to produce their coal. But if it is necessary because, unfortunately, owing to the support of the banks and for other reasons, the Devil seems now to be less successful than he used to be in catching the hindermost, I would suggest that, instead of buying quota and paying a perpetually recurring blackmail, an attempt should be made to buy out the inefficient pits. That is an example which has been set by the shipbuilding industry, by the liquor industry, and, I believe, also by the milling industry.
I would suggest that a levy of about 1d. a ton on all the coal produced in this country would produce a revenue of very nearly £1,000,000 a year. If a company were floated, which might go under the exhilarating name of, "Moribund Mines, Limited," in imitation of "Shipbuilding Securities Limited," and if that com- 1053 pany were put in possession of this revenue of something in the neighbourhood of £1,000,000 a year, this annual revenue could be capitalised at something like £20,000,000; and if Parliament would give, as I think would be necessary, a power of compulsory purchase at a fair valuation, it would then be possible to restrict the output of coal by diminishing the number of pits, concentrating upon the better pits, and enabling them to produce at full capacity and so reduce their costs. It would obviously be necessary at the same time that the royalty owners should be called upon to make exactly the same sacrifice as the shareholders. It would obviously be uneconomic if, while these pits were being closed down, the iniquitous system of minimum royalties were allowed to continue, and it would be only right that, when shareholders were bought out at what by independent arbitration was held to be a fair price for the concern, the royalty owners should be bought out in the same way. It would, of course, be necessary also to provide that no new pit might be sunk without a licence from the Secretary for Mines, and, as long as the conditions of the coal mining industry remain as they are at the present time, I have no doubt that the Secretary for Mines would refuse his licence to any candidate for a lunatic asylum who came and proposed to sink yet another pit. I venture to put forward that suggestion for the limitation of output which would result in a concentration and reorganisation of the industry.
If, however, we are to regard ourselves as tied to the particular expedient adopted in Part I of the Coal Mines Act, I would at least like to join with those who have impressed upon the Government the need for an amendment of the working of the quota system. The objection which many of us feel to this system is that the nuisance value of an uneconomic pit is apparently allowed to run on and on, and that this new statutory property is given to shareholders in bad pits, while the good pits, which are able to sell all the coal they produce, if they wish to work full time, five and a-half days a week, have to go and buy quota, thereby increasing their costs of production. The costs of production in the good pits are artificially raised, and the price of this quota is economically exactly similar to the payment which has 1054 to be made for royalties. To do justice even to the late Socialist Government, it was never their intention that this nuisance value should continue indefinitely. In Section 3 (2, c) of the Coal Mines Act, I find these words, referring to the question of standard tonnage:The method of determination.…. shall be such a method as will ensure that, for the purpose of the determination, regard shall be had to the special circumstances of every coal mine (including the efficiency and economy of the working of the coal mine.….I assume that to mean that, supposing that there was a pit which at the time of the coming into operation of the Act had, during the datum period, been producing a certain quantity of coal, but had been producing it at such a loss that, after the quota system was introduced, that pit found it to its economic advantage to sell the whole of its standard tonnage allocation to some better and more profitable pit, and proceeded to do so, that pit ought not to continue to receive the same standard tonnage allocation on future occasions. In that way the nuisance value would be gradually eliminated, and, if the quota system were worked in that way, so that, although slowly, yet ultimately, the throats of the worst mines were effectively cut, my objections to the quota system would be very much less. But certainly, so far as my information with regard to the Midland Amalgamated District goes, that is not the way in which the system is in fact being worked. I find that standard tonnage allocations have been continued on the old basis. There is one pit of which I hear which sold the whole of its quota and was allocated the same standard tonnage as before. There was a worse case, that of another pit which at the present time, if my information is correct, is partly dismantled and nearly full of water. That went to arbitration, and the same standard tonnage has been awarded as before. Surely, we reach the final reductio ad absurdum where a pit in bankruptcy was in the hands of a receiver, and the receiver was able to prove as almost the sole valuable asset the right to sell the quota of that pit. This state of affairs was tolerable during the time when the quota system was under experiment for two years, but I suggest to the Secretary for Mines that it would be intolerable to think that for a further five years the 1055 coal mining industry should be stereotyped, and that no attempt at concentration, rationalisation and reorganisation should take place at all.
I shall vote for this Bill without hesitation, because it appears to me to show us the only path that we can follow by which, during the coming weeks and months, we can avoid the danger of conflict and trouble in the coal mining industry. So far the Government have given us no indication of where the road is going to lead after that. I have compared the quota system to a temporary scaffolding which has proved effective, during the economic blizzard, to protect the crazy and antiquated edifice of the coal mining industry against the elements. It has, I believe, been effective for that purpose, but I can feel no particular enthusiasm for a Bill which holds out no other prospect than that of continuing this temporary scaffolding for a further five years, and gives us no promise that the edifice itself will be reconstructed on modern and up-to-date lines.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
My colleagues and I have listened to the two last speeches with some cynical amusement. The hon. Members delivered them with the air of persons who have just discovered some new and epoch-making truth, and they stated with exemplary lucidity opinions which some of us have been trying to express ever since 1919. Indeed, almost all the more substantial arguments that they have used were put forward with great cogency at the Royal Commission presided over by the Lord Chancellor in 1919, and we have been urging it upon the people of the country ever since. Now, in 1932, we hear it from these new converts who come forward and tell the House that it is unreasonable that the coalowners should be asked to pay the price of carrying redundant collieries. Why is it that exception is now being taken by coalowners and their representatives to carrying redundant collieries, because for 12 years the miners have carried the redundant collieries and no one complained of it? It was apparent to every student of the European coal industry in 1921 that the coal industry of this country in particular had a surplus productive capacity of anything from 50,000,000 to 60,000,000 tons and that steps would have to be taken to 1056 contract the industry to the proportions of the home market if economic disaster was to be averted.
The party to which the hon. Member belongs and to which most of the Government belong, and indeed the representatives of the Liberal party too, contended at that time that the contraction of the coal industry should come about as the consequence of economic war, that the return upon capital should be reduced to the point where capital would desert the industry and no new capital would come in, and that the reward of labour should fall to the point where the conditions of labour would be so unpleasant that the redundant miners would leave the coalfield and go to other industries. In the meantime, of course, there were coalowners inside the industry who favoured economic war and competition, because they saw in competition an opportunity for acquiring larger holdings in the industry against their less substantial rivals, and outside the industry the consumers supported competition because it offered the promise of an era of cheap coal. So that for practically 12 years the mining industry sought to eliminate redundant collieries by internecine competition.
There are many who ignore the fact that for the whole of this period cheap coal subsidised all the other trades of the country. The decline in coal prices was precipitated and gas and electricity undertakings and public and semi-public corporations of various kinds have been able to purchase coal at prices which, gave them handsome profits but which ruined the coal trade. Therefore for practically 12 years the coal trade was the Cinderella of all the other industries, and it is somewhat beside the point to come to the House in 1932 and complain that the industry is attempting to get back a little of what it gave away. As a consequence of this competition, the coalowners made desperate attempts, individually and collectively, to extricate themselves from their financial embarrassment by demanding reductions of wages. Thus for 12 years the coalowners unloaded the more disastrous consequences of competition upon the miners. The miners fought against it year by year and fought unfortunately, unsuccessfully. Had they been successful in resisting the downward pressure of wages, they themselves would 1057 have demanded a quota from the industry which would have compelled reorganisation from the top. In 1921 and in successive years they kept alive the uneconomic collieries and the redundant coal-producing capacity by accepting reductions in wages.
That point seems to have been ignored. If the House had subsidised the Miners' Federation in 1921 and 1926 instead of the coalowners, if they had made handsome contributions from the Exchequer to the funds of the Miners' Federation to keep the miners out on strike for a longer period, they would have saved the industry, because, by putting an artificial bottom to miners' wages, they would have forced out the redundant collieries earlier. Hon. Members do not seem to realise that one of the principal reasons why Home made no technical contribution to future civilisation was that it had cheap slaves. The mineowners had cheap miners. For a long time they unloaded the consequences of their economic folly upon the miners and brought about disastrous reductions of wages, double shifts, and the destruction of amenities in the coalfields, and brought the condition of the miners to the very lowest point of the whole of the industrial workers of the country. This internecine competition failed of its principal purpose, partly because the miners could not successfully resist the pressure of the owners, and partly because of the nature of the mining industry itself.
The hon. Member who spoke last Said the good pits were being sacrificed to the bad pits. The difficulty about mining is that no one is quite certain what is a bad pit. The hon. Member does not seem to have realised that. He speaks of good and bad as though they were easily descernible categories. I know collieries with up-to-date equipment at the coal face, in the airways, and on the surface, yet the cost of production is far above the average because it happens to be unlucky enough to strike a few bad seams. I know of collieries with obsolescent equipment, with good seams, and with costs of production well below the average. I should describe them actually from any scientific point of view as bad pits, because the coalowners did not take advantage of the good seams to equip the collieries with the most up-to-date equipment.
1058 One of the reasons why this competition did not succeed in eliminating the redundant collieries was that each bad pit hoped that it would strike a good seam and become a good pit, and the banks, already deeply involved with many mining companies, came to their rescue and kept them artifically alive with their credit. The result is that in 1932, after these 12 years of economic war, there still remain about 60,000,000 tons of surplus productive capacity, there still remain very heavy bank burdens upon the industry, and there is still a greater range between obsolescent and highly efficient collieries than in any other country in Europe. We have in this country colliery concerns equipped as scientifically as any collieries in the world, and we have collieries which are the last word in obsolescence, and we have between the two all the gradations that it is possible to find.
On the Continent the average technical equipment is very much higher than our average. We very rarely find in this country the peak point that you see, as a consequence, of course, of combination, amalgamation and the re-equipment of the collieries which succeeded the fearful years, 1922 and 1923, in Germany in particular and in Poland as a. consequence of our wonderful financial system and our very intelligent banking policy, which lends large sums of money to keep obsolescent collieries alive in this country and lends large sums to Poland to enable her to save pits to compete successfully with ours in. the export market. In 1927 I was in Polish Silesia, and I saw an up-to-date colliery being sunk largely by means of English bank money. That colliery to-day is dumping coal from Danzig into the Baltic and ruining our Scandinavian trade. As a consequence of this economic war, the redundant collieries were not eliminated. Those who hope to secure from coal competition cheap coal have only to cast their minds back over the coal stoppage of 1921 and the seven months' coal stoppage and the general strike of 1928 and ask themselves whether indeed Great Britain did succeed in getting cheap coal as a consequence of economic war. I would ask those who complain of political interference to make a little calculation of the consequences of unrestricted competition, not merely the consequences upon miners, not merely in the devasta- 1059 tion of vast areas of Great Britain, but the social and political consequences, and I would ask them whether regulation has not a stronger case than competition. It is astonishing to listen to coal Debates, because people so easily forget the history of the problem.
Now we have this Bill. It proposes to continue Part I of the Act of the Labour Government. We must all be astonished in casting our minds back over the stormy scenes that occurred when that Act was being passed. To-day we have had speeches from Members of the Conservative party asking us to go infinitely further than Labour dared to do a year ago. We were warned from the Conservative and Liberal benches that it would mean disaster to the coal trade. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) making a most vivid speech upon that topic. What was the philosophy and the line of the Labour Government's legislation? Competition in the sale of coal had failed of its primary purpose. Its primary purpose obviously was to bring the production of coal into equilibria with the known demand. It was to bring about a balance between the seller of coal and the buyer. That balance could not be brought about. The Labour Government said, "We must try to prevent this depression of coal prices. It is not securing the purpose which we had in view, and so we will make it statutorily impossible for the coalowners to sell coal below the statutory minimum level." Once having fixed a price below which coal could not be sold, the Government had decided the means of distributing the available market of the coal producers. The quota is an inevitable accompaniment of price fixation. To argue against the quota is to argue against the minimum price. Coalowners formed voluntary schemes for price fixation, and they all looked upon just the one point, that no means was available for distributing the market fixed by the minima among the different producers of coal. At the present time the legislation we have carried is likely to cause difficulty because, having fixed minima inside districts and for the country, and quotas for districts, you will have to fix national quotas, because inter-district competition will bring about the same anarchy in price fixation as the district quota.
1060 It is true, as has been said, that the Government have now entered upon an era of regulations. It is a very bad thing to try to make the best of both worlds. You cannot make the best of competition and the best of regulations. It cannot be done. You cannot preserve the technique of both systems. The suggestion we make from these benches is that the production of coal has now passed out of the sphere of speculative organisations; that private competition in the production of coal, as, indeed, in the production of most of the stable articles of modern society, has. broken down. Debate after Debate in this House simply witnesses the progressive admission of that fact. The position that this party takes up is that marginal demands should be confined to marginal production. Whether a person likes to purchase a Rolls Royce car or an Austin Seven, or buy gramophone records is obviously a matter which he should be allowed individual liberty to decide, but as to whether mankind is going to produce coal or steel in certain proportions, or deal with transport and that sort of thing, is not a matter for speculative competition but for social and national regulations. This is the position which this party is taking up, and one to which we are convinced the growing economic anarchy will force more and more hon. Members in all parts of the House.
The Act of the Labour Government did not go far enough. It could not go far enough, but it has had the marked result that it has forced coalowners to come to the House of Commons and say in effect, "We can no longer unload the consequences of our economic folly on to the coal miners of the country, and we must ask the House of Commons to get rid of the quota seller who is bleeding us to death." In other words, the strategy of the late Labour Government has brought the main problem of the coal industry into bold relief. It is because the legislation of the Labour Government has assumed a set of circumstances which the most obtuse person can analyse that hon. Members are able to get up in the House of Commons and make such wise and learned speeches. Having given some little consideration to the subject, I disagree entirely that redundant capacity can be eliminated by amalgamation. I 1061 ventured to disagree with the same point of view when it was brought forward by my own Government. There are amalgamations of coalowners1 or collieries in this country larger than those which exist on the Continent. You have coal-owning unite able to produce 15,000,000 or 16,000,000 tons of coal per annum. The average coal-owning unit in the Ruhr is much less and produces a far smaller output per annum than is produced by many of the units in this country. Inside our large amalgamations producing a huge annual tonnage there are still to be discovered redundant collieries being kept alive. An hon. Member gave the impression that the quota was being traded from one colliery owning group to another, but inside the coal industry today the quota is being carried about from colliery to colliery.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I said that, and I also said, and it is no less true, that it is being sold by one colliery company independently of another.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I am trying to confine my arguments now to a certain description of my case. My case is that bringing about large amalgamations will not in fact eliminate the redundant colliery, because the redundant colliery exists within the resultant amalgamation. There is an example near to my home where the quota of a company is being carried from one end of the valley to the other. For three months a colliery is put into production and then closed down, and the quota is carried to another colliery which is then put into production. If that sort of thing happens within the same amalgamation, then to create a number of amalgamations of that sort is not going to eliminate redundant capacity. The coalowner—and there is no capitalist in the world more stupid than the British coalowner—is still hoping that somehow, from somewhere, some day the 300,000,000 tons' coal market will come back, and he is keeping his collieries alive in the hope that when that happens he will be able to get into full blast and earn the maximum profit; or he is keeping them alive in the hope that ultimately, when the problem is tackled, he can point to that aspect as a means of getting a higher price for his concern. He is refusing to contract.
Therefore, we say that the surplus redundant capacity of the mining industry 1062 must be eliminated by compulsory competition. We do not believe that any inducement which can be brought about by legislation will over a reasonable period of years persuade the owners to eliminate the redundant collieries, nor do we think —and I put this forward, not as a party man but with great seriousness—that legislation can assemble a state of circumstances in which the coalowners would find it possible to do it. The coalowners of Great Britain are not by nature and by training co-operators. They are by nature gentle beasts. I use the word "beasts" in a comparative sense. They are red in tooth and claw. They have grown up on competition. They have been fed by competition, and have been kept in a miserable state of suspended animation by competition. They cannot understand any other system, and I cannot believe that any legislation will ever bring about the abolition of this surplus productive capacity.
I wish to say a word or two about another matter which is the subject of great controversy—the export levy. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) in a previous Debate said he thought that some attention should be given to the export levy. The President of the Board of Trade announced with regret that our export trade had fallen from 98,000,000 tons, which, I think, includes the bunker as well as the net export, before the War to 61,500,000 tons to-day. He deplored the position. We all deplore it. But who is responsible for it? This party and the Miners' Federation of Great Britain issued a warning. In 1927 some hon. Members and myself presented a report. Included in our delegation was Mr. Frank Varley, the late Member for Mansfield, whose death everybody must deplore because he had a very deep and sound knowledge of the coal trade. We warned the coal trade and the Government of that day that unless serious steps were taken our foreign markets would be almost completely destroyed. We interviewed many German exporters who told us that they were anxious to come to an agreement with the British coalowners but there was nobody with whom to talk. At the time that the Germans were anxious to negotiate with us, we were dumping coal into Berlin at 4s. 11d. per ton less than the Germans themselves could sell it. When hon. Members are 1063 6.30 p.m.
considering the history of the coal industry of this country they must not forget their share in it. Hon. Members to-day deplore the Treaties. The Polish Treaty, or the separation of German Silesia from Polish Silesia, has worked deadly havoc with our coal trade. It cut off Poland from its natural markets in Eastern Germany for seven or eight years. It forced the Poles, who had used American, French and English money and had to get foreign exchange into their possession, to export, and the only thing that they could export in great quantities was coal. It gave them the great international free port of Danzig and they dumped their coal through the Baltic. Although the German eastern market has been opened to Poland, nevertheless Poland, having got its grip upon the Baltic trade, will not let that trade go. To-day, at a time when the Polish international consumption of coal is falling, our production of coal is falling and our exports are falling in a catastrophic manner, Polish exports are continuing firm. It is the one export trade in Europe which is growing all the time. Hon. Members of the Conservative party must not run away from their responsibility for that situation. They were the architects of that difficulty, and we are meeting its consequences to-day. We ask the Secretary for Mines why the Government cannot act in this manner with resolution? Why do they not realise that it is impossible for the coal export trade of this country to be carried upon the shoulders of two or three districts? South Wales, Durham, Fifeshire and portions of Northumberland carry most of the export trade. It cannot be done, unless the miners in those districts are to have lower standards of life. We pleaded with the last House of Commons to tackle this question. We said that it was unfair that you should give a secure market to the coalowner to produce coal for Great Britain and refuse to give any support at all to those coalfields which have to carry the burden of the export trade. As a result of that policy and of the refusal of the Government to base the export trade largely upon the whole of the coal trade of Great Britain, the exports have fallen to the figure that we heard to-day from the Secretary for Mines.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Does the hon. Member suggest, in view of the subsidies in Germany, France and Belgium, that that would solve the trouble?
§ Mr. BEVAN
I suggest that this country will have to come to an agreement with the coal-producing countries of Europe as to a share of the markets. Does the Secretary for Mines suggest that 61,500,000 tons is our share? Does he suggest that we should abandon over 36,000,000 tons of our export markets? Does he consider that the figure to which our export market has been reduced by the subsidies of French, German and Polish exports should be our permanent share of the coal market? I know that he does not suggest any such thing. I would ask him how he is going to increase our share from 61,500,000 tons to a higher percentage, unless our export trade is armed with the same competitive instrument as the nations against which we are competing? That is a reasonable proposition. It has the advantage that it is not an awkward, unscientific instrument like tariffs. It is a flexible instrument, which can be advanced and withdrawn at any moment. It is capable of being used as a negotiating weapon, whereas tariffs are an embarrassment to the negotiators. It is no use the Secretary for Mines decrying State policies in regard to the export trade. One State policy must be met by another State policy.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I think the hon. Member suggested that the difference between 90,000,000 tons and 60,000,000 tons was the margin which we might to some extent recover. He must remember what the other factors are, as to subsidies, and the displacement of coal by other sources of power.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I am not suggesting that it is possible to secure 98,000,000 tons again. Anyone who did so would be painting a false picture, but it is possible to secure a substantial portion of it, and the only way of getting it back is to face the coal producing countries of Europe with the same competitive arsenal with which those States have furnished their coal industry. That is our suggestion, and it is not unreasonable. If hon. Members say that we are asking that the people in this country should pay more for coal in order that we may sell coal cheaper to the foreign consumer, we say 1065 that that is happening now but happening in an unscientific way. We say that if bread, if raw material, if imported materials are made cheaper for the whole of the people of Great Britain because coal is exported, it is reasonable that the people should pay a little more for their coal in order to carry the export trade. I suggest in equity that the burden of sustaining the export trade should be lifted from the exporting districts and be broadly based upon the coal trade as a whole.
Now I come to the politics of this matter. The Minister for Mines must have given a good deal of embarrassment to his own Front Bench to-day. I was looking at the face of the Lord President of the Council when the Secretary for Mines, in a good covenanting fashion, and with a ring of sincerity in his voice, was speaking. I entirely accept it, because I think the probity of the hon. Member is beyond cavil. He thinks that every promise he made, the Government should discharge, but the difficulty is that the hon. Member is not the Government. I am not wishing to decry his position, but it is difficulty to discover what and who is the Government. The National Government is hydra-headed. It says, the same thing but it says it In different accents. Who speaks for the Government, the President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary for Mines, the Leader of the Conservative party or the Prime Minister? Who speaks for the Government in this matter?
Are we to understand that the Secretary for Mines was pledging the Government when he said that if any district association of coalowners broke its promise and attempted to secure a reduction of wages, the machinery of the Government would be moved against that coalowners' district? There was no approbation of that statement from his own benches. There were cheers from our side, but there were no cheers from his own side. I did not observe any general assent from his own followers. We take it, in the absence of any disclaimer from any other Member of the Government, that the Secretary for Mines was speaking the mind of the Government when he said that. I understand that the Attorney-General is going to reply. I would ask him to deal specifically with the point where the Secretary for Mines 1066 said that the machinery of Government would be moved. I am glad that the Lord President of the Council has arrived, because we are now dealing with a very delicate and difficult matter. I am asking whether the Secretary for Mines was speaking the mind of the Government when he gave the assurance that if any district association of coalowners attempts to secure a reduction of wages in violation of the pledge, the machinery of the Government will be moved against that coalowners' association, or against that individual coalowner? I was saying that in the absence of a disclaimer, we on this side of the House understand that the Secretary for Mines pledges the Government.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
There need be no doubt about that. I made it clear. Before I spoke I was in consultation with the President of the Board of Trade. It is the intention that the guarantee shall be as effective as the Statute, and that if the guarantee is not observed, it is the business of the Government to see that the guarantee is enforced. That is the assumption upon which the Bill is founded.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I do not attempt to under-estimate the authority with which the hon. Member spoke, but I think the House will agree that his statement is a little less equivocal than before. Previously, he said that he was speaking on his own responsibility. He went on to make another statement. I am not saying this in order to embarrass him, but the miners' conference will read this Debate with very great interest. He said that in a year's time the coalowners would not be entitled to reduce wages. He said that it would be the duty of the Coalowners' Association in the course of the ensuing year to make such use of the legal powers that the Government have conferred upon them as to demand a price for their coal that will make it unnecessary for them to ask the miners to accept a reduction of wages. I think he said that.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I would refer the hon. Member to what I said, because my language was careful upon that. I did refer to what was the meaning of Part I, and its primary purpose, and I said that the onus would then rest upon the owners 1067 if there was to be a reduction from that wage. I also said that I thought that the onus would be one which they would find it very difficult not to discharge.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I would ask the Minister to read the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning, and I think he will find that his statement was a little more definitive than that. If he considers that the coal industry should be lifted out of competition, and if the power to extract from the coal consumer of this country reasonable prices for coal is to be conferred upon the coalowners, why should not the miners ask that similar statutory protection should be given to them? Why should the coalowners be the petted darlings of the State and the miners be left to the ravening wolves that the coalowners have proved to be in the past? Why should the Government confer a seven and a-half hour day in perpetuity upon the coalowners, and give no guarantee against wage reductions after one year for the miners? If the Minister says that it would be unreasonable for the coalowners to fail to ask a price for coal which would enable them to pay reasonable wages, why then does he not implement that principle in his legislation? Why should he not make it legally impossible for the coalowners to do otherwise than secure what he considers would be a reasonable result?
Is it not a piece of open class legislation to come to this House and confer upon the coalowners statutory privileges, and for the hon. Member to say that the time is not far distant when the coalowners must have a monopoly of coal in this country, and when their rivals must be exterminated? Everyone agrees that that is right, but if that is to be conferred upon the coalowners, surely the miners must be given protection against their wages falling lower than they are now. The request that is being made from this side is not that the miners' wages should rise pari passu with the rise in the price of coal. It is not that as the coalowners succeed in extracting higher prices from the coal consumer more wages should be given to the miner. We are prepared to agree that that issue should be decided by the ordinary industrial negotiations. Economic reality for the coal industry would mean a price for 1068 coal which would be murderous, and no one would remain in the coal trade except those who were producing exactly the coal required. No one suggests that the coal should be at that price but we do suggest that if an artificial bottom is going to be put in the coal market by legal minima for the benefit of the coalowners, it is reasonable that an artificial bottom for miners' wages should be put in.
What is there revolutionary in that? It is a comparatively innocuous proposal compared to the proposal of an export levy; and it is a proposal which the present Prime Minister thought was good. The attitude taken by the Miners' Federation will depend on whether this can be done. It must not be thought—and I say this in all seriousness and earnestness— that the discussions in this House are an evidence that the miners are prepared for wage matters to be finally determined on the Floor of this House, but it is true to say that the miners are resting on their swords in the hope that we can secure justice for them from this House. But if justice cannot be secured, they will have to secure it in the only way left open to them, in the coalfields and on the streets by fighting. We are asking the Secretary for Mines to keep it out of that atmosphere. If the Miners' Federation were meeting this afternoon to decide whether to call the miners out on strike next week this House would be packed. It has been three-parts empty for the whole of this Debate.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The hon. Member's interjections in this House are more rude than they are informative. I am attempting, if he will assist me, to deal with a difficult and delicate matter which might inflame the passions of a million people outside, and the person who would be bleating at the end of it would not be myself, but the hon. Member. I am asking that before the Debate is terminated the Government will reconsider the position, and when they are preparing their plans for the scientific reorganisation of the coal trade will at the same time give statutory protection to the wages of the miners. I cannot understand why they do not give it. If the coalowners are going to seek another reduction of wages, 1069 I can promise this House and the Government the biggest fight this nation has ever seen. A further reduction will not be allowed.
I plead with the Government to reconsider this matter. It ought not to be so difficult to impose their will upon the coalowners. Are they such dreadful persons, so powerful in the councils of the Conservative party, that a National Government cannot impose its will upon them? You treat them with greater courtesy than you treat the House of Commons. The coalowners must be very influential, out of all proportion to their wisdom. May I suggest that a National Government should be superior to sectional pressure and that a million men should at least have the same influence as a handful of coalowners. If the coalowners can receive statutory protection at the hands of the Government against the follies of their employé's the miners should receive statutory protection against the follies of their masters.
§ Mr. ESSENHIGH
I rise to address this House for the first time with a certain amount of trepidation and greatly daring, because I know that it has long been established by tradition and custom that anyone speaking for the first time should not enter into the realms of controversy. But this House is great, and it is generous and I know that it will grant me that indulgence which is always readily accorded, if I should by any chance go beyond the bounds of controversy or beyond the limits of the Rules of the House. I am not unmindful, Mr. Speaker, of the advice you gave hon. Members at the beginning of this Session and, having that advice in mind, I will try my best to keep within the limit of such time as you suggested they ought to take in presenting their case. I am not a coalowner. I cannot claim to have worked down a mine, but I can claim to know something of what that work en-tails. The little practical experience that I have gained of mining was not in the pits in the constituency that I represent, but under other conditions during the years from 1914 to 1918. It was part of my job on one occasion to go down and have a look at a mine, and that convinced me, so far as the conditions below ground are concerned, they are not easy, and that the miner is beset with many dangers and difficulties.
1070 I represent a constituency which is to some extent a mining constituency. There are two townships in it. It is a constituency which on one occasion was fought by an illustrious Member of this House who later became a great Prime Minister of this country, and later on it was represented by my immediate predecessor, who held high office in this House. It is therefore necessary for me as a successor in the representation of this constituency to uphold the traditions of this great constituency. Therefore, I desire to put before the House the point of view of the Lancashire people, both coalowners and miners. After the great stoppage of 1926 it was realised by those connected with the coal mining industry, whether they were owners or miners, that the industry had reached a stage when it could no longer pay the wages for the hours which were then worked, when it could no longer continue in an un-organised and disorganised fashion. This was realised by Mr. Lee, the Secretary of the Mining Association of Great Britain, who said in 1928:The surplus of productive capacity over present demand, both in the inland and export market, has brought down coal prices far below the general level of prices. They have reached a point at which the economic operation of the collieries is impossible, and the capital resources of the industry are being greatly impoverished. As is well known, schemes for co-ordinated action with a view to securing more economical relationships between costs of production and prices are already under consideration in most of the large coalfields. Concerted action of this character is vitally necessary not only to maintain the rates of wages to mine workers in fair relation to those of other districts but to avert the most serious danger to the very fabric of the industry during the abnormal period through which we are passing.It was realised by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Snowden, who, speaking at Leicester on 23rd October, 1929, said:An immediate return to the seven-hour day would inflict grievous disaster on the industry; pits would close and miners would be thrown out of work.It was also further endorsed, before the passing of the Act of 1931, by no less a person than the late Mr. Cook, Secretary of the Miners' Federation. At a special conference of the Miners' Federation in June, 1931, he said:The position has never been worse. At the moment competition between the coal 1071 exporting countries has reached a pitch which, might truthfully be described as a life and death struggle. It is certain that a stoppage in this country- now would be seized upon by the Germans and the Poles to expand their trade in neutral markets, and they have already taken steps immediately to take advantage of such a situation. It is also certain that in the event of a lengthy stoppage now the permanent loss of trade to exporting districts will be far greater than that occasioned by the stoppage of 1926, and the position of these districts will become an impossible one. In short, we are less able at the present time, than at any time in our history, to exert economic pressure by withholding our labour.7.0 p.m.
The result was that there was a continuation of the seven and a-half hour day, and all that the Government are now asking is a continuation of the seven and a-half hour day. I congratulate the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines and the Government on their courage in presenting the present scheme, in view of the fact that many of them were opponents of Part I of the 1931 Act. It says much for their courage that they are big enough and great enough to realise not only that they were mistaken in their prognostications but are ready and willing to admit their mistake and take advantage of it. What remedy do the Opposition offer? Their remedy is nationalisation. As a new Member, I must not enter into a discussion on nationalisation, but may I commend this to hon. Members opposite? It was said by an old collier in my constituency: "I do not see how anything but more markets and increased orders can help the coal industry. Merely getting it to the pithead will not help. We must sell it. We cannot eat it." That is the crux of the whole matter. We have got to realise that this is not merely a question of producing coal, but of finding a market and of selling the coal at such prices as will provide a decent wage for the man who gets it and adequate remuneration for those in charge of the industry.
As to the opinion of the Lancashire coalfield about Part 1 of the Act of 1930, it would not be amiss to read the statement on this point last week by a great northern daily paper, which reflects the view of one of the greatest industrial areas in the world, the "Liverpool Daily Post." It wrote last week in its leading article: 1072Apparently, the quota system has operated better than was anticipated when it was first introduced. Otherwise it is un-likely the Government would propose to retain it under the new Bill. Anyhow, it has let the industry have a dependable home market as far as it went, and of course that is something to the good. But neither quotas nor amalgamations can restore prosperity to the coal trade until the international outlook brightens. The foreigner is unable to purchase our coal, and, even if he were able he would find difficulty in purchasing it owing to quotas and tariffs. More and more, in fact, British coal is having to rely on British demand. Necessarily that demand is limited just now, and in any case cannot be reckoned upon to compensate for the losses we have sustained, and are still sustaining in the export trade. It is quite evident, in fact, that the chief problem of the coal industry is to reorganise itself for production on a much smaller settle than formerly. And obviously, reorganisation of that sort means a great curtailment of employment and a shrinkage in the number of collieries.Already we have had a shrinkage in the number of collieries, particularly in the Lancashire district. Is it to be wondered at when one considers the terrible time through which the great basic industries of this country are now passing? In my own constituency there is a great locomotive works, the Vulcan Foundry, which in normal times employs 2,200 men, but at the present time is employing no more than 300 men. The manager of that foundry told me last Saturday that there were 23 locomotive contracting firms in Great Britain with an average output of about 1,600 locomotives a year, and that last year the output was 10. Let hon. Members consider what that means to the coal industry. If we are to try to improve conditions in the coalfield, we must try to improve the heavy iron and steel industry. As far as the opinion of the Lancashire coalowners about the quota is concerned, I asked one of the owners his view about the quota, and he wrote to me as follows:A good deal of criticism has been made since the present Act was passed as to the application of the quota, but, generally speaking, it has, in the face of great difficulties and always dwindling trade, been helpful and without it it is certain that the position of collieries and of the men would have been much worse. It has assisted to some extent in equalising the working time of collieries. Without it, one will realise at a time when the markets of the country cannot even absorb a controlled output what the position would be like if every colliery was free to output to its utmost capacity. Unquestionably, in my 1073 view, the last stage would be worse than the first, and there is little doubt that it would have led to the failure of many undertakings and consequent unemployment of colliery workers.That colliery owner spoke highly of the work of the late Mr. William Graham in piloting Part I through Parliament, and I should like to add my tribute to the work of Mr. Graham to those which have already been paid by the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines.
We have put up for some time with crazy cut-throat competition in our home markets. Within 15 miles of my own constituency one case of this kind has been reported to me. The Liverpool Corporation in sending out their contracts for the supply of coal for their electrical undertaking gave an order for 100,000 tons representing about 50 per cent, of their supply for a year, to the Scottish coalfields. The average cost of the Lancashire coal at the pit-head is in the region of 15s. 5d. a ton, but the amount paid for this coal delivered into Liverpool was 13s. 2d. a ton. If we are to carry on these pits and to pay a decent wage to the miners, we mast surely end this crazy internecine cut-throat competition. It must be remembered that 100,000 tons means 100,000 working days. We do not mind an order going to Scotland provided that a proper market price is paid for it, but we strongly object to any other part of the country dumping its coal in the heart of our own coalfields. That one example is enough to show that there is this crazy competition, and that it should be stopped. It can be stopped by the continued use of Part I with some control. I would ask the Minister if it would not be possible at some future time, though it may not be possible or opportune now, to get such sanctions as would penalise action of this kind. Last week we heard hon. Members complaining that commodity prices were too low; this week we have heard from our own benches hon. Members urging that there should be unlimited and unrestricted competition. We cannot have it both ways. If it is right in the one case to increase commodity prices, then surely it is right to increase prices in the coalfield. It is not beyond the wit of man to give us such sanctions and such conditions as would enable us to obtain those higher prices in order that a decent 1074 minimum wage may be provided for the collier.
This Measure has been criticised as a patchwork and as legislation by reference, but the fact that it is legislation by reference merely means that we have changed in the past from a seven hour day to one of eight hours and then back to seven and a-half hours and that we are now going to continue with the seven and a-half hour day as it has been found to be good and effective for the last two years. The Opposition claim that, although the seven and a-half hour day cannot be abandoned for the present, a guaranteed minimum wage should have been included in the Bill to cover the whole period of its operation. The President of the Board of Trade has stated that it was after great difficulty that he managed to get the owners to agree to a guaranteed wage for 12 months. From the information I have received from one of the owners, they were very loth indeed in the present condition of the coal trade to give any guarantee of wages at all. The President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines indeed accomplished something when they got that promise from the coalowners. Hon. Members belonging to the Opposition have told us that this problem is going to recur 12 months hence and that we shall have tremendous difficulties then. I would appeal to them to take this question right outside the range of controversial politics, to do their best to give a lead in the matter, and to show to the Government, to their own people, and to the whole country that they are ready and willing to co-operate in a scheme which will help to put the coal industry on its feet. If they do that, then surely posterity and history will be able to say that this National Government builded better than it knew, and that it was ably and nobly assisted by the members of His Majesty's Opposition.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I would warmly congratulate the hon. Member who has just addressed the House upon his maiden speech, which he delivered most admirably. Although we do not all agree with all that he has said, we are agreed that it was a good speech, and we look forward to his future interventions in our Debates. This Debate has wandered over a considerable space and we have dealt 1075 with many matters. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken referred to the quota. It has been a success so far as the Lancashire area is concerned. I suppose that we have had as little difficulty with it in Lancashire as anywhere in the country, and I am sure that the Lancashire coal-owners will do all they can to make this part of the Bill an even greater success.
The Bill deals most hardly with the miners in the matter of wages. The President of the Board of Trade yesterday said that neither side considered Clause 2 of the Bill a satisfactory settlement. I do not understand why the owners do not consider it a satisfactory settlement. There may be some cause for complaint by the men, because, though the Bill does not lengthen their hours, it is at least taking from them half an hour to which they are honestly entitled and is giving them a reward hardly in keeping with the sacrifice that they are making. It seems to have been a very difficult thing to get a guarantee from the owners. The guarantee carries us over one year, and that is just about the length of time that quietude will continue inside the industry. The owners have no need to complain of the treatment they have received from Tory Governments of the past. The National Government is going the way of the 1926 Government. The President of the Board of Trade said yesterday that the outlook was by no means bright, and that the seven hours day was impracticable. It may be impracticable at the moment, and I do not think the Government would have found very much objection from the Miners' Federation if an equivalent had been given in wages for the sacrifice by the miners of the half-hour per day.
The right hon. Gentleman also said he would accept the Geneva Convention as soon as ratified and the Secretary for Mines to-day referred to the same subject. Are the Government prepared to press this matter forward with other countries, in order that we may have the Convention ratified at the earliest possible moment? The President of the Board of Trade said that hours and wages were inseparable. He told us that the owners could not agree to a national wage agreement. As a consequence we have come to something of a deadlock. It is hardly likely that the Miners' Federation will agree to districts settlement without pro- 1076 testing. As a Federation we believe that a national agreement is one of the steps towards a definite solution of the mining problem. Whether hours and wages are inseparable or not, some definite understanding or agreement will sooner or later have to be arrived at by the two sides, if there are to be decent conditions in the coalfields in future.
The President of the Board of Trade told us that the owners would not agree to and the Miners' Federation would not accept compulsory arbitration. The Secretary for Mines has been asked this afternoon that further consideration should be given to that point and that he should discuss it with the Federation. In regard to wages, as the Bill is to operate only for 12 months I would ask whether at the end of that time the whole mining industry is to be relegated to district struggles As sure as to-morrow's sun will rise, unless a different frame of mind is shown by the owners there will be trouble at the end of this year, on the expiration of the wages guarantee in the Bill. In that case the Federation could not stand still and allow a particular district to be attacked. Therefore the problem will not be broken into pieces but will still remain one again so far as the Federation is concerned. I hope the Government have taken that matter into consideration. The Bill gives security and stability to the owners without asking any sacrifice from them, for it cannot be considered a sacrifice to guarantee wages for a year. The miners, on the other hand, are conceding half an hour of working time and are getting no security after the period of a year. The security is of so fleeting a character as to be not at all commensurate with the sacrifice that they are making.
We have had many crises in the mining industry. We started with one in 1921, and there were those of 1924, 1925 and 1926, with the result that working hours have been increased and wages have been reduced. I remember very well the 1926 stoppage, for I was a member of the miners' executive of that time. The stoppage imposed upon the miners a full hour increase. I am not sure whether hon. Members realise what the seven and a-half hour day means. Within a mile of where I live in Lancashire a period of 60 minutes is allowed to wind the men down and up the pit. That means that 1077 it is quite possible for a man to be underground for nine and a-half hours. I do not say that it happens that way, but certainly the seven and a-half hours is greatly increased. If one were to strike an average one would find that the men are underground for considerably more than eight and a-quarter hours each day. If the seven and a-half hours were bank to bank it would be quite a different proposition, but the larger the pits the longer the winding time, the further the men have to travel underground and the longer they have to remain. Longer hours, of course, mean cheaper cost of production. That leads to a lower selling price. The next thing is a fresh demand for reduced wages. That is what has been going on during all my lifetime and probably long before that. It has brought the industry to a condition which ought never to have been allowed.
There has been a constant lowering of wages during the last 12 years. With shorter hours greater output has been secured. The output of this country is as high as, or higher than, it has ever been before per person employed. But there has been a continuous lowering of the standard of life of the mine worker, and it has now been brought to the lowest level possible. I believe we have about the longest working day in Europe. Our output per man employed will compare favourably with the output of any other European country. Still the coalowners are not willing to guarantee the wages of the workers for more than a year. As I have said, I have a vivid recollection of the 1926 stoppage. I consider that that was about the most disgraceful time in the history of a Government running this country. The Government of the day took the case of the coalowners under their control. Have the present National Government taken the case of the coalowners under their wing? Have they given any guarantee to fight the battle of the coalowners rather than let the owners meet the Miners' Federation as they ought to do? We cannot forget the position in 1926. The present Prime Minister said in this House at that time:The Cabinet has been a very efficient, a very faithful and a very loyal sub-committee of the owners' Association.7.30 p.m.
I can bear out every word of that statement. When we had to negotiate anything in connection with that great dis- 1078 pute we had to meet Members of the Cabinet and not members of the Coalowners' Association. Day after day we had to come to the House or to Downing Street or to Whitehall, and when we got there we found Members of the Cabinet were doing all they could to carry the case that had been approved by the owners. I ask, has the present Prime Minister agreed to the introduction of this Bill? Does he admit its inequalities to be right? He must have been consulted. If he were here in his place would he take part in the Debate and urge such a Measure upon the House? While the Government were carrying on the great struggle of 1926 we had many statements made by leading politicians of the Government, by, among others, the Lord President of the Council, who tried to make everyone believe that he was their friend and was doing all he could to help the miners as well as the owners. On one occasion the right hon. Gentleman said he hoped to make it clear that the Government were not fighting to lower the standard of living of the miners, and then he asked, "Cannot you trust me to see a fair and square deal with the miners? "If a fair and square deal is what we received after 1926, it was a very costly mistake. I do not think it out of place to remind the House on this occasion of some of the things which were said during 1926. We have to be guided by the experience of the past if we are to benefit in the future. I wish now to recall what was said by the Samuel Commission on the subject of hours. I know I shall be told that there is no extension of hours in this Bill, but as I have already pointed out a half-hour is being taken from the miners to which they are entitled. In the Report of the Samuel Commission we find the following passage:Extension of working hours at this time of depression is not a natural but an unnatural why of reducing costs and meeting the immediate difficulty.The report also stated that the effect of adopting the Mining Association's proposal and of restoring the hour taken off in 1919, would be to make the working day of every British miner longer than that of miners in any European coalfield of importance except Upper Silesia. Then we have the Lord President of the Council saying that the Government 1079 have come definitely to the conclusion that a return to a longer working day is necessary. I am trying to show the House that Tory Governments of the past have been and the present National Government are always charged with the burden of protecting the interests of the mineowners against the interests of the working miner. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) addressing the coalowners on 6th September, 1926, said:We have legislated in this matter (hours) and legislated as you have pointed out in accordance with your advice and wishes.We cannot fail to see, when we find so many leading Members of the Cabinet taking part in a struggle of that kind, the side in the struggle which they are taking. In my opinion, the Prime Minister has assented to the introduction of this Bill which is so unreasonable and so unequal. I do not understand his attitude. One would have expected, after his experience in 1926, that the right hon. Gentleman of all persons would do his best to see that the miners were protected and were given their proper place in any agreement which had to come before this House. If the miners are to make a sacrifice on the question of hours, there is no reason why the coalowners should not also make a sacrifice to the extent of concluding a national agreement on wages with the workers, and the Government ought to hold the balance equally between the two sides without favour to one or the other.
I do not propose to give the House many figures, but I wish to point out the earnings in the industry at different periods between 1921 and 1931. The earnings per person employed in 1920 were £224 and in 1931 £111 10s. From the comparative figures of 1924 and 1928 we find that in 1928 when we had a Tory Government and an eight-hour day, the output was down by 20,000,000 tons, the proceeds were less by £86,000,000 and the total wages were less by £51,000,000 than they were in 1924 when we had a Labour Government and a seven-hour working day. I am leaving out the intervening period which included the 1926 trouble so that nothing can be said reflecting on the fairness of the quotation and I do not think I need add anything to it except to say that the average wage in 1924 1080 was £138 and in 1928 it was £113. I am sure that no Member will say that a longer working day is necessary in order to get a greater amount of money. I would also point out that the employers to-day are introducing a tremendous amount of coal-cutting machinery. The miners have not received any benefit from the introduction of that machinery but have rather been penalised because for every machine introduced a large number of people are discharged. Even those who are being retained are not getting any satisfactory payment or agreement with, the coalowners such as ought to be theirs in view of the new character of the work.
No assurance is given in connection with the Bill that wages will not be attacked district by district. That is one of the most important points involved. As sure as I am standing at this Box, we shall find some districts attacked at the end of the 12 months unless in the meantime it is found possible to arrive at a better agreement. In the present temper of the coalowners it does not appear as if they would think of making a further agreement, especially in view of the statement which we heard this afternoon about the pressure which had to be applied in order to get even the 12 months' agreement. The Miners' Federation will not allow any of its districts to be attacked alone. We shall be compelled to defend those with whom we are associated and I do not want the coalowners or the Government to think that at the end of 12 months everything in the garden will be lovely for them in this respect. As surely as an attack is made on any one district, as surely will those responsible for it be launching into another great struggle such as we have had before. That is not the desire of the Miners' Federation, but self-protection must be provided and we must do all we can to prevent such an occurrence as I have indicated.
My greatest hope is that during the 12 months the coalowners will agree to the intervention of the Government, if necessary, in order to bring about a national arrangement on wages or do something to end the trouble instead of merely postponing it. If this Bill is not amended so as to include wages we are only postponing trouble for a year longer. We have seen in the past the difference between the attitude of two Governments 1081 dealing with this matter. We have seen how the Miners' Federation and the miners generally viewed the action of the Tory Government. In 1924 the coal-owners, because they were compelled by the Labour Government to come to a settlement, felt in just the same way about the Labour Government. At that time, Mr. H. Evans, of the Cambrian combine, said:
We were compelled by the Socialist Government to make the 1924 wages agreement. Mr. Shinwell the Minister of Mines held the pistol at our heads and told us that if we did not settle with the miners we would have to settle with him and the position would not be so satisfactory for us.I do not believe that it is a question of holding a pistol to anybody's head, but I think that great pressure ought to be brought to bear not on one side only but on the other side as well. If a Labour Government, which had nothing like the numerical strength of the present Government, was strong enough to prevent a national stoppage, surely it is possible for the National Government, with their numbers and their opportunities, to bring about a settlement which will give satisfaction to both sides in a case like this. It is not really a question of dispute; it is simply a question of carrying through the Measures of this House. I appeal to hon. Members to cast off political bias in this matter. It has been said that politics interfere too much in industry, but had it not been for political interference in the mining industry of this country I do not know where that industry would be. Surely we are called upon now to do something in the interests of the mining community.
In asking hon. Members to cast off political bias, I ask them also to bear in mind what the mining community has done for the country. No body of men have done move to stabilise Britain than the mining community. There is no braver body of men in the country. No people face the trouble and difficulties of life with the fortitude which they display. I appeal to the Government to take all these things into consideration and to give the miners a fair standard of life. It is the only way by which a repetition of past horrors can be avoided. I sincerely hope that the Government, at least, will take cognisance of the fact that, while the mining community are living in deep depression and poverty, this Bill gives them nothing at all 1082 and that even during the 12 months they may be called upon to defend their wages. If the Government cannot do what I have suggested, then the only solution of the difficulty is that recommended in the Sankey Commission Report—that the mining industry should be taken from private hands and thoroughly reorganised, and that there should be complete unification under national control. That is the method which I would prefer before any other. I would like to see the industry under a control which would at least give this House power to protect all those connected with it.
§ Mr. DICKIE
Is it the hon. Member's point that that was one of the recommendations of the Sankey Commission?
§ Mr. DICKIE
Mr. Justice Sankey recommended the nationalisation of the mines, but the Miners' Federation refused to accept it on account of the fact that it eliminated the right to strike. The hon. Member ought to know that.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
That is not the point. Whatever the Miners' Federation did that was the recommendation, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister at the time. Whatever differences we may have on the recommendation of any particular Commission there is no doubt about this fact —that that solution has been recommended by more than one Commission as the ultimate solution of the difficulty. We oppose this Bill because it does not establish a seven hours working day and because it asks the miners for a concession of a half hour to which they are honestly and legally entitled, and we ask that the Bill should be altered so that wages shall be co-terminous with the period of the renewal of the Bill, or the period until the ratification of the Geneva Convention.
§ Mr. CURRY
I am sure we all share the regret which was expressed by the President of the Board of Trade that the 1083 parties engaged in this industry have failed to come to an amicable settlement and that once again we are compelled to deal with the industry by legislation. The 1930 Act was one upon which there were varied opinions, and great doubt was expressed in various quarters as to the ultimate result of the working of Part I of that Act. We have now had two years' experience of its working, and opinion in the industry remains to-day as divided as it ever was upon that part of the Act. In those two years there has been a considerable falling-off in exports, although it is obvious that no one of any responsibility would suggest that the whole of that falling-off is attributable to the working of the Act. There have been other causes operating, but the passing of of this Bill will not bring to an end the operation of those causes, and it is because these world causes are operating, and because of the difficulties with which all trade is beset, that we should be exceedingly careful before passing any legislation that is binding upon any industry for the next few years. In all the perplexities with which we are confronted, there seems to be a general opinion that any definite relaxation of minimum prices to-day may be followed by a sudden and disastrous fall in prices generally throughout the industry, a fall which would recoil not merely upon the employers and employés, but upon the whole of the community, and it is because of that fear that many people who are doubtful about the wisdom of all this restriction and of the principle of the quota are willing for the time being to continue Part I of the Act.
The point which I wish to place prominently before the Government is that wherever the balance of argument lies in this matter, wherever we may be led by our ultimate experience of these Acts, the fact remains that any fixation of prices within a privately-owned competitive industry, where there are large blocks of capital concerned, must inevitably lead to methods of evasion of those regulations. I am not going to introduce another aspect of that problem which will, I am sure, occur to the minds of hon. Members opposite, but where you get evasion of regulations of this sort, successful in the sense that through it they get orders which they would not otherwise get, you get at the same time an un- 1084 just disaster falling upon honest people of the highest integrity, and you get a dismissal of men whom they would otherwise employ. The danger is of these methods of evasion creeping in, beginning with comparatively trivial things, but growing in immensity and in their nature, until in no very lengthy time you get that great sense of honour and integrity which has been the pride of every commercial circle in Britain since British ships sailed the sea gradually undermined to such an extent that it becomes irrecoverable. That is the danger, or one of the dangers, of this sort of legislation.
I received a letter this morning from a coalowner in the county, a division of which I have the honour to represent in this House and in which also I live, and he tells me that they are dismissing this week 1,350 men owing to evasions of the Acts on the part of competitors. We in this House cannot receive such letters as this without taking the most serious notice of them, and I want to impress upon the Government that when they get this Bill, they should make it their duty to carry out the strictest investigation into the administration of the Act, in order to ensure that it shall be administered fairly and equitably and in order to prevent the dismissal of men and the contraction of capital, solely because the people who own it have a higher sense of integrity than other people with whom they are in trade competition.
Because of the world conditions to-day, the uncertainty of prices, and something else which I do not think has been mentioned, namely, the recent changes in our fiscal policy, the ultimate results of which upon our export trade no man can yet properly forecast—because of all these things, I think the Government are wise to seek to continue Part I of the Act for the time being, but because of the dangers of the system, dangers of which we have evidence and knowledge, I think that five years is far too irrevocable a period for which to legislate at this time, and I suggest that the course of the Government might with greater wisdom, and ultimately greater benefit, have been to seek to continue Part I of the Act only for so long a period as would have enabled them to carry out a very thorough inquiry into the administration of this system and into its effect upon certain concerns within the industry. 1085 It is obvious, even to an outsider, that this sort of thing acts with advantage to some concerns and with disadvantage to others, and the State has, in my view, no right to introduce legislation which will damage certain people, unless it is prepared to follow up the consequences of its legislation by seeing that those people who are damaged in the interests of the community are compensated by the community for the loss which follows the State action. There is not merely the ownership of capital involved in this industry. When you put out of action a colliery, you put out of employment a number of men, and you also wipe out a social unit. You destroy the means of livelihood of numbers of tradesmen, you cut through a whole communal life, and in dealing with this trade the Government should be exceedingly careful to see that any injustice, any damage, any loss directly attributable to the legislation of this House should not be left to run its course.
I want to say a word about the other aspect of this Bill. If it is passed, as it will be, this Bill leaves the question of hours where it is, at seven and a-half hours per day for the next five years, except in so far as they may be reduced by international action. May I say to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), who has just sat down, that I do not think he is helping matters very much by suggesting to this House and to the country that the Bill is imposing upon the miners of this country a sacrifice of half an hour which they do not work to-day? The fact is that this Bill, if it is passed, will not cause any miner to work any longer hours. It leaves the question of hours where it is for five years, except in so far as—
§ Mr. CURRY
None at all? [An HON. MEMBER: "It may go on for 50!"] That is worse than I thought, because the Bill then will leave the miner in this position, that his hours are stabilised, BO far as Parliamentary action is concerned, at 1086 seven and a-half hours per day, except in so far as they may be reduced by international agreement.
§ Mr. CURRY
The suggestion, therefore, that the Bill increases the miners' hours is not correct and should be dropped. We cannot get away from the position that that very fact alone will be a disappointment to the miners of this country, and it is well that we should try to understand the psychology of the miner with regard to the seven hours day. He regards it as something which is his ultimate and inevitable goal. He wants this seven hours day, and he has been led to expect it from successive Governments in the last 10 years, and anything which seeks to postpone it still further from actuality is a disappointment to him. But I believe that the majority of miners to-day, and I think it may be said also of the Miners' Federation, would be prepared to accept a continuation of seven and a-half hours without any demur if they could find some security in the matter of wages.
The owners are prepared to guarantee wages for one year. I am not going to suggest, nor do I think anyone else would, that the guarantee which the Government hold is not a fair guarantee, given in all good faith, and that it is not one that can be accepted. I think it can be accepted, but is there any real reason why the question of hours should be enacted beyond the period to which the guarantee of wages extends? I cannot see that that is necessary. It may be said that if you do not carry the legislative enactment further, you are merely going to be faced with a temporary Measure. I believe the Secretary for Mines made that case, that he could not introduce a Bill merely for one year, for merely a carrying-over period; but the guarantee of wages will have precisely the same effect, and if the miners are led merely to feel that their negotiating powers have been tied up by the statutory enactment in regard to hours, they will feel a very great sense of grievance against the Government, and I appeal to the Government even now, before the Second Reading passes, to see if they cannot find some means of bringing the guarantee of wages into consistency 1087 with the enactment in regard to hours. Psychology really enters into this matter. It is no answer to say that no injustice is being done. There is a danger of a large section of the community feeling that they are not being very fairly treated, and it is the duty of a National Government to avoid such misunderstandings and even the appearance of taking sides. I appeal to the Government to do something to remove that misgiving on the part of the miners because I am certain that if we can win the good will of the mining community we shall get over a tremendous amount of our difficulties. It is not merely a question of wages as it concerns the miner. We who represent mining constituencies are only too conscious of the fact that, directly or indirectly, every person we represent depends for his livelihood upon the distribution at regular intervals and in ample amounts of wages from the pithead. A whole community depends on that wages fund, and, if there be any possibility of the miners' wages being reduced, the standard of life of that community will be placed in jeopardy. We shall have the anxiety that springs from that possibility, and we shall not make, as we should be making, some progress towards a more peaceful and prosperous atmosphere. The ultimate goal at which we are aiming—peace in industry—can only be reached by treading fearlessly upon the path of equity. In this removal from the Statute Book of a guarantee of wages we lend ourselves to the appearance of taking sides. We create an atmosphere of hostility in the mining population which those of us who represent mining constituencies cannot accept without the greatest protest.
I ask the Government to give us the assurance, before this Bill goes on to the Statute Book, that such Amendments will be put into is as will remove any sense of injustice and any reasonable fear from the minds of the great masses of the miners and their wives. There is no more long-suffering sections of the people than the mining communities. I have lived among them all my life, and I represent them in a sense. I do not suggest that my electors are miners, but I know them. If you go into Durham county to-day and go through the towns and villages, you cannot fail to be amazed 1088 at the way in which hope springs eternal in the breasts of the people that some day soon the great clouds of depression in which they have lived for so many years and the great anxiety with which their daily lives are beset will somehow or other be removed. We hope and believe that they will, but in regard to a great law-abiding, good-hearted community such as that of the miners, we should in our actions, our measures and our Debates avoid any appearance of leaving them exposed to the exigencies of the circumstances of a future time. We should see that the legislation that is passed now in a great national crisis does not leave them worse off or less secure at the end of the crisis than they were when the National Government were elected.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
If the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken wants to have his hopes realised, it will be as well for him to vote for the Labour party to-night and to-morrow, and on every occasion when he gets the opportunity, for there is no doubt that the Government will not meet his wishes. They dare not. The Government are in exactly the same position as the last Tory Government. They have to do what they are told—and not only by the coalowners. I want to take exception to certain statements made by the President of the Board of Trade yesterday with regard to the qualities of the coalowners and mineowners as negotiators. The coalowners as a rule are just as capable of negotiating sensibly as any other employers of labour. The President of the Board of Trade has not yet negotiated with the miners, so that he cannot say whether our side have good negotiating qualities or not. The coalowners are not wholly responsible for the position of the industry, and they are not responsible for all the trouble which we have had during the last 12 years. They have a share of the responsibility, but not the whole. Notwithstanding the fact that I am strongly opposed to the claims made on behalf of the coalowners, I want to say as a Scottish Member that the Scottish coalowners have organised their industry in a manner which is not bettered from an engineering standpoint by any country in the world. There is no country on God's earth where coal is being produced more cheaply than in Scotland, and, while I do not say that 1089 the Scottish miner is superior to the miner in any other of the coal districts, I do say that from a mining engineering standpoint, the British coalowners and their managers do not need to fear opposition from anybody. I am willing to give credit to them from that standpoint.
I am willing to go further, and say that the coalowners are not responsible to any large extent for the difficulty in which the mining industry finds itself. There is a secret force behind the coalowners. The banks have a great deal of the responsibility. Some hon. Gentlemen who have spoken to-day have quoted letters from coalowners. I recently read a statement made by a gentleman in the Welsh coal trade, named Cory, who stated that for the last five years he had as a coalowner been living on his capital, that coalowners were in the hands of the banks, and that he knew one great coal concern, apparently in South Wales, which was owing the bank £1,260,000. Whatever capacity the banks have for dealing with currency and gold questions, they do not know anything about the management of mines, and I protest against people coming in to tell the coal-owner, the manager, and the miner how to manage, a mine when they know absolutely nothing about it. However, they supply the money or some of the money that has been referred to by the Secretary for Mines. I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman had the power to deal with this question, we would not have the kind of Bill which we are discussing now.
Alongside the banks are the railway directors, who are well represented here; engineers; shipowners, like the President of the Board of Trade; utility companies, gas and electricity companies and coal exporters, the vast majority of whom are parasites on the industry and are absolutely useless and unnecessary. These interests are a great deal more responsible for the present evil condition of the industry than the coalowners. They want cheap coal and they do not care, one D and a dash for either the wages or the conditions of the miners. They can give the miners any amount of sympathy, however, and we who claim to be representatives of the miners are sick and tired of the sympathy of the House and the general public. It may be taken as certain that this country cannot get back to prosperity unless the mining in- 1090 dustry is dealt with. If we cannot get it by better and fairer treatment and by reasonable methods, no alternative is left but a stoppage of work. I remember when the Sankey Commission was sitting for its last meeting I was accused of having advocated what was known as the ca' canny policy. I still believe in ca' canny, and I am glad to note that, the Tories believe in it now.
The resources of civilisation are not exhausted, and there are other methods besides going on strike. There is such a thing as a working strike, and there is this advantage that the miner has that the workman above ground does not have. He is hidden away from the public eye. And we can carry out a restrictive policy. We can make you pay the economic price for coal, which you are not paying at the moment, and which you have never paid during the last 12 years. The one thing you do not want to do is to pay the economic price for coal. After all, what does an economic price for coal mean? Does it mean 5s. 6d. or 5s. 11d. a day for a man working nine hours a day in the Scottish coalfields? Hon. Members who talk about a seven and a-half hour day, or an eight hour day, would be ashamed to make such statements if they knew the actual conditions obtaining in different collieries in the different districts.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
From the standpoint of mining engineering, the Scottish coalowners need not fear opposition from any part of the world, but what are the conditions in the Scottish coalfield? Men go down at from six to seven o'clock in the morning, and they work at the coal face, where coal-cutting machinery and coal-conveying machinery are in operation, and they dare not leave their place until it is cleaned out. There are men there producing from eight to 15 tons per man from seams of coal varying in height from 20 inches to 3½ feet. If they did leave their place before having cleaned out the coal that is in it, they would be practically idle the next day, even supposing the coalowner were willing to allow them to go back again, which he would not be. I suggest to the Government that there are considerable evasions of the Act, of the present so-called seven and a-half hour day, and if 1091 they were to put the law into operation they would be conferring a considerable advantage on the miners working with machinery at the coal face in every part of the coalfield.
There has been a sort of parrot cry, "Keep politics out of industry, and particularly out of the mining industry." The iron and steel trade did think so a few weeks ago, and the agricultural industry does not think so. No one can say how much public money will be given to the agricultural industry. We on this side do not object to that. We believe the agricultural industry ought to be organised on a purely national basis, and we will render every assistance we can, but it is a bit interesting to watch Tory Members standing up to demand that public money should be handed over to that particular industry, well knowing that it will go into the pockets of the farmers and the landlords, and in almost the same breath denouncing with holy horror the idea of giving any subsidy or any kind of assistance to an industry such as the mining industry. I am not asking for subsidies; I merely mention the fact that a good deal of nonsense is talked in this House about that position.
We have to go back a long time to find the beginnings of political interference in the mining industry. In the days of James I of England—and before he was James I of England he was James VI of Scotland—we had a Parliament, and that Parliament passed legislation giving the miners better conditions than they have now. Since then there has been quite a lot of legislation, but I will go back no further than 90 years. I want to carry memories back 90 years, because a son of a Member of the Cabinet, the Noble Lord the Member for Down—sweet County Down—took part in the Debate last night, and said he was opposed to politics entering into the industry. There is something to be said for heredity. His grandfather or his great grandfather, the then Marquess of Londonderry, objected to Parliament passing the Act which took the women out of the mines. A few years later it was proposed that Government inspectors should be appointed to inquire into conditions in the mining industry in various districts, and his grandfather or great grandfather opposed Government inspection, and threatened that if an 1092 inspector went down any of his mines he might never get up again. At that time explosions were occurring practically every day in one or other of the coalfields in Britain.
Taking the County of Durham—his own county—and the counties oi York, Lancaster, Glamorgan and Monmouth, in those five counties, between 1851 and 1908, there were 120 colliery explosions, involving the lives of nearly 7,000 men, and that takes no note of explosions in which fewer than 10 men were killed. And we are told that we ought to keep politics out of the industry. [Interruption.] There has been a national union of miners for as long as I have mentioned, and that national union will exist, and if this Government persist in the policy outlined in this Bill, then they may make up their minds that we are going to use the period between now and next year as a breathing space in which to prepare for a struggle that may do more detriment to this country than Tariff Reform will bring good to it. If the Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) is hereditarily interested in the coalowners' side of the mining industry, I am hereditarily interested in the workers' side.
There never was an occasion during the last 100 years on which we had a strike in regard to which we did not have public sympathy. I am interested on this occasion to note the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) is not present during this Debate. That is a rather curious circumstance. I would like to recall the fact that the Marquess of Londonderry, in a strike which occurred between 1842 and 1850 in the county of Durham, evicted the miners, but he did not break the strike. What happened in the end was that the Tory party of that day sent over to Ireland and brought Irishmen over to this country in order to break the strike. Polish miners were brought here and were used, and willingly used, to reduce the standard of labour in this country. I want to know where the Lord Chancellor stands in regard to this matter? The Lord Chancellor was not a Minister, or even a member of the Labour party when he was appointed Chairman of the Royal Commission, but that commission made recommendations in favour not of a seven hours day but of a six hours day, 1093 because he laid it down that once the industry had been restored to is position in which it could produce 250,000,000 tons annually the miners should have a six hours day. We have been told to-day by the Secretary for Mines, and we were told yesterday by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), that the capacity of the mining industry is 320,000,000 tons annually. If the coal industry were properly organised, I believe that we could produce close upon 300,000,000 tons annually, and then, but for the policy which has been pursued by the Tory party, we could dispose of anything between 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 tons more abroad than we are now doing. There are 162,000,000 people in Europe who wish to trade with us, and we absolutely refuse their trade. I have no more regard for Communists than hon. Members opposite, but I think that we are entitled to deal with every one who is willing to deal with us. We are not an agricultural country and we have to depend upon other countries for supplying us with food. Therefore, it is essential that we should trade with anybody and everybody, and we are nothing but arrant fools in refusing to trade with Russia. I hope that the party which is supporting the Government will reconsider the position in regard to this question and agree to open up relationship with Russia. By doing that, I think that we shall solve, to a very large extent, the mining problem on the north-east coast of England and in the Lothians of Scotland.
There is another side to the picture. If the mining industry continues to slip back—it is now bordering upon bankruptcy—we may have the closing of what is described as the uneconomic pits. Take the West Coast of Britain and Cornwall. Not a single mine there can be described as economic. The employers there are making no profit at all, and the workmen are receiving what may be described as starvation wages. The West Coast of Scotland, Cumberland, Lancashire, North Wales, South Wales, Somerset and Bristol and all the districts right along the west coast are in a state bordering on bankruptcy, and the coalowners cannot do anything on their own account. Durham and Northumberland, on account of the policy which has been adopted towards Russia, are in a similar position. The 1094 result is that the utility companies, the railways and the corporations who support the coal industry, are now called upon to pay very much higher prices for their coal because the supply is insufficient for the home market, and that has an effect on the wages paid to the miners. It is a fact that less than 30 per cent, of the output of coal is exported, and nearly 70 per cent, is consumed at home. In these circumstances surely it is not unreasonable to say that the consumers of the 70 per cent, of the output of coal ought to be prepared to pay a sufficient price to warrant a reasonable and fair wage being paid to the miners.
I do not think it is any use asking the so-called National Government to assist the miners, but I should like to ask where the Home Secretary and his Liberal friends stand in this matter. The Home Secretary was the chairman of an impartial commission on which the miners were not represented, and that commission recommended that the wages of miners should remain as they were until the industry was reorganised. I submit that the reorganisation of the mining industry is, from the point of view of the miners, a national necessity. At the same time, we do not want Members of this House to believe that the coal-owners as such are primarily responsible for the ill condition in which the industry finds itself, and, if it is left to them to retrieve it, they cannot do so. If the industry is to be reorganised at all, it must be with the aid and support of the Government of the country, and I think we are entitled to ask a National Government, representative of Socialism and Capitalism, at least to take a somewhat middle course—to take the virtues of Socialism and the virtues of individualism. Both have virtues, and both have vices. Let the Government leave the vices aside, and ask the Miners' Federation if they are preapred to consider with them how best this industry may be reorganised. Although I am not a member of the Executive, I am quite satisfied that, if the Government would come forward in a really helpful spirit, would get the Miners' Executive and the coalowners to meet them, so that the three parties could sit down and see how best they can organise this industry of ours for the national well-being, the miners would not be the people who would refuse.
1095 We stand to-day where we have stood for nearly a generation past, demanding that the industry should be organised. It is not now an individually owned industry, as it was when I was a member of it. In the pit in which I was working, I could go to the manager, and, if I did not get satisfaction from him, I could go to the owner; and on many occasions I did so, and many other men did so as well. But you cannot do that now. If you go to to the coalmaster, he cannot do anything because he is in the hands of the bankers, and, if you went to the bankers, even supposing that it were possible to do so, you would find them hand in hand with the railway directors, the utility companies, and all the rest of the paraphernalia that is battening on the coal industry to its disadvantage from the point of view of both the owners and the workmen. I appeal to the Government not to allow the next 12 months to pass without making a determined attempt to have the recommendations of the Sankey Commission and of the Samuel Commission with regard to the organisation of the industry carried into effect. I venture to say that, if that were done, the industry within the next few years would be in a much happier position, than it is in to-day, and that it would be possible to remove it from the scene so far as this House is concerned.
In the meantime, this Bill does not, and cannot, satisfy the miners. No one who has spoken on the Bill from the other side of the House can do anything but vote according to what someone else has said—on the basis of some letter that he has received, or of the fact that he has had the temerity on some occasions to go into a coal-pit. [Interruption.] That is all right; I am not at all averse to going down a pit even yet; but to work in it is a very different thing. Hon. Members give us the credit of having some knowledge of the mining industry. We have, and we give the employers credit for having some knowledge of it. At this point I may remark that nearly 90 years ago the miners were asking that a Minister of Mines should be appointed. We have got a Minister of Mines, but he gives us his information at second-hand, and he gets it himself at fourth-hand. He is not a miner, and no one who is not a miner can or does understand the miner's psychology.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
The present Prime Minister appointed Mr. Shinwell. It does not make any difference whether we approach the matter from a purely political standpoint or not. I am making no reflections upon the men who have occupied that position, either in this Government or in previous Governments. I am asking the Government to do what they can, and I am promising them the support of the miners' Members and the miners' Executive if they will faithfully and honestly endeavour to get this industry back into a position in which it can be described as prosperous.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
In a mining village in Scotland which is very well known to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) and myself, it used to be the custom for the minister every week to offer up a prayer that those in Parliament assembled should do us no harm. I do not know that that prayer has ever been heard, but, at any rate, there is no occasion in this House when it is more clearly necessary that hon. Members should give the most meticulous and careful attention to seeing that good intentions, when translated into facts, are not in effect harmful to the community, than when we are met together to discuss the question of legislation for a great industry such as that of coal. The hon. Member for Hamilton has a great experience of this industry, and I am entirely in agreement with him when he expresses the hope that for the next year the representatives of the miners, of the owners, and of the Government should give this matter their grave and constant attention, because I cannot, from the small experience that I have of this industry, look upon the present Bill as being in any way a permanent settlement of the difficulties in the coal industry.
There is one criticism from the Opposition benches with which I should like briefly to deal. It is, quite shortly, the allegation made by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) that the President of the Board of Trade is a servant of the coalowners; and he extended that allegation also to hon. Members on these benches who are supporting the National Government. I have never been able to understand what political advantage the 1097 Conservative party in the past, or, indeed, the supporters of the National Government in this Parliament, could derive from being servants of the coal-owners. I have made careful inquiries, and find that in all there are about 1,400 coal producing companies in this country. If I give them each 20 directors, which I think is a liberal allowance even in these days, that brings up their number merely to the majority of the hon. Member for Brighton alone. I am sure hon. Members opposite will realise that, since there are over 500 Members who support the Government, we are not likely to go into keen competition with one another to get votes which, when divided up amongst us, would give us less than 100 apiece. If we wanted to be popular, we should legislate in order to do what we considered to be most popular in the view of the miners all the way through the country. For my own part, if I were going into a general election to-morrow, I should do just this thing which the Government are doing now. The miners understand perfectly well that their industry is in competition with other great industries in this country and in the world; they understand perfectly the economic difficulties. If we were going to legislate for popularity, it would be a very easy thing to do. We are proceeding purely with the idea that we are doing what is right by the trade and by every section of people in the country.
If I may be so bold, I would like to refer to the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) yesterday for the rejection of this Bill. reference to it has been singularly lacking in the speeches from the Opposition side of the House. My only complaint about the Amendment is that we have been asked to decipher a mass of rather redundant phraseology, when really, as I think the hon. Member will agree, one line would have done perfectly well. "The Socialist party regret the unwillingness of the National Government to nationalise the coal industry" would have been quite enough. Surely any compromise with regard to the statutory control of wages short of complete nationalisation is not going to get us very far. I do not think that hon. Members opposite can hold to the view that you can have private enterprise responsible for the whole risk and conduct of production 1098 and distribution and some outside body with very little knowledge of the industry responsible for the height at which wages shall be fixed. I do not think that is a tenable proposition. Seventy per cent, of the cost of production is the cost of wages. There is no halfway house between complete private enterprise and complete nationalisation. You must make up your mind to have one or the other, and at the moment we are not legislating for a state that might exist in Paradise as it is interpreted by a section of the Members of this House, but for a real, human, stubborn, earthly problem, which has to be settled one way or the other in three weeks time.
I am not going into the matter of nationalisation. It is too great an affair to hope to bring about that great revolution of the nationalisation of the coal industry by an Amendment of this kind. You have to go to the country and try to persuade the people and the miners that complete nationalisation of the industry is the best thing for them. I am rather sorry to have to give that somewhat tactless reminder to Members of the Opposition. I will not weary the House with other objections to the Bill which come from the diametrically opposite point of view that the Government should take this opportunity of leaving the coal industry to its own devices and allow it to run its own affairs from now on. In theory, if matters were nearer the normal, and if the Government had had unlimited time and its attention had been undiverted, there might be something to be said for it. It is admitted by everyone now that, if the industry at the moment is left to unregulated competition, the first reaction of decontrol must necessarily be a certain amount of cutthroat competition, a fall in prices, and resultant chaos, so that I urge the Government to say that their long-term coal policy is to have as little political control as possible.
The only question that affects the House is to decide whether these proposals are the best temporary expedient that we can have. I should like to put to the Government one or two misgivings that I have as regards the quota provisions. My first criticism—I hope it is a genuine one—is that five years is too long a period for which to fix the quota. The President of the Board of 1099 Trade yesterday said he did not believe that anyone could forecast the future condition of the coal industry. I agree with him. I do not believe that anyone can hope to forecast with any accuracy the future of the coal industry in two, let alone three, four or five years' time. While it may be possible to assess the probability of home consumption with no very serious margin of error, yet even there I would make a reservation. Let us suppose that tariffs coming into full operation in a year or 18 months in effect give an increase of production to the steel industry and allow more blast furnaces to open, it is essential that the coal industry should be in a position immediately to respond.
Let me turn to the exporting side of the industry. There it is even more difficult to assess with any degree of accuracy the possibilities of the market. In a very few weeks the question of reparations is going to be brought to a head. We are fairly safe in presuming that by default or by arrangement a large part will be cancelled, that the purchasing power of Germany will during the next year or two be increased and, further, that there will be increased activity in Northern Europe. Then the Government are going to Ottawa. There are going to be arrangements with the Dominions and, following that, perhaps there will be arrangement with South America and Scandinavia. Further, the greatest enemy to our export coal trade at present is the Polish subsidy. Will anyone say that during the next five years or so economic or social troubles in Poland, or coal strikes, may not possibly for some time during that period prevent the Poles from coming into such keen competition with us as they do to-day? Putting these things together, it is essential that the exporting industry should have the greatest elasticity and should be in a position immediately to take advantage of any expansion that may occur in any direction. The whole of our industrial policy, the whole of the tariff policy that we have put through, has aimed at elasticity. Each Measure has been made flexible to meet the changing conditions in a constantly changing world. You have to have a very strong case indeed before you make an exception to this elasticitiy in the case of the coal trade.
1100 I should like to support these generalisations with some particular misgivings that I have as to the operation of the Act in particular with regard to the export trade. The quota up to now has not been operating at all tightly. It has been fixed, except in the case of some individual pits, so high that there was no danger in actual practice that we should ever reach it. One thing that I can foresee is this. If you fix the quota at the present day demand—perhaps some people will hold that it ought to be fixed a little lower—immediately this question arises. If there is any field in which the exporting business of the country can hope to recover markets in the future, it is going to make it extremely difficult for them to do so if the quota is fixed as tightly as that. If the quota is fixed tightly, the Act might as well not be put into operation at all. There is another argument. In each district the land sale interest predominates, and it is only natural that the exporters should have a fear that their interests will be overlooked and the quota fixed rather to suit the land sale interest than to suit themselves. That is a perfectly genuine criticism. When an exporter gets an order, it is not for coal as one commodity as it is named in this Bill; it is for a particular class of coal. How is he to get rid of the other classes and grades, because he will be prevented from disposing of them in the home market?
My object is not to make such destructive criticism that the whole Act should in fact be wiped away. I do not agree with that for a moment, but there are so many chinks in the armour which may, when the Act comes into full operation, be very vulnerable points and may hinder export very seriously, that I must question whether we are justified in fixing the period of Part I of the Act of 1930 to operate for five years. I ask the Government whether they cannot even at the last moment consider reducing the period of five years to a period necessitating revision at the end of three years. If the Government will give an assurance that in the administration of the Act there will be sufficient elasticity so as not to be harmful to the export trade we may be satisfied that we have the best temporary expedient to be obtained at the moment. If that 1101 assurance cannot be given, it will be a very serious matter for the export trade of the country and particularly difficult for us in Scotland. Every order we have to refuse from abroad means miners are put out, of employment. Let Members of the Opposition face the facts that if the quota is fixed tightly and we have to refuse orders in the export market it will be a very serious matter for the coal trade from every point of view. I have made these few remarks with the utmost diffidence. I recognise that hon. Members on all sides of the House have far greater knowledge than I can hope to possess, but I hope that their experience and knowledge of the variations of the trade may induce hon. Members to support the point of view that we should have a revision at the end of three years.
§ Mr. DAVID DAVIES
I have listened with a great deal of interest to the speeches in the Debate of yesterday and to-day, and particularly to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade. He was very anxious to inform the House of the intense desire of the Government to get this piece of legislation through as quickly as possible in order to give some kind of security to the coal trade. He indicated that threats of stoppages were reflected upon the markets and prevented ordinary contracts from being concluded. One would have thought that the Government, in their anxiety to get stability in the coal trade, would also be anxious to get stability in connection with miners' wages. As certain as night follows day, the stability which is anticipated, and for which provision is made in the Bill, will only last for 12 months. I have found plenty of evidence, both to-day and yesterday, that the chief intention of giving a guarantee for 12 months is to enable the mineowners of this country to inflict a reduction of wages upon the workmen at the end of that time.
The President of the Board of Trade referred to the loss of the export trade, and to the question of the seven and a-half hour day and the right of the miners to a seven-hour day. The miner is entitled to a seven-hour day. Much has been said about the economics of the industry. The President of the Board of Trade has stated that if he were an underground worker he would agree that seven hours 1102 were a sufficiently long period to have to work underground. That is what he said with an academic knowledge of the industry. If he had been a miner, as i have been for 25 years, he would have been glad to have reduced the number of hours to six per day. His argument for not going back to a seven-hour day was an economic argument, and he presumed, with the hours remaining at seven and a-half and with the ability of the owners at the end of 12 months to reduce wages, that there was a prospect of expanding the coal trade.
I submit both to him and to the Government that the inability of the coal-owners to secure export markets is not in consequence of competition but of restrictions of quotas, and of the economic disturbances of the world. I am referring to foreign quotas which keep out our coal from the different countries of the world. Our people could get the markets to-morrow if they were in a fair field of competition, notwithstanding the fact that every other export country in the world is subsidising their export trade. One has to remember that the quantity of ex-port coal is slightly over a quarter of the total production. The Government have recently introduced tariffs for the purpose of inflating prices in this country in order to enable the producers of goods to get higher prices. There are 118,000,000 tons of coal sold in this country, and the object of the tariff is to protect the people who produce goods in this country from the inordinate competition of the foreigner. The coal produced and sold inside this country is not subject to any foreign competition. The Secretary for Mines said that we have an enemy abroad and an enemy at home, but the enemy at home is internecine. It is Scotland against Wales, and Yorkshire against Lancashire. One would have thought that, like the people of old, we could have applauded and said, "The Messiah cometh." when the Government came forward and said "We have been able to stabilise the miners' wages for the next 12 months and prevent a further reduction." If they think that that is a magnificent achievement let them come with me into the coalfields and see what they have preserved. They have preserved starvation wages for hundreds of thousands of miners who are not getting more than 6s. 6d. a day. In my area, 1103 where men are working slow time, the average for the district is not five days a week. We have a varied set of conditions. An adult able-bodied single man —only fit men can work in the mines— gets the magnificent sum of 7s. a day. If a man is married, they allow his wife 3d. per day, bringing the amount to 7s. 3d. If he is fortunate enough to have seven or eight children, they give him an additional 3d., making the total 7s. 6d. a day. In order to appreciate what the Government have preserved, I would like hon. Members to examine a concrete case, which is an example of thousands of cases. It is the case of a married man and his wife, with seven children, living within a stone's throw of my own little residence. He pays 2s. 6d. a week to travel to his work on an omnibus, and in order to get some kind of decency he lives in a council house and pays 10s. 7d. a week rent. Out of his wages of 37s. 6d. a week, the sum of 4s. is deducted for his National Health Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, his doctor, his fund and his welfare contribution. He comes away with 33s. 6d. If the whole of that money was spent on food for the man, his wife, and his children, there would be only a very small sum per head per meal, to say nothing about the cost of boots and shoes for the children, bed clothing and domestic utensils. Then the Government come and say that they are the saviours of the coal trade because they have preserved such wages.
The trouble is not over. The miners are in session. There are at the head of the mining movement men who are prepared for peace and I want the Government to give them a gesture of good will in order to assist them. They cannot hope that those men can restrain the bitter feeling that there is in the coalfield, when the men are opposed to all the dangers of the mines, and they come out at the end of the week and find that they cannot make both ends meet. It is not an easy matter to induce these men to continue at work. It is the easiest thing in the world to get the miners out from work. They are working in the mine under all kinds of unhealthy conditions. Where I come from we have the hills around us where we are free and where we delight to roam, notwithstanding some of the restrictive efforts of the landlords, and it is not a difficult matter 1104 to persuade the miners that it is much healthier to breathe the air of the mountain side in safety than to run the risk of the mine, and come out at the end of the week with not enough to pay the butcher's, the baker's, and the other bills. These men have a bitterness in their soul when they are ekeing out a miserable existence in an important industry.
The economics of the industry could be improved by intelligent administration. Some of the miners in my area have to walk nearly three miles from the shaft bottom to their working place. It is not a pleasant walk like a path on the countryside. In the place where they have to walk they have to stoop their heads. It is only four or five feet high The men have to carry on their backs the tools with which they are going to attack nature when they get to their working place. They have to expend energy in that walk for a period of 40 to 45 minutes before they get to the point when they can apply the actual energy for producing coal. Only in rare cases do the mine-owners attempt to convey the men to the coal face, where they could be taken probably in ten minutes and thereby conserve their energy. The Secretary for Mines knows that there have been investigation and some practical observations in connection with the erection of steel props and steel rings. In the report of the Inspector of Mines last year there is recorded an instance of a mine in Staffordshire where they have saved 9d. per ton by introducing steel props and steel rings. Half the coalowners have not introduced any of those things up to now. There is a means by which an enormous saving could be effected in order to give the guarantee that the miner is asking for to-day.
What are the coalowners doing to push the industry? There is a potential demand for pulverised fuel in this country which cannot be estimated but which must be very substantial. We talk about competition. In the industries of this country there are millions of horse power being developed by oil which could be developed by pulverised fuel, but if I asked for pulverised fuel to-morrow for a great electrical generating station I could not get it from a colliery in this country. I should have to pulverise it myself. Why do not the coalowners attempt to push that side of the industry? If the Gov- 1105 ernment want to assist the mining industry, why do not they urge the Navy to go bad: to coal. Is that an impossible or an impracticable proposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Well, it is in accordance with the cry which has been heard throughout the country: "Buy British!" The Government ought to encourage the development of the coal industry from the point of view of pulverised fuel.
I feel very keenly on the question of wages, knowing what it is to have brought up a family on rotten wages of that kind, and knowing that in the area that I come from there are thousands of decent men, not the riff raff that we are considered to be but men. of high intelligence, men of religious aspiration, men of high culture who are consigned to a destiny of poverty and degradation. Then the Government come to the House and say that they have saved the country by making this agreement for 12 months. If they want peace in the industry they can only get it on the basis of equity. I recognise the difficulty of the economic circumstances. I recognise how difficult it is to deal with the coalowners. I have had long experience of them in the South Wales area and hon. Members can take it from me that all the oratory in the world will not influence them. The only argument that we could ever use that was effective was that we could bring about a stoppage of the wheels. That was the only language they understood.
They live in an enclosed area into which no sound can enter. It is sound proof except for the sound of the wheels of the colliery, and the protestations of the miners cannot be heard. It is only when that rumbling is stopped that the voices of discontented miners can be heard. Unfortunately, we have had to stop it. It is the easiest thing in the world. The difficult thing is to get the miners back. Where is the attraction to a miner to go back to a mine when he knows that for all his energies he cannot make ends meet, that he cannot take his little kiddies to the pictures or spend 6d. in recreation. And that applies to hundreds and thousands of miners, in a land and in a world teeming with milk and honey. I want to warn the Government that much more substantial guarantees must be inserted in the Bill, a guarantee of wages for the term for which the extension of hours is to run is the least 1106 we can hope the miners to accept. If there is no danger why not put it in? Have the Government lost faith in its new financial policy. The President of the Board of Trade referred to the question of the steel trade and we had been told that it is to be revived again by means of tariffs. The sinister statement was made that the Government got the owners to agree to the 12 months with great difficulty. I infer from that that they are going to attack the wages of the miners in less than 12 months' time, if they have the opportunity. I submit that there is ample evidence to enable us to infer that wages will be attacked at the end of 12 months.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT indicated dissent.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The Secretary for Mines shakes his head, and I have no doubt that he is sincere. If he knew the coal-owners as I do he would not trust them to the extent of allowing them ad libitum powers at the end of 12 months. He would give us this safeguard. I do not know what influences have been at work to generate the confidence that this is going to be accepted lying down by the miners. There are certain districts in the coalfields which could work a seven hour day comfortably. Why not make that change? These men are entitled to it by legislation; and it is a very strong district. To expect them to give up their right to a seven hour day without a guarantee over the same period that their wages will not be reduced is expecting something which the Government cannot get. The miners are in session. I want to assist those people who are trying to steer the ship through very stormy seas. I want the Government to give these people a fair deal.
The people of this country owe a debt to the miners which is long overdue. The miners were paid 2s. a day less than they were entitled to in 1913; that was proved by the Sankey Commission. At the moment they are only receiving wages 30 per cent, above pre-War, while the cost of living is 44 per cent, above pre-War level. They are, therefore, in a worse position now than they were in 1913. They are not going to stand that long. You can drive people for a short distance but there comes a time when they will revolt, and that time is not far off. I urge that the Government should 1107 give the miners the assurance that as long as the seven and a-half hour day remains that at least his minimum wage will not be interfered with. The Government is like the rich man in the Bible, and the mining industry is the Lazarus of the feast. The Government are feasting to-day at the coalowners' table, and we simply ask that so long as they are feasting we shall be guaranteed the crumbs which fall from the table. That is all we ask, and I hope the Government will respond to an appeal which we are certainly entitled to make.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER RAMSAY
I am afraid that after the rhetorical eloquence to which we have just listened anything that I can say in regard to the real facts of this case will appear to be somewhat commonplace. It has been most interesting to observe the general methods by which Members of the Opposition have approached this question yesterday and to-day. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) used a torrent of eloquence which nearly drove away for ever any aspiration of mine to address this House. What is going to happen to us if we have to discuss problems which are purely business and industrial problems in the torrential atmosphere which he created by his speech? I want to make it quite clear that in approaching this question, as between the owners and the miners, I am not a protagonist. Indeed, as far as I represent a view at all it is the view of that extraordinary person who, for some unusual and inexplicable reason, appears to have been entirely forgotten during the last day or two, I mean the consumer of coal, and especially the industrial consumer of coal who looks to the mining industry for an adequate supply at a reasonable price and to whom the mining industry would be well advised to have some regard.
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) is not in his place at the moment because I want to express a little appreciation that I have been saving up since the beginning of this Parliament, and then afterwards I want to kick his dialectic shins. The hon. Member is one to whom I owe some gratitude. On the first day I came into this House, very strange, diffident and perhaps a little forlorn, I saw a man in the Lobby, and I approached him and 1108 asked a question. Not only did he answer my question, but he took me under his wing, so to speak, and showed me many of the amenities of the House that he considered I ought to be made acquainted with. That was the hon. Member for Aberdare, and I hold this courtesy in very grateful recollection. The hon. Member and his Friends may take it for granted that I should not criticise his speech merely for the sake of criticism, and I am not doing so when I say that the speech that he made, and many of the speeches from the Opposition side have been, in my judgment—not without experience—the most incomplete, unsatisfactory, detrimentally partisan and least helpful that have ever been made on the question of industrial negotiations.
There is a certain amount of tradition in this House that in carrying on discussion a little political invective and Parliamentary vituperation is a good thing, but one should surely not deal with this industry from the point of view of Parliamentary tactics. Is it not true that this House has a different temperament and that hon. Members are seriously concerned with the grave national problems that confront the country and the Government? [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I do not propose to enter into any mutual recrimination with hon. Members from the Clydeside, but when they reproach hon. Members for not being in the House will they bear in mind that two of their number arrived in the House only an hour ago for the first time this week? [Interruption.] I really feel that I must be making a good speech when hon. Members take so much notice of it. To come back to the point I was making, it seems to me that what so many Members of the Opposition have done, in dealing with what is really a most momentous industrial issue, has been simply to dig up the dead bones of old and buried controversies, to shake them before the House, and to say: "That is our case." I put it to the House that, if they are truly desirous of serving the interests of the men for whom they are speaking, they will have to adopt a different attitude.
Speaking as an outsider and a consumer I would ask: What are the realities of the situation? The country and the world to-day are faced with the greatest economic crisis that has over been known since the beginning of the manufacturing 1109 era. There are conditions, economic, financial and political, that might well cause grave concern to everybody who has the welfare of civilisation at heart. The Government have bad to intervene on the question of conditions in the coal trade, not because they wanted to of their own volition, nor, indeed, in the opinion of many of us, because they should have intervened, but simply because the two sides were totally incapable of arriving at any mutual agreement. What do the Government propose? They find, in addition to the general economic situation, that there have been various tendencies in all sections of industry during the past two years. They find in their hands an Act of Parliament passed two years ago by the Socialist Government in conditions which were not worse but probably better than those existing to-day, and when the outlook was certainly better than the outlook we have before us. They are gravely concerned with the prospect and with the Lausanne and Ottawa Conferences, and with, as we have discovered this morning, the shadow of a great political crisis in Germany which they had seen coming. What do they do? They say: "We are willing to accept what our predecessors did and we shall maintain the status quo." Looking at it from the point of view of one who has no interest in this industry on one side or the other, I ask the House: Is that not a perfectly sane, reasonable and defensible 'attitude for the Government to take up?
What does it mean? As regards the question of hours, I do not want to debate in any detailed way the merits of the respective points at issue—that is not my job and there are others who can do it better than I can—but, taking a broad, genera! view, the Government have said that if the Miners' Federation, acting internationally or dealing with any other body concerned with the international position of labour, can persuade the other European countries to come down to a seven and a-quarter hour day, then the Government will bring the hours of this country down to seven and a-quarter. The Opposition cannot repudiate the merits and virtues of an International Convention. They would not attempt to do it because it would stultify the whole of their idealism so frequently expressed in regard to internationalism in past years. 1110 The issue between the Government and the Opposition on the question of hours is a quarter of an hour per day, and I put it to the House whether that is not a slight controversy and almost a tragic issue to drag forth with open and veiled threats and recriminations against the Government? I feel I must earnestly try not to take an unfair point of view, but I do say that the Opposition have exaggerated their case out of all measure of proportion, and they ought to have taken a much more reasonable line in their criticism of the Government.
Now we come to the question of wages. There has been a fear expressed, not by one speaker but by many, that the mere fact that the Mining Association would not agree to a wages agreement is an indication that at the end of 12 months something sinister and detrimental to the interests of the mining community is going to happen. As one hon. Member very graphically put it, at the end of 12 months the miners were going to be thrown to the wolves. I suggest that a claim of that kind forgets the history of industrial negotiations, and particularly the history of negotiations in relation to the mining community. There are many hon. Members in this House directly connected with the Miners' Federation, which is a powerful body from the point of view of negotiation. Is the House to assume that it is entirely without power or influence and that it will quietly acquiesce in things being handed over to the Miners' Federation at the end of 12 months to do what they like with? Why, the very idea is almost an insult to Members of this House. We know perfectly well that if at the end of 12 months the owners were to take any action of which the miners disapproved, then the Miners' Federation would deal with that matter with its full strength, and, if it did not meet with satisfaction, would not hesitate to bring the issue before the Members of this House.
I really do desire, if I can, to make a constructive contribution to this discussion. The question of the quota and of the absorbing of sections of industry that are not too prosperous, and matters relating thereto, I might have touched on, but, I shall not do so, except to make one case. I think we are agreed on all sides that the quota, the price fixing, the power to absorb other businesses, do 1111 confer certain advantages on the mining community, and that these advantages have to be paid for by someone. They have been estimated at as much as 3s. per ton, and they are paid for unquestionably by the general community and the consumer of coal. Is it too much to ask that the Opposition in estimating their advantages and disadvantages should make some allowance for the fact that they as an industry, as a community, have got by legislative action some advantages which are not enjoyed by many other industrial sections in the country? The great problem of the mining industry is to find some means by which its product can be consumed. It is suffering from certain natural disabilities. They have been mentioned—the use of oil, economy in. the use of coal, the use of water power for the production of electricity, and so on. But it is also suffering from certain internal disabilities, that is to say, disabilities that should have been and may still be within the control of those who are running the mining industry.
Mention has been made of conditions on the Ruhr. If hon. Members who are interested in the active conduct of the mining industry were to go to the Ruhr they would find that the production of coal is not only a mining operation, but that when they get the coal to the pit head they immediately start operating, as it were, a factory for the use of the coal. They take the coal, they turn it at the pit head into coke, they supply gas to the steel works just adjacent, they extract the tar and other by-products, which are available for the chemical and dyestuffs trade. On the Ruhr to-day they are actually conveying gas 130 miles to the city of Hanover and adjacent towns, and at prices at which we cannot look. The ancillary trades are getting tremendous advantages; they are getting cheap coal, cheap coke, abundant power from which they produce the oil and cheap chemicals for the dyestuffs and other trades. They are creating a bigger demand for raw coal.
I went the length of asking the Secretary for Mines a question last week on hydrogenation. Why that question has not been pursued energetically by someone representing the miners I cannot understand. [HON. MEMBERS: "We 1112 have! "] I should be most happy to cooperate with them, and to try to influence many of my friends to help them in persuading the Minister and the Government to take a generous and a forwardly constructive attitude on the question of hydrogenation. The truth is that in Germany, there are hundreds of tons of oil being produced by hydrogenation from coal. In America the technique of the matter has been raised to a very high level. Here we have done nothing, not because we have oil, for we have not, but because, quite frankly and admittedly, we have not developed the scientific use of coal to anything like as high a degree as our competitors on the Continent and in America. It is most important that we should know why this is so. It is not because we have not the necessary technical knowledge: the hon. Member for Aberdare paid a tribute to the skill of our mining engineers. It is not because we have not the business acumen to see the possibility of such development: the hon. Member for Aberdare paid a tribute to the business methods by which our mining is conducted. No.
We are really coming to the point. This development has not taken place because the mining industry has been the cockpit of strife and faction, and when you get a condition of that kind in any industry material development is utterly impossible. I put it to the House, and particularly and in the most respectful way to the Members of the Opposition, that what this industry needs for its salvation is not more restrictive legislation, not more legislation that will give them benefit at the expense of the rest of the community, but a new outlook and a new determination that, as far as they can on both sides in the industry, they will work harmoniously together and try to develop the industry to the best economic and mutual advantage. It does not appear to me that that is impossible. The finest thing that could possibly happen to the coal trade would be a considerable period of peace. It is not to the credit of either side in the industry that it should be the only industry in this country that has to come to the Government and ask the Government to settle its internal differences, to bully the Government into settling its differences. The hon. Member for Aberdare, replying to 1113 the President of the Board of Trade, said, "But this is an industry of great economic importance. You must deal with it politically."
Is not the cotton trade a trade of great economic importance, or the woollen trade, or the steel trade, or shipbuilding or engineering? And yet by some strange alchemy of spirit the men on both sides of these trades can usually succeed in settling their differences. But not the coal industry. Its representatives come straight to the House of Commons and put the responsibility on the Government to do work which they exist to do themselves. I am speaking quite plainly but I hope not disrespectfully, and because I hope that some notice will be taken of what I say. If I were connected with the mining industry on the one side or the other, as I am connected with certain other industries and with much experience of negotiations, I should be ashamed to admit that we had to create serious embarrassment to the Government because there was not a disposition on my part and the opposite side to settle our affaire mutually.
We have in Part IV of the Act machinery by which the various matters appertaining to this trade can be discussed between the two sides. I would like to know why that machinery is not more effectively and fully used. It ought to be. It ought to be a matter for the industry as a whole. It should concern itself seriously with the fact that here is an Act of Parliament, designed by its own supporters, and yet one of the most important provisions, determining mutual arrangements, as far as I can discover remains entirely inoperative. I hope that during the next 12 months, regarding the end of which so many fearful expectations have been expressed, some more effective use will be made of Part IV of the Act.
I think it just as well that somebody who has experience of industrial negotiations should indicate to hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches certain things which they ought to know. One of these is that if ever they hope to establish any sort of friendly contact with the mineowners in negotiation, they must restrain the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale from making mischievous speeches 1114 on the mining situation such as he made this afternoon. Addressing the Government and referring to the mineowners he calls them ravening wolves, and says that they are beasts, red in tooth and claw. He is a man who has intimate association with the Miners' Federation and the mining industry. Can any self respecting mineowner, with any sense of dignity, meet in friendly negotiation, with any hope of a reasonable settlement, men who talk in an honoured assembly of this kind in such abusive terms. I beg hon. Members if they desire to do the best for their own industry, if they have any sense of responsibility, any appreciation of the needs of the country, to modify their attitude, and try to approach this question in a friendly way, and then tell the Government and the country, the results when they have made that trial. I am certain that that is the only way by which the mining industry can re-establish itself—by constructive, forward, progressive action, by adopting a policy which will have the sympathy of the country and the House behind it, even if it means a financial sacrifice on our part. If they can succeed in that then there is no reason why coal mining should not take its appropriate and prosperous place inside the great structure of British industry.
§ Mr. R. T. EVANS
It seems to me that much of this discussion has been rather irrelevant to the purposes of the Bill. Were this a Bill presuming to attempt to reorganise the mining industry and place it permanently on its feet, then I should despair. But I take it that the Bill is an attempt by the Government to meet a situation of great urgency. The fact that an urgent situation in regard to hours has arisen and requires to be faced does not, I think, excuse the Government from adumbrating, however vaguely, some plan for the reorganisation of the industry. This is a Bill which will stabilise pretty terrible conditions for a period of 12 months. I do not propose to be melodramatic, but I know the mining areas and I know something of the travail of the people who live in them. I know something of the horrors of the situation, and I feel these things as acutely as hon. Members opposite. It seems to me that it would reveal a bankruptcy of statesmanship if the Government were simply to say that those 1115 conditions were to be stabilised for 12 months without having any vista beyond that period.
If I suggest to the Opposition that they are making a tactical mistake in their method of approach to this question, I do so with great deference because I know that many of them have considerable experience of negotiations in the mining industry and some of them own a considerable amount of industrial statesmanship. But the two relevant factors in the situation it appears to me are not hours and wages, but marketing schemes and wages. Part I of the 1930 Act was implemented in order to make it possible to maintain certain rates of wages in the industry. A toll has been exacted from the community in order that the coalmining industry should have sufficient funds to make possible certain scales of payment. The claim, it seems to me, ought not be that the guarantee as to wages should be coterminous with the period of operation of the seven and a-half hour day, but rather that it should be coterminous with the period of the operation of Part I.
Anyhow, I feel that we are being misled. Undoubtedly, the conditions are terrible. The fact that so many miners persist in working, paying often 4s. or 5s. a week in omnibus fares to go to work in order to bring back a sum quite inadequate for the ordinary amenities of life, rather than find some excuse for refusing to work and resorting to public assistance—from which in many cases they would receive more than they receive in wages—is a tribute to the self-respect of the miners of South Wales and other areas. They prefer to work on a pittance rather than be idle on a larger sum. The real task of statesmanship is to make this industry more capable of paying higher wages. Hon. Members opposite have said that they can see ways of reorganising the industry immediately in such a way as to make higher wages possible. That may be, but I feel that only a bold policy of radical statesmanship can restore the mining industry to a higher degree of prosperity. Many oversea markets have been lost beyond hope of recovery. It may be that the home trade will be stimulated to a certain degree as a result of recent legislation and that we shall find better markets 1116 at home. But the use of raw coal is now very limited, and the mining industry will never be able, without a considerable shrinkage of output and the wiping away of redundant mines, to pay a decent average wage as it is at present organised.
We shall find that the co-ordination of the fuel and power services of this country is the only way in which this industry can be made worth while to the masses of the people. I would like an assurance from the Minister that the fact that Part I of the Act is to be extended for five years does not preclude the emendation of certain features in the marketing scheme. I have received representations on this matter from people engaged in the export of coal and in the inland sale of coal as well—men of considerable substance and great experience. I have no technical knowledge but they assure me that there are serious defects in the marketing scheme. I have received a letter from one coalowner who has a little mine, the output of which is used largely for his own purposes, in certain subsidiary concerns. He assures me that on 1st June—to-morrow—his mine will have to be closed down and 70 people will be rendered idle for a month, and during that period he will have to buy the output of some other mine. There is need for an integrated, co-ordinated marketing system for the reduction of competition in our oversea markets, and there is also need for a central negotiating committee to enter into some sort of cartelising arrangement with oversea producers for a division of markets. I feel that it would be wrong to pass this Clause for the extension of Part I without receiving some assurance that it can be amended at some convenient time during the next five years.
My other point is this: Coalowners in many instances are harassed. There is not a shadow of doubt that private fortunes have been used up in order to finance certain family concerns. I know from personal experience that the wages for many months in certain concerns have been paid out of private fortunes. The miners also are harassed. They have no outlook; life is something sterile, and there is bound to be demoralisation and intellectual and moral disintegration. That is inevitable, and I should shudder to think that there was no prospect for 1117 the mining community of this country other than that which it enjoys at present, but I believe that there is an accumulation of evidence which renders one rather more hopeful as to the future, and I submit that it is the task of statesmanship, and that it is one that the National Government, acting in the national interest, not in the interest of any class, ought seriously to undertake, and that is the provision of means whereby we can undertake the roost scientific utilisation of coal.
It is nonsense saying that the financial stringency makes that impossible, for what is the history of the last 10 years? I saw a statement the other day by the Federation of British Industries to the effect that £145,000,000 of the £203,000,000 raised in the City of London by way of foreign loans might be lost completely. We have found capital for investment abroad, and we have financed all sorts of derelict concerns. I suppose we have something very little short of £1,000,000,000 of bad and doubtful debts around the world to-day, and it would be an act of statesmanship for the Government; to conserve the resources of this country for the development of our own industries. Here you have an opportunity, with something like £40,000,000 of oil purchased from abroad every year a commodity that could be produced out of our own coal. I submit that the Government, when proposing to stabilise conditions which are really terrible, ought to give to the miners of this country some sort of outlook, some ray of hope for the future; and the method that I suggest, without going into details, is that they might utilise the idle savings of the people of this country, to make us independent of foreign supplies of oil. to placing a much harassed industry upon its feet, and bringing some succour to a people from whose eyes the flame of hope has long died out.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
I want to raise a question of considerable importance, resulting from a remark of the Secretary for Mines which may cause grave doubt as to the working of this Bill. The Minister said that just before he came into the House this morning it came to his notice that one of the districts, namely, Kent, had desired to withdraw their undertaking as regards the guarantee. Since the Minister made his speech, I have been in communication, as 1118 representing a constituency in Kent, with the Kent coalowners, and have ascertained the facts. In order that there should be no misunderstanding on this question, particularly in view of the possible gravity of the future situation, I wish to make the position quite clear.
In the first place, Kent has never given any undertaking at all to the Government as regards a. guarantee of wages. The position is that the Kent owners were approached on the 5th May to give their undertaking to continue wages. They were approached by the Mining Association, and that undertaking was given to the Mining Association by Kent on the clear understanding that Part I of the Bill was going to be separated from the question of hours. I am not saying that there was bad faith on the part of the Government, but certainly there was on the part of the Mining Association, because I have here the minutes of the Central Council meeting held on the 28th January, 1932, from which it appears that Mr. Evan Williams, the chairman, reported that he had ascertained that the Government intended to deal with the question of working hours by an entirely separate Bill. On that basis Kent gave its undertaking as regards the guarantee of wages. As far back as December last, in a letter to the Central Council, Kent stated that in view of their position as the only coalfield developing to-day and not yet on an economic basis, they wished their representatives to be able to point out their views to the Government. It was only in those circumstances that the district agreed, in a letter of the 7th May, wishing to put their views before the Government themselves and believing that Part II and Part I were going to be separated, according to the statement of the chairman of the Mining Association.
On the 26th of this month, the day before the Bill was introduced into this House, it came to the notice of the Kent owners that the Bill dealt, not only with hours, but also with Part I of the Act. Having secured that information—no matter how it came to them, but they got it the day before the Bill was introduced —the Kent owners immediately sent to the Mining Association and to the Ministry of Mines a withdrawal of their undertaking. The Minister of Mines said 1119 to-day, quite rightly I am sure, that it had only come to his notice just before the Debate to-day that Kent had withdrawn their undertaking. I am sure that it only came to his notice then, but I have a letter from the Mines Department, his own Department, dated the 27th May, or four days ago, acknowledging the receipt of the withdrawal of the undertaking by the Kent owners and saying that they considered Kent in honour bound to continue their guarantee.
The Mines Department, when it wrote that letter, did not know the circumstancee and what Mr. Evan Williams had stated at the central council meeting. I submit that four days is a long time to pass before an important letter like that from the Department is brought before the Minister, and I suggest that he should inquire why that very important withdrawal was not brought to his attention on the 27th, the day on which it arrived at the Ministry of Mines, whose acknowledgment of it I have here. The position of Kent is this, that it is the only field developing to-day. It has not yet reached an economic state, and its allocation is by those who are its competitors, the Central Association, who give them their quota. In the five quarters during which Part I has been working, Kent has had to appeal three times for arbitration, and each time has got an award in its favour from the arbitrator.
Kent is to-day paying a higher rate of wages than any other mining district, but if the allocation goes on in the future as it has in the past, they cannot afford to go to arbitration all the time, and only-two courses will be open to them. Either wages must be reduced or works must be shut down. Men of Kent and Kentish men are always reasonable people, and they ask for fair treatment. They do not want to reduce wages. They have shown their good faith in that matter by paying the highest wages in the industry, but they ask that, as regards allocation of quota, if wages are not to be reduced or mines are not to be shut down, there should be an opportunity of an allocation of quota, not from their competitors, but from a fair arbitrator. Let the Minister give them their quota. They would trust him, but do not let it come from their competitors, or the whole of the machinery of this Bill will break down.
§ Mr. LUNN
I have listened to practically the whole of this Debate, and I think that it has been as varied and as good as any Debate on the mining situation that I have heard for many years. The most remarkable speeches in the Debate have been those of Members who defeated mining Members at the last election and they, knowing how unsafe their seats are, might have made their speeches from these benches. I do not intend to deal with any of those speeches, but there is one which was made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. A. Ramsay) to which I must refer. It was a most impudent and ignorant speech, and it would have pleased me very much if I could have devoted the time that is allotted to me to it, but I know that the House resents that kind of speech. I intend to be very emphatic in what I have to say, but I hope that it will be reasonable and that I will be able to put a case which will enable the Attorney-General to have something to which to reply. I say deliberately that this Bill will settle nothing. Its unfairness will be enough to cause endless discussions here, and I am sure that ferment will be caused by it in every coal area. The Bill does not give a penny addition to the very low wages of the miners; it seeks to perpetuate the seven and a-half hour day; and it makes no suggestion with regard to the reorganisation or unification of the industry.
The Secretary for Mines said that no one could be happy about the Bill. His whole speech was an apology for it, and I am sure that he did not feel as happy as he did on the 3rd May when he presented the Estimates of the Mines Department in a much better speech and a remarkably good speech. The coal industry provides the life-blood for every other industry and in the past has given vast profits to the few people who are interested in it and have done their best in recent years to ruin the industry. Hon. Members talk about removing the subject from the House of Commons and from politics. It has almost usurped the position of the old Irish question, and it seems to be almost as impossible of solution as the drink problem or the question of religion. I am sure that the Government are by this Bill asking for industrial trouble. Far more time will be taken in the House, if this Bill is passed, in discussing this problem than has been taken 1121 in the past. During the Debate on the Estimates of the Mines Department, the Secretary for Mines said:I sometimes wonder what would happen if for a period of six months Members of Parliament and editors of newspapers had to spend an apprenticeship in the mines. I think that there might be some change of emphasis in the leading articles, and perhaps legislation might have taken a different course."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1932; col. 981, Vol. 265.]I agree with him. If all Members of this House were compelled to work in the mines for the seven and a-half hours, as we understand it in this Bill, during the whole of the Recess, we should come back invigorated for the purpose of improving the mining legislation. The President of the Board of Trade said yesterday that seven hours would be quite long enough for him to be down the mine. What is the position with regard to hours? The county from which I come are very much concerned about this question, and we feel strongly that we should have restored to us the seven-hour day. What is meant by the seven and a-half hours in this Bill? It is not a seven and a-half hours day. Take a colliery with 2,000 men. The whole of those men must be down the mine for seven and a-half hours. Suppose that they go down at 6 o'clock in the morning; they will have to be down at 6 and not one will come up before 1.30. It may take an hour to lower the men and an hour to raise them, so that, as there is no rota system, miners may be down the mine nine and a-half hours. There are innumerable collieries that have three-quarters of an hour winding time at each end, and that is in addition to the seven and a-half hours. For 33 years I walked more than three miles to a colliery and three miles back, and with a 40 minutes winding time at each end, there was an extension of 80 minutes on the working hours.
Without this Bill we should have gone back to the seven hours on 8th July. We would like to go back to the seven hour day. I remember the Debates of 1926 on the eight hours day. I remember the feeling of bitterness there was with regard to the extension of the hours, and I do not want to see that repeated. I want to see a reduction in the hours of labour; it is the one thing that we need. Since I came to the House I have seen 1122 a good deal of the commissions that have been sitting on the mining situation, and I have spent a good deal of time on them. The Sankey Commission recommended a seven hours day, and in certain circumstances a six hours day. We got the seven hours day, but we have not got the six hours day. Lord Sankey repeated the necessity for the seven hours day when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill which the Labour Government put through m 1930. The Report of the Samuel Commission stated that to increase the hours of labour would not help as the supply of labour far exceeded the demand under present conditions. He did not recommend an increase on the seven-hour day. Then there is the position of other Members of the Government. I have long been a friend of Philip Snowden. The other day I picked up a pamphlet which he wrote many years ago on how to nationalise the mines, and in that pamphlet he stated that eight hours was too long for any man to be below ground in one day. I have heard the present Prime Minister say on innumerable occasions in mining districts that miners worked too long, that seven and a-half hours a day were too long. But those men are an this Government. What do they count for in this Government? Do they count for anything? Who are they in this Government? Why cannot we go back to the seven-hour day with such a number of men in the Government who have so long urged the necessity of a shorter working day in the mines? We who represent miners are anxious to go back to the seven-hour day at the earliest possible moment. In this Bill there is a paragraph which says the seven and a-half hour day shall continue in forceuntil the coming into operation of an Act the enable effect to be given to the draft international convention limiting the hours of work underground in coal mines adopted by the general conference of the International Labour Organisation of the League of Nations on the eighteenth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-one.We are grateful to Mr. Shinwell for the work he did at Geneva in securing agreement on this draft Convention, because if there is one party in this House in favour of international agreements, understandings and arrangements it is the Labour party. We want to 1123 see disarmament, and hope to accomplish it by international agreement. We would like to see a monetary policy agreed upon by the countries of Europe. We want to see better industrial conditions in other countries as well as our own, and so we want to see international agreements arrived at which will be of advantage to all peoples. But we want to see these international conventions in operation, and there is no guarantee in this Bill as to when this international convention will come into force in this country.
I welcome this international convention and desire to see it in operation because it represents a different state of things from what the hon. Member for West Bromwich suggested. He said it meant only a saving of a quarter of an hour. I have shown that to-day you have men working nine and a-half hours a day—or you can have them working nine and a-half hours, those who may be down at each end of the winding time. But under the convention it will be seven and three-quarter hours bank to bank. That would mean that the men would all go down and up within the seven and three-quarter hours. I wish to ask this definite question. Are the Government prepared to see that convention put into operation within 12 months? The Secretary for Mines said this afternoon that it could be put into operation if two countries agreed, and he asked "Did we desire that?" I say quite distinctly we do desire it, and we should be very pleased if the Government could give us a guarantee that the convention should be put into operation within 12 months. That would be very favourably considered by the miners of this country. If the Government are not going to do that, what are they going to do to meet the position as regards hours?
We have over 300,000 men unemployed in the mining industry in this country. In my own county we have 73,000 unemployed, and for the whole of last year we had an average of over 56,000. The other day I saw that the Yorkshire Miners' Association had decided to pay unemployment pay to 429 boys in the county between the ages of 14 and 16½ because they do not come within the Unemployment Insurance Acts. It is tragic for those boys to find themselves in that position. We would like to see provision 1124 made for them whereby they would be able to improve their minds and would be saved from the demoralisation which is possible when young people are unemployed. What better means can one suggest to find work for the unemployed than the shortening of the hours of labour? I believe that this is one of the means that might be used to-day, knowing the speed at which we have gone in the matter of production. I ask the Attorney-General to say whether or not the Government are prepared to give the guarantee to adopt this convention within a period of 12 months.
I will now refer to Part I of the Act. It has given to the coalowners every protection for marketing and the sale of coal. It was designed for them to remedy some of the evils existing in the industry. It was never satisfactory to the miners of this country. It was an experiment, but it was an experiment under private ownership, but they have failed to use these privileges in the interests of the industry. The employers have never learned how to co-operate, nor have they attempted to reorganise or produce a more satisfactory plan for the future. They have carried on a cut-throat competition between districts, and they are to-day competing with each other in the different inland districts of the country. The miners have no power or control under Part I, and I ask the Government, now that they are to carry on Part I for a number of years to consider some Amendments and see that the miners are allowed to have a share in the control of the industry. We have heard that guarantees have been given by the coal-owners that a minimum percentage shall be maintained for 12 months. This was elaborated by the Secretary for Mines this afternoon, and he told us distinctly that he had that assurance. Did he hear the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour), who put forward the case of the Kent coalowners? The hon. Gentleman said he would not mention the name.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
It was my intention, as soon as I heard of this communication from Kent, that the facts should be put before the House.
§ Mr. LUNN
The hon. Gentleman said he did not wish to give the name of the district, but the district is Kent, and that 1125 shows the value of the guarantee. The Secretary for Mines made a declaration that if these guarantees were not carried out by the owners the Government would see that they were carried out. This is the House of Commons, and here we ought to insist that these guarantees should be placed in the Bill that is now before the House, and the guarantee given in a proper manner. I think that the Government, in view of what has boon said regarding one district, ought to consider an Amendment on the lines I am suggesting. I am convinced that it would be very helpful to us if they were prepared to insert again in this Bill the provision which was in the last Act of Parliament. It is not a guarantee of wages absolutely; it is a guarantee of the minimum percentage that is added to wages. There are attacks upon wages in the mining district even to-day; piece rates, day rates, and various rates may be attacked at the present time; but it is a guarantee of the minimum added percentage, and we naturally desire to see it in the Bill. I know that the Government have difficulties with the coal-owners. They are the most stupid set of men, as has been said many times from both sides in this Debate, that there is in any industry in the country. They are showing the same bitterness in trying to secure inland trade, and I must say that the policy of the Government is not helping the industry in its export trade.
The policy which has been pursued in recent months has been very much against the export trade in coal. That question was dealt with very fully by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) and by another hon. Member, and I do not propose to deal with it, but I am very much concerned, and I hope that something may be done which will enable us to secure markets for our coal, as we produce in this country the best coal in the world. I am one of those who believe in British goods, in the selling of them, and in the desire to sell them, but you cannot have a policy such as you have to-day without other countries retaliating. They are retaliating against us, and the mining industry is suffering. Thousands are being added to the list of unemployed almost every month, and I believe that conditions are likely to go from bad to worse.
1126 I would ask the Government to tighten up the position in the light of their experience of the last 12 months. There can be no satisfaction for anyone in the narrow individualism that there is in the trade to-day. I remember the Tory Amalgamation Bill that was before the House in 1926, and I see opposite to me the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir S. Roberts), whom I should have liked to hear in this Debate. He has listened to nearly the whole of it. He spoke when that Bill was before the House, and, when hon. Members talk of amalgamations I should like to quote what he said. He said that there could be no satisfactory amalgamation except an all-embracing one. I have never forgotten those words. I agreed with him, and I agree with him to-day. If there is to be an amalgamation, it must be on national lines, but the owners have been given their chance to organise on national lines, and they have failed. They have learned nothing.
We have heard speeches in this Debate which have supported the idea of the narrow selfishness of the individual colliery owner, looking after himself as though he were living in long-back days. I have been long enough connected with the mining industry to remember the scheme suggested by a coalowner, Sir George Elliot, in 1893, and in this pamphlet of Mr. Philip Snowden's it is very fully explained. Why do not the coal-owners of the country consider the possibility of putting into operation that particular scheme of trustification on national lines? It would be in the interests of the country, and under Part 1 of the Act they have the power to do it. In my opinion, the only way to secure better wages and conditions and shorter hours, and to improve marketing and the reorganisation of the industry, is through public ownership of the mines, the minerals, and all the by-product plants. That has been my policy for very many years, and almost the first speech that I made in this House was in support of that principle. I still believe that that is the only solution for the problems of the mining industry. We do not expect to get that from this Government, and yet it includes some of the strongest advocates for it that we have known within the last 40 years. But we have a right to ask that, in the light of our experience, Part I should be used to secure unifica- 1127 10.30 p.m.
tion even under private ownership, and that the national organisation of owners and workers should be carried into effect. We do not want industrial trouble. I say that emphatically. I know a good deal about strikes and lockouts and have lived a good deal of my life in them. When I saw this Bill I thought the Government were asking for it, and, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who blames 1926 for all his mistakes, I thought you were seeking to create a bogy on which you could put the blame for your failure to deal with the economic situation. I am inclined now to believe you would welcome a stoppage. I hope the miners are able to prevent you using them again. I notice that the resolution passed at the Miners' Conference to-day asks largely for the Amendments that I have suggested. I hope you will consider those Amendments and provide a bridge to avoid anything in the nature of a stoppage. I fear that you cannot have continued peace if this Bill becomes law. We hardly expect justice from the Government, and certainly none from the coalowners, who in this matter seem to control the Government. The conditions in the mining areas are unrighteous and inhuman. I ask the Government to give us a definite statement, either to-night or to-morrow in Committee, that the minimum percentage will be inserted in the Bill, that the draft convention on hours will be in operation within 12 months and that it will take definite steps for the reorganisation of the industry. With those simple guarantees, we should have some hope for the future. Without them, we fear the consequences. I hope that we may prevent industrial war and maintain a sort of peace in the industry.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)
No one who has listened to the Debate will quarrel with the description that the hon. Gentleman gave of it. It has certainly been full, and it has not been at all ill-tempered. I was a little sorry to hear him in his concluding observations say that he and his party could not expect justice from the Government. He might say truly, perhaps, that he could not expect the Government to agree with him and his party over nationalisation, but it is a very different thing to say he could not 1128 expect justice from the Government. We claim to be just as human in our appreciation of the sufferings of the miners, and we claim to be just as capable of appreciating the obstacles which the people on both side put in the way of peace, and, although it may be possible for this or that person to criticise the Government's policy, we claim to be inspired by just as great a desire for justice and fairness and peace as any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite. If I may borrow a phrase which the hon. Gentleman used in another connection a moment ago, he said, "We want to see disarmament." So do we. We think this Bill will give an opportunity for at least 12 months of bringing about, the disarmament which has been so long and so ardently desired by all of us. Certainly, the only way for Parliament to discuss this question with advantage is to be dispassionate and to be as moderate as we can be in the hope of setting an example which will be followed by the industry itself.
It was not quite reasonable for the Leader of the Opposition to say this Bill is an embodiment of Tory policy. He must be singularly ill-acquainted with the feeling of most Members of the Conservative party about Part I of the 1930 Act if he thinks that the continuation of Part I is a cardinal article in the creed of the average Tory. Our party certainly has no natural affection for Part I. It is true that Part I in practical operation has made a good many conversions, but it does not lie with the right hon. Gentleman to throw it in our teeth that we are forcing upon the industry merely a Tory policy. The operation of Part I in the Bill is really the policy, not of the Tory party, but of the Miners' Federation. The Miners' Federation, in a very moderate statement, for which I should like to give them full praise, deprecated a return to what they called the old conditions of uncontrolled production. They quite rightly said that a return to those conditions would be disastrous, and in those circumstances I do not think that anyone could come to any other conclusion but that the perpetuation for a greater or a less period, of Part I of the 1930 Act was a policy upon which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have decided if they had been sitting upon this bench at this time. So much for Part I.
The position is precisely the same with regard to the seven and a-half hour day. 1129 It is true that the Opposition have not abandoned the ideal of a seven hour day, or even of a six hour day, but they know as well as we do that for all practical purposes the realisation of that ideal is impossible at the present moment. The hon. Gentleman says that his policy is to go back, at the earliest possible moment, to the seven hour day. Yes, but the emphasis is on what is the earliest possible moment. I do not believe that any hon, and right hon. Gentleman opposite, under the present conditions of the industry, would say that to go back to the seven hour day on 8th July is any more possible than it was to go back to the seven hour day when the Labour Government were in power.
The two days' Debate has shown that the Government have not been blamed for what is in the Bill, but for what is not in the Bill. I do not believe that, in spite of the refusal on the part of the Opposition to vote for the Bill, there is one of them who would take the responsibility of saying that the industry would be better off without the Bill. They are complaining of what the Government have not done. There is an air of unreality in the official Amendment of the Opposition when they say that because the Bill does not approve the proposal to ratify the Geneva Convention, and does not improve the compulsory guarantee of wages, they will decline to vote for the Bill. I do not believe that there is an hon. or a right hon. Gentleman opposite who if he once realises that he cannot get either of these things at the present time—either the seven and a-half hour day or a statutory enactment of wages—would really take upon himself the responsibility of saying, like the spoilt child, "Very well, if I cannot get what I want, I will not take even that which is good for the industry." They make the better the enemy of the good even from their own point of view. I venture to think that that is—I will not use any harsh terms, because I honestly respect hon. Members convictions—an unreal attitude on the part of the Opposition and one which I do not think will convince even themselves of its reality.
What does the Bill do? It extends two proposals for which the Labour Government themselves are responsible. It was the Labour Government, the Socialist Government, the present Opposition and their colleagues who were responsible 1130 both for Part I in 1930, and for the seven and a-half hours day in 1931. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made some play about the fact that they were going in the right direction; they were reducing hours whereas we are increasing hours. Even that is not quite accurate. We are merely continuing the present hours. It is true that we are preventing what otherwise would come into operation on 8th July from taking place, but what is important is, not to see whether you are increasing the hours or diminishing the hours, but to see what is the least length of time which the industry in its present condition can bear. It seems rather a debating point to say that we are increasing the hours, even if it were true, and that the Opposition are reducing them. The point is: can the industry get on with anything less than a seven and a-half hours day? The hon. Member for the Rothwell Division (Mr. Lunn) did not seem to be fully acquainted with the Geneva Convention. He said that the Convention was seven and a-quarter hours from bank to bank. It is not. It is seven and a-quarter hours plus one winding, and I think it is understood that that is equivalent to seven and three-quarter hours. I hope that, as I am not as well acquainted with the industry as he is, he will forgive me for correcting him on that point. The fact is that at the present time the whole industry is agreed that it would be impossible to go back to the seven hours' proposal.
We may or may not like what is proposed. We may or may not like the structure of Part I of the Act of 1930. We may or may not like the seven and a-half hours day, when seven and a-quarter hours and seven hours have been dangled before our eyes, but the question is whether the industry is resting upon those props at the present time. I believe it is. It is just as if one were looking at Waterloo Bridge. You may say that you do not like the timbers upon which the arches of the bridge rest, and that they are ugly, yet the arches are resting upon them and until you have reconstructed the bridge, or made a new bridge, you must allow those timber props to remain. So with Part I of the 1930 Act. So with the seven and a-half hours day. They may be ugly, they may be proposals or laws that nobody likes, but the simple fact is that the industry 1131 in its parlous condition is resting upon those props to-day and until you have constructed a new bridge or a new way of procuring comparative prosperity, you must allow them to remain.
The Leader of the Opposition made a great deal of play with part of the Minister's statement with regard to the guarantee of wages. The guarantee of wages, the right hon. Gentleman says, is merely an unenforceable agreement on the part of the coalowners. He asks where are the letters. He asks are the letters enforceable. Is the agreement to pay for 12 months a percentage and subsistence wage enforceable? No. It is no more enforceable than it would be in law if it were put into an Act of Parliament. I perfectly appreciate that the miner could sue for his fortnight's wages, but ultimately the undertaking or the liability of the industry to pay a particular percentage or subsistence wage, whether it is included in an agreement, an honourable agreement, or in an Act of Parliament, depends only on two things, first, upon the honourable sense of the industry that has entered into the bargain, or is bound by the Act and, secondly, upon the industry's capacity to pay. On the whole, the miner is better off with an honourable undertaking, made in the face of the whole nation and solemnly produced in this House, than he would be if he were depending simply upon a Statutory enactment of that rate of wage forced unwillingly upon the industry, even though it had neither the capacity nor the desire to carry it through.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
My point was: Where was the evidence that a particular owner had instructed his agent to write the letter on his behalf, and what obligation was there on him unless he had done so? The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) raised exactly the same point in regard to the Kent coalfield.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The Kent coalfield is one with which I believe the Miners' Federation and the coalowners will have to deal. I am sure that both of them desire, and from to-night will set out, to bring the Kent coalfield into the common agreement. Let us leave out the Kent coalfield and deal with the point of 1132 the right hon. Gentleman who says, "Where are the letters authorising the guarantee which has been given?" If we were in a court of law that would be a pertinent question, but we are not in a court of law and there is no intention of being in a court of law, but I say quite frankly that if we were in a court of law these guarantees could not be enforced. What they depend on is the honourable undertaking of a great industry. Suppose the coalowners broke their word which they have given to this House, does the right hon. Gentleman suppose that the Government could stand by and still leave this Bill which we are proposing to pass in operation without the guarantee being kept? The industry would, of course, be thrown into the excitement of a violent dispute and ruin might overtake it. That is the very reason why the mineowners are more likely to keep this honourable agreement upon which they have accepted this Bill than if there was an agreement made in a Clause in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman also made great play with the precedents for what he proposed. His memory is too short. He went back to 1912 and said that what Mr. Asquith did in 1912 might easily be done to-day. He forgets that in 1912 Mr. Asquith declined in terms to set a precedent fixing a figure of wages in an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to misquote me. I was careful to say that in the 1912 Act a figure was not there, but that the machinery was set up in order to put it there.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
That is perfectly true. The last thing I want to do is to misquote the right hon. Gentleman, but he certainly gave me the impression that he cited the 1912 Act as a precedent for putting into an Act of Parliament a rate of wages which the mine-owners should pay.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Then the right hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement, and the misunderstanding has been disposed of. The 1912 Act merely set up the machinery for fixing a rate of wages, and is no precedent at all for putting into an Act of Parliament compulsion to pay a particular sum of money.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He agrees that the 1912 Act is merely for establishing the machinery—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
And that the machinery was for fixing a rate. There is all the difference in the world between putting a rate of wages into a Bill and putting in machinery for agreeing upon a rate of wages, even if you make it compulsory afterwards. I want to deal with one or two questions which have been asked as to omissions from the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman says: why not for five years, and why only for one year? I should have thought that most people who know anything about the mining industry would have realised, especially to-day, that it is a very reasonable thing for a coalowner to say, "I give you a guarantee as far as I can see, but I will not give a guarantee if it would be unreasonable or even dishonest to give it." Does anybody pretend that an owner would be honest or reasonable if he gave a guarantee to maintain a particular rate of wages at this present time for a period of five years? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why give it now?"] How can he see what cataclysm may not take place? A guarantee for 12 months is another matter. The owner knows what his contracts file for the period of six to eight, or possibly 12 months. He can gamble a little on the future and make it 12 months, but if an owner was to be asked to say he would pay a rate of wages for five years, he would be asked for a promise which it would not be reasonable or even honest for any person to give.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
The reason why hours are not limited to one year is because it is better to give as much stability as possible to the industry. If it were possible to stabilise wages, no doubt the owners as well as the Government would be anxious to see it done, but hon. Members have not done me the honour to try to appreciate my 1134 argument that it is impossible in the present state of things to give a guarantee, having regard to the impossibility of foreseeing the conditions which may exist at the end of 12 months. The guarantee given is as far as it is reasonable and possible for any owner to go. Another question which was asked me was, "Why has there been no reorganisation?" The owners may have been more to blame than the miners; I do not say they have been, but the fact is that reorganisation has not proceeded as it was hoped it would as a result of Part II of the Act, because, of the uncertainty prevailing in the industry.
I say, on behalf of the Government, that when this Bill is out of the way the Reorganisation Commission set up by Part II of the 1930 Act can take up the task that was committed to it by Parliament with energy and a certainty that the Government not only hope but intend that it should proceed with its task. There is certainly an opportunity, now that we have set up this industry in comparative stability for 12 months, for the commission to undertake its task with a vigour and an assurance not possible as long as they thought it was practical politics that Part II of the Act might be repealed. The Minister for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade will do anything that is necessary to encourage the Reorganisation Commission to put into force the powers they already have, and the passing of this Bill will help to create the conditions in which reorganisation can take place. Another suggestion which was made, and which was raised by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) was in reference to the meeting of the executive of the Miners' Federation to-day.
Another hon. Friend raised the question as to whether it would not be possible to put into operation Part IV of the Act of 1930. I can say, in reply to those questions also, let this Bill be got out of the way. The Department will then bend its energies to considering whether Part IV cannot be made more operative, whether the mineowners cannot be induced to give their consent to the appointment of representatives on the Industrial Board, which will make that Board more useful in maintaining the peace of the industry. I am fully aware of the difficulties that have 1135 occurred. I am fully aware that neither side wants to enter upon the disputed field of compulsory arbitration. But, without trespassing on that field, I believe that my right hon. Friend is right in thinking that the Industrial Board could be better used, and wisely and usefully used, if only the mineowner as well as the miner could be induced to resort to the machinery. The executive of the Miners' Federation, I hope, will be encouraged by the statement that has already been made by my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines upon that point.
We have all recognised the need for reasonableness and moderation. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to the bigger-minded men, the people with a bigger view, who have passed away. I think that Lord Merthyr, Lord Rhondda and Mr. Mark-ham would have liked to have been told in their lifetime that they were men with big views. Somehow it is only when people have died that they get the credit of having big views. But, if it be the fact that they were men with big views, there is no doubt we shall all agree that there is need for men of big views on both sides of the industry to-day. If this Bill secures a breathing space of 12 months in order that reorganisation can take place, the Government will certainly
§ have achieved something. An hon. Member said that the Bill accomplishes nothing. It will have achieved a great deal if a measure of reorganisation can be set on foot under Part II, and if a resort to the Industrial Board can be made more efficacious by the appointment of suitable persons to sit upon it. But what both sides want most of all in this difficult question is to drink deeply of the waters of forgetfulness, to forget the bitter memories and conflicts that are passed, and to bend their energies to these difficulties as if they were new problems on which no disputes had taken place in the past. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they like, believe that all the good points are on their side, that the miners have never made any mistake. Well, let them encourage the miners to forget, as I hope they will forget, the difficulties and the bitterness of the past, and if they will co-operate in this way this House I believe may still see better days, and before this Parliament passes its allotted span may see the mining industry made happy and prosperous, as it ought to be.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes. 391: Noes, 58.1139
|Division No. 204.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Christie, James Archibald|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Boyce, H. Leslie||Clayton, Dr. George C.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Cobb, sir Cyril|
|Altchison, Rt. Hon. Craigle M.||Bracken, Brendan||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.|
|Albery, Irving James||Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Colfox, Major William Philip|
|Alexander, Sir William||Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Colman. N. C. D.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Brockiebank, C. E. R.||Colville, John|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Cook, Thomas A.|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Copeland, Ida|
|Apsley, Lord||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Courtauld, Major John Sewell|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Buchan, John||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Burghley, Lord||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Burnett, John George||Crooke, J. Smedley|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Butler, Richard Austen||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)|
|Balniel, Lord||Butt, Sir Alfred||Croom-Johnson, R. P.|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Caine, G. R. Hall-||Culverwell, Cyril Tom|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Carver, Major William H.||Dawson, Sir Philip|
|Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel||Cassels, James Dale||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Castlereagh, Viscount||Dixey, Arthur C. N.|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Dixon, Rt. Hon. Herbert|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Donner, P. W.|
|Bird, Sir Robert B.(Wolverh'pton W.)||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Drewe, Cedric|
|Borodale, Viscount||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Duckworth, George A. V.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel|
|Boulton, W. W.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Hugh||Duggan, Hubert John|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Chalmers, John Rutherford||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)|
|Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Dunglass, Lord|
|Eastwood, John Francis||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Patrick, Colin M.|
|Eden, Robert Anthony||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, c.)||Peake, Captain Osbert|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Pearson, William G.|
|Ednam, Viscount||Josson, Major Thomas E.||Peat, Charles U.|
|Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Penny, Sir George|
|Ellis, Robert Geoffrey||Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Ker, J. Campbell||Petherick, M.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Kimball, Lawrence||Peto, Geoffrey K. (Wverh'pfn, Bilston)|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Kirkpatrick William M.||Pickering, Ernest H.|
|Erskine-Boist, Capt. C. C.(Blackpool)||Knatchbull. Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Potter, John|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Knight, Holford||Procter, Major Henry Adam|
|Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Knox, Sir Alfred||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Lamb. Sir Joseph Quinton||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)|
|Fermoy, Lord.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Law, Sir Alfred||Ramsbotham, Herwald|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Leckie, J. A.||Ramsden, E.|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Rankin, Robert|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Lees-Jones, John||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ray, Sir William|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Levy, Thomas||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Liddall, Walter S.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Gauit, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)|
|Gibson, Charles Granville||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Remer, John R.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Liewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Reynolds, Col. Sir James Philip|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G.(Wd. Gr'n)||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Goff, Sir Park||Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Robinson, John Roland|
|Goldie, Noel B.||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Rosbotham, s. T.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Mabane, William||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Graves, Marjorie||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Greene, William P. C.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Grenfell, E. C. (City of London)||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield,B'tside)|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro'.W.)||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Salmon, Major Isidore|
|Grimston, R. V.||McKie, John Hamilton||Salt, Edward W.|
|Gritten, w. G. Howard||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||McLean, Major Alan||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Gunston, Captain D. w.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Magnay, Thomas||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Hales, Harold K.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Scone, Lord|
|Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Selley, Harry R.|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Hammersley, Samuel S.||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Hanley, Dennis A.||Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Martin, Thomas B.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Harris, Sir Percy||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Hartland, George A.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Sinclair, Col. T.(Queen's Unv., Belfast)|
|Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)||Meller, Richard James||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Millar, Sir James Duncan||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dine,C.)|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)||Milne, Charles||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Somervllie, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Mitcheson, G. G.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Holdsworth, Herbert||Molson, A. Hugh Eisdale||Soper, Richard|
|Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Sotheran-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Moreing, Adrian C.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Hornby, Frank||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.|
|Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Morrison, William Shepherd||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Horobin, Ian M.||Moss, Captain H. J.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Munro, Patrick||Stones, James|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Nail-Cain, Arthur Ronald N.||Storey, Samuel|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||North, Captain Edward T.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Ormiston, Thomas||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.(Montr'se)||Palmer, Francis Noel||Templeton, William P.|
|Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Thompson, Luke||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)||watt, Captain George Steven H.||Womersley, Waiter James|
|Todd, A. L. s. (Kingswinford)||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-||Wood, Sir Murdoch MeKenzie (Banff)|
|Touche, Gordon Cosmo||Wells, Sydney Richard||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Train, John||Weymouth, Viscount||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||White, Henry Graham||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Turton, Robert Hugh||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES —|
|Wallace, Captain O. E. (Hornsey)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)||Mr. Russell Rea and Major George|
|Wallace, John (Dunfermilne)||Wills, Wilfrid D.||Davies|
|Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lunn, William|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Batey, Joseph||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||McGovern, John|
|Briant, Frank||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||McKeag, William|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Groves, Thomas E.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Buchanan, George||Grundy, Thomas W.||Maxton, James|
|Cape, Thomas||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Milner, Major James|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Morris, Rhys Hopkin (Cardigan)|
|Cove, William G.||Hicks, Ernest George||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Hirst, George Henry||Price, Gabriel|
|Curry, A. C.||Jenkins, Sir William||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)|
|Daggar, George||Jennings, Roland||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Thorne, William James|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Dickie, John p.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Duncan, Charles (Derby, Claycross)||Kirkwood, David||Williams, Dr. John H. (Lianelly)|
|Edge, Sir William||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Edwards, Charles||Lawson, John James|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Logan, David Gilbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.|
|Mr. John and Mr. Duncan Graham.|
Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.