Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £136,079, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."[Note.—£68,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Ernest Brown)
It will probably be for the convenience of the Committee if at the commencement of the discussion I make a statement about the trend of events in the mining world for the last year, and such points as may not be covered, and which hon. Members wish to raise, I will do my best to reply to later in the Debate. I have to present the Estimates of, I think, the only Department that is rationed by Act of Parliament with regard to its expenditure. Under Section 5 (2) of the Mining Industry Act, 1920, the annual expenditure of the Mines Department was limited to £250,000. The net amount that Parliament is asked to provide this year is £204,079, compared with £218,595 last year. That is a decrease of £14,516, but included in this amount of £204,079 is £38,573, which is estimated to be required for the purposes of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, for the Reorganisation Commission, for the committees of investigation and for Part IV of the National Industrial Board. If we exclude this, the amount asked for the Department's ordinary work is £165,506, as compared with £165,846 last year, a decrease of £334.
The decrease of £14,516 is mainly due to adjustments which, in the light of experience, it has been found possible to make in the provisions to cover the 1672 expenditure for the organisations under the Act of 1930. For instance, it was expected that a great many more investigations would have taken place on behalf of workers and consumers than have actually taken place, and so much less has had to be spent for that purpose. The amount for the National Industrial Board is only a nominal sum, and on behalf of the Reorganisation Commission we have a net decrease of £10,115. Part of its expenses may be repaid in the course of the working out of the schemes now proposed in the various areas. The total staff of the Mines Department is 853, including 111 inspectors in the districts. It is a small staff with heavy responsibilities and very few quiet periods, but there is no better staff in the whole Civil Service.
I should like to direct the mind of the Committee to the world situation in regard to coal. Sometimes hon. Members, as well as people outside the House discuss the present tragic situation of the coal mines, and, in my judgment, over-simplify the issues concerned. They are inclined to state that certain troubles are due to this issue or that when, as a matter of fact, the same troubles are not confined to this island, but are common to the whole world. I hope in my analysis to give the figures of world output for the years 1929, 1930 and 1931 and strike an average, then give the figures for 1932 and show what the drop has been compared with the average of the three previous years in tonnage and in percentage, and I hope to do the same for Great Britain and for Europe. I am talking now of the total drop of production of coal, and not of employment. I hope to give the figures for the rest of Europe, for the United States and for other countries in similar terms.
There has been a serious decline in world trade in coal, and our own trade has, of course, shared in the decline. There are a number of causes which have contributed to this shrinkage which the Committee, no doubt, will desire to discuss later in the course of the Debate, and I will therefore summarise the main causes. There has been a shrinkage in world demand. There has been a time of great industrial depression all over the world. We have had to meet the competition, not only of new fuels but of substitute fuels. There has been a 1673 drastic curtailment of imports by certain producing and consuming countries. There has been subsidised competition on the part of other producing countries. Some of these we can estimate in terms of loss of exports, but others it is not possible so to estimate.
I will give to the Committee the totals of output at home and abroad since the peak level of production was reached in 1929. When I compare foreign countries, all the figures are translated in terms of million metric tons, but when I give our own national figures they are in ordinary tons. In 1929 the estimated world output was 1,328 million metric tons, in 1930 it was 1,215 millions, and in 1931 it was 1,068 millions, an average for the years 1929–31 of 1,204 million metric tons. The output for 1932 was 944 million tons. Therefore, the Committee will see that we have had a reduction in total world output, comparing last year with the average of those three years, of 260,000,000 metric tons, or 22 per cent. Our own output for the same period was, in 1929, 262,000,000, in 1930, 248,000,000, and in 1931, 223,000,000, an average of 245,000,000, and last year 213,000,000 metric tons, a reduction of 32,000,000, or 13 per cent.
With regard to the rest of Europe, the relatively favourable position of the table in this respect is chiefly due to abnormal conditions in Russia, but I have included Russia as well. In 1929 it was 377,000,000, in 1930 it was 352,000,000, and in 1931 it was 328,000,000, an average for the three years of 352,000,000 metric tons. Last year it was 295,000,000, so that there is a reduction for the rest of Europe of 57,000,000 metric tons, or 16 per cent. When I turn to the United States of America the figure for 1929 was 553,000,000, for 1930 it was 487,000,000, and for 1931 it was 401,000,000, an average for the three years of 480,000,000, whereas the output last year had fallen to 322,000,000, a drop of 158,000,000 metric tons as compared with the average of the three previous years, or no less than 33 per cent. For countries in other parts of the world the drop was 13,000,000 metric tons or 10 per cent. Hon. Members may be interested in comparing the drop in output of certain of our competitors in the export trade, and I will give the figures. In Germany, on the same basis, there is a drop of 37,000,000 tons, or 26 per cent.; in France, 7,000,000 1674 tons, or 13 per cent.; in Poland, 12,000,000 metric tons, or 29 per cent.; and in Belgium, 6,000,000, or 22 per cent. It will be obvious from this analysis that the contraction in the demand for coal cannot be ascribed to any one cause.
I ask the attention of the Committee to the trend of the export trade. I will make a comparison on that basis with two of our principal competitors in exports—Germany and Poland. The course of the export' trade in regard to ourselves, Germany and Poland can be summarised in these terms. In 1929, including foreign bunkers, We exported 78,000,000 metric tons; in 1930, it was 72,000,000 tons; and in 1931, it was 59,000,000 tons. The average for the three years is 70,000,000, whereas last year we dropped to 54,000,000 tons, a reduction of 16,000,000 metric tons, or 23 per cent. I turn to Germany It was 27,000,000 tons in 1929, 24,000,000 tons in 1930, and 23,000,000 ton's' in 1931, an average of 25,000,000 metric tons. Last year it was 18,000,000 tons, a redaction of 7,000,000 tons, or 28 per cent. The table with regard to Poland is remarkable in view of the trend since 1924 of the Polish export' trade. In 1929 it was 14,000,000 metric tons, in 1930 it was 12,000,000, and in 1931 14,000,000 tons, an average of 13,000,000; and last year there was a drop from 13,000,000 to 10,000,000, or 23 per cent. Political restrictions have affected these figures.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
Does the hon. Gentleman intend to give the figures regarding output or exports of coal in Russia?
§ Mr. BROWN
I had not intended to do so, but if the figures are wanted I have them here, and shall be glad to give them later in the day. I think the Committee will agree that it is important to get the picture into focus by showing how political restrictions have affected our figures and those of other countries since August, 1931, when France put on her restrictions. With regard to the question of trend, the Committee are already aware from previous Debates that in Scandinavia we have recently begun to revise the persistence of the fall. Our principal com- 1675 petitors, taking the year 1932 and comparing it with 1931, show a fall in the export of coal and coke as follows: Germany, 17 per cent.; Poland, 21.9 per cent.; France, 15.9 per cent.; Holland, 21.7 per cent.; and Belgium, 28.9 per cent.; while our drop was 7.3 per cent. May I look a stage further back because it is important to obtain a perspective of the trend of the coal trade? I will take the three best years since 1913. I am now dealing in million statute tons because I am referring to our own country only. In 1913 the exports of coal amounted to 73.4 millions excluding bunkers, in 1924, one of the best post-War years, it was 61.65 millions, and in 1929 it was 60.27 millions. In regard to foreign bunkers, in 1913, it was 21.03 millions; in 1924, 17.69 millions; and in 1929, 16.39 millions.
The causes of dwindling exports disclosed in this table are obviously many and complex, and date back to the War years. Once more I beg the Committee and the country not to attempt to oversimplify the issues involved by discussing them merely in terms of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, or of some other single cause, because any attempt to do that is merely to misstate the issue. During the War the exports from the United Kingdom and the other principal coal-producing countries of Europe were very heavily reduced. It will also be remembered that many coal mines on the Continent were gutted, consequently countries which had been depending for their supplies on the United Kingdom and Germany were obliged to develop their own resources or to seek other forms of fuel and power. The natural consequence of these factors began to be appreciated to the full in the post-War years.
In the first decade after the War rapid progress was made in the scientific conservation of heat, in the exploitation of water power and the generation of electricity from inferior kinds of fuel. The consumption of coal was simultaneously decreasing owing to the rapidly extended use of oil products. These changes were accompanied by others, such as that which arose from the loss of coal output to the Saar, and insistent demands for reparation deliveries, which led Germany to take every possible step to increase her output and to develop the production and use of alternative sources of power. France was also enabled, by the system of 1676 compensation for War damage, completely to rationalise her mines in the Northern district. But the most striking feature of the post-War coal map was the emergence of Poland as a coal exporting country and the remarkable increase of the productive power of Dutch coalfields. These are the outstanding features of post-War times. In 1925, Germany placed an embargo on the importation of Polish coal, which amounted to 6,000,000 tons a year. The result was that Poland turned her attention to the Scandinavian market, with disastrous results for our own export trade in that export market which had been almost a monopoly of Great Britain up to that time.
By the end of the decade 1918–28, coal producers became aware of two vitally important results of these developments. The first was that, mainly owing to the growing substitution of alternative sources of power, the demand for coal had become unusually inelastic, and reduced prices merely altered the incidence of supplies; secondly, that inelastic demand in the international market was now so far short of the productive capacity of the mines that a large margin of surplus capacity to produce had to be left unused. This surplus capacity was estimated by the Economic Committee of the League of Nations at the end of 1928 at about one-fourth of the total productive capacity in Germany, from one-fourth to one-third in the United Kingdom and about one-half in Poland. This disequilibrium between the potential supply and the actual demand has intensified the struggle for markets between the exporting countries and has resulted in accumulated stocks, restrictions in the producing countries, which we have felt very keenly, and in uneconomic prices. In this decade the standard of living of the miner has been depressed, unemployment has been rife, and profits have been meagre or have disappeared.
It is clear that the problem of our coal export trade is an international one, and I regret to say that the movements have been made, up to the present unsuccessfully, towards international agreement. The Committee is familiar with the various reports of the discussions which have taken place in London and Geneva as to the possibility of formulating arrangements for regulating the supply and conditions of supply of coal so as to 1677 secure a more suitable economic basis of operation for the coal mining industry in the various countries. This movement has not up to the present borne fruit, but as a second best and partial method of expanding the British coal export trade a series of bi-lateral trade agreements for a period of three years have been arranged with the Scandinavian countries, which have undertaken to buy a guaranteed minimum quantity of United Kingdom coal subject to the assurance by the United Kingdom coal industry that higher prices will not be fixed for those countries than are charged to the buyers of United Kingdom coal in other export markets.
I have noticed one or two criticisms about the working of the agreements, and I might forestall any further criticisms that might be made by making two statements. Although there was a decrease in the export trade of this country last year, it was a remarkable thing that certain markets, Denmark, Latvia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Lithuania, all showed increases in. the last quarter of 1932. Not only that, but there was an increase for the whole year of 1932 over 1931. A further remark that I want to make relates to the dates on which the ratification of these agreements will be operative, and this may forestall criticism that may be made. In regard to the agreement with Germany, no ratification is required and the agreement came into operation on 8th May, 1933.
§ Mr. BROWN
The agreement came into effect on 8th May, 1933. In regard to Denmark, ratifications were exchanged on 20th June, 1933, and the date of the coming into operation of the agreement will be that same date, 20th June, 1933. With regard to Iceland, ratifications have just been exchanged and the agreement in respect of coal will operate from 1st July, 1933. In regard to the Argentine, after the completion of supplementary agreements on tariffs, the coal agreement dates from 1st May, 1933. As regards Sweden and Norway, owing to difficulties about our Finance Bill, ratifications have not yet been ex- 1678 changed, but it is hoped that in a day or two they may be exchanged. Therefore, the Committee will see that in regard to the latter agreements they have not yet begun to operate and criticisms passed on the agreements are for the moment premature. I will not go over the ground covered in recent Debates on these agreements, but if points are made in discussion to-day with regard to them I will reply.
Let me say a few words about a problem which may be put before the minds of the Committee in regard to coal in the months to come, namely, the competition of coastwise traffic in recent years. The Central Council of Coalowners charged with the operation of Part I of the Coal Mines Act has been for many months considering Amendments, two of which will affect the export trade on the one hand and the co-ordination of district prices on the other. It will have been noted, from many questions and speeches in the House, that some districts, the Midlands especially, have been seriously affected by the competition of sea-borne coal. I was interested to find that this competition is a very old story. In an old book, "The Annals of Mining," complaint is made that the purchase of sea coals by the monks of Bolton Abbey in the latter part of the 13th century was doing the inland coal trade damage. Therefore, the problem is by no means a modern one, and certainly not a problem of the last; few years. I am reminded that it was;. a very ancient writer who said that there-was nothing new under the sun.
With regard to these changes, the facts; underlying them raise an issue which will undoubtedly require the gravest discussion in months to come. Let me give the salient facts. If an examination be made of the coastwise cargo shipments from all ports in Great Britain, from the north-east coast and Scotland, it will be found that there has been an increase in the total volume of coastwise shipments since the War, not merely since the Act of 1930. In the post-war years coal exports had diminished. The exporting districts found it necessary to seek alternative markets. They have been helped in this by the low shipping freights which have been available. In 1932 the total tonnage of cargo coal carried coastwise was nearly 1,000,000 tons more than in 1913, and this in spite of the fact that 1679 our total output was much less than in 1913. But the figures for the shipping districts of the north-east coast and Scotland are even more striking. In 1932 the north-east coast shipped coastwise nearly 3,000,000 tons, or nearly 36 per cent. more than in 1913. In the case of Scotland the increase was nearly 2,000,000 tons, or 80 per cent. It is sometimes concluded from these figures that these striking increases were solely due to the low-price policy adopted by the north-east coast and by Scotland under the Coal Mines Act, 1930, but such a conclusion is too sweeping and is undoubtedly an error.
If the Committee will refer to the figures for 1929 they will see that both districts by that time, that is before 1929, bad made great strides in securing an increased coastwise trade. Whereas in 1913 only 44 per cent. of the total shipments came from the north-east coast, in 1929 the ports in that district secured 60 per cent. It is possible to look at the position in a very different way from that in which it is usually put. In 1929, 21.2 per cent. of the output of Northumberland and Durham was sent coastwise as cargo, compared with 14.2 per cent. in 1913. In the case of Scotland the respective figures were 10.7 per cent. in 1929and 5.7 per cent. in 1913. In both districts, therefore, there has been a considerable expansion of the coastwise traffic. That was taking place long before the statutory determination of the minimum price or output was operating. Since then the expansion has become, of course, greater. In 1932, Northumberland and Durham increased the percentage of output sent coastwise to 27.1 per cent. from 21.2 per cent. in 1929; Scotland from 10.7 in 1929 to 15 per cent. in 1932.
I put these facts before the Committee now as they are important in any discussion which may arise as to the fixing of separate allocations for the inland trade. But, of course, the question of profitability must also be taken into account and the general argument about the effect of low prices.
Let me give a few facts about the actual position with regard to trade in 1932 inside our own country. I shall now quote in million tons. There have been four outstanding features of the year 1932. The first is 1680 the continued drop in coal production; second, the continued stability of prices as returned; third, the continued stability of wages; and fourth, the continued stability of the cost of production despite the much lower output. That is, in my judgment, one of the most remarkable of the facts. In 1931, our output was 219,000,000 tons. In 1932, it was 209,000,000 tons. The production in 1931 per worker per week was 5.04 tons, similar to the production for 1932. The production per shift in 1931 was 21.61 cwts.; last year it was 21.99 cwts. With regard to wages, in terms of cash earnings, in 1931 the average return for workers of all classes and both sexes was 42s. l1d., and last year it was 42s. 1d. Whereas the earnings per shift in 1931 were 9s. 2.32d. in 1932 they were 9s. 2.05d.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Will the Minister complete the figure by giving the total amount received for the year?
§ Mr. BROWN
I shall come to those figures later. I have a table here which hon. Members can see if they wish. It gives comparable figures for any year since 1920, but I am taking just last year. The output of coal last; year was 209,000,000 tons. The quantity of coal exported was 39,000,000 tons, exclusive of bunkers. The average value per ton f.o.b. was 16s. 3d. The output of coal per worker per week was 5.04 tons, and per shift 21.99 cwts. The cash earnings per worker per week were 42s. 1d., and per shift 9s. 2.05d. That, I think, is a comprehensive view of the general trend.
Let me now turn to the numbers unemployed, one of the most important of all the figures, and the most tragic. The average number of wage-earners on the colliery books in 1932 was 802,500. But since then there has been a drop to the latest figure, that for 19th June, which shows a total of 768,000, a record low figure. I am putting all these figures quite frankly before the Committee, because I want hon. Members and the country to appreciate them. Taking the figure for unemployment for the year as a whole we find that no less than 34 per cent. of all the insured workers in the industry were affected. That refers to those both wholly unemployed and 1681 temporarily stopped; it is a comprehensive figure. If Members would like later figures for this year I can give them. For the week ended 22nd May there were wholly unemployed in Great Britain 234,776, temporarily stopped 160,910, a total of 395,686, or 22.5 per cent. wholly unemployed and 15.4 per cent. temporarily stopped, a total of 37.9 per cent. unemployed.
That is a terrible figure. It is 5.6 per cent. more than that of the year before. But I must make one thing clear. Just as averages in money are often quite deceiving, so are averages in regard to unemployment, because the incidence of unemployment amongst insured workers varies greatly in different districts. They vary from Scotland and Durham, one quarter; Northumberland, one-fifth; down to Warwickshire, 11½ per cent.; and Kent 6 per cent. There are all kinds of variations in other districts.
Let me turn to another point, namely, the cost of production, and then to an examination of ascertainments and profitability. The total cost of production in 1932 was about 13s. 9d. per ton, a fraction higher than in 1930 and 1931, owing to the increased short-time working. Here is a very remarkable statement made by the Mining Association:It may be said incidentally in reply to criticisms as to the effect of quota arrangements in increasing cost of production that as a matter of fact the reverse is the case. By providing known limits of operations to the various colliery undertakings they have eliminated much of the cost arising from haphazard short-time working, and the proof of this is shown in a declining cost of production during the operation of the coal mines schemes, in spite of a substantial reduction in demand and therefore of output.Now for a word about mechanisation and the costs of production. The lowest costs of production last year were in Northumberland and Durham, where notable strides have been made in mechanisation in recent years, and in Scotland, where the mechanisation process has reached its fullest development. Next, as to ascertainments and profitability. A striking fact about the industry is that while production between 1929 and 1932 had fallen by nearly one-fifth and pithead stocks had doubled, revenue has sufficed to meet expenditure and leave a small credit balance each year. This was equal to 4½d. per ton in 1929, 1682 4¼d. in 1930, 3½d. in 1931 and 2d. last year. The average working time, except on holidays, has declined since 1929 from five to four and a-half days per week out of a possible five and three-quarters. These results, I submit, furnish evidence of the ability of the mines to produce coal at economical figures whenever an improvement in demand takes place. The general price level abroad has fallen substantially since 1929, but the average proceeds from commercially disposable coal at home have only fluctuated between 13s. l0d. and 14s. 1d. a ton, while commodity prices generally in this country have fallen by more than one-quarter.
These general results cover many variations in circumstances in individual districts. For instance, proceeds declined in all the districts except South Wales, between 1931 and 1932, while the reduction in proceeds amounted to ¼d. a ton, or less, in Yorkshire, North Derbyshire and Nottingham; they fell by 4d. to 5d. a ton in Northumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Staffordshire and the smaller districts, and by over l0d. a ton in Scotland.
There was a similar disparity in the balance of revenue over ascertained expenditure. Combining 1931 and 1932 there was a debit balance in Scotland, Northumberland and Durham, and the group of small districts. The loss in Scotland was as much as 3¼d. a ton. But in the remaining districts revenue exceeded expenditure. The excess amounted to nearly 6d. a ton in Yorkshire and to over 1s. a ton in Notts and Derbyshire. Generally speaking proceeds were most stable and credit balances were highest in the districts least dependent upon export coal, and generally speaking also the average selling price of coal in those areas was 40 per cent. higher than it was before the War. But there is another fact. The districts that show the greatest credit balances are those whose output in 1932 approached most closely to the output in 1929.
I now turn to the question of wages and conditions. With regard to details, there is not much to add, in terms of figures, to those I have already given, but the Committee is well aware that the wage of the miner is a natural expression of a history of a great and continuous struggle. The hon. Member for Bodmin 1683 (Mr. I. Foot) in presenting these Estimates last year as Secretary for Mines, regretted that there was no literature which adequately expressed a miner's life. If he were standing at this Box this afternoon he would no longer be able to say that, because not only is there now existing a book written by Mr. Boden, but the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has written a most sympathetic, straightforward, eloquent and powerful description in a book called "A Man's Life," which I hope every hon. Member will read. I hope he will permit me to give one quotation from his book:Lesser parents would have been beaten altogether by the task of feeding the seven of us under the prevailing conditions. How mine kept us going at all was a mystery to me. When I came to manhood I learned the facts of our family exchequer at this period. My eldest brother has told me since how he commenced work at the time of which I write. He had 3s. to take for his first week's work and my mother regretted she could not give him a penny for his pocket as father had only 10s. to take that week. Thirteen shillings for nine of us for a week. But of course the cost of living was less and wages were not always so small. True but how did we live? How did that mother and father survive the drilling duty of bringing 10 of us up under such conditions?I have read that passage to the House because I owe the hon. Member a debt of gratitude for having written the book at this particular juncture, and I hope that hon. Members who may not have read it will do so. What are the facts with regard to wages and conditions? They may be stated, I think, quite briefly, in simple language. There has been no substantial change owing to the guarantee come to voluntarily, which expires on 8th July. There have been one or two minor fluctuations, some up and some down, in certain small districts, but I will not trouble the Committee with them at the moment. The average rate of cash earnings per shift for workers of all ages and both sexes, was just over 9s. 2d. for 1932. Let me complete the picture by giving other figures. In 1928, the average rate of cash earnings was 9s. 3½d.; in 1929, 9s. 2¾d.; in 1930, 9s. 3½d.; in 1931, 9s. 2¼d.; and in 1932, 9s. 2d. Again I must warn the Committee against the delusion of averages. We may be more or less sceptical as to the infallibility of average arithmetical estimates of social felicity or infelicity.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member as really he is giving us a very good review of the situation, but can he complete the picture by telling us exactly how the deficiencies stand at present against mine workers? Although the wage may be 9s. 2d. per day, miners have been going deeper and deeper into debt during the last few years and, therefore, the money actually received is not wages earned during the period. They are still in debt to the extent of many millions of pounds.
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Member will not expect me to give him that information at once, because the deficiencies differ in various districts. He knows that not only do deficiencies vary in different districts, but that there are different methods of dealing with them in different districts. However, I will try to secure, before the end of the Debate, the information for which he asks. I have been making a little study of the wages in foreign countries. I do not give these figures in order to make any comparison with the wages in this country, not that we may talk about wages in this country as being too high, but to bring out the remarkable fact of the comparative stability of British coalminers wages: which is often overlooked by hon. Members who criticise the Act of 1930. In 1930 in Germany the daily reduction in cash earnings of miners amounted to l½ to 2 marks, or 1s. 5½d. to 1s. 11½d.; in the Netherlands it was two-thirds of a florin, or 1s. l¼d.; in Polish Upper Silesia, 1½ zloty, or 8¼d.; in the Saar it was half a franc, or 4¾d.; in France, 3⅔ of a franc, or 7d.; in Belgium there has been a dispute owing to the low wages level; in Canada it was one-fifth of a dollar, or l0d. lower; and in Australia the nominal weekly wage in the mining industry was 8s. 2d. less than in 1930.
§ Mr. SLATER
Can the Secretary for Mines give us the daily rates operating? It would be much easier then to appreciate the position.
§ Mr. BROWN
I cannot do that. I have taken figures which are comparable to our own, and hon. Members will know that it is an extremely complicated question. I thought this was the most valuable way to do it at this juncture. With regard to the United States of America, the anthracite miners have succeeded in 1685 maintaining their wages at a high level until recently. In 1931 they were one-quarter of a dollar, or 1s. 3d., per day lower than in 1924. With regard to the bituminous mines, in 1927 the earnings of hand and machine miners fell by l½ dollars, or 6s. 7½d. per day, and of those below ground by ¾ of a dollar, or 3s. 1d. per day. These are the decreases in other countries compared with the l½d. per day decrease in wages in this country since 1928. That is an outstanding fact of the last two years. In discussing the wages question immediately before the lapsing of the guarantee, it is important to remember that the lapsing of the guarantee does not signify the lapsing of the wage agreements. It means that the parties to the agreements will be at liberty, if they desire, to terminate them after due notice; but that freedom does not mean crisis. The Miners' Federation are naturally disturbed by the imminent disappearance of the only national check they have on wage rates. National negotiations are a battleground, and, as I have explained more than once, personally I have found no way out between a voluntary agreement between the two sides and compulsory arbitration. There may be such a way, but at the moment I have not found it. May I quote from the "Times," which sums up the issues squarely. On 6th June the "Times" said:The President of the Mining Association has repeated the argument of the mine owners that national settlements of wages lead inevitably to national difficulties and to the danger of national strikes. This is a sincerely held conviction. The answer to it by the Miners' Federation is that the absence of national settlements is the real danger. So there is deadlock.I cannot find words more clearly or fairly to describe the issue; but I must be perfectly frank. The Mining Association have no power to enter upon national negotiations, and up to the moment they have not been able to furnish me with an alternative to compulsory arbitration. Recently the Prime Minister and myself saw the representatives of the Miners' Federation. Mr. Edwards, the Secretary, asked us whether there was a possibility of getting an extended guarantee. I have this morning sent Mr. Edwards the following letter:Dear Mr. Edwards,I write with reference to your letters of the 1st and 12th June. In my letter of 1686 31st May, I informed you that as a result of your meeting with the Prime Minister I have been exploring the position in regard to wages which would arise on the expiry of the guarantees given by the district associations of coal owners to the Government in July of last year. As a result of the inquiries which I have made, I am satisfied that in no district will the coal owners, when the guarantees expire, seek an alteration in the rate of wages now being paid under the district wages agreements, and that it is not their intention to do so while present circumstances obtain. I would point out that in several districts the owners have publicly announced their intention of not reducing wage rates below their present level. Should your members in any other district still feel any uneasiness as to the position, I would suggest that their representatives on the district wages board should approach the representatives of the coal owners when I am confident that they will meet with a satisfactory reply.That is the position as it stands now. As hon. Members know, politics is the art of the possible, and that is the possibility which I have found after the most careful and exhaustive inquiries.
§ Mr. TINKER
Did not the miners' Secretary ask for a guarantee for another 12 months? No time is mentioned.
§ Mr. BROWN
The answer to that is they asked about time, and we asked about time, but it was not found possible. I have given the Committee what was found possible, and from my inquiries hon. Members may be satisfied that there will be no alteration after the end of June, nor is there any intention to alter the rates at present.
§ Mr. BROWN
The answer to that is that I have written that letter on behalf of the Government, and my hon. Friend must not expect me to answer hypothetical questions. We must see how things develop. When the original voluntary agreement was given there were grave doubts as to whether the action taken about dates would be kept. Broadly speaking, it has been kept in the letter and spirit, and I know no reason why it should not go on. Further, I hope that the hon. Member who thinks about dates will come to the conclusion that dates are not always an unmixed blessing. It 1687 is one thing to deal with a great industrial issue on its merits, but it is another thing to deal with a great industrial issue when it is mixed up with an arbitrary date of the calendar, which may have no meaning in terms of the actual crisis of the moment.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
On the first occasion when a date was included in the guarantee, it was because the miners had something to gain. They gave that something in return for a guarantee about wages which contained a date. Is it not significant that a date is not included now? What is the difference in the circumstances of to-day which prevent a date being put in? Are any changes in circumstances contemplated? And if they take place, must they not take place to the disadvantage of the miners, otherwise the coalowners would have included a date in the guarantee?
§ Mr. BROWN
For the moment the Committee must be content with the terms of the letter, which was written after very exhaustive inquiries, and in the full belief that its terms will be found to put the facts. To the outside world the dangers of mining are constantly being brought home by disastrous tragedies such as great explosions which wring our hearts and stir the public imagination. It would be wrong to belittle the gravity of these occurrences, and my purpose is not to seek to minimise in any way the seriousness of that part of the terrible annual casualty roll of the mines, but to direct attention to another side of the question. I have had prepared a diagram of which, I hope, all Members who sit for mining constituencies have received a copy. If any other hon. Members would like a copy of this diagram I shall see that they are supplied.
I was so struck when I went into the figures with the comparative gravity, in terms of the annual returns, of the causes of various types of accident that I thought it would be advantageous to have it set out in the form of a diagram. We intend to have the figures up to date put on the back of future cards of this kind and each inspector in each district is publishing a diagram illustrating the position in that district in his own annual report. Next autumn when the annual report of the Mines Department is published it 1688 will contain this diagram with the figures, as a permanent record. While, as I say, I have no wish to belittle the tragedy of explosions or the gravity of the more spectacular disasters, a study of this diagram and the figures will convince hon. Members that we have to turn our minds seriously to two problems. The first is the question of underground lighting and the second is whether we can do anything to minimise the number of casualties caused by falls of roof.
The fatal accident rate rose slightly last year as compared with the previous year, the figures being S59 for 1931 and 881 for 1932. The number of serious nonfatal accidents fell. The number seriously injured in 1932 was the lowest on record, being 3,212 compared with 3,305 in 1931 and 4,163 in 1928, which was the lowest figure prior to 1930. In the case of nonfatal accidents including all accidents resulting in more than three days disablement, or what are popularly called compensation cases, the total in 1928 in round figures was 161,000; in 1931, 141,000; and in 1932, 125,000. The figure for 1928 was the lowest prior to 1930 and it will be seen therefore that there is a gradual reduction in the number of accidents in that category.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
Has the hon. Gentleman attempted to relate the annual figures for accidents under these various heads to the actual time worked in the mines over the year?
§ Mr. BROWN
It is very difficult to do so. I have had brought to my attention by more than one Member the suggestion to which the hon. Member has just referred, but, like many another request of the kind, it is extraordinarily difficult to translate the information into figures or to express an opinion upon it which is fair to all districts alike. That is one of the complexities of trying to give a fair picture of all the various aspects and problems of the mining industry. To return to the diagram may I point out to hon. Members that it is based on a 10-year period and I wish now to give the Committee the figures. I have drafted them so that they are on an ascending scale. The period is from 1923 to 1932 and first I deal with the number of persons killed and the causes of the accidents resulting in deaths over that period. They are, shaft accidents, 393; explosions of fire-damp and coal 1689 dust, 517; surface accidents, 900; miscellaneous (underground) accidents, 1,088; haulage (underground) accidents, 2,239; falls of ground, 5,092, or a total of 10,229; in that period, and, of that total, accidents from explosions of fire-damp and coal dust were 5 per cent.
Next I give the figures relating to injuries, together with the accident causes responsible. The smallest cause is under the head of explosions, which account for 1,000 over the 10-year period, and the other figures are: shaft accidents, 6,552; surface accidents, 127,614; miscellaneous (underground) accidents, 524,951; haulage accidents (underground), 406,137; and again falls of ground are responsible for the greatest number, namely, 555,111, a grand total, or I should say an awful total of 1,600,000, in round figures. Explosions account for less than one-tenth of 1 per cent. of the total fatal and non-fatal accidents below ground, while 27 per cent. are due to haulage accidents and 37 per cent. to falls of ground. That is my reason for bringing this diagram to the notice of Members.
Although I have already detained the Committee at some length, I had hoped to have said a few words on two other matters. The first of these is what is being done about underground lighting. As the mining Members know, a committee dealt with that matter and a report was issued, but we are now in a position in which it is difficult to know precisely what the basis of general regulations to be made under Coal Mines Act ought to be. The proposals of the Department were on the whole well received, but I am sure the Committee will be more interested to learn what is the present position. The report of the committee was formally adopted and endorsed by the Mining Association and by the National Association of Colliery Managers. It has now been published and submitted to me. It endorses and indeed goes somewhat beyond the official proposals of two years ago, and recommends general and prompt action to improve lighting up to the standard recommended in its pages. The action to he taken on that report has not yet been determined. It has been discussed by the representatives of the two sides in the industry, and I am bound to say it is difficult to see how effective general action can be taken apart from general regulations.
1690 The other matter to which I wish to refer concerns accidents from falls of ground and haulage. For two years or more every kind of research work has been taking place with regard to the strength of roof supports, and this research is constantly in progress. I am bound to mention the help which has been given by the Institution of Mining Engineers and the South Wales Institute of Engineers, through whom eight district committees have been set up on the question of getting a co-ordinated scheme of practical research. The Committee will know that a chief mining engineer was appointed in 1929 with this issue in view. The Safety in Mines Research Board commenced with laboratory work on the strength of roof supports under Professor Dixon at the City and Guilds Engineering College, while the "Support of Workings in Mines Committee," with the assistance of mining men in the various coalfields, has made a survey of correct practice in that matter. I assure the Committee that I and my Department will do everything possible to see that this research work bears practical fruit at the earliest possible moment.
An issue which is very much before me at Question Time concerns the question of the automatic gas detector. I have received reports of actual pit trials in three areas, Yorkshire, Lancashire and South Wales. There were three majority reports and one minority report. These are now in process of being printed so that they may be circulated to all the interested parties. More than that I will not be expected to say to-day. They will be ready in a week or two because the work is well ahead and we shall push it on as fast as we can.
§ Mr. BROWN
Certainly not. That would be most improper. It would be improper for any of the parties concerned to pre-judge the reports and I have been astonished to see that there have been one or two pre-judgments. But that is only for the moment and by the way.
No Debate on this Vote would be complete without a reference to the work of the inspectors. The inspectors do admirable work day in and day out both in the 1691 districts and in the mines. There are 111 of them and it is their duty- to investigate all the fatal and the more serious non-fatal accidents and dangerous occurrences, to discover the causes and to take such steps as are possible to prevent repetition. Last year 1,350 mines were inspected throughout in every part, and in 1932 the average number of inspections per mine was 8.3 underground and 2.5 surface and 2,470 horse inspections were made. In 1932 under Section 16 of the Act there were 2,882 inspections affecting 329 mines.
On the question of qualifications for colliery officials the Holland Committee reported in favour of a number of changes which were summarised in the last annual report of the Mines Department. They covered a wide ground and concerned managers, under managers, surveyors, over men, deputies and shot firers. In regard to all these, except managers and under managers, legislation will be necessary for effective change. We have first dealt with the problem of the managers and under managers. I have here a draft order which has been prepared and issued dealing with the result of the committee's report on that matter.
I had hoped to say something about Part I and also Part II of the Act of 1930 and since I observe that there seems to be more general interest on the part of hon. Members in Part II I propose to begin with that part. We have had many discussions about the difficulties of Part I but while those difficulties have been occupying the attention of the leaders of the industry, they have also been conscious, and so has the industry as a whole, of the shadow of the activities of the Reorganisation Commission. The owners expressed uncomprising hostility to the establishment of this commission when the 1930 Act was before Parliament. Generally speaking, they have not yielded in that attitude. That is quite apart from the practical problems of amalgamation which, in an industry which has suffered financially so severely as the coal industry, are naturally of great magnitude. There are issues which have to be dealt with and which arise from the unwillingness of the owners to follow the lead of a body towards whose very existence they feel repugnance—I think that is not too strong a word. I am 1692 bound to add that in theory many coal-owners are in favour of the principle of amalgamation. Their opposition arises with reference to compulsion on the one hand and to reluctance to apply the theory in practice in particular cases on the other. The Reorganisation Commission is a statutory and independent body pursuing the task with which it has been charged by Parliament. I can only get information by courtesy because Parliament took this Commission outside the purview of the Secretary for Mines, but I am informed by the Chairman that the Commission has made it clear in a definite notice that:So long as there is an adequate movement towards greater integration in any district, however gradual and piece-meal, the Commission will be content to limit themselves to fostering it and only where nothing is being done, will the machinery provided by Section 13 of the Act be set in motion.That notice has been followed up by action deemed by the Commission to be appropriate to the circumstances of each district. The latest declaration of the Commission's policy was that contained in the speech delivered by the Chairman, at Cardiff, in February. From the information I have been able to gain, I understand that the Commission have made it quite clear that they do not want to make compulsory amalgamations, but that they desire to induce the industry to reorganise itself in its own way. I understand that in practice they have only found two reasonable alternatives to their own schemes. Those alternatives are first, voluntary amalgamation on selective principles and, second, association of all the undertakings in something less than amalgamation. The first is the method which the Commissioners repeatedly advocated. It is that undertakings which are efficient, financially strong and on good terms with one another should amalgamate first, and then come to terms with the rest.
I have obtained, by the courtesy of the Chairman of the Commission, some up-to-date particulars about the position in the districts where action is being proposed. If I do not mention the largest districts it is not because the Commission is not active in them or that progress is not being made, but because the largest districts naturally present greater complexities, and things have naturally come more quickly to a head in the other 1693 areas. Members will be interested in the latest facts about particular districts. In Fife, an inquiry has been held, and the Commissioners required the preparation of a scheme. This was not done, and the Commissioners are now preparing their own scheme. In the Lothians a scheme has been prepared for the amalgamation of all the collieries in the district. Its outline, I understand, is now before the owners. In South-West Lancashire a scheme of amalgamation has been prepared and is about to be placed before the owners. In regard to Cannock Chase—and I am grateful to the hon. Member for making it clear that it is not my own modest salary which she proposes to reduce—South Derby, and Leicester, I understand that the course of events has been similar in these three districts. The Commissioners have in each ease informed the owners that each district afforded an obvious prima facie case for amalgamation.
Inquiries were held in each district. A large majority in Cannock Chase and almost all in the other two districts said that they were opposed to amalgamation, but the Commission came to the conclusion that the case for it was irresistible, and they formally called for the preparation of schemes. None was prepared, so the Commission have set in hand the preparation of schemes of their own. With regard to the position in Leicester, I understand that several owners have refused information and access to the Commission's agents, and steps are being taken to deal with them. In Warwickshire, the Commissioners consider that a prima facie case for an amalgamation had been made out after an inquiry was held. The opposition was almost unanimous, and discussions are now proceeding. In the Forest of Dean a scheme has been put before the colliery owners for the amalgamation in the first instance of four of the five undertakings in the district.
These are the facts about the areas where action is in progress, and I hope these facts will be of use to Members who take part in the Debate. I am sorry that I have detained the Committee altogether too long. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I will say only a word or two about Part I, and I will leave any other remarks I may need to make until I reply to the Debate. The position at the moment is that the Central Council of 1694 Coalowners came to the conclusion that amendments were wanted. They came to an agreement to make representations to me on the co-ordination of district prices and on the greater elasticity of the export trade. At the moment I have not received those representations and, as I said in reply to a question on Tuesday, I am awaiting them; but if and when the Government take action, as the President of the Board of Trade announced on a previous occasion in the House, it will be done at the earliest possible moment. I should like to say one other word about that. The working of Part I has its disadvantages as well as its advantages but, on the whole, I think Members will agree there is no doubt the advantages are much greater to the industry, having in view the statement I have made about the stability of prices in spite of all the difficulties.
I had hoped to say something about some technical problems about the cleaning and grading of coal, because that issue may arise between large and sized coal in regard to the export trade, and it may be in an acute form, in the near future, but I must reserve that also. I had hoped to say something about fuel and its utilisation and the progress of the inquiry as to whether it is possible to get a hydrogenation process going. I do not want, of course, to raise any false hopes, because it is so easy to get this issue and others out of focus. We have heard a lot about this recently and in recent years. As the Committee knows, hydrogenation has one great advantage over the low temperature carbonisation process, in that there are no subsidiary products to be disposed of. The process can also be applied to the treatment of tars. The successful development of the process in this country would be a matter of first-class importance to the coal industry.
Even if coal be no longer the uncrowned king, coal may yet get a queen on the throne of industry in this country. The successful development of this process would provide a first-class new market for coal of considerable size and would enable the coal industry to share in a substantial degree in meeting the demand for fuel to which the enormous development in motor transport has given rise in recent years. But while, on account of the greater market value of 1695 the product, hydrogenation would in the first place be used for the production of motor spirit, it can be used also for the production of heavier oils. It would make a fundamental difference to our view in the coal trade of oil in industry if we could obtain our supplies from our own great national industry. All I can say is that the process of hydrogenation may be the main means by which such a change can be brought about. Substantial progress has been made in the last few years and days in bringing the process nearer to the stage of commercial development. Progress is still being made, and I think it is not unreasonable to hope that in the not distant future—I do not want to raise extravagant hopes—we may see the hydrogenation process tried out on a commercial scale. As the Committee knows, the Government have been giving their particular attention in recent months to that process.
If I am asked about the outlook, I should have to deal with it in terms of making comparisons between the first quarter of this year and the first quarter of last year. There are indications, both in the total of our export trade in the first quarter compared with 1932 and in the consumption in the inland market—allowing for Easter—that the long continued drop may have reached bottom. I do not want to prophesy, but I am sure the whole Committee will hope that it is so, and that this next year will see a movement forward for the nation's sake, for the sake of all those who bear heavy responsibilities in the industry, and for the sake of the vast multitude of ordinary people in the mining areas among whom are so many men and women with simple natures, shrewd heads and brave hearts.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I am sure we were all delighted with the statement of the Secretary for Mines, and glad of the large amount of information he gave, which will be very helpful to Members in the Debate. I am sure also that when I say that we on these benches appreciate his statement, that will be reiterated throughout the Committee, and it will not be taken, simply because I am moving a reduction in salary, that I am criticising his state- 1696 ment. It is a matter of form more than anything else, but it gives certain opportunities for Members to discuss points at issue. I have no intention of trying to follow the hon. Gentleman into the figures which he gave us, because there will be quite a number of Members who want to speak from our benches, and probably some of them will take various parts of his statement and make their speeches on those points.
There are, however, one or two things I would like to mention. One is that the Estimates for the Department are coming very close when they show a net decrease of £334. Personally, I should have liked to have found a very great extension in the Research Department. For the moment, however, we have not got it, and there is plenty of room for everybody interested in the Mines Department to be interested in seeing such a further extension in order to make things safer in the mines.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) asked what was the annual figure in wages, and I am sure that the Minister will do all he can to supply that before the Debate closes. The next point was a very satisfactory one, namely, that this was the highest output in coal for any year in existence, though at the same time wages remained practically at the same level. With regard to the question of wages and conditions, I am going to speak on what I might call the human side of the industry with regard to the negotiations which are pending or taking place, and also with regard to one or two other things in relation to expenses. I want the Minister to understand that the negotiations so far have not been really satisfactory to the miners' side of the movement, though they may have been satisfactory from the coal-owners' side. The Minister made a reference to the miner's wife, from the point of view of the miner, and paid a very high tribute to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) for the statement which is contained in his book. I can fully recommend that book. It ought to be read by every Member who is in any way interested in mining life, and all would benefit by it.
The Minister read a report from the "Times" newspaper, in which it was stated that a national settlement would eventually lead to the danger of a 1697 national strike. That is all in the mentality of the individual. If people are not prepared to come closer together with the common view of doing the best they possibly can in any circumstances to meet the needs and requirements of the industry, then of course, strikes are inevitable. But I am not quite sure of that statement. I think that if there were national settlements there would be fewer strikes. In the letter which the Minister read, which was sent to our Secretary, Mr. Edwards, the main contention was that there would be no reduction of wages as long as present circumstances remain. How long will present circumstances remain as they are? There is no guarantee that after July they will be there in September, October or in any other month. Something may arise in the industry which will cause a break in the present conditions, and cause action to be taken probably in some individual district. I should be very sorry to see any action taken in any individual district, because it would lead to a position which will not even bear thinking about.
There is no Government promise to see that the wages are maintained. A pledge was given last year that they should be maintained for a year, and there is always a certain amount of apprehension at the end of a period. That is why a national agreement ought to take the place of any specified period. Why has it come about that no pledge has been given this year? Simply because the coal-owners got over a greater difficulty last year. They obtained the five years' pledge on the hours question, and having received that at the hands of the Government they were prepared to meet the Government and try to do something in the way of giving, not complete satisfaction, but a guarantee for the period with regard to the wages of the workers. Now I want to go to the present circumstances. The present agreement terminates in July, 1933, and for the Mining Association to refuse to discuss the question of national machinery for the co-ordination of wages and the conditions of the mining industry is really deplorable. It does at least show that they are not making that effort which ought to be made in the times in which we are now living—
§ Mr. SLATER
Will the hon. Member make it quite clear, if he is desirous of 1698 giving to the House a proper view of the miners' side of the case, whether they would agree to, say, a 12 months' arrangement or a two years' arrangement, but district settlements? Is it a national settlement that he wants?
§ Mr. PARKINSON
Of course there is always a certain amount of district variation even under a national agreement.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
Consequently if a national agreement were made, every district would have its own arrangements under the terms of that national agreement; but it would be an agreement between the National Federation and the Coalowners' Association. When the mine-owners refuse co-ordination, I really do not know what is their intention, but it must make everybody suspicious as to what they have in their minds. They, of course, have in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said: they evidently believe that national agreements mean national strikes. A national agreement in the coal mines may mean greater national satisfaction, greater national prosperity, and greater national opportunities for our people to live their lives upon the level upon which they ought to live.
Now what is the Government's intention? Is this agreement to end without any pressure upon the coalowners being applied by the Government? Are the Government not going to take a hand in putting pressure upon a body of employers which they would have no compunction in taking to put pressure upon a body of work people? In my opinion there is no difference whatever between the coalowner and the working miner except this, that the working miner must support the coalowner, and at the same time the coalowner will not give fair conditions to the miner, or fair consideration to what is applied for on behalf of the miner. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater) I think the Secretary for Mines some time ago made a statement something 1699 like this: That the Government have always desired, and still desire, to see some kind of machinery established for the discussion of wages in the coal-mining industry on a national scale. I think that that statement was made in reply to a question, though I have not looked up the question. On the other hand the Mining Association still refuse to cooperate in setting up such machinery. If it is the desire of the Government to have such national machinery and it is also the desire of the coal miners to have such machinery, why should the third party govern the other two? Should not pressure be brought to bear upon those people by the Government of the day?
Is it fair to impose upon the miners a period of uncertainty, of wonder, and of not knowing what is going to happen day after day? Because really, after all, unless we get something in the nature of a national agreement we shall certainly live under apprehension during this period. Surely the Government must do its best to compel the mine owners to co-operate. The present uncertainty cannot last; because the miners of this country have had enough of the "gentlemen's agreements." We do not want a "gentleman's agreement"; we want an agreement between man and man, though they can both be gentlemen if you like to call them that. But the two sides must make the agreement, and we must not be compelled to be bound by the decision, or shall I say the desire, of one organisation alone. The miners' desire is security, even after July; but what is going to happen after July?
The hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines says he is quite satisfied that there will be no interference with wages so long as circumstances remain as they are. I have already pointed out that circumstances may not remain as they are for more than one or two months, and if in the course of those one or two months a mineowners' organisation in a particular district may come down upon that district and insist upon an alteration of their conditions of employment and wages, is it calmly assumed that the whole federation will sit down and watch that take place, or are hon. Members not apprehensive that the miners may insist upon supporting each other?
1700 There are two sides of the game; the association are only one side, and the miners are the other: and we should be compelled to do all we possibly could to assist those people who were directly attacked by the mineowners. The attack may come at any moment, of course; July is just a matter of a date. The Miners' Federation is out to secure a national agreement by peaceful means, and it cannot be said that the miners have done what they have been accused of many times, that is to say, take no steps to secure agreement until the last minute. We have been trying to negotiate for the last 12 months, as my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines knows. There has been no time during the whole period when the mine workers have not been trying to get to the coalowners with a view to arriving at a satisfactory agreement.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
With the Mining Association, with whom a national agreement was in operation before 1926; and there is no reason at all why the same body should not again negotiate a national arrangement.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
The desire of the workers for peace in the industry is very great indeed. We see right through the country very heavy unemployment. I think the Secretary for Mines mentioned this afternoon that the proportion of unemployed is about 34 per cent. of the whole industry. There is always a feeling of apprehension as to what might occur to any man in that industry; and in view of the very great hardships through which they had gone during the past few years, through the closing down of mines and the closing of the opportunities which they have had for securing agreement, they are very apprehen- 1701 sive indeed. They desire peace in the industry, but at the same time they desire peace with honour, and the honour should be that they should get the wage which is necessary in order to keep them in a satisfactory condition of life, not of luxury, but at least of comfort.
The coalowners desire freedom to attack any district at any time. I have just said that we should probably resist that attack if it came, and I sincerely hope that the coalowners will never feel that the time has arrived when they ought to attack; because this industry has gone through so many hard times, with troubles and stoppages, that we do not want any more. At the same time we want a guaranteed living. I wonder whether the Government see the dangers of the situation? We cannot attach blame to the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines, but I wonder whether the Government realise that there is certainly great difficulty and danger ahead? An industrial upheaval in this country would be one of the greatest calamities and disasters that could happen at present; and while we are working in one direction we find working in the entirely opposite direction the Coalowners' Association, and we find the Government acquiescing in the position. Really my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines is in one Department and the Chief of his Department is in the Cabinet, and the Cabinet, the heads of a number of Departments, ought to realise the great difficulties and dangers with which the present situation is fraught. If I may I should like to read a statement made by Mr. Evan Williams, the President of the Mining Association. It is reported that at a meeting of the Mining Association held on 30th May of this year,Mr. Evan Williams, President of the Mining Association, stated…that it was well known that no district was even thinking of asking for wage reductions, and there was no possibility of a crisis arising from any action by the owners. He said that the Association had always contended that national settlement of wages led inevitably to national difficulties and the danger of national strikes.There you have the same statement again.It was very remarkable, he asserted, that the Miners' Federation was now using this particular weapon, the threat of a national strike, in an attempt to force a national settlement upon the owners of the country.1702 I want to say that there has been no threat of a national strike. What we have been trying to do is to bring the two national bodies together, to get an agreement which will prevent anything of the kind taking place.
The miners have no desire whatever for a. national stoppage, but the line of action taken by the mine owners of this country, unless checked by the action of the Government, will inevitably lead to a stoppage of the coal trade very likely at some not far distant period. I should like hon. Members at least to take particular notice of that. You can push a barrow until you get it against the wall, but you cannot push it through the wall; you can push a workman to a certain point in his labour, but you cannot push him beyond that. We want to avoid that possibility taking place; and the position can yet be saved. I hope that the wisdom of the Government will at least open out upon this position, and that it will take the same action with the owners as it takes with the workmen—that it will insist upon a joint settlement, and a settlement with honour to both sides.
The hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines has given some figures this afternoon, and I intend to give some too, because the position of the miner is not understood, and I think it ought to be. I have here a few figures comparing the nine months ended September, 1924, with the nine months ended September, 1932. I find that the wages costs per ton are down by 4s. 1.72d.; other costs are down by 8.51d.; wages per shift are down by 1s. 5.90d.; selling price is down by 68. 2.93d.; output per shift is up by 4.23 cwts.; and numbers employed are down by nearly 400,000. I should like hon. Members to bear those figures in mind. They mean that every sacrifice by the men has been given away in reduced prices. Of course that needs some justification, and it may be said that there is another side to the story. The other side of the story has been told this afternoon by the Secretary for Mines. By the Act of 1930 the coalowners were given an opportunity of providing all the money necessary to carry on their industry successfully. They were given powers which were really never used, powers which, had they been used in the proper direction, would have given the industry 1703 a new lease of life, and would have helped the industrial life of the country as a whole.
I have here another statement made by Mr. Evan Williams, the coalowners' President. I am not quite sure that I ought not to apologise to the House, because I think I have used this once before; but at a meeting of coalowners Mr. Williams said:We all know, that instead of getting better prices than we did when we begun to function under this Act, we are really getting lower prices. This is due to the facts that we have placed more coal on the market than there was a demand for, that we have not been able to co-ordinate the regulation of prices as between district and district, and that we have not been able to prevent in the districts the evasions of the provisions of the Schemes which were designed for maintaining prices at a remunerative level.The coalowners have failed to profit by their opportunities. If the coalowners have not been able to rise to the height required to make that Act a success, why should they want to blame anybody else, and why should they want to have the opportunity of crushing down wages, when they have had an opportunity of providing the money necessary for the industry? Of course Mr. Williams's statement is a candid confession of failure. He says that prices are lower because "we have placed too much coal on the market; we have not been able to co-ordinate prices; we have not been able to prevent evasions"; and after all, "we" are the coalowners. The coalowners have failed because they have not been able to do things which were within their reach and under their own control. We have heard many remarkable comparisons made between the Labour Government and the present Government, but I want to make it clear that the conditions of the miners were better under the Labour Government than they have been since. It has been stated in the House on many occasions that things are better now and that the working industrial classes are in a more secure position than they have been, but the real fact is that the mining community is really worse off now under the present Government than it was under the Government in 1929.
The position under the Labour Government was better than it is now because they reduced working hours from eight 1704 to seven and a-half, and they induced the Geneva Convention to agree upon a further reduction of a quarter of an hour, subject to ratification, which was refused by this Government. This Government established the seven and a-half hour day for five years and wages for only one year. Is that a fair basis? Is not that a sufficient reason why a demand should be made for a national agreement? What right have the coalowners to have five years' security, whereas the workers who produce the wealth in the industry have only one year's security? They are certainly worse off under this Government than under the Labour Government. In view of the situation which has arisen, I should like to quote from the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) in the House during one of the last coal Debates, on 5th July, 1932. He said:It is sometimes said that the owners will not meet the men, that it is impracticable. The owners are always perfectly willing to meet the representatives of the men, but what they have said in the past is, 'We will not meet the representatives of the men when it comes to discussion of wages on a national basis.' It is a very good course to take a definite line on any special subject, but I say to the owners that if they are going to forego the advantage of setting up a joint committee merely because they do not wish joint discussion of wage agreements on a national basis, they are definitely in the wrong.In the same speech he made a further statement:I say to the owners, 'Our industry is in such a serious condition that we cannot afford to be inactive. Therefore get on with the work. Get in touch with Mr. Edwards. Invite his co-operation, and the sooner you do that the better it will be not only for the coal trade but for every member of the community.'"—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1932; cols. 304–5, Vol. 268.)That is from a man who was speaking with some authority because he understands the mining position perhaps as well as any Member of the House. Yet we are still in the same position. It is stated that in no district will a reduction from the present rate of wage be sought on the expiration of the present agreement. That only refers to the immediate expiration of the agreement. It does not refer to months ahead, but simply says that in July the owners will not interfere with wages. We want a guarantee of that agreement being carried on, so that we can be sure that there will be no attack 1705 on wages until the two bodies have got together and drawn up the agreement which is so necessary to the well being of the industry.
Some district coalowners have declared that they will not introduce any reductions or alterations in wages for at least 12 months. On that point I want to ask again what pressure have the Government brought to bear on the coalowners? Are they going to be quiescent every time anything comes up in the way of mining legislation, and to accept the dictates of the coalowners? The House is too big for that. It ought to be a question of justice. It ought to be a question of right between body and body for the people who are risking their lives every day they go to work and who never know whether they will come home alive or whole. They ought at least to be guaranteed a feeling of security and contentment of mind, so that they can apply themselves to their work in support of their own people in the proper manner.
We have been speaking of national machinery. What have the coalowners done to implement it? The Minister said that the Government are in favour of national machinery, but nothing has been done by the Government to force the forging of machinery, and as a consequence we are simply drifting from one side to the other. Do the Government desire to have peace within the industry? One would presume that they do. I feel quite sure that they do, but what are they afraid of? Why are they afraid of exercising pressure upon the Mining Association? Had it been a question of the miners, the Government would have exercised pressure on them. Why should one side be treated better than the other every time? I want to appeal to the Government to take this matter in hand with the intention of carrying it through in the interests not only of the mining community but of the community as a whole. If this thing drifts along until we have another 1926, it may lead to the break up not only of the industrial combinations of the country, but of the Constitution itself. The Government ought not to stand trembling on the brink. They ought to enforce their power and insist upon an agreement being concluded, so that this shadow shall be lifted from the national life for all time.
1706 On the question of accidents in mines, I am sure that the Ministry is as anxious as anybody that there should be reductions in the loss of life and injuries to workmen in the industry. I am quite sure that the Chief Inspector and the other inspectors on the staff have the same idea. We have to look at the causes of accidents, and here I speak as a man who knows something about mining life. The greatest cause of accidents is the fall of roof and sides. I want to put to the Minister that he should suggest to his staff that there ought to be more replenishments of defective timbering on the roads. You may go along a road and see broken timber or prop, and sometimes it is allowed to remain until there is a sudden fall and somebody is buried. Then the matter is remedied. There should be greater supervision by the management; there should be better supports and a thorough overhauling and replacement when they are necessary. Such work should not be put off until tomorrow. There is no room in a colliery for putting a thing off. Things have to be done there and then in, order to make conditions secure. There ought to be a substitution of steel arches. That is one of the best things that could possibly be done, but we are not getting them in the modern mine. I think that at least the coalowners should look upon this question from the point of view above everything else of avoiding risk to life. Every step they take to make life more secure in the mines is at least to their credit.
I am not going to say a word about the inspectors, except to say that I should like to see their number increased in order that they may pay more visits and know their collieries and districts better. In some cases they have districts which they can hardly get round with anything life a fair rate of progress. They are overburdened in some districts. I think that the State ought to find sufficient inspectors to enable every colliery to be visited daily or weekly, so that the difficulties and circumstances which cause loss of life can be under their constant supervision. They should know each pit and the management very well and be acquainted with the lay-out of the pits. They could thus help the management in many directions. Life is the most sacred of all things, and risks should not be allowed in the interests of economy. Life 1707 should be safeguarded at any cost. I do not suggest that anyone wants loss of life among workmen or that employers are careless, but I want their vision extended and their initiative increased in order that they may see to the interests of the miners.
There are other causes of accidents. The Minister might convey to his inspectors that there is not sufficient care taken in stowing or packing, and that that ought to be attended to with a view to stopping accumulations of gas. It is no use saying that accumulations of gas can be avoided, but they can at least be made more ineffective than they are. Gas should not be allowed to accumulate and become a kind of gasometer. Explosions are devastating when they occur, and accumulations of gas would not occur if adequate ventilation were provided in all collieries. I do not mean the rush of a current of air that will blow your hat off, but the diffusion of the air to every part of the mine. Probably in every pit in the country it is easy to assume that there is sufficient air going down to ventilate the whole of the mine, but in nearly every district there are some mines badly ventilated because the air is not diffused as it ought to be. I should like to read one or two paragraphs from the report of the explosion at Gars wood Hall No. 9 Colliery, Lancashire. The Chief Inspector, Sir Henry Walker, produced the report, and if anybody would like to read of the tragic life of the miner I would advise him to get the document, for it is one of the finest reports that has ever been made of a colliery disaster. Sir Henry Walker is to be complimented on it. He says on page"46 in his general remarks:The scheme of ventilation was bad and the manager evidently recognised that this was the case.Is it not a glaring misdeed to allow men to work in a colliery where the ventilation is bad? It was not because there was not ventilation, but because the ventilation was not properly directed. There is another paragraph which says:The air current at the time of the explosion had to find its way as best it could along the edge of the goaf. This was not right; proper travellable airways should have been kept open either by the use of chocks or stone buildings.That means to say that the travellable airways were not what they ought to have 1708 been and that they were contributory factors to the explosion. In another paragraph he says:On many occasions I have tried to impress upon those in charge of the working of mines that when in difficulty their proper course was to take the inspectors into their confidence, to put their troubles clearly before them and to ask for their help. The inspectors are at all times anxious to be of assistance, and especially in times of difficulty.Everybody agrees that the mining inspectors will do all they can to help any management which is in difficulties. I appeal to the Secretary for Mines to do something at least in the direction of forcing upon mine managements to have more care for the lives of their people. I could go on quoting figures and statements about accidents, but I will finish this part of the subject with what I have said. I think there is a case for the inspectorate to be increased, for the inspectorate to take up the question of the ventilation of mines and other matters with the whole of the coalowners of Great Britain, and that there is a case for the closer supervision of defective timber in mines where timber is used-—and that is practically all the mines—in order to secure a replacement of timber which is defective.
The only other point with which I wish to deal concerns overtime. Overtime is growing in practically every district, and if that were not so a larger number of miners might be employed. The list of the unemployed stands at round about 400,000, and at the same time we find people working considerably longer hours than they ought to work. The common excuse is that they are engaged on emergency work, but in many cases it is nothing of the kind. That blessed word "emergency" has become the gospel with mine managers, firemen and overlookers, and it is about time we exploded the myth. If they have a face which they cannot clear with ordinary labour they ought to take on more men. They are calling the clearing of a face emergency work. It is not emergency work. It is happening every day, and no emergency will happen every day. Either we must put a limit on the length of the faces, or insist upon the management having sufficient men to clear the face and do other work inside the ordinary working day. This is one of the matters which I would particularly like the Minister to take up, because this 1709 overtime is growing not only in Lancashire but in many other counties, and it is with the knowledge of some of the colliery officials. There may be emergency calls, and in the case of an emergency we should be the last to say one word against overtime, but the Mines Act regulations ought to be observed, and so long as we have such a large percentage of people unemployed there ought not to be any overtime which is not emergency work.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. SLATER
My opportunity to speak to-day arises from the fact that I have on the Order Paper an Amendment to move a reduction—
§ Mr. SLATER
The first thing I must do is to compliment the Secretary for Mines on what I consider to be a masterly exposition of the work of the year. I think everyone will agree that, considering he is new to his office, he has grasped things very clearly. In the first part of his speech he dealt with the world situation, and ostensibly he desired to convey the view that conditions in this country are not dissimilar to those ruling in the rest of the world. Throughout the world we have over-production of coal. The use of alternative sources of power, light and heat has been making great progress at the expense of the consumption of coal, not only in this country but throughout the world. The hon. Gentleman established that our country had not fared at all badly in the last year in comparison with other countries; on figures, he rather proved that we were better off than most of them; but though the world is having a bad time I think all hon. Members will agree that it is no comfort to us to fix our eyes on the world picture when we remember that we have passed an Act of Parliament which was to be a charter for better conditions here at home. At least, that is how its sponsors regarded the Coal Mines Act of 1930, contending that it would provide a structure within which better conditions could be established in the coalmining industry.
There is no doubt that we see on every hand neglect of the opportunity which that Act has given to the coalowners of this country to build up a structure with- 1710 in which they could secure an economic price for the coal produced, and do it with the support of the Socialist party. The hon Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) quite rightly made that point from the Opposition Front Bench, quoting Mr. Evan Williams on the subject. I as a coalowner admit that we have failed by indifference to take advantage of what that Act has provided for, and the President of the Board of Trade will sooner or later have to grapple with the situation with a determination that either the Act shall be carried out or that the charter must cease. In my opinion it was a good charter, and my sympathy goes out very largely to the hon. Member for Wigan when he says that while the Government gave the industry a charter for five years owners have given miners a charter for wages for one year only. He said the Government told the coalowners, "The inherent difficulty in this industry is overproduction. We have given you an Act, the best we can devise, under which you can regulate that over-production so that its effects shall not be inimical either to wage standards or the capital invested in the industry." In the case of my own district, North Staffordshire, we have given effect to that charter as regards wages if not for the period of five years at least for three years.
We want the assistance of hon. Members on the Labour benches. I meet them a good deal in the Lobbies, and I believe conscientiously that they are imbued with the idea of securing peace and cooperation in the industry, but I feel they are justified in saying, "We have given you the structure for building a better industry, for making a profitable industry of the coal trade, and we have a perfect right to ask you to guarantee our wages." That is a fair point to put forward. The Mining Association of Great Britain are the people who entered into these wages agreements in the past, but the Secretary for Mines and many other hon. Members know that since the last catastrophe, in 1926, the Mining Association would go out of existence as a body if they were to insist now on a national settlement. I would go a long way in order to agree to a national settlement. I believe in national settlements, and that is why I made my interjection, but I would urge hon. Members to consider the point that the miners' leaders who are asking for a national settlement of wages 1711 for one or two years ahead may possibly be making a mistake. We have to look round the world, which is rather in a state of flux. America is building up prices, establishing new prices at home. Like every other country she is endeavouring to bring about some equilibrium between primary and secondary products within the confines of her own country, and we shall have to do something to meet the same difficulty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has supported the view that we may have to follow the same course.
Therefore, I am not sure that the miners, by insisting on a new wage level now, may not be making a mistake. I say that because I honestly believe it and with no intention of drawing a red herring across the trail. They may be foolish to press for their wages to be stabilised for 12 months. I think there is not a coalowner in this country who would be listened to in any district—because I feel I know the districts very well—if he suggested a lower wage from now on for the next 12 months. He would not be listened to even if he only suggested it. I give the miners that measure of comfort for what they can get out of it. They may not get all they want, but I feel that if they got what they are asking for now they would not want it. They would probably be like a child with a toy—not wanting it as soon as he has got it. I feel that there may be trouble later on. I warn them. If I were they, I would be content with this.
Let me refer to the situation in regard to Parts I and II of the Act. I have made speeches before on this subject, and I have never emphasised, as I would like to do to-day, that this Act was from the very beginning most inconsistent. I am sure that the Minister is in perfect agreement with me upon that point. It never could be established that Part II was worthy of legislation and of the attention of this House. Part I says that the trade must be divided between the collieries, as far as possible, by giving each of them a quota. That meant that they had to work at 65 per cent., 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. of their capacity. Part II, which deals with reorganisation, says that collieries must be closed up and brought to as few as possible. I do not think that the Labour party 1712 wanted it. A little bird mentioned to me that it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) who insisted upon Part II and upon the Reorganisation Commission. If that is so, and if he demands that we shall force all the districts into an efficient whole, I wonder whether he ever looked at the powers that are conferred by the Mines Act in order to do that.
Why go on permanently wasting our money, at a time when we have no money to waste, and when we should economise? Why go on spending £40,000—it was £60,000 last year and perhaps £90,000 the year before—when we know very well that there is not a chance of doing anything. It was much better by far that we should leave the matter as weddings are left—let us choose our partners, but let us not have them forced upon us. That is very necessary in these days, when there is such a state of flux with the reduced output of mines, and when there is no value in any property, because most properties are working under restriction schemes. But what is not ideal may be the best that we can allow them to have in the time through which they are passing. There is not a district but would agree with what I said in my maiden speech, that the only way to deal with the question of redundancy is by a genuine compensation scheme, based on the same principle as the Balfour Licensing Act. For a nimble 3d. per ton you could accumulate something between £45,000,000 and £50,000,000. You should have a coal mines consolidation board on similar lines to the Central Electricity Board, gripping royalties so that they should not be lost—that is a very essential pre-requisite. If a compensation scheme at 3d. per ton produced £45,000,000 or £50,000,000, it would service that sum and amortise itself in 30 years. The benefits could be passed on to the district so as to bring about the harnessing of production in such a way that if you decided to close down certain collieries a man would not be beaten by uneconomic conditions and be forced to take any price. He would not be given scrap value but the goodwill value.
We must definitely decide that there are inconsistencies. [Interruption.]The hon. Member for Wigan asks me what about the workmen. Quite right. I have asked in this House before whether the Opposition insist upon supporting 1713 Part II. It is a counterpart of my scheme, except that mine is done more in a voluntary way, and we should be able to build up a capital structure with very small costs and very little outlay. We should be able to take care of the workmen far better than is provided for in Part II, which does not take cognisance of, or give any definite undertaking with regard to the men who are dismissed. If it did, I think the point would have been a very worthy one.
The Secretary for Mines knows that I am not exaggerating when I say that the practical man in the industry has to face one thing, which is that the price of coal is decisive in regard to its use in preference to the alternative forms of producing power, light and heat. You cannot get away from that, whether you like it or not. The powerful competitors, gas, oil and electricity, have made great strides, whilst coal has been going back. Their progress has in fact been greatly accelerated in the last few years. If we have to fight those alternative providers of power, light and heat, we must recognise that our only chance of doing so is by making coal cheap. That does not mean low wages or a low return upon capital.
I have pointed out, and facts will support me—and the Mines Department might easily prove this to any hon. Member—that if you are working short-time, it is certain that your on-costs must be increased. The Opposition were very anxious to-day to be given figures of the annual wages received by the men. They asked what the figure was per annum, and per week. It is at the end of the week when the miner takes his wages home, and has to pay for rent and other things, that his wife and he have a little consultation as to what his work is producing. That is what the miner Members on those benches want to know, and they are quite right.
I will tell them a few things on that subject. They have arranged for quotas. In Part II of the Act they have arranged the output into four units. They cannot have it both ways. If they are determined to have bigger wages the only possible way is to have longer weeks, say, of five shifts per week instead of 4½. The Minister gave us figures showing that the average time as compared with a former figure of 5¾, was now from five 1714 or four shifts. Is it hon. Members' object to have better wages and conditions and more prosperity in the industry by an effective concentration under Part II, or under some counterpart scheme? They have to decide. The definite thing that will arise is mechanisation, as the Minister has quite rightly said. It lies at the root of the matter. Perhaps hon. Members did not recognise that, because it was passed over. The Minister said that it was remarkable, despite lower outputs and quotas, how the cost had been kept down. I will tell him how that has been done. It is by the growth of machine-mining and the replacement of man-power in mines, compared with even such a short time ago as four or five years. I have seen with amazement how men are taken away. The hon. Member for Wigan mentioned about overtime when referring to this type of mining. I could take him to one of my collieries where the men were clamouring to come out after 5½ hours because the machines were so efficient. They could get the coal out in 5½ hours that used to take seven hours.
If we wish to make the coal industry better, we have to decide whether the Labour party are going to support us in order to give better wages—and very much better wages can be given in this industry; of that I am certain. The Labour party must face the fact that until the volume of consumption of coal increases, fewer men will be employed in the industry if better wages are to be paid. If hon. Members are willing to accept that let us take note of the fact, and let the Minister of Mines also note, that the Labour party are willing to support this policy. I say that it is the right policy. We shall never get a grip upon the competitive factors that we are up against until our hands are not tied behind our backs fighting our competitors, but are shorn of all shackles. Then we shall get the best out of the industry. That does not mean keeping it for capital but for labour also.
§ Mr. SLATER
If the hon. Member means national wages, and if he means 1715 that at a national centre we should say that we are to have the same wages over the whole of Great Britain, I should say, "No." I was asked that earlier on by the hon. Member for Wigan. I have talked with the Secretary of the Miners' Federation and he is perfectly reasonable. I do not think there are any cobwebs about this question; we have reached a stage at; which the miners leaders themselves have to admit that there must be variations among the districts; and I do not think, therefore, that a national agreement on wages with district variations is very much more than a name. But at any rate it gives some kind of power to negotiate more quickly, though, in the view of many coalowners in this country, there is a danger in this aggregation of power as compared with isolated districts. That is putting the case quite frankly.
§ Mr. PIKE
If, in the hon. Member's opinion, national agreements are not the correct thing for the attainment of his end, how does he hope to achieve it other than by some system of national agreements? Does he think that his scheme of organisation, of better output and production generally, could be obtained by districts?
§ Mr. SLATER
Within the scope of the Act, I am sure we have power to do what we desire. The Act gives the coal-owners the power to fix the price in accordance with what it costs them to produce, in order that the industry may carry on successfully. We now have the amazing situation that, the night before last, the Labour party were opposing, in the case of the fishing industry, this very proposal to give quotas, on the ground that it artificially raises prices and is destructive of everything that is good in an industry, whereas here to-day they are supporting quotas and higher prices for the coal industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is exactly what they are doing. They are so inconsistent. But, at any rate, I will not worry about their inconsistency, because I want to get on with the point.
The most significant part of the Minister's statement to-day was that in which he referred to the great growth of coastwise trade. This great growth of coastwise traffic at the expense of inland traffic has not added a single ton 1716 to the consumption of coal in Great Britain, but it has destroyed prices and the maintenance of prices in such a way that the whole structure of the Act as operated in the Midland areas of this country has been brought almost to the point of being ludicrous. No one observes it; it is merely honoured in the breach everywhere. No colliery owner could exist under the conditions of to-day if he did not take a light view of his responsibilities under the Act. Each one of them thinks that, if he does not cut, he will miss the business. We cannot, however, get away from the fact that this seaborne trade arises, as the Minister rightly pointed out, from the existence of cheap freights. We can bring a ton of coal from Newcastle to the Thames in a 2,000 or 3,000-ton ship for half-a-crown a ton, whereas to bring a ton of coal from Nottingham, Derbyshire or Yorkshire to London by rail costs between 10s. 8d. and 12s. 6d. The railway companies have been hidebound; they could not reduce their rates; if they did their whole rate structure would be broken down. They have allowed their traffic to diminish; they have had no power to help themselves; and I think some of them have been in sympathy with it, though not all, for I know of one railway company which is particularly interested in the other direction as regards the seaborne trade, and has not been quite so anxious as the others.
At any rate, the fact is that we have destroyed the average price level by this increase in coastwise trade, which has meant a great disturbance in the national allocation of trade. That is not putting it too high. Advantage is not being taken of any illegitimate means in doing this trade. There is the cheap freight and there is the dear railway rate. The export districts have lost their particular trade; England is still within their confines; they produce in Great Britain, and they have as much right to sell in Great Britain as anyone else. They have used the Act—because it has been since the Act was passed that this has become accentuated—to get more firmly established in markets which for a great many years previously had been almost a monopoly of the inland trade.
What are we going to do about it? Is there a chance of altering that condition of affairs? It has been argued in the 1717 House that the quotas for the export districts must be increased, that they must not be allowed to lose any foreign orders, and I agree. I see that the Minister is amused, because he is thinking of all these German and Swedish agreements which he has made, and he knows the point that I am going to make If they desire that all this increased trade should be artificially directed to them, and also that they should still retain what they have of the inland trade, it cannot be done; the whole trade will be up in arms against it, and there is no possibility of getting better conditions in Durham, Northumberland or Scotland from that point of view. In fact, the Midland coal-owners to-day, with the extraordinary collapse of the cotton industry in Lancashire, with small dividends, and with the export trade of the Humber also gone, are fighting a battle against conditions which are almost insufferable. One only has to look at some of the colliery balance sheets in the Midlands, and compare then-results with their past prosperity, to come to the conclusion that something dynamic has taken place, and it can be largely traced in some respects to the operation of this Act.
I am not, however, condemning Part 1 of the Act. I should like to see it continued, and, if I cannot convince the House of Commons or the coalowners in the country that the sensible way is to proceed on the lines of a real compensation scheme to deal with this redundancy, I would ask the Minister to use all his weight to deal with two points which cannot be ignored any longer. In the first place, the price evasion must be gripped; we have got to get over it and see that the Act is really carried out. In the second place, inter-district fixation of prices must also occupy the attention of the Minister and of the Government, and must be vigorously pursued. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), when he was Secretary for Mines, said that we must renew the Act for five years, because otherwise prices would collapse. I told him then that it would not raise prices, which were very unsatisfactory at that time. When the Minister talks of average prices throughout the country, I want hon. Members to understand that that does not convey all the truth. If you analyse the district incidence, you find that there are varia- 1718 tions. In the case of the coal which normally came from the Midlands to London, and which now comes from Northumberland or Scotland, there is a difference of 10s. or 12s. per ton in the prices received, and, as that has gone on, every month more places have been put up—at Shore-ham, the Thames, all round the south coast—big screening plants to deal with this seaborne coal. I am sorry for those people; they may have a very bad shock. We in the Midlands, who want to operate the Act, believe that we have been having a very raw part of the deal, but we believe that conditions will arise very shortly which may compel the railway companies to meet our demand for lower rates. We mean to press that point. Members for mining constituencies ought to recognise that the Government have given away a great deal in order to get what coal business we have from Germany and Scandinavia, and, if that has been done—
§ Mr. SLATER
I do not believe that it has. I believe that the industry will get full benefit from those agreements. But, if that has been done at the expense of the nation, we are not going to allow the export districts to have that extra trade and give up none of what they have been doing at home. They will have to help us by submitting to a certain reduction in that direction. The object of the Government has been to redirect that trade into its normal channels; that is why these agreements were made; and for that reason I hope that, in consideration of the quotas which have been granted to the export districts, they will realise that they cannot have the export trade and still retain what they have taken of the home trade from the collieries which hitherto have done it.
To return to the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission, I would ask the Committee to realise that Government money is being spent here for no purpose whatever. The Commission have no power to comply with any of the four conditions which have been laid down. They are these:
I have great sympathy with Sir Ernest Gowers in attempting to satisfy any such conditions. It is only making a farce of the whole matter to consider that he can do anything. He has done his best under the most difficult conditions, but why go on wasting national money on something which is utterly unattainable? Either let the Commission be given proper powers, or stop the waste of money. It is a contradiction of Part I of the Act. On the one hand, as I pointed out earlier, it is proposed to deal with the matter by quotas, while, on the other hand, the proposal is to close up all the redundant collieries and amalgamate them. It is not a question of economics only; there is a social side and a moral side to this question which cannot be ignored. The hon. Member for Wigan asked, what is to become of the men? That is a very pertinent question, and we must direct our attention to it. In my view, the Reorganisation Commission should either be ended or given powers to bring about better conditions, so that we may produce coal under ideal conditions, with all the collieries running full time and with the best wages being paid, because they will be working, not a three-day week, but a week of five or six days. You must recognise the significance of it. That is where that scheme is leading you. Let us not waste any more money foolishly on this question and let us get down to pulling up Part I. If we put our backs into it, I am sure the industry can be made a very much greater and better one not only for the labour in it but for the capital also.
- "(i) that it would be in the national interest to do so, and
- (ii) in the case of an amalgamation scheme that the scheme
- (a) will result in lowering the cost of production or disposal of coal, and
- (b) will not be financially injurious to any of the undertakings proposed to be amalgamated, unless the scheme contains provision for the purchase, at a price to be fixed in default of agreement by arbitration, of any such undertaking; and
- (iii) that the terms of the scheme are fair and equitable to all persons affected thereby."
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
The hon. Member has made a charge of inconsistency against us, due to his inability to distinguish between the quota that was recently under discussion and the quota under the Coal Mines Act. The fish quota deals with the importation of fish. This is the first time 1720 that I have heard an argument based on the assumption that the coalowners are prejudiced by foreign competition.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
The hon. Member has forgotten what he said. There is a fundamental difference between the two quotas. The question of the fish quota has no bearing whatever upon the quota for selling coal. Reference has been made to the exceedingly low wages that are now paid to the miners. The coalowners for a number of years have told us that, if they could get an extended working day, if they could get an increased output, if they could lower the prices of coal, we should get increased wages and much more regular employment They have had all these, and we are worse off today than we were before those concessions were made. The coal industry is suffering largely because of competition between the coalowners in this country. I have recently read a letter which stated; on the authority of one of the largest exporters in South Wales, that coal from the North of England is being sold on the foreign market at 4s. to 5s. per ton less than the South Wales owner is able to secure. We contend that the position is largely due to internecine competition amongst the coalowners and not because we are suffering from foreign competition. [An HON. MEMBEB: "YOU may be!"] We always expect interruptions from the hon. Member opposite. It is a pity that he does not speak instead of sitting on the bench smiling and making irrelevant interruptions.
I rose to deal specifically with the question of safety. The Minister appeared to be in doubt as to what steps should be taken in order to prevent accidents. I suggest to him that he might read his Mines Inspector's report and act upon the advice tendered by members of his own inspectorate. I was very surprised that no reference was made to the introduction of a new Coal Mines Bill. We have had no new legislation affecting the mining industry on the question of safety since 1911. That Act is practically obsolete, because new conditions have been created as the result of the introduction of machinery. In 1913 we had 2,895 coal cutting machines. In 1932 there were 7,137. We had in Great Britain in 1913 1721 only 359 conveyors. In 1932 we had no fewer than 3,265. The percentage of coal cut by machines in 1913 was 8.5, whereas in 1931 it had increased to 35 per cent. In other words, 76,750,000 tons of coal were cut by machinery out of a total production of rather less than 220,000,000 tons. The 76,750,000 tons cut by machines in 1931 represented 35 per cent. of the total production, compared with 19 per cent. in 1924. Machines are still on the increase. In 1932 there were 80,286,000 tons cut by machine. I consider that, either by order or by a new Mines Bill, no conveyor should be permitted to work in excess of 40 yards. In my own part of South Wales we have conveyors working in excess of 180 yards. There is no earthly chance of a man escaping in the event of an accident from a fail in the face due to the extensive area of roof exposed.
In the annual report for 1931 I find that the number of persons killed in the 10 years from 1922 to 1931 was 10,453 and the number injured and disabled for three days or more was 1,680,988. Accidents are not decreasing to any appreciable extent when taken in relation to the number of persons employed. In 1931 the number injured per 1,000 employed above and below ground was 161.3. It is true that that number is lower than in 1930, but in 1924 and 1925 the numbers were 158.3 and 159.3 respectively, whereas the average for the years 1918 and 1922 was only 116.7. These figures prove that mining conditions have been completely revolutionised within the last 10 years. I agree with the Minister that, when explosions occur, they excite popular attention and elicit general sympathy, which every miners' representative here appreciates.
The Secretary for Mines also referred to automatic fire damp alarms. Why is it that the owners, without these unnecessary inquiries, have not introduced the automatic fire damp alarm? I am informed that the cost of equipping mines with these alarms can be gathered from the fact that an average mine employing 1,000 men underground can be equipped at an addition to the wage bill of a miserable £3 a week, and against this can be set the savings in the cost of insurance against explosion and the compensation paid to the men killed and injured. The owners, in my opinion, are not interested in the amount of compensation that they 1722 pay for accidents, because betwen 1920 and 1931 they have paid in compensation alone £36,208,000. In view of the small cost, I think the introduction of such an instrument should be made compulsory. Many coalowners refuse to introduce them because of the cost, and there will be considerable delay unless they are convinced that it is to their financial advantage.
Steel props are now in general use, but will anyone say they were introduced because of the owners regard for the miners who were losing their lives? In my opinion they were introduced solely because it was more economical to introduce them. That is borne out by these figures. At the Watergate Colliery the introduction of steel props saved 3d. per ton. At the Butterley Company's collieries, 1.5 per cent. was saved. At the Cannock Chase Colliery the saving effected was 9d. This largely explains why steel props have been introduced.
May I tell the hon. Member that I inquired from the men at the colliery where a saving is derived if they preferred steel props, and they told me without exception that they much preferred the steel props to the wooden props?
§ Mr. DAGGAR
I fail to appreciate the observations of the hon. Lady. My point is that the automatic fire alarm will not be introduced, in my opinion, unless it can be proved that it is more economical to introduce it in precisely the same manner that steel props would not have been introduced had it not been possible for the owners to effect a saving in cost of 9d. a ton. You can compel the fencing of machinery and the workmen to observe laws and regulations, and there is no reason why you should not make the introduction of such a method compulsory. I am not opposed to the introduction of any mechanism which would warn men of impending danger, but our time would be better spent in concentrating upon removing the cause of danger.
Every mine is considered not to be in a safe working condition if there is a percentage of gas in the intake air ways of l¼ per cent. or upwards of gas, but a man is allowed to work in a working place if there is 2½ per cent. of gas. It is a most striking contradiction in the Act of Parliament. I submit that such an alarm is of use only when you have 2½ per cent. 1723 of gas in a working place. What about the accumulations of gas in roof cavities as a result of large falls of roof, and also accumulations of gas in places where men are not regularly employed, but only frequently? The automatic alarm will be no security whatever in instances of that kind. It will not register an amount of gas less than 2½ per cent. in the current. What about a lesser quantity? Any quantity of gas is a source of danger and should be removed. It cannot be removed without perfect and adequate ventilation. In fact, its very presence in a mine in nine cases out of ten is due to imperfect and inadequate ventilation, and we should be demanding the removal of the causes of explosions and not discussing means of registering whether there is 2½ per cent. of gas in the current or not.
I submit that danger and not security lies in that direction. Therefore, in view of the fact that such instruments have already been used in some mines in South Wales with considerable success, owners ought not to hesitate to introduce them on a general scale. I can only speak for South Wales, but I think it is true to say of every district in Great Britain, that there are certain costs necessary to maintain a mine which are considered as factors in production. The purchase of this lamp would mean that under the existing agreement 83 per cent. of the cost would be borne by the workmen in South Wales and only 17 per cent. by the coalowners.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
Yes, under the ascertainment. The cost of compensation is another factor in the cost of production, and in precisely the same manner as the proceeds of the industry are divided in the proportion of 83 per cent. to wages and 17 per cent. to profit, the purchase of the alarm would mean that its cost would be borne to the extent of 83 per cent. by the miners and only 17 per cent. by the coalowners. It will have to be proved to the coalowners in some parts of Great Britain that it is more economical to buy these firedamp alarms, for here is an instrument which the workmen in question have purchased to the extent of 83 per cent. of its cost. As far as I know these alarms are not generally 1724 used in South Wales but only in two of the mines. Their use should be made compulsory. It would test our sincerity in deploring the deaths due to explosions. I should like to know the reasons why their introduction should not be made compulsory.
This brings me to the consideration of the question of ventilation. I have already intimated to the Committee that adequate and perfect ventilation would remove the cause of explosions, and also that, in order to effect perfect ventilation in a mine, it is necessary to compel the owners to stow the gobs and the wastes and to compel them to adopt a method of tight packing as near to the working face as possible. This is not only my opinion. I have before me the report of Captain Carey who is the head of His Majesty's Mines Inspectors in South Wales. This is what he says:The improvement in the ventilation that is bound to follow the complete closing of the wastes is a point upon which I cannot lay too much stress. Two explosions due, in my opinion, to defective ventilation have occurred within recent years in this Division, and in both instances the packing of the wastes had received but scant attention, enabling cavities to be formed which subsequently filled with firedamp. There is is a further aspect of the matter worthy of note, i.e. from an underground fire point of view; if tight bashings are desirable to seal off a fire they are surely as desirable in the form of tight packs in preventing the initiation of a fire.The number of deaths in Great Britain due to explosions in the 30 years from 1901 to 1931 was 2,318. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood, but I would point out that while people in this country and also hon. Members in this House deplore the number of deaths due to explosions, the number of deaths is inconsiderable as compared with the number of deaths due to falls of roof in the pit. Deaths from explosions are few as compared with the number due to other causes. The greater number of deaths and accidents in the mines are due to falls of ground. In the 10 years from 1922 to 1931 the number of deaths due to falls of roof in the mines of Great Britain was 5,199. The number of accidents which disabled men for three days or more was 573,322. The Committee will observe that there were more than twice as many deaths from falls of ground in 10 years than there were from explosions in a period of 30 years. Falls of roof and 1725 side are the cause of the majority of fatal and serious accidents. In South Wales in 1930 we lost 75 miners owing to this cause alone, and in 1931 there were also 75 deaths. The number of persons injured and disabled for three days or more in 1930 was 11,476, and in 1931 9,131, or over a period of eight years from 1923 to 1931 no fewer than 735 deaths out of a total death role due to every known cause of 10,453, and 1,680,988 injured.
The numbers of deaths or accidents from falls of ground are very serious. There is no reliable indication of any decrease. The number of persons killed and injured per rate per 100,000 man shifts worked in 1931 was 30.7. We find that upon this basis it was lower than in 1930, when it was 32.6, but for the years 1922, 1923, 1924, and 1925 the figures were 29.1, 28.6, 27.1, and 27.9, respectively, as compared with the latest figure of 32.7. The Mines Inspector to whom I have already referred makes the following statement in his report for 1931:I am still of the firm opinion, so often expressed in the past, that the only solution to the problem of the prevention of accidents from falls of roofs is to maintain a system of tight packing, so as to retain the beds overlying the coal seam to be extracted in an unbroken a condition as is humanly possible.It is strange that Captain Carey has been calling attention to this matter year after year and nothing has been done by the Mines Department. If the system of tight packing is adopted it reduces the possibility of explosion. He enumerates the advantages of tight packs in these words:A good pack behind the working face has many practical advantages, and I will shortly enumerate them. In the first place, it ensures an even and gradual settlement of the roof bedding from the edge of the coal back, with advantageous consequences to the working of the coal itself by diminishing the crushing effect on the seam, thus giving more round coal, and probably making it easier for the collier to hew; it renders the roof itself less liable to break across the bedding planes and consequently to fall at hitherto unseen slips; it enables more timber to be withdrawn after the packs have been built up near to the freshly advanced face; it prevents the possibility of cavities being formed in the back area to become receptacles for accumulations of gas;"—when, as I have already pointed out, explosions would not take place—it causes less repair work to be necessary on the roadways behind the working faces, and finally it ensures that the bulk of the ventilation is kept up to the coal face 1726 itself, resulting in the freshly given off gases being carried harmlessly away and psychologically rendering the human machine at work there more efficient.That is contained in the annual report of Captain Carey for the year 1927, six years ago, and there has been nothing done by any Secretary of Mines or by the Mines Department to make stowing in the mines compulsory. In brief, we want a new Mines Bill. The existing Measure, in view of the fact that it is 22 years old, is obsolete and the conditions which made its introduction necessary have long ceased to exist in the mines. I, like many other mining representatives, am not prepared to take the excuses of some of the inspectors of mines, that the human factor is an important cause of accidents in the pits. This human factor which is cropping up in some of the reports of the mines inspectors is an excuse for inaction on the part of the Mines Department. One of the solutions for many of the accidents in the mines and many of the explosions is compulsory stowing of the place from which coal has been taken.
There is one further matter with which I should like to deal, and I know the Secretary for Mines will not regard it as being a criticism of a personal character. I contend, as many other miners' representatives and many thousands of miners contend, that it is time we had a Secretary for Mines who has had practical knowledge of mining. This is a criticism against the Government policy of what is known as continuity of method in appointment, and it is criticism which I make against all Governments. We can understand the position created since this Government has been in office, for the simple reason that the same individual who was responsible for the appointments under the Labour Government has a voice in the appointments made under the present Government. The only difference is that in the first case he was Prime Minister of the Labour Government, but at the present time he appears to be nothing less than a Tory prisoner.
There is evidence already that this Government has changed its attitude in connection with this question of continuity of appointment, because the present Minister of Agriculture, if he is anything, is an agriculturist, and he has charge of a Department where that know- 1727 ledge is of considerable importance. It is absurd that we should have someone in charge of the Mines Department who has no knowledge of the mining industry.
An HON. MEMBER
Does the hon. Member not think that it is better to have a Minister who in the past has taken no part in the many quarrels of the mining industry?
§ Mr. DAGGAR
No fewer than seven Ministers are concerned in this criticism, and every one of the seven has had to be trained in the knowledge necessary to perform his duties with satisfaction. I do not know whether a statement made by a member of the Betting Commission, which recently issued its Report, can be relied upon, but this particular member, a lady, said:I was chosen as a member of the Royal Commission on Betting because of my ignorance of the subject. Indeed, I think we all were.I wonder if that is the principle on which appointments are made in connection with the various State Departments. I think it would be an advantage if we had a person as Secretary for Mines who had practical knowledge of the mining industry. Very few Ministers who have been in the office for a short period would be capable of going into a mine and testing for gas.
The conditions in the mining industry have completely changed as a result of the introduction of machinery, and in our opinion a new Mines Bill is necessary. The present Secretary for Mines could reduce considerably the number of accidents that are occurring and could reduce explosions to a considerable extent, if he issued regulations, pursuant to the Act of Parliament, in accordance with the advice tendered by his own inspectors. I hope that on the next occasion he addresses the House—not to-night but on some other occasion—he will give some indication that it is the intention of the Government to introduce an entirely new Coal Mines Bill.
§ 6.50 p.m.
If I might presume, I should like to congratulate the Secretary for Mines on his wonderful speech, this afternoon. He gave us a very comprehensive statement of the world situation. The hon. Member who has just sat down wondered if he would be able to test for 1728 gas down a mine, but it does not necessarily follow that the man who could test for gas and detect it would be able to understand the very complicated questions of the coal industry. I should like to draw attention to Part II of the Coal Mines Act, which is having a very grave and disconcerting effect upon the coalfield which I represent. I apologise to the Committee if I appear to be parochial, but I am very disturbed about the activities of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission in my constituency. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater) told of the opposite effects which Part I and Part II of the Coal Mines Act are having upon the coal industry. He said that Part I is giving new life to old and redundant pits. In the words of Sir Ernest Gowers, Part I is having the effect of rejuvenating collieries. Part II is designed to concentrate production in a fewer number of collieries and consequently to close down a certain number of mines, but the very existence of Part II has the effect of keeping open redundant pits, which struggle on in the hope either of being rescued or compensated. Moreover, there is no existing law to forbid the opening of new collieries.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne pointed out that Sir Ernest Growers is carrying on work under very difficult circumstances, work that it is impossible to carry out effectively. He cannot possibly prove that the amalgamation of collieries will have the effect that it is designed to have under the Act. The activities of the Reorganisation Commission are creating uncertainty in. my constituency, with the result that efficient collieries cannot pursue a policy of proper development and cannot expend capital on rational expansion. I should like to describe something of the conditions that exist in my constituency, in order to prove that the collieries in Cannock Chase are not lacking either in efficiency or in progressive developments. Last November the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission met the coalowners of Cannock Chase and after hearing their views, I am told on good authority, the Commissioner retired for little more than five minutes and came back at the end of that time to announce that the Cannock Chase collieries must be amalgamated. In Cannock Chase there are 26 collieries and 13 of the most important collieries produce 1729 about 4½ million tons of coal. It is these 13 collieries that have been asked to amalgamate, but 11 of the 13 are against amalgamation. The other 13 collieries produce something like 115,000 tons of coal per annum. According to a question that I put to the Secretary for Mines the other day, we are not quite certain what will happen to these mines, but he gave me to understand that they will probably remain as they are now. These collieries working outside an amalgamation scheme could be a terrific menace to any amalgamation. In fact, some of the smaller collieries in my constituency now are a grave menace not only to the prices that are being paid for coal but to the standard of living of the miners themselves.
We employ in Cannock Chase about 23,000 miners, and I find that since 1927 2,000 miners have been permanently thrown out of work. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) spoke of the very much worse condition of the miners to-day than when the Labour Government were in office. I do not want to have recriminations and, as the Secretary for Mines told us, it is never wise to say that one thing has had this or that effect upon the industry, but from the figures in my possession I should like to point out that before the coal stoppage of 1926 the collieries of Cannock Chase produced something like 6,000,000 tons of coal per annum and the miners worked almost full time—5¾ days per week. In 1927 the output fell to 5¼ million tons and the number of days worked per week fell to five. Since that time there has been a steady decrease in the number of days worked by the miners. It is also not uninteresting to note the fact that, in 1927 there was a great tendency in industry to transfer from: coal to oil. While it is not a good thing to indulge in recrimination or to lay at the door of the coal stoppage the causes of all the ills in the industry, it is interesting to note the conditions that coincide with the 1926 stoppage. I lived in my constituency through the 1926 stoppage and I know that the mining community before 1926 were in a very much stronger and better position financially than they were at the end of the stoppage, and I know that they have never recovered. The shopkeepers and the whole community have never been able to raise their heads since that time. Therefore, when hon. Members on the Opposition benches say 1730 that the miners were much better off under the Labour Government than under the present Government, it is well to remember these facts.
Cannock Chase coal-field produces mostly house coal and we naturally have a seasonal trade. We work better in the winter than in the summer. The up-to-date figures show that this year our average work days per week have been three and a quarter. I should like to mention some of the improvements that have been effected in the working of coal in the Cannock Chase coalfield. In the last four years the mechanical getting of coal has increased from 21 per cent. to 30 per cent., the use of conveyors under ground has increased by 61 per cent., and some of the best and latest types of screening plant have been installed on the surface, including the most up-to-date washing plant. The use of electricity too has been extensive, and has increased in the last four years by 29 per cent. In spite of the difficulties of the times, and in spite of the terrific depression in industry generally, the Cannock Chase colliery companies are holding their own. The coalfield as a whole is making a profit, and it is a fact that we pay the second highest basis rates in the country. We have no devastated districts in the coalfield, and there is a healthy rivalry between the villages and the collieries for the safety and welfare of the workers.
The question I ask is whether amalgamation can improve that position; can it even maintain that condition of things? The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) wondered what was to become of the men. When the Coal Mines Act was introduced in 1930, the late Mr. Graham was under no illusion as to what would happen to the men because he said he begged hon. Members to remember that if a colliery closed down it left either a village a derelict community, or a social problem, behind it. It is that which really disturbs me more than anything. Any estimate must be conjecture, but it is estimated that at least 4,000 miners would be thrown out of work in the Cannock Chase coalfields if the proposed amalgamation were carried out. It is suggested that these men will be absorbed after a time. It is said that there is bound to be this unemployment for a time, but that afterwards they will be 1731 absorbed. That is a fallacy. These men can never be reabsorbed.
Year after year the march of mechanisation increases; more and more men are put out of work, and it is a fallacy to believe that these men can be again absorbed into the coal industry, and there is no other industry in the Cannock Chase coalfield. There is nothing else for these men to do. The point to remember is that most of the men who would be thrown out of employment are married men, the older men with families. I estimate—it must be a very rough estimate—that if 4,000 men are thrown out of work 10,000 to 15,000 people will be destitute. That is something we cannot enter into lightly. The miners of Cannock Chase are having a thin time with short work and prolonged depression, but although they are going through grave difficulties they have got jobs; and while a man has a job he has hope, that it will improve. If he loses that job he loses hope. Knowing my constituency as I do, I realise that if you take away the hope from most of these miners that trade is going to get better you are taking away the only thing which at the moment is keeping them sane.
Whole villages would become derelict as a result of amalgamation. Shopkeepers would be ruined. I say that with all the earnestness I can command. This is a question the Government must be very decided upon, and go into and examine very carefully. We hear to-day on all sides the suggestion being made that men should share out their work. We know the Minister of Labour has been discussing with the Federation of Employers and the Trades Union Congress some method whereby more employment can be given to a greater number of people. Here we, as a Committee, are voting £40,000 to a Commission to do just the opposite thing—to shut down collieries, create unemployment and concentrate unemployment geographically, which is a very serious problem. I know the Cannock Chase coalfield thoroughly. I have lived with the people there for a number of years, and I am terribly perturbed at the prospect which faces the coalfield unless something is done, and done very quickly.
1732 It has been impossible, up to the moment, really to ascertain the views of the leaders of the men about amalgamation. I do not know whether they are not allowed to say anything—whether their mouths are closed, or whether they have not got an opinion. It is difficult to find out. I have not been able to get a lead from the leaders of the miners, but I know what the rank and file feel. I know that, if this means shutting down collieries and throwing them out of employment, they are, even although they are working short time, definitely against it tooth and nail. We are grateful to the Secretary for Mines for all he is trying to do for the coal industry. I was rather surprised when the oil duty was being debated that we did not get more support from the hon. Members on the Labour Benches. I would have thought they would be eager and anxious that something should be done to give the coal industry a chance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say, "Hear, hear." After all, any scheme, or anything done that can possibly give a market for a few tons more of coal, is worth while doing. We hear talk of how useful oil is to industry; we hear hon. Members inside the House, and people outside the House, saying that coal is dead; that coal is no longer king; that the coal industry is a contracting industry, and that the only thing to do is to shut down collieries and destroy capital because our coal assets cannot ever be so valuable to us again. That is a defeatist attitude.
There is no limit to the uses to which coal can yet be put. We do not even know the nature of the substance which goes to make up coal. It has been used principally for the production of heat up to the present time, but new methods of using coal may reasonably be expected at any moment, and a new use for it may be found out at any time. The uncertainty of the future possibilities of the utilisation of coal makes it imperative that every means should be adopted to conserve our supplies. Coal is one of our greatest national assets and should be preserved at all costs. Finally, I know it is not possible to suggest anything that may mean legislation in Committee of Supply on the Estimates, but I do wish to appeal most earnestly to the Secretary for Mines that he should 1733 put this case to the Cabinet and see what really can be done about the whole thing. I appeal to this Committee to consider the advisability of voting huge sums of money that can do very little else than create unemployment and make whole communities derelict and destitute.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
We have just listened to a very interesting speech from the hon. Lady, and I would like to make one or two observations on some of her remarks. I am glad to find a Conservative Member of Parliament becoming such an ardent supporter of the coal quota. Having been in the last Parliament, I remember all that the Conservative party did to prevent Part I from reaching the Statute Book. Now we are shown that if it had not been for Part I whole districts in the coalfields of Great Britain would have been derelict. When this question of the difficulties of the coal industry comes before the House in these days, hon. Members invariably refer to what happened in 1926 and ascribe the difficulties of to-day to the events of that time. But, according to my recollection, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) some time ago in the House stated very categorically that the economic troubles of 1926 arose out of a return to the Gold Standard in 1925. It is ridiculous to suggest that what happened in 1926 was due to agitators and persons of that description. What happened was entirely due to the necessity which the return to the Gold Standard had created for employers to reduce wages. The hon. Lady seems to assume that when a large reduction of wages is demanded of the working men in one industry or another, they should immediately submit to any suggested reduction.
The hon. Member is misconstruing what I said. He is certainly not putting to the House my point of view.
§ Mr. BROWN
I am merely trying to interpret, so far as I understood it, the argument of the hon. Lady. She conveyed to me the impression that she considered the events of 1926 were due to agitators and miners' leaders. The events of 1926 arose out of the economic conditions then prevailing in the country, which made it necessary for employers of labour to seek the reduction of wages. 1734 I merely went on to say that, in my view, when great bodies of men were faced with a demand for large reductions of wages they would be less than men if they did not resist that demand.
I should have made some fuller references to the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater) if he had not left the House. I do not quarrel with the tone and temper of his speech, but he was torn between two opinions from the beginning to the end. He did not know whether to say most for Part I, or for what should be done in regard to Part II. He did not know what position he should take up. I would have said to him, if he had been here, that it would be a good thing if he would use his persuasive influences upon the rest of the coal-owners. If he did, we should get out of our difficulties more easily than we are likely to do. The speech of the Secretary for Mines gave us a very admirable review of the situation, and reminded us that the world is turning increasingly to new sources of energy. To a very considerable extent that is responsible for the decline and decay of the coal industry. The speech of the Secretary for Mines was accompanied by a wealth of detailed information. It was an excellent piece of description of what is happening in the world with regard to the coal industry generally. He looked for any circumstance which shows the slightest sign of improvement, in order to encourage us. It cannot be said that he held out any great hopes.
His speech had some very peculiar characteristics. He seemed to be anticipating certain criticisms which are likely to come from some quarters of the Committee later on. He defended Part I of the 1930 Act. When he sat on the benches below the Gangway he was not an ardent supporter of the Coal Mines Act, 1930. On one occasion he said that it was a very bad Bill indeed. I am glad that his experience at the Mines Department has more or less convinced him that Part I was very necessary, in spite of all the doubts that he and his Liberal colleagues had about it when the Bill was before the House. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) urged the Secretary for Mines to do something definite and practical in regard to the situation which will arise on 8th July. The letter which the Secretary for Mines read marks the latest phase in the development of 1735 the situation. It was courteous, kind and gentle; that is the way Conservative Governments deal with the coalowners. The National Government are scared to death of bankers, coalowners, farmers and landlords. I should like to see the Government deal with the situation with a little more courage; have a definite purpose in view, and pursue it to the end.
My chief reason for rising is to deal with a matter which concerns my own area. We have been reminded of the increase in mechanisation which is taking place in the mining industry. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) stressed the change that is taking place in working conditions underground owing to the mechanisation of the coal industry, the development of coal-cutting machinery and conveyor faces. Obviously great changes are taking place in the conditions of working. The hon. Member for Wigan made a brief reference to the overtime being worked on these coal-cutting and conveyor faces. On 21st February the Secretary for Mines gave certain figures in connection with overtime worked during the month of January in certain collieries in the area I have the honour to represent. At Rufford Colliery, 495 hours overtime were worked; at Clip-stone Colliery, 780 hours; at Blidworth Colliery, 285 hours and at Ollerton Colliery 1,515 hours. In the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, Sections 1 and 2, overtime is permitted in cases of accident, danger or apprehended danger, emergency, or work incomplete through unforeseen circumstances requiring to be dealt with in order to avoid serious interference with ordinary working. I put a further question about Clipstone Colliery, and I was told of the regulations which allowed this overtime to be worked. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) in a supplementary question said:Does the hon. Member suggest that all the operations to which he has referred fall within the category of those which permits employment for overtime?And the Secretary for Mines said:As I say, the operations at this pit have been carefully examined, and I have given my answer, that in my opinion they all arise under the Act.Then the hon. Member said:If all these operations are to be taken into account, is it not possible for any colliery to work overtime every day in the 1736 week and all through the year?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1933; col. 1008–9, Vol. 277.]I suggest that the time has come when there should be some reconsideration of the regulations, in view of changed working conditions. The hon. Member for Abertillery has already indicated what happened in some of the mines where this machinery is installed. It is true that there are coal-cutting faces 150 to 200 yards in length, and often the seam in which work is being carried on is four to five feet thick—that is the case in my area—and the cut that is made is a six-foot cut underneath. Over a face of 150 to 200 yards in length hon. Members will realise the huge block of coal that has to be cut out, and the regulations, as they are now, allow for that block of coal being cut out and the coal-cutter put up to the new face before you can say a condition of danger exists. That is the reason why many of these men are being kept at work for such long hours at these collieries. There should be a reorganisation of labour underground to meet the new situation.
I have special reasons for calling attention to this matter as regards the county of Nottingham. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Johnstone) yesterday obtained leave to introduce a Bill which he called the Notification of Poverty Bill, and, in the course of his speech, said that he wanted to give protection to certain classes of workers whom be thought were not organised, who had nobody to speak for them in regard to wages. Incidentally, I am glad that the Liberal party have some regard for poverty, at any rate as a sort of economic disease which should be notifiable, even if they do not go any further in the matter. The hon. Member for South Shields pointed out that many industrial workers, in the absence of organisation, were helpless. The conditions which obtain in the county of Nottingham are unique as far as coal is concerned. We have two unions—I must mention this to make my case clear. One is known as the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union and the other as the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association. I am not exaggerating when I say that perhaps between the two they may have half the miners in the county of Nottingham in their membership. We have about 50,000 miners in the county, *** 1737 and the bulk of them are in neither organisation. The men who are in the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union are led by compulsion, not by choice. It is a definite condition of employment in certain collieries that the men shall belong to that union. They have to sign a form—I can produce one if necessary—agreeing to join this union as a condition of employment in certain collieries in Nottingham, and, as far as I am able to judge, the only thing which this organisation does for the men is to fix wage rates for the district. It makes agreements with the owners in the county and handles a few compensation cases, but it does not concern itself with general working conditions as a trade union organisation should.
I may be told that these men are not worth speaking for; that they do not belong to any organisation, do not think it worth while to organise, and are prepared to go on working this overtime week after week and month after month. They do so because they have no means of redress at all in existing circumstances. What is the alternative if they refuse? They are at once dismissed, "given their cards"—to use a phrase current among miners. Can you -wonder that they work these long hours. The only thing which faces them if they do not is unemployment, with the means test in the distance, with all its iniquity and the meticulous examination into their personal affairs which it involves. Bather than face that, they work these long hours regularly.
§ Mr. BROWN
I am not going to give way to the hon. Member; his interventions are too frequent, and he will have his opportunity at a later stage, I imagine. Nominally the length of a working day in mines is fixed by Act of Parliament, and I take it I am right in assuming that it is the duty of the appropriate Government Department to see that the length of the working day fixed by Statute is observed in the mines of this country. I put it to the Secretary for Mines bluntly and plainly that, seeing the abnormal conditions which obtain in Nottinghamshire, and also that the men are to a large degree unprotected, or not effectively protected by one organisation because the masters will not recognise it, 1738 his inspectors in this area should watch the working on these coal-cutting faces and conveyor faces, where these excessively long hours of overtime are being worked, and insist that in the Nottinghamshire coal field the hours of work in the mines shall be the statutory hours set up by the legislation of this House.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I should like to compliment the Secretary for Mines on the able manner in which he has presented the case for his Department. It may not have been a cheerful picture which he had to paint but the Committee will agree that he made his statement interesting. I do not propose to go as far back as 1926. I ask the Committee to look at the mining Debate of last year, during which I was accused of being obsessed by exports. I pleaded guilty then, and I plead guilty now. Would to God that every Member of this House were suffering from the same obsession! It is largely by our exports that the people of this country live. Two out of three of our unfortunate fellow-citizens who are unemployed are in the ranks of industries concerned with the export trade. The fabric of our industrial life rests upon coal and the exports section of that industry plays a vital part in the economic life of the nation.
We have had reliable figures from the Minister this afternoon. I dealt with them as recently as 1st March on a Private Member's Motion and I do not want to weary the Committee by going into them again but I would ask the Committee to realise that whole there may have been disagreement as to the causes of the decline in our export trade, there has never been any disagreement about the facts of the case. It cannot be denied that the export section of the industry is in a very bad way. Our exports of coal last year were less than half of what they were in 1923 and were 16,000,000 tons less than they were in 1930. The figures show that in 1931 the exports were 12,000,000 tons less than in 1930 and in 1932 they were 4,000,000 tons less than in 1931 and that process of decline continues, because on the figures for the first five months of this year we are down still further. No single section of the coal exporting trade has shown, during the first five months of this year, any 1739 sign of improvement—neither cargo coal, bunker coal, manufactured fuel, coke nor even pitch. There is a decrease of 500,000 tons in cargo coal and 500,000 tons in bunker coal in the first five months of this year.
We have recently concluded agreements with the Scandinavian countries. We are not yet reaping the full benefit of those agreements, but our exports to those countries have increased by something like 500,000 tons in the first five months of this year, in comparison with 1932. We cannot ignore the fact that what we have gained in our exports to those countries we have lost elsewhere, but, while that is the case, I, as the representative of a constituency which depends entirely upon mining and which is in the most hard-hit area in the United Kingdom—a district to which the export trade in coal is of vital importance—desire to express my grateful thanks to the Government for having concluded those agreements. Obviously, had it not been for them we should have been going still further down the hill and the decline would have been bordering on the equivalent of 3,500,000 tons per annum. The same tale is to be told in the case of bunker coal. We were down 1,000,000 tons in 1931 compared with 1930 and we were down 500,000 tons in 1932 from 1931 and for the first five months of 1933 we are 582,000 tons down compared with 1932.
I hold the view that this is not all due to world causes. Our greatest competitor in northern Europe is Poland. Poland's exports in the first five months of this year declined by 460,000 tons. That was only to be expected because we are regaining our natural markets which were lost largely as a result of the regret-able 1926 stoppage. Had it not been for that stoppage, Poland could not have dug herself into the northern European markets as she did. But here is a significant factor. In the case of bunker coal in which there is a free market, whereas we declined by 582,000 tons, Poland which has no absurd quota restrictions and no foolish minimum prices, actually increased her exports of bunker coal in the same period. There must be some reason for this and I shall be grateful if the Minister will state the point of view of his Department as to the cause.
1740 I have never made any secret of my view. I have held and still hold that the Act of 1930 is largely responsible. I have said so over and over again. I have never said and I do not think anyone has ever said that the decline in export trade is due entirely to the 1930 Act. What I do say is that the Act is a contributory cause. A great deal may be said for regulating inland prices but no case has been or can be made out for artificially restricting output or fixing minimum prices in the export trade where there is a free market and where, subject to the usual conditions as to quality and terms of delivery, the purchaser is sure to buy in the cheapest market. It is true that conditions generally are bad, but they are so bad in this industry that it is fighting for its life and this is not the time for putting restrictions on those engaged in this uphill battle. In reply to a question which I put in March last the President of the Board of Trade said the Government had under consideration what action they should take in this matter. I should like the Minister to say whether the promise made by the right hon. Gentleman still holds good. It was made, I think, on 31st March and he said that if the coalowners did not produce a scheme within the central council for co-ordinating prices and regulating output the Government would formulate a scheme of their own. Is that still the attitude of the Government and how much longer will the Government propose to allow before taking such action?
I am sorry that I cannot agree with the Minister or indeed with the Mining Association on the question of the effect of the quota on production costs. It seems an elementary proposition that if, as is happening in the mining areas throughout the United Kingdom, collieries are compelled to work only 60 per cent. to 75 per cent. instead of 90 per cent. to 100 per cent., production costs are inevitably increased. Even in the ease of the efficient collieries which are in the happy position of working full time or something approximating to full time, the purchases of quota which they are compelled to make, quarter after quarter, in order to keep it going are a definite charge upon output. It is, in my opinion, an unjust charge and it is an addition to the cost of production which would be avoidable in a properly regulated indus- 1741 try. I am at a loss to understand how anyone can claim that a system under which inefficient units are kept alive at the expense of the efficient does not add to the cost of production.
The effect of these restrictions and of the increased cost of production are revealed most clearly in the export districts. It is all very well to give figures covering the whole country and to claim that there is a credit balance for the industry, but what about the districts? I have here the statistical summary of output, cost of production, proceeds and profits for the quarter ended 31st March, 1933. These are the latest figures, issued only this morning, and they show in the credit balances the following:—Yorkshire 1s. 4d. per ton profit; North Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire 1s. 10d.; South Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Cannock Chase and Warwickshire—the Midlands area which we heard was in such dire straits—1s. l1d. Each of these is an inland area. What de we find when we turn to the exporting areas? Scotland, a meagre 4d.; Northumberland, nil; Durham, 1s. debit; South Wales, no profit at all.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
Will the hon. Member give us the comparative figures for the year prior to the introduction of the Act?
§ Mr. DICKIE
I am sorry I cannot do so at the moment. While I am egotistical enough to claim to know a little about the mining industry, I do not carry in my head schedules of all the figures relating to different periods, but they are easily obtainable.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
May I put it to the hon. Member that he is endeavouring to make a case against the application of Part I of the Act of 1930? Would he have done justice to his case if he had obtained the relevant figures of profit or loss in the export districts prior to the introduction of the Act? Would they not have shown that the situation then was worse than the situation to-day?
§ Mr. DICKIE
If my memory serves me right, in the years immediately prior to the passing of the Act of 1930, each of these districts showed a substantial profit but since then they have gone down steadily.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I showed in the mining Debate last year that we were steadily recovering our position- in the export markets of the world in the years immediately prior to the passing of the Act. Our exports were steadily rising and we were recovering the position which we had lost in 1926 until the Act of 1930 was placed on the Statute Book. However, that was not a point with which I intended to deal further than to demonstrate the fact that while it is easy to point to a credit balance for the whole industry all over the country, it is a totally different matter when we examine the position of the hard-hit exporting areas. Each and every one of these is working to-day at a loss. The figures which I have quoted will give the Committee some idea of the position in those areas.
It is to be remembered that the exporting areas are what are called the distressed areas. There is an old and rather hackneyed phrase to the effect that one-half the world does not know how the other half lives. Whatever truth there may be in that phrase in its worldwide application, some of us have learned since coming to the House of Commons that one-half of England does not know how the other half lives. One of the things borne in upon the representatives of the distressed areas here is that those who represent constituencies in the South of England have not the faintest conception of the conditions under which our people are living in the distressed areas.
Now so far as a comparison is concerned, take two counties, Durham and Surrey, both beautiful counties, because, contrary to popular belief in the South of England, the county of Durham is not a county of slag heaps, but one of the most beautiful counties in England. The two counties are practically the same size. The county of Durham is a wealth-producing centre, the county of Surrey is a money-spending centre, and yet a penny, rate in the county of Surrey will raise £35,000 where a penny rate in the county of Durham will raise only £11,000. Where we create the wealth, contrasted with where it is spent, one person in 20 owns a motor car in Surrey and only one person in 120 owns a motor car in the county of Durham.
Now take the figures of unemployment Let hon. Members go into the Library 1743 and take up the local Employment Exchange Gazette and see the figures of our unemployed. in Surrey it is 10, in the county of Durham 42, in Sussex 11, in Gloucestershire 39, in Kent 13, and in Northumberland 30. In Hemel Hempstead it is six, in the city of Oxford six, in the City of London 2½, and in Luton 4½, but in Jarrow it is 80, in Blaina 75, in Merthyr Tydvil 66, in Eastbourne and Winchester 11, and in Torquay 12. These are the facts, which ought to be brought home to the Members of this House.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I rather think that the hon. Member is anticipating the speech which he, no doubt, hopes to deliver on this day week. We are really dealing with coal, and I think he has got rather far from it.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I have no desire to transgress your Ruling, Captain Bourne. I was just going to link up the straw hats with the coal-producing in the county of Durham. I mentioned Luton. There is a very large coal-producing area in my constituency, which is divided into two sections, one producing coal, and this is the point which I should like to put to the Secretary for Mines. Until two months ago the rate of unemployment there was 33 per cent. In the last two months it has gone up from 33 per cent. to 51 per cent. There are 16,000 workpeople on the register and over 8,000 unemployed. The increase alone in unemployment figures in my constituency is four times as much as the regular normal figure for the town of Luton, in the South of England. That should induce the House to see the importance of this factor, and I believe that the Government could do something to help to reduce these figures. I think that they could do it by recognising the fundamental difference between the export section of the industry and the inland section.
Believe me, there are still fields to conquer, and, as long as there are no international agreements, it is our duty to our own people to go out into the markets of the world and to capture every ounce of business that we can catch. The Government have established a system of national control without any national responsibility, because that it what this present position actually amounts to—national control of industry without any national reeponsibility—a system which 1744 definitely prevents the effective capture of those markets still open to us. I submit that as this has failed, it is the duty of the Government to remove these handicaps and to allow individual ability, individual initiative, individual enterprise and individual energy to accomplish again what they have never yet failed to do when enjoying a fair field and no favour.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
In rising to address the Committee on this important matter, I look round and see that I have not a very large audience, but I am very hopeful that I have got an exceptionally intelligent one, and that what we lack in quantity we gain in quality. Last year it was my good fortune to follow the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) in the Debate. On that occasion I failed to teach him anything or convince him that he was entirely wrong, so that I am not going to take up any time to-night in following the lines that my hon. Friend the Member for Consett has developed in his speech to-night. I regret very much that, owing to other meetings which I have to attend in this House, I was not able to hear the whole of the speech of the Secretary for Mines. I heard the beginning of his speech, and when I left the House he was giving an analysis of the exports of this country compared with the exports of other countries, and the production over last year of coal in the various countries that were coal producing countries. That was all that I was fortunate enough to hear of his speech, but by the congratulations that have been given to him to-night by almost every other speaker, I am led to believe that he made a reasonably good speech in defence of the activities of his Department.
In the course of his speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) calculated that the Secretary for Mines, or the subsequent Secretary for Mines, would probably not be able to test for gas. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Mrs. Ward) commenced her speech by referring to that. A good many of the men who could test for gas would also be capable of dealing with all the complications that arise in the mining industry. Further, in the course of the Debate we had the question raised in regard to amalgamation. Amalgamation, we have been told, means the closing of many pits in a good many 1745 districts in this country. I was not one of those people who thought that all the ills from which the mining industry suffered could be cured by amalgamation, but I do believe that amalgamation, done in a systematic and scientific way, might bring some advantage to the mining industry. But I want to disabuse the minds of hon. Members of this Committee and of the general public. What about the closing of collieries in the last few years where there has been no amalgamation? In the county I happen to represent there were, some two or three years ago, 22 or 23 collieries. Now we have only 11 working, and there has been no amalgamation. So that amalgamation is not the chief cause of the stoppage of collieries. Other things cause that effect. Consequently, whether we have amalgamation or not, colliery companies will close collieries whenever they desire to do so, if those collieries are not profitable or likely to be profitable in the near future.
I want, also, to say something in regard to overtime. I have a very keen and clear recollection of the animated Debates which took place in this House at the time of the earlier Acts. There was a long Debate, and a very heated Debate took place in regard to the word "emergency" being inserted. It is true that I was not a Member of this House at that time, but I was a miners' leader and I took a very keen interest in all the Debates that were going on in order to make myself as competent as I could, and I got the answers of that day and the reports of the Committee. If I am not mistaken, the word "emergency" was put in to mean what everybody thought emergency meant. When it was clearly defined, the miners at that time desisted from active opposition to the word being included, but we expected that "emergency" really covered something that was going to cause damage to the mine, damage to property, or was going in some way or other to jeopardise the lives of men working in the mines. What I mean is that a fall in any particular road which might interfere with the ventilation of the mine or interfere with the haulage methods of getting coal out of the shaft, and things of that kind, were looked upon as emergencies, and no miner in his senses would have complained about men being kept two, three, four, five, six or even seven hours, if 1746 necessary, to remove those disabilities. It was never intended that the word "emergency" should be used by coal-owners to evade the Hours Act that might prevail in the country at any particular time.
What do we find to-day? In a large number of collieries in every district, probably every day in the week, men are being kept from seven to 12 hours sometimes and the plea is, that there was an "emergency," because the coal face could not be cleared. If that is to continue, I can see that this is fast leading us to the position where we find ourselves in a very difficult and serious dispute in this country in regard to the hours' question. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) said that these men were so afraid to leave their work that they had to continue working this overtime owing to their lack of organisation. I want to go a little further. I want to say, quite frankly, that in my country we have not had much difficulty with overtime. Our manager pleaded emergency, but attention had to be drawn to the fact that the men were working unnecessary overtime; but my men are well organised. It is not fear alone that may make them work overtime when they are commanded to do so.
The hon. Member for Mansfield said that these men would have to go on to unemployment benefit, but there is something more serious than that: if men leave their work, then when they get to the Unemployment Exchange they find that they are disqualified from receiving benefit for six weeks because they have left work of their own accord, for the simple reason that the Mines Department, using this word "emergency" in the Act, decides that the men are not entitled to leave work because of the action of their employers in keeping the men over and above the recognised time during which they should be working, and consequently the Mines Department takes the view that the men have left work of their own accord and that they are disqualified for unemployment pay. I want to emphasise, and I want the Secretary for Mines and his Department to give special attention to, that phase of the mining life of this country to-day, because I know, from attending conferences, that every conference which is 1747 held by the Miners' Federation has to adjust questions which come up not from the leaders but from the rank and file delegates at the conferences, and this question of overtime is raised at every conference. The desire of the men to do something drastic to prevent this overtime being forced upon them, when the Act stipulates that the hours shall be so-and-so, is gathering strength.
I want to follow that up by emphasising the very strong plea made by the hon. Member for Abertillery that the time has arrived for a new Coal Mines Regulation Act. I have myself made that plea in these Debates for the last 10 years, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears every time. First, one Secretary for Mines and then another has come into office, this matter has been put before them, but they have all seemed, to my mind, to pay no regard to it and to give it not the slightest attention. I want to point out to the Committee once again—and I want this to be conveyed to the Secretary for Mines by whomever may be taking notes for him—that it is not just a matter which has grown up in the mind of the hon. Member for Abertillery, but it is a thing which has been advocated for a considerable length of time, and is very vital in the minds of the rank and file of the Miners' Federation, that the time arrived long since, and is now practically overdue, when a new Bill ought to have been brought forward by the responsible Department dealing with this question.
Let me remind the Committee that it was in 1911 that the last Coal Mines Act was passed. That is in the neighbourhood of 23 years ago, and the coal mining industry has been practically revolutionised since then. There is no similarity between the mining of that year and the mining of to-day. I can speak as an authority upon this, because at that time I was working in the mines as a working miner, and I have been down mines many times every year since that time, so that I am probably better able to observe the changes which have taken place in methods of mining from 1911 up to now than the men who are now actually working in the mines. While that Act did at that date go a long way to meet all the requirements in regard to safety and other matters, I want to assure the Secretary for Mines that 1748 to-day it falls far short, in my opinion, of meeting the requirements of coal mining, and therefore I beg of him to give some consideration to the question whether something cannot be done with a view to passing a new Act of Parliament.
Another matter I want to raise is the question of the wages agreement; and now we probably come into difficulties, and into things which are of a deeply controversial character. I ask the Committee to compare the condition of the miner during the time while the Labour party was in office with the conditions of the miner during the life of this Government. First of all, let me remind the Committee of the slogan which came into being some years ago that all the ills which had arisen in the mining industry had arisen because we had a stoppage in 1926, and the inference drawn by Members on the opposite side always is that the miners alone were responsible for the stoppage in 1926. I cannot deny that there was a stoppage of a lengthy period, but the coalowners had allowed the industry to get into a difficult position, and it was a disgrace to the Government of that day that they had left the position unfaced; and consequently it is not a bit of good for people to try to blame the miners alone for that stoppage. As one of my hon. Friends said, owing to the economic conditions which had arisen and the operation of the Gold Standard, the coal mining industry had, according to the coalowners' own statement, got into a difficult economic state, and big demands were made upon us, not for what one could call ordinary reductions of wages but for terrible reductions of wages. It is all very well for hon. Members to say now that the men should have done this, that and the other, but the men ought not to have to face reductions of wages which are going to bring down their wages as low as 5s. 4d. and 5s. 7d. and up to 7s. a day. It is natural that men will show some resistance against that.
After 1926 things began to recover, but the Eight Hours Bill was imposed on the miners by the Government of the day during the progress of that stoppage. Then the Labour Government came into office, and the hours' question was somewhat changed. The miners had always held to the right for the seven-hour day, which is on the Statute Book in the 1926 1749 Act, when the new Act of the Conservative Government which was passed in this House expired, and when there was bargaining to be done with the coal-owners in regard to wages in all the districts, and in any national bargaining we had always got the right to say that we had a claim for the seven-hour day at the expiration of the eight hour Act of 1926. When the time came for that to be done, the Labour party was in office as the Government of the day, but the Miners' Federation, along with the coal-owners and the Government of the day, found a basis of compromise so that the industry would not be crippled to an undue extent, so as to prevent it recovering from what was called the effect of 1926 and so on; and the compromise was that instead of our getting a seven-hour day we got a short Act of Parliament giving us a 7½ hour day for a year, but regularising our position at the same percentage as prevailed at that time in every district.
That is the compromise which was entered into by the Miners' Federation, with a good deal of opposition from the rank and file of the miners, because they wanted to press for the seven-hour day. The change in the situation from what it was under the Labour Government is quite distinct. Our right now to bargain on the basis of a seven-hour day has been taken from us by the present Government, but they have not stabilised our wages. They said: "We will give you 7½ hours for five years or until the ratification of the Geneva Agreement." I have been informed by a very good authority, though I myself have not seen it in print, that the present Secretary for Mines, as the representative of the British Government, is the man who went to Geneva to stop the ratification of what is called the Geneva Convention, and, if that be so, then they have queered our situation there.
Then the last time we dealt with the wages matter, what did we find? The President of the Board of Trade—and he is the real head of the Department, and his word, to use a common phrase, is law, and when he makes a declaration apparently the last word has been said—told us that they were not going to legalise the maintenance of the then existing percentage on wages, but he said: "We have got a gentleman's agreement with the coalowners that the existing state of 1750 affairs with regard to wages in 1932 will remain in operation until July, 1933."What has happened now? Bad as that was, has one to come to the conclusion now that the coalowners of this country are forgetting how to be gentlemen? There was a gentleman's agreement last year, and, as far as I know, the personnel of the Mining Association is just about the same as it was last year. The only thing that we get from the Secretary of Mines now, as I understand, is that there will not be any reduction in July. That may be true, and we will have to accept that for the moment as the best that we can get. But suppose the men say that that will not satisfy them, and that they will not sit down and take it. Then, of course, everybody will say: "Look at these horrible miners." Yet surely the men have got a right to have some safeguard for their livelihood. They have got to risk their lives among the dangers of the mine, and surely they ought to have some right to some safeguard for the wages necessary to maintain those whom they are responsible for maintaining. At the present time what may happen one does not know. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) said that in some districts they will continue the present wages for another 12 months. That is not certain with regard to my district; I do not know what may happen there.
§ Mr. CAPE
I thought it was the hon. Member for Wigan who said it, so that I thought something might have been said by the Lancashire coalowners. So far as regards the county in which my constituency is situated, we do not know anything; we have to wait like Micawber, and see what turns up between now and the 8th July, and whether the owners say on the 7th July that there will have to be a reduction of wages on the 8th; because in our county no notice is necessary for the breaking of the agreement. They may put up a notice on the pit top a week before the 8th July and say that on the 9th July the men will be working on such and such a percentage on their wages. If the men will not accept that, there will be a strike, and people will be horrified to think that the miners are striking because the owners have said that wages are to be reduced by 8 or 10 1751 per cent. That is what will happen in a good many districts in the country. In none of the districts do they give more than three months' notice to terminate agreements and to put into operation a reduction of wages. Is it fair that that system should remain in this industry? There is a desire on the part of everybody to see the industry flourish, but in trying to help it flourish and in contributing to anything that will help it, we ought to have some recognition of the men and see that their wages will be stabilised at any rate for a given period.
I put it to the Secretary for Mines who is acting as the responsible person for the Government, that he has helped the pockets of the coalowners and has not put up a fight for the miners as he ought to have done. Everything that has been done has been done with a view to trying to induce the Miners' Federation to restrain itself, but no pressure of any kind has been put upon the coalowners to make them stand for another 12 months even to the gentleman's agreement. The Minister will be asked, probably, during the next few months to try to bargain with the employers when there is nothing to bargain about. I want to press the Minister to make the coalowners show a better frame of mind than they have done during the last 12 months towards the question of finding a basis of settlement. Some of my hon. Friends have made out a strong case with regard to accidents in mines, and it would be unfair to some of my hon. Friends who want to speak and to the Committee if I travelled over the same ground. I ask the Minister to use all his endeavours in that direction in his Department. In the Mines Research Department there are some capable men, and I hope that the Minister will take notice of the recommendations and suggestions that may come from them with regard to putting into operation safety devices for the protection of the life and limb of the men in the mines.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Captain SOTHERON-ESTCOURT
I was particularly glad to hear my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines refer to certain Amendments which it is proposed, I understand, to make in the working of Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930. He referred to two probable Amendments: first, separate quotas for inland and ex- 1752 port trades, and second, inter-district coordination of minimum prices. I think that it is most encouraging to the industry as a whole that the Government and those who are responsible for administering the working of Part I of the Act realise that there are certain shortcomings in the Act. I believe that the proposals which were referred to to-night will go a long way towards remedying these defects. In my district we have pits raising coal for both inland consumption and export, and we also have men engaged both in raising the coal and actually in exporting the coal. Since I had the honour to represent my constituency, I have been rather pained to note that the interests of the roal raising side of the industry and of the exporting side on many points appear to clash.
I think that I am right in saying that those undertakings which raise coal mainly for inland consumption are, on the whole, agreed that we must have some form of quota, because undoubtedly since the quota was introduced it has had the effect of stabilising output and consequently stabilising prices and wages. I do not think that in these undertakings there has been any alteration of their views since the quota was introduced. On the other hand, those with exporting interests at the other end of my constituency, ever since the introduction of the quotas, have not ceased soundly to abuse the system, and they have all along maintained that the quotas are responsible in very large part, if not entirely, for many of the troubles with which the export trade is faced. Whatever arguments have been put before those interests, by whomsoever they have been put forward, it has not seemed to make any difference. They still hold these views, whether rightly or wrongly, I am not at this moment going to discuss, but I can say that since the proposals were made for introducing these Amendments to the Coal Mines Act, namely, separate inland and export quotas and inter-distriet coordination of minimum prices, the exporters have been certainly encouraged. They think that if these Amendments are introduced they will go a long way towards removing their difficulties. It will make it possible to maintain and stabilise inland prices and enable those who are interested in that side of the industry to participate in the export trade. Ports 1753 like Goole—and I hope that the Committee will forgive me for reminding it that Goole is the only port in the West Riding of Yorkshire—and the other Humber ports have spent enormous sums on the organisation of their port facilities, and it is on the basis and expectation of regular and substantial export trade that they depend. If this export trade ceases, such ports as I have referred to will undoubtedly be ruined. Therefore, I thank the Secretary for Mines for having encouraged us by referring to possible Amendments to the Act.
There is one further point. I understand that if these export quotas are introduced it means that the export trade will be divided between the various districts on some definite basis. Shipments from Goole and other Humber ports have been abnormally low during the last year or two, while those from the North-East coast have not experienced the abnormal depression to anything like the same extent; in fact, I am not sure that I shall be wrong in saying that their exports have slightly increased during the last year or two. I submit that it would be manifestly unfair that the present percentages of exports should be taken as the basis of future allocations of exports. To do so would introduce a principle which would ruin the ports to which I have referred. The Goole and Humber ports would be looked on as a district which had only a small and limited interest in the coal export trade and would be worse off than ever. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend that when these amendments are carried out, as I sincerely hope they soon will be, he or others responsible will pay due attention to this point and see that allocations of quotas on the export side are put on a pair and equitable basis.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I listened carefully to the speech of the Secretary for Mines and I want to criticise it. I agree that it was an able speech, full of facts and figures, but there was no meat on the bones. There was nothing in that speech to give any hope to anyone in the mining industry. He concluded by expressing the hope that things would be better next year. If we have to wait until next year, then God help us! The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), when he was Secretary for Mines last year, de- 1754 livered a brilliant speech, full of sympathy for the mining classes, and really we did hope that at last we had a Minister who was going to do something to help us; but the weeks and the months slipped away and we were no better off. To-day we are not one iota better off than we were when the present Secretary for Mines took office. One of the strange things, to my mind, is that while we succeed in getting able men for the position of Secretary for Mines, active and energetic men whose presence there leads up to hope that something will be done for the mining classes, we find them, one after the other, settling down and doing nothing.
To-day the Secretary for Mines dealt with the serious decline in the world's trade in coal. It is no consolation to us, and it leaves me cold, to hear that other countries are worse off than our own. I want something done for the coal industry here; I want something done to better the conditions of the miners here. It is no use anyone trying to console me by saying, "Do not forget that other countries are worse oft than our own, that their trade has declined more than ours." The Minister told us that this June there were 36,000 fewer men employed here than last year. That is after two years of a National Government. He gave the figures of unemployment in the mining industry. They are staggering figures. In May this year there were 395,386 unemployed miners—an army of men, a country of men, unemployed. Yet nothing has been done for them, and there is no evidence in his speech that anything is to be done for them. We have no hesitation in saying that the present Government are making things worse. We want the Secretary for Mines to tell us, when he comes to reply, what the Government intend to do to reduce this great army of unemployed miners.
May I put the figures for my own county, which are also staggering? In June this year there were 74,246 fewer miners employed in the county of Durham than there were in April, 1924. As their representatives in this House we are asking the Secretary for Mines, and we are entitled to ask him, what the Ministry are going to do for them. The number of men employed in the county of Durham is about half what it was in 1924. The matter is too serious for us to come to this Debate prepared merely to 1755 compliment the Minister, to accept his clear and able speech and to say that that is sufficient. It is too big a tragedy for us to be satisfied unless the Government are doing something. I want to know what the Government are going to do to improve the condition of things. Nothing said so far to-day would lead us to believe that anything is being done. We have no hesitation in saying that the Government, during the two years they have been in office, have thrown thousands of miners out of work by their tariff policy. Hon. Members around me are questioning that statement and asking "How?" It is so plain that even a blind man could see it. The Government, by their tariff policy, upset the best customers for our coal in Europe, with the result that last year we produced a less quantity of coal by 16,000,000 tons than we did in 1930.
§ Mr. JOHN WALLACE
Is the hon. Member aware that the French Government decided upon a quota, so far as our coal was concerned, before there were any tariffs in this country?
§ Mr. WALLACE
My hon. Friend cannot have it both ways. He is claiming now that the tariffs here caused the diminution of our trade with France. I say the diminution took place before tariffs were imposed.
§ Mr. BATEY
The hon. Member might go further and say that in 1925 Germany put her first licence upon coal imports. You have to come to the time when this Government instituted tariffs to find the first action by Germany and other countries in the way of the imposition of licensing and quota proposals. There is no question about it.
§ Captain SOTHERON - ESTCOURT
Will the hon. Member give us the dates when those foreign countries instituted their restrictions?
§ Mr. BATEY
I have not the figures with me, but I believe that the Secretary for Mines has them. The subject that I want to emphasise, in addressing the Secretary for Mines, is the continual closing of pits. Although many thousands of men are unemployed, week after week 1756 pits are being closed. What upsets me perhaps more than the mere closing of a colliery—because a colliery may close down one week and open another—is that in the North of England we have had so many collieries closed this month which will not be reopened. What the people in the mining villages are to do, God only knows. There is no hope for them. I ask the Secretary for Mines to give his attention more and more to the closing of collieries, in order to find some way of preventing collieries being closed down and afterwards being dismantled.
A lot has been said to-day against the Coal Mines Act, 1930. There has been a lot of criticism of Part I, and more criticism of Part II of the Act. I confess that I was never very enthusiastic over Part II of the Act, but I am becoming more enthusiastic about it now, because I am beginning to see the usefulness of the reorganisation that the coal industry has undergone. In the North of England we have so many coal companies that are simply poverty-stricken. Standing alone there is no hope for them, but if those companies can be organised and linked up with wealthier companies, there is hope for the coal industry in the North of England. Unless the Reorganisation Commission can amalgamate them with the wealthier companies, there is a black outlook.
The Secretary for Mines rather dismissed the question of the trade agreements. He thought that he would forestall any criticism. It is a precious tit-bit. I am prepared to admit that the dates given by the Secretary for Mines when the trade agreements would come into force have not left time enough to show any beneficial effect from the agreements, and I am also prepared to admit that in the Trade and Navigation Accounts for the five months of this year there is a great increase in the sale of coal to such countries as Norway, Sweden and Denmark; but I would call to the attention of the Secretary for Mines that he said that Sweden and Norway had not yet ratified their trade agreements, and he said nothing about France or about Belgium. When can we expect the agreements with Sweden and Norway to be ratified, and when can we expect a statement in regard to France and Belgium?
1757 We are told that behind the scenes there is a holding back of ratification of some of those agreements, in. order that better terms might be made when terms have to be settled after the World Economic Conference. We would like to know whether there is any truth in those statements that agreements are being deliberately held back from being ratified and put into force in order that they might be used as bargaining weapons after the World Economic Conference. There have been no proposals for entering into an agreement with Prance, although France was, and to some extent still is, our best customer for coal. Some of us believe that we have suffered far more in that direction than we need have suffered. When are the negotiations going to be opened with France? Is there a prospect of something being done to increase the sales of coal to France?
I want to draw the attention of the Minister also to the Irish Free State. I do not know whether he has looked at the Trade and Navigation Accounts for the five months of this year. The figures for the Irish Free State show that we exported to that country 571,000 tons, as against 975,000 tons for the first five months of 1931. That is nearly half. The export of coal has been murdered by the Government's tariff policy with European countries, and the export of coal to the Irish Free State is being killed, simply because the Government want to ride the high horse. I want the Secretary for Mines to bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Dominions the fact that, in the first five months of this year, we have only sold about half the coal that we sold two years ago to the Irish Free State. Seeing that there are so many men out of employment, and that the matter is urgent, I wish to urge upon the Secretary of State for the Dominions that attention should be given to this matter, in order to come to terms with the Irish Free State so as once again to be able to sell our coal to them.
There is only one other point, and that is associated with getting oil from coal. I believe that the remedy for the distress in the coal industry lies along those lines. The Minister talked about the hydrogenation process, saying that he thought there were possibilities of something developing from it. He said that the Government were giving it close attention. The 1758 Government have been giving the matter close attention ever since I came into the House 10 or 11 years ago, but they get no further. Are we to understand, from the speech of the Minister, that the Government have abandoned the low temperature carbonisation process, or are they still going on with research in connection with it?
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The Government are doing all that they can to assist in every way the research which will make it possible to make that process a commercial success. I may add that the Admiralty have contracted for a bulk supply, for a destroyer, of oil obtained by the low temperature carbonisation process, and the Air Ministry also are trying experiments, so that we are taking practical steps as well as steps in research.
§ Mr. BATEY
Those are small steps; you are not pushing the thing very much; you are going very gently and carefully, and will not set the world afire by what you are doing. I conclude that the Government are giving close consideration to the hydrogenation process, and are still encouraging low temperature carbonisation. They have been dealing with research in connection with the low temperature carbonisation of coal for the last 10 or 11 years, and yet, in answer to a question yesterday, the Minister said that there were only 10 undertakings in this country that were extracting oil from coal by the low temperature carbonisation system. In order that the hon. Gentleman next year, if he is still there, may be able to come to the House and tell us of something that has really been achieved, I want to urge upon the President of the Board of Trade and the Prime Minister that the Government should be prepared to give financial assistance to help the extraction of oil from coal. I believe that the remedy for the present condition of the coal industry lies there, and it is only the Government that can make possible a great development along that line. In view of the huge number of men unemployed, and in view of the poor prospects of their being employed in the mines merely for the supply of markets either in this country or overseas, I urge that the extraction of oil from coal should be developed, and work thereby found for these men.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. MILNE
No supporter of the National Government need be afraid to take part in a mining Debate. One may not possess expert technical knowledge, but expert technical knowledge is not required; broad general questions of principle are quite understandable by anybody possessed of good sense and good will. We all listened with great interest, and, as far as I am concerned, with great satisfaction, to the speech of the Secretary for Mines. I am not going to presume to traverse the ground that he has already covered, but, if I may say so, there seemed to me to be one thing lacking; I thought that I detected an omission. He paid no tribute whatsoever to the National Government. I know he will tell me that his business is to attend to the administrative duties of his office, and that he is not attached to the publicity department, but perhaps a little more elbow-room is permitted to the rank and file. I am, of course, aware that we are discussing the Estimates of the Mines Department, but, with a due regard to the Rules of Order and with the indulgence of the Chair, I propose in a very few sentences to supply that omission.
The claim that I am going to make on behalf of the National Government is this: In days gone by, all parties paid lip service to the mining industry. They said nice things about it; they referred to it in flattering terms; they described it as a key industry; but, for the first time in its history, the mining industry has received under the National Government the recognition to which it is entitled; it has been given the status which it deserves. The National Government is not content to say nice things about the mining industry; it is not content to treat it as a key industry—one of a bunch of keys. In the view of the National Government, apart from agriculture, the mining industry is the industry which is of paramount importance in this country. That is the new policy and the new spirit, and that new policy and new spirit have been translated into action. The legislation of the last few months shows that, whenever the interests of the mining industry come into conflict with the interests of any other trade, the interests of the mining industry must prevail.
1760 When the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his Budget proposals, all the representatives of mining districts hailed with delight the proposal to place a tax on oil. We did not delight in it because of any animous towards oil; we did not even delight in it because of the benefits which the tax on oil will confer on coal; but we rejoiced in it exceedingly because it was a demonstration of the new spirit and the new policy in action. A little later we heard about the trade agreements with Germany and with the Scandinavian countries, and, when we learned what their terms were, and more especially when we were told quite frankly that the main object and purpose of the agreements was to secure concessions for our coal trade, to rehabilitate the mining industry, we rejoiced. It was a second demonstration of the new policy in action.
Eighteen months ago I was elected Member of Parliament for a mining district. At the time I hoped that I was on the right side; I thought that I was on the right side; now, after 18 months, I know that I am on the right side. After all, however, the prosperity of the mining industry is not everything; there are other considerations. There is the question of the safety of those who are working underground. I should like to ask the Secretary for Mines a question. I do not know whether he will answer it, because I am not quite sure if he has not anticipated it. Some time ago, with other Members of the House, or, at any rate, Members who represent mining constituencies, I received a pamphlet, which was sent to me from a responsible quarter. It advocated the claims of a new device—a detector of gases. It read very well. It was very attractive. I took an opportunity of seeing the lamp and handling it. I am not qualified to judge of its merits, but it is claimed for it that in efficiency it far surpasses anything at present used in the mines. Unfortunately, I mislaid the pamphlet and have not succeeded in procuring another copy. I do not want to do the authors of the pamphlet and injustice, but the impression created on my mind was that the Government, or the Department, had been dilatory in accepting the lamp and forcing its adoption upon colliery owners. I cannot believe that the Secretary for Mines, with his dynamic energy, could be dilatory about 1761 anything that fell within the sphere of his activities. Perhaps he will let us know how the matter really stands.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. EVANS
I hope the hon. Member will excuse me for not following him in his almost hysterical eulogies of the National Government. I am just a cold-blooded Welshman, and a little more discriminating, perhaps, in my praises. A chill went up my spine when I discovered that there might be a possible doubt in the hon. Member's mind of his complete affection for the National Government, particularly when he suggested that the Minister might conceivably have been remiss in giving attention to the detector of gas.
§ Mr. EVANS
There are, no doubt, quite a number of things which are true that are inconceivable to the hon. Member. I should like also to express my admiration of the Minister's presentation of the situation. I felt that he had given us a complete picture. I was rather stunned by the cascade of figures that hurtled round my head, but perhaps his speech, when read in the OFFICIAL REPORT, will be a permanent record of the current position of the industry, and it will be a very valuable document for reference in the future. I have been rather impressed by the numerous appeals that have been made by mining Members for a new code to deal with safety measures in mines. I have not the technical knowledge possessed by hon. Members opposite, but there has come within my knowledge one instance in which I feel that a strong case has been made out for special attention with regard to certain industrial diseases. You, Sir William Jenkins, in your capacity as a miners' leader, and the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) have perhaps done more than any other two people in the matter, and I have learned a good deal from the facts you have given me with regard to silicosis. Much of the discussion that I should like to embark upon in regard to silicosis would be out of order. There is much that I should like to say about the need for measures to deal with cases which do not now come within the scope of the Order.
1762 There are occupations in anthracite mines which are not in the schedule of occupations for which compensation can be obtained in the event of fibrosis of the lung. I believe that many mining operations ought to be brought within the scope of the Order. I think a new Order is needed. There is much that I should like to say with regard to that and to the possibility of making the Order retrospective. One point that I wish to stress is the need for compulsion in the matter of using some process of dampening the dust while drilling and boring are going on. They should be simultaneous. In South Africa, for a number of years, phthisis was prevalent, largely induced by inhalation of silica and other hard dust. That has been minimised to a large extent by the compulsory dampening of the dust as the stone is being broken and bored and, knowing the anthracite coalfield, knowing the measure of progress that could be achieved, and knowing something of the public spiritedness of many members of the Board of Amalgamated Anthracite, I cannot but feel that something could be done at once. It is the sort of thing that harrows one to see these poor men in the anthracite valleys unable to face a hill and having to shuffle up backwards. I know nothing so tragic as to think of these men, utterly incapable for any other occupation, wasting their lives, the victims of an industrial disease which is largely preventable and which, in any case, should be compensated.
I would also ask the Minister to keep a watchful eye on the reactions on coal consumption of recent legislation with regard to oil. I have had a case brought to me within the last few days of a manufacturer of enamel hollow-ware whose business was established in 1919. It has grown and it employs something like 700 people. Its raw material is black plate, and the amount used each year is 5,000 tons. It takes five tons of coal to produce a ton of black plate, so that the coal consumed in the provision of the raw material for this one undertaking amounts to something like 25,000 tons a year. I am informed that this manufacturer is working on very narrow margins. He recently lost an order in West Africa to a Czechoslovakian firm by an eighth of a penny per dozen pieces of enamel goods. It appears that the oil-tax will mean 1763 an addition to his fuel costs of something between £8,000 and £10,000 a year. He is working on very narrow margins and in very keen competition, and there is very little protection possible, because of the German agreement, for the enamel hollowware industry. I am assured that this industry is in very great jeopardy, and I ask the Minister to keep a watchful eye upon the matter. If the industry closes down it may be said that it will mean that so much less foreign oil will be used in the processing but it will also mean that 25,000 tons less coal will be used in the production of its raw material. I appeal to the Minister to keep his eye upon the possible consequences.
The other point I wish to make is in regard to hydrogenation and other processes. The capacity of the world to produce coal is so much greater than its capacity to consume coal that competitions is likely to be exceedingly keen in the future. France has a quota of something like 65 per cent. of the average imports of 1928, 1929 and 1930. Spain has its import duties, and the enforced obligation upon certain industries to use a percentage of native coal. Many countries, including Belgium, have all sorts of restrictions either in the form of duties or quotas, and there is Poland with its subsidies in the shape of a levy on inland sales, low railway freights and so forth, and I feel that the prospect of greatly extending our exports of coal is not particularly rosy. I believe that with an improvement in world conditions, and if we could effect some sort of settlement at the World Economic Conference, the consumption of the world would be likely to increase, and that we should have our fair share of the enlarged consumption. That may be possible, but I still feel that something more is bound to be done. I do not think that the future of coal lies in it being burnt in a raw condition in the grates of the home, and in the furnaces. I believe that it is in its by-products and its derivatives that coal can be assured of a future. It is not enough to be fobbed off year after year by the declartions that the Minister and his Department are fully aware of the progress which is being made, and that developments are being watched with a keen eye, and so forth. That is the ordinary 1764 Departmental expression. Some of us who take a keen interest in the matter were told long ago by Members of the Cabinet when on deputations that, as far as the laboratory was concerned, the problem of hydrogenation, for example, had ceased to exist and that technologically the problem was solved; it was now only a question of finance. I have no doubt that if another war broke out and our supplies of overseas oil were in jeopardy, the Government would require a relatively short time in which to organise the extraction of oil upon a very large scale. When practically 3,000,000 workers are unemployed, with possibly 7,000,000 dependants, for a very long period eating of the bread of idleness, with physical, mental and moral degradation setting in, I cannot help feeling that it is a condition of emergency. We require a little more dynamic. I have a great admiration for the Secretary for Mines, and feel that if he is given a free rein he will run a long course and will achieve something worth while. I want him to use his boundless energy to give a push forward to his Department and to his colleagues in the Government in order to bring about, perhaps, the only really hopeful line of development for rehabilitating a much harassed industry.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
If the Committee had been discussing something concerning the fate of a few men on trial in Russia the House would have been filled, but because we have been discussing the fate of 768,000 persons engaged in the mining industry and of nearly 400,000 unemployed, the benches which should have been filled by Government supporters have been practically empty throughout the night. I assume that that is an indication of their interest in mining matters. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. R. T. Evans) will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he has had to say except that I agree with all he has said pertaining to silicosis, and I hope that the Minister will take note of that point. I congratulate the Minister upon putting before us a fine statistical summary of the work of his Department. No one can complain of his presentation of the subject matter, and no doubt on that subject matter alone he could have carried the Committee in granting the Vote for which 1765 he has asked. The substance of his remarks implied that there is a world contraction in the coal market, and mining Members, and Members representing other constituencies not specifically mining, on these benches realise fully that the mining problem is part of the general world problem. We know that it cannot be solved apart from the general economic problem which is facing the world.
We have a superabundance of coal just as we have a superabundance of all other commodities. The policy of the Government, and of most Governments of the world outside Russia, has been to contract markets by reducing the purchasing capacity of the people of the world. The contraction which has taken place in this country and also in the export market is substantially attributable to that fact. Therefore, we cannot hold the Minister responsible for it. But we expect much of him. If he cannot accomplish what he conceives to be right in his Department, I trust that he will have the courage to walk out like his predecessor. I am very doubtful of the Government doing much, so that I expect him to walk out shortly. Perhaps it is a matter of a few days, for he said in his speech that it may be only a matter of days when the policy of the Government in relation to the synthetic treatment of coal may fructify. If the solution, or the partial solution, of the coal problem is dependent upon that fact, and if it does not take place within a matter of days, we shall expect him to cross the Floor of the House, but not to remain in the Government like his confreres of the past.
I want the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) to appreciate the fact that for more than 12 years Members in this House, particularly my predecessor the late Vernon Hartshorn, and also the miners' leaders on the conciliation boards in the coalfields, have been endeavouring to impress upon the coalowners the necessity of unifying the industry. We endeavoured to show to them that they could not possibly increase the sale of coal by a single ton by reducing prices, that the War itself, throwing up as it did substitutes for coal, vegetable oil and so forth, meant that we lost markets. We lost the South American market. We lost substantially the Italian market. We lost the market of the Near East— 1766 8,000,000 tons. We lost the Russian market of 6,000,000 tons. We lost the French market mainly through reparations. We lost markets because 26,000,000 tons went free into Belgium, Italy and France arising out of the Saar Agreement. We could see that there was no hope of regaining our export market. Far-seeing coalowners could see that it was only possible to make profit in the industry by geeting internal trade, and they sought to get that by intensive competition, cutting prices internally in order to extract the greatest measure of profit inside the country. They did that because they realised that the export market was doomed for all time, and so it is. The only way that they could do it was to cut the cost of production substantially and to cut wages costs. Wages costs have fallen by more than 60 per cent. since 1921.
Another means was mechanisation. We have increased output since 1926 by 22 per cent. but we have increased unemployment by 22 per cent. until there are nearly 400,000 men out of work in the coal industry. In my own constituency nearly two-thirds of the normal complement of miners normally engaged are idle, and will be idle for ever. And what is this House doing about it? Look at the state of the House now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Look at your own benches."] These benches have been full most of the evening. Relate our numbers and the numbers on the benches opposite proportionately to the percentage of Members. It indicates interest or non-interest in a very grave national problem. Do hon. and right hon. Members believe that it is possible to have from within the industry any measure of support by which oil can be extracted from coal by hydrogenation or low temperature carbonisation? I do not think they believe it. These things will not happen until they are a commercial success. I should get off the subject of the vote if I indicated that the industrialists of this country have no confidence in industry unless things are possible and not in the experimental stage, If that were not so, 240,000,000 or 250,000,000 of money would not be lying idle in the banks to-day. The greatest indictment that can be brought against the present system and against industry as it is controlled to-day is the fact that people who apparently have confidence in industry are not prepared to invest the 1767 money lying idle, at the cheapest possible price, for the revival of trade. The same thing appertains to the mining industry.
Unemployment is on the increase. There has been an increase of 36,000 in 12 months. In South Wales whole mining valleys are becoming derelict. They are in decay. In the Maestag Valley more than 4,000 persons are totally idle. In the Garw Valley, which came under my view particularly as a miners' leader, 50 per cent. are idle. The Ffaldau colliery, employing 1,100 men, is up for sale. In the Ogmore Valley the same condition of things prevails. We can go from valley to valley, which produced a greater abundance and superabundance of wealth than any valleys in the world, and we find them going speedily into decay, and nothing is being done by the Department to help them. I do not blame the Minister. I realise that he is attached to a Government which believes that vested interests should have full sway.
They are strangling these mining communities. Little is being done by way of safety, and for the obvious reason that the employers have to cut costs in order to compete. Consequently they are putting in rotten timber instead of good timber. Because of the lack of a Russian agreement we are not getting Russian timber; we are not getting the best timber. Present costs prevent the introduction of the steel arch packing in the gobs, as it should be done, in order to hold the roof in proper control. The ventilation system is not perfect. Safety in mines depends substantially upon ventilation, proper packing, systematic timbering, and, finally, proper elimination. Unless these things can be applied, and the Minister administratively has the power to do these things, it is impossible to eliminate the increasing number of accidents per thousand employed. Accidents are increasing.
I do not think the hon. Member has any right to make that statement about British coalowners. British coalowners take the keenest interest in the safety of their men in the mines. The hon. Member has no right to make a statement unless he can prove it.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the hon. Lady had worked 12 years in the mines and had 1768 met British mineowners for the last 20 years, she would have a little knowledge of their psychology.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
They are not taking Russian timber. They are not having the best timber, and this Government is substantially responsible for that. They are not using steel arches where they should be used. They are doing very little. They are doing what the inspectors compel them to do, and for the obvious reason that each one is obliged to compete with his neighbour so keenly. It is a case of South Wales against Durham, Scotch coal going to the Bristol Channel ports and threatening to close collieries in South Wales. Then there is the coastwise competition.
§ Mr. DICKIE
Will the hon. Member not concede the point that British mines are the safest mines in the world?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Surely, the hon. Member does not put it to me that the British coalowners are responsible either for the bad or the good geological conditions. I am not arguing that. I am saying that we are not surprised that each year this Vote goes through, and then we find that there is no indication of improvement, that employers are not prepared to adopt the Ringrose detector or other devices that really matter in saving life. We are not surprised at that, for the obvious reason that they are not running the mining industry for the production of coal at all. They do not invest their money for the sake of giving employment to miners. The industry is run specifically for profitable purposes, and for that very reason there has been all this internecine competition between pit and pit, company and company, district and district. Even at this juncture, under Part I of the Act, they are not now prepared to agree that there shall be a central committee to eliminate district competition. In the same way in the past, competition has taken place between pit and pit.
In this connection I should like to answer a point put from the benches opposite as to the differences between district and district. Anyone with practical experience of mining knows that there is no greater difference between 1769 Durham and South Wales, or between Scotland and South Wales, than there is between pits in South Wales. The diversities and vagaries as between house coal, steam coal and anthracite are greater than the difference between any other two districts in the whole of Great Britain. If there is uniformity so far as the application of wage rates in South Wales is concerned, surely that cannot be advanced as an argument against uniformity of wage rates nationally and against a national wages board. We condemn the Government's policy for its apparent ineptitude in swallowing the dictum of the coalowners in this matter. It may be only a matter of months before the districts themselves are involved in what are called district stoppages. I hope that will not be the case, and so does every Member of the House. But there was nothing in the statement of the Minister to-day which would indicate that that would not be so in a matter of months. When the Government brought in their Bill last year, they secured a concession from the miners—five years in which to give the extra hour to the coal-owners. The miners are now working on the average eight hours 10 minutes a day, seven and a-half hours plus one winding time of 39 minutes. That has increased the length of the working day, increased the output per pit, and consequently increased unemployment.
I put it to the Minister, therefore, that he really ought to tackle these matters. If opposition comes from the coalowners he ought to have the pluck to come to Parliament and say that the coalowners oppose his applying the best system of ventilating collieries, which is the only means of dealing with gas, and oppose the best system of illumination. He should also press the necessity of getting the best timber in relation to price in order that miners' lives may not be lost. Further, I should like him to tackle the question of silicosis, particularly the question of stone dusting. I hope he will also deal with the question of anthracosis and see if it is not possible, to add it to the schedule of diseases. I also hope it may be possible for him, in consultation with the Home Office, to see that, when colliery companies go into liquidation, men who have been injured in the industry shall not lose their claim for compensation. That is really a matter 1770 which concerns me very much, and I will give the House an example. For 45 years my father worked in the mines. He contracted miner's nystagmus, and for some years he was nearly blind. Ultimately he became old enough to receive a pension. The company went into liquidation and commuted his weekly payment into a lump sum, but he got less than 25 per cent. of that sum. He got less than £70 after working for that company for 45 years. He is dependent upon the generosity of the family, or otherwise he would be on public assistance. Such cases are taking place all over South Wales. I know the Minister has no power to deal with it, but I hope he will consult the Home Secretary about taking action. I know that in this matter he has the support of every Member of the House, because that was well indicated when we had a Debate on it some time ago.
I trust that the Minister will look into these matters which I have raised and, first of all, the question of ventilation, because after all, timber getting rotten in mines is mainly a question of ventilation. When a prop is rotted by excessive heat, it results in roof falls. Serious accidents by roof falls are caused either by want of packing or by rotten timber caused by excessive heat, particularly in the deep measures. I trust the Minister will realise that ventilation is the important thing. We are not satisfied with his report as regards wages, for he is prepared to accept the bluff of the coalowners. The coalowners should not be allowed to bluff the Government every time and to treat the miners with disdain. For 12 months the Minister has been trying to negotiate some terms of settlement of wages, and nothing has been done until this very morning, when he received the letter from the Mining Association which he read to the Committee. That is not good enough. We hope that next time he comes before us he will have put some vigilance behind his work, or we shall indicate that we are not satisfied with his conduct.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Captain SPENCER
I would like to add my congratulations to the Minister of Mines for the statement he made this afternoon, which showed that he is not only efficient but enthusiastic, and that he has at heart the welfare of that great 1771 industry for which he is responsible. I am not prepared to follow very far the hon. Member who preceded me, but I know that the experience he has apparently had in the Southern part of Wales is not general of the whole of the country. On reflection, he will come to the conclusion that when he charges the mine-owners in general with using bad equipment and rotten timber, he has overstated his case.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will endeavour not to misrepresent me. My remarks were limited to the extent to which the coalowners are driven to seek timber which is not as sound as the timber they could have obtained if this Government had not with its restrictions said that they were obliged to use that rotten timber.
§ Captain SPENCER
All I can say in reply is that, as far as Lancashire owners are concerned, the timber that they use is no worse to-day than it was before, and that they take all steps that can humanly be taken to provide for the safety of the men. I do not think it should go forth that any considerable body of hon. Members believe that the mine owners as a class are responsible for that sort of conduct. I do not intend to speak at any length. In the main, speeches are good in proportion as they are short. But there are just one or two points I want to put before the Secretary for Mines. The first is in connection with the 1930 Act. May I stress again the necessity for dealing with the dumping from the exporting districts of England on markets which are naturally ours? The South-West Lancashire coalfield has suffered terribly indeed in the last few years from the efforts made by our friends on the North-East coast and in Scotland to capture our Liverpool and Irish markets, and it has resulted in the throwing out of work of tens of thousands of men who would otherwise be employed. Unless we can secure some harmony in the home market among the coalowners and those responsible for the industry, the prospects of coming to an agreement in the international sphere are very poor. Unless we can get agreement at home, we cannot look forward with any great optimism to securing agreement abroad.
1772 The hon. Member for Cannock (Mrs. Ward) is strongly opposed to amalgamation. Amalgamation is like rationalisation, and all the other "isations," which have been so fashionable since the War. It is a dangerous thing to take refuge behind a name. Amalgamation can be good. There is the experience of the Manchester collieries—I wish to pay a tribute to the amalgamation that has been created there—which has enabled them to pay their way. It can be good, but it can also be definitely bad, and I cannot conceive anything worse than a forced amalgamation between units which are not ideally suited for the purpose. There are many objections from the industry itself. There is the objection of finance, and there is always the personal objection. Various members of the boards of different companies are all naturally unwilling to be eliminated or subordinated to some other company. The officials themselves object to be eliminated.
But there is one thing which makes it necessary to approach this question care fully; and it is this. I have never yet heard the answer—if the Secretary for Mines can give it I shall be grateful—to the question, What is an uneconomic pit? When you have amalgamated and formed your combine, you say: "We will close our uneconomic pits." What are those pits? You may have a short life mine, which is producing rapidly because the coal is easy to get, which is paying its way, but in 10 years time will be derelict. That is an economic pit. You may have, as I have in my own constituency, pits which will not pay for another 20 years, but when they have been developed properly will probably have a life of another 50 60 and 70 years. To-day that is an uneconomic pit. Under your amalgamation proposals you have to decide what value you are going to put upon a pit of that description.
I should like to mention Part IV of the 1930 Act which deals with disputes. We ought not to overlook the fact that no industry has lost more through disputes than the coal mining industry. Not only has the loss been direct, but it has also accelerated and encouraged the use of alternative forms of fuel, which to-day we are deploring. I know of a firm in the Prime Minister's own constituency which, as a result of the disastrous dispute of 1921, turned over to oil fuel. In 1773 my own constituency there is a firm which did the same thing, and the largest firm of all in my constituency, which uses 42,000 tons of fuel oil every year, equivalent to about 60,000 to 70,000 tons of coal, was compelled by the 1926 stoppage to convert from coal which it was using then to fuel oil which it is using to-day. The transition to alternative fuel was accelerated in that way, and many concerns which were using coal and unable to get their normal supplies were compelled to shut down. There was one firm in Seaham Harbour which was compelled to do that after the 1921 dispute, entirely due to the fact that for a time supplies were cut off. There is no industry in which peace and conciliation machinery is more essential than in the mining industry, and there is no industry where, if we would all take counsel together soberly and calmly, we should not agree that the less the political element entered into it, the less it was used for party ends, the better it would be for the industry.
The Secretary for Mines has a great responsibility at the present time. Although it is true that actually it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer's hand which imposed the tax on fuel oil, I could not help observing the pleased smile which illuminated the countenance of my hon. Friend. As one who still thinks that the tax on fuel oil was a mistake I say that my hon. Friend cannot escape his responsibility in encouraging the Chancellor of the Exchequer in it. If in one way and another the Government are trying to force industry back on coal—I wish they could but I do not think they will be successful—if by the Road and Bail Traffic Bill and by taxing fuel oil they are trying to force industry back on to coal, they have a much heavier responsibility than ever before to provide for industry an alternative form of fuel from home sources. I am going to ask the Secretary for Mines to do more than any of his predecessors have ever done, or that he himself has done, to stimulate the home production of fuel.
I have heard excellent accounts of work done in the Midlands lately, where a very fine milled coal, going through a 180 mesh screen, mixed with oil, selling at £3 a ton, can be sold at 10 per cent. below the cost of fuel oil. It can be cracked in a standard cracking plant to provide a very 1774 high quality of benzine, with residual fuel of high calorific value, and, on top of all that, a very good quality of gas. I understand that it has passed beyond the experimental stage and is well on the way to being a commercial proposition. The Minister may know more about it than I do, and I hope that this enterprise, which seems to be more promising than some of those advertising ventures which have come before us from time to time, will be investigated. As coal is the only raw material that we export in any volume we ought to do all that we can for the industry. Apart from the commercial side, we ought not to overlook, in the case of this industry, the segregated communities, almost cut off as they are from the rest of the world, which are concerned in it, or the fact that we have human obligations which we must meet to the miners who live in those communities.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Major the Marquess of TITCHFIELD
I should like to congratulate the Secretary for Mines on the admirable way in which he has presented these Estimates. He has given us a comprehensive account of what has been done in connection with the mining industry during last year, and, not only has he given us all the information we desire, but he has presented his facts with great charm. I am, however, a little apprehensive about my hon. Friend this evening. He reminds me of one of the Babes in the Wood. It will be remembered that in the story birds came along and covered the babes with leaves. I believe there is a chance to-night that my hon. Friend may be suffocated by the bouquets thrown at him by hon. Members on all sides of the Committee.
While congratulating the hon. Gentleman, I am afraid I cannot congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) upon his speech. He reminds me of that delightful book "Tristram Shandy," written by Sterne. I do not know, Captain Bourne, if you have read that book, but if you have, you will probably remember Obadiah's bull. That bull served no useful purpose whatever, but it had such a charming expression that the villagers were willing to forgive it. Speaking, of course, only in a political sense, we have no use for the hon. Member for Wigan, but he has such charm that we in the Conservative village are willing to forgive him. In his speech he 1775 spoke a great deal about attack and used military language. I think that produces a bad atmosphere in this Committee. It is very important that successful conclusions should be reached in the next few weeks concerning the mining industry, and unless we can get a really happy atmosphere on the question here, it will be very difficult for those who are responsible to bring matters to a successful conclusion. The hon. Member for Wigan said that the miners were better off under the Labour Government than under the National Government.
Marquess of TITCHFIELLD
What ridiculous nonsense! We know perfectly well that the reason why the Labour Government fell was because it was completely incapable of dealing with anything. Indeed we know that, if the Labour Government had been allowed to go on for a few more days, the miners' wages would have fallen much below what they are to-day. Hon. Members opposite probably do not agree with that statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I thought they would not. All I can say is that the vast majority of working men outside understand and realise it. Hon. Members opposite at the backs of their minds think of nothing but Socialism—Socialism for everything. Socialism is like pate de foie gras. It is attractive and it tastes good, but it is fundamentally rotten. The hon. Member for Wigan said he wished we could get long-term agreements in the industry. It is desirable to get those agreements, but I would remind the hon. Member how extremely difficult it is to get them. How can you get long-term agreement on anything when you have fluctuating currencies and quotas and import duties all over the world? When we can get rid, as I hope we shall get rid some day of quotas and import duties—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly, that is the policy of the National Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Is it?"] Yes, to break down tariff barriers. It is a very difficult thing to do but if we can get it done, it will be one of the greatest blessings ever brought to the mining industry. Then, and only then, will it be possible to get long-term agreements between the mine-owners and the miners. It is true that a long-term agreement has been signed 1776 in Nottingham between the mineowners and Mr. Spencer's union. I think we ought to congratulate, not only Mr. Spencer but the mineowners in that area, on the very satisfactory and wise agreement which they have been able to reach. I only wish there were more people in this world with the point of view of Mr. Spencer and I also wish there were mine-owners with the point of view of the Nottingham mineowners.
Several hon. Members have mentioned an instrument which I understand is called the Ringrose fire detector. If this instrument is effective and efficient, I hope the Minister will encourage its use in all mines in this country. The life of the miner is very valuable and in a recent case of fire in a pit near my home, although I am glad to say there was no loss of life or injury among the miners, a great deal of damage was caused and a great deal of expense involved. If the Ringrose detector could be put into all these pits I believe in the long run it would be not only a great boon to those working below ground, but an economic boon to those who are running the industry.
Another hon. Member opposite expressed the view that we ought to have a mining expert as Secretary for Mines. I do not agree. Just think of how terrible it would be if we had a leader of the miners as Secretary for Mines. It would be almost equally awful if we had a coalowner as Secretary for Mines. I certainly would not have a royalty owner either. No one who has anything to do with the coal trade should sit in the seat where my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines is sitting. Think of one of the miners' leaders opposite in the capacity of Minister of Mines trying to deal with Sir Adam Nimmo or Mr. Evan Williams. I would rather have a gentleman like my hon. Friend who sits below me who, if not an expert in the mining industry, is at least a man of very proved ability. Hon. Members opposite, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) have made allegations against the Nottinghamshire Industrial Union. My hon. Friend has made allegations of terrorism. But he has not substantiated in any way the terrorism that he alleges? He and I are privileged people in this House, and no hon. Member has a right to come down to this House and say the things that he 1777 has said unless he is prepared to say them outside and to stand the chance of a libel action. Is my hon. Friend prepared to get up outside and accuse Mr. Spencer's union and the mineowners in Nottinghamshire of terrorism and things of that sort?
Marquess of TITCHFIELD
I am extremely glad that my hon. Friend has done it. All that I can say is that I did not know about it. He has shown courage and I congratulate him on it. I will pass on from that, but I can assure him—and I think that I do know these men as well as he does, and I know the owners better—that what he says is untrue from start to finish. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) accused the mine-owners of this country of using wood that was unsafe and rotten. Is he prepared to go out, as my hon. Friend has had the courage to do, and make specific allegations outside? If he is prepared to do that I take my hat off to him. If he is not prepared to do that he has no right as a privileged person to come down here and make these allegations.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
I do want to remind the Noble Lord that I have stopped collieries myself many times for that very reason, because the men were not supplied with timber and because the timber was not good enough. But I do not want that interpretation placed on my remarks. When I was speaking I was then attacking the Government for its Russian policy, for preventing good timber coming in at a reasonable price.
Marquess of TITCHFIELD
It is quite true that very good mining tfmber does come from Russia; it is perfectly true that there is an embargo on Russian timber at the moment; but I do not believe for a moment that there is a real shortage of good mining timber in this country at the moment. Russia is not the only country in the world that produces mining timber. Norway can produce mining timber. Sweden can produce mining timber. Scotland can produce mining timber. France can produce mining timber. So can Canada. To say that the Government are murdering the miners because the owners have to put up rotten wood is absolutely untrue. There is no 1778 real shortage at all. There is any amount of timber that can go to the mines of this country. You may ask me what is our solution of these troubles. Our solution for these troubles, I believe, is this: First of all, there should be a successful outcome from the Economic Conference. I believe that to be of tremendous importance. Secondly, I believe that our policy of Protection will help the mining industry "no end" in time. These things, I believe, are the measures that will bring prosperity to the mining industy.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. TOM SMITH
Were it not for the fact that I want to put some specific questions and obtain from the Secretary for Mines some definite replies, I should have been extremely pleased to have followed the Noble Lord in one or two of the matters which he has mentioned. With regard to the individual named Spencer, I have personally an absolute reluctance to speak of a man who is not here to speak for himself, but I do not hesitate to say that my opinion with regard to the Industrial Union and all that it implies can be stated quite clearly, and has been stated quite clearly, in the county which the Noble Lord has the honour to represent. And when the Noble Lord talks about the virtues of that individual in relation to fixing prices in the coalfield, I think that he will agree with me when I say that I have had some considerable experience in fixing prices in the neighbouring county, and there have been lists made by this particular union which we have been compelled to turn on one side because they were in-adequate. At the right moment we should be pleased to elaborate in full one or two matters which the Noble Lord mentioned.
This afternoon every speaker, almost without exception, has paid a compliment to the Secretary for Mines for what may be regarded as a very excellent speech and a very exhaustive review of the mining situation, both nationally and internationally, and subsequent speakers have tried to put before the Committee that nearly all the trouble that exists in this country in the mining industry is traceable in some shape or form to something which the mine workers of this country did in 1921 and in 1936. I think that anyone who reads the speech of the Secretary for Mines to-morrow 1779 morning and reflects upon the statements that will be found therein will find that the causes of the depression in the British mining industry go far deeper than the lockouts of 1921 and 1926. Indeed one could say with some amount of emphasis that the political blunders since the Armistice have played havoc with the European coal situation.
The Secretary for Mines stated that one of the causes of our decline in coal production was that other countries who were frequently our best customers began to produce more coal of their own. That is perfectly true. May I be allowed to say that they had to, largely because the British exporter of coal in 1920 was unduly exploiting some of our foreign customers. I am here quoting from the report of the Economic Committee of the League of Nations, which states that in 1913 France purchased from Britain 11,422,000 tons of coal for the sum of £11,000,000, or approximately 19s. per ton, but in 1920, the year before the lock-out of 1921, France purchased from this country 12,997,000 tons of coal for which France was charged £71,500,000, equal to £5 10s. per ton.
§ Mr. SMITH
As a matter of fact, we had not nationalisation during the War. During the War public control did badly with the mining industry what private ownership had failed to do, and the hon. Member must know that in War time the country was compelled to control the mining industry of this country. With regard to the stoppage of 1921, it must be admitted that we were losing £5,000,000 a month on the export of coal from this country, which the Coalition Government at that time were not prepared to find, and in order to put the mining industry back on to its economic feet this House deliberately decontrolled the mining industry six months before the Act of Parliament said it should be done. It is as well to take into account the real facts as to what has been the cause of the decline in coal production which has been so tragically expounded to-day.
§ Mr. MOLSON
May I interrupt the hon. Member in order to get a very important point quite clear? I think he 1780 was saying that the reason we lost these foreign markets was because of the exporters making an unreasonable profit, but now he is pointing out that even at that time, owing to high costs and high wages, the mines were making a loss.
§ Mr. SMITH
If the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) had listened to me, he would have heard that I said that one of the reasons given by the Secretary for Mines for the decline of our production was that some of our former customers were now producing more than they produced previously, and I was pointing out that when Members of this House try to put the blame for the decline in coal production on to the mine workers of this country, they must not forget that the Economic Committee of the League of Nations itself stated that one of the reasons why other countries produced more coal of their own was because they were being charged extortionate prices by the exporters in Britain, and the figure which I quoted of £5 10s. per ton the Economic Committee of the League of Nations itself states was one of the reasons why France increased her production. Knowing the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster in coal, I know that he will forgive me when I say that I quoted that to show that there were other causes for the decline in coal production than the mere stoppage of the mines in 1921 and 1926.
Let me first of all say to the Secretary for Mines that it has appeared to the House that he has not only a good grasp of the economics of the mining situation, but that since he became Secretary for Mines he has developed a very keen personal interest in the welfare of those who are engaged in the mining industry. That is all to the good, and I have to say that we shall regard that speech of his as being a good speech, but we shall be profoundly disappointed with one or two other things that he said. With regard to wages, we make no apology for saying that we are profoundly disappointed with his statement, and the mine workers of the country will read tomorrow morning with a deep sense of regret the statement which the Secretary for Mines has made. We seem to have changed our policy completely during the last two or three years. In 1931 we had a 12 months' guarantee with legal backing; in 1932 we had a 12 1781 months' guarantee based upon a "gentleman's agreement"; in 1933 the only thing that we have got is a letter stating that the coalowners have no intention of seeking reductions in wages at present.
Hon. Members on these benches usually speak very strongly on mining matters, largely because they have been brought up in the industry from the time when they left school, and I say quite frankly that we as a body cannot trust the coal-owners with regard to attacks on wages. Even though we have had a gentleman's agreement for 12 months, wage cutting has been taking place month after month up and down the country. During the 18 months that I was out of the House after the election of 1931 my sole work was dealing with price lists at various collieries where the management was attempting to get decreased wages from the mine workers, and during the 12 months of the so-called gentleman's agreement there have been 54 appeals to the umpire under the Unemployment Insurance Act which have been turned down on the ground that the applicant was implicated in a trade dispute, which means that at 54 different collieries attempts have been made to cut prices. In Yorkshire this has been going on for 12 months, and while I do not want to discuss the merits of the two disputes, I only point them out as an illustration of what is taking place under the so-called gentleman's agreement.
At one pit, a little seam which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buck-rose (Major Braithwaite) will know very well, which is 22 inches in thickness and far from being a pleasant place to inspect—I remember that when inspecting it I have had to lie down and look at the seam from the bottom upwards—we have had a stoppage of work because the management tried to secure 9d. per ton off the price list with practically no negotiations, and the only difference that they made was that they were prepared to pay for the dunnage. That is one dispute. There is a pit now stopped in my constituency because the colliery company has put up a manifesto telling the men that the existing agreements are dead and that unless they accept certain new term3 the pit will not be open for work. There has been no discussion with the trade union even though the owner and general manager of that colliery was one of the men principally concerned in the mould- 1782 ing of the 1930 Act—one of the "big noises," as they say, in the coal-mining industry of Yorkshire. There you have a pit down, because the men will not accept, almost at the point of the bayonet,: a reduction in the terms of the agreement.
The point I want to bring out is this: In any guarantee that wages shall not be reduced there should be an under-standing given that whenever readjustments are necessary at local collieries such readjustments should take place within the existing machinery. We say that advisedly. We do not want to see pits stopped, and we do think that it is. only right and proper to ask that when readjustment is necessary and when discussion is needed as to whether a price list should be revised or not, before the pit stops, that discussion should be taken to the joint board which caters for that district. I hope the Secretary for Mines will keep that point in mind and will impress upon the owners when he gets the opportunity that at least they should give the men in the districts a fair deal.
With regard to wages, the Secretary for Mines quoted the average for last year as £2 1s. 11d. a week. If there is one thing misleading about figures, it is averages. That average does not mean that every mine worker went home with, £2 1s. l1d. For every five men working in the mining industry, four work under-ground and one on the surface. For every four men employed underground, two work at the coal-face and two away from the coal-face. There are three day men to two who are more or less contractors. There are in Yorkshire thousands of men working, underground and on the surface, who are going home with less than 27s. per week for three days at the pit. It must be remembered that there are off days to be taken into account. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pontefract (Captain Sotheron-Estcourt) will agree that in our part of the world poverty is very rampant. Therefore, when we talk about wages, we say that we have a perfect right to ask the Government that there should be some guarantee that there will be no attack on wages. Miners have not had a square deal, and we ask the Secretary for Mines to get the owners to do something of a practical kind.
I want to deal with the question of safety in mines. The Secretary stated 1783 that last year there were killed in this country 881 persons, both underground and on the surface. I agree with my hon. Friend that when you get an explosion that takes away 46 men, as it did at Bentley where I was when the explosion occurred, you get public attention concentrated on it, and the public are apt to forget that for every working day in the year there is an average of between four and five persons killed. It is true that the chart says that the greatest number of people are killed and injured from falls of roof. That is bound to be the case in mining. But we must remember that men have to get a living, and in the pits to-day it is a habit and a scandal that falls of roof and coal-face should take place every working shift. Miners do resent the suggestion that the men themselves are responsible for these accidents. The Noble Lord the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) talks about timber, but let me say this for the benefit of the Committee, that what is essential is suitable timber and a sufficient quantity of suitable timber. Let me give the Committee the benefit of my experience. It is not much use sending a 4 feet 6 inches prop into a 3 feet 9 inches seam. It is very frequently done. It means that when men want a roof support in a hurry they have either to cut down into the floor or saw a piece off the prop. There ought to be a sufficiency of suitable timber and a sufficiency of good lists. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) has had too much experience in mining to make statements that he cannot verify. I want the Secretary of Mines to pay attention to this phase of his charge. There seems to be an idea abroad that explosions are not quite as important as other causes of accidents.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
It is only because we feel that not enough attention has been paid to the other side.
§ Mr. SMITH
With regard to that, the point I want the Secretary for Mines to pay attention to is that explosions have not decreased during the last 20 to 25 years. From 1910 to 1919 there were 137 explosions, involving a loss of 1,419 lives. From 1920 to 1929 there were 134 explosions, involving a loss of 389 lives— a very welcome decrease in the number of fives lost, but not in the number of 1784 explosions. From 1930 to 1932—the last three years—there were 43 explosions— actually more explosions on the average than at any time in the last 23 years—and the loss of life was 246. By all means let the Secretary for Mines tackle the question of falls of roof, because in that way not only shall we reduce the accident rate from falls of roof but the accident rate from explosions. The first thing necessary in a pit is copious ventilation, not only for the health of the miners, not only from the point of view of the temperature, but in order to dilute and prevent accumulations of gas. When there are accumulations of gas it is usually found that they are due to a fall in the roadway. If there are good roads not only are there fewer accidents but fewer deaths from explosions.
The reason why there is a great reduction in the loss of life from explosions is that in 1920 stone-dusting was made compulsory. My hon. Friend made one or two historical quotations. There is a very excellent book called "A Historical Review of Coal-mining," which will always repay anyone who cares to read it. In that book it will be found that there were delays years ago, just as there is delay now, in accepting anything new in the mines of this country. As far back as 1844 Faraday pointed out the danger of coal dust explosions. Dr. Galloway resigned his post because he was in conflict with the coalowners of the period. The benefit of stone-dusting was known long before 1920. In the constituency which I have the honour to represent experiments took place at the Altworth Colliery. Mr. Garforth, who later became Sir William Garforth, and whose name will go down in the mining history of this country, had been experimenting with stone-dusting for at least 10 years before it was made compulsory. The Government of the time, in 1909–10, refused to give any money for experiments in coal-dusting and they had to be carried out by the colliery owners themselves.
We welcome the fact that there is a reduction in the loss of life through explosions, but in order to bring about an explosion there must be two factors operating simultaneously. First, the explosive mixture must be there, and, secondly, the means of igniting it must be there. Under the Coal Mines Act electrical machinery underground must be 1785 cut off if there is l¼ to l½ per cent. of gas in the atmosphere, and men have to withdraw from their working places when there is 2½ per cent. or more of gas in the atmosphere. The explosive point is between 6 and 6 per cent. Some of us are very suspicious—indeed, we know— that there are thousands of men in the course of their everyday experience working in more than 2½ per cent. of gas. If the Mines Department and the Secretary for Mines were to give deputies a little more freedom underground to pay attention to safety, and not so much to getting coal out of the pit, they would reduce the accident rate still further.
Mining conditions are changing considerably. Oil-lamps have been replaced by electric lamps, and in some pits there is scarcely a workman with an oil-lamp. I want to ask the Secretary for Mines a question, and I want him to give us a very definite reply. The question is: Has a miner the right to know when he is working in gas? Section 67 (4) of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, states that if a workman—discovers the presence of inflammable gas in his working place, he shall immediately withdraw therefrom and inform the fireman, examiner or deputy.That, to my mind, is right, but the man back at the coal-face must have the means of knowing whether he is working in gas. When there are hundreds of men in a pit, and the only person carrying the flame-lamp happens to be the fireman or the deputy—as we call him in Yorkshire—I repeat, has a man a right to know when he is working in gas? If so, he certainly ought to have the means of knowing. In regard to gas detection, there is no better means of finding gas than by a flame-lamp. Historically, if hon. Members care to look it up, they will find that it was the practice to send a man into the pit in the morning to find out if there was gas. If the gas blew him out, they knew that there was gas, but if not the miners went in to work. That is an actual fact in mining practice. I guarantee, in regard to testing for gas with a flame-lamp, that if three inspectors from the Mines Department were taken into a mine, given a flame-lamp, asked to test for gas in the same place but independently of each other, and were asked to state the exact percentage of gas, all three results would be different. That has been brought out conclusively in 1786 inquiry after inquiry. Testing for gas is certainly not an exact science.
If there is one development which we welcome in the pit, it is better lighting. In the old days we used to work in a light of from 76 to 1 candle-power, but now there are electric lamps which give between three and four candle-power, which is a very useful improvement, from the miner's point of view, because the number of victims of miner's nystagmus is on the increase. In the last 11 years there were 34,646 certified cases of nystagmus in this country, while in 1922, when a large number of people were employed in the industry, 4,047 miners were certified. In 1930, there were 3,248. We welcome better lighting, because it makes for safety and tends to decrease the liability to miner's nystagmus.
Where there are large numbers of men machine-mining and concentrated upon a piece of coal, with scarcely an oil lamp and no means of testing whether they are in gas, we say that the next development in assisting the miner to know whether he is in gas, is the question of something that will detect gas without the human factor entering into the calculation. That is why we press so strongly for the Secretary for Mines to get something done with regard to the Rinrose automatic alarm. In November, 1929, I pleaded with the House from the Government Benches to take up the question of the automatic fire-damp alarm. In 1930, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) put up a case for a detector which was regarded as almost unanswerable.
Here we are, in 1933, with nothing of a definite character done. Some of us feel that the publication of these reports has been held up deliberately, so that they should not be discussed here this afternoon. It is now more than six weeks since the reports were in the hon. Gentleman's hands, and it is 14 or 15 days since we were told in the House, in answer to a question, that they were going to be published and put in the Vote Office. We have been told this afternoon, however, that they are not yet available. We say that it is about time that a definite decision was taken on this matter. If the lamp is of no use, if it is dangerous, then it ought to be withdrawn absolutely from the pits of this country; but if it is of 1787 any use—and I believe it is—it ought to be enforced compulsorily. It (has been very pleasing this afternoon to hear my -hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar), the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne), and even the Noble Lord the Member for Newark (Marquis of Titchfield) mention this matter.
There has been delay after delay. The hon. Gentleman's officials will tell him that during Mr. Ben Turner's time, during Mr. Shinwell's time and during the time of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), inquiry after inquiry has been held and test after test has been made in connection with this matter. The lamp was taken to ray old pit, it was taken to another pit, it was taken to the laboratory at Sheffield. It defeated every obstacle and every argument that could be put up against it, and, at long last, it was to be tried out in three collieries, one in Lancashire, one in Yorkshire and one in South Wales. Whatever the nature of the report is, I happen to know that in one pit at least that alarm has never failed to function when gas has been present, and it is looked upon by the men in that colliery as a kind of policeman in the pit. These men do not get panic when they see the Ted light; the miner is too stable for that.
I do not want to prejudge the report; I do not want the hon. Gentleman or his Department to come to any hasty decision which in the future they might regret; but I would ask, when are we likely to get a decision; when are we likely to get some action on this matter? We hope that the Secretary for Mines will not delay. Life in the mining industry is very uncertain. On any morning you may wake up and read in the paper that another pit has gone. In the mining industry it is always said that, the moment you begin to congratulate yourself on having had a long period without accidents, immediately an accident occurs. At some collieries people scarcely dare mention it for fear that something may happen. We advocate the use of this alarm because we sincerely believe in it. We believe that it will tell the men when gas is present, that it must be looked upon as an exceptionally good thing. I want to give the Secretary for Mines plenty of time to reply to the many points that have been put to him this afternoon, but I do ask him, in the in- 1788 terests of safety, to give this matter deep thought, and not to delay it unduly. If he is satisfied that the appliance is useful, and is going to be of value, let him by all means make it compulsory, and defy any opposition that may be put up against it.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I have first to thank Members of the Committee for their all too kind references to myself. I shall always do my best, in putting the Estimates of my Department before the House, to give a statement of the affairs of this great industry—our chief industry—as fairly and as frankly as I can. A few controversial points have been raised in the course of the Debate, and I think it will be to the advantage of the Committee if I deal with those points first, and then do my best, in the time that remains, to answer some of the other points that have been referred to. If there is any point that I do not deal with, the hon. Member may be sure that I shall follow every word of the Debate again to-morrow and he will get his answer by that time. I must begin with the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams). No Russian timber has gone into South Wales for more than two years, and there was very little before that. I say no more about that. I must deal with my hon. Friend and critic the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) on the tariff point. He persists inside and outside the House in asserting that the Government's tariff policy has done irreparable damage to the coal industry and he talks about it terms of France and Germany. I could not hope by any statements of my own to convince him that anything that I say is right but I have here two quotations, and I would ask him to reflect on them before he makes that statement in the absolute form to which we are accustomed. This is dated 27th July, 1931, in the time of the Labour Government. It related to the first and biggest restriction of our exports, namely, to France:The decision of the French Government is entirely attributable, not to any desire to embarrass this or any other country but to the unfortunate unemployment among miners in France. It is a measure of self-protection, whether it is regarded as satisfactory from our standpoint or not."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1931; col. 2024, Vol. 256.]1789 These words were uttered at this Box by Mr. Shinwell, the Secretary for Mines in the Labour Government. I pass no comment, although I might say a great deal more had I longer time.
§ Mr. BROWN
I say what Mr. Shinwell said and what is the truth. These actions were not taken because of anything that has been done on this side of the water but because of what was happening, and afterwards did happen, in regard to the gold standard and because of her own internal economy. With regard to Germany, again let me quote an unbiased opinion. May I refer the hon. Member and the Committee to an impartial review in Lloyds Bank, Limited, Monthly Review for this month. They are dealing with the Trade Agreement and they are answering points, which have been put up purely as the hon. Member puts them up, of Free Trade objections to this agreement:The first answer to these criticisms is that the Government had to do the best it could and that any agreement embodying some reduction in duties should be to a Free Trader at least a move in the right direction. Again, each negotiating country had to have regard to such pressing facts as the state of its own trade balance, and this is really the answer to the charge that Germany's promised increase in her purchases of British coal is, judged by the standard of her former purchases, entirely inadequate. One glance at Germany's current trade returns, the state of her gold reserves and the size of her external indebtedness will show how chary she had to be of promising to add to her imports.I do not wish to carry the argument any further to-night, though I should be pleased to do so on a subsequent occasion when I have ample time to review the whole situation. I commend those two impartial and unbiased quotations to the hon. Member in the hope that he will sympathise with the problem as he has sought to do recently in discussing the agreements. In regard to his other questions, I will answer them at once. At the moment there are no discussions 1790 about trade agreements with France or with Belgium There was one with Finland before the World Economic Conference. The hon. Member may rest assured that as soon as the conference is over the Government will pursue their policy of trade agreements, and he may also be sure—although he does not think much of my performances—that I shall do my best to see that coal is kept in the forefront in all these matters.
§ Mr. BROWN
I would say to the hon. Member that that is an opinion which is worth no more than my opinion. It may be 10 days or 10 weeks, but I hope that he does not look at these things in such a pessimistic way. He has put other points to me, but if he will forgive me I will now answer some of the smaller points. I was asked the annual earnings in cash. In 1931 they were £111 1s. 9d., and in 1932 £109 8s. 5d. I was also asked about the ascertainments and deficiencies. The district agreements generally provide, as I hinted to the Committee in my impromptu answer, that the deficiencies shall be carried forward. In some cases they are wiped out either after being carried forward for 12 months or for a fixed time each year. I regret that I cannot give the information for one or two reasons. First of all, the Mines Department do not receive copies of the ascertainments in full and therefore have not the information, and, secondly, until a little while ago the Miners' Federation published a quarterly statement containing much valuable information, but I regret to say that this publication is no longer available, and I cannot give the figures the hon. Member wanted.
Much has been said by hon. Members opposite about wages. I cannot add anything to what I have said, but I want to say two things. The Government used all the pressure possible during the period before I became Secretary for Mines in order to achieve the object of national negotiations on wages but the problem of the guarantee was only put to us about three weeks ago, and my letter represents all that can be achieved at the moment, and more than that I do not 1791 want to say. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar), I rather thought, was advocating, as several hon. Members have advocated, the automatic detector, and he spoke about expert opinion. That is our trouble about all problems at the coal face which various Members have raised. We are told about the long conveyor face and about the need for more crossheads. It is precisely the answer to some of those who say that the expert is the man who ought to sit in the seat of the Secretary for Mines. It is because experts differ fundamentally upon whether it is a greater risk to have a longer conveyor with fewer crossheads or more crossheads that we have a difficulty in deciding what is the right proportion. The hon. Member may be sure that I shall read everything which has been said about that matter, because the Department are always doing everything possible, not merely to enforce the law but by every possible means to assist anyone who is attempting to do anything to lessen the terrible toll of accidents while working in the mine. But expert opinion is very much divided on that problem.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Abertillery and, I think, by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) whether we ought not to have another Safety Act. I do not think so, in the form in which they put it, because it would appear from what they said that the Act of 1911, being 22 years old, was out of date. That is not so. Under that Act, continuously and regularly, new Regulations are made. If I may put it in the vernacular, the Act propagates itself.
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Member has anticipated what I want to say, but the hon. Member for Abertillery will agree that that is not what he wanted. He wanted a new Act because he said the old Act was out of date. I agree with the hon. Member for Workington that the time may have arrived when it might be an advantage to have a Consolidating Act, but it is not a fact that the Act itself is out of date as an everyday appliance, because under the Act we have power to make such Regulations as the Act allows for the purpose of securing safety at the coal face.
1792 A word about the Ringrose detector. I was very sorry to see the pamphlet which has been issued, because it appears to me to prejudge the issue. I can assure hon. Members that my mind is entirely open on this matter. I have seen the machine, and I have seen it in operation. It is a most interesting and very wonderful invention, but when I came into office my predecessor had decided that experiments were to be made in Lancashire, Yorkshire and South Wales. They were made, and I received the last of the reports within the last six weeks. If any hon. Member thinks that the reports are being held back, there is no ground for that suspicion. The reports are being printed so that they may be sent, as promised, to interested parties. By "interested parties" I mean a very wide field of interested persons, including Members of this House, and it would be most improper for me to make up my mind, or for any of the interested parties to make up their mind before they have really had a chance of studying the reports, which are the only documents which give us any facts about the testing of this wonderful invention in actual working underground and, what is as important, in the lamp room as well.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Surely, the hon. Member does not deprecate the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, all of whose members should be experts in this particular business, sending out a pamphlet expressing their point of view.
§ Mr. BROWN
I think, seeing that in a week or two they will be getting their report, they might have been wiser if they had kept a pamphlet of that kind back until they had seen the reports and co-ordinated them with their personal knowledge. If the reports confirmed their knowledge, the pamphlet would be the more valuable. If, on the other hand, there is evidence in the reports that might throw doubts on some of the statements made, they might have been able to present the pamphlet in a form which would be satisfactory to all concerned. It is one thing for those who are not responsible for safety in the mines enthusiastically to believe in an invention, but it is another thing for the Secretary for -Mines who, in the last resort, has to make up his mind if compulsory action is to be taken, and he must be absolutely sure that this device 1793 is not merely intrinsically good as an invention but that it will not in saving from some danger involve those in the pit in others. That might be the case.
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Member need not have put that to me. They are a very responsible body. I was passing no animadversions upon them, but I was startled when I received the pamphlet because, knowing that they were going to see the reports on the actual working in the three pits, I thought that they might have kept their judgment, as I shall keep mine, until I get their comments on that. Whether it is this or any other device for saving life, the Committee may be quite sure that there is only one consideration that will arise, the safety of the men working in the pits.
Let me say a few words to the hon. Member for Cannock (Mrs. Ward), who has raised the question of the Reorganisation Commission. I shall study with great care what she and others have said, and will see that the attention of the Chairman of the Commission, which is an independent body, is drawn to what they have said. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) spoke as usual about Part I and the export trade and, in the course of his speech, painted the picture rather blacker than it is, with the aid, I regret to say, of my Department. It is not often that my Department make a mistake, but they made one in issuing the last statistical summary this morning. There is only one error in it, which I discovered in asking for the new figures this morning. Durham is not 1s. 0.05d. in deficiency but 1.05d. I do not blame the hon. Member, but it so happens that it is the one error in the paper. There is a credit balance for every other district in the country in this ascertainment. Durham is the only county in deficiency, and that is a deficiency of 1.05d., and not 1s 0.05d.
As to the quota, I have discussed the quota at length in this House, and I do not propose to say anything more about it except to repeat what I said in answer to a question on 27th June:I have not yet received representations from the central council with regard to the amendment of the central scheme. I am aware of the difficulty which the coalowners are finding in reaching agreement to submit amendments of the central scheme under 1794 the Coal Mines Act. They are still endeavouring to find an acceptable solution, and it is so obviously desirable that such a difficult and complicated problem should be settled by agreement if possible that further opportunity to do so should be allowed. I am in constant touch with the position, and if the coalowners fail to agree the Government will, as already announced, be compelled to take action by introducing amending legislation…I am aware also that the issues are very complicated in their texture. The Government, of course, must be the judge as to the time if and when legislation proves to be necessary. If it should prove to be necessary, it will be introduced at the first practical moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1933; col. 1306, Vol. 279.]That represents the position. It must be obvious to every thoughtful Member of the House that, if we can get representations by agreement, they will be much more valuable than an Act of Parliament forced on unwilling people. If my hon. Friend will use some of his influence with his friends on the northeast coast, the very people who have been arguing for freeing the export trade and who are now rather standing in the way of agreement, he will be adding to the services he has already rendered to them by the strong speeches which he has delivered on this subject from his own point of view.
As to Poland, I have only been able to cheek one figure, but I will look into it and talk with him about it afterwards. I was surprised that he spoke about a great increase in Polish bunkers in the last five months. I have not the figures for the last five months, but the figures for the first four months of the year show that Polish cargo shipments, plus bunkers, in 1932 for that period, were 3.25 million tons, and in 1933 2.74 million tons, so that there is not an increase, but a decrease. Polish bunkers are comparatively negligible. There is obviously some mistake on that point.
Several hon. Members have raised the question of overtime. I have received no complaints from the Miners' Federation or any local complaints on any appreciable scale. Isolated speeches and questions have been made by hon. Members, but the speech of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) is the first indication I have had that there is any general complaint in this matter. Nearly all the complaints allege illegal overtime worked on the machine face. The position is quite plain. The Act of 1908, Section 2, 1795 permits an extension of normal working time. A register has to be kept. Individual cases sometimes are rather misleading, and the great majority of such overtime as I have been able to trace is claimed to fall within the exception allowed by the Act of 1908. It arises out of the special conditions connected with the processes of machine mining, that is to say, where operations have to be carried out in a continuous cycle, where breakdowns and falls of roof and things of that kind have to be dealt with at once in order to avoid an interruption of the ordinary working of the mine. Individual cases are sometimes misleading, and if put in terms of total hours of overtime they give a misleading impression. In actual fact, by comparison with the total hours worked, there is no reason as far as our inquiries go to think that it is large. It would be unreasonable to expect a manager to reduce the length of a face of coal or to put on additional men to meet a contingency which might arise but once in a fortnight, but I can assure hon. Members that every complaint of overtime is promptly and carefully investigated. I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Abertillery for his views about the expert. I did not take them personally. May I put to him the letter written by the late Lord Salisbury to the late Lord Lytton in the year 1877:My Dear Lytton: Beware of the experts, they are dangerous fellows. According to the theologian no one is innocent; according to the doctor, no one is wholesome; according to the soldier, no one is safe. The strong wine of the experts needs diluting always with the insipid water of common sense.We must apply this dilution.
§ 10.59 p.m.
While we are obliged to the Secretary for Mines for his reply on the discussion, we are still dissatisfied in regard to certain important matters affecting the industry. We are dissatisfied with his reply on the wages question, which is an issue of immediate importance, and we consider it remarkable that the hon. Gentleman should say that the Government have engaged with the owners—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the Rouse.1796
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.