§ 11.10 a.m.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I beg to move,That the Central (Coal Mines) Scheme (Amendment) Order, 1934, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 29th day of May, 1934, be made.I am sure I shall be consulting the convenience of hon. Members and the wishes of the House if I only deal with the history of this highly technical subject in so far as it bears on the Order concerned. I am relieved from discussing the whole problem because, as the House knows, only so recently as the 28th March we had a Debate on a Bill introduced to deal with the subject, during which were discussed all the major issues. I may remind the House that the machinery for the Amendment of the Act of 1930 is contained within the Act itself. It is a simple machinery in form, but not quite so simple in practice. The machinery for the central scheme is laid down in Sub-section (4) of Section 2, and the machinery for the district schemes in Sub-section (4) of Section 3. It is that, if a majority of the Central Council—and that is what we are dealing with to-day—desire amendments, either by way of addition to their powers or substitution of one power for another power, they may make representations to the Board of Trade, and the Board of Trade, if they concur, may make an Order. In the case of the central scheme, however, the Order needs the affirmation of both Houses of Parliament. But there is a complication behind that simple arrangement. It is that, although a majority may make representations, in order that an Order when made may become effective a majority of 85 per cent. is needed throughout the industry.
There is a very long story behind the Order referred to in this Motion. Experience after some months of the working of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, showed a number of defects. The Central Council came to the conclusion more than 16 months ago that there were two outstanding defects which needed amendment. The first need was for a greater elasticity with regard to the export trade and for a separate allocation as between the inland and the export trades; and the second thing needed was power to coordinate minimum prices as between 2050 district and district. The House will understand that both of these propositions have a very direct bearing on the problem of evasions, which has exercised both the trade and the House in past months. Nearly two years ago it became evident that amendments of this nature were desired by a large majority, but the industry was not able to get a majority sufficient to enable the Central Council to make representations to the Board of Trade with the assurance that, if an Order were made, it would be made effective by the necessary majority. The Government, having considered the whole position, came to the conclusion that these amendments were essential, and, on the 25th March, 1933, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made it perfectly plain to the House, to the industry and to the country that, if the industry could not agree upon amendments, the Government would take action by way of legislation. My right hon. Friend also made it quite plain then, and it has been made plain on subsequent occasions both by him and by myself, that the Government would much prefer that the industry should get unanimity, or at least a sufficient majority, by its own volition.
It became clear in the early part of this year that the necessary majority would not be obtained. On 28th February it was my pleasure to introduce a Bill to effect these two major changes. Nevertheless, although the Bill had been presented to the House, it became clear by the end of March that unanimity would not be obtained and soon all pretence of agreement was abandoned, and I was so informed by the Central Council. Whereupon, on 28th March, I asked the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill. But, as has often happened, a Debate in this House and a decision taken by this House had immediate reactions outside. The moment that the-Bill was on its way to Committee it was apparent that a change had taken place in the mood and temper of the minority which had held up the solution. The result was that shortly afterwards the Government were informed by the Central Council that there was a possibility of agreement, and I made it plain on the Second Reading that, if agreement could even then be obtained inside the industry, the Government would not proceed further with the Bill.
2051 I am happy now to be able to inform the House that there is not only a majority in the industry for these Amendments but unanimity. I use the term "industry" without reflection upon those outside the Central Council, because, for the purpose of the mining industry, the industry really is the Central Council of coalowners set up under the Labour Government in 1930. We are aware that there are many other views held by hon. Members opposite, naturally, and by the Miners' Federation, but for the purpose of the regulation of the trade the industry is the Central Council of coalowners and in that form alone I use the term "industry." There was unanimity both in the Central Council itself and throughout the 17 districts. So, having received assurances that if the draft Order were made and approved by Parliament, it would be made effective, I am here today to ask the House to give approval to the draft Order that I have moved.
Let me now analyse what the Order will do. At the moment the control by output applies to allocation. The major change made by the Order is that, while the allocation of output will remain, that is to say, the output of coal raised will still be controlled and regulated by the Central Council, there will be another kind of allocation also, namely, allocation on a supply basis, and the supply basis will be sub-divided. There will be two kinds of supply allocation, a supply for inland purposes and a supply for export purposes. The major objection taken by hon. Members opposite to the Bill has been removed by the form of the representations, that is to say, in order to get the two things needed—sufficient elasticity of supply for the export market, which was rendered imperative because of the very valuable trade agreements arranged with the Scandinavian countries on the one hand, and co-ordination of prices on the other—it was necessary to take steps of this kind. Inland coal is defined in the Schedule. The Schedule itself, of course, contains the representations made by the Central Council to the Government. First of all, there shall be a maximum output for the district, and there shall be maximum tonnages in coal raised at all the coal mines in the country. Export supply means coal shipped from this 2052 country, foreign bunkers and supplies for fishing vessels, but not coal sent either to the Irish Free State, the Isle of Man or I was going to say the Channel Islands but I remember that the late Member for Portsmouth insisted on calling them the Norman Islands. There will be a special allocation now on the basis of this Order made by the Central Council for all coal known as export coal. With regard to inland coal, there is this substantial change, namely, that we shall not only get an output allocation but a supply allocation. That is the meaning of the phrase,but excluding supply for use in working the coal mines, and supply free or at reduced rates for the use of persons who are or have been employed in or about the mine and the dependants of persons who have been so employed.That type of coal is coal not commercially disposable, and it therefore cannot be placed on the basis of supply allocation. That is the reason for that exclusion. Otherwise, the allocation for export or for inland coal will be placed on a supply basis.
There is one major change in comparison with the Coal Mines Bill. Whereas, the Government, having to take action to secure sufficient available sup plies for the export trade on the one hand, and to get co-ordination of prices on the other, in order that we may lessen the incentive to evasion on the one hand and secure sufficient export supplies on the other, had, without the concurrence of the industry, to make quite sure that that end would be achieved—and that was the reason for freeing export coal from quantitative control—with the concurrence of the industry and with the assurance of the Central Council that ample supplies will always be available for export coal, the Government have agreed that this form of Order secures the two main ends that the Central Council and the Government desire. Hence I move the Order.
The second part of the Schedule gives the Central Council for the first time control over prices. They may make alterations according to local needs in the district schemes to meet the two major points in the Order, but, since districts have already the power to control and to amend prices, there is no need for alteration in the district schemes. The Central Council, never having had power 2053 over prices, get power now, first to inquire into any complaint made by one district against another as to unfair competition, for securing that the executive board shall hear evidence and weigh it, for securing that the Central Council, after having an inquiry and hearing the evidence, shall be able to give directions to co-ordinate prices between one district and another, and also, on the representation of an executive board that there has been a change of circumstances, after giving notice of such representation to all other executive boards, and after considering any representation with respect to such action, shall be able to give new directions in any matter whether or not a decision of an arbitrator or arbitrators is in force. Last, and most important, it gives the Central Council a power that they have never had for the imposition on and recovery from the executive board for a district affected by any such directions of monetary penalties, the basis of which will be laid down in the subsequent scheme which will follow this Order. If we ratify this Order and it is ratified in another place, the central scheme will need amending in accordance with this Order, and so will every district scheme. It will mean once more a vast amount of hard technical labour on the part of the officials of my Department, and I shall be failing in my duty this morning if I do not express my high appreciation of the work which they have done to make this Scheme possible. Hon. Members who have knowledge of the working of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, know that it is highly difficult and complicated, and varies in its incidence from district to district, and it is therefore a great pleasure to me to be able to assure the House that these Orders will have the unanimous support of the Central Council and will provide for sufficient flexibility in the supply of coal to make sure that available supplies will always be at hand and that the Central Council will have the powers, long and sorely needed, to co-ordinate prices as between one district and another. It would be a very graceful act on the part of this House if it met the unanimity outside on the part of the district coalowners by unanimity in this House.
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
I am very much afraid that the wish expressed by the Secretary for Mines as to the future 2054 will have no response from this side of the House at any rate. It may be said that no one is satisfied with the condition of affairs in the mining industry, and that it is as true of coalowners as it is of coalminers, and, I think, of the public generally, who have had long years of experience of turmoil and difficulty. The basis of the dissatisfaction may not be the same all round. The industry has its peculiar conditions. Districts bordering on the seaboard and districts inland have different conditions to overcome, and the quality of coal varies considerably not only from district to district, but within a district. Therefore, one finds certain special interests arising in the industry each of which endeavours to obtain certain advantages or conditions which it deems advantageous to itself. Some coalowners, possibly owing to the conditions of the immediate districts in which they operate, think that the Acts of Parliament already in operation have gone too far from the standpoint of interference with the private management and control of the industry. But of certain other coalowners it is equally true to say that they are prepared to advance steadily in certain directions, and some of them have given public utterance from time to time of their desire to see progress made in those directions. It is well known that, as far as the Miners' Federation are concerned, we desire that interference shall definitely proceed very much further than is the case at the present time.
It will not be news to anyone in this country to hear that we shall certainly not be satisfied until the industry has been completely reorganised in such a manner that some power is created capable of overruling private interests and opinions of coalowners, and asserting the sovereign will and authority of the miners and the public generally. We shall not be satisfied that we are in a position to develop the industry, as it can be developed, to the advantage of the miners engaged in it until private interests are utterly removed from the industry. I think we would candidly admit to begin with that our first concern is the well-being of the vast army of men, and the still greater army of women and children who are dependent upon them in the industry. The mining population are no mean percentage of the total population of this country, and when that section of our population suffer, as 2055 they have suffered for so many years, it is a matter of very grave concern and anxiety, and their well-being should have our sympathy and consideration. Not only is that the point of view of the miners, but it is the point of view of the Party in whose name I speak this morning, and also of many millions of supporters throughout the country. The point of view we are putting represents a far greater percentage of opinion in the country than we represent here. In this House we may be a somewhat helpless minority, but, if we counted heads in the country outside, we should find that, in regard to the policy represented by this Order this morning and the policy represented by ourselves, we- represent a far different position than we do in this House.
The Act of 1930 marked the beginning of our efforts in the direction of the reorganisation of the industry. It was only a beginning. The Act was not such as we would have desired if we had had the framing of it, and in its passage through this House consideration had to be given by the Government of the day to the opinions held by hon. Members in other parts of the House, in the same manner as consideration is given, even by the Government of the day, to opinions expressed on this side of the House. The result was that that Act could not be deemed actually to include the full point of view and intentions of our party. But inadequate though it was as an expression of our aims and policies, it has not been operated with anything like whole-hearted good will in this country. Successive Reports from the Mines Department indicate that a considerable number of irregularities and evasions have from time to time crept in and have been practised by coalowners, all of which is evidence of the extreme ill will at least held by a substantial percentage of coalowners in this country, and indicates a lack of desire on their part faithfully to operate the law of the land.
In saying that, it is only fair to give credit at least to some of the coalowners who have honestly endeavoured to secure a measure of co-operation among their colleagues. The fact that they have so endeavoured to fulfil all that is required of them makes the condemnation of the others all the greater. Here again 2056 official reports of the Department are sufficient testimony of the futility of relying upon these coalowners voluntarily to act in common and for the general well-being. Indeed, it indicates the urgent necessity for the Government to go very much further and to bring into existence some authority that will serve to enforce the law in respect of these people. We are not dealing with an industry which is merely an industry owned by private individuals. In time of national emergency it is customary to emphasise the national character of this and other key industries, because it is national property. That is perfectly true. Private property in the old sense has disappeared in this country. It is true that private ownership persists, but the fact remains that this industry is a national industry and highly social in its character. For that reason and that reason alone there is sufficient justification for the Government of the day asserting its authority over it very definitely.
We have been informed that the coalowners have held many meetings with a view to dealing with the evasions and malpractices which are carried on by some of them, and bringing them to an end. For many reasons they have found it impossible, or perhaps it would be better to say that they have found it possible to put up means of sabotaging operations against the Act. That is what we have been up against, that is what the Department has been up against and that is what the Department has complained of. In making that statement I am not merely making a statement on behalf of the Miners' Federation, but I am repeating what the Mines Department itself has discovered in its own experience. In the main, it is stated, and as the Secretary for Mines pointed out this morning, obstacles were created, first, by the varying prices asked for by different districts and even by different collieries within a district, and, secondly, the difficulties that somehow, it is alleged, arise out of the conditions of export. All that remains a mystery. No indication has been given how it is that the export trade has to meet some unknown difficulty.
Those are the two grounds upon which it is stated the main responsibility rests with regard to the failure of the coal owners. Even accepting those two points, 2057 the chief source of trouble was to divide the conflicting interests between and within different districts. The evils which have been the main cause for the introduction of the Act of 1930 persist, and to such a degree as to render inoperative the terms of that Act. That is really what it amounts to. The division of opinion, the division of interest, the conflict among coalowners make it practically impossible even to operate the powers of amending the existing scheme. The Secretary for the Mines Department points out that to amend the central scheme requires, even after the approval of the Board of Trade, that it shall carry with it a majority of 85 per cent. of the coalowner membership. The separation of inland from export coal may, from that standpoint, be a device to get the coalowners out of that difficulty, but how are the coalowners going to be enabled to get a majority to amend their scheme, having regard to the conflicting interests of district and district? The minorities cannot be separated into a particular district on the one hand or into a number of districts on the other. The districts are divided by conflicting interests of majorities and minorities.
No district produces an equal quality of coal throughout. Therefore, there are all manner of minorities even within districts. How to get the coalowner out of that difficulty is one of the problems to be solved and this device is a means to that end. It must be remembered that in dividing the inland coal from the export coal we also divide the inland coalowner from the exporting coalowner. A house divided against itself will surely fall. Yet that is the aim of the device. I very much fear that the Department will find itself, very shortly, face to face with a still graver difficulty. What the Minister has endeavoured to do in the Order as compared with the Bill, dropping out a certain feature, will not avail in the least. I want to give the Secretary for Mines full credit for his readiness to impose, even against the will of the coalowner, either the Bill introduced earlier in the year or this Order, or any other that he thinks necessary to impose. It is not, however, his courage or his readiness to oppose the private will of the coalowner that is in question. What we question this morning is the extent to which he is going and the adequacy 2058 of the steps which he now suggests as being sufficient to meet the situation.
The second point in connection with the separation of inland and export quotas arises in this manner. Somehow, and for some reason, the Mines Department has become' convinced that the exporter has suffered; where, no one knows. He is face to face, they say, with some difficulty which can only be met now by making full provision for possible increasing exports, without injury to the inland coal. Suppose the export quotas were removed? I presume each coalowner would produce as much coal as he has got trade in sight, provided there was a good price fixed for him. The Secretary for Mines here points out that there is going to be allocation for export. To what extent? How is it going to be determined? How is the South Wales Coal Owners' Association going to submit a case for their export allocation to the Central Council? Presumably, they will have to point out what trade expectations they have. That will be the first basis—the trade that we have. I suppose the Council will agree with that.
There seems to be some respectable margin for any new trade that may arise. What margin? If the margin is going to be sufficient to meet any sort of conceivable emergency, then you might as well wipe out your export allocations. There is no purpose in export allocations at all if you provide for any eventuality of increased trade. It must be remembered that a trade increase does not come to an association as an association, but it comes to an individual firm. If, for instance, Powell-Duffryn or Ocean secure a new contract to-day, or next week, amounting to half a million tons, spread over a period, that firm will have it, and if the emergency allocation allowed to them is already sufficient to cover it you might as well wipe out all your export allocation. So far as the retention of export allocation goes, there is nothing in it. As we are aware these allocations have not been fulfilled. Having become convinced that in some mysterious way the export trade has suffered we have the second reason for the separation of the total output into the inland and export categories. A passage in the speech of the Secretary for Mines on the Second Reading of the Bill last March receives added significance by this proposed separation. He said 2059 then that the Act of 1930 conferred unique powers on the industrywhich should have been used to improve the financial position of the industry…That has not happened. The most that it can be said has happened is that a fall in the price of coal has been prevented—no mean advantage to the industry as a whole, and especially to the men in the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1934; col. 2003, Vol. 287.]There you have a justification for the operation of minimum prices; an agreed minimum price alone prevented a fall in prices, an obvious benefit to the industry as a whole and especially to the men engaged in the industry. The Secretary for Mines also said that the preceding three years had shown the need for elasticity and freedom for the export trade, the implication being that the trade somehow had suffered from rigid regulations associated with the Act and schemes under the Act. The Department somehow appears to be convinced of that point. Lest it should be thought that I am doing him an injustice let me say that the Secretary for Mines was also keenly aware of the dangers of coal, ostensibly produced for export being thrown back on the inland market and becoming the cause of a reduction in inland prices, which of course would not benefit the industry. But when one has given him credit for that it makes the present proposal all the worse, because there are no safeguards to prevent the very thing happening which he himself had in mind.
Under the Bill the Central Council were given no power of control over export coal, indeed, there was no allocation for export purposes. It was completely and entirely free, as in pre-1930 days. In the Order that condition is removed and an export allocation will now be made. I question its value, in view of certain other conditions to which the Secretary for Mines has referred. On the Second Reading of the Bill the Secretary for Mines, while not sharing all our fears, did have some suspicions as to what might follow the operation of free export. He referred in his speech to two points of view which might exist regarding the proposed changes. First, those who held that the inevitable results of freeing exports from all control would be a fall in prices; secondly, those who held that since exports themselves were to be freed from restrictions as to output logically it should be followed by freedom 2060 of price control as well. The Secretary for Mines added this personal opinion:I will do no more at the moment than say that I do not see a great deal of reason to believe under the terms of the Bill that the new arrangements will mean a heavy drop."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1934, col. 2016, Vol. 287.]There must have been in his mind some suspicion that a fall in prices would follow, although it might not be a heavy one. It reminds me of the saying of the servant girl who, having transgressed and brought a child into the world, excused herself by saying, "It is only a small one." And may I remind the Secretary for Mines that only a short time ago this industry was saved by the remission of ½d. per ton in the levy. The whole argument advanced was that it was to save the industry. In the Order itself there are variations and omissions from the terms of the Bill which received a Second Reading this year. It may be that they are not important, or of no importance compared with the Bill, but there are some people who may say that they are of great importance. As far as we are concerned, we adopt precisely the same attitude towards the Order as we did to the Bill. The Order must be considered from the standpoint of existing conditions in the industry. Does it affect them? Does it improve them? Secondly, the evils known to be operative within the industry, are they removed? And to what extent? Thirdly, the failure of existing regulations to cope with these evils, and to what extent, if at all, these conditions are likely to be affected by the proposed new Order.
I ask the House to consider to what extent this Order is going to remove the whole array of evils, irregularities and malpractices in the industry and usher in a new era. The Act of 1930 gave to the Central Council for the industry the power of advising districts, in order to secure greater co-ordination. The Bill recently introduced and the present Order gives to the Central Council disciplinary powers in so far as they may impose monetary penalties. It strengthens the authority of the Central Council. Under the Act of 1930 they were empowered, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade and confirmation of Parliament, to amend any scheme, and also to make such additions as they thought necessary to give effect to schemes. This Order therefore, is partly in substitution and 2061 partly in addition to the Act of 1930. It is in substitution in so far as it is necessary to provide for separate quotas for coal produced for inland and export purposes. It is in addition in so far as it is necessary to enable the Central Council to deal with complaints by one district of a- violation by other districts of agreed minimum prices. This matter appears to be simple enough in its terms, and to embody nothing likely to cause undue anxiety to anyone. It seems so. But Section 3 of Part I of the Act of 1930 states:The central scheme may provide for such matters as appear to the Board of Trade to be incidental to, or consequential on, the foregoing provision of this Section "—which includes this Order—or to be necessary for giving effect to those provisions.Those powers will now apply equally to this Order as it did to the terms of the original Act. Regard must therefore be paid not only to the terms of the Subsections existing in the Act, but also to the new Order and its terms, "incidental to" or "consequential on" the necessary changes in regulations that coal owners may deem to be necessary now. In point of fact the proposals open up the possibility, and indeed make highly probable, that the export trade will be freed under this Order precisely as it was under the Bill.
There is one point in the Order on which we would all be in agreement. The Order does strengthen the Central Council in dealing with the piratical efforts of certain districts which secure trade at the expense of others. But what else is there to commend the Order? Does it seriously provide a solution for the troubles besetting the industry? In what shape or form can it assist any colliery or district in getting more trade? In what way does it aim at improving the condition of the industry? Does it remove the many other evils to which publicity has been given by the Secretary for Mines himself? Only one evil is here dealt with—the piratical efforts of one district at the expense of another. Does it hold out a prospect which the miners of this country can welcome in any form? Let us see.
If the effect of the Order is but to separate, in a book-keeping system, the quantities of coal sold by individual owners and districts into their respective categories of inland and export coal, we 2062 may as well have nothing. That is simply a little book-keeping. The, Order is proposed in order to bring about a change. What change? The only change that the coalowners hope for is to sell more coal in the export market. How is that to be done? What is it that prevents them selling more coal in the international market to-day? It is precisely the agreed price in the districts. If you reduce the minimum agreed price from South Wales by a 1s. per ton more coal will be sold. I have heard individual coal owners in South Wales complain year after year of the piratical elements, the reactionary elements, amongst them. All over the country you find individual owners and firms that have pleaded for something to be done.
In point of fact this Order is introduced partly for the reason that it is desired to see the export trade increase. Here is the separation of the allocation of export from inland coal. Export coal will now be dealt with separately. Those who are engaged in a purely inland coal trade are, therefore, removed from any opposition to a proposed change with regard to export, and it is so much easier now to obtain agreement. Already we have got this—that coal sold inland has a higher minimum than coal sold abroad. How much more easier will it be to secure a reduction of the export minimum in order to obtain the higher sales abroad.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
Surely the hon. Member remembers that now the price control is within the district, whether export or inland. At the moment there is no price control as far as that is concerned.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
No. I am pointing out that that separation having been made exports will now be dealt with separately, and that makes it all the easier for these people to argue for the freedom of that export trade from price control. There is this advantage for them too, that the Department is already committed 2063 to that policy. In his speech on the Second Beading the Secretary for Mines emphasised the fact that all control for export coal would go. In effect, therefore, they would have complete anarchy in that direction. The purpose behind this move and the inevitable demand that must arise in consequence of the Order is to fix a separate minimum price for export coal. The argument for that is already decided. Any one can say "I am selling now as much as I can at present prices." I have heard quite a number of these exporters say that if they were only free from the limitations with the agreed price, they could keep all their collieries working full time. All they say is that they could keep their own pits working, provided they were the only pirates. To that we object.
We are seeing once again the door opening to anarchical competition which in the end will simply bring about a reduced standard of life for all engaged in the industry. Each individual owner in his effort to add to sales is at present bound by the limitation of the agreed minimum prices enforced by his association. That limitation will continue with this Order so far as inland coal is concerned, but for export purpose the limitation may be removed. They are empowered to do that by the Act of 1930, and the Board of Trade is already committed to the policy. With what effect? We are going to see certainly a tendency toward reduced prices, and that tendency cannot, with the best intentions in the world, be long in existence before it becomes an actual fact. Losses will be incurred. Those losses, I suppose, will be partly borne by individual owners and firms. What we fear very much more is that they are going to be borne by the working man.
If this greater freedom of export allocations and so on means anything it means increased output. If it is not going to increase output nothing is changed and there is no purpose in the Order. If there is increased output, it means increased effort to sell more in the export market and the increase of output and of sales will take place without a corresponding increase in the revenue realised. There will be a larger body of men employed, with consequently greater pressure on the available resources in the industry from which wages are paid. I 2064 am no believer in the long exploded wage fund theory. But we have had many years experience of the mining industry and of the coal owner and we know that in every wage crisis which occurs in the industry what is put up to the representatives of the miners is this: "You cannot expect to get more out of the industry than there is in it." The moment you reduce prices you reduce revenue and you reduce that which is to the coal-owner his available fund for the payment of wages. That, inevitably, will be the position in connection with this matter. We shall have a repetition of that cry once again.
I am not suggesting that the Secretary for Mines has devised the scheme for the purpose—I do not think that anything could be further from his desire—but we are bound to consider what use will be made of it and we find here a scheme which will have the effect of reducing the standard of life of the mining population. The firm that succeeds in increasing its inland trade will be the better off for it. There is no doubt about that. But the firms which intensify their efforts to add to their export trade on the lines indicated and who succeed in doing so, will add to the general misery. That must, inevitably, be the effect because the efforts will be unregulated, they will be governed only by the greater economic distress which they will create and in turn this economic distress created by individual firms will compel them to redouble their efforts in the same ruinous courses. But after all that is the spectacle which the mining industry has presented for many years. The nearer they are to ruin the faster they travel towards it, and the greater efforts they put forward to drive each other to the same inevitable end.
Apart from the strictest possible regulation through Act of Parliament there is no means of preventing the economic anarchy which private ownership brings in its train. This scheme does not provide a basis upon which one can hope to recover prosperity for the industry. To begin with, no prosperity can be expected in an industry or from a scheme which either fails to have regard for or deliberately ignores inevitable resultant conditions affecting the mass of the workers engaged in the industry. This Order leaves the discipline of all this mass of ill-willed persons, whom the 2065 Secretary for Mines has disturbed, to those persons themselves. For three years it was hoped that these coalowners themselves would do something, but not until the Secretary for Mines threatened them in a somewhat severe way, did they come to heel. But the discipline of that body is still to be left to themselves. They alone are entrusted with the responsibility of removing irregularities. It is a case of the burglar being left to convert himself. It is the evil-doer who is expected to correct himself. This leaves them free to find some new device for the same end, the end of self-interest. More than that, it leaves the finances of the industry in the same hands, to be diverted or given away as they think fit.
Let the Department divide the export from the inland trade if they will, but to do it with any degree of safety to the miners there should be the strictest possible regulation with regard to minimum price and on no appeal from the coalowners should the Government agree to any variations or any greater elasticity with regard to prices. Everybody knows, no one better than the Secretary for Mines, that were it not for insistence upon the minimum price the miners of this country would be in a far worse position than they are in to-day and their position to-day is bad enough. To-day, 75 per cent. of them are paupers, but the entire 100 per cent. would be paupers if the coalowners were left to unrestricted movements of their own. That section of the industry which is engaged in export have peculiar interests to which their efforts are confined and the inland section have their peculiar interests. It is true that a number of firms have mixed interests, that is to say they are interested in both the inland and the export markets. But from our standpoint you will not solve any of these difficulties until you introduce some kind of central authority, at least partly independent of the coalowners, which will assert the communal point of view and will have some regard to the general well-being of the country.
The whole trade both inland and export needs organising and one of the things to which the Department ought to apply itself, is the limitation of sales agencies within the industry. They should be reduced in number, with the ultimate possibility in view of bringing all under 2066 one selling agency. Only in that manner will this industry secure the highest possible revenue attainable in any set of marketing conditions and only in that manner will it be possible to guarantee to the hundreds of thousands of men engaged in the industry a wage which will permit them to live in common decency. That is the reward to which any body of workers is entitled. Here we are dealing with the most oppressed body of workmen in this or any other country and the hardest-working body of men, whose wages are simply left at the mercy of any anarchical conditions which the coalowners care to introduce into the system of marketing their product. This system has to be organised, to be restricted, to be regulated to the utmost possible degree in order to ensure a decent standard of life for the workmen in the industry.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I have listened with a great deal of interest to what has been said by the hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) who has, very properly, taken this opportunity to survey the general conditions in this industry. The hon. Member has spoken out of a great wealth of knowledge and personal experience and with many of the things that he said I am in full agreement. But I gather that although he criticises the proposed amendment of the scheme in some respects, he does not intend to oppose the Order which is now before the House. That Order may not go as far as the hon. Member wishes. It may not cover all the ground concerning which he has apprehensions. But, I assume we are all agreed that the Act of 1930 was an experiment which had to be "tried out" and that experience had to be gathered in the course of the years following its introduction in 1930. Its working has been watched from day to day by those charged with the immediate responsibility, and I think the hon. Member will agree that, so far as the Order goes, it must receive acceptance in the House to-day.
This step has not been taken too soon. No one has complained that there has been any undue rush in the matter, and the mineowners cannot complain that they have been unduly pressed, because back in 1932, when the Bill dealing with miners' wages was before the House, the 2067 promise was made from the Government Bench, as a result of questions that were put from this side of the House, that if the mineowners did not come to an agreement, the Government would have to make their own proposals. Ample notice therefore was given. If I remember aright, that notice was given in April or May of 1932, and it was then understood that if the mineowners could not come to an agreement, the Government might be obliged to make their proposals in the course of that year, 1932. We are now in 1934, and the whole reason for the fact that the step is taken now instead of having been taken earlier has been the delay in getting agreement. Anyone who knows anything of the industry knows that that is one of the first troubles, that the interests are so conflicting in many parts of the country and that conditions are so different, that to secure agreement, with so many interests involved, is a most troublesome business. That the agreement has now been secured is, I think, a matter that deserves the congratulations of the House.
As I understand it, this is the first time that we have had a Measure of this kind, embodying an agreement, in the industry. That agreement was not forthcoming first of all. Then, after the introduction of the Bill, the 85 per cent. of agreement was secured, and I understand from the hon. Gentleman this morning that it represents not merely an 85 per cent. agreement, but practically unanimous agreement in the industry. If the apprehensions of the hon. Member who has just spoken are realised to any substantial extent, the powers of this House are not exhausted. The constant and vigilant watch upon the working of the Act of 1930 is not going to be relaxed as a result of the adoption of this Order, and if, in the course of the next 12 months' experience, it is found that there has to be some adaptation to meet circumstances that human foresight cannot now take into consideration, then the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade will very properly make further suggestions to the mine-owners, and, if necessary, bring further proposals to the House.
But these are the suggestions for the present, and we trust they will help to end some of the irregularities that tended to frustrate the purpose of Parliament 2068 in carrying the Act of 1930. As one who knows what was the daily anxiety of those at the Department in watching the operation of this Measure, I would like to congratulate them, as well as the hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines, upon the result that has been achieved and to express the hope that under the operation of this Amendment there will be greater progress in the industry and a development in export trade and that the conflict between one district and another in the industry will be, if not eliminated, substantially reduced. If that is done, I think the Department and the hon. Member, as well as the Government generally, will deserve our congratulations.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
I listened very attentively to the Secretary for Mines this morning, and I was delighted with one sentence that he used, but I received it with hesitation. The Secretary for Mines made the statement that the industry is in a state of unanimity. Well, I hope that is true; and the hon. Gentleman did add, "as far as the owners are concerned." I was hoping that there would be unanimity not only as far as the owners are concerned, but as far as the workers are concerned. I am not sure whether what the Secretary for Mines has said will carry through, because in the district that I come from the owners have been in a spirit of unanimity inside the hotel and, before they have got out of the lobby, they have been fighting each other as fast as they could for trade. The Secretary for Mines states that not only have they got unanimity on the Central Council, but that they have got unanimity in the 17 districts. Well, that is a miracle, and I am glad that the day of miracles is not past. I am afraid that the unanimity of which the Secretary for Mines was speaking is only on paper. The Order is only on paper, and I am afraid it will not go much further.
The Secretary for Mines states that the Central Council have now got power over prices. The district committees have had power over prices in the past, but I heard a coalowner say the other day that the coalowners to-day have more blacklegs on their side than we have on ours. This coalowner said to me himself, "We cannot trust each other outside the door, 2069 because immediately we have decided on minimum prices, there is someone belonging to our crew who goes outside and undercuts those minmum prices." So that when I sat here this morning and heard what the Secretary for Mines had to say, I was delighted from that standpoint. To another of his statements I listened with astonishment. He said that there is now an availability of supplies assured. When we have thousands and thousands of men out of work, supplies have been curtailed; we have not had sufficient supplies on the market to meet the demand. That is an astonishing statement to make in this House, and if there has been anything in the past that has prevented supplies getting to the people who desired them and preventing the people who are in the mining industry getting something to live upon, if this Order gives the miners the chance of getting a day a week more than they are getting now, then, while we are opposing it in principle, I shall be pleased to see at any rate that our men are going to get more work.
It is stated that there are only so many men in the industry out of employment, but if the men in the industry were not loyal to each other and did not share the work as they are sharing it to-day, there would be not fewer than another 300,000 men out of work. In the pit from which I have just come, the men for the last two years have been sharing work and they are working this month only eight days in the month, or two days a week. That shows practical sympathy towards each other, and, when I see figures that the mining industry is turning round the corner, I wonder which corner they are turning round. They have turned round the margarine corner a good long while ago, and I am pleased that the Secretary for Mines has stated that the people who will require coal in future are assured of a supply.
This spirit of unanimity has gripped me, because on the 26th May I was on the platform with the managing director of one of the biggest firms in this country. He practically stated that he ought to have been a miners' leader and that I ought to have been a coalowner. I wondered what he meant, and I sat very quiet. Then he made the statement that the owners should meet the men's representatives and get a national wages board. He believed in a national wages board, 2070 and he hoped the owners in the near future would have the good sense to see that such a board did not stand in the way of the owners. He said something more vital than that. He said that he wanted the owners and workmen to have their fair share of the proceeds of the industry and that the people who were getting the greatest profits out of coal were people who never saw coal at all. He said that the people who were getting the profits were the middlemen. These are the people who get the profit out of every industry. He desired to eliminate the middleman.
There are some middlemen who are selling coal in this city and getting a bigger profit out of it than the man at the coal face gets per ton for it. There are some men in the mining industry who are working practically naked with the exception of a pair of thin calico pants in heat which was described by the Secretary of Mines in the House the other day, and they are getting only something like 10½d. per ton plus 32 per cent. as wages. There are some middlemen who are making profits of 1s. 6d. and 1s. 9d. a ton. In fact, my folk have sent me from the Hems-worth Division to do what I can to clear these people out and to see that we get more in wages. I have been on a public assistance committee for your years. The owners have been crying out that they get no profit, that they are doomed, and that it will not be long before they are in the workhouse. I have never seen a coal-owner come before me as a guardian to ask for out-relief. The owners in South Yorkshire made a clear profit during October, November, December and January of over £1,000,000 in this distressed industry. Under our agreement with the Yorkshire coalowners we are indebted to them for something like £7,000,000.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
We cannot pay our own debts for rent and the grocery bill, let alone pay this £7,000,000 to the coal-owners. Before the Yorkshire mine workers can get off the minimum wage and the 32 per cent., the coalowners must have a clear profit of 1s. 6d. per ton. I am hoping that the coalowners will take the advice of the managing director who wanted to be a miners' leader and meet the Miners' Federation with a view to 2071 getting a national wages board in this industry.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Sir GEOFFREY ELLIS
May I congratulate the hon. Member for Hems-worth (Mr. G. Griffiths) on his first speech in this House. He and I come from the same county, and I knew long before he came here what a keen interest he took in this subject and the very forthright way in which he puts the case he represents. Hon. Members who have spoken from the Labour benches have gone into the general question rather than deal with the Order before the House. I should like to say with reference to that Order that I do not regard it as final. It is the beginning of a recognition of changed conditions which we have to meet and deal with. So far as the owners generally are concerned, I am certain that they hope for and not unreasonably expect the assistance of the men to work out with them a complete change in the industry with a view to getting better conditions and better results for everybody concerned. I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) in some of his observations about the reasons for the falling off in trade. We have to face this falling off in trade in the coal industry just as every other industry has to face it, and we must look into the question in the light of the new conditions. The new condition in the coal trade is that we no longer have a market into which we can go to sell such as we had in the old days. It is a constricted market made by quotas, not, as is so often said, because there is a trade war between two countries, but because there is a kind of super-nationalism which insists on the internal output of a country and its collieries being considered first at whatever cost to the country concerned.
That is the difficulty we have had to face. For many years owners and miners have been intensely individualistic, but they have to face a position to-day that the only way to fight a constricted market, a market so created by quotas, is themselves to reorganise the industry and to make their output fit the changed conditions. It is always hard when one has to face unemployment in any industry, and I can quite understand those 2072 hon. Members who represent mining constituencies feeling keenly about it, because they themselves have come across exceedingly hard cases, and I am afraid will continue to do so. But I think they will agree with me that it is a characteristic among mining people—at least it has been—that they are very 10th to leave the district in which they were born for any purpose whatever. It is one of the difficulties we have, especially with the younger people, even when it has been realised that there is no hope in a particular district for a particular pit, to get them away from that district, and to begin by giving them alternative employment. Those problems we have still to face, and until alternative employment can be found, those men are a charge—and rightly a charge—not on the charity, but on the insurance system of this country.
In the future it may be that we shall find some crevices in the system of quotas, and complaints will come from time to time from the industry, and will be voiced in this House. There is no reason why those complaints should not be made; in fact, one hopes that they will, because it is only by ventilation from both sides of the industry that we can arrive at a workable proposition in the long run. It is not only in the coal industry where we are now regulating, so to speak, our future, but in almost every industry where this regulation is going on, and for the same reasons, that we have to face the difficulties we are now meeting. There never was any plan in any country in the world that began with a theory and ended with the same theory with which it started. What really happens, especially in this country, is that you have to start in your industry with the best kind of plan you can, based on past experience, admitting your mistakes and correcting them where necessary, and I think the English people would be the last to say that the admission of a mistake is necessarily an evil from any point of view.
What is the alternative? It has been suggested by the hon. Member for East Rhondda that the alternative is our old friend nationalisation. I do not want to go into that in detail at present, but let it be presented as an alternative to what is now suggested and what is the immediate result? If you took over the mines 2073 of this country you would at once be faced with the same problem with which you are faced to-day, namely, how to deal with the inevitable constriction in trade. You can deal with constriction in trade in one of two ways. You can reorganise your industry by means of the introduction of improved methods and more mechanisation. That, inevitably, for a time in that particular industry, with limited production, leads to more unemployment. Then the question of whether your people are getting enough for what they are doing, whether their wages are high enough, whether they are getting what is vaguely called "a living wage," can never be considered from the point of view of the industry concerned alone. It has to be considered in relation to all industries in this country, and if you deal with a minimum wage on that basis, then you have to consider the whole trade of the country and what the whole trade of the country can bear.
In spite of all the facts, we are to-day directing our attention mainly to the internal trade of the country, for it is that trade which has improved, but we can never leave out of consideration the essential fact that for the final success of this country you have got to consider the case of those industries which live mainly by export trade. Therefore, whatever industry you may nationalise, wages have to bear some relation generally to the costs and expenses throughout the whole country. I point that out merely to show that if you nationalised the industry you would have exactly the same problems as you have to-day.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
We do not deny it. Our only contention is that our method of dealing with it is the best.
§ Sir G. ELLIS
I quite appreciate the hon. Member's point of view; presumably he could get his people to agree with what he suggested should be done. That, if I may say so, is begging the question, and relying rather on the support which might be withdrawn if the expectations which have been raised were not altogether satisfied in the future.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
The hon. Member has admitted that the problem would remain. We have never denied that. We have always contended that our method of 2074 handling the problem is better than the present method of the Government.
§ Sir G. ELLIS
I appreciate the point, but I say that you cannot handle the problem without general relation to the trade of the country.
§ Sir G. ELLIS
That would not deal with it. I say to hon. Members that it is impossible for them to-day to get the nationalisation which they believe would cure all their evils. Here you are working on the way to a regulation which both sides of the industry believe to be necessary. We may not be agreed on a great many details, but we are, at any rate, agreed on the question of principle, and all that I say, both from the point of view of owners and of the men employed in the industry, is that the best thing they can do is to take the position they find to-day, if you like for the present, and endeavour to work out success in the industry together, instead of going one for the other.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I shall not detain the House for long, because I do not regard this as being the occasion for a general discussion roving over the whole ground so far as the mining industry is concerned. But I would like to say that I am one of those who welcomed the Bill introduced by the Minister for Mines on 28th March. I not only welcomed the Bill, but I congratulated the Government on having decided at least to remove some of the worst defects of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, and I gave my views at some length about it, it may be at a period when there was some hope that those amendments might be accepted by His Majesty's Government. Naturally, having welcomed the Bill, I cannot be expected, and I hope the Minister will not expect me, to wax enthusiastic over its withdrawal and the substitution of a depart mental Order about which we may talk until we are black in the face, but which the Mother of Parliaments has not the power to alter in the slightest degree. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Sir G. Ellis), during the course of that debate, said that the Minister of Mines could hardly expect us to swallow his Bill whole. I do not know what the Minister expected then, but I know what 2075 he expects now, and I think that those expectations will be realised. We must either swallow this Order whole or not swallow it at all, because the House is quite parlous to make any amendment. So far as improving it or amending it is concerned, we might be a P.S.A. or some village debating society, and, in those circumstances, I think it would be a waste of time on my part to point out again the many directions in which I have repeatedly pointed out the Coal Mines Act, 1930, requires amendment.
I welcome the Order so far as it goes, but I hold the view that it does not go far enough; and as to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. I. Foot) saying that it is introduced too soon, I feel that it is very much too late. Time and again the need for an amendment of the Act of 1930 has been stressed from every quarter of the House, and has been acknowledged by the Government spokesmen. The hon. Member for Bodmin, when he was Secretary for Mines, went so far as to say that the Government would not shrink from legislating if the amendment of the Act should prove to be necessary. Proof has been forthcoming in an overwhelming degree, and more than 12 months ago the President of the Board of Trade said that if the owners did not put their house in order within a month the Government would introduce their own legislation to amend the Act. We had to wait 12 months for the legislation, and then it was subsequently withdrawn, and we have in its place this departmental Order which we have no power to vary. My own view is that the Government have missed a great opportunity. I opposed the Act of 1930 when it was going through this House, although I was not a Member at the time. Since I have been in the House I have pointed out its defects and weaknesses time and again, and appealed for its amendment.
Two years ago, in the first speech on the mining industry which I made in this House, I gave my views on the Act, and was assured by the then Secretary for Mines that my fears were, to a certain extent, groundless and my views as to the evil effects of the Act to a large extent exaggerated, and hon. Members opposite repeatedly said that my fears were unjustified and that the Act was operating efficiently and well. Since then not only the Secretary for Mines 2076 but hon. Members opposite who were responsible for putting the Act on the Statute Book have frequently acknowledged that it requires amendment in many directions. In a debate in May, 1932, I was followed by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) who, I regret to see, is not in his place this morning. He paid me the compliment of saying that he would not have intervened but for my speech, and then he discharged at me dialetical broadside after dialetical broadside, raked me fore and aft, and wound up by declaring that I had shown no justification for interference with a piece of machinery which was working perfectly. More than two years afterwards Members of the Labour party are, one after another, getting up and complaining that this a very imperfect piece of machinery, going, indeed, very much further than I went in my complaint. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), who has spent his whole life in the mining industry, and is acknowledged to be an authority on it, declared on 28th March that the Act needed drastic amendment and that it had disappointed even its friends, said, indeed, that more than one part of the Act needed to be dealt with.
§ Mr. DICKIE
My hon. Friend repeats that view, and I frankly admit that I am in some measure in agreement with him, and regret not only that the Government have not introduced reforms earlier, but that they have not seen fit to carry them further. It is of little use to stress the need for amendment of the Act now, because we cannot do that this morning. As to the present Order, so far as it helps the export trade and prevents ruthless price-cutting between districts and stabilises conditions in the home market, every one in the industry must welcome it. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), in his admirable maiden speech, when referring to the export trade and the difficulty of obtaining supplies to fill orders, overlooked one important point. The difficulty has been in obtaining certain classes or grades of coal. I am sure he will realise the importance of that distinction. We must accept this Order as it is presented, but I hope we shall have a definite promise from the Secretary for Mines that if it does not achieve the object at which it is 2077 aimed the Government will not hesitate to ask for further powers before it is too late.
There are two points concerning the Order to which I wish to refer. I do not want to re-open the question of composite concerns, because we cannot touch it to-day, but during the course of the Debate the Minister said that it was a Committee point. As there is to be no Committee stage, however, we shall not have the opportunity of dealing with it, and I would ask the Minister whether, in referring to this matter in his winding-up speech in the Debate on 28th March, he did not unwittingly do me an injustice by accusing me of seeking a sectional advantage. I can assure him I was not doing so. I was speaking in the interests, not only of the iron and steel industry, but of the mining industry as a whole. What I said was:I would like to illustrate how this works by quoting the actual figures for one particular company. I do not instance it because it is in my constituency. I believe, with others, that there is too much of that sort of thing, and with the change in our fiscal system it is more essential than ever to maintain the national as against the sectional outlook if we are to avoid the worst evils of a tariff system."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th March, 1934; col. 2092, Vol. 287.]I realise that this matter cannot be reconsidered now, and I mention it only because no one hold more strongly than' I do that national interests must predominate, I still take the view that in a marketing scheme—and that is what this is—it is unwise to include coal which never comes on the market at all, and I hope an early opportunity will be found for giving greater freedom to composite concerns without doing injury to anyone. There is another point which is of outstanding importance at the moment. During the last few months there has been an enormous demand for coking coal and lest anyone should think that I again lay myself open to a charge of appealing for a sectional interest I would say that this particular improvement in the iron and steel trade is general, every part of the country is sharing in it and therefore the demand for coking coal is almost universal. I would call the attention of the Secretary for Mines to the fact that in January, 1933, there were only 62 blast furnaces in operation in this country, that by January, 1934, that number had increased to 85, and that by April of this year the number had risen 2078 to 98. The demand for coke is still increasing, and there is reason to believe that it has not yet reached the peak.
In those circumstances, the greatest possible freedom for expansion is not only desirable but is absolutely necessary in the interests of the great industries, and not only in regard to the home market but so far as the export trade is concerned. That is particularly so in view of our trade agreements with the Scandinavian countries. If a separate class for this coal could be created, the coal could easily be separated. I suggest to the Minister that that might be done, and the class be given 100 per cent. quota, in order to enable it to meet without restriction or handicap the growing demand for coke in the home and the export market. I hope that the Order will achieve its object and that it will have the effect of improving our export trade in coal, as well as of removing the causes of friction in the home market.
§ 1.57 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I remember that when the Secretary for Mines made a speech during the passage of the Coal Mines Bill in 1930, he said that it was a modest little Bill which might go some way to remove difficulties that had arisen. We hope that it has done so. Anyone who has followed the workings of that Act will have seen many things happen that were not thought possible at that time. We expected that the Bill would fix a minimum price for the selling of coal which would at least secure for those who were employed a wage equal to the value of that which they tried to do and would, at the same time, provide the employers with a fair profit. That was the intention of the Bill put forward by Mr. Graham. With the shrinkage of the coal industry, it was very difficult to do anything in the way of expanding trade. It was a question of economics as to whether our industries required coal or some other fuel to take its place, and it was very difficult to arrive at a point where coal could take the place of other fuel. The object of the Bill, which originated from this party, was to provide a fair standard of life, and I realised that we had to try to provide employers with a fair profit. If we did not do that, the scheme could not continue. Those were the two main points.
Let me give the instance of Lancashire. In this matter we are driven for illustrations 2079 to our own counties, because that is where we see the real effect of the Act. Lancashire can absorb more coal than is to be found within the county. One would expect the Lancashire coalowners to be in a fair position, and I will give them credit for trying to fix prices to meet the intentions of the promoters of the Act. We are, however, in the position—it is largely because of Lancashire's position that the trouble has arisen in getting a Bill brought forward in this House—that in the last 12 months 12,000 tons of coal have come into Lancashire from other districts. It is difficult to find out what were the prices, but I believe that in every instance they have been sold at as much as 2s. a ton less than the price that has been fixed in Lancashire. Under modern conditions of competition, it is almost impossible for Lancashire coalowners to keep up their prices, but, if those prices come down, it means that colleries may have to close and that the wages of the men will also have to come down. We are anxious, because of that, to do something to prevent the movement.
This Order empowers an executive board or district committee to take any complaint they have to make to the Central Council. I want to know how far the powers of the Central Council go. The coal which comes in at a price less than that quoted in Lancashire may come from districts whose prices are already lower than the recognised minimum prices, or it may come in owing to what are called spot lots of coal, that is, a surplus quantity of coal in the industry. Negotiations may take place between coalowners and middlemen in another county to take that coal at prices below the existing minimum prices in that county. I believe that the coal has come into Lancashire in this way. If it be found that spot lots of coal are coming into Lancashire, and being sold below the minimum existing in the county from which it has come and naturally much below the minimum existing in the county to which it goes, will the Central Council have power to deal with the middlemen who have got the coal and have sold it? Will the Council have power to deal with the coalowners in the other counties who have not carried out the agreement as to minimum prices, but have sold coal to outside agencies at spot lot prices? 2080 Unless they can do those things, there is not much use in this Order.
Unless we can follow up the people who will not act fairly with other coalowners, this Order might as well be non-existent. If the Central Council have power to do what I suggest, I want them to use it. The coalowner who has not carried out his duty to his fellow coalowners should have his quota dealt with. If under the quota which he already has—he may have got his quota by some unfair means, and his orders may not warrant the quota—he is left with a lot of coal on hand. I want the Central Council to have power to say that the coalowner who has transgressed shall not merely be fined but that there shall be a restriction of his quota. A lesson like that would go a long way towards preventing that kind of thing happening. Unless something of the kind is done, legislation will not have the desired effect. The Secretary for Mines says that the trade must be dealt with in two separate parts. I accept his word for that, but I can see danger. If those who have an export quota are not able to sell it in the export trade, will they be allowed to make use of their export quota for inland consumption?
§ Mr. E. BROWN
That is precisely why why it is necessary to make the division; you have to stop that. That is what I was trying to say when I interrupted just now. In order that there may be a precise regulation to carry out the intention of the Act and check evasion in regard to prices between district and district, there must be a separation.
§ Mr. TINKER
I take it, then, that, if anyone is found to be trying to get his export quota into the inland trade, he will he dealt with on the lines I have suggested. That is one of the great dangers that I see in allowing a certain amount of coal to be got up for export purposes; it may not be possible to sell it for export, and attempts may be made to get it into the inland market. We have to trust the Secretary for Mines to act in time to prevent that happening. If there is to be any further amendment of the Act, there is one thing that would prevent a lot of underselling in the districts. In Section 3, Sub-section (2, f), it is laid down that in every district scheme provision shall be made:for the determination, at such times and for such periods as may be decided in accordance 2081 with the provisions of the scheme, of the price below which every class of coal produced in the district may not be sold or supplied by owners of coal mines in the district.If the word "sold" could be substituted for "produced," it might have the effect of preventing the underselling which takes place.
We are not, as the Secretary for Mines knows, going to divide on this Motion, but we are making our protest as to where we think it might have gone further. Although I welcome any attempt on the part of the Government for the time being to make things better for the miners, I believe that nothing short of national control will bring a solution of our difficulties. Even I myself this morning, speaking on behalf of Lancashire, am taking a parochial view in trying to protect the trade of Lancashire. Although my broader view is in favour of nationalisation, I am driven this morning to try to protect sectional interests. It is not fair that we should be placed in that position. To my mind every man, in whatever part of the country he works, if his work is necessary, ought to be treated equally, and, until that time arrives, whatever Measure may be brought forward, I shall raise my protest, in the hope that at some time in the future we may reach the position which we so much desire.
§ 1.11 p.m.
§ Mr. GODFREY NICHOLSON
I rise only for the purpose of congratulating the Secretary for Mines on the successful way in which he has dealt with this industry. I am certain that he is on the right lines. I believe that this industry, and all other English industries, should be dealt with by the State issuing its orders—if necessary, detailed and stringent orders—but that the industry in question should be left with the greatest possible measure of internal liberty in carrying out those orders. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) that nationalisation shows the way out. No propaganda that I have ever heard has convinced me that anybody can have more knowledge or capability for the direction of an industry than those whose business lies in that industry and who draw their living from it. I believe that the mine-owners of this country have a most valuable function to carry out, and that 2082 they deserve their remuneration, but I think it is not fair to the country, or, indeed, to the mineowners themselves, to leave them with complete liberty and not to give them that help and support which the guidance and leadership of the State alone can provide. I repeat that I congratulate the Secretary for Mines. I hope he will go on and will not be afraid of using more coercion if he thinks it necessary and of seeing that his wishes are carried out. But I repeat also that I hope he will leave the industry itself, once it has attained enough unity of action and of thought, the greatest possible amount of liberty, for that alone, to my mind, conduces to efficiency.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) in congratulating the Secretary for Mines on this Order. I believe that the Order is not worth the time that the House is spending upon it, and that the coal industry, after two or three years under this Order, will be no better off than it is to-day. The Secretary for Mines, in his speech this morning, said that the Order was a happy solution. I noticed that the Prime Minister was telling our people in Durham; last night that the Government were working hard upon a solution for the mining industry, but he did not say that this was one of the solutions, and I think he was wise. He did not describe this as a happy solution, and, indeed, this Order is no solution of the real problem. Of course, the Secretary for Mines may say that it is a solution of the problem of unanimity among the coalowners, but some of us have been long enough in the coalmining industry to remember that again and again, when there has been absolute unanimity among the coalowners, it has been a bad day for the miners, and not a good day for the country. An Order merely for the purpose of getting unanimity among the coalowers is one that is not worth introducing into the House.
What is the problem that needs solving? It is not the problem of unanimity among the coalowners, but the problem of amending the defects of the Act of 1930. That Act was passed with one object in view. It was believed that the Act, and especially Part I, would raise prices, and, as our miners' wages are 2083 regulated according to the prices, we believed that, if Part I of the Act of 1930 raised prices, it would raise our miners' wages. The Act was passed, and we have had four years' experience of it, but wages to-day in our Durham coalfield are standing where they were forced upon the men after the defeat in 1926. We have not less than 40,000 miners in Durham who to-day are only earning 6s. 6½d. a day. The Labour Government passed the Act of 1930 believing that it would lead to an increase of miners' wages. It has not done so. The then President of the Board of Trade really sincerely believed that it would tend to raise prices, but the four years' experience that we have had shows that it has not tended to raise prices. There is no credit from a wages point of view in the 19S0 Act. That is the solution to which the Minister ought to have given his attention. Instead of that, he comes forward with this Order. It is not easy for a layman to understand.
I have complained again and again that these Acts of Parliament and Orders are set out in language that it is most difficult for the ordinary man to understand. It seems to me a weak, puny Order which is not going to meet the problems of the industry at all. It begins by suggesting that paragraphs (b), (c) and (j) of Sub-section (2) of Section 2 of the 1930 Act should be deleted. Paragraph (b) gives power to the Central Council to fix the quota for each district. But that is what the new Order proposes to do. Why delete it on the one hand and put in into the new Order on the other? The same argument applies to paragraph (c), which gives power in increase the quota to meet an increased demand for coal. That is just what is proposed in the new Order. We have heard of the wastefulness of digging holes and filling them up again. To take these powers out of the Act and put them into this Order seems hardly worth the time spent on it. The Order proposes to give the Central Council power to inquire into complaints regarding minimum prices and to give directions. One wonders what is the use of the Central Council merely having power to give directions. It is like saying, I hope you will take out your umbrella to-morrow morning because it may rain. They simply please themselves whether they 2084 take their umbrella or not. An Order that simply gives directions is not worth spending very much time upon. The Central Council is given power to impose monetary penalties. They have that power now under the 1930 Act.
§ Mr. BATEY
I notice that we are to have another central scheme and rules are to be made by the Council. Will the House have a chance of discussing the scheme and the rules? Part I of the 1930 Act has been a failure and this will not improve matters. It is no solution for the defects of the Act. The fault has not been with the principle either of the quota or of minimum prices, but in the operation of those things. The trouble has been that the coalowners were given the responsibility of operating the machinery under the 1930 Act. If we simply go forward leaving this machinery in the hands of the coalowners in the future, as has been the case in the past, we can hope for no improvement at all. After the four years' experience, all the lessons which have been learned, and all the evasions of the Act, the Ministry ought to have come to the House of Commons and stopped completely the operation of Part I of the Act and have set up a central governing authority for all the districts. They are now going to say 2085 to the Central Council that, on the complaint of the executive board of the district, they have the power to decide whether the minimum prices of the particular district are what they ought to be, but that will not lead us very much farther. The Central Council ought to be a governing authority with full power to fix the minimum prices applicable to all districts. There should not be one minimum price for Durham, another for Northumberland, another for Lancashire and another for Yorkshire. As long as you allow minimum prices of varying rates in the various districts there is no hope of improvement. The chief lesson which the Ministry ought to have learned was the need to set up a new governing authority with power not only to fix and apply the regulation of output, but to fix one minimum price for all the districts. Until that has been done, I see no hope of any benefit, or of any bettering of the wages of our people, which is our chief object.
No mining legislation brought forward by this Government has been worth a brass farthing to the miners. The Prime Minister in his speech last night in one of our mining divisions did not attempt to say a single thing the Government had done to benefit miners, and I am not surprised. He was wise not to attempt to do so. We judge all this mining legislation by one standard, namely, whether it will raise the conditions of our people, and, unless it will do so, we have no favour for it, and we will not give it any support. I believe that the condition of our people, who are below the poverty line in thousands of cases, will be no better if this Order be enforced, and there is no need to thank the Government either for this Order or any other of the mining legislation.
§ 1.29 p.m.
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
I am not sure whether the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is responsible for draft Orders which come under industrial matters, but the Secretary for Mines seems to suffer more than the Parliamentary Secretary when he submits Orders to the House. It is not because the Secretary for Mines fails in the discharge of his very arduous task, for he discharges it wonderfully well, but because he happens to deal with an industry which is always right at the bottom of 2086 the depression. He told us to-day that there was a long history prior to this Order being introduced. It is that history which has caused hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House to be greatly dissatisfied at the way things have gone on, but, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), I want to congratulate the Secretary for Mines upon securing the draft Order. He must have exercised great pressure upon the owners in order to secure it, and we know that in the course of exercising that pressure he had to introduce a Bill. We do not complain that he has exercised too much pressure to compel the owners to take this step and to make this agreement, but we want to urge him to continue exercising pressure on the owners and to get them to agree to whatever he and the Government think they ought to agree.
We have been trying to get the Government to exercise pressure upon the owners in regard to another matter, namely, the setting up of a national board to regulate the industry. If the Government think it fit on a mining question to exercise sufficient pressure to compel the owners to toe the line, we, as representing the miners, think that the Government ought to say to the coalowners: "We think as a Government that this industry ought to be nationally controlled, that there ought to be a national board and national negotiations. We have tried to persuade you for years to agree to this, and you have refused. We are now going to deal with you as we dealt with you on the question of the draft Order. We are going to tell you what we, as a Government, think is a reasonable course to take." If the Government do not take that course and they allow the owners to continue to refuse national negotiations the only inference we can draw is that the Government themselves are not in favour of national negotiations in the mining industry. I hope that similar pressure to that which has brought about this agreement among the coalowners will be brought to bear upon the owners to make them agree upon this matter. I shall always congratulate the Minister when he comes to the House and says: "I have been able to exercise sufficient pressure on the owners to compel them to take a reasonable course."
2087 Coalowners as a body of employers need more Governmental pressure than any other body of employers. If all coal-owners were of the type of the hon. Member for Winchester (Sir G. Ellis) and if every coalowner were as intelligent and approached the mining question in the manner in which he does I do not think that the industry would be in the position in which it is to-day. It is because all owners are not of that type that the proposed draft Order has been necessary. We have been challenged, and told many times that we were responsible for the Act of 1930. We were, and as far as the Act goes, if the owners had operated it in the spirit in which it was introduced, it would have conferred far greater benefit upon the industry than has been the case. It has not brought the benefit to the industry that we expected or desired. One of the main reasons for this is the attitude of the owners towards the Act, not of all the owners, but of many of them.
I put a question to the Secretary for Mines this week to try and find out what change had taken place as the result of the Act of 1930. I asked him the total quantity of coal produced in Great Britain in the last quarter prior to the Act operating, and he stated that it was 61,000,000 tons—I leave out the odd figures—and in the March quarter, 1934, 59,000,000 tons, which shows, comparing the respective quarters, that the production had gone down by nearly 2,000,000 tons. I also asked the number of miners employed in the last quarter preceding the operation of the Act and he told me 885,000 and that for the March quarter the number was 787,000, a reduction of nearly 100,000 in the number of miners employed. With regard to Lancashire, I find that the production has gone down and the number employed has also gone down by 10,000. We were told that the Act was going to regulate prices. I asked for the pithead price per ton in the quarter preceding the operation of the 1930 Act, and I was told that the pithead price per ton for Great Britain was 14s. 3d., but in March, 1934, it was 13s. 8d. We are told that even if it has not increased the pithead prices, it has maintained them. It has failed to maintain them. The Minister may say that if it had not been for the Act the prices would have fallen lower. That type of 2088 argument might be continued for ever. The Act has failed to maintain prices. In Lancashire the pithead price for the last quarter of 1930 was 17s. 1d. and in the first quarter of 1934, 16s. 6d.
The Act has failed to do what we expected it would do, but we do not put the whole blame on the Act. We think that if the owners had tried to carry out the Act in a proper spirit, they would have maintained prices and have done the industry far greater benefit. We are told that the Order will do it for us. The Minister may say: "The Act has not operated properly, but wait until the draft Order operates." We appreciate the securing of unanimity among the owners, but we have seen unanimity among the owners before, when it has not been in the interests of the miners. Unanimity on this question does not necessarily mean that it is going to be in the interests of the miners. I can well understand the owners saying that they prefer the Order to the Bill. The only reason why we have this Order is because the Bill was rejected. A Bill can be amended in its progress through the House, but an Order cannot be amended. The owners know that, and that is why they support the Order. They say: "We will have the Order. It gives us entirely what we know we shall get, whereas a. Bill does not, because during its progress through the House the Minister may accept Amendments which will make the Bill more unacceptable to us." Hence their acceptance of the Order. I am told that the only reason why the minority of the owners who objected to the Bill have accepted the Order, is simply because it is an Order and not an Act of Parliament.
The miners are suspicious of the owners always, and it would take a lot to remove that suspicion. Our history and experience is such that that suspicion will need some removing. We are afraid that the bringing in of two-fold allocation in this manner is intended, directly or indirectly, to get out of allocation altogether.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
So far from that being so, it will, by separation, enable strict allocation to be made.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
The term "ample supplies" for export purposes is a very vague term and we are afraid that it will be used, directly or indirectly, knowingly 2089 or unknowingly, for inland purposes. We hope that in any regulations made as a result of the Order the Minister will see to it that that is utterly impossible. It is no use saying that this Order provides for monetary penalties on the owners. It does, but the monetary penalties are determined by the owners, and we know that means fairly lenient treatment for the owners who are found guilty. Although we agree that there may be some case for alteration in so far as the owners who refused to operate the Act, we are not satisfied that alteration on these lines is going to secure the prosperity which we are all hoping for.
I do not forget the case of Lancashire. I was somewhat astounded at the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), similar figures were used during the Second reading debate on the 28th March by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Essenhigh), who stated that within the past 12 months something like 10,000,000 tons of coal from other counties and from Scotland have been imported into Lancashire. The total production of Lancashire and Cheshire for 1933 was just over 13,000,000 tons, and yet we are told that the quantity of coal imported in Lancashire during the year was 10,000,000 tons. I hope the Minister will help us in this matter. If we are to be told that Lancashire is producing something less than 60 per cent. of the coal consumed in Lancashire, if its productive capacity is so much below the consumption in Lancashire, something ought to be done, because the Lancashire coalfields can be absolutely ruined by this method.
Lancashire is an old coalfield. It served the industrial needs of the country for fuel when other coalfields were not open. As a result, our productive costs per ton are very high. The non-productive underground costs in Lancashire are higher than any county in Great Britain. The reason is because we are an old coalfield and cannot avoid high productive costs. Will this Order prevent Scotland sending coal to Lancashire to be sold in Liverpool at a lower cost per ton than the pithead cost of production in Lancashire? If so, it will be very acceptable in Lancashire. Will the Order prevent Yorkshire sending past my house, as it does every day, several long trains of coal to be sold in Lancashire at 2090 shillings per ton lower than the Lancashire people can sell their own coal?
I do not believe in making these sectional appeals. The mining industry is one industry, and wherever a miner works, whatever the thickness of the seam, whatever advantage he enjoys, he is entitled to similar treatment. To ask a central council to fix the same minimum price per ton of coal in every district would be impossible, but to ask a miner in Lancashire to go down an old coal pit, run the same risk as the miner in a better seam and not have similar treatment, is wrong and unjustifiable. We were told by the hon. Member for Winchester (Sir G. Ellis) that even under nationalisation, which I believe we shall have, the problems of the mining industry will remain. They will remain, but they will remain to be dealt with. Our contention has always been that the immediate acceptance of nationalisation will not remove the problem, but we say that it is the only reorganisation, that it is the peak reorganisation and the best and most effective reorganisation to deal with the ills of the industry. The Minister may make himself responsible for draft Orders, he may go on bringing pressure upon the owners, but until the industry is treated as a single unit and the miners, wherever they work, in whatever district, are treated as miners producing a fuel essential for human welfare, and treated in the same way, he will not solve the problem confronting the industry.
The Secretary for Mines has done a man's job, but he must not satisfy himself that because he has brought sufficient pressure to bear on the owners on this occasion and forced them to do something which some of them do not like to do, this Order will bring prosperity to the industry. The hon. Member for Winchester may say that this is not the final word, it is only the beginning. We see how things are going, the demand for coal lessening and competition in the export market increasing; if it is only the beginning and we have to expect other Orders to deal with the problem, well and good. It has taken three years to get this Order. The complaints which have resulted in this Order were made three years ago but owing to the reluctance of recalcitrant employers we have failed to get it until now. If the next Order is going to take as long to get it 2091 only means delaying the day of prosperity to the mining industry. We have no intention of dividing the House on this Order. The Government think that it will restore prosperity to the industry, we hope it will, but we have grave doubts about it.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
In the first place, let me thank hon. Members for the kindly references they have made to me during the Debate. I have listened to their declarations of faith as to the ways of regulating and improving the mining industry but they will not expect me on this Order to enter into any matters of political controversy. I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) that he realises that under any scheme there is a district problem. I will leave it there. Let me try and answer some of the questions which have been raised during the debate. The hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) in his very able opening speech dealt with the general proposition and expressed some fears as to allocation. May I point out that at the moment the allocations made by the Central Council are close, and will continue to be so, but the Central Council has power to issue supplementary allocations now, which they do, and they will be able to do it under the Order. That is why I said that we have received assurances that there will be an ample supply of coal for export.
I must point out once more that the two problems of allocation as between export coal and inland coal and the problem of co-ordination of prices are intertwined. There is no system of coordinating prices in so far as they are in competition between Scotland and Lancashire, for instance, on a lower basis unless you are going to make a separate allocation between export and inland coal. The problem is not when coal goes abroad as compared with coal which goes inland, but in respect of that coal which may be raised in a pit normally working for export but which finds its destination inside this island. As to the question that it finds its destination at prices which are unfair, my answer is that that would be a reason for complaint by one district as against another, on which evidence can be heard on both sides and if the Central Council comes to the conclusion that the 2092 complaint is substantiated they will have power to give directions as to what the price ought to be. If those directions are not obeyed they will have power to impose a penalty for failure to fulfil directions as to price.
With regard to trade agreements, I do not think that hon. Members opposite need have any alarm. The agreements were not made on the basis of a cheap price, but on the basis of a fair price, and we shall watch this question continuously. I do not think hon. Members need worry about the exporters' argument, and I was rather surprised at what the hon. Member for Ince said. He talked about 1s. per ton making the difference. If he will survey the world market which is restricted, as compared with the comparatively small amount which is now a free market, there is no reason for the alarm which he feels. Moreover, there is this to be said that since the Order gives the Central Council control of output to that extent the fears expressed on the Second Reading of the Bill are met. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) on his interesting and lively maiden speech. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) raised a question in which I know he is deeply interested. In reply let me say, first of all, that schemes will be revised in the light of the Order; they will then come to me for confirmation, and it will be equally true under this Order that special circumstances must be taken into account. Let me assure him that we shall watch it very carefully. I hope he has noticed the judgment given in the courts recently which I think eases the position he has so much at heart. I think I have already answered the principal point raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker).
§ Mr. TINKER
The point is as to whether the penalty can be used for cutting down the quota of a colliery company.
§ Mr. BROWN
The point is that supply will have relation to the individual pit and, therefore, it will be possible to make an allocation that is more strict than has been the case in the past. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) wondered why we should go to all the trouble of removing these various Sub-sections. The answer is that it is necessary because we have added to the output allocation 2093 a basis of supply allocation. These Subsections are deleted because this is the original basis for allocation, a basis of supply; the Act merely places allocation on a basis of output. I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Spennymoor so pessimistic, and was therefore somewhat relieved when the hon. Member for Ince showed more signs of hope and encouragement. The hon. Member does not do himself and his contituents justice when he takes up the role of the pessimist because I know he prefers that of the optimist. I think it is true to say that there are signs of encouragement; as a matter of fact, one of the reasons at the back of this Order is the signs of encouragement. Hon. Members opposite who were responsible for the Act of 1930 must remember that it is one thing to operate the technicalities of the Act with the market so continually restricted as it was in 1931. The hon. Member may be pessimistic, but I am optimistic when I see my charts at the Department showing what the facts are and when I realise that for the first time for four years output for the first 20 weeks has gone up by 6,666,000 tons. It is something to be thankful for, although not all that we want, in our efforts to get prosperity for the industry.
The hon. Member for Ince mentioned a figure for Lancashire of 10,000,000 tons. I do not know what basis there is for that figure. The hon. Member will know that long before the Act, in pre-War days, this trade between Lancashire and other districts——
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
My point was that since there is to be a fixed minimum price what is the price that has been fixed in each district.
§ Mr. BROWN
I am coming to that. I do not know what basis there is for the 10,000,000 tons. That there is such a traffic we all know. One of our difficulties is the enormous amount of cross rail traffic which may not have quite the bearing that some people think it has when they see the figure of imports into Lancashire. With regard to prices it is quite different. If the Lancashire complaint is well founded the Central Council will have power to fix a price which it thinks fair, and to give directions. If the directions are not complied with it will be able to impose penalties drawn up under the rules. The 2094 hon. Member for Spennymoor raised a point about the rules. Under the scheme the Central Council will make their own rules, and they may also, under the Order, amend those rules; but the districts will have a right of appeal against those which they do not think fair.
§ Mr. BROWN
I think that would be so, but I would ask the hon. Member to put a question on the Paper, as I do not wish to mislead him in the slightest degree. I am not quite sure of my powers there. In any case they will be open to appeal by the district that thought itself hardly treated. This Order does not pretend to be a solution of the whole of the problems connected with the 1930 Act. I believe it will do a good deal to achieve the object we all have in view. We want to see a fair price got. In so far as the Order does that it will be an advantage to the whole industry. Unanimity may mean something good or evil; it depends on what the purpose is. The unanimity here is for the two main operations of the Order, and it is a very big thing to have got. It is not easy, when there are very different circumstances in various districts, to get a strong minority to come to unanimity, but that has been achieved here. Seeing that we have managed to do that on the basis of this Order, among the coalowners in the districts and at the centre, for those two major and highly controversial purposes, it may be assumed that as the minor amendments come along it will be much easier to get unanimity for those amendments than it would have been but for what we have achieved to-day.
§ Mr. DICKIE
Can the Secretary for Mines give us an assurance on the point I raised, as to the position of coking coal? It is a matter of great importance. 2095 Is it possible to create it as a separate class and give it a quota?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Central (Coal Mines) Scheme (Amendment) Order, 1934, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 29th day of May, 1934, be made.