HC Deb 11 December 1935 vol 307 cc935-91

3.58 p.m.


I beg to move, That this House is of opinion that the miners of this country are justified in their claim for an immediate national increase in their wages. Whatever criticism hon. Members may have against the Motion, it cannot be criticised on the ground of being either obscure or complicated. It is exceedingly simple and, I trust, for that reason will receive very wide support. There may be some surprise from hon. Members that I, who represent a London constituency many miles removed from the nearest coalfield, should have tabled this Motion dealing with a critical situation in the mining industry, but I feel that it is sometimes useful—and I trust it will be so to-day—that someone should speak on this matter who is not directly or even indirectly concerned with or attached to the mining industry. There are many hon. Friends of mine on these benches whose lives have been lived in that industry and whose trade union experience has been gathered in it, and I understand that on the other side of the House there are mineowners who can supplement what I have to say from that particular point of view, so I want to represent the point of view of the man in the street or the woman in the home with regard to this matter.

Although I trust it will not occur it is quite possible that a strike will begin in this industry within a very short space of time. I can well remember that years ago, when a strike was threatened, the reaction of the public to that threat was almost invariably one of hostility. The threat was regarded as having been fomented by firebrands and paid agitators. Those two terms have now disappeared completely from the vocabulary of political controversy, and it is to-day generally understood and well realised that a strike in the coal industry would not be the result of unfair agitation on the part of the leaders but would be the last weapon that a desperate man, face to face with terrible conditions, could use.

An hon. Member in an interesting speech the other day spoke about a referendum. I submit that if the Resolution that I am now moving were submitted to a referendum in this country it would receive overwhelming support, because the great mass of the people—not the miners only, not even organised trade unionists, but the ordinary people of the country—are quite certain that the nation as a nation ought to guarantee a fair deal to the mining population. I go further. I believe that the verdict of the community, were the threatened strike to occur, would be that the strike was a great act of national righteousness, and the responsibility for the strike would be placed upon the mine owners or this House or the Government. Men and women in my constituency are tremendously interested in the problem of the miners. Their desire is that justice should be given to the miners. I realise that negotiations are now going on, and I am very anxious not to speak one sentence that would make those negotiations for an honourable settlement any more difficult.

I have had some experience in negotiations, in local negotiations but more particularly in national negotiations. The whole of my working life has been spent and and my trade union experience has been gathered in the railway industry, where we have national negotiating machinery that works exceedingly well. Although the analogy between the railway industry and the mining industry is not an exact analogy—I suppose an exact analogy is almost impossible in this world—it is a reasonable analogy to draw. The railway industry, like the mining industry, is not a unit. There are four great separate undertakings in the railway world, with different boards of directors, different capital, different managers, different geographical positions, all separate and distinct the one from the other. In the mining industry there are a dozen great mine-fields spread about the country. We in the railway industry have found that national negotiations give a maximum satisfaction both to the workpeople and to the management. That machinery- has been in existence and functioning ever since it was established by the Railways Act of 1921. I do not want to press that point too strongly, but it does seem to me that a method of settling wage disputes or disputes regarding conditions of labour that works perfectly satisfactorily in the railway industry could at least be accepted and tried in the mining industry.

The problem of coal has been before this House for 150 years. The first Act of Parliament was passed in the year 1778. It was an Act to remove chattel slavery from the Scottish collieries. Ever since then till now this House has concerned itself and has been obliged to concern itself with the problem of the mining industry. There have been nine or 10 Royal Commissions during the last 60 years and about 30 Acts of Parliament. This House has been busy about the mining problem, and yet the sad fact to-day is that in spite of all that endeavour there stands the miner, the central tragic figure in British industry, under-paid, leading a life of risk and undergoing hardships; and all the endeavours of each successive Government from 1778 until this Parliament have not given to him the justice to which he is entitled. The conditions in the minefields are deplorable. I want to read an extract from a wonderful speech. We all hear hundreds of speeches, and most of them we forget, but this speech I shall never forget. It was made by Mr. Joseph Jones at the Trade Unions Congress, in September of this year. He said: No words of mine can adequately express the wretchedness which prevails in the coalfields of the country. I do not desire to harrow the feelings of Congress, but I feel it my duty to state that there are countless numbers of miners and their dependants who have lost hope. Fear is at the helm, insecurity day by day haunts them. They are losing courage. Entire communities are in utter despair. They are unmanned and unknown. The time has cone when something should be done to bring succour and relief to them. In countless thousands of miners' homes the happiness they knew has been turned out of doors. The miners say We have been stripped by the employers of almost everything save our self-reseect and our courage to resist, and if the Mining Association will listen to no language other than industrial conflict, then that is the language we shall be compelled to use.' I have been in the mining areas. I have been in the miners' homes, and I am proud to say that miners have been in my home. I have seen the conditions under which they live. The fact that three-quarters of a million of men are compelled to live on an average wage of 44s. 8d. per week should bring home a sense of responsibility to everyone in this House, not only to the miners' leaders but to people like myself who are not directly associated with the industry. I have here two pay-tickets of friends of mine in South Wales. One of those men is a surface worker with a wage of £2 3s. 3d. at the end of his week's work. The other one—I do not know whether he is called a mines carpenter or a mines timber-man—has a wage of £2 8s. 6d. per week. Each of these men has to pay out 10s. per week. One of the men has 33s. left of his 43s. for himself, his wife and two children. The Noble Lord the Minister without Portfolio spoke the other day about 10s. per head as a food allowance. These people have not got 10s. per head. They have at the most 8s. per head, and if they spend the 8s. on food there is nothing whatever left for boots or clothes or pleasure or for any of the other things that Members of this House find so necessary to add to the enjoyment and pleasure of life. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) recently spoke about a pamphlet published some years ago, "The Miner's Next Step." The miner's next step to-day is 2s. a day increase, no complicated economic philosophy but just a little more, and even with that he still would be a poor man.

I have been to the Rhondda Valley and I have seen the desolation there. I was told by friends of mine that years ago that Valley was one of the most glorious in Wales, with trees covering the slopes from the stream, and they even told me that the squirrel then could pass from the head of the Valley down to the sea without touching the ground. There are no trees there to-day; they have gone into the mines. There is no joy there to-day. There is grim, hard necessity all the time. What is there about this industry that seems to corrode everything it touches? It wipes out the beauty of nature and leaves desolation behind; it brings heartbreak and anxiety and dearth and want into the miners' homes. It even seems to affect the mine owners and to make them the most difficult set of employers in the whole range of British industry. It even affects Prime Ministers, and makes them send letters to America which surely on reflection they regret.

Here is the problem still waiting for solution. After 150 years of investigation, after Royal Commissions, decent miners still seek a reasonable standard of life, not a luxurious standard. I was very much impressed by a wireless broadcast statement that came from an observer of the end of the stay-in strike in South Wales. He described the men, who were fighting desperately to preserve their trade union coming up to the surface after a week underground, and instead, as one might have expected, of their dropping into boasting and exultation after they had won their point, they stood in a ring and sang their Welsh hymn "Cwm Rhondda." Hon. Members will know the words: Guide me oh Thou great Jehovah, Pilgrim through a barren land. It is a very barren land for the miner— I am weak, but Thou art mighty Guard me with Thy powerful hand. Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven, Feed me till I want no more. These men who suffer from the lack of the bread of earth take their victory in that spirit. They deserve better treatment at the hands of this House and of the nation.

It may be urged that there is not the money in this industry to provide for the miner the standard of life that he deserves. No one on this bench can accept that for a moment. If we did, it would mean that every employer who had mismanaged his industry would be entitled to sweat his workpeople. When one says that the money is not in the industry it all depends on what is meant by the term "industry" and where the frontiers of that industry are put. If the frontier is put immediately round the pit, there may be some strength in the contention, but if the frontier is put where we claim it ought to be put, where the commodity is sold to the consumer, there is money enough and to spare to lift the standard of life of the working collier to a much higher figure. I am a railway man. I hear from railway officers that consignments of coal change hands three times between Nottingham and London. People outside the House, the ordinary consumers of coal, are pointing out that they are paying 50s. a ton for coal, whereas the pithead price is, shall I say, £1 [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Let us err on the side of generosity. The carriage costs 10s. The man-in-the-street points out that that amounts to 30s. for all the essential services of finding the coal and bringing it to him. Out of the additional pound cannot the 2s. be found to give the miners exactly what they ask? No wonder that miners use the phrase that miners' wages ought to follow the ton of coal, not to the pithead, but to the ultimate consumer.

The simple terms of my Motion entitle me to wonder how any Member of the House can vote against it. It is simply a, registration of opinion that a miner is entitled to an increase in wages on a national basis. I have endeavoured to discover any scheme of reasoning which would justify hon. Members going into the Lobby against the Motion. It seems to me that there is only one that could justify it, and that is a political philosophy which appears to me to be completely wrong. It may be held in some quarters that there are two classes of mankind—those born to comfort and luxury, and those, who are larger numerically, born to servitude, poverty and hardship. On that philosophy I can understand a logical case in favour of rejecting this Motion, but, apart from that, I can see none. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper, and I cannot help wondering whether it would have been placed on the Order Paper as a Motion if the hon. Gentleman who put it down had had the good fortune, as I had, of securing a place in the Ballot. Would hon. Gentlemen on the other side, if they had been fortunate enough to secure the right by the Ballot to place a Motion on the Order Paper, have put down this expression of sympathy with the miners? I am rather puzzled about some of the terms of the Amendment. It seems to me very belated, for the Coal Mines Act has been on the Statute Book for four or five years, and selling agencies are covered by it, yet there has been no offer of selling agencies until now. We on this side know that the mineowners have never voluntarily given any increase of wages or better conditions to the mineworkers.

I feel uncomfortable about the mining situation. I think that we all ought to feel uncomfortable about it, and to feel that there ought to be enough wisdom in this House so to arrange and reorganise the industry that these essential servants of the community—for all the industry of the country rests on the bent back of the miner—may have provided for them a, standard of life appropriate to the unpleasantness and hardness of their calling. There are 750,000 miners outside this House who are looking to us for justice. One miner once said to me, "It would be a good thing for Britain if every Member of Parliament were obliged Lo live under miners' conditions for two months; they would know exactly what life means for these people." I am very grateful that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines is here. In the Parliament of 1929 he often addressed the House from, I think, pretty well the place from which I am speaking, or, perhaps, a little further behind. I always disagreed with his speeches, but I always thoroughly enjoyed them. They were scintillating, almost jocular. Although I enjoyed them, I do not think I enjoyed them quite as much as the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself did, but he provided an atmosphere of pleasantness in our debates.

I want to appeal to him to-day to make a speech that will bring pleasure to us. He has, no doubt, thought out the lines he is going to take in this Debate. It may be that he has some notes. I beg him to keep those notes in his pocket and to make a speech saying that the Government accept the Motion and recommend its acceptance by the whole House. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask that the Government should accept this simple expression of opinion that the miners' wages should be increased. If the Minister will do that there will go out, as a result of this Debate, to all the mine fields of the country a message bringing hope, expectancy and fortitude to these people. They are waiting for something that will say to them that their future is going to be—I was about to say brighter, but that is the wrong word to use in this connection—going to be less gloomy than their past has been. In this community of ours we ought to be able to provide that the workers in this essential industry are given a standard of life that is reasonable and proper in the circumstances. Half the miners' waking hours are spent in the pit. The community ought to guarantee that his leisure hours are hours that bring enjoyment and satisfaction to him. Let the House pass this Motion and the joy in the mine fields will be great.

4.26 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

Speaking for the miners, I am sure they will be very thankful for the speech of my hon. Friend in moving this Motion. What I lack in eloquence I hope that I shall make up in experience. It is a far cry from the days of Edward III to the present day, but it is interesting to recall how in those days they complained about coal coming from the north of England to London because of the sulphurous fumes that arose from it. I fully appreciate the difficulties of the man-in-the-street with regard to the question of miners' wages and conditions. One of the difficulties with which I meet is that people outside the industry wonder what this question of wages all means. Taking my own district as an example, from the coal face to the bank we arrange for no fewer than 36 grades of workers of all ages, wages and conditions. At the bank we have 29 grades, and the mechanics and engineering classes have seven. One can, therefore, appreciate the difficulties of being asked to explain what the question of wages between miners and mine-owners means. I think that the best reply we can give to the owners' reply is the owners' reply itself. My eloquent Friend, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), handed me the other day a newspaper which contained the owners' reply. It was the "Western Mail" of 6th December. I do not know whether it is a Socialist paper or not: I am not wondering about the politics, but I am about this statement.

The writer says that the miners have £115 10s. average wage a year, and that works out, the statement says, at £2 5s. per week. That is the best answer that can be given on behalf of those men who are throwing their very lives into this work. The writer puts the gilt on the gingerbread when he claims that the pieceworkers are getting £3 2s. 6d. That is the reflection on the other fellow who can make his average only £2 5s. Who are the pieceworkers, and how many of them are there? With mechanisation going on in the mines, we find that in the older collieries, where it is impossible to introduce machining methods, the datal wage man is more and more coming in.

The writer goes on to say: "Just look at the comparisons in real wages." Any man who can speak of £2 55. as a "real wage" has my sympathy, and the man who gets it has my prayers. Under the heading of "A comparison of real wages" the writer makes some amazing statements. He goes back to conditions in 1914, taking 100 as the standard for 1914. In that year they were receiving on an average 6s. 5½d. a shift, he says, and in 1934 9s. 1¾d. He says the purchasing power of that 6s. 5½d. was 100, and the purchasing power of 9s. 1¾d. with the cost of living at 141 is 100.4. What a marvellous advance we have gained in 20 years, an advance of.4 per cent. We have struggled, we have struck, we have fought, we have reasoned, we have begged, and now we come before this big assembly to ask whether it is fair that after 20 years we have an advance of only.4. But that is not the worst. The writer of this article, whoever he is, states that in 1914 we produced 14.54 cwt. per man shift. Now, after 20 years, we are producing 22.94 cwt. For the difference between 14 cwt. and 22 cwt. we are receiving the magnificent addition of.4 to real wages.


Those figures do not apply to the country generally, I think.


The average for the whole country is 23 cwt., or near it. I am told that the hon. Member who interrupted me comes from Derbyshire. In Derbyshire they are the aristrocrats of the minefields. Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are a good deal better off than we are, because of their markets and their opportunities. There, I am informed, the figure is 27 cwt. The right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for the Colonies used to advise us after the War to produce more. We have produced more and we get less. We have thrown all our energy into our work and we get less, both in sympathy and in kind. I can give a striking example. In the County of Durham, where 102,000 miners are employed, there are wages at 6s. 6½d. per shift. The average number of days worked per week last year was 4.79. That gives an average weekly wage of 31s. 3d., which works out at 4s. 5½d. a day, before the colliery deductions are made. In the case of a man and wife and three children, if the two parents have each three meals a day at a cost of 6d. a meal—an expenditure of 3s.—and the three children have each three meals at 2d. a meal—an expenditure of 1s. 6d.—the total expenditure on food per day is 4s. 6d., whereas the gross wage is only 4s. 5½d.

I know that what I am stating about the 6s. 6½d. a day is correct, because it happens that my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Whiteley) and I fixed up that wage, under duress, and it remains, and we cannot get it moved, and we are now asking the House to help us to get wages raised to the level of common decency. We do not know what exactly is meant by the Amendment to this Motion which has been placed on the Order Paper. Does it mean that we have to go back to the districts to settle these matters? I cannot discuss the Amendment until it has been moved, but I should like an answer on that point from the Minister when he replies. I would say beforehand that we do not want to be driven back into the districts, because in Durham we are always told that owing to the heavy burden of the poor rates it is utterly impossible for the owners to pay the wages which we ask.

I would recall to the House what happened when we as a party brought in a Bill to set up selling agencies such as the Government are now proposing to put into operation. It met with very much opposition from the other side of the House, in which the Liberals joined. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whose imagination is prolific, whose wrists are more eloquent than his tongue, described what would happen to the poor in London if the Miners' Federation and the mine-owners got together on the question of selling agencies. He said, "Those two parties will meet together, they will arrange prices that will suit them both, providing for the profit of the one side and the easement of the other, until, when we come down in the house in the morning, the cold frost will be upon the window panes." He himself has gone away to escape the frost at the present time, but he has left us in a frost. That was what the right hon. Gentleman argued, and nobody cheered him harder than the hon. and gallant Member the present Secretary for Nines. I am looking for a quotation. Talk about maiden speeches. When you have been away from this House for four years you feel like a maiden when you return. An hon. Friend of mine asked the former Secretary of Mines, who is now the Minister of Labour, about evasions. We are not responsible for evasions. The evasions are as follows—this is from the former Secretary for Mines:

  1. "(a) The formation of subsidiary companies to which coal is sold at the statutory minimum price; the subsidiary companies in turn selling it at less than the minimum price, their losses being borne by the parent company.
  2. (b) Selling coal at prices below the minimum price ruling.
  3. (c) Selling more than one kind of coal at a time to one consumer, one kind at the minimum price and the other at a discount.
  4. (d) Selling a parcel of coal to a customer the greater part at the minimum price and the balance invoiced at a nominal price of a few pence per ton.
  5. (e) The payment of exorbitant remuneration to selling agents, whose functions are purely nominal, to sell at prices below the minimum, making good their losses from their remuneration.
  6. (f) The purchase of stores from customers at inflated prices.
  7. (g) Coke is outside Part I of the 1930 Act. Selling of coal and coke together, the former at a minimum price, the latter at a substantial discount of the current market rate."
If there are to be selling agencies, we hope the Government will see that we are protected from the owners, who ought to be protected from themselves. We are asked sometimes where the extra money which we seek for the miners is to be found. I see by this morning's paper that another £2,000,000 is going to the owners of tramp steamers, £2,000,000 having already been expended in that way. I suggest that there is a possibility of obtaining the extra money for the miners, without any hardship to anybody, from the subsidiary trades which we have to supply with coal. We as miners feel that it is hard that we have to generate all the power used for driving ships, or engines, or for producing electricity, and that those who handle that power after we have created it get 3s. or 4s. a day more than we do.

I am a member of the Sunderland Town Council, which generates its own supply of electricity. That electricity service, even in a small, circumscribed town like Sunderland, made so much money that we were able to give great advantages to consumers. That electricity supply service has been making thousands a year, although there is not a, man employed who receives less than £3 5s. a week—unless it be the labourers, who get £2 17s. 6d., with a week's holiday a year. Time-and-a-half is paid for overtime and double pay for Sunday work. As I have said, the men who produce the coal used for the generation of that electricity get 3s. or 4s. a day less than the electricity service employés. I am speaking for myself and I do not know what the Miners' Federation have to say, but I do not care where I get the money as long as I get it. I make no bones about that. Let it be remembered that the Government put up food prices, particularly the price of bacon. They have taken from an ordinary working family in Durham, by the increase in the price of bacon, no less than 1s. 6d. a week. If the Government have increased the cost of foodstuffs in that way they ought to consider the price of gas and electricity and domestic coal. I have met coalowners more than once, and their argument has always been that they cannot afford to pay higher wages. One of them said to me once: "If you would only get those railwaymen's wages down we could help." I replied: "But are you not a railway director, colonel?" He admitted that he was. "Are you not a steelowner?" The answer was "Yes." "Are you not a shipowner" "Yes." I said: "You are on the whole of the industrial chessboard. What you lose on one you pick up on the other."

We are not anxious to strike. Let me tell the Secretary for Mines that I have been through more strikes than I hope he will ever go through. It has been a test once or twice. I have been through them for years, and I have always come out of them in debt. The sad fact has been that you have to make up that debt with somebody else at your side. We are not anxious for a fight, and we have put it off as long as possible, but I give you a guarantee that the courage of the men will be unequalled once they start. Let me give you an idea of the difficulties. I do not want to put forward any sob-stuff. We had an after-dinner speech from the Colonial Secretary the other night. After-dinner speeches should never be delivered from that Box. If he had made that speech at six o'clock in the morning instead of ten o'clock at night he would not have known where he was. [Interruption.] I did not suggest that he had had more liquids than solids; I meant to say that it would have been a more sensible speech.

He warned us that the agricultural labourer would have his turn. If there is any man in this House who would have a regard for the agricultural labourer it would be your humble servant. My father was one, and agricultural labourers have trickled from the hills of Wales and of Scotland into the mines of Durham. They came also from Kent and Norfolk into Northumberland, as the Minister without Portfolio knows. They came from Cornwall. There was a bitterness for years. They came with muscles like iron and no knowledge of trade unionism, until they were exploited by the owners and we civilised them during the process. They are there, and we welcome them. We have mixed them with the Northern courage and now they stand as respectable citizens. I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman who chided us, that we have never begrudged the farm labourer that to which he is entitled, and the best work that the Colonial Secretary could do, in spite of his reduction in status, is to convert the people on that side to the farm labourer, and not us.

In the last election I had to go round visiting my constituents, as we have all done. I went to houses in the Division of the Lord President of the Council. Part of my Division makes a little island or an oasis in his. He found the oasis and I found the victory. I went there and asked for a certain voter who was on the register. I asked where his house was, and I was told "In the pigeon croft." Honestly I did not believe it, but I found three people with votes living in the pigeon croft where they had been driven by the means test. To save their families they were living there, and they had their vote from the pigeon croft. Some of the men had medals of service upon their chests. I could find there men with Mons medals, starving in the pigeon crofts of Durham because of the application of your means test and the horror of the conditions of their industry.

There is something which hurts me far more, and that is that we have to send our daughters by thousands from home. I attended the funeral of the little girl who went back to save the life of a cook. That little heroine was driven from her home in my division because of the conditions that obtained. We are appealing, we are begging the Government. The owners can and will act, if they are brought to book as they ought to be. If they are not, the responsibility is yours. We have always been put down as keen for striking. We have never been keen for striking. We have been keen for a standard of life commensurate with common decency, and we only ask that the conditions of the industry shall give that standard. There are nearly a million men and their dependants who will fight as they have never fought before for a recognition to which they are fully entitled. Advantage has been taken of their price lists, and they are brokenhearted by the treatment that they are receiving. They have asked you politically and they have asked you industrially. They ask you now in the humanest sense that you should give them and their wives and families the conditions of life to which they are entitled by the service that they have given to the State.

4.52 p.m.


I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "House," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: sympathises with the desire of the miners to achieve a higher standard of life, it welcomes the declaration of the Government that central sales organisations are to be established by 1st July next, and urges the representatives of employers and employed to enter forthwith into discussions to ascertain what increase In wage-rates is immediately possible, having regard to the present and potential capacity of the industry. Before I discuss the terms of the Amendment it will be the general desire that I should congratulate the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Motion upon their charming speeches. I welcome back to the House two personal friends, and I should like to thank them for the non-party spirit in which they have put their case. The public have for some time been deeply concerned about the condition of the coal miners and the way in which many of them have to earn their livings. That concern is due I think to the fact that before the War the coal miner was the best paid of our industrial workers, and to-day he is certainly not the best paid. He is one of the worst paid. I remember just about 20 years ago, when the deep coal mines were being sunk in the South Yorkshire coalfield, how the coming of the coal mines drew labour from the farms and railways, and generally raised the standard of wages in the district.

Average figures, as the last speaker said, are not a true guide to the conditions under which the miners live. The average earnings per shift at the present time, as hon. Members opposite know, are 9s. 3d. for the whole country, but that average conceals very wide discrepancies. In that average figure are included workers at the coal face whose average wage, in the county of Yorkshire from which I come, is 13s. At the other end of the scale are the surface workers in Scotland, who only average 6s. 2d. The discrepancies which are concealed by the presentation of the average figures have been greatly accentuated in the last two years by the introduction of machine mining. Under machine mining you displace perhaps 80 coal hewers, who may be getting 11s., 12s. or 13s. per shift, and in place of them you put 20 men, who probably earn 17s. or 18s. a shift, and 20 others who simply go on to day wages. The proportion of men on day wages has been increased by the introduction of machine mining.

A second consideration that particularly applies to the coalfields from which I come is that we have to work, as a maximum at the present time, a five-day week. Under the agreements in the midland coalfields, Saturday's working is a shorter day than the remainder, with the result that it is quite impossible to get through the machine mining operations in the course of a short day. That means that the maximum number of days' work which a man can get is five, and that means that in slack times when trade falls off, the man gets only four days' work per week.

The result of those two factors combined is, first of all, that the larger proportion of men on the minimum wages, combined with a shorter working week than the men used to get in the days before the War, produces a great deal of discontent and hardship. It is important for the House to realise that even if the industry becomes more prosperous and the ascertained percentages rise above the minimum, these low-paid men will be the very last to benefit because, under the arrangements we have for granting what we call subsistence allowances, the percentage has to rise at least nine points above the minimum before the day wage men get any increase. The result of these factors is a large proportion of adult workmen of 21 years of age and over, who are either married or would like to get married, and who are living on wages which very often are only a little better than the dole. That is the case which, I think, the miners have to put before the country at the present time, and that is the cause of the sympathy which the public feel with the case which the miners have put.

The problem of the industry is to secure more money at the pit head. Whenever a crisis occurs in the mining industry, all sorts of wild-cat schemes are put forward either for obtaining economies in the cost of production or for saving money in the cost of distribution. I do not believe that any spectacular savings are to be made at the present time in the cost of producing coal. Small savings we always can and do make, but a lot of nonsense is talked about concentrating production on the most economic units. Every coal mine has already concentrated to the utmost upon the most economic districts in the pits. That by itself has resulted in a considerable fall in the cost of production.

When we come to the cost of distributing coal, it is very easy to mislead the public by comparing the price of coal at the pit head with the price which the householder pays for coal when it is delivered into his cellar. It is easy to mislead the public, because the public never remember that 80 per cent. of the coal sold in this country is not bought by household consumers at all. It goes into industry, and it is not quite fair to suggest that because there is a wide gap, and there may be a certain amount of waste in the distribution of household coal, that the same thing applies to the 89 per cent. which goes to industry. Eighty per cent. of the coal of the country goes direct from the collieries to the big industrial consumers, and unless we are going to have a fall in railway rates, I see very little prospect of securing any substantial sum from economy in distributing that industrial coal. When it comes to the other 20 per cent., the coal used for household purposes, there is a wide gap between the price at the pit and the price paid by the consumer. In London you probably pay 46s. a ton for a decent quality house coal. Of that, 15s. goes to the coal merchant, 1s. goes to the hire of the railway wagon, 12s. goes to the railway company for drawing the coal from the coalfields to London, and it leaves about 18s. for the colliery.

Unless we are to have a reduction in rail freights there is going to be no saving on that 12s. a ton from the Midland coalfields down to London. Is there any possible saving in the 15s. between the price at which the coal merchant buys and the price at which the coal merchant sells? It has always seemed to me to be a very wide gap, but we do have one great safeguard, and that is that far and away the largest coal merchants in the country, dealing in household coal, are the Co-operative Societies. The Co-operative Societies are good friends to the collieries, and I am going to make no attack upon them at all. We look to the Co-operative Societies to keep a check upon the profits made by the coal merchants. The Co-operative Societies to-day sell annually about 6,000,000 tons of household coal, and I should very much like the titular head of the Co-operative movement, if he were here, to tell us whether he thinks there is any substantial saving to be made on the coal merchants' margin. I heard him speak at a public luncheon not many months ago, and he suggested as a possible maximum figure a saving, I think, of about 1s., and a saving of that sort, although it is a substantial sum on house coal, if you spread it over the whole of the coal sold in the country would amount only to about 2d. a ton. If any savings can be made, we at the collieries shall be grateful for having them passed on to us.

We are driven relentlessly to this conclusion, that we must get higher prices at the pithead. I do not think it is practical politics to put anything on to the price of house coal at the present time. It is the most valuable trade which the collieries have. It pays us the best price, but it is a declining market because householders are going over more and more to other forms of heat. It follows, therefore, that the increased prices have to come from the big industrial consumers. That may be an unpopular thing to say, but I think it is necessary and justified. I should not have advocated this policy 18 months or two years ago, but at the present time we have seen the price of industrial coal falling lower and lower, and industry to-day is getting its coal cheaper than it got it at the worst time of the slump in 1930 or 1931. Moreover, the big coal-using industries are very much more prosperous now than they were two or three years ago—iron and steel, gas and the big electricity undertakings for instance. We have to get up the price of fuel used for industrial purposes. How is that to be done?

Mr. William Graham's Act of 1930, which provided for fixed minimum prices at the pithead, was quite unworkable. The coalowners have been blamed because the fixed minimum prices did not work. It was an unworkable scheme from the start. I do not want to blow my own trumpet, but I pointed that out in the Committee stage of the Bill and it has proved a most disastrous Act. I am not, speaking of the Coal Mines Act as a whole but of the price-fixing sections of the 1930 Act. We are now going to follow out what is a more hopeful line, the establishment of central selling agencies, and any profits made by these agencies are going to be credited to the wages ascertainments. Any bigger prices realised for coal sold through the central selling schemes will be for the benefit of the wages ascertainments. It is going to take some little time to get this central selling into operation, and it will experience, like all great experiments, difficulties at the outset. Do not expect too much from central selling in the early stages.

Now I think we have to face up to the problem of the exporting districts. It is all very well to say that we are going to put up the price of coal sold to industry in this country, but how far it is possible to increase the coal sold for export is rather a different matter.


You say the increased selling price is definitely to go to the miners' wages in the ascertainments. But in the ascertainments at the present time if you increase it by 1s. 6d. a ton in Yorkshire we shall not get 2d. out of it. Will the hon. Gentleman answer that question?


That is not quite the fact. There is a big deficiency on the Yorkshire ascertainments, but it is perfectly open, under the wages agreement, for either side to give a month's notice to terminate the agreement, in which case that deficiency would automatically be wiped out, and the ascertainment percentage for the early months of next year will in all probability rise above the minimum of 32 per cent. Let me go back to the problem of the exporting districts. I believe that it may be possible to get small increases in price in the exporting districts. I believe that the prices taken are in part due to competition between the producers for the export trade. It will, however, be much more difficult to get a substantial rise in price for export coal as compared with coal sold for the home market. Moreover, and this is important, the districts in which the wages are the lowest to-day are the districts which do the largest proportion of export trade. I do not rule out the possibility of putting a levy on coal sold in this country for the benefit of passing it over to those collieries who sell coal abroad. I do not rule that out as a subject for negotiation and discussion. But I think if we who sell most of our coal in the home market are going in effect to subsidise collieries which sell a great deal of their coal in the export markets we must have certain safeguards.

From South Wales we ought to have a safeguard that the ascertainment system both in the spirit and in the letter is being honoured by the South Wales coal owners. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) in a maiden speech the other day voiced suspicions which are generally felt about the ascertainment system in South Wales, and speaking as a Midland coal owner I should not be prepared to subsidise the South Wales export trade unless I was assured that the men were getting a square deal. So far as the North-East coast—Durham and Northumberland—is concerned, these districts have increased their share of the available trade during the last five years by pursuing a price-cutting policy. I do not rule out the possibility of subsidising their exports, but if we do that they must give some guarantee that they are not going to dump their coal into the inland market.


Can the hon. Member assure me that under the central selling agencies the elimination of overlapping in the export market will be a good thing, in particular in bringing in an amount of revenue for the industry?


I have no doubt that the setting up of central sales organisations will reduce the number of fitters factors and merchants in the trade to some extent. I turn to the reasons which have prompted me and my hon. friends in putting the Amendment on the Order Paper. The Motion as it stands concedes in full the claims of the Miners' Federation. I think that is a correct interpretation of the Motion on the Order Paper. Is it wise for this House, when difficult and delicate negotiations are in progress outside, negotiations of the greatest importance to the industrial welfare of the country for the next four years, to plunge in and pass a resolution casting all its weight on one side of the negotiations? Is it wise for the House to do that? There is a second reason which prompts me not to support the Motion which has been put down. That is this. If this House is going to pass definite resolutions in favour of particular claims by particular bodies of industrial workers surely it becomes a logical conclusion that it is up to this House to find the money wherewith those claims can be met. In the present temper of the House and the country I do not think there is any probability of a subsidy from public funds being granted to the coal industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I certainly hope myself it will not be given.

Those are the reasons why we have placed the Amendment on the Order Paper. It expresses the sympathy which the public feel, and which I think every Member of this House feels, with the claims of the miners for some improvement in their standard; it welcomes the declaration of the Government that central selling organisations are going to be set up with a view to enhancing the proceeds of the industry; and, finally, it urges the representatives of employers and employed to enter forthwith into discussions—[An Holy. MEMBER: "Nationally?"]—nationally, to ascertain what increase in wage rates is immediately possible, having regard to the present and potential capacity of the industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not in the Amendment."] I say advisedly "national discussions." The only reason why the word "national" is not in the Amendment is because it is obviously necessary to have both national and district discussions before this problem can be settled. In districts where there are agreements which have one or two years to run, it would obviously be necessary for those agreements to be modified.


Would the hon. Member accept the words "district and national discussions"?


As an Amendment to my Amendment?




I certainly would. The point that I am making is that here we have a most absurd position. On behalf of the men there is one negotiating body; on behalf of the owners there are 13 area wages boards; and they can only meet through the intervention of the Minister for Mines. I say deliberately that that is an undignified position for a great industry. We in Yorkshire are ready and willing to negotiate an increase in wages, at any rate for the low-paid men, straight away, but we are handicapped in entering into a negotiation of that sort because, unless there are national negotiations, it is almost impossible for us to increase our wages costs without injuring our competitive power as against other districts, and putting our own men to some extent out of work. It seems to me to be absurd that we should have co-ordinated control of coal output, that we should have co-ordinated control of central selling, and that we should have unco-ordinated wages. Arbitration would be better than a stoppage, but I believe that conciliation would be better than either, and, therefore, I want to urge upon my fellow-coalowners outside this House who do not take the same view as I do that we should forget the days of 1921 and 1926, that we should recognise that they have some good men in the Miners' Federation to-day, men who can make a great contribution to the solution of these difficult problems, and that we should get together as soon as possible and hammer out a solution, instead of coming in this undignified way to the Minister for Mines before a meeting can be arranged.

I and my hon. Friends have framed this Amendment in a non-party spirit, and I have tried to move it in a non-party spirit. Would it be too much to ask my hon. Friends opposite to consider whether it is not possible for them, in the interests of peace in the coal industry, to accept the Amendment which we have put down? If they could see their way to do that, we should be setting an example to those outside which those outside would be well advised to follow.

5.21 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I desire to associate myself particularly with what my hon. Friend opposite said as to the necessity for considering the question of negotiation on a national as well as a local basis. One question that we all have to face, owners as well as men, is: What is the frontier through which a line can be drawn as regards wage ascertainments, and what is the attitude that industry as a whole is going to take when it is asked to pay more for its coal? It is suggested that the frontier might stretch as far as the consumer, and that those who are now only getting the benefit of wages ascertainments as far as the pithead ought to be allowed to share in all the other profits. In that regard I would like to point out to my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches that it is necessary to consider all the people who are engaged in those secondary industries, and I would ask them to remember that there is nothing like the profit in those industries that they suggest. In fact, it is very difficult to-day to sell at any price many of the by-products of coal. Apart from that, our immediate problem—and one has to go by stages in all these matters—is the question of being able to obtain a higher price for our coal.

I agree with my hon. Friend that we can leave on one side the eternal question of efficiency, because most people who know anything about coal know that our coalfields are as efficient as, nay, a good deal more efficient than, most other coalfields throughout the world. The point really is, how can we persuade 80 per cent. of the users of coal to accept the arguments which have been brought forward to-day? I am entirely at one with the sentiments expressed by the mover and seconder of the Motion, but it is not enough to express them; they have to be translated into some practical action, and it is the practical end that I hope we are all out to attain.

We have to face the inescapable fact that coal is no longer a monopoly. We have to recognise that in producing coal we are simply producing a possible motive force that is in competition with other sources of energy, and, therefore, we have to bear in mind that anything which we do in regard to prices must always be conditioned by the possibility of competition with these other sources of energy. One of them is oil, which undoubtedly is being used in the modern Diesel engine in such a way as to make it a very strong competitor with power produced from coal alone. If we increase the costs of those who use our coal, we shall have to be careful that that increase in costs does not reach a limit which makes it possible for these other competitors to come in, and so lessen the quantity of coal that we are able to sell.

The next competitor that we have to consider is electricity, and perhaps, as one who is interested both in the production of coal and in the use of coal for the production of electricity, I can see this matter a little more in perspective than those who are only engaged on one side or the other. It is true that power stations are very big users of coal, and I do not think they ought to forget that in the last 10 years the efficiency of modern boilers and modern grates has been such that they have been able to decrease very largely the amount of coal that they use, and still get a much greater percentage of power. To that extent the increase in efficiency has worked against us as coal producers, but to that extent they ought to remember that the amount of coal that they use no longer bears the same relation to their total costs that it used to bear, and that, therefore, they should be more in a position to consider some amount of higher charge.

Nevertheless, it is fair to point out that anything which increases their expenditure on coal they have to consider very carefully, because they have a very heavy dead weight of debt to bear in the form of all the charges that they have had to pay and are still paying year by year in order to get the same phase and frequency throughout the whole country; and the very large debt contracted by the Central Electricity Board is also in the end thrown back on the producers of electricity, and finally on the consumers. Consumers can be charged increased prices up to a certain point, and they will pay them, but there comes a time when they say it seems to them that the increase is too great, and, therefore, they will exercise their brains to the utmost in trying to find some alternative. It is, I believe, possible that a good many consumers of electricity would find alternatives, and certain stations might be worked by Diesel engines, which in the end would be worse for us, because they would not use any coal at all. We have to consider these points very carefully.


Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that electricity can be generated by Diesel-driven plant at competitive prices?


If you put electric power stations into the position, by charging too much for their coal—


What is the margin?


I am not going into the question in detail; I am simply making the point that you cannot go beyond a certain stage. Electrical production plants driven by oil are now being produced for single users in considerable numbers, and a great deal of work has been done on that subject. If the price of coal goes beyond a certain point, individual users will take up that method of production, and to that extent they will cease to take current from the power stations, which in the long run, will find their costs up. Surely that is a point which hon. Members will appreciate.

There is another aspect that should be borne in mind. The railway companies ought not to grumble at being asked to pay a little more for their coal. They get a great deal out of the carriage of coal; indeed, the rates we are paying to-day are some 70 per cent. more than they were before the War. Moreover, the railway companies are also sharing the advantages that come from more efficient coal consumption in their engines, and to that extent they gain, while we lose, through a lower consumption of coal. A further point, which I think hon. Members above the Gangway do not altogether appreciate, is that, in all these industries that we have been considering, labour represents a very large proportion of the final costs of the industry. In fact, to-day it is a very large proportion of the final cost in most industries. All these other industries are sheltered. Coal is the only one that is not sheltered. In ascertainments in the future all those who are working under sheltered conditions should be asked to remember, when they apply for an increase of wages, often on the basis of the cost of living, which has nothing to do with the general aspect of the case, that they are benefiting by the fact that the industries that employ them are using coal at a rate which does not allow the miner a decent, economic standard of life.

So far as the export of coal is concerned, we have to face the simple fact that we cannot dictate the price. If arrangements are made for central selling agencies, I do not think it is impossible for the principle to be accepted that if you put the whole industry, so to speak, under one control, you must, if you are to get fairness, have some contribution from the home market. It would be obviously unfair to raise the wages of men engaged in the home market and leave the export market out. I do not see that there would be any great difficulty in getting that done. I hope for something from the selling agencies not only in the direction of getting perhaps a little better market than we get now, but they may possibly lead to a saving in the transport of coal, in the handling of coal and in the placing of coal, because undoubtedly in time we must look forward to having coal sold for consumption in the districts in which it is produced as far as possible before any other coal comes in. In that way we may be able to save a good deal in transport, because now we get a lot of journeys across the country, all of which have to be paid for.

I have never seen a better will on both sides to consider this question. A real obligation rests not only on the two sides of this industry but on industry generally to appreciate that, if we are going, in the future, on the principle of fairness to everyone concerned, industry as a whole has to face all these inequalities and try to put them straight. Hon. Members above the Gangway are asking for what I may term a flat rate increase. Most of them do not mean that, do not want it and do not expect to get it. I will tell them why. The first thing that moves in every man's mind when he is working with his fellows is to redress patent inequalities within the limits of their own work. If you look throughout the industry you will find that a considerable class of men are well paid and take home good money. The boys and learners on the whole are not worse off than the boys and learners in other industries. The surface men are not badly off compared with work outside the pits. On the whole it is perfectly apparent where the shoe pinches. We know the particular class of people who are badly paid and who ought to be paid better. If you want the sympathy of the country, if you want to work logically to a logical end, you have to see that these people are the first to benefit and, if any money can be obtained, it has to go there first and, when we have put them on a fair level, we can talk about a general advance all round.

5.36 p.m.


I am certain that I express the view of my colleagues when I say that we appreciate very much the tone and spirit of the Mover of the Amendment. It is an unfortunate thing that that is not the tone and spirit that is shown when the representatives of the mine workers' Federation are permitted to enter into negotiations with the mine owners' Association. If the same spirit prevailed in those negotiations there would be some hope of progress being made. The last speaker is under a misapprehension as to what the Miners' Federation is demanding. They are demanding a flat rate increase of 2s. per day on miners' wages and they are asking for a national conference and a national agreement. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said he did not, oppose a national agreement. If he were in a position to express the views of the whole of the coalowners, there would be no crisis and there would be no difficulty, and we should be able to settle our differences in a very short time. Unfortunately that is not the attitude that is adopted by those who speak on behalf of the mineowners. They have evidently made up their mind that there is to be no national agreement, and that this claim must be dealt with by each of the 13 districts. The Miners' Federation have made it clear that the increase must be a flat rate increase and we are not prepared to admit that some of our men are well paid and that only a comparatively few, as stated by the last speaker, require to be dealt with.


I did not say so.


By the time he had separated all the different categories it seemed as if only a few surface workers required to be levelled up a little bit. That is not the claim that is made by the Miners' Federation. We maintain that miners' wages generally are too low and that steps must be taken at once to improve them. We cannot possibly wait until the schemes proposed by the Government come into operation. The hon. Member opposite suggested that we should be content to go on for a little time until the selling agencies are allowed to work. We are not against selling agencies being set up, but we shall require a great deal more evidence than we have had submitted yet that they are going to be of very material assistance in improving wages. The hon. Member himself did not hold out very much hope of a very substantial increase from selling agencies. He said that we had almost reached the limit upon which we can increase the price of coal to the domestic consumer—that there was a possibility of something being got from the big industrial undertakings, and that we might get something in the shape of an increase in income from our export trade but practically nothing from domestic consumers. We say that miners' wages require to be improved without our having to wait for this proposal or for the other which has been so extensively discussed during the past week—mining royalties. I do not know whether the Secretary for Mines expects that we are going to have something from that source which will enable us to secure higher wages. At any rate, the miners are satisfied that neither from the Government proposals with regard to selling agencies nor royalties are we going to get very much to enable the colliery owners to pay higher wages.

The owners tell us that the money is not in the industry and that we cannot expect to get more out of it than is in it. Why is there not money in the industry? It is due to the cut-throat competition between district and district. It is because we have not yet been able to get rid of the senseless competition which has been going on during the whole time that we have had the coal trade in operation, coalowners competing against each other for markets and cutting prices and always coming back to the miner and telling him that the money is not in the industry, and that until money is in the industry they cannot afford to pay the wages that the men demand.

We were hoping that after the passing of the Coal Mines Act of 1930 we were going to have a serious attempt made by the British coalowners to get into the industry the money that would enable them to pay the miners a decent living wage, but despite the fact that that Measure has been on the Statute Book for a number of years, it has not been used for the purpose of trying to improve conditions in the mining industry. I believe that I am correct in saying that when that Measure was introduced in the House of Commons there was a provision in it for a central levy which would have given the hon. Member exactly what he has asked for this afternoon. It was proposed that in order to enable us to keep our position, and perhaps improve it, in the export markets, there should be a central levy. At the instigation of certain parties—I am not sure whether it was withdrawn or rejected—the proposal was not allowed to appear in the Act. Consequently, we are not in the position at this moment of having the power of a central levy whereby the export trade of this country could have been helped.

I very sincerely hope that at any rate a little of the spirit that has animated the hon. Gentleman opposite will animate the coalowners within the next few weeks. The time is running very short. The miners have been very patient, and I believe that the sympathy that is being expressed on the other side of the House and outside as far as the general public are concerned is very largely due to the fact that the miners have been exceedingly patient under the conditions to which they have had to submit during the past few years. It is not a matter of months but of years—practically during the whole time that the present agreements have been in operation—that the miners have suffered and worked under conditions under which it is not right that they should be asked to work. I believe that it is the knowledge of that fact outside this House as well as inside that has evoked the sympathy of the public. As far as the miners are concerned, we want to retain that public sympathy. We will not willingly throw it away, because we know that a very great deal depends upon how the public feel with regard to the matter as to the success or non-success of the claim that we are making. We do not want to do anything that will alienate public sympathy, and consequently we are not rushing headlong into another strike.

It has been said from these benches already that the miners have had their share of the strikes that have taken place in the industrial world in Great Britain. We have had our share of the strikes. We have hardly ever been out of trouble with the employers, either sectionally or nationally. The miners do not want to enter into another struggle such as we had in 1926. But do not let the coalowners imagine that because the miners do not want another struggle of that description, such a struggle may not be forced upon us. We want to do nothing rash, but at the same time the miners have made up their minds that their financial position must be improved. We say that the coalowners, if they care, can improve the position of the miners of this country. The power is in their hands, and if they say that the power is not in their hands, then the power can be taken by the Government. The Government can take any power that is necessary in order to compel the colliery owners to deal with this matter in a proper spirit.

Public sympathy is being expressed very forcibly in many quarters, and in some of the newspapers which very heartily support the present Government we are beginning to see some very plain things. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will take note of some of the things that are being said by the newspapers, who evidently are only too well aware of public opinion with regard to the claim of the miners. I come from the East of Scotland, and in our area there circulates a very well conducted evening newspaper—"The Edinburgh Evening News," one of the best evening newspapers in Scotland, and one with a very wide circulation. Here is what this newspaper said only yesterday: What the coalowners require to be told is that there is going to be no stoppage in this country. The coalowners do not actually work the mines, and if need be the Government can take immediate powers to do so. This is a newspaper which supports the National Government. It is saying that if the coalowners are not prepared to settle with the miners, the Government should take power to work the mines themselves. It goes on to say: The coalowners should be taught to see that they are living in 1935 and that business must be conducted in the general interest and not to the peril of the whole country. What that newspaper is saying the general public is saying outside. They say that they have had enough of the struggles between the mineowners and the miners, because when a struggle takes place between them—I mean when a strike or a lock-out actually takes place—it is just about as bitter a struggle as can be engaged in by any employer and workman in this country. The miners wish to see this question amicably settled, but it must be settled on the basis of an all-round advance in wages. That is the claim that is made. There must be an all-round advance in miners' wages, and the very first thing that they desire is that this dispute should be discussed nationally between representatives of the Mining Association and representatives of the Miners' Federation. I do not know their objection. I do not know why they are refusing to meet us on this question. Do they imagine for a moment that because certain district agreements exist there call be no national stoppage? Is that their idea? Do they believe that there can be no national stoppage so long as these district agreements exist? Perhaps hon. Gentlemen on the other side are hoping that by and by, perhaps in a few weeks' time, we shall have the Home Secretary coming to that Box once again and telling the miners that they have committed an illegal act by breaking their district agreements. I hope that they will not bank upon that. I trust that there will be a sincere effort on the part of the colliery owners to meet the representatives of the miners and to discuss this question on the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman who last spoke on this side of the House. If they can satisfy the leaders of the miners that some miners in this country are so well paid that they do not require any more, well and good, but I am afraid that they will have a very difficult task. At any rate, the claim that has been made admits of no dubiety. It is a claim for a flat rate increase in the wages of the miners, and that the agreement, whatever that agreement is, shall be an agreement on national lines.

5.56 p.m.


As representing a constituency which to a considerable extent is governed by the mining vote, and not having myself been fortunate enough to receive many of the miners' votes, I wish to say at once that although many of them were hostile to me I bear no hostility to them, and I hope that this matter can be settled without bringing any ill-feeling into it at all. It is a mistake that so many hon. Gentlemen opposite and representatives of the miners in different parts of the country bring so much feeling into this question. It is to be regretted that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) should describe the coalowners as avaricious, malicious, and short-sighted. That may be good enough for the hustings of Seaham, but it is certainly not good enough for the House of Commons, and I hope to show, at any rate that the coal-owners are not avaricious in the slightest degree. They may have been shortsighted—[An HON. MEMBER,; "Philanthropists!"]—Yes, I could put up a strong case to show that they are in the category of philanthropists.

There is a great deal of misunderstanding with regard to this question, both among the general public and among hon. Members in this House. The coal trade is, unfortunately, a declining trade. It is not the fault of the coalowners that oil has taken the place of coal, and that science has advanced or that makers of steel do not use as much coal as they used to do ten or 20 years ago. You have to consider the situation as it is, and you have to look at it in this way. For the last eight years, since the stoppage in the coal trade of 1926, there has only been £5,000,000 profit on an estimated capital in the industry of £200,000,000. During those eight years 1,850,000,000 tons of coal have been produced, and the profits of the coalowners has been two-thirds of a penny per ton and during those years in which the coal-owners have had £5,000,000, the miners have had £850,000,000 in wages. Those are figures which cannot be denied, and that is the difficulty of the situation that you are up against. I took the trouble the other day to look into the figures of all the public companies that are engaged in the production of coal, and coal only, and I found that in the 73 public companies I analysed the average dividend during the last seven years has been 2.85 per cent., that 34 of them have paid no dividends at all for seven years, and that many of them are owing bank overdrafts, some even to the extent of £1,200,000. When you have this state of affairs in the trade, how are you to get the large amount of money—£18,000,000 a year—which is required immediately to meet the miners' demands 4 It can only be got by an increase in the price at the pit-head.

The allegations that the coalowners have been short-sighted is to a certain extent justified. In my own experience small coal is being sold to-day at as low a price as 5s. 7d. a ton at the pithead. The reason for that, as the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) said, is that there is so much cut-throat competition between the owners in the different districts and also between owners in the same district. That sort of thing often happens in a declining industry. When you have an industry which in 1913 produced 287,000,000 tons of coal and last year produced 220,000,000 tons, a decrease of something over 25 per cent., that sort of thing happens. When you have these declines in the demand for coal you are bound to have competition without the owners coming together. It is always difficult to come together when the price of an article is going down.

I suggest that the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission, Sir Ernest Gower's Commission, which is costing a lot of money, and which is trying to force amalgamations on unwilling coalowners, should be taken advantage of by the Government and be put to the work of trying to co-ordinate prices in the districts and also prices between districts, so that better prices can be realised at the pithead. That Commission is doing very little at the present time and it might do a great deal of good in co-ordinating prices. What is the sense of coal miners in Derbyshire working only three or four days a week because coal is being brought coastwise from Durham, where it is produced at lower wages than we pay in Derbyshire? That coal is coming at 3s. to 4s. per ton freight and is being plunged on the London market to the detriment of the miners of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. That sort of thing ought to be stopped, but it will not be brought about very easily, and it will be some considerable time before any advance in miners' wages can be brought about by selling agencies.

It has been said that 1s. 3d. a ton of any increased prices must be realised before anything can go to the miners. It could easily be arranged between the coalowners that any advance in price, any improvement in the trade, should be shared with the men, and that they should not rigidly adhere to the 85–15 percentage of ascertainment. I would suggest—and I know that I am saying what the great majority of coal owners in the country do not think—to the Minister of Mines that a minimum wage Bill on the lines of the Liberal Minimum Wage Bill of 1912, which was brought in by Mr. Asquith, should be passed and that the matter should be referred to the different districts, which should be co-ordinated nationally, and that some immediate increase should be given to the men if necessary by these means, if other means fail. Although the case has perhaps been over-stated by hon. Members opposite and by many people throughout the country, everyone realises that having regard to the work done and the risks undergone, the wages paid to the mine workers are not really commensurate with the risks.

The chief suggestion that I would make is that the Coal Mines' Reorganisation Commission should be put to some useful work in devoting its energies to co-ordinating the prices. It is more essential that prices should be co-ordinated and that a better price at the pithead should be realised than that attempts should be made to force unwilling owners to amalgamate and that miners should be thrown out of work. I do not think that there will be any great difficulty in raising the pithead price, especially to industrial consumers, at the present time. It might be that with the economies which would take place in central selling only an additional shilling would be necessary, or it might be 1s. 6d. Having regard to the position of the industry I think that industrial users of coal would willingly pay that extra money if they felt that the miners were going to get a better deal. Speaking as a user of over 50,000 tons of coal per annum, I would willingly pay something extra for my coal if I felt that we could come to some happy solution of this very difficult question. I would impress upon the Minister for Mines that the most useful thing to be done at the moment is to bring the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission into action in setting about doing something towards co-ordinating prices.

6.8 p.m.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Captain Crookshank)

Perhaps it will be convenient if I briefly intervene at this stage of the Debate. It is a Private Members' day and it is in accordance with my own personal record, I suppose, that I should take part in it. I well remember what I suffered in the past from overlong orations from this bench on Wednesdays, and how I listened with impatience. Therefore, I will not inflict a long speech upon the House. I should like to say, first of all, that while, naturally, I regret the absence of those whom they have replaced if the absent hon. Members had to go there is no one that I would welcome more to our midst than the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, and not less for the very admirable way in which they stated their case. As there are many new Members it may not be out of place, especially as this is the first Wednesday on which we have discussed Private Members' Motions for a long time—there were none last year—if I say that the object of these discussions is that matters should be freely debated without necessarily any party bias; matters which are of interest to the constituents of the hon. Members taking part, or which at the particular moment at which they are raised are matters of national importance.

The Mover of the Motion told us that he has not many miners in Central Hackney. Therefore he took advantage of his second reason that this is a matter which is engaging very seriously pubic attention and that it is right and proper that in this House, the great council of the nation, we should hear views on the question expressed freely from both sides. I do not wish to take up the various points which have been made by hon. Members because of the personal position that I hold at the moment, but it may be helpful not only to the House but to other people if I say a few words on one point. I refer to central selling. It is specifically mentioned in the Amendment and references to it have been the undercurrent of all the speeches. The position in regard to that matter is, that for some time past there has been a growing appreciation among the coalowners as a whole that something must be done to improve the proceeds of the industry. Accordingly, on 1st January last a voluntary selling arrangement was started in the Lothians, and this was followed up in Lancashire. That scheme came into effect on 1st July. It is a curious thing that for some reason or other not known to me—I was not concerned with these matters at that time—although there was an opportunity for a discussion on the subject that opportunity was not taken in the House, and there was only a, very brief reference to it in another place. Therefore, there has been no explanation, except to those who read official documents, of what is involved.

The scheme for Lancashire and Cheshire was introduced under statutory authority in accordance with Part I of the Act of 1930, and since that date all coal produced in Lancashire and Cheshire has been sold by a central organisation in the district. The adoption of that statutory provision led other districts to think more seriously than they had done before on this problem. It has been possible for me to receive on behalf of the Government, from Sir Evan Williams, Chairman of the Central Council of Colliery Owners, on behalf of the coal mining districts, an assurance that by the middle of next year there will be an organisation for the complete and effective control of the sale of coal set up in each coal mining district, with co-ordination between the districts by the Central Council. My point in regard to that is this, that these schemes will come up in the form of Amendments to the existing district schemes under the Act of 1930. Draft Orders will have to come before the House for approval after which the detailed Amendments will have to be approved by me.

The Government made it quite clear to those who are drafting the schemes that there are certain essential conditions which we shall demand before we put the machinery of the Act into operation and give statutory effect to the schemes. The first condition is, that the schemes must cover all the coalowners in each district and that they must have a measure of permanency; that is, they are not to be drafted as something which is here to-day and gone to-morrow. Secondly, they must effectually prevent inter-colliery competition and, thirdly, they must be so drawn that evasions cannot exist. These are the conditions which the Government have laid down before these particular schemes are drafted. Of course, there is the Lancashire scheme, which in many cases may serve as a model. The conditions which I have outlined are those upon which we shall insist and upon which I think we can rely as being effective for the purpose we have in mind.


What about inter-district competition?


That will be dealt with by the fact that there is co-ordination centrally. I thought that I had stated that. If I did not, I should like to make it clear that there is to be central co-ordination in these district schemes. There is one smaller point, which was raised by the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) yesterday, together with an interjection by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), which may have confused some hon. Members who are not particularly versed in regard to this problem. I think the interjection of my hon. Friend behind me was that the figure for the purpose of wage ascertainment was agreed to between the accountants on both sides. That is the case as regards ancilliary concerns. The hon. Member for Central Bradford was not referring to that, nor was I. We were dealing with the allegation that there were subsidiary selling companies. I was answering him on that point and not on the point put by the hon. Member for South Croydon. It is my intention, in connection with this reorganisation, to see that the collieries concerned are credited with the proper proceeds. If these allegations are correct it is my intention to try and deal with them so that the proper prices can come into the ascertainment, which is the whole object of the central selling scheme. It will be realised that it is a work of very great magnitude to get these schemes devised, but all concerned are working with the utmost zeal to try and get them drafted and the advice of my Department is at their disposal to make sure that the schemes do contain the provisions which the Government have laid down. I do not propose to make a long speech, I think it is in the interests of everybody concerned that I should be as brief as possible—


And as definite as possible.


I pass to the Motion which we are discussing. I must remind the House that the Government, and particularly myself, speaking as I do for the Government, are at the moment, and have been for some time past, acting as negotiators between two parties in an industrial dispute about wages. I am not conscious of having said a single word expressing my own view while in the position of negotiator as to the merits of the claims of either side, otherwise how could I negotiate? If there is to be a Division on the Amendment as against the Motion or on the Motion as against the Amendment, my colleagues and I on this bench will not take part in it, because the Motion specifically states a claim on behalf of the men in the dispute, and the hon. Member who moved the Amendment in a wise, courageous and statesmanlike speech, which appealed to everybody in the House, will be the first to admit that his Amendment is supported by two hon. Members who are coalowners. Therefore, it is quite impracticable for the Government, who are negotiating in this dispute through me, to take part in the Division on one side or the other while these negotiations are proceeding because it might be represented in this House and outside as identifying the Government with one or other of the parties to the dispute. That is not a position which, while the negotiations are proceeding, as I am happy to say they are, the Governent can take up. It is for the House to decide these matters on private Members' days.

Some hon. Members may expect me to say something as to how the negotiations are going. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] They applaud the suggestion, but I wonder if they are quite so sure that I should say anything about them now. I think not. While they are still going on, and while I hope that the good feeling which has characterised these negotiations up to the present moment, and the atmosphere which has been generated in the House this afternoon, may continue, and while I hope there will continue to be an appreciation on both sides of the difficulties of the other, I do not think it would be at all wise for me to say anything as to what has been going on or the prospects, immediate or remote. I am fortified in my attitude when I remember that the night before last the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who has had a lifelong experience of negotiations in industrial matters, said that it would be unwise to express any opinion on the part of the Government. The Prime Minister echoed very much the same sentiments the other evening, and one whom both right hon. Gentlemen will agree is wiser than they has said: To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. While I am entrusted with the task which I am trying to carry out to the best of my ability, I think this is indeed a time to keep silent on the issues involved.


The House is expected to adjourn at the end of next week. On the assumption that the negotiations have not been completed by that time, can we have an assurance that an opportunity will be afforded to the House to discuss the matter before the Adjournment? Obviously, there will be no opportunity during the vacation, and anything may happen.


I cannot answer a hypothetical question, and matters of that kind are not in my hands. They are in the hands of the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary. I cannot promise anything like that.

6.23 p.m.


The most disappointing speech of the Debate is that of the Secretary for Mines. He spent three parts of his time in dealing with selling agencies, which we shall have an opportunity of discussing in detail when they come before the House, but could tell us nothing at all about the matter in which the country is vitally concerned—the negotiations which he says are proceeding. May I say that we are very much indebted to the Secretary for Mines for the part he has taken in these negotiations, but we had hoped that he would have indicated to the House and the country the intentions of the Government, seeing that the most emphatic declarations have been made by the coal-owners in connection with this dispute. I agree that we have had very remark able speeches in the Debate. It is not for me to attempt to dot the i's and cross the t's of the speeches made by my two hon. Friends. They put up an excellent case for the Motion. Their speeches were human, and appealed to every Member of the House. We also listened with interest to the remarkable speech of the Mover of the Amendment and the hon. Member who seconded. He did not go quite as far as the hon. Member who moved the Amendment. We would that all coalowners in the country were of the opinion of the two hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment. If that was the case, the task of the Secretary for Mines would be much easier than it is now, but, unfortunately, all coalowners do not share the views of the hon. Members and we have to deal with those who really wield the power.

I do not propose in my short speech to interfere with the general atmosphere which has existed since the commencement of the Debate, but it is right to say that at no time during the last eight years has public opinion been so much on the side of the miners as it is now. You can scarcely take up a newspaper which does not declare that the claims of the miners are just and should be met. During the Debate we have not heard one hon. Member defending the wages paid to miners at present, not only those who come from mining districts but those who are actually interested in the management side of the industry. The present wages of the miners cannot be justified. Indeed, I have not heard a coalowner when you approached him individually who was prepared to justify the wages of the miners. What is the real cause of low wages? Are the miners in any way responsible for the condition which exists at present in the mining industry? I say without hesitation that the miners have responded to every demand made upon them. Output, during the last eight years, has increased by six cwts. per man per shift, that is, taking the average throughout the country. I am not going to suggest that the introduction of machinery is not in some way responsible for the increased output, but no one will deny that the employment of the miners has been considerably intensified and it is almost entirely a result of the contribution of the miners plus the assistance of machinery which is responsible for the increased output that has taken place.

But every increase of output and effort on behalf of the miners is always met, unfortunately, with reduced wages on the part of the mine owners. Only within the last two months the miners in South Wales were faced with an application for a reduction of 2½ per cent. in their wages. It was afterwards withdrawn; but that is the tendency. We feel that it is our duty to face the issue and to ask who is really responsible? I cannot quote a better authority than the Prime Minister. On Tuesday of last week, when, dealing with the mining industry, he said: We all know, of course, that the coal-mining business is carried on in many districts and in a very large number of separate units—a method of industry which cannot conduce to economy, and which undoubtedly tends to depress the general wage level."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1935; col. 69, Vol. 307.] The miners are not responsible for that. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg) asked whether the coalowners were responsible for the introduction of oil in place of coal. What they are responsible for is the disposal of the commodity produced by the industry and what they have not yet realised is that it is for them to assess the value of the commodity which they are responsible for selling and on which the miners are dependent for their wages. That is the function of the owners, and we say without hesitation, and we are supported in this view by quotations from the coal-owners themselves, that they have not recognised their responsibility. I could quote many statements as to the inter-colliery and inter-district competition which has brought down the price of coal and is responsible for the very low wages of the miners. I quote only one. These are the words of a prominent coalowner: We all know that instead of getting better prices than we did when we began to function under the 1930 Act we are really getting lower prices. That is due to the facts that we have placed more coal on the market than there was a demand for, that we have not been able to co-ordinate the regulations of prices as between district and district and that we have not been able to prevent in the districts the evasions of the provisions of the schemes which were designed for maintaining prices at a remunerative level. That is a quotation from a speech made by Sir Evan Williams, President of the Mining Association. He does not say that someone else is responsible. He says in effect that the coalowners are responsible for the conditions referred to in that speech and those conditions are responsible for the depressed state of the industry at the present time. We were pleased to hear that negotiations are proceeding and I understand that there are negotiations not only between the Secretary for Mines and the mineowners, but also between the mineowners and the large industrial consumers of coal. May we express the hope that both sets of negotiations will be successful? But what a humiliating position for the coal-owners. Here we have the producers of a commodity which is vital to industrial production in this country, vital to the steel industry, to the railways, to the electricity, gas and other industries, vital to the domestic comfort of the people and because the coalowners cannot agree among themselves on the value of the commodity, for the disposal of which they are responsible, they have to go to the large users of coal and beg of them an increased price in order to pay the wages which the miners are justified in demanding. The easier thing would be for the owners themselves to fix the price. Sir John Cadman, whose name is well known, I am sure, to every hon. Member here, made this statement not long ago: To me it appears that the coal industry under-rates the value and the merits of the fuel that it produces. There is no question about that. Who will say that large industrial consumers of coal cannot stand an increase in the pithead price to meet the legitimate demands of the miners. The hon. Member for Eccleshall (Sir G. Ellis) said that coal had not a monopoly in power production. It has almost a monopoly. The 164,000,000 tons of coal required for domestic and industrial consumption in this country is all produced in this country. No one can send coal into this country as cheaply as it can be produced here and seven or eight years ago the industrial users of coal were prepared to pay nearly 4s. a ton more for home-produced coal than they are paying at present. During the stoppage of 1926 when coal was so essential, not only to allow the industrial life of the nation to be continued but also to assist in defeating the legitimate claims of the miners, these very industrial users of coal were prepared to pay and had to pay nearly twice as much as the average price in the course of last year. In 1926 they were paying 31s. 2d. per ton for coal and the average price for coal and coke used in the generation of electricity last year was we are told by the Minister of Transport 15s. 3d. per ton.

Coal used in the production of iron and steel in 1934 is down by 14,000,000 tons as compared with 1913, and a statement recently made shows that, as a result of economies in the use of coal, due to the efforts of the Fuel Research Department, the iron and steel industry in the last eight years has been able to save no less than £4,500,000 each year. We say that the coalowners ought to face their responsibilities. Other industrialists look on with amusement and amazement at the inefficient methods of the coalowners in selling the coal. I have in mind a statement made by the director of one of the largest gas-prolucing concerns in this country. He said it was essential for the purpose of maintaining a low price of coal that there should be free competition between different collieries, so as to enable gas undertakings to buy the most suitable coal as cheaply as possible. That is a concern which has statutory rights and enjoys a monopoly in a certain district. If only the rights which gas and electricity undertakings have by statute were applied to the coal industry, the coalowners of this country would be in El Dorado and we would not have to complain as we have to complain constantly about the low wages paid in the industry.

Much has been said about the export trade. An hon. Member has expressed the view that there should be some slight increase in the price paid for the coal which is exported. I do not want to be too hard but I say without hesitation that the coalowners in the exporting districts have not done all that they could do to protect the price obtainable for coal in the countries to which it is being exported. It has been the watchword of the coalowners since 1921 that the only way to restore prosperity to the industry is to cut prices. Notwithstanding the fact that prices have been cut we have seen our export trade falling off to an alarming extent. If exports continue for the last two months of this year as they have been for the first 10 months, the export of coal from this country will be down by 1,000,000 tons as compared with last year and bunker coal will be down by another 1,000,000 tons as compared with last year and last year's figure was only 38,000,000 tons as compared with 54,000,000 tons in 1930. In our four principal markets in Europe, France, Italy, Germany and Belgium where we had a market for 28,500,000 tons in 1930 this year we shall not have a market for more than 14,000,000 tons notwithstanding the continuous cutting in prices.

I welcome the statement of the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). I think it was very courageous on his part to say that the districts producing the coal for inland purposes are prepared to face a levy for our export trade. I think the position of the export coal trade must be faced by the industry as a whole and that the Government themselves must understand that the export coal trade is indispensable to the balance of trade between this and other countries. We in this country are not dealing with the matter as coal export is being dealt with in Germany and Poland. At the present moment we are told that subsidies to the extent of nearly 6s. per ton have been paid in some districts abroad in order to enable coal there to compete with coal exported from this country. If the coalowners had, followed the advice given to them from time to time by the Miners' Federation the coal export trade would not be in the difficulties in which it now finds itself.

On the question of a national agreement we expected the Secretary for Mines to make some statement. There is no doubt as to where the Government stand on this question of national negotiation and a national agreement. The Secretary for Mines has already committed himself upon this matter, as has the Lord President of the Council. The latter is no longer in this House but while he was a Member he publicly advised the owners that it would be in their interests to engage in national negotiation. The Government, through the Secretary for Mines, recently stated that they would welcome national negotiation and the Secretary for Mines said he would call a conference if both sides were willing to attend. May we ask him which side has refused to attend such a conference? I think I can state without fear of contradiction that it was the owners' side. The Government have encouraged national negotiation in these matters and I am sure they would deplore the fact, if, in those industries where national agreements have existed for 15 or 20 years past, those national agreements were to be broken, and a return made to district settlements. As the Government hold that view, I think they ought to take their courage in their hands in this case. I am inclined to think that some coalowners would prefer a national stoppage to a national agreement. In this matter the Government must make up their minds as to what attitude they would adopt if we were forced to that position.

I think it is safer to say, on behalf of all of us who went through 1926, that we do not want another 1926. I do not think the Government want another 1926. The cost in misery and anxiety and in the bad feeling which existed, not only during but after the struggle, was such that we had an experience that the country would never desire to have again. Not only so, but is it realised what the financial cost of the 1926 stoppage was to the country? Only five items—decrease in exports and re-exports; imports of coal, patent fuel, and transport; loss in shopkeepers' sales by loss in wages; civil, military, and other emergency costs; and loss of trade—run up a financial bill of no less than £303,000,000. That amount is sufficient to meet the cost of what the miners ask for in increase of wages, not only during the next 12 months, but for the next 30 years, and that is what is being risked in connection with this question.

The only reference that the coalowners could make against national agreements in the manifesto which they recently issued was that during the course of national agreements we had stoppages in the industry in 1921 and in 1926. Who was responsible? In 1921 it was a combination of coalowners and the Government, because the miners in South Wales and in other parts of the country refused to accept a reduction in their wages amounting in South Wales to nearly 10s. a day, half of their wages, and the miners were locked out. In 1926, because the miners again refused to agree to an extension of the working day from seven to eight hours, they were locked out. In the two instances referred to in the mineowners' manifesto it was the mineowners themselves who invited a stoppage, and unfortunately the Government assisted them in both cases to beat down the legitimate claims of the miners. We ask the Government to use a little sympathy, if sympathy is to be given, on the other side during the course of these negotiations.

It was held in 1926 that the miners were led by a lot of extremists. We do not agree. The leaders in 1926 carried out the instructions of the miners in the coal fields, but those who say that the miners in 1926 were led by extremists cannot say that the Miners' Federation at present is not led by men with very great patience and ability. After all, it must be remembered that this crisis has not been sprung upon us during the last fortnight. The Government and the coalowners have known of this demand for nearly six months, and no one has shown greater patience than have the miners' leaders and the miners' executive in dealing with this matter. Sir Evan Williams, in September of this year, complained about the propaganda which was going on by the miners for the demands which they were making. That complaint was very quickly responded to by Mr. Ebbie Edwards, Secretary to the Mineworkers Association, when he said that "the only way that we can deal with what we consider to be the legitimate grievances which are suffered by the miners is to endeavour to get public opinion on our side. If you, the mineowners, will agree to meet us in negotiation, then we will call off this campaign at once." That invitation was not responded to.

I would like to know what the position is, because, as far as we can see, the position at the moment is at a standstill. I understand that the Secretary for Mines is continuing his negotiations. May I say to him that a very important event is taking place on Wednesday of next week as far as the miners are concerned? There is a miners' conference, and we would that the miners' leaders should have put to them the maximum offer of the mineowners within the next day or two, otherwise there will be considerable difficulty. It must be remembered that the ballot vote which was taken by the miners was very significant. Of the 438,000 who participated in that ballot, only 30,000 were against the miners' executive having the power to tender notices. The conference will be held, as I say, on Wednesday of next week, and it is as well to be quite frank with the Government and the House and to state that unless suitable terms are presented to the conference, I have no doubt at all about it that not the leaders but the representatives of the miners of this country coming from the coalfields of the country will demand that notices shall be tendered. I do not use that as a threat. I simply use it for the purpose of endeavouring to expedite the negotiations which are proceeding and for the Government to recognise the seriousness of the position as we see it.

There can be no justification for any hostility to the demands of the miners at the present time. My hon. Friend suggested that the flat rate wage claim is too high, and he would prefer that it be left for negotiation. Well, let us have negotiation. He himself was very fair when he put it that, so far as the miners are concerned, there is one negotiating body representing the whole of the miners of the country, but that there are 13 negotiating bodies representing the owners. The owners can meet to discuss every question concerning their industry, concerning the well being of the industry and their own interests, with the exception of wages. They cannot meet to discuss wages. Is that a reasonable attitude to adopt? As far back as 1925 the Samuel Commission reported: We do not see how such a wage, in a community so small and so closely united as Great Britain, can ultimately be fixed by other than national authorities. To give a free hand to each district to settle its own standard of living without consultation and without regard to any other is to expose the standards of the more efficient and prosperous areas … to undermining by the weaker areas. That statement was confirmed by the hon. Member for North Leeds to-day. He inferred that the Yorkshire coalowners cannot pay the Yorkshire miners what they would like to pay them because of inter-district competition and because of the low wages prevailing in other districts. There is only one way in which that matter can be dealt with, and that is by national agreements and national negotiations, and we would appeal to the Prime Minister and to the Government to make a definite declaration that it is the intention of the Government to see that in the coalmining industry national negotiations and national agreements shall exist, as in nearly every other important industry in this country. Let there be no misunderstanding. The miners are determined that they will no longer allow their wages and conditions of labour to be determined by bad organisation and mismanagement on the selling side of coal. We have persistently demanded that that should be altered.

We do not want a stoppage. A stoppage will not settle the difficulties with which the industry is confronted, and the problem will be left after the stoppage takes place, if it does take place. We, therefore, ask the House and the Government to agree with us that the owners should not shelter behind conditions which they could alter if they only themselves had the desire to do it. Coal is still the most basic of our basic industries. It carried our first industrial revolution on its back, and indirectly, through electricity, gas, and home-produced oil, it is bearing a great part in the new industrial revolution which is happening before our eyes. It is our duty, in the interests of the nation and the miners, to assess the new role of coal mining in the national fuel and power policy. The coal industry has a future, if it is only faced with vision and courage. Every week widespread poverty is being endured by millions of people because of the failure of those in charge of the industry to keep abreast of the times. We ask how much longer the mining community of this country will have to suffer as they are suffering at the present time.

6.56 p.m.


We want to get away from turning the coal industry into what is largely a matter of memories and recriminations. There is a great deal that can be done now. I am in the coal trade, and it is a great disappointment, when you think of the immense amount of money that has been spent on mechanising and bringing the mines up to date, that we should find ourselves in the position in which we are to-day. It used to be very properly levelled at us, that is, the coalowners, that in the past the mines were not up-to-date and that if they were, conditions would be better. Well, we have remedied that matter very fully, and the mines in this country, taken as a whole, are now far more efficient than those of any other country, so that that is not a charge which can be brought against the industry to-day. Two things have come out of mechanisation. One is, of course, unemployment, the unemployment which is never going to be employed again in the coalfields of England, and that has come from mechanisation and from improved methods of getting coal. I am not going to deal with that now, because it is a matter for some other discussion, but mechanisation has also produced the curious result that men now are not getting enough money, and yet those that remain in the industry in the ordinary course ought to be getting more. I agree that if you have a machine which enables one man to do the work of two men, that one man does not necessarily get the wages of two men, but he certainly does, or should get, an increase because of the increased productiveness he is bringing into the industry. Therefore, with this increase of mechanisation which has brought a decrease in the numbers of miners employed, it is no good trying to defend the present amount of wages by saying that in proportion they are higher than they were in 1914, because they are entitled to be greater than that.

The 1930 Act, I believe, was a good one in practically every way. I still believe it could have been better if it had not been for the mutilations which were made in it from the other side. I am referring to Part I, which was, after all, very largely taken by the Minister of that day from what had been in operation with us in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, which was the C.C.A. There were a great many things in that which were put into the 1930 Act. I was very interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) say that we might come back to a subsidy from the trade for export coal. It is an advance, to my mind, that it is possible to subsidise from the industry another part, and not to get subsidies from the Front Bench there. The hon. Member for North Leeds said that the 1930 Act had failed. Why has it failed? This is a serious point and one that, if this Act is to be enlarged, has got to be taken into consideration. It has not failed because of the men's side, and it has failed in operation largely because of what are called owners. The people in the country ought to realise that it is very difficult to say what is an owner. I happen to be one, because I own and work collieries which were my family's before me. You have given by the 1930 Act power to people who are called owners but who are not really coal-owners.

It is important to remember that you are working for gold, not coal, and that you will not be able to pay proper wages and carry on the industry properly unless you bear that in mind. You have now people who are called owners, with high responsibility, working in the industry, who in many cases are promoted salesmen, people who work very hard on one side of the industry. They are now put into a position where they have to deal with the industry as a whole and make the 1930 Act work. The Act failed largely because of that difficulty of the so-called owners.

After all, minimum prices were included and minimum prices were the means by which people thought you could pay proper wages, and I have no doubt in my mind that although there were difficulties in the original scheme of prices, if there had been any desire to make minimum prices pay, it could have been into the four corners of the Act. There are people who are not keen for that sort of action—to try to make this side of the Act work. This is where it has worked in a glaring way, because the failure of the minimum prices has produced serious results, for it has meant that the price of house coal is too high. When the price of house coal is too high it means that you do not get the demand for it, and you get people looking elsewhere for heating and fire, and therefore you are ruining yourselves by having your house coal too high in price. The reason it is too high is this. About 45 per cent. may be smalls. In my own district there is one of the most glaring cases. There you have a city with very rich industries, people like Players and Boots. For all of these the buying of coal is not affecting their costs to any appreciable degree; it would not be noticed in their final dividends at the end of the year. Yet you will find people going around undercutting from all the collieries in Nottinghamshire, which means that you are pulling down the price of coal to an uneconomic level, and to keep up your average price you have to put up the price of house coal.

I do seriously say to the Minister that I believe that if you are to get these schemes to work in the coal trade it is no good leaving it to the coalowners to run their own industry. I know it sounds wrong, but you will have to have it. In many cases you cannot work by having only the members of the industry on the various boards of the industry and not independent people there, too. The members of the industry cannot divorce themselves from the very strong ties they have. It will have to come if you are to make some advance. I do not want to say anything greatly controversial. On the question of the national wages agreement I do not know what the hon. Member for North Leeds really means in his Amendment. I wonder whether he would insert the word "national" before "discussions."


I am prepared to accept an Amendment inserting the words "national and district" in front of the word "discussions."


I think the Members sitting on these Benches would accept that if it could be moved and seconded, and then we could vote on that, because I do feel strongly that you do not want, as the Minister said, a too definite statement to go out from this House. I do not think that at the time it is going to help. Never has the miners' case been stronger than it is to-day. Never has it been better received in the country than to-day, and I am certain of this: you will get a result which is going to be favourable to the miners, because this time we have not had the recriminations of the past. We are all trying to put this industry back where it should be, the most profitable and biggest in the State. There is a great chance in the coal industry for people who want to employ labour and people who want to employ capital. A better time is coming, and I hope that after these negotiations we shall come to a settlement which will make that possible.

7.7 p.m.


We have just listened to a very valuable contribution to the Debate to-day, which has been carried out in a spirit of toleration such as befits a motion by a Private Member, and while we have surveyed the whole of the coal mining industry very largely on one side from the economic aspects, it is just as well that from this side of the House we should seek to direct the attention not only of the House itself but of the country to the human aspect of this situation. Because after all, while we may be agreed on many of the difficulties, it is just as well that we should remind ourselves at times of ancient history with regard to the dislocation of the mining industry. In the reminder we have to go back to the days even of the Versailles Treaty which brought about, with all its implications of indemnity and reparations, the destruction of the basic industry of this country. The statesmen of the past and present Governments cannot absolve themselves from the implications that were brought about then, and the miners to-day, in visualising these aspects, are bound to consider how they have to suffer and bear the burdens that are imposed on them.

If the feeling, which has been expressed in all parts of the House, can be exercised as to the re-organisation and the re-arrangements that can help the position, so much the better for the country and for the miners. I am afraid that there will be disappointment that from the Government Front Bench this afternoon we have not had a fuller explanation of the position as it exists, because the public recognise that the organised bodies of the workers on the one side and of a vested interest and the economic side of the industry on the other, must be brought together to discuss amicably the difficulties that both have to meet, and which must be overcome before there can be better times in the mining areas. They have been the victims of isolation—not the isolation, as the poets and dreamers have reminded us, of splendour, but rather the isolation of destitution and distress. We have only to come into contact, as many Members on both sides probably do and particularly more recently during the Election, to realise the conditions of those engaged in the industry. There are the old men prematurely aged at 50 years who have been unemployed three or more years without any prospect of getting back into the industry and unable to adjust themselves to the changed conditions. There are the conditions that their families experience. There is, too, the younger generation in the coalfields of Britain. They are not unmindful, while they have been born to the tradition of the mining industry, that there are better opportunities further afield, of which they seek to avail themselves, although they are limited because of external competition. The younger men in their innermost hearts and souls have no desire to be engaged in the mining industry because of the conditions that may be enforced on them and because of the outlook, which can only be that of their forefathers of living under evil conditions with bad surroundings, the eternal problem of poverty and no expectation of anything better.

It is pleasing to note from the speech we have just heard that the Liberalism which is still retained in this House sees that the vested interest as controlled by the mineowners to-day cannot be allowed to go unchallenged, and that power should be taken out of their hands so that the industry can be carried on in the interests of the nation as a whole. I wish we could have had some fuller statement from the Government Front Bench as to what the Government's intentions are to cover the interim period before the setting up of the selling agencies. I wish, too, that they would announce that they intend to exercise their power to impose sanctions upon the oppressors who resist every effort that is made to bring them to sit round the conference table to discuss problems that affect not only the 750,000 miners and their dependents, but the nation as a whole. While we ask that these negotiations should continue, we might at least, before the end of this Debate, be given some hope that a statement will be made before we rise for the Recess.

There have been comparisons to-day between the prices for export and domestic coal. I represent a part of the mining industry that is mainly concerned in the production of domestic coal and we find that there is little differentiation. The wages are even more meagre than the average throughout the country, even comparing them with those in the export trade. Because of this differentiation it is essential, not merely that the discussions should take place locally, but that they should later be transferred to national negotiations for the final decision. I ask the Minister to exercise his powers to bring the parties together in order to find some formula that they can discuss round the table and to deal with the interim conditions prior to the establishment of the selling agencies which, in the Government's belief will, belated as they are, bring better conditions to the industry. No part of the community desires to see a conflict in the mine fields again. No part of the community can bear the responsibility of such a conflict being forced on the mining community. The miners have no more to lose than they are losing to-day. Working three days on and three days off, they have to seek transitional benefit, they are cast on to public assistance and many have to appeal to the heads of their families to help them over their difficulties.

Conditions cannot be made worse for the miners. Not only the mineowners, but the ancillary occupations that gain benefits from the mining industry, are concerned in this question. The industries of electricity and gas have been mentioned. The profits of private and public utility companies which produce electricity amounted in 1932–33 to about £40,000,000. The coal is supplied to them at uneconomic prices, which, according to the Minister of Transport, average 15s. 7d. per ton. Having practically the powers of a monopoly behind them, surely a re-assessment of those prices to electricity undertakings could be made, provided that any increase went directly to those actually engaged in producing the coal and bringing it from the bowels of the earth to the pithead. We believe on these benches that too much stress can be laid upon the question whether the mining industry can afford to pay higher wages. The human aspect is the only aspect that ought to be considered under the existing conditions. I ask the Government to do something between now and the Recess to bring the parties together for an amicable discussion so that they can bring about some degree of satisfaction, not only to the nation at large, but to the mining industry and those engaged in it, that they are being given a fair and square deal.

7.23 p.m.


I have no intention of trying to talk out the Motion, but perhaps in a few moments a layman may add to what a layman so admirably began this afternoon. I want to express adhesion to an old principle, the principle of the minimum wage, and to explain why I am giving a vote in favour of this Motion. I do not take it that it commits the House to the precise plan now in dispute. It is a concise statement that this House regards the miners as justified in claiming an immediate national increase. "Immediate," of course, means as soon as is practicable. I do not take "national" to mean uniform, but I do want an increase to be at least as national as this Government is national. What is to be affirmed here is the old principle of the minimum wage. About a generation ago we accepted the principle that industry should not be allowed to pay its workpeople below a reasonable standard. That was set out in the Trade Boards Act, and I have often wondered why the miners do not claim a trade board. All the machinery exists for a central body and district committees. That principle should now be applied one way or another. There can be no doubt that there is universal agreement that miners' wages in these days are below what is reasonable. I do not know whether hon. Members happened to read an extremely interesting paper that was read before the Royal Statistical Society last summer, from which it appeared that the miners and textile workers alone had suffered real serious diminution in money wages from 1924 to 1934. The difference between the suffering of the miners in that respect and almost all other workers except those in the textile trades was most remarkable. There is no reason why that should go on longer. The Government may be assured that if it is necessary for them to take determined and strong action, and to see that this industry is so organised as to be able to provide adequate wages it will have the support of public opinion of all sections. The simple old-fashioned way of doing this was merely to lay down a system of minimum wages and then leave it to the industry

to organise itself on those minimum wages. If the industry is incapable of doing that of itself, the Government must go the next stage and help actively in the organisation of the industry so that those wages are payable.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 157; Noes, 179.

Division No. 6.] AYES. [7.30 p.m.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Oliver, G. H.
Acland, R. T, D. (Barnstaple) Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Owen, Major G.
Adams, D. (Consett) Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Paling, W.
Adamson, W. M. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Parker, H. J. H.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Hardie, G. D. Parkinson, J. A.
Ammon, C. G. Harris, Sir P. A. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Potts, J.
Banfield, J. W. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Price, M. P.
Barnes, A. J. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Quibell, J. D.
Batey, J. Hicks, E. G. Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)
Bellenger, F. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Ritson, J.
Benson, G. Holdsworth, H. Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)
Bevan, A. Holland, A. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Broad, F. A. Hollins, A. Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
Bromfield, W. Hopkin, D. Rothschild, J. A. de
Brooke, W. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Rowson, G.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Buchanan, G. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Sanders, W. S.
Burke, W. A. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Seely, Sir H. M.
Cape, T. Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Sexton, T. M.
Charleton, H. C. Jones, J. J. (Silvertown) Shinwell, E.
Chater, D. Kelly, W. T. Silverman, S. S.
Cluse, W. S. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Compton, J. Kirby, B. V. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Kirkwood, D. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Daggar, G. Lathan, G. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Dalton, H. Lawson, J. J. Sorensen, R. W.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Leach, W. Stephen, C.
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Lee, F. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Leonard, W. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Leslie, J. R. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Day, H. Logan, D. G. Thorne, W.
Denman, Hon. R. D. Lunn, W. Thurtle, E.
Dobbie, W. Macdonald, G. (Ince) Tinker, J. J.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) McEntee, V. La T. Viant, S. P.
Ede, J. C. McGhee, H. G. Walkden, A. G.
Edge, Sir W. McGovern, J. Walker, J.
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.) McLaren, A. Watkins, F. C.
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Maclean, N. Watson, W. McL.
Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales) MacMillan, M. (Western Isles) Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. MacNeill, Weir, L. Welsh, J. C.
Foot, D. M. Mainwaring, W. H. Westwood, J.
Frankel, D. Mander, G. le M. White, H. Graham
Gallacher, W. Marklew, E. Whiteley, W.
Gardner, B. W. Marshall, F. Wilkinson, Ellen
Garro-Jones, G. M. Maxton, J. Williams. E. J. (Ogmore)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Messer, F. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Milner, Major J. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Gibbins, J. Montague, F. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.) Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Naylor, T. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Grenfell, D. R. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Mr. Mathers and Mr. Groves.
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Balniel, Lord Brocklebank, C. E. R.
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)
Apsley, Lord Baxter, A. Beverley Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)
Assheton, R. Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)
Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover) Beaumont, Han. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Bull, B. B.
Astor, Visc'tess (Plymouth, sutton) Birchall, Sir J. D. Bullock, Capt. M.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Bower, Comdr. R. T. Burton, Col. H. W.
Atholl, Duchess of Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W. Cartland, J. R. H.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Braithwaite, Major A. N. Carver, Major W. H.
Cary, R. A. Hartington, Marquess of Ramsden, Sir E.
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester) Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Rankin, R.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Rayner, Major R. H.
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Hepworth, J. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Br. W.) Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Remer, J. R.
Channon, H. Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon) Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Holmes, J. S. Ropner, Colonel L.
Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) Hopkinson, A. Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)
Chorlton, A. E. L. Horsbrugh, Florence Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Clarry, R. G. Hurd, Sir P. A. Rowlands, G.
Clydesdale, Marquess of James, Wing-Commander A. W. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Cochrane, Comdr. Hon. A. D. Jones, L. (Swansea, W.) Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.) Keeling, E. H. Salmon, Sir I.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Kerr, J. G. (Scottish Universities) Salt, E. W.
Courtauld, Major J. S. Kimball, L. Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)
Craddock, Sir R. H. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Sandys, E. D.
Critchley, A. Latham, Sir P. Savery, Servington
Crooke, J. S. Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.) Scott, Lord William
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Leech, Dr. J. W. Selley, H. R.
Crossley, A. C. Lees-Jones, J. Shakespeare, G. H.
Crowder, J. F. E. Liddall, W. S. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Cruddas, Col. B. Loder, Captain Hon. J. de V. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Culverwell, C. T. Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
De Chair, S. S. Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Smithers, Sir W.
Denville, A. M'Connell, Sir J. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Donner, P. W. McCorquodale, M. S. Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Spender-Clay Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.
Dower, Capt. A. V. G. McKie, J. H. Storey, S.
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Maclay, Hon. J. P. Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Duggan, H. J. Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees) Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Duncan, J. A. L. Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J. Sutcliffe, H.
Dunne, P. R. R. Magnay, T. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Eastwood, J. F. Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Tate, Mavis C.
Emery, J. F. Maxwell, S. A. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Entwistle, C. F. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Touche, G. C.
Errington, E. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Tree, A. R. L. F.
Everard, W. L. Moreing, A. C. Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.
Fildes, Sir H. Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.) Turton, R. H.
Fleming, E. L. Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. Wakefield, W. W.
Fox, Sir G. W. G. O'Connor, T. J. Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Fraser, Capt. Sir I. O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Furness, S. N. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Ganzoni, Sir J. Palmer, G. E. H. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Gledhill, G. Peters, Dr. S. J. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Gluckstein, L. H. Petherick, M. Withers, Sir J. J.
Graham Captain A. C. (Wirral) Pilkington, R. Wragg, H.
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Plugge, L. F. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Grimston, R. V. Porritt, R. W.
Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor) Proctor, Major H. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Gunston, Capt. D. W. Purbrick, R. Sir Geoffrey Ellis and Mr. Peake.
Guy, J. C. M. Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."



It being after Half-past Seven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.