HC Deb 24 October 1935 vol 305 cc480-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir G. Penny.]

11.18 p.m.


I think hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that a very delicate situation has arisen in the mining industry, and this is the last time before the election that Parliament will have a chance of hearing the miners' point of view on what has taken place. I understand that to-day there have been conversations between the Government and the Executive Committee of the Miners' Federation, and I hope that in the interests of all concerned the Secretary of Mines will be able to say something before the House adjourns. These conversations have, I believe, ceased for to-day, but I understand that the spokesmen of the Miners' Federation have made certain suggestions to the Government. One is that they are prepared to submit their case for improved wages to any national tribunal the Government are prepared to set up. What is more, I understand they are prepared to accept the decision of that national tribunal. There are, of course, one or two other points which I would like to put, but as the time is short and as the Secretary for Mines has now arrived, I want to put this plain and simple question to him. Can he inform the House of the position with regard to the conversations that have taken place between the Executive Committee and himself and can he indicate what further action, if any, the Government propose to take?

11.21 p.m.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Captain Crookshank)

I apologise to the hon. Member for not having been here earlier. The best thing I can do is to give the House the substance of an announcement that I made as the result of prolonged discussions during the course of to-day, discussions which have been active throughout the week. I met the executive of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain last Monday and since then I have had three meetings with representatives of the coal-owners. To-night I met again the executive of the Mineworkers' Federation. Indeed it was not until about an hour ago that the meeting concluded.

The underlying cause of the present unrest is that the proceeds secured by the sale of coal are not sufficient to enable better wages to be paid to the miners, and it has recently become obvious that the extent to which the powers given to the coal industry by the Coal Mines Act, 1930, have been used was unlikely to secure any material improvement of the position. At Question Time to-day I said the Government had repeatedly pressed on the industry the view that only by reorganisation on the selling side could a reasonable price be obtained and the industry be put on a proper financial basis, thus allowing better wages to be paid. That is a point on which the Mineworkers' Federation laid great stress in their interviews with me, and I think anybody who has followed the public Press in recent weeks and months will know that that has been advanced consistently. It has also been evident for some time past that feeling among the coalowners had steadily been moving in the same direction. In that case it looked as if there was some hope that we might be able to do something in that direction.

Following upon my last meeting with the Mine Workers' Federation on Monday, I asked the Central Council of the Colliery Owners, representative of all districts in the country, whether they would give me, for the Government, an undertaking that selling organisations in all districts, with central co-ordination, which is a necessary corollary, I think, in the opinion of all who have studied the question, would be definitely established within a specified period. I understand that this request, which I made, fully authorised by the Government, coincided with the views of a substantial majority of the district representatives who were present at to-day's meeting of the Central Council and it is to be discussed immediately in all the districts. As a result of our talk, I was able to tell the Mine Workers' Federation that I expected after a further meeting of the Central Council of the Colliery Owners next Thursday to be in a position to say that the Government had received a specific undertaking that the selling organisation asked for would be established as soon as possible.

That is the position as it stands to-day. These difficulties which have arisen are naturally the concern of the Government, and I hope that time will show that we have been able to secure the assent of the colliery owners of this country to something of that kind—central selling with central co-ordination. That is the contribution which the Government make in the hope of settling the trouble. I think the House and the country will recognise that this, which has been tentatively put forward and is to be discussed in the next week by the proper authorities, which are the district associations, cannot be definite to-night, but I think everyone will recognise that, if it can be achieved, it will be not only a very great advance in the reorganising of the selling of coal in this country—incidentally, a very large undertaking for anyone to set their hands to—but that it is or it would be a permanent contribution to the well-being of the industry. It is not a palliative but it would be a permanent contribution if it could be brought about. I cannot say here and now that it will be, but it was discussed by the Central Council this morning, and they have taken it back to their districts. We must see what the result of that will be, but it would be, if it could be achieved, a large, permanent contribution.

My final word on this subject—I am glad to have had the opportunity of saying this much—is to make an appeal to the miners to consider long and thoughtfully what this advance would mean, could it be secured, and to reflect what would be the inevitable result, in this difficult time, of an industrial conflict. In the long run it could bring nothing but harm and misfortune to everyone in the State and to no one more than those who could least stand it. I would like as I said this evening to the executive of the mine workers to make the appeal to the House, that they will assist as best they can to see that the advance I have referred to is achieved.

11.28 p.m.


Might I say in the two or three minutes which are left, that the Secretary for Mines has not attempted to deal with the point of view which was submitted to him by the Mineworkers' Federation. This matter is of vital importance to them, of very much greater importance to them than to the mine owners themselves. I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether the mineworkers themselves offered that this matter should go to arbitration. That offer was made on Monday and has not been accepted—not at all.

11.29 p.m.


I do not want to say anything which will aggravate the position. What was suggested on Monday was that they would be prepared to have their dispute put to a conference if the owners agreed. That was the proviso. The owners did not agree, and therefore that fell to the ground as a proposition. It should be made clear that in my statement I merely gave the view of the Government. I was not discussing what had been said on the part either of the owners or of the miners. I do not think the time is ripe for that. I was trying to put before the House the contribution which the Government felt themselves able to make. I hope that this suggestion will receive very serious consideration—[Interruption.]


How long will it be before we can get anything? Another 12 months?


You give the unemployed 10s. more, but nothing to the miners.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'Clock.