HC Deb 24 June 1936 vol 313 cc1779-904

3.49 p.m.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Captain Crookshank)

I beg to move: That the Central (Coal Mines) Scheme (Amendment) Order, 1936, a draft of which was presented to this House on the tenth day of June, 1936, be made. Whenever a Bill or a Motion dealing with coal is proposed in this House, my experience tells me that there are three groups of questions which at once arise in the minds of hon. Members. The first group is, Why take any action at all? The second group of questions revolves around: What is it you are trying to do, and how you are going to do it? The third group is, What are the objections to the proposal and how are you going to meet them? It is on that assumption that I propose to build up my remarks this afternoon, despite the absence of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who seemed but a short time ago to be interested in this matter. The first group of questions includes such as the following: Why should we do anything at all? Why not leave matters as they are? Why disturb the old languid lagoons of laissez faire? Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds; coal is a problem we are always discussing in this House or somewhere else; let us do nothing. The short answer to that kind of question is that for years past coal has been on an uneconomic price level, that is to say, taking all circumstances into account, that it has failed to secure either the wages for the men or the return on the vast amount of capital invested in the industry which the nation now considers it should. We find that in a period of cheap money and protective tariffs—the result of the Government's policy—industry in the main is going forward, but that coal has not moved ahead on any parallel line of improvement. In my view, and in that of the Government, that cannot and must not go on.

It was for the purpose of improving the health of the coal industry that at the General Election we put into our programme that we hoped to see improved organisation with regard to the selling of coal. That is only one point in the coal policy which we put before the nation last autumn. It is, of course, a pity that, owing to the exigencies of Parliamentary Debate, we have to discuss items rather than the whole picture, but perhaps at the outset of the discussion on this matter, which is one of very great importance, I may be allowed to remind the House of what we put before the country. We said first of all that it is necessary to tackle the difficult problems of health and safety. A Royal Commission is already sitting on that problem and I do not think it would be stretching the imagination too far to say that the probable results of their labours will be some form of legislation some time. Secondly, we said that we wished to see better organisation. One of the means of securing that was to be the unification of royalties under national control, and of course there is all the time to be kept in mind the desirability of a reduction in the number of units in the industry, for which purpose there is now a Bill before the House. To that policy the Government adhere as an integral part of their plan. Thirdly, there is the problem of improving the organisation of the selling of coal, and perhaps I may here be allowed to quote the words which were used in the Government's Manifesto signed by the leaders of the three parties. The Government are convinced that improved selling arrangements,"— and here I would like hon. Gentlemen-opposite to realise that these words are in a statement— without which there is not the money in the industry to provide a higher rate of wages, should be put into operation and, if given the opportunity we shall devote our energy to ensuring that measures to attain this object are adopted at an early date. There you have it: on the one side health and safety, and on the other orderly reorganisation and improved arrangements for selling without which, in the terms of the Manifesto, there is not the money in the industry to pay a higher rate of wages.

That is the primary reason why we are taking up this problem to-day. It is not a new question. The Royal Commission under the Chairmanship of Sir Herbert Samuel reported in favour of improved selling arrangements, as did the Lewis Committee appointed 10 years ago. So also Lancashire, as a district, took up this problem last year and as from 1st July, 1935, it has had a district selling organisation. All this means that this is part of a plan for a Parliament, though of a plan which is not necessarily for the first year of that Parliament. There is a second and more urgent reason why we take up this problem to-day. It is that on 31st October last, when there was trouble brewing in the industry, the coalowners gave to the Government an assurance, so far as they were concerned, that by the middle of this year they would have produced schemes for reorganising selling arrangements. That guarantee given by the owners to the Government was endorsed by the Government and therefore became an urgent matter of Government policy. It was the adoption of that which, in my view, was one of the factors which led to a happy solution of those difficulties.

That is why Parliament is asked to-day to deal with the matter. Indeed it can be no surprise, since in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, with which this Session was opened, the following words appeared: The problem of securing improved conditions in the coal-mining industry is receiving the anxious consideration of My Ministers. Active steps are being taken to co-ordinate the selling arrangements of the industry and the necessary Orders under Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, will be laid before you."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1935; col. 46, Vol. 307.] Here they are. I suggest that there are conclusive arguments for some kind of improved selling schemes, but it may be asked why there should be these particular ones. Therefore, I turn to the second group of questions which demand an answer. What is it that is being attempted, and how is it being attempted? As the House will realise, we are, thank Heaven, discussing this problem to-day in an atmosphere of industrial peace, but we also have to consider it in the light of the circumstances which obtained at the time when the coalowners gave those assurances, because the demand on the part of the miners was for increased wages, and that demand met with the greatest sympathy in this House and in the public Press, not only then but since. As hon. Members will perhaps have noticed, only last week the Church Assembly, which speaks for a very great body of opinion in this country, was discussing this very matter.

When the demand for increased wages was made, there was no money in the till with which to meet it. Why? My view is that it was because for some time past the proceeds of the industry had been going down as a result of weakness in the selling organisation of the industry. I could cite, for example, what has happened in a district where, in the course of four years, the improvements in technical methods and so forth were such that the actual cost of production per ton of coal commercially disposable went down by 1s. 7d., but the proceeds afterwards went down by a fraction of a penny under 1s. 4d., that is to say, nearly all the savings which were effected by technical skill and so on were dissipated and the industry got no benefit at all. That is one of the reasons there was no money in the till to meet the demand for increased wages. Therefore, the point I wish to make is that when the assurance was given to the Government that schemes would be introduced, the Government said, through me, "That is all very well, but we want to be satisfied that the schemes will be effective when they are introduced and in view of the past record it seems to us vital that, in order to make them of any use at all, at any rate three conditions should be carried out: First, the schemes should be permanent, and include all the coalowners in the district; secondly, they should eliminate the inter-colliery competition within a district, which has wrecked the price structure in the immediate past; and, thirdly, they should be so drawn up that evasions of price cannot take place." Those conditions were agreed to by the coalowners, but it will be for me, on behalf of the Government, to be satisfied that they are in the schemes themselves. To the best of my knowledge and belief, they will be. Therefore, that is the link which one gets between the introduction of these draft Orders to-day and the general policy of the Government for a better organisation with regard to selling.

Now I pass to the scheme, and paradoxically enough there is no scheme; there are only draft Orders before the House, a series of draft Orders which are actually representations made to the Board of Trade by the coalowners for amendments of schemes which already existed under the Act of 1930. The Central draft Order, the one which technically we are discussing, requires an affirmative Resolution. Once the Orders themselves are approved the schemes come up for my approval, and I have to see that there is nothing in them which goes beyond the Orders if they are approved by Parliament. I frankly admit that it would no doubt be much more convenient to hon. Members if they could see the scheme, but I in my personal position have to carry out the job which Parliament has laid upon me, and when the Act of 1930 was being passed Parliament rejected an Amendment moved by the Conservative Opposition to provide that the schemes should be available. The most effective argument about that Amendment was the argument of Sir Herbert Samuel, who said that the Amendment would take away from the administrative responsibility of the Minister. So in spite of the efforts of the Conservative party I am not in the position to-day to produce a scheme before Parliament.

I do not want to make a point about that, beyond saying that the introduction of the schemes is bound up with the settlement of the dispute earlier this year, and that there was a time limit for the coming into effect of the schemes, which owing to their complications had to be extended, by agreement for an extra month. The settlement was bound up with the introduction of these schemes and we were forced to use such legislative powers as were at hand. There was no question of there being any time or any possibility, in view of the complication of the problem, even of considering taking different powers. Therefore, the whole of this has to be done under the existing powers of the 1930 Act. As a result of that the Minister has had no initiative himself in this matter. The initiative comes, under the Act, from the owners. But it is my business to be satisfied first of all that the conditions which the Government in October thought were necessary—because they had seen how previous schemes had broken down—are complied with; and secondly, it is my business to see that nothing in these Orders is beyond the powers of the 1930 Act, and that the schemes are not beyond the powers of the draft Orders. The Act itself in its opening words describes itself as an Act to provide for regulating and facilitating the production, supply, and sale of coal by owners of coal mines. It is inherent in the existing Act that these schemes must be in the public interest, fair and equitable. Those are governing considerations.

The central draft Order which we are discussing is very short and simple. It quite definitely covers the understanding and the agreement, or rather the assurance that the coalowners gave me that there was to be central co-ordination of the district schemes. There were under existing schemes certain powers of coordination, but the difference between this draft Order and previous Orders is really to be found in paragraph (d) in Part I of the Schedule, where it is made clear that on its own initiative the Central Council is now required to consider the operation of the district schemes and to issue directions with regard to the terms and conditions of sale and so on to the districts. Before they had power to make recommendations but not to give directions. Now they are required to do it and they must do it on their own initiative. They must issue directions generally, that is to say, in the direction of co-ordination of the district schemes, and if the districts do not carry out those directions then they are penalised.

Paragraph (1) in Part II of the Schedule is an extension of existing powers. At present under the scheme which is still working there is a Central Council which has a sort of arbitration power when there is a question of minimum price, but not about other matters. Here they are taking wider powers. They are required to inquire into any complaint made by one executive board against another, about any act or omission. That gives the Central Council very wide powers, and they are required to use their powers, which is quite different from having powers and leaving them in the air as it were. The powers of co-ordination are there in their strongest form.

There is no rigid regulation of trade between the districts. The Central Council may very well wish to tighten up the allocations which they make. There is nothing in these new paragraphs which would be a bar, for example, to prevent an exporting district like South Wales making out its case for a larger share of inland trade. This is an answer to some of the critics who say that these are monopolistic powers. There is a sanction against intensifying district competition, in that the Council on its own initiative is required to issue directions, and it also has power to deal with complaints which could arise if the inter-district competition was intensified. On the one hand, then, you have a check against the intensifying of inter-district competition, and on the other hand it leaves it open that there should be a little.

Paragraph (a), in Part I of the Schedule, empowers the Council or any other persons in accordance with the schemes to delegate to committees their powers.


Why that phrase "any other persons"?


That enables them to get impartial persons to act for them. I shall have something to say on this in connection with the district schemes later on.

Paragraph (2) of Part II of the Schedule enables the council to enter into contracts with any person for the purpose of facilitating the operation of the scheme. That means questions such as contracts with merchants, distributors, and also—this is important—it enables them to act with authority if they want to make arrangements with corresponding bodies in other countries.

Generally speaking, those are the powers of co-ordination which are inherent in this particular Order. The next question is, to co-ordinate what? The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) said just now in his interjection that there are different methods of dealing with this problem in the different districts. The Orders fall into four groups, and I will briefly explain the effect of the Orders with regard to each group. That will probably facilitate matters for my hon. Friends who wanted to raise certain points but were precluded from doing so.

The first one that I will clear out of the way is a very short one and deals with one small Amendment with regard to Lancashire. I said earlier that last year Lancashire had started a scheme of its own—another example to show that "what Lancashire thinks to-day England will think to-morrow." Lancashire has had 11 months of this system and the rest of the country, I hope, is about to adopt such schemes now. The Lancashire draft Order is a very short Amendment to bring its minimum price determination into line with what is contained in the other Orders, and it enables them to have more than one minimum price for a class of coal.

Putting that little group aside—it is a group of one—there are three districts, Shropshire, South Staffordshire, and the Forest of Dean which are to work upon the Lancashire system. That system is what is called and is in fact a complete central selling organisation. It is one in which the producer transfers all his coal to the board and the board is the only seller in the district. The individual undertaking no longer sells its coal at all; it passes the coal to the board and the board does the selling for the whole district. The coal is taken over at a price calculated on some figure at some date, and any increase in the price which the board gets by selling it goes to the different undertakings upon a tonnage basis. There was some fear at the time, under the Lancashire Order, that that sort of procedure might tend to stabilise the inefficient, and so there are certain Amendments in these three Orders, where they differ from the Lancashire scheme, to provide that there shall be taken into account the special circumstances of a mine, so preventing the stabilising of the position indefinitely. Of course under pure central selling the undertaking itself has no concern with the sale of its own coal. That system has worked in Lancashire with success in the last 11½ months and these three other districts have decided to start with the same sort of system.

Now I pass to the second large group of 12 districts. There the schemes might be described—it is rather a term of art—as central control of sales. But there is an essential difference. The point I would make is that the fact that 12 districts have adopted one method and four districts another method indicates that, at any rate so far as I am concerned, when I said that those three conditions must be contained in every scheme, I did not go further and that I did not take any a priori views as to what scheme must be passed. I said that the schemes must satisfy me that they are schemes which fulfil these conditions but it is not a primary concern of mine as to what kinds of schemes are adopted, though I have my personal views as to which are likely to be most effective and as to where they will all end. In the 12 districts where you have a central control system the essential difference is that the owner does not transfer his coal to the district board for the board to sell, but continues to sell his own coal. He is his own salesman and looks for his own customers. But the prices and conditions of sale are under the control of the district board. The owner is no longer a completely free agent with regard to the selling arrangements. There is control in that respect, but as regards what I may call the actual merchanting, in the first instance, he goes on doing that as he does it now.

I agree that the system is open to the criticism that it is more susceptible to possibilities of evasion than the other, but that brings me back to my other point. I am satisfied that the schemes which will be drawn up under these Orders will follow out the assurances given to me by the coalowners—first that they would abolish inter-colliery competition and second that evasion would not be possible. I am satisfied that that will be the case and if not I shall tell hon. Members later how we propose to deal with it. There should be conditions under these schemes which would render it simply not worth anyone's while to attempt evasion. One incentive to evasion in the past has been the method of allocation on a basis of estimates. A certain allocation was given and a practice grew up by which, if the allocation was exceeded, there was a sort of right to the excess in the next period of a quarter or a half-year, or whatever it might be. Therefore, it often paid the people concerned to sell below a reasonable minimum price in order to get that advantage for the future, because in due course they would be able to recoup themselves at the expense of people who were not evading prices.

How are we to get round that difficulty? The method which has been evolved is that we should divide up the trade of the districts and undertakings in certain proportions to be determined substantially by the trade which has been done at some past period and not on estimates. Of course, they would not remain in those particular compartments for the rest of time, because at intervals reviews would take place on certain definite grounds outlined in the scheme. An undertaking might exceed its own trade share in a quarter or a half year or whatever the period might be. If it did, it would have to pay a contribution into a fund because if one undertaking gets more than what is supposed to be its share, then theoretically at any rate someone else will get less than their share and that undertaking which gets less should receive a corresponding compensation. It is clear that those contributions and compensations ought to be high enough to make evasion difficult, if not impossible. They vary in the different districts; the owners have decided upon figures which they think adequate for the purpose, ranging from about 4s. to about 1s. per ton. But the point which I wish to make clear is that an undertaking cannot sit back and collect compensation for doing nothing—for no output. If it is to receive compensation because it has less than its trade share, it has to prove that it tried to get the trade, but failed for one reason or another. It has to show why it failed. There will, therefore, be no sitting back by undertakings and collecting so many shillings for so many theoretical tons.

Of course, it is essential to the success of any scheme of the kind that the administration should be effective, businesslike and practical. Therefore, there will be a limited authority for local sales by an undertaking of small amounts of coal. For example, if an order comes in for one truckload it is hardly to be expected that it should be referred to the control board. There will be a day-to-day authority for small sales, the amount of which will be limited. Another thing which is very important is to see that the amount which is credited in the colliery books is the same as, or at any rate no less, than the price decided upon by the control committee. The majority of the districts, excepting one or two of the smallest will have independent chairmen for these control boards running the selling organisations.


The Minister has not yet explained the Midlands scheme.


I am coming to it. The hon. Member is impatient. I have only got to the third group of schemes. First, there was the small Lancashire Amendment; second, there were the three districts which adopted the Lancashire system, and third, the group of 12 other districts where the coalowner continues to sell his coal but under control as to price and conditions of sale.

I was saying that in the majority of these cases the chairman of the control body will be someone who is quite independent and has nothing to do with the coal trade. There are exceptions in South Wales and in Durham. In those cases the sales committee will be altogether independent.


Who is to be responsible for the salaries and other expenses which will be incurred by the independent chairmen and the boards?


That will amount to a very small sum. I could not give an exact answer on the point without notice, but I imagine they will make arrangements to collect a small amount through the collieries.


A charge on the industry?


It is not going to be a charge on the State, if that is the suggestion.


Who will appoint these boards?


The district executive board, as far as I know. I do not think anybody else would be competent to do so.


Will the district executive board have the power of dismissal?


I suppose if they have the power of appointment they will have the power of dismissal. That is the normal thing, but, there again, I would rather hear these questions during the Debate and I hope I will have an opportunity of replying to them at the end of the Debate. This is a rather complicated question and I would rather deal with the general picture first and the details after.

Next after the three groups already mentioned I come to the great Midland Amalgamated district with its output of 70,000,000 tons which obviously cannot fall into the same framework as the others. It is a rather tragic reflection that we are discussing this subject to-day when only the day before yesterday there occurred the death of Mr. Archer, who was a great man in the Midland Amalgamated district and one of the pioneers in promoting the consideration and discussion of all these problems. It is sometimes said that the work which we set out to do may be fulfilled after we have gone and I think this will be true in. his case. There had grown up already in the Midland Amalgamated district a steady movement towards the formation of selling groups with one selling agent for each group, and the scheme in this district will be based upon that foundation. The executive board in the Midland Amalgamated district will be the sole selling agency. The collieries will be divided into groups and the board will appoint its own selling agents for each group. The work of these selling agents will be co-ordinated by a committee acting for the board over the whole district—that is with regard to questions of price and the like. Therefore, the Midland amalgamated scheme really emerges as a combination of the other schemes, that is to say, a combination of control of sales with central selling.

I think I have at this stage reviewed in sufficient detail the different schemes as they will be under the Orders, if the Orders are approved, but there is one more general point which I wish to make and that is with regard to the distributors. The Orders do not deal with the problem of distribution. It is very complex and it would require legislation. Many hon. Members opposite would probably like me to deal with it now, but it is not within the ambit of the Act. As I have said I am not complaining of that. I am only trying to make it clear that owing to the speed with which all this has had to be done—because it was involved with the settlement—it has not been possible to take this opportunity to do a lot of other things which no doubt hon. Members would like to have done. We are limited by the fact that the Act only deals with the sale of coal by coalowners. I am advised, however, that, within those words, it is competent to lay down certain conditions with regard to the first resale of coal. I am told that that is possible under the words of the Act, and I am sure that hon. Members will agree that there is something to be said for that proposal, because it would make impossible evasion of prices through subsidiaries—a point about which a good many people have had anxieties, whether well-founded or not, in the past. It is, however, necessary in my view, if anything of that kind is to be done, to safeguard the position of the distributor as well. The owners, while laying down certain conditions as to first re-sale, must agree on them with the distributors, or, at any rate, there should be rights of arbitration. If owners draw up an approved list of distributors for first resale it should be open to anyone who accepts the conditions laid down to be put upon that list and to stay upon it, unless and until he breaks the conditions and all that should be subject to arbitration. My duty is to see that nothing unfair is done to distributors or anybody else as a result of the scheme.

There is one other point which has not been mentioned again because it does not come directly within the ambit of the scheme and that is the problem of wages. Hon. Members opposite realise just as much as I do what the purpose of the whole policy is and I quote the words which we ourselves used, that, without improved selling arrangements there is not the money in the industry to provide a higher rate of wages. That is inherent in the whole idea of what we are trying to achieve. Specific references to wages do not, as I say, come within the ambit of the schemes at all, but wages are certainly in the background and not so very far in the background. I have tried to explain to the House the general structure of the schemes and what they will do and I should like now to deal with one or two things which these Orders and schemes will not do.


Before the Minister leaves that part of the subject will he say whether there is anything in the general structure which deals with the rights of the consumer?


That question would come under the heading of "possible objections and how to meet them". I have only been dealing so far with the schemes and Orders and with what they are intended to do, but there are one or two points in regard to which questions have been put to me. I have been asked whether, under the scheme, undertakings or local authorities will have access to the prices charged to other consumers. The answer is "No." There is nothing in the scheme to provide for that, because—among other reasons—one cannot differentiate between the big consumer and the small consumer. If you gave that right to anybody at all, you would have to give it to everybody, and I think that anyone who is concerned with business would realise that that was a proposition which is unpractical. On the other hand, the Committees of Investigation have under the existing Act power to ascertain those prices, so that if the complaint is made that my price is different from somebody else's price, the Committee of Investigation has the power to find out what the prices were before it decides what its view is on the complaint. There is no doubt about that.

I have been asked whether, as a result of these schemes—this is much the same point—there will be the possibility of undue preference between companies, or price discrimination between one company and another. There again there is nothing about it specifically in the scheme or the draft orders, but the Committees of Investigation are perfectly competent to deal with that problem. I have been asked whether the consumer will be obliged to take what the producer offers him, even if it is unsuitable, and whether a district board can force the consumer to take coal from a particular undertaking at its own whim. The answer is, "Certainly not." I have been asked whether the customer will be forced to take a particular type of coal. There again the answer is "No." But it is to be remembered that even to-day you cannot guarantee that at any particular moment any particular man will be able to get any particular coal, under the system of free competition, because all sorts of considerations come in. I have had questions asked as to the quality of particular coal. There again that is the sort of problem which it is fully competent for the Committees of Investigation to deal with. I find that, generally speaking, most of the possible objections put before me devolve themselves into a series of ques- tions the answer to which is that they are points which are not specifically dealt with in the Orders, but the Committees of Investigation, which are statutory bodies, are competent to deal with them if they should arise.


Is there anything in the schemes that would allow of an uneconomic price for the transfer of coal from a colliery to a subsidiary undertaking such as a steel, an iron, or a tinplate concern?


That shows the unwisdom of allowing interruptions, because my thoughts are entirely in another direction, and I cannot at the moment gather the force of that question. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt put his question later, and I will give an answer then.

I come now to the third general question about which, as I said at the beginning of my speech, the House generally wants to know, and that is, "Having said why you want to do something, having tried to say what it is you wish to do, what are the objections and how do you meet them?" They involve two entirely different sets of fears—the fears, on the one hand, of those who look at the problem morn particularly as one of wages, that the schemes may not be effective for the purpose, and fears, on the other hand, of people who say that the schemes are so drastic that they will cause great hardship to consumers and to the nation as a whole. I will try to wend my way between those two sets of fears and deal with the first one first.

I repeat what I have said before once or twice, that the fundamental basis of the assurance which the coalowners gave to the Government, and which the Government endorsed, was that the schemes should be so drawn up that there should not be even the opportunity for the malpractices and evasions which have occurred in the past to occur in the future. I shall satisfy myself that that is the case at the start, but everyone knows that at any time it may happen that what you plan does not turn out to be fully effective.


Especially with coal-owners.


Especially with difficult problems, and on that point, therefore, those who may have fears will perhaps be reassured if I say that after a reasonable time—I do not mean two or three weeks—there will be an opportunity for a review of these schemes. I have that assurance from the coalowners themselves, because I shall want to be satisfied that the conditions upon which we started go on. This is Government policy as well as a coalowners' policy, and therefore there will be a review and, if necessary, if weaknesses are found, alterations will be made to bring the policy into line with what not only the coal industry, but also the Government, want to see achieved.

On the other hand, there are those who say that these schemes are going to be very unfair on the consumer. A paramount consideration in all the schemes is the public interest and that they should be fair and equitable. The spokesmen for all sorts of great bodies of consumers must surely remember that their clients, the consumers, are the general public, namely, generally speaking, the ratepayers, the taxpayers, and the electors of this country. One cannot get away from the fact that it is just those people who showed, at the time of the difficulty earlier in the year, the greatest possible sympathy with the demands made by the miners. Neither a consumer, nor a ratepayer, nor an elector as such, it seems to me, can avoid the results of the policy to which, as a member of the public, he gave his assent.

Therefore, if the argument is that owing to these powers, some people as a result are going to be worse off because some of them will pay more for their coal than they did 18 months ago, the answer is that this will be the case, because otherwise the money will not be available to carry out what the general public wishes to see achieved. If the suggestion, though, is that there is going to be great exploitation without any opportunity of redress, beyond all reason, then my answer is certainly "No," because there already exists the system of Committees of Investigation. I agree that they were set up originally to deal with a different type of problem; but in Lancashire the problem of the future has been there for the last 11 months, because they have had their own scheme, and that Lancashire committee has not had any complaints put up to it to decide upon. Still, the general fact must remain that if coalowners and the coal industry are to continue in existence, they have to sell their coal, and therefore they are not likely to start off by antagonising everybody to whom they wish to sell their coal. But, of course, there has been considerable anxiety in many quarters about these Committees of Investigation.

I should like to pay a tribute to the members of these committees. People talk of them as if they were incompetent, but they are public-spirited people who have come forward to help the Government, the State, by giving their services and investigating complaints. They have done that in the past, and I think we ought all to be very grateful for what they have done. I am glad to think they have not had much to do in the past, and I hope that as a result of the future administration they will not have much more to do in the future, but the fact that they were available for that purpose is one for which this House should, I think, express its gratitude. As to their constitution, one-quarter of them is a miner, one-quarter is an owner, one-half represents the consumers, and then there is the chairman.

In view of the anxiety felt about this matter, some time ago I came to the conclusion that it would be as well if in future the chairman should be a person of legal attainments—I announced that in the House last Monday—that is to say, that he should not definitely represent anybody, any particular interest, but should be a legal-minded person. For one of the difficulties about this problem is that in future, if there are complaints—and I do not anticipate that there will be—it will be in the interests of the coalowner, that is to say, the seller of coal just as much as of the purchaser of coal that any complaint should be quickly decided upon. You cannot have a question, say, of a contract, either in regard to price or quality, hanging about for weeks and weeks. Therefore, it seems to me that what we have to aim at is something in future which will probably telescope more or less investigation and arbitration—if we can secure it—some sort of hybrid arrangement. We shall have to try and find something which will act more quickly. We shall have to extend the life of this Part of the 1930 Act. Clause 9 of the Bill now before the House does that, and when that is done, I shall take the opportunity of suggesting that we should get a little away from the pure investigation which the committee is already empowered to do and make it something a little more hybrid. Now that all the committees will have legal chairmen, we shall suggest a provision that if a committee is not unanimous in its views about complaints, it should be left to the chairman to take the decision on behalf of the committee. And we shall also suggest that, where necessary, the decision of the committee shall be final and binding. In this way we would get speed, certainty, and finality. After all, this is a matter, when you are dealing with actual business problems, in which you have to look at the question from a rather different angle than at some other problems. It seems to me that we want the present composition of the committees to continue, because it is important that certain representatives should be there, but with the legal chairman it should be able to be made more final and speedy.

We shall have to wait to get our experience as to how the difficulties work out, because it is vitally important, from the point of view of coal, just as much as from the point of view of the consumer, that there should be no feeling about possibilities of abuse. If there is, coal will lose that great volume of public sympathy which it now has. We want to be very careful that what is done may not have even the semblance of being unfair. We must make it clear beyond peradventure that no changes, machinery changes, as regards expediting the work of the committees, or membership, or anything like that should alter the fundamental case for organised selling. The fundamental case for organised selling is that coal for some time past has not been sold at economic prices, and if that is understood from the start by everybody concerned, it will be much easier for coal consumers and for the benefit of the country as a whole, because the country as a whole does, in my view, want to sec an improvement in the standard of living of the mining community. It has shown its sympathy in a way that cannot be controverted, and if a further burden has to be borne, the country must bear the burden and financially help those with whom it has expressed verbal sympathy.

The whole of the schemes are really measures of experimentation. This is not the last word in organised selling; in fact, it is only the first, and I have no doubt that there will have to be a good deal of alteration, patching, and so on, but with the co-operation of the owners I think we shall ensure that the schemes are practical.

I see that some of my hon. Friends have put down an Amendment for the rejection. I hope that they will not take it to a Division not because I am not certain that we could carry this Order, but because I should like it to go from the whole House as a unanimous expression of sympathy for the coal industry and of the anxiety that we all feel for its improvement. This is all in line with Government policy. In the election we said we wished to see this brought about. It is also part of a settlement of a dispute in the earlier months of this year. These are the best schemes, so far as I can judge, which could be produced in the time available, and if Parliament decided not to support them at the bidding of my hon. Friends, the miners would indeed feel that Parliament was letting them down. I must not disguise the fact that if that occurred there would be a grave risk of industrial crisis. That has been stated by the official spokesmen of the Miners' Federation and it must be borne in mind as one of the considerations before any hon. Member decides on his course of action. The coal industry is being forced to reorganise its selling methods under statutory powers, and quite apart from the safeguards to the consumers which now exist, the fact that action arises under an Act of Parliament is in itself a measure of protection to the consumer against exploitation. It is also a pledge to the industry that every endeavour will be made to make the policy effective. When all is said and done, what Parliament gives Parliament can always take away.


Could I ask the hon. Member, before he finishes, a point which has escaped me, although as a non-miner I have appreciated the explanation given? In the early part of the Minister's speech he made reference to the possibility of competition between districts but he said "there would not be much." Do I take it that this means that there will be some control of any inter-district competition, by a co-ordinating committee such as would function within each district?


In the central scheme it is the Central Council which is the co-ordinating body. It is required to co-ordinate the operation of district schemes.


As between district and district?


Yes, they will co-ordinate the whole thing. They are a general co-ordinating body.

4.49 p.m.


I have been in the House some years and have taken part in many Debates on the mining industry, but I have not at any time known a Debate which was opened in more pleasant circumstances as the result of the speech which has just been delivered by the Secretary for Mines. We have listened to him for an hour, but we do not complain for it was very necessary for him to make the speech he did. It was clear and as concise as it could be, and it was pleasant to listen to. I feel sure that my hon. Friends will join me in expressing to the Minister our thanks for the way in which he opened the Debate. He had a very short text, because the Debate is centring round the central selling scheme itself, and when you analyse it you find that it is the pivot of all the district selling schemes. The actual wording which gives power in this draft Order for the setting up of the central scheme is just 14 lines. The hon. Member has had the advantage of seeing the schemes. They have been denied to us, and, whatever the cause, we regret it very much. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can ride off by saying that the 1930 Act is responsible. If the Opposition to the Government in 1930 had been strongly of opinion that the schemes should be submitted and not the draft Orders such as we have before us now, they could easily have carried it. I am not sure that if pressure had been brought upon the Government the Government would not easily have conceded the point.

It is merely an excuse to blame the 1930 Act for laying the draft Orders instead of presenting the schemes themselves. Here we have 17 draft Orders, one for each district, and I doubt whether there are many mining men who, just looking at the draft Orders, could know the full implications of the selling schemes. It would have assisted this Debate considerably if the schemes had been made generally available instead of available to a few privileged Members only. If some hon. Members call at the offices of some of the coalowners, the schemes are available to them, but when we ask that the schemes should be made available to Members of the House generally we are told that, in accordance with the 1930 Act, it is not possible for them to be given to Members. Not even the executive of the Mineworkers' Federation have had an opportunity of considering the schemes. An application was made by the executive to the Secretary of Mines for the schemes so that they could understand their full implications, but they received a reply from the Department to the effect that the schemes were not available even to a body of men representing nearly 800,000 people who are concerned more than anyone else as to the success or non-success of the selling schemes. I would ask the hon. Gentleman not to ride off with the excuse that the 1930 Act is responsible for many of the difficulties with which the mining industry is confronted. The selling schemes which we are discussing could have been put into operation had the 1930 Act been put into operation six years ago, and all the difficulties to which the Secretary Mines referred with regard to the selling of coal at an unremunerative price could have been dealt with in 1931.

The miners themselves did not ask for these schemes. I doubt very much whether we should have had them but for what took place in October last year. The Secretary for Mines admitted that the country was faced with the prospect of an industrial upheaval caused by the miners and by the generous way in which the public responded at the time to the call which was made by the miners for an increased wage. These schemes are just offered as part of the settlement which was made last year when a sum on account was paid to meet the demands of the miners. The miners have a definite promise from the coalowners and the Government that the full implication of that settlement should be realised as speedily as possible. That is why the miners themselves, although not altogether enamoured with the schemes but view them with a certain amount of apprehension, are hoping that they will deliver the goods and give them the wages which the country felt they were entitled to receive. The industry is in the hands of the coalowners and it is up to them to see that a standard of life such as the miners are entitled to receive is given them for it has been too long delayed.

The Secretary for Mines referred to the statement which was issued in the manifesto of the Government. We hold the Government responsible. I saw in the "Times" yesterday that the Government are doubly responsible for the selling schemes, for their inception, their presentation and their passage through Parliament. The schemes are an important part of the Government's conception of a reorganised mining industry. Although they were not prepared by the Government, they were drawn up to comply with the specifications of the Government, and the Government themselves must take responsibility for them. It is not so much a question of the owners as of the Government, and it is the Govern-men which we on this side of the House will hold responsible. After all, the Board of Trade need not have accepted any schemes. They could have sent them back for amendment. They must satisfy themselves that the schemes will meet the demand which the miners have rightly made for an increase in their standard of living.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman explained the different schemes very clearly. One complaint which we have about them is that we cannot see why there should be separate schemes for separate groups of collieries. There is one kind of scheme for Lancashire, the Forest of Dean, Shropshire and some part of Warwickshire. Then there are 12 districts with another kind of scheme. The Midland amalgamation has yet another kind. Why could not the Secretary for Mines, through the Board of Trade, have insisted that there should be some uniformity in the schemes? There would be no difficulty about that. There is no reason why the same kind of scheme could not have been adopted in all the districts. I have in mind exporting districts which, of course, are faced with considerable difficulty, but there is no reason why the same kind of schemes could not be put into operation for all the districts con- cerned instead of having these group schemes for the various districts. With regard to the central scheme and the Central Council, the Secretary for Mines went into that matter carefully, but I am not sure whether he made clear the powers of this Council.

Are the powers which will be given to the Central Council compulsory powers, or only powers of recommendation or suggestion? Can they say, "This thing must be carried out and, if it is not, steps will be taken to enforce the decision"? It is important that we should know something of their powers. One thing we regret about these schemes, and we think the Government is in some way responsible, is that nothing is done to assist the exporting areas. They have suffered grievously. I do not say that the areas producing coal for inland purposes have not suffered also, but the four very large exporting areas have suffered considerably during the last eight or 10 years, and I am afraid the Government are indifferent to the difficulties with which those areas are confronted. I remember how the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), when he was Minister of Munitions, emphasised the importance of our coal export trade. He said: In peace and war King Coal is the paramount lord of industry. Not only does it enter into every article of consumption and utility, but it is our real international coinage. When we bring goods, raw materials and food, from abroad, we pay not in gold but in coal. We pay in diamonds, only they are black, and not in gold. Coal brings meat and other food from the Argentine, and brings it in such a way that it does more than pay for bringing it across the counter. It pays for it out of its own pocket. And yet, as far as the coal exporting areas are concerned, we can see little or nothing in these schemes to implement the promise given by the coalowners and by the Government. I think everyone will agree that the exporting areas have made the greatest possible contribution to our national economy. They are really subsidizing the balance of trade, and there is no reason why the miners in those areas should suffer the low wages which they receive at the present time, simply because of the non-recognition of the claims of those areas by the Government. In five years we have seen that export trade gradually declining from 54,000,000 a year to 38,000,000 tons, and in the first five months of this year there is a further decline of 2,250,000 tons as compared with last year. If the decline continues at the same rate I think 1936 will be the worst year in the matter of coal exports for the last 40 or 45 years, with the exception of the war years or years of industrial disputes.

As for the settlement in October of last year, it would be as well to put the position of the exporting districts in the matter of wages. In South Wales the average increase in miners' wages—it was the very lowest—was 3½d. per day. In other districts the increases varied from 3½d. to 1s. a day. As a result of the intensified foreign competition we find in the last ascertainment issued by the Secretary for Mines a debit balance of something like 5d. per ton. Every other district has a credit balance—in some districts a very large one. In one district it was no less than 3s. 3d. a ton, and in almost all the districts producing coal for inland purposes, the credit balances varied from 1s. 8d. to 3s. 3d. a ton. It is not for me to suggest that the miners who are producing coal in the inland districts are over paid, they are under paid. No miner can be paid too much for the work he is called upon to do having regard to the nature and the danger of the occupation. The difference in the average wages between the exporting districts and the districts producing coal for inland purposes amounts to nearly 2s. a day, or 12s. a week. They are producing the same kind of coal, facing the same difficulties, and yet there is this variation. We thought the Government would have faced up to this difficulty.

I am not suggesting that all our export trade can be restored to us, but the strange thing is that our biggest competitors on the Continent have not only had their 1929 and 1930 export markets restored to them, but they have extended them. On the basis of the first three months of this year Germany is exporting very much more coal now than she exported in 1929 or 1930. The reason is that the German coalowners and the German Government have recognised the importance of the coal export trade, and for some time there have been not district selling schemes, such as here, but a national selling scheme selling all the coal produced in the most important parts of Germany; and for the past two years, in order not only to retain but to extend her export trade, Germany has subsidised all her coal by an average of 6s. 6d. or 7s. a ton. The result is that with the exception of those countries with which we have trade agreements there is no market to which we export coal at the present time of which it can be said that we have a guarantee that we shall retain it.

I do not want to say too much about the trade agreements. They have given, us some advantages, but not the advantage which was expected. Egypt, which was a very large market for South Wales coal, is very largely lost to us as a result of German competition. The whole of the Mediterranean markets are gradually being taken from us for the same reason. I beg the Secretary for Mines, the Government, and the coal-owners to recognise the great importance of the coal export trade to us. Unless they do so I can see the coal export districts dying, and I would warn coal-owners producing coal for inland purposes that if the export trade is lost it will mean the incursion of coal from the export areas into the inland market. There will be no justification for keeping the coal from South Wales and Durham, from Scotland or from Northumberland out of the inland market, where it will compete with the coal already in that market and, therefore, bring down prices. After all, notwithstanding these agreements, we cannot see these export districts dying without an effort being made to save them. Therefore, we are disappointed because the Government have not made some effort in the selling schemes to assist the coal exporting districts.

Much complaint has been made about these schemes. Whatever the Secretary for Mines may say about them, there is a general feeling in the country that the system means setting up a monopoly which gives the coalowners complete control. There is representation for no one other than the coalowners on the district boards or upon the Central Council. I wish the Secretary for Mines would not ride off on this point with references to the Act of 1930. I understand that some guarantee has been given to the steel and iron producers that amendments will be made in Section 5 of the Act of 1930. If Section 5 can be amended so can Sections 1, 2, 3 and 4, so as to give the guarantees which the miners and the domestic consumers—not only the large consumers but the domestic consumers—are asking for. I ask the Secretary for Mines, when either new legislation is brought forward or the Bill which is hanging in the balance at the moment comes on again, that amendments shall be introduced which will meet the demand of the miners that their interests shall be safeguarded and that they shall have representation upon these district and central selling schemes. It is an anomaly that selling schemes should be brought into operation to protect the wages of the miners and that the miners should have no voice in the preparation of the schemes or any say about the schemes before they are submitted to the Board of Trade for approval. I have already made the point that they have been denied the opportunity of even seeing the schemes. I am not quite certain that I appreciate the point put by the Secretary for Mines concerning the distributors. As far as I understand it, the distributors will be entirely under the control of the district schemes. This list which will be prepared will be prepared by the board itself. It can accept or reject any of the distributors. It can eliminate the name of any distributor from the list, or add the name of any distributor. I would like the Secretary for Mines to clear up the point, because there is a good deal of apprehension about it.

A question was put to the Secretary for Mines in an interruption regarding the chairman of a district board being an independent chairman. I should like to know who will pay the chairman for his work. I understand that in South Wales they have advertised for a chairman who will devote the whole of his time to the work, and he must be paid. I do not know whether the members of the board will also receive remuneration. The chairman will be appointed by the coalowners, and he will be paid, I understand, by the coalowners. Will the coalowners have the right to dismiss the chairman or the other members of the board? If they have this right then, of course, the chairman is not independent in the way suggested by the Secretary for Mines. Here we are, considering schemes for this large and important trade, which should not be completely in the hands of the owners as it is at present. Even under private enterprise, the workers and consumers should be represented and fully protected. In the absence of that representation, I repeat that the Government are responsible. The mine workers look to the Government for the second installment of the wages demand made by them during October of last year.

In his closing sentences, the Secretary for Mines rightly gave the House his opinion of the miners, but money must be brought into the industry to give the miners the standard to which they are entitled. It is not their fault that that standard is not there. The industry is entirely in the hands of the owners. We are concerned about the situation, and we ask the Secretary for Mines to see that the miners are not deceived in this matter. The situation has made clear die need for a national authority for coal production and distribution, under a single control. That is urgently required. It must clearly be under public control. The owners have given proof by these schemes that it is impossible for private enterprise to deal with the problem efficiently, and, in the interests of the miners, the consumers, and the nation as a whole, we say that steps should be taken as soon as possible to bring about that situation.

5.18 p.m.


I should like to add my humble congratulation for the very clear and lucid way in which the Minister explained this subject, and my appreciation of the very friendly speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). I should like also to congratulate the Minister upon the reception which has been accorded to the Motion now before the House, and I hope that he will not mind my saying that more friendly treatment is being meted out to the Motion before the House than was accorded to the previous Measure. Whatever the merits or demerits of that Bill, it did something for the coalowners and the miners in reducing the antagonism which has existed between the parties for a number of years. Both inside and outside the House, I have advocated the introduction of selling schemes, co-ordinated from the centre, and the last time I had an opportunity of addressing the House upon the coal industry I advocated, not only the introduction of such schemes, but that the future welfare of the industry should be safeguarded by a Bill for its unification. That would be most advantageous.

Now I would like to deal with criticisms that we have heard from various sources that the coalowners are very dilatory in making use of the powers conferred upon them in Part I of the 1930 Act, which was tantamount to giving them complete government of their industry. I admit that that criticism is fair, but I go a step further than the hon. Member for Aberdare, who said that the pressure which was the result of the stoppage, following on the campaign on the Mine-workers' Union, slowed the progress of that Act, and that it is still slow. That seems an unjust and unduly harsh criticism.

Most hon. Members will, I think, agree with me that the coal trade is the most varied in the country. Every district is different from the others and there are no two mines exactly the same. In the mines where there are three seams we shall see no three seams with the same character. In a single seam, the further you go the greater the differences you find. In the pit in my own country, in which men are working as far down as 1,700 feet, the colliery manager and the owner are bound to be opposed to anything which is not in their interest. The change over from individualism to the collective principle is not going to be accomplished without friction.

The second point is that the 1930 Act was a very great Act; it was also of a revolutionary nature whereby you fixed your output and your minimum price, with the main object of safeguarding the rates of wages, entirely as an economic question. I seem to remember that when I was first connected with coal mining, the first thing I learned was that despite all the information, output could go on increasing, efficiency could increase and that wages were a pastime. A good colliery manager looking years ahead in a big mine can see how it is possible to increase his output by from 200 to 300 tons, but when the Act was placed upon the Statute Book, instead of increasing his output by that amount, he was told to cut it down; to shut down his output. It meant he had to lay idle a district and to lay off several hundred men. The colliery manager has naturally not been as keen on this principle as some of us would have liked.

Now there is a third Measure, and that is a political Act. Colliery owners, for some strange reason, have a deep distrust of the members of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, and that distrust is only equaled by the suspicion of the Miners' Federation of the coal-owners. When the Act was introduced by the Labour Government, the coal-owners thought that this was the thin end of the wedge, and they saw the bogey of nationalisation in the background. Therefore, they did not make full use of the Act, as I admit they should have done. I admit that the coalowners functioned extremely slowly in making use of those powers, but their task was very difficult, and not so easy as some hon. Members sometimes think.

Another criticism which I would like to take up is that this will bait the consumer. The consumer has powers as wide as are those of the coalowners. I think they are afraid that there will be discrimination among the purchasers of coal, and that they are not going to get the quality that they want. They think that a coalowner will say: "We have not got that sort of coal," and will give them something else. Another thing of which the consumer is afraid is an unholy alliance between the coalowners and the coal miners to sting the consumer. It is my greatest wish to get the coalowners and coal miners together to consider whether we can decide upon an economic price for our joint products. The price should give the miner a better wage than he is getting now—he is getting a very low wage—and should enable the colliery areas to obtain a fair return for the capital invested in the enterprise. There is no question of stinging the consumer.

I will mention the stoppage of 1926 only for the reason of saying that it started the downfall of the export trade of this country, because we lost markets then which we have never recovered, and probably never will recover. I am not blaming anybody, although I think all parties were at fault. The second thing regarding these monopolistic powers is that the consumer has all along been receiving his coal at a cheaper price than he relatively would have done. The result has been that the miners are receiving a lower wage, and the colliery areas have been getting a very small return upon the vast amount of capital invested in them. There are perfectly good safeguards for the consumer. As the Secretary for Mines has told the House, these committees will comprise a neutral chairman, a representative of the coalowners and of the miners. Additional safeguards have recently been put in, and are apparently good enough to satisfy the representatives of the public utility companies and of the iron and steel companies. Speaking as a coal-owner, I do not really mind what additional safeguards you put in to protect the interests of the public. The colliery owners have no axe to grind in this matter, and they are not such fools as to wish to rob the public by charging an uneconomic price. What they want is a fair price to enable them to pay better wages, and to see an adequate return on their capital.

Hon. Members opposite know that one thing has happened in the last two years. I ventured to refer to the disaster of 1926; in the last two years there has been another disaster, which has meant the sudden dropping in the miner's wage. I refer to the internecine conflict going on among the coalowners. The coalowners have done their best to get all their pits working full time, and have been cutting prices for all they are worth. They have, I regret to say, by various methods and evasions, got round the 1930 Act in respect of minimum wages. They have fixed prices according to competition, and the result is that the consumer has been getting his coal cheaper. Some hon. Members think that we are going to raise prices to the consumer, and that that will mean propping up inefficiency in the coal industry. I can assure hon. Members that that is not so. I have spent some time in studying the production methods of coal in the United States of America, which is supposed to be the most highly mechanised country in the world. I found that here there is not the same wastage of production of coal, or the somewhat heedless disregard of human life of the mine worker, as there is in the United States. Their efficiency is only in the distributing side, where there has been a breakdown in the system.

Hon. Members opposite are rather afraid, I think, that the increased prices that will be obtained under the selling scheme may be utilized for the bolstering up of inefficient collieries which ought to have been closed down years ago, but I can assure the House that, as regards closing redundant pits and concentrating production on the more efficient units, it is one thing to talk about that here, but it is a very different thing to talk about it in the coalfields themselves. I think that, from my own experience in the district of Durham, I can explain to hon. Members exactly what a redundant pit is. It is really a pit where the sales manager cannot get rid of his product. If you have a good sales manager, who can sell his coal, the pit will be working full time, but, on the other hand, a good pit with a bad sales manager may only be able to work two, three or four days in the week. To put it in another way, an old pit with a good sales manager has a better chance than a good pit with a bad sales manager. I feel sure that, when the selling scheme is set up and in active operation, this question of redundancy of pits will be seen in a rather different light. When the scheme has been in operation for, say, a year, the Minister will be able to tell exactly which pits are inefficient and ought to be closed down in the interests of the coalfield as a whole.

I have referred to the fact that the coalowners would like to get a price for their coal which would enable them to get a fair return on their capital. Hon. Members opposite will probably point out to me that the ascertainment for the first quarter of this year shows a profit of something like £4,000,000, or 1s. 5d. a ton. That is a big figure, but I would point out to hon. Members that the £4,000,000 is not net profit. It does not include such items as interest on debentures or interest on bank overdrafts, and those hon. Members who come from Durham know that the banks have been carrying some colliery companies for quite a long time in parts of that distressed area. Moreover, I must point out that the first quarter of the year is probably the best. It may be equaled by the last quarter, but the second and third quarters are the two worst quarters, and, if one takes into consideration the whole capital invested in the coal industry, and calculates the total profit on that basis. I think it will be found that the coal-owners are not making any excessive profit. In conclusion I should like to say to the Minister how pleased I am that these schemes are so well under way. I hope he will keep a careful eye on these selling schemes, and especially on the committees of investigation, so that, if there are wrongdoings on the part of colliery owners, greater powers will be given to these committees. Secondly, I hope he will watch the working of the selling schemes with a view to seeing what are nuisance-value pits, so that in the future, when we come to deal with amalgamations again, he will be on, perhaps, surer ground than he was on the last occasion. Finally, I would suggest to him that, for the sake of the future welfare and planning of the coal industry, the sooner he introduces a Bill to unify coal royalties the better it will be.

5.36 p.m.


The Noble Lord has given us a very interesting speech. There are Members on, these benches who, like himself, have an. intimate knowledge, not only of mining, but also of colliery management, and I am bound to say I cannot accept the Noble Lord's conclusions with regard to the colliery manager and the coalowner. I remember that, when I became a collier, at the age of 18 or 19, I had occasion to have a tilt with the colliery manager when I asked him whether certain work which had to be done was not entitled to some money. His reply was, "If you send up more output, I shall be able to give you more." When the miners, having sent up the output, asked him for more money, his reply was, "Now that you are getting good wages, you do not need it." That was the general experience when we were negotiating with the colliery managers.

With regard to the attitude of the Miners' Federation and of miners generally towards the coalowners, it is true that we are suspicious of the coalowners, and we have good grounds for our suspicion. My complaint against the colliery owner has usually been that, while he can be one of the nicest men socially, when you meet him across the office table or in the conference room, he will never admit that he has made any money. I offer a challenge to the Noble Lord. He knows the history of coal mining as well as we do, and he knows that before the War good profits were being made by the coalowners, but they would not admit it and pay a decent wage. When in 1912 the miners of this country were on strike for six weeks in order to get a minimum wage, the minimum wage that was granted by the Minimum Wage District Board in the big coal-producing county of Yorkshire was 6s. 9d. a shift, and, if the Noble Lord cares to peruse the statistics for 1911, 1912 and 1913, I think he will agree that the colliery owners during that period were doing very well; but they refused to grant a decent wage.

The Noble Lord regretted the events of 1926. He did not regret them more than we do on this side. Those of us who have been through lock-outs and strikes did not go through them because we wanted to do so; we have been compelled to go through them; and, if the Noble Lord recalls what took place before the 1926 stoppage came about, I think he will admit that the terms and conditions offered to the workers by the mine owners of this country were such that no decent man would accept them. I would go further and say that the Noble Lord is not quite correct in what he said with regard to the decline of the export trade. It did not start in 1926. Exports were declining before 1926, and, if the Noble Lord will examine the effects of reparations on the export of coal in 1919 and 1920, he will get nearer to the facts. Moreover, I would point out that this House had some responsibility in regard to the 1921 lock-out. Coal control as laid down in the Act of Parliament was to cease in August, 1921, but this House decreed that coal control should cease in March, 1921. Why? Because the Government were losing £5,000,000 a month on the export trade. They were not prepared to accept that loss to the national Exchequer, and threw the industry back on its economic feet. We stood out for 13 weeks in 1921 because of the decline in wages, and in a part of the Midland area, when the settlement took place on 4th July, 1921, we went back to work with a percentage on basic rates of 141.19. By August, 1922, that 141.19 had fallen to 32 per cent. If the Noble Lord will examine the history of the coal trade since the War, I think he will be compelled to revise his opinion that the decline in the export trade started in 1926. Although it is interesting to hear a coalowner express his views, we cannot allow statements like that to pass without some reply.

This afternoon we are discussing the question of selling agencies, and there are one or two things which I think ought to be made plain to the House and to the country. It is true that in October, 1935, the Government announced, as an election cry, that if returned they were prepared to do things with regard to organised selling, and it is also true that at that time a campaign was being initiated by the mine workers for increased wages. It is as well to know exactly what the miners asked for and what they received. They were seeking an all-round increase of 2s. per shift for adults, and 1s. for those below 18 years of age. The response from the public was gratifying. The Secretary for Mines was perfectly right in what he said on this point; we did meet with tremendous support in non-mining localities. Indeed, from Land's End to John o' Groats the public of this country cried shame on the mining industry that it did not pay a better wage than was being paid then, and the settlement was regarded only as an installment of the miners' demands. In the Midland area we got 1s. per shift, and in South Wales they got an average of about 3½d. per shift. There were anomalies in every district, and we shall not be satisfied until we get our full demand conceded. It is based on a uniform advance, and we shall never let go until we get our industry organised nationally, so that we can discuss our wages nationally and get some recognition for the men who work in the respective coalfields. It is true that there are differences in seams and differences in districts, but nobody will deny that a man in South Wales works as hard as a man in Yorkshire or in Kent. We say that we regard that settlement in the early part of this year as only an installment of what we are seeking.

With regard to organised selling, it is true that one of the scandals of the British coal trade has been the way in which coal has been sold. Ever since 1921, colliery managers cut their price-lists whenever they got the chance, taking off 1d. a ton here and 2d. a ton there, on the plea that the cost of production had to be reduced. But when they got that reduction in the cost of production, it was, as the Secretary for Mines has said, frittered away in lower prices. On the selling exchanges agents would give away 6d. and 1s. a ton in order to get a contract, and then, if they found they had made a bad bargain, they insisted on the colliery manager giving way. Nobody can deny that that has been the case; colliery managers have told me of it themselves; and the time has come when there ought to be organised selling. While it is true that the Government promised it, and it is true also that we have preached organised selling, it does not follow that we regard these schemes as the last word in organised selling. I think that one protest ought to be insisted upon. The Miners' Federation have never been consulted in this business. The coalowners, certainly; but the Miners' Federation, no; and we are approving draft Orders without any regard to what is likely to be in the scheme. While the Secretary for Mines says that the 1930 Act debars him from bringing these schemes before the House, we say that at least the Miners' Federation ought to have been consulted.

With regard to the opposition to these schemes, I notice one or two names on the Order Paper. There has been a good deal of protest from certain large consumers of coal. I am glad that the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis), who used to represent Wakefield, is in his place, because I want to point out the conflict of interests that we see between almost the same people. I have had telegrams from electricity and gas undertakings protesting against these selling Orders unless certain safeguards were laid down. When I went to the Stock Exchange Year Book and looked to see who were the directors of these concerns that were protesting, I found that, while certain gentlemen who were directors of electricity and gas undertakings were protesting against these schemes, the same individuals were directors of collieries who wanted the schemes. The hon. Gentleman below the Gangway knows what I mean.

Coal has been sold too cheaply to certain undertakings. No one can deny that electricity concerns are doing well and have a fairly good gross surplus. None can deny that gas undertakings are doing well. You boast a good deal about the prosperity of the iron and steel industry. Neither electricity, nor gas, iron and steel, nor any other commercial undertaking ought to be prosperous on the low wages paid in the mining industry, which has been too long the Cinderella of other industries. We hope that when these schemes are in operation there is going to be a higher pit-head price, and that some of these prosperous undertakings will have to pay more for their coal as long as that extra goes back to the pit to pay wages. But I am not altogether satisfied that these schemes are going to do all that the hon. and gallant Gentleman claims. I think the time has come when distribution ought to be tackled and, even though it cannot perhaps be tackled without legislation; there are far too many people handling the distribution of coal. There ought to be more direct selling. There is one class of consumer, the householder, who cannot for the life of him understand why he has to pay such a large price for household coal when he knows how small the tonnage rate is at the pit. We hope there is to be no exploitation of the household consumer with a preference given to the large undertakings.

There are one or two things that we must point out. In the first place, we should have liked to have seen one scheme for the entire country. We are having now a number of district schemes with supervision from the top. There are to be a number in the Midland area. I do not know how many, though I have been told. How many selling agencies will there be in South and West Yorkshire? I have been told there are likely to be a large number. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman could give us the information later. When we have these selling schemes, do not for a minute imagine that all the trouble in the industry is solved. Something else has to be done, if we are to get peace in the coal fields. For example, the time has arrived when district agreements ought to be revised. Some of us were in the making of those agreements after 1926. They were forced upon us. The ratio of the proceeds is too much in favour of the owners—85 to 15 is not a fair ratio—and there are deficiencies that need dealing with. In Yorkshire we have a deficiency, according to the last ascertainment, of more than £8,652,000. It is to be hoped that we have not to wait until the selling schemes have wiped those deficiencies out, otherwise we shall get no increase of wages in Yorkshire for many years. That may be a case for the district organisations, and not the Secretary for Mines to tackle, but it is a matter that needs dealing with. This will not make everything in the industry well, though it may be a step in the right direction and, in so far as it is, we shall not oppose it.

In my opinion there ought to have been some representation of the mine workers. I said the same from that side of the House in 1930 when I was supporting the Labour Government. I believed then, and I believe now, that, if you are going to fix wages on the selling price of the commodity, the people who produce the commodity ought to have some say in what the selling price should be. If we had had since 1930 on the executive board some representatives from the Miners' Federation, perhaps there would not have been as many flagrant evasions of minimum prices as there have been. I know the gentleman to whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred in his opening remarks. He was one of my constituents. I knew his ability and his activity with regard to organised selling, and I have heard men closely associated with him say that the way in which minimum prices have been evaded by coal-owners is a scandal. I have heard colliery managers admit that it would have been a good thing to have some kind of representation of organised mine workers. The House and the country must not take it for granted that we are giving wholehearted support to these selling schemes. We are not. The Government, as part of the settlement, promised to bring in a scheme for better selling in the coalfields, and we asked the Government to implement that pledge. They are doing it to-day. We sincerely hope that they will make some improvement and that miners' wages throughout the country will be put on a higher level, but, make no mistake about it, as long as you have private ownership, as long as you have inter-district competition, you will not get a fair price level in the coalfield. If we accept this, it is only because we hope it will make some improvement, but we shall go on until we get the necessary organisation which we believe is essential, namely, organisation under public ownership.

5.53 p.m.


While the hon. Member was speaking I was beginning to wonder whether he was really in favour of the Order or against it. People with whom I have tried to discuss the matter tell me that the South Wales scheme is so complicated that they really do not know where they are, and that seems to be the general conclusion of Members as they read the Order for themselves. The schemes are difficult to understand and it is difficult to know exactly what are the limits of the powers given to those who are controlling them. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) complained that there was no representation of the miners generally, and I think they are entitled to their just complaint, and I cannot help feeling that they are right in their complaint of the Minister's statement that these schemes are under the control of an independent elected body. In South Wales, in particular, I understand that the Board of Control that is to take charge of the scheme is to be elected by the executive board, and that executive board is representative of the mining industry itself. They are making the appointments, they pay the salaries and they retain for themselves the right of dismissal. All those interested in the welfare of the industry must realise that the policy of the Control Board will be the policy, in the main, of the coalowners themselves and, if the Board of Control does not carry out the wishes of the executive board, it will receive short shrift from the owners themselves.

There is one other complaint that we have. The executive board has the power to appoint and dismiss. They can decide points of policy in the long run on the basis of tonnage, so that the large coal-owners can practically wipe out the smaller and independent coalowners. We rather regret that the Secretary for Mines has not taken some steps to safeguard the smaller and independent coal-owners in the working of these schemes. We have heard a great deal about the miners, and quite rightly, but in my constituency, which is in the centre of a large coal exporting area, there are a large number of men who have built up the export trades and devoted their lives and their money to the development of markets oversea for certain classes of coal. They are greatly perturbed as to the powers given by this Order to the coalowners to decide at one fell swoop who should be on the list of registered distributors. I think it is essential that the Mines Department should exercise great care before it approves of detailed schemes, in order to ensure that these distributors get a fair deal from the colliery owners. I have in mind a very influential distributor who has spent substantial sums of money and devoted considerable time to developing markets on the Continent and in certain parts of the South of England. The coalowners know exactly where the coal is going, and at any moment under this scheme it will be possible for them to decide not to recommend that he should be placed in the registered list and to sell the coal direct. The Minister must be very careful in scrutinising the powers that the coalowners will exercise.

The last speaker referred to the steel trade. The iron and steel industry was the first large industry that looked sympathetically on the proposal to give an increased price for coal with a view to increasing wages. I was personally responsible for telling the coalowners that we were prepared to pay an increased price is we got a guarantee that the whole of the increase would go in the form of miners' wages. It is not true to say that the steel industry has become prosperous at the expense of the miner or the coal industry. We are paying a bigger percentage increase in price for coal in the steel industry to-day in comparison with 1913 and 1914, than we get for the work we are producing. It is important that the representatives of miners and of mining constituencies should realise that you can push up the price of coal too high. The House has been given an impression this afternoon that coal prices have been too low. I have got from the Vote Office the return for last quarter, ended 31st March, issued by the Secretary for Mines, as to profits in coal. Some districts have made surprisingly large profits. I see that South Derbyshire, district seven, shows a profit in the three months of 3s. 3½d. per ton. The Lancashire, Cheshire and North Staffordshire districts 2s. 5.4d., and the number nine district, Cumberland and so forth, shows a profit of 1s. 4d. The summary for the whole of Great Britain shows that there has been a profit of 1s. 5d. a ton. I am not suggesting that this is true in every district. The position in the district in the South Wales area, from which I come, is tragic, and the loss is something like 5d. We are now dealing with organised selling over the whole coal industry of the country, and we have to be careful that we are not driving up the price of coal to the consumers and to industrialists to too high a figure.

Whatever other causes may be responsible for the trouble in the coal trade during the last few years, for the depression and reduced output, Members of mining constituencies forget that amazing scientific developments have taken place in the use of coal in every industry. I see this going on in the steel industry from day to day, and I could give many instances where, within a period of two or three years, the consumption of coal in the production of a ton of steel has been reduced by two or three cwts. At the beginning of this year I knew of a large steel company which joined with others in volunteering an additional 1s. in the price of coal for a contract running for three years, but at the same time an instruction was sent out to each engineer of every works within that company, saying that coal was to cost more per ton and that every effort must be made to save that increased cost by reducing the consumption of coal by a more scientific and economic use of coal.

While it is a very easy matter to put up the price of coal by an Order of this kind, let those who represent mining constituencies beware lest the reaction may be very much more serious. I hold the view that a man—and I have lived amongst miners all my life—who works underground is worth £1 a week more than any man who works upon the surface, and I want to see miners' wages raised. The propaganda which is being used at the moment for raising the price of coal by stating that industries are getting coal at a lower price is very ill informed. The question has been raised as to what is to happen from the point of view of large industries. We are concerned about the scheme from this standpoint. Under the 1930 Act collieries which were part of a mixed undertaking were kept outside the scheme of amalgamation, but were brought in for the purpose of the pro- duction of coke. We have the ridiculous system operating at the present time under that Act, that a large iron and steel company owning a colliery to supply itself with the coke which is essential for its own use has automatically, because the quota for the whole of the collieries in that district may be reduced to 65 per cent., to bring its colliery to a standstill. It has to go into the market or to the coal exchange and buy quotas from somewhere else at a shilling or 1s. 6d. a ton in order to work its own colliery and supply its own coal to its own steel works.

It was never intended that anything of that kind should operate. You are immediately increasing substantially the cost to your own department of coal which does not go into ordinary commercial markets in competition with other coal. In this scheme you are tightening up that system. You are going a step further. In order to avoid inter-district competition you are to say that, if an iron and steel company or a mixed undertaking owns a colliery to satisfy its own needs, and it is in a district other than the district in which the works are situated, it will not be allowed under this scheme to use its own coal. I suggest that the Minister should look at these schemes and safeguard that position.

I also appeal to him to try and safeguard the position of the general distributor of coal. It is unfair to the miner and to the coalowner if there are four or five middlemen having a bite off the cherry—and nobody desires that that sort of thing should continue—but where men have devoted their lives to building up a distributing business, whether it be on a small or a large scale, the Minister should see that the schemes safeguard their position. I ask the Minister once more not to encourage either coalowners or coal miners or miners' representatives with the one idea that enhanced prices for coal are to be a good thing for miners in all directions. I am confident that if you put up the price of coal too high, the result will be that you will reduce the consumption of coal very much to the detriment of the coalowners and the coal miners.

6.8 p.m.


The House has listened to speeches which have been delivered by experts. I do not pretend for a moment to be an expert with regard to the coal trade, and I also want to make it clear that in what I say I am only expressing my own opinion. I hate this kind of legislation, and have never hidden my views as to what I think about this control and planning of industry. The Secretary for Mines made a splendid speech in explanation of these particular schemes, but it was an astounding speech from one who professes to believe in private enterprise. It was a speech that could have been made very effectively by anyone believing in nationalisation. He spoke about evasions of the 1930 Act, blamed people and spoke of men being fined for producing something for which there is a demand—a strange sort of statement for a person who belongs to the Conservative party. He said that these schemes were being brought into play to eliminate competition—those were his words—and then he began to cite instances where men under these schemes, because of the question of a quota, would have to prove that they had competed and had tried to sell their products. It was a strange contradiction in terms.

I want to make it clear at the outset that I believe that the miner does not get an adequate wage. I happen to have a business in a mining area where miners come to me time after time and show me their pay tickets. It is scandalous that they should receive such low wages, but I am absolutely convinced that neither the 1930 Act nor the selling schemes will of themselves enable the miner to receive a better wage. It is very strange that we find the coalowners so very keen on these schemes. Two or three weeks ago we were discussing a Coal Mines Bill, and when they were tackled and told that some of their powers to run their businesses as they desired were to be taken away, and that they would be compensated according to a decision which would be made later, a terrible storm arose from the coalowners, and I joined in that scream. But under these selling schemes the powers to be given to them are equally as great as those of which they complained in the Coal Mines Bill. It is astounding that these executive boards can regulate the output of coal, the amount for export, the amount for inland supply, the production of each pit, can cancel all quotas, fix prices, different prices for different areas, cause an examination of the books of each separate colliery, decide to whom they shall sell and to whom they shall not sell, and the quality they shall sell. It is astonishing that they should agree to all that kind of thing. It is absolute dictatorship and monopoly on their part, and yet they complained two or three weeks ago of the powers taken in that Bill to limit them in certain particulars.

I want to ask one or two questions of the Minister because I believe that there is a genuine fear on the part of merchants with regard to these selling schemes. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) did not make any complaint in his speech this afternoon against the merchants with regard to prices. He said that very often agents from the colliery sold at a lower price than they need have done and then tried to lower the rages of colliers. As far as my information is concerned there is a lot of loose talk about the profits which merchants make on the selling of coal. I believe that the competition among them is so severe that there are not many who are making large profits. Let us not forget that the merchant serves a very useful purpose. I am not one who believes that there is no room for the merchant. It may be that there are too many persons between the producer and the consumer. Should I be correct in saying—I am asking this as a question—that under these selling schemes the merchant can be eliminated? Is the power of the producer of coal to be such that he will be able to say that "A" shall remain in existence and "B" shall go out of existence, or that "A" shall sell a certain quality of coal and "B" shall not, or that "A" shall sell in a certain area and that "B" shall not?

I ask for a specific reply from the Minister as to whether there can be a distinction between different merchants even to the point of a merchant's name being crossed off the register. I understand from these schemes that a certain minimum price will be fixed at which coal can be sold, and that the producers will fix the price to the merchants. Will it be possible under these schemes for a producer to fix a higher price to the merchant in order to enable the said producer to sell the product at a lower minimum price? I can see that a virtual and unfair monopoly can be created by fixing too high a price and then selling direct at a very much lower rate.

Another point that I should like to raise refers to the individual colliery owner. It is almost a crime in this House to defend the individual. Men of all types seem to be less and less concerned about individuals. If an individual can run his business at a profit it seems to me that it is regarded as the greatest crime of all. Under these schemes the great combines can to a large extent not perhaps eliminate the individual colliery owner but to regulate to a tremendous extent what shall be his part. Is it going to be that the individual colliery owner who finds that he can work his pit efficiently—I could cite many who are paying good wages and employing their men regularly—will be put in a position under these schemes of having his production limited in order that some of that production can go to a less efficient pit or to combines which virtually are going to enjoy a monopoly?

What would happen if a man wanted to open a new pit? I cannot find out from the schemes. Have we reached a point under these selling schemes where, seeing that there are so many people in the coal industry, no one else shall enter. Is private enterprise going to be completely eliminated? Let me say a word with regard to the consumers. The Minister said that they were adequately protected under these selling schemes. The whole trouble is that none of us has seen the schemes. All that we have seen are the draft Orders. I have seen one or two knocking about, but I did not like to pick them up and see what they were, because they were meant for private and not public consumption. I am certain that there cannot have been all this correspondence with Members of Parliament unless the consumers justly feel that they are not adequately protected. I cannot see why both the miners and the consumers are not given seats on many of these boards. As the Government are going to give monopolistic powers to other people, why should not the workers and the consumers be represented?


They do not have seats on the boards of gas companies.


That is a different thing. In regard to gas companies there are statutory provisions as to price and the profits that the companies can make. There is nothing of the kind under these schemes. That is a complete answer to the hon. Member. There are certain statutory obligations in regard to gas companies which are not applicable to the coalowners. There would be something in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remark if those obligations applied to these particular undertakings. Nobody ought to be given monopolistic powers, but if they are to be given such powers then they ought to be given to all interested—the owners, the workers and the consumers. This is protection and everybody should have adequate representation with regard to the particular matters involved.

One reason given for these schemes is that there should be an adequate return, having regard to the cost of production. That is essential in every industry. No industry can continue long unless it gets an adequate return, and the purpose of that adequate return should be to enable the industry to give an adequate wage to the men employed in it. Will these schemes produce that desired end. We were told that the Act of 1930 would do it. Is the producer, the worker or the consumer satisfied with the 1930 scheme? Not one part of the industry is satisfied and I do not believe that these schemes will achieve what we set out to achieve by them.

During the last Parliament, time after time in reply to the Minister of Agriculture, I stated that in the end the consumers decide the price of any product. The consumers will decide this problem. The hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. L. Jones) gave an illustration of a steel firm which had agreed to pay the increased price due to the increased wages agreed upon some time ago, and the first thing they did was to find out means of economising in the use of coal. The consequences of any action that will put up the price of coal to an exorbitant figure will be that people will use less coal. It is neither in the interests of the coalowner nor the miner that coal should reach such a price as to put it out of the reach of people who otherwise could afford to consume it. There is another side to this question, but I should be out of order if I pursued it. There would be a great more coal consumed if people had the wages with which to buy it. If you leave people in a position where they are unemployed and so on, and at the same time you raise the price of coal, there will be less coal used.

Honestly, I would prefer nationalisation to these schemes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am dead against nationalisation, but I would prefer it to these schemes. We give monopolistic powers to certain industries week after week in this House, subsidies, protection and all that kind of thing. If Parliament is going to guarantee the profits of certain industries by Statute, it is a far more honest policy to say that the people of this country shall reap the reward of their own legislation.

6.25 p.m.

Colonel ROPNER

I should like to add a word of congratulation to the Secretary for Mines on the exceedingly able speech which he made earlier this afternoon. I have seldom listened to a more clear or more concise statement on any subject. I anticipate that if the rejection motion which is on the Order Paper is moved it will receive very little support from Members of this House. The Central scheme and the district schemes will, I am sure, receive the overwhelming support of all sections and all parties. That is particularly true in view of the modifications in the existing arrangements in respect of the Committees of Investigation, which the Minister of Mines announced.

As we approach monopoly in any industry it becomes more and more essential that the interests of consumers should be safeguarded. I agree whole-heartedly with the Minister when he said that there must be very few industries and very few individuals who do not wish to assist in bringing renewed prosperity to the mining industry. I do not think it was necessary for the Minister to remind the House that if something is not done soon the mining industry may be faced with a grave industrial dispute. That industry to-day has the sympathy of the whole nation. As one who formerly represented a constituency which was almost entirely mining in character and who represents to-day a constituency in which many miners live, I welcome whole-heartedly the Orders which we are now considering. I believe that effect will be given to the pledge contained in the Election manifesto of my party, a pledge which I endorsed from many platforms. I believe that the establishment of centrally controlled selling is in accordance with the mine owners' undertaking to the Government, an undertaking which helped very largely to terminate the dispute in the mining industry earlier in the year.

Having expressed my whole-hearted approval of the Order, I hope the House will bear with me for a short time if I voice certain apprehensions which are held by the Parliamentary Committee of the Chamber of Shipping, apprehension shared, I think, by large numbers of shipowners and perhaps even by many mine-owners themselves. Speaking generally, as has been already pointed out this afternoon, the internal consumption of coal can be and is safeguarded from the competition of other fuels. Producing industries and manufacturing industries in this country are also protected from the competition of foreigners who may be working with cheaper coal, but the external coal market, bunkers and the export trade, is in an entirely different position. British bunker and export coal encounters the free competition in the world market of foreign produced coal and of other fuels.

I have a few figures which will illustrate the vital interdependence of the mining and shipping industries. I do not know whether it is generally known that already 47 per cent. of the shipping of this country has gone over to oil. Some 53 per cent. has clung to coal. What of the future? Certain specialised ships, such as big liners, for the sake of cleanliness and speed in taking fuel will continue to burn oil, without any shadow of doubt. But owners of coastal vessels and tramp ships are to-day very undecided whether to build ships to burn oil or coal, and very largely it is the price at which they can obtain coal that determines their decision as to which type of ship to build. Another figure which I think will be of interest to the House is that, measured by weight, coal accounts for three-quarters of the exports of this country, something just under 40,000,000 tons. The bunker coal supplied in the United Kingdom amounts to about 14,000,000 tons annually. Shipping, therefore, is directly and deeply interested in 53,000,000 tons of coal mined in this country; 14,000,000 tons consumed as bunkers and 39,000,000 tons export coal carried in British ships. That is nearly one-quarter of the whole of British coal production. I suggest that these figures are of some importance and raise questions of great gravity both for the mining and shipping industries. The markets for our export coal and for bunkers are completely open to world competition. There is no protection for the miner in this direction.

In passing let me say of what great value to the mining industry the trade agreements have been. Large quantities of coal are exported under trade agreements at something above the world market prices, but such agreements cannot form a permanent basis for the coal trade and, generally, it is impossible to protect our export markets. Even to-day many British owners are being forced to buy foreign bunker coal, but to an even greater extent foreign shipowners who used to buy British coal are now buying foreign coal. I am told that a Flushing the Hook of Holland and Amsterdam it is possible to buy bunker coal at about 13s. 9d. per ton f.o.b., while in the United Kingdom coal ports it is necessary to pay from 15s. to 21s. At Gdynia you can obtain coal of a fair quality at 10s. a ton, and I know one British line which is buying large quantities of that Polish coal at that price. There is another difficulty which may arise owing to selling schemes. It is not many months ago since it was simply impossible for shipowners to obtain any coal in the Humber, and I have had the unhappy experience of having to send two or three ships which were in the Humber river to take coals in Antwerp because no coals were available at Hull. There is something wrong there. I hope that in any scheme which is formulated as the result of these Orders, measures will be taken to ensure that that sort of thing does not occur.

The Secretary for Mines quite rightly said that many industries in tins country were to-day considerably more prosperous than they were a few months or a few years ago. I do not ask for sympathy, but that remark is certainly not true of the shipping industry. That in- dustry, open as it also is to world competition, has to meet very intense competition. I would not blame British shipowners, if the difference in price between British and foreign coal became too great for buying foreign coal or turning over to oil. I should like to mention one other matter in connection with the shipping industry, and this concerns coastal shipping. Two problems arise. First, bunker coals consumed by coastal ships are counted in the quota for home consumption and are sold at that price. When the heavy oil duty was imposed coastal shipping was given special consideration because of its special difficulties. If he can do nothing more this afternoon, I should like to ask the Secretary for Mines to promise me that in this connection he will bear in mind once again these special difficulties and ascertain whether it is not possible for coastal ships to obtain their bunkers under the export quota.

The second problem of coastal shipping is this: Bunkers which are shipped from a port such as Newcastle to a port like London for reshipment there as bunkers for foreign-going ships, are also included in the quota for home consumption. It has caused great hardship in some of the Channel ports and has, in fact, lost a certain amount of trade to the mining industry. Ships going up the English Channel to a foreign port and which have to decide whether they will take bunkers at a Channel port or go to a Continental port are often constrained to go to the Continental port because the bunker coals which have been shipped coastwise in the United Kingdom are standing at an exorbitantly high figure. I submit that it would help coastal shipping and the mining industry if bunkers which stand in these two categories were included in the export quota.

Let me say, in conclusion, that recently there have been very friendly meetings between representatives of the shipowners and the Central Council of the Central Coal Mines Scheme, 1930. I have in my hand a letter from Sir Evan Williams, from which I will quote. He says: The problems of the export and bunker trade were a matter of the most serious concern to us. We realise that the case of the export and bunker trades was one which will continue to call for the most careful consideration on our part. This remains our attitude to-day. I do not complain in any sense of the word of the conversations which have been held. I only rise this afternoon to impress upon the coalowners the necessity, in their own interests and in the interests of the miners, to keep a close eye on this problem and to urge the Minister to keep a constant and vigilant watch on the position so far as bunker and export coal is concerned. Shipping is still depressed. It is not on that ground that I have made a plea this afternoon, but rather on the ground that if a mistake is made in the direction I have indicated as possible it will indeed be a tragedy for the mining industry. It is the welfare of the mining industry which we are considering this afternoon, and I hope that these Orders, which I am sure will receive the approval of the House, will bring some measure of prosperity to a sorely tried industry.

6.40 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) has given us some very interesting figures relating to the bunker and export trade and has also read a letter from the President of the Mining Association. The observation of the President of the Mining Association that the matter is under consideration is one which I have heard from that gentleman for a number of years past. We have discussed with the coalowners matters relating to the export trade and the difficulties arising therefrom. We have had to give consideration to the price difficulties to which the hon. and gallant Member has referred. They are of great importance, and it is vitally necessary that the Secretary for Mines should pay attention to the difficulties which will arise in the export coal trade and in the bunker trade. Why is it that coal can be obtained for bunkers in British ships cheaper on the Continent than in this country? It is not due to the fact that coal can be produced more cheaply on the Continent. Indeed, generally speaking, the coal mines are farther from the coast on the Continent than they are in Wales. But one has to seek an explanation why coal can be supplied more cheaply.

That is one of the defects of the scheme we are considering to-day, and it is a defect which does not exist in the Continental coal arrangements. As a matter of fact, since 1893 the Ruhr district of Germany has had a coal-selling syndicate which was set up because of the difficulties that obtained in that coalfield at the time, economic difficulties, and that scheme has been going on since then. I am not talking about the present political regime in Germany, but one is bound to have regard to the efficiency of industrial and commercial organisation such as exists in Germany.

Colonel ROPNER

I think the hon. Member should mention that in Germany and other Continental countries very heavy subsidies are paid to the export coal and a levy is made on coal for home consumption.


That is precisely what the hon. and gallant Member did not mention and what I am trying to convey to the House. The selling syndicate operating in Germany has control not only over the coal in particular districts but throughout the whole of the Ruhr. It takes control of the total production of the coalfield, and it sells in the noncompetitive areas of Germany. It levies a certain charge on the inland prices and that charge goes into the syndicate funds. From the syndicate funds the bunker coal trade and the cheap coal trade, to which the hon. and gallant Member referred, is financed, and so also is the export coal trade from Germany.

The situation in this country is entirely different. For a number of years we have been arguing that it is unfair both to the miners and the mine owners in the coal exporting industry that they should be called upon to finance the maintenance of our export coal trade. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Hall) made what I thought, to be a very accurate observation with regard to the importance of the export coal trade in the economy of this country. It is tremendously important, but we are allowing the burden of that coal trade to be borne by the miners and the mine owners. That is clear from the evidence of the Quarterly Statistical Statement which is in the Vote Office at the present time. If I remember correctly, there is in the export districts a loss of 5d. a ton according to those figures as compared with a profit of 3s. 3d. a ton in certain other districts. How can the coal trade be carried on in that manner?

In this connection I would like to put a definite question to the Minister. He says he has brought forward these schemes to carry out the undertaking given to the Miners' Feedration that the miners would be granted an increase in wages. This afternoon every hon. Member who has spoken has spoken sympathetically with regard to the miners; every hon. Member who has spoken has said that the miners ought to have an increase in wages. The hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Jones) said that every miner should have a pound a week more than a man whose work is on the surface and in his very next sentence the hon. Member asked for cheap coal. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holds-worth) put forward a complaint against the schemes and said he would prefer nationalisation. So would I. I think that ultimately we shall be sensible enough to get nationalisation, but we have not yet arrived at that stage. We are considering the present position, and so far as I understood the hon. Member, he desired that we should allow competition to run wild as it has done throughout the post-war years. I am afraid the House does not realise fully what, has happened in the coal trade. In pre-war years the coal trade in this country expanded at the rate of 4,000,000 tons a year for a period of 30 years. There was no need for central selling schemes, since there was a demand for the whole of the coal that could be produced. The industry was a continuously expanding one, and we were comparatively prosperous in those days.

In the post-war period an entirely different thing happened. The Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) referred to 1926, and I think he completely misunderstood the causes. The causes were the post-war conditions which obtained in the mining industry, the contraction, of trade, the urge upon the employers to get coal more cheaply and the efforts to reduce wages. All those things brought about not only the trouble in 1921 but that in 1926, and the general strike was due entirely to the same causes. What has happened in the post-war period? Instead of an expansion of 4,000,000 tons a year, there has been a contraction throughout the whole of the post-war period of more than an average of 2,000,000 tons a year. Let my hon. Friends on the Liberal benches try to picture the situation of there being a surplus of 2,000,000 tons a year on the market. They can ask for freedom, laissez faire and all the old-time Liberal policies, but let them try to picture what happens to the mining industry or to any other industry when there is such a surplus. What they would like apparently would be a continuance of what has been happening during recent years, but what has that meant? It has meant the creation in this country of what we now call the Special Areas, which are the product of this policy which has allowed the coal trade to drift.

I have said before in this House that we have had difficulties with the coal-owners. I think that generally speaking they are the most stubborn of all employers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not all of them."] I will qualify that by saying that some of them have been most stubborn, perhaps particularly those I have had to deal with. I remember distinctly that as far back as 1924, I used all the energy I possessed, in association with my colleagues of the Miners' Federation, to try to get a measure of control in this industry. Who does not remember the late Vernon Hartshorn, a very highly respected Member of this House, who was associated with us at that time in that work? I would like to join with the Minister in expressing my appreciation of the services given to the industry by the late Mr. F. W. Archer, who rendered an enormous amount of service by trying to bring some order into the industry. It has got into a very disorderly state and a number of industries have benefited because of that. Everybody has been able to buy cheap coal. The gas undertakings, which have spent so much money on propaganda lately, have had coal far too cheaply. The same applies to the electricity undertakings and many other trades. They have been well enough organised to protect themselves, but the mining industry has not been. Consequently we are getting wages which are far too low, and I admit that in. some instances the profits are also too low in some of the districts.

If we are to have a continuance of this freedom which is so desired by some of my hon. Friends, there will be created additional derelict villages and closed pits, and more men will be thrown on to the scrap heap. Moreover, there is perhaps the danger in the schemes of getting some of that by amalgamation, and I would like to give a warning to the Minister in that respect. I think it is too short-sighted altogether to look at the actual amount of money that may be saved as a consequence of closing a pit for the purpose of concentrating output in another pit. We have to take a wider view than that. In that respect we have been far too narrow in the past. What is the social cost involved in closing a colliery? How much does it cost the country? Those ought to be considerations as well as the question as to how much the individual company can save. Up to the present we have given no consideration at all to the interests of the towns and villages. For my own purposes I have on occasions worked out what I sometimes call the socially-owned capital and compared it with the amount of capital invested in a pit. On every occasion when I have done I have found that the socially-owned capital is about twice as much as that invested in the industry, but the people who own that capital have no say whatever as to whether a pit shall be closed.

I am glad that there is to be some improvement in the organisation of selling in the industry, but I have no great hopes that we shall get increased wages. In South Wales prices will have to be increased on an average by 2s. a ton before the miners will get a penny a day increase in wages. Since we have the export trade with no subsidy and no organisation to help it, and as South Wales is exporting about 55 per cent. of its total output and selling only 45 per cent. of that output inland, that means that there will have to be an increase in the prices of the inland sales of approximately 4s. or 5s. a ton. Does anybody hope to get that? The same applies very largely to Northumberland and also to Durham and some other areas. How is the position to be met so far as those areas are concerned?

I warn the Minister that what he said in his last remarks this afternoon concerning the possibility of industrial disturbances is very real. The miners accepted the arrangement on the definite assurance from the Government that the coalowners would be called upon to prepare, produce and operate selling schemes which would make it possible for the miners to have increased wages. That was the undertaking. We shall know sooner or later whether it will be carried out. I hope it will be. I have to admit the fact that has been put forward in the Debate that the coalowners under this scheme will have a complete monopoly. This afternoon I interrupted the Minister with regard to the question as to who will appoint the controlling committees. Apparently the coalowners will make the appointments, pay the salaries and have the right to make dismissals, which means that they will have a complete monopoly. I do not think these schemes will carry us very far. It may be that they will take us a step forward as far as some of the inland districts are concerned, but I hope that between now and the end of the year, or in the autumn when the Mines Bill is to be amended, the Minister will pay very close attention to the situation, and I hope that both he and the Government will be bold enough to introduce the Amendments which are necessary in order to put the mining industry on a solid economic foundation.

6.53 p.m.


I have listened with interest to the extremely able speech made by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) and I find myself in agreement with a great deal of it. I do not think anybody can quarrel with the analysis which the hon. Member gave of the trouble in the coal industry since the War. It is the vast surplus productive capacity which has been at the root of all our troubles and has forced Socialist Governments, Conservative Governments and National Governments to take action which very likely has been distasteful to a great many of their own supporters. The 1930 Act was intended to remedy that difficult position, but that Act failed very largely in its object. I think it failed for three principal reasons. The first was that the system of price fixing under that Act was crude and unworkable, and would have interfered with all the ordinary channels of trade in coal. The second reason was that it was not until 18 months ago that the coal industry took power under the Act to separate the export quota from the inland quota, and during the last five years, with the export trade steadily going down, there has been pressure upon the home market which has steadily forced prices down. The third reason is that the quota itself has been too generously allocated. The central council has been anxious all the time to please everybody and therefore the quota by itself has not been sufficient to maintain a steady price level.

The owners have been blamed—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) blamed them—for being dilatory in doing anything under the 1930 Act. The hon. Member for Aberdare said that they might have had these schemes six years ago, but I think he ought to bear in mind, as I think the country ought to bear in mind, the important part which cheap coal has played in the recovery from the slump of 1930. The output of coal in this country fell to its lowest level for over 30 years in 1933, and I was not prepared to advocate dearer coal when the output was steadily falling and when industry was in the state in which it was between 1930 and 1933. Cheap coal has played a large part in the recovery from the slump. In the autumn of 1935 the situation was wholly changed. We had seen a most remarkable recovery, particularly in the iron and steel trade. The output of iron and steel had doubled in the last three years, and industry generally by the autumn of 1935 was in a state to bear some increase in coal prices. The miners in the autumn of last year had obtained no share in the general increase of prosperity, and there was at the Election—we all felt it in our constituencies—a wide feeling of sympathy with the miners. Do not let is forget that the Election was fought on, and a stoppage in the coal industry was avoided by, the pledge of the coalowners to the Government that central selling schemes would be introduced.

I want to say a word about the settlement of the wages dispute in January, because it has an important bearing on the question of inter-district competition in the coal industry. I suggested when that dispute was before the House that we should put a levy on coal sold in this country to assist the exporting districts to give the same increase in wages as was being asked for in other districts. We have a peculiar position in the export trade. I do not think that lower prices will materially increase the volume of the export trade, and the object with which I put forward the suggestion for a subsidy by means of a levy was to enable those districts to make an increase in wages comparable to the increase which I felt could be given in the inland districts.

I made it a condition of such a subsidy that there should be some limit placed on the right of the exporting districts to increase their present shares in the home market. I am not making any secrets public when I say that this question has been discussed at the Central Council, but it was discussed after the wages increase of January had been made, and not before, and it was much more difficult to agree to a settlement after the increases, which were of a different character in different districts, than it would have been if the agreement had been made before. They could not come to terms on this question, partly because the exporting districts were not ready to give any undertaking that they would limit their share of the inland market.

The failure to agree on this question may endanger the whole success of the schemes which the Minister is putting before us. For one thing, the flat rate increases in wages will operate very unfairly between collieries selling all their coal in the home market and collieries selling all their coal in the export trade. The idea of a subsidy was to enable the exporting colliery to recover some part of the increased wages paid. In the second place—and this is much more important—how can we expect to get effective co-ordination of inter-district prices if we have certain districts determined to increase their share of the present inland market? The two things are wholly incompatible, and unless there can be an agreement on how the inland market is to be divided, we shall get no effective co-ordination. Unless we get effective co-ordination these schemes will work very unfairly, because consumers situated in the neighbourhood of collieries where the local market is protected from outside competition will have to pay more, whereas consumers situated where there are two or more districts in competition will pay no more for their coal. That is a wholly undesirable result. The man who wants to start a factory or works does gain some advantage from going into the coalfields, which are usually distressed areas, but if the price of coal is to be put up in and around the coalfields, and is not to be put up in the South of England where inter-district competition is strong, it will be unfair to the distressed areas.

I want to urge again, therefore, that this question of a subsidy for the export trade from within the resources of the industry should be reconsidered. It is vital to the success of the scheme under these Orders. This is a question in which the men are as vitally interested as the owners. Speaking as a Midland coalowner, I believe that we have just as much to gain from it as have the exporting districts. It is a fit subject for thrashing out by the Joint Consultative Committee, on which both owners and men are represented.

I turn for one moment to the question of the consumers' interests. We are establishing under these Orders for the coal industry something in the nature of a monopoly. We have, therefore—and I think the coalowners are not only willing but anxious to do it—to see that the consumers' interests are fully safeguarded in every possible way. Some of the safeguards which public utility companies have to observe are not suitable to a raw material like coal. Take one example. Hon. Members probably know that you do not find even at an individual colliery a single price for a single class of coal. The price of a single quality varies at a single colliery in accordance with the difference in freight from the colliery to the different consumers. The advantage of geographical proximity between the consumer and the producer is divided between the two. That means that you have not uniformity in pit-head prices or uniform delivered prices, but a mixture between the two, and who is to say whether the consumer near a colliery or one 150 miles away is getting undue preference? It is an impossible decision for anyone to give. That is one example of how the ordinary safeguards are not applicable to the coal industry.

I welcome the statement of the Minister that he is going to see that the Committees of Investigation become effective and powerful tribunals for putting right any complaints which the consumers bring forward. I would go even further, and would be prepared to accept limitation of profits in the coal industry, and to prove to an independent tribunal that the industry was economically and efficiently run. We have now had 10 years of peace in the coal industry, years which have been very anxious and difficult for those in responsible positions on both sides, more especially perhaps for the leaders of the men. We enjoy to-day a larger measure of good will among the consuming public than we have ever had. Do not let us by any hasty action throw away that good will.

7.12 p.m.


I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: the consideration of the draft of the Central (Coal Mines) Scheme (Amendment) Order, 1936, be postponed until the Coal Mines Act, 1930, has been amended so as to provide adequate safeguards for the consumers. When this Amendment appeared on the Paper it was received with a clamorous chorus of sycophantic applause from gas and electric supply companies and municipal corporations, who lost no time in congratulating those who had put down the Amendment and urging almost all local Members to give them support. They urged that there should be four safeguards—that district selling organisations should be under a statutory obligation to supply coal of the quality required; that they should he under statutory obligations similar to those imposed on gas, water and electricity companies in the matter of undue preference; that they should have access to the prices at which different classes of coal were sold; and that there should be proper and effective tribunals in place of the present committees of investigation, against which they had many complaints. The Minister lost no time in suggesting a compromise in respect of the fourth safeguard, whereupon, with amazing unanimity, the Association of Municipal Corporations, gas undertakings and electricity undertakings sent fresh letters to all Members of Parliament begging them not to oppose the Order, not to support the Amendment. They thought we were protesting at their request and that we should stop at their desire. That is not the case. Some of us put this Amendment down because we regarded the whole system with anxiety, and not least the position of the smaller consumer and the distributor.

I willingly join in the congratulations which have been showered on the Minister for his lucid description and exposition of the Orders. He must feel enervated, almost suffocated, by the odour of the bouquets which have been showered on him from all sides of the House. He was lucid, but he threw light backwards rather than forwards. There was little indication in his speech of the probable consequences. He gave us a somewhat laboured explanation of why the district schemes could not be published. He has undertaken to amend the Act of 1930 in several respects—the Order now before us is intended to modify it drastically in a number of directions. A stranger in the Gallery would never have guessed from his speech that what was being done was not to pass an Order in accordance with the Act of 1930 so much as to modify the text of that Act in several important respects.

I do not doubt that, had the Minister wished to do so, it would have been easy to procure that, under the powers given to the Government in that Act, the Central Council could take steps to publish all the schemes beforehand. I have not asked the Minister for a copy of any particular scheme but by going to the proper quarter I obtained a copy without any difficulty and I fancy that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) could very easily have obtained one himself. I am in a position therefore, to read to the House some extracts from an actual scheme which has been discussed meticulously and at length between the executive board and the officials of the Ministry of Mines, and which will within 48 hours or so after the passing of this Order presumably be circulated to the coalowners for their approval. The preamble is so definite and declaratory as to leave us consumers under no misapprehension of what is intended: With a view to the elimination of all competition, the removal of all possibility of evasion of the provisions of the district schemes and with a view to obtaining the best possible prices for coal consistent with the maintenance of the district's position in the industry it is proposed that the Durham District Coal Mines Scheme, 1930, shall be amended … So as to incorporate therein a selling scheme—


Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he is reading the Durham scheme?




Is he aware that no miners' leader in Durham has had any copy of the scheme?


I can only regret that the hon. Gentleman did not make application as I did for a copy of the scheme.


I asked for it and I could not get it.


That shows the danger of the somewhat evasive secrecy practised by Government Departments in matters of such importance. I will not attempt to go into all the details of the scheme, but it goes on to provide that a selling control committee is to be established, that two members of the committee are to be a quorum, and that in some cases there may be a quorum of one—that committee is to deal with the whole question of the allocation of orders and of coal. At the end there is a most menacing section. I will read a few sections, because it is well that these things should be known and this is the place in which to make them known: The committee shall prepare a list (hereinafter called the district list) of exporters, merchants, factors and agents, hereinafter referred to as approved merchants, and may from time to time add fresh names to the list. In preparing the list and adding to the same the committee shall have regard to any recommendation made to them by owners as to the names to be included in or omitted from such list. The committee may divide the district into parts according to the particular description of business that any approved merchant may have been engaged in in the past or may, with the approval of the committee"— which I gather is to have a quorum of one— propose to engage in the future. The coalowners are not to be entitled to sell coal to anybody who is not on the list, but they must enter into an agreement with the board which shall specify the period during which the agreement shall continue and that on its determination the approved merchant's name shall automatically be removed from the district list. They must have covenants to observe and be bound by any instructions given by the committee either directly or through any owner to an approved merchant with a view to eliminating competition in respect of any intended contract. As the Minister said earlier, there is to be some competition, but not too much. With a view to ensuring that the provisions of the agreement are observed by the merchant, there is a covenant to produce books and documents so far as they may, in the opinion of the committee, relate directly or indirectly to the sale or supply of coal produced in the district. The accounts of the merchants are to be available at any time to the owners—not to a public body, not to a national body, not to a civil servant, but to a small caucus of local coalowners. There is a provision that where a merchant acts as agent of the owner for the sale and supply of coal the rate of remuneration which he shall receive is to be fixed by the committee from time to time. That is a sample of these 17 district schemes.


I think I had better interrupt the hon. Gentleman when he says that it is a sample. In fact, it has not been approved at all at the present moment. A scheme cannot be approved anyhow until after the Order has been passed, and neither this scheme nor any other has been approved. I understand that what the hon. Member is referring to is a draft scheme which has not been approved by the owners of that district.


In view of the reply which the Minister has just made, may I point out to him that the scheme which is being quoted by the hon. Gentleman must cause some uneasiness to the Members of the House. Is it not the case that such a scheme would be approved by the Minister himself—that he will decide whether it shall be approved or not? In that case, what provision will be made so that Members of the House of Commons shall have a say in the question of the ultimate scheme?


The position is that a certain number of these schemes are being discussed by the owners in the district, but have not yet been approved by them. In answer to the hon. Member's question, the approval of the schemes is one of my responsibilities, and I shall endeavour to discharge it to the best of my ability.


Do I understand, then, that we are discussing draft schemes with no idea of what the final schemes will be—that, in fact, the schemes are not in existence?


What are we voting for to-night?


I well understand that what I have been quoting is a draft. It is dated 30th May, and I am informed it has been under careful and meticulous consideration by officials of the Mines Department and by officials of the local district board and that it is substantially what they hope to put forward.


If the hon. Member persists in saying that, I must ask him on what authority he makes that statement?


And how does he come to have this draft scheme?


I have the scheme from the hand of a legal gentleman who is advising his clients in one of the districts. I stand by what I have said. There are other schemes and, as Don Quixote said of scorpions: cado uno como Dios le hizo aun pejor muchas veces. "Each one like God made him, only much worse." Unless there is some sort of public control over these schemes which as they stand are wholly in the hands of the mineowners, once the Board of Trade has approved of them, there will be a wave of public resentment which will bode ill for peace and quiet, not perhaps of the coal industry, but of the country at large. The coalowners in the House, practically without exception, have declared approval of the schemes in principle, subject to certain consideration, but, in practice, as I am informed, many coalowners look with suspicion and misgiving on the whole system which is implicit in the schemes. We must remember that the central council has been in operation for six years. It has not distinguished itself by taking an active part in the regulation of the export trade. It has done practically nothing. It has not even sought powers to do much in regard to the regulation of inter-district trade. It has not tried to prevent Durham cutting into the Midlands. It is a body which is controlled on a tonnage basis, because 51 per cent. of tonnage is sufficient to reach a majority decision. Therefore, a few large amalgamations at the centre on a card vote—on a tonnage vote—can decide great issues.

My second submission is that we are being asked as a matter of course to put into effect in 1936 the Act of 1930 as if nothing had happened between 1930 and 1936 which should cause us to modify our views. We have been promised a Bill for the unification of royalties. Whatever that Bill does or omits to do, it will have a profound effect upon the industry and it is intended to have such an effect. It will make it easier for owners of mines to adapt themselves to district conditions because they will no longer be compelled, in order to fulfil their obligations to the royalty owners, to produce particular quantities of particular seams at a given rate in a given year. The unification of royalties, if it is of any good at all, will make these selling schemes far easier to work. I recognise that the Minister has had an exceedingly difficult and urgent task to press forward these schemes in order to give effect to undertakings made to the miners. It is surely clear, however, that, as the question of unification of royalties was under consideration for at least two years before the General Election, it ought to have been possible before now to get the Second Reading of a Bill dealing with royalties so that we might know where we stood before starting to deal with this matter.

The effect upon the industry of the impending unification of royalties and the impending change of selling arrangements is to paralyse it rather than to stimulate it to fresh efforts, and the paralysis due to doubt will continue until the industry knows where it stands on unification. Only two years ago the mining industry was in such an appalling condition that the Ministry of Mines introduced a Bill to reduce the Miners' Welfare Fund Levy from 1d. to ½d. I am proud to say that I was one of those who voted against that proposal on the ground that an industry which could not stand 1d. would not be restored by a rebate of ½d. I should like to see some provision for restoring the Welfare Fund to its original scale if these vast powers are to be put into the hands of the owners. We constantly hear of the plight of the derelict village, of the demand for more playing fields and more amenities in mining areas. This is a responsibility of the industry and it will be made much more acute by the increasing tendency towards concentration. If we had double the amount of money going into the Miners' Welfare Fund some of us would have clearer consciences in regard to this matter.

I only mention that to show what profound changes have taken place since 1930. The Order now before us is in the baldest possible form and the operative Clauses are in the smallest print known to the Stationery Office, though it modifies profoundly the text and very texture of an Act of Parliament. It is in the form of an Amendment to an Order which has already been two or three times amended, and I submit that if this unsuitable and effete procedure is to be adopted by the House at all for the discussion of highly technical matters, each Member should have an explantory memorandum dealing with the actual text of the Order as it will appear, and not in the form of an Amendment to an Amendment. I have had to look through half a score of volumes to find out what it was all about, and Members ought not to be asked to have recourse to what Milton has described as "the ferrets and mousehunts of an index" to obtain a perfectly plain statement on a perfectly plain question.

The schedule of powers is very widely drafted. The Central Council consists only of mineowners, and they will be empowered, by themselves or by deputy, if they find it desirable or necessary to retain and pay "impartial" persons to do their work for them, to issue directions to district councils relating to the terms and conditions of the sale and supply of coal and with regard to any complaints. My submission is that that sort of thing ought to be done either by a national body on which all interests are represented or by the Board of Trade, staffed by civil servants in whom we can have complete reliance. It ought not to be in the hands of a body which represents one side of the industry, and one side only. The Council, we know, is dominated by great combines and amalgamations of owners producing more than half the output of Great Britain, who can constitute a decisive majority, and the schedule gives them plenary powers, subject only to the Board of Trade. The Ministers' Powers Committee made it very clear indeed that it would be most undesirable to put the Minister in the position which he will occupy under these drafts. They said: We are of opinion that in considering the assignment of judicial functions to Ministers Parliament should keep clearly in view the maxim that no man is to be judged in a cause in which he has an interest. We think that in any case in which the Minister's Department would naturally approach the issue to be determined with a desire that the decision should go one way rather than another, the Minister should be regarded as having an interest in the cause. Parliament would do well in such a case to provide that the Minister himself should not be the judge, but that the case should be decided by an independent tribunal. There is much more to the same effect. I quote that as in no way a reflection on the Minister or his Department. Of course, he has a desire that the case should go one way rather than the other because his business is to promote the welfare of a particular industry, it may well be at the expense of the consumers as a whole. Is it desirable to set the machinery of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade, which, as we were told only last month, when agricultural interests were involved, is prima facie a Department charged with watching over the interests of the consumer—is it desirable to place the Minister in this dual capacity? I doubt it, and my doubts as to the utility of this particular provision are heightened by reference to the very weighty report on Restraint of Trade which was published a few months after the Act of 1930 was passed. In that report we find these words: Our general conclusions are … that the ordinary right of freedom to contract ought not to be withdrawn without some compelling reason.… The trade practices into which we have enquired impinge upon a much wider problem—the problem of monopolistic combinations and trusts—which is outside the scope of our reference. If, at some future time, the question of public policy in relation to this wider problem should he examined, the possibility of support being given by the price maintenance system and boycotts to monopolistic com- binations and trusts ought, we think, not to be overlooked. I suggest that although the Minister has referred to this point, it has in fact been overlooked in substance. Here is the biggest single export of this country being placed in the hands of a single but quite inefficiently organised combine of owners, under the nominal control of a Department, which, in my submission, does not possess the power or experience to control a body of such immense authority and power as the Central Council. I am quite prepared to envisage the possibility of nationalisation at some future time. I should look at it with great anxiety, but the Minister's speech would have concluded more frankly had he ended with a peroration such as that which adorned the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare, coupled with the statement that the Government, felt that nationalisation was in the long run inevitable, and that therefore they were preparing for it as best they could, under the cover of giving power to the owners, which, if ill-used by the owners, would make nationalisation in one form or another inevitable.

This central scheme bears no resemblance to anything in force in any other Department of Government. It is not uniform throughout the country. It is not a selling scheme like those in Germany. We have heard German selling schemes praised in this House in the last hour or two, but I have read in the German papers strong criticism of German selling schemes as having an adverse effect upon industry in Germany. It is well to remember that although the Press in Germany exercises a certain discretion in what it publishes in such matters it has strongly criticised this present system of selling coal in Germany.


Does the hon. Member think the German selling scheme would have existed from 1893 up till now if it had been unsuccessful?


The more unification one gets, the more cumbrous the scheme becomes, and now that German administration has been completely unified the difficulties of the system become greater, as I fear we may get them here before long. There is much else that might usefully be said with regard to the schemes themselves. The declared intention of the Central Scheme is to raise prices, and I think it is generally admitted that the Central Council are concentrating on that consideration entirely and that that portion of the Act of 1930 which requires them to have regard, among other things, to the efficiency and economy of the working of the coal mines has really been allowed to fall into desuetude. Very little attention has been paid to that, and the result is that inefficient collieries possess the right to purchase large amounts of coal which in many cases they are not purchasing. The Minister has assured us that that in future will stop, but there is nothing in the scheme to stop it. Every penny paid by an efficient colliery to buy the quota of an inefficient colliery is a charge on industry and cannot be avoided being classified as such. According to my information, there has been in the last year or two a slowing up in the modernisation of certain collieries on the ground that it will not pay to modernise. If you have a satisfactory monopolistic scheme going, you can afford to sit back and rest on your laurels.

Finally, I wish to say a word with regard to the Committee of Investigation. The proposed amendment of the Central Scheme provides no right to consumers who may be seriously affected by the price position established in the different districts to intervene and bring about a change. The only remedy for them will be the right to put forward the matter to the National Committee of Investigation provided for under Section 5 of the Coal Mines Act, 1930. I submit that this procedure is completely useless. The committee is not a judicial committee, its proceedings are not conducted according to judicial procedure, and it is not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts. What the small consumers, with probably 5,000 tons or less per annum, wish to be able to do is to take a case to the courts, and to take it quickly, and I am not sure that they are prepared to accept non-judicial arbitration even by a legally qualified chairman or a local committee of investigation. In case of breach of contract, I gather, approved merchants would still not have access to the courts, and they would scarcely dare to go to the courts for fear lest they should be penalised for all time by being put on this terrible national black list of which I have given an outline in the Durham scheme.

The whole subject is extraordinarily complex, because the Minister for Mines and his Department apparently regard extra-judicial procedure as being of equal value with judicial procedure. I quite appreciate their view that for three out of four cases probably extra judicial procedure is sufficient, but there comes the time for the fourth case, in, which one ought to be able to have recourse to the courts in the ordinary way; and this would be a very useful check on the executive and on the amateur tribunal. The only adequate, impartial, and independent machinery for protecting the subject and for protecting one district from the competition of another is to set up a national tribunal, presided over by an experienced lawyer, as in the case of the railways, when, in the Act of 1921, the Railway Rates Tribunal was established. We have not got that at present. We have the Railway and Canal Commission, which I understand has never had a case referred to it, but learned counsel with whom I have been in consultation tell me they have always advised against the National Committee or district committees being used for any serious disputes, owing to doubts as to the procedure which could be adopted and doubts as to whether certain evidence could be admitted.


Has my hon. Friend considered that we already have the Mines Reorganisation Committees, which might very properly have been used for this purpose?


I doubt whether it is a good thing to take an old factory and devote it to a new purpose, and I fancy this would be a somewhat analogous proceeding to that. Besides, this machinery, outside its headpiece, is somewhat different in the one case from the other. The root trouble, as has been said again and again, is not the inland market but the export market. The demand has fallen by some 15 per cent. in the last 20 years. I look in vain in any of these schemes for the recognition by the Central Council that their job is to organise the export markets and to be a Central Council with whom the foreign cartels can talk and get down to business.

It is no good expecting that the Government can at present modify this Order, much less withdraw it. They have announced that they are prepared to modify it from time to time, but I urge the House to realise, and the Minister to admit, that we are undertaking a very dangerous experiment in putting such unrestricted powers into the hands of a body of men nothing in whose past history justifies us in thinking that they can carry the burden and who have hitherto, in the last five or six years, done very little else, as suggested by the hon. Member for County Down (Viscount Castlereagh) than express the desire to make fair prices for the owners and fair wages for the miners, and the balance, if any, of good will to remain for the somewhat doubtful consumer.


Will the hon. Member tell the House, with regard to the document to which he referred, whether he said he got it from a solicitor to a company or from a Government Department?


I was careful to say that I did not get it from a Government Department, and I did not ask a Government Department to give it.


But did the hon. Member get it from a solicitor to a company?

7.44 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

This has been a rather strange Debate. The Minister, with great clarity and an appearance of great respectability, has moved a Motion which in fact represents in substance a quite considerable revolution in the life of this country. He has been followed by hon. Members representing the miners and mine-owners, who have paid elaborate compliments to the Minister and to one another. One would imagine that what we are doing is a bit of ordinary, casual business about which the House of Commons and the country need not worry very much. We have had a few comments from the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), who drew attention to the fact that we must be careful that the price of coal does not rise unduly, so that we do not drive more ships to oil; and a few odd comments from the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), who said that these Orders were dangerous and reactionary. Apart from them, the only speech which said anything to show that this was not an ordinary kind of thing for the House to do was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). People did not always take these mild views. Speaking in the Debate on this Measure on 3rd April, 1930, the present Prime Minister said: I will say a word or two on the question of compulsory price rings. We are not in this country very fond of price rings. … I regard a price ring where prices are raised as a backward step economically. The Prime Minister made a speech in very strong terms on that occasion, and the whole of the Conservative party followed him into the Lobby against the Bill. The Prime Minister is one of the most moderate men in his habit of speech, and when he is moved so that he becomes lyrical, you know he must be moved indeed. How did he wind up his speech on that occasion? It is a curious and extraordinary fact to remember in connection with this controversy that to-night, at 7.30, when we divide, all the books of orthodox political economy will be thrown into the funeral pyre, the flames of which will be lighted by the President of the Board of Trade, and when the last leaves of those books are shrivelling, through the flickering flames we shall see the forms of hon. Members opposite, and the Liberal party, dancing round the embers and watching the final consumption of their ancestral scriptures. The indecency of that proceeding, I might almost say the blasphemy of it, takes from me the power of further speech, and I therefore conclude by moving That the Bill be read the Third time upon this day six months.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1930; cols. 1493–1497, Vol. 237.] That was the opinion of the present Prime Minister six years ago. I think he was right then. I think his colleagues who voted with him were right. His colleagues ought to tell the House why they now think they were wrong. If there is a measure of indecency, it is the complete abandonment of the doctrine enunciated so recently as six years ago. Both the Prime Minister and his colleagues ought to take some steps to justify this extraordinary change of policy. On the principle of price rings, what is the argument the Minister has given us to-night? He implied "We are all very sympathetic with the coal miners, and the coalowners are entitled to profit, and therefore are entitled to sell to the public at any price we like." There it is, quite bluntly. It is quite respectable to do what the Chicago gangster does because it is being done inside the law. It is a strange, new doctrine. I am not saying that the coal miners are adequately paid. They very often live in a district where agricultural workers also live, and in general the average wage of the miner is double that of the agricultural worker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ridiculous!"] It is no use saying "ridiculous," for I have here the quarterly return published under the authority of the joint accountants. Taking the country as a whole, the earnings per man shift worked were 9s. 11d. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many shifts?"] The number of shifts will vary. The number of shifts worked altogether was 49,000,000, and they might have worked another 3,500,000. I am taking the case of the man who happens to have worked a full week's work and, basing his earnings on that, his wage would be about £3 a week. The bulk of agricultural workers earn about 30s. The average coal worker is, therefore, paid twice what the average agricultural worker receives. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] These figures which I have quoted include the wages of juniors.


I do not think the hon. Member ought to be allowed to make a false statement. These figures include managers and clerks' salaries, and the wages of various other people who are not getting coal.


An hon. Member who professes to represent a mining district ought not to make a stupid statement like that. In this document he will find that there is a separate item for "Other costs (management, salaries, insurances, etc.)." To say that the figure I am quoting includes salaries is not true. I have been familiar with this document for many years, and I would not make a stupid statement like that.


What is true is that the average weekly earnings of miners is much lower than the hon. Gentleman has said. He has based his figure on the assumption of a full week's work, and that is not an assumption that can be justified.


I am basing myself on the assumption of a, full week's work—


An unjustifiable assumption.


The plain truth of the matter is that the proportion of miners now working a full week is very much greater than it was four or five years ago.

Captain RAMSAY

I think that my hon. Friend is right if he makes his assumption on the basis of the wages of people who get coal, but there are a large number of people, unprotected, who get something nearer 28s.


The figures I am quoting are the average of all shifts of all classes, juniors included, and I say that they lead me to the conclusion that the average adult miner working a full week takes home twice as much money as the agricultural labourer.


Will the hon. Gentleman assist the House by dividing the aggregate wages by the aggregate number of persons employed, and find out what they earn in 13 weeks?


I am moderately good at arithmetic, but when the hon. Member asks me to divide £24,000,000 odd by 730,000 odd I must admit that it involves me in some difficulty, but it looks to me something about £35 each. If you multiply that by four, as you are entitled to do, that is £140 a year. That includes youngsters, so that the figure per adult would be higher. The agricultural wages at 30s. a week works out at £78.


I have made the calculation, and the hon. Member can take it from me that it is less than £130 a year for miners.


That includes the juniors, so that the adult would receive rather more. The man who works underground it is still higher. I am going to suggest that if you take the average for adults working underground, the figure is £150 and you establish the simple fact that the colliery worker gets very nearly twice as much as the agricultural labourer. A certain number of agricultural labourers do not work full time. They get stood off in the winter time. A certain number of coal miners get stood off in the summer time. Taking these figures and making any fair comparison, I am not far out in my statement. The people who buy coal would include a large number whose earnings are less than the average earnings of the coal miner. I think, of course, that the coal miners' wages are too low, but it is true that a large number of the customers of coal earn less. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are too low."] That may be, but I have not discovered any device for getting higher wages except improved efficiency, and the trade unions know it.


Does the hon. Member expect to get away with that?


If there is not the money there, you cannot get it.


You do not get it even if it is there.


We have had the statement in the House, quite bluntly, that because the coal miners have been through a difficult time, and because, relatively speaking, wages have been low in the industry, the coalowners are entitled to raise the price at which their product is to be sold without any definite limit. This is rather challenging, and we ought to think of it in these terms. I am certain that many people will suffer great hardship next winter if these schemes go through and there is no limit imposed upon the rise in the price of coal. Then, again, one branch of the industry is to be made a closed industry. Nearly 300 years ago the people of this country, through this House, fought the tyrannies of barons and kings of all sorts in order to strike off their fetters, so that everyone might have a certain measure of freedom to enter what industry he felt inclined to enter. It is not a modern idea. We are to have a new aristocracy based on the principle that anybody who is in a particular trade is entitled to remain in, and that nobody is entitled to enter. We are going to introduce into this country through an Act of Parliament an Indian caste. That is shown in the draft Order which my hon. and gailant Friend read out. Although the Minister said he had not approved it, fundamently it does not matter whether he has or not, because something of that kind is bound to be involved.


Does not that operate now?


It operates in Lancashire now?


It operates throughout the country. In 1926 an Act of Parliament was passed prohibiting men who were not working in mines prior to a certain date from coming in afterwards.


I did not say a word about that. I was talking about the selling side of the scheme. I was talking about the extracts read by my hon. and gallant Friend which showed that a man is not free to become a coal merchant. I have no particular desire to become a coal merchant, but I do not see why I should have to ask anyone's permission before I decided to open a coal office. By what right does the Minister or the coalowners or anyone else seek to pass a law which says, "Thou shalt not be a coal merchant"? I know that in parts of the country in which hon. Members opposite are interested they are used to that kind of thing. They do what they are told, but that is not my doctrine. I believe in a little freedom.

I happen to be a director of a company which makes automatic stokers. With the existence of automatic stokers there are a large number of plants burning coal to-day which otherwise would have been burning oil, so I hope hon. Members opposite will not object to that useful process. My company, whose works are in Lancashire, were asked to quote for the supply of an automatic stoker for a public institution also in Lancashire. That public institution said that they wanted not only the price of the plant but a quotation based on the consumption of 2,000 tons a year of the most suitable fuel to be used with that automatic stoking plant. My company wrote to the merchants with whom they generally deal, and in reply there came a telephone message to say they could not give a quotation unless they knew who was to be the purchaser of the coal for that plant. My company told them over the telephone who was the prospective purchaser, and later received a letter from them saying: We are informed that as your clients are already being supplied from a colliery another fuel cannot be offered. In other words, because this institution was drawing its coal from a particular source our company were debarred from searching round for the most suitable fuel to be burned with our plant, assuming we got the order. That is happening under the Lancashire selling scheme. It is a very undesirable thing that people should not be able to buy the kind of fuel they want. I wrote to a coal merchant friend of mine in Lancashire to ask him his views. In reply he sends me a letter which is marked "confidential." He says that I can make use of what he states in that letter, but asks me not to mention the name of his firm. I have another letter, too, in which the same request is made—"Don't mention my name." They are afraid, under this new tyranny, that if they show signs of opposition they may not be included on the district list of merchants. The letter from my friend says: At present, the arrangement is that if any particular colliery is supplying a firm that firm must continue to purchase its supplies from the colliery in question. If, however, under central selling the fuel is totally unsuitable, the customer may be able to purchase another quality fuel from the central selling board. Under controlled selling the customer must continue to purchase from the same colliery. We had a case of this recently. At the same time, under central selling, unless the customer is buying direct he must continue to purchase from whoever is supplying him. In the case of Messrs.— therefore they must ask the existing supplier to put the case up for a new fuel to the — Collieries but my firm cannot supply it and is therefore unable to secure new business. Before you can get permission to change your source of supply you have to go to the central selling scheme in Manchester. The view is borne out in a document I have here, the author of which also desires to be anonymous. A consumer inquires from his factor for a type of fuel different from that which he is using. It is required for a new plant. The factor recommends a fuel which he knows from his experience will best suit that particular plant. He asks the colliery raising the fuel in question for a price. Before quoting the colliery writes to all the district boards, through the medium of its own district board, to ascertain if they have any objection. The colliery already supplying the fuel for the old type plant objects. The factor is then informed either that the colliery from whom he has inquired has no fuel to offer or he is quoted a 'protected' price. That means that he is asked to pay a price which is too high. That is what is happening to-day in Lancashire, where they have a scheme in operation, and we have to be very careful in this House before we finally commit ourselves to approving that system. A man writes from Wigan. I have the name of the firm and I am willing to give it in confidence, but they do not want it disclosed. They were using Lancashire coal which was unsuitable for their particular purpose because of the iron pyrites and sulphur in it, and desired to use South Yorkshire coal instead, but were informed that they could not purchase outside the area. I do not know whether these allegations about not being able to purchase outside the area are true, but that is what they were told, and in one case where they did seek to go outside the area they were asked 23s. 6d. a ton for coal which they had previously been buying at 15s. That is to say, they were quoted a "protected" price.


Were these facts reported to the investigating committee under the Act of 1930?


No, I do not think they were. If I am asked to quote for a plant which is to be installed in a building I can prepare my estimate in a few days time in the ordinary way, getting at the same, time a quotation for the sort of coal that should be used, but have I really in future to go through all this machinery of making an application to this committee before I can send in an estimate? It is reducing business to sheer stupidity if all this process has to be gone through before an estimate can be sent in. Why have I to ask anybody's permission before I can send in a quotation for the kind of coal which suits my plant? I hate the whole thing on principle; perhaps I am a little intolerant, I hate it so much.

The Minister has made some announcements to-day about the committee of investigation. The present committees of investigation are ineffective bodies because they consist of two consumers, two representatives of the coal interests and a so-called independent chairman. It may be owing to the fact that they were not excluively selected from among persons with judicial experience that the chairmen are not as independent as they ought to be. You have the two little Soviets on one side the coalowner and the coal worker, who are out to get the highest price possible, and on the other side two consumers. Who will be the consumers' representatives? The natural instinct will be to get people representing very large consumers. I happen to have some connection with certain public utility undertakings like electric supply companies, and I imagine they would come off moderately well, because they are in a powerful bargaining position. But the two consumers' representatives may be a railway man and a gas man. Suppose a case comes up in which neither of those consumers is personally interested. The higher the price which any other consumer has to pay the better for them in the long run, the more chance they have to get their coal cheap. Therefore, we do not necessarily protect the interests of all sections of consumers by having two selected consumers representing special interests.

The announcement by the Minister that the chairman is not only to have a casting vote, but that his vote is to overrule all the others in case of dispute represents a very important change, because it will he like a committee of arbitration with two on each side and the arbitrator sitting over them and in a position to disregard all their votes and to take a decision on his own. That represents a very important concession. It has the merit of expedition, because the process of investigation and arbitration will be one process. Further, I understand that when he has come to a decision he will be able to give his orders. That is what the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will understand, because that is the system under which he works.


I am obeying orders now.


It is a system which may be more expeditious, and I hope it will be. But what are those people to decide? We must look at the Act of 1930. The Minister said they would have to take into account those things which are contrary to the public interest which appear in Sub-section (5) of Section 5 of the Act of 1930, and also whether anything is unfair or inequitable. Personally, I do not think those words necessarily afford sufficient guidance. I doubt whether an undue raising of price—as most of us would regard it—would neces- sarily be held by this Committee to be contrary to the national interest or inequitable. I am by no means satisfied that undue preference as between one consumer and another would necessarily be covered by those words. People want to know whether they are being treated unfairly, and they can only know that by knowing what others are being charged. In the case of the supply of water, gas or electricity, or controlled public transport, the charges are, generally speaking, known. It is only in a very exceptional case that the information with regard to the charge is not generally available. And all those services are under the obligation to show no undue preference.

On the other hand, this new public utility service—because coal is going to be in that position under these schemes—is not under the specific obligation not to show undue preference, is not under the obligation to disclose to the world at large the terms on which it is selling coal. As long as those in the coal industry were running it as a private business they are entitled to keep prices to themselves, but if they are to be given these extraordinary powers their prices ought to be disclosed to the world at large. That is my view, though all my friends outside do not share it. The prices will have to be disclosed to the Committee of Investigation, but that is of no use to an aggrieved person. He might never discover that he had been discriminated against unless there was a disclosure of price. It is only when the complaint is made that the information is to be forthcoming; but I suggest the information ought to be available so as to provide a basis for putting forward a complaint.

According to what the Minister has told us, to put this right would involve an amendment of Section 5 of the Coal Mines Act. In the autumn the Bill which had such an unhappy experience a short time ago will come forward, probably as an entirely new Bill, and we shall then see the Minister's proposals in the form of clauses and have an opportunity where necessary of proposing amendments. We shall be able to submit that it is necessary to include certain words of declaration of the kind I have referred to. Therefore, at this moment, it does not seem to me necessary for my hon. and gallant Friend and myself to press our Amendment—though I do not know what he thinks on that point—because the Minister has made an announcement of safeguards. Whether those safeguards are adequate I am doubtful, but it may be they are, and if that is the case when the time comes there will be nothing for us to do except to agree cordially with the Minister's proposals. On the other hand, if a further examination of the operation of the Lancashire scheme and all these other new schemes, which will have been in operation for a few months by the time we meet in the autumn, show that the safeguards are inadequate, we shall be in a position to put forward amendments. I trust that the title of the Bill will be so drawn that the whole field of amendment will be opened to it. The one safeguard I do ask from the Minister to-night is an assurance that no attempt will be made so to draw the Bill in any shall be debarred from amending in any way proper Section 5 of the Coal Mines Act, 1930.

Speaking as one who happens to have some indirect business interests as a coal consumer, it may be that the Minister's offer will safeguard my selfish interests, but looking at it from the broader public point of view, and not denying to the rising population of this country the opportunity of entering into any occupation they desire, I regard these schemes to-day as bad for the same reason that I did not like the Cotton Spindles Bill, the Lancashire Reorganisation Bill and the Coal Mines Bill. I do not believe in these schemes for destroying the liberty of private enterprise. I hope we shall go back to the political economy of years ago, and be inspired by those words of the Prime Minister on 3rd April, 1930. I regret profoundly at this moment that he is not giving his support to the principles of which he spoke so eloquently at that time.

8.16 p.m.


As a representative of a mining area I have listened with a great deal of interest to the Debate this afternoon. I might say at the beginning of my remarks that I welcome any legislation which has as its object better wages and better conditions for those who are engaged in the mining industry. We have heard it stated to-night that many Members are concerned with the interests of the consumer. I wish to safeguard the interests of the consumers both great and small, but I also wish as far as possible to safeguard the interest of the man who has to work at the coal face. The hon. Member who has just sat down talked very glibly about the amount that coal miners were receiving in wages. It might interest the hon. Member to know that in the district from where I come, Durham, the subsistence wage is 6s. 6½d. per day plus 6d. that was granted when the last wage increase took place.


Is that per day?


Per day.


Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how much on the average they actually get?


I am talking about the subsistence wage, and the days worked lately in Durham have been an average of about 4.75 per week. I am an ex-miner. I worked for 40 years in the pits, 20 years as a coal hewer. I have gone into the mine at a very recent date and produced coal at 9½. per ton plus 65 per cent., and I could work five days per week and produce on an average four and a-half or five tons per day and take the handsome sum of between 35s. and 36s. 6d. per week home as wages. Because of that I suggest that the time is long overdue when legislation should be introduced to make the conditions of men who are engaged in this industry better than they are to-day.

I remember not many years ago working at a colliery, and the reason I mention these instances is owing to the suggestion that has been made that miners are fairly well paid for their work compared with the agricultural labourer. I remember working at a colliery where I had to produce 10½ tons of coal in 21 10-cwt. tubs for 4s. 9d. per 21 tubs plus 40 per cent. Through producing more and giving labour freely, that 9s. 4d. per score was reduced by local reductions to exactly 4s. 9d.—the figures reversed—plus 40 per cent. We are in this peculiar position. We are engaged in an industry, coal mining, in which the more we produce the less we get in wages. It is because of that, and the fact that the wage bill in our various colliery villages is so low, that we as mining representatives this afternoon welcome, as we have already said, any legislation that has for its object better conditions and wages for our people.

I am a member of a local governing body in Durham County. It has been my privilege or my lot under the 1929 Local Government Act to visit certain mining villages in a reorganisation scheme of county districts, and I have heard coalowners speak to-night, and I have seen colliery villages in Durham and people living under such conditions that they are a disgrace to the coalowners and to 20th century civilisation. What we ask for in this House, the British House of Commons, is the introduction of legislation that will bring more amenities into the lives of our people, give them better housing conditions, give them better wages, and, all round, raise their standard of living. I firmly believe that by the introduction of a. system of central selling schemes, and the elimination of intermediaries, and the people who are living on the backs of the miners, there is the possibility of getting better returns for the commodity which we produce, and the possibility of getting better wages for our people.

There is one thing which concerns me very much, and it is this. I come from an exporting county. On the average for Great Britain, the coal produced for home consumption is 74 per cent., and for export 26 per cent. In Durham County the average for the inland trade is 67 per cent., and for export 33 per cent. But my concern is in regard to those collieries in Durham which are exporting approximately from 80 to 83 per cent. of their produce, because, if something is not done for them, in all probability in the near future they will have to go out of commission. It may be said that those collieries which have a large export trade will have the opportunity to increase their inland trade, and so gain greater proceeds, but I am given to understand that under the Durham scheme they will not be allowed to do that, but that their inland sales will be based on the figures for August of last year. In Durham County we have our monthly ascertainments, in which are set out the whole of the proceeds of the industry for the month, the amount allocated to wages, and the amount allocated to costs other than wages. If in the near future these selling schemes prove successful, and the proceeds from the industry in Durham as an exporting county are increased, and if the miners ask for an increase in wages and that increase is granted, the exporting collieries will be placed in a very invidious position.

Certain colliery proprietors have said that their export is in the region of 83 per cent. The inland collieries are getting from 2s. 6d. to 3s. per ton more than they can get from the export market. If through the ascertainment an increase in wages is conceded to the Durham miners, those collieries will have to fall into line, and owing to the fact that their export is in the region of 80 to 83 per cent., they will in the near future have to close down and go out of commission. I would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether, in dealing with these schemes for central selling, he cannot take into consideration the conditions prevailing in the export areas, because I am afraid that, if something is not done for them, districts such as Durham and perhaps South Wales will be hit fairly hard, inasmuch as many collieries will be bound to go out of commission owing to increased cost of production. I would ask the Minister to take into consideration the question of a Government subsidy for these exporting counties, or a national levy on all inland sales for the export trade, or county levies on inland sales for the export trade. If some such measures could be adopted in order that the industry as a whole may be helped, these selling schemes will bring better conditions for our people and will bring better wages into the homes of our miners.

8.30 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN

I do not know when I have listened to a Debate in this House with greater interest than on the present occasion. We have had the views of coalowners from my Noble Friend the Member for County Down (Viscount Castlereagh); we have had the expert miner who has just spoken; we have had the business man; and altogether it has been to me a very interesting and instructive Debate, more particularly as in my part of the country we have no coal. My sympathies have always been with those who sweat and work down in the bowels of the earth to produce comfort and consolation for those who do not. We have, of course, quite a different point of view from that of people who live in England. Perhaps some hon. Members opposite will tell me what the miners themselves pay per ton for the coal that they use. Is it 5s., or 6s., or 10s.? I do not know. I have been informed that there are some miners who get their coal free—


In Durham there is debited against the miner, for each ton of coal that he uses, approximately from 9s. 6d. to 11s.


I am very much obliged. I assume, therefore, that the average price paid by miners for their coal is lower—


The conditions under which miners are supplied with household coal vary in different districts. In some districts they get their coal at what was at one time the cost of production, but even in those districts the price varies at different collieries. In a large proportion of the districts they actually pay the market price. The price paid for miners' household coal varies district by district, and in some instances pit by pit.


I wanted to find out what is the average price that miners pay for their coal. Taking the figure of 10s., I want to draw a parallel with people in my part of the country who earn similar wages to the coal miners—though of course in very different circumstances from those of the miner who goes down the pit—but who have to pay 50s. a ton for their coal. We have all to pay that. The poor people pay the same as those who are better off, or perhaps a little more, because they get their small supplies of coal in bags, which have to be delivered all round the county, and this adds to the cost. I am one of those poor people who have to pay it. We are in a very different position from those not only in the immediate neighbourhood of coal mines but in all parts of this country. When the Minister said someone must bear the burden of improving the conditions of the miners, I wondered what part of that burden is going to be borne by those who pay 50s. a ton for their coal.

We have recently in Northern Ireland established a board which has taken possession of all transport. Friends from the country used to hire an omnibus and take a little excursion into the town, and I know of one instance where they were able to hire an omnibus for a two-mile journey for 30s. Since the Transport Board came into operation, these friends have asked, "What would be the price of taking this little party for two miles?" and they were quoted a charge of £6. It gives me pause when it is suggested that there should be committees to control the entire production of coal and makes me wonder who is going to bear the burden of improving the conditions of the miners. The hon. Member who followed the Minister, in a charming and informative speech, told us how the export trade had diminished in this country and how in Germany it had largely increased, but he did not suggest that we should adopt the same method, which was, I understand, a subsidy. I think, however, it is worth consideration whether we could not assist the miners in some other way than by imposing additional prices on the consumer.

I should like hon. Members carefully to consider the conditions under which we live over there, not having any mines of our own, and having to bring coal from the pits to the ports and across the Irish Sea and then cart it along the road, with the result that when the consumer gets his little bag and places it in his cellar, he pays 50s. a ton. If you can help us there I shall be very pleased. I understand that the Amendment is not going to be pressed, but we are all indebted to the Members who put it down so that some of us, who really did not understand the position, may have an opportunity of doing so. I feel grateful to hon. Members opposite who have explained the position that they are up against, and the awful conditions under which miners have worked for years with, in my opinion, not nearly adequate compensation for the risks that they run and the dangers inherent to their trade. When I spoke for a few minutes the other day I said that, unless I were satisfied that Amendments would be introduced which would assist us to come to a decision favourable to the Order, I should vote against it. Might I ask hon. Members also to take into con- sideration that, when you increase the price of coal, not only do the poor people pay their 50s. and sometimes 55s. a ton, but the utility companies, who have to pay more for their coal, will increase the cost of gas and electricity to the consumer. If the Amendments that have been suggested will have the effect of helping us in Northern Ireland to keep the price of our coal at as moderate a figure as possible, commensurate with giving the miners a decent wage and better conditions, I am sure we over there will not object.

8.44 p.m.


Anything that will increase the wages of Northumberland miners will be very welcome indeed. We have listened to a speech from an hon. Member opposite who happens to be a coalowner. I remember that he made a speech when the miners' demand for increased wages was before the country, and he drew attention to the part that Northumberland was playing in cutting prices in the inland market through keen competition. I am anxious that the Secretary for Mines may be able to tell us that steps will be taken to increase the revenue of the industry in Northumberland and enable it to raise miners' wages. We have never in the past had any protection. We have heard quite a lot this afternoon about the dire and disastrous things which may happen to consumers, and to distributors who may be out of a job, but that is nothing to what has happened to us. I remember that some time after 1926 it was necessary, so the coalowners of Northumberland said, to see that the reduction should be of such a nature that it would save the Northumberland coal industry, and we did a very ominous thing on that occasion. We asked the coroner to be chairman and arbitrate, and my goodness, as far as the miners were concerned, he gave a coroner's decision. We lost 40 per cent. at one blow. We had previously 80 per cent., and then we lost 40 per cent. Did it save the industry and enable the owners to make a profit when they got the advantage of that 40 per cent. reduction in wages? One would have thought that in a well-managed industry it ought to have enabled them to do so.

What happened? I will tell you what happened in regard to the colliery at which I was working. In endeavouring to sell coal at the price which had hitherto obtained before the reduction, it would, of course, have left the margin which represented the 40 per cent. reduction in wages for the owners themselves. The distributors and the merchants, when they came on to the telephone the next day asking the price of coal, reminded the colliery company that there had been a reduction in the men's wages of 40 per cent. Therefore, they said, they were not paying the same price as before, and that it was only right that some of this reduction should be passed on to the consumer. We have been doing that in Northumberland all along the line. We have been passing it on as we have been introducing conveyors and coal-cutting machinery, and as we have been increasing the quantity and raising our output per man from 17 cwts. to 23 cwts, and 225 cwts. We are above the average in production, and we have the lowest costs in the country—and the lowest wages. All that has been done.

Much has been said about the consumer. I am a consumer myself. The advantage of all these things about which I have been speaking has been passed on to the consumer all along, at the expense of the miner in Northumberland, who has been taking home his 8s. or 8s. 2d. a shift, as the case may be, and less. If these coal-selling schemes will prevent the owners from cutting each other's throats financially and economically they ought to be to the good. We heard a coalowner—I believe it was the hon. Member for Berwick (Sir H. Seely)—when we were discussing miners' wages, declare that the owners were not fit to be trusted, and they are not fit to be trusted where men's wages are concerned, or we in Northumbreland would not be in the perilous plight in which we are at the present time.

There is another thing that rather alarms me. According to the law of averages we are exporting some 50 per cent., and we have learned from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) and from others that, even if we gave our coal away in the export market, it would not very materially increase the quantity. Therefore, we have no hope there of an increase in price, or, in other words, we are not likely to get a greater inflow into the coffers from any coal that we are likely to sell in the export market. The profit in Northumberland last month was 3d. a ton, and it takes 1s. 1d. a ton to enable the owners under the agreement to get their full profit. Therefore, there was a shortage of 10d. to be made up before the owners could get their agreed gain. I wonder if the Secretary for Mines can tell me what is to happen to bring into our industry in Northumberland sufficient money to provide increased miners' wages. The schemes come before the Secretary for Mines. He can pass them if the owners decide among themselves upon a selling price that will guarantee their profits and no more. Can the Secretary for Mines raise any question, if they are not underselling or undercutting each other, if they agree possibly to regulate the price so as to guarantee their profits and nothing more? I have put this point because it is worrying me. We shall see what is to happen.

Personally, I welcome the scheme because I think that it is the next step towards nationalisation. It is a logical step towards the nationalisation of the coal trade. But I have no hope that we shall get an adequate measure of wages under the coal-selling schemes. I had to deal with this matter during the Election, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) came into my constituency to reply to the figures which the miners had given in Northumberland. We were demanding 2s. a day more for miners, not only in Northumberland but all over the country. The hon. Member came to tell us that we could not get it because it was not there. Our people were told that the way to get it was quite simple, if we would adopt the selling schemes. I should like the Secretary for Mines, when he replies, to tell us what steps will be taken to enable Northumberland to remain in the inland market and not have to raise its price sufficiently high to cover that part of the export which has been lost, and give our men the reasonable and fair wage to which they are entitled.

It has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash that 47 per cent. of our ships are using oil, and that 53 per cent. of our ships are clinging to coal. We are just on the brink, wondering what will happen if there is a further incursion into the use of oil in our ships. I wonder whether those people who are thinking of leaving coal and turning to oil ever bear in mind the fact that by so doing they may not have the cargoes to carry. A ship does not pay unless it has cargoes both ways. The coal which our miners are producing is, in the main, paying for our imports. If those people continue to turn over to oil, or if they unpatriotically buy German bunkers instead of British bunkers, they will drive a nail not only into the coffin of the coal industry but into the coffin of the shipping industry as well. It is very unpatriotic and very short-sighted on their part.

One of the representatives for Northern Ireland asks how we can get the price of coal down. We have men producing 10, 12 and 15 tons of coal a day at 6d. a ton, plus 40 per cent. Yet my friends tell me that they are paying 52s. 6d. or 54s. per ton for coal in London. Therefore, when the hon. Member wishes to know how he can get his coal a little cheaper or how he can be sure that the price is not going to be raised, I would remind him that our men are receiving only 8d. a ton for getting the coal, and I would suggest that he can solve his problem in the gap between what the miner receives and the price that has to be paid by the consumer.

It is remarkable how solicitous certain people are about certain classes of citizens. There has been much commiseration because the distributors may lose their job. There are too many distributors. I know a man who started distributing not long ago and he is reputed to be making £43 a week. Anybody can make money distributing coal. There is nothing to prevent them from doing that, especially in Northumberland, where you can get coal at such a cheap price, because the owners are so keen in competition with each other. There are too many distributors, and that is one of the things that will have to be tackled. One day we shall act wisely and distribute coal through the agency of the co-operative societies and the municipal authorities. Why should we weep because the distributors are to be diminished?


My whole point was that the distributors were being eliminated by the coalowners, at their own discretion, and not by public bodies.


What we need are the necessary distributors, and nothing more. I should like to know whether there will be sufficient safeguards in these schemes. It has been said that we, have no trust in the coalowners. How can the miners have any trust in the coalowners? Let us be practical and have common sense. We were trying for years in Northumberland to get to know something about our industry. In Northumberland we had a miners' leader, one of the most respected and most honourable men in the country, Mr. Straker, who tried for years to get to know something about the inner workings of our industry. What did the coalowners tell us? They told us that that side of the industry was their business and that we had nothing to do with it. We have learned something about it since 1926 and 1931.

Would it not have been a fine gesture on the part of the coalowners to have come along to the miners and said: "You did not strike last year. You did not hold up the country to ransom. Therefore, we promise to bring in selling schemes. We will bring them in a month later than the original promise, and when they come in we are very desirous that the dark, dismal days shall be forgotten. We will sit round a table and form a committee. You shall have your representation and you will be sure then that we are working the scheme in the interests of both sides." But they did not do that. Perhaps one could not expect the lion to lie down with the lamb. It is not safe for us to lie down with them. I should have been sorry for our representatives who had to go and sit with them. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will be able to satisfy me that in an exporting district, which is more or less in the line of depression, we shall be safeguarded when we are exporting 50 per cent of our output.


In order to facilitate the course of the Debate, and as further opportunities will before long arise when these matters can be further discussed, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

Is it the wish of the Committee that the Amendment be withdrawn? The Amendment is, by leave, withdrawn.




I had declared the Amendment withdrawn before I heard the hon. Member.


I said distinctly "No" before you declared the Amendment withdrawn, and if you did not choose to hear it, I cannot help that. I am still insisting.


The hon. Member will not lose anything by the withdrawal of the Amendment. The Debate will not be narrowed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

9.3 p.m.


There are few people in this House or in the country, if any at all, who are not desirous of the coal industry being put on a sound basis, and one of the methods of bringing the coal industry on to that basis has been the reorganisation of the marketing of coal. I am not in any way against the organised marketing. It is very desirable, whatever the product may be, and particularly in regard to coal, which has suffered very much as an industry because of marketing methods and unnecessary and foolish competition. My interest in this matter is not so much with the selling schemes, but to see that the selling schemes are not made a watertight monopoly and used to exploit the consumers. In other words, more money is to go into the industry, we all admit that, but there is to be a limit which the consumer should be asked to pay. We can have practical sympathy for the miner, and that practical sympathy may take the form of our being prepared to pay 2s. a ton but not being prepared to pay 5s. a ton. That is an illustration in financial terms of relative sympathy. In the event of a 5s. increase, the consumer could not afford to pay it and the public interest might not stand it, with the result that the industry might have to go out of business. There are perhaps industries which could not afford to pay an unwarrantable amount like a 5s. increase in the price of coal, but that does not mean that industry should not be charged a legitimate amount or that the consumer should not pay a legitimate amount.

The Amendment which has just been withdrawn was put down with the object of securing certain safeguards. The Secretary for Mines in his opening remarks dealt with certain changes he was going to make in the personnel of the committees of investigation. I wish he had been a little more explicit and had gone into a little more detail as to the new duties and powers of the committees of investigation and the impartial chairman. But he has gone a long way towards clearing up the apprehensions which exist in the minds of consumers. They do not want to avoid paying more for coal, but they do not want to be exploited beyond the needs of the situation, with no means of redress. Personally, I should have preferred an appeal on questions of resources, discrimination and the price of coal, as a form of redress for the consumer, but, as the Secretary for Mines has said, we are in an experimental stage in the matter of selling schemes and, therefore, if he is prepared to visualise these schemes as experimental in the hope that they will answer the purpose for which they are set up, I am prepared to accept his statement, and am also authorised by the public utility authorities to say that they accept the conditions. We hope that appeals will not be necessary and that recourse to such measures will not arise.


When the hon. Member speaks of public utility authorities, do I understand him to mean that they are prepared primarily to see that there shall be a living wage conceded to the miners?


That point does not arise from what I have said. I have already remarked that nobody will with-hold from the miners decent conditions and wages, but what the consumers object to is being exploited in the name of the wages of the miners. We thought it was dangerous to have selling schemes with no redress and no appeal for the consumers, because they might be used as a weapon for exploiting the public. There is now, however, to be a safeguard as outlined by the Minister. It may be inadequate, but it is worth trying, and the fact that there is a safeguard satisfies at least one section of the consumers, and it might also satisfy them all. In my own area of South Wales and Monmouthshire it is the unfortunate fact that the last quarterly return shows that they are the only area which has been working at a loss. I do not know whether I have to appeal to the Minister or to the Central Council which deals with these matters, but it is unthinkable that one area or more can continue for ever to be worked at a loss without doing serious damage to the coal industry and the nation as a whole.

In the interests of the country and the coal industry, it is necessary to do whatever can be done to resuscitate trade in South Wales and Monmouthshire. That may be done in two ways. These are not new suggestions, for I have made them before and they have been turned down. But I think they should be revived at the moment with vigour. The first suggestion is that South Wales, an exporting area, should have a bigger share of the inland market as a stable basis for the coal they produce, and that the industry itself should find some means of subsidising the export of coal or assisting in some other way to maintain in South Wales standards which are at present obtaining in other parts of the country. I do not suggest at this moment that the State should do it. I have made the suggestion on other occasions, and I think it is an economic proposition, from the point of view of the State, to subsidise coal. I am putting it now from the point of view of the industry itself, that it should save South Wales and Monmouthshire, because the area will ultimately drag the whole industry down unless it is brought up to the level of the rest of the country.


What about nationalisation?


Nationalisation is not going to help anybody connected with the coal industry, the miners or the consumers.


At any rate, I do not think that subject can be debated on the present occasion.


Can the hon. Member tell us the actual loss per ton in the South Wales coalfield?


I think it works out at 5.54d. per ton, a total sum of money for the quarter of £163,200.


Is it not the fact that it is within the power of the coalowners of South Wales to assist the exporting trade by a levy on the home trade, and that the coalowners themselves are responsible if that is not applied?


It is obviously within the power of the industry itself to make a levy to support another area, and I am making an appeal that they should seriously consider doing this for the support of the South Wales area.


You admit that they have the power—


I do not admit that—except as a voluntary thing.


And that as far as South Wales is concerned you do not get the assistance which the coalowners could give?


I am suggesting that the industry should give South Wales assistance by some form of a levy, and certainly by giving the area an additional portion of the inland market.


In view of the hon. Member's reference to the right of appeal for consumers and users, may I ask him whether as representing the gas companies he is prepared to take the same line on the matter of appeals by consumers against the great combines who are withholding the supplies of coke from those who sell at reasonable prices?


I did not say that I represented the gas companies, but that I understood that public utility undertakings were prepared to give a trial to the arrangement outlined by the Secretary for Mines. I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should ask the question, because he knows full well that electricity and gas and other statutory undertakings have certain obligations and requirements to fulfil and that the consumers have definite safeguards. I believe at any rate that the suggestion of the Secretary for Mines, that the Chairman should be a legal man with certain powers of authority which he underlined, will make for impartial, speedy and efficient dealing with any complaints that may arise. I am hoping it will be so, and if it should transpire that it does not work, then I hope the Minister and the House will consider something else, because whatever section of the coal industry is concerned, whether it be the mineworkers, the mineowners or the shareholders, or whether it be the consumers, they have to work amicably together; otherwise one or other section will suffer.

9.16 p.m.


Ever since I came back to the House, I have noticed a most peculiar atmosphere when we have been dealing with mining matters. This is not the sort of atmosphere that we had in previous days when mining matters were discussed. There come to my mind the discussions which we had when the 1930 Bill—which afterwards became the 1930 Act—was before the House. I wish that then we had had the same atmosphere as we have had this afternoon. If such an atmosphere had existed, we should have had an entirely different Coal Mines Act from that which is at present on the Statute Book. It is true that under that Act we are discussing these Orders to-night, and it is also true that under it the Secretary for Mines is forbidden to provide the House with copies of the schemes. It is most unfortunate that that provision was included in the 1930 Act, because it would have been of enormous advantage to hon. Members on all sides if they had had copies of the schemes before them and could have examined them and seen exactly what they contained. It is possible that when the Secretary for Mines examines these schemes, he may find that the coalowners are proposing something to which he cannot agree, something which violates the principles he laid down this afternoon as being necessary if the schemes are to be adopted.

I would remind hon. Members that much of the discussion which we have had this afternoon would have been avoided if we had had in the Act something which was in the original Bill. Not only on this side of the House but on the other side during the course of the Debate attention has been drawn to the fact that the export industries may be badly hit as a result of the operation of these schemes. Had the Act contained a provision for a central levy and a district levy, which was in the original Bill presented to the House, we should have got over the difficulty with regard to the exporting districts. There would not only have been a district levy but a central levy from which payments could have been made to the exporting districts in the event of their being adversely affected by the selling schemes before the House. It was intended that those schemes should be applied to the mining industry long ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) was right when he said that they ought to have been brought forward in 1931 and that we ought not to have had to wait until 1936 for the presentation of the Orders which we are now discussing. If those schemes had been presented in 1931, the discussion which we have had to-night could have been avoided, the schemes could have been in operation and something practical could have been done to put the mining industry of this country on a satisfactory basis. It must be a matter of very great regret, particularly to hon. Members on the Government side, to remember that they, along with hon. Members of the Liberal party, were responsible for the defeat of the central levy scheme in this House.

We on this side are very hopeful that the schemes which are to be brought forward will prove of benefit to the mining industry. As has been said, we are having these schemes now as part of a bargain that was made when we had the trouble in the mining industry last year. Towards the end of last year there was a dispute in the industry. The miners made a demand for an increase in wages and that demand was partially met. We had to recognise the fact that the owners were not in a position to grant the whole of the demand which had been made by the Miners' Federation. The promise was then made that these schemes would be brought forward. In their Election manifesto the Government promised that these schemes would be brought forward to assist the mining industry, and I hope that the schemes will be passed, although I have certain very strong objections to them. We have not been permitted to examine them and have only a sketchy idea of them in the shape of the draft Order which has been presented to us. It gives only a rough outline of what the schemes are likely to contain, but we hope that the general effect will be that the miners' wages will be substantially increased.

The hope has also been expressed on this side of the House that the deficiencies which have accumulated under the present agreement between the miners and the mineowners are not to be continued. Attention has been drawn to the fact that in one district—I think Yorkshire—the miners are indebted, or are supposed to be indebted, to the coal-owners to the extent of over £8,000,000. The same position exists in Scotland. The Scottish miners are supposed to owe the Scottish coalowners over £8,000,000. What we want to-night is an assurance from the Secretary for Mines that the whole of that deficiency has not to be wiped out before the miners can get an advance. I may say that so far as the Scottish miners are concerned, they have already intimated to their employers not only that they are not prepared to recognise any part of that £8,000,000 which they are supposed to owe, but that there is to be an alteration in the ratio between the sums allotted to profits and wages. But if the miners have to wait until all the supposed deficiencies have been wiped off, they will not get any increase in wages for some years. I am confident that that is not the intention of the House to-night. If the sympathy which has been showered on us to-night and the sympathetic speech of the Secretary for Mines are to have any practical effect, the miners must have an improvement in wages, and that in a short time.

The demand which was made last October has not yet been conceded in any district. The most that has been conceded is only half of what was asked for, and if the House imagines that the miners will wait for some years after these schemes come into operation until deficiencies are wiped out before they are able to get an increase in wages, there will be trouble in the mining districts long before that time. The Bill that was presented to Parliament at the end of 1929 was the greatest attempt ever made to organise the mining industry of Great Britain. Up to that time the industry was completely disorganised, and although the Act has been in operation since 1930, and the coal-owners could have reorganised their industry had they cared to, they have been so filled with prejudice because the Act was passed by a Labour Government that they have refused to put these provisions into operation, with the result that the industry is now in about as disorganised a condition as it was when the Act was passed. I hope that as a result of the introduction of these schemes we shall have reorganisation in the industry, whether the miners are represented on the selling scheme or not, and whether the owners continue to say in the future as in the past, "This is our industry."

The British colliery owner at a conference seems to be an entirely different person from the owner who speaks from the Government benches in this House. The coal-owner who speaks from the Government benches seems to be a very pleasant and reasonable individual, but when representatives of the miners have to meet colliery owners in conference the owners are an entirely different body of men. They show that they are hard business men who like to drive a hard bargain, with the miners, and there is no wonder that the miners, having to face such a body as the British coal-owners, have from time to time been driven to take extreme action. When the men did decide to take extreme action the whole country knew about it. It is no fight with kid gloves when the miners and coal-owners fall out: it is a bitter struggle. I hope that we shall get rid of these struggles by means of sensible arrangements under which the miner will be able to earn a decent wage. I hope that after these Orders have been agreed to and the schemes have been approved, we shall have a substantial improvement in the conditions of the British miners.

9.30 p.m.


I would not have intervened were it not that I happened to be one of the men's representatives when the negotiations took place last autumn. One thing about this Debate has filled me with a good deal of apprehension. When it was first announced about three or four weeks ago that these schemes were to be introduced there was an outcry in the Press which often speaks for hon. Members opposite. There were meetings in this House, circulars from gas and electricity companies and all kinds of consumers of coal, and one expected that when this matter came before the House we should have a lively Debate. And it has all fizzled out. That fills me with apprehension. Why has this opposition fizzled out? Why are the gas and electricity companies satisfied? Why is the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) able to get up and say, "We are perfectly satisfied and withdraw this Amendment." Not because of what the Secretary for Mines has announced. Withdrawal of the opposition to the Bill was announced be-fore the Secretary for Mines spoke. Withdrawal of the opposition has taken place after something that has occurred behind closed doors somewhere. We are entitled to ask the Secretary for Mines whether he was represented at these conferences. Does he know what took place?

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present


I was putting a question to the Secretary for Mines. I am not complaining that he is not in his seat at the moment. But have there been conferences recently between the colliery owners, the Mines Department and the big consumers of coal, and, if so, what has been settled? These schemes are designed, we are told, to fix prices below which coal may not be sold, to organise the collective sale of coal, and to prevent competition, I shall have a word to say in a moment about the pledges which were given to the men in regard to prices and wages. But now we have to assume that important concessions have been made, either with the connivance or without the knowledge of the Mines Department, to these great industrial consumers. If we are to have selling schemes, what is the value of them if there has been a settlement between the owners and steel, electricity, gas, and other undertakings? We are entitled to assume from those silent benches, those empty benches, that hon. Members have withdrawn their opposition because they have had assurances from the owners. I am not surprised. There is a great deal of interlocking of capital between the mining industry and the electricity and gas industries. They are friends. But I am entitled to protest in the name of the men, that if the selling schemes are to be negatived by private arrangements made behind closed doors, it is the breaking of a solemn pledge made to 750,000 miners.

One hon. Member went so far as to suggest that there was an unholy alliance between the coalowners and the Miners' Federation to fleece the consumers. May I say that the Miners' Federation never asked for these schemes? These schemes represent the reply of the Government to what we asked for and what we ask for now, namely, an increase of miners' wages. We do not intend to vote against these schemes to-night. We shall support them, but our position has been made clear by the Miners' Federation for the past nine months. We put forward our claim for an increase in wages to the coalowners, and they turned it down. We took that claim to the Government, and the Government said they would see the owners and find out if it was possible to meet that demand. Eventually they came back to us and made an appeal to us. They said, "We agree that the miners' wages are scandalously low, but there is no money in the till to meet your demand." We are not quite convinced of the accuracy of that statement. It all depends on what the Secretary for Mines means by it.

Reference has already been made to the South Wales coalfield ascertainment which showed a loss of 5d. per ton. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that these ascertainments are based entirely on pithead proceeds, and that there are coalfields where the pithead proceeds are merely a fiction. The outsider, unacquainted with the industry, assumes an ascertainment based on pithead proceeds to be the price at which the coal is sold at the pithead by the colliery owner to some outside buyer. Nothing of the kind. Very little coal is sold at the pithead. In South Wales 80 per cent. of the coal is not sold at the pithead. It is taken from a pit which is owned by a company under one name, and disposed of through a sales agency, owned by the same people under another name, and it passes through several hands in that way. We have been able to prove in the boardrooms of colliery owners that the ascertainment system does not provide a correct reflex of the revenue of the industry. I urge upon the Secretary for Mines to consider the fact that we call in question the ascertainment system. When he says that there is no money in the till, we would remind him that what he describes as the till does not contain all the money that is received for coal.

Let me deal with the question of the exploitation of the consumer. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) talked about the poor agricultural labourer who got half the wages of the miner. I wonder in which Lobby would the hon. Member vote if we moved for an increase in farm labourers' wages. He represented that the miners were getting much better wages than other consumers and were entering into a conspiracy with the owners to exploit the poor consumer. He quoted certain figures of wages from a statistical table issued by the Mines Department. May I call his attention to a simple comparison and ask him, as a business man, interested in the life of London, what he thinks about it? In the table from which he quoted I find that for the first quarter of 1936 the commercial proceeds of Yorkshire coal at the pithead amounted to 13s. 1d. per ton. I have here a ticket which I picked up this morning—an advertisement of a coal distributing agency in London—and it reads as follows: Lowest Summer prices. Buy now and save money. Yorkshire house coal 42s. per ton.


The hon. Member knows that average pithead prices may range from 2s. or 3s. a ton up to 10 times that amount that house coal which comes from Yorkshire collieries is not sold at the pithead at 13s. or anything like it, and that the cost of railing that coal to London—the bulk of which goes in railwaymen's wages—adds a great deal more to the price. If he will consult the report of the exhaustive investigation into the distribution of charges and prices conducted by the hon. Member who was Secretary for Mines in 1924, he will find that it is not necessary to make speeches of the kind he is now making.


Perhaps the hon. Member does not realise that I have been engaged in the mining industry all my life. The most thorough investigation that was made into this matter was that made by the Sankey Commission and it discovered this fact—that after the coal reached the main clearing station in London, having paid the pithead price and the railway rates to London and all that, no less than 12s. 6d. a ton was added to the price between St. Pancras or Paddington and the consumer half a mile away.


The Sankey Commission discovered that in 1919. The inquiry to which I refer took place in 1924 under the auspices of the first Labour Secretary for Mines, and the records are available. If, in the instance mentioned, there was an added cost of 12s. 6d., the hulk of it went in feed for horses and wages for men.


On the hon. Member's own argument this price of coal about which he complains represents not the wages of miners, but the profits of other people who come in between the pit and the consumer. He is not entitled to represent that these fabulous prices represent miners' wages and they are not to be explained away as going in feed for horses and wages for men who work the coal carts in London. They represent the profits of the many through whose hands the coal passes between the colliery and the consumer. We have heard a lot about the poor consumer, but are those who have been taking part in these negotiations concerned about the poor consumers in London? No, they are concerned about the rich industrial consumers. They are concerned about profits, and not about the price to the small consumer. May I say, on behalf of the miners of this country, that we appreciate the response which the public made in this respect. At the same time, we know that the public regard for the miners and their desire to help the miners has been shamelessly exploited. Coal sold in London has been sold per bag or per cwt. at an increased price of 5s., 6s., and 7s. a ton, when the actual increase paid at the colliery was 1s. or less than 1s. a ton.

When eventually negotiations had broken down in the crisis last October, we told the Minister and the Government that in view of the failure of the owners to respond to our just claims, we should have no alternative but to recommend our men in the country to take the extreme step of striking. The Secretary for Mines made a statement in this House, and he made the same statement to us, asking us to convey a warning to our men. In so doing, he exercised a perfect right, and I claim to be able to exercise the same right when I ask him to convey a warning to the Government,. He said that the Government hoped the Executive Committee of the Miners' Federation would draw the attention of the delegate conference to the very grave responsibility which it would assume, both in relation to the workers in the mine fields and to the country as a whole, if it should fail to allow full investigation of the offer that was then being made. We conveyed that warning, which meant that if the miners took the extreme step of striking, the Government would be against them. He appealed to us to trust the owners and the Government.

I am sure the Secretary for Mines will not mind my saying it—I am not saying it offensively—that eventually the miners accepted that offer on the understanding that these schemes, which are now being brought before this House and which will in another hour and a quarter be law and effective, are going to bring our men the wages which they claim. It is not the miners who have said that. It is the Secretary for Mines himself who has created that impression. The crisis was warded off on that impression. The owners created the impression that if they were given these powers, they could provide these wages, and I therefore want to warn the Secretary for Mines and this House, in the name not only of the mining representatives in this House, but of the three-quarters of a million miners in the country, who in the last analysis will count, that if these schemes do not deliver the goods, do not give them the wages which they claim, the Government will next time appeal in vain.

The Secretary for Mines knows very well that so far all that these schemes have done is to protect the pockets of the owners. Since 1921 we have been compelled to accept a wages agreement which divides the surplus in the industry in the ratio of 85 to wages and 15 to profits. What that means is, in everyday language, that first of all an agreement was given to the men in South Wales or Yorkshire for a minimum wage. For that minimum wage the owners are entitled to standard minimum profits, and before the men's wages can rise above the minimum, the agreement on the ascertainments must provide the standard minimum profits for the owners. Those standard profits on the average are 1s. 6d. per ton. In pre-war days, if coal made a profit of 1s. a ton, that pit was deemed to be a pit that was doing handsomely. If you look at the ascertainments, you will find that in the first quarter of 1936—I am speaking from memory—if you take the country as a whole, there was a profit of 1s. 4d. a ton, but when you come back to the district agreements—and please remember that the men's wages are deter- mined by districts—you find wide variations, with the result that we know, as the Secretary for Mines knows, that unless there is a radical change in those ascertainments, there is not the slightest chance of the men in South Wales, or in Northumberland, or in Durham, getting an extra halfpenny a day, and we shall be confronted with a grave situation.

We shall have these district selling schemes, with too little national co-ordination, with nothing to assist the export trade, the only possibility being to increase the prices in the inland trade, with no prospect of increasing by a brass farthing the prices in the export trade, with each district having to depend on itself and its own resources and not being able to call upon any national assistance, with no national levy, with no assistance from the inland trade to assist the export trade, with the men in South Wales, in Durham, and in Northumberland compelled to meet the subsidised competition of Germany, where every ton of coal is subsidised to the extent of from 6s. to 10s. a ton, with the South Wales and Durham miners having to bear that out of their poverty and their wages. These schemes would not be here to-night, and we should not be here discussing them, were it not for the miners' wages crisis. That is why these schemes have been put forward, and that is why we are discussing them to-night. They are the Government's offer to the miners—" Do not strike, take our word, accept our offer, and we will bring these schemes forward; these schemes will put more money in the till, and then you will get more wages."

I want therefore to remind the Government, now that we are passing these schemes, that we did not ask for them, but that the Government told us to accept them, and that they would bring us our wages. If they do not bring the wages, yours is the responsibility. The public responded magnificently all over the country at the time of the crisis, and when the public paid an extra 6d. or an extra 1s.—and much more sometimes, where they have been exploited—they did not pay that to give more wages to the Yorkshire miner, or the Nottingham miner, or the South Wales miner. They paid the increased price in the belief that every miner everywhere in the country would get the benefit, but we find the South Wales miners getting an average increase of 2½d. a day, the Notts miners getting an average increase of 1s. a day, the Cannock Chase miners getting ls. a few months ago and a further increase of 7d. since. South Wales is doomed, without a levy, without assistance, for the next 10 years to be on the present miserable level, and Durham and Northumberland too.

One hears rumours as to whether it is not possible for the export districts to get a larger share of the inland rates, and one hears rumours of something that may wreck this scheme, that there is really no attempt at co-ordination at all, that though these schemes will stop inter-colliery competition within a district, there is nothing in them to stop inter-district competition, and that therefore we shall find export districts like Northumberland, Durham, and South Wales, which are losing their export markets, driven by desperation into the inland trade, again to bring down the whole industry to a ruinous level.

For all these reasons I urge that the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, which represents the men in this industry, the people who to-night are risking their lives in the pits to produce this coal, should have been able to see copies of the scheme. Hon. Members produced copies of this scheme this evening and read from them. Two hon. Members who are not connected with the mining industry have read from them. The Miners' Federation have asked for copies and have been unable to get them. I protest on behalf of the Federation that Members with no interest in the industry should have copies while the miners' organisation have not been able to get copies. The acid test for these schemes will be whether they give the men the wages they deserve. We shall vote for the schemes because of the pledge of the owners and the Government to us. They mark one further stage. Individualism has been dead in the coal mining industry for the last 20 years, and in all the coal fields private enterprise ceased a long time ago. These Orders mark one further step towards this House and the country realising that there is no solution of this problem except to make this great industry a public service in which the men will not respond to make profits for consumers or producers, but will re- spond to render a public service to the nation, and they will do that gladly.

9.57 p.m.


Two things seem to have emerged from this Debate. One is that there is general agreement that the miners, if it can be arranged, should have better wages. The other thing, which surprises me very much, is that it seems to be assumed that the consumers of coal generally are prosperous. The hon. Member who has just sat down seemed to think there was no reason why consumers should not pay more, or, in the case of household consumers, why the pit-head price should not be more. I should like to emphasise the position of the shipping industry, including not only liners and cargo boats, but coastwise boats and trawlers. Hon. Members must have had protests and letters from trawling people and people connected with the fishing industry in every way. They are in the greatest difficulty. In this Debate we are saying, in effect, that trawler owners are to pay more for their bunker coal. I am in favour of these schemes, but I would like to point out that the trawlers, among other shipping interests which are hardly hit, will have to pay more for bunker coal. That seems a contribution by the trawlers that they will hardly appreciate at the present time.

We fear in the shipping industry that our position will be worse. The case of the British trade in the Pacific Ocean has been before the Government for years, but there has been no progress at all. If we allow the position of shipping to be worsened, there will be greater difficulty than ever in getting it bettered again, and it will be in a very bad way in every department of the industry. The Secretary for Mines said that prices were going down on account of the weakness of the selling agencies. He also said that some people would have to pay more. Many hon. Members have spoken about export coal, but the position of bunker coal has been mentioned only by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) and one other hon. Member. It is a very serious question. At the present time any shipowner has the option of buying coal either in this country or on the north Continent. An hon. Member on the other side said that any shipowner who did not buy from this country was grossly unpatriotic. Shipowners who have been bunkering their ships abroad, however, were not British subjects in the majority of cases, and it can hardly be said that if they bunker in their own country of Belgium or Holland they are unpatriotic.

This is not an internal question at all. The British owner has to compete in the world market. If he has to bring cargo back from the Far East or Australia for 20s. a ton, he cannot afford to pay 2s. more for his bunker coal in order to be patriotic. It is a question of either not going on the voyage or going with the cheapest coal that the owner can get. All these Orders bristle with difficulty in practice. They are divided into two sections, export and inland. The export includes foreign-going bunkers and trawlers. If the price is to be put up—and it is very desirable that miners should have more wages—it can only be put up if the price is put up in foreign ports as well, so that all people pay the same price as we do. That is not within the province of the Government. So far as the inland quota is concerned, great difficulties arise. Bunkers going to London, from Newcastle, for example, have to come in the inland quota. It is a, fact, as was mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash and by other hon. Members, that you can get Newcastle coal cheaper in Antwerp or Rotterdam than in London. One is on the export quota and the other is on the inland quota. Surely these things are wrong. It should be possible for our steamers to buy coal as cheaply in London as in Rotterdam. Many hon. Members asked, with regard to coasting vessels, how they can compete against the Dutch. If we put up the price of bunker coal for these vessels, we are simply making the position worse for them.

I think that the price of bunkers should go up, but what the method should be I do not know. The House cannot shut its eyes to the fact that by putting up the price one is making the position infinitely worse. It is no use brushing aside the Diesel tonnage. The shipping firm with which I am connected burns coal and is continuing to do so, but many firms are changing over from coal to oil. If it can be shown that it is cheaper to burn Diesel or fuel oil, you must do it. No question of patriotism can arise. You must do it if you are to compete with the ships built by the Norwegians, which are very well built and managed vessels. If we are going to force owners to build Diesel ships instead of steamers because of the price of bunker coal, it will be the worse service that can be done to the British miner. British shipping is interested in about 23½ per cent. of the total British production of coal. Bunker coal alone accounts for about 14,000,000 tons a year, which is a very large amount.

It is a question which the House must face. The coal owners will presumably look after their own interests so far as the export trade is concerned. If they do not want it they will not take it; but if they put up the price of bunker coal to such an extent that either the foreign or British shipowner can bunker more cheaply on the Continent, or finds that Diesel-driven vessels become more profitable than coal-driven, the position of the British miner is going to be very serious indeed.

10.5 p.m.


In one sense this has been a very good Debate, and in another sense it has been one of the most curious that I remember. We have been debating in the absence of information as to what we are actually going to do. We are debating a central scheme and, to some extent, 17 other schemes, but we have not got a single scheme before us, nor is anybody here supposed to have seen one. A copy of one scheme is apparently in the possession of one Member. That appears to be a very undesirable state of affairs, and I hope if any alteration is to be made in the Act of 1930, that before we are asked to discuss anything of this nature in the future the House will have before it the fullest information. A week or two ago we were discussing another coal mines Bill, and after the Government speaker had proceeded some way he was asked whether we were discussing the Bill which was in the hands of hon. Members or something which was in the mind of the President of the Board of Trade. It turned out that we were discussing something which was in the mind of the President of the Board of Trade, and the House felt so strongly about being asked to discuss something on which it had not got full information that the Debate "bust up" and the Bill was more or less withdrawn. We are in a rather worse position, if any- thing, to-night, because nobody has seen the schemes.

I want to endorse the protest made by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). These schemes affect not only consumers—we have had some protest on behalf of consumers—but coalowners and about 800,000 miners, men who are organised, probably, as highly as any set of men in this country and represented by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. In the dispute last year the Miners' Federation made a greater compromise, probably, than any in the history of mining disputes, on the promise that selling agencies were to be introduced to bring revenue into the industry; yet the Miners' Federation, in spite of the fact that they represent 800,000 men, and in spite of the fact that they compromised and withdrew the demand for 2s. a day increase, accepting as little as 3½d. a day in South Wales, have not been approached on a single occasion by either the coal-owners or the Government, and have not seen one of these schemes that we are discussing. That is really a ridiculous state of affairs, and I hope that the Secretary for Mines will do his best to see that that position is not repeated.

There has not been much opposition to this Order, so far as we are concerned. As a Labour party we are not voting against it. We are supporting the schemes. We were promised these schemes by the Government and the coal-owners, the Government being certain that they would succeed in providing a remedy which would eventually provide miners with more wages. We have accepted the schemes on that basis, but we are taking no responsibility for them. We have had nothing to do with them, we have not been consulted, we have not been allowed to look at them. So while we accept them in the hope that they may do something, we take not the slightest responsibility for them, and if they do not bring extra wages, as some of us think they may not, we shall have recourse to our other weapons, or whatever force we think we can use in order to get wages for our people.

As I have said, a lot of opposition has been put up by certain people interested in this matter as consumers—gas, electricity and other concerns—but that opposition has now been more or less with- drawn. We had a speech from the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), in which he argued, at least by implication, that the wages of the miners were not so bad, comparatively speaking, because agricultural labourers got only 30s. or 31s. a week, and if the miners got 45s. or 50s. they ought to be thankful. On other occasions when people have been asking for higher wages it has been said, "Oh, but the agricultural labourer gets only so-and-so." I hope the Minister has got away from that idea. A speech to which I listened with great interest was that by the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). He always speaks well on this subject. He is a coalowner, and I think we can pay him the tribute of saying that for some time he has been trying to get the coalowners to move in this direction. But he said a rather curious thing. He said that cheap coal had played a big part in bringing back our trade recovery. I think that is true, but I will guarantee that every hon. Member opposite, when he goes down to his constituency, will declare that our trade recovery has been due to the policy of the National Government. However, we have it from him that a big part of the trade recovery has been brought about by cheap coal; in other words, it has been brought about out of the tears, blood and misery of about 800,000 miners and their wives and families. That is not a thing of which to be proud. No wonder the Government have been trying to improve wages.

I have been disappointed about these schemes from another point of view. In view of the fact that we have had experience of the Lancashire scheme, which has been in operation for 12 months, I had hoped that the schemes to be brought forward would at least be an improvement on the Lancashire scheme. According to such information as we have, instead of there being an improvement on it most of them are infinitely worse. The Lancashire group have a central scheme with one selling agency. If every group in the country acts in that way there will be 17 separate selling schemes. I have been hoping that groups might have got together and had a central selling scheme for two or three groups, but nothing has happened in that direction. The coal-owners have gone in exactly the opposite direction. After our experience of the coalowners we need have expected nothing else. They are the most individualistic set of people on the face of the earth, and the most stupid. I sometimes think they are stupid from the point of view of their own interests. If they want to save the coal pits for private owners one would think they would do some of these things of their own will, without waiting to be forced. But they have done just as little in regard to these schemes and the principle of the schemes as they possibly can. In the Midland scheme, in South Yorkshire you have nine selling groups. In West Yorkshire you have four more. Thus in Yorkshire alone you have 13 selling groups—13 competitive groups, because even the Minister, whom you would expect to put the best face on the matter, admitted that there was room for some slight competition even within the districts. There will be a lot more between the districts.

In the Midland district we have 21 selling agencies. In the other schemes there are 12 groups, and in each group the coalowner is selling coal from his own pit-head. You will thus have scores of selling agencies, in spite of the fact that we are supposed to have reached some kind of organisation. I think that is to be deplored, and I hope that when the Minister goes into these schemes—I understand that he has not seen some of them yet—he will put this point of view before the coalowners. Does he accept the view that this multiplication of the principle of selling agencies, this supposed amalgamation, is desirable? Does he not think that the coalowners would have been better advised not only to have followed the example set by Lancashire but to have bettered it? I was rather amazed to find to-night that the Durham scheme has been quoted here by a Member on the Government side. That has created some alarm in some parts of the House, including these benches. [An HON. MEMBER: "Another leakage."] Another leakage—yes to some extent. So far as that is concerned, I believe the Minister said that he had never seen it. Is that so?

Captain CROOKSHANK indicated assent.


We have been discussing here an Order which is in the Vote Office, and a copy of which has been produced, and the Minister has not actually seen the scheme. I should have thought that he would at least have seen the scheme before the Orders were produced to this House. How many of the 17 schemes has he seen? Is he in the same position as we are? Who does know anything about them except the coalowners? If the Minister has not seen the scheme himself what are we discussing to-day? I hope he is going to tell us when he gets up. It has been said that he has made a very good speech, and he did in a way, but he did not tell us much about the scheme.

There is another thing I want to ask in regard to these schemes. I have had some information conveyed to me about my own scheme, the Midland scheme, and I asked a question about excluded works. There are some things in the scheme, such as coal for mines-consumption, and other excluded works, where coal does not go into the ordinary selling scheme. It means that where a coalowner owns or controls by-product industries—and I am not sure that it does not include steel industries—this coal is not included in the selling scheme. I remember that, when the present ascertainment method was set up, some trouble arose because it was found that coalowners were selling coal to themselves—to their own subsidiary concerns—at a cheap rate, and, because of that, were making huge profits out of these subsidiary industries, but none of the profits made out of these subsidiary industries went into the ascertainment. Apparently that is to be carried on in these schemes, and I want the Minister to tell us whether it is the intention in any of the schemes that these works shall be excluded, and that the coalowner who controls works of any kind will be able to sell coal to himself at a rate which will not be determined by the people who control the general selling scheme. If that is to be so, we ought to know, because it is going to make a difference to the wages which our people are supposed to be able to get as a result of this business.

The Minister was good enough to tell us about some of these schemes a week or two ago. There is the question of trade shares. I understand that it is to be arranged in these schemes that, where a pit does not dispose of its coal—of its trade share, as it is called—it can claim compensation, and that, where it sells more than its trade share, it pays compensation. Why is there such a big difference in the compensation to be paid, which, according to the Minister's own statement, varies from 1s. to as much as 4s. per ton? But the main point which interests me in connection with this question of compensation is as to what effect the compensation paid to a man or paid by a man is going to have on wages. If one coalowner sells, say, 20,000 tons more than his trade share, and has to pay 20,000 times 3s. into the compensation fund—I believe the compensation is 3s. per ton in the Midland scheme—is that 20,000 times 3s. going to be taken out of the wages ascertainment, and will it have the effect of reducing the wages of the miners? On the other hand, if a coalowner receives compensation at the rate of 3s. per ton, will that go into the ascertainment for wages purposes, and so increase the wages of the men at this particular colliery? I am sure the Minister has studied all these things, assuming that he has the scheme. He told us that he has not the Durham scheme, and we do not know how many schemes he has, but he must have seen some of them, and I am sure he has given his full consideration to these matters, so I hope he will be able to give us the answer to these questions.

As I have already said, we have heard a lot of talk about the big consumers. Every Member of the House has had a lot of correspondence asking him to vote against these schemes because they were going to make coal dearer and so on. It has been indicated that these consumers have withdrawn their opposition; and I think the Minister has indicated that they have done so, to some extent, because they have been promised that in the next Bill, when it comes, Section 5 will be altered so as to give them some amount of protection. Is that all that is being done? Are these people to get any other concession? In my opinion, and that of a good many members of the Miners' Federation who have to do with miners' wages, a lot of these public utility companies and gas and electricity concerns have been getting their coal too cheaply. Some of them have made big profits and are still making big profits. They ought to pay more for their coal.

I have been surprised at some of the municipalities, which might well have held their hand. The miners' wages were so low six months ago that the public decided voluntarily to pay so much more in order that the miners should have more. If there is one set of people who have been getting coal more cheaply than anyone else, it is the gas and electricity and big industrial companies. I am pretty sure that if miners' wages are to be raised and there is to be any improvement in the income out of which their wages come, these people will have to pay more for their coal. Our people have suffered poverty too long. I want to know, as these people have withdrawn their opposition, whether any concessions have been promised other than those indicated to-night.

There is another matter, the question of the registration of distributors. I think I gleaned from the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech that there are not sufficient powers in the Act to effect what some of us would wish, but there is to be a register of distributors and a man can be taken off or someone else put on at the whim or pleasure of the coalowners themselves. I am not sure that I like that. I agree that there are too many people taking toll of the industry. and also that, while gas and electricity companies are getting coal too cheap, it is equally true that a lot of domestic consumers are paying too much. It is too dear, in spite of what the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) said, because there are too many of these people handling it. Everyone who knows anything about the trade admits that, if the selling of coal was organised from the pit-head to the consumers' cellars, you could not only give the miners more wages, but give the consumers a cheaper product. Is the registration of distributors going to do anything in that direction? Is it not rather going to create a vested interest among those already in the distributive trade and allow them to keep it? I do not like putting a power like this into the hands of coalowners. It may easily be abused. It is no wonder that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and one or two others are disturbed. I want to see middlemen eliminated, but I want it to be done on a reasonable basis. I want to see it done under the direction of a public authority and not done by a set of people who use the coal industry for their own profit.

There are some districts which are making profits and others that are not making the profits to which they are supposed to be entitled. Have the coalowners indicated to the Minister that, when these extra revenues start to come into the industry, they are going to claim their full meed of profit before a penny goes to increase miners' wages? Is South Wales, for instance, not only going to make up its debit, if it is possible under the scheme—and I do not think it is particularly in their case—are they going to have the right to make up the 5½d. debit there now, and also to go to the extent allowed by the ascertainments before we can get a penny on to wages? South Wales, in spite of the voluntary efforts of the people of this country, got the magnificent increase of 3½d. per day, and if they have to wait until the coalowners get all their profits, the outlook for South Wales, and for Durham, is indeed very black. Have the coalowners put that kind of consideration before the Secretary for Mines? Has the Secretary for Mines discussed that question? If he has not, and if he has not seen these schemes, will he promise us to-night that, in view of his own declaration that the introduction of these selling schemes is for the special purpose of increasing miners' wages, he will expect the coal-owners to give some consideration to miners' wages long before they make up their average meed of profit? I do not think that that is an unreasonable thing to ask.

My last point is—my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) mentioned it—on the question of deficiencies. I remember discussing this question on the Adjournment just before the Christmas holidays. I asked what was to be done then. When in 1926 we went back beaten and had to accept the owners' terms, we got such a miserable wage agreement that not only has it been the minimum wage since, but we accumulated in the first few years about £10,000,000 deficiency which we were supposed to pay back to the coalowners before wages could go up a single penny. The thing became so impossible that even the coalowners said, "We had better wipe this out and start again." We started again, and we have accumulated in Yorkshire up to the present time a deficiency of £8,000,000 or £9,000,000, and it has not been wiped out as far as I know.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline says that the same thing took place in Scotland. The same thing took place in South Wales and in a good many other places. Has the Minister asked the coalowners about that matter? He cannot claim that he did not know about it. It was brought patently to his notice in the discussion before Christmas, when we debated these selling schemes, and he knows all about it. Is there anything in these selling schemes which refers to this business at all, or is the coalowner to have the right not only to make up the debits and his meed of profits, but also to make up the deficiencies before anything goes to wages. If that is so, the outlook for South Wales is very black indeed, and even for Yorkshire and some of the best districts, to say the least, it is not too rosy. We ought to know these things. They affect the lives and welfare of our people.

We compromised on the issue just before Christmas and accepted a ridiculously small increase in wages in many districts in order to give the Government time to put these selling schemes into force, which the Government told us they were so sure would be successful, and that we would get our wages. Are the coalowners going to do these things unless they have their profits and deficiencies? I do not want to crab the issue. I should like to see the thing settled amicably, but I have no hesitation in saying that my faith in the coalowners is very small. I have known them too long. I have been negotiating with them more or less all my life. and I have never known them do anything very progressive. I am pretty sure that, if they have their way, they will take all these things that are here. The Minister is our only protection at the moment. We do not know whether he is going to do anything yet. He has not the schemes. No one has got them except the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). We want to know what is in them and to what we are committing ourselves if we vote for these schemes to-night, as we intend to do.

We are voting in the dark and trusting in the honour of the Minister and of the Government to carry out the pledge that they gave to us. The Miners' Federation have issued a short statement dealing with the matter, which I will quote. They support these schemes on this basis, and say: Nevertheless, the miners believe that the schemes should be supported in order that an opportunity may be given to permit the substantial benefits, which both the owners and the Government assured them would accrue from the schemes, to materialise. If, however, after a reasonable period of trial, the schemes do not bring the miners any real improvement, then inevitably the wages issue will be re-opened, for the miners cannot continue indefinitely to work for the present totally inadequate wages. The responsibility is the Government's and the owners'.

10.36 p.m.


I do not complain of the tone of the Debate. The only thing that I do complain of is that I have been asked so many questions that I do not know how I can try the patience of the House in attempting to give some answers. I might, however, start by saying that this is exempted business, so there need not be undue agitation if it looks as if I am going a minute or two after 11 o'clock. With regard to these draft Orders, I made it quite clear in my opening speech that they are representations which were made by the coalowners to the Board of Trade for amendments of or additions to the existing schemes. That is the technical form. One of the first things said by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall)—for whose kindly references to myself I desire to thank him—was that he would like to see the schemes. I thought that I had made it clear that in so far as all this policy had to be speeded up, and as it was part of the arrangement as a result of which there was no stoppage in the coal industry, it was inevitable that the Government had to use, as far as they were concerned, and the coalowners had to use, as far as they were concerned, the legislation which was on the Statute Book, and the forms which are prescribed in that legislation. I would remind hon. Members that in spite of their thinking that this is a rather poor way of doing it, at the time when the miners started their campaign for an increase of wages they said that they wanted the industry to be organised. They said: The industry can be made to pay if the owners do their duty. They must adopt a national scheme of centralised selling. We are on the way to that: They must stop wasteful competition among themselves … All these things can be done, and done quickly. They do not need an Act of Parliament. The Act is already in existence. The owners have only to use it! That is exactly what has happened. They have used it, and now the complaint is that, having used it, we cannot do a lot of other things.


Have they adopted a national scheme?


The answer to that question is that the schemes before the House are district schemes, with central co-ordination. The point that I was making was that the Miners claimed that these things could be done, and done quickly. They said: They don't need an Act of Parliament, the Act is already in existence. The owners have only to use it! My answer is that they have accepted that situation. The 1930 Act is the only Act on the Statute Book and, therefore, the schemes are not available to the House because of the limitations of that Act. There are also limitations because the whole thing has had to be done in a very short time. The hon. Member for Aberdare said that I should satisfy myself that the schemes were uniform. I thought I had indicated quite clearly in my opening remarks that in my opinion no scheme would be of any use unless it fulfilled certain conditions, namely, that it should cover all the coalowners, effectually prevent inter-colliery competition in districts and that it made evasions impossible. That is really the only point with which I am concerned. Following the example of Lancashire 12 other districts put up another form of scheme, but as long as the schemes which they put up fulfilled these conditions, in the opinion of my advisers and myself, there was no reason or justification to insist that they should have such and such a form of scheme because I thought one form was better than another. All I said was that the scheme must fulfil the conditions I have indicated.


May I ask how the Secretary for Mines can assure himself that they fulfil these conditions unless he has seen them?


I am satisfied that the powers taken in the draft Orders are ample to cover the point. You must be certain that what you want to achieve is covered by the words of the Order, and, therefore, before I actually agree to a scheme I have to be satisfied that the powers in the draft Order are translated into effective terms in the schemes themselves.

Then there was another point in regard to the distributors. The hon. Member said that they would be entirely under the board where the board took power to deal with distributors, and that the board could add or take from the list. I have pointed out that it is possible under the existing Act for powers to be taken to deal with the first distributor, and I have made it clear that if the schemes were to deal with this side of the problem then the coalowners had given an assurance that if any distributor would accept the conditions he would be added to the list. The conditions must be agreed between the coal-owners and the first re-seller, but if they do not agree, then they can go to arbitration about it. Everybody who is prepared to accept the conditions must be on the list and, therefore, no one can be removed from the list without the right of going to arbitration. I must try to secure fairness all round, and fairness to the distributor is just as necessary as fairness to anybody else.


Can the Secretary for Mines tell us who the arbitrators are to be?


No. It is the normal procedure. I cannot tell the hon. and gallant Member who the arbitrators will be, but there will be no difficulty at all about the matter. A point to which several hon. Members referred was my remark that there would be independent chairmen in certain districts. Hon. Members asked who would pay for these independent chairmen and whether the coalowners would have the right to dismiss them, in which case they would not be really independent. The answer is that I understand they will be paid for in a similar way as the present independent chairmen of the joint conciliation boards.


The chairmen of the joint conciliation boards are paid for jointly by the Miners' Federation and the coalowners.


I understood they were to be paid in a similar way, but if there is any question about that I will look into it. I am afraid I have not all the details with me.


It cannot be the same.


Hon. Members must bear in mind what is the function of the independent chairman of the control board. His chief function is to make sure that all those who are concerned in the matters regarding which there is control—that is to say, prices) the conditions of sale and so on—carry out the scheme. He is there because in the past there has been, a falling away by the weak seller. He is there to see that everybody acts up to the scheme, and that is why he has to be independent.

I pass now to one or two other points. The Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh), who is not here now, made a very good speech. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) made two interruptions with which I will deal. He asked about the power of dismissal of the chairman. Again I understand that, generally speaking, he would be subject to dismissal by the executive board, but that would require a 75 per cent, majority of the board and would be for misconduct. The hon. Member also asked about the price of transfers to subsidiary undertakings. That is really a wage question, but in some instances specific powers will be given to fix minimum prices applicable to subsidiaries. In the main, however, the question is one of wages rather than a question with which these schemes are directly concerned. As I said earlier this afternoon, the question of wages is not specifically raised in these schemes, but it is in the background. It is not specifically raised, because wages are outside the ambit of the powers which can be secured under the 1930 Act. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) made a complaint which was afterwards repeated by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) and other hon. Members that the Miners' Federation had not been consulted with regard to these schemes and that it ought to have seen them. As a matter of fact I could not consult the Miners' Federation about the schemes, but whether, and if so to what extent, the Joint Consultative Committee have been taken into consultation by the coal-owners in their discussions I have no personal knowledge. It seems to me a place in which such a matter could be discussed.


Did the Miners' Federation ask for these schemes?


Yes, they asked me if I could provide them, and I answered that I could not.


Somebody else got them.


I am going to deal with that point. An hon. Member caused excitement and surprise by reading out what he said was the Durham scheme, of which he said he had a copy, and he went so far as to say that this draft scheme had received meticulous examination by my Department. The answer is that the document from which he was quoting has not even been seen by my Department. How he got it and where he got it from is not for me to say. The legal advisers of the coalowners refused to supply my Department with a copy, on the ground that it was in such a draft form that it was not worth while our troubling about the wording of it until they had agreed further what they wanted to put in, though of course the general outline is found in the powers taken under these draft Orders. The short answer to the whole question is that the general outline of every scheme follows these draft Orders, and is within my knowledge, but the actual details and final wording are not. That is the explanation, and the rest of the hon. Member's speech contained nothing I need answer.

The hon. Member for Normanton asked me some questions, but the hon. Member for Wentworth obligingly gave him the answers. One wanted to know how many groups there were in the South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Midland amalgamated district, and the other was good enough to tell the House. The deduction of the hon. Member for Wentworth was that in scores and scores of schemes there could be no real control. The scores and scores of schemes contract themselves considerably, because even on his showing there are the 21 in the Midland Amalgamated, 12 districts of the controlled selling type, and four others, all of which together cannot be called scores.


But each pit, so far as selling coal is concerned, sells its own coal.


Yes, that is part of all controlled selling in the other 12 districts. They sell their own coal, but under central control as to prices and terms. In the Midland Amalgamated I understand this will be the case—that the groups are co-ordinated by five sectional committees which correspond to the different districts, and these sectional committees are coordinated by a committee for the whole of the Midland Amalgamated. That is why I said it was a combination of central selling and controlled selling. It must be admitted that in a district as vast as that there must be some form of decentralisation, but that the control is there.

Then the hon. Member for Normanton and also the last speaker—again showing sympathy one with the other—raised a point about district agreements and wages and the extent to which some of these schemes might affect them. Actually questions of wages are not for me. They are questions as between the men and the employers, but I took it upon myself some time ago to call the attention of the Mineworkers' Federation to the fact that there probably were points arising out of the details of these schemes which it was in their interest to examine. I come back to the point that the general objective of all this policy is to improve the situation from the wages point of view.

The hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. L. Jones) referred to exporters and distributors, and I hope that what I have said already deals with his point. He warned the Government against the danger of prices becoming unduly high. We have heard that from all sorts of people in the course of the day, and, as I have said, it cannot be in the interest of the coal industry itself that prices should go to such a height that the whole consuming public would feel a sense of grievance. The general public have now a sympathy with the industry and I am sure nobody wants to upset that sym- pathy. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) wanted to know what would happen if a man desired to open a new pit. As far as I know he would get standard tonnage in the ordinary way and what is to be remembered is that all these schemes, as covered by the opening words of the Act, are not for prohibition but for regulation. The rest of the hon. Member's speech made it clear that he does not think that these schemes will achieve anything and in that case perhaps he need not worry about the other points which he mentioned. The hon. and gallant Member for, Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) and the hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Sir D. Thomson) both dealt with questions of bunker and export coal and the problems of shipping. There again I would only make the general remark that it is not in the interests of those in the industry itself that they should cause any undue trouble among people on whom they depend for the sale of their coal. The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash went on to say that there had been friendly meetings between the coalowners and the shipowners to explain each others difficulties and that seems to be a very wise course.

Whatever alterations may be made in regard to the safeguarding of the consumer it ought to be made clear beyond a peradventure that the principle of and the causes for organised selling remain. I am certain that the coalowners have that firmly in mind and that is the answer also to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that there had been some deal behind closed doors. I do not know of any deal behind closed doors. The only question which arose—and on that we had all sorts of representations from the consumers including many hon. Members of this House—was that of making sure that the machinery of investigation and complaint would be effective in case there was anything unfair in the operation of the scheme or the board's review. There has never been any question that I know of with regard to an undertaking to consumers as to prices.

Many of the criticisms of hon. Members during the Debate have cancelled each other out. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) objected to all this being done by the coalowners and said it would be better done by a national board or by the Board of Trade, but in his next sentence he said that the Minister should not be judge in his own cause. In one word he tells me that I ought to take powers, and in the next he says that I should be the last person to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) does not believe in any of this policy at all, and so it is very difficult to persuade him when it is a matter of principle, but I will say this, that I have had during the last few months quite a number of alleged grounds of complaint put to me about the Lancashire scheme, but not one of them has stood the test of investigation. There has always been some factor that either a Member of this House or some person outside has omitted to put in the letter which he wrote to me. I have already told my hon. Friend that if he would like me to investigate any particular case, I should be glad to do it, but if it is a complaint, it is open to take it to the Committee of Investigation.


One of the cases which I quoted to-night, I submitted in writing to the hon. and gallant Gentleman several weeks ago.


Then it is probably in process of being looked into. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) asked that either there should be a Government subsidy, or a national levy for the export trade, or, as I understood it, that there must be a county levy on the sale of inland coal to help the export coal districts. My answer is that those powers have been taken by Durham, Northumberland, Scotland, and South Wales, and in the case of Durham the powers are in Item 6 of Part II of the Draft Order. I am not saying that they are national, but intra-county. I have been asked repeatedly to take upon myself the prophetic mantle and to say what exactly will be the result, in terms of cash, sometimes to the miners, sometimes to the consumers, of all these schemes. I do not do that at all, but I think I have made it clear in what I have said that this country and the Government, first of all, put forward this policy, and afterwards the mining industry adopted it, that there should be organised selling. The country has shown its sympathy with the reasons underlying the adoption of that policy, and as I have said before, if in the course of a reasonable time we find that there are faults or leakages by which the results are not being achieved which either the mining industry or the Government would like to see achieved, these schemes will then be reviewed. I give an assurance about that, but the fact that they are done under statutory power makes it comparatively easy to do that.

That deals with most of the questions that have been put. The last words of the hon. Gentleman who preceded me, that he had never seen any progress in the policy of the coalowners, were rather hard words because this is a very big thing to undertake to do. I have been working at it for a long time and 1 recognise the tremendous amount of labour involved in producing these draft Orders and the schemes that will follow them in so short a time. While it is my business—on behalf of the owners, if you like, or on behalf of this House, or of the miners themselves—to see that the conditions laid down are contained in every scheme, as I believe they are inherent in the draft Orders, it will be my hope, and I know it will be the hope of everyone, that the step we are taking to-day is only one step towards a better organisation of selling, and that it will be a successful step, and have the results that we all want to see achieved.


May I ask the Minister what he means when he says that if these schemes are not working properly they can be reviewed? Does he mean that they will come before Parliament for review or that the Board of Trade and the Mines Department will review them?


As might happen about anything at any time, what you have planned might not work out exactly in the way that was planned. I shall be in touch with the day-to-day working of the schemes, and if I have reason to think that they are not working out with the desired results, and there is any question of amendment, that will come before the House in the form of draft Orders, as on the present occasion. That is the procedure established under the 1930 Act, and it can be continued until we get the schemes that everybody wants.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Central (Coal Mines) Scheme (Amendment) Order, 1936, a draft of which was presented to this House on the tenth day of June, 1936, be made.