§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In doing so, I need make only a very short reference to the state of the British mining industry. Everyone who is well acquainted with the conditions under which the British coal trade is now being worked is well aware of the fact that it is suffering not only from troubles without, from loss of its foreign markets, but is also suffering from troubles within which from time to time have been an embarrassment not only to those who are working in the mines and to the coal-owners, but to the Government themselves. It was with the object of meeting some of these internal troubles, and at the same time of getting out of the coal trade a more abundant return in order that interest might be paid on capital, that provision might be made for extension of the industry, and that the miners' wages might be maintained and increased, that the Bill of 1930 was introduced by Mr. Graham, after a long and extensive examination of the conditions of British coal mining.
The Bill which is now before the House is practically in two parts. The extension of Part I of the 1930 Act, which is provided for in Clause 9 of the Bill, will make it operative until the end of 1942. In 1932 its operation was extended until the end of 1937. The schemes of organised selling now being prepared by the industry are one of the conditions of the settlement which was reached in January of this year in the controversy between the miners and the coalowners. Schemes of organised or reorganised selling were then initiated with the object of getting out of the coal trade a larger return, and the miners themselves, of course, were interested in this, for it is on a large and abundant return from the coal trade that the rise of their wages to some extent is dependent. The part of the 1930 Act on which these schemes are based is now being extended. I am told that the preparation 854 of the organised selling schemes which were agreed to in January of this year has made a considerable advance. Representations from the districts regarding their selling schemes have now reached the Mines Department, and will be laid before Parliament in the next few days. This leaves sufficient time for them to take effect by 1st August. The central scheme is, I understand, almost ready for submission, and under the Coal Mines Act, 1930, requires an affirmative Resolution of both Houses. If these schemes go through, it is essential that the period during which they shall operate shall be extended beyond the 18 months left for the parent Act, and arrangements are accordingly made, which are covered in Clause 9 of the present Bill, for a longer period than 18 months to be provided.
The much more controversial part of the Bill is the other part of it. It refers not to selling schemes but to schemes for amalgamating mining concerns, and doing so on a basis more satisfactory than that which is covered by Part II of the 1930 Act. The present Bill proceeds on two broad principles: That the final decision whether particular undertakings should be compulsorily amalgamated is for Parliament; and, secondly, that the final decision on what terms they should be amalgamated is for the Judiciary in one form or another. The essence of the new provisions is in Clause 1, Sub-sections (2) and (3) and the Schedules referred to in Clause 1 (3). The process of amalgamating and settling the terms of amalgamation is to be by two separate steps. First, the transfer of the constituent undertakings and properties to a new amalgamating company. That company will then be the sole owner of all the constituent businesses and properties and the only authority with power to direct them. Secondly, the settlement (to be dated back to the date of transfer) of the financial interest which each constituent company is to have in the amalgamating company.
This two-bite process is inevitable. It is important that, as from the date of an Order that specified undertakings shall be amalgamated, it shall no longer be possible for any constituent company to deal independently with its property, but that it should be subject to the scheme. The unification of ownership must therefore take place at one definite moment. 855 It it impossible at that date to ascertain and determine the relative value of the property taken from each constituent. The relevant value is the value at the date of transfer, and it is impracticable to ascertain and determine what that value is until after that date has been passed. The first step, that is the specification and unification of the ownership of the constituent businesses and properties, is treated as a matter for the executive, and is under the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade, subject to reference to Parliament. The second step, the settlement of terms, is treated as a matter for the judiciary, and on appeal is under the jurisdiction of the High Court. The first step, the reorganisation scheme, is dealt with in detail in the First Schedule, and the second step, the participation scheme, in the Second Schedule.
We felt it necessary to provide for some safeguards in this Measure. The Bill provides adequate opportunities for the consideration of representations and objections to reorganisation schemes, by the Commission itself, by the Board of Trade and by Parliament. Moreover, Clause 4 specifically provides for the withdrawal of schemes up to the very last moment in favour of voluntary amalgamations, on which I shall have more to say later. In the case of participation schemes there is a right of appeal to the High Court, and thereafter to the Court of Appeal. The courts are given wide powers to defer the operation of participation schemes or to modify their provisions. This new machinery introduces a principle which is essential if effect is to be given to the intentions of Parliament in placing Part II of the Act of 1930 on the Statute Book. The Reorganisation Commission, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade and of Parliament, is the proper authority to determine what amalgamations are in the national interest. The proviso to Clause 5 (1) of the Bill, which gives a right of application to the High Court to aggrieved persons who question the validity in law of a reorganisation scheme, says:Approval by such an Order as aforesaid of any reorganisation scheme in the terms in which it was made before Parliament, with such additions only as are permitted by this Act, shall be conclusive evidence that the provisions of the scheme are in the national interest.856 Under the law as it stands there are two bodies, the Reorganisation Commission and the Railway and Canal Commission, one administrative and one judicial, both entrusted with the task of determining what, in the sphere of colliery amalgamations, is or is not in the national interest. After some years experience of that arrangement it has been found to be unworkable. That provides the necessity for the Bill.
The Reorganisation Commission spent its first 18 months in making a complete survey of the industry and in exploring the possibilities of voluntary action on the part of the coalowners themselves. In June of 1932 the Commission reported:We agree emphatically with the many people who have told us that they think voluntary amalgamations better than compulsory ones. So long as there is adequate movement towards greater integration in any district, however gradual and piecemeal, we shall be content to limit ourselves to fostering it. We hope that the explanation given in this Memorandum will remove misapprehensions that have been preventing movements of this sort, for we obviously cannot defer much longer putting in motion the machinery provided by Section 13 of the Act in places where nothing is being done.In spite of a formal declaration of support by the Government in 1932, the commission, when they reported again in November, 1933, had to state definitely that they were now meeting with open opposition from the Mining Association. In answer to a letter from that body which amounted practically to a challenge, the Commission reiterated emphatically their preference for voluntary action. They added, however:It is only where we have evoked absolutely no response whatever, in spite of nearly two years of exhortation, that we have been driven most reluctantly to put into motion the only machine for compulsion that is available to us.Despairing of making any substantial progress by methods of co-operation and persuasion, the Commission were finally driven to testing their powers of compulsion. The successful obstruction of their work had begun to breed increasing discouragement among the progressive elements in the industry itself, to whom alone it would be possible to look for reorganisation from within. Therefore, in 1935 the Commission took their first case to the court—a scheme for partial amalgamation in West Yorkshire. It is 857 notable that this scheme was supported by nearly 90 per cent. of the coalowners concerned. The scheme was rejected by the Railway and Canal Commission, both upon merits and upon law. The Reorganisation Commission also had under consideration schemes for a total amalgamation. Before submitting such a scheme to the court however it was thought prudent, in the light of the West Yorkshire decision and because of certain remarks in the court's judgment on that scheme, to consider whether there was any chance of obtaining a favourable decision from the court on a total amalgamation scheme.
The Commission were advised on the highest authority that no scheme could be prepared which would satisfy all the conditions of the 1930 Act. In fact it is true to say that of all the voluntary amalgamations that have taken place, not one could have satisfied the conditions of the 1930 Act. The commission brought this situation to the notice of the Government, and the Government reviewed the whole position. As a result they were left with no alternative but to introduce effective machinery for carrying out the intentions of Parliament as expressed in the 1930 Act, and the present Bill is the result.
Reorganisation in the coal mining industry has not been prescribed only by Commissions and Committees and other persons outside the industry. I can remember very strong speeches being made by Sir George Elliott and Lord Rhondda over 40 years ago, and many prominent coalowners have called for the same reforms; and to-day probably more than ever before many of them are convinced of its necessity. Even the Mining Association said three years ago:The coalowners have never opposed amalgamations as such, but have always recognised that benefits may accrue from voluntary amalgamations in suitable cases.The Reorganisation Commission on their side have at no time criticised the productive efficiency of each colliery concern in isolation. What they have said is that the highest standard of productive efficiency for the industry generally is out of reach, so long as there are so many concerns working independently, and a further statement by them is:The picture now presented by the greater part of the coalmining industry is one of haphazard development of each coalfield by a large number of uncoordinated 858 units, brought into existence on no rational plan, nearly all working below capacity, competing suicidally, whether in capital expenditure or in prices or in both, for a market that cannot absorb the product of all.If that be the present state of the industry, as reviewed by those in authority whose whole time has been devoted to the examination of these conditions, the question must be asked, why not proceed along the lines of voluntary amalgamation? My reply to that is that we have been depending upon this means of approach to the problem during the last six years, and during those six years very little progress has been made with voluntary amalgamation, and that unless we are prepared to go faster it will be impossible for the coal trade to reorganise itself from within and to secure the economies and the more abundant returns to which it is entitled. There can be no dispute as to the need for closer integration. The only question throughout has been whether there was any hope of its being attained by action from within the industry, without any element of external compulsion. Parliament answered that question in the negative in 1930. I fear that the history of the last five years suggests that it had good reason for doing so. In the Government's view this new machinery is well calculated, first to give effect to the original intentions of Parliament; and, secondly, at the same time to safeguard the interests of the individuals and the undertakings concerned. We would much prefer voluntary action. This preference is shared and continually voiced by the Reorganisation Commission.
The opponents of the Bill ought to give special attention to the possibility of such voluntary action if the Bill be passed. The Government are confident that the Bill will give a, new and very definite impetus to action in the industry, and that the compulsory powers, now that they can be made effective, and because they will he effective, will have to be used only to a small extent, if at all. Since the Secretary for Mines announced that the Government intended to introduce the Bill, there have been indications that the movement for voluntary amalgamation has already received a new impetus. For that reason, and because we feel some sympathy for the point put by the Mining Association that the introduction of the new selling schemes is taking up a great 859 deal of time and attention, we propose to introduce an Amendment upstairs giving greater scope for voluntary amalgamation. The Amendment will leave it open to the Commission, at any time after the Bill is passed, to foster voluntary amalgamations on the one hand, and on the other to make all necessary inquiries and investigations to enable them to decide what schemes they propose if they should have to fall back on compulsion. But within the powers granted by the Bill, they will not be able actually to launch any compulsory schemes before 1st July, 1938, that is to say two years from the present time. That lapse of two years should give ample time for a large measure of reorganisation by voluntary action if the will to amalgamate is there. Failing that will, of course, compulsory powers must be put into operation.
In addition to this attempt to meet a well-founded objection to the Bill, the Government will propose two other Amendments in Committee. The first is to deal with the position of what are described, somewhat loosely, as ancillary undertakings. The Amendment that will be put forward will be designed to secure that coal mines now ancillary to undertakings which are not primarily engaged in, the production or treatment or sale of coal, cannot be included in any compulsory amalgamation schemes—[HON. MEMBERS: "With draw the Bill ! "]—without the consent of the owner concerned. That is done in order that iron and steel companies which own their own collieries will not be required to come within the scheme. The other Amendment will be put forward for the purpose of meeting the criticism stated in the resolution passed by the Federation of British Industries—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]and which has found support in other quarters as well. The Bill, as it stands, has led some critics to say that the Reorganisation Commission is being put into the position of judge and jury on its own schemes. Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 will therefore be recast, and instead of an inquiry by the Commission or someone appointed by them into any objection to a reorganisation scheme prepared by the Commission, there will be set up an independent impartial authority to go into objections to schemes of the Commission and report on them to the Board of Trade. The report of such an authority will, of 860 course, be presented to Parliament before Parliament is asked to decide on any scheme.
Such is a short sketch of the Bill as it is now laid before Parliament. It aims at making a considerable advance upon the legislation of 1930, which proved inadequate and ineffective. It provides for such development of the coal trade from within as will enable it to produce more abundantly a return from its own mining—
§ Mr. SHINWELL
On a point of Order. May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? The right hon. Gentleman, I understood, was moving the Second Reading of the Bill which is now in the hands of hon. Members, but he has just informed the House that he proposes to make considerable Amendments in that Bill which will completely change its character. Are we, therefore, now discussing the original Bill or another Bill, the provisions of which are in the right hon. Gentleman's mind, but are not before hon. Members?
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
May I put this point? We are now discussing a Bill the terms of which have not been disclosed to the House. We are asked to give a. Second Reading to a, Bill which, in three very important particulars, is going to be varied from the Bill in our possession. The details of the varied Bill have not been put before the House, and I suggest that the Motion should be, not for the Second Reading of the Bill, but for the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are discussing the Second Reading of this Bill, and of this Bill only. If the Minister's description of it is considered by hon. Members to be inadequate, that is another matter.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
With great respect, my submission is not as regards the inadequacy or otherwise of the explanation given by the Minister. That is a matter for subsequent discussion. The question which I wish to raise is whether the Bill, which is before hon. Members and has been before hon. Members for some days, is really the text of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman is now presenting to the House.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
Would it be possible for me to move the Adjournment of the House on this question? It is not good enough that Members of the House should be asked to pass judgment on a Bill which they cannot comprehend, because they have not a print of that Bill before them.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
Is not the place for this wrangle the Committee which will consider the Bill upstairs? It is there that the question should be raised of whether the Amendments which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to move are or are not within the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
My point is not that the right hon. Gentleman has referred to matters which should properly be dealt with during the Committee stage of the Bill. My point is that the right hon. Gentleman has announced three vital alterations in the Bill of which the House has had no knowledge until to-day. That seems to be unfair, both to his own supporters and to the Opposition. We have already been told of three very important Amendments which, in a sense, change the whole character of the Measure and a Vote on the Second Reading in such circumstances will be a farce, because it will not be a Vote on the Bill which the Government intend to pass. I submit that the Government have treated the House with great disrespect and discourtesy.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is no point of Order. Whether or not the Minister's explanation of the Bill is satisfactory is not for me to say, but the Minister is quite within his rights in suggesting that, in order to meet certain objections which have been put forward, it is intended to submit certain Amendments when the Bill is in Committee. But the Bill which we are discussing at the moment is the Bill which is in our hands and the Second Reading of which has been moved.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
May I submit that the Second Reading of the Bill will amount to an acceptance of the general principle underlying the Bill? We say that the Amendments which have been indicated by the right hon. Gentleman amount to an alteration of the general principle of the Bill. Consequently we shall be in an impossible position in taking a Division on the Second Reading of this Bill. If 862 we give it a Second Reading, we shall accept its general principle while the President of the Board of Trade tells us that he is going to alter that general principle later on, by these Amendments.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The proper procedure is that the Bill if given a Second Reading should go to Committee, and if the Amendments which the Government then suggest are outside the scope of the Bill, no doubt they will be ruled out of order, as being outside the scope of the Bill. There is another safeguard for the House. If the Bill is so amended in Committee as to be made another Bill from that which we are now discussing, then, equally, it can be ruled out of order.
§ Mr. MAXTON
As my hon. Friend above the Gangway has pointed out, this Bill was put in our hands and circulated and, presumably, the various parties have discussed it and made up their minds about it. That is House of Commons procedure. Then the right hon. Gentleman comes here to-day, without any warning, and tells us that in the interests of certain people outside who are not Members of this House, our whole business is to be upset and that we are to do something entirely different. Apart from your Ruling, Sir, as to the orderliness of the procedure, I ask you to consider a matter which is also within your competence, namely, the decency of that procedure.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
I want to be clear as to where I stand. I have gone carefully into the Bill and prepared one or two Amendments which I intend to submit. The Amendments that are now indicated change the Bill so much that my Amendments will have to be reconsidered, and I cannot prepare Amendments unless I get time.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I regret that an attempt has been made to divert the course of our discussion, but 'we are following a, procedure which is perfectly well known to the House and of which numberless instances can be given. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never!"] There are many precedents of a Minister from this Box indicating, while the Second Reading of a Bill was under discussion, that he would have an open mind on certain points, and that certain Amendments 863 might be necessary in Committee upstairs. I have followed that precedent closely to-day and when the Bill reaches the Committee stage, as I have no doubt it will, hon. Members will be able to discuss these points upstairs. I ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill which is one of the most difficult Measures we have had to deal with in this Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which Bill?"] I am most anxious to carry the whole industry along with the Government in this Measure. Unless there is that co-operation, of course much of its validity will have been destroyed. I hope that in every quarter of the House we shall be able to get a fair measure of support for this workmanlike Measure.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
We came here to-day to discuss the Second Reading of a Bill not half of which now stands. Had we known that the Bill was going to be altered to such an extent, the reasoned Amendment which we have put down might have been entirely different. After the right hon. Gentleman's speech the whole course of the Debate must be diverted from the Bill which is in our hands, to a Bill which is to be evolved later, and is to take its final form in Committee. While it is right for a Minister to say on the Second Reading of a Bill that he is prepared to change his mind on certain points in Committee, it is, I submit, very unusual for a Minister to come to the House, and, on the Second Reading of the Bill, to give away the case to certain big vested interests outside this House, for that is really what is happening in this case. The Government go on from humiliation to humiliation. I cannot help that, and it is not for me to save them, but I am suggesting that in the interests of Parliamentary decency the right thing to do is to adjourn this Debate and to permit the Government to bring in the Bill which they really mean to pass.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
I have only listened to-day, I have not studied the Bill. I make that frank confession. The Minister is right in saying that it is usual for a Minister, on the Second 864 Reading of a Bill, to indicate Amendments to which he would ask the Committee to agree when the Bill went upstairs, but it seemed to me that the suggestions that the Minister made went altogether beyond what it is usual for a Minister to suggest. The suggestion that there is to be no compulsory amalgamation for more than two years from now is a very considerable change in the structure of the Bill, and the suggestion that ancillary undertakings should be allowed to stay outside, however many coal mines they may use, is also a very considerable change in the structure of the Bill. Altogether it seems to me that it is extraordinarily difficult to discuss the Bill in the light of the very large Amendments that the Minister has indicated, and, therefore, I support the Motion for the adjournment of the Debate.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, said he had consulted certain interests and because of that he asked the House to allow him to insert Amendments in it. Has the right hon. Gentleman sought the advice of the miners' representatives, to ascertain whether or not they wanted the Bill? After all, on any question in connection with coal mines, he ought to consult the miners' representatives, but to-day he has not said a word about them. He has consulted one side, the business side of these undertakings, the employers, the coalowners' side, but he has never sought the advice of the other side, and I say that on that ground alone it is necessary for us on this side to ask for this Debate to be adjourned. The second point is with regard to the ancillary undertakings being taken out of the Bill, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). After all, that has been a big thing with us before, to know exactly where the profits from these ancillary undertakings have gone. It seems to me that whatever good was in the Bill at first has been taken out of it now.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I want to raise this matter entirely from the point of view of this House. We are summoned here to do certain business, we have a Bill put before us, we study it, and we consider what line we are to take on it. 865 It is true that occasionally there are alterations with regard to Bills while they are in preparation—there might even be a discussion with various sides of the House—but that is not what has happened here at all. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade seems to consider that a Bill is something to be fixed up with a number of private interests outside the House, and then to be presented to this House with the statement, "Here we have come to an agreement. We have not any policy, but we have fixed it up outside." All we know from the right hon. Gentleman as to his views on settling this coal matter is what he has put in the Bill, and that is all we knew this morning when we read our papers and saw various views put out. It is all that is known, so far as I know, by a great many people who are interested, besides the private interests with whom the right hon. Gentleman has consulted.
But we, the Members of this House, are not here representing private interests. We have to consider the general body of the citizens of this country, the consumers. We have to consider other trades and the general interests of this country. We are brought to this House to consider a Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman gets up and says that behind the back of this House he has come to certain decisions. No one in this House at present is in a position to discuss this Bill or to define his attitude to it. This Bill embodies certain highly controversial points, and the right hon. Gentleman suddenly comes and says, "I will withdraw this part of the Bill." You cannot withdraw a part of a Bill like that without affecting the whole Bill. Hon. Members come down to this House having had to make up their minds as to whether they will vote for or against the Second Reading of the Bill. They have had to consider on what grounds they based their objections, if any, and they have had to consider what would be the proper course with the Bill if it got a Second Reading. Some Members might think it should be kept on the Floor of the House, others that it should be sent upstairs to Committee, while some Members even suggest a Select Committee, but all the Members who have considered the various Clauses have done so on the Bill as it is presented to this House.
866 Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman wanted to make some big change, he should have had the courtesy to inform this House. We on this side have heard nothing at all of the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, and, as far as I know, the Members of the Liberal party have had no intimation of them, nor have the Members below the Gangway on this side. I do not know whether Members below the Gangway on the Government side have had any intimation. We are all told just to accept what the Government give us. The whole point of the business put down in this House is that we shall not have a mere haphazard debate arising all of a sudden, without our knowing anything about it. We are provided with a Bill, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, if he suddenly found that he wanted to make his peace with a number of private interests, his only proper course was to withdraw the Bill, to go to the Patronage Secretary, and to say to him, "I am sorry, but when I made my arrangements with you, I thought I could bring this Bill forward. I cannot do it now; I have to withdraw it, and you will have to put down some other business to be done. Meanwhile I will get my Bill redrafted, and I will bring it in again, and Members will have an opportunity to form a judgment on it."
Instead of that, the right hon. Gentleman comes down here and says he is quite sure that when we have heard his explanation, which really formed the greater part of his speech, he will get support from all sides of the House. Let me tell him that he has no right whatever to make that kind of assumption. He might have thought so on his original Bill, but he has come down here and put totally different proposals before us. To do business in this way is to destroy the utility of the House altogether. We have had quite enough, in the last four years, of this House being asked merely to put a kind of rubber stamp on agreements come to with all kinds of interests outside, and it is about time for everyone who believes in Parliamentary Government to take a stand against this kind of performance.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I find myself in some difficulty, owing to the turn which events have taken since we arrived here this afternoon. I listened with the 867 greatest interest to the extremely important concessions which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board announced, and so far as I am able up to the present to apprehend their purpose—and it is only a few moments ago that he mentioned them—they go some way at any rate towards meeting the very serious objections to the Bill which were entertained by a great many supporters of His Majesty's Government. How far they go, I cannot say, because no opportunity has been given for examining them. Naturally one does not wish to repulse a Minister when he takes steps towards making his legislation more palatable to the majority which supports him. Nevertheless, I cannot help feeling that there is more than party recrimination in the complaint which the Leader of the Opposition has just made. Of course, it is true that sometimes —not often—on the introduction of a Bill it is announced that this or that point will not be pressed, or that the Minister will keep an open mind upon it, but I am bound to say that my right hon. Friend's concessions—I was glad to hear them on their merits—go very much further than keeping an open mind on one or two somewhat minor points.
Broadly speaking, the House is placed at great inconvenience when a Bill prepared by a Department of State, with months of labour behind it, with all the conviction and authority which the Department and its Minister give to a step of policy, is brought to this House, is presented, is examined for some time, some days, by the House and by the country, and then it is found that at the last moment very important alterations are introduced into it. If the alterations are improvements, one cannot deplore them, but one does deplore a little the process which leaves these important alterations only to be announced at the last moment. It tends in a way to weaken our confidence that all these matters have been most carefully thrashed out beforehand. One does not quite know what it is the basis of argument and study upon which the whole or the remaining proposals, of the Government rest in this matter.
Then I am bound to say, speaking from the point of view of a Member of the House of Commons, that I feel some repugnance to these matters being settled 868 out-of-doors. This process of discussing with the coal trade and with the Federation of British Industries—this absolutely right and proper process—ought to have been gone through to the last inch before the Bill was printed and presented to the House. That surely is unanswerable. But for the Government to come forward with a Measure affecting a vast industry like this, and then to find, almost immediately after they have printed their Bill, in spite of all the time spent in its preparation, that there are certain matters which ought to be altered, is extremely disconcerting. I should have thought that if the right hon. Gentleman was influenced by the complaints of the coal trade—very bitter, anxious complaints, for which, I believe, there is a great deal of substance—if he was influenced by some of the criticisms which have been made in this House by those who have read his Bill, still it would have been on the whole, I think, more in accordance with Parliamentary decorum to have proceeded with the discussion and heard the complaints made in the House, and then, if necessary, to have made the concessions as the result of debate in this Assembly. For these reasons I do feel that my right hon. Friend has placed us in a difficult position, especially those whom he is seeking to conciliate by the considerable concessions which he has made. Whether it will be advantageous to adjourn the Debate now is a question of some difficulty, but I am bound to say that I feel that the complaint which has been made is certainly one which ought not to be studied in any party sense.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I would like to remind the House of the action of the Government in the last Parliament with regard to the Unemployment Insurance Bill. That Bill was printed, but, because the Government decided on some minor changes, they withdrew it and introduced a second Bill. To-day the President of the Board of Trade has, with the assent of the Patronage Secretary, said that this is a common practice, but I submit that it is out of the ordinary practice for a Minister to make the changes that have been indicated in connection with this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said that there were those on the Government Benches who felt a certain amount of 869 satisfaction with the concessions that the Minister has indicated, but even those hon. Member's feel that they are in an impossible position because they have had only a general statement from the Minister. It may be that when the Minister brings forward the Amendments they will not go so far as hon. Members suppose from the right hon. Gentleman's statement, that they will.
It is impossible to allow the Government to go on in the way they are going. They never seem to have a definite opinion about anything. They take months to make up their minds, as they have done, for instance, with regard to the Unemployment Regulations, and to-day on this Bill dealing with the whole future of an important industry, the Government say, "We have interviewed outside interests and we have decided to alter the fundamental basis of the Bill." Surely the Government had weighed all the pros and cons, and, when they decided on the policy in the Bill, were satisfied that the balance of opinion was in favour of it?
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Because we felt that, as the Bill was printed, from it something might be hoped for, for the industry. We now want the adjournment of the Debate so that we may be able to put down a reasoned Amendment to the pitiful object that has been left after the concessions that have been announced. It is now a different Bill altogether. The only way in which the Government can put themselves right with the House is to withdraw the Bill and to bring in a new one. This is the most miserable Government that ever was. There is not a single issue which they have not had to alter fundamentally since this Parliament came into being. We have gone from one humiliation to another and the sooner we get rid of the Government the better.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I think that the final observation of the hon. Member who has just spoken is a key to a great deal of what he and others have said. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) confessed that he had not read the Bill, and it was obvious, 870 perhaps, from what he said. I should like to remind the House of what the position is, as I see it. I do not expect the Opposition to agree with me, but I do submit this to the House: In the first place, the changes suggested do not, in my opinion, or in the opinion of anybody who has studied the Bill, make a new Bill; and I would observe in passing that not a single suggestion which has been made by the President of the Board of Trade will affect by one word or one syllable the reasoned Amendments that are down either in the name of the Opposition or in the names of Members of my own party. Nearly all hon. Members on that side, and a great many on this, know that there has been for the last 20 years no more difficult and contentious subject than the administration of the coal trade. Government after Government has made endeavours to bring in legislation which will bring some kind of help and content to this great industry.
This is the last attempt that has been made, and I want the House to consider what, in fact, is the extent of the alterations that have been suggested. I would say this in passing: It is no unusual thing in itself, when the Second Reading of a Bill is taken in this House, especially a Bill that has some contentious points in it on which there are very genuine differences of opinion, for a Minister to indicate changes which he contemplates asking the Committee to make, provided the Second Reading is obtained. After all, that is a perfectly honest, fair and ordinary way of conducting the business of this House. There is nothing novel about it. There is nothing underhand. The conclusions that were arrived at have not been arrived at after consultation with anyone.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The conclusions have been arrived at after independent consideration of the Government. I do not expect the Opposition to consider those conclusions to be wise, but they were arrived at independently by the Government.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
That is not what the President of the Board of Trade said. The Prime Minister was not present in the House when his colleague 871 spoke. [HON. MEMBERS "He was !"] I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. May I remind him, therefore, of what his right hon. Friend said. It will be within his recollection that the President of the Board of Trade specifically made reference to the representations of the Federation of British Industries.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Both of us are right. My right hon. Friend read a resolution which was published in the Press. I said that there had been no consultation.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Is my right hon. Friend really well informed on that point, namely, that no consultations have taken place between the Government and the representatives of the coal industry in the last few days?
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
Did not the Secretary for Mines receive a deputation last Friday from the Coal-owners' Association on this very matter?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend the Minister for Mines, who has all the details at his finger-ends and will be prepared to address the House later, has just told me that it is quite true, as the hon. Member said, that he received a deputation, but he gave no undertaking. As I was saying, the whole Bill is practically unaltered, as it stands, by what my right hon. Friend said, except in one or two points.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The continuation of Part I, which is a substantial part of the Bill, is, I understand, unaffected. With regard to the rest of the Bill, it is an attempt to make effective the powers that were taken in the 1930 Act of the Labour Government, which powers, as I am advised, have proved ineffective in working; and it is hoped and believed that the Bill will make them effective. The most substantial difference in the Bill is the difference of date. That does not alter the principle of compulsion, but, instead of making compulsion effective at once, a date has been 872 fixed two years hence for the specific reason that we believe that it is a good thing to let the voluntary principle play its part if it will, but if it will not play its part the principle of compulsion will have to be applied. That is the principal alteration. It only means the alteration in a date.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Was not the whole principle of the Bill that negotiation arrangements had been tried for ages and that it was necessary now to have compulsion? Does not that little statement, therefore, entirely change the character of the Bill?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We must agree to differ there. In the second Sub-section of Clause 2 there is an alteration in the character of the inquiry, and there is an alteration on page 15 in the Second Schedule on the question of ancillary undertakings. I submit to the House that it is very important to get to work on this Bill. I should regret any delay in the introduction of it, and I hope that we may get to work on it in Committee in the hope that we may make a good Bill of it and be able to do something substantial for the trade.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
One has a certain amount of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in the Parliamentary difficulty in which his side have got him, but he really must have some regard for the difficulty in which the Government have placed the House. Anyone who listened to the spokesman for the Conservatives who are against the Bill can see already the difficulty in which the House is. He regarded the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade on Second Reading as one that granted very substantial concessions to those who were in opposition to the Bill. When we move the adjournment of the Debate because the concessions are so substantial that they will in fact change the whole principle of the Bill, the Prime Minister gets up and explains that the concessions are not really substantial at all. At this moment the House is in no position to judge whether these concessions are substantial or non-substantial, or whether they do, in fact, destroy the principle of the Bill. From what we were able to gather from the speech of the President of the Board of 873 Trade, however, it is clear that the concessions are so important that we ought to have the opportunity of reconsidering the Measure before being asked to come to a decision on the Second Reading.
In view of the difference between the statement of the Prime Minister and the apparent recognition on the part of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) of the substantial nature of the concessions, it is vital to the Opposition to have the actual text of the proposed Amendments in order that we may be able to make up our minds upon the Second Reading of the Bill. The Prime Minister said that the concessions announced cannot affect the reasoned Amendments on the Order Paper in the name of the Opposition. But that is not so. Even after only a hasty glance we are quite certain that they would affect it very considerably in regard to certain phraseology, and especially affect our attitude in relation to compensation. We think it is absolutely wrong that the Government should proceed with the Second Reading of this Bill without the Opposition having in their hands the changes in a scheduled and categorical form. May I make this suggestion The Prime Minister said that the few words with which the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) closed his speech were really an indication of what lay behind this proposal for the adjournment of the Debate, but that is not so. If the right hon. Gentleman is willing to agree to our request, we are quite ready to go on with the next Order on the Paper. We do not want to waste the time of the Government. Has the right hon. Gentleman any objection to that course? Will he give us a square deal on this Bill? We are quite ready to go on with the next Order on the Paper. Now that the right hon. Member for Epping is back in his place I would remind the Prime Minister that the right hon. Gentleman regarded these concessions as absolutely substantial.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No, I said that as far as I could take them in when they were read out by the President of the Board of Trade they seemed substantial and important, but I have not any more means of making up my mind upon their scope than has the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
I am glad to have that confirmation of the point I was 874 making when the right hon. Gentleman was, for a moment, not in his place in the House. My point is that the Opposition are not in a position to make up their minds; they do not know the extent of the concessions. In the circumstances I beg the Prime Minister to withdraw the Bill for a day or two and let us have a White Paper to explain the concessions —if he does not want to reprint the Bill—so that we may know what it is we are dealing with. In that event I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition will consider going on with the next Order on the Paper, so that the Government shall not lose any Parliamentary time.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
Really, to hear some of the arguments from the Opposition benches on this occasion one could not believe that the hon. Members who make them have had a long Parliamentary experience. I am still a comparatively young Member of this House, and I have never been conspicuous in support of anything which deprives the House of its rights in Debate, but when the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) says they ought to have the Amendments on the Committee stage of the Bill before the Second Reading—[HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] That is what the demand amounts to. The right hon. Gentleman says that the proposed Amendments alter the principle of the Bill. If they do that they will be outside the scope of the Bill, and it will be perfectly in order, even if the Amendments are put in, for the right hon. Gentleman to claim at a later stage that this is not the Bill to which we gave a Second Reading. There are plenty of Parliamentary precedents for that, but the demand for the withdrawal of a Bill because there are concessions which hon. Members have not seen is perfectly absurd. What the President of the Board of Trade has done is not a discourtesy; it is a courtesy. If he had said nothing to-day, but had put down these Amendments on the Committee stage in the ordinary way, should we have had all this fuss? Of course not. It is simply because he has ventured to say now, instead of waiting for the Committee stage, that he proposes to make some alterations in the Bill that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have had the chance of wasting the time of this House in making their 875 protest. Let me remind hon. Members of the Coal Mines Bill of 1930. The very Clauses which this Bill deals with were not in the Bill when it was moved on Second Reading. They were moved without notice on the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The hon. Member seems to have had advance information about this change, seeing that he has had time to look up this point.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
There is no question of advance information. I did not look up that Debate on a procedure question, I was looking at it to discover what Members on this side of the House had said about compulsory amalgamation. I defer to the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) on one point, because I should not have used the term "without notice." That is incorrect. What I meant was that no notice had been given of the Amendments on the Second Reading. It was long after the Second Reading that they were put down. Therefore, it is absurd to pretend that what is proposed now is any departure from Parliamentary procedure except in so far as there has been extra civility on the part of the President of the Board of Trade in giving notice of what he is going to do in Committee upstairs.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I feel that the Government have placed the whole House in some difficulty by the haste with which they have brought this Bill before us. It is a Bill which cuts deep and deals with fundamental principles, but we have had very little time to consider it, and today the President of the Board of Trade, in introducing the Bill, announces that it is his intention to put down Amendments of an important character during the Committee stage. His statement led many of us who are very uneasy about this Bill to judge that those Amendments were of a far-reaching and important character, but the Leader of the House has since stated that they are not really very important, that they do not affect the principles of the Bill, and that really we ought to go on. It is clear there is 876 considerable division of opinion in the House upon the point. The Government must take the line which they think fit, but I would suggest to them that if they want to get this Bill through—and a phrase was used by the President of the Board of Trade in one of the earlier statements to the effect that. this Bill is one which needs the support of all those interested in the coal industry—they are not likely to get that general support in the light of what has occurred this afternoon; far from it. I think there is a little more in the complaint of the Opposition than a mere party move. We are in a difficulty, and I regret that the Prime Minister has treated these objections so cavalierly, as he appeared to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He said they were not a matter of real importance. If the Government are really determined to go on I shall reluctantly be compelled to vote against the Government on the question of continuing the proceedings to-day.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I am afraid that hon. Members have not given due attention to some dates which have been mentioned in connection with this matter. It has been admitted by the Prime Minister that the Secretary for Mines met representatives of the coalowners on Friday morning last, and we are informed that the Secretary for Mines told that deputation that he would report the matter to the President of the Board of Trade. On the previous night, Thursday, the Amendment of the Opposition had appeared on the Order Paper of the House. A fortnight ago the Bill appeared in the Vote Office, so the Government had had plenty of time to alter the Bill if necessary. But what has happened? The Government and the coalowners wait to see the nature of the Opposition Amendment before they fix up a conspiracy with the interests involved to try to cheat the House. That is exactly what has happened, and it is no use the Government denying it. The Prime Minister said that the suggested alterations would have no effect upon the substance of the Opposition Amendment. The Opposition Amendment makes a reference to compensation. That compensation we considered to be included in any scheme of compulsory amalgamation. Now the President of the Board of Trade suggests that there shall be no compulsory amal- 877 gamation for two years. Indeed, he hopes that a threat of compulsory amalgamation will bring about voluntary amalgamation. If there is voluntary amalgamation there are no adequate terms we can advance for compensation although the amalgamation schemes—
§ Mr. BEVAN
I was leaving that point immediately. I was not arguing the merits of one proposition or the other, but the Prime Minister had made the assertion that the proposed alterations in the Bill would not materially affect the Opposition Amendment, and I submit that it is not in order for the Government to wait until the Opposition Amendment appears on the Order Paper and then to make an arrangement with the interests involved which would materially affect the nature of the Amendment. That is not playing fair with the House or the Opposition. It makes the introduction of a Bill a matter of conspiracy to cheat the Members of the House of the proper opportunity to discuss what is involved. If we went on with the discussion of this Bill we should find ourselves up against great difficulties. There are 750,000 workmen who are concerned in this matter. Hundreds of thousands of miners, whole communities, will be affected by this Bill. Is it fair that we should consider such a Bill without being perfectly clear about what its provisions mean?
If we addressed ourselves to our Amendment, and made the speeches which we prepared after examining the Bill, it would have been perfectly competent for hon. Members opposite to tell us that the situation had been altered by the concession which the Government were going to make, but neither the interrupter nor the Government spokesman man could give chapter and verse for such a contention, and we should be completely in the air. We should not be able to refer to the language of the Bill because the language of the Bill is not before us. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said he thought that perhaps the concessions made were substantial, but the Prime Minister has said that they are not substantial.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I did not say that the right hon. Gentleman said so. He said they might be substantial, but he was unable to make up his mind whether they were or not until he saw them on paper. That is exactly our position. The Prime Minister said they were not substantial, but the President of the Board of Trade thought they were sufficiently substantial to make a reference to them in moving the Second Reading, in the hope that by doing so he would allay the opposition among his own supporters, and in order to buy off the opposition; but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping is not going to be bought off in that way. If he is to give his support to the Government, he will require substantial concessions.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I did not use the language in any objectionable sense. The President of the Board of Trade evidently thought he was making substantial alterations to the Bill; otherwise he would never have made reference to the opposition. The Prime Minister says that they are not substantial. Where are we? How are we to discuss the Bill when Government spokesmen cannot place a proper value upon the proposals? It is unreasonable, in the circumstances, to expect us to go on with the Second Reading. It is true that there has been contentious coal legislation in the past, but, without asking the Government to fix things up behind the scenes, I say that the workpeople in the industry should have some consideration in this matter. Things have been fixed up with the Federation of British Industries.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I do not wish to cut across your Ruling. All I said was that the right hon. Gentleman had already fixed it up with the Federation of British Industries, a statement made on several occasions, as he said himself. Indeed, so amenable are the Government to the Federation of British Industries that it 879 only needs a letter to alter the Bill at once.
§ Mr. BEVAN
Very well, I will leave that, but I submit that the Federation of British Industries sent a statement to the right hon. Gentleman. In moving the Second Reading he said he had accepted their recommendations and amended the Bill accordingly. The coal-owners met last Friday, after our Amendment was on the Order Paper. Other business interests have been met and consulted, but the people wholly ignored by the Government are 750,000 working coal-miners, as well as hon. Members of this House.
We are asked to consider a Bill in circumstances of that kind, but the Prime Minister is not doing his political reputation much justice by insisting on proceeding with it. From his long parliamentary experience he should know that it is impossible to discuss the merits of this proposal in the atmosphere which prevails now and will prevail for the rest of the evening. Our minds have been distracted from the Bill by objections to what is known of the operations of the right hon. Gentleman, and it would be much more fitting the dignity of the House and the gravity of the proposal which the Government are making, in view of the effect which it will have upon the well-being and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, if the Prime Minister would accept the Adjournment Motion and give us an opportunity of examining the new proposals which the Government are to make. I urge him to do that. If he does not do it, the proposals of the Government will be treated with suspicion, not merely by this House but by important organisations outside.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I came to the House to-day intending to vote against the Measure, which has been in the hands of Members for a very few days, but long enough for some of us to appreciate that it cuts right against the principles which many of us hold and regard as supremely important. The country has not had time to consider this Measure. The proposals are revolutionary 880 compared with those of 1930, and the consequence is that it has been extremely difficult for hon. Members to get into touch with their constituents. Probably many hon. Members will agree that rarely within memory have we had such an immediate wave of concern from producing and also from using industries throughout the country.
I was prepared to go into the Lobby against the Government. I was prepared to argue three special points in the Bill. I was not aware there was to be a statement by the Minister, but I admit that on those three points the right hon. Gentleman has met the case which I was prepared to argue. [Interruption.]I had no conversation with anybody; I state a fact. I was under the impression that the alterations would make a great difference in the spirit and character of the Measure, and I cannot understand why the Prime Minister regards them as small changes not altering the character of the Bill. I am in a difficult position. I confess that the Bill is now considerably altered, but I should have thought that it would have been in the interests of everybody concerned that the Government should not press the Measure today; on the other hand, as the President of the Board of Trade in his opening speech met the points which I was prepared to advocate, I am not prepared to proceed in the Lobby against the Bill.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I assume that if this Motion were taken to the Division Lobbies the Government would probably win, but I urge the Prime Minister not to resist the representations that have been put to him by the minority. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), who, I think, has gone, put up the extraordinary defence for the President of the Board of Trade that he had treated the Hous3 decently in telling us of the alterations because, if he had liked, he need not have told us at all; in other words, we should be content with his treating us shabbily because he might have treated us more shabbily still. I put it to the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade that that has not been the usual way in which the business of this House has been conducted. There has usually been a certain basis of candour between the Government and Opposition parties.
881 As spokesman of a relatively small group who was not informed, I was amazed to gather from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition that these important concessions were completely unknown to him. I do not think there is any precedent—I can remember none in my years in Parliament—for a Minister getting up and substantially altering the contents of a Bill without informing, not merely the Leader of the Opposition, but all groups that had a special interest in the Measure. It was the usual practice, even if the change had been made in the last five minutes, for the Minister to take the trouble to prepare a typescript of the proposed changes, and, if not to provide a copy for every Member of the House, to provide at least sufficient for circulation among the various groups that might be specially interested. Time and again that has been done by Ministers who were anxious to treat their colleagues in Parliament with reasonable decency, and wished the business to be conducted in a way which would command the respect of people outside.
As one of a small minority, I ask the Prime Minister, as Leader of the House, to meet the request which has been made by the Leader of the Opposition. If the request made to-day had been made in normal circumstances to the normal Leader of the House, before the days of the National Government, and before the general morale of our procedure had deteriorated, as it has under the National Government, that request would have been accepted at once. The Government would either have adjourned the House or would have readjusted the programme so that the House would have had an opportunity of doing its work in a decent and responsible way.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Captain GUNSTON
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said it was usual to provide manuscript Amendments. I recollect that practice during a Committee stage of a Bill, but not as ever happening upon a Second Reading. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) attacked the Government as always giving way. No doubt in a dictatorial state a Bill is produced, and the country has to accept it as such, but here we consider the wishes of the people. The First Reading of this Bill gave considerable alarm in the country, and it is surely much better that the President of 882 the Board of Trade should tell us his intentions, as he has done to-day, so that we can discuss the Bill with knowledge of the alterations. We ought to be grateful for his frankness. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) protested against things being settled outside. I wonder if he remembers his famous Budget when he put a tax on paraffin, and when there was such an outcry in the country that he withdrew that tax before any discussion took place in the House. I hope the Government will stand to their guns and not be turned aside by such criticisms.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I would appeal to the Prime Minister to accept this Motion. I want to assure him of two things—first, that I have spent a great many hours in studying this Bill; and, secondly, that I am not concerned about securing any party point. I want to suggest to the Patronage Secretary and the Prime Minister that they would facilitate the passage of the Bill if the adjournment of the Debate were accepted. I cannot accept the Prime Minister's version with regard to the importance or otherwise of the proposed Amendments. The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) has said that he came down to the House prepared to speak and vote against the Bill. Presumably he thought that what he would be voting against was something of vital importance, and his points of such vital importance having been met, he is now satisfied. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said that he could not quite apprehend—I think that was the word he used—the meaning of the Amendments, and, if a man of the genius of the right hon. Gentleman is in that unhappy position, how fare the ordinary Members of the House? I have given a good many hours to the study of the Bill, and I really cannot comprehend what the Bill will be when the suggested Amendments are put in. I want to make these points, not in the mere cut-and-thrust as between Government and Opposition, but because I look upon it as my duty, when Bills of this kind are introduced, altering, as I think, the fundamental structure of industry in this country, to give them serious attention, and I think I am entitled to ask that the Government, 883 before inviting me to go into the Lobby for or against a Bill, ought to give me the opportunity of knowing what the Bill is.
There is a tremendous amount of feeling in the country about this Bill. I believe that the Amendments mentioned by the President of the Board of Trade will make the Bill a better Bill. I should have opposed it tooth and nail as it is at present. If the Government want the good will of those who are going to work the Bill, and the good will of people outside, which is necessary to all legislation, it would be far better that they should withdraw the Bill in its present form and present it to the House in its new form, in order that the House may really be able to form a comprehensive judgment on the matters upon which it is called upon to vote. I want to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman's sense of fair play. I have read his speeches on the Bill of 1930. A: good many things were said at that time which I think could be applied to the present Bill, and I have always felt that he would not like to take an undue advantage of the House. I was amused—I can use no other term—to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont). There is no analogy between what was happening in 1930 and what is happening to-day. At that date the House, on the Second Reading, was able to judge the Bill as it was then presented—
§ Mr. M. BEAUMONT
With the greatest respect, the hon. Member is saying something that is not the case. The Bill of 1930 was presented without the vital Clauses to which I referred, and the Government said that they were not going to be put in. The House voted on that occasion on the assumption that they were not going to be put in, but they were finally put in under pressure from Members of the hon. Gentleman's party.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member; he has confirmed every word that I said. The House voted on a definite proposal, knowing what it was voting upon. The Government said that those Clauses would not be introduced, and Members voted "Aye" or "No" on that proposal. 884 But that is not what we are doing today. The President of the Board of Trade has said that he is going to alter certain things, but not a single Member here is in a position to know exactly, word by word, the Amendments that are going to be put in, and we are being asked to-night to vote on something that we do not know. I do not want to keep the Debate going, but I want to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman's sense of fair play. He is much more likely to get what he wants, with a better feeling behind him, if he will give fair play to Members of the House.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Sir REGINALD CLARRY
I hope the official Opposition w ill so regard the seriousness of the subject-matter here that they will not try to make political capital out of the situation this afternoon, and I hope the Government are big enough to be able to take the course, which I think they ought to take, of adjourning the Debate and bringing forward a new Bill. The Government have endeavoured to meet the points on which there is opposition to the Bill, but I am afraid they have missed the biggest of the Opposition, which has reference to the situation, under the selling schemes, of the consumers and the general public of this country, who, at the moment when the Bill becomes law and is perpetuated for an additional five years in 18 months' time, will find that the coal industry has been given a monopoly without any obligation—
§ Sir R. CLARRY
I was trying to use that as an argument for withdrawing the Bill and bringing it forward again.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. G. MACDONALD
I am anxious to convince the Prime Minister that there is no factious partisan spirit behind this Motion. I speak as a member of the organisation of the workers in the mining industry, and I can assure the Prime Minister that we are very much surprised and disappointed by his statement this afternoon. Last Friday afternoon, the Secretary for Mines received a deputation from the coal-owners, who put before him three points, which the President of the Board of Trade has accepted. That 885 would not have worried us, but for the fact that on the 9th March last a communication was sent to the Secretary for Mines by the Joint Secretaries of the Joint Standing Consultative Committee for the Coal Industry, of which I will read one paragraph:The Committee had before them in particular the question of the unification of royalties and the recent announcement by the Government of their intention to propose legislation for the purpose of strengthening the powers of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission, and the Committee will be glad if they can be acquainted as soon as possible with the form of the proposals which the Government have in mind, in order that they may have an opportunity of making any representations which they may desire to place before the Government before any final decision as to the form of legislation is reached.That request was refused. A deputation on one side has been seen, but, when the Minister was asked to receive a joint deputation from both sides of the industry, the request was refused. On Friday last he met representatives of one side of the industry, and every suggestion they made was accepted. Can the Prime Minister be surprised that we are disappointed, and that we are asking that the Debate should be adjourned in order that we may reconsider the new Bill? I would not support a factious opposition on this question; the miners are too important for any attempt to improve their position to be resisted, but I feel strongly on the matter because a joint deputation from the industry was refused by the Government, while on Friday last a deputation from the owners' side alone was received. Would not the Prime Minister, if he were in our position, be as suspicious as we are as to what is going on? I suggest to him that the Bill ought not to be debated in this atmosphere of suspicion, and that, even though he may feel it to be humiliating, he should accept the adjournment of the Debate for the time being.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Captain Crookshank)
I think it will perhaps be convenient if I intervene now, in view of the speech to which we have just listened. The hon. Member has painted a picture the effect of which is a direct inversion of what occurred. I think the case he wishes to put is that, after consultation with the owners, the Government have decided to put certain Amendments 886 into the Bill, but that in March last they refused to meet a joint deputation from the men and the owners. The request made to the Government last March came from a body which had been recently set up under, I hope, good auspices—certainly the Government and myself had spared no effort to get such a body set up—and its first official action was to make a joint request to the Government that, as a matter of right, it should be consulted before any legislation whatsoever dealing with the mining industry was introduced into this House. It has long been the established practice of Governments of all shades of opinion, when introducing certain types of complicated legislation, to have informal contact with different people who might help them. That has been true of the mining industry itself, whether the Government in office has been a Labour Government or otherwise. But for any Government to concede, as a matter of right, that an outside body should automatically always be consulted, would be something, I think, which Parliament as a whole would say was not right. In fact, the burden of the complaint that we have had during the last hour and a-half has been that that is what happened. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that I am now speaking from recollection, that I have not the actual words by me, and that it was some time ago. The Government replied to the Joint Consultative Committee that they would, of course, consult them on occasions which they thought suitable.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
I am dealing with the point which the hon. Gentleman made, that we did not meet the Joint Consultative Committee in connection with the Bill. As I have said, the reply of the Government was that on suitable occasions they would, of course, consult that body, but they would not undertake to do so on all occasions. The hon. Member may think that that is ridiculous, but I think it is in the proper interest of Parliament that we should not bind Governments to consult automatically any particular section just because a particular Bill is brought in. I feel very strongly on the Parliamentary point in that regard. Therefore, the position 887 was left that the Government would on suitable occasions consider matters with that committee. I want to be very careful, and not to get out of order by discussing the merits of the Bill, but surely it is common knowledge with regard to this Bill that there is great opposition on the part of the owners. As far as the men are concerned, while their representatives may not have expressed themselves very much, the obvious assumption is that, as the Bill merely makes effective the powers which the Labour Government put into the Bill of 1930, they would not be against it. The assumption is that the men were not particularly concerned, while the views of the owners were perfectly well known—they were objecting to the compulsory powers. In any case, however, the Government did not think that this was a suitable occasion on which to consult with the Joint Consultative Committee.
Then a picture has been built up that, apparently, on Friday I saw the owners and that there had been a conspiracy between me and them. The word "conspiracy" was not actually used by the Leader of the Opposition but he suggested that these things had been "fixed up" with a number of interests outside. The coalowners had their meeting, I think, on Thursday. They passed a very emphatic resolution against the whole of this policy. They asked to come and see me. They came. The door of the Mines Department has always been open. Hon. Members opposite realise that fact and they come as often as anyone else, and I am pleased to see them and give them a cup of tea if the meeting is in the afternoon. The representatives of the Central Council of coalowners asked to see me with regard to this Bill. It was quite clear that they objected to it root-and-branch. They saw me for a very long time and the next morning there was in the Press a, full statement of the views that they had expressed. So far from there being any conspiracy, or fixing up of things, I am the person above all people who has reason to be indignant at the communiqué that the coalowners put out. They say in their communiqué:The colliery owners felt that the introduction of this Bill was tantamount to a breach of faith inasmuch as there had been a tacit understanding that if the selling schemes were formulated, the industry 888 would be left alone and given time to demonstrate the effectiveness of the schemes.That is to say, after they had seen me, after such a charge of breach of faith had been made against the Government and at once refuted, they broadcast to the whole world, and to the Press, that in their opinion the Government had been guilty of a breach of faith, and that a tacit understanding had been reached that there would be no Bill and that we had broken that. Does not the House think I have reason to complain of what occurred as regards last Friday? Not only was there no question of any breach of faith by the Government—a suggestion which I strongly repudiate, but it was common knowledge among the owners and the men's representatives in the House all through those negotiations and discussions three or four months ago that I had been deputed by the Government to carry them on. Therefore, if there had been any breach of faith it was I who broke it, and who had come to a tacit understanding and had now broken that. That is what the representatives of the coalowners said after seeing me. Does that sound exactly like fixing up anything, that they should ask to see the responsible Minister and then, through the Press, make a statement tantamount to insulting me and the Government for which I was acting? I must add, however, that the actual spokesman through whose mouth those charges were made had riot himself been one of the coalowners who had been a party to the discussions at the earlier date. Therefore, so far as he was concerned, he was only acting on information that had been wrongly supplied. If anyone has a grievance in the matter it is myself. Since that morning I have had no consultation whatever with the coalowners, nor indeed has there been any consultation with anyone else. The matters have been under the consideration of the Government and, if it were in order, I could amplify them very much more. But I think that is a very good reason why we should pass from the Motion and get on with the Bill in order that it may be possible to explain further what is involved in this. I repudiate wit h all the strength at my command that there has been any kind of "fixing up" or consulting outside interests. That is not true. At the same 889 time, I repudiate any charge that the Government have broken faith with anyone in the matter.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. LUNN
The hon. Gentleman has been regarded ever since he came into the House as very smart, but he has not achieved that distinction to-day in any sense of the word, because I remember his attitude with regard to the 1930 Bill, and the position that he took up was quite different from that he is taking up now. I agree with him that the Government have a right to turn down the application of any deputation that wishes to see him. They are not compelled to receive every deputation that comes to see them. But here you have an industry in which there have been difficulties for many years, perhaps more than in any other industry, and you get a joint consultative committee established and, when they ask to meet the Government, they are refused; they cannot be met. I should think there is no instance like that in connection with the mining industry on the owners' side or the workmen's. It is only recently that that took place. At that time the Government were considering this Bill and considering what it should be.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
The demand was not that I should meet them, because in point of fact I have met them. The demand was that they should be consulted in regard to the terms of the legislation to be introduced. That is quite another matter.
§ Mr. LUNN
I accept the correction, but it would have been much better to meet the joint committee of the two bodies to consider any legislation, than to meet either one side or the other. The hon. Gentleman met one side—the employers—on Friday. He discussed points with regard to the Bill, and the Bill is changed in its character as the result of the deputation of the coalowners that he saw on Friday. The position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is very clear, that we are having legislation put before us which has been drafted from outside and not by the House, or even by the Government. You are bound to have deputations and consultations with outside interests before legislation can be brought forward, but it ought not to be all one-sided. I have taken an 890 interest in procedure for 18 years and I have never seen an instance such as we have to-day. I challenge the Government to produce an instance where a Bill has been introduced and its whole character has been changed from what we were told it was likely to be.
I think the Prime Minister ought to listen to the representations that have been made. We are changing the constitution of the country and of the Government by what we are doing. I am sure we are affecting it very seriously, and the power of the House is being modified to an extent that I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to be ashamed of if he allows the Second Reading to be carried forward. There is no possibility of a fair discussion even of the principles of the Bill, if it has any at all. We really do not know what they are. We cannot be told what they are until the final debate at 11 o'clock tonight, and possibly we shall have it repeated without any knowledge of what they are and how they affect the industry. I hope the Debate will not be continued on the Bill. We ought not to allow it to be continued. I do not think it ought to be continued in the interests of the mining industry and, particularly in the interests of the men whose lives are concerned. I do not think the House ought to be allowed to consider the Second Reading to-day.
§ 5.55 p.m.
Captain ARTHUR EVANS
I do not think anyone will quarrel with the principle laid down by the Secretary for Mines that a Minister of the Crown should not be compelled to consult any particular industry or interest before introducing legislation, although it is quite understood that that is a practice that has been followed by all Governments in the past. I think my hon. and gallant Friend has made it clear that his course to-day is a simple one, but the course of the private Member, particularly one supporting the Government, is not quite so simple. I represent a constituency in which every selling organisation in the coal trade of Wales is represented, and those interests, as is common knowledge, are widely affected by the Bill. It is clear from communications that I have received since I entered the House to-day that there was no agreement or understanding made between my hon. and gallant Friend and those in- 891 terests on Friday last. If that had been the case, certainly the course that they were demanding that I should pursue would have been modified by further communications.
How is it possible for me to give a vote in the interests of my constituents, or to express a considered view on this question, when I arrive here at a quarter to three and receive a communication inviting me to adopt a certain course, when subsequently we have speeches from the President of the Board of Trade and the Prime Minister, in which there seems to be some slight difference of view? How is it possible effectively to discharge my responsibility to my constituents unless I have a reasonable opportunity of consulting them? If the Government insist in proceeding with this Debate, they will be very ill advised. I do not think there would he any loss of dignity, havoing regard to the Debate that has already taken place on the Motion for the Adjournment and having regard to the importance of the concessions, as I understand them, which have been made, if they enable members representing electors who are vitally affected by the passage of the Bill an opportunity of consulting with them. For these reasons, and many others which must occur to hon. Members, I hope my right hon. Friend, even at this late stage, will reconsider his attitude and accept the Motion for the Adjournment.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. ALBERY
I want to take the discussion back to where it concerns the private Member. I want to consider what in fact is the effect on Members who vote to-day for the Amendments that the Government propose to introduce into the Bill. Some of those who have spoken have given us a very good indication. Some of them have said they have definitely made up their mind what their course of action will be. Some who hesitated in supporting the Government have said they will be able to support it. When one considers it from the point of view of hon. Members opposite, it is clear that their opposition is going to be very much stronger than it was before, hut as to their complaint about their own Amendments on the Paper, I cannot see that there is very much substance in them. I think the main complaint is that the Bill is going to continue private 892 enterprise in the mines. It seems to me that the Amendments that are to be introduced in Committee make that a little more likely, and it should not be difficult for them to take up their line in dealing with the Bill on Second Reading.
There is purely the point of view of the private Member, and I should be very sorry if this afternoon a vote went out from this House which might further curtail the influence of private Members. No matter what side you take on this Bill, the National Government are prepared to make concessions, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who is not in his place at the moment, probably did not do his colleagues in this House full justice when he suggested that, if concessions are to be made, they are entirely due to outside sources. The Opposition know as well as I do, that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction among Members in this House with certain aspects of the Bill, and it is reasonable to think that that may have had some influence on the Government. From the point of view of the private Member—it does not matter upon which side he sits—that surely is something of which he should be glad. We frequently have to make up our minds to vote on difficult items, and I as a private Member should be glad to think that in future, when some Measure is introduced about which there is strong feeling—and after all we are the people who represent the feelings of the people outside—it will receive consideration, no matter what Government may be in office, and that they may, even at the last moment, see fit to make some alterations. On those grounds, I hope that the Government will proceed with the Measure, and I really cannot help feeling that in this discussion this afternoon there is a great deal of smoke, but very little fire.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am rather surprised that the Prime Minister has not been able to accept the Adjournment of the Debate. I have listened most attentively to the discussion, and I really think that the slipshod manner in which this Bill has been brought forward for a Second Reading is no credit to the right hon. Gentleman who brought it forward. When a. particular Measure is introduced, one expects that its provisions will be debated. We have been told that a meeting took 893 place last Friday, and that afterwards certain deliberations took place. We are told to-day tht the complexion of the Bill is likely to be altered, and I, as a back bench Member, am expected to march through the Lobbies like an automatism to record a vote on the Second Reading of a Bill, the meaning of the Clauses of which none of us really knows. I hope that I am not reflecting on my colleagues here, when I say that if the miners felt on this matter as they ought to feel, the House would hear more of the miners.
It is an insult to the intelligence of Members of this House when the Prime Minister has to be appealed to and asked to withdraw the Bill, and to come back again with a new Bill. I have never heard such an absurd proposition placed before any body of men as that which I have heard to-day. After considerable deliberations and the holding of many conferences between the employers and the Government, a Coal Mines Bill is brought before the House for Second Reading, and now, after a, deputation has been received, but without meeting the miners themselves, the Minister admits in this House that the Bill is to contain very important concessions. We do not know whether the concessions are important or not, but we are told that they will be brought forward on the Committee stage of the Bill. But we have a right in this matter, and as a private Member I demand to know, when my vote is asked for, what I am to vote upon. Ministers on the Front Government Bench should not treat us on these benches as though we had no sense. Representatives of the Government are too flippant when they say, "It will be all right; agree to the Second Reading, and I will bring forward wonderful Amendments that will make great concessions."
I have never heard such statements made outside a lunatic asylum. No one but a Member of the Front Bench would dare to come forward with such suggestions. I know that they are really devoid of ideas, but I am appealing to the Prime Minister. I have looked upon him as being intelligent and somewhat of a philosopher. I have heard him at times give us some really good, sound advice, and I would ask him whether, during the whole of his experience, he has even seen such a, ridiculous Measure placed before a responsible body of men. This is like being in Bedlam and is almost beyond 894 the comprehension of back bench Members of the House of Commons. I wish that I were a miners' representative and could put the miners' point of view, but as a back bench Member I would ask the Prime Minister whether he thinks that this is the right way for the House to discuss a Bill, when no one can tell us what will be done under the Bill. Let us get down to the real substance of the matter. The Leader of the Opposition, in moving the Adjournment of the Debate, demanded that a proper Bill should be brought forward, and in all reasonableness I ask the Prime Minister to agree to such an adjournment.
§ 6.10 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
I should also like to say a few words as a back-bench Member on the subject before the House at the moment. We have had several lectures this afternoon on Parliamentary order. I have been a Member of the House of Commons for 19 years and this is my first experience of a Bill being introduced purporting to be the idea of the Government and then, suddenly on the introduction of the Bill by the responsible Minister, being told that it was to be an entirely different Bill. We have been told that it is a common thing for Ministers, in introducing a Bill, to suggest that on the Committee stage there would be certain Amendments, but I have never before experienced a Bill so far-reaching in its character and introduced by the Minister responsible, which adumbrates such serious changes as to make it an entirely different Bill. When the House has debated a Bill for many hours, we remember how, on many occasions, the responsible Minister, after having listened to the objections, whether from the Opposition or from Members on the Government side of the House, has promised to make some Amendments on the Committee stage. That is not the case today. I say with all respect to the Prime Minister, that I do not think that we have ever had an occasion like this when a Bill of so far-reaching a character and of such magnitude as the present Bill has been presented, and we have been told that it is to be a very different Bill.
I, like some of my hon. Friends who are supporters of the Government, came here to-day to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. I have received a 895 telegram from the Corporation of Belfast advising me to vote against the Bill unless certain alterations are made. I do not know whether the alterations suggested by the Minister responsible will meet the views of my constituents and the people of Northern Ireland. It is my duty, as representing the people, to find out whether the Bill will contain such Amendments as will make it agreeable to them, but if, after the discussion on the Second Reading, I find that the proposed Amendments do not meet with the views of my constituents, then it will be my duty to vote against it, in spite of the fact that I have voted almost constantly with the Government. There have been occasions on which I have found myself differing from the Government, but on the whole I have supported them in principle. Here is a case in which I am bound to say the Government have not adopted the right attitude in the introduction of a Bill of this magnitude, and unless I am satisfied, after the Debate on the Second Reading has taken place, that the Amendments are suitable and agreeable to those who have sent me here, I must inform the Government here and now, that it will be my duty to vote against the Bill.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. RITSON
I should like to appeal to the Prime Minister. This is not a question of a debating point. I know less about the procedure of this House than I did when first I came here. We become more confused every time there is a big Debate as to who is right or who is wrong. But I do understand the people I represent, and this is a very serious matter to them. The Prime Minister would not be undignified if he took my advice and withdrew the Bill. The Miners' Federation of Great Britain represents 750,000 people, and we are their representatives here. Therefore, to us there is something bigger at stake than the procedure of the House. Our people have not had a fair chance. The President of the Board of Trade knows sufficient about the spirit of our people to realise that if they are not given a chance now by the Adjournment of the Debate until we can get a real Bill, they will put up a fight, but it will be an honest, straight fight. They have a right to complain at the present time that they 896 are not getting a fair deal. The coal-owners are complaining also that they are not getting a fair deal. If the owners are complaining, we of the workers have much greater complaint, because we have not been consulted.
Some hon. Members suggest that we are simply seeking to score a political point and that we are against the Bill, anyway. We have put down a reasoned Amendment on the Order Paper with regard to the Bill as it stands. But now the whole thing has been altered. If the Government want this arrangement for selling agencies or for any other purpose, let them give us that fair play for which we are asking. Let them give us a proper Bill and not an imaginary Bill, such as the one before us. What indignity would there be in adjourning the Debate? If need be, we are prepared to go on with any other business on the Order Paper. That is a fair offer. It is only fair to the 750,000 people represented by the Miners' Federation to know where we stand. The President of the Board of Trade, without consulting the federation, has declared that the Bill is to be changed in three of its principal aspects, and we do not know what they are. Is that fair?
I do appeal to the Prime Minister. There is dignity sometimes in retreat. If the Prime Minister withdrew the Bill now, then so far as I am concerned I should not consider that it was a victory for our political party, but a victory for the view of trying to negotiate with both sides, and to give them an opportunity to start from the same starting point with the object of arriving at some amicable end. It is not only the mine owners and the miners who are concerned, but the consumers and the country generally. After the kindly way in which the general public came along a few weeks ago to assist us, we ought to give them every opportunity of saying that they have some interest in the Bill. I think more of the moral and spiritual value of that course of action than any mere question about procedure.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
This is one of the few democratic assemblies still left in the world, and it is most essential that we should protect our liberties, our privileges and our method of procedure. I submit that in all seriousness, as an old back bencher. I came here to-day, like 897 a number of other hon. Members, feeling that the proposals of the Bill were in many respects so revolutionary that it would be impossible for me to vote for it. The President of the Board of Trade in his speech made certain statements which made me feel that I should be able to vote for the Bill, but I am not sure what those actual changes are. Therefore, to come back to my first point, it is essential that we should protect our rights. It is not a question of scoring Over the Government but a question of the rights of the House of Commons, and especially the rights of back benchers, that before they are asked to vote on a matter of this vital importance they should know precisely what they are voting upon.
The position in which we are to-day does not mean loss of prestige to the Government. Rightly or wrongly, we have got into a position when the bulk of hon. Members do not know precisely what is the nature of the Bill to which they are asked to give a Second Reading. I appeal to the Prime Minister, that being the case, and he, perhaps more than any other Member of the House, being jealous of our democratic liberties and privileges, that he should not push forward with a Measure in regard to which it is impossible for hon. Members to say with confidence "aye" or "no" whether it ought to receive a Second Reading. That is the suggestion which I submit in all modesty to the Prime Minister, and I think it is a good one, which this democratic assembly ought to be proud to carry out, rather than to proceed to a technical victory by the use of the Whips.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
It is not often that we on this side of the House agree with the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), but we agree with everything he has said. We hope that the Prime Minister will listen to the very eloquent appeal which he and other hon. Members have made. I cannot remember in this House a spectacle such as the one we have had to-day. One hon. Member suggests that we have never had a Government like this. I do not want to continue my speech on that point. I join in the appeal made by almost every hon. Member who has spoken that the Prime Minister and the Government should agree to the Motion and that the 898 House should adjourn. We can understand why the President of the Board of Trade announced this afternoon the very important changes which it is proposed to make in the Bill. Every back bencher who has spoken from the Government side of the House, with one exception, has announced that if the Bill goes to a Second Reading, as originally introduced, he would vote against the Government.
Not only that, but we have seen growing opposition to the Bill outside the House. It is a long time since I have seen the Mining Association spending, as they must have spent, thousands of pounds to get a quarter page of advertisement in the principal newspapers. The Government, and particularly the Prime Minister as the custodian of the liberties of hon. Members, ought to realise that the request that has been made is not unreasonable. Every hon. Member to-day was greatly surprised at the announcement made by the President of the Board of Trade. I should like to ask the Prime Minister or the Secretary for Mines what is really left in the Bill to create any urgency for it to be carried through the House, either to-day or this Session. The President of the Board of Trade announced that one of the principal parts of the Bill was Clause 9, dealing with Part II which extends Part I of the 1930 Act till 1942. The provisions in the 1930 Act do not expire until 1936, but the President of the Board of Trade suggested that it was necessary to get this extension of Part I of the Act of 1930 because of the introduction of the scheme for selling agencies, There is no need to have new legislation because of the introduction of selling agencies. That is provided for in the Act of 1930. The Bill really was introduced to deal with the question of compulsory amalgamation, but according to the announcement made by the President of the Board of Trade the Government are prepared to accept in Committee Amendments agreeing to the postponement of compulsory amalgamations until 1938.
I beg the Prime Minister to restore to the House of Commons the credit which once belonged to the House. There is absolutely no urgency for this Bill, either this week, next week or during the course of this Session. If the Bill were introduced in the early part of next Session it would be in time to deal with the diffi- 899 culties which might arise as a result of the need for the extension of Part I. I am convinced that the Prime Minister would be serving the best interests of the House and the best interests of one of the largest industries in the country if he agreed to our Motion. One of my hon. Friends spoke of 750,000 men employed in the mining industry, but we can claim that the employed and the unemployed in the industry number not less than 1,000,000, and that the persons directly depending upon the mining industry number 4,000,000. There are also other great industries whose interests must be taken into consideration. I cannot see the need for the Bill yet. It will be necessary before June of next year, but there is ample time before then.
The Government are standing in their own light. The offer made by the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) was very generous. The Government ought to withdraw the Bill. There is no right hon. Gentleman representing the Government, from the Prime Minister downwards, who will not agree that the changes announced in the Bill this afternoon are very important, going right to the root of the question of amalgamations. If consultations have taken place—I do not object to consultations—then all I can say to the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines is that the preparations for this Bill have not been anything like as complete as they should have been. We have heard lot of complaints that only until recently have persons vitally interested been consulted. I beg the Prime Minister to accept the advice which has been given by hon. Members in all quarters of the House to agree to the Motion, withdraw the Bill and introduce a new Bill covering the changes which have been announced by the President of the Board of Trade. I feel sure that matters affecting one of the vital industries of the country can be better discussed by the House when it is in a much better frame of mind than will be the case this afternoon if the Bill goes forward in its present form.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
I appeal to the Prime Minister to accept the Motion for Adjournment for two main reasons. The 900 first is that many hon. Members not overwhelmingly conversant with the coal trade have had extremely short notice between the printing of the Bill and the Second Reading. Only about 10 days has been given us to read the Bill before it is introduced. That is a short time in which to find out the effects of the Measure and to consult those who are interested in it. But we are now faced with the drastic changes in the Bill; at least they are drastic according to the President of the Board of Trade, but a mere nothing according to the Prime Minister. We do not know which. Personally I believe the Prime Minister, but, at any rate, we have had no chance of knowing whether they are drastic or not, as we have not seen them incorporated in the Bill. I think hon. Members should have a chance of seeing these changes in the Bill itself, and I cannot see why the Government should not agree to the Motion, especially in view of the fact that they are ready to postpone the operations of the effective Clauses of the Bill for two years. In that case I cannot see why they should grudge a couple of weeks in order to bring in an amended Bill.
There is one point which I put forward on behalf of back bench Members. There is not now time for an adequate Second Reading discussion of the Bill. Two hours at least have been spent in a perfectly reasonable Debate, and no one can object that any unnecessary speeches have been made on a perfectly justifiable Motion for the Adjournment. But those two hours' Debate represent a possible contribution of not less than eight backbenchers, who will be excluded from the discussion if we proceed with it to-day. I think there is every reason for a withdrawal of the Bill for the moment on the ground that parties affected by it who have not been consulted should be consulted, as they ought to have been before the Bill was introduced, and also in order to maintain the rights of ordinary hon. Members of the House to be able to take an adequate part in the discussion.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. PRITT
Everyone will agree that before we take a vote on any substantial Measure we should know upon what it is we are asked to vote. Hon. Members on 901 this side of the House and also on the other side of the House will pay attention to the different proposals in the Bill according to what the original proposals might be. It is not sufficient for the Government to tell us the probable result of the alterations suggested by the President of the Board of Trade. We have every right, and also a duty, to form our own opinions as to what the proposals may effect, and also to consider the origin and the motives which have led to these alterations in the Bill at the last moment. Many of us have a direct interest in these proposals as they affect thousands of people who are vitally concerned in their operation. Any indignity which the Government might feel at giving way to the Motion for Adjournment is in my opinion misplaced. Any indignity which the Government may suffer was suffered before the Motion for the Adjournment was moved. The indignity is that with a, very competent Civil Service behind them, and with a large majority in the House, they are unable to bring forward a major Measure without making fundamental alterations in the whole scheme at the last moment. That indignity cannot be added to by yielding to the demand of almost every hon. Member who has spoken, that a Bill which should be properly discussed cannot be properly discussed without adequate notice of these alterations being given.
I hope we shall get from the Government a reasonable time before we are asked to discuss the Measure on Second Reading, in order that we may know not only exactly what its provisions are but what form of conciliation, surrender, principle or lack of principle, the Government have adopted in the modifications announced by the President of the Board of Trade. We have heard from the Secretary for Mines, in a very frank statement which we accept without the faintest reservation, that on Friday he had a long discussion with one of the interests involved, and that in that discussion he gathered that he was certainly not giving way to the suggestions made, but, nevertheless, that he had to complain that he was attacked in the Press the next morning. I offer him my sympathy for what it is worth. What we want to know is how many of the demands made last Friday were not conceded by the Secretary 902 for Mines and are now conceded by the President of the Board of Trade? We want to know what has happened between last Friday and to-day which made the right hon. Gentleman concede these demands, and to what interests he has conceded them. We want to know who has dictated the Bill.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. MARKLEW
There is much more at stake than the question as to whether we should give a Second Reading to the Bill to-day or on some other day. There is much more at stake than a mere party question. What is at stake is a great question of principle. Quite honestly and sincerely there is a principle of democracy at stake this afternoon. My reasons for arriving at that conclusion are that obviously, so far as the majority of hon. Members are concerned, there is an almost unanimous opinion that the Bill ought not to be proceeded with to-day. That, of course, is the attitude which one may expect of the Opposition, but I have witnessed an entirely new phenomenon this afternoon. I have seen hon. Member after hon. Member opposite, supporters of the Government, rise and protest against the proposal to proceed with the Measure to-day, and adopt much the same attitude as hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House. Surely, if the Prime Minister is genuinely sincere in his desire to uphold the principles of democracy as expressed in the forms and procedure of this House, as I believe he is, he will recognise, however painful it may be to him and however much it may offend his dignity, that if he persists in his present attitude what he mistakes for strength, will be regarded by a majority of the House as obstinacy.
On the other hand, he will see that an essential principle of democracy is being flouted if he persists in his present attitude and ignores the obvious opinion of a majority of the House. It may be true that if the Adjournment Motion is pushed to a Division, he will get a majority, not because hon. Members agree with him on the question but out of loyalty to the Government. But that would be obtaining a majority vote by calling upon his own supporters to sacrifice their own feelings and subdue their convictions in order to vote in a way in which the Prime Minister himself must realise they do not desire to vote. This matter is of such import- 903 ance that I beg the Prime Minister, even at this late hour, to reconsider the position. Surely enough has been said to convince him that this is no mere attempt to snatch a party victory, and that we are concerned in the maintenance of what we consider to be the right of the House to be treated in a fair and equitable manner. If the Prime Minister fails to see the matter in that light, then, surely, he will relinquish his own personal view in favour of the view which is obviously the view of the majority, and in doing so he will relinquish nothing which is worth retaining; he will manifest no sign of weakness, because it will be appreciated on both sides of the House that it requires more strength and courage to make an apparent surrender than to continue what may be regarded as a course of obstinacy. I hope he will reconsider the matter and retain the respect and good will of hon. Members of the House by doing what a large majority of the House desires he should do.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES GRIFFITHS
I am not competent to speak on the matter of procedure, but I want to join in the appeal which has been made by hon. Members in all quarters of the House to the Prime Minister to agree to the adjournment in the interests of the great industry with which the Bill is concerned. If any industry has suffered from the mishandling of Governments in the past it is the coal mining industry, and I suggest that the atmosphere this afternoon is not conducive to a proper discussion of these great problems. I listened to the Secretary for Mines, whom I have had the pleasure to meet in my trade union capacity, who complained that the coalowners have misrepresented him. They have been misrepresenting us for a generation, and I am glad that the Secretary for Mines has found them out. We have told him time and time again, and he would not believe us, but now he has to believe himself. I would like to remind the Secretary for Mines that in the negotiations which took place and which avoided an industrial conflict that might have been a catastrophe for this country, he gave a pledge to the miners that, if they would withdraw their notice, he would first of all try to secure a temporary increase in wages, and that by 1st July of this year, legislation would be 904 introduced in the House to make the selling schemes operative in the industry in order to bring in the increased revenue required to pay the miners a higher wage. The Secretary for Mines, at the request of the coalowners, has put back the date from 1st July to 1st August. That legislation to make the selling schemes operative and to secure the increased revenue required to pay higher wages, which the Secretary for Mines and everybody else agree ought to be paid, was promised to the miners.
May I ask the Secretary for Mines, if this Bill is so urgent, who has asked for it? The Miners' Federation has not asked for it. Have the coalowners asked for it? I know perfectly well that the industry, both on the men's side and on the owners' side, has not put forward a single request for this Bill, but it has made a request for other legislation. If the Government are anxious to help the industry, why do they not bring forward the legislation which is pressed for and not that for which nobody has asked? In the interests of the industry, which we know has had a chequered career, but which all of us hope is to enter upon a more prosperous career and give to the men employed in it a wage commensurate with the risks they run and the skill required of them, I urge that this Debate and the Bill should be adjourned, and that the Secretary for Mines should bring forward all these separate pieces of mining legislation together. We are told that at some time during the next month or two legislation is to be introduced to deal with the selling side of the industry, and that later on, after further consultations and negotiations, there is to be a measure to unify and nationalise royalties. Why should there be these separate pieces of legislation on questions which are closely related to one another? The Secretary for Mines knows perfectly well that the unifications of royalties and amalgamations are closely associated, so why should not the pieces of legislation dealing with them be discussed together The productive and selling sides of the industry cannot be divorced from one another, so why should they be divorced from one another in the legislation which is brought forward in the House? I join in the appeals which have been made by hon. Members on all sides of the House that this Bill should not be foisted upon the industry. Nobody in the industry 905 wants it. Amalgamation is a question that must be discussed calmly and coolly. I know what amalgamation means. It may mean more pits being closed and more communities rendered derelict.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I will respect your Ruling, Sir. I was suggesting that the question is so important that it should not be discussed in the present atmosphere of the House, and that consequently the Government would do well, not only in the interests of their own dignity, but in the interests of the industry and its future, and the men employed in it, to withdraw this Bill and not to present it again until they bring it forward in conjunction with all the other legislation for the coal industry, so that the whole of the coal industry and the legislation concerning it may be discussed at the same time.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. ROBINSON
As a new Member, the impression which the Debate today has created in my mind is that the House is unanimous that the unknown changes forecasted in the Bill ought to be known and discussed by hon. Members before they are asked to vote on the Bill. Frankly I am amazed at the situation. The Bill was sent to us 10 or 11 days ago, and we have examined it in all its Clauses, but on coming to the House prepared to discuss it, we find that to-day changes are forecasted of which no Member of the House possesses knowledge. I am sorry to see that the Prime Minister is not in his place at the moment, but there are people in the country who still believe, in his integrity and trust him; and I think he ought to defer to the wishes of the House and give the concession which every hon. Member who has spoken has demanded. In all the Debates which I have heard in this House, on no occasion have I heard such unanimity of feeling expressed. The 11 o'clock rule has not been suspended and there are only four hours in which most important points of legislation have to be thrashed out. Those points are rendered still more important because of the fact that we do not know what the suggested legislation will mean until the Secretary for Mines has made his statement. I want to stress this fact with all 906 the firmness I can command. The mining industry has been the shuttlecock of negotiations and strife for too many years to make this issue to-night a party issue. It is not a party question to-night. I represent an important mining constituency, and I want to know what are the changes that are to be made. That knowledge ought to be given to the House, and I therefore hope the Motion for the Adjournment of the House will be carried unanimously.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. L. JONES
I came to the House this afternoon fully determined to speak and vote against the Second Reading of this and I had in my mind very definite reasons for proposing to take that course. I have listened to the Debate during the last two hours, and, frankly, I have not been very much impressed by the suggestions which have been made that because of the changes announced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, the whole complexion of the Bill has been altered. Hon. Members who have studied the Mining Industry Act, 1926, and the Coal Mines Act, 1930, in conjunction with the present Bill, will know that the alterations and amendments which the President of the Board of Trade has suggested he is prepared to make when the Bill goes to the Committee upstairs will, not materially alter the fundamentals of the Bill. The Bill will still speed up compulsory amalgamation and will simply give added pace to the operation of the 1930 Act of the party opposite. Consequently, the suggestion that the House is asked at this moment to consider a Bill which is fundamentally different is not correct. For hon. Members opposite or on this side of the House to say that they have not understood the amendments suggested by the President of the Board of Trade means, I submit, that they have never studied the Bill as presented or the Acts which are already on the Statute Book concerning the mining industry generally.
At the same time, I would like to make an appeal to the Government. The Bill is a long one. I hate it, and would have voted against it. I wanted to see certain important amendments in it, and from the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, I am satisfied that some of his proposals will make certain changes, 907 although not in the fundamentals of the Bill. But the hour is late, and the hours that are left between now and 11 o'clock are much too few to enable the House to discuss the details of the Bill. For that reason alone, I join with other hon. Members in appealing to the Government to withdraw the Bill and to give the House an opportunity of discussing the Measure, or, if the Government think better after further consideration, to bury the Bill so that we hear no more of it.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. E. J. WILLIAMS
I am afraid that Mr. Speaker would quickly rule me out of order if I followed the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. L. Jones) in discussing the details of the Bill, and particularly in making references to past Acts of Parliament. I rose to ask whether it might not be possible for the Prime Minister to reconsider the statement he made a short while ago, when he said that from a cursory reading of the Bill he was convinced that its character had not been changed. Since he made that statement there have been half a dozen speeches from all sides of the House in which each hon. Member, as far as I can recollect, has said that if the Bill as proposed had been placed before the House to-night, he would have voted against it. As the Bill has been amended by the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, apparently those hon. Members would vote for the Second Reading. Surely to have changed the Bill in such a manner as to have altered the votes of hon. Members is concrete evidence that the character of the Bill has been completely changed, and that the Prime Minister ought to reconsider his previous statement.
Moreover, I think he ought to reconsider his statement in the light of what the Secretary for Mines has said. If there is one Minister who ought to resign, it is the Secretary for Mines. On Friday last he met the coalowners of this country, who had been making charges against him as Secretary for Mines. He said that of all persons in the House who would feel the indignity of those statements, he does, but he has suffered all the indignity, and not only has he suffered the personal indignity as Secretary of Mines, but he has permitted the 908 coalowners to take advantage, by way of a deputation, of the substance of the Measure to bamboozle the Government and every Member of the House of Commons. It is that which virtually has taken place. On Thursday of last week, the Miners' Executive met the Members of Parliament representing the mining constituencies, and discussed with them the Bill as it had been drafted. After consultation, we arrived at a reasoned Amendment which was submitted and placed on the Order Paper on Thursday evening. After it had been submitted and placed on the Order Paper, the Government met one side of the industry, the coalowners, and agreed to accept three substantial modifications in the Bill as advanced by the coalowners in their advertisements in the newspapers during the last few days.
Hon. Members will accept the statement which was made by the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) that democracy in this country is on trial, and when it is possible for a vested interest outside the House of Commons so to bamboozle the Government as to get inserted in a Measure every principle for which they have been fighting during the last few days, it is concrete evidence that we have a form of dictatorship. Democracy cannot prevail when you have a vested interest acting in this fashion and the Government capitulating. I have riot been in the House very long—just five years—but I cannot recall an incident comparable to the incident we have had this evening. If Amendments are submitted in manuscript in Committee, it is for both sides of the Committee to acquiesce but here we have, without consultation with the other side of the House, Amendments submitted by the President of the Board of Trade of which we have no knowledge. Every Member who has spoken has been unable to see one word of the contents of the Amendments submitted by the President of the Board of Trade. The Government have to face this charge. For more than 20 years the miners have believed that the Conservative party is the hack of the coalowners. They are now convinced that it is the hack of the coalowners. It is such a party which increased the working day, which imposed reductions in wages, which is not prepared to accept safety regulations—
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I submit to your Ruling, but I am just coming to this point: The Government, in accepting the dictates of the coalowners as they have done in this matter, have convinced every miner in this country that the view which they have held in the past is a correct view. If the Prime Minister, who poses so much as being fair to all persons, is to vindicate that fairness, he must accept the pleas made from all sides of the House and do the best he can to save the principles of democracy, which on many occasions he has said that he is fighting to maintain in this country, rather than submit to the dictates of the coalowners as he has done. We have had from the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) statements that they failed to appreciate the substance of the Amendments which were presented to the House by the President of the Board of Trade. Having had appeals from all sides of the House, and from persons who have had many years' experience of Parliamentary procedure, the Government ought to accept those views and adjourn this Debate in order that the other vital features concerning the mining industry which were referred to by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) can be proceeded with first and the matters contained in this Bill, for which no one has asked, can be left on the shelf.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. D. G. SOMERVILLE
As a back bencher who does not take much of the time of the House, I would add my appeal to those of other hon. Members who have spoken. I came down to the House this morning with the intention, after studying the provisions of this Bill, to vote against it. It seems to affect every great industry. It has been quite impossible for me or for any other hon. Member to consider what effect the new provisions may have on the Bill, and in view of the importance of this matter I would ask the Government to accept this Motion or give us another day for discussion. From all parts of the country and from various industries I have received telegrams. This is from 910 the Borough of Willesden, part of which I have the honour to represent:The Second Reading of the Coal Mines Bill, 1936, takes place to-day and the Council is apprehensive lest Parliament should establish coal monopolies … without providing adequate safeguards to the consumer"—
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
I endeavoured to read this telegram in view of the importance and urgency of this matter, and I hope that the Government will agree to the appeals which have been made.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
The Government should make some reply to the speeches which have been made in all parts of the House. The request for the withdrawal or the postponement of the Bill has come as much from supporters of the Bill as from its opponents. It has come from the Opposition, from the Liberal benches and from supporters of the Government. We have now got only four hours or less to discuss this important Bill. The Eleven o' Clock Rule has not been suspended, and it is clear that it is impossible to proceed with the Bill in the time which is left to the House.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
I wanted to intervene in this Debate because I represent one of the most important mining districts in the country, a district where the keenest interest is taken not only in all mining questions but in all matters of policy generally. That is why I happen to represent the constituency. But the miners are especially interested in this Bill, and so I went to the trouble of studying the Bill and preparing some Amendments. I consulted with some of the experts on Thursday about when they should be put in, and was told to do that following the Second Reading. But now the Government have proposed a Second Reading which leaves me in a position when I do not know whether these Amendments will fit in or not. I shall have to get the new Bill before I can deal with the various questions which will arise. This is an impossible position in which to put any Member. I suggest to the Prime Minister that he 911 should agree to an adjournment not only for the purpose of bringing in a Bill which everyone will understand, but for the purpose also of reorganising his own. demoralised forces, because what has been exhibited here to us this afternoon has been a spectacle for the gods.
We have had statements which make it clear that very strong interests have been concerned in changing the character of this Bill. Many Members on this side have pleaded with the Prime Minister to make this gesture as a gesture to democracy and to his belief in democracy. I have read many things which the Prime Minister has said about democracy, and I have many times tried to warn Members on this side that they are too concerned with accepting statements on democracy at their face value. The centralised economic power, as it is expressed in the forces which have been meeting the Minister for Mines, wants centralised politics; these forces are not concerned with democracy, and unless the House is prepared to take a stand against these centralised forces, it cannot hope to maintain democracy here. One of the most sinister features of this particular group which seems to have been responsible for changing the destiny of this Bill is the fact that one of the leading men in this particular combination, one of those who have the greatest possible financial interest in this combination, is also a very important political force and a recognised force as far as the party opposite is concerned. That is something which should not be forgotten in connection with this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name"!] He belongs to the other House.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
I do not want to get outside the question of the Adjournment, but many speakers have raised the part which has been played by this particular grouping which saw the Minister of Mines and has been spending thousands of pounds in advertisements in the Press and other forms of pushing forward their own particular claims. It is necessary for the House to take note of the particular type who is the outstanding figure of the group. I want to make it clear to the Prime Minister and his demoralised supporters 912 that the miners of this country want a Bill which will for ever put an end to the terrible—
§ Mr. GALLACHER
If the Government will adjourn this discussion and will be prepared to bring in a. Bill other than this Bill, I can tell them that I have a Bill prepared and will be very glad to bring it forward—a Bill which will provide a real solution.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
May I, by leave of the House, ask the Prime Minister whether he can make any statement?
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have sat in the House the whole afternoon except for one quarter of an hour when I wished to consider the arguments which have been used, and what might be the course which would find general acceptance. It has not been an easy position and the words I said with reference to the hon. Member below the Gangway were not said wholly seriously. Had I been in Opposition I should probably have raised the same question. Clearly, it would be impossible to get the Second Reading of this Bill to-night. I am also clear that it would only be fair, all the circumstances, that before the House is asked to vote on the Second Reading of the Bill we should have another day's Debate, that a reasonable time should elapse before the day for that Debate is selected and that before that day comes the Government should issue a White Paper explanatory of the suggested modifications to be introduced in Committee by the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines in the event of the Bill receiving a Second Reading.
The question may then be asked, "What do you propose to do with the rest of the evening?" What I suggest is this. I think, wish all respect to the House, that it would be a waste of time debating any longer whether we should adjourn or not. I think we ought to come to a decision on that point, and I hope that the House will negative the proposal to adjourn. In that event we have nearly four hours left for business. There are many Members intensely interested in the subject of coal who often find it difficult to get in during a one-day 913 Debate, and I propose that we should use that four hours in continuing, on the main Question, a discussion on coal which, I think, might be of real value. I would like to give this undertaking. If, after some time, the Debate this evening should "peter out," I would not allow that to affect in any degree my offer of a whole day for discussion on the Second Reading. It is entirely within the will of the House. They have, I understand, three-and-a-half hours which they can either use—as I think they might, to advantage—or not use, as they think fit. That is the proposal which I put before the House. I hope that, if it commends itself to hon. Members, we may be allowed to take a Division on this Motion—should a Division be challenged—at once and use the remainder of the time, as I think we can more profitably in the way I have suggested, having thoroughly threshed out the question on which we are now going to take a, decision.
§ of the difficulties of the situation and it goes some way to meet our justifiable complaints. We think it desirable, however, to register our view by challenging a Division on the Motion. I think we could spend any remaining time profitably in discussing coal.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
With the leave of the House, I wish to thank the Prime Minister for the course he has taken. I believe it is an entirely reasonable course and if the Opposition, in pursuance of their regular party duty, feel it necessary to challenge a Division, I shall certainly vote with the Government against them. May I say that by his handling of the situation which arose this afternoon the Leader of the House has enhanced the dignity of the House of Commons without in any way diminishing his own?
§ Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 117; Noes, 255.915
|Division No. 188.]||AYES.||[7.20 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Milner, Major J.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Montague, F.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Grenfell, D. R.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Owen, Major G.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'Isbr.)||Griffiths, J. (Lianelly)||Paling, W.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Groves, T. E.||Parker, H. J. H.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hardie, G. D.||Potts, J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Batey, J||Henderson, A. (Klngswinford)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Bellenger, F.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Ritson, J.|
|Benson, G.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bevan, A.||Holdsworth, H.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Broad, F. A.||Hopkin, D.||Rowson, G.|
|Burke, W. A.||Jagger, J.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Cape, T.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Chater, D.||John, W.||Shinwell, E.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Short, A.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Jones. A. C. (Shipley)||Simpson, F. B.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Jones, H. Haydn (Merloneth)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhlthe)|
|Cove, W. G.||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Daggar, G.||Kirby, B. V.||Stephen, C.|
|Dalton, H.||Kirkwood, D.||Stewart, W, J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, J. J.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westnoughton)||Leach, W.||Thorne, W.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lee, F.||Thurtle, E.|
|Day, H.||Leslie, J. R.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Logan, D. G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Ede, J. C.||Lunn, W.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Welsh, J. C.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McGhee, H. G.||White, H. Graham|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||MacLaren, A.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Maclean, N.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercllffe)|
|Foot, D. M.||MacNeill, Weir, L.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Gallacher, W.||Marklew, E.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Mathers, G.|
|Garro-Jones, G. M.||Maxton, J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Messer, F.||Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Charleton.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Assheton, R.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)|
|Albery, I. J.||Aske, Sir R. W.||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Petherick, M.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Guest, Maj. Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H.(Isle of Thanet)||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Pilkington, R.|
|Balniel, Lord||Gunston, Capt. D. W.||Plugge, L. F.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Hamilton, Sir G. C.||Porritt, R. W.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Hanbury, Sir C.||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Hannah, I. C.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Belt, Sir A. L.||Harvey, G.||Ralkes, H. V. A. M.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. p.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Blindell, Sir J.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Holmes, J. S.||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Reed, A. C.(Exeter)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)|
|Brass, Sir W.||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Hulbert, N. J.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Hunter, T.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Bull, B. B.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||James, Wing-Commander A. W.||Saimon, Sir I.|
|Burghley, Lord||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Salt, E. W.|
|Burgin, Dr. E. L.||Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Samuel, sir A. M. (Farnham)|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Keeling, E. H.||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Kirkpatrick, W. M.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Cary, R. A.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||savery, Servington|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Leckie, J. A.||Scott, Lord William|
|Cautley, Sir H. S.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Selley, H. R.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Lees-Jones, J.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Cazalet. Thelma (Islington, E.)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Br.W.)||Lewis, O.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Liddall, W. S.||Shepperson, sir E. W.|
|Channon, H.||Lindsay, K. M.||Shute. Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Chapman, A. (Ruthergien)||Liewellin, Lieut. -Col. J. J.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Churchill. Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Lloyd, G. W.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Clarke. F. E.||Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Smiles, Lieut. -Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Cobb, Sir C. S.||Lumley, Capt. L. R.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Lyons, A. M.||Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff(W'st'r S.G'gs)||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Somerville. A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||McCorquodale, M. S.||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Scot. U.)||Spens. W. P.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Stanley, Ht. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Croft. Brig. -Gen. Sir H. Page||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Storey, S.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||McKie, J. H.||Stourton, Hon. J. J.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Maclay. Hon. J. P.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Davics, C. (Montgomery)||Magnay, T.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Davison, Sir W. H.||Maitland, A.||Stuart. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Makins, Brig. -Gen. E.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Dorman-Smith. Major R. H.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Dower, Capt. A. V. G.||Margesson, Capt, Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Dugdale, Major T. L.||Maxwell, S. A.||Train, Sir J.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Mayhew. Lt.-Col. J.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Duncan. J. A. L.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Ward, Lieut. -col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Dunne, P. R. R.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Ward, Irene (Wallsend)|
|Eales, J. F.||Moore, Lieut. -Col. T. C. R.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Moreing, A. C.||Warrender. Sir V.|
|Edmondson. Major Sir J.||Morgan, R. H.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Ellis. Sir G.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Wayland Sir W. A.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)||Wells, S. R.|
|Erskinc Hill, A. G.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Wickham. Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Evans, Capt, A. (Cardiff, S.)||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Williams. H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Munro, P.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hltchin)|
|Furness S. N.||Nall, Sir J.||Windson Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Ganzoni, Sir J.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Gllmour. Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Wise. A. R.|
|Gluckstein. L. H.||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Withers, Sir J. J.|
|Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Wragg, H.|
|Goodman, Col. A. W.||Patrick, C. M.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Peake, O.|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Peat, C. U.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grimston, R. V.||Penny, Sir G.||Major George Davies and Mr. Cross.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."917
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I was interested in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon as one is always interested in any speech dealing with the mining industry. I confess that I came here to-day opposed to the Bill that was to be brought before the House, and I was even more opposed to it when I heard the suggested Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman. It was difficult to follow the three Amendments, but I want to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider the whole situation in connection with this industry. The proposals which the President of the Board of Trade is putting before the House, either in the Bill or in the suggested Amendments, will not, in my opinion, help the mining industry from the workmen's point of view, and I confess that I look at it all the time from that point of view. There is nothing in the amalgamations to help us, and that is the chief proposal that the right hon. Gentleman brought before the House today. I am afraid that, especially in the county of Durham, if amalgamations are to be the only remedy which the Government have for the mining industry, it will make the position worse instead of better.
I know that in 1930 the Labour Government were forced to accept the principle of amalgamations, and we supported them. We believe then that there might be something in amalgamations to help the industry, but we have had six years' experience since then; we are able to look back over those six years, and to-day we do not stand where we stood in 1930 on this question. I put a question to the Minister of Mines to-day to ask how many collieries we had working in the county of Durham in 1930, and the reply showed that there were 253, whereas to-day we have only 204. That is to say, no fewer than 49 collieries in the county of Durham have been closed since 1930. The Minister of Mines also stated to-day that in 1930 there were 142,200 persons employed in the mines in the county of Durham and that now there are only 108,300, or a reduction of 33.900. The total number of collieries closed in the county of Durham since 1924 is, I believe, no less than 86. We had six bad years from 1924 to 1930, and coming from 1930 up to 1936 we have had a condition of things that makes some of us stop and think and wonder whether 918 we should go any way towards amalgamation.
Amalgamation can only have the one object of centring production upon the bigger collieries and closing the smaller collieries. That means, in the county of Durham, and especially in the western part of the county, the closing down of another large number of collieries. Can the President of the Board of Trade look lightly on the situation there, where we have had no fewer than 49 collieries closed since 1930? We are a distressed area now, and we should be doubly distressed if the right hon. Gentleman's proposals were carried into effect and all these other smaller collieries were closed down. There are no other industries for these people in our colliery villages, as the President of the Board of Trade knows very well, and to close down these smaller collieries that are now working and giving employment to our people would be a real tragedy and one that we could not look upon lightly and that we should be bound to oppose.
I would like the right lion. Gentleman to give his attention to something that will help the coal industry. He knows that the policy of the Government since the National Government were formed in 1931 has not been helpful towards the coal industry. The Government have helped some of the industries in this country, but they have not helped the coal industry. One would never think of blaming the Government for the whole of the unemployed miners in this country, but still they have not made things better for them, and during their term of office they have, if anything, made things worse and increased unemployment in the coal industry. The tariff policy of the Government has simply meant that the coal industry has been subject to countries in Europe which objected to that policy taking their revenge out of the coal industry, with the result that there is not the slightest doubt that the tariff policy of the Government has been a real injury to the coal industry. We have simply gone on getting worse and worse all the time the present Government has been in office.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade ought to keep in mind too the fact that we have suffered from the sanctions policy of the Government. While he might say that we were in favour of sanctions, yet the 919 Government have to take responsibility for the sanctions policy. Italy was the second best customer that the mining industry of this country had. France was first and Italy second, but where we were sending on an average about 5,000,000 tons of coal a year to Italy, to-day we are not sending a hundredweight. That too was a blow at the mining industry, and I submit that the Government's policy has not been one to help, but rather to injure, that industry. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us anything that the National Government have done since 1931 to help the mining industry of this country? There is not a single step which they have taken, except a step to injure the industry and we believe that if the Government were willing and anxious to help the industry, they could do so.
I believe that there is only one remedy for the coal industry. After all is said and done, I believe we shall have to come to the point some day that the coal industry will have to be taken out of private hands and nationalised, but next to that I believe that the best remedy for the industry to-day is for the Government to he prepared to find the money for the extraction of oil from coal. The Government could help us there, but so far they have taken no steps to do so, and they are leaving the whole of that remedy severely alone. That is not fair to the mining community, to the men who are working in the industry, or to their wives and bairns who are dependent on the industry for their livelihood. I believe that the Government should face up to this only remedy. They have tried other things in connection with the county of Durham, as with some of the other distressed areas, but they have proved absolute failures and have been no help to us. I therefore urge upon the President of the Board of Trade to give far more serious attention to the setting up of plants for extracting oil from coal.
I believe that that can be done, but it can only be done provided the Government are prepared to find the money for it. If they leave it to private enterprise, my experience in the county of Durham has been that the coalowners will never be able to do it. They have not the money for erecting the plants, nor have they any prospect of getting it. Therefore our only hope lies in the Government being prepared to find the money. It 920 would pay the Government to do so, because they would save in the amount of money that they are paying out in unemployment benefit. They would get the money back and help to remake the coal industry. We were taught by tariff reformers that if only something was done to help the steel trade, the increased prosperity in the steel trade would help the mining industry. I belong to a district where many of our collieries, in the West of Durham county, produce the best coke and coal that can be found, and those collieries depend upon the steel works, but they have not benefited because of the increased prosperity in the steel industry. If there is no hope of those collieries in the Western part of Durham county benefiting by the increased prosperity in the steel industry, I submit that the Government ought seriously to reconsider this matter of the erection of plants for the extraction of oil from coal.
I know that the President might say, "Do not forget that the erection of the Billingham plant cost £3,500,000, and that to find a few more sums like that means an enormous lot of money." I do not think it is necessary for the Government to face the erection of plants similar to the Billingham plant. They could work under the low-temperature carbonisation system. The cost of such plant is considered to be only £1 per ton of coal used per day. The Government ought easily be able to find the amount of money necessary for that purpose. I advocate this scheme, first because it is in the interests of the mining classes in the distressed areas, but I believe that it is essential for it to be done in the interests of the country. If trouble came—and it has seemed of late months that we were not far from it—it would be almost impossible for this country to bring from abroad all the oil that it needed for the Navy, the mechanised Army and the Air Force. This scheme would make the importation of oil unnecessary. It is essential in time of peace for the country to prepare for the time when it might be in trouble, and here is a way in which the Government might prepare. It is a question that might well occupy the attention of the Minister of Defence. If he is to consider only the three fighting Services, his function is very limited. 921 The question of the provision of oil in coal merits his attention. If the Government took serious steps in this direction they would not only put the country in a more secure position, but would provide work for many of our men who have not been able to work for a long number of years.
Another question which the Secretary for Mines should keep in mind in view of the large number of unemployed in the coal areas is that of overtime. The Secretary for Mines took some steps which led us to believe that he was going to do something about it, but the whole matter has now dropped, and we never hear it mentioned. Would be tell us where we now stand on this question, and whether the Government are taking any steps to decrease the amount of overtime? The former Secretary held two important inquiries into the question, one in Lancashire and the other in Scotland. The report of the Scottish inquiry shows that in one colliery during the six weeks the Government inspector was making his inquiries the number of shifts worked was 2,000 and there were 2,000 extra hours worked, showing that for every shift there was one hour's overtime. The Government should have dealt with this problem in this Bill. They are proposing to extend Part I of the 1930 Act, but they are ignoring Part III which deals with hours. The Government should have brought forward an Amendment to Part III to limit the overtime. There should be some more inquiries in some other districts by Government inspectors so that we might get to know how much overtime is being worked. Part III of the 1930 Act has an interesting history. I was a member of the Miners' Executive at the time of the Sankey Commission. We accepted the seven-hour day then and thought we were doing extremely well. We never thought that we would be in the position in which we are to-day. We have not even a seven-hour day, but because of legislation which the Government have passed we have a seven and a-half-hour day in one winding.
Nobody can justify the continuation of these long hours and in any amending legislation the Government ought to restore the seven-hour day. At the time the Sankey Commission recommended a seven-hour day the prospect of a six-hour 922 day was held out, and we foolishly thought that the time would come when we would get it. The Government should face that question in this Bill. Conditions in the mining industry are worse to-day than they were 50 years ago. I remember when I started hewing coal 61 years ago that I used to go to work at 10 o'clock in the morning and come out of the pit at four in the afternoon. That was a six-hour day. To-day our men neither know when they are going to the pit nor, when they go to the pit, when they are coming home. After the 1926 lockout the coalowners, encouraged by the help they got from the Government, smashed to pieces all the good conditions that we had been able to build up over long years of tedious labour. In some of the villages the social life of the people has been completely destroyed, for the men never know when they are going home from the pit once they get into the pit. It is no use saying that we can deal with these matters by negotiation with the coalowners. We have failed to do it by negotiation and we are entitled to ask the Government to come to the help of the mining communities in the colliery villages and to restore the social life in those places by laying down beyond doubt the time when men should come out of the pits.
It was a shock to some of us when we first learned that there were collieries drawing coal out of the pits on Sunday. We believed that such a thing was impossible because, while it might not be illegal, the customs connected with the trade that have grown up over many years led us to believe that it could not be done. It was a shock, therefore, when we learned a few years ago that the practice was being indulged in in Scotland. When a question was put about it last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) the Secretary for Mines said that he could not give any information as to the number of collieries that were drawing coal on Sundays. The Mines Department ought to have that information. There can be no justification for the Department if it does not exist for the purpose of getting such information. Some years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had a sudden brain wave for economy and suggested that three 923 Departments should be scrapped. They were the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Pensions and the Mines Department. Some of us were alarmed at the suggestion that the Ministry of Mines should be scrapped, and I was one of those who went on a deputation to the Prime Minister urging him that, whatever else was done, the Ministry of Mines should not be scrapped. We believed we had done good work in getting the Prime Minister to promise that the Mines Department should not be scrapped, because it would be useful for getting all this kind of information, and I suggest that the Secretary for Mines should waste no time before getting his inspectors to work obtaining the information about overtime and Sunday working.
The Bill has brought another question back to our minds. When the Act of 1930 was going through the House some of us agreed to Part IV, which sets up machinery to deal with wages, but were rather alarmed because that machinery was not made compulsory. Some of us wanted to make Part IV compulsory, to compel the coalowners to meet round a table the executive of the Miners' Federation in order to settle wages question. I remember saying to the late Willie Graham, who was then President of the Board of Trade and in charge of the Bill, when going into the Lobby one night, that in my opinion that part of the Bill was scarcely worth walking through the Lobby for, and Willie chided me and said that I had no faith, and that in his opinion that part of the Bill would be operative. The coalowners, however, have refused to operate it until quite recently, when they have met the Miners' Federation about one or two minor questions. One of the objections which we have to this Bill is that the Government ought to have taken the opportunity to deal with the whole subject of the mining industry—the selling prices, the royalties and all other proposals which they are prepared to put forward. All should have been dealt with in one Bill.
I am sorry that the President of the Board of Trade has gone, but I want the Secretary for Mines to tell him that it would be a wise thing so to amend this Bill that it dealt not only with Parts I and II of the Act of 1930 but also with Parts III and IV. A case could be made 924 out for the Government to deal drastically with the mining industry, because things there are getting no better but going from worse to worse. The Government ought to realise that it is their duty to face these questions and to put something on the Statute Book which will help the mining industry, and especially the mining classes. I believe that the present proposals of the Government will leave us in the industry where we are. This is just another experiment. I came to the House to-day with my mind made up against the Bill, and after I had heard the suggestions of the President of the Board of Trade I was confirmed in my view that the proposed legislation was simply hopeless and would not help us in the least.
The President of the Board of Trade said to-day that he would bring in an Amendment to separate all ancillary undertakings from the coal mines. If there is anything in the world that will set us against this Bill it is that proposal. I was a miners' agent in Durham before I came to the House of Commons and when fixing wages in those days we used to take into consideration the prices obtained for coke. In some of our Durham collieries there is splendid coking coal, and the prices obtained for that coke used to go into the ascertainment for the purpose of calculating the miners' wages. After the 1926 struggle the coalowners succeeded in abolishing that practice, although it had existed in Durham for at least 40 years.
§ Mr. L. JONES
Surely the ascertainment is based on the price of coal and not on the price of coke? Coke is a manufactured article
§ Mr. BATEY
That is one story, and it is the story that help; the coalowners, but it does not help the miners. We do not want the ancillary trades separated from the coal mines. A few years ago some of us believed that if only we could get plants set up in connection with the collieries to extract oil from coal the revenue obtained from the sale of that oil would go to help to build up our miners' wages. We want something that will build up miners' wages, because they are so disgracefully low. But now the Government propose to separate all ancillary undertakings from the coalmines. There are companies in Middlesbrough owning steel works and blast furnaces 925 which have their own collieries in the county of Durham, and the coal raised there is sent to those undertakings, and we want the prices obtained for the things sold by the ancillary undertakings to go towards helping our miners' wages.
In conclusion, I want to tell the Secretary for Mines that I believe it is possible for him to make a name for himself if he will not be content to go on just sliding along day after day but will take a definite stand in order to help the mining industry and to help the mining classes. He should urge upon the Government that the only way to help the mining industry and the mining classes is for the Government to find the money in order to better their conditions. One has such happy memories of the present Secretary for Mines when he sat on one of the back benches. Then there was so much hope in him. I have never been able to understand why there is so much difference in a Member after he has gone from a back bench to the Front Bench, why he is so quiet and lamblike on the Front Bench when he was such a lion on the back bench. There is a chance for him. The work is there and the need is there, and if only he will rise to the occasion and be determined that the Government shall recognise that something has got to be done for the mining classes it may be that one day we may erect a monument to his memory.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. ROSS TAYLOR
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) who has given us such a wide survey of the coal industry, but propose to confine myself exclusively to Clause 9 of the Bill. That Clause proposes to continue Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, in operation until 1942. When the continuation of Part I was discussed in this House in 1932 we heard a great deal about the interests of the mine-owners and of the mine workers, but did not hear very much about the interests of the consumers, either industrial or domestic. Now that it is proposed to extend Part I for another five years as from 1937 it seems to me essential that something should be said about the interests of the consumers and, not only that, but that something should be done to protect their interests more effectually. The outlook from the consumers' point of view has 926 very materially changed. In 1932 the schemes set up under Part I of the Act were still to a great extent in embryo, and since that date those schemes have until quite recently proved comparatively innocuous to the consumer. It is a matter of common knowledge that the district boards have not worked very well. We know that there have been internal dissensions and that there have been evasions of the regulations. Now the coal-owners, urged by the Mines Department, have begun to see that it will be more profitable for them to lay aside their quarrels and unite in the common task, and no doubt, from their point of view, the very delectable task, of seeking to exploit the consumers.
Amendments are being made in all the schemes. Reference was made to those Amendments by the President of the Board of Trade when he spoke this afternoon. The Lancashire and Cheshire scheme, which has already been amended and is in operation, clearly shows the danger to the consumers. It was the first of its kind. When it was discussed in Parliament last year, protests were made against it, but the Government gave an assurance that, as it was novel in character arid largely experimental, the interests of the consumers would be most jealously watched by the Secretary for Mines. From the point of view of the consumer, the watching has not been particularly effective, because already there has been a number of complaints about the harsh operation of the scheme, in the matter of price and quality of coal obtainable.
That scheme is being taken as the model for schemes in all the other districts. I understand that it is being taken without amendment. A district coal board is to be given the sole selling rights; that is to say, a complete monopoly is to be set up. Every coalowner in the district must be in, and every ton of coal save, for trivial exceptions, must be sold through the board, which will be able to charge what prices, and to supply whatever quality of coal, it may like. If it pleases, the board will be able to discriminate arbitrarily between one class of consumer and another. None of the safeguards which are ordinarily imposed by Parliament when a monopoly, or quasi-monopoly, is granted, are being imposed in this case.
927 We are familiar with the safeguards imposed in the case of public utility undertakings, gas, water, electricity, and so on; there is an obligation to supply a commodity or a service; and to maintain that service. There is prohibition against discriminating between one class of consumer and another in like circumstances, and a limitation of the prices that may be charged for the services rendered. In a large number of cases there is limitation of the profits which may be made. None of the safeguards which I have mentioned are apparently to be imposed in the case of the monopolies which are to be created in the districts. The only real safeguard which the consumer hitherto has had, commercial competition between colliery and colliery and district and district, which enabled the consumer to get the quality of coal which he wanted at competitive prices, is to be taken away from him. Unless something is clone and adequate provision is made, the consumer will be left absolutely at the mercy of the coal-owners.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for Mines will, no doubt, say that committees of investigation are provided for in all the schemes, and that committees have been set up in every district. I do not believe the opinion is generally shared that these committees afford any real protection to the consumers. To begin with, they are committees of investigation only, and they have no judicial or executive functions. Their personnel is not suited to such functions. They are not an independent body, and there is a considerable representation upon them of coal interests. They cannot compel the district boards to supply any particular quality of coal, or any coal at all. Another difficulty arises in that, owing to the secrecy which is observed by the boards in all their operations, it is impossible for an aggrieved consumer to obtain the information necessary to enable him to put a case before the committee. The final objection to the committees is that their procedure is exceedingly cumbrous and very slow.
I have been supplied with a resume of the procedure which requires to be gone through by an aggrieved consumer, and, if the House will bear with me, I will 928 read it. In the first place, the aggrieved consumer lodges his complaint with the committee of investigation. Secondly, the committee of investigation meets and considers the complaint. Thirdly, if the committee is of opinion that a prima facie case has been made out, it must make representations to the district coal board. After that, the representations are drafted and sent to the coal board, who meet and consider them. Fourthly, the district coal board answers the representations of the committee. The committee considers those answers, and, if dissatisfied with them, may decide to refer the complaint to arbitration. Fifthly, if the complaint is referred to arbitration, the committee must, at the same time, report to the Mines Department. Sixthly, the arbitrator is appointed and the arbitration takes place. Seventhly, within a reasonable time of the making of the award by the arbitrator, the committee of investigation must inquire what steps have been taken to comply with the award. Eighthly, if the committee be dissatisfied with the steps taken by the district coal board, it may report to the Board of Trade, which has power to insert in the district scheme in question such amendment as it may think necessary to secure that the scheme will be administered in accordance with the decision of the arbitrator. Ninthly, if the consumer is aggrieved with the failure of the committee of investigation to refer the complaint to arbitration, he may apply to the Railway and Canal Commission for leave to appeal against the decision of such a committee. Tenthly, if such appeal is granted, the commission have to hear the appeal and may make such order as they think fit.
I submit that that procedure is not practicable in commercial matters, which require to be promptly and quickly settled. It is most likely that any optimist who may appeal to a committee of investigation to undertake that procedure, will, long before the procedure has come to an end, have turned over to oil fuel instead of coal. I am told that very little resort has been had to these committees of investigation. If so, the reason is obvious. It has not been necessary to do so because there has been inter-colliery competition, and consumers have been able to get their requirements at a reasonable price. When the competition ceases and the monopoly is set up, 929 consumers will not be able to get their requirements unless adequate provision is made enabling them to do so.
Consumers do not seek to deny a fair deal, either to mine-owners or mineworkers. Thousands of industrial consumers gave a very eloquent tribute of their good will towards the coal industry by voluntarily agreeing to a shilling increase in contract prices; but consumers do ask that they should be treated fairly in this matter. They particularly ask that there should be, first of all, a statutory obligation to supply the quality of coal required, especially to industrial consumers. Secondly, they ask that undue preference as between one class of consumer and another in like circumstances shall not be allowed. Thirdly, they ask that an independent tribunal shall be established to deal quickly and authoritatively with complaints as to price and quality, and other matters which arise in the ordinary course of commerce. Incidentally, I would point out that the suggestion made by the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon, that an independent tribunal would be set up for the coalowners in the matter of amalgamation, would also suit the consumers very well, and, after all, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I feel that these requests which have been put forward on behalf of consumers are very reasonable and I hope, now that the Minister has a little more breathing space in which to consider the Bill, he will give his attention to the amendment of Clause 9, and that we may have some assurance from him that the consumer will be adequately protected.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIS SMITH
I believe that the Secretary for Mines is faced with one of the most difficult and serious of Britain's internal problems. He has now, to use the phrase of the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Ross Taylor), a breathing space in which to reconsider the whole position. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) that this problem needs to be handled in a much bigger way than is represented by the present Bill. I believe that this afternoon the officials of the House who are responsible for taking round telegrams have had more telegrams to take round than they have had for many years. I understand that some 930 Members have received as many as nine telegrams. I mention these telegrams in order to draw the attention of the House as a whole, and the Secretary for Mines in particular, to the seriousness of the problem with which we are faced in dealing with the mining industry.
The mining industry on the owners' side is more strongly organised than any other section of industry in this country, and has adopted throughout the ages a more reactionary policy with regard to the management of the industry than any other section of industry in this country. I will furnish the Secretary for Mines with evidence to show that throughout the ages the colliery proprietors, and, later, the organised vested interests in the coal industry, have been responsible time after time for such situations as that with which the House has to deal this afternoon. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman intended to deal with the situation on as broad a basis as he could, having regard to the limitations to which he is necessarily subject, but I suggest that the time has arrived when the industry should not be dealt with within limitations, but from the point of view of what is going to suit the nation as a whole. The industrial supremacy of this country was built upon the mining industry.
I remember listening, early in the War, to an old friend of ours, Robert Smillie, appealing to a conference in Lancashire to withdraw their opposition to a proposal which the Government were making at that time. I remember that in 1916 and 1917 the miners held this country in the palm of their hand. The miners were seething with indignation because of the policy that was being pursued. Food prices were going up, but the wages of the miners were not going up in proportion. The Miners' Federation were proposing to take certain action, and the Government appealed to them to withdraw the policy they were pursuing, on the understanding that food prices would be controlled; and that Lancashire conference agreed to withdraw opposition because of the promise that had been made to the Miners' Federation that the growing increase in food prices would be dealt with. But the hopes that were held out to the miners that time were dashed to the ground, because food prices were never dealt with in the way that the Government had promised. That is 931 typical of the miners' lot throughout the ages.
In 1919, with the Sankey Commission, the hopes of the miners were again raised. They were looking forward to their industry being organised to enable them to get more out of it. But again their hopes were dashed, and nothing was forthcoming. Commission after commission has recommended improvements in the industry, but time after time the colliery proprietors have been responsible for preventing those recommendations from being carried out. In 1925, when a friend of ours was touring the country on behalf of the Miners' Federation, the people of this country were ready to give a backing to the Government if they would only deal with the problem as it should be dealt with. In 1925, the opposition was again bought off. In 1926 the miners of this country were smashed for the time being. They became sullen and despondent; many of them lost their livelihood. Those who retained their jobs went to the pits, and from 1926 to 1936 their lot has been hard work, low wages, long hours and greater risks than ever.
The average wage that they are receiving at the present time is approximately £2 10s. a week. That is not average earnings, but average wages, for it is necessary to point out, in a Debate of this kind, that there is a difference between earnings and wages. After running all the risks—and it is only those who have been on piece-work who know the additional risks that men are prepared to run in order to earn an extra shilling or two —after running all these risks, and putting forth the maximum of human energy that is possible, after walking and working, after using the latest machines and giving of their best to the industry, £2 10s. a week is the average wage which a miner receives. Output is going up; the mechanisation of the industry is increasing; there is intensive exploitation of human energy; and yet a wage of £2 10s. is the average lot of the miner. The installation of coal cutters and coal conveyors has increased the speed. In many districts overtime is being worked which I believe is not reported in the usual way. Owing to the installation of these machines, a large amount of dirt accumulates than was ever the case before in the history of the mining in- 932 dustry, and I understand that many boys are unofficially employed on overtime in removing this dirt as it accumulates so that, when the hewer comes to the face on the next shift, he can start to hew coal right away.
The only intelligent capitalist way to deal with this problem, quite apart from the point of view that we represent, is to come boldly to the House and propose that the whole industry should be scientifically organised and we believe that, if the Minister would come forward with a comprehensive, scientific proposal for dealing with the industry on the basis that I am now indicating, he would get the backing of the whole of the people of the country. The hon. Member for Spennymoor referred to the need of developing by-products and obtaining oil. We in this country have not yet realised the seriousness of this. I have recently read a book dealing with the developments that are taking place in Germany, where they arc developing the coal industry in such a way as to enable them to extract the maximum amount of oil from the coal. They are dependent very largely on the importation of oil for their defence programme. They realise that, just as sanctions have been carried out against Italy, they may be carried out against a potential aggressor in the future. They realise that defence will depend upon the amount of oil that they have at their disposal. We believe that the time has arrived when we also should tackle this problem, not only from the defence point of view. but also from the point of view of increasing the prosperity of the industry.
We believe that, there are other interests that ought to be considered. Of all these telegrams that have been received to-day, not one deals with the interests of the workers. While we admit that, from the intelligent capitalist point of view, the steps that the Minister is taking are necessary, that the industry cannot be carried on in the old way and that it has to be organised upon a national basis, with increased mechanisation, at the same time we believe that, if it is right to compensate directors when amalgamation takes place, surely we ought to be ready to compensate the miners who have given their all to the industry. They have a greater interest in it than anyone else. We are faced to-day with a very serious situa- 933 tion. We on this side are very jealous of the maintenance of our democratic rights. We are now in a relatively good position. We have not reached that position by simply talking. We have reached it by the sacrifices made by our forefathers. Each generation has been called upon to make sacrifices, first to demand the right to organise, then to demand the right to express themselves, and finally to demand the right to vote. We won the right to vote, and now the vested interests are becoming afraid of our using it in our own interests. We have made steady progress. We have, during the time about which I am speaking, accepted the policy of the Government year after year. We have accepted the constitutional position and we have accepted law and order.
We are finding that the vested interests, now that constitutional procedure is beginning to operate against them and is being used in order to organise and to assert the rights of the common people, are sending telegrams to Members of the House to exert the maximum amount of pressure on them to get the Secretary for Mines to withdraw the Bill. This is only history repeating itself, and it is well that we should get it on the records of the House for our benefit and for that off the country. The same people who were responsible for these telegrams have been responsible for trying to stop progress throughout the ages. In 1831 a certain member of a well-known coal family personally superintended the attempt that was made to break the new miners' union which was then developing. In 1844 a member of the same family took action against a shopkeeper for giving credit to miners on strike. In 1925 the same family suggested ignoring the Government's Coal Commission and proposed direct negotiations pit by pit with a view to breaking up the Miners' Federation. Later on it was a representative of the same family who suggested ignoring the Samuel Report and advocated direct negotiation. He wanted to get back to the position of 200 years ago. I appeal to the Secretary for Mines to bring the Bill forward in a more comprehensive and more scientific form so that we can face the country and say that we are introducing legislation based upon the Sankey and the Samuel Commission and that we believe this is the only way to deal with the serious problem with which we are faced.
§ 8.44 p.m.
There are a few comments I should like to make to-night. I do not want the President of the Board of Trade to think I am entirely unappreciative of the attempts that are being made through the introduction of this Bill to force the reorganisation of the mining industry. I have in my own small way, as far as it is possible for a back bench Member to do so, tried to press for the reorganisation of the industry. I have always felt that the coalowners of the country did not quite understand that there was a very strong body of opinion in all classes of the community who believed that a very real measure of reorganisation was necessary. I was very glad when I saw that it was the intention of the Government to give powers to the Coal Reorganisation Commission to enforce suitable amalgamations in the event of the colliery owners opposing them, but the real difficulty of people like myself is not that we are opposed to powers being given to enforce amalgamations, but rather that we are a little startled at the provisions of the particular Bill which has been brought forward. It is a pity that one always gets the coalowners to unite for destruction and that it is so very difficult to get them to unite for construction.
I am truly and honestly sorry that the attempt of the Government to introduce a. Bill which is intended to effect very necessary reorganisation should have met with such very strong opposition. I also regret that I have had to support that opposition because of some very strong objections that I take to the provisions of the Bill. I assure my right hon. Friend that if he could see his way to modify the provisions, the Bill would then have my very real and warm support. I am entirely consistent in regard to the objections that I take to the Bill, because although I like to regard myself as a left wing and progressive supporter of the Government, I regret to say that I have not a particular faith either in the policy of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, or in Government Departments as such.
§ Mr. TINKER
What does the hon. Lady mean by a left wing supporter of the Government? I am not familiar with it, and perhaps she will tell us what she means.
I shall only be too delighted to give the hon. Gentlemanan 935 explanation. It must be quite apparent to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that there are such people in my party as are represented by the name of "Die-hard Tories." I do not call myself a Die-hard Tory. I call myself a progressive Tory, so that when I say that I belong to the left wing of my party, I mean that I do not belong to the right wing of my party. The right wing of the party is composed of those whom I regard as the Die-hard Tories, and I call the left wing of the party the progressive Tories. Does that 'make the position quite clear?
In all the progressive legislation of my party, some of which has been opposed by the right wing, I have always loyally and faithfully supported the Government because I believe in their policy. I am very glad indeed that the Government have the courage to tackle the coalowners. I like to feel that the Government which I support have no fear of the coalowners or of the miners, and that they like to steer a straight course in the direction of producing what they consider to be really effective legislation for the benefit of the industry as a whole, but I am opposed, when grave decisions affecting industry have to be taken, to placing the final decision on the suitability or validity of schemes in the hands of a Government Department. It creates a most undesirable precedent for the future though I am certain that under the present administration the coalowners of the country would have no cause to complain. In these days, however, we have not only to legislate for to-day, but for the future, and I always believe in trying to constitute an independent body for the purpose of approving any scheme which may have to be produced under an Act of Parliament; a body that can have no axe of its own to grind, and no real interest other than the production of a suitable, fair and equitable scheme, designed to carry out the intention of the Bill concerned.
I am a little puzzled, and my right hon. Friend would considerably help back bench Members like myself if he could make it perfectly plain why the Railway and Canal Commissioners, as an independent tribunal, have been banished from the legislative proposals. I am 936 certain that he is aware that the coal-owners do not in any event even like Sir Ernest Gowers having the power to submit schemes to the Railway and Canal Commissioners, which, after all, is an independent body. I am, as I say, a little puzzled as to why in this Bill an entirely new policy should be pursued and the right of appeal to the Railway and Canal Commission abolished. It would perhaps have been more satisfactory if we could have had an explanation of the objection of my right hon. Friend to putting up schemes which were being opposed by colliery owners for the consideration of the Railway and Canal Commissioners. It would have been much more suitable if we could have had to guide us a decision by the Railway and Canal Commissioners upon a full scheme involving complete compulsory amalgamation put forward as a test case by Sir Ernest Gowers. We might then have tried to strengthen the Coal Reorganisation Commission and if necessary extend the powers of the Railway and Canal Commissioners. I really fail to understand why the Government should have embarked upon an entirely different method of procedure.
I do not take nearly so grave an exception to the Bill as I know that some of my colleagues do, but I definitely cannot be satisfied unless an entirely independent body has the right to consider these schemes. It would be more than helpful if my right hon. Friend could explain and elaborate the concession which he announced during his opening speech to-day. He referred to an impartial body to be appointed by the Board of Trade to advise the Board of Trade, but that still as I understand it, leaves the final decision in the hands of the Board of Trade, though of course subject to confirmation by Parliament, which in my view is insufficient. I understand that there would be no appeal except in the very restricted terms of Clause 5 of the Bill against any recommendation which might be taken by this impartial body. Unless we have an elaborated statement of this proposed impartial body it is difficult to know how far my objection is met, that decisions on the suitability of schemes should be right outside the Beard of Trade.
I think that the financial terms indicated in the Bill are particularly unsatis- 937 factory. As I understand them, companies would have to accept shares instead of cash, which in the case of companies which are perhaps not financially stable, would not commend itself to the prosperous and progressive companies which have previously had no connection with companies in an unstable financial position. It has come as a tremendous shock to people who believe in private enterprise that it should ever be suggested by a National Government that the Board of Trade should have power to interfere in the direction and control of private companies. I cannot understand why the Government, who do believe in private enterprise, should have been led to think that such a provision would be acceptable to the supporters of the Government. I can understand a company with a very diehard policy opposing any progressive policy, we have had plenty of examples of that in the mining industry, but I do not think that it is a suitable method of dealing with non-progressive companies to give power to the Board of Trade to interfere with the management and control of private concerns.
I should like to refer my right hon. Friend to what happened during the War period. It is only fair to say, in support of the coalowners, that the example they had then of Government control was not conducive to the acceptance of the present proposals. I am a very strong opponent of nationalisation, as I know my right hon. Friend is, but you must in all fairness either leave the control in the hands of private enterprise, without interference from the Government so far as the control or direction of a business is concerned, or you must accept full responsibility for the industry. I believe in private enterprise and I would prefer to see this particular provision in the Bill wiped out. I have always advocated fearlessly, and I shall continue to advocate it, although it is in opposition to a good deal of opinion in the country, that it would pay us to concentrate coal production in our most efficient pits. I should like to see the miners working full time on good wages, which I believe can only be brought about by efficient working, but—and this is where I see a danger in the Bill—I am not prepared to put pits out of action unless some arrangements are made to safeguard the interests of the men thrown out of employment.
938 I believe in a planned policy, from the point of view of industry generally and from the point of view of labour, but I do not think the Government have any right to force, through this policy, collieries to be closed down unless they have some definite plan for dealing with the labour which will be put out of work because of such a policy. I very much regret that my right hon. Friend has not seen his way to tell us what policy he thinks should be adopted to deal with the men who may be thrown out of work when collieries are closed down through compulsory amalgamations. I hope that when the Bill is reintroduced and we get a full day's Debate, as the Prime Minister promised, that my right hon. Friend will see whether it is not possible to meet some at least of the objections that I have raised. I can promise him, if my support is worth anything, that if the major difficulties which I have outlined are met, the Bill will have my whole-hearted support.
It is a little unfortunate that the coal industry should be saddled with a controversial Bill of this kind, just at the moment when they are very busily engaged producing their selling schemes. My right hon. Friend, of course, knows the coal trade well enough to appreciate that there has been much opposition to the production of selling schemes, and it is very hard on the industry to expect it to produce schemes of that kind, which involve long and protracted negotiations, and suddenly to produce this equally, if not more, controversial Bill. I cannot understand why the Bill has been introduced at this particular moment. The concession announced will, of course, meet this objection. I hope that we may be able to arrive at some sensible conclusion. I do not want to do away with the power of enforcing suitable compulsory amalgamations where we cannot get voluntary agreements. I very much regret that when the Act of 1930 was produced the power of the Coal Industry Reorganisation Commission was not sufficiently strong to enable them to deal with the position then. I do not want to lose the whole power of being able to force compulsory amalgamations, but I do want it to be done in such a way that our policy can command the support of my own party.
If my right hon. Friend can find some way to meet the objections that I have 939 somewhat inadequately outlined—I had no idea that I should be called upon, and I may not have explained my point of view as clearly as I should have liked or as efficiently—I hope that he will do so.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am rather surprised at the speech of the hon Lady. I wanted to know what a left-winger meant. Her speech has been half threat and half apology all the way through. It has been a case of, "I want you to do this, or I want you to do that, but I do not want you to think that I shall vote against you."
I never said anything about voting. If the Bill remained as it is to-day, much as I regret it, I should have to go into the Lobby against the Government. I never, I hope, lack courage of my convictions. I cannot allow the hon. Member to misrepresent me.
§ Mr. TINKER
Very few women are lacking in courage. Although the hon. Lady did not say that she would vote against the Government, all the time she was hesitating and faltering, with nothing definite. I should have liked her to stick to one or two points. She did not want control to be taken out of the hands of private enterprise, and yet she wanted private enterprise to provide a decent standard of life. The truth of the present trouble is that private enterprise has failed to give any-think like a decent standard of life. That is the trouble with which we have been concerned ever since the War, because the people who control the coal industry have never met their real obligations. There would have been no trouble if private enterprise had done anything to meet the situation. I agree that there was a voluntary effort on the part of the public to help the miners, and all thanks to the public for the way they responded to the miners' appeal. But if the coalowners had examined the situation before and had made proper contracts, instead of underselling each other and entering into keen competition, the time of Parliament would not have been taken up so often in trying to do something for the coal industry.
940 Those who have supported private enterprise should realise that the time has come when the State should take over the industry. I hope those who are hesitating, those who feel that the consumers have not had a fair deal, will take the plunge and say that the industry should be controlled and owned nationally. That is the only solution for our present problems. In our Amendment we say that we cannot consent to a Bill which does not give public control of the mines. I realise that we are not likely to get that from a Government which has been returned to defend private enterprise. In that case the next consideration is what benefits can we get when the industry is reorganised under the Bill? Amalgamations are necessary, and they are bound to come. There must be an elimination of those collieries which will not pay a decent standard of living. The time has come when we must concentrate on giving a fair working week. I do not see how the coal industry can be carried on when men are working only three or four days in the week. The overhead charges are too excessive. A colliery is not like a factory where you can close down for one day and the overhead charges are nil. In a colliery you must have an examination of the airways and the roadways, as falls are always occurring. All these overhead charges are always there, and if the men are working only three or four days in the week, they rise in proportion. There must be some form of amalgamation which will give to those who are employed an average working week.
But when we are reorganising the industry we must also realise that it will put a large number of men out of work. What are we going to do for them? They are entitled to something. It is not fair to close down a number of collieries and throw men out of work without having some regard to their position. In our Amendment we say that a compensation Clause should be inserted in any Bill which deals with amalgamation. In Lancashire the coalowners have seen the wisdom of amalgamation. The Manchester collieries were the first to do it. They had a large body of people such as clerks, managers and directors, and as a result of amalgamation only 10 were required where perhaps 20 people were employed previously. They did not cast 941 these men off altogether. They had a compensation scheme to give these people an amount according to their length of service. That was the case with the salaried staff, but there was nothing for the workmen. The salaried staff and the directors were recompensed in various ways. If that is good for one section of the community, then it is good for another. Indeed, it is only fair and just, but nothing was done for the workmen, and we never expected private enterprise to do anything.
If Parliament intervenes and takes control by these schemes of amalgamation, and, as a consequence, a number of men are thrown out of work, then we say that they too, should be recompensed. We are hoping that it will be done in this Bill; at any rate, we propose to focus the attention of Parliament on this matter and hope that hon. Members will realise the justice of our case. If reorganisation is to take place, then every unit should be recompensed. I claim that it is the duty of the Government to make provision for what is sure to follow on schemes of amalgamation. That is not too much to ask. In regard to selling agencies, there has been an outcry in Lancashire about what is occurring. Public utility companies are saying that they are being charged excessive prices for their coal. I do not agree with that, but I think we should take steps to clear away all suspicion of that kind by having on the board representatives of the miners, who are entitled to representation, and also representatives of the consumers. In that way we should avoid any suspicion that the consumers are being exploited. We want to prevent any such suspicion existing. The President of the Board of Trade should take steps to see that all suspicion is cleared away from the minds of the workmen and consumers.
Take, for instance, the position in Lancashire. Through our agitation in the country we have been able to prevail upon the community to pay a higher price for coal. The selling agencies have come along, and in Lancashire we have been able by means of that co-ordination to get a higher price for coal. One would have expected that, as a result of the increased prices, the miners would have been able to get an extra shilling on their wages and it is true that we have been able to get a 942 shilling advance. Up to the moment that has cost £150,000. I understand that the voluntary gifts towards that amount to £48,000, but the increased selling prices since that time have brought in over £250,000. We do not share in that, because the coalowners have a deficiency on their books and the deficiency period does not end until June. Consequently, the employers are reaping, through the miners' agitation, a tremendous profit, and the miners are getting no share of the proceeds of the increased prices.
We never expected that through our agitation we should be putting money into the pockets of the coalowners. I dare-say what is happening in Lancashire is typical of what is happening in every other county in the country. At the time of our agitation we ought not to have agreed to a settlement until the whole of the deficiency had been wiped out, but we had faith in the coalowners and the Government. In reply to questions, we were told that an arrangement had been arrived at; we understood that the deficiency would be wiped out and we advised our men to accept the terms. The result is that instead of the miners getting the benefit, the coalowners have made a jolly good thing out of our agitation. I wonder whether they will show any gratitude. We are now moulding a Bill, and we want to put our point of view to hon. Members opposite. They know as well as we do that private enterprise has now almost reached the point of breaking up altogether. By this Bill they may save it for a time so far as the coal industry is concerned, but we ask them not to forget the workers' side. If they try to protect the workers a little more than they are being protected at the moment, there will not be the same keen opposition to the Bill from this side.
I would like now to refer to Sunday work which, although it is not dealt with in the Bill, does affect the mining industry. The time has come when the mining of coal on Sunday ought to be stopped. Probably many hon. Members do not know that coal-mining takes place on Sundays. For several weeks there has been agitation here concerning the closing of shops on Sundays in order that shopkeepers may have one day's rest in seven, and one would expect that there would be at least one day's freedom for the miner, because it is possible to get all 943 the coal needed to carry on the work of the country in six days without using the seventh day, and it is not fair that Sunday should be used for coal-mining. I think the Secretary for Mines, now that he is reorganising the coal industry, might prevail on the coalowners to recognise that it is not right to mine coal on a Sunday. In reply to a question, the Secretary for Mines said that mining on Sundays takes place in Scotland. It also takes place in other parts of the country, but the position there is not so bad. I hope the Secretary for Mines will be able to do something in this direction.
Another matter which I should like to raise is that of boys working in mines at night. Boys are not allowed to work between 9 o'clock at night and 5 o'clock in the morning on the surface, and surely the time has come to make the position below ground the same. I do not know whether night work by boys is prevalent now, but it is still permitted in the Act. These points to which I have referred ought to be taken into consideration when Bills are brought in to deal with the mining industry. I regret that to-day the Government have not been able to bring forward a comprehensive measure with regard to the mining industry. One must also regret that the Government have brought in a Bill which has not been made up properly, in regard to which one side has been asked to give its point of view and the other side not asked to do so. That is regrettable. I have heard the coalowners' point of view urged from the benches opposite to-day, but there has been no question of hon. Members opposite putting the miners' point of view.
We have always heard, and I feel it strongly to-day, that the Tory Government, under the name of the National Government, have largely the backing of the coalowners. If ever evidence of that is required, we have had it to-day. Whatever the coalowners want, it can be obtained by their putting pressure on the other side, and the Tory Government do what the coalowners wish. That is not a nice thing to be said of the representatives of the people, because the Tory Government claim to represent the people. I hope that when the Bill is redrafted the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade will make inquiries on our side to find out 944 what we think ought to be put in the Bill. We like to be asked as well as the other side. If the Government listen to one side, then they ought to listen to the other side, and to be fair. I hope that when the Bill is redrafted some regard will be had for the workers' side of the question so that we can at least say that this is a democratic place in which fair treatment is given to both sides on a question of this sort.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Sir R. CLARRY
My name is associated with what is called a reasoned Amendment, which unites the general opposition to the Bill for its rejection on the Second Reading. My principal point of objection concerns the selling schemes and their development in the near future. I am at any rate consistent and logical in carrying forward on that basis my objections to compulsion, but I do not know whether some of my hon. Friends who objected so strongly to compulsion under the reorganisation scheme will be so keen in objecting to compulsion on the selling side of the scheme. It seems to me that there are three points on which the objections can be focused. There are the owners and the mineworkers, and we have heard their views to-day: but what about the general public and the consumers, because neither the owner nor the mineworker can live unless the consumer is satisfied and is prepared to pay? One must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. I do not think we have heard sufficient to-day regarding Clause 9 of the Bill, which deals with the carrying on of the selling schemes under the 1930 Act for a further five years from the end of 1937. This, in fact, gives the selling scheme committees, which are the owners and to a certain extent the miners, a monopoly in the selling of coal. If there is any doubt about that, I would like to refer to the Board of Trade's own document on that matter, which was published in January and presented by the Secretary for Mines. The first paragraph, under the title "Organised selling in the Coal Industry," says:At the end of October, however, at the request of the Government, the Chairman of the Central Council of colliery owners was able to give an assurance on behalf of all districts that not later than 30th June, 1936, an organisation for the complete and effective control of the sale of coal would be set up in each coal-mining area.945 There can be no question that the Government are responsible for putting the control of a monopoly of the sale of coal into the schemes.
§ Mr. E. J. WILLIAMS
If the coal-owners have taken powers under such a Bill they will be in precisely the same position as the gas companies that are consuming coal and determine their prices.
§ Sir R CLARRY
I am obliged to the hon. Member. I was coming to that point. Parliament, when it gives a monopoly to an industry, compels that industry to fulfil certain obligations and to deal with the public under certain safeguards. There are no obligations put on the coal industry in handing over this monopoly. They are not even bound to sell coal. They are not compelled to supply the grade of coal the customer wants. They can charge whatever price they like, without competition, and the customer has no redress and no opportunity of appeal, except in the one case of a so-called committee of investigation which the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Ross Taylor) dealt with this afternoon. Its procedure is not judicial or executive. It is a committee of investigation and it can over a long period of time—it may be six months—put matters in such a way that the potential purchaser might get some redress. In broad terms there is no safeguard for the consumers of coal, the people that matter. One hon. Member mentioned that a sheaf of telegrams had been received by every Member, presumably from the coal-owning side. I want to correct that point. I have received a telegram, but it is not from the coalowners or the mineworkers; it is from the consumers' side. It is from the Town Clerk of Newport, and it says:The council is apprehensive lest Parliament will approve the establishment of coal monopolies in each district without insisting that reasonable obligations should be imposed on coalowners and without providing adequate safeguards for consumers, and they feel the public and industry will be seriously prejudiced unless these obligations and safeguards are incorporated in the Bill. Writing to-day. Town Clerk, Newport.Nobody would suggest that this Bill has been brought before the House for the sake of the owners or the mineworkers. It has surely been brought forward for the sake of national interest, for the efficient production and disposal 946 of coal to the general public. There is only one scheme so far in operation as a finished scheme. That is the Lancashire and Cheshire scheme. They wrote a report on the operation of that scheme. It is illuminating to see what their comments are on that scheme, as an indication of what this country and the consumers of coal may expect if these schemes are made watertight in every area. Let me read one or two passages from the report which was issued to the Board of Trade, and which the Board of Trade published in the paper I have previously quoted. It says, on the question of price:These attempts have only been made by a few distributors, but it is obvious that until inter-district arrangements are perfected there is grave danger to Lancashire associated collieries from those outside the district when Lancashire succeeds in raising prices above the general level.That means they want to stop any competition from outside which would keep prices down. They want to raise the level of prices. That is part of the proposal to which I am sorry to say the Government give a blessing. The report continues:The Mineworkers' Federation have watched our efforts with real interest, but they have felt, and the Lancashire Board feels, that no substantial increase in the price of coal can be obtained by one district acting alone.Therefore, it is a substantial increase that the mineworkers want.
§ Mr. TINKER
All we are asking is that the mineworkers shall be guaranteed a decent standard of life. That is our object in seeking to raise the price of coal. Does the hon. Member object to that?
§ Sir R. CLARRY
I cannot be objecting, because I was favourable to that extra shilling being paid. I want to see everybody have a proper standard of life. But what I do object to is the consumer being exploited unnecessarily, and here is a case in which they want a substantial increase on top of the shilling they already have. You should be supporting me in this view. You want the general public to be satisfied, and not to be exploited, or the business will be killed. This substantial increase in price that is being sponsored by the Government, against which there is no appeal, and with no obligation to the public. is going to be felt by every industry and by every 947 individual in the country in a few years, and is ultimately going to have fatal results on the industry. That is what we want to guard against. That is why I appeal to the Minister to give this serious consideration.
I would like to see some independent tribunal of appeal for the consumer. Surely, nobody can object to that? I do not regard the committee of investigation as adequate. If it should be found necessary to make any alteration in the Bill in order to make certain of getting this in, either on Second Reading if it is to be re-drafted, or in committee when it is discussed there—and when it will be discussed very strongly—I would like him to take care, should he find that in order to ensure adequate protection being given to the public it is necessary to have an independent tribunal, that the Bill is so drafted as to provide for it. The independent tribunal should be empowered to deal not only with prices, which will follow in the natural course if there is an independent tribunal in existence, but with unwarranted discrimination between one consumer and another, and it should provide an opportunity of appeal if the coal consumer feels that he is not getting the class of coal he wants or is being exploited by an arrogant scheme.
I have evidence here of the operation of the Lancashire and Cheshire scheme, and I can give hon. Members chapter and verse on the subject, although in some cases I am not permitted to disclose any names. But this evidence shows that in many cases it is virtually a matter of saying, "You must take this coal at 2s. 6d. or 3s. more, or leave it." There are cases in which factors have been warned for trying to get round this and have been compelled to withdraw a price which represented a 2s. increase and to impose a 2s. 6d. increase, while, in the case of Belfast, prices have gone up far above that, by over 5s. There is no appeal against it.
I hope the House will join with me in insisting upon the importance of this question as it affects the general public—the people who pay in the end. They ought to have adequate protection. If the owners are entitled to an independent tribunal, a concession which has been indicated to-day, surely the general public 948 are also entitled to protection. That is the burden of my story to-night. If we are asked to accept the Bill as it stands, without any safeguards, I frankly say, speaking for myself, that I would rather have a, sound scheme of nationalisation than a patched-up half-digested form of legislation. We could at least see that everybody, as far as possible, had a square deal. I am not advocating nationalisation—
§ Mr. E. J. WILLIAMS
Would the hon. Member include in his scheme of nationalisation gas and electricity companies, and all the power-producing units in the country, so that the consumers generally would have protection in regard to prices?
§ Sir R. CLARRY
When I am considering nationalisation—and I am not considering it now—I have no doubt that matter will also have consideration. I say that the best method of handling this question is the method of private enterprise, but when you get Government interference in bits and patches, when there is pressure from the Mineworkers' Federation and from the owners, then it is necessary to put on some pressure to safeguard the public and the big consumer at the same time. I hope that the Minister will give this matter his careful attention and, at least, give us the opportunity of moving in the Committee stage to have such safeguards included in the Bill.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. WATSON
Like an earlier speaker I was much intrigued at the claim of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) to belong to the left wing of the Tory party. The Tory party is a conglomeration of wings. It is all wings. It has a left wing and a right wing, a Liberal wing and a Labour wing, and I am sure the Prime Minister would be glad if it had fewer wings and more body. The proceedings to-day have been particularly interesting to those of us who were in the House in 1929 and 1930 when the last Coal Mines Measure was under discussion. Many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are now sitting opposite were bitter opponents of that Measure. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) was correct in saying that when that Measure was introduced, at the end of 1929, there was 949 no Part II, as it stands in the Act today. There were no amalgamation provisions in the Bill as introduced. We all remember the reception which that Measure got from the Liberal benches—now empty. It was from those benches that the question of amalgamation was raised on that occasion and Sir Herbert Samuel was very much disappointed at the fact that no provision was being made for the amalgamation of collieries. The whole Liberal party then, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) were very strong on having provision for the amalgamation of collieries definitely set out in the Measure.
The late Mr. William Graham on that occasion did not make the mistake which the President of the Board of Trade made this afternoon. He did not say that he knew that representations would be made from the Liberal benches in favour of amalgamation and promise Amendments in Committee to meet them. He explained what was in the Bill and the House discussed the Bill as it was introduced. But on the Financial Resolution we had a situation almost as interesting as that which arose this afternoon. The question of amalgamation and the setting up of the Reorganisation Commission was raised, and it was asked whether the Financial Resolution included provision for the expenses of the Reorganisation Commission. The then President of the Board of Trade had to withdraw his Financial Resolution and introduce another in order to make sure that financial provision would be made for the establishment of the commission. That incident showed that, as far as the Labour party was concerned, amalgamation was not what we were interested in most at that time. The other parts of the Bill were of much more interest to us than the question of the amalgamation of collieries. But that point, as I say, was consistently pressed in those Debates, particularly from the Liberal benches, and it would have been interesting to have heard speeches from that quarter this afternoon on the proposal for compulsory amalgamation. Even more interesting would have been speeches by hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the Secretary for Mines himself. He did not play a large part in the discussions of 1930, but I think he took some part in them.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
I have not been able to find any speech made by me on that occasion. Perhaps the hon. Member has found one.
§ Mr. WATSON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman may not have spoken on the Second Reading of the Measure, but I think he did intervene during the Committee stage. Certainly, some hon. Gentlemen who have since gravitated to the Treasury Bench played a very important and active part in those discussions, and it would be interesting to hear their arguments in favour of this Bill when they so bitterly opposed the Measure of 1930. There is something to be said for the amalgamation of collieries, and we shall see, when the Government proposals again come before us, what measure of compulsion they are prepared to employ. There is to be a two years period during which there may be voluntary amalgamations, after which there is, we assume, to be compulsion, but it is somewhat difficult, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, to say definitely what the Government's intentions are. There is, as I say, a case for amalgamation. Take the case where you have a large number of private owners of land and minerals and different colliery concerns. You may find a very wide area that is to-day waterlogged, which cannot be unwatered until we have some scheme, either by amalgamation or by some other means, for the unwatering of the area.
I hope this point will have the attention of the Secretary for Mines before we have the Government's proposals definitely before us, because there is no doubt that in many of our coal mining districts there is a difficulty so far as that is concerned. Many of us hope that some scheme will be devised whereby unwatering can be undertaken and new coalfields opened up. What you have going on is that there is no agreement between the different colliery concerns as to the unwatering of a district. The colliery company or the private owner of land, and particularly the one that owns the coal measures at the deepest point, will not unwater that particular area, because if he unwatered his own area, he would be draining the surrounding area, and consequently he refuses to sink the shafts that are necessary and to put on the pumps that would unwater the area. That is a 951 difficulty which requires to be overcome, and from that point of view there is something to be said in favour of amalgamation.
I agree also that there are some areas where amalgamation would be a comparatively easy matter. The Reorganisation Commission have been giving some attention to the county from which I come, the county of Fife, where we have four large colliery concerns that could quite easily be amalgamated if the colliery companies were willing to amalgamate. I do not believe they are willing at the moment, but it could very easily be done. There are four large concerns, the largest of which is the Fife Coal Company. Outside of these four companies you have a comparatively small number of small concerns, and I want to tell the Secretary for Mines that in that county there is very grave concern as to what would happen as a result of the amalgamation of collieries, because the largest of these concerns, the Fife Coal Company, have got their enormous size because of their power to amalgamate smaller concerns. They have been able to arrange for small companies to be absorbed into the Fife Coal Company, and we have had a very considerable amount of what would be called amalgamation, but really it has not been amalgamation, because the concerns have simply been bought up by the Fife Coal Company and absorbed.
The big companies have concentrated on the areas where they have their biggest pits, where they have a large number of men employed, and where they can get a large output of coal. They have concentrated on these large collieries, and the small collieries which they absorbed a number of years ago have been closed, not because the whole of the coal has been worked out of them, because many of these small collieries, if they had been in the hands of small private owners, would very likely have been working to this day, but the output from these small collieries is not sufficient to satisfy the Fife Coal Company. They want a big output of coal, and consequently quite a number of small collieries have been closed down. The men who worked in them have been left there, and any of them who are employed have to travel miles to neighbouring 952 collieries to find employment. A very considerable amount of feeling exists in that county to-day against any further amalgamation or development of these big colliery concerns, because the tendency has always been for the big company to come along, buy out the colliery, practically work out the best of it in two or three years, and then close it and leave the men to take care of themselves as best they can. That is one reason why the Amendment that would have been moved from these benches to-day contains a definite proposal that men who are left because of action of that kind by a company should be compensated for loss of employment.
There is one other matter to which I would like to refer. It is a matter that has given those of us who come from Scotland some concern. We have heard one or two of our English friends including my hon. Friends the Members for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) and Leigh (Mr. Tinker), commenting on the fact that there is a great deal of Sunday labour in Scotland. I see one or two Welshmen on these benches. I do not know whether Scotland or Wales is the more religious country, but. they are both supposed to be far more religious than England. England is supposed to be nowhere so far as religion is concerned, but we are very strong on religion in Scotland.
§ Mr. WATSON
They may be, but Yorkshire is not England. I do not know why these remarks should have been made this afternoon about Scotland being the worst so far as Sunday labour is concerned, but I hope that the Secretary for Mines will take some action in this matter. It is a matter which has been raised over and over again, and we know that this Sunday labour and the winding of coal on Sunday have long caused grave concern. There is a considerable amount of work done underground that is not seen, except that the men are seen coming back from their work on Sunday. But when it goes beyond that to the actual winding of coal on Sunday, I think the Secretary for Mines should exercise any power that he has in order to stop that sort of practice. Surely the colliery 953 owners of Scotland can wind sufficient coal on six days of the week to supply all the demands that can be made upon them. Representatives of the Churches in Scotland have been protesting for years about the amount of Sunday labour that has been going on in Scotland, and I hope that some steps will be taken by the Government to stop it. I would like to see it dealt with in the Measure which is now before us. As it deals mainly with amalgamation I do not suppose that that is possible, but I hope that some steps will be taken before long.
We shall now look forward to a White Paper or a new Bill. I prefer a new Bill, for I want to see how the proposals of the Government compare with what is in the Bill that is now before us. Whether it be a White Paper or another Bill, it will be interesting to see how far the Government have capitulated to the Federation of British Industries and to the colliery owners. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) is proud of her Government because it will not how to the dictation of the colliery owners or the Miners' Federation or anybody else, but that is not the story that was told us by the President of the Board of Trade to-day. He told us in more or less frank language that he had capitulated to the demands of the Federation of British Industries. I suggest to the President that before he brings his White Paper to the House he should consult the representatives of the miners as well as those of the employers in order to get some agreement. If the Government support the proposals that were put forward by the President of the Board of Trade to-day, they can expect nothing but the strongest opposition from this side of the House.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. H. MITCHELL
Many of us on this side of the House have viewed the proposals of the Government in this Bill with great apprehension. We feel that almost unlimited powers are being given to the Government quite contrary to the precedents which have been set by this Government for keeping industry out of politics as far as possible. One of the first measures that was brought before the last Parliament was the setting up of the Tariff Advisory Committee. The whole point of that proposal was to keep the question of tariffs outside the range 954 of politics, and I think that the Government in introducing this Bill have made a step in the contrary direction and gone a long way towards putting the second greatest industry in the country more into politics than it has been before. That is why so many of us have been so gravely concerned about the Bill. We felt that the Board of Trade and the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission was being put in the position of being both defendant and judge in one court. We further felt that many of the safeguards which were inserted in the 1930 Act at the instance of hon. Members on this side belonging to the Conservative party have been taken out.
It is true that under the Bill it is still necessary to show that a scheme for amalgamation must be in the national interests, but in the Act of 1930 it had also to be shown that it would cheapen costs, in other words, that it would add to the efficiency of the industry. Surely that is not an unreasonable provision, for if an amalgamation is to be a success one of the things it should do is to make the industry more efficient. Why has that provision been taken out? I suggest it should be put back. Any amalgamation should not be financially injurious to any parties; surely that is a provision that should commend itself to hon. Members on this side, but that again has been taken out as one of the points necessary before a scheme for amalgamation is put forward. I want to stress the immense amount of damage that is done to the industry by the uncertainty that exists with all these amalgamations hanging over the industry. I speak from practical experience when I say that it places those who have responsibility in the industry in an extraordinarily difficult position. One does not know what the future structure of one's concern may be, and it is difficult sometimes to determine what should be the correct policy to follow. I urge that the compulsory features of this Bill should be drastically amended. It is true that the commission may, after a scheme has been passed, approve a further participation scheme. That is actually putting into effect a compulsory amalgamation. The Board of Trade have powers, so far as I can read the Bill, to:make or provide for making alterations with respect to the membership, control and management of the capital of the transferee company.955 That means that the Board of Trade will have the powers to give orders as to who should be the directors of a company and to say who shall be the general manager. It seems to me that they could exclude any individual with whom they were not satisfied from being on the board of a company. I suggest that proposals such as that are far too revolutionary, and it is unreasonable for the Government, supported very largely by members of the Conservative party, to expect us to go into Lobbies in support of such legislation. Now that the Bill is being reconsidered, some alteration should be made in that provision.
It is not in the least surprising that the coal industry was profoundly disturbed and that a meeting was held representing practically all the companies, when it was unanimously agreed that this Bill was disastrous to them; nor is it surprising that the Federation of British Industries profoundly disapproved of it. It is true that in the second part of the Bill there is an appeal to the High Court so far as the participation scheme is concerned, but that, too, seems to be largely illusory because the Bill is so widely drafted that I cannot imagine that many appeals would be made, or, if they were made, that they would have any chance of success. Again, I object strongly to the proposal that if an individual or group of individuals have lent money to a colliery concern secured upon the assets, under a reorganisation scheme the colliery may be freed from that liability, the only safeguard being that in that event provision must be made that the interests affected shall not he prejudiced. It is quite wrong that that power should be given to a Government Department. If these things are to take place it should be possible to have an appeal to the Courts.
This Bill is not needed in such a drastic form. The Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission has not, during the years that it has been set up, brought a single scheme for compulsory total amalgamation before the court of the Railway and Canal Commission, and the reason which is assigned for the present Bill is that it has been prevented from doing so by technical difficulties which have frustrated the intentions of Parliament in 1930. It would have been much more convincing if the Reorganisation Commission had, 956 for example, produced a scheme for the amalgamation of the Fife collieries which my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) has been discussing. One of the reasons it did not do so is that it would have found it very hard to prove that under any scheme of amalgamation the costs of the various companies in the Fife coalfields would have been reduced. Under this Bill it is possible for a profit-making colliery to be amalgamated with a number of collieries making losses, with the result that it becomes part of an undertaking showing a net loss. The unfortunate shareholders, who could claim some compensation under the Act of 1930, now have no remedy at all but must take stock in what may be a completely unsound scheme.
I suggest that the present is a bad time for drastic legislation affecting the industry. Those of us who are in the coal industry have quite enough to do in trying to digest the far-reaching selling schemes which we have to undertake. Further, on the widest grounds I claim that this Bill is unsound. It affords a dangerous precedent. What is to be applied in a compulsory form to the coal trade may be applied to other industries in the near future. Some of us who have been consistent and loyal supporters of the Government, both in this Parliament and the last, feel most profoundly alarmed about this, some of us who may not have been as efficient and persistent critics of the Government as my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines was when he used to sit on these back benches. We feel increasingly alarmed at the way in which the Government continue to apply the principle of compulsion to industry. We viewed it with alarm in the case of petroleum, and with even greater alarm on the question of cotton. We are being driven to the conclusion that unless the Government bring in legislation more in accord with what we believe to be the views of our constituents, and believe to be in the best interests of industry, it will be very difficult indeed for us to give our support to the Government. It is true that various concessions have been put forward to-day.
Personally, I hold the view that the decision to take collieries belonging to iron and steel works outside the range of this Bill is a sound one and I support it. In regard to compulsory amalgamations, I do not believe that the proposal 957 to postpone the operation of the Bill for two years amounts to very much. As someone remarked to me, it would probably take two years anyway before many of the schemes could be drawn up, because there is an immense amount of preliminary work to do. We are not objecting to the thing in detail so much as objecting in principle to the whole System of compulsory amalgamation without adequate safeguards. The President of the Board of Trade has told us that he is prepared to set up a new tribunal. We want to know exactly what the tribunal is to be. I listened to his speech with great interest. He said, "Instead of any inquiry by the commission or someone appointed by them into objections to a, reorganisation scheme prepared by the commission, there will be set up an independent and impartial authority to hear objections to the schemes of the commission and to report on them to the Board of Trade." What powers will that commission have? If they can merely report to the Board of Trade, I say the proposal is quite inadequate. If it is to be a commission like the Railway and Canal Commission, a powerful and impartial body of great experience, it will meet the views of those people who are gravely perturbed by the Bill as it is, but a commission that can merely report to a Government Department will not nearly meet our objections to the scheme.
I appeal to the Government, before forcing their supporters to go into the Lobby against them on the Second Reading, to see whether they cannot meet some of the objections which have been put forward. We are not being unreasonable. We are asking for nothing more than almost every one of the Members on the Front Bench at the present time asked for when in opposition only some five or six years ago. I know it is useless to quote from what people said years ago, but if anyone cares to read the speeches of almost any of the Members of the present Government on the Coal Mines Act in 1930 they will find that they were condemning, far more roundly that I have condemned them, the proposals in this Bill to-night.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. G. GRIFFITHS
I have listened to this discussion very attentively almost all day, with the exception of a quarter of an hour when I went out to get something to eat. [Interruption.] I had a 958 couple of fresh laid eggs. I thought I could afford them because I had been on an amalgamation scheme down at Southampton this week-end. In December, 1934, I listened to the then Minister of Labour introducing a Bill stating that they were going to give £3,000,000 to the workers, and to-day, when I heard the President of the Board of Trade speak on this Mines Bill, I looked at him and thought I had never seen a Minister speaking from that Box with his tongue so much in his cheek. When he unfolded to us what the Government were prepared to do about amalgamations I was convinced that influences had been brought to bear upon him by outside authorities—a statement which has since been made by Members galore all over the House. One or two Members stated that they did not quite understand the statements made by the President of the Board of Trade. Some of us who have been in the mining industry as producers of coal—we have not been on the technical side or on the selling side, but have had 23, 30 or 40 years' experience in producing coal—felt concerned immediately the President started to talk about his voluntary amalgamations. It is not that we on these benches have definitely supported or are supporting compulsory amalgamations as they are in this Bill. We never shall do it as they are in this Bill.
When the President of the Board of Trade stated that they were going to give the coalowners the opportunity of another two years in which to effect voluntary amalgamations, he did not say a word about these voluntary amalgamations throwing thousands of men out of work. I should like the House to know of one incident that happened. Yesterday morning, almost before I had got out of bed, the managing director from a colliery sent his private secretary to our house, and he sent along with him an advertisement which had been put in the "Yorkshire Post." It is about 2 feet 6 inches long, and in it they were damning the Bill up hill and down dale. They were stating that they were not prepared to have the Bill. The managing director wanted to know whether I would do all I could to oppose compulsory amalgamation. They were not opposed to voluntary amalgamation. He sent me a letter, but he did not state that there would be compensation if, after voluntary amalgamation, 959 many of the 750,000 or 500,000 men in this industry were thrown out of work.
There is nothing in the Bill about our people being compensated. I have a cutting here in regard to the setting up of the electricity grid, and it states that 100 men who were thrown out of work in the Midlands were last week awarded £18,611 compensation. That was for 100 men. One man got compensation to the tune of £700. Under the Bill, not one miner would get a penny piece, What the colliery owners are bothering about is that there shall be no harm done to them, and what we are bothering about is that if amalgamations take place and men are thrown out of the industry, there shall be compensation equal to that given to the electricity people. We shall press from these benches for compensation for our men. In some of the documents issued by the coalowners it is stated that when amalgamations take place it is expected that there will be a reduction of about 250,000 men, while retaining the same production of coal. The capacity of the mines is anything up to 330,000,000 tons. I believe that the output last year was something like 214,000,000 tons, in round figures. If the men who are employed in the pits now were employed full-time, they could produce at least another 116,000,000 tons. We feel very keen about compensation for them in any scheme of amalgamation.
The President of the Board of Trade stated that any colliery which had ancillary industries would not need to amalgamate. He ought to have said that colliery companies who are attached to iron and steel companies would not need to amalgamate, because that means that the amalgamation scheme is an absolute farce. The majority of pits in this country have ancilliary undertakings. Most colliery companies have iron and steel companies attached to them. If those two sections need not be amalgamated there will be very little left, so far as amalgamation is concerned. If those two separate kinds of undertakings are cut out, they should all be cut out of the Bill.
I have been trying all day to speak on the Bill. I was very pleased when the Prime Minister stated that we could roam over the whole field of the mining 960 industry in this discussion, and some of my colleagues have roamed all over the field. I also want to roam. I want to draw the attention of the Secretary for Mines to the accident rate in the mining industry; it is alarming, even apart from fatal accidents. Four men are killed every day. When a man gets up for his breakfast in the morning, one man is killed. When he gets his bit at lunch time, another man is killed. When he goes into the tea-room to get a drink of tea, a third man is killed, and while hon. Members here are drinking their tea or dining, another man is killed. Yet we seem to take that as a matter of course. Beside the fatal accidents are other accidents. I find, according to the returns for workmen's compensation, some impressive figures. I am not proposing to quote the Compensation Net, but I want to quote the accident rate for 1934.
In the mining industry in 1934, the number of accidents involving three days' incapacity or longer was 174,945. That is one in every five of those engaged in the industry, or, taking the industry over five years, it means that every man in the pits gets hurt every five years. What is going to be done about these accidents? The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) was speaking about overtime, but overtime is not only worked in Scotland or in Wales—it is worked in every mining district in the British Isles. And the irony of it is that, while so much overtime is being worked, we have 300,000 men out of work altogether, and some 500,000 working short time.
Two years ago there was pressure in this House for an inquiry into the overtime that was being worked. First of all an inquiry was made in Lancashire, and the Secretary for Mines at that time said that it was only like a flea on an elephant's back—it was not 1 per cent. in Lancashire. Then the inquiry was continued in Scotland, and, after six weeks' examination in Scotland, it was found that overtime was worked in 88,042 cases. During those six weeks in one part of Scotland, the overtime worked was 504,275 hours, and, taking the year through, the overtime worked in Scotland was sufficient to have employed 2,000 additional men. We want the Minister for Mines to be more wide awake than he has been. In the Yorkshire report last year the in- 961 spector stated that 25 per cent. of the overtime books were incorrectly kept. That is not the word of a miners' official, or of a red revolutionary Labour man; it is the word of an inspector under this Government, in his written report. Why were those 25 per cent. of overtime books incorrectly kept? Because, if they had been correctly kept, they would have shown that far more overtime was being worked in my own county. I hope that that point will be pressed home.
There is another point that I should like to press. It is time that this House began to state definitely that nobody should go down the pits before reaching the age of 16. I put a question in the House to the Minister of Mines last week, and he told me in reply that 12 youths between the ages of 14 and 18 were killed in the pits in Yorkshire last year. It is not only, however, because of the number of fatal accidents or other accidents that I press this point, but also for the sake of the people who are on the streets all over this country—able-bodied men between 20 and 35 who ought to be working; but, instead of them, these boys between 14 and 16 years of age are working. At the other end of the scale, the latest figures for the mining industry are these: Between 55 and 59 there are 74,899 men in the pits, between 60 and 64, there are 52,352, and over 65 there are 30,375. There are 157,626 men over 55 years of age working in the pits. The majority of them started at 15. When a man has worked 40 years getting coal, working his eyes out as the saying is, it is time he had a reasonable pension, and I hope this House is going to do something for these men. A miner of 55 is a lot older than an agricultural worker of the same age because he has not had the fresh air. Anyone who sees men working at the pit face, especially with mechanical inventions, would swear to Heaven that there was not one man right in his mind. The managements to-day are not having men at 35 and 40. They want someone with more virility, more strength and more muscle. With the speed of things as they are to-day, these men should be pensioned off at 55.
I sometimes sit and listen to the lawyers talking. I want to talk about the things that are happening every day in the lives of myself and my family and the men that I represent. A lot of our men are work-sharing. I said good morning to-day 962 to some men at the top of our street who are not going to work until next Monday. They are off for the week and they are working three days a fortnight because they are sharing work. The management is employing 4,000 men and 2,000 could do it. They do not want to employ 4,000, but the men themselves want everyone to have a share. If work was not being shared out, there would be thousands more unemployed in the industry. I heard an hon. Member say that the consumer wanted a fair deal. We want the consumer to have a fair deal. We are asking that he should have it. There has been no need to put up the price to the consumer. I have figures which show, according to the ascertainments that we have got out of the collieries' books a profit in December, January, February and March of £1,255,209 in Yorkshire alone, or an average of something like 1s. 8.54d. per ton on every ton raised. Last year in my own county they made a profit of £1,600,000.
That is one of the principal reasons why we on these benches say that, if the mines were publicly owned, they would not show a loss in South Wales and a profit in Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire or in Yorkshire, as the administration would be spread over the entire country. There would be cheaper coal for the consumer and the mines would be run far better than they are run at present. I would emphasise that if we cannot bring in pensions for miners at 55, I hope that in the very near future there will be pensions for miners at 60. We oppose the idea of specialised amalgamation for these pits because there are ancillary industries attached to them, and steel and iron companies amalgamated with the colliery companies, and voluntary amalgamations for the small pits. We either want amalgamation of the whole lot, and, if not, we say that you should amalgamate none of them.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Captain RAMSAY
I must protest on behalf of back bench supporters of the Government who view with great anxiety any step which they think will bring them into unpopularity with their own side, and must direct the attention of hon. Members to the method in which this Bill has been presented to us. We have been given practically no opportunity either of studying the Bill closely, or, 963 what is equally important, of discussing the Bill with those people whom we are supposed to represent in this House. If we are to study properly and to be asked to vote on the Second Reading of a Bill of this importance, I protest that we should be asked to do it, in this kind of way at such short notice, without any possibility of being able to undertake any proper examination. I hope that when next the Bill is brought forward and the White Paper is introduced we shall be given something much more satisfactory in the way of a statement from the Front Government Bench than we had from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon. For some time, almost in a monotone, he gave us dry-as-dust details of the scheme which to most of us seemed repugnant and in direct contradition to the principles laid down by most of the present Front Bench in 1934.
It is not enough for the President of the Board of Trade to ask us to support a Bill after giving us a dusty outline of a piece of machinery of which we disapprove. I hoped that he would have developed some argument from his speech showing why we should support the abolition of all these safeguards which his predecessors thought so necessary, something beyond the mere statement that amalgamation was not going fast enough. I and most of my friends are of opinion that those safeguards were wisely inserted, and that without the why and the wherefore we are not prepared to see them swept away at a stroke of the pen. We thought that the President of the Board of Trade would have told us that the Railway and Canal Commission which was set up by this House to protect the interest of the public has not been satisfactory. We had thought that we should have been told why they were not satisfactory, but not one single case was cited to us. We were not told of one single appeal to the Railway and Canal Commission in which the Reorganisation Commission had recommended a total amalgamation. If there is no case against the existing system, or if no case can be cited, why are we asked at this short notice to abolish all those safeguards at one stroke?
I protest, and I say that it is asking too much of the Government's most 964 faithful followers to give them no reason for the action they are asked to take. It leaves an unpleasant suspicion in our minds, and I hope that when next he speaks the President of the Board of Trade will do something to dispel the suspicion. The suspicion is this, that the real aim and object behind the scheme is to pave the way for a nationalisation which he does not see his way to finance at the present time. Is that behind the present scheme? When the right hon. Gentleman speaks I hope that he will clear up the matter, because there are a number of people who think that that is the reason. If that is not the reason, will he give us a reason, because we have had no reason so far from the Front Bench? We shall follow with the utmost anxiety the opening of the next Debate, and I must warn the right hon. Gentleman that we feel ourselves in the present circumstances, without explanation, unable to support the sweeping away of safeguards which not only he but we have thought hitherto to be indispensable.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. ROWSON
I was a Member of the House before my present sojourn here. I was here from 1929 to 1931, and I have read a fair amount of political history during my time here, but I have certainly never witnessed anything similar to that which we have seen to-day. I do not know whether any hon. Members in the House to-night have knowledge of any such circumstances having taken place before. It is certainly exceptional for any Government in the political history of this country to find itself in the position in which the Government are to-day, with its so-called overwhelming majority of supporters. I have not heard a single speech to-day in support of the Governments' Measure. I did not happen to be in the House when the President of the Board of Trade moved the Second Reading of the Bill, but I have learned since that the purport of his speech was this: "I am moving the Second Reading of this Bill, but I want you clearly to understand that the Bill you have in your hands is not the Bill that I am moving to-day. It is something different. I shall come forward later with other proposals which are not in the Bill." Hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side were not able to understand what was the Bill with which they had to deal.
965 It has been amusing to note the situation to-day, when hon. and right hon. Members have been opposing what the Government have put forward. In the week-end Press it has been said that this Government, although it is only young, has either got rickets or is suffering from premature old age. I can hardly find words suitable to describe it. If I had the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) I might describe it, but I am not sure whether even his extensive vocabulary would be able to describe it adequately. It is not surprising that the President of the Board of Trade should find himself in difficulties when introducing certain Measures. He has gone from bad to worse since he gave up his Liberal principles. To my mind he has become more reactionary than any Tory.
Some hon. Members have spoken about the success of private enterprise in the mining industry and have argued that it should be left to run the industry and make a success of it. If private enterprise has made such a success of the industry it is surprising to find it in the parlous condition in which it is to-day. Those who still believe in private enterprise should go to some of the mining districts and see what it has done for the people. I do not mind if amalgamation comes, but I hope it will be on thorough, organised lines, so that when we get on the other side of the House it will be quite easy for us to nationalise the industry. The Government can do something on this line to help us considerably when we get into power. Those who talk about the success of private enterprise should go into certain districts in Northumberland, Durham and Scotland. I repeat to-night what I said in 1930, that the state of the industry, the social conditions and the amenities of our mining communities, as well as the housing conditions, justify us in saying that they are a disgrace to the coalowners. That is what private enterprise has done for the miners. No reorganisation on the lines suggested in the Bill or nationalisation will ever bring anything so bad in their train as private enterprise has brought to the industry.
One hon. Member has referred to the prices of coal at the present time. We in the mining industry appreciate to the full the way in which the public responded to 966 our appeal at the end of last year, and I do not think the complaints about the price of coal are really coming so much from the consumers as from certain people on the merchanting and factory side. If you take the average price of pithead coal at the present time I am not sure that anyone would complain about it. Last year it was 13s. per ton. I am talking now about the price of coal which determines the wage of the miner. In some districts the figure was considerably less than that. I can quote to the House a case where an alderman in a certain town council, in giving his annual report last year, stated that he was able to declare on the year's working a profit of £5,000, which was certainly surprising, because it had been possible for the town council to make that amount of profit out of its gas concerns while selling the gas at 1s. 2d. per thousand cubic feet less than the price in 1914. Surely if consumers of electricity and gas have been enjoying that advantage for so long, we are entitled to put these figures before the public and to say that the miners have not been having a square deal from that point of view.
In regard to this Bill, I want to join the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) in saying that, so far as I know, there is nobody in the Miners' Federation who has expressed a desire for a Bill of this kind, and the employers say that they have not put forward a request for such a Bill. What the joint organisations have done is to form a joint consultative committee, and I understand that they have also made representations to the Secretary for Mines, pointing out that if any legislation was to be introduced into this House they would consider it a courtesy and a favour—and they also expressed the desire for it to be clone—if he would consult them concerning the type of legislation he proposed to introduce. I think this House has a right to say to any trade union or employers' organisation that it will introduce what legislation it thinks fit, irrespective of the interests concerned. The Government have the right to do that, and I understand that in the first instance it was proposed to introduce this Bill in that manner. But something has taken place since then. We now hear that the owners were consulted. The Secretary for Mines shakes his head in dissent, but I have heard that said 967 to-day, and I have seen suggestions in the week-end Press that a meeting has taken place between certain representatives of the coalowners and representatives of the Government.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
There was no consultation. They asked to be allowed to come to see me, and I naturally received them, as I would any other body that might ask to see me in the same way. My doors are always open, but meeting them is quite a different thing from having a consultation.
§ Mr. ROWSON
I quite agree, and I accept the hon. and gallant Gentleman's explanation, but everybody knows that when Ministers meet either trade unions' or employers' representatives, they do not talk about the weather. We now have an idea of what took place last Friday. Of course, if there had not been changes suggested by the President of the Board of Trade, no notice would probably have been taken of that meeting last Friday, but in view of these suggested changes, surely we have to take it that the straw shows which way the wind is blowing. I have an idea that the employers made strong representations to the Department, and that these, together with their advertisements in the week-end Press and so on, have carried a good deal of weight. Moreover, when we came to the House to-day, we found that the colour of the board outside had been completely changed by the number of telegrams that were awaiting hon. Members. The Minister will never remove the idea that he met the employers for the purpose of talking about this Bill. Having met the employers, would it be too much to request that he should now meet the Miners' Federation?
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
Certainly not. I have said that the doors of my Department are always open It so happens that I have received no request from the Miners' Federation that I should see them.
§ Mr. E. DUNN
Was it not clearly understood when we settled the mining trouble at the beginning of this year, that when a Joint Consultative Council was set up between employers and work-people that for the purposes of this scheme consultation should take place?
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
The answer is certainly "No." There was no question of that. As I said earlier this afternoon, a request came from the Joint Consultative Committee asking that the Government should always, as a matter of right, consult them about legislation. For reasons that I have explained no Government in my view would ever accept that from any industry. On occasions when the Government thought it suitable they would naturally consult them. That was the answer given on behalf of the Government to that committee. In reply to the question of the hon. Member, if the miners want to see me I shall in future, as always up to now, be ready to receive them.
§ Mr. DUNN
The Minister will remember that at least two Members on this side of the House were present at the negotiations and consultations which took place. I put it further, that this House was clearly informed that the Minister on behalf of the Government made the suggestion for the setting up of a Joint Consultative Council, and helped it forward. Two of us on these benches were in the discussions and heard what the Minister had to say. We certainly came away with the impression, and the Miners' Federation conference was clearly advised, that as and when new legislation was likely to come before the House consultations of this kind would take place.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
That is not my recollection. At no time did I ever bind the Government or anybody else automatically to consult that body or any other body about anything. The chief object I had in view was that the Committee should among themselves be able to discuss the differences between them in the mining industry. It was far more to deal with internal discussions, where I have great hopes of success, than of having a joint body to consult the Government. But that door is not closed. I have said that the Government will be happy to consult them on occasions when the Government considers it is suitable. That is not yielding to the request made that that body, or any outside body, should always be consulted by the Government. The Government must from the House of Commons point of view decide who shall be consulted. We could not accept 969 dictation from any outside body, even such an important body as a Joint Consultative Committee of that kind. But if the Miners' Federation would like to see me or if anybody would like to see me, about this or any other matter dealing with the industry, there never has been and I trust there never will be any difficulty in the way of their doing so.
§ Mr. ROWSON
All we need do then is to report to the officials of the Miners' Federation that the door is open and that the contents of the Bill and the new proposals that are to be submitted later to this House are open to discussion between the Minister and the Miners' Federation but in a non-commital manner, because, I take it, the Minister does not commit himself to anything further than to meeting them and discussing these matters with them if the federation requires such discussion.
I wish now to deal with a question which has been mentioned by hon. Members opposite, in regard to wages and what has come to the miners as a result of the last settlement. Here again I criticise private enterprise as supported by hon. Members opposite. One hon. Member suggested that the whole of the increase in price had gone to the miners. That certainly is not true. I do not wish to indict the mineowners too strongly and it is just possible that in certain cases employers can prove that they have not had a reasonable rate of profit in comparison with other industries. But the House ought to remember that there are large districts under the Miners Federation to-day which have not had anything like the additional shilling. South Wales, Durham and North Cumberland have not participated to anything like the extent that some other parts of the country have participated. I can speak of Somerset, the Forest of Dean, North Wales and Cumberland and even where they have got the shilling, there are whole districts where the surface workers and in some cases the underground workers are not getting a living wage at the present time including the increase.
Hon. Members opposite suggest sometimes that the miners and those working in and about the mines are getting wages which enable them to live in a sort of Eldorado. They ought to remember that while we have temporarily agreed to a 970 settlement we shall not be satisfied until we get the miners and mine workers that 1s. a day and we hope that the industry will be organised in such a way that it will be possible to have something else on top of that. Even in Lancashire surface workers for a 48-hour week are getting a wage of £2 8s. and when we go round the southern districts and see the labourers' wages that are paid here we can appreciate the difference that exists between the rates paid in the south and those paid elsewhere. I hope hon. Members therefore will not look upon this matter as closed. We are expecting much more than we have already got as a result of the agitation at the end of last year and we think we shall get it if the industry is properly conducted. Reference has been made to the flooding of mines. Here again I would urge consideration by the Mines Department. It was suggested that amalgamation would facilitate the prevention of flooding—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.