HC Deb 13 April 1937 vol 322 cc763-6
10. Captain Harold Balfour

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he has any statement to make regarding the effect of the Harworth colliery dispute in the mining industry?

12. Mr. Assheton

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he can make any statement with regard to the situation in the coal mines, particularly in the county of Nottingham?

14. Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman

asked the Secretary for Mines whether he has any statement to make regarding the position at the Harworth colliery?

The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)

Hon. Members will have seen that there are two questions involved in the ballot paper recently issued by the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain, namely, the local trouble at Harworth Colliery, and the wider issue of the rivalry of the two unions in the Nottinghamshire coalfield. Since the national stoppage of 1926 the only union recognised by the Nottinghamshire coal-owners for the purpose of wage and all other negotiations on behalf of the workmen has been the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union, more generally known as the Spencer Union. Alongside this Union, there has continued to exist the old Nottinghamshire Miners' Association, which is affiliated to the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain. It has been apparent for a long time that the existence of two rival unions has been a cause of difficulty, and the dispute at Hayworth Colliery appeared to offer an opportunity for attempting the solution of this problem. This colliery, which belongs to Messrs. Barber Walker and Company, employed rather over 2,000 men until last September since when a series of incidents occurred until on 17th November about 1,000 men struck work without notice in connection with a dispute about a sub-checkweighman. The President of the Mineworkers' Federation urged them to return and they agreed to do so: but the management made membership of the Spencer Union a condition of re-employment. This condition was withdrawn early in January. The management adhered to their refusal to negotiate with the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association or the Mineworkers' Federation with regard to the strikers' grievances, and these men remained out. On 20th January the delegate conference of the Mineworkers' Federation passed a resolution empowering their Executive Committee to take a ballot of the whole country upon the question of enforcing the principle of the freedom of organisation and Trades Union recognition for those so organised but no ballot was then taken. In the meantime, as the root cause of the local trouble was the existence of two separate unions, my Department had been exploring the possibilities of an accommodation between them, and on 3rd February I met representatives of the Nottinghamshire Coalowners and intimated to them that I proposed to invite Mr. Spencer and the officials of the Mineworkers' Federation to meet me, for the purpose of an informal discussion.

This joint meeting eventually took place on 25th February and was attended by the President, the Vice-President and the General Secretary of the Mineworkers' Federation, and by the President (Mr. Spencer) and the Secretary of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union. After a suggestion for direct affiliation with the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain had been made, a suggestion which was later repeated, the discussion turned on the question of amalgamating the unions and Mr. Spencer put forward certain guarantees which, he said, he would require. The meeting then adjourned for a week, when, after further discussion, the representatives of the two unions drew up and signed a statement of draft heads of agreement for an amalgamation. These were, of course, subject to ratification by the respective constituent bodies. I should like to add that the conversations between the parties were characterised by a most friendly and helpful spirit on both sides, and that it appeared that a final settlement of the inter-union trouble was in sight. On 12th March, however, the Executive of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain deferred considering the proposals for amalgamation, until a further effort had been made to settle the Harworth difficulty. The number of men at work at that colliery has gradually increased during recent months. The company state that they are employing approximately 1,100 men and that of the 900 now out of work they will, owing to their changed system of working, only require about 350, taking them on at the rate of 30 to 35 per week as and when required.

The crux of the problem at Harworth is that the company claim the right to choose for the vacancies the applicants whom they consider most suitable, whilst giving an assurance that discrimination shall not be made as to union membership. On the other hand, the men not yet back at work claim that re-instatement should be regulated by the procedure customary throughout the industry, the object of which is to secure that no man is victimised for the part he may have played in a dispute. The management, however, decline to meet any representatives of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association for this or any other purpose, at the present time, since the only union they recognise at present is the Spencer union. They have, however, informed me that if and when amalgamation of the two unions is an accomplished fact they will meet Mr. Spencer and Mr. Coleman (the Secretary of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association) or any two permanent officials of the new union whom they may respectively choose as their representatives to discuss any grievance that may arise out of the re-employment of men not now working at the colliery. A delegate conference of the Mineworkers' Federation met on 1st and 2nd April and decided to take a ballot of the coalfields this week.

I need hardly say that His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the seriousness of the situation, and I shall continue to do all in my power to find a solution to the problem.

Mr. Bellenger

Is the Secretary for Mines aware that the root cause of the trouble is primarily the reactionary attitude of the particular colliery company there? Is he also aware that if he can induce these owners to be a little more reasonable in their attitude this trouble at Harworth can be settled quickly and avoid the serious repercussions throughout the whole coalfield which are likely to arise if it is not settled quickly?

Mr. Shinwell

In view of the fact that there appears to be the possibility of an understanding between the two, would it not be advisable for the hon. and gallant Member to make representations to the employers?

Captain Crookshank

I hesitate to go further than the final words I have just read—that I shall continue to do all in my power to try to find a solution.

Mr. Rowson

Is the Secretary for Mines prepared to use his influence with the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association to recognise the Nottinghamshire Industrial Union? If he can use his influence to get that it would be a good way out of the trouble.

Mr. Shinwell

Irrespective of the proposed ballot, will the hon. and gallant Member make a further effort to meet the parties?

Captain Crookshank

I really would prefer not to be pressed further about it now. The statement I have made is a historical one as to what has happened, and I think it would be a pity to press me further on the matter now.