§ [5TH ALLOTTED DAY].
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
§ CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1937.
§ CLASS VI.
§ MINES DEPARTMENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £132,205, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade."—[Note.—£66,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
We have asked for the Vote of the Mines Department to be taken to-day in order that we might raise the critical position which has arisen out of the dispute at the Harworth Colliery. It is unusual not to call upon the Minister to defend his Estimates, but on this occasion we are not interested in his Estimates. This is not a matter of detailed departmental administration but one of the gravest questions, and really vital to the whole country. We are face to face with a very serious position. The miners have voted to hand in notices at the end of this week for a general stoppage of work. If the matter is not settled, there will be a general stoppage of work throughout the whole of the mine-fields before this House reassembles in the normal course of the Whitsun Recess. I take it that if such a thing were to happen, this House would have to meet earlier. As things are at present, those notices expire before the House returns. This is a matter which is not to be dealt with by a departmental Minister, however able, but one which concerns the whole Government and the head of the Government and, of course, the whole country. We have had experience of miners' stoppages before, and everybody knows the effect it must have upon the economic life of this country. Everybody knows the tenacity, courage and endurance of the miners, and the solidarity that they and their families show when some big issue is raised.
1178 The dispute that threatens to cause a stoppage does not concern one firm or one group of men only, but calls urgently for the full attention of the Government. In my view, it calls for the exercise of statesmanship in a very high degree. The strike ballot showed an overwhelming majority in favour of handing in notices: 440,000 for, and 61,000 against. Almost half a million of men were prepared to face the sacrifices and the hardships that such a strike entails. What is the reason for that? They are not asking for money; they are not raising a question of hours; they are standing out for a principle. The issue concerns only a few workers in one village. The great majority of the men who are prepared to come out are not affected in their own lives. People make a great mistake if they think that men will not stand and fight for a principle. I have more than once heard the suggestion in this House that people will make great sacrifices only if their own immediate interests are affected, but I think that is false. You can compare the War. The men who went out were ready to sacrifice everything, as they believed in the need to defend the rights of the people of Belgium. Let us remember that these are the same men in many cases, and the same kind of men; they are men who stand to their principles and are prepared to put up a fight for liberty against tyranny. In our view, the issue is essentially one of liberty against tyranny.
Consider the facts. I do not want to go into them in great detail or to call up unhappy events of the past. We all remember the 1926 stoppage and the aftermath of bitterness caused by it. You may say that it is remarkable how, over the greater part of the mining area, despite the bitter memories of that stoppage, there has been a great degree of common, joint working. The one area where there has been particular bitterness ever since 1926 is the Nottingham coalfield. In that coalfield the Nottingham Miners' Industrial Association was set up in opposition to the Nottingham Miners' Union, and was a separate union fostered by the masters and not by the men. It has been given special privileges, and every effort has been made by employers to force it upon the men. I believe that to be a very stupid and short-sighted policy. A company union—this is pretty nearly a company union—never brings peace unless it brings the peace of slavery.
1179 In Nottingham, the rival unions have existed side by side, but the men have stood by their own unions and endured persecution. Their prominent men have been victimised and every kind of inducement has been held out to get the men to adopt what is known as Spencerism. In the Nottingham area new seams are being developed. As a result, high profits are made and comparatively high wages are paid. It is a striking comment, despite those conditions and the pressure brought to bear in this issue, that when the strike ballot was held, 21,000 men in Nottinghamshire alone voted for the strike. The strike in Harworth began in November last. It is not necessary to go into detail. The essential point is that it was a strike for the recognition of the right of the men to be represented by their own representatives and their own union. It was a strike for the right of collective bargaining.
Let us look and see what are the conditions in this village of Harworth. The company, Messrs. Barber and Walker, owns collieries in Harworth and across the border in Yorkshire. In Yorkshire they own the Bentley Colliery. There they deal with the Yorkshire Miners' Association, and there is no trouble. The men are free, they choose their own representatives, and they live, for the most part, in houses owned by the kcal authority. In Harworth, the company deals with its own union, known as the Spencer Union. A dozen efforts have been made to start a branch of the Nottingham Miners' Association in Harworth. Every time the effort has been broken by the victimisation of the men. In Harworth you must belong to the Spencer Union, and in other parts of the county, even where men do belong to their own union, they have to pay to the other union because of the arrangement made by which contributions are deducted from wages towards the Spencer Union. In Harworth the houses are owned by the colliery company, and the company can and does evict those who dare to be independent. The company has, too, a great advantage. Its chairman is a big man in Nottinghamshire. He is chairman of the County Council, and chairman of the Standing Joint Committee which controls the police of the county. In fact the men who work in 1180 Harworth are in the control of the company when they are at work and when they are at leisure. The conditions in Harworth are not British conditions; they are much more like conditions that obtain in a mining town in Western Virginia.
The Prime Minister has spoken often and well in defence of liberty and democracy. I believe that he believes in liberty and democracy. I do not think that when he was in industry he would have taken the line taken by the Nottingham coalowners, and particularly the line taken by Messrs. Barber and Walker. He would not have done it for two reasons. I think that, first of all, he would have respected the right of the workers to choose their own representatives; and, secondly, he would have realised that anything else was bad business. Enlightened employers all over the country realise that to get satisfactory working in industry to-day the employes must be allowed to speak through the mouth of their own representatives. Properly accredited representatives of unions, chosen by the men, are a necessary part of modern industry. Without them you have constant friction. Collective bargaining has come to stay. It is too late altogether for one set of employers in a great national industry to think that they can return to methods that were carried on in this country a long time ago, or perhaps were imported from Continental examples.
There are few Members in any part of the House who would not agree that the country has suffered great losses during the last 18 years through troubles in the mining industry. Few would deny that there has been a great lack of statesmen among the masters in the mining industry. There have not been men of big enough stature to look at the question on broad lines. This attempt at company union in Nottinghamshire is one of the fruits of the failure of the employers in the mining industry as a whole to deal with their men. They have stood on the right to make county agreements, to deal with men in detail, and have refused to negotiate nationally, and this particular effort in Nottinghamshire is a fruit of that refusal to meet the men in what is a great national industry. As a matter of fact Spencerism has been tried elsewhere and has failed. It was tried in Yorkshire; it failed. The employers found it 1181 not worth while; they found it was far better to deal with the Yorkshire Miners' Association. Recently the same issue was raised in one colliery in South Wales, and after great struggles was decided by a free vote of the men.
The issue here is really a question whether the worker is a citizen in industry and has any rights in industry, or whether he must just accept what is given to him. We have moved away from the time when the worker had no rights. The wise employer recognises the rights of his employes and he knows there is bound to be trouble unless the men can put their case. No wise employer would allow the conditions that exist at Harworth, where there is constant friction, constant unhappiness throughout. You will never get men of British stock to submit to the conditions that subsist at Harworth. Our people will not agree to live under the compound system, in which men are controlled in their private as well as their public life. It is not the first time that there has been danger of a great dispute, or actually a great dispute, on this very question of the liberty of a man to do what he likes and to exercise his own rights. There have recently been disturbances. I do not want to go into the whole question of the disturbances, or of the right and wrong on either side. In such circumstances you are bound to have disturbances. I cannot deal with this particular case, because there are law cases pending and I must not deal with matters that are sub judice; but the reports we have had from Harworth are gravely disturbing. There have been importations of police and very unwise police action. There have been very extraordinary events. Police courts have been sitting suddenly in the middle of the night. These matters will be dealt with more fully in debate and I want to keep always to the main matter of principle.
I want everyone to realise that the fact that there have been these disturbances shows the feeling that has been aroused, and is bound to be aroused, where the employer uses his position in order to try o force something on to his men—where he not only uses his power as a master, but his power as a landlord, while there is the feeling that he is in a particularly favourable position with regard to his public position in the county. Attempts have been made to reach a settlement, 1182 but have failed. The issue that presents itself to the miners is one of liberty. Miners have long memories. They do not forget the time when they were practically serfs, and they know that it was through their unity that they won their way out of serfdom. Therefore you have remarkable unity through the minefields. The question I want to raise is the fundamental one of democracy. Under a democracy the elector has the right to choose his own representatives. In the totalitarian state he has the right of voting for someone who is selected for him by the autocrat. We laugh at the antics of Continental dictators, when they have a sham election with only one lot of candidates. We know that it is a travesty of political democracy. But this is just what Messrs. Barber and Walker are doing in Harworth. The men must not form their own union. They may be represented by the union that the company chooses and supports. That is a travesty of trade unionism; it is a travesty of industrial democracy.
I suggest that this is an issue which concerns the whole country. We have long passed from the days when an industrial dispute could be a matter of indifference, when the Government could look on and leave the two sides to fight it out. We are almost in the same kind of position as we see in foreign politics, when a dispute anywhere is apt to involve the whole world. A dispute anywhere in industry is apt to involve all industry. When it is a dispute which involves the whole of the mining industry, it affects not only all industry but every phase of our national life. The Government ought not to countenance the kind of obsolete despotism that is going on in Harworth. We are not asking for the suppression of the Spencer Union. We are just asking for the right of the men to say who shall represent them in dealing with the masters. In other parts of Nottinghamshire you have both unions together in one pit. I do not say that there is not friction, but the thing works. But in Harworth you have people who feel that they are entirely controlled by their masters.
This struggle will not stop at Harworth; it will run right throughout the whole coalfield. I hope, therefore, that in the House to-day we shall stand fast by democracy. That is the issue, the right of 1183 men to choose their own representatives. The issue is not a narrow one; it is a wide one. As the Prime Minister has so often said, in this country we have our liberties, of which we are proud. There are in other parts of the world people who now attack liberty and profess to despise it. We shall show them that liberty and democracy are better than autocracy and tyranny by the fact of our success in working our own institutions. The action taken in Harworth by this colliery is a denial of the principles on which this country is governed, and it does harm to this country that such a thing should happen. I hope that the Government will bring every possible influence to bear in order to settle this dispute, to prevent this outbreak and to vindicate the right of the men.
We are going away to-morrow for a holiday. We have this thing hanging over us. It is quite impossible that the House can allow such a tremendous event as a miners' stoppage to take place without the House meeting. I am sure it is in the mind of the Prime Minister that if the stoppage should come the House will be summoned earlier than the appointed time. I have expressly tried not to deal in any detail with events that have caused very deep feeling. I am sure that on every side of the House there is a desire that this dispute should be settled. I believe that in the House and everywhere there is a desire that men in industry should work as free men and not as serfs.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Baldwin)
I do not mind confessing that, when I was first asked to find time for this discussion, I was apprehensive. I have seen so many occasions, not only in industrial affairs, where a Debate during a period of negotiation can do, and sometimes has done, irreparable harm; but I welcome the temper in which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken. He naturally spoke, on occasion, strongly, because he feels strongly, and because he undoubtedly represents in what he said the views of all those who sit behind him. I felt that I would like to make a contribution to this Debate on two grounds. First of all, I must confess that, when the Leader of the Opposition, in a supplementary question he put to me 1184 yesterday, spoke of my interest in democracy, I felt that that was a challenge which the old war-horse could not resist. Again, I felt that, although I was quite conscious that I could not, for reasons which I will give, contribute much argument or much elucidation of what is going on—that is not my primary task—yet I know that my time is short here now, and I felt that I would like once more to say in this House something about things that I have tried to stand for for a great many years. I would like to finish my career here in discussing, I hope in the same temper and with the same point of view, what many older Members must be tired to death of hearing from me.
I do not propose to say much about this particular dispute, and I say that for this reason. I quite appreciate the desire of the Leader of the Opposition that I and some of my colleagues should be in this House and take part in the Debate if necessary; but one of the peculiar features of our free institutions is that we have not the power to coerce people. There have been occasions in my political life when I would have given a great deal to have that power, but I am not sure that other people would have exercised it as wisely as I am sure I should have done, and I have always opposed it. I do not regret not having had it. We may have our opinions, but I am quite certain that, if I were to try to express strongly a particular point of view dealing with a particular incident at this moment, whatever value I might possess—and I hope it is some value in mediation and suasion—I am afraid that that power might be lost. Do not let anyone in this House think for a moment that the Government are indifferent to what is going on; we know too much about it. I have been in daily touch for a long time with my hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Mines, and I would remind the House that the mining industry is the only one that has its own Minister, who was created in accordance with the desire of the industry. There is nothing peculiar in leaving negotiations to him, and he will rise, I hope not too late, in the course of the Debate, and give the House all the information that he has, and I think that that information will be satisfactory as far as it goes. I would say at the beginning that I am not without hope that reason will prevail.
1185 I wanted to say a few words to-day on the subject of democracy—it was not introduced by me, but was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition a few minutes ago—and its relation to our industrial conditions here. I think a right understanding of it is of very vital importance. But I have nothing new to tell the House, and what I say I have said on innumerable platforms. It has not always been reported, but has very often been said at overflow meetings. I have never found an audience of working men indifferent to these matters. I have never had such audiences as those which have listened to such description as I was able to give them of my conception of the democratic State. We all ought to bear in mind, and this has a relevance to industrial disputes, that that democracy in which we all in varying degrees believe is quite the most difficult form of government that has probably ever been devised, and I doubt whether it has ever been achieved in its fulness in any country in the world yet. An autocracy is a very easy form of government, because we all have to do what we are told, and that means that we are saved the trouble of thinking. Under a democracy, every individual in some degree or another has to do his own thinking, and on whether he thinks rightly or wrongly the whole success or failure of that democracy will rest.
When you come to the industrial side of it, this is how it strikes me. I agree very largely with what the Leader of the Opposition said, and absolutely with what he said about collective bargaining. What is the alternative to collective bargaining? There is none except anarchy, and there are rare elements in the country that would like to see anarchy in the trade unions in—my view the most dangerous thing for the country that could happen. Another alternative is force, but we may rule our force in this country, and I would lay it down that, so long as the industrial system remains as it is, collective bargaining is the right thing. I have no doubt about that. And yet we all know in our heart of hearts that it may be a clumsy method of settling disputes, and that the last word has not been spoken. Some day, when we are all fit for a democracy, we shall not need these aids, but certainly for my part, and as long as I can see ahead, unless there is that change in human nature which 1186 we are always hoping for, collective bargaining will be a necessity.
But there is another aspect, which was touched upon by the Leader of the Opposition and on which I would like to say a word. The world moves very fast, and the problems that we are faced with are immensely intensified and in many ways much less simple than those which our fathers had to face. I will not weary the House again with a description which I think I gave when I was speaking on the Macquisten Bill many years ago, but I pointed out exactly what the Leader of the Opposition pointed out to-day; but I will widen the scope of what he said. You will find in our modern civilisation that, just as war has changed from being a struggle between professional armies, with the civilian comparatively uninterested in it, so the weapons of industrial warfare have changed from weapons that affect comparatively small, localised bodies of men, into weapons that affect directly men who have no concern whatever with the issues, except perhaps a natural sympathy with their own class.
Does not that show, just as the dangers of the modern world internationally show, that the one thing we must pray for in this country, not only in our statesmen but in our leaders of trade unions and in the masters, is wisdom? Wisdom, fortunately, is a thing that is found in all ranks of life; and, equally, the absence of wisdom is found in all ranks of life. I am not going to hurt anyone's feelings, and I think they will never guess what I mean, but I have known disputes where there has been a lack of wisdom on both sides. I will say no more about that. But, after all, does not that show what tests people have to pass to make a success of democracy—what a chance it is for a particular employer or for the particular man who may be chosen as the secretary of a big union? What a chance it is if, in addition to the gifts that make a successful business man and enable him to give valuable service to his union in the discussions which are inevitable and in the fights which are inevitable, he has also the wisdom and humanity that may lead him to a successful peace, a peace with honour, at a time when smaller men might despair. I think that no one in this House could gainsay that for a moment.
I would also say one word, because I want to follow the right hon. Gentleman 1187 as closely as I can, about one of the protagonists in this dispute, the miners. He spoke, naturally, in very warm terms of men who are both his political friends and men whom he admires, and I think that probably all my friends would agree. Sympathy with the miners now in whatever they may struggle for is not uncommon. But sympathy may not mean much, and sympathy is sometimes tendered in a way that makes people wish to reject it. But I think that in recent years, in spite of all the troubles we have had, there has been a much better understanding among all classes in this country of each other's lives and methods of thought. That was shown very clearly in this House in the Debate which took place not long ago on the Gresford disaster. I think that that Debate showed throughout the House a real understanding of certain aspects of the miner's life, and a sympathy, not of sloppy expression, but arising from that very understanding itself, which is the only sympathy that is worth having. I think that everybody recognises that. I have always felt that, with regard to the miner's life, we have to remember two things. In an industrial trouble, wherever it may come, never let us think of either of the combatants in abstract terms. All these men and women, on whichever side they are, are human beings just as you and I are, and subject to the same trials, the same difficulties, the same weaknesses and the same temptations.
I think, if you can look on the combatant armies in that way, it puts you in a much better frame of mind to understand and try in all your doings to administer right justice, in your belief. I was just going to say that while we all recognise, as I do, the dangers of that life—for it is a dangerous life—we also realise that in so many parts of the country, not so much now perhaps as formerly, with modern transport and facilities for moving about, the miners' life is a segregated life among his own people in many parts of the country, seeing really very few others—not like a man in a city who is rubbing shoulders with men of a hundred kinds of occupation in the course of a morning. The result of that—it would have that effect on me, if I were a miner—is twofold. First of all, it naturally makes him see his own 1188 problems as problems of far greater importance than anything else in the country, and, secondly, it binds him closely with the fellows that he knows so well. The consequence of that is that loyalty of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken, which is perhaps more marked in that great industry than in any other. I never like using the word "blind loyalty" because that has not a wholly pleasant connotation, but it is a loyalty which asks no questions when once the die is cast. There is something one can admire in that, but at the same time does not that throw a far greater responsibility on the men who have to act and speak for them than if they did not have that confidence?
I get all kinds of letters, some people telling me I am every kind of fool, others telling me I am rather a great man. They leave me unconcerned. The one letter that really makes me feel rather a fool is when they write and say they trust me so much that they would follow me anywhere. I should not like to be followed in that way by anyone. It is a thought that humbles a man. It is a tremendous responsibility when vast bodies of men are looking to you and are prepared to do anything that you may think right for them. In this particular case there is only a word that I have to say about it, because the right hon. Gentleman said all that there was to say, excepting of course what my hon. Friend will say later. It is a peculiar case, and it is a case which, in an event where you cannot apply coercion, wants very delicate and sympathetic handling. If it is going to be settled, there has to be some face-saving, and wherever there is face-saving we all know that it may not always be a very pleasant process. I should like to appeal to the House in the course of this Debate, while putting forward their views, to refrain from saying things which might make it more difficult than it is. I have, as I say, hope, and I should not say that if I did not feel it. I have known cases where I have not had hope. I have hope because there is nothing here that ought to prevent a settlement with the feeling throughout the country that there is nothing that ought to be allowed to terminate in a stoppage in the facts that are before us. I say that most emphatically.
1189 I am going to add one other remark. I have in my life here made one or two appeals. I made an appeal to my own friends once on the Macquisten Bill. I cannot say that I was sanguine when I made it, but it succeeded. I am going to make my last appeal in this House, and it is to that little handful of men who can decide whether it is to be peace or strife. There are very few of them, and they will be meeting my hon. Friend very shortly again. Fresh invitations have gone out.
Before I make my appeal I have one more observation, again on a point dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman. There is no doubt that to-day feeling in totalitarian countries is, or they would like it to be, one of contempt for democracy. Whether it is the feeling of the fox which has lost its brush for his brother who has not I do not know, but it exists. Coupled with that is the idea that a democracy qua democracy must be a kind of decadent country in which there is no order, where industrial trouble is the order of the day, and where the people can never keep to a fixed purpose. There is a great deal that is ridiculous in that, but it is a dangerous belief for any country to have of another. There is in the world another feeling. I think you will find this in America, in France, and throughout all our Dominions. It is a sympathy with, and an admiration for, this country in the way she came through the great storm, the blizzard, some years ago, and the way in which she is progressing, as they believe, with so little industrial strife. They feel that that is a great thing which marks off our country from other countries to-day. Except for those who love industrial strife for its own sake, and they are but a few, it indeed is the greatest testimony to my mind that democracy is really functioning when her children can see her through these difficulties, some of which are very real, and settle them—a far harder thing than to fight.
Having said that I would add this. The whole world has its eye to day on London. The whole world is represented in London, and they are all coming here to be with us in what, to the vast majority of our people, will be a period of rejoicing for many days, culminating in that age-long service in the Abbey a week to-day. In the Abbey on this day 1190 week our young King and his Queen, who were called suddenly and unexpectedly to the most tremendous position on earth, will kneel and dedicate themselves to the service of their people, a service which can only be ended by death. I appeal to that handful of men with whom rests peace or war to give the best present to the country that could be given at that moment, to do the one thing which would rejoice the hearts of all the people who love this country, that is, to rend and dissipate this dark cloud which has gathered over us, and show the people of the world that this democracy can still at least practise the arts of peace in a world of strife.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Evans
I am sure the whole House feels that the Prime Minister has given very eloquent expression to what really is in the minds and hearts of the people generally. I am sure there is no Member of the House who does not reecho his hope that some means may be found, and that those means ought not to be too difficult, of averting a stoppage which would be a matter of the most tremendous concern to the whole country. An actual stoppage in an industry that is so intimately concerned with the life of the people would be a tragedy which we are all anxious to avert. I am sure everyone realises that the public has a very great interest in this matter. I am sure that neither the coalowners nor the men are unmindful of the public interest. After all, it is upon the public that the parties to this dispute ultimately depend for such reward as they receive for their respective contributions to the working of the industry. In regard to this particular dispute, it may be that it is the opinion of the public, if things come to the worst, which will be a great and possibly a deciding influence in the final issue.
I have risen for the purpose of trying to elucidate what it is exactly that is responsible for this would-be national stoppage. I should like to be satisfied that it is concerned with a great general question of principle. The Leader of the Opposition used phrases of this sort: He said this was an issue fundamental to democracy. He said it was a fight for liberty and democracy. What I should like to know is what is it exactly that is holding up a settlement between the parties to the dispute. I understand that one side is 1191 anxious to establish, or re-establish, the proposition that any man engaged in industry is entitled to be a member of any union he likes without any chance of victimisation by his employers. Put in that way, that is a proposition to which not only I cordially assent but from which I should imagine no one really would seek to differ. It has this corollary, of course, that every man is also entitled to become a member of any union he likes without a threat of organised unpleasantness among his fellow employés. Those are two propositions to which I believe any man of common sense should agree. Therefore, it is not those principles that we are discussing but the application of the principles to this particular case.
What I am anxious to find out is this: We are told that the application of those two principles has created this particular position which now faces the country, a threatened stoppage which will cause the utmost inconvenience to the public and great hardship to the families of those who are engaged in the industry. I am sorry that I did not find in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition that definite and detailed statement concerning the dispute which would enable men like myself to decide what it is that has created this position. I understand —I may be wrong—that the members of both the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association and the Nottinghamshire Industrial Union were willing to agree to the principle of the amalgamation of the two units; in fact that they agreed to this many months ago, and that a draft agreement was drawn up and submitted to the respective organisations. [Interruption.] I want to get at the facts. I am simply a member of the public who wants to know the position. I understand that neither of these organisations objected to the principle of amalgamation and that a draft agreement was drawn up and submitted to the organisations and was turned down by one of them. I am not concerned at the moment to inquire which organisation turned it down. But why was it turned down? Was it turned down on a question of principle, or merely on a matter of detail and management? If it was the latter, surely it is a matter that can still be negotiated with a view to avoiding a national stoppage, but if it is on a question of principle I, like many others, would like to 1192 know the principle involved which is now endangering the country to this extent.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
The hon. and learned Member, surely, is not ignorant of the fact that the two parties did not enter into negotiations as equal partners, because the first principle stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman was not conceded—the right of men to join the union at all.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman says that it is right, but other people do not say that it is right. When parties are involved in a dispute of this sort, at least let us try to get hold of the facts. One of the things that have always struck me about the coal industry is that in any dispute it is of the utmost difficulty to obtain the facts. You always have them put by one side or another in a form in which it is difficult for the public to realise what has happened.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman makes that statement, but I have no doubt that other people will say that they themselves are the only people able to disseminate the facts. I understand that the dispute took place some months ago and that it has been followed by further negotiations. I gather that both parties—the union and the association—have no objection in principle to amalgamation. If that is so, what is holding up the amalgamation to which both parties agreed? I ask that question as a member of the public, and I have no. doubt that I shall receive replies from representatives of one side or another. The Secretary for Mines is to speak later, and it may be that he will give information which will enable us to arrive at a fair decision upon the matter. We as members of the public are very definitely concerned in the threatened stoppage, and we should be put in possession of the facts which will enable us to consider the matter the best way we can. There are hon. Members in this House who can speak with great knowledge on the side of the owners. Our concern is to do justice as between the 1193 parties. In the final result we may have to decide, and in order to be able to do so we are entitled to the facts so that we may be in a position to arrive at, and I hope, to give, a wise judgment.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) has asked for certain information, and as Member for the constituency in which this dispute has arisen I shall endeavour to give it, not only to him, but to the general public, who, I am afraid, are not well informed as to the origin of this dispute and the reasons why the dispute has so far not been brought to an end. It would be very difficult for me to follow on the lines which have been so ably taken by the Prime Minister, in what, I suppose is his swan song in this House. I welcome many of the statements that he made in his speech, but it is necessary that not only this House but the general public should know something a little more concrete as to the origin of this dispute. The hon. and learned Gentleman has put the question as to why the proposed amalgamation of these two unions was turned down. That is a fair question, and it is one upon which he is entitled to an answer. I would remind him, however, that the Nottinghamshire coalowners have insisted upon a fusion taking place before they will consider re-engaging men in their pits. I believe—and I speak not as a miner, but merely as the Parliamentary representative for the Division of Bassetlaw—that the Miners' Federation, or at any rate, the Notts Miners' Association have considered the question of the amalgamation of their own union and the industrial union because, and only because, there was no other way out. There was no freedom of choice left to them. Why? Because the Nottinghamshire coalowners, and particularly, the owner of this colliery, have refused to acknowledge the right of the elected representatives of the men engaged in the Harworth pit to represent their grievances in discussions with the owners. It is upon that principle—a principle which has long been conceded in this country, not only to men, but to owners as well—that the negotiations and the dispute have been so protracted.
The Prime Minister said that sometimes debate on subjects of this nature during negotiations could do irreparable harm, 1194 and I am convinced, after listening to the speech of the Prime Minister and that of the Leader of the Opposition to-day, that good will come out of this Debate, and I sincerely hope that the threatened stoppage will be avoided. I believe—and I have been closely connected with these matters since the stoppage occurred in September last—that the issues in dispute ought to be, and can be, settled, but they must be settled in a manner honourable to the men as well as to the owners. The Prime Minister said that we have not the power to coerce people. That is a very excellent platitude, but we know, any of us who know the conditions in Harworth, that men are being coerced to-day. Can this House or the general public wonder why sometimes disturbances break out such as occurred a week or two ago? We know that extreme provocation has been given to those who set out to break the law. We do not condone their offence. Miners, like any other people, are not angels, but they feel in Harworth—and I speak with first hand experience—that they are not being treated fairly by those guardians of law and order whose only duty it should be to preserve law and order. They know, and they regard with some suspicion, the owner of this colliery, to whom the whole village itself belongs. Not only the houses in the village, but the church and the parish hall and the Salvation Army buildings, I am given to understand, are on ground belonging to this colliery, as well as the miners' welfare centre.
When we come to consider that, we must try to visualise the facts, not from the position in London, where we have plenty of opportunities to meet where we like, in Hyde Park and elsewhere, to express our grievances. We have to consider that it is a compact colliery village, where even the miners' welfare organisation does not belong to the men, but, is controlled by the owners. During the period of this dispute it has not been possible for the workmen who are out on strike to go to that Welfare, arid to have meetings, and consequently they have had to hold their meetings in the only two other places open to them, for which they have had to pay—the market hall, which belongs to a private owner, and the cinema. There is nowhere else where they can meet. They cannot meet in the parish hall, or even in the schools. These 1195 are the facts of which the House should take notice, when we say that the men are not free agents.
Let me remind the House of the origins of this dispute, and I should like to call the attention particularly of the Secretary for Mines to this matter. The stoppage first occurred in September last, and, strangely enough, it was not concerned with the principle with which the dispute is now concerned and with which the Miners' Federation of Great Britain is primarily concerned. It occurred over two men being dismissed because they refused to take their food in the time laid down for them by the company. It was an unusual hour, and because they thought it was not a suitable hour for them to take their food these two men were dismissed, and as a result of that some of their comrades came out. When the officials of the Notts Miners' Association attempted to interview the manager and the agent of this colliery on behalf of the victimised men, they were met with a flat refusal. It might interest the House to know that I, as a Member for the Division, in an attempt to try to bring the two sides together, went to see the agent and the manager of the colliery. I was told bluntly that there was no possibility of any settlement taking place if we insisted upon the officials of the Notts Miners' Association representing these men. I even wrote to the owner of the colliery, and I think that as I am the Member for the Division, it would have been only courteous for him to have seen me, but he refused point blank, not too courteously, even to see the Member for the Division and the Mayor of a large town near the colliery. I am told—I do not know whether it is authentic—that he looks upon me as a Red.
That is the whole trouble in this dispute. The owner of this colliery thinks that the trouble has been fomented by those whom he calls Reds. It is nothing of the kind. I am not going to say that there has been no political interference. Disturbances of this nature naturally attract all sorts of agitators, but I can say from a knowledge of the facts that there has been hardly any interference by extreme political parties in this dispute. What does it all amount to? What are we asking for? The men are only asking for the right of free associations. When a ballot was instituted by this colliery to 1196 decide whether the men of this colliery wished the Notts Miners' Association officials to speak for them or to represent them, or whether they wanted the Spencer union to speak for them, what was the result? Nearly 1,200 voted for the Notts Miners' Association, and, I think, 145 voted for the Spencer union representatives to speak for them. That was conclusive evidence of the men's own unfettered and free wish that they should have their own representatives.
The Home Secretary
during his long and varied experience has been engaged —often successfully—in defending people in courts of law. Can he tell me of any occasion on which he has known a defendant or a litigant coerced into accepting an advocate which the court provided for him? Surely it is inherent in the laws of this country that the meanest criminal is entitled to choose his own advocate. That is what these men are asking for in Nottinghamshire. You may say that many of the men belong to the Spencer union. If they were allowed to choose freely, I am certain that they would choose the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association. They choose the Spencer union at this moment because it is one of the conditions of their work that they should do so. The owners of the colliery at Harworth laid it down as one of the terms of re-engaging these men that they should belong to the Spencer union. As a result the men were able to get unemployment benefit merely because the owners had laid down that unwise condition. Later the owners saw their mistake and withdrew the condition. Surely that must be evidence to this House of some of the injustices about which we are complaining in this Debate. Added to all the complications of this district there has been, in my opinion and in the opinion of many trained observers, an aggravation by the police methods which have been used.
I ought to draw the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that whatever action may have been taken by the police it cannot be discussed on this Vote.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I was well aware of that, Captain Bourne, and I do not want to try to get round the Rules of the House. I merely mention the matter to show how this dispute has been aggravated by what we consider unfair police methods. There have also been 1197 methods adopted by the owners in serving notices on the men on strike to leave their houses. Cases have been taken to the courts and possession orders have been given against the men. For the time being they are suspended. These are facts of which the House ought to be aware. May I give a little personal illustration? When I first went to Bassetlaw as a Parliamentary candidate five years ago, I was told that it would be inadvisable to go to the colliery village of Harworth to present my case. Nevertheless I went. All hon. Members expect to get some heckling at their meetings, but there must be very few candidates who on going to a public meeting expect to be received in cold silence. That was how I was received when I first went to Harworth. In spite of that, Harworth eventually helped to give me a majority at the General Election. I merely mention my reception at Hayworth to show the fear of victimisation which the men there have.
Time and again men have told us they are members of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association and that they dare not come to speak to me, a Socialist candidate, because it would be reported to the colliery office the next morning. We know that that is a true representation of the facts—that they have been afraid to speak to their own candidate lest they might lose their job. Yet I do not think hon. Members would call me an extremist either in politics or in matters of this kind.
I have attempted to give the House not an extravagant view but the facts. There are Members in the House who know something of the conditions in the Nottinghamshire and other coalfields and who know that the facts of which I am speaking are true. I would welcome their intervention in Debate, because I believe that those of them who are coalowners would themselves welcome an end to this dispute. All I am endeavouring to get is some honourable settlement by which the men can go back to work. Unfortunately not all of this splendid body of men—admitted by the owners to be good workmen—will go back to work, even when the dispute is ended. The owners have intimated that they are going to work this colliery with a one-shift system and that only 300 out of 1,000 now on strike will be re-engaged. Many of these men will have to suffer 1198 hardship in trying to get recognition of an elementary principle of justice. Our national newspaper, the "Times," which is not always above criticising the miners, has also had something to say against the owners in Nottinghamshire, or, at any rate, the owners of this particular colliery. In its issue of 4th May, 1937, the "Times" says:The negotiations for peace are being conducted in the manner of hostilities "—That is all too true—.If man spoke to man with some friendliness rather than official to official with strained dignity, the line of division would be found as narrow as in fact it is.Let the House consider that many of these men now on strike for a principle are men who served their country well in time of war. They are excellent workmen and law-abiding citizens. It is only sometimes when they are provoked, as even Members of this House might be similarly provoked if they had to undergo the same torture as these men are undergoing in Harworth, that they might perhaps not be able always to keep calm and collected heads. After this dispute is settled, as I believe and hope it will be quickly, I think the men will be much more wounded in their spirits by the actions which have been taken in certain quarters in this dispute, than they have been by the truncheons of police officials.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I hope to follow the example set by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister and to avoid saying anything of a contentious nature, because I am very conscious of the danger that we might say something in this House which would make a settlement of this most unfortunate dispute more difficult. We have a precedent in the House for having made a successful contribution to the settlement of a previous dispute in the mining industry. That was in the Debate on nth December, 1935. I feel sure the Debate that day did make a genuine contribution towards the settlement of the wages problem.
It is not necessary to emphasise the disaster which a stoppage in the coal industry would mean at the present time, first and foremost to the mining community itself. The hardships of an industrial stoppage always fall most heavily on those least able to bear them. We do not want a 1199 repetition of 1926, because a strike or stoppage of that kind leaves a legacy of bitterness and distrust. It is felt for many years, and it has been my endeavour since I came into this House to try to do something to allay the feelings of suspicion and distrust which existed between the two sides of the industry, and between the two sides in this House following the national stoppage in 1926.
It would be a particularly unfortunate time for a stoppage to happen now, for we are in the mining industry on the eve of better times. Prospects have never been better for the industry since the War than they are now. There has been no time in my memory when the relations between employers and employed have been better than, on the whole, they are to-day. There is a willingness on the part of the owners to share the fruits of better times with the men. That is most strikingly shown by the fact that last year was the first time since 1923 that the average earnings per shift rose above l0s. for the country as a whole. In 1923, when the earnings per shift were just over 10s., the profits of the industry were in the neighbourhood of 2s. a ton. Last year when wages again rose to more than 10s. a shift the profits of the industry were just under 1s. per ton. The willingness of capitalists engaged in the coal industry to share better times with the men is evidenced by the cancellation of deficiencies on the wages agreements, and by the arrangements which have been made in different districts for the men to get a quicker share of the proceeds of better trade. Things like holidays with pay and pensions for aged miners are to-day within the realm of practical politics. We have come to a time when all those things which many of us on the owners' side would have liked to see are possible.
There is one further aspect of the situation which makes a stoppage in the coal industry very much to be deplored, and that is that in the last 18 months we have put a great strain on the good-will of the customers. Central selling has been introduced, inconvenience has been caused to coal consumers, increased prices have been asked for, and in one way and another the good-will of the customer has been somewhat strained. That good-will will have gone for good if there is a stoppage this summer. I need not stress the disaster that such a stoppage would 1200 be from the national point of view, the interference that it would mean with our rearmament programme and the distress that it would cause to millions of innocent people. What is the threatened stoppage about? There is, as the Leader of the Opposition said, no great claim for improved conditions or better wages for the men. Out of the 756,000 men employed in the industry only at the most a few hundreds stand to gain anything by this dispute. All the others stand to lose and to lose heavily.
This dispute has its origin in a long and bitter struggle of inter-union rivalry in the county of Nottingham. Harworth has become the cockpit of that dispute. It does, however, involve points of substantial importance, points of principle dealing with the question of trade unions, and I should like, therefore, to offer a few observations upon the principles which, I think, apply to trade unions generally and their application in the coal industry. In the first place, employers in the coal industry, as I think in every other industry, approve of the existence of trade unions. Collective bargaining is an essential to modern industry, and the owners should provide every facility for men to belong to a union. If you ask me to define what I mean by every facility I cannot exactly do so, but in the coal industry it usually means the provision of a cabin or a room where the secretary of the local branch can carry on his business, and it probably also includes the provision of an occasional cigar in the manager's office. But although employers believe in unions, it is neither the right nor the duty of the employer to compel any man to belong to a trade union. If that fact had been observed at Harworth and in Nottinghamshire generally, I do not think we should have heard so much about this trouble. The unions must do their own recruiting, and if they render good service they will have no difficulty in getting members. I think it is fair to observe that where employers have insisted upon their men belonging to the union that action has been generally taken at the instance of the union itself.
§ Mr. Peake
I do not want to say anything controversial, but we do know cases where trade unions have threatened strikes, and even, on occasion, have 1201 caused strikes in order to compel employers to employ only trade union labour. The great difficulty which the employer is up against is when there exists two rival unions. Then the employer has an exceedingly difficult problem to decide.
Now I come to the application of these principles to the coal industry. In the coal industry, we have, for better or for worse, district organisations. We have district organisations on the part of the employers and we have district organisations on the part of the men. The trade unions themselves which recruit members are, in fact, district organisations. You may have a position at an individual colliery where the men favour one particular union, but taken over the area of the district as a Whole, some other union has a majority of the miners in that district. In a case like that it seems to me that the employers are bound to favour at their pits the union with which they have an agreement in the district. That was the position at Bedwas Colliery, mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. Hon. Members opposite claimed, and claimed with perfect justice, that the Bedwas Colliery should recognise the South Wales Miners' Association. At Hayworth, whatever the position may have been as regards members supporting either one union or the other, it seems to me to be the duty of the owners there to recognise whatever union is recognised by the district as a whole, and it is the duty of the employers in the district to try to ascertain which union in the district has the greater number of miners supporting it. The position in Nottinghamshire has, in my view, been unsatisfactory for a great number of years. So far as one can make out, approximately one-third of the men belong to the Spencer Union, possibly another one-third belong to the Notts Miners' Association and another one-third belong to no union at all. In a case like that the owners are faced with a very great practical difficulty.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
The hon. and gallant Member has access to the figures of the ballot which took place quite recently, in which 21,000 within the Notts coalfield voted in favour of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Peake
I dare say there has been a change in the situation very recently, but, as I have said, the situation has been profoundly unsatisfactory in Nottinghamshire for a number of years, and the Minister pursued a very wise course when he endeavoured to get the two unions there to amalgamate. That agreement was, obviously, not satisfactory to any party. No agreement which is a compromise is ever satisfactory to all the parties, but to my mind it was a great achievement on the part of the Minister to get the parties to agree, and it was a tragedy that that agreement was not implemented. One cannot exonerate the owners of Harworth Colliery from a measure of blame for the failure of that agreement to be ratified. Harworth Colliery has had great difficulties, as I know, and I hate to say a word of criticism of a family which is well respected in the county, and with which I have been personally acquainted for a good many years; but, at the same time, in spite of the great difficulties which the owners of that pit have had to meet, I think they might have handled this situation with more tact and consideration.
They have had unusual difficulties at Hayworth. First of all, it is a difficult pit. In the second place, geologically, it is situated in the South Yorkshire coalfield. It is South Yorkshire coal, but it happens to be situated in Nottinghamshire, and that means that the owners have had the double disadvantage of selling their coal at South Yorkshire prices, which are not as high as Nottingham prices, and they have had to pay Nottinghamshire wages which are a little higher than Yorkshire wages. In the second place, it has been a difficult community. Any new mining community which has been in existence for only 15 years is a place where there is no tradition of old and experienced men to guide the younger people. In the third place, the owners of Harworth have been disappointed because they have provided 1203 at that colliery every amenity that it is possible to provide for miners. I know the village well, and it compares very favourably with Hampstead Garden Suburb so far as beauty and lay-out are concerned, and it has been disappointing for the owners to find, after spending all this money and taking all this trouble, that the place has become the cockpit of a struggle in which they themselves have not a very great deal of concern. At the same time they have shown signs of having lost patience with the men, and there are indications of resentment on their part which I think would have been much better if they could have been concealed. It is a fatal mistake ever to lose patience with your men. You need to be like Job when rival unions are fighting over your prostrate body.
What we want to know is this: Is there a genuine desire on the part of the three parties to this dispute to arrive at a genuine settlement? If there is a genuine desire, then I think this House has a right to demand that all parties to the dispute shall put their pride in their pocket and make another and a real and genuine effort to come to a very early settlement. Nobody can attain everything which they ask for, but any compromise will be better than a repetition of the events of 1926.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)
After the very notable speeches that we have heard this evening I think the time has come when it will be for the convenience of the Committee as a whole if I make some general statements on the facts with which I am acquainted regarding this dispute, which is causing not only the Government but every Member of this House considerable anxiety at the present time. I have for many weeks past been trying to do what I can to help all concerned to reach an agreement honourable to all parties, and though such an agreement has not been reached I shall continue to hold myself available at any time that my services may be of use to anybody.
The history of this matter is somewhat complicated and naturally full of detail. I am sure the Committee does not want a description of everything that has occurred or of everything that has been said or done, but perhaps hon. Members 1204 would like to have some connected narrative of the more important facts. I have already given a summary of the case to the House in the statement I made three weeks ago, but for the purposes of clarity perhaps it will be convenient if I recapitulate a part of what I then said. Since the national stoppage of 1926 the only union recognised by the Nottinghamshire coalowners for the purpose of wage and all other negotiations on behalf of their workmen, is the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union, locally 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. The existence of these two rival unions has for some time past led to great local difficulties, and the dispute at Harworth Colliery appeared to offer an opportunity for attempting a solution of that problem.
May I recall to the Committee what has happened at Harworth recently? That colliery belongs to Messrs. Barber, Walker and Company, and up to last September employed some 2,000 men. A series of incidents occurred at that time, until on 17th November, about 1,000 men struck work without notice in connection with a dispute about a subcheckweighman. These men were urged to return to work by the President of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain, and they agreed to do so. But the management at that time made membership of the Spencer Union—that is the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union—a condition of re-employment. This condition was, however, removed early in January, and does not obtain to-day. The management, however, adhered to their refusal to negotiate with the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association or with the larger body, the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain, with regard to the strikers' grievances, and these men still remain out.
The next event of major importance which occurred was a delegate conference of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain in January, when a resolution was passed empowering the executive to take a ballot of all the coalfields on the question ofenforcing the principle of the freedom of organisation and trade union recognition for those so organised.1205 In point of fact, no ballot was taken as a result of that resolution. By that time it had become even more apparent than before that the root cause of the local trouble was the existence of the two separate unions, and I thought it right to explore the possibilities of arriving at an accommodation between them. I wrote to the Nottinghamshire coalowners informally at the beginning of February and intimated that I was proposing to invite representatives of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain and Mr. Spencer to meet me for an informal discussion. This invitation was duly extended to the two parties, and as a result a joint meeting was held on 25th February, at which, at the request of the delegates present, I took the chair. Those who were present were Mr. Joseph Jones, the President of the Mineworkers' Federation, Mr. Lawther the Vice-President, and Mr. Ebby Edwards the Secretary; and Mr. Spencer, the President, and Mr. Cooper the Secretary of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union. The first issue raised was the question of Harworth, but later on the discussion turned on the question of amalgamating the two unions, and Mr. Spencer put forward certain guarantees which he would require. The meeting then adjourned for a week, and then met again and, after further discussion, which was certainly friendly and helpful on both sides, a statement was drawn up and signed, which is headed:Draft heads of an Agreement for the amalgamation of the Notts and District Miners' Indusrial Union and the Notts Miners' Association, to be entered into after approval by the respective organisations.I do not think I need trouble the Committee with the details of the Agreement, as they have already appeared in the Press. At that time nothing had been settled as to the local dispute at Harworth, but on 12th March, two weeks afterwards, the executive of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain deferred considering the proposals for amalgamation until further efforts had been made to settle the dispute at Harworth, which had now resolved itself largely for practical purposes into a question of the re—employment of the men not in work. May I say that the number of men at work at the colliery has gradually increased in recent months, and I understand that the company has at the moment some 1,100 men at work but 1206 they tell me that owing to the changed system of working they will not be able to employ more than about 350 out of the 900 who are out of work, and that these will be needed at the rate of about 30 to 35 a week. A special delegate conference of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain was held on 1st and 2nd April, and a resolution was passed which stated among other things, that the draft terms of fusion, that is to say the draft heads, were unreasonable and unacceptable, deploring the absence of satisfactory assurances regarding the re-employment of the men at Harworth—that is one of the most important points at issue—and resolving that a ballot of the coalfields should be taken. A ballot was taken in due course and the figures were 444,546 for and 61,435 against. The question which was put was:Are you in favour of tendering notice with the object of obtaining recognition of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, and to secure adequate assurances to prevent any victimisation of the workmen at Harworth?After the delegate conference at which it was decided to take the ballot, I was led to believe by various persons with whom I was in touch, persons who are in touch with the Mineworkers' Federation in different parts of the country, that if the Harworth colliery dispute could be settled, if I could get assurances that there would be no victimisation in the selection of the 350 men required, modification of the terms of amalgamation of the two unions was not likely to prove an insuperable difficulty. As a matter of fact, that point of view received definite confirmation by what appeared to be well-informed statements in the public Press. Getting that impression I naturally went back to see what could be achieved on the Harworth question, and I devoted all my attention in the period immediately following to getting a solution of this local problem, leaving the larger issue for the moment. The conciliation officer of my Department, whose work is quite invaluable to all parties, was in constant personal touch with those most interested, and he succeeded in securing from the management of Harworth colliery terms for the re-engagement of the men which, although they may not be all that had been asked for, were such that responsible officials of the Mineworkers' Federation felt able to recommend them to their 1207 Executive Committee and Delegate Conference, with a reasonable prospect of acceptance. I must point out that, as far as the owners of the pit are concerned, the arrangement was to come into being only in the event of the amalgamation of the two unions becoming a fait accompli, while, on the other hand I believe it would be true to say that the terms would obviously be acceptable to the other side only if satisfactory terms for amalgamation of the two unions could be secured. As the local dispute at Harworth did not enter materially into the further discussions which took place it may be as well for me now to quote what was eventually settled:On condition that all forms of persecution and intimidation cease forthwith, Messrs. Barber Walker and Company have agreed to the following terms of re-employment, viz.:—
- 1. All workmen now unemployed and who were employed at Harworth Colliery immediately before the stoppage in September, 1936, to be eligible for re-employment and there shall be no victimisation.
- 2. Selection from these men to be made from those eligible for re-employment by drawing the names of the required number of each grade to make a total in all of 350, this being the number expected by Messrs. Barber Walker and Company to be required to complete the complement of the colliery.
- 3. Mr. W. L. Cook, of the Mines Department to arrange and be entirely responsible for the draw."
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Does that mean that the men who have been recruited for work in the colliery during the period of the dispute will continue to hold their jobs in the colliery and that men on strike will be excluded?
§ Captain Crookshank
I do not want to be drawn into a discussion as to the interpretation of words. That was the assurance which was given, and, as far as I know, it was considered satisfactory.
Having achieved that, our attention was then turned to the terms of amalgamation, but here much more difficulty occurred than was anticipated and little progress was made. Consequently, in a final endeavour to secure an acceptable formula which could be placed before the National Delegate Conference of the Mineworkers' Federation which met last Friday, I invited all three parties—the Nottinghamshire coalowners, the representatives of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial 1208 Union and the representatives of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain—to come to see me at the Mines Department on Thursday of last week, in order that I might have discussions separately with them to see how far we could get any success. I am sure hon. Members do not want to hear the story of the detailed conversations which extended for many hours until late at night on Thursday and in the late afternoon of Friday.
It is sufficient to say that the first request of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain to the Nottinghamshire owners was for the recognition of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association. This the owners declined to concede, as they stated that they had recognised and that they still recognised, as they had done for some Do years past, the Nottinghamshire Miners' Industrial Union for the purpose of wage and all other negotiations on behalf of their workmen, and that it was impossible to recognise two unions for that purpose. They had, however, recognised in principle the possibility of an amalgamation of the two unions, but the terms of such an amalgamation were not for them to decide, but for the two unions concerned. On their part, the negotiating committee of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain stated that the heads of agreement of 4th March, which, as I have already indicated, were subject to approval by the respective organisations, had not in fact proved acceptable to their constituents, and they indicated the direction in which they considered changes should be made. On the other hand, Mr. Spencer informed me that his organisation was prepared to accept the terms outlined on 4th March. Those were the points of view expressed by the persons concerned.
It was obvious from the beginning of the discussions that the parties were some considerable distance apart, and I therefore, in the first place, canvassed the possibility of direct discussions between the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain on the one hand and the Nottinghamshire Industrial Union on the other hand on the modifications which the first body desired in the terms of amalgamation. As a result of a great deal of discussion, I was able to put before the negotiating cornmittee of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain the following proposal, which was also issued to the Press: 1209In deference to a request from the Secretary for Mines, Mr. Spencer will agree to meet representatives of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain with reference to the signed Heads of Terms for Amalgamation, to hear any comments they care to make thereon, on the definite understanding that it is without prejudice to his right to adhere to the original signed terms.Before agreeing to the meeting he requires an assurance that such representatives will be empowered to reach a final and binding settlement.As the negotiating committee of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain did not appear to think that this formula would prove acceptable to the National Delegate Conference, I proceeded to discuss other possibilities. The second suggestion which emerged was of a different character. As the Committee will realise, the first suggestion was for the resumption of talks between the national body of the Mineworkers' Federation and Mr. Spencer. The second suggestion was based on the idea that, as any settlement which might be reached would inevitably involve many local considerations, the first negotiations should be undertaken locally. The formula finally agreed upon by Mr. Spencer, and communicated on his behalf to the negotiating committee of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain was in these terms:In deference to a request from the Secretary for Mines, representatives of the Nottinghamshire Industrial Union will meet an equal number of representatives of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association without prejudice and with reference to the heads of agreement for amalgamation drawn up and signed at the meeting in the Mines Department on 4th March, and to consider any points which either side may wish to raise thereon.In view of the above meeting the Mineworkers' Federation Delegate Conference, having approved the principle of the amalgamation of the Union and the Association, will stand adjourned.In the event of agreement being reached between the Nottinghamshire Industrial Union and. the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association within a reasonable period and the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain undertakes:The gist of that proposal was that the talks should be transferred to the two local bodies which in the end, if there was an amalgamation, would be the people to be amalgamated, and that if agreement was so reached, approval 1210 would be given to it as a matter of course by the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain. The object, I imagine, was to reach some finality. As the Committee will be aware, the National Delegate Conference was not prepared to accept that second suggestion, and their decision was conveyed to me in a letter which I received on Saturday morning, as follows:
- (a) to approve the agreement so reached;
- (b) to accept the method of reinstatement of further workmen at Harworth as arranged between Messrs. Barber Walker and Co. and Mr. W. L. Cook."I have to inform you that the Conference of the Federation held in London yesterday decided to reject the terms finally presented to the Mineworkers' Federation Sub-committee at the meeting on 30th April, and have decided that notices should be handed in throughout the Coalfields to expire on May 22nd. 1937.That is the present situation. However, I think that review of the situation, as I see it, indicates that the gap between the two parties is not necessarily unbridgable, and it ought not to pass the wit of man to find a peaceful solution which could be acceptable to all concerned. Having taken part for so long in these negotiations, I have purposely and naturally refrained, I hope, from making any comment on anything which has occurred. If, inadvertently, I have made any such comment, I would like to withdraw it, because if I make comments about anything my position as mediator becomes impossible and useless to either party. I have tried to give a review of the happenings with which I have been concerned directly. As I have said, it ought not to pass the wit of man to secure a solution, particularly after the very notable appeal which has been made by my right hon. Friend. It seems to me that this is the time for us to stress the, greatest possible agreement rather than to magnify the differences, and certainly if there is anything further that I personally can do, the Committee may rest assured that I will do it. I am still in touch with the parties to the dispute, and I have invited the full Executive of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain to meet me to-morrow. There I will leave the matter.
§ 5.54 P.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The first thing I would like to say, in the very few comments which I intend to make on this subject is that the Executive of the Mineworkers' Federation has nothing but praise for the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the patience and tolerance displayed by him during the whole of the 1211 negotiations. The second thing I wish to say is that, after the speech by my right hon. Friend covering all the major points involved in the dispute and after the very profound appeal made by the Prime Minister to the handful of persons who have it in their hands to remove or to resolve the dispute and to bring peace, I am of opinion that it would be folly to continue this Debate. I had prepared a speech containing all the mathematical precision of the Board of Trade, combined with the pugnacity of the Ministry of Labour, and all the other elements requisite to deal with a dispute of this character; but after the appeal by the Prime Minister, which I regard as being the maximum that any Government could do without deliberately coercing one side or the other, or both, I do not see that there is anything more that we could expect from the Government if the Debate went on for hours, days, or even weeks.
I was tempted during the speech of the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) to make replies to one or two of the observations which he made, but I do not wish to prolong the Debate. I would only say to the hon. Member that I think that perhaps the figures to which he referred with regard to the membership of the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association and the Nottinghamshire Industrial Union were as nearly correct as was possible; but he must also remember that for 10 years the men have been paying into the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association, although they knew that their officials never had access to a single colliery office. For io years they have paid without representation, and that is the maximum loyalty one might expect from anybody employed in this country. Therefore, should there be one-third of the Nottinghamshire miners outside any organisation, it is for one of two reasons; either it is because they would not go into the Spencer union or they did not feel it necessary to join the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association because that carried with it no representation.
The hon. Member made only one other observation on which I will comment, because I think it is the general feeling of all hon. Members who want a settlement of the dispute that the less we Fay about Harworth the better. The hon. Member said that the Harworth owners 1212 are very disappointed with the tone and temper of the men. The hon. Member must know that in any mining area such as Harworth, which is isolated from a town, the nearest town being some 10 miles away, during the first 10, 15 or 20 years of the lifetime of a new colliery men drift in from all parts of the British Isles. If conditions are not nearly as good as they had imagined they might be, they become birds of passage. Men do not settle down to work, to homes, to cultivating their gardens and developing a social life, for they are there to-day and gone to-morrow. It is only when the management and the men find a reasonable common level for the purpose of collective bargaining in the fullest sense that the men commence to settle down, and there is a settled mining village where relations improve from day to day and from year to year, and one gets what I think I may safely say exists in many parts of Yorkshire at the moment.
Therefore, if the disappointment of the Harworth coalowners has been severe, it is probably due to the fact that they have never recognised the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association as the negotiating body for their employes. No miner working in the Harworth colliery has had representation at the colliery office from the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association. Whether it was a momentary domestic dispute, a trifling dispute or a fundamental one, there was no representation; there was no sense of security and no contentment in the village. Hence there was a bird-of-passage population and the absence of those settled conditions that one likes to see. There the situation is at the moment. However, I am convinced that if the response to the Prime Minister's appeal is what I hope it will be, and what it really ought to be, Harworth will quickly settle down as happily and contentedly as Bentley, where the same company own mines and employ a large body of people, and where for 40 years they have never had a strike. They have their day-to-day difficulties, and no doubt the men are not always right and the employers are not always right. But so long as they have the appropriate machinery, the difficulties come and go. I hope if this Debate is not going to be continued and the responsibility is landed where it ought to be, that the response to the Prime 1213 Minister's noteworthy appeal will be real and will avoid a national stoppage.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Sir G. Penny.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.1214
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.